Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wild Africa Trek - With a Dash of Disney Magic

Over the years I have come to realize not to sweat major disappointments in life as they have a way of quickly turning around with spectacular results. My journey on the Wild Africa Trek at Disney's Animal Kingdom illustrates that point quite well and with a healthy dose of Disney magic thrown in.

I am a big Disney fan, veteran of nearly 200 visits since 1976, and I was looking for something a little different for this trip. I noticed years ago on a visit to Animal Kingdom there were guests in harnesses crossing bridges and walking dangerously close to crocodiles. You can see them quite clearly from the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. This was on my bucket list for quite a while so I planned an entire trip just for this one excursion.

A few facts you need to know. Park admission is required. Even though this trek takes 3 hours of your day, you still need to buy a ticket to get in the park. It's also ferociously expensive. Our Trek was around $150.00. That is Per Person!! Also at Noon but the morning trip I wanted was $200.00 which pushed it out of my consideration entirely. And this is with every discount we could work out. So your next question - Was it worth it... Well not so fast.

P1000369This is Florida in the autumn. It rains, it lightnings, and on this day it thundered so loud we heard the echo off Mount Everest about a quarter mile away. The Trek runs for 3 hours rain or shine but lightning will put a hold on your plans. We had a good hour and a half of rain this day and it all happened while we were gearing up and waiting for the weather to clear. While we stood out of the rain our tour guides for the day entertained us non stop the entire time. With every thunder crack, our wait clock got reset for 15 minutes. We were just about a minute away from leaving the hut when the sky decided to fire off one last parting shot. That cancelled our Trek for the day.


In years past, this would have ruined my entire vacation. I would have flown off into a pouting rage and ruined everyone's vacation around me. Well I've grown up and this is Disney so this is what happened.

We were given the choice of a refund (no way), the next tour at 2:30 (um... still rainy) or 8:30 am the next morning (Bingo - The expensive tour). We had some other plans but the Trek was the main reason we came so we took door number three.

P1000351So how did we finish the day? Of course as luck would have it, we stopped for lunch and came out to clear blue skies. The free ponchos we acquired were well appreciated on the Kali River Rapids. Later we took a bus to Magic Kingdom to ride the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride. Next a monorail to EPCOT and scored a seat at the Rose and Crown Pub for dinner and the best seats in the park for the fire works. Perfect day even though we completely missed the event we came for.

P1000320The next day the weather was absolutely perfect. We met our guides Moira and Jenny at the entrance and were greeted like long lost friends. We already spent and hour and half with the very bubbly, funny, and knowledgeable Jenny and I specifically requested her for our tour the next day. I would like to think I really had that kind of pull but it was just pure luck of the drawl she told me. (wink wink)

Time for the Trek.

 After signing a short waiver and removing everything from our pockets like wallets and cell phones and putting them in lockers, we were fitted for a harness, headset, water bottle, and a huge amount of enthusiasm from our guides.

P1000436Will your Trek be like mine? Probably not. Every animal cooperated. The gorillas were feeding and roaming right in front of us. The Hippos swam across the pond for a bit of lettuce. The Zebra, Giraffe, Rhinos, and Elephants all decided that today was the day to be frisky, playful, and running. One of the crocodiles snapped at another just feet below us. We even had an Ostrich challenge our right to be off the road and blocked our way for a bit.

You may or may not get that lucky but you will certainly get an education, a fantastic meal on the Savannah, a very stimulating rope bridge, and an album full of photos taken of your party and the wildlife to download later and enjoy at home.


OK - time to answer the big question. This trip was just a bit more than I could really afford but it is one I will never forget and always be talking about to whoever will listen. It was made even more unforgettable because of the guides and staff who made this dream come true for me even with a glitch in the weather that was not in their control. It will also always remind me that no matter the size of the disappointment, don't dwell on the losses, concentrate on wins.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Stuart Heritage Museum


It may look small from the outside but it's full of history on the inside. I have passed by the Stuart Heritage Museum a hundred times over the years. Either I'm at the wrong time, in too big a hurry, or with the wrong person. I finally timed my visit downtown to coincide with the museum's operating hours and went inside.


First surprise, it's a lot bigger than it looks from the outside. I've been in a lot of small town museums and there is not a lot to write about. This one covers the entire history of the town. In Florida that usually means a hundred years or so. Second surprise, we got a very detailed tour from a very knowledgeable staff member. About an hours worth. 


Stuart was primarily a port town and then a railroad stop. This would have been around the time my grandfather was sailing the coast. I remember him telling me stories of picking up bananas in Panama but did he also grab a load of pineapples in Florida? I'll probably never know but this would be the place to find out.


So many items in this museum were a remembrance from some point in my life. They also have a great story of buried treasure but I'll save that one for your visit.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Fork & Balls - Fort Lauderdale FL

 It's been a while since I've been so impressed by an eatery I felt compelled to write about it. Starting with the quirky name, Fork & Balls grabbed my attention.

I actually went a few weeks ago before they were fully open. That did not stop the lovely hostess at the front door from giving me a tour anyway. I promised I would be back and I made good on that recently.

I found this unusual level of friendliness actually extended all the way through my meal on my return trip.  I don't know when I've had better service. Granted this is a very new establishment but I have a feeling it will be this way a while. Everyone genuinely is excited about their new restaurant and it shows. That and I asked just to be sure.

So what is this place all about? Well meat balls of course. Now if you are going to primarily serve something anyone's Mamma can make them at home, you better make them a little different. Meatballs here are so different in fact, I don't know of anyone's Mamma even coming close to the flavor.

You get four of these taste explosions in a little metal pan. I up-scaled my meal with the best fried calamari I have ever experienced. It's also a good idea to toss in a nice side veggie.

I was down on Las Olas in the afternoon as I don't mind the heat as much as I mind the crowds. I was informed they don't take reservations and for a place that just opened, there is a wait in the evening. They also have music later on into the night.

I will be going back soon and with more friends. There is plenty more on the menu to try and a vast collection of beers. This may be a regular stop for me for a little while. Hope to see you there.