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A Review of our Florida Adventure

After each vacation, trip, or experience, I like to write a long blog style post giving an in depth look at some of the places we visited and experienced.  For those searching, these can be resources to use in making a decision on your next trip.

Cabana Bay Resort in Orlando

This write-up was a little different than most.  As the trip went along I wrote each evening in order to capture the ideas and the moments as they happened.  However, it turned out that it’s now more of a journal/diary entry instead of a review or guide.

If you want to skip over some of the mumbo jumbo and read about what interests you, I’ve included a handy index.

A 2.5 Hour Layover in Denver Means Eating Food

In the Denver airport we had a lot of time, 2.5 hours until our next flight boarded.  I looked up the best places to eat in the airport and discovered that Root Down was highly rated.  I also found an article that said there was a kid’s play area in the mezzanine level of concourse B.  It must not be there anymore.  We rode the train; Holden loved the speed and watching us go through the tunnel.

Root Down was great.  A couple dozen local brews (including Coors Light, YAY!), and a bit of a unique twist on their food.  Things like edamame hummus and roasted beet salad.  I opted for the bacon burger with sriracha mayo on a pretzel bun.  It was great.  I don’t know if it was the mayo, the pretzel bun, the beef, or the bacon, but the burger was up there with better burgers eaten.

We rode the train back to concourse B, and arrived an hour before boarding.  Fortunately there is free WiFi in the Denver airport.

Finding the Rental Car Shuttle Pickup in the Orlando Airport

After landing in Orlando, we collected our bags and then tried to find area A or B 12 as instructed by Economy Rental Car.  What Economy didn’t tell us was that there are two levels where you can be picked up.  I called their 800 number, and the foreign sounding individual said we could do B11, 12, or 13 or B35, 36, or 37.  We were standing near B 20-32 so we started walking.  It was around midnight at this point.  I happened to go down the stairs and notice there was another pickup area, the one where we were supposed to be.  We made our way down to area B12 and the sign said “Off Airport pickup for B11-13 has been relocated to B35-37.”  We begrudgingly walked to B35-37 where the sign said “Off Airport pickup for B35-37 has been relocated to B11-13.”  I called Economy again, was transferred a few times; finally I got someone and explained the situation.  They said they would send the shuttle right over and explained the model of vehicle (it was some obscure shuttle van, like I could tell what that even was).

Economy Rental Car, Now Known as Green MotorWorks

Finally they showed up and we rode the 4ish miles to the Economy car pickup.  Except it wasn’t the Economy car pickup.  Sometime between when I booked the rental car (end of February or so) and when we picked up the vehicle (middle of April) the company was bought out by Green MotorWorks.  Ok, companies are bought and sold.  It would have been nice to have a phone call to tell me that though.

What wasn’t cool was the extreme lack of service.  This company appeared to be run by guys in their early 20’s.  Many of them just stood around chatting.  To top it all off that the office was in the middle of a remodel.  All that with the terrible communication meant it wasn’t exactly a smooth experience.  Granted they were nice, but they didn’t tell me to bring proof of auto insurance (never had to bring that when renting cars with other companies).  I had to call my insurance at 12:30 in the morning and ask them to email me an insurance card.

We finally got our vehicle, which they “upgraded” to a brand new Hyundai Sonata (that’s the type I originally booked), and we were off to the hotel.  Total price, $85ish for the week, plus $20 for unlimited toll pass, plus taxes.  Total: $107.  I don’t know how they plan to make any money by renting cars for $100 a week; here’s hoping it’s not by screwing customers on the back end.

Upon handing over the keys, I was informed that the vehicle was near empty for gas, so they said “go ahead and return it empty, there’s a 7-11 down the street”.  I stopped at 7-11 and my credit card company had graciously put a fraud block on my card so I had to pay for gas with my business debit.

Checking in to the Cabana Bay Hotel

We drove the 20 minutes or so to the Cabana Bay Hotel.  My initial reaction when entering the lobby, “This is the cleanest hotel I’ve ever been in!”  I checked in seamlessly, we got to our room, settled in, and climbed into bed about 2am (12am Montana time… or about when I go to bed anyway).

