Having pestered and annoyed all and sundry with my rambling on about a holiday to Florida since early 2019 and booking the vacation shortly after my trip to Huddersfield to see H in August 2019, the wait was finally over on 17th January this year. A very excited Joseph, Sarah and I travelled to Orlando, Florida with my parents on that day marking our most recent jaunt across the Pond since Sarah and I last visited in September 2017, when we left a 2 year old Joseph with my parents in Leeds. For me, it wasn’t just the excitement of a return to one of my favourite places, but the fact that I’d be able to share it with my Son and also my Mum & Dad, who thus far had only ever visited Spain (just the once), and finally being able to show them around all the places I’ve been harping on about since Sarah and I first visited Orlando in 2013.
Having the trip booked for shortly after our return from Christmas also added to my enjoyment of the Festive period, knowing that even though January 2nd would yield a return to the grindstone, just 2 short weeks later I’d be hopping aboard our flight for 10 nights away and a welcome dose of sunshine and fun. I’ll write this post as a daily diary, and I apologise in advance as this might end up being somewhat lengthy!
Thursday, 16th January 2020
I switch on my “out of office” at 1pm and say goodbye to my colleagues until 3rd February. Sarah manages to finish work early too and collects Joseph from school after 3pm. My Dad drives to Scarborough to collect the three of us and our luggage to convey us to their house in Leeds, where the airport taxi collects us early, just after 8pm. It’s a very nice looking and extremely comfortable VW Transporter (a vehicle I’d love to own myself) and before we know it, we arrive at the Premier Inn at Manchester Airport an hour or so later and crash in anticipation of the busy day ahead. I don’t even remember saying goodnight to my folks, whose room is adjacent to ours.
Friday, 17th January 2020
We’re all up early and showered ready to take a taxi to the airport, just a mile away. We arrive just after 8am with more than 3 hours until our flight. After checking in and dropping off luggage (except me – I have all my clothes and gear in my 36l Urban Camo CabinZero backpack, travelling light & carry-on as always!) we clear security and sit down for breakfast at Frankie & Benny’s. I go for their Eggs Benedict which are delicious. We peruse the duty free offerings and Joseph soon demands his first purchase of the holiday, a huge Chupa Chups lollipop (which is in fact a giant plastic lollipop containing 15 actual lollipops). After paying £12 for the sweets (which will at least keep Joseph happy for a short while), we board our Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 flight, named “Forever Young” and settle in for the 9 hour plus journey. We lose ourselves in Vera, the onboard in-flight entertainment (I swear, I didn’t cry at the finale of Avengers: Endgame) and Joseph copes well for the majority of the time but gets bored after 7 or so hours. We have bought him a new toy he doesn’t know about however, which placates him a little once he receives it.
Touchdown in Orlando at around 15:00 local time (20:00 at home) and after clearing security, which takes more than an hour much to my Dad’s chagrin, we collect our luggage, ride the monorail to the main terminal and head for the Lynx 42 bus to International Drive. Just $2 each fare and Joseph is free; a substantial saving on an airport taxi or Mears motor shuttle. We rode this bus on our last trip as one of my “experiments”, but this trip, as we seem to be riding at the time when there is a shift-change at the many businesses along the route, it takes more than an hour to reach our Hotel, the Rosen Inn Closest to Universal (this will be our third stay at this location; it’s a more “affordable” hotel, but is always clean and comfortable, plus the location is brilliant for Universal, just 20 minutes away on foot), by which time Joseph has fallen asleep on my lap. We check in (after being accosted by Wyndham timeshare sellers) and quickly unpack the essentials before heading out for dinner at my favourite Denny’s just a short walk away. As with our last trip, I start with the Bacon Cheese & Sriracha Burger with jalapenos, which my Father enjoys too. Then it’s back to the hotel and a long awaited sleep.
