There She Goes Again... A March PTR

Discussion in 'Pre-Trip Reports and Plans' started by Colleen27, Nov 3, 2017.

  1. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    Hi all, and welcome to the planning for my latest crazy adventure. Readers beware: pretty much everything I plan is subject to change. Sometimes more than once. And once I'm on the road, those plans might just get thrown out the window. But the planning is still worth doing. Because planning a trip is almost as much fun as taking it.

    Chapter One: The Who

    I'm Colleen, the compulsive road tripper behind my family's many journeys here and there... a fair number of which just so happen to lead us to Disney World. I'm a mom to three, a long time SAHM and recent college grad, and wanderlust is in my DNA, much to the dismay of my homebody husband and son. We live in southeast Michigan, about an hour from Detroit and a stone's throw from Canada.

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    Joining me on this adventure is that homebody son, 19, who rolls his eyes every time I start talking Disney but when offered a trip to anywhere his heart desired for his graduation could think of nothing better than taking his SO to WDW. He graduated last year and is currently working towards a 2 year degree in welding. He's not much of a traveler - he'd rather spend his money on concrete things - but once we're on the road he always has a good time.

    Then there is the reason for the trip, DS's SO, who we shall call D. Also 19, D has never left the state of Michigan, something DS finds inconceivable. I'd never say this in front of DS, but D and I have a lot of interests in common and I'm counting on her influence to smooth over some of the little detours I've got planned for the road since they're places she geeks out over just as much as I do.

    Unfortunately, the two of them don't pose for pics very often so I don't have one to share. I'll probably add one tomorrow when D gives me their Halloween pics - they went as Shaggy and Velma from Scooby Doo, which was just too funny!

    Also along for the ride are my daughters, ages 16 and 9. Older DD, S, is a junior in high school and a classic overachiever who keeps me running with all her activities and commitments. She plays softball, raises rabbits, competes in archery, and in her free time can usually be found up a tree somewhere.

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    Younger DD, K, is in the 4th grade and adores Disney even more than I do. This will be her eighth trip to the World - not bad for a 9 year old! She's a total drama queen in the best possible way; she loves the theatre, both going to shows and performing. She's also a typical little sister, in that she mimics everything her sister does, so she also raises rabbits and shoots competitively and she's recently discovered swim team.

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    Both girls are travelers like me, and used to my crazy ideas. On our last drive to WDW, we made a little detour to visit Senoia, Georgia, where they film the Walking Dead, just to see some of the locations from the show. More recently, the three of us and my mother drove down to Franklin, Kentucky, just for one night to be there for the eclipse. So there's never a doubt in my mind that the girls will be up for whatever side trips and stops I dream up.

    My homebody husband is sitting this one out. Planning around three different school schedules was difficult enough without also trying to avoid the weeks he can't be away from work, and he's not a big road tripper anyway. I'm pretty sure 18+ hours in a car with three teenagers and a 9yo is some creative variation on divine punishment in his mind. He has a lot lower chaos tolerance than I do!
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2017
  2. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    Chapter Two: The What

    A 2500 mile round trip journey from the frigid cornfields of rural Michigan to some of the most exciting destinations central Florida has to offer!

    This trip has been on and then off and then on again, largely because one of my "bonus" kids was living with us for a while and the extra person made the planning daunting. Partly because of costs, but also because he's a troubled kid and not the easiest person to travel with. But long story short, his mother found housing in our school district and he moved back in with his family. And once that happened, DS started talking about a trip again.

    And somehow in the planning, the trip changed. Grew. Took on a life of its own.

    I've told my kids that they each get to choose the destination for a "last hurrah" family trip the year they graduate from high school. DS started out thinking big - first he wanted the UK, until he realized that there are about two days worth of things he wants to see there and a lot of "boring history" that I'd insist on seeing if we went to all the trouble of crossing an ocean. Then he was talking about Hawaii, which is much more his speed. But then came D. They've been dating for almost two years and about 6 months ago DS started talking about wanting to include D in the grad trip. But taking 6 people to Hawaii is not something our budget can absorb right now, and D has mentioned quite a few times how cool she thinks it is that DS has been to Disney so many times.

