To Siesta Key…And Beyond Tour 2017 – Day Four April 14th 2017

Day four already? This trip will soon be over for the second time before we know it.

No alarms were set this morning and I rose majestically without any need for encouragement at 7am. I got out of bed shortly afterwards too.

It took the usual hour and a bit for everyone to be ready and our first stop was at the gift shop in reception. Louise needed to buy a cover up T-shirt as, amazingly, she had somehow got herself sunburned. How this happened is a mystery to us all.

With one “Yes I am Tourist” Universal Studios T-shirt secured and adorned we could start the day. We water taxied again, tolerating yet more dreadful weather…

and arrived into the park at 8.50. Top of our list today was the new (to us) Kong ride. The ten minute walk from the entrance to the ride felt longer than that but we Expressed our way in just after 9.

Since this ride opened Emily has had a never-ending panic attack at the thought of encountering scare actors in the queue. This made the walk through the queue area a little nervy for her but thankfully for her it turns out there weren’t any in the Express queue.

As with most rides, the first time is a bit of a blur looking back. I was impressed with it though and it is something a little different to traditional rides with the mix of actual ride stuff and the 3D film elements.

Having ticked off our main objective before the park got busy naturally we needed food having only had a light snack last night. We walked back into the Marvel area in search of something stupidly unhealthy….apart from me.

Emily and I struck out at a proper walking pace having left Louise to sunbathe on a bench. Yes, she was already burnt, but this made perfect sense and should not be questioned.

Like some sort of sugar filled tractor beam our bodies ended up outside Cinnabon, which had a handy Starbucks next to it. I drank whatever Emily ordered and we got some stuff from Cinnabon that you’d struggle to qualify as food. It was ridiculously good.

We walked back to Louise, juggling our haul and made it to a bench with an umbrella not far from Spiderman.

With a huge sugar rush surging through my system it made perfect sense to add a good dose of adrenalin to that so we went to ride the Hulk. We Expressed but it was a slightly disappointing fifteen minutes. Again, a locker was required. These new lockers are operated by your park ticket which is a neat idea, but Universal do employ one member of staff to stand by the lockers with a microphone repeating “Do not lock your park ticket in the locker!” endlessly, over and over and over and over.

The fact that despite this I very nearly did proves that humans are stupid.

After its big refurb, I have to say I didn’t spot a great deal of difference but I can’t say that I memorised how it was before. The start of the ride felt a little quicker but that could be my accelerating old age. It remains a great ride and a guaranteed trigger for my roller coaster Tourettes.

Somehow Mum & Dad were waiting for us as we exited the ride. Perhaps they heard my swearing as I rode?

Those with an Express ticket rode Spiderman next, whilst those who didn’t had a sit under the same umbrella we breakfasted under. Again, it was a fifteen minute queue.

We made our way into the Jurassic area of the park and got a drink. It was hot today. I was taking a photo of Emily and Mum resting on a wall (there doesn’t need to be a reason, OK?) when a kind lady offered to take one of the three of us.

As I took my place on the wall I whispered to Emily that if this nutter did a runner with my camera, as the youngest it was her job to chase her down.

Now, just to be clear for those in a panic at that photo. That is Dad’s rucksack. Being a good son (sometimes) I took it off him to make his walking around a bit easier. Ryan was back in our room enjoying the facilities unaware of my infidelity.

I apologise for my rare appearance in a photo.

We all joined the non Express queue for the Jurassic River thingy with the promise of a thirty minute wait. As we entered, staff were rejigging the queue rope things to extend it and altering the wait time to 45 minutes. I submitted an immediate written complaint and stood there and sucked it up.

We got a lot less wet than I remember. Emily seemed to have finally conquered her childhood terror and fear of this ride caused by some idiot parents taking her on it when she didn’t want to at a young age.

We wandered on for a bit and entered the discovery centre in search of some cool air.

There wasn’t much else of interest in there to be honest so we made our way out of the rear of the building to discover a lovely view.

