The Best of Florida
Bob and Terry celebrate a special day in 2011


The trip was designed around one specific purpose… moving Ellen and Richard to their new home. And on that end… mission accomplished. Congratulations to both of you, and best wishes. (We will be down soon for a visit.)

30-plus hours on the road to get there didn’t stop a vacation from happening though… neither did the arrival of a POD… nor did some shopping needs… and as a result, we have some thoughts to share.

It certainly was a trip… it was great… and now it’s the traditional “Best of…” column at the Backpack…

What were your favorite things that we did on this trip?

Oh… ok… how about something like a free association game?

Wii bowling… consignment-like stores… catching up on some reading, including American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson (great book, very entertaining)… and… and… and… ok. Something a bit more specific may be in order.

One answer is the Magic Kingdom. Terry and I went over on the Thursday of this trip and had a great time. In addition to really enjoying the day, we also celebrated. Fourteen years ago… and we were off by only one day… we were officially engaged at the Magic Kingdom. (Happened on a ride that no longer exists… the Skyway, which we rode from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland. The park was celebrating its 25th anniversary that year.)

Another good answer would be the Bonefish Grill. We had never been in one of these restaurants before, and all of us were incredibly impressed with our meals… from appetizer to entrée, beverages to service. (Ellen and Richard have gone back since, and tried several different dishes. They continue to be impressed by the place.)

The big thing to understand is that we really weren’t looking for too much adventure on this trip. We spent one afternoon picking up a new mattress for the guest bedroom. Another day involved hunting down some oranges. Several trips were made to different stores for all sorts of home-related items, including keys, a router for the computer/internet, and even a framed print bought for the living room. (I think it was for the living room. It is very nice.)

And I hope you’re getting the idea that a fairly good amount of time was spent kicking back, unpacking, and learning about their new neighborhood. It wasn’t roller coasters and restaurants we’ve always hoped to visit. One of the most exciting (and important) efforts of the week involved determining the best Publix brand ice cream flavors.

So… Magic Kingdom and Bonefish, both awesome… not exactly a tremendous amount of competition for either of them.

(Oh… yeah… you’re probably wondering. I vote for the Chocolate Moose Tracks. I’m a fan of chocolate ice cream to begin with, and their version uses peanut butter cups. (I’m not going to try and tell you what should be in a traditional Moose Tracks or versions of it… I’m mentioning it because I have seen it with caramel cups.) I liked it. But I was dying to try Bear Claw. And Ellen and Terry would vote for regular Moose Tracks. Richard… who doesn’t get a vote… wanted vanilla. I know. Vanilla. There are some times we give him the car keys and send him out on his own because we don’t want to be seen next to him. Vanilla. That’s just crazy talk.)

Best place to eat (overall)…

A tip of the cap to the Bonefish Grill for this one.

We had a simply fantastic meal here. And… as I mentioned, Ellen and Richard have already returned (for one visit it was to celebrate Richard’s new job). It’s solidly in place as a must-do for our next visit.

Best place to eat (inexpensive)…

You think I’m going to tell you about Five Guys here. I’m not. Though it was very good, and we went twice.

Instead… how about a hand for Sammy’s Pizza in Ocala? (Since they don’t seem to have a web site, all I can do with Sammy’s is point you to route 200… Highway 200 to be more specific.)

Ellen and Richard found it when they went down on one of the trips that involved searching for and buying a new home, and in turn brought Terry and I to it on this trip. And it is… pending an explanation, and the understanding that we’ve been there once (Ellen and Richard at least three times as I finish this up)… perfect.

It’s small and has a really nice local flavor to it. We didn’t speak to a ton of people, but had a really good time goofing around with the waitress. You got the feeling that this was a place that didn’t survive by being on a busy road… instead it did well because it had a dedicated set of regulars.

Ellen reports that they have been having all sorts of troubles finding eggplant lately. In the hopes of satisfying a craving, they went to one place that had been recommended to them and it was awful. Sammy’s came through though… serving up a good eggplant meals for them.

Time (and other visits) will tell if this where-the-locals-go impression is true. For now… happy to recommend them.

Biggest surprise…

I’m going to say the lights of Charlotte, North Carolina.

One of the problems with the drive down was the timing. States I had never seen before were, pretty much without exception, set up to be part of the overnight segment. I feel pretty darn comfortable saying that I still haven’t seen the places I had never seen before.

But there it was… in the middle of the night… Charlotte.

What an absolutely gorgeous city. We never left the highway and didn’t slow down as we passed. But that was one of the prettiest nighttime skylines I have ever seen.

Ok. Florida. You clicked on this because I promised a theme centered on Florida. Hmm… I’m going to say an antique-consignment-something-or-other store we stopped at.

There’s kind of a story that goes along with this one.

