Over Tourism in Wild Places

adventure of the week, Caribbean, colorado, europe, Florida, United Kingdom, United States, wyoming

While we had started the day as one of maybe three or four boats in the canal system doing tours, numbers quickly increased about an hour and a half into the tour. Not only did the additional boats make the canal more crowded, but larger groups of snorkelers, with what seemed like less instruction, swarmed the area. To add insult to injury, a large group of kayakers also flooded the scene trying to catch a glimpse of the now frightened young manatee.

We were snorkeling with manatees in Crystal River, Florida in what had been established as a nature preserve among the outskirts of the city. We had showed up at 6:30 a.m. so we could truly enjoy the animals at a calm and less-crowded time. We were lucky until 9:00 a.m. when the crowds arrived.

My group was instructed to return to our boat at this time, trying to allow others to see the animal, which we had been lucky enough to encounter, but back on the ship we saw the problems with popularity.

Much like the rest of tourism sites the world over, manatees and other wildlife encounters are having a moment in the limelight, that also means that areas get overused. While our selected tour company has been working for decades to create a more sustainable experience, even pairing with the University of Florida to restore sea grass in the canals due to climate change, they can’t control the populations of tourists that come into the area. While most companies will limit sizes of groups, a lot do not, and that means more money for the company, but not the best situation for the animals or natural areas.

While manatees and their habitats are cared for and many of the springs have been closed in the past, there often isn’t a way to monitor or control the use in an area in times that are open to the public. Even the boat captain informed us that when other canals close to public use more people descend on Crystal River and other areas for things like kayaking, snorkeling, and paddle boarding. This makes already operating tours more crowded, and the animals are more consistently with people.

Florida is not alone in their wild tourism boom. Many National Parks in the United States, State Parks, reserves, and other areas of the world are feeling overwhelmed with tourism. The animals that rely on natural areas are no doubt losing habitat and safe areas to exist. We lose wetlands and hidden areas for animals to escape into. While traveling opens our eyes to so much, are we also killing that which we love?

As humans we have developed around 75-80% of the land in the world, with a large portion of that happening in the last century. Blame overpopulation of humans, and development, and consumerism. All of those things have tipped the scales. In the last 50 years or so travel has began to greatly impact the story as well.

My grandparents would lament trips to Yellowstone in the 1970s and how crowded it was. Today they would be shocked that the 2.5 million visitors they were part of then have swelled to over 4.1 million annually since 2015. On one hand it’s great that more and more people are in love with the wild open and stunning landscapes that lucky people have known and loved since childhood, on the other hand, the droves have a negative impact on the landscape. Sometimes it is misinformed tourists “rescuing” a baby bison, other times it is litter that kills animals who eat it, sometimes the amount of people alone are the problem.

As in so much of what I write, and my actions, I attempt to be mindful of what my actions and words do to those places and people around me. In caring for the natural world I love, I think it’s important to acknowledge my own negative impact in the environment. I love visiting wild places and animals in a way to better appreciate and love the world I live in, but my existence changes the landscape. However, I know there are ways to help.

  • Go in the off or shoulder seasons – I despise heavy crowds at Disney, the beach, and anywhere else. Living next to Rocky Mountain National Park, I avoid the park from May to October because of the swarms of tourists that are in the area. I follow this practice elsewhere, and I make a heavy effort only to visit places when numbers are lower. This decreases the day to day pressure of areas, city or wild, to make it better for every living thing.
  • Research companies and their values – For any animal or wild tour I do a lot of research before selecting a company. This is rooted in concern for animal welfare and concern for the environment. For example, when we went dog sledding, I selected a company that adopts dogs for their tourism work, and then finds home for the dogs when they retire. All the dogs we met were well fed, happy, and totally goofy. However amazing the experience was, their welfare was absolutely vital for our selection. I have also learned bag things about companies and will not visit them again after a visit, such as the Cayman Turtle Farm. Mistakes will happen, learn from them, vow to do better.
  • Talk to experts, read work from experts – Signs in National Parks are there for YOUR safety as much as for the animals. Listen to rangers and experts when they tell you not to leave toothpaste in your tent, or to stay on the trails. There is method to the madness and it keeps things nice for everyone else.
  • Vow to Fight Animal Cruelty – do your research on this, and ask a lot of questions. While it may seem like dolphins are happy with swimming excursions in a pool, the truth is that the industry is soaked in blood (I don’t say that jokingly). Elephants are a prime example, and there is a lot of debate on what are acceptable versus cruel interactions. You won’t be perfect at this, just ask questions, do research, try to understand the complexities.

