1. Disney Magic Transatlantic Cruise: Post Cruise in Miami and Orlando

    The first thing I remember on this day was the room shaking and being woken up in the middle of the night. I realised through my half asleep brain that we must have been docking in Miami and the ships thrusters were working overtime. It was 3:00am so way too early to be awake so I turned over and went straight back to sleep.

    I woke up again a few hours later just before my alarm was due to go off. The room was silent so I knew we were docked in Miami. I went out onto our verandah and was greeted with the sight of sunrise over the Port of Miami and the Bayside area in the distance.

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    After having a shower and using the last of my toiletries (they had amazingly lasted for the exact duration of the cruise so it meant less bottles to carry off with me), I got dressed and after getting some tea from Deck 9, we packed the last of our belongings away in our bags. Just like our last cruise, we opted to do the Express Walk Off so we did not want to have breakfast onboard. We only had one suitcase each as well as our hand baggage so carrying our own bags off the ship was not an issue and it meant that we could disembark straight away.

    Just after 7:30am, an announcement was made to say that the ship had been cleared by US Customs and that anyone who was doing Express Walk Off could disembark. We said goodbye to Claudine who had so brilliantly looked after our stateroom for the last eleven nights before heading to Deck 4. The first surprise of the morning was that we did not have to wait for an elevator unlike last time when they were all packed – we did not even stop on any other decks. The second surprise was that the route from the Aft elevators to the lobby atrium area was free of people and obstructions. Disembarkation is usually from Deck 3 (I think it’s only in Miami that Deck 4 is used) and getting through the Promenade Lounge and the corridor by the side of Lumiere’s/Triton’s is a nightmare as people camp there with their bags waiting to disembark making it impossible for anyone to get past.

    There was only a few people ahead of us to disembark however some people ahead of us were sent back as they had either not settled their onboard account or were not doing Express Walk Off and their luggage tags had yet to be called. After checking that we had all our bags, our Keys to the World were swiped for the final time and we disembarked from the Disney Magic and onto an empty gangway into the Port of Miami terminal.

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    Having experienced the chaos, unfriendliness and the long, slow immigration lines of Miami Airport many times over the years, I had been dreading our arrival into Miami. I could not have been more wrong as not only was the terminal empty, every single person working there was friendly and welcoming. I started questioning myself if we were really in Miami as it was like night and day compared to their hideous airport.

    After walking down a long corridor, we look the elevator down into an empty immigration hall – there was no one else there so we were both through in minutes. We walked straight past all the baggage reclaim belts (each one was marked with a different character) and it all looked so organised compared to Canada Place two years ago as no pathways through the terminal were blocked with bags piled up everywhere.

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    Once outside the terminal, there were plenty of taxis waiting so again we did not have to wait and before we knew it, we were leaving the Port of Miami and heading to the Car Rental Center at Miami Aiport. There was no traffic so the journey took just under fifteen minutes and a flat rate is charged which was $27 plus tip. At the Car Rental Center, we used the Alamo self service machines before picking our car in the garage – we booked a standard SUV so we knew we would have plenty of room for all of our bags.

    We were driving out of the Car Rental Center exactly fifty minutes after leaving our stateroom on the Disney Magic. I still can’t believe how quick it was or how that was even possible. I really had been expecting the worst.

    If you haven’t already guessed, I hate Miami – in fact we both do. So our plan for the cruise had always been to get the hell out of there as soon as we arrived. Thankfully there was very little traffic so we were on our way up the I-95 before we knew it. We were both getting hungry as we had not yet had breakfast so we stopped at Waffle House north of Fort Lauderdale. I had always wanted to go to Waffle House for breakfast but had never got round to it so this was the perfect opportunity. I ordered a Hashbrown Smothered, Covered, Diced and Capped as well as several mugs of coffee. Our bill for the two of us came to $10.72 which was a lot cheaper than we expected.

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    As we were in no hurry, we took our time driving up to Orlando. We stopped at some shops along the way to get some shopping to take home with us as well as meeting some good friends unexpectedly at Fort Drumm Service Plaza when we found out they were driving along the Florida Turnpike at the same time we were.

    Even with our many stops, we arrived at our hotel in Orlando at 2:00pm. We stayed at the Hilton Grand Vacations Club at Tuscany Village after several recommendations from some friends. We had visited them at the hotel last year and loved the location as well as the size of the rooms. It also seemed much more peaceful than some hotels I have stayed at before in Orlando.

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    After unpacking everything from our bags, we ran to Publix opposite our hotel to get some food and drink for the kitchen in our room before heading to the Florida Mall to get the last few bits of shopping that we needed.

    For dinner we went to Bahama Breeze where we met our friends who were due to be sailing on the Disney Dream the following day. I ordered a Jalapeno Mojito and the Warm Spinach Dip and despite the world’s most annoying server, we chatted about our cruise and their cruise – Hurricane Joaquim was bearing down on the Bahamas where they were heading (they ended up missing Nassau but thankfully were able to dock at Castaway Cay.)

    Going back to the hotel that night felt heavenly. We had so much room to move around and after having my first bath in two weeks (I only had showers in Barcelona and on the ship), it was great to be able to fall asleep in a room that was not moving and without having to wear earplugs due to an annoying squeak in the wall.

    The next day we had no plans until the evening so it was great just to sit in bed making the most of the high speed wifi before going to sit by an empty swimming pool for an hour or so. We decided to go to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) and get an Earl of Sandwich for lunch. It was the first time we had been to Disney Springs since they had opened the new parking structure and it made such a welcome difference as we were parked in minutes – definitely an improvement on before.

