Pouting and Parties

It’s been an eclectic week as they go. Last Sunday was great fun. We did a band photo shoot with James Lloyd. I have to say I wasn’t looking forward to it before hand. The thought of being photographed in normal life isn’t one of my favourite things, so having to do it for promotional purposes, in broad daylight, in the middle of the Northern Quarter was a bit daunting. For those who don’t know the Northern Quarter is the world capital of converse, beards and thick rimmed glasses. It is a super cool area of Manchester with great restaurants and more hipsters than you can shake an avocado at.

To the enormous credit of James he did a great job of putting us at ease and it wasn’t long until we were laughing a lot and hopefully getting a decent photo or two. Now, it may surprise you to learn that we aren’t the prettiest band around, so James really had his work cut out.

We haven’t seen the results as yet. Photoshopping that many chins out of each photo really does take some time, but here’s one we’ve had as a taster.

Thanks to James and I’ll share a few more for your merriment as we get them back.

The week just gone was another busy one. Work was an inconvenient and unwelcome dominant presence, including a trip to Marlow. The traffic both ways was absolutely shocking and Friday was a bit of a blur after arriving home late on Thursday with a life threatening cold.

Saturday was all about Rebecca and Tom’s Baby Shower. To their enormous credit, having only decided to throw one a few weeks ago, they worked really hard to secure a venue, catering, DJ (me, using Mustard’s PA) and a million little details to have the room looking a lot nicer than it did when we first turned up in the afternoon.

Drinks were had, Bolton’s famous and finest, Carr’s Pasties were consumed and kids slid across the dance floor on their knees and chased each other until they were balls of dripping sweat. So a traditional family do in a function room.

On the subject of parties, I also want to wish a happy 25th anniversary to our friends Steve and Di. They had their celebration yesterday, and because I’m an idiot and can’t read or manage a calendar, we were unable to attend. We know you will have had a great time and we are so sorry we couldn’t be there.

So Rebecca has just a few weeks to go now. She’s had enough of being pregnant, but to be honest that has been the case for about 30 weeks now. It is weird to think that in the next thirty days or so Freddie will be here. The poor little soul has no idea that he already has a holiday planned for him.

Speaking of which, last week’s post caused me another planning conundrum. Morag and Nathalie threw a spanner into my works with their comment that we should try Keke’s Breakfast Cafe.

Knowing what the result would be, like a fool, I looked at the web site and read the menu and about thirty seconds later, I knew I had to find a slot in the spreadsheet for it…..and I did.

Some highlights of that menu for you….

Banana Split Waffle
Banana, pineapple, fresh strawberries in glaze, chocolate fudge syrup & pecans 9.99

Banana-Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Bananas and Hershey’s® milk chocolate chips cooked in the pancakes 8.49

Turtle Stuffed French Toast
Pecans, caramel, chocolate and cream cheese topped with powdered sugar 9.99

So, as you can see, I had no choice. So now, on one of our days, we do Keke’s for breakfast and Cowfish for dinner. Pray for us.

After all of that varied madness over the last few days, today will be filled with as little as possible especially after the very tiring effort of writing these few hundred words.

By the way if you are going to suggest any Orlando eateries that I will have to fit into my plan I love and hate you in equal measure. So be mindful of the pain you may cause…

Till the next time……


A Peak At Planning

Right, let’s get the stuff you aren’t so bothered about out-of-the-way. I wrote a chapter this week. I appreciate that is not in the same prolific league as James Patterson, but with everything going on in my daily life that is a step forward and hopefully a catalyst for more. What I really need if I’m honest, is a good chunk of time to re-read what I’ve written to date and then do the book plan. I know that I have everything in my head somewhere, I just need to formalise it into some sort of structure, decide on the outcome of the book (no spoilers here) and that should enable me to write more freely once I know where I’m going.

I feel better about the whole thing now that I’ve broken the ice again.

Sadly, that huge investment of time did not leave me much (any) time for the planning of WDW stuff. All my plans start in the same format and always have. As soon as I know our dates I create a simple template of those dates in Excel with blanks to fill in…

There are some givens that go in before anything else happens…like the travel days and the fact that we’ll be in Magic Kingdom on the first and last day.

Then, I make a list of all the eateries we want to do. I appreciate that this may seem strange to some, but the importance of the food on our Florida trips cannot be over estimated. The challenge with this list is fitting in all the places we have fallen in love with and want to do again, whilst also trying all the new places that I’ve heard good things about. For this trip, with Tom being a first timer it has more of a greatest hits vibe as we want to take him to all of our favourites….and it looked like this…

Next, I try to allocate one of those dining choices to a day on the plan, bearing in mind how I want the theme park days to flow. Over the years we seem to have established a routine as to how we tackle the parks. We of course start with Magic Kingdom as this is the law, we then do Epcot, Hollywood Studios and finally Animal Kingdom. I suspect that this being the order in which they opened was not an accident to my subliminal planner self.

Of course, tradition dictates that our first meal on arrival day is The Outback at Formosa Gardens if at all possible, so that goes in first and the rest follow like this….

