Best laid plans….

So, with all the excitement of having a new trip booked, this week has been a flurry of activity and research, finalising all the details of our itinerary.

This was tricky, as I had the inconvenience of having to go to work every day, which seriously impacted on my ability to do important stuff, like find villas and hotels.

Somehow, I have managed to come up with a workable plan, and my what a plan it is.  To say I am happy with it would be….well, it would be absolutely accurate.

First job was a villa.  There are one or two villas knocking about on the internet these days, so choosing one can get a little tiresome, after you’ve looked at the three hundredth website.  My criteria were simple –

  • 3/4 bed
  • Decent sized deck round the pool for Louise to burn herself stupid
  • Located in Sunset Lakes/Lindfields areas
Living la Villa Loca

A few hundred hours of interent use later and a suitable villa is located.  It is a marvel to me that not only can you see exactly what you are getting via the internet, but within a few minutes you can actually walk down the street via the wonder that is Google Street View.  I now know exactly where it is, and the best way to get to the 192 etc.  This is of course helped by the fact that we’ve been so many times that I know the area as well as my own street at home!

The next step was the quickest and easiest.  Booking a night on site at Universal is pretty straight forward.  Having now tried the Royal Pacific and the Hard Rock, the clear winner for us was the HRH, so a few minutes of keyboard tapping, and we’re in.

I mentioned last week that our DVC friends were contemplating their needs, and in the end it turned out that they did indeed require their points this year.  Despite this mightily selfish act, I agreed to continue our friendship on a trial basis, for now.

So now, the tricky stuff starts.  Without the magical (and cheap as chips) DVC points, how are we to round off my “special” trip?  Well, in steps Jakki (TinkTatoo off of The Dibb).  We had been chatting via email about our plans, as we usually meet up whilst in Florida.  As at this stage I was unsure of what points if any I might have at my disposal she very kindly offered to call Disney and see what might be available for the dates I was after.

Rather cruelly, my wish list options were available, which sort of made the whole waiting to hear about the points all the more unbearable.  Being female, Jakki then used subtle and clever mind tricks to get me to tell her which of the options she had investigated would be my preference.  The technique used was “So which of those options would you go for, if you got the points?”  See, how am I to compete with such witchcraft?

Having told her, she then prompty offered me the use of the required number of points from her “banked” allocation for next year, at a price that could not be obtained anywhere else.  I was slightly, ever so, taken aback by the act of kindness, and I think I have thanked Jakki enough times to make her more than a little uncomfortable.

So, what did we get.  Well, to tell this tale properly I have to rewind a few years, to a previous trip, and the four of us are sat in World Showcase at Epcot, having a drink.  We are sat in the corner bit where the African outpost thing is, and I’m looking over the Lagoon across to the Yacht and Beach Club.

Beach Club
Where them millionaires stay!!

“When we come for my fortieth” says I, all confident that we would be, “We’ll do it in style and stay at one of them there posh places, that only rock stars and millionaires can afford”.  Yes a slight exaggeration, but it makes the story mildly more interesting.  The family give me a knowing look, and continue to take on board enough fluids to avoid a collapse somewhere around Norway.

So, just over a week ago, I’m thinking that my ever so bold statement was to lie in ruins, due to us not going at all, and here I am a few short days later, on the brink of achieving said ambition.  There was a very nervy half an hour whilst Jakki, now having my instructions and wishes has to phone up Mr Disney to secure it.

Sensing my nervy anticipation, Jakki does the right thing, and rather than go and collect the kids from school, she leaves them stranded at the side of the road whilst she makes that call instead.   Apologies to Aidhon and Niamh (I work on the premise that the more variations of spelling I use for for Jakki’s kids, I am bound to get it right sooner or later) for making you hang about, it was for the greater good.  The deed was done, and I got some odd looks as I did a little jig around the office.

Just tell us where the bloody hell you are staying, I hear you cry….if anyone is still reading/caring at this point.

