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Park Service Junior Rangers Defend the Fort in St. Augustine

July 26, 2010 by · Comments Off on Park Service Junior Rangers Defend the Fort in St. Augustine 

Touring Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Entering Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Entering Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Got house guests? Bet you have a favorite place to share with out of town visitors. During my childhood days in Arlington, Virginia, we took friends and family to Mount Vernon.  When I moved near Philadelphia, the choice became the Liberty Bell or the Franklin Institute. Now that I reside in Jacksonville, Florida, I venture to nearby St. Augustine and tour a National Park site-Castillo de San Marcos.

St. Augustine, founded in 1565, holds the honor of being America’s oldest city and the fort (Castillo de San Marcos) remains the oldest fortification. Walls of coquina blocks (compressed shells) surround the bastion which has withstood numerous bombardments, sieges and hurricanes during its 335 year-old history.  Each time I return, I learn something new.

Recently I invited my two oldest grandchildren, RJ, age seven and Kyra who is five, and their Mom, while they were here for Camp Lander (their holidays to Florida).  RJ wanted to become a Park Service  Junior Ranger, which he would report to his Boy Scout troop, and Kyra wasn’t about to be ignored.

RJ and Kyra with the Park Service Ranger

RJ and Kyra with the Park Service Ranger

We entered the fortress via a drawbridge through the Sally Port, the only way in and out and passed below the portcullis. We stopped at the Ranger station and the kids were given an activity book to complete and return.

The booklet included a guided tour which pointed out the important artifacts in each area. To be completely honest, I wish they gave these brochures to everyone because the information proves very helpful.

RJ and Kyra had to fill in the blanks, answer true-false questions, match pictures of objects with corresponding parts and organize steps in the proper timeline. They also had to find and ask a volunteer and a Ranger questions about their job. Lastly, they wrote their own opinion about the place.

We watched a video, inspected supply rooms used for food storage, gunpowder, cannonballs, troop quarters, and the all important “necessary”.  We climbed up to the gun deck and saw canons and watchtowers, as well as enjoyed the view of the harbor.

When our self-guided tour was complete, we listened to an animated talk given by a Park Ranger in authentic Spanish dress. Then, the children submitted the completed booklets, their answers were checked and they were asked to take the Junior Ranger Pledge.

Taking the Jr Ranger Pledge

Taking the Jr Ranger Pledge

“I, (fill in name), am proud to be a National Park Service Junior Ranger. I promise to appreciate, respect, and protect all national parks. I also promise to continue learning about the landscape, plants, animals and history of these special places. I will share what I learn with my friends and family.”

The process was pretty impressive and elicited big smiles as they received their badges.  I’ll take that pledge,too, if I can become a Junior Ranger.

Then, we headed off for ice cream cones! What a joy for me, as a grandparent, to share my love of history and one of my favorite destinations.


Junior Ranger programs are offered at about 286 of the 388 national parks, in collaboration with local school districts and community organizations. Go online to The Ranger Zone ( to check out individual parks for information about a specific program.

Debi within Castillo de San Marcos

Debi within Castillo de San Marcos

Mighty Duck Tales from the Peabody Hotel in Orlando

July 19, 2010 by · Comments Off on Mighty Duck Tales from the Peabody Hotel in Orlando 

Peabody Duck ParadeToday there is no need to prod, the fab five hop up the stairs, right into the water, splashing to the delight of onlookers.  The adults smile and laugh, appreciating this posh hotel’s whimsical shenanigans.

Dave Robinson thinks his job is just ducky, in fact, he claims it’s, “the best one at the hotel.”  No, he doesn’t play Donald at Disney World. Duck Master Dave leads a parade of mallards through the lobby of The Orlando Peabody Hotel, one of many Orlando hotels located on International Drive.

His duties include feeding and caring for these mascots: five mallards (1 drake and 4 females). Before twice daily processions, he lays red carpet from the elevator to the lobby fountain, and places a four-tiered step against the marble lip.  Then he reserves an elevator and rides up to the rooftop Royal Duck Palace, which is really an enlarged gazebo.

