Jet Set Jerry

Years ago, in my formative working years, colleagues, who at the time looked like ancient dinosaurs, but were probably the age I am now gave me two bits of advice that have stuck with me. That doesn’t mean I have adhered to the advice of course, I just remember it!

The first, was on my first day of work at the Nat West Bank in Bury in 1987. The branch manager, a grey haired reverend (I’m sure I haven’t mis-remembered that) welcomed me and asked if I was ambitious. To be honest, on that day, my ambition was to make it to 5pm without falling asleep and working out where to get some lunch from, but of course I said yes, thinking this was the thing to do.

Well, he said, the best way to get ahead in the bank is to go to head office and fall down the stairs. It seemed a bit dramatic and to seventeen year old me a little eccentric, but I have since realised what he meant. Often rewards, promotion and progression are dished out to those who are known, not necessarily to those that may deserve it. I have seen this play out time and time again since.

That first example has no relation to anything I’m saying today.

The second piece of wisdom was another senior chap in the bank telling me that I needed to work out whether I wanted to live to work or work to live. His point being that it should absolutely be the latter. This surprised me at the time to be honest but again it is a wisdom I have tried to remember when work gets crazy, like it is at the moment. Both Louise and I are dangerously close to the former and it’s not a good thing. There needs to be a new word for busy that covers this.

Louise is currently coming to the end of a nine-day stint without a day off and whilst I’m fortunate enough to get weekends off, the bits in the middle are madness at the moment. You may be familiar with that feeling of always being behind schedule and never quite having enough time for everything? For someone like myself who lives to plan and plans to live that is hard to bear at times.

This week I was Johnny Jet Set and had to travel to Amsterdam for a meeting. Yes, one meeting. To be fair, I instigated it as it was something that had to be done, but it was a heck of a long day. Taking off at 9am, doing a meeting from 12 till 2.30 and then taking off again at 5pm was a whirlwind day. I didn’t see much any of Amsterdam, apart from the inside of two taxis, some motorway and an office. It didn’t stop being blown away by the fact that everybody there speaks perfect English. When are we going to catch up with this in our education system? I did three years of German and I remember so little I’d struggle to spell BMW.

Chatting to the people in our meeting it turns out that English is pretty much the default language in Amsterdam. That chap was Turkish, speaking English in a Dutch company who also spoke Dutch. I apologised for Nigel Farage and left.

Security at Schipol airport was crazy. It’s fortunate that we were early as it took over an hour to get through. I felt safer for it, but that must be stressful if you are running late, or even just on time for your flight.

I am not a nervous flyer at all, but there’s always those first few nervy minutes, when you haven’t flown for a while when the engines kick in and you hurtle down the runway. That is magnified when your plane is basically a Mondeo with wings. Both legs were bumpy and I have to stay I feel safer in the big things that take you across the Atlantic mainly as they don’t have propellers and their landing gear has tyres that aren’t the size of a typical 4 x 4!!

a-plane

With all this being busy and stuff it’s a god job all of my holiday planning is pretty much done. All I’ve done this week is pay the balance on the hire car and tick off another few days in the countdown to making FastPass bookings. That’s Tuesday by the way. It’s nice to be so close now as God knows we need a holiday.

It felt odd and quite cruel to be driving to Manchester airport early in the morning not to be catching a flight to Florida last week. Mind you I did fly back at the same weight that I left at, which won’t be happening in April.

Oh and if anyone is reading this who is in charge of the short stay car park at Terminal 3. £40 for 11 hours? Really? How do you sleep at night. My expenses may be laughed out of the office!

Till the next time…..

Who Ya Gonna Call?

I had reason to call Disney this week. It’s an incredible compliment to their brand experience and customer service that having a problem that necessitates an actual phone call isn’t seen as a negative. I even had to hold for over ten minutes to get through to someone and I didn’t mind. I sat and listened to the hold music with my phone on speaker so that Emily could enjoy it too.

When the dreamy American accent on the other end of the line eventually answered, the warmth of the greeting was like a Floridian summers day. I immediately had to put on my “I’m talking to an American” voice so that they would stand a chance of understanding me.