For this trip, due to the touring party make up, it’s a WDW only affair so there are many more rest days than there may have been for an adults only trip. This means we can have two days in each park and if needed do extra visits on the afternoon of rest days. It makes for an easier planning experience. However, it doesn’t solve the issue you can see at the bottom of the plan. Where on earth do I put Sanaa? We may have to just eat more on some days! I do have a gap for dinner on our first day. I’m reluctant to put anything in there that we need an ADR for as there is no way to know how young Freddie will be adjusting to the time difference and long flight so we may need to be flexible. I know Rebecca would just be happy with some corn dog bites from Casey’s.

On that note, we are going to try something new on our last day in Magic Kingdom. I have it down as a snack day. We’re going to take the opportunity to eat all the stuff available in and around the parks as snacks and counter service, such as the stuff at Casey’s and a couple of things we’ve never had in all these years, a turkey leg and a dole whip. Funnel cake may also be on the agenda.

So this is where I’m at right now.The only other piece of the jigsaw tentatively in place is the intention to do MNSSHP on Wednesday the 4th of September. Having had glowing reports from all last week, it looks like we have no choice but to do it and much of the advice centred around not doing it too early after it starts and not to do it on a weekend.

What happens now? Well, over the coming weeks and months I shall tinker and mess about with the finer details. At some point I typically transfer it onto the Vacation Planner tool on The Dibb. I don’t use the forums over there any more but that tool is useful. It is helpful as somewhere to record all your booking references, ADRs (Advanced Dining Reservations), flight details and that jazz.

What is bound to happen over the coming months is that I will come across some new dining experience that I desperately want to do and I shall wrestle with what to drop out of the plan….or of course there’s always the option of extending our stay! The latter won’t be a viable option this time due to the work/holiday restrictions of Louise and Tom so something will have to give should that be the case. I have already made the heart breaking decision to take Romano’s out of the plan and replace it with The Cheesecake Factory.

So there you go, this post turned unintentionally into a look at how I actually plan. I’m sure everyone has similar yet different methods. Let me know how you go about it so that I may shamelessly steal your great ideas.

Now, I must leave you as I’m off to a photo shoot this afternoon with Mustard. No, really, I am.

Till the next time….
Save on Orlando's Best Theme Parks!

Scary Stuff

Well what do you know, it’s October. At this rate we’ll be heading to the airport in about ten minutes. Speaking of which my niece and her fiancée have done exactly that this morning as they head to WDW for their long-awaited holiday.

Have a great time Sarah and Tom!

However, not one moment of last week was spent planning due to the great inconvenience of having to work. Now, when I say there was no planning, that only means that I didn’t at any point sit down in front of a spreadsheet and the internet and formally plan stuff to do. Of course. subconscious planning happens at all times. For example, in the middle of some very tedious work related stuff, it popped into my head that Sanaa wasn’t currently on our plan. This is a grave issue. We love Sanaa, specifically the bread service, but as it stands there is simply no room for it unless we sacrifice something else.

To be honest my thinking is that for Tom’s first time and with a small child at the table, Whispering Canyon and 50’s Prime Time feel more relevant and suitable. There will other times for Sanaa.

Even though we will be flying out in August, as WDW tend to do, by the time we get there Halloween will be in full swing. We are very used to the parks transforming into an autumnal pumpkin fest towards the end of our previous August holidays. In the past we’ve been pretty much on our last day when this happens, but next year we’ll be just arriving. As such, I suspect MNSSHP will be happening. For anyone not in the WDW nutter club, that stands for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. We’ve never done this so it makes sense that we take the chance to do so.

mnsshp

Being in about three thousand WDW related groups on Facebook means that I am bound to get some mixed reviews of this event. For anyone who has done it, would you say it is worthwhile? My gut feel is yes for two main reasons.

  1. In all these years we never have.
  2. It will at least stop us having to leave the park early.

The tickets this year seem to start at around $74 each. That seems OK to be honest. In fact, in candy alone, Tom will break us even in the first hour.

If we go, then I don’t know if we’ll dress up. Again, any feedback on whether that is worth it or not would be welcome.

This time last week I said I had 20,000 words of the second book done. Well, this week I have a few less. Still that’s progress. I found about half an hour to open it and read some of it. This resulted in me editing out some words. So in this case I suppose less really is more. Having not looked at it for so long it was weird. It was like reading something that somebody else had written.

So not the most productive of weeks, outside of the stuff I am actually paid to do.

Louise is working again this weekend. It really isn’t fair. That means I have to do all the washing and tidying up. It really is rather inconsiderate of her. She knows I’m always a bit tired after gigging and Crumpsall lies in tatters this morning after Mustard blew it to pieces last night. She can make it up to me when she gets home later after eight days at work.

Right, I have to go, Liverpool are on TV shortly…erm, I mean I have lots of housework to do.

Till the next time…..


Standard home 300x250


Living La Villa Loca…..

I know that at times it is hard to tell me apart from rock Gods like Jon Bon Jovi. We look so alike that this is understandable. However, one major difference is how feel right now. Mustard were out gigging last night after a few weeks off for our summer holidays (that I didn’t have!).

Getting to bed at 2am after a full on night of hard rocking, fierce funking and more importantly lugging several tonnes of equipment in and out of the venue, my body hates me. I don’t imagine Mr Bon Jovi is sat in his dressing gown in front of Sunday Brunch nursing a non alcoholic hangover. Middle age is a bitch.

Louise has been working all weekend and by the time she gets to the end of Monday she will have worked nine days straight. That is, frankly, a bit shit so if you are having your wounds dressed, injections given or wounds packed anywhere near us, be thankful to the kind soul who turns up to do it. They will be over worked and under paid.

