Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Miami, Disney World and Sea World Orlando

Flying to Miami from Singapore is one long journey (27h approximately) but thank god I had a great travel agent from Chan Brothers who got me a relatively good deal with Continental Airlines for S$2433. However, this still entailed a stopover in Narita, Tokyo and Newark, New Jersey.

Delayed flights
My flight to Tokyo (6.5h) was unfortunately delayed by an hour due to crew rest so I had to stand in line for 1h at the airport to be rebooked on other transit flights as it was impossible for me to make the Continental connections. As Continental code shares on Star Alliance, I was then booked on American Airlines for the Tokyo(NRT)-New York(JFK) and New York(JFK)-Miami(MIA) legs. Can we say New Yorrrkkk, concrete jungle where dreams are made of!

Changi Airport Terminal 3 and JFK Terminal 9

Things to note when heading to the U.S.: You must apply for your ESTA Visa Waiver in advance and make sure you have no liquids greater than 100ml in your hand carry. All liquids must be in a ziploc bag and do know your U.S. address by heart (be it a hotel or residential address. You will be asked repeatedly for the address).

When making a connection at NRT: If you land in T1 and need to head to T2 for an international connecting flight, go to the gate indicated as "International Connecting Flights" for a secondary baggage check then head down 1 level to Gate 28A. From there, take the airport shuttle to T2. If taking American Airlines, head to the AA counter to get your boarding pass issued. Do show your baggage tag at the AA counter (this is manned by a local Japanese so she has no clue when you ask for an upgrade or if you can book a Premium Economy seat... what a douche).

Opinion of American Airlines: Ok service and not too horrible food (beef rice or salmon pasta) for a 12h flight. 2-5-2 seat configuration. Movies are pretty recent although selection is not as great as SQ.

Arriving at JFK: For international travelers entering U.S. at the first transit point, you do need to check out of immigration and get your bag from the belt. However, DO NOT rush out as there is a belt just before the exit for baggage that is for transit. Indicate to the airport staff that you are still sending your bag to another airport and they will tell you which gate you are to go next. JFK is pretty easy to navigate so head up to the 3rd level to the Departure gate and go through the baggage search again. Shoes/jackets/watches have to be taken of.

Arriving at MIA: There is no passport check at Miami International. You sail out of the airport and straight to bag collection (which doubles up as the arrival hall so you can chat with whoever is picking you up while waiting for your bag to exit).

Hello Miami!
It takes about 15mins to get from the airport to El Portal (where I was bunking) via the I-95. Since it was close to midnight, I hit the sack pretty early as it was my 2-year old nephew's Birthday party in the morning. Lots of kids, bouncy house and adults being kids.

The Bouncy House, Pilot the dog and a cute Elmo cake

Lion Country Safari
The Lion Country Safari is 1h from downtown Miami by car. This drive-through safari allows you to stop and take pictures from within the comforts of your car. Get a Groupon for a good deal on entrance fee. There are over 800 animals here and while the lions are caged up, the rest of the animals are free roaming. Do go to the safari early as the cars do line up later in the afternoon (we reached around 9-10am).

Random animals from Lion Country Safari

An hour from the Lion Country Safari is The Gardens Mall at Palm Beach Gardens. Some notable shops here would be the only H&M in Miami (2h from downtown Miami), Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Nordstrom, Saks 5th Ave, Sears, A&F, Hollister, Gap, VS, Bath & Body Works etc. Food-wise, the food court is pretty decent with Subway, Teppanyaki, pizza and tacos.

Disney World, Orlando
Orlando is a 3.5-4h drive from Miami. Closer to the Disney Theme Park (opens at 8am), you will start to see purple signs leading you to the car park. Disney World is so huge it has its own freeways, lake, petrol kiosk and hotels. On reaching the car park, take either the tram or walk to the ticketing booth. 1-day tickets are priced at US$86 for adults and there is no discount applicable for 1-day tickets. After entry, take the monorail or ferry to reach Magic Kingdom.

