Re-Adjusting and Chilling Out

I think I woke up about lunchtime today, proving that even my nightowl-orientated metabolism needs to recharge when dealing with the dreaded red-eye. We’re trying to get back to operating within UK daylight hours, so rather than go straight to bed when we got home yesterday, we stayed up and got all the unpacking and unwinding we could.

Lady P dropped round for a while to return our keys (she’s been looking after the balcony vegetable garden while we’ve been away, and we have even more tomatoes growing happily away in the small forest that has now established itself out there). In return we gave her a couple of small gifts that had practically jumped off the shelves while we were away, and from the grin on her face I’d say we picked the right things out for her. A slow evening of pizza and catching up on Doctor Who and we called it a night.

So, a slow start this morning. Fortunately the same was true of everyone else in the household too, so I didn’t feel like the odd one out as I traipsed out to get some eggs and bacon to start making some brunch.

As the girls put it, it was nice to be back to some good old-fashioned British-sized portions – and by that I mean platefuls that can’t be used to sink small battleships, and definitely not covered in cheese of any description. The rest of our day has been spent watching Frozen (Charleesi hasn’t seen it before), playing games (Assassin’s Creed 4 for all the sun, sea and landscapes we’re now missing), and sorting out pictures for Facebook.

We’re mostly caught up on sleep, and I’m maybe a couple of hours out of sync now – it feels simultaneously like 4pm and midnight, so averaging out it seems about right. Should be all systems go for the new working week by the time I get there.

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Disney Last Day

So now I’m sitting in my local coffee shop, having just flown in to Gatwick and survived the M25, very aware that I’ve been awake for over twenty four hours, and the Disney holiday is over.

Checkout was smooth, with an added bonus that the laundry we’d had done wasn’t entered onto the billing system, so we got it for free. With a few entries left on our dining plan and our flight not due to leave until 8pm we decided to just find a quiet corner to read and take advantage of the air conditioning.

The staff were perfectly accomodating and left us to our own devices, and I got the impression that this wasn’t too uncommon a practice for people to use up their spare credits like this.

Packing had mostly been done the previous evening so we cheekily asked the American Airlines check-in desk at the resort if we could check our baggage weight. They had no problems with that, and so reassured about our luggage and with only one or two sat-nav related oddities, we set off back to Orlando International Airport.

Check in and TSA clearance went smoothly despite it being very busy and the only real moment of hilarity came when my daughter managed to spill a whole can of Sprite into her own lap. “Refreshing!” she commented at the time…

So what am I missing about this holiday already? The excellent  customer service, the different driving styles, the more evening-night-based lifestyle, the ferociously flushing toilets, the sightings of turtles and otters in the lake on the way to breakfast in the mornings.

I’m missing the automated announcements in the Disney buses to take your children by the hand (presumably instead of by the throat), not to mention the ability of US caterers to add cheese to every meal.

I’m especially missing the heat and sunshine now I’m back in the UK, but at least I know where I stand with persistent drizzle and watery cloud cover. I also seem to have quickly remembered how to drive stick and stay on the correct side of the road (mostly), which is helpful.

Now, time for more caffeine…

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Disney Day Thirteen

Our last full day on holiday, and the original plan had been to breeze through the Magic Kingdom. Instead we revisited Typhoon Lagoon for the prospect of lounging around in the water.

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Lady M has become rather sunburned, so opted to wear a t-shirt over her swimsuit, but didn’t let that stop her and Charleesi from grabbing inflatable rafts on the Crush’n’Gusher water slides.

My preference was to lounge in the water and let my feet recover from all the walking we’ve done. According to my pedometer, we’ve been averaging eight to ten miles per day consistently and wow, don’t I know it. Lessons learnt: wear more padded footwear next time.

The Doc Martens saved my feet this time, but they’re not suitable for water rides so I may invest in some Crocs or something next time.

Our last evening meal was special. We’d saved up Dining Plan points and some spare cash to eat at Jiko in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Like Le Cellier, this is proper fine dining, but Jiko specialises in modern South African cuisine and does it very well.