    So DS did something I never expected. HE suggested going to Disney World!

    So that settled the ultimate destination, and I settled the transportation without consulting the rest of the cast. I hate to fly, I love my new-to-me van, and with three drivers, road tripping seemed like a no-brainer (a decision that was reinforced this week by the announcement that Southwest is pulling out of my preferred airport). It probably won't save us any money, once I add up what we're spending on the side trips en route, but the money will be spent in much more fun ways than waiting in TSA lines, folding ourselves into uncomfortable seats, and worrying about how we'll haul our souvenirs home.

    Then came the add ons.

    In 2013, S and I drove down to Disney with her best friend - another "bonus" child in our family who had never been that far from home - and while we were in Florida we spent a night in Homosassa so we could go kayaking at Weeki Wachee State Park where the manatees spend the winters. S is strangely fascinated by manatees and plans to major in marine biology, so this was something she was really looking forward to. Only Mother Nature threw a bit of a wrench in the works, and it was about 38° when we launched our kayaks. We still had a good time, but the manatees weren't very active because they wanted to stay in the warm spring water.

    So S asked if we could plan a do-over since we're driving again.

    Of course we can!

    Then we got to talking. D said she's never seen the ocean - well, of course, since she's never left the state! But my girls said the same. And I realized K really hasn't. S has, but she apparently doesn't remember. I think she was 4 the last time we were on the coast, so that makes sense.

    But this cannot be allowed to stand, not when we're heading to a place literally surrounded by ocean!

    So I decided to add a beach day.

    And after a little digging around various travel sites and talking to some friends, I settled on the mother of all beaches - Daytona. I've never been, but it reminds me of Virginia Beach, Ocean City, and Myrtle Beach - all the classic touristy Atlantic beach towns. And I loved those places when I was a teenager, so I think they'll enjoy it too.

    Oh, and there's one more stop... less of a detour than the others, but the most exciting to me. We're stopping at Rock City to see the ridiculous tourist trap there. Why? Because D and I are both huge Neil Gaiman fans, and tourist traps in general and that one in particular play a big role in his American Gods. Yeah, we're nerdy like that! (Actually, Weeki Wachee's mermaid show gets a nod in the book too, and neither D nor DS believed it was real until I showed them the website.) It only adds about an hour to our drive time, after all, so why not?

    So there it is, the full trip. Bike Week in Daytona is the weekend we'll be heading home, so we're doing the beach day at the front end of the trip and the manatee viewing and Rock City on the way home.
     
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  4. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    Chapter Three: The Where

    So, now on to the nitty-gritty.

    The where has already changed twice, but I don't think any more changes are in the cards.

    We started off at Caribbean Beach Resort, which has DS's favorite pool of all the Disney resorts we've stayed at, but the only rooms eligible for the winter discounts are the pirate rooms. And even with the discount, those were more expensive than the rack rate standard room I was using as a point of comparison.

    So when the discounts dropped with almost no moderate availability, I changed things up and decided to book a cabin at Fort Wilderness. This was a far from ideal solution, since D has some mobility challenges and uses a walker with a seat when she needs to be on her feet all day, but I figured we could make it work by renting a golf cart. But having just the one bathroom was a bit of a daunting thought.

    What to do, what to do?

    Like any good DISer, I just stalked the Disney site until something better opened up.

    And like they say, the third time is the charm.

    After about a week of checking, I lucked into two standard rooms at Coronado Springs - my personal favorite moderate when I'm traveling with the kids - with the Stay, Play, Dine discount.

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    To say I'm pleased with the change is an understatement. I'm happier than if our first choice had worked out, because I have serious misgivings about staying at CBR with all the construction. Normally it wouldn't bother me, but the whole food-court-in-a-tent thing is apparently where I draw the line!
     
