Seven years ago I went to Florida with Emma and her mum and dad. Just to visit the Disney and Universal theme parks mostly, and take in a little bit of baseball. You can read about all of those escapades here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
For our return we went it alone. And we weren't confining ourselves to theme parks. Our two-week trip would take in not only Disney World but also St.Petersburg, Florida City and The Everglades, Key West and Miami Beach. As we did in Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas in 2011 we would hire a care to flit between these places. Like Neymar, it was busy, ambitious and overly expensive.
Disappointingly for regular readers of my travel scribblings I can't start this edition with much of an airport disaster. The worst thing that happened to us at Manchester Airport was the usual chicanery in which I'm told to get to the gate early so they can put me on the plane first, only to be left till last and therefore have my valuable bacon butty and lager time wasted. Annoying but hardly reason enough to begin writing sternly worded emails to the faceless blurts who run these places.
We wouldn't be getting hold of the hire car until we left Disney World later in the week. Until then we had four nights at Disney Resort's Port Orleans French Quarter to enjoy. Access is important to Disney to the extent that as part of the hotel package they send an accessible bus to pick you up from Orlando Airport and take you directly to your hotel. They call it the Disney Magical Express and it has a whole area of the airport devoted to it. The trouble is it is not the speediest service in the world. We waited for almost an hour for a suitable bus, even though the five that were parked outside the waiting area seemed suspiciously suitable to me. There was one other person using a wheelchair who was waiting for a bus, so it wasn't as if they were inundated with people who needed an accessible bus. It really shouldn't have taken that long. When it finally arrived access to the bus was interesting. It was a bog standard lift at the back of the coach, but having had the experience I can tell you that the lift is higher than it looks in the picture below. And it has holes in it that you can see through so you feel like you are on the glass roof at Blackpool Tower. Even more disconcerting is that the drivers are not allowed to stand on the lift with you as you go up or down, so they send you up, and then leave you sat there nervously in the clouds while they walk back around to the front of the bus and then all the way down to the back again so that they can help you to your space and apply all the relevant straps and what-not. When you exit the bus, they leave you at the top again while they walk through to the front of the coach and around to where they can control your descent.
By now it was raining, which would become something of a theme in Orlando. It had rained on our last visit but only for very short spells. Within 10 or 15 minutes everything had dried up again. But that had been in May, whereas now in July we were arriving during the rainy season. It was relentless all the way from the airport to the Port Orleans French Quarter, via a drop-off at Disney's Old Key West resort. When we got to the lobby (that's what they call it, there is no such thing as 'reception' in America) we checked in and found that our room was in another building. The furthest building away from the lobby. We spent a good 20 minutes under a shelter outside wondering if the driving rain, explosive thunder and crackling lightning would stop for long enough to allow us to go and find the room. It didn't.
When you check in at Port Orleans French Quarter you don't get a room key. You get a Disney Magic Band. Not only is this your room key but also your tickets to all of the Disney theme parks and any fast passes you choose to fork out extra money for to help you avoid spending your days in endless queues. We managed to get fast passes for everything at Universal which would be our first port of call the next day, but there weren't any available for the Disney parks. We would have to order them for individual rides as and when the opportunity arose via an app that Emma had on her phone. The good thing about Disney Magic Bands is that since you are wearing them all of the time it is very difficult to lose your room key or your tickets for the parks. But I don't even want to discuss with you how much it costs to get a two-day ticket for all four Disney theme parks and fast pass entry on to everything at Universal. It's astronomic. The kind of thing you might be able to afford every seven years.
The Magic Bands look a little like this, although ours were of the gray variety. I didn't know until just now that they came in different colours like in this picture. Nor did ours have our names on. I'm glad about this really. As useful as a Disney Magic Band was I didn't really want to draw attention to it as a fashion accessory.
Having finally given up on seeing an end to the biblical storm we made it over to the restaurant where a man dressed clownishly started chatting to us about where we had come from. At this point you have to tell people that you come from near Liverpool. Only Roy Haggerty tells someone from outside the UK that he comes from Thatto Heath. There are a sizeable number of people inside the UK who haven't even heard of St.Helens, which is just preposterous given the efforts of Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook but there we are. That's how it is. So as soon as you mention the word 'Liverpool' to someone from outside the UK, and in particular an American it seems, they pounce on the opportunity to bang on about The Beatles. Clownishly Dressed Man was asking about Sir Paul McCartney and whether or not he can be seen hanging around Liverpool. Really. You have more chance of seeing Salman Rushdie in Iran than you have of seeing Sir Paul McCartney in Liverpool. Strangely and not a little rudely, he broke off mid-conversation and went to chat to some other poor victims on the next table to us. It was a relief.
After we ate the rain had relented sufficiently for us to find our room. The rooms are in three numbered apartment blocks and although our room was in building 1, that turned out to be the furthest building from the restaurant also. The picture below is a little misleading as it shows the building without 17 litres of rain covering it but you get the general idea of what the area looks like. If you turn left just past that lamppost by the fence you will eventually come to the lobby, the restaurant and the bar. And you'll probably get wet;
It had been a very long day and with an early start in the morning we weren't up for a late one. But we did go to the bar for a couple of beers just to pass the time until what might be regarded as a sensible bedtime. The flight over to Florida messes with your body clock because they are five hours behind the UK. We flew at 10.30 in the morning UK time but when we landed in Orlando it was only 2.30 in the afternoon. So you have to live those five hours all over again. Entertaining us in the bar was a chap called John Stevens. On each table was a booklet listing all of the songs that John knows how to play. He took requests, but it is safe to say that there would be no mileage in asking for anything by The Prodigy. John was a country and western singer of a passable enough standard. A very American thing. His problem was that he liked the sound of his talking voice much more than that of his singing voice. In between songs he would have 10-minute drivel conversations with his audience. Not us, I hasten to add. We were at a table at the back by the bar, set back from where he was performing to a small group of people gathered closer to him. Unfortunately most of these people seemed happy to engage in conversation with him, all of which limited the entertainment value and cranked up the annoyance levels. Perhaps I was just tired.