Sunday, 31 March 2013

Easter Sunday 31st March

Picture of the day:
No one we know, but I just missed the moment where the Dad
pointed out the empty tomb to his son.
Hellen's Version

Nope, sorry, can't think of anything about today that wasn't perfect. How's Scotland?

Everyone Else Version

Easter Day isn't as big here as it is at home in some ways. For example, the ward we attended had its rescheduled Fast and Testimony meeting (since next week is General Conference) and although there was the odd "Happy Easter" it wasn't resurrection or atonement themed talks.

On the way, however, we got caught in the first traffic jam we have seen in America. We could see flashing blue lights and state troopers directing traffic so we assumed it was an accident. We were wrong. It was just huge numbers of people going to Christ the King Lutheran Church, Christ Community Church, Church of the Ascension, Holy Family Catholic Church and the First Baptist Church of Orlando, all huge churches with enormous car parks clustered within half-a-mile along Apopka-Vineland. Never seen anything like that before!

After church we came home and I lounged round the pool, even swam in it (it was warm this time) and then put together an Easter Egg hunt for the children, and boiled some eggs for them to paint. I'd bought chocolate Easter eggs with me from home, since I already knew they don't have them here, and we had a lovely lazy afternoon eating chocolate and chatting on the balconies.

Saturday 30th March 2013

Peter-ism of the day (reading the Busch Gardens park map): "I want to go to See Same Street!" [They don't have Sesame Street in the UK]

Photo of the day:
Ceri and Gregory with a "Busch" tiger.

Thing unexpectedly found to have sugar in it of the day: Chilli flavoured crisps

Hellen's version

We had planned to set off for Busch Gardens in Tampa at 8 a.m. but my alarm didn't go off so that's about when I woke up. In the end we left around 9.30 and got there at almost 11. The place was a rip-off, so many things in it cost extra money, even food to give to the animals. ("So, let me get this straight. You have to feed your zoo animals. You already bought the food. You want me to feed your animals and pay you to do so? No, I'll pass and they can starve.") I was  particularly scandalised to discover that the "Quick Queue" pass which enabled you to bypass the queues for the rides cost over $30. (Plus tax. Everything here is "plus tax". The children are forever asking me what tax is, and that's a fun question to answer right up there with "where do babies come from?")

So in other words, rich people get to jump to the front of the queue. Roderic said it's "The worst of capitalism in action." Disney's FastPass scheme, which also allows you to skip the queues, is free.

Then it was $3.99 (plus tax) for a churro, and around $5 (plus tax) for a drink, and you can understand why Roderic was in full Roderic-the-accountant mode. He'd come equipped with directions to the nearest KFCs so that we could leave the park for lunch. For about ten seconds I thought that was rather overdoing it, until I discovered the "All you can eat" dining option at Busch Gardens was $32.99 (plus tax...) per adult, and two of our three children counted as adults. So that would be... well, quite a lot to feed us all. So we did indeed leave the park, and walked through the pedestian exit to the KFC right across the road where we all ate and drank our fill (much bigger bits of chicken than we're used to in the UK) for $33. Including tax.

Before we went for lunch I'd gone on the Stanley River Log Flume with Gwen and Ceri and got utterly head-to-foot soaked. In the hot sun walking to KFC and back I dried off. So I then went on the Congo River Rapids (twice) and got soaked again. Only by now it was later in the day and starting to get chilly. I'm now suffering from a painful back which I put down to it having spent most of yesterday cold and wet.

I burned my hand badly making pancakes. It's a tradition. I did it last time we came to America and made pancakes too. Still have the scar.

We left Busch Gardens about 8, before the Edeys, and arrived home around 10. At midnight the Edeys still hadn't appeared and we were getting quite worried they were lost on the Interstate somewhere, or worse.

