Thursday, 17 March 2011

Universal's Islands of Adventure

Firstly let me say right away that we were soooooo looking forward to Universal we could barely keep the smile from our faces.  You see, for those of you not in the know, Universal's Islands of Adventure houses the ultimate in park attractions for millions of people around the world, namely The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Heaven!

As you can imagine, upon arriving at the park this was to be our first port of call.............or
so we thought!  We headed straight through the park, past the hoards of tourists queuing for Jurassic Park and Spiderman, with our sights firmly set upon Hogsmeade.  We rounded the corner to be told that the 'area' was at capacity and everyone wishing to visit had to get a return pass.  We'd heard about the great 'Harry Potter queues' but kind of thought that due to it being early in the day, midweek and the middle of February queueing would be in our favour.  Nevertheless, we hovered around the park and returned two hours later.  The 'world' itself is made up of the little village of Hogsmeade complete with many of the shops and sights from JK Rowlings imagination and Hogwarts castle. 

The Three Broomsticks, Ollivanders, Honeydukes and Zonko's were all present but were a little disappointing.  Choice of stock was limited and compared to Disney seemed very expensive.  The queue for Ollivanders alone was longer than that for any of the rides within the area, hence to say we didn't bother but all bought wands from the little stall outside Hogwarts.  Butterbeer however is delicious!  We bought 2 large tankards (which you get to keep afterwards) one was liquid and one was frozen - we had a great debate of which one was the nicest.  Without giving too much away Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a must.  The queueing area takes you through Hogwarts castle with many famous sights along the way.  Once through the queuing area we boarded 4 seater cars that took you on an amazing journey through Harry's world.  I'm embarassed to say I had my eyes closed for much of it especially due to inclusion of spiders!  You may be picking up a bit of a theme here that, yes, I'm basically a coward.

Now, other than the Harry Potter section of the park I have to say we were very disappointed on the whole with Islands of Adventure.  This may have a lot to do with the fact that, as I've said before, we're not big on 'rides' and this really is a 'rides' kind of park.  We did go in the Jurassic Park Discovery Centre and upon entering it all looked great, all decced out like in the movie but then after spending a bit of time in there it just seemed to be lacking.  We all agreed that it could have been made a whole lot better.

One things for sure though, we will never be returning to Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoopendus. The name Circus McGurkus Cafe Sick would be more appropriate!  The food here was just horrible - all precooked and left on warming plates, fries were like rubber and tables not cleaned.  In fact I had to clean our own table before we could sit down.  There just weren't enough staff to keep up with the sheer volume of customers.  The music was also ridiculously loud that you couldn't even hold a conversation.  Strangely enough, within 24 hours we'd all been a little ill!  We made our feelings quite clear to the market researchers who were keen to get our opinion outside the park.

So that's it, my post on Islands of Adventure is at an end and is probably half the length of the posts I've written on Disney.......................this should tell you something :)

Monday, 14 March 2011

Our Animal Kingdom Adventure

The second park we chose to visit during our break was Disney's Animal Kingdom.  I'd been looking forward to this one a lot and believe me, it didn't disappoint.  After swotting up on our park trivia we decided it best to head straight over to Kilamanjaro Safari's first thing as this attraction can get very busy as the day rolls by.  Even after dashing past the hoards of tourists a huge queue awaited us so we decided to grab a fast pass and head back an hour later.  Once again, it was worth the wait! We headed out on 'Simba 1', a 32 seater all terrain truck with the most fantastic driver.  We were given opportunities to snap the local wildlife such as elephants, lions, hippo's and aligators and even assist in deterring the local poachers!

Other attractions we visited whilst at Animal Kingdom were Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and the Maharajah Jungle Trek.  In Pangani we had a close up view of the gorillas and one in particular who decided to put a large plastic bowl on his head and walk around showing it off.  During the Jungle Trek we watched tigers roaming around the crumbling asian and Fruit Bats hanging eerily in the trees.

Now, my next moment of stupidity came when my darling husband and son suggested / persueded 'A' and I to participate in 'Kali River Rapids'.  Let me tell you now, I was not keen on the idea from the start but after seeing others exit the ride with only minor dampness I thought my fears were unfounded.  Keeping us company on our rocky trip were an american family with 2 young boys and an american lady who'd done the ride before - all of whom were wearing the very fetching Disney ponchos.  As we trundled away around the route with a bit of a splash here and there I thought, "ooooh, this isn't too bad", in fact I was quite enjoying it!  That was until I descended down a rather steep slope, hit the water backwards and was engulfed by an absolute wall of water that completely took my breath away.  Of course, 'P' and 'S' thought this was hilarious, even more so due to the fact that the only two people in the raft who didn't want to get on in the first place were the ones who were now completely drenched, namely 'A' and myself!  Now, I've heard people tell tale of water rides and how they had to dry out afterwards but believe me when I say this was no moderate 'dampness', there was not a dry stitch of fabric anywhere on my body from head to toe, in fact I was so wet you could have rung my clothes out!

