Travel Planning: Don't Plan

I'm huge on planning, but this blog,, has inspired me not to plan. In fact, it has inspired me to find a way to take a year off and travel, travel, travel.

I wish.

Travel Planning: Visiting Downtown Orlando

1. Jump on the Amtrak and stop at a random location between Orlando and Tampa: $10 to Tampa, less to downtown Kissimmee and downtown Lakeland!
It may seem weird that the first thing I'm telling you to do while in downtown Orlando is hop on the train and go somewhere else, but the Orlando train station is actually quite pretty.  It's old style charm and gorgeous curved wooden benches bring back a feeling of old-world travel, without the purse-scraping pain.  A round trip ticket to Tampa is $20- and stops in downtown Kissimmee and downtown Lakeland, both adorable little towns with shops, places to eat, beautiful lakes, ice cream parlors, and parks.  The train is comfortable and with temperatures reaching the high 90's in the summer, is a welcomed break from outdoor exploring.

2. Stop at roadside attractions.
Florida in general has a ton of roadside attractions.  There's Dinosaur World off of exit 17 on I-4, going west.  There is Gatorland, too.  There is Fantasy of Flight on I-4, as well, and of course the Jet Ski World complex by exit 44 on I-4.  Downtown Orlando is around exit 84-86 going east on I-4, so those are a ways away.  However, driving in and around the Orlando area might pose quite a few surprises: open air markets around Lake Eola, farmer's market in Winter Park, and random fairs pop-up all throughout the summer.  Be sure that anything with fruit will probably be over by early afternoon, but fairs and other cultural events typically extend into the night- such as the Zora Neale Hurston celebration in Eatonville, around exit 92-94.

3. Walk around the neighborhoods of the Historic District in downtown Orlando. 
When I say 'Historic' I don't mean to astound you with dates, people, and places- not in Florida, anyway.  The homes in this area display plaques with the year of their completion, ranging from the turn of last century (1910) to post-World War II (1950).  It's nothing compared to walking around states in New England, but the homes are beautiful, very un-Florida-like, and the age of the streets allows for really old trees creating gorgeous canopies over the street.  Even on a hot day, it's safe to walk around and enjoy walking through time, passing through the varied styles and architecture of homes throughout the decades.

4. Stop by the Orlando Public Library, check out local events.
The Orlando Public Library is pretty huge.  It's got 4 floors of wonder for you to explore and hosts many free events throughout the month.  Stopping by the library is a great way to escape the rising temperatures outside, and hopefully walk into a free show.  Musical groups play every Friday at noon, and there is a little cafe inside, too.  If you are around there during the night, the side of the building has a riddle to solve which make the side of the building play music and light-up if you get the riddle right and the order of hand-buttons to push!  However, note that internet access is only for cardholders and the library tends to be a place for the homeless to get their read on, too.  Don't hate!

5. Check out one of the downtown eateries: Drunken Monkey,  the Breakfast Club, Tijuana Flats, Napasorn Thai, Crooked Bayou, Beefy King.
Not exactly Tavern on the Green or as exciting as eating at the top of the Space Needle, but still pretty awesome!  Downtown has a (small) variety of eateries for nearly every appetite.  The Drunken Monkey is a quiet little coffee shop with vegan sandwiches and delicious baked goods.  They often have mini-art shows, improv, and game nights.  The Breakfast Club is the only all-breakfast diner downtown, and has excellent service- ask for the crepes!  Tijuana Flats, an original Orlando eatery, has fun mural paintings, a hot-sauce bar, and awesome tex-mex food!  There are a few Thai places, sandwich shops, and sushi places, but I prefer fried pickles.  For that sort of delicacy, stop by Crooked Bayou on Central Blvd.

