pancakelizard

Florida 2014 Trip Report

Posted on October 21, 2014
hello

this was our 6th trip in 7 years, and we were'nt really planning on going as we are saving for a house, but after we got bought flights for O's 30th and cheap accommodation at our friends villa, after the year at work we've both had, we were in desperate need of some time away to relax. so for this trip the emphasis was on taking it easy! it definitely did the job :)

we had pre-loaded the fairfx card with around $1200, took around $60 in cash. we took $200 out at an ATM whilst there, but everything else went on the plastic. we topped up the fairfx a couple of times while we were out there. we came home with $1.26 left on it, so no need to change any money back!)

thurs 2nd - the flight!

up at 5am, picked up at 6:30, airport for ~7am, no queue at baggage checkin, ~10 min wait at security.

plane leaves bang on time, great flight. only issue was the "flight tracker" wasn't working on the tv

arrive at sanford. through immigration in 15 mins, but waited around 20 mins for bags to finally come out, straight to the counter at alamo, no hard sell, straight to the lot and into a mazda cx5 SUV.

straight down the toll road, stop off at publix for supplies. tried to pay on fairfx card. asked for pin. despite entering the correct pin, it would accept it. turns out i was selecting DEBIT (im sure thats what i did in the past when using it?!) so ended up spending it on my halifax clarity backup card

total ~$90

fri 3rd

up early and in the pool.

target - $21.32

dollar tree for random bits - $18.84

AYCE breakfast at sizzler on the 192. average food, not as much of a selection as i was expecting. $17.94 for two including drinks

walmart big shop - $239.94

liquor store for posh vodka (belvedere) and some flavoured smirnoff miniatures - $31.75

 

total $329.79

sat 4th

premium outlets (vineland) - get free VIP voucher book. realise the bose store is at the other outlets. disney outlet $21.32, claires $17.04

premium outlets (i-drive) - get VIP booklet. bose store. get refurb soundlink mini (as new with full warranty, $179 vs $199 for new) plus carry case with 10% off

other claires - $16.61

5 guys in the food court, great burger (as always) - $12.55 for bacon cheeseburger and regular fries

O had bourbon chicken, which was ok… (cost around $10 inc drink - paid cash)

trip to wholefoods (turns out we went to one at winter park (theres one much closer on sandlake rd).  winter park is a *beautiful* area. definitely up there with windermere as a place i would like to live!. bought sushi and some biscuits/cake - $23.54

cash machine at the bank at champions gate. get $200. cost $3 in atm fees plus $2 in fairfx fees ($205)

silver spurs arena, kissimee. $20pp entry. well worth the trip hotdogs/burger/nachos/beers were all around $4/5 each

total - approx $160 (not including cash withdrawal and the bose store!)
 rodeo-hotdogs rodeo2rodeo1

sun 5th

wake up with terrible heartburn, 6am trip to 24hr walgreens for antacid and bits $14.17

circle k for redbulls, coffee and breakfast (grim. sausage and egg croissant. AVOID! it was like a greasy tasteless egg mcmuffin. i should have paid a bit extra and gone over the road to mcdonalds!) $11.96

universal IOA. did all the wet rides as well as harry potter $17 parking

publix for bits $58.29

pool for a few hours then HHN at US at opening time, did the bulk of the houses early on before the queues got silly as well as transformers (good, but just a re-themed spiderman ride), the mummy, and rip-it-rock-it TWICE (although the music wasnt working for some reason)

stop off for a huge bottle of wine from walgreens on the way home $10.69

up drinking wine and floating in the pool till 4am

 

total - $112.11 (but included shopping and booze for a few days)

HHN1thepurgeHHN2HHN3HHN4transformers

mon 6th

late one - didnt wake up till nearly noon

florida mall. second 5 guys of the trip, got a hotdog this time though (o had her first 5guys burger) - plus regular fries $16.80

walmart for steak and veg - $61.49

liquor store for posh vodka (grey goose citron) and some more smirnoff miniatures- $34.08

steak dinner and champagne in the villa

total - $112.37 (but included shopping and booze for a few days)
 5guys2

tue 7th

bubbalou's bodacious bar-b-que (kirkman rd branch) $41.17 including tip. two types of meat and a bunch of sides for around $16 each. lovely stuff!

top up with fuel $30 - takes it from almost empty to one bar off full.

CHVRCHES at HOB/DTD. parking was a nightmare. ended up at the opposite end of dtd. the place is a building site. the walk in between the two halves is a bit boring due to all the boards being up. after the gig, they were handing out free tickets for lykke li on thursday! spent around $20 on drinks

http://www.bubbalous.com

 

total - around $90

bubbalous2 bubbalous chvrches dtd

wed 8th

festival bay mall - trip through bass pro to find out the entrance into the mall is now completely closed, so back out and walk round to the end to cinemark to see Guardians of the Galaxy. $23.10 for two inc large drink and some chocolate

back into bass pro for a wander round then off to nagoya sushi at dr phillips. got a $25 voucher from restaurant.com. some of the best sushi ive ever had (again) - the teriyaki beef roll is to die for! - $59.67 inc tip

back to the villa in time for the season premiere of american horror story:freakshow (twisty the clown is a new classic horror character, and i want a mask like that for halloween!)

