So we arrived in Orlando and our first park was Universal Studios Island of Adventure as we were keen to experience the new Harry Potter extravaganza prior to the Thanksgiving crowds descending on the place. We duly arrived at the park at 9am sharp and immediately raced to Hogsmeade. We were instantly awestruck! It felt like we had indeed somehow been magically transported into the wonderful wizarding world of Harry Potter. Hogwarts Castle had been completely reproduced and cut a dominating sight at the top of the mountain. Hogsmeade Village was as quaint as in the films and establishments included the Three Broomsticks Inn, Zonko's Joke Shop, Ollivanders Wand Shop and my personal favourite Honeydukes Sweet Shop. The rides too were spectacular. On one of them we actually joined Harry, Hermione and Ron on their broomsticks as we skived a potions class (it was the first time Alexa had ever missed a class!) On another we rode dragons through the skies over Hogwarts and on exiting the ride Alexa looked somewhat of a ruffled mess. Her hair was all over the place and she had tears streaming from her eyes. It remains somewhat of a touchy subject whether she actually cried
on the ride or whether her eyes were just watering but you can decide for yourselves! We also sampled a delightful butterbeer which served as a perfect way to end our wizarding adventure. Other highlights of Universal included the Incredible Hulk Roller Coaster, Doctor Doom's Tower of Terror, Jurassic Park and Alexa's least favourite Dudleys Ripsaws Water Adventure, where she got a little wetter than expected (see picture). Overall we had a wonderful day in Universal and it made the perfect start to our stay in Orlando.
The next day we paid a visit to Disney's Magic Kingdom. Despite the splendour of Cinderella's Castle and the excitement of the three mountains, Splash, Thunder and Space, we both came away feeling a little underwhelmed. It may well be that Disney recaptures its magic if/when we ever bring children back with us. It should be pointed out at this juncture that the previous sentence was merely an observation and in no way should be interpreted as any indication that we will be having sprogs anytime soon. Breathe a sigh of relief parents! Among the other Disney parks we visited was Epcot where we went on a fantastic simulated glider ride over
California (which was made all the more exciting by the fact that we had only recently been to some of the places we were now flying over), and also experienced a very impressive firework/illuminations display over the world show case lake exhibit. Later in the week we visited Disney Studios where highlights included riding the terrifying Tower of Terror elevator and appearing as members of the audience in American Idol (Alexa refused to let me sign her up as a contestant!) We also made it to Disney's Animal Kingdom where we went on a Kilimanjaro safari and scaled Mount Everest (Disney style), a feat made all the more difficult by a rather unfriendly yeti! Undoubtedly the scariest ride we experienced at Disney was Summit Plummet at Disney's water park, Blizzard Beach. A person silly enough to be putting themselves through the Summit Plummet experience descends 120 feet over an almost vertical drop at approximately 60 m.p.h. Needless to say Alexa and I were silly enough to give it a go and following the experience it actually took me about half an hour to remove my shorts from my bottom! Alexa looked rather pale and vowed never to listen to me
again if ever I told her that something couldn't possibly be as bad as it looked. Our favourite park however was the original Universal Studios where highlights included old classics such as Jaws and E.T. as well as high adrenaline new rides such as the Rock and Roll Roller Coaster. Later that evening we had dinner at the biggest Hard Rock Cafe in the world, before going to see the new Harry Potter movie at Universal's own Imax Cinema, a perfect end to a perfect day.
Away from the parks we were staying in our very own Castle Hotel, located right in the thick of the action on International Drive. This had been a very generous wedding gift from Alexa's parents and proved to be the perfect place to recover from our excursions in the parks. It was also a rare bit of luxury and made a very pleasant change from the motels and hostels to which we had become accostomed. We were also able to catch up with Alexa's cousin, Patrick, and his girlfriend, Kaj, who both live in Orlando. On the Saturday night Patrick and Kaj very kindly took us out for a lovely meal to the
Luna Restaurant in Baldwin Park, a very plush suburb of Orlando. The next day Patrick introduced us to his summer sport, wakeboarding (his winter sport is snowboarding). Wakeboarding is a surface water sport which involves riding a wakeboard over the surface of a body of water. It was developed from a combination of water skiing, snow boarding and surfing techniques. Needless to say it wasn't easy and not always pretty watching us attempt to master this extreme sport. However despite a rather long and at times painful learning curve, by the end of the session we were actually managing to stay on the board for some decent rides, albeit ungracefully at times! Alexa was even starting to open her eyes, a feat she had previously claimed to be impossible due to wearing contact lenses! Patrick also cooked us a delicious Thanksgiving lasagne which Alexa and I concluded was a good enough reason to celebrate Thanksgiving, even if we are not American!
We will shortly be travelling down to Miami before embarking on a journey into the unknown, South America. Hopefully we will have sufficient internet access to continue our blog updates but who knows...stay tuned to find out!
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