6. Visit the Orlando History Center and check out their visiting exhibit!
The Orlando History Center is inexpensive and awesome.  It used to be the original courthouse downtown, and still has the courtroom open for your perusal.  They often have traveling exhibits and other events you can attend.  I recently saw the Jim Henson exhibit and it was wonderful.  The permanent exhibit focuses on the early settlers of the area, their lifestyle, and the growth and expansion of central Florida.  There are fun hands-on projects for kids, too!

7.  Visit Leu Gardens!
On a cool day, or post-rain day, Leu Gardens is spectacular.  Lots of trails ribbon around the massive grounds and pass through rose gardens, historic plantation home, vegetable gardens, an old cemetery, and of course many, many plants and flowers.  It is actually quite nice, and free before noon.  There are many areas to hold a wedding, as well, so don't be surprised to see lots of brides-to-be taking pictures of the areas and notes on how to decorate.  

Notes in closing:
8. Stay hydrated, in the shade, and pick up the Orlando Weekly.  The Orlando weekly lists upcoming events in the Orlando area and is a great source for things off the beaten path.

9. Go thrift shopping.  Now.  There are plenty of old people in Florida, and as such, there are plenty of their things in awesome thrift stores throughout the area.  You can find just about anything, and in great shape!  My entire board game collection and furniture have come from thrift store visits.

10. Do not cave and go to Disney, Universal, Sea World, or anywhere on I-4. Please.  For more information on discovering central Florida and downtown Orlando, check out my friend Ashley's blog, Pulse of Central Florida.

Label Reminder!

Just a quick reminder on what the preceding labels mean in my post titles:

Travel Info: any news or personal experience stuff
Tech Travel: new electronics used for travel
Flashback Trip: past trips taken
Travel Buyables: travel merch
Travel Planning: personal planning
Travel Tips and How To’s: things to do, tutorials, etc
Travel in Style: stylish merchandise, these are more luxury items
Travel Ease: deals, or programs like ‘Clear’
Travel Tools: online apps and sites
Travel Buddy: highlights on fellow travel bloggers

Tech Travel: Dyson Hand Dryers

So, this is the first time I've seen these!  They are the Dyson air blade hand dryers, which were located at the airport in Detroit, Michigan.  I was on a connecting flight to Boston, when I had to use the bathroom and saw these!  They are absolutely awesome.

Trip Flashback: Universal Studios

So, first off, it pays to have connections.  Kevin, over at the Buccaneers, was able to score us some free tickets to Universal!  It was great because they also covered parking, valet style!  Before I go into the rides, let me talk about the park a little.  I love Universal Studios- for starters, before you even enter the park, there is a whole area you can spend the day wandering around a really pretty lake, where they have fireworks at night: CityWalk.  There is a massive movie theatre, tons of eateries (including a BubbaGump Shrimp Co.) and some of course the massive, rotating Universal globe.  
When you walk up to Universal Studios, there are characters at the gates- we saw Dora standing out there, posing for pics.  The 'backlot' and 'set' look for Universal is still pretty awesome- there are a ton of photo ops just walking around.  Be prepared to spend money if you want anything to eat/drink, but know that in that part of Orlando, there are a TON of fast food places.  Kevin and I stopped at Chik-Fil-A before our park adventure, and it was amazing.
Ok, so we're in the park now and the first stop was the Lucille Ball tribute!  It should really be the Lucy/Desi tribute, because they were together since the radio program!  He is in a lot of stuff, but it's important to know that you really needed both of them, to love either of them.  The love they had for each other was so evident- the annoying qualities that Lucy overtook in her show were only made endearing by her loving husband, Ricky, after all!  So magical. Anyway, after that we went to the Horror Make-Up Show!  Honestly, I think Universal needs a wake-up call.  The host and help were annoying and the material was dated.  However, I enjoyed the history of monster make-up in the movies and the AC was a great break from the scorching sun.