Cabana Bay Hotel and Pools

8:15AM local time Holden is awake.  He’s excited to be in Florida.  He was roaring and ready to go.  Jessica and I, however, were not.  We tried to give him the iPad and say “entertain yourself a bit.”  That lasted roughly 4.32 minutes and he wanted us up.  We got up, made coffee and sat waking ourselves.  Holden got antsier and antsier.

Cabana Bay Resort Pool's Closed with a duck

Finally we agreed that it was time to head down to the pool.  We wore our clothes and Holden put on his swim stuff.  At a near running pace we went down the stairs and into the pool area; this side of the hotel had a kids splash area, a waterslide, and a pool.  Holden darted into the water and immediately a life guard told him “pool’s closed!  A palm branch is stuck in the filter”.  If this was the only pool we would have been scrambling, we needed a pool for an excited 4 year old!  But it wasn’t, there were several pools at the hotel, one of the reasons we chose this hotel in the first place.  We walked through the lobby, past the Starbucks, and out the other side to the second pool and lazy river area.

If you wanted to hang out at the hotel all day long, you certainly could.  There were sand pits on either side of the lobby, each with games like corn hole, connect 4, and a couple of pool tables as well.  Inside of the lobby area is the arcade (more on that later), and Galaxy Bowl.  If you have seen the movie the Big Lebowski, then you know what Galaxy Bowl looks like.  All of the bowling scenes in that movie were filmed here.  Walking around the hotel you notice large signs showing which section of the resort you’re in.  Each building is named after an old style vehicle (we stayed in the Thunderbird building).  And out in front are some fully restored classics from the 1960’s.

Holden donned one of the life vests provided, and proceeded to splash, spin, swim, and play all on his own for about an hour.  Jessica and I sat on chairs and watched sipping our coffee that I went back inside to get, Starbucks would make a lot of money off us over the next few days.  Eventually Holden tired of his antics, and we walked to the far end where there was a hot tub.

While Holden splashed and played, we watched.  After a while we were ready, and we changed into our suits.  We went back to the hot tub and Holden splashed some more.  Jessica and I enjoyed beers.  We ate lunch from the Hideaway Grill right by the pool; a turkey club, a Cuban, and fish sticks.  We played in the water a bit longer, and then went back to the room.

Hot and Juicy Cajun Food

After naps and shopping we went back to the pool for a while.  We swam, did the slides, and bathed in the hot tub.  We decided to go get Cajun food for dinner.

Hot n Juicy Crawfish

Just down the road from the hotel is a restaurant called Hot and Juicy Crawfish.  The idea was simple: you choose how many pounds of various meats, and they bring it to you.  We opted for the bag that came with a pound of crawdads, a pound of shrimp, sausage and corn.  It literally all comes out in a bag and you don gloves to crack it all open.  The food was amazing, the experience was great too.

Crawfish in a bag

Cabana Bay Hotel Needs Better Refrigerators

After dinner we stopped at Publix for coconut bars as we had promised Holden there would be coconut something in Florida, and then went back to the hotel room where we watched TV for a little bit before bed.  I noticed that the refrigerator wasn’t keeping things very cool.  I moved it to 7 instead of 5 and it shut off completely.  I called to have someone come look at it.  The worker said you can’t set them past 5 or they freeze up and we would have to take all the food out and defrost it for about an hour.  I said that’s not a good idea since it’s already warm and all the food will spoil.  I requested a new fridge.  The new fridge came and didn’t work any better than the first.

During the night Holden got sick and puked every hour from midnight until 7:30.  At one point he asked “are we not going to be able to go to the beach?”

A Day Trip to Daytona

Holden woke up a little before 8am.  He puked one last time and then was on the upswing.  We got ready and decided he would still be able to handle a trip to the beach.  We packed up and headed toward Daytona.