Happy Travels!

Disney Discount Shopping – Is it Worth it?

musings

Disney is notoriously expensive, and adding on souvenirs can make everything that much more! My family isn’t particularly materialistic, but we do like fun items to remember our adventures and that includes Disney. All of us at my house have some favorite characters, and all of us have fandoms that we collect from. So, the question when we were headed to Disney World was how much should we budget and how can we save money?

When I visited Disney Springs in 2015, I was surprised at how affordable a lot of options were for visitors. There were a lot of two for one deals on stuffed animals, affordable bags, and other items that made the cost a little more bearable. I also LOVED the pins and lanyards, and inevitably bought about $100 worth of goodies for myself and to share with my stepdaughter.

Planning for our trip in 2019, I am surprised to hear that overall, Disney has increased in price, and that hasn’t skipped souvenirs. From my research on their online shop even, many items seem more expensive than they did previously. Some of the sales are not as good etc. I think a few things have happened with this, including a moving away from so many steep discounts in retail, and general inflation on goods. Thus, being the budget-minded traveler that I am, I have researched and found a few suggestions on getting souvenirs, including visiting the Disney Outlet(s) in Orlando.

Naturally curious, I had to stop at one of these stores for my own take on if it’s worth the time, or if it is a waste. Here is what I learned, bought and decided overall.

plan on it being busy!

  • Start early if you can
    • By the time I arrived in the stores Th e shelved we’re looking kind of bare. I imagine this had to do with the time of year (big family holiday season from Europe and the USA). And that it was a Friday.
  • Make a list
    • In order to keep my spending in check I watched some current videos of locals on YouTube to see what might be available. This allowed me to know what to budget and what to plan to buy.
  • Budget
    • With the prices so much lower than the theme parks it’s easy to want to buy buy buy. However, before you know it you may have spent $100 and bought more than you planned. This is where the list of options/planned purchases are worth the time before you go.
  • Visit both Orlando locations
    • Often I have heard of people just visiting one location, and skipping the other. My advice is to take some extra time and do both. This is because one store may be out of an item, or may have better sizes left (I experienced this directly).
  • Just pay to park!
    • These outlet malls in Orlando have LIMITED parking. This can meat circling the lot for 30 min and still not getting anywhere. Instead, plan ahead and download the MYPARK app, set up your spot when you pull up. Pay your $3, and be on your way. Why eat into vacation for $3?
  • Plan on crowds and lines
    • The closest location to Disney (Vineland) was WAY busier, but it is a bigger store. This made it hard to shop and look around. I was literally bumping into people just trying to walk through the store. I would suggest to be courteous to others and your family, leave the kids elsewhere and just send in an adult to dodge and weave.
    • As a side note, the check out line was long and FAST moving! And the staff was Sooooooo nice and patient and kind. Gold ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • My preference was the International Drive location:
    • While parking was harder at this MASSIVE mall, this store was better. It was less busy, not as picked over, and the feeling was much nicer. Pricing was as good, selection was basically the same. If you only go to one, go to International Drive!

Purchases

  • I can’t post specifics as some are presents for the upcoming holiday season. However, I did get some awesome (and expensive) shirts for about 75% off their original prices. I got my stepdaughter an ornament for our tree (an annual tradition). And I got myself a patch for my travel denim jacket (my thing).
  • If you have littles, there were MANY toys to choose from that would make great surprise souvenirs for before or after the park (leaving more money in your pocket.

Have you shopped the Disney outlet?

If so, what have you found and enjoyed?

Happy Travels!

Universal Studios – What are we riding?

Florida, Travel

Start by reviewing what you want out of the vacation. Universal Orlando has two separate theme parks (Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios) and a water park (Volcano Bay). The theme parks are manageable in a day, depending on how old your kids are, and what all you want to ride. If you are going to try for both theme parks, I suggest starting at open, and not leaving until closing and only going on a weekday, not a weekend. If you have little ones, just do a park a day, or those little feet may not quite make it.

