Escape (albeit temporary) from Massachusetts 2022 – Orlando, Golf School, and Wargaming at RECON

With the unhappy demise of our beloved Caesar on New Years Day (discussed here), and Lynn having subsequently joined me in retirement, we found ourselves for the first time in many years being able to travel. We decided to drive down to the Orlando Florida area in April to visit with friends, for some recreation, to attend a Marriott golf school, and to attend the RECON HMGS South Gaming convention. It was a needed break. The garage+ project would continue while we were gone – so no need to hang around in Massachusetts – off to Florida!

We drove because frankly we prefer it. We were in no mood to deal with airlines, masking requirements, and the rest. Besides, we could more easily bring all the stuff we wanted to take that way.

The morning we left was a chilly start.

It took us three days to get down to Florida (really two and a half). It’s a roughly 1200-mile drive. We left on 4/13, and stopped south of Richmond, VA and in Savannah, GA on the way.

X5 is packed, let’s hit the road!

The ride down was mostly done on I95 (avoiding NYC metro as that’s a nightmare). However, the most surprising aspect of the drive down was the number of dangerous/reckless drivers we saw – and really seeing no traffic enforcement to speak of on the way. Even while we were in Florida (where along with the metro DC area) we saw many drivers who were totally oblivious to safe driving practices. The only times we saw any cops on the highways happened twice in Florida when they shut down I4 – both for fatal crashes. Maybe this chaos was so because it was spring break week – but for the ride back we took a longer path inland towards I81-I84 and it was far less like a post-apocalyptic Road Warrior movie or a game of GASLANDS.

Arriving at our first hotel on Friday the 15th (the Wyndham in Kissimmee), we checked in and hit the pool deck for some needed drinks and relaxation. This hotel was also the site for the HMGS South RECON Gaming convention, but that was not to happen until the following weekend. That night, we got together with the Surdu’s (Buck and Candy) for dinner with them which was great fun.

Arrival and hanging out at the pool

As for Easter weekend, we decided that Disney and Universal costs were way too expensive – and we had visited both previously. Nearby SeaWorld owns both itself in Orlando, and Busch Gardens in Tampa. They had a decently-priced deal for visiting both parks in 5 days (well better than the ridiculous fortune that the other parks were asking for). We had not been to either before, so the plan became Busch Gardens for the 16th, and SeaWorld for Monday the 18th, with Easter Sunday being a hangout day at Casa Surdu.

On Saturday the 16th, we drove to Tampa to visit Busch Gardens theme park. It has a LOT of roller coasters and is a pretty good zoo. Neither of us like roller coasters, but the experience was good. The animal exhibits were quite good. Below I have put up a few photos:

Busch Gardens map
The kangaroo pavilion – made me think of you Aussies…
The kangaroos and wallabies were cooling out – I sent this to IRO and he said it reminded him of his buddies after a good amount of beer consumption!
“Petting” a sleeping hyena
My favorite image – a Nile crocodile (not an alligator) and a very oblivious Florida egret that flew in to hang out. Apparently the croc wasn’t hungry.

We had an enjoyable day. The next day, Easter Sunday, was excellent as we got to hang out with Buck and Candy – whose hospitality was superb and thanks again you two.

On Monday the 18th we went to SeaWorld. Of course, it is known for its orcas. I have to say it was a very nice sea-themed park with fauna from all ends of the globe. Certainly they have changed practices with all of their animals since the unfortunate trainer death a decade+ ago.

This walrus was in the arctic section of the park – along with beluga whales and others from that area. This walrus really hammed it up for us at the window, blowing bubbles and cavorting.
The killer whales (orcas) were amazing to see.
Great to see these but we stayed out of the “splash zone”!

Both Busch Gardens and SeaWorld have partnered with Sesame Street to have a kids section of their respective parks. I thought it was tastefully done.

Juvenile dolphin pool.

We also had purchased the “all-day dining” package – which was really not all it sounded like. It did not cover beer, and any food purchased under the plan started a 90-minute clock that prevented any other freebies until that 90 minutes was up. Also, most of the special kiosk foods were not covered (like the pretzel one below). Otherwise, we enjoyed the park – which also is loaded with roller coasters that we didn’t ride. The exhibits were really cool, as were the special show-type ones such as for the seals and the orcas.

Time for a beer (not free under the dining plan), a pretzel (also not free), and a selfie with Lynn.
Met a new friend – but he only cared for cookies…would not share as they were not under the plan either…

Now both at Busch Gardens and at SeaWorld there were some promotional displays. This one also made me think of our favorite Aussie gardener/landscaper IRO. And no I did not spend my entire vacation thinking of him – just being reminded of him was enough!

Does IRO mow with Bad Boys?

