Something Tells Me It’s All Happening at the Zoo

Something Tells Me It’s All Happening at the Zoo

Bulldog really loves going to the Zoo. Pretty much any zoo. I’ve had annual passes to two zoos around here. That would be the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford and the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne. I love them both, can’t wait for the opening of the Bear Exhibit at the CFZ. They’re still lining up funding for that one.

I think the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne is very cool. They have an advantage over their counterpart in Sanford, as they sit on a much bigger tract of land. By the way, both of those fine zoos do have zip lines; it’s a good idea to give folks something else to do when visiting a zoological park.

The photo I’m featuring here is from the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas. I loved that one, though my visit was brief; I had a plane to catch. The planets–and the flamingos–lined up for me when I pointed my camera this time. I thinks it’s ironic that the flamingo foto I love best came, not from a zoo here in the Sunshine State, but from one in Texas. Yeah, that tickles my funny bone.


Zoo lover Bulldog Ben in Orlando


Photo credit Ben Lawrence Basile


Great and Authentic Florida Eatery on the Banks of the St. Johns

Great and Authentic Florida Eatery on the Banks of the St. Johns

My companion and I enjoyed lunch recently at the Swamp House Grill in DeBary; it has become a fave spot for me in east Central Florida. The food is fabulous and the service is consistently good.

I had my usual: the blackened seafood trio. I enjoy that one so much, I rarely order anything else.

This gem is just a bit off the beaten path but very well worth it. There are eco boat tours leaving from the dock right behind the restaurant several times a day and they usually feature live acoustic music on the weekends. They do have a full bar and a good beer selection. That’s a “must have” for me and just one more reason why I like this place.

The Swamp House Grill is family friendly, their authentic Florida fare is moderately priced and the setting is idyllic. I’ve got to say that it’s become my favorite eatery in all of Volusia County. I recommend it highly.

Bulldog Ben Really Loves the Beach

Bulldog Ben Really Loves the Beach

It’s so very true. I’m just not myself if I can’t see it, hear it and smell it at least once a month. Nothing promotes serenity quite like a trip to the beach.

I’ve got my fave spots on the Atlantic coast. Daytona Beach bills itself as “The World’s Most Famous Beach” and I think they can back it up. New Smyrna is a lovely destination, I’ve been there many, many times. The white sands of our Gulf Coast beaches are hard to beat; don’t get to them that often, but they’re among the very best the Sunshine State has to offer.

But for the last four years, Cocoa Beach in Brevard County has been my get-away spot. At some point in my beach-hopping I realized that I had been to Cocoa Beach enough times that I was beginning to know the town more in the way that a resident might as opposed to a casual visitor. And then it happened.

Something truly did change in that remote corner of the brain where one’s beach preferences are stored. For me it was Cocoa Beach. Cocoa Beach and no where else.

It’s entirely possibly that I’ll retire to Cocoa Beach one day in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, I often escape to serve–if only for a few hours–as one of Neptune’s loyal subjects. It’s a role I relish. And I don’t have to stay all day. Just long enough to get in my beach fix; a little sand in my shoes, a little beer in my belly. Life is good. Then, batteries fully charged, I head back to Orlando and dream of my next seaside excursion.


Photo credit: Benjamin Lawrence Basile




Very Good Experience at the Days Inn in Melbourne

I booked the Days Inn in Melbourne recently. To be honest, it was 15 minutes away from my objective. That would be Cocoa Beach, my frequent weekend getaway. Rates for beach front hotels in the middle of summer are crazy. So I decided to try going just a bit down the road and try a more affordable way to go; that strategy worked well for me this time around.

Some of you may have read my previous blog entry about the Red Roof Inn near Busch Gardens in Tampa. That was a hellish experience from start to finish. But my stay last week at the Days Inn in Melbourne has restored my faith, so to speak, as far as choosing moderately-priced hotels when traveling.

There was nothing to not like about the accommodations. A clean and comfy room, of more than ample size and no issues with noise and such. The wifi was down when I first tried to log on. I called the front desk, they apologized and told me that the tech folk were working on it. When I tried again, all was well and I had many hours on problem-free web surfing.

Something that has been a problem for me in other bargain-priced hotels is not having the cable channel line up in the room. They did here, the remote was sitting on top of it. It may seem like a little thing, but it’s something I always notice. I have found so many other places where there’s an HBO guide but no channel line up. A real pet-peeve, good to see that these folks take care of the little things.

I asked them to trade out my wet towels for new ones pretty late-ish, around 9 PM and a staff member was at my door in about ten minutes with fresh towels. That’s good service.