Entering Disney World and its own lake

Entrance to Magic Kingdom... Let the Memories Begin

Rides completed in Disney World:
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - Kiddy ride
  • It's a small world - mild raft ride that shows you the different nationalities of the world
  • Space Mountain - Roller coaster in the dark (80mins wait time)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean - mild raft ride with 1-2 drops
  • A Dream Come True Parade (3pm) - All your favorite Disney characters and prince & princesses
  • Country Bear Jamboree - Song and dance show by bears
  • Splash Mountain - steep 5-storey drop off a roller coaster. I was in the 1st row and got soaked (Fast pass for 5.20-6.20pm)
  • Walt Disney World Railroad - Goes 1 round Magic Kingdom and stops at Main Street
  • Tomorrowland Indy Speedway - easy driving ride for adults and kids

Along Main Street

Icons of Disney World

Things to note:
  • Watch out as there are alot of strollers and designated stroller parking zones
  • Take note of show times, parade and fireworks times and character greeting times
  • Take the fast pass for the popular rides
  • Every 'Land' has a restaurant so do take a park map to see where you want to dine. We ate at Tortuga Tavern across from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and had beef burritos and taco salad (approx US$10/ea)

A Dream Come True Parade

We left Disney World around 7pm and were completely knackered. Finding our town house (Oakwater Resort) proved to be a real treasure hunt. More on Oakwater in the hotel review below. Dinner was just a simple pepperoni pizza from Cici's Pizza (best damn pizza I've ever had!!)

Sea World, Orlando
Sea World is a mere 20-30mins from Oakwater and near the Orlando Premium Outlet at Vineland Ave. Sea World opens at 9am and if you are from the U.S. Military, you get 4 free tickets every year for Sea World. Entrance costs US$76 and you are subjected to a bag check prior to entry.

Rides and shows completed in Sea World:
  • Manta - crazy roller coaster ride where you are suspended flush to the ground
  • Blue Horizons - Whale and dolphin show
  • Dolphin cove - see/feed/touch dolphins
  • Alligators - can't see much
  • Manatee Rescue - 3 manatees recuperating from injuries
  • Jewel of Atlantis - steep drop off a roller coaster into splashing water
  • Penguin Encounter - Housing the arctic penguins. It snows in the tank
  • Pacific Point Preserve - feed and see the sea lions
  • Nautilus Theater - Cirque du Soleil wannabe acrobatic show
  • Shark Encounter - pretty sad excuse of a shark exhibit
  • Kraken - I did not take this rollercoaster though it is on the Top 10 list in the U.S.
  • Clyde and Seamore take Pirate Island - Sea Lion and Otter show (pretty entertaining)
  • Water works at Shamu's Happy Harbor - as we had a 2-year old with us who loves water, this water playground will keep kids entertained for hours
  • Believe - Shamu Stadium for the orcas show. As you know, an orca here killed its trainer before so no trainers are allowed in the water now. Though the show starts at 5pm, a long queue starts at 4pm and they will sit you around 415pm. Rows 1-8 will get very wet as you are in the soak zone. Possibly, you can buy a shamu towel for US$10 to stay dry
  • Wild Arctic - beluga whales, walrus and polar bears are housed in this icy domain

Dolphin show

Dolphins in dolphin cove

Orcas' show

Clyde and Seamore take Pirate Island

After a long day at Sea World, our party decided to have some Chinese food for dinner at the Ace Plus Chinese Buffet near our town house. American-Chinese food is NOT like Asian style Chinese food so don't be picky. They do serve pizzas and nuggets too.

Miami Weather: 19 to 29c (very hot in the day with occasional rains)
Orlando Weather: 13 to 31c (cold in the mornings but burning hot in the afternoon)
Orlando Hotel: Oakwater Resort (booked from Florida Magic Vacation)
Orlando Hotel Review: Check-in at 3pm but an extremely nice town house in a gated residential area. Only screw-up is that if you arrive past check-in hours, you have to drive to their office which is next to TGIF and get the keys from a numbered box. Then, you follow the instructions given and drive to the gated area (this could be somewhat frustrating at night).

Sitting and kitchen area

There are 2 bedrooms with 2 bathrooms (1 en-suite), kitchen, dining and living areas. I took the twin room which had CARS furniture and Mickey Mouse painted on the wall. The town house was really clean but you have to bring your own toiletries, water, food and snacks. Trash has to be taken out upon check-out and a US$65 cleaning fee prevails. Check-out is at 10am.

Mickey themed room and the CARS furniture
Posted by fongie on 4/06/2011 09:38:00 PM in , , , , , , ,