Day 11 – Blizzard Beach & Old Town

Friday 24th August 2018

Well, today was going to be a nice, relaxing day at the water park with a bit of well-earned R&R. That was the plan, at least. What could possibly be simpler, right? By the end of the night, we were all thoroughly knackered. It was just around midnight that we finally stumbled into bed.

The day started well enough with our carefully crafted morning rituals pretty much taking care of themselves. We were out of the house perhaps a few minutes later than we had planned but no stress at this point. Our favourite Waffle House awaited us as usual down the other end of 192. Andy and Kirsty and the girls had chosen IHOP this morning and were in all likelihood just a few buildings up from us. Andy told me later in the day that it turned out to be quite an expensive breakfast for them.

We met up with them at Blizzard Beach shortly after everyone had had their usual fill. The car park was largely empty, which was a good sign. Still very hot with almost no clouds, we all went in search of somewhere shaded to park ourselves before exploring the delights of the various water attractions.

First up for all of us was the lazy river. The refreshing water (not terribly cold) was a much welcome escape from the beating sun – even at this time of the morning. We had a bit of a laugh putting Jennifer’s new GoPro to good use, making several short videos of everyone having fun in the water. It works pretty well. One of the accessories we bought her was a floating handle that the small camera attaches to. It’s just about the right shape and size to hold the camera in one hand while filming. Since it floats, it means the camera won’t sink to the bottom of the pool if you let it go. There’s a strap that ties it to your wrist, but I’ve caught Jennifer without the strap in place at least once so far. I wonder how long before she loses the bloody thing.

After the lazy river, we headed over to the ice berg assault course. This is where kids can climb across the water hopping from one floating ‘iceberg’ to the next with the aid of a rope net strung above them. Joey was much more comfortable in the water park this time. It was a marked difference to when we were at Typhoon lagoon the other day. It’s hard to know for sure why this is, but we did spend a bit of time with him beforehand showing him photos of what to expect and talking about the different attractions. He had decided he wanted to do the assault course himself, resolving to complete it – something of a challenge. Maybe it was because he was better prepared for what was to come or maybe he was just in a better frame of mind this morning. Whatever the reason, we weren’t complaining. He was very good for the entire day today. Winning.

Andy and I wanted to do the big attraction in the park – the Summit Plummit. And by this, I mean that I wanted to do it and had to drag Andy kicking and bloody screaming to get him to go on the ride. For those that don’t know, it’s basically the mother of all water slides. The whole thing is made to look like a ski jump, perched atop the mountain. The surrounding views are really quite awesome. It starts with a near vertical drop and then keeps going…and going…and going. By the time your half way down, your traveling at a frightening speed. Just in case they closed the attraction due to lightning, I insisted Andy go first. To his credit, he did. Those of us at the top, including a couple of staff members and a few other guests, chuckled at the screams echoing for some time after he disappeared over the edge. I went down next. OH MY GOD! I had forgotten what an experience it was. You end up dropping faster than the streaming water and sort of float atop it. The net effect is that you’re constantly buffeting against the water smashing into your legs, back and shoulders. They do tell you to make sure to cross your arms and legs, but the water was pounding my feet so much as I plummeted, I lifted my feet off the slide to relieve the pain. BIG mistake. When I finally came to a halt way, way down the end of the run off section of the slide, I was barely able to move and speaking with a timbre that would rival even that of Mickey Mouse himself with his testicles clamped into a vice. It took a few moments for my senses to return and I heard a booming voice say something about exiting to the left and moving all the way to the end. I could barely move, much less get up onto my feet. I sort of rolled out of the track and hobbled out.

Next up was the family raft ride, which entailed a trip up to the top of the attraction mountain first. We figured we’d give the chairlift a go. We made it all the way to the front of the queue and most of us got on without any fuss. Andy, on the other hand, was the last of our party to get on. Alas, just as he was ready to do so, they discontinued boarding. Apparently, whenever there’s lightening within twenty miles of the park, they shut down the chairlift, allowing those already on it to first complete their ascent. Andy did his best to point out he was with the rest of us, but they weren’t having any of it. I guess when safety is concerned, there’s not really any room for negotiation, which is fair enough.

As it happened, Andy made it to the top of the mountain on foot right about the same time we were arriving via the chairlift. Once reunited, we all piled in to the family raft ride, albeit we had to split ourselves across a couple of rafts. It did take a minute or two before we landed on a configuration of adults and kids, since some of the kids had their own expectations about who they did and didn’t want to sit with. A happy medium was eventually found and we all enjoyed ourselves. Jennifer, Courtney and Sophia were with me. Jennifer put her GoPro camera to good use, recording the progress of our ride right to the very bottom.