So, as promised, let’s turn to the embryonic plans for Florida 2018. Whilst writing the last few posts of the last trippie, I was multi-tasking very impressively by giving brain space to our next visit. We should of course be waiting a bit until Freddie is older and can do things like go to Jellyrolls with us, but all in good time, for now, we’ll be the idiots with the 11 month old on the plane.

Another strong reason not to wait is that our future son-in-law Tom has never been to WDW and as a lot of you will appreciate, taking a first timer is a joy and a pleasure. He is already, quite rightly, giddy with excitement. Of course, despite a good amount of internet research and us boring him to death about everything on offer, until a first timer goes there can be little appreciation of what will be encountered.

The rides and attractions are of course something he is looking forward to, but, like someone destined to become part of our family, he LOVES his food. Unlike me, Tom turns that love into muscle at the gym, so he’s a big lad but in a positive way…

His appetite is astounding and this is coming from me who could eat himself to death in one sitting. So the food on offer is a major focus for him. That’s handy of course as you know my planning starts with where we’ll be eating every day. He and Rebecca have already spent a good amount of time studying the menus of our planned eateries and in some cases pre-selecting his dining choices. I think he’s in for a good time.

But I get ahead of myself. I should give you an outline of the plan as it stands. Well, the first thing to say is that we shall not be making the mistake of not having enough time at WDW this time. With two first timers in tow, ALL we are doing is Disney. Recognising of course what a different trip this will be with a very young child in the party, there seemed very little point in attempting Universal at the hefty expense of an on site stay and other thrill ride heavy parks like Busch similarly made little sense.

Taking in to account the size and make up of our party, on-site accommodation didn’t really make sense. After our last visit, frankly we’d want to be staying at the Beach Club or similar and two weeks in multiple rooms just becomes very, very expensive. Along with that, for Rebecca, Tom and Freddie especially two weeks crammed into one room would be tough, so we (I) decided we’d be doing a villa.

Now, selecting a villa is a double-edged sword. It is lovely to be scouring the internet for that perfect place of course, as it means you know you are returning. The downside is that there is so much choice that a few hours in you get villa blindness. They all start to look the same. However, we (I) had very specific requirements. In previous visits compromises have been made, mainly due to budget, which haven’t really detracted from the trip, but niggled at me from time to time.

Our needs were –

Location – Suspecting we’ll be doing partial days in the parks with Freddie in tow, being close to WDW was a must. Knowing that every villa in Florida says they are fifteen minutes from Disney, I ignored those claims and used my local knowledge. The villa had to be in or around the Formosa Gardens area. Villas here are so close to Animal Kingdom you can smell the elephant dung.

Pool size – Rest days will be plentiful and vital so we wanted a lager than average pool and lanai. This meant going for a villa a bit larger than we actually needed. It should not be overlooked, and be south-facing to satisfy Louise’s sun hunger.

We needed two master suites.

Beyond those, I was just looking for villas that caught my eye. Things I look out for are poor quality photos and/or photos clearly taken a long time ago, suggesting the villa may not be quite as nice now as it once was.

It took a while, but eventually I found one that ticked all the boxes. I was delighted that it is situated on Emerald Island. We have never stayed there, but have driven past those dolphins many times whilst staying in the area.

The fact that this development is literally round the corner from our favourite arrival day dining tradition of The Outback is just the cherry on top of a nice cake.

The villa itself is called Simba’s Pride.

Click the picture to see details of the villa…..

A deposit is paid, which means we are definitely going. That feels good.

Flights won’t be booked for a while. I’ve never not booked the flights first, but with Freddie still being in Rebecca right now, there was no choice. Well, we could have waited to book the villa, but where’s the fun in that?

The main part of the planning now will be learning how to do WDW with a youngster under one. There’s a lot I don’t know about that.

The only other thing which has already been planned is the restaurant list. That includes some places you HAVE to take first timers to, such as Whispering Canyon and 50’s Prime Time.

The bad news is that between now and the 29th of August 2018, yes, I forgot to mention when we were going, you will be subjected to every tweak, development and booking. The timing of the trip is a mix of impatience and various work related challenges and commitments. We *could* have gone in a more off-peak time, but that would mean waiting longer. Flying out at the time should be OK as most folks limited to school holidays will be coming to the end of their trips and of course the US schools will already be back.

Irma has of course reminded us that this is very much hurricane season so we can only hope we continue our lucky streak in that regard.

So, enough for now. There will be time aplenty to blog about this in future for which I apologise.

Till the next time….


SeaWorld Orlando - Save Over 35% on Tickets!


Blue Man Group Orlando - Save on Tickets!

To Siesta Key…And Beyond Tour 2017 – Day Five April 15th 2017

The first phase of the holiday was ending today. A part of me was saddened by this. After all the planning, waiting and build up I always try to cling onto each moment of the trip as it escapes through my fingers like fine sand.

There was still far more to come than had passed but I am strange like that. Today was moving day, Universal was over and we were heading to Siesta Key. As all we had to do this morning was put the possession explosion that had happened in our room back into our cases there was no mad rush to get up. We lazed in bed until a crazy 9am. It took an hour to pack and just after ten we left RPR for the last time and headed over to get Mum & Dad. More fun and sweating was had with the quart into pint pot game involving the luggage and car. We did find a slightly different configuration which improved things but Dad still had a case on his lap.