 

total - $82.77
basspro basspro2 nagoya2 nagoya1

thurs 9th

golden corral nr universal AYCE breakfast - $18.51 for two. not great food though. decent selection, but a lot of it was dripping in grease. self-serve fruit juice, but the guy waiting our table was really nice so left a reasonable tip...

universal studios ($17 parking)

new harry potter section absolutely rammed. 75+ min wait for rides, so skipped them and did the rest of the park (15 mins for everything else apart from transformers)

was going to lykke li at HOB, but still felt really tired after a late night by the pool with a bit too much wine. other option was HHN. ended up nipping to publix for more steak (do we do a gig, a horror night, or just relax and drink wine/eat steak? ITS A TOUGH LIFE BEING ON HOLIDAY!)

trip to publix for amazing steak and some bits - $49.38

total - $84.89 
 potterworld gringotts kingscrossribeye

fri 10th

lie-in / pool day waiting for a fedex delivery (it stated on the tracker that a signature was required. first time this has happened!). the parcel arrived around 1pm, so made some quick plans based on the unallocated stuff to do on ourtripit.com itinerary:

lakeridge winery tour in clermont. about 20 miles north of cagans crossing walmart on the US27. you cant really miss it, theres a huge sign for it on the opposite side of the road (although dont take the immediate left turn after the sign, thats the prison!

the tour is free and runs every hour most days of the week till around 5pm. we got there just after 3pm, and it was the last one of the day (they were closing early as they had a special event the next day)... watch a short video about it all, then do a short tour of the winery before heading to the bar for a wine tasting session. there were about 8 bottles we sampled, going from dry to sweet (you get a decent swig of them, so be careful not to drink them all if youre driving!) - its more about smelling and tasting them than actually drinking them, and a small sip goes a long way. we ended up finding two bottles i really liked, so bought one of each (they range from around $8 to around $20 a bottle with discounts for cases, so could be worth doing this early on in the trip and buying a case (or two) for your stay as you're limited in how much you can bring home.

http://www.lakeridgewinery.com

$39.55 for two really nice bottles of wine, and a couple of posh winestoppers (one for fizzy bottles, one for normal)

topped up SUV with $35 fuel at a wa-wa on the way home, where it was $3.11/gallon!

back to the villa for an hour to cover ourselves in mosquito repellant before heading down to silvermoon drive-in ($5pp). due to the arrangement this time, we only stayed for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (it was being repeated at 9pm, and couldnt be bothered waiting till 11pm for the next film - last time they alternated so got to see both and still finished around 11pm) spent approx $17 on snacks

 

total - $101.55 (a third of which was fuel though)

sat 11th

universal - get to US early on, gringotts was closed, so get the hogwarts express over to IOA to do the wet rides again as well as a few others (including spiderman and suess landing for the first time this trip) - $15.79 for a chicken burger with fries, extra portion of fries and a brownie to share at cirkus mcgurkus

back to the villa around 2pm for a nap/swim and to get ready to go to HHN.

get to HHN, but when they scan our tickets, we find out the frequent fear tickets are only valid sunday to friday (ie not saturdays!) - console ourselves with a drink at citywalk instead before heading back to the villa via walgreens for more wine

$17 parking plus approx $25 on drinks at citywalk

 

total - approx $60

citywalkband citywalk

sun 12th

mall@millennia trip including the cheesecake factory (starter to share and two mains plus drinks) - $61.23 inc tip

makeup and stuff at macys - $113 - make sure you ask at the payment counter for your international discount (10% off. you may need to flash a passport/driving licence, but we didnt)

stop off at the bose outlet (i-drive premium outlets) with another VIP booklet and get 10% off the "refurbished" QC3 noise cancelling headphones (works out at around £130 which is less than half of uk prices!), then to the disney outlet for presents ($90). back to the villa for a quiet evening.

 

total $61.23 plus around $400 on presents/shiny things

mon 13th

columbus day. get up, skip breakfast and go to THE KNIFE for lunch. all you can eat argentinian meat buffet where you can get a slab of steak the size of your head as well as all the meat you can swallow for just over a tenner a head. The beef ribs are something like out of the flintstones! absolute bargain, and why its not very busy, i have no idea! (it was starting to pick up a bit by the time we left though - i guess we just got there early) they are on groupon regularly, but unless you plan on eating there on a friday/saturday evening, it doesnt really work out any cheaper than just turning up...

couple of hours letting the meat settle by floating in the pool before getting changed and off to MNSSHP

4pm arrive at MK, queues seems quite long, but then realise its because they havent kicked everyone else out of the park yet. mine train is a 2 hour wait, so go on space mountain instead. longest queue barring mine train is half an hour, so do all the rides apart from splash mountain, get around 3kg of halloween candy (to be taken to our respective workplaces when we get home), catch the early parade, which leaves us time after the fireworks to do a few more rides (including space mountain again), however its still 45+ mins for mine train, so decide to leave it till our next visit any excuse to come back!)