Saturday, 18th January 2020
Effectively ‘Day 1’; after breakfast at Denny’s (Grand Slamwhich for me, something I’ve been really looking forward to!) the first order of business is to visit Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. It’s a warm day for us pale white English folk; around 21C, what we would consider a good Summer’s day. We take the shuttle bus provided by the Hotel and find the park is busy; Sarah really wants to ride the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure Roller Coaster at Hogsmeade, but the wait time is more than 3 hours when we arrive and understandably she’s not prepared to stand and wait for that length of time. We ride the Hogwarts Express between Studios and Islands of Adventure, as the wait time is just 20 minutes. Sarah enjoys a hot Butterbeer, something she was denied on the last trip as it wasn’t considered cold enough to serve, and I have my customary strawberry & peanut butter hard-pack ice cream from Florean Fortescue’s. Joseph enjoys a strawberry soft-serve with hundreds & thousands (read sprinkles, my American friends). The dragon at Diagon Alley appears not to be working properly as it’s not breathing fire, which is a disappointment. Joseph rides the Woody Woodpecker Nuthouse Coaster in Fievel’s Playland (he loves roller coasters, and this is pretty much the only one he’s tall enough to ride) with his Mum and then gets soaked playing in the water fountains in the adjacent Curious George play area. He wears his favourite Spider-Man hoodie whilst his t-shirt dries on the back of his stroller.
Our evening meal is care of Margaritaville at Universal CityWalk – we’d warned my parents about the size of the portions they’d encounter in the States in advance, but nevertheless they both order fish & chips and when their meals arrive, one portion is easily enough to feed them both. My Dad balks at the $100 plus check (which we didn’t think was too bad for 5 of us, especially as both Sarah and my Mum had a $13 margarita each. We refer to this as his “black armband”). We decide to take in just two meals a day owing to the portion sizes; breakfast and dinner. Joseph wants all the toys he sees, especially a Transformers toy in the form of a shark, but we leave with no souvenirs as of yet and a promise to him that we’ll buy it the next time we visit (he so often changes his mind about things we think letting him sleep on it is best).
Sunday, 19th January 2020
It’s a little cooler today, around 19C. Today will be a ‘shopping’ day, and after buying a 7 day I-Ride trolley pass at the local Walgreens for the princely sum of $12 each, we travel a few stops down International Drive and hop off outside the largest McDonald’s in the World to walk the rest of the way to the Walmart store on Turkey Lake Road, with a brief stop off at Dollar Tree to give my Dad his Poundland-style fix (I’d planned the short walk on Google Maps Street View in advance to ensure there were footpaths & crosswalks as usual). It’s pretty much the same junk too – he finds the little craft style knife he has heard about on one of the YouTube camping/hiking/zombie apocalypse-prepping channels he watches but as it has a locking blade, it’s unlawful to carry in the UK and as such he decides against it. Having purchased only a few sodas to keep us hydrated, we walk the remaining couple of hundred metres to the nearby Walmart and spend a little time exploring the toy and camping sections as well as the groceries. Dad spots a huge machete for a fairly reasonable price, but doesn’t make a purchase as it’d likely be confiscated at customs and in any event, what possible legitimate use could a Leeds resident have for a machete?! I would say, that even though he didn’t buy it, he spoke of it several times during the trip!
Walmart all but done, we return to International Drive and ride the Trolley to the Premium Outlets at the North end. Sarah takes no time in spotting a new Coach brand handbag she likes together with a matching purse or two and the purchase is quickly made, making sure we’re still on budget for our spending limits each day for the remainder of the holiday. Sarah often stocks up on handbags etc. when we visit the outlets as they’re relatively cheap compared to UK prices and, as it may be another couple of years before we return, she has a new bag ready for when her current one (bought at the Coach outlet during 2017’s trip) has served it’s time. Disappointingly, the kitchenware store where we have often bought a gift for Mum has closed down; this is a real shame as I’d been looking forward to taking her there and finding the latest gadget to aid in her love of baking.
