Sunday, October 28, 2007

Signs of Autumn

Last night we gained that extra hour of zzzzz's because the clocks go back - well we would have but my cat doesnt understand GMT so woke me up for his breakie at HIS usual time. Still it got me to thinking about signs of autumn.

When I was working full time it used to be learning songs fo
r harvest festival, daily sweeping leaves off the classroom patio and most things school related.

But now its celebrating dad's birthday. It fell last wednesday and all the family came round for roast dinner, including the dog. Had a lovely afternoon even if I was worn out from cooking 2 joints (dad wanted pork, Laura doesnt like pork so had to do a bit of beef too) 2 apple pies and a plum crumble.

The poor dog got shut in the garden while we ate but I think he was happy as I had just mended and washed his toy teddy which he has had from birth and lo
ves so much he trailed it round for the whole afternoon. He has caused us a bit of heartache this weekend, well not so much him but some annonymous 'well wisher' who thought they should report Laura and Wayne to the RSPCA for shouting and beating him.

Now eversince the two of them found their plot of land and started buildi
ng their house, this 'well wisher' has been helping them and the council out with reports of every little move they made - builder too noisy (this is one bricky using hand tools), use of the 'wrong building materials' so that Wayne had to cart a bit of every material being used in the build around to the council offices; roof a millimeter higher than the plans (how the hell he could tell I dont know). Anyway the list goes on, but this really was beyond the pale. This dog has got to be the most spoilt, loved and lavished pouch in the world. And the biggest irony is that for the time they were supposedly abusing this animal, it was actually kennelling at my parents while Laura and Wayne had a night away in Oxford.

Of course the RSPCA guy took one look at Bailey and knew at once that no way was he being mistreated.

Anyway, just the last day of our holiday in Orlando to write about. Like all last days it started with the mad rush to pack everything and check out of the hotel by 11. There was plenty of room in the cases for all my scrappy stuff. So as I checked the room for any last minute or left items Martin took the cases down to put in the hire car.

When he came back I wasnt really taking that much attention of hi
m, but suddenly he blurted out 'Someones hit the back of the car!

I went down to look with him. Indeed someone had ploughed into the back of the car with such force it looked like they had actually moved it forwards about a foot (we could tell by its proximity to the ant hill we had noted the afternoon before when we par
ked. There were dents under the numberplate and one part where the fibreglass body of the car actually had a hole in it. I was so worried, as on our first day, an old Scottish bloke we had shared the breakfast table with had been telling us how he never hired a car because they catch you on the damage waiver for big bucks. Martin was very cool about it all though as he kept telling me we had paid extra insurance and were fully covered.

Well there was nothing we could do for now, we had quite a lot of hours to fill before our 10 pm flight. So we left the car where it was in the car park and decided to use ou
r I-trolley tickets to go visit the posh shopping mall we had intended visiting the night we had purchased our passes.

The trolley is quite an experience. The drivers have a pa system and the one we got considered himself quite a wag, telling his well practised jokes all the wa
y along I-Drive. Unlike coaches or buses, they are all wood veneer and fancy glass windows, and quite comfortable to journey in too.

Interior of I trolley
The mall was a resounding dissapointment. Most of the units weren't open yet. It took us ..oh... 3 minutes to walk around it. So we stopped for a drink and tried to think of some other way to fill the 5 hours left until we could make our way to the airport.

In the end we decided to take advantage of our 14 day passes and visit Sea World again. It took as a bit of a while to get there on the I-trolley but we still got 3 full hours in the park, and I am so glad we did this. We took in the penguins again and then tried to go see the baby dolphin in the nursery. This one had been a day old on our previous trip so public visits were not allowed, we hoped we would be allowed in now. When we got there it was still shut. Turns out they had had another delivery the day before and yet another baby dolphin had made his way into the world only hours before we had arrived. Wow! 3 dolphins born in one week.

Then I asked Martin if we could go see the Polar bear again bec
ause he had been asleep before. Not only was he awake but he was a she and she was a mum with a baby.

A whole troupe of scouts were on an education trip and were asking lots of questions while the baby showed off in the snow just by our feet. We discovered that the Polar Bears are the only animals in the whole park that the trainers dont interact with directly but work with from above the enclosure. Not because they are aggresive but because they are so powerful and in play simply dont know their own strength.

These photos are not brilliant, partly due to the low light levels and pa
rtly because in the dark I had grabbed the wrong lens and used my soft brown tinted one by mistake.

