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!!

A to Z of a lockdown

Animals – as soon as we were able, we did our bit to support animal attractions that had been forced to close for months. All the animals still had to fed, watered and cared for during lockdown and some came close to having to put animals to sleep. Edinburgh zoo is currently considering whether they have to send their two giant pandas back to China as they’ve had very little income for twelve months.

Baking – I, along with most of the UK going by the empty flour and sugar shelves in the supermarkets, felt a need to bake. Very yummy it was, but unfortunately not good for the old waistline!

Crochet – I’ve never crocheted so much in my life! Lockdown made me feel that I needed to be productive and crochet was one of the ways I did this.

Dog bite – I got bitten by a dog on the beach in Norfolk in between lockdowns and ended up in A&E and on antibiotics.

Exercise – I managed to mitigate the baking a little with exercise. The gym was closed so I found other ways of exercising, enjoying the outdoors when the weather was good and building our home gym for when it wasn’t.

Fur babies – a massive upside to being home so much has been spending lots of time with Olive and Tinkerbell. It’s really comforting to look round during a day of working to see them snoozing on the bed.

Garden – I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve thanked my lucky stars that the pandemic didn’t happen when we were in our tiny flat with no outside space.

Harry Potter – bizarrely Harry Potter has played a big part in keeping me sane over the past year. I listened to all the books on audible and hearing those stories again was strangely calming. When I was furloughed we set the spare room up better for working from home and gave it a Harry Potter theme. I made 3D models and splashed out on Lego Diagon Alley which I love love loved building.

Improvements – we made several home improvements. Apart from the Harry Potter room, we also stripped the wood chip and redecorated our living room, built a catio so our furry girls can get some fresh air, had our loft insulation upgraded and replaced all our double glazing.

Jigsaws – I’ve done loads! My friend sent me this one which I really enjoyed.

Kindle – once I’d worked my way through all seven Harry Potter books on audible, I switched back to my Kindle and I discovered the Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley and read the six that are already released. They’re really good. I’ve got loads of books on there so I’m all set for the rest of lockdown.

Lego – hubby bought me Lego Hedwig for Christmas which triggered my Lego joy!

Masks – I was hesitant to start off with because BoJo was telling us that masks didn’t help with stopping the spread of covid, but once they told us we had to wear them I embraced it and made a few. It’s become almost a fashion statement. In Scotland I wore my Harry Potter one when we went to the Elephant House cafe where JK Rowling wrote some of the books and my dinosaur one when we went in search of wee Nessie.

Netflix – along with Disney+, Prime TV and iPlayer, Netflix has kept me entertained. I’ve watched Tiger King, Picard, Safe, Bridgerton, Mulan, Moana, the Stranger, Fleabag, Pete’s Dragon, Inside Out, Brave, It’s a Sin and goodness knows what else!

Online deliveries – many of them entirely superfluous to my needs! I ‘needed’ heart shaped cutters to make heart shaped sandwiches for Valentine’s Day and glitter for us to make Valentine’s cards so we could avoid shops. Our poor postman looked absolutely terrified every time he knocked on the door, which was almost as many times as the Amazon delivery driver.

Pooh bear memes – there have been loads of memes and funnies around. If anyone is yet to see David Attenborough narrating Boris Johnson cleaning a chair in a vaccination centre, I urge you to visit YouTube to rectify that. Anyway, me being me, I was drawn to the Pooh bear memes.

Quizzes – during the depths of lockdown we joined two friends every Sunday evening on FaceTime to do a quiz that their local pub quizmaster had moved online. I’ve been so grateful for technology during this time – I was able to virtually see more of some friends than I did before lockdown.

Rowena – this is my great aunt, Rowena. She passed away in February and I wasn’t able to go to the funeral because I was still in my isolation period after catching covid. I watched it online though, giving me another reason to be thankful for technology. It was hard seeing my family on the screen, but not being able to see them in person when it’s been so long.

Staycations – we were really lucky that we’d booked a foreign holiday at the end of January so we had the memories of that to keep us going, but we still felt the need to get away when we were allowed and we went to Norfolk in July for a couple of nights and Edinburgh for my birthday in September.

Tennis afternoon tea – I had tickets booked for the ATP Tour Finals at the O2 in London in November and that got cancelled so I made us a tennis themed afternoon tea as recompense.

Unbooked holidays – we should’ve been going to Jamaica in May and that was cancelled so we had a non-Jamaican party for two instead with Jamaican themed food and Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff playing all day. We swapped that holiday for Orlando in April this year, but that’s been cancelled too so, unlike the photo below, the adventure doesn’t begin, not just yet.

Virtual tours and shows – tour guides have become creative whilst they’ve not been able to offer physical tours and they’ve moved on line. The tour below took us all round the different Harry Potter locations in Scotland. I’ve also watched several West End shows on line, and Cirque du Soleil and next week I’m going to Iceland (virtually).

Working from home – this was my first day working from home when I actually bothered to get dressed before lunchtime and clearly made an effort with my breakfast. you can see why I had to rearrange the room – it was a bit depressing facing the wall all day.

Xmas – I don’t like shortening Christmas, my Grandad used to say that shortening to Xmas was crossing out Christ, but X is such a stupid letter and I couldn’t think of anything else. Despite the restrictions, we had a good day. We walked in the park in the morning with some family and then my Dad (who’s in our bubble) joined us for the rest of the day, the first time I’ve seen a member of my side of the family on Christmas Day for years.

