Orlando, home of Disney World and NASA

I like my holidays to be jammed packed, trying to do and see as much as possible in the small amount of time we have.

Orlando, Florida, was an example of this.

We left New York on Boxing Day and returned a day before New Years Eve giving us a full three days of tours, rides and theme parks. We decided to spend two days visiting Walt Disney World and the last day visiting NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre.

Disney World is huge, with four main parks and an additional water park; you need to spend at least a whole day visiting each one. There are even ten day passes available! As we had previously visited Hong Kong Disney Land, which is essentially a combination of Magic Kingdom Park and Animal Kingdom Park, we chose to visit Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

As expected, having visited right in the middle of the holiday season, it was extremely busy with families.

Day 1: Disney World – Epcot

The Epcot theme park was interesting, a lot of sciency rides and attractions; our first was a go at a Segway, which was really fun. Sonya didn’t quite get the hang of it. A lot of the more childish attractions, where actually quite enjoyable, like the Innoventions – Test the Limits Lab, slamming doors and dropping barrels.

One of the main attractions of Epcot, besides the giant Epcot sphere, is the World Showcase. The World Showcase is a section of the park divided up into eleven individual country themed areas, within each were replicas of the country’s most iconic buildings and landmarks, information on history, culture, and many restaurants and small themed rides. Visiting it all used up most of the day, being sunset when we left England, England even featured a replica Beetles band. The World Showcase did make us want to discover more countries, and this was all while we were already on a holiday.

We finished the night off with some of the edutainment rides, and the Mission Space ride which simulated up to 2.4Gs of g-force. We both left the ride feeling quite queasy. We also had the obligatory photos with Disney characters; Mickey, Pluto, Minnie, Donald and Goofy.

Travis and the Epcot sphereSonya on a SegwayWorld Showcase Mexico wood carved art
World Showcase Mexico Chichen ItzaWorld Showcase Norway large TrollSonya in a Chinese garden including replica Temple of Heaven
Sonya in World Showcase GermanyTravis in World Showcase ItalyWorld Showcase Morocco
Travis wearing the iconic French beretEpcot sphere at nightSonya and Travis with Minnie Mouse

Day 2: Disney World – Disney’s Hollywood Studios

The second day was spent at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which I thought was a lot more fun. We started the day with a live performance of Beauty and the Beast, while we waited for our Fastpass (Disney’s solution to the enormous queues) time to the Tower of Terror to arrive. As we waited in the queue for Tower of Terror, Sonya started to have childhood flashbacks of the time she cried after the ride; after all, she was only 17. I didn’t know what to expect, thinking it to be more of a horror house, especially after experiencing Disney’s famous pre-ride entertainment. The ride turned out to be a series of ‘high-speed drops’ which left me grinning the whole time all while Sonya had her eye’s closed.

For lunch we shared a giant turkey leg, which at $7 wasn’t too bad value, given Disney’s ridiculous prices. After we visited The Magic of Disney Animation, a live show that gave an insight into the creation of the dragon Mushu from Mulan. The entry and exit to the show had a lot of cool Disney artwork and stills. “A Spectacular Journey into the Movies” was a ride that toured the audience around various movie scenes, some memorable ones being The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca and Indiana Jones. There was a little gallery on the history of Walt Disney, titled One Man’s Dream, which included his achievements and various memorabilia, which was also very interesting.

For the last part of the night, I managed to convince Sonya to queue up for the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster a “high-speed roller coaster”. It was a pain staking 80 minute long line, but the 2 minute ride was all worth the wait, I, again walking out with a cheesy grin. Sonya again had her eyes closed the whole time! And this was confirmed by the ‘memorial’ photo that gets taken during the most intense part of the ride.

Disney World ticketsEntrance archRock n Roller Coaster
Sonya and the Fantasia gardenTower of Terror warning signSnow white and the seven dwarfs painting
Travis and Walt DisneySonya and Travis with Mickey earsEntrance to A Spectacular Journey into the Movies ride
Wizard of Oz sceneSonya with angels aboveRock n Roller Coaster memorial photo

Day 3: NASA – Kennedy Space Center

Visiting NASA was just one of those nerdy things I have always wanted to do, I wanted to always view a space shuttle on its launch pad, unfortunately I wasn’t able to do this due to arriving about a fortnight too early (Shuttle Endeavour was due to launch on 8th February 2010, and the shuttle is usually on the launch pad for about one month prior to launch). However, I was not left disappointed.

