Monthly Archives: April 2016

Our experience: SeaWorld

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The day we visited SeaWorld was sunny and hot, really hot. I did a bit of the homework and checked what shows were available, their locations and times, to try and plan a bit more the day. It worked kinda ok, except that we arrived there a bit later than planned and ended up changing the order of the shows a little.

The park was incredibly empty park, especially comparing to Universal Studios, which we visited a couple of days before, and it made us wonder if it was all the bad publicity that they had received in the past months/years, or if it is just because there is not that much to see and do.

The shows that we went to were:

Pets Ahoy – a presentation with pets (cats, dogs, mice, geese, pigs…). Seemed so random at SeWorld, but the girls liked it.

Pets Ahoy, cute show. Apparently these are all animals that SeaWorld rescued.

One Ocean – that’s the “famous” killer whales presentation. 25 years ago, they made the whales do way more things than now. Also, there was no trainers swimming with the whales this time. There is also an opening presentation talking about SeaWorld’s work rescuing animals, how important it is to respect the environment, etc. (*I thought it was part of One Ocean, but it’s a different “show”, just at the same place and just before the whales one. It’s called Ocean Discovery and it only happened at 11am, right the time that we were there). All full of good intentions, but the kids got extremely bored and didn’t enjoy the show that much. Laura was actually pretty annoyed that we were in the “wet area” and not a single drop of water came to us. I tried to explain to her that the whole thing wasn’t right, that we shouldn’t make wild animals do these things, that whales should never live in a tiny tank, that they belong in the ocean, etc, but she couldn’t care less about the whole thing. She just wasn’t impressed at all. I’m hoping it is a good thing, that she understands that there is no fun in seeing poor whales obeying a bunch of people in uniforms like they were in a circus.

The Orca shows are much low key now, after all the incidents in the past with trainers, etc. Amazing creatures, but so sad to see them performing shows like they are… pets.

Clyde & Seamore’s Sea Lion High – cute but a bit boring. Clyde and Seamore are two sea lions – from the size of it, I’m guessing they are like… teenagers? At the end, there was a giant one, who seemed VERY old. The kids didn’t enjoy it at all… they were more interested in eating popcorn than actually looking at what the poor sea lions were doing. Again, another tantrum from Laura for not being at the very front and getting wet.

Blue Horizons – we sat in the first row, Laura, Beatrice and I, so we could get proper wet. Unfortunately the view is not the best. Laura was really impressed with the show. Not so much with the dolphins – although she liked how agile and fast they were – but more with the acrobats. And of course, she was very pleased to get soaking wet. Beatrice hated and cried half way through and went to her father at the top.

Unlike the orca show, here the trainers interact a lot with the dolphins. It’s such a dynamic show and makes me feel guilty for loving it. Dolphins are adorable creatures and you can’t help but wish you could have one as a pet. Just wish, because it’s illegal (and wrong) to have one, ok? I saw very few in the wild; they are even better in their natural habitat!

 

Before the show, waiting and waiting. This hair is not wet from the sea water but from sweat. It was boiling hot and we were all sticky.

 

Changing positions, so I could protect them both from the splashes (they don’t like water on their faces, especially salty water)

 

Proper splashed, although I don’t think it’s possible to see how wet Laura’s tee was in this photo.

 

All wet – now from the show – and a bit happier after she changed clothes.

We missed all the animal talks and encounters, although we’ve seen the dolphins in the nursery and sharks and sting rays in a tank. Also, because we were so focussed on the shows, we missed some of the other attractions, such as the Antartica ride (40 min queues for the ride and 30 minutes non-ride), Turtle Trek, Wild Artic or Sky Tower. Nobody wanted to go to the roller coasters (although one of the boys went to Manta on his own). Both the other mum and I went to Journey to Atlantis, a water ride with a drop or two. They advertised it as you getting really wet, but it was no more than a few drops. The queue for this one was huge and so so slow… I think we were there for an hour.

The Dolphin Cove: we arrived there a few minutes too late and the food had finished. This was probably one of the encounters that we all felt sorry for missing. (I did feed and touch them 25 years ago, so I’m not THAT sorry).

The new roller coaster claims to be Orlando’s fastest, tallest and longest roller coaster. Have fun those who enjoy it; I’m not a roller coaster fan for nearly 10 years now.

We took the kids to Shamu Harbor and they finally started enjoying themselves for good. Until then, I had to listen to Laura moaning that “this trip is so boring, we only get to go where you want to go”. And we were thinking that we were planning a nice day for them… Finally it all changed at the kids area, and they went to the roller coaster a few times, a boat/slide thingy that both Laura and Beatrice loved, an elevator that drops and a few other rides. I went with Beatrice to other two baby-ish rides – a train and one of those “mad tea party” type of spinning cups, while the bigger girls went to the roller coaster, just because of height restrictions. Later we found out that they weren’t checking it at all. She ended up going to two other rides with height restrictions and nobody checked. There was little to no queues, which was brilliant.

