Florida Museum of Natural History – Gainesville, FL

On my continuing exploration of Florida on the hunt for Pressed Penny Machines, I’ve exhausted the locations around the Orlando area and now was going to head north a bit to the next city on my list which was Gainesville.  Online I’ve seen that there are three reported locations with penny machines and so throughout a weekend I made it my mission to find them all.  Our first stop was over at the University of Florida.

The Florida Museum of Natural History is located on the University campus and did offer free parking.  This area of the campus was very nice and pretty expansive with a couple large outdoor sculptures that I always enjoy.

Inside the Museum you are greeted with a short queue area and a gift shop on the right side but we will revisit that on our way out.  The Museum is Free of charge to visit the main exhibits but donations are welcome and I would encourage that if you are visiting.  They do offer some special exhibits throughout the year that does have an admission fee.

The first large area just beyond the front desk was like the main hub.  There were different hallways in all directions taking you to the various exhibits in the Museum.  This area also had a large Mammoth fossil along one wall, and there was also a table with an Alligator Skeleton that the kids seemed to really be intrigued by.

The next area I visited was the Discovery Zone which is kind of a kid’s area with plenty of interactive things to do and learn.

It kind of looked like we had been shrunk down to the size of a bug with the large trees looming over us from the ceiling.

There was also a large bug collection on display and plenty of dinosaur fossils that you could actually touch and examine.

My youngest daughter loved this area and I did have to drag her out of here eventually so we could continue our tour.  The next hallway we encountered led us to the South Florida People and Environments exhibit.

This was another interesting area that was set up like you were walking along a boardwalk with trees and wildlife on either side of you.  Just beyond this area is a large exhibit showcasing Florida’s Indian tribes the Seminole and Miccosukee who lived in South Florida.  There were displays of their beautiful ceremonial clothing, woodwork, and artifacts from early Seminole sites.

We did then run into an interesting hallway that was called The Hall of Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life and Land.  As you can see from the above picture one of the walls was filled with some pretty intimidating teeth.

At the back of the Museum was the West Gallery with visible collections and labs.

Most of the labs back in this area did have people working mostly on paperwork during our visit.  But I found this really cool that you could see into their labs while they worked on their research.

One of these areas along the West Gallery was their Butterfly collection and I was completely blown away by this.  The above room had plenty to see but there was so much more around the corner.

This entire hallway was set up for their Butterfly exhibits.  The glass cases on the walls extended from just about floor level all the way up to the ceiling.  Some of the butterflies were small, and others were huge.

The total number of butterflies they had on display was just amazing, and the range of colors was so beautiful.  This area was worth the trip in itself, and I’ve never seen anything like this before.

After spending a lot of time in the butterfly area we found ourselves back near the main entrance of the Museum and headed into the gift shop to see what they had.

We did buy a few things to help support the museum and then walked just outside the gift shop to where the pressed penny machine was.

The machine had a nice sleek looking cabinet.  I do find this style presses pennies a little short sometimes and this was also the case here.

Most of the design did come through but you can see a bit was cut off on the ends.  These museum pennies are also great as they usually showcase specific exhibits from inside that museum making them a little more unique.

Even though this museum would have been quite a drive just from the Orlando area, it was a fun place to explore.  It’s not very big, but we did spend a couple hours inside and wow that butterfly exhibit was really amazing and highly recommended.  This was just our first stop in Gainesville and still has a few more stops to make on this trip.  Be sure to check back for more on this trip.  Keep on Pressing!

Festival of the Holiday’s 2019 – Epcot

Happy New Year!!
Unfortunately, I had planned to write the below post a couple weeks ago but I got sick and some family events happened during the holidays.  I apologize for the delay and this festival has completed for 2019 but the next festival will be upon us before too long.
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Epcot doesn’t waste any time transitioning from one Festival to the next.  It seems like just a few weeks ago I was enjoying the Food and Wine Festival, and then just this past week everything changed over to the Festival of the Holidays.

I will admit this is not one of my favorite festivals, but it still gives me an excuse to head over to the park and try some new food items, or experience the Candlelight Processional which is actually a great show.

This year my two daughters wanted to try and complete the Cookie Stroll.

