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.
Friday, April 20, 2012
So this is the end, my friend.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
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
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
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 prawns...it 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
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 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.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
If lining up for 40+ minutes for a ride that takes about a minute makes you happy than DisneyWorld is definitely the happiest place on earth. If you especially like lame rides that are only marginally more exciting than being in a coma than you better hurry up and book your tickets.
You may be getting the impression that I didn't love DW and you would be right. If you offered me a million dollars to go back today I would have to give it some deep consideration and then say "no [insert expletive here] way".
You can't fault their customer service (they probably employ half the residents of the state of Florida), you can't fault the organisation or cleanliness...but you can fault the enjoyability factor.
The fact we had been to Disneyland twice before (and DW is almost identical) didn't help. The fact that the kids were unreasonably grumpy to start with, reluctant to go on many rides claiming they were "scary" and Miss M kept on insisting we buy every damn princess related item we passed also didn't help. When the Princess Makeover Experience at the Cinderella castle proved to be booked out I couldn't have got any lower in her estimations. (Now I have to try and book her into a session at Downtown Disney because she won't let up about it.)
It's not like we didn't have ANY fun. The kids and Jay loved the car driving thingy in Tomorrowland. The kids and I enjoyed the Buzz Lightyear ride, even if the wait seemed twice as long as your average federal election campaign.
We enjoyed the cheesy song and dance show at the castle and the old "It's a small world" ride, which I was physically dreading, seems to have toned down the song which means we don't have it embedded in our brains like on previous visits (surely the old version was against the Geneva Convention).
The kids also had a ball dancing with Stitch at the DJ stage while we were waiting for Jay to finish with Magic Mountain.
We have now tried Waffle Sandwiches and while they didn't kill us we see no reason to eat such things ever again.
Marianna enjoyed a Minnie Mouse shaped Crispie Treat (like an LCM for those at home) the size of her head.
I think Will enjoyed the monorail ride to and from the transportation hub as much as the actual park. They both enjoyed the regular bus loading and unloading wheelchair bound passengers while we were waiting for our shuttle (look and learn Sydney Buses)
Overall it seemed like about one hour's worth of entertainment wrapped in a 10 hour day of hard, hot work.
We came back to the hotel and grabbed some rolls from the Muse cafe (which has nice, simple food but varied staff - yesterday: nice, today: prison day release program). Each night they play a movie by the pool and we ate our easy dinner on the lounge chairs while watching "Bolt". (Miss M was in the pool of course.)
I am writing this on Tuesday morning. Jay is off for his much awaited game of golf at the Waldorf Astoria resort next door. I am too scared to ask about the price but I'm sure he'll have an amazing time. The kids and I are enjoying a day of r & r by the pool. It's another gorgeous Orlando day.
We are half way through our trip and home seems a long way away. Love to everyone reading this - unless you are some creepy blog troll (shame on you).
PS. Only 72 hours until my gorgeous sister and equally gorgeous brother-in-law arrive to join us for five days. Yippee!
Monday, April 09, 2012
Saturday we were up early to get ready for our 9:00 am airport pick up. The usual last minute running around. We said goodbye to our new friends, including Tamarindo.
I had woken up feeling sick and the nausea continued on the drive to the airport. We ate a last meal of Pollo Campero after check in (I was hoping the nausea was hunger related).
It was the usual Guatemala-US flight - full of Guatemalans carrying jumbo sized bags full of Campero take away.
I sat next to a nice young woman, a Spanish teacher at a private school in Atlanta, who had taken a bunch of students to build a home for a poor family. The conversation helped take my mind off how sick I was feeling.
At this point Jay was feeling sick too and we were both pretty green by the time we landed in Atlanta.
A word about Delta at this point. They are CRAP. The service is average at best and downright rude at worst. So far they have fulfilled my expectation of getting us from point A to point B safely but that's all I can say about them.
The flight to Orlando was pretty awful. Jay was in the bathroom for 80% of the time and I just sat very still with my eyes closed hoping to get there without any nasty accidents.
Oh, Atlanta airport is HUGE! Biggest hub in the US. There is a multi stop subway which links the numerous terminals. Orlando airport has a monorail which takes you to baggage claim.
By the time we got to Orlando it was about 10:30 and we were very tired, grumpy and us big people were feeling extremely sick. To make things better we got a crazy taxi driver who kept talking about the movie "Contagion" like it was a documentary. Nutter!!
The Hilton Bonnet Creek is an almost new hotel, together with the Waldorf Astoria next door (the only one outside of the NYC), they sit on huge grounds within the Disney precinct. Our room on the 17th floor overlooks Disney and the amazing pool area.
Normally we would be excited, and the kids were, but Jay and I just wanted to go to bed. Of course the kids were starving and at 10:50 I was ordering them room service. At 11:30 the kids are happily eating their cheeseburger and spaghetti and we're lying on the bed like zombies, trying to stay awake long enough to put out the room service trolley.
After a night of tag team toilet flushing Jay woke up feeling pretty good and I woke up feeling like I'd been run over by a train. The kids were super excited about the Easter egg hunt (the girl at the check in desk told us there were 4,000 eggs hidden in the grounds) so Jay took them down while I stayed in bed.
Around 11am I managed to drag myself downstairs to join them by the pool. The kids were having a ball and I snoozed a little in the sunshine. You could get anything you wanted down there: food, drink, blow up pool toys, beach towels. The BBQ station was right near our seats but the smell just made me feel sick.
Jay stayed with the kids while I went back to bed. It's now 6:40 pm and I've wasted the whole day. I'm feeling better though and have just managed to eat a yoghurt with no I'll effects.
DisneyWorld Magic Kingdom tomorrow. I'm hoping for a decent sleep tonight and some energy for a big day.
Saturday, April 07, 2012
I'm sitting here on our final morning not really wanting to leave. It rained most of the night and all I could think about was the poor float carriers and other members of the processions. They keep going rain, hail or shine. It is part of the process to suffer like Jesus but really?!
During our visit with Ana Mercedes S told us the average age for first births here is 12. Think about that next time you are arguing with your pre-teen or early teen about iPod time. You see lots and lots of little girls with babies; I always think it must be their baby brother or sister but the fact is it's probably their own child. In Guatemala you really see that babies are easy to make but hard to look after.
Middle class people (possibly any people earning a formal wage) pay 5% income tax. The indigenous Mayan make up 60% of the population, safe to say most don't work in a formal sense (though they are very hard workers) requiring a tax deduction from their income. The people don't trust the government so don't want to pay more tax (nothing new there). So the maths are pretty simple: no money for infrastructure and services.
Another interesting point. You can become a teacher right out of high school, no higher education needed. Which is why public schools are of such poor quality and anyone who can afford it sends their children to private schools (most are not what we think of when we think "private school", except for some exclusive and international schools). Private schools are just better, in terms of teachers with higher qualifications and better resources.
Public hospitals here offer a diagnosis but no medicine. So if you get diagnosed with cancer you need to find your own chemotherapy drugs and wait until they can treat you - possibly months. There are good private hospitals but only for those who can afford them. There is a Jesuit free hospital here in Antigua which has volunteer international doctors and surgeons.
As Giovany told us the Mayans don't really have a concept of future. He said the past is always in front of them. Wow!
I am leaving with a fascination for the culture and a love for the people. We have discussed coming when the children are grown, with or without them, to volunteer and spend some "real" time here (as opposed to tourist time). It is something we both feel really strongly ab
Hasta la vista Guatemala.