  5. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    And finally...

    Chapter Four: The When

    This was a bit of a sticking point, but fortunately it worked itself out nicely... DS and D go to the same college, so we decided to go over their spring break rather than waiting for the end of their school year and ending up with conflicts with S's softball season. We should - assuming better luck than on our last March trip! - have pretty nice weather, almost no chance of it being too hot (which is hard on D because of her health issues), and get to enjoy my favorite of the Epcot festivals, Flower & Garden.

    The trip will be March 2 to 11, with the 4th to 9th spent at Disney. That will give us four full park days, plus flexible arrival and departure days to enjoy the resort, explore Disney Springs, or revisit a park we want to see a little more of.

    Right now, the rough itinerary looks something like this:

    March 2 - Leave late afternoon, drive through the night. With three drivers and a movie player in the car to occupy K, I'm hoping we can do this with minimal stops and all get at least some sleep. According to Google it is 16.5 hours door-to-door, and I'd like to be on the road between 5 and 6. Any earlier and we'd hit rush hour in Detroit.

    March 3 - Arrive in Daytona around mid-afternoon. Explore, have dinner, check in to our oceanfront motel. We're staying a little south of the main tourist area but still on the water, in a cheap place that gets good reviews for cleanliness which is all I really ask for a one-night stay.

    March 4 - On the road by 10, get to Disney by noon. Straight to the Contemporary for brunch at Cali Grill, then over to CSR to get settled in. Dinner at Raglan Road, maybe a little shopping if we're in the mood for it.

    March 5 - Studios day. Lunch at 50s Prime Time, late dinner at Yachtsman Steakhouse after the park closes.

    March 6 - Epcot and Flower & Garden festival. K & I Have an early breakfast at Cape May and will do rope drop; the teens will sleep in and catch up later. DS & D are having dinner at Rose & Crown, the girls and I are going to Spice Road Table.

    March 7 - Our only early morning for everyone, Magic Kingdom. Pre-opening breakfast at Be Our Guest, early dinner at Narcoosees then back to the park for evening EMH.

    March 8 - Animal Kingdom. Lunch at Tiffins, dinner at Yak & Yeti. This is the day where plans are most likely to change, depending on whether or not we do Disney After Hours in the evening.

    March 9 - Check out. Probably just swimming, maybe a bit of shopping, long-shot possibility of a bit of park time. Early dinner at Maya Grill before we get on the road. Drive to Weeki Wachee, check into our hotel for the night.

    March 10 - Kayaking and mermaids, then on the road towards home. The goal is to make it to near Rock City/the TN border before stopping, and we'll just find somewhere to stop at the last minute.

    March 11 - See Rock City! Then back on 75 for the second half of the drive home.
     
  6. Denamac

    Denamac Mouseketeer

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    Love your plans! I have one comment and maybe you are aware, but if you have the dining plan you may need to check in first before having brunch (if you are using the plan). We ran in to this problem back in September. We were told for our dining plan and tickets to be "active" we had to physically check in first. Maybe we were a fluke but just wanted you to be aware, just in case. We are staying at POFQ March 8-13. Our paths don't seem to cross but you never know!
     
  7. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    My understanding is that if you do online check in you don't have to go to the front desk first, since you never actually have to go there anyway. I'm hoping the app will be able to clue me in if there's a problem, since the credit-tracker feature doesn't show up until you've checked in and the plan is active.
     
  8. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    So, I'm back... with changes. It really wouldn't be a Colleen27 trip without them!

    For some reason, I got it into my head to check one last time for availability at CBR. And this time, I found it. I waffled a bit before I pulled the trigger, because I do have some misgivings about the construction, but ultimately the Freestyle machines in the villages and the fact that we so rarely eat at our resort convinced me to go with DS's preference. So we now have two standard rooms at CBR with a note on the reservation requesting ground floor for medical reasons.