Baby Polar bear rolling in snow by our feet.

Time passes so quickly in the parks, and all too soon it was nearly time to catch the trolley back down I-drive for the final time and go catch a plane home. One last look at the dolphins as we passed and then onto the bus stop. But what was wrong with that dolphin?

One dolphin had got himself up onto the flatter shelve in the pool and was acting very angrily towards all the other dolphins who kept coming over to see what was wrong with him.
There was a trainer paddling around the pool in a kyak but he didnt seem bothered. I stood and watched for as long as Martin would let me before he dragged me away to the bus, so I never did discover if the dolphin merely wanted some quite time, or was playing a game of hide and seek or was in genuine trouble.

Traffic was backed up all the way along the high way until about 3 miles from the airport. Yet we still arrived with plenty of time to spend a fortune on presents in the Duty free shop and to have a drink in the bar! As we pulled up to hand in the hire car, my stomach went tight as I remembered the damage. But why I worried I dont know, they didnt even look round the car, simply checked the milage, and told us to make sure we removed all our belongings, thank you for using them!

To make up for being an hour late getting to America, the pilote got us back to Gatwick in 8 hours instead of 9. Trouble was Gatwick was experiencing freak fog conditions so we had to go on stack for half an hour. And then another 3/4 of an hour waiting at luggage reclaim. Didnt really matter though as Wayne and Laura(who were picking us up) had slept through the alarm and were late anyway.

Its wonderful to go away, but ooo so great to be home and back in your own bed!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bush Gardens

By paying £20 extra on our Discovery Cove tickets, we had free 14 day passes into both Sea World and Bush gardens. It would seem that, by accident, we had hit on the best week to visit Orlando as the parks are not as busy and there are plenty of deals to be had. If we had not already got our tickets, both parks were doing buy one, get another day free passes anyway. So today we were off along to the coast to enjoy our third playground, Bush Gardens.

We didn't really know what to expect. On the Internet all the info gave us was that it was an African experience with a video showing snap shots from colourful African shows, animals and rides.
Bush Gardens, unlike Sea World and Discovery, which are both situated at the end of I-Drive (along with the new soon to be opened Aquatica). Bush Gardens is to be found an hour's drive away in Tampa Bay. This time we knew the way, and once you get used to the strange traffic light system, and the way you suddenly find yourself in an exit only lane, driving in the U S of A is not that difficult. With max and min speed limits, which unlike here are stuck to in the main (probably to do with the amount of sheriff cars littering the highways) and traffic is far more sparse, moving much slower. So really the only dissappointing thing is the steep parking fees the parks charge for those using their hire cars to get to them. The hotels and the parks themselves all run coach shuttle services, so I suppose I can understand why.

Bush Gardens is much like a version of Chessington in England only much bigger, better, with more animals and the opportunity to get much closer to the creatures you had gone to visit. And you really do need more than one day to enjoy all the fun, shows, and things to do/see. Its a shame it was an hour away and that we hadnt known this before we went as we certainly would have liked a second visit.

We started off getting lost! Surprise? Not!

The park is divided up into countries of Africa, Egypt, Kenya, etc. each area having its own white knuckle rides, shows and flavour. So to get an overview we took the overhead ski ride across the 'plains' where the animals were allowed to roam free, just as they would in the wilds. This gave us a spectacular view of what was to come.

At the end of that ride, we had intended going to the 4D pirate show but got side tracked onto the log flume ride, and by the time we got back, the show was one minute in and we couldn't enter. Instead we went to watch the elephants, my favourite animal. I could happily stand and watch these magnificent beasts for hours, especially as these were Asian elephants, a beautiful mottled pink and grey species I had not encountered before. I took heaps of photos of them playing in the water fountain but loved the one of the two taking a share best.

Sad to say at this point I managed to loose my lovely blue straw hat! I was so happy it had gone, now I wouldn't feel guilty about abandoning it at the first opportunity, but Martin insisted in going to look, and then reporting it to the powers that be, and they have promised that should it turn up they will mail it to me. Please not postie!

OK time for the 4D pirate show. Ever done this before? Well strange. Wearing sexy 3d glasses you sit in a giant cinema where the characters flickering on the screen appear in 3d right before your nose when wearing the glasses. Scary enough when facing cutlasses and swarms of bees, but then you are subjected to jets of warm air, or warm water (to simulate presents from the overhead 3d seagulls) dropping on you. A surreal experience.

