herald

Monday 20 November 2017

Ash and magic are in the air in florida

THURSDAY: Travel writers and tour operators are a small and intimate community, people who spend their lives up in the air and meet at sundown receptions at beach resorts. Some of those returning from Indaba in South Africa last week did not make it home. Jeannette van Oeveren from Amsterdam was among the dead in the Libyan air crash.

Concourse E, the Bacardi Rum bar, Miami Airport. We are supposed to be heading for Key Largo but are awaiting colleagues delayed by an ash cloud that it is becoming clear to everyone except the Met Office minders, does not exist.

FRIDAY: On to Key West, a place that is closer to Havana than Miami, but far removed culturally from both. This is white America at play. The guests all speak English, unusually for southern Florida, a place where a huge chunk of the population has no English. In the afternoon I pay homage to Ernest Hemingway, who lived here for nine years. The great man's house was the biggest in town. I prefer the Havana haunts, but this was good fun.

SATURDAY: Harry S Truman used to come here and we saw his place. Impressively, he started each day off with a small bourbon, which is an ideal way to run a country.

SUNDAY: An inspirational visit. Pat Croce is a pirate aficionado, and has built a $10m, 460sqm visitor attraction to house a handful of prize artefacts, one of two surviving skull-and-crossbones flags, the only surviving pirate treasure chest (it belonged to Thomas Tew) among them. The problem is that there are not enough visitors to make Pirate Soul viable, so he is raising anchor and moving to Fort Augustine.

MONDAY: Back to Orlando and the Kennedy Space Centre. Astronaut Bob Stringer shows us the simulator that recreates the noise and feel of a shuttle launch and talks about his time in space. His abiding memory is of his first peek out of the window, at the straits of Gibraltar.

TUESDAY: The Americans call their big tourism fair 'Pow Wow'. This year it is in Orlando, and we are being wined and dined by the big local theme parks, Disney and Universal. There is only one thing to talk about, the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a theme park within a theme park, dressed up like the Hogwarts of the movie. JK Rowling was a consultant on the project and had a say in many of the details down to what the butter beer was made of (a secret formula of butterscotch and shortbread flavouring). Mmmm.

WEDNESDAY: The heavens opened. Florida is the lightning capital of the USA. You should have seen the speed with which they cleared the swimming pool at the Hard Rock Hotel.

Savvy Traveller by Eoghan Corry, How the Travel Industry Works and How to Make it Work for you, is now on sale, priced €15

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