Mar 07 2007

Snowy, Trashy and Nashy

Hey Hey it was finally Saturday and it was a day I had fully planned for months! My Nash Trash tour with the Jugg sisters was going to make my day and the Grand Ole Opry and the honkytonks was going to make my night. I had previously posted in my state of country music shock about my amazing night previously, so now it is time to fill y’alls in on my day!

If you want to see what Nash Trash is like here is a clip from the Today show! And you can also read the Trip Advisor reviews!

The tour leaves from the Nashville Farmers Market. It was really snowing and windy so I envisaged getting the shuttle from the hotel to the market. Unfortunately, I left it too late and he was out doing all these other pickups and drop offs so I had to walk all these back streets and across a main roadway and out back even further in the snow to this Farmers Market. I didn’t mind though as in the Lonely Planet it had recommended the Farmers Market as one of the great places to visit in Nashville so I planned to get there two hours before the tour to look around, get a nice fresh market lunch and take it all in as it is open all year round! The car park had any cars in it which I thought was a little strange. No wonder. I walked into the food hall and there was one mexican place there – everything else closed up and empty. No worries I thought – the fresh food area will be bustling. I walked out to the market area and there were a few dodgy stalls selling old fruit and veg and nothing all that exciting. I had two hours to kill in a food hall that had no food and in a market that wasn’t a market at all. There were a few other people who obviously planned to do the same as me – or maybe they were reading the same Lonely Planet. So I sat at a plastic chair and table set making lists in my notebook for over an hour, daydreamed for about half an hour and ate for the other half an hour. I heard some people mention that the Market is getting totally renovated and that is why all the places have closed. So that explains it!

Before long I was lining up in the snow waiting for the doors on a bright pink school bus to open. When it did, out jumped Sheri Lynn and Brenda Kay and we were off – around the block doing introductions and listening to their jokes for about half an hour before we made it out of the market. Already my cheeks were sore from laughing and smiling so much – they were hysterical! One lady was there from somewhere in Texas and then said after this she was off to Dallas. The sisters went on to ask her what for and she replied in a very matter-of-fact voice “For the Kentucky Fried Chicken Convention”. With this the bus just exploded with laughter – you couldn’t ask for a more hilarious response and her manner was so serious and yet we all found it all so hyserical for some reason! Absolute classic reason to be going to Dallas and you could just imagine what it would be like… or maybe not because I wouldn’t know what to expect.

The Nash Trash tour isn’t a real tour in the sense that you hear about all the historical stuff or historical crap as they put it. 😉 It was the funniest, what I think were three hours, I think I have ever had. If you ever go to Nashville basically you have to do this tour. What made it so great is that it was so original and so Nashville – not trying to do anything that has been done before or trying to do anything that just didn’t feel perfectly suited to the experience in the bus! When they read out my name, they actually said “Bess in the office said y’alls blog is great!” So Bess, if you are reading this – hi!! 🙂 I got to sit beside another lone traveller, a teaching professor from NYC who had been to Nashville before for a conference and she wanted to come back and experience it over a longer time and we both had an absolute blast. It was one of the best and most fun experiences I have ever had travelling and am so happy that I did it!

We stopped at the Country Music Hall of fame for a bathroom and drink stop when another lady and her daughter came up to speak to me. “So you’re from Melbourne right? We’ve got some friends in Melbourne – their surname is Morgan.” I quickly responded that Melbourne is a big place and there are lots of Morgan’s around. She went on to say that the family was the “Val Morgan” family – you guessed in – CINEMA VAL MORGAN! I just lost it laughing – trying to explain to them that basically everyone knows Val Morgan. A big difference between just a Morgan and Val Morgan!

Walking back to the hotel in the snow was so much fun as the Jugg sisters made a snow day one of the best ever – so I couldn’t think of any way to top it.

Little did I know how awesome my night was going to be…!

Better – Screaming Jets

Mar 07 2007

Nashville Take Two

Well rested, well fed and cold was how Friday morning greeted me in Nashville and with that, it was time to pay homage to the people that made Nashville Nashville at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. There is no better way to spend a few hours than at this place. The displays are so personable, you get a way-back-when until now look at how country music has grown and evolved over time and y’all even get to see Elvis’ GOLD Cadillac. As a TV addict, one of my favourite displays was about the rise of country music on TV – from the simple beginnings to the Garth Brooks extravaganzas and Reba doing ads for Fritos! The walls of records were fantastic – some you can open like little doors and when you do, the music plays! There was a special Ray Charles exhibit called ‘I can’t stop loving you’ and it wasn’t too bad. But I made a discovery that I was totally not expecting. The museum had a library!

