Sunday, April 04, 2010

Globe Trotter - Orlando

Florida had been on my travel map for quite some time now. It was one of the last major tourist hotspots I had not covered in the US. So, when I was asked to travel to Orlando for a series of business meetings, I grabbed the chance with both hands.

The meetings were scheduled from Wednesday to Friday. I decided to stay over the weekend as well to satisfy my tourism bug. Out of the plethora of tourist options available, I picked the Kennedy Space Center and Sea World as my destinations.

Having had a keen interest in astronomy from childhood, and followed space programs of various countries for years, a chance to visit NASA was like an offer for a kid to a candy shop. Cape Canaveral is 50 miles from Orlando. I found a tourist shuttle to take me there early in the morning. We reached Cape Canaveral at 9 AM. First stop was the Astronaut’s Hall of Fame. This place is a museum of sorts, with memorabilia from scores of space missions on display; space suits, rocket capsules, command consoles, moon rock specimens and so on. A key attraction was the 4G ride that simulates gravitational pulls of up to 4G that jet pilots experience in flight.

Next stop was the Visitor Center Complex. A full size replica of the shuttle Endeavor that had been used for training astronauts in the past was the 1st thing I checked out. Next was the Shuttle Launch Experience that simulated what astronauts go through during launches of actual shuttle missions. Though the simulation was quite realistic, I felt it lacked the “extreme thrill” that I was used to in some other thrill simulations. Perhaps it was due to the fact that a lot of children take part in the ride as well, and they don’t want it to be too tough for them to handle.

After a hot dog for lunch, the next stop was the NASA bus tour, that took me to International Space Station Center, LC 39 Observation Gantry, and the Apollo/Saturn V Center. The sheer size of the moon rocket (imagine such a huge structure brimming with high octane explosives at the time of launch), and the numerous mini labs within the International Space Center (ISS) exhibit were the key highlights of the tour. One of the key objectives of the ISS is to perform experiments in Zero gravity that might help us make new inventions and discoveries that we have not been able to on earth. On out way, we also passed the famous NASA Shuttle Assembly facility that appears in most media clips, the area from where VIPs see Shuttle launches, Shuttle launch pads and the specially designed carrier that taxies Shuttles from the assembly building to the launch pads.

Back at the visitor center, I scurried to watch one of the 2 IMAX movies on show, “Magnificent Desolation”, narrated by Tom Hanks. Though I missed the other IMAX movie, “International Space Center” due to schedule conflict, I did manage to attend an Astronaut Encounter Session with John Fabian, who spoke about how photographs of earth taken from space help in various scientific endeavors. I rounded off a great day at NASA by checking out a few model rockets and cockpits in the Rocket Garden. By 5.30 PM, I was on my way back to Orlando.

The only dampener was the fact that I did not have any friends along with me. So, taking pictures of myself was a problem :-). But I was fortunate to find a Brit lady and a Brazilian guy to tag along during the NASA tour, and we agreed to be photographers for each other.

The other must see scientific destination on my travel map is CERN, Switzerland. Hope that I would get a chance to go there some day. (A friend of mine, Hemant, has been there).

Next day was meant for Sea World. I had heard great things about it, and was specially looking forward to the experience. Since I had an evening flight to catch and hence needed to leave the park by 4 PM, I carefully noted down the timings of all attractions I wanted to catch, and charted out a critical path to cover them all. Here, being alone turned out to my advantage. I did not have to get slowed down by others in my group and miss some attractions, as had happened to me in the past. I took the Journey to Atlantis,


Sky Tower

and Wide Arctic (helicopter simulation) rides, 

but chickened out of Kraken. 

Amongst the animal exhibits, the opportunity to see some precious aquatic and polar animals like dolphins, penguins, sea lions, whales, polar bears, sharks, walruses and manatees from close corners was a fabulous experience. But the chief attractions of a day at Sea World are undoubtedly the various shows on offer.

Blue Horizon (Dolphin show),

Allure of the Ocean at Nautilus Theater,

Clyde and Seamore Pirate Island (Sea Lion Show)

were all fantastic.

But the centerpiece was Believe – The “Shamu” Killer Whale Show, that had 6 tonne killer whales jumping upto 6 feet in the air and performing various other tricks along with their trainers.

Thus, I rounded off my extremely enjoyable visit to Orlando, checking off one more destination on my travel map.

Side note:- Days after my visit, a Killer Whale attacked and killed one of the trainers. My condolences to the family and friends of the deceased.

1 comment:

shoOOonya said...

not diseased buddy

its deceased !!