After a few minutes taking that in and posting it on Facebook to remind everyone we were here and they weren’t, we walked on a bit going nowhere in particular.

For regular readers, this is a special moment. We’d eaten a lot recently and it was therefore probably inevitable that at this point I encountered, for the first time this trip, turtle head.

That (attempt at a) joke feels like a member of the family I am so familiar with it. As I took the camera out to take that photo, Louise began to ask me why and then stopped. She knew….we all knew.

Having already spent her allocated shopping budget for this trip on that very special Universal Studios T-shirt this morning, Louise was going crazy trying to find some sandals. It is as inevitable as the turtle head joke that a few days into the trip, whatever footwear Louise has brought with her will no longer be suitable and we must undertake a mission to find ones that are. We went into EVERY shop on our wanders, with no joy.

Her pain would have to continue…..and I did.

I do try to give my own wardrobe choices a little thought. For example, it is not the done thing to wear Disney merchandise in Universal and vice versa. Knowing which park we were doing today and that it included a certain ride, I had chosen this one today.

I am actually more muscular under the T-shirt, but not green.

We found ourselves in the Seuss bit of the park

and Emily and I used our Express specialness to go on One Fish, Two Fish.

Sure, we are 46 and 21 and every other rider was not, but we cared not one jot.

It was time for another tactical meal, which required us to satisfy our immediate hunger (which was mild) and yet still leave our bodies ready for tonight’s inevitable onslaught. We chose the Croissant Moon Bakery as it was close and we had eaten there before so we knew they did sandwiches etc. Their isn’t a huge amount of choice but it did the job.

I failed to record what everyone had and to take any photos other than these…

You can do a post-mortem to figure out what we had just eaten. I think I had a hogie but I would probably be able to get a cream for that when we called at the pharmacy next.

We walked back to Spiderman so that Mum & Dad could ride and then headed for the wet rides. Mum and Dad declined the chance to get wet through on Dudley Do Right so the three of us entered via Express. Whenever you enter this ride you know that every item of clothing you are in will be drenched. What you don’t expect is to get into that state before you get on the ride itself. As we walked through the queue, above us a boat cornered and threw out a huge wave of water over the edge to unsuspecting idiots below which with perfect timing, I walked into.

My shock was only matched by Louise and Emily’s laughter. I buried my anger deep and plotted my dastardly revenge whilst stood in a stupidly long queue for us Express special people. The ice cool air conditioning was a joy for anyone who had just been soaked to the skin. Thirty minutes with Express isn’t really acceptable in my spoiled, over entitled head.

Everyone who walks from Dudley Do Right’s to the Bilgerats ride says things like “Well, we can’t get any wetter”. Everyone is wrong. You absolutely can.

We joined the muggle queue so that we could all ride together and it was annoyingly longer than the 20 minutes posted. As usual we got wetness in places that hadn’t been wet for a long time. We left the raft and quickly noticed that we were missing a member of our party.

We turned around to see Mum still sat in the barge. Maybe she wanted to ride again? Turns out she couldn’t get the seat belt off and the barge was moving round ever closer to her having to ride the thing all over again. Dad was trying to free her and then several members of staff also boarded the vessel in an attempt to free the Bolton One.

The rest of us of course stood watching and laughing.

With moments to spare the seat belt was opened and another ride averted.

Too wet to do anything else now we headed for the exit. Emily and I went in the opposite direction to everyone else as she wanted to buy a sweat shirt she had seen at the Jurassic River Ride earlier. After making that purchase we continued to do a full loop of the park at full walking pace. It felt good.

The park was very busy now, especially around Potter and we did our best full speed walking, people dodging moves to make our way back to the entrance. Feeling a tiny bit peckish we stopped for a quick snack.

We only wanted a churro and a pretzel yet were subjected to one of the most frustrating waits of the entire trip. That family at the front appeared to be doing their weekly grocery shop here and then paying with about six different credit cards. I have seldom tutted so loudly.

We ate our snacks as we walked to meet the others hoping to have done so before we got there to avoid any unnecessary sharing. We all walked back to the water taxi and then I drove Mum & Dad back “home”.