I explained my issue feeling genuine regret that I had to trouble them when I’ve only spent the value of an average house in the UK with them in my lifetime. The agent sounded as if I had just explained that half of my family had passed away and her regret and genuine concern comforted me in its warm embrace.

My issue was that even though I had linked all of our tickets to our party members, when I did a dry run of a FastPass booking to make sure we were ready to go, the app and web site errored telling me one of the party had no valid ticket. Yet I could see the valid ticket against their name elsewhere in the app.

The agent said she would speak to tech support if I didn’t mind holding. Mind holding? I was a few moments away from sending her my house keys and pension details. A few moments passed and she returned to apologise again that I had indeed linked everyone correctly but one hadn’t linked all the way through. She asked me to refresh my web page and there I would see that everything was now sorted. I was asked if there was anything else I needed today and when I confirmed there wasn’t she wished me a magical day and said she was looking forward to seeing us in April.

Emily at this point was close to tears and I felt like changing my will to make the Disney company sole heir to my debts. This does not happen when I contact other call centres. I know they are selling magic and most of their customers love the experience which is hard to match if you sell energy or mobile phones but how they manage to deliver such high standards consistently is truly amazing. In all of my dealings with Disney over thirty odd years I do struggle to remember a negative experience.

I was so misty eyed that I didn’t think to keep them on the phone whilst I tried another FastPass dry run and after putting the phone down I noticed that I was only being offered dates that are 30 days out, rather than 60 as we are on site elite uber customers. I couldn’t face the emotion of another phone call so I emailed them instead.

It may be that the FastPass window only opens to 60 days when you are actually 60 days out from your on site booking? If anyone of you who do the on site thing more than we do know that would be lovely. Otherwise I shall await the reply to my email.

In other news this week, it was announced that it will be the end of Wishes just after our visit. I cannot tell you how upset Emily was. She does have a complete aversion to things changing at Disney. Anything that she experienced during her childhood is not allowed to be amended in any way. I understand that of course but having seen more changes than she has, I know that these things have to happen to keep the parks interesting and of course keep the punters coming back.

Image credit Mousehints.com

Image credit Mousehints.com

She will observe a period of mourning and the usual guaranteed tears on our final day as we watch Wishes will be increased by a factor of about ten, as she knows she will never see it again.

With Rivers of Light also coming on line and opening dates announced for Avatar and Star Wars Land it’s been a big week for Disney. Anyone would think that Universal have a new park opening soon!!

Image credit wdwmagic.com

Image credit wdwmagic.com

I won’t bother with you with my pre-holiday weight loss progress. The least said the better.

Till the next time…..

Fitting In The Fountain

I’ve had more successful dieting weeks to be honest. It included two…no three take-aways and more biscuits than is conducive to weight loss. Clearly I wasn’t in the zone as it’s been a stressful week and we tend to eat our feelings in this family.

Speaking of over eating. You may not think it possible for us to get any more of it into our calorie laden plan. I thought that too, but Emily pointed out that since we shuffled our plans to give us one less day at Universal and one more at WDW we had a day in the plan without any food planned in. This was clearly a huge mistake and Emily’s idea was to squeeze in Beaches & Cream with us staying at the Beach Club. Looking at what we will have eaten by then squeezing in might be more literal than you may imagine.

Those of you familiar with Beaches & Cream will know that it isn’t very big and as expected, getting an ADR for a party of five this many days out was never likely and we were denied. However, I haven’t been obsessing about Florida holidays for fifteen years for nothing and quickly my database of knowledge and experience threw up an alternative.

In the Dolphin there is a similar looking establishment to Beaches & Cream. It doesn’t have the same level of theming or fun and games based around obscene amounts of ice cream in a sink, but I thought it may work.

fountain

A quick look at the menu confirmed my suspicions. Here are some of the highlights….

