No, seriously – LEGO DINOSAURS

I mentioned at last Friday’s weigh-in that we had a plan to visit Legoland Florida over the weekend – and visit Legoland we did.  The tickets are pretty expensive (and don’t include parking!), so we found that it made sense to buy season passes.  All we have to do is go one more time and they more than pay for themselves.   I ordered them online last Friday, and off we went.

Legoland Florida is in a town called Winter Haven, and has only been in existence since 2011.  I’ve been coming down here now for 9 months, and from the beginning I’ve thought that Winter Haven was a weird place to put a major amusement park.  It turns out, though, that the site for Legoland is the site of an old Florida institution called Cypress Gardens.  Cypress Gardens went bankrupt in the 2000s (9/11 and the three-hurricane year of 2004 did them in), and Legoland bought the whole shebang and fixed it up.

Our first impression was that the administration of the park, and in particular the lines, feels like an old, somewhat rural, amusement park.  Disney World is famous for how well than handle a huge number of people and their line management.  Busch Gardens is also quite good at it.  Legoland?  Not as much.

Not that this is going to be a negative post – that’s pretty much my only critical comment.  We had a really good day.

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Right inside the gates. This little chef is amazing, and is just a tiny taste of the Lego creations…

Two things really stood out early in the park.  First, the large-scale Lego “statues” are unbelievable.  The chef in that picture above is almost an afterthought, and had to have taken hours and hours to build.  Second only to the grandeur was the attention to detail – there were little Lego details everywhere.  Squirrels in the trees, stop signs made out of Legos, just every detail.

Right inside the park there is a carousel.  In retrospect, we should have headed straight to the back of the park and worked our way forward – the line was long and the rides were short.  But we got in line, and rode the Lego horses.

He was already anti-picture
He was already anti-picture

And then we came to the most amazing thing.

They call it the Mini-City.  They have all of these scenes and cities that they re-create … with Legos.  The attention to detail is mind boggling.

The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge
On the pirate ship
On the pirate ship
The grandstand at the Daytona 500
The grandstand at the Daytona 500
The infield at the Daytona 500
The infield at the Daytona 500

They have the Florida State Capitol, Washington DC, Times Square and Grand Central Terminal in NYC, just an unbelievable spread of Lego detail.  We were amazed.

Just up from that is a sandwich place for lunch, and then we split up so I could take a look at a couple of different things.

Lunch time is the best time...
Lunch time is the best time…

The original Cypress Gardens Park had been built around a big botanical garden, which itself was built around a big banyan tree that was planted back in the 1930s.  As the park started going through financial distress and started changing hands in the 80s (and all the way through 2011), there was some concern in Florida about the “old Florida” elements of the park – and particularly the botanical garden – being dismantled and swept away.  At one point either Polk County or the State of Florida actually owned the property and just leased it out, to make sure that this didn’t happen (not sure how that ownership works now).  As part of that, in the middle of Legoland and on the edge of the lake, the old Cypress Gardens Botanical Park still exists – and I needed to go take a look at that.  So my wife took the bigger kid and they went looking for rides, and I took the baby and we went for a walk.

Obligatory alligator, because Florida
Obligatory alligator, because Florida

Right inside the gate we saw our alligator, so we got that out of the way.  Little guy, but he was there.  And then we started winding through the grounds.  Because of the middle of the day and the fact that I couldn’t chase birds and butterflies (babies, you know – plus people waiting on me), I didn’t get a ton of pictures.  But let me tell you, the place is beautiful … and then you walk up on the banyan tree.

Pictures do not do it justice
Pictures do not do it justice

This thing – wow.  As the limbs grow, they send out their own roots that, when they find the ground, develop into their own little trunks to support the limbs.  Over the course of 80 – 90 years, it develops into this massive system of limbs and trunks and roots and just an amazing piece of nature.

Just past the banyan tree
Just past the banyan tree

We walked around a bit more, and then hurried back to meet up with the other two.  When the weather breaks a bit here, I’ll go back during the day (I only work 15 minutes from Legoland) and get some good pictures.