Next up the white water rapid ride. 12 people sit on a round boat with a huge hover skirt on it. Strapped in with seat belts and sent along the wild fast flowing river ride. Now this was fun, and given time one I would certainly have done again even though I am not a ride person. To start the fun one of our party of 12 was a rather portly - OK fat person who didn't fit the seat belt and embarrassingly had to ask for the extension bit. Off we went.

The first part through a water cannon run where people on dry land have the chance to fire jets of water at you. Martin had spotted this before and knew it was coming. I didn't, and got the first shot full in the face. The portly gent also got the last spray but everyone else still seemed relatively dry. Not for long. Each drop in the river level meant a white rapid surge, and as it spun the boat at the same time, each overflow or splash hit a different person in turn. All but one young lad were rather wet as we hit the last part, under some caves and out through the waterfall. Who would end up under the water fall? A bit like Russian roulette, we tried to guess as the boat spun round and the water got closer. Well it was an easy bet. Yes both Martin and I got totally drenched! But still this young lad was bone dry, and there was only yards to the finish with no visible splashes to go. Except as we approached the off ramp, a final jet of splashy cold water hit us from nowhere, dousing this lad to the skin! The whole boat was in uproar with load guffaws and peels of laughter.

A fantastic way to spend 10 minutes with a bunch of complete strangers. I will say that by 4 o'clock, even though temperatures were in the 90's Martin and I were still damp, and it didn't do my poor blistered feet much good walking round in wet trainers all day, but wow! Did we have fun.

After that the day just got better and better. The ride on the jeep that 'looses' its way through the jungle, and ends up in the water floating downstream (on tracks you are not supposed to notice I hastily add) is recommended, as is the train

which takes you through the plains, and close up to any animals standing by the rails (such as the rhino who were grazing feet from our hands).

Many of the animals are separated from the public by no more than a plate of thick glass so you can safely get really close. That is Martin's foot inches from this sleeping hyena,

and wow! Look! I am close enough to stroke the lioness.

We rounded one corner and unbelievable as it seemed there was only a chicken wire 4 ft high type fence between us and the Mere cats! I was stunned and just stood going 'look, real live mere cats' to Martin. They are little so-and-sos though, they actually do pose for the camera. Every time I moved, this little lad moved around to get his best side shot!

There were plenty of eating establishments dotted around the park, but I didn't really want to waste time sitting and waiting to eat, so we ended up with a snack and then carried on having a great time. We took in one show, which I didn't really understand as I had trouble with the sound system and hearing words clearly'

The shows were obviously not as popular as the ones at Sea world which had been packed to capacity, and maybe we should have noted this but you don't want to miss any of what is going, so we went, even though Martin had promised himself one go on one of the scary rides. By the time the show, which was very colourful and had good music even if I didn't follow the plot, was over, it was park closing time and we had to say goodbye to the animals and make our way home.

That evening we were exhausted but we cant recommend the three parks highly enough. I am so glad we opted for these and didn't do Disney. A few times when out we had heard people talking about the DW parks they had visited and no one we heard was that impressed. Not to put anyone off. We didn't go to them so we don't know. But if anyone wants a good grown-up alternative, these three parks are it. I have looked on the web at the artists impressions of the 4th park being built in this group and it looks like it is going to be just as magical. Will we ever go back? Mmmm, well Martin still wants to see the Keys and I still fancy New Orleans so who knows?

Oh and we ate in Chilli's again. I was quite addicted to those baby ribs and hoped we would get the really nice waitress Billie again, but alas we got Ray who I am sure is one sandwich short of a picnic, bless. The night before I had asked to take my desert home with me in a doggie bag (common practise in America) and the kitchen had put my large flapjack type cookie, my two fudge flavours of sauce and my ice cream in separate boxes so I could carry it home, put in the fridge and eat later. It hadn't been a problem and worked. I asked Ray for the same again. As he handed me the bag he said, 'I was worried about the ice cream so asked them to leave it out' Thinking he meant like it had been packed the night before I just nodded and smiled. Imagine how I was shocked to find, when we got back, that my desert consisted of just the flapjack!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Disappointed in The Space Coast.

