As Phil Collins once said, against all odds, we somehow managed to get away and have this bloody holiday. Sadly, as has been well documented and lamented pre trip, not everyone who should have been there was, but I am still claiming it as some form of kharmic victory that we won the war of attrition and got to have some sort of a holiday.
It’s fair to say that this victory was in doubt right up until the last minute. I was not sure I would could/would be going, leaving Louise behind, literally until I walked out of the door. It is safe to say we have had happier starts to a holiday, but with all those caveats aside let try to take you with us on this trip and share what we got up to, mainly what we ate and what sort of experience you have when you try to have a holiday mid-pandemic.
The title is the catch phrase of our trip. Every time we joined a queue, arrived at a restaurant or needed to wait anywhere for a few seconds, we would hear “Why’s it taking long?” For clarity that was Freddie, and not me, but at times it was close. More on queues and waiting later!
I awoke at 5.30am when my alarm sounded. I was dressed and showered ten minutes later and I got mine and Emily’s cases into the car. The goodbye to Louise was not easy, but we were on our way by 6.10. The mood in the car was subdued to say the least.
I managed to find my way to T2 West car park avoiding the £5 fee this time. If you drive through the drop off lane you have to pay £5 for the privilege and this time, determined (and tight) I spotted a sign at a key roundabout to avoid that. Having made that saving we could now live it up large on holiday of course.
We parked up on Level 2, and as we were dragging the cases from the car Rebecca, Tom and Freddie got out of their car just a few spaces away from us. We masked up and wandered into Terminal 2. It was quiet and we were surprised to see that check in did not open until 7.30am and we were expecting a 7am opening, the usual four hours before take off. We loitered at the relevant place and then just as it was about to open we were approached and asked if we had checked in online. We had. So we were then diverted to a self serve kiosk. What could possibly go wrong? I am after all a technical genius and not some middle-aged boomer who is struggling to cope with the modern world. Right?
The process was not simple. Somehow we managed to weigh and label all our cases but then needed human help anyway as we had a stroller and a car seat to check in. Even then we had to walk all the way down to the large item drop off with the car seat. Trying to be helpful to Rebecca and her pregnant state, just Tom and I walked down only to discover we needed the boarding pass and passport of Freddie, which Rebecca had in the bag, and she had to come down anyway. Sigh.
COVID wise there was no bother. The VeriFly app did all the work and as long as you are all green and good to go on there, no checks were made of any vaccination records or anything else.
Restrooms were used and we made our way through to security. It was painful. Ryan (for anyone who doesn’t know, Ryan is my rucksack) had been pulled to one side for further inspection. That resulted in a ten minute wait whilst some burly Mancunian had a good feel of my sack. It turns out Emily had put her lip balm into Ryan and left it there. Having decided the liquid was harmless, Ryan was released and we could now head for food. All the queues and faff were over. Or were they?
Terminal 2 at Manchester seems to have changed a lot in recent years and it is fairly unrecognisable from many of our previous trips. It appears now to only have a couple of eateries and both had huge queues. Peaking into the restaurants we could see a load of empty tables so we could only assume they were having staffing issues. Being very clever, Emily and I joined one queue and Tom and Rebecca the other and we would see who got to the front first. After about fifteen minutes we both got to the respective podiums simultaneously. We chose San Carlos.
Me – Full Works Sandwich
Freddie – Kid’s Breakfast
Rebecca and Tom – The Full Italian (see what they did there?)
Emily – Smashed Avocado on Toast
Juice and coffees all around, but they had no orange or apple juice, and this delicious lot was £85 including a tip. It was very nice indeed.
It took an age to pay. Our server just kept avoiding our table it seemed for some reason, so I told everyone else to go and do their shopping etc and I would wait to pay. With that done, I restroomed ( I am but human after all) and went to not one but two WH Smiths. I was in search of water and a notepad for the taking of trip report notes.
At the second Smiths I did find a suitable pad and took it to the self checkout thing along with my water and Emily’s mints. The pad had no bar code on it so it could not be scanned or paid for. I await my arrest.
Our gate had not yet been put up on the boards so we had a sit down for a few minutes. Tom wandered off in search of an Apple Watch from the Currys store. Much like San Carlos, they had no apples either and he was denied. Remember when shops and restaurants had pretty much everything you wanted? Good times.
Gate A6 appeared on the board so off we went.
We sat at the gate and as ever, watched everyone queue up for no reason. We boarded last and found our seats. Louise’s seat was empty. I had only cancelled her ticket a few days ago so I was hopeful I would at least have some extra room as a result of a bad situation.
The leg room was fine, and overall I could not fault Aer Lingus. We will definitely use them again. Comfort wise they were fine, soft drinks were free as were the headphones and I could find nothing that would deter me from booking with them in future.
Here’s a picture of my huge sack between my legs.
Everyone else was in a four across the aisle.
This was my view as we waited around an hour on the tarmac.
This again was caused by staff shortages with baggage handlers. Instead of our 11am departure, it was almost 12.20pm when we picked up speed down the runway and took off. In that hour and a bit, the chap in front of me went to the loo twice. See a doctor for goodness sake! One of my pet peeves about flying is that you never take off at the time on your ticket so I was not enjoying this “wasted time” sat on a plane that was not actually moving. Taking off, when Louise would normally have my hand in a death grip was when it really hit home that she wasn’t with us.