Louise and Emily did their lady readying things for a while and we left at 6.05. No doubt I had said we needed to leave at 6, but they do it out of spite. The traffic was awful for some reason so it took ten minutes to get to Mum & Dad and then much longer than I had planned it would to get to the Poly for our dinner at ‘Ohana. After a stressful, steering wheel gripping, teeth grinding journey we arrived at 7.10.

Before our meal we went to Trader Sam’s for a drink and hopefully some fun.

The only seats were those at the bar, so we mounted a stool each and looked at the cocktail menu. For those not familiar with this place, it is a grown up, cocktail serving version of Whispering Canyon. If you haven’t been to Whispering Canyon then I can’t help you.

Various rum based cocktails were ordered. I have no idea what they were, other than I had a Skipper Sipper which was from the “I’m driving” section of the menu.

I did taste Dad’s cocktail and it was what I imagine petrol to taste like. Bloody hell it was strong and he had to really battle through it to get it down. Louise had less trouble. You won’t be surprised to learn that she ordered a cocktail which was intended for sharing.

The bar tenders are very entertaining and there are several “show pieces” they do when certain drinks are ordered, but I won’t spoil those.

We did two rounds of drinks. Louise was sat at one end of the bar and I at the other and we had “chosen” the two comedy bar stools that slowly lower themselves to the ground. She can probably blame the drink but I noticed fairly quickly and stood up for a bit. About five minutes later Louise turned to her side to find she was looking at everyone’s knees and wondered if she’d fallen over.

Being the tourist suckers we are, we purchased every souvenir glass it was possible to do so and with that in mid our bar bill was somewhere close to our monthly mortgage. Well, we are on holiday.

With four fifths of the party now a little worse for wear we had to find ‘Ohana and check in. As is always the case it seems, as we got to the check in podium there was a family in front of us taking much longer than it should to undertake a simple task. We stood waiting for almost ten minutes as they faffed and discussed why the poor cast member couldn’t find their reservation. They resorted to texting someone called Kay to ask what name the reservation would be in. Then Kay was asked what time it was made for and how many people it was made for. Rather than call Kay and find all this out in one go, we waited for the texts to come back with dwindling patience.

What they didn’t ask Kay was which fecking restaurant their reservation was for. Turns out it was Kona Kafe. Thanks Kay. How we laughed and laughed. The cast member smiled and wished them a magical day as did we all.

We took about seven seconds to check in and started the wait for our table.

After about ten minutes we were seated. I don’t know what the odds of this are but we were shown to the exact same table we had the last time we were here …

The bread and salad arrived immediately and were lovely.

Then the mains started to arrive…

Shortly after that several men turned up waving their meaty swords at us. We were also served chicken, shrimp and steak and it was awesome.

We ate more than any human should. Dad had a really bad attack of heartburn towards the end of the meal. I think his rum cocktail was melting his insides to be honest. He had some milk and a visit to the loo and felt a bit better.

It didn’t matter how full we were, pudding had to be done as it was the main reason we had booked this place.

We all shared this…

It was incredible and probably took a couple of years off my life expectancy.

At 9.40 we paid and wandered down to the beach to find a spot to watch Wishes from the beach.

The music was inaudible/non-existent so we were probably sat in the wrong place, but the view was great.

My camera skills were less great so I will only share a couple of my attempts.

We meandered back to the car with a stop at the front desk as Louise had left her sunglasses on the table in the restaurant. Luckily they had been discovered and handed in. Those cocktails have a lot to answer for.

The drive home and the drop off for Mum & Dad were uneventful and we were all in bed by 11.30 thinking about which clothes might still fit us tomorrow.

Till the next time…..

