Dougie, Doggies and What We’ve Been Doing

This is the first non-holiday blog in forever so let’s see if I can remember how this works.

Let’s start with the obvious update. Last Sunday morning little Dougie joined us and due to an arduous birthing process and one that we should not repeat please Rebecca, he and his Mum did not come home until Wednesday.

The thing that Rebecca had been yearning for was to introduce Dougie to his big brother who had been patiently waiting at home unable to visit the hospital, along with the rest of us apart from Tom, due to Covid regulations.

Here is the moment they met.

It’s fair to say they have been inseparable ever since.

Rebecca is recovering well after her emergency C section and thankfully all the drama of that is behind us. For those eating and/or a little squeamish that is all we shall say about that.

We got our chance for a hold and a squeeze of Dougie on Thursday evening and it was glorious.

So that’s a delight and a relief!

The last time I wasn’t doing trip report things here, we were just about to go away to Florida (maybe, depending on Omicron…remember that?) and Louise’s Mum suffered a stroke. She went into hospital in late December, which led to Louise staying home to look after her. Mary came out of the hospital in early January and came to live with us, under the expert care of Louise who has given up her job to look after her Mum.

It would take too long to go through all the ups and downs of this past almost six months now but safe to say it has been a mix of good times and tricky ones, both in terms of Mary’s health and the challenges presented in caring for her. She was back in hospital recently with pneumonia but is home with us once again now.

Outside of that, just to add some spice to life, we are halfway through getting our conservatory replaced and you all know how I love having jobs done around the house with all the mess and disruption that goes with them.

There is some sad news since we last “spoke” about our lovely Old English Sheepdog, Oli. Sadly we lost him unexpectedly in late January and we were all incredibly upset. Time helps, but I still get overcome with it at points when things remind me. Everyone says it, but he was truly a special dog and a huge part of our lives. It still hasn’t really sunk in that we won’t see him again. It happened so suddenly that I still feel traumatised by the events of that evening. All these months later I still find myself expecting to see him in his favourite spots around the house.

Our other dog, Bean, has been soaking up all the extra affection and attention (and food) since we lost Oli. In her bereaved state, Louise finally let Bean up on the couch and she seems quite happy about that situation.

In other animal news, and we have a lot, you may remember that Emily has pet rats? Well, there have been turbulent times there too with three of those sadly passing away in recent times. They all have a forever resting place in our field now and Emily has added a couple of new babies to her collection. They really are lovely pets and cute little buggers and if only pets didn’t pass away that would be great.

So with all that and my work being especially busy and stressful in recent times, it has not been a time of great peace and quiet, but when is life ever?

As mentioned towards the end of the trip report we unusually have zero holiday plans. Louise especially is in need of one, but that isn’t possible for now. I have finally watched a vlog now though. Only one, and perhaps it is quite telling that it was a Universal one, but maybe the urge to return is slowly starting to awaken from its slumber. However, the more I read and remember about the WDW park situation now, the more that cost and complexity just make me reluctant to go through that stress. I have enough of that in real life. We all know we’ll return at some point of course. I can only hope by that time it is recognisable as the WDW we love so much.

So there we go, a whirlwind recap and you are up to date I think. I have no doubt forgotten some stuff but that’s enough for anyone on a Sunday.

Till the next time…….

Say Hello….

Hello again, it’s been a while since there has been any non-trip report bloggage. I hope you are all well.

Even before we went away, the previous seemingly endless months were just me making inaccurate guesses and predictions about travel restrictions and moaning about having to rearrange a holiday four hundred times.

So today would be the post where I would typically catch you up on everything that has been happening in the four months since we got home. I’ll probably save that for next week as today, with absolutely perfect timing, we have a new arrival in the family.

Please say hello to Dougie.

He arrived at 5.56 this morning weighing an eye-watering 9lbs 15oz. We are so relieved proud and in love all at the same time. Much like almost all of the pregnancy, his delivery was not straightforward, but all that matters now is that he, Rebecca and Tom are through it and everyone is safe and well.

It looks like Rebecca and Dougie may be staying in for a few days so I’m not sure when we will get to meet him yet but obviously we can’t wait. He has cheeks that just need a good squishing!

So that’s all I wanted to say today. This is Dougie’s post on his special day. A huge well done to Rebecca for getting him here and for Tom for getting her through it. Freddie will be an excellent big brother I’m sure and becoming a Grandad for the second time is just too awesome for someone as average at writing as me to convey.

Be braced for Dougie photo spam in the coming weeks. I make zero apologies.

Till the next time….

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

So it’s Tuesday January 18th now. The holiday is on its last legs and I now get to document that tricky travel home day. It shouldn’t take long.

I awoke at 7am, probably the latest I had slept all holiday. Alanis Morrissette has a song all about that. I did want to go back to sleep but could not, so instead, I checked us in for our flight home and rested in bed until about 8.30.

I showered, dressed and finished the packing with Emily up and about around 9am. With precision timing we walked out of the room at 10.58 no doubt much to the disappointment of the housekeeping staff. We met Rebecca, Tom and Freddie at the car and somehow got all the luggage to fit with room left for us all to sit down.

The first order of business was gas. With all the food we’d been eating it wasn’t that shocking, but I also needed to get some petrol into the car. I don’t know why but I detest filling the car up and last night had ignored the low fuel light which I now regretted as I had no idea if what we had left would get us to a gas station.

I fired up the in car sat nav and searched for gas stations, setting off to the nearest one which looked to be just a few minutes away. That journey was fraught but it looked like we were going to make it. As we approached our destination there was a distinct lack of gas station where the sat nav said there should be one. I swore quite a lot.

Cursing the in car sat nav and the relatives of everyone who was involved in its construction, we headed for another, a worrying distance away. We ended up down on the 192 and for the second time arrived at a piece of land that should contain a gas station but did not. Abandoning technology in favour of my eyes, I spotted one over the road and with everything crossed that the fumes in the tank would get us there, I headed that way.

We made it, I filled up and reflected on a needlessly stressful start to the day.

With that pressing need satisfied, we moved on to the next one which was of course food. I pointed the car towards Lake Buena Vista and another visit to The Cheesecake Factory. It took twenty minutes to battle a busy I4. We arrived at 12.05 and it was surprisingly busy for that time on a Tuesday. We were seated immediately though.

We of course started with Nachos.

Nachos are probably one of Louise’s favourite things on the planet and as if she had sensed their presence from across the Atlantic she called just as they arrived with absolutely no consideration for us being hungry.

I sneakily passed the phone to Emily so I could eat.

We were also presented with a lovely bread service. It didn’t last long enough to be photographed.

Freddie ordered Chicken Strips

With apparently much improved camera skills, Rebecca and I had the Fried Chicken Sandwich.

They did not persist for Tom’s Chicken and Avocado Sandwich.

Emily had the Impossible Burger.

Again, everything was superb.

As we were just finishing our meals, Rebecca cried out in pain, complaining of very strong shooting pains in her stomach. I briefly had visions of missed flights, hospitals and a grandchild born in the US, but thankfully, they passed before desserts arrived, as I was not missing my cheesecake for anything!

Emily and I shared a Tiramisu one.

The bill was $164 and I somehow expertly managed to spend every last dollar on my Caxton card. It’s a life skill.

Unavoidably we now had to head to the airport. We stopped at a nearby bin to dump all the “trash” accumulated in the car and then set the sat nav for MCO. Knowing this sat nav we would be in Key West by sun down.

We arrived at the airport safely and the car drop off was very simple. We also dropped off our toll tag thing which had worked a treat. Our bag drop experience was probably the easiest ever with no queue at all.

Security is always grim at MCO and it looked to be horrific, but once we had been through the passport check, we were through in fifteen minutes or so. We monorailed to the gate and found some seats. The queue for a Starbucks was worse than security but we got one eventually.

An announcement that boarding was starting at 4.30 was made, which was odd as we were not due to take off until around 6pm. We got to the gate and were surprised to be allowed on immediately with no queue at all. Once we were on the plane we realised why. The thing was empty. I would say there were twenty people on the flight.

Boarding was complete by 5pm and we were airborne by 5.30. This is the time you really just want to be home, but for me, this time, even more so even though I was dreading work and the scales.

The prospect of the cold, grey UK is never one I relish but clearly, this time, none of that mattered and I just needed to be home.

The flight (pardon the pun) flew by. This was easily the quickest and most pleasant journey home we have ever had. We all spread out of course, so had loads of room which made the whole thing very, very tolerable.

Despite still being full from our lunch, I demolished the food provided and soon enough we were on the ground in Manchester. Nothing of note happened on our arrival. Immigration was OK and our bags appeared fairly quickly as there weren’t many on the flight at all.

We drove home to find Louise had locked us out by putting the security bar on the front door so we had to knock her out of bed. We were home.

I have shared a lot of (negative) thoughts throughout the trip already, so there’s not a lot left to say here, however that probably won’t stop me doing so. I have to add for balance that real life, since returning has been stressful, odd, worrying and busy and this may have impacted upon my writing style/mood too. Because it has taken so long to write this thing, at times I honestly couldn’t remember how we really felt beyond the brief notes I made too, so perhaps I have done the odd disservice here and there.

We did enjoy lots of the trip of course and we will look back on it with fondness in the future I am sure, but it definitely was not the same as we have enjoyed in the past. As such we have no immediate plans to return, or have any idea when we might. This is driven a little by our recent experience but also by real life stuff such as Louise’s Mum’s condition and required care and the fact that Rebecca is literally just about to give birth and that new arrival will need to grow some before we could consider a trip to WDW with them.

It’s weird not to have that burning desire to return that I normally have once back in the UK. A tangible sign of my apathy is that, despite now being best friends with high profile Florida vloggers, I have not watched one vlog since our return. Of course, life has been busy, and a post trip slump can be normal, but to me that seems weird. I do think that many first timers now may get home and feel the same way and be back in Magaluf the next summer.

In recent days, I can almost sense the distant rumblings of interest in another trip stirring, but they are some way off yet. It feels like some time is needed for WDW to sort itself out a bit. Post COVID staffing levels will be a big factor and getting those back up to where they are required will help them to re-open everything which in turn will hopefully spread out the crowds and reduce waiting times. My mind has considered a Florida trip with no/less parks too. Strange times indeed.

So in summary, Genie+ is a shit show, or at least it felt that way due to the long wait times. Whether Genie+ is the cause of those, I don’t know, but WDW need to get to grips with the crowd levels and whatever is impacting the guest experience so badly. It was simply not as enjoyable to be in the parks this time compared to literally every other time. The two new/different things in the mix are the COVID impact and Genie+.

Aside from the operational impact of replacing FastPass with Genie, which doesn’t seem to have improved the experience, there is also the feeling of indignation of being forced to pay extra for things that were included in your ticket price. I was very offended by this and felt ripped off when shelling out for LL and/or Genie+. This is not something that will endear visitors to WDW for the long term and any short term uptick in profits will be countered by a longer term loss of loyalty. In case I have not been clear, Genie+ is an affront, ineffective and something that will discourage us from visiting WDW in the future.

Universal was good. We were, of course, spared most crowd issues and long wait times due to staying on site and we really enjoyed it. It remains an occasional thing for a couple of days rather than the main stay of our trip, but we loved our time there. We do it infrequently because the front of line is expensive. It feels WDW may be heading the same way.

A definite huge positive from the trip was our villa. The best we have stayed in by some distance and we will return without doubt.

So there we have it. A weird trip for lots of reasons. We will absolutely go again. It won’t be for a while I would think, and in that time I hope things settle down and we can return to an experience worthy of the increasingly huge investment needed to be there.

Thank you as always for coming with us on the trip via these posts. Your patience and endurance is astonishing and appreciated.

Till the next time……

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

It’s the last full day and traditionally one of sadness. There was some of that, but tempered very much by a desire to get home now. Still, we could not bring the flight forward so it was our job to make the best of the time ahead of us.

Our story today starts in the very early hours. I was asleep, unusually, but I remember (gracefully) leaping from my bed in a startled yet sleepy state, deeply confused. As my flab rippled under such odd activity, I stood in the dark of the room, wondering, where I was and what was going on.

I couldn’t see much but I could hear faint music, coming from I did not know where. I had dark and disturbing thoughts of some murderous clown coming for me in the night accompanied by some weird theme music.

This unpleasant confusion lasted a few more moments before I saw Emily move in her bed and look towards me, with a look on her face that questioned my sanity. As she did so, she removed her ear pods from her ears and the music suddenly became a lot louder.

Turns out she had been listening to music to try and drown out my snoring in an attempt to get some sleep. Add this to the “a villa suits us better” list. I sheepishly returned to bed, hopeful of a few minutes more sleep. What sleep I got was fitful and it ended around 7am. I immediately booked Genie+ to allow us to actually do some things on this our last day and as I was doing so got a message from Rebecca. She had been awake until 4, not due to Emily’s music, but more to do with pregnancy aches and pains. She was very tired and was letting us know our planned early start was off the cards for her.

Emily and I pressed ahead with the plan, after getting the stroller from the car and dropping it off at Rebecca’s room so they could join us later. We drove to Magic Kingdom and found ourselves in Hook again. The lack of trams persisted and we walked into the park whilst Facetiming Louise.

It was good to see our last day would be a consistent experience with all the others.

In our monorail compartment was an odd chap. Now I know, to some, certainly ased on last night’s ear pod experience, I would be odd, but this guy was in his early forties, yet dressed like Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. He had two mobiles on the go, constantly checking both, and he was sweating profusely whilst coughing over everyone. It was weird. He had his wife and two kids with him and spent the journey talking very loudly at them all. He shouted at his kids to get up from where they were sitting making a huge performance of it, telling the whole monorail that “Boys can stand”, unlike of course girls who cannot I assume. I convinced myself he was a drug dealing, Covid spreading idiot, and I felt sorry for his kids. Not that I am one to make snap judgements about people based on a brief encounter. Still it passed the journey to the Kingdom of Magic.

We got into Magic Kingdom around 10.30. Moans, odd blokes on the monorail, issues and Genie+ aside there are few better sights than this.

This too is a lovely sight, there are just a few too many people in the way of it. We planned to get breakfast at Sleepy Hollow. The huge queue there put paid to that so we went to the stall thing near the stocks and got a banana instead. We ate that as we walked over to Carousel Of Progress. It had no wait time unlike everything else in the park.

Today was Martin Luther King Day, but I don’t think he was there, not that the parks needed any excuse for them to be busy.

This show provided an oasis of calm from the crowds outside.

It will not shock you to learn that our bananas did not complete us, so we mobile ordered a pretzel with soft cheese from The Lunching Pad and collected it as we left Carousel.

We shared that in what were cold and windy conditions today, relatively speaking, for someone who lives in the North of England.

I restroomed.

Next we had a LL booked for Buzz but we needed to kill some time in Star Traders before that rolled around. We rode and then walked down to Main Street to do some more handbag shopping for Louise.

A cavalcade happened.

We consulted on Louise’s gifts with Rebecca, virtually, before making a final selection but deferred actual purchase till later in the day so we wouldn’t need to carry them around.

We spotted the Dapper Dans on the train station so we stopped to watch them, going live on Facebook to share that with you all.

It was now time to make our way over to the Contemporary for our lunch ADR at Steakhouse 71. Rebecca, Tom and Freddie were to meet us there.

