Heart Your Family Vacation at Orange Lake

OrlangeLakeHeartIt’s no wonder why families flock to Central Florida for vacation. We have no shortage of excursions, activities, and fun all wrapped up in golden sunshine. The trick is figuring out where to stay and when to visit that ensures your family’s holiday goals are met. If that wish list includes a condo-like setting, plenty of on-property activities, free WiFi, and proximity to both the theme parks and major arteries to the rest the area has to offer, then Orange Lake by Holiday Inn Club Vacations may just fit the bill.

Recently our family had the pleasure of being hosted for a 3-day visit to Orange Lake in Kissimmee (and we’re already planning a trip back!). We got to see first-hand the amenities and activities that keep families coming back year after year.

Never one to shy away from introducing myself to strangers to find out how they really feel about a property, restaurant or attraction, I made a point to talk with fellow guests about their likes, suggestions, and thoughts and found the common thread was “loyalty.” Of the dozen families I spoke with, all but one had visited before, some had been “more than a few times”, and one family had been coming back since their now adult daughter with kids of her own was a child herself. That kind of devotion means a lot in the travel industry!

Orange Lake is a time share, but can also be booked like a “regular” hotel if you’re not ready to commit to pre-booking your vacations for years to come. Upon returning home I went through their website to check out the process and, as expected, it’s easy to book your stay in a unit that’s the right size for your group. (We’re thinking of getting some other friends and family involved for a joint trip, so all the kiddos can hang out together while the adults take turns having a little golf time or other time “alone,” and so we can have some great “all together” times with everyone participating.)

Speaking of golf, they have 4 distinct courses including the only Arnold Palmer Signature course in Central Florida open to the public (click here for more information or to book your tee time or call 407-239-1050). We didn’t get a chance to do the courses, but did enjoy shooting our bucket of balls on the driving range. Our son hits surprisingly far, for the record! He’s also pretty good at mini-golf, and Orange Lake has two courses, each with two sets of 18 holes. We putted on each and every one of them, a couple more than once! Guests can buy rounds on the mini courses “as you go” or through a multi-day Play Pass that can also include the Giant Hippo Slide. If you’re not doing the theme parks every day, I highly recommend getting a two-or three-day activity pass. We wore ours out on the mini golf and of course the Slide! (I kid you not: My son went down it no less than 30 times in one day alone!) Side note: The resort is a cashless environment. Everything from food to activities is charged through your room which really makes it easy!

Other activities include water sport rentals (we did the paddle boat), and others such as powered boats and jet skis.

OrangeLakeVideoStill

Click to open a video that shows the unit’s amenities. (The quote you hear is an excited little boy shouting, “This is the biggest bathroom I’ve EVER seen.”)

The unit we stayed in featured two bedrooms, two baths, and a full kitchen. Plates, dishes and all the basics are provided. On our next visit I’ll remember to bring prep helps like cooking spray, spices, etc., but when you’re used to hotel rooms with only a mini-fridge and microwave at most, a kitchen is great selling point for budget-minded families or those like friends of mine who have a laundry list of food allergies and home prep is a must. And on the subject of laundry, there’s a washer/dryer set in the unit, too, so it’s easy to stay on top of things while you’re there so mama (or dad, as the case may be) doesn’t have tons to do the moment you get back home. And if you don’t feel like cooking, there are 9 dining options on property.

The pools were, by far, the biggest “lets-go-back” factor for us. There are 6 to choose from with choices ranging from mild and relaxing to slip-sliding fun! (One guess on which ones my little man voted on!) There’s a winding “lazy river” one (with inner tubes available for rent) where we spent an inordinate amount of time, and ones with big slides, and twin kiddo slides. There was no shortage of group activities, and water volleyball games seemed to pop up all day long.

IMGP0462bIt was at the pool area where we said goodbye to Orange Lake. After checkout, we decided on one last swim that ended with one member of our party with a wet face not from the pool, but from tears shed for having to leave.

Click on “Book a Stay” at http://orangelake.com/ and plan your next fun-packed vacation in Central Florida.

