Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Birmingham, Alabama—Orlando, Florida—Tampa, Florida—Day 305

Today I drove to the Birmingham airport and then flew to Orlando via Charlotte, North Carolina. As I prepared myself for the land of Mickey Mouse, I sat in the Charlotte airport waiting for my plane to board, noticing just how many small children were around. Boarding the plane, I had to squeeze past tiny tots and their parents, making my way to my aisle seat. The plane didn’t seem to be full at first, but slowly filled up. People seemed to be just sitting wherever—several people just chose seats to sit in without them being their real seats. This would normally have been a problem—finding other people in your seats—but no one seemed to mind, their eye glazed over with the thoughts of Space Mountain and Donald Duck.

We landed in Orlando and I went straight to the baggage claim before getting my rental car. It was complete and utter chaos—people and children everywhere. I’ve never seen such a disorganized sight—people were clamoring over each other, trying to get to this black bag and that black bag. Everyone was claiming that this and that bag, only to have someone else say no wait, that’s mine. I watched an elderly man do this several times—take a suitcase off of the conveyor belt only to have a couple come over and argue with him about it being their bag. By the ribbons attached, you would think it would be easy for them to realize it. Turned out to be the couple’s bag, which the man finally succeeded. I think he was just tired of waiting!

Luckily my bag is not just black and I was able to spot it once it finally came into view. Worried that someone would take it, I eyed my bag on its route and dashed forward once it got close enough. I left, passing a woman talking on her cell phone. She was picking up her friend’s bag for him while he was getting the car (oh the joys of listening in on stranger’s conversations!) and he was trying to describe it to her. “Black?” she said, “JUST black??”

She’s going to be here all day!

I left, rented my car (which turned out to be an oh so stylish grandma type red impala) and headed to Tampa. Since I was unable to photograph the hippos in Orlando (damnit) I had located some at the Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay. Tampa is about an hour from Orlando—straight East—so I headed towards the other coast of Florida, feeling appreciative of the heat and humidity.

In my discovery of the hippos in Busch Gardens (which is sponsored by Budweiser beer, btw, and if you don’t know has an amusement park area and an animal part), I also discovered that they offered a variety of tours in the gardens. You could hire your own private tour guide for the park—allowing you to get on all of the biggest and best rides first. This cost some hundreds of dollars. I searched and found special tours for the animals. I could go on a tour called the “Serengeti Safari” which would be a half-hour tour of the animals for thirty dollars. I called to sign myself up but had to leave a message. When they finally called me back at the hotel, I found out that the Serengeti Safari did NOT cover the hippo area (as I assumed) but that I could pay for the adventure tour that was a private 2-hour tour of the animals (behind the scenes) that would definitely include the hippos. Great! Sign me up!

So $100 later, I had my tour booked and was actually looking forward to it. My tour wasn’t until 1:30 tomorrow, so I had all day to get to Tampa, find a hotel and kill time before tomorrow morning where I would head straight to Busch Gardens, try to catch the hippos in action before my tour, then hopefully get pictures on my tour.

I did just that—I made it to Tampa and found Busch Gardens and a great hotel right nearby. I checked in and amused myself on the computer before heading out to find dinner at Panera Bread Company. I brought my dinner back to the hotel and after watching some really, really bad TV (Nick and Jessica’s Christmas Special---sooooo awful), I went to bed.