Theres a lot of building work in between main street and the castle, i believe they are building a new plaza area so people can view the fireworks a bit better. theres a pic i took over the top of the fencing in case you wanted to see progress!

$45.00 for two including tip at the knife

$17.00 parking at MK

drinks and some food at MK approx $30

 

total - approx $92

 

http://www.thekniferestaurant.com

theknife3 theknife1 theknife4 theknife2
MNSSHP MNSSHP2 MKfireworks MKparade
MKlake MK-buildingworks

tue 14th

was hoping to go to the international independent showmens association museum in gibsonton (near tampa) followed by a beach day in sarasota, but the weather really wasnt up to it. the first real rain we've had all holiday. it was really cloudy during the day, and thunderstorms pretty much all afternoon and early evening. had a lazy day, did our packing, where we realised we were ~25kg underweight, so went to walmart to buy a 4th suitcase and *all* the goodies!

http://www.internationalindependentshowmensmuseum.org/

(will definitely be going next time though. hopefully by then you wont have to book a tour in advance)

 

total - around $300 but nearly all of that was stuff to bring home, so i'm going for $0!

  walmarthaul

wed 15th

last full day, again the weather wasnt great when we got up. went to ponderosa on the 192 (next to the dirty wizard) for a late breakfast. arrived just before a scottish party of around 12 people, so waited to pay for longer than usual as they were jiggling around their kids eat free cards and 10% off coupons to try and maximise their discount. was also being served by the same waitress, so we were definitely ignored in favour of the large group (waited an eternity to get my drink refilled, and had to ask instead of her asking us... despite topping up my gf's coffee and clearly eyeing up my empty glass she didnt ask if i wanted a refill!) - $19.01 for two AYCE buffets/drinks. was the best buffet by far, just a shame service was poor (this time), left a couple of dollars tip. one for each refill...

the original plan was to go to HS/epcot for the F&W festival, but decided to save our no-expiry tickets for the next trip. instead we were going to do universal/HHN as we missed out on a second night there due to our own incompetence... but as the weather was still fairly bad we sacked that off too, and went to shoot some guns at oak ridge gun range for a few hours. the staff there are lovely, and i shot my first proper rifle too - it blew the targets to smithereens!

cost $115.59 for two of us on one lane, using three relatively large guns (more expensive ammo)

http://www.oakridgegunrange.com/

before we went out, we bought tickets for orlando magic vs brazil flamengo basketball at the amway center on stubhub. tickets were as low as $5 each if you didnt mind being near the back, but we got some *great* seats for $20 each. just print them out ($0.45 at the UPS store at champions gate) and show them at the door. the tickets also included free 20oz bottles of pepsi products at walgreens, so stopped off to pick those up (cherry pepsi and raspberry smirnoff work well together!)

the basketball was great fun. possibly my favourite US sport so far - really easy to work out what was going on compared to the others, and lots of action.

parking nearby cost $10 (lincoln plaza - https://www.google.com/maps/place/31+W+South+St,+Orlando,+FL+32801/@28.5384357,-81.3795128,19z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x88e77b01e51b221d:0xe2ae422b52d0a31e ) - there were plenty of other parking places nearby which were all also $10.

food/drinks were all around $5-10 each. speant around $30 in total

total - approx $215, half of which was at the gun range

thu 16th - last day. 

had to be out around 1pm to go to the airport, so the day was spent final packing, where we discovered we were very close (if not over) to our 60kg limit. took out the MNSSHP sweets and split them up into 3 bags so we could easily dump one or more of them at the airport - stuff we wanted, stuff we didnt care about that we could give to our cow-orkers, and stuff we didnt care about that you could get in the uk (milky way/twix/m&ms/etc)... rejigged the bags a bit, had a couple of hours floating in the pool, then tidy up, empty the fridge and make packup for the flight, tip the remainder of the vodka into the cherry pepsi bottles for when we get to the airport, then take the drive back to SFB.

topped up the car at the circle k at champions gate where fuel is around $3.08 a gallon... ask why it has dropped by over 20c since we got there, apparently the US have discovered a large amount of natural oil reserves recently, so prices are plummeting!

topped up with $15 which takes it to nearly full once more, then do a final topup just off the 419 a couple of miles outside of SFB. $10 takes it back up to completely full.

drop the car off, the receipt shows no charges are due (not counting the tolls) and check in the bags... whilst in the queue, there were two people on the desk who were obviously sticking right to the weight limits and making people dump stuff. we got lucky, and got another woman, who we immediately started chatting to about the fact the radio was playing taylor swift *again* - how could you listen to the same 5 songs every day over and over without going nuts?!

anyway, she didnt even weigh our carry-on! turns out the 60kg was *just* under (my carry-on bag was definitely over 5kg, but not by much).. check bags in, go outside for a smoke and to drink the leftover booze (no need to pay airport bar prices!)

through security straight away with no issues, then a quick trip to duty free, a smoke outside, and its time to board the plane.