Last year I had attempted it but only got through a couple cookies before I felt sick from all the sugar and holiday spice.  This year my plan was to break up the sweetness with some savory dishes and hopefully not go home with my tail between my legs utterly defeated and embarrassed.

My two girls were excited and ready for some cookies.  After we got inside the park we picked up our Festival Passport so we knew where to go and headed for the first cookie.

 

The booth over near the Canadian Pavilion was called the Yukon Holiday kitchen, and they had the Peppermint Pinwheel Cookie.  I am not a huge peppermint fan, but this cookie was actually really good.  It was soft, moist and didn’t have an overwhelming amount of peppermint flavor which was a plus for me.

If you are going to try the cookie stroll, make sure you get your passport stamped after you pay for the cookie.

 

The second cookie was at the Fest of the Three Kings booth and was a Chocolate Crinkle Cookie.  This was just okay for us, my girls didn’t really like it.  To be it was almost more like a cake than a cookie, it was a bit dry but had plenty of chocolate flavor.

 

We then had to take a bit of a stroll around the World Showcase until we got to the German Pavilion and the Bavaria Holiday Kitchen booth.  They had the Linzer Cookie which was filled with raspberry jam.  This was fantastic and was my clear favorite of all the cookies we tried that day.

 

Over in the American Adventure pavilion was the American Holiday Table booth.  Here you could try a classic Gingerbread Man cookie.  I do not enjoy gingerbread myself so this was a miss for me, but my girls raved about this cookie.  They liked it so much they begged for a second one to enjoy on the way to our next booth.

 

In between the Morocco and France pavilion was a very popular food booth called L’Chaim! Holiday Kitchen.  They had a Pastrami on Rye sandwich which I had tried last year and was really good, as well as a couple different potato Latkes.  But we were here for a cookie and got the Black and White cookie.  This has a nice lemon flavor to it, but nothing too exciting.  My youngest enjoyed eating all the frosting from the top and she said that was her favorite part.

We had done it.  After the Black and White cookie, it was time to head over to the Holiday Sweets and Treats booth for our complimentary Completer cookie.

 

It was a cute Santa Mickey-shaped Sugar Cookie and we even got a free bottle of white milk.  We each took a small bite just to say we tried all of them, but by this time we were sick of cookies and couldn’t really enjoy it so we packaged it up and took it home.

To try and celebrate our glorious victory over the cookie stroll we headed into the Port of Entry gift shop to see what Festival merchandise was available.  There were the standard t-shirts, sweaters, and candy cane flavored popcorn but nothing really called out to me this year.  Then as we wandered around the store I found something.

The collectible coins/medallions were back.  The Food and Wine versions had been removed and replaced with the new Festival of the Holidays designs.

The machine looks exactly the same, but had a new marquee and was filled with the new coins.

They are still the same cost at $5 each, or 3 for $10.

The designs are Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, and Chip & Dale.  The back of the coins has the Festival of the Holidays logo.

I was originally against these coins mostly due to their very high cost, but now that these seem to be coming out for each festival I’ve grown to enjoy.  With everything going on this time of year I actually forgot these may even be available so it was a happy coincidence to come across them.

Later that evening the rest of our family arrived at Epcot and we had dinner in the France Pavilion at Chefs de France.  Then we finished our evening enjoying the Candlelight Processional with guest host Gary Sinise.  He was fantastic, the music was wonderful and the singing just topped off our amazing day.

I hope you have a wonderful Holiday.  Please stay safe and enjoy your special time with family and friends.

Orlando Icon Park – Penny Machines Converted to $1

Our fears have been confirmed.  It seems like Disney is not the only place converting their pressed penny machines to $1.  A very kind friend had sent me a message online that they saw some penny machines in Orlando had the new price rate.  I almost couldn’t believe it so I made sure to head on over as soon as I had a free afternoon to confirm it…and it turns out to be 100% true.

The attraction in question has gone through quite a few name changes over the past couple of years.  Currently, it’s called Icon Park over on International Drive.  I had written about this place previously as the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye and you can read about Madame Tussauds here and the Sealife Aquarium here.

The large Ferris wheel can be seen from all over Orlando, but when you park right beneath it in the lot the actual size can be a bit overwhelming.  It’s very difficult to get it all in one picture.

