Sunday, December 31, 2006

I can see your house from up here.

I'm not prone to nosebleeds so the zippy elevator that whisked us to the top of the John Hancock Observatory in Chicago, Illinois didn't bother me as much as some folks. I will admit that I felt like we we being launched instead of transported to the 94th floor but when the doors opened the view made it all worthwhile. 1,000 feet above Chicago with views in all directions but it got even better with "Skywalk". This section of the observatory was open air. Just screened in so you could feel the wind on your face and hear the sounds of the city from below. Not for the faint of heart. I was surprised at how much room there is to walk around up there and they even identify the surrounding buildings for you. On a clear day they say you can see 80 miles and four states. Since the Hancock Observatory is right at the magnificent mile, it's a natural to visit before or after some shopping and great food. Aah Chicago!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

How'd they do that?

It's not as easy as it looks. I'm certain that putting full-size trains and planes inside a building takes patience. That's why when you walk around the The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois, you keep saying "Wow!".
Industrial is the feel here as you explore a maze of inventions that changed society. Technology is showcased on a grand scale with lots of hands-on opportunities for kids of all ages. I really enjoyed the robot exhibit where "Robbie the Robot" towers over the entrance welcoming you to a fun exhibit of robots in our culture. An Omnimax theater offers spectacular speciality films, too. From the time you enter the building and take the giant escalator up to the exhibits, you gawk and point. For an inspiring journey of human ingenuity, spend some time at The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. You won't regret it.

All Natural

Sue is the most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found and you can see her at The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. But Sue is only the beginning.
The Field Museum was created to house the collections from the 1893 Columbian Exposition and includes over 20 million specimens today.
My first impression was one of walking into the ultimate taxidermy display. Poised lions, antelope and water buffalo stared back at me like a static zoo. The obvious advantage to seeing these animals presented in this way is the detail. You can stand and notice every ripple of the Rhino's skin, since they are not moving. They also had skeletal displays of many animals. A full-sized Walrus skeleton will stop you in your tracks! I was also lucky enough during my visit to enjoy the Tutankhamun traveling exhibit, which was spectacular. The quality and preservation of objects 5,000 years old is awe-inspiring. Being able to study and understand the natural world around us is a great gift and The Field Museum delivers on every level.


When I was a kid watching the "Aquaman" cartoon, I dreamed of being able to summon the denizens of the deep to do my bidding, just like him. Experiments at the beach during family vacations proved ineffective. No dolphins rallied to my side despite my deep concentration. Never the less, I developed a strong connection with the Sea and it's creatures when Jacques Cousteau began sharing his adventures on film. I've been a big fan of Aquariums ever since.
The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois was the largest of it's kind when it opened in 1930. Millions of gallons of saltwater were transported from Florida for the exhibits. From the beginning, this aqurium was a huge hit. Today, it is a wonderful adventure.
The Pacific white-sided dolphins in the Oceanarium were a highlight for me. Watching them jump and swim was mesmerizing! The Oceanarium Amphitheater has a spectacular view of Lake Michigan during the shows, which are well presented. What I like most about Shedd is the way it's designed to encourage you to explore. Multi-levels, little nooks and hidden exhibits surprise and delight if you take the time to discover them. When I found myself alone at Secluded Bay with the Beluga Whales, I was tempted to dive in! Of course, you can see sharks and rays, jellyfish and lionfish, piranhas and penguins. A great menagerie of water creatures. So I had to do it. One more time I had to try. I closed my eyes and concentrated with all my might sending out signals to the denizens of the deep. Here of all places it had to work. I stared at the clownfish as it darted in and out of the anemone. I sent out my signal of brotherhood when suddenly it turned to me and went "Bloop".

I see stars

The Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum in Chicago, Illinois is the only one to feature two state-of-the-art planetariums. It was the first and oldest one built in the western hemisphere. Copernicus would be pleased. As an avid stargazer, I couldn't get enough.
Perched over Lake Michigan, Adler offers wonderful shows, historic astronomical instruments and modern space exploration exhibits. I really enjoyed the Stars of the Pharoahs Show. It was in the starider theater and was a combination of IMax style flyover video combined with classic Planetarium star fields projected 360 degrees around plush seats that tilted back just the right amount.
The history of Astronomy is really brought to life with a great collection of antique instruments for studying the sky including the Atwood Sphere, a planetarium which is 15 feet in diameter you step inside to see a representation of the night sky. Very cool.
If you ever gaze up at the night sky like I do, a trip to Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum is a real treat!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Chicago: A toddlin' town

Chicago is my kind of town. While they tear down and build up constantly, they seem to blend the old and new beautifully.
Two things impressed me most:
1) The town was very clean for a big city.
2) The people were very friendly.
Everywhere I went, the door swung wide and a smile greeted me. The vibe here is busy but not frantic. Modern with an old-fashioned twist. Grounded. I loved the food. Pizza, red hots, beef. I couldn't stop eating! One place was better than the next.

"HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders"
Sandburg was right...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Are you kidding me?

