Let me explain…or at least try to.

Girls with Mickey
Three of my favourite things

I have been incredibly lucky. Don’t get me wrong, at times I have also been incredibly unlucky, but the luck I refer to being good is that since 1999 I have been able to go on holiday to my favourite place more or less every year.

So in some respects, each year follows a similar pattern as the countdown does exactly that. Depending on how early we book, I mentally tick off certain landmarks of the year as they pass. If we booked nice and early, then this mean Christmas, Easter, and then as we get into summer, the passing of Rebecca and Emily’s respective birthdays in May and July tell me that we are getting close.

During a countdown that is usually months long, some weeks I don’t really think about our holiday. I know it is there, like a long term promise, don’t get me wrong, but other life stuff takes over, and I am swept along with it. The business of life doesn’t really impact this, as some other weeks I can do little else but think about our upcoming trip, even if I am rushed off my feet at work.

I suppose this is the main difference between “normal” holiday makers and those who see it as more than just two weeks away. A trip to Florida is pricey. You can’t get away from that, but to coin a phrase, it is the holiday that keeps on giving.

With the level of preparation and planning required over things like –

  • Flights
  • Accommodation (often several different places each trip)
  • Park Tickets – A million different combinations
  • Dining Reservations
  • Car Hire

and a host of other things, it can be, and some days is, a full time job.

Then upon returning to the UK, if you are so inclined (and I am) you can then continue to enjoy the holiday for weeks and months to come. This, for me, takes the form of writing my trip reports. This takes a while, and I usually don’t finish mine until late October.

Then, often the cycle starts again, as the next trip begins to cross my mind!

I know that many of you visiting my blog do so (very kindly) as you have read and hopefully enjoyed some of these trip reports. This means that all this will probably make sense to you. I do of course understand that there are those outside this “club” that simply don’t get it.

Holidays for those not of this mind set, can be a very simple affair, and they certainly would never dream of writing about it when they got back!! That’s OK. I am not in any way criticising anyone for this. I fully understand that I am not normal!

I have given up trying to explain to non believers what this is all about. Disney is only for young kids, it is a theme park (singular) like Alton Towers, and isn’t something that adults could enjoy for two weeks, with or without kids. I have heard this a million times. As I say, no point arguing. Besides, the more people who don’t get it, the shorter the queue for Soarin!!  If someone calls the Florida version Disneyland then you know they don’t get it at all!!!!

Last week has been one of the weeks when I have been thinking about the next trip. Aside from stressing about the abysmal exchange rate, I have been fine tuning the plan, and browsing various web sites, trying to inject a little of the Disney magic into an unseasonably cold and windy UK week.

I am re-reading for about the four hundredth time a couple of the Disney books we have hanging around. This all helps.

But why? What is it that keeps drawing us back?

Well, if I could put my finger on that, I could sell it, and make a fortune. All I can do is perhaps try to express how the place makes you feel.

In my rational mind, I fully understand that Disney is very much a for profit organisation. I can see the business elements hidden behind the magic, even as I hand over my handful of dollars, which I know is probably inflated for the privilege of spending them on their hallowed turf, but I don’t mind at all.

Magic Kingdom 1980
And so it begins....

Disney is built on nostalgia, on the legacy of generations, and of course family. It is a haven from the madness of the real world, and a sanctuary for a family to escape to, and make some memories.  The beauty of their business model is that we market to ourselves. For me, I was hooked early. I first went when I was ten, in 1980. We actually stayed in Miami, but drove up Orlando to spend two days at the Magic Kingdom, and the rest is history.

Now, WDW is a common language spoken by the extended family. I am by far the most addicted, but we’ve invested thirty years and unimaginable amounts of money in the place, and this means that every time we go back, we stumble across a memory, a half remembered episode of a previous trip that sparks a warm glow, or in some rare cases a shudder!! But the latter are very few and far between. Disney have somehow found a way, like childbirth, of having their guests forget about the time when they queued for Dumbo for two hours and had a one minute ride, or spent a day in a park when it was so busy you couldn’t see the pavement below your feet.

