Florida 2019 – Day 9 – Swimming with Gators & Gar

Didn’t expect to be swimming in an alligator-infested (dramatic overstatement), manatee-filled natural spring today.

Today consisted of a very, very slow start. Even for me. Up early, but then sat watching the mighty Blues (Man City) away at Palace. It was a 9:05 kick-off here, and not on any achievable channels, nor were the sports bars open.

However thanks to an anonymous referral, I downloaded an app from the (trusted!?) Apple store, and then watched an ad-free game, in HD, on the balcony, in the warm morning sunshine (80F), and apart from a ‘typical City’ 2-1 with 15 to go, I enjoyed the game. Helps that we won 3-1. We can only win our own games, and have no influence on others, so c’est la vie for the rest of today’s games.

A WhatsApp convo with the F’s and we arranged to meet at the Blue Spring State Park at 1pm, after picking up a mobile brunch. Not that I knew what Blue Spring was, other than the F’s had been and enjoyed themselves. Good enough for me.

After a very nice lady, very slowly served us up three Subway sandwiches to go, we took the toll road north. That’s a mobile lunch.

It’s supposed to be around an hour or so to Blue Spring, but a major overhaul of the I4 up around Sanford meant it was more like 1:30 by the time we we’re parked up. And not a minute too soon.

After a queue that reminded me of the entry to an early 1990’s ‘Bug Jam’ (at Santa Pod) albeit with fewer (i.e. no) VW Beetles or Vans, we were three cars prior to them shutting entry.

In the queue, I must confess that my mind strayed to thinking about my homebrew and wondering how the little blighter was getting on. I’m having a go at my take on a DDH NEIPA. A Double Dry-Hopped New England India Pale Ale, is my ale of choice – a ‘hop-forward’ and bitter-but-citrusy, hazy glass of 7% liquid gold. I may have to set up a “brew-cam” ™ on my return, so I can watch its birth!

Parking up, the F’s signalled their presence, in their own inimitable way, a call sign of a sort, and we joined them to figure out what on earth we’d come to.

A naturally-heated 72F spring rises from over 110ft below ground level through a series of caves and passageways. This warmth draws the manatee up the slow-flowing river for a nice relaxing bath. The manatee floating upstream draws the alligators up the slow-flowing river for a nice relaxing meal.

That’s not technically true. The ‘gators are just everywhere, even going rogue, and choosing to try any pick off the old golfist on our course, for which I will be eternally appreciative of. That’s also not technically true.

So what else would one do, but don ones bathing costume and jump in! So we did.

Or at least some of us did. Jane chose to immerse herself in the beauty of the environment and “catch more shineys”, whilst Mrs F opted to suffocate a gummy bear, by sitting on it for so long it got its own back by melting into her rear pocket. (That’s not a euphemism, by the way).

I loved it! Swimming upstream through a soup of goodness knows what, with a snorkel and mask on, simultaneously hoping to see a manatee, and not see an alligator.

I saw some decent sized catfish, a few more generic-looking large fish (think primary school drawings), and a Gar. The nearest American chap announced that “it has a mouthful of teeth”. He’s right. It’s like a swordfish-billed version of a pike.

For a brief moment, it took a passing interest in my GoPro which is in a shiny waterproof housing, unlike the funky newer version my pal the Rev has lent me (which I’m too nervous to use underwater, as it’s not mine to break). For that same brief moment, I crapped myself, thinking it would be really embarrassing and expensive to get treated for a fish bite, when it could have been a ‘gator. That would at least have been worth paying for over here.

The lads had a great time. As kids you think about the upsides and the moment, not the risks or downsides, as we end up doing the older we get. I genuinely believe that even though they knew there are ‘gators about, they probably didn’t even think about them once in the water.

That said, Peter Benchley has a lot to answer for, for us pre 80’s kids!

From there, we dried off, changed where required and us blokes went back to the cars to drop stuff off, whilst Jane, Mrs F & Charlie waited. (Sorry, kiddo, couldn’t resist the cheap, misogynistic shot. x).

On our walk back, we saw vultures, and a pink/red parakeet, all in the wild, just waffling around, eating nature’s provisions. Left-over hotdog & BBQ burgers – what do people think, or rather not think, in a place like this? I’d give up on some folk, if I was a giver-upper!

Hang on! Cut to real time. It’s 22:16. I’m on the balcony and there’s a front coming through. This time not of my making. It’s suddenly hurling down with rain and blowing a hooley. And it’s still gloriously warm. Jane definitely would live here, I’m tempted to agree, with both of us having one or two reservations. Toby. Family. Friends. City (that’s mine).

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I’m writing this now, as tomorrow we check out and head over to Clearwater before 10am, via more “Busch and Pussy” (sorry, it’s crap, I know) and there’ll be stress. So I’m aiming to get this “submitted to the editor” beforehand.

Back to non-real-time. After rejoining the girls, we took a walk up the spring. Lovely as it was, We were all gutted to realise that the sping upswell is at the end of the short walk. No wonder we’d seen scuba divers! They were funking out by scuba or free-diving into the crack, as it were. Doh!

Bugger! When we come back I’m coming here and having a go.

It began raining so we started to head back. Not that it would be an issue if I was in the water. Double Doh!