Everyone Else Version

Busch Gardens was beautifully presented and a lot of fun. Too much to do in just one day, it's particularly good if you're a roller coaster fan because there are lots of them, all loosely connected to the animals around the park. I don't do roller coasters, but still found plenty to enjoy. The last thing we did there was the skyride, a cable car across the whole park, and it was glorious. We also saw the animals from the steam train which goes round the park, and strolled around in the sunshine admiring alligators, elephants, kangaroos, giraffes and turtles. Not the best park ever, but still really good and worth a visit.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Friday 29th March 2013

Picture of the day - Proof that I am a Bad Mother:

Thing unexpectedly found to contain sugar of the day: Mayonnaise

Hellen's Version

Really boring day. Just went shopping at a mall which only had designer outlets and no bookshop, and didn't have any shoes in my size. My forehead is now peeling and I look very ridiculous. Roderic and I are also very ill with bad colds and hacking coughs.

Everyone Else Version

Lovely relaxing day. Went shopping at Millennia Mall. I had in mind to buy shoes, but all the shops were things like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Prada, where I can't even afford to look in the window, and Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo are both well outside my price range. I finally found Journeys which sold passable shoes and got measured up. Unfortunately it seems my feet (UK size 9, US size 11) are so big that even in America they don't make ladies' shoes in my size, so the only thing I bought during the whole shopping trip were some chips smothered with nacho cheese, ranch dressing and bacon. Now they were fabulous! We need to import nacho cheese and ranch dressing to the UK.

Tried on  a few dresses and skirts. Odd how, when the last one you tried on was $98, the one for $69 suddenly seems quite reasonable. Fortunately I retained some common sense and didn't buy anything until we got to Wal-Mart, where I bought a dress for $16.

I am a person of Wal-Mart and Dollar Tree.

Thursday 28th March 2013

Hari and Clara-ism of the day (while out on a paddle boat):
Clara - "Argh! My feet are wet!"
Hari - "Is the boat leaking?"
Clara - "No, it's just got a hole in it."

Picture of the day: The view from our balcony

Thing unexpectedly found to have sugar in it of the day: Coleslaw

Hellen's Version

I had to go on a paddle boat with Clara and Hari. They argued the whole time about who would steer. Then Hari, Ceri and I walked all the way to Wal-Mart and Dollar Tree in blazing heat (of course they moaned all the way) and decided to get the bus back, but we just missed one and then the next one never came so we walked back, them moaning all the way again.

In the evening we went to Golden Corral and I ate so much I felt really ill for the rest of the evening.

Hope things are better in Scotland.

Everyone Else Version

From our very first trip to Florida (our honeymoon) Roderic said that we needed to have a quiet day between park days or we'd need another holiday to recover. Today was that quiet day. I took Hari and Clara to the marina in our resort to have a go on a paddle boat, but was told that they needed to have an adult with them, so I had to clamber onto the back of the boat, clinging to my handbag, and sit there as they pedalled round in circles. I'm not really a boat person, but the sun was shining and it was a lovely way to pass half-an-hour.

Ceri wanted to go to Dollar Tree because some kid on YouTube had claimed they sold LPS (Littlest pet shop toys, to you and me). We walked there, because Google maps told me it was only a mile away, and that's how far we walk to school each day so it's easy. Turns out a mile in Florida feels very different to a mile in Thundersley, and they were pretty shattered when we arrived.

Dollar Tree is great though - like an upmarket version of Poundland. Amazing bargains included a dozen eggs, a book of Bible crosswords(!), and sunglasses. All for a dollar. No LPS though, to Ceri's disappointment. There was a bus stop outside Wal-Mart just a few hundred yards away so I decided we'd get the bus the couple of stops back rather than walking, but the bus sailed past as we approached it, and after waiting twenty minutes we decided to walk instead. No bus passed us during the walk home, so that was evidently the right decision.

A bit of quality pool time (and Gwen and I were awesome when some people in the jacuzzi with us started badmouthing Mormons and we summoned up the courage to put them right) and then we all headed off to Golden Corral. The restaurant we were at seated 432 people according to the plaque on the wall, and we still had a ten minute wait for a table. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet, and I can eat a lot. Six courses, in this case. Clam chowder (first time I've had it, and it was very nice), then a magnificent salad, Chinese, chicken and mashed potato, ribs, and then carrot cake and ice-cream with both hot fudge and hot caramel sauces. Love Golden Corral, but I really hope it never comes to the UK.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Wednesday 27th March 2013

Peter-ism of the day: "I always wanted to be a mermaid." (To which Phil responded, "That's my boy, so proud!")

