Dreams of Mickey Mouse

Some of you may recall our non-Jamaica party for two last May which I organised to take our minds of the fact that we were supposed to be jetting out to Jamaica.

When this holiday was cancelled, we swapped it to Orlando, and, as I type, we should be at thirty thousand feet drinking a gin and tonic on our way there. Even though it was cancelled a few weeks ago, I couldn’t quite bring myself to remove it from my phone calendar, almost as if that was accepting that we weren’t going, so this morning I’ve been assaulted by reminders!

I’ve no idea why it says Tuesday in the little box! Anyway, we honestly didn’t think, when we swapped to April 2021, that we’d still be in the situation that we’re in with Covid. April 2021 seemed so far ahead at the time, that we assumed the world would’ve beaten this virus by now, but onwards we battle!

As it turns out, maybe some things truly are meant to happen a certain way, because we wouldn’t have been going anyway. It’s Granny’s funeral on Wednesday when we’d have been three days into our holiday. Much as I love holidays, and Orlando in particular, I wouldn’t have missed this occasion and chance to say au revoir.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of my favourite photos and memories of our previous holidays to Orlando. There are a lot of photos, so I fear this may take me a while to narrow down to something manageable.

I’ll start with our first trip, and our first visit to Magic Kingdom. This was our very first day in Orlando and I absolutely had to go and meet Winnie the Pooh and his friends.

I was so starstruck!! This was at the Crystal Palace where you can eat as much as you want from the buffet and meet Pooh bear, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger as they roam around the restaurant. Excited was not the word!!

Sticking to the character theme, on our third trip we went to Epcot for the second time and had lunch with Mickey Mouse!

Whilst we’re on the subject of Epcot, here’s some more Pooh bear spam!

Fabulous topiary. I think, of the Disney parks that we’ve been to, Epcot is my favourite. We haven’t been to Hollywood Studios because it seems to be weighted heavily towards Star Wars which we’re not particular fans of. Animal Kingdom is good and we enjoyed our day there because we got to see lots of animals and a couple of the attractions are really good (we went before the Avatar additions) but it’s not very Disney so probably Busch Gardens would suit us better (it’s on the list!) Magic Kingdom is awesome and I’m sure we’ll visit again, but it is more for the younger visitors while the young at heart such as ourselves would probably prefer to visit less frequently (but it should certainly be on the list for first time visitors in my opinion). Epcot, however, has a lot of Disney content to satisfy the child in me, but also has loads of other cool stuff. I guess it’s more educational with all the different countries represented. It also has possibly the best simulator ride in Soarin’. It galls me to say that given how much I love the Harry Potter simulators at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, but it may just pip them for the actual ride, but not the queue where Hogwarts and Gringotts beat it hands down.

I have to share the next photo which I took at Epcot because it makes me smile every time I see it. This is Bruce from Shark Tale and I didn’t notice that he was trying to eat that poor lady until I looked at the photos of the day back at the hotel that evening!

As I seem to have moved into talking about each park, I’ll move on to Kennedy Space Centre. We’ve been to Kennedy twice and it’s a great day out. It’s about an hour’s drive from the International Drive area, but it’s an easy drive. Kennedy is also a fairly educational day and there is much less emphasis on thrill seeking. Having said that, hubby did find himself in outer space on our last trip.

There’s a really interesting bus ride around the park where you see and learn a lot about space launches. You might even spot a ‘gator lurking in one of the waterways around the complex.

Moving on to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, which together make up my happy place! I just feel, as soon as I emerge from City Walk to either turn left for Islands of Adventure or right for Universal Studios, a surge of happiness and a weight lifting. It’s pure fun, escapism and excitement.

I’ve found it difficult to narrow down my photos of these two parks but I’ve just about managed. I’ll start with my two favourite rollercoasters.

On the left is Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and it’s amazing! It was new last year and we were really lucky that we managed to go pre-covid and ride it. We had to queue for two hours to get on it, but it was worth it. The queue was amazing going past Hagrid’s hut and with a view of Hogwarts for some time and then the actual ride was exhilarating. You sit in pairs with one on the motorbike and one in the side car. Hubby let me have the motorbike since I’m the main Harry Potter fan and it was great! At one point you’re speeding towards the end of the track with your heart in your mouth wondering how on earth this is going to end, and then you screech to a halt and go backwards before stopping in the dark forbidden forest and then free falling to the track underneath. Amazing!

