Saturday, April 30, 2011

Taking Jorge To The Movies

While we were in Tucson, we wanted to make sure that Jorge knew that his first communion was important to us and that we were very happy that he asked us to attend the mass with him.  We told him that we will take him to do or see anything that he wanted to celebrate the occasion.

As sweet and humble as Jorge is, he didn't have any outlandish or crazy requests in response to our offer.  Instead, after we volunteered some suggestions he said he would like to see the movie "hop."

Zack and I took him to the movie theatre with the intention of having a much fun there as possible.  So, after we go in we headed to the game room and got handfuls of tokens.  We played Pinball, racing games and air hockey for about 30 minutes before hitting the concession stand.  That is where we all had the most fun.

As we approached the popcorn machine, Zack and Jorge were talking about how they both like popcorn.  So, Zack told Jorge to order whatever size he wanted.  Of course Jorge asked for the biggest bucket they had.

As the bucket was being filled, Jorge was asked if he wanted butter.  Jorge looked at Zack who told him to say yes if he wants some.  Jorge grinned from ear to ear and  told the woman filling the popcorn, "yes, please".  Then it got interesting.

Zack asked Jorge if he wanted a lot of butter or just a little.  Jorge said that he loved butter so he wanted a lot.  Then the woman behind the counter said "okay, I will give you a lot of butter since this seems like a special bucket."

I don't think Zack or I had ever seen that much butter in a single bucket of popcorn before.  It was quite a sight, but it was nothing compared to the look on Jorge's face when the bucket was handed over to him.

The next step was drinks, and for that I took him straight for the Icee machine.  Jorge's smile was from ear to ear when I told him he could mix the flavors to create his own.

I helped Jorge with the mechanics of holding the cup and opening the dispensing levers, but the amounts that went in were all his.  He almost seemed surprised when I repeatedly told him that he could put more into his cup.

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The last step in our concession adventure was the candy station.  By this point Jorge had gotten the idea that he could have anything that he wanted, but unlike the popcorn and icee this time he was much more calculating with what he wanted.  Jorge quickly skimmed through the packaged candies and moved over to the bulk display.

When Zack asked what he was looking for, Jorge said that he gets a lot of candy at home, so he was looking to get something special that he hasn't had before.  After a few minutes of searching, Jorge found some giant stripes and said that he would like one of them.

Zack held the container open and gave Jorge the tongs so that he could help himself to the candy.  Jorge delicately reached in for one piece and said "okay."

Zack and I were determined to give Jorge a special day, so we told Jorge to use the tongs to reach back into the container and get a bunch of stripes.  It was really fun to watch Jorge grab a few and look up at Zack for approval before pulling them out.  Of course Zack told Jorge to grab more before he pulled the tongs out.  By the time we left the bulk display I think there were more gummy stripes in Jorge's bag than were left in the container.

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When we sat down in the theater I had Jorge to my left and Zack to my right.  Each of them had a bucket of popcorn and a large drink.  The movie was good, but the company was great.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Shark Encounter

The last stop of our visit to Sea World was an exhibit that I had never seen before.  The Shark Encounter is an underwater moving sidewalk that is contained within a 60 foot length of acrylic.

Pictures were very challenging to take in this exhibit because the concave shape of the acrylic panels reflected all light back into the tunnel.  That meant that the shutter needed to stay open for an extended period of time in order to capture enough light to see the image.  However, the moving sidewalk meant that nothing would stay still so the images would blur as they moved while the shutter was open.

Dolphin Cove: Below Water

After we finished celebrating Barbie’s first dolphin touch, we went to the underwater viewing area of Dolphin Cove.  This was one of the most picturesque underwater viewing areas that I have ever seen.

Within 2 minutes of entering the viewing area, Barbie spotted the dolphin that touched her.

Dolphin Cove: Above Water

As the day began to wind down, we headed over to visit the Dolphin Cove before the sun went down.  Dolphin Cove is a pool where you can feed and touch the dolphins.