Thankfully we only had a ten minute drive this time. We were heading for Hash House a Go Go and a life threatening amount of food. As we entered the car park we noticed it was as packed as my underwear. Thankfully they had complimentary valet parking. So once we had released Dad from his suitcase companion, we handed over the keys and headed in. It’s usually at this point that I imagine the news headlines –

“Stupid Brit Gives Complete Stranger Posing as Valet His Car Keys”.

The lure of food was greater than my worries so I continued onwards.

We were faced with a fifteen minute wait and a tractor.

We were seated just before 11am and began the daunting task of navigating the menu. It is HUGE.

We stalled the waitress by ordering some drinks. Coffees and juice all round and Louise ordered a special Mocha which she declared to be the best she ever had. My nickname is mocha by the way!

I didn’t get a picture as I was too busy choosing food, but here’s one I found online.

We eventually decided upon –

Me, Dad and Emily – Andy’s Fried Chicken Benedict

Andy’s sage fried chicken w/ fresh spinach, hardwood smoked bacon, market tomato, griddled mozzarella, chipotle cream and scrambled eggs.

All Benedicts served on a fresh split biscuit with griddled mashed potatoes

Mum – Tractor Driver Combo with French Toast

Two Eggs w/ bacon sausage or potatoes with 1 HH signature flapjack. Add one buck for HH famous flapjack.With Vanilla Waffle With Griddled french toast

Louise – Portabella Mushroom

Fresh portabello mushroom, roasted red peppers, basil pesto & griddled goat cheese all on a fresh baked wheat bun

As my attempt looked like this….

Here’s a competent photo taken by someone else.

It is hard to describe the food here. I struggle to find a word that captures what I thought about it. It was superb, delicious, huge, different, fun, huge, unique, huge and huge.

Emily threw the towel in with her plate looking untouched. I made a very good effort but couldn’t finish. It was just so full of things that are designed to fill you up. Mash, Fried Chicken, Biscuit and smothered in a delicious spicy sauce. Safe to say this place will be on the plan for every future trip we undertake.

My notes failed to capture how much it cost, but frankly I didn’t care. You have to try this place!

Slightly more of us left at 12.40 than had arrived. Our car was returned to us and noticeably groaned as we inflicted our increased girth upon it. We found ourselves stuck in traffic trying to get onto the I4. I did think that the traffic was much worse in and around Universal and I Drive than it ever is around WDW and Kissimmee. With only one U Turn required (unlike Theresa May…ooh bit of politics….) which was totally the fault of our sat nav and not me, we found the Interstate and headed for Disney Springs. We arrived at 1pm and parked in Lime. That’s one of the new car parks. The theme parks are full of breath taking technology delivering jaw dropping immersive experiences. However, the fact that you can see if a row has a space without driving down it blew our collective minds. We live in exciting times.

Disney Springs is, as we expected, almost unrecognisable from what we first encountered as Disney Village in 1980 and as Downtown Disney in more recent times. We arranged to meet Mum & Dad later and set off to do what I hoped would be browsing.

The D Life, Beauty & The Beast themed shop was lovely.

Next was Sephora. I have no idea what any of the items they sell are but clearly I am almost alone in that as it was packed.

Louise was still searching for some sandals. Not just any sandals. We of course encountered many pairs of such in the many shops we visited, but none ticked the boxes they needed to.

Emily got a couple of sweatshirts which somehow I paid for despite her being 21 and gainfully employed.

It was very hot and we needed some water which we picked up from the Poutine Place. Upon getting to the counter and seeing some food, I almost threw up there and then, my stomach protesting at the thought of me trying to put anything else into it. It was an act of self protection and I applaud it for that.

We entered the vast expanse of World of Disney next and spent days wandering the endless array of Disney merchandise. By some miracle and completely by chance we left via the same doors we came in, which is a first for us. It was time now to meet Mum & Dad and so we headed back to the Lime car park entrance.

With Louise still needing footwear and a swimming costume I googled for a Walmart or Target having had all the posh boutiques at Disney Springs let us down and set off.

Never has the phrase cockpit been more apt.

Louise was slightly excited for a second in case this was the bloke from Sons of Anarchy.

It wasn’t.

The Target google found for me was actually the same one we spent far too much time in last year kitting out Emily for her time working in WDW. The same retail park contained a Ross in which we spent more time than any man should have to endure.

Then we went next door to the large sports store. We spent only a few minutes exploring the huge Dicks. Thankfully, the required sandals were discovered in Dicks. There are specialist web sites for that I believe. OK enough desperate attempts to make innuendos out of Dicks. In Target she also found some shorts.

With all the shopping I could tolerate done we now headed for Siesta Key.

It took just under two hours in total.

The last mile driving down the “front” was slow and tortuous but we eventually got to our house without incident or getting lost.

The house was lovely. Quirky certainly, a little rustic and not your typical polished, clinical new home but it was in keeping with all the other properties in the area.

Emily and I went to find the local supermarket. It was somewhere we would spend many happy hours over the coming week.

We had gone for some “essentials” and left $137 lighter about forty minutes later.

With the shopping packed away thoughts turned to dinner but nobody was really hungry so we stayed in the house and snacked instead watching some TV.

