Key West – my last American adventure

Now that the trip was officially over, I still had one more full day in Miami. I decided to go on an adventure to Key West. Thankfully, it was easily organised through the hostel I was staying in. They had a big book full of companies organising days out at the front desk, and they simply phoned them and booked me a place on the trip!

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The day started at 7am since it was around a three hour drive down to Key West. The driver was lovely, welcoming all of us and giving us information over the loudspeaker about the area we were driving through. On the bus he told us about the different activities which were available once we arrived, and we were able to sign up to anything which took our fancy.

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I decided to go on a three hour snorkelling trip. The boat ride took about an hour as we heading out to a coral reef, which turned out to actually be the third largest in the world. I have to admit, I didn’t realise that America even had a coral reef! We then had about an hour during which we were able to swim around if we wanted to. Whilst waiting at the harbour I had bought a waterproof case for my iPhone to try and take some photos in case there were some really cool fish etc. Unfortunately, I had some difficultly with it – such as the phone not responding all the time to my touch, and the photos weren’t as good as I would have liked (although this is probably due to the fact that i’m a perfectionist) but it’s still a purchase I’m very happy I made.

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As we sailed to and roof the reef the views were absolutely breathtaking, and it was amazingly peaceful just floating about for an hour. I only snorkelled for about half the time available, although I found this plenty. The rest of the time I spent just looking out at the view of the ocean and the other boats which were nearby. This is definitely a trip I would recommend to others. The staff were incredibly friendly and answered all of our questions as best they could. There were drinks included in the price which was a big relief since it was so unbelievably hot! And of course I inevitably got chatting to some of the other people on the trip, which is always nice.

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Once back on shore I decided to walk down to Point 0. This is literally the southernmost point in the United States of America. There’s a concrete marker which was established in 1983 marking the spot, which in all honestly is the only thing that really marks the spot out. The views of the ocean were stunning though, and it’s something that I think is just a bit different to be able to say that you’ve done. Also, it’s now something else that I can tick off my wanderlust bucket list, which is always a plus for me! Unsurprisingly this is one of the most visited and photographed parts of Key West.

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Key West was truly gorgeous. Just walking down the street to Point 0 there were so many different things to look at. There were art displays, beautiful gnarly trees which looked like something an artist would dream up, random tricks with sea shells stuck all over it! In many ways it was exactly how I imagined an American sea-side town to be. The houses had the old fashioned, brightly coloured shutters, there were knackered looking trucks driving around everywhere and even chickens running wild across the streets!

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Key West was, in a word, incredible. It was perhaps one of my favourite days of the my entire time in America and is certainly one that I seem to talk about the most. I’m so happy that I decided to go on this day out instead of simply sitting on the Miami beaches (although, that would also have been a lovely way to spend the day). It was a fantastic way to spend my last day in America, and is something I would 100% recommend to anyone who asks me.

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We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls” – Anais Nin

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Miami

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Our last stop on our tour was Miami. I spent the first day wandering down the beach and having exploring the local area. I made the decision not to sunbathe as it was simply so hot that I knew I would inevitably get sunburnt. And to be honest, the concept of traveling home whilst sunburnt was not particularly appealing!

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The beaches in Miami were absolutely gorgeous. So much so that I would absolutely rank them in the top three beaches I have ever been to in my life. There were numerous shops just a street away from the beach and so I was able to spend a few hours happily pottering around and seeing what they had to offer.

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Sadly it was our last evening together as a group. After traveling together for two weeks and spending almost all of our time together it was a strange thought that soon we would all be apart and spread all over the UK. It was an amazing trip and the people truly did make it the experience that it was. I count myself very lucky that I was able to be part of a group where everybody not only got on, but were friends and were able to have a great laugh together. It’s a company that I would look at again if I planned to re-visit the US. If you’re looking to explore America on your own, I would absolutely recommend this company. It made travelling on my own seem a far less daunting prospect and it was an amazing experience.