By Wednesday morning, it was very apparent that the blister, and the monster bite were not responding to the expensive creams and apart from my trainers, none of my footware was comfortably wearable. Today the itinary had been to go shopping anyway. OK we had bought dad's Jeans in the first hour of shopping on sunday, and there wasnt any more we really wanted to buy, but I had to have something on my feet. We ended up in the Premier Outlet, a very swanky looking place full of designer names, most of which we had never heard of, so it was no surprise that I (literally) fell in the Clarkes shoe shop, happy to recognise a brand I could trust. (I had been hoping for some flyflots but of course they dont sell in outlets, only on line or mail order). I eventually found a pair that, at the time seemed to touch most of the healthy parts of my foot without agrivating the rotting parts. Later, my feet swelled up in the heat. So once again I was left bare foot and fancy free!

We then moved over to the Florida Mall where I was determined to find The Scrapbook Boutique. Now on all the forums I had been assured it was easy to find, right next to Joann's but we had been there twice and still not found it Eventually, fed up with my hobbling and moaning Martin found an info desk where they gave him a map with the shop marked. No wonder we hadnt found it, it is tucked away around the back, not easy to spot at all. And the Joanns was so small I struggled to see it even when we pulled up in front of it. As it turned out, the Scrapbook Boutique sold mainly paper, which I had decided was too hard to take on the plane and wasnt buying anyway, so I came out having spent only $11 on some stickles and one sheet of chipboard diecuts.

Martin was still insistant that he wanted to go to Cocoa beach, so we snagged a quick lunch and headed out. This was supposed to be a 45 minute drive. Of course that is for people with sat nav, maps, or the savvy to follow the road signs. But for Martin, who assumed that Cocoa beach was at the town of Cocoa, this turned out to be an hour and a half drive, through very deserlate march land, all looking a bit like Romney Marsh on the way to Dungerness Power station. The military notices signposting Kennedy Space station didnt quell my fears much either. And not one sighting of a space shuttle.

Eventually we did reach the beach - well not the beach front because that has all been bought up by hotels and you run along a road with large hotels between you and the sea, but we did finally find a road we could turn up, parked and got out to cross onto the sands.

I was so dissappointed. What I had hoped to do was take the water bus out to a thousand islands to see the manatees. What I got was a large 4ft x 4ft sign listing all the things I was NOT allowed to do on the beach, and then the most miserable looking beach front I had ever seen.

This is not my photo., its one I have borrowed from the net. I didnt bother to even get my camera out. We stayed all of 6 minutes, I didnt dip my toes in the Atlantic, and then we were back in the car and heading back to Orlando.

That evening we thought we would try the famous I-trolly that travels up and down International drive. Its a cute little bus, that has a thamas the tank engine type face pointed on it, and runs about every 20 minutes. You can travel as many times as you like in a 24 hour period for $3. I wanted to try some of the finer eating houses at the top of I-Drive where all the hotels and the conference centre were. We checked out the numbers of our stops, bought our ticket in the hotel lobby, and headed off for the trolley stop immedietly outside our hotel. Where we stood patiently and waited.......and waited.......and waited. After about half hour a trolley pulled up, but it was obviously well overloaded so the driver wouldnt let us on, telling us there was another right behind. So we waited... and waited,,, and then decided that even if one picked us up now, we wouldnt be able to eat and get back before the time the trolleys stopped working. The tickets dont actually start the 24 hour count down until you first use them, so we stowed them back in Martin's wallet and went off to enjoy our third meal at Chilli's. Well I just couldnt get enough of those baby back ribs smothered in brown sugar and chilli sauce.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sea World continued

There is just so much to see in this Theme park, much of which I didnt photograph because light levels were difficult without a tripod but setting up a tripod to catch moving animals is just plain stupid. So some of these photos are mine, others I have 'borrowed from the seaworld site. From the dolphin show we went to see them being fed. You have to pay for food and the queue was very long. Its sold by the amount of fish not the amount of people in line so we didnt bother, just watched as others fed them.
Then we continued on to see the Manatees. I had been looking forward to this as I thought they were likened to dolphins, but I was less keen on them. They are very large bloated looking creatures with small heads and they move very slowly. Most of those in the park had been rescued so had chunks out of them from where they had been caught in propellors or attacked by other animals. It was a bit of a rush to cross the park and get to the Shamu show, but we still got reasonable seats. Americans can be very sentimental and this show was very full of 'stand up for our Millitary Heroes' and 'go for your dreams'.

Quite powerful but not for 'the British stiff upperlip' really, so we found it all a bit squirmy and embarrassing. The Whales were good though.