So I'm standing at the top of a very, very tall tower at Wet & Wild in Orlando, looking down a waterslide that seems to plunge straight down and disappear behind me. I look at the attendant who just smiles and says "You're next". People behind me are murmering with impatience as I glance up and watch the guy next to me get released from "the Rocket", which is even steeper. The floor just dropped out from under him as he screamed like a banshee on his way down. I consider the options. 1) I could pretend to be violently ill and make my way safely down the stairs or 2) I could puff out my chest and ride the slide.

It was over before I realized what happened. I have never been more terrified as I lay there at the bottom hearing my heart thump out of my chest and the attendant somewhere in the distance saying "sir...sir...are you allright?" My legs felt like rubber as I struggled up from the shallow pool and weakly smiled at the crowd. "How was it?" someone asked and I replied "hizmerfladbpxk" and gave a weak thumbs up. I staggered over to the wave pool and plopped down into a lounge chair, exhausted.

After a giant soft pretzel, I composed myself and made for the Lazy River for a calm tube ride. At least that's what I planned. As I was floating along an urge began to well up inside me. I tried to fight it but the craving was undeniable. I stepped out of the Lazy River and threw down my Tube.

Next thing I knew, I was climbing a very, very tall tower.


Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede Dinner Show in Orlando, Florida is a rootin', tootin' good time. Part Grand Ole' Opry and part Heehaw, this Show is one of the newest arrivals to the Orlando Dinner Show scene. The preshow featured a wonderful Juggler Comedian, while snacks and drinks could be purchased before the main event. Once inside the arena, you cheered for either the North or the South during the show. Excellent horse riding and lots of slapstick comedy makes this a show for all ages. The whole flavor is very Southern and fun for everyone.

Oh Billie, Billie, Billie

I can truly say I have never had an experience like at Billie Swamp Safari and I loved it! The closest town is Clewiston to reach this Seminole Tribe attraction in South Florida. If you want Old Natural Florida than it doesn't get any better. The drive is part of the journey to reach this destination and you roll through scrub and swamp and farmland before arriving in the parking lot. Your day is scheduled to include the activities you want at certain times and my adventure began with a swamp buggy ride and airboat ride then ended with a delicious pork chop sandwich on fry bread. You can even stay on site in authentic "Chickee" Huts. The main area is not large but full of authenticity. Understanding the Florida wilderness from this perspective is a pleasure. You won't find flat screen displays and cutting edge exhibits at Billie Swamp Safari and that is why it works.


Who doesn't want to be a pirate? Shivering Timbers and Yo, Ho, Hoing. Well, here's your chance. The Pirates Dinner Show in Orlando might be the most interactive in town. Groups of audience members are invited to join the Show throughout the evening and even the kids get involved. Of course, upgraded packages are sold to insure that you are chosen but often random folks were selected, too. The preshow includes a Pirate Museum and opportunities for face painting and palm readings while you sip a drink and enjoy appetizers. The main show is set up at this time with lots of piratey shenanigans and each section is assigned a color for their pirate in the show. Dinner is served but most folks seem to focus on the Show as the attraction. Once inside the main arena the stage set is impressive and there is lots of swinging from the rigging and acrobatics to tell the tale. No shortage of cheering here and for a while you feel what it's like to bring on the Grog in Orlando.

Old Town Memories

Orlando offers lots of nostalgia and Old Town in Kissimmee on Route 192 is a great place to spend an evening stepping back in time. The street looks like mainstreet USA and everyone in the family will find something fun. Of course, there is shopping and eating but you will also find carnival games and rides and a fantastic vintage car parade. The "people watching" is top notch while you sip on an A&W ice cream float. It reminds me of going to the boardwalk at the beach when I was a kid. Good times remembered.

Arabian Nights, Arabian Days

If you love horses this is a great Show.

Arabians Nights Dinner Show in Orlando, Florida is one of many Themed Dinner Show choices in the area. It seems loosely based on the book 1001 Arabian Nights, with a nod to Alladin. Dinner is provided but most folks focus on the Show as the star of the evening. The Preshow was also very good with displays of talent featuring a belly dancer who brought the kids up on stage and danced out into the audience. Once inside the arena, the energy and excitement is contagious. Lots of opportunities to cheer the heroes and boo the villians. Horse lovers of all ages will appreciate the beauty and majesty of the Arabian Nights Dinner Show. Make sure to arrive early to get the full affect and be prepared to be dazzled in Orlando.

Titanic enjoyment

Titanic: The Experience, formerly located in The Mercado on International Drive (*update: This attraction is moving and will announce a location soon.*) in Orlando Florida is one of my favorite attractions. They blend authentic objects from the ship with theatrical sets and costumed actors that bring the story alive.