Picture of the day:

And here's the picture I wanted to use yesterday:

Hellen's Version

Another early start because Discovery Cove opens at 8.30 and serves breakfast. After breakfast we struggled (and I do mean struggled) into wetsuits and hit the Grand Reef for snorkelling over shoals of fish and stingrays. Unfortunately my plans to have fun were foiled by histrionics from two of the children. Ceri had cried for several minutes while attempting to put her wetsuit on because of painful sunburn on her shoulders, and then refused to get fully in the water, afraid it would hurt her shoulders even more. She usually loves swimming, especially underwater, and I'm still really disappointed she didn't get to experience snorkeling on the reef.Although she managed the dolphin swim she didn't start to really enjoy herself until I had removed the wetsuit and dressed her in her normal clothes again (just three hours after we arrived).

I also spent almost an hour with Hari who had been upset all morning and similarly only really relaxed when she was back in her clothes and burying Peter on the beach.

After swimming on the reef for an hour I went off to the restroom (see, I've learned the lingo) and struggled out of my wetsuit. I then found I couldn't struggle into it again, so I went to the wetsuit distribution station to ask for a bigger one. The attendant took one look at me and asked if I was allergic to rubber. My legs to the knees, shoulders and upper arms were covered in a rash so apparently I was. I was issued with a vest to wear over my swimsuit instead and the rash was gone within a hour. Good thing too. My legs had an area which was just rash, then rash on sunburn, then just sunburn. Very interesting look but not likely to catch on.

Everyone Else Version

Discovery Cove was the reason we came to Florida this time, and it didn't disappoint. From the friendly and personal welcome as we walked into the lush and beautiful reception area, to the dolphin encounter itself, it was all perfect. The food was all free, plentiful and delicious, everything was provided including towels and dolphin-friendly sunscreen, and although the weather was still rather too chilly to be comfortable at first, there were space-heaters in the eating area and elsewhere, and the water was warm.

The Grand Reef was amazing. We snorkelled over shoals of beautiful and colourful fish, stingrays we could touch (they had had their stings removed) and coral in all sorts of shapes and colours. I found an isolated little area through a cave, and looked down to discover that I was swimming over some very large sharks! Once I had established that there was glass between me and them I felt a little better, but several other fish and rays brushed by me. It was a magical experience, especially going round it with Gwen and then Roderic.

Our dolphin swim was at 12.30, and reviews I had read prior to the event had said that it was rather brief. Not at all. After an introduction we were taken to the pool where we met Jenny, our dolphin. We learned all about her, touched her, learned hand signals which she responded to, and played with her. Then we swam out to the deeper water and, one by one, rode Jenny back to the shallows. All-in-all we had about an hour interacting with our lovely dolphin and it was a moving and wonderful experience. The whole thing was filmed and photographed, and we bought the complete package so that we could remember it all properly.

We then had a very good lunch, laughing at the extremely tame squirrels and birds that kept appearing on the tables and trying to steal the food, and listening to a very good steel band.

In the afternoon I had some lovely mummy-daughter time with Gwen as we snorkelled around the tropical river, though an aviary and caves with stalactites, under waterfalls and over sunken ships. Swimming at the local  pool is going to seem so dull in comparison from now on. We sunbathed until the park closed, topping up the sunburn beautifully. My face  and shoulders are now very badly burnt, and I shall age even more prematurely than I already was. Totally worth it, though, as a reminder of a wonderful day with Jenny the dolphin, great friends and my slightly irksome family.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Tuesday 26th March 2013

Roderic-ism of the day (as we were heading in to watch the first manatee and turtle show of the day): "It's a manatee performance."

Picture of the day: Since the picture of Ceri nose-to-nose with a dolphin is stuck on Roderic's camera, I'll have to go for this caricature of Hari. Clara, Hari and I all had caricatures drawn, and they were all excellent especially considering that they took less than ten minutes each to produce.

