Instead we stayed about two hours south of Orlando spending time at the pool in Grandma and Grandpa's condo and some time on the beach collecting shells and enjoying the ocean. The rest of the vacation we day tripped to various places that were researched before we left Toronto, most of which were in the Sarasota area.
Here are the three child focused activities we found in Sarasota that Molly and Jack loved and had absolutely nothing to do with a certain mouse.
Sarasota Children's Garden - Basically, it's a fairy land where children can dress up, visit the seven dwarves house and run around like maniacs. Cost is $5 for kids 3 and over, Adults are $10 each. The kids spent over 2 hours running around and playing. Molly was intent on playing with a group of older princesses and witches who were in disguise because they didn't want their mother to recognize them and take their pictures. Thankfully they included Molly when she was able to keep up. Both kids and all adults were happily exhausted by the end of the trip.
Molly and Jack conquer the tire tower.
Before I talk about the next two places we visited I feel a need to quote my thoughts on animal attractions. This is a repeat of something I wrote a while back when I wrote about our experiences at African Lion Safari: I often find myself with mixed feelings surrounding animal amusement facilities. I have seen movies like Blackfish and know that many of the attractions that feature wild animals provide spaces that are too confined for the way that nature intended animals to live. I know that there are many animals whose population is threatened because of man, industry, nature and all the environmental themes that Tolkien so eloquently wrote into his books. I am also a realist, an omnivore, a supporter of farms and scientific research. One of the best excursions Chris and I have ever been on was a whale watching tour in the Bay of Fundy with marine biologists who fund their research by giving tours. It was amazing. I know that technology is there to help a number of species procreate (humans included) and I'm thankful for that.
Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary - The Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary is where wild animals are surrendered and cared for in a safe environment, a lot of which are Hollywood and circus animals. This place is the ideal size for toddlers and pre-schoolers. They can easily walk to see each animal and I have never personally been closer to wild animals. Highlights for me were the bears, ligers (yeah they actually exists), watching two teenaged tigers wrestle and Molly's comment as we walked through the big cat section, "Shere Khan is going to eat me". Tickets were $18 for adults and $7 for children.
MOTE - Marine Laboratory and Aquarium - Mote Aquarium boasts over 24 diverse research programs surrounding the ocean and it's residents since it opened in 1955. This small sized aquarium allowed the kids to explore easily. Cost is $19.75 per adult (although we were able to find some coupons). Kids under 4 are free. Children aged 4-12 are $14.75. Molly and Jack had a chance to pet a baby shark and a sting ray, I'm surprised to report that Molly was the only one brave enough to pet either (although she shuddered from head to foot after she pet the baby shark).
That's right, Molly's high fiving a turtle.
On the way back from MOTE Chris asked Jack what his favourite part of our visit had been. He replied, "the sink" referring to the hand washing station at the aquarium. We both breathed a sigh of relief. Our kids were not Disney ready this trip.