Dinner is served courtesy of Uno’s Pizzeria & Grill, one of our favourite joints on I Drive. We usually visit here a few nights each time we’re in Orlando, as they have so many gluten-free options for Sarah including pizza & pasta and also Redbridge beer. Sarah tucks into her own pepperoni pizza, whilst my folks, Joseph and I share a huge pizza between the 4 of us accompanied by skin-on fries. Delicious. Bellies full, we return to the Hotel via the Trolley, watching the Disney channel until Joseph falls asleep, when it is hastily changed to Food Network, as usual. No Mark Dacascos and Iron Chef America this time though; instead Guy Fieri’s Guy’s Grocery Games is on pretty much constantly.
Monday, 20th January 2020
We had planned to visit Universal’s Volcano Bay water park today, but the temperature has dropped to 16C and as a result, the park is closed. On checking their website, we note that it will not re-open until Thursday owing to the cold weather and as such, we decide to visit on Friday, when the weather is forecast to be 25C and sunny. As we can’t visit any Disney parks until 21st January owing to restrictions on our tickets (they charge different prices for different days, with lower footfall days being cheaper) we decide to return to Universal. It’s packed again, being Martin Luther King Day, a public holiday (of which we were not aware, but then I couldn’t even tell you the Bank Holidays here in the UK!). The wait time for Hagrid is several hours again, and likewise, Sarah decides not to wait. Again, we barely go on any rides; the wait time for everything in Jurassic Park is more than an hour and the River Cruise Ride is closed for maintenance. I ride the Twirl ‘n’ Hurl in the Simpson’s Springfield section of the park with Joseph who then waits in line for another ride on the the Woody Woodpecker Nuthouse Coaster, but this time, surprisingly, with Grandma! Before leaving the park, we make sure to visit the store at the Transformers ride (Joseph calls this “the Robot Shop”) and buy him the shark Transformer as he’s not stopped talking about it since that first day. We walk the 20 minutes or so back to I Drive (to save hanging around waiting for the shuttle bus), where after a brief stop-off at the Hotel, we walk to I-Ride stop 7 and dinner at a place we’ve never tried before, Chili’s. My research noted that there was an offer for which you could get a refillable fountain soda, appetizer and entree for $10. Sounds too good to be true I thought; the portions must be smaller. My appetizer was a huge bowl of tortilla chips and salsa, followed by a bacon cheeseburger & fries, washed down with root beer. And yes, it was just $10. My folks join in on the deal too and Joseph tucks into a cheese and tomato pizza and fries. Sarah has a nice mexican chicken dinner with rice. Night has fallen and by the time we finish our meals, it’s heading towards Joseph’s bed time. We walk the few hundred metres back to the Rosen and settle in for an hour or two of the Disney Channel / Food Network.
Tuesday, 21st January 2020
We have two free breakfast vouchers at the Palms Restaurant in our Hotel and we take advantage of the first of them this morning as today’s the big day; our first of two at Disney World. Originally, we’d planned to go to Hollywood Studios today, but after not being able to book the park shuttle from our hotel or be sure of the local bus timetable, we end up taking a cab to Magic Kingdom. 20 minutes and $50 later, we arrive and ride the monorail to the gates where our pre-bought tickets (I highly recommend magicaltickets.co.uk) glide us through admission with ease. Our research suggested that today would be a quiet day (and maybe it is, by Disney standards!) but we find the park much busier than we expected and again, the wait times for the majority of the rides are between one and two hours. Joseph cannot stand in line for that length of time (he gets bored or needs a comfort break) and as such, again, he barely rides anything. We do all ride the Liberty Square Riverboat, but shortly after departing Joseph announces he needs the toilet and of course there are none on board! A nervous 20 minutes later and we dash off and to the nearest restroom. Having already bought a delightful tea-light holder in the Beauty and the Beast themed part of the Park (perhaps one of the nicest souvenirs we’ve ever purchased on any holiday), Sarah hits the Christmas store and spies a decoration she likes for the tree; a Mickey-shaped iced cookie style bauble (well, not a bauble I suppose as it’s flat, but you get the idea). There’s lots on offer, and Joseph wants anything and everything. We persuade him to wait to look for better toys later in the trip. I’ve forgotten to bring any soda with me and have my own “black armband” moment of the trip by paying $4.50 for a small bottle (just under 600ml) of Diet Coke. I saw a 2 litre bottle for sale in Walmart on Sunday for $1.25. Daylight robbery. We watch the Parade in the afternoon as best we can; there are lots of people doing the same however and it’s difficult to get a good spot but, I try and take as many decent(ish) pictures of the floats as I can. Everyone disperses after the Parade and now being late afternoon and having visited the majority of the shops, we decide to bid the park farewell. A cab takes us to the Vineland Premium Outlets, where Sarah checks the Coach and Disney stores just in case they have anything else she might be interested in after a brief rest break and a far more affordable beverage in the food court there. My Dad’s assessment of Magic Kingdom? “It’s just a ring of shit shops with a fake castle in the middle.” He’s of the view that there should be far more smaller rides, with less concentration on the theme of the park. I remind him that Disney Land is a “theme park”, but he’s definitely more impressed with Universal thus far, as although yes it is heavily themed, there’s more to ride and it’s generally easier to reach and navigate. Can’t say I disagree all that much.