Because of my excessive 'moistness' we decided to spend the next couple of hours in the sun, strolling around the different sections of the park, shopping and watching Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade.  We had our pictures took with Baloo the bear and King Louie from Jungle Book and had a great chat with cast member 'Bagio' who was very keen to check whether 'A' had been invited to THE wedding.  In fact Bagio was the first of many Americans to ask us about the upcoming event of the year!

The absolute pinnacle for me at Animal Kingdom was Festival of the Lion King.  This was a 30 minute broadway-esque show which included huge moving animals, fire eating, acrobatics, singing, dancing and audience participation.  It was a real spine tingler so imagine my disappointment when the video camera ran out of battery half way through - darn it!  Upon our second visit to Animal Kingdom we also visited Finding Nemo-The Musical which was yet another larger than life, colourful display where the action took place not only on the stage but also out in the audience so you felt like you were really part of the fun.

Our day with the animals ended with two super character meetings - Goofy and Lilo & Stitch and a trip to the Rainforest Cafe.  Goofy was so much fun!  He grabbed 'A's autograph book and played around with her, holding it just out of reach so she couldn't get it and then pretty much demanded a kiss in order to give it back :).  'A' was chuffed to bits with meeting Stitch as he's her favourite Disney character.  The Rainforest Cafe served up by far the best food we had during our stay in Florida and the surroundings with included moving animals, screeching apes and repeated thunder and lightning that occurred periodically during our visit.  A great end to a great day!

[caption id="attachment_632" align="alignright" width="317" caption="Waterfall in the Rainforest Cafe"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_631" align="alignleft" width="212" caption="Vines in the Rainforest Cafe"][/caption]









Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Magic of Disney - Welcome to the Kingdom!

So, we arrived, villa was lovely and after spending a chill out day by the pool our first port of call was then to be Disney's Magic Kingdom.  This was mostly down to my choice but in my eyes we couldn't possibly think of starting our Disney's vacation anywhere else!  I think on the day we headed out I was more excited than the kids!

"Cinderella's Castle from Main Street"

Everyone who's been to Disney tells you about the magic and in particular Magic Kingdom but nothing can prepare you for the tingle you feel that first time you walk down Main Street and see Cinderella's Castle standing majestically in front of you.  Even as a child I can remember wondering if I'd ever get to see the castle for myself one day and then standing there........I couldn't quite believe it was finally real!  Main Street itself is just lovely with authentic looking buildings adorning each side of the street, flowers, hanging baskets, immaculately kept lawns and music coming from all directions.  Even the litter bins, fences and lamposts are inkeeping with the theme of the particular section of the park you're in.  Mickey Mouse is just everywhere from fence railings to the tread on the tyres of parade vehicles, in fact it's quite fun to look out for 'hidden' mickey's whilst on your travels.

"Splash Mountain"

We knew before we headed to Florida that 'S', 'A' and myself were not big 'ride' people but we were determined to try as much as we could stomach!  Our first stop off at Magic Kingdom was Splash Mountain where 'A' nearly backed out at the last minute.  After some persuasion we all boarded the little boat, twisting and turning with a couple of little drops before the final 52ft drop and huge splash.  I think I actually left my stomach behind somewhere on the way down and also discovered that I have the ability to scream quite loudly when frightened poo-less (regardless of the fact my eyes were shut tight) ! :)

"Mickey's Move It Shake It Street Party"

We visited far too many rides at Magic Kingdom to tell you about all of them but some of our favourites were Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World, Monters Inc Laughter Floor (where guess who's very surprised face was first to appear on the huge screen for all to see?!), Buzz Lightyears Space Ranger Spin, Tom Sawyers Island and Mickey's Philarmagic.  The time flies by so quickly while you're in the park but along with the many rides, we also queued for autographs, took many many photo's, watched shows and generally absorbed the beautiful surroundings.  We reserved ourselves little spots throughout the day to watch the various parades which were always wonderful, superbly organised and full of smiles and energy.  Cast members are extremely friendly and helpful just as you'd expect and nothing is too much trouble.

