Hontoon Island State Park – DeLand, FL

Recently I was doing some research for places to find pressed pennies.  Don’t worry we have plenty of places to visit.  But I wanted to take a bit of a break from the theme parks and thought some unique locations around Florida might be a nice change.  Something jumped out at me as I noticed a large number of State Parks have pressed pennies.  So I created a new to-do list and figured we would start checking them out.  Just this past weekend my youngest daughter tagged along as we visited our first park.

We drove north to Hontoon Island State Park which took us on quite a drive on some back roads and through a residential neighborhood before we finally found it.

The parking lot is a bit strange as it’s just located between a couple houses, and the property wasn’t very big.

Then it dawned on me that this was actually just the parking lot, you actually needed to find a way over to the Island.  For some reason when I saw Hontoon ISLAND State Park, I didn’t realize it was actually on an island.

They do offer a free ferry that will take you over to the island, but please note the ferry is not very large and can only hold about 6 people at a time.  Also, the ferry stops running at a specific time each afternoon.  Make sure you don’t miss that last ferry or you may need to try and convince a nearby fisherman to take you back across in their boat.  The last ferry time is posted near the Ranger Station on the island, so take note.

Once we were on the island it has plenty of picnic tables, a large playground for the kids, and quite a few barbeques available should you want to make some lunch.

My daughter just loved the large open areas so she could run around and the playground had plenty of kids to play with.  There was a birthday party going on under a covered patio area which I guess you would book at the ranger station if interested.

There were a few benches located along the waterfront which made for a nice place to just sit and enjoy the view.  I’m not sure if Manatees frequent this area during the winter months but this does seem like the perfect place for them.

Back near where the ferry drops you off on the island is the Ranger Station and a few other inside areas.

At the far end, opposite from the Ranger Station is the Visitor Center.

Inside is a small museum with lots of information about the Island and the State Park which is really interesting.  My daughter was not so intrigued and started asking for some ice cream.

To try and find her some ice cream we headed next door to the Island Store.

This was a cute little general store with a decent selection of items you may need while visiting the island.  They had charcoal for the barbeques, or snacks like chips and candy, plus plenty of cold drinks.  Thankfully they also had a cooler in the corner with plenty of ice cream bars.

Near the ice cream cooler and drink fridge was the penny press machine tucked away in the opposite corner.

The machine was on wheels which were interesting but I’m sure it’s just so they can more easily move it around the store as they change things around.  The wheels were locked firmly so when I used the machine it didn’t move around and was easily to use.

The penny designs included a Snake, a Bear, an Alligator, and the Owl Totem which is located in the park.

Quick side note, here is a picture of the Owl Totem from out in the park.

After we pressed our pennies we headed up to the cash register to pay for our ice cream and I noticed in the glass case they had some pressed penny books and extra pressed pennies from the machine.

We went back over near the playground to enjoy our ice cream.  My daughter then continued to play on the playground for while until the birthday party (we were not invited to) started to dispurse.  I figured that was a good time to try and ensure we get back to the main land before the ferry stops running.  This was definitely a unique state park to visit and we had a lot of fun.  The pressed pennies are a great memento I have of this great afternoon we had and can’t wait to check out our next state park.

Discovery Cove – Orlando, FL

My wife was having a special milestone birthday this year and I wanted to try and find something special to do for her.  She likes the theme parks but doesn’t want to be the center of attention so doing something big at one of the parks just wasn’t going to work.  Instead, I focused on something maybe a little more laid back, relaxing but hopefully still special all at the same time.  Then something came to me that I thought might be the perfect solution.

I remember hearing about Discovery Cove years ago when I was visiting with friends and one of them was a big dolphin fan.  She was going to University to be a Marine Biologist and dolphins were going to be her specialty.  Discovery Cove is operated by SeaWorld and is basically known for allowing you the opportunity to swim with dolphins.  Way back when with my friends this place was next to impossible to get a reservation for as they needed to be booked years in advance.  Now however the property has expanded and there are more guest spots available each day.  It can book up quickly but with a little pre-planning, I was able to book our day.

Since our two daughters are still on the younger side I decided to have their grandparents keep them entertained that day.  This way we could really take our time to explore this new place and make a judgment call for future visits with the girls.  Check-in available pretty early in the morning, so we headed over around 8am.

Inside the check-in area, there was lots of dolphin art all over the place.  They had plenty of staff helping you to check in.  Part of the process was getting your day scheduled for you.  Your standard admission cost will give you access to the lazy river, bird aviary, pools, snorkeling pool, and the food and drinks.  Then they do have some additional experiences you can pay for to enhance your day.  We decided to splurge a bit and absolutely wanted to swim with the dolphins, and I wanted to get my wife a relaxing massage.

