Homosassa Springs State Park Florida

It was about time for my family to get out of the house for some fresh air.  Being cooped up inside was starting to make everyone a little squirrely.  But instead of heading back to one of the theme parks, we had decided to visit another Florida State Park.  This trip we headed back over towards the Gulf to check out Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

This place kind of took me by surprise as I was thinking it would just be another State Park with nature trails we could explore, but it was so much more than that.

When we first arrived we were greeted by a huge Manatee out front of the visitor center.  Parking was free which was nice.

Inside the visitor center was a little museum with some old photographs and plenty of history about the State Park.

I feel like I’ve seen this Manatee before but wearing a different shirt?  I’ll have to look into this more at some time, or maybe I just need more sleep.

Just outside the restrooms was the first penny press machine I found and had information that there was another one somewhere.

The pennies from this first machine had images of a couple Manatees, an Alligator, a Wolf, and a Florida panther.

After we had enjoyed the visitor center we headed out back to where the Boats and Trams were located to take us further into the Park.

We lucked out and one of the tour boats was about to leave so we jumped on board and had a wonderful little adventure.  The ride took maybe 15 minutes down the river and the tour guide gave us plenty of details about the river and made sure to point out some local wildlife like turtles, cranes, and even a couple gators along the riverbank.

After the board tour docked at the far end of the river we exited near another parking lot along Fishbowl Drive.  We saw people crossing the street towards another building that lead the way towards the Wildlife Walk.

Inside was a little gift shop to one side, and a food counter on the right side called the Wildside Cafe.  We stopped for a light snack and some drinks to cool off.

Just past the Wildside Cafe was the second pressed penny machine, thankfully this time not near the restrooms.

The pennies at this machine rolled a bit short, but most of the designs came through.  The set included images of a Pather, a Manatee, an Eagle, and a Bear.  Hopefully, we wouldn’t be running into any bears or Panthers on this nature walk.

After I used the penny machine there was a desk towards the opposite side of the building where you paid a small admission price to explore the Wildlife Walk.

I was amazed that even at this time of year we were able to see a couple Manatees in the wild.  These really are amazing creatures and I never get tired of seeing them in the wild.

They definitely were proud of their Manatee residents at the park.  It was interesting to read all the information boards they had in this area with details about them.

Now it was time to explore the Wildlife Walk.  It was a nice raised wooden Boardwalk type path that wound through the park.

It was nice a wide so everyone had plenty of space and you could take your time without feeling like you were holding anyone up.

Of course, we are in Florida so there has to be the standard Alligator exhibit with some of the biggest gators I’ve ever seen up close.  Thankfully they looked well fed and were just enjoying the sunny afternoon.

This was not a zoo, so there weren’t any exotic animals on this walk but instead, it was promoting Florida local wildlife.  I found this kind of refreshing as it seemed to fit better in the state park.

Eventually, we made the entire tour around the Wildlife Walk and found ourselves back at the Tram / Boat station.  This time we opted to try the Tram which was just a trailer with seats attached to the back of a pickup truck.  It was a quick drive along the river but no tour guide this time around.  The tram was more all business just getting you back to the visitor center as quickly as possible.  But cutting its way through the tall trees and green surroundings was still a nice way to end our day.

We had a fantastic day and really enjoyed just being outside.  Florida State Parks are really becoming our favorite way to spend some quality family time together, get some exercise and of course, find a few pressed pennies every now and then.

Pressed Penny Minted Date Comparison

In past posts, I’ve gone over how Pressed Penny Collectors usually prefer to use what are known as Pre-1982 pennies.  This is due to the larger percentage of copper used in those older coins.  Starting in 1982 the United States Mint changed the metals in the penny to 97.5% zinc with only a 2.5% copper coating.

A common complaint among collectors is that when using these new pennies that thin copper coating can stretch and tear while being elongated to reveal streaks of the zinc core.

Years ago after learning more about this from fellow collectors I quickly changed over to pre-1982 pennies and of course had to go back and replace quite a few pennies in my collection.  Recently I was working on a video for Youtube and decided that I wanted to do a massive comparison between pennies with different minted dates.

First I had to figure out which pressed penny machine to use.  I wanted the design to be fairly simple but also needed to ensure that the machine (hopefully) would be around for years to come.  This is because I’m hoping to continue with this in future years to keep the comparison up to date.  Also due to many of the theme parks around Orlando being closed this did limit what machines I would have access to.  After going through my options I decided on a machine in Disney Springs at the Pin Trading store.

The design I chose was of Classic Mickey Mouse.  I don’t see Disney retiring this machine or design any time soon.  Mickey is here to stay for a long time.  Hopefully, I didn’t just jinx things.