(A few pictures I managed to quickly take of the Parade and a few structures of Magic Kingdom itself – apologies if some of the pictures in this post are blurry; our digital camera isn’t the best despite being a supposedly 20 mega-pixel model!)
We ride the Trolley back to stop 7 again with the intention of going to TGI Friday’s – we’re shown to our table but having not been seen to after 15 minutes even for drinks and there being seemingly nothing on the menu Joseph would like to eat, we leave and cross the road to Chili’s where we take advantage of the $10 deal again. This time, I have a small bowl of chilli (costing $1 dollar more, so $11 in total) for my appetizer and a chicken & cheese quesadilla for my entree. My folks choose from that same menu and Joseph yet again has pizza & fries! For some strange reason, I take off my Last Exit to Nowhere Jack Burton Trucking cap (inspired by John Carpenter’s ‘Big Trouble in Little China’, which I bought for our first trip to Orlando in 2013) and forget to pick it up when we leave. I return the next day as soon as the restaurant opens to see if anyone has handed it in, to no avail (a replacement was ordered & received on our return, and luckily using the 20% January Sale discount code I had!).
Wednesday 22nd January 2020
Another ‘shopping’ day planned for today, to get over the hustle and bustle of Magic Kingdom the day before. Having already visited a Walmart store, we now visit (in my opinion) a slightly more up-market supermarket in the form of Target in Millenia. Although we had planned on visiting this store in advance in any event (my Dad has always wanted to see a “proper American” supermarket as it’s quite astonishing to us Brits the sheer volume and variety of products on sale. We’d watched a few YouTube videos made by our countrymen marvelling at the very stores we visited), it was quite lucky that we did as we managed to buy a huge Jurassic World Indominus Rex toy Joseph had wanted to buy at Islands of Adventure, but for half the price. Mum also spots a Disney spoon rest she takes a liking to (she’s bought nothing thus far), but alas they’re all damaged in some way. Dad isn’t impressed with their camping section and on the whole decides he prefers Walmart. Mall at Millenia is a short walk away and we visit for two reasons – one, we’ll be having lunch today instead of breakfast and at one of our favourite restaurants The Cheesecake Factory and two, Sarah wants to visit the Tiffany & Co. store to see if they have a particular bracelet she’s set her heart on, which is much cheaper in the States than at home. Alas, it’s not in stock. We’d already learned via my research that the other kitchenware store we frequented in Orlando here at the Mall has also closed down and after a quick trip to a few other shops including department stores Macy’s and Bloomingdales, a disappointed Sarah and we sit down to lunch. I go for a chicken club sandwich and my Dad orders the gumbo, something he’s always wanted to try. It starts to rain as we depart the Mall, but luckily just for a few minutes and it’s dry again by the time we reach the stop to take the short Lynx Bus 24 ride back to the Outlets, from where we catch the Trolley back to the Hotel.