Another traffic-filled journey back , and a couple of “I know best” decisions on my part, meant we arrived at our (well, we have been in there more frequently than some of the staff over the last 10 days) Texas Whorehouse at just after the happy-hour food window shut. It’s the Lancashire-heritaged fella, not the White Rose that’s more bothered about missing out on discount. That lot are not all mean and tight, just some. 😉

As it’s our last night here, even Jane had a drink. And what a drink! Iced sangria margarita, with a shot of tequila.

Back to the apartment to throw a couple of pairs of undercrackers back in the travel bag and I’m done. Jane on the other hand is choosing to assist Charlie tomorrow. I presume that means with petrol, and a match to sort his room out.

Off to the west coast of the peninsular tomorrow. Can’t wait. Got a few things I’d like to do over there, so fingers crossed it works out. And if it doesn’t, this part of the holiday will balance that out, anyway. I love it over here.

Laters, ‘taters!

Florida 2019 – Day 8 – Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day, this wasn’t. Back to Seaworld, but still a different experience. A lot busier for a start, but it’s to be expected. It’s weekend, after all.

We’re all ‘on the bounce’ today, by which I mean that we’ve all achieved Floridian body clocks for breakfast, but we still have a rebound to UK time mid-afternoon. I’ve even I have had two consecutive good nights sleep!

Like pretty much all the lads of his age, Charlie feels the need to dress in mainly black things that have one of around 5 or 6 ‘acceptable’ labels & logos on. Nike, Stone Island, Northface, Armani (and the various sub- brands), Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein etc. You get the theme – £££!

He decided he’d like to spend his non-existent spending money on some Calvin Klein underwear, but after an unsuccessful trip to TJ Max [sic] last night, he’s still on the hunt, so we’re likely to go back to the outlet mall at some point before Monday, when we move out of here and spend a few days over in Clearwater.

Anyway, Seaworld. It was busy. And hot. In fact it was “Damn hot! Hotter than a snakes ass in a wagon rut”! Somewhere up in the mid 90s, so we mooched today, visiting the manatee rescue centre, where they rehab injured manatees. These poor buggers suffer from injuries such as propeller blade cuts from boats, and entanglement in fishing line. They are nursed back to health and then (where possible) released.

A few more ‘coasters, and the day was done. We decided to shoot off earlier than the F’s, head to the Mall for Charlie as it was only 5 minutes from Seaworld and then meet up at the nearby Longhorn Steakhouse for tea.

I’ll not bore you (even more) with the minutia of shopping with a shy, grumpy teen but after various stares, grunts, huffs and ‘eyes to the sky’, he ended up with four pairs of Calvin Klein boxers and a CK sweatshirt. Thankfully all of which had at least 40% off.

We headed to Longhorn, but the wait time was 45 minutes (it was around 7:20pm, so the busy period), so we tried our luck around the corner at Outback. A five minute drive and a 30 minute wait, so I’m calling that a success!

It is impossible to eat healthily here. As Mr F spotted, even the sweet potato fries had as many calories as proper chips! We couldn’t work that out at first until they arrived, drizzled in honey and brown sugar. Ah! SWEET potato-fries, not sweet-potato fries!

We were all knackered after the meal. Full as a bull, and knackered. It’s the latest we’ve been out, and we felt it. Annoyingly, the Saturday evening traffic down the I4 and 192 was horrible so it took a while to get home.

We got back, I put the drinks bottles in the fridge, and in that blink of an eye, Jane and Charlie were in bed and pretty much asleep.

No idea what tomorrow will bring. We’ll figure something out though.

Night!

Florida 2019 – Day 7 – Swearing with Sticks

So yesterday was supposed to be another easy day.

Instead, Mr F had convinced me to play a round of golf with him early doors. Bear in mind that I have never played proper golf before. My golf experience totals a few games of pitch and putt at Bruntwood Park as a teen, and a handful of goes at crazy golf. I have never been on a driving range and swung a club ‘in anger’. And now I’m going to step out onto the Arnold Palmer ‘Legends’ course, with a bag full of sticks, whizzing around in a golf buggy (a firm “no walking” policy ensures a $50 buggy hire!).

Mr F arrived at around 7:50am, and I was ready and waiting, having donned whatever garish gear I had brought with me. Sadly I’d not thought to bring my ‘Rupert the Bear’ pants with me, so I ended up feeling somewhat under-dressed.

Having negotiated the hire of clubs, bag, and buggy, and paid for balls and a 9-hole round (the sensible choice, I felt), we set off for the bit I was most looking forward to, the buggy driving!

The First Hole. We teed off from a colour-marked imaginary line, towards a flag so far away, I couldn’t see it. This was going to be a long morning!

Mr F set off first to show me how it’s done. His first drive was impressive! How did he get it to curl so much that it nearly headed back towards us, I wondered.

My turn next. I picked one of the sticks with the big fat heads (a driver?) and placed my ball on the little wooden peg. Whoosh! I managed to hit a huge lump of grass around 50 feet. Not bad! Maybe I’m a natural.

Very quickly it became obvious that this game should really be called ‘swearing with sticks’. I ac only apologise to those folk who were sat out on their balconies, having breakfast, overlooking the fifth hole, as Mr F and I loudly cussed our way along the fairway.

From what I can gather from Mr Fs play, the aim is to fire the ball from one side of the course to another, without the ball landing on any smooth green grass. Preferably, it should land in sand, in water, in bushes or just disappear down a rabbit hole.

Apparently, it’s not good form to do donuts on the fairway, or try reverse J-turns, so I modified my driving style to suit, throwing green sand over the tyre marks to disguise them. “We’ll need more green sand”, I pointed out.