Daytona Beach World's Most Famous Beach

Unfortunately, there isn’t a good way to get around Orlando.  It was about 9:30AM on a Friday when we left, so it wasn’t too busy.  But there were still multiple times when we were stopped on the interstate.  We arrived at the beach at about 11, where we found overpriced parking.  We bought an overpriced towel, and got Starbucks coffee and then hit the beach.  We plopped down near the boardwalk, and quickly realized there weren’t any bathrooms nearby.  So we relocated about half a mile down the beach.

We donned our swimming suits, got out the toys, and had a great time playing in the sand on the beach in front of the Spring Break party crowd.  The water wasn’t warm, but it wasn’t cold either.  You could sit in it and not get so cold that you have to get out right away (unlike our California trips where only your feet can go in).  We ate from a food truck and eventually about 2:45 Holden was done so we headed back to Orlando.

We decided that Daytona is kind of dirty, and there are likely better beaches to visit.

Dinner at the Bayliner Café and a Visit to the Arcade

Getting back there was a ton of red on the map showing terrible traffic.  So I made my own side route.  We went through a rough looking neighborhood where at one point a guy was standing in the gutter of the street just staring off into a field.  Drugs, what fun, eh kids?  We got back to the hotel, showered, did laundry, and went to the Bayliner Cafe in the hotel for dinner.

Bayliner Cafe in the Cabana Bay Resort Orlando

It was typical cafeteria food.  Nothing terribly exciting, but it was convenient, and the dining room was pretty fun in the 1960’s décor.  After dinner we checked out the arcade.  Holden had a lot of fun trying out the games even though many were past his age level.  He drove a video game car, tried Skeeball, and a couple others.  Afterward we looked at the classic cars out front, and then decided that tonight wasn’t a good night to watch the movie by the pool.  We went back to the hotel to relax before bedtime.


Zoes Kitchen = Phenomenal Mediterranean Cuisine

On our third day, the plan was to visit Gatorland.  Most online reviews showed that you don’t need a ton of time, so we decided to only spend the afternoon there.

Before seeing gators, we needed lunch, and I was in the mood for Mediterranean food.  There were a few places close by and we settled on Zoes Kitchen in part because it was the closest, but also because the menu was online and had prices (which were very reasonable).

Zoes turned out to be an amazing choice.  So amazing that I could eat there every day.  We decided on the $7 hummus trio as our appetizer.  There was roasted red pepper hummus, pesto hummus, and traditional hummus with green peppers, tomatoes, pita chips, and pita bread to dip in it.  There was so much hummus it was a meal in itself, and the hummuses were amazing.  I accompanied my meal with the Gruben, a turkey on rye Reuben knockoff.  Possibly the best food we have had on the trip.

Gatorland: a 3 Hour Tour

After lunch we headed to Gatorland.  We went in and immediately weren’t sure what to do.  We walked past a playground and splash park (if you’re going to Gatorland, bring a swimsuit, especially if you’re under 8 years old).  Holden could have spent the whole day there.  We arrived just in time for the feeding show to start.

Gators eating Chicken

There was a trainer and 2 actors that acted like they were backwoods and stupid.  It was a little funny, but we just wanted to see the alligators eat.  The show kind of dragged on, and we watched the gators jump out of the water to get the food once or twice, and then ventured off as the show kept dragging on even longer.  We watched some people feed the tortoises, and looked at the panthers sleeping.  From there we ventured around the park.  We petted goats, saw the albino/white gators, looked at some snakes, and wandered around the breeding marsh that houses 100 females and 30 males.  There were hundreds of birds including vultures and egrets and cranes and herons.  Holden wanted to do the zip line, but since it was expensive, and he likely wasn’t even big enough, we made sure to tell him if we come back when he’s older he can do it.

We rode the train after getting some Italian ice.  Holden was about spent by this point, and although there was a lot of time left, we decided to leave and see if he would fall asleep in the car.  Fortunately he did.

Gatorland Splash Park
Gatorland Splash Park

3 hours at Gatorland was plenty of time to see everything there, so if you’re planning a trip, a half day is plenty.  We missed a couple of shows, but after you have seen a hundred gators, you’ve seen them all.

Gatorland Signs
Many of the signs were quite witty.

After Gatorland we headed to Medieval Times.  There’s a Dunkin Donuts right across the street where we got an iced coffee and donuts while we let Holden nap.  Finally we headed across the street.

