Our vacation started on October 14th and ended on October 29th
2001. The travellers this time was as usual my love Nikki Mooki and Gard
Karlsen. We flew from Stavanger (Norway) via Amsterdam to Miami in
Florida. We rented a car there and we spent a few days in Miami before
we drove of to Orlando, Tampa, Naples and then Miami again. On our trip
we stopped by places like Kennedy Space center, Universal Studios,
Islands of Adventure, Epcot, Busch Gardens and much, much more.
We always take a lot of time deciding when to go and where to go on
vacation. After hearing and seeing a lot about Florida for many years,
we decided to go to Florida and due to recommendations we decided to go
in October. As we all know there were some tragic events in New York and
Washington on September 11th 2001 but we decided to go anyway
as it looked like the world and USA were getting back to “normal”.
But we did think about cancelling the trip as we heard about the bombing
of Afghanistan started and anthrax was being found in the USA.
The journey begins
as I said, we decided to go ahead with the trip anyway and our journey
started on Sunday October 14th 2001. When we first looked for
tickets the prices was quite steep. But in the end of August we got the
tickets for about 4500 Norwegian kroner (about 500 US dollars) . We flew
Braathens/KLM/Northwest from Stavanger (Norway) via Amsterdam to Miami.
We wanted to be a little prepared when we got there so we booked a car
using expedia.com and we booked an Avis car for about 100 $ and a hotel
for the first two nights in Miami. Due to the events on September 11th,
the airport security was tight and we had to go through several checks
and anyone that had a suspicious look got extra attention. When we looked
out the window on our plane we could even see the airport workers being
frisked when going into the aircraft. But we got on our way more or less
on time and the flight to Miami took about 9 hours. We got to Miami at
about 8 pm and it was pretty easy to find the Avis bus which took us to
the Avis car rental place and soon we were driving of in a Chevrolet
Cavalier. Before we left we bought a travel guide of Florida (Eyewitness
Travel Guides) and it had a map of Miami. We combined this with the map
and instructions that we got from Avis and we were able to get to South
Beach without too many problems. We had rented a room at Dezerland Beach
Resort & Spa that is located quite north on South Beach (8700
Collins Avenue). When I first booked it on Expedia it was quoted to be
45$ pr night but with taxes and fees of 5,63$ the cost was about 51$ pr
night. And when we got to the hotel in turned out that there was an
extra fee of 2$ pr night because there was a safe in the room and the
parking was 5$ pr night. I can’t say that I’m happy about these
“hidden” costs and the hotel itself wasn’t really that nice. But
it was nice to finally check in and be able to go to bed after a long
We started exploring Miami the next morning and we started by taking a
trip down to Ocean drive to take a walk there and look at the Art Deco
district. I guess we got up too early because the place looked very
deserted when we got there. But it is a pretty interesting area and the
contrasts are big. You have the people that roller blades and jog
through Lummus Park and you have the homeless sleeping on benches in the
park. We also saw a biking police that I wanted to take a picture of but
I was afraid that he would book me for being sarcastic if I askes for
permission. The reason that I wanted to take a picture of him was that
he was nothing like the bike cops that you see on TV shows like "Pacific
Blue". This guy was a bit fat and his outfit didn’t look like it
was designed for the biking police. In the Art Deco district you will
also fins quite a few shops, places to eat and the beach of course. Not
far from this you will find places of interest like the Lincoln Road
Mall and the Holocaust memorial. The memorial was a pretty stunning
sight as you can see from the pictures. We just walk around in silence
and looked at all the individual faces and bodies that form the base of
the gigantic arm.
like science so we wanted to check out Miami Science museum and
Planetarium. We only stayed there for a couple of hours and the place
was more or less empty. They had quite a lot for the kids there but of
course one must be able to read and understand English to fully
appreciate it. The show in the Planetarium was also OK and we were
informed about black holes, pulsars and quarks. There is also a little
“zoo” attached to the science museum and they have a few birds and
had heard quite a lot about Little Havana and we stopped there on the
way back into town. We thought the place would be pretty lively but
again the place look almost deserted…the closest thing we came to
action was seeing a few elder men sitting in a restaurant playing domino.
