21.05.2008 - 07.06.2008 35 °C
Well, what have we been up to since the last instalment....
It's no secret that Dad had a bit of a medical scare. I won't go into details but we've had to extend our stay while the docs sign him off for flying. He's fine now and we are hoping to return next weekend.
...Meanwhile.. whilst in Orlando - you HAVE to do theme parks so that's what we did!. We went to Cypress Gardens with Mum and Dad - it's billed as America's 1st theme park. For good reason. It's like stepping back in time. They should have people selling candy canes and general wellness ligaments. The biggest coaster was about 6 foot off the ground! We didn't stay there long...
(This was the high tech queue for the coaster, and you can see the height of the track)
We felt like right dicks when we got off. It's more fun sliding down the stairs on your bum at home.
Next stop was Typhoon Lagoon - A Disney run water park. I've never been to one before but Kirstin spent a lot of her childhood at one in Hong Kong. It was a pleasant surprise - well laid out and very green. So much so you felt normal walking around with hundreds of other people in your swimmers. We of course smuggled in our lunch and beers - we've quickly learnt that theme parks make half their money on food and drink, and we are fed up with junk, plus queuing for food, so we pack our own lunch in our little rucksack. They had a great selection of water slides, some you ride "naked", others sitting in tubes. The first "naked " one we went down removed a centimiter of skin from my ankle. I dealt with the pain and bled quietly.
They have a huge wave pool and the thing generates a 6foot wave every 90 seconds. Quite a giggle for a while. We saw some chap manage to body surf it.
They also have a "river" that runs round the circumference of the park with tubes in it and a gentle current. You can relax and bob round, or use it as a kind of water taxi service. Shame, it was so slow that we got bored after a few minutes. Still, another box ticked.
The best thing there was a "water rollercoaster" - basically you sit in tubes and go round as normal, but you go up as well as down with the use of some ingenious very powerful water jets. There was a photographer there, who, as usual, wanted to lighten our pockets of money for the pics, so I went to the website and screen grabbed them, hence the small size...
(That's part of the "water coaster")
(Us popping out!)
We had a great day. Only stayed about 3 to 4 hours. After that we'd done most things a couple of times and had had enough. We clearly get easily bored.
Next- Bush Gardens - a very highly rated theme park in Tampa that is a mix of a wildlife park and a coaster park. We rocked up and splashed out on express passes - i.e queue jumping tickets. An extra £12 each but worth every penny. They had a great wooden coaster that was brutal. Also quite a few water rides - a common theme here due to the heat....
..Then, then... there was the "plung coaster". A plung coaster is one that drops you vertically while you sit upright. The whole thrill is in the big vertical drop. They have one at Alton Towers in England called Oblivion. The one at Busch Gardens drops you further, faster, then drops you AGAIN, then loops you and lots of other stuff. The clever bit is that at the top of each drop they stop the "car" and let it hang over the edge, so you can't even see the track below you, and you are leaning forward at about 40 degrees. You wait... and then BLAMO - you drop. Terrifying.
(That's the 1st of 2 drops)
We happily barged past 100's of people with our express passes and climbed aboard.
Oh My God! - totally pant filling. Kirstin had her eyes closed when we teetered over the edge of the 1st drop. I screamed. K actually thought she was going to chuck up at one stage.
Here is a link to a small video I took of it...
We went back later and had another go, this time sitting in the front row! Again, they take pictures and charge you $12 a picture, so I took a digital of the computer screen. I reckon I'm public enemy number one in theme parks photographer circles now.
(Check out Kirstin's face LOL)
Another great day. Saw some animals, rode the steam train, blah blah blah...
Next! - Universal Studios. To be honest we were a little dissapointed. We expected more film sets and tours but it was essentially a theme park with "movie" based rides. Impressive nonetheless. We did the classics, like Jaws and the one where water pours round an underground train. All very well put together if a little dated.
Did the new Simpsons ride which is in reality a simulator with a giant screen round you. We had a huge guy in front of us so K saw bugger all.
Not an amazing day but a laugh all the same.
Next! - Well this one was a bit unique! - the SHUTTLE LAUNCH! :-)
What an event. We did a load of Internet research and went down to "Space View Park" which is a small area opposite the launch pad. It's as close as you can get without a site pass. We arrived and the best seating was already vanishing, and we had 4 hours to go so we decided not to worry about it as we'd have to sit on concrete for ages. Better leave it till later and relax.
(That's the assembly building on the right)
We grabbed the last bench in existence and read our papers, drank beers and generally chilled. Then we moved onto the grass area at the back and fired up a disposable BBQ and had some lovely ribs,
...then we moved to a great spot everyone seemed to have overlooked. Nice seat by the water with no one in our way. The countdown began.....
I can't really describe how it feels to be there. Especially after touring the facility a couple of weeks before hand and seeing the shuttle sitting on it's pad and learning all the processes involved in a sucessful launch. The site we were at also had speakers with live feeds to the NASA control centre which really added to the atmosphere.
We kept an eye on my uber-accurate watch and at exactly 5.02pm and 12 seconds - sure enough, a massive grey cloud of smoke appeared under the shuttle and then a couple of seconds later - whoooomph! - the solid rocket boosters lit and it leapt up like the biggest firework in the world.
When you see launches on TV they always look slow. When you are there you see that's not the case. The second the boosters lit it, well, it rocketed up! You really could see and realise the pilots were strapped to one giant firecracker that could not be stopped. It was awe inspiring and moving. A very surreal experience. Hard to explain, but it was certainly humbling and you got a great feeling for how impressive and dangerous the whole thing was.
The sound was awesome too - it took a while to reach us and when it did it was a deep bass rumbling.
Really can't explain it. You have to see one go! - and there won't be many more with it being replaced soon.
(A great viewing spot - the people in front were in the water for an hor or more...)
An unforgettable day, and unforgettable traffic on the way back! :-)
Meanwhile, Kirstin has been keeping herself busy.. knitting a toy turtle for a friends' baby...
We've now come back down to earth (I know, I couldn't resist that, sorry) - we moved to a new villa today - just accross the road. We've been here far longer than planned and were feeling a bit penned in at our old place so we've grabbed another with a larger pool area and a hot tub. Hopefull back before next weekend for a London hook up then off to Europe..