To Siesta Key…And Beyond Tour 2017 – Day Two April 12th 2017

I have to confess that I have been procrastinating. Tackling day two has felt like an increasing weight on my shoulders as the week has rumbled on. Why you ask? Well, even if you don’t I’ll tell you. Day Two, the first full day of the trip is so full of promise, excitement and hope that sat here now, in a rainy Bolton, as far from going on another holiday as it is possible to be, I’m finding it hard to put myself through it. My heart is broken that I am not now just starting the holiday all over again, wrapped in the comfort blanket of the hot Floridian sun, feeling more at home than I do at home with all that holiday laid out untouched in front of me.

Sigh.

With that said, I must press on and try to convey all of that as we revisit that day together from the comfort of my blog.

At a ridiculous 4.20am, I was awake, bleary eyed and bloated from the flight and still full of all that yummy Outback goodness. Emily was already awake and of course on her phone, suggesting that some snoring may have kept her awake. I hope those in the next room don’t do that again!! Courtesy of the time difference we all chatted with Rebecca back home for a bit and I simultaneously arranged to meet Mum and Dad at 7am.

Then I find, examine and operate the coffee machine in one silky movement and make some coffee for Louise in my boxer shorts. I couldn’t find any filters but they did the trick instead. Hmm, full of extra flavour due to my special roasted beans.

Readying started at 6am and I went to collect Mum & Dad at 6.50, managing to find yet another way to get lost in that five-minute journey to their hotel. Once back at the RPR we wandered around for a bit trying to locate the water taxi.

We naturally went the wrong way before eventually finding a lovely long line waiting for it. It also looked like they were checking room keys due to said long lines, and with Mum & Dad not residents we elected to walk. It took ten minutes, most of which was spent by me concentrating on not walking too fast, doubling back to let folks catch up and Louise telling me off for walking ahead of everyone. I was excited!!

We had our first encounter with the new security set up here. Airport style scanners and an emptying of all pockets into a tray just as we entered City Walk.

We joined a healthy queue at the gates of Islands of Adventure (IOA) and waited for about ten minutes. Mum and Dad, not having the extra hour of on site guests, went off to get some breakfast on City Walk and we arranged to meet later.

We walked to the Potter stuff at a pace that just allowed almost everyone else in the park to overtake us. Room cards were being checked on the way but in no great detail. They were just required to be wafted at the staff asking to see them with no checking of dates as far as I could tell.

By the time we got to Hogwarts there was a thirty minute queue posted but I think that was just to get a locker. Knowing what was in store today I was travelling bagless. Ryan was resting in the room and I had all I would need crammed into the small sack at the front of my shorts.

The ride itself was a walk on, but that walk takes about ten minutes. We had only ridden this once before so it was nice to do it again and notice almost all of it that we missed the first time. If you don’t like spiders or have kids that may never sleep again after being attacked by a twelve-foot dementor, perhaps give this a miss. We loved it.

Still firmly in that first morning adrenaline rush we headed straight for what was Duelling Dragons.

It was a walk on at this hour but even I had to succumb to a locker on this one. Even my small sack was not allowed. I showed it to the lady at the entrance and she said it was very nice but too big to ride with, and also suggested I seek medical attention at the first opportunity as it shouldn’t be black.

We were quickly loaded and off at silly speeds through all sorts of loops and inversions. There is no greater sign of getting older than how you feel upon leaving a roller coaster. Until recent years I would do them all day with barely a repercussion. More recently I have wandered off rides feeling like Oliver Reed after a lost weekend. I was dizzy, queasy and bilious, three of the lesser known dwarfs, I admit.

I tried to put this down to not yet having eaten rather than becoming an old git and declared it breakfast time. Knowing what I had planned food wise for the rest of the day I was hoping to just have a light snack to save space in my expanding belly for the shenanigans later. The need for food was too great to be picky and we stumbled across the road into the Broomsticks place.

This was our second visit here and the speed at which you choose your food has not improved. It wasn’t that busy and it still took us far too long. Perhaps that feeling was exaggerated by my rumbling belly? There are around half a dozen set menu options and we went for –

Me – Porridge Breakfast (on the right) and Emily American Breakfast

Louise – Pancake Breakfast

I had to be quick with these photos as preventing folks from eating was a danger to my health at this point. In fact by the time we actually got our food our hunger was a real problem. The last time something was this hotly anticipated in Hogsmeade was when Ron Weasley used his wand to perform his Hymenio Destructo spell on Hermione.

