A Busy Year

Well this year has been pretty busy! 11 months in, and I still have a fair bit to come, with a month to go. Plenty of things have happened, including a few firsts for me, so here’s just a little ramble about my 2013.

In March, I had a fantastic day out in London. The day started out with a trip to comic book heaven, Forbidden Planet. After wandering around and gazing at the many things I couldn’t afford, we joined the queue outside to meet Robert Llewelyn (of Red Dwarf fame). He was there to do signings for a couple of his books. Great guy, very welcoming! After a stop for a much-needed coffee and snack, it was off to The Shard. An impressive building from the outside, it was all the more impressive once you got all the way up to the 72nd floor. The views were spectacular, especially as the sun set over London.

The last week of June brings about the start of the biggest of the 4 tennis slams – Wimbledon, and with it, my first (of many I hope) visits to the hallowed turf of SW19. The first impression on walking in is the size of the place! The show courts are all fairly close together, but the outside courts are what makes the place so massive. With the traditional English strawberries and cream in hand, we took up a spot by one of the outside courts to watch a bit of doubles tennis involving Lleyton Hewitt. There was time to catch a bit of Novak Djokovic warming up for his match later in the day, before heading to the famous Henman Hill (or Murray Mount). The atmosphere here is amazing, but nothing compared with being inside Centre Court. With Del Potro, Radwanska and Djokovic on the schedule, it was a fantastic day to pay my first visit.

Cinderella's Castle, Magic Kingdom

Cinderella’s Castle, Magic Kingdom

September saw a family holiday to Florida. It may have been my fifth visit to Orlando – Theme Park capital of the world, but this place never gets old. And you are never too old to enjoy the wonders of Disney and Universal. The Disney Parks are a highly magical place, where old and young alike get to indulge the inner child. With the fantastic themes of the parks lands, to the music, larger than life characters and the world-famous parades, Disney’s parks are a must. And coming back after dark for the electrical light parade was an amazing experience – fantastic costumes, vehicles and great music made it true Disney.

The Universal parks bring the world of cinema to life. Seaworld has its own charm, fusing the world of animals and rides together. The new ride – Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin was something special. Part ride – a faster version for big kids, and a tamer version for little ones, and part walk through, it gave a fascinating insight into the world of penguins. Couple all of this with the awe-inspiring shows featuring killer whales and majestic dolphins, and it is a fantastic day out, with a slower pace.

The highlight of the holiday came though from two attractions. A trip to Seaworld’s Discovery Cove is beyond words. A tropical oasis in Orlando, this place exudes relaxation. The opportunity to swim with bottle nose dolphins was something I will certainly never forget. The trainers took the time to teach us so much about these wonderful, intelligent creatures while allowing an unforgettable experience. The main reef is spectacular, too. The warm waters were teeming with tropical fish, and snorkelling amongst them as a variety of huge rays glide by is out of this world. The park is finished off by the aviaries. Being able to go in and learn all about the tropical birds there was fascinating, and only enhanced by having them come and land on you as they literally eat from the palm of your hand. The day finished on a real high note with an evening trip to see the quirky Blue Man Group. A funny, thought-provoking and massively entertaining show by the silent men in blue is something I cannot wait to experience again.

The NFL came to London for two regular season games at Wembley Stadium. First up was the Minnesota Vikings playing host to the

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Minnesota Vikings, Wembley Stadium

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Minnesota Vikings, Wembley Stadium

Pittsburgh Steelers, with the second tie seeing the Jacksonville Jaguars host the San Francisco 49ers. I may be a Patriots fan, but living in England, I’ll take my live gridiron action where I can. Both days were a real spectacle. The whole day on both occasions had a party atmosphere, with cheerleader displays, various competitions and a chance to see the Vince Lombardi Superbowl trophy up close. Though the first game was a closely fought affair,  the second more of a one-sided match up, both provided a great opportunity for me to see my first NFL games, so here’s to the 3 games in London next year!