There was plenty of seating all around, but another upcharge we opted for was to have our own covered seating area.  It was located just near the snorkeling lagoon in a bit of a secluded area so we weren’t near the main pathway with a lot of foot traffic.

This is considered an all-inclusive experience so with your day admission price you do receive all your food and drinks at no additional cost.  You can go as many times as you like.  There was breakfast available when we first arrived and they have various stands around the property with snacks and drinks whenever you want them.

Above is a picture of the entire property.  It was much bigger than I had thought, but there was really just one main walkway that would take you to all the different areas.  Plus to be honest you really want to spend most of your time in the water.

The main swimming areas were beautifully designed and landscaped.  With the waterfalls in the background, you would almost think you were on a tropical island instead of the middle of Orlando’s tourist district.

Our dolphin swim was scheduled for about an hour after we arrived.  When you first check in you get a lanyard with your activity schedule on the back.  This way you know exactly when and where to go throughout the day.  We headed to the specific meeting location and went through an introduction and safety class before they lead us into the dolphin area.

This part of the day was really fun.  We were led by a team of dolphin trainers into one area of the pool.  The water was about waist high so not too deep at this point.  They would then go over how they train the dolphins and periodically the dolphins would swim by allowing us to touch “pet” them along their back.  We would give specific hand signals prompting the dolphin to do various things like wave their fins at us, splash us or swim off and jump high into the area.  The entire dolphin experience is about 45 minutes long and ends with each guest having the opportunity to swim out to the deeper part of the pool, hold on to the dolphin’s fins and swim you back inland.  You are not allowed to bring your own camera but as with any good theme park, they have photographers on hand to take pictures and video which they will sell you at the end.

After our dolphin swim, we continued our exploration of the park.  There really is a great tropical feel to it.

Eventually, we came across the lazy river which has a few different entry points.  We have used the ones at Disney which are not very deep and I don’t overly enjoy.  But these had a much higher water level and made floating around in them much more enjoyable.  Instead of big inner tubes, they had pool noodles which made the lazy river much less congested with all the other guests.

There are a few waterfalls that you go through on your trip down the lazy river, plus at one point you actually float through the aviary which was interesting.

Nothing better than just floating along down a calm river, and getting some sun at the same time.  Thankfully we had a great day, with plenty of sunshine and the temperature wasn’t too bad but that can change easily.  Best to just stay in the water.

After enjoying the lazy river for a while we headed over for some lunch.  Did I mention it was all you can eat and no additional cost.  This is a great place.  Okay enough eating, after we had our lunch my wife headed off for her massage, I headed back to our reserved seating to lay out in the sun for a bit.

When she was finished with her massage we got some drinks and just hung out at our lounge area a bit longer.  Then she was ready to try out the Grand Reef.

This is a large artificial reef that has tropical fish, and stingrays swimming around.  But the best part is you can swim with them.  Technically you are snorkeling along the top and they almost don’t even notice you are there.

I have never been very good a snorkeling but this was the time I was going to figure it out.  The water is pretty cold for this type of fish, but it’s also very salty which helps you float along the top.  There is almost no effort needed to keep yourself afloat.  Once you have the snorkeling technique figured out this was amazing.  It was very calm and relaxing to just float and watch the fish swimming around.  Some areas can get a bit busy with other guests, but with your face in the water and your ears filled with water, you almost don’t hear anything which helps with the relaxation.  This is where we ended up spending the majority of our afternoon.  When we were done snorkeling I think we both were just at a loss for words.  Out of all the activities we had scheduled that day I didn’t think this would be our favorite but it just turned out that way.

Unfortunately, the park is only open until about 5pm, but that worked out okay since a storm was about to start rolling into the area.  We had packed up all our stuff, grabbed a few snacks for the road and headed towards the exit.  But first, we stopped into the Tropical Gifts store for some souvenirs.

I always like to get a t-shirt so I found one I liked, and we also found a few stuff animal toys for our girls.  As we headed towards the check out area I noticed a penny machine in the back corner.

It was one of the newer multi-design machines that we have seen popping up more and more at Disney and other theme parks.  This one, however, had 12 designs available.  You know me, I’m a sucker for pressed pennies and had to get the entire set which cost $10.  For anyone else visiting if you only want one or a few of the pennies, they are $1 each if you don’t want the entire set.  The machine is also preloaded with shiny zinc pennies so you do not need to supply your own.

The designs on the pennies were really nice and had all the different animals and sea creatures you can encounter during your visit.  All of the pennies also have “Discovery Cover Orlando”.  I always like this type of location-specific design.

It was sad to see our day end as we headed back to the car.  But during the entire drive, we just couldn’t stop talking about this place.  I’m upset it took me this long to try it, and I know for a fact we will definitely be back.  I have a milestone birthday coming up so maybe we can go for that.  Or we may just wait a few more years and take our girls as I’m sure they will love it just as much.

