Thursday 29 August 2013

Florida, Disney's Magic Kingdom, a review...............

Ok, this probably sounds bad, but having been to EuroDisney in Paris we quickly realised that it was a carbon copy of the original Magic Kingdom.   This was however very helpful as we already had an idea as to how to tackle it.  

It is fairly easy to navigate around the different "lands", and the maps, as always, are an excellent source of information - as they should be!

Just a reminder though, where they say 3D over here, you might want to prepare you little ones that they actually mean 4D, so you will get more special effects, like smoke and water etc.

We headed straight for Tomorrowland, and fast passes for Space Mountain.  We then headed for Buzz Lightyear's ride, a fun time zapping at targets.  We also did Stich's Great Espace, a kind of 4D theatre show/ride, Monsters Inc laugh show, with much audience participation, and then the Astro Orbiter.

#Lighbulb moment - it has just occurred to me that they didn't have representation of a lot of the Disney Pixar movies, nothing here for Cars, only the Buzz ride, unlike Paris where they have whole areas dedicated to Cars and Toy Story, which my children thought were fabulous! I wonder if keeping it purest to original Disney characters works better for the American market?   Just a thought!

Anyhoo, heading back to Space Mountain at our designated times, I have to say that I was very disappointed.  The ride was in the dark and jerky, and frankly seemed dated.  Glad I've done it, but not a huge fan in the wake of Manta, Everest and Hulk etc.  Jasper also loved Speedway as he got to drive mummy around in a hotrod, whilst Scarlett drove daddy :)

After that, my lovely cousin from Burnley took Jasper for me, whilst we headed to our pre-booked package to make Scarlett a princess, details here!

I have to say it was just wonderful, and I cried reading out her invitation (yes I'm that soppy).  To be honest this was my favourite part of the day.   As we finished we came out to see Merida (from Brave), and Scarlett was very excited to be meeting her.   Just perfect.

Of course there was much much more to do, but we were all done for the day.

You can stay for dinner and fireworks (make dinner reservations way before you go).  However, we didn't feel like we'd missed out and no need to go back.

Two Disney Princesses
Jasper driving mummy in his hot rod!

To be fair, apart from the films themselves, my two weren't really brought up on Disney, so this didn't prove as exciting as some of the other parks over here, though we did have a fabulous time.
Annie x

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Florida, Disney's Animal Kingdom, a review.........

Thursday we headed over to Disney's Animal Kingdom.  We went straight over to Everest to get fast passes for this epic coaster, then back to do the truck safari.

On route we got the kids up and ready for being Wilderness Explorers (foc), where they go around collecting badges, in exchange for learning about various animals, and countries etc.   Scarlett particularly got into it, and I loved that the Wilderness Explorers themselves were actually in the same uniform as Russell from UP :)

Everest and the Safari (obviously) are in Asia and Africa within the parks, and having travelled to both continents I can say they have got the scenery and surrounds breath-takingly bang on!

The Safari was amazing, and having been to the Serengeti, I can tell you they got that so right too, and much to my amazement we did see lion and cheetah, elephant, rhino, hippos etc.  Really well done, huuuuge enclosures and bumpy roads, just like the real Africa.  (Well not enclosures in Africa but you get my drift)!

Everest Coaster itself was pretty hardcore, having said that my 5yo rode it twice and my 9yo wouldn't!  I went on first with Scarlett and having whizzed around and then stopped at a precarious point, midway, she said "mummy I'm scared", I could only respond with "me too".  Not going to win mum of the year (yet again), but as I said she went straight on again with her father :)

Whilst in Asia we also rode the Kali River Rapids, and got absolutely soaked, but in the heat over here you are dry again within the hour and it is actually quite refreshing.

In Dinoland we saw a magical musical version of Nemo, just fantastic acting and visuals, and in Discovery Island we saw a film of "It's Tough to be a Bug".  Over here what they call 3D we would call 4D, as it is much more than just the visual, expect special effects all around you!   We also saw Festival of the Lion King with sing alongs, acrobatics and audience participation.

