I'm just back from a week in the States with the family. I was trying out the Florida Gulf Coast for the first time and was pleasantly surprised that: a) it had survived BP's full-scale oil spill onslaught; b) the hurricane that normally hits Florida at this time of year decided to holiday in the UK instead.
We flew to Orlando and my main concern was getting out of the place as fast as possible before my kids realised that this was theme park Ground Zero.
We landed at night and I managed to drive away without them noticing. As we approached Sarasota, I punched the air in a silent celebration. Maybe I'd got away with it? Fat chance. By breakfast the following day the kids had been asked by at least seven kindly Floridians when they'd be visiting the theme parks and which one were they looking forward to the most. The game was up and, for the sake of a peaceful six days by a pool, I had to agree to give up the seventh to corporate entertainment on a truly epic level.
I couldn't handle Disney – I once spent a suicidal day in Disneyland Paris with a very excited young daughter. I know that the Americans might pull off the Disney charm thing a touch better than the French, but they could have at least got the food right. We were an hour outside Paris and yet forced to eat princess-shaped chips and unidentifiable pasta-gloop. I have a photo of my only smile of the day – right by the exit. One of my heroes is a Frenchman who smuggled a Smurf (non-Disney) costume into the place and got magnificent footage of him, as said Smurf, being unceremoniously booted out by Disney heavies.
So we decided to do Universal Studios and, I have to admit, it was pretty good. Some of the rides were a little tired (step forward The Simpsons) but a lot more than I expected were actually rather good, even for an old party-pooper like myself.
My kids, like yours I assume, are currently Minion mad. These are the tiny yellow things from the movie Despicable Me, and Universal was full of over-excited little people wandering around clutching their own personal Minion purchased for them by bankrupt parents in one of the interminable retail outlets that greet you at the exit to every single bloody ride. In the end you have to accept this place is not for you, but for the kids, and roll with it.
They loved seeing the huge foam TV characters wandering about. I batted off Scooby-Doo and SpongeBob – there was only one guy I wanted my photo with, Woody Woodpecker. There was no queue for Woody – another forgotten hero. I think I made his day. He certainly made mine.
Apart from Woody, I just wanted to find somewhere half-decent for lunch. Sadly, every time we saw a ye olde pizza establishment or a chophouse you would find the same enormo-buffet behind the fake front selling oily pizza, buckets of French fries and curious, ginormous deep-fried turkey legs. One American Dad waddled past me sporting a T-shirt that summed it all up. It read: "I'm not fat, I'm an American." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.