FLORIDA Revisited

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Florida Revisited

Orlando and Universal Studios (3rd to 8th November 2010)

We spend six nights staying in Altamonte Springs, on the outskirts of Orlando, in a great motel that has full suites. It means we get a kitchen to cook our own dinners (very important!) and somewhere to spread out all the stuff we have accumulated on our year in the USA.

We're also able to visit some car dealers here and sell our lovely red truck. The truck looks like new when we take it in and we're sad to see it go. |(though it would be far too big to try and drive in the UK!) Another bonus of staying here is that we are minutes from all the malls and outlet centres. We get pretty much all our christmas shopping done which will save us a lot of pain and money when we get home. I have to recommend the Prime and Premium Outlet Malls on the I4. There were some great bargains there and loads of choice.


Universal Studios


After selling the car we feel we can treat ourselves to a proper tourist experience. We get a 2 day pass that gets us in to Universal Studios on one day and Universal's Island of Adventure the next. After driving down the I4 for 17 miles we get to Universal Studios at 9:30am. It's not too busy considering it's Sunday. We start with Revenge of the Mummy, a fast scary ride through the dark, back and forth. Then we walk over to Men In Black where you get to shoot at aliens and score points as you go round on a train. The Simpsons Krustyland is really good, with a simulated ride and a big screen; it's really realistic and makes me feel a bit icky. Next we do the classic Jaws ride which is cheesy but good fun, and we get a bit wet.
We go and get some lunch at Flannigans Irish bar before queuing about 30 minutes to get in to Disaster where they get people to appear in a disaster movie before putting you in a tube train in the middle of an earthquake. The effects are good including Christopher Walken as a cheesy film director “appearing” on stage like a hologram. It was very clever. We got a bit wet again in the tube train bit. At Twister you stand in a barn while a tornado goes off around you and you get rained on and blown about. Next we hit the big roller coaster, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. It's a really exciting ride with a sharp climb and drop off at the start. You can choose the music you want to hear while you ride. At the end there's a DVD for sale of you on the ride. We both look hysterical.

Shrek 4D is a good 3D effect film with moving seats. On the way out we bump in to Kay and Chris, with their friends Rich and Kerry and the two kids, Bethan and Josh. We're going to visit them in a few days time in Rotonda.

Next we see the Terminator 3D film which is pretty good but not as good as Shrek. There is a bit of a weird mix between real action and the 3D film which is hard to focus on.

The last ride we do is the Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast which is another one like the Simpsons where you sit in a theatre and the seats turn in to cars that move around in front of the film. It's really for the kids but it's fun. We leave around 5pm and are both exhausted.


Universal's Island of Adventure


It's Monday and it seems quieter this morning and we park nearer the entrance in the King Kong car park! Now we know the way we can leg it past the crowds on the walkways, through the bag search and up to the finger printing entrance where neither of our fingerprints are recognised from yesterday, so much for technology but they let us in anyway. We have a real giggle today. The sun is out and it's a lot warmer so I don't have to put my sweatshirt on in between rides. We wander through the Dr Seuss area which is enchanting and full of bright colours and wacky characters; great for kids. Our first stop is the Harry Potter village. J K Rowling was involved in the design of the whole area and it is wonderful. The village has little pointy cottages and shops covered in snow. We get straight on the Dragon Challenge roller coaster to start with. We're on the back seats and it's great but we reckon it would be better to sit at the front and not so sicky.
Next stop is the Harry Potter castle and the Forbidden Journey ride. The ride has broken down so they're not letting anyone on. This ride can queue for up to 6 hours so there are a few people milling around but most people go off to see the rest of Harry Potter world. As we wander off Rich spots the gates open again so we run back to the ride and get on with only a 15 minute wait. What a result! The castle is fab with talking portraits and holograms. We don't get much time to look at it all as there is no queue for the ride and we have to keep walking. We get on a 4 seater ride but the guy with us is too big to do up his seat so the couple get escorted off – embarrassing! The ride is really well done with a mixture of movement, spinning, puppets and CGI. It makes me feel a little pukey but not too bad. We both decide it would be quite a scary experience for kids with spiders and skeletons jumping out at you. We get off and are led through the obligatory gift shop and retrieve our gear from the fingerprint controlled lockers.

