The “Why’s It Taking Long” Tour 2022 – Day One

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.

We had….

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…….

A Lack Of Positivity

I hope everyone had a glorious festive period. My radio silence over that time was intentional. You didn’t need me moaning about the usual stuff as you celebrated. Also, a lot has happened since I last posted.

The main thrust from a COVID restrictions point of view is that there haven’t been any, yet. I’ve long since given up trying to predict what may happen. We will just deal with whatever happens as it does. That all became fairly insignificant on the 22nd of December when Louise’s mum was found at home after not answering her phone for a few hours, having had what was thought to be a minor stroke. She was taken to hospital and remains there.

At that point of course none of us were even thinking of the holiday. It was apparent at that point that based on how she was then, we could not be sure of anything, least of all a trip to the States.

Over Christmas her condition has improved marginally and at least she is speaking a little and knows who we are. The hospital she was in for the first week or so was in lockdown due to a COVID outbreak and it was heart-breaking not being able to visit. We Face Timed every day so at least she got to see us that way. She has now moved to her local hospital and Louise at least is allowed to go and see her.

The long term implications of all this are unknown at this stage, but as much as we can say, she seems relatively stable now and out of immediate danger as much as anyone aged 90 can be after what she has been through. Please send her your collective best wishes for a good recovery. Here she is in better health not long ago.

Over many long discussions, despite Louise deciding not to travel, she has been adamant that the rest of us should go. We have been debating and worrying about this constantly and none of us are entirely comfortable with that option.

It would take too long to cover here all the different elements and factors around making this decision and whichever way it ended up going, none of us could say we would be totally happy.

With Mary now in a bed in her local hospital rather than the specialist stroke unit at Salford and with her having improved slightly, we have decided to take the trip without Louise. Even typing that makes me uncomfortable, but for many reasons, and mainly not to break Freddie’s heart by cancelling, we are going to go ahead.

If I heard someone else was doing this I would be shaking my head in disappointment and bewilderment so I understand anybody else doing the same. I could go into all the reasons for doing this but it would only be to make myself feel better and that wouldn’t work either, so it is what it is.

All this comes before any concerns about the current state of the pandemic of course but everyone who can be is triple jabbed or recently recovered in Tom’s case and he now has to wait to get the booster, so we have done all we can. This trip has always felt like a war of attrition and going despite many internal voices screaming I shouldn’t seems the only way this saga could have ended.

What sort of trip we will have I don’t know. It obviously won’t be the same without Louise being there for a start before we add in the worry about Mary and how Louise is coping back at home. There will be a lot of video calls for sure. Whether we will be able to relax and have some fun remains to be seen but at least Freddie will get to go on what will be the first trip he remembers after what has been almost two years of telling him he is going to see Mickey. Moving the trip again wasn’t an option for a couple of reasons. One, Rebecca is 20 weeks pregnant so any trip for her now will need to be at least 12 months from now when the new arrival is at least six or seven months old and of course we have no way to know what will be happening with Mary with anything like the degree of certainty we would need to know when a future trip my be possible for us all.

Rocks and hard places have been the story of our festive period.

So I’m a mess of conflicting emotions. I feel like a dick for going and leaving Louise at home but she wants us to go and have a good time. In addition to abandoning my wife and mother in law I am flying my family into the eye of a horrendous COVID storm in the shape of Florida and more trivially most of the parks seem to have closed 70% of their rides for maintenance the day before we get there. Can you feel the positive vibes gushing forth for this trip??

Hopefully it will all feel better once we get there. Negative tests permitting of course.

Speaking of which, I did my required testing this morning and the results confirmed my suspicions and feelings about myself right now.

We are all thankfully negative. Once we had decided to go ahead we have literally hidden ourselves away for days trying to avoid all human contact. It feels like more people have COVID than not right now, so a full house of negatives is a miracle I was not expecting.

Let’s see what we can make of this trip with all these positive vibes going for it!

As ever on our trips, I’ll be going live on the Mkingdon Facebook page from time to time so give that a Like if you want to be pestered by that.

Till the next time….

Incoherent Ramblings About The Unknown

What a mess. Stress levels are through the roof, much like case numbers and with each passing hour we seem less sure of what will happen.

Welcome to trip planning pandemic style.

There are those who might say, why are you attempting to travel in a pandemic. I have some sympathy with that view, however, the rest of time will contain COVID so if not now, when? I guess after Omicron has run its course? See how I can argue with myself endlessly?

If I had tried to choose travel dates that would lead to the ultimate stress and confusion levels, I could not have done much better. It seems our dates will be right in the eye of this storm and there is no way to begin to predict what might be the situation. In the coming weeks perhaps the UK may be seeing a tailing off of Omicron cases, but the US is a little behind us and could be right at the peak. Having said that, the US may be just as bad as us right now and is just doing less testing. Who the hell knows.

Whilst much of my brain naturally gravitates to the worst case scenario, which is me fighting for refunds for the next three months or so, and staring down the barrel of no WDW trip until well into 2023, there is some small part of me which is mildly optimistic. This part of my brain ordered my “new trainers for the holiday” this week. Once again they are not the bright white abominations of years gone by. These days I am all about the blue Skechers. Very comfy.

Just to add a little spice to the mix last week, on Tuesday, Tom tested positive, initially on lateral flow and later confirmed by PCR. Rebecca and Freddie have spent the week sleeping on a blow up bed away from Tom and so far, their daily testing has come up negative. It’s weird.

So what on earth is our plan? Good question.

We’ve decided to limit all interaction over Christmas once we get past Christmas Day. We have cancelled a panto on the 27th, all of Mustard’s gigs leading up to Christmas were cancelled and we will pretty much only be seeing those who are travelling plus our triple jabbed parents in the ten days up to departure.

We are and will be testing very regularly and I think the main risk to us being able to go will be one of us testing positive within those ten days before we go. That is very stressful. Even by doing no mixing beyond Christmas Day there is still a chance one of use tests positive in the few days after that of course. Tom should be OK now as he’s been through it but I cannot tell you how stressed I am about one of us getting it before we go.

At some point, and I think that will be next week, we need to go ahead and order the remaining tests we don’t yet have booked, specifically the return to the UK ones. They can take a few days to arrive and with the festive break that’s as late as I want to leave it. I’m also going to buy some extra travel insurance to protect us against not being able to travel due to infection/isolation and if any of us test positive over there and need to stay for the ten days isolation. For our PCR tests once back in the UK , we can order them whilst we are in the US as we only need that order reference for our passenger locator form 48 hours before flying home. Things may change before we fly back as that is over four weeks away yet. They could be back to lateral flow or we could of course be required to quarantine for ten days depending on how things play out.

With all of this in mind, of course, the easy option would be to not go at all. But then, refunds become more challenging as there is technically nothing stopping us going, so that would be a battle and we would no doubt lose very large chunks of cash. It’s going to be a very nervy few weeks for sure. This is adding to what is already a stressful period of life and there is no perfect or anything close to perfect solution right now. We just have to wait.

I honestly don’t think there will be a closure of borders by the US. I don’t know of course, but it seems pointless. France and Germany seem to be restricting travel for UK visitors, but I think there are other things at play there. France may well be political and Germany has had a horrendous time with Delta which is just subsiding, so with Omicron just about to hit them they are doing all they can I guess. Border closures seem futile. Omicron is already everywhere and if arrivals are tested and vaccinated they pose no greater risk than anyone already in that country. The big risk and fear for us is a positive test amongst our group on or after Christmas Day. Have I mentioned that I am stressed about this?

Trying to predict what may happen is becoming my main hobby and I simultaneously read articles that tell me Omicron is more mild and hospitals will be fine, and South Africa is now seeing case numbers fall away again, and other ones which tell me Omicron is at least as severe as Delta and we should already be in full lockdown.

I think it is inevitable that further restrictions will come to the UK. I suspect had they not pissed away all their credibility by having an endless series of parties last Christmas we would be in tighter restrictions now. I don’t think anything the UK government does can stop us flying to the US. That is the prerogative of Biden. Again I am guessing.

I did think yesterday just how nice it would be to just be able to count down to this trip, certain that we would be going. How we all took that concept for granted.

Fifteen days to go. None of us can get excited, it does not feel like we are going and maybe that will be the outcome. Only uncertainty remains certain and you all know how well I deal with that.

If you are in a pre-trip position like us, you have all our sympathies. I know this is just a bloody holiday and people are losing their lives and livelihoods. We are fortunate in many, many ways of course, but I can only talk about my own experiences really and this is what they are. A frustrating mess. The worst bit I think is that there isn’t even a deadline beyond which I feel confident saying we will be going. We could be in this tense limbo until departure. What a fun couple of weeks this will be.

Till the next time…….

Coin Toss

I really should know better and by now, tempting fate should be the last thing I do, but, if I am honest, at times I can almost convince myself that we may actually get to go on this holiday. Well, from a COVID restrictions point of view anyway.

Other life events, particularly the well being of Louise’s Mum may play their part yet, but I don’t think we will see any further travel restrictions now. Let’s face it, it is impossible to undertake any more testing than is already in place and with Omicron now everywhere in the world, there is very little to be gained from closing borders.

The other event that happened this week has also all but confirmed that we will go. We have bought two new suitcases. That investment means there is no turning back now and we must be aboard that plane.

What sort of trip we will have is a different matter of course, with all these tests, masks and faff but we take what we can get at this stage.

That’s one way to look at things but as with every painful twist and turn through this epic will we won’t we saga it is equally easy to argue that every passing day sees the messaging being ramped up about the need for further restrictions and rather than just do them, the powers that be as ever leak out teasers to test the waters and soften us up.

Literally anything could happen between now and January 3rd. I think it is pretty likely that January will see some tighter lockdown rules in the UK once we’ve all done our duty by spending all our money in the shops and at our Christmas parties, and if we do get to go then we may just miss their introduction but come home to them. Ten days quarantine for returning travellers anyone?

It is a bit surreal to be this close to a trip and still not know if we will go. This is the closest we have got of all the dates we’ve had booked, but for our own sanity I think we have had to not let ourselves believe it is happening. I’m not even sure if and when there may be further reviews and announcements. Having gone into plan B in a panic to divert the media has he now shot his bolt that he had loaded for the 19th of December?

It probably doesn’t matter as only a US change of policy about their borders would scupper us I think. My guess is the first we would hear about that will be if it happens. I am so weary of tossing this same coin what feels like every week now. I’m sure you are too.

So we go on, day by day, edging closer to a final answer. If I were a betting man and had to put a money on one outcome I would say right now it’s more likely we get to go, just. Only just. Much as this endless uncertainty has removed much of the wind from my sails for the anticipation of this trip it has also removed the same wind from writing about it, so we will leave it there for everyone’s sanity and see what next week brings.

Till the next time…..

Testing Times

It sounds counter intuitive but I have been through some really dark times in relation to this bloody holiday. Of course, that’s me being a drama queen and it shouldn’t be like that, but we live in unprecedented times.

