I’m going to be real honest with you guys. For the first time in my life, on our way from New Orleans to Orlando, I got homesick. I got it bad. I just lost a couple of really beautiful new friends as their part of the tour came to an end (miss you always Elise and Mariana!). I had barely had chance to speak to my family in weeks, I was stressed about finances and just felt really overwhelmed.
I started to get sick, so Panama City Beach was a blur, and our first night in Orlando I went to bed as soon as we got back from dinner and snoozed for 14 hours straight. Impressive right?
Because I did Universal last year I decided to bow out and have some well needed chill time. I ended up going to the movies to see Wonder Woman with my lovely tour running team. You guys know how I feel about DC, and after the overwhelming averageness that was Suicide Squad, this movie blew my socks off. I cried, as usual, as I watched a genre I have long loved but struggled to identify with be completely flipped on its head. No gratuitous up-skirt shots, no weak-woman-rescued-by-strong-man dynamic. It was incredible. I hope my future daughters continue to have incredible movies like this to seek inspiration from.
After that, feeling a lot better, I hit the pool with my gorgeous friends Geri and Justine for far too many tequila cans.
After our impressive display at the pool that afternoon I had completely and utterly written myself off for night one in Miami. We got pretty, and I went to bed straight after dinner again.
The next day I knew I well and truly needed a me day. Let me say this again for those in the back, there is absolutely nothing wrong with lying in bed with a picnic and Netflix when you’re on holiday. The idea is that it’s a holiday, so you do you gang! Sometimes a girl needs her crime shows and three naps. I also got to hear my parents voices and the gentle gurgling of my perfect nephew. Self imposed isolation worked a treat, because that night was party boat night.
Contiki hire a private boat for two hours, on which we got a sick DJ, four free drinks and a stunning view of the Miami skyline.
I didn’t party too hard because the next day would be one of my absolute highlights… Kennedy Space Centre!
I love space. I find it completely fascinating and mind-boggling. Last year my visit to NASA Houston was one of my favourite days. This year I powered away from the group the moment we got inside so I could cover as much as possible.
First I headed straight to the hall of fame for a truly awesome presentation.
This was followed by a tour of the whole facility and a recreation of the moon mission, over looking mission control.
Next I made my pilgrimage to the gift shop and met an astronaut!
Finally I watched a stunning presentation about our beautiful planet. It was an epic day.
That night we stayed at Daytona Beach, which was so peaceful and made my heart ache for my Goldie a little.
Our final stop in Florida was brief and magical, St Augustine.
The town is old, stunning and has all of the appeal and charm of somewhere like the Shambles in York or Old Town San Diego. Loren and I found ourselves lost in the hand crafted jewellery shops and quirky gift stores. I also had the best fried chicken of my life. BIG CALL. This was followed by an epic family BBQ.
After leaving Florida we had another stop that I fell in love with. Mi sonna innamorata. As usual!
I didn’t know much about Savannah, Georgia. For context, when Forrest goes to see Jenny in the cafe, it was filmed there! We saw the church, the square and even the cafe itself. Sadly the bench is chained away in the visitor’s centre.
We spent the day eating oysters and drinking alcoholic slushies.
That night had one of the best authentic experiences, a home cooked Southern meal with far too much to go around.
After that it was rooftop cocktails as the sun went down, extremely competitive Trivial Pursuit and the dive-iest gay bar I’ve ever been in for bad karaoke and dollar Jell-O shots.
The next day we had a lunch stop in Charleston. A lot of the group preferred it here, and though I loved the market and southern mansions, my heart remains with Savannah!
We had one whirlwind night in Raleigh of which I remember a great buffet and some really pretty looking bars, but it was really just a rest stop on our way to the one and only… Washington DC!
First on our agenda was a visit to Arlington Cemetery to pay our respects to the countless men and women lost to conflict. It’s always going to hurt, but they did it for their country. That bravery has to be honoured.
Now because I was in DC near on a year ago with another bunch of legends, I had already covered the main touristy bits. I’m not a museum person unless it’s related to a passion of mine, so I decided to dedicate the next two days to pure Leigh time.
This did mean about 70% of it was spent hungover.
Us lucky Contiki kids get a $10 open bar at an Irish pub called Shenanigans on our second night in the nation’s capital. I remember how badly this ended last time, and honestly, this time was even worse. No details needed. I just couldn’t open my eyes until 3pm the next day. It’s the free pour, I swear! The next night wasn’t a whole lot better. Geri and I ate our weight in Japanese food before a family night at the Italian next door. I was super classy with my white wine and we boogied around the beer pong table (I’ll never get the appeal of that game, but I suppose you need hand-eye coordination, that which I do not possess).
This was our last official night with the crew. This group had been so massive and wild it was definitely a challenge to connect with everyone, but I made some incredible friends who I know I’ll be seeing back home.
On our way up to NYC we made a stop in a city I will always have heavy affection for, Philadelphia.
I mean of course I love the Rocky story but it’s setting really is wildly appealing to me. I love the brashness of the locals, the accent, the food, the whole vibe of the place is pretty magnetic. It’s real and raw; just how I like my cities. It was an awesome stop that I honestly wish we stayed in longer.
Finally we made it to the end of the Grand Southern, and I lost my two special girls (and Trent) to Toronto and Boston. I don’t do goodbyes, just see you laters.
Thus began four nights in New York!
I definitely covered off the main things I wanted to see last time I was there, so this was going to be pure enjoyment.
Day one we met Dan, who would be taking care of us for the NY portion of our adventure. We had a pretty awesome city tour.
The next day Rachel and I headed out for one of my best days yet… Show day!
First we saw the darkest play I have ever seen, and one of the best books ever written, 1984.
The cast were spectacular, the stage direction flawless and I don’t think I breathed for most of the second half.
After a quick stop at Bubba Gumps to compose ourselves and cleanse our thoughts, we joined Louise and headed to see the magnificent Anastasia.
I have been following the progression of this show ever since it was announced last year, and it was just as magical as I’d hoped. It was one of my favourite films as a kiddo, I vividly remembered singing the songs at the top of my lungs around the house. We got all the classics and more, and the sexiest villain of all time.
I can’t recommend either of them enough!
That brought us to our final full day in the big apple, aka Leigh’s perfect day.
We had a picnic in Strawberry Fields. It’s the part of Central Park opposite The Dakota, the hotel John Lennon lived in and was murdered outside of. It’s a globally recognised garden of peace, it’s a memorial to genius and of course, has a stream of acoustic players jamming out the Beatles’ greatest hits. Heaven.
The next day is also the next chapter… the beginning of the Grand Northern! Boston baby, here I come…
Tune in next time.