The “Why’s It Taking Long” Tour 2022 – Day Two

Having been so tired last night after being awake for almost 24 hours I can find no reasonable explanation for being awake at 6.20am. I could hear Freddie charging around the villa. Either that or Emily, Tom or Rebecca felt the need to be running up and down the landing. At around 6.45 I called Louise and had a chat. It wasn’t nice to once again have confirmation that she wasn’t with us, but at least these days video chatting makes long distances easier than this might have been some years ago. I can still remember buying a phone card and calling Louise’s Mum from Downtown Disney just once during one of our holidays.

My chat with Louise was interrupted as she got a call from the hospital about her Mum, so I made some breakfast whilst she took that. Sensible cereal for me, saving my calories for later and then Louise called back. I gave her a tour of the villa, which based on how impressive it was I’m not sure made her feel any better about being stuck at home. She chatted with everyone else and then we all showered, separately.

Once dressed I prepared Ryan for his tour of duty. Out went all the gubbins that he had been required to carry yesterday for the journey and in went all the theme park essentials and as it was 9 degrees outside, a hoodie. Other than that, we were all dressed as if it were August, other than Emily who had a jumper on. Having said that, Emily feels cold in August in Florida so no change there. It must be a mindset thing, but if I’m in Florida I’m in shorts and a T-Shirt (with a bum bag of course) regardless of the time of year.

We spent a bit of time figuring out which physical ticket belonged to which person as a couple of us were missing magic bands. By hook or by crook, with limited help from the My Disney Experience app, we got there. Sure I could have written everyone’s name on their ticket when I linked them but I live in a paperless digital world baby, don’t fence me in with your last century luddite paradigms.

We were ready.

We left the villa at 8.45 and drove past the nearby school where we saw all the pupils piling in for their day. I always dread driving past a school bus in the US. I know there are special rules about that and it feels like unless you stop dead and throw your keys from the car a SWAT Team is likely to take you out.

We turned right onto Funie Steed Road, which took us on a journey back in time past many of the villa developments we have stayed in over the years. Lindfields, Sunset Lakes and Emerald Isle all brought back memories of happy holidays.

Once we got to Formosa Gardens we were on familiar territory indeed and it was nice to get back onto Sherberth Road and on to Magic Kingdom. It does seem that the entire road infrastructure around WDW changes completely between each trip and today, after two and a half years seemed no different. I’m sure we used to turn left to get to the parks and now there was an off-ramp on the right. Luckily I am totally cool with change and adapted seamlessly. It took about twenty minutes. There was a fairly huge queue of cars at the main gate all desperate to hand over $25. We parked in….

Despite all the announcements of their return not long ago, there was no sign of any trams so we walked in. Did I mention it was busy?

One massive improvement since our last trip was the security checks at the parks. We have all endured retired gentlemen and ladies poking at our sacks with a stick and even queued up for the experience, but now, you just walk through a scanner and only a handful of folks are pulled to one side for the sack inspection. Once through security, a bit giddy at finally being back, the camera came out for a series of “why would you take pictures of that” shots.

With Louise not with us, somebody had to take on her role, so Rebecca announced she needed to go for a wee, denying my urge to sprint onto the monorail, or at least join the queue for it. So we waited, ever so patiently.

For those wondering, there was no mask requirement outside, but having somehow dodged the COVID bullet to get here, we all often masked up in crowded places, even outside, just so we could make every effort to have a full holiday.

Freddie’s bum bag game was strong.

After a ten minute wait for the monorail, we were on and heading towards the castle. We breezed through the ticket scan thing unlike, it seemed everyone else on the planet who appeared to be taking about ten minutes each to figure out how to get into the park and, well, finally, we were home.

That first walk up Main Street is always special. We took it all in whilst at the same time, looking at the MDE app to see what we might ride first. To say this had been a long journey, in every meaning of that phrase, is one of the largest understatements in the history of understatements. The number of twists and turns, rule changes, hopes, expectations and disappointments had long since become incalculable, so to finally be here, on Main Street, looking at the castle was surreal. I’m sure none of us could really take it in.

Based on the crowd levels we were seeing, finding the first ride to do without a long wait could be a challenge. As we tend to do, we turned left and we were headed for…

The walk to the ride wasn’t one during which we could really soak things in. High crowd levels, especially with a stroller, mean you have to constantly concentrate on the next pocket of space to walk into. This was not to change for the duration of the trip to be honest.

You can see Pirates already had a 30-minute wait posted, but we went in and only waited around 10. We had decided not to get Genie+ today, as we didn’t know how long we’d last in the park and we wanted to see what was possible without it. Plus of course I am tight.

