TRAVEL: ORLANDO DIARY

25th June 2016

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When we woke up at our airport hotel on the 14th of June and switched on the news, we were horrified by what we saw. In the largest mass shooting in America, 49 people had been shot dead in a cruel and senseless killing at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Naturally we were shocked, but more so we were saddened by this horrible event. I’ll admit that I had a heavy heart as we made our way to Manchester airport to catch our flight.

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If you’ve been around Musings & More for a while now, you’ll know that I actually visited Orlando for the first time back in September. Ever since we returned home, my family and I could not stop talking about how much we had enjoyed ourselves in America and we all agreed we should definitely go back. So roll on ten months and we hopped on the plane, ready to head back to the sunshine state.

As we drove to our home for the week, you couldn’t help but notice the many sign posts and banners in support of the victims of the shooting. ORLANDO STRONG, LOVE IS LOVE and PRAY FOR ORLANDO were just a few. If I learnt anything during my stay in Orlando, it was how united they were in the face of adversity. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about the shooting or the appeals or events being held to raise money for the victims and their families. The issue was being talked about across all forms of media and that was exactly what needed to be happening.

Like last time, we chose to stay in our own house rather than a hotel. This, we all agreed, was the best way to stay in Orlando and get a taste of american life. We also loved the bonus of having our own private pool! We stayed in a place called Indian Creek which was close to loads of brilliant places like Disney and Epcot. As a note, some of the activities I won’t go into in this post, for example, Universal as I wrote about this in detail here and here last year and this time I decided to enjoy the experience without snapping away constantly and thinking of my blog.

Being one of the parks we had yet to do, Epcot was always fairly high on our agenda. It was one I hadn’t really done much research on either and didn’t know much about it. There are a few rides at the park though nowhere near the others and most of these are future themed which is really interesting. Other than that, the idea is that you work your way around numerous different ‘countries’ through the park. This includes Mexico, Japan, Italy, Paris, England, Canada and many more. With each area, everything is naturally themed to that country and it is done incredibly well. You feel like you’ve visited a lot of countries in just a few hours and can even have your photo taken next to the big landmarks! There are also plenty of dining options in each country which means you could be eating sushi, gelato or perhaps funnel cake. As much as I enjoyed Epcot, I don’t think I would do it again. As a one-time thing, it’s really interesting but the limited rides mean that once you’ve visited all the countries, they is no real need to do it again.

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On the Saturday, we planned to venture further afield and head to the closest beach, which just so happened to be a place called Cocoa Beach. The journey was about an hour and a half, so we stopped to get some breakfast and headed to IHOP (international house of pancakes, dontcha know!). They have such an extensive, yummy menu that it was difficult to pick, but in the end I went for the ‘split decision’ which was essentially a fried breakfast with french toast and a side of buttermilk pancakes. Safe to say, I didn’t end up finishing the pancakes!

When we eventually arrived at the beautiful sandy beach, my dad told us not to get too comfortable as we would be leaving (but later returning) for a surprise he had arranged. Intrigued, we sat back and soaked up the sun before heading back to the car for a fifteen minute drive. The three of us stared out the windows, searching for clues. It soon became obvious when he pulled into an airfield.

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He had arranged for the three of us to have a private helicopter ride! We were all delighted and introduced to the British couple who owned Beachside Helicopters who were so lovely. After signing some forms, we climbed into the helicopter and were given a quick brief by the pilot before pulling on our headphones setting off. It was a truly wonderful experience and I feel that words can’t really describe how it felt to look out at the sights below. I hope my photos do some sort of justice! I really would recommend Beachside Helicopters if you are heading to Orlando, they were great hosts and really made the experience all the more better. After our ride had finished, we climbed out (all in total awe) and made the journey back to Cocoa Beach where we flopped down on the sand to catch some rays.

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Being the lovely man he is, my Dad had also scheduled in a 1930s themed ‘Capone’s dinner and show’ for us on Fathers Day. He produced a hat for Matt and handed myself and my sister headdresses, pearls and a feather bower to help us get into character. We took our seats with a great view of the stage and we enjoyed a buffet of tasty food and were given unlimited soft and alcoholic drinks throughout the show. The show itself is great for the family and features brilliant music (think Bugsy Malone!) with comedy and even some audience participation! Having not done something like this before, we all really enjoyed it.

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On our last full day, we had organised to go horse riding! It took place in St. Cloud at a place called Forever Florida , which ran a number of activities from zip lining to being a cowboy for the day! It was a beautiful place, with 4,700 acres of gorgeous Wildlife Conservative Area. There was even a very firm ‘don’t feed the alligator’ sign! I was introduced to my horse Moon (which I loved, my puppy’s name being Luna!) who I was told was the boss of the group and would lead the pack! I climbed up and found he was relatively easy to handle with a few gently nudges. Now like a lot of you, I had a few horse riding lessons but this was a lot more authentic. We made our way on horseback through unspoilt Florida, wading through deep streams and even a spider creek (much to the horror of my sister). The idea behind the Conservation area was that everything was preserved just as nature intended, something I really love. Admittedly, after an hour and a half on on Moon, my legs did start to ache. You really underestimate the muscle power needed to horsehide! Other than that, it was a great way to enjoy the gorgeous views and something really different for us to do together.

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As with last time, when our day to return home came around, we were all moaning about having to leave. I’m fortunate enough to have visited the US three times in the last ten months and I’m still completely in love with the place, longing to tick more states off my list. I’d love to know where you want to visit in the States and why, let me know in the comments!

Emily>