December 20, 2009: A Visit to Natchitoches, LA
December 1-4, 2009: A Visit to Ruckman Haus
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Page Index
December 9-19
Fort Lauderdale

    Getting to Orlando (12/9-10)
    Downtown Disney (12/10)
    Fort Lauderdale Boat Parade (12/12)
    At the Riverview Gardens Dock (12/13)
    A Walk to the Beach and Back (12/14)
    Jay Silbert's Birthday (12/17)
    Our Drive Partway Home (12/19)

December 9-19, 2009
A Trip to Fort Lauderdale


 

Fred is recuperating nicely from his heart attack and from the surgery to insert the stent, and we have been given the OK by his cardiologist to make our planned trip to Florida to relax and watch the Boat Parade. We have also planned ahead with Mario and Steve to meet up with them in Orlando where they will be visiting Downtown Disney with their friends Ken and Ray. Mario and Steve go down to Florida a few times a year, since both their families are there. This time, their Dallas friends Ken and Ray wanted to go also. So Ken and Ray traveled down on their own, as did Mario and Steve, and they met up for a few days at the Disney theme parks. We had not met Ken and Ray yet, so we were looking forward to it.

 

Getting to Orlando and Downtown Disney


Although we'd been trying a different route to Florida the last couple of times, today we thought that since we got an early start, we'd be able to miss the rush hour traffic in Baton Rouge if we followed I-20 to I-49 to I-10 to I-12 and east, so that is what we did. We crossed the
Mississippi River Bridge into Baton Rouge just about three in the afternoon, and so we were just early enough to miss the worst of that rush-hour traffic.

We stopped at the same Charley's Restaurant where we'd eaten before, since we knew they would have some decent heart-healthy choices; since his heart attack both Fred and I have been trying to eat a lot better than we used to. It is good for Fred and it can't hurt me either. Both of us had nice pieces of fish along with vegetables.

We got to our familiar Super 8 Motel in Madison, Florida, about midnight. Madison is about halfway between Tallahassee and the intersection of I-10 and I-75.

We had our complimentary breakfast at the Denny's next door to the Super 8; the same person owns both businesses and finds it easier to give free breakfast certificates to his motel guests than to have the usual breakfast bar service at the motel.

We got back on the highway and headed east to the intersection with I-75, which we took south towards Florida's Turnpike. There was some rain around, and we hoped that the weather would clear for us to meet up with Mario and Steve at Downtown Disney- which is a shopping area adjacent to the Disney parks in Orlando.


When we got close to Orlando, we exited off the turnpike onto I-4 west, and then followed our GPS directions to find Downtown Disney. It is right on Lake Buena Vista Drive just northwest of I-4, right in the middle of the Disney resorts and parks.

You can return to the trip index or continue with the next section below.


 

Downtown Disney

It had been raining quite a bit on our way down to Orlando this morning, and it was still raining lightly when we found a parking place at Downtown Disney. So we took our umbrellas with us (which helped ward off the rain for the few hours we were here). Fred did not take his camera with him; he did not want to worry about getting it wet. Since mine fits into a holster that is protected from the rain, I will be the photographer for today.


When we parked, Fred and I called Mario on his cell phone and we arranged to meet them outside the T-Rex Cafe, where he, Steve, Ken and Ray wanted to have lunch. We found the cafe with no problem and after a few minutes, the guys showed up.

On the aerial view at left, I have marked the T-Rex Cafe, where I took quite a few pictures inside, the LEGO Center, where we wandered around looking and all the LEGO-branded stuff they had, our route from the parking area, and the Fulton Steamboat that houses a seafood restaurant. (We didn't visit it, but you'll see it in a couple of pictures.)

If you look in the lagoon just north of the LEGO Center and just a few feet out into the water, you can just make out a large sea serpent. You can make out the shadows cast by the two arched sections of its body that come up out of the water. the serpent is made entirely of LEGO blocks, and was pretty amazing. You will see it in pictures later, too.

For today's pictures, I'll just divide them into sections- the T-Rex Cafe, the LEGO Center and our departure for Fort Lauderdale.

