Taylor's Coaster (and Food) Adventures

Fun Spot Kissimmee and Busch Gardens Tampa
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Re: Taylor's Coaster (and Food) Adventures

Postby Taylor Finn » Tue Oct 22, 2019 7:06 pm

Orlando Trip Day 1

Hello again! So, just as I landed at my layover in Montreal from the TPR Japan 2018 trip, I received a message from my boss informing me to come in to the office the following day. I had worked in the Frac industry (yuck) for a year and a half and got laid off, along with most all of the engineers I worked with. Oh well! At least I got paid for the 3 week vacation I took. The result of this was some free time for myself and some flexibility to book flights. I found a cheap cheap flight to Orlando for < $100 and decided to pounce. Hadn't been to any other parks in Orlando besides Disney and Universal Islands of Adventure.

My flight got me into Orlando at a reasonable hour, but not early enough to go to a full day park. So I decided to make the most of my day and volunteer at Give Kids the World and visit Fun Spot Kissimmee in the evening for the after 9 PM pass. My departure day I had a flight around dinner time, so I chose to do the same thing and volunteer at the village and then take an uber from their to the airport.

Give Kids the World Two Day Visit

If there is one thing I am truly grateful to TPR for, it is introducing me to Give Kids the World through the Coasting for Kids event. I have been fortunate enough to participate in the event four times and each has been an absolutely wonderful experience (shameless plug). I have always wanted to volunteer at the village and experience first hand the joy it brings people. I am going to do the best I can to cover some of the unique features of the village here, since I haven't found other reports on the site.

Background

Give Kids the World was found by Henri Landwirth, a Holocaust survivor who recognized and understood what it felt like to be young and hopeless. The charity offers children battling life-threatening illnesses (with the help of Make A Wish) the opportunity to visit their enormous village in Central Florida. The escape from the harsh day to day reality these kids and families face includes a 7 night stay in a villa with complimentary tickets to Disney, Universal, and Sea World, as well as all other expenses like transportation, food, etc included.

Arrival

GKTW boasts that no family in need gets turned away and that they can grant wishes VERY quickly, because they understand children can be facing very dire and quickly changing circumstances. That was one of the main reasons Henri founded the village in the first place. He was in the hotel business and had decided to do his part and help these families visit Disney. But accommodating families in his and other hotels was more difficult to arrange and couldn't be done as quickly. So the village was born.

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Amberville
All of the areas of the village are named after former wish children. Amberville is no exception. From their Facebook page:

"This venue in the village was named after a girl named Amber Holman. Amber stayed at #GKTWVillage in the summer of 1990 when her older brother, Travis, was a wish child. Less than a year later, Amber was diagnosed with the same disease that had affected Travis. The Holman Family then returned back to the Village to fulfill Amber's wish! The Family's courage moved Henri, in 1996 the Village unveiled their plans to build a fun center named Amberville Train Station as a tribute to the family's faith!"

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Amberville boasts three rides. I know the two flat rides were donated by Zamperla and I believe the train was, too. All are handicap accessible without the need for any transfer, which is so awesome. One of my volunteer shifts I got to operate Lori's Magical Flight. It was a great time!

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This area also has some remote controlled boats and loads of arcade games.

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The last big thing in Amberville is this huge train display which is impressive in scale. Donated and maintained by folks who love trains. There's a sign encouraging kids to push every button one after another.
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Julie's Safari Theater
Every night, they show NEW Disney movies that you would typically only be able to see in actual theaters.
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The schedule at the village is jam-packed. Every day has a different theme. Christmas and Halloween are celebrated every week, so every wish family gets that experience. They have Village Idol one night where all the wish kids get to show off their talents in a welcoming environment. You can volunteer to help out with any of these activities, as well!
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You can take a nice walk along a wooden trail (handicap accessible).

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In the distance is the huge pool area, including pirate ship.

The Castle of Miracles is a very special place for families. Wish children get the opportunity to have their star placed in the castle, where it will stay forever. The star's location is stored in a database, so if the family revisits the village, the volunteers can easily show them exactly where the star is. It's a very powerful way to commemorate the time the family spent there, which may well have been the best week spent they've spent together.
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The Park of Dreams

The Park of Dreams is the village's zero-entry pool. The day I was there, there was a huge pool party and it was so, so awesome to see all the kids enjoying the fountain area and play games together. Seeing how happy the families were for their kids was just a beautiful thing.
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Sorry for the finger.

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Once a week, they do horseback rides. I was there the day they did them and all the kids got cowboy and cowgirl hats to keep.