The Sea World staff made regular announcements that the dolphins are most sensitive around their heads, so if you try to touch them you should stay away from that area.  I think that Barbie was the only person who heard and understood these announcements because some people were waiting for close to an hour trying to “pet” a dolphin.  However, when we arrived it took Barbie just 15 minute of patiently waiting for a dolphin to come to her and put it’s tail in Barbie’s hand.

One Ocean: Killer Whales

My childhood memories of trips to Sea World always included seeing the Shamu Killer Whale show.  Unfortunately, not long ago one of the Killer Whale trainers in Orlando was fatally injured while in the killer whale tank.  Sea World has received pressure to stop the killer whale shows as a result, and they are trying to develop and implement some safety features that will allow them to keep the shows instead.  While those safety features are being developed, the show continues with one major change – no trainers are ever in the water with the killer whales.
This show was by far the most crowded show that we attended.  The crowd began to fill the stadium a full 90 minutes before the show was scheduled to start.  As a matter of fact, the stadium was filled to capacity with 15 minutes left before the scheduled start time so an announcement was made that the show would start early.
Before the show began, one of the trainers let the crowd know that Shamu gave birth to a new calf about six months ago, and that calf was now free to swim in all of the tanks with all of the other killer whales.  As a result, we may be able to see that calf during the show.  The picture below includes that calf swimming next to one of the full grown killer whales.

By the end of the show we saw five adult killer whales in addition to the calf.  I felt like a kid again as we left the stadium and talked about the beauty of these animals and our collective hope that this show will continue to exist.

Wild Arctic: Beluga Whales

While walking the park after lunch we came upon a very non-descript white building with hardly any signage on it.  What caught our attention wasn’t a sign, statue or video but rather the volume of people that were walking right past this building that was clearly placed in the path of traffic.

We decided to walk over to the door to see what was inside (and get a break from the hot sun).  When we opened the door we saw signs that this was the Wild Arctic exhibit which included Beluga Whales, Walruses and Polar Bears.

The facility is not open air so that the ambient temperature is kept relatively low with the water temperature at a constant 34 degrees. 

Blue Horizons: Dolphins

Unlike the Clyde and Seamore show, Sea World has made significant updates to the Dolphin Show.  So significant that the show is now called “Blue Horizons” and involves more than just Dolphins jumping.

In addition to six bottlenose dolphins, this show also included a false killer whale (yes that is the name of a type of dolphin) as well as humans that perform trapeze and platform diving stunts.

I  really must say that if you happen to be at Sea World, and are debating which shows to see, I strongly suggest you make sure that Blue Horizons is on your schedule.

One of the most surprising elements of the show was a group of blue and yellow macaws that fly over the crowd.  These birds were just as beautiful as the dolphins that were in the pool.

Manatee Exhibit

Manatee’s are one of those unique animals that is simultaneously cute and ugly at the same time.  The Manatee exhibit at Sea World was one of the better non-shows there.  Barbie had never seen a Manatee in person, so she was amazed at how big these sea cows were.

As herbivores, the Sea World docent would occasionally throw loose pieces of lettuce in the water as a treat.  It was funny to see how slowly they moved toward it even in what I would assume was an excited state.

This exhibit also had an under water viewing area.  This perpsective really give you an idea not only of the size of these animals, but also of how playful they are.  Some of the Manatees in this exhibit would swim ever so slowly straight at one person in the viewing area, and just before they would touch the glass, the Manatee would turn up and as their belly came across the viewing area they would pass gas blowing bubbles at the person that they were swimming toward.

These animals are so playful, and social.  This exhibit was one of our favorites of our trip.

Seal and Sea Lion Feeding

When we came to the Seal and Sea Lion feeding area, we knew we had arrived in a place of high energy by the constant roar that surrounded us.  However, this roar was not one from a cheering crowd or even a mechanical device…this was a roar from barking sea mammals that were vying for attention (and some food).