Next, we headed to an oldie, but a goodie: ET.  The wait was minimal, 10 minutes- and it is always awesome to hear ET say your name at the end.  Unless, of course, you have a name that ISN'T in their system (ahem).  That's why I pick a different name!  This way, when I wait for my name, I don't have to cry inside while mouths while nothing comes out of his mouth.  I chose 'Cheyenne,' which sort of upsets me much more common is Cheyenne than Veronique!?

After that, we wandered over to the new Simpsons ride!  It was fantastic.  The wait was a bit longer, about 30 minutes- but well worth it for me.  However, I did get a bit queasy on the thing and the 3-d was phenomenal but headache inducing for me.  All in all, though, it's an instant classic and I would go on it again!  It was an annoying wait, though, because most of the line-waiting is outside- which is hell in Florida.  Good thing Kevin and I got sodas before jumping in line!

Next, we walked around a bit and decided to pass on Jaws.  Why, you ask?  Simple- that ride has so much fire-in-water, it's so effing hot.  I swear half of my eyebrows get singed every time I'm on the thing.  Also, I know this is weird, but the Jaws animatronix thing that comes out of the water actually scares me and has been known to give me nightmares.  I stay away.

At this point we were in need of some cold- so we went to the Twister ride!  You know, it's a great ride and the behind-the-scenes they show from the movie is fantastic.  Plus, who doesn't love Helen Hunt or Bill Paxton (when you can remember he's not Bill Pullman).  The wind is soo refreshing, but don't stand in the last row because that's where the rain pipes are connected and I had a constant dripping that felt good at the time- but later smelled real nasty when it dried.  The flying cow-on-a-string still gets me, too!

After that, we headed to Shrek 4-D<--- LOVE IT.  I can't even get into details other than the story is great, the animation is awesome, and the fact that the seats move makes me clap.

On our way out, we swung by Terminator to see if there was another show- and there was.  It is still awesome, and the live actors were actually pretty good.  It's kinda weird, though, seeing footage of Arnold Schwartzenegger and knowing he's a governor..!  

Travel Info: US Passport Cards

I'm usually really jealous of Europe because they seem so...organized.  An international railway system, the Euro, the Chunnel- all of these things help connect the individual European countries into one highly navigable continent.  Boy would I like to be able to take a super-fast train from Orlando to Boston for less than a plane ticket... but alas, this escapes us, yet.

What is cool to find out, though, is that a new organization, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, is working on bridging national gaps for North America and into Latin America. How? Simple, two new endeavors, listed below, are making travel much easier.  The US Passport Card, for example, is FAR easier to carry than a typical passport and fits nicely in our wallet- plus it costs less than a US Passport.  However, it is only valid for land or sea travel, so don't expect to fly to Europe on it.  The other is a Western Hemisphere driver's license, which you can read more about below.

U.S. Passport Card – This is a new, limited-use travel document that fits in your wallet and costs less than a U.S. Passport. It is only valid for travel by land and sea.

Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) – Several states and Canadian provinces are issuing this driver’s license or identification document that denotes identity and citizenship. It is specifically designed for cross-border travel into the U.S. by land or sea.

To read my previous post on Passport, click here: Passport Info

Tech Travel: Skylino Baby Pod

Have you ever walked into the home of somebody who'd recently had a baby and you go to the baby's room and that's when you hear it: a heart beat. It's actually quite creepy. Apparently, though, that's sold for a reason: babies need to be near the bodies of their mothers. I've since read that they become accustomed to the sound of the mother's beating heartbeat while in the womb and so, the metronome heartbeat soothes them, creepy as it maybe!
All in all, children are calmer, more soothed when they are closer to their parents- all snuggled up. Drumroll, please! Here comes Skylino, sort of like a fancy pants snugli meant to keep a child close to the parent while their hands are busy putting luggage away and getting settled on the plane. Designed over by the people at Yanko, the child pod is stylishly designed keeping in mind the three point belts used in modern planes. No price, but whatever you spend, just keep the kiddies quiet on my 7 hour flight from Seattle to Orlando. Thank you :)