The Best Kept Big Fat Secret.

So what on earth could I blog about today?

Depending upon your willingness to endure the tweets/facebook stati of me or any of the family, you may or may not have heard some exciting news. I thought I should confirm and finally confess that despite everything I have been saying for the past few months, we ARE going to WDW this year.

Firstly, I have to apologise that I can only reveal this now, as we actually booked back in early March.  However there is a very good reason for this evil deception.  If you feel bad that I have kept this from you, just imagine how Emily felt!

Emily only discovered that we were going this year on Friday evening as this “surprise” trip was always intended as an 18th birthday present for her.  We were absolutely sure we would not be going this year…really….but earlier this year, as our thoughts turned to her upcoming 18th, we had been struggling to think of something to buy her to celebrate what we think of as one of two significant milestones, the other being a 21st birthday.

We talked about getting her an old banger, as she has recently passed her driving test, but to be honest we didn’t think she’d be too excited with that and wouldn’t use it as much as the investment in the insurance may merit. She’s glad she can drive, but not a driving fanatic if you know what I mean. Plus, we’d only just insured her on my car for the year, so that was a non starter really. We certainly couldn’t afford to insure her on two cars.

We thought about a theatre break in London.  She would love to see Les Miserables or Wicked, but some research into that saw the costs quickly tot up to something that wouldn’t be worth it (in our view) for just 48 hours in the capital.

Of course, we also looked at DLP, to tick the Disney box, but as ever, for just a few short days those costs mounted up too, and we really struggle to see value in just a few days in unpredictable weather….and of course it is in France with French people.

So with all those discounted, what to do?  After lots and lots of thought we asked ourselves a simple (loaded) question.

What one thing would she choose were she able to?

With that, there was only one possible answer, and so we bit the bullet and made the decision.

It always comes down to a comparison between the cost of something and the expected cost of going to WDW doesn’t it?  All the other options were clocking up prices large enough to be compared to a WDW holiday and so that then became a consideration.  Ultimately, I suppose we see better value for money despite the vast amounts involved.

This decision took enormous self-sacrifice of course as we’d have to go with her!! However, it did take lots of financial sacrifice as pretty much everything we wanted to do to the house has been put on indefinite hold.

To say that is has been difficult to keep this a secret for all these months would be a huge understatement, and the amount of times myself and Louise have almost let it slip is incalculable.  Also, sitting watching Emily physically pine for Disney on a daily basis has been painful, knowing that we are going but not being able to tell her.  It’s like having the antidote for an illness but not being allowed to administer it.

This was because we wanted to reveal her present on her birthday, obviously. We figured this would make the day memorable for her.

Since we booked in March Emily has spent much of her spare time watching a lot of You Tube videos on our telly all about Disney.  There have been so many times when Louise or I have almost said things like “Oh we can do that when go” etc etc. How we made it to her birthday I will never know.

We were doing so well, but we made the fatal mistake of increasing the risk by telling other family members. With just over a week to go to the big reveal, Louise’s Mum came round to let us know that we needed to be careful as there had been an unusual number of burglaries in the area, and that we should close all our windows when we go out, and when we go away make sure everything is secure!!

With Emily in the room, Louise desperately tried to express via facial expressions that she’d dropped a clanger whilst verbally telling her of course we would do that if we were to go away ever, but we had no plans! Luckily I was not there at the time as rugby tackling a pensioner and wrestling them to the ground may be frowned upon by the authorities.

We also had the issue of when to tell Rebecca. We had kept her out of the loop for as long as we could, knowing how hard we were finding it not to let it slip out, as we knew it would only increase the risk further. But in early July we had to allow her into the “circle of trust”.  This was because her boyfriend Tom was turning down offers of holidays from friends and family as he thought Rebecca was not going away this summer. So we told her, and after some initial upset and panic at the thought of Tom having missed out only now to find she would be away, all was well.

Tom did manage to arrange a holiday at more or less the same time that we would be away, and so love’s young dream was rescued.  Rebecca’s excitement levels have been at “high” since and to her credit she has kept the whole thing to herself.

It has also been very difficult for me planning wise, as normally half the fun of these holidays is all the research and arranging of stuff, but of course only if you can share that across large parts of the internet. It has felt strange to know that we are going but to keep up the facade that we were not at all times. You may have noticed whenever I was asked if we were going this year I’d say something like “I can’t report any trip this year” or “No, I can’t say we are going this year”.  So I didn’t really lie!!

