Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Wednesday 31st March, 2010

Hubby dearest tells me that at one stage in Russia, women of all ages who got their hair dyed would have it done in unnatural and conspicuous colours which looked very bizarre to outsiders. The reason for this was that hair dye was expensive, so you wanted everyone to know that you could afford it, and if you had a natural colour then the status symbol was lost.

I think sunburn has a similar status in Britain. Because it's still March and I am sunburnt, and when I come home looking cerise pink and wrinkly, everyone will know that I could afford to go to Florida.

I did make a token effort to avoid getting sunburnt. I sprayed (American sunscreen comes in sprays) waterproof factor 50 over all of us, but it was meant to be reapplied every 80 minutes and I may have neglected to top it up as often as I should have done. I'm using the aloe vera and menthol aftersun liberally now, though...

This enviable sunburn was acquired at Disney's Blizzard Beach on one of the most perfect days ever. I love waterparks, and it was great to be able to enjoy this one with the whole family. It wasn't too busy, parking was actually free, and we had a refillable drink which kept us going all day. A great time was had by all, from Ceri at Tike's Peak with lots of little waterslides and flumes suitable for her age, to Hari at the pre-teens section. None of us were brave enough to attempt Summit Plummet. I had one of those particularly perfect moments as I was drifting lazily around Cross Country Creek enjoying the warmth of the sun,and reflecting that back at home it was about 3.15 and I would normally be standing outside the school gate in the rain waiting for the children.

We then went to KFC for tea. At home, KFC is Gwen's all-time favourite junk food, but she was disappointed in it here. Don't know why - I thought it was fine, and really enjoyed the mashed potato, gravy and "biscuit". We're intrigued to know what the "KFC Famous Bowls" are though, since we'd never heard of them.

Going to bed now, very, very gingerly... ouch. But I bet none of you reading this at home in cold old England are sunburnt!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Tuesday 30th March 2010

We nearly didn't get into Disney. Just as we were arriving I read the small-print on my barcoded print-out, and discovered that in order to claim our tickets we needed photo ID. I hadn't brought my driving licence with me, and Hubby Dearest's driving licence is an old-style one which doesn't have his photo on. (It doesn't have the correct address on it either, but he refuses to renew it for political reasons.) We went ahead and rolled up to the ticket booth anyway, and luckily Clarence from Cincinnati, Ohio, who processed our tickets, was prepared to overlook our lack of proof of ownership of the bar code.

He also spent about five minutes lecturing us on what was great about each of the Disney parks. It reminded me of the time I was an Avon Representative in Llanaelhaearn and several of the elderly ladies on my round used to invite me in and have me discuss the products with them for half an hour. I obliged because I knew they didn't see anyone from one week to the next - and because they would buy pretty much anything I recommended. One major difference, I suppose, from octogenarian Clarence and Mrs Beti Ifans, is that Beti didn't have a line of fifty people waiting to buy tickets from her.

Strolling past Clarence we thought we were in. But not yet! First we had to practice our queuing skills by waiting for the ferryboat which would take us across the lake to Magic Kingdom. We had already practiced enough, I felt, having experienced the traffic jam on the way to the car park, and then waiting for the "tram" (golf cart) which would take us to the ticket gate. The ferry was great, though, and we did finally arrive at the gate. It took us over an hour from leaving our resort (five minutes from Disney property) to actually walking up Main Street USA.

We managed to squeeze in seven and a half rides/shows (Swiss Family Treehouse was so dull it doesn't count as a full activity) during the six hours we were in Magic Kingdom. Not bad when the shortest waiting time was half an hour, but we achieved this largely by splitting up, with Hubby Dearest taking Hari and Gwen on the more scary rides (like the Pirates of the Caribbean which goes over a 14 foot waterfall), and I took Ceri on rides that were about my upper level of scariness (Cinderella's Carousel and It's a Small World).

We saw no parades or characters, and we left at five because we were hot and tired and a hard audience to please. It's not that we didn't have a good time, because we did, but perhaps it didn't live up to all the hype and excitement. I have some great memories of Disneyland in Califormia, and even Paris was OK, even if it was all in French, so maybe I was expecting too much. Gwen took some good photos but she's asleep so I can't ask her to upload them.

Still really excited about our new timeshare. We have a voucher for a free week which runs out in 18 months, before we will get the chance to use it. Anyone out there interested in a free week in Orlando? Just come in the middle of winter when Disney's Magic Kingdom is slightly less of a manic kingdom.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Monday 29th March 2010

We're all still on UK time. I woke up at 4 a.m. and the rest of the family were up and around by 6.30. This was not ideal, because breakfast wasn't until 10 a.m. We'd been bribed to go to another resort owned by the people we have our timeshare with for a "Breakfast meeting and owners update". In other words, they were going to try to sell us more timeshare.

Anyway,I finally managed to make proper American pancakes (quite nice, too) for a pre-breakfast snack, and then we drove to a huge and very busy complex. We arrived at 10, and waited half-an-hour before Millie came to take us upstairs for breakfast, so we weren't in a particularly good mood. And we didn't much like the resort.

