Holiday Catch Up part one

I need to tell you about our holiday, but I really don’t know where to start! We’ve been back for not far off a week now, and I’ve been back at work for three days, but I’m still basking in the distant rays of our time away. It was an absolutely AMAZING holiday! There wasn’t a single bad moment – not even when the weather wasn’t as good as we could’ve hoped for. I can’t call it the holiday of a lifetime, firstly because we’ve been lucky enough to have several ‘holidays of a lifetime’ so far and secondly, because I’m fully intending to repeat it once I’ve saved up again, but that’s the essence of it!

The holiday started before we’d actually left the country. We were flying from Gatwick and my Granny lives only a few miles from there so we headed down there the day before we were due to fly so we could spend some time with her. She’s had some health issues recently so it was great to be able to pop in and see her (and I’m pleased to report that she was in good health – no flies on Granny!)

We’d booked into a hotel just down the road called Hookwood Lodge. It cost me less than forty quid on booking.com and we couldn’t believe how nice it was for that price.

The hotel was set in beautiful grounds, the bed was super comfy and the bathroom had a rain shower head which was lovely. It was also five minutes walk from a homely country pub with a crackling open fire called the Black Horse, and I’d booked us a table for a pre-holiday meal.

I treated myself to a nice glass of vino and ordered fish and chips and hubby had a 0% Heineken (because he was trying to be teetotal (it didn’t last!)) and a big fat burger! Fed and watered, we hot footed it back to the hotel dodging the rain and excitedly tried to sleep before the next stage of our adventure.

We were up and out by half eight the following morning and made our way to Gatwick to drop our bags before we made our way through to departures for our traditional holiday breakfast. The airport was pretty busy with, presumably, like us, people trying to escape dreary January. We were delayed an hour and a half, but we were soon on our way, off to sun, fun and adventure. A couple of G&Ts (this is where hubby’s wagon tipped!) a film and some puzzles later and we touched down at Orlando International Airport where passport control was surprisingly quiet and we were soon heading out of the airport in our hire car.

This is actually when we dropped the car off, you can see the ship that we cruised on in the background (I’ll get to that in due course). Anyway, as we headed out of the airport we got stuck straight away in big traffic jam which turned out to be an accident involving four cars, at least one of which looked like a hire car. So, next time you’re delayed, whether on a flight or behind someone dawdling in the supermarket, just remember, that delay could well be saving you a whole load of stress and aggravation. If our flight hadn’t been delayed, we could have been heading out of the airport as that accident was about to happen. What an awful start to someone’s holiday.

Once we got past the accident, the rest of the journey was uneventful. We headed towards Universal Studios, spotting the volcano in Volcano Bay on the way, and found our hotel easily enough. We’d booked two nights in the Holiday Inn and Suites across from Universal.

The hotel was fine, not up to the standard of Cabana Bay where we normally stop in Orlando, but it had everything we needed, and it was a fifteen minute walk from Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure which was our planned destination for the first full day of holiday.

As anyone who regularly reads my blog will know, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter which spans both parks is my happy place. The first time we visited there was a ride in Islands of Adventure called Dragon Challenge which was a double rollercoaster. This closed a couple of years ago and Universal announced that a new Harry Potter ride was being created. The next two times we went to Orlando the ride was being built and it opened as Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure a month after we left in June 2019. Naturally I had to add a trip to Universal to the beginning of our holiday to experience the new ride before we headed off to our ship.

I almost (some would say completely) obsessively checked the Universal app before our holiday to suss out the wait times for the ride and when would be the best time of day to join the queue and it seemed the best course of action would be to get there as early as possible so we headed over to Universal as soon as we were ready. Crossing those giant roads in Orlando is an experience, I can tell you! I didn’t count, but I’m sure the roads we crossed were six lanes in each direction and as soon as the green man (or was it a white man?) said it was safe to cross, the crossing starts counting down in red and the pressure to reach the other side starts to build! Your legs almost instinctively want to run and you feel like the cars waiting are starting to rev their engines in anticipation of zooming off the second it goes back to green for them regardless of whether you’re still on the crossing or not! Add to that the fact that cars are allowed to turn right on red in the states and it really doesn’t make for a relaxing stroll across the road!

Anyway, we made it and we headed straight for Hagrid, following the crowds and the directional signs being held by team members and we joined the end of a two hour queue! This, I know from my research, is about average, and given that it was a Saturday, wasn’t too bad. Indeed, as I continued to check the wait time whilst we were in the line (as you do) it went up to three and a half hours, so we made the right call joining when we did.

By the time we made it to the lockers (you’re not allowed bags and sunglasses etc on the ride) we’d been queuing for about an hour, and we were now pretty much into where the line will start once the hype’s died down and the wait time is shorter. We’d come through the entrance to Hogsmeade …

… and gone past the Hogwarts Express …

… and shortly we got our first view of the ride.