A few weeks before my visit I had placed numerous orders with many coin merchants to get as many Brilliant Uncirculated pennies starting with 1950 all the way through 2020.  I had each penny stored in a separate little baggie with the date printed on the outside so that after I pressed each of them I would know which was which.  I think the Cast Members in the store thought I had lost my mind as I pressed the exact same design 71 times.  But they seemed happy just to have guests back in the store, and I actually kind of enjoyed being able to press some pennies again after being cooped up in our house for the last couple of months.

1950 1981 1982 2000 2020

Above is just a sampling of the pennies I pressed for this comparison.  You can click on the images to get a larger image for more detail.  At a glance, they don’t actually look too different.  But when you zoom in is where you start to see some differences.

 

The image above on the Left is a 60x zoom of the 1950 penny, and the image on the Right is the 1988 penny.  That 1988 penny clearly shows those stretch and tear marks on the right side along the dot border.

However, this is not a hard and fast rule.  Above I zoomed in on the 2020 penny and there are none of those tear marks.  The penny machines for the most part have been calibrated to try and press with pressure and die configuration that hopefully will work for a wide range of pennies to try and ensure the final product is as good as can be.  For the most part, I do find the pre-1982 pennies work the best and are what I’m sticking with for now as long as I am able to obtain them.

If you would like to check out the full comparison of all pennies from 1950 to the Present year just scroll up to the top of this page and click on “Penny Comparison” from the menu just under the main banner.  Enjoy and keep on smashing!!

SeaWorld Orlando New Penny Booklet

On June 11th SeaWorld Orlando reopened after being closed for an extended period of time due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  When I heard about the reopening date I wanted to go over and check on their new processes and of course, see how those precious pressed penny machines were doing.

Shortly after I got into the park I noticed that many of the penny machines were missing.  It then became apparent after I eventually did come across one of the machines that SeaWorld was converting their machines over to pre-loaded penny versions that cost $1.  We’ve reviewed this change with Disney Parks and now it seems like SeaWorld is the next park to make the conversion.  Prior to the park closure, they had a total of 25 pressed penny machines, but on my first visit back only 10 were available.  Stay tuned as I’ll be going back in a few weeks to check on the rest of the machines when they come back so we can review those new machines.

But all was not lost on this trip.  In one of the gift shops I wandered into just to see the special reopening merch, I actually came across a new pressed penny booklet.

Since I don’t use these booklets for my own collection I often forget to look for them at different attractions or parks.  However, I do still purchase them as a separate collection and have way too many of these in large totes I keep in my office.  This one just ended up catching my eye as I walked by the display and after referring to my booklet collection I confirmed it was at least new to me.  I don’t know exactly how “new” this is, but it can’t be much more than a year old at the most since the last Seaworld booklet I purchased was in 2018.

The booklet also had a nice pressed penny design on the front cover.  It is similar to other designs throughout the park but is unique for the booklet.

Even though I don’t store pennies in these booklets I still couldn’t resist picking this up and added it to my collection.  I will be interested to come back in a few weeks and hope all the machines eventually return.  In the Disney parks, none of the designs were changed after their conversion but I’m hoping that SeaWorld decides to release some new designs.  They haven’t really had anything new in quite a while, and I’m also kind of surprised they never released one of the larger 8-design touch screen machines somewhere.  But I’ll be sure to check back and share whatever changes take place.

Universal Orlando Theme Parks Reopening Preview

It’s been a few months since the last time we walked through the Universal Orlando Theme Parks, but that has all started to change.  On June 5th, 2020 the Universal Parks was reopening with some new procedures and guidelines.  However, I was able to get a preview the day before to check out the parks and see if anything has changed.  Plus I wanted to visit all the pressed penny machines.

For this preview, I had to go online about a week before and try to secure a reservation and then had to choose a specific entry time into the parks.  I believe this was their way of trying to spread out the guest entry so everyone wasn’t there all at once.  My entry time was 10am, and once I had parked by in the garage around 9:00am there was no wait to have my temperature checked, and little to no line through the security checkpoint.  Before I knew it I was back in CityWalk and decided to visit Islands of Adventure first.

Unfortunately, the weather throughout the day was pretty crappy.  It rained most of the day, and the humidity was pretty high.  But being back in the park I wasn’t going to let mother nature ruin my adventure.

First up I do want to say that I was able to visit almost all of the pressed penny machines in both parks.  There were a couple that was in areas no open on this day.  I’m not going to review all the machines here since most of them have not changed and you can check out my previous post on the parks here if you are interested.