The Frist Library and Archive was a total surprise. I have always said that the JFK Presidential Library is my dream library… well I have a new one. If I had known I would’ve booked to do a visit! Being a new museum, the Library facilities were awesome and all the exhibitions are built around the Library! So when you actually go through the beginning you look over and into the library and their compactus. It was just too exciting for words to be surrounded by Garth and all my boys AND a library!

Also, from the museum there is a satellite radio station broadcasting from within the complex and the gift shop was a great one. The gift shop is something that you just grow to expect when you visit anywhere. At Universal, every ride ended with a trip through a shop that was full of products and junk related to the ride or just junk in general. Every attraction has a gift shop. Even Gator Land had one! The gift shop for the museum was like one massive record shop with some random t-shirts and quirky books related to country life!

From here I went to explore some of the 2nd Avenue area of the riverfront – it was mighty chilly so I had some more great mexican to warm up and decided I would pay a visit to the Nashville Library as it was one place I definitely wanted to go. What I didn’t envisage encountering were two very very shady characters who asked me for change and then proceeded to follow me up this street and there was NO-ONE else around. I ducked into the library and what do you reckon – so did they. The Library is a stunning building – absolutely gorgeous but very vast in the entrance area. Due to the weather, the library was full of Nashville’s homeless – being one of the easy ways to stay warm and comfy in the cold. The library foyer had one guy standing at a huge desk and the way the library has been built it meant going into some lifts and then up to the other levels. The dodgy guys followed me to the LIFTS! I can actually say it was the only time on my trip that I felt something just wasn’t right and I didn’t feel safe at all. So I had to say ‘Stuff it!’ to the Library and just bolted into the fiction stacks way on the other side of the library and wandered and hid in there until I got angry at myself for getting spooked by two random loser guys. 🙁

After all of these adventures I was drained! Before I knew it, it was time to head back to head back as I had a huge day coming up. I walked back to the hotel through the many back streets of the Nashville area which I can say were positively desolate! The hotel was right next to the Lifeway publishing headquarters and their great giftshop where I was able to pick up some great bluegrass gospel CDs. What I couldn’t believe was the size of the headquaters, which went for what felt like blocks! The Southern Baptist Convention is alive and well in Nashville!

Release Me – Deborah Conway

Mar 02 2007

Showerheads, Doritos and Anna Nicole

It was harsh landing in Nashville after Orlando and I felt the cold *really* bad. Flying into Nashville, from what I could see I just knew I would love it. Apart from the comment from the Delta employee when I shivered as I put my polar fleece on when leaving the plane. The first sentence I hear in Nashville is “Get used to this missy… you ain’t at Disneyland anymore!” PFFFT! I already had an attitude from my baggage adventures early so up went the volume on my iPod!

Walking through the airport to the baggage claim I couldn’t help but smile. Where else in the world would you have country music stars giving the general announcements at an airport?! The advertising in the airport was just country, country, country. It was heaven!

It was about 4pm by the time I got to check in at the hotel and the chance to bounce around on my big big king size bed. I quickly noticed that there was nothing of real substance around the hotel and with flurries in full swing walked down to the main strip area of bars and places to eat. I grabbed some BBQ and had a great time with the guys who ran Jacks BBQ – they seemed freaked out by my accent which I found hard to believe considering the touristy area that I was in. Although, Jack’s wouldn’t be a place that an Australian would normally eat at by checking out the menu on the door, so maybe not! I got to taste test some of the other BBQ sauces and downed my BBQ Turkey with gusto. It was then time to stock up on postcards and the cold was downright miserable so I headed back to the hotel for an early night.

The Holiday Inn Express chain is a favourite because I know what I am going to get at each place. They are all basically the same with breakfast included and I LOVE their showerheads. You can even buy them. If I ever buy a place that needs a shower curtain, I am also going to by the HI Express waffle shower curtains – just gorgeous!

On Thursday I got up early to go and check out what breakfast was like – it was more than the usual HI Express brekky (which is still grouse!) – this had biscuits and gravy, scrambled egg, sausage, lots of juices and froot loops! The facilities at the Nashville HI Express are fantastic as there is just so much space, no lining up, popcorn and cookies in the foyer from 4pm onwards – just all great touches! It was so cold so I decided to have a day of rest. Wooohoo! At 10am I got back in my PJs, grabbed the remote and snuggled in for a day of Anna Nicole overload on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN and CNN Headline News and watching CMT, Maury, Tyra and get a Days of our lives catch up!