Just as we were about to board our boat, Louise called so we arranged to call back after the ride. Freddie loved the ride. He’d done it before but of course, had no memory of it. Interestingly, the canon water splashes seemed to be off today probably due to it being chilly outside (unless you live in the North West of England).

As we left the ride we called Louise back as she was visiting Mary in hospital so we all had a chat with her as best we could. It was very loud, very bright with dodgy WiFi and Mary (Louise’s Mum) is hard of hearing. Apart from that, we had a good chat!

We made our usual way over to the Big Thunder and Splash. The latter was showing a 45-minute wait. We joined it and were glad we did as the day after today it closed for maintenance so this may have been our last ride in its current state.

It was a full 45-minute wait but worth it for Freddie’s reaction. He adored it.

As we boarded our log, the young couple behind us were challenged for not having masks on. They claimed ignorance and said they didn’t know they were needed. The Cast Member allowed them on but told them to go and get some. Firstly, I was surprised WDW didn’t have a supply to hand out to folks like this and secondly, I didn’t believe for a second they didn’t know. There are regular announcements, loads of signs and everybody else had one on. Maybe they do this on all the rides?

Next, I restroomed. It is important you know this. I had mobile ordered from Cosmic Rays (Yes, I can multi-task) in the queue for Splash, so we then headed in that direction. Rebecca, who of course could not ride Splash in her pregnant state, had been chatting to my Mum & Dad whilst we rode so we all had a chat with them as we made our way towards food. On the way, we spotted some of the Country Bears up on the balcony where clearly this chap had just stepped on some Lego.

We had hot dogs all round, (just fries for Emily) and a Chicken Sandwich for Rebecca.

That lot was $87.

Next, we headed down to Main Street as Rebecca and Tom wanted to do their gender reveal for their new arrival on Main Street.

We got the appropriately coloured balloon from the seller and then joined a queue for a photographer. Just as it was our turn, a cavalcade came by so we had to move to the pavement.

Emily cried.

We took our place in the middle of Main Street again and Freddie assumed the position. I proved why I am not employed as a photographer at WDW.

The proper photo went onto social media to let all family and friends know that they are having a boy.

As a reward for his modelling work, we went off to get Freddie an ice cream.

He approved.

We found a seat near The Plaza and he tucked in.

Based on some scary wait times on the app, we planned to do Philharmagic next and headed up through the castle to get there.

Even trying to find a spot to park the stroller was challenging for Tom but eventually, he returned and in we went. Freddie was on a sugar high!

Until we got to the start of the thankfully short queue.

As we entered the area just before the doors to the theatre open, Freddie got a bit confused in the darkness and held the hand of a chap in front of us, thinking it was me. The chap was very gracious and chatted to Freddie. The fact that he was in his 70s and about 18 stone did nothing for my self-confidence.

Finally now old enough to keep the 3D glasses on, Freddie was fully immersed in the experience, reaching out for the 3D effects through the show. The new Coco scene was there now of course and as ever the whole show is a delight.

Maintaining our search for a wait time below an hour we identified the Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor and headed that way. When we got there Freddie spotted Buzz and really wanted to do that. It was a 65-minute wait which I really did not fancy. Tom volunteered to take him on whilst the rest of us rode the People Mover and chilled out. At the last minute, Rebecca decided to join them on Buzz, mainly as it was one of the few things she could ride. Emily and I waited 30 minutes to get on the People Mover. Yep, 30 minutes.

We took in the sights for a bit on our way round.

Tron is huge!

Once we were done, Emily and I headed to the shops on Main Street whilst the rest continued to wait for Buzz. We did a lot of browsing and not much buying.

We did see another cavalcade come by though.

Alice wouldn’t leave it……

We were messaged to say they were off Buzz now and we met them in the queue for Laugh Floor.

A 30-minute wait was posted. That was probably more like 20, but long enough. The show was very clever and very enjoyable. Once we were done there it was 4pm and time to make our way out of the park to Wilderness Lodge for our ADR at Whispering Canyon.

Rebecca and her bump were struggling a little now so our pace was slow. We decided to take the car over rather than just take the boat as it was unlikely we would return to Magic Kingdom after eating. To save Rebecca the journey, Emily and I caught the monorail back to TTC and got the car whilst the other three caught the boat over to Wilderness Lodge. We took the resort monorail to avoid a queue at the normal one. I think we did this all trip to be honest.

