Those familiar with holidays in Florida will understand that they are not simple and straightforward. With the advance of technology, it could be argued that the planning of them is getting more complex, with the need to use apps and web sites to arrange your eating and riding preferences many weeks before you will actually do them. This extensive planning is one of the best things about these trips, as it extends their reach into your non-holiday life and the excitement builds for months before you step on a plane.
If there was a scale of complexity in holiday planning, then I think the one you are about to enjoy with us would be a contender for the top ten. Some of the easiest trips we’ve had over the years have involved just the four of us (my wife and two daughters making up the four) and have gone like clockwork. Should you wish to read about any of our previous trips you can do so in my books or various places online.
This trip, by intention and design turned out to be one of the trickiest and most complicated adventures we’ve done. Much of that was down to the size of the party. Here’s the full cast list for you….
Me – Craig, forty something Dad, blogger and trip planner.
You know what I look like, so here’s one from the archives!
Louise – Wife, mother, sunbather and red wine sponge.
Rebecca – Youngest daughter, eighteen years old, glamour puss, selfie expert and drama queen.
Sarah – Rebecca’s friend, also eighteen, party starter, bundle of energy and Florida first timer.
Tony – My Dad. Grandad, full-time golfer and apprentice Alzheimer’s.
Margaret – My Mum, Nana, full-time golf widow and semi-pro shopper.
Add to the mix that Rebecca left her boyfriend behind and her need for WiFi would exceed that for oxygen, Emily would be starting work for Disney during the trip and the enormous range of ages in our party and it was clear that my planning skills would be tested to the maximum. It is hard enough consulting busy day guides and planning our activity around food consumption, but then you add in the unknowns of Emily’s shift patterns and training and the day-to-day itinerary gets to the point where you throw a six to start and see what happens from there. You’ll know that I am calm and relaxed about these things, so none of that would be a problem, right?
So this trip, in many ways would be a landmark one. For a start the kids were no longer kids (yet I’m still paying for them somehow!) and Emily would stay behind in Florida, completing her own personal fourteen year journey from Disney fan to Disney Cast Member. For that reason and a few more besides, this journey would be an emotional roller coaster (this is getting like the X Factor!) and things after the trip would never be quite the same again.
With that in mind, if you are still willing to join us then step this way as we begin the Adults Only Tour 2015.
Day One – Thursday 27th August
This trip started as most tend to with a very early alarm. During these early pre-flight hours I am the veritable busy bee, charging around the house doing stuff that nobody should when they are technically on holiday. At something past 4am I found myself emptying the bin, changing cat litter and generally tidying the house in preparation for anyone wishing to break in during our trip. More of that later!
What I didn’t know was that instead of undertaking these non-essential tasks I should have been concentrating on more important stuff, like making sure those travelling were awake and out of bed. With the taxi due to collect us at 6am, I casually poked my head around Rebecca’s bedroom door at about 5.20 as it seemed, quiet….too quiet. The reason for the quietness was that she was still asleep! She had slept through her alarm and she would now need to fit her three-hour getting ready routine into about fifteen minutes. I left her and her bottom lip to it, unable to reverse time for her and I set off to pick up Sarah from her house, which is about five minutes away. I arrived early, which, as Louise will tell you, is often the case. Sarah was up, dressed, ready and full packed. She had passed the test and would indeed be allowed to come with us after all. As we drove back past our house, I noticed that the house next door was in total darkness. This, you may think is not the most unusual thing to see at 5.30am, but you should know that my parents live next door to us and they to, should by this time be up, awake, fully packed and ready to go. Once parked up, I called them. They were the second part of our touring party to have slept through their alarm and they now had minutes to get ready too. Any sane person would have banned them from the trip at this point!
I returned home to find nobody as ready as I wanted them to be so I made myself a brew. My backside had been in contact with the couch for many seconds when Emily sent me a text (from her bedroom) asking me if I knew where her birth certificate was. This was the same birth certificate I had told her to locate about six weeks ago, knowing that she would need it for the endless Disney admin involved in starting to work for them, as Emily would during our trip. I casually started to rip the house apart to find said document and thankfully did so without too much stress and aggravation. This sort of last-minute panic is yet again evidence that no matter how long your countdown, how many months you have to think about this stuff, there will always be something you wished you’d done that you didn’t!