Thursday 23rd January 2020
It’s a second Disney day today, but this time at Hollywood Studios. Joseph and I would like to “fly the Millennium Falcon”, even though he’s no idea at this point in his life what Star Wars is having never seen any of the films; he’s just seen Disney advertising on TV and knows it’s a spaceship ride. A relatively new Star Wars ride has also opened, Rise of the Resistance, something else we’d like to experience if possible. We take a cab to the Park, arriving just after 9am. It’s not as busy as Magic Kingdom was earlier in the week, but on entry we see a notice board to the effect that there is no ‘general line’ for Rise of the Resistance – they are handing out a specified number of passes for it each day, and all for today have already been distributed. It’s a shame, but really I was more intent on riding in the Falcon. We make our way to the ride and the wait time is already 70 minutes. Again, Joseph can’t wait that long and Sarah & my folks entertain him whilst I spend 30 minutes in the single rider line. Whilst there, I overhear conversations of other guests who have been in the park for several hours already, having arrived before 7am. It seems you have to be here extremely early to even have a chance of getting on anything quickly. With small kids, I’m not sure that’s too feasible. The ride itself is ok, but as most are these days it’s just a simulator. The best part is the set decor and scenery, which is straight out of the films and lovely to see. Galaxy’s Edge is extremely well done; I would just have preferred it if it were more styled as per the Lucasfilm Original Trilogy rather than Disney Star Wars, but of course it’s their franchise now and most kids will know the newer characters better. More than anything, it’s an exercise in commerce – there are more shops than rides. Having perused the offerings, I choose a Droid Restraining Bolt magnet for the fridge as my first souvenir of the trip. I’ve seen these changing hands on eBay for upwards of £20, but cost $10 to buy at the Park. My Father suggests I buy a few more specifically to sell online but I decline.
The majority of the rides have multi-hour wait times and again Joseph just can’t wait that long. I find it baffling the sheer number of adults without kids who are queing for essentially children’s entertainment. I know Disney is BIG business, but as a parent I find it quite frustrating that hundreds of adults are taking the places kids could otherwise enjoy. I could in theory have bought a Fast Pass which would get Joseph to the front of every line, but having paid nearly £100 for each of our tickets for each day on Disney property, I take the view it’s a unfair then to ask you to pay almost the same again for a Fast Pass. It’s capitalism and elitism at it’s best – if you can afford to pay big bucks, you can get whatever you want and be first in line.
We find The Incredibles area of the park and Joseph interacts with Mr Incredible and Elastigirl, taking a picture with the latter. Dad buys a soft pretzel in the shape of Mickey Mouse with some cheese dip and a cookie (which sets him back nearly $17), which we share as we walk around the Park. They’re too salty / sweet respectively to eat to one’s self! We spot photo opportunities with two of Joseph’s favourite characters, Vampirina and Doc McStuffins and he patiently waits just a little while for a picture with both before we watch a short Star Wars show with characters coming out on stage (see pictures below). It starts to rain a little and we work our way round to the Lightning McQueen Racing Academy show to get out of the weather. This was absolutely brilliant and my favourite part of the Park – a “lifesize” Lightning McQueen on stage, complete with digitised eyes & mouth. Whilst he talks, the car and its wheels move as if gesturing, the same as in the animated films. We all really enjoy it and Joseph gets a big kick out of seeing “in person” his favourite characters. I take a quick snap of Cruz Ramirez from Cars 3 outside of the theatre.
With the rain continuing, we duck into a few stores and make a couple of fridge magnet purchases. Mum offers to buy Joseph some Mickey lollipops, but having seen they are $7 for seven lollipops my Dad refuses (this must be another “black armband” moment, having shelled out for the food earlier!). After a quick photo with Chip & Dale at the exit, we hop in a cab back to our Hotel. It’s nearly 3pm and the weather has dried out a little; we head out for dinner at Denny’s before resting for the remainder of the day. All of this walking is certainly taking it out of us!
(We took probably more pictures at Hollywood Studios than anywhere else; I haven’t posted them all but as you can tell, we were very impressed with the Galaxy’s Edge part of the park).
