Tag Archives: Florida

Strong Water Tavern

Strong Water Tavern at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando Resort is a hidden gem and worth a visit even if you are not staying at this resort.

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A wall of vintage rums, your own rum specialist, a ceviche bar and a patio overlooking the lagoon combine to make Strong Water Tavern an exceptionally cool and stylish watering hole. Featuring tapas-style dining options with rum tastings, this is a true jewel at this very tropical island feel resort.

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On a recent visit to Universal Orlando, I visited twice. The service was wonderful each time and the food delicious! It was impossible to choose drinks and tapas, but our server made suggestions and following those proved to be the right choice.

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Fountain of Youth
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Seafood Ceviche
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Florida Ceviche

My companion and I shared a few tapas, the Florida Ceviche and the Seafood Tostadas which were both incredible. Especially the Florida Ceviche which came highly recommended by our server. She was not wrong, we got it again on our next visit!

While they have anything you could want including wine and beer, Rum is their speciality as we went with rum drinks. Fountain of Youth the first visit for me and to accompany our Florida Ceviche on our second late-night visit, a Cayman Island Iced Tea.

The bar was full late afternoon on our first visit, pre-dinner drinks going strong, tables were plentifully available though. During our late-night visit, there were considerably more people, but we still were able to be seated immediately, it’s a very large space.

Next time you are at Universal Orlando, be sure to stroll over or take the water taxi over  You can even walk to Loews Sapphire Falls Resort from Citywalk.

Strong Water Tavern is an absolute gem!

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen

As a lover of all things CHOCOLATE, I had to try out Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen for myself. I mean look at the milkshakes!!!

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Toothsome is an impressive sight from across the water at Citywalk. It sits just outside the entrance to Islands of Adventure and appears to be a Willy Wonka’esque contraption rising from the water.

Inside, the theme is steampunk head to toe and it’s a fully immersive experience. The story of Penelope and how she created the Emporium to find her family is entertaining. Penelope and her chocolate creating friend Jacques wander from table to table chatting with guests. The building houses the restaurant, the foundry (milkshake shop), a pastry shop and a gift shop. And upstairs a small bar.

The restaurant offers more than just chocolate though. The menu has some eclectic choices and comfort food with a twist. The menu is expansive with everything from burgers, flatbreads, steaks, pasta and of course an amazing dessert menu.

We started with a chocolate drink of course!

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On this particular trip, my companion and I shared a few appetizers.

The Totchos,  fried tater tots, spicy green chili, crispy pork belly, andouille sausage cheddar cheese sauce.

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Forest Mushroom Flatbread, Mushrooms, goat cheese, caramelized onions, arugula, white truffle oil

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Both were excellent, the totchos were nice and crispy and the flatbread was simply divine.

After ducking into the parks for a bit to close them down, we returned to Toothsome for the icing on the cake, or whip cream on the milkshake, or something like that.

They taste as great as they look!

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I chose the Chocolate X5 and it was delicious! Not gonna lie, they are a bit difficult to eat, but worth every messy napkin involved.

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Finding a spot to sit can be difficult, but there is plenty of seating along the wall outside.

This is definitely on my return visit list. So many more things to try on the incredible menu and just a fun vibe. Have you tried a meal or a milkshake at Toothsome? I’d love to hear about it!

A look inside a Universal Fam Trip

I get comments all the time when I go on a “work” trip. “What is it that makes it work?” or “you aren’t really working!”

Fam Trip stands for familiarization trip and is usually hosted by a hotel group, travel company or even tourist board for a country. They are limited to travel agents, spouses, friends, tagalongs are almost never allowed. Usually, you have to share a room with another agent.

I’ve been on fam trips in Ireland, hosted by hotel groups, Germany hosted by the German Tourist Board, Sandals Resorts in Jamaica where we toured almost all their Jamaica properties, see that trip here. A small hotel chain in Mexico last year, Disney, and most recently Universal.

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Contrary to popular believe, fam trips are not free. First off, you have to get there and that cost is never included. Sometimes there is also a fee associated with the actual trip and meals are not always or all included as well as other miscellaneous things. It’s an investment in your business to learn all you can to better help your clients, that’s why we go on these trips. Are they fun? Sure, we have fun, but they are also a lot of work. They do require you to attend all mandatory workshops and site inspections and you can be booted out or charged full price if you don’t.