You can head inside to where the main building is located right behind the giant wheel.  This is where you can get your tickets to ride the Icon (Ferris wheel), or visit the other attractions here.

One of the first places you will come across is Madame Tussauds the famous wax museum.  I didn’t go inside this time, but it is definitely a fun place to experience.  Just outside the exit to the gift shop is where the penny machine is located.  Just as a reminder you do NOT need to pay for admission to use this machine.

You can see the machine has some updated decals on the outside.

This machine accepts dollar bills and supplies a pre-loaded zinc penny.

Even though the machine was removed temporarily to perform the conversion, just like most of the Disney machines, the designs available have not changed.

Located directly across from the wax museum is the Sea Life Aquarium which is really a hidden gem.  I have gone back to this aquarium a few times over the last couple of years and I really enjoy it each and every time.

As much as I do encourage you to buy a ticket and experience this unique aquarium if you are stopping by just for a quick visit to use the penny machine you do not need to pay for admission.  Just to the left of the ticket counter is the entrance to the gift shop.

Just inside the gift shop near the soda cooler and ice cream freezer is where you can find the machine.

The dreaded $1.00 signage and instructions on how to use the machine.  No penny, No problem!

These designs have also remained unchanged.  I did press a new set and they did come out pretty nicely even though they are on pre-loaded zinc pennies.  I will be curious to continue to monitor how they look as the years go by.  Using zinc pennies has always been something long-time collectors have tried to avoid.  I’m crossing my fingers they don’t deteriorate too quickly but I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Landry’s Restaurant Machines Converting to $1 per Penny Design (Walt Disney World)

Did someone say price increase?  Yup, it’s that time again to review some penny machines around Walt Disney World property that have been converted to the new cost of $1.  These machines that I’m about to review were actually not on my radar as they are in locations not directly owned by Disney.

Some of you may be familiar with the Landry’s name as they run some popular chain restaurants like Rainforest Cafe, T-Rex Cafe, Bubba Gump and many more.  But it seems they have also decided to increase the cost of their penny machines.  They do have a few different restaurants on Disney property so first up we will head over to Disney Springs.

We are in full Fall season swing in Florida, although the temperatures are still in the 90s so not much has changed.  It’s not raining as often which I guess is a plus.

Located in the Marketplace section of Disney Springs is the T-Rex Cafe.  It’s a very unique themed restaurant with a giant dinosaur fossil on display out front.  Inside there are animatronic dinosaurs near the tables and even a meteor shower takes place every 15-20 minutes.

They do have a pretty large gift shop with plenty of dino related merchandise.  This is also where the penny press machines are located.  The first machine is just inside the main entrance.

The designs on the pennies have not changed on any of these machines, but along with the price increase you no longer use your own chosen penny to press.  The machine supplies a penny for you.  It does appear that they are using uncirculated new pennies so they come out nice an shiny.  But a lot of collectors are not happy about this and prefer to use their own pennies which is just no longer available.  Even though the designs haven’t changed I’m going to include pictures of all the pennies so you can see what the supplied pennies look like.

The second machine is located not too far from the first machine.  There is a hallway that leads back outside to an enclosed kids play area while you wait for your table to become available.  This is where the second machine can be found.

As you can see from the above, the pennies that the machine supplied are not too bad.  I’ll be interested to see how they hold up over time and whether they tarnish more easily due to the newer metallic combination used in modern minted pennies.

After T-Rex, we headed to the opposite side of the Marketplace area of Disney Springs to the Rainforest Cafe.  I’ve posted many times about Rainforest Cafes that I have visited in different cities.  They are all pretty similar and have animatronic elephants, gorillas and other jungle creatures situations around the restaurant.  The food is not my favorite, but I really enjoy the atmosphere and eat here probably more often than I should.

Just like T-Rex, they have a pretty large gift shop with lots of Rainforest Cafe logo merchandise.  Near the check-in area is where the penny machines are located.

The penny designs haven’t changed in this location either, just the increase to the cost and supplied pennies.

You can see the last design on the right rolled a bit short.  I actually tried to press this design about 4 times (yes $1 per attempt) and they all came out the same.  I did mention it to the staff and they gave me back $3 of my dollars and were going to report the machine so a tech can come and try to realign it.