We go through Jurassic Park and on to the River Adventure. From now on there are no queues in the park for us, it has quietened down massively. This involves a boat ride that builds up to an escaped T-Rex and a huge drop down a water chute – and a bit of a soaking. Good fun. Now we are a bit wet we decide to go straight to the other wet rides. First is Dudley Do-Right Rip Saw Falls which is hilarious. We get on this crazy log flume with 3 other people and we all get pretty wet as we go through various drops then a huge fall at the end. Rich is in the back and gets a good dousing, but not as bad as the girl in the front! So, with damp pants we head off to the infamous Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges. As we get on the circular boat there are a few guys who are absolutely soaked on there and have stayed on for 6 rides. They tell us to put our shoes and socks in the centre storage area. Good plan as we get totally drenched; I would be drier if I'd jumped in the water and swam back. People pay a quarter to spray you with a gun from the bridges and there are various huge showers along the way. We get off and dry all our gear off in the sun. We both wore quick dry stuff so it doesn't take too long.
On the way to Amazing Adventures of Spiderman I get my picture taken with Wolverine in some rather dodgy tights. Spiderman is a ride through New York with 3D film and real effects which work really well. At one point it feels like you are plummeting out of the sky and are caught in a big spider web. It's one of the most effective mixtures of film and reality. On to Doctor Doom's Fearfall where Rich looks the most scared of any ride here. You get shot up in the sky 150 feet in your seat with a huge G-force and it feels like your stomach has gone in to your throat. Then you are hurled back down faster than gravity. Very funny.

Our next stop is the Incredible Hulk Coaster. Wow, this thing is huge and fast. There is no queue so we get on the front seats and strap ourselves in. As we start the climb I see a twist in the rail at the top which is odd. Halfway up the climb you accelerate from zero to 40 mph in two seconds flat, with the force equal to that of a jet taking off an aircraft carrier. The world turns upside down as you experience a weightless "zero g" roll. The Hulk launches riders upward 150 ft. and reaches top speeds of 67 mph. The ride has a total of seven inversions and two subterranean trenches during the 2-minute 15-second ride. We scream and laugh round the whole thing; it's fab! After regaining my balance we decide to go back to Harry Potter and get on the front of the Dragon Challenge. There is no queue at all when we get there so we get on the front and, wow, what a different ride. You can see the other dragon coaster whizzing past and then it goes in to a mock head on collision. Really good. We've done all the rides now so we head back to the hotel for a rest.



After Orlando we drive down to catch up with our friends Kay and Chris at their villa in Rotonda, south of Tampa. They have their friends Rich, Kerry, Bethan and Josh staying with them. We have a good laugh playing in the pool, laying in the sun, visiting a few bars in the area and quaffing way too much booze in their hot tub until the early hours. It's nice to see them, but also great for us to get in to proper sunbathing/nightlifing holiday mode with some fellow Brits. It feels more normal for us to be going back to the UK somehow. Thanks again to the guys for making us feel so at home in their beautiful house.


We plan to spend our last day in the USA revisiting the lovely town of Naples, further south on the Gulf Coast. We get a nice room in the Inn of Naples and get washed up to go out on the town. Last time we were here we had a great lunch in the historic 5th Avenue area. We go there again. Unfortunately there has been a huge gas explosion in Fort Myers, 40 miles north, and none of the restaurants have got any gas. it's a case of have a salad or nothing. Hmmm, we go to a Chili's restaurant near the hotel and they have shut. Then we try a little pizza restaurant, same story. In the end, we buy a rotisserie chicken and accompaniments in a supermarket (that is selling out fast) and eat in our room. Not quite what we had in mind, but perhaps someone is telling us it's time to leave!

To Miami Airport


The day has come to make our way to Miami airport for our flight back to London. We travel down through Naples and have a look round Marco Island. It seems really upmarket here with wonderful waterside properties with their own boat docks. Moving east we travel through Everglade City and across the wonderful Big Cypress National Preseve in the centre of the Everglades. There is so much wildlife here, including thousands of migratory raptors and waterfoul. We want to explore but we don't really have time. As we near Miami the traffic is building up on a crazy Friday afternoon so we decide to head straight for the airport early and ditch the hire car.
We're both a little numb as we sit and wait for our flight. All good things have to come to an end of course but we have so many great memories whizzing round our heads we can't help but smile.