The special memories, and the place they hold in the hearts of my family are unique, emotive and unforgettable. I may be an extreme case, but I feel many things as I step onto Disney property –

  • Safe
  • Comfortable
  • Happy
  • Relaxed
  • Privileged
Magic Kingdom Castle
A heck of a pull.

I don’t have a favourite park, but the essence of the experience for me is the Magic Kingdom. Every penny that a trip costs is paid back on the first morning stroll up Main Street. The castle seems to draw everyone up Main Street towards it like some sort of friendly tractor beam, using smells unique to this one place on earth, sights that are both familiar yet ever exciting, and perhaps this is the crux of the experience, friendly, engaging, welcoming and highly professional Cast Members.

If you read any of the many books on the market that talk about some of the behind the scenes elements to how all this works, you know that the level of detail, and the attention to it is a massive part in the chasm between WDW and UK theme parks. Every smell, note of music and each blade of grass is there for a reason, and is controlled to be exactly as they want it to be.

This is where the detractors can be heard to bemoan the manufactured sterile nature of the place. I can understand that point of view. To be honest though, I live fifty weeks of the year in the non manufactured, natural, uncontrolled environment, and frankly, most of the time it sucks. With that in mind, I can suspend belief and normality quite easily and allow myself to be swept along with the magic.

I also think that there are two (well, there are hundreds, but bear with me) main types of holiday to WDW. Both are wonderful, and can honestly be a once in a lifetime (every year!), but they are different. This is where my Disney snobbery raises its head, be warned.

The first type of holiday is the one most probably undertaken by everyone going for the first time. If you haven’t stumbled across one of the many Florida planning forums you will still have a great time, but perhaps only skim the surface of the place and I have known people return from this type of trip and be less than impressed. One family we know were a case in point.

I spent not an inconsiderable amount of time writing up a series of tips, recommendations and things to avoid, all of which they seemed to ignore. Their main priority seemed to be that the hotel had a bar!! Having holidayed in the Med for years, their holiday focussed on the pool and as much alcohol as they could imbibe. Wow, I do sound snobby here, but let me explain.

Ironically had they read my tips, they may well have discovered an angle to Disney that not many do. One of the multiple faces of Disney, in their unending ability to morph themselves into the exact experience you are after, is the night time entertainment at places like Jellyrolls or Pleasure Island at Downtown Disney (which was still open when they visited).

As I type this, Louise is in the kitchen pursuing her hobby of ironing, and whilst she does she has Meatloaf blaring out. Right now the song playing only means one thing to me, and that is Jellyrolls. Paradise by the Dashboard Light is not a song I was really aware or fond of earlier in my life, and Meatloaf is by no means a regular on my iPod, but having had a couple of fantastic nights at Jellyrolls, this song now takes me there, and I can almost smell and taste the place, right here on my sofa in Bolton.

Disney even make getting drunk slightly magical, and classy, and you don’t really see that advertised on the telly…but it’s there if you know where to look.

So this second type of holiday is the one that sees the extra bits of Florida, the slightly more hidden gems of WDW, and you only tend to find out about these from –

  • Someone who has been there and discovered them
  • Knowledgeable folks on the internet
  • Guide books

For me it was a mix of all three, but I was pointed in the right direction by a colleague who had been a DVC member for years. He dropped the bombshell that you can wander around Disney resorts whether you are staying there or not. This opened my eyes, and the door to many hours of doing just that. With appetite whetted, my thirst was quenched with endless hours of internet use and book reading, and like most things, you only realise what you know when you try to explain it to someone else.

In the case of the family I gave the tips to, I wish I hadn’t bothered.

As my colleague often quotes now, using a Star Wars analogy, back then I was the young Jedi to his Obi Wan. I have since spent many metaphorical years in the swamps with Yoda and I am now the one telling him about new things, and old, which I have discovered, and we can easily spend too many hours in the office swapping stories and experiences from our trips.

The real trick that Disney, and of course the rest of Florida have up their sleeve is that there is still so much to discover that despite all my trips and research, I still don’t know what I don’t know yet, and if I went every year for the rest of my life (what do you mean if!!) I would still find new things every time.