Right next to that first machine is the second penny machine.

This set of pennies pressed without any issues and looked pretty good.  You may have noticed that there was a third machine here.  But that machine is a pressed quarter machine, the designs are the same and the cost has not changed it’s still $1.25 per quarter.  I’m crossing my fingers they don’t increase those machines.

Those were the two restaurants in Disney Springs so next we headed over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for the next couple places.

In case you didn’t know there are actually two Rainforest Cafe restaurants on Disney property.

Similar to the one in Disney Springs they have three machines in total.  Two of them are penny machines, and the third is a quarter machine which hasn’t changed.

Other than the increase in cost not much has changed with the cabinet.

This was another nice set of pennies, and they pressed without any major issue.

The second machine squeezed in the middle.  Since these machines are located right near the main entrance it can be a bit busy here as people try to check-in for their reservations.

After pressing these pennies I started taking a closer look at the inner workings of the machine and noticed the hopper of where the pile of pennies is kept while they wait to be pressed.

That large pipe to the right of the hopper is just where they load the pennies into the machine.  It does hold quite a few pennies and I’d be curious how often they need to refill this.

Here is just a close up of the signage on the front of the machine reflecting the new $1.00 cost.  It does let you know “No Penny, No Problem: We Supply!”

Only one more restaurant to check out and it’s back in the Asia section of the park.  The restaurant is called Yak & Yeti with some Asian fusion food.  This is one of my favorite restaurants to eat at in the park, but it’s very busy and hard to get reservations for.  Walk-ins can happen but you have to try and go early.

The machine is located just inside the main doors by the check-in desk.  This is also the main area where people situate themselves while waiting for their table.  It can get very packed in here, and I had to wait a few minutes just to maneuver my way over to the machine.

Another cute set of pennies themed around the restaurant which I always like.  Well, that completes all the Landry’s restaurants on Walt Disney World property and is all of their pressed penny machines (other than the pressed quarter machines) that have been converted to $1.  On a side note both Disney Springs restaurants and the Rainforest Cafe at Animal Kingdom do NOT require theme park admission.  Disney Springs currently has free parking so you could visit T-Rex and that Rainforest free of charge other than the $1 per penny.  Parking at Animal Kingdom as of 2019 is $26 but that will change without notice so it could be an expensive price to pay if you just want to go and get those Rainforest Cafe pennies.  Yak & Yeti is inside the park so you would need a ticket to access that machine.

There are still some 4-design penny machines around that haven’t been converted yet but we will keep our eyes open and report back as those are swamped out.  Happy Collecting!!

Epcot’s International Food and Wine 2019 – Collectible Medallion

It’s that time of year again for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.  Well technically it’s been going on for almost 3 months at this point but I was finally able to get over there and visit some food booths plus I was able to find a collectible medallion that was released for the festival.

Before we get into those medallions lets take a tour around the festival.  With all the construction currently going on at Epcot, there is not much at the front of the park.  Usually, there is a topiary or signage after you scan your ticket into the park.  That area has completely been torn down, and one side is behind construction walls.  So they have moved most of that stuff out to the main entrance to the World Showcase.

I was immediately drawn towards the smell of grilling meats and found myself quickly waiting in line at the Flavors from Fire booth.

It was nice to see an actual grill out behind the booth.  Most of the booths have the components of the food items made in a kitchen somewhere else in the park and then transported by cart to the booths to be constructed.  That can make for a less than “fresh” feeling with the food items, but with the grills going strong I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case here.

There were a few items here that I wanted to try, but a few were the same from last year.  We were trying to make a push for some new items this year.  First, we tried the Steakhouse Blended Burger.  It was a blended Beef and Mushroom slider with brie cheese fondue, arugula, and a truffle and blue cheese potato chip on a brioche bun.

The second item we got here was the Charred Chimichurri skirt steak on a smoked corn cake with pickled vegetable slaw and cilantro aioli.  This was definitely our favorite item the entire day, even my 7-year-old daughter loved this one.

Not too far away we headed into a little courtyard that had a few booths all right beside each other.  The one we checked out was Active Eats.

Above is a picture of the Loaded Macaroni & Cheese with Nueske’s pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, and leeks.

