As someone who is accustomed to traveling frequently, this year has felt a bit strange and different. Rather than focusing on the ways that things have changed, we’ve been trying to embrace new ways to enjoy our lives that are safe, fun, and close to home. These little adventures have added wonderful experiences that we never would have discovered otherwise, with our latest adventure being a staycation. Not only did it give us vacation vibes, it’s also something we can do anytime and is a great way to support local businesses. We call that a win, win, win!

Our staycation started after Tyler finished up his work for the day. We checked into the Courtyard by Marriott Orlando Lake Mary and were greeted with such a warm welcome by the staff. With proper precautions in place such as plexiglass, sanitizer, contactless check-in/out, we were able to instantly relax and feel like our first staycation experience would be in capable hands. As we drove up, we noticed that the property location was extremely convenient, with a little shopping plaza across the street full of restaurant options, bars (for when things open back up), and convenience stores for anything else you may need.

We knew our room was up on the third floor with a balcony view, which we were excited to see, but what we weren’t expecting was what was waiting for us upon our arrival.

The hotel really went above and beyond to make sure we were greeted with the warmest of welcomes. Our room was decorated with rose petals, chilled champagne, and a lovely tablecloth complete with a bouquet of roses for our romantic dinner later in the evening. We spent some time unpacking, relaxing, and enjoying the pool before sunset. Freddy the balloon dog floatie came along with us from home for a bit of R&R.

After sunset, we decided to check out Heathrow Square across the street for a place we could walk to and order take out. We settled on Samurai Sushi, which had a good selection of vegetarian rolls and gluten-free rolls (we know, we’re a tough bunch to take to dinner).

Date night started with dinner out on the balcony. With our Rosé, our roses, and the accompaniment of fairy lights that we brought from home, our cozy night was off to a great start. We had the loveliest time eating, drinking, laughing, and staring out over the balcony view. It’s been a while since we have had an occasion to get dressed up and go on a more traditional date night.

Keeping with our 2020 tradition, after dinner we changed into our pajamas and began our game night on the bed. We love playing board games and throughout the course of the year we’ve been expanding our two player games. On this night we brought along MysteriumÔ and snuggled in for the night. We ended our evening watching Netflix.

In the morning after a good night’s rest, we woke up to gluten free and vegetarian breakfast options provided to us by the hotel, which again made us feel like they were really catering to our needs. We had a spread including gluten free blueberry muffins, fresh fruit, juice, veggie scramble, and a veggie breakfast sandwich.

After breakfast, we packed up the car excited for our day at the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Being located so conveniently, it was a short drive from the hotel to the zoo. We barely had enough time to talk about the animals we were most excited about seeing before we arrived. I was most excited about seeing and feeding the giraffes and he was excited about interacting with the llamas.

When we arrived, we saw lots of information to guests about mask requirements for all guests over age 13, social distancing advisories, and how the zoo was taking every step possible to keep its guests safe. Some of these procedures included limiting the number of park guests and advanced online ticket purchases. After a quick use of hand sanitizer, we ran over to the Barnyard Buddies to feed the goats and llamas. We met this one llama that was such an energetic goofball, and quickly became Tyler’s new best friend. We had lots of laughs watching the little kids interact with the animals. As a precaution, hand sanitizer and soap were readily available prior to and after touching the animals.

We then hurried over to the giraffe encounters, because I was too excited to wait any longer. I’ve fed giraffes once before and it was an incredible feeling. Giraffes are quirky creatures with so much personality and a black tongue, feeding them is always a fun experience. As we were waiting for our turn, a little kid holding out the lettuce for a disinterested adult giraffe caught the eye of the baby giraffe who snatched it out of the little kid’s hand. Everyone who saw laughed as the little kid was beyond excited by the experience.

Afterwards, we wandered around the rest of the zoo grounds to visit various animals, enjoying the botanical gardens placed throughout the park along the way. The Central Florida Zoo has more than 350 animals, and everything from tortoises, native animals, like the Florida black bear and alligator, and an endangered rhinoceros for you to enjoy. We even saw some big cats like the leopard and jaguar. We had such a blast learning and seeing so many varieties of animals.

We were also very excited to see the black bear, but it seemed like we arrived at his nap time, so we didn’t get to see him out and about. The zoo even has other exciting features including a ropes course, a splash pad for the kids, Sonny’s BBQ (in case you get hungry) and art throughout the park. It was our first time, but it definitely won’t be our last! We even found one of those old school 3D souvenir printers and printed a rhino to remember the day.

For our first staycation, we couldn’t have asked for a better experience! Thanks to DoOrlandoNorth we have been able to explore places right in our backyard that are safe, close to home, and make for the perfect anytime getaway.

Nakiesa Faraji-Tajrishi

Nakiesa is a solo travel and content creator based out of Orlando, Florida. An Orlando native who made the transition from engineer to a photographer, her style consists of whimsically creative and technically sophisticated self-portraits, stunning landscapes, and local tips inspired by her travel adventures. With a passion for exploring the best of what Florida has to offer, Nakiesa’s goal is to share stories, videos, and photos from around Seminole County to inspire others to get out and explore the hidden gems of the sunshine state. Through the use of drones, surrealist editing, and videography components, Nakiesa shares her vision of Florida, showcasing her love and appreciation for the beautiful state she calls home.