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    After some time wandering around the shops and a quick visit to Guest Relations to get a damaged ticket replaced, we headed back to the car and drove the short distance to Universal Studios ready for our annual visit to Halloween Horror Nights. We always like to get to the resort early as the lines for parking can get long closer to opening time.

    Once we had collected our tickets from the Will Call machines at Islands of Adventure, we headed to Margaritaville for dinner. The best advice I can give anyone if going to Margaritaville is to use Open Table to make a reservation there. You cannot book a time but you do get the next available table. For example, the couple in front of us were told there would be a 40 minute wait whereas because we had booked using Open Table, we just had to wait two minutes for them to them to seat us. Much better.

    It’s a bit of a tradition that we always go to Margaritaville before Halloween Horror Nights – the food options inside the Universal parks are a bit limited unless you want to eat burgers and fries. I ordered a Perfect Margarita (which is made with proper ingredients and none of that nasty artifical pre-mix) and the Asiago Crab Dip.

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    This was our sixth and final year of attending Halloween Horror Nights as for the last few years, despite looking forward to the event like crazy, we always feel let down and this year was the final straw. The emphasis is now on how many people they can cram into the park and pack through the houses instead of the scares. There is also now too many house tie-ins to whatever television series or latest movie that Universal wants to promote which prove to be horrible houses – four years of the same boring Walking Dead rubbish is just too much. I love the original houses they create – Gothic from back in 2012 being one of the best houses I have ever been in and these seem to be getting fewer and fewer.

    The event is just not scary anymore and not worth the money that it costs. We always buy Express Passes as you would never want to do Halloween Horror Nights without them yet you still end up queuing as they oversell them and then you get shouted at if you leave more than a foot gap between you and the person in front ruining any sort of atmosphere in the houses. Our entrance tickets and Express Passes cost $328 between the two of us this year which we don’t mind paying but when the event fails to live up to expectations yet again, it feels like a massive waste of money.

    I really enjoyed the different Scare Zones they had this year however the houses were awful – the worst they’ve ever been.

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    Whilst at the park we were treated to an incredible sunset before grabbing a Frozen Coke and heading to Diagon Alley for the first time which was open during the event this year. I always enjoy taking any sort of Coca-Cola drink into the Potter areas of Universal Studios as JK Rowling doesn’t allow them to be sold there so not “to ruin the experience” yet beer is sold which I do not understand and find a bit hypocritical. Whilst incredibly detailed, neither of us are Potter fans so this area just did not make any sense to either of us.

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    I was so looking forward to the return of Jack the Clown after being scared several times by him back in 2010 and his show The Carnage Returns was the highlight of the evening.

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    One of the greatest food inventions ever are Twisted Taters which are available at Halloween Horror Nights. You can get them in many different flavours but my favourite is Salt and Vinegar and they never disappoint. I wish they sold them all year round.

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    After finishing all the houses, we grabbed a Starbucks to take back with us before leaving the park. Both of us felt so let down yet again with the event so we decided on the drive back to the hotel, that we will not go back next year which after all these years of visiting feels sad.

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    After a good night’s sleep we both woke up ready for our last full day on holiday and a last little taste of Disney. After getting ready, we drove to Magic Kingdom and arrived at the park just after 10:30am. We made our way to Critter Country to Splash Mountain which tradition dictates is always our first ride of the day. I had timed our Fastpasses so we could get off Splash Mountain and straight onto Big Thunder Mountain.

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    We had only ever planned a quick visit to Magic Kingdom as we were leaving there just over an hour and a half after we arrived. We drove over to Epcot ready for the Food and Wine Festival which we have visited many years before. As it was a Friday and we knew it would get busy late afternoon when all the locals finished work, we were also only going to spend a few hours here.

    Whilst walking around World Showcase I ordered the Grilled Sweet and Spicy Bush Berry Shrimp from Australia, the Tacos de Camaron from Mexico, the Black pepper Shrimp with Sichuan Noodles and the Mango Jasmine Tea with Popping Bubbles from China, the Miso Udon from Japan before finishing with the Spanakopita from Greece.

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    After getting back to the hotel, we decided to have a lazy evening by the pool with dinner and cocktails. It was great just being able to relax and swim in peace and quiet. It started raining heavily not long after we went back inside so we timed that incredibly well and it made me happy that we were not in any of the parks as that would just have been miserable with that much rain – been there and done that.

    We were able to have another lay-in on the Saturday morning before heading to the airport. Thankfully on both our flights that day we were not restricted to one piece of checked in baggage like we had been on our British Airways flight over to Barcelona two weeks beforehand. My only worry for the day was getting the lithograph we had been given on the cruise back home without damaging it or leaving it anywhere – I did make sure to write both of our names and contact numbers on the envelope it was in just in case but it did make it home safely.

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    We flew on Southwest Airlines to Atlanta. The flight was on time and took just over an hour. Once in Atlanta we had to collect our luggage and catch the bus to the International terminal to check in for our Virgin Atlantic flight back to Heathrow. Once we had checked our bags in, we still had several hours to kill before our flight so we took the Marta train to Downtown Atlanta to get some food before heading back to the airport with still too much time to spare – thankfully there was a Starbucks to sit in and the airport had free wifi. I would not have wanted it any other way though as I would rather have too much time in between flights than too little.

    Our flight to London took off on time. I was not hungry so I just had Cheese and Biscuits to eat after take off before turning my seat into a bed and sleeping the rest of the flight and skipping breakfast.

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    It’s a strange feeling to think it took eleven days for us to sail from Europe to the United States and only eight hours to fly home!

    Roll on our next adventure!

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