Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Orlando III, The Final Ride

Craig Writes
23/04/13. We decided to have a down day yesterday because we have a two day pass at Universal Studios which has to be used concurrently so we knew a couple of full days were ahead. Oh the pressure. While I don't think it quite has the polish of Disney there was a different and not unwelcome feeling about this new "wonderland". Gone were the childish images of your favourite Disney kiddie winkle characters prancing and skipping here and there. Gone was the promise of the happiest place on earth or the place where memories are made.  Here, there was not a set of big black ears, a chipmonk or a twirling princess skirt to be seen. This was serious stuff. This was where, "The Adventure Begins".  We're talking Super Heroes and Wizards saving the world from destruction. Harry vs Voldemort, Spiderman vs Doctor Octopus, Doctor Doom and The Hulk vs Everyone.
No friendly dwarfs here
We tackled The Hulk Coaster first. I mean look at it. How could you not.  
You gotta love a kick arse roller coaster, that's us third from the back

Once again, getting there early meant we walked straight on, twice. YES, YES, YES, best roller coaster yet, ever! For a start it was all outdoors so get a good felling for how far you can drop if the car falls off the rails. There are corkscrews, twists and big arching loops. I'm actually swaying in my seat as I write this. It was very cool. How could it get better? Well, let me tell you how. We wandered over to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Now, being one of the more recent attractions we all had high expectations for this one. NOT LET DOWN!

All aboard, next stop, Texas.
hhmmm Butterbeer, just missing the hops
Once again pretty well much a walk on but you wouldn't of minded if you did have to wait a while because the preambling walk to the ride was through the mystical halls of Hogwarts with all manner of talking pictures, plots being hatched and intrigues being played out. Entertainment in itself. But the ride, whoa. We hadn't seen this level of techno wizardry before. You were flying, I mean you seriously felt like you were flying behind Harry being chased by dragons, dodging thumping trees and Dementors and chasing the snitch in a game of Quidditch. The surround screen and the graphics, the twists and turns were beyond what any of us were expecting. You could almost feel the broomstick between your legs. I'm boggled to think what the future will bring to this sort of entertainment.

The poor Dragon Challenge, our next ride, didn't really stand a chance after this.

Ho hum, another gut swirling 360 

Sure there were the gut wrenching turns, yawn, and the double corkscrew, snore, and your feet were hanging loose and getting wrapped around your ears by the G force, yippee, but at the end of the day it was a roller coaster ride. We had been severely entertained and simply throwing the contents of our stomach from one side to the other was just not going to do it. Where do we go from here? Well, seeing as you asked. You go to.... The Amazing Adventures of Spider- Man. What could possibly have made Harry Potter better, I ask myself. Well only one thing, in fact two things. And Spider-Man had them both. Add, to all the high tech magic of Harry Potter, not just 3D but a sprinkle of 4D and you have perfection. You have Spidey sitting on the bonnet of our car poking his webbed finger right into our faces. You have the spray of water in your face as he fights with "aqua guy" and then your hands are up protecting yourself from the glowing heat of Doctor Ocs furnace gun scolding you as he aims it at us, point blank, and tries to roast us all to a crisp. There was really nothing to do after this except go home and lament the fact that from now on no other ride will ever be good enough. Big sigh!

Oh a nice little ending to the day. We stopped into an arcade to play Doodle Jump.  We've all played it on our I-phones before but never as a big arcade game before. Callum won 37 tickets, I won 40 and Christina around 30. Charlie gets on and hits the jackpot, 1000 tickets. For ten minutes this machine just spat out metre after metre of these bloody tickets. It was amazing. So, a whoopy cushion, some pencils and a showbag full of lollies later we finally leave for home. Thanks Harry, thanks Spidey, thanks Doodle.  

24/04/13. Universal Studios part II. Well lets see. I got my picture taken with Marilyn Monroe, Christina got hers taken with Scooby Doo, Callum and Charlie with the MIB and then just Charlie got his taken with Bart Simpson. 