And then came the rides and the ice cream.

He got a driver's license for this.
He got a driver’s license for this.
This is his
This is his “don’t take a picture” face
Coastersaurus - and his first roller coaster!
Coastersaurus – and his first roller coaster!

At this point, the day was hot and we were starting to lose our children to tiredness and crankiness, so after that dinosaur roller coaster we mostly just pushed through.

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One thing we had missed, though, over by the Mini City, was the Star Wars section.  They had scenes set up from the movies, but the cool things were the statues.

Darth Maul is apparently a short guy
Darth Maul is apparently a short guy

Here I will say that Darth Maul is an under-rated Darth, I feel.  There was also a Darth Vader, but the line for him was several people long.  We waited zero minutes at Darth Maul for the opportunity to take a picture – and he was really cool.  #nerdalert

We really had a great time, and we learned some things.

  1.  11am on Saturday morning is not an ideal time to arrive.  Chaos entering the park, but it was calm and quiet by the time we left around 4pm.  Either get there early or go ahead and wait until after lunch.  This may change when the weather gets better – if the park fills up, all bets are off.
  2. When it is busy, head straight to the back of the park and work forward.  You’ll be working the opposite way of the crowds.  This is a good thing.
  3. There are lots of scheduled things – shows, etc. – that, now that we’ve seen the whole park, we will be sure and make time for next time.

Will let you know how it goes when we take our next trip.

Photo-op Saturday

Got up this morning to go for a scheduled 4 mile run, but I was having some gastro issues and lets just say that I was nervous to be 2 miles from the house this morning after having run to get there and move on.

Instead, because I was up and had a rare free morning when the sun was coming up, I grabbed my camera and headed out to the big pond / little lake out here by the house that I see so much wildlife in as I drive by on the way to and from work.  This is the same lake where I took the picture of the big alligator a few weeks back, and I thought maybe I’d find something interesting.

And I did.  Lots of things.

One thing I have to say about Florida – when the sun isn’t directly overhead the landscape is absolutely beautiful.

 

Kind of perfect, really...
Kind of perfect, really…

So I walked up and spent a couple of minutes looking around, just to see if there was anything obvious to see.  There wasn’t, so I started walking down the edge of the water.  Within two minutes, I made a new friend.

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This was not the big guy, but I was able to get up very close to him and get some pictures I really like.  This was a rush.

Then I went and found the birds.  A great blue heron:

2015-09-05 08.04.04A great egret:
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A red-winged blackbird (actually a bunch of these, but they didn’t sit still for pictures):

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And a little blue heron (which is a distinct species, not just a small specimen):

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The light was challenging, but I want to practice my photography and try and get better – there is so much here to take pictures of, and it is frustrating to know what you want the shot to look like and not be able to execute.  So I’ll keep practicing – and seeing all of this wildlife is really a rush.

Tomorrow, though, I’ll be running.  I’ve got a 4-miler to make up.

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You must go to Gatorland

Took the family to Gatorland in Orlando today, and here’s the thing about Gatorland – you need to go.

No, seriously, whatever it is that you have planned in the Orlando area the next time you come around, you need to just go ahead and shuffle that around and make a trip to Gatorland.  If you’re here for Disney, just take the half day or even full day and skip Disney and head over there.

We went in with low expectations.  Frankly, it seemed like it had an opportunity to be very cheesy.  And, in spots, it was.  But that was more than made up for by the just unbelievable wildlife – there are so many alligators that counting becomes pointless. And snakes and birds and crocodiles and you name it – this place is incredible.