I continued to pick the game up, and by the last hole, it was all to play for. This hole for the match!

Following Mr Fs lead, I fired one a hellishly long way into a tree. From there I managed to putt it along the ground about 30 yards using a sand wedge, into an alligator-ridden water hazard. That’s true, btw, they are populated with Gators and you do occasionally see them on the course.

Having lost a number of balls along the way, my luck was in and I could at least gain some kudos from Mr F, as I spotted a number of balls in the shallow end of the lake.

I managed to fish four or five (apparently really good) balls from the lake before the water started to churn nearby and I returned to dry land to finish the hole.

Another four or five putts and the ball got close enough to the hole for Mr F to concede that this probably wasn’t my game, and we headed off to the 19th hole (or should that be 10th for us?), for a cold beer for breakfast. There are some upsides to this game then.

Basking in the glory of his win, Mr F went back home to pickup his clan and take them to the Mall, whilst we waited for Charlie to wake up. He is the Ying to my Yang, and sleeps for over 12 hours in one sitting.

We headed over to Celebration, a strange and beautiful little town built by the Walt Disney Company as part of their vision of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). It’s so perfect, and so quiet, that it’s a bit ‘Stepford Wives’.

However it does have a superb pub. The Town Tavern serves really great food, in particular their Maine Lobster specials and the Clam Chowder are phenomenal.

And just when you think it couldn’t get any better, they serve over 100 different beers. I really do need to come here when I’m not ‘duty driver’!

A quick trip into the ‘ Woof Gang Bakery’ (yep, a bakery for dogs) to buy our Toby some holiday treats, was followed by a slow mooch back around the lake, to the car.

We decided that we wanted to just lazy around for the remainder of the day, so went back to the apartment, and headed to our local pool to “do some sunbathing”. Even Charlie joined us eventually.

I think the American diet is catching up with me, as when I got up to leave, my sunbed looked somewhat worse for wear, where my fat ass had been!

Back home for pizza and pale ale, before crashing out for the night.

Back to Seaworld tomorrow we think, but we’ll decide on the day.

Night!

Florida 2019 – Day 6 – Rocketman

Very few photos today to pad out my drivel. Sorry. Not even a lot to mention, to be honest.

Went to a water park. Sat in the sun. Got sunburned. Went for tea. Saw the first ever “workhorse” launch of the most powerful rocket currently in use (the Falcon “Heavy”) and to cap it off, it lands all three rocket boosters for the first time ever!

Hashtag “I was there”. Hashtag “history” etc, etc etc. You get the gist!

Night! 😉

I’m still buzzing from seeing SpaceX launch the most powerful rocket since Apollo. I absolutely love stuff like this! It was no moon landing moment, but it was, as Joe Hart once said, “deee-cent”.

If you are (sane & believe this sort of stuff ever happened) interested, then there’s a private company that the owner of loads of groundbreaking companies, PayPal for example, or Tesla, Elon Musk, happens to own.

One of his businesses is pretty keen on whacking a load of stuff into space. At a fair price. And they push boundaries, fail publicly, explain why, and then move on. Fair play to him, to be honest!

We arrived at Aquatica for around 10:15, and after dopeyhead Charlie had returned to the car to pick up his entry pass which he’d only just been given, we got in, and bagged four sunbeds and three sunchairs opposite the wave pool. Or as it’s now referred to after an ‘incident’ on our last visit, the turd pool. Never seen a pool clear as quickly after someone ‘dropped a log’ and it was spotted bobbing along on the crest of a wave.

There’s plenty of good rides and slides at Aquatica, and we spent the day pottering between them all. We even managed to get on a brand new ride that officially opens on the 12th, but they were testing it out.

Jane, Charlie and I went for lunch at the “Grab and Go”, which turned out to be more of a “Tell someone to restock the fridge & then wait 10 minutes, before going” type of place!

I got itchy feet at around 4:30, as I was seriously considering ditching Charlie & Jane and driving over towards Kennedy or Titusville to watch the Falcon Heavy launch, but decided against it.

When the park shut at 5pm, we showered, changed and then went to TGI Fridays on International Drive. Apart from surprisingly underwhelming service, my chicken salad was actually really nice.

I think the girl serving us got a mite nervous through at 6:34pm when we all jumped up and ran out of the restaurant to see if we could see the rocket launch.

We did! Or at least I did. It was ace! Even from here, it was a cool thing to see.

The one good thing about TGIs was that they served the Sam Adams Nee England IPA, which is a belter of a brew. So much so, I decided to call in at a Liquor Store on the way home to see if I could buy some.

Sadly not, but I did end up having a good natter with the server about home brewing, though.

From there, it was across the road and back down to our apartment, and bed!

Oh, just before which, I arranged to play my first ever round of golf with Mr F (a keen golfist), on the Arnold Palmer Legends Course at 8am tomorrow. What could possibly go wrong!

Florida 2019 – Day 5 – A bit of Busch & Pussy

And if that headline hasn’t made you read this, then nothing will! 😉

I love Busch. Genuinely, jokes and childish double entendre aside, personally I think it’s the best park in Florida. By a country mile.

It a massively notched-up Alton Towers (when it first opened, they had animals, if you’re old enough to remember that), but with a similar family ethos, and without the bare commercialism that some parks lean on. No Marvel or Harry Potter here. Just good rides, and animals in large, well thought-through enclosures.

Boiled egg breakfast for me, (no idea what Jane and Charlie had), and then a hasty exit, as we needed to be sharp away this morning.