Last week, I think it was Tuesday, I approached the point of “this isn’t worth it”. I’ve been close at various points and there wasn’t one major event that broke this camel’s back, so I guess it was the culmination of lots of straws.

I awoke to a message from a blog reader over in the States. Yes, that’s right, this blog IS international baby. He was giving me a heads up about a rumour that testing requirements were about to change in the US. I was still sulking and reeling from the move to PCRs on the return to the UK so this was not surprising, but it was unwelcome news.

I did some twittering and other internet things and it did seem that it was a real thing and we would need to do our fit to fly test one day before departure and not the three as we had previously thought and booked. Even as I type that, I see it isn’t a big deal. At the time, it felt like a body blow and started my journey to the edge of my tolerance.

As I tend to, I found myself not waiting and seeing but instead trying to move our tests before the hordes tried to, once this was eventually announced. Why I thought there would be any hordes suddenly taking up all the testing slots on the 2nd of January, I don’t know. I’m tired.

I found the way to do it on-line and quickly and easily moved the video call for Louise and I to a new date. I asked Emily do the same with hers (she will be at her boyfriend’s so will need her own call). She tried. It errored and I had no choice but to phone them up. As I was finding how to do that I got a text from our test provider confirming I had moved our test successfully and they were reminding me it was tomorrow, so don’t forget. Tomorrow? What were they talking about? How could they be so stupid.

They weren’t. I was.

In my haste and a multi-tasking maelstrom I had moved the test not to the 2nd of January but to the 2nd of December. I now had to urgently contact them as that slot was the next day.

I will gloss over the frustration and despair caused by 45 minutes of the same hold music and skip to the part where as soon as they answered, my signal dropped and I was disconnected. Objects were thrown, things were shouted. Thankfully I was alone in the house as Louise had taken her Mum to A&E after a funny turn. It’s been a “fun” week all round.

Another 55 minutes on hold and I got through to some poor soul who had to deal with me at breaking point explaining the mess I had made and what I needed. Even though I had her confirm several times what we now had in place once she had sorted it, and I got confirmation emails, I was still not convinced it would all go smoothly. Anyway, we had three tests booked across two different video calls for the 2nd of Jan now. Rebecca, Tom and Freddie booked their own tests with a provider that only allow you to book 30 days out so they can and have now just selected the 2nd of January with hopefully more competence than I did.

On top of all that, we then had the wait until 6.30 UK time for the Fauci press conference that my US blog reader (thanks @pabs) had tipped me off about. I was still fearing closed borders and a communal burning of our passports and park tickets.

In the end, Fauci seemed quite chilled about the whole thing, briefly mentioned the one day test thing and that was it. For now then, we are still on, but I dread every day for new developments. Now of course, with Louise’s Mum’s hospital trip, that also casts a doubt over our ability to go on holiday and leave her. She’s 90 and lives alone. If we get to stand on Main Street and look at the castle this January, I may cry for the first week of the holiday in absolute relief.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, somehow fitting all that in between a ridiculous workload, I think I actually said out loud, “this isn’t bloody worth it”. I’m sure, no, I’m hopeful that these dark clouds are temporary and somehow by hook or by crook we will finally get to go on this bloody holiday, but I can’t let myself believe it just yet.

Then Friday morning came and like some weird lucid dream, my fears were realised and confirmed. We had emails from DocHQ telling us our tests on the 2nd of January had been cancelled. Tethers were waved at as I passed the end of them and I assumed the position on the phone again pre 8am. Surely at this time I would get through?

Of course not. The line would not even connect. I was googling around to find an alternative phone number so I could shout at someone when I stumbled across their Facebook page where a post announced they had dropped a bollock and cancelled a load of appointments in error and would re-book them all. How I laughed.

My mental state is no doubt being replicated amongst all travellers soon to be on their way. You only have to look at the Facebook groups and the huge amount of confusion and mis-information being thrown around by folks in a tizzy. Everyone is looking for clarity and reassurance and just to know what to do. What ends up happening is more panic. I engaged on one such post where it was suggested that the 1 day fit to fly would also need to be PCR. There was absolutely no mention of that anywhere by anyone in a position to do so in the US, so I don’t know where it came from, but chaos ensued in the thread as everyone was fretting about how on earth they would get a PCR result within 24 hours without paying hundreds of pounds for each test. Where this is a vacuum of information, folks will fill it I guess. That could be a strap line for my entire blog.

Why folks are inventing new hurdles when there are plenty go around already I do not know.

As I do every week, I hoped that was the end of the stress and worry about this trip. Then, last night, the latest kick in the twins came when the UK government announced that tests were needed before flying back to the UK. I was out gigging last night so I have no clue what tests those might be, crucially how much they will cost and whether you need all the certificates and stuff, but I suspect you do.

You will know that I have always been supportive of measures to shorten the pandemic. I am triple jabbed, have worked from home, worn masks and everything else asked of me. What I find unfathomable is the mixed messaging of “you should absolutely continue with all your Christmas plans and have loads of parties in crowded unventilated locations” but should you dare venture out of the country then we will make that as hard and as financially unattractive as we possibly can.

If anyone has figured out what this new test before flying home is (PCR vs lateral flow? I guess the latter) and whether it needs to be video supervised/done by a person and then a certificate entered onto your Passenger Locator form, I would be really grateful for that information. At this point I just need to work out if this is worth the unending obstacles being put in place. I suspect these won’t be the last thing either.

This used to be fun.

Till the next time……..

Unvarying Misery

Shit got real last week, with planning stepping up several notches. Well, I say planning, it was more holiday admin that needed doing.

I booked our tests on Friday. Yes, irony alert, my impeccable timing knows no bounds. They came to about £43 each for the fit to fly video one and the day two return to the UK test. Both are lateral flow and of course events have conspired to see those being irrelevant for the return leg now, and we await the US’s changes in response to this variant, as they may well insist on PCR for arrivals too, but more on that later. Our pre-flight tests are booked for New Year’s Day. My paranoia around positive results has not abated. I am pleased to see that tests these days seem to only involve a nasal invasion as I only have to look at the swab to start gagging. Avoiding putting long foreign objects in my mouth is a life rule I like to stick to.

I have downloaded the Verifly app as advised by Aer Lingus and as soon as my vaccine certificate covers our departure date I will start filling stuff in. I am actually due my booster in early December so I will hopefully be completely Teflon to any and all diseases that may come my way. If it and wearing a mask on the plane can stop me picking up the usual stinking cold I have got on the last few trips I will be happy.

I did some painful things too, like paying the balance on the villa, paying for the hire car and securing our Universal tickets, also known as everyone’s Christmas presents. I went for the cheapest option available which was a 2 day ticket, but limited to one park per day. The only thing that prevents us doing is the train journey between parks and for the hundreds of pounds difference in price, we can watch it on YouTube.

I downloaded the Universal Resort app, where my tickets are now resting digitally, ready for use. Upon doing so I noticed you could make dining reservations for restaurants there, most importantly City Walk, so we now have a lovely booking for Cowfish on our first night there at 8pm. With just two days in these parks they will be full on theme park commando affairs, so eating at 8pm, just as the park closes is the only acceptable time.

I still haven’t seen a definitive answer on those 3 day tests for Freddie. I’m pretty sure nobody checks them, but whether you can take an NHS freebie or have to buy one in a pharmacy there, it makes little difference. At least there’s no video consultation involved.

I also filled out our passenger info on the Aer Lingus site. I was amazed to find I hadn’t already, but maybe I did but it got lost in one of the 17 re-bookings I had to do.

Of course, as mentioned above the Universe spotted all this activity and financial outlay and delivered a threatening COVID variant that could well derail the whole trip and maybe all international travel again, but hey, let’s not worry about that right now. That would be nice, but by now you know that isn’t my style. I did not take the news well that PCR tests were now required, hours after booking and paying for lateral flows. Beyond that of course if things don’t go well over the next few weeks, and let’s be honest when has it during this pandemic, my fear is the trip will be impossible again. You may have noticed that today’s post was a little later than has been the case recently and that was because I had to nip to hospital to have my bottom lip surgically restored to a more natural position. I have been in a sulk and a strop since around tea time yesterday.

So yes, it’s been a busy old week on the holiday front, and the metaphorical kick in the balls yesterday’s changes delivered were comically timed after I had finally started to give myself permission to believe that we may actually go. I see the cosmos waited though until I had undertaken maximum financial exposure before allowing all this shit to kick off. I don’t have a persecution complex, I am just persecuted.

I do have to say that if our plans do get scuppered by some COVID related shite, then we’ll give up. It won’t be practical for Rebecca to travel any later into her pregnancy and Louise will find it impossible to get time off beyond January for quite some time. We’ll be looking at mid to late 2023 for any plans to be a reality at that point.

If travel to the US is suspended again, it won’t be pretty around these parts. I’m just putting out an early warning!

We have also planned another trip, tomorrow, over to Cheshire Oaks. Louise tells me we need some new luggage and not only that, buying it online and saving petrol and about three hours driving would be a folly beyond comprehension, so off we will go. Whilst there I will take the chance to procure some hoodies. Yes, I know I have some already and most are only a decade or so old, but what the heck, I deserve it. Looking at photos right now in Orlando, it seems there may be a lot of chilly nights so a couple of good quality hoodies will be essential. Emily is cold in Florida in August so she may have to buy extra luggage space on the plane for the amount of layers she will need to take. Now you see, even that shopping trip seems a bit futile. I am deflated and demoralised by the whole thing. Again.

If I allow the grown up in me to speak up, it would say that the likely outcome here is that the only change to our plans will be having to fork out for a PCR test for our return to the UK test, and most likely the same for the fit to fly as I expect the US to follow suit, on top of the money already pissed away on the lateral flow version. In the scheme of things, that’s not too bad, but if you look up all the times I have said “in the scheme of things that cost isn’t too bad” I could have bought a second home.

My inner child, which is currently writing most of this post is screaming Verruca Salt style that the Universe hates me, it’s all really unfair and if this trip gets cancelled I will be in a tantrum for about six months. It’s all about balance.

On a serious note, if we cannot go, the thought of no WDW for at least another 18 months, and all that uninterrupted work instead, well, I can’t tell you how that makes me feel. I suppose I just tried.

So you find me not in a good place today. All I can do is sit and wait, again, with thousands of pounds dangling by a thread, not knowing, even this close to the trip whether we will actually go. As many of you will have experienced, it has just drained all the joy out of the now, almost two year build up.

You can return next week for more positive vibes and mature takes on life threatening pandemics that are inconveniencing my holiday planning.

Till the next time……

Lament and Lamination

With the week just ended, the plan, whilst not quite laminated, is pretty much complete. I am happy with it. I lament the fact that the plan is not perfect, but they never are, as the fact that other people insist on being there at the same time and stealing our desired eating times means that to secure some of our choices we are having to eat at odd times. We shall somehow cope.