My diet for Thursday consisted of –



If I was going to watch trash, I was going to eat it too!

It was great having a PJ day – I stretched over the king size bed, reading bad magazines, had little sleeps on and off and covered my feet in moisturiser and wore fluffy socks. Definitely was needed!

I might as well also confess now. My cable news addiction got a little out of control while over there. Basically I would start with local news and the weather channel in the morning. I love how they all have traffic and weather on the 8’s! Then I would flick between all the morning shows on CNN/Fox/Headline News. I wish we had Headline News here – I love their reporting and the fact they love covering car chases! Then I would head over to MSNBC and watch The Most with Alison Stewart. I remember Alison hosting Jumpstart on VH1 when I lived in Amarillo so she has come a long way since then! I would then move onto Studio B with Shep on Fox, then Nancy Grace on Headline News(it is addictive TV – I can’t help it!), Larry King on CNN and then Greta on Fox. PHEW!

From the minute Anna Nicole died it had been saturation coverage on all cable news and entertainment shows. I really felt for Broward County ME, Dr Sherper. I feel like he was my travelling companion I spent so much time listening to him talk. But every night he would start on Nancy Grace, then be on Larry King and then on Greta. Answering the same questions every single time no matter how stupid they were. That guy deserved a medal because I think I heard all of the stupidest of stupid questions that one person could ever be inflicted with, be inflicted on him every single night. But I still couldn’t look away.

So Thursday in Nashville wasn’t great on the tourism stakes but it was my kind of holiday! Stupid questions, Doritos and all.

Feb 21 2007

Dodgy Travel Inc = Orlando to Nashville

My one travel bit that I stuffed up on this trip was my transport from the La Quinta to the airport to go to Nashville. I didn’t realise that Orlando had a shuttle service for $17 so I was going to have to get a taxi which is $38. Orlando taxis are SUPER dodgy so I wasn’t looking forward to the journey. I booked it for 10.35am. The minute I stepped outside the some strange guy was saying in a very forceful nature “I will take you to the airport – $38!” I let him know quite abruptly that I had a cab coming for me and to basically leave me alone. Another drawback of travelling alone is having to be a bitch a lot of the time to get pushy people to leave you alone and stop hassling. He kept at it so I put my headphones on and looked the other way. After a while he drove off and before I knew it, it was 10.50am and I was still waiting. Soon, another driver came along in a hot hot SUV and asked very politely and nicely if I was requiring a trip to the airport. I accepted – and he let me know that Orlando cabs are very unreliable and that I could be waiting for ages. So that explained the reason why the lady at the cab company said to me as I was about to hang up ‘We take no responsilbility if you miss your flight!’ Aha! This guy was lovely and again, charged the flat rate and got me there safe and sound and I was able to watch The People’s Court in the car! Super!

I was dropped off at the Delta terminal where this guy just grabbed my bags for curbside check in. I yelled “WILL YOU LEAVE MY BAGS ALONE?!” and he backed off so that I could at least pay and thank my driver and I can’t stand this pushiness from people. It is so offputting and really makes me get my guard up!

Anyway, I then went over to the curbside check in and began the procedure. Oh surprise surprise my case weighed 55 pounds and their limit is 50 pounds. I explained I am on an international ticket and am allowed 80 points getting over here so it is basically ridiculous that then to travel domestically, I have to be down to 50 pounds. He asked if I could take anything out but that is impossible seeing as you can’t basically take anything on the flight that is liquid and 40 pounds of the weight in my bag was makeup and stuff from Sephora! ahahahha I just said “No worries I will pay the excess but think it is ridiculous” Well he comes back and saying “Look – it is Valentines Day and as a gift, I will waive the fee ok Miss?” I politely explained that wasn’t necessary and I will just pay it. He goes “No No No – your bag is through it is ok!” Then he walked around to my side of the desk and goes “Well you know how it is I look after you and you look after me?” I just looked like “Huh?” straight at him and went about putting my passport back etc. He then goes “What I mean is we work for TIPS miss!” ANOTHER TIPPING CONTROVERSY!! Ergh. I thought – well ok but basically he was doing dodgy dealings and pocketing money himself instead of officially charging for the excess luggage! Eeek. I gave him $20 and said make it $5. Which I meant as make it a $5 tip. He thought I meant make it $5 in change. So he gave me back $5 and walked off. I couldn’t believe this guy. I just shook my head and thought well he saved me $10 anyway but HOW DODGY CAN YOU GET?!?