As well as meeting Jamaican Kennedy, who lived in Peckham and supported QPR, a top day out!  Oh, and how can I forget, the kids met the *actual* Mickey and Minnie* yayyyy!
Annie x

Florida, Seaworld, a review..................

Wednesday morning we headed over to SeaWorld.   We are big animal lovers and it's an easy park to navigate around.    There are mainly shows to schedule, a couple of rides to get on to, and then other standard exhibitions to have a look around.

Our first problem however was getting in through the door.  Having brought our normal packed lunch, this was the first place we were stopped and couldn't bring in sandwiches.  The snacks around it were OK, but not the sandwiches, so we sat and ate them at the entrance (I know don't say it)!

I have to say that this was however, one of my favourite days out so far.  The shows were spectacular (understatement) and Manta, one of the big rides was fantastic!   Am convinced it's a carbon copy of Air at Alton Towers, think slow and enjoyable flying rather than jerky coaster types!

Shamu the killer whale is one of the big shows, and it was amazing!!!  As was the Dolphin Theatre show, just fantastic (see pics).   Pets ahoy also blew us away, particularly when we learned that all the animals were rescues :)  The Sea Lion and Otter show was very funny, but as much so for the mime warm up act before hand, who basically took the mickey out of anyone coming through looking for a seat - we were dying with laughter and everybody took it in good humour

We didn't manage the Sky Tower due to "inclement weather" but not that bothered, but we did use the helicopter simulator ride which was great, fed some sharks, and saw some other marine animals in the walk through.

We went back another morning to ride Kraken and let Jasper try Manta, which he was unsure of before, and of course he loved it.

 We also went on the Sky Tower.  I was worried as I don't really like the London Eye type things, but it just went up and down, fairly slowly, giving you beautiful views of the whole area. After that we took the bus over to Aquatica for the afternoon.

Fantastic days out, very chilled but thrilling at the same time.

Annie x

Monday 26 August 2013

Florida, Disney's Epcot - wow - a review Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow!

Who knew that EPCOT was an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.   In my head it was another space centre adventure but oh my, what a great day out and where to start.........
We came on the Tuesday after we arrived.  Having been a full on first few days we decided to have a lazy morning and get there at 12.30pm.   We headed straight to Sourin for the fastpass, but they had already run out for the day!!!   So we will have to go back, that and the Test Track were recommended as the best rides there, and again we couldn't get on to it.  So big note to self, get there early next time and get those two rides fast passed and done.  (See bottom of this blog that has now been updated)!

Having said that, we still had a fabulous time.   We more or less walked straight onto Mission Space a flight simulated space launch.  In flights of 4 you are assigned different roles to take part during the flight.  You can try the Green Team for a milder mission, or the Orange Team for a more hardcore version.   We did Green then Orange, and without spoiling it the G-Force in the Orange launch was unbelievable!   We are definitely going to do it again when we go back.

Aurora or Sleeping Beauty to you and me :)

After that we had a stroll around the world in World Showcase.  There are lots of different restaurants here, and also some rides or videos to watch, showcasing each country.
Mexico  - restaurant looked fab, and some good merchandise.  You can also take a tame boat ride discovering the sites of Mexico (Disney style) *winks*
Norway - a pretty hardcore ride hear showcasing the Vikings, Jasper didn't enjoy it, but he'd been learning about the Vikings at school which is what had frightened him most!
China - a very interesting 14 minute film about China (Disney Style ;) and several restaurants
Germany - not a lot here though the boys did manage to grab a beer, as you do!
Italy, America, Japan, Morocco and France followed, but the kids were getting a bit countried out so we moved swiftly on to good old..
United Kingdom - £1 shop mugs of Keep Calm and Carry On mugs being sold here for $18!!  Still selling Princess Diana pins, and of course a pub - Tudor Style - and a fish and chip shop #standard
We did also manage to find an American Mary Poppins - and could have bought Man Utd or Chelsea shirts, hmmmmm - truthfully though, I get what they are trying to do :)

and finally to Canada a fab 14 minute video here showcasing Canada, and I have to say that we played Canada bingo here, with points if the following were shown -
Bear, Beaver, Salmon (extra points for bear with salmon), Skiing and Mounties (you all know my bessie mate @mediocre_mum is Canadian right)?  In all fairness it was very good and I do quite fancy it.  After all, there is a place called Jasper :)