The reveal itself was the subject of a fair bit of thought and planning, so I’ll cover that before I go into the details of the trip.  All along we’d had an idea of putting together some sort of video montage of her growing up, culminating in the reveal of her present.  This seemed more fitting than just handing her a card with a message in or just telling her.

So after going out for a celebratory meal on Friday…..

Emily and her Nana
Emily and her Nana
First legal drink
First legal drink
Emily and her Grandma
Emily and her Grandma

We came back to our house for the present giving, drinks and cake. Emily had specifically requested one of Louise’s cheesecakes and not some shop bought birthday cake!

Emily and 18 candles
Emily and 18 candles

We had earlier in the day given her a Pandora bracelet as her “present” and bless her she was thrilled.  After she’d unwrapped everyone else’s presents once back from the meal we then told her we had something else to show her and settled down to watch this…it lasts a good few minutes and please make sure your speakers are on!

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So that you can get an idea of Emily’s reaction, I had Rebecca video her watching it. Don’t worry this is just a video of the last vital few seconds not her watching the whole thing!

The tears went on for quite some time, and not just from Emily.

It is almost impossible to put into words Emily’s level of love for WDW, and her passion and obsession seems to have grown knowing (or thinking) that we would not be going back this year. That video of her reaction is the very definition of joy.

So what does the plan look like?

Here we go with the booking back story.

With a green light to get stuff booked, but a severe lack of actual funds to do so, of course flights were the starting point, immediately followed by abject horror at the state of prices. You’d think with both girls out of school now we’d be picking up flights for ten bob as we are not strictly tied to term times.  Alas no, Louise has taken up that mantle and her holiday dates from Uni have all the flexibility of sheet of polystyrene.

I can’t wait till Louise qualifies! We shall be going in the depths of February with flights for £7.35.

To cut a very long story short, at the time of searching (and there was a lot of searching) I found some flights for around £550, indirect, which was astonishingly good compared to the norm of £800+. The only catch was that we couldn’t get the exact dates we wanted/needed, as flying on the exact dates to get back for Louise’s new term meant the prices went silly. So these more reasonable flights came back on the right day but meant we’d have to fly out a day later than we wanted, so we would only be able to do thirteen days. However as this was a saving of around £1000 for the four of us it was just a no brainer.  Literally going on the 17th rather than the 18th would have increased the flight costs by about a quarter.

Having watched my Kayak alerts email report ever more silly prices on a daily basis since booking, I do feel quite good about what we paid.

So we fly out via Chicago on the 18th of August and back on the 31st (my birthday) via JFK with American Airlines, booked through Orbitz.

Accommodation was fairly straight forward, as our (lack of) budget and the desire not to spend two weeks all in one room pointed us towards a villa for most of our stay.

When the girls were much smaller, all of us being in one room was very do-able. Now, with us being effectively four adults, and with three of them having a “getting ready” cycle measured in hours it just isn’t practical for any length of time, simply because we need more than one bathroom. With one bathroom between us, my sulking at not being at a theme park before lunch may ruin the whole holiday.

Add to that the sheer amount of electrical devices, lotions potions and powders involved, there physically wouldn’t be room for all of us in one room, and I’m not leaving any of my skin and hair care products at home for anyone.

I did fancy a few nights on site though, and we’d be happy to do one room for a night or two.  Having rented some DVC points from a friendly (and very discrete) Dibber (Thank You Debbie), we tried to secure somewhere to stay. We did want Vero but there was just no suitable availability, and so we worked through what were quite limited options for WDW properties as we were fairly late to the party booking wise.

We were delighted to secure three nights at Old Key West to start the holiday. We’ve never stayed there before but heard lovely things about it from our DVC friends Steve and Di who have that as their home resort, having bought into DVC in about 1938 when it was the only resort available.  Crucially I believe the rooms there to be slightly bigger than the more recent DVC resorts, and they actually have two real beds rather than one and a sofa bed.  Again, a sofa bed for the girls at 16 and 18 is just a non starter.

Villa wise, we have gone for location first as ever, and secured a lovely looking place on Lindfields for ten nights. We have stayed on Lindfields several times before, and along with Sunset Lakes is probably the best location in our opinion for our needs.

Some months later, as often happens, a less than inspiring day at work led to my mind wandering to the holiday, and the plan, and the addition of a night away at the beach. We have previously loved an impromptu stay at the Hilton at Daytona, and with a little bit of internet and a smattering of Quidco I found a room for the very reasonable sum of less than £70! Another no brainer, and that means two lovely days at the beach.

Park tickets were a simple affair, and this was just a matter of finding the cheapest 14 day ultimate on offer and that was done and dusted.  Quidco again…Kha-ching!