 

The free fall elevator for kids. Check out Beatrice’s size on the thing.

 

Spinning round and round…

 

With a new friend at the choo-choo-train.

 

Spinning and going high up in the sky. That thing was tiny and really hard for an adult to squeeze in. Luckily I’m short, but the other couple… poor them.

 

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Beatrice enjoying the rocking-spinning boat, she went at least 3 times.

 

The beautiful sunset at the end of a long and hot day!

So the day started bad, with three very moody and impatient girls, not happy about anything, but ended up brilliantly, with them having so much fun at the kids rides. Absolutely no need for the animal shows, which makes you wonder whether it is even worth going there again, considering that we didn’t even bother with the adults rides.

Our experience: Universal Studios

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First time I went to Florida, Universal Studios didn’t even exist (I went in January 1990, it opened in June of that year), so I had no idea what to expect of this park. I read on a few blogs that Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures had very few things for small kids to do. Unfortunately I read those posts after getting the tickets. Anyhoo, having this info helped planned what to do there. One thing that I wasn’t prepared for was getting ill the night before going to the park. My theory is that I overate and ate the wrong stuff (which I’m not used to), so I spent the whole night in the bathroom and the following day I was miserable. But, hey, it was our first park and we were all excited, so let’s just pretend that nothing happened.

We started with Islands of Adventure, just because… we had a look at the map and saw that half of the park wasn’t worth even exploring with them because they couldn’t do anything. We went right, starting with Seuss Landing.

The Dr. Seuss area seemed to be designed for small kids but even some of the silly rides won’t take small children like Beatrice (minimum height: 40″). While Mr. C took Laura on the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, I went with Beatrice to the Caro-Seuss-El (carroussel in normal spelling). She loved it and wanted to go again and again. We also went to If I Ran A Zoo, which is a play area for very small children. She was ok there, but I got bored. We didn’t go to a couple of others, that seemed nice (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and The Cat in the Hat) because the queues were really long.

From there, we went to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Again, nothing much that we could do and we got stuck in a discussion of what to do: explore the area or get on the train to “London”, which took us to Universal Studios. We couldn’t decide and because the train was going out in 15 minutes, we decided to go. The kids didn’t have a clue who Happy Potter was, so it would have been fun for us, not them. Two attractions I wanted to go, though: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippograph (which was ok for kids 36″ or above, which I think is good for Beatrice). The Hogwarts Express was fund for them. Laura’s friend got scared, because it is loud and dark, but overall it was good fun for all of us. Laura got annoyed that we were back in London. 🙂

At Universal Studios we did very little. The queues were massive and it took us way too long to get anywhere. Our first stop was the Kang & Kodo’s Twirl ‘n Hurl, a bit boring for me (and I was sick of going round and round), but the girls seemed ok with it. We looked at the Simpsons Ride, but the wait was too long and I overheard a couple of girls saying it wasn’t worth for the wait. From there we managed to miss the Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone and went to see Shrek 4D instead, with a 50 minute long queue. It was good fun but again, the girls were sitting on the parents lap and were scared in some parts. The wait for the Despicable Me ride, just across the road from Shrek, was over 95 minute long. We weren’t in the mood for massive queues and, by the time left the Shrek experience, it was pissing down with rain. The boys wanted to go on the Rip Ride Rock It ride but it closed due to bad weather. So by then we were ready to leave and go home. Not without taking some pics with Scooby and friends – they were really nice.

In summary:

I feel like I can rate this one. It seems like a good park for older kids, teenagers and even adults, but when you have small kids that have absolutely zero patience for queues, it is not great. And because I was poorly, I wasn’t in the mood for walking a lot, I didn’t want to eat much (although was feeling weak) and all I wanted was to sleep.

The parks were packed. Also, the fact that you have two parks in one, one day is not enough to see the best things. There were plenty of interesting things to do, but not enough time.

I won’t go back there until Beatrice is big enough for most of the rides.

Meeting the Cat in the Hat and Thing 1 and Thing 2

 

Laura was in a bad mood here and didn’t want to pose for pictures

 

We met Scooby & friends just before getting to Shrek 4D experience and before it started pouring down with rain

 

The view to London, from the Simpsons ride

 

More of London

 

And we’re back!

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It’s been almost a week since we returned from holidays, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I managed to unpack our last luggage and wash the last holidays clothes.

