Friday, April 20, 2012

The End

So this is the end, my friend.

By the pool soaking up the last couple of hours in the Florida sunshine. As always holidays play a time distortion trick with my brain. I feel like we've been away for five minutes and at the same time five years. "Home" seems fuzzy, I can remember it but not very clearly.

I am trying to get my head around normal life: shopping, cleaning, cooking, work, school and after school routine. Like Pavlov's dig I'm sure I'll slip right into all the old behaviours without a second's hesitation. But sitting here by the pool it still feels a million light years away.

We certainly chose two very contrasting places for this trip. In a word Guatemala is dusty, physically and culturally. In a word Orlando is shiny, in all aspects.

Many times during this trip I have vowed to never take the children anywhere ever again. But in the sage words of Justin Bieber I know to never say never. Even as I write I can feel my resolve softening and the negative memories fading into the background, slowly to be reborn as humorous stories. The good, fun times jostle for position in the front row of my mind.

Who knows what the future will bring. Definitely more visits to Guatemala, next time hopefully in more of a helping role than simply a tourist role. A visit to Marianna's Colombia is a certainty in the next 4-5 years.

Orlando is hedonistic fun. It's beautiful weather, first class hotels, service, shopping and eating. We've loved every minute. Sharing part of the time here with my sister made it extra special and we are so happy they could join us.

But in the end it was all about this: Will leaning into me as we watched a movie in bed last night and saying "I'm really glad I met Ana Mercedes". Three weeks of middle class over indulgence with just one true purpose. One special day for us all but especially for Will.

So goodbye from Orlando...normal transmission will recommence from Sydney in 30 hours.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Scenes from a Mall

Last full day of our holiday.

Lazy start, kids watching Disney, us packing (and realising we really need to buy another suitcase).

Then off to Downtown Disney for what we thought would be our last hurrah at Pollo Campero for lunch. But we got waylaid and ended up at the T-Rex dinosaur themed restaurant.

It was pretty cool with moving dinosaurs and various areas such as the Ice Age, where we sat. Every 20 minutes there was a light show of sorts meant to represent a meteor shower. The kids loved it. The food was ok.

Then a taxi trip back to the Premium Outlet Mall where we juggled the children and managed to put in a solid three hours of shopping.

What can I say? The prices are just too hard to resist. A pair of one size up Nikes for Will for $30 (we paid $100 for the pair he's wearing now, bought at the start of the year for school sport shoes).

So shopping bags in hand plus the new suitcase we headed back to our home away from home.

I'm ready for home and "normality" but we will all be sad to leave. It's been a very enjoyable trip.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Islands of Adventure: Pics

Islands of Adventure

The weather was perfect for a day of theme park cruising, warm but not hot with some cloud. We were ready for some Universal fun. (Personally I was just a little over all things Mouse related.)

Universal's Islands of Adventure is home to the newish Wizarding World of Harry Potter and I was extremely excited to be finally getting to visit it.

Firstly we had to go through a few other sections, like Marvel Comics where Jay enjoyed the Incredible Hulk Rollercoaster and I went on the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman Ride with J and M. That's was a really fun ride - my favourite sort - the virtual ride.

Then we all got very wet on the Popeye and Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges. I may have screamed "make it stop" once or twice.

Jurassic Park was ok except for the whole weird ride rules for the Pterarodon Flyers ride which meant only Miss M could go on with one adult supervisor - lucky Jay.

Finally we reached Harry Potter and it was wonderful. The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride was worth the very long wait, it was the most incredible virtual ride I have ever experienced. The detail was unbelievable. I'm glad the kids didn't go because it was quite frightening at times, the dragon, the giant spiders and the Dementors in particular. I could have easily gone again and again but there was more to see and do.

Jay loved the double roller coaster fun of the Dragon Challenge and, most surprisingly the kids loved the Flight of the Hippogriff, the smaller sized coaster - Will went three times.

We wandered round the shops where my sis may or may not have had an unfortunate incident with the jelly bean dispensing machine in Honeydukes lolly shop. We all got to try some Butterbeer which was delicious. I couldn't quite bring myself to try the pumpkin juice.

Reluctantly I dragged myself away from all things Harry Potter and onto the next section where we enjoyed a cool little magic show and the Sinbad Stunt Show.

Finally it was onto Seuss Landing which was so much fun. Apart from Jay who loves his "real" (ie scary) rides we are generally a bunch of theme park wimps so these rides were much more our speed.