Orlando Airport is not the most exciting place on earth so it was 11am and I am sitting there eating a hot dog before boarding. They had CNN headline news on in the airport and all us Dodgy Delta customers were watching the Anna Nicole news. CNN then cut to footage from Miami of a car chase! Awesome – what I live for is live car chases. Except this was just hillarious as it was a U-Haul van going nuts on the freeway! Within a minute, everyone was watching and cheering at the tv with ‘Whoa!’ and ‘GET OUT!’ and then before we knew it there was also another chase in Houston being broadcast. It was car chase heaven and no-one was even listening to the boarding calls. Then it ends up it is a woman driving the U-Haul and one tyre had blown and she was driving on the rims with sparks flying everywhere. It was just great knowing all these people loved the chases as much as I did and having a crowd basically commentating the chase made the morning so much fun!

The flight to Nashville was in a little Delta Connection commuter jet which was a nice, smooth ride. I queued up my Country playlist on my Nano and it was Patsy Cline, Charlie Daniels, Garth and Gretchen Wilson on repeat the whole way to Nashville – I couldn’t wait!

Feb 21 2007

We have lift off…

One thing I wanted to make sure that I saw whilst I was in Florida was the Kennedy Space Center (the Wikipedia page has some great pics). I have this book at home from the first moon landing that The Age released at the time, and it always fascinated me so it was time for a trek about 45 minutes out of Orlando!

Finding someone to take me out there was a challenge. The concierge at La Quinta was able to find me a brochure from about the time that Neil Armstrong landed on the moon (ok maybe not) that looked strange but I gave Gator Tours a call. The closest pick up for me was going to be about a 20 minute walk away at some other hotel so I left La Quinta at 7.30 for the walk down International Drive. I didn’t have the best sleep the night before – I think because I knew I had to get up early so I wanted the walk to wake me up a little.

The minute I stepped outside I felt the steaminess/humidity hit me and if I closed my eyes it would have put me straight back to Savannah – it felt exactly the same. The misty feeling in the air was lovely and it made for a pleasant walk to the other hotel. We had to make a few pick ups along the way including one at the Sheraton resort – we waited ages for this couple and they didn’t show so we drove off. About five minutes later the tour guide’s phone rings and they are waiting in the lobby – so we had to go all the way back and get them again. Eeek they only had to get on a lift and go a few floors and they still couldn’t be there on time!

The tour guide was so enthusiastic about NASA and the Space Station and it was a great change to what I was subjected to in Miami! But I happened to fall asleep after about 5 minutes. Oopsy daisy. And to make it worse, it was such a deep sleep I started dribbling! It was so mortifying, I don’t know why this happens that when I am away I can just fall asleep any place, any time but before I knew it we were at the U.S Astronaut Hall of Fame for a visit there before heading out to the Space Center.

The Hall of Fame was a good mix of displays and memorabilia from many of the missions as well as some demonstrations of what life is like for an Astronaut. I bought some Cookies and Cream Ice Cream Space Food from there which is exactly like what the astronauts eat. It is freeze dried and one of the wierdest things I have tasted. Wasn’t good at all!

After the Hall of Fame (and waiting for another couple who obviously got lost in the gift shop) it was time to head to the Kennedy Complex. What a lot of people don’t realise is the Space Center is located on a huge conservation reserve and the acual NASA part only takes up a very small area. That means along the way we got to see more alligators, lots of native bird life and even some Flamingo!

The rest of the day was so jam packed I couldn’t even stop for the whole six hours I was there. It is necessary to board a huge Greyhound-like bus for a tour of the actual space facilities and as well as this there are two IMAX films that you must see, the visit on the actual shuttle etc. So I mapped out my mission and it was GO GO GO!

The first thing I did was go and explore the space shuttle. I was blessed that there were hardly any crowds while I was there and I was in there on my own. What took me by surprise is that the shuttle is so – EMPTY! It is just like a big empty plane with no seats and all work is done in the tiny area in the front!

I then ran all the way to the tour bus to start the tour of the external areas. The LC39 Observation Gantry was ok – it took longer to get on and off the bus than what it did to visit this area. I learnt so much on the way to the gantry though and going past the main workshop I was able to get a peek at the Atlantis shuttle that is going up in March. It was actually leaving the workshop the next day (isn’t that always the way) as it has to sit on the launch pad for 30 days for final preparations! So very exciting!

I then jumped on the next bus to take me to the Apollo/Saturn V area. This was just AMAZING! I cannot describe how huge the Saturn V shuttle is – it felt like I was walking as long as the MCG following it from start to finish – it was just massive and to see it suspended above so you can walk under it and see so much was fantastic!