Once located, I took the birth certificate up to Emily in her bedroom, who still wasn’t ready, to find her suitcases still open and half her stuff across her floor. I could immediately tell that they would stay that way forever without some form of intervention. Grabbing stuff from Rebecca and Louise that would obviously not fit into their cases, I stuffed that into Emily’s cases and got them closed and ready to go. It says a lot that Emily, packing for eight months away had more spare room in her cases than anyone else did!
The taxi was five minutes early, which was not helpful as nobody was ready. I herded lots of females downstairs and hurriedly assembled some of them in front of the front door for the traditional photo. The rushed nature is obvious as –
- The front door behind them is open as my Dad had just come in to see why were not outside yet
- The girls look ill prepared for such a momentous occasion.
As stress levels were peaking about now, my camera decided not to work too. I had to quickly swap over to my phone to take these pictures. This was not the smooth start I had wished for.
I now wrestled seemingly endless luggage out to the cavernous spaces within our mini bus and this made me moist. It’s an odd fetish, but each to their own I say…don’t judge me.
Rebecca said a lengthy and tearful goodbye to Tom, her boyfriend, for which I was very sympathetic and allowed her multiple seconds to undertake. With everything and everyone finally inside the vehicle by 6.10, we finally set off for the airport. We had the “if you have tickets, passports and money, anything else you have forgotten doesn’t matter” conversation, which is sort of true unless you left the gas hob turned on or the bath running.
As we set off I got my camera out and had a fiddle to see why it wasn’t working. With a little coaxing it went off in my hand all of a sudden, which wasn’t a first for me. I suppose expecting it to perform immediately after months of inaction was wrong of me!
This is what the road from our house to the airport looks like, in case you were wondering. The jaunty angle is intentional and artsy don’t you know.
At this point I needed to ask the good folks of Manchester what on earth they were doing on the roads pre 7am when I have a holiday to get started? There was far too much traffic in our way as we navigated the narrow chicanes between the endless cones of the M60.
Having made the mistake of arranging the taxi for 6am, rather than the 5.30 my guts told me would be correct, we were now, with the fifteen minutes of lateness added in, forty-five minutes behind my ideal schedule. This was to be pretty much the case until we landed back in Manchester in just over two weeks from this moment. We made our way to the check in desks (9-23) for Thomas Cook and joined the frustratingly long queue. It didn’t take too long to get to the front and with only minimal tutting and bottom lip protrusion, we were done, and as we seem to have to do every time we make this journey, we had to drag one heavy case over to the special drop off point rather than wave it off onto the convenient conveyor belt behind check in.
Some may tell you that I am careful with money. I rubbish those claims now by telling you that I had personally invested in a security fastpass for all seven of the touring party. How joyous I was to discover that it was an absolute waste of time, as for the one and only time on the entire trip, we encountered no queue at all. As we got to the bit with the trays where you have to take all your clothes off and have an anal probe, a young security chap was in attendance. Rebecca and Sarah were up first and as he told them they would need to remove their jackets he couldn’t suppress a smile and leering look as they thrust their assets unintentionally their way.
As Grandad approached him next to fill his tray, he made a comment to said security guy about his lustful expression and the young chap admitted it was a perk of the job. His expression then changed slightly when Grandad pointed out to him that I was Rebecca’s Dad and she was only just eighteen. Surprisingly I then breezed through all security checks without a pat down or even a second glance.
Unfortunately Grandad was not so lucky having left his iPad in his hand luggage as it went through the X-ray machine. One body search later and we were all ready to go and find some food.
Here are the Rebecca and Sarah post security.
We had a Giraffe for breakfast, which was an interesting offering I thought as usually we have a fry up. As always seems to happen, the greeter at Giraffe was stressed, sharing tales of them being busy and service being a little slow. How could they possibly know in advance that breakfast time on an August morning in a major airport could be a little busy?
Here, I have to warn you, that my usual practice of listing out what everyone had and taking photos of it will be a little hit and miss on this trip. With a party this large, it is often impossible to hear and/or remember what everyone had and by the time I get the camera out those served first are halfway through and almost on dessert. Anyway, I do my best….
Me and Rebecca – Healthy Nut Bowl (this is not some sort of sporting cuppage device). Rebecca also ordered some eggs.
Louise, Grandad and Nana – A fry up of some variety
Emily – Brekkie Burger
Sarah – Sausage, bacon, egg and beans
For reasons that were never made clear, Sarah’s turned up on three separate plates. I get that she asked could she just have Sausage, bacon, egg and beans, rather than the full fry up offered, but the multiple plate thing was strange.
