We woke up to another stunning Florida morning and headed off to Universal.
We'd been to Disney parks the first couple of days so just jumped on the Disney buses, but a visit to Universal meant we were back in our hire car. (It's a big, blue, 4x4 Chevy, and every time I get in it I have to restrain myself from breaking into a bit of Don McLean 'I drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry...' etc etc. I'm showing my age now!!)
Anyway, we (or should I say, Pete) have just about got the hang of US driving now, although the whole turning right on a red light thing is still a bit scary!
Universal felt different again from the other two parks we've been to - it felt very open, and not so crowded.
The characters were also much more accessible and the queues were much shorter, if there were any at all.
Rosie was in her element - she didn't care at all that she had NO idea who Curious George is. To her, he's just a big monkey that needed cuddling.
As you can see, Charlie got in on the action too and was photobombed by Woody Woodpecker.
He also had a good chat with some of the Men In Black, and was very impressed that they knew where Cardiff was AND that they knew all about Doctor Who. In fact, they told Charlie to tell the Doctor that it's about time he updated his alien files!
Charlie and I had a fantastic time on the MIB ride - some of the simulator rides have been absolutely fantastic.
The Minion Mayhem ride was also a massive success, and Rosie could go on that one too, which pleased her no end. Charlie introduced her to the world of Despicable Me a month or so ago, and (thanks to her big brother) she thinks the bit where a man introduces himself as Simon Ramsbottom, and the Minions look at each other, say 'Bottom!!' and collapse into helpless giggles is the funniest thing in the world.
Both kids wanted to buy a cuddly Minion with some of their spending money, and Rose has duly named hers 'Bottom Hee Hee'.
I kid you not.
All day long we hear: 'Where is Bottom Hee Hee?' 'Time for bed Bottom Hee Hee', 'Bottom Hee Hee want a drink?' etc etc.
She also sometimes calls him Bottom for short.
The perils of a ten-year-old brother.
Anyway, back to Universal Studios...
Rosie had her first ride on a 'proper' rollercoaster - the minimum height was 36", and she cleared it by a couple of inches, so she was very pleased with herself.
We've also discovered she's a bit of a speed freak, as she roared with laughter all the way round, and was jumping up and down saying 'Again, again! One more fun ride!!' over and over again.
The lady manning the turnstile heard us saying that it was her first time on a rollercoaster, and gave her a special badge to celebrate!
We had a blast from the past when we went to see the Barney show. Charlie used to love Barney the Dinosaur when he was little, but Rosie has never seen him before. The show was so sweet and I think Chas rather enjoyed reminiscing as much as we did!
When we made it back to our hotel, we found an envelope in our suite, from the Virgin Rep, with our tickets for Kennedy Space Centre and our departure day breakfast. (We should have picked them up at the airport on Sunday, but totally forgot!!)
As well as the envelope, our rep had also organised some more goodies - a cuddly Goofy for the kids and a beautiful (and massive!) DisneyWorld memory book for us to put all our pictures and souvenirs in.
Everyone really is going out of their way to make this holiday so special for us and the kids.
So, it was another long, hot day but we had a fabulous time. Hard to believe we're only three days in. Feels like we've been here so much longer.
After a good sleep all round, we were up bright and early, and off to Hollywood Studios.
It was another glorious day, and it felt much less busy than the Magic Kingdom yesterday.
Rosie was desperate to cuddle a character, and we found Donald Duck as soon as we walked through the gate!
We also found Mickey and Minnie Mouse. (Rosie was SO excited to see Minnie - I don't have any pics on my phone, but the Disney photographer took loads. We'll download all those pics when we get home, so I feel a major slide-show coming on!!)
Charlie wanted to sign up for Jedi Training, but by the time we got to the Star Wars section, every slot was already filled for the whole day. However, because Charlie is registered disabled, the parks provide him with a special access card, which acts a bit like a Fastpass, so he gets given a time to return to an attraction, so he doesn't have to queue in the heat for too long.
Anyway, the lady at the Jedi Training place noticed his card and said that although she couldn't squeeze him onto the Jedi Training list, she could go one better - and arrange an exclusive meet and greet with Darth Vader and his storm troopers!! Needless to say, Charlie was thrilled!
She told us to come back at 2.30pm, which we did - expecting to find a queue of other families waiting to see Darth Vader... but it was just us!!
She gave both kids Jedi robes to wear for the pictures and took us to a special stage.
A Padawan (forgive me if I've spelled that wrong, Star Wars terminology is not my strong point...) came to show Charlie how to fight with a light sabre, and then once he'd mastered the moves, who should appear but Darth Vader himself!
He and Charlie had a great battle, with loads of fantastic pictures - again by the Disney photographer, so you'll have to watch out for them later.
Rosie is well-used to Darth Vader, having lived with Charlie all her life, and ran up to him and hugged his legs! I think Darth was a bit baffled to be cuddled by a toddler, being rather more used to making them run away in terror!
After a full day at the park, with loads of rides and shows, we decided to catch the boat over to Epcot, to watch their fireworks.
We grabbed a bite to eat and found a good spot to watch. The display was fantastic, and my picture doesn't do it justice - although if you look hard, you can see Pete holding Rosie (in her light-up Minnie ears) and Charlie standing to his right.
It was a pretty late night, but well worth it.
Another fantastic day.
Off to Universal Studios tomorrow!
We decided to have a reasonably relaxed first day, as we were all pretty tired after the long flight.