trip to America must also include a trip to a mall. We decided to stop
by Aventura mall, which is located North of Miami on the way to Fort
Lauderdale. The mall is pretty big and it is a pretty standard mall
where you have chains like Sears, JC Penny that surrounds lots of
smaller shops inside the actual mall. But according to the guidebook
there are many malls in the Miami area of course and some are more
“upmarket” than others.
word of advice when it comes to driving around in Miami: bring lots of
quarters (25 cents) to put on the parking meters. In most places the
price was 25 cents for 15 minutes and it is not always easy to find
parking space at all
also wanted to try out what some of the locals do for exercise: roller
blades. We had brought our own roller blades but I don’t know if that
was such a good idea. They were a bit heavy and they took up some quite
a lot of space in our suitcases. And it was possible to rent skates in
the Art Deco district. But we used our own and we skated in Lummus Park.
the second day of our stay in Miami we checked out of the hotel and
headed for a mansion called Vizcaya. This house was a fantastic mansion
built by a Mr. John Deering in the period of 1914 to 1916. For 10
dollars we got entrance to the house and a tour of the ground floor was
included. Once again we
were almost alone in the house and our guide Marcia talked us through
the rooms on the ground floor. She was very enthusiastic and it turned
out to be a great and informative tour. We got to learn about Mr Deering
love for Europe and how he bought antiques in Europe and later built the
house around all these items. I certainly recommend a stop at this place
because it was something really special. I had a feeling of being at
Versailles or the palaces of Vienna when I strolled trough the rooms.
the way out of Miami we decided to take what we thought would be the
scenic route along the coast. It turned out that it wasn’t all that
scenic and it went a lot slower than staying on the main highway. On the
main highway the road quality was pretty good and the speed limit varied
between 55 to 70 mph. After a while we got to Fort Lauderdale and we
made a brief stop here to take a walk on the beach.
didn’t really have a proper map of this area of Florida and we managed
to get a bit lost as it became dark. We tried to find a place to stay
around Jupiter but we got lost and we ended up in a small place called
Port St. Lucie. But at least they had a Best Western hotel there were we
could spend the night.
drive next morning was not that long…after a couple of hours we
arrived at Kennedy Space Center. After standing a line for a while (and
listening to the same music over and over again)
we got our tickets and went in. As most people I have a certain interest
in space and it was a nice place to visit. The most impressing site was
of course the building where the Saturn V rocket is kept. The rocket is
so BIG that one must really see it to believe it. Maybe some of the
photos will give a certain illustration of the size. I think it is quite
amazing that these big things left ground at all. But hey, Kennedy said
that they chose to go to the moon; not because it was easy but because
it was hard. Due to the events on September 11th some of the
facilities were closed of. On the bus ride there are normally several
stops but on this day we only got to see the Saturn V center.
drive to Orlando from the Kennedy Space Center is pretty short and after
about one hour after leaving the center we were on International
in Orlando. It seems like most of the tourist “attractions” have centered
on this short road and we decided to get a room in this area since it is
close to the amusement parks. We stopped at one of the tourist
information centers to get some help to find a hotel but they seemed
more interested in selling us Disney tickets. But we did manage to pick
up some brochures and in most of the brochures there were info about
hotels and also coupons. I don’t really like this coupon business but
we managed to get a hotel room at Quality inn for about 32 dollars a
night. The hotel is located on 7600 International Drive and it is pretty
decided to get started with the fun stuff the next morning. The first
thing on our list was a visit to Universal Studios. We got there at
about 9 am and we didn’t have any problem finding it because it was
only like 5 minutes away from International Drive. The parking houses at
Universal are huge so when you park remember to note which floor and
section you are in J.
OK, I have to admit that we did have trouble finding our car again but
the parking people were professional and they helped us locate the car.
We bought a two day pass ticket to Universal Studios and Islands of
Adventure. This allowed us to switch between the two parks during two
you read any further please note that there might be spoilers about some
of the rides. As I mentioned we came to the park at about opening time
and there were not that many people there. So we ran of to start with
Back to the future. It was a pretty good ride but it is basically a
simulator ride but the set-up around the whole ride makes it great. I
like what the Americans do when it comes to lines. Instead of standing
in line just waiting, they use the time to build up a story, to build a
concept and that makes waiting in line almost a part of the ride itself.