Throw in a fantastic Alter Bridge gig at Wembley Arena, and 2013 has been pretty awesome to date! But there’s still more to come for me before the year is out, so I look forward to the rest of this year!

What has been the highlight of your year so far? Let me know in the comments section! 🙂

2 Weeks in the Theme Park Capital of the World!

Back in September I was lucky enough to spend 2 weeks on holiday in Orlando, Florida. It was never going to be a relaxing break, but with all the parks to visit, attractions to ride and shows to see, you wouldn’t want it to be!

Doctor Doom's Fearfall

Doctor Doom’s Fearfall

And we really hit the ground running. On the first full day in Orlando, Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. What a park to start off with! With themed Islands including  Marvel Superhero Island, Toon Lagoon and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, It features some of the biggest thrill rides so it’s a real big hitter.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a fantastic part of the park, even if the main  The ride was something different. A combination of motion simulator, flying ride and special effects show. The effects were impressive, but the constant, sometimes rapid, direction changes let it down. It’s worth it for the walk through the recreated Hogwarts Castle. And the surrounding area, a replica of Hoggsmeade was very impressive, with it’s on-theme shops and eateries.

Cinderella's Castle, Magic Kingdom

Cinderella’s Castle, Magic Kingdom

Next up was Disney’s Magic Kingdom. This park never gets old! No matter how old you are, you can’t help but love it. With it’s mix of themes – from the Wild West, to Future Land, everyone loves Disney. From the characters to the rides, and the world-famous parades, it is a must-do when in Florida. Staying late for the electric parade really rounded the day off. Disney also offers up a host of other parks. Animal Kingdom was as-ever amazing, with a mix of Disney magic and exotic animals to go along with a handful of rides. Hollywood Studios brings the films of Walt Disney to life, and EPCOT

Kennedy Space Centre is somewhere I have a real passion for. It may not be a theme park, but it brings a whole other experience. Seeing the Rocket Garden is a spectacle in itself. Walking in amongst full size rockets, either standing full height or laid down, you get a real sense of the enormity of these stunning works of engineering. We took a tour which is always an eye-opener, hopping on a bus to see parts of the complex. The tour included a stop at the now-disused shuttle launch pads. These imposing metal structures loomed high above as we stood in their shadow.  A range of birds, including vultures, circled the towers ominously as you get a feel for how big a shuttle must have been. A trip around the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) was a highlight of the tour, getting to see this immense building where the shuttle vehicle was set up with the fuel tank and rockets. A stop at the Saturn V building allows a fantastic opportunity to see a full size Saturn V class rocket separated in to its main parts. The Space Shuttle Atlantis experience started off with a cinematic presentation about the conception, from design to final implementation, of the shuttle programme. As the screen faded to a black backdrop filled with stars, it became translucent allowing a glimpse of the Atlantis shuttle. What an impressive site as the screen raises and I moved forward to see this feat of technology, taking man to the stars. I spent a lot of time lost in thought viewing this majestic creation, before heading to the Atlantis Experience – a simulator-type attraction allowing riders the chance to see what a shuttle launch and re-entry would have been like.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the holiday was a day spent at Discovery Cove. The concept of this park is fantastic. In the heart of Orlando, close to the Universal and SeaWorld parks, it somehow manages to be an oasis of peace. The all inclusive set up including breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks just made the day all the more relaxing. Starting the day with a dolphin experience is something I will never forget. Spending half an hour in the water with these fascinating animals, we were introduced to two dolphins, taught a lot about them, before being taken on an unforgettable swim being towed by one of them. The rest of the day was spent swimming in the warm waters of the lazy river, the cold waters of a lagoon teeming with tropical fish and rays, and feeding a rainbow cascade of tropical birds.

I have been lucky enough to visit Orlando a number of times now, and it never ceases to amaze and astound. There is always something new, and the feeling of excitement as you walk through the gates of the parks and attractions is second to none!