To my surprise Barbie wanted to get some fish to feed the seals and sea lions as soon as she saw the stand selling it.  I was taken aback because my wife rarely gets her hands dirty, and she is not a big fan of fish.  I guess a cute animal can get us past some of our own obstacles.

I think I was having as much fun taking pictures of Barbie feeding the seals and sea lions as she was throwing them fish.  By the time she got to the last fish in her tray, she had developed an affinity for one seal in particular who was not as vocal as the others.  Barbie was trying to ensure that this last fish would get to that quiet seal by practicing her toss.  This practicing garnered the attention of several other seal and sea lions who came over to see what was going on.  Then as this last fish went airborne and left Barbie’s hand…a bird flew in and caught it mid-toss and took it.

I think Barbie was upset at the bird for less than a minute before she realized that all day long all of these seals and sea lions are having fish tossed at them.  Once she saw someone else toss a fish to the quiet seal and it ate it, all was forgiven of the bird.

Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island

This show is one that hasn’t changed much since I was a kid.  The story is simple: a shipwrecked sailor and his sea lion are looking for a treasure map that was hidden by another pirate and his sea lion.  The task of finding the treasure map is made more complicated by a mischievous sea otter that keeps moving the treasure map.

As we watched the show, I found myself giggling before any of the tricks were done as I anticipated them.  I actually worried that I was giving away some of the surprise factor for Barbie, but not once did she seem to see anything coming.

I think that the trick that got the best reaction out of Barbie as well as most of the audience was when the sea lions would clap to get the audience to clap for them.  That got big laughs 30 years ago, and it still works today.

Dolphin Nursery

One of my fondest memories of Sea World in San Diego was the Dolphin nursery.  I loved how playful these animals were.  As Barbie loves Dolphins I knew she had to see this area to not only see the baby dolphins, but to also see how many and how playful they were.

I think we must have seen more than 12 dolphin babies in the nursery.  They were just as playful as I remembered, but as Barbie pointed out, they were also as interested in the people outside of they pool as we were of them.  It was funny to watch all of the swimming stop as one dolphin would look up at the people and all of the others would follow as well.  Then just as the swimming stopped, it would all start again.

Barbie’s First Trip To Sea World

As a child, I grew up experiencing annual visits to Sea World.  Every summer I would travel to Ohio to visit with family, and each visit would include a trip to Sea World of Ohio.  Sadly, that location was closed and sold to what is now a Six Flag’s location.  However, those memories were something that I guess I took for granted until I was a young adult.

Barbie had never been to a Sea World, and this fascinated me since this was such a staple of my youth.  Today, we decided to make her maiden voyage there and I got to relive some good memories at the same time.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cocoa Beach

Before leaving Merritt Island, we drove south to visit Cocoa Beach.  Cocoa Beach is a beautiful beach and it is the home of Ron Jon Surf Shop.  We were surprised to see so much open sand on this beautiful day.

United States Astronaut Hall Of Fame

As we drove into the NASA facility on Merritt Island, we passed a facility that looked interesting, but we kept going to Kennedy Space Center.  After leaving our intended destination, we went back to that initial building we saw and found out that it was the US Astronaut Hall of Fame.

We weren’t sure what to expect since the parking lot had less than 10 cars in it and we didn’t see anyone outside.  We were pleasantly surprised when we opened the front door.

It is hard to classify this facility.  It is a hall of fame, but it is also a set of static displays.  It is also a contextual history lesson.

The context that comes into this history lesson is seen in the picture below.  There are NASA artifacts in the glass case.  Below that case is a sign that not only explains what the artifacts are as well as snippets from pop culture to shed light on what else was going on in the world when the NASA artifact was being developed or used.

Below is a picture that I took within the Hall of Fame.  The hall contains the names, faces and mission patches of all of the inductees.