    And there's another big change since I booked... I somehow ended up going back to work. It really wasn't planned but a job opened up in my field, in my town, which pretty much NEVER happens since there's only one paper that covers our small town, and that paper only has one full-time reporter! Now I'm that reporter, and to say it is my dream job is an understatement. I love doing community journalism and I love that I can do it in my town, working largely from home/in the field. I only pop in to the office, which is about 40 minutes away, once a week or so. Fortunately, the new job isn't going to get in the way of the trip other than throwing some potential for me to have to squeeze some work in around the fun.
     
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  9. Denamac

    Denamac Mouseketeer

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    We did do online check-in and I had the same understanding as you, but we couldn't get in to Magic Kingdom that morning and had to go to Guest Services. Their explanation was because I didn't physically check-in that morning and I was trying to get in the park before the 3:00 official check-in. Doesn't make sense now, didn't make sense then but I know we couldn't get in that morning and that was their reason.
     
  10. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    Ugh, I hope we don't run into that! If we have time, I'll try to swing by the resort before brunch but I'm not sure we'll get in early enough for that.

    Were you there before or after the MDE update that shows dining plan credits? I'm hoping the app can be my early-warning system... If everything is showing up, hopefully we're good. If not, I'll at least know there is a problem.
     
  11. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    Tomorrow is FastPass day and I don't feel at all prepared!

    I know which parks we'll be in on each day. I have a rough idea of our itinerary, done mostly in Touring Plans customized itinerary tool. But I'm not at all sure I have my FP wishlist right just yet!

    Studios is the toughest park. We're only going to be there from a noon lunch until closing, and the FP tiers make it impossible to tour efficiently. This is what I have so far...

    1 p.m. Star Tours
    2 p.m. Toy Story
    3 p.m. Tower of Terror

    Other than those, MuppetVision and Rock N Roller Coaster are the only things on our list, so I'm hoping well be able to get everything done with plenty of time to spare before the fireworks. Dinner isn't until after the park closes.

    Epcot is easier. K & I will hit Frozen and a few favorites early, but all our FPs will be for when the big kids catch up with us.

    11:30 a.m. Spaceship Earth
    12:30 p.m. Mission Space
    1:30 p.m. Test Track

    Most of the day is unplanned for exploring the World Showcase, and we're splitting up for dinner around Illuminations. If we can find an early enough time, I'll get a 4th for Soarin' before we head into the countries, but if not, we'll hit it when we come back to Future World during evening EMH.

    Magic Kingdom is easy just because it is a long day and we can hopefully we'll be able to use our three early and get more later. We have a pre park opening Be Our Guest breakfast, and I'm planning all the Fastpasses before noon.

    9 a.m. Seven Dwarves Mine Train
    10:30 Jungle Cruise
    11:30 Haunted Mansion

    I'll hunt for extras on the fly. We're touring more in geographic order than anything, to minimizethe walking for D, so after Haunted Mansion we'll cover Fantasyland before hopping the train back to Main Street and heading over to Narcoosees for dinner. Talking Mickey is on the agenda, so we'll either do that right before or right after our break, then do Tomorrowland when we come back for evening EMH.

    Animal Kingdom is, of course, the big challenge... Getting Flight of Passage! I plan on leaving Pandora for the end of the night but I'll take whatever I can get. We'll be in the park from lunch to close, so hopefully I'll get something that works, and I figure my plan for this day is the one that is most likely to change. Dinner is Yak and Yeti at 6, but even that will change if it conflicts with what FPs I can get.

    1 p.m. Safari
    2 p.m. Dinosaur
    7 p.m. Flight of Passage

    And depending on how the day goes and whether there are tickets left, we might head over to MK for Disney After Hours.
     
