Florida Trip 2014

With: Ruth, Karen, Shirong, Serena, Jessie Ma, Uncle Bob (McNeill), Mei, Andrew, Elisabeth

Cars: Red Honda Fit, Blue Honda Fit – good gas mileage (and with roof racks strapped behind to augment somewhat limited storage space).

Day 1 – Jan 2, 2014

Devon, PA –> Hinesville, GA

Got to the Fairfield Inn around 10:25pm. We hit terrible rains in the Carolinas. It was so bad I couldn’t even see the lane lines. I had only the occasional white flashy-blinker-reflecter lane-separator. It was pretty bad. I had to use my fog lights + the wipers on the fastest setting. Right before and in Georgia, we hit some gusting crosswinds that really pushed our car left and right. We might have drifted more if it weren’t for the fact that we had 5 people and lots of luggage.

Anyway, concerning food: we stopped by Buzz & Ned’s BBQ place in Richmond Virginia for lunch. It was very good. They had a nice sign that read: “This is NOT fast food. Cool your jets little piggies. We’re moving at the speed of real BBQ.” Or something like that, as best as my memory serves me. We drove till 7pm, where we stopped by Wendy’s (Shoney’s was closed, whatever it is . . .). I got the Asiago Ranch Chicken Club Sandwich. DON’T GET IT! Wendy is a liar!!! It was being promoted, with a nice picture of it with expensive cheese and bacon. Now I know the pictures in the advertisements are much better than the real deal, but I didn’t even get bacon (neither did the others who also ordered it, so NO BACON is the norm). If they gave me a teensy bit of bacon, fine. But they didn’t. If this isn’t false advertisement, I don’t know what is!!!

Tomorrow, we will have Fairfield continental breakfast or whatnot. Then we will go horseback riding in a state park an hour or so from Orlando, FL. Then it will be a day in Magic Kingdom in Disney World. (We’ll be camping inside Disney. $50 for 10 people. Not bad.)

As we will be camping a lot this trip, so I might not update everyday. If I do, I will be using up my measly 50 MB of data . . .

Day 2 – Jan 3, 2014

It was very nice and sunny out, so our drive to Florida was nice. But from the morning on, it was quite nippy. “It’s like Alaska!” quoted Ruth. Not quite. But still, the horse ride was cold. I was on a white horse called Socks. I dubbed him “Balrog,” because he liked to move pass horses, and I said to him, “You shall not pass!”

We had delicious supermarket fried chicken with ketchup packets and Hickory BBQ chips . . . in the parking lot. We looked like a bunch of Walking Dead hunched over boxes of cholesterolly goodness.

Turns out the Wekiwa springs where we camped were mildly warm springs (68-72F). Not warm enough! The rest of the night was cold. We had electricity, so we had ramen.

Day 3 – Jan 4, 2014

So far the day was cold. I had to use the boy’s room at 4:00am and 6:30am. Fried chicken leads to thirst leads to lots of water leads to . . . lots of water . . . The whole night has been . . . COLD! I used my jeans as a pillow. Not the most ergonomic. I sleep on my side, so my hips definitely require more Vespene gas cushoning.

I decided to stay up, since I went to sleep around 8pm yesterday. I’ve been up since and walked around and did push-ups and squats, because the day was still COLD. I am writing this blog post after the walk, so I can type on my phone and use up my precious data without shivering. It’s warmer now. I’m still in flip flops.

But I have yet to break out the shorts . . . I did not pack enough warm clothing. If I could do this all over again, I still wouldn’t pack more cold-weather clothing. This is Florida. Low 50s and high 40s is a travesty! Absolutely unacceptable!

We will likely be canoeing today in the lovely (but-insufficiently-warm-to-swim-in) Wekiwa River. Then we will head out to Orlando to camp in Disney World, where we will presumably then go to Disney World parks. Magic Kingdom will be the one I will go to. Then maybe we can enjoy the pools in the resort area and watch free Disney movies? Others have started to wake up. I will be brushing my teeth and having breakfast. Signing out.

Back on (~11pm). I am currently bumming WiFi from some Irish Pub in Downtown Disney. Well, we had an awesome canoe trip in Wekiwa Springs. Over 2 hours. Very fun and can burn off my fried chicken, BBQ chips, and ramen breakfast.

Then because everyone was hungry, we went to Outback Steakhouse, where I got Endless Soup and Salad. For $8, I got one Cream of Potato, 2 White Bean soups, 1 Caesar salad, 2 Honey Mustard House Salad, 1 Balsamic, and 1 salad dual-wield: 1000 Island and Blue Cheese. I still had some Prime Rib, Rib eye, and Sirloin from other people, though. Medium Rare, of course.