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“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton

Universal Studios Part 4 (A.K.A. Men In Black, Simpsons, ET and the Minions)

With only a few hours left until we were due to be picked up, we had to quickly try and fit in everything else we wanted to do! After agreeing which rides we wanted to give priority to the group made our way to the Men In Black ride (which, would you guess, is another favourite of mine!) This was a fantastic ride and actually a little bit different to others in the park. The story line is that you are a trainee agent attempting to become a Man In Black. The ride goes in groups of four and each individual has a laser gun. As the ride progresses you have to try and shoot as many aliens as you can. It was fantastic fun even for us adults -and I must admit we did get quite competitive. It was also nice to have a ride where you’re actually doing something yourself. I would definitely recommend making this ride a priority.

IMG_6578We then walked through the Simpson area of the park. I have to admit I don’t really watch the Simpsons that much, but it was still pretty cool to see all of the characters and the buildings from the show. Since we didn’t have much time left we made the decision not to go on the ride in this area, although it did look very good fun.

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Instead, we made our way to the E.T. ride which, up to this point, we had believed was out of order. Now I have to admit I’m also not a massive fan of E.T. I watched it when I was quite young and I didn’t really like it, although that may be more due to the fact that I was too young to appreciate it. Perhaps it had something to do with my lack of enthusiasm for the movie but I wasn’t particularly impressed by this ride. But who knows, maybe a massive fan of the film would tell me that I’m totally wrong and that it’s the best ride at the park! I suppose it’s all a matter of personal preferences.

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Our last ride was the Minions! This was possibly one of my favourite parts of the entire park. Yes, I do happen to love the Minions – what’s not to love about them! But the animation on this ride was truly incredible. The storyline was very entertaining and you genuinely couldn’t help but loose yourself in the moment. This is something I would recommend to anyone, no matter what their age!

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Sadly we never had the chance to go on the parks largest roller coaster. It had been raining on and off throughout the day and thus the ride had been closed for most of our time there. About an hour before we were due to leave we saw that the ride was finally working again and made our way over. After waiting in line for almost an hour (the longest we had had to wait for the entire day) we were due to be the next ones on the ride. Tragically however, this is when it started to absolutely bucket it down and the ride was forced to stop once again. In any other situation I would have stubbornly stood there until they told us that the ride was 100% not going to re-open. Sadly we weren’t able to wait around as we were due to be picked up. It was really annoying, but at least this means I have another thing to look forward to when I go back to Universal!

So what on earth can I say to sum up this day? Incredible, amazing, hilarious, fantastic, dream come true. Nothing seems to quite capture the experience. Corny, but true. The day was amazing fun and I think especially so for me because I am such a film enthusiast. This is honestly somewhere that everyone can find something that they like, no matter what their age or preferences. It’s somewhere I believe everyone should go if they had the chance and I will continue raving about it to anyone who will listen to me!

“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” Dalai Lama

Universal Studios – Part 3 (A.K.A. Suss Landing, Atlantis, Shrek, Transformers and The Mummy)

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As we walked around the park we next came to the Dr Seuss area. I really enjoyed the Dr Seuss books growing up, and I still love some of his work even today. Looking around I couldn’t quite comprehend that everything was truly real. It genuinely all looks as though it has suddenly sprung out from the book, and in many ways it looks as though a cartoon has genuinely come to life. In two words – very impressive. I would absolutely recommend this as a place to go if you have children – especially because the rides in this part of the theme park were aimed for the slightly younger ages. Despite this, it was still amazing to go there simply to have a look around.

IMG_6508_2IMG_6509_2From there we travelled on to a strange looking part of the park that in all honesty, I didn’t really understand. I think it was meant to be a sort of Atlantis, mystical styled world. It did look really cool though I have to admit – I couldn’t believe how large some of the decorative structures were! On the map it said that there was a ride or show called ‘Poseidon’s Fury.’ I don’t really know what this is as the group decided that they weren’t particularly bothered about this part of the park so we didn’t explore it. Plus, we were all beginning to get really hungry so we decided to go get some lunch! If I get the chance to go back to the park I would like to have another opportunity to explore this area properly and to finally find out what Poseidon’s Fury is!

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For lunch we went to a really nice Mexican restaurant. Sadly I can’t remember the name, but it was pretty distinctive due to the fact that the exterior of the building was literally multi-coloured. The food there was incredible and the waiter was so lovely that I had absolutely no problem tipping him extra. Also, to my surprise it wasn’t too expensive, so this is definitely somewhere I would recommend eating!

