Category Florida

“No, they’re minerals. Jesus, Marie!”

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  On our trip, we made certain to save some time for The Dinosaur Store & Museum in Cocoa Beach, as they reputedly have the most elaborate display of fossils for sale in the world. They don’t let you take pictures inside the store, so you’ll have to imagine precisely how elaborate that might be, but they did have some really awesome things. We ended up bringing home an ammonite from the Jurassic period, a piece of polished hematite that I thought looked cool (sort of like an insect’s eyeball), and an alligator foot cast that is perfect for giving high-fives.

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We also went to Ron Jon’s surf shop as it was directly across the street. I needed a new pair of flip-flops as any semblance of padding there used to be on my old pair had long since been ground to dust under the repeated impact of my elephantine legs. I found a suitably comfortable replacement (like mini mattresses for my feet!), and while we waited in line to check out, a young girl ran up to her mother and insistently said, “Mom. MOM! I have to show you these or I might go crazy!” I was definitely intrigued and wanted to know what she was talking about. So now I have to show them to you, or I might go crazy.  

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  You’re welcome.

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Don’t pay outrageous grocery store prices for something the farmer probably spit in!

On our way back from Weeki Wachee, we saw a billboard on the highway advertising “The Showcase of Citrus”, which boasted a monster truck off-road eco tour and safari and a world-famous orange slushy. We clearly had to go; there was simply no choice in the matter. The signs tell us what to do and we do it. We ended up arriving at The Showcase of Citrus not terribly long before they closed, and as such, there was no monster truck eco tour in our future, but we were able to take a look around and see what else there was to see. IMG_2378   IMG_1236 IMG_2383

Is this something that they really need to warn people about? If you live in an area where alligators are flipping everywhere, where approximately a third of all tourist dollars go toward alligator-related amusements, do people actually forget that there are alligators out in the water? Because I grew up across the street from a manmade lake where the most dangerous thing inside was a chance of pinkeye and only the bravest of kids would put a toe in there, is what I’m saying. Once, Tommy Host swam out to the island in the middle and got diarrhea for a week, and I don’t think I ever saw anyone swim in the lake again. And all of THAT is not alligator level danger. Who forgets alligator danger?

 

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  IMG_2394 We had no intention of missing out on a world famous orange juice slushy, and frankly, I had no intention to share, so we bought two. I don’t want to call the Showcase of Citrus people liars, but the orange juice slushy is nothing that I’d call home about. Or remember that I still had in the process of consuming it. It was really nothing you couldn’t replicate with a bottle of OJ in the freezer, if it’s something that you felt like you needed to try. If you really want to replicate the flavor, do it with a slightly sour bottle of OJ. I wonder if they have a contract with Dole?

May the best man win: the mating call of the loser!

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  Just like at Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Orlando has a CityWalk outside: an area full of restaurants and shops designed to part you from your money before you even make it into the park. What separates it from nearby Downtown Disney is that at Universal Studios, they charge you for parking, too.  The walkways to the park lead you directly past Hollywood Drive-In Golf, a minigolf course that appeared entirely too spectacular to miss, so we vowed to go there at least once during our trip. We actually ended up going twice: once before Halloween Horror Nights and once on the last day of the trip as we had a significant amount of time to kill after we checked out of our hotel but before we had to go to the airport (enough to play 36 holes of minigolf, see Gravity, AND have lunch), and the amount of fun we had didn’t diminish upon replay. In addition to the fun themes, it’s actually well-designed so that skill plays a larger role than luck and balls can’t just go willy-nilly all over the place and get stuck like one particularly shitty course I’ve played. They have two 18 hole courses: The Haunting of Ghostly Greens and Invaders from Planet Putt.     IMG_2401

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IMG_2413This was my favorite tombstone: “So long together, I will always remember Wigglesworth, faithful tapeworm. I’m empty inside without you.”

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IMG_2469 Each course was super detailed, with sound effects, moving parts, and hilarious decorative touches. For instance, they had swamp creatures all around one hole. As you walked toward the hole, they’d spit water at you.  One was additionally positioned directly above the hole and would shoot a puff of air out at you as you bent over to pick up your ball. I went first and it startled a screech out of me.