Fountain Signature Burger

Two 4oz. Angus Burgers, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Avocado-Bacon Aioli, Caramelized Onion, Tomato, American Cheese, Sesame Brioche Bun

Southern Pulled Pork

Hickory Smoked Pulled Pork, Western Carolina Barbeque Sauce, Apple-Fennel Coleslaw, Toasted Pullman Bun

Chicago Dog

Vienna All Beef Hot Dog, Cherry Tomato Relish, Kosher Pickle slices, Beer Mustard, Sport Peppers, Caramelized Onions, Hot Dog Potato Bun

Stawberri Kookies with House Vodka

Strawberry Patch and Cookies & Cream Ice Creams, Strawberry Topping & Chocolate Milk, topped with Whipped Cream & Oreo Crumbles with House Vodka (must be 21 or older)

Soft Serve Split 

Classic Banana Split made with Vanilla, Chocolate, and Swirl Soft Serve, topped with Pineapple, Chocolate and Strawberry Toppings, Whipped Cream, Peanuts, a Cherry and a Banana

PB&J Shake

Peanut Butter Ice Cream, Strawberry Topping with Whipped Cream & Reese’s Pieces.

So that’ll do nicely as an alternative. It is of course within walking distance of the Beach Club so on this extra Disney day, which we plan to spend some of it resting by the pool, we can wander over there for lunch. It doesn’t offer reservations so we’ll go early for that reason and one other very important one. On our holidays we have to plan our eating times carefully to ensure we will be hungry when the next meal reservation rolls around.

Bearing in mind that we will be in Celebration for our evening meal later that day and then moving on to Disney Springs and the culinary treats to be had there we will need to lunch at a time which may be bordering on brunch. These holidays don’t just fall together you know.

If you have any intention in reading about our trip when we get back, I would advise against reading it hungry. The amount of food pictures that are likely to feature may push into a calorie spree that I cannot be held responsible for. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Oh and if you happen to be staying at the Beach Club when we are, I apologise now for what will be the horrific calorie induced frame that I will be parading around the pool. I’ll be to wear a thong won’t I?

Till the next time……

Weighting For Our Holiday

71 days people. That’s where we are now. Due to our earlier than usual travel dates (April rather than August) most of our party have ESTAs that will still (just) be valid. That is of course unless the orange despot doesn’t wake up thinking he didn’t like Theresa May, her shoes or the fact that George Michael was gay and revoke all ESTAs on that basis of course.

Only Emily needs one so we’ll be applying for that later today. We’re at that stage where things seem close yet so far away. I have resolved today to begin my weight loss regime in preparation for inflicting my white wobbliness on the general public. I have been losing and gaining the same few pounds for most of my adult life and having done the former last summer and then the latter for most of the winter, it is time.

I made that resolution to shed some timber late last night. I had just got home from a gig and it was late or early depending on your view point and as usual after gigging I can’t go straight to bed. That’s normally due to my ears ringing and fighting off the groupies for an hour or two. So last night I made myself a brew and ate my own body weight in biscuits. If you read Keith Moon’s memoirs at his peak he was on a 40 a day Bourbon habit and could do three packets of Hob Nobs a day.

For me, it’s definitely a mental state. Once I’m in it, nothing can shake me from the path and I won’t and don’t let up until I have reached whatever number on the scales I have set as a goal. When I’m not in that state (the last few months) I eat like I’ll never see food again at every meal and most times in between too. You may know by now that I enjoy my food and it certainly cut my Calvin Klein modelling career short by a year or two.

As I get older though my give a shit-o-meter gets less sensitive and the thought of inflicting my dad bod on the folks on the beach falls into the “it’s their problem not mine” category. As long as I don’t need winching through the front window to get to the airport then it’s all good.

It can seem a little silly to take weight off prior to any specific occasion, just so you can put it back on but for a Florida holiday it is essential. Especially when your plans, like ours, revolve around food and the critical part of planning is how quickly we can possibly be hungry again after each meal so we can do another. Either way it’ll be no bad thing for me to be less girthy no matter what the reason. If I hadn’t followed this boom and bust circle of life for all of our trips right now I’d either by forty stone or dead.

