The sun is still shining high and the air is still warm here in Tampa but that doesn’t seem to stop the locals from getting in the holiday spirit. We found Tropicana Feild, the home of the Tampa Bay Ray’s baseball team transformed into an electrically charged Christmas wonderland. Enchanted Christmas– St. Petersburg is a holiday light show on the field of the baseball stadium and a seems to be hit with the families of St. Pete and Tampa. The crowds were a bit much for Amanda and me and we did have a lot of trouble finding the car bu the trip wasn’t terrible. We could tell from the looks on the faces of people around us, especially the children, this event was living up to its name.
We live an hour away from a land of dreams. A world where fantasy and reality meet to inspire. You may think we are talking about the Magic Kingdom. You’re close but we are talking about the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow or EPCOT for short. The vision for EPCOT was to include an urban city center, residential areas, churches, schools and a series of mass transportation systems that would connect it all. The idea of a city of tomorrow where the best and brightest would live, innovate, and change the world, unfortunately, died when Walt Disney, the visionary mind behind it passed away in 1966. A version of the idea of EPCOT was reborn in 1970 as the Walt Disney Company decided to build two new theme parks near Orlando, Florida. (1hr 15min from our home in Tampa). The new theme park, EPCOT Center opened in 1982 and took the form of a permanent Worlds Fair showcasing innovation through entertaining and educational interactive programing. A World Showcase, my favorite part, was also opened. The showcase is a series of exhibits, shows, and shopping representing countries like, Italy, Norway, and Japan complete with architectural representations of each region’s signature buildings and landscapes as a way to immerse you in the world. We learned upon researching this article that in 1994 the park was renamed to simply “Epcot,” dropping the acronym and “Center” from the official name.
The famous “golf ball” called Spaceship Earth
I first visited the park during Christmas in 1983, my parents loaded my two other siblings, my sister Andi wasn’t born yet, into a burnt orange Dodge van with no back seats and drove from Washington, DC to Florida. We stayed off property at the Motel 6, and as kids who grew did not grow up in Florida realized quick, we could go swimming in December because Florida is very different than DC. I remember a lot from that trip 2-days in the Magic Kingdom and 1-day at EPCOT but the trip to EPCOT stands out in my mind. I remember being amazed at the “Land” exhibit where they introduced me to the idea of hydroponic gardening. I remember loving visiting the World Showcase. The toy Chinese sailboat sat on my dresser for nearly 30 years. I had always wanted to go back so Amanda and I know living so close decided this extended weekend would be the best opportunity. The park did not disappoint. The rides, like Spaceship Earth that is a history of science and innovation (narrated by Dame Judy Dench), was a great mix of history and nostalgia with its animatronic people. The Land ride was just as fascinating as it was for me today as a child. The World Showcase was not only fun but very interesting in a very different way. I was a world traveler now and have visited and gotten to know several countries and their cultures on a more intimate level and now being able to compare the real Tower of London with the facsimile or the Doges Palace in Venice was fascinating.
I know its not our typical recommendation and can be crowded compared to our typical trip recommendation but a trip to Epcot is one of those things we suggest doing if you’re in the area. It’s not a yearly thing for us, but we might go back again in another couple of years just to compare notes.
Italy- The Doges Palace
The past week has been really busy for us and as the busyness increases so can the stress. A way to beat the stress, especially when it’s cloudy and cool is to search twitter for @anguillabeaches . You will find a series of short videos that help you fantasize about a warm place with clear water and white sand beaches. I look forward every day to this account appearing on my timeline and so should you. I leave you with a wonderful example below all you need to do is click the link.
U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser / Arlington National Cemetery / released
If you visit Arlington National Cemetary just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC there are many things to move you. The wide-open spaces of the military cemetery and its rolling hills with its evenly spaced graves with identical markers are easily considered beautiful. The reverence and tradition of the “Old Guard” unit that marks guards the Tomb of the Unknown. The baseballs that are left at the grave of Abner Doubleday the inventor of the sport that has meant so much to so many. The quiet solemn light of the Eternal Flame at the grave of US President and Navy Veteran John F. Kennedy. The most moving thing for me at Arlington National Cemetary is what is on the back of the tombstones, the names of their spouse. I had never thought of it until the moment I looked at the back of a grave marker. The soldiers and sailors who were lucky enough to find love and marry are allowed to have their spouses buried with them even in a military cemetery. I guess it’s only natural that they wouldn’t have to choose between resting with who they fought with and who they fought for. We thank all the veterans for their service and their spouses for the sacrifice of precious years of their lives together in the name of that service.
