Florida – minus Mickey and Friends

I cant believe its been a week since we left a very warm and sunny Spain for the first leg of our Caribbean adventure starting in Florida. The animals are staying at home being looked after by a house sitter and will hopefully all get on well eventually. Mine isn’t the most sociable animal and the attempts to socialise her wasn’t as successful as I had hoped. The last I heard was that she had taken up residence in the garage – but was eating as normal. Hoping she will be ok.

I have never been to Florida without theme park tickets and the plan to spend a fortnight riding some of the best rides I know and seeing lots of cuddly characters, but this time that is exactly what happened. No tickets and no plan to visit any theme park.

The flight over was uneventful.  I am happy to say that I managed to watch a couple of films this time. Last time my screen wouldn’t work so it was a long flight. The cabin wasn’t too full so we managed a row each which meant I had a window seat. It was cloudy so I didn’t get to see much – so wasted opportunity. The thoughts of the long wait at immigration and customs were pushed to the back of your mind as it is always a nightmare in Orlando airport. I think last year we queued for 3 hours (be prepared for Brexit), so this time I made sure I had water, reading material and comfortable shoes. I have sailed through here once before when they had installed electronic passport readers. This year they have all been removed and the system changed once more. However, surprised that the queue, although long, moved along at a steady pace and we were through immigration within one hour. In fact we made it from plane to hire car in less than 2 hours – AMAZING. We even got to Walmart in good time to do a shop.

I had signed up to do the Disney marathon as someone else was going to be joining me to do it together. So day one was spent at the marathon Expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports. A place where athletes go to spend lots of money on the newest and craziest sports gadgets available. Always good fun (as it is free) and lots of goodies to be picked up or sampled. Plenty of photo opportunities and my chance to get a Disney fix as this was going to be it. Then it was back to the house for a chill and visit to the pool.

We picked up coloured water bottles at the Expo which were great for gin and tonic and brandy and coke at the pool as you don’t spill any. We got to the pool and had to gate-crash a man party which was taking place in the hot tub. 12 of them in a 7 person tub, with rules that say maximum of 7 people, no more than 15 minutes, no alcohol. We managed to squeeze in between them and spent a very enjoyable hour chatting with them. It was an annual golf holiday for them without wives. Lots of beer, (they took a large cool box with them), lots of chat and lots of fun. They didn’t worry about the security cameras so it must have been ok.

So what do you do in Florida without theme parks? Well you visit the RV and camping sales lot to see inside the vans of course. Amazing!!!!!!!. They are so big they even have a small bath in the bathroom. Full American fridge and cookers, but they only do about 8 – 10 MPG so not a lot better than mine. But they were really comfortable.

We took the time to visit the Warbird museum in Kissimmee, one of those little attractions which go unnoticed amongst the big boys, a great place if you are interested in flying, planes and history. We were lucky enough to be able to watch an engine being fitted to a plane which was in the hangar. Fascinating to watch the precision of the loader as they were fitting. Moving the piece an inch or two at a time whilst playing with the owners dog.

We also went on an airboat ride. 2 years ago I had tickets for this ride but couldn’t find the park and assumed it didn’t actually exist. This time we went armed with instructions. It took about 2 hours to find it as the sign was so small (strangely for America) and wasn’t lit up. But we found it. We took advantage of the ear defenders provided after about 30 seconds as it was so noisy but it was good fun. Our driver found us some alligators to look at – mother and young but didn’t get close enough for a good photo. Then it was back to the clubhouse for a quick coffee. We were tempted to try the gater poboy. (Found out later that a Poboy is a type of sandwich and yes it was made with real alligator) but it wasn’t gluten free so didn’t bother.

With 2 early wake ups of 0330 to get to the marathon start it was a chilled couple of days. We ventured down to the used car auction on the Highway 192 as it was enormous and looked as though there were some great classic cars. Apparently one car was sold for $1 million. We paid the $10 car park fee and meandered round to the entrance. We absolutely refused to pay $30 to get in as we didn’t plan to purchase. We only went to be nosey. The same day we went to Kissimmee Oldtown. Lovely, and what you think America should look like. Shops, cafes, and friendly locals. Found a lovely tea room with tablecloths, chandeliers and cakes. They make their own Devonshire cream. Looks like clotted cream and served with scones but they don’t serve jam with it. They couldn’t understand why you would want to put cream AND jam on a scone.

So marathon days. The WDW marathon takes place over 4 days with a selection of events from 5k to full marathon, plus kids events. An absolutely brilliant event for its organisation, people management, medals, and goody bags. Each coral has a firework send off but you could be starting up to an hour after the elite runners if you are at the back. There are the ‘balloon ladies’ who maintain a 16 minute mile throughout and if they pass you, you are out and get a ride back to the start. I met them twice. The thing with Disney is that you get your medal even if you don’t finish. It doesn’t seem right to me (as I feel you need to complete to earn the medal) but you don’t get your challenge medal (only right). But the bling will look good amongst the others I have earned. If I do it again I will be fit enough to complete and earn the medal. I haven’t ruled out 26 at 62 – got a couple of years or more to sort myself out.

And then we did a Disney day!!!!!! Animal Kingdom was the park of choice as my sister had never been and it is usually a lovely chilled day out. Online tickets purchased and some fast passes booked and we were off. $25 to park a car – scandalous! When you think how many people visit each day and how much they charge for park entry. With a poor exchange rate this year it equates to about £20 a day. We arrived early hoping to join the queue for the Avatar ride but they won’t let you in the park early unless your are staying at a Disney hotel. When we got to the ride the wait time said 3 hours but we opted to join the queue. Happy to say that the queue time was only 1.5 hours and it is a fantastic ride. So good my sister wanted to queue again straight away but I wouldn’t let her (We did it twice more later in the day) and we did the Na’vi river – again a long wait but so worth it. I did a couple of things I had never done before and missed a lot more. A baby giraffe was born unexpectedly first thing in the morning which closed down the safari jeep ride for a time. And I saw the Rivers of light show last thing – which was nice but would rather have been riding the Everest coaster.

So that was Florida in a nutshell. The next time I go will be for my next big birthday when I plan to ride a rollercoaster or 6 and have a character dinner with family and friends – I just need to decide which park and which restaurant so am open to suggestions.