Park Strife?

After all the hassle and nonsense that I have been sharing with you recently, you will not believe what happened when I tried to make all our park reservations.

It all went very smoothly.

I know this is a shocking situation but I can only tell you the truth. On Monday, my tickets turned up around mid-morning. I quickly whipped them out of the envelope and tried to link them up to the My Disney Experience app. That was pretty painless with only one (mine) refusing to link up on the app and it needed me to use their web site instead.

With that done, every day for which we wanted access to a Disney park was available and after ten minutes we were done. I don’t know what all the fuss was about!

After my diva strop last week it is only right that I bring you up to date with Floridatix. I did get a response to the email I sent them last Saturday on Tuesday of this week, asking for a little more information which I provided. I then got a call from Carly there on Thursday. She was very good, apologised and could make no excuses for what happened. She explained the delay in despatch was due to them running out of Universal tickets (the irony) and she could not understand why I had been told twice that the order had been sent.

She promised a small gesture of financial goodwill and a goody pack was heading our way as a token of apology and all in all she provided just the right amount of understanding, culpability and customer care to make me feel like I had been listened to. With there being no impact on the booking of our park reservations, I was a lot more willing to accept an apology than if that hadn’t been the case.

I stand by my emotional rant last week. It was in no way an overreaction or a sign of irrationality on my part. So there.

This coming week is a big one with WDW re-opening the first of its parks. We can all only hope that they somehow get a fecking grip on infection levels before the whole country resembles some sort of Walking Dead cosplay event.

It doesn’t look good if I am honest, with infection rates In Florida and other states seemingly completely out of control now. For the first time, I am feeling fairly comfortable that the decision to push the trip back to March was the correct one, with growing concerns that things may not be “right” even by then.

I have no doubt that Disney will do things as well as they can. It will probably be one of the safer places to go if you want to go “out”, but it certainly won’t decrease the number of infections.

I know that both of my readers love this endless stream of nonsense about a holiday they won’t be going on, but how about some other content? I could share with you the details on how I have used lockdown to relentlessly exercise, resulting in a weight loss of almost two stones. But who wants to hear about that nonsense. If I see one more work out video online my overdeveloped sense of guilt may consume me alive.

Instead, in real life news, we are currently grappling with the quandary of whether to move house or stay where we are and do some pretty extensive work to it. Both options horrify me in fairly equal measure but we do need to do one or the other. Our house doesn’t really do what we want it to as it’s very old and was built for folks with a very different way of living so it needs surgery or we need to find one that does.

We had our builder and his architect round this week to explore what we could do here and we are leaning towards that option but neither of us feels we are 100% sure either way. The plan is to remove the back of the house and re-configure it as the stereotypical “family room” with open plan kitchen and living space, rather than the traditional three-room layout that all houses of our age seem to have.

Whilst we were encouraged by the architect’s advice and guidance, we do continue to fire up Rightmove and see what’s out there too. We may end up tossing a coin in the coming weeks as it comes to the point when we need to make the decision.

So you now have the prospect of me not only pontificating and stressing about our holiday in the coming months, I will also have the stressful scenario of either major construction or a house move to throw into the mix. How will you stay away?

By the way, I haven’t lost two stone.

Till the next time……

Floridadix

Floridadix

If nothing else, this pandemic and ensuing holiday destroying after-effects are giving me plenty of stuff to blog about. I know that many of you will be really missing those weeks when I’d squeeze out a few hundred words on walking the dogs or how great my commute was, but I’m sure there will be a time for that when some form of normality begins.

Speaking of normality, on Tuesday, clearly based on the science, ahem, the 2m rule was abandoned from the 4th of July and in surely unrelated news, pubs and restaurants would be able to open again from that date. You may have spotted an opinion or two from me on Twitter during this crisis that I do not feel the government have covered themselves in glory. Certainly, if the drop in my follower numbers is any judge, a good number of you did and decided you didn’t want to see any more. Each to their own of course.

Now, as much as there may be arguments and reasons to suggest that the entire exit from lockdown was driven by a reaction to, cover-up of and defence of a certain person driving to Barnard Castle rather than the science, I do recognise that at some point, the risks of further infections and deaths have to be balanced against the country being able to function and survive economically. I did hope that we would all be able to behave ourselves once in the pubs and restaurants so that they can earn some money but we could avoid a Florida style spike in cases as soon as they re-opened. But even before they open, the evidence of the beaches in Bournemouth and some football fans in Liverpool suggest we cannot.