Kennedy Space Center, located at Cape Canaveral, located roughly 72 kilometers east of Orlando. After talking to our hotel’s tourist information lady, and being informed buses would cost $80 each, we were advised to rent a car. We were extremely lucky being able to rent a car in a days notice, due to the holiday season, we also paid and arm and a leg $135 USD for one day rental). When we casually hopped into the car for the first time, I was presented with a missing steering wheel, while Sonya on the driver’s seat, then it clicked, for that moment we had forgotten the driving sides were reversed to that of Australia. This would be fun we thought. However, Florida was very easy to drive around, as the roads were wide and long, which made things easier. I had left my GPS in New York as I didn’t think we would be driving in Orlando, but the locals were happy to provide directions.

The amazing thing about the Kennedy Space Center, is it is a working site, that huge Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) the tour bus drives past is actually where they ‘mate’ the space shuttle to the rockets, those huge dirt tracks (the Crawlerway) the tour bus drives next to, are the real tracks produced by the crawler-transporters when moving the space shuttle to the launch pad. We where taken to the closest observation platform for the Launch Complex 39 – A and B launch pads, but it was still a fair distance away, though, it was still a good feeling seeing them from afar (minus the shuttles).

One of my highlights was The Apollo/Saturn V Center, it started with a tour through the actual Apollo 11 launch control room which leads to the massive Saturn V rocket. I could have starred at those five F-1 rocket engines for hours, the size was overwhelming. In the Apollo/Saturn V Center you could also touch a real moon rock as well as visit an eerie dark museum which featured the original Apollo 11 space capsule and space suits from various time periods.

The final destination on the bus tour was the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) where International Space Station modules are tested. Unfortunately, it was very quite in the assembly plant as there was nobody working there.

Back at the Kennedy Space Centre park, we got up close and personal with a retired space shuttle, and finished the night visiting the Rocket Garden, a large collection of illuminated rockets.

Welcoming NASA logoAres I mobile launch platform under constructionLaunch Complex 39 observation platform (gantry)
Launch Complex 39ASonya and Travis with the shuttle launch pad in the distanceSonya and the Kennedy Space Center Tour Busses
The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB)Apollo-Saturn V Center logoApollo 11 launch control room
Saturn V F-1 rocket enginesTravis and the Saturn V F-1 rocket enginesSaturn V F-1 rocket engines with Sonya (for scale)
Crawler Transporter CleatEerie past space suitsSonya and an International Space Station node
Travis and a retired Space ShuttleRocket Garden at nightSonya and the Rocket Garden

New York, New York – Part I

Hello, New York

After a long twelve hour flight from our stopover city, Tokyo, Travis and I found ourselves on the steps of JFK airport. We were tired, smelly (as we hadn’t showered in over 24 hours) and disoriented but that didn’t dampen our excitement at all! There was fresh snow falling from the sky (little did I know at the time this was the calm before the snowstorm) and I was particularly excited, make that ecstatic, about seeing my oldest friend (as in the one I’ve known longest!) Mandi after her almost two year absence from our hometown.

We emerged from the airport and frantically put all the warm winter gear we could find. It was excruciatingly cold that night, and I certainly was not psychologically prepared for the cold weather seeing as though 24 hours earlier, I had been basking in the sun at our annual outdoor office Christmas party.  The taxi ride to Mandi’s apartment was slow. The taxi driver had advised as that it was in his (and our) best interests that he drove slowly so as to avoid a similar fate to two cars which had driven/slid off the road due to the ice.

As we approach Manhattan I recognised for the first time the beautiful Christmas-feeling that Mandi had described to me during our chats and emails.  The streets were covered with snow, Christmas lights lit the busy street and it was just so picturesque.  We found ourselves at Mandi’s apartment in the quaint West Village and after all our hugs and greetings it was quite late already.  Whilst comfortably warm inside we decided to brave the cold to grab some late night dinner (or brunch as Travis and my brains told us) at a diner nearby in the Meat packing district.   The two block walk felt like an adventure (given the novelty of snow and cold) and so we were then rewarded with our first American meal – some yummy American burgers, buffalo wings, disco fries and Oreo milkshakes!

Inside a New York dinerOreo ThickshakesStreets of New York

Day 1

We awoke leisurely on Sunday morning, had brunch (I had my first Bloody Mary) and made plans to take a walk through Central Park.  It was so pretty! The park was filled with white snow covered trees, children tobogganing off the slight hills, ice skating rinks, freshly created snowmen.  Not to mention the familiarity of scenes from numerous movies.  We visited a shopping mall near the subway picked up some hot coffee, some delicious macaroons (Bouchon Bakery) and headed back home.

