Who: Jelle Collignon and Heidi Willekens
When: April 2013
Destinations: Orlando, Tampa, Naples, Key West, Miami
Sights: Universal Resort Orlando, Walt Disney World, Bush Gardens Tampa, Naples, Everglades, The Florida Keys, Miami Art Deco District
Day 1: On our way to Florida
After a flight of 8 hours we still weren't on American soil. We are flying with Air Canada and had a layover in Montréal, Canada. We had 4,5 hours before our next flight, more than enough we thought... Until we saw the line at the US Customs Preclearance. There were only 2 officers, due to the government shutdown that took effect today.. This could take some time.. People that were close to missing their connecting flight were prioritized, but after just 1 hour we could go to our gate.
Three hours later we could board our plane to Orlando. About 3,5 hours later we could see a lot of light on the ground below us. There was a wildfire below us! When we disembarked we immediately felt the difference in temperature with our trip in 2010. The temperature was very comfortable now.
After retreiving our luggage we picked up the car with Alamo. Around 11pm we arrived at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando. This is a very nice hotel near the Universal Orlando Resort. We bought some bottles of water in the nearby supermarket and went to bed. It will be a long day tomorrow.
Day 2: Universal's Island of Adventure
We spent our first day in Orlando in Universal's Islands of Adventure. We chose this park of the Universal Resort because it had the most spectacular attractions.
There were very long lines for every attraction, even early in the morning. Luckily there is a single rider line for most attractions. We made use of this single rider line a lot. Many times Heidi and I could even sit together. Waiting times were a lot less, about 10 to 20 minutes. At Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey we waited for about 5 minutes, while the normal lines would have taken us 2 hours!
Just outside the park there are many more things to do, like the Hard Rock Café, an NBA café and a Bubba Gump restaurant. We ended the first day with a cold Belgian beer.
Day 3: Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom
On the second day in Orlando we visited the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. We were in the park very early, but we have never seen so many people in a themepark! Waitingtimes were as high as 3 hours. It is clearly visible that it's Spring Break.. We have already done a lot of the attractions in 2010, so we skipped the ones with the longest lines and focussed on the rides we skipped in 2010.
The Fastpass system Disney uses in its parks were very useful on a day like this. In the afternoon we left the park and went to downtown Disney. It was much less busy here. We enjoyed the shops and had dinner in the Rainforest Café.
Day 4: Shop till you drop!
On the last day in Orlando we went shopping. We went to Florida Mall. After picking up a geocache on the parking lot we enjoyed all the shops and the food court. In the afternoon we left Orlando and drove to Tampa. After checking in at La Quinta Inn & Suites USF (Near Busch Gardens) we rested a bit before going to the Hard Rock Casino, one of the largest casino's in Florida. We ate something in the food court of the casino and tried our luck on the roulette. One person in the casino was lucky. He could enter a glass bowl in the center of the casino. Money was being thrown in the bowl and the person had 1 minute to grab as many bills as possible from the air.
Day 5: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
After some Belgian Waffles we drove to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. It is a combination of a themepark and a zoo. The weather wasn't good. It was very cloudy. The positive side of the weather was that there very few people in the park, so we could do all rides in a very short time.
Around noon we took the safaritrain, which takes you very close to the animals. We were almost on the best part of the ride when it started to rain and we could hear thunder. Since the safari passes through an open savannah the weather was too dangerous, so the ride was shut down and we had to leave the train in the next station. The rain kept pouring down, so we went to have lunch. Unfortunately, by the time the weather improved, it was time to leave, so the safari will be for another time. We still had to drive for about 2,5 hours to Naples.
Once we arrived in Naples we checked in at the Hilton Naples.
Day 6: Shop till you drop part 2
The weather forecast wasn't good so we went to a shopping mall for relaxed day of shopping. At the end of the day we had dinner in Pizza Hut.