                                                    The photos say it all really

Callum made a movie with Dwayne Johnson, aka, The Rock and I gave two autographs. We ate very average burgers at Mel's Diner and washed it down with a Root Beer Float. What's a Root Beer Float? It was originally made back in the 18th century primarily from sassafras and other roots, bark, leaves and berries then sweetened and used as an everyday drink because back in the "old days" a lot of the water wasn't potable. But, it tastes like cough medicine which is probably why they dump a big scoop of ice cream on top. Happily the tap water these days won't kill you, straight away, so you only have to drink this by choice. 

One of the oddest tasting things I've ever sucked up a straw
We saw a great magic show, who doesn't like a good magic show, and magically left $46USD lighter albeit with some magic tricks in a bag. The real trick will be to make sure they get opened, learnt and used. But hey what's life without the occasional reckless purchase every now and then. It was Callum's purchase out of his own "stash" so, over to you buddy. Yes there were some great rides. The Rockit Rollercoaster started with a sheer vertical lift off. Very nice. Revenge of the Mummy had some great effects and a dash of riding in the dark which is always nice. MIB, pretty average. The Simpson and Despicable Me, lots of fun.  The car your in doesn't actually move anywhere. All the action happens on the screen but by the time the ride's over you feel like you've been around the world. The Terminator had some live actors inter mingled with some new Arnie Terminator footage I've not seen before which was different. We're getting really efficient at doing these parks. We were in at 9 and out by 3.30 but got to do every ride and see every attraction that grabbed our fancy. I may have to write a book on How to Conquer a Theme Park in Less Than Eight Hours. We have a little unfinished business with Harry Potter and Spider Man tomorrow and then a return to Epcot on Friday.  

Well, must say I think we've all really enjoyed our time here in Orlando. We are now officially theme parked out and looking forward to moving on from the bubble that is Orlando. It's a bit like being on the set of the Truman Show here. Everyone is tremendously nice and friendly. There is a place for everything and everything is in it's place. I suppose with 53 Million people landing on your door step every year you have to be organised. Our last hurrah was Typhoon Lagoon Water Park. Some ok water slides and a Lazy Creek where you floated in a rubber tube around the park in a big slow moving loop of water. It was packed full of people with very content and relieved looks on their faces. The water was suspiciously warm. 
The wave pool was the big hit. 150 metres across with a thousand screaming people who by the sound of it have never seen a natural wave before. This amazing machine spits out waves from zero to six feet in a couple of seconds. From one side to the other this big wave rises up and bashes through the mosh pit of water worshipers for about 50 metres then slowly pieters out to a healthy white wash. It doesn't break left or right, just rolls on then fades away. A bit like what we're going to do now. Thanks Orlando, it's been a blast

I think we're all now looking forward to seeing some of the real America now. Experiencing some of the rich history, the amazingly diverse landscape and meeting some of the more authentic characters. 

A little stop press here. Thought I was done but we went back to Epcot for one last half day. Had the ticket so no sense in wasting it. The boys had some unfinished business with Fast Track. But, while we were there we popped into the Nemo ride. Very ho hum. BUT, did you know, at EPCOT they have the second largest man made salt water aquarium in the USA and the third largest in the world. I had no idea. There is no mention of this in the park guide and it doesn't seem to be widely promoted at all. The place is amazing. There are over 65 different species of fish and 6000 sea creatures swimming in a 5.7 million gallon tank. We got talking to Georgia, one of the attendants and she took us up to the staff only top level to get a topside perspective. It's massive. There is a scuba diving tour you can do in the tanks and if we weren't leaving in the next couple of days I'd be in there.

You lucky buggers having this in your back yard

If you ever come to EPCOT put this on your list.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Orlando Part II, The Village People

Craig Writes
19/04/13. Epcot rocks.  It is the International Flower and Garden Festival through till May 9 and the place looks spectacular. No one does "theme" better than Disney.

The colour was everywhere
An English Tea Garden
A hundred different characters hedged, topiaried and coloured to perfection. From Snow White to Tow Mater, they all looked fantastic. 

