Being British in Florida 5

If there’s one thing that struck me while we were in Florida, it was the difference in driving speeds. Driving on the opposite side of the road, and the rules about turning right at red lights were easy enough, but I found myself taxed far more adjusting to different speed limits.

This makes me sound like some sort of speed obsessed petrol head, I’m sure. As with most observations here, it is a matter of nuance though.

Painting with a very broad brush, my observation of US driving is one where people generally see speed limits and drive up to them, unless they’ve decided to not bother and just push past, mostly on the freeways. The roads are so large, and the amount of space swallows up so many vehicles, that the experience generally feels quite laid back. There’s rarely a sense of rush, just constant motion.

Driving in the UK however… well speed limits are often seen as minimum speeds, and there’s a lot more aggression. It may be sometimes quite restrained, because we’re British, but the tailgating, lane weaving and silent imprecation-mouthing traditions that can be seen up and down our country are a wonder of focused hostility, angst and rampant blood pressure.

Its probably because we don’t have as much space here. The physical boundaries of our vehicles give the illusion of personal space, but there’s just no great space between them.

One of the secret glees of our trip was overhearing a conversation between two Texans wondering why all British cars were so small. The number of facts, figures and conjectures summoned up from thin air were highly amusing, and will almost certainly be mined for dialogue in a story at some point

Being British in Florida 4

It’s no secret that I love theme parks, and most of our Disney and Florida holiday was spent in them. It almost goes without saying that I was expecting to notice a couple of differences between UK and US parks.

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Pumpkins at Disney

The most obvious of course was the cleanliness. There was far more time, manpower and inventiveness that seemed to be employed in US parks to keep litter, wear and tear to a visible minimum.

I’m not sure that this is a cultural difference in the littering habits of park guests either, given the number of UK holiday goers we met in our travels. If anything highlights the huge amount of planning and operational inventiveness at Disney it’s observing the cleaning and repair crews in quiet and effective action. There’s a huge difference in comparison with what sometimes appears to be a half-hearted approach at my local parks.

By far the more jarring difference however was the number of older children being pushed around in strollers in the US. I lost track of the number of six to eight year olds perched in strollers while parents or grandparents pushed them round. This is just totally alien.

You just see this so rarely in the UK. I guess you could make an argument for this being a reaction to the heat of the day, but even in our hotter summer days I’ve not noticed a similar practice over here despite some comparable temperatures. British kids just seem to want to run and explore more than many of the kids we saw in the US parks. Is this a valid comparison or was I blindsided by the strollers?

To be fair, there were plenty of kids running around and playing around and I didn’t make any in depth enquiries, but those damn strollers and the kids perched in them in parks and shopping areas has just stuck in my memory

Being British in Florida 3

I’ve been thinking back over the things I’m missing about our Disney trip, and how many of those are a result of the different expectations of being British in Florida – and therefore taking more notice of things that just tend not to happen or at least to be common back home.

Evening view across the lakes at Saratoga SpringsThe one that springs to mind as I look out over the balcony this evening was the sight of turtles and the sweet smell of the palm trees every day at the resort. We were staying at the Paddock in Saratoga Springs, and so every morning the most direct route to get breakfast was across a long wooden bridge. This crossed one of the many lakes that dot the resort’s grounds. The plain boards and simple painted rails added a reassuring solidity to our passage across the lake, and we often stopped halfway across to watch the wildlife.

We were expecting to maybe see just the usual ducks that would normally grace the average British lake, but instead we were treated to herons stalking the reeds, otters dipping lazily into and out of view and every now and then, turtles swimming through and around the duckweed.

I’ve got a friend in New York State who loves turtles, and on many occasions she’s shared stories of how her pets hide and amuse her family, so seeing turtles in the wild in the lake most mornings, as well as occasionally by the side of smaller roads near the wetlands, always put a smile on my face and recall those tales, even while appreciating their beauty.

My daughter observed in a quiet moment that for her, the sight of palm trees has always been a marker of somewhere exotic and far-away. The realisation that the palms all around us were just the local vegetation was just mind-blowing for her. In theory I know that if positions were reversed that many Floridians would find the local West London/Surrey flora and fauna just as odd, but I can’t really quite bring myself to think that there’s the same sense of wonder and joy.

 

Disney Day Three

My original Day Three post seems to have disappeared, and as the app on my phone is refusing to show me an edit history I’m just going to rabbit out another one to fill the gap.

We’ve booked in three days to cover Universal Studios, with today being our first visit. The next one will be to the Islands of Adventure and our third will tackle the Harry Potter experience across both parks.

Our journey was okay, despite it being only my second drive since we’ve arrived – we’ve been using the bus to get between Disney locations because it feels less dangerous for the locals. My only gripe on arrival was to find that the park wifi barely qualified for the term ‘spotty’. We could connect, but good luck getting anything else to happen.

I could just say we’ve been spoiled by the seemingly omnipresent guest wifi at Disney,
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but having worked on wifi rollouts this really shouldn’t be happening and its a dumb reputational hit to expose yourself, especially with the kind of budgets Universal has. Either roll out wifi that works or lock it off until you’ve sorted your coverage, bandwidth throttling and dead spots. It isn’t rocket science.

That grump aside, we had a really good time. Our favourite physical rollercoasters were Rip-it-ride-it-rocket and The Mummy, with an honourable mention to the MIB three hour walk through of the science show in which absolutely nothing happened and nobody got vapourised in a Bug attack.

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This was also our first experience of high end virtual rollercoasters. Despicable Me won top spot in our affections, with Transformers and The Simpsons coming in a close second. If nothing else, we learned that Lady M seems to have shed her fear of heights, which is a good thing.

Keeping hydrated wasn’t a problem either, with plenty of places to get drinks around the park. We discovered Icees, and all was well from there.

The evening meal was a slightly disappointing late evening booking at the Grill at our own resort. Granted, we were tired and battered so not firing on all cylinders, but service and meal quality was just slightly average as opposed to the sparkle of the first two nights.