Traveling to GP Orlando

I had a great experience traveling to GP Orlando with the WNY Gaming Den Mother, Leigh. While the rest of the typical crew were unable to make the trip down with us, we had a great time visiting with family, catching up with the usual tournament grinders, and best of all celebrating my six year wedding anniversary in my favorite place in the world. As you can guess, it was an amazing trip and I’m excited to share the details with everyone.

Seeing Family

Although my siblings are spread across the U.S., this Grand Prix has been circled on the calendar for almost a year with the intention to see my sister. Any time I’m given the opportunity, I love to take the time to catch up with family and friends. This trip we visited my sister Terri, and her awesome family! I got to see my nieces, Bailey and Averi, my second mother, Debbie, and my brother-in-law Jay. It was awesome to just hang out and catch up with them, even getting a chance to take Averi to her first day of preschool. This was our first time meeting Bailey and I was excited to learn all about my 12 year old niece Bailey, or Betty as her friends at school call her, on the 2 hour drive up to Kissimmee from Cape Coral. We took turns quizzing each other about each others’ lives, learning a bunch of interesting facts about her. We are excited to keep in touch now that we are home.

While I was playing in the Grand Prix, Leigh got to tour some theme parks with the family. She got to visit sea world on Saturday and while I was playing Sunday, she and Bailey got to go explore Disney’s Magic Kingdom, which has been a lifelong dream of Leigh’s. Not only did she achieve that dream, but it was a great chance for her to get personally acquainted with our niece. They had a wonderful time seeing the sights and running around Disney.

Traveling Inside Traveling

Leigh and I flew out Thursday night after Leigh got out of work, flying out of Buffalo.  We had a layover before flying out of Charlotte, NC to Fort Myers, FL, where there was a car waiting to make the drive up to Cape Coral. Upon arrival we went straight to bed knowing we were tagging along with Averi to her first day of Preschool.

After hanging out for the day in Cape Coral, we had a two hour drive to Kissimmee, where we were staying in a summer home. Once we got settled in we hung out talking for a few hours and just relaxed.

The main even started on Saturday morning. You can read about that experience in my GP Orlando Tournament Report here. After the event, I walked the 2 miles to meet up with the family at Buffalo Wild Wings down the road. We then headed to our hotel down near disney, where we were all pretty exhausted from the day and fell right asleep.

Sunday morning, I woke up early and headed back to the convention center to get back to the grind, while Leigh and Bailey went to Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Once my day was over, I didn’t want to rush them so I went gift shop hunting while they finished their day off. I bought some trinkets for the kids and headed over to the park to pick them up since a storm rolled in and the park shut down some of the rides. Bailey had school in the morning so we made the 2.5 hour drive back to Cape Coral in the thunder, lightning, and rain. When we got back Leigh and I were so exhausted we ended up going to bed early in anticipation of the long day we’d planned for Monday.

With my focus on the event, I wanted to give Leigh a full day’s attention. The trip commemorated our six year anniversary weekend and she had to spend most of it without me. To make our last day in Florida special, I planned to wake up at 5 am and drive an hour to Sanibel Island.

For those that don’t know, when I proposed to Leigh six years ago, it was on this very beach in front of the same lighthouse we were going to visit on Monday. It means a lot to both of us and I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to go see it again.

“Red Tide,” is a phenomena which is currently devastating the gulf coast regions of Florida and is currently the worst it has been in years. Sea creatures are washing up dead record numbers daily. Red Tide is a type of algae that excretes a poisonous plum that kills many of the sea creatures living in the water. Not just fish, but manatee, horseshoe crabs, birds, turtles, dolphins, whale-sharks, and all other types of creatures living on the coast. They just started the cleanup process to clean the shores and try and get not only the algae out of the water, but the carcasses off the beach that are rotting in the heat.

When we first arrived to the island we went straight to a restaurant that was recommended to us by our Brother-in-Law Jay. I’ll get into that in the food section.

After breakfast the rain had subsided and we parked and headed to the beach. The clean up crews were in full swing raking the lifeless sea life into piles and shoveling them into a truck. It was devastating to see all this sea life washed up on the shores and heartbreaking that I was powerless to help in any large scale capacity. We did what we could, spending the morning cleaning up trash and debris as the crews worked to clear the shore of the remains. We did get to see a manatee in the water breach the surface while swimming away from the beach. Once the wind kicked up and it started pouring again, we headed to the only cover in the area which was where the bathrooms are. They were out of order so I stood under the overhangs while Leigh was in her glory collecting seashells on the ground. We decided to head back to the car and wait out the rain. Not to be deterred from our beach and lighthouse, we decided to go to the gift shops and buy more trinkets for the kids.