I plugged in the head phones after drinks and a packet of at least eight pretzels were served and was delighted to find Series 1 of The West Wing on there. Over Christmas I had started to re-watch this and I was about half way through the first season. I polished off the rest during this flight.
After a while I spotted a small sign saying Wi-Fi was available. I didn’t get it, but I think it was about £6 for 50GB of data.
I found the meal to be very tasty. I had Beef Stroganoff (the other choice was Chicken Ravioli).
Emily and Freddie received their pre-ordered kids and veggie meals without issue.
After a while Freddie came to visit to give his Mum and Dad a break. Clearly my engaging conversation skills were not lost on him.
The flight was scheduled to take nine and a half hours. There was no explanation offered, but it felt like longer. That extra 90 minutes or so than we have had previously really made a difference. I got so bored that I went into the games section of the in flight entertainment and taught myself how to play Texas Hold Em poker. Sadly that was not the name of any of the films on offer which may have been more entertaining.
As we continued to fly, seemingly endlessly, I was starting to make my notes on events so far. Every time we do this trip I hate the faff and stress of getting to Florida. The whole morning is complicated, stressful and usually an early start. Of course, I’d rather be doing any and all of that than going to work, but each time I say I will try to enjoy the experience, but I don’t. Travel day is always a mess of hurry up and wait and wanting to get the next bit of faff over with so you are closer to your destination. An inability to enjoy the journey must be some kind of life metaphor I’m sure.
As you will have seen from the photos above, masks were required and they would be for large chunks of the holiday. Honestly, we had no issues with them at all, and in fact in many scenarios they made us feel safer and more protected. On the flight there were of course a good number of folks with them under their chins and noses and I spent a good deal of time glaring at them in a proper British passive aggressive way. They are required so do it properly!
At the airport we had spotted a service dog with someone. It turns out they were on our flight. It seemed odd seeing a dog on a plane, but every time it wandered by with its owner all I could think about was where was it peeing and pooping?
At some point we were served an ice cream which was also very nice. We were in the hard yards now with about three hours still to go. I watched The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s Wife or something like that. I noted it was 19:37 UK time at this point.
Our last food was a pocket chicken tikka thing. I don’t why I am always hungry on a flight, but I devoured this in no time. As we got into the final hour and a half I started to watch some episodes of Friends, mainly as I could tell myself if I watched three we would be almost there by then.
Finally, finally we landed at 21:40 UK time, 16:40 in Orlando.
Immigration was a delightful ten minute wait. Just so you know, even if all your party are on one locator form you still need to go up to the immigration chap in separate households. The cases took a little while and as ever we ignored the double bag drop thing and carted everything up the escalator and onto the monorail. Mayor Buddy Dwyer, it was good to hear your voice.
We then dragged everything over to the “B” section to get our car. After an interminable series of elevators and stairs we found our way to the SixT desk to get our car. There was nobody in the queue, just me waiting for one of the two agents to become free. As the next one did she told me that desk had now just closed and we would have to go over to the desk in “A”. Yes, all the way back to where we had just walked and then some. I asked if she could possibly process me before closing as we had been flying for what felt like 27 days. Nope, off we went. I will gloss over my feelings and emotions at this time. This was not a good moment.
Once we got to “A” I was sorted in five minutes. We were directed to the relevant garage and were handed our keys. On the way we stopped at the Visitor Toll Pass Booth. I had pre-ordered this and it is a toll pass thing linked to your credit card that you hang from your rear view mirror. It means you can use the automated Sun Pass lanes rather than fiddling around for quarters. I recommend it. So there was no choosing of your vehicle with SixT but we were very happy with our Chrysler Pacifica.
With Louise not travelling we were able to collapse two thirds of the rear seat to give enough room for the luggage. Had she been with us she would have had to find her own way to the villa, so that was one positive.
Once we got to the 192 I realised we had done so, in the dark, with no headlights on and I hurriedly found the relevant knob to correct the error caused by the other knob who was driving . But the toll thing was a big success. For many years we have been trying to find change and had to stop at teach toll booth when all you want to do is get to your accommodation.
Finding the villa was fun. It is on a very new development. So new that my trusty sat nav had never heard of it and even Google maps was struggling. I called the number the owner had given me to be talked in, stopped in at the clubhouse of the incorrect development and finally found the right guard house for Solara resort. Freddie was asleep in the car at this point and if this carried on much longer I would have been too.
We got there eventually and my word the villa was stunning. We all found our rooms and I did some unpacking. Tom and I then headed out to the supermarket for supplies. There was another struggle to actually find a way out of the development but we wended up at the Berry Town supermarket on the 27. Two trollies and $214 later and we were done. We needed food so wandered to the pizza place a few doors down. It was 10:27 now. I know that as the chap there told us they closed in three minutes and he didn’t seem that happy to see us. We ordered two large cheese pizzas and waited outside. He handed/threw the boxes at us and quickly locked his door. The pizzas were $34.
Getting back to the villa was easier this time and we all inhaled some pizza and fell into beds at 10:30 Orlando time, 3:30am UK time. I was exhausted.
It may be an age thing, but these travel days seem to get harder and this one had been a struggle for all kinds of reasons. Anyway, onwards to less stressful and fun times, right?
Till the next time…….