Busch Gardens is over in Tampa, on the west side of the Florida peninsular, whereas Kennedy Space Centre (where the SpaceX Falcon Heavy is due to launch from later today at 6:36pm) is on the east, with our apartment pretty much dead centre.

It’s an hour and 15 drive, along about 4 roads, so plenty of time for me to play with this self driving car feature. It’s still very weird!

The Fs beat us there, and so we met inside Busch just after 10:15. As I’ve mentioned, Busch is a kind of Knowsley Safari Park, with some of the best rollercoasters laid over the top. All done really well, and very rarely busy. Today was even quieter than normal, although we’ve usually come on Memorial Day, a bank holiday, so not a massive surprise.

The first coaster was one where the carriages spin around as you’re flying along, whereas the second was a full on suspended twist/corkscrew/loop-fest. After which I felt ill!

I’m normally fine on rollercoasters and have been on all of them here before, but perhaps due to being so tired, I just felt drained and a bit ‘gippy’. What a wuss!

We meandered from coaster to coaster at the lads whim. They were all having a ball. Love seeing them enjoy themselves, being kids, and being away from a screen! Children of today – it IS possible!

A lunch-stop near the orangutang and the tiger trails, consisted of a turkey salad sandwich served on what looked like chocolate arctic roll. They really have no idea what bread is in the US, same as for butter. And don’t get me started on what they call bacon!

I recovered enough to be persuaded to to on Shiekra, a vertical-drop rollercoaster, which was fabulous! Shame it meant that the Little F ended up feeling, and subsequently being, sick. Thankfully not my problem though!

We’ll be back here next Monday, so we were able to take it nice and easy today, and not have to rush from place to place. That said, the queues were no more than 5 minutes long anyway!

I even had time to buy a flight of ales to try. Four small ‘sample sizes’ of ales; Cigar City’s ‘Special Oatmeal Stout’, MIA Beer Co ‘308 IPA’, Sea Dog Brewing ‘Blueberry IPA’ and that ‘Hop Gun’, that I’d tried in bottles. All interesting in their own different ways!

Due to me feeling under the weather, I ended up being photographer/videographer for the day, more than coaster rider, but still, it was all good fun!

Once we were all worn out, we headed back towards Orange Lake Resort, and had tea (another steak!) at the Texas Roadhouse.

On the way, we heard that the SpaceX launch had been rescheduled until tomorrow, to to high altitude winds. You sometimes here the phrase ‘scrubbed’ if a launch doesn’t go ahead, but just so as you know, it’s only ‘scrubbed’ if they cancel after they filled the propellant. In this instance the rocket fuel was yet to be pumped in, so technically this launch wasn’t scrubbed. There. I’m a geek. I know.

Works well for me, as it means I may be able to sneak off and watch the launch, weather and timing permitted.

Bar Little F jumping up to hurl, and Mrs F subsequently having to sit outside with her (well-deserved) Sangria Margarita and sickly son, we enjoyed the meal & the service, before heading home to crash out.

Aquatica tomorrow, we think, so see you there!

Florida 2019 – Day 4 – Chill

Turns out that we wouldn’t have had a choice about taking it lightly today, as Charlie’s been under the weather, sadly.

The plan was to try IHOP for breakfast, then fire over to the Mall again, for a quick shop, before heading back to chill out and then watch the game.

As it turned out, the weather this morning was much better than forecast, so we should have really switched the day around, but hey-ho.

We “International House Of Pancaked” breakfast as planned. Mine was alright, Jane’s very good apparently (scrambled egg, cheese, avocado, salsa), and Charlie ordered from the lunch menu – a BLT with fries. Which was only nibbled at before he ‘fessed up he had been feeling sick since we left the apartment. Doubt it could be anything to do with the Haribo Sours he was eating when I asked him to get up out of bed.

What I didn’t like at IHOP was that when given the bill of $39, and giving a $50 bill, we got $3.50ish change as the waitress “automatically” took her 20% tip. Which I would have probably left until she took it without asking!

From there, I dropped Charlie & Jane back at the apartment before nipping back to the outlet mall to buy a pair of trainers and a couple of extra tee-shirts (- I’d not packed very well!).

After 25 minutes of car-parking wars, where you stealth-drive around watching for returning shoppers, trying to guess where their car is parked so you can grab the space, before marking your territory with aggressive application of the indicators.

A “man shop” meant I was back at the car in less time than it had taken me to park.

From there, a run around Target for a few bits and pieces, and then off to the local sports bar to watch City, and have some time to myself.

Jane has a nice relaxing time around the pool, with her Kindle, right up to the sudden deluge, which was about the same time I ran across the Miller Ale House carpark.

City got a questionable VAR penalty which we subsequently missed and then all hell broke loose.

Not in the game, in the bar! Mr F & clan arrived just as the other screens started showing Castlefield v Wigan in the Super League (Rugby League). I’m proud to say I was born in Wigan and raised as a Mancunian, whereas Mr F, dallies around and chooses his teams at will, Leeds for football, Cas for rugby. [I’ve only put this in to wind him up].

Game over (a 1-0 loss for City, away at Spurs in a two-leg quarter final, so not the end of the world by any means).

I bid farewell ‘Peter Kay-style’, with a subtle V sign as if scratching my face, and then went back to the apartment.

A quick turnaround and then out for a deliberately-delayed Mother’s Day treat meal for Jane, at Bonefish Grill.