One of the unusual aspects of this trip involved the entire reason for it… moving Ellen and Richard to a new home. That meant two funny things: (1) Almost every day had a set of unplanned plans. In other words, we had nothing set up to actually do on most days… and yet deliveries, cable/internet, shopping for items and other assorted tidbits were taking place, and some on a schedule. (2) A learning curve based off of necessity and general conversation was taking place… maybe this store had a chair for that desk… that looks like a department store, but the name is one none of us are familiar with, let’s stop and see what they sell… there’s a book I wanted to pick up… we could use a bottle of wine for dinner tonight… and any of a number of other boring and everyday passing thoughts and ideas and stops. Essentially, we were looking in plazas and at billboards and along the side of the road. We were spotting small local sandwich shops, national chain restaurants, and fresh fruit for sale. And that was just while we were out and about.

We found Pawn Stars and actually watched a couple of episodes. Which of course led to the debate about some of the trash we had all tossed over the years, and whether or not we needed to make a trip to Vegas with some of our junk… and why Ellen and Richard hadn’t caught the show before they moved.

Anyway… end result… we spotted a couple of shops. Consignment-like arrangements… some antiques… some stuff just interesting and for sale. And we had a good time going through them.

Combine seeing Pawn Stars and American Pickers with seeing these stores and the aimless wandering around a house, and in general we all found ourselves thinking about different things.

You know, I never really thought about this before, so I found it interesting when…

Disney doesn’t print many picture books these days.

We have a relative that loves those coffee table books… lots of pictures, maybe some interesting historical tidbits, you know the kind.

His birthday was shortly after our return and we hadn’t found a gift yet. Easy enough… we’re heading to Disney World, we’ll find one of their history-laden hardcover editions or something with some great photography and get it for him. Perfect.

Only… not so perfect.

One of the cashiers knew exactly what kind of book we were looking for and said that they hadn’t put any of them out in quite some time.

If I could recommend that they had to do this, regardless of expense, I would recommend…

Magic Kingdom.

The greatest tourist destination ever built… the top theme park at Disney World… and from this trip a very easy recommendation.

Person/people that impressed me the most…

Did I mention that I asked Terry to marry me at Disney World? Well… we bought a brick to celebrate that event… part of Disney’s Walk Around the World program. Thing was… in the past, I’ve always written down the brick number so we could find it on our own at the transportation center. Forgot to do that this time.

When we entered the Magic Kingdom, I made a quick stop at City Hall. I asked one of the representatives there if they knew where I could find out about it. He told me if I could wait a short time, he would make some calls and find the location for me. When I told him I could stop back later, he told me it would be waiting on my return and exactly what to say to make it easy for the person I spoke with to find it. Within ten seconds of getting there later that day, a form was in my hand with the general location highlighted on a map and the brick number included too. (I wish I had written his name down… because he was fantastic.)

So this one goes out to the Disney World Cast Members… all of them in general, those at the Magic Kingdom in particular, and to those at City Hall especially.

Event that impressed me the most…

I admit it… I’m a huge sap when it comes to these things… the evening parade and fireworks get me every time. I absolutely love them.

So… the Main Street Electrical Parade and the Wishes fireworks.

Thing I’m really glad we included…

Seeing our brick is, without a moment’s hesitation, an answer to this question. Stopping at the entry of the Transportation and Ticket Center to head over and find it is always a great thrill, and has been on visits for more than a decade.

I was also happy with several of the things we did with Ellen and Richard… Sammy’s and Bonefish are two examples I’ve already shared. I can definitely tell you that Terry and I are dying to get down there to visit them again, do some exploring near their home, and share some of the great things they’re finding without us.

Thing I wish we had done, and suggestions from this experience …

Snow White’s Scary Adventures.

It’s likely to be gone the next time we visit the Magic Kingdom… in part because of a new Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs attraction being built nearby.

It brings to mind how many things have changed over the years. My first trip to Disney World was in 1979. Check out this list of rides…

Mission to Mars
If You had Wings
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

All gone.

That’s a general list going back more than thirty years. Since 1997… the first trip with Terry, Jay and Justin… the Tiki Room has been changed… Jack Sparrow has joined Adventureland… and the Skyway has left the property. The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter opened a year or two before the 1997 visit… and then closed to be remodeled to the less frightening attraction with Stitch.

The Timekeeper came and went… Lion King too.

There is no way we could have gone on each and every ride on this visit. And… that wasn’t our intention. But if there is something you’d like to see in the park… then by all means see it. Because while things don’t rush into change at Disney World, things are always moving along.

Sure, this will be set up as a best of column, but you should always warn people about the bad, so here is something I think we need to mention…

Unless you want to hear the story of the wireless router… which in this kind of a column, you don’t… there wasn’t much of anything bad on this trip except that it ended.

We did the things we had intended to do… added some things, like the Magic Kingdom, that we kind of thought we might do but really weren’t sure… and we never had amazing amount of open time that should have been used for something other than what we did with it.

It was a great trip with no real frustrations or problems.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at