9th and 8th Grade Florida Trip
In place of their 8th grade trip, which was canceled due to COVID-19, the current Freshman class joined the 8th graders on their Florida trip. They were chaperoned by Mr. Scott Forbus, Dr. Missy Rivner, Ms. Anna Lefkoff, Dr. Bobby Portis, and Mrs. Hana Hecht. Although the two grades traveled together and had many opportunities to interact (such as on the bus or while eating dinner) the two grades mostly chose to stay with their own classmates. Students like freshman Eliana Linsider thought that “it was nice to have an option” to hang out with students from the other grade, but she appreciated how it was not a forced interaction.
The trip began on Sunday, March 20. The students placed their luggage in the compartment under the bus and spent the next eight-and-a-half hours driving until they arrived at the Hyatt Place Titusville Hotel, where they would be spending the night. Once they arrived, students davened Mincha together outside the hotel, and then they enjoyed some time to check out their hotel rooms, change their clothes, or just hang out. Meanwhile, the chaperones prepared a nice barbeque dinner that consisted of burgers, hotdogs, chips and other refreshments, which the students then gathered on the field outside the hotel to eat and enjoy spending time together. After dinner, students returned to their rooms for the night, attempting to prepare themselves as best they can for the early wake-up time the next morning.
The next day was another busy day for the students. They woke up, davened, enjoyed a breakfast provided by the hotel, and prepared their lunch for their long day ahead. To start the day, they went to Kennedy Space Center, where they had the opportunity to be a little more independent. Exploring around the park, students looked at exhibits such as educational videos and rocket displays. Following this, the students and teachers gathered to go on a bus tour of the campus. The other side of the Space Center held more informational exhibits about going to space, as well as the largest rocket ever flown through space that also brought humans to the moon.
Following a short stop at the Space Centers’ gift shop, the students took a ride back to the main part of the park. They exited the park for a quick lunch outside on the benches and resumed their exploration of the park, and walked around more exhibits. Then they left and drove a few hours until they reached the beach. They spent time there enjoying themselves on the shoreline as they played and relaxed next to the vast ocean. With grains of sand still between their toes, the group took off yet again towards their next destination, Kosher Eatery. There they feasted on pizza, pastas, garlic knots, salad, and ice cream for dessert. Following a quick Mincha outside the restaurant, the students headed directly to the hotel that they would be staying at for the next two nights.
Once the students arrived at the Wyndham Disney Springs hotel, they were rushed by the teachers, who were anxiously waiting to begin shopping, to quickly get ready. The students split up into two groups that left in waves at two different times for Disney Springs. In smaller groups they explored the Disney Springs shopping area, which had many Disney-themed stores and kiosks surrounding a large body of water. After a long night out, students turned in for the night, excited for the upcoming day, which most later agreed was the best part of the trip.
Tuesday was easily one of the most enjoyable and fun-filled days for students because they “had a lot of free time to just go around with [their] friends and see all of Epcot,” as Eliana explained. The day started as usual with an early morning wake-up and davening by the hotel’s pool. Afterwards, the students boarded the bus in their matching Epcot T-shirts and ate a small breakfast. They arrived at Epcot and split into small groups to travel around the park. Each group attempted to answer as many Epcot-themed questions and take as many pictures as possible around the park to gain points for a scavenger hunt. There were two versions of the scavenger hunt, one for each grade. The eighth grade version was created by Dr. Kaplan, freshman Pace Kaplans’ father, and the 9th grade version was created by Mrs. Hecht. Both scavenger hunts had questions that ranged from taking pictures with objects from certain countries, where they learned about different cultures, to questions about the park and its rides’ history.
Afterwards, students walked around for an hour or two until lunch was ready. They all gathered just outside the park to eat. After their lunch break, students returned to enjoy the rest of the park’s amenities and answer more scavenger hunt questions. For the next few hours, students explored the whole park while enjoying its fun, exciting rides and beautiful grounds. Later, students went back to their meeting spot right outside the park to eat dinner. The students were then given a third opportunity in between dinner and the fireworks show to enjoy the park on their own. They continued going on rides like Test Track and Mission: Space and exploring the many “countries” and shops around the park. Eliana originally assumed that they “would have less free time,” so it was a nice surprise for her to have so many hours of free time. After the sun finally set,. most students and chaperones met up near a Starbucks to watch the fireworks show together. The bright lights and beautiful fireworks, accompanied by classic Disney music, created a lovely ambiance that many found to be the most enjoyable experience of the whole trip.
Wednesday was not the most enjoyable morning for the students and teachers as they were woken up at 5 A.M. to get ready to board the bus. They began their long journey back up North. They arrived at the Okefenokee Swamp a little later than what was originally planned and immediately said Shacharit outside. Following this, they went on a short train tour showing the swamp grounds along with a summary of its history. After the train tour, they saw alligators in their pens, got soaking wet after eating lunch in the pouring rain, participated in a small activity regarding sustainability, and finally left after having the chance to hold small alligators and take pictures.
Eliana wished they would have “skipped the Okefenokee Swamp” and “allowed the students to wake up later on Wednesday morning and just gone straight home.” Yaakov Wasserman agreed, especially noting that this would have been a wise decision if they knew it was going to rain. After stopping at the Okefenokee swamp, the students resumed their journey back home. They stopped for the second time that trip at a gas station and said Mincha. They continued their drive for another two hours and finally arrived at AJA at around 7 P.M., an added surprise to those who expected to return three hours later. All in all, everyone agreed that it was a wonderful trip and wanted to thank all of the chaperones and those who planned it for making it possible.