We’ve eaten there a couple of times and had really nice food, and this time was no different. Jane ordered her usual of double lobster tails with clarified butter, and was suitably replete in finishing.

Tea sorted, so back to the apartment where Jane donned her Penguin suit and sat reading on the balcony, whilst I won an unofficial “who can make the biggest noise” competition, by farting louder than the lads setting off Bottle Rockets on the golf course that we overlook. I blame the Bonefish steak.

Suitably relaxed, it soon came time to retire to bed, somI took a few minutes to scribe today’s drivel.

Tomorrow, the plan is to head west to Busch Gardens where the weather is slightly cooler, but less likely to develop into thunderstorms.

That’s the plan so far anyway!

Night!

Florida 2019 – Day 3 – Seaworld

Sound a bit ‘lightweight’ but we’re having a day off today. Travel, body clock adjustments, weather forecast, a brilliant first couple of days & remembering it’s supposed to be a holiday, all meant we decided to take a break from our Florida holiday!

No really firm plans, as such. I do now know a sports bar that happens to be at the end of our road, who may or may not have been contacted by an ‘anonymous’ City fan enquiring if they would be showing the game.

After that, I promised I’d take Jane for a nice meal, which in Janes terms means lobster. So that’ll be us at Bone Fish Grill tomorrow.

But what about yesterday?

A planned 10am meet-up at Seaworld (pantomime boo, again) was almost met. Tardy performances from some of my team aside, and the F’s doing a quick “Denny Detour” on their way, so 10:08 at the gate would have to suffice. Must try harder.

“Bag Lady” Jane assumed the position, as Charlie and I made a dart for a quick razz on Manta (rollercoaster), whilst waiting for Mrs F’s pancakes to settle.

The queue sign said 45 minute wait, but as seasoned pro’s we know we could knock 10 minutes off that. And we did. By queueing. In an orderly fashion. Some of the queue signs show times that are there to move crowds around the park and even the demand out. At least that’s what I assume. And if they don’t, then I’m available for consultancy work.

A quick non-physical ‘high five’, as we got to the front of the line in sub advertised time, and celebrations were cut short. “Thank you for you patience” is a message you don’t want to hear. Lip-reading (which I cant do, so the next bit is all conjecture & I admit is likely to be total bull), one of the safety switches on row 6 was a bit flakey so they switched it off.

Anyway, that led to a 25 minute delay, before we got on the ride. Manta is a “flying rollercoaster” (you hang underneath it), where you go through an inverted loop and at some point pull 3.7G.

I hate the inverse loop. Everything is backwards. Which I know, is in the name, but having your two-boiled-egg breakfast rammed backwards up your throat Isn’t something I want to get used to.

So the first ride took an age. But at least it meant that when we got back the F’s were semi-digested & ready for action. Everyone’s a winner!

Next ride…shut, temporarily, due to an issue. So we swiftly moved on to “Kraken”, another wicked, head banger of a rollercoaster. Which, as we got to be front of the queue, stopped. They then announced a delay whilst they got another carriage (is that what they’re called? I doubt it) onto the track. Another delay.

It’s a twisty, turny, loopy, g-forcy, smash-your-head-against-the-headrest kind of ‘coaster. Which was good. Although admittedly, I was focused heavily throughout the ride on my two-boiled-egg breakfast, not for the first or last time that day.

We did a water ride/log flume thing next and got wetted down, prior to Charlie announcing his hunger. Due to raising out of bed 120 seconds before he needs to leave the house to do anything, he’d had some haribo sours for breakfast.

The F’s, still processing a Denny’s, weren’t as hungry, so we went for lunch in the Antarctic cafe, whilst they sunbathed in the 30deg heat.

Lunch, (defined by me today as that time between leaving and rejoining the F’s), was eventful.

My food was over-priced, appallingly handled and paltry in volume. All for the princely sum of $15. Yes, I’m aware in an

Antarctic-themed canteen, but you don’t meet to be so authentic that my noodles were as cold as a penguins feet.

The annoying thing is, I ordered the same meal last time here and it was great!

But the bigger story from lunch was…

An old bloke lost control of his mobility scooter and ran over an old lady’s leg. He then reversed into another old lady in a wheelchair. Having seen that we saw him, he raced off at 2mph, effecting the slowest getaway ever, without an apology!

It turned out to be quite serious. Once the medics turned up, as they wheelchaired her due to a suspected fractured ankle.

Drama over, we met up with the F’s. The kids wanted to go on Mako, a relatively new rollercoaster that’s the tallest and fastest in Florida, so we headed off in that direction.

Before we got there however, Jane decided to buy herself a full-sized Penguin ‘suit/blanket’. Each to their own, I suppose!

It’s seeming quite quiet in Seaworld, so the queues weren’t too bad. So much so that they fired around Mako three times consecutively without a hitch.

I said I’d cover off my views on Seaworld and the negativity that their brand has associated. I watched the Black Fin documentary, and taking into account it was putting forward a single sided perspective, it did trouble me.

Since we first came here, though to today, it has seemingly changed. There’s less and less emphasis on the “show” and more on the conservation research and rescue work.

I’m not wholly comfortable with the larger mammals being here in captivity, but at the same time, Knowsley Safari Park, for example does the same, but doesn’t incite the same feeling.

Yes, it’s a big money making machine, but they aren’t wholly reliant on the captive animal element of Seaworld Park, and they are clearly scaling this back.

