We set off after breakfast with Orlando, Florida, our goal for the night. We left South Carolina and entered Georgia, stopping at Savannah for a wander and a snack (some pecan pie and a cup of coffee). Savannah was a nice town, seemed as though it was bigger than Charleston and not quite as ‘quaint’, more touristy we felt. There were loads of green spaces, town squares, throughout the downtown area which meant driving through was a laborious task, navigating the one-way system and driving around each square as if it were a roundabout. Once through Savannah we headed directly for Florida and our destination for the night, Orlando.
We spent the day keeping out of the heat, hitting up a local shopping mall to run some errands and fill some gaps in our inventory before we got to Mexico. We checked into a motel for the night around lunchtime, complete with a pool and ice machine to keep us cool in the heat which was approaching 40 degrees celsius and the humidity up over 50 per cent. The afternoon was spent getting some much needed rest time, forward planning for our trip and watching the multitude of TV channels at our disposal.
Today we went to Magic Kingdom, Disney World. We got there around 12noon thinking that with the park open until 11pm most of the kids would be gone by later in the evening leaving the lines for the rides a little shorter. This worked to a certain extent although the park remained busy all day. We managed 11 rides in all and had a great time walking around marvelling at the craziness that is Disney. It is completely over the top as expected. The rides are fun and whilst not white knuckle some of them are exhilarating. It is all so well looked after as well, with the number of people going through each day and considering the age of the park this is fairly impressive. The rides we went on were:
- The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
- Splash Mountain
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Seven Dwarves Mine Train
- Mad Tea Party
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Space Mountain
- Haunted Mansion
- Jungle Cruise
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Under the Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid
On top of this we got a photo with Goofy and Daffy Duck, rode the Walt Disney World Railroad and saw the parade along Main Street USA before heading home to pass out completely exhausted by this experience.
Today was a day of errands getting ready for Mexico and lazing around in our motel room.
Today we opted for the Islands of Adventure out of the two Universal theme parks. We had a great time arriving shortly before 10am and not leaving until around 8pm. We started the day at Hogsmeade, checking out the three Harry Potter themed rides there, then went to explore the rest of the park, cooling off in the mid-day heat by doing three water rides and getting truly soaked. It’s a great theme park with loads of variety in the rides, from roller coasters and water rides to 3D experience rides. In all we managed 12 rides, doubling up on some and finishing the day with the Harry Potter Hogwarts ride which takes you on an all immersive thrill ride flying through the air to take in a Quidditch match before having to escape from some Dementors. The rides we went on were:
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey x 2
- Dragon Challenge
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster x 2
- Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
- Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
- Jurassic Park River Adventure
- The Cat in the Hat
All in all a great day out and feel that we have done Orlando without really having seen the city, just the theme parks! Oh, and we also tried some Butterbeer, not having read Harry Potter this was new to me but Kirsty informs me that this is the drink in the Hog’s Head. A butterscotch and shortbread flavoured iced drink, tasty but beware of those cold-drink headaches.
We had an airboat tour booked today to explore the mangroves and grasslands of the South Floridian Everglades for the afternoon so we got going, driving South and leaving the theme parks capital of Orlando. The drive South was interesting, going through some National Preserves and in one area we encountered signs warning us of Panthers. Apparently they have panthers down here, along with bears, alligators and sometimes crocodiles. We were expecting the alligators but not he bears or panthers, not that we saw any. We arrived just in time for our airboat tour in Everglades City, having been held up by some torrential rain on the way. Everglades City is situated right on the Southern tip of Florida with the Gulf of Mexico to the South and the Everglades National Park directly to the East. There are many airboat tour companies here but we chose one that did smaller tours with no wildlife park showing off alligators (we didn’t feel this was right). The tour was fantastic and we sped through mangroves and grasslands for an hour with our captain (‘Hoss’) going full pelt on some stretches and doing spins in the boat. You will have to check out the videos to see the terrain, it is quite unique, going through ‘tunnels’ of mangroves at times then emerging into wide open grasslands. We didn’t see any alligators but then it is only just the start of the rainy season and the water is still too salty for them there. The airboat was powered by a 400 horsepower chevy engine and you could tell by the noise, they gave us ear defenders.
With the airboat tour done we headed for Miami and took the Route 41 through the Big Cypress National Preserve, skirting along the boundary to the Everglades National Park. The drive was direct and the scenery didn’t change much as expected. This National Park is only really accessible by boat and being swampy and grasslands is fairly flat so you couldn’t see much of it besides what was directly next to the road running beside. We stopped once at a boardwalk and was surprised to see some alligators resting in the river beneath us. There were six in all that we saw and some large, stretching out to maybe 10 feet long. All but one were as still as rocks, with only their eyes blinking every now and again. I was’t expecting to get that close to alligators in the wild. I can imagine that if you live here they would be a part of your everyday life. Not that appealing!
It took us a while to get into Miami with the toll road system getting in the way. We chose the cheap route which took longer and had more traffic lights. We got to our motel in the evening and had some dinner at the local Asian eatery (‘Moonchine’) before resting up at the ‘Shalimar Motel’ in the heart of Miami, our last stop before Mexico City.