Matthew's Boundless Playground

This is a really neat playground, decked out with all sorts of cool little features. And, of course, very very handicap accessible. My favorite part is that the whole thing is a giant board of Candyland. Once a week, they play "The World's Largest Game of Candyland" and the kids are their own game piece, moving around the board together and meeting some of the 'characters' from the game.
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Well-shaded for the Orlando heat!

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While there, I volunteered in the Cafeteria for a couple shifts, shuttled folks around the village (awesome) in a long golf-cart (there was a train that you could drive around the village, but I believe they reserve that for more experienced volunteers), and operated the rides. You can put in requests for different kinds of responsibilities, but they're all great!

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I especially enjoyed the shuttle service. Got to really talk to the families and hear about what a great time they've been having.

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The village is actually quite large, covering 79 acres and containing 75+ villas (each able to accommodate 2 families). It took me a bit to figure my way around as I shuttled. But driving around really allowed me to see the whole facility (it is a long walk from end to end).

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Just going to throw some more details in these captions... Families get complimentary tickets to the parks, free meals (compliments of Boston Market and Perkins providing the cafeteria food), free bus transportation to/from and visits from characters from Disney and Universal (and video time with Sea World trainers and animals).

The Villas

Each Villa is a duplex. You can check out videos online to get a tour of the rooms. But rest assured, they are quite nice! Each unit has a unique architecture, lending this real cool, whimsical atmosphere to the village. The kid's bathroom has a hot tub and is twice the size as the parents. Everything is designed to be accessible and every night, families get little gift bags themed to that day's activities. In 2016, they opened Banyan Park Villas, a 24 unit complex. They are running out of room a bit, so this complex allows them to accommodate even more wish children. A bad problem to have, sure, but they saw a need and acted.
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Notice they don't look alike.

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A really nice pond where you can fish!

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Little touches like this are everywhere. The magic is real.

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The new apartment complex!

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My vehicle of choice to shuttle folks around. They actually have a pizza delivery service for folks later in the evening when they return from the parks and don't want to go to the cafeteria for food.

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Little dead end.

Towne Hall

This is where some of the meet and greets happen, as well as a Princess Tea, and primarily...it houses the cafeteria. Which is huge. Really, lots of seating. The food, as I mentioned is donated by Perkins and Boston Market and is pretty decent stuff. Families can come here for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, though if you volunteer during the afternoon, it'll be really dead as most families are visiting the parks.
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I love the design of all of these buildings.

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The cafeteria is really really nice.

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Some free pizza in the volunteer break room. There are so many folks who volunteer here regularly. In fact, I met a couple whose granddaughter spent a week at the village. The experience meant so much to this couple that they parked their trailer at a campground nearby and volunteered for three months. The campground owner asked them why they were staying so long and when they mentioned GKTW, he gave them half off their rate.

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Got me some lunch!


Henri's Starlight Scoops

When I was there, they were just about ready to shut down this ice cream parlor to build a new one (with the creative design assistance from Disney Imagineers). It is to be called Henri's Starlight Scoops, after the village founder Henri Landwirth (passed away in 2018). He operated the Starlight Hotel in Cocoa Beach, Florida for the original Mercury 7 Astronauts. The ice cream parlor operates for more hours a day than any other part of the village, ensuring that kids can get ice cream at any time of the day. A simple, but powerful gesture.
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The volunteer dishing up ice cream was having an absolute ball with his job, something that still sticks with me.

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An icon of the village, to be sure, is the carousel. A beautiful handicap accessible ride (the first at the village). Almost got to operate but didn't pan out!


I want to close by highlighting a few of the other features of the village that I didn't capture:

There is a spa for colorful hairdues, manicures, temporary tattoos, and more, a chapel, a great gift shop (highly recommend both books on the village), and a wonderfully themed dinosaur mini-golf course. Even for families unable to visit the parks, the village offers more than enough fun for the families over the course of a week. I had such a wonderful time interacting with these brave kids and put a face to the organization I have gotten so much help supporting over the last half decade. I CANNOT recommend volunteering here enough. It is absolutely worth adding a day or two to your Orlando trip to do something really good. The village relies on more than 1500 volunteer shifts a week and recently passed 3 million volunteer hours. You can volunteer for 3 or 4 hours or do two shifts and volunteer for 8 hours. They are flexible and can schedule you on a whim, once you pass a quick background check. I thank you guys for reading and if you feel compelled to read more, check out their website https://www.gktw.org/ and consider donating if you can!
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Last edited by Taylor Finn on Wed Oct 23, 2019 5:03 am.

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Re: Taylor's Coaster (and Food) Adventures

Postby Canobie Coaster » Tue Oct 22, 2019 7:37 pm

Awesome report! Thanks for showing me what the Give Kids the World Village looks like. It looks like the perfect place for a kid.