Just a few steps away was the Coastal Eats booth which had a menu designed around seafood.

This was an item my daughter (who is trying to be a little more adventurous with her foods) chose to try.  This was the lump crab cake with Napa cabbage slaw and avocado-lemongrass cream.

We then started to head into the main World Showcase loop and just couldn’t pass up the Canada booth.  They have had the same items for the last couple years due to being fan favorites, I do wish they would change it up a bit but it’s hard to argue with the items they do keep bringing back.

Pictured above is their famous Canadian cheddar and bacon soup serviced with a pretzel roll.  This is the exact same soup available inside the Pavilion at Le Cellier steakhouse restaurant just smaller size.  I was able to get a copy of the recipe from the restaurant years ago and make it at home every so often and it really doesn’t disappoint.

This next item is one of the more expensive throughout the entire festival but it’s a classic that is hard to pass up.  Le Cellier wild mushroom beef filet mignon with truffle butter sauce.  You can also see a small cup in the background which is one of our favorite ice wines from the Niagara on the Lake region of Canada (near Niagara Falls). It is a Vidal Icewine from the Chateau Des Charmes Vinyard.

With so many food booths it’s easy to start getting filled up before you really get into the heart of the festival.  We decided to skip a few of the booths near the United Kingdom pavilion and France.  I thought our daughter may want to try the Escargot Croissant in France but she said she wasn’t ready to try eating snails yet.  Maybe next year!!  Just beyond France was the Morocco booth with some interesting items.

First was a NY strip steak green shermoula flatbread with fresh radish and tomato salsa.  This was really fantastic, kind of like a steak taco.  The steak was a bit spicy but was definitely on the top of my list this year.

We broke one of our rules and had a sweet treat before finishing up our savory items but when I saw Chocolate Baklava I just had to get it.  This is rolled phyllo dough with toasted almonds and dark chocolate sauce.

The next booth was over in the Japan pavilion and was something I had seen pictures of online, and video reviews where people were really enjoying it.

This was the Frothy Ramen, chilled noodles and dashi broth with a light foam topping.  It looked really good and I’m a sucker for ramen noddles but whoa this was not for me.  The flavor was extremely strong and overpowering for my palette.  I’ve been waiting for someone else to review it online and say they didn’t like it but so far I haven’t seen one so maybe this is just not my thing.

Our kids were pretty stuffed by this thing and my wife was getting close to her limit as well.  But of course, I wanted to keep going so we skipped a few more booths and stopped in Italy.  You just can’t go wrong with some pasta.

Pictured above were the Ravioli carbonara, parmesan, and pecorino ravioli, egg yolk, cream, and bacon.  The presentation we got in the little paper boat was a bit of a mess, but the flavor was really good and helped cleans the Frothy ramen taste off my tongue.

After that pretty heavy pasta dish, I was ready to call it a day and wasn’t sure how I would be able to comfortably get back to our car.  As we finished the last bit of the showcase we decided to head into the Port of Entry store to see what kind of Festival merchandise was available.

As my family looked around picking out t-shirts, Christmas tree ornaments and maybe a bottle of wine or two, I was drawn to an area on the opposite side of the store.  Earlier this year during the Flower and Garden festival they had released specially designed coins that you can read out here.  Fellow collectors had been wondering since then if Disney would continue this with other festivals and sure enough, here it was for the Food and Wine.

The cost for these coins was the same as before (thankfully!) at $5 for one coin or $10 for three.  So if you want all four that will run you $15.  Yes, it’s a bit pricey but these designs are just so fun it’s hard to say no.

There are quite a few coins on display in the center second of the machine.  Other machines around Disney have coins in here spinning on little risers but this machine didn’t have that and instead was just laying flat.

Here is a close up of the entire set.  They have designs of Chef Mickey, Chef Remy, Chef Minnie, and Chef Figment.

On the back of each coin is the same design regardless of the front image you select.  It’s the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 2019 logo which I really like.

With my $15 souvenirs packed away, I headed over to my family that had picked out quite a bit more in other merchandise but that’s okay.  It’s a fun festival to enjoy each fall, and we always like trying new food items we wouldn’t normally try.  The Festival runs from August 29, 2019 through November 23, 2019 so you still have a few weeks left to visit.  Then we get into the Festival of the Holidays and I wonder if we can count on another new set of collectible medallions?