didnt sleep much on the way home though, which was unusual for me... didnt help i was sat on the aisle in the middle section next a random guy who was of similar build to me... the main issue is shoulder space. one of us could put our arms down on the armrest, but the other had to sit pretty much arms folded. made things definitely quite uncomfortable (we kept switching over) - whoever decided that 3-3-3 was a good plan needs shooting! for 90% of holiday travellers, this configuration just doesnt work. 2-5-2 or 2-4-3 would be much better IMO

landed at 6:15am so the flight was just over 7 hours), got off the plane, and due to where we got on the bus (last of the three buses, on the last set of doors) we ended up literally the first people through security! baggage came out relatively quickly, and we were greeted by our prebooked taxi home (4 suitcases plus other bits on the skylink for 90 mins? no thanks!)

was home and in bed by 8am. jetlag-wise, friday and saturday were mostly a writeoff, sunday wasnt too bad, and i was back at work on monday morning with only a couple of pro plus to get me through it, so i would say the dreamliner's jetlag effects are *definitely* reduced compared to other planes, as in the past its knocked me sideways for up to 5 days in previous years.

we topped up the car with around $120 in fuel (return full as we didnt prepay for a tank using alamo brits) and did around 1100 miles. car computer said we got around 26mpg...

 

total spent (kinda) $1591.71 = $113.69 per day, although  some of that was on jewellery/makeup/stuff though so is probably closer to $100/day

 

there were some other shopping trips for food and booze, but these werent really essentials unless you like a drink! including all the presents and other things we brought back with us, theres around another $1000 which works out at ~$175 per day - i would say that $150 a day for a couple is a perfectly reasonable budget, although we probably would have spent more if we had spent more time in the parks. we saved a lot of money by eating in the villa a fair bit (we tended to have at least one main meal out per day) - why eat out all the time when you can eat MASSIVE great quality ribeye steaks for less than $10 each!?

we came back with far too much stuff, but enough goodies to last us till our next trip in a couple of years time. now we can concentrate on buying a house and moving sometime in the next few months!

annyong  
Filed under: blog, Florida No Comments

Pulled Pork Recipe

Posted on June 18, 2013

If like me, you love eating pulled pork whilst on holiday in florida, then why not make your own? it really is easy... you just need a suitable receptacle that will fit in a large pork joint, and a few hours to cook it. preparation time is maybe 10 minutes at the start and maybe 10 minutes at the end.

pulledpork

you will need:

  • slow cooker, or casserole dish (with lid)
  • a couple of forks
  • a reasonably sharp knife to remove the skin from the joint

ingredients:

  • 1 large pork shoulder joint
  • 1-2 roughly chopped chilli peppers (these can be left out if you don't like it having a bit of a kick)
  • 2 large dried mexican peppers (you can get a big bag of them from publix - these are for flavour, not heat)
  • large glug ofapple cider vinegar
  • 3-4T soft brown sugar (muscavado works well, but demerara is ok)
  • 2T english mustard
  • 2T Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 large onions - one roughly diced, one quartered
  • 2-4 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • mug of water or chicken/pork stock

plus, assorted smoky/barbecue sauce/spices. if youre feeling lazy, half a jar of reggae reggae sauce will do, but i just add whatever herbs and spices i have lying around in my cupboard that i think will work... paprika, cumin & cayenne work well amongst others

instructions:

remove the skin from the joint, coat the joint in mustard and stock it on your pot along with all the other ingredients. add enough water/stock to cover the onions (about 2 inches) - stick it in the oven on a medium heat, or in your slow cooker...

cook for AT LEAST 4 hours, ideally 5-6 or more, but if you're in a rush, it can be done in 2-3 if you make more of an effort to shred the meat with your forks and cut the joint into smaller chunks to cook it quicker. the longer and slower, the better though! if it is done properly, you shouldn't have to make any effort in shredding it with your forks!

if you have too much liquid near the end, just add in a bit of cornstarch you have pre-mixed in a bit of warm water (to avoid it going all lumpy).. just drop it in the pot and stir it in in the last 20 minutes of cooking to thicken it up nicely.

get some nice fresh crusty bread rolls (i like the square ciabatta style ones with seeds on top you get from the bakery counter at tesco/waitrose/etc), slice open, and fill with barbecued pork goodness! or maybe server with vegetable rice (like in the photo)

florida: satnav or maps?

Posted on May 10, 2013

a lot of people ask "do i need a satnav, and should i hire one from the car hire place"...

the answers to that are "need? no, but it definitely makes things easier, and rent from car hire? HELL NO!"

a satnav to hire as part of your car deal will probably cost you the best part of £100. a complete waste of money!

jesus-carpark

so what are the options?

paper maps. fine, but i'm a geek, and i LOVE shiny new gadgets. plus, with a satnav, you end up arguing a lot less with your navigator because they are rubbish at reading maps/roadsigns. also, a satnav takes one of the biggest stresses out of driving in an unknown place. it guides you, so you are free to concentrate on the actual driving... one map i definitely recommend is steve (aka mapman)'s map. it contains loads of useful information and is updated regularly. but the villa we stay in is just off the bottom of the map, so has its flaws. i find it good to just look over it beforehand though, use it for inspiration of places to go/eat more than actual navigation. proper roadmaps are another option, but once you get a satnav, these things just sit in your boot taking up room as they are just so fiddly to look at when driving! :)

the roads in florida are pretty easy to navigate, so you could always do without, but again, i find a satnav reduces the chances of an argument and getting lost. even seasoned florida travellers still get lost occasionally (friends had a posh meal booked and got so lost they ended up coming home with mcdonalds. they bought a satnav after that!)

so, in my opinion, its a no-brainer... but then theres loads of options....

