Last week I got to go to another FAZE (Florida Association of Zoological Educators) conference--this time in Tampa. We did Day 1 at the Tampa Aquarium and Day 2 at Busch Gardens.
I've been to a FAZE before, (see entry for Sept. 2011, FAZED) Loved it then, loved it now (did not, however, enjoy driving to Tampa. I really wish my brother had invented the transporter). And it's always hard to leave home, Bob, and the cats (Noko Marie was willing to go with me.)
But it's worth it. The conferences are small, maybe 20 or so people, so there's a lot of interaction and exchange. It's a chance to talk to people from other areas who are doing what you do--what are some inexpensive summer camp activities? How do you train volunteers? How do you promote your institution?
Then there are the really fun things, like the behind-the-scenes tours. Seeing how the real work is done to create the experience for the guests.
But for this FAZE, the most amazing thing was going to bed.
It's customary for whoever is hosting FAZE to provide floor space for those who would rather doss down than fork out $100+ for a hotel room (education depts. are notoriously short on budget). Sometimes it's a classroom, or a visitor center. This one was a little different.
WE GOT TO SLEEP AT THE AQUARIUM!!
Had to shout there. How cool is this? Strange to lie in bed and watch a moray eel swim by, or wake up in the night to see a shark cruising overhead.
It was worth the trip just for that. But the rest of it wasn't too shabby either. The next morning we headed over to Busch Gardens for breakfast and our first discussion (on the legality of transporting alligators--gotta know these things, y'know).
We then went to one of their cafes for lunch--I'm not normally the type of person who posts pictures of their meals--but I have to show that I do try to eat well even when on the road. They had the usual hamburger-or-chicken tenders offerings, but I was able to get this.
Then off to meet some animals--my favorite thing, of course. We watched some cheetahs being trained (yes--cats apparently can be taught to come, sit, stay, lie down, all those things. I've tried explaining this to my cats, but I just get the blank cat stare)
And no--the cheetahs don't live in that cage. That's just for training. Otherwise they have a big beautiful habitat with room to run.
Even more fun--because more ludicrous--was watching the hippo being trained. They're unbelievably huge up close (this one was 3,600 pounds) but she obligingly waddled out to sit, lie down, and open her mouth on command.
We met some other critters, and I got to pat the sloth.
I was also able to pat an aardvark on the rump, but that picture came out fuzzy (hard to pat and snap at the same time, and I was more interested in the patting.)
The conference ended around 3:00, and that's when we (my travel partner Laura and I) had to make the tough decision. We were allowed to stay and enjoy Busch Gardens until closing if we liked. And we did like. Problem was--we were also returning to Tallahassee, and it was about a 6-hour drive by the time I would drop Laura off and get home. I was a bit tired by then (remember that I just had the flu and pneumonia a couple of weeks before) and didn't fancy being still driving at midnight. We contented ourselves with an hour or so, and then hauled it back home.
Good to go--good to be home. But I think the cats thought I smelled funny (aardvark, anyone?)