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IMG_2436 Incidentally, that scream that the golf course got out of me the first time we played was the only time I screamed that night, which was pretty sad since it was immediately followed by Halloween Horror Nights, the entire reason we waited until later in September to go on our honeymoon. Halloween Horror Nights Orlando was horrible.   hhn-2013-haunted-houses-2900x2000-oi-1160x800

First of all, the scare zones were just zombies, zombies, and more zombies, which as you’ll see, contrasted with the maze’s themes of zombies, zombies, and more zombies.  Ugh. Cabin in the woods? Redneck zombies. Resident Evil? Lab zombies. Walking dead? Zombie zombies. Evil dead? Zombie zombie zombies! ENOUGH WITH THE ZOMBIES. Zombies have been played out for a long time, let’s try something new. Two of the non-zombie mazes were repeats: La llorona, and An American Werewolf in London (which essentially recycled all of the stuff from The Wolfman maze even if it wasn’t exactly the same), so the only two that brought something new to the table were Havoc and After Life: Death’s Vengeance. Havoc boiled down to army dudes yelling on a train; one literally yelled at me for not being scared. After Life: Death’s Vengeance was at least decent, as it was about the victims of a serial killer taking their vengeance on him after he was electrocuted–in 3D. The 3D effects made it visually interesting, but distracting, not scary. Every few feet, there were zombie nurses selling shots, which I don’t remember from Horror Nights Hollywood. Maybe there’s a difference between the state’s liquor laws that allow for it in one park but not the other, but the only message it sent to me was that they knew the mazes and scare zones sucked this year so you’d need to be hammered to enjoy yourself. If we go back to another Horror Nights, it will be to Hollywood, it’s not worth the trip to Florida.  

“I’m going to Disneyland!” “Really? Because I’m a travel agent and I’ve heard nothing but bad things.”

Our hotel was essentially right down the street from Downtown Disney, so even though we didn’t visit any of the Disney parks on our trip, they still got plenty of our money. Downtown Disney is essentially a Disney-themed mall, with restaurants, shops, an arcade, a theater, and blessedly, free parking. The main impetus behind our first visit to Downtown Disney was one of their themed restaurants, The T-Rex Cafe.  

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The T-Rex Cafe is operated by the same company that owns The Rainforest Cafe, so if you’ve been to the latter, you know the schtick, except in this restaurant, they have a bunch of animatronic dinosaurs and there’s a meteor shower every twenty minutes instead of a thunderstorm. They also don’t seem to operate with the same slogan as The Rainforest Cafe, “Fun until it isn’t,” because our food was actually pretty damn good, lacked any sort of embedded hair, and they even had cocktails made with cotton candy which made Jason extremely happy. Actually, the restaurant is quite similar to Jurassic Fork; they don’t let you order your meat “medium roar” at The T-Rex Cafe, either. Luckily, they also don’t have any rules about feeding a hungry animatronic stegosaurus an onion ring so long as no one sees you do it.  

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One day, Jason thought it might be nice to see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 at Downtown Disney. I don’t want to point fingers, but this was, hands down, the worst idea he’s ever had. After we paid for our tickets and went into the theater, a herd of the world’s noisiest children flooded in and sat directly behind us, kicking our seats, screaming about whether they should get popcorn or nachos, arguing about the trailers, and doing everything in their power to drive me goddamn insane. We didn’t even make it to the movie proper before getting up and asking for a refund, which we were given without so much as an “I told you so” from the theater employee.  I was confused at this level of restraint and politeness from a Disney employee; one of the only things I remember from my family’s trip to Disney World when I was 11 is an altercation at Epcot Center. We’d stopped in the France Pavillion to split an eclair. All they had to drink was whole milk, and we were used to drinking skim, so my mom asked if they had any skim, to which the employee replied “You’re all already fat, what does it matter?” Very few things can put me off an eclair, but that’s one of them, even if that surly French teenager had a point.     candycauldron   candycauldronapples

These are some next-level candy apples. I can’t even get the caramel to stick to the damn apple!