Apparently wine was an essential I forgot to pick up during my first visit to the shop, so I remedied that now with another trip. The drive to the supermarket took me up the main road on which all the bars and restaurants are. I did have a slight worry that I may not have brought us to the most suitable place as it looked tonight like Magaluf or Falaraki. However, this was a Saturday night at the tail end of Spring Break and my slight fears were unfounded as we would find out during our stay.

Upon getting back to the house I was knackered and fell into bed, managing about ten minutes reading before sleep.

Till the next time…..

 

 

 

 

To Siesta Key…And Beyond Tour 2017 – Day Four April 14th 2017

Day four already? This trip will soon be over for the second time before we know it.

No alarms were set this morning and I rose majestically without any need for encouragement at 7am. I got out of bed shortly afterwards too.

It took the usual hour and a bit for everyone to be ready and our first stop was at the gift shop in reception. Louise needed to buy a cover up T-shirt as, amazingly, she had somehow got herself sunburned. How this happened is a mystery to us all.

With one “Yes I am Tourist” Universal Studios T-shirt secured and adorned we could start the day. We water taxied again, tolerating yet more dreadful weather…

and arrived into the park at 8.50. Top of our list today was the new (to us) Kong ride. The ten minute walk from the entrance to the ride felt longer than that but we Expressed our way in just after 9.

Since this ride opened Emily has had a never-ending panic attack at the thought of encountering scare actors in the queue. This made the walk through the queue area a little nervy for her but thankfully for her it turns out there weren’t any in the Express queue.

As with most rides, the first time is a bit of a blur looking back. I was impressed with it though and it is something a little different to traditional rides with the mix of actual ride stuff and the 3D film elements.

Having ticked off our main objective before the park got busy naturally we needed food having only had a light snack last night. We walked back into the Marvel area in search of something stupidly unhealthy….apart from me.

Emily and I struck out at a proper walking pace having left Louise to sunbathe on a bench. Yes, she was already burnt, but this made perfect sense and should not be questioned.

Like some sort of sugar filled tractor beam our bodies ended up outside Cinnabon, which had a handy Starbucks next to it. I drank whatever Emily ordered and we got some stuff from Cinnabon that you’d struggle to qualify as food. It was ridiculously good.

We walked back to Louise, juggling our haul and made it to a bench with an umbrella not far from Spiderman.

With a huge sugar rush surging through my system it made perfect sense to add a good dose of adrenalin to that so we went to ride the Hulk. We Expressed but it was a slightly disappointing fifteen minutes. Again, a locker was required. These new lockers are operated by your park ticket which is a neat idea, but Universal do employ one member of staff to stand by the lockers with a microphone repeating “Do not lock your park ticket in the locker!” endlessly, over and over and over and over.

The fact that despite this I very nearly did proves that humans are stupid.

After its big refurb, I have to say I didn’t spot a great deal of difference but I can’t say that I memorised how it was before. The start of the ride felt a little quicker but that could be my accelerating old age. It remains a great ride and a guaranteed trigger for my roller coaster Tourettes.

Somehow Mum & Dad were waiting for us as we exited the ride. Perhaps they heard my swearing as I rode?

Those with an Express ticket rode Spiderman next, whilst those who didn’t had a sit under the same umbrella we breakfasted under. Again, it was a fifteen minute queue.

We made our way into the Jurassic area of the park and got a drink. It was hot today. I was taking a photo of Emily and Mum resting on a wall (there doesn’t need to be a reason, OK?) when a kind lady offered to take one of the three of us.

As I took my place on the wall I whispered to Emily that if this nutter did a runner with my camera, as the youngest it was her job to chase her down.

Now, just to be clear for those in a panic at that photo. That is Dad’s rucksack. Being a good son (sometimes) I took it off him to make his walking around a bit easier. Ryan was back in our room enjoying the facilities unaware of my infidelity.

I apologise for my rare appearance in a photo.

We all joined the non Express queue for the Jurassic River thingy with the promise of a thirty minute wait. As we entered, staff were rejigging the queue rope things to extend it and altering the wait time to 45 minutes. I submitted an immediate written complaint and stood there and sucked it up.

We got a lot less wet than I remember. Emily seemed to have finally conquered her childhood terror and fear of this ride caused by some idiot parents taking her on it when she didn’t want to at a young age.

We wandered on for a bit and entered the discovery centre in search of some cool air.

There wasn’t much else of interest in there to be honest so we made our way out of the rear of the building to discover a lovely view.

After a few minutes taking that in and posting it on Facebook to remind everyone we were here and they weren’t, we walked on a bit going nowhere in particular.

For regular readers, this is a special moment. We’d eaten a lot recently and it was therefore probably inevitable that at this point I encountered, for the first time this trip, turtle head.

That (attempt at a) joke feels like a member of the family I am so familiar with it. As I took the camera out to take that photo, Louise began to ask me why and then stopped. She knew….we all knew.

Having already spent her allocated shopping budget for this trip on that very special Universal Studios T-shirt this morning, Louise was going crazy trying to find some sandals. It is as inevitable as the turtle head joke that a few days into the trip, whatever footwear Louise has brought with her will no longer be suitable and we must undertake a mission to find ones that are. We went into EVERY shop on our wanders, with no joy.

Her pain would have to continue…..and I did.

I do try to give my own wardrobe choices a little thought. For example, it is not the done thing to wear Disney merchandise in Universal and vice versa. Knowing which park we were doing today and that it included a certain ride, I had chosen this one today.