I’m not really sure why I have felt the need to write this post. I think it is undoubtedly part of the countdown process, and a rock to cling to in the seemingly unending passage of days to the next trip. I still don’t feel that I have managed to explain any part of why I feel like I do, and that is eternally frustrating.

There we have it I suppose. If what Disney did was easy, then everyone would do it. For their attention to detail, unending pursuit of excellence, insistence on quality, and the undefinable essence of magic, I salute them, thank them, and ask them to put the kettle on, as we won’t be long now.

Till the next time…..

Would they notice if I didn’t do my notice?

This working your notice lark is tedious beyond compare.

Not only am I now handing over longer term projects to other suckers…I mean colleagues, as I won’t be here to see them through, but I am also trying to get my head around my new job too.  So in effect, I’m busier than usual when you may think a notice period is a time for late starts, early finishes and lots of internet browsing.

Naturally, I have partaken quite heavily in all three of those activities too, as I am slowly turning down my give-a shit-ability for my old/current role.  That is easier said than done though, as ten years is a long time, and I have literally done the whole blood sweat and tears stuff trying to do a decent job for almost all of that time.  Stopping that, and “letting go” is tough.

So I’m four weeks in, and have another eight to do.  Sigh.

It’s funny after working somewhere for ten years that once you have taken the massive step of politely telling them where to stick their god awful job (ahem), your mind starts to wonder about the small things, the changes in routine that a new job means.  Let me list a few, as we haven’t had a list of any sort for a good few posts now…

The commute – I could do the calculations for how many times I have driven to and from my office, but frankly even I am not that bored…give me another few weeks though and I’ll know the exact number.  Anyway, my point is that I know the route, and the exact time required in all weather conditions and at all times of year down to the nearest second.  My new job is roughly an equal distance away but obviously a different route.  On the first day I shall have to leave before I go to bed to make sure I am not late!

The school run – My current job allows me to eject the kids at Grandmas each morning for their breakfast before school.  My new one probably won’t so we shall have to trust the little bleeders to get themselves out of the house unaided to catch a bus.  At thirteen and (soon to be) fifteen you would hope we can be confident of that…..

My fitness – You may well know I am renowned for my athleticism, toned physique and all round hunkiness, and this is due to a lunchtime ritual, usually three or four times a week in the gym at the hotel next door to my office.  Alas, this will no longer be possible in the new job, so despite the upside of saving £30 a month on the membership, I may well be thirty stone by Christmas!

My ability to do the job – A strange one you may think, but I feel I have made a decent fist of the current job, and have risen meteorically through the ranks over the last ten years, or more accurately, avoided being found out and sacked.  Starting a new role, at a new company, doing something pretty different is ever so slightly worrying.

World Cup Trophy
Didn't Jules Rimet play for Bolton?

There are a thousand other little niggles, and being frank, this seemingly endless notice period is just giving me more time to fester over them.

By the time I start my new job England may have won the World Cup (and I don’t mean cricket), Wimbledon will have happened, the girls will more or less have finished another school year, and Katie Price, after becoming pregnant with triplets, will have had a third boob installed so she can feed all three at once whilst posing for her OK shoot.

So whilst I have always been quite satisfied with my three months notice period, thinking that the buggers will need to throw me a load of cash if they wanted to make me redundant, I am now on the flip side of that, contemplating insulting the MD or assaulting someone in the canteen to secure an early exit.

Minor criminal acts aside, it looks like I am here till mid July.

On a totally unrelated topic, the annual ritual of desperately trying to lose a pound or two in order that I don’t need to buy any new holiday clothes has begun.  For most of the year, my trips to the gym are really just used to allow me to eat unlimited amounts of trash at weekend without ending up being winched through my front window.  Now that the time approaches where I actually need to be seen in public in a T Shirt and shorts, I have to reign back the calorie intake for the next few weeks/months.