It’s been a while since I shared my plans with you and as I have documented recently there have been lots of changes so here it is….as it stands…

Tuesday 11th April

Flights with Thomas Cook from Manchester at 10.15.

We check in to the Royal Pacific, with Mum and Dad checking in to Holiday Inn Across from Universal

Dinner at the Outback on I Drive

Wednesday 12th April

IOA

Lunch at Toothsome

Dinner at Cowfish

Thursday 13th April

Morning by the pool to avoid that second day weariness

Afternoon in Universal Studios

Dinner at Teak Neighbourhood Grill

Friday 14th April

Park hopping between IOA and Universal

Dinner at O’hana and a visit to Trader Sam’s for cocktails

Saturday 15th April

Check out of Universal and move to Siesta Key

final siesta

Brunch at Hash House a Go Go

Maybe some shopping before getting to Siesta Key around 4. Dinner somewhere in the village.

Sunday 16th April

Beach

Dinner in the village

Monday 17th April

Beach

Dinner at Cheesecake Factory

Tuesday 18th April

Golf for me & Dad, Beach or the ladies

Dinner at Applebees

Wednesday 19th April

Beach

Dinner in the village

Thursday 20th April

Beach

Dinner at Olive Garden

Friday 21st April

Beach

Dinner in the village

Saturday 22nd April

Leave Siesta Key. Check in to Beach Club for us and All Stars for Mum & Dad

Epcot in the afternoon

Dinner at Sanaa

Jellyrolls

Image credit Disneyways.

Image credit Disneyways.

Sunday 23rd April

Animal Kingdom

Dinner at Yak & Yeti

Extra Magic Hours at Epcot with Reflections of Earth

Monday 24th April

Rest by the pool

Celebration late afternoon, dinner there with Disney Springs in the evening

Tuesday 25th April

Hollywood Studios

Dinner at Bahama Breeze

Back to DHS for Fantasmic

Wednesday 26th April

Magic Kingdom

Dinner at Trail’s End

Wishes etc, tears and the horror of leaving MK at the end of our trip.

cropped-mk-pic-emily.jpg

Thursday 27th April

Packing, shopping for all those gifts we should have bought earlier

Airport, big pants, regrets, dealing with reality, wondering how quickly we can get back to Florida.

I told you I need to lose weight before we go!

Till the next time…..

 

 

 

Disney Does Detail

For us lucky Florida fans, the existence of both Universal and Walt Disney World in close proximity means that we get a whole lot of fun experiences without needing to travel very far. I’ve blogged before about the competition between them being very good for us as it keeps them adding new stuff and trying to outdo each other for your hard-earned dollars.

This week we had the excitement of our theme park tickets arriving in the post. This simple transaction highlighted to me the difference between the two. You probably know that if given a choice between visiting just Disney parks or just Universal ones then the former would win quite easily. There are more of them for a start but they just hold more of a place in my affections for reasons that I can’t easily articulate. Maybe this very small example might help to demonstrate how Disney do the little things very well, adding up to an excellent overall experience.

The WDW tickets arrived first. Each one of the five had a different character picture on it, so for those with smaller kids, the fun starts immediately as two of your children rip each other to pieces as they both want to be Mickey. The cards are substantial, by which I mean plastic and look like they would survive a trip or two down Splash Mountain.

wdw-tickets

That is if they needed to because of course once you get your tickets you can start to feel ever closer to the magic by linking them up to your My Disney Experience App along with your on site accommodation if that’s what you are doing. Then if you’re staying on site, you can customise your Magic Band, which is basically choosing a colour, but it’s YOUR Magic Band and YOUR colour. This is important!

This makes the whole thing feel real, personal and yes exciting. Seeing all your names, plans and tickets staring back at you from your app makes the holiday come to life. You are immediately anticipating that day when you can start to book FastPasses too. The holiday has already started to some extent. Sure linking up the tickets can be a bit fiddly, especially if you try to do it early in the day in the UK when Disney seem to like to take their servers down during their night-time hours but you don’t mind the faffing and time it takes. This is your holiday!