  12. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    And one more really fun change... Our plans for the drive home part of the trip are up in the air, for the best of reasons. I'm so fed up with the cold that I booked a quick trip to Florida for this Sunday. We're renting a river house and kayaking with the manatees at Weeki Wachee next week. :hyper:

    So, a revised plan for the drive home is coming soon.:drive:
     
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  13. Pam Auckland

    Pam Auckland Earning My Ears

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    I just booked my FP today so we must be going at the same time. I have never been and it seems so overwhelming on what to choose to may sure you get everything in. I am already second guessing some of my choices. So many people suggest Toy story but I booked the belle show because my daughter is a huge fan. Also someone suggested the Soarin ride at Epcot which is not currently a FP for me. So much to figure out.
     
  14. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    It really is a lot. I'm finding it a bit overwhelming this time, and we've been so many times that we don't even try to do everything any more. But since we're taking a first timer I am trying to at least hit all the highlights and classics, which is tough with just one day per park.

    FTR, the main reason people recommend Toy Story over the Belle show when booking FPs is because you can usually get into Beauty & the Beast without a long wait without one. So it isn't that Toy Story is the better attraction, it is that the Fastpass will save you more time there.

    Soarin' is well worth a visit, whether you have a FP or not. I hear the wait times aren't what they used to be before the third theatre and the new show opened, so the FP isn't as essential as it used to be. Which is good, because if you have a princess lover in the family the Frozen ride is a MUCH better use of the top-tier FP choice at Epcot.
     
  15. Denamac

    Denamac Mouseketeer

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    We were there in September, Labor Day Weekend.
     
  16. shannie102

    shannie102 Mouseketeer

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    so...did you get the FP you wanted?!?!
     
  17. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    Yep :) Nothing is more than 10 or 15 minutes from my target time, so now I'm working on detailed day-by-day plans for each park.
     
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  18. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    A little diversion...
    In case you missed it, 2018 has thus far been jam packed with record-setting cold for us in the frigid midwest. Like, the girls' first THREE days back from Christmas break were cancelled not for snow and ice but for -20 windchills kind of cold. And it was making me seriously crazy.

    Enter Frontier Air... I got an e-mail advertising super-low last minute fares to FL, where some friends were whining about temps in the 40s and 50s. And at that point, I might have considered selling my soul to see something above freezing. But I held out, determined to soldier on endure the cold with the stoic nature befitting a lifelong Michigander.

    Then I got another e-mail, this time from Spirit. And the fares were even better. And the dates worked out perfectly.

    That was Thursday night. The temperature was -2, with a windchill around -25, and we weren't even supposed to see a positive number for the high on Friday.


    Is it any wonder I booked that flight?

    So the girls and I took off on Sunday morning, leaving Detroit behind and heading off to sunny Florida. I thought about booking a Disney resort but I knew the budget could't handle park tickets and all of that, so I did something else that we love in Florida - I hopped on AirBnB and found a house to rent on the Weeki Wachee River, where we could kayak and swim with the manatees, go hiking and biking and birdwatching, and generally enjoy being in a place where the outdoors was something to enjoy, not something to avoid.

    We landed at MCO around 1:30 on a cool-for-Florida 64° day. It felt PERFECT to us!

    Even though I decided against it being a Disney trip, it didn't really feel right to be so close to Disney and not visit. And the girls were hungry. So we headed to Disney Springs for a late lunch on our way to our non-Disney adventures. We ended up at a restaurant I haven't tried before, Jock Lindsay's Hangar Bar.

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    On any other day, I'd probably have ordered a drink. But it was only mid-afternoon, I'd already been up for 10 hours, and we had a couple hours to go before we got to our lodging for the night, so I stuck to Diet Coke. Both girls ordered Antidotes (which led to an Indiana Jones movie night later in the trip to explain the reference). These are a non-alcoholic specialty - Sprite and grenadine, topped with a cherry, better known as a Shirley Temple in the real world.