Alan Partridge
The Boys are Back in the Barracks

Louise berates me every year to invest in new holiday gear, especially shorts.  Yes I may have had them for many a year, but I only wear them say twice each in a fortnight, so in elapsed wearing time they are probably the newest items of clothes I own.

If you’ve seen the Alan Partridge episode involving his shorts then I have some way to go until my boys are out of the barracks!  However many of my shorts are considerably older than Justin Bieber, but then again most things are.

They are also more entertaining too, but that’s another story.

What I haven’t done for a while is comment on the films we have watched courtesy of our Tesco DVD Rental club thing.  This weekend we had a couple that were enjoyable.  We started on with Law Abiding Citizen with Gerard Butler (who Louise fancies).

I had high hopes for this one, and it did keep my attention with a plot full of twists and turns, however it did start to stretch the bounds of realism after ten minutes.  I have no issue with that….I have after all watched Con Air more than once, but it just turned into a very different film than I expected.

We then settled in for what turned out to be the marathon that is 2012.  I had a feeling it was a long one, but did not expect the two and half hour marathon that followed.  Again, an enjoyable action packed film that more or less justified the numb bum caused by the length of it.  Of the two films, I’d say this was the more popular in the Williams household.

I hear there is to be a vacancy on Film 2010 after Mr Ross leaves the BBC.  Surely I am a cert for that role with such insightful film reviews?

I don’t think any other post to date has taken such a windy route from one unrelated topic to another, so it is probably best to draw to a close now.

Till the next time…..

Under 100 days to go….time to do some planning.

As we sneak under the 100 day marker, I thought I’d just post a brief update as to the plans etc.

As you can see from my Dibb Planner (and by the way these planner things are excellent) our plans for August are starting to come together.

Daytona Cubs Stadium
The only diamond Louise will see this year....

Most days are now mapped out, a few ADRs booked, and most recently we’ve decided to spend a day at Daytona Beach, then that evening watch the Daytona Cubs baseball team.  We’ve been threatening to do so for a few years now, so we’ve finally taken the plunge.

I looked at the Tampa Rays, who are Major League, but we’ve plumped for a minor league game (as it is about ten times cheaper) but also as a bit of research suggests these minor league games have a great atmosphere.  At $33 for the four of us, if ten minutes in the females are bored to death I don’t mind leaving.  Had we paid the $70 each for Major League I would have nailed them to their seats till the bitter end!!

ADR wise, after saying I wouldn’t be booking (m)any we have ended up with –

    Yak And Yeti, to round off our day at AK
    Kouzzinna on the evening of my birthday
    Captain’s Grille for an unfeasibly large breakfast
    California Grill for the last night of our hols.

      We last did Cali Grill about ten years ago, and the kids, having spent what we thought would be a rest day at Blizzard Beach, were knackered, and spent the meal either moaning, asleep, or trying to go to sleep, and we didn’t exactly appreciate the ambience etc.

      Now with the girls being 15 and 13 at the time of this trip, I suspect it will be the other way round.

      Hopefully with a 7.50 reservation, and Wishes at 10pm, we might be able to see the fireworks at the end of the meal.  I remember hearing something about the viewing of fireworks having changed at Cali Grill…anyone know for sure what the score is?

      Anyway, there isn’t much else to plan.

      I’m just waiting for the dollar rate to behave itself so I can book my tickets and get some spends.

      Till the next time…..

      A postcard from Drayton Manor

      As my trepidation filled previous post outlined, we were off to Drayton Manor on Saturday, and this meant a fairly painful early start to the day.  I was personally up at 6.30, and after a quick shower I was then stuck with the job of waking up Emily, Rebecca and Nat (Rebecca’s friend) in an attempt to get to the park before lunchtime.

      They were pretty good to be honest, and we left the house at 8am, only half an hour later than I felt would be ideal.  The SatNav predicted just under two hours, which should be fine for a 10am opening.  Indeed yes, we arrive at 9.40 (what do you mean I must have broken the speed limit?) and with a complete lack of queue, caused by the sub zero temperatures and what turned out to be constant drizzle for the entire day, we are into the park just before 10.