I’ve often spoken about how a trip to WDW lasts forever. All the planning, ADR booking, FastPass reserving and general planning can take months. Then when you get back, if you are sad, like me, you write it all up too, which takes a while too. It’s all good.

Now of course much of that is true for Universal too, but I do think they are missing a trick here. In contrast to the experience above, a few days later our Universal tickets arrived. Again, they were real tickets, but they are flimsy paper things which wouldn’t last one trip around Bluto’s Bilgerats no matter how sturdy your fanny pack is!

uni-tickets

You have to write your name on, manually, in pen and sign it. That’s it. No real excitement, no personal connection, no customisation for your unique trip and tastes. Once you get there of course it doesn’t matter so much as the Universal park experience is excellent, but this is, in my view, where Disney win your hearts and minds and Universal is something you do if you have the time and money to fit it into your plans.

We’ll be staying on site with them too, but I can’t set anything up in their app and the whole thing feels much less personal and engaging. I know there are folks who prefer Universal for all sorts of reasons and that is of course down to everyone’s own taste, but I think Universal could do better here. I did read with interest that they appear to be trialing facial recognition for Front Of Line Access for on site guests. If it works, great! Last time we were pointed at a small self-serve photo booth in the foyer and left to figure out how to create our own (flimsy paper) Front Of Line passes to show. Again, it’s not a big deal, but you pay a heavy premium to stay on site and I think they should give you something to reflect that and your “VIP” status. Flashing some sort of card, band or golden (laminated) ticket would be better and hopefully they are moving in that direction.

I love both sets of park of course and we LOVE the on site experience at Universal. As always seems to have been the case though, they could learn a trick or two in the details from Disney.

Till the next time…..

Unlaminating The Plan

If you are the holiday planner in your house, you will know that when a plan gets to the stage we are now at, things are very delicately balanced. By now, the ADRs are done and it’s coming up to FastPass time so things are pretty much close to the stage where nothing can be changed. It is called the laminated stage!

Changing so much as a meal can have knock on effects that can take days of work to accommodate, so the last you want at this stage is any sort of fly in the ointment. Literally moments after posting last week’s blog, telling you all how busy we were and how much we were looking forward to some R&R I had some bad news.There was an issue with our flights. Again, if you are the planner you will know that the flight booking is the cornerstone of any trip. It is typically the first thing in the bag and everything else hangs off it. So the news was not welcome.

For reasons I won’t trouble you with, to avoid this being a very long post, our flights were no longer going to be available. On hearing the news I felt a bit sick. The whole trip was in jeopardy and with the dollar rate in the toilet I was very fearful that trying to book any new flights now would be impossible without a return to my career as a gigolo.

Virgin, as ever, were showing prices that only Branson himself can afford so the next stop was Thomas Cook. I found direct flights with them for a price not too far from the ones we had previously. There was only one problem…..they were on different dates!!

You can only imagine the carnage this can bring to the plan! It was only a day later but the cascade effect was enormous. I had to book the flights anyway to secure them and the trip and then start to pick up the pieces. To complicate matters, Mum & Dad are of course staying in different hotels to us for half of the trip so I had four lots of reservations to sort out plus the car hire. Safe to say I had a very busy few hours contacting folks, fettling things online and in the case of the car, being shafted by having to re-book it at today’s rates which pretty much doubled the fee. Then of course there was some fiddling with ADRs to realign them with the new dates.

The end result is that we now have four days at Universal and five at WDW either side of our week at Siesta Key Beach. I cannot say I am unhappy at the extra day at Disney. That part of the plan was always looking very busy so that helps. Of course, with dollar rate moves, amendment fees and all sorts of skulduggery the trip costs have risen but at this stage, with all the hassle and faff it has involved so far I just don’t care. Just get me on the bloody plane already.

With all that sorted earlier in the week, I read a few articles that the coming week may see some Brexit news that will make the pound crash even further. Apparently with a declaration that a Hard Brexit is inevitable the pound may dip a lot more. It’s fine though, as that will stop all these immigrants from coming here and ruining staffing our NHS. (Bit of politics!).

