Sunday, July 28, 2013

Orlando 2013 - The Best Bits

So, after a fortnight in Orlando/Miami, what are the highlights (and a few lowlights). Here, in no particular order are a few of my thoughts:


  • Generally easy
  • Good signing
  • Ability to turn right on a red light
  • U turns
  • No hassle sitting in any lane
  • Very cheap gas (petrol)
  • Automatic is easy
  • Sat nav (I used Co-Pilot) makes any trip so easy. It was faultless throughout
  • Big parking bays
  • Huge portions (too big often) - we shared many a dessert rather than have one each
  • Quality of food in restaurants generally very good, and usually exceptional
  • Cheap compared to UK (our friend had a 20 oz rib eye steak for about $20 - that's about £13)
  • The restaurants we went to on Highway 192, Kissimmee)
    • Texas Roadhouse
    • Bonefish Grill
    • TGI Fridays
    • The Olive Garden
    • Bahama Breeze
  • The restaurants we went to in Miami (just off Ocean Drive)
    • The Big Pink
    • Joe's Stone Crab
Best Rides/Attractions
  • Kraken (coaster - Seaworld)
  • Hulk (coaster - Islands of Adventure)
  • Rip Ride Rocket (coaster - Universal)
  • Cheetah Hunt (coaster - Busch)
  • Sheikra (coaster - Busch)
  • Harry Potter Forbidden Journey (simulator - Universal)
  • Simpsons (simulator - Univeral)
  • Men in Black (shoot em up - Universal)
  • Coopertown Airboats, Miami
  • Customer service (usually) exceptional
  • Garbage disposal
  • Chilling out on Miami Beach
  • Flying Virgin Atlantic - cant fault them
  • The lightning - spectacular - shame it comes with clouds and rain!
The not so great
  • The rain - expect it in Florida in July, but it rained a lot more than expected. Still, it didn't unduly hamper us, just wish we'd seen some more blue sky
  • The humidity - sapping - remember to drink lots and lots
  • The new Antarctic Ride at Seaworld - quite disappointing
  • The queues - I know, I know. You're going to get queues if you go to Orlando theme parks and big ones if you go in the summer - doesn't make it any easier though, although I think we did OK due to some careful planning and a bit of luck
  • Orlando International Airport - on the way home - seemed a bit chaotic and disorganised

Orlando 2013 - Last day and trip home

So, the holiday is over. Boo....

We were up and cleared and tidied the villa before being out by about 9.45am (had to be out by 10). As the flight wasn't until 7.35pm we decided to go to Seaaworld for a few hours, as it was on the way.

It was blisteringly hot and very humid with it. We saw the Shamu (Orca), Blue Horizons (dolphins) and Clyde & Seymour (Sea Lions) shows, and had the added bonus of The Kraken coaster being surprisingly quiet so got tow consecutive "walk ons".

After a late hot dog lunch, we made our way to Orlando International, and returned the Alamo hire car - all very easy. We'd done online check in the night before, so only had to do bag drop, but as on the way out, I can't really see the difference between the two.

Through security easily enough, and then we made the mistake of going straight through to the terminal rather than staying in the shopping area. There were shops "airside" but disappointingly few, and very little seating apart from right at the gate. We killed a couple of hours, before we wandered to the gate area. here things went a bit awry. For one, I'd bought some duty free fags for a friend but here you don't get them when you buy them, you get them as you board (via a supplied receipt). I suppose this is to stop people buying duty free alcohol and then necking it before the flight. Can't see why they held the fags though. Even if I wanted to (which I don't, because I don't smoke), can't see me smoking 400 in a no smoking area before boarding!

Then the flight was delayed by about 45 mins because the plane wasn't ready. On top of that the girl at the desk had a really odd accent and was wholly unintelligible so no one knew what was going on. Anyway, eventually boarded, and the 7 hr 50m flight was pretty uneventful. Into Gatwick just after 9am, out to the carny just after 10, and back home in Cardiff by 1pm.

Garden's a mess, loads of washing to do. Mrs H back in work tomorrow, but I have a day off, so chores for me!

When's the next holiday?

Check out our photos here...

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Orlando 2013 - Days 11-14

To be honest we've had a pretty lazy second week. After the day out at Busch, we have had a couple of lazy days by the pool in the villa, interspersed with a couple of trips out to Universal/Islands of Adventure to do the rides we'd missed that we wanted to do (Transformers, ET, Spider-Man, the Hulk) and re-do Harry Potter. We've also redone the Simpsons, The Revenge of the Mummy, MIB and some others. Phew....

