25 January 2009

Xmas / New Year 2008: Florida, US

Organising a trip so far in advance (we started talking about this from February) made the anticipation even greater for the four of us (Lu, Chi, Teressa and myself)!


We eventually got to Orlando after what seemed like days...massive queues at Heathrow (surprise, surprise), queues at US Immigration and then more queues to get our hire car!! Then we get to our hotel (we went on a timeshare package), found the Welcome Centre very unwelcoming, had to attend our first 'tour' (having someone try to hard-sell you a timeshare for c.4hrs) the next day at midday instead of 8am, and then had to change rooms as there were no windows! This will be the first and last time I will mention the words 'timeshare' and 'tour' as they are dirty words and ones I have banned forever from my vocab.....!

It wasn't until the second day that we got to Disney...(which was Christmas eve)...and it was packed by midday. We got a 3-day ticket to DisneyWorld which includes Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, MGM, waterparks, and Epcot. Everyone working at Magic Kingdom seemed to be on happy pills as they were always polite, helpful and smiling...sincerely I must admit. It is definitely worth experiencing the atmosphere, parades, shows, and feeling like you are a kid again (i.e. see the photo of 3 of us with Mickey - it had to be done!). That evening we went to Epcot park for dinner to help celebrate Lu's birthday (I won't mention how old she was turning :).

On our second day (Christmas day) we went to Blizzard Beach water park after swapping presents and going for a Xmas buffet-all-you-can-eat meal. At the water park there is a 60ft vertical (straight down) slide where people can get up to 50 miles/hr - heart stopping ride and one that I screamed all the way down! Then that evening we went to MGM Studios (don't leave until you do the Tower of Terror - a truly thrilling ride) and back to Magic Kingdom for the fire works in the evening...spectacular is the only word to use! Another not-to-be-missed thing to do at MGM is see the Dance of Lights - it is a set of buildings that are lit up and then the lights 'dance' to the music - see the photos below.

The third day was spent at Animal Kingdom (the safari and Everest ride were the main attractions here) where it was much more peaceful, laidback than the other parks.

It wasn't until the end of the trip that we came back to Orlando and did Universal, Seaworld, and some shopping! These are much more adult-like activities and I have to say my favourite rides are at Universal were the Hulk, and Spiderman (4D show where you are on a rollercoaster and experiencing a 3D show at the same time....).

As for the shopping....there are outlet malls all across Orlando...just choose your brand and there will be an outlet shop that caters to it!


Our next destination was Daytona - the only things really to do here was visit the speedway (interesting) and hang out on the beach (which was too cold to swim in). You can drive onto this beach (10m/hr max) and park up where you want to sunbath and unload from the car (this is where lots of kids come for their spring break). But we needed to relax after a hectic 5 days so this was the place to do it!

Fort Lauderdale

We then headed south to Fort Lauderdale, but found we were actually staying outside of it. We only had a day here as half a day was spent doing another t... (I can't say it...). So Lu gathered her courage and drove us into Miami. Pleasant enough heading in as it was only 50mins and it gave us a chance to have a look at Little Havana and then South Beach, but chaotic at 5pm driving back out (10 lanes of traffic all up)!!!

Bahamas cruise

This is what we had been waiting for! R&R...and a big party thrown in to celebrate New Years. We got on as soon as we could (4hr before sailing), grabbed our deck chairs and started on the cocktails. Which led into more drinks over dinner and then more to celebrate New Years.

I can't say I much worse-for-wear come the next day as myself and Lu got off and hit Nassau at about 9am that morning. Unfortunately most things were closed (including Starbucks) so we did a really interesting 3hr tour around the island, visited the Atlantis Hotel (very big, very posh and has a fish tank that fits everything from sharks to small fish!) and then saw their New Year's Day parade (similar to Nottinghill Carnival) before getting back on the cruise ship, grabbing our deck chairs and starting on the cocktails....

The food was excellent on board (including breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, evening snack, after midnight snack...) and was all free - the only thing to pay for was alcohol. The passengers were mostly families and the only eye-candy were 18-year boys who were dragged onboard by their parents!!

The 'Florida keys'

After the cruise we hit the Florida Keys...beautiful coastline and one hell of a drive...and drive we did for most of the day. We did get to Key West for the sunset which is as spectacular as most people say it is. Very quaint area with lots of interesting architecture but we could literally only spend an hour or so here before heading back towards Orlando.

That drive back took most of the next day and then it was back to the theme parks, shopping and trying to pack everything into a 'who shrunk the suitcase' suitcase!

(The journey back to London was much less eventful and stressful except for having a shackled prisoner onboard with 4 burly armed guards looking after him - seen by every passenger before they boarded!).