Hopping on the bus to south beach, we found out just how unhelpful some Americans can be when the bus driver told me off for not knowing how to use the money machine, cue angry ginger head the whole bus journey
! Following the hostel directions, we got off at 5th street and walked two blocks to 3rd street to find our hostel, which was a lot harder than it sounds in 90 degrees laden down with bags.. So grateful for the hostel air con in reception. We got checked into an 8 bed dorm full of guys, then headed out for a walk down to the famous beach straight away. The beach was only two or three blocks from the hostel, we were in a great location. I regretted not changing out of my flight attire of leggings and a tshirt almost immediately, it was just far too hot for clothes! The beach was incredible, miles and miles of white sand (although the sand was more like shingle, not the soft stuff we were used to in south America!) and multi coloured parasols as far as the eye could see. It was packed with people, even though it was early evening by this point. We had a quick paddle in the warm sea then wandered back to the hostel. Later that evening we took a walk around town to find somewhere to eat, eventually settling on Mexican, and nearly passing out on getting a bill of 70 dollars! Still not used to the USA prices compared to the cheapness of s.america! We realised that eating out was going to be more of a luxury for the next six weeks.
The next day was Independence Day, so we woke up and went straight to the pharmacy (apparently the place to get cheap alcohol in the states!) to stock up on beers for the day! On the way back we stopped by the car rental office and booked our car for the trip up to Orlando on the 6th, and bought my fifth pair of sunglasses, let's see how long these ones will last
. The rest of the afternoon we spent on the beach, me reading in the sun, Snellers in the sea obviously. It was really really hot, but there was an occasional breeze and later in the day cloud started to come in which we were grateful for! We got our australia tans back almost immediately which is good news for our pale south america complexions! After a while, as always happens at the beach, Snellers was bored of lying around so we went for a walk to a clothes shop I had spied the day before, I had a bit of a window shop, then we went to a burger place recommend by a guy in an iPod shop for tea - second best burgers of the trip after Ferg! We then made the long walk back the 12 blocks to the hostel, with the streets already beginning to get busy due to the celebrations that night. Back at the hostel we played cards and had a few beers in the lobby - in any other hostel we had stayed at just having cards out would mean others would come join you and you'd end up a big group of people, but for some reason this hostel just seemed very anti social. No one really talked, our room was downright awkward at times as we would walk in chatting and everyone in there would be sitting in silence ha ha. So we played cards on our own :( and at around 8 headed out to the seafront to get a spot to watch the fireworks. When we got there the place was heaving already, no space to sit on the wall and the beach was full of people watching a live band on a big stage. The atmosphere was great, lots of people dressed up in red white and blue, it's obviously a massive celebration! We listened to the band for a bit and sat on the grass to wait for the fireworks, which were unbelievable. Best fireworks we have seen, put Vietnamese new year display to shame! Afterwards, a lot of people were clearly going out to the bars along the strip, but not really dressed for the occasion and unable to afford more than one drink in any of those places, we went back to the hostel. The beachfront was cool to walk through though, bar after bar after bar, all full of young, rich people drinking cocktails, with all sorts of incredible cars parked outside
! I think the hostel should really have organised something for the evening, we expected something to be going on but all that happened was a pool party somewhere the other side of the city during the day, and a ridiculously overpriced DJ we had never heard of at a club at night! How many travellers can afford 35 pound entry?? Disappointing.
The following day Snellers started his pre season training by going out for an early run while I chilled out by the air con ha. Then we walked a few blocks in search of a supermarket to cook in that night after the last two nights of extortionate meals! On the way we happened to pass a hairdresser training college, and ended up going in to get Snellers a cheap hair cut (finally! I don't think he trusts me to cut it any more after i gave him a major bob in brisbane haha) It ended up being a lot shorter, and because it had been styled it was all neat and choppy, like a Victoria Beckham cut ha ha. On the way out we were caught in a florida rain storm..really heavy but warm rain for around ten minutes followed by blazing heat so its like the rain never even happened! I was concerned about it ruining Snellers new hair ha I don't think he appreciated all the posh spice teasing! Later that afternoon we went on a hunt for roller blades, for some reason I just had a massive urge to hire blades and skate across the promenade in the sun! After walking fifteen blocks, we got to the shop only to find that to hire skates they required a 100 dollar deposit PER SKATE
! Who carries that much in their wallet? So unable to convince them to give them to us for a hundred for all 4 skates, we gave up and went for a coffee in Starbucks instead. Plan B was to rent bikes, so we found a nearby bike station (which are just at the side of the road all over the city so you can hire and return whenever and wherever you want) and off we went. We rented for an hour, cycled up along the promenade until we got to the "boardwalk", bombed along there for a while and eventually turned back to get our bikes back on time. It was so much cooler cycling than walking, and really good fun flying past all the streets, I think we got to around 41st street before we turned back! They seem to go on forever! After returning the bikes, we went back to the hostel, made fajitas and played cards for a while. Snellers met a fellow Everton fan which meant I had to occupy myself on clothes websites for an hour or two! Then later we met a girl from San Francisco, the only person who actually wanted to play cards with us! She was some sort of marijuana trimmer for a living, very strange. Oh and not forgetting Ping, a middle aged little Chinese man who kept trying to sell us some solar charger thing, told us all about how he was going to be rich in a few years when they took off, and even called this guy he had been in contact with but never actually met to talk to us - AWKWARD. It was definitely the strangest hostel we have stayed in so far, full of looneys.