As you can see, it’s a rollercoaster and the passengers are in twos, one on Hagrid’s motorbike and the other in the sidecar. You zoom around the Hogwarts grounds on your motorbike and past various magical creatures including an animatronic unicorn and her baby.

The queue gets more interesting from this point on because you can see the people ahead of you zooming around and screaming on the ride, and you shuffle your way past various familiar props and locations from the books and films. Like Hagrid’s hut …

… and his vegetable patch.

Finally you get to what I assume is part of Hogwarts Castle and the excitement mounts because everyone knows once you’re inside, you’ve got to be getting close to the actual ride. Inside there are dragon eggs, lots of magical animal baskets and ancient wall drawings, and you can hear unicorns braying. Next you get to holograms of Hagrid and Arthur Weasley. Hagrid explains that he’s going to take you on a special Care of Magical Creatures lesson but he needs Arthur to magically duplicate the bikes so he can get you to the forbidden forest.

When we got to the actual ride we somehow managed to end up at the front of one of the holding pens which meant we got to go on the front motorbike. Much excitement! As I’m the true Potter fan, hubby said I could have the motorbike and he went in the sidecar. It was sooooooo good! You zoom around and get up quite a bit of speed. At one point you zoom right up to the end of the track and skid to a stop. Just as you’re thinking ‘now what’ you zoom off backwards at speed before skidding to a stop again. Then you drop (apparently seventeen feet) onto the track beneath before zooming off again. All the while the Harry Potter music is playing and Hagrid’s voice is coming through the speakers in each individual motorbike or sidecar. It was well worth the wait!

The rest of the day was really good. We wandered around Hogsmeade for a bit and had a look in the magical shops and popped into the Hogs Head for some Gilly Water and a pint.

The head moves and talks periodically.

Next we caught the Hogwarts Express to Universal Studios. I love love love the Hogwarts Express. In this direction you head out of the magical land and see London come into sight with the Knight Bus squeezing its way through the streets and then you get off at Kings Cross. We had a wonder around Diagon Alley and I may have bought another Potter hoodie!

We went on a few more rides and watched the Horror Make Up Show which was really good, and I got to meet Beetlejuice!

It was a fantastic day, but we learnt two things. One, don’t go to Universal on a Saturday if you can help it. It was super busy and lots of people had express passes which meant the wait times for non express were crazy! Hagrid doesn’t even allow express passes yet so goodness knows what that would’ve been like with! And two, don’t get a mobile ticket. There are some rides that you’re not allowed to take anything on, including your phone, so everything has to go in a locker. That’s fine, but the lockers are rented and reopened by scanning the barcode on your ticket which obviously you can’t do if your ticket’s on your phone and your phone has to go in the locker. It meant that hubby got to go on Rip Ride Rock it while I waited for him, but because it took forty five minutes, I then didn’t want to go and wait again so I didn’t get to ride.

We finished our day at the Hard Rock Cafe at CityWalk. We went here to celebrate my fortieth birthday and they do THE best fajitas in the world so we always have to go back there now.

The next morning we decided to go for breakfast at iHop on International Drive before we headed over to Port Canaveral to board our ship. Love iHop too! We had to wait quite a while – the whole of Orlando seemed to fancy pancakes that morning! No worries though, we did need to be at the Port till mid afternoon.

How many million syns? Don’t care! Eggs over easy with hash browns and bacon AND birthday cake pancakes. Yummmmm! We barely ate for the rest of the day.

Now, I think, I’ll finish because I’ve written a lot just about the first couple of days and I have a whole week on the ship to tell you about yet! And the ship was AMAZING, so I’ve probably got a lot of words waiting to spill over about that too!

Four go to Thorpe Park

Are you ready for a revelation that normally makes people look at me in disbelief and go ‘wh-aa-t??’

I’ve never been to Alton Towers.

I went to Drayton Manor a few times as a kid, because it was practically on the doorstep, and I enjoyed it, but I was never bothered enough about rides and all that jazz for my parents to think it worth the money for tickets and travel to go to Alton Towers.

They were right, it wouldn’t have been worth it back then. I suffered from motion sickness, still do a bit, but I’ve grown out of it mostly. Back then though, I didn’t enjoy spinny, upside down type things. It just wasn’t my thing.

However, hubby and I jetted off to Florida for the first time in 2016 and I discovered the wonderful worlds of Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, and there was something about the combination of that carefree feeling of being on holiday and the excited atmosphere of the parks that made me throw caution to the wind. I went on pretty much everything and, it turns out, there is an adrenaline junkie in me!

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So, when a couple of friends floated the idea of a trip to Thorpe Park, my hand went straight up – me, me, me. I’ll go! It took us ages to actually settle on a date, but the day finally came yesterday and off we all headed excitedly down the M40 at silly o’clock in the morning.