Car hire too was straight forward. US Rent a Car is my usual port of call, and again it proved to be very reasonable, and allows you to secure a car with just a deposit.

A meet was arranged with Jakki and her family as usual (thank you too for the secrecy!), and we’ll be meeting up for a meal at Roaring Forks and a watch of Wishes from the spectacular and impressive bar at the top of Bay Lake Tower. It does indeed pay to have friends in high places. This will be on our first day and their last. Spare yourself any feelings of pity for them as they will have been on holiday for around seven months by then!

Dining wise, you may know that in recent trips our on site ADRs have been few and far between. We don’t do the Dining Plan, (we simply couldn’t eat that much food you know!) and we love so many off site eateries that we’d feel like we were missing out. However, there was one place we had to try to get into, and it wouldn’t be easy. Be Our Guest had become an obsession of Emily’s since the opening of the new Fantasy Land, and believe me we’ve watched every video of it on You Tube.

A small amount of research told me that getting a reservation would be harder than having a sensible debate on the Dibb without the usual clowns getting the thread closed. The date upon which we could book ADRs had long since passed, and so, one lunchtime I was messing about on the WDW web site and app, looking up stuff and I wandered into the dining reservation bit.

With little to lose other than time and my job, I tried a few date and time combinations for Be Our Guest all to no avail.  However, one last try brought success, and I quickly completed the booking hardly able to believe my luck. Maybe it was meant to be?

Our only other ADR is at the Mexico place in Epcot on our last night.  We’ll be there so I can cry uncontrollably at Reflections of Earth, so I’ve got us in at around 6.45 to save us having to drive off site to find food.

Our other eating plans involve the usual suspects, and these old faithfuls are just such a part of our trips that we cannot bear to miss them –

Olive Garden – The Lasagne is probably Emily’s favourite meal on the planet.

Applebees – I would wrestle anyone who comes between me and my Ultimate Trio.

Bahama Breeze – We have never had less than a superb experience here.

Romanos Macaroni Grill – A hidden gem.

Outback – A first night tradition.

We may stumble into Beaches and Cream at some point too for another fight with the Kitchen Sink. The current score is Williams family 1 Kitchen Sink 0.

So we now have, or at least can finally display, our shortest ever countdown to a trip. In just three short weeks we will be on our way. All this secrecy has meant that mentally I haven’t quite come to grips with the fact that we are indeed going again, but I’ll be working hard to do so very quickly now.

Will I be doing a trip report? I would think yes. This is your pre-trip report by the way!  I’m not sure where to put it yet, but there will be a collection of knob gags and turtle heads somewhere on the internet…probably the usual places.

So again, apologies for the blatant lies, but hopefully you can understand why and be forgiving.  Let the countdown commence!

Till the next time….

It’s Been Fur Too Hot for Oli

A bit of early bloggage this week, as I don’t want to be writing this thing at the normal time today as I will be watching the golf.

In the on-going soap opera that is the Williams way, it has been a fairly uneventful week to be honest, with the major events being as exciting as me being away with work for a couple of days, and Oli having a haircut.

With the weather as it has been for while now, what you don’t want to be is an Old English Sheepdog. As cute as he looks with a fuller plume, by the time he had kept Louise awake for three nights panting the hair had to go. I suffered a similar fate back in the late nineties and have never been the same since.

Cute but hot.

A few months ago, we invested in some decent clippers for Oli, as we were fed up of paying enormous fees to dog groomers. Having now shaved him twice, we understand that they are probably underpaid!

The right kit probably helps, as he is a wriggly bugger, and has some real issues with you shaving his legs. So after doing the easy bits on his body he then spends a couple of hours looking like he’s wearing wooly chaps. I can say there end the similarities between Oli and myself. My chaps are leather.

How very dare you.

So it took both Louise and I all of Saturday morning to get him to an acceptable state.  We then had more hair on us than Oli ever did.

Of course now he’s all ready for the heatwave, today it has been overcast and cool and he’s been snuggling up to anything with a temperature to keep warm.  I suspect we are not in his good books.

I’d like to do the same to both cats.  Not because they are hot, I’d just like to.

I timed my night away from home well.  It was officially the hottest day of the year, and to compound matters I was down south in Marlow, where everyone knows it is always at least five degrees hotter then the frozen north.

As I arrived at my hotel on Wednesday evening, it was very hot outside.  However as I opened my door it took me back to that first blast of Florida heat as you first leave the airport.  It appears that the central heating was on, and had been for some time.  With the outside temperature being over thirty degrees, inside it must have been knocking forty.