Every evening we visited Downtown Disney over the course of our stay, they had live music in the streets, which definitely added to the overall festive atmosphere. Among the more entertaining performers was Dominic Gaudious, a guy who plays a double-neck didgeridoo and a double-neck guitar. I’m always impressed by didgeridoos, as my mom used to have one hanging on the wall and about the only thing I ever managed to make it do was slowly dribble my spit out the other end.

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We spent the better part of another day at the DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park, relishing in both its air conditioning and the unlimited play games. Their virtual reality games were terrible, with graphics, headsets, and controls straight out of the early 90s, and neither one of us could handle them for more than a minute or two. I made it all the way through Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride, but Ride The Comix was so horrendous that I ripped off my dorky helmet and walked out in the middle. Sorry teammates, but my laser sword didn’t work anyway, so it’s not like I could have helped you regardless.   Literally everything else was much more fun. They had a classic games area, a pinball machine room, skeeball, air hockey, a bunch of music game machines, even a bank of playable Fix It Felix from Wreck It Ralph! My personal favorite was a driving game I’d never seen before called “Dirty Drivin'” which involves some of my very favorite things: revenge, explosions, and customization. It would probably lose something in translation from arcade to console game with the loss of the steering wheel/gas pedal/revenge crank controls, but I would still buy it in a second. I would pay full price. What I can’t pay is $7700 for an arcade machine. $15,000 if I ever want to play with another human being. Please port it!  

  No, seriously, port it. Or my buddy Ralph and I are going to wreck you. wreckitralph  

Shut up! And another thing: how come I can’t get no Tang ’round here?

NASA

  We weren’t certain if we’d be able to tour the Kennedy Space Center as our trip fell smack in the middle of the government shutdown. As it turned out, the visitor complex remained open, but other things, like the bus tours and vehicle assembly building tours were suspended, nor were we allowed to enter the Kennedy Space Center proper–so thanks for ruining our honeymoon, Republicans. Way to go, hope you’re proud,  and congratulations, you’ve made The List.  

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Shortly after we arrived, there was a presentation by astronaut Mark Lee, who told the audience about some of his space missions (including his untethered spacewalk), as well as answering their questions and posing for photos afterward. One thing I learned was that space suits weigh almost three hundred pounds, which is about ten times more than I would have guessed. But then again, if I was in charge of designing space suits, they’d be about as useless as the ones in “Nude on the Moon”, so it’s not like I was making an educated guess to begin with. As soon as I asked my question about space suits, I realized I had made a terrible error and wasted an opportunity, so we made sure to get in line for a photo with Mark. When we got to the front of the line, I asked the real question that had been burning in my brain: Do astronauts like ice cream as much as we’ve been led to believe? Because every shop that sells anything even vaguely space related ALWAYS has astronaut ice cream, so are they really super keen on it? Mark then proceeded to blow my mind. He told me that astronauts DO enjoy ice cream, but not the stuff they sell in the stores. That they have super-secret astronaut-only ice cream, and it is transcendent. WHAT?! I hope it’s not too late for me to sign up for astronaut school.

spacecenter2Hey, I’d love to chat, but I’m running late for the moon!

After that shocking revelation, we made our way to the Atlantis exhibit, which was spectacular. It started with a video played on screens all around you (in front, overhead, on your sides) about the design problems inherent in building a space shuttle, something that was designed to re-enter earth’s atmosphere and land in a horizontal position, able to be reused, unlike any other spacecraft ever built. A video about human struggle and triumph, all set to swelling music. At the end, they showed Atlantis swooping toward the camera, said “Atlantis, welcome home,” and the screen lifted to reveal Atlantis behind it in the same position and I burst into tears.

…I don’t think they let crybabies be astronauts.

  Look, you watch it and see if you can handle it any better. It was an extraordinary experience, a moving display about humanity reaching toward something greater than themselves, and a fitting tribute to an important part of history.  

atlantis“Oh, that space shuttle is so fake. Look, you can see the string.”

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 Yokels! In! SPAAAAAAAAAAACE!

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Inside the Atlantis display, they have a ton of different artifacts, replicas, and simulators. My favorite part, aside from the shuttle itself, was the sign describing Personal Pocket #2. Astronauts could carry ANY ITEM that would fit inside, and yet they mostly used it for pens. Pens. Is that the limit of your imagination, astronauts? What in the heck do you keep in Personal Pocket #1, and why don’t they talk about that? Is that your ice cream pocket? THE WORLD DEMANDS ANSWERS.

explorerswanted To test our astronaut readiness, we went on an important space mission which involved testing our claustrophobia.  