That evening we met up with some of Mandi’s buddies at what I learnt was a speakeasy. Unlike their historical counterparts speakeasies nowadays are legal, sell alcohol legally and have only inherited the exciting underground atmosphere of the Prohibition times.  The speakeasy was located through a backdoor of a small corner-side deli. Upon entering the door we were escorted down two flights of stairs and through what looked like the restaurant’s kitchen.  The restaurant we went to (La Esquina) served Mexican cuisine. The decor was amazing.  Dark lighting, big wooden tables.. it felt like we were in a swanky dungeon of some sort (which happened to serve tequila with warm apple cider, on the house!).  Anyway, dinner was fun and our first introduction to the many crazy New York apartment living/hunting/house mate conversations to come…

New York streets after heavy snowChristmas trees for saleNew York street with heavy snow
Snowy Central ParkMandi and Travis in snowy Central ParkSonya in Central Park
Fun times in Central ParkCentral Park bridgeCentral Park ice rink
Inside Time Warner Center with view of Columbus CircleMacaroons at Bouchon BakeryTequila shots at La Esquina

Day 2

First day of Travis and my self-exploration of Manhattan.  Mandi was working and so we decided to use our newly acquired Metro card to wander around the city.  We ended up walking from 14th St (around where we were staying) uptown to Times Square.  Took us a while as we were consistently distracted by all the people, bustling streets, quirky shops and photo opportunities.  Incidentally, good foot wear is essential during the Winter season and my Perth-bought boots didn’t meet the standard requirements for general footpath walking (no grip).  As a result, I fell down smack bang in the middle of Times Square which was very, very embarrassing.  Lucky my coat was black.   After Times Square (stopping to eat some breakfast at Maxines – bagel, cream cheese and smoked salmon for me!) we headed to the Rockefella Center to enjoy the views of the city.  On our way, we passed Radio City Music Hall, some giant Christmas baubles and various other New York things. Might I add we also ensured we visited all the uniquely American stores such as American Eagle, Old Navy, Urban Outfitters, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, etc.

That evening we caught up with Mandi and walked around The West Village, passing through some interesting sites including the Carrie’s Sex in the City apartment, SJP’s real apartment, Washington Square and various other famous people’s apartments.  We had pizza at nice little Italian restaurant (the mozzarella cheese was yum!) and then sampled some very unique desserts at Momofuku (the milk bar). We had:

  • cereal milk icecream
  • compost cookie – pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch, chocolate chips
  • crack pie – toasted oat crust, gooey butter filling

New York has everything!!

Travis strolling Times SquareTimes SquareView from top of Rockefeller Plaza
On Top of the RockSonya and the Rockefeller Christmas TreeMacy's Department Store
Washington Square ArchMozzarella cheeseSugar cookie softserve with cheddar popcorn topping from momofuku

Day 3

We dedicated this day to general site seeing once again (since M was working – her last day).  Took the subway downtown to Ground Zero site (not much there), walked down Broadway, past City Hall towards Wall St.  Visited Tiffany & Co on Wall St and walked all the way around to the Statten Island Ferry Terminal. We decided to skip the Statten Island Ferry and go to Liberty Island instead (so walked further on to the next port) to see the Statue upon which we realised the line was gigantum! It was cold but we decided to do it anyway. Twenty four dollars later we were waiting in the queue (which was at least 500 m long) eating our all-American hotdog (with sauerkraut and mustard) and freezing our fingers off.  We finally boarded the Ferry and took a pleasant boat ride over to Liberty Island. Usual touristy stuff, photos. Met a friendly Columbian guy who seemed to be travelling alone.

On the way back we decided to walk up 6th Avenue. Stopped by a burger joint where I had the smallest burger I have ever seen (it was called a mini burger) so as not to disrupt my appetite.  Lucky for that because late that night M took us to dinner at Boka, a Korean restaurant in St Mark’s which specialises in fried chicken (Bon Chon chicken) – really delicious! We had a couple of dishes of that, some soju and after a satisfying night out, headed home.

Construction at the 911 memorial siteNew York Stock ExchangeWall Street
Travis and a bull statue on Wall StStatue of LibertyStatue of Liberty
New York skylineCastle Clinton National MonumentNew York Burger Co mini burger

Day 4

Christmas Eve. We started the day by taking the subway to Brooklyn. Since we were there, Mandi decided to introduce us to Brooklyn’s most famous Pizzeria, Grimaldi’s. It was so delicious! Definitely some of the best pizza I have ever tasted, the base was just so tasty. Highly recommended. We were lucky to arrive with only a 2 minute wait but when we left there was a 30 minute line!