On the down side, one of our friends sons has acquired an ear infection that took a trip to the doctors and some antibiotics. He's feeling better now.

The temperature has risen also. It was hot (if wet anyway). After getting in the car at Busch with the dash showing 106°F, today after a few hours on the top of the Universal car park, it was registering a ridiculous 114°C - that's in excess of 45°C!

Now though its packing and tidying up. We have to be out of the villa by 10am tomorrow, although our flight isn't until 7.30pm. We'll probably spend a few hours at Seaworld to pass the time.

It's been a good holiday. The heat and humidity has been sapping, and I had a tummy bug in the first week, and haven't actually felt 100% all fortnight. But it's been great nonetheless, but all good things come to an end.

Last day tomorrow, and back in Blightly on Sunday morning.

The photo below is the start of the Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket Coaster at Universal. Awesome as they say (a lot) around here!

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Orlando 2013 - Days 9-10

Day 10 was a rest day. After a bit of early morning pool activity, our friends went off shopping to a mall, and we went off to the local Wal Mart to stock up for tea, as we were cooking.
And that apart, was about that. A pretty lazy, but very enjoyable day.
Today we hit the I4 south again as we headed to Tampa and Busch Gardens. We all love Busch. It's got some good animal stuff and some great coasters.
It's probably worth just mentioning at this point how easy driving in the US is. Everything is pretty well signposted, and with a sat nav (I've been using "Co-Pilot on my iPhone), it's pretty much impossible to go wrong, We've driven a lot - round Orlando, down to Miami, across to Tampa, and we haven't really been troubled once.
First up, we did the newest coaster, Cheetah Hunt. When I say "we", I mean me and my daughter. Our friends had got a little lost looking for another ride, and my wife and son are not coaster fans. Nor is my daughter, but she was determined to do this. It was great. Not the biggest by a long way, but fast and twisty with only one loop.
After that we did "Rhino Rally" a sort of cheesy safari ride in a jeep. It was a bit disappointing because they'd halved the ride to make space for the Cheetah Hunt ride.
On from there we had a virtual walk on to the "Kumba" coaster - old now but still a favourite. Next door we all did the "Congo River Rapids" tube ride and all got very, very wet! Then we wandered down and did the log flume at "Stanley Falls", before the big one. Sheikra. This monster coaster has to be seen to be believed. 8 across in three tiered seats it takes you steeply up 200ft, before hanging you over a vertical drop for a few seconds and then let's you go. It's a short ride, but as they say here "totally awesome!".
After a quick lunch, we took the cable car to the Egypt area and rode on the second biggie, "Montu". By then, with the temps in the high 90's°F we'd had enough and started home.
As we drove north on the I4 the sky darkened and we were treated to a spectacular lightning show. just as we arrived back at the villa resort, the heavens opened. I've literally never seen rain like it - ever! We must have had about 3-4 inches in about half an hour. The pool, normally has a lip of about 4 inches before the water. Now it looks like an infinity pool. Staggering.
Storms passing now, so we might get some pool time in. Eating in again tonight, so beer and a chill.
A good day.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Orlando 2013 - Days 7-8

Friday morning dawned, if not bright, at least not raining. Breakfast done, the two Das walked down Ocean Drive (how cool does that sound?) where we booked tickets for the "Pirate Duck Tour". This is a vaguely pirate themed road/boat trip around Miami Beach/Biscayne Bay in an amphibious DUCK vehicle. More on this later.

Back at the hotel is was pool time, with the morning spent chilling, as eventually, the sun and blue skies did show. The good lady and I also walked along the beach to South Pointe.

In the afternoon, it was back down Ocean Drive for the tour pickup. Cheesy though it sounds,it was a fab experience. Our guide was on top form, and knew his stuff on Art Deco and the waterside homes of the rich and famous. It was money well spent for this great tour.

In the evening we had a fantastic meal at "Joe's Stone Crab", just round the corner from the hotel. It was expensive compared to other meals we have eaten, but boy were those killer king crab claws, lobster tail and stone crab claws lush! Another big tick in the "glad we did that" box.

