Howdo! The next chapter on our Florida tales involves two more hotel reviews, and what a time we had. Next chapter will be our Disney tales and listen, at some point, I promise to start posting food again. Maaaybe. I’m enjoying just writing, if I’m honest. Aaaaanyway, here we go!
Hard Rock Hotel
The third part of our holiday saw us returning back to an old favourite of ours, The Hard Rock Hotel. This hotel holds happy memories for us: we spent the second half of our honeymoon here, we had an ice-cream the size of our heads (which you must remember, in my case, is the size of three normal heads) and we ‘christened’ the butterfly garden on our way back from a drunken night on City Walk. Speckled wood? Well yes, but we were young and reckless with the portable douche. That joke only works if you’re enough of a lepidopterist to realise Speckled Wood is a type of butterfly, but you know what, I believe in you enough not to dumb this blog down. And you should be thankful I didn’t write a joke involving a brown hairstreak. Of course there was no such lewdness this time, but it’s always a pleasure to return back to somewhere familiar.
We turned up nice and early in the hope of being upgraded to the elusive Club 7, my fingers crossed so much that I could barely sign the check-in slip, but no such luck. The lady breezily checking us in poured salt into the wound by saying we’d have been upgraded if only we had been staying just a couple of days, but for this trip, it wasn’t to be. We’ll always be what could’ve been, Paul and I. With the chance of free tiny sandwiches and warm bottles of Heineken dashed from our hearts, we at least enjoyed our room, themed as it was on rock music and musical paraphernalia. Our mirror had little etchings to show you how tall you were in comparison to music stars – turns out I’m as tall as Nick Cave, whereas Paul is the same height as Nick Cave’s plectrum.
Where this hotel loses marks is the pool – it’s so bloody shallow! I don’t understand why American pools all seem to be just deep enough to get your ankles wet and nothing more, and I’m sure there’s a very good explanation that I could find if I google, but it needs to stop. When Paul walks into the deep end and doesn’t so much get his nipples wet – and remember, they’re usually found somewhere just below his knees at this point – it’s not good enough. We tried swimming until we realised we could lie on the bottom of the pool and still fart without blowing bubbles, so that was the only time in the pool. I did google by the way: it’s to make it easier for the lifeguards, water deeper than a certain amount means more intense lifeguarding training to stop the kids drowning. Well don’t I feel bad. No, and I didn’t feel wet either.
But that’s the only negative I can say because the hotel itself is wonderful – full of curios and knick-knacks to keep my own curious little Nick-Nack happy. We’d be making our way to dinner and he’d point out that a dress Cher wore once was hanging in the lobby. At a total loss for what to do with this information I was spectacularly unable to come up with a witty reply – if only I could turn back time. Special mention goes to the Emack & Bolio shop on the ground floor which was ostensibly there for snacks but also served pizza the size of a ship’s wheel. It was proper American pizza too – gooey and cheesy and with more topping than an after-hours Eurovision party. We ordered one for the evening and in a first in our relationship, still had some leftover, so we stuck it in the fridge to enjoy the next day. The next day saw us at Busch Gardens and to my delight, Paul turned to me on the coach trip back to the hotel and confirmed that he too had been thinking about this pizza all day. Great minds think alike.
In our defence, the pizza was magnificent
One of my favourite nights of the holiday was at the Hard Rock actually. For all the days filled with rollercoasters and thrills, the quiet days where we spent a day wandering around the shops or the grounds of the various hotels were equally as fun. We decided, after watching Wheel of Fortune (I ended up _ T T _ R L _ O _ S _ S S _ D with this show), to have a walk down to the other hotels and see what was what. All of the ‘fancy’ hotels are linked by well-manicured walkways or a short boat ride and we ended up at the Portofino Bay hotel, just down the path. We’ve considered staying here a couple of times but it looks a bit too fancy for our tastes, so we’ve always swerved. But we found a little bar by the water and settled in for the night, ordering three starter platters and all manner of exciting cocktails and just people watching. There’s so much to be said for this: a theme park holiday can be so full-on that it’s nice to sit and smell the roses. Well, not that Paul could, I was busy smoking a cigar the size of a draught excluder like a budget Magnum PI(e). He didn’t complain: I never do when he serves contemporary Californian cuisine in my lungs, after all. We made our way back to our hotel room past midnight, drunk and happy. I sometimes wonder what it is we actually talk about and how we haven’t ran out of things to mention to the other – how it is that with a stranger I’ll be stuck for words, or I’ll bite my tongue, or I’ll struggle for a conversation hook but with him there’s none of that, it comes effortlessly. You’d think we’d be conversationally bankrupt at this point, and admittedly most of our discourse is Wife Swap quotes or one suggesting to the other that we eat, but even so. An amazing night in a constellation of wonderful days.
I love this picture, despite looking like a sudoric strawberry – I think it’s Paul regenerating in the background that makes it
Rosen Shingle Creek
Our last hotel was perhaps the most unexpected of them all – a wildcard visit because we’ve never heard of the Rosen brand and Shingle Creek sounds like something you’d rub a cream into and hope it cleared up so you could go back to wearing tight jeans. We only picked it because an eight night stay meant 80,000 extra Avios via rocketmiles and as the taxi swept us up the half-mile long drive into the biggest hotel I think I’ve ever seen, our interest was piqued.