Disclosure: My trip was sponsored by Holiday Inn Club Vacations, who provided a two-night stay in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Stranded Baby Dolphin Rescued by SeaWorld’s Animal Care Team

A baby dolphin, believed to be just 5 days old and with his umbilical cord still attached, was rescued Sunday, May 20, 2012 near Three Sisters Island in Volusia County. The male calf weighed slightly less than 35 pounds and was found in shallow waters under a mangrove.

Initial tests revealed no major health issues, but SeaWorld’s animal team will manually tube-feed the newborn every two hours. Dolphin calves usually nurse for 12 to 18 months.

“Dolphin calves typically nurse from their mother until they are 12 to 18 months old.”

Pedro Ramos-Navarrate, Supervisor of Animal Care, along with SeaWorld’s animal team are working tirelessly to ensure the calf continues to grow and thrive.

This successful rescue was the result of a team of Animal experts and volunteers. The Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute initially examined the dolphin. Once NOAA Fisheries Service authorized his rescue, SeaWorld’s animal rescue team brought the baby dolphin to SeaWorld for care.

SeaWorld’s animal rescue team is on call 24/7 to save and care for injured, orphaned or ill animals. This is the first bottlenose dolphin to be rescued this year.

Aviculture Team Cares For Sandhill Crane Chick

This big bird is teaching his little friend behaviors essential for life in the wild.

A concerned citizen from St. Cloud, Florida, brought a sandhill crane chick to SeaWorld Orlando’s Aviculture team to be examined. The chick was 3-4 days old at the time and was deemed too tiny and immature to survive on its own. After determining it was in good health and merely needed to be taught some survival skills, the care team paired the chick with an adult rescue crane. While orphaned chicks are sometimes unaccepted by an unfamiliar adult, this “dynamic duo” is doing well and both are thriving.

Both cranes are set to be released once the chick has “fledged” (grown feathers necessary for flying).It continues to learn specific crane behaviors from its feathered mentor. According to Eric Reece, SeaWorld’s Supervisor of Aviculture, adds, “The chick is doing fantastic. It’s eating on its own and gaining weight.”

Loggerhead Turtle Who Swallowed a Hook is Released Today Thanks to SeaWorld

X-Ray shows 4" hook in Loggerhead's throat.

Four weeks ago a sub-adult Loggerhead turtle was found by biologists from the Inwater Research Group near the St. Lucie Power Plant in St. Lucie County, Florida. The 100-pound turtle was taken to SeaWorld, Orlando on February 26 with transport assistance from Inwater volunteers.

Initial tests, bloodwork, and x-rays confirmed the need for immediate surgery. The turtle had ingested a 4-inch-long fish hook.

Senior Veterinarian Dr. Lara Croft, one of three SeaWorld Orlando staff veterinarians, performed the surgery. It was one of the largest SeaWorld veterinarians have removed. Showing remarkable resilience, the turtle has made a quick recovery.

Dr. Croft watches on as aquarium staff members prepare the sea turtle for the x-ray procedure.

After a few short weeks of round-the-clock care, the turtle was deemed fit for release earlier this week.

This morning, Dan Conklin, aquarium supervisor at Seaworld, and dedicated staffers carefully loaded up the turtle for the ride to the beach before 8 a.m.

At Lori Wilson Park, Cocoa Beach, the loggerhead got one last lift from his friends at SeaWorld as they carried it from the transport vehicle to the water.

Peter Pan (as I’ve affectionately dubbed for his Hook-beating ways) moved steadily toward the water with many well-wishers around. At a little after 9 a.m. flippers could be seen darting through the waves as SeaWorld again helped an animal in need. More than 20,000 animals have been rescued by SeaWorld experts. Their hard-working animal rescue team is on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Peter Pan makes way for the surf.

Help a Turtle Out:

J-shaped hooks are easy for sea life to swallow, which is why anglers are urged to use the new “circle” hooks which are less likely to be ingested. Protect this and other threatened species by properly disposing of all trash, and securing fishing line that can also cause harm to our ocean friends.

Love me, and all my Loggerhead turtle friends and sea buddies, by being responsible when you're on, or around, waterways.

Celebrate the release by doing a Loggerhead craft!

