I plan to mark my New Year’s resolution of exercising more and leading a healthier life by … sleeping in on Tuesday. But for those of you who want to set the tone for an active and healthier 2013 on New Years Day, check out the Tuesday morning hikes being held at dozens of Florida state parks. There’s a ranger-guided walk along the Wetlands Trail at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne, a two-mile hike and history lesson on the Long Key Viaduct on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, three-mile hikes at Hugh Taylor Birch and John U. Lloyd parks in Fort Lauderdale, and a hike along 2.2 miles of four interconnected trails in Oleta River State Park, among others. They are all part of a national “First Day Hikes” program that has spread to state parks in all 50 states in an effort to promote a healthy lifestyle. There will be more than 600 such events on Tuesday. Read more about the program here. Here’s where you can find out about hikes across the country, and here’s a list of events in Florida state parks.
While we’re waiting for the Kennedy Space Center to complete the exhibit for space shuttle Atlantis, the center opened the first phase of a 10-year upgrade to the Visitor Complex on Thursday. The first piece is a $16 million entry plaza, which includes a retail shop, restaurant, ticket stations and other services. The grand entry plaza also has a 75-foot-long fountain, pictured above, that pays homage to the dreams of President John F. Kennedy and can put on light-and-water shows for guests in the evening.
Next up is the $100 million, 90,000-square-foot celebration of the space shuttle program, featuring Atlantis, scheduled to open in July.
Meantime, Delaware North, the concessionaire that operates the Visitor Complex, announced that it has extended three behind-the-scenes tours of areas that were closed to the public while the shuttle program was active. How long the tours will go on depends on whether NASA or commercial operators need to use any Kennedy Space Center facilities. Tours of the Launch Control Center and Launch pad have been extended at least through March 31, and tours of the Vehicle Assembly Building, which used to house the shuttles, have been extended through 2013. Price: $25 adults, $19 children, on top of admission. Information here.
Photo credit: Kennedy Space Center
When I made a day trip to Orlando last week to check out the new attractions at Magic Kingdom, I took the train up and flew back on Spirit. Any time I can trade the stress of flying for a leisurely train ride, I’ll do it. Roomy seats, no security lines, a lounge car, no charge for two checked bags, and no need to arrive more than 15 minutes early – there’s really no debate.
Cost: $38. Ride time: 9 a.m. to about 1:30 p.m. I didn’t need a full day at the park, so the arrival time worked fine. I had a late flight back, departing at 9:40 p.m. Parking at the Fort Lauderdale Amtrak station is free, but I had to pay for a taxi from the airport back to the station.
After taking this ride a few times, I have some advice to pass on:
* If you’re going to Disney and don’t need to get a rental car, get off at Kissimmee, which is the stop before Orlando. It’s closer.
* Amtrak doesn’t issue e-tickets. You’ll need to print out your ticket at the station. I try to get to a station — it doesn’t have to be the one you’re leaving from — a day or two in advance. It takes only a minute, and parking is free.
* If you’re going to leave your car at the train station, you’ll need a free parking pass from a station agent. Get there 10 or 15 minutes earlier so you have time to stand in line for the pass, then walk it back to your car.
* The cashier in the lounge car takes a long break shortly after the train departs West Palm Beach. If you need coffee, get it by 10 a.m.
* Make sure your schedule has some flexibility. Amtrak has a lower priority than freight trains, and is frequently late. Towards the end of my trip, the train crept along behind two slow-moving freight trains and arrived about 20 minutes late.
I’m just back from a tour of what’s new at Disney World’s expansion of Fantasyland and my favorite part is …. the newly revamped Test Track ride at Epcot. OK, OK, the additions to Fantasyland are fun too, but they’re aimed at the little ones and a non-parent adult isn’t likely to ride them over and over or keep going back to meet Belle. Test Track, on the other hand, is great fun for those of us who just have a childish streak. The basic ride remains the same – the car still hits 65 mph, the fastest of any Disney ride anywhere – but all the visuals have changed. Plus, the Imagineers have added a pre-show and an after-show. Before you ride, you design your own car. Although you ride in the same standard car as everybody else, the computer tests your design and tells you how well it would fare on that ride. Then afterwards, you can put your digital car on a digital track and watch it compete against others. It’s really two attractions in one. If I caught a day when the lines were shorter, I’d go back and modify my design to make my car faster. Even the grown-up kids seemed to be enthralled by the attraction, which reopened just last week. Vroom, vroom!
Designing your own car at Test Track. Photo: Ali Nasser/Walt Disney Resorts
Universal Orlando Resort on Wednesday served its five millionth Butterbeer, the sweet, non-alcoholic drink it created about 2 ½ years ago to serve in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure. Universal isn’t giving out its secret recipe, which was approved by J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter author, but here’s a version based on cream soda that can be made at home.