Day 7: Beach and swimming pool
We went to the center of Naples but there were only boutique shops that were way to expensive for us. In one street we saw a market, but there was only art for sale. From the town center we went to the beach. But we had some difficulties with finding a parking spot. There was only metered parking that only worked with quarters. But we had no quarters... Jelle asked about 10 people if they could change a dollar, but no luck.. Then we saw a parking meter with 50 minutes left on the meter. We made use of this and went to the beach for a short walk. Before returning to the hotel we had lunch at Subway.
The weather was nice in the afternoon so we spent the rest of the day at the pool. By 5pm the pool area was closed to host a wedding reception, so we went to our room to shower and prepare for dinner. In the shower it became clear Heidi had severe sunburn on her legs.. We treated the sunburn with aftersun cream and went for dinner in Red Lobster. In the evening we played some boardgames near the pool.
Day 8: The Everglades
The past night was a nightmare for Heidi. She had a lot of pain from the sunburn on her legs. Jelle went to a pharmacy nearby at 7am te get aftersun with lidocaïne. This brought some relief for Heidi. After the great breakfast we started our trip to Key West. The ride would take about 5 hours.
We bought water and some snacks for the trip and headed for the Everglades. Normally we would go for a hike in the park, but due to the sunburn we skipped the hike and made a scenic drive. The Everglades are a beautiful part of Florida. We stopped at the Everglades Safari Park to go see the alligators. Instead of chicken nuggets we ate some gator nuggets.
We continued our trip the Key West. The road to Key West is magnificent. Escpecially the 7-mile bridge is beautiful.
Finally we arrived in Key West. We checked in at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Grand Key Resort. We spent the rest of the day exploring Key West. Our first stop was the most southern point of Florida. We took some photos and then headed for Mallory Square for the magnificent sunset. After sunset we ate in a small restaurant.
Day 9: We're going to Miami!
On the ninth day of our trip we head for our last destination, Miami. We were here in 2010, but now we are staying in Surfcomber Miami Beach, in the middle of South Beach, right on the beach.
There was no parking at the hotel, so we used the valet parking service. Quite expensive (24 dollar) but very handy.
Our room wasn't ready when we arrived, so we first went to Downtown Miami, to the Bayside Marketplace. Soon we got a call of the hotel that our room was ready. We did some shopping and returned to the hotel. The service of the hotel was much more than we were used of. There was personel for everything. (All wanting a tip, of course! ;-) ) A porter brought our luggage to the room and than gave us some information about the amenities of the hotel. We thought this was it, but we also received a 'wine bracelet'. Every evening betweet 5 and 6pm there was free wine at the poolside bar.
After a short walk on the beach we went to the Lincoln Road Mall. This is an open air, traffic free shopping street. We only checked out a part of the mall. We had dinner and the rest would be for the next day.
Day 10: Cocktail time!
We started our last day in Miami with a walk on the boulevard by the beach to the Art Deco District. Last time we were here, we saw some people drinking an enormous cocktail. We were thirsty, so we couldn't resist the cocktails this time. We spent at least 2 hours to finish the cocktail! We ate a little snack and returned to the hotel to relax a little. We spent the rest of the day shopping on Lincoln Road.
Day 11: Leaving paradise
We had to be at the airport by 1.30pm, but we went to the airport a little earlier to have some time to try and get other seats so Heidi could travel a little more comfortable with her sunburn. We flew here with Air Canada, but since they cancelled our return flight, the rebooked us on a Lufthansa flight via Frankfurt.
We got a very bad first impression of the airline.. The personel was very unfriendly and didn't even want to listen to us. At the check-in counter they told us to talk to the personel at the gate. No problem, we would go there then. They were already informed by their colleague from the check-in. Jelle went to the counter and asked if it would be possible to get seats with a little more legroom, so Heidi didn't have to bend her legs for 8 hours. They were very rude and told us to ask other passengers to give up their seats when we were on the plane. There was no other way. A little later we heard that an other Belgian old lady had been upgraded. We couldn't believe what we were hearing!
So the flight back home was terrible. We won't fly with Lufthansa again if it is up to us..
Back home we told our travel agent about this incident and they told us that they already heard that the Lufthansa personel in the USA could be very unfriendly..