We were early so had a look around the resort and shops.

Emily bought a hoodie and some gifts in the shop there and we met up in reception at 1pm. I checked in and we were seated five minutes later.

We got some drinks….

and then ordered….

Freddie – Burger and mash

Emily, a grilled cheese…

Me, a Turkey Club Sandwich….

Rebecca, a very poorly photographed burger….

Tom, a steak suffering in a similar way…

All of the above were great. Great service too.

The whole point of coming here, if I am honest, was the huge chocolate cake so we ordered two of those and a Crème Brulee to share between us all. Both were incredibly good.

Freddie of course had ice cream.

We all felt a bit like this after all that food.

The bill was $190 including tip and it was now 2.35pm. I had booked a LL for Big Thunder that ran out at 3.10 so we were up against it. Again, it always take far longer than you think to get from one place to another as we were about to prove.

We hurried to the monorail and the journey around the resort loop took an age, with the driver having the absolute nerve to stop at each resort. For some reason we sat outside the Grand Floridian for ages. All this meant that we only got to the entrance of Magic Kingdom at 3.05. We were clearly not going to make it to Big Thunder in five minutes, with or without a pregnant one amongst us. I cancelled our LL as if we had been late/refused entry we could not book it again that day.

Queues were looonnnnggg everywhere. The People Mover was “only” twenty minutes so we did that. Freddie then wanted to ride Buzz so we joined a 45 minute queue which only took 25. I rode with Freddie, who employed the “no look” aiming method which led to another crushing defeat at my hands.

During all of the past few hours I had been stacking LL bookings for later in the day with Genie+. One of those, for Pirates was now due so we made our way there.

More world class photography took place.

Spotting that Small World was only at 20 minutes we walked there and rode with a 10 minute wait.

Marginally better photography took place.

This took us nicely to our next LL for Peter Pan’s Flight….see….

As we boarded at 5.45, the standby wait was 110 minutes! After riding we got a drink in the Pinocchio place. At this point Tom and Freddie went off in search of more rides whilst the rest of us headed for Main Street to complete the handbag and purse purchase for Louise.

With that done, we headed over the road into the Emporium where everybody in Florida was currently shopping. We left quickly and our LL for Ariel’s ride was now due. Rebecca declined the walk all the way over there and said she would find somewhere to sit and wait for Tom and Freddie. Emily and I dodged people and speed walked over to ride.

This quick fire series of rides felt good and what we had been missing for much of the trip. During this trip it had only been possible a handful of times where we had bought Genie+ and managed to “stack” reservations for later in a day.

Emily and I now walked back to Main Street to take up a position for the fireworks. It was busy and we had no clue where everyone else was so we messaged to find out. We were stood near the bridge over to Liberty Square, with Rebecca not budging from a seat she found near Crystal Palace. Tom and Freddie were AWOL, it turned out half way round Space Mountain. Their desire to get to ride that meant they did not make it back in time for the fireworks which Rebecca was a bit upset about.

This was mine and Emily’s view.

Some trees made it less than perfect but arriving at this late stage it was good enough.

Allow me to share my photographic skills once again.

OK, this is a bit better….

An enjoyable show, but at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, it ain’t no Wishes.

We met up with Tom and Freddie outside Sleepy Hollow and we all made our way across to our final LL booking at 8.40 for Haunted Mansion whilst Rebecca told Tom off for missing the fireworks.

More epic camera work. I actually have a pretty good camera, I’m just really rubbish.

There’s something odd about knowing you’ve done your last ride. We exited into the now very cold evening, a mixture of all kinds of emotions. We strolled out, having our customary last look up Main Street.

It was less blurry than this.

You can see the crowds had really died off by now!

As ever we took the resort monorail, with even that having a ten minute queue. That wait was nothing compared to the one for the tram (yes, they do exist). I fell on my sword and walked back to the car so that everyone else could fit on one row. We all arrived back at the car at the same time.

We had not eaten for many hours now and so a search began for somewhere that was open. Again. this felt weird and unusual or is it just me? Struggling to find an open eatery or take away at around 10pm on the 192?

We found a McDonalds but as we had found all trip they had zero options for Emily. Everything had meat in it or was cooked in non-veggie oil. The rest of us got some of that and we continued what turned out to be a fruitless search for other non-meat options for another half hour or so. With Emily less than impressed we arrived home around 11pm, and those able to, ate something. We were all in bed for midnight.

Till the next time…….

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

I have been less than positive about our Genie+ experience thus far. A lot of our failings and feelings have been due to us having the absolute nerve not to stay on site and prefer to have a seven bed villa with private pool rather than two double beds and a bathroom for 16 nights, at double the cost.

Well, today we were on-site special people as we were checking into Coronado Springs for a couple of days, so I was poised, pre 7am, to use that magical specialness to get us on Rise Of The Resistance, hanging the expense. Seldom have I resented the thought of spending $90 at WDW as much as I did at this moment.

As the clock ticked to 7am I clicked the relevant clicky thing on the app and there was a glorious spot available at 4pm which I gleefully selected and pressed “Next”. When that next page appeared it had changed my 4pm slot to 7.50pm, which we couldn’t do due to a clashing ADR. Thinking that was a bit odd, I went back a page to look for another slot.

They had all gone.

So you see dear reader, on site or off, this thing is absolute bobbins. Being pumped full of Disney magic in such a way by 7.01 is lovely isn’t it? It truly sets you up for the day with a smile on your face and skip in your step.

We had no plans to go to a park today unless we had got a slot for Rise so at least now we knew what we’d be doing.

I’ll make this point again. What chance does a first timer have of experiencing things at WDW now? Someone booking a trip for the first time and not even thinking they need to spend days researching and planning on the internet to ride stuff they think that have paid for. I’m sure many of you have heard of the people arriving at a park with a ticket assuming they are good to go, only to find the park at capacity and them with no pre-made reservation. I know it’s on them to find out what’s needed and it will be said that these are pandemic related measures, but if reservations ever get removed I’ll grow a fringe. The cost and complexity of how we found it in January 2022 was too much.

I lazed in bed until 8am, did the final bits of packing and tidied the villa a bit. Whilst everyone else got themselves packed, I had a chat with Louise and watched half an hour of football on the TV. We left bang on the 10am checkout time. We loved this villa and we shall return, on the off chance we should we ever return to Florida.

We had our hearts set on a large breakfast. Overnight and into the early hours there had been a huge rainstorm and that, in conjunction with a three day weekend. seemed to have pushed most of Florida into the restaurants in the area. We tried a Perkins and a Dennys, both having hour long waits for a table, so we decided just to head to the hotel and see what we could get there.

We parked up near the main tower and wandered in.

We had done all of our checking in on the app so did not need to go to reception to see that our rooms were not ready yet.

We made our way down there…

where we found the Barcelona Lounge which was to provide us with a breakfast, not quite of the volume or cheapness a Perkins or Dennys may have.

We ordered coffees, cookies, muffins and overnight Oats and found a seat to devour them.

The muffins were the recently declared “best on the planet” muffins that Emily and I had enjoyed at Riviera….

By the time we had eaten we got alerted via the app that our rooms were ready. We drove over to Casitas 3, a little disappointed not to be in the main tower but for a couple of nights, I hadn’t cared enough to request that.

The rooms were fine. A little dated, but absolutely fine for our short stay. Our view from the balcony outside of our door was….

and with some zoom….

We unpacked a little, leaving most of our cases packed for the journey home in a couple of days and settled in. Despite the less than glorious weather you can see in those photos, Tom and Freddie made it into the nearby pool. Rebecca and I sat and watched wearing fleeces! The plan for today pre-departure had been to either go to a park should we be allowed to ride the thing we wanted to or if not laze around the pool. The temperature made the latter impossible/unpleasant today so we needed another idea.

Emily messaged from the room saying she wanted to go to Disney Springs so we all got ready for that and drove there. Food happened in the shape of an Earl of Sandwich…

There was a fairly long queue, but after it….

Emily and I shared a Veggie thing….

Rebecca and Tom both had a Chicken and Avocado

Freddie had an un-photographed Grilled Cheese. All were delicious.

It will not surprise you to know, it was busy….

We went into the Co-Op to look at gifts for Louise. I wanted to get her a Dooney and Bourke handbag and maybe a purse too, as she always admires them on her trips to WDW, whilst I shake my head and say they are too expensive.

There was nothing suitable in there and we found none at all in World of Disney. We continued to stroll and browse…

We made our first visit to the new M&M shop.

Tom likes an M&M so he spent most of his annual income on sweets and merchandise in there.

We decided to go to the cinema next, as we were all shopped out and had some time to kill before our ADR at Sanaa later. There was not a great deal of choice that would suit a pan-generational group such as us, so for Freddie’s benefit, we settled on Sing 2. I had not seen Sing 1, but I was confident it would not be required viewing for me to benefit from the sequel.

With our upcoming ADR, we were denied the opportunity to eat the impressive range of snacks on offer. This was upsetting.

The film didn’t start until some time after its advertised time and we therefore didn’t leave until 8.05. The film itself? Freddie enjoyed it. Inexplicably, it contained Bono.

Our late departure meant we needed to do a speedy walk back to the car in Lime so we could make our ADR time at Kidani Village.

The crowds had gone up a level again and we were playing dodge the shopper all the way back to the garage. We were getting mild PTSD from the crowd levels at this point. We got to the car at 8.30 and courtesy of some awesome driving, arrived at Kidani at 8.50.

We checked in and were seated after just a few minutes.

We of course ordered the bread service. That is where the bread service used to be.

We briefly considered ordering a second lot but our entrees turned up.

Me and Emily – Biryani, hers without the chicken.

Butter Chicken for Rebecca and Tom

Pizza for Freddie

The service was good, but we did feel a little rushed as our ADR was a late one and the place was closing up. We were given the bill at the same time as being asked if we wanted dessert, which wasn’t ideal. We were too full anyway and we left.

We headed home feeling a little like we weren’t experiencing everything we normally would, especially after the last couple of crowd-filled frustrating days. Regardless, we were making the most of what we could do and we had one last full day tomorrow to squeeze the juice out of. Spoiler alert, it contains cake.

Till the next time……

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

For anyone still with me at this late stage, it is now Saturday the 15th of January. I salute your endurance and you may as well go all the way now just to say you persevered till the end. Not that I have any experience of marathons other than being old enough to remember them being the larger predecessor of a Snickers, but I assume this is the wall and we just have to push through now to the end.

Today started at 7. With a few days to go my body finally seemed to be adapting to this time zone. This would be very helpful for the return home. I called Louise to see how things were and she was stressed. I felt ready to go home at this point, but probably not as ready as Louise was for me to do so. This was to be our last night in the villa, with our final couple of days booked at Coronado Springs, so I did most of my packing whilst everyone was getting up, ready, dressed and fed.

With it being our last day in the villa it was only right that the waste disposal stopped working. It was probably my fault but I called the management company about it, and left them a message. Despite me using my best Hugh Grant English they would call back later having been unable to decipher a word of it.

“Aye, ecky thump, th’waste disposal’s buggered and it needs fettling” does not translate well apparently. I was feeling a bit “coldy” this morning and having rubbed shoulders with literally thousands of folks for almost two weeks it had been a minor miracle that I nor anyone else, had contracted the dreaded virus. I did a test and it was negative. What I would have done had it been otherwise I do not know. The thought of not being able to get home as planned to Louise was not worth thinking about at this stage.

I onboarded some cereal and a bagel for breakfast, and with everyone else now almost fully packed too we left the villa around 11am. We were headed for Animal Kingdom.

Peacock 14 housed the car for the day and we walked all the way in, wondering if the trams still existed.

Rebecca hired an ECV again and as we walked away from the entrance area, DeVine was a welcome site.

It was interesting to watch Freddie process what he was seeing and work out what was happening.

Our first target was the 12.15 kite show so we made our way in that direction.

Of course, you’ll know by now that by this time of day we needed food so we stopped at the quick service at Yak & Yeti. We congregated around and ate off of the parked up ECV, and tardily did not capture the food in picture form.

I had Egg Rolls, but not the Chicken Fried Rice which despite me ordering, did not appear on our tray, with Chicken dishes for everyone else, with Emily settling for fries. The queue was too long to bother going back for the missing dish and we were already going to be a few minutes late for the kite show.

We found seats despite our late arrival and settled in to watch what was a fun, yet brief show.

It feels like Disney are still searching for the right thing to do with this area and haven’t quite nailed it yet. I thought the Rivers Of Light was as good as they could do without being able to deploy their usual fireworks. Why that ended I don’t know, but the park does need that end of the day spectacular I feel. This day time effort was original and entertaining but doesn’t feel like it is the permanent solution. Like most Dads, I suspect, I spent the whole show wondering who was going to untangle all the wires afterwards.

As we left, I saw a 1pm Festival of The Lion King show was imminent so we headed for that arriving at 12.45. Getting to the park at 11am just was not conducive to getting on any actual rides, so we were concentrating on shows for now. Just as we were about to park up and join the queue a CM appeared announcing the show to be full already so that plan was scuppered.

Freddie took our frustrations out on some drums as we made our way back to the Rapids, yes, right back from where we had just come from.

Historically this was always a water ride that could not compete with the Universal ones, on which you got so wet, it was as if you had sat in a bath. This had always been much less moist. Someone at Disney had apparently noticed and we left it drenched, and in the January chill, bloody cold. It was good fun though.

Trying to find patches of warm sun, we did the Jungle Trek next.

I honestly have no idea what I was trying to take a picture of here.

However, I upped my photographic game considerably to capture a Tiger’s arse.

Twice

Next, a better photo, but of what, I do not know. Clearly, the main strength of these trip reports is my attention to detail.

More arse.

But now, some quality at last.

Having failed to dry out at all, upon leaving the trek we looked in dismay at the app, seeing wait times for everything over an hour. With that in mind, we took Freddie over to the Bone Dig play area thing.

Emily and I went in search of a Starbucks whilst he played. There was a hint of being fed up at this point I’ll admit. The wait times and general crowd levels were getting a bit tiresome now, almost as much as my moaning about them is to you no doubt. With Everest down for maintenance and no Nemo show, and Primeval Whirl gone, right there were three really good reasons why wait times were high. Those things would soak up lotsa people on their own. Understanding why something is happening doesn’t always help though.

We got a drink and sat outside, people watching for a bit. We also did a bit of app watching too, but with no improvements in the wait times or our mood. We passed the time by devising what Disney’s strategy should be around Genie+, being the corporate supremoes that we are, and most of it involved setting it on fire.

Rebecca, Tom and Freddie joined us at around 3.15 and we chatted to Louise whilst they got a drink and snack. We arrived extra early for the 4pm Lion King show and did manage to get into this one. We took our seats excited to see the show upon its return from the pandemic induced break.

It was a very modified and reduced version of the show, but very welcome and enjoyable nonetheless. There were three, not four, singers, no tumbling monkeys or flying “parrot” but we still left with a feel good glow.

Next, Emily, Freddie and I did the safari. There was a 35 minute wait posted but it was a walk on. That was welcome but what is happening with these wait times?

I’ll spare you the same blurry shots of animal arse’s but we had a very good, very exuberant driver called Selina. She was fab.