My negative feelings aren’t strong enough to stop me coming and enjoying all of the other great elements. Sorry, if that offends.

After a few more ‘coasters and an absolute soaking on a new water ride, we were all knackered, so headed out for tea at Outback.

The food there is superb, and my steak & ribs combo was sublime.

We were served by a real character called Pete. Welcomed us, chatted pretty knowledgeably about ‘soccer’, recommended a sports bar that would be showing the game, and had superhuman hearing. At one point Mr F leaned over and quietly told me the beer was good and he fancied another. From the next table, Pete shouts over “No problem, coming right up!” and another pint was delivered!

And after that, the day was done. As were we!

‘Til next time!

Florida 2019 – Day 2 – Oasis (not the band)

A 3am wake up for me today, means around 4 hours sleep. Had worse, I guess. Anyway, I’m on my hols so it’s easier to deal with!

We were all pretty ‘up and at it’ this morning, as the time difference (-5h) is still affecting us. We saved time getting ready as there was no need for a shower, given where we were going today!

Discovery Cove is an all-inclusive “day resort, a sort of oasis”, owned and operated by Seaworld (hang fire, before you boycott these blogs, I’ll talk about ethics and Seaworld tomorrow, given we’re likely to be going there, you can boycott me after that).

They limit entry to around 1300 pre-booked people per day, so it’s got a relaxed vibe to the place, with beaches, a very natural-feeling lazy river, an aviary, opportunities to swim with dolphins and even sharks, and snorkel around in the Grand Reef, with tropical fish and rays. Breakfast and lunch are included, as are the bars, where cookies, pretzels, soft drinks, beer, wine and cocktails are all available. Sales pitch over!

After a 25 minute drive from our apartment, we got there for 8:30am, parked up, and then checked in.

We’ve bought a “park pass”, which means we paid a lot less than day rates and get unlimited access to 3 parks plus a day at Discovery, and free parking (not to be snuffed at, at $20 a day!).

Because of that, we got photo ID passes made up as we checked in, which we will use at Seaworld (pantomime boo!, Aquatica (“there’s a floater in the wave pool!”), and Busch Gardens, which is in my humble opinion, the best of the parks, by a country mile.

In we went and straight for breakfast where we’d arranged to meet the F’s. On arrival, our ‘tranquil day oasis’ was a fire scene, with the kitchen being closed and the alarms going off. Nothing major, other than a slight delay to entry, at least that’s what I thought at the time.

Canteen-style service of scrambled eggs, sausage, potatoes, and then other unidentifiable ‘stuff’, topped up with as much of the fruit, cakes, beer(!), coffee, juices et al, that you wanted.

I’ll be blunt. The breakfast was awful, and not at all in keeping with the level at which DC is marketed.

It became clear to me that what had actually been on fire (or at least subjected to Centre-of-the-sun temperatures was the scrambled egg. The server used an ice cream scoop to plate up. It sat there line a rubber ball, only changing shape to return to a more perfect dome.

The sausages were ok. The potatoes also ok (not ok enough for me to eat, mind), but the other two items only merited investigation out of scientific curiosity.

As best as I could figure, the two dark brown fried sticks that looked like fried bread, turned out to be over-cooked cinnamon donut (sic) ‘soldiers’.

And the scone (pronounced “Scon”, btw), was actually a large ball of raw dough. Charlie suggested it was that home-made play-dough.

So my breakfast was actually six blocks of scrambled egg & a punnets-worth of grapes.

Next, phase of the tropical oasis day is getting your wetsuit, and complimentary snorkel (& mask, if you forget to hand back in, as some seem to do), and then applying the dolphin-friendly factor zero sunscreen.

It’s actually brilliant to watch. Basically there is this white creamy substance in big pump dispensers, which you apply to the skin as normal, but in this instance, what then happens is that it forms an unmovable, impenetrable barrier to everything other than the suns rays, whilst remaining fully white. Think of that stuff you see on Aussie cricketers lips sometimes, but now scale that up to whole body level!

You can spot the newly-arrived Brits (like us) easily at this stage, as the application of the above whitening paste still tends to improve the “tan” in the vast majority of instances.

Mr F applied his to the point where he looked like Casper the friendly ghost! Or some awful, 1960s inverse blackface. I’m sure I probably did the same application, so won’t say anymore.

Next on the agenda was bagging sunbeds, so ‘complimentary towels’ were requisitioned at a 2-1 ratio -one for drying, one to lay claim to the sunbed.

We all relaxed into the day, and did what we wanted to do:

  • Mr F & I had a Bud Lite Lime to wash the toothpaste (and egg) away, and then bobbed around the lazy river for a bit
  • Jane & Mrs F, sat and pretended to sunbathe whilst actually just gossiping and people-watching.
  • And the kids cleared off and became the lifeguards problem for a few hours.

Perfect! It’s true, it’s a luxury oasis!

Then it’s lunch, which was significantly better than breakfast. In fact, it was an almost polar opposite experience, with a decent selection of hot and cold food, and plenty on nice desserts on offer.

After lunch, some of us headed off to the Grand Reef, where we could snorkel with the aforementioned tropical fish and rays.

What you may not realise is that tropical fish swim in tropical seawater, but that doesn’t mean tropical seawater is warm. Suffice to say that on entry to the water, my nether regions transformed into what would resemble a walnut/peanut combo. At least there would be little to interest the nibbling fish.