 

The T-Rex Cafe

We waited just a few minutes outside the T-Rex Cafe before the other four guys showed up.

Outside the T-Rex Cafe
I made a movie of the area outside the T-Rex Cafe as Steve, Mario, Ken and Ray all gathered on our arrival. You can see the lagoon, some of Downtown Disney, and the Cafe itself.

The T-Rex Cafe was, as are all Disney creations, visually impressive from the outside. The entrance was decorated primarily with a life-size man-made copy of the skeleton of an "Argentinosaurus." This dinosaur, named because it was discovered in Argentina, looked something like a brontosaurus. I've taken an image from the web of what scientists think the dinosaur looked like, and you can see that image below:

Before we went into the restaurant, I took some pictures outside. At left is our group (taken by an obliging tourist). I took the rest of the pictures. Have a look at them by clicking on the thumbnail images below:

We didn't have to wait long to get a table; most of the time was just due to the fact that we were a large party of six. We had a good table, right where we could see a lot of the interior of the restaurant which was, I thought, very nicely done as not only a restaurant but an entertainment in and of itself. There were lots of animatronic animals around, and various light and sound shows going off periodically. It was a great place for kids, and certainly interesting for adults as well.

Inside the T-Rex Cafe
After we'd been shown to our table, I made a movie of the area surrounding us inside the T-Rex Cafe. I also included introductions for Steve, Mario, Ken, Ray and Fred at our table.
 
The Meteor Shower
About halfway through our meal, lots of lights started to flash, the animatronic animals became very active, and there were explosion sounds. I found out later it was a simulated meteor shower (not the extinction event, thank goodness). By the time I started filming, much of the action was over.

Animatronic Mammoths
Before we left the restaurant, I took one more movie of some of the animatronics- two young woolly mammoths, in this case. Disney does this stuff amazingly well.

Below are some thumbnail images for some of the pictures I took inside the T-Rex Cafe; click on them to have a look at these pictures:

 

The LEGO Center

When we left the restaurant, we were looking straight out at the lagoon in front of us, where there was another interesting eatery- Fulton's Crab House- that was on an replica paddle-wheel steamer. We turned to our right and walked over towards the LEGO Store. On the way, we passed a McDonald's Restaurant, and I took a picture of the guys out front. (You'll have to look carefully to find Mario.)

The LEGO Store was just that- a store that sold all manner of LEGO construction kits as well as an unlimited supply of individual LEGO pieces. We wandered around looking at the various kits they had, and both Fred and I bought one or two to give as gifts. The really interesting thing, though, were the huge LEGO creations that were both inside and outside the store. One of them was actually in the lagoon. They all looked as if they had been constructed with standard LEGO pieces, but then they were so big that I questioned whether even the store would go to the effort of building them. In any event, they were very colorful and very detailed. If you will click on the thumbnail images at right, you can have a look at these incredible creations.

 

Leaving for Fort Lauderdale

After we spent some time in the store, the other four guys were going to head back into one of the Disney parks (they'd all come down here to do just that), and so we took our leave to continue on down to Fort Lauderdale. When we left them, we passed by the Disney Store and came around by the parking area where we'd left the car. Fred stopped in at one of the shops to buy some candles to use as gifts, and then we headed back to the car. Right at the entrance to Downtown Disney there was a beautiful floral display and water feature, and I used it as a backdrop for a picture of Fred. He returned the favor and took a picture of me as well, and you can have a look at that picture here.

We got back in the car, found our way back to Florida's Turnpike, and drove the remaining four hours to Fort Lauderdale, arriving at the condo in the early evening.

You can return to the trip index or continue with the next section below.


 

The Fort Lauderdale Boat Parade

One of the reasons we've come down here to Florida is to see the annual Winterfest Boat Parade on the New River. Last year, you may recall, they changed the route of the parade to bring it right by Riverview Gardens, and this year the route is the same. So we have a ringside seat if we want it here. I've invited Ron and Jay to come down to my condo for the evening, and I've also asked their former roommate, John Molina, and his partner, Ron Smith, to come over as well. I also asked Jack Fontaine and Dr. Whitley if they'd like to join us, but Brent Whitley was working and Jack had already accepted an invitation from another resident here to watch the parade with them.

