a peek inside the fishbowl

05 Mar, 2007

The family goes on holiday

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Easy ways to make kids happy|Photography|travel talk

My creation

1. Magic Kingdom, 2. Sarah on the Barnstormer, 3. Emma loves the roller coaster, 4. The trolley, heading towards the Magic Kingdom, 5. Emma, on the ferry looking towards the Magic Kingdom, 6. Sarah looked a bit more like I would have liked to look, 7. Shark tank, 8. Emma catches an anole, 9. Flamingoes

First, here it is in a very small nutshell:

Saturday – arrival at Orlando airport, move into our digs
Sunday – Kennedy Space Centre and the Canaveral Beach
Monday – Animal Kingdom
Tuesday – Sea World and lunch with the sharks
Wednesday – Magic Kingdom
Thursday – Gatorland, Shell World, Target
Friday – shopping, swimming, packing
Saturday – more packing, home to Ottawa!

Before I go on,  tell me, what would you do if you found a frog in your toilet? Say, first thing in the morning when you’re about to sit down and pee? I thought I’d throw that out now, so it can remain in the back of your head while reading about our most recent family adventure.

And what an adventure it was. More details follow below the fold.

We went to Orlando, Florida. Points to those of you who guessed it correctly from yesterday’s post!

I hardly know how to organize my thoughts. I’m tempted to go chronologically, but how to deal with the boring bits? Okay, I decree that my observations here will only include highlights in point form. For more details you’ll have to skip over to the Flickr set and read through the captions over there.

-First, the weather, OMG the weather was amazing. It was in the 25-30C range the whole time we were there.

– We rented a Mustang convertible. We’re not your traditional “car people,” so the number of cylinders or the style factor aren’t a big deal for us, but I am very grateful we went the convertible route. Driving with the top down was heavenly. It was liberating and somehow cleansing at the same time… okay, except for times we got stuck at a stoplight next to a city bus or an oversized camper. Sadly, I never managed to look like a glamorous movie star when we drove with the top down. What’s worse, I always looked unraveled and unwashed whenever we arrived at whatever destination we were aiming for. Now I know why the stars wore silk scarves and large sunglasses.

Our rental in Florida– Mark’s parents rented a sweet bungalow in a neighborhood called Orange Tree near Clermont, which is aways outside Orlando. There was plenty of space, which was great because were eight of us living there, including Mark’s Uncle and Aunt. (Four bedrooms, three bathrooms!) There was a pool and a hot tub too. It was great to come home for a soak after a long day of walking. It was about a 30- minute drive to any of the Disney attractions, which was perfect for us.

– What can I possibly say about Walt Disney World? It was great, and it was by far the most crowded of all the attractions we went to … but not nearly as busy as it could have been because we went in the off season. I cannot say enough about how great our timing was. It was the best time to go. Wait times for rides only averaged between 5-10 minutes on stand by, including the biggies. We put the FastPass system to use a couple of times as well, which worked out really well. The longest time anyone spent in line was 45 minutes for the Dumbo ride. (I’m not including the other 90-minute lineup at the Orlando airport Budget rent-a-car counter because it was not a ride and was definitely not very fun.)

– Magic Kingdom is really all about the kids. And they loved it. What’s not to love? Oh, the pirates. They freaked Sarah right out and I think we may have traumatized her for life. The pirate ride I remembered as a kid has totally changed. You might know it, you board a boat with a bunch of other people and pilot through darkness around shipwrecks and animatronic pirates. But since the film Pirates of the Caribbean came out the ride has turned into a giant tie-in with the movie. Oh well.

– Main street USA freaked me out. Mark and I stared goggle-eyed as we witnessed a soft-shoe song and dance routine by red, white and blue-attired actors, er, sorry, cast-members. The whole thing made me sweaty and uncomfortable, like someone had suddenly switched my brushed cotton sheets with polyester ones that still had the price tags still on. For me, this was anti-entertainment and dare I say, somewhat repellant. I wondered why, is it because we’re not used to this Lawrence Welk way of communicating our national pride? Methinks Canadians are a quieter bunch. Agree? Disagree?

– We went to Animal Kingdom on our second day in Florida. I liked it a lot. I think it has broader appeal. I couldn’t get over the level of detail in all the exhibits. This was really evident in the food areas and in the lead-up to the rides, this was especially true for the Everest/Yeti ride. Wow.

Sleeping alligators– We also went to Gatorland. I was a wee bit leery of going to Gatorland. I really didn’t want it to be hokey. Basically, the only thing driving my desire to go was a childhood memory of the gators feeding time. The image of these prehistoric-looking creatures swallowing whole chickens was seared in my mind… not in a bad way though, it was utterly fascinating for me as a kid and I thought the girls would like it too. There were a couple of touristy shows, but the best part by far was the marsh walk. It was amazing. There was a boardwalk that went right over the swamp. I seriously regretted not bringing my zoom lens. There were alligators everywhere, in the water, outside the water, in the mud, under the mud… you name it. We were steps away from them all. And the birds! They were gorgeous. Most of the visitors to Gatorland congregated around the zoo-type exhibits and the shows. The marsh area was almost entirely populated by its animal citizenry. I could have sat there all day, just me, my camera, my notebook and a large thermos of coffee. That’s how great it was. [Check out their webcam!]