Virgin Trains Terminal in Miami (Source Virgin Trains)
Virgin Trains, a subsidiary of Virgin Group, is a privately funded rail company is developing 170 miles of new track into the completed state-of-the-art intermodal facility located in the new South Terminal at the Orlando International Airport (MCO) as part of the company’s Phase 2 expansion into Central Florida.
“This is a historic milestone on the path to reinventing passenger rail in America and clearly demonstrates the leadership role that the private sector can play in revitalizing our nation’s infrastructure,” said Virgin Trains Chairman and co-founder of Fortress Investment Group Wes Edens. “Virgin Trains service between Orlando and Miami will launch an American passenger rail renaissance. We expect that this will be the first of many passenger lines in the U.S. that follow this model for connecting city pairs that are too close to fly and too far to drive.”
Virgin Trains’ expansion into Orlando the most visited city in the United States comes as travel to the Sunshine State is at an all-time high. Orlando International Airport welcomed a record-breaking 47 million passengers last year.
“Officially launching construction to Orlando marks a huge milestone for Virgin Trains and the realization of our vision to reinvent passenger rail in America,” said Virgin Trains President Patrick Goddard. “Connecting Orlando and Miami, two of our nation’s greatest cities, will provide tremendous economic and environmental benefits that
will be an asset to Florida for generations.”
The Expansion between Orlando and South Florida represents isn’t the only route Virgin Trains’ has planned as they have also announced that they have begun construction on a line that connects Southern California and Las Vegas Nevada. If you want a peek at what to expect riding the scarlet rails of virgin trains you can see the New Miami Central terminal and take a ride between Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) announced at its conference this weekend that they are stepping up efforts to make the USVI an even greater destination for the cruise industry. The USVI delegation, which included Commissioner of Tourism Joseph Boschulte, his team at the Department of Tourism and representatives from The West Indian Company Limited and the Virgin Islands Port Authority, was briefed by cruise industry leaders to help them understand and respond to the growing needs of the cruise industry. The sustained infrastructural investment the territory is making on St. Thomas by revamping the port in Charlotte Amalie, improving Main Street in downtown, and dredging projects for the cruise ships were all discussed at the meeting.
Governor Bryan also referred to the need to rebalance the industry: “We have a very mature tourism product in St. Thomas and we have an emerging market in St. Croix (and) St. John. (We must determine) how we combine those things in the right way that not only gives us the spend that we want but also attracts the type of customer that’s going to have the vacation that they want in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
Orlando Ashford, President of Holland America Line (second from right), talks cruise tourism with (pictured clockwise) Commissioner Boschulte, WICO board member Jason Charles, and Governor Bryan. Credit Bevan Springer
The FCCA and the USVI also had discussions on the inclusion of the other islands and territories like the British Virgin Islands and St. Lucia in an overall plan for the growing cruise industry.
I remember the first time I stepped onto a plane and saw the amazing sight of small television screens in the seatbacks. It was a Virgin Atlantic plane named Tinkerbell and it was the late 90s. I couldn’t help but think of it as luxury air travel. I’d been on long-haul flights with suspended screens that played one movie for everyone. I remember it felt like I was trapped in a sketchy movie theater without even the benefit of stale popcorn or flat soda. The advent of seatback entertainment that let you choose your own movie or TV show seemed to be the perfect solution.
It seems, however, the age of the seatback screen might be coming to an end. Three of the largest U.S. airlines are removing seatback screens from most narrowbody aircraft in their domestic fleets. United Airlines along with American Airlines and Alaska Air (yes, Alaska Air is a major airline) are going to begin removing screens from their 737 and A320 planes in favor of a B.Y.O.S. model. The air carriers will now offer streaming options for those who abide by the Bring Your Own Screen philosophy.
You can blame your smartphone for this change in attitude amongst other factors. The global population of air travelers tends to have smartphones or some sort of digital device they can use to stream their chosen entertainment. The airlines can rely on the B.Y.O.S. system, make the seats thinner, lightening the overall weight of the plane and lowering fuel consumption. The maintenance of the systems can be removed from their ledgers, too.
We understand the idea of ending the seatback screen isn’t new. We have seen reports as far back as 2017 citing that the airlines are going to retire the systems. The removal of the system isn’t a problem in our eyes, despite the convenience, with a couple of caveats. First, all seats must have USB or plugs in order to power our devices so we don’t get off the plane with a dead phone. Second, add a hook, or a shelf, or a clamp of some sort so we don’t have to hold our device the entire time we are watching a movie. Third, don’t make us download proprietary software for each different airline we fly. If the airlines think we will make our choice of carrier based on this… we won’t. We will still choose based on price and just delete your app each and every time we deplane.
Next time you fly a domestic route, be mindful to bring your own screen and a battery backup just in case there is no in-seat power.