We put on a cooperative dinner, with each of us contributing a dish of some kind or other to create a little buffet in the condo. I went down early in the day and staked out a prime viewing spot right by the dock, and I took some lawn chairs down there to reserve it. Early in the day, the weather was just cloudy, as some of the boats that would be in the parade went upriver to the staging area. By by early evening, the weather had turned nasty, as you can see in this view of downtown taken from my front window. In continued to rain right up until the scheduled 6PM start time for the parade. The Winterfest organizers made a decision just before the start time to postpone the parade for an hour, and they spread the word on TV and radio and by word of mouth. It was actually pretty amazing how quickly the word spread from the staging area all the way down the river to the thousands of people along the Intracoastal Waterway part of the route. As luck would have it, the rain stopped about six-fifteen, and by seven o'clock the skies had begun to break up and the rain was over for the evening.

By seven o'clock, all of us were down by the river waiting for the first boats to come downstream. This is probably a good place to insert the two best pictures Fred and I took of our group. You can see the picture Fred took that includes me if you click here, and you can see the picture I took that includes Fred here.

You may already have seen the photo album pages for last year's Boat Parade. If you have, you know that I combined pictures taken by myself, by Fred and by John Evans (our friend from Dallas who was here for the evening) into a group for each of the boat parade entries. I went online to get the names of each entry and a little bit about it. Having already done that once, I don't think I will go to those lengths again this year. What I will do is choose perhaps a single picture and/or movie of each of the more interesting or decorated entries and put them in little groups for you to look at. I am hampered by the fact that this year there does not seem to be an online catalog of all the entries, so I don't have access to all the background information about them. Also, I'm not going to try to include a picture of EVERY entry- just the notable ones.

(Also, there were a few entries that I got pictures of earlier in the day as they were going upriver to the staging area, and where I have one of these pictures I'll include it in the group.) So here are pictures and movies of some of the entries in the Winterfest Boat Parade 2009:

The Advanced Roofing/Solar Technologies Entry

This was the first boat down the river this year, as it was last year. You can see a still picture of it if you click here. As you can see from the still picture, the boat is actually the Jungle Queen, all gussied up. If you are in any doubt of that, just take a look at the picture I took of the entry going upriver earlier in the afternoon here.


 

The Hard Rock Casino
"That's Entertainment"

I recall seeing an entry from the Hard Rock Casino last year; this is one of the charter boats that lives up in the downtown corridor. You can see a still picture of it here. Earlier in the afternoon, when I was watching some of the boats heading upriver to the staging area, I happened to snap a picture of this same boat as it rounded the curve in the river north of Riverview Gardens, and you can have a look at it here.


 

The Seminole Tribe of Florida

It's the Seminole Tribe that has taken advantage of the huge loopholes in the gambling laws to open a casino down in Hollywood, Florida. They joined forces with the Hard Rock Cafe chain that already had a Las Vegas casino to operate it, and that's why there is another Hard Rock Cafe emblem on the side of the boat. You can have a look at a still picture of this entry here.


 

Anthony's Pizza

Anthony's Pizza is located down on State Road 84, just north of Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport. We haven't ever eaten there, but it does have an excellent reputation in the area. Fred took a couple of still shots of this entry, and you can have a look at them here and here.


 

Channel 7 Television

Channel 7 is the local FOX Network affiliate, and the side of this entry is decorated with some of the shows that the network is known for. You can have a look at a still picture of this entry here. This was also one of the boats that I saw going upriver earlier in the day, and you can have a look at it in daylight if you click here.


 

Patron Tequila on "Sea Dream"

Quite a few of the entries in the boat parade are commercial; a company will hire and decorate a boat to advertise its product or service, as Patrol Tequila did when it hired and decorated a large yacht named "Sea Dream." I have no idea how much the whole thing might cost, but they think the advertising is worth it. You can see a picture of the Patron Tequila entry if you click here.

