WEEK 1 - DISNEY WORLD Monday: I arrived at MCO at around 6pm. After the inevitable sweaty period of "Please don't let them have lost my luggage", I headed off to try and find the bus stop. This proved easier said than done. All the bus stops are on level 1 of the airport, that bit is easy. However, the airport is divided into Landside A and Landside B, but while Mears shuttle buses are well signposted, there is nothing to tell you where the Lynx stop is. I picked Landside B, thinking that it would be next to the Mears stop. Needless to say, I was wrong and had to lug my backpack all the way across the airport to Landside A, where the bus stop was tucked away unobtrusively at the far end. This delay caused me to miss the bus I had planned to catch, the 1830 #11, but fortunately, there was another bus I didn't know about - the #51 which left at 1843, getting me into the Downtown bus station at 1920. After I had sorted out my Lynx pass and schedule book at the bus station, it was only a short bus ride on the #28 or #29 to my hotel. It is walkable normally, but not with heavy luggage. Tuesday: My first full day in Orlando. On leaving my room early in the morning, practically the first thing I noticed was that Florida birdsong sounds very different to English birdsong, my first reminder that I am on a different continent. I found myself wondering about a bird which sounds like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, but with a sore throat - a coarse "uh-oh" sound. I also see a vaguely starling-like bird with striking white eyes. I think they are called grackles. After breakfast in the hotel restaurant, when I tasted grits for the first and last time (actually, it would be truer to say I tasted the melted butter in them - it is not possible to "taste" grits!), I head off to the bus station. Bus #50 is an hourly service linking Downtown with the Transportation and Ticket Center at WDW, a 43-minute journey. I caught the 0745 bus to be there in time for the opening at 9am. From the TTC buses go to all the theme parks, but I decide to catch the ferry to the Magic Kingdom. The Disney experience begins from the outset, with the ferry pilot giving a running commentary that helps get everybody into the mood. When we arrived, there is a slight delay (we were still a little early) and then a woman urged us to join in a 10-second countdown, after which the gates opened. After stopping off at City Hall to pick up a guidemap, I took a stroll up Main Street (though I wish I had taken the horse-drawn transport, just so I could say I've done it) to the tip board. As it was a quiet time of year (for those of you not tied by school holidays and the like, I heartily recommend the lull between George Washington's birthday and Spring Break. The parks were quiet and the weather beautifully springlike - not too hot, and I only had about an hour's rain the whole time I was there), and still early in the morning, the only attraction I wanted to visit which had a queue is the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Perversely, I headed there first, to get it out of the way. After being initiated into the Disney Queueing Experience, I rode my first proper Disney attraction, though WDW is about far more than just it's main rides - the attention to detail is such that you can spend hours just strolling and soaking in the atmosphere. I know Big Thunder is considered a kiddie ride by coaster fanatics, but I am a complete wimp when it comes to coasters, so this is about my level! The attention to detail I mentioned a minute ago is all too evident here, with loads to see as you go hurtling around the mountain. After visiting the Haunted Mansion (which bears roughly the same relationship to a fairground ghost train that a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster does to a lottery-funded British film) and riding the Liberty Belle, I found that it was already lunchtime - time flies when you're having fun. I had lunch at the Columbia Harbour House (the decision to use the British spelling of "harbour" was Disney's, not mine). Fairly undistingushed food, I'm afraid. I had a mixture of chicken and fish nuggets, and found myself unable to tell which was which! After lunch, I headed off to "It's A Small World", a visit to which is cumpulsory at the Magic Kingdom. I spent most of the afternoon in Tomorrowland, taking in Space Mountain and the genunely scary Extra-TERRORestrial Alien Encounter, among others. Warning to girlies: my friend Charlotte once lost the scrunchie from her hair when riding Space Mountain, and it couldn't be retrieved. Making my way back to Adventureland for the Jungle Cruise, I found my way blocked by the 3pm parade along Main Street, and had to take the long way round, via fantasyland. On the Jungle Cruise, a young kid named Justin demanded "this better be funny", putting our guide, the lovely Andrea, under a lot of pressure. She added