  • plenty of people  have hired before they go from ebay/etc and im not aware of many problems doing that it usually costs £20-30 for a two week trip and you just post it back to them when you get home.
  • personally though, if you already have a uk satnav, i would see how much it costs to add US maps to that one instead. my current one was £35 during a tomtom sale, but i also had an £8 off code (theres always loads floating around, just google "tomtom £8" or "tomtom code" for current ones (or try hotukdeals to see if they are on there). garmin do their on SD cards, i believe ebay could be a source of those, but i wouldnt know)
  • dont worry too much about it having "old" maps on it either... even if its a few years old, there wont be *that* many changes to the roads, and youll still evetually get to your destination - you just need to use common sense and read road signs instead of blindly relying on where the satnav tells you to go!
  • theres also the option of buying a cheap one out there. you can get them for as little as £35 or so from walmart. look on the walmart website for whats available. refurbished units are a good option on there, but they are only usually available as the "deliver and collect from chosen store" or deliver to your hotel/villa options, you cant just walk into a store and get one usually. If you can do without for the trip from the airport to your accommodation (or use a paper map/smartphone) then this is a viable and well priced option. plus, you could always sell it back on to someone else once you get back home and make back the bulk of what it cost you (or more in some cases!)
  • finally, theres smartphones/tablets. google maps with pre-cached areas, navfree, or loads of other free/cheap satnav apps. preload the maps, turn data off so it just uses gps (be careful about making sure this is done properly!) and make sure you have a car charger as they drain your battery pretty quick. its an option, and i used to swear by my old nokia with tomtom mobile on it, but these days i would much rather have a dedicated unit. ive got my phone as a backup, but i would never choose it as my primary navigation device. other people swear by them though. i guess its what you are used to and how much money you want to spend on something...

theres plenty of people who will disagree and say driving over there without a satnav is easy... but i *guarantee* you, once theyve gotten lost, had a massive argument with their partner and come home with a big mac instead of an extremely posh romantic meal in their belly... they too will be bigging up satnavs as well. do you want to take that risk? :)

Filed under: blog, Florida No Comments

booking a DIY holiday to florida

Posted on April 12, 2013

people seem to be scared of booking a DIY holiday to florida, but if you are flexible with your arrangements, and want to customise every aspect of your holiday, there are MASSIVE savings to be had if you can jiggle things around a bit...

all florida-related posts are kept in the florida post category over there>>>

but over the course of a few more posts, i'll expand upon each section below (and link to them from this index)

firstly, read my original tips'n'tricks post

then you need to sort out:

  • Flights
  • accommodation
  • insurance
  • ESTAs - never pay more than teh $14 the official site charges. there are unscrupulous sites advertising on seach engines that will charge admin fees on top, or say they offer a "fast track" application process. THIS IS A SCAM. IGNORE THEM ALL APART FROM THE OFFICIAL SITE!
  • passports
  • park tickets
  • car hire (or airport transfers/transport arrangements depending on where you are staying)
  • travel to airport/parking/hotel
  • money

then when it is all booked you need to arrange:

 

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Yellow Dog Eats

Posted on October 23, 2012

We went to Yellow Dog Eats just over a week ago, after wanting to go since last year, and it was BY FAR the best meal we have had this holiday!

Seriously, it was proper lovely. Everything we ordered was AMAZING!

we had nachos, a pulled pork sandwich, A veggie sandwich, and several cakes. Even the coleslaw was magical!

If you are going to Orlando soon, add it to your list of places to visit. It's about 15 mins drive from universal...

Http://yellowdogeats.com

I brought back a bottle of their hot sauce and a big bottle of what they call citrus BBQ sauce, but is nothing like normal BBQ, it's more mustard based I think. Tasty as hell though!

the walls and tables are covered in "graffiti" (people scribbling their names/locations/messages). the decor is very similar to my favourite place in the whole wide world - the hill st blues cafe in amsterdam, so i felt right at home as soon as i walked in. The owner, Fish, LOVES dogs too, and the walls are covered in photos of (i assume customers?) dogs.

there are no bookings/reservations, just turn up and sit at a table where there's some space!

the wine selection there is also amazing

 

pulled pork nachos

veggie spinach wrap

the elvis! (pulled pork with peanut butter!)

seriously, make sure you check this place out. it makes you realise just how rubbish the food is at most of the places you visit during your holiday!

my next trip, i shall be tracking down http://www.orlandosfoodtrucks.com and other more independent great food places. i think i'm done as far as i-drive style chain restaurants are concerned!

that being said... for years i've been loving the burgers from chillis. this time i went to five guys in florida mall and realised just how rubbish the chillis burger is in comparison!

