Back in October, John and I went on a road trip. We started in San Francisco, made our way down the breathtaking US 1 coastal route, stayed at a lovely redwood lodge, we oohed and ahhed over the inspired interior design at the Madonna Inn, we drove into the mountains of the Sequoia National Park and stayed in a cabin in the woods, we spent a couple of days visiting family in LA before experiencing the best that kitsch Americana has to offer along Route 66. We then headed into the dessert where we spent a night in a luxury tipi in a lush oasis, we visited a safari just outside of the new-age town of Sedona before spending a night in awe of the legendary International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque (genuinely one of the best nights of my life).
Our final road trip stop was Roswell (spoiler alert – we didn’t see any UFOs) before driving to El Paso, dropping off our car and flying out to Florida where we spent the last few days doing the Disney and Universal thang!
I went to Euro Disney when I was about nine with my whole family, and quite honestly I came into the park with my cynical hat on. Turns out I was wrong and I’m also very easy to influence. After five minutes I was completely sold on the Disney magic. One very happy camper.
After visiting the brilliantly creepy It’s a Small World ride (I went on that when I was nine and STILL remembered the song) we happened to stand next to one of the costume directors for the Disney parks during the parade and so got an almost DVD commentary of how Disney works. It was really exciting to hear and absolutely fascinating, plus he tipped us off on the best place to stand to get some great shots (and all of the characters stopped to wave at him, which meant that all my pictures look like this):
The rides were good (although same old theme park woes – long queues for short-ish rides) but the experience was really enhanced by the Disney app – you connect to wifi and it tells you which rides have the shortest queues around the parks, expected waiting times & even lets you book restaurants etc.
Of course we stayed for the epic fireworks display. We sat at a cafe with tables and chairs and we thought we had the best seats in the house but there was a large tree blocking a lot of our view. Boo! Still we got to see some pretty awesome fireworks, just missed a lot of the stuff being projected onto the side of the castle.
During the display, we got chatting to a Disney employee who was there on a day off with her family. We hit it off and she let us in on a well-kept secret. When getting the trams back at the end of the evening, get the one to the hotel – there are barely any queues and they also stop at the car park. We were so grateful as we saw the tens of thousands of people line up for the other tram while we whizzed away back to our car!
The next day we got up early and did Universal! This was October, so not peak season and a lot of the rides had no queues at all! Win! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was the most crowded place and the one that I had been looking forward to the most. It was also the most disappointing – while it was impressively done and the rides were cool, the staff were generally surly, impatient and a little rude. I don’t often give bad feedback on this blog, but I think Universal is a big enough brand to take it. It sort of soured an otherwise brilliant experience.
I’ll admit it, the scale of the whole thing was really impressive – and the merchandise was awesome. I bought a wand and spent the rest of the day pretending to cast spells on John in order to boss him around. Yeah, I’m a grown up…
We then went on some very watery rides where we were drenched through and through. We didn’t have five bucks for the human-sized hair dryer thingy so we went back to the hotel. We were pretty beat anyway.
On our last day, we visited Big Cat Rescue, which does exactly what it says on the tin. In America there’s a trend for keeping and breeding big cats as pets. I hope I don’t need to go into why that’s a really stupid and dangerous idea, but basically these guys come in and rescue animals that have usually been bred in captivity and then get too big for the owner to cope with. Big cats behave so much like domestic cats I guess people forget that a domestic cat only refrains from accidentally killing you because it can’t… Anyway Big Cat Rescue looks after them and supports them financially by doing educational tours about the dangers of keeping big cats. Having visited I was so impressed with how well the animals were looked after and how knowledgeable the staff were.
Now here are some adorable big cat pictures (PS, yes those are vultures hovering overhead – there was some sort of pig farm nearby… still ominous, no?):
And that’s it! The next day we flew home. We had an amazing time and I’ll be writing a special piece on how to plan a road trip very soon. In the meantime have you been to any amazing places that we just have to write about? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Email firstname.lastname@example.org