USA Holiday – Week Two

USA   Wet   Wild

After the wedding we spent a few more days on Amelia Island with Sara’s family and then made our way back down to Orlando for a bit of time on our own. Having had a stressful few months and a hectic first week, we were looking forward to lazing by a pool and chilling out. 😎

We didn’t have a chance to book anything before we set off, so on our arrival in Orlando we just drove up and down International Drive looking for suitable accommodation. Just about every hotel chain has a presence on International Drive and, with all of them wanting your business, their prices are competitive and standards are generally high. Having previously enjoyed our stay in a Radisson Hotel in Brussels, we booked ourselves into the Radisson Barcelo for the week which seemed a bargain at only $80 per night.

After unpacking we hit the strip and soon found ourselves, surprisingly enough, in an Irish bar. It seemed rude not to take advantage of their happy hour, so we had a several cold ones and got chatting to a couple of Jocks who gave us some good advice about which attractions were worth a visit. After a dozen or so pints we decamped into the nearby “Sizler” Indian restaurant for a very average vindaloo. 😕

Back at the hotel we had a poor first night’s sleep due to the extremely noisy air-conditioning so next morning we decided to cut short our stay and relocate to a different hotel. We had a nosey at a few other hotels on the strip, eventually settling on the Hampton Inn & Suites, which was clean, bright and airy. Being right in the centre of I-Drive was much better, with more entertainment within easy walking distance – an important factor in such hot, humid weather. 😳

Over the next few days we alternated between lazing by the pool and visiting the theme parks etc. On the days when we stayed at the hotel I thoroughly enjoyed doing absolutely nothing: reading and listening to music was as energetic as it got. This year’s reading list comprised:

You can’t visit Orlando without visitng the theme parks so we spent a day at Disney’s waterpark – Blizzard Beach – which was absolutely brilliant, and a day at Universal Studios which pretty good if a little expensive. I went on all of the “big” rides and Sara did quite well too, only bottling out of going on the roller coasters. 😎

We spent the evenings dining like kings and drinking like lords, never ceasing to be amazed how difficult it was to spend more than about £15 in any one place no matter what you ordered. On one rainy afternoon we visited the Orlando Outlet Mall – the prices of branded clothes and footwear are incredible. I bought two pairs of Adidas trainers (the Nike shop was boycotted, obviously), a pair of Rockport shoes, four Timberland shirts and a Fossil watch for about £80 in all. Sara bought Marlboro Lights. 😆

My overall impression of the USA is that it’s a superb holiday destination with everything going for it: great weather, plenty to see and do, good value for money. The most surprising thing for me was that the people seem so genuinely nice, friendly and helpful: nothing is too much trouble for them. I think the “export-strength” Americans you bump into over here, or when you’re on holiday elsewhere, are a completely different breed. 😕

Back in work this week and, despite setting up cunning automated rules to deal with 90% of my e-mail, I’ve still got nearly 300 messages requiring attention. I need a holiday! :evil:

USA Photos

I’ve just added a new photo gallery containing pictures from our USA holiday.

There aren’t any of the wedding yet because those were done by a professional photographer. In fact, there aren’t many at all – we didn’t want to lug the camera around when we went to the Theme Parks etc, so there are just a few token shots taken when we were out and about in the car.

USA Holiday – Week One

We’ve just arrived back from Florida which, I’ve got to say, is a fantastic place to visit.

Since this was to be our first proper holiday in a couple of years we decided to spoil ourselves by flying “Sunshine First” class. Wide leather seats, in twos, with 50-inches of legroom; priority boarding with a champagne welcome; three course meals with proper plates and cutlery; complimentary bar service with three staff for just 20 passengers; portable DVD players; double baggage allowance; a private cabin with no children allowed. Well worth the extra £150 each way. 😎

Upon arrival at Sanford airport we upgraded our hire car, opting for a more powerful Dodge Stratus R/T for only $5 per day more than the one we had pre-booked. Once I’d got used to driving on the wrong side of the road, I really enjoyed it.

We checked in to a hotel in Sanford for the first night, dropping off our bags and then going out in search of a few beers. As luck would have it, there was a bar/restaurant called “Hops” right next door which turned out to be part of a chain of Florida “brewpubs” with their own onsite microbreweries. Most visitors to Sanford simply pick up their car and drive off towards Orlando, so once our accents were heard at the bar we were welcomed warmly and treated like royalty all night. We sampled several of their organic ales and staggered back to our digs, quite merry, having spent just $22 between us. 😀

Next morning we braved the Interstate Highway towards Daytona Beach and then north up to Jacksonville. With little more than a few directions printed out from Google the night before leaving, we made it to Amelia Island by lunchtime. The drive in to town didn’t promise much but it’s actually a nice, quiet place with a tidy town centre, a small marina and miles of unspoilt beaches.

We checked into our hotel for the week, the Ash Street Inn at downtown Ferndandina Beach. Ian and Louise were already there, having arrived a week earlier, with several other guests also booked in at the same hotel. Sara’s dad, who made it safely except for a five hour delay in Washington, was staying at her brother’s beachside apartment a couple of miles away, just a few minutes from where her elder sister also lives.

On the last minute, as always, Ian and Louise went through all the usual wedding arrangements: the other bridesmaids went shopping for their shoes and dresses, hairdressers and makeup appointments were made, they collected the wedding licence from the town hall, they booked a minister to perform the ceremony, they organised a meal. The only thing they didn’t have, with only a couple of hours to spare, was a venue! Their plan was to charter The Voyager, a 19th Century Schooner, and have the ceremony onboard. Unfortunately nobody thought that there’d be a hurricane! It was touch and go whether the ship could even sail, so with time running out they decided to go for the safer option and get married on the hotel porch. 😯

Keeping with tradition Louise kept Ian waiting for quite a while before making her appearance. It was a short, informal ceremony and it was really nice to see most of Sara’s family gathered together for the first time in years. Once the knot was tied there were a few celebratory drinks at the hotel, then speeches and over to Brett’s waterside restaurant for the meal.

Those who weren’t exhausted from the day’s events partied for a while at Dolly and Daisy’s plush apartment back at the hotel. Next morning, with all the last minute chaos out of the way, it was nice to finally see the Bishops packed off on their honeymoon cruise. 🙂

Off to Florida

We’re off to the U.S.A. tomorrow for Louise and Ian’s wedding. 😎

They’re getting married on the island where Sara’s older brother and sister now live, Amelia Island, near Jacksonville in north east Florida.

It’s been a mad rush to get everything sorted out, picking up wedding dresses and rings at the last possible minute, but everything seems to be in order now. The only slight worry is Sara’s dad, who has never flown before and is making the trip solo on an earlier flight than us. 😯

Once the wedding is out of the way we’ve got a week to ourselves to visit the theme parks and travel around Florida. 😛

See y’all in a couple of weeks (unless I bump into Mr Glazer on my travels, in which case you’ll see me in an orange jumpsuit on death row). 😈

A few beers in Manchester

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in Manchester having a few beers with Paul, Dunk and Adrian. Starting off with lunch in Mr Thomas’s Chop House was a real winner: their steak and kidney rag pudding can’t be beaten. 😛

I’m not feeling too bad this morning considering we’d been drinking for about 10 hours straight. 😀