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    We ordered a bit of everything. The menu is basically bar food - meal-sized appetizers - with a far Eastern flair. We ended up ordering ahi tuna nachos, Marrakesh shrimp which came with a harissa dipping sauce, and the Obi-Wan orange-ginger chicken wings. Everything was very good and the portions were bigger than I expected. We took almost all of the wings and a few of the shrimp home with us.

    My one and only complaint about the place was the birds. We sat out on the patio, soaking up the lovely warmth that we had come all the way to Florida for, but by the middle of our meal found ourselves wishing we'd stayed inside because the tables around us ended up swarmed by scavenging birds as soon as the parties seated there had left. They were really bold and grabby, and they scared Katie a bit. Other than that, it was a lovely meal and I'd gladly go back on one of our non-dining-plan trips in the future. Preferably when I have the energy to drink!

    After lunch, we walked over to Goofy's so the girls could get sugar sticks. Then we stopped at Sprinkles because Shanna liked the one in Chicago when we were there on her 8th grade class trip, so Katie wanted to try it. Katie got a trio of minis. I don't remember all of the flavors. One was chocolate with chocolate frosting, so intensely chocolate that it took us two days to finish it between the three of us. The other two must have been lighter because she polished them off without sharing - one at Disney Springs and the other after dinner that night. I got a carrot cake cupcake which was good, but nothing spectacular... I really don't get the hype around Sprinkles, especially at their prices. There are better cupcake bakeries in my area with more creative menus and lower prices. Shanna got a root beer float.

    Then we piled back into the rental car and headed to our next stop: Showcase of Citrus. We go apple picking every fall here in Michigan and the kids have asked a few times about u-pick oranges in Florida, but we've never had a car on a trip when they were in season before. So this was a must-do stop on the way to the Gulf Coast.

    Shanna was in her glory. Every time I turn around, that kid is up a tree somewhere.

    [​IMG]

    Showcase of Citrus is a cute little tourist trap, with everything from citrus wines to soaps to cheesy souvenirs. Their u-pick prices were surprisingly reasonable - we got a 5# bag of fruit and a bottle of wine and spent less than $20. And no tourist trap would be complete without cheesy photo ops like this one.

    [​IMG]

    The sun was setting by the time we left, and we got to our rental about an hour later. I rented a place called Mermaid's Landing, a one-bedroom lower flat with adorable mermaid decor that came with bikes and kayaks for our use and was located on a canal just a few houses from the river we kayaked on our 2013 trip to the area. The river is spring-fed and warm, about 72° year round, so manatees like to spend the winter there, but it is far less busy and less commercial than the bigger springs at Crystal River where the better-known manatee viewing areas are.

    We spent the next three days kayaking, paddleboarding, hiking, and birdwatching at our rental and at nature areas around the area. I love this part of Florida - for all the time I've spent at Disney, I've never seriously thought about living in/near Orlando, but I could live in Weeki Wachee quite happily. I live every minute we spend there, and next year I'm taking DH to see if he feels the same because I'm seriously thinking of a possible post-kids move down there.

    Shanna checked off one of her bucket-list adventures - taking a selfie with a manatee. She loves the silly things, and they (and The Seas pavilion) were some of the first inspirations for her desire to work in marine biology. Strangely, they seemed to love her too... She had a couple of them just floating around her, pawing at her paddleboard, posing for pictures, and butting up against her hand for maybe a half hour as she took pictures.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    It was a perfect escape from the cold! Even working is more pleasant when it is done from a screen porch with this kind of view to enjoy. I did have to work while were there, and Shanna had school work to keep up with, but we spent basically every waking moment outdoors and had plenty of time fit in trips up the river around those responsibilities.

    We flew home Wednesday afternoon, just in time for a few days of warmer weather here. It was actually 52° yesterday, and I'm glad I was home because I've spent the last few days covering ice and flood damage around my community. Most of my job can be done remotely, but not that - the photography is too important.

    Unfortunately, winter came back today so I'm right back to counting down to our next adventure... Just 48 days until we leave Michigan behind again to journey down to sunny Florida.
     
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