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Published: April 20th 2016
So this year we have returned to Orlando after a 10 year absence. Part of my extended indulgences on the excuse of it being my 50th this year. We've also brought the kids with us. I say kids - they're 21 and 23 - but whatever they may be now, it's the first time we've been away as a foursome in 5 years. When I first suggested this trip to Bill, just over a year ago, he looked at me like I was mad, but he manfully warmed to the idea and launched into his customary excellent and thorough planning.
For anyone kind enough to follow our travels last year you may be pleased to hear that we have another Book - this year named The Laminated Book of Dreams, an homage to Bill Bailey's description of the Argos catalogue and with a photo of him on the front for good measure. It's at times like this when I am forever grateful that we rarely get searched by custom's officers...
Anyway, after a night in a hotel at Gatwick we boarded our flight to Orlando on Saturday morning, excited by the prospect of playing with the entertainment system on the plane and armed with the plan of sleeping off lunch and recharging our batteries for the long evening ahead. Nine hours is a long time on a plane with what felt like an entire pre-school class of unruly ankle-biters. 10 years had somewhat blurred my memory of how many small children take that flight. I word it that way specifically because several would appear to have left their parents behind. No chance of sleeping through the cacophony of screaming tantrums and a sock footed trip to the toilet revealed a floor spotted with sticky and crispy substances probably best not investigated too thoroughly!
Nevertheless the flight was smooth and without major mishap and we arrived safely in Orlando at 4 PM, 9 PM on our body clocks, travel weary but excited by the prospect of our adventures ahead. Before we left home we often talked about how different this holiday would be 10 years on with 4 adults. Rubbish. 4 children more like! As we got off that plane it was a hard push to tell who was more excited, but we were all pretty much up there.
After a slightly alarming delay caused by the immigration system crashing, causing it to change from fingerprinting and photographing 2 of us to the old school way of looking at your photo and stamping a page for the remaining 2, we were on our way at last!
Bill had chosen us a fabulous villa. on a lake, as many here are, it has the dubious benefit of, as Claire so elegantly puts it, having more lois than we have bums between us. Having arrived via a supermarket we just about summoned the energy to order a pizza and hit the sack before hitting the parks the next day.
For our first day w chose The Animal Kingdom - a firm family favourite and a perfect re-entry into the world of theme parks. With its lush vegetation, brightly coloured costumes and amazing themed areas the Animal Kingdom has to be seen to be believed. We walked from The Himalayas to the African Bush and back, music and theatre around every corner. We even got a good soaking on a water ride which gave us a welcome cool down after a very sunny and hot few hours in the park.
In the intervening years since our last visit technology has advanced apace at Disney. Park tickets now allow you to enter by touching then against Mickey's ear shaped sensors, many guests having wrist bands doing the same job. Also new to us is the photo pass. Using your ticket you can download every ride photo and any photographs taken around the park by designated photographers to an app which you can then save to any computer or device you choose to. The app also allows you to pre-book your Fast Pass tickets which give you speedy access to up to 3 rides daily. These now have to be pre-booked 30 days before you visit which takes some of the spontaneity out of the visit. Without them, however, queue times can be over 90 minutes long for the better rides, so spontaneity soon becomes eclipsed by practicality and the desire to get the most out of the day!
The other big change we have noticed is the wide availability of alcohol in the parks. I may well be wrong, but my memory is that Disney parks in Orlando were always dry. The reality is that they certainly aren't now. Much as I enjoy the odd lunchtime beer we all felt there was something incongruous about the sight of people wandering around a theme park drinking pints of lager on the go. In temperatures of around 86 degrees with the prospect of being thrown about on a ride shortly afterwards we collectively stuck to water and soft drinks, definitely avoiding the frozen cocktails also on offer at various stands around the parks.
Struggling a little in the heat and still tired from our travels we retreated for an evening by the pool and barbecue.
Day 2 took us to Universal Studios and, more specifically, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. What can I say? I've always held that Disney was the king of theming rides, parks and generally creating an atmosphere, but long live King Universal! We walked through London, past the Night Bus and through Diagon Alley into Gringott's from which we escaped on a breathtaking ride we all immediately wanted to go on again. From there we took The Hogwart's Express into Scotland, alighting at Hogsmead and on the doorstep of Hogwart's itself. After a roller coaster ride on one of two duelling dragons we took the train back to the other side, this time accompanied by three American women who graphically described the flavour of each "Every Flavour Bean" before discussing how long it would take them to get back to Dragon Alley.
We then took a Potter break to visit The Simpson's themed area, also a masterpiece of theming. Ben has been a huge fan since he was very small and was in his element here - enjoying a "Clogger" for lunch. This is a burger featured in The Simpson's Movie with the tag line "Any more grease and you're in Mexico!". He claims to have enjoyed it but was suspiciously quiet for the rest of the day!
The Simpson's ride itself was a simulation of a trip to a theme park with the eponymous family, as ever viewing the experience with a cynical eye. At one stage Homer reassures Marg that we are all safe because "no one will let you die in a theme park while you still have a dime in your pocket!"
Day three saw us return to Disney and The Magic Kingdom. Enter a day surrounded by small children dressed as princesses and heroes - a sight which would melt surely even the hardest of hearts. The Magic kingdom was busy. Really busy. Having used our Fast passes and achieved our goals for the day we decided to head out of the park and visit a local mall. As we waited for transportation back to our car in a large ferry boat three more such boats arrived packed to the gunnels with more park-goers eager to cue for rides - a wise decision to leave when we did, I think!
At the mall we all headed for a leather goods shop in search of new jackets. Victor, the assistant, was keen to assit. A bit too keen if you ask me, following Bill around and referring to him by name at every opportunity, and generally irritating us girls with his permanent smile. When we made our purchases he asked for an e mail address. I don't know why, but American's nearly always have difficulty spelling Trotter. Victor was no exception. In desperation I eventually resorted to the phonetic alphabet. It seemed to go well to start with, until I looked down at his screen and saw that he'd typed Trotangotango - to my credit I managed not to laugh out loud but I can't say it wasn't without effort!
So thereby hang our first few days in a very hot and sunny Florida. Tomorrow The Movie Studios and a Star Wars extravaganza, but before that I feel a word from our sponsor is called for!
I would have liked to start on an optimistic note re our American cousins but the day after our arrival I was made aware of the extraordinary news from back home via an American publication. Yes, I am referring to the shock news that Prince Charles and Camilla have been exiled by the queen. This follows the news that they have a love child. A 25 year old man called Eric. The queen has abdicated in favour of William and Kate who have been made to King and Queen, a constitutional first!
So much for freedom of the press, perhaps to be relabelled the fertile imagination of the press.
It also makes me wonder what rubbish we are being fed in the UK? Perhaps Mr Trump is a good guy!!
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