We intended to stay for dinner then the fireworks, but it soon became evident that it was reservation only.  If you intend to do the same I recommend you make the reservation before you go out!!!   The fireworks were at 9pm, they were fab and only 15 mins, but the kids were shattered by this time.

Fantastic place, I highly recommend it!   Ours came part of our multi-ticket, but otherwise prices shown!  (So far the multi ticket prices bought from the UK are a winner, as we were told they would be)!

Today (second Tuesday) we went back to Epcot for 9am   We headed straight for Soarin grabbed fast passes, but also walked straight on!  It was amazing, absolutely fanstastic simulator showing you what it would be like to fly (soar) over the California skies.  Absolutely breathtaking!   Next we headed over to get fast passes for Test Track.  The time scheduled was for 2.20pm, so in the meantime we took in some more shows.  It was a little bit much some of the shows talking about how they are trying to look after the environment, but as we have witnessed there is very little recycling over here, so a tad annoying.  They recognise that landfill will become a problem, as will running out of energy, but to me they need to do an awful lot more than talking about it (rant over).

Having ridden the hard core Space Mission again, we finally headed over to the Test Track which was just as fab as we heard it was.  You design your own car, which is then put head to head against the others' cars in your car on the test track.  It sounds a bit odd, but it's really good and right up Jasper's street.   Our car managed to beat Chris and Scarlett's car by 2 points #getin!

Definitely a park to enjoy over 2 days, if you are going to get Disney passes, as this is part of Disney.   Although we really enjoyed it, next time we might leave the Disney part out, due to such high prices, and there is so much else to do.  Of course we can say this having already done it.  I'll leave it to you to ponder.
Annie x

Friday 23 August 2013

Bolton vs QPR my views ahead of the game 24/8/13

I was asked by @BurndenAces to do a Question and Answer session for their website, ahead of tomorrows game.

Agree or disagree, you can find my views here!

All feedback welcome :)

Annie x

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Florida, Universal Studios, A Review...............

Am blogging the whole Florida trip here but separating out each attraction in case it helps others planning the big trip.

This is being updated whilst I am here, so may not be complete when you read.  For instance, we have not yet done Universal Islands of Adventure, which includes the Harry Potter *thing*, so to be updated as I go.
Today (Sunday) was our first day at a theme park, Universal Studios.

It's split into 2 parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. We only did the former today and will go back for the other one on another day.

It had been recommended that we read the Fodor book before we went, and already it has proved invaluable.

The big tip here was to turn right when you go into the park, as everyone is attracted to the rides and sounds and music to the left.  What a tip that was, the picture shows our path on entry bang on 9am!  We walked straight onto the Simpsons ride and a few others that were on our list.

There were lots and rides and attractions, and we didn't manage to do them all.  The Shrek 4D cinema was fab, the whole exhibition was fantastic, the diner, the cars, the Blues Brothers driving around, Marilyn Monroe posing for photos, it's all extremely well done.

We came back on our last day, after the morning at Islands of Adventure, specifically to try the new Ride, Despicable Me 2 and the Rockit Roller Coaster!  The former is another simulator ride which was a lot of fun, the latter a HUGE straight up and over type coaster.  I was going to chicken out but had one of those just do it moments, and I did.   Not my favourite but I did it YES!

Our only bad choice for the day was the Barney theatre, I'd forgotten how much I hated the big purple dinosaur.  It really is for the younger ones, as you can see from the pic of Jasper and Scarlett looking slightly mortified.  However, like any other bad parent I did insist on getting a pic of Scarlett with said purple thing!