With beautiful decorations and wide views from the window, the restaurant provided us with excellent service and witty banter from the staff that kept us at our ease.

Our appetisers incorporated a range of flavours and spices, and had little notes to add to the staff explanations of what was in front of us. We went for different cuts of steak for our entrées, and each had a range of flavours and textures that were a delight to discover. The deserts were magical and playful all at the same time.

We will definitely return here when we can, it’s that special.

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Disney Day Twelve

We’re suddenly very much aware that we’re running out of holidays and that we’ve walked an awfully long distance in the last couple of weeks.

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The upside to this is that we’ve hit pretty much most things we want to try and can now explore, take a more leisurely pace and not feel too bad about wilting in the heat that even native Floridians are calling unseasonal and a bit much…

So today was another Magic Kingdom day, taking in Splash Mountain, the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, Pirates of the Caribbean and Winnie the Poo. We also went on the riverboat and did a lot more character meets.

I already knew it was going to be a bit of a strange day as I sat eating my breakfast muffin at the Cheshire Cat Café and watched Alice lead the White Rabbit by the hand to the Tea Cups.

Some unkind comments in my Facebook stream suggested that I needed to check my meds, and that I was actually still sat at home while I hallucinated my holiday. All I can say to that is that if I were hallucinating, my brain wouldn’t be conjuring up this heat..!

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The evening meal was at Teppan Edo in Epcot – a traditional style noodle meal prepared at the table for a group of us. Service was excellent, the atmosphere that curious mix of formal and informal as you might expect at a Disney recreation of Japanese cuisine, and our chef witty and engaging while demonstrating some intricate knife skills.

It was an expensive day, but mostly because we did a fair amount of Christmas gift shopping (mostly) for young relatives… Knowing we only had one full day left made us start to feel the end of holiday blues…

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Being British in Florida 2

Now obviously I’m going to be employing some broad brush generalisations along the way with this small series, and they’re generally for comedic effect.

Today’s musings have come about through my observations around the experience of driving in the Orlando and Tampa area, but I think there’s something rather common about relearning how to drive that may chime with people who have driven on both sides of the Atlantic.

The biggest difference seems to be in each country’s general preference for how their cars manage gears. In Britain, the overwhelming majority of drivers learn in a manual geared vehicle and stick with it from then on. If you drive anything else in Britain, there’s often real puzzlement as to why, and an implied accusation that you can’t be very good at driving if you have to rely on an automatic gearbox.

By contrast, here in the US the overwhelming preference is for using an automatic, and manual gearboxes ( “driving stick”) are viewed with deep suspicion, though no one seems to be able quite to articulate why.

The difference as a driver is that when you drive manually you are making the conscious effort to make your car move. The car will not generally move unless you tell it to, and you don’t need to stand on the brake unless you are already moving. Switch the engine on,  select first gear and balance clutch and accelerator until you put your foot down to move away.

In contrast, the effort in an automatic is in stopping it from moving. Your conscious decisions are about stopping the car moving off (switch car on, put foot on brake as you select drive or reverse and take off handbrake, then lift foot off brake to start moving)

Now, speaking slightly tongue in cheek, I’d contend that this tells us something interesting about British and US drivers. The British are choosing to commit to an action (often being that of driving dangerously fast in narrow streets), while US drivers are trying to guage whether they should stop as they are already in motion, which probably also accounts for this turning right at a red nonsense which is just wrong.

Maybe its a legacy of all that horse riding into the gold rush. Haven’t got time to stop and assess what’s going on, just dive in and work out what needs fixing later, there’s money to be made.

As a British driver retraining myself on US roads, I can only describe the experience as being simultaneously stressful and chilled out compared to driving back home.

In London, driving is like warfare, everyone aggressively focused on the target. Here in Orlando you all seem either rather laid back, or totally out of control as if your horse(power) has surged for the finish line.

It probably shouldn’t amuse me.

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Disney Day Eleven

We’d pegged today as being devoted to Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure but were very aware that there was a lot left to explore at Diagon Alley so decided to get back in there first thing to carry on.