Hellen's Version

I'm going to sue Florida for misdescription. We came here because it was hot, and today it wasn't! We all headed off to Seaworld in shorts and t-shirts, and shivered all day. More than all day, in fact, because the shuttle bus dropped us off an hour before the park actually opened. I had to buy Ceri a sweatshirt because she was so cold, and several people were wearing coats, hats, scarves and gloves.

Suzy and Phil had their sandwiches confiscated by the bag check people, and food and drink in the park was ridiculously expensive. We were all painfully sunburnt, which was ironic given how cold we were. Aren't you glad you're not here?

Everyone Else Version

Seaworld isn't as good as some of the other parks, but it is still a great day out and very beautifully presented. We loved Turtle Trek, a 3D experience about the life of a sea turtle, and the Killer Whales in the One Ocean show were impressive, even if the show itself took cheesy to whole new levels. The best part I thought was the Sea Lions and otters who (with a brief cameo from a walrus) put on a really fun show. Their warm-up act, a mime, was so hilarious that his ten minutes alone was worth the cost and effort of getting there.

In the evening Roderic and I made tuna pasta for everyone, Roderic's signature dish and something we've both made many times before. To our surprise it tasted a bit odd. Fine but...strange. So we checked the ingredients on the tin of chopped tomatoes we'd used, and the second ingedient (after "tomatoes") was  sugar. How strange - why would anyone put sugar in tomatoes? So I checked through my cupboard full of American goodies and all the savoury things, including ranch dressing, bread and ketchup, contain either sugar, honey or high-fructose corn syrup. It must be a nightmare for diabetics.

At various times during the day someone said something to which I responded, "that's going on the blog", but can I remember any of them now? May have to ask Suzy to jog my memory in the morning. Right now I'm struggling to stay awake.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Monday 25th March 2013

Kids-ism of the day:
Peter: "Clara, you're surreal."
Clara: "Peter, you're an idiot."
Suzy: "Clara, do you know what surreal means?"
Clara "No."
Hari: "I do. It's a painter."

Picture of the day: Sunscreen might have been a good idea.

Hellen's Version

When we arrived on Sunday we'd signed up to an "Owner's Breakfast". We paid a $20 deposit and were told to show up at 9 on today for breakfast and a 60-minute presentation. We showed up at 9, and we left after what was eventually a 3 hour presentation. Brian from Detroit chatted to us as though we were his best friends about our holiday plans and what a wise investment our timeshare was. At the end he tried to persuade us to buy another week. When it was clear we weren't going to he said goodbye with astonishing speed and vanished. I feel a little betrayed.

We had planned to go to the free owner barbecue at the pool for lunch, but breakfast had turned into lunch and we weren't hungry. Instead I took a dip in the very hot poolside jacuzzi and then the very cold pool with Ceri, and dried off in the sun for an hour. We headed back to the apartment when I realised that Ceri was getting sunburnt. She wasn't feeling too well, which I put down to the heat until she was copiously sick all over the lounge floor. A whole roll of kitchen towel and improvised mop later, and Ceri was in our bath being hosed down by her sisters as I discussed the change of plan with Suzy. The intention had been that both families would go to Festival Bay Mall and watch The Croods, but in the end I stayed at home with Ceri.

Ceri was feeling much better and watching My Little Pony videos on my laptop (which has developed an annoying habit of switching itself off for no particular reason, so if my posts suddenly stop you'll know my laptop died). That left me with just the TV for entertainment. "Great!" I though. "America has produced Buffy, Angel, House, the Star Treks, Stargates and Dallas, so there's bound to be something worth watching."

49 channels and half-an-hour later I concluded that the adverts (and there were many, many of them and some were really quite bizarre) were better than the programmes. American TV is  terrible! We obviously get the cream of the crop imported, and my admiration for the BBC has gone up several levels.

So I was reduced to doing housework, and cleaned the apartment (including Hari and Gwen's room) extremely thoroughly before retiring to bed. Ceri climbed in with me which was lovely and we both drifted off to sleep. I was woken up by everyone arriving home an hour later. Ceri had wet the bed.