Unfortunately, I had to skip the International Space station area to get back to the visitor complex to attend the IMAX films. The first one was fascinating as they are in 3D. When at the start it said ‘Narrated by Tom Cruise’ on the screen, so many people in the theatre started laughing it was hillarious. This film was created by the Astronauts themselves and it was just a wonderful film and at times I really did feel like I was on the Space Station. It also shows a very human side to those that are up in Space and really the great things and hard work they do while they are up there.

The 2nd film would’ve been great but I was sitting too close to the screen so I… fell asleep again. The first ten minutes were ok but it was just boring so I used that to get some shut eye.

When I left the films the sky had come over BLACK – there had been warnings of severe storms and it has been raining while I was in the IMAX but wow do they get great storms. I bolted across the complex to the area for the Astronaut Encounter. This was my favourite part of the whole NASA experience. We had Jon McBride speaking to us and he was just so enthralling to listen to. He was actually part of a mission with Paul Scully-Power, an Australian astronaut. Jon went through many of his experiences in space and talked about the other great people he worked with. He then had a Q&A with lots of questions from people about what life is actually like in space. Then I had the opportunity to meet him, shake his hand and get a photo with him! So now I can say, I have met an astronaut. It was just awesome and something I will nver forget. One thing that impressed me is he showed one of his Astronaut group photos and everyone in the photos in in alphabetical order! Very well done! ehhehehehe

While he was doing his presentation, the claps of thunder were so loud it felt like the ground moved. I had to run through pouring rain to get back to the bus but it was just great seeing actual pouring rain – I wish some of it would get back home!

The day was absolutely huge and I really learnt so much – when the shuttle was bought out of the workshop later on, it was broadcast on CNN and I could understand everything they were talking about. It is really addictive so I can’t wait to watch the launch later in March.

It then was back to La Quinta for some packing before I left the next day and I ordered in pizza for dinner. It seems like common practice that you get JUNK MAIL in your hotel room. Everyday I would get back to three or four pizza menus slipped under my door. One night it was 9pm and I heard this noise at the door and I got up and crept slowly and there is a menu getting slipped under. I quickly opened the door and the guy was so shocked and I just was like “Do you know how ANNOYING you are?!??” and just slammed the door straight back. I had never had this anywhere else and this guy basically goes around from floor to floor doing this every night. Just so strange and so annoying… but the pizza was good!

Feb 18 2007

Y’all fast forward from Florida..

Y’all, I am fast forwarding Space Center day and most of Nashville because I had the best night last night! I will go into Nashville in more detail but I had to do a newsflash for y’alls.

The catch with the Grand Ole Opry is when you order your tickets y’all don’t know who is going to be performing – the show goes for two and a half hours and there are heaps and heaps of acts. A lot of newbies and oldies and sometimes a surprise big name.

I totally lucked out – y’all I had the most unreal seats and good lord one of the performers was…
BRAD PAISLEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Y’alls he is so huge – his latest album won the CMA award for 2006 for Album of the Year and he is just the most unbelievable guitarist. I couldn’t believe my luck in getting to see him as it isn’t like he is ever going to come out to Australia. The Opry was just fantastic – two other great bands that I really enjoyed were Mountain Heart and Cherryholmes.

After the Opry, I headed to Jacks BBQ for some great Tennessee pulled pork shoulder, mac and beans. It was so good smothered in Kansas City BBQ sauce which is the more smoky sauce of their selections. It was then time to head to some of the Honkytonks. Tootsies were out the door so first I went to the Stage. The minute I walk in I hear the famous introduction to Friends in Low Places – I nearly fainted. The number 1 all time best beer drinking song ever as voted on CMT and my favourite country song ever and here it was being sung soooo loud in the most jam packed place in the middle of Nashville. You kinda end up pinching yourself! I was also looking twice and one old dude over near the stage – WILLIE NELSON’S TWIN!! It couldn’t have been him but I really had to look twice. Also a lot of Kenny Rogers look-a-likes walking around here too!

After a while there, I went to Tootsies. It was just too packed to enjoy it but at least I can say I had been. The band here were just as good playing a lot of new country – people just going nuts and I love seeing all these guys in Cowboy hats, sitting at a bar, drinking their Budweiser. Then you have the lead singer of the band yelling “Y’all don’t forget to tip those hot ass girls behind the bar now ya hear!” It is just classic!!!