The ride kicked us out not far from our cabana, so we wandered over for a bit of a rest. While there, Jennifer pointed out that her GoPro battery indicator showed less than half a charge was remaining already. We came prepared for this very eventuality. Another of the accessories we bought Jennifer was a double battery charger and second battery. We removed the camera from the hand grip accessory and tried to remove the battery from its compartment. There’s a small tab on the actual battery that you use to pull the battery out. Unfortunately, the battery was stubbornly not shifting. We had to pull so hard, in fact, that the little tab snapped off entirely. Shit! Sandy and I spent the next fifteen minutes trying all we could to pry the stuck battery loose – unsuccessfully. We eventually had to concede, resolving to take the camera back to Walmart and claim a replacement. We’re not entirely sure what the problem was. Perhaps the battery had warmed up to the point it had expanded. Whatever the problem was, it did seem like a bit of a design flaw in the camera housing. I checked a few YouTube videos and support forums. There were plenty of other people complaining about the exact same problem. It wasn’t a complete disaster. We still have the 20,000mAh battery packs, so we just plugged it into one of those to give the battery a bit of a charge for an hour or so. We continued to use the GoPro throughout the day without further hindrance.

All the while the drama with the GoPro was playing out, the weather was steadily worsening. Not deterred, since we’re all in a water park and quite wet anyway, some of us set off in search of some snacks. The rain got progressively worse and the sky darkened. And by this, I mean it really got worse. It rained as hard as I’ve ever seen it rain anywhere. Eventually, it poured so profusely that we had to scramble for some cover. There was thunder and lightning all around with nothing short of a torrent unloading on us. We sought refuge at one of the service counters near the changing rooms. The storm had really gotten quite severe by now with a thunderstorm cell directly above us. Bolts of lightning were crashing all around us. One of the senior cast members behind the counter was urging people to stay close and to not walk around in the open. Evidently, one of the lightning strikes landed in the park itself, that’s how close the cell was to us. Several of the kids were now quite agitated with some of them in tears. The staff were brilliant. The senior cast member, Danielle, decided to keep the kids entertained with an impromptu Disney trivia game. She chose two teams, of which our group was one, and used her phone to look up some trivia questions. She did a fantastic job with distracting the kids, although I caught the odd glance from her that suggested she was quite worried about the severity of the storm directly overhead. We all did our best to calm the kids with reassuring cuddles, telling them everything would be fine, etc. Although I was full of smiles and laughter, I was actually a little concerned. The entire floor all around us was practically a river by now. Everyone was standing in this river barefoot. One strike of lightning near where we were and who knows what would have happened.

After about a half hour, the thunderstorm finally started to subside. It continued to rain heavily for another fifteen minutes after the thunder and lightning dissipated but the sky got slowly brighter. Sandy was the only one of our group that was still over by the cabana. We made our way back there to find her, some other park guests and a handful of cast members all huddled together under the cabana. Pretty much everything was by now drenched.

With the rain continuing to subside, Sandy took Joey and left the park. The rest of us decided we’d hang out longer. Hopefully, the water attractions would re-open soon and we could enjoy the remainder of the day here. About ten minutes after Sandy and Joey left, that’s exactly what happened.

With the skies continuing to clear, we all made it up the hill for another crack at the family raft ride. Just like the first time, it was a lot of fun. The kids next wanted to spend a bit of time in the wave pool, which sounded like a great idea so that’s where we went next.

Some of the kids were hankering for snacks, so we found a fairy floss booth that sorted that issue out in short order. This particular booth also sold something called a funnel cake. I happened to mention I’d not tried one of these before. Naturally, there was a lot of peer pressure for me to try one (frankly, it didn’t take much). On the menu board, the price was listed as $7 but there were a couple of smaller side options. One of these was ‘Add ice-cream for $2’. Well, what’s a chap to do? Thinking I’d get a small dollop of ice-cream topped on to the funnel cake, I placed my order. The funnel cake itself is sort of like extruded doughnut mixture formed into a plate sized and shaped lattice. It was then topped with icing sugar. It looked and smelled delicious. But then came the added side of ice-cream. Instead of a small, semi-spherical dollop on top, the cast member added a one-inch thick slab of vanilla ice-cream that was about as big as the damned funnel cake itself. Un-be-lievable. It was absolutely yummy. I think the kids ate a small piece each, but they didn’t really stand a chance. Andy and I sat together and polished the entire bloody thing off in less than a minute. I have to say it was the best thing I’ve eaten since I arrived. Truly an amazing experience. I do hope to repeat it before we leave the area.

Relaxing from the post funnel cake/ice-cream induced coma, we spent the next fifteen minutes all lounging in inflatable tubes in the wave pool. I felt so relaxed, I even started nodding off. Courtney, bless her, noticed this and decided she’d ‘help me’ stay awake. No sleeping on the job for Uncle Chrissy today!

For the next hour or so, we tried out various slides and rides. Courtney managed to find herself a small, live, frog, which she carried around with her for a bit. Fortunately, the frog managed to make its way into a bush, surviving for another day. I’m stunned it made it through the experience alive. Andy was telling me about the various pets they have lost in recent times.

We all had one final round on the lazy river, which was a relaxing experience that was just what the doctor ordered. It was close to the park closing time, so we made our way back to the lockers to get showered and changed. I had my phone in a waterproof pouch around my neck for much of the day, so I was in contact with Sandy a few times. She made her way back to the park to collect Jennifer and me.