Freddie was desperate to ride Flights Of Passage. Any paid for option passed by at around 7.10 am for those staying on site, and the standby was 120 minutes and rising so it was just not possible. Instead, we invested in some ponchos and decided to ride the Rapids a few times. The cooler weather meant nobody else was stupid enough to want to get wet.

I think we rode two or three times and with nothing else available without ridiculous queues, we called it a day and walked to the exit, chatting again to Louise as we did. A bit of a disappointing day to be honest, not helped of course by our late arrival in the park, but we did manage to rescue it a bit at the end with the ever enjoyable Lion King show, which always lifts the sprits and then some good fun and laughs on the rapids.

On the plus side we were now headed for….

for what would turn out to be one of the best meals of the trip.

First we stopped at the nearby Aldi (yes, really) as Rebecca needed some “bits” and after a five minute wait at the restaurant, our pre-made reservation saw us bypass a healthy wait. In fact, the reception area was carnage. Book ahead folks.

We started with Nachos. Not just Nachos, but the best Nachos I have ever had.

If you think they look good, you need to taste them!

Emily followed that with Fettucine Alfredo.

I had a Chicken and Avocado Sandwich

Tom had an enormous Burrito, but we weren’t going to Centracare tonight.

and two milk shakes, but we won’t mention those.

Freddie had Sliders

and Rebecca, Steak Tacos

It was all fabulous and the service was probably the best we had all trip too.

We were unimaginably full, but you don’t go to the Cheesecake Factory and leave without some Cheesecake inside of you. I didn’t note what types we all had, as I was struggling to breathe, but here you go….

I think this was Freddie’s ice cream

I cannot convey with words how full I was. No matter. I loved it here. My arteries, not so much, but you aren’t on holiday every day are you?

I didn’t note down or care what the bill was and I somehow pointed the car at the villa, listening to the groans of everyone else, too full to even sit still in any comfort, and we were in bed by 10.45, until the sugar based dream fevers kicked in.

Till the next time…….

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

Every week you must toss and turn of a night waiting for my sleep updates from a trip you didn’t go on months ago. So let’s clear that right up, straight off the bat. A luxurious 7am awakening today. There was a fair bit of tiredness knocking around this morning. As if being very pregnant was any kind of excuse, Rebecca’s body had told her she would not be going anywhere this morning. She needed to rest.

After a bit of TV watching and lazing about Emily and I decided to head out and check out the Skyliner. We had never ridden it and knew little about it so we were looking forward to our adventure of discovery as we left the villa around 10am.

Hanging the expense, we parked up in Hollywood Studios rather than have to come up with some clever scheme to con a security guard at the gate of one of the Skyliner resorts to let us in. Spookily we parked in the same row as yesterday but this time we made our way over to the Skyliner station.

It was not at all busy and having had a quick look at the routes online we decided to start by heading towards the Art Of Animation resort.

Soon we were up, up and away both discussing how much Louise would absolutely hate this experience. She once almost passed out on the Old Town Ferris Wheel.

It is lovely just to ride this thing. The scenery is interesting and attractive and it really helps to get a feel for the layout of many of the parks and resorts.

At AOA/Pop Century we disembarked and walked from the exit to the entrance to start our journey over to Epcot.

Once at Epcot, we again, got off and walked back around to the entrance to start the journey back.

On this leg though we stopped off at the Riviera Resort to have a nosey. It had been quite some time since we had done any resort touring. I had forgotten how nice it can be.

We found our way into the reception where there was a lovely little coffee bar where we each had a coffee and what was without doubt the best blueberry muffin on the planet. This is not up for debate.

We sat here to enjoy it.

My impression of this resort was excellent. We weren’t there longer than an hour but it looked and felt lovely. Any resort on the Skyliner route also gives you a massive bonus.

We hopped back on the Skyliner and rode back to Studios to pick up the car. It had been a really nice way to pass a few hours, it was free (coffee, muffin and parking aside) and there were no queues.

On our way home our very foundations were shaken. We had to pick up some milk and other bits for the villa so we made our way to our “regular” supermarket at Formosa Gardens. For those that know it, it is close to the Outback and still had theming in it from when Splendid China was around just behind it.

It had closed!

This was devastating news. This place has featured in almost all of trips and it felt like a member of the family had died. In addition to that I now had to drive somewhere else for milk!

The 7-11/gas station near us was fine but it did not hold the memories that the now closed previous stop did.

Upon our return, folks were in the pool and relaxing. That continued until about 2.30. We headed out to Epcot. The plan was to do our ADR at Via Napoli and then stay for the fireworks, our first time seeing Harmonious.

On the drive there I decided to try and park at a resort around the Boardwalk to make the post fireworks exit easier for Rebecca and her achy hips. We drove to the Boardwalk hotel and as I flashed my ID at the security guard I said we were heading for lunch at the Big River Grille place. This is a lovely loop hole. You cannot make ADRs for it on the app so the chap on the gate could not check we had a reservation. He waved us through and we found a parking spot without any trouble. Sure, this is bending the rules but, being frank, I have more than paid for this “privilege”.

We strolled from the car park into the resort.

This area is, and probably always will be, one of my favourite places on the planet.

We got a bit lost looking for the elevator from reception down to the Boardwalk itself but made it eventually.

Sigh.

What a lovely stroll that was.

At this point the peacefulness ended. We made our way through a very busy security check at International Gateway into World Showcase which was incredibly busy.

Again, we could not walk together. We had to keep regrouping every once in a while as we made our way around to Italy for our ADR. It was impossible to look at anything. If memory serves today was the first day of a festival which probably explained the carnage. I’m very open to the concept that this was just bad planning on my part. Doing World Showcase on the first day of a new festival doesn’t make a great deal of sense at face value. However, we’re twelve days in by now and the only places that we’ve been to on property that haven’t been rammed to the gills were a chilly Typhoon Lagoon and the Skyliner.

On our way we spotted Mr Morrow (the vlogger) and his friend Jackie, who Emily got a wave at and from. It was just too busy to even contemplate a photo.

Eventually we arrived at Via Napoli and were seated in five minutes.

Our table was lovely but bloody hell it was cold. Everyone’s sweatshirts/jackets were soon on.

We started with some Garlic Bread.

It was then pizza all round of course.

Rebecca, Tom and Freddie shared the half metre pizza.

I had the pepperoni.

Emily the Four Cheese

A picture can paint a thousand words. Tom really stepped up to the platter here and powered through when others had fallen by the wayside.

However there is no amount of food that can prevent Freddie having an ice cream.

The pizza here is excellent. The bill was $190 including a good tip. Again, not our best experience here but nothing to complain about. We were, as you may expect, full.

We ventured out again into the chaos of World Showcase. Freddie was keen to do some rides. My stomach was not. So Emily and I wandered the countries whilst the other three walked down to Future World, where hopefully it would be easier to push a stroller.

All the festival booths had enormous queues. Not that we wanted to eat anything but it was just ridiculous. As the law dictates, we started at Mexico, where even the ride in there had a twenty minute wait.

It was very hard to take anything in with the crowd levels as they were so we didn’t stay anywhere very long. There was a half hour queue just to get into the Tequila Bar in here.

There appears to be a huge gap in my photos here. It was too busy to even get the camera out.

Suffice to say we made it all the way around to France where Emily (keeper of rats) wanted to get some Ratatouille merchandise. It was dark by now.

There was of course no chance of doing the ride. I had tried to pay the extra cash to do so first thing this morning, but as off-site scum I could only do so at park opening, which was 10am. All the LL slots had gone by about 7.10am. The standby queue was approaching two hours at this point.

The theming in the area is lovely though!

Eventually, with the help of a CM, we found the Remy shop, which was helpfully nowhere near the ride. Emily got a few bits and we both were delighted to see this chap helping behind the tills.

We continued our loop through the UK and into Canada. We passed Mr Morrow again with what looked like an entourage of about twenty people with him. We stopped in Canada and waited fifteen minutes to watch the new show there.

Look, all that matters is that it still contains “that song”, but I preferred the Martin Short version. The new film is pretty much a rehash of many of the old clips with a new narration.

As we left we messaged Rebecca and arranged to meet at America as we wanted to try and watch the Disney on Broadway show. They were currently in the UK. The pavilion. They had not flown home.

As we had continued our loop and we were now opposite America we tried to get the boat service across but as we reached the jetty the captain closed it and we had to hoof it all the way around. All these steps had at least walked off that muffin from earlier.

Navigating World Showcase on a night like this, with only minutes to get to your destination for a show about to start should be an Olympic sport. Dodging, ducking weaving, all at pace, takes some serious skills.

We got to the theatre outside the America pavilion a few minutes before the show was due to start. This was the second show. We had walked past the queue for the first one on our loop of World Showcase and it was horrific so we assumed it would already be full, Thankfully it was not.

Rebecca had decided to stay put in France where we planned to watch the fireworks to cut down on the walking.

Emily and I settled in.

This was fab and “proper” Disney theme park stuff. We loved it. Top quality, with a real feel good feeling. The two singers were brother and sister and had both done many shows on Broadway. I pretended not to know the words to the High School Musical songs.

We left and walked up to France to meet up with everyone else who were sat on a bench near the fountains in France.

I walked round to the shop at International Gateway for some waters before the show started. The view, considering we were able to sit down, was fine.

Freddie genuinely loved every second of this show.

I have spared you most of my typically useless photos of fireworks.

The show itself is very well produced and of really high quality. You’ll know our affection for Illuminations, so it won’t be too shocking to know we found it a little emotionless. It’s “another” Disney’s Greatest Hits to fireworks and that is great, but it just lacked the feel and heart of the former show.

We made our way slowly out to the Boardwalk area and strolled back to the car. Many others were doing the same but I always feel it is the better option than trying to get to the main exit and then get a tram etc. Indeed the Boardwalk at night is somewhere I would happily walk around in a loop for many hours. Have I mentioned I like it here?

We were home impressively by 10.15.

Till the next time…….

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

Day Eleven already. These weeks are flying by aren’t they? Only another 6 days (weeks) to endure.

Good news. I slept undisturbed until 6.30am. What a state it is to be celebrating that. After two very full on days at Universal the start today was a little lethargic. There were all sorts of excuses, like pregnancy and being four and tired. Folks were on very thin ice. I have proven this holiday that sleep can be optional.

Everyone showered, dressed and did breakfasts and we meandered from the villa around 10.30am. We were Studios bound this morning/early afternoon!

We parked in Mickey 314, again bereft of a tram and yomped across the car park to the entrance. It was by now almost time to leave again. This lack of a tram was not only a minor inconvenience for me (more so for pregnant Rebecca) but it was just one more bit of the experience that was missing. When we first ever went to WDW in 1980 and the years that followed, once back home we would talk excitedly about the scale of the place and how, once you’ve parked up you still needed a monorail, boat or tram to get into the park. Yes, they provide free trams from your car and back, it’s amazing we would say.

So you get used to stuff like this of course, but again for those first timers, it’s just another thing to lessen the joy and the magic and what makes WDW unique. Things continue to return to a pre-pandemic state it seems, so I hope we can get back to what we all love, know and expect.

It was 11.10 by the time we were stood here.

Was it still busy today?

Before we had chance to move off, a cavalcade appeared.

Knowing that by this time actually riding stuff would be a challenge we strolled through a few shops and made our way over to the Indy show. It started at 12 and we got in around 11.30.

This chap was excellent. He kept everyone entertained whilst also getting folks to move to where he wanted them. A reminder of the magic and a promise of its return hopefully.

It had been a while….

We were out at 12.30 and you will know that by this time lunch was very overdue. I wanted to go over to Galaxy’s Edge and try a Ronto wrap thing. This would not be up Freddie’s street so we got him some nuggets from the Backlot place. Whilst Rebecca did that, I mobile ordered our spacey lunch and we started to walk over to Galaxy’s Edge.

Upon collecting them, they did seem a lot smaller than my expectations.

After coveting these things for a long time, my verdict was….meh.

They were tasty, but small. Not that a lack of size is a guarantee of disappointment of course, but overall they were a let down for the $75 it cost for five of them (including drinks).

Whilst we ate, sat on a wall in Galaxy’s Edge, we called Louise for a chat. We tried to make her feel better with true tales of horrific wait times for everything. Determined not to pay for Genie+ today, having arrived late and sick of coughing up the extra dollars, we had no choice but to endure some long wait times. First up, Smuggler’s Run, currently showing a 75 minute standby wait.

On the bright side, it did give us plenty of time to appreciate the theming in the queue. Right?

75 minute waits and four year olds don’t naturally go together, but to his credit, despite his almost uncontainable excitement to ride, Freddie did well.

About forty minutes in Tom’s phone was deployed.

We arrived in the superbly themed loading area after a 55 minute wait.

Freddie was a pilot and absolutely loved it again.

We left the ride and started the walk over to the Animation Courtyard area where Rebecca was waiting for us. On the way, I did the decent thing and stopped off to get us all a Num Num.

Unlike the Ronto things these never disappoint. Girth, width, depth and taste all in one heart stopping package. I inhaled the disgraceful amount of calories in no time at all.

Looking at what to do next, Tower of Terror was showing a 45 minute wait. Resigned to this fate today we joined the queue which started waaaaaay outside the ride.

In a rare stroke of luck, just after we took our place at the back of the queue, a huge tour group joined the queue. There must have been a hundred of them all in matching T Shirts. They could have been one of the infamous Brazilian tour groups you hear tell of. To be honest, I could not tell if they had Brazilians or not from my position and it felt rude to ask.

We entertained Freddie as best we could and the queue moved pretty quickly.

More excellent theming greeted us at the entrance after about 45 minutes.

Another ten minutes saw us through the pre-show and boiler room.

The Goof was out on the balcony above the exit.

There had been no improvement in any of the wait times as we exited so we girded loins and other appendages for another wait. A 55 minute posted wait for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Emily couldn’t face it and sat out chatting to her boyfriend back home.

We settled in. Boredom levels led to play fighting….

I had got Freddie some lollipops for being patient in the queues. He licked it a bit and then hit his Dad with it. As a side note, those lollipops were my first ever purchase using the mobile app checkout process. It worked well and avoided a queue.

Before we even got inside the theatre the queue ground to a halt for a good ten minutes and overall it took well over 70 minutes to board.

The pre-show was clever and the ride is better than expected but the ridiculous wait left a bit of a sour taste and took the shine off. I was so miffed, my usual excellent photography skills were affected.

Our old friend Star Tours had a very welcoming 10 minute wait time posted so we went and did that. We wanted to ride Slinky but couldn’t endure another wait over an hour just yet, so we just hoped that would improve later in the day.

We got a new (to us) story on this one which made it even more enjoyable and upon exiting, we called Louise back who had called us just as we were getting strapped in.

We chatted outside Star Tours in the increasing dusk. Always a nice time at any WDW park.

We could not put it off any longer. We went over to Toy Story Land with Slinky in our sights.

Our plan of waiting till late in the day for a shorter queue worked brilliantly….

We sucked it up and settled in.

When I say it only took an hour, well you will take that in the spirit it is intended I know. It was bloody chilly in the queue, but once we were on, we had great fun. This is a belter for younger guests. Fast and just thrilling enough not to terrify them. Not that anything had come close to that for Freddie.

Rebecca had waited in One Man’s Dream to keep warm and we met her there after riding. It was safe to say that we were all queued out for one day and we headed for the exit and walked back to the car.