Naturally we didn’t bother with any of that
Turns out it’s another ‘convention’ hotel – lots of rooms, one of the best golf courses in the state and almost endlessly hosting seminars and meet-ups for various industries. When we arrived they were hosting a convention for ‘Luxury Products’ (me neither) which meant all sorts of braying hoohahs wandering around with giant lips clacking away on their phones and speaking in that atrocious manner of elongating every vowel and ending each sentence in a questioning tone. As we aren’t ones for spending the day in the hotel this didn’t phase us too much, not least because we happened across a quiet pool away from the marketers. Strictly speaking the pool was only to be used for lane swimming but as there was rarely anyone there, it was perfect for splashing about in.
On one of the rare moments we were enjoying the sun and swimming, we were joined by a lady who came to get a few lengths in. I apologised for being in the pool and not lane swimming and for some ungodly reason, possibly because I didn’t want to be told off by someone with a lanyard on it extolling her Sapphire status, explained that I couldn’t swim and I was just practising. I can swim just fine, by the way. You would have hoped she would leave it at that but no, she was one of those very sweet people who see a problem and needs to fix it, so she started helping me learn to swim. Half a bloody hour I was in that pool with her coaching me on my technique – you have absolutely no idea how difficult it is to strike a balance between pretending you can’t swim to keep up a pretence and swimming just enough to stop actually drowning. I tried to catch Paul’s eye in the hope he might fake us going back to the room but the rotter just laughed and waved his hand airily at me. I gave myself a reprieve by pretending I had a cramp in my leg but even this involved more schtick as I had to ‘hobble’ all the way to the sunbed, get dressed and walk back to the room like I had rickets just in case she saw.
Luckily the ‘Luxury Products’ symposium shuttled off halfway through the holiday and a convention of plumbers turned up in replacement. Now in all honesty I can’t imagine what plumbers have to talk about for three solid days – exciting developments in the world of washers perhaps, or thirty different ways to unblock a u-bend, but there must have been something captivating because suddenly our hotel was full of fit trade walking around the pool with their beer bellies on show. Imagine our distress.
The only issue with this hotel was the fact it was quite far away from anywhere, necessitating a lengthy walk to get back onto International Drive or jumping in an Uber. You can guess which of these we did most often, although we did have an exciting walk back from Publix one evening. We were just about to cross the road with our groceries when a car took the corner far too fast (showing off in their fancy hire), hit the kerb and popped their front tyres and took the bumper off. A very boorish British family climbed out to survey the damage to their car and we were treated to the sight of five very rah-rah wankers all arguing with each other. It was glorious! I almost put my neck out craning to listen. We found all manner of reasons to stand and eavesdrop – checking our phones, taking photos of each other, that sort of thing, until they all climbed back into the car and limped off. We’d see them again a few minutes later as they pulled into the car park of our hotel, still shouting, and then got the courtesy bus to the lobby, all the while still screaming at each other. You know in old cartoons when you’d get a giant ball of smoke and fists flying out? Imagine that but with whatever the FM World knock-off of Creed Aventus is. This continued into the lobby. Now did we both walk past with smug ‘at least I can drive’ faces? You best believe it.
The other joy of this hotel (and perhaps a result of it being a little cut off from anywhere else) was the sheer amount of dining options – it was like having a food court onsite without the risk of someone shouting SAMPLE SAMPLE in your face and throwing a tub of chicken teriyaki at you. We ate extravagantly and often and without any care towards the final bill at the end – that’s the peril of sticking a card behind the counter when you check in. We had burgers, sushi, sandwiches, salads, grilled cheese and so many fried pickles that when I went for a piss I thought I had an STI, then when we had finished all of that, we moved onto our mains. Special mention must go to the Mexican place, Mi Casa Tequila Taqueria, which promised big drinks and bold flavours and delivered in spades, with one of their margaritas served in a glass that would normally be reserved for serving woo-woos to a hen party in a city centre Wetherspoons. We ordered some freshly made guacamole without realising that a) some poor chap actually came to the table and made it in front of you (which was awkward) and b) you were given enough to comfortably skim an Artex ceiling, should you be so inclined. Now see I love guacamole but Paul isn’t a huge fan, but I couldn’t bear the thought of this chap coming back to collect the bowl and seeing we’d left most of it after his dexterous turn with the limes and the avocado, so I, somewhat grimly, ploughed my way through almost on my own. Paul deigned to help by dipping a tortilla chip in and scooping up about a fingernail’s worth then crinkled his nose and said he was full. He’s HELF now, remember.
Tell you what though, brave little sausage that I am , I put away nearly all of it, and when the chap came to collect the bowl he saw it was almost empty and gave us a big thumbs up. I smiled as much as someone can manage when they’ve got avocado pressing into every single square inch of their already quite large body and he went away happy. We had to call it a night at this point because I needed to spend a good three hours rubbing my belly and making ‘poor me’ faces to Paul until he tired of my schtick, put his headphones in and pretended to go to sleep. He can be quite the callous lover, you know.
There’s no case too big, no case too small
When you need help, just call
Ch-ch-ch-Chips ‘n Pale
And that was that. The Rosen Shingle was our final hotel on this wonderful holiday and it was a pleasure to stay there. Breaking the holiday up into four loose quarters and staying at four different venues was the perfect way to do it – it meant on ‘quiet’ days you had somewhere new to explore and you didn’t sicken yourself with the same foods each day. We were both given an opportunity to do what we love doing at home four times over – Paul ironing all the clothes, me packing them away diligently, and that’s always fun. I’m not one of these sorts who can live out of a suitcase, I find it altogether too stressful if I can’t see all of the 456 Fred Perry tops I’ve packed at any given time. We’d happily recommend all four hotels if you’re looking to go away, with the Contemporary and Hard Rock winning out on sheer convenience, the Hilton a close third and Rosen Shingle in fourth, but in no way indicative of the enjoyment of our stay at any of them.
Now we just need to plan the next round…