Crowd levels were pretty light on this day so I used the opportunity to hop on some attractions I don’t always get to experience.  One of my favorites is the Adventures of Spider-Man ride and I literally walked right on with no wait in the queue.  There was a team member at the end of the queue dispensing hand sanitizer to everyone before you get into the ride vehicle.  I was the only guest in the vehicle and had a nice private experience through the ride.  Afterward, I exited into the gift shop and the two penny machines are still here.

I passed through the rest of Superhero Island and then into Toon Lagoon.  Nothing much going on here.  Most of the machines were still available, but the Betty Boop store was not open for some reason so that machine could not be accessed.

Did I mention low crowds?  As you can see from the above picture there were some areas with absolutely no one around.

The Jurassic Park area was a little busier.  The River Adventure attraction was open, but with the rain, I didn’t feel the need to get even more soaked on that ride so I just passed through.

There were a few new additions since my last visit, like the new entrance to the Raptor Encounter which I thought looked like it was right out of the movies.

Also down near the lagoon in the middle of the park was lots of track for the new Raptor Coaster coming later this year…maybe?!?

Over in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was were most of the crowd seemed to be, but this was also far from normal levels.

 I had plenty of room to walk around and really was able to enjoy this area of the park.  Even the Butterbeer carts had small lines.

Nearby in the Lost Continent, they had a nice section called a U-Rest Area.  Each park has 2 of these areas for guests to use.  It allows you somewhere to go and remove your mask for a bit of a breather.  You can sit anywhere you like in the area as long as you are socially distancing from other guests.

The last section of this park was Seuss Landing which I always really enjoy.  Probably from my childhood filled with reading all those famous books.

This area was almost completely deserted as I headed through.  Very few people here, and seemed like most were just passing through as they headed back towards the  Harry Potter area.

On my way out of Islands of Adventure, I did stop through the Trading Company and all the pressed penny machines were unchanged but still available for use.

I cut through CityWalk over to Universal Studios and they had a float vehicle out front for some unique photo ops.

Hollywood Boulevard was really empty.  I think back to this area during Halloween Horror Nights and the comparison is just night and day.

I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to ride the E.T. Adventure attraction.  The posted wait time was 20 minutes which is not too bad.  However, the line extended well out into this courtyard due to everyone standing 6 feet apart.  My wait time was closer to 30 minutes in total but had a great ride on this classic attraction.

Springfield from The Simpsons was a little busier.  It did seem that the Duff Brewery bar was quite a happening place.  I guess people were really having withdrawal of Duff beer and needed a refresher.

Over in Diagon Alley, the crowds were noticeably lighter.  This area would normally be packed shoulder to shoulder with people taking pictures and waiting for the Gringotts Dragon to breathe fire.

The longest line back here was for Butterbeer which of course is a necessity when visiting the parks.  I couldn’t turn one down so I hopped in line and waited about 10 minutes for my frothy drink.

Just outside King’s Cross Station was a nice homage to the Jaws attraction which was removed and replaced with Diagon Alley.  Which is a nice segway…

I usually try to check in with Bruce the Shark when I’m in this area.  I still wish they would make him move periodically as that would be fun to watch unsuspecting guests get a little too close.

In past posts, I’ve reviewed the Pressed Penny machine that is near Bruce the Shark.  I’ve even shown how it made a guest appearance in the movie Sharknado 3.  The machine has been untouched for quite a while, but on this visit, I noticed that two of the designs had changed.

Do you notice the two new designs on the marquee pictured above?

If you are a Hello Kitty fan you may notice one right away.  In the Hello Kitty store in the park, I’ve seen this design on some t-shirts and posters, and each time I’ve got to work on my willpower to not buy it.  But it’s so darn cute.  Thankfully now I have a cool pressed penny with the image instead and it only cost me 50 cents.  The second design is also a fun one with Amity Island Jaws listed on it.

In my review of the CityWalk reopening, I mentioned that none of the machines had hand sanitizer dispensers nearby.  But worry not, Universal has you covered if you need by selling little bottles for $3.  I picked one up just to make sure I always had some available and promptly used it after finishing up with the penny machine.

At this time of day all of a sudden the skies opened up and the rain really made itself known.  I got stuck under the cover at Mel’s Drive-In which I then used as an opportunity to get some lunch.  Unfortunately due to the limited capacity inside I had to wait about 45 minutes for a table which then required you to use their Mobile App to place my order which was eventually brought out to my table.

Eventually, the rain held off for a little while so I could try and make my way back towards the entrance/exit of the park.