It was $57 for the three of us.

They were tasty enough and did the necessary to fill the gap but this meal wouldn’t make it into my top ten list for the holiday.

By the time we had finished eating Mum and Dad were waiting for us outside. We had a quick wander back up to Hogwarts so they could take some photos and then we escaped what was becoming a very busy Hogsmeade and headed for the train station.

There wasn’t a queue at this time which was nice. The last time we took this train we waited forty-five minutes. It’s a very clever ride, if that’s the right word.

There are so many different elements going on that I suspect it will take many rides to appreciate them all.

As I stood up to leave the train I moved towards the window rather than the exit to take a snap of the plaque I had spotted above the window which seemed to have my name on it. Just as I stood, Louise, sat across from me did too and her head attacked my hand. It resulted in a decent slap to the side of her head. That’s my story Officer and I’m sticking to it. The worst thing about that was the blurry photo it resulted in.

We will never know why that plaque had my name on it.

We alighted the train and wandered into Diagon Alley.

The Gringott’s ride had a wait time of 115 minutes. Nope! Instead we meandered through the shops and streets and eventually found a bench from which we could watch a show that had just started. I forget what it was called but it was the one with the puppets/storytellers.

After bumping into Frank Bough…

and a drink we left via Weasley’s magic shop thing…..

and struck out for Men in Black so that I may inflict a demoralising defeat on everyone. After another f***ing locker farce we entered via the normal muggle line rather than Express so that we could all ride together. It was only a ten minute wait.

In the interests of appearing to be a grown up I shall draw a veil over the scores achieved on this ride. One shouldn’t sully family fun time with such base trivia as the scores on some game that really doesn’t matter. Anyway, I do think my gun was faulty. I was giving it all I had but there was just nothing happening. Again, I’m told it’s not a big deal and it’s happens to all men.

We made our way around to the Simpson Ride. As often happens Louise decided to sit out in the sun rather than ride. I don’t know if you know this, but she’s keen on the occasional bit of sunbathing.

Again we took the non Express line as Mum & Dad were riding and it was only ten minutes. Fate dictated that we would share our car with a family competing in the “Worst Parenting Skills of the Year Award”. A youngish couple with two very young kids joined us in the waiting room. At this point the kids were just noisy. As we entered the actual car to ride the younger child decided to go to Defcon 3 in the tantrum stakes. They had been allocated the front row of the car but Damona decided she wanted to ride in the rear row. We loitered barely concealing our disdain as the family moved to the rear row to satisfy the demands of the mini demon amongst us. Once in that row, this child proceeded to go into full Linda Blair, head spinning, spitting and kicking meltdown for reasons nobody could fathom.

At this point the chap loading us in suggested they leave as there was no way the ride could operate with the child in that state. They took his advice and he exchanged a glance with us that communicated all that was required.

I think that family are still outside the Simpsons Ride with the parents discussing in a calm voice their mild disappointment with their offspring’s behaviour whilst it rips clumps of hair from their heads.

It was 11.30 by the time we exited the ride and by normal first day rules this was time for our evening meal. With this in mind we started the walk to the exit for our lunch at Toothsome.

We walked slowly as it was very hot now.

We got there just before 12, hoping it wouldn’t be too busy to get a walk in table.

It wasn’t and we were seated immediately even having the option of sitting inside or out. As my immediate future included a milk shake fashioned from ice cream, inside was the only choice. Plus I needed my newly acquired moist patches to dry out in some nice air conditioning.

Amazingly I wasn’t really that hungry. I could have eaten of course. We all have our sacrifices to make, but I had one eye on our evening meal plans at Cowfish in a few short hours so I decided to be sensible and just have a drink…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mum & Dad hadn’t had a large breakfast like us so they ordered a Chicken BLT each.