On the right is the Incredible Hulk coaster. The queue is less impressive but is still Hulk themed and atmospheric but the actual coaster is brilliant. One particular part is my favourite – as you approach the end of the tube in the photo going relatively slowly, all of a sudden the Hulk roars and you’re propelled forward pushing you back in your seat and possibly evoking a completely unintentional squeal of excitement (or is that just me?)

There’s so much about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that I love, that I can’t possibly show it all so I’ve chosen a few select photos.

Top row starting on the left is inside the Hog’s Head pub where we stopped for a gilly water, then Hogwarts Castle and Hedwig in her cage sitting on Harry’s case in the queue for the Hogwarts Express.

Bottom row left to right is the Hogwarts Express which is one of my favourite parts of the Wizarding World, the Leaky Cauldron where we’ve stopped for lunch a couple of times and the Knight Bus.

We spent my 40th birthday in Orlando and we splashed out and visited Discovery Cove which is completely different to the hustle and bustle of the other parks. Discovery Cove has a daily crowd limit of 1400 so it’s not busy (apart from the restaurant at lunchtime!) and is completely relaxing!

The day is quite expensive, but is all inclusive. You can arrive early and get breakfast, then you can go and get your life jacket or wet suit, snorkel and fish-friendly suntan lotion, and then you can grab a sun bed or you can go snorkelling in the Grand Reef with rays and tropical fish and a segregated section with sharks or you can float around the lazy river stopping off to wander through the aviary. At lunchtime you can get a yummy lunch before choosing how to spend your afternoon. You can swim with dolphins although we’ve chosen not to here and you can laze around in the deliciously warm water in the sunshine.

Sticking with the water theme and moving on to a different park but returning to Universal, is Volcano Bay. We’ve stopped at Cabana Bay twice, once with a volcano view which was so nice to wake up to.

This has been my screensaver on my work laptop for the past couple of years. That pool that you can see has a wave machine that starts every so often signalled by the drums and there are a couple of awesome water rides in the volcano. One is a trapdoor ride right from the top to the bottom and the other is an aqua coaster which is super fun. There are plenty of other water rides/slides in the park and probably my favourite is the lazy river from where you have a view of our hotel.

I think I’ve probably bombarded you with enough information and photos now, so I’ll finish, but I am getting hungry so I feel compelled to share one last photo which was my 40th birthday dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe on City Walk and is probably my favourite meal ever, and I’ve had it all three times that we’ve been to the Hard Rock! Behold, the chicken fajita!!

2020 A Year in Review

2020 may have been the oddest year of most of our lives but it’s done now, and we have to have hope that 2021 will be better. I have, for the most part, managed to stay mentally sound throughout most of the year, which I know isn’t the same for everyone. I thank my lucky stars that this happened now and not a couple of decades ago when we would have been far more isolated that we have been thanks to Zoom, FaceTime and Teams.

I also massively appreciate the fact that we have outside space which, although at the moment isn’t at all enticing due to the inclement weather, got us through the warmer months of the year with relative ease, especially so when we were allowed to have people in our garden.

Here are some of my favourite garden photos of last year.

The garden was reasonably productive in terms of fruit and veg in 2020 …

… and we had quite a few visitors of the fauna variety!

Inside the house, we made a few home improvements. The first was pre-lockdown when, with the help of my Dad, we transformed our bathroom from dingy to sparkly clean safari wonderland.

During lockdown when I was furloughed and hubby’s workplace was demonstrating exactly how a zero hours contract benefits the employer (they still are!) we tackled first our spare bedroom/my home office making it a homage to all things Harry Potter …

… then when I was unfurloughed but hubby was still unbusy with zero hours, he decided to tackle the woodchip in our living room and we completely redecorated including wallpapering, laying laminate flooring, opening out the fireplace and hanging the TV on the wall.

Outside we built a catio on the side of the kitchen so our furry girls can get some air safely.

Away from home, amazingly we did manage to squeeze in three holidays. The first was, to paraphrase Craig Revel-Horwood A-May-zing!! A week long cruise round the Caribbean preceded by a two night stop in Orlando and a trip to Universal to go on the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures coaster. This was pre-COVID, in fact I remember the first I heard about it was by scanning the Sky news app whilst I was sunbathing on deck, and I assumed it would be like the previous SARS disease. I never even entertained the thought that it could turn into what it has! Blissful ignorance, eh?

