On Tuesday, after discovering that I’d managed to leave my swimming shorts in the previous motel, we set off to the Typhoon Lagoon water park in Orlando. It is a part of the Disney World complex, though the inside was disappointingly/agreeably (depending on your point of view) empty in terms of Micky Mouse, Goofy et al.
As the name suggests, the park surrounds a large artificial sea, complete with a wave machine to generate an enormous swell every 90 seconds or so. Around the lagoon is a circular river full of inflatable rings, which is quite possibly the most relaxing way to cool down in Florida; the never ending loop of water flows at a gentle pace and without a bit of self-discipline it would be quite possible to spend all day floating on it.
Dotted about the park were a number of slides: some quick, some twisty, some for inflatable rafts and some for groups. They were all fun enough, but an interesting twist to the park was a cold sea-water pool full of fish, stingrays and sharks. After kitting up with a snorkel and mask, we were allowed to swim the short distance across the pool and look at the sealife beneath us.
In the late afternoon, thunder started to rumble and immediately everybody was ordered out of the water. While sitting waiting for the all-clear, Andy returned from a wander accompanied by a few familiar faces. Here in Orlando, more than 4000 miles from Durham, was my college son (don’t be alarmed, a college parent is a mentor assigned to new students at some British collegiate universities), Matt Johnston, and his two friends from Van Mildert College, David Lomax and Andrew Tattersfield. After exchanging the traditional “oh, what a small world” comments (these coincidences seem to happen surprisingly frequently to me), we laughed for a bit and went our separate ways.
The storm never actually hit the park, so once the thunder had ceased the water was re-opened. By this point, most people had given up and gone home, leaving the slides and other attractions delightfully queueless. We squeezed in as many rides as possible before closing time, then headed home via Downtown Disney.
Downtown Disney is basically a fake town with shops, bars and restaurants. After Neil and Leo bought some horrific Dolly Parton CDs from a Virgin Megastore, we ate at a restaurant and went back to the motel for the night.
The following day was the scheduled launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour from Cape Canaveral, so we were planning our activities around that. Rather than going to any particular attraction for a half day, we had a lie-in and drove to International Drive for lunch. I ate a steak with all-you-can-eat shrimp (breaded, so it was essentially scampi); I don’t know whether anyone has ever requested their plate to be refilled with shrimp because I was initially served with at least three or four times more than it was possible for me to eat alongside a steak, and I didn’t even touch my fries.
To highlight the fact that we were definitely not the only Englishmen to ever visit this town, the restaurant was next door to a British themed pub. Sadly, we didn’t go inside, but it fulfilled all of the available exterior requirements courtesy of the red phone box, Union Jack and the fact it was called the George & Dragon. We drove to a nearby flea market which was frankly crap; it sold only fake sunglasses and tacky gifts, although Leo did get a free keyring by redeeming a voucher he’d cut out of a brochure.
We drove through the baking heat back towards the Space Coast and the town of Titusville which overlooks the Kennedy Space Center launch pads. After arriving we found a spare stretch of roadside on which to leave the monster truck and staked out a viewing spot by the water with our towels. Three hours later, Endeavour blasted off from the horizon into the perfectly clear blue sky. Our view of the scene was, of course, nowhere near as spectacular as the close-up TV pictures show, but to see a piece of metal containing humans literally explode off the ground and soar towards the edge of the sky was a sight to behold. Within minutes, the shuttle would be travelling at 15,000 miles per hour, a speed that would have allowed the cyclists to complete their entire journey of the last five weeks in around 6 minutes. Such power is noisy, and perhaps thirty seconds after blast-off we were hit by the sound waves from the launch site. Sadly, the wind direction reduced the impact of the sound, but the low rumble coming from such a distance away was still dramatic.
At the point when the solid rocket boosters detached from the shuttle over the ocean, it became invisible to the naked eye and continued on its journey towards the International Space Station. At almost exactly the same moment, thousands of people jumped in their cars and decided to sit in a miles-long car park for hours. We decided to sit for an hour and a half by the water until the traffic queue at least began to move, then joined it ourselves. Still, it took over three hours to make the 50 mile journey back to Orlando.
Over the following couple of days, the cyclists made their way steadily towards the south of Florida, via Lake Okeechobee (memorable only because of its amusing name). Friday night was spent in the southern suburbs of Miami where we ate out at an Argentinean steak house that specialised in Italian cuisine. The proprietor was a friendly Argentinean man who insisted on talking to us about David Beckham’s LA Galaxy debut upon learning that we are English (perhaps surprisingly, he was the first person to mention Beckham since a Starbuck’s employee in New York state).
That evening I also realised that I’d managed to lose my replacement pair of swimming shorts that I’d bought at Typhoon Lagoon. Quite how I managed to miss a big pair of pinky-orange shorts with a garish design while clearing the motel room, I’m not sure.