I am actually more muscular under the T-shirt, but not green.

We found ourselves in the Seuss bit of the park

and Emily and I used our Express specialness to go on One Fish, Two Fish.

Sure, we are 46 and 21 and every other rider was not, but we cared not one jot.

It was time for another tactical meal, which required us to satisfy our immediate hunger (which was mild) and yet still leave our bodies ready for tonight’s inevitable onslaught. We chose the Croissant Moon Bakery as it was close and we had eaten there before so we knew they did sandwiches etc. Their isn’t a huge amount of choice but it did the job.

I failed to record what everyone had and to take any photos other than these…

You can do a post-mortem to figure out what we had just eaten. I think I had a hogie but I would probably be able to get a cream for that when we called at the pharmacy next.

We walked back to Spiderman so that Mum & Dad could ride and then headed for the wet rides. Mum and Dad declined the chance to get wet through on Dudley Do Right so the three of us entered via Express. Whenever you enter this ride you know that every item of clothing you are in will be drenched. What you don’t expect is to get into that state before you get on the ride itself. As we walked through the queue, above us a boat cornered and threw out a huge wave of water over the edge to unsuspecting idiots below which with perfect timing, I walked into.

My shock was only matched by Louise and Emily’s laughter. I buried my anger deep and plotted my dastardly revenge whilst stood in a stupidly long queue for us Express special people. The ice cool air conditioning was a joy for anyone who had just been soaked to the skin. Thirty minutes with Express isn’t really acceptable in my spoiled, over entitled head.

Everyone who walks from Dudley Do Right’s to the Bilgerats ride says things like “Well, we can’t get any wetter”. Everyone is wrong. You absolutely can.

We joined the muggle queue so that we could all ride together and it was annoyingly longer than the 20 minutes posted. As usual we got wetness in places that hadn’t been wet for a long time. We left the raft and quickly noticed that we were missing a member of our party.

We turned around to see Mum still sat in the barge. Maybe she wanted to ride again? Turns out she couldn’t get the seat belt off and the barge was moving round ever closer to her having to ride the thing all over again. Dad was trying to free her and then several members of staff also boarded the vessel in an attempt to free the Bolton One.

The rest of us of course stood watching and laughing.

With moments to spare the seat belt was opened and another ride averted.

Too wet to do anything else now we headed for the exit. Emily and I went in the opposite direction to everyone else as she wanted to buy a sweat shirt she had seen at the Jurassic River Ride earlier. After making that purchase we continued to do a full loop of the park at full walking pace. It felt good.

The park was very busy now, especially around Potter and we did our best full speed walking, people dodging moves to make our way back to the entrance. Feeling a tiny bit peckish we stopped for a quick snack.

We only wanted a churro and a pretzel yet were subjected to one of the most frustrating waits of the entire trip. That family at the front appeared to be doing their weekly grocery shop here and then paying with about six different credit cards. I have seldom tutted so loudly.

We ate our snacks as we walked to meet the others hoping to have done so before we got there to avoid any unnecessary sharing. We all walked back to the water taxi and then I drove Mum & Dad back “home”.

Louise and Emily did their lady readying things for a while and we left at 6.05. No doubt I had said we needed to leave at 6, but they do it out of spite. The traffic was awful for some reason so it took ten minutes to get to Mum & Dad and then much longer than I had planned it would to get to the Poly for our dinner at ‘Ohana. After a stressful, steering wheel gripping, teeth grinding journey we arrived at 7.10.

Before our meal we went to Trader Sam’s for a drink and hopefully some fun.

The only seats were those at the bar, so we mounted a stool each and looked at the cocktail menu. For those not familiar with this place, it is a grown up, cocktail serving version of Whispering Canyon. If you haven’t been to Whispering Canyon then I can’t help you.

Various rum based cocktails were ordered. I have no idea what they were, other than I had a Skipper Sipper which was from the “I’m driving” section of the menu.

I did taste Dad’s cocktail and it was what I imagine petrol to taste like. Bloody hell it was strong and he had to really battle through it to get it down. Louise had less trouble. You won’t be surprised to learn that she ordered a cocktail which was intended for sharing.

The bar tenders are very entertaining and there are several “show pieces” they do when certain drinks are ordered, but I won’t spoil those.

We did two rounds of drinks. Louise was sat at one end of the bar and I at the other and we had “chosen” the two comedy bar stools that slowly lower themselves to the ground. She can probably blame the drink but I noticed fairly quickly and stood up for a bit. About five minutes later Louise turned to her side to find she was looking at everyone’s knees and wondered if she’d fallen over.

Being the tourist suckers we are, we purchased every souvenir glass it was possible to do so and with that in mid our bar bill was somewhere close to our monthly mortgage. Well, we are on holiday.

With four fifths of the party now a little worse for wear we had to find ‘Ohana and check in. As is always the case it seems, as we got to the check in podium there was a family in front of us taking much longer than it should to undertake a simple task. We stood waiting for almost ten minutes as they faffed and discussed why the poor cast member couldn’t find their reservation. They resorted to texting someone called Kay to ask what name the reservation would be in. Then Kay was asked what time it was made for and how many people it was made for. Rather than call Kay and find all this out in one go, we waited for the texts to come back with dwindling patience.