Nonetheless, we were all up and about pretty early so we headed over to the hotel restaurant for breakfast - the kids enjoyed their waffles and pancakes, and I had French toast, which was delicious. Pete had some sort of breakfast sandwich thing, which also met with his approval! I may have to start doing some Facebook style pictures of our meals, because many are very different from what we have back home, and are part of the whole wonderful experience we're having.
Anyway, we decided to head over to the Magic Kingdom for a couple of hours, so the kids could get a taste of all things Disney, but we wanted to be back by mid-afternoon so Rosie could have a decent long nap in her bed in the hotel.
There are loads of buses here at the hotel - the transport to and from the parks is excellent - so we hopped on a bus and away we went.
It was pretty magical walking through the gates and seeing the Disney castle on the horizon.
We've been to EuroDisney before, but somehow the everything feels different here.
We saw a parade almost as soon as we arrived, but I didn't get any pics because I was too busy wrestling with Rosie, who wanted to get ON the float with Minnie Mouse, rather than just wave at her!
Charlie was desperate to have a ride on Thunder Mountain, so we picked up a parent swap ticket, which meant he and Pete could ride, then Pete and I could trade places and I could ride with Charlie, without having to queue for a second time.
Chas had also been telling Rosie about the 'It's a Small World' ride, so that was next on his list, and she really loved it too. It's so lovely to see your kids having so much fun.
We also stumbled across the Hundred Acre Wood ride, and decided we had to have a go, because we all wanted to see Tigger!
I don't know why, but when I was pregnant with Will, for some reason we decided that tigers would have been his favourite, and this gradually morphed into Tigger. In fact, we even had Tigger engraved on his headstone.
So that orange tiger is quite special to our family, and we're looking forward to taking the kids to a meet and greet with him while we're over here.
Anyway, the hours flew by, and it was soon time to head back to the hotel - even if Charlie was professing not to be tired, we certainly were!
Anyway, as we walked into our hotel room, Charlie and Rosie found balloons, cards from Mickey Mouse and a cuddly toy each from the hotel - they had heard that this was a long-promised holiday, to celebrate Charlie doing so well through his surgeries, and they decided to make it even more special for him and Rose.
What a fantastic surprise!
Wow - this was a LOOOONG day! We were all up early, and after packing up our hotel room, we headed over to the Virgin V-Room for breakfast. The kids enjoyed watching the planes, and Rosie was happy because they had plenty of scrambled eggs... she would eat eggs for every meal, given half a chance!
Charlie had a great time playing on the X-box, and playing table football with some of the other children.
Charlie was booked to have precautionary oxygen on the flight - he's always been fine short-haul, but because of the extended flight time and high altitude, his consultant asked that we get O2 for him, to keep him as well as possible. (And, jumping ahead a bit - it really did the trick - he was as fresh as a daisy when we got off the plane - unlike the rest of us!!)
So we were classified as special assistance, and had to board the plane first. We made our way to the boarding gate and waited for the doors to open. (Although not before a lady felt it necessary to point out in a rather unpleasant tone that we were taking up a seat intended for a "disabled person"... oh dear. I'm surprised she couldn't SEE my hackles rising. I know Charlie doesn't have a visible disability as such, but it drives me insane when people feel that they have the right to pass comment on others, with no knowledge or understanding of their situation. And I would give my right arm to be at the back of the queue and NOT to need special assistance. You'll be pleased to hear I didn't lose my temper with her - I just told her that Charlie IS registered disabled and required oxygen on the flight because of his cardiac condition. I was quite proud of myself!!)
The kids spotted our plane out of the window and we were tickled pink to see it was called English Rose! It felt like a good sign at the start of our holiday - and Rosie was very pleased to know that the plane was named after her!
The flight itself, though long (nearly nine hours) was fine. I would highly recommend Virgin Atlantic's Premium Economy seats - the extra space made all the difference, especially for 6'4" Pete, and Charlie with his O2 cylinder at his feet!
Rosie found Peppa Pig on the entertainment system and watched the same hour over and over again, interspersed with some Play-Dohing, colouring and sleeping. Charlie watched a few films, drew, played games, read, and watched the thing on the back of the seat to say how far
through the journey we were.
I was very glad to finally touch down as I am not a confident flyer by any means!
We made it through the airport quickly, picked up our car and headed for our hotel. (As an aside, driving on the right, in a left-hand drive car, was VERY weird for Pete! He kept trying to find his seatbelt over his right shoulder, and had no concept of where the right side of the car was, because he's so used to the edge of the car being next to his right shoulder!!)
We finally made it to the hotel, which is FANTASTIC - all themed with Disney characters. Our suite is Lion King themed, so Charlie has been waltzing around the place singing 'Hakuna Matata' and 'I Just Can't Wait to be King' since we arrived!
We eventually got the kids to bed at 9pm US time (the equivalent of 2am UK time!!)
They did both wake up at 4am (9am UK time) but both went straight back to sleep when we told then it was still the middle of the night, and slept another two and a half hours, which was just what we all needed.
I'll write about our first day in my next post...
Plane-spotting in their pyjamas at the window of our hotel at Gatwick!
We're off to the V-Room shortly, to make the most of the free breakfast.
Can hardly believe that we'll be in Florida by tonight!
(Oh, and it's Mother's Day today - the kids brought my present with us, and Charlie gave me a lovely foot rub as well - so I'm feeling thoroughly spoilt already!)
Welcome to Charlie's News! Charlie was born on November 5, 2003, minus the left side of his heart - a complex congenital heart defect known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. He had two open-heart surgeries in his first five months, and had his third stage Fontan completion in March 2010, aged six-and-a-half.
Charlie's heart is special - but not as special as he is!