Hubbs-SeaWorld Research and Many Others Play Role in Winter’s Initial Rescue ¦ Dolphin Tale Article One

Four-year-old Daniel doesn’t quite know what to make of the dolphin
who is missing her tail fluke, but he’s eager to learn!

Winter the Dolphin is in the news quite a bit lately, with her movie debut scheduled for later this month. (Click here to go to the website.) Those of us who’ve read about her for years and have followed her amazing journey from rescued animal to global source of inspiration are not surprised one bit that Hollywood called. How can one NOT be inspired of her story of survival and adaptation despite staggering odds to the contrary?

Caught in a crab trap to the point where her body was bent into a horseshoe, the few-month-old baby Atlantic bottlenose dolphin’s body flailed in the water attracting Mosquito Lagoon fisherman Jim Savage in December, 2005. His call to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission put in motion an army of biologists, and other rescuers, who would work tirelessly for hours in an attempt to save the small dolphin’s life.

Although through movie magic Winter’s rescue seems rather quick it did, in fact, take many hours of a unusually cold Florida day, and into the night.

A research assistant at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, Teresa Mazza, was one of the first to respond to the cetacean stranding. When she got there just before 10 a.m., Winter was floating on the surface in the middle of the waterway. Together with the fisherman who found and disentangled her, Teresa and Claire Surrey, a manatee rescue expert from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, gently guided her towards a sandbar. The women then took turns holding the dolphin in the frigid water across their laps, monitoring her vital signs, and doing their best to keep the frightened calf calm until about 4:30 when scientists from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce arrived and the transportation team got there to take her to her new home.

It was just before sunset when Winter was loaded into the SeaWorld rescue vehicle for her 165-mile-long long journey across the state to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The Animal Care team gladly accepted the “hand off” and each member crossed fingers and toes in hopes that the struggles of the day were not too much for the exhausted dolphin to bear. They worried, too, if her tail would ever heal from the injuries inflicted.

After hours on the road, more biologists, veterinarians, trainers, and volunteers met the SeaWorld Animal Care team and their very precious cargo. Though badly injured, the dolphin’s spirit showed the staff that they should, indeed, hold out hopes that she could survive.

And survive she did! Winter, named for the winter day she was rescued, is now the goodwill ambassador for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium whose team works day in and day out in her continuing recovery.

Despite workers’ best efforts, Winter did lose her tail. It wasn’t “movie magic” that helped her swim again… but some talented, caring prosthetic experts. But that is another dolphin tale to come!

Discovery Cove at SeaWorld Takes Your Breath Away

Discovery CoveMy 4-year-old, Daniel, is used to being up close and personal with marine life. As a visitor to SeaWorld and Bush Gardens well over 100 times in his short life (not to mention countless visits to zoos and other animal-themed attractions) he’s pretty much a pro when it comes to interactions. Our visit to Discovery Cove, however, has raised the bar so much so that I fear his expectation of “normal” is forever altered!

Walking into the check-in/lobby building, Daniel first noticed the incredible art. He bent over to examine the mosaic floor. “Look, Mom. It’s like waves,” he said as he then proceeded to show me how many shades of green were represented, and how many blue. His neck craned up: “Look, Mom, at the dolphins!” Above us graceful dolphins appeared to be floating, breathtaking fiberglass on steel crafted by artist Michael Linenbroker. He looked at it from multiple angles, checking out the white fish “swimming” with them. Our feast for the eyes had begun, and we’d only arrived minutes before.

Once our entire group had arrived, our guide walked us out of the main building toward the Reef. “This is a magical path” my son informs me as we make our way along the nature path past Serenity Bay and Dolphin Lagoon. He knows he’s going to see tons of sea life, and is thrilled to find a corded “fish I.D.” card he can take with us for the day. I was happy to find it, too, as he’s extremely curious on specifics. (I can no longer get away with: “It’s a bird, or a plant, or an airplane.” It’s a Toucan, a Dusty Miller, and a Cessna!)

After donning our wetsuits (sans Spanx, dang it), our little band made tracks for the shore. We easily found a locker for our gear and a chair for our towels. Despite being at capacity for the grand opening of the new attraction, we didn’t feel crowded. Even  “full” was not shoulder-to-shoulder like some places. We felt free and easy, with plenty of “elbow room.”