We snagged a quick snack of hot dogs and chips (crisps to us) and then went to see the rest of the park. We were actually heading for the sealions but ended up in the Artic World where the Baluga whales, and the polar bears are housed. Here the light is kept really low and the temp really cold so that the animals think it is the real thing. The theme is an artic research station so you walk through corrigated iron corridors full of mock 'supply' boxes and old fashion machines run with valves using old wind up handles. Its difficult to see the Baluga's in the dark and they move pretty fast.
And as usual the Polar Bear was asleep somewhere behind the icebergs - although we did see his nose.

Back ouside and the park is getting ready for Halloween. There is an additional evening show (which you pay more for) to see Shuma in the scary show. These displays were all over the park.

After that , it was a quick walk through the tunnel to see the sharks, and coral fish, time to see the sealions and then we opted to go back once more and see the Dolphin show as we had enjoyed it so much before heading out the park.

Back home with a reality bump.

I wanted to get all my holiday details on here but as ever real life gets in the way. So there are a few bits need recording before continuing with the good stuff.

On Thursday, because my CRB check has finally come through, I got a call at 8.40 asking me to go teach - in the school literally next door to the one I used to. It was really weird as some of the kids I was teaching in Year 4 were ones I had taught in reception. And the TA was one of the first TA's I had ever worked with in the other school.

Not only that but my best mate Jan works there, so we caught up on each other's news in the break. I was devasted to learn that her husband and our friend was due to have important and urgent open heart surgery!!

On Saturday Martin phoned me soon after he had gone to work to say he had had another break down (stress) and the manager and area manager were suggesting he step down a grade. He has decided to do this and in two weeks time should be moving to another store to become Warehouse manager.

And craft wise, I have now turned the house upside down looking for my cutting ruler and my zison scissors to no avail.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sea World

By now we had run out of ready cash (having only taken a small amount of ready money in dollars with us) so we had to get up a bit early to go find an ATM machine before heading to Sea World. Turns out there were lots of them in the actual theme park so we needn't have bothered. Anyway after paying the $10 parking at Sea World we headed into the park.

Another brilliant day. SeaWorld in Orlando is on the same block as Discovery Cove and is owned by the same people. Infact most of the Discovery dolphins started off in SeaWorld. It is much larger and even with a map we found the layout quite confusing and kept loosing our bearings.

There is so much to see, and thinking we only had the one day to cover it all, we didnt spend as long as we would have liked on each exhibition. But it was still a great day.

We started off watching the giant turtles swimming about but as not much was happening here we moved into the Penguin enclosure. The Penguins are housed behind glass in conditions as near representative of the Pole as is possible, which means it is kept so cold that it does actually really snow and the keepers have to be bundled up in loads of cold weather gear to
interact with them.

I could have watched all day but we moved on to the next part where puffins were kept behind glass in a similar way. Americans are so good at showmanship, and even here, appropriate 'puffin movement' music was being piped into the spectator hall (hopefully not to the Puffins though).

There are about 6 shows running throughout the day but the dolphin and the Shuma shows are the most popular so you need to plan out your day carefully and make sure you are at the right perfomance places well in advance of the start times. We were absolutely wrapped with the dolphin show which is very powerful,very colourful, with lots of trapeeze artists interacting and performing with the dolphins and small whales. We were astonished when suddenly 8 blue maccaws flew around the stadium in time to the music and even more surprised when a large black eagle joined the show.
Of couse it is always the non-performers who take part in the show who steal it, and it was the wild storks who were attempting to steal the dolphin's fish around the back of the stage who caught our eyes and made us smile.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stingrays and sharks

Discovery Cove doesn't just house dolphins, there is lots more to explore so after our interaction we went to look at what was on offer the other side of the bridge. Here there is a large man made beach, another lagoon complete with caves and waterfalls which joins onto a lazy river encircling the whole park. Slow moving with deep parts and shallow parts it takes a good 20 minutes to completely float around the whole thing.
So after a freebie snack and drink we enjoyed a slow relaxing go around that before heading into the stingray lagoon. Here the smaller rays, minus their barbs, are kept and again you can get in and paddle around with them. We were just enjoying watching them when a trainer arrived with a bag full of mackeral. Yes our timing was brilliant and we had arrived at a feeding time. Now my excuse was that I had hold of the camera so I got out of it but Martin was caught and so had to grab a handful of fish. You have to hold the food in your clenched fist ensuring your thumb is safely tucked in, the rays then swim up and litterally vacuumn suck the fish out of your grasp. They dont have teeth but do have flaps of skin that can give a bit of a nip, as Martin found out. He kept his thumb well hidden but his large knuckles stuck up and that is what the ray latched onto. Poor Martin, but what an experience.