Louise had some wine. It was barely the afternoon by the time it arrived so that was OK.

As we sat, we were visited by a couple of the characters that wander around. I’ll be honest, I didn’t read the bit on the menu that explains who they are and what the story is supposed to be…I had a milkshake to choose, so our interaction with them was a little awkward as we had no idea who they were or what they were talking about. Indeed, my Dad kept asking this lady what she was out of…..to her credit she didn’t break character once.

The bill was $90ish and I have to say the milkshakes were superb and Mum & Dad reported that their meals were excellent too. The place itself is fantastically themed and if you don’t fancy a full sit down meal you could of course just pop in for some take out or I think you can also sit in the reception area and have a milkshake.

Feeling very proud of my restraint at only taking on board around 2000 calories in a drink, we set off to Universal Studios. Once back in the park we made use of our Express passes for Shrek whilst Mum & Dad had a wander and did some shopping.

We waited as long as it took for the current show to finish before entering and Louise and Emily were treated to this year’s first rant about those morons not moving all the way to the end of their row.

After exiting we went across the street to Minions but even with Express, the queue was huge so we decided not to bother. It was hot, we were starting to feel that first day effect come mid afternoon so we decided to wander back to the hotel for some rest.

There was no chance of us walking back to the hotel. We waited about fifteen minutes for a water taxi and enjoyed the breeze as it took us back.

I drove mum & Dad back to their hotel whilst Louise and Emily got changed for the pool. I joined them once I had done a quick change into my mankini. I hadn’t had that waxing for nothing!

Some very welcome resting happened next. Emily and Louise had a cocktail or two and we did some reading and quite a lot of nothing for a while. The only free beds at this time of day were around the small kiddies pool. I always marvel at the absolute lack of shade provided in the US at public pools and water parks. Luckily my legs were well shaded by my over hanging gut.

I did point out to Louise that she may want to shave her legs….

We went back up to the room around 6ish and I popped out to get Mum & Dad at 7.30 hoping that by the time I got back Louise and Emily might be ready. They were and we got the water taxi again over to City Walk.

Cowfish told us there was a forty five minute wait for a table, so they took my phone number, to text me when it was ready and we wandered off in search of a drink.

No, don’t worry I didn’t have another milkshake…I’m not an animal.

Instead we found a table at a bar and ordered some drinkies, enjoying the ability to sit outside in a T shirt at night. Tomorrow I might even wear some shorts too.

I felt a throb in my pocket after about thirty minutes which coincided with our table being ready. We were seated upstairs. It can be a bit noisy in here. It’s very open plan with very few soft furnishings but the food is worth it.

We ordered –

Me – Cheesburgerooshi. I would find this very hard to describe so instead here’s what the menu said..

Seasoned Certified Angus Beef, yellow cheddar cheese, white cheddar cheese, applewood bacon, and red onion, wrapped in soy paper and potato strings then flash fried. Topped with ketchup, mustard, dill pickle and Roma tomato. Served atop Cowfish sauce. Served with house seasoned fries.

It looked like a non blurry version of this..

It was stunning and I would highly recommend it.

Mum – Crab dip with chips. This was an appetiser as Mum was still full from lunch.

The photo was once again rubbish…

Dad – I recorded it in my notes as a Lobster/Shrimp thingy. I suspect this was not the official name..

It looked like this….

Emily had a burger of some kind. (Top note taking tonight Craig!)

After consulting the menu it would appear to be a Dynamic Duo Burger.

The Dynamic Duo*
Beef burger, braised short rib, sweet roasted garlic, provolone cheese, tomato onion jam, lettuce, onion, tomato, onion roll.

As did Louise.

We all shared two pieces of cheesecake just to make sure we had hit our 10,000 calories per day target and it was delicious.

The bill was $145 including tip.

Emily cleared the whole burger and a very respectable amount of cheesecake. It was an impressive and valiant effort. Nobody knew if they were more full than tired and so we water taxied back to RPR and I sleep drove Mum & Dad home before falling into bed just after 11.

Till the next time……