DCIM100GOPRO

I love the Grand Reef. I love just floating around with the snorkel, watching some huge stingrays glide by. Some brush past you, which at first is a little freaky, but you get used to it.

What you don’t get used to are the selfish cockwombles that barge past you in pursuit of Nemo or some other poor creature. Thankfully the lifeguards and in-water staff have a zero tolerance approach to this, and those folk are harpooned from the Reef and dropped into the shark tank.

As Mrs & Mrs F and I sat in the shallows allowing the rays to glide up to us at their own volition, suddenly, and not entirely out of character, Mr F jumped up and shouted “Bastard!”, and in so doing, taught a number of young American children a new word.

He’d good reason to shout as he did, as his knee began to swell, after a very nasty sting from an inch-long, evil-looking horsefly type thing. I reassured him that he should go for a swim as it would help before the anaphylaxis set in and he suffocated.

Thankfully a lifeguard/firstaider was on hand to apply a magic sponge (plucked from the artificial reef) and Mrs F looked relieved that Mr F was going to survive, as she wasn’t keen on driving in the States.

The park shuts at 5pm to give Nemo and his mates some well-deserved respite, so after eventually gathering up the kids, and showering the outer layers of whitening cream off, we set off back home via the Bahama Breeze restaurant off the West Irlo Bronson Memorial Driveway, it as we call it, the 192, just like the bus to Stockport.

Although it’s fair to say some of the party got less value than others from their meals (the kids were exhausted, to be fair), I had a nice spicy fish taco with clam chowder combo. Which was lovely.

We went out separate ways, after agreeing that weather permitting, we would “do Seaworld” tomorrow.

I lagged behind Charlie & Jane by around 15 seconds as they entered the apartment. As I entered, Charlie was in bed and falling asleep, and Jane in her PJs, already in bed.

The day was done! Except for downloading today’s photos, videos, recharging camera/phone/tablet/portable power packs.

I stayed up until just after 11, in the vain hope of sleeping in. Which I did until around 4am.

Night!

Florida 2019 – Day 1 – Retailers 3, Visitors 0

Aaarghh! The trainers! The trainers! They look identical to the ones he has yet are almost double the price! Bloody Nike! Glad City are getting rid as sponsors, as it may mean my son begins liking cheaper footwear! (No chance!)

Dad moan over!

Desperately trying to recover from yesterday’s tricky and limited food options, Denny’s didn’t seem the best place to go, but I custom ordered an omelette with plenty spinach (hope JP is pleased with my ‘speed’ choice!), onions, ham & a weird lean turkey “bacon”. I’ll just not mention the healthy b muffin, was dripping in that odd American fake butter nonsense. Does anyone know what it actually is, by the way? It’s like a combo of whipped cream, with cinnamon. It’s certainly not butter as I know it, but any guidance would be well received!

Oh! Bugger breakfast, anyway. What about our self-driving car! What the..! I can’t believe I didn’t tell you about it yesterday.

It’s got radar, and cameras and other such gizmos, that mean you get shouted at if you stray towards a lane line, it brakes all the way to a stop when on cruise and with only a button press then sets off again whilst maintaining a sensible distance from the car in front. All very clever, and slightly freaky but nothing compared to the “assisted steering” function! It steers the car within a lane and, when you indicate, it senses and warns of any blind-spot hazards before making the lane change. Don’t tell the insurer, but I did try letting go of the wheel for a few seconds and it steered us ’round a bend, but then shouted at me for not holding the wheel.

It really is an odd feeling when the car try’s to override your steering input. Which is why that particular feature is now disabled! Way to odd for me!

Oh, and the other thing I forgot to mention was that last night, I ticked off another astronomical bucket-list item, seeing the Hubble Space Telescope (the “HST”) potter across my sky, low to the east. I must confess to telling Jane I’d seen Sputnik, but that was the name of the app I used to verify what I was looking at! Doh!

Denny’s done, after a lengthy wait to pay up, and off to the first of two likely Mall stops.

Charlie is on a mission. A mission to make me have to work until I drop. No shoes in the Nike Outlet shop that he would wear. To be fair, I had a couple of items that I was after and Sod’s law, they were available in every other side than mine (Vans UltraRange Pro 2s, btw).

I also need swimwear. Thanks to encouragement from a friend of mine (the aforementioned ‘JP’), I’ve lost a bit of timber recently, and so last years would probably see me put on a ‘watch list’ for streaking. No luck avoiding that with a purchase at this Mall, so off we trot to the larger, Florida Mall.

Not a holiday so far, in my eyes this, being honest – more a required trip to acquire decency whilst bathing.

Not much more to tell of this, other than that Jane bought one shoe (as a key ring), I nipped to a surf shop to buy some board shorts, and whilst I was out of sight, collusion occurred, and I was robbed of a fair few quid, as on my return Charlie was putting on his new pair of trainers that looked very much like his old trainers. Basically a black Nike “swoosh” and black upper with black soles. And now I have a black heart and am shedding black tears.

At this point even my own enthusiasm to shop was curtailed so a decision was made to return to the apartment.

At this point, we heard news that our friends had survived their ordeal of a missed connection and were now installed in their villa. The power of WhatsApp allowed us to arrange to meet at one of our favourite restaurants for some fine dining, albeit earlier than normal, but understandably, given their lack of sleep.

I decided to take my new swim shorts for a quick test drive, whilst Jane and Charlie soaked up the rays (given off from their iPhone screens). They are Comfy with capital ‘C’. And water repellent without a capital ‘W’ or ‘R’. Nice!