We had agreed to have dinner and spend the rest of the evening together. I had suggested we dine at Ruby Tuesday’s. The satnav did want to initially send us to a previous address for a Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant that has since closed, but we did all eventually make it to the nearest one – despite the fact that Andy was using sub-standard and inferior non-Apple technology, bless him.

The dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s was very good. At just over $100 for the table of eight, we were happy with the price also. Since we wanted to treat Andy and Kirsty, I picked up the tab. We’ve been leapfrogging each other with paying for various things when we’ve spent time together over the past week. It’s actually been really nice spending time with them and I really wanted an opportunity to treat them, so this seemed like as good a chance as any.

We left the restaurant and set off back in the direction of Old Town, where the two girls (Jennifer and Sophia) were keen to try the slingshot ride again – yes, seriously. This time it was dark and well into the evening. I found myself having to re-evaluate my impression of Old Town. The last time we were here, the whole place seemed tired and run down with very few people around. This time, it was an amazing atmosphere with hordes of people all over the place. It was a much more vibrant place. We even had difficulty finding a place to park. At least I did – Andy stumbled into a car slot that someone was just exiting. I had to contend with parking in the private car park of a hotel across the street. All evening I was worried I’d return to find the car clamped or towed.

Given all the ribbing I received from Andy the last time we were here, it was payback time. I really went to town on him to try to get him into the slingshot contraption. If his seven-year-old daughter could do it, so could he! Me and Kirsty went to work on him persistently until he finally cracked and caved in. Yes!  He finally made it into the chair along with Sophia. Of course, I did my best to reassure him everything would be OK. You know, with things like asking him whether his life insurance was up to date and so on. My efforts to wear him down throughout the night were paid off and then some when he was finally launched into the air amid screams of panic and expletives. Oh, how sweet is the taste of revenge 🙂

Between us all, we did no fewer than four launches on that damned thing – including a second one for me. I do have to say that the second one was much more fun, albeit only slightly less terrifying than the first time a couple of nights ago.

We did several more attractions over the course of the night. There was a trampoline that the little kids could go on with harnesses fixed to elastic strings to help them jump high into the sky. Joey was initially refused access to this on account he was too tall. That would have been the end of the evening for us, as he was quite upset and parked himself on the floor as a result. When I explained to the lady in charge that he was autistic and that it would mean the world to him (not to mention us) if she could bend the rules a little. Fortunately, that’s exactly what she did. Joey had his turn and was a happy camper from that point on. Phew! That was a close call.

The one thing above all that Joey wanted for the night was to ride on the go-karts. We hadn’t had enough time the last time we were here to accommodate him with that, so we resolved to remedy this for tonight. The go-karts were one of a cluster of thrill rides and attractions in a separate section adjacent to the slinghshot ride. I spent $20 on a ticket for both of us to ride. While we did that, some of the others went on some of the other rides.

Joey and I had to wait for two groups ahead of us to complete their circuits of the multi-level go-kart track before we went on. As the noise was quite intense, I asked for a helmet for Joey to help muffle the sound for him. He was already struggling and holding his ears. Our ticket allowed us each our own cart, or we could go in a double together. Joey chose the latter. There were about twenty-five carts released onto the circuit at a time. The track consisted of a helix that circled around several times and up several stories before emerging out over a peak at the top of the structure. Over that peak was a sudden drop down a suicidal – I shit you not – incline and straight into a hairpin turn with a steep camber. Another ridiculously steep drop after that took us down to the ground level where we started, and the whole thing repeated. We did four or five of these circuits before the session ended. I say four or five since I don’t remember the exact number. I think I was too terrified to think straight. Those steep drops were so aggressive that the go-kart barely slowed down even with my entire weight plunged onto the break. I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn’t had my foot full on the break or even if I had my foot on the accelerator. I suspect it would have resulted in much bloodshed. It does have to be said, however, that it made for a truly thrilling experience – both for me and for Joey, who surprisingly enough absolutely loved it.

I came out of the go-kart shaking a little. It really was that intense. A quick time check revealed we had spent more time here than any of us realised, as it was pushing eleven O’clock already. All of the kids were now getting tired and cranky, so we called it a night. Everyone had had enough excitement for one night.

As I had Courtney’s child seat still in my car (she insisted on travelling in our car from the restaurant), I walked over to where I had parked. Fortunately, the car was still there with no clamp or ticket. I drove back to where Andy had parked. We re-located the child seat and bid each other another fond farewell.

Much to our surprise, neither Jennifer nor Joey were in the mood for their customary dollar MacDonald’s burger on the way home. This was a sure-fire sign they really were that tired.

When we fell across the threshold back into the house, a burning sensation across my back and shoulders revealed an error for me from earlier in the day. I had neglected to put on any sunscreen. I removed my top to reveal the extent of the damage in the light. It was quite bad. I practically looked British.

I had just enough energy to offload the videos from Jennifer’s GoPro and the Old Town USB stick (where the slingshot ride video footage was saved to) and write up the notes to this blog before I fell into an unconscious stupor. Isn’t a day at the water park supposed to be the most relaxing of days? Today ended up being the most adrenaline pumped full-on exhausting day of the holiday so far. I swear I cannot take much more of this bloody relaxation.