I just returned from a Universal Orlando Training trip. I arrived in Orlando on Tuesday afternoon, met up with my fellow A Time to Treasure Travel agent/friend/roommate Melissa and we made our way to the host resort, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, and after checking in and having a snack made our way to the official check-in for the fam. A lovely buffet dinner was included and a visit from a minion for pictures! After dinner, we were set free and headed over to Universal Studios for a few rides before closing. After a long travel day, we made our way back and to bed.

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Wednesday we met back at the conference center across the street or a very long walk through our hotel’s conference center which connects to the conference center at Royal Pacific where our workshops were being held. A buffet breakfast awaited and then we were split into groups of about 15 with the Travel Sales Reps and off we went to tour several resorts and Volcano Bay. We boarded a bus that took us across the street to Cabana bay, toured this entire resort, saw 2 rooms in 2 different buildings then walked the path from Cabana Bay to Volcano Bay. We did a quick spin of Volcano Bay. It’s really not fun to walk through a water park fully dressed on a hot day. Then we exited Volcano Bay and walked by Aventura Hotel and got back on the bus. Next up was Royal Pacific where we toured the resort and saw a room. From here we walked back downstairs to the conference center where our late buffet lunch was waiting.

My fitbit registered 17,000 steps at this point. It was about 1pm. Next up after lunch was a workshop so we rested in our chairs for a few hours after walking all morning. Our workshop ended at 5:30pm and we had the evening free. We headed to Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen because neither one of us had been there and wanted to try it. After that, we hopped into Islands of Adventure right next door and had a bit of time, did a few rides and saw the Hogwarts Castle light show. We ducked into King Kong on our way out of the park. Stopped back at Toothsomes for a milkshake! Back to the hotel and bed.

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Thursday morning we grabbed a coffee and pastry at the New Dutch Trading CO. and made our way to the conference center at Royal Pacific. No breakfast this morning, but a 1-hour training on the booking system we use to book Universal. Then we had a brief tour of Aventura Hotel across the street including the rooftop lounge, Bar17 with incredible views of all of Orlando. At the end of this tour, at about 11am, we had the rest of the day free. Melissa and I made our way back to our hotel and jumped on the water taxi to Citywalk. We stopped to buy BlueMan group tickets, neither of us had experienced this and wanted to. There was an entrance to Universal Studios right by the box office so we popped in that way and made our way to Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron for lunch. We rode Gringotts and got ice cream then hopped on the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade over at Islands of Adventure. Here, we contemplated the new Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure, but the line was about 120 minutes and rain was threatening to shut it down so we opted for the Hogshead Pub for frozen Butterbeer! Then we made our way out of the park slowly and back to our hotel to enjoy a relaxing hour by the pool before getting ready for our dinner at Cowfish and the BlueMan group show.  After the show, we headed back and went over to Aventura Hotel to check out the night time view from Bar17 and then came back to end the night at Strong Water Tavern in our hotel before calling it a night.

Morning meant the shuttle back to the airport and flights home.

This fam trip actually had a good amount of free time and Thursday morning’s offerings were optional, it could have been a full free day and was for many, but the training that morning was informative and I’m glad I went.

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All in all, yes, fams are fun and we get some time to do our own thing, but they are also a lot of walking and listening. Taking notes and hundreds of pictures.

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We represent our agency on these fams and we share what we learn with everyone else in our agency. We cannot all go on all of them, so we take turns and share our learning.

Universal SuperStar Shuttle

Heading to Universal and wondering:

How are we going to get there? Rent a car and pay for parking? Uber or Lyft?

Universal Orlando Resort offers a great transportation option from the Orlando International Airport (MCO) for a very low rate.

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This is a great option if you won’t be needing a car. Superstar Shuttle does need to be booked in advance and can be added to any Universal package booking.

How much does Universal’s SuperStar Shuttle Cost? 

  • Adult: $39, tax inclusive, Roundtrip
  • Child (3-9): $29, tax inclusive, Roundtrip
  • Children 2 & Under: Free

What if I have a child that requires a car seat? Car seats can be brought and used but they will not be provided.

You will receive confirmation in your E-Travel Document with instructions on where to go. The Universal SuperStar Shuttle check-in desk is located across from the Hertz rental car counter on Ground Level 1, head towards Disney’s Magical Express, but it’s well before that. It’s to your left as you pass the Hertz counter and if you pass Starbucks you just went by it.

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At the check-in desk, if you are within normal hours (7:30am-8:30am), they will have your packet with your tickets, coupons, everything you need. If it’s after hours, the packet will be available at the Vacation Planning Desk at your resort the following morning.