Home in time for a quick shower before heading off to meet the F’s for tea, at what us adult like to call the “Texas Chainsaw Whorehouse”. Because we are childish.

The Texas Roadhouse serves proper “American” fayre (massive portions of steak/burger/chicken/pulled pork plus sides) thats really good quality and at a decent dollar.

Great to see all three of them, and the other one (you can choose which is which, but that’s honestly a joke, btw). And after a good blether, and a decent attempt at healthy eating (house salad no dressing, then med/rare chargrilled steak, with plain baked potato & green beans – fistbump), less the Sam Adams Seasonal IPA (fistbump retracted), we went out separate ways.

Mr & Mrs F have two sons. We have Charlie. It’s great to see Charlie light up and be a kid when they arrived. I get a lot of joy seeing him being the kid that he should be. That alone makes it great that we have numerous good friends that we have been lucky enough to share holiday time with.

It reminded me that “Onelies” (only kids) do have a different angle on life because of that. No rights or wrongs to either, especially when choice isn’t a ‘given’ for the parent(s) in some circumstances.

Anyway, I digress. Again. Back to the apartment, and the day is almost over.

Actually, I have enjoyed the day. Despised the shopping bit, but not to the detriment of spending time with my family. Still a ‘win’ overall.

I’m once again writing this from the balcony. This time it’s slightly different because:

A) It’s night, and I’ve yet to even bother trying to sleep

B) It’s raining. It sounds lovely.

C) And there’s lightning & thunder. It looks and sounds lovely.

D) the Cicadas are chirruping. It sounds lovely.

E) I can’t be arsed writing something tomorrow morning, because we’ve an early start!

We’re off to what could arguably and loosely be described as another ‘tradition’, Discovery Cove. It’s a day of “all inclusive paradise”, but google where it is. Its not that it isn’t paradise when you’re in, but find it and you’ll see you’re basically across from a motorway. It makes it even more impressive to be honest, that it does still feel so tranquil.

Weather may be mixed but it won’t bother me. I’ll explain more tomorrow, but I usually spend most of my time there underwater, so I don’t care!

See you tomorrow, maybe.

Night, night.

[updated & spelling corrected at 4:37am, sleep still my nemesis]

Florida 2019 – Outbound!

Morning folks!

They say what a difference a day makes, but for me, what a difference 2 weeks make!

This time two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be at around 2600m, having the time of my life, skiing for the first time in around 15 years, with an amazing group of mates.

I’m now sitting on the balcony of our apartment, in a resort in Orlando, Florida, drinking a strong black coffee, waiting for my beautiful family to scupper my recent weight loss by going for a Denny’s breakfast. It’s become a tradition for any holiday in the USA.

Jane, Charlie and I set off yesterday at 6:30 to Manchester T2, to catch a Virgin 747 to Orlando International.

Manchester Airport should be a flagship arrival point for International travellers to showcase what we are all about. Having travelled through it three times in the last couple of months, sadly, I think it’s a shambles.

The parking has become somewhat of a farce, for pickup & drop-off, with inappropriate charges for what is often a sub-5 minute stay. The security section is currently massively under capacity (I know there’s a plan for major investment, but why allow it to get so bad?), and led to a lengthy delay before getting through.

Once through, things didn’t improve. Even the relatively new T2 has capacity issues – no spaces in either of the Exec Lounges (“sorry Sir, unless you’ve pre-booked, we’re not allowing any more in”). There were big queues for all of the eateries, so we ended up Weatherspooning brekky, before boarding.

Flight left on time and although a tad bumpy, the flight was great, decent food, good service and back to back films for me! (First Man, that Spiderverse thingy, Bumblebee & Mortal Engines – all good films).

We arrive a few minutes ahead of schedule but had to wait for 15 mins at the gate before disembarking due to a passenger that had had some sort of medical emergency near the end of the flight (oxygen cylinder and mask, plus cabin crew supervision all helped keep things relatively calm).

A minor queue through very pleasant and courteous customs, and the luggage was already there for collection. Hey, Manchester Airport – look it is possible!

Then came the usual wrangling with the over-pushy Alamo rental car rep, who was insistent that we wouldn’t get all of our luggage in the “mid-sized SUV” and that we really really needed to take out the roadside recovery cover.

“Are you telling me that there is a significant likelihood of the vehicle you’re renting me breaking down? And you’d like me to pay for the privilege?”.

Having collected our eetsy-teatsy, teeny-weeny little microcar, a brand new 2019 Nissan Rogue Sport S SUV (tosser!), we headed off to Orange Couny Resort via a quick supermarket shop.

I’d been looking forward to arriving earlier that previous and going out for tea, but my dearest son made it clear that he wanted tea in the apartment, so pizza, clam chowder & chicken wings became tea! Oh, accompanied by a slightly-too-sweet, but reasonably hoppy Dogfish Head 60 Minute American Pale Ale.

At this stage, we found out that our friends (the “F’s”), who were travelling later and via New York, has missed their connection and so were spending the night in the departure lounge before catching an early morning flight down. Gutted for them.

And so that was the first day done. All settled in. All unpacked. All ready for the traditional first day of Denny’s & shopping malls! 😬

So, I sit here in the morning sunshine, sipping that coffee, and dreading how expensive the trainers that Charlie wants are likely to be!

Off to the Outlet malls for his trainers and a pair of board shorts for me. Can’t be loosing my kecks on a water ride later in the week can I!

Cheers!