So we took ourselves off back to the restaurant to console him on the all-you-can-eat lunch which again was excellent fare. Huge portions, lots of drink (Martin was a bit upset to find out there was free beer but as we had come in the car and he was designated driver he had to stick to the soft stuff) and delicious chocolate and cherry gateaux.
We couldnt really swim straight after such a huge meal so we had a bit of a wander around the avairy where you could get the birds to come right up and sit on your shoulder if you got yourself a pot of bird food. Plenty to see here for the bird lover and I was only dissappointed that there were no posters or labels up to let us know what all the bird species were. There are only so many times you can keep saying "and what's that one" to the handlers.

Another couple of floats round the park, a couple more freebie drinks and snacks and then the only pool left to explore was the larger rays, coral reef and shark one. This lagoon is much deeper and cold. You are supplied with a free snorkel so that you can swim underwater to watch all the coral fish, but neither of us could get on with these so we didnt see much. As well as that, the larger rays are much more agresive in their feeding and since yet again we had hit on a fish meal time, we had to make sure there was at least 10ft between us and the trainers. So for us this pool was a bit of a failure.

Anyway it was now getting on for home time so we hit the showers, got changed and headed off towards the exit. Where one last treat was waiting for us. Now I dont think this was part of the show but a guy had turned up with a wooden truck (quite a large box on wheels) in tow. We were curious to discover why so many people were crowding round. We could hardly believe it. In the box, free to be petted and quite happy with all the attention was a real live armadillo! I didnt manage to get a photo as the light levels were all wrong but I did get to touch it and stroke it. They feel a bit like cocoanuts LOL.

An extra surprise to a magical day.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I (swim/swam/swum) with dolphins!

It just doesn't seem right to have to wake to an alarm when you are away on your hols, but it was an hour's drive to Discovery Cove, and we needed to be there at 8am. I

f you ever do get the chance to go there, do this, then I cant recommend it highly enough. We had such a wonderful, super, and to take a word from the Americans, awesome, day. Discovery is not anywhere near as big as the other Theme Parks, but they pack a hell of a lot in. They only let in 1000 visitors a day, with about 75% of those booking interactions with the dolphins and it books up quickly. I can well understand why. It has a beautiful, lush tropical island feel with all the planting and meandering pathways, is clean, well organised, has high staff to guest ratio's,leaving you feeling relaxed and chilled out.

When we arrived (amongst some of the first, only row three back in the car park) we queued to show our tickets and ID. There were 8 booths and a member of staff at the head of the line chatting and directing proceedures. It was all very quick, our photo was taken and we were passed on to the next desk where, by the time we got there our waterproof maps and ID cards were hanging on a lanyard with our photos imprinted on them and our credit card details 'attached' to Martins. Now everything else could go in one of the free lockers and we didnt need anything else for the day because it was all provided.

Next we followed another member of staff down the winding path through the tall plantations where at a designated spot we were stopped and our complimentary photo of the two of us taken. Another staff member and on into the Park for real where we stopped again and the details of the day explained to us. All meals, snacks and drinks are included in the price as are towels, snorkels, wet suits, special animal friendly sun cream, shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. In fact the only thing we ended up paying for was some water wear shoes and a souvenir tee-shirt for me!

You are given a set time for your dolphin swim, and as ours was at 9.55am we opted to get changed before breakfasting, so following yet another staff member (all so friendly and reassuring) we wandered further down the right hand path to the wet suit/vest hand out and the changing rooms.
You could choose to wear either a cut off wet suit or a vest. Vests leave you with more maneuverability but wet suits keep you warmer. We went for the wet suits. Of course never having worn one before and with no instructions I managed to put mine in back to front. Embarrassed or what? And a short dumpy lady with not so long arms is no match for a wet suit. Martin had to tug quite hard to get it off me again. Anyway with everything stowed in the lockers, we headed back to the restaurant for our 'all you can eat' breakfast. Well scrummy. Heaps to choose from, all clean, tasty, well presented and lots of tables so room for all. It didn't seem long until our swim time came round.