The couch ride through The Cat in the Hat was particularly fun. It was a really colourful and fun part of the park. I was so tempted to buy the kids Thing 1 and Thing 2 t-shirts but didn't really think they'd wear them after the novelty wore off.

By now it was 8pm and the park was closing. A huge, fun day had by all. We headed to Universal Walk for dinner at The Latin Quarter's churrascaria meat overload. It's amazing how quickly you can go from "I'm starving" to "don't come near me with your meat on a stick again, I'm about to explode". Special mention goes to the Sangria which was light and delicious and just what the doctor ordered after a hard day of theme park rambling.

So our theme park adventures come to an end. Don't think I can face another one for some time.

Today is J and M's last day as they head back to real life in NYC late this afternoon. We're having a pool day, we all need it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sunday: Pics

Shopping and eating

Saturday was shopping day. My sister J and I hit the closest outlet mall, hard. Well it's hard not to when prices are so good.

I got myself two pairs of Nikes, one for Zumba, one for walking, for $120. Two pairs of gorgeous Nine West heels for $90. Two pairs of Vans skate shoes for Will for about $50.

It was insane. After a few hours we were waddling, multiple bags in both hands, in the most ridiculous and unbecoming manner..,why don't these places have some sort of concierge service, damn it!

I may have gone a little crazy at the Osh Kosh store and the J. Crew stuff for kids is devine.

After five hours we'd probably covered half the mall but couldn't take another minute. Now we're contemplating trying to squeeze in another "quick" visit.

The boys and kids were by the pool and when we got back it was entertaining to watch Big Jay making requests of the poolside DJ. Who knew my Jay liked Brittney Spears' Toxic (and that they couldn't play it because it was inappropriate)?!

Finally dragged ourselves upstairs to clean up for dinner at La Luce, the Italian eatery here at the Hilton. After our stellar night at the Bull & Bear we had high expectations but unfortunately they weren't met. The food was average, the service was bordering on poor, it just wasn't great. Nevermind, onwards and upwards.

Sunday was going to be our day trip to Miami and the Everglades. After some discussion we came to the conclusion it was just too far and too hard on the kids. So unfortunately our visit to Dexter's hometown will have to wait.

We contemplated going to the Kennedy Space Centre instead but decided the kids wouldn't allow us to enjoy it very much (perhaps we're wrong on this front, I'm just being overly cautious now because their whinging does my head in).

Instead we chose to check out Downtown Disney. It's the Disney shopping, eating, entertainment area and there's no fee to actually get in - shock horror! There's a Cirque du Soleil there, cinemas, loads of restaurants, an indoor theme park (which we avoided).

We did spend an enjoyable hour in the huge Lego shop. Lego prices are incredible here so the kids got some Lego and we enjoyed the displays, inside and outside the shop...those Lego designers and builders are so clever!

I decided to take the kids to the movies to give them some quiet time and give the others the chance to enjoy happy hour at The House of Blues. The movie was Mirror, Mirror (the Snow White re-write) and it was a big steaming pile of non-entertaining, poorly written rubbish, so stay away. Movie prices (like everything) are cheap and our session was in a dine-in theatre so we had a table and waiter service - Miss M's Waffle Sundae was huge!

After the movie we found the others at The House of Blues (can you believe Jane's Addiction is playing there in May??) and bought the obligatory t-shirts.

Then it was seafood time. We had always planned on visiting Joe's Crab Shack while we were here (we have history) but there was an impressive looking Fulton's Crab House here and we loved the look of the menu.

Luckily we got a table right away, after being told they were booked out earlier in the day. Then we launched into what can only be described as a serious seafood overload.

A seafood tower (crab, prawns, oysters, lobster) for four to start with, then the lobster and crab platter for two plus two other dishes for main. They had a great kids' menu (not just your average sub-standard nuggets) and Miss M ordered the Snow Crab legs - it was hilarious watching her wrestle with these things.

Oh my god! The Maine Lobsters, freshly steamed, were devine. The different types of crab...the succulent was all gorgeous...even the little red skinned potatoes served with butter and herbs. It was gluttony of the best/worst kind....and again, probably half of what it would have cost in Sydney.

In a daze we stumbled out and straight into Pollo Campero...just in case anyone got hungry later. Hilarious!!!

So the day ended in our room, Miss M building one of her new Lego sets, all of us eating fried chicken and watching Bridesmaids on tv.