On our final day on south beach we checked out of our hostel at 11 and went to the car rental to pick up our shiny new ride. It was a little fiat 500, seemed pretty new, but with barely enough space in the back and boot for all our bags. It took a few near misses for Snellgrove to get used to driving on the wrong side again, especially with the weird gear stick which could either be set to automatic or manual! Finally we were safe enough to hit the road, heading in the general direction we guessed Orlando was in to find the highway going north. The only directions we had were downloaded from google maps and saved onto the iPad, so if we took a wrong turn we were pretty screwed. Unfortunately this is us we are talking about, so we only managed about half an hours driving before we realised we hadn't taken an exit to get on the highway to Orlando. Thankfully somehow, we ended up on some other Orlando highway, it was probably a bit of a detour but we got there in the end, and were miraculously still friends four hours later when we pulled into International Drive to collect our park tickets from the visitors centre. Next was the hard part.. Finding our hosts house in an estate in eastern Orlando. We had our trusty google directions, and I think only took about two wrong turns before we managed to get to where we were meant to be. We had been introduced to a website called couchsurfing by the Moores, and partly because of our diminishing budget combined with crazy hostel prices in the states, and partly because we thought it'd be a really interesting experience, we decided to spend our last six weeks taking part
. Basically people put their "couches" or a lot of the time it's spare rooms, up on the website with a profile about themselves, and you can apply to people to host you for a few nights. We can then return the favour if anyone fancies visiting the island! (when we eventually get our own place, parents don't worry about random Americans rocking up at the door ha). Jen and Ed got back to us straight away and agreed to put us up. They live in a gorgeous little village, full of desperate housewives style houses. We even had to pass a security gate to get in, well posh! We were made to feel welcome immediately by our lovely hosts, who had conveniently just started grilling steak when we arrived. The house was absolutely beautiful inside, with a netted patio out the back with a pool. The real amazement came when we saw their back garden - the house backed onto a nature reserve, so looking out the back you could see everything from deer to armadillos! (they even saw a panther once :O. ). Snellers was sold, and decided to spend his next four early mornings out the back during the prime wildlife spotting hours! We met the rest of the family, two boys called Shane and Jeremy and a girl a bit younger than us call Brittany, and sat around the table outside eating marinated steak and potatoes and chatting about baseball and politics! They were a really interesting couple with lots of stories to tell, having lived all over America. We even got to see the deer coming out for a drink in the pond at dusk which was so amazing to see, like a safari in their back garden
After three nights in tiny hostel bunks, we slept well in our own gorgeous room with en suite, and after planning to get up early to hit seaworld when it opened, ended up chilling out in the living room with coffee watching tv and chatting to Ed until around 10.30. Snellers had spotted the deer and an armadillo that morning, but was still to catch sight of the mysterious raccoon, his one mission before we left (he never did though!) It was a ridiculously hot day, hottest on record for the states apparently, typical! We got to seaworld at around 11.30 after a quick detour to the supermarket to pick up lunch supplies and lots and lots of water. First stop was the new ride, Manta, which is a lot like Air at Alton towers except a LOT faster! We queued around an hour to get on it but it was well worth it! We saw the sealion show, the dolphin show and of course the shamu show which were all really impressive although Snellgrove was disappointed the trainers no longer get in the water with the killer whales after they mauled someone a few years ago, went on some more rides like the big sea monster roller coaster (with no queue so we were able to get off walk round and get straight back on) and a 3D turtle ride which was ace. We left seaworld at around 7 and drove back to the house. That evening Ed and Jen made a BBQ, including some amazing corn on the cob at Snellers request. Again we stayed up chatting way later than planned, so were tired again waking up early the next morning to sit out on the patio
. That day we went to Universal Studios, which was great fun but kind of stuck in the eighties with some of the rides still there from when I last went over ten years ago! There were a couple of new ones though, like the Simpsons simulator ride which was crazy, like a roller coaster that didn't move! Queue time was insanely long though! We grabbed some famous turkey legs for dinner, and ended up feeling sick and mega thirsty the rest of the afternoon! There was also a huge new roller coaster there called Rock It, where you pick your own soundtrack for the ride which was pretty cool. We tried to get on this ride first thing, got right to the front and it broke down! So we went back later mid afternoon with the fast passes they gave us, then the ride was suspended due to thunder and lightning... We filled in an hour by going on the men in black ride and listening to the crazy loud thunderstorm, then went back only to get to the front again and the ride broke down again! ( apparently the really hot temperatures are messing with the systems ). Thinking it wasn't meant to be we were just about to leave the line when the ride started up again and we eventually made it on to the front seats. It was really good, but over far too quick to justify the massive queue time in my opinion. Back at Ed and Jen's that evening, Jen cooked us her incredible shredded beef chimichangas, which were very well received after the dodgy turkey legs earlier on. After we had florida key lime pie, which was surprisingly really good!