To get down from that area, they have a giant slide that I wanted to slide down so badly, but a supervising employee told me that it was for children only. Wait, you’re telling me that it was ok for me to cram myself through a relatively small plexiglass tube that hung out in the open, but that an enormous slide that was at least 12 feet wide couldn’t handle the weight of my ass? In protest, I sat down on the ramp intended for adults to walk down and pulled myself down using the handrail as though it were a terrible slide. This is what happens, NASA. This is what happens. End slide age discrimination now!   jfkspacecenter

“The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not. And it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this space race. We mean to lead it, for the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace.”

They are serious about wanting to put a human on Mars within the next 15 years, and it’s possible that with Curiosity already in place, that we would be able to watch the astronauts descend. Nothing on Earth will stop me from watching that broadcast. So help me god, I’ll even subscribe to cable.

Come and see the mermaids of Weeki Wachee! Unless the power’s out, then you can’t see them!

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After Dinosaur World, we continued on the road to our other non-Orlando destination: Weeki Wachee Springs, home of real live mermaids! We tried to plan our trip so that we could hit dinosaur world in the morning and still make the afternoon mermaid shows: Fish Tails and The Little Mermaid; we ended up squeaking into the parking lot just as the Fish Tails show was beginning, bought our tickets, and hurried over to the theater, missing only a few minutes. Luckily we came late enough in the season that the Buccaneer Bay water park was closed, or we would have had to park in the back of a lot, wait in an interminable line, and miss the show entirely. That day, only a handful of cars were present, and there were maybe twenty other people in the theater.

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I suppose I had never really given much consideration to how much effort and training it would take to be a mermaid, at least of the Weeki Wachee variety. Learning how to swim with the tail apparatus, not only getting used to breathing out of a tube underwater, but taking in the proper amount of air so you’re floating at the correct level, learning all of the choreography, and on top of that, learning how to eat and drink underwater. What!? I don’t even like putting my face directly under the showerhead. The Jaws game gave me borderline panic attacks; I seriously felt like I was drowning in my living room. What I am saying is, I may have had some quibbles with past jobs, but none of them required me to breathe from a tube underwater, so they have that going for them. Not long after Jason stopped shooting video of the Fish Tails show, the power went out in the entire park. Obviously they had to stop the show: I would have been fine without the announcer or the Enya, but my guess is that the air hoses also stopped working in which case I’m glad that they got out of the spring ASAP. All of the guests were hustled outside of the theater to wait and see if power would be restored, and the hour that followed was one of the longest hours of my life because there was absolutely nothing to do. We mostly just groaned and hung out under an umbrella near the restaurant, and I also spent some time hassling a peacock. IMG_1200 I mean, not that the architecture isn’t stunning and worthy of study. It looks like they transformed the place from an old school McDonalds. After eating at their restaurant…all I can say is that I wish they had lived up to McDonald’s quality, which is so, so sad.   Eventually, the power kicked back on, just in time for the Weeki Wachee performance of The Little Mermaid. I’m glad that they still put the performance on, as only a few other people elected to stay through the power outage. IMG_1222  