Volcano Bay is the water park at Universal Orlando, and from all reviews, it is a great park for a day visit. The park has most of the important water park features, and has some fantastic tech to reduce ride waits, make reservations and more. Having a nice water park is extremely helpful for HOT days in Orlando, and for your mermaid/merman littles.

Universal Hollywood is one theme park, and is theoretically comfortable to visit in one day. However, if you want to get the most of the activities and fun, a second day may be worth the extra cash.

Much like with Disney, I suggest you read over all of the rides and make sure that your kiddos are all tall enough to ride. Make sure your big people are comfortable, and make sure people are actually interested in such and such ride. For more information on rides that may be uncomfortable, click here and here. Also, for you tall folks, my husband (6’ 4”) had a miserable time on the Rip Ride Rocket as it literally smashed some sensitive areas (it wasn’t so bad that ice was needed, but bad enough that there was awkward walking the rest of the day).

UNIVERSAL FLORIDA RIDES
Kid – Friendly (40″ and less)“Grown-up” Rides
Minion MayhemRevenge of the Mummy
Shrek 4-DMen in Black
Simpsons RideHarry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster 
Hogwarts Express 
Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl 

For instance, we are traveling with my five-year-old cousin, but there is plenty she can ride at Universal that we can either split up to enjoy, or that we can use a kid swap option for.

If you are going with older kids and/or adults, talk about what the top priorities for the day are. For instance, we are taking my stepdaughter to Olivander’s and to avoid the crowds we are planning on doing that part of the park first thing. Then we can spend the morning in the busiest part of the park (Wizarding World) before the majority of crowds show up.

If your group has been there, done that, then head to other parts of the parks and skip it. There is no point in visiting a super crowded part of a theme park if no one actually wants to be there.

For families with littles there are endless opportunities with cartoons, movies like Shrek and Despicable Me. For classic story lovers, the Dr. Suess land can’t be missed. For my family, we LOVE the Jurassic Park ride and mini attractions.

If you are planning trips in the near future (2020, 2021) you can expect even better options for families, and fanatics of a variety of fandoms. My number one suggestion is to pick your favorite characters or movies, and make an effort to experience interactions with them.

Universal is different in that many of their classic rides and activities go away when they lose popularity, so there are not as many popular “classics” as exist in Disney. That being said, Universal is little kid friendly, but really geared to older kids, in the 8+ range. It’s not that littles won’t have a great time, but some of the activities and events may just go over their heads.

Regardless, I do feel like it’s an easy place to have fun and escape from reality. Seeing their Diagon Alley in Orlando was truly a magical experience for me. I was practically skipping I was so excited. Meaning, if you just love fun, movies, and some whimsy, you are sure to enjoy the parks!

Happy Travels

Planning for Magic at Universal Studios

Florida, Travel, United States

Universal Studios is the competitive edge to Disney’s theme park empire. While the Universal Studios experience has existed since 1961, the theme park magic that we know today is a more recent concoction. While some attractions existed at their Hollywood Studio in the 1960s and 1970s, the theme park lands really expanded in the 1990s with the opening of Universal Orlando in Florida. Over the last 50+ years Universal has brought its own version of movie magic to kids young and old, offering imaginative and exciting adventures.

Disney Planning – Getting Started

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I have never been to a Disney Park. A weird admission from a travel and media geek like myself.

See my parents didn’t really love theme parks. I don’t think my dad went to a single one with us as kids. And the biggest theme park I had been to before 2015 (I was 24) was Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado.

It wasn’t that my dad didn’t like fun, or even Disney movies. In fact he adores the music from quite a few of them, it was the crowds and the noise and the heat, and most importantly, the cost.

When you’re living below the poverty most of your childhood, a Disney vacation is at the bottom of the list.

Therefore, at the age of 28 I am taking on the work of planning a day at the Magic Kingdom at Disney World!

What I thought would be a simple planning of a day or two has turned into months of opening dates and reservations and hourly details. It’s insane.

Therefore, what has been a deep dive into planning a Disney World vacation, and at times a headache, has lead me to thinking that other people could use some guidance. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my tips and tricks to figuring it all out, saving money, and having the best time possible! I look forward to helping others along the journey.

Happy Travels!

Part 2

Family Travel Planning – Part 1

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My sister is getting married in October, in Orlando, in a backyard wedding. This means the whole famdamily is going to the wedding. Which means we are going to be trying to make the most of the vacation, family time, and sightseeing in one giant Robinson Wedding Week.