Tow Mater hedging his bets.
One day that'll be our two little monsters heading off to Uni
So clever
The rides were brilliant. Spaceship Earth was narrated by Judy Dench and was a remarkable journey through time exploring the history of communication from the Stone Age to the computer age. Educational and so well done.  Gary Sinise from CSI New York was our Commander on, Mission Space. A G force ride to Mars where I got to play the pivotal role of Pilot and Callum the all important Navigator.  Christina and Charlie were on  a separate mission that got cancelled due to some "heart problems" with a couple of crew members.
Next was Test Track. You design your own car and then put it through it's paces. Christina and Callum designed theirs and Charlie and I were our own team. We'll stick to being professional travellers because our car came last. There was an amazing hang gliding experience called Soarin' and a chest beating, heart rousing trip through the history of America called, The American Adventure. The audio-automatronics are scarily real. You don't have to squint or look sideways to believe that it is Mark Twain or Thomas Jefferson having a little fire side chat with you. During the show they mentioned a John Steinbeck quote,  "We can stand anything God and Nature can throw at us save plenty. To destroy a nation give it too much and it will be on it's knees, miserable, greedy and weak". It may well be time to invoke the spirit of Michael Jackson and, "look at the man in the mirror".

We only made it half way around World Showcase. An Expo featuring exhibits and samples of architecture, culture, history and foods from Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, America, Japan, Morocco, France, Canada and the UK. We managed some Mexican Tacos, some Chinese Pork buns and Curry Chicken parcels but the Bratwurst and Sauerkraut  in Germany was the end of us.It's a big world out there.

Funds were running low so Charlie did some busking
He did well so we all got a Bratwurst in a bun
Come on people. Seriously! This Funnel Cake with ice cream is a single serve.
Highlight was the Village People, they played a half hour gig at the end of the day, 5.30 to 6pm. The group still has three original members, construction guy, Indian guy and army guy. The lead singer, cop guy sounded just like the original , Victor Willis. It was a hoot. We got a lesson from construction guy how to do YMCA properly. Great day.

The moves maybe a little creaky but the sound was there. Good times.
20/04/13, It started out as a nice quiet day around home but come the afternoon we decided to get out. The Titanic museum and tour is five minutes down the road but the boys have dug in so we're on our own. Their loss, it was fantastic. Our guide was a brilliant actress playing the author and Titanic survivor Helen Churchill Candee.  Dressed in period costume, she was witty and clever, giving snippets of detail I for one had never heard. Very impressive.
Worth a look

The Titanic was built by the Irish ship builders, Harland and Wolfe for the British shipping liner company White Star Lines and paid for by wealthy American industrialist JP Morgan. It would appear that a sizeable amount of the blame for many of the deaths on this ill fated voyage can be laid at the feet of one man. White Star Lines Chairman, J Bruce Ismay. It was his penny pinching decision to have the 16 watertight compartments that were to make her unsinkable, only go half way up the ship and consequently making her  "unsinkableish". Water could now simply fill up one section then just keep flowing over to the next section until, well, until she sunk. The ship was also designed to have had 64 lifeboats each with a capacity of 74 people, more than enough for every person on board should they ever be needed.  But he didn't like the thought of all those ugly boats hanging around on deck. The legal requirement at the time was only for sixteen lifeboats so that was all he ordered. It was only due to the cajoling from the ships architect that he managed to convince him to raise it to 20. But that would never be enough. Of course when the time came, Mr J Bruce Ismay  made sure  there was enough room for him.

The ship now lies 453 miles south east from Newfoundland in 2.5 miles of icey water. There are over 100 artifacts recovered from the ship on display including an uncorked bottle of Champagne, the Captains wheel, jammed into the starboard setting by the First Mate, a deck chair, crockery, a First Class porthole and a two and a half tonne section of the hull. The rivet holes are pulled progressively out of shape the closer it got to the section where the ship tore itself apart.  

I was mesmerized by each individual piece on display. The gaiety of those first four days was in every piece, wrapped in the horror and the tragedy that ended it all. This 46,000 tonne floating palace was the epitome of luxury and opulence. No expense was spared in Staterooms, Ballrooms or cafes.  The food, the beverage and the service were all top shelf and the passengers were making the most of their well spent dollar. Then, at 11.40pm on 14 April 1912 as she tore into the side of that massive block of ice, that all turned to sheer terror. Over the next two and a half hours it would become apparent to all that rank and privilege would not divide nor save them.  Both millionaires and boilermakers were going to die in a cruel and horrible way.  Many had not only their own inevitable death to suffer but had to endure the utter despair of  waving goodbye to their wife's and their children as they were lowered hopefully to safety. They could only watch on, stretching at their starched collars and pulling their coats tighter against the freezing air, knowing that in a matter of moments they are about to slide down the polished oak decks of the promenade, likely breaking bones and ripping flesh before tumbling into the icey waters of the North Atlantic and sinking below the black still waters.