After our guides gave us the lay of the land we walked into the water, snorkeling gear in hand. A cow-nose stingray swam past us at about “knee deep,” causing aforementioned 4-year-old a moment’s hesitation. Initial fear melted into an ear-to-ear grin followed by wild expressions of delight. Great big eyes looked up at me as he asked, “Can we go way out there?!”

I knew he’d fall in love with Discovery Cove, but I had no idea it would be so hard and so complete. Everywhere he looked there were birds, tropical fish, marine mammals… you name it. At the center of his fascination was the brand new Grand Reef.

With a footprint of 2.5 acres and close to a million gallons of water and 5 million pounds of pristine, sifted beach sand, the Grand Reef is home to thousands of tropical fish and dozens of rays including spotted eagle rays that have a 5-foot wingspan! Behind glass we found eels and, holy moly, sharks!

We balanced on rock formations (man made, like the removable coral so as not to be sharp) and bobbed and floated and swam to points near and far checking out the abundant marine species, and marveling at this unprecedented view into their world.

We did attempt the snorkeling gear, LOL!

I would have loved it if my little man could have used the mask and snorkel to better see the curious and colorful creatures in our midst, but he may be a little young… this trip. He couldn’t quite get it into his head that something covering his eyes and nose (and being tight and pressing on his face) was a good thing. His mom, however, put the gear to good use (with dad nearby to watch the boy). Swimming nose to nose with a stingray whose eyes were larger than mine was awe-inspiring, I can assure you.

“I don’t see how I could ever return to common life after this,” thought we all (quoting “Anne of Green Gables”).

Sure you may have gotten goose bumps at SeaWorld interacting with the marine life and riding the awesome rides. And OK, your family has giggled with delight while whooshing down the slides at Aquatica…. But if you’re ready for your next BIG close encounter with all you love from the marine parks, do not miss Discovery Cove. I’m already counting the days until I, too, can return.

Get the Sensation at One Ocean at SeaWorld Orlando

SeaWorld’s new killer whale show was unveiled recently with a splash! (Understatement of the year!) Crowds, as you can imagine for opening day, were heavy, but we managed to get a seat. (We joking referred to ourselves as “ceiling fans,” we were SO far up in the stadium.) In our subsequent visits we’ve made it a point to arrive 30 to 40 minutes early to get the up-close-and-personal seats. Why? Well, first because it’ breathtaking being close to the whales, and second because you “get the sensation.”

Young children are naturally curious. Talking about events like this by discussing the senses is a super introduction to not only science, but language arts. And they learning to be good observers and communicators, all while recounting a fun, FUN show.

We started with the five “primary” (or most-known) senses.

What did we hear? Uplifting and up-tempo music, of course, but we also heard the sound of water splashing as the whales jumped out of the water, then BOOM landed again. We heard the crowd giggling and screaming when they were hit with the splashes and the water crashing on the stadium seats.

What did we see? Majestic, huge!, shiny black-and-white beauties, caring trainers, TONS of water, huge screens that moved, lots and lots of people having the time of their lives. We pointed out some of the whale’s anatomy: rostrum, fluke, blow hole, dorsal fin and eyespot. And look, up in the sky… it’s a bird. But he’s not part of the show! It’s just a white feathered friend trying to sneak a snack.

How about feeling? Did we feel anything… unusual? Well, when we sat up in the upper balcony we felt the smoothness of the seat underneath us and the gritty concrete of the stadium walls. Normal stuff. On subsequent visits (when we sat in the Zone), however, we also felt wet… REALLY wet as we felt the splash from the pool!

One Ocean

Get the Sensation of Being SPLASHED

We smelled snacks, and the faint smell of fish when the wind caught it “just so,” but didn’t taste anything until the show was over and we re-filled our popcorn bucket (you certainly don’t want a full bucket getting soggy in the show, now do you?).

There are more than five senses. It’s actually closer to 20. One of the many “lesser-known” senses we described is thermoception which, to my young child, we called hot/cold. One minute we were “enjoying” (ahem) the Florida heat and then WHAM! a wall of extremely cold water made our skin shiver as goose bumps appeared.