I think I left you last week in our Universal break, where we plan to eat at Cowfish on night one and Teak on night two, and I was waiting for those days to pass to try and secure the last few WDW ADRs.

I was majestically successful with Via Napoli, if you consider eating dinner at 3.55pm a success. Similarly, Sanaa was bagged with the minor sacrifice of only being able to eat at 9.10pm. That, I think is our latest dining time of the trip and staying awake long enough may be a challenge for those of us pregnant, under 5 or middle aged and overweight. We will endure.

The last day (in Magic Kingdom of course) is always a tricky one. You want to go out with some sort of culinary bang, but also want to spend as long as possible in the park and the two things can be mutually exclusive. I considered just letting it all hang free and we would scavenge as best we could from snacks and counter service, but the compulsion to plan overtook me and I booked something.

I am very happy with the result. I decided to go for Steakhouse 71 at the Contemporary, for lunch. It’s a stroke of genius, well, as close as I come to one. We get to nip out of the park when it will theoretically be at its busiest, try a new eatery within a resort that is always worth a visit and a look around and finally, and let’s face it, most importantly, there is this….

I know the whole concept of booking meals 60 days in advance will be bizarre to some not au fait with the whole WDW thing, but I also know what dessert I will be having.

With that done, we will back in Magic Kingdom by early afternoon, ready to weep through the final few hours. Then when we become hungry again just a few short hours later, we can unleash the snacks.

So overall, I am pleased with the plan. Let’s be honest, after all this time I am just happy to have one at all. There are some ADRs I couldn’t get but that has just meant us trying new places or revisiting some old favourites and it’s all good.

To avoid anyone ploughing through the entire plan again here is a list of all the places we plan to eat.

  • Whispering Canyon
  • The Cheesecake Factory
  • Bahama Breeze
  • 50’s Prime Time
  • Hash House A Go Go
  • Miller’s Ale House
  • Rainforest Café
  • Jungle Skipper Canteen
  • Cowfish
  • Teak Neighbourhood Grill
  • Olive Garden
  • Via Napoli
  • Ford’s Garage
  • Sanaa
  • Steakhouse 71

I’ve put on half a stone just typing that out.

I am still waiting for definitive news on the day 3 test Freddie needs in the States. It is looking like they are unsupervised and based on an honour system so we should be able to take a free NHS lateral flow test and just make sure he is negative. I can’t see anybody checking on these as folks fly home, but we’ll find that out this week I guess as those who went out on the 8th start to return.

My paranoia about one of us testing positive before we fly grows by the day. The irony of getting so close and then producing a positive test would be unimaginable. It is made worse by the fact that we will be taking those tests on New Year’s Eve so if the worst happens, trying to contact insurance companies, airlines and any bugger else will be a nightmare as the two days after that are holidays. Best not to think about it. Yeah, right.

It may be a form of trauma caused by the trip denials and delays of the last couple of years but I still can’t fully believe we will go. I just have this awful fear something is going to happen between now and then. Unfounded I imagine, but unsurprising based on recent history.

The other planning decision we made this week was to do airport parking rather than a taxi. There were two main reasons for this. Firstly I couldn’t get any bloody taxi firm to get back to me with a price and confirmation they were available and secondly having done the airport parking thing recently for Gran Canaria, we preferred it. So that is all booked now. It removes one small worry about taxis turning up at either end of the trip.

With our trip happening right after Christmas our decorations are going up a bit earlier than usual, as they will be down again before we leave. It does appear that we bought the incorrect house as our tree does not fit anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, the new house is bigger than the old one, it just has lower ceilings and odd shapes, being an old Farmhouse, so we spent a good deal of this weekend trying to find a solution. Moving house again is not one of them. The expense of buying another tree is equally unacceptable.

As we get close to departure now, with just four weeks left at work, Freddie was measured a few days ago. In his new trainers he is a fraction under 44 inches. This means there is very little he can’t get on and the stuff he can’t I don’t think we’d want him riding anyway. It’s good to know he will be able to enjoy most things, unlike his Mum who will be sat outside the majority of rides watching Ryan! There will be other trips!

Till the next time…..

Kungaloosh!

Thanks for all the nice messages about last week’s good news. It was nice to be able to finally share that with everyone and hopefully put behind us what has been a fraught number of months. I know Rebecca and Tom would want me to thank everyone who wished them well.

It is only now can you fully appreciate the level of planning skills I have had to deploy to cope with that lovely news and a global pandemic when trying to get us on this bloody holiday!

On the subject of lovely news, at the other end of the life spectrum, last Sunday we held a small get together to mark Louise’s Mum’s 90th birthday. After almost two years of lockdowns I think she loved seeing all the friends and family we had gathered together and the left over party food that’s been in our fridge all week has done nothing for my pre WDW diet.

I have been nuts deep in work this week, but I have managed to find sufficient time to be equally deep in ADR getting. Results have been mixed. I reported last week that we could not get O’hana, but Whispering Canyon was a worthy alternative. On the positive side (despite a few of you telling me Prime Time was now crap!) I did manage to get us in there on one of our Hollywood Studios days. Hopefully the experience will be somewhere close to our memory of previous visits.

I was less successful on other days, having to sub in Rainforest Café for Yak and Yeti at the Animal Kingdom. I know what we are in for there, and I’m not expecting life changing food, but the theming and experience should go down well with the four year old in our group. I will try to get into Yak and Yeti on another day at AK. If not we will try a walk up, such is our fondness for the place.

For the 10th of January (in what other context would planning your eating 60 days in advance be normal?), when we are in Magic Kingdom, I again tried O’hana for dinner but there was more sign of my fringe than an opening there so we moved to plan B. In the spirit of trying something new I booked us in at the Skipper’s Canteen Jungle Cruise place. That is almost definitely not its correct title but it is one of those places that I will never get the real name right for. We have had to go for a mid afternoon time slot but if there’s one thing we can do, it is eat whenever required to.

I haven’t read any reviews and I’ve only had a cursory glance at the menu, but at the point I read this, the booking was confirmed.

Kungaloosh!
An African-inspired Chocolate Cake with Caramelized Bananas served with Cashew-Caramel Ice Cream topped with Coffee Dust

I do suspect our party size is making ADRs harder to come by. We could try and book separate ADRs for a four and a two I suppose but the faff of that is off putting. I imagine eateries are geared up for more normal parties of two and four as standard table configurations.

We had a break for a few days in terms of securing ADRs as the next two days of the trip are at Universal and then I have some off site stuff planned in. Next I need to secure our usual spot at Via Napoli on the 14th of January. That has quickly become one of our firm favourites. That will pretty much see the plan complete from a dining perspective, with just Sanaa on our minds for our first day at Coronado Springs. I intend to have a three course meal, each of which will be the bread service.

I have our last day in Magic Kingdom currently with no eating plans and that’s always a tricky one, as we want to spend as long as possible in the park. We have in previous years “nipped out” to an off site eatery and we do need to find a spot for Romano’s Macaroni Grill if we can but I may succumb to somewhere in the park, even if it is counter service just to give us maximum “bottom lip” time on our final day.

Away from food, nothing seems to be any clearer with regard to some of the testing required. I watched the first flights leave for Orlando last week, and over the next few weeks we should start to hear what those with unvaccinated children did for their 3-5 day test in the US. My gut feel is that you sign the attestation form to say you will test them and isolate them if positive and nobody checks that you actually did. The question I currently have is whether you can just take a free NHS lateral flow test from home and use that or whether for some inexplicable reason you need to buy one instead.

Last week at work we went live with a major project that had taken many months to deliver and that seems trivial when compared to the logistics of getting on holiday to WDW right now.

Rebecca and Tom went for their 12 week scan on Thursday (I think). All is well, the baby had hiccups during the scan and Rebecca is starting to feel movement now, so everything is looking positive. She is due her 20 week scan on our first full day in Orlando so that has had to be pushed back until the day after we get back. Whatever is in there quite rightly already has a WDW trip as a higher priority than being scanned to find out whether they are a boy or a girl. He/She will have been on two holidays by the time they arrive and that somehow sets the tone nicely for what lies ahead I hope. If you look closely below I’m sure I can see some Mickey ears being worn.

Then to end the week, we’ve spent a lovely weekend entertaining some friends of ours from Yorkshire who we haven’t seen in too long and it’s been lovely catching up and eating lots together. They are Disney experts and DVC owners so it’s always nice to have fellow Disney folks to chat to.

Imagine getting me ranting about Genie, COVID and price increases in person rather than in a blog you can just stop reading! Poor Steve and Di.

Till the next time…….

Room For One More?

Let’s start this week with the best news. Rebecca and Tom are expecting again. Here is not the place for the detail but as happened with Freddie they have been on a bumpy journey to get to this point, but with everything crossed, their new addition will be very much welcomed into the world next May.

They have been on this journey with scant regard for how it has impacted my planning and multiple rearranging of dates but I suppose some things take precedence even over our WDW trips! Rebecca will be around 20 weeks when we go, so hopefully that small window of trip availability, found with some definite threading the eye of a needle skills, will be the best it can be for her. Fingers crossed, she will be in that sweet spot of being over the sickness but not too far along to find getting around a problem.

If you could not let Bob Chapek know the news please, as he would no doubt be wanting us to buy another park ticket for the upcoming addition. It’s lovely to bring you such good news.

I took last week’s post as something of a wake up call. Clearly, looking at the plan in the state it was in, I had been phoning it in, as they say. I’m sure many of you thought the same and were too polite to say and a couple of readers said it. Sometimes you need that kick up the backside.

When you get a comment asking why there is no Teak Neighbourhood Grill on your current plan you know its time for an intervention. Usually our visit to Teak is planned in just before we book flights. The situation was grave.

I did not waste time and that very evening last Sunday I pulled my socks up, fired up the plan and made some progress. I gave some proper thought to how the days would flow, what eateries would work best in that flow and added a good number of restaurants to the days when, like some kind of mad man, I had no plans for dinner.

I won’t re-run the whole plan again, nobody wants that, but added now are the likes of 50’s Prime Time Café for one of our DHS days (ADRs permitting of course). This is a place we haven’t done for (I’m guessing) well over a decade and for Tom and Freddie it will be a first time. I feel it is my duty to give them the classic experiences like this, right?

Off site, I have added a trip to Miller’s Ale House. Again, we’ve not been for years and it is one of those solid, no frills, reliable off-site eateries that will make a change from the likes of Applebees and The Outback which have lost our custom due to their lack of or absence of veggie options, which is a shame. Teak of course is now in there too, for dinner on our second day at Universal, as it is up in that neck of the woods and it’ll save a forty minute drive up from the villa.

Outside of eating, I am sitting back and watching the horror show of rumour and misinformation that is the testing requirements for entry to the US. Nearly every post and article seems to contradict the last and for that reason alone I am glad not be heading out any time real soon. Hopefully by the time our turn comes things will be clearer and we will have tales from folks who have been and done it.