After this we ran over to the Men in black attraction and this is more
interactive compared to Back to the future. In MIB you get to help the
agents shooting at aliens and you get a score for this. One of the
attractions that I was looking forward to was the Terminator 2: 3D. I
have heard a lot about it and I have to say that my expectations were
met. It is a unique mixture of onscreen action, live stage performance
and 3D and that was really fun.
this the lines started to grow a bit and we had to wait a while to get
into the Twister attraction. Compared to the other stuff that we had
been through this was not much of an attraction. But it was still kinda
neat to see how they have been able to create this natural phenomenon
inside a building.
was unfortunaly closed due to maintenance so we never got to see that
but we moved on to Earthquake – The big one. This was also a fun
attraction and the climax comes when you ride in a subway tunnel and you
reach a station and that is when the earthquake hits. Apart from that we
got to do the Jaws attraction, go the Gory, Gruesome and Grotesque
Horror make-up show and Beetlejuice’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Graveyard
Revue. The park itself is not all that big but of course we didn’t
cover all the stuff that are made for the small children. We even had
time to get our caricature painted and go to Islands of Adventure
towards the end of the day to try to Hulk but I’ll say more about that
like to mention that there is a big 20-screen cinema located on
CityWalk, which is sort of the entrance to Universal Studios and Islands
of Adventure. We tried it out this cinema and it was pretty good.
took quite a lot of walking to cover Universal Studios so we took the
advice from the guidebook (and our feet) to put in resting days in
between visiting the big parks. So the following day we played Adventure
golf on International Drive (Pirate’s Cove) and we drove of to
Gatorland. The golf was pretty good and they had two golf courses to
choose from and we took the advanced one since we try to play adventure
golf wherever we go J. Just for the record…I did beat Nikki J.
we drove of to Gatorland, which is listed as a good half-day experience.
The place itself was not all that impressive but we got to see
alligators up close, we got so see a guy “wrestle” a gator, we got
to try gator nuggets and rib and we got to pet snakes and small
alligators. The shows were worth catching because the gators are pretty
calm when they lie in the water.
park is open until 6 pm and we stay almost until closing time. On the
way back we stopped by Florida mall, which is located on the way to
Orlando. We also managed to make a few turns that we shouldn’t have
when we came to International Drive. The result was that we ended up on
the highway and the next exit was 5 minutes of. So it is advisable to
get a good map over the Orlando area. We only had the bad maps that are
presented in many of the tourist folders.
resting for a day we were ready to try out the next amusement park: Islands
of Adventure. Once again we got there at about opening time (9 am).
We rushed over to the Spiderman attraction first but that was closed
because of technical problems. So we moved on to the Duelling Dragons.
As the name might indicate this is actually two individual roller
coasters (Fire and Ice) and we started with Ice. It was a great ride and
since it was so early there wasn’t much of a line when we got of so we
went straight into Fire. And we tried each one twice before we moved on.
went back to The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man after this and
it was operating again. We had to get in line for quite some time to
ride it and when we finally got on it it turned out that there still
were some technical problems. But we got to ride it again later that
they and it was good. Again it was a mixture between a ride and 3D film
and it was impressive. I mentioned earlier that the lines could almost
be a part of the ride. Well, on this ride the line was too long but the
creators are pretty clever and you never get to see the full line that
is ahead of you. I guess they have made it this way to avoid stealing
the hope from people J
also had to try the Incredible Hulk coaster. We tried it twice
and it is a good ride. The cool thing is that you get “launched” on
top of the first hill and within two seconds you go from 0 to 40 mph and
you’re hanging upside down. It was a great ride and I recommend it.
also waited in line for quite some time to try out the Doctor
Doom’s Fearfall. It is a ride where you get catapulted about 150
feet in the air. I have taken stuff like this before and the best
version of this is located on top of the Stratosphere tower in Las Vegas
but that is another story.
from this we enjoyed The Eight Voyage of Sindbad, Poseidon’s Fury,
Jurassic Park River Adventure, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw falls and so
on. We stay until closing time at about 7 pm.