Even though they emphasized repeatedly that this was Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, it definitely played closer to the Disney version. No talk of the love of a human being the only way to get a soul or the agonizing pain of having the legs she desired, her voice was stolen instead of having her tongue cut out,  anthropomorphized animal buddies, all wrapped up with a happy ending. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, the Hans Christian Anderson version is depressing as hell. “When it grew dark a number of colored lamps were lit, and the sailors danced merrily on the deck. The little mermaid could not help thinking of her first rising out of the sea, when she had seen similar festivities and joys; and she joined in the dance, poised herself in the air as a swallow when he pursues his prey, and all present cheered her with wonder. She had never danced so elegantly before. Her tender feet felt as if cut with sharp knives, but she cared not for it; a sharper pang had pierced through her heart. She knew this was the last evening she should ever see the prince, for whom she had forsaken her kindred and her home; she had given up her beautiful voice, and suffered unheard-of pain daily for him, while he knew nothing of it. This was the last evening that she would breathe the same air with him, or gaze on the starry sky and the deep sea; an eternal night, without a thought or a dream, awaited her: she had no soul and now she could never win one.” Both difficult to portray with the few actors they had on hand and not the making of a happy afternoon. If they did something faithful to the source material, everyone would go home crying, not even stopping to get a pressed penny on the way out. If they ever decide to go with a new name to more accurately reflect the content, they could go with “Don’t Sue Us, Disney”. Overall, it was generally entertaining and I was still impressed by the tube-breathing, plus there was an excellent sequence where the sea witch beats up some mermaids for fun. On our way out, they had a mermaid available for photos opportunities, but for whatever reason, I felt weird about standing in line behind some eight year olds to have my picture taken with a real live mermaid. I suggested Jason do it, and the look he gave me could have withered the little mermaid’s soul. We were just leaving the parking lot when I saw….something. I pulled over immediately and hopped out of the car. TURTLE!

Deciding that having him hang out in a parking lot heading toward a busy road was a bad idea, Jason picked him up and carried him over to a grassy area, where he proceeded to sit and hate-stare at us. Clearly we had interrupted his errands and now he was going to have to start his trip over.   turtle A former coworker told me that he used to have a pet turtle but that he ran away from home. That one day, he’d taken his turtle outside to wash him, and he turned around for a second and the turtle was gone. I never really believed him, I didn’t think turtles could move that quickly. I mean, it was obvious to me how they were getting away from the reptile zoo, but it seems like someone competent would have a harder time losing a turtle. As soon as I saw this one booking across the parking lot, I had two thoughts: One, I owe him an apology for thinking he was a liar, and two, this could be the runaway turtle himself. So Drew, I’m sorry, and your turtle seems fine but angry. I think that during the summer when Weeki Wachee is in full swing, water park and all, it would make for a supremely fun afternoon. When it’s just the two mermaid shows, it’s fun, but not necessarily worth a large detour.

I believe that Dinosaur World is the only place where a boy like me can be happy.

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  One of the things we wanted to see outside of the immediate Orlando area was Dinosaur World, which is essentially Florida’s Jurassic Park, except a few expenses were spared and all of the dinosaurs were frozen in place. When we arrived, I realized my description required a correction: all of the dinosaurs were frozen in place with incredibly stupid expressions on their faces. Continue reading

Harry Potter and all his friends went straight to hell for practicing witchcraft. Yaaaay!

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On our second day at Universal Studios, we visited the Islands of Adventure so we could check out the Harry Potter and Jurassic Park areas. Like another large theme park chain in the area, Universal is good about spreading out the things you want to see so that you have to pay for multiple visits, filling up the rest of their space with stinkers like Barney Town and Old Timey Comic Land From The Time When People Still Read Newspapers.  Joke’s on you, Universal, if we can have fun at a cranberry museum, we can have fun anywhere, and if you don’t have a ride, we’ll MAKE a ride.   Continue reading

Miccosukee Indian Village

  IMG_3180 On our way back from the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, we knew we’d have to stop at Miccosukee Indian Village as they had billboards up and down the road of what appeared to be a man karate-chopping an alligator, and that is absolutely the sort of thing I pull over for or risk regretting it for the rest of my days. I was so enthralled by the prospect of nearby gator-chopping that I didn’t really stop to think about participating in Native tourism. If someone wants to tell me about their culture, I’m in. I want to hear as much as they want to tell me. But I want to avoid any situation where it feels like people are putting themselves and their culture on display because they have to do it in order to survive. I really should have given it some more thought before pulling over. Continue reading

I don’t know where that Skunk Ape sleeps, but I do know that he had impure relations with my wife!