As we stand today, as far as I can decipher, for us with both jabs, it is a video supervised or in person test three days before we fly and then the lateral flow within 2 days of getting home. For Freddie, who cannot be vaxxed, he has to do the pre-flight test three days before we fly, then as far as I can make out, is then supposed to do a test within 3-5 days of arriving in the US and then the one 2 days after getting home. Or is that not required for young children? I can’t remember.

That test in the US is the one that seems to be causing all the confusion. Is it mandatory or is it “recommended” as some places say? Is it a lateral flow that you can do unsupervised or do you need a “proper” one done at some pharmacy etc? If anyone has a definitive answer please do share, but I suppose we will find out soon enough when folks start flying tomorrow. I’m not seeing any process for recording that test taken in the US, so if it isn’t being checked then surely it has to be a lateral flow and only recommended?

I’ve also seen snippets of the attestation form that is required to be completed. It looks longer than the documents I signed to move house. Ah well, it is what it is…..

As the trip is becoming increasingly real, I have done other stuff. When we went to Gran Canaria I of course took Ryan with us. Turns out he functions equally well in Spanish. That meant dumping out of him all the US stuff temporarily. One such item was out US Sat Nav. We bought this in 2011 (I think) when we did a trip down to the Keys/Naples/Vero and I didn’t fancy using the force to find things. It has been the best $80 I have spent on US soil. We have used it on every trip since, which only recently brought to mind why no hire car in that time has ever had Sat Nav in it. It could not be, could it, that the hire companies want to upsell us to take a Sat Nav at extra cost?

Anyway, I figured that at least once a decade I should update the maps on this thing. There have been so many road changes around WDW in that time that we stand a fair chance of ending up face to face with a Gator in a lake following the roads that used to be there back in 2011. A little while spent mauling around on the internet and I had the relevant gubbins from Garmin installed. There was a slight false start as it turns out that ten year’s worth of maps was more memory than the device had and I had to invest a few quid in a Micro SD card to go in it. With that installed it took just two hours to get all the right roads in place and it is now safely tucked inside Ryan again, ready for the off.

You know of course with that done, this year’s car will have built in Sat Nav, right?

Later in the week, ADR time happened, for our first day anyway. It’s been so long since “the plan” was first crafted that I cannot remember why we had O’hana as a target on that first day, but I bet it was related to Bread Pudding. Anyway, of course O’hana didn’t make one appearance on our list of choices when I fired up the app to select our dinner plans (it’s tea, but I’ll be posh).

With that plan scuppered, I offered up a few alternatives in the WhatsApp family chat and it took about six seconds for everyone to make their choice from…

The Plaza

Crystal Palace

Whispering Canyon

Can you guess? Yes, we’ll be boarding a boat over to Wilderness Lodge to experience the fun and games there. It is and always has been a firm favourite with us so it was no surprise.

Whether we make it back into the park afterwards will be determined by our tiredness levels and whether we can still walk with full bellies. That first day is always hard to predict, especially for a four year old.

The plan doesn’t require another ADR for a few days, when I will be trying to secure the 50’s Prime Time so I am readying myself for more disappointment.

If I had the ear of the folks who build the app n stuff for Disney I would suggest that it could be more user friendly. Sometimes they way it works is fine, when I just want to see every restaurant that is available on a date and time, but often I know I want a certain restaurant or two, and it would be great to be able to ask the app to show you all the times (if any) those places could accommodate your party, rather than having to keep changing the time and/or date in the vain hope it may come up in the list. I am available for paid consultancy should anyone from WDW be reading this.

It feels odd and very welcome to be back into some form of normal planning routine nonetheless.

So we’ve passed the 60 day countdown marker now and we head into the final straight with only growing cases and deaths forcing a new lockdown to thwart us. What could possibly go wrong?

Till the next time…….

One Day Like This…

Ok, I’ve calmed down a bit now. To be fair to me I did say last week’s post was knee jerk but it doesn’t matter what limb is jerking, I stand by my opinion. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a universal (pardon the pun) condemnation of a Disney change and there have been many over the years.

I also said that the whole thing would get smoothed out and maybe refined. That hasn’t happened yet of course but I stand by that thought too. I’ve watched some more vlogs and feel better that ignoring the whole shit show could be a viable option, especially during the hopefully quieter times in January.

Certainly being very selective in any use of these paid for options will be the order of the trip if we do at all. In effect Disney have removed the three free Fastpasses we used to have and it stinks. Making the best of that means that I may need to up my game in terms of planning our park days and break out some of the strategies honed over the years to get on stuff with the least amount of waiting.

Rather than just piss and moan, whenever Chapek gets a minute to read this here is my suggestion if they absolutely insist on introducing a paid for option. Retain the three free FastPass+ rides that guests can book in advance. Then, if guests wish to upgrade they could pay that $15 per person (or maybe even a little more) to get one FastPass go on all the rides that day.

For now I think the best thing to do is to put it to the back of my mind and focus on the very positive news that we are very close to another Florida adventure and it will be be full of lots of good stuff.

With that in mind let’s trot through the plan as it stands. The thought of getting lots of days filled with fun stuff all in a row is almost unthinkable after the last couple of years. Just one day like these would have been very welcome at any point in that time!

One major change enforced by the park reservation system is that we don’t have many formal rest days planned. Usually we operate on a two days on, one day off scheme but now, having to book your WDW park days, we cannot risk being “locked out” if we plan a rest day but then decide to pop to a park late in the day.

So every day has a park booking of some sort and we will not use/cancel them when we know for sure our plans for that day. Factoring in the weather in January too makes that more of a requirement as rest days typically need to be warm and sunny and January might see some that aren’t and we would need to have a park to visit.

For those who may have missed the details of our flights, and heaven knows there have been many changes over the last couple of years, we have booked with Aer Lingus direct from Manchester. We leave the UK on the 3rd of January at 11am. That fact has still not completely sunk in.

We land around 3pm and have a minivan reserved with Sixt at MCO at a price that could be confused with buying one. I have set up the app to use the Visitor Toll Pass thing. I’m hoping it will save us scrabbling for quarters from the bowels of Ryan after a nine hour flight in a car crammed with suitcases and tired people. We head straight to the villa and depending mostly on Freddie’s tiredness levels we will either order takeout (see I am already mentally in the US) or if he and everyone else is up to it, head out for tea. I haven’t planned anywhere for that meal. Who am I?

There will be a supermarket visit somewhere around this time and some unpacking and then bed.

You’ve been here long enough to know that the first day will be spent at Magic Kingdom. we are very close to ADR day now and I’m hoping to snag one at O’hana for an early tea recognising our body clocks will see us eating lunch at sometime around 10am. If I can’t get that ADR then we might do somewhere in the park or do offsite. We have to save our pennies for going on popular rides now you see!!

Day two is traditionally a rest day. It might be this time. I see Typhoon Lagoon is reopening in December and if temperatures allow we will be there on this day. If not I have a park reservation at Hollywood Studios. Dinner plans are for The Cheesecake Factory.

Day three is Epcot probably trying to get on rides in Future World before heading off site to Bahama Breeze for dinner. One of our absolute favourites.

The next day is Hollywood Studios watching other people get on Rise Of The Resistance. As it stands I have nothing in the plan for dinner. I am suitably ashamed. Let’s see what ADR day brings.

Day five is a Saturday and it’s the weekend of Disney run things so I expect things to be busy. With that in mind I have the closest thing to a rest day on the plan. It starts with breakfast at Hash House a Go Go and then most of the day recovering from that around our villa. I do have an Epcot park reservation if needed and things don’t look too mad.

Animal Kingdom appears on day six for a good old full day of park touring. Dinner of course is at Yak and Yeti.

Monday the 10th of January next and plans are still fairly basic with Magic Kingdom on the cards but again no dinner plans as of yet. Perhaps an ADR at the new Skipper’s place in the park or we will head off site depending how long we stay in the park.

The next two days will be spent at Universal. We have crowbarred this in on the cheap so with no Front of Line we will be theme park commandos for two days getting done what we can get done. Dinner on the first day will be Cowfish and on the second night, we’ll I’m not sure yet.

Day ten sees a park reservation for Hollywood Studios and not much else at this stage. I am wrestling generally with how many in park dining reservations to make or whether we go off site.

Day eleven is Epcot and hopefully Via Napoli for dinner as we wander World Showcase and the following day we are back at Animal Kingdom. We have to pack up and leave the villa the next day so I have dinner at Ford’s Garage as it is very close to our villa so we can head back and get packed.

Next we check in to Coronado Springs for two nights. Weather allowing, the first day I have us around their pool and dinner at Sanaa, ADR permitting.

Then comes our last full day and you know where that will be spent. Magic Kingdom with as yet no dinner plans.

The next day is just full of a huge breakfast and travelling so let’s not think about that yet.

So you can see plans are loose as yet. I have work to do but that can only really happen once we can book dining. The weather is a potential curve ball at all times too. With all the date changes and uncertainty it’s clear my detailed planning has suffered and I need to up my game. I suppose deep down I still can’t believe we are going and it is having an impact.

Hopefully these blogs continue to contain more planning normality and less moaning going forward. We can all but hope.

Till the next time……

Genie Arse

Not too surprisingly this week has been a busy one and a bit of a blur. Work was ridiculous for the first few days, where I found myself in the position of having so much to do I had no idea what to tackle first, next or not at all.

Then on Thursday, Mustard were out gigging at a fairly large corporate do in Manchester. We played at an awards show for the Manchester Society of Architects (I think) at the Albert Halls in Manchester and it was a bit surreal, not least because the likes of James and The Manic Street Preachers have played there and the in house PA system we were able to use was incredible. We had proper sound folk and all sorts looking after us. It was awesome, nerve wracking and weird all at the same time. It went well anyway.

So with all of that and more going on, there has not been too much time for the planning of the WDW trip. I did find time to watch a handful of vlogs around the introduction of the new Genie service and all its chargeable variants.

Now I recognise that the system is still very new and I am sure things will get smoothed out and changed, but, and pardon my knee jerk reaction, what an absolute shambola and piss take the whole thing seems to be. I have always thought that any system that sees people pay more money when the parks and lines are busier is just giving that park the absolute ability to inflate wait times and make more money, but from what I have seen so far, I am absolutely gutted that this horror show has been introduced.

Costs aside for a second (but I will come back to that, don’t worry) getting on a few rides seems to be more complex than a moon landing now. I am fairly tech savvy for an old boomer, and I know the parks inside out. How on earth is someone who isn’t that great with a smartphone, newly arrived in WDW for the first time going to cope? It appears to be massively over complex. Nobody likes a good bit of planning and strategising over a theme park day more than me but I think we have jumped the shark here. When and how you are allowed to pay and book stuff will require full time study for about three months prior to a trip. There will need to be months of planning about your planning. The danger is that first timers may find the whole thing so overwhelming and over complicated that they fail to fall in love with the place like we all did all those years ago, and that will be to Disney’s detriment of course. One of the vloggers I watched already said that they noticed far more phone usage in the parks with Genie in play, which is no surprise as it seems you need the app to schedule your restroom stops. Hang on, that could be a handy feature!!