We have four nights at the Beach Club Villas.  All that build up for a nine word sentence???  Well, yes.

Kitchen Sink
That sinking feeling

The location is, in my opinion, perfect, the hotel itself a delight, and the pool is epic, and the girls will love that.  The added attraction of having a Kitchen Sink every day also appeals on some level.

So with all the basics now in place, I’ve also made a couple of ADRs.  Kouzzina (the place where Spoodles used to be) for the night of my birthday, and Yak & Yeti at the Animal Kingdom as this is a firm favourite with Louise.

All this hard work this week reminded me how much the art of booking a holiday has changed thanks to the wonders of the World Wide Web.  When I watched my Dad book holidays, it was either a trip to the local travel agents to watch them tap away at their VDU for a couple of hours to tell us that the hotel in the brochure wasn’t available, but there was one almost built next to it that was.  Or, in later years, on the phone (with the appropriate teletext page on Hold) only to find out that the fly drive for three bob and a conker was actually ten times the price on screen.

Now, holiday makers, if so inclined, can plan every detail of their trip, and, as with most shopping experiences now, crucially get advice from like minded travellers on the quality and suitability of things well before you arrive to find the top three floors of the hotel unfinished, and the pool full of wildlife.  Being a border line control freak, this appeals, and long may it continue.

You might think with all this activity that not much else had happened this week.

Well, outside of holiday planning world, work has been just another notch up on the busy scale, and I visited hospital for a change, but this time to visit my Dad, who has since been home and gone back in again.  He has had a minor operation to remove around three pints of “stuff” from a cyst on his liver (I hope no-one is eating whilst reading this!), and as soon as I have finished writing this I’m off to see him again.  He’s been in pain for weeks with this, so hopefully this will get him back to normal, and crucially for his, and my Mum’s sanity, back playing golf.

Emily has done her mock GCSEs this week, and how she has done is anyone’s guess really.  The few utterings to come from behind the fringe suggest she thinks she has done OK, but we’ll just have to wait and see.  I attended school for both the girl’s parents evening type things, and was relieved to find that they are both hard working and not mentally sub normal (they get that from me!!).  Rebecca says it doesn’t matter though as she is going to be a rock star.  Fair enough.  By teaching her to play bass I am more than entitled to the large mansion once she goes platinum.

To round off the week, on a hopefully happy and more relaxed note, we are off out tonight to celebrate Louise’s birthday.  The four of us are off to a local Chinese to see if we can eat them out of crispy duck.  I have the big pants washed and ready to go.

Next week sees me on my travels with work to the exotic lovelieness that is Bristol and Stroud, so with the upcoming Good Friday holiday, I only have to endure two days in the office.  Happy Days.

Till the next time…..

A week is a long time…..

You may recall my post from the 8th of March….

“You do not find me in the happiest of places.”

“The desire for sunshine is immense right now, but alas not quite as immense as the gaping hole where my bank balance should be, so on I trundle, countdown-less.”

“As the message ended with him telling me he’d just booked again, I lost all empathy and cursed the swine for being able to go this year when I can’t!!!  :-)

Well, the phrase out of the blue doesn’t quite cover the events of the week which followed this.

Having almost stopped looking forlornly at flights in the vague hope of finding one for less than a tenner, I see a meeting request appear amongst all the other dross in my diary for Monday afternoon.

“Bonus Briefing” was the title.  Now, having worked here for ten years, this is an annual event where we hear phrases like “close but no cigar” a lot, so my expectations were low, indeed, I turned up five minutes late.

Ten short minutes later, and after hammering out a few calculations on the calculator (well on what else would you hammer them out?) I am sort of dumbstruck really.  A quick wander across to my friendly HR person, and the amount I have calculated is indeed correct.  Hand shaking, I text Louise, pinching myself (it isn’t easy to do both at the same time).

My mind is already half way through a plan of course, but I fear Louise will reply with boring nonsense like…

“Oh good, we can do (insert nonsense task) to the house”


“We can marginally improve our failing battle against impending bankruptcy”

But no dear reader, she did not reply in that manner.  Allow me to quote….

