Orlando: The Ups and Downs of A Rollercoaster Life

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October 18th 2012
Published: October 26th 2012
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We arrived in LA on a day we had already endured in Fiji, we take you back to Tuesday 9th October. We checked into a gorgeous Marriott hotel (cheers Alan!) for the start of a two and a half week vacation amongst the trip. We were presented with an awesome 24 hour gym complete with eucalyptus towels and enough weights to dazzle Arnold Schwarzenegger- a world away from our gym in Fiji. We had wine and beer at happy hour and ate at the hotel before catching some shut eye before our early morning flight. Our old friend jet leg swooped in though disturbing our slumber leaving Lauren hammering the treadmill at 2.30am local time! We had been to LA in a previous trip and decided we would see new places rather than revisit old ones we had seen together.

We made our flight to sunnier climes arriving at Orlando losing three hours switching from Pacific to Eastern time, wanting a meal- not knowing if it should be breakfast, lunch or dinner! We waited though, as the anticipation of theme parks was too much! We should have visited Orlando twice prior to this with two different holidays that we cancelled in favour of this bigger adventure. So having patiently waited around 13 months to see Harry Potter World one more day just wouldn't do it! As it was 6.30pm by the time we checked into another Marriott, unfortunately it would have to, as the home to the world made famous by JK Rowling closed at 5pm this particular evening! Still we went to the sister land of Universal Studios. The parks are pretty quiet this time of year ahead of most Halloween school holidays so even in the hour and half remainder of park opening we got onto three rides. The highlight being the latest addition to the park since Lauren last visited four years ago, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, where you choose your own soundtrack as you are whipped and twisted around a track! Ben rocked out to Beastie Boys as Lauren rapped to Kanye West! We then watched a montage of dedication of 100 years of Universal showcasing the highlights of the film industry, voiced by the one and only, Morgan Freeman. We ended the evening with happy hour at TGI Friday's sharing some awesome appetisers and Ben enjoying his favourite beer, Miller Lite.

The following day with eager anticipation we headed to Universal Islands of Adventure for its 9am opening. As everyone rushed to Harry Potter we decided to beat the crowds pretty much covering every other ride! Hulk has always had a special place in Lauren's heart even being the place she wants her ashes scattered so we spent some time watching the ride go round before joining the minute long queue for front row (nothing like when her, her sister and brother queued for over an hour some years ago!) We hit the rest of superhero land before the fires of Jurassic Park and splashes of Toon Lagoon. The turrets of Hogwarts castle glistened over the waters as we made our way over, literally face to face with a scene from the movie, only this time a 32" screen was missing. We couldn't have been more impressed. Every little aspect was perfect from the amazing tasting unique Butter Beer which had creamy foam, to the interior of Dumbledore's office to the Hogwarts Express train conductor. (Who happened to be from Preston!) We went into Zonkos joke shop, saw every flavour of Bertie Beans at Honeydukes sweet shop, passed shops filled with cauldrons, owl cages and wands. There was a choir singing complete with frogs just like the movie and the Three Broomsticks pub along with platform 9 and 3/4; the designers outdid themselves! The most impressive was the new ride, the Forbidden Journey. The queue was pretty much the only one we endured but with so much to see on the way it didn't feel like twenty minutes at all. We awed at the mandrakes in the herbology greenhouse, we attempted to count the rubies of the house points and Lauren nose dived into the pensive! We passed talking and moving photo frames and listened to Dawn French ramble as we entered the common room. It couldn't have been more perfect until we walked into the sorting hat and enchanted ceiling as we boarded our seats that then became flying seats! We shan't say anymore in case people plan to visit but it was spectacular, the whole cast seemed to have a part and all filmed for real in the UK studios. We left feeling like we were best friends with the gang and never wanting to see a spider that big for real! The rest of the day we spent in both parks giving each ride at least one go and getting a good soaking on a few. We ate late afternoon at a Bob Marley tribute restaurant and feeling we needed to be reacquainted with our bed we retired for the day!

Friday saw us taking in an outlet mall as a theme park break before heading over to universal once more after a lunch snack. We have found with the food portions over here we are constantly just "topping up" only ever having one full meal a day! Even to that day though we only finished off with appetisers at TGI Fridays again as it had been a winner days before with food and drinks we wanted at half price! Prior to our evening meal we went to the cinema, Ben wanting to watch the latest release, Looper. It was a great film and a great end to our time at the north of town.