They recovered several of the 6000 tonnes of coal to be used to propel the Titanic across the ocean surface. It is the only commercial artifact from the bottom of the ocean you can buy. A tiny chip of coal set in a little piece of moulded plastic. How could I say no.

21/04/13 Well it was a grey rainy crappy day today but being the good Aussie storm troopers that we are we took off to Disney Hollywood Studios. I'm running out of superlatives to describe these places. Once again there were the old favourites, Aerosmiths Rockin' Roller Coaster, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and The Studios Back lot Tour. Always good for a bit of a thrill.  Something new was the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. 
Been in one Tower of Terror , you've been in them all
Lots of fun
That was a lot of fun. A non stop fourty minute bang, boom, kapow stunt show with a bit of a difference. They stopped the show at various points and explain what they're doing, how and why, so it's really interesting as well as a heap of fun. There were plenty of turkey legs around but they've lost their sex appeal for now so it was Sloppy Joes and toasted Tuscan rolls for lunch. Whats a Sloppy Joe you ask? Get a big scoop or two of meaty bolognese sauce and throw it in a bun. That's it. 

This ones been photo shopped. Let me tell you, it doesn't look like this!
It looks like you've been in a food fight by the time your finished and your stomachs going to be asking you some questions, but hey, you have to do things at least once.  
There is a must see display on the Walt Disney story. What a remarkable visionary. Him and his brother Ron and a little mouse have built an incredible empire and you can see the desk he sat at where it all started. Another good day.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Orlando, OMG OMG OMG!

Craig Writes:

13/04/13. The United States of America. The State of Florida has only slightly less people than the whole of Australia, 19.5 mil to 22.5 mil, and 19 percent of them are Spanish speaking so there may still be a few more Hola's and Gracia's to come. Orlando, where we're staying, only has a population a bit over 220,000 but has over 53 MILLION visitors per year which explains the vast suburbs with nothing but hotels and resorts. And, if you want to know why their buildings keep getting blown over, we saw a new hotel complex going up and the entire structure is timber frame and sheets of what looks like ply wood. Not a double or a single leaf brick wall to be seen.

You know your on your way to the great USA when you squeeze into your seat, adjust and buckle up and reach into the pocket in front for the Airline magazine and the first thing you pull out is a 60 page glossy dedicated solely to ....American Baseball. 
It's a flight from Buenas Aires so the flight crew still speak Spanish but there's no denying your destination. We're on our way to the land of Uncle Sam.
Our five weeks in South America has been one awe inspiring, jaw dropping experience after another, The Amazon, Iguazu Falls, Chile, Bellavista, Buenos Aires, Machu Picchu etc  but I'm so looking forward to not having to use sign language and a crippling 'Manuel'-esque Spanish accent in order to get directions. And, NO MORE FOOD ROULETTE. We learnt early on that the best you can do is point at the picture and use hand signals to try to describe your version of a medium rare steak with salad, then it's really just a matter of cross your fingers and wait and see. You hardly got what you ordered and that was mostly fine because it was all about experiencing different things.
One thing I won't miss will be not being able to flush toilet paper and having to flick it off your hand into a small bin, sometimes without a lid on it. And personally, I won't miss it when the passengers clap every time a planes wheels touch down.  What the hell was that all about?
14/04/13  Without stating the bleeding obvious, The States is a big place. It's a big country with big ambitions, big dreams, a big ego and no doubt still a very big future. But it's not 'til you get here and have a bit of a look around that you realise that here, size does matter, in everything. You have to cook your toast once then turn the bread over and cook the other half because the breads so big. We bought a turkey leg at Disney World  and it fed the four of us. It wouldn't have looked out of place on the Flintstones. The resort we're staying in is that vast it should have it's own post code. In fact it might, I haven't checked yet. A "large"coke here is a litre and a half cup, and I think that comes with a free refill. Joe's Liquor, a small liquor store just off Universal rd has 137 different tequilas, 172 whiskeys, 156 vodkas and 168 Rums and god knows what else. There is a McDonalds with a kids play area that big it has it's own day care centre. 