I'm glad I could do my part supporting this charity at Story Land this summer.
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Re: Taylor's Coaster (and Food) Adventures

Postby Taylor Finn » Wed Oct 30, 2019 7:34 pm

Orlando Night 1 and Day 2

So, after volunteering at Give Kids the World, I took an Uber over to Old Town and explored the area for a bit. Because I didn't have my own vehicle, I was locked into a restaurant local to Old Town, so I settled on Froggers (not many great options). Had a decent dinner and some beer and looked around the area (it was raining pretty hard) until the evening pass opened up at Fun Spot (9 PM).

Fun Spot Kissimmee

My first Fun Spot park and it didn't disappoint. Admission is usually like $50, but after 9 PM, it goes to $30. You can also do both parks in one day for an extra $10 ($60 total). I think that would be the wrong approach. The park is way more fun at night. They have a great thing going here, staying open real late so folks can pop over after a day at the other parks. Paying by the ride would be brutal ($10 for the coasters and go karts), so definitely do the wristband. I think on this visit, I did every go kart track a few times and rode the coasters a handful of times.

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Froggers had a self pour beer system. I've experienced these elsewhere and they can be a lot of fun. This one seemed a bit random and cumbersome. Especially because they had a proper bar elsewhere that had drafts.

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The burger was actually pretty solid. WAY too big. But solid.

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There she is.

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This is great.

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I am sorry for the low quality pictures. I ain't good at this. But yeah, they have Mine Blower and Rockstar, a standard wild mouse. Plus a kiddie (no shame in riding).


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The World's Tallest Skycoaster. There was actually a group that went up and they hung out up there for a while and they kept telling them to pull the cord. I thought they were cowards, but they lowered them down and I guess it was actually just a malfunction. Went back up and dropped. I've never done one of these, I think it is a $10 upcharge on your wristband price which seems fair.

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The flyers were not open on this night.

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There isn't much to the park. Just some rides around both sides of the lake. But it is very clean and well taken care of.

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The Ferris Wheel is kind of by itself. The park is rather stretched for space, so they have a handful of rides kind of in a lot all by itself.

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This seems rather out of order. Honestly, I wouldn't recommend Old Town as an area. If you like kitschy stores and *average* food options..

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I was pretty impressed by Mine Blower, but I definitely worry this ride is going to become brutal with time. It is by no means a *smooth* woodie. I know what to expect at this point, but this one felt a bit different. Like it just wasn't tracking great. But I really did enjoy it. Just couldn't re-ride as often as White Lightning.

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Hmm. Also not open. This was my chief complaint. But all the go kart tracks and coasters were open, which was certainly my priority.

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Welcome to the random collection of flats. Seriously, if you look at the park map, they don't even pretend to show you where this is relative to the rest of the park. This ride must've been super cheap.

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Also got a paratrooper back here. These rides also weren't open. Dunno if this is typical after a certain hour, or what. It wasn't crowded at all on any of the rides that were open, so opening these really would not have been necessary.

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Not tonight, they say.

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The last of the rides back here.

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I will say, the go karts are all really fun. They are lengthy tracks and very unique. I love me some go karts and it had been YEARS since I had been on one, let alone had a ride all day option. If I lived down here, I would absolutely have a season pass and would love visiting often. Free parking, low lines.

Busch Gardens Tampa

That next morning, I took an uber from my air b n b to a Publix, where I was to take a free shuttle down to Busch Gardens. I had purchased a two park ticket for $100 (Sea World plus Busch Gardens). I had been content to go to Aquatica and Sea World until I realized this shuttle was offered. It was a no brainer. I believe we arrived at the park like 45 min after opening (which I would say is a bit silly, especially because the park hours were like 10-5 or something). I didn't have a ton of time at the park, but figured the lines would be minimal. I was absolutely right. The only thing I waited for at all was for Cheetah Hunt first thing (maybe half an hour). I was considering buying their "fast pass" system, but am grateful I didn't. For breakfast, I had a giant muffin that I ate while I hustled over to the Cheetah Hunt. Didn't really have lunch. A huge complaint I have is the lack of a viable unique thing to snack on. Just pretzels, popcorn, etc everywhere. It seems lazy and a missed opportunity. Just had some fries on the way out.

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My ride has arrived. This is a nice thing. They don't *have* to do this, but really, there are a good number of people like me who just wouldn't have gone to the park. Save money on parking, save money on gas, do a good thing for the earth.

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Unfortunately, no stop off here on the way down.