What they didn’t ask Kay was which fecking restaurant their reservation was for. Turns out it was Kona Kafe. Thanks Kay. How we laughed and laughed. The cast member smiled and wished them a magical day as did we all.

We took about seven seconds to check in and started the wait for our table.

After about ten minutes we were seated. I don’t know what the odds of this are but we were shown to the exact same table we had the last time we were here …

The bread and salad arrived immediately and were lovely.

Then the mains started to arrive…

Shortly after that several men turned up waving their meaty swords at us. We were also served chicken, shrimp and steak and it was awesome.

We ate more than any human should. Dad had a really bad attack of heartburn towards the end of the meal. I think his rum cocktail was melting his insides to be honest. He had some milk and a visit to the loo and felt a bit better.

It didn’t matter how full we were, pudding had to be done as it was the main reason we had booked this place.

We all shared this…

It was incredible and probably took a couple of years off my life expectancy.

At 9.40 we paid and wandered down to the beach to find a spot to watch Wishes from the beach.

The music was inaudible/non-existent so we were probably sat in the wrong place, but the view was great.

My camera skills were less great so I will only share a couple of my attempts.

We meandered back to the car with a stop at the front desk as Louise had left her sunglasses on the table in the restaurant. Luckily they had been discovered and handed in. Those cocktails have a lot to answer for.

The drive home and the drop off for Mum & Dad were uneventful and we were all in bed by 11.30 thinking about which clothes might still fit us tomorrow.

Till the next time…..

To Siesta Key…And Beyond Tour 2017 – Day Three April 13th 2017

Holidays are fun. Holidays are relaxing. It’s a chance to unwind, chill out and put the stress, strains and worries of every day life behind you. There’s no need to be getting up at silly times to get to work, it’s a time to do what you want, when you want.

So….I’d set my alarm for 6.30am as we needed to be out early to make the most of the extra hour for onsite guests. After making my contribution to the chocolate hostage release programme, amazingly we were out before 8am. It turned out that we should have set the alarm for about 4.30am as I shall now explain.

We walked to Universal rather than take the water taxi as again it was very busy.

On site guests are able to enter the parks from 8am. The Potter stuff is the only thing open at this time so this creates a stampede to that end of the park and despite a commendable power walking effort from all three of us, as we entered Diagon Alley on our way to Gringott’s, the queue for that was already at the brick wall. Yep, the wall that is the actual entrance to Diagon Alley…at 8.20am. There was no chance of us enduring that.

For me, this is one of the main reasons that we won’t be rushing back to Universal anytime soon. Aside from the fact that future trips are likely to include a small human (if you don’t know why then read this) for whom a lot of the rides won’t be suitable, the premium you pay for onsite perks didn’t feel like value for money for us this time to be honest. I found this bottle neck of onsite guests at the one open ride for the extra hour a bit silly. The fact that Potter rides are not eligible for the Express passes, and that only those are open for the extra hour makes the whole thing a bit of a waste of time really. Rides like Minions have a half hour queue even with Express and generally, we found it hard to fill a full day in one of the parks, whereas twelve hours in a Disney park seems like we’re still missing things. It may have just been a symptom of Mum & Dad not having Express but I’m not sure that was the whole reason. I shall no doubt wax lyrical further into this report when we arrive in WDW about feeling at home and all that…so it may just be that Universal is not Disney and you can’t blame it for that.

Anyway, I shall no doubt return to this theme at the end of the report….something for you all to look forward to I’m sure.

So we retreated to Starbucks and joined a queue that was only a little shorter than the one for Gringotts and got some breakfast. I don’t often visit Starbucks I’ll be honest so I never know what to order. The menu is more complex than theoretical physics, so during this trip I adopted the strategy of just having whatever Emily ordered. I can’t tell you now what I had to drink, but it was nice, had something call soy in it, which I’ve only ever put on my Chinese take away previously and it had ice in it. It was lovely. I also had a sandwich, or at least a miniature version of one.

Whilst breakfasting I had employed glorious multi-tasking skills to book a time for the new Fallon ride. By the time we’d finished eating it was time to do that.

This new “reserve a time” thing is, in my worthless opinion, the future of rides in theme parks. Having seen a few vlogs about the pre-ride waiting experience for Fallon (and the best in my view are The Trackers) I was a little gutted to be immediately summoned to ride. I had wanted to have a good look round and see the stuff they put on to distract you from the three hour wait…which for us was about thirty seconds.

The ride itself is very enjoyable. As most of these things are, it’s a bit short, but it’s a busy one and you’ll need a good few times to take it all in.

As we exited I got a message from Dad that he was in the park and ready to meet. I told him where we were and from his reply it was clear that he wasn’t in the right park! They had gone to IOA. Leaving them to get the train over to Universal we headed to the Mummy. We always love this one and rode on the front row. I don’t know if this was the reason, or if they had changed the ride a bit to include more water but for the first time in a good many years I found myself moist riding Mummy.

Luckily it’s quite dark in there…..

I left Louise and Emily there and walked up to King’s Cross to meet Mum & Dad. I found them easily enough. Dad had chosen to hire a wheelchair today as he was really suffering with sciatica. He’d soldiered on yesterday but today he would be pushed around whether he liked it or not.

Once back with Louise and Emily, we parked Dad up in some shade with Mum whilst we went off to ride Rip, Ride Rocket with our Express passes. No matter how many times I ride this I am always surprised by its intensity and by how much it feels like you are going to fall out backwards on the way up. This ride is harsher than the crazed Admin’s banning policy for the It’s Orlando Time Facebook group! Actually, probably not.