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Had a bit of a Wheeze here

We started with brunch at the Leaky Cauldron and found great delight in the British-sized portions of well cooked food, even down to a good batter for the toad in the hole.

Suitably fuelled for the morning, we then went into every shop we could find, before ending up in front of the new Ollivander’s. Wand selling stores are popping up at each site that focus on the named character wands as a quick drop in, but having heard about the wand choosing performance we thought we’d invest the time and see what they were like.

As we were led through to where it would all happen, we found ourselves remarking that we kept expecting to see cast and crew names on the boxes piled high, given our experience at the Studio Tour before Christmas.

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Just another day at the shops

Chattering away, we filed around the dimly-lit room and fell silent as the soft spoken wizard began to welcome us. Much to our surprise, and the notable chagrin of several other parents with their children, my daughter was picked out to participate.

I don’t think I’ve seen such a mix of excited nervousness on her face for quite some time. As in the film, a number of wands are presented, and the prospective owner invited to cast spells.

The first wand made flowers die instead of watering them; the second made drawers rattle violently rather than pull a ladder closely. On picking the third (described as being made of willow and containing unicorn hair) there were sudden light, gusts of air and a fanfare, just as in the first Harry Potter film. The wand had picked its wielder, and both could now learn from each other’s qualities.

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Delicious icecreams. I particularly recommend the Chilli Chocolate

Well, we couldn’t not buy it, given we’d every intention of picking something up anyway, and as Charleesi’s wand was one of the ones capable of making magical effects with the two Wizarding World locations we picked out wands for ourselves too from the same range rather than choosing character wands as souvenirs.

I picked out a “reed” wand, if you’re curious, which is supposed to be flexible and suiting creative writers.

The majority of the rest of the day was spent re-exploring the sites, trying to find the markers and motions required to open locks and books, make toys fly and spin, set shrunken heads singing and animating skeletal diagrams (these last two in Knockturn Alley).

Staff, in-character, were always nearby to help if people got stuck, advising on where to point the wands for best effect. The dark wizards were suitably unnerving when they stepped out of the shadows.

We even sneaked back on to the Dragon rides in Hogsmeade, just because we could and the efficiency at which they move the queues was so good that we were in and out within ten minutes.

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We did explore the Islands a little, and mostly spent time in the Marvel Superheroes area. We went on the Incredible Hulk ride and it has gone on to our top rides list, with elements of Colossus and Nemesis to its fast looping smooth metal track.

We also got chased around by the Green Goblin. I think he liked making the girls jump by sneaking up on them. After the second surprise though, he beat a hasty retreat. This was mainly because Lady M nearly swung a punch at him, and Charleesi poked her new wand straight in his face as he bounded up to her. I was very proud to see them run off this nefarious villain, and relieved security didn’t get called…

Our evening meal was at the Port Orleans resort, at the Boatwright Cafe. This was good Southern cooking to sing and dance about. Lady M had crawfish, Charleesi had catfish, and I had an epic jambalaya that made my tastebuds very happy.

I can also happily recommend the non-extra-sugared creme brulee with raspberries on top as a reasonably sized portion of deliciousness. We’ll definitely go back there next time.

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Being British in Florida 1

I love watching people and working out what makes them tick. Nine times out of ten it’s out of curiosity rather than trying to locate the levers to influence them, and it can be a fun fantasy game to come up with a back story for someone and then seeing how wide of the mark I am. If nothing else it’s good practice for creating characters in my stories and games.

It probably comes as no surprise then that I’ve been paying attention to a few odds and ends while we’re out here and making some observations. I’ll bounce a few into the feed as we go:

The first is a small thing, but it amuses me. I’m making a point of being as unfailingly polite as possible and refining my accent where possible. Quite aside from the joy of the smiles this tends to bring, I’m enjoying watching the confusion when I thank them “very much” for their help/service/letting me on the bus.

For some reason this seems to short circuit the brain-mouth link, and I get a variety of suppressed splutters in response. The most common reply usually ends up being ” You’re, uh, um, very welcome?”

You don’t need to match my quantifiers, but thanks for playing :)

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