Friday, March 24, 2017

Kennedy Space Center & Dinner at Morimoto's

I really love the space program. I have memories of waking up early in the morning when I was young, to watch the shuttle launches. Space exploration has always fascinated me and so visiting the Kennedy Space Center has always been one of my goals.

So we headed out to Cape Canaveral from Orlando, which was about an hours long drive.

I knew that highway 528 was a toll road going that way, and after researching, expected that we would spend about $7 to get there. What I didn't know was that unlike toll bridges in California, toll roads in Florida work both directions, so we paid a whopping total of $14 to travel on these glorious Florida roadways.

We made it out to the Cape right around when the Center opened at 9 am.

The first exhibit we went to was Atlantis.

You walked under the rocket to get into the Atlantis exhibit.

One of the neat things about the Center was that to get into all of the exhibits, you went through an "experience". Basically, this was an interactive movie on a big screen. At first, I didn't like being restricted in this way, but after a bit I really appreciated the history and background that was given before entering the exhibits.

We watched a well made large screen movie for about 15 minutes. First, the video showed us the history of the shuttle. I did not know that they began to conceptualize the shuttle in the 1960's! Next we learned about the SRB's (shuttle rocket boosters) and the massive fuel tank.

Before entering Atlantis, we also learned that it flew for a total of 33 times, and took its place in history as the final shuttle mission.

The screen went up and we saw this:

How amazing to see it right in front of us! The bay doors were open and we could see them as we walked by.

The size of Atlantis was impressive. When we got to the back, this is what we saw.

This was the closest I had ever come to a space shuttle. The other time I was close to one was the flyby of the Endeavor, years before.

The rest of the exhibit had some fun interactive things:

This tunnel, if we were a bit younger, we could have crawled through, to see what it is like on the ISS  (International Space Station).

As we went through the whole exhibit,  this wall mural was one of my favorites.

On the ground floor we came upon the Shuttle Launch Experience.

It was a fun ride, but not as much like a real space ride as I thought it would be.

After we went through Atlantis, we headed to the bus tour. This tour takes you to the launch sites and to the Apollo/Saturn 5 Visitor Center.

You can see the map of the entire area below. The tour takes about 25 minutes, and ends at the Apollo/Saturn Center. 

Seeing the VAB, or the Vehicle Assembly Building, was a dream come true for me.

As you can see it was rainy, and was one of the four cold days in Florida a year. (Less than 60 degrees.)

All along the roads we drove on were the tracks that the shuttles went on to the launch pads.

There are multiple launch pads all over the Cape, and these tracks lead out from the VAB.

One of the pads.

This was a neat sight: Space X is the future of space exploration, and has really advanced what we can accomplish in launches and rockets. Just a few weeks after we were here, a rocket launched from this very spot.

We made our way to the Apollo/Saturn 5 Center.

Before we entered, we watched an exhibit of exactly how mission control functioned during Apollo 8, the first time that man circled the moon. Before us was the actual Mission Control at that time, and as we watched the broadcast of the launch, each of the station that responded in the recording, lit up in front of us.

We exited the theater to the main exhibit room. This was right in front of us. We asked one of the docents here (who was in the control room during much of the Apollo project) and this was the Saturn 5 rocket that was meant for Apollo 18, which never blasted off.

As you can see, the rocket is positioned sideways.

We were able to walk below it the whole length.

This was an amazing exhibit. The entire vehicle was here. First was the Saturn 5 and all three stages of the rocket. They were all separated so we could see each in their entirely.

The lunar module was next, and then the service module.....

....and finally the command module. So neat to see these things in real life!

Also in this building was a small piece of moon rock.

It was smooth - has probably been touched by millions of people.

Here is the Apollo 14 crew capsule. We saw Alan Shepard's space suit, training gear, and other items.

We decided to stop for lunch here. It was cafeteria style - you picked out food and then paid at the end.

Here is what we had: Chicken tenders and fries, and a turkey sandwich.

We got back on the bus - they arrive about every 15 minutes or so - and headed back to the main center.

It was FREEZING at this point. We decided to head somewhere warm so went to the IMAX movie theater. We watched Journey to Space which was well done. I did not realize that Space X has been able to guide the used rocket boosters back to the actual launch pads for future use.