As for the costs. Just no. Now, I am sure once I am in the parks and in the moment I will succumb to handing over some dollars to get on some things, because it’s a long way to go for us to then not ride some of the headliners, but I will massively resent it and it will and has already tainted my perception of WDW. The huge financial pressure this is going to put on families with smaller kids who are giving them the puppy eyes to get on a ride that costs extra is just heart breaking to think about. This may not be the cash cow Disney think it will be. Families have finite budgets so anything spent on these new extras will surely only come out of any budget that may have gone on merchandise or on-site dining, and guests may now have to do less of both to accommodate these new “essentials”. Or folks will just take fewer trips as the cost of one has escalated so much in this and every other way.

When I apply this new system to our own situation, having already paid literally thousands of dollars to get my party into a WDW park on each day on our trip, if all six of us then wish to ride Rise Of The Resistance with what would have been a free FastPass+ in the past, we would need to pay an extra $90. That could be on top of the other $90 we have already paid that day for the Genie+ thing too. Then, if the only way we can ride, say Remy is to pay again, that would be another $50 or so. If we bought Genie+ and two of the extra special rides for all of us for each day we were in a Disney park on our trip (assuming that is say ten days) we would spend another $2,300. An extra $230 a day, ($40 per person) on top of the ticket price is absolutely crazy and they should be ashamed. I’m sorry, this is just too much money.

I know it’s optional, and I am painting the worst case scenario but when attractions like Rise Of The Resistance have standby lines of two hours almost constantly there isn’t much of an option if you want to ride that. And if you simply can’t afford the extra money you have an inferior experience to those who can.

This feeling that what we all had once for free is now provided at a premium is really the thing that sticks in my throat. I was always that person defending the cost of a WDW trip, pointing at the likes of ROE, Wishes and Fantasmic all provided pretty much nightly, as just one way in which the investment you made in a holiday to Disney was repaid.

They or their replacements are all still there (or soon will be) and they are on the same impressive scale, but this latest cash grab seems to have tipped me over the edge as a result of my own knee jerking.

I remember vividly standing in Galaxy’s Edge for the first time and feeling both blown away and somehow proud that a brand and experience I had long advocated had yet again delivered in such an impressive way. It bolstered my opinion that they always knew what to do and when I handed over my cash they knew how to spend it. That exchange felt fair.

I suspect and fear that if and when I do get on to Rise of the Resistance the whole thing will be soured both by the $90 we have handed over and the feeling that we are being taken for a ride and not in the way we might like.

Again it’s early days and things may settle but there’s a very real prospect that only on-site guests will have any chance to secure a Lightning Lane for this ride. There have long been on site perks which I understand but they need to give all guests a fair chance.

Universal have their own version of all this. We typically pay for the on-site experience when we do go there. The difference is we go to Universal infrequently because of that. That extra cost means we are selective about our visits there and Disney may find this begins to apply to them.

Yes, WDW has always been expensive but I have always felt that the quality, service and limitless entertainment made it good value. This new model feels like it is bordering on a piss take. For the first time it feels like Disney are not on my side. I’m sure they never really were, but at least I felt I was getting good value and a fair shake of the stick for my dollars.

As things settle and improve and maybe they even listen to some of their long standing customers, this all may change, but right now, from what I have seen it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. It seems a move borne out of greed and not to improve the customer experience. Disney seem to have overcooked this massively both in terms of complexity and cost.

I appear to have gone off the deep end on something that when it was announced didn’t really bother or register with me. I suppose that was mainly because at that point I had no expectations of going any time soon. On the plus side, if things keep going as they are in the UK, that may be true once again.

So I shall leave it to Disney to sit in the corner and think about what they have done. They have time to smooth things out and make changes of course, and whatever happens we will hopefully go and have a good trip whenever that time comes regardless of all this nonsense.

For next week I shall ban myself from moaning and as ADR booking time approaches in the coming days we shall focus here on the nicer side of planning and me boring you with a day by day, blow by blow plan for our next American adventure.

Till the next time…..

Wham Bam, Gran Can, Let’s Plan

We are back in the country and I have no clue where to start with this blog post. I’m still in that odd limbo of a post holiday arrival home, anxiously girding my loins for the horrors of work tomorrow.

There will be no trip report. This was the first holiday in two decades where I didn’t make notes about what we did or photograph any food so there can be no detailed tales of what went on.

You wouldn’t want it anyway. Eating, sunbathing, eating and then sleeping repeated many times does not make for an entertaining read to be honest.

I enjoyed the holiday. That said, it does seem that we do one of these types of holiday every twenty years or so just to reconfirm that we’ve been doing the right thing by going to Florida every year. Even Louise has conceded defeat and said that Florida cannot be beaten unless of course we can go on a “beach” holiday to somewhere like The Maldives. Believe me we can’t.

I enjoyed the sunbathing and doing nothing more than I thought I would. I was the one probably most worried about not enjoying that but I think I had the highest tolerance for it. Others were bored of it long before I was.

The All Inclusive element was a blessing and a curse. Of course unlimited drinks helps but the food did get a little repetitive pretty quickly so there was some eating out and extra expense but we enjoyed that of course.

Gran Canaria was nice. At this time of year it was one of a few places with the required heat levels. It looks stunning as it is very “cliffy” (yes that’s absolutely a real word) but that means you can’t really stroll out anywhere as most hotels, like ours, are perched up high and you need transport to get anywhere.

The hotel was lovely with just the odd descent into what I consider to be the worst of these types of holiday which normally involves bingo and some of the worst “entertainment” in the evenings I have ever seen. Honestly some of it defies explanation. It was the lack of options and things “to do” that really hit home how great Florida is for always having options, whether you want the chilled out sun worshipping or full on entertainment filled days and nights. We had it confirmed that it delivers on all levels and it will be another long while until we stray again I think.

I’m not going to get on my soap box here, but something that really struck us was how everywhere and everybody were still doing things to control Covid. Masks are used everywhere without complaint, and overall there are still lots of visible signs that the pandemic isn’t over. Case numbers in Spain are ten times lower than here. I know the testing undertaken is higher here but hospital admissions and deaths see the same ratios. We are headed for a tough winter if we continue with the “do nothing because we did some vaccines” method.

The flights felt like a doddle. Decades of being conditioned to nine hour flights meant the under four hour flights felt like nothing.

Anyway, despite constant illness and injuries including Tom breaking his foot and Freddie getting tonsillitis, it was a nice break. I do plead guilty to thinking about the next holiday whilst on this one but that will not shock you. Before we move on to that next holiday here is a photo dump of the trip just gone.

The main thing that was planned from our sun lounger or more accurately from a chat Louise and I had on our balcony one morning is that we decided we can’t go to Florida and not do Universal. For all kinds of reasons, we do not know when we will get back and Tom and Freddie have yet to experience those parks so we are going to shoe horn it in by making the girls accept their Universal tickets as their present this Christmas. To keep costs down we won’t do an on-site stay and will buy the 2 day, 2 park tickets and do two full on twelve hour days to get as much done as we can. January might lessen the need for the front of the line perks we won’t have, he said hopefully.

Of course the huge news that broke on our last day in Gran Canaria was the announcement of the date when the US will allow us back in. As ever we still await some details around testing requirements and how unvaccinated kids will be dealt with but all that will be resolved before January of course.

Just a note on the level of faff required for the trip we just did. Luckily a lot of the testing requirements were dropped shortly before we left the UK so all we needed to do was the test when we got back home. The passenger locator form was a bit of a faff. As with most government websites and forms it was not the most intuitive thing in the world and a lot of the info they asked for they must surely have from your passport number which they capture on this form, but overall it wasn’t too bad.

The testing is obviously open to abuse. There is nothing to stop someone running the swab under the tap or have someone else do it if they felt they had symptoms. Clearly that is massively irresponsible but impossible to prevent. I wonder how long testing can be a part of international travel. It would be interesting to see the stats on how many actual cases are being found that way.

It almost doesn’t feel real yet that we will actually go on this WDW trip after all this time. We are only seventy odd days out now which adds to the surreal feeling of it all. But now my full attention turns to WDW, as if that is ever not the case. To be honest the day by day plan, aside from exactly where the two freshly added Universal days will fit, is in place. This is because it is roughly the same plan for the trip booked back in 2020.

ADRs open up in a few weeks and that always has the potential to affect the plan so it won’t be close to final until then. Anyway, it just feels so good to be talking with some level of certainty about a trip. You will be delighted to learn that more detail on that plan will be forced upon you here. Try to contain yourselves.

So with one holiday just behind us we are fortunate enough to have another on the horizon. Having holidayed elsewhere and having not seen WDW since mid 2019, I suspect it will feel like coming home more than ever. I am ready!

Till the next time…..

50 (Ab)Cent

Before we begin I need to wish a happy 50th to a close personal friend. I am so sorry I could not be with you at this time, but that decision was taken from me, several times.

From 1980, you have been a constant obsession, drain on my finances and welcome distraction from real life. A source of lovely memories and good times, with hopefully more of both to come. We have both come a long way in those passing years…

Have a great party. We’ll be a bit late, but we’re coming.

On to more immediate matters, sure, I’m going on holiday tomorrow, and yet I have spent nearly all my free time last week thinking about and planning the one after that. What of it? Did you expect anything else?

One sad note on the holiday happening next week. My Mum and Dad were due to come with us to Gran Canaria, but have had to cancel. My Dad is having some leg trouble and doesn’t feel able to get around sufficiently well to enjoy it. This is a real shame and is upsetting for all of us. Fingers crossed he can get it sorted soon.

I have done stuff to prep for the first holiday of course. I dug our suitcase out, and piled all the stuff I needed to take onto the bed next to it. Surely now those things will magically find their way to where they need to be. Money, endless forms, our house and pet sitters, airport parking…I’ve sorted it all, but to be frank I have spent a lot of time and brain space trying to find us accommodation for the last two days of our Florida trip in January.

I reported last week that the DVC folks from whom I rented our points were saying that there was not one DVC room available for our dates, and we need two. Thanks to some helpful folks who read this blog, this lack of availability was confirmed and I have had to be creative. The DVC rental folks are also Disney travel agents so were able to apply my credit note with them to a cash booking. The “value” for that credit note amount was obviously a bit less than it would have been but after several very long chats with them, I have managed to find something suitable.

We will be spending our last two days at Coronado Springs. I still know very little about the place if I am honest, but a couple of vlogs and some online reading tells me it’ll be fine for the short time we need it. We secured it for just under the value of our credit note so it cost me nowt (I’ll tell myself anything). If anyone has knowledge on the resort I would welcome the sharing of it.

With that in place the rest of the plan (of course that means where we will eat) can begin to fall into place. I will of course share that plan with you at a future time once it is a little more firmed up. The next priority was to get the park reservations sorted. By the way, my long held belief that those are here for the foreseeable seems to be correct. That makes my record 1 to 6751 in that regard.