Friday 24th January 2020
With the weather returning to the mid twenties today, we ride the Hotel’s shuttle bus to Universal where we catch the connecting shuttle to Volcano Bay. The price of admission is included in our Universal tickets (14 days unlimited park-to-park access) and as it’s such a lovely day we’d be nuts not to take advantage. Joseph has never been swimming before and he’s very excited at the prospect. It’s also the first time my Dad has been swimming with me since I was a little boy and indeed likely more than 30 years since my Mum has worn a swimming costume. We quickly change and rent lockers; Joseph loves the TapuTapu watch each visitor is assigned and insists we register his so that it can open the locker too. It’s not too busy; we’ve arrived not long after the park opened and there are plenty of sun loungers to choose from. Joseph loves the water straight away – it’s quite warm and with us all in with him he has a wonderful time. Especially with Grandad playing “sharks” with him, where he swims under the water with his hand poking out as the fin. Joseph’s a little too small for the tube slides, but he takes a turn on the Lazy River and goes ballistic at Tot Tiki and Runamukka Reefs. Everyone has such a wonderful time for the few hours we’re there, that we decide to come again in the morning.
We skipped breakfast this morning and as such, head to CityWalk for lunch. Margaritaville is the target once more, but there’s nothing on the menu Joseph would like. My folks instead take him to find an alternative, insisting Sarah and I have the time to ourselves for the first time this trip. As such, we duly order Volcano Nachos to share! I forgot to take a picture for the blog, but a quick Google image search would put you in the know. We’ve attempted to demolish this gastronomic challenge at least twice before, failing miserably. This time is no different, meaning we’re 0 for 3. After settling the check, we find Joseph and my folks tucking into a huge ice cream each from Cold Stone Creamery, Joseph having already sunk a hot-dog and fries. I had no idea that the hot-dog takeaway was even there (Hot Dog Hall of Fame, adjacent to Antojitos), and on inspection, I see the huge 2 foot long dog on offer with a choice of toppings and make a note of insisting we visit for lunch one day before we go home.
Ready to get wet!
The Volcano itself with the wave pool at the foot.
No one can decide where to head to for dinner that evening, and as such & given it’s close by, we decide to visit Chili’s for a third time. On arrival however, and given it’s Friday night, the place is packed and there’s a 45 minute wait for a table. We decide to take the Trolley down to stop 11 and Uno’s, which is far less populated at the time of our arrival. I enjoy a Cheese Steak Pizzanini and although I order a garlic bread with cheese for Joseph, he refuses to eat it (I devour it later back at the Hotel – it was delicious!) and instead shares my Mum’s pasta dish and a few of our fries. By the time we’ve finished our meals, it’s clear Joseph is getting tired as he begins to misbehave. Sarah elects to take him back to the Hotel as I and my folks explore a gift shop across the street and find that same spoon rest Mum took a fancy to in Target. As a bonus, it’s cheaper too! Souvenir purchased, we head to the nearby Walgreens where I buy a 2l soda for the night ahead and then we stand and wait 20 minutes for the Trolley back to the Hotel. Should have walked!
Saturday 25th January 2020
We head to Volcano Bay as planned in the morning, but unfortunately, we’ve packed a different pair of swimming shorts for Joseph (yesterday, he was wearing his Spider-Man shorts & shirt) and he’s so upset that he refuses to even get changed. He sits on a sun lounger sobbing for two hours straight and shouting at us when we try to persuade him to get changed and come in the water. We take it in turns to sit with him whilst the others swim, but ultimately after the couple of hours we decide that today’s a bust and head back to Universal Studios. As it’s early afternoon, we take a walk back to I Drive and have breakfast for lunch at Denny’s (woo hoo!). Mum has decided that she’d like to go back to the Outlet and treat herself to a new handbag, one she took a liking to at the Coach store – what she doesn’t realise is that Sarah and I have already bought it for her when she wasn’t looking as a Mother’s Day gift. We ‘fess up but say that she can now buy a purse to match if she wants to return to the Outlet before we go home. We decide to take the Trolley a few stops down I Drive and have a nosey in the numerous gift shops which line it, including the same store we visited yesterday evening. Joseph of course finds a couple of plush Disney Lion Guard characters he’d like and, as everything’s half price, we let him have both. Mum picks up another spoon rest, this time for my Sister who has now finalised her divorce and sold the former matrimonial home. She’s renting a property not far from my parents’ house and Mum has decided this will be a nice house warming gift.