The days are running out and I'm not really wanting to go home. I'm usually so homesick but not this time. I'm not dreading returning to reality but I'm in no rush to head back there just yet.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Today was outlet shopping day for Jay and (yet another) relaxing by the pool day for me and the kidlets. Oh, and waiting for my sister and brother-in-law to turn up from NY.

So really nothing super exciting to report. The kids played and I started reading Neil Cross' autobiographical "Heartland" (I so love his books and now I'm starting to see where that darkness comes from).

The Hilton people had a DJ playing some great music and had dancing games and craft for the kids. Such a fun in the sun sort of day.

Then Jay returned with his spoils and J and M turned up all at about the same time. It was nice to sit and chat and catch up a little with my sis. The almost twelve months since the wedding and our trip to New York have just flown by so fast.

Then it was time to clean ourselves up and head to dinner at the Waldorf Astoria next door - we had a booking at the Bull & Bear.

Wow! What a great restaurant. Just the right ambience for an upmarket steak house: formal but friendly. Perfect service and truly wonderful food. The kids tasted almost everything, from the seafood platter entrees we shared to the brontosaurus sized steak sliced off the bone for us to the sublime little beignets (French donuts) and, as we all did, loved every mouthful.

After two weeks of dull, average and occasionally plain bad food it was a thorough treat. A meal I'll certainly remember as a highlight of this trip.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Disney Hollywood Stdios

Eureka!!! We finally had the sort of fun family day at a theme park I had been fantasizing about. Partially it was my plan to go in later in the day, giving the kidlets plenty of time in the morning to laze about, watch the Disney channel and eat their breakfast croissants in bed. None of the usual morning shananigins.

We also got our FastPasses (all two of them) first up as we've learnt they go fast (ha ha). This was done while Jay was lining up for an HOUR to get the kids photos taken with Buzz and Woody.

This park is more about shows than rides and we enjoyed the Muppets 3D movie, the car stunt show (both almost identical to MovieWorld on the Gold Coast), the back lot tour. I didn't go but the others loved the Star Tours ride and Jay said the Rock'n'Roller Aerosmith Rollercoaster was quite good but not full on enough for him.

For me the highlight of the whole day was the '50s Prime Time Diner where we had dinner. I chose it because I thought it might be a Happy Days style cafe but it was so much more.

For a start it's done up exactly like a '50s house; the details are amazing - the furniture, the knick knacks, the b&w tvs playing original programs. The menu is a throwback too, with meatloaf and pot roast and fried chicken.

The best part was our waitress who called us "kids" and told us the "rules: no elbows on the table, napkins on our laps, no talking with our mouths full, no arguing, no dessert if you don't eat your greens". She was hilarious!

The kids (and us) were enthralled with her persona and she had us in stitches each time she came past. The food was really good and it was a super fun experience. Like everything at Disney the details couldn't be faulted.

Then we did the film tour and headed off to Fantasmic which is their big light and musical spectacular (we can see the fireworks for it from our window at night). It was chockers and we ended up right at the back but it was very beautiful and worth seeing. Getting out was a pain in the bum but that's the price you pay.

A bit of shopping and then a long wait for the shuttle home (which was fine as we got to meet a sweet young family from Utah who were very nice to talk to).

Finally home after 11pm feeling tired but satisfied and very happy....especially when I checked the news and saw that Bob Brown had resigned (sadly it wasn't following an unfortunate incident with a goat as I had predicted). Bonus!

As a PS I have to comment on one family group I saw (and you do see more than your average amount of freaks at theme parks). This particular mother had thoughtfully dressed her three daughters (ages approximately 7, 10 and 14) in identical, very fetching ensembles of smocks made of Buzz and Woody curtain fabric with matching frilled pantaloons. I tried to take a discreet non-identifying photo but it was too crowded. I'm sure the older girl in particular would have been thrilled. Being the perfect parent myself I can sadly say "some parents are just cruel".

EPCOT: Pictures

DisneyWorld: EPCOT

EPCOT is where we spent our Wednesday. We seem to be establishing a pattern on theme park days: kids, particularly Miss M, don't want to get out of bed, don't want to get dressed, don't want breakfast. Jay and I spend a lot of frustrating time begging, cajoling and threatening them from one step to another.

Finally we get two limp rags (jellyfish, Jay calls them) to the shuttle bus stop. They bicker about nothing in particular. (Yesterday, to be fair, they found two boys they had been playing with at the pool on our shuttle and we all spent a happy journey chatting with the family - from Chicago - during the short trip. It never ceases to amaze me how much easier it is when the kids make a friend of someone outside the family - defuses the sibling squabbling one million percent.)

