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Jessica Gwozdz Photography – Bellingham Washington Photographer » Blog


If you tried to reach the studio earlier this month, you heard that things were closed down for a family vacation. We spent a few days in Orlando, then drove to the Tampa/St. Pete’s area to stay in a condo on the beach and visit with my aunt and uncle who live nearby. But now we are back home and you poor blog readers are about to be subjected to the online equivalent of being forced to watch someone vacation slides. Ha!

We scored an amazing deal on tickets to Universal Studios, and I hope that by sharing this story another family can take advantage of it too. I have the Chase “Ink Rewards” Visa card and get a reward point for each penny I spend, and I charge almost all of my studio expenses to that card. Those points can be redeemed for cash, for credit on my statement, or for various gift cards and tickets. 5000 reward points can be redeemed for a Universal Studios ticket, but not just any old Universal Studios ticket. I’m talking a 2-park pass to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure…woot! This 2-park ticket costs $109. If I redeemed the 5000 points for cash, I would have gotten only $50. I had not redeemed points for awhile so I had enough for all four of our Universal Tickets.

I also wanted to share two really good finds that might help you on your next vacation. First, the REI Chock Shoulder Bag may just be the perfect vacation bag. It held all of my personal essentials (wallet, point and shoot, sunglasses, keys, gum) plus all of my mommy essentials (wipes, hand sanitizer, band aids, kleenex) with room to spare. For the plane ride, I could also fit my Kindle in it. It’s has several small zippered compartments, slip-in pen holder, and a padded shoulder strap. It also has two side pockets. I used one side pocket for a water bottle and the other for a mini umbrella (which believe it or not I needed almost everyday). And best of all, considering all it can hold, it’s not even huge and bulky. I have it in red but it’s available in black or gray as well.

Another great thing to have if you will be walking around a theme park in the heat is the Nathan Bottle Sling. This is simply a neoprene sling that holds and (somewhat) insulates a water bottle. I carried my water in my REI bag, but my husband and kids carried their own water in the Nathan slings. You don’t need to necessarily buy the Nathan bottles. The sling will hold a lot of different bottles, even a disposable Aquafina bottle.

If you are going to tackle an Orlando theme park in August , you must carry a water bottle and refill it often. I was trying to think of a way to describe how hot it is in Orlando in August and I found a website with “hotter than” sayings. Here are a few of my faves.

  • It’s hotter than the four sides of hell
  • It’s hotter than the devil’s underpants.
  • It’s hotter than a jalapeno in a heatwave.
  • It’s hotter than whoopee in woolens.
  • It’s hotter than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut.
  • It’s hotter than an armadillo’s hide at a West Texas picnic on the Fourth of July.
  • It’s hotter than a peppered fart.

So, did I mention it was hot?  LOL!

Now before I subject you to my vacation pictures, I want to comment on the question that plagues many professional photographers. “Should I take my SLR or my point-and-shoot on my family vacation?”  I usually think about the final purpose of the images. If I am looking for snaps for the kids’ memory books or stuff to share with family and friends on facebook and flickr, then I will bring the point-and-shoot. If I know I will want to make large prints or perhaps get some unusual travel pics of a famous location to sell as stock, then I will bring the SLR. There is also the question of convenience. A point-and-shoot is a heck of a lot easier to carry around than my SLR, multiple lenses, and speedlight. Plus there is also the question of damage or theft. If I don’t need high quality artistic prints, do I want to subject my precious professional gear to sand and water? Or do I want to leave $5000 worth of camera gear in a locker at Sea World while I go on Manta? I think not!

That said, the images you see here were all taken with my point-and-shoot. I currently have the Olympus 1030SW waterproof camera. It was the replacement for a Fuji point-and-shoot that bit the dust after a Disney World trip a couple of years ago. Due to constant changes in humidity (going from heat to air conditioning), a seal split on my old Fuji and there is permanent condensation inside the lens element. Another vote for bringing the point-and-shoot to a theme park; it’s less painful to have to replace the $200 point-and-shoot than repair or replace the $2000 Nikon lens.

So back to these images. Are they stellar examples of my photographic skills? Absolutely not. Are my kids excited to look at them and think back to their Florida vacation? Yes. And I took them all with a camera that fit in my pocket and allowed me to fully participate in all activities.

These first pictures are from the resort we stayed at in Orlando. We stayed at a Hilton Grand Vacations Club for (drum roll please) 80 bucks a night. It was gorgeous and amazing, a huge one-bedroom suite with living room and full kitchen. We did not do Disney on this trip, but I can tell you that the next time we do Disney we will not be staying in the park and will instead be staying at a place like this. The last time we went to Disney we stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort on the Disney grounds. We easily paid more than double what we paid for this Hilton suite and we had about a fourth of the square footage. This Hilton Grand Vacation Club was so nice that I am sharing pictures, mostly for the sake of my mom and mother-in-law who always ask me how nice the place we stayed was.

This is new misspelling of our last name.  It gets misspelled quite often, but this is the first time we have gotten this one!

Here are some highlights from Sea World and Universal Studios, including my 4-year-old’s first roller coaster ride.

Then we drove to the beach condo we rented in Redington Shores.

One rainy day we decided to take a drive to Sarasota to check out the Mote Aquarium.  The kids loved seeing the sharks, dolphins, and manatees.  They especially loved petting the stingrays and sifting for shark’s teeth.

Our good friends from Chicago, Julie and Mark, bought a condo in Siesta Key so it was really fun to meet up with them one night.  We met up at Bubba Gump at John’s Pass in Madeira Beach.  The kids wanted ice cream right after dinner, and we told them that we were so full we should walk around the boardwalk to burn off some of our dinner.  Hence the lunges you see the kids doing here.  They definitely earned their ice cream!

Most of the rest of the trip was spend relaxing at the beach or pool, or hanging out with my Aunt Cindy and Uncle Tom.  After Uncle Tom cracked out his telescope and lots of new magic tricks, my kids were then fighting over who get to sit next to him at meals or hold his hand crossing the street.  In the meantime, Aunt Cindy and I polished off quite a lot of sangria together.

It was a great trip!  But now, back to reality…..

Mom - Great pictures! Kept me smiling. The kids really had a trip to remember as we can attest to by all their stories.

Ruth - Beautiful! Looks like you had a GREAT time!

Julia - Wonderful! And now I need you to provide me with an Olympus point-and-shoot workshop…I am having so much trouble with mine!

Dad - You say these are your lower quality point & shoot pictures. They are great. I’m not even prejudice because of the subject matter.

Bonnie Creevy - Oh gosh, this makes me SO homesick!

Bridgette - Hey Jes…loved the picts! My fave was of the kids and Jeff on the beach holding hands…I’d have that on my wall BIG! Glad you had fun…now I’m jealous. =0)

Theresa - Jes, it looks like you should start a new marketing plan for travel agents!!! Beautiful shots! What beautiful memories to cherish!

Ken J. - Great shots Jes!!! I wish I had someone with me in Hawaii to take pics of me! lol.

Sorry to hear about the 365… but trust me, I understand! 🙂

Cindy - Jes, I agree with Theresa. Your shots would be great for promoting our Florida tourism! It really was a fun visit for all of us! 🙂

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