Sunny Orlando, Florida. Been there, done it. But it was time to do it again. Brenda’s sister was graduating from school, and becoming a nurse. We went down there, to watch. We went early, to vacation. As I said, been there, done it. All who know me know my distain for the place. A card-carrying Disney hater, I loathe the land of calculated happiness, forced smiles, Olive Gardens, and line length camouflage. But, you know, blood is thicker than water.

So I guess it’s fitting that this time around, Brenda decided that Sea World would be the tourist trap of choice for this visit.

I gotta say, it wasn’t all bad. Now, the $55/person admission fee, that was bad, yes. Very bad. And of course once inside the gates, the little khaki-short-cladded, digital camera wielding minions descended upon us for a picture which Brenda would be sure to purchase prints from (she actually bought two). But the actual park itself was a lot nicer and more fun that what I’m used to down there. Since their schtick is aquatic life forms, up close and personal, the place is basically just a bunch of giant fish tanks with big fish swimming around in them. Since this is not really enough to keep the typical eight year-old interested for more than three seconds, Sea World has specialized in fish that enjoy hamming it up for the kiddies.

The dolphins, well, what can I say? They love to eat little fish. And, as luck would have it, little fish are for sale at the booth right next to the damned tank! And since there are tons of middle-aged parents desperate for little Johnny to take home some quality memories, it’s easy to position yourself near one of these nuclear families with a fresh tray of the dolphin crack, so you can cop a feel on the dolphins whoring themselves for a free mackerel. But they are cute. The dolphins, that is.

Oh, by the way: Sea Lions, after my beloved cat Emma, are now the second-coolest creatures on this planet.

Sea World has added a roller coaster for people like me, who just want to yell and go upside down when they go to amusement parks. It’s not bad, and I went on it twice.

The shows! They have several shows at Sea World. There’s a dolphin show (they get rad air), a sea lion show and of course the killer whale show, featuring Shamu and company. Folks, let me tell ya something. Those killer whales are anything but killer. Shamu thinks she’s all that and can get away with a single jump and a few splashy-splashy routines, but I ain’t buying it. That show sucked ass, and half the attendees at Shamu Theatre agreed with me, based on my impromptu exit polling. My advice is skip that show, and go around for a second stab at the free beer.

Huh? Oh yes, free beer! Nothing hearkens back to the sea like an eight ounce taster of Annheiser-Busch’s finest offerings in a wax-paper cup, and that’s why there’s a whole “exhibit” set up to enthrall park guests with the “process” of beermaking. Again, this is one to skip, unless you like standing in line with a bunch of guys who all look like roadies for a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band. Even I skipped the free beer. Of course it was Budweiser, so that’s kinda like skipping free root canal.

Now, you can still thrill to the delights of the Budweiser Clydesdales pulling a wagon of Budweiser cases through the park a few times a day. Because as you know, when you think of Sea World, you think… horses? It was like a clip-clopping public service announcement.

Oh, by the way: Puffins, after Sea Lions and my beloved cat Emma, are now the third-coolest creatures on this planet.

Did you know that dolphin mother’s milk is 33% fat? It’s to quickly build up the layer of blubber that the dolphin babies need for insulation. It’s one of the few things I learned while at Sea World, since the place is sorely lacking in informational signage. I can’t believe Starbuck’s doesn’t offer dolphin mother’s milk as an option for their coffees. By the way, one of the dolphins was named “Starbuck”. Coincidence? I think not. Look for a bottlenose dolphin’s milk latte supreme ($9.00) at a Starbuck’s near you, soon.

My cynicism aside, it really was the best park I’ve been to in that pit of tourism known as Orlando. With the exception of the Clydesdales, the crass corporate identity and branding love-fest so prevalent at the other Orlando attractions was virtually non-existent. Recommended.

The next day, Brenda paid me back by going to the Fantasy of Flight Museum. This place was fantastic. After paying the $25 admission fee (which anyone who’s been soaked in Orlando recently will agree is quite reasonable), you go through an EXTREMELY cheesy “immersion exhibit”, simulating an Eighth Air Force bomber base in WWII, culminating in the one cool part of that exhibit, an actual walk-through of a B-17G. But after that, we headed to the first of several hangars, full of very nicely restored aircraft (long list, including a B-25, B-24, P51A, P51D, the only P-40 trainer in the world, a Stampe, a Storch, a Laird Super Solution, a Gee Bee replica, etc…). But the best part of this museum is that many of the aircraft you see are FLYING aircraft.

They also have lots of tours. You get to go through the restoration hangar, where one of the guys there shows what he’s working on (currently a Stinson L-1, a Seversky P-35 and a Republic P-47) as well as demonatrating some of the techniques and tools of the process. Another tour took us back through the bulk of museum-owner Kermit Weeks’ collection of stuff, which is unbelievable. One hangar was totally full of engines, mostly from the WWII era; he has used Allison engines shelved thirty feet high. He’s even got one of those 28-cylinder Wrights. In another hangar, he has twelve BRAND NEW pickled Allisons in crates. Oh wait, he only has ten now, because they’ve reserved two of them for their P-38 Lightning restoration they plan to do someday. (!) The P-38’s fuse is sitting in the restoration hangar. Unfortunately the twin booms were SAWED off for transport, adding about 2,000 man-hours to the restoration they estimate.

At the end of the day, they do the “Flight of the Day”. This is where they pull one of the planes out of the museum and go fly it! This was a highlight for many of the assembled museum-goers, myself included.

This place is like a small annex of the National Air & Space Museum, but where most of the exhibits fly. How cool is that? I highly recommend this place, and they have ambitious expansion plans, so it should keep getting better. If you’re ever stuck in the Orlando area—and stuck is really the best word for it—and have time, I suggest you check them out. Highly Recommended.

Finally, Tuesday, it was time to see Mandy get her nurse’s pin, and that was probably the highlight of the whole week, as it should have been. We have to miss her graduation ceremony on Saturday, because instead we will be watching my sister marry Bob. Extremely Recommended.