Tag Archives: Pensacola

Cool, Man, Cool

 

The National Museum of Naval Aviation

The National Museum of Naval Aviation

Most tourists who visit Florida make sure they do one thing: Go to the beach. Florida is known for its beautiful, white-sand beaches.

I had every intention in the world of our family spending time basking in the sun and frolicking in the Gulf of Mexico. There were only two tiny problems: First, we’re not beach people. If we yearn to swim in the Gulf, we can drive an hour or so to Galveston (although the beaches aren’t pretty at all). We never do. Second, by day three in Florida, we were totally heat-weary. The last thing any of us wanted to do was be out in the sun.

Time for plan B: The National Museum of Naval Aviation.

The museum view from the second floor

The museum view from the second floor

My neighbor Angie P. had left a comment on the blog that we really should see the museum if we wanted to do something cool. And she was absolutely right! The museum, located at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, had two important attributes: First, it’s free (except for the IMAX and simulator ride). Second, it’s cool, man, cool! Perhaps the greatest air-conditioning in the world!

Miniature planes line the deck of a model of the USS Essex.

Miniature planes line the deck of a model of the USS Essex.

The museum, which is like a very small Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, is a cornucopia of model planes and aircraft carriers, paintings, plaques, movies, and more. It’s a great interactive place to learn about naval aviation history up close and personal. We had a terrific time!

The #2 son takes a weather quiz.

The #2 son takes a weather quiz.

Photographically, the museum presented a challenge, because parts are so much darker than others. Eschewing flash, I constantly was fiddling with my ISO to let in enough light so I could use a faster shutter speed (the better to not blur). I used the Nikon 17-55mm lens with my Nikon D300, because there were so many wide-angle photo ops; for a change, the 105mm didn’t leave my bag at all.

Planes are on the ground and up in the air.

Planes are on the ground and up in the air.

This graphic was painted on the USSS Cabot, a carrier that served in the Pacific during World War II.

This graphic was painted on the USS Cabot, a carrier that served in the Pacific during World War II.

The bell from the USS Pensacola

The bell from the USS Pensacola

Blue Angels jets have their own room.

Blue Angels jets have their own room.

NAS Pensacola is the home of the world-renown Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration team. We heard the planes zooming overhead when we walked toward the museum from the parking lot. They sounded loud and fast. They gave a new-feel contrast to the old planes and memorabilia in the museum.

#2767-(tokyo-bomb)

The Vultee Vibrator

The Vultee Vibrator

The #1 son and his online girlfriend read about one of four propellors used on the carrier Intrepid.

The #1 son and his online girlfriend read about one of four propellors used on the carrier Intrepid.

The museum didn’t just feature the usual aeronautics, like planes and helicopters. Space travel also had its own wing.

A battered Skylab, America's first experimental space station

A battered Skylab, America's first experimental space station

A statue called the Spirit of Naval Aviation is at the museum entrance. Featuring five aviators, it truly captures the feel of the museum and the U.S. Navy.

From left, the statues represent aviators from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm.

From left, the statues represent aviators from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm.

When all was said and done (and much more was done than said), visiting the museum was my favorite part of our Pensacola vacation, which ends today. We’re driving back to south Texas . . . from heat and humidity to heat and humidity. Suffice it to say, the rest of the summer will be spent in search of anything that’s cool, man, cool!

Sea Lions and Penguins and Dolphins, Oh My!

 

A very small version of Seaworld

A very small version of Seaworld

Florida’s Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach is another touristy place that practically turns you upside down at the door and shakes all the money out of you. Unlike the Zoo of Northwest Florida, though, there was more to see and do, making it more fun. Plus, even though it’s mainly outdoors, most of it is shady, a relief our heat-weary family welcomed.

Sidebar: The Mister quickly found out that all the bathrooms were air-conditioned. I think that impressed him the most about the Gulfarium!

A blackfoot penguin takes a refreshing swim.

A blackfoot penguin takes a refreshing swim.

There were the usual sea animals at this extremely small version of Seaworld: Sea lions, dolphins, otters, lemon sharks, big turtles, and penguins. Oh, those penguins! The #2 son is a long-time fan of the flightless birds, and the blackfoot variety featured at the Gulfarium totally captured his imagination. And who could blame him? They were so cute!

#2 hangs around the penguin pen.

#2 hangs around the penguin pen.

The blackfoot penguins show off.

The blackfoot penguins show off.

So cute that I had to put more than one photo of them in the blog! Other critters weren’t quite as, ahem, attractive.

An African Spurred Tortoise relaxes.

An African Spurred Tortoise relaxes among the rocks.

