A Travellerspoint blog

November 2009

Eeek! There’s a Mouse!

What to do in Orlando if you wanna avoid Mickey

I have to confess, Florida didn’t work out the way we had intended. Having finished our mini road trip through New England, we had decided we were ready to slow down and slob out for a while. We booked ourselves into a self-catering villa at superb resort - a steal at a little over $50 dollars a night - hoping for a week of sitting by the pool, book in one hand and cocktail in the other, and watching the world go by. Long story short, seven days go by and we had done nothing of interest. This sucked, naturally, so we decided to extend our booking at the resort, and hired a car so we could actually go out and see something of the state.

Note to any females reading this:

Beware of letting your fella choose a hire car by himself; you never know what you’re gonna end up with! We booked online, and a rental company agent collected Pete at the resort and drove him to collect the car. He came home half an hour later, obviously very pleased with himself.

“I got a convertible!” he told me, excitedly. “And for only $6 dollars a day extra.”

Me, being completely clueless about cars, asked the only two questions that sprang to mind:

1) “What colour is it?”


2) “Is there room in the trunk for our backpacks?”

Pete had the good grace to look slightly guilty at this point, and confessed that he has no idea what size the boot was. Typical bloke! Gets all excited about the fast, swish-looking box-on-wheels without a second’s thought as to whether the thing is going to be practical or not. It wasn’t, as it happened (one of the packs had to be stored on the back seat), but it did look good. Here:

Pete absolutely loved this car; me, I wasn't so keen at first. Actually, I think that convertibles are over-rated. If I must have streaming eyes, hair whipping in my face non-stop and zero temperature control, I'd rather be on the back of a motorcycle!

So, now we had transport and could get out and about. The question was, where were we going to go? To be absolutely honest, I have no idea why we ended up in Kissimmee. I did have reasons for wanting to go there at one stage - I distinctly remember once seeing a website that listed a couple of dozen cool-sounding things to do in the Orlando area - but I had long since lost the link to that webpage, and could no longer remember what it was that had appealed to me in the first place.

Kissimmee, as it turned out, was a disappointment. After the charm of Boston and the vibrancy of New York, this place was a real let-down: it was just roads of hotels, gift shops and fast food joints, as far as the eye could see. ‘Soulless’ is the best word I can think to describe it. The place is intended to leech cash from tourists as quickly and as often as possible; you can almost feel your wallet getting lighter as you walk down the street!

The theme parks are a rip-off as well, charging $75 - $100 per person for a single day’s pass. This caused something of a dilemma for us, ‘cos we really couldn’t make up our minds whether or not it’d be worth it. Unusually the Internet was no help, as the reviews for these attractions were mixed: some people loved ‘em, others hated ‘em, so we were really only left with our gut feelings to help us decide.

In the end we decided against visiting any of the major theme parks in the area, partly because of the cost, but also because we really weren’t convinced we’d have a good time. I know I sound like an old Grinch (*) who’s hatin’ on Mickey Mouse, but I’m really not. Let me explain: I think that Disney, Busch Gardens and the like are excellent for people with kids, or adults who are amusement park addicts themselves. Pete and I don’t mind queuing for rides (we had a great night at Tivoli Gardens in Denmark), but our patience for such things is limited. I could easily see us getting irritated by the heat and the queues in no time at all, and heading home without feeling like we’d had value for money.

(*) I assure you I am a not-quite-middle-aged Grinch, thank you all the same. (And, yes, I do know Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt!)

Instead we decided to focus on the other attractions in the area. Here are the highlights:


The one thing we have been continually on the lookout for on this trip is anything that is weird or unusual. Gatorland hit this criterion because of this fella (and three others just like him):

He’s not an albino; albinos’ have pink eyes, and these are a vivid blue.

White ‘gators with blue eyes! Who’da thunk it? White alligators are extremely rare; their colouring makes it difficult for them to hide, for one thing. Apparently they are also exceedingly antisocial, so the four specimens at Gatorland have to be kept in separate enclosures.

There were plenty of other things to keep us busy in the park, too; ‘gator wrestling, for example:

Yes, this bloke is a complete and utter loony!

They also taped the poor critter’s mouth closed and charged people $10 to have their picture taken whilst sitting on its back.

Part-way through the show the commentator asked the wrestler whether he was handling a boy ‘gator or a girl. “It must be a boy,” the wrestler replied. “If it was a girl I’d never have got its mouth shut!”