“What are you wasting time texting me for….get the flights booked”

Joy unabounds, and I break the internet with the ferocity of my flight search (all in my own time of course, never when I should be working).

To spare you the many hours of intense searching, around about 12 hours later I am sat on my couch at home, with a smoking VISA, the proud owner of flights, a hire car, and a beaming smile.

Details you say?  OK.

We are flying with Thomas Cook on the 20th of August from Manchester.  Now these are not ordinary Thomas Cook flights (the oft discussed 29″ seat pitch, no telly, and the meal is a rotting apple if you are lucky), oh no this is the ifinitely more expensive normal flight with a whopping 33″ seat pitch, and a seat back telly…..EACH!!

I also discovered the joy of Quidco, so made back a whopping £8 into the bargain.  The car, also via a Quidco link, earns me multiple pounds back from Alamo.  We fly into Sanford, which is where we have flown to more often than not, so this is fine and dandy with us.

I am currently in negotiation (and prayers) with my lovely DVC friends, to see if they are using their points this year.  I won’t find out till next week, and this is in no way highly frustrating.  I am in the hellish limbo of not knowing whether I need to find a villa (if one is still free for our dates in the whole of Florida!), or to book perhaps some on site stuff via the Disney UK site and get free dining and stuff.  Until I know, I will be pretty unbearable.

Anyways, I am not complaining as until Monday my 40th would have been spent at our local Frankie and Bennys no doubt, so DVC, cardboard box…makes no odds really.

The usual maze of tickets still baffles me but I have several spreadsheets on the go, each involving complex macros, taking into account the phases of the moon, high tides and average temperatures for our dates, so I can secure the best value tickets for our activities.  I shall book those once accomodation is secured.

This planning lark is hard work, and at some point I will do my day job again!!

So there we are, the Gods have smiled upon us, the trip is booked, and my significant birthday will be spent where it was always destined to.

I consider myself a lucky chap, well, a bit more lucky than I was a week ago, but I probably didn’t realise I was then, and I should!!!

Till the next time….

Lost in 3,000 fringes.

Youmeatsix and Forever the Sickest Kids. Whatever happened to sensible band names like what we had?? Kagagoogoo, Bow Wow Wow, They Might be Giants and of course The Goombay Dance band.

Youmeatsix signing
what do you mean you've never heard of them???

Friday saw two very excited girls travel to Manchester to not only watch, but also meet one of these “bands”, and to say they enjoyed it would be like saying I enjoy a buffet. An under statement of huge proportions (did someone say huge portions?).

However, as with most things in life this did not run entirely smoothly. Having had weeks of build up to this event, with daily countdowns (honestly, who is so sad as to countdown to an event like that!!), and preparatory trips to Manchester earlier in the week to secure the required golden (well , purple) wristbands to ensure entry in to the signing, the girls were a little excited.

So when my phone rang around 3.30 pm on Friday I was greeted with a hysterical Rebecca, who after repeating herself a few times, I managed to gather that she had lost the tickets!! It took me a good five minutes to calm her down, and for her to breathe again, before I conducted an operation akin to air traffic control to find out where they were.

Louise’s mum had met the girls after school to pick up all their school stuff, and take it back home so they did not have to go to the gig with their school bags or indeed in school uniform (this was not an ACDC gig). So I had Rebecca on my mobile making wailing noises, whilst I called my mother in law on the landline, at our house to try to locate the tickets.

It took a little while to explain what was happening, and even longer to communicate that they did not look like tickets, more like A4 pieces of paper….cos that’s exactly what they were!! Anyway, to save you the twenty minutes of stress and panic, eventually they were located inside a school book, deep within Rebecca’s school bag, and the day was saved. Rebecca got the tickets and made her train with minutes to spare.

As well as the photos here, you can, if you really want to, see the full album on a popular social networking site, although you may need to befriend Emily to do so.