Is it just me or does that sight of a row of cars in a WDW car park give anyone else a warm and fuzzy feeling?

Dinner tonight was Olive Garden and we drove the short distance to Lake Buena Vista and parked up. There was a 30 minute wait for a table but after today we were well prepared for that. We were seated in 20.

I don’t want this entire trip report to turn into a moan fest. We enjoyed very large chunks of the trip, but I have to be fair and let you know how we felt. Our server here was less friendly and attentive than we have seen in years gone by.

Is this due to the staffing issues post Covid? Have the experienced servers got the better paying/tipping jobs now and places are having to take on inexperienced servers. I don’t know. He may just have been having a bad/busy night. Despite all that nobody could deny us the salad and breadsticks.

Glorious.

I had Tour Of Italy, as I tend to….

Rebecca had Chicken Parm….

Emily had Fettuccini Alfredo and loved it

Tom had stuffed pasta.

Freddie had a ridiculously children’s portioned pizza.

Soft drinks for all tonight. We paid the bill using the gadget on the table. I’m all for this. Once we’ve eaten we’re very ready to go and being able to do so without waiting for the server who may be busy elsewhere is a bonus. it was $125 including a 20% tip. Great value.

We left the restaurant and as we got back to the car there was a man lying down in the bushes nearby. We considered what to do and not feeling very proud of ourselves we got in the van and left. This really bothered me all the way home but you think of all the things that may happen if we had approached him. It’s terrible that you have to. I still feel very uncomfortable about the whole thing now. It was cold and he was probably genuinely ill/drunk or whatever. Not good.

Just as we pulled away Freddie announced he needed a wee. We pulled into a gas station where he expertly had a pee into an empty water bottle without leaving the van.

We were home by 10 and asleep very shortly after.

Till the next time……

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

Frost and Nixon. Torvill and Dean. Morecambe and Wise. Ali and Fraser.

Over the years there have been many momentous moments were two legends met each other, forever changing the shape of history. Today would see another such event, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’ll be time enough for epoch shaping meet ups later, first, I’m still asleep.

However 4am rolled around again, and in came another work call. I didn’t even answer this one and fought my way back to sleep till 6.30. Like all experienced Dads I made enough noise and created enough light in the room to make sure that Emily was awake not too long after. I showered, dressed and packed and we were out of the room by 8.40. We left our case with the folks in reception, bought some $20 painkillers from the gift shop and then Emily and I went to the Starbucks for breakfast whilst we waited for everyone else. I had a breakfast burrito and a latte and Emily’s veggie options were limited and resulted in a portion of breakfast potatoes and an Iced Macchiato.

We found a table in the courtyard area.

Rebecca, Tom and Freddie came down around 9.30 and joined us there to eat their breakfasts. It was a lovely spot and a really nice way to start the day and end our stay here.

One thing to note at Universal. I had persistent issues with my Caxton card. Everywhere I tried it on Universal property it didn’t work. It may just have been me and my card, but it worked everywhere else for the whole trip.

We made our way down to the water taxi by around 10am.

I have had worse commutes.

We disembarked and made our way to Studios.

It did not look any quieter today.

We rode Minions first, bypassing a grim queue with our specialness.

Those who could rode Rip, Ride, Rockit next. It was still early in the day and I was not ready physically or mentally for this experience. Rebecca’s inability to ride meant we bypassed the horrors of needing a locker and we were on within five minutes after going through another full airport style metal detector. Despite endless signs, announcements and videos telling you that riding with anything in your pockets is not allowed we still waited behind some chap who got to the detector with his phone in his pocket. Sigh.

Top tip: At Universal, if you can travel light, without bags and the like it will make your life so much easier. Clothing with zip pockets are a real bonus here too to hold your park ticket/front of line pass and of course your credit cards.

This, without doubt is the toughest ride physically. The initial climb almost induced a revisit to my breakfast burrito and I was in full rollercoaster Tourette’s mode for the entire ride.

We walked over to Transformers next for a first time ride for almost all of us. Freddie was very excited. We all enjoyed it but I would say it is basically Spider Man with a different film. When you’re four though, that doesn’t matter.

He was extra happy as his Dad had treated him to a couple of Transformer toys in the exit gift shop. We then spent the next half hour trying to get them out of the packaging.

Once we’d finished that and lost half of the small plastic bits that came with the toys, this appeared across the street, so we watched it.

So that Rebecca could take part in something we decided to do the Make Up Horror Show next. Outside was this chap….

This is always good fun but it does have the odd scene that a four year old may not be totally Ok with! It was more the film clips that are played rather than anything that happened on stage.

You will have been quite worried that we had not eaten for quite some time, so we rectified that in the ice cream shop over the road.

It was at this point that Rebecca went for a wee and Emily then spotted Tim and Jen Tracker across the street doing some filming.

When they had finished, they walked across the road towards us. I waved as if I knew them and they kindly waved back before walking up the street to film some more stuff with Scooby Do I think. We thought nothing more of it, but when they were done they walked back to where we were sitting and we had a lovely chat for a few minutes.

They were genuinely lovely, asked about our trip, previous trips, the weather and just general chit chat. Of course they must chat with idiot strangers who wave at them all the time. I felt it inappropriate to mention that he is clearly a long term reader of this here blog as he has commented on at least two posts. I didn’t want them to feel intimidated in my presence.

It was indeed a coming together of two Disney internet giants and they were suitably humbled to have this honour I am sure. They left us just as Rebecca returned. If you watch their video from Universal Studios, filmed on January 12th, Tom features in it for about half a second!

Having made the Tracker’s day, we wandered off towards ET.

I do wonder what sort of deal Spielberg struck when this was built as it is literally untouched since we first rode it. Yes they still collect names as you enter and yes of course they are inaudible as you finish the ride. Freddie did say, when he asked what he thought of ET, that he was adorable which made us chuckle.

Tom took Freddie on the Woodpecker ride….

before we headed over to The Simpsons Ride. Naturally we stopped off to pick up a couple of doughnuts.

In light of my Caxton woes I drew out some cash on it at the ATM here.

We rode The Simpsons ride after Freddie played a few of the carnival games outside, winning more quality items. This time it was a 4 foot inflatable alien which we left in the villa. Matt, you are welcome!

I realised that we had never ridden this before…

and even wondered how long it had been there as I’m sure I have never even noticed it before. We still didn’t ride it.

Men in Black was next.

We avoided both a queue and the lockers again thankfully and it is always a fun ride. I do always feel that it lacks some “feedback” as to when you are actually hitting stuff you should be. It’s all a bit manic and random with no way to know if you are hitting any targets.

Our loop continued onto Diagon Alley. The crowd levels were worse here but that is always to be expected.

It’s a shame as this is one of those places where it would be lovely to stroll around taking in all the theming and detail, but with the crowd levels today our focus was on not bumping into people.

On our last visit, Gringott’s was not a Front of Line ride, so again we had done it once after a lengthy queue. We were pleased to be able to miss the 60 minute standby line and board quite quickly….twice.

Tom was apparently too large to fit into the row we were allocated and we had to disembark and wait for the next one and get loaded into the “Fat Lad” row at the back. This is another very clever ride with lots of detail and it merits multiple rides to take everything in. I did feel that it never seems to “get going” concentrating more on a story line that personally I couldn’t hear or follow very well. I did enjoy it of course. It is very impressive but I do know that both Universal and Disney wait for my weekly posts to get their steer for their future plans so I need to express my thoughts.

We tried our best to have a look around but didn’t stay too long as it was too busy.

Our next ride was Fast & Furious. It was fast and I was furious. It is an awful, awful ride. Granted, I have never and will never watch the films so maybe it was lost on me but the whole thing was horrible. It is an incredibly poor and weak story and concept shoe horned into a previous ride’s infrastructure. I will try not to spoil it for those yet to ride, but the concept of a party bus doing stunts is the main premise. Endless bangs and crashes for endless bangs and crashes sake on an uncomfortable ride vehicle riding through a story that makes less sense than Brexit. Perhaps I was just over the whole simulation thing. There are lots of them here.

On our way over to Fallon, I stopped to get four packs of crisps. $8. Kerching. We sat and inhaled those sat opposite Fallon waiting for the upcoming parade.

We then entered Fallon (in previous years, when I was less mature, that would have been the set up line for a hilarious gag) and rode without any wait. This is another simulator, but one of the better ones.

At Freddie’s request we rode Transformers again.

Followed by a browse of a memorabilia shop.

That was said to be the guitar from Back To The Future. Freddie got a slightly cheaper Slimer toy from Ghostbusters.

It was 6pm now and Tom forced me to do Rip, Ride again. I girded my loins and steeled my body for the battering to come, just like Fallon did not long ago! Boom. That level of comedic genius is why you read this dross.

I was spent as we headed for the exit and the boat back to Royal Pacific. We were back there in no time, collecting our cases from Luggage Services before heading back to the van. Technically, I walked to the car park to get it and then drove it back to the hotel entrance to save Rebecca more walking.

Tonight’s dining plan was….

and we got there in about fifteen minutes. It was very quiet and we were told just to pick any table. It may sound strange but our server was a bit odd and it stuck us that he maybe wasn’t a regular server as he was a bit all over the place.

Anyway, we ordered appetisers.

A Mediterranean trio for me.

Mozzarella Bricks for Rebecca and Emily

Pretzel Rolls for Tom

Our server only took our appetiser orders and we waited an age after finishing them for him to appear and clear them away. As he did he asked if we wanted the bill! Very strange.

We pointed out we were fat knackers and wanted entrees too so he took our orders.

Emily and I had the Jack Knife burger, with a suitably non meaty patty for Emily.

It was OK but I instantly regretted venturing away from my usual Donut or Cronie Burger. I had chosen this one as it was said to come with Hollandaise sauce. If it did, I could not taste it.

Tom had The Pig

Rebecca, the Bolder Betty

Freddie had the burger from the kid’s menu.

Overall, this was probably our worst experience at Teak. It was not bad at all, just not as we have experienced it previously. How quiet it was meant there was none of the usual buzz and atmosphere and our server was bobbins, bless him. The bill was $175 including an overly generous tip and we were all very, very full.

A tired drive home saw us back at the villa and in bed by 10.30.

Till the next time……

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

Before we move on, it’s probably right that I add a bit of context and follow up on what was a fairly negative post at times last week about our experience in Magic Kingdom that day specifically, which was a more extreme version of what we experienced a lot during the trip.

Disney have a lot of credit in the bank with us and we will of course return. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t affected our perception or even tempered our usual burning desire to return, so they don’t get a free hit. However, there were lots of extenuating circumstances that lead me to give them some benefit of some doubt.

  1. Our mood – Louise’s absence and the worry about her Mum’s condition definitely made the trip feel very different for all of us. No doubt this was reflected in our approach to things and my reporting of the trip here. Don’t think we didn’t enjoy stuff. It was just different and a bit muted.
  2. COVID – This was right in the middle of the Omicron wave and the parks and resorts were still heavily affected by COVID, not offering many of the experiences, attractions and shows that would typically soak up crowds. This inevitably had a huge knock on effect and led to long, long lines for the rides as there wasn’t as much to do aside from rides as there has been in the past.
  3. Pandemic pent up travel – I am sure there were many people there in January, like us, who would not normally be there at that time. Two years of restricted travel meant that crowds were bound to be higher once folks were allowed to and felt more comfortable travelling.
  4. Genie+ – It was and is still fairly new. Don’t get me wrong, I think its an abomination and an insult to loyal guests to have them pay out hundreds of dollars more for what was always included in your park ticket, but in terms of the practicalities of getting onto rides, I’m willing to cut them some slack as they were probably still getting used to it and optimising things. As I say, I still hope they kill it with fire.

So all of those things conspired to make our experience, at times, less than we would usually expect and enjoy. The world wasn’t in a normal place at the time of this trip and neither were we to be honest. So with all those caveats in place, I stand by my opinion that Genie+ is shite, the parks were less than they usually are and some “magic” was missing.

Right, on with the trip.

Today we were headed to Universal and our stay at the Royal Pacific. 4am features at the start of may day again, but this time not voluntarily. Some idiot back in the UK called me. It was work related and to make matters worse, it was some cold call about something not relevant to me or my role. Safe to say, he did not make a sale.

I regained slumber until 6am. I was up, finishing off packing, showering and breakfasting when Emily came downstairs at 7.30. We were all ready to go by 8.30 and I pointed the van up the I4. It was a clear run and we pulled into the car park of the Royal Pacific around 9.10am. I self-parked and we headed inside to check in. It took a while. I stood watching a bloke tap at a keyboard for more time than getting a hotel room should necessitate and in the middle of it he charged me $28 to park, which I felt was bordering on taking the piss.

On the plus side our rooms were ready so we headed off to 2429 and 2427.

I was very pleased that I had opted for the “Tree View” upgrade.

Emily and I literally dumped our case in the room and turned around, waiting in the corridor outside Rebecca and Tom’s room for about ten minutes whilst they did stuff necessary when you have a four year old and a bump.

It was early and still quite chilly so it was no shock to see an empty pool.

We were security’d and on board a taxi in just a few minutes. The park tickets, stored on their app all scanned fine at the entrance too.

It had been a while so it was nice to see some familiar sights again.

Armed with our Front of Line passes we felt invincible and unstoppable, so we had no need to be frantically refreshing an app to look at wait times. We wanted to ride Spider Man first, so we did.

There is a clear contradiction here, in that I have moaned about Genie+ and paying extra to ride stuff without a queue at Disney, whereas we have willingly paid to stay on-site at Universal to get those perks. I get that. The difference?

Well, we only ever spend 2-3 days at Universal, if we go at all, due to the extra cost in doing the on-site thing. It has been years since we visited and we only do so when we can afford the extra cash needed to do it. Universal is also easily just a 2-3 day thing, especially with Front Of Line. Disney can often be a two week adventure.

With that in mind, Disney is the foundation and mainstay of our trip and if charging extra continues and/or increases then we and I suspect many others, will begin to plan differently. Something has to give, so less would be spent on accommodation, number of days in WDW, on site dining, and souvenirs/merch if the only way to ride headliners is to pay $8-15 each or pay $15 each to have a chance at avoiding endless queues. It feels like optional spending is being replaced by almost mandatory spend, which if you are on the Disney board or a shareholder, in the short term that’s great. The long term effects as you lose long term loyal guests may not be the win you think it is.

Anyway, we rode without waiting and it is still an impressive ride, especially if you are 4 and obsessed with Spider Man.

Tom was impressed with the ride. Having seen videos of it on t’internet he said it was much more intense and enjoyable than he had expected. Speaking of intense, next Emily, Tom and I went to ride The Hulk. Of course before we could do that we had to strip down to our underwear and stow everything but that in a locker. That is a faff. They do love a locker at Universal and it’s just hard work, especially when it is busy.

Anyway, after longer than it should have taken we walked through the metal detector and onto the ride. We joined the main queue and waited about five minutes. We were lucky to be seated on the back row and well, wow, that launch.

I don’t know why all that netting is still there. Everyone is relieved of anything loose before riding so unless it’s there to catch vomit or body parts it may be redundant.

I left the ride weak at the knee and a bit light headed so the best remedy for that was food. It was 11.20 after all.

I whipped out the app and had a look at eateries. Keeping it simple we chose the one we were stood outside just by the Hulk.