Another somewhat bizarre event was the Jumparoo in which the alligators were encouraged to jump out of the water in order to grab raw chickens.

Have you ever shouted, “Jump!” at an alligator before? No, me either. (Come to think of it, I reckon it was strange for the alligators, too. I bet that the word they most usually have screamed at them is, “Arrrrrgh!”)

This was made into a competition in which two Gatorland employees, Bub and Cooter, compete to become a ‘gator wrestler. The first person to feed all their chickens to the alligators wins. It was a beautifully put together little show, with some very silly moments. For example, after losing the first round, Cooter starts to cry.

Compere: What’s the matter, Cooter? Why are you cryin’?
Cooter: I can’t lose, Boss.
Compere: Why not?
Cooter: ‘Cos if I lose, Bub’s momma will dump me.
Compere: I’ve seen Bub’s momma. If she dumps you, that’s a good thing.
Cooter: But, Boss, she got this hairy back that keeps me warm at night...

Cue fighting between Cooter and Bub, with some rather unusual boxing gloves...

Bub, the compere, and the poor chicken who came to an undignified end!


This upside-down theme park was great fun!

An unusual exterior for an unusual attraction.

Every exhibit is interactive, and many of ‘em are loud and messy, too, so we were right at home. During the three hours or so we spent there, we:

- Made giant bubbles
- Played a bloomin’ difficult shoot-‘em-up virtual reality game
- Played virtual air hockey
- Controlled a ball using brainwaves
- Found out how cold the water was when the Titanic sank
- Experienced a hurricane-strength wind, and an earthquake registering 5.3 on the Richter scale
- Landed the Space Shuttle on a simulator (If I’m being honest, Pete landed the space shuttle; I crashed it four times!)

Pete, using a series of pulleys, lifted ¼ of his own body weight.

Me, lying on bed of nails. It didn’t hurt at all, but it felt kinda weird and tingly when they retracted.

This place got some really appalling reviews, but we think that if you’re inquisitive, don’t mind getting your hands dirty and have a sense of humour, you can have a lot of fun even if you are an adult!

Boggy Creek Airboat Rides

Although I wasn’t terribly impressed by Florida’s cities, I absolutely loved being out in the Everglades. There are many companies offering airboat rides; we choose Boggy Creek Airboats, who offer tours lasting between 30 minutes and 1 hour.

The airboats themselves are insanely noisy. We were given ear protectors, for which we were grateful.


One very loud airboat. Of course, it’s not really surprising, given that they are powered by aircraft/automotive engines.

Our guide stopped every now and again to point out items of interest. We didn’t get to see any wild ‘gators, unfortunately, but we did see an unexpected bald eagle.

Bald eagles were declared an endangered species in America in 1967; they were removed from the endangered species list in 2007 as their numbers had risen sufficiently, but they are still protected under US law.

It’s very pretty and very peaceful in the ‘Glades (when the airboats aren’t running). This tour was definitely one of the highlights of our stay in Florida. Go see the wildlife, if you get the chance!

Kennedy Space Center

I saved the best ‘til last, here. This was one of Pete’s must-see places while we were in the area, him being a science and technology nut, and I was happy to tag along and keep him company. I’m really glad that I did. The KSC was amazing, and we didn’t even get to see it all! There is so much to do here that one day isn’t enough, and your entrance ticket is actually valid for two visits (within seven days).

The thing that Pete really wanted to do was see the rockets on their launch pads, so we made the guided bus tour our priority. This took several hours, and stopped at 3 different locations:

The LC 39 Observation Gantry

This gave great views of the two giant Shuttle Launch Pads, 39A and 39B. They were both occupied that day: one with a Space Shuttle, and the other with the new Ares rocket.

space-shuttle.jpg ares.jpg

The nose of the Space Shuttle (left), and the Ares-1 rocket (right). We were going to stay in Florida and watch the Ares launch, but changed our plans at the last minute. As it happened, the launch was cancelled anyway, so we didn’t miss anything. Still would have been cool, though...

The Apollo / Saturn V Center

After an introductory film telling the story of the moon landing, we were taken to another room containing the actual furniture and computer consoles which were used to monitor the first Saturn V launch. They recreated the lift-off with a pretty impressive light and sound show (and even made the windows rattle during take-off, which we thought was a nice touch).