We all had juices, teas and coffees and Rebecca and Sarah had a cider, reflecting the prospect of them not being allowed to drink for the rest of the holiday. The bill was £89.
Once fed we split up into smaller groups to wander the shops. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t shake Louise with her inconvenient knack of buying stuff and Emily came with us too. Louise got some perfume which was in no way overly expensive causing me to sulk at the preposterous idea of spending that amount of money on a small bottle of smelly water. We got some snacks and stuff from WH Smith and then wandered to the gate, meeting the others there.
As usual we sat and watched in awe as folks created a huge queue to board the plane on which they have a reserved seat and waited in comfort.
When the queue was this long….
we joined it. At this point, I have recorded in my notes that I was already exhausted after a busy and stressful morning. I may be getting too old for this.
I challenge anybody to correct me on my assumption that no plane in the history of aviation has ever actually left the tarmac at the time it is supposed to do so. We pulled back from the gate a few minutes late and then taxied for what seemed like a couple of hours before engaging the engines properly and getting on with stuff.
Louise had popped her medication at the gate and now enjoyed, as she always does, the joy of take off by gritting her teeth, squeezing my hand occasionally and screaming out loud at every bump and change in engine noise. A good flyer, she is not. I must say though that this year both outgoing and on the return were two of the calmest flights I have done with her. The fact that we were both in tears for most of the return journey was probably a distraction, but you’ll need to stick around till the end of this whole thing to find out exactly why.
I’ll just point out at this point that the end that I refer to above may be some time away. You may have noticed that we have only just taken off and I have written a small novel. Hunker down…..get comfy…..we’ll be here a while.
So, we looked at this for many hours.
We upgraded the in-flight entertainment systems for £4 each which was worth it. See, smiling faces!
Louise made regular checks on the wings and engines. All seemed well.
Grandad did what he always does.
Still there, still not on fire.
Emily tried her best to catch up on some sleep, but Nana was having none of it.
We bought a few rounds of drinks…yes, bought.
We would have to see a doctor upon landing to see if we could get that phone surgically removed from Rebecca’s hand.
I watched American Sniper and enjoyed it and then enjoyed the bangers and mash. It left me feeling really bloated, but I always do after airline food, I don’t know why.
I was disgusted to see that after many hours of flying we were still just outside of Leeds.
If you follow my blog at all, you may have picked up that the build up to this holiday was long and at times complicated and stressful. It was now, as we sped our way to the magic that I could actually feel the de-stressing process starting to kick in. I was wound tighter than Rolf Harris’ belt buckle in cell block A, and it would be a few days yet before I really did feel the benefit.
I made the schoolboy error of going for a wee at the wrong time and due to the movement of trolleys and trolley pushers found myself stranded at the top of the aisle whilst they made their slow progress up to me. I was missing for about half an hour and Louise was getting quite concerned as I had the money and she wanted another drink!
I filled out the white customs form at this point, as usual cursing the lack of space in economy as I inevitably dropped the pen and had to fish around for it under my legs unable to fully bend without smashing my forehead into the seat in front.
Next, I watched Kingsmen, which passed some time, although I thought it was about twenty minutes too long and I think Emily did actually get some sleep at some point. Yet more drinks were purchased at vast expense without so much as a grumble from me, as my Diet Cokes were currently costing me about £25 a round.
With still many hours ahead of us in the blue yonder I waded into the third film of the flight, Tomorrowland. Again, it was OK, without rocking my world and it saw me through until our descent into Orlando began. It was at this point that the teenage girl sat in front of us said “We’re going down now”. She said it again a few minutes later. In fact over the next ten minutes she said it more than twenty times. I counted!
Resisting the urge to throttle her with my headphone wire, we made our seemingly endless drop into Orlando and hit the tarmac at around 3pm local time. Each year, I tell myself to relax and enjoy the journey and each year I fail. This year’s journey felt particularly full of faff and my aforementioned stress levels probably didn’t help things. I was very glad to be on US soil, but still tense at the thought of all the upcoming faff before we’d be set free onto the roads of America. As it always is on the Manchester side, the airport experience for me seems massively over complicated. Folks are always checking the same documents you had checked five minutes ago by someone else and you get asked the same questions multiple times too. I’m all for thwarting terrorist activity but unless my tracksuit bottoms were made from explosive hemp, I don’t think I look like much of a threat.
At baggage reclaim, we were the cliché that is getting all your cases but one very quickly and then standing tutting as the last one comes off last. Whilst waiting for the last case, which by the way, contained nothing of mine, I glanced at one of the last barriers between us and a car, that being the food/white form checkpoint. No queue existed which pleased me greatly.