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After lunch we decided to go and see a couple of the 4D shows to allow our bodies some time to digest the absurd amount of food that we had all just consumed! First we went to go see the Shrek show which was absolutely INCREDIBLE. I was a little worried that this may be really childish but honestly I thought it was hilarious and I am so pleased that I went to go see it. (And this definitely has nothing to do with the fact that Shrek is one of my favourite films)

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Next up was the transformers ride which was also brilliant fun. Again, nothing to do with the fact that it’s also one of my top favourite movies!

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IMG_6566Then it was the turn of the Mummy! Ok so there definitely seems to be a trend here of me admitting that these films are all my favourite. But seriously, I never realised how many of my favourite films were actually made by Universal. The Mummy truly does have a special place in my heart though. Watching it as a child was the first time I had ever really seen anything about Ancient Egypt and it’s what first made me interested in it. Now at the age of 20 i’m at University studying Ancient History and today had a lecture about inscriptions found in Ancient Egypt – guess it really did have an impact on me!

Universal Studios – Part 2 (A.K.A. Jurassic Park, Toon Lagoon and Marvel Island)

IMG_6417_2Our next stop was Jurassic Park! For such a massive movie geek like me, the excitement began from the amazing moment that you walk through the gates seen in the movie. I can’t remember the last time I was able to enjoy being a movie geek to this extent! As a side note, we had the most amazing cookies in this part of the park. They were absolutely massive, unbelievably delicious and only a couple of dollars so I would definitely recommend them!

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IMG_6420_2Walking over to the ride you could see the Jurassic Park cars from the original movies, with dinosaurs looming out of the bushes behind them. There also seemed to be some sort of show that i’m guessing was connected to the recent Jurassic World. It looked like the story line was a dinosaur attempting to escape its cage and the keeper trying to prevent this from happening. There was an amazing robotic dinosaur which kept popping up and moving around (which looked almost scarily realistic). Unfortunately we didn’t stop to watch it as we were all far too busy sprinting over to the Jurassic Park ride!

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When I heard that it was a water ride, I was a little worried that it might be childish. I was quickly proved wrong however (much to my delight). The boat takes you along different sections of the ‘park’ with a voiceover introducing the dinosaurs that you see – as though you were actually in Jurassic World. You then come to a section where the dinosaur has escaped from its cage! You travel into a building and encounter a number of dinosaurs which have gained their freedom, before facing the famous T-Rex!!! Hand on heart, it truly was a fantastic ride. The dinosaurs looked pretty realistic, the tour element really made you feel like you had stepped into the world of the film, and of course the ride ended (as is expected from a water ride) with one final, massive splash!

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After Jurassic world we then made our way over to Toon Lagoon. I have to admit I have no idea what this actually is, but there was a water ride there which looked INCREDIBLE. It created an absolutely enormous splash and the people coming off it genuinely looked drench to the skin – admittedly we avoided this ride because of that fact. Definitely one I want to try on another day though!

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The next stop? Marvel! I am a self-confessed Marvel geek – particularly the Avengers and the X-men. So, coming to the Marvel Super Hero Island was truly a dream come true! The only ride in the area was connected to Spiderman, which I must confess I actually found a little bit disappointing. I like Spiderman, but I’m not a massive fan. I found it a bit surprising actually that after all of the success of the Avengers franchise in recent years that there was no ride dedicated to them! Maybe this should be something that Marvel need to start looking in to….

IMG_6487_2Spiderman was still of course a very fun ride and is something I would recommend to anyone visiting the park. I think perhaps all the rides are just that little bit more enjoyable if you’re a fan of the movie or book etc. The whole area looked really interesting, and I would have loved to have had a browse through the comic store just out of sheer curiosity. (I don’t actually own any comic books and I don’t particularly have any desire to start collecting them, but it would still be interesting to have a look around!) What can I say, Universal Studios proved once more to be an incredibly entertaining, magical place!

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“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Neale Donald Walsch

Universal Studios – Part 1 (A.K.A The Wizarding World of Harry Potter)

As I have probably mentioned before, I am essentially a child in an adults body. Therefore it should come as no surprise to learn that whilst in Orlando I was determined to visit Universal studios. Much to my delight I wasn’t the only member of the trek who felt this way, and so a group of us went together.