The shuttle takes about 30 minutes to get to Universal and may make multiple stops based on where everyone on the shuttle is staying. On a recent trip, we waited less than 10 minutes for the shuttle and were the first stop.

K%atOOt6RjqiENa2kHGXsQYou will be given your return time at check-in as well, which you can have them adjust if you would like. The shuttle picks you up in front of the hotel lobby where you were dropped off.

Superstar Shuttle is an easy peasy way of getting to and from Universal Orlando!

Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando

Loews Sapphire Falls is a Caribbean themed resort located on the water path at Universal Orlando Resort. It boasts the largest pool on property and a laid back casual Carribean vibe. 

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This resort is beautiful! 

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Cascading waterfalls and views of the water, the lagoon on one side and the spectacular pool on the other really lend to the relaxed vibe at this hotel. The vast lobby houses The New Dutch Trading Co, which is a partial Starbucks and more quick-service type fare. Next to the showcase staircase, a feature of all Loews hotels is Strong Water Tavern. This place is a gem. With over 75 kinds of rum in addition to a regular full bar selection and incredibly tasty tapas and small plates. Service is impeccable!

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A Universal Store with a great selection as well as a Fuel Rod kiosk and of course the Vacation Planning Desk with kiosks where you would print your package tickets.

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Avis is the Universal car rental partner and there is a desk at every hotel. Complimentary WIFI is available throughout the hotel. Valet and self-parking, both for a fee. Room service operates 24 hours a day. A fitness center and game room/arcade is available on the second floor.

Amatista Cookhouse™, a full-service restaurant that offers scenic water views and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Spectacular Pool!

The largest pool at Universal at 16,000 square feet with 2 sand beaches, zero-entry area, a fabulous water slide, and water play area for the littles. Also by the pool are cabanas available for rent for a very special day by the pool. There is also a fire pit, movies by the pool in the evenings and complimentary life jackets.

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The Drhum Club Kantine, a pool bar and grill offers a fresh seafood inspired menu and taste-tempting drinks.

Access to the parks

Easy access to Citywalk and the theme parks via the water taxi. At Universal, you will go through a security checkpoint on the boat dock which means no waiting in a long bag check line at the theme park entrances.

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Exclusive Benefits of Sapphire Falls

  • Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ and select attractions at Volcano Bay™ water theme park, one hour before the theme parks open (valid theme park admission required)
  • Complimentary water taxis or shuttle buses that take you directly to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay and CityWalk™
  • Resort-wide charging privileges with your room key card
  • Complimentary delivery of merchandise purchased throughout the resort to your hotel
  • Complimentary access* to select live entertainment venues at Universal CityWalk™ for the length of stay.
  • Start your day with a wake-up call from one of your favorite Universal Orlando characters
  • Golf Universal Orlando™ program offers an exclusive program for golfers that enables guests to take to the links during their stay. You can reserve a perfect tee time, arrange for complimentary transportation* to and from select courses and more. For more information please contact the Universal Orlando Ticket Center in the hotel lobby.

This resort has 1000 rooms including the most suites of any other Universal resort. A mix of hospitality, Sapphire and Kids suites. Rooms have all the amenities including a refrigerator, Keurig and a magic mirror!

The door that closes off the shower/toilet space is a sliding door and it does lack total privacy as there is a sliver of space left, it doesn’t quite close all the way.

 

We also go an exclusive look at a Kids Suite: A king bedded room with an attached 2 twin bedded room only accessible from inside the suite.

 

Loews Sapphire Falls offers incredible value for the amenities offered at the resort. With water taxi to the theme parks and the ability to walk to Volcano Bay via Cabana Bay across the street, the location cannot be beaten.

Contact me to start planning your Universal Orlando EPIC vacation!

Disney Dream with Teens

There are a lot of cruise lines to choose from, but Disney offers the best experience for tweens and teens and that might be surprising to some. And let’s face it, parents generally make the decisions on where the family vacation is going to be and teens don’t necessarily get a big say. My kids were excited to go on their first cruise but less than thrilled it was Disney. They love Disney World but thought there would just be too many kids and it would be all about characters. They ended up having a great time and didn’t meet any characters and didn’t stand in any lines, except the AquaDuck once or twice. Sure, there were a lot of kids, but with their own spaces, they hardly had to see them.