In between lockdown 1.0 and lockdown 2.0 we managed a short break to Norfolk which was a game of two halves – lovely to get away and see the sea, but I got bitten by a dog, we had to come home early because hubby had a job interview (which he didn’t get!) and I got a flat tyre!

In September we went to Edinburgh for my birthday. This had been booked pre-pandemic and we didn’t know until the last minute whether we’d be able to go, but I’m so glad we could because we had a fantastic time. One of the best holidays I’ve ever had.

We had a few great days out – we walked alpacas, visited confetti fields, played with meerkats, met gorillas at Twycross Zoo and we walked and cycled many times in Sutton Park and Kingsbury Water Park …

… and we also had a couple of great days in making up for things that we should have been doing. We had a non-Jamaica party for two on the day we were supposed to be flying out and we had a tennis afternoon tea on the day Dad and I were supposed to be going to watch the ATP tour finals in London.

I also did a lot of crafts – mainly crochet, but also knitting, baking, jigsaws (do they count as crafts?) model making, felting and, obviously, mask making!

So, all in all, although it certainly didn’t feel like it at times, 2020 was actually a pretty full year and I achieved quite a lot. Amongst all this, I was also working full time (apart from being furloughed for nine weeks in the summer) in a job that I only started six weeks before we were plunged into lockdown and home working, and I feel that I managed very well to learn the new job (although this is an on-going process) under challenging circumstances. It turns out that home working, while it doesn’t suit everyone or every job, works pretty well for me, and for my team. As I mentioned before, thank goodness for technology!

Now it’s time to look forward to 2021 and I’ll finish with a quote that I recently read in a fiction book, the sixth in the Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley but that is based in fact (the first book I didn’t enjoy as much, but I’m so glad I persevered because they got better and better and one thing to look forward to in 2021 is the release of the final in the series).Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards – Soren Kierkegaard.

Harmony of the Seas Western Caribbean

So, I’m lying in bed with a slight (entirely self-inflicted) headache, waiting for 11am to roll around so I can order an Uber Eats Maccy Ds to neutralise the alcohol consumed last night, and I can hear Storm Ciara kicking up a fuss outside, so I thought it would be the perfect moment to start the post about our cruise which I promised last weekend. As an aside, am I the only person in the world who was annoyed when McDonalds extended their breakfast time to 11am? I’m sure it made perfect Golden Arches business sense, but on a morning like this one, I don’t want rubbery egg, I want a big fat burger and fries with extra grease, and now I have to wait an extra thirty minutes for it. Thank goodness for Uber though – at least I don’t have to venture out into Ciara’s midst to get my fix!

I can start pretty much where I finished the last post, because this time three weeks ago (time difference aside) it was embarkation day and we were making our way to IHOP on International Drive for our decadent brunch (the picture of which I will share again because it was just sooooo good!) …

… before we excitedly headed off down the I4 and the FL-50 E to Port Canaveral to board Harmony of the Seas. We could see the ship from quite far out – she was the only cruise liner docked at Port Canaveral that day, and there’s no mistaking her! She’s huge! She was, until overtaken by her sister, Symphony, the biggest cruise liner in the world and, in case anyone’s interested, she was made using steel plates and sheets produced by the company that I work for, ArcelorMittal. She was completed and delivered to Royal Caribbean in 2016 and that year she was on our calendars at work so I looked at her every day for a year as I changed the date, and I vowed then that one day I’d sail on her.

Where do I start with describing her? We boarded on deck 5 which is one of the main entertainment decks, so we entered into hustle and bustle.

These photos were taken on our last day so it’s quieter, but on embarkation day it was buzzing with people boarding and trying to find their way around as well as crew welcoming people and offering directions, and people who’d already learnt the ropes and were taking advantage of the restaurants, bars and cafes.

It was all quite overwhelming so we found a lift (or elevator as 99% of passengers seemed to be American or Canadian) and went to gain our equilibrium in our stateroom.

It didn’t stay that tidy for long! Our luggage was delivered before too long (always a relief when you’ve had to leave it with a random guy on the quayside!) and we actually completely unpacked rather than living out of our suitcases like we normally do (mainly because there wasn’t anywhere convenient to leave the cases with easy access).