Before heading out I did stop in at the Universal Studio Store and confirmed all the penny machines were still here.  I quickly cut through the store and headed out the exit, through CityWalk and to my car just before more rain decided to come down.  Well, that’s Florida for you!

Let me go over a few things after this trip.  I did notice the above Stickers were on almost all of the pressed penny machines throughout both parks.  It reviews the Treatment that is being used in the parks and even the machine vendor had a sticker about Health & Saftey precautions.  I was glad to see these show-up and at least acknowledge that the penny machines are high use items that need to be cleaned frequently.

Unlike my visit to CityWalk a couple weeks prior, on this day I did notice on numerous accounts Team Members cleaning the penny machines.  They did not do this after each person used them, but I was happy to see that they were being cleaned at all.  In the past on all my visits to the parks, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a machine being cleaned so this is definitely a plus.  I’m happy with how my visit went and the low crowds were a definite perk.  How long this will go on for I just don’t know but I think Universal has done a great job so far and just hope they continue to keep it up.

Disneyland Pressed Tokens Experiment – Flashback 2013

Every few years the conversation starts up about whether the U.S. will finally remove the penny.  I’m sure you have all heard the rumors and they seem to be picking up again.  The reason for this always comes down to cost, and it’s really quite amazing when you find out that back in 2018 the cost to mint a 1 cent penny was about 2.06 cents.  It costs more than double face value.  Canada for one removed their penny back in 2012 and many other countries have also removed their lowest denomination coins due to similar costs.  But for some reason, the U.S. is still holding on to its penny at least for now.

Of course, this does bring a bit of concern to pressed penny collectors.  What would we do without pennies available to squish at our favorite Theme Park or roadside attraction?  This is something I’m sure the vendors have already been thinking about.  Places like Tokyo Disneyland use Planchets or coin blanks and they result in pretty nice final designs.  Plenty of penny presses in the U.S. have started to switch over where the machine supplies the penny.  Currently, they are still using pennies, but I could see this easily being converted over to coin blanks instead.

While I was thinking about this recently I remembered back in 2013 that Disneyland out in California had tried something for a short period of time.

Inside the park at Tomorrowland was the Starcade near Space Mountain.

This was kind of like a gift shop mashed up with a classic arcade.

The arcade games required a special token, and these tokens cost $0.25 each.  Their physical size was slightly larger than a quarter as you can see from the comparison above.

   
Photo Credit: Parkpennies.com

Starting in May 2013 three of the penny machines were converted to press these Starcade Tokens instead.  The cost to use these machines was 3 tokens, 2 were the cost to use the machine, and the 3rd was the one to be elongated.  Costing you $0.75 per pressed token.

The first set was from Tron and included the Light Runner, Flynn, and a Light Cycle.

The second set was themed for the Space Mountain attraction.

The last set was from the Animated movie Wreck-It Ralph.

Above is just a quick comparison of the tokens again the same designs pressed on pennies.  You can see that with the larger size of the tokens there was more room for the design and they pressed pretty nicely.  Unfortunately, this change only lasted for a few months and was eventually removed in August 2013 due to refurbishment of the Starcade and just never returned.  It’s too bad as I actually kind of liked this option and thought it was a nice alternative to using pennies, plus the Tokens were already available here for the arcade.  Now the issue would be if all machines in the park were converted to press tokens then you would either have to install more token change machines throughout the park.  Otherwise all pressed coin collectors would have to head over to the arcade first and load up on tokens before exploring the rest of the park.

Will this option return?  I guess only time will tell.  It didn’t last long and I haven’t seen any other places try this same option so I kind of think it’s not going to come back.  My assumption is that we will see more pre-loaded machines released and eventually if the U.S. penny does go the way of the Dodo bird then we will more than likely just see coin blanks instead.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed that we can get copper blanks but that may be asking too much!

ESPN Club – Disney’s Boardwalk

Years ago when I had been visited Walt Disney World on vacations we always spent most of our time obviously in theme parks.  Whether we were going on rides, eating snacks, or big meals, and especially when penny pressing we were more often than not in those parks.  After we moved down to Florida I was able to try and explore more of WDW property since we didn’t need to spend all of our time in the parks anymore.  Some of these trips had us find some hidden gems like the Sebastien’s Restaurant over at Caribbean Beach Resort or the secret dinner menu over at the All-Star Movie Resort.  But one place had ended up being my go-to spot when I just want a bit of Disney pixie dust without heading into a park, and that ended up being the Disney Boardwalk.