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We sailed on the Disney Dream 4 night Bahamas cruise in April 2019. The boys were 13 and 15, turned 16 on our sea day.

Here are 3 reasons I think the #DisneyDifference makes all the difference in a teen’s experience on vacation. 

Exclusive spaces beyond compare…

Disney Cruise Line offers the best teen lounges/clubs on the high seas. Tweens have Edge, which on the Dream is located in the funnel! And teens have Vibe. On the Dream and Fantasy, Vibe has its own sun deck on the front of the ship with its own pool away from all the little ones. Vibe offers games and activities run by counselors and video games and a smoothie bar. Check out my Vibe post and video here. Be sure to visit the teen clubs on the first day to register the kids and check it out. The Navigator App will list the continuous stream of activities available through Vibe. They play “get to know you” games and Heroes vs Villains and do scavenger hunts.

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Freedom…

Parents will feel so comfortable on a Disney Cruise with the incredible service and cast members. It allows them the ability to give teens the freedom to make their own choices on what they want to do and where they want to spend their time. Use the Navigator app to keep in touch with your teens while allowing them some freedom. Set guidelines for meeting up, for dinner for example and a curfew, but then let them fill the space in between. There are sports simulators, basketball court, miniature golf, movie theatre, self serve soft ice cream… Our teens basically did their own thing all day long. They had each other and didn’t really make friends, but they went off to Vibe or up to the sports deck, back to the room. A stop a Cabanas for some food. We barely saw them the entire cruise.

Bonus: This gives you lots of time to use the adult-only areas and do your own thing. 

Unlimited food choices…

If your teens are anything like mine, a lot of time is spent standing in front of the open fridge saying there is nothing to eat. Not a problem on a Disney Cruise. Between the buffet, Cabanas and quick service location on the pool deck, in addition to the main dining room and free room service…teens will never run out of food options.

Don’t underestimate their own comfort level with dining alone either, my tween went up to the buffet on his own for his second or third lunch almost daily, he’s an athlete and eats a lot. And when we scheduled an adult-only dinner at Palo, I offered room service or grab a bite on the pool deck and the boys, a tween and teen, both wanted to go to the main dining room we were scheduled for that night, on their own. They loved our server and wanted to see him. We met them there towards the end of their meal and were greeted by our table neighbors saying what well-behaved and mature children we have. They were well taken care of by our servers, my little athlete had 3 cleaned plates in front of him, a regular occurrence, he ordered 3 meals every night.

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We opted for late seating as there are less little kids at late and early was just too early. It worked out well for us and the kids that were in the dining rooms ate and were whisked away to the kids club quickly so we barely noticed them.

With all the food choices, amazing teen spaces and the comfort at allowing them some freedom, the #DisneyDifference shines bright on cruises with teenagers!

 

 

Residence Inn Daytona Beach Shores

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I searched long and hard for a place to stay for a few days before our Disney cruise. We were planning on spending 2 full days, 3 nights in Florida before the cruise and decided against Disney or Universal. Our kids had not been to the ocean since they were little when we went to Cape Cod so we decided on a few days at the ocean. In the end, I settled on the Residence Inn Daytona Beach Shores. This could not have been a better choice.

We had a little trouble arriving due to storms and came in a day later than planned losing a full day, but it wasn’t a great weather day so we didn’t miss too much. When we finally arrived, a full 24 later everything was ready for us and we even managed a meal and a little walk on the beach in the dark. The hotel had a restaurant and a bar and the bar opened to the pool outside for drinks during the day. The pool and hot tub overlooked the ocean.

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Sunday was now our only full day to spend there and we rented chairs and an umbrella right from a truck set up on the beach nearby and enjoyed a day at the ocean. The weather was great. We also had a little friendly competition at Pirates Cove Mini Golf. Always fun, even with teenagers.

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The hotel suited us nicely. Free breakfast buffet and a few restaurants right across the street. We had a 2 bedroom suite with a full kitchen which we didn’t really need, I wasn’t planning on cooking, but we did get takeout for dinner and the table came in handy. The nicest part was before being crammed into a tiny stateroom on a cruise for 4 days, we had space to spread out and the kids had their own room with 2 queen beds and we had a room with a king bed. Each with their own bathroom. From the balcony, we could see both the ocean and the bay and were looking towards Daytona Beach.

It took a little less than an hour to drive from Daytona Beach Shores to Port Canaveral Monday morning. It was a very easy drive, no traffic at all.