– I went to the much-lauded Target for the first time. On first view it seemed just like a Zellers, but upon closer inspection I realized there was a lot of good stuff to be had, and if clearance prices were in the picture it made for a pretty sweet deal. If you know me you know that I’m not a big shopper. I spent $100 on one of my two trips, but I am happy in that really feel like I got my money’s worth. For that price I took home: two purses, a steel thermos, two chartreuse melamine sushi plates, a set of four black/white/red neo-asia salad plates, four reversible cotton placemats and matching table runner, talking toy parrot (I’m not regretting this purchase yet, but there’s still time) and toiletries i.e. pocket-sized Kleenex, bandaids etc. Not included in that $100 was a pair of kitty-cat rubber boots for Sarah earlier in the week, a pair of flip-flops for each of the girls, and a pair of converse-like sneaks for me. Looking back, the best deals to be had were on the clearance linens, shoes and handbags.

But after all that shopping I realized my suitcase was going to be hard to close. This is what it looked like, even after I spread out all the stuff between the other suitcases. Oops!

At the end of it all my suitcase looked like thisAlthough our stay in the US was very short, I couldn’t help but notice how different things are between Ottawa and Orlando.

No donutsDonuts and coffee
Powdered donuts can be bought by the package, the donut display case at Winn-Dixie was practically empty every time I walked by, yet actual donut shops are very few and far between. The only Donut shops I spotted were Dunkin Donuts along the 192, and since they’re attached to Baskin Robbins I’m assuming their main appeal is the ice cream. But it wasn’t the donuts I was after, it was COFFEE. Where there are donuts there is usually coffee to be found. But I was surprised that standalone coffee shops weren’t the norm here. And the more I looked the more worried I got. Clearly, Floridians are not coffee folks. We are coffee folks. Coffee folks don’t really understand non-coffee folks. How can you LIVE without it? It’s akin to not showering or washing your underwear. If Walt Disney World was in Canada there would be a coffee stand on every corner. In Canada, people like their coffee to be available all day long. And it should be in plain view at all times in case of emergency.  During our visit to Magic Kingdom Mark and I hit a breaking point and he went to find us a couple of tall hot ones. Oh, he found ’em all right. They were big. And hot. Why so hot? Because the guy at the beverage stand had to make it on the spot. Apparently we were the only ones who’d requested it. Oh, they were so good. We felt like a million bucks afterwards.

Other differences worth noting:

It’s restroom, not washroom or bathroom.

It’s sweet tea, not iced tea.

Booze in the grocery store. It’s so civilized! But, um, not so much when there’s a display of vino right next to the frozen dinners.

Hot beer?Hot beer?

Let’s not even talk about the Fahrenheit thing. Or the metric system.

Fox news. Why does every story has to have it’s own fancy headline (“Barbie Bandits Strike AGAIN!”) and/or a helicopter shot?

When they’re calling for rain, tornados and dime-sized hail it might just be partially cloudy all day long.

Our apple tree is their orange tree

Whether they’re called anoles, chameleons or just plain lizards, they move fast and they’re just about everywhere.

– I saw a number of parents losing their tempers almost everywhere we went: Seaworld, Disney, the Space Center. I’m not surprised. It’s crazy – the crowds, the expenditure, the waiting etc etc. Throw in some whining and begging and a shortage of coffee and you have everything you need for a total nervous breakdown. It could wear down just about anyone. I had my breaking point in the Orlando airport on the way home. I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts and my grande-sized latte. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But I just hit my breaking point and couldn’t deal with the questions and the chatter and the requests anymore. Why do I always have to be the person who’s carrying Kleenex/spare change/gum/whatever? Gah!

– Have you made it all the way through this post? Perhaps you’re waiting for the frog story. Okay. So here’s the scene. It was early. Very early. The house was very quiet. I woke up and shuffled over to the bathroom. I lifted the lid, and looked down into the bowl. (In retrospect, I can’t help but wonder why I looked into the bowl. Do I always automatically look into the bowl? Is it some kind of evolutionary behaviour that we need to check the place we’re about to pee?) There, inside the bowl, was a very large frog. Ha, I thought. How apropos! Why, only the night before we’d been talking about Those Things We Fear Most. You know, spiders, bats, snakes and things. So, who was responsible for this incredibly lifelike rubber frog in the toilet?  Mark? My FIL? I watched the frog closely, waiting for it to blink. I was willing it to blink. Nothing. I wondered how a rubber frog could have skin that is so radiantly slimy looking. Was it breathing? I couldn’t tell. I felt silly staring into the toilet bowl, and there was no way that I was going to touch it, so I splashed water on it. Ack. It moved. I closed the lid. Quickly. Gary, my FIL was sitting in the living room, quietly drinking his coffee.

“WHAT?” He stared at me in disbelief.

Just think. I nearly sat on this guy.

Mary, my MIL, screamed when she saw it, even though she had been given advance warning.