Our balance helped us maneuver up and down the steps and kept us from toppling off our seats when we were hit with “the wave.” We could tell time was passing as we waited for the show to begin and were impatient for it to start. (And, curiously, time seemed to go quicker during all the fun!)

Describing what we sensed not only helped fix the memories in our minds, but helped my son use his exploding language skills.

One Ocean was fun. It was thrilling. It was (dare I say it?!) SENSEational! And it was, yet again, an educational experience for the whole family, cleverly disguised as a whale of a day.

Sesame Street Star Oscar the Grouch Was the Star of our Party

Oscar the Grouch is not one of the performers in the Busch Gardens Safari of Fun Sunny Day Theater (there’s something in his contract about personal appearances, LOL). That didn’t, however, stop us from making him the STAR of my son’s 4th birthday party.

Our invitations told everyone that, in Oscar’s opinion, the party was his “cup of mud.” And it was. And how could he not be thrilled at all the garbage trucks, disgusting sounding (not tasting!) foods, and trashy games? My son decided Slimey the Worm should be next to Oscar, crawling into the wheel.

When guests arrived, they were greeted by a huge sign that read, “Scram! No, wait. C’mon in for the Party!” with a giant photo of the monster himself. All over the back yard trash cans, garbage trucks, and recycling bins could be seen. Normally I try to clean before company, but whoo hoo… when you have a trash-themed party it’s not nearly as high on the “to do” list. We even had an autographed photo of Oscar he sent to us with his regrets that he could not, alas, attend. (I’m serious about the personal appearances clause!)

On the menu were Messy Meatballs, Dirty Rice, Filthy Fondue, Oscar Green Guacamole, Trashy Tortilla Chips, Sloppy Joes, Green Goopy Salsa Verde, and Can-D. (Get it?! In the trash can… Candy!) The cake was a recycling truck with donuts for wheels, ginger bread men for drivers, Pepperidge Farm Pirouettes as exhaust pipes, and of course chocolate pudding in the back with crumbled up Oreos and graham crackers for dirt with gummy worms.

Oscar The Grouch and Garbage Truck

Due to a sudden downpour, we grabbed the gang and headed in to our resi-dump for craft time. Before the party a friend and I cut out pattern pieces for an Oscar puppet. We pre-cut the green face shape, two eyes with pupils, two one brown unibrow, and a black mouth. Using white craft glue and glue sticks, the kids did their best at approximating facial feature placement. (You’ll find pdf files for each of the parts to the puppet at the bottom of this post.)

Oscar the Grouch Puppets

(Thanks home improvement store for the paint stir stick handles which we glued on before the party so they could dry, and Miranda for your exceptional cutting skills.)

Game time was a lot of fun, as we borrowed some bins from our town’s recycling center. We put three labeled bins on each end of the “playing field.” One of each: metal, plastic, paper. In the center of the yard we had two bins facing each other, one green, one orange. Team orange lined up behind their bin, and green did likewise. These bins had various recycling items inside for team members to sort. (Hint: If you use metal soda cans, cut circles of construction paper slightly smaller than the can top and securely hot glue them on, so as not to have a cutting hazard from the sharp opening.) Each child grabbed an item and ran to the “end zone” where a referee was on hand to point to the right bin, as many of the kids couldn’t read the words yet! After a successful dunk, they ran back and tagged the team bin, and the next child would be off to recycle!

On a side note: We’re on a first-name basis with all of our city environmental services personnel. They are the nicest guys and wave at my son every single day they’re there. We bake cookies for them on special occasions and they couldn’t be kinder to our family. Show some love to your trash men: Baked goods or cold water on a hot day.

We really enjoy having our friends and family at our home for parties, but if we lived closer we would have been tempted to have our party at Busch Gardens this year. You can have a preschool part there! The cost includes admission (after 1 p.m.) and features pizza and cake at a special meet-and-greet. Then the kiddos get to be in VIP seating for the 4 p.m. Sesame Street show. (We didn’t have a show at our party, although I had planned on reading a story and having us sing “Oh I Love Trash!” Alas, the rain put a damper on the entertainment portion of the party.)

The Busch Gardens party cost is $49.95 plus tax which includes invitations, decorations, party favors, package pickup for presents and special treatment with some very special monsters. Guests who are Passport members are $23 per person.