There are plenty of eateries inside and along City Walk which is outside of Universal, though we brought a packed lunch and my family are happy with that.

The car park is $15 but it's all very well laid out and easy to navigate around.
Annie x

Florida - Disney's Typhoon Lagoon, A Review..........

This August (2013) we are on our first trip to Florida, whilst I am blogging one post on the whole trip, am doing little pages on each of the days out, in case it helps other people planning a trip.

Monday 19th August 2013, a day out at one of  Disney's water park, Typhoon Lagoon.
Typhoon Lagoon is one of the oldest water parks at Disney, but it didn't show.   It's very well laid out, and caters for all ages.   The "wave pool" stressed me out, but of course the kids loved it.   I wouldn't let Scarlett loose on her own in there but of course Chris did.   He was right beside her of course but not close enough for my liking.  Yes she survived and had a whale of a time - they both did.  Thankfully there are times when they don't put the wave bit on, so you can just swim (phew).   I would say however, they give free life vests for kids and adults, so if you are a bit worried just grab one of those.   Lots of kids were wearing them and in hindsight I should have put one on Scarlett for my own peace of mind!  

There is a great lazy river that runs around the whole park, it has 5 entrances and takes about 20 minutes. Scarlett and I did that whilst Chris and Jasper went off to do the bigger rides and roller coaster.

Ketchakiddee Creek was perfect for 5yo Scarlett, plenty to do safely for her age, and they are keen to keep the bigger kids out.   There is even a little ride on a tube that they can do for themselves.   There is a bigger version next door for the older kids, and a couple of teenage beach parties through the day with music and competitions.  Later on we swam with sharks (as you do) and the kids went up and did some more of the bigger tube rides/falls.  Really couldn't fault it, there was something there for the whole family (erm except wifi for me of course but hey).  AND no parking fee?????

Whilst the kids got all adventurous and wore themselves out I attempted to chill and read, this lasted about 5 minutes when I realised I am rubbish at lying on a beach and chillaxing.

So off I went to join in the fun and swim with the sharks.  BUT if you do enjoy just relaxing on a sunbed, then go for it.

The kids are desperate to go back another day, but there are other parks to do as well.  The water parks are a great way of separating the big days out at Universal and Disney etc.

Watch this space.............

Annie x

Monday 19 August 2013

Florida Disney, Universal and beyond - The Big Trip - 16th to 30th August 2013

Well we finally bit the bullet.  This year we decided to do the Florida "thing".   We couldn't really afford it when we booked back in January, but as Chris rightly said, "once the flights are booked we'll find a way". Jasper is 9 and Scarlett is 5 so we reckoned good ages, also the fact that some of the parks considered an adult to be 10yrs old kind of forced our arm!

Anyhoo, we are here now and I'm typing this sat by the pool, 7pm at night, whilst the kids splash about in the pool!  We chose a Villa over a hotel as we are Villa owners and it suits our lifestyle.  Although on holiday I still like to cook and make packed lunches and fill the slow cooker for the evenings after a long day out.   We will eat out occasionally but this suits us.  The Villa we chose is enormous, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, huuuuge lounge and kitchen, just amazing.   It cost £921 for the 2 weeks, which isn't cheap, but compared to our Villa in Crete, it's very reasonable!   Location is great for all the parks too, plus the local Walmart (standard), and a local Bar, which we've yet to try out.  I've found a lovely bottle of white for $3.97, I am seriously a cheap date!  You can see details of the Villa here.

Scroll down for tips for before and during your trip?   But see here for individual reviews of where we visited.