 

A Selection of Some of the Smaller Entries in the Boat Parade

Not every entry in the boat parade is a spectacular yacht dressed up to the nines. There is a category for small, private craft as well. In this category, boat owners will, usually at their own expense, decorate their boats and then enter them in the parade, allowing family and friends to ride aboard and perhaps perform a bit. There were quite a few of these entries, so I've selected only a few of the pictures we took of them. If you will click on the thumbnail images below, you can see some of these entries:


 

Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music

This entry was another one of the private entries, but I've chosen to show it separately because I have two pictures of it. The first one shows it going upriver in the afternoon before the parade, and you can have a look at that picture here. Then there is the picture that Fred took as the boat was coming downriver in the parade after dark; have a look at that picture here.

 

The "Lady Lucille"

The Lady Lucille is one of the many charter cruise boats that are usually docked between our condo and the Performing Arts Center. On any given day, at least three or four of them go out a couple of times for morning, afternoon or dinner cruises.


 

The Clydey Foundation

Founded in 2007, in its first year the South Florida foundation's mobile clinic successfully spayed/neutered nearly 3,000 cats and dogs. Each year thousands of South Florida pets are euthanized because their owners cannot afford critical medical care. Other pets are suffering needlessly because only substandard care is available. The Clydey Foundation believes in educating the public through leadership and action while ultimately promoting the welfare of animals. You can see a picture of its entry going upriver in the daytime here, and you can see the entry participating in the parade here. You can visit their website at www.theclydeyfoundation.org.


 

Some Additional Entries

There were lots of other entries in the parade, but having been to three of these now, it seemed overkill to take picture after picture and movie after movie. But in this entry you can see one more movie with three different entries featured in it. You can also look at some still pictures of a couple of these entries here and here.


 

The Winterfest Boat Parade came to an end around nine in the evening, and our group went back into the condo for some dessert and stuff. After our guests had left, Fred and I decided to take a walk up along the Riverwalk towards Riverfront Center. We'd been seeing some of the boats from the parade going back up the river, and we knew that at least a few of them should be docked along our path. When we got to a point between the 3rd Avenue and Andrews Street bridges, I stopped to take a 360-degree view of the river, some of the boats and the Christmas decorations on some of the condos. You can watch that movie with the player below:

A 360-Degree View Around the
New River along the Riverwalk
in Downtown Fort Lauderdale

 

Before returning to the condo, we walked up to Huizenga Park where the color fountain is to get a look at the official Fort Lauderdale Christmas Tree. Then it was back to the condo and the conclusion of another successful Boat Parade Party.

You can return to the trip index or continue with the next section below.


 

The Dock at Riverview Gardens Dressed Up for Christmas

In this very short section, I want to include some pictures that we took at the dock at Riverview Gardens the evening after the Boat Parade. There were too many people around the night of the parade to get any good pictures. So you can have a look at three of the pictures we took here.

First, you can have a look at the dock and one of the boats tied up there all decorated for Christmas. Then, Fred and I switched off taking pictures of each other at the dock. Here is Fred's picture of me and here is my picture of Fred.

You can return to the trip index or continue with the next section below.


 

A Walk to the Beach and Back

Monday morning dawned bright and sunny and warm, and Fred and I decided to take a walk from the condo to the beach and back. We walked from the condo up to Las Olas and then headed east. We crossed the Las Olas Isles, the long strips of land that extend north and south that were created many years ago to provide the maximum number of building lots that also had access to the Intracoastal Waterway. It is on these isles that some of Fort Lauderdale's nicest homes are located. We stopped for a while at the Las Olas Bridge, watching it opening and closing and taking some pictures of the Intracoastal Waterway basin while we waited. Then we walked over to and along the Fort Lauderdale beachfront. After a while, we turned around and came back the same way. Here's the route:

Along the way, we took a good many pictures, and many of them are worth looking at. So I'll include a selection of them here.

First up, take a look at some of the views down the canals south of Las Olas that separate the Las Olas Isles. Some of Fort Lauderdale's nicest homes are found on these fingers of land, and certainly some of her larger boats can be found docked here as well. (The largest ones are actually docked along the Intracoastal Waterway itself, since they are too large for even these spacious canals.) Click on the individual thumbnails to view the full-sized pictures:

Along the way to the Intracoastal, I let Fred take most of the pictures, but I did get one of him and you can have a look at it here.