Pirates of the Caribbean Collectible Medallions – Magic Kingdom WDW

Throughout 2019 we have noticed that the 4-design pressed penny machines around Walt Disney World property have been slowly converted to have a higher cost per penny…now at a whopping $1.  This is up from the standard $0.50 which seems to be the norm for most of the penny presses around the United States.  You can read about some of the recent changes here.   While thoughts on this increase among collectors various with some not happy about the increase, others upset that they can no longer use their own pennies, to others agreeing this was inevitable with the assumed rising cost to maintain the machines.  However, you fell about this change about increased cost I have started to notice something else start popping up around property that is even more expensive…collectible medallions.

Initially, when a set of these came out I had convinced myself I wouldn’t get them and wanted to stay focused on the pressed pennies.  Then they released a special medallion for the Flower and Garden Festival in Epcot (something I’ve always wanted with pressed pennies), and I finally broke.  Thankfully at the time, there were only a couple machines but it seems like more and more of these are making appearances.  Just a few weeks ago I received a message on Facebook about a new set of medallions but this time in the Magic Kingdom for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.

The first chance I got I headed over to the park and visited one of my favorite rides.  I was able to get a last-minute fastness so I enjoyed the ride first and then headed towards the gift shop in search of the machine.

The store is actually called the Plaza del Sol Caribe Bazaar but most people just say the gift shop at the end of the Pirates ride.

It didn’t take long to find the machine since it’s located pretty much in the dead center of the store.  This is good and bad, easy to find but in a very busy spot.  There are people both exiting the attraction that pass right by it, and also people shopping all around.  I stood here about a good 5 minutes just to try and get a clear picture of the machine and the above is about the best I could do.

The cabinet for the medallions is pretty cool looking.  The distressed wood makes it look like it came straight off a pirate ship or was made of old treasure chests.

I find these machines a bit interesting as to how they are setup.  In the middle of the machine are large glass pieces where you can see inside where the coins are stored.  But these never move so they are not actually the ones you get after you pay for them.  I guess this is where the “extras” are stored until needed, but wouldn’t it look strange when the inside is empty due to the coins all being loaded for dispensing?  To be honest I’ve never seen one of these medallion machines without any coins in this middle display section but you would think eventually they would want to sell off those coins as well.  If I ever find someone doing some maintenance on these machines I’ll have to try and ask how it works.

Here are the buttons that you would press to pick the medallions you want after paying for them.  The cost is $5 each, or 3 of them for $10.  So if you want all 4 that will run you $15.  The machine does accept cash or credit card, but be aware if paying with a credit card it will only allow the $10 option (for three coins).

As per usual I just couldn’t resist the entire set.  The coins are made of different materials, although I would actually assume the core of them is the same but with a different coating/finish on the outside.  The designs are Pirate Mickey, Pirate Minnie, Pluto and the Skeleton steering the ship from the ride.

The back of all the medallions has the same design for the Pirates of the Caribbean with the skull and crossbones.  These coins aren’t dated like some of the other ones released this year so I would think this set may be sticking around for a while but you just never know with Disney.

Now back to my original conversation on the increased cost to the pressed pennies.  Am I happy about an increase in cost, of course not!  I wish they could stay at $0.50 forever especially with my obsessive need to collect all of them that would help keep my expense budget down.  But I do really enjoy this hobby and even at $1 per penny, it’s still a pretty good steak for a collectible and souvenir from Disney.  It would be nice to be able to use my own penny but the machines now do seem to be supplying uncirculated pennies that come out nice and shiny and hopefully will hold up over the years if properly stored, only time will tell.  Then we come to these new medallions and at $5 a coin they are now starting to push their luck.  The coins are hefty and solid, not cheaply made and I enjoy the unique designs on them.  I don’t know if I would pay much more than the current cost for these medallions so hopefully, they stay this cost for now and limit the total number of medallions available to help keep these all affordable for collectibles and casual fans alike.  If the costs rise too much more and my budget allows for only medallions or pressed pennies, the pennies will win out every time.  Although even that has a limit of how much we would be willing to pay for our beloved pressed pennies.

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.