I wrestled with the radiators for a while to get them off, opened the windows, and stripped down to my undies.  Imagine a sumo wrestler on a single bed watching the telly.

With no breeze coming through the window I had to eventually leave the room and go for a walk as the outside temperature was refreshing compared to my room.  I did a good hours walk, worked up a nice sweat and went back to my room to find the place no better.  I stood in a cold shower for twenty minutes before going to bed where I enjoyed a good half hour or so of uninterrupted sleep.

My walk did allow me to discover a lot more of Marlow than I ever have before, which has pretty much been the office, my hotel room and Pizza Express, and it really is a beautiful place.  I couldn’t however even afford to look in the estate agent’s window.

I was back home Thursday evening, and we’ve been planning Emily’s birthday celebrations since.  We’re all out for a meal on Friday evening (about fifteen of us) once everyone has finished work, and then it will be a “gathering” back at our house for her to open her presents.

No doubt next week’s blog shall share the details with you, plus a few photos.

Right, time for golf.

Till the next time…..

Teen Angst and Healing Hugs

Life is random and unpredictable.  The more foolish amongst you may think that I have these posts planned days in advance, and come to the keyboard with thoughts fully formed.

Those knowing me better may guess that I often stare at this white page after Sunday tea without a thought in my head, which is indeed no different to any other time of the week.

So up until this morning I had nothing and would have waffled on about some inane stuff, as usual, but events, as they often do have given me cause to press the keys.

As is becoming more the norm these days, I am getting my news via Twitter.  This morning I was doing just that having woken far too early to be acceptable for a Sunday.  The very sad news that I saw was that an actor from Glee had been found dead in a hotel room.  Cory Monteith it seems, has joined the ever-growing list of those who have found fame, fortune and the perils that accompany it at a young age, and although nothing has been announced yet, and we must not assume, looks to have died as a result.

Cory Monteith
Cory Monteith

Now, I am no Gleek.  To be fair, I thought the first series was original and watchable, and had all the best intentions.  Later series seem to have forgotten why it existed and instead of having the collection of “wrong uns”, have drifted towards a cast of the young and beautiful instead, which sort of defeated the object of the whole thing.

Anyway, Glee is one of those programmes were it is non negotiable that we watch. Emily loves it, and lives it.

Having taken in the news of his sad passing, it then dawned on me what the impact of this may be on Emily.  Nearly eighteen she might be, but this was bound to hit her hard.

An hour or so later, she appeared downstairs and literally collapsed in tears.  She has been very fortunate in that in her eighteen years on the planet, she hasn’t yet really experienced the loss of a close relative, and the closest thing to date had been the loss of our Cocker Spaniel a couple of years ago.

Such was her affection for the programme and its cast, she has taken this news as if she had lost a family member.

Some may say she should grow up, or get some perspective, but it is easy to forget the attachments you make to things as you grow up, and all we can be is supportive I suppose.

In a way I’d rather she were vulnerable, emotional and maybe even a little young for age, as the alternative is a little bleak.

She continues to mourn in her way, and has just made it downstairs after a full day in bed, red-eyed and weary, and sits hugging a cushion and her phone on the couch.  If there was a way to take her pain away I would, but only time will do that I suppose.  Dad’s hugs can only do so much!

Although of course, this young actor’s death hasn’t left me in bits, as I am old, wizened and devoid of that youthfulness she possesses, I do feel for his family and friends, not only having to deal with loss, but also with the media frenzy.  If it does turn out to be another death from “abuse” of some substance or other, I will struggle to be over sympathetic.  You may recall my disdain when Amy Winehouse died?  I of course just do not understand the “celebrity” world, and why these talented wealthy individuals have to shove stuff up their noses and veins in order to get through the day.  They need to try working for a living instead.  It’s a miracle that my daily commute hasn’t led me to Class A drugs or a murderous rampage yet.

Well, I suppose as they do not understand the daily grind, I of course do not understand the pressures and pitfalls of fame.

Onto more serious stuff.  My illness lingers.  I have had a bobbins week, full of snot, coughing, aches and snot.  Whilst I am now seeing light at the end of the tunnel, I could still wallpaper a large room with the contents of my nasal passages.

I’d like to thank all those who enquired after my health this week.  I’d like to, but, well you know the rest.