Emily called me at around 5.30pm, hysterical for entirely different reasons, as she had just been met and hugged by Max and Josh from Youmeatsix. The exuberance of youth!!

Josh Youmeatsix
Josh, singing, not signing.

Roll on a few hours, and I am the designated pick up taxi for Rebecca and her friends (Emily was going back to sleep at her friend’s house via another taxi/parent). Our cunning plan to co-ordinate pick up locations was scuppered by Rebecca’s battery dying on her mobile almost as soon as she arrived, so I had to park the car up, and take my almost forty, obviously someone’s Dad frame into the sweaty masses as they poured out of the main entrance.

All Stars
Same difference

Stood amongst the obviously quite illegal fake merchandise sales folk outside the Manchester Apollo, I quickly realised that all 3,000 attendees of this event looked almost identical. Large fringe, checked shirt, skinny jeans, All Stars and a backpack. The chances of recognising my own daughter were slim, and what seemed like an eternity passed before Rebecca had the brains to phone me using her friend’s phone and tell me she was stood right behind me, across the road at a bus stop.

The journey home was a loud one with the girls still in concert shouty mode, as they regaled me with tales of (insert Band member name) doing something cool. My iPod was hijacked, and the likes of Hall and Oates, Jellyfish etc were banned as we had a playlist (DJ’d by Rebecca) of Youmeatsix and other similar looking types.

As if all that wasn’t exhausting enough, the weekend continued with Rebecca attending the X Factor Tour at the MEN on Saturday. Her new friend (Vicky, keyboard player in her band) invited her as they had a spare ticket. As cool as Rebecca obviously is these days, she returned with a Jedward poster, claiming them to be awesome. Oh dear.

Perfect Strager Poster
Poorer for the lack of white vests

Us normal old folk stayed in on Saturday and watched Perfect Stranger, with Bruce Willis (not a vest in sight) and Halle Berry. It was watchable but the film did not really live up to the cast, and Louise didn’t make it to the end before having to retire to bed.

Sunday of course, like nearly everyone in the UK, was dominated by the paying of homage to respective Mothers. In our house this looked like Louise and I being up before the kids, me wrestling Emily from her pit to come and give Louise her card and presents, and then a day of cooking.

First of course I delivered my breakfast speciality, of Eggs Benedict, before spending most of the day making Moroccan Lamb, as reciped by Jamie Oliver. Louise and I had this some time ago at our friends (Mike and Amanda) so we thought we’d give it a go. Our prep was less than perfect, as this entailed me being on the phone to Mike in Tescos on Saturday trying to remember the 312 ingredients, lacking a pen and paper. I did OK, and when reunited with the recipe on Sunday, I only seemed to have forgotten the fennel seeds, which surely cannot be essential to any recipe???

There was a lot of prep, and for some reason it turned out way too spicy for our invited audience (Mum, Dad and Louise’s Mum) so we had to do some remedial work at the last minute to calm it down. I enjoyed it anyway, and Louise’s Mum was only at A&E for an hour or two!!!

With what turned out to be a very hectic weekend behind us, we crawled to bed very early on Sunday and watched the Lost Boys, followed by a recorded Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. This was a cruel trick to play on my mind. Watching a programme so clearly linked with the start of the weekend on a Sunday made for a very confusing end to the day. I could just do with another Saturday and Sunday right about now.

Till the next time….

Alice, Archie and a Sugar Rush

You do not find me in the happiest of places.

I stare at my diary for the week, and my heart is filled with dread and horror at the utter nonsense I have to get through this week.  Presentations, disciplinaries (three of them!!) and generally stuff I really resent wasting my life on.  The desire for sunshine is immense right now, but alas not quite as immense as the gaping hole where my bank balance should be, so on I trundle, countdown-less.

Peter Capaldi
Angry Man!