Monday was Islands of Adventure day, which I had been looking forward to the most as its where all the thrill rides are. Yet again we planned to leave early as we were making dinner that night so couldn't stay out too late, but obviously got caught up watching tornado programmes and talking and so got there at around 12 again. We went straight to the big ride, the Hulk, which was so good we went on it again right at the end of the day
! The spiderman queue was over an hour, so we decided to skip and go back later, going on the river rapids instead and getting completely soaked through (hilarious) and then heading to Harry Potter land which was very busy but so impressive, exactly how I'd imagine the real thing! (geek!) The Hogwarts ride was amazing, like a roller coaster but past 3D screens so you actually felt you were going to die on your broomstick ha ha. I think even Snellers a non Harry Potter fan was impressed by this place. We also went on a dragon themed rollercoaster which of course broke down due to more lightning when we were right at the front, but this time we waited it out and got on the only ride to go round before it was closed long term due to the weather. When we eventually made it back to spiderman our plan hadn't worked and the wait time was now 90 mins! But as he is my second favourite hero Snellers agreed to wait in line in the monsoon and thunderstorm, and it was well worth it.. Another 3D simulator but so realistic. Spidey actually jumps on the front of your car, its ace, amazing how a ride can be that good! That was when we went on the hulk one last time, and left to go home and make dinner for our lovely hosts. Of course we made our speciality, lasagne, with a little mini veggie one for Brittany, and it went down really well, well no one was struck down with food poisoning anyway! We also brought Jen some flowers and Ed some of his favourite old school beers to say thanks, they really were incredible hosts, perfect for our first couch surfing experience.
On our final day in Orlando we sadly said goodbye to our hosts in the morning, as we were heading straight back down to Miami after the waterpark, and went off to Wet and Wild for the day, via the IHOP pancake house for a traditional american breakfast pancake stack! Feeling full (prob not the best idea to shovel in for pancakes before going swimming!) we waddled into the park, where there were a lot of new rides and it was a struggle to squeeze them all in in the five or so hours we had at the park, one queue was around an hour long which for a ten second water slide is just ridiculous
! I managed to escape the dreaded chlorine allergy rash though which was a bonus! My skin has obviously got more thick and haggard since travelling so it didn't affect me like previously i.e the Spain debacle. We went on a lot of two person tube rides which are always fun, and did a couple of laps of the lazy river (or the Wilson river as Snellgrove calls it) and Snellers went on a mental vertical ride which whips a trapdoor from under your feet at the start while I had a quick nap ha ha. The rides were closed for a short time due to the forth day of thunderstorms, but we just about managed to get in all we wanted to do before we left for the long drive back down south. kind of relieved to be heading somewhere new, as four days of standing around in the heat and queuing long hours for rides had taken its toll and we were tired and emotional!
We left at 7ish and the car was due back at 11, so we were cutting it really fine and couldn't afford to get lost. Unfortunately, our joy at pulling into an international airport at 10.30 was short lived when we found out it was the wrong airport and Miami was still an hour away! We bombed it down the highway to try and get there on time but still ended up being around half an hour late. It didn't matter anyway as the rental guys told us you actually get an hours leeway, which would definitely have been handy to have known before that point. So we arrived at the airport at 11.30, with our flight not until 8 the next morning, in for a comfy nights sleep on the airport floor! For once it was Snellers that slept whilst I stayed up counting down till morning, unable to get comfy on the hard floor. After what seemed like days we boarded the plane to our first stop, Dallas, transferred to the next plane and were en route to Los Angeles. On the second leg we were sat next to a lovely glamorous lady called Laurel from Austin, who gave us all sorts of great places to eat etc in the city. She lived on a ranch, and both children were child actors having been on Disney channel and currently auditioning for major movies, pretty cool! Because we talked the whole way, the flight went by really quickly and we were landing in LA before we knew it, ready to start the real American experience and our route 66 journey across the country!
Will update from the west coast!
After a very uncomfortable flight we landed in Miami and got off the plane to blistering heat which was fun for about ten minutes before becoming unbearable! We almost didn't make it into the country though because we hadnt filled out the visa waiver forms when we went to check in in Peru, and after going to the Internet cafe to do so the system only accepted me with Snellers as a "pending", meaning he couldn't check in till he was accepted! Genuinely thinking our USA dream was over before it had even begun, we ran up to the computers to check again about ten mins before check in closed, and thankfully he had been accepted and we were able to check in. Closest call we have had all trip, and it was not pleasant, I felt sick thinking it was all my fault we hadn't done the form even though I hadn't seen anything online about needing them! Lesson learnt!