The cabin had every modcon necessary. We had aircon that actually worked well, lots of drawers and hanging space in the cupboards, and also a free to use safe that was big enough to take my iPad. There were plenty of plug sockets (most US style and one European) including one next to the bed which was very handy for charging our phones/watch/AirPods overnight. The bathroom was very nice with a decent shower which always had hot water despite the vast number of passengers on board (six thousand six hundred from sixty five nations plus two thousand two hundred crew from seventy five nations apparently). We also had a fridge which was handy for the two bottles of wine that we were allowed to bring on board with us and also leftovers from the breakfast that you could order from room service (this was handy for port days when we had excursions booked and needed to be off the ship early).

I ordered granola, yoghurt, honey and a fruit plate and made myself an almost Slimming World friendly breakfast! You could also have croissants, Danish pastries, toast and preserves, cereal and milk, donuts (American spelling, obviously) or for a charge, a full American breakfast or a breakfast Margharita (is that even a thing?)

As you can see, we had a big porthole which looked out to the starboard side. The ship has staterooms with balconies but we weighed up the pros and cons versus the cost and decided a porthole would be best for us. The sea facing balconies were several hundred pounds more. We could have had an internal facing balcony for a similar price …

… but as you can see from these photos, there’s much less privacy because of the balconies opposite and with the porthole you have the advantage of being able to see where you are on port days. We also enjoyed sitting in the window with a glass of vino watching the sea slip by as we sailed off into the sunset.

It also became a good place to display my new fridge magnets.

In the photo above with the pink slides snaking their way down ten decks from sixteen to six you can see the boardwalk. Here you could find the Doghouse which served various different kinds of hotdog and other speciality restaurants, the Aqua Theatre, various shops including the Royal shop selling Royal Caribbean branded items and the carousel.

In the next photo you can see Central Park. This was an oasis on deck eight. It was always quiet, sometimes with peaceful live piano music. There was one inclusive restaurant in Central Park and a couple that required a supplement.

All the plants and trees are real. As it was open air there were umbrellas at each end just in case there were any showers.

I’d be hard pressed to mention everything that there is to do on the ship, but I’ll give it a go!

There are two rock climbing walls …

… three water slides seen here on the model because I somehow neglected to take a photo …

… one dry slide called the Ultimate Abyss which was AWESOME …

… two flowriders where you could have a go at surfing or body boarding …

… a mini golf course …

… a zip line which sent you zooming over the Boardwalk ten decks below …

… and an ice skating rink.

There were four pools, twelve hot tubs, hundreds of sun loungers (including really cute child sized ones), a casino, art gallery, card room, climbing wall for kids, full size basketball court, two table tennis tables, two arcades, an escape room (we got out with about five minutes to spare), an adults only solarium, a gym and spa, hairdressers and beauty salon and a running track on deck five.

Excuse the horrendous photo of me, but it’s proof that we did it!

You could eat in twenty restaurants. We stuck to the ones included in the price of our cruise. There was Sorrentos serving pizza and anti pasta, Cafe Promenade where you could go for a hot drink and a cake, the Doghouse that I’ve already mentioned and a couple more that we didn’t even manage to fit in, but we had most of our meals in Minibites on the pool deck serving breakfast and lunch (great nachos) and Windjammers which was a massive buffet restaurant with more food than you could possibly eat! In addition to this there were many bars including the Schooner Bar which had live music every night and various quizzes, the Rising Tide Bar which slowly moved between decks five and eight, and my favourite, the Bionic Bar where you ordered your cocktail on an iPad and then a big robot arm made and served your drink.

We went to see three shows (which wasn’t all of the ones available!) We saw Grease in the Royal Theatre on our first night …

… which was really good.

A couple of days later we watched 1887 in Studio B which was the ice rink …

… and the final show we were lucky to see because it had been cancelled the previous couple of nights because the weather wasn’t good enough. It was in the Aqua Theatre and was called the Fine Line.

There was aerial acrobatics, diving from height and lots of water! The stage in the pool raised and lowered depending whether the performers were in, on or under the water.

Phew! With all that at your fingertips you’d wonder if it was worth actually getting off the ship! Of course we did!

First stop was Perfect Day at CocoCay which is an island in the Bahamas which is exclusively for Royal Caribbean cruise passengers.

It has a water park, several beaches and inland pools, a market and, conveniently, a couple of all inclusive restaurants. As with the ship, drinks are extra, but as I’d paid for a freestyle soda cup which I could refill whenever I liked for the whole cruise and on CocoCay, and twenty four bottles of Evian, we didn’t need to fork out for any drinks.