Then we checked in to our campsite in Fort Wilderness, Disney World. More camping, but for three nights. So setting up is less wasted effort. Then we went to an outdoor pool and hot tub. Fun. We were all steaming as we got out. Hot stuff. And isn’t that why we all go on vacation? You know, to let off some steam . . .

The shower facilities were nice. We are now in Downtown Disney. Tomorrow, we will be in Magic Kingdom from 0900-2400. The last two hours are just for Disney Resort residents. We also have FastTrack+ linked to our magic bands. So we don’t need to wait for three rides of our choosing (Space Mountain, Buzz Light year, and Big Thunder Mountain) at an hour interval (12:35-13:35 for Big Thunder Mountain, for example). Will need to sleep soon. Need to board ferry at 8:30. Oh, and I’m wearing my pajama pants. Oh yeah! Signing out.

Day 4 – Jan 5, 2014

We broke Sabbath and stayed at Magic Kingdom from 9:00-now. We anticipate staying till midnight with extended magic hours. To be fair, many churches in PA canceled services. But to make up for this, one theological observation: Disney’s philosophy of dreams and wishes coming true is classic idolatrous, airy fairy, therapeutic gobbledygook. We can only believe in ourselves and the power of our dreams. Because our hearts and desires are always right, no? Okay. End Puritan mode. 😛 I mean, if you can look past the disastrous theology, the show itself with all the dancing and music in front of the Disney castle was nice.

Anyway, we had to board the magic ferry at 8:30am to get into the park at 9:00am. We have FastTrack+ reservations for Space Mountain, the Speedway Raceway, and Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin (the fun shooting thing – my high score was 255,500 or so).

For breakfast, I had ramen, eggs, bread, and a jelly-filled donut. For lunch I had an fried-onion-bacon-BBQ cheeseburger with sweet potato fries (and an expensive and refreshing but not-quite-delicious-or-refreshing-because-it-was-chemical-artificial-tasting Lemonade Slushie ($3.99! Theme Park Inflation, I tell ya!)). I also had some smoked turkey leg. The burger was expensive, but we had a DIY toppings bar of cooked mushrooms, onions, pickles, banana peppers, lettuce, tomato, cheese, salsa, and condiments. My Asianness interpreted the Topping Bar as an endless salad bar. I was stuffed. Later I got an awesomely delicious (if overpriced at $4.75) orange-pineapple smoothie. Yum. All were purchased by using our convenient if not ergonomic (magnetic) Magic Bands.

Oh, and I hated waiting to meet Ariel (she was a nice girl and all; just wasn’t worth the wait is all), and the Enchanted Tiki Room of singing birds and plants was terrible. Just terrible. The fireworks at 8:00pm were good.

It was very hot today. I had to put on sunscreen. Also, I had to ask for lots if free water, but all the vendors nicely gave me iced water. I think it was because they had to, not because of anything inherently superior in me (nor was it my devilishly good looks as I had initially suspected). The water they gave tasted much better than the foul fountain water. Very metallic and pipet tasting. The Florida sun really is something else. (Side note: chose the wrong day to wear all black . . . shorts and T-shirt.) Jelly much? Updated as we are on the It’s A Small World ride.

Day 5 – Jan 6, 2014

Today I slept in, in the car. This time with the seats in the back down, and with blankets this time. My pillow involves a neck rest and my bag of dirty clothes. I get more pillow support every day!

I slept in till around 8am. It is nice and warm out (slightly humid too). Today will be a lighter day for rest. Some will go to Universal Island of Adventures. I’ll stay back and maybe translate some Galatians from the Greek if I’m feeling productive. Or I might go to an orchard and eat fresh oranges . . .

For breakfast we had pomelo, tortilla with shredded pork (pork sung), tortilla with green eggs and ham, ramen with lettuce, donut, a little Arbor Mist Pinot Noir Pomegranate Berry. (Hey! It’s my vacation, and I can indulge a little, no? Don’t judge me!)

Just threw out my nice Express jeans. There was a small rip/hole near the . . . zipper area. It was nice to rip the rest of the jeans by hand. Less stuff to pack and bring home.

Right now I am enjoying the tremendous weather right now. It is now dry and breezy and sunny. Can’t ask for better weather. I am currently lounging in Ridge Island Grove (6000 Polk City Rd | Haines City, FL 33844, thanks to a friend’s recommendation) enjoying some nice orange and tangerine juice (the tangerine juice is a dark orange, and it tastes so good, better than the less-tart orange, though mixing the two is good as well). They give out free samples. Mom, Mei, and Jessie are out in the orchard picking page oranges. I didn’t want to pay the $8. Sitting in the breezy shade is vacation enough for me.

