Sunday, April 13, 2014

Packing up for home!

Willow had a great time and saw many fun things during his stay in Florida! He went home with a bunch of souvenirs and a huge 12x12 scrapbook recounting his memories.

Here's a look at some of what he went home with!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sunset at Clearwater Beach

Sunday we went down to Clearwater Beach to walk in the sand a little and catch the sunset. It's been cold, miserable and rainy the past week - all dark and overcast - and today was a bright, warm afternoon. So it seemed a perfect day to give Willow a chance to see what the Suncoast here is known for: our beaches!

The light was that warm, golden color it gets close to sunset. Still bright though so I made sure Willow was wearing his sunglasses.

Walking towards the beach. Pier 60 can be seen in the distance. (It's not really far, it just looks that way in the photo)
Walking along the beach towards Pier 60.
The calm (and cold!) waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Willow thought the seaweed made a funny toupée

View looking out down the shoreline from the Pier.
Watching the sun set into the Gulf of Mexico.
And end to a lovely day in Florida.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Manatee Viewing Center

So I knew one of the things I absolutely wanted to do during Willow's stay was try to see some manatees. Of course, they are native to Florida and the Winter months offer opportunities to find them in the warm water refuges often close to shore.

One such places is the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach just south of Tampa. The Big Bend power plant sits right on the edge of the water in a little inlet and releases warm salt water used in cooling back into the waters. This lead to manatees wintering in the estuary since the waters were warmer here than elsewhere in the Gulf or Bay. And the viewing center was created.

I read a lot of reviews about it and everyone said go on a colder day since the manatees would be more likely to be close to shore and more huddled together. The weather was still chilly on Sunday so we got in the car, set the GPS and headed out about 45 minutes away to the center.

The whole thing is a bit weird because, well, it's a power plant first and foremost. LOL So it's a seemingly odd place to go for wildlife.

They have all these boardwalks set up and so we started at the entrance. Turns out they didn't have the one plant release tank thingy on that day. The one closest to the short where all the good photos online look to have been taken and the one closest to the manatees had....not manatees.

So we were directed to head out to the "Tidal Walk" instead way out back side of the center. We had to go through a pretty mangrove "tunnel" to get there.

Problem was, this part of the boardwalk is quite a bit away from the opposite shore where the warm water comes out. And the water is deeper. So it became a bit of, "I think that brownish blob over there is one!"

This was most of the view. The darker blobs in the water? Pretty sure most of those are manatees.

We took a break and hit the gift shop. It had started to rain and I didn't want to be out there in the rain with my camera if we weren't seeing much in the way of manatees anyway.

After the gift shop, the rain stopped so we headed out the boardwalk once more to see if I could get any real photos. I did luck out into a momma and calf. But, given the crappy weather/lighting, the deeper water and the less than ideal boardwalk, even with editing to try to bring out the manatees in the photos, they're really, really hard to see.

These were the best I got from the day and that's not saying much sadly. :/

I was bummed because I really wanted to get awesome shots for you but everything seemed against us that day. Without the right-next-to-the-shore plant releasing water, there were just so few that came all the way near the far boardwalk and those that did, with the overcast, rainy weather were so hard to photograph.

Love's mom told him about a place in Crystal River to see manatees but that's about 2 hours north of here. Not sure if we'll get a chance to get up there but we will try if at all possible. Willow really DID see manatees, but I just couldn't get any good photos to show off the experience.

Tampa Bay Lightning Game

Yes, Tampa Bay has a professional hockey team! The Tampa Bay Lightning are one of the 28 teams in the NHL and have their own stadium right in downtown Tampa. We're big hockey fans and when a chance to snag tickets from one of Love's friends at work to the Saturday afternoon game versus the San Jose Sharks, we jumped on them. And of course, took Willow with us!

Coming in from I-275 on the approach to Downtown Tampa.

This is our exit!

Here we are driving past the "Tampa Bay Times Forum" where the Lightning play. (It used to be called the much more appropriate, "Ice Palace" until the local newspaper sponsored and renamed it.)

We've parked and are heading toward the stadium. Don't let the sunshine fool you, it was COLD that day!

There's a big courtyard area in front of the stadium. They will have a band set up on the stage and all sorts of assorted entertainment most games.

Following the herd of masses entering for the game. The Forum can hold over 19,000 people for a Lightning game.

View to the left from our seats. The large pipe organ is up in the top corner where it says, "Tampa Bay Lightning"

Our view from the seats. Think the jumbo tron is big enough? LOL

During intermission, I took this shot from the top of section one to give you a wider view of the arena.

I don't know if you know much about hockey, but our captain, Marty St. Louis, got a natural hat trick (3 goals in a row by one player) in the FIRST PERIOD of the game. Getting a hat trick in general for a game is tough. Getting a natural hat trick in a game is even harder. Getting a natural hat trick in the first 20 minutes of the game? Nearly unheard of! Then, Marty got a 4th goal within the first 2 minutes of the second period, tying the all-time record in Lightning franchise history.

If that weren't crazy enough, one of the San Jose Shark players, ALSO got a natural hat trick during the second period! This was only the 4th time EVER in the entire history of the NHL that a player on both teams scored a natural hat trick during a game.

Sadly, despite the amazing FOUR goals by St. Louis - something that's literally a career highlight - the Lightning wound up losing 5-4. Boo.

Still, much fun was had and Willow greatly enjoyed the excitement of being at a game in person!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Busch Gardens Tampa

Last weekend we took a tour around Busch Gardens Tampa! The weather was very overcast and cool and we were worried about getting rained on but thankfully, we managed over two hours in the park and were on our way out before it started to actually drizzle.

Open a whopping 54 years ago in March 1959, Busch Gardens started off as a free small garden, bird show and hospitality center for the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Tampa and has grown to a 335 acre African themed theme park complete with animals and coasters. It's now in the top 20 most visited theme parks in America and top 25 in the world. You can see historic info and pictures HERE.

Don't have to go far to find gators around here. But since they were nice enough to lounge around behind the fence, figured I'd get a shot. ;)


Two lionesses cat napping.

Male lion with giraffe off in the background.


One of many coasters as it rushes by


Tigers snoozing

Stanleyville Log Flume ride. (You can see a photo of the same ride from back in 1973 here!)

Dolphin topiary. In the background is the old hospitality house where once upon a time they used to give free beer samples.

One of many coasters. Willow didn't meet the height requirement though so he couldn't ride. LOL

Took this shot because it shows the combination of large, older growth foliage with the newer coasters right in the middle of the grounds. You walk next to, below and around the coasters in the park.

It was a fun day and we got to see a lot of animals!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Crazy Weather

So even Florida did not escape the Polar Vortex of frigid cold weather this week! Even all the way down here, we had record lows below freezing and a couple days of very low high temperatures.

On Tuesday, January 7th I actually caught the temp in Florida COLDER than the temp in Alaska!!

Willow snugged up and fought off the unseasonably cold weather in my homemade snuggy on the couch.

But of course, this being Florida, it also didn't last long!

Willow and Ginger kitten check out the palm tree from the balcony.

Sunny skies and all is back to normal. (Actually, now we're running unseasonably WARM and up into the low 80's)