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Category Archives: Shopping

Fun in the Sun – Florida (part 1)

In 2011 and 2014 we were in the lucky position to be able to visit Florida in the US, to be more specific Orlando.

This posting will mostly deal with our first visit in 2011, with more posts to follow for those interested in taking a trip over the pond for a fun break in the sun.

Our 2011 trip started with a Thomson flight from Glasgow International Airport to Stanford Airport. We’d chosen the route because it was cheeper than the flight to Orlando International, however Stanford is considerably further out than Orlando International which meant that we had to prebook a limo from the airport to our apartment, which meant it wasn’t as much of a saving as it first appeared.

We were staying at Mystic Dunes resort, which is close to Celebration and not far from Orlando. The resort hosts a large selection of villa apartments large enough to accommodate a family or a group of friends staying in the area.  There are a lot of facilities such as multiple swimming pools, a golf club and loads of other sporting areas dotted around the grounds. Our stay at Mystic Dunes was decent, but it was a bit far away for our first visit to Florida, especially considering our plan was to visit the Disney and Universal Parks (with a bit of retail therapy on the side).

Mystic Dunes had done a deal with the PlatinumTransportation Inc to supply all the transportation which meant that we were pretty much stuck with using them, which I believe may have cost us quite a bit to get around.  Despite the reviews on Yelp, we found the drivers of the cars and the busses to the parks to be polite and helpful, unlike the people that queues for the busses in the parks (that’s something for later).  The busses to the parks (Seaword, Disney’s Epcot and Animal Kingdom as well as Universal) started off at Mystic Dunes, which meant that you were guaranteed a seat on the long journey out but on the journey back Mystic Dunes was the last stop off, meaning if you didn’t get a seat you were standing until seats eventually freed up.  Some of the busses had screens which showed movies such as Despicable Me or Disney (usually Mickey Mouse shorts or Lion King), although sometimes the screens didn’t work or had problems, but it was occasionally a happy distraction.

Our lack of knowledge and lack of belief in our ability to drive in the US meant that we made some rookie mistakes, but we had done a bit of planning before we left so we weren’t completely naive.  There is a wealth of information on-line about Florida, the parks (Walt Disney World, Universal, SeaWorld, Bush gardens, etc), malls, and so much more, so I won’t go into it here, maybe in another posting…

Our plan to get to all the parks that we wanted, at times that weren’t so restrictive, was to use the Transportation and Ticket Centre at Magic Kingdom. The TTC allows you to use Disney busses, boats and monorail to get to and from all the Disney parks and resort hotels whilst still being able to access public busses such as Lynx to get out with Disney’s Kingdom, allowing you to get to the malls and Universal’s parks.  The only Disney location that you can’t get to from the TTC is Downtown Disney.  The secret to getting to Downtown Disney is to get a Disney Bus or Monorail to a Disney hotel and then get a Disney bus from there to Downtown.

As this was our fist visit to the area, we had decided not to take a gamble, hire a car and try driving on the other side of the road, something that I don’t regret despite the number of times we made mistakes with the Lynx bus system and had to call for the Limo to pick us up. In 2014 we did take the leap and get behind the wheel as it appears that most people drive in Orlando, but more of that in later posts.

Our original reason for going over to Florida was to have some fun and ride some of the more extreme rides in the area.  We had ridden all the rides in Alton Towers at the time and felt that it was time for me to up my game and try the bigger, faster rides in the states.  What happened once we reached the parks changed all that and our view on Disney changed forever and I suspect it will never be the same again.

We visited Universal‘s two parks and loved the big rides, atmosphere there and the more adult feel was great.  The big rides were amazing and the City Walk area was where we fell in love with the laid back Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. Margaritaville was a more subdued taste of Florida, good drinks, good food and a relaxed atmosphere which is a great break from the push and shove of parks.  For those of you with a fear of big rides then a few sips or a big gulp (if you really need it) of one of their tasty cocktails will soon sort out those nerves.  On one visit the barman was concerned that we had had a few drinks but had not yet eaten anything, after a quick discussion and realisation we were from Scotland, he realised that there was nothing to be concerned about.  On one trip we did try the Volcano Nacho’s which we were warned was a monster… we should have listened.. after the large plate, stacked high with “Tortilla chips layered with chili, cheese, pico de gallo, fresh guacamole, sour cream and jalapeños”  it was clear that the picture on the menu did not do it justice and we had really under estimated this monolith, after a brave struggle we had to eventually admit defeat.

When we went into Disney’s Magic Kingdom the feel was completely different and we almost instantly became Disney fans.  My better half joked that they must put something in the air conditioning system on Main St because after the Main street parade our view of Disney changed and something just clicked with us.  We realised that there is more to the Disney parks than just the rides, a feeling that you only get at Disney park and something that becomes electric within Magic Kingdom.

Our trip to the Florida Mall showed that UK Shopping centres are nothing compared to the US and being a Apple fan I had to check out the Apple store ( Hello, I’m FreakOut and I’m an Apple addict ). I can’t remember much about the rest of the stores, but I do remember there was loads for everyone and there is a big ass M&M’s store (which is far better than the only UK store in London and has a massive range of varieties of M&Ms that you just don’t get over here [except possibly CyberCandy in London’s Covent Garden]). My better half started a long distance retail affair with the Bath and Bodyworks, something that I have to admit that even I have started to love, which is yet another reason we keep going back to Florida…

Our one and great disappointment was that we never held back at the Disney parks for any of the night time fireworks at either Magic Kingdom or Epcot, something we would make up for in our next visit…

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A slice is nice

I, like most people in Scotland ( and probably most of the western world), like to have the occasional takeaway. In the Monklands area, there is a wide range of places to pick up something to eat when you just don’t have the time cooking or just fancy something different.

So, with such a wide choice, why is it that all the Pizza places ( I’m thinking Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Dimaggio’s and even the local chip shops) always have the same standard offerings?

Surely, with all the competition, these companies would try to draw in customers with something a bit more enticing? I did notice that Pizza Hut had some “gourmet” pizza choices, with rocket and balsamic glaze, but these were only for eat-in customers. The latest ideas appear to be to have cheese burgers built into the crust (not entirely enticing for vegetarians, such as myself) and to make things more bizarre they also started selling “chips” (because there aren’t enough places selling them?! Burger King, McDonald’s, any chip shop or pretty much every other take away !?!)

Even the local restaurants such as Dimaggio’s, who used to produce some interesting variations (such as the four cheese and tomato, which used to have chunks of cheese and tasty big slices of tomato ), now look very similar to every other Pizza place. There doesn’t look like four cheeses, and any chunks are tiny with only the odd pizza having any tomato slices on it at all.

The one restaurant that has always shone above the rest, Guidi’s has also fallen by the wayside as the quality dropped as the business grew. I’d still put them ahead of the competition for style but their quality lets them down and sometimes I feel that their menu doesn’t cater for vegetarians as much as they could.

So we are left with the standard boring pizza toppings, paying for the same bland flavours and choices, when there are so many great exciting possible topping combinations. Why?

Is there room for someone to take up the challenge of creating something different, exciting and tasty? or will the major chains eventually wake up to the opportunities that they have in the palm of their hands?