We arrived exactly at our port arrival time and followed the procedure, Disney is very efficient when it comes to organizing crowds. We were walking onto the ship within 45 minutes of arriving, including parking, security, checking in, etc…as soon as we checked in they called our boarding group.

Twenty Years of Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom turns 20 this year. This truly unique park opened on Earth Day 1998, April 22, 1998. A month later, I got married and spent part of my honeymoon at Disney World and we both enjoyed our day at this brand new park immensely. It was great then, but 20 years later…it’s so much better!Animal Kingdom

The newly added Pandora, World of Avatar land is a must see even for non-Avatar fans. Just the visuals, pictures don’t do it justice, you have to see it in person for the full effect. Mountains suspended in the air, waterfalls descending into pools seemingly on the rainforest floor, the colorful plant life and at night it all takes on an incredible luminescent glow.

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This area brings with it two new attractions, one of which is hands down the best attraction in all of the Orlando theme parks according to me at least. Flight of Passage takes you on a Banshee ride! You fly…on a banshee! It is the best simulator I’ve ever experienced. It’s even worth the long lines. There is a height requirement of 44″ on this one, but the Na’Vi River Journey is family friendly. It’s a leisurely boat ride through the bioluminescent forest of Pandora.

 

Animal Kingdom has extended their hours and are open into the dark hours now adding a nighttime show, Rivers of Light which is also worth a look and don’t miss the projections on the Tree of Life after dark.

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Of course, one of my favorite rollercoasters of all time is Expedition Everest, it wasn’t there in 1998, but I have since made up for that. Single rider line means no waits and the ability to ride it over and over and over again in quick

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Some of my favorite things at Animal Kingdom aren’t even the attractions though. There is just so much to see. The trails that take you into the animal habitats are wonderful. Pangani Trail brings you up close to gorillas and so much more. The Maharajah Jungle Trek bring you up close with Bengal Tigers. A walk around the Tree of Life just marveling at its carvings could take hours and there are hidden spots with animals dispersed around the tree. And of course, Kilimanjaro Safari is a classic and now available at night as well for a completely different experience.

This park has truly become a full day park.

Spirit of the Swamp Adventure

Our recent trip to Florida included this wonderful first for us.

Air boat adventure on Spirit of the Swamp Air Boats

We drove out to Kissimmee and Lake Tohopekaliga to the address from the website. We were a little worried as it was raining most of the way and a hurricane was bearing down on Florida.  We didn’t know what to expect and we arrived to a park with a playground, a restroom, a dock area with the air boats and the address was a private residence. You check in right at the dock and they use the private house address so your GPS will get you there, it was a tad confusing when we first drove in, but it worked. There appeared to be another air boat company there as well.

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We met Captain Lynne from Spirit of the Swamp and boarded our boat after she put the canopy up since it was sprinkling. It was a small boat and it was just our family, which was really nice. We booked a 1 hour ride. We got on and were told about the headsets, we could hear the Captain and we could all speak as well without pressing anything and we could all hear each other. The boat is quite loud especially when going fast so the headsets are a must. As we were making our way along the canal out to the lake, Captain Lynne told us safety features and how the boat works.

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Once we arrived onto the lake, we immediately started spotting wildlife. Mainly birds, interesting birds everywhere. Vultures and egrets I believe were the first we saw. Captain Lynne was full of information about the birds, the lake and the alligators and she was funny too. We very quickly found our first alligator, it was hatchling season, so there were mama gators guarding their nests and babies in spots and Captain Lynne knew them all. We got to see several nests and the babies are hard to spot, they are so tiny, but at one nest we saw tons of them. Unfortunately, the mother was nowhere to be seen. Captain Lynne said she hadn’t seen her in days and was afraid she had been caught as hunting season had started 2 weeks earlier. It seemed really wrong to us that they would allow hunting of female alligators right during hatchling season. Now those babies will probably not survive much longer without their mother.

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We were not sure what to expect, but we had a really good time on this excursion and am so glad we did it. It sprinkled a bit, on and off, but we were covered and stayed dry.

I had been on an air boat once when I was a child in the everglades, but I barely remember it. I do remember it being a big boat with lots of people. This was so nice because it was just us, we all had a great view, Captain Lynne would turn the boat around so we all got a great view.

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From Disney World, it took about 40 minutes to get there with some traffic. It took us under 30 minutes to get back.

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I highly recommend this “off the beaten path” adventure while in the Orlando area.

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