After a while at Tootsies I then headed to Legends Corner and after a few songs what do ya know? I hear Friends in Low places – AGAIN! It was just so good and I had such a great night!

One bizarre thing that I have never seen at home is the band throw out buckets, just like offering plates for everyone to chuck money into – EVEN BANDS PLAY FOR TIPS. Obviously why I never had to pay a cover charge anywhere and being a non-drinker this meant a totally cheap night!

Now I am going to jump on my soapbox – people who say you cannot travel ON YOUR OWN and GO OUT AND HAVE A GOOD TIME do not know what they are talking about! This whole trip has been full of those experiences but I am getting kinda tired of everyone I talk to going “Oh you are so brave for travelling on your own!”. As I said before, the only thing I miss is being able to share the experience with someone (it is so frustrating) but otherwise it is easy! So if you are reading this and don’t think you can do it well… just do it! *jumps off soapbox*

So I am all checked out of the hotel and will just hang out here before the flight to LA – I have a lot more to write about Nashville obviously and also I have to finish my Florida experience so I will catch up whilst in LA. I can’t believe the trip is nearly over but it feels like years ago that I was in Edinburgh.

Feb 16 2007

International Drive and going potty

I did intend to go back to Universal for a second day – but ended up SLEEPING IN! This actually makes sense – I have been going full on for three weeks now – and after the day of shaking my brain around at Universal I think it actually say “ENOUGH!” I slept on and off until – 1pm! Eeek this never happens but I felt sooo good after it! So I decided to hop on the International Drive shuttle and go to the Orlando Premium outlets to check what that was like.

The International Drive area of Orlando is very touristy – saying that I didn’t go through the really touristy part as my hotel was at the ‘end’ of that but also – the perfection is kind of scary! Everywhere it is manicured lawns, beautiful flowers, no litter – just all so clean, perfect and quiet! If you landed in America and went straight to this part of Orlando it is like being in a mini-man made-paradise. Fountains everywhere, lots of clean car parks – just so.. planned? Anyway for $1 you can get on this little shuttle and go everywhere so that is what I did.

The Premium Outlets mall was massive and full of screaming kids. There was a 6 year old girl throwing a full on hissy fit in the accessories show “BUT MOMMY I WANT THIS NOWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!” Then the reply from the mum – “We are going POTTY and then we are going HOME!”” Eeek ‘going potty’ – I cannot stand that phrase!! I got a few purchases and hung around there for ages – everything is open until late in Orlando but I needed to be back to do a load of washing (yes travelling is just so glam at times), my ironing and watch all the latest on Anna Nicole. I also had to force myself to go to sleep at a decent time as the next day I was going to be leaving the hotel at 7.30am for my trip to the Kennedy Space Center.

Feb 16 2007

Universally speaking!

The day at Universal was a big one, thus the need to divide it into two posts!

After the Hulk ride of my life, the guys suggested we go over to the Universal Studios park to check out some of the rides there. The first one we lined up for was the Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast. Even though it was a kids ride it was such a blast (he he!) – when we went ‘virtually’ under water all these bubble started falling from the ceiling. It was just gorgeous and really, really well done!!

The Revenge of the Mummy ride was next – whoa this was seriously awesome. Reminded me very much of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland but was quicker and had the most unbelievable special effects!! You are going backwards, forwards, up and down in this tiny cart going so fast through some amazing scenes. This is one that you just want to get straight back on after it finishes. It is an indoor ride so everything is very much a surprise – you just don’t know what to expect when you get on board!!

We then wandered over to the Twister Tornado Simulation – whoa!! This was really good – and not because I love watching storm chaser shows or anything. Just to see how special effects are created before your own eyes – it was SO realistic – as if you were sitting a few metres and watching a tornado wreck havoc without you ever being in danger. The sounds were so loud and it was just great – the buildup went through a lot of the footage from the Twister movie and how they created an F5. It was really interesting!

It was then time to bid farewell to my Florida friends so we got some hot drinks to wind down after such a crazy day and before I knew it I was back on the bus to La Quinta. If anyone has sleeping problems, just drop them in a theme park for a day – you automatically sleep so well after a day running around like crazy!

I settled into bed to watch the Grammy awards and had to stay up right to the very end to catch the Red Hot Chili Peppers – they were great. I also truly loved Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flatts performances – I love love love the song San Antonio Rose and then to hear them sing Life in the fast lane and Desperado – it was really really good! So great watching the Grammy awards LIVE instead of watching and knowing all the results – and then of course, the E! coverage all the next day repeating the red carpet conversations.. Zzzzzzzzzz!