There Were no Utensils in Medieval Times…

Medieval Times was well worth it.  We weren’t exactly sure how it all worked, and since we bought tickets online we thought we could get right into the entrance line.  Fortunately I noticed everyone was holding little colored tags waiting in the entrance line, which we didn’t have.  We got into the “Ticket Pickup” Line instead of the “Vouchers” line and hoped it worked out.

After getting our colored tags (we got on the Yellow Knights team), we had our picture taken next to Excalibur stuck in the rock.  After this, you head into purgatory: the waiting room.  Here everyone is milling around, they’re selling overpriced novelty swords/shields/etc.  You can purchase drinks, upgrade your package, and buy the pictures you had taken.  The doors to the arena didn’t open until 15 minutes before the show.

Medieval Times Orlando Florida

We made our way to our assigned table, and sat down.  The waiter would come by and give us our drinks, and eventually the show started.  There were knight games, jousting, sword fights, and more.  The food was delicious with tomato soup, garlic bread, chicken, potato, corn, coffee, and dessert.  We cheered for the Yellow knight and booed the other knights.  Holden was very excited to be able to scream during dinner.

Medieval Times

After dinner we headed back to the hotel. It was just after 8pm and like every other time we drove (except getting in at 1-2am) traffic was crazy.  It really makes you appreciate Montana with our wide open spaces.

Easter Sunday Means Eggs and Candy

We woke up Easter morning and Holden had to go poop.  I woke up and got ready to wipe him and clean him up.  As he was sitting on the toilet he looked out at me and whispered, “Daddy, after I’m done let’s look for Easter eggs.  I saw a green one on my way into the bathroom.  Don’t look at it.”  After he was finished he woke Jessica up and ran around the hotel room looking for eggs.

He was excited to gather all of his eggs, and told us the story of Jesus rising from the dead using his Easter eggs.  He had some candy, we had our coffee, and we waited until just before 9AM when the egg hunt hosted by the hotel was set to begin.

Cabana Bay Hotel Sponsored Easter Egg Hunt

The hotel had “hidden” eggs around on the lawn for those 4 years old and under, and then throughout the swimming pool area for those 5 and older.  One of the lifeguards said that there were over 6,000 eggs filled with candy.  It was a ton of fun for Holden and the other kids, especially because there were way more eggs than needed.  Holden filled up two entire bags full of eggs, and then left some behind because there were simply too many.  He was excited to have picked up so many eggs.

Easter Egg Hunt at Cabana Bay

After egg hunting we went swimming all morning.  We didn’t want to go anywhere, we were tired of driving, and decided a nice day at the hotel swimming in the various pools was the best thing for the trip.  We informed Holden that swallowing pool water may be one of the reasons that he was puking at night, and told him not to swallow any water.  Every time down the slide he would come back and tell us how many times he made it down without swallowing water.

Lazy River

After nap time Holden swam a little more.  He did the lazy river (it took him a few days to actually discover the lazy river), and finally used the inner tube we bought at Walmart on day one.  He played in the hot tub for a bit, and eventually it was time to clean up and head to dinner.

Ra Sushi Bar Restaurant

We chose Ra Sushi Bar Restaurant for some sushi dinner.  Holden had chicken skewers, Jessica and I had a couple of different rolls.  I can’t say it was the best sushi I’ve ever had, but it was good and a nice change from the usual burger and fries (although this trip had the widest variety of food compared with many of our other adventures).

Things to Do in Orlando

Our goal with this vacation was to avoid the theme parks.  They’re expensive, and with a 4 year old it likely wasn’t going to be much fun as he would simply complain the majority of the time.  Instead, we shook it up a little, and adventured around.

If you’re looking for some fun things to do in the Orlando area, hopefully our adventures give you some ideas.  The Cabana Bay Hotel was great, but it was on the pricier side.  The trade-off, of course was the awesome pools, and the very clean hotel.  Next door, however, a brand new water park with some amazing slides just opened.  It definitely looks like it would be worth a trip just for that theme park.

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