extra jokes into her commentary, and fortunately, Justin came away satisfied. I finished off (so I thought) with a look around the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, but found I had some time to kill, so I checked out the Hall of Presidents, where a show was just starting (only recommended to people who enjoy listening to Americans telling themselves how wonderful they are), finally catching the bus back Downtown at 1852. In the evening, I visited Church Street Station, using the Dinearound ticket that I had booked at my local travel agent before I left. I had a meal at Crackers seafood restaurant (be warned, with the dinearound ticket, you are confined to a somewhat limited set menu) and finished just in time to catch a show at the Orchid Garden, where the house band plays 50's rock & roll. The show lasts about 40 minutes, and afterwards I finished my drink and left. I was on my own, so there was not really a lot to keep me there once the show had finished. I rounded my evening off with a visit to Terror on Church Street. Again, this attraction is not really designed for people on their own and I nearly didn't get in, as they will not run the show just for one person, but fortunately a party of German tourists came in behind me. The guide only found out they were German after he had run through his spiel, only to find they didn't understand a word of it. Anyhow, Terror on Church Street is a haunted house attraction which largely consists of people in scary costumes jumping out at you from behind curtains. It may be crude, but it is surprisingly effective, so make sure you have a clean pair of underpants! I catch the penultimate bus back to my hotel, the #28 leaving the bus station at 2345. Wednesday: I caught the same bus as yesterday to the TTC, and from there, catch a bus to the Disney-MGM studios. The usual advice is to catch the thrill rides first thing, but a "Magic of Disney Animation" show was just starting, so I wandered in to see an exhibition of original Disney art and hear a talk by a "real Disney animator" (yeah, right!). Once this is finished, I headed off to the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. I was a hypercoaster virgin at this point and a bit nervous about being flipped upside down for the first time. I asked if I there is any danger of my glasses falling off(something else they never tell you in the guidebooks), and was told that unless they are exceptionally loose, I should be OK. Despite my fears, I found the ride exhilerating rather than terrifying - in fact I wanted to go on it again afterwards. But I didn't fancy waiting in line again, so I did the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror instead. I was a little disappointed by this. It claims to be a replication of one of the most common nightmares - it simulates the experience of going to work, only to find you're not wearing any trousers. Just kidding, it actually puts you in a lift which drops 13 storeys in freefall. Sounds scary, but how many elevators do you know where you are seated with a lap-bar across you? I was expecting to be standing up and unrestrained, as I would be in a real lift. As a result of Disney's caution, I emerged without a single cut or bruise. Wimps! After that, the pace got more sedate with the Great Movie Ride, an enjoyable trek through Hollywood's history. I had lunch in the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater (great fun) and in the afternoon, took in the backlot tour, Sounds Dangerous (which I gather has now been dropped), Star Tours and Muppet Vision 3D. The latter was fun and was my first experience of Disney's 3D movies with added tricks (including the inevitable squirting of water), but it graphically illustrates one of the things I liked least about WDW - the propensity for the exits of attractions to be nowhere near the entrances, so that when you leave, you have no idea where you are. Fortunately, I managed to find my way to the exit in time to catch the 1852 bus back into town, but it was a close-run thing. But despite this minor irritation, Disney-MGM was my favourite out of all the theme parks I visited on my holidays. I spent the evening strolling around the nearby Colonialtown suburb and doing a bit of shopping at the Fashion Village shopping centre. Thursday: Once again, I found myself on the 0745 #50 bus to the TTC, from which I caught the monorail to EPCOT. I went on the Test Track first, and it's just as well that I did. When I went in, the queue was 10 minutes, when I came out, it was an hour! I gather it can get up to 4 hours in peak holiday times. I did Future World in the morning, World Showcase in the afternoon, having lunch at Sommerfest in the German pavilion. I took a drink from one of the water fountains, only to hear a voice inside the plughole saying "hey, whatcha tying to do, drown me?" followed by a gurgling sound. It's little things like this