advice is to come early because the lines got pretty long in the middle
of the day (60-75 minutes). There are some free lockers in connection
with some of the rides where you can keep your bags and stuff for about
45 minutes. Having these free lockers is s pretty good system in my
next day we decided to go for a resting day again. First of all we went
to WonderWorks on International Drive. It is not possible to miss
this place because it is a building that is upside down. The place
contains lots of fun stuff for kids and adult and there are many
interactive things that one can try out. We tried Virtual reality games,
we tried creating a roller coaster and then we got to ride it in a
simulator, we got to make giant soap bubbles and so on. After this we
went over to Wet’n’Wild to try out the slides there. I
don’t think that we picked the right day (or maybe we did) because we
got lots of rain while we were in there. But we still got to try most of
the slides that were open and once we got cold we went into the water to
warm up. They had quite a lot of rides there and we had fun for a few
hours. It costs about 30 $ per person but this is not the real cost. If
you want to park there you have to cough up 5 $ and once you get in it
costs 5 $ to get a small locker.
also did some shopping this day. We went out to a place called Belz
outlet center and we walked around for a while in stores with names like
Nike, Adidas, Levi’s and so on.
Again it was time to do an amusement park and we decided that we wanted
to try Epcot. The size of the Disney area is pretty amazing. When we got
of the highway to get into the parks we more or less got on a new 6-lane
highway. We got there are about 9 am and it turned out that they
didn’t open until 10 am. They had done this to save money because
there had not been that many visitors after the September 11th
attack. But we got in eventually and the first thing I have to say is
that it is a BIG park.
started out by doing attractions like Honey, I shrunk the Audience,
Body wars, Cranium Command, Spaceship Earth ride, Test track and so
on. And when the world showcase opened at noon we went in there. First
of all I wanted to visit the Norwegian area. We took the ride here
(called Maelstrom and it was funny to listed to the narrator
telling about Norway in English with a Norwegian accent J.
The film about Norway after the ride is badly in need of an update by
the way. Apart from that it was fun to walk into the “Norwegian”
stores and buy Norwegian chocolates. So if you stop by this place be
sure to buy some Melkesjokolade (Milk chocolate) because it is a
"little piece if Norway"…at least according to the TV
commercials back home in Norway.
impression of Epcot is that it seems a bit “out of date” compared to
the other new parks that we went to. Sure, some of the rides are good
but, as we saw in Universal Studios, it can be done a lot better with
today’s technology. And that is kinda ironic when a part of the Epcot
center is called Future World.
there is something else I don’t like about Epcot and that is the use
of brand names on the different attractions. You have Universe of Energy
presented by ExxonMobil, The land presented by Nestlé and so on. This
is advertising and it is right in the face of young and adult. But maybe
that is what it takes to get bigger companies to invest money into
places like this.
of the stuff that you’ll find at the Epcot center is educational in
one way or the other and that was great.
stayed until 9 pm and in the darkness we got to see a great fire works.
The place is as I say pretty big and we were on the move most of the day
and we didn’t really get to look at all the countries in the World
The next day we drove down towards the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. The
highway is pretty good and it is not all that far (about 70 miles to
Tampa) so it doesn’t take very long. We have heard that the beaches on
the coast were good but we didn’t want to get to far away from Tampa
because we wanted to check out Busch Gardens later on. So we ended up
driving just past St. Petersburg and then we went on to Treasure
Island. In a tourist brochure we found a coupon for a place called
Buccaneer Beachfront Resort Motel and we went to the motel and they had
a room. I think most of the places on the beach had a vacancy by the way
because there were not many people on the beach.
first thing we tried was of course to take a dip in the Mexican gulf.
The water had a pretty good temperature compared to what I’m used to
from back here in Norway (the water is normally freezing on the beaches
outside Stavanger) but there was a certain fish stench that was not very
appealing. So we went back to the hotel and took a nice swim in the
heated pool J
main reason to stop in the Tampa area was really to visit Busch
Gardens that is a combined zoo and amusement park. As usual we were
up pretty early and we got there until opening time at 10 am. I have to
admit that I was very disappointed when I saw a sign at the entrance
that stated that the roller coaster Kumba was closed. This is one
coaster that I had heard of and that I was looking forward too. But we
were pretty lucky because the coaster did open later that they and I got
to ride it and it was good. The other main coasters are pretty good to.