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Florida spending money and best exchange rates…

Posted on September 14, 2012

Should i buy my dollars now, or should i wait till nearer the time? what if it suddenly drops massively? do you think it will go up in the next few weeks?

questions like these get asked all the time on thedibb, and if any of us could answer it, we wouldnt be spending our days posting on bulletin boards, we would be out there making millions of pounds for large banks! Theres no way to tell whether it will go up or down, and people who remember the period where it was $2 to the pound or higher long for those days to come back.... it aint gonna happen anytime soon, so dont hold your breath!

In reality, the $2=£1 thing was a blip on an otherwise relatively stable chart. the fact is, prices have hovered around the 1.50-1.60 mark for most of the time. And if youre worried about it going up or down before you go, hedge your best! buy some NOW, and the rest just before you go, that way it evens out over the two periods. should you wait an extra day or two as it has been rising recently? maybe. who knows!? it might just go back down again, and youll be kicking yourself over it. BUY CURRENCY AT AN EXCHANGE RATE YOU ARE HAPPY WITH!set yourself a mental note of a price you will be happy with. for me it is $1.55 or above. $1.60 or above i will be VERY happy with!

So where is best to get money from? and should i use cash? travellers cheques? prepay mastercard? or just my normal credit/debit card?

again, different methods suit different people. personally though, travellers cheques are a thing of the past. and ALL CASH is also a bad idea - check your travel insurance, i bet you it doesnt cover you for losses of more than a few hundred dollars in cash! (also, check your house insurance, a similar rule will be in place if you get burgled before you go on holiday)

In America, the credit card is king. it is accepted literally everywhere. americans use them like we use debit cards. in the UK though, a lot of cards carry conversion/transaction fees, so using it to pay for a $25 meal probably isnt the best ides. this is where PREPAY MASTERCARDS come in useful!

I use a FairFX card and have done since 2008, it is consistently one of the best exchange rates, and usually a LOT better than nipping to your local bureau de change (and dont even THINK about buying at the airport unless you have prepaid online!). as always though, dont put all your eggs in one basket! this is what i usually do:

  • a few hundred dollars in cold hard cash for spending on tips, tolls/parking and the handful of other places where cash is easier (ice cream stands in the parks for example!) - if i need more cash, i go to an ATM and withdraw it from the prepay card.
  • around $1000-1500 on the fairfx prepay card. if topups are needed, i do this online whilst at the villa
  • multiple credit cards for larger purchases and emergencies
the multiple options are necessary. there have been occasions where people have had problems using their prepay card due to a bank outage. you should ALWAYS have a backup form of payment! what if you get ill and need urgent medical treatment? yes, your insurance will (probably) cover it, but theres a good chance you will have to pay something out to begin with before you can claim it back again. having credit available doesnt mean i'm going to go nuts on my spending though! only spend what you can afford to pay back! :)
but yeah. i cannot fault the fairfx card. they also have a pretty good rate for actual cash too. and if you click this link, you can get a FREE CARD (it is usually a tenner if you go via the main website)

have a read on MSE, they are much better at explaining all the technicalities and stuff as well as keeping up to date with what is the best deal

finally, how much should you budget for?

this is like asking how long a piece of string is! how much can you afford? how many of you are going? for how long? are you staying in a hotel or villa? are you planning on eating out all the time, or just some of the time?

from personal experience, for two of us, staying in a villa for two weeks, and cooking at least one meal a day in the villa, we budget (and manage easily on) $100 a day between us. some days you will spend more, some days less. but it all averages out. this doesnt include park tickets and other excursions, or large items whilst shopping, but includes everything else. on $150 a day between us, we could live like kings! :)

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Shopping in florida

Posted on August 31, 2012

Theres loads of places to shop in orlando. Personally, i only tend to visit a few shops in the malls, but end up just hanging out and mooching free wifi from places like the apple store while my GF goes off and does some proper shopping! most of what I want can be found at either walmart, urban outfitters (good for books and lomo camera stuff) or online at amazon.com! bear in mind that store prices dont usually include sales tax on top, so that will cost you ~7% on top of any advertised prices. If you are lucky enough to be able to get deliveries to your hotel/villa, then some absolute bargains can be had on geek toys as in the past, amazon's prices are the price you pay (ie no additional taxes) - so buying apple kit from there compared to the apple store will usually be at least 7% cheaper.

Add to this the "apple tax" you get on UK prices and you could potentially save hundreds of pounds on apple kit.

Bear in mind you are only allowed an allowance of £390 (a fraction over $600 at current exchange rates).. on top of that you are meant to declare it and pay tax/duty. Whether you do or not is up to you, I cant recommend that you do it, just be aware of the potential consequences!