We had samples of pomelo, page orangd, navel orange, red navel orange, tangerine, satsuma seedless tangerine, grapefruit, and honeybell (a hybrid mix of orange and grapefruit).

My favorites are tangerine and honeybell. Honeybell comes at $6.99 for 5 lbs, pomelo at $1/lb, and the rest of the smaller oranges/citruses at $4.99 for 5 lbs.

They do have ice cream here, but I think the juice/citrus is enough to satisfy me. Update: the ice cream is made in-house with their own fresh-picked strawberries or oranges. I got an 8 oz. strawberry ice cream for $2.49 ($2.66 with tax). The ladies just came back. I tried their fresh-picked page orange. Very sweet and tangy and flavorful. Jessie is currently eating my ice cream.

Do you know what we had for lunch? Yep, you’ve guessed it: ramen. We also had lettuce and tomato salad with habanero mango peach dressing. Oh, and I had peanut butter corn tortillas with shredded pork. Yum! We will be off to go bicycling in Fort Wilderness. Off to catch a bus to Meadows Land.

We ended up walking there. Things started getting windy, and so we could bike only after we tied down our food tent.

We then went out to Great China buffet in Kissimee, FL, where we met dad, Andrew, Elisabeth, and Serena. They were freezing from being outdoors in Universal Islands of Adventure (we had to bring long pants and jackets to them . . . it was so hot in the morning, but the temp was dipping down fast).

I was tired at this point. I got my warm sleeping bag and set up shop in the back of the Honda Fit. Side note: my pillow did not get any bigger today. I didn’t shower or change clothes. In fact, due to a laundry excursion, my pillow decreased in volume by two boxers.

Day 6 – Jan 7, 2014

Woke up early to go to the bathroom. It was 36F outside! Oh well. It is currently 6:30ish, and I’ll be getting up in half an hour or so. Today we will be driving 7+ hours south to almost Key West, to Marathon State Park. I hear the snorkeling is nice there. In the meantime, we just want to get warmer and wear shorts! Way to vacation when there’s a polar vortex causing a historic freeze to settle over most of United States.

Update (7:04): if anyone cares (and who would?), I just updated my Android 4.4 kernel to Franco’s latest one. Yeah, that’s what I thought. No one cares. 🙂

It’s now 5:52pm. We have arrived at Bahia Honda State Park and set up shop, complete with iglos (tents + greenhouse wrap), food tent, and clothesline. We will be having surd and turf (tilapia and chicken) for dinner. I also have my ticket booked. What ticket you say? I will be flying out on the 11th from Key West International airport! Woot woot!

Day 7 – Jan 8, 2014

It is 8:00am. For breakfast, I am not having ramen! Rather, I am having organic chamomile tea with blueberry bagel and PB&J. Interesting combination. We didn’t have green tea. Also Sweet Chili Doritos and honeybell orange. I did end up eating ramen later . . .

We stopped by the National Key Deer (they are mini-deers) Refuge and saw a medium-sized alligator (around 6-7 ft?). It’s warming up, so I’m in shorts and T-shirt, but it is windy and cloudy (with no chance of meatballs). Oh well, I hear the sun will come out tomorrow. You can bet your bottom dollar (not mine . . .). I’ll want to swim in the ocean, but it will have to be warm enough. The water is pretty, light green, and clear. . . .

We then headed out for Key West. I’m using the WiFi from IHOP, where we are having lunch. I decided to go healthy and chose seasonal mixed fruit instead of pancakes as a side to complement my big steak omelette.

We walked around in Key West, visited an eco-touristy museum, walked pass the Ernest Hemingway Museum, and then we went to El Saboney for some comida de Cuban (Cuban food). We bought some Cuban mix sandwiches which I thought were really good. I ended up eating almost 2 full sandwiches.

We then went to Winn-Dixie supermarket to buy us some victuals, after which we proceeded to return to our campsite in order to cook and eat dinner. It was raining hard, so we were corralled into our food tent, and we had to take out the had burners. We had rice and chicken and tomato-page-orange-habanero-mango-peach tilapia. Yes, it tasted as good as it sounded. Eating the two Cuban sandwiches made me somewhat full, and so there was actually some leftover chicken and tilapia.

Upon finishing our delicious entrée, we proceeded to an all-you-can-eat citrus dessert course of honeybell, page(, tangerine?,) and red navel oranges.