 

Celebrating The Lion King Pressed Pennies – Animal Kingdom Mombasa Marketplace

With only a couple weeks left before the new live-action version of The Lion King is released in movie theaters, it appears Disney is starting to Celebrate.  I recently took a trip over to the Animal Kingdom park to see what was going on.

Before I even got near the Tree of Life I noticed banners and signage all over the place about Celebrating the Lion King.

They even had quite a detailed photo op with Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa.  There were some special food items like cupcakes and slush drinks themed around the Lion King but I was on the hunt for pennies.

Back and to the left of the Tree of Life is the African area of the park with lots of great live music, or shows always going on throughout the day.

In that area is an interesting store called Mombasa Marketplace.  On previous trips into this store, I’ve seen African musical instruments for sale or some really fantastic artwork.  But for now, it seems to have been taken over by the Lion King.

There were plush animals, t-shirts, and artwork.

This extended pretty much through the entire store.

There were a few of the musical instruments still around but far less than they usually have in stock.  There were quite a few Hakuna Matata t-shirts available as well.

I will admit I almost had to give in and ask a Cast member where the penny machine was located as I just couldn’t find it.  But eventually, I did spot it all the way in the back corner.

The machine was an 8-design pre-loaded penny machine with a touch screen.  The now standard payment options of cash, credit card or Apple Pay are available.

There cost of these machines has not changed (yet…fingers crossed) and is still $1 each or $5 for the entire set of 8 pennies.

The set includes images from both the original Lion King animated movie and a few from the newer Lion Guard tv series.

This is another great set of pennies and I’m glad to see Disney releasing some new designs from their older movies and even a tv series which is very unusual.  I’m getting used to these new machines and even though I would prefer to have the option to use my own pennies I think we can assume by now that is not going to happen.  Disneyland out on the West Coast is in a bit of a dry spell with new penny machines, so I’m not going to complain too much as we have definitely been getting a lot of new and fun designs at the Walt Disney World parks even if they do press on zinc pennies.

Inside Out Pressed Pennies – Epcot Mouse Gear

When I had originally heard about this machine being released it seems a bit strange.  I’m all for getting new pressed penny machines but the designs on this one were from a movie released back in 2015.  Why were new designs just being released now?  Well, spoiler I don’t have any idea and no one seems to know.  I guess we should just be happy they arrived at all.

To investigate I headed over to Epcot on the weekend to find the machine and see what else was new.

One thing that I found was new was at the front of the park the Leave a Legacy monuments were removed from the right side.  For those that may not know, back in 1995-96 the park offered you the chance to Leave a Legacy which was basically a picture of yourself engraved on a metal sheet with thousands of other people.  They placed these images on large marble monuments that were located on the left and right sides as you enter the park heading towards Spaceship Earth.  I will admit I was one of the people that bought a location and my picture is currently still up there somewhere.  Their removal is the beginning of the Epcot transformation that will be taking place over the next few years that includes new attractions, restaurants, maybe a new world pavilion and plenty more things they have yet to announce.  I will admit that with these monuments gone the front of the park is much more wide open and easier to walk through.

First, we decided to meet some characters and my daughters latest favorites are Joy and Sadness from Inside Out which works perfectly for this post.

The characters are very cute and do a great job with the kids and adults too.  They always make for a fun photo op.

After that, it was time to get down to business.  We headed across future world and into the main gift shop called Mouse Gear.

I tried to find some Inside Out merchandise but there really wasn’t much available.  I asked a few cast members and was pointed towards only a small area with some Joy and Anger plush dolls.

We continued to walk around the store looking for the new penny machine I had heard about and found it located around the middle of the store near the dressing rooms.

 

The machine is an 8-design touch screen model that supplies pre-loaded zinc pennies.

I will admit this is a really cute set of pennies.  The images include Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, Fear, Bing Bong and then a few more with various characters together.  Even though this is an “older” movie it’s definitely popular.  There were quite a few people ahead of me and then waiting behind me for this machine.

Before we left I did see some “Farewell to Illuminations” merchandise around the check out areas.  Illuminations is the long-running nighttime fireworks show that happens at Epcot every night.  Disney announced they are retiring it and will be replaced with an all-new show.  Disney fans are obsessed with this type of merch and buy it up as quickly as it’s released.

I do still find it a little interesting that they decided to release some pennies for a movie that came out a few years ago, but people really like it so that’s probably a good move on their end.  Hopefully, this is the start of a new series where they release more machines with designs themed around older movies.  I’m still holding out hope that someday I can get some Robin Hood pennies, which is one of my favorite Disney animated movies.