Dizzy from Disney and other Floridian Forays
Trip Start Sep 06, 2009
17Trip End Ongoing
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One of our major bargaining chips with the children when we first told them about our Big Adventure and move to Oz was our promise that our trip would involve a visit to Disney. I think it's this fact alone that allowed us to propel them towards the great unknown of a new life Down Under without too many protests. Some might say we cunningly left it until the end of our trip as a carrot with which to cajole recalcitrant children. But of course we weren’t that cynical – it just happened to work out that way - Honest Gov (though we can’t deny that it has been useful at times)! Anyway, it was with an enormous amount of expectation and excitement that we arrived at Orlando Airport, collected our new rental car and made our way to our base for the next seven days.
We had decided to rent a holiday home for the week and, by then, the excitement about having a whole house to spread out in, being able to unpack the suitcases and cook our own meals, almost rivaled that of the Magic Kingdom! Amazing how much you miss such simple pleasures.
The next week was one of the most exhausting weeks of the trip so far. We bought a 5-day pass and planned our attack on each of the four Disney parks like a military operation. We studied the form the night before by reading forums and downloading maps so we would know which rides to target first and which to get Fast Passes for later. We were there when the gates opened at 9.00 and until they closed again at 7.00 or 9.00pm… The weather was unseasonably hot and muggy and by the third day we were conscious of having to push ourselves to keep up this grueling timetable!
However, we rode a runaway train down Thunder Mountain and a log down Splash Mountain, we took a train on Everest, Safaris through Africa, rode the water rapids of Asia and took a trip to Mars. We drove a car along the Test Track at 70mph, journeyed back to the Dinosaur era and did battle with Buzz Lightyear. We watched stunt drivers put a dozen cars through their paces in a kind of synchronized swimming routine and, some of us, took the Tower of Terror lift ride and lived to tell the tale. We also visited Norway, Canada, Japan, and Germany around the lake at Epcot. In fact, I honestly don’t think we left a stone unturned! If there was a ride or an attraction there that we didn’t participate in, it must have been well hidden!
By the final day, it was a very weary troupe that made their way back to Epcot for a second time – we were shattered – so much so that there were no complaints from the children when we tentatively suggested that we just make it a half day that day. We were Disneyed Out!
We then had just four days left until our flight out of Miami which was a bit of shame as there was still a lot to of Florida we wanted to see. We started by heading south to the Everglades National Park. The park was quite different to the swampy sweaty mosquito infested series of waterways we had imagined. We discovered that there are in fact no swamps in the Everglades at all – it is actually a wet prairie or a very slow moving grassy river. The water is fresh and very clear, the open areas are surprisingly beautiful and serene. We took two walks through the park and were lucky enough to spot an adult alligator and a baby one as well as a variety of herons and cormorants and our first snake in the wild.
Our next destination was the Florida Keys. We stayed the first night at Key Largo, arriving just in time for a sunset swim in Manatee Bay where the water was almost mirror-like in its stillness
The following day we signed up for a trip out to the coral reefs of the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park which was within a couple of miles of the hotel. We had a very enjoyable morning sailing out to the reef on a catamaran called Quicksilver and saw some wonderful fishes and coral.
Once back on shore, we continued our way down to the southernmost point of the USA: Key West. Home to rebels, outsiders, writers and artists, this last outpost of the US has very distinct feel. It features beautiful weatherboard houses which matched the quality of the ones we’d seen in New England, but often given a Floridian twist by being painted in archetypal pastel colours. Maple trees had been replaced with palm trees and the place was awash with leather-clad and leather-skinned Harley Davidson bikers who looked they had really LIVED through the sixties and seventies, man… (By the way, why are all Harley riders balding, beer-bellied and on the wrong side of fifty? I’m waiting to hear Steve wants to get one! And what do the contemporary 'Easyriders’ use for transport – skateboards???)
We were only there for one night – and really wished that we could have stayed longer. However, we managed to fit a couple of things in while we were there. We made a pilgrimage to the Southernmost Point of USA marker and to the former home of Ernest Hemmingway, who lived on the island for 10 years before moving to Cuba. We had a fantastically quirky tour guide who looked suitably life-ravaged enough to have been one of the regulars at Sloppy Joes, the bar that Ernest frequented during his years there
We reluctantly left Key West for the big drive back to Miami in the early afternoon with the vague intention of having dinner at South Beach so that we could see the Art Deco buildings that line the promenade there. We arrived only half an hour or so before sunset and instantly regretted the way we had dragged our heels earlier that day. Miami Beach was every bit as glamorous and, well, quintessentially Floridian, as you might expect. The buildings were wonderful, the beach beautiful and the style quotient high. We did a walking tour to see as many of these Art Deco lovelies as possible and finished the evening with a wonderful Cuban meal.
And so ended our travels on mainland USA. The next day we were taking a flight to Hawaii, our last stop before reaching Oz.