With that in mind it made sense to get the park tickets sorted before that currency volatility puts the prices up. I have no idea if that will happen but I found a price I was OK with, so I bought us 7 day ultimates with free memory maker for less than the 5 day Magic Your Way things would have been. I’ll be securing the Universal tickets shortly too. If it’s going to be 1 pound to 1 dollar by the time we go I want to reduce the impact of that as much as possible!!

As if that wasn’t enough hassle, being a glutton for punishment, I thought I’d just run a comparison of our Royal Pacific booking through Trivago to see if we were paying too much. We were. I found the same room for £250 less with Netflights, so having free cancellation with Hotels.com, I did that and re-booked it, also getting £70 cashback through Top Cash Back. This is a full-time job at times, but the rewards for the slog are out there.

Phew, I’m tired just telling you about it. Somewhere among all of that I have done a busy week’s work, including working two evenings (OK one was dinner with a supplier, but that’s still work right?) and a gig on Friday with Mustard. Safe to say the neglected DIY projects remain thus and I am looking and feeling more tired than a tired thing.

Still, at least the holiday is sorted!!

Till the next time…..

Looking For An Oasis In This Blur

My God life is busy right now. It’s an expected symptom of both Louise and I working long hours I suppose, but with the hustle and bustle of Christmas, during which Louise had one day off, and everything else that goes on in real life we are dizzy at the moment.

I know Louise is feeling it especially. In her job as district nurse she’s working like a mad woman. Eleven or twelve visits a day leaves little time for lunch or sensible thought and in the odd few hours that she’s at home a vegetative state is required to give her body the chance to recover. I’m not too different to be honest although I am grateful that my job doesn’t involve things that ooze puss, discharge or any of the other bodily fluids she tells me all about.

There are DIY decorating projects half-finished all around the house and I really should be doing one of those now, but to be frank I’m just too tired. Louise has been working all weekend so I’ve been on tidying, washing and soon to be ironing duty and still haven’t done the other stuff I should have, like take all the xmas crap to the tip…yep, that’s how far behind we are. I also had Mustard’s first gig of 2017 last night and as much as I really enjoy my hobby, a late night at my age takes about three days to recover from.

So it is safe to say that we are all gazing longingly at the upcoming holiday in April. It is a hazy mirage seen through the whirling dervish of reality. We can almost make it out now but there is still a long way to travel before we can luxuriate in its sunny, relaxed loveliness. As much as I have moaned a bit about the lack of time we have planned in theme parks, right now, that week on Siesta Key Beach is looking pretty good. I may be bored out of my mind on day three but I plan to sleep for the first two beach days anyway.

As weekends go, I’ve had better then. There’s been pretty much zero relaxation time and this was reduced even further yesterday when I had to take an unexpected trip to the opticians. I had allowed myself a lie in until at least 9.30, with the dogs joining me once Louise left for work, as they normally do, for what I thought would be the useful peaceful lie on the bed. I must have drifted off to sleep as when I woke up and wandered to get my glasses from their usual resting spot on the radiator cover I stood on something that I didn’t recognise. With a puppy in the house it was a change for that not to be liquid or at least soft but on closer inspection I couldn’t believe what I was seeing…and not because I didn’t have my glasses on.

What I picked up were the mangled remains of what were my spectacles. In disbelief I plotted Bean’s death for a good few minutes and then proceeded to pointlessly wave them in front of her face whilst swearing a lot. Her confused expression and wagging tail suggested she wasn’t clear on the message I was trying to get over.

glasses

So my plans of a tip run and some decorating evaporated and I ended up having to do the unimaginable and drive into actual town on a Saturday and go to a shop. Having only had my glasses for a few months, the optician could quickly re-order what I needed. It was slightly less easy to hand over the huge sums of cash necessary for them to do that. They will be ready next week and in the meantime I am wearing my old pair. They are a fractional improvement on total blindness.

So life is a bit of a blur for me for more than one reason right now. I either need it to speed up a little more, like fast forwarding the adverts, until we hit April 10th or it would be nice to be a little less busy for a bit so we can all catch our breath. I’m off to the next task now….

Till the next time…..