Sunday 26th January 2020
Our last full day in Orlando. Joseph spent the night in Grandma & Grandad’s room last evening to give us the opportunity to get up & out early to give Hagrid’s another shot. We arrive before the park opens at 8am, but still behind several hundred other visitors. As soon as the gates open, everyone makes a bee-line for Hagrid’s. We follow, but find the that the ride is closed due to “an unexpected delay”. Despite this, there’s already a huge line of people waiting for when the ride does eventually open and we decide to come even earlier in the morning and try one last time. The wait time for every other ride is 5 minutes or less, and so we ride the Hogwarts Express back to Studios one last time this trip. My folks walk to meet us as the bus stop for our last visit to Volcano Bay, and whilst waiting for them I finally try a Voodoo Donut (the Voodoo Doll – it cost $5 and whilst it was okay, like the Cinnabon I’d tried when we first visited in 2013, I found it too sickly). Having made sure we’ve packed the right swimming shorts for Joseph, he has a blast as he did that first day, and Dad even takes in the rapid river ride with me. After a few hours everyone is feeling peckish so we depart on the shuttle back to Universal Studios, where my Father and I share a 2 foot long dog with a portion of fries each. Joseph has his own hotdog and fries whilst Mum & Sarah have lunch to themselves at Margaritaville. We all hit Studios again and make sure Joseph has another toy from the Robot Shop. We’d heard there was a Christmas store here too and we do manage to find it and make a purchase or two of decorations for the tree. Returning to Islands of Adventure, the Jurassic Park River Cruise has re-opened, and Joseph, Sarah, Mum & I all hop on. Joseph loves it and immediately insists that Grandad rides it with him & Daddy. We’re sat at the front of the ride boat and it appears I have omitted to inform Dad that 1) he will get wet and 2) there’s a big drop at the end of the ride. He jokingly swears at me but does appear to enjoy the thrill – Joseph asks to ride again but we decide we’re all wet enough already. After a 30 minute wait, we get to meet Blue the Velociraptor from Jurassic World and have a few pictures taken to show his class when he returns to school later in the week.
My one absolutely must-do for this trip was to take a family photo at the Universal Globe; something to look back on in the years to come and reminisce about the time we all went to America together. The spot itself is quite busy and it’s now evening, but we manage to get a decent enough picture (it’s hanging on my office wall as I write) even though Joseph is quite tired at this point and refuses to look at the camera.
We take the walk back to I-Drive again as it’s still warm despite being dark, and decide to explore a few more of the gift stores on the street – a trip to Walgreens for the evening’s refreshments costs us a Batwing toy for Joseph. We’ve left a visit to the Shuttle Shop opposite the Hotel (so called as it has a Space Shuttle on the front) until the last night, but find a lovely Harry Potter carry-on suitcase covered in themed patches that I suggest Sarah buy as it’s only $35 and will be ideal for weekends away. She decides to sleep on it. Uno’s is our destination for our last evening meal in the States – again I share a lovely pizza topped with pepperoni and anchovies with Dad.