Everyone else version

Breakfast was lovely! A fruit salad I actually liked (fresh melon and pineapple) and cinnamon buns and eggs, bacon and sausages. All unlimited, with drinks too. We had a fun little tour in a golf cart, and since Brian went on so long we also got a free lunch - tortillas with three-bean chilli and nacho cheese sauce.

The American food in our cupboard. Note that we
bought nothing with any real nutritional value.
No complaints about sitting round the pool either, my own (ouch) sunburn notwithstanding. I could have been on the school run in the snow, or trying to keep on top of cleaning my house (cleaning the apartment was so much more fulfilling because it actually looked good at the end of it).

Admittedly I'm having a hard time putting a positive spin on a sick and soggy child but Suzy pointed out that at least we have a washing machine. Not just any old washing machine either. It takes a huge load (double what my machine at home can handle) and the cycle lasts about half-an-hour. My washing machine takes 1 hour 24 minutes to do a cycle. So we made up our bed just over an hour after Ceri had destroyed it.

Sunday 24th March 2013

Peter-ism of the Day "If we're going to Oz, can I have the shoes?"

Picture of the day: not a decision I've had to make before...

Hellen's version

I woke up at 4 a.m. local time, completely wired because my body clock thought it was 8 a.m. To make matters worse we had no food in the apartment at all. Nothing. So I had to wait to eat until we got to McDonald's at 9 a.m.

We then did Wal-Mart. Food is really expensive in America. We spent over $300 (£200) and only really got stuff for three meals. We bought some chocolate snacks but must have forgotten how bad American chocolate is: looked like Maltesters, tasted like earwax.

After McDonald's and Wal-Mart we went down to the pool. I was supervising all the children there when the hurricane struck. There was thunder and lightning and I yelled at the children to get out of the pool. Gregory wanted to do "just one more cannonball!" so I yelled at him most of all. Then we legged it back to our apartment, ran up three flights of stairs and struggled against the wind along the walkway to where Roderic was holding the door open for us. We watched the palm trees bending over from inside the apartment while Hari cried, convinced we were all about to die. Gwen helpfully switched on the TV to distract her from our impending doom only to discover that every channel was broadcasting a tornado warning for exactly where we were.

Eventually the winds died down and the sun came out again, and so the children went back down to the pool while I cooked dinner. After everyone had eaten my meagre offering (we didn't have enough chicken) I took them back to the pool again until bedtime.

Everyone else version

McDonald's breakfast at home is pretty good, but here it's fantastic! So many new things to try. Suzy had fruity oatmeal, Gwen had a chicken "biscuit" (scone) and Roderic had sausage burritos. We all loved it, and are looking forward to going back to try the rest of the menu.
Anyone know what these vegetables are?

In Wal-Mart the children had great fun on a trolley with large plastic seats for them (I'll see if I can get the photo from Suzy) while we had fun looking at all the interesting and exotic food. I loved corn dogs last time we were here, and Gwen loved burrirtos, so we stocked the freezer. The great thing about both of those is that they microwave in about a minute and it turns out that little Gregory (who is not much of an eater) loves corn dogs.We bought milk by the gallon, cinnamon buns, pretzels filled with peanut butter, pop tarts and a whole host of other things we can't get at home.

The 'tornado' was quite an exciting adventure, looking back now. At one stage I wondered whether it would be safer for us to just shelter in one of the door recesses rather than climb the stairs to our room, and Hari hammered desperately on the wrong door when we finally reached the "fourth" (third) floor. But I was grateful as I counted the children through the door to our apartment that we're a pretty stoic bunch. Apart from Hari (who had overheard two other ignorant tourists predicting a terrible tornado), the children were mostly just annoyed at having their swim interrupted.

You may have heard that the advice during a tornado is to get into the bath. Well, I took that seriously, and sat in our huge jacuzzi, the sound of the hot bubbling water drowning out the wind, watching the palm trees bend over the lake.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Saturday 23rd March 2013

Anna-ism of the day (commenting to Roderic on the coincidence that our flight number for the first leg of the journey and the second leg were the same): "Well, I suppose there are only so many numbers."