Feb 15 2007

Two guys, a girl and a theme park

I couldn’t wait to get to Universal so I tucked into breakfast at La Quinta (DIY waffles – YUM!) and waited for the Universal Shuttle to pick me up. When travelling you get used to a shuttle being a little 8 seater van that squeaks and you feel every bump on the road – this shuttle was a Greyhound bus. I was the only one on it! We had three more stops and yup – that was it. Just me. The driver, Francesco, was very chatty. Within 10 minutes I had heard about his marriage, divorce, move from Italy, life in Florida and other worldly plans he has!

I love the theme parks over here – the minute I got off the bus you just can’t help but get a goofy smile! The walk to the entrance was just fantastic – lots of music and excited people – I got goosebumps! I decided to go to Islands of Adventure first. As I had a multi day pass I had to be fingerprinted going in, on the little screens like they have at immigration here. My heart actually started beating faster as the excitement and vibe of these places just takes you over. In the distance I could hear the roar of a rollercoaster, the whole world leaves you for the time you are in this world if that makes sense. You just forget about everything – it is amazing.

** For each of the rides here, I have put a link to it so you can see what actually happens on them!

I decided to go straight to the Spiderman adventure ride – it was great! I can’t describe it but it is 3D and when one guy shoots with his heat gun – the flames come out at you and you feel the heat of it – when water splashes – you get splashed on as well – all while riding around quickly on this mini indoor coaster – it was fantastic!!

Next was the Popeye water barges. Each time when we went to the Gold Coast for family holidays we all loved the river rapids as they were called there. It was only about 10.30am and I thought “Grouse I’ll go on this for mum!”. There was no one lining up at all so I just ran on – I was all by myself in the ‘barge’! Then a family jumped in and three girls from Spain. Yay – company! The little boy was like “We’re gonna get soaked!” but I knew it couldn’t be any different to the one at Dreamworld where you get splashed but it isn’t anything dramatic. Boy was I wrong.

The first rapid you go down – the whole thing basically fills with water.. so there we go – socks and runners soaked. Then the next one was like a TIDAL WAVE. I was soaked through – yup undies and all! It was still cool as it was early morning so we all started shivering. So this is why no-one was lining up for it – because you actually get FULLY drenched. Like it would’ve been no different if I had gone and dived into a swimming pool fully clothed. Funny thing is, I had spent all this time in the morning straightening my hair and it was just a pile of knots and dreads now. ARGH!! As the ride ended I was thinking they would have to have towels etc – it was freezing. Oh yes they have towels and t-shirts etc. ALL FOR SALE!!! And on last check, Universal Studios didn’t sell dry underwear so what was the use. My jeans were soaked through and they take long enough to dry normally, let alone on an overcast and cool day. Then I realised – aha – hand dryers in the bathrooms! I ran over (well waddled more like it) and what do you reckon? The ONE hand dryer was out of order. So I sat out on the park bench attempting to dry off for about half an hour – it made no difference. It was time to move – I’m not sure when the last time you walked around fully drenched but it isn’t the most comfortable experience. I was then on a quest – a quest not for fun (Clark!) – a quest for HAND DRYERS. There was another few people on the same quest and I found two near the entrance. But they were more blowy than letting out heat but it helped take the wet t-shirt competition look out of my top half so that was good!

I then ventured over to the Poseidon’s Fury. If you ever go to Islands of Adventure, don’t waste your time. When I got there, I had lined up for about 2 minutes and was told it was now faulty but I could wait if I wanted. Five of us stayed and we only had to wait 10 minutes. If I had known how silly this attraction was, I would’ve left. The only funny thing was I had Larry the Cable Guy’s twin on my turn so that was great – Git R Done!