Gwazi is a wooden roller coaster and they always have a different
feeling compared to the steel coasters. And it was kinda rough on us, so
rough that Nikki had to go to the first-aid station to get some aspirin
for a headache. Montu is an inverted steel coaster that also gives a
as I said this is also a zoo and it was great combination. We started
with the rides and then we moved on too the zoo part of the park. The
Edge of Africa has zebras, Antelopes, Giraffes and so on on display and
we also got to see lions, hyenas, elephants and monkeys up close. The
Rhine Rally was a fun experience combining a drive through of the park
and a thrill-ride.
day we went there was a pretty hot day so we had to try out the water
rides as well. We got absolutely soaking wet on the Congo River Rapids
and we just continued with Stanly falls and Tidal Wave. Remember to
bring some dry clothes if you plan to visit the place J
next destination was Naples but on the way there we had time to stop at
Fort Myers to visit Thomas Alva Edison’s winter home. I have
read books about the guy when I was younger but it was fun to hear
stories about him again. The 16 $ that it costs to get in gives you
access to the gardens, his house, his laboratory, a museum and a tour.
The tour was more of a botanical tour to start with as the guide took us
through his big garden with plants and flowers from all over the world.
ride from Fort Myers to Naples is a short drive and the first stop in
Naples was at the tourist information. Based on the info we got there we
found a room at Sea Shell motel. Naples seems to be a very quiet
place because we took a drive in the evening and there were hardly any
people out at all. But we only stayed at this place for a night because
next morning we were off to the Everglades.
ride from Naples to Everglades City is also pretty short.
Everglades City is a starting point for different rides in the
Everglades area. A cold front was moving in at this time and the weather
turned cooler and we got a few raindrops. But we wanted to go on a boat
trip to check out the wild life. But we only went for a short 90-minute
boat ride that took us out towards the gulf coast. The ranger that took
us out there told us about the fish and the bird life in the area and
pointed out the different birds for us. The highlight of the boat trip
was when dolphins decided to swim along with the boat.
The trip through the Everglades is a pretty short trip and before we
knew it we were back in Miami. When we got to Miami we stayed at the
Dezerland hotel but that was a bit out of town so we decided to try and
get a place closer to the Art Deco district. The first place we tried
was the Riviere hotel. They had a vacant room but there were no parking
in the area so we turned it down. But then they said that they had
studios or flats (called the Mediterranean)
that we could rent not far away. And for about 39 $ we got a room
at the corner of 15th and Pennsylvania which is pretty
central. The place itself was not all that nice because people were
coming and going from the flats so it was pretty noisy. The place had a
few parking places outside but there was not enough space for all the
cars of the tenants. So when I parked at night I just parked on the
pavement closing the entrance for the 3 cars that were parked there.
That was obviously a big mistake because next morning I had gotten two
parking tickets: 1 for parking on the sidewalk and 1 for blocking the
exit for the other cars. In total this added up to about 60$ so it was a
pretty expensive parking. So the moral of the story is that the people
that check these thing are always around (I got the tickets at 5.30 on a
Saturday morning) and if you will get a ticket make sure you only get
one not two tickets like I did J
rest of the time on our vacation was spent looking around Miami. We went
downtown to try out the Metromover and we also tried a drive in Coral
Gables that the guide recommended. The drive itself was pretty boring
but at least it too us to places like the Venetian pool that looks like
a wonderful place.
we stopped by Ventura mall, Miracle Mile and Bayside in downtown Miami.
On the 28th of October it was time for us to get back and
we got to the airport about 4 hours before the flight left. Turning in
the Avis car was quick and painless. But when we got to the counter to
check in we were told we were too late. It turned out that Northwest had
change the timetable during our vacation and all of a sudden the flight
left 4 hours earlier than usual. Northwest was able to get us on a
Martinair flight to Amsterdam later that night but we had to wait for
about 8 hours. So I guess the lesson is that it can be smart to
re-confirm tickets when you are travelling. The flight home to Europe
was pretty quick as we had strong tailwinds. But I was not very
impressed with the comfort and standard of the Martinair flight that we
took. After a few hours in Amsterdam we got back to a rainful, windy and
few tips and recommandations
As I mentioned earlier we rented a car from Avis and we used Expedia
to book it. When I rented the car I got a price of 100$ per week and I
knew of course that there would be extra cost because you need insurance
and so on. I thought that I would have an option to choose different
insurances but when we got to Avis in Miami we only got one question
“Do you want collision insurance?” And I said yes because saying no
would be irresponsible. And this insurance was about 22$ per day and the
total cost for renting the car was in the end 600$. In my opinion it
should have been clearer what the total cost for renting the car would
be and I have also shared this point of view with Avis.