I had a cheesy meatball sub, but that’s what happens at my age.

Tom had the same with pizza for everyone else.

We decided to wander across to the Seuss stuff next.

Cat in the Hat was first.

Rebecca obeyed the guidance for this one and sat out, but I’m sure she would have been fine. Still, not worth the risk of course. There is always a weird feeling riding these things with Freddie when about twenty minutes ago I was doing the same with the girls at his age and above. Life is what happens when you are busy surviving the never ending grind of earning a living.

Onward now to One Fish, Two Fish. There was no queue but that was not going to stop me using my Front of Line thing,

Emily and I played it sensible recognising the still very low temperatures. Rebecca suffered at the hands of Tom, who disobeyed all the instructions and got them all wet.

In the natural flow of things next we should have ridden Carro-seuss-el thing. However it was in a very bad state, looking like it was half way through being dismantled. Instead we moved on to the Circus McGurkus thing. I am slightly ashamed that after all these years I still don’t know the proper names of some of these things.

There was an upsetting ten minute wait despite our specialness. Louise called just as that ended and we were boarding so we promised a call back.

I appear to have taken a lot of photos on this ride. There were some interesting views of course, but I think it was more to capture the fact that it was running. Nearly every time we have been in the past it has been down.

I cannot explain this photo.

We got some cakes at the shop near the exit of this ride and had a seat whilst we chatted to Louise. Tom took Freddie off to meet/watch the Grinch in a show just down the street.

Having let the crowds build nicely, not caring one jot, cloaked in our special on-site status we meandered, nay, ambled over to the Potter stuff.

By jingo it was busy here.

This is the ride we did first, and I am grateful I took the photo as it will save me having to spell it.

Another hit with Freddie. We then left him and Rebecca to wander whilst the rest of us did Forbidden Journey. The last time we came this ride was not included in your Front of Line perks, so we have only ever ridden it once after a very long queue. It was nice not to have to worry about that today. We could also leave all our “stuff” with Rebecca and hooked onto the stroller to avoid more locker carnage.

It is safe to say that I had forgotten the intensity levels of this ride. Wow, it’s a sinus clearer. Very good, very intense and incredibly well done.

It had now been far too long between ice creams for Freddie (and Tom) so we went in search of one in the direction of the Jurassic bit. None were found so we rode Kong instead.

Freddie was tall enough, but on balance some of the “scenes” may have been a little intense for him, but he did not even raise an eyebrow.

This may not win any photography competitions.

Ice cream and churros were found not far from Kong as we continued our loop around the park. It was 3pm by now and still cool enough for hoodies etc. So it made perfect sense to take on a water ride.

First up the impressively insane…

We left Rebecca with our stuff and for once I don’t think she was too sad about not being able to ride. There was a minor kerfuffle as the team members shoe horned Tom into the ride, but eventually with only minor damage to his leg, we were off. There is a horrible moment once you set off on this thing where you realise that unless the ride breaks down or there is an act of God, you are going down the big water ramp at the end. It’s bad enough in the relentless Florida heat of August, but in the very cool January afternoon, today that horror was intensified.

Freddie was at the front and got soaked on the first tiny dip so it did not bode well.

All I remember now is as we crested the hill and started to dip downwards to our doom, a cry of “I have changed my miiiiiiinnnndddd” escaped from my lips.

Too late. We got wet.

We walked back to Rebecca, already chafing, already freezing cold, searching out strips of sunshine as they emerged. At this point, it made complete sense to ride the Bilge rat thing too. We couldn’t get any wetter, right?

Wrong.

This one is such good fun. Every time you ride it you are constantly scanning your surroundings looking to avoid splashes and soakings. You know it is pointless. Everyone emerges from this ride as if they had sat in a bath, but still you try. We all loved it.

Rebecca had brought Freddie a change of clothes so he was whipped away to be changed. Selfishly, she had not planned ahead for anyone else though so we had to fend for ourselves.

I swapped my wet T-Shirt (steady!) for the sweat shirt I had stuffed into Ryan so at least my upper half was only moist. Emily did the same.

Emily, Tom and I then set off hoping to ride Velocicoaster. We arrived hoping to do single rider to limit our wait times but that lines was closed, at capacity. The queue looked a bit grim, and this one was not included in our on-site perks.

A 40 minute wait was posted and to be fair it was pretty much bob on. In this case, that wait was absolutely worth it. My word, what a ride. It is very hard to describe, but this is clearly a “next generation” rollercoaster. Incredibly smooth, surprising, nicely terrifying, very fast and with a few “I’m out of my seat” moments. Incredible. Ride it.

We made our way back to Rebecca and Freddie full of adrenaline. They had walked back to the Potter stuff and Tom took Freddie on the Hippogriff again.

I restroomed.

Those who could rode Forbidden Journey again. We used our perks to get straight to the front where we then waited fifteen minutes to ride. It turned out they had to close the ride for all but one party with a disabled guest.

Freddie wanted to ride Spider Man again. We set off in that direction and it was chilly enough, for idiots who had got soaked to warrant a hot chocolate on the way. We rode with the web slinger again, and then Tom forced me to do Doctor Doom’s Fear Fall with him. I had never ridden this before, due to cowardice. It was, as I expected, fun and horrific in equal measure.

Whilst we did that Emily took Freddie on Spider Man again. See what happens when you have on-site perks?

I have to admit that my aging body was broken at this point and I gladly rested whilst Tom and Freddie played in the arcade.

The girls and I wandered some shops for a bit before leaving the park around 7pm.

They were setting up for some private event by the looks of things.

Once at City Walk , Emily and I went into the new Universal store in search of warmer clothes. It was downright cold now.

Emily got some joggers and a T-Shirt and over at the Legacy store I got a long sleeved top both for now and for tomorrow as the one I had brought from the villa was moist.

We had a reservation booked at

This did not seem to count for much as despite checking at 7.45 for our 8pm reservation we were still stood outside trying to keep warm until 8.30. I had a few moans at the lady on the podium, but it seemed everyone was waiting a long time tonight. Why take bookings if you can’t honour them?

We ordered drinks and appetisers.

These blurry beers are very cool….

Ah that’s better…

Our appetisers were appetising. Bacon Fries and Fried Pickles. They were not photographed but that did not detract from their deliciousness.

Entrees were –

Freddie – Chicken Nuggets

Cheeseburgerooshi for Tom, Rebecca and me. One the tastiest things in Florida!

Veg roll for Emily

I had a deconstructed Cheesecake

I didn’t write down how much it was.

We walked out into very chilly weather and over to the water taxi. We waited about five minutes which was long enough in the temperature that night. We went immediately to our rooms and beds, happy to get dry and warm. Sleep came at around 10.30.

Till the next time……

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

I do not have to tell you that I was awake at some ridiculous hour today. I don’t have to, but I will. 4am again. I dozed till 6am. Maybe this is my life now?

Breakfasts were had by many, readying happened and we finally climbed into the van at 8.20am. We were returning to Magic Kingdom today hoping that the crazy crowds we had seen so far had eased off a little as we were now on the 10th of January, one of the quietest times at WDW……once.

Hook 312 welcomed us into its warm bosom at 8.50 and once again we walked all the way in admiring the trams we could see parked up in another section of the parking lot. We took the monorail and whilst riding I took some very average photos….

and blew another $45 or so booking us a LL for Seven Dwarves Mine Train later. This meant on principle we would not be buying the Genie+ thing today. It was bound to be a lot quieter today though, right?

After once again waiting in the queue for several folks to work out how Magic Bands and fingers work, we were in. We decided to start with Big Thunder before the wait got too bad. The wait was too bad, showing a 60 minute standby. Instead we thought we’d get some breakfast for Freddie who didn’t have any at the villa, before trying Haunted Mansion. To keep him company we all got a second breakfast too.

We went to one of the stands in Frontierland and had breakfast sandwiches or Bear Claws. Like some sort of startled deer in the headlights once at the front of the queue, I panicked and ordered a Cold Brew Nitro with little clue what it was.

It was, it has to be said, absolutely awful, until a helpful daughter told me to put some Coffee Mate in it, which made it tolerable. Whilst we ate and drank I was watching the MDE app and the wait times. In that ten minutes Big Thunder showed 65 minutes, then 30, 50 and then returned to 65. Shambola? Just a bit.

Recognising that Big Thunder was not going to get any better today and wanting Freddie to experience it for the first time we braved it and everyone but Rebecca joined the queue.

I’d like to say it wasn’t as bad as it sounded….

but I can’t. It took an hour, not helped by one of the two tracks going down for about fifteen minutes whilst we waited. Splash Mountain was at this point down for maintenance, which would mean Big Thunder wait times were bound to be horrible.

It was, as ever, a fun ride and one that Freddie really enjoyed. We wandered back to Rebecca who was outside the Liberty Tree Tavern.

Tom pretended that Freddie wanted an ice cream so that he could have one, so they wandered off in search of some. I sat refreshing the app, studying wait times and tutting. It was looking pretty grim to be honest and if we were to have any sort of day, I would have to give in and fork out for Genie+, so I did.

As we waited for Tom and Freddie to return, I have to say that I was in reflective mood and not really feeling the Disney Magic at this point. Why?

Well, so far today I had paid $45 for Seven Dwarves Mine Train, $79 on Genie+ and $65 on breakfast. We had stood in a queue for an hour, and managed on ride. It was now almost midday.

Over the years I have been an enormous and endless advocate of the WDW experience. I will probably say this again before this trip report is over, but had this been our first ever trip it is unlikely we would have fallen in love with the place as we did all those years ago. Things felt, at times, like a normal theme park, which is probably one of the harshest things you could say about WDW.

Trying to block out the financial pain and the feeling of being rinsed, I booked us onto Buzz Lightyear for 12 o’clock. Funny how there are LL slots immediately but the standby is over an hour. It’s almost as if they are forcing gullible chumps like me into buying Genie+.

Whilst we waited for Tom and Freddie to return a cavalcade came by. I was delighted to discover that we could watch this without additional charge.

Tom and Freddie were still not back, held up in another long queue, this time for Dole Whips, so the rest of us wandered down to Tomorrowland and waited on a bench outside Monster’s Inc.

We walked onto Buzz and this time I rode solo, scoring an average 163,000.

Emily, showing Freddie no mercy, as it should be.

Rebecca and Tom said they would take Freddie on Astro Orbiter next. I would pay another $45 not too, as there would be Bear’s Claw over everything, so Emily and I opted for the People Mover. Discovering a 45 minute wait for Astro, they decided against it and went off to meet Buzz whilst Emily and I did a loop.

Tron still wasn’t ready.

Whilst riding I booked us all on the Tea Cups at 1pm. Normally I would avoid this like the plague too after a distasteful incident some twenty years or so ago, after a buffet breakfast at 1900 Park Fayre, but we were getting every dollar’s worth of value out of Genie+ today and if that meant vomiting over some four year olds, so be it.

Tom rode with Freddie so they could spin all they wanted. I rode with the girls for the first time since the incident above so we were filled with nostalgia and a shared desire not to even touch the sliver wheel in the middle, so it was a sedate ride.

I had booked Barnstormer next. See how Genie+ allows you to easily book all the headliner rides? That was not until 2pm so we rode Dumbo via the standby line, waiting just 20 minutes. As we were boarding it started to rain so we get considerably moist as we rode.

Being damp already, Freddie was allowed to get damper in the water playground thing. I restroomed and wandered off to get us all some sugar. It had been a while.

Why I only took a photo of two I don’t know. We didn’t share, as if I had to tell you that.

Freddie was very wet by now….

and was welcoming all comers to the gun show….

I had a bit of a speed walk around the park trying to find him a dry T Shirt to wear. This was much harder than I imagined it would be and I had to go all the way to the gift shop at Winnie The Pooh to find one. It was not a perfect fit, but it was dry.

Now, we could ride Barnstormer.

An exciting thirty seconds.

On this tour of headliner rides, I had booked us onto Aladdin’s carpets next so we walked across the hub to get there.

On a day when I was feeling very grumpy and non-magical, one of those “perfect timing” things happened as we were walking. A cavalcade came just as we got to this spot so we had a front row view(ish)….

My ability to have characters not look at my camera is second to none….

We boarded our carpet at 2.35, as more rain came down.

It was now 2.45. We had an ADR at 3.10, so I thought we would kill that time with yet another headliner….

I honestly cannot remember the last time I did this. I’m not sure the girls ever had. I may have last seen it with my parents all those decades ago.

Having sat through it, I understand why.

It also lasted longer than I had anticipated and were now a few minutes late for our Skipper’s Canteen reservation. I had checked in via the app mid-show but now sped ahead to let them know we had arrived whilst the others found the stroller and followed along.

We were seated at 3.25, eager to experience the place for the first time.

Rebecca and I had the It Tastes Like Chicken, Because It Is

Emily had what I wrote down as “Curry”

Freddie had Crunchy Chicken

Tom, noodles

Freddie’s Kid’s Menu selection included a dessert…

The bill was $150 including tip. The verdict? It was good. Nothing spectacular and not one we would be desperate to do again, but would if you know what I mean?

It was now time for our very expensive ride on Seven Dwarves (could also be a film title) and on our way over there, our cavalcade of cavalcades continued.

Like some sort of death star tractor beam in human form, I drew them in….

I have to admit to not knowing who this is….

I found Aurora’s expression borderline offensive. I am not a piece of meat….

I think whiskey may have been taken….

We rode. The only thing that made it worth the $45 investment was Freddie’s excitement levels waiting to board. Seeing that kind of unbridled joy and giddiness was lovely.

Philharmagic was a walk on. I’ve not been using that phrase very often have I?

Here we are, walking on.

Here’s a photo of no queue. Enjoy.

Because it was half empty the Cast Members were allowing folks to sit down before moving all the way to the end of their row. I understood it, but could not agree with it. They are just forming bad habits that will impact everyone when it’s fuller.

Makes me uneasy….

You will have noticed a lack of dessert at Skipper’s Canteen? We decided to rectify that now with something sweet. We found a table outside of Gaston’s Tavern and I got drinks and Cinnamon Rolls for the girls and I. Tom fancied ice cream so he and Freddie went off on another quest.

They deserve two photos.

We all sat and sugared up. Freddie got his hands on the camera again. I have edited heavily…

We had a LL booking for Haunted Mansion at 6.30 so that was our new destination. I’d like to say Freddie still had the camera but I cannot.

It’s always better to ride Haunted Mansion in the dark in my view.

We had another LL at 7pm for Winnie The Pooh so we went straight there.

I said earlier in the day that we endured the one hour wait for Big Thunder as it wouldn’t get any better today. Obviously now it was showing a 30 minute standby. So off we went to ride it again.

Again, a ride better for the dark I think.

There was more excitement….

and prettiness…..

That was as good a way to end the day as any and we made our way to the exit, reaching Main Street just as the fireworks were starting. We had plans to watch them another night so didn’t want any spoilers tonight. We kept walking and not looking back.

Oddly, no doubt due to higher crowd levels than a crowd scene from Ghandi, we were being directed out via a backstage area.

I allowed myself one photo, to capture us being back stage.

By default we chose the resort monorail and headed back to the TTC. The trams were running but were very busy. It was very hectic and this time Tom ended up walking back to the car.