Checkout time on Saturday morning saw us drive though Miami and out onto the Tamiani Trail to Coopertown Airboats (through yet another thunderstorm). It's a slightly odd setup. On one hand it looks a bit ramshackle and, lets face it, seedy, but on the other hand, the experience was great. There was a pre ride talk from one of the guides shoring and talking about alligators and snakes and there's clearly an affinity with the animals, including one huge 'gator that's over 60 years old. The airboat ride itself was great. The youngish skipper, Dan drove us out into the glades and stopped in the middle of nowhere and welcomed us to "my office" - class. He was very knowledgable about the flora and fauna, and found us a real live wild alligator. Nature of course doesn't always play. Afterwards we got to hold a real live 'gator about 3feet long, called "Gucci"! This trip was again well worth doing - I thought it was fantastic.

After that it was a long drive back up US27 to Orlando. Off to TGI's now, and a rest day on our itinerary tomorrow. We'll see how it pans out.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Orlando 2013 - Day 6

Up with the lark. Ok, perhaps not, but after a lazy-ish start, today was road trip day. A drive to Miami beckoned, with a 2 night stay at the South Beach Marriott on Ocean Drive, courtesy off our friend who virtually has to live in a Marriott most of the year due to work (marvellous Marriott points).
We took the "scenic" route from Orlando down US 27. However, for scenic read slightly less bork than the Florida Turnpike or the interstate. 245 miles of mainly straight-ish dual carriageway interrupted by occasional traffic lights. It was either looking at golf cart sales lots, citrus groves or sugar cane fields.
We went through one huge downpours on the way, and despite heading towards Miami saw virtually no blue sky. 100% cloud all the way.
Driving in the US is pretty straightforward. With a decent sat nav it's a cinch. We eventually found our way to the hotel on Ocean Drive (yes, THE Ocean Drive).
Locked and loaded we went for a walk down the Drive past restaurants and bars frequented by all sorts, including a surprising number of women sporting Cuban cigars. A walk back down the beach saw thunder clouds threaten but we made it back to the hotel before the mother of all thunderstorms arrived - just!
We ate out at "The Big Pink", a themed diner type restaurant. Good value, good food, but again it has to be said, the American portions are ridiculous. On average I reckon at least 1/3rd oversized by the amount we left - and that's with no starters or desserts. Nice touches though. Anyone ordering alcohol automatically got a large glass of water as well, and customer service was as usual in the US exemplary. The UK could sure learn a thing or two here.
Back to the hotel, for a nightcap (or two), before retiring to a very comfy bed where I'm writing this. That me done though folks. Good night.
Photographic proof of our location! The kids...

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Orlando 2013 - Days 3-5

First time we've been to Universal, and a great time was had by all. We arrived pretty early, and had a plan hatched for the rides we wanted to do.

First up was "The Simpsons", a fab simulator ride we all did, despite there being a few in the party not keen on drops or anything resembling a coaster. From there it was a walk on to "Men in Black", a superb 'shoot up the aliens' ride.

We then progressed to "Revenge of the Mummy", an indoor coaster. Despite reservations from some, everyone did this and following it all said they loved it (and we returned to do it again later in the day).

By now, the coaster freaks were getting twitchy, and legged it over to "Rip Ride Rocket". If you don't know about this one, Google it. The start is a vertical (i.e. sit on car literally goes up vertically (with you sitting or rather lying) looking straight up for 17 storeys, before rolling over the top and plummeting you down into superb, but fast coaster experience. Awesome, and not as scary as it looks - honest.

We also did "Shrek" a 3D show which was Ok, but not brilliant and the "Terminator" - part 3D, part show, which was great. A second stint of the "Mummy" and "MIB" was also done.

In the early afternoon a huge thunderstorm hit, so we called it a day. In the evening we ate at the local "Texas Roadhouse". Steaks & ribs to die for.

Unfortunately, I succumbed at some stage to a nasty tummy bug which changed our plans as we swapped Wednesday's rest day to Tuesday. Frankly it was all I could do to lie on my bed. The others went shopping or chilled by the pool. There was another huge thunderstorm in the afternoon.

Feeling a little better, but still delicate, we descended on Islands of Adventure on Wednesday morning and headed straight for "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter". All sources say this simulator ride gets huge queues, and despite being in the park for 8.30am, the 'line' was already at 75 mins when we got to it. It was sort the wait though. Once through the outer queuing, you enter a brilliantly themed 'Hogwarts’, before a fantastic and quite dramatic simulator ride.

having done the ride and bought some butter beer, the wuss's did the "Flight if the Hippogriff" ride, a fairly tame and short coaster, whilst the daredevils opted for the rather more furious "Dueling Dragons". Still a bit under the weather I opted out of both and stocked up on fluids.

