After a sentimental last boarding from Cozumel, we had a long thirty-something hours at sea before arriving back in port at Tampa. In a nutshell, we read, ate, ran laps, ate, Zumba-ed, ate, watched Dolphin Tale 2, ate, played more shuffleboard, ate, enjoyed on-board entertainment, and then, since we were hungry, went to eat a little something. We did get to see more flying fish and were happy to learn that we could walk off with all our own luggage and skip the baggage claim at the dock. Highly recommended!
We bid a fond farewell to the dear Norwegian Sun and faced the harsh realities of a world where you have to pay for food! We wanted to see as many sights around Florida as we could in the last 22 hours of kid-free vacation that we had, so we hitched a shuttle ride to the airport, rented a car, and went to...
1. Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Yes, the very one featured in the movies Dolphin Tale 1 AND Dolphin Tale 2! We got to see the stars of the movies, including Winter, Hope, Nicholas (who plays Mandy in DT2), Ricky and Lucy (who take turns playing Rufus in the DT movies), and the turtle who played Mavis.
While it is clear that the aquarium has HUGELY cashed in from the movies' success and the facilities there clearly were not designed for the huge influx of visitors that they have received in the last few years, there is something very special about Winter. She is an amazing and beautiful animal; stubbornly resilient, refusing to let her missing tail get her down, she goes through physical therapy daily to keep her spine in good shape and yet still plays energetically with her trainers, much to the amusement and happiness of the crowd.
Seeing her was really very similar to scenes from the movie: there were indeed a number of kids with missing limbs there around her tank trying to get a peek at her. The small aquarium was packed the whole time we were there. I'd like to think it was just for Winter, but it might have also been because of the actor there for an autograph session...but I don't even know (or care) who it was... I just wanted to see Winter and her trainers.
2. Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center
After a short and complete visit through the entire Clearwater Aquarium, we drove out to the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center. We parked at the edge of the parking lot where we saw a trail heading out to a viewing tower.
Apparently manatees are attracted to the warm water produced as a byproduct of electricity generation at the power plant there. And see? This electric company is totally doing something good for the environment! (ahem...) So, we follow the trail for about a mile and get to the observation tower, climb all the way to the top.... and see nothing...
...nothing, that is, except for a bat ray and an intriguing sign in the middle of a "paddling trail." We'd never heard of such a thing, but it sounds like a lot of fun... so next time we're down at the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center, we'll have something else to do...
Anyway, the point is, there were NO manatees. None. At all. We were sad. We wanted to see these curious and lethargic creatures, but it seemed it was not meant to be. We headed back the mile-long trek, enjoying the walk... but then as we approached the parking lot, we noticed that the people arriving were all heading to the opposite end of the parking lot, away from the trail we took to the observation tower. What are they all going to see? we wondered... so we followed them the 50ft. to the other end of the parking lot.
What do you know??? It's a Manatee Viewing Center complete with docks to walk on, volunteer naturalists, and a manatee racing arcade game! oh, and an exhibit where you could smell a manatee's breath. Not recommended, but funny. So, as it turns out, we had walked two miles to find something 50 feet from our car. No regrets on the walk, just a funny story to tell :) We did get to see plenty of manatees, crabs, fish, and pelicans. It's really a very nice place.
3. Lettuce Lake Regional Park
As the afternoon wore on, dark clouds settled in around us, but we still wanted to make one more stop to the park we missed out on before leaving for the cruise. We knew from experience that it was not a place to walk to, but with a rental car, it was easy to get into the park and drive around the spacious swampland. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, it was raining rather hard, but we knew we'd not likely soon be back to see Lettuce Lake Park, so we got out and walked the docks and experienced the swampy lake in cold, wet, misty, mysterious conditions. Definitely could return there and do more exploring... another time...
We finished off the evening with a picnic dinner in the rental car and then returned to Ginny's for a not-so-long night's sleep--we had to get up at 3am to go to the airport. The flights home were uneventful and generally restful. Dad picked us up at the airport with two cute little girls in the car (the other two wanted to stay home). Dawna and Larry listened to instructions and did not grow while we were gone, Xochitl and Jade, on the other hand, looked noticeably (to me anyway) more grown up...
Thus completes our epic ten-year anniversary cruise (and the ridiculously long blog posts about it). I returned refreshed, happy, and ready to face the rigors of life with my best friend, my chosen companion, my husband, ever by my side.
Labels: Norwegian Cruise