The Boardwalk wraps around about half of Crescent Lake just outside of Epcot.  Directly across from the Boardwalk is the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, the Swan & Dolphin Resorts are also just a quick walk away.  Then right on the Boardwalk is the Inn  (Resort) that you can stay at during your visit and is a beautiful place is you don’t mind the creepy clown slide by the pool.

Along the Boardwalk are some carnival-style games where you can win prizes, along with plenty of restaurants, bars, and live entertainment at night.  I have visited most of the restaurants and shops along here, but one that I had never experienced was the ESPN Club.  This place can get very during televised sporting events.  Finally it was time to go and see what this club was all about, so I made sure we went shortly after it opened on a Saturday to try and avoid the crowds later on.

They do list the upcoming games on the marquee out front so you can keep an eye out for your favorite team.  But as you will see inside there are plenty of TVs to cover any game you may be looking for.

This is not some secret club and you don’t need to sign up for anything ahead of time.  This is open to the public just like any other restaurant or bar.

As you walk inside past the check-in stand the main bar is straight ahead.  Notice all those TV screens around the bar, that’s just the tip of the ice burg.

The sports memorabilia is also in full force here and amazing to see their collection.

This was the main dining room that was set up like a basketball court which was neat, and lots more autographed items all around the walls.

They had items from all different teams among the major sports like Baseball, Football, Hockey, and Basketball.

The autographed jerseys are all nicely framed and I’m pretty sure that no matter who your favorite player is they probably have his jersey.  The amount of stuff in here is amazing.

This wall had some Hockey jerseys of some players I remember from when I was younger.  I especially liked the Chiefs one in the middle of the famous Hanson Brothers from the Paul Newman movie Slap Shot.

 

I had wondered around to see all the memorabilia while I waited for my lunch which did arrive pretty quickly (a perk of going early).  For an appetizer I tried their House Made Chili which was okay nothing I would go out of my way for.  Then as my main entree I had the Reuben sandwich.  It was fine but again nothing extraordinary and I wouldn’t rush back for it.  They did have a big menu so I would definitely come back again to try something else.

Once my lunch was done I skipped dessert and paid my bill.  This way I was able to spend a little more time checking out the decorations.  In the little hallway that connects the main entrance to the larger dining room I was seated as is where the pressed penny machine was located.

This is also part of the waiting area for guests in the restaurant.  There were a few seats along the sidewall and I would anticipate this area gets pretty crowded if all you are looking to do is use the penny press.  Pro-tip: go early!

Here is a picture of the marquee on the machine with the designs for each available penny.

My original set of pressed pennies from here were in pretty bad shape and I had used crumby pennies.  So I used this as an excuse to get a fresh new set.  The images are of Mickey playing Football, Donald playing Basketball, and Daisy playing Softball.

Overall I had a fun time here and as much as I make it sound like I want to avoid crowds, I think this would be a great place to watch an important playoff game or even the College Basketball tournament.  Having all the screens with different games, and plenty of beer on tap plus I’m sure the crowds inside would just add to the atmosphere.  I may have to try this out sometime in the future.  The food is fine and I did enjoy what I got but would be interested in trying something different next time like some Buffalo wings…mmm wings.

The pressed pennies hadn’t changed in the years since I last stopped in, and it would be nice to see some updated designs at some point.  I do like the ESPN Club logo on each design which made a unique touch to this set.  After I left the restaurant I enjoyed the rest of my morning just taking in the sights along the Boardwalk which really is a great place to visit when you need a little break from the parks.  Keep on Rollin’!!

Universal’s Citywalk Reopens during Covid-19

It’s been about two months since we last visited a Theme Park.  The self-quarantine we have been experiencing has gone as well as can be expected, but we do miss our weekend excursions to the parks.  Recently Florida did start Phase 1 of it’s reopening allowing certain restaurants and merchants to open.  Then a surprise announcement was made from Universal Studios that they were going to have a limited opening for Citywalk starting on May 14th.  I was a bit anxious to go and check it out but decided to wait a few days just for them to try and iron out the process before I ventured over there.  This past Saturday I strapped on my mask and headed over to see how they had everything set up and to check on the pressed penny machines.

Currently, Citywalk is only opened from 4pm to 10pm and I headed out around 4 to try and avoid that initial rush of guests entering.  This was probably the only time I was able to go north on I-4 without any traffic and made it to Universal in record time.  Once I got off the highway and towards the parking plaza I noticed that only a few of the lanes were open but no Team Members were there due to Universal stating that parking would be free during this limited opening.

Once inside the parking garage, Team Members were helping to guide you where to park.  Every second parking spot was blocked by a traffic cone to make sure everyone was keeping to the required social distancing guidelines.

There were plenty of signs making sure everyone was aware that the Theme Parks were still closed and only Citywalk was available.