After dinner, we entertained ourselves with the viewing of Epic, the animated epic about an epic battle between the epic forces of life and decay in a pretty-but-not-as-epic forest. Actually, we enjoyed 90% of the film. The battery of Elisabeth’s MacBook Air died on as at a critical battle scene. Cliffhanger ending. We will try to finish that up today (I’m writing it on the 9th) tomorrow?

Day 8 – Jan 9, 2014

This morning, the weather finally cleared up. I have been wearing t-shirt and shorts since yesterday night, though. Even when it was windy, it was pretty warm and humid. I couldn’t charge my phone yesterday night due to the rain, so I didn’t blog. It was down to 6%. As I was blogging about Key West (post-IHOP), a gecko landed on my shoulder. I was mini-startled. Breakfast will soon be underway, starting with the conversion of yesterday’s leftover rice into congee/rice porridge.

Today we will be staying in Bahia Honda State Park again. But we will have to move campsites. Our last-minute reservation was only for 2 days. Yesterday we made a walk-in reservation for one more day.

Post-breakfast update: My breakfast includes (but is not limited to) congee (with chicken and tilapia) with Chinese-salted-eggs, scrambled eggs, PB&J on country wheat, coffee, leftover IHOP pancakes with syrup packets (yum!), and tangerines. Of course, I don’t necessarily eat all these at the same time/all at once . . .

For lunch we had 12 stuffed crabs and 18 stuffed clams from Winn-Dixie (for a grand measly total of $19.99). It was a light, delicious lunch.

During our post-meal move to our new campsite, the sun came out. Yeah, you can say it’s getting hot. Also, one can feel the UV burn even when cloudy.

After we set up shop in campsite #12, we headed off to the beach to go sea kayaking. It was very fun, though I flipped in the first 50 ft or so. I eventually got the hang of it.

We had a lot of fun riding the waves, though the breakers were quite intimidating at first. But we ended up hunting for them. They were big, because we went to a small island with a lot of “sandbar” rocks.

Andrew came to ride the waves with us. Unfortunately, he was perfectly perpendicular to one that crashed into his boat and flipped him onto a shallow rock, creating a big cash on his arm and leg. Yeah, it hurt a lot (so I’m told).

Afterwards, we got stuck in the shallow rocks. Many wore flip-flops, but now my Vibrams could really shine. Vibrams Five-Fingers were first designed for sailing. They offer great traction on sailboats (and by extension mossy underwater rocks). My Vibrams are feeling quite vindicated when I pushed a lot of people out of the rocks by the small island.

Then for dinner, after a nice shower (I didn’t shower yesterday . . .), we had home-cooked burgers with ketchup and spicy brown mustard and habanero-mango-peach dressing. We also had fried tilapia (with ketchup). Of course, I also ate other things, like Salt & Vinegar chips (some with ketchup), pomelo, honey-mustard salad, leftover stuffed clam (with ketchup), and fried leftover-tortilla (with ketchup).

It is now warm enough for sleeveless tops. We will be finishing up Epic, and we’ll find out if the ending is actually epic or not.

Day 9 – Jan 10, 2014

It is currently a nice balmy yet breezy day. It reached 80F in the night. The sun is out, and the clouds are parting. I had some interesting rice-soup porridge for breakfast, along with some good tabouleh with tomato sauce that a fellow camper donated to us upon their leaving.

We will be moving campsites again. This time, it will be close enough so that we will lift and move our tents whole. The pesky gnats are at us continually, but luckily their bites (which hurt quite a lot) don’t leave itchy bumps. After a light lunch that will be picked up by the McNeill’s, we will go snorkeling out somewhere 45 min from shore by boat with pretty coral reefs and lots of fish, I think.

We had chicken wings and drumsticks. We signed up for snorkeling, and we got a special upgrade to semi-dry snorkeling. But unfortunately, today divers at sea said they experienced 4-6′ waves. So instead, we got ice cream (Uncle Bob and Aunt Mei’s treat – I got black cherry vanilla and delicious almond praline on a cake cone).

Then we went to the Gulf of Mexico to swim. It was pretty, but Serena wanted to ride waves. So we went over to the Atlantic Ocean and rode some waves. The current was noticeably stronger. I am bumming WiFi from the Dive Shop/State Park Concession Stand.

We are currently waiting for dinner in Big Pine Restaurant. I am going to have a blue-cheese bacon 8 oz Angus burger. I surfed too liberally online in the morning, thinking I had a lot of data left. Now I will be posting one of my last updates before I head home tomorrow and see Coco-Cola, as I have less than 5MB left.