On the way home I put $30 of fuel in the tank and went through the traditional laughing at how cheap it was over here. We were home for 9pm and did some packing for our two day trip to Universal which started in the morning.

Till the next time…….

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

I feel that I’m becoming a bit of a sleep bore, but it’s probably because I wasn’t getting much. I was awake at 6am again after what I noted to be a very bad night’s sleep. It was a very low energy morning. That’s what a rest day does for you!

Rebecca was also struggling with a lack of sleep and aches and pains. Like me, her protruding stomach was probably the root cause.

I spoke to Louise and had to try and talk her through some TV and washing machine issues as if I was in some call centre thousands of miles away. I left her on hold for forty minutes and then wasn’t much use before cutting her off, just to give her the authentic experience. Today was one of those days when Louise seemed to be struggling with everything which did not help my mood or condition.

Unsurprisingly we were very slow to get up and out today, only setting off at 9.40am. We were headed for the theme park closest to us, in Animal Kingdom and we arrived fifteen minutes later, parking in Giraffe 41.

Yet again, no trams were provided. Having since read several blogs on the subject of crowd levels at the start of 2022 breaking all sorts of records, I am bamboozled by the lack of trams. I can only guess a lack of CMs was the cause.

Christmas refused to die, despite it now being January 9th.

Rebecca’s struggles led her to the stroller rental place. Having established that absolutely nobody was willing to push her in a stroller, an ECV was rented for the day.

With our later arrival and the billion people at WDW, everything was stacked already so we headed up to It’s Tough To Be a Bug. There was no wait as such, just the walk through the entrails of the tree and the wait in the lobby.

Despite its often forgotten very dark and very loud bits, Freddie did well and enjoyed all of the show. Emily, at 26 still does anything she can to avoid the “exiting bugs”.

Off to Dinoland now.

Being all of something past eleven now, we of course wanted lunch. I mobile ordered from Restaurantosaurus.

I had nuggets once again which may explain my aches and pains. I also had some chicken to eat.

Hot dogs for almost all with an Impossible burger for Emily.

One of Emily’s all-time least favourite rides is Dinosaur. Unluckily for her, the app was telling us that this was the only thing with a tolerable wait time. You will have noticed that I had not purchased Genie+ today.

By the time we had parked Rebecca up and got to the entrance, it was a 30-minute wait. Still, in we went.

All I will say is that we were seeing parts of the queuing systems we had never seen before if that can be seen as any sort of positive. Finally, we got into the bits we recognised.

Here, we saw the remains and commemoration of my first telling of the turtle head joke from circa 2003.

We rode. Emily hated it. Freddie enjoyed it. He seemed to be unscareable.

Rebecca and Tom then took Freddie on a ride more traditionally suitable for his age in Triceratops Spin.

Emily and I did not ride, instead, taking a seat by the side of where Primeval Whirl used to be. It’s always sad when rides are taken away. They inevitably have memories attached and this one certainly does. As ever, we have to be patient and trust that WDW is going to add something new that will be better, or at least as good.

We invested in some drinks whilst Tom and Freddie played some games and won some cuddly toys before we walked past the closed Nemo show and the also closed Everest. It will not shock you to learn that the rapids had hardly any wait. This was due to the very cool temperatures today. We had little choice as nothing else was easily available, so we enhanced our “we live in the North and don’t feel the cold” reputation by riding.

There was still a bit of a wait and I was disgusted and intrigued by a young lad in the queue in front of us with what looked like his two sisters. He was around ten I think. He seemed to have a very bad and frequent habit of spitting. You know that thing where people spit through their bottom teeth? He did that, onto the floor, about once every ten seconds.

Being mid-pandemic and Omicron wave this was not ideal of course. I stared incredulously at him and we kept our distance from his emissions. Dirty little bastard. Thankfully we did not ride with them or it may not have been the water from the ride getting us wet.

With it being a bit chilly we were hopeful that the tame nature of this ride that we had experienced before would hold. It did not, we got soaked, much to a very dry Rebecca’s amusement, who we returned to in a soggy manner. We got a drink from the place opposite Yak & Yeti and Freddie had an ice cream.

This killed sufficient time to get us into the next bird show. This thing had had more rebrands than the Sugababes. I have no clue what it’s called now, but it was fun. In our house, it will forever be called “Birds of Flight”.

We left, heading for the safari.

It was a walk-on, which was pleasing. Rebecca took the advice that pregnant folks should not ride and waited outside. Whilst we saw some animals, Rebecca spotted a vlogger, Mr Morrow and exchanged a wave and a hello.

Meanwhile, on the ride…..

Sometimes it’s the little things that you could never predict that make the little ones happy. Freddie was obsessed with and delighted to spot which animals he had seen and mentally cross them off the spotting board above us in the truck.

You may remember that I was all up in your grill earlier saying I had held firm and not got Genie+ today, like some sort of Disney martyr. That’s mainly because I had forked out for the paid-for LL for Flights of Passage instead. It was, I had to come to realise, the only way you could ride these headliners with crowds like this. It stuck in my throat, I felt used and abused, but I wanted Freddie, and everyone else to be able to do it. I just want to be sure my resentment is duly noted.

Once again, Freddie’s excitement levels were off the scale. He couldn’t keep still, as the blurry photo confirms.

We only waited about five minutes but there was a whole load of “Why’s it taking long” before we entered the pre-ride briefings.

He was measured about four different times before we actually rode, which shows how close he was to being able to ride. He absolutely loved it. Well, we all did. It almost made the bitter pill of forking out what I think was $80 for us to ride it. Almost.

We were out by 4.30 and a little bit behind schedule to get all the way out to the Rainforest Café for dinner and our ADR. We arrived at 4.45 and were seated within five minutes, which gave us time to admire some fish.

We last ate here over twenty years ago and nothing seems to have changed.

Tom and I both had….

Cocktails were had….

Along with other fun drinks….

Rebecca had a Turkey wrap….

Emily another Impossible burger…Florida seems not to have yet embraced the vegetarian lifestyle it has to be said.

Freddie had something pasta based.

We went for the dessert, just to re-visit the Volcano thing we had over twenty years ago.

It seemed smaller and less impressive after all this time, unlike myself, as I am larger and less impressive. Whilst the adults shared that, Freddie had his own dirt and worms.

The bill was over $200 but I didn’t note it down exactly. Rebecca and Tom returned the ECV and we all trudged back to the car again bemoaning the lack of trams. Unaided by said trams we got a bit lost but did then find our way back to Giraffe 41. We were home in fifteen minutes and it was early nights all round. Had I mentioned that today was a bit low energy?

Till the next time…..

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

As much as a rest day is welcome in the punishing schedule of a WDW theme park based holiday, it does not make for a blockbusting, action packed trip report extravaganza, as I have often said. To be honest when you are as many trip reports in as I am, there is little I have not said before. I am not saying the park days offer anything blockbustery either, but that’s more a reflection of my poor writing skills. However, today was a rest day of sorts and I must make the most of it so here we go.

It’s always good to start a rest day by waking up at 6am of course. It’s a two hour lie in compared to the rest of the holiday so far, and I cannot fathom why this trip, for the first time, I was suffering from jet lag on the way out. My body would just not adjust to US time.

I forced myself to lie in bed till 8am. To be honest it it didn’t take too much forcing. After a shower and locating an accommodating T Shirt, we left the villa at 9.20 bound for I Drive. It’s unusual that we do, but certain eateries entice us there from time to time. I know many love that area but it’s not somewhere we have ever spent a lot of time. Being of boundless wealth, we can of course justify such snobbery.

This morning we were headed for…

to indulge in some life threatening gluttony.

On the way, the I4 was a bit busy and we did some crawling around Lake Buena Vista but eventually arrived at 10.10am. Being a Saturday and using the parks as a guide of how busy everywhere was, I was expecting to have to get a tram to this parking lot too, but it looked fairly quiet as we pulled in. We valet parked mainly as there never seems to be any alternative and we were seated immediately. We have seen the place much busier on every other visit.

To give you an idea of the calorific content you may onboard in a visit here, these are just the coffees.

Tom ordered the Camp Fire Smores Mocha, which had an inch thick crust of marshmallow on the top of it.

It’s always hard to order here as the menu is huge, but the main dilemma for me is critically, do I go sweet or savoury. We got our drinks and had a think….

We ordered –

Rebecca – French Toast

Emily went savoury with Avocado on Toast. The tree branch may have been optional.

Freddie just went with the Kid’s pancake….

I opted for Brown Sugar and Banana Flapjack, which would be a great name for a band….

Tom had a “Farmer’s Thing”, which as a Snickers Flapjack with sausage and egg.

Emily polished hers off and even helped Rebecca out a bit. Freddie did not finish, but that will not be a surprise.

Tom and I powered through and cleared the lot from our plates. I am equally proud and ashamed of that feat. My appetite is not what it once was for sure. I am developing old person’s stomach which seems to be a continual expansion on the outside, versus a continual retraction on the inside. I am not a fan. There were several times this trip when I would get angry with said stomach for getting full well before I had finished enjoying stuffing food into it. This however was not one of those times. Sure, I was full and should have stopped eating well before I cleared the plate but the deliciousness overcame those pesky thoughts of sanity and reason.

The bill was $140 including a good tip and we waddled out to get the car back from valet, tipping them $5, still not knowing after all these years if that is an insult or not.

It’s hard to drive when your stomach is as full as mine was but I got us back onto the 192 where we stopped at Target for “bits”.

As ever these shopping stop offs are random, with a trolley full of loo roll, drinks, snacks, pool toys and various personal items I will not recount here. It did not contain any video games, despite Freddie’s best efforts.

Tom tried to resurrect his quest for an Apple watch but there was no stock to be had here either. Bloody Brexit!

We drove back to the villa and once there, had a chat with Louise.

Rebecca, Tom and Freddie spent some time in the pool and I sat on the lanai strategising for our upcoming stay at Universal. I was looking into what was available to onsite folks for early hours and what was and was not included in the Front of Line access perks. I decided and decreed that we would do IOA first. Feeling happy with my decision I retired to bed for a nap. I dozed for around 90 minutes and upon waking felt like death. Clearly my body had decided to abandon any benefits of sleep during this trip.

I onboarded many painkillers and got myself ready to eat again. Yes, it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

We left the villa at 6.10pm and headed for Disney Springs. We parked in Lime on the very top floor and made our way down, through security and made our way across to House of Blues for our ADR. Sweet mother of Mary it was busy. It was a Saturday so we had loins girded for such, but it was madness. We struggled to even walk together and had to keep stopping to regroup along the way. We arrived at HOB at 7.10, I checked us in and we were seated ten minutes later.

I’ve taken better photos….Tom is vaguely aware of me pointing the camera in his general direction and Rebecca, being very much my daughter, is of course, more interested in the menu.

In all these years we have never eaten here. I think I popped in for a wee some years back, and another year we missed an ADR here as we got stuck at Premium Outlets in a torrential rainstorm, so it was nice to have the chance to finally see what the food was like.

Anyone else getting Hans Solo vibes here?

As we often tend to do, we started with Nachos.

There was live music on, which is nearly always a good thing, unless it’s Coldplay.

Party on Wayne!

For mains I had the Pulled Pork Platter and it was glorious.

Tom had a Juicy Lucy, but we would find a suitable cream for that in CVS later….

I wrote down that Rebecca had a burger……yep, I got nothing…

Freddie also had a “Burger”, but a different one….

Can you guess what Emily had?

I did note that this one was an Impossible burger to avoid any animal involvement.

Look, my meal was really good and I think my brain fogged over with the enjoyment and when I made notes later, “Burger” was the best I could do.

Everything was really tasty and the service was good. Emily had two cocktails with absolutely no regard to the effect on the bill which was $180 with tip.

We left, envious of Freddie’s ability to be pushed around.

We wandered a few shops and thankfully it was a little less busy by now, but not much.

Our wanderings took us back in the general direction of Lime.

We were all full and tired, again, for the second time today and not for the last time this trip. I shudder to imagine the calorie count for today so I won’t.

I drove us home in a pre-diabetic haze and we were all in bed by 10pm, me looking forward to another seemingly unavoidable early rise. Not a euphemism.

Till the next time…..

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

As Phil Collins said (again), today was to be the Stu, Stu, Studios.

Well before that could happen I felt the need to be awake at 4am again. I forced myself to stay in bed and horizontal until 6.30. Just before 7am I opened up the My Disney Experience app, thinking I would take a look at some new ride I had heard about. Something about resisting a rise. I mean how hard could it be to ride something at a theme park?

I was very soon reminded that I was off-site scum and Disney would rather set me on fire than allow me to get on a ride I had spent a lot of money buying a ticket for the park it was in. I felt, for probably the first time, like some sort of outsider to the Disney experience. Off-site idiots are now blatantly treated very differently in relation to this stuff. This has been the case in other ways over the years yes, but that was about stuff like free car parking or an hour or so extra in a park. This is a fundamental barrier to actually experiencing an attraction based upon your accommodation preference. I am not a fan. I also felt that I did not understand how all this worked yet. Sure I hadn’t done the required amount of research, but I was just wanting to go to a theme park and ride some rides, not perform surgery.

I bought Genie+ again and immediately felt ripped off and resentful. This is exactly what Walt had in mind I’m sure. It was now just after 7am and the best LL I could book was Tower of Terror for 12pm as we wanted a slightly later start today due to tiredness. Sure, I could have not bought Genie+ and then rocked up to the park mid-morning and found wait times longer than my old fella for the entire day, but what good would that be? In the good old days we would have had three FastPasses secured for the day about 60 days ago and be able to plan our day accordingly.

I called Louise to see how things were back home and I think a good summary was, better than they were yesterday. Mary was home.

A bagel and some fruit entered me with my consent and I had a shower and put some clothes on. I wasn’t naked eating breakfast. I put some different clothes on.

We drove to Hollywood Studios and arrived around 10.30am. I’ve had a moan above about some things but I will say again, well done to Disney for properly sorting out the security checks when entering a park. It is an immeasurable improvement.

We could already tell that the park was busy. The app confirmed this once we had entered with long wait times for anything and everything.

Rebecca went for a wee and the rest of us stood here.

The only/best option for us was to go and watch the Beauty and The Beast show starting at 11. We grabbed a seat and waited about fifteen minutes for it to start.

Freddie got a bit bored so I let him take some photos.

Then we did more selfies.

Thankfully for everyone having to look at those photos, the show started. It’s a show we have seen countless times and we noticed some fairly heavy adjustments to accommodate social distancing so it looked a bit odd. It was still enjoyable though.

We were out by 11.30 and by jingo if it wasn’t time to get some lunch!

We stood and sat here whilst mobile ordering some stuff. We were eating early as we had an early ADR for “dinner” at 3.50 this afternoon. You know you are on a WDW holiday when you have to plan ahead to be anything like hungry for your next ADR.

Our order from Rosie’s was ready at 11.50 and we found ourselves a table to eat at.

Freddie had a hot dog as long as his entire body.

Tom had one with Chilli on it.

Rebecca and I had chicken nugget things.

Emily just got some fries which I deemed unworthy of a photo.

As we finished eating and were heading to Tower of Terror for our LL, Louise phoned with a technical issue with the TV back home. Once again I was in remote support mode, trying to figure out what had been pressed and what needing pressing to undo that. It was an easier thing to resolve than yesterday’s issue.