That night we left the Wyndham for the Marriott Golf Resort/School for two days of relative luxury and golf school for us both. Lynn picked up a lot, and I used the opportunity to rework my swing (which is now coming around as I write this in early June as expected two months later). Lynn and I have been playing golf more and it’s nice to have the chance to play together. She’ll never be a die-hard like me, but we’re having fun. The Marriott resort there is really nice too.

At the Marriott Golf School.

After two days (the evening of the 18th-20th) at the Marriott, it was back to staying at the previous Wyndham where HMGS South was having their RECON gaming convention. Lynn was indeed missing the Marriott…so I plied her with a blue drink…

I think she misses the Marriott…

Still we managed to have fun on the 18th – the Wyndham had an interactive game of dodgeball with zombies on a projection screen. Apparently the blue drink does not help accuracy with dodgeball against the undead.

Yes, zombie dodgeball!

Still we were having a good time.

Hey that’s my hat!

The next day (April 21st), I had the privilege of gaming with with Buck back at his amazing gaming room (which you can see below). As a bonus, my old West Point roommate Dave Wood and Buck’s buddy JJ were there. We were also joined via Zoom for this gaming session with Greg Priebe and Chris Palmer of the Maryland-based HAWKS gaming club. While Candy took our spouses out, we wargamers playtested a massive Napoleonic game using a derivative of Buck’s Wars of Ozz rules. It is in development and will be called Wars of Eagles and Empires.

Wars of Eagles and Empires game
This game was a lot of fun, and despite its size, it only took about three and a half hours – not bad for a playtest.

Then we moved on to run a final test of Dave’s RECON WOOD (Wars of Orcs and Dwarves) game. This also uses Buck’s Wars of Ozz-type mechanics, but with changes for fantasy gaming. It is close to publication. Here are some images – we would also play this game at RECON after any modifications.

The pig-faced orcs defend a bridge and river against the halfling onslaught.
Halfling cavalry on goats and giant roosters attack.

The next day (22nd) was our day 1 of RECON. We reran the Hobbits raid on the Orc village scenario at the convention and it was a hoot.

Hobbits on purple pachyderms force a bridge crossing!
The mighty GM (Buck) surveys the carnage.

I want to give EXTRA credit to Lynn as she agreed to game the whole day with me. During a lull in the game, I asked her with iPhone in hand if she was enjoying herself…

Having fun dear?

Seriously, she was a good sport but one day of gaming a year is the best I can expect!

We then played in a Combat Patrol™ game involving Star Wars figures that was fun.

Dave and Buck GM’ing the Star Wars game.
Buck had a nice tabletop here.
All had fun – though I think my side (clones) lost against the droids.

The last game Friday was a 7ITV game that Lyn and I played. There were three side-by-side games – and Lynn and I played the Scooby-Doo scenario.

Lynn and I play the Scooby-Doo scenario. Hey, she’s smiling! Next to her is JJ playing against Buck in a Jonny Quest scenario.
Here you can see the three scenarios – some other sci-fi scenario is on the end. Buck is looking distracted. I think the GM had a wonderful set of terrain but the games dragged as we took a while to grasp the mechanics. Also, I found it tough to get his attention with three games running simultaneously – so not as fun as I expected. But Lynn had served her gaming sentence and was free to hang out with Candy at a blueberry fest on Saturday while the con went on.

Saturday morning Buck ran a Philippines 1941 Combat Patrol™ scenario that I helped him as an assistant GM. I truly enjoyed this!

Buck surveys the tabletop in his happy shirt.
The Japanese players move up their Ha-Go tanks towards the bridge. Neither the tanks nor the the bridge would survive long as the Americans reacted.

The next game was my favorite – a massive Wars of Ozz game where I commanded a brigade of Winkie zilk-riding cavalry (think giant birds of prey). I maneuvered the brigade to assault the Quadlings and Munchkins opposing me.

My Winkie cavalry forms up.
The tabletop – my cavalry is in the foreground.
My Winkie cavalry moving into action!

The game was an overwhelming Winkie and Gillikin (my allies) victory.

Lastly, Buck, JJ, and I (Dave left Friday) played a neat Spanish-American scenario for Blood & Steel. The GM did an excellent job – and the game came down to a final roll of the dice, which went for Buck and JJ, but it was a lot of fun to play them. The scenario was a very fun skirmish game. (no pics sorry).

After this, we said goodbye and I headed back to my room where Lynn and I packed up for the return trip to Massachusetts.

I have to say it was a great trip – and one I will always remember. Big thanks to Buck and Candy!!!! Dave and JJ too!!

Next up – how I built a Conquistador fleet for the Battle of Lake Texcoco for HUZZAH 2022 (in between taking this trip and HAVOC 2022)!

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