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Travel: Florida

July 2003

Jesus unblocked my toilet. No, really. Third day in and after a couple of near misses I finally managed to plug the sub-standard porcelain bowl. Don’t wish to labour the point but Yank toilets lack the depth of a good British model. So, there we are, bathroom awash with...
Anyway, we report it to reception and leg it in to the Florida heat. On our return all is clean, including the $10 tip I left. On the cistern is a bright orange compliment card. “We believe we have corrected the problem but if not please call the front desk, dial 0. Thank You. Jesus Erng...” The surname was indecipherable.
As it turned out it wasn’t the only small miracle the missus and I were to experience during seven days at Lake Buena Vista, near Orlando. The Sunshine State is now one of the most popular destinations for sun and fun-seeking Britons. One of the reasons they come to Orlando — sorry, the main reason — is Disney. And yet we never saw Mickey Mouse once. Apart from a fridge magnet in the airport on the way home, that is.

Being first-timers we had a vague idea that Orlando probably was Disney World with a few surplus attractions. Not so. Over the space of one week we had the best of times without setting foot in one of the Disney theme parks. We did make it to Downtown Disney — the free bit with its cinemas, nightly fireworks display, Virgin Megastores, the House of Blues, fridge magnet shops and Planet Hollywood, the movie-themed restaurant co-owned by Arnie, Sly and Bruce Willis. Great if you like plain food and queuing. We simply didn’t have time to try the county-sized empire that contains four separate Disney parks: Epcot, MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom and that one with the iconic castle, Magic Kingdom.
So what did we spend so much time doing apart from sweating and saying “blimey, it’s too hot”? Well, shopping for starters. Ahh, the shopping. Call me a big girl but faced with cheap designer clothes I’m like a big girl faced with cheap designer clothes. We must have gone every day and filled an extra suitcase with stuff. That’s a Samsonite suitcase (£40), filled with Timbaland shoes (£12), Ralph Lauren jean shorts (£10), RL T-shirts (£6), a gents brown leather case (£50)... like the food it is all so chirping well cheap.

Anyway, we did do some sightseeing. There was Seaworld, a huge park full of sea lion shows, a few rides, a few whales and dolphins, which didn’t come and say hello because those pesky kids were in the way. The Kennedy Space Centre was disappointing but only because after spending an hour getting there by car, it was a two-hour trip on a coach to get to the interesting bits at Cape Canaveral. We settled for a look in the Space Shuttle (claustrophobic) and a few dormant rockets. Universal Studios is an astonishing, mad place and you could easily spend a week just going round that. So turning up at 9pm when it shut at 10pm wasn’t getting our money’s worth. Still, we saw the nightly fireworks display (which made our bonfire night spectacle on The Forest look like a damp sparkler) and a meal in the Hard Rock Cafe.

Most Orlando visitors stay on International Drive, three miles from where we were somewhat isolated at Lake Buena Vista (we had to hire a car). It’s the better location because you can walk to attractions like Wet n Wild, some upside down house (Ripley’s Believe It Or Not), The Hard Rock Vault and the one place well worth avoiding... an English pub called The Cricketers Arms. Vile place. Dirty. Poor beer. Stay clear.

Talking of filth, when we arrived the Orlando Sentinel carried the headline “Beachgoers swim in sewage: Stomach-churning but surprisingly non-stinky sewage plagued beachgoers and lifeguards in south Brevard County”. Not that we were disturbed by that. The beach doesn’t really figure in Orlando. The hotel pools are mighty fine if you want a dip and there are better things to do in-land than swimming. Too much in fact. A week really isn’t long. You’d struggle to get it all in in a month. So we’ll be back. We’re just praying now for a financial miracle.

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