They also have a Birthday add-on for people who are already attending a “Dine with Elmo and Friends” event. (The Dine with Elmo breakfast is $18 for adults and $13 for 3- to 9-year-olds. Lunch with Elmo and the gang will cost $22 for adults and $15 for children (ages 3-9). The add-on is a single charge that will provide your party with reserved seating, a cake, and a special birthday wish from the cast during the dine.

(Times, costs, and availability change from time to time, so be sure to visit http://www.buschgardens.com for current information.)

Say, I wonder if an adult can have their birthday party there? I’m over the preschool age—not saying HOW over!—but I STILL love those monsters.

Here are the pdf files you’ll need to create my adorable (IMHO) Oscar the Grouch puppets:

Oscar the Grouch Tongue; Oscar the Grouch Unibrow; Oscar the Grouch Eyes; Oscar the Grouch Face; Oscar the Grouch Mouth

On Their Own, Now… SeaWorld Releases Their 1000th Rescued Sea Turtle

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The other day my son fell asleep on my chest. This usually high-test, fast motion, ALL boy 4-year-old for a few, brief moments let me hold him and nurture him “up close and personal.” After a stretch here, a yawn … Continue reading

Training and Parenting Have Quite A Lot in Common!

I’ve watched the various whale and dolphin shows at SeaWorld more times than I can count. One of the things I find most intriguing is the outpouring of love they show the animals and the seemingly endless supply of patience they exhibit… even when the animals have no intention of performing on cue. As an audience member, I can tell the hope is that Shamu will swim “that” way. But once in a while he just doesn’t feel like it. I watch the ballet of trainers moving around the stage… encouraging… hoping…. But no. Not now. And you know what? They just go to the next thing. It’s what I aspire to as a parent.

Parenting takes a lot of hard work. (Insert pause where you say, “Well, no duh!”) Sometimes it seems to come effortlessly, while at others you may feel your child has literally been replaced by an other-worldly being who has, apparently, never, no never, been told certain rules, understood explained consequences, and hasn’t ever been allowed to get his/her way. What seems, to you the parent, like a simple request that will ensure a quicker chore completion so you can all get on to the fun is, to your darling, sweet-faced child, tantamount to a request to scrub the floor with a toothbrush. Wouldn’t it be great if there were ways to reinforce those positive behaviors we want from our children while having the ability to overlook ones that aren’t so great?

Enter Operant Conditioning.

The trainers at SeaWorld use operant conditioning to encourage the animals to perform certain behaviors. Basically they positively reinforce particular activities so much that the animals do them more often because good stuff happens when they do. (When you go to work and receive a paycheck, you are conditioned. You do the work, you get the reward.) Trainers also seem to ignore behaviors that are unwanted. No one gets mad. No one goes to time out. Hummmmm.

I enrolled in a free two-week training event at a website called “Positive Parenting Solutions.” Apparently the Alderian psychology they espouse is quite similar to operant  conditioning. It seems people (and animals) coexist better, and with fewer bad behaviors when love is freely given, faults are overlooked, and relationship-building actions are rewarded. Wow. What a concept. (Imagine the look of irony on my face, OK?)

I don’t purport to be an expert trainer, and heaven knows I’m a parent in training. (Um, universe, if you could throw me a “good girl” fish right now that would be swell.) I can say, though, that I have literal goosebumps watching the whales and dolphins majestically  leap through the air or twirl through the water. And yes, I have had tears in my eyes seeing the overwhelmingly apparent mutual affection the trainers have with those in their care.

My child does not (poor thing) have a team of people who spent years in training to learn how to care for him. It’s just me and his dad. And we’re learning as we go.  We don’t always respond with patience. And we have, from time to time, focused on the negative. Oh, and all right, I admit it!, we’ve been inconsistent when consistency is what he needs most. Sigh.

It is my hope more than anything that my child grow up to feel secure and loved… so much so that his behaviors exude both confidence and compassion although I won’t expect him to swirl through the water like a graceful dolphin and pose on the mark. OK, I might want him to smile for the camera if Grandma is taking a picture.

What! No judging! I’m still her child and certain behaviors are reinforced….