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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.