Just before you reach the Las Olas bridge over the Intracoastal, there is a little park on the south side of the street that affords good views of the Waterway to the south, some of the sailboats anchored in the little cove, Bahia Mar Marina in the distance on the ocean side of the Intracoastal, the Las Olas Bridge and the surrounding areas. The park is a great place just to sit and relax, and there are a couple of small monuments scattered about. We stopped here to take some pictures, but just as we were going to continue on, the bridge was raised to allow a large boat to pass underneath. During the day, most of the drawbridges open on demand, although at rush hours there is a set schedule. We stayed in the park while the bridge span was raised and lowered, and then we continued walking along Las Olas up and across the bridge.

While we were at the park, Fred took quite a few good pictures, and I've selected some representative ones to include here. If you will click on the thumbnails below, you can view these pictures:



Over at the beach, we found that there weren't all that many people out. Mostly it was because it was a weekday, but it was also not a particularly hot day, which always tends to draw the crowds.

Fred took some good pictures of the beach and the people, and also a few of one of the newer hotel/condominium complexes that has just gone up in the last year or so.

If you will click on the thumbnail images at right, you can have a look at these pictures.


After walking along the beach for a ways, we turned around and started back to the condo. We retraced our path to the intersection of Las Olas Boulevard and A1A, and then turned inland, once again crossing the Las Olas bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway. On our transit across the bridge, I got a good picture of Fred (the one at left). He took some more goodd pictures, this time looking north out over the Waterway. If you want to see some of these, you can look at three of the best of them here, here and here.

As you can see from the aerial view above, each of the Las Olas Isles is basically a street with a row of homes or condominiums on either side and boat docks behind each row of homes. Each street has a small, arched bridge that connects it to Las Olas Boulevard. (On the south side of Las Olas, the arrangement is the same, except that there is no waterway right beside the boulevard; each of the finger isles is connected directly to the causeway over which Las Olas runs.) Fred took an excellent panoramic shot that may make this arrangement clearer; I have put this picture below:

If you'd like to take a look at some more of the pictures that Fred took of the boats and islands north of Las Olas on our way back, just click on the thumbnail images below:

I took a pretty good picture of Fred, I thought, and you can have a look at it here.

You can return to the trip index or continue with the next section below.


 

Jay Silbert's Birthday


Jay Silbert's birthday fell towards the end of our last week, so for a birthday gift, Fred and I took he and Ron to a restaurant out west of Fort Lauderdale in Sawgrass Mills- the Grand Luxe. I believe it is connected in some way with the Cheesecake Factory chain.

Actually, I went ahead and did a bit of online research, and from the web site for Grand Luxe Cafe, I learned that:

The idea for Grand Lux Cafe came to life when The Venetian Resort, Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas asked David Overton, Founder of The Cheesecake Factory Restaurants, to create an upscale casual restaurant concept for their property.

Excited by the proposal and the opulent "Venetian" theme, Mr. Overton traveled to Europe to study Italian trattorias, French bistros, and the grand cafes and pastry shops of Vienna. This culinary tour through Europe, focused on food, architecture, décor and design, provided the inspiration for what the restaurant was destined to become.


We started off with some cards at their house, and then drove out to have a really nice dinner. I think Jay enjoyed it; I know we did. This would be the last time we got together on this trip, for we were leaving on Saturday morning.

You can return to the trip index or continue with the next section below.


 

Our Drive Partway Home

Leaving Fort Lauderdale on Saturday morning, the first day of driving would be pretty routine, and we drove all the way to Lafayette, Louisiana, where we stayed overnight.

I'll end this album page here, for we made a stop on the way home that deserves its own page. Use the links at the top or bottom of this page to go with us as we visit Justin Normand and Gary Cathey in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

You can return to today's index or use the links below to continue to the album page for different day.


December 20, 2009: A Visit to Natchitoches, LA
December 1-4, 2009: A Visit to Ruckman Haus
Return to Index for 2009