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING ELECTRICALS IN THE US:

  • is it dual voltage? (ie if it plugs into the mains, will the PSU work on 240v as well as 110v? A stepdown converter may be needed
  • if it charges via USB, you will need to source a UK plug>USB. these days any self-respecting geek will already have several of these anyway! failing that, you can charge it from your computer...
  • are there any region locks on the device? (original nintendo DS games are region free, but 3DS games are region-locked! will that US console work with the games you buy in the uk, or will you have to import everything?)
  • what if it breaks down? does the warranty cover the UK? apple kit is worldwide, a lot of things bought at walmart are covered if you return them to asda in the uk, but a lot of other things may not be covered. is it worth the savings if the item breaks down after 3 months and you cannot return it easily?
  • is it actually that much cheaper? some things are much cheaper in the US, other things, not so much. especially items made in the UK! also, things like cameras... these days, there are still savings to be made, but at current exchange rates, there is sometimes only a few quid difference in price between the UK and the US. research your prices. is it really worth saving $10 on that camera when you get a full UK warranty when you buy it over here?
heres some useful mall info for those who prefer doing their shopping in person :)

http://yavin4.gofreeserve.com/mallStores/viewMallStores.php

The Mall at Millenia
4200 Conroy Road
Orlando, FL 32839
http://www.mallatmillenia.com

Florida Mall
8001 S Orange Blossom Trail
Orlando, FL 32809-9132
http://www.simon.com/mall/default.aspx?ID=139

Orlando Premium Outlets - Vineland Ave
8200 Vineland Avenue
Orlando, FL 32821
http://www.premiumoutlets.com/outlets/outlet.asp?id=17

Prime Outlets Orlando
4951 International Drive
Orlando, FL 32819
http://www.primeoutlets.com

Festival Bay Mall at International Drive
5250 International Drive
Orlando, Florida 32819
http://www.shopfestivalbaymall.com/

Altamonte Mall
451 East Altamonte Drive
Altamonte Springs, Florida 32701
http://www.altamontemall.com/

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eating out in florida

Posted on August 30, 2012

There are literally hundreds of great places to eat, to suit all tastes and budgets. personally, i like things meaty and/or spicy :)

here are just a few links to some great places... It's also worth checking for coupons and offers on a lot of places. The lists are in no particular order, and will be updated regularly as I find more interesting places to go eat! You may notice that I tend to avoid the obvious places like the bulk of international drive, as well as onsite disney and universal restaurants. They get enough publicity, heres a few places that (generally) are a bit more interesting and individual...

 

http://www.travelchannel.com/TV_Shows/Man_V_Food/Episodes_Travel_Guides/ci.ManvFoodLive.map
http://www.tvfoodmaps.com/

barbecue:
http://www.4rsmokehouse.com/
http://www.sonnysbbq.com/
http://wwwbubbalous.com
http://www.theluckypiglounge.com
http://www.mannyschophouse.com

steak and/or burgers:
http://www.donshula.com/
http://www.logansroadhouse.com/locations.aspx/FL
http://www.rachelsorlando.com/ (steaks'n'boobs! NSFW-ish!)
http://www.teakorlando.com/
http://www.fiveguys.com/locations/store-list-by-state.aspx#FL
http://www.johnnyrockets.com
http://www.hamburgermarys-orlando.com
http://www.cheeburger.com

pizza:
http://www.giordanos.com/ - check restaurant.com for discount vouchers

seafood:
http://www.angelslobsterbuffet.com  - voucher at http://www.orlandocouponsfree.com/restaurant_coupons/angel-buffet.html
http://www.redlobster.com/
http://www.joesstonecrab.com/
http://www.joescrabshack.com/locations/results/default.aspx?s=FL&c=Orlando
http://www.fultonscrabhouse.com/
http://www.bigfinseafood.com

asian:
http://www.pfchangs.com/Locations/LocationDetail.aspx?sid=9916
http://www.peiwei.com/locations/locations.aspx?state=FL&fav=0

misc:
http://yellowdogeats.com/
http://www.thecheesecakefactory.com/menu/welcome/welcome
http://www.orlandosfoodtrucks.com/p/orlandos-food-trucks.html
http://pacosmexican.com/

 

 

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other things to do in florida

Posted on August 30, 2012

If i spent two weeks going to disney every day, i would probably go mental. whilst i love it there, more than a few days each trip would just drive me nuts!

so i spend a lot of time looking for other things to do. heres a few of them, as well as a bunch of things i havent done yet, but are on my list of other things i might want to check out at some point...

 

sports:
Tampa Bay Rays (baseball) - tropicana field, st petersburg - tickets from http://www.stubhub.com/
Orlando Magic (basketball) - http://www.nba.com/magic/
loads more including ice hockey and (american) football at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sports_teams_in_Florida#Major_sports_teams 

cinema:
Silver Moon Drive-In - a proper oldskool drive-in. $4 each and you get to see TWO FILMS!
Festival Bay Cinema - not much (else) happens in festival bay, but the cinema is cheap, good quality with large comfy seats

guns!:
Oak Ridge Gun Range - it cost about $100 for two of us using a couple of guns and lasted a few hours. great fun!
Florida Firearms Adventures - half a day of proper gun training, you get to shoot all sorts of weapons including a machine gun!

gigs:
loads of venues in and around florida. in teh past we have seen weird al yankovic, mates of state and electric six. Good venues to check out include the social, the beacham and the culture room (ft lauderdale) as well as hard rock live. have a look at their sites as well as the likes of ticketmaster, pollstar and live nation to see what is happening around the time you are there...