      Medieval Fringes

      How happy I was to learn then that the rides did not open until 10.30!! So we wander about a bit and try to kill some time and get our bearings. With the cold starting to turn apendages blue, we seek out an indoor space to cower in for half an hour.  A hot drink each sets us back the best part of a tenner, and we wait for stuff to be open.

      We then wander outside and see rides starting up, and decide to do a nice gentle one to get everyone warmed up.  It was a sort of Octupus style thing, but with Mexican Hats!!  Yes, I know.  A decent enough ride, apart from the fact that the bucket seats were filled with an inch or two of rain.  When asked if they were going to wipe the seats down, the “cast member” shrugged and walked back to the hut he started the ride from.

      So with moist bottoms, we endure the ride as the wetness made its way north.  Nice start.

      Apocolypse ride
      The Terror of a Tower

      Rebecca has turned into an absolute fear free zone in theme parks, and is not happy to realise that Nat, and to some extent Emily are less than daring with every ride.  This also impacts on me as I am now dragged onto the Apocalypse ride with Rebecca.

      Don’t get me wrong, I like most rides and fear very few, but I am less than keen on the ones that take you up a couple of hundred feet and just drop you to the floor.  Indeed, as we find ourselves walking straight on to the ride, and making our way up the tower (how bloody high does this go???) I did turn to Rebecca and tell her that I hated her!!

      She looked less than convinced that this was a great idea, but of course it was all too late now.  Sat at the top of the tower, having left my glasses with the attendant, I can make out rough shapes below, and it seems Louise was one of them, waving with a very wicked smile on her face.

      Those few seconds before realease were pure hell.  What few muscles I possess, I had them tensed.  Then, the fall happened.  My God.

      Feeling just a little sick, we stagger back to the other cowardly lot, and mentally make a note that we don’t need to do that ride again.

      The rest of the day is spent trying to avoid hyperthermia, and the heaviest of the rain.  They have some decent rides, like G Force, although the loading capacity is shocking, and the ride very short.  The girls enjoyed the pirate ship thing too.

      It is very obvious that someone from Drayton has been to Florida.  There are some things that have been lifted almost directly.

      They have the shark hanging upside down thing, just like Universal, and a couple of rides are sort of “own brand” equivalents of US rides.  The Happy Feet 4D cinema thing is sort of like Philharmagic/Shrek 4D, but just less good!  As an example, during the show it won’t surprise you to learn that the seats move, and some water is sprayed on you.  We sat on the front row, and I wondered why every time the audience screamed at getting wet I was wasn’t.

      As I left the show I realised why.  The jet of water was aimed perfectly at my crotch.  A large target area I grant you, but I spent the rest of the day looking like I had poor bladder control.

      The ultimate rip off though is the Pirate’s Adventure ride.  The attempted similarities to Pirates of the Carribean are beyond uncanny, from the entrance/queue, to the boats, even down to the scenes as you go around.  The scene with the dog holding the keys is identical, although the dog at Drayton is a goat….yeh, we couldn’t work that out either.

      It really is a complete rip off, scene by scene, just on a crapper level, with much poorer execution.

      Bearded Dragon
      Is that lamp portable, I'm freezing?

      The zoo is OK.  The highlight of the day was the reptile house.  The reason being it was lovely and warm, and we spent a long time in there!

      I am aware that my level of negativity isn’t good, and it might sound snobby to say that if you hadn’t been to WDW, you might not have the same opinion.  Snobby it may be but I think it is true.  I can’t help that really.

      As expected the staff were young kids, with little or no interest in the guests, just going through the motions.  This is the essence of the difference between the UK and US experience.  No-one was rude really, just bored, cold and looking forward to going home, which spookily is how we felt too.

      To be fair, Rebecca enjoyed the rides, so in terms of her birthday outing it was fine, and gladly she and Emily took it all in the right spirit.  Yes, we know it isn’t Florida, but we’ll make the best of it.  Maybe some day they can teach me that level of maturity!