A dog-faced puffer fish floats in one of the tanks in the Living Sea exhibit.

A dog-faced puffer fish floats in one of the fish tanks in the Living Sea exhibit.

Along with the sea critters in tanks and enclosures, there were three shows: the sea lions, the multi-species (two dolphins and a sea lion), and the dolphins. All were interesting but way too short. I was intrigued at how often the trainers rewarded the animals for their tricks. Kind of reminded me of potty training back in the day!

A tasty treat rewards a dolphin's trick.

A tasty treat rewards a dolphin's trick.

The critters were very entertaining. Definitely made for some great photo ops!

Sidebar: If you’re sitting far from a tank in the bleachers, it’s hard to get good point-and-shoot photos without at least a 10x zoom. I was glad I had my trusty Nikon D300 and Nikon 105mm lens to capture the action.

Surfin’ safari!

Surfin’ safari!

A dolphin takes a fish from the sea lion's mouth! Good restraint shown by the sea lion!!

A dolphin takes a fish from the sea lion's mouth! Good restraint shown by the sea lion!!

A different dolphin (different show) grabs a fish from a trainer's mouth (gross!!).

A different dolphin (different show) grabs a fish from a trainer's mouth (gross!!).

Leapin’ dolphin!

Leapin’ dolphin!

Put me in, coach!

Put me in, coach!

Can you tell that I like the dolphins? They seem like such happy animals, so easy to please. Definitely not like certain children I know!

The #1 son and his OGF happily pose.

The #1 son and his online girlfriend happily pose.

Of course, one of those children seems to be as happy as a clam in Florida. Not that we saw any clams at the Gulfarium, of course!

Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo . . . in Poverty, Too, Too, Too

 

OMG! So expensive!

OMG! So expensive!

Have you ever gone somewhere with your kids, paid the expensive fees, and then been determined to experience every inch of the grounds for how ever long it takes? But then it never takes very long, so you feel a little bit cheated?

Welcome to the Zoo of Northwest Florida in Gulf Breeze. Just empty out your wallet at the cash register and prepare to pay the most money for possibly the lamest zoo for the price in the civilized world. What sounded so good online was almost laughable in person. According to the website, there should be more than 1,200 animals at the zoo. I think we literally walked every inch of the place, and I’d say their calculations are off by, oh, a good thousand. Well, unless that thou was doing a great job of hiding.

Golden-headed tamarin peeks out from its cage.

Golden-headed tamarin peeks out from its cage.

Now I’m not saying it wasn’t an enjoyable experience. I happen to be a zoo lover, so I like seeing each city’s interpretation of how best to display their animals for everyone’s safety. However, at most zoos, I would want to have my Nikon 70-200mm lens on my Nikon D300, the better to really zoom in and capture the animals. At this zoo, my Nikon 105mm was plenty of zoom . . . when there was something to see.

A goat gets up close and personal.

A goat gets up close and personal.

Let’s just say that when the petting zoo is the highlight of the place, it’s not the greatest zoo on earth. Definitely not for $11.50 per person!

Baby black swan swims near its mother.

Baby black swan swims near its mother.

Every zoo has its contrast of cute vs. ugly and deadly, and this one was no different. Some of those adorable things included the tamarin and baby black swan shown above. As well as the one below:

Sometimes an animal, the #2 son has fun on a very small merry-go-round.

The #2 son has fun on a very small merry-go-round.

And then there’s the not-so-cute. Florida, of course, is known for its alligators. The zoo had lots of them. Interesting to photograph, but they still give me the creeps.

What lies in those murky waters?

What lies in those murky waters?

I know what this one was thinking!

I know what this one was thinking!

And, of course, there are always snakes. Indiana Jones would’ve hated seeing this Burmese python:

Both sons check out the Burmese python; the OGF seems wary, though.

Both sons check out the Burmese python; the OGF seems intrigued.

See the online girlfriend (OGF) in the above photo? Yes, she came with us. As we walked through the zoo, it seemed like there were animals cheering for her and my #1 son’s relationship.

Some loving gators

Some loving gators

Peach-faced lovebirds

Peach-faced lovebirds

Sidebar: I snapped a photo of what two of the peach-faced lovebirds were doing right there in public (a little too much love for those particular birds to be on display), but I’d like to keep this a G- or PG-rated blog. You can thank me later.

OGF and the #1 son

OGF and the #1 son

Yes, #1 and OGF were the true lovebirds in this little, expensive zoo. I don’t think they really saw any of the animals; they usually only had eyes for each other.

Well, they might have noticed that peach-faced lovebird pair!

A final thought

Choo choo!