http://www.thesocial.org/
http://www.thebeacham.com
http://www.cultureroom.net/
http://www.hardrock.com/live2/live.aspx
http://www.pollstar.com/resultsCity.aspx?ID=42921&SortBy=Date&SearchBy=orlando
http://findlocal.orlandosentinel.com/music
http://www.houseofblues.com/venues/clubvenues/orlando/
http://www.livenation.com/search?q=LOCALVENUES&dma_id=351
http://www.ticketmaster.com/search?tm_link=tm_homeA_header_search&q=orlando&search.x=0&search.y=0

swamp tour:
only one for us is SPIRIT OF THE SWAMP. captain harold is by far the best tourguide you will ever come across. funny and knowledgable, there isnt anything he doesnt know about lake tohopekaliga. sure, there are other tours out there, but they are massive boats full of random people, this is a small, personal tour (up to 6 people) and you get to stop or go back if theres something you see that is interesting or catches your eye (unlike places like boggy creek, which just dont do this sort of thing). yes, it might cost more than others, but it really is worth it. ask on the dibb forums, and youll get a hundred other happy customers too!

pissup in a brewery!
going at the end of september like us? then how about oktoberfest?! http://www.orlandobrewing.com/oktoberfest.php - failing that, how about just a normal tour of the brewery....

there are also plenty of other craft brewery type places if you like your proper beer. http://redlightredlightbeerparlour.com/ is one such example.

Daytona 500 experience:
http://www.daytona500experience.com - drive a few laps in a stupidly fast car. pretend you are tom cruise in days of thunder! failing that, just go for some speedway action.

a trip to skeggy?
florida is surrounded by loads of lovely beaches, all within an hour or so's drive to both the east coast and west coast.
http://www.cocoabeach.com/
http://www.visitsarasota.org/beaches 
http://www.miamibeachfl.gov 
http://www.visittampabay.com/visitors/beaches 
http://www.annamariaisland.com 

karting:
http://orlandokartcenter.com

paintball:
http://www.orlandopaintball.com/

crazy golf:
www.universalorlando.com/Nightlife/CityWalk-Mini-Golf.aspx - universal citywalk minigolf (new)
http://www.piratescove.net/location/5 - pirates cove
http://www.puttingedge.com/location/orlando-florida - putting edge (glow in the dark mini golf)

i'll keep this post updated as i add more things, but that should keep you occupied for at least a few days!

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florida car hire / driving tips

Posted on August 30, 2012

We generally fly into sanford, and have used both dollar/thrifty and alamo. of the two, i much preferred the cars given to us by alamo - you get to choose your car from a section instead of being allocated a specific one. last year, there was a dragster discount code for alamo, so we got a nice 7 seater SUV for not much more money than a normal car. this year we used the alamo brits link as it is cheaper than the standard price, plus you get 3 extra drivers on the insurance for free!

Have a read of the dibb's driving in florida guide. theres a few laws you should know before you drive. mostly you can turn right on a red light at a junction if clear unless it specifically says you cant, dont drive past a stopped school bus when it has its lights flashing, and always carry your paper licence part in the car, as you will be in trouble if you get stopped by the police (plus you need to take it to show at the car hire checkin desk)

my main tip though... TAKE A SAT NAV! it takes most of the stress out of driving, and cuts down on arguments caused by getting lost (no need to blame your navigator now if they are useless with maps!) - with the satnav in charge, it leaves you to actually concentrate on driving on the wrong side of the road. just make sure you keep an eye on road signs, as satnavs arent infallible, and can sometimes get you in trouble if you dont pay attention to where it is leading you! 

if you don't already have one that you can add US maps to, then either rent one before you go (ebay have them relatively cheap) or take a map, and use it to get you from the airport to the nearest walmart where you can buy one with US maps cheaply (as little as £30!) - they are considerably cheaper than renting one with your car hire. DO NOT DO THIS! ITS A RIP-OFF! - if you can, order from the walmart website for delivery to store (or your accommodation), there are some refurbished bargains on the walmart website that you wont get instore!

Finally, make sure you check what you are signing for when you pick up your car! they have a tendency to bamboozle you into signing up for extras you just dont need, like breakdown insurance, which can give you a nasty shock upon your return. confirm with the person on the desk that no extras have been added before you sign. yes, you may be tired after a 10 hour flight and just want to get out on the road, but just PAY ATTENTION!

CAR HIRE LINKS:
interesting up to date tips/info at: http://www.thedibb.co.uk/forums/showthread.php?t=526966
http://www.quidco.com/travel/car-rental/ - cashback on most popular car hire places
http://www.easycar.com/
http://www.netflights.com/car-hire.aspx

http://www.thedibb.co.uk/forums/Car-rental-p-403.html

Check the following out, as prices vary from time to time and by car, no one provider is consistently the best.

www.alamo.com/brits
www.usrentacar.co.uk

www.uscarhire.co.uk
www.netflights.co.uk
www.carhire3000.com
www.carhireflorida.net
www.auto-europe.co.uk
www.expedia.co.uk
www.Hertz.co.uk 10% using AA CDP 504335

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