These things look so old-fashioned now that it’s hard to believe they were ever used for an actual rocket launch.

The International Space Station Center

We actually thought that this part of the tour was going to be pretty lame at first, and then we walked through a door and found ourselves looking into the workshop where the actual Space Station modules are constructed. That was unexpected and impressive!

Pete inside one of the modules

Back at main site there was plenty to see and do, including: robot displays, talks by an astronaut, IMAX movies, a Hubble telegraph exhibit and an outdoor Rocket Garden. The best bit as far as I was concerned was being allowed a peek inside an actual Space Shuttle. (I had to draw one for a technical drawing project at school back in the Good Old Days, and I’ve been interested in them ever since.)

In conclusion, the Kissimmee/Orlando area has a lot of interesting stuff to do that won’t cost a fortune, and does not involve being accosted by grown men and women wearing cartoon character costumes!

This entry is way too long already, so I’ll continue our Floridian escapades another day.

‘Bye for now


Posted by Julie1972 16:14 Archived in USA Comments (1)

“What d’you mean we’re going to look at leaves?”

In which Pete is dragged on a fall foliage tour around New England

Most people take home souvenirs from their travels, some little trinket or other to remember their vacation by. We’re doing that, too, but not in the way we expected. Forget postcards or t-shirts: on this trip, we’re collecting weird heckles. In Vietnam most people would shout “Hello” at us as we walked by, except on one memorable occasion when a kid on a bike shouted, “Eff you!” On our first day in Boston we got heckled, too... for walking. “Get a car, losers!” yelled the teenage twit who could stand to lose a pound or twenty himself. (No wonder the Western world’s experiencing an obesity epidemic if this is the attitude people have!) And, as it happens, we did hire a car (more on that later), but while we were in the city we didn’t really see the point in having one. See, we have these things called legs, and, unlike certain Teenage Twits, we’re not afraid to use ‘em!


This part of our trip involved rather more moving around than usual. Boston was our base, but we also had a look at New Hampshire and Vermont. But before I get into all that, I have a complaint:

Massachusetts is blooming cold in autumn, and after two days of shivering we were forced to buy coats. That is so not right! I haven’t worn a jacket in eight months and I only have one sweater with me. We were supposed to be chasing the sun around the world... I guess we’re doing it wrong.

Me and my new coat. Also note my ironic sweatshirt, from Oxford University (*). It is ironic because a) I did not go to Oxford, and b) I once applied to Cambridge in a misguided attempt to get a place on one of their postgraduate courses, but the interview went so badly I expected them to hand me my rejection letter on the way out. This also had another consequence in that I went to Edinburgh University instead, and met Pete on my first day there. See, if only I’d been smarter, Pete wouldn’t have had to put up with me for the last fifteen years (or, as he says, “Fifteen long, hard years!”)

(*) BTW, the only reason I own this jumper at all is because I lost my old one at Heathrow, and this was the only replacement I could find in the half hour or so we had left before we had to board our plane.

Lousy weather aside, we did have a fantastic time in New England. The first and last parts of our stay were spent in Boston, the capital of Massachusetts, and one of the oldest cities in America. We liked it immediately, and I think that is in large part because it is a university town; they always seem to have a pleasant atmosphere. We spent many happy hours just wandering around, soaking up the sights on Boston Common, Beacon Hill, and the Charles River Bridge.

If you’re looking for some unusual attractions in the area, we found three that stood out:


This is an enormous hollow ball made of glass, with all the countries of the Earth displayed on the inside of the globe. Through the centre runs a bridge, where observers stand. The map itself is a little out of date, showing the world as it was in 1935, so if you look for Thailand or Vietnam, you won’t find ‘em.

This description from curiousexpeditions.org sums it up perfectly:

It is a singular experience. Nowhere else on earth can you see, well, earth. Not like this at least; earth the way it really looks, without distortion. As you walk down along the walkway, bathed in a soft blue light from the back-lit stained-glass surrounding you everything sounds strange; you can hear your own breathing as if it was someone else right up against your ear.

We weren’t allowed to take photos inside, sadly, but you can see what I’m talking about by clicking here.

The ‘Cheers’ bar

Anybody who watched Cheers during the 80’s is likely to recognise this sign:


Formerly the Bull and Finch, this bar on Beacon Street was used for all the exterior shots in the show.