During our monorail journey, the one downside of that route is you stop at the Contemporary. As we waited for guests to join and alight, in our compartment was a Mum with two kids. They were very young and I think the word is rambunctious.

As phrases were bellowed by the Mum like…

“Don’t you dare bite me….!!”

“That’s not safe!”

We thought it best not to turn round and look at what they were doing just in case the monorail was on fire. I am eternally thankful the girls, and now Freddie, never really inflicted that sort of behaviour on us in public.

The tram was running as we got to TTC and we boarded on the Villains side and headed to Hook. We made it to Wilderness Lodge after a wild goose chase caused by the onboard Sat Nav in the car. It was, how do you say, bobbins for the whole trip.

We arrived at 4.55 and found Rebecca, Tom and Freddie in the lobby. I checked in, had a wee (not simultaneously) and we were seated within a few minutes.

Our server was great fun. Much of the old school shenanigans are currently not in play, I guess due to COVID, but he still made it a very fun experience. As we waited for our food we chatted to Louise. It was of course still Christmas in WDW.

We ordered skillets all round, with Emily getting her own plant-based one. By George these were good.

Tom had four chocolate milkshakes (they are unlimited here) and some extra sausage and mash. We were all very full and extremely tired.

The table behind us was a bit weird. They were determined to make it a competition with the server and his banter, rather than just enjoy it. It became uncomfortably confrontational at times and kudos to our server for not forking them in their junk. I forgot to note down the amount of the bill but I think from memory it was around $200 including a good tip, which was that he should fork awkward guests in their junk from now on.

Thankfully the Sat Nav guided us home more easily tonight as we still had not found our bearings. I think we were all in bed at 7.30pm. These first full days get you like that!

Some thoughts on recent changes. We didn’t use Genie+ today. We knew we would be leaving around 4pm so it didn’t seem worth it. The park was MUCH busier than we were expecting and this remained the case throughout the trip, and despite this, today we managed to get a good amount of stuff done without too much excessive waiting, but we were able to cherry-pick things like Philharmagic that have less challenging loading times.

If we had wanted to do the big stuff today it would have been a lot of waiting. We did use the “free” Genie thing, in so much as we constantly refreshed the Tip Board to weep at the huge wait times for everything. I’ll not steal my own thunder and give you my overall thoughts on Genie+ etc now, but I’ll share as we get to the relevant points and examples along the way.

The overall theme though was just how long wait times were. The car parks were nowhere near full so my guess is that a mix of COVID staffing issues and perhaps allowing too many folks to get a park reservation for that staff capacity, mixed with some stuff not yet being open caused these. If you don’t have many of the shows, street entertainers, character meets and parades on, then all people can do is ride stuff, so the queues get inflated. Anyway, more thoughts later……

Moaning about crowds in the parks after such a long wait to be there seems churlish. I mean, I’m still going to do it, but I should at least acknowledge my churl as I do.

Till the next time…….

The “Why’s It Taking Long” Tour 2022 – Day One

As Phil Collins once said, against all odds, we somehow managed to get away and have this bloody holiday. Sadly, as has been well documented and lamented pre trip, not everyone who should have been there was, but I am still claiming it as some form of kharmic victory that we won the war of attrition and got to have some sort of a holiday.

It’s fair to say that this victory was in doubt right up until the last minute. I was not sure I would could/would be going, leaving Louise behind, literally until I walked out of the door. It is safe to say we have had happier starts to a holiday, but with all those caveats aside let try to take you with us on this trip and share what we got up to, mainly what we ate and what sort of experience you have when you try to have a holiday mid-pandemic.

The title is the catch phrase of our trip. Every time we joined a queue, arrived at a restaurant or needed to wait anywhere for a few seconds, we would hear “Why’s it taking long?” For clarity that was Freddie, and not me, but at times it was close. More on queues and waiting later!

I awoke at 5.30am when my alarm sounded. I was dressed and showered ten minutes later and I got mine and Emily’s cases into the car. The goodbye to Louise was not easy, but we were on our way by 6.10. The mood in the car was subdued to say the least.

I managed to find my way to T2 West car park avoiding the £5 fee this time. If you drive through the drop off lane you have to pay £5 for the privilege and this time, determined (and tight) I spotted a sign at a key roundabout to avoid that. Having made that saving we could now live it up large on holiday of course.