There is a very large lagoon in the middle of the park which has been divided into four smaller lagoons. One is for the baby and 'still-in-training' dolphins and the other three are where the interactions take place
Trainers having their morning briefing by the 'nursery' lagoon.

Four dolphins can be found in each, and you are put into small groups of about 8 to each dolphin with a trainer and a helper. Our dolphin was Tyler, Erron his trainer. The dolphins work on hand signals and we were shown how to signal for him to put his head on our hands raising it up for a kiss! Yes, I kissed a dolphin!! I also stroked him, hugged him and eventually got to have a dorsal tow from him! Wow!! These creatures are just so incredible, they defy description.

Erron explained that nowadays America have made it a federal offence to interact in any way whatsoever (and that includes just waving at them from a boat) with dolphins found in the wild in USA waters. This is to protect them as they are becoming more and more friendly, loosing the skills to find their own food but also getting hurt. And since only yesterday I heard on the local news that Dave the Dolphin, our lad swimming off the Kent coast, has now had part of his tail sliced off by a boat propeller (sight seerers getting too close) I can understand the Americans reactions.

There was a young girl in our group who was obviously a bit wary, so Erron didn't really put Tyler through the same sort of paces which the other dolphins were seen to be doing later on in the day, but it was great to know she had been so considered of the little girls feelings. The dolphins are very controlled by the trainers signals so you don't really interact so much as watch/receive the trained tricks, that is until the dorsal tow. As I lay against Tyler's side, getting my hands in th
e correct place, I could feel his body quiver against me with excitement. This may be his nine-til-five day at the office job but it was clear he was having as much fun as the rest of us and was eager to show off.
Now as much as I don't want to criticise, I do have to say there was one point we were very disappointed with. The whole time you are in the water there are three photographers taking pictures. Erron even gave extra goes, if she thought the cameras had not caught the action. After the swim you were taken to see the resulting snaps. There were about 12 in all and for the princely sum of $65 (yes that is right - about £32) you could be the proud owner of 3 6x8 prints of your choice and 2 key ring fobs (same pics). Now why? Why charge such a high price? To my mind it was just emotional blackmail. You knew that possibly this was a once in a lifetime event, you did want photographic recording of your memories, you couldn't take photos yourself while swimming unless one of your group wasn't in the water. So I expect most people coughed up the money. But really, that was way too dear. The photos themselves weren't of professional standard (sorry if they were professionals but in the end they were only snap shots) and we had already paid a fair price for the day anyway. I have to say this was the only example I saw of tourists being ripped off all holiday and I really was disappointed about it. A wrench but no, we didn't get the photos. I went back and took random people doing what we had done. So that and what we have held in our heads is our reminder of a fantastic experience.

This was only the start of our day at Discovery Cove. More photos and tales to come.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

We dont want to go to Disney!

Our first full day in Orlando and Martin's first go at driving the American Highways (and first time at an automatic). We decided we would just explore I-Drive before going further afield. All we have though is a small map which is included in the mid pages of a freebie vouchers booklet, which only names the really main main roads. Still it cant be that hard can it? Of course it may have helped if the driver had informed his navigator that we were travelling south and not north! And do you know just how hard it is to turn round in America? It didn't take us long to realise we had made a mistake but there were no off ramps. No u-turn places. And eventually we passed under Mickey Mouse into Disney, a place we had no intention of visiting, and a place we had no admission tickets for.

Pretty soon we were in a queue to get into the Epcot car park, and still no way to turn the car around. So Martin (after some shouting at from his co-passenger) abandoned the car on the verge and went to ask the booth lady what we should do.
They must get loads of people doing it as they didnt bat an eyelid, just told us to drive through and take the first left.

We did that and then promptly got turned wrong again, ending up in Celebration village where the residents were all out holding a town yard sale! I tell you, we got to see allot of Orlando that day! We did manage to find a Target and a Joann and I got to do lots of stash shopping though.

That evening we ate in Sizzlers. I think Martin was rather confuddled by the choice of goodies that you could get from the 'all you can eat' buffet and managed to fill himself up before his entree came. I must admit it wasnt as good as I remembered it from Arizona (afte
r bigging it up to Mart), plus I think a bit of Jet Lag had hit us so not that successful a meal.

