One semi-numismatic tidbit was the magic trick I dreamed up on the fly to entertain our kids at lunch breaks. Four-year-old Hannah insisted on seeing a magic trick after eight-year-old Tyler started pulling pennies out of her ear. I almost regret teaching him that one, since he spent the vacation pulling pennies, French fries and everything else out of people's ears.
Knowing that girls key onto things like people and relationships, I made use of the fact that Abe Lincoln's bust faces the opposite direction of the other portraits. I put a Lincoln cent and Jefferson nickel in my hand, lining the portraits up back-to-back. I told her the people were mad at each other and not talking. I closed my fist, asked her to say the magic words "Abracadabra, please be friends!", and when I opened my hand Abe and Jeff were now looking at one another. "Now they're friends!" she exclaimed, and I had to repeat the trick over and over all week.
As a numismatist I already walk a path less travelled. I like it that way - getting away from the crowds is where some real gems await.
On Friday we took a tourist path less travelled, visiting Cypress Gardens. It turned out to be the path REALLY less travelled. Arriving at the park opening, our rental van was one of just a couple dozen vehicles in the parking lot. Waiting to inspect our bags was Art (we're on a first-name basis). Art was the only inspector, and there was no line whatsoever. There was one ticket seller. Again, no line.
The old-time Florida park was eclipsed long ago by Disney and its ilk, yet somehow it manages to hang on. And that's a good thing - the park has its charm and was a delight to navigate sans shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. One of the charms was the toothless woman operating one of the kiddie rides.
But our kids didn't notice or care. They could ride again and again with no lines, and had an absolute ball. Older kids (and a lot of adults) would find the park lame, but for our crew (aged 9, 8 and 4) it was a dream come true. Hannah would grab me by the hand and literally drag me onto the next ride, and the boys were so excited they ran full speed between rides.
We also enjoyed strolling through the zoo area and seeing the park's animal show and Pirate and Cowboy comedy shows. Corny, but actually pretty entertaining. No blockbuster soundtrack or choreography, but good clean fun just the same. Although a little run down at the edges, most of the park was new and clean. If you have a sense of humor, you'll enjoy it.
I'll never forget the lunchtime experience. The hostess (I'll call her "Hazel") was a one-woman show. She took our order at one end of the counter, then walked over to the other side to prepare it. She put pizzas in the oven, cut them when they came out, made sandwiches, and poured drinks. All this took about 20 minutes. My kids were hungry, my wife was steamed, but I couldn't help but grin at the down-home quirkiness of it all. In the end our lunch was good (thanks, Hazel) and we were in no real hurry - we didn't have to be.
We ended up seeing the same sets of families all around the park, giving it the homey feel of a company picnic. The park closed at 5pm and we missed one of the core attractions, the botanic gardens. But the rest of the grounds were beautiful, too, being dotted with Cypress trees decked out with Spanish moss. So consider Cypress Gardens if you're visiting Florida with small kids or grandkids, and be prepared for a very anti-Disney experience.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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