The holidays were great and intense, we got back exhausted and suffering from mild jet-lag and the girls are nearly fully recovered. Going back to the routine was (is being) a bit harder than anticipated, because we had a few changes just after the holidays. To start with, Laura doesn’t go to breakfast club or after school club anymore, so we are getting used to different things in the morning and afternoon. Anyway, we will get there soon.

I am in the process of going through all the photos and sorting what to publish or not, so soon a bunch of Disney/Florida related posts. In the meantime, this is just to leave main details of our trip, even if for my future reference (I tend to forget where I went, what I did, where I stayed…).

We had a quick stop as our flight was to and from Miami. Orlando was way too expensive!! We booked the flight via an agency called Omegaflightstore.com, after a good research. It was expensive but the cheapest option for the dates we wanted. Note to self: Easter break is a very expensive time to fly around Europe and USA because it’s spring break and everyone is on holidays.

Our flight was British Airways, flown by American Airlines. With all due respect to the Americans and all the great things they have, airlines are not one of them. American Airlines suck big time and I don’t think it will ever change. Three days before flying, the agency contacted us saying that the airline (BA) had cancelled our flight and we – passengers – had to contact them to sort it out. So we booked with an agency, the airline kicks us out of the flight and it is our problem. Good. Mr. C was on one line with BA and I was on another with the agency. BA saying it was the agency’s fault (for not reissuing another eticket, when the flight time was changed in December), the agency saying that it was BA’s fault, because they did everything they had to. The agency had indeed sent us a new etickets, which we told BA and of course, BA realised that somebody their end screwed up. And this is where AA comes to play. American Airlines simply cancelled the flight and didn’t tell anybody or tried to sort the problem. An hour later, lots of panic, several private messages with BA on Twitter, hubby on hold on the phone, BA finally put us on another flight, two hours later. At least we were going. The agency told us that we could ask for compensation at the airport, but at the time we didn’t understand what they meant. At the airport, finally the penny dropped. American had “cancelled” several flights (overbooked them and had to kick passengers out of the flights) and was giving $800 for those who volunteered to go on a different flight. The thing is: they didn’t tell us that – they acted like it was all normal and let’s move on. When we asked them about the $800 compensation (there was a paper on the check in desk), the lady then told us to go to customer service and ask about it. We were tired, late to go through security but we decided not to go until this was sorted. So now we are the “happy” owners of $800 voucher to spend on a trip flying American Airlines. Yay…

In Miami, we stayed in a one bedroom flat in Mare Azur by Grand Bay as we arrived late and didn’t want to drive to Orlando on the same day. The apartment was really good, spacious (now this is something I am so jealous of the Americans: space), well equipped, great view, free wifi and, although not by the beach, it was 20 min drive to one. Parking is available at $15/day.

Speaking of parking, the car we rented had to be upgraded due to the amount of luggages (and people) we had. We rented via easycars.com but the provider was Alamo. The car was really good (it was almost like climbing a hill to get to it, but I’m short, my bad) but consumed a lot of petrol. Luckily, big cars are common in the US and it was easy to park it everywhere. Something like that in the UK wouldn’t even get through some roads.

I need one of those! Washing machine and tumble dryer occupying minimum space.

 

Swimming pool at Mare Azur. We didn’t use it, but the water was nice and warm.

 

The “little” kitchen that had it all. The microwave is huge compare to ours. The fridge/freezer too.

 

The view of our flat in Miami (Mare Azur)

The view… I could get used to that every morning.

 

Flat in Mare Azur (living room)

There was a king size bed in the bedroom and a sofa-bed in the living room.

 

Car in Florida

Our car during our holidays

 

She was very comfy at the back (3rd row)

Our accommodation in Kissimmee was great too. We rented a four-bedroom house with private swimming pool that we only used one day. The house was just next door to Medieval Times, but we didn’t go to this one. The house was arranged by a friend Luciana Misura, who is a Disney travel agent in the US (she is Brazilian, but fluent in English) and sorted out most of our trip. She didn’t charge anything to suggest an itinerary, book the tickets and the house, and it was really good to go via her as her suggestions about busiest park days, etc, were spot on. She also booked the character lunches at Hollywood Studios and Epcot Centre for us, but we were late to decide what to do and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique was full for the days we were there.