As you can imagine, trying to organize approximately 20 people to show up to pre-wedding events, and another 60 for the wedding, is a bit of a project. While it’s my sister’s wedding, and she is tackling the wedding EVENTm I am working on extra events to keep kids, parents, cousins, and myself sane.

While my family likes a good time, I can’t say they are the best at planning in advance to make the most of their time. If you are in a situation like me, it’s vital that you make a plan and stick to it so that you can actually enjoy your “vacation” without getting lost in a sea of relative needs. Here are my tips for surviving and enjoying the journey.

UNIVERSAL FLORIDA RIDES  
Ivy Friendly “Grown-up” Rides
Minion Mayhem Revenge of the Mummy
Shrek 4-D Men in Black
Simpsons Ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster  
Hogwarts Express  
Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl  
  1. Make Lists
    • Make a list of people going, lists of priority sites and activities, lists of time needed for travel.
    • Lists will help you prioritize and plan more comfortably.
    • If you are headed for theme parks, make a list of activities and rides that are most important, and that will work for different people and ages. For instance, my five year old cousin won’t be able to do many of the rides my 12 y/o step daughter wants to ride. Therefore, with some planning we can split up and get to ride everything we want. (see above)
  2. Plan What You Want or Need
    • Vacations are expensive, so it’s important to make a plan to get the most out of your time on a trip. With a group, things go slower, and sometimes you just won’t get everyone to commit to a plan. Therefore, it’s important to choose what you want and need the most then invite everyone.
    • For example, I pick days that work the best for the most important things. What day do we need to do the Bachelorette for the Bride? What day will be more comfortable for everyone for sleep, timing, obligations etc.
    • You won’t be able to make everyone happy, but people usually will make something work if they want to join in. If they can’t, then they usually find an alternative option.
  3. Know You Won’t Make Everyone Happy
    • Inevitably you will have people that aren’t happy with the schedule. While it’s nice to make things work for everyone, it usually doesn’t ever work. If you waited for everyone to be able to go, the truth is that you probably would never get to go!
    • Prioritize the most important people, sometimes this is the people getting married, sometimes it’s making sure the kids get to have the most at their day at Disney. While it’s nice to wait for Aunt Janet to get her nails done, maybe Janet needs to reschedule or join everyone at another time.
  4. Don’t plan on Being with Everyone All The Time
    • It’s nice to plan on being together a lot, but the truth is that everyone will want to do different things at different times.
    • It’s common for everyone to get sick of each other too. This gives kids and adults a chance to get space, quiet time, and down time to relax.
  5. Plan Ahead
    • The sooner you start trying to book an AirBnB, hotel, rental cars, and other arrangements, the better the rates and the better selection you will have. Booking a last minute flight and room probably won’t give you the best price and options.
    • Start drawing up plans for each day so that you can get a feel for what everyone wants or needs. This gives you time to rearrange plans in case of closures, event changes, or other situations.
  6. Plan for Down Time
    • If kids are involved you will need some time to relax. If adults are involved, you will need some time to sleep, eat, talk, and not have to be anywhere. I highly suggest making a day or two free days, or open days, where loose plans are made, and everything is casual. If people are exhausted, cancel plans, and take time to sleep or just chill.

Read More on Florida:

Happy Travels!

Universal Studios for the Potterhead

Florida, Travel

Old Firehouse Books

2015-10-24 07.12.02-1 (1) I was up at 6am! and yes that is a Marauder’s map dress!

This October I had the fantabulous experience of getting to go to Universal Studios Orlando!

2015-10-24 08.12.10 HDR-2 My baby sister and I were pretty stoked!

AND OF COURSE I WENT TO THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER!

Because you can’t have a potter tattoo and not go if you are in Orlando, let alone the theme park.

Also, 8 year old me desperately need to go be an 8-year-old in a theme park and 11-year-old me wanted to live the potter books and movies, and buy my wand, and get sorted, and try butter beer, and act like a spaz about the Hogwarts Express.

2015-10-24 09.34.33 HDR-2 The Knight Bus starts the journey to Diagon Alley

We spent like 75% of the day in “Harry Potter World” which is split between a “Diagon Alley” and a “Hogsmeade” and in two separate parks…

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