Looking ahead, we are now entering the final countdown.  Not like most years when at this stage I am bouncing of several walls at the promise of our two weeks in WDW.  Alas, no, I cannot relay that excitement.  This countdown is to the end of Emily’s childhood.  She turns 18 on the 26th of July, and we are thinking of suitable ways to mark the occasion.  Hopefully she will have recovered from her broken heart in time.

This coming week she resumes work on these here WDW home movies I have been teasing for the past few weeks.  To add the required kick up the arse she may need to get out of bed in the AM, the You Tube channel has now been set up, and should you wish to subscribe that would perhaps add the required pressure to have her complete one and post it.  So please, click through and subscribe folks.

Mkingdon's Kingdom
No pressure Emily!

Right, Glee’s on the telly, I may be required to dispense a hug or two.

Till the next time…..

Proms, Paracetamol and Plenty of stuff going wrong.

There can be little surprise about the subject of this week’s diatribe.  Anyone even close to following or friending any of us will have guessed already.

That’s right, I have a cold.  I am deep into day three of this hell, and there is little sign of any escape.  I have barely mentioned it I know, but this is because I am as weak as the proverbial kitten and find it hard to press those tweeting buttons in this life threatening state.

Sure, the irony of having a cold on the hottest days of the year have not escaped me.  I add to the ironic list of “crap” that has befallen us in recent times.  Allow me my persecution complex, with the usual caveat that I’m lucky that these are my only troubles.

We’ve replaced a dishwasher, a shower, two tyres and paid for a prom and all it entails in the last two weeks, and today whilst out with the dog he’s gone and hurt his leg which will involve a costly visit to the vets no doubt, with a fee just nicely below the excess on his insurance policy.  Sigh.

There is little worse than a me feeling sorry for himself, and the only thing that is, is a me feeling sorry for himself with a cold. Meh!

Speaking of paying for proms, I shan’t let this post descend into a gratuitous moan about the ridiculous sums parents (of girls especially) are pressurised into paying.  Instead I shall celebrate the glorious glamour and maturity of my youngest daughter, much as I did with my eldest just a couple of years ago.

With literally months of preparation, the big day came last Thursday.  How handy it was that another of these seismic landmarks happened the Thursday before (Emily passing her test) as Rebecca had an appointment list longer than Max Clifford at the BBC all day.  She’d had her nails done, and needed a spray tan, hair appointment and to be at the pick up point at around 5pm.

Emily then was designated chauffeur for the day.

On that point, it does appear to be an epic summer event wise with leavings of schools, exams, driving tests, proms and if things carry on breaking, bankruptcy.

At around 4.30pm Rebecca emerged looking like a million dollars, which is ironic as it had cost……OK, I said wouldn’t do that.

Rebecca Prom Dress
I made that!

She looked beautiful.  I would say that even if she didn’t but she did.

We then all took her to the limo collection point, a friend’s house, where eighteen “kids” were gathered along with countless relatives and friends all keen to get the photographs and memories that they had invested so much in.  (I’m having that one!).

Luckily it was a lovely evening, and after an hour or so of a multitude of dresses and suits arriving they were ready for the off.  The limo parked up outside, and more photos happened.

Rebecca and Tom Limo
Rebecca’s Tom

Rebecca’s boyfriend Tom had come along to see her off.

The sense of relief as they all got into the limo and drove away was enormous.  Mums and Dads all breathed huge collective sighs of relief.  Thankfully with both mine now done that should be it till they get married.  As I am insisting on Florida weddings for both that doesn’t bother me too much!

All 18 fit in that car!

Of course it is odd and nostalgia filled to see your own child all grown up, leaving school and all of that but when you group together eighteen of them, most of which you’ve had at sleep overs, parties and all sorts of events for the past twelve years or so, it is fairly surreal.  Most of the gathered parents waving off the limo were also stood together outside of nursery, primary school, brownies, guides and eternal school discos over the years.

It felt like we should have a prom to celebrate the fact we may never see each other again!

To cement and confirm my fast acceleration into my inevitable old age and death, at the end of the night, Emily drove to pick her up.  I went with her as

  • She didn’t know where she was going
  • She had never driven in the dark before

It was just a surreal night all round as I sat next to my daughter in the car waiting for my youngest to appear.  The night was declared “OK” with all the usual enthusiasm of a teenager, and with that the night was done.

Just the collection of A level and GCSE results to do, and our connection with the school will be done forever.  Unless one of them becomes a teacher and works there which I have to say is an unlikely career choice for either of them, but you never know.

With those thoughts and wise words I am away to indulge myself in the fallacy that you should feed a cold.  I for one am not likely to disobey such sound medical advice.

Pass me the Bourbons.

Till the next time….