Bucket List Check | 40. Pet a Penguin

To celebrate the beginning of my second trimester, we marched over to the Aquarium to play with some penguins. We wandered around the maze of tanks before our VIP penguin experience. As you can see, the Aquarium itself was also a bucket list check so I didn’t snap many photos of the glorious sea life amidst the walls of water.

When it was finally time for our experience with the birds in tuxedos, I was ecstatic! You never really know what to expect when you approach an animal you normally don’t see often in your environment. You don’t think about the senses associated with a new animal or concept. For example, what it feels like is always my first go-to for new exposures!

When we first approached the large blue doors that would lead us to our birds, we were given the rundown of what we can and cannot do. The Aquarium is a highly accredited sanctuary for its animals. They love their marine life and it clearly shows. In fact, the extra money needed for the penguin exhibit goes straight back to them.

Upon hearing our rules from our biologist, we entered the cold room that smelled heavily of fish. To be fair, we received a warning before we entered the room but I was still afraid considering my strong pregnant nostrils. Thankfully it wasn’t all that bad. Instead, it was a lovely surprise of penguins lined up in their area waiting for us. Anyone who knows me knows that I love these flipping, marching birds! They hopped, waddled, ruffled their feathers, and stood there waiting to be picked up like small dogs! It was seriously the cutest sight seeing them wait their turn!

Out of the ten penguins they had in the room, only two of them came out to interact with us. We were introduced to all ten by name but we only officially met Cliff and Shelly. Cliff made his grand entrance by trying to climb into a girl’s long skirt. It was truly delightful to watch. She walked around letting us personally pet Cliff and to my surprise, they are really soft! They aren’t rubbery like one would assume. Then he sat down while half had a photo and snuggle op with Cliff while the other half watched Shelly swim around in her kiddie pool. She bobbed around and went from feeling soft to like a wet dog.

After we all switched, we watched the penguins waddle around the room and charge at us to receive petting. I sat down with Cliff again and pet him until he started to fall asleep. When he woke up from nuzzling into my side, he started pecking at a string on my shorts. They’re pretty handy with their beaks. A couple of them tried to take my cell phone through the gate and one of the free-roaming ones tried to take someone’s cell phone sitting on a bag. We heard stories about how they enjoy climbing into big purses and whatnot. Penguins truly are wondrous animals.

It was pretty cool learning about them in a scientific setting too. We learned so much from the biologist! This is definitely something I would 100% recommend.

Continue Reading

Bucket list check | 44. Milk a cow | 62. See Brooksville sunflowers

I’m back! 🙂
There will be a special message to a few of you guys within the week.

Let’s just say we went farm-hopping throughout central Florida. It was the perfectly sunny springtime day to do so.

Our first stop was at Sweetfields Farm in Brooksville, Florida. I have been trying to get to this farm for quite some time because all I kept hearing about were the beautiful sunflowers. We spent an hour tracking and backtracking through fields of bright, golden flowers.

 

It was so hot but honestly I didn’t care because I couldn’t stop gazing in awe at the beauty of tiny bursts of sunshine throughout the journey. Mind you, the sunflower is my favorite, so imagine the smile I kept on my face throughout the entire maze. Once we left the maze, we meandered around the farm, looking at all the animals. We saw chicken run funny, a tiny fluffy chicken squeeze out of the smallest hole in its pen, and watched small pigs run in a race with little curly-q tails wagging all about.

Our second stop was at Green Meadows Farm in Kissimmee, Florida. Here is where we spent more time with the animals. When we got there, we boarded a train that goes around the property. It was really nice and the kids around us were having a blast. So we were though. We basically ended up at a large petting farm and it was amazing. We even milked a cow! We were able to pet goats and sheep in the pen with them, feed them afterward, and we even held baby chicks and ducks! I was honestly way too excited. I was even excited when I tried forcing my shoes and hair out of the goat’s mouth. It was hilarious watching this goat chow down on my hair and literally try to swallow it all because I bent down to pet it.

Continue Reading

Bucket list check | 36. Ride in a Horse-Drawn Carriage

I don’t think we could have picked a more perfect Wednesday afternoon to take a Cinderella carriage through the city. I always dreamed about taking a ride on one of these downtown carriages ever since I met this beautiful horse posted by the Moon Under Water restaurant. The sun was setting, there was a feathery breeze passing by, and we even had our pup with us. The staff was friendly but also dedicated to making the experience special and giving us privacy. There was no bombardment in sight. It was just us three enjoying the breeze and the beautiful views of downtown St. Petersburg, Florida.

Our horse was a gorgeous Clydesdale by the name of Henry. He was gigantic and very friendly at the age of 12-years old! These horses are very well taken care of and you can tell. They respond well and they keep their cool even when people get close to take pictures or when dogs bark at their large, majestic beauty. They followed the rules of the road very well.