      I tweeted a couple of times during and after the day, and I was mildy impressed to find that Drayton Manor has replied to one tweet where I said…

      “Back from Drayton Manor, kerrriiiist it was cold!! Dominos ordered, heating on. If I say I’m going to a UK theme park again, shoot me”.

      They said…

      “That seems a little drastic, maybe just wait for the summertime when it’s warmer?!”

      Rebecca and Nat
      Girls just wanna have fun....

      I’m sure a warmer, drier day would make all the difference, but then again, that would mean higher crowds, and the prospect of a long queue for the rides there would just upset me more!  Alas, the weather is not the issue really.  It is the fact that all UK theme parks (that I have visited) are tacky, a bit dirty, have surly staff and charge more than their US counterparts, which are none of those things.

      This I think also contributes to that glazed, knowing expression you see on people’s face when you tell them you are going to Florida (for the umpteenth time).  The lack of comprehension is palpable, and it is clear they try to reconcile their knowledge of UK themeparks with flying for nine hours to spend two weeks in one.

      It is like saying you are going watching the local Sunday League footy match, when you’ve been a season ticket holder in the Premiership.  The concept is the same, but the standard and the execution is woefully inferior.  This of course doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the Sunday League match, but given a choice most would choose the Premiership…especially if it was costing you the same to watch both!!

      I fear I am a lost cause, probably not representative of most visitors to a UK theme park, and looking at their Twitter feed, they do indeed have lots of positive feedback from customers after their visits.  So maybe the quality of the park is not the problem, maybe it is my expectations?

      Oh yes, we always had some sort of political event this week too, but I don’t have the time, knowledge or will to comment on this trivia when a major event like a chance to slag off a UK theme park has presented itself!!

      All I will say is that I have found the events quite riveting, which is probably quite sad….anyway…

      Till the next time…..

      Breaking my own rule.

      This Friday (tomorrow as I write this) it is Rebecca’s birthday.  Over the years, having exhausted every single birthday option from McDonalds, to Wacky Warehouses, petting zoos, and in latter years, discos (don’t I sound groovy) in scout huts, and house parties, we have struggled to find something cool enough for Rebecca this year.

      She is turning thirteen, so a happy meal and a stroke of a sheep isn’t really in order.

      Her decision/preference was Alton Towers.  Now, you may or may not know that I am allergic to UK theme parks due to my over exposure to the abject excellence of US theme parks.  I have tried in the past to appreciate them in Blighty, and failed.

      However, for the sake of my youngest I had a look at the web site.  How much??????

      It turns out that on Saturday, when we plan to go, there is an event on at Alton Towers, which will see thousands of young Christians attending the park.  So, a UK theme park, at weekend, with an inflated crowd.  I think not.

      A little bit of googling later and she decides on Drayton Manor instead.  We are taking one of her friends too, so I have had to sell a kidney to fund the day.  I am full of trepidation about the outing to be honest, partly because the weather forecast looks “changeable” to say the least, with strong winds and rain predicted.  Can anyone say Kagool?  I am also trepidated (I say it is a word!) as I always leave a UK theme park feeling bereft of pleasure, money and a sense of well being.

      UK Theme parks are more often than not

      • Dirty
      • Cold
      • Staffed by ASBO holding teens
      • Cheap in terms of quality
      • Expensive in terms of admittance
      • Full of horrible food at Five Star prices

      Now I appreciate that my opinions may affect my ability to enjoy said UK outings, but I’m hoping that anyone with experience of a theme park on the other side of the pond will understand the sentiment?  If you haven’t been to likes of Walt Disney World Resort or Universal Resort, my embittered ramblings here may not resonate.

      I do hope for a good day out, for Rebecca’s sake though.  She certainly enjoys the large rides these days, and hopefully, as her birthday “do” it will tick the boxes for her.  I shall try my bestest not to stand around tutting all day, as the wintry winds and icy rain pour onto my £50 lunch.

      Please, if you feel the same, feel free to back me up.  Also, anyone with experience of an excellent day out at Drayton Manor can also reassure me I would not be better burning the cash and watching the videos of our previous Florida trips instead.

      Till the next time…..