When we finished in the gift shops the rain had subsided. It took the clouds and thunder with it, leaving sunshine and blue skies. We headed back to the beach and set out to collect shells and take pictures. I even ventured out into the water where it appeared the algae had moved along. Around this time there were a bunch of people out on the beach. It ended up being beautiful, and a perfect day to enjoy the beach. We were both very grateful we decided persevere, spending the Day at Sanibel despite the rain and storms.

We finished our day at the beach and headed back to pack as we had to be at the airport by 5 to board the plane. We had a couple of not so smooth flights home, but all-in-all we were sad to leave, counting down days to our return before the flight even took off.

The Food

Throughout the four days we spent in Florida we had some interesting food, and although we did eat at a couple chain restaurants, we got to discover some sweet dives, too.

The Lighthouse Cafe – Sanibel Island, FL – An eatery that came highly recommended – We both got French toast and scrambled eggs. While Leigh went traditional with Maple Syrup, I decided to go with their house made Blueberry Syrup. It was everything you would expect out of a small cafe, very welcoming and friendly. We were a bit out of place as we were at least half the age of any of the other people that ventured in, but they were all friendly and congratulating us on our anniversary. We had an awesome sign of the day to come when we were sitting eating breakfast and our Wedding March song came on the radio, Train – Marry Me. It was a great experience!

Mel’s Diner – Cape Coral, FL – While we had our hearts set on Waffle House since we went there the morning we got engaged, but Terri said we wouldn’t be disappointed. Mel’s Diner was great and Terri Was right. The staff was super Friendly Staff. Leigh and I both got huge omelettes that  tasted great. We enjoyed our experience!

Buffalo Wild Wings – Orlando, FL – After a long day of playing magic for me and running around Seaworld for Leigh, we all wanted to sit and relax. It’s hard to expect anything impressive out of a BWW, but they somehow failed to meet our low expectations. The inside smelled like actual sweaty gym socks, so we sat outside on the hot patio. Our food that actually made it to the table arrived late and the food we did get wasn’t particularly good. Overall, it was extremely average. It was a terrible experience and I highly recommend not going to this one if you are around the convention center.

Shake Station – Ellenton, FL – I was particularly hard on this place. I ordered a peanut butter shake, which is my favorite, but it seemed like the peanut butter wasn’t mixed in at all. It was definitely too thick to drink through the provided straw. Bailey got her favorite, a strawberry shake, which she enjoyed, so my shake could have been an anomaly. Leigh got a Marshmallow Milkshake and wasn’t happy with it as it tasted exactly like vanilla ice cream. Despite the underwhelming shakes, the staff was super friendly and extremely engaging! The experience was great, even though the shake I got was subpar so I look forward to going back and giving it another chance. 

Foster’s Grille – Cape Coral, FL – We were stopping for something “quick.” Leigh ordered a chicken wings with blue cheese and a salad, and I ordered a Philly Cheesesteak with no veggies and a Chocolate Milkshake. They forgot the blue cheese in the order but they were cooked well, and they were medium sized. They weren’t actual Buffalo Chicken Wings, but they were good. My Cheesesteak left plenty to be desired. It was small with really cheap meat, and the cheese was cooked to a crisp. The milkshake was on point and delicious. The staff was friendly and the place was clean. The other customers all looked happy, they had a huge stuffed spiderman hanging from the ceiling along with a race car shell which was really neat.

The Great American Bagel Bakery – Charlotte Airport, NC – We had ordered a quick snack to fill us for the trip to Buffalo. I got a pizza bagel and Leigh got a California Turkey bagel sandwich. My bagel was super “gourmet,” It tasted great. It was hot and fresh, It was actually the size of a personal pan pizza on a bagel. I was pretty impressed because most places don’t do pizza very well outside of Buffalo. Leigh enjoyed hers as well, and says it was the best sandwich shes ever eaten in an airport.

Hardee’s – Kissimmee, FL – I wasn’t going to include this one on the list, But Bailey and I got to hang out for almost an hour talking and watching funny videos on the TV playing in the Lobby. I got a really good sourdough burger, although they put mayo on it when I asked for none, but they also put bacon on it when I didn’t ask for it, so I chalked it up as a wash. Bailey got a chicken sandwich and strawberry milkshake and seemed to enjoy it. We were enjoying ourselves so much that we lost track of time and ended up staying late and enjoying ourselves. The staff was really friendly and didn’t mind us hanging out.

Can’t Wait to Make it Back

While I may not have played my best magic, I had a magical experience at GP Orlando. I am ecstatic for the next one, and I am going to make it a point to go every year. I wish I could have brought the kids but it just wasn’t possible for this trip. Hopefully by next year we will have it planned a bit better and will be able to get more out of our trip.

Have you been to Orlando before? If you have share your experience in the comments and give me some recommendations for places to check out next time I go!


About The Author: Jimmy Wray

A Father, Husband, Shop Owner, and Professional Magic Player. He specializes in Control/Combo Decks. He has many good tournament finishes including 11th at GP Seattle in 2018 and Undefeated day 1 at GP Toronto in 2016.