This time last year was quite exciting for us. We had just a couple of days to wait until we set off on our holibob to Florida. Russell and I had both been before with our respective families. I was 9 when the parentals, my wee bro and myself visited the land of the free. It was, of course, amazing but I fainted on the first day whilst waiting for the coach to Disney and woke up on the ground with a circle of Americans around me, all trying to offer me a cold “flannel”. Such was my body’s reaction to walking out of our hotel room into an atmosphere which can best described as thick soup. The humidity was both difficult to deal with and unexpected as we had arrived late the night before. Let’s not even talk about what that soup did to the hair whilst on said vacation.
Anyway. Russell and I had a honeymoon, of sorts, but we didn’t do the “Big Honeymoon” that all our friends seemed to be doing. We decided to put our money into our house and do the “Big Honeymoon” thing later. Three and a half years later.
So, off we popped with suitcases adorned with the Mr and Mrs luggage tags that all the coolest newlyweds brand their specially purchased cases with, despite us being totally uncool and no longer newlyweds.
Useful Advice #1
Don’t carry cash and don’t rely on your debit card as many a charge may be incurred. Instead, think about a cash passport. Essentially, this is a gift voucher and debit card combined. We arranged ours through our travel agent, Thomas Cook, and when we had some money put together for spends they loaded it onto our cards.
This meant that we could stick to whatever we had saved for our trip, not incur bank charges for using our own cards abroad and know that, should someone manage to get hold of these cards, that they were in no way connected to our bank accounts. We each had one, we could top them up at any time (also meaning we could keep an eye on the exchange rates and change whenever was best), we used them like a debit card in a chip and pin fashion and we didn’t feel guilty about shopping (let’s face it, that was 60% of the reason for booking this holiday) because that’s what the money was for. Simples!
Useful Advice #2
If you can, upgrade on your flight. We had originally booked economy seats because, well, it’s a pricey enough holiday anyway, but the chance came up on the outbound flight to upgrade. We did. We loved it! With me being 5 ft 9 and Russell being 6ft we sure did appreciate the larger seats and the extra leg room. The snob in me also relished in the posh business class nosh, the selection of movies, the drinks on demand and the quiet sanctuary that only an upgrade can provide on a long haul flight. Trust me, it was such a treat! Especially so, because it wasn’t available on the flight home. Devastated wasn’t the word!
Useful Advice #3
We stayed on International Drive and our most valuable resource were our tickets for the I-Ride. This is basically an uncomfortable green trolley that buses you the length of International Drive as many times as you want, until your ticket expires. We opted for the 2 week pass and we used it every day.
The outlet malls at both ends of the strip proved most pleasant and places we frequented regularly because of their easy access. One draw back of this particular mode of transportation, other than the park bench seats contained within, was they cannot be used to access any of the big parks that might be on your list of places to visit, other than SeaWorld (I think) which I was boycotting anyway. However, it is ideal for those who plan to eat out for every meal and the map they provide you with is quer and handy.
Speaking of places to eat we had two favourites…Uno’s for the best deep dish pizza that Russell still fantasises over, just mention Uno’s to him see, and The Outback, an Australian steakhouse, where I can personally recommend their (steak, yes, but) Pina Coladas! Their blooming onion is also amazing as a generous starter. All in all, arrive hungry and wear loose clothing.
Useful Advice #4
When we got on our coach at Orlando airport we were given two pieces of advice and I now advise you to heed neither.
- You need to buy yellow wrist bands which repel mosquito bites. These things smell disgusting and in all honesty, were a total gimmick that we stupidly bought into. Don’t be stupid.
- “Part of the American culture is tipping so please, respect our customs.” Yes, I knew about the tipping your waiter/waitress thing but I did not realise that said custom extends to anyone that lifts a finger for you. From the coach driver for driving you and then again for lifting your bags off his coach, to the cleaner, to the taxi drivers, to the bar men…the list goes on. I had no problem with tipping until it was suggested that I HAD to do it and hand over my money to every Tom, Richard (yes Richard) and Harry. I became quite bitter about it after that. Go out of your way for me, go above and beyond your job description, then yes I’m happy to give you a little something but don’t feel entitled to it and certainly don’t suggest a percentage that you deem acceptable. That was the attitude of the undeserving, in my experience. Next time, I’d be thran.
Useful Advice #5
You MUST visit Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. Whether you are a die hard fan of Harry Potter (Me!!!) or just curious, you can’t help but get caught up in the magic of it all and it really is magic. It’s just AMAZING! Visit everything, listen carefully, drink Butterbeer (the frozen one is nicest), buy a wand that you’ll never need or use, go through Gringotts, take the train, let yourself be a kid…you won’t regret it. By the way, this was the other 40%!
Useful Advice #6
Disney is an obvious choice when visiting Florida and a must see for any girl, little or not so, who has ever fantasised about living in a castle, marrying a prince and wearing a twirly dress and clicky heels. So yes, visit Disney but make sure you visit Disney at night, at least once, to see the light parade and the fireworks over the castle. This was such a highlight of the trip for me. The sparkle, the music, the magic. I’m reliably informed that I spent the entirety of the show with my mouth open.
Useful Advice #7
Taxis are a rip off and the drivers only want your custom if it’s a handy route. Don’t bother using them. We took a taxi to Disney to go and see the fireworks as our hotel didn’t offer a shuttle bus at night. It cost us an arm and a leg and the driver spent most of the journey tutting and complaining. Make sure your hotel can get you to whatever park you want and at any time of the day. We stayed at the Rosen Inn International who offered a free bus to Universal but not to the other attractions. We’d look into that a bit more if we went back.
Useful Advice #8
I totally judge books by their cover and I totally judge a hotel by the pictures in the brochure. Our choice was not my choice. It didn’t look “nice” and it certainly didn’t make me want to spend time there, but that’s the point. I was in Florida for crying out loud. I didn’t need to spend any time in my hotel room because we were making the most of our holiday. We literally needed a place to sleep that had a fridge to keep our water chilled and our wet face cloths in zip lock bags nice and icy (another good tip for long days in the heat). That’s exactly what our hotel was and you know what? It was spotlessly clean. Not a thing wrong with it.
Useful Advice #9
For the beauty product lovers among you, Sephora is a must. Don’t expect everything to be cheaper, there’s not much difference in price. What the Meka for the make up obsessed does offer, is choice. A choice of brands that you hear about, you read reviews on, you want to try but just can’t get your well manicured hands on. Since our return a few of these brands have started to filter through to the British make up counters or, at the very least, become available online, so here’s hoping that continues. I also advise signing up to their VIB reward scheme if you are planning to do some serious damage and will visit more than once during your stay, or four times if you’re me. You’ll earn points, much like you would in Boots, and you can redeem these for luxury sample sizes at the check out. That was how I discovered my favorite eye cream which I mentioned in my ‘Nighty Night’ post.
Below are just some of the favourites that I purchased. Let me know in the comments if you would like a dedicated blog, I’d be more than happy to oblige!
So, there you have it, a layman’s (laywoman’s) guide to holibobbing in Florida. If you have any other tips or recommendations, do leave them in the comments, you never know who might find your pearls useful!
- Now I have to tidy this mess up.
- It’s really annoying me that I have given an uneven number of tips.
- We need a Sephora.
- I have a fingerprint on my glasses.