We’d booked a swimming with pigs excursion here so we headed off on a speed boat to a nearby island for this quite early. This was brilliant. There were tiny four week old piglets right up to huge sows, all of whom were very keen to eat the apple on sticks that we were given to feed them. At one point one of the tour guides knocked over a box of apples (I’ve a feeling it might have been accidentally on purpose!) and we found out that pigs can move pretty quickly!

Sorry about the swimwear shot – there might be a couple of these!

We were supposed to be going parasailing in the afternoon but unfortunately this got cancelled because the forecast was for rain. Given the rain that did appear, I’m very pleased we weren’t up in the air! Anyway I’m glad I booked the excursions the way round that I did, because we can parasail anywhere but we can’t swim with pigs anywhere else. We had the money refunded so we were able to book an excursion when we got back to Florida.

The second day was at sea and was actually a bit chilly, but we found a sheltered spot and I settled down with a book, hubby with his music.

On the third day we docked at Costa Maya in Mexico, not far from the Yucatan peninsula. We got off and had a look around the dock. The weather was beautiful this day.

It was a really busy and bustling port and there were four cruise ships in so after we’d had a scout around we decided to head back to the ship for some lunch and sunbathing.

You can see how big our ship is in this photo that I took on the way back.

The ship next door is the Seven Seas Explorer and she has capacity for seven hundred and fifty passengers and five hundred and fifty crew so she’s not exactly a tiny rowing boat but she’s dwarfed by Harmony.

Day four saw us arrive in Roatan which is an island off the coast of Honduras. Here we’d booked a snorkelling tour and time on a private beach. The second biggest reef in the world, the MesoAmerican reef, runs down the coast of Central America so we were excited about snorkelling here. It was actually a little disappointing in terms of the sea life that we saw, but I think this is because we’ve spoiled ourselves for snorkelling by doing it in the Maldives. If you want amazing snorkelling, the Indian Ocean is the place to do it. Anyway, we did see a couple of rays, some sea urchins and best of all, starfish.

Back on the beach it was idyllic. We had sun loungers right on the shore and the weather was beautiful. We were lucky – our tour guide, Jordan, told us that it had rained the day before. There wasn’t a drop in sight for us.

Day five took us back to Mexico, this time Cozumel island.

You wouldn’t believe how long I had to wait for people to get out of the way so I could get this photo without random strangers in it! The port area here was nice. We had a look round all the shops and watched snorkelers swim around. We almost went to eat at Bubba Gumps (one of our favourite restaurants) but decided we would save our money and eat back on board Harmony. We took advantage of the various photo opportunities though.

Day six was at sea again so we made the most of the facilities. We went down the Ultimate Abyss (twice), went ice skating, hubby went on the zip line one more time (it started to drizzle just as I was about to go and they closed it, but I had already been on so no big deal), escaped from Escape the Rubicon, the on board escape room and then set up camp in a huge squishy chair in the solarium to read, listen to music and do some puzzles. Sounds so simple, but it’s just blissful to have the time to do these things without a little voice in the back of you head telling you that you should be cleaning or cooking or tidying or working or any other number of mundane (but unfortunately necessary) tasks. One of the things I love best about holidays is just time!

On our last day we were docked back at Port Canaveral by six am, and we had to be at our meeting point by quarter past seven. Early, but al least we had a good few hours to still enjoy being away. We’d used the refunded money from our cancelled parasailing to book a trip on an airboat.

This was great fun, but boy it was cold! It hadn’t warmed up enough for any alligators to surface unfortunately which was a shame, but we have seen ‘gators before in Florida so not the end of the world.

I’m quite partial to this photo that I took on the way round.

We saw several really big birds and we got to try deep fried alligator (maybe best that we didn’t see one!) I won’t be rushing to eat it again, I’m not a massive fan of meat anyway, and it was quite chewy, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity.

After the tour we were dropped back at the airport with our bags. It was still only morning and we didn’t fly until six thirty, but Orlando airport’s a good one and we looked round the Universal and Disney shops, had some lunch and I caught up on the Crown on Netflix. The iPad and AirPods are just perfect for travelling. I love all my technology!

Wow, that was a long blog! Are you still with me? I really enjoyed reliving our a,axing holiday! Now, how quickly can I save up to go again? We’re not done with you Harmony!