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We bought the ticket which would allow us to go between the two parks – Universal’s Island of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. I think this was the best option as in one day we were able to get around most of the rides in both parks, and therefore I can’t help but think that we would have got a bit bored if we had only had the options available in one park.

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We began the day by going to Harry Potter World. We had been advised to do this first as apparently it can get insanely busy later on in the day. Somewhat surprisingly, we didn’t actually have any problems with queues at all during the day. I think the longest that we had to wait for something was 35 minutes, and actually even that wasn’t boring. Something I really like about Universal is that they try and make your wait for a ride interesting entertaining. So it isn’t just a queue with some music playing repeatedly overhead like at some parks. Instead, you almost go through a journey as you wait for your ride. For example, as you waited for the Harry Potter ride you walked around Hogwarts, saw the paintings move and talk to each other, you visited Dumbledores office etc. So although technically you were waiting in line, it felt more like you were exploring the world of the ride – something that I loved.

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Anyway, as we reached Harry Potter World it really did feel like we had stepped back in London – which was quite a strange sensation. They had paid a lot of attention to small details such as the road signs in England, and the lights you find along the Thames. I thought this attention to detail was very impressive and it’s nice to see that they put so much time and effort into all their rides. We walked past the house used by the Order of the Phoenix, and the overnight bus. There was a red phone box for people to take photos in (which I think is more exciting if you’re not from England, and then we explored Diagon Alley! Sadly we didn’t really have much time to explore the shops properly. We wanted to try and do as many of the rides as possible, and we wouldn’t have been able to do that if we had been continuously distracted. When I next come back to Universal (which I am 100% doing) I’d like to be able to spend a day looking around all of the little shops and stalls the park has, as well as the rides. IMG_6375

Anyway, we went on a ride that takes you through the vaults of Gringotts bank. It’s not really a roller coaster, I think I would describe it more as a roller coaster stimulator. Essentially, as you’re going along the tracks, you see a story playing out along the screen. In this case, Voldemort attacking the bank, a dragon escaping and Harry and his friends trying to get you to safety. There are some moments were you’re diving down the track and being thrown around, but not loop-the-loops etc that I would associate with a ‘real’ roller-coaster. The visuals were fantastic and they were made even better by the fact that you’re wearing 3D glasses – it really does feel like you’re really there!

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From Gringotts we then went through Kings Cross Station, and to Platform 9 and 3/4. From here you’re able to take the Hogwarts express to the Harry Potter World in the other park!  (Again, I think walking through Kings Cross would be a little bit more exciting for those who don’t come from England)

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Another thing I really liked was that on the train ride, the window was actually a screen which played a little video. You heard Harry, Ron and Hermione talking in the train corridor, you saw the shadow of a dement or drifting by, you watched as London turned into typical English fields and saw Hagrid riding his flying motorbike. I love how the park have made the effort to make everything fun and entertaining, and it really does make the experience that little bit more magical!

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Getting off the train we suddenly found ourselves in Hogsmeade! Once again, we sadly weren’t able to have as much of a look around as I would have liked. We did however, get to visit Hogwarts, which definitely made up for it! The rides here were fantastic and once again, they really did make you feel like you were part of an adventure, and not just waiting for a ride in a theme park!

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Harry Potter World is a definite must. I was a really big fan of the books when I was younger, although not so much now that i’m older and i’ve found other things to obsess over. Our group ranged from an obsessed Potterhead to someone who had never having read the books or watched the movies, and yet all of us thoroughly enjoyed it. I would recommend it to anyone, even if they’re not a massive fan. If nothing else, the rides are brilliant fun and Harry Potter World does include one of the ‘real’ roller-coasters of the Theme Parks. A fantastic way to start the day!

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“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous

Bring on the beach!

IMG_6306After over a week of near non-stop travelling and site seeing, we were all ready for some down time. Thankfully, the next stop was at Panama City beach, Florida. The sand there is gorgeously white, and the water truly is crystal clear. I was surprised actually, as walking out into the sea I must have got a good 20-30 meters from shore and I was still only waist deep! It should probably come as no surprise that our day here was mostly spent on the beach or around the pool. Sadly, I burn incredibly easily so I had to spend most of the day in the shade. However, it still gave me the opportunity to read my book with an exquisitely beautiful view, so I was very satisfied.

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“Take only memories, leave only footprints.” Chief Seattle