Winter Fun in Florida

I flew over to Florida last week for some much needed winter sunshine.

It’s been 10 years since I was last over there and arriving into Orlando not much seemed to have changed. I was eager to get to Universal Studios my favourite theme park mainly because of the Spider Man ride – you jump in a car and it takes you round a track and gently spins you around, not aggressively at all. Throughout the ride you’re given 3d glasses to wear and Spider Man jumps on your car, and you get splashed as the ice man points at you.

It shows how long it was since I was over there as last time the big attraction was the virtual ride based on the movie Back To The Future. Young people don’t know what that film is about so they’ve changed the ride now to The Simpsons. It works in the same way but all about The Simpsons. The friends I was with had never heard of Back to The Future – I’m definitely getting old! 

Having said that though some rides do stand the test of time - the Jaws water ride is still going strong since opening in 1990.

Universal Studios also has a brand new roller coaster called Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit which is amazing which begins with an adrenaling pumping vertical lift. It’s probably the best one I’ve been on. It uses ground breaking technology – riders use a personal touch pad to select your own individual music which plays in your ears, you choose your favourite music genre, classical ,rock, pop disco and country. Each seat has it’s own speakers capable of generating up to 90 decibels so you have a personal soundtrack to your ride. You can even buy a video showing your own ride on the roller coaster. Not something I wanted to show everyone back home to be honest. I loved the ride though as it doesn’t throw you about too much, but does some very weird movements. 

Overall Universal Studios wasn’t busy at all. We nearly bought q jump tickets when we arrived but glad we didn’t because there weren’t really any queues even for the new rides..

Another highlight of Orlando was visiting Shamu the killer whale at Sea World. It’s fab but extremely cheesy. They didn’t choose me as a volunteer to go and stroke Shamu during his brief appearance but they did show a heart wrenching story on the giant screen about a boy paddling out on a canoe to befriend a killer whale. They then introduced him on stage 30 years on as an adult and he was still wearing the necklace of whale fins he had carved as a child. Never to miss a marketing opportunity they were selling the fins as we left the show!

My hotel in Orlando was the Marriott Sea World, but my friends were staying at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. I thought the Marriott was better but it did feel very vast. When I checked in they gave me a balcony view which I thought sounded lovely but soon realised the balcony was facing inwards to the hotel atrium which was really dark. They did change my room for a view of Sea World when I complained.

The location was handy as you could walk across to Sea World and it had shuttles to Disney. In comparison to the Disney hotel it was good value . My friends didn’t even get free passes to the park for staying in the hotel.

I decided not to swim with the dolphins at Discovery Cove as I was short on time but opted instead for one of the huge water parks, Blizzard Beach. It’s themed around a ski resort and there are even chair lifts to take you up to the top of the rides. Of course I did the big one , the Summit Plummet, which was good fun.

One of my friends had Disney tickets which he bought 11 years ago and were supposedly lifetime tickets. We were all really surprised though when they did actually work after so long.

As the weather wasn’t great in Orlando, we decided to fly down to Miami, hoping for some more sunshine. . A word of advice however - don’t book your internal flight at the last minute as ours cost us £300 each for a 45 minute flight. It’s the most expensive flight I’ve ever bought mile for mile.

I was glad we didn’t drive down from Orlando though as it would have taken 4 hours. We jumped in a taxi from Miami airport to South Beach and it cost $32. Airport shuttle buses were $22 each so it’s cheaper to get a taxi between 2 as it’s a fixed price.

I’ve seen Miami on all the glamorous videos and was imagining Ocean Drive and South Beach to be the coolest place in the world but I was extremely disappointed with lots of things about it. When I was there last I couldn’t afford to stay in South Beach so I’d stayed in a cheap place quite far out but I had a picture taken on Miami beach underneath the famous stone landmark where all art deco buildings are. 

It tells you temperature and the date but this time we went on 5th November and the date was 2 days out and never changed throughout our stay,plus the year 2009 had been scribbled in pen altered from 2007 – such an embarrassment for the tourist board.

The Art Deco buildings have food out on display like lobster platters which felt like Benidorm, with 2 for 1 drinks offers and staff trying to drag people in ,really tacky. It looks glam from across the street but in close up it’s nothing more than a tacky holiday destination.

There are many derelict buildings away from the 3 main blocks, unoccupied and boarded up. Cars were driving along the street too and personally I think it should be pedestrianised to capitalise on the surroundings..

A couple of vintage cars from the 30’s were parked outside the Park Central Hotel and Avalon which felt like it should be.

One morning for breakfast we went to the Pelican café which is one of the art deco buildings – it was the biggest breakfast I’d ever been presented with and I couldn’t finish it which is saying something for me. It was such good value too. It wasn’t one of the places where they tried to drag you in off the street either and was buzzing.

I was fascinated by the different coloured life guard huts on the beach as it felt like I was on the set of Bay Watch. Disappointing that I didn’t have my red hot bloods on then I really would have looked the part.

Even the nightlife in Miami wasn’t as glamorous as I’d imagined – I found one decent club called Mansion and managed to get on the guest list which got us VIP entrance on the red carpet and back stage passes . This gave us access to the stage behind the DJ which also had seating round the edge – Sander Kleinenberg a Dutch DJ and producer was playing. Like me he started dj’ing at 15 locally. He was updating his Twitter while he was doing his set. It was quite funny as I was replying back to him stood behind him. He had a MacBook Pro but was having problems and his CD kept getting stuck inside.

His music style is progressive tech house, (you know the type of songs without lyrics), not really my type of thing.

The drinks were massively expensive – one bottle of champagne cost $6000 – needless to say I didn’t buy one but the people on the next table did.

To say there was only one good day of brilliant sunshine, many people have commented on my tan. This is quite funny because 2 of the people I went with were using tanning salons while we were out there!!

My hotel in Miami was Marriott South Beach, perfectly situated on Ocean Drive which was an art deco building very un-typical of a Marriot and they’d kept it sympathetic without over modernising it. I loved the infinity pool too and that you were straight out onto the beach.

Overall the trip was enjoyable despite the weather not being brilliant. I will visit Miami again but in peak season. I’ll probably try somewhere like Cuba or Puerto Rico next.