They also had lots of signs around displaying the requirements to enter Citywalk which included having a facial covering on at all times (except when eating or drinking).

Before leaving the parking garage we had to enter a queue for a required temperature screening.  Any guests with a temperature of 100.4 degrees F or higher were not allowed to enter.  It was a simple process, you just waited on the social distancing markers on the group until your turn to be screened and then a Security Team member had a non-invasive temperature scanner that they aimed at your forehead for a few seconds and then allowed you to pass if your temperature was okay.

After that, we were allowed to head down to the Parking Hub for the security screening.  Before I jumped into that line I wanted to visit the pressed penny machines in this area.  This first set of two machines were in the same location with no changes.

The second set of machines in the Hub is just outside the restrooms in between the souvenir stand and express food stand.  No changes to these machines either.

Security was similar to the process before the initial closure.  They have the x-ray machines that will scan your bags and possessions while you walk through a metal detector.  The only difference was the number of Team Members around trying to ensure everyone was keeping 6ft between parties.  After security, I headed down the last part of the walkway towards Citywalk but opted not to use the moving sidewalks as I was sure my hands would automatically try to touch the handrails which I wanted to avoid.

As I walked up to this main entrance area of Citywalk it was immediately apparent that the crowds were very light.  Universal was limiting the overall capacity to Citywalk and later on, during my visit, there were more people around but was still way less than usual.

Just outside the Movie Theater was the next penny machine.  No changes were made to the machine itself or the designs.

Across from the Movie Theater is the Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant and was one of the few places open to eat inside.  Due to the restaurants having to keep capacity of around 25% that doesn’t allow for many guests to be eating at once.  I had read later on that wait times to get a table exceeded 2 hours.

To visit the pressed penny machine inside the restaurant I was asked to enter through their gift shop which had a separate entrance.  There were no changes to this machine.

I continued walking through Citywalk and you can see the sparse crowd above and people were pretty good at keeping themselves distance from each other.

Nearby was the Universal Store and I was interested to see how the distancing would work inside.  There was a queue set up outside in anticipation of the crowds that would try to get inside.  Since this is a smaller store they did need to pulse people inside.

The pressed penny machine was just inside the doors and was the only machine with a hand sanitizer nearby.  Although to be honest I assume this was not solely for the penny machine for all guests exiting the store.

Everyone was doing a good job with following the rules and all seemed to be keeping their masks on.  I only witness one guest with their mask dangling from one ear and not covering his face but he was quickly approved by Security and asked to put it back on properly.

It was nice to have plenty of space around you as everyone kept their distance.  I headed down towards Margaritaville to see how things were going there.

This restaurant had decided to keep the indoor area closed, and were only seating guests at their outdoor patio or across the walkway at the Lone Palm bar.

I headed inside the gift shop just for a quick visit to check on the 8-design touch screen penny machine and it was still available for use.

Toothsome Chocolate Factory was open for business, but the Hard Rock Cafe was not. Due to this, the crowd levels on that side of the waterway was pretty quiet.

It was nice to see that Universal kept the bridges open towards the theme parks for us gluttons that wanted just a quick glimpse of the parks.  Plus I guess it was needed to access the Toothsome restaurant.  But I just couldn’t help myself and wanted a closer look at the parks.

You could walk right up to the main entrance areas for the Islands of Adventure.  I also noticed that the ground was covered with the social distancing stickers.  At least this area of the park looks like it’s ready for business but I’m sure they still have a lot of work to do inside before they will open again.

It was a beautiful day when I visited but it was obvious that our situations had changed and that visiting these places would be very different moving forward.

Down towards Universal Studios, it was a good time to try and get your picture with the Globe.  Usually, this is a heavy traffic area, and getting a nice photo can be a bit of a challenge but not on this day.

Here was the main entrance arch for Universal Studios.  Again this is another area that is usually crowded with people.  But seeing it with no one around and even catching a glimpse inside the park was a little disheartening.

By this time I was getting a little hungry but didn’t want to wait a long time for a table at one of the restaurants.  Instead, I was hit with a craving for a Voodoo donut and thought it would help take the edge off until I got back home.

Plenty more distancing markers were in the queue for Voodoo.  This line as with most of them I sure, seemed long but moved pretty quickly.

The line did go from the front of the building, pass the NBC Grill, and then back into the hallway near the back exit to the Movie Theater and restrooms.  This is where the next two pressed penny machines were found.  Previously these machines were on the opposite wall, but now that the Voodoo Donut line was set up along that wall they had to move the machines.