in the States
from that driving is pretty easy in the states but there are a few rules
that are different than what I’m used to. You are allowed to turn to
the right when the signal is red (unless there is a sign saying
something else). Cars were pretty quick to remind us of this rule (by
using the horn) if I stopped on a red light. We saw quite a lot of
police cars around on the highways and people were pulled over all the
time. So I guess the moral is that we should keep the speed limits J
gas was pretty cheap (about 1.15$ in the Orlando area) and driving 1200
miles did not really dig into our wallets. When you fill gas remember
that you have to pay in advance.
guess I also have to mention the coupons that are everywhere. It is
possible to save quite a lot if you use the coupons for all the
different attractions in the Orlando area. But I can’t understand why
it should be like this.
was not always easy to communicate with people in Miami because many
only speak Spanish. Or as Nikki put it: we heard more English spoken on
our vacation to Mexico last year then in Miami.
I have mentioned above we more or less only had maps from tourist
folders when driving around. That was not very easy at times so I
recommend that you bring along a good map of Orlando and Miami at least.
I’m very pleased that I had Nikki as a map-reader by the way because
there is quite a lot to focus on apart from the map. So I did the
driving and she said left, right and so on.
Americans seem to love their food and there is a great selection of
fast-food restaurants. I don’t eat that much fast-food at home so it
was great to try out Wendy’s, Burger King, McDonalds, KFC and so on.
We also went out to have steaks a few times and the portions are BIG so
we soon found out that there was no need for starters. In general the
portions are big so Nikki and me often shared a meal at least for lunch.
Apart from that I just have to say that I love Dairy Queen and
especially the Blizzard. It is basically the same as the McFlurry from
McDonalds but only better J
And there is a great selection of stuff that you can get inserted into
the ice…I fell for chocolate chip cookie dough grin. And smoothies
were also sold on different locations and that is a really healthy and
great way to cool down. My favourite is the boring banana, strawberry,
orange juice and crushed ice mix.
have spoken about the cost quite a lot already and I hope that I don’t
nag too much about it. But it is important to know how much a trip will
cost so you can plan a vacation and set-up a budget. Here are some of
the costs for our trip:
Studios/Islands of adventure
+ 16$ parking
+ 8$ parking
+ 5$ parking
+ 7$ parking
trip in Everglades
of science and space transit planetarium
beach resort & spa
Collins Avenue, Miami Beach
nights about 120 $
International Drive, Orlando
9th Street South Naples
South U.S. 1, Port St. Lucie
Beachfront Resort Motel
Gulf Boulevard, Treasure Island (near Tampa)
nights, about 70$
night, about 80$
I said earlier, I was not very impressed with the Dezerland hotel. First
of all I didn't like the location and second, I don't like these hidden
expenses that came on top of the bill. The Quality inn that we stayed at
in Orlando was located very central and it was pretty cheap. The Riviere
hotel (or Mediterranean
studios) were not all that great. The location was nice but the place
was noisy and it seemed a bit worn down. The rest of the places were OK
hotels and I don't really have much more to say about it.
When planning the trip we did use both books and the internet. First
of all we bought Eyewitness Travel Guide to Florida by Dorling
Kindersley. But most of the other information came from the net. Best
includes a travelogue from a Danish guy who went to Florida a few years
back and that was a nice reference. We booked the Avis car and the first
hotel by using www.expedia.com and
you can read a lot of general information about Florida on http://www.flausa.com/index.php.
I think that we had a great time in Florida and I guess Florida turned
out to be what I expected it to be: a very entertaining place to spend a
vacation :-) We got to see quite a lot in the two weeks that we were
there and we could probably have spent a lot more time in the states
because there were a lot more to see. We got to see more or less all the
things that we had planned to see. The only thing we missed out on was a
Jai Alai game in Miami. But maybe we will go back to the Sunshine State
one time in the future.