We used to watch it, too, and in a fit of nostalgia we decided to drop by the pub and try to relive our misspent youths. These things rarely work out as planned, however. At the start of this trip, Pete and I declared our intention to drink our way around the world. Sadly it hasn’t worked out that way for me - health issues mean that I’m hardly drinking at all lately, much to my disappointment – but I made an exception on this occasion. I mean, I couldn’t visit Cheers and not have a beer, could I? It wouldn’t be right.

Pete’s misspent youth is turning into a misspent adulthood, too!


Tomb was something of a surprise, as we’d never experienced anything like this before. It was advertised as an interactive multimedia adventure with an Egyptian theme, which really didn’t tell us much, but we thought we’d head on over there anyway and see what all the fuss was about.

Without giving too much away, you are taken into an Egyptian tomb which has recently been discovered in Boston. (I bet not too many archeologists thought to look there, eh?) The last person to enter the chamber was never seen again, so it is up to you to find out what happened to him. Once inside you are set a series of challenges by a very grumpy pharaoh; the tasks get harder as you move through the rooms. You are accompanied at all times by a guide, who is there to give tips and encouragement, and to stop fights breaking out between family members who can’t agree on the best way to solve a puzzle. (Apparently we were one of the more cooperative teams our guide had seen!) Anyway, we managed to make the old pharaoh happy, and he let us out eventually. We thought it was an amusing way to spend an hour.

So, Boston was great, but that wasn’t the reason I nagged to visit New England.

I have wanted to go on a fall foliage tour ever since I saw it on some cheesy flick umpteen years ago. I’ve long since forgotten the title of that movie, but I remember how gorgeous the scenery looked, and I wanted to go see it for myself. You might have gathered, if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, that I like trees and nature and stuff. Pete wasn’t so keen - hence the title of this entry - but he said the same thing about seeing cherry blossoms in Japan and ended up enjoying himself, so I told him to quit whinging, hire a car and drive! (He did as he was told, too. I’ve got him well-trained...)

But before we went in search of colourful leaves, there was one other stop I wanted to make, in Salem. Salem, for those of you who don’t know, was the centre of witchcraft hysteria back in 1692-‘93. I loved Arthur Miller’s version of the story, as told in The Crucible, and I wanted to visit the museum.

The Salem Witch Museum: one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions.

It wasn’t quite what I’d expected. Instead of walking around looking at exhibits, you sit in a large room, which is decorated with a series of wax mannequins, and listen to a presentation. The tale of the witchcraft trials is narrated, while the relevant section of the diorama is highlighted at the appropriate time. To be honest, this arrangement has received a lot of criticism. Some people see it as low-tech and cheesy, while others complain that you can’t see everything without constantly switching seats. While both of these objections are valid, I still enjoyed hearing the history again. Over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned during the height of the hysteria, and 19 of those prisoners were hanged... and all because of bunch of young girls with overactive imaginations!

Our timing was perfect for visiting Salem. Halloween starts early in America; even though it was still only the first week in October, many people had already put up their Halloween decorations. I must admit, I loved it! All those quaint clapboard houses with pumpkins and scarecrows on the front porch looked so good!

We decided to get into the spirit of things by going to a haunted house. There were plenty to choose from, and I reckon we stumbled upon one of the better shows, ‘cos ours was in 3-D! The effects were brilliant, and the actors were scary. (There was one lady dressed as some kind of white witch who kept jumping out at us who managed to make me jump every single time. What a way to make a living: running around, shouting “Boo!” at people and cackling. I think I’ve finally found my dream job! Where do I apply?)

But enough of the silliness. Salem, much as I loved it, was not the point of the trip; this was:

Click on a pic for bigger versions, as per usual.

I think we were very, very lucky with our timing. We spent one day driving along the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, one of the more popular spots for us ‘leaf-peepers’, and the scenery was perfect: lots of leaves on the trees and a wide variety of vivid colours. During the night there was a storm. We drove along "the Kanc." again the following morning on the way to Vermont, and it looked totally different. Many of the trees had lost their leaves, so there were large patches of grey where the branches were visible, and the colours themselves seemed muted. We noticed the same thing in Vermont, where the foliage was obviously past its peak.

It was a lovely way to spend a few days, driving through these quaint little towns with clapboard houses, going for walks, admiring the scenery and taking photos. I just wish the pictures could do it justice – I recommend seeing it for yourselves, if you get the chance!

Posted by Julie1972 11:44 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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