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  One of our must-sees in Florida was the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, so, you know, another intellectual venture for us.  Based on the myriad quotes on their website,  such as “I’m an American. I should be a shining example of how great this country is. But instead, the Parks Service has built all of these campgrounds around me. Their employees direct customers away from me.”  [The rest of this quote is found on the Roadside America report: “…one of their employees has attempted to buy illegal weapons in Miami to kill me. And they won’t even fire the guy.”] generally make the owner sound unhinged in a fashion that made the prospect of visiting particularly enticing. Having never been to the Everglades before, I expected the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters to be decrepit shack at the end of a winding dirt road hours from civilization, the air thick with humidity and the strains of banjo music from an unseen player, the sort of place that would make you feel like you’ve stepped out of your car and into a horror film.

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    I mean, it’s sort of decrepit in a touristy way but it’s off of a paved main road and there’s still cell signal, so your only legitimate source of danger are the mosquito swarms and the myriad diseases they can transmit.  

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  Inside the corrugated metal storage container, there was a large gorilla statue, some skunk ape tchotchkes to purchase, and the same generic tourist crap you can buy from literally anywhere in Florida.  

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  Shoved into one corner was the Skunk Ape “evidence”, which consisted of one foot cast (which was covered up with hats you can purchase), a few photographs, and a broken television.  There wasn’t even anyone in the shop to answer questions, not even the, uh, eccentric owner, just a guy who was browsing the internet and clearly pissed we’d interrupted him. IMG_3138

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It’s not that a couple of photoshopped pictures of a dude in a suit isn’t exciting, I just expected a little bit more enthusiasm for their supposed obsession. Perhaps a little more scientific rigor, something to tide over the public’s thirst for truth while visiting on weekends that aren’t on the Miss Skunk Ape Pageant. Or if you’re going to the trouble to falsify a cast, why not go a step further and fake up a fur tuft or a skull? Because right now, I’ve got about as much evidence of unicorns in my house (a non research center) as they had of skunk apes in their research facility. Plus, not to boast, I have two working televisions. In the back, they have a small animal exhibit, and I suppose the Skunk Ape stuff is just a way to lure people in and away from any of the other animal exhibits we’d seen on our way; paying for it just so we’d feel we didn’t waste the trip. Apparently I’m one to reward that sort of sheisty behavior, because pay and go back we did. IMG_3149

  They clearly specify that the back area is “at your own risk”, and they mean it, letting you hold a baby alligator and even offering to let it bite you. The man in the back was much friendlier than the one up front, seemed knowledgeable about the animals, and generally allowed you to poke and prod things at your own risk. Mostly, we neither poked nor prodded because if anyone was to be bitten by something that could shear bone, it’d be me.

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They had a number of snakes, a few snapping turtles, a large nonthreatening turtle, and a large alligator out back, but I was unexpectedly charmed by the birds. The parrot greeted me and would follow me around as I walked around his cage (though he’d always make sure to say “hello” when I wasn’t recording video.) This umbrella cockatoo in the cage I was told “loves attention but has poor impulse control, so he would also love to bite you. But you can pet him if you can get him to turn around.” I did actually risk stroking his feathers with one finger on my non-dominant hand. I’m not sure he got much out of it, but I felt immeasurably brave.

There was a second cockatoo who loved people more and apparently managed to quell his bitey impulses, because he would sit on anyone who would let him, raising one little leg in the air when he’d had enough and was ready to move on to the next person. Sometimes he would hang out on one person for a long time, and sometimes his leg would pop up almost the second he perched on someone; all we could do was respect the leg. IMG_3174

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  Overall, maybe things are a bit livelier around the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters during the Skunk Ape Festival, but otherwise I can’t recommend a visit until they get their act together. It could be a truly ace roadside attraction with a better mini museum about the history of the skunk ape and the owner’s efforts to see and capture one, and they could kick it up another notch by getting rid of the sad everyday Florida tourist crap merch and sell skunk ape plushes, cast replicas, official licensed Skunk Ape hunting gear,  and for god’s sake, get a pressed penny machine in there. Either way, they need more than their sad neglected corner o’ crap to make it worth the trip. I’m not going to lie, I also hoped that we might catch a baby skunk ape that looked like a wee Chewbacca who could ride the dog around, but unless he has amazing powers of camouflage and elected to climb in our rental car of his own free will, that one didn’t happen either. That might be the biggest disappointment of all. I was going to name him Carl Skunkbutt, make him tiny outfits, and freak out everyone at the dog park. Why don’t my dreams ever come true?