When I say we had been bribed to attend the "90 minute presenation", I'm not kidding. We had been promised a Visa card with $25 credit on it, a $50 gift certificate, a $150 discount on a cruise, a free week, a free breakfast (of course) and a box of cookies. (It was the cookies which swung it.) And in case there was any doubt that they wanted us there, they took a $20 deposit which we would get back only if we showed up. Anyway, it was still raining so we had nothing else to do.

We had no intention of buying more timeshare. We really didn't. And yet when we left there, five long hours later, we had upgraded to a three bedroomed lock-off unit at the new resort. We'd signed the paperwork and everything. Done deal. And we felt remarkably good about it. Property is always a good investment, right?

There are problems with our current resort, you see. We had already noticed this. It is shared between two companies, and they don't get on, with the result that service is patchy and there are no organised activities. Whilst the unit itself is gorgeous, the resort it noticably worse than last time we came. So moving to a newer, bigger and much better equipped, staffed and run one seemed like a good idea.

When Hubby Dearest bought his two bedroom timeshare eight years ago he signed an agreement which stated that should he ever upgrade he was entitled to the same deal. In other words, a two-bedroomed unit at a set discount, and 0% credit. Yes, 0%. Millie was not happy in discovering this. Their usual credit terms are 18%, for one thing, and they didn't have any two-bedroomed units left, for another. So they were forced to allow us to upgrade to a three-bedroomed lockoff (which means it can be divided into two units) for the price of a two bedroomed, and with a discount, and at 0%. So we now have an even more gorgeous timeshare, which sleeps 12 people and can generate an income. And even the lawyer who did the paperwork admitted that we were paying about a quarter of what most people pay.

The sun had come out by the time we left there, so we headed for the pool and splashed around for an hour. It was delightfully warm, and the exercise made us feel slightly less guilty about the vast quantities we had eaten at our "free lunch". Disney tomorrow!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Sunday 28th March 2010

OK, now I know certain people reading this will be aware that today was Sunday, and the Mormon thing is not to go shopping, eat out or otherwise do weekday things on the Sabbath. Well, we did consider surviving only on oatmeal and water but:

a) We didn't yet know whether it was OK to drink the tap water, and
b) Gwen and I had already been to Walgreen's at 3 a.m. so we figured, in for a penny in for a pound. (Cent/dollar?)

So we headed to McDonald's for breakfast where the variety of choice was mind-boggling, but I ended up with a breakfast burrito which was about as far from a traditional breakfast as it's possible to get, to my mind. But very nice all the same.

Then on to Wal-mart so that we would have food to eat for the next two weeks. On the plane on the way over we had been shown a charity appeal which opened by saying that one in five American children did not know where the next meal was coming from. I found that very hard to believe at the time, but now I know why. We spent $250 and everything except sushi (which we didn't buy) was much more expensive than it is at home. Which is odd, because on previous visits I remember it all being cheaper. Hubby Dearest put it down to the exchange rate, and the lack of supermarket own-brand items. Although Wal-mart did have a "Great Value" range - which we stuck to whenever possible - it really wasn't as cheap as the Tesco Value and Sainsbury's Basics we usually buy.

Anyway, we are now stocked for, hopefully, at least the next week, and have a wonderful range of things we can't get at home, including:

- Corn dogs
- Marshmallow fluff
- Froot loops
- Corn muffin mix
- Cinnamon toast crunch
- Ranch dressing
- Frozen fruit juice concentrate
- Lemonade mix
- Reeses Peanut Butter cups

Could't get tinned chopped tomatoes for some reason. But American butter really does come in little sticks. Who knew?

So we came home, unpacked, had corn dogs for lunch, changed, and headed off for church having programmed the location of the chapel into our trusty satnav. It was good to have a friendly English voice guide us to where we needed to be but partway into the journey I realised he was conning us, and we were going in completely the wrong direction. We ended up about ten miles away because the TomTom, not recognising the address, had decided to substitute a similar one and took us instead to the Hope Church of Orlando. I wonder what I should read into that? Our SatNav is Evangelical?

Anyway, we ignored its protests all the way back down John Young Parkway. We arrived half-an-hour late to what turned out to be Pleasant Hill Ward's Ward conference. But we still got to hear two and a half very good speakers, and even got a Disney metaphor. ("If you don't go through the turnstile and wait in the line for Space Mountain, you don't get to ride Space Mountain.")

On the way back it started to rain. A lot. Rain that would do Britain proud. It was as though Florida's entire rain allowance for the year had been flung on us for just that afternoon. And there was thunder and lightning in abundance too. Luckily I happen to know that a car is the safest possible place to be in a storm (Faraday cage, rubber tyres), but even so it was quite spooky when we heard a sudden loud bang and flash from the central reservation just two metres from our car and realised that lightning had struck the ground just just off our port side. If someone was cross with us for going to Wal-mart on the Sabbath, then He missed.

