I have been remiss in writing about our family adventures. A few years ago the kids voted to give up Christmas one year in order to go to Harry Potter world in Florida. This last Christmas was the one they gave up and in February we took a fun-filled trip to the state of Sunshine (and rain… heh). We did lots more than just Universal Studios though and here are some collages of a few pictures of the different places we went – along with stories. Be forewarned…. this will be a LONG post 🙂 But there are some awesome stories & so hopefully well worth your while.
The first day of the trip we drove to Georgia. All went swimmingly well until we got stuck in Atlanta traffic. Our first campground of the trip was in the Okeefenokee wildlife refuge and not one we could get a reservation at and we didn’t know if they would have any openings. To top it off, we had to be in before gates closed and it was looking like we weren’t going to make it. Upon hearing our worries Jacob prayed and we made it past the gate with 2 minutes to spare. Then we stopped at the camp host and it was looking pretty glum. They didn’t think there were any spots open. Jacob prayed again and we found a spot for the night – we found out in the morning that the only reason it was open was because the people who were supposed to be there didn’t make it. Some might say coincidence or luck – we say miracle & are SO grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who cares about us 🙂 Day 2 was spent exploring the Okeefenokee swamp before driving to our first campground in Florida.
After a VERY rainy night we went to church in Gulfport where my parents had served 2 of their missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Then we explored the Marina, Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, & St. Pete Beach
Day 4 We packed up camp and dried everything in the campground’s dryers (thank goodness for those!) then headed to Tarpon Springs. We took a little boat ride and learned about how they harvest sponges (so cool!) and then drove to Honeymoon Island to play on the beach.
The kids spilled out of the van the moment we parked and took off to the bathrooms to change into their bathing suits. From there it wasn’t long until the were sprinting across the beach to the water’s edge. Water droplets flung in arcing spins, catching the late sunlight, and making magic moments as the children hit the water. After they tired of playing the water they flopped on the sand and built sand castles and took turns burying each other in the sand. We walked up and down the beach searching for shells and found scads of them – all the kids were thrilled and collected quite the bounty.
As the sun began to dip I walked a long ways down the beach, searching for shells, and just enjoying the view. Just as the sun was kissing the horizon, a sailboat sailed by, keeping time with my steps and creating the perfect picture, silhouetted against the setting sun. I wished I’d had my camera, but Paul had it at the moment and was at the opposite end of the beach – quite some distance away. As I neared where the rest of the family still played, a shout of “dolphin!” arose and I spotted in the distance a fin – again wishing I had a camera. I watched, fascinated, as the fin cut a line through the water in the distance, coming and going at times. At one point, as it submerged in the ocean, I saw the tail fin come up out of the water – it was no dolphin tale – I think it was a shark! How cool is that?
Once the sun had disappeared into the depths of the gulf, we headed back to the car, changed and drove to our next campground. We were dismayed to realize that we had forgotten to call ahead to obtain the gate code – the campgrounds down in Florida, it appears, require gate codes for security. We weren’t sure what to do. We arrived at Alafia State Park and sat at the locked gate. Jacob immediately thought to pray and offered up an earnest plea. Paul got out of the car and entered the park – a little ways down the road he found a ranger station and was able to call and obtain the code. Our prayers were answered!
Day 5 – We started with a favorite place of my parents while there were here on their mission – The Sunken Gardens. They were absolutely gorgeous. They had some birds as well which was a huge hit with all the children – especially Robert. Close to the entrance we found a charming green parrot named Paquita. She would say her name, “paquiiiiiiiiiita!” and then laugh – and my goodness her laughter sounded like a child’s. It was charming and surreal. The kids gathered around her cage and just enjoyed listening to her so much. Robert was smitten by her. We discovered that where ever we put Robert she would travel right to where he was and chatter and laugh. Of course he loved it and decided that this was the best part of the whole trip – EVER. They also had a pair of kookaburras – of course we sang to them! And the kids overheard some guides with a school group demonstrate how to get them to laugh and were able to draw forth the glorious laughter of the kookaburra.
