Harry Potter and the $21 lager mystery ...

Hard Rock Hotel, Orlando
Hard Rock Hotel, Orlando
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By Paul McCabe

I’m just recently back from my summer holidays.

Yeah, that’s right, this is a what-I-did-on-my-holidays article, like you used to have to write at primary school (“went to Blackpool” was mine usually). Anyone suggesting that it’s because I couldn’t think of anything else to write about would be quite, quite, wrong. Ahem.

So we went to Orlando in Florida this year. A quite spectacularly bank-account-bustingly-expensive affair but worth it.

During our two week stay we had one night in the Hard Rock Hotel, nirvana for a music nerd like myself, but such was the mad rush nature of the holiday I didn’t really get to see as much of it as I would have liked. There was one part of it, however, that I did experience and that I haven’t quite got over yet.

I decided to watch the Argentina - Holland World Cup semi-final at the poolside bar. Pulling up a stool I was greeted by a bearded, baseball cap-wearing, laid back, high-fivin’, dude of a bar man. Sitting beside me was a woman with a delicious looking frosted pint glass of lager. I told dude-bloke that I’d have one too and paid for it with a $50 note that I’d been wanting to break. Dude-bloke came back with my change and a receipt which showed that I’d just been charged $21 for a pint of lager.

It broke down roughly as $12 for the lager, $4 for the glass which I was allowed to keep (you’re too kind, cheers), a $3 tip already included and the rest made up in tax. As an ex-bartender myself it was the $3 tip for simply pouring a pint that got me. I began imagining what the reaction would have been if I’d awarded myself a £1 tip every time I served the gadges and radges in the bar I worked in on Edinburgh’s Corstorphine Road. A trip to A & E probably.

It also turned out that the bubbles and frosting on the “glass” were just an illusion that my idiot brain had fallen for, it was actually plastic. And just to put a lid on it all, the game, which I could have watched in our room for free, was a complete snoozefest unlike the previous day’s incredible Germany-Brazil match which I’d missed.

We chose our alcohol-rip-off stay in the Hard Rock because it ensured us tickets to Universal Studios for two days as well as letting us into the Harry Potter bit an hour early, i.e. 7.00 a.m. Not actually being much of a Harry Potter fan, ‘Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince’ I consider to be one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The first thing I was hit with was a go on the main Harry Potter ride at 7.30 in the morning. Now I do like going on rides but getting spun about at that time was just a bit too much for me.

Still the rest of it was admittedly pretty amazing, dizzy though I was. There was a whole new section called Diagon Alley which had opened just a couple of days earlier. My favourite bit of all was the Hogwarts Express, an actual proper steam train which you can ride between the two Harry Potter parks. Quite genteel after having been thrown about like a sock in a washing machine on the earlier ride. It almost made me want to rewatch the awful films. Almost, but not quite.

Of course we also went to all of the Disney parks, which were quite an experience but a pain to get to unless you paid for a $40 taxi. The bloke on the travel desk at our hotel, possibly America’s campest man, told us a journey back on the bus would take two to three hours, so suggested “a good book or sparkling conversationalist”. Now a line like that? THAT’S worth a $3 tip.

Holiday over and back in Blighty I spent a week suffering the most awful jetlag, something I had never experienced before and which I had always thought people made too much of a fuss whinging over. Wrong! It’s a horrible thing . You’re a total zombie until you shake it.

Anyway everything’s back to normal now, so join me if you would and raise a $21 plastic pint “glass” to Florida. But should you go yourself, keep an eye out for over friendly dude-bloke bartenders.