Once inside you waited in another small queue before heading to the cashier to place your donut order and pay.  They did prefer you paid with a touchless method like a credit card or ApplePay, but I did see them accepting cash from a few people.

Here was my box of donuts.  Unfortunately, they were not all for me, but I did get quite a selection to bring home to my family.

To the right of the Voodoo Donut shop is a series of ramps and stairs that take you up to the second level food court.  None of these tables were blocked off to encourage the distancing and I suppose they were just leaving it up to the guests to stay at a safe distance if eating up here.

I did grab a table for just a few minutes so I could eat my donut.  In the short period I was up here I don’t believe I saw another person so it’s a pretty deserted area even though a few of the food locations here were open.  This is also where the last penny machine was located, hidden in the back near the Sushi stand.

After my donut was finished I walked across the bridge and down past all the clubs and bars.  None of these were open, and due to the limited operating hours of Citywalk (4pm – 10pm) they are all not currently open at all but I’m sure that will change with as we work our way through the additional Phase openings in the next few weeks.

My overall impression after my visit was optimistic.  I think this was a good starting point, but they do have a ways to go before the parks will open.  On a few occasions, I did find myself defaulting back to my Theme Park ways and not realizing I was inadvertently walking too close to someone, or when browsing in the gift shop there was just so little room in there it was hard to keep a proper distance from other guests. The biggest thing I was surprised with was the actual penny machines.  I would have assumed that hand sanitizer would have been attached to each machine or located right nearby so you could clean your hands before and after using the machine.  But this wasn’t the case.  I did ask a Team Member about the penny machines and was told that they were being cleaned on a more frequent schedule.  However, I was at Citywalk this day for about 2-3 hours and didn’t see a single machine get cleaned.  I have sent an inquiry to Universal about this and am awaiting a response which I’ll post if I hear back from them.  Other than that I took this as a nice sign that things are slowly starting to reopen and can’t wait for the day we can visit the parks again, but only if I feel they will be safe enough to enjoy.  With Citywalk opening in this limited capacity for a while, I’m hoping that Universal will continue to tweak their process and have no doubt they will do everything they can to keep their guests safe.

Updated 05/21/2020: Below is the response to the inquiry I had sent Universal’s Guest Services about their process of keeping the Pressed Penny Machines safe to use.


Hello David,

Thank you for contacting Universal Orlando Resort. I apologize for the delay in response, as we are working diligently to assist every Guest reaching out to us.

We do indeed still have penny press machines. Currently, there is one (1) located in our hub security check area prior to entering CityWalk. While I cannot confirm this surface is wiped down after every single touch, it is wiped down with increased frequency by our Park Services team stationed in the area. There are also hand sanitizer stations located within the area and a restroom to wash hands a few feet away. I hope this has answered your questions. If you have any additional questions or concerns, feel free to reach back out. We look forward to seeing you and your family.

Best Regards,
Guest Communication
Universal Orlando Resort

Disney Springs / WDW Resort Machines Converting to $1 per Penny Design

The below was all documented prior to the closing of the theme parks.  With the recent announcement that Disney Springs will have a limited reopening on May 20th only time will tell if the machines are still available or if using them will change due to new health concerns.  When I feel it’s safe to revisit I’ll go back and post an update.  Enjoy!
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With all the Disney Theme parks changed over the conversion finally made it’s way to Disney Springs and the Disney Resorts.  This did seem to be a much longer transition for some reason, but I was keeping a close eye on them and was able to document the last few machines before all the park closures.

Let’s start this tour over at Disney Springs which is really one of my favorite places to visit on property.  Mostly because I love food and there are so many great restaurants there, but they do also have plenty of penny machines.

I parked my car in the Orange Parking garage since it’s closest to the Westside of Disney Springs near the AMC Movie Theater.  Not too far from the parking garage is the Food Truck Pavilion where the first machine was located.

 

I usually mention this at some point in each of the conversion blogs but wanted to make sure I didn’t forget to mention that all these machines were converted to $1 per design.  The machine supplies a shiny zinc penny, however, the designs have not changed and are the same as they were before the change.

Next, I headed towards the Town Center area which is where you can find Planet Hollywood, the Coca-cola Store, Guy Fieri’s Chicken Guy, and one of my favorites Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill.

 

In between the Coke store and Wolfgang Puck is the Fire House Restrooms and a Pressed Penny Machine is just outside.

I had a bit of a walk to the next machine which is outside the big World of Disney store at the Marketplace Stage.

 

Not much changed with the machine other than maybe a fresh coat of paint, and new signage for how to use the machine and the updated payment system.