We took a ride down past a beautiful park by the water called Vinoy Park. We gazed at lovely houses, adorable bed and breakfasts, and even a dog park! Every dog in the dog park jumped out of their owners’ laps to bark a little closer at the horse. It delighted me especially because our own feisty dog was actually in the carriage not barking. Charlie kept his cool and didn’t bark at the horse, not even once, even though he pepped up and whined a little when we passed by onlookers.

It was a very romantic ride. We chose the Cinderella carriage so we saw many little girls pointing with open gasping mouths holding their mom’s hands on the sidelines. You have a choice when it comes to which carriage you’d like to take a ride in.

We had thirty minutes of clip-clopping through the cobblestone streets under rose petals. They were fake of course but still. The point is that it was cute. He also had to speed up at certain points when we went through intersections. It was pretty entertaining to say the least.

At the end of the journey, we posed up close to Henry. I was wondering how Charlie and the horse would react. One of his hooves was bigger than Charlie so there was no telling what each one thought of the other. Until this big horse face turned and started sniffing my little dog’s head. That was something else. I couldn’t stop laughing because Charlie was freaking out and about to jump off of my shoulder.

Continue Reading

Bucket list check | 27. See tigers at the Big Cat Rescue

GOPR0903

Tigers are my spirit animal so wouldn’t it make sense to visit the world’s largest accredited sanctuary for exotic cats? Growing up, we were a “cat family” thus turning me into one who could have been a crazy cat lady if my husband and I never got married that cold December day.

 

What I like about this place is that they rescue the big cats and end the misuse of large cats elsewhere. They have saved many illegal pets and kitties from fur farms. We saw tigers of course but we also wandered around bobcats, servals, lions, leopards, caracals, cougars, and even one adorable domestic kitten. Just as it was explained to us, these cats basically did cat-like things. They climbed and they slept just like any house cat would do during the day; the only difference is their majestic size.

 

I actually just looked up some information and apparently they’ve been rescuing beautiful cats since 1992, exactly one month before I was born. That’s awesome.

GOPR0907

The tour was self-explanatory. We walked around with a group and a guide learning about the cats, their backstories, what the organization does, and even some background on the people who started it all. Basically, a woman went to take a smaller cat and stumbled upon a place where many were being bred for fur coats. She was appalled by what she saw so she bought fifty or more cats and thus the Big Cat Rescue was born.

 

You can tell the people really care about their tigers unlike a few other places we’ve been to see tigers. They have plenty of space to play in, their habitats were clean, and the cats seemed like they were fine. Even the serval with an attitude who kept hissing. This organization is a non-profit organization so it was a nice change not to feel like they were only after our money and trying to exploit the cats. I’ve been to some questionable places. Each place has its ups and downs but overall the experience was good.

GOPR0919

I felt like crying, actually teared up twice. I know the tour consists of telling about the stories they’ve gone through and that there are certain laws that needed to be changed, however the sad stories simply made me feel badly with no way to help. I wanted it to be more positive and happy. People are so cruel to animals and it makes me so sad that there aren’t many left in the wild.

Continue Reading

Bucket list check | 30. Swim with Manatees

What is the best course of action for one with a four-day cold, with practically no voice and a sore throat/runny nose combo to do?

Why, plummet into seventy-two degree spring water on a very cold and windy day of course!

Although my husband keeps calling me “Tara Reid”, the experience was worth so much more and a thousand words (that I cannot voice).

I am way too excited to sit down and actually type a thousand words though but here goes nothing.

Other than Disney, beaches, and sunshine, the first thing you think of when you hear Florida is manatees! Manatees are possibly described in two ways. A) Mermaids in disguise or b) the most loving, gentle giant sea cows in all the land. One of my favorite aspects about the state we live in are the springs. Usually when the sun is shining, the water is the perfect temperature and absolutely crystal clear. This adventure landed us in Crystal Springs, FL, the home of the only legal place you can interact with the manatees in such a way. Since manatees are endangered creatures, there are guidelines you have to follow in order to participate. This is definitely a bucket list escapade and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Since these are wild creatures and Florida’s weather is extremely sporadic, you never really know what to expect. The only thing you can go by is the colder it is, the more manatees you will see. We decided to go in January for this reason and this reason only. To add to that, the earlier the better because there are fewer people interacting with them, thus the reason we had to wake up at three-thirty in the morning to make a two-hour drive for a six-fifteen appointment.

It was drizzling the way there so we already knew the weather would be less than desirable. We had less sunshine and the wind was blowing awfully. Once we arrived, we found out by the captains that the docks were underwater but we were still heading out. Our tour guide, Donovan, didn’t know if we were actually going to see manatees because of how weird the conditions were. He was very hopeful for us anyway though. He said the tides were higher than normal for January and that it was very strange. One plus was that the group on our boat had only four people, including us.

