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!