Continuing through Disney Springs I miraculously passed by the Ghiradelli’s store without buying any ice cream, pass the Dockside Margarita stand, and instead over to the Once Upon a Toy store.  Wow, I have very interesting priorities!

 

This was a machine I thought would need more work to have converted just due to its different shape and design.  But the vendor somehow figured out a way to do it while keeping the overall look of the machine pretty similar.

After leaving the toy store I cut through the Pin Trader store, and then through the Star Wars Trading Post.  It does surprise me this store doesn’t have a penny machine, but exiting out this store I could see the next machine up against the outside wall of Goofy’s Candy Co near a Winnie the Pooh photo spot.

 

These machines do accept cash and credit cards or digital payments like Apple Pay.  Please note that if you are only looking to press one coin the only option is to use cash.  If you opt for a credit card or Apple Pay you are automatically charged $4 and get the entire set.  This does cause confusion for some people and I’ve seen them leave after only pressing one penny and I always call them back to try and help ensure they get their full set.

Right around the corner is the main entrance for Goofy’s Candy Co.  I try to avoid this place whenever possible as it’s just too tempting when you walk inside.

 

But on this trip, I needed to face my candy enemy and head inside to check on the penny machine and maybe buy a piece of Cookies and Cream fudge..or maybe two pieces I can’t help myself.

That finishes up all the machines at Disney Springs, but next, I wanted to check out the machines at the Resorts.  Thankfully there are only two 4-design machines on property.  Since my car was all the way on the other side of Disney Springs I decided to grab a Bus over to the first resort.

My first stop was at the Port Orleans French Quarter resort.  This is one of my favorite resorts.  My wife and I spent a week here years ago and really enjoyed the resort plus we made sure to pick up beignets each day after visiting the parks so we had a snack in our room.  I’m sure housekeeping wasn’t happy with the excessive amount of powdered sugar we managed to get all over the floor.

 

Inside the main Lobby of the Resort just outside the Scat Cat’s Club near the restrooms is the penny machine I was looking for.  Since my two pieces of fudge at Disney Springs didn’t satisfy my sweet tooth I headed to the food court and picked up an order of beignets for the road.  I waited for the Resort bus to Epcot to arrive and enjoyed my snack on the bus.

Once at Epcot, I cut through the park and over to the International Gateway where I headed towards the Boardwalk Inn.

 

During the day the Boardwalk by the water doesn’t have a lot of entertainment going on, but this is a fun place to be after the sun sets.  There are buskers doing all sorts of shows for passersby.  The penny machine is located near the dock where you get the Friendship boats back to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, or a couple of the other resorts along the waterway.

That was the last 4-design machine on property and they have now all been converted to $1 pre-loaded machines.  This was a fun day trip, but I always enjoy checking out the penny machines and just enjoying the resorts and parks. Will they decide to change the 3-design electronic machines I truly don’t know but kind of think it may be inevitable.  It will be very interesting to see what happens with all the machines once the parks open up again after this longer than anticipated closure.

Stay safe and Happy Collecting!

2020 Disneyland COVID Shutdown Pressed Coin Set

In another attempt to put a little smile on everyone’s face I’m going to share a new set of pennies I received.  Unfortunately, it does surround a touchy subject and maybe even more sensitive to Disney fans is the Disneyland shutdown currently going on.

This set was engraved by Don Cade and I think he did a great job.  The set included the design pressed on a Penny, Nickel and Quarter.  These were not available in any pressed penny machine, but instead available to fellow pressed coin collectors and a few sets made it on eBay.  I’m not sure they are currently still available there but it never hurts to double-check.

Here is a bit of a closer look at the pressed nickel.  I thought this would make for an interesting way to remember this unique situation we have found ourselves in.

Be sure to wash your hands, try not to touch your face, and just try to stay safe!

May the Fourth 2020

It’s Star Wars Day!

That’s right there is even a day for Star Wars.  In years past there were usually special events at stores all across the country with toys or collectibles released on this day.  This year, however, is a bit different with most of us still having Social Distancing and Stay at Home requirements still in effect.  I have seen the online Disney Store was having some issues earlier today with the enormous amount of shoppers trying to collect the special release items and I’m sure they are all sold out by now.  But I did manage to place an order not too long ago for a unique item and as luck would have it, the package arrived just a short while ago.

The folks over at The Penny Depot put this design together and have it available on their website for purchase.  I follow them on Instagram and as soon as they posted the picture I headed over there to buy one for my collection.  It’s a fun design and I do wish it had the year on it just to help me remember this was during the dreaded 2020 quarantine.  But regardless it’s a great addition to my collection.

Stay safe and remember May the fourth be with you!