We parked up on Level 2, and as we were dragging the cases from the car Rebecca, Tom and Freddie got out of their car just a few spaces away from us. We masked up and wandered into Terminal 2. It was quiet and we were surprised to see that check in did not open until 7.30am and we were expecting a 7am opening, the usual four hours before take off. We loitered at the relevant place and then just as it was about to open we were approached and asked if we had checked in online. We had. So we were then diverted to a self serve kiosk. What could possibly go wrong? I am after all a technical genius and not some middle-aged boomer who is struggling to cope with the modern world. Right?

The process was not simple. Somehow we managed to weigh and label all our cases but then needed human help anyway as we had a stroller and a car seat to check in. Even then we had to walk all the way down to the large item drop off with the car seat. Trying to be helpful to Rebecca and her pregnant state, just Tom and I walked down only to discover we needed the boarding pass and passport of Freddie, which Rebecca had in the bag, and she had to come down anyway. Sigh.

COVID wise there was no bother. The VeriFly app did all the work and as long as you are all green and good to go on there, no checks were made of any vaccination records or anything else.

Restrooms were used and we made our way through to security. It was painful. Ryan (for anyone who doesn’t know, Ryan is my rucksack) had been pulled to one side for further inspection. That resulted in a ten minute wait whilst some burly Mancunian had a good feel of my sack. It turns out Emily had put her lip balm into Ryan and left it there. Having decided the liquid was harmless, Ryan was released and we could now head for food. All the queues and faff were over. Or were they?

Terminal 2 at Manchester seems to have changed a lot in recent years and it is fairly unrecognisable from many of our previous trips. It appears now to only have a couple of eateries and both had huge queues. Peaking into the restaurants we could see a load of empty tables so we could only assume they were having staffing issues. Being very clever, Emily and I joined one queue and Tom and Rebecca the other and we would see who got to the front first. After about fifteen minutes we both got to the respective podiums simultaneously. We chose San Carlos.

We had….

Me – Full Works Sandwich

Freddie – Kid’s Breakfast

Rebecca and Tom – The Full Italian (see what they did there?)

Emily – Smashed Avocado on Toast

Juice and coffees all around, but they had no orange or apple juice, and this delicious lot was £85 including a tip. It was very nice indeed.

It took an age to pay. Our server just kept avoiding our table it seemed for some reason, so I told everyone else to go and do their shopping etc and I would wait to pay. With that done, I restroomed ( I am but human after all) and went to not one but two WH Smiths. I was in search of water and a notepad for the taking of trip report notes.

At the second Smiths I did find a suitable pad and took it to the self checkout thing along with my water and Emily’s mints. The pad had no bar code on it so it could not be scanned or paid for. I await my arrest.

Our gate had not yet been put up on the boards so we had a sit down for a few minutes. Tom wandered off in search of an Apple Watch from the Currys store. Much like San Carlos, they had no apples either and he was denied. Remember when shops and restaurants had pretty much everything you wanted? Good times.

Gate A6 appeared on the board so off we went.

We sat at the gate and as ever, watched everyone queue up for no reason. We boarded last and found our seats. Louise’s seat was empty. I had only cancelled her ticket a few days ago so I was hopeful I would at least have some extra room as a result of a bad situation.

The leg room was fine, and overall I could not fault Aer Lingus. We will definitely use them again. Comfort wise they were fine, soft drinks were free as were the headphones and I could find nothing that would deter me from booking with them in future.

Here’s a picture of my huge sack between my legs.

Everyone else was in a four across the aisle.

This was my view as we waited around an hour on the tarmac.

This again was caused by staff shortages with baggage handlers. Instead of our 11am departure, it was almost 12.20pm when we picked up speed down the runway and took off. In that hour and a bit, the chap in front of me went to the loo twice. See a doctor for goodness sake! One of my pet peeves about flying is that you never take off at the time on your ticket so I was not enjoying this “wasted time” sat on a plane that was not actually moving. Taking off, when Louise would normally have my hand in a death grip was when it really hit home that she wasn’t with us.

I plugged in the head phones after drinks and a packet of at least eight pretzels were served and was delighted to find Series 1 of The West Wing on there. Over Christmas I had started to re-watch this and I was about half way through the first season. I polished off the rest during this flight.

After a while I spotted a small sign saying Wi-Fi was available. I didn’t get it, but I think it was about £6 for 50GB of data.

I found the meal to be very tasty. I had Beef Stroganoff (the other choice was Chicken Ravioli).

Emily and Freddie received their pre-ordered kids and veggie meals without issue.

After a while Freddie came to visit to give his Mum and Dad a break. Clearly my engaging conversation skills were not lost on him.