Monday 27th January 2020
The last morning we’ll be in Orlando. Joseph stayed with Grandma & Grandad again last night and Sarah & I get up early to arrive at Islands of Adventure 30 minutes before opening, but again, there are hundreds of people in front of us and all seemingly heading for the Hagrid ride as the gates are opened. By the time we reach the line, the wait time is as usual more than an hour. Although this is our last opportunity, Sarah decides not to try and wait and it’s marked on the list of things to ensure we do next trip. The shame of it is, that in addition to missing out on this new ride, the wait time for everything else is just 5 minutes, meaning Joseph could have ridden more of the attractions at Jurassic Park. The dragon at Diagon Alley has also been repaired and is breathing fire again. The Universal globe, where we hastily took our family photo last night is all but deserted and would have made for an excellent opportunity for a better picture today. Dejected, we leave the park after less than an hour and take a cab back to the Rosen Inn. As we’ll be flying home today, of course that means I have to have one last breakfast at Denny’s, a Super Duper Slam with just 2 pancakes. I make good on my threat made during planning for the holiday, to have a chocolate & peanut butter shake to accompany it, but it’s just too much to sink down all of it. We return to the Rosen to check out and they kindly agree to take care of our luggage in their store room whilst we take one more trip to the Outlets so that Mum can pick up a purse to match the bag we bought for her last week. A final pilgrimage to Walgreens follows so that Joseph can be treated to the Penguin ‘Copter he’d been looking at the night before to complement his Batwing. All in all, we’ve spent less than half of the money we allocated for gifts and food for Joseph, but he’s certainly taking home more than half a dozen new toys. Sarah returns to the Shuttle Shop to buy the Harry Potter themed carry-on case. A cab conveys us to the Airport (my fun riding the bus to the Hotel that first night was not shared by my family!) and we check in our luggage with Virgin Atlantic, amused that our flight home is the only Virgin Flight due to depart MCO that day. A final sweep of the Universal & Disney offerings is made at the Airport stores; Joseph finally gets his Mickey lollipops but Sarah is content with her purchases made to date. I find the Kennedy Space Center store and pick up a NASA fridge magnet, just my second and last souvenir of the trip.
It’s a breeze through security and then the monorail to the gate; I imagine seeing myself and my family, 10 days ago, excitedly jumping off the counterpart train coming the other way, ready for what lies ahead. It’s been a lovely vacation and whilst part of me is ready for the inevitable return to a cold and rainy Scarborough winter, I will still miss all of my favourite sights, sounds and flavours of this wonderful city. It’s never goodbye; always “until the next adventure”.
The flight home aboard “Barbarella” is a “red eye”, leaving at 18:40 local time, but it’s 23:40 in Manchester. We settle in and I watch “Zombieland 2: Double Tap” and “Detective Pikachu” before trying to close my eyes for a short while listening to the dulcet tones of Brian Johnson via AC/DC’s “Back in Black” on the Vera entertainment package. I manage no sleep (I rarely do on flights) but after a couple of hours Joseph is fast on. It’s a bumpy 7 hours (at one point reaching a ground speed of 701 mph with tail winds) but we touch down safely and recover all our belongings intact before hopping aboard the waiting airport taxi back to Leeds (Joseph is fast asleep again in minutes) which takes a little longer than the ride to Manchester, given that it’s rush hour and everyone is trying to make their commute to work. After a brief respite in Leeds, my Dad insists on driving us to Scarborough where the washing machine waits; his return home is then bolstered by a can of much needed Monster Energy Drink but he arrives safely. Joseph and I make it until around 19:30 before crashing; Sarah joins me later and we all sleep solidly until 11:30 the next morning. My folks are pretty much the same, crashing not long after Dad made it home and sleeping for more than 12 hours.
It’s taken me nearly a month to write this post, and I have to admit I’ve found it rather difficult, something I’d not expected. I can’t really put my finger on why; by-and-large we all had a wonderful time, but because it was such a different experience to our previous trips to Orlando, my emotions about it are somewhat different too. There are certainly things we’d hoped to do that did not come to pass – Sarah missed out on the Hagrid coaster after several attempts and despite spending a good amount of time at Universal, we’d spent not nearly as much time there as would be usual for us when it was just the two of us. I had hoped to visit the Kennedy Space Center with my Dad, but I think we’d underestimated how much we’d already planned to do and the time and our energy reserves just ran out on us. The magnet I bought at the Airport is a constant and daily reminder to me that we have “unfinished business” in Orlando and I suspect it won’t be long before planning commences on our return to put those wrongs right.