Picture(s) of the day: from Heathrow Airport.

Hellen's Version

[By way of introduction for everyone else, my dear friend and co-author Hellen Riebold is insanely jealous that I’ve gone to Florida, so I said that I would blog each day about what a miserable time we’re having. So Hellen, read just this first section every day. Other, less envious types, feel free to read the main section.]

We arrived at the Travelodge at Heathrow fine but got lost in the car park (don't ask). After four hours' sleep we collected our standard Travelodge boxed breakfasts and headed to the airport parking. The breakfasts were a bad idea. I found myself standing in the falling snow trying to carry four boxes of cornflakes and orange juice while also carrying a holdall, laptop and handbag and trundling a suitcase. Those breakfasts cost £4.80 each and none of us ate much of them: we ended up dumping them in the first bin we could find at the airport.

When we got to airport security I confidently reassured the children that I wouldn't set off the scanners because I wasn't wearing an underwired bra. I double checked this fact at this point. But my watch set off the scanners instead and I was indeed frisked. Not only that, but my handbag and Ceri's rucksack were kept back for searching. I had left my Kindle in my bag (all electronic items have to go separately in a tray) and in Ceri's rucksack was Roderic's birthday present--another Kindle--wrapped up in birthday wrapping paper. For a while it looked as though Roderic would have to open his birthday presents at the security desk at Heathrow watched by an official.

On the first flight my touch-screen TV wasn't working properly. All around me people were watching films I wanted to see (The Muppets, Wreck-it Ralph, Breaking Dawn 2) but I was stuck with a nine hour flight and no entertainment. The second flight was delayed for almost two hours and there wasn't a TV on it at all.

The airport wanted $5 for hire of a luggage tolley (yeah, right, like anyone's going to pay that ever) so we trundled our five huge cases to Hertz where we waited 40 minutes in a queue for the car-hire. At this point our body clocks were telling us it was 2.30 a.m. and Ceri fell asleep on the cases.

When we got to the resort there was absolutely nowhere to park, and our apartment is on the "fourth" (third) floor of a really big, noisy and busy block. Finally got to bed about midnight local time, which is 4 a.m. UK time.

The Everyone Else version

I may not have eaten much of my Travelodge breakfast, but it was that pain au chocolate and orange juice which carried me through to brunch on the plane. And boy, was that the best in-flight meal ever! Seriously, I've had worse at very expensive restaurants. A chicken breast in a rich cheesy sauce served with polenta with peppers, and perfectly cooked greens, all piping hot and with a bread roll, cheese and biscuits, fruit salad and chocolate chip cookie. Don't know why people complain about airline food because I thought it was great. And so was the calzone pizza they served at the end of the flight, and the gelato. 

Because my TV didn't work I was given a £150 voucher for money off a future flight. Win! And I read a whole book on my Kindle (Sarah, I will review Marianne soon, I promise) and swapped seats with Ceri halfway through the flight so that I could watch films. Yes, one of them was Breaking Dawn 2, what of it?

Heathrow is, apparently, the busiest airport in the world. So is Atlanta, although it did qualify that by adding "relative to its size". Much riotous fun and general mirth was had as we waited at the gate: it's lovely being on holiday with friends.

There was that surreal moment when we stepped out of the airport into the outside world, and it was hotter outside than inside. Gwen summed it up when we had to open the car window to pay a toll and a blast of hot air came in through the window. "This country is backwards!" Lovely!

Our apartment (the timeshare we bought last time we were in Florida) is gorgeous! Big enough to sleep all ten of us comfortably and bigger than our house. We've got a  giant Roman jacuzzi bathtub in our ensuite bathroom and two huge balconies overlooking the lake.


Anyone reading this who realises we're on holiday and thus our house is therefore ripe for the burgling, I would advise you that we have both a housesitter and a very big, fierce and noisy dog. That is all. (Thank you Auntie 'Lina!)