Yawn – working from home has meant an extra hour of sleep each working day which I really appreciated through the Winter when I normally struggle with seasonal affective disorder and live in an exhausted fog for four or five months. I also appreciated it when I did succumb to covid because it really wipes you out and I needed sleep. Of course there’s no change for our Olive – she’s a gold medal snoozer!

Zoom calls – thank goodness for zoom, teams, WhatsApp calling and FaceTime. They’ve kept businesses going, but they’ve also kept friendships going and families together.

Harry Potter’s Scotland Trail – Virtual Online Tour

This afternoon we took part in a virtual tour round parts of Scotland to show us some of the inspiration and filming locations of the Harry Potter books and films run by Eventbrite. It was really good and especially interesting for us, having been to Edinburgh last September and seen a couple of the locations.

The guy who ran the tour was really entertaining. He really played to the kids that were on the tour, asking them which house they were in and awarding them points for their houses.

He even sorted a couple of them into their houses. As you can see from his picture bottom right, he was dressed like Olivander and even had the background of Olivander’s wand shop in Diagon Alley.

We started off in Edinburgh by visiting the Elephant House cafe where J K Rowling wrote the Chamber of Secrets and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Apparently there are lots of references to elephants in the Prisoner of Azkaban as a nod to the hours J K spent here. I’ve never noticed any, so obviously I’m now going to have to re-read it for the umpteenth time! We ate a couple of times at the Elephant House when we visited in September, which was lovely, but what they don’t tell you is that the Philosopher’s Stone was actually written in another cafe round the corner. I didn’t know that till today either!

Next we visited Edinburgh Castle.

Many people think that the castle could have been the inspiration for Hogwarts as J K said she always imagined that the school was on a hill with a lake nearby. Edinburgh Castle, as you can see, does overlook the city and hundreds of years ago it also overlooked a Loch which was drained many years ago and is now the picturesque Princes Street Gardens.

Next we saw the Elephant Castle from the rear where J K apparently sat in the window (we sat there too), and she may have looked out and imagined Knockturn Alley, which is the dark magic street where you can find Borgin and Burkes. Harry ends up here when he accidentally gives the instruction ‘diagonally’ instead of Diagon Alley when travelling by Floo Powder from the Weasley’s burrow.

Our tour guide then asked us to work out which deatheater (follower of ‘he who shall not be named’) could have been roaming around Knockturn Alley. It was Lucius Malfoy and we all had to point our wands (or wand finger) at the screen and banish him with the spell ‘expelliarmus’.

From here we moved on to Greyfriars Churchyard. We were encouraged to open the gates by casting the spell ‘alohomora’.

The graves here may have provided inspiration for many of the characters, including Alastor Moody, Professor McGonagal and even Harry’s arch enemy, Lord Voldemort!

We moved on to George Herriot school next.

This has also been sited as possible inspiration for Hogwarts. It was a school built for Edinburgh’s poor and orphans, it had four houses (although, disappointingly, they weren’t Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin!) and it has four towers.

I have my own theory on where J K found her inspiration for Hogwarts, at least the appearance of it. For me, it’s got to be Holyroodhouse Palace. In particular, the ruin of the abbey next to the main building. I bet, in reality, it was probably a mix of all of these along with a dash of fairy-like imagination on the part of the author.

After this we used floo powder to travel to Diagon Alley! For those of you not familiar with this mode of travel, it involves throwing some floo powder in a magical fire and saying out loud where you want to travel through the floo network.

We arrived in Victoria Street which, I can concur having been there recently, does indeed look like it could’ve led to the creation of Diagon Alley.

We used magic to review the real Diagon Alley for comparison purposes.

Now we had to head to the station to catch the Hogwarts Express up into the Highlands to see some of the delights up there. Ordinarily, you’d obviously catch the Hogwarts Express from Kings Cross or Hogwarts itself but catching it from Waverley Station gave the perfect excuse to show us the nearby Balmoral Hotel where J K, having long made her fortune, wrote the Deathly Hallows.

You can stay here hoping to emulate that winning formula if you like. It’ll set you back the princely sum of £2500 per night!

This is Glenfinnan Viaduct that you see the Hogwarts Express travel over in the films. I learnt today that you can actually take this journey, on a steam train from Fort William, and you can buy chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans on the Train! Guess what’s just been added to the top of my bucket list?! Finally a positive to come out of not being able to easily go abroad because of Covid-19 – hopefully we’ll be able to get to Scotland instead and do this!!

Our tour guide suddenly stopped at this point and announced that one of the tour members had missed the train and was joining us by an alternative method.

They arrived in the Ford Anglia that was bewitched by Arthur Weasley to fly.

We chugged our way past Loch Eilt which was the inspiration for the lake used in the second Triwizard tournament task when Harry and his fellow contestants had to find ways to breath under water in order to save their nearest of dearest.

Then we gazed at Dumbledore island, where Lord Voldemort goes at the beginning of the Deathly Hallows looking for the elder wand.

Finally we saw a beautiful waterfall at Glen Nevis which was used quite a lot in the films, particularly as the background in Quidditch matches.

Just before we all said goodbye, our host invited us to help him make a potion to cure Coronavirus using a mixture of veritas serum, unicorn blood and felix felicis.

In the end, he decided a spell would work best so we all aimed our wands and shouted ‘Riddivirus!’

Wouldn’t it be good if that worked? Probably won’t, but in the meantime, this was very very pleasant way to pass an hour, and a perfect diversion from less magical events in the real world.