Anyway, we spent a lot of the rest of the afternoon in our timeshare, so perhaps this is a good time to talk about how wonderful it is. It's open plan, nicely decorated and well equipped. There's a laundry area with a great big American washer and dryer, and bathroom with a little tiny American bath - but we also have a full size jacuzzi bath in our ensuite. I bathed the children in it before we went out for the day. Not having had one before, I didn't know that you had to fill it above all the openings, so when I switched it on Hari and Ceri got squirted with three enthusiastic jets of water. When I had picked myself up off the ground and finished laughing, I switched it off again and filled the bath the rest of the way up.

By evening the rain had been downgraded from downpour to drizzle and the lightning had stopped, so we decided to go for a swim in the pool. Splashing across the car park in swimsuits and flipflops we ran into a German family on the way back from the pool area. "It's locked," they told us, and we shared a moment of disbelief with our European neighbours at the idea that the resort management would decide to close the outdoor pool just because it was 7 p.m. and raining.

Nothing to do in the evening but eat all the interesting food we had bought. Reese's peanut butter cups are quite nice, as is beef jerky, but I made a complete mess of trying to make American pancakes. Corn dogs and Cinnabons, though, I am really going to miss. But none of us liked the little white doughnuts. Any takers?

Saturday 27th March 2010

Despite checking in at Heathrow two hours before our flight time we still didn’t manage to get seats together, so Gwen, Ceri and Roderic had bulkhead seats (extra legroom, space to get up and walk about without having to clamber over several irritated fellow passengers) and Angharad and I sat behind them and worked on irritating the Americans sitting either side of us – a task made much easier once Ceri decided she wanted to come and join me on a regular basis.

As per the advice I once read in a women’s magazine, I had packed little wrapped presents to keep the children happy, promising them a new present to unwrap every two hours of the flight, and thus whiling away the eight-hour journey. Mostly they whiled those hours away by asking me how long it was until the next present and how disappointed they were in the last one.

We’d seen all the films on offer, but Ceri and Hari both fell asleep two hours before the end of the flight. We woke them up so that they could spend almost as much time standing at customs being photographed, fingerprinted and frisked. (I was frisked twice – once at Heathrow and again at Washington, and in Washington I had to wait in a glass cage for the nice lady to come along and run her hands all over me.)

It took so long that our luggage had given up forlornly going round in lonely circles on the carousel and was huddled on the concourse waiting for us. (I can’t help thinking that at Heathrow it would have been blown up.) So we greeted it, trundled it 200 yards to the next belt, and bade it farewell again.

The wonders of capitalist America hit us as soon as we turned the next corner. Huge, warm, soft pretzels, Wendy’s, Dairy Queen. But we had to find gate D21 and we had about two miles of concourse to cover, so we staggered thirstily past the fruit slushie stall, Dunkin’ Donuts (sic), and a Subway which also sold pizza. We eschewed the Obama baseball caps, the “Washington – Our Nation’s Capital” sweatshirts (because it isn’t), Starbucks and the California Burritos vendor. We limped past the sign saying “Last chance! No food or drink outlets beyond this point!” and finally collapsed at a very crowded gate D21, where the plane was full and there were 37 people on standby.

We did get seats, although we didn’t all get to sit together. Roderic was at the back of the plane, the three girls were together, but by dint of being ostensibly an adult I had to sit by the emergency exit and was asked whether I was “prepared, able and qualified” to assist the crew in an emergency. “Of course I’m not qualified,” I replied. “I haven’t been on a course on opening emergency exits.” Oddly, this didn’t seem to matter.

At the other end we queued for 30 minutes at Alamo to get our car, while the children conked out on the concourse, and then Roderic had to once again learn to drive an automatic, and how to drive on the right. Luckily out satnav worked. But it wasn’t looking good when we arrived at our resort either, at 2.30 a.m. local time, 6.30 a.m. on our body clocks. The security guard, whose job it was to check us in, was off on his rounds and nowhere to be seen. Eventually he appeared, and we were allocated unit 8-218, and very gorgeous it was too, although I’ll describe its wonderfulness another time.

The children were great, didn’t seem tired or make any fuss, but were happy to be tucked into bed all the same. But we hadn’t had a meal on the second flight (to our disgust) and were starving. So Gwen and I walked off to Walgreens at 3 a.m., confusingly full of energy and wide awake until we realised that our body clocks thought it was 7 .a.m – the time we usually get up – and had evidently decided not to bother with all that sleep malarkey. Crossing the road was a hair-raising experience with such a wide dual carriageway to cross. We had learned on our last visit that just because there was a picture of a little walking man somewhere on the distance horizon, didn’t mean some driver wasn’t going to do a “right on red” and mow down the unfortunate ignorant tourists. So Gwen shouted “leg it, Mother!” and we ran for our lives. Once safely inside Walgreens we spent $30 buying all those wonderful things we can’t get at home – Lucky Charms, oatmeal, Mountain Dew, Cheetos and a sandwich called “Ham provolone on rye”. (I only know what one of those things is, but it was all very nice.)

Our bed was so big that once we climbed in we found that we couldn’t reach each other. I commented to Hubby Dearest that I’d come and give him a cuddle, but I couldn’t afford the taxi fare.