'A' meeting Mary Poppins"

On our first visit we stayed for 'The Magic, The Memories and You' a light projection show where pictures, colours and animations are projected onto the castle itself and also the parks 'Wishes' fireworks display narrated by none other than Jiminy Cricket himself! On our second visit we were lucky enough to have 'accidently' planned a day when the parks 'Main Street Electrical Parade' was scheduled.  This was just spellbinding with many different floats and characters adorned in thousands of coloured lights.  Our pictures and video just don't do it justice.

Exiting the park each night was an experience in itself but on our second visit we decided to leave via the ferry that travels from Magic Kingdom, across Bay Lake and back to the Transportation and Ticket Centre.  We found this to be a much less crowded and relaxing trip rather than the monorail we'd travelled by on our first visit plus the view of Cinderella's Castle across the lake at night was just to die for!

All in all Magic Kingdom was by far the favourite park of us all, just for it's sheer wow factor.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

We have returned.........

Well here we are, back in 'not so sunny' old England after our lovely 3 week holiday in Florida - what a contrast!  We've gone from temperatures in the mid 70's - mid 80's to temperatures closer to 50f and even snow up in the North! I mean, come on, it is March now after all, I did expect to come home to at least a little warmth!

So, the holiday of a lifetime, where do I start?!   It's hard to believe now that we were there for 3 weeks as the time just seemed to fly by. During our stay we visited all four of the Disney parks - Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, Universal Parks - Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, Kennedy Space Centre, Discovery Cove plus Downtown Disney and Universal Citywalk.  After such an action packed vacation I think I'll have to break my 'report' into separate blogs or I'll never get it all in! :)

So here number 1..............

The Villa!

We chose to stay at a villa located on 'Tuscan Ridge', Davenport which we found online through a google search.  We'd looked at so many villas that it was hard to choose but we liked the fact that 'The Elm' had a great website packed with information and pics and the absolute selling point was the fact that it had both a pool and jacuzzi that were South facing.  We contacted Gary & Anne the owners and right from the start the communication we received from them was first class.  We were offered a discount due to our long stay and even received a Christmas card from them which we thought was a lovely personal touch.  Prior to the holiday itself Gary sent through super detailed directions to take us from the airport to the villa which included photographs of signs and junctions to really make things clear.

The villa itself was just lovely and exceeded all our expectations.  It had 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, living room with dining area, family room, large kitchen / dining room, games room, laundry room plus of course the most important part.............the pool and spa.  The villa had a wonderful light and airy feel and felt like a real home from home.  There were TV's in pretty much every room along with a Playstation 3 in the family room and Playstation 2 in the smaller bedroom.  The family room sideboard was stacked with family board games and 'A' was chuffed to bits to find a basket full of Jacqueline Wilson books in her bedroom.  The villa was so spacious that we found ourselves only using the family room and kitchen area during our stay with the living room / dining area being as untouched when we left as when we'd arrived!  Each bedroom had plenty of storage space and the master bedroom had a walk-in wardrobe that put 'A's bedroom back home to shame!

The kitchen was well stocked with plates, cups, glasses and so on and the appliances were just fab especially the washing machine and tumble dryer which I used on numerous occasions.  For the first time ever I returned home with almost no dirty laundry which was just wonderful!  The games room housed a very good pool and football table.  We found this was great for the kids to play on especially 'S'  who tended to play whilst we were getting ready to leave for the parks each day or after returning in the evening.

Due to the length of our stay we were lucky enough to be able to have quite a few leisurely days by the pool.  We'd heard many people say how tiring the parks can be but we didn't quite believe just HOW tired we were!  It was lovely to have a 'day off' every few days where we'd sit in the sun, swim in the pool then head off shopping or for a meal later in the day.  There was a great selection of outside furniture and even a box of inflatables to use in the pool (which we made great use of!).  The pool truly was South facing which meant that we got the sun from early on a morning until it set around 6.30 each night. 'A' made great progress with her swimming while we were there and is now able to swim quite confidently under the water.  Even I made progress with my fear of water as by the last day I'd managed to submerge myself and swim and whole length with my face in the water!  This may not seem like much, but will come as a great surprise to those of you who know me well!

I tried to think of some negative points to make about 'The Elm' to make this a really unbiased review but I honestly can't think of any! We loved every minute we spent there and it just felt so comfortable returning each day after a hard day of disney-ing.  I would recommend 'The Elm' to anyone who's looking for a good value, luxurious villa whilst visiting Florida and I just hope that we can return again in the not too distant future.

For further information on 'The Elm' please visit where lots more photos and information are available.  You can also email and I'm sure Gary or Anne will be very pleased to help you.

Please mention that you read great things on Tales from a Mother, Musician and Multi-tasker!