The weekend shot by in record time it seems, and I find myself back at my desk again, tired and unrefreshed.  Last night however I did watch a superb film, which I caught by accident.  In the Loop was brilliant, witty, frenetic, and seemed to be over in about ten minutes.  A sure sign of a good film.  The character played by Peter Capaldi was pure genius, and is surely how everyone wants to behave at work, just for one day!!

Sunday also saw me escort Rebecca to her friend’s house to visit their new puppy Archie.  He’s a Bichon Frise (small white fluffy dog), and has cornered the market in cuteness.  Rebecca in turn adopted her puppy eyes in a desperate attempt to get one of her own.  Not a chance!!  We tried the puppy thing a few years ago, with a lovely Basset Hound called Truman, but heartbreakingly we had to rehome him as we just didn’t have the time he needed, as we both worked full time at the time.

I am never going through that again!!  In no way did I get emotional at the time, and “get something in my eye” as I handed him over.

Archie the dog
Cuteness be thy name

In what is sounding like an action packed weekend we also went to see Alice in Wonderland at our local cinema.  What a kerfuffle!  With our usual detailed advanced planning we decided to go about thirty minutes before it was due to start.  I tried in vain to book tickets on the website, and only encountered errors.  I even tried the quaint method of phoning them up, but still problems intervened.

In the end we just jumped in the car and drove there.  The queue we encountered was of WDW proportions….on New Years Eve…..for Soarin’.  Still, if I ran a cinema how could I have predicted such a large attendance on the weekend of the launch of one of the biggest films of the year!  Add to that, all the ticket collection machines were down too, so everyone had to join the queue, even if they had booked on the error ridden website!!  With this in mind it should have come as no surprise that only three staff were serving.

We resolved to queue but get tickets for the 7pm show, and adjourn to a local eatery to while away the intervening hours.  You can see how this was turning into a very expensive trip to the cinema.  Frankie and Bennys received our custom, with all the waiting staff in fancy dress to “celebrate” the launch of Alice in Wonderland.  If they knew about it, how come the cinema didn’t?  A steak ciabbatta later and we’re back at the cinema (via a swift detour to Asda to secure cheapo sweets as I needed petrol anyway), and lo, another queue to enjoy.

So after a lovely thirty minute wait we watched all the people we were queuing with earlier exit the film, and look at us in a weird way, wondering how and/or why we were in the queue for the film that they saw us queue up for earlier, with them.

Eventually we enter, and having queued we bag a good seat, and the pick n mix begins.  The film passes in a haze of fried eggs, chocolate raisins, white mice and mini eggs, and I hit a sugar induced coma just as the Jabberwocky appears.  Who said the drugs don’t work.  The film itself was better than I expected if I am honest.  I have never watched any version of an Alice film all the way through, from the animated Disney one to the cruelly low budget ones, such as a dreadful 70’s version with Fiona Fullerton.

I was pleasantly surprised to get into it (after what felt like a slow start) and actually enjoy it.  Good job, saying the whole trip cost north of £100!!  Tight, me, never!!!!

The other main theme of the weekend was Louise coming over all spring cleaner on us.  Apparently it was required that we and Emily swap bedrooms, which Louise did more or less unaided on her day off on Thursday, but the weekend meant a massive clear out of years of crud which we have accumulated nicely.  Needless to say a trip to the tip was in order, and about seven hours of pulling stuff out of wardrobes, looking at it, and then trying to push it back in again ensued.

No wonder the weekend went quickly!!  How I managed to fit in a good few hours of Call of Duty I will never know.

I also received a lovely email from a Dibber, who had spent the weekend reading my trip reports.  He was very complimentary about my ramblings which is always lovely to hear.  My ego knows no beginnings!!

This was an extraordinary email which really touched me (something in my eye again), as it outlined their own personal battles to get to Florida after Travel City went bang, and many other challenges seemed to be attracted to them.  Needless to say the troubles were overcome, they went to WDW and it changed their lives.  As the message ended with him telling me he’d just booked again, I lost all empathy and cursed the swine for being able to go this year when I can’t!!!  🙂

For clarity that was an attempt at humour.

Till the next time…..