Day 3

The weather forecaster reckoned that it was going to be pretty shower
y on the East Coast so although we had planned to visit Cocoa Beach we swapped our itinerary around and headed out to Clearwater about an hours drive away. This was pretty handy as it meant we at least knew where we would find Discovery Cove when we headed out for our Dolphin Interaction the next day.
The Tampa Bay area really is beautiful, Clearwater is reached via a very very long causeway with water lapping on both sides.

It was very hot and quiet humid by the time we arrived, and to make matters worse I had managed my usual clever trick of getting blisters on my feet. The other mistake we had made was thinking we would not need beach towels so the first thing we had to do was find a shop selling those. Then we found the famous wooden pier. "Look at those big ducks by the end of the pier" I said. But when we got up there they werent ducks but real live wild pelicans. Loads of them. We were awestruck and spent ages just standing watching them diving for fish.

There were even more of them by the charter fishing boats on the other side of the road. We got up quite close and personal but that wasnt to be our first close encounter with the animals this holiday.

By now it was unbearably hot so we collapsed into the nearest shop to enjoy the coolness of the air con. and to purchase some head gear. Martin's hat was very sauve, I dont think you could say the same for mine.

After an icecream (where the local radio was playing and talking a really nice peice on the intestinal problems of most Americans) we had a quick swim and headed off back to I-Drive to grab some food.

There are so many good places to get a bite to eat on International that it is really hard to choose. As we walked along discussing the various virtus of each munching house, I stepped into a puddle left from the recent shower, and something extremley small but with very large teeth punctured my foot (bare from having to abandon my shoes because of the blisters). It was so excrusiating that I had tears streaming down my face as we walked along, so it was in desperation that Martin headed for the nearest restaurant - Chilli's, for a seat and some food. Well it was brilliant, the best ribs I have ever had (not hard its the first time I have sampled a whole rack of ribs) smoothered in spices and brown sugar, a mouthwatering corn on the cob and of course the obligitory chips (oops sorry fries). Billie, our waitress made us smile a bit too.

So stuffed to the gills we hobbled home (well I did) to our hotel, and set the alarm for our Dolphin encounter in the morning.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Back from across the pond.

Gosh what a fabby holiday we have had, I want to write it all up in detail but alas sky is playing up and limiting my limitless BB package at the mo, I shall see how far I get.

I have put on half a stone, been bitten, have blisters on my feet, jet lagged and a pile of ironing (having waded through two suitcases of washing yesterday). But it was certainly worth it.

While I have been away UKS have been hosting a three week cybercrop. I couldnt take part in much but I have played with some of my new stash goodies and lifted one of the amazing ScrapDolly's LO's for the Sunday scraplift challenge.

Dolly's is here

and this is my version

So this is going to be long and boring but I need to record it all someplace or I will forget all the fun we had.

Day 1- Leaving for Orlando

Dad had kindly offered (ok been pressganged) to drive us to Gatwick. I had given him very clear instructions on what time to come collect us, but he still managed to get
it a bit wrong. Poor Martin was in the conservatory ringing Mum and Dad to ensure they have got up, at the same time I am staggering downstairs in my PJ's to let them in at the front door! There has obviously been a bit of a domestic over it as Mum is certainly not happy at being dragged out of bed at 4.30 instead of 5.30 am!!

So a smooth departure, and even more improved when we spend an interesting hour sitting on the plane staring at the window to gate 25 while some hoppo legs it up to PC World to buy a new sensor for one the zillions of important monitors on board our plane - probably the one to say the tea kettle has boiled for the pilot, meaning we finally took off at 12.30 instead of 11. And let me tell you, 10 hours squished up on a plane long haul is really not fun.

Of course it was so worth it all for the glorious weather that met us as we pic
ked up our hire car!

The tropical shower and hurricane type winds didnt last long though, thank goodness, but humidity was high all week.

Day 2

We woke up to this veiw from our hotel room window, as we were on the side of Wet and Wild, and slightly set back from International Drive. There were real live turtles swimming in that lake.

And below us, the pool.

Breakfast in the Ramada was complimentary (for some reason this had replaced the bar which was a strange choice) and on the first morning was full of Portugese and Latino's who all seemed to know what they were doing. It turned out it really was a free for all, grab food and table and eat as much as you wanted. Fine, fun but took a bit of getting used to.

We had done as suggested and made an itinary, our first task to attend the MyTravel welcome meet, but the rep turned up at our table and suggested that if we didnt really w
ant to spend the whole day listening to her rabbit on, best not go. So instead we got in our car and went out to explore a little.

Watch this space - more adventures to follow!