The lack of DVC room availability in January was a slight worry, potentially indicating some higher than usual crowd levels, so I would only feel better when those were sorted. The planets aligned to see our latest set of park tickets arrive on Friday so I spent a small part of Magic Kingdom’s 50th birthday securing our park reservations for January.

As ever, my planning of eateries, the bedrock of any Mkingdon plan, is that eternal quandary of wanting to return to the places we love but also always wanting to find the next one. Usually, the former wins, but if anyone has any humdingers we should try then do feel free to let me know. Our usual list of “greatest hits” goes something like….

  • Teak
  • Bahama Breeze
  • Hash House A Go Go
  • Olive Garden
  • Cheesecake Factory
  • Sanaa
  • Cowfish
  • Via Napoli
  • Yak & Yeti

I have Ford’s Garage in for one night when we need to eat close to the villa, and that will be a new one for us. Outback and Applebees have been on that list previously and we love them, but with a vegetarian in our party and their very limited options for them (or they were the last time we went) we have had to look elsewhere.

Of course, us WDW nerds still await the detail around the US border re-opening and what hoops we will need to jump through to get in. Although I did rue the irony of November being the re-opening schedule having booked a different holiday, rather than move our October WDW plans to November, right now, that would have been another stress filled stage of that holiday. I suspect we would have moved it exactly one month, to early November and now all the chat is around when in the month we will be allowed in. I suspect it won’t be the 1st and we would of course have been booked to go the day before we were allowed to. So I guess, in the end things didn’t work out too badly.

Right, I should go. There are things to do. Ryan is prepped and ready. Bless him, he’s only ever been to the US so he’s going to get really confused tomorrow. We have such an early start that I needed to go to bed ten minutes ago. I very much doubt there will be bloggage from the beach whilst we are away so for that everyone can be grateful.

Enjoy your break as I enjoy mine and we shall reconvene in mid October for some proper WDW planning stuff, but this time, with a tan and some certainty.

Till the next time….

Booked It, Packed It 2 – The Return Of The Fat Guy

It won’t surprise anyone reading this to learn that I have a well developed persecution complex. Most weeks, despite living a largely untroubled and privileged life, I can find something to moan about. I often trot out the phrases “you couldn’t write it” or “you couldn’t make it up” to bemoan whatever the latest minor upset might be. However, after what has been a troubled couple of years holiday wise, the events of the last week or so really have been comedic.

Having moved our Florida trip four or five times (I have honestly lost count) when the last cancellation happened I did jettison my toys from the stroller a little and instead of moving it, I cancelled everything. Breaking the habit of a couple of decades, off I went and booked a holiday to another country, crucially nowhere near the US. What could go wrong?

Within a few days of doing so, a volcano in The Canaries that has laid dormant for half a century suddenly became active. Sure, it doesn’t currently seem likely to affect our plans but we don’t know for certain and my head shaking was incessant at the “you couldn’t write it” aspect of this.

Whilst licking those wounds, and lay on the couch Facetiming Rebecca chatting no doubt about our upcoming trip not to America, Emily cried out at some news she had just seen on her phone. I did indeed feel a disturbance in the force.

“The US border is opening in November”. she relayed.

Once that had sunk in after a few seconds, my stomach churned and those special words escaped my lips. “You couldn’t (expletive) write it”.

After a family chat including phrases such as “It is what it is” and “It’s too bloody late and hard now to cancel The Canaries”, I entered into a mild sulk. I did fire up a couple of apps and checked out flight prices to Florida for 2022. Having laughed long and hard at the prices for anything close to summer my mind began to whir.

My inner Verruca Salt kicked in. I told myself things like….

“You work really hard (highly debateable) and deserve the holiday you really want”

“I still haven’t had my 50th trip and I deserve that too”

My mind began to do its work, thinking about when we may be able to get over there. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the logistics of getting six of us (at least) away at the same time, balancing everyone’s work, life plans, other commitments and of course finances is on a par with undertaking a moon landing.

After much analysis and discussion (including Tom persuading his Boss to be very flexible with his holidays) a very small window of opportunity emerged. Flights were checked, research was done, chats were had with the owner of our villa of choice and it was decided.

We are returning to WDW on the 3rd of January 2022.

This would not be our ideal time of year of course. Temperatures will be much lower than we prefer but at this point that does not matter. Again, for reasons I will not trouble you with, if we were not to take this chance, it would be very unlikely we could fit a trip in during 2022 and having not been since mid 2019 this would be very upsetting indeed, indeed probably totally unacceptable.

Appreciating the absolute carnage that is probably ongoing now in the rush for UK tourists to book stuff, I feel quite smug that we have pretty much everything in the bag for prices we can tolerate.

Having had the Aer Lingus refund for several hours, I gave it all back, booking flights with them again. Let’s not dwell on the fact that I could have got a voucher for our flight price plus 10%. This whole thing is already a shit show of incompetence and bad decision making, let’s not make it any worse.

Our villa of choice was thankfully just about available. We will have two days at the end of the trip for which we need to find somewhere to stay as the villa was booked for those. On that note I did think we would use our DVC credit notes (remember those?) to stay somewhere nice on-site to end the trip. Having spoken to the DVC rental company, they tried our dates and there was not one DVC room available on any property in Orlando. What the f…..??

I have no idea what is going on there, as I am not a DVC expert. I am hoping over time things settle down and something does come up that we can use. I am as we speak in “talks” with the folks I have my credit notes with to try and source something suitable.

Having not had our refund from Floridatix of course, and now needing some tickets (I know, I know…) I contacted them. Amazingly they were able to use some of my refund and move that to a brand new booking within minutes, but yet, it looks like I still have another month at least before I may see any sign of monies owed to me. Funny that. These new tickets should arrive any day now so I can do our park reservations….again.

So all of a sudden we have two holidays in close succession and our holidaying budget will be well and truly drained, but after the last couple of years I give not one shit. There is still much to know of course. There has been no formal announcement on the exact date in November when borders will open and what tests will be needed and how kids fit into all of this. By the time our dates roll around I am sure….no, I am hopeful that will all be sorted.

Needless to say I have resumed vlog watching, actively seeking out some from January to see how bloody cold it might be. We have been once before at that time, back in 2005 into 2006 but memories fade over time. I seem to remember the days being fine, but fleeces being required at night. I have a vague memory of buying the girls gloves and woolly hats to watch Fantasmic.

Whatever it is, we shall make the most of it. The reduced heat should make for less weariness and getting more done. We have had to sacrifice Universal which is very upsetting, but the budget just won’t stretch to the extra thousands involved in tickets and an on-site stay. Next time. That cash is sitting now with TUI for our October trip. Water parks will probably also be out of bounds and indeed closed in January? I can’t remember, but we will just go eat instead! Any thoughts of using our DVC credit notes for Vero were scuppered after watching a vlog or two from that time of year, with folks on the beach wrapped up as if they were in Blackpool in Autumn.

Having ignored most of the Genie+/Lightning Lane stuff, hoping it would go away, I am also hoping that in early January, in what historically has been one of the quietest times in the parks, we will not need them. All bets are off I know, post pandemic, and there could be three hour queues for everything, but I’ll take my chances in a more positive frame of mind on that than if we were going next August. I suspect things will take a couple of years at least for crowds and travel patterns to settle again.

So Florida looks to be re-opening for us and normality is returning. On that note I went back into the office for the first time on Friday. It was not something I was looking forward to and all I will say is that it lived up to expectations. It is only right and patriotic of me now though to support our glorious Brexit cause and conserve petrol by not driving to the office again for quite some time. Until of course they work out a way to put all our sovereignty into petrol tanks.

It seems most of my colleagues are on board with this plan already. See the bustling environment I was working in by 9.30 on Friday morning.

Anyway, all that matters is that we have a plan and a countdown and I can now try to use them to block out all the real world shite that is going on. Balance has been restored to the force.

Till the next time…….

Booked It, Packed It….

It’s done. We are booked for an overseas holiday and surely with just two weeks to go, not even the raging incompetence of our government can scupper those plans now? I mean, according to their latest “dead cat” nonsense leak to the press, I may have to convert my GBP to Pounds, Shillings and Pence before then paying for some Euros if they have their way, but by hook or by crook (and they are all that) we should be on that plane.

Oh, so I got my refunds then?

Nope. Well yes, I have now, from Aer Lingus at least, but when we booked last Monday I had not. That refund only hit my account yesterday.

The second Aer Lingus promise of “about a week” did not happen and I was still waiting for the funds to hit my account after a third chase of them this time via their Twitter account. They confirmed the refunds had been processed and should be in my account in 5-7 days. It’s a familiar story, and I admire their consistency. I can never fathom how and why refunds take over a week to make it through the banking system. When I paid for these holidays they got their money the moment I clicked the button on their website. Having worked in banking a million years ago, even then funds did not get sent by steam packet. Sigh.

At least Floridatix were brazenly upfront in telling me it will be “up to” 60 days before I see any of my money back. So I haven’t been chasing them. If I see a penny before day 59 I will be truly gobsmacked.

So having flexed my credit facilities to book the thing, I was hopeful that this time Aer Lingus would be true to their word. We had to get stuff booked as the admin to actually have a holiday now is similar to buying a house and you all know how much we enjoyed that experience. Leaving it any later would add to the not inconsiderable stress that booking it actually was. We have to fill out what looks like a Spanish ESTA, but cannot complete it until we are 48 hours from departure, arrange tests of course and then before returning to the UK, complete a passenger locator form, but not until 48 hours before our return. The latter should be fun on a mobile phone with “free” WiFi in the hotel.

In the flush of post booking excitement I went crazy and bought some new shorts. Madness. as I have several perfectly acceptable pairs that I have only had for 20 years.

Our travelling party is quite a large one for this trip. Louise and I are of course going, joined by Rebecca, Tom and Freddie (who are traveling out a few days earlier than everyone else), Emily and her boyfriend Mikey and my Mum and Dad. It is a mini-invasion of Gran Canaria.

Whilst we have done some time at a beach on several occasions over the years in Florida, we haven’t been on a non US beach type holiday for over twenty years. We did an All Inclusive to Alcudia, I would guess around 2002 and the experience was so average we’ve done Florida for every holiday since. Having read the reviews for the place we have booked I am very hopeful of better this time around. Am I as excited about going away on this trip as I would be for a WDW trip. Don’t be silly, but it will still be nice to be away with the family in the sunshine, eating stuff and not working.

We now have to start the prep seriously. We are very rusty at this leaving the house thing, never mind going abroad. Last week we had tickets to go and watch Jonathan Pie at the King George’s Hall in Blackburn. Firstly, we almost got the night wrong, thinking it was on Friday and it was only an email reminder from the venue on Thursday that prevented us from missing out. Then we couldn’t find the tickets. So with minutes to go before having to leave the house, having located some proper outside trousers, we were frantically working out if we could get in or not.

Thankfully, the box office were able to reprint them and we got in, but it did feel like we had forgotten how to operate in these matters. This does not auger well for the logistical exercise of getting to a different country with everything we need.