Next was Dueling Dragons and I sat and watching this roller coaster go around for about 30 minutes – trying to get the courage to go. Then I thought about it – I had come all this way to go to this park – I am not going to wimp out. So I checked my bag and ran around and around the empty queuing area. Then I started getting nervous. What was I doing??! This was insane! ALl these awful thoughts started going through my head – then it was going to end up that in a few minute I was going to be ON THIS RIDE. There were two guys in front of me who asked if I wanted to go in front of them as I was on my own. I let them know how scared I was and they were like “No worries – you can go on it with us!” We were going to be in the last little area of the train and it makes me nervous even typing about it! All I was saying was “Oh my god, Oh my god, Oh my god” and deep down I just wanted to get off that stupid ride and run away. Click click click it went and then it just happened – upside down, turning, going all over the place. My brain was moving inside my skull – I was sure of it. I had my eyes closed when one of the guys yelled “KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN!!” I opened them – that was the best tip ever. Closing your eyes on these rides is what makes you feel ill. Although this ride was going so fast it actually pushes tears out of the tear ducts in your eyes – I wasn’t crying but it looked like I was!! Before I knew it, it was over. I couldn’t walk straight – my eyes were all going crazy and my brain must’ve been thinking ‘Since when did I ask to be put in a blender?’. Then those same two guys go – “Ok, now we have to go on the other one!” WHAT?!?!?! You see it is called dueling dragons – because it is two different coasters in one. Fire and Ice – we had been on Fire first – now it is time to do the Ice one. Oh lordy! This time they told me we were going in the front carriage so we can get a ‘full view’ – I just wanted to run. Talk about peer pressure!! My head was still spinning and I was lining up again!! Seriously – this ride makes the Mad Mouse look like a merry go round at Moomba. So this time were were strapped into the front and I again kept my eyes open – it was full on – again. If you look at the link to the ride you will see what I mean. INSANE. Well at least I could say I did both rides – I was a very brave Jenelle!

By this time I was starving and I was really feeling like I needed to get some food in my tummy to feel half normal so I bid farewell to the two guys when they suggested we all get lunch together. These guys were Scott and Paul and they would seriously be the nicest guys in Florida. We all got burgers and chatted right through lunch! It was awesome because it has been basically a week since Amy had left in New York and I hadn’t really spoken to anyone since – that is probably the biggest downfall of travelling alone. So many times you just want to turn around and say “Wow isn’t this amazing!”, or laugh at something stupid or just talk rubbish – and there just isn’t anyone there to share the good times with. They were both so lovely and allowed me to tag around the rest of the day with them!

As Florida residents, they both have yearly passes to Universal – it was like having my own personal tour guides – they knew all the ins and outs and the best rides (I wish I had bumped into them before the Poseidon one) and were Universal experts! How lucky was I? They showed me this Jurassic Park rope park and we had the best fun – it was like a maze! Then next, they suggested Doctor Dooms Fearfall.

Oh. My. Gosh. Now we have something like this at Dreamworld and everytime I saw it I have said to the TV – “I will NEVER go on anything like that”. Well due to the coaxing of my two Florida friends, before I knew it I was strapped in. Paul just started talking about all this stuff about the ride etc and then without notice BANG – I was being shot up into the sky – not knowing when it was going to stop. Then it stopped and I was basically free falling back to the ground. I don’t think this is an entirely normal thing to do to ones body but it is ace fun nevertheless. Then Scott let me know, Paul did the same thing to him. By him talking, you don’t hear the 3-2-1 countdown so the ride starts without even knowing! GASP!

I couldn’t help but wonder how these guys were so cool, calm and collected on all these rides when I was screaming and carrying on like a mad woman! Even swearing at some points! It ends up Scott flies light planes and Paul jumped out of planes for TEN years. Well that explained it ALL! So after that I felt very brave!

They summoned me over to the Hulk Coaster next. I had been watching this ride when I first walked in to Islands of Adventure and it looked really smooth so thought it would be fun to go on and then thought “Nah – it is just too much!”. Well before I knew it we were in the queue for this one now. How did this happen?! We weren’t just in the ‘normal’ queue – we were in the queue for the front row. Scott and Paul were saying how they put their feet on the front, don’t hang on – like seriously I was just hoping I would get out of it alive! There is actually a net under the first turn and this catches various belongs that fall out of peoples pockets. Pennies, sunglasses, other junk – so it shows you the force of this ride. At least when we got strapped in, I thought well we have the nice clickety clack ride to the top before the fall. No no no we didn’t. Clickety clack, clickety clack and then BANG. You get shot right up to the top at like warp speed. I have never experienced anything like it – I couldn’t even scream. You don’t see this when you are watching this from the ground level as this part of the roller coaster is covered. *sobs* It was SOOOOO much fun though – it was so fast, yet so smooth and so many turns and twists and falls and.. well I think that is my favourite ride – EVER. As with normal theme park practice, there was a photo taken at one point so we bought one of those as a souvenir but you should see the other guy in the picture. He looks so bored and just has NO expression on his face – just staring blankly into space. No fear, nothing. Everytime I look at that pic it just makes me crack up laughing. I will scan it when I get home and post it – just for his expression it is hillarious.

I will continue with more on my Universal adventure next time. Same bat time, same bat channel… (Can you tell I had an awesome time or what?)