The flight was scheduled to take nine and a half hours. There was no explanation offered, but it felt like longer. That extra 90 minutes or so than we have had previously really made a difference. I got so bored that I went into the games section of the in flight entertainment and taught myself how to play Texas Hold Em poker. Sadly that was not the name of any of the films on offer which may have been more entertaining.

As we continued to fly, seemingly endlessly, I was starting to make my notes on events so far. Every time we do this trip I hate the faff and stress of getting to Florida. The whole morning is complicated, stressful and usually an early start. Of course, I’d rather be doing any and all of that than going to work, but each time I say I will try to enjoy the experience, but I don’t. Travel day is always a mess of hurry up and wait and wanting to get the next bit of faff over with so you are closer to your destination. An inability to enjoy the journey must be some kind of life metaphor I’m sure.

As you will have seen from the photos above, masks were required and they would be for large chunks of the holiday. Honestly, we had no issues with them at all, and in fact in many scenarios they made us feel safer and more protected. On the flight there were of course a good number of folks with them under their chins and noses and I spent a good deal of time glaring at them in a proper British passive aggressive way. They are required so do it properly!

At the airport we had spotted a service dog with someone. It turns out they were on our flight. It seemed odd seeing a dog on a plane, but every time it wandered by with its owner all I could think about was where was it peeing and pooping?

At some point we were served an ice cream which was also very nice. We were in the hard yards now with about three hours still to go. I watched The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s Wife or something like that. I noted it was 19:37 UK time at this point.

Our last food was a pocket chicken tikka thing. I don’t why I am always hungry on a flight, but I devoured this in no time. As we got into the final hour and a half I started to watch some episodes of Friends, mainly as I could tell myself if I watched three we would be almost there by then.

Finally, finally we landed at 21:40 UK time, 16:40 in Orlando.

Immigration was a delightful ten minute wait. Just so you know, even if all your party are on one locator form you still need to go up to the immigration chap in separate households. The cases took a little while and as ever we ignored the double bag drop thing and carted everything up the escalator and onto the monorail. Mayor Buddy Dwyer, it was good to hear your voice.

We then dragged everything over to the “B” section to get our car. After an interminable series of elevators and stairs we found our way to the SixT desk to get our car. There was nobody in the queue, just me waiting for one of the two agents to become free. As the next one did she told me that desk had now just closed and we would have to go over to the desk in “A”. Yes, all the way back to where we had just walked and then some. I asked if she could possibly process me before closing as we had been flying for what felt like 27 days. Nope, off we went. I will gloss over my feelings and emotions at this time. This was not a good moment.

Once we got to “A” I was sorted in five minutes. We were directed to the relevant garage and were handed our keys. On the way we stopped at the Visitor Toll Pass Booth. I had pre-ordered this and it is a toll pass thing linked to your credit card that you hang from your rear view mirror. It means you can use the automated Sun Pass lanes rather than fiddling around for quarters. I recommend it. So there was no choosing of your vehicle with SixT but we were very happy with our Chrysler Pacifica.

With Louise not travelling we were able to collapse two thirds of the rear seat to give enough room for the luggage. Had she been with us she would have had to find her own way to the villa, so that was one positive.

Once we got to the 192 I realised we had done so, in the dark, with no headlights on and I hurriedly found the relevant knob to correct the error caused by the other knob who was driving . But the toll thing was a big success. For many years we have been trying to find change and had to stop at teach toll booth when all you want to do is get to your accommodation.

Finding the villa was fun. It is on a very new development. So new that my trusty sat nav had never heard of it and even Google maps was struggling. I called the number the owner had given me to be talked in, stopped in at the clubhouse of the incorrect development and finally found the right guard house for Solara resort. Freddie was asleep in the car at this point and if this carried on much longer I would have been too.

We got there eventually and my word the villa was stunning. We all found our rooms and I did some unpacking. Tom and I then headed out to the supermarket for supplies. There was another struggle to actually find a way out of the development but we wended up at the Berry Town supermarket on the 27. Two trollies and $214 later and we were done. We needed food so wandered to the pizza place a few doors down. It was 10:27 now. I know that as the chap there told us they closed in three minutes and he didn’t seem that happy to see us. We ordered two large cheese pizzas and waited outside. He handed/threw the boxes at us and quickly locked his door. The pizzas were $34.

Getting back to the villa was easier this time and we all inhaled some pizza and fell into beds at 10:30 Orlando time, 3:30am UK time. I was exhausted.

It may be an age thing, but these travel days seem to get harder and this one had been a struggle for all kinds of reasons. Anyway, onwards to less stressful and fun times, right?

Till the next time…….