Anyway, we are currently as prepared as we can be I think. I have three pairs of new shorts and Louise bought a bottle of P20. What else could we need? Rumours started circulating towards the end of the week that the traffic light system and things like tests on returning home could be scrapped soon. The irony of this happening so shortly after we had ordered our tests was not lost on me, but I will take the financial hit to be rid of some of the faff involved in having a holiday.

I have to say though, via a link from the TUI website to one of their partners, as long as you are fully jabbed, for Spain/The Canaries, the testing was much cheaper than I expected. We don’t need a fit to fly, just the vaccine and then we (at the time of booking) needed a test before flying home and another two days after landing. That package only cost £20 per person. I resent any extra cost but that is a round of Starbucks at the airport money, so it is tolerable I suppose.

With the changes announced late last week, that test before flying home is now not required and we just need to do the one within two days of arriving home. At least now the risk of being stranded overseas due to a positive test is removed, although of course we would not travel with COVID should we actually have it!

Trip wise pretty much everything is sorted. I am unused to this package lark, where you book everything in one go with one company. Where’s the fun in that? I have to sort transport to and from the airport UK side still but other than that, we’re good. Our flight out leaves at 7am. That will involve a very early get up and a very brave and willing taxi person to do the honours. We could be hitch hiking there. Similarly our return flight touches down at 1.25am. That’s a grim taxi ride home too. We may end up doing the airport parking thing instead. We’ll see.

I can’t remember if I posted details of our hotel previously so I will do so now. We are staying all inclusive at the Riu Vistamar in Gran Canaria.

It has decent reviews, sunshine, pools and buffets. That’s all I need to know really.

With a nod to the elephant in the room of any potential return to the US. We are no nearer it seems. There have been some vague noises out of the US about plans being made to facilitate and allow international tourists but it still feels like a 2022 thing to me. Watching the odd vlog, and I have only managed to watch exactly that number recently, I feel very distant from the place. I’m sure that’s temporary but it is of concern nonetheless. It does feel like whatever place we will eventually return to may never be the place we used to visit.

Anyway, in two weeks (tomorrow) we will be at the airport once again, having a holiday and that is not to be sniffed at. All that remains now is to pack, lose two stones and remember how to leave the house.

Till the next time……

Aering My Grievance

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear some positive upbeat holiday news around here? News of refunds effortlessly winging their way to my bank account and our new alternative holiday being booked without any hiccups and us having a countdown of sorts to a much needed getaway.

Yep that would be lovely.

Of course, no such thing has happened. Aer Lingus are not covering themselves in glory in relation to their 5-7 day “promise” for that refund. It was requested on the 27th of August and here we sit drumming our fingers still.

I chased them about three days ago. Sure they are busy and no doubt have a lot to get through but I did check in with another affected Aer Lingus customer and blog reader who requested their refund after mine and of course there’s arrived very quickly and without faff.

Sigh.

Anyway I feel much better and totally reassured as I was told that the refund request would now be passed to their Priority Team who would deal with it urgently. Firstly it’s always nice to know you weren’t a priority in the first place and secondly when I asked how long the refund would take now it sat with the Jedi Masters of refunds I was told they could not give me a timescale but maybe within a week or so. I think we need a chat about the word Priority.

For someone who plans holidays in advance, being a few weeks away from our potential departure and not being able to book is an alien concept but here we are. I can feel my ire rising (not a euphemism) and I shall be having a chat with my Irish flying friends very early next week.

Away from the will they won’t they of our holiday (listen to those cheers), it has been brought to my attention this week about some Disney vlogger drama. This is actually the second week in a row this has happened.

Last week I caught wind of some UK Youtubers who had sparked controversy by getting to Florida by first spending two weeks in, I think it was Crotia and the Disney online community had gone berserk at them. I think what they did was called “not reading the room”.

There was a lot of anger at them doing this with everyone else suffering cancelled plans and having no hope of getting there anytime soon. I didn’t care very much about this as I had never watched any of their videos and probably never will but I put it down to that age old demon where some folks start getting some attention and traction for their online activity and they begin to crave it and do stupid things.

At its most extreme I’ve heard of some (non Disney) Youtuber having a bath in bleach to generate views. That did not end well. In this case I suppose they thought being the first UK folks out there would bag them a lot of attention. Well it did but in the form of anger, unsubscribes and vitriolic comments.

I don’t really know how that little storm ended but hopefully it involved those folks getting a little perspective about online attention and the drug it can become.

This week’s drama involved The Trackers. Apparently they have been dropped from the media event list by Disney and Universal due to some “content” they posted a decade ago. It’s not really about that as far as I can see. As ever it seems there is someone or someones out there on a mission to bring them down and they have been bombarding Disney and Universal via multiple email addresses insisting they cut their ties with The Trackers due to this content that they say is not in line with Disney’s/Universal’s values. There are rumours of who that is but I won’t share those as there is no proof but suffice to say the theory is another vlogger is trying to knock them off their spot and take their place.

Success in any sphere attracts trolls I suppose. I mean I get bombarded all the time with jealousy and sabotage about my blog which has had pretty much the same number of readers for a decade. You can’t buy that sort of consistent mediocrity.

When you are The Trackers and are getting more views than quite a few TV programmes now you are always going to get divided opinions. It’s clearly too simple to say if you don’t like them don’t watch them it seems. They are and have been a consistently excellent source of information for Florida travellers over the years. Sure some of their content won’t please everyone, but how sad do you have to be to spend your time trying to destroy what somebody else has achieved.

Hopefully they will be reinstated soon but in the meantime I hope they will be laughing all the way to the bank in their Tesla and giving that troll(s) the finger as they drive by.

Shall we reconvene here next week, when my refund will absolutely have happened and our new trip will be booked, just in time for the October lockdown to drive a coach and horses through it? October lockdown? Well, the government have both not ruled it out and said they have no plans for one so I think that’s crystal clear as usual. Two days ago vaccine passports were happening but in the 48 hours since they have seemingly reviewed all the factors, that presumably they lost down the back of the couch on Thursday and now they are “definitely not going ahead with those”.

It’s the hope for competence that kills you.

Till the next time……

Can We Go On Holiday? Yes, We (Probably) Can-ary.

After a week off work you’d imagine I would be rested, relaxed and raring to go. I’m not, but it’ll take more than a week of mowing grass, answering work emails on my phone and not lying in as long as I would have liked to achieve that.

As the week drew to an end both Louise and I also seem to have inherited some of Emily’s (non Covid) illness which isn’t that bad (for me at least) other than it prevents sleep. Louise is doing less well.

My birthday on Tuesday was a quiet one and I don’t think it will surprise or upset anyone to hear that I have had better birthdays but it was lovely to see family and get lots of lovely gifts. Most gifts were clothes which seemed to be a family wide conspiracy to tell me I am overdue a new wardrobe. I am set for any upcoming holiday now with many new T shirts.

We’ve been searching for that alternate holiday destination this week and I think we are there. An all inclusive hotel has been identified in Gran Canaria for our October dates and as soon as anyone fancies sending me a refund we will be booking that. The hotel is called Riu Vistamar on Gran Canaria. Hopefully those refunds will be any day as Aer Lingus said theirs would take 5-7 days. We sit here on the cusp of the end of that period so we will see what happens.

Floridatix received my tickets early in the week and quickly issued our cancellation invoices. Of course for some reason it will now take up to sixty days to actually see the cash returned. I mean they’ve only had thousands of my pounds in their bank since late 2019 so that seems fair.

Shout out to Matt (villa owner) who had that deposit back with me almost before I requested it. Travel Republic, through which we had booked our Universal stay, also refunded our small deposit within a couple of days.

My fear of the US opening shortly after we book for elsewhere is subsiding. Whilst there are small hints that the US know they are coming under increasing pressure to come up with a plan, I still think it will be 2022 before we are allowed in. Regardless, it will definitely be then before we can return now. What state the parks will be in with all these changes and how silly flight prices might be we can only imagine.

I think the US has a little bit of time to go yet to ride out their current wave and we will have our own new surge in cases with schools now back. I am hopeful for 2022 but I have lived in that naïve state for almost two years now so nobody hold your breath.

Had you told me in September 2019 as we left the parks for the last time on our most recent trip that we wouldn’t be back for the best part of three years (at least) not only would I have wept (more) but I may have chained myself to the flagpole on Main Street. Having been so often we were, I think, definitely at the stage of taking these trips for granted. Never again.

So in just under a month we should be overseas (probably…I just cannot bring myself to think about any travel plans as concrete), enjoying the sunshine, unlimited food and not being at work. It will be lovely of course, but just not quite the holiday I would have wanted. Who knows, maybe I will rediscover my love of these types of holiday. They were all I knew until the age of ten. I’m not kidding anyone with that, especially myself, but excuse my positive spinning after what feels like endless whinging (I don’t need to tell you that, right?).

How is my beach body diet going? Well, let’s just say that I am no heavier now than I was last week, and at this stage let’s embrace that for the positive step that it is.

And with that I shall leave you. We appear to be in for a heat wave this week so make the most and try to imagine you are somewhere in Florida if you can.

Till the next time……

Yearn To Fly

It’s been a long and winding road, starting in November 2019, but the trip that never was is now officially dead.

After five sets of dates and endless stress and faff, on Wednesday Aer Lingus postponed the start of their Manchester to Orlando service until (at least) mid December. We all knew this was coming of course, but it is still a big kick in the nads when it does.

I knew that something would need to give in the next week or so as we had balances coming due in early September that I would definitely not be paying if there was no border news. Aer Lingus, thankfully, in a way, put me out of my misery….and into a new, different misery instead.

Previously when flights were cancelled we simply picked the whole trip up and moved it into the future, naively believing that by “that time” everything would be back to normal. Not this time my friends. With the US infected with lots of Delta and even more stupidity, I can see no prospect of travel to the US in the coming months.

So on Wednesday and Thursday I began the very sad and labour intensive task of cancelling everything and this time requesting refunds. I called Aer Lingus who tried to tempt me into vouchers with a 10% bonus, but there’s seems little point in that really. So full refunds were requested and then I sent back all our theme park tickets, requesting our refund for those too. They expire at the end of 2021 and I think there is zero chance of a trip before then. I can’t tell you how upset I was sending those back. It was a physical manifestation of the death of our plans. I was also very scared that the postal service will lose them and that envelope contained lots of cash value in those little plastic cards. Until I get receipt confirmed and the refund processed that will be something else to worry about.

For a few weeks now we have been chatting about what to do as and when our October WDW plans died. Ultimately our need for some sort of holiday has kicked in and we are now looking at alternative countries for a different kind of holiday, just to get some sun, relaxation and fun. I have all kinds of reservations about that. The testing regime, the ability of our government to screw holiday makers over by changing the colour of a country either just before you go or whilst you are there and the fact that frankly it isn’t Florida, are all on my mind.