Choo choo!

We took a short train ride around a free-roaming wildlife area. Ka-ching three more dollars per for something that should be included in the general admission price, because you can’t really see this part of the zoo on foot. The tour “guide” was a cute but often-confused young man who often told us animals were on the right side of the train when they really were on the left.

But his unintentionally funniest line came when he pointed out the caged komodo dragons.

“Komodo dragons are native to Indiana,” he claimed.

Yes, maybe in the zoos in Indiana! Then he caught himself.

“Make that India!”

Or should it really be Indonesia?!? Whatever!

How Straight A’s Led to a Road Trip to Florida

lighter-#1872-(1-straight-A's)

Way back in August or September, the #1 son started making noises about seeing his online girlfriend (OGF), who lived in Florida. He had been talking to her via computer and on the phone since that March.

Personally, I’m not a fan of long-distance relationships, especially for kids who aren’t even 17. I think they can waste the time those kids should be using to make friends In Real Life (IRL).

So I gave his request half a thought and said, “Get all A’s for the entire school year, and we’ll go see her.” Then I chuckled to myself. And snickered. And guffawed. And then I wished there was a betting place, so I could put my money on “no way, no how.”

After all, #1 hadn’t made straight A’s since elementary school. He’s been more than capable of it, but it’s never been important to him. Remember this conversation? A kid who thinks “just passing” is okay will never make straight A’s.

#1956-(pens-sign)

So guess where we are right now? Yep, Pensacola, Florida. Sigh!

Road trip

The #1 son watches a dvd in the car.

The #1 son watches a dvd in the car.

We hit the open road yesterday morning after about 17 squabbles, tiffs, and arguments. All four of us seemed to be grumpy and anxious at the same time. We left at about 8:15 a.m. and arrived at 6 p.m. in Pensacola, which included about an hour lunch break. At least the boys had a major distraction in being able to watch “Futurama” dvds most of the trip. The Mister and I were stuck talking to each other and listening to music; what’s the fun in that?

The #2 son seems intrigued.

The #2 son seems intrigued.

Remember back in the day when we went on vacations? We always had a clear demarcation of where we sat on the car seat (crossing that invisible line meant an automatic complaint to Mom from the aggrieved party). We played the alphabet game (where are the dreaded “Q” and “X”?), tallied up the different license plates (seeing Hawaii and Alaska always were a treat), and cringed when Dad threatened to “pull over right now!”

But these days kids don’t have to look at one speck of scenery. They have their electronic devices (both boys brought their iPods, while #1 also had his Nintendo DSi), as well as the built-in dvd player. If we didn’t alert them to when we crossed into the different states, they’d still think we were in Texas! Good thing I had my camera at the ready, so they can look at the photos and see what they missed.

First, we crossed into Louisiana.

First, we crossed into Louisiana.

Then we moved on to Mississippi (I still spelled it out in my head as I typed, even though I could read the sign!).

Then we moved on to Mississippi (I still spelled it out in my head as I typed, even though I could read the sign!).

The shortest state to cross was Alabama.

The shortest state to cross was Alabama.

Finally, Florida! #1 said he thought the state's motto was "Home to Old People."

Finally, Florida! #1 said he thought the state's motto was "Home to Old People."

We FINALLY meet the girl!

At long last, #1 meets his OGF.

At long last, #1 meets his OGF.

I almost had forgotten that there was a reason for taking this long drive . . . until we reached the hotel. The #1 son called his OGF, and then we were off to meet her. After more than a year, #1 finally would be able to hug and hold hands with the girl he’d been talking to but had never seen in person. A momentous occasion, right?

Of course, I had my usual dilemma: Which photographic equipment to use? I didn’t want to overwhelm with the big gun, my Nikon D300. So I opted for my new point and shoot camera, the Olympus Stylus Tough 6000. Easy to carry and not intimidating. Not as good quality, but it would do for capturing a pivotal moment in my son’s life.

We took OGF, her mom, and her younger sister out, so all could get acquainted. This was one of the very few times that we’ve ever seen #1 eat without listening to his iPod and/or reading a book! He does have a handsome face!

After a couple hours, we dropped the OGF crowd back home where the #1 son finally got his first kiss. Believe it or not, I used restraint and didn’t document that particular moment (although I was itching to use the Flip Video!). On the way home and in the hotel room that night, my often untalkative young man was a veritable chatterbox! He didn’t talk much about the OGF, but he did babble on and on and on. Could he be a changed man?

We’ll see what today’s adventure brings.

One final thought

Traveling raccoons?

Seen on the highway—traveling raccoons?

What the heck??