The continental breakfast was better than most and the crew actually kept it very well stocked. I know because I came down near the end of the stated serving time. Another plus, even if it also seems like a little thing. I’ve been to plenty of places where if you’re not there at the time they throw down the chow, you’ll have to settle for one of those tiny muffins and a glass of watered-down orange juice. And the coffee was very good. And hot. Yay!

What I liked best about my stay was that all three of my personal interactions with staff were unabashedly positive and weren’t rushed or cursory. I don’t take it well when hotel staff seem to be trying mightily to get those guest interactions done as quickly as possible without the tiniest bit of a personal touch; that did not happen at the Days Inn. They were pleasant and unhurried and treated me like a valued customer and guest. Because I don’t experience that very often, it meant a lot to me. I highly recommend the Days Inn in Melbourne and will be staying there again without a doubt.

Don’t ever stay at the Red Roof Inn on Busch Blvd in Tampa

Honestly, it’s hard to imagine how my brief time in “motel hell” could have gone worse. Let me just give you the basics about why this place is so bad, and then you can read my full tirade if you’re so inclined: tiny, dreary room. Zero amenities, no microwave or fridge, no cheap “Continental Breakfast” in the morning, not even one of those low-end, one cup coffeemakers in the room. Even though the web site plainly lists the micro and fridge. Bad place, priced about the same as any mid-range motel where you’d happily stay and visit again. Setting that felt totally not-safe and staff completely indifferent to the guest’s needs.

The details: when I entered the office to check in, the front desk clerk had just found my reservation when another guest came in and proceeded to unleash a torrent of “stuff” on the staff member. She had bad things to say about the place and the way it was operated; while I cannot say whether or not her criticisms were on-target, I was about to experience first-hand what a truly bad motel this was.

By the way, that part of Tampa is not what it used to be. I’ve visited Busch Gardens before and never had any concern for my safety in the area around the park. But I did not feel safe at all when walking from the office to my room. Not at all. That should not be taken as a criticism of Busch Gardens directly, that’s not why I was visiting Tampa; I think it appropriate because this Red Roof Inn is quite close and mentions the park in their promotional materials.

It looks like they also rent rooms weekly. All I have to say about that is that motels that offer a weekly option are usually not a good place for a tourist or traveler to stay.

My room was tiny. Really, really tiny. Didn’t take the dimensions, but the staff placed the chair for the desk at the end of the desk because if it were put in the usual spot, you would not be able to pass through to the bath room without climbing over the bed. I generally travel alone, but in the case of a couple, if “John” was using the desk, he would have to jump up every time “Jane” needed to get to the sink or the toilet! Which were crammed into an infinitesimal space. I’ve never seen such a thing. These cramped conditions were unacceptable even for a single traveler.

But here’s the thing that really got my dander up: the room was so minuscule that there was no fridge or microwave. No way they would have fit. I have nutritional needs that require me to be able to take along food and prepare it in my room when I travel. Otherwise, the cost of getting what I need is outrageous, to say nothing of the time required. This was so upsetting because I checked their web site before I made the final booking and a microwave and fridge were plainly listed as amenities. When I went back to the front desk to complain, the staff did not lift a finger to make this right.

Of course, no coffeemaker in the room either. Not even the uber-cheap ones most low-end motels have switched to these days. The combined weight of all these issues was so great that I checked out, cancelled my plans for the next day and drove the two hours back home. I told the clerk that the “bait and switch” about amenities was not acceptable and that I wanted a refund. He, not unexpectedly, said that an approval for that would have to come from higher up.

Because I booked this third-party over the internet, the company through which I booked made a call the next day and told the owner that their client–that would be me–expected a refund as I had plainly told the clerk when I checked out after only 45 minutes in his dreadful establishment. He, of course, refused, telling the staffer who made the call on my behalf that it was not a “bait and switch” but that it should have been my responsibility to contact them after booking and ask for those amenities even though his web site mentioned a micro and fridge.

Don’t ever book the Red Roof Inn at 2307 E. Busch Blvd in Tampa. It’s by far the worst place I have ever stayed/not stayed. I’d love to have my money back but do NOT regret my decision to grab my stuff and get out without so much as unpacking. And I hasten to add that I’ve never done anything like that before, even though I’ve booked bargain-priced Motels many times. Recalling my experience at this place still rankles me even though this happened three weeks ago.

One final thought: I noticed that many other travelers have had very bad things to say on travel sites about this place, mentioning issues not too different from the ones I experienced. Don’t go there. No, really. Don’t stay at the Red Roof Inn on E. Busch Blvd in Tampa.