Everyone who wasn’t pregnant went on the ride. Our LL helped us avoid a 60 minute standby wait at this point.

You will notice today that I had remembered my camera had a selfie mode.

We had been a little concerned that Freddie my be frightened, not by the drops, but by the dark and spooky nature of the ride. We need not have worried.

He loved the whole thing and had his arms up, screaming with laughter as we dropped over and over.

We headed for the Indiana Jones show next as it started in 15 minutes.

When we got there it was already full. I did say the park was busy.

Instead we headed over to the Frozen show instead and were seated immediately.

This is just good fun.

We left in a better mood and state than when we entered and that’s how it should be.

Freddie added to his plastic tat collection and we made our way to Star Tours that only had a 20 minute wait posted.

Where he met and very much liked “shiny man”. From here on in, “I want to go on shiny man ride” was a regular phrase.

Rebecca and her bump once again waited outside as we rode.

This was one of Freddie’s favourites and no doubt kicked off his Star Wards discovery in the coming years. As we met Rebecca on the bench she had been waiting on a small cavalcade passed by.

Anything that we may want to actually ride had a ride time too long to be tolerated so we toddled off to the Muppets.

Even on a busy day like today this wasn’t full and I even allowed us to sit down in the middle of a row once I had been assured it would not be full. Now able to wear the glasses and appreciate the 3D Freddie really enjoyed this one.

I know we only ate a few paragraphs ago, but it was now time for our ADR at 50’s Prime Time Café. We strolled over in that direction.

We were seated after a five minute wait. You can check in via the app now in case you didn’t know.

Obviously the experience here is not what it was before the pandemic. I don’t know if that is 100% of the reason but when we first dined here many years ago the interaction was legendary. Elements of it remain and let’s hope and see if they come back when any form of normality does.

Freddie and Tom ordered a milkshake.

It will not surprise you to hear he did not finish this.

Rebecca ordered this drink which seemed to involve something happening when Pluto was dropped in but it escaped me.

Emily chose a cocktail purely on the basis that it had a glow cube.

She was a little more limited for vegetarian options so ended up with a salad.

Rebecca, Tom and I had the Fried Chicken

Freddie had Chicken Tenders.

We ventured into dessert territory, with Emily and I sharing a peanut butter layered thing. Again, probably not what appears on the menu as its description.

Tom had one of those to himself and Rebecca a brownie based thing.

The food was all very tasty, but the bill of $215 including tip would be better justified once the full experience is back here. We were however very full, which was odd as we hadn’t eaten a lot today.

A Collection of House of Cards' Best Frank Underwood Side-Eye GIFs | Kevin  spacey, Frank underwood, House of cards

Since riding Tower of Terror at midday, I had been booking other LLs every two hours and now we found ourselves with stuff stacked up so we were looking forward to some queue free fun. This was not scheduled to start until 7pm so we rode “shiny man” again.

Freddie got a remote controlled BB8 from the gift shop. Having finally released it from the most ridiculous packaging known to man, everybody but Freddie then played with it for a bit. We gave him a turn eventually.

It was 6pm now and we had a choice of watching Indian Jones or going to Galaxy’s Edge. We chose….

It was just lovely watching Freddie’s reaction to the fantastic theming. He was enthralled by all the droids and fighters we walked past.

He got especially excited when we reached the Falcon.

He was absolutely desperate to ride it. The wait time was ridiculous and we had a LL for 8pm. Trying to explain to an over excited four year old why he can’t go on something that mind blowing until later is tricky. See….

We wandered off trying to distract him with other stuff….

and sat him in stroller with my camera as we made our way to Toy Story Land.

Thankfully for your and my camera’s sake we soon arrived at Toy Story Land.

Our first LL at 7pm was for Swirling Saucers so we all rode that, firstly via the 20 minute standby queue which was more like five and then Tom and Freddie rode again using the LL.

The rest of us found a bench to wait on.

It had become very cold, very quickly so we reached for the hoodies and walked to Toy Story Mania for our LL at 7.10pm.

I rode with Freddie and showed absolutely no mercy in the manner of defeat I inflicted upon him. I did so knowing it will only be a few short years until those roles are reversed.

We still had half an hour until our LL for Smuggler’s Run so Tom took Freddie on “shiny man ride” one more time.

Finally it was time for our LL for Smuggler’s.

It is hard to describe how excited Freddie was. He literally could not stand still during the short amount of time we had to wait to ride. It was just a joy to watch him. He almost exploded with anticipation.

Emily and I were gunners with Tom and Freddie piloting the Falcon. It was all a blur of images, noises and excitement but it was fab. This is so immersive that Freddie was absolutely convinced he had just flown the big Falcon he had seen outside and that is how it should be.

We walked out of Galaxy’s Edge and to the park exit.

With Rebecca struggling now after a full on day, Emily and I walked back to the car and then drove back to the front of the car park to pick everyone else up. We only missed them a couple of times and got there in the end!

We were home by 10pm after a full, sometimes frustrating, but enjoyable day.

Till the next time…..

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

Holidays are a time to relax, de-stress, kick back and avoid any issues to deal with that may raise your blood pressure. Well, this holiday was already classed as “not normal” so sit back and let me tell you a story.

Today started early, again. I was awake at 4am. I dozed till 6ish when Louise phoned me. She was a bit flustered as she was on Asda’s car park, in the snow, having just locked the car keys in the boot of the car, and of course the car had now locked.

This is not the news you want to hear from 4,000 miles away, as usually I would have picked up the spare key and driven the ten minutes to Asda to resolve the problem. Today Louise had a million things to do to prepare for her Mum coming home, so her stress levels were already higher than normal.

I sprang into action, calling Greenflag, who we get cover with via our bank account. They said they would despatch someone asap. I passed this on to Louise and had a shower and some breakfast, glad that this emergency had been dealt with.

We had noticed that Epcot didn’t open until 10am today which was a bit weird, but having been quite tardy with our park arrivals so far we made up for it by leaving the villa at 8.40. We parked in Amaze 34 and walked into the park.

On site special people were being greeted into the park like the elite kind of folks they are and us scummy off site proles had to settle for a Joffrey’s coffee and a doughnut.

Right about now Louise called me again, in a very heightened state of distress. The Greenflag man could not open the car. She was at this stage trying to smash a window on the car and I was phoning glass replacement businesses some 4,000 miles away to see who could repair it when she did. Several more calls came in from Louise, each more upsetting than the last.

Greenflag man asked Louise if she had a spare key for the car, at which point I think his head landed about half a mile away after she had taken it off. I was calling various family members to see who could help.

The horrible juxtaposition of me being stood in the pleasant warmth of Florida about to undertake a day in a theme park and Louise’s end of the video call, which consisted of sleet, high winds and a very distraught wife was not one I ever wish to repeat.

Meanwhile, back in Epcot, I sent everyone else off to do stuff whilst I sat near the entrance calling and googling various things to try and help. The new plan was to get a locksmith to our house to “break in” so Louise could get the spare key. The tricky bit wasn’t finding a locksmith, which I did from Epcot in two phone calls, no, the real challenge was getting Louise home. For reasons I cannot understand all the local taxi places would not take her as it was a journey from one town to another and due to COVID, apparently, this meant it was a no no. I was too stressed and busy to even worry about this.

We were about an hour in now and I was close to a heart attack. You do not want to be across an ocean when there is an emergency happening back home. Then, a saviour entered the scene. The locksmith I had found was sat outside our house and he called Louise to ask where she was. She explained she was stuck at Asda and could not get home. Like a superhero he went to pick her up.

Upon their return they were to go around the back of the house and pop one of the locks on the conservatory, which is very old and due to be replaced as soon as the weather improves enough for it to be installed. At the back of our house is a field and to get down from it to our garden there is a steep slope with less then great steps.

Here it is in what passes for summer in the North West of England.

Both Louise and the locksmith went down those steps, however Louise did so on her backside, slipping on the mix of sleety snow and other wintry shite on the ground. You may smile, or even laugh at that image now and that’s OK. At the time, nobody did!

We are edging towards the end of this story now. At this time I had wandered up through Epcot to meet everyone and I did so outside The Land as they had ridden Soarin’.

On my way up, just as some attempt at this being a trip report, I should mention that Epcot is a building site. I find it odd that it is so during the 50th celebrations, but the whole centre part of the park has endless boards up. It’s a bit of a mess.

As I waited, after all this stress, there was almost inevitably, a large Pooh.

We walked over to Nemo and Friends, but I was still mentally back home, waiting for news from Louise and confirmation that she had found the spare key and got into the car.

Whilst in the ten minute queue, Louise called. She had the spare key. The crowning glory of this tale is that when Louise and the locksmith had rappelled down the slope to our back garden and conservatory, and as the locksmith was preparing to break in, it turns out the conservatory door was open!

Suffice to say, Louise paid him plus a large tip for saving the day regardless of him just acting as a taxi.

I had chest pains.

We rode.

After that we decided to do Crush and walked in just as the doors were closing.

A few minutes into the show my phone went again. It was Louise and I had to leave the show to take it. She had got a taxi back to Asda and was back in the car and on with her day.

To add insult to chest pains and injury, it turned out that there was a lack of ambulances, so Mary’s homecoming would be tomorrow instead of today.

Shall we all just have a minute?

The weight of a thousand manatees lifted from my shoulders as I waited near them for the others to finish Crush.

We then wandered the rest of the tanks.

Half in anger and half as reward for the stressful delay to our park touring day, I had purchased Genie+. I had secured a Lightning Lane (from hereon in that is a LL). Even at that time in the morning all the LL’s for Test Track were gone for that day. How can a system where you pay for special access have that happen? I booked us onto Mission Space for 11.45 instead. It was now time for that so we made our way over there via the circuitous route created by all the screening boards.

Myself, Emily and Tom rode that. We rode the Orange intense side much to my delight.

I missed most of the briefing video as the next LL window was due right at that time so I spent those minutes looking at the app, choosing what to book next. I felt absolutely dog rough as we left the ride. It’s an age thing I am convinced. I once took my Mum on it when she was in her 70’s and almost killed her. I fear I am heading for the same fate as the years pass.

Freddie was spending a bit of time in the splash pad despite it not really being splash pad weather.

That next LL booking I had made was for Spaceship Earth and it was due now. We headed that way.

I had the honour of riding with Freddie.

Lunch was now very overdue so we headed back to The Land for food. I had something called a Land Crusher which was pulled pork on Texas Toast. I think it’s called that as it Texas so long to make it.

Honestly it was one of the tastiest things I had all trip.

It was so good I have no record of what anyone else had.

I had by now booked our next LL for Journey Into Imagination and not too surprisingly that was due immediately.

I constantly wondered what Freddie was making of these things he was experiencing for the first time. Now I know he’s ridden some of this stuff before but he of course has no memory of it.

Having no way to book any form of LL for Test Track, next, everyone except Rebecca joined the 60 minute queue.

Even with two breakdowns of the ride whilst we queued, and here we are during one of those looking happy about it…

We were on in 25 minutes. I am not one to suggest that wait times are being inflated to encourage the purchase of Genie+. To be fair it was a mixed bag all trip with many times the displayed minutes being correct and a good number of times it not.

We designed our cars….

Waited a bit more….

and enjoyed the ride.

With Rebecca waiting for us on her own we did not spend too much time admiring the cars we could not afford.

We met Rebecca in the new Creations shop. Rebecca and Freddie finally got their new magic bands all linked up and after a browse of the shop we found a bench and had a drink whilst Tom took Freddie on Mission Space. It’s always a judgement call as to when you let your small kids go on the big stuff. Every child is different of course but Tom and Rebecca were confident he would be OK. There are surgical procedures I would have undertaken without sedation rather than ride Mission Space again at this time.

Freddie loved it and returned with one of those Groot things that sit on your shoulder as a reward for bravery. Yes, he rode Orange too.

We walked over to the Short Film Festival next. Please don’t disregard this when looking for things to do. Sure, it’s no Captain Eo, but it was extremely enjoyable.

As we entered this, Mickey was out for pictures. We couldn’t stop as the show was about to begin, so as we left we circled back and were delighted to find him still there.

I am hoping these socially distanced style photos will just be a reminder of different times soon and we can get back to the meet and greets with hugs and stuff soon.

As we walked back to the stroller we passed one of the cutest service dogs we saw all trip and for some reason we saw a lot. We have never really seen any in all our previous times, but this year they were everywhere.

At some point in the recent past I had booked a LL for Soarin’ to make up for me missing it this morning as I was trapped in a glass case of chest pain and stress.

We rode at 6 and I loved this ride as I always do.

By this time Rebecca was starting to get tired and back painy so we decided to head out.

I saw the new lights on Spaceship Earth for the first time and all I wondered was why had they never done this before. It looked stunning and I took far more pictures than I will inflict on you here.

We made our way out to the exit.

I will add a note here to say that I am still in mourning for the loop music that now seems gone. I am sorry but this music IS Epcot.

Tonight’s dining was meant to be Bahama Breeze remember but we pulled that forward due to the Cheesecake Factory being too busy. With everyone being very tired we took the decision to just call at Taco Bell on the way home. I haven’t been to a Taco Bell for over a decade so had no clue what to order. Emily and I went in and muddled our way through the self order board thing and emerged with some food. It was $40.

We drove on to the villa and whilst we ate, called Louise to check in on her after her eventful day. Tom and Freddie went in the pool for a bit and then bed happened.

Till the next time……

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

There are many signs and few advantages of getting older. I once wrote a novel in the time it now takes me to start peeing and my appetite seems to be receding faster than my hairline did. I know it may not look like it, but I think I am starting to lose my hair.

One other setback, for me at least, is losing the ability to sleep well. I don’t know if it is stress, aches and pains or something else but despite being very, very tired upon getting into my (extremely comfortable) bed at the villa last night I was awake at 3am. Many years ago that’s when I may be going to bed never mind waking up but here we are and I was not happy.

I must have dozed off again at some point as my next recollection is timed at 5.30am and after more dozing I gave up on sleep around 6.45am. Jet lag really seemed to hit me for the first time ever on the way out this year and I don’t know why. It took me an age to get into the new time zone.

I had my morning chat with Louise, who of course was in her lunchtime environment at that time and then I had a bagel and some fruit for breakfast. If you don’t buy one of those big fresh fruit carton things from Publix are you even on holiday in Florida? Our plans for today were Typhoon Lagoon for a bit of rest. No matter that is was in single-digit degrees outside, we were doing a water park.

As it didn’t open till around 10, we were in no rush to get out. How I laughed about being awake since 3am with that in mind. At around 8am I had the great idea of going for (a second) breakfast, like were some kind of Hobbit. Everyone liked that idea, so we all showered, dressed for swimming later and piled into the car and headed to….

Tom had never done a Dennys so it was definitely overdue. This restaurant was a fixture of my early trips to the US when I was all fringe and naivety. My Florida knowledge and dining experiences have both developed for the better over the years but it is still nice to dine here from time to time just to marvel at how small the bill is for the amount of pain you are in from eating too much.

We all ordered coffee and juices with Rebecca having a water.

Rebecca (and her maternity knockers) had Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

Me and Tom had a Grand Slamwich

Emily had a Beyond Burger

Freddie had Birthday Cake Pancakes. God bless the US of A for having such things.