After this we walked round to the "Jurassic Park" ride. This is. Boat ride though the park past the more gentle dinosaurs before it inevitably all goes horribly wrong and you end up with the raptors and T-Rex. At this point you're plunged down a huge slide that ends with an enormous splash. Great fun and. Not too wet.

Most of us wanted to do "Ripsaw Falls" next, but a 90 min wait put us off. "Popeye & Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges" on the other hand had a 20 min wait (though turned out nearer 30). And on this one you DO get wet. VERY wet! It was a blast even though we we all soaked to the skin.

After the usual park lunch of burgers and sodas, a long wait for "Spider-Man" put us off and we opted for "The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad" an action and stunt show. It was OK, but no where near as good as "Indiana Jones" at Disney's MGM Studios.

A quick trip back to Potter-land for sweets and that was us done. We'll probably be back to both Universal and IoAon this trip, but for the next 3 days a trip to Miami calls. We're booked in for 2 nights at the Marriott South Beach, courtesy of our friends.

So out for. Nice meal tonight, then a lazy drive down the US 27 tomorrow to Miami. Cool.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Orlando 2013 - days 1 and 2

Got to Gatwick in plenty of time, and did the usual mooching around and had a bite to eat before being called for boarding. We were on a Boeing 747 and seated in "the bubble" (upstairs). I have to say the flight was probably one of the best I've ever made. Very comfortable, good service from the Virgin cabin staff and loads of choices on the in flight entertainment. I watched two films, "Reacher" and "Olympus has Fallen". Flight time was a relatively quick 8 hours and we landed at 4.40pm Florida time.
Immigration was a pain (it always is), and there's a quite frankly pointless secondary inspection point once through main immigration. Once through it was on to the Alamo garage to pick the car up, a relatively painless exercise having done everything online before leaving. The biggest hassle was choosing the car - went for a red Chevy Impala in the end.
Straightforward drive to the villa, where the problems of the new owner handover reared their head again as the provided key code didn't work. Quick call sorted that once we remember how to call an American number on a UK phone, and we were in.
Once rooms divvied up a quick trip to the local Publix saw us stocked up for at least one night. Went to bed about 9.30pm, but in reality it was 2.30am UK time!
Up with the lark at 7am (was actually awake at 5am) and after getting ready we drove to Seaworld for "rope drop". We all love SW, having been there probably 5-6 times before. Had a great day on the coasters (Manta and Kraken), and the fantastic dolphin and Killer whale shows, as well as loads else. We all agreed though that the new Antarctic attraction was pretty disappointing. Big ques and not much substance (in our opinion).
Has been very hot, sunny at times but also very humid. Going out for tea later, and probably going to Universal tomorrow.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Orlando 2013 - the week before departure

Tomorrow we set off on our trip to Florida (Orando & Miami) with our good friends and their family. 9 of us all told, 5 of them and 4 of us. This will be our 3rd trip to Orlando, and the second one with our friends - though they were there at the same time as us on our first trip in 2004.
This trip's been about 10 or 11 months in the making, and has after seeming so far away, the last few weeks have flown by. The last week, when we should be topping & tailing everything though, has not been without it's problems.
Firstly our friends eldest returned from University a week and a bit ago, to find his passport was 'damaged'! An urgent appointment with the passport office has sorted that - just.
Secondly, my car, which we're driving down to Gatwick in, has recently started showing 'engine malfunction' errors (but appeared driving ok). In for diagnostics is week, the fault tracked to a failure of the engine management system to regenerate the diesel particulate filter or DPF (too much science for me frankly). It's sorted now, but could have been a nightmare if broke down on M4 on way to airport on Saturday morning, and I could have done without the expense of having this done this week.
Then lastly,we had an email from the villa owners on Tuesday to say they'd sold the property! Some frantic comms later by our friends established everything ok, but it was a hell of a shock and worry when we heard about it.
But now we're about ready to go. I have a trip to London today that I could do without (actually writing this in the train), and I won't be back until gone 8pm, but that comes with the territory.
This time tomorrow though, we'll be on the M4 en route to Gatwick - and excited. Bring it on!
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