By this time a few of us had gathered around the bowl. Of course, the girls were thrilled. I had roused them with a whispered sentence that sent them bounding out of their beds: “Do you want to see some Florida wildlife in the house?” It was Mark, my bug-catching, spider-wrangling husband who was brave enough to grab the sadly misdirected frog, but it slipped out of his hand and landed in the fake greenery decorating the back of the toilet bowl. Poor thing. We moved him (the frog, not Mark)to the bush just outside the house. But he’s not the only one who’s been traumatized. I have been checking the toilet bowl THOROUGHLY every time since that morning.

Here’s a shot of the guy after we brought him outside:

This is _that_ frog, but he's outside

Anyway, there’s more. Much more. But I think the pictures say more than I can at this point. I’m plum tuckered out. So please browse over to my Florida ’07 flickr set for the rest of the photos and a few extra words.

It was a wonderful holiday, but I’m glad to be back home again. Now all I need is a vacation from the vacation. :)

10 Responses to "The family goes on holiday"

1 | zhenia

March 5th, 2007 at 11:12 am


You know, although I am grateful to the Great White North for taking me in and giving me health insurance, I still do not understand why iced tea north of the 49th comes sweetened (unless you go to some fancy-pants tea place). Gah!

Yeah! Vacation! It’s great to hear that everyone had a wonderful time.

2 | mrsgryphon

March 5th, 2007 at 1:03 pm


It looks and sounds like you had a wonderful time! Every little kid needs to go to Disney at least once :)

P.S. Someday, I’m going to splurge for the convertible, too!

3 | twinmomplusone

March 5th, 2007 at 2:04 pm


how cool and great for you guys!

we will be retracing your steps as we are flying to Orlando this Saturday with magic Kingdom/MGM/Epcot/Cape Canaveral on our agenda before heading further south to Palm Beach and then Fort Lauderdale (where we will see the Senators play the panthers…of course, we’ll be wearing our sens jerseys!!)

can’t wait for teh warm weather :)

4 | twinmomplusone

March 5th, 2007 at 2:26 pm


just looked at your pics

LOVE that you guys rented a mustang convertible, brilliant!

your girls had their own backpacks? what did you have in them? hadn’t though of doing that for my 3 kids, duh, as I alwyas end up carrying everything :(

not finding coffee is going to be a problem for us too! any healthy snacks anywhere? like fruit??

5 | andrea

March 5th, 2007 at 3:16 pm


twinmom: I recommend you do the Magic Kingdom later in the week. Apparently it’s less busier because it’s the first thing most people do once they arrive in Orlando.

And yes, the girls had their own backpacks. I wouldn’t have it any other way! They carried their own cameras and their own water bottles. They came in really handy when we hit the airport on the way home. We used the extra carry on space to tote stuff we couldn’t pack in the luggage. Like the electronic parrot we bought at Target. ;)

re: healthy snacks. The food courts at the various Disney venues had pretty good kiddie lunches. i.e. Mac and Cheese with grapes and apple slices on the side. Otherwise you’re going to have to let go of the idea of having healthy snacks in the parks themselves. There’s lots of ice cream and popcorn to be had (I recommend the Premium Mickey Bar. Yum!) but you can always bring your own fruit and stuff. Use those extra backpacks to carry it all. :)

6 | Ginger

March 5th, 2007 at 5:53 pm


My husband and I went to Disney last summer on our honeymoon. We had a blast. Of course it was packed because we went of the 4th-of-July holiday. We were shocked at the number of families with small children. We even saw one family that had what looked to be an infant waiting in line! On another note, I have always wondered about some of the differences between the U.S. and Canada. A trip to our northern neighbor is definitely in our future! Thanks for sharing!!!

7 | Carrie

March 5th, 2007 at 9:19 pm


A frog in your toilet in Ottawa or in Florida? :)

We once took a trip to Peru and while staying in the rainforest, we had tons of neon green frogs come crawling out of our toilet in the middle of the night. We mentioned it at the reception desk, and they sent a maintenance guy back to our bungalow with us. As soon as he saw the frogs he started stomping on them and squashing them to death. *shudder* I can still hear little bones cracking…

If you’re talking about a frog in your toilet at a hotel/vacation spot, I would probably try to fish it out myself somehow (I know, easier said than done)… it’s just been my experience that management might not be so kind, you know?

8 | Kristina

March 6th, 2007 at 11:12 am


That sounds like an AMAZING holiday! I’m going to head over to check out your photos momentarily, but I loved all of the stories, especially the one about the frog (of course). He’s so cute!
Also? I am Canadian, and not a coffee drinker. *gasp!* :)

9 | BeachMama

March 6th, 2007 at 3:18 pm


Looks like a wonderful vacation was had by all (minus the frog). We are waiting until the J is a bit older to take him, we would like him to remember some of Disney when we go. And how sneaky you were not to say anything until you got back! I would have been talking about it for weeks.

10 | DaniGirl

March 10th, 2007 at 4:32 pm


I love love love that photo box – the rest of the post was great, too, and it sounds like a lovely vacation, but I just love that photo montage. Very nice!

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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