that put Disney way ahead of the competition. At 1837, I caught the #56 bus from the Transportation and Ticket Center which took me along US192 to Capone's dinner theater. Unfortunately, I neglected to take the handy map of US192 provided in a booklet guide in my hotel room, so I had no idea where I was. This resulted in me getting off the bus several stops too early and having to walk the rest of the way on a road with no sidewalks. Not recommended! Luckily, I arrived at Capone's in time for the start of the show, which consisted of an all-you-can-eat Italian buffet followed by a corny but enjoyable (not as enjoyable as the buffet, though) musical play. Al himself didn't make an appearance, however. Unfortunately, the #56 bus stops around 8.30pm, so I had to get a taxi back to my hotel, costing me around $30. Friday: As I was going to Animal Kingdom, and all the guidebooks recommend going early in the morning, I got up extra-early to catch the 0645 bus, followed by another bus from the TTC. Obviously this didn't get me there in time for the 0700 opening of the park, but the 0645 was the earliest bus there was at the time (I don't think this is true now), so I had to grin and bear it. I still got there well before 0800. Entering at The Oasis, I looked at the tip board and saw that Countdown to Extinction, which I had planned to visit first, was temporarily closed. Instead, I headed for It's Tough To Be A Bug, which is hidden within the Tree of Life, a massive artificial tree whose intricate animal carvings repay close examination. The 20-minute 3D movie, featuring the cast of A Bug's Life, makes probably the best use of this purpose-built theatre format of any such attraction in Disney World. Watch out for the wriggling creepy-crawlies at the end! I then went on the Kilimanjaro Safari (where all the animals seemed to be on the opposite side to where I was sat) and walked the Pangani forest trail, emerging just in time to catch the 1100 bird show, Flights of Wonder. After the 15-minute show, I noticed that Countdown to Extinction has re-opened, so I joined the long queue for the nearest thing Animal Kingdom had to a thrill ride. This ride amongst animatronic dinosaurs is not fast, but it is very bumpy, with plenty of abrupt stops and starts. Think of a bus when you're carrying heavy shopping, then multiply it by 10, and you'll get some idea of what it's like. After lunch at the Rainforest Cafe (quite expensive, but HUGE portions), I took the Maharajah Jungle Trek. This is a bit like the Pangani Forest Trail, but with Asian instead of African animals. Tip: the gibbons are quite hard to spot - look out for a large wooden scaffolding structure near the exit with two overhead cables for the funky gibbons to swing on. Due to the earlier start, I find that I had pretty much done the whole park by early afternoon, so I headed back to the Magic Kingdom for a couple of hours. In the evening, I went to the nearest cinema to my hotel (The AMC Fashion Village 8, a couple of miles along East Colonial Drive) to see Scream 3. Take bus 28, 29 or 30 to Herndon Plaza. Saturday: The Brit's Guide to Orlando 2000 talked about an all-inclusive ticket called A Day On The Drive (now discontinued), giving admission to many I-Drive attractions. Apparently, you are supposed to buy it from Ripley's Believe It Or Not, but when I went there, I was told that (believe it or not) the person who sells them won't be in until Monday. And I thought that sort of level of incompetence was only found in Britain! Disillusioned with Ripley's, I headed off to the Mercado, to do a bit of shopping and see the Titanic exhibition, featuring memorabilia from the ship. My ticket bears one of the actual names from the passenger list, which seems a bit ghoulish (luckily it was one of the survivors). Following that, I took the I-Ride trolley to The Pointe to see Fantasia 2000 at the IMAX cinema there. Sunday: Being a good Greek Orthodox boy, Sunday morning was spent at Orlando's downtown Orthodox church, St. George's. After the liturgy, I caught bus #9 at 1315 to Winter Park, a journey of around 25 minutes. Getting off near the junction of New York Avenue and Morse Boulevard, I had some lunch and did a bit of window shopping on Park Avenue, an upmarket shopping street, then went to the end of Morse Boulevard to take the 50-minute scenic boat tour (departs every hour on the hour). Winter Park is on a system of interconnected lakes, and our guide helped point out the sights, including an osprey's nest in the middle of a lake. On the way back, I find myself back on New York Avenue, where I caught the #23 back to the Fashion Square mall for a bit of shopping. The #23 leaves Winter Park at around 50 minutes past the hour on Sundays, and the journey takes about half an hour. Week 2 of my holiday was spent at the Universal/Anheuser-Busch group of theme parks, and this gripping narrative continues in a new thread.