Dave enters their home and taps the floor with a brass (what else?) duck-headed cane. The flock waddles out.  Like cattle herders, Dave and the daily honorary Duck Master, round-up the brood, encouraging them into the elevator.

Assistant Laura stands guard, quarantining her fine feathered friends, while Dave calls the desk to report preparations are complete.

A crowd gathers in the lobby and an announcer recounts the hotel history, and then starts a recording of Sousa’s King Cotton March.  The ducks hear the music; see the red carpet, which they associate with food, and proudly promenade.  They strut round the corner and down the path, like movie stars on the famed Hollywood walk.

The lone male doesn’t necessarily command the lead or rear position.  The ducks put themselves in a row.

Mr. Mallard steals the show, posing for children and parents like a professional model.  He seems to bask in his golden opportunity.Duck Master Dave

The parade started as a joke, back in 1930, at the original Memphis Peabody Hotel.  General Manager, Frank Schutt and a hunting buddy returned from a weekend trip, imbibing a little too much Tennessee whiskey.  They thought it would be funny to place their live decoys (legal at the time) in the sumptuous fountain.  They received such enthusiastic reviews, the ducks became a tradition.

When the lobby guests disperse, Dave cleans any dropping on the rugs and rolls them up.  I ask, “Have you ever had to go on any wild goose chases, so to speak?”

“Oh yes,” Dave says, “we had to send one fella back to the farm, for more lessons.  He liked to wander the hotel.”

Each team trained from birth, works for three years; six months on, then 6 months R & R, before being retired.

When Laura and I pass through the lobby an hour later, we find no sitting ducks but sleeping ducks.  Ahh, life as it’s quaked up to be.

If you go:

All three Peabody Hotels parade live ducks to their fountains at 11AM and 5 PM.  The opulent hotels in Memphis, TN, Orlando, FL and Little Rock, AK use a subtle duck logo on their linens, toiletries and napkins.  The gift shop is a haven for fowl items.  Their elegant restaurant, called Dux, serves no canard (duck).

The four-star Peabody Orlando is directly across from the Convention Center.

9801 International Drive, 407 352-4000 or

A Teen Reviews the new Harry Potter World

July 16, 2010 by · Comments Off on A Teen Reviews the new Harry Potter World 

Grand Opening of Harry Potter WorldReaders of this blog  know I am an exuberant Harry Potter fan.  I’ve attended Midnight Madness parties-in costume-to get my hands on a newly published book in the series.  I had been awaiting the opening of Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter since they announced plans to build. Sadly, I missed the grand event but I plan to visit this fall, when the crowds dwindle.

However, my dear friends, the Granfields, took some Orlando family holidays and made a stop to the theme park, on their way home from a cruise. I spoke with 16-year-old Paige, another avid fan, to hear her remarks about their exciting day.

Paige said, “Everything about it was really cool.  I felt like I was walking through the pages of the books.  Well, the snow on the castle looked a little fake, but everything inside the buildings was authentic, just like the movies.”

Her family rode both of the adult or non-kiddie rides.  Paige claimed, “The Forbidden Journey” made my sister feel a bit dizzy and sick because it jerks around, but my Dad and I loved it.  The projections (appearance)  of the characters Harry, Ron and Hermione within Hogwart’s Castle are 3-D, like they were really there.”

A stop in Ollivander’s, the wand shop, “was a highlight, exactly as JK Rowling first described it in the story.”

A group of about 30 people are admitted into the confines of the shop. One muggle (child) is selected to try out a wand, but fans remember that the wand really chooses its owner.  Paige said, “All sorts of strange things happened when the shop owner suggested wrong wands.”  In the end, the child is united with the “chosen” wizard accessory.

Paige told me that her  group didn’t go to the Three Broomsticks Restaurant because the wait was too long.  Instead, her family and cousins slipped off to some of the other Islands of Adventure within Universal’s theme park.

In reviewing her experiences versus her expectations, Paige said , “The whole place is amazing and definitely worth it.  We had so much fun and of course, I can’t wait to go back.

I know, I’m under a spell, but next time, Paige,  I’m going with you.!!

Midnight Madness Party 2005    Debi & Paige

Debi & Paige at Midnight Madness Party 2005

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