Of course as soon as our last case was in our possession it looked like a crowd scene from Les Miserables and I was certainly Miserable about it. I made the queue go more quickly by tutting and huffing expertly and we were finally free, to join another throng of people waiting for the monorail. We inevitably made the “Por Favor Mantengese” joke (and if you don’t know what that is, we can’t be friends) as the doors closed and sped off to the main part of the airport. Once there, signage was bobbins and we wandered around a little until we found that we needed to take an escalator down one level and then a lift down again to the hire car places. At this point my heart rate was at Olympic marathon runner levels with excitement and stress, so imagine my joy as the lift doors kept re-opening every time we pressed the button to close them. It took about three minutes to get going, which I know doesn’t sound a lot, but, just close your eyes and count to 180…and imagine standing in a lift, one tantalising floor from your hire car and the growing queue to pick it up.
The queue I mention was in reality about ten minutes and I know I say this every time, but what are you doing at the hire car counter for longer than five minutes? There were people there with sleeping bags rolled out and lawn chairs as they chatted seemingly without a care in the world to their agent from Alamo. When it was finally my turn I thrust my documents and credit card at the chap, gave him my best “I’ve been up for twenty hours and I don’t want an upgrade” glare and let him push his buttons rather than mine.
He did try to sell me a toll pass thingy, at which I sneered with haughty derision. As I turned from the desk with our car now literally throbbing in anticipation of our arrival just over the road, Sarah, at that moment sat on her case and promptly fell off it with all the style and grace of me ice skating. I left everyone chuckling at that as I tore across the road to the car garage at incredible speed. I flashed my credentials at what I hoped was an Alamo employee and he was suitably impressed enough to point me at a row of cars to choose from. We had discussed spending some time choosing the best one for us, as since booking the car, for a party of six, Emily had joined us and made it seven, so we knew space would be tight on this one trip from the airport. In the end, we went for the nearest one and spent a good few minutes trying to get large objects into tight spaces.
The result was pleasing and left me sweaty and out of breath.
I think the crowded car and long journey had tipped Nana over the edge.
Don’t even ask me how Rebecca managed to swap sides mid-journey! I was busy driving!!
The journey was painless, due to the use of Sat Nav, which we bought back in 2010 and had been one of the best $60 we’d spent on US soil.
We found the villa with little swearing and I hopped out to undo the key box, release the key and let the holiday really begin. Call it stupidity, lack of sleep or, well yes, it was stupidty, but there were two boxes with a combination on the wall outside the villa, one at eye level and one at shin level. For some reason I only saw the latter and spent far too long trying to open it with the wrong code, again getting hot and sweaty. Just as I was about to drive the car through the villa’s front door to gain access, the top box was spotted and opened easily. We were in.
It was lovely. Mark and Tracy had left us a lovely welcome package too. Don’t worry, Mark and Tracy own the villa, they didn’t break in to leave us some treats.
Within minutes bodies were in the pool.
I spent my time unpacking a bit and seemingly putting about seventeen different things on charge.
Next, was the important job of figuring out how the TV worked, which, for the next two and a half weeks, I remained the only person in the villa competent at doing so.
After a little while hunger forced us to get ready for some food and as tradition dictates it would be the Outback Steakhouse up at Formosa. We left the villa at 6.30, tired, excited and hungry…the other dwarves couldn’t make it.
Our server reminded us about everything we love about the US dining experience and we ordered -(bear in mind my early caveat about tracking everyone’s order in a larger group).
We started with cheesy fries and a Bloomin’ Onion of course…with the complimentary bread. This eating is serious business!
Emily’s lack of sleep cannot prevent her smiling as it went down.
Nana, Louise and Rebecca – Chicken Caesar Salad
Me – Australian Cobb Salad
Grandad – Talpai (which was, and probably still is, some form of fish)
Emily and Sarah – Burgers
With wines, beers and other drinks it came to $153 plus tip. Full and flagging we dragged ourselves around the supermarket to grab some essentials which somehow cost us $130. On the way back to the villa I tried to use the force and left the sat nav tucked away. I did OK apart from completely missing the turn into our development a handful of times, so the sat nav came out along with my bottom lip and we finally got back at 9pm. This of course was 2am UK time and about twenty-two hours since we last slept, apart from Grandad, who had about six hours sleep over the Atlantic. He was still asleep first!
Till the next time……