Universal Islands of Adventure
Universal Studios
Disney's Magic Kingdom
Disney's Epcot
Disney's Animal Kingdom
Disney's Typhoon Lagoon (water park)
Seaworld's Aquatica (water park)
Kennedy Space Centre (NASA)

There aren't that many toll roads but there is one very near to the airport.  Having been here 10 days we've passed about 6.  If you are hiring a car you can ask for tolls to be included.  For around $15 you can avoid the tolls and have them added to your debit/credit card.  We opted for this and been very stress free!
Travelling with Little Ones to Parks
If you have children of different ages, you may not be able to ride all of the rides together.   They are set up beautifully for this here and have Child Swap Rooms.  You travel the line until you are almost on, and then you see the room.  You then go on with the child able to ride whilst the parent and other child wait until they are done.  The waiting parent then walks straight on.  Some of the rooms are quite soulless so you may want to weigh up using this option or the second parent using the single rider queue instead (we used both)
In Disney parks there is free WiFi under "Disney Guest" (except Typhoon Lagoon which was a bit patchy but it is the oldest park)!  In Universal there isn't any free WiFi, though I noticed today you could sign up for 30 mins for $5 but I could get over it to be honest!

If you have little ones, and want to treat them to a few extras, book them well in advance, as you won't be able to whilst out there, or rather is unlikely and not worth the disappointment!
Princess Tips
For our little Princess we booked a makeover, details here!  We had the Crown Package for $60 and it well worth it!
Astronaut Tips
For Jasper we pre-booked lunch with an Astronaut at Kennedy Space Centre.  Details here!
Dinner and Fireworks Tips
If you want to stay for dinner at the parks before watching the fireworks, make you reservations before you go too!   We've tried to get a reservation here and they are all fully booked!
Fastpass Tips
At Universal you have to pay for their fastpass option, however at Disney they are FREE!  You can only get one at a time, and most of the big, popular rides have a fast pass option.   You simply put in your ticket and prints you a fast pass with a time that you then go back to the ride and go in the fast pass lane.  It gives you an hour timeslot so it works very well.
Be sure to make a note of where you are parked, or better still take a pic on your phone, it is all to easy to be eager to get going, then later on forget where the car is!
Shopping Tips
We went to an outlet place today and bought some Timberland boots and some Converse for Scarlett and I. Checked at Information in the food court about Boggy Creek (no deals), found a card for 15% discount at Timberland if you spend over $79.99!!!   We'd spent $160!  I was all for going back, refunding and re-buying but Chris's morals said no.  Have since found out that they would have been happy to accommodate us.  So "moral of the story" check around for discount coupons, and/or go to Tourist Information to check. At the Premium Outlet Mall in Orlando this was in the Food Court.

beware of the car hire jockies!
We had pre-booked car hire through Flight Centre, but due to previous experiences of car hire depots in America I was on high alert, and so I should have been!   Although we knew we had the right car booked, they still tried to up-sell us bigger cars, warning that the one we'd booked wouldn't hold our luggage (utter garbage) and trying to up-sell a vehicle with built in sat nav, not necessary.   Oh and of course saying we hadn't enough insurance!!!!   The happy fellow we first met at Alamo turned into grumpy surly git when we insisted on picking up what we paid for.  We ended up with a huuuuge Chrysler which would have fitted our luggage if doubled!  Little note Alamo - never again!!!!!

Having been back a few weeks, I am missing Florida so much.   We have pretty much decided that we will definitely go back, but next time take a week out somewhere else first, Naples, The Keys?  Then a week at the parks, possibly excluding Disney?   We are happy we did everything we did, but could save a lot of money next time.

So much for a trip of a lifetime #hooked!

Annie x

Thursday 8 August 2013

Ross & Andy's Soccer Camps

Jasper and Andy
I've just picked up Jasper from his last day at Ross & Andy's Soccer Camp in Berkhamsted this week.   Monday to Thursday 10am to 3pm, he's had - what he called - an "epic" time!  At just £52 inclusive it's great value for money too #win!

We know them from lunchtime sessions at Jasper's school, so Jasper was desperate to continue his football during the holidays.  Each day they did something a bit different, with a competition between the "kids" and the "coaches" at the end.  

Both the kids and the coaches were as enthusiastic, they had such a brilliant time, I will certainly be looking out for their holiday schools again.

I'd list all the contact details etc. for you but I think their van pretty much shows it all!

Thanks all, it was fab!
Annie x