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We made it! I was a bit discouraged because there were quite a few folks at the park entrance, but that would turn out to be the only crowds I saw all day.

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So, I knocked out Cheetah Hunt first thing. I found it to be a fun ride. Best way I can describe it. It doesn't do anything balls to the wall, but is just a good, long experience.

Moving on to Cobra's Curse. Another great addition for the park, I would say. It has multiple little sections to it, each doing something unique. Got the unique elevator lift, followed by a short non-spinning section, a mcbr, a short backwards section, and then an extended spinning section. None of it is WOW worthy. But is all fun for the family.

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Next up was Montu. I think the Inverst are my favorite of the B&M coaster models (though Hypers and Gigas are far more re-rideable). Montu is a really good invert. I have a hard time comparing coasters of the same model, because I don't ride them back to back. Sure, Pyranees in Japan was phenomenal, but I can't know for sure that Montu didn't compare.

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This is what I had going for me today.

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Certainly well-themed!

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Man, it was so hot this day. I remember actually sneaking some ice cubes from a big bucket they had to keep pop cold and just throwing them in my hat.






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There is a nice walkway that runs past some exhibits on the edge of the Savannah area.

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Elephants, trying to keep cool.

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Falcon's Fury was up and down all day, so I didn't get a chance to get on it. But, next time!


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Kumba is *probably* my favorite floorless. I haven't really been on that, that many. But this is a well-paced ride. The park really got a nice collection. Quality over quantity for sure.

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This is a tiger. Up very close.

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A pretty cool idea! I guess the tiger likes to hang out here!

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This was a nice area, but I think some of it was being worked on or was closed. I cannot remember completely.

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OH YES. You know I went on this. Love me a good log flume. And I needed it. So, so hot.

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Dive Coasters are definitely not the best of the B&Ms. But they are fun! Can anyone explain to me why Griffon has significantly wider trains than the other dive coasters? Always wondered why a park would choose to have lower capacity? I recognize it costs a bit more. But, not worth the benefit?

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Sesame Street Land. Nicely themed, but certainly could use a refresh.

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No shame, especially with no line.

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Flaaaamingos. The animals really are well integrated here. I would certainly give Busch Gardens Virginia the nod on landscaping, but they're going for animals here more. It is certainly difficult to pick which park I prefer of the two. I would tend to give Tampa the slight edge on coasters, Virginia the edge on food and entertainment, and Tampa the edge on animals. But the overall atmosphere in Virginia gets a nod.

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'Roos.

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Well, this is going to look awfully different. I did find it real odd how they didn't even really acknowledge this rides existence on the map. But they're gonna be stacked once this thing opens.

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Straight chillin'.

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OH THE LINES.

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The one show I did catch by chance and really, really enjoyed was the Cheetah run. Nothing fancy here. Just a showcase of pure speed. Thrilling.

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The only good picture I got all trip, likely.

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LOVE that both Busch Gardens parks have chair lifts like this. Great way to get around.

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Cute little guy!

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Bye bye Busch Gardens! Headed back to Publix and grabbed dinner at a delicious restaurant in the plaza.

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Q'kenan was the name of the place. And it was super affordable and absolutely DELICIOUS.

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An Arepa is the actual bread here, I believe and it is dense and made with corn meal. This one was filled to the brim with a delicious beef cheese and beans filling. There was a really good garlicky sauce as well as a hotter one. I really loved my meal here. Super hole in the wall, but reaaaal good.

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Off to Disney Springs. I hadn't been since long before the conversion was even announced. And I gotta say, I am impressed. The whole area feels much more cohesive and there are loads of cool shops and places to eat and drink. Sure, none of it is going to absolutely blow your mind and is gonna be pricey. But most of the places have unique concepts.

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Checked out the Coke store! Pretty cool. Did not partake in the coke bar, but it looked nice and offered great views!

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I am a sucker for Lego. Lego Stores are always a fun time.

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Made a pit stop at Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar. Drinks priced as you'd expect them, but I do remember it being pretty good. Cool vibe, for sure.

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Thanks for reading! Tomorrow, we'll visit Sea World and Fun Spot Orlando!

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Re: Taylor's Coaster (and Food) Adventures

Postby Canobie Coaster » Wed Oct 30, 2019 10:12 pm

Great report!

I'm guessing the flyers were closed at Fun Spot because they were missing their trusty ride operator- the cat.
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Re: Taylor's Japan Adventures 2018

Postby prozach626 » Fri Dec 06, 2019 10:40 am

Taylor Finn wrote:As this was Kylie's 25th birthday, she had a goal she had set for herself Friday night: to ride Phoenix 25 times.

Marry her.

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