You have to take so many things off to ride this that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes the first naturist ride in Orlando.

I discovered a few new swear word combos on the way round as it threw my aging body in directions it was not built to withstand. Good fun!

We considered doing Minions (without Express for Mum & Dad) but the 80 minute wait was about 60 beyond our tolerance so we did Shrek. This was our first experience of entering a ride with a member of the party in a wheelchair. We were ushered to the front of our very own line, had our own route into the theatre and were allowed in first. All very nice, but all things considered, I’d say it’s best not to have someone needing a wheelchair than cutting a few minutes from your queue.

Next we made our way to the Monster’s Cafe where we were to leave Mum & Dad whilst we expressed Minions. On the way, I couldn’t help marvel at how rough Bob Geldof is looking…

As we approached Minions it was clear that even the Express line wasn’t very Express. It snaked to places any Express line should never snake. This was enough to put Louise off and she opted for a bench in the sun, so it was Emily and myself.

Luckily, these days she is just about tall enough to ride!

After a very un-Express like thirty minute wait we rode before exiting, finding Louise and heading back to Mum & Dad. Despite numerous visits, I honestly can’t remember this Monster’s Cafe existing before today. Either it’s new or my memory is in as good a shape as my waistline. It’s a quick service place with the usual selection of fast food fare.

Emily ordered a cheeseburger and Mum & dad shared one…

Not for the first time, Louise and I shared a foot long…..

After lunch we went over to the Horror Make Up Show starting at 1pm. Once again we were special cased due to the wheelchair but there was no queue or crowd to speak of. I did spot what I assume is the latest hipster trend in foyer…

and my usual reaction to hipsters…

Next we did the Terminator ride..

As we waited to enter, (an important comma that one) a girl close to us in the queue dropped a full drink all over the floor. I found it strange that she was even allowed in with it but even odder that the staff wandering about did absolutely nothing about it having clearly seen it. The waiting area was dark and as soon as that queue started to enter someone was going to go full Torvill and Dean through it.

As we were first in via the wheelchair line we didn’t get to see what happened. My Disney snobbery reared up in full effect, declaring this would never happen on Disney property. I know that everyone appreciated me entertaining them with my views.

This Terminator show is on an impressive scale I always think. It’s almost a forgotten attraction now but the mix of live action and film and all the effects is excellent and seems to go under the radar. I’m not sure how much longer the Terminator brand will endure to make this relevant and I’ll be honest and admit I’ve never watched any of them, but I applaud the effort!

It was time to call it a day and head to the exit now after a restroom stop for some.

Emily wasn’t “restrooming” there on the bench, she was just waiting!

We water taxied back to RPR and once again found some sunbeds in the kid’s pool area. The ladies used our room to change first whilst me and Dad guarded the beds like some German sun towels and then we changed too.

Snoozing, reading, swimming and cocktailing filled the afternoon along with a soupcon of swimming. Dad found the hot tub which worked wonders on his sciatica.

At around 6.30 I drove Mum & Dad home and returned to find the readying of Emily and Louise not as far along as it should have been. At 8pm we set off for Teak Neighbourhood Grill. The walk from our room, to the car park and the subsequent pick up of Emily and Louise from the front of RPR, followed a few minutes later by the same at Mum & Dad’s hotel became a familiar routine. As my usual routines in life go, it’s up there in my all time favourites.

We stopped en route at a pharmacy (not for the last time this trip, but you knew that already) to get some Milk of Magnesia for Emily. I know she won’t mind me sharing with you that she was more full of shit than Katie Hopkins and needed an intervention pronto.

We went all crazy and ordered some appetisers as if we had never eaten here before.

We got two lots of Mozzarella Rounds and a Crab Dip whilst we studied the menu.

I was eating the missing one, sorry.

I didn’t eat any of the crab dip if I’m honest as to me, that tastes like an I’m a Celebrity Bush Tucker Trial with the emphasis on bush.

Our entrees were

Me & Emily – A badly photographed Cronie Burger & Garlic Fries

“french doughnut” tossed with cinnamon-sugar served with a half pound Angus burger topped with maple-pepper bacon, smoked Gouda cheese and an over med egg…a must try!

Louise – French Dip 2.0

open faced thinly sliced prime rib, provolone cheese, horseradish mayo on garlic artisan baguette served with au jus dipping sauce with garlic fries.

Again I can only apologise for the photo

Dad – Imperial Trooper Burger

mozzarella cheese, tomato, spring mix drizzled with sour cream-chive sauce & imperial stout glaze served on toasted brioche bun. He added a side of Scallop Potato which he declared to be incredible!

Mum – Plain Jane Burger

american cheese, bibb lettuce, tomato on toasted brioche bun…pure simplicity with chilli cheese fries.

The Cronie Burger was so good, you can have another photo of it.

Dad had beer, Louise wine and a sangria and the bill was $150 including a healthy tip. I love this place! I was so sad to be leaving that I took photos on the way out feeling all emotional…

We left at 10pm, lost in a fog of calories and the glow of satisfaction. After dropping Mum & Dad off we barely made it to bed before falling asleep. I think I read for about ten minutes before welcoming a coma like sleep into my body.

Till the next time…..