When we left the IMAX we found it was now raining again. Are we really in Florida? So we headed to the newest exhibit, Heroes & Legends. To get there we went through the Rocket Garden.

To get in we all donned 3D glasses for the opening experience. We stood in a circular room at a railing, with the screen all in front of us. This was one of the best opening experiences. It showcased the different astronauts through the years and was really neat.

In this large exhibit hall there was all sorts of information about the astronauts.

There was a replica of mission control too.

One of my favorite stories is of the Mercury 7.

I love these covers of Life Magazine - the seven astronauts and their wives.

We really enjoyed our time at the Kennedy Space Center!

We left the Cape at around 3ish. We did have reservations later that night and we felt we had seen most of the Center.

We went straight to Downtown Disney. We wanted to see if we could get into one of our favorite places from our last visit for appetizers.

Raglan Road. And we found seats right at the bar.

Here is my Moscow Mule.

My Sweetie had a beer. We split the Dalkey Duo - battered sausages on forks with a yummy dipping sauce.

Bad photo, but we love the entertainment here.

We left Raglan Road and headed to Morimoto's, where we had reservations for dinner. We happily followed the hostess (who was from the Bay Area!) to these amazing seats, right in front of the glass windowed kitchen.

We started with Spider Rolls - soft shell crab, asparagus and spicy mayo.

We were dipping our sushi in wasabi and soy sauce, and we noticed that the wasabi was floating to the top and not completely mixing in. I tasted it and realized we were eating real wasabi, as our waiter later confirmed. Lots of people don't realize it, but most of the wasabi in the States is not real wasabi but green colored horseradish.

For our entree we got the Peking Duck.

You take some duck, sauce, scallions and cucumber, wrap it up and taste. This was so, so good.

We left Morimoto's quite full. The sky was beautiful as we walked across Disney Springs.

We first headed to Art of Disney. We are planning a remodel in our bedroom this coming year and had decided to decorate with some Disney prints. We had been told to visit this shop because they offer a very neat service. In a corner of the shop, two artists draw from a collection of characters. There are 5 or 6 artists total, and after comparing styles, you can commission one to draw a character for you. This sounds pricey, but really isn't - we got each print for under $50.

After choosing our prints we commissioned Fidel from Cuba, to sketch for us. He was going to start it soon and so we walked around a bit to kill time. We made it back in time to see him start the first one.

There is a big screen behind the artists where you can see their work up close.

Our project.

It was going to take him a while so we said goodnight; we did have them shipped home so that we didn't have to worry about damaging them on the plane ride home.

Around this time, I realized that my camera was missing. Yikes. I re-traced my steps, back to the restaurant, Disney Store and Starbucks we had visited after dinner, and nothing. I really wasn't panicking, each night we were removing photos, but I was still bummed I had lost my camera. The last place I tried was Lost and Found. A lady went to check in the back and there was my camera!!

Being Disney they document everything so the sheet with it said that a Cast Member had found it on a shelf at Art of Disney a couple of hours before. I must have put it down when we first were in the shop, choosing our prints and artists. I was quite impressed with Disney's Lost and Found, and an attentive Cast Member!

On the way out we saw the moving piano - this was a guy playing the piano on a stand that slowly moved through Downtown Disney. And what was he playing? Piano Man.

These guys were also totally hilarious. They looked like their eyes were closed, but when people would come up and pose with them, they would do funny things behind their back. Here is our photo with the golden couple.

And that was the end to a very fun filled day!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Miami, Florida Turnpike, Disney Springs

Today was the day we got off of our cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas.

Disembarkation went smoothly, at least for us. We actually got our disembarkation number two days before and knew we had enough time to go eat before we were called. After breakfast we only waited about a half hour before our group number was called.

I had read in the Cruise Compass that American citizens could use an online app to get back into the US. It is called Mobile Passport, and worked in Fort Lauderdale. (Only a few US cities use it.) This app was AMAZING. It only took a few minutes to fill out the night before, and then we had to also quickly confirm the information when our ship reached port.

When we walked into customs, and saw the line for normal customs that wrapped around the room, and then walked up and saw that we were second in line for the Mobile Passport line, I knew we had done a good thing.

We got on a shuttle to the airport, but we were not flying home. We were headed to the airport to rent a car and were going to spend the day exploring parts of Miami and then drive north to Orlando.