We had our first "mall" experience the other day at The Florida Mall. I must admit I'm usually yawning in the car park before I get through the first set of sliding doors to these places but I'd never "hung out at a mall" before. I was a little excited. We picked up our map, compass and guide dog and ventured inside. All the big stores you've heard about, JC Penneys, Saks, Macys, Sears are all here.  There is a store the size of a suburban supermarket dedicated entirely to M & M''s. Every conceivable form of merchandising all based around a coloured chocolate button. 
Now, cup your two hands together, imagine that they are now completely covered in a rich dark chocolate and on top of that sprinkled liberally in a thick coating of peanuts.That,is the size of your ice cream cone.  That's two heart attacks and a case of diabetes right there and that is before this gaping, yawning hole has been filled with one or many varieties of flavours of ice cream. They don't use scoops here they use garden spades. Unbelievable. There is no moderation here. It's big or bigger.

I'll tell you what else I've seen lots of that's big, bellies. Apparently 69.2 percent of all Americans over 20 are either overweight or obese. Of that 69.2 percent, 35.9 are obese. Being overweight means you have a body mass index of between 25 and 29.9 percent. Being obese means your 30 percent or over. And shockingly, 36.4 percent of kids aged 6 to 19 are obese. The current generation aren't setting much of an example for the generation to come. It seems there are mostly two body types here. The overweight and obese or the really buff. Your either struttin' a keg or a six pack. Not much in between. The obesity epidemic, not my words, currently costs the American tax payer $US147 Billion per annum and at current rates, by 2030 fifty percent of ALL Americans will be obese at a bank breaking cost of over two Trillion dollars per annum. Big numbers. Most Americans I've met I like. I truly hope they get a handle on this because the alternative isn't looking very healthy.
Here's an example of how big can be good. If you choose well you can eat good quality food, lots of it and for not a lot of money.  There is national chain of organic stores here called Wholefoods. It's amazing. Imagine a Coles size supermarket but dedicated to organic and wholefoods. Not entirely organic of course but massively organic. Every thing from make your own wheat free and organic muesli to create your own sushi. What amazes, apart from the range of course, is the price.  Stuff is so cheap here. A 500 gram punnet of organic fist sized strawberries for $3.99. You can buy your quality organic takeaway food here by the pound. It's brilliant.

We got a Tornado alert the other day. The weather turned thundery and dark. A good day to be inside eating fresh and crunchy organic almonds, the finest 67 percent Mindo chocolate from Ecuador and drinking a rich and caramelly Dark Espresso Roast coffee. Heaven.
It was the same night we were going to The Pirates Dinner Adventure. It came highly recommended by the resort concierge but I don't think she gets out very much. The kids thought it was ok and the keen cast members did their best to get as many people involved as possible but it all came across as a bit lame.
Where smiling now but we haven't seen the food yet
They tried hard but it just fell flat
 Not a patch on the Buffalo Bill show in France. $16.50 for two watered down beers in plastic cups and some old tart in a leotard getting poodles to jump through a hoop as pre-show entertainment wasn't a good start. The food at these things is never great but this was hospital grade.  Driving there was going to be interesting. The tornado had whipped up some nasty weather and when we left for the show the rain was coming down in horizontal sheets. Very exciting.

16/04/13 The Magic Kingdom today. 
Thank god for digital coz my memories just not that good
We did most of the old favourites. Thunder Mountain, Christina's favourite, Splash Mountain, one of my favourites, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain etc etc. Getting there early i.e before the gates open is worth the effort. We literally had the Haunted House to ourselves and we walked straight onto Thunder Mountain. By the time we got to Splash Mountain it was still only a ten minute casual stroll and then straight on. As you'd expect by mid morning the more popular rides are back out to 40 plus minutes. But then there's always the Fast Pass. Poos Honey ride was out to 70 minutes and we basically walked straight on.  
The Monsters Incs Laughing Floor was the unexpected highlight. It was a real time interactive comedy routine with members of the audience picked out and put up on the big screen where they are ceremoniously made fun off, in a nice way off course. They were obviously professional comedians because their patter was off the cuff, very funny and in direct response to audience members comments and reactions. And yes it was definitely all genuine. How do I know? 
"That Guy"
Well you know how they always pick on one main guy and make him the centre of the action. I was that guy. I even got a sticker that said so. 
The end of another perfect day
Tomorrow it's off to Disney's Animal Kingdom.

