Orlando… an observation
The Group of Six on vacation in 2010


Orlando seems to have a problem with peanut butter.

I never figured it out while I was there.

I haven’t figured it out since I’ve been home.

But the message delivered by three different stores was exactly the same… there’s something up with the peanut butter in Orlando.

And… to be fair… I may need to start again. Diving right into peanut butter isn’t the perfect entry point for an article making observations about a trip to Orlando. Needs some background.

For anyone that has experienced the thrills, joys and challenges of traveling, there are certain moments that stand out more than others. Much like anything involving planning and participating, there might be crying and laughing, tension and relief, and a whole bunch of little elements surrounding a great big production.

It may be the scenery that knocks you over. The beauty of a national park… a drive along the coast… seeing a moose, kangaroo or condor in the wild.

Perhaps it’s the food that sweeps you away. Learning what salsa is like when served fresh and not from a vacuum-sealed glass jar… tasting wine at the vineyard that produced it… reading a menu with seasonal and regional items that you would never encounter at home.

And it could certainly be something touristy and packaged, but overflowing with thrills. A world-class theme park with state-of-the-art attractions… a monument, lighthouse, or home-of-so-and-so filled with history… a show along the Vegas Strip.

I will never forget the beauty of Yosemite. I hope one day to visit the park again. But beyond the dazzling beauty and settings of park itself were little moments, such as watching Mike try to leave the car and offer a bear a piece of pizza. And I will never forget the fun and surprise of seeing the raccoons near the Golden Gate Bridge during the same trip. From years ago I still recall watching Richard get stuck on Doctor Doom’s Fearfall at Islands of Adventure.

The point being… there are moments in life that each of us experience that stand out. And when it comes to hitting the road, they can be vivid parts of the memories, the elements that create perceptions, and the pieces that make my travels unique from yours… even when we are talking about the same places.

This trip to Orlando wasn’t like any other I have ever planned or experienced. It wasn’t based around Disney World… though we made it one of the Disney Parks, and over to one at Universal Studios. It wasn’t based upon eating out… though we shared some great meals at amazing restaurants. And…

As I look at my notes… recall the events… create articles… and decide what stories to share…

I keep remembering the peanut butter dilemma.

Hey… the more things change, the more they stay the same. Irlo W. Bronson Highway? East side and west, divided by Disney, still effectively present mirror images of the road to you. Stores and restaurants may have closed, but others remain… amidst the markers engraved in time of discounted tickets that make you wonder why anyone would pay full price, waffle houses, gift shops and mermaids and wizards and giraffes. (Oh my.)

We arrived on a Friday, settled in to our home for the week, and developed a quick shopping list. We had decided that alot of our eating would be home-based (breakfasts for certain, and also preparing a picnic or two and some home-cooked dinners). We needed some bottled water… the amazing cooler for the car… and a few other essentials.

As we roamed the store, we ended up with bread and bagels in the cart, and partially listening to half-overheard discussions of plans for this day and that, for some amazing reason I found myself craving peanut butter. I think it was a combination of three things: (1) I had been making fun of Ellen for not buying Skippy a week or two earlier. (If a representative of Skippy would like to contact me, please just use the e-mail address provided. Thanks. And remember… if you’re not eating Skippy, you’re not eating the best peanut butter.) (2) They were buying tuna fish. And… yeah… yuck. So I needed some sort of option for whenever that lunch came around. (3) The bagels in the cart and the lunch thoughts kind of came crashing together to suggest something other than cream cheese.

On that first shopping effort, and time and again after… at multiple stores… and not just searching for the great name of Skippy… I was hit by the same frustrations.

I’d find the right aisle, and then need a few seconds to focus. The labels all have a tendency to run together in the stores these days, getting lost in a sea of the same attention grabbing colors and misdirection. Hands of previous shoppers had picked up some items and then returned them to different spots, mixing the inventory to even greater extremes.

There was chunky… original in gargantuan tubs… reduced fat… organic stir in the oil brands… and heck… as most of you peanut butter shoppers know… I could buy my peanut butter with some jelly in the same jar.

But a simple jar of original or creamy or whatever the name might be in a size that seemed reasonable for a week (or at least only slightly excessive)… not a chance.

And I don’t understand.

Look… when you travel, and we all know this… you will not always be able to find your favorite brands. And you will undoubtedly encounter items that you won’t find again once you return home. (For years I’ve hoped to find the soft drink Lift in the United States. Nope. That lemon beverage is calling me back to Australia.)

That’s not what we’re talking about here though. This was about not finding a basic peanut butter.

In three different stores… and these were different store names, not just differing locations… pretty much no regular peanut butter.

I have to be honest now... I’m rambling a bit about peanut butter… and that isn’t really what this whole essay is about. Yes, that is where it started. It’s simply not where we’re going.

Orlando is sensory overload to an extreme. It’s fireworks every night, fine dining and fast food, with virtually everything from two million different coffee mugs for sale to five thousand options for a quick breakfast on the way to a theme park.

For some reason though, it would seem Orlando doesn’t do normal very well.

Terry, Ellen, Richard, and I remembered getting drenched about ten years ago while on the water rides at Islands of Adventure. So, we decided to try and buy some cheap flip-flops. That way we could grab a locker in the park, toss our stuff in there, and keep our sneakers dry while walking around for a half-hour or so in the flip-flops.

After visiting several different stores, with row upon row of sculptures made from shells and pictures of alligators pulling down the bottom of a bikini, we finally found ourselves in the shoe section of Target. And there… before us for the men… was one style of flip-flop, in no color but brown.

I mean… really?

If there is any place on the planet where the possibilities of a day with water are beyond filled with options, from the call of heading to the beach to spending the day at the pool, is more common or realistic than Orlando, Florida, my guess is it has yet to be discovered.

And yet… no flip-flops.

Forty billion pairs of sunglasses.

In five billion different colors.

With and without the face of animated royalty.

No flip-flops.

(Amusing side note… Mike was so less than enthusiastic about his flip-flops that he decided the rides couldn’t possibly be that bad, that I had to be exaggerating about the attraction design cheating by dumping a waterfall on you while seated in the ride vehicle, and he wore his sneakers. He spent days… yes, plural, days… trying to dry them.)

So if you’re heading to Orlando, be prepared to have a fantastic time… be prepared to spend some money… and be prepared for more options of different kinds of fun than you might possibly be able to imagine.

But if there’s some basic essential that you need… some item from home that you really want to have by your side… understand that your best bet is to listen to those two words… be prepared.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com