From the gardens we traveled south to Fort DeSoto. We entered the park and decided to start with lunch. Oh! During this whole trip we had been having fun with “Flat Tom” – our version of “Flat Stanley” but using an enlarged photo of a friend’s head – it was hilarious – we kept putting him in all sorts of funny places. Anyway, we parked and the kids found a lizard on the ground – I quite honestly thought it was mostly dead but, her proved alive enough as Em scooped him onto Flat Tom’s face and held him. Dad walked up and said, “You do know that some lizards in Florida are poisonous.” Em squawked and jumped. While I just started laughing. Paul joined in and she realized he had been just teasing and joined in our laughter. Not too long after that the lizard decided to prove just how full of vitality he was and zipped up Em’s arm, around her back, up and over her shoulder and disappeared quite nicely into her shirt.
She let out a shriek and began the greatest “Eek! There’s a lizard somewhere in my clothes, get it out!” dance I have ever seen. Oh how we laughed, and laughed as she shrieked and danced and spun trying to figure out where the little lizard had gotten to. I had an idea of where it might be hiding and was trying to figure out how to suggest it diplomatically when Em stilled and peeked down the front of her shirt. “Well, I found it,” she said and we started laughing. It was where I thought – it had found a cave in her bra, lol. We got the traumatized little guy out and proceeded to a nearby picnic table.
After a thorough explorations of the fort we headed to the pier. It stretch far out on the water and was quite a wonderful walk. All sorts of neat birds perched on the lights and railings. Fisherman fished off the pier as great storks and egrets hovered nearby hoping to make off with the fishermen’s catch. I even saw an osprey – that was neat. After walking the pier, Jacob was first off and desperately wanted to chase through the huge flock of birds roaming the beach. With a nod from his father, Jacob took off, his arms flung wide and charged through the birds. They took to flight in a huge mass and his laughter could be heard at quite some distance as he flapped and ran amongst the swirling birds.
Upon returning to the campground we found some firewood and had s’mores. At one point Dot got mad about something and ended up smashing her s’more and storming off to the bathroom without a flashlight because her hands were a sticky mess. She had only been gone a minute or less when we heard her blood curdling shriek and she came hurtling back to camp blubbering about an animal that had attacked her. She was completely unscathed, but hysterical about the animal that had charged her from the bushes. I grabbed a flashlight and accompanied her to the bathroom – look for signs of this attack animal. Near the side of the road I spotted the culprit – a baby armadillo. Oh, how I laughed about that one – Dot even had a good chuckle. Our stories that night involved attack armadillos.
Also, that night, on the way to the campground after the beach, we found out that someone had hijacked Paul’s debit card – we were super blessed to catch them before too much damage was done and the bank credited all the money back to us without a problem. Of course numerous prayers were said – also we had a hard time locating wood and prayed over that too – not long after prayers were said were we able to find a store selling bundles of wood so we could enjoy some fun campfire time. The faith of our children is amazing!
Day 6- More rain. But that didn’t matter since we were planning on spending most of the day at the Florida Aquarium The kids got to pet sharks and sting rays and for $2 we crammed them all in a hurricane simulator, which was absolutely hilarious.
After the aquarium we took the kids to the Manatee Viewing Center and got to see a pelican eating a fish as well as several manatees – it was pretty awesome just seeing manatees in the wild.
From there we drove to our campground in Orlando near Universal studios. When we bought our passes before we left they were running a special that gave us 2 extra days for free. We couldn’t lengthen our trip, but we decided to at least go that evening to experience some of it and get an idea for where things were. We went on the Mummy ride (which Robert wasn’t quite tall enough for), saw the Mardis Gras parade, & did the Shrek ride – which was a hoot.
Day 7 & 8 – Before going to Universal Studios we presented the kids with wands (I made them), robes, ties, & socks. Em & I were Hufflepuff, Dot & Jacob were Ravenclaw, James & Robert Gryffindor, & Dad was Slytherin. We also had letters and everything for them. It was pretty awesome. Then we of course headed right for Harry Potter world. It was aboslutely magical. We did several rides, including the Hogwarts Express, bought treats from Honeydukes and had a round of Butterbeer (SO yummy!) At the end of day seven we returned to the campground to find our tent had blown away, but luckily eveyrthing was undamaged and even the airmattress was still intact. So blessed!
Our two full days at Universal studios were full of fun and adventure – by far the highlight was Harry Potter World 😀
Day 9- we packed up and headed north to Kingsley Plantation and Little Talbot Island. We really discovered a gem at that campground and want to go back to visit.
Day 10 – we packed up and headed home. It was a wonderful vacation and full of fun, tender mercies & answered prayers.