18/04/13 This was a real treat. A different atmosphere with different rides and attractions to what we have seen before. We started with the Kilimanjaro Safari. A ride on an open air bush bus through a variety of the unique habitats of the 110 hectare Harambe Wildlife reserve. From  lush and shady forest landscapes to open savannas and rocky wetlands we saw most of the 34  different exotic animals that the park was created to protect. White Rhino, Giraffe, Cheetah, Lion, Hippo, five metre African Crocodiles, Elephant and many many more. No mechanized beasts or animated creatures here. 

King of the jungle and doesn't he know it
I'm guessing this guys the Bull.
It was as close to the real thing as you could get without being in Africa. The other stand outs for the day were the live shows.  The Lion King musical and the Finding Nemo musical were both brilliant. 
The Lion King - spectacular
Nemo's Bruce, my favourite White Pointer
Some totally sweet turtle action
Real quality productions. Superb talent, astounding costumes and sets and so tightly produced the whole story is told in 30 short effective minutes.
It's Tough to be a Bug. This was a hoot although several parents are going to have some long term soothing to do to their young ones. It came with a scare warning for young kids but, "parents know best". Sure enough, within minutes there was wailing and screaming in the aisles as 3,4 and 5 year olds were scared witless by the giant 3D Tarantula on stage shooting poisonous darts at their little bodies. It was a 4D show so you also got the full effect of the darts whizzing past your head, whoosh whoosh. Some of the stuff had the adults jumping so I could just imagine what it would be doing to the ripe unfiltered imagination of a five year old. To finish there were giant spiders lowered down from the ceiling close enough to almost tickle our heads. Geez, poor little buggers didn't stand a chance.
Last but not least, Expedition Everest. I have nothing to say about this ride except, look at the pictures below. 

What a bunch of screaming sissies
Day finished, mission accomplished. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

What the CVW's ate in South America

Christina writes: Okay - we ate a lot of different things in our travels through South America. I've put together some photos of some of the highlights. Pet lovers, don't despair  we did not eat guinea pigs - although they did appear on numerous menus.

A popular street drink, 'Mote con Huesillos' wheat topped with a boiled dried peach and then a sweet cold peach juice syrup.

Empanadas - we had lots - Charlie's favourite was prawn and cheese

Seafood restaurant - including seafood shaped bread

House special - mixed seafood


Best ice-cream in Santiago - Rosa's.
Best flavour: Rose

Pisco Sour - this was my first, certainly not my last!
More seafood - this time to share - we couldn't help it, Chile was full of it.

Pastel de Choclo, a corn pie with raisins, olives and chicken
Which would you choose - chocolate mousse or a croissant filled with warm dulce de leche?

Tequenos - a cheesy pastry served with avocado
Tres leches cake topped with meringue - very sweet

More Pisco Sours  - Chile and Peru both claim them as their own
Kind of like Australia and NZ and the Pavlova war

Juanes - rice filled maranta leaves, steamed

Palometa Fish

Chili sauce - little chilis in grapefruit juice - perfect spicy dressing for the fish

Shimbillo Pods

Also known as ice cream fruit, because when you suck the pod, that's what it tastes like

Banana chips - salty, not sweet

Ceviche, served with crunchy corn

More Pisco Sours - this time in Cusco (do you see a theme developing here??)

Crepe, filled with dulce de leche

Huge sushi platter for two - this time great seafood in Ecuador

Best Brownie ever - Mindo Chocolate

What do you spread on your toast when you can't buy Promite??  Dulce de Leche! 

Best ice cream flavour? You guessed it, dulce de leche
Great bread basket in Buenos Aires

Okay, this is breaded chicken, which is a pretty standard dish, but the reason it gets a place on this page is that I ate it EVERY night for THREE nights in a row at Iguazu falls. It was that good. And the rest of the menu was very limited
Okay my Pisco Sour and Dulce de Leche binge is over, I will start eating healthy in the USA. That won't be a problem will it??