At the park, as previously, Will refuses to go on the first few rides despite many assurances of fun and safety and non-scariness. Usually he decides this when we've already been standing in the line for a while (sometimes when we are literally about to board the ride, like yesterday with Mission: Space). Around lunchtime he warms up and starts enjoying some rides.

EPCOT is a combination of Future World and World Showcase. The former areas have all the rides including the almost impossible to get on (we didn't) Soarin' which is by all accounts amazing and Mission: Space which was fun and Ellen's Energy Adventure which was fun and funny.

I really liked Living with the Land which was lame but informative. Jay loved Test Track and we all enjoyed Re-imagined! Spaceship Earth (except Will who wouldn't go).

The World Showcase area is replicated areas of various countries like Canada, Norway, England, Morocco. The attention to detail is mind blowing. We really enjoyed wandering around this part of the park - especially the 360 degree tourist movie of Canada hosted by Martin Short (beautiful and funny) and the cover band playing all music British in the little park near the pub.

If we weren't so tired by then we could have explored in much more detail but we were stuffed and hot by 6:00 pm when we decided to head home.

EPCOT was hosting the Disney garden festival and looked incredible with the stunning gardens, especially the Disney themed topiary. We were speculating on the numbers of staff required to keep things looking so magnificent; there literally isn't a blade of grass out of place...and it would need to be maintained at night because you never see maintenance or gardening people (apart from basic rubbish collection) during the day.

The kids always enjoy themselves in the afternoon (the morning is when Jay and I curse ourselves for being so stupid for taking two ungrateful brats on a trip like this and swear never to take them anywhere more exciting than Woy Woy Caravan Park ever again).

We got "home" in time for a swim and a drink by the pool, then showers and room service dinner with a family movie (something about a talking dog, I was finishing "A Tiny Bit Marvellous" on the Kindle - loved it BTW).

This is where hotels like this come into their own. Tired after a big day out there's nothing like someone else taking care of dinner and a cosy bed to snuggle down in.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Tuesday was a rest day. Jay had booked in to play golf at the Waldorf Astoria next door and I was planning a day of serious nothingness.

The pool area here at the Hilton is well designed to keep kidlets busy with watery fun all day; there is a lazy river which meanders around the entire pool and a decent water slide.

I didn't see them for the first three hours at all (apart from when I'd make a point of picking out their heads bobbing along as they went around the lazy river for the 500th time).

This meant it was just me and Dawn French (well her delicious novel "A Tiny Bit Marvellous") in the sunshine. Oh, wait...just me and the loudmouth ignoramus who had plonked himself on the sun lounge next to me and proceeded to make and answer a gazillion phone calls during which he swore, yelled and generally abused his employees, colleagues and family in a very broad (what turned out to be) Long Islander accent.

Talk about disrupting the peace! If I had rolled my eyes any further I would have been in danger of losing them inside my skull forever.

After a while he disappeared to spend "quality" time with his unfortunate offspring but would periodically re-appear to yell at some other subordinate. [Later in the day Jay returned from golf and, as he does, engaged Mr Dropkick in chit chat prompting me to break out in a cold sweat at the thought of an imagined dinner invitation. Luckily he wasn't charmed by Jay's Aussie style and told us in no uncertain terms that Australia was "too far away" and was in no danger of him visiting it anytime soon. Lucky us!]

Anyway, apart from the occasional unpleasant distraction from the sun lounge next door it was a totally idyllic day. At about 1:00pm the water logged kids emerged and requested food. I just love poolside dining: momentarily a tray appeared with burgers, Shirley Temples and one very toxic looking (but delicious) frozen Blue Lagoon.

The afternoon saw me in much the same position as the morning but I did drag myself from the Kindle for 15 minutes for a refreshing swim.

Jay returned not totally happy as he ended up playing the round on his own (two others booked in to play with him had not turned up - possibly his hole-in-one reputation had preceded him?). It was a shame as he had really been looking forward to playing on this immaculate course.

That evening we had an average buffet dinner at the main restaurant, the highlight of which was the informative chatter from our waiter.

Then a family movie in bed. Oh! Bed! I love these Hilton beds and bedding - its like sleeping on a cloud. The pillows are heaven and I will need to source some at any cost upon returning home because the thought of my old Tontines at home fill me with dread.