Thank God we were in wet suits because it would have been a brutal experience. The wet suits definitely ease the shock of frigid water as you plunge from the side of the boat. We threw on some snorkeling kits and off we went into the cold springs. I was starting to feel discouraged because I already felt like we wouldn’t see any, but then when they started pointing them out, I missed all of them!

wpid-img_2015012459407.jpg wpid-img_2015012454158.jpg

That is until we hit the jackpot and found where they were all migrating to and from near where the spring was fed. You could see manatees sleeping at the bottom of the river and it was delightful in itself. Then they started moving around twenty or so minutes later. They were gracefully floating past us within arm’s reach so we were able to rub them and give them many pets on their large, grey, muddy backs. They were so adorable, especially when they rolled over for you.

In all, there were probably about twenty manatees floating in and out. Most had baby calves tightly knit to their sides and it was the most precious sight you could see from that close.

IMG_4010 (Copy)
He snuck up on me.

At one point, one was coming up as I was floating by and came right up to my face. I was inches away from this creature and it was the most amazing experience. This actually happened twice and I almost got smooched by a sea cow.

Hubbs was swimming and a manatee was swimming up, almost raised him in the water, but he had to move quickly. He got out of its way before he ended up being rolled to the surface with it. He even heard some of the babies squeaking communicating with the mama manatees.

As we were swimming back to the boat in conclusion, a few were coming our way. In order to get my husband out of direct passage, I had to move but it’s kind of hard to do so when you’re in a “dead man’s float” position and cannot kick your feet. He pushed me out of the way and I couldn’t help but laughing. I want to make a point that laughing while snorkeling underwater is not necessarily possible and will make you laugh choke until you can’t breathe. One had to dive under further to go underneath me and it was surreal. I was nervous at first because they are just so big that close up. But just that it was there, swimming directly beneath me, just blew my mind.

It wasn’t the only thing blowing though. Manatees like to come to the surface and pop their adorable noses on the surface for air. I heard a blowing, raspberry noise in the distance and saw that there was a lone manatee blowing water and air out its nose. I found this so comical because there was no one around and there was just random bubbles being blown in a playful way.

IMG_4026 (Copy)
Hubbs’ pictures always come out better.

Also, these kind giants are vegetarians. Since the water levels were so high, people who lived out there had grounds underwater. The water level was up by a few feet and there were no differentiating features from the sea wall and the water. Because of this, there was a manatee just casually chomping on the neighbor’s grass, made possible because of the tides. It was adorable, although I didn’t spend much time watching it eat. I was too focused on petting its rough back.

We froze on the boat way back. The water was tolerable until you got out and had to deal with the wind. Upon arriving at the docks, a heated van greeted us and transported us back to the shop where they offered complimentary hot chocolate to warm us up. We got lucky because they offered us a CD pack for free, typically valued at $24.95, because of the weather.

It didn’t spoil much really and in fact, we still had a blast. I will never forget the time I came face to face with a manatee because he was seeking me out.

I guess besides getting pulled over on the way home (only a warning thank God) and finding out that I lost all the pictures I took on my waterproof camera, it was a pretty wonderful experience. When I found out that the photos I were trying to develop “didn’t come out because the camera malfunctioned”, I was pretty devastated. Precious memories that I will never even see. I’m sure some of them were great, too. After I stopped crying, I finally decided just to chalk it up to bad luck. I really need a GoPro or an action camera that is waterproof and reliable. Adding insult to injury would be the rudest woman at the photo counter at Walgreens and an even ruder customer who decided it would be nice to butt in to something none of his concern. I’ve never told anyone to mind their own business before but this guy was ridiculous; no stranger has ever made me that angry before.

Continue Reading

Bucket List Check | Horse Back Riding

The general forecast for this weekend was “ruin the plans you drove three hours out of your way to do” and “wow, black skies”. We actually assumed the weather would not hold and that we were going to have to cut our trip short. It wasn’t the prettiest but the weather still held out until we were done with our over two hour trek through Florida scrub on horseback.

We learned how to canter and we saw oranges growing in the wild. (Duh, it is Florida after all.) It was still a nice site to see nonetheless and our trail guide dismounted and picked a few for us and her horse. It was so delightful. I also learned a fun fact. Horses love moss! Who would’ve known? She said we could pick a little and give it to her to eat. My favorite part about the horses were that they would get distracted and eat random plants and moss. It was adorable and I found it a bit too humorous.

We were sprinkled on just a tiny bit but it was well worth the crappy weather. That was the theme of the weekend anyway. We had some open space but it was mostly just trails with Florida scrub and palmettos on either side. C’s horse’s name was Tank and I can’t quite remember my horse’s name.

Continue Reading