Sure, we’ve had better quality food elsewhere, and my sandwich had more salt in it than was healthy for all five of us to consume in the entire holiday but it was all very tasty and extremely filling. The bill was $87 including a good tip. This meal was the perfect preparation for going to a water park of course.

We dragged ourselves back into the car and for the first time ever having a Sat Nav in the car I typed in Typhoon Lagoon and off we set. Sure I could probably have found it unaided, but with the roads forever changing around WDW, better to trust the Sat Nav right?

Wrong.

Inexplicably it took us to Blizzard Beach. So we had to pull over and type the actual address of Typhoon Lagoon in and within ten minutes we pulled into the car park. We were not too shocked to see that the car park was empty.

We strolled towards our usual area but this time we had our pick of beds right on the water’s edge. Today, a lack of shade was unlikely to be an issue.

It was quite cloudy and when the sun was hidden behind them it was definitely chilly, but this did not stop Tom and Freddie heading straight into the wave pool. It took Emily and I another half an hour or so to build up the courage to join them. We were delighted to notice that the wave pool was heated and it was actually much warmer than it feels in August!

We stayed in for an hour, with Freddie loving the waves. We came out around 12 along with the sun which was very welcome indeed as we got dried. Today was my Dad’s birthday so we Facetimed him and my Mum and had a chat to wish him a good day, even though is was almost over where he was.

Shortly after that we spoke to Louise again as she had just heard that Mary was being discharged from hospital the next day.

Rebecca, Tom and Freddie had a wander doing some slides and stuff whilst Emily and I relaxed a bit. In a pathetic attempt to walk some breakfast off I did a full loop of the park stopping briefly to watch some people remind me why I hate water slides and will never do the Humunga Cowabunga thing that looks like a death wish made out of plastic. Freddie joined in with the relaxing once he returned and got dry.

I got us some drinks and we watched the weather improve a bit through the afternoon, and it actually got quite warm.

More wave pooling happened. I retired to my lounger suffering from tiredness and a sore ear. With that in mind and Freddie being tired by now we left around 4pm. We made our first pharmacy stop of the trip in Louise’s honour and I got some drops for my sore ear.

We were home just after 4.30. Freddie and Tom continued getting wet in our pool and I had another chat with Louise.

Some resting happened and we were all then showered and ready to head out for some tea at 7pm. The plan stated we were to eat at the Cheesecake Factory. There is a new one near the Premium Outlet Mall. We arrived to discover a one hour wait and quickly decided that was not for us. Let nobody say I am held prisoner by the plan as I quickly juggled things around and brought forward Bahama Breeze from tomorrow’s plan as it was “just around the corner”.

Just a general note for those who haven’t been that often or at all. Nothing is “just around the corner”. Everything is miles from everything else. Always give yourself much more time than you may think you need to get anywhere. It can make for stressful times if you don’t plan for this stuff.

We were seated immediately, after opting to sit inside (it was chilly).

Today and probably the two days before had taken it out of all of us tonight. We were all tired and lacking energy. Luckily we could try to inject some into our bodies in the form of food, so we did.

We appetised ourselves with a Spinach and Artichoke Dip and Chips and Guacamole.

We then ordered….

Me and Emily – Black Bean and Guacamole Tacos

Tom – A chicken in a pineapple thing (this may not be the official name of this dish)

Rebecca – Steak

Freddie – Chicken Tenders

I was so tired I failed to capture these.

Everyone was too full for dessert and I was too tired to capture what we paid. I think it was sub $200 anyway.

We were home by 9.30. There was some minor kerfuffle trying to get the gates to the development to open but this was more about us not having listened to the instructions we were given at the gate house when we first arrived due to excessive tiredness and a lack of patience.

Freddie was already asleep in the car by the time we pulled onto the drive and if we’d been driving a few more miles, I would have been too.

Did I mention we were tired?

Till the next time…….

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

Having been so tired last night after being awake for almost 24 hours I can find no reasonable explanation for being awake at 6.20am. I could hear Freddie charging around the villa. Either that or Emily, Tom or Rebecca felt the need to be running up and down the landing. At around 6.45 I called Louise and had a chat. It wasn’t nice to once again have confirmation that she wasn’t with us, but at least these days video chatting makes long distances easier than this might have been some years ago. I can still remember buying a phone card and calling Louise’s Mum from Downtown Disney just once during one of our holidays.

My chat with Louise was interrupted as she got a call from the hospital about her Mum, so I made some breakfast whilst she took that. Sensible cereal for me, saving my calories for later and then Louise called back. I gave her a tour of the villa, which based on how impressive it was I’m not sure made her feel any better about being stuck at home. She chatted with everyone else and then we all showered, separately.

Once dressed I prepared Ryan for his tour of duty. Out went all the gubbins that he had been required to carry yesterday for the journey and in went all the theme park essentials and as it was 9 degrees outside, a hoodie. Other than that, we were all dressed as if it were August, other than Emily who had a jumper on. Having said that, Emily feels cold in August in Florida so no change there. It must be a mindset thing, but if I’m in Florida I’m in shorts and a T-Shirt (with a bum bag of course) regardless of the time of year.

We spent a bit of time figuring out which physical ticket belonged to which person as a couple of us were missing magic bands. By hook or by crook, with limited help from the My Disney Experience app, we got there. Sure I could have written everyone’s name on their ticket when I linked them but I live in a paperless digital world baby, don’t fence me in with your last century luddite paradigms.

We were ready.

We left the villa at 8.45 and drove past the nearby school where we saw all the pupils piling in for their day. I always dread driving past a school bus in the US. I know there are special rules about that and it feels like unless you stop dead and throw your keys from the car a SWAT Team is likely to take you out.

We turned right onto Funie Steed Road, which took us on a journey back in time past many of the villa developments we have stayed in over the years. Lindfields, Sunset Lakes and Emerald Isle all brought back memories of happy holidays.

Once we got to Formosa Gardens we were on familiar territory indeed and it was nice to get back onto Sherberth Road and on to Magic Kingdom. It does seem that the entire road infrastructure around WDW changes completely between each trip and today, after two and a half years seemed no different. I’m sure we used to turn left to get to the parks and now there was an off-ramp on the right. Luckily I am totally cool with change and adapted seamlessly. It took about twenty minutes. There was a fairly huge queue of cars at the main gate all desperate to hand over $25. We parked in….

Despite all the announcements of their return not long ago, there was no sign of any trams so we walked in. Did I mention it was busy?

One massive improvement since our last trip was the security checks at the parks. We have all endured retired gentlemen and ladies poking at our sacks with a stick and even queued up for the experience, but now, you just walk through a scanner and only a handful of folks are pulled to one side for the sack inspection. Once through security, a bit giddy at finally being back, the camera came out for a series of “why would you take pictures of that” shots.

With Louise not with us, somebody had to take on her role, so Rebecca announced she needed to go for a wee, denying my urge to sprint onto the monorail, or at least join the queue for it. So we waited, ever so patiently.

For those wondering, there was no mask requirement outside, but having somehow dodged the COVID bullet to get here, we all often masked up in crowded places, even outside, just so we could make every effort to have a full holiday.

Freddie’s bum bag game was strong.

After a ten minute wait for the monorail, we were on and heading towards the castle. We breezed through the ticket scan thing unlike, it seemed everyone else on the planet who appeared to be taking about ten minutes each to figure out how to get into the park and, well, finally, we were home.

That first walk up Main Street is always special. We took it all in whilst at the same time, looking at the MDE app to see what we might ride first. To say this had been a long journey, in every meaning of that phrase, is one of the largest understatements in the history of understatements. The number of twists and turns, rule changes, hopes, expectations and disappointments had long since become incalculable, so to finally be here, on Main Street, looking at the castle was surreal. I’m sure none of us could really take it in.

Based on the crowd levels we were seeing, finding the first ride to do without a long wait could be a challenge. As we tend to do, we turned left and we were headed for…

The walk to the ride wasn’t one during which we could really soak things in. High crowd levels, especially with a stroller, mean you have to constantly concentrate on the next pocket of space to walk into. This was not to change for the duration of the trip to be honest.

You can see Pirates already had a 30-minute wait posted, but we went in and only waited around 10. We had decided not to get Genie+ today, as we didn’t know how long we’d last in the park and we wanted to see what was possible without it. Plus of course I am tight.

Just as we were about to board our boat, Louise called so we arranged to call back after the ride. Freddie loved the ride. He’d done it before but of course, had no memory of it. Interestingly, the canon water splashes seemed to be off today probably due to it being chilly outside (unless you live in the North West of England).

As we left the ride we called Louise back as she was visiting Mary in hospital so we all had a chat with her as best we could. It was very loud, very bright with dodgy WiFi and Mary (Louise’s Mum) is hard of hearing. Apart from that, we had a good chat!

We made our usual way over to the Big Thunder and Splash. The latter was showing a 45-minute wait. We joined it and were glad we did as the day after today it closed for maintenance so this may have been our last ride in its current state.

It was a full 45-minute wait but worth it for Freddie’s reaction. He adored it.

As we boarded our log, the young couple behind us were challenged for not having masks on. They claimed ignorance and said they didn’t know they were needed. The Cast Member allowed them on but told them to go and get some. Firstly, I was surprised WDW didn’t have a supply to hand out to folks like this and secondly, I didn’t believe for a second they didn’t know. There are regular announcements, loads of signs and everybody else had one on. Maybe they do this on all the rides?

Next, I restroomed. It is important you know this. I had mobile ordered from Cosmic Rays (Yes, I can multi-task) in the queue for Splash, so we then headed in that direction. Rebecca, who of course could not ride Splash in her pregnant state, had been chatting to my Mum & Dad whilst we rode so we all had a chat with them as we made our way towards food. On the way, we spotted some of the Country Bears up on the balcony where clearly this chap had just stepped on some Lego.

We had hot dogs all round, (just fries for Emily) and a Chicken Sandwich for Rebecca.

That lot was $87.

Next, we headed down to Main Street as Rebecca and Tom wanted to do their gender reveal for their new arrival on Main Street.

We got the appropriately coloured balloon from the seller and then joined a queue for a photographer. Just as it was our turn, a cavalcade came by so we had to move to the pavement.

Emily cried.

We took our place in the middle of Main Street again and Freddie assumed the position. I proved why I am not employed as a photographer at WDW.

The proper photo went onto social media to let all family and friends know that they are having a boy.

As a reward for his modelling work, we went off to get Freddie an ice cream.

He approved.

We found a seat near The Plaza and he tucked in.

Based on some scary wait times on the app, we planned to do Philharmagic next and headed up through the castle to get there.

Even trying to find a spot to park the stroller was challenging for Tom but eventually, he returned and in we went. Freddie was on a sugar high!

Until we got to the start of the thankfully short queue.

As we entered the area just before the doors to the theatre open, Freddie got a bit confused in the darkness and held the hand of a chap in front of us, thinking it was me. The chap was very gracious and chatted to Freddie. The fact that he was in his 70s and about 18 stone did nothing for my self-confidence.

Finally now old enough to keep the 3D glasses on, Freddie was fully immersed in the experience, reaching out for the 3D effects through the show. The new Coco scene was there now of course and as ever the whole show is a delight.

Maintaining our search for a wait time below an hour we identified the Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor and headed that way. When we got there Freddie spotted Buzz and really wanted to do that. It was a 65-minute wait which I really did not fancy. Tom volunteered to take him on whilst the rest of us rode the People Mover and chilled out. At the last minute, Rebecca decided to join them on Buzz, mainly as it was one of the few things she could ride. Emily and I waited 30 minutes to get on the People Mover. Yep, 30 minutes.

We took in the sights for a bit on our way round.

Tron is huge!

Once we were done, Emily and I headed to the shops on Main Street whilst the rest continued to wait for Buzz. We did a lot of browsing and not much buying.

We did see another cavalcade come by though.

Alice wouldn’t leave it……

We were messaged to say they were off Buzz now and we met them in the queue for Laugh Floor.

A 30-minute wait was posted. That was probably more like 20, but long enough. The show was very clever and very enjoyable. Once we were done there it was 4pm and time to make our way out of the park to Wilderness Lodge for our ADR at Whispering Canyon.

Rebecca and her bump were struggling a little now so our pace was slow. We decided to take the car over rather than just take the boat as it was unlikely we would return to Magic Kingdom after eating. To save Rebecca the journey, Emily and I caught the monorail back to TTC and got the car whilst the other three caught the boat over to Wilderness Lodge. We took the resort monorail to avoid a queue at the normal one. I think we did this all trip to be honest.

During our monorail journey, the one downside of that route is you stop at the Contemporary. As we waited for guests to join and alight, in our compartment was a Mum with two kids. They were very young and I think the word is rambunctious.

As phrases were bellowed by the Mum like…

“Don’t you dare bite me….!!”

“That’s not safe!”

We thought it best not to turn round and look at what they were doing just in case the monorail was on fire. I am eternally thankful the girls, and now Freddie, never really inflicted that sort of behaviour on us in public.

The tram was running as we got to TTC and we boarded on the Villains side and headed to Hook. We made it to Wilderness Lodge after a wild goose chase caused by the onboard Sat Nav in the car. It was, how do you say, bobbins for the whole trip.

We arrived at 4.55 and found Rebecca, Tom and Freddie in the lobby. I checked in, had a wee (not simultaneously) and we were seated within a few minutes.

Our server was great fun. Much of the old school shenanigans are currently not in play, I guess due to COVID, but he still made it a very fun experience. As we waited for our food we chatted to Louise. It was of course still Christmas in WDW.

We ordered skillets all round, with Emily getting her own plant-based one. By George these were good.

Tom had four chocolate milkshakes (they are unlimited here) and some extra sausage and mash. We were all very full and extremely tired.

The table behind us was a bit weird. They were determined to make it a competition with the server and his banter, rather than just enjoy it. It became uncomfortably confrontational at times and kudos to our server for not forking them in their junk. I forgot to note down the amount of the bill but I think from memory it was around $200 including a good tip, which was that he should fork awkward guests in their junk from now on.

Thankfully the Sat Nav guided us home more easily tonight as we still had not found our bearings. I think we were all in bed at 7.30pm. These first full days get you like that!

Some thoughts on recent changes. We didn’t use Genie+ today. We knew we would be leaving around 4pm so it didn’t seem worth it. The park was MUCH busier than we were expecting and this remained the case throughout the trip, and despite this, today we managed to get a good amount of stuff done without too much excessive waiting, but we were able to cherry-pick things like Philharmagic that have less challenging loading times.

If we had wanted to do the big stuff today it would have been a lot of waiting. We did use the “free” Genie thing, in so much as we constantly refreshed the Tip Board to weep at the huge wait times for everything. I’ll not steal my own thunder and give you my overall thoughts on Genie+ etc now, but I’ll share as we get to the relevant points and examples along the way.

The overall theme though was just how long wait times were. The car parks were nowhere near full so my guess is that a mix of COVID staffing issues and perhaps allowing too many folks to get a park reservation for that staff capacity, mixed with some stuff not yet being open caused these. If you don’t have many of the shows, street entertainers, character meets and parades on, then all people can do is ride stuff, so the queues get inflated. Anyway, more thoughts later……

Moaning about crowds in the parks after such a long wait to be there seems churlish. I mean, I’m still going to do it, but I should at least acknowledge my churl as I do.

Till the next time…….

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…….