After pizza we headed towards the Brooklyn Bridge to cross it.  This was fun but freezing!! Took lots of ‘creative’ photos. Upon reaching Manhattan Island we started walking towards Chinatown.  I could smell the Chinese food before I could see it! The streets were lined with markets selling I love NY shirts, designer perfumes (which look and are said to be genuine but at a fraction of the price), all sorts of jewellery, knock off handbags and other knick knacks.  We wandered around for a while and then explored some of the other cultural areas (Little Italy, Little Korea) around the area.  Before heading back to Mandi’s we checked out American Apparel & Top Shop.

That night we went to an All you can Eat Brazilian BBQ Cuisine. Churrascaria Plataforma. The restaurant was $60 per head and offered all sorts of BBQ meats and Brazilian side dishes, a buffet including fresh sushi and salad.  Needless to say I was extremely full afterwards!

Grimaldi's PizzeriaBrooklyn BridgeJumping in Brooklyn
Brooklyn BridgeBrooklyn BridgeNew York from Brooklyn Bridge

Day 5

We spent the morning planning to visit museums. Whilst we didn’t make it to the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), we somehow ended up at the Museum of Sex (nothing particularly interesting I thought), had lunch at a pizza bar, then Travis and I wandered to the New York Public Library, took some photos and walked up Fifth Ave and visited the Apple Store.

We had dinner at the famous Carnegie Deli where Travis had the shockingly huge corned beef sandwich and I had a tasty potato knish.

New York Public Library entranceNew York Public LibraryNew York Public Library halls
The Apple StoreTimes Square at nightMore of Times Square at night
Even more of Times Square at nightNew York Cheese CakeCarnegie Deli and the ridiculous corned beef sandwich
Best friendsSonya and Mandi at Times SquareSonya and Travis

Christmas Day

In the morning Mandi and I went to yum cha by ourselves while Travis slept in.

That evening, we made a scrumptious dinner (well M did most of the cooking whilst I played kitchen hand/table setter) at M’s apartment.. pork belly, stuffing, roast vegetables, roast duck (courtesy of a shop in Chinatown) and pecan pie for dessert.  A couple of visiting friends from Oz joined as did M’s work colleague.. it was a fun evening with lots of laughs.. much of it related to the horrid BeanBoozled jelly beans.  Braving the cold, we later decided to go to Sing Sing Karaoke bar in St Marks for a few tunes.

Asian posesChristmas funChristmas dinner

Boxing Day

Now looking back I really cannot recall exactly what we did Boxing Day. We went to the MoMA where we caught up with Amy and Kim (friends from Oz).  MoMA was amazing.. and huge. We barely managed to see half of the exhibitions so decided we would visit the museum again the following week.

Giant gray whale skeleton at MoMASonya and a PicassoTravis and a Salvador Dali

On the night of the 26th we left for Orlando for a short 3 day trip…hoping to escape the cold!

On the way to America – ten hour transit in Tokyo

After a ten hour flight from Perth we arrived at Narita international airport Japan, with a 10 hour transit before continuing to New York. After a bit of research the day before, we realised we had enough time to head into Tokyo for a few hours (I highly recommend reading the Narita Arrival and Transfer Guidebook). For around $36 AUD one way, you can take the Narita Express (NEX) one-way to Tokyo Station reaching within an hour.

On exiting the station we were greeted with a very cold and lethargic Tokyo, perhaps it was due to being an early Saturday morning. After a bit of mindless wandering around we found an information centre that suggested we try SkyBus Tokyo (Tokyo’s open-top double-decker tour bus). After a lunch of Ramen noodles (how could we not have eaten one of Japan’s cultural icons) we hopped onto the tour bus.

The tour provided a 45 minute view of all of Tokyo’s important buildings, shopping and business areas and beautiful parks. We were even provided with English audio headsets that provided information along the route. The tour was a good choice with our time constraints and gave us a taste of how large Tokyo is. It would be really good to get to know the city in the future.

After the tour and with our new bearings we walked towards the old Imperial Palace passing Wadakura Fountain Park on the way. After a few photos we headed back to Tokyo Station and back to Narita airport.

Tokyo StreetTokyo StationRamen noodles
SkyBus TokyoTokyo StreetBronze girl
Imperial Palace Wadakura gateImperial PalaceWadakura Fountain Park

The United States of America

It is less than one week till we leave for America for the Christmas and New York holiday period. I thought I had better write an introduction post. (edit, make that 5 mins before we head to the airport, I thought I had better post the introduction post.)
Sonya has her best friend currently living in New York for the past two years, ever since she lived there we have been meaning to visit her, we finally thought we would book flights and make it happen. In a little over 3 weeks we will be visiting 4 American cities, spending 10 hours plus on flights, spending half days in transit and for my first time giving tips. We are looking forward to it.

Lets start with the planned flight path.