We didn’t see the “famous” Jumperoo show, but we did go and take in the alligator wrestling.  Picture a sand pit in the middle of a little arena, bleachers on all sides.  The pit is surrounded by a moat, in which swim a dozen or so alligators and over which is a single bridge that has gates on both ends of it.  Some crazy-ass dude walks in there, asks a little kid to pick out which gator he’s going to “wrestle” – and the little kid OF COURSE picks the biggest one in the water.  Because, OF COURSE.  This thing is mean, and our man struggles to get it out of the water.  So he STEPS OFF INTO THE MOAT, WADES OVER AND GRABS IT BY THE TAIL AND DRAGS IT UP INTO THE SAND PIT.  This alligator snarling and bellowing and trying to bite him the whole time.  And then proceeds to do all kinds of tricks with it.

Are you kidding me?

Seriously, come do this.  And bring your camera.  There is some amazing stuff to see here.  I took all of the pictures included below except the one with the family – that one cost $18.99, but did come with a 1GB flash drive.

Enter at the famous Gator Mouth
Enter at the famous Gator Mouth
And be greeted immediately by a sight guaranteed to make you pause.
And be greeted immediately by a sight guaranteed to make you pause.
Obligatory
Obligatory “ride the fake alligator” shot
We didn't know about the little alligator when we said do it - there was a snake option, to which we said
We didn’t know about the little alligator when we said do it – there was a snake option, to which we said “no but hell no”
They have tropical birds. Happy with my lens on this.
They have tropical birds. Happy with my lens on this.
D'awwwww
D’awwwww
This guy was no shit certifiable. And this was his second go at the gator - he got away the first time. Just crazy.
This guy was no shit certifiable. And this was his second go at the gator – he got away the first time. Just crazy.
No seriously - just crazy.
No seriously – just crazy.
Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
He was not the biggest gator we saw, but he was huge and right underneath us.
He was not the biggest gator we saw, but he was huge and right underneath us.
Tried to make this confrontational-looking, but it wasn't. The bird was in zero danger.
Tried to make this confrontational-looking, but it wasn’t. The bird was in zero danger.
Great Egret. Looks like another freaking country.
Great Egret. Looks like another freaking country.
So.Many.Alligators
So.Many.Alligators
And welcome to Florida, where the humidity is wretched and it rains every day.
And welcome to Florida, where the humidity is wretched and it rains every day.

Wildlife

Back in December, a headhunter got in touch with me about a great job opportunity.  And he was right – it was great.  There was a catch, though.

The job was in Florida.

But – against all odds, we sold our house and moved to Florida at the end of April.  There will be a lot of discussion of the adjustment of moving and the running in Florida vs. the running in New York (preview:  no hills!).  This post, though, is going to focus on a specifically new thing for my runs:  wildlife.

I’m sensitive to this topic because about six weeks after we moved here I took this picture from the pond about 3 minutes from the house:

That is EXACTLY what it looks like
That is EXACTLY what it looks like

When I took that picture, I was standing on a sidewalk that is part of my regular running route.  It has to be, because I have to regularly go through there to get to a lot of places.

So … yeah.  I run in the early morning, before work.  Before dawn.  When it is still dark.  I pay attention when I run now, to indulge in understatement.

Of course, this means I notice a lot, and it turns out that there is a lot to notice in Florida.  The big one for me is the birds – an example is this guy, whose picture I took not 100 yards from where I took the picture of the alligator:

They stand like that all the time
They stand like that all the time

This one is called an anhinga, and they are basically South American birds who also have a small range in the extreme southern United States, including most of Florida.  In other words, I never ever would have seen this bird in New York.  Incidentally, I looked him up, and they stand with their wings like that to dry them – they are water birds, but their feathers don’t get oily like a duck’s, and they struggle to fly with wet feathers.

There seem to be a million of these little lizards:

These guys are EVERYWHERE
These guys are EVERYWHERE

And, just, in general there is a lot of wildlife.  Several runs ago I spent 5 minutes watching two bats going crazy catching bugs. On the run after that I was close enough to an armadillo that I could have kicked him.  And then just after the armadillo, there were three deer that included a little yearling buck about 10 steps away.

The next day I almost stepped on something that scared me to death, and I still don’t know what it was.  It was, however, furry – so not an alligator.  Or a snake.

Oh, dear god, if I ever step on a snake…