Thursday, February 18, 2016

Florida fun: Shuttles and Bricks

What a weekend! We ticked off two more Florida attractions. This is normally the time when I mention that I'm 30,000 feet above the ground and heading back to DC. Not this time, this time I'm typing this blog entry from ground level with a mere 646 road miles ahead of us. Thanks to weather in DC, our flight was canceled, and Shira decided to take matters in her own hands and we're driving home. Take that American Airlines!

Up first was a fun day at Kennedy Space Center. Shira and I had been there years ago, so I was a bit concerned that we'd be underwhelmed. Furthermore, we had our friend's 6 year old with us, so I wasn't sure how much he'd get out of it. Turned out, all my concerns were for naught. Since our last visit they've added the massive Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, which everyone thoroughly enjoyed. We also got to hear a presentation by Jerry Ross, an astronaut who is currently tied for a record number of space flights. We took in one of the two Imax films available, which of course was breathtaking.

Sure, most of the material presented is basically propaganda to get more funding for NASA. But it's awesome propaganda! Many of the exhibits are absolutely moving and leave you just amazed at what we've been able to accomplish. From the tiny and primitive Mercury rockets, to the massive Saturn V that's as long as a football field, to the Shuttle's 1000 switches, to the transport-crawlers capable of carrying 18,000,000 lbs of hardware, everything on display is hyperbole objectified.

I tend to be a big proponent of unmanned space travel, like the Curiosity Rover. I think these projects find a nice balance between being economical and helping to propel science and technology further. But the case they presented for sending people to places that are literally out of this world is hard to argue with. Mars, by 2030 baby!

As if all these slick space goodies weren't enough, the grounds of the Kennedy Space Center also serve as a wildlife refuge. We saw gators, wild pigs and a dozen different bird species all without trying. Definitely a nice bonus.

After a fun day at KSC we made our way to Lake Wales, Florida, staging ourselves for the next part of our adventure.

Bright and early we made our way to Legoland for a day of amusement park fun. Our friend's 6 year old had survived the educational part of the weekend, it was time to just play! After visiting a number of Disney parks, as well as Dutch Wonderland, I've got to say that Legoland may be number one in terms of what's available for kids and adults to do. It's got rides, but it also has Legos! There were both formal and informal building areas, where you could flex your Lego muscles. We also took in an entertaining water ski show and 4d movie, which is pretty standard at the parks we've been to.

The Miniworld exhibit far exceeded my expectations. It's a bunch of Lego models of different cities, what's the big deal, right? Except the detail is stunning and there are hidden gems throughout. Throughout Miniworld there are buttons you can press that trigger some action, like say having a fountain turn on. Our young traveler thoroughly enjoyed running from "city to city" pressing every button; and we were glad to have him do just this.

As if this wasn't cool enough, the good builders at Legoworld have extended Miniworld to have an extensive Star Wars section. Dude, they've got the Battle of Hoth modeled, and it's nothing short of awesome. Press the right button and Luke raises up to one of the AT-ATs. Sure, our friend's 6 year old was more impressed with the Darth Mal statue, but that's just the foolishness of youth.

So while we certainly enjoyed Legoland, they've definitely got some room for improvement. First off, their line management seemed to be seriously lacking. This is Legoland, you're telling me you can't design a sort of trough that follows the snaking of the line and allows kids to build Legos while they're waiting? Yes, many of the rides offered a sort of corral where kids could play with Legos while their parents waited in line. But the only Legos offered there were basic Duplo blocks. Which brings me to my next observation: it seemed like the park was understaffed. Those corrals where the kids played with Legos didn't have an employee, so it was basically kid anarchy. Or take the two-level carousel: with one employee running the ride, she needed to check every kid on the ride before she could start it up. With two or more ride attendants, the ride could be cycled through twice as fast, improving the line experience.

Finally, I don't get why Legoland needs to be so stingy with Legos. The informal areas where you sift through thousands of pieces to create something; what would the big deal be with letting kids take them home? These are random Lego pieces, something Legoland must have a near infinite supply of, why not let kids just have them? The minifigure trading policy, where a kid can swap their minifgure with a park employee's figure, is a neat concept. But why not give each kid entering the park a minifigure? Does my ticket not cover the extra $3.00? I just hate when parks nickel and dime you for these sort of things.

By the way, our friend's 6 year old, the real reason we were at Legoland, had absolutely no complaints. From the Lego figures that welcome you into the park to the the final Chima ride we went on that soaked us both, he loved it all.

Today, to squeeze in one last mini-adventure, we did about 3 miles of hiking at Bulow Creek State Park. At the entrance of the park is a 400 year old Live Oak tree, which was quite a sight to behold. A quiet tramp through the woods was the perfect antidote to a day spent rushing around an amusement park.

Such good times!

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