It begins with your ticket. Printed there is the name of a passenger from the Titanic, who you represent during the passage. Your guide is another passenger from the historic ship and you experience the story from construction of the unsinkable vessel to the point where you discover whether the passenger you represent on your ticket survived the journey or not. This is a powerful moment near the end after you have seen and heard the details of this terrible tragedy in 1912. Titanic: The Experience calls itself the first permanent exhibit of this compelling event. It is much more than an exhibit. It stirs up emotions and curiousity in almost anyone who experiences this wonderful attraction in Orlando. Don't miss it!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Up, up and away

First hot-air balloon ride ever and it won't be my last. Blue Water and Orange Blossom Balloons have merged and created a stupendous experience in Orlando, Florida.

Alright. I was a little concerned when they told me to meet them one hour before sunrise. Turns out they have an ideal two hour window for flying before the thermals start pushing the balloons around. So we arrive at 6 am. Brief intro and off in the van to the launch site. What a sight it was!
Ten Balloons filling up and rising to the sky as the sun broke the horizon.

We rose gently on the wind and floated above the earth like feathers. An amazing hour later, we touched down softly in a field with the field crew greeting us with a champagne toast before we made the short drive back to the hotel and a hearty breakfast. Whew! What a rush. I'll be back.

The Lion sleeps tonight.

I stood on the African veldt with the King of the Beasts staring at the elusive Zebras just ahead. The slightest movement would give me away. I had to remain perfectly still...

That's what it felt like as I sat in my comfortable car exploring Lion Country Safari near West Palm Beach in Florida. This wonderful attraction was created in 1967 as the first drive-through animal preserve and it's still a delight.

The experience is really in two main parts. You begin with the drive-through safari where animals large and small often stand right next to your vehicle. I was amazed at the size and power of the rhino's, who took little notice of me. The best part is that you can tour at your own pace with room to pull over and allow others to pass you. This way you can gawk at the lions for as long as you want.

The second part of the adventure has you parking and walking for more animal displays and demonstrations and a terrific giraffe feeding. I met the oldest giraffe in captivity! (26 years) They also have the largest Zebra herd outside of Africa and the largest Southern White Rhino herd in North America. This part of the park reminds me of the county fair or going to a carnival. Games, rides and food are plentiful. They even have a ferris wheel. A KOA campground was created in the 1980's so you can wake to the sounds of the jungle. What an adventure!

Suddenly, the Zebra raised it's head and I knew the chase was on.

In the jungle, the mighty jungle. The Lion sleeps tonight.

Tiger, Shaq, Rosie and Me

Okay, I have to admit that I enjoy celebrity watching. The antics of the rich and famous crack me up. The dramas seem so big when the cameras are clicking. I also enjoy boating.

Island Queen Sightseeing Cruises combines both! Sweet!

Launching from Bayside Marketplace in Miami, Florida, we smoothly made our way past Fisher Island and the Port of Miami to "Millionaires Row". Wow! Tiger Woods, Shaq, Rosie O' Donnell, Sylvester Stallone, Gloria Estefan and many more have property here and we Ooohed and Aaahed at the lavish homes.

The Ship is large enough that you can walk around easily while listening to the bilingual narration. The ride is stable with plenty of chairs and snacks and drinks are available while you enjoy the cruise. At 90 minutes, the timing is just right to enjoy the sights and sounds while rubbing elbows with the "who's who" of Miami. We even saw Al Capone's former house.

One of the best features is the starting location. Bayside marketplace has a parking garage and wonderful shops and restaurants to enjoy before and after the Island Queen cruise. What a great way to see this part of Miami. It just doesn't get any better than this for me.

Monday, September 25, 2006

At Silver Springs you can see forever

I was twelve years old when I first rode the Glass Bottom Boats at Silver Springs, near Ocala, Florida. "Creature from the Black Lagoon" was fresh in my mind as I scanned the water for any sign that the movie filmed there might be real.

Now that I'm a little older, the visit had me wondering if the experience would still be as exciting. It was. Today Silver Springs is a wonderful blend of the old and the new. Signs of progress mixed with nostalgia from over one-hundred years of greeting guests gives Silver Springs a great feel and lots to do.

The Glass bottom boats are still there and you can also explore other parts of the river on two narrated boat rides. One of my favorite experiences was feeding the giraffe near the petting zoo.
You get what looks like graham crackers to hold up until the giraffe's foot long black tongue snakes out and wraps around the wafer. Sweet.

Silver Springs has been a tourist attraction for a long time and some may consider it old-fashioned. No, it's not laser tag and roller coasters but that's part of it's charm. The combination of animals, rides and shows in a beautiful Old Florida setting was very appealing to me and I got a big charge out of the history. So many famous movies and television shows were shot there that it's hard to keep track. Tarzan, James Bond, Sea Hunt, I Spy. The list is endless. I was also surprised to see the names on their concert series list. Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers and Ronnie Milsap among others were featured. Don't miss the Jeep Safari near the bears at the back of the gift shop. Bouncy and fun. Had a good sandwich at the Deli, too.

All in all, very relaxing, lots to do in a natural environment which appeals to kids and adults.
The "Original Florida Tourist Attraction" I remember from my childhood is still going strong. I'm not sure but when I was looking down in the clear water, I thought I saw something large and dark move at the bottom near a cave. Maybe, just maybe.