We made good time and we skipped in looking all around us at the mahoosive rollercoasters not long after it opened at 10am. I had a slight internal wobble at this point. What if I was only brave enough to do it when I was thousands of miles away from home when there was no one but my lovely hubby to witness it? There was no need to worry, I was fine.

The queues were really big on most rides, especially the tallest, spinniest ones, but we managed to get on most of the ones we wanted to.

We started with Swarm.

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That feeling of a sudden rush of adrenaline washed over me straight away. Awesome, it really makes you feel alive. This ride takes you up to almost 100km/h and you experience G forces of 4.5. It’s the UK’s first winged rollercoaster. In practical terms this means your legs are dangling in mid air. You have an uncontrollable urge to swing your feet. I loved this one. It reminded me of the Hulk coaster in Orlando’s Islands of Adventure (which is probably my favourite all time rollercoaster).

Next we headed off to Stealth.

378CCF73-7E8C-4682-92A0-F57E86CE4A05This one catapults you forward and then straight up, twisting as you go. The whole ride probably only lasts about twenty seconds, but wow, what a twenty seconds! You reach 80mph in 1.9 seconds! That’s just a bit quick! I actually had a bit of a pressure headache for a few minutes after this one, presumably from the force of the air.

After this we decided to take it easy for a while and we zoomed around on the dodgems crashing into each other and laughing hysterically, and we went on the Tetley Teacups where the lads spun us round and round.

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I love the fact that they’re Tetley Teacups. They even had the voice of this one from the advert counting down to the start.

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We decided on one more ride before lunch. This one wasn’t a rollercoaster.

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It’s called Detonator: Bombs Away. You’re taken up to the top of the tower, 100ft in the air. The view was amazing. Thorpe Park isn’t far from Heathrow and I could see the planes from the top. Just as I was thinking, it’s a bit chilly up here, we suddenly dropped. You freefall for 35m reaching 50mph. There are some massive magnets at the bottom that essentially catch you!

Next up was Nemesis Inferno. I thought Nemesis was at Alton Towers but it turns out this is a sister ride. This is the only one that I don’t think I’d go on again. I felt as giddy as a love struck teenager after this one, but not in a good way! We did, however, ride this one about half an hour after lunch, so maybe that was the problem. We also had a cornetto in the queue. The estimated queue time was seventy minutes, so when we got to an ice cream stand after we’d been in the queue for half an hour we thought it’d be safe to indulge. Little did we realise but we were almost at the end of the queue. Whoops!

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Nemesis had 750m of twisting track which you cover at up to 50mph and there were two corkscrews (or that’s what it felt like anyway) straight after each other. Bleurgh! Still an adrenaline shot though.

We decided to head for the park’s current signature ride next – Saw the ride. The world’s first horror movie rollercoaster. I was fully intending to sit this one out after the twists and turns of Nemesis but the queue was a million miles long and by the time we got to the front I was feeling completely back to normal and there was no way I was going to forego it after standing in the queue for so long. It must’ve been an hour and a half at least! I’m so glad I went on because it was also very similar to the feeling of the Hulk so I loved it. 9532C0D8-029E-4C64-A15C-E5968D23B7DA

The first section is indoors in the dark (but not pitch black, you can still see) and when you emerge it’s onwards and upwards, literally. In the pic above you go up the right hand side and then zoom down what they call a beyond vertical drop from a height of 100ft. Awesome!

There wasn’t much time left after this because the queue took sooooo long so we headed for the Walking Dead: the ride. This was the only really scary one! It had live actors trying to kill you! I almost wrote literally then, but of course they aren’t literally trying to kill you, but it’s easy to get caught up in it when there’s a zombie reaching out for you with bloodied hands! The first section that you walk (or run in some people’s case) to reach the actual coaster was in near darkness with zombie noises and loud bangs and screams and was pretty freaky. The actual coaster wasn’t too aggressive and the bits that were supposed to be scary were quite lo-tech but I now realise that’s to lull you into a false sense of security because when you get off, you follow the signs through ‘the cafeteria’ to the exit, and this is where the actors try to get you. I didnt take any photos of this one – think I was too relieved that I escaped with my life to remember photography!

The final ride of the day was Rush. This is a swing, seating thirty two passengers at a time. You’re swung back and forth up to 75 feet at up to 50mph. When you’re at the top of the swing facing down, you suddenly become very aware that the only thing stopping you hurtling down 75ft to a concrete floor is the bar across your waist. Think we were all quite relieved to get off this one, even though that feeling of rushing through the air is extraordinarily exhilarating.

I dread to think what happens to your internal organs when you’re being flipped and flung around the sky. It’s probably best not to ask!

My fitbit has thrown up some interesting heart rate stats though.

On the left you can see Friday, which was a normal day at work with no sudden inclines, acceleration or upside downness, and on the right is Saturday which had all of the aforementioned!

Look at all those peaks on Saturday. I had two hours and forty seven minutes at fat burning rate on Saturday as well as opposed to one hour and nine minutes on Friday.

Wow!