We left once the sun set for dinner. Before we got into the car for dinner, though, we were dinner for the plethora of biting gnats. They were so annoying that I even donned a long-sleeved shirt for awhile in such nice, balmy weather.

As I was packing a bit, I decided to throw out my old-faithful limited-edition high-top Converses (that went with me to Guatemala). Now they were supposedly quite convenient because they have little cushion (I run “barefoot” in Vibrams after all) and because they have such a big rip in the canvas of the right shoe.

But ironically, I was reluctant to relinquish them, wanting to hang on to them, not because I had any sentimental attachment, but because it is really convenient to have an old pair of shoes that are easily throw-out-able. It’s nice to have one-way luggage, so paradoxically, if I conveniently throw them out, I won’t have the convenience of having shoes I can conveniently throw out. I know, not logical, right?

I almost threw out my Vibrams as well, because they had a hole in the left shoe, and they were still wet and smelly. But because they are so useful in water situations, hole or not, I ended up holding on to them. They are drying by the tent right now.

I’ll wrap up, as my bacon-blue-cheese burger (medium-rare, of course) has just arrived. Jessie just stole a big French fry, and Serena and Andrew also, as I typed this sentence!!!

The waiter has come back with, you’ve guessed it, Ketchup! No fries without ketchup is my motto.

For dessert, we had Key Lime pie (a whole pie!). Perfect way to conclude our vacation to the Keys (besides flying out of Key West International airport and skipping out on a butt-numbing 20-hr-or-so road trip). Can’t leave with real key lime pie!

Day 10 – Jan 11, 2014

Key West, FL –> Washington, D.C. –> Philadelphia, PA

Am currently using the WiFi at Key West International Airport (EYW), the smallest, cutest (international) airport I’ve been to. The entrance was so cute and small I almost missed the turn. I got into an indoor terminal (only one anyway) in 20-30 seconds up a small ramp. The view is great, as you can see the deep blue sea right out the window.

I really feel privileged, as who has driven all the way down to Key West by car and flew home from Key West?

Oh, and for breakfast, I had Key Lime pie (and PB&J on sourdough . . . yeah, sourdough didn’t really work with the PB&J. Maybe roast beef would have been more suitable). Oh, and to make you all jealous: we drove in with the A/C on, and I’m wearing a sleeveless shirt. Yesterday I couldn’t sleep because it was too hot! (Okay, the biting gnats didn’t help.) The Keys are pretty, but I am ready to sleep on my nice mattress back home.
Oh, and today around 2:00-4:00am, the skies were clear, and I saw so many stars. So pretty.

I’ve checked in and went downstairs to the departing gates. There are a total of six gates, all you can see all six from one place. I can walk from gate 1 to gate 6 in less than a minute (more like 30 seconds).

There is essentially one concession-stand-and-bar area and a shared seating area for all six departing gates. Efficient, I guess. We will walking out to the runway, it seems. No ramps, halls, bells, whistles, or hoopla.

I am currently being productive (or not, depending on who you ask), catching up on email and Grimm (and Brooklyn Nine-Nine) episodes. On a higher and deeper level, though, I am also catching up on my Mortification of Spin podcasts and on Denny Burk’s blog posts. Good stuff there. WiFi can be a very good thing.

It is currently 12:00pm, and my flight to DCA is delayed by about an hour. I am finishing up Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I guess I can finish up the second episode of Grimm.

It is currently 13:49, and we are finally beginning to board to DCA.

It is right now 14:34, and I am currently in the air at around 10,000′ altitude. I just got 30 minutes of GoGo WiFi (sponsored by AllState) aboard the Brazilian EMB170/175 operated by Republic Airlines for U.S. Airways from EYW to DCA. I was originally seated in 17D, but I got moved up to 6D for weight balancing reasons. That’s fine by me. I get to exit faster and make my Philly connection. I will soon enter a SkyMall $100K Sweepstake Giveaway. You know how I can’t resist sweepstakes . . .

At Washington D.C., I had to take a bus to get to the desired terminal, and then we had to take a bus to get to our old Dash 8-100/200 (assembled in Canada), with large four-blade propellers.

We were then issued a delay from Philadelphia, due to a low cloud ceiling or something. The 45 minute delay is longer than the actual flight of less than half an hour (27 minutes or so).

Just landed in PHL. It was one of the most exhilarating/turbulent rides I have ever been on. Fun and heart-rate raising. But certainly not for everyone.

7:20pm: Home sweet home. I’m back, Philly!

7:56pm: Outside my home. Going to see Coco-Cola. The rest of the family is currently in Georgia or so.

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