We had done some research and decided to head south, a little passed Miami, to Key Biscayne.

We drove over a causeway and got a nice view of Miami.

Key Biscayne was a really neat area! We headed to Crandon Park.

The beach was very long and quite clean from any seaweed.

I loved that the palm trees came right up to the beachfront.

We walked down the beach for a while. This would have been a great place to spend the day - there were volleyball areas, tons of picnic spots, and places to sit. This was January so it was very uncrowded.

The birds in Florida were pretty friendly. These guys did not even move out of our way, we actually had to go around them.

The air and water temperature was definitely cooler than down in the Caribbean, but it was still a very pleasant day.

I really love the beach.

After about an hour, we headed back to the car and saw this guy:

Like I said, the birds are not scared of people at all. We were within a couple of feet of this guy but we still kept our distance - I've seen Hitchcock's Birds, and he could have seriously poked out someone's eye with that beak.

We really research and plan out our trips, and so had decided to try a taco spot in Miami that got great reviews on Trip Advisor.

As we were following our GPS, we realized we were in a very interesting part of town. As in, not the greatest area. But we found a parking garage just a couple of blocks from the place we were going to and decided to try it.

As we walked, we noticed lots of graffiti.

Lots of it.

We were eating at Coyo Tacos.

We got fish tacos.....

And carne asada tacos. With margaritas, of course.

These tacos were very good. We paid between 7-8$ each for two of them, and thought they were a bit on the small side, but really tasty.

The staff was friendly so we asked them about the area and all of the graffiti. They said that yes, the area wasn't the greatest but they were trying to revitalize this area, called Wynwood, into an artsy funk kind of place. So in this 6 block area, it was legal to do graffiti as a form of art.

After we finished eating we decided to check out more art and walked up the other street to get back to our car. And art we saw.

They even had graffiti on the sidewalks.

This was an art shop, and I had to take a photo of their front window:

EVLworld hours
(most likely scenario)
Tue-Sun open 12ish till 7ish
Mondays are always a maybe,
Hooky days happen sporadically,
in that case, try calling

Totally got a kick out of that.

We had a three hour drive ahead of us, so we got back to our car and headed out of Miami.

Like I said we researched our trip. So I knew that the Turnpike was the fastest way to Orlando, and that there were toll roads. As in road that you have to pay to drive on. We started out and thought things would be easy-peasy.

To get on, you go through a toll booth, and get one of these.

I thought that we would then just pay when we got off in Orlando but no, it seemed every few miles we saw this:

Which meant this was coming:

And since we were not planning on driving much we were paying cash, so we had to stop and pay each time. 

People that might drive more can get the SunPass, which is a sticker in their car that automatically sucks the money out of their bank accounts. The cars that had this flew through these road blocks, while we had to stop at each one.

And, we also found out that exact change does not mean cash only (duh) and had to back up to get into a line that took our dinero. Thankfully, there was no one behind us when we figured that one out.

At some point we saw a Starbucks and decided to stop. As we got back on, we realized that we were going to have to pay, again, just to get back on the Turnpike. We asked the toll booth lady (who was friendly) and she said we could take the other freeway, but it could take longer. 

We had already blown through about fifteen bucks so we headed for US Route 441, which does not have tolls.

Because of that, we found it was a little more crowded and was not a straight shot to Orlando. But at least we were not stopping every few miles.

There were more trucks on this highway. We haven't driven across country or anything, but let me tell you, we were going 5 miles over the speed limit and we were the slowest ones on the freeway. Trucks were passing us. I had to take a photo of this because I could not believe it.

 Don't ever tell me that Californians drive bad.

Okay Florida. You have beautiful beaches. But toll roads?? I get it that you don't pay state income tax or something like that, but holy moly. Tourists, be warned.{Rant End}

We made it to our hotel in Orlando and stepped out of the car. In the last three hours, coming north, the temperature had dropped by about 25 degrees. Yes, it was January.

We checked in and then headed to dinner at Disney Springs.

We walked around a bit before but got cold so we headed Paradiso 37: Taste of the Americas, where we had made reservations.

We decided to split an appetizer: Chips with three dips - guacamole, chili con carne, and spinach dip.

We also split an entree - The Paradiso 37 Burger.

The food was good and very tasty.

Back to our hotel not too late since we were up early to head to Cape Canaveral.