We had a minor incident with the house and the emergency numbers – one of the bedrooms door was locked from the inside and the couple that was sleeping there couldn’t get in. All their things, money, Disney passes, clothes, etc, were in there, so it wasn’t like they could leave it to the next day. We called the emergency number but they didn’t show up at all – we saw a missed called at 11am and we guess it was from them. In the end, we had to go to Walmart to get some tools to open the room. This was in the evening and we had a late night because of that. All sorted though and the agency was actually good at sorting other things for us, like getting a toaster and a frying pan that we didn’t have, and – oh dear, I see a pattern here – unlock the main door that we managed to lock from the inside. The later was easier to sort, because we were ready to go to the parks and had all our stuff (except for the other family’s Disney card) with us. When we returned home, it was all sorted for us. So, despite the issue we had, I do recommend the place (Bella Vida Resort) and would stay there again. I must say that we didn’t use any of their facilities, like common swimming pool, gym, etc.

Our private pool, protected by net. Now this was something that surprised me – all the houses that we saw had this net at the back. I though it was to keep alligators away, but it’s just for insects. 🙂

 

By night

 

The kitchen-living area. Did I mention that I could easily live here?

 

From the kitchen…. 

Don’t forget:

Travel insurance – this is a must. The prices will depend on what you choose and the cover. We mainly took for medical costs. We used Insure and go, but I can’t really recommend it or not.

ESTA visa if you are British – British citizen don’t need to apply for visas to enter in the US, but they need to have a valid ESTA. It costs $14 per person (including kids) and you will need to apply at least 72 hours before your trip. Once you have it, it’s valid for a couple of years.

Living the Disney dream

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And we have finally made it as a family! We are in Orlando for our first Disney holidays. It’s my second, but first time I was here was 25 years ago, a LOT has changed (for good and bad).

It’s early days to give any in depth review of our experience and the best is still to come. So far, things worth mentioning are:

1. The weather is amazing here. But my kids are too British now and they can’t cope with 30 degrees. They are melting!! I’m as happy as Larry and I couldn’t ask for more. The sun is quite strong though and hard to spend 8 hours under it, so cloudy (but warm, hear that UK?) is welcome and good.

2. Everything is big as it was and as it will always be. Big cars, big fridges, big houses, big packages of everything in the supermarket. Some are good things, some unnecessary. 

3. The kids… Oh, kids… Goodness, kids!!! Where have I gone so wrong??? Are they broken???? For crying out loud, we are on holidays, destination chosen for them and yet, it’s 70% complain, 15% indifference and 15% hapinness. 0% gratitude. Nothing is good, unless you shove ice cream and crisps. Nothing against treats during holidays, but the thing I’ve noticed is that they are not happy because of the experience, but because of the crisps and ice cream. Basically, if we stay at home eatingg ice cream or go to Disney without ice cream, the house wins. By far.

4. On the other hand, when they like something, they REALLY like it. And that’s why water parks are a winner for us. They love them and we live them! They also loved some of the rides at Universal Studios and Sea World and the meet and greet with characters (but can’t stand the queues).

5. Staying in self catering house has lots of pros and cons. I think it was a good choice for us, given the price we are paying, the duration of the trip and the location. If we were staying just a week and only going to Disney, I would probably have trying to stay at one of their resorts. 

6. We are struggling to find the best way to handle our days… They are far too long for the girls and by the end of it, they are ready to kill each other and exploding for no reason. It is very stressful for them and we even tried to cut a day short once, only to get stuck in traffic and end up at home at the same time as we would if we waited another hour or so. Maybe they will get used to it (she hopes).

7. I have problems with the military planning for Disney/Orlando trips I’ve read on blogs; the  lack of spontaneity of these trips drive me crazy, but you know what? It’s needed. This is not your usual holidays, this is a boot camp! It is an military operation to have fun. You have to know, plan, book, reserve, arrange, write down, download, learn, read, call, act upon… Want a relaxing holidays to wind down from a stressful period at work? This is NOT your destination, unless you go every year and are not bother about seeing much. We decided to take the approach of seeing one of two things and whatever comes extra is a bonus.

8. If you are not used to eating the food, don’t over eat it. I think I did (or maybe it was something I ate) and was in really bad shape: a whole night awake putting a week’s worth of meals out. And the next day had to find strength to go to Universal Studios. Not fun. I learned my lesson the hard way (unless it was something specific I ate).

9. So far, prices are very comparable to the UK. Some few stuff might be cheaper, but we haven’t seen that many items worth our dollars.

10. Being online in a trip like this is proving very hard to me. Wifi in all the park, but I need to look after the kids, enjoy the shows, etc. And now it’s 11pm, I’m dead and having a hard time to write this post. 

(Photos in a strange order)

 

Our car: the average size here

  

Our house in Kissimmee

  

our bedroom (very messy!) with a closet – live that all have this mini closet

  

My very first trip to a Whole Food Market

  

Our private pool, by night

  

our private pool, by day