However, I will be happy to go, and just not be on Teams or mowing grass for a little bit.

As far as Florida plans go, well we have none and that is never a state I like to be in. Our position now is that we will wait for the border to be opened and then see how many organs we need to sell to fund the surely ridiculous flight prices that will be used to gouge every penny from the pent up demand.

It would be par for the course now for the US to open their border, probably just after we press the “book” button on some trip to the Canaries or similar. Sure, I am feeling sorry for myself. I earned it.

When looking for these alternative holidays the constant issue of no hotel being in Florida or being operated by Disney persists. Those that “look” nice then have unsettling amounts of horrifying reviews on Trip Advisor. There’s also the fact that we haven’t holidayed anywhere else for twenty years or so (as Louise constantly reminds me) and that makes me scared of the unfamiliar.

I suspect we will find something suitable and have a really nice time, but of course, it will not shock you to know that I will be thinking about the next WDW trip the whole time, like some unfaithful ex.

We did get our Vero DVC element transferred to a credit note. We have 36 months to use that. Should be fine. right? In my gut, I suspect it will probably be next summer before we get back over there and it will probably need to be before the end of August as Freddie will start school/reception in September. We may have to sell the house to fund that trip. I mean, I like this house, but needs must!

We did briefly consider moving the trip to January, but there are only so many times you can get hurt and keep coming back for more. If by some miracle the US open up say on January 1st then you will probably have to wrestle me to the ground to stop me booking us a trip for that month. Sure, it’ll be cooler/chilly at night but not as bloody chilly as Lancashire will be!

In more cheery news I have a week off work next week. How I have enjoyed everyone I talk to at work asking “Are you going away anywhere?”. I refrain from explaining my two year struggle to get on a plane and just smile and say, “No, just relaxing at home.” If only they knew…..

In reality I will be mowing stuff no doubt, answering work emails on my phone and not lying in as long as I would like to. Oh and dieting. If we are going anywhere near a beach or pool any time soon, then for the sake of others, things need to change in a big way and quickly. With just over a month till we go, I figure I can lose say three pounds?

So as I remember sitting in our old house, watching the news of the pandemic around April 2020 and telling Louise that our August 2020 trip would be absolutely fine as there was no way this thing would go on that long, let us all marvel at my spectacular ability to get things wrong. If that trend continues in the same vein then any day now the US border will be open and I’ll be seething on a flight to somewhere else.

Fingers crossed that the return to school over here (I know Scotland are back already and seeing this) doesn’t see a huge spike in cases that may lead to even our second choice of holiday being threatened. I can’t say it often enough. You can keep destroying my overseas holiday plans as much as you like but I am not booking a bloody holiday in the UK!

Till the next time…….

I Seethe At Genie

It’s one of those weeks were horrific events somewhere in the world make the trivial nonsense here even more offensive. Usual caveats apply in that regard.

There was a brief moment around Wednesday, with a couple of White House Covid briefings that some semblance of hope surfaced about border news. It turned out that they were all about the booster jab programme and nobody even said the word border.

It was silly to hope but it’s what we do I suppose. With the passing of that potential update, hope for October is now all but extinguished I think. I am prepared to be wrong yet again but I don’t see us being allowed to go. It feels to me that the US administration are completely focussed on the Delta variant (and of course more so Afghanistan now) and getting that under some sort of control before they do anything. Battling with the governors trying their best to extend the pandemic is probably taking precedence over allowing tourists in.

The White House announced it was extending the travel restrictions for Canada and Mexico until September 21st this week so we know from that, the UK will be the same until that date and most likely beyond.

Now of course the thinking and theories could be that they will get those boosters delivered before they open the border. That would be a good few months. Overall, I guess they just want to get case levels down to a more reasonable level. As ever, the frustration is the lack of transparency. Most folks just want to know they aren’t going if they aren’t.

It’s tragically sad in its own little first world problem kind of way.

Then to kick a man when he is down Disney unveiled their plans to introduce paid for FastPasses. I honestly couldn’t be arsed to research it in much detail but I will share my uncalled for uninformed opinion regardless of course, as is the way on the internet.

As usual, it appears more complex than it needs to be but I think it’s $15 a day which on its own in the scheme of the holiday doesn’t sound too bad. But for UK folks doing 10 to 14 days, for a family of four it adds up to between £600 and £800 to your holiday. Sure you don’t have to buy it every day, but it just makes for a two tier system in the parks. You can probably ride all the lesser attractions, but if you want to get anywhere near Rise Of The Resistance or Flight Of Passage as examples, then you are paying extra for the Lightning Lane stuff, which, however you cut it, is a bit of a piss take. I know all the parks do it now, but any model where the park makes more money by being a bit crap at processing large volumes through rides only benefits one side of that deal. Who am I to suggest that they may intentionally inflate wait times to up their revenues.

Maybe the free version will manage the crowds in a way that will reduce the longest wait times, but you have to think that if that happened nobody would be buying the paid for versions and as much as we all love Disney, I think we know how that one goes.

I’m sure park reservations and the new Genie thing give WDW unimaginable data and insight on crowds in the parks and will allow them to marshal folks to quieter areas and rides and I can see the theory that this will make for a more enjoyable experience. I doubt it will get you onto the headliner rides though unless you get your hand in your pocket. Having shelled out over $20 to park, $15 a day per person on top or potentially unlimited amounts of the Lightning thing sticks in the throat a bit as it isn’t as if the park tickets are particularly cheap. It would have been a nice gesture to say, because of this we commit to not increasing park ticket prices for two years or similar. Again, this is pure fantasy I know. They are there to make money.

It’s another stage in the slow death of the feeling of excitement surrounding these holidays. It’s becoming a dark cloud of doubt and uncertainty hanging over us rather than a beacon of joy and excitement that we can look forward to. We don’t stay on-site typically but I have seen many folks bemoaning the slow removal of almost every previous benefit of doing so. It makes you wonder what the thinking is behind it. Maybe WDW has data that says that off-site guests are more profitable? Hard to imagine that is true but why else would they upset their own resort guests?

Usually I am very supportive of any change WDW come up with. I trust them to protect the experience and brand. It’s probably a symptom of my incredible frustration that we cannot be there, or even know when we might, that I am lashing out like some bitter ex.

I did briefly look at ADRs early in the week, mainly just to try and remember what it used to be like doing exciting things like planning. The pickings were not just slim, they were skeletal. I appreciate that I missed the 60 day window due to apathy and no belief that we will be able to go, but unless you plan to eat at Disney Springs there is nothing to book. I managed to find a couple of things we would be happy with but I’m just creating more things to cancel later.

I know it’s not like me but I will end with a couple of small positives, that are probably too late to save our current dates but may go someway to helping with later ones. On Friday (I think it was) the US delivered over one million jabs in a day for the first time in months. Even Trump endorsed getting the jab at his latest MAGA rally. He was booed of course as you can’t fix stupid, but maybe some of his less challenged followers will take the hint that all the MAGA dolts undermining the vaccine have had it. If that continues and cases start to plateau who knows, we may get in.

In summary, I am worried about how I am starting to feel about WDW and Florida. I have a real fear that things will never be a special as we perceived them to be in the past and if that is the case what a shame that will be. All this angst may well melt away once we are back to being able to go when we want to. In the meantime I shall continue to spit my dummy all over the interwebs in a vain attempt to make myself feel better.

The truly tragic part of that is that you have to tolerate or avoid it as you see fit.

Till the next time…….

Border Whine

As hope for our October trip dwindles day by day now in a maelstrom of DeSantis testosterone and MAGA asshattery, even the airlines are joining in. Midweek, TUI dropped an enormous bollock and updated their website to say all flights/holidays to Florida were cancelled until November.

They corrected the error fairly quickly but not before Disney Facebook went into understandable meltdown, which was only superseded by the outrage of it being an error. The last thing thousands of desperate Florida obsessives need is someone dicking about and making errors like that.

For us, I don’t see a scenario in which borders are opened in time now. Aside from whether we actually want to go into the COVID soup of Florida, I think it is now only a matter of time until we get cancelled again and I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that the TUI cock up comes to fruition relatively soon. The dates for which flights are being cancelled now is edging towards our departure date. Virgin have now gone to September 23rd before you can book a flight to Orlando on their website.

In an attempt to find the glass half full, at least we won’t lose the money we paid for our Vero stay via DVC points. Next week I will be able to convert that to a credit note. As long as that has a 50 year expiration date we may even get to use it at some point.

What we do when the seemingly inevitable cancellation happens will depend on how we feel the land lies I suppose. If there is definite news of the border opening or at least some clue that they are planning on it then I guess we push the thing back a month and go again, again. If we are still in this endless limbo then we may make the call to push it out until next year and go and have a holiday somewhere that we are allowed to go (I have no idea where that is or might be) and just get some sun. We all desperately need a break of some sort.

The real problem to me is, when does this get better? Vaccine rates in the US aren’t low because they can’t roll them out. Folks just won’t take it. Where does that lead us? In circles is my guess and even by saying, well, we will sack it off and go next year, what will have changed or improved by then?

As you all no doubt know, Florida and much of the South are drowning in COVID, driven by vaccine resistance, idiotic religious dogma and politically driven stupidity. The very obvious facts that unvaccinated areas are seeing massively worse outcomes seems to be ignored. We are truly in a post truth scenario. The upshot is that this will prolong the pandemic and resultant travel restrictions, probably beyond our dates and I am not OK about it.

But then I think, US folks can currently come to the UK, fully jabbed, with no quarantine, and large parts of the south of that country are like a scene from The Walking Dead, so maybe the US could reciprocate. But as much as I always thought one state’s situation would not affect Biden’s countrywide decisions, he has to bear in mind that Florida is a huge tourist destination. I guess if he only allows double jabbed folks in, they will fare better than the yeehaws and rednecks hiding behind their bibles and MAGA hats like some sort of crucifix.

Uggh….

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For someone who has been so loyal and so obsessed with Florida holidays it is heart-breaking to notice that as more time passes something strange is happening. Of course I miss it and at times a vlog, a memory or even a smell can evoke ridiculously strong emotions of sadness that we have no prospect of returning anytime soon. But at the same time, the longer it is that we can’t go, the more used to not going I become.

I suppose that is just one tiny example of how life will never be the same again for so many people in so many ways. Now, knowing me, as soon as there is news and progress my massive obsession will resume. I guess it’s the endless unknowing void of just moving the whole bloody thing time after time. I’m sure many in my situation would even welcome Biden following New Zealand’s lead and at least putting us out of our seemingly endless misery. New Zealand have already said their borders will be closed until at least the start of 2022.

I would be as equally unsurprised now if Biden either opened up the border next week or said it will be shut until next year.

It’s amazing how the lack of the dangled carrot of a holiday can affect the mood. It hasn’t helped that it has rained non-stop for about three weeks now and the dreary chill of Autumn is hurtling towards us, but I do seem to be a resident, nay King, of the State of Meh.

Never has the need for sunshine been so great.

Till the next time…..