Saturday, after a brief breakfast, meant a transfer to another hotel further south in high anticipation of Ben's parents arriving. We hadn't seen them in over four months and as we had lived with them for a while before we came out they had been sorely missed. Prior to that we had a brief date with Wet n' Wild. A water park with, yes you guessed it, wild thrills! We got round all the rides quickly, although missing out the straight drop having done that in Dubai and not being a favourite! We weren't meeting Mike and Sheila until 6ish and it was only one, so we headed for some light lunch out of the park as its cheaper and Lauren showed Ben the sights of International Drive.

Mike and Sheila didn't arrive until nearly seven but were happy with the room with two huge beds and a fully kitchenette, although Ben had bagged the bed in front of the tv! Understandably tired, we all just shared some sandwiches and fries for dinner after a couple of glasses of wine before turning in. Sunday was Ben's (and his sisters) birthday so we went on the hunt for a good breakfast after a well deserved lie in. However , it seemed everyone in Orlando had the same plan and after an hour or so of trying every IHOP type outlet and queues in excess of thirty minutes we settled on McDonald's but we were too late for breakfast. We spent the afternoon chilled out at the hotel pool catching some rays before speaking to Ben's sister back in the UK. We changed ready for a night of birthday goodness! Ben wanted to play crazy golf so Lauren took us to the best in the area playing the "hard" course, where Lauren and Sheila put the boys to shame! It ended up fairly even but only the girls got a hole in one. We went to a great restaurant for dinner completely gorging out on island cuisine, Lauren and her family having been here before and all revisited on individual trips since, a firm favourite! Too full for cake we had small frozen yoghurt before making our way back to the hotel.

Later that evening we are very sad to say we received an awful call that Ben's grandma had passed away, meaning Mike would have to return home and it cut us all up. We tried our best to sleep and get through the next day after calls to the airlines etc but it obviously left us all in a somber mood before Mike departed us Tuesday morning. We have carried on our trip despite this as we both made a decision we would not come back if we were to lose a family member, this now being the third bereavement was making us question our length of stay and the future was being carefully evaluated until this day. Sheila stayed with us in a difficult decision as Mike insisted on the promise of daily Skype sessions.

We have carried on in Florida as best as we could bearing in mind the difficult situation at home, we spent each day at a park, firstly Sea World, followed by Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay and finally the water park Aquatica before our flight up the coast to New York City late on Thursday. Sea World was a lot of fun, hand feeding and stroking dolphins and watching those and Shamu the killer whale in epic dramatic shows. We also got to stroke sting rays which was a lot of fun. We caught happy hour once again at TGI's not wanting to keep over facing ourselves. Busch Gardens had us at an early start but well worth the hour coach trip. It was unbelievably quiet and we got round every ride in such a quick time before taking the train and cable car around the animal sections where they wander the park. We caught a cheetah demonstration and went on a brand new super fast cheetah ride! The evening came around quickly, arriving back in Orlando around seven so we went to an Italian for dinner en route back to the hotel.

We left the hotel with our bags on Thursday to get in a couple of hours at the water park, neither Ben or Sheila had been here and throughout enjoyed it, and it surpassed Lauren's memory of the place! We zipped around although not being quite so lucky as there were queues! We went in solo and double rides, the highlight of course, where you swim though a tube surrounded by baby commerson dolphins! We didn't have time to chill on the beach wary of our pick up to the airport so we said our goodbyes to the sun, grabbed a quick hot dog and soon enough arrived at the airport. We had a mixed time here, it should have been amazing but we can't always foretell the future or we would have guessed the lottery numbers by now. We still did have a great time but obviously underlying thoughts ran through each of our minds. Still up in the air to NYC!

Things of note:

Don't attempt Sunday brunch!

Lizards crawl along the sidewalks for those who have a slight fear of them (like Lauren!)

There are many discount tickets available who also to claim to buy back unused but the tried three different places and they didn't want them!

Bahama Breeze is definitely the number one recommendation of somewhere to eat!

What would we do differently:

Think everyone will know the answer to that one...

Thefts: 0

Near Misses: 0

Fallouts : 0

Additional photos below
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