Lots of news again this week. Virgin deferred their resumption of flights from the 20th of July to the 24th of August, still without any news on when international travel may be allowed again. Our original travel date was the 26th of August so you can only imagine the panic-stricken carnage this blog may have witnessed if we were still booked to travel then. Be thankful we moved stuff to next March as it would not have been pretty. Add to that the not unexpected horrors of folks trying to reserve their days in the theme parks and I may have combusted from a mixture of frustration, stress and wind.

TUI went a step further than Virgin and abandoned all plans for Orlando until November. A sign of things to come? Maybe and if so I fear for Virgin’s viability.

This huge spike in cases in Florida and other states is horrifying and weird. Not that I would suggest for a second that the stats may be doctored, but to see such record levels of infection have little or no effect on hospitalisations and deaths (yet) seems odd. I really do hope that we don’t see similar spikes in deaths and it might be possible, to some extent, to live with this thing just making people ill for a few days and not killing them. The way things developed as the week went on did not look promising. Now we are seeing re-openings reversed in some states and beaches being closed in places like Miami.

Seeing the depressing tales of woe from those trying to make park reservations on Monday and Friday did not fill me with glorious delight and anticipation. As I girded my loins for my turn I was both dreading and looking forward to 12pm today, being online and ready to go.

To make that a reality I would, of course, need our theme park tickets in my hands. To this end, I sent Floridatix a huge sum of money on the 19th of June so they could get them to me in good time. Their web site promises that once your balance is paid you have your tickets within 7 days.

By Thursday I was getting a little jumpy as I had not got any texts or emails with the promised tracking number so I called them. I was told that they had been posted that day and was given a tracking number for the 48-hour service they were using. They would be with me on Saturday they said. Jolly good.

I did try to use that tracking number to see where they were but the Royal Mail web site didn’t recognise it. Giving them the benefit of the doubt I thought it may take a while to come up there so I left it till Friday.

Earlier in the week, I think it was Monday, I had emailed them on a separate matter about being able to get a refund should my tickets be worthless if I could not reserve any parks. They replied within a day or two saying I could. I replied, thanked them and asked if they knew when my tickets would arrive. They hadn’t replied by the time I called on Thursday but, on Friday I did get a reply to that email saying they had been posted “today”.

I thought that was odd but took them at their word.

Saturday came, as did the postman. Sadly the tickets did not come with him. I tried to call Floridatix but they were closed. I tried their Facebook page, with no response and emailed them, expressing my “mild disappointment”. I had no reply to any of those methods but spookily, within half an hour I had a text and an email from Royal Mail telling me my package from Floridatix was on its way and would be with me on Monday.

Imagine my absolute rage. The tracking number was of course not the one I was given earlier in the week and when I did use that new tracking reference, it told me the sender sent the package at 7.28pm on Friday, using a 24-hour service, not the 48 hour one I was told they always use.

Now, I suspect I will still be able to book the parks we want a day after everyone else gets to have a go and I know of course that things go wrong from time to time, but what I cannot fathom or accept from a company I have just given a shit ton of money to, much earlier than I usually would, is being lied to, not once, but twice.

I have been a “happy” customer of theirs for a few years now. By happy I mean they have done what they were meant to and provide me with something I wanted when I wanted it at a price I was willing to pay. Now, they have shit the bed, pissed me right off and not only lost my future business but led me to moan about it to a few people who may at some point be in the market for theme park tickets.

I am by no means a “Karen” (google it if you don’t get the reference) and I am not inclined to “ask to speak to the manager” or moan about stuff (outside of my weekly blogging, but you know what I mean) but I’m afraid lying is beyond incompetence or human error and I need to passively aggressively shout into the void to make myself feel better. My first world problem rage grows by the hour as the 12pm milestone grows closer and I can only imagine thousands of others piling on to the website to book up all the slots I want, but due to shit service and dishonesty, I cannot.

I will admit that the completion of my self-assessment tax return early on Saturday morning, right around the time that I realised I had been shafted by Floridatix, had not helped my mood for several thousand reasons, but regardless of external factors ticking me off this is, whichever way you look at it, a bit shit and it needs calling out.

Although I do genuinely think there will still be slots to be had tomorrow (although I can’t possibly be sure) if there are not then the actions of Floridatix could potentially have ruined the entire trip and made the huge sums being paid for it null and void should we not be able to reserve entry to any theme parks at any point during our trip. I am, as you may be picking up, absolutely furious.

Anyway, after another post which confirms this blog as first-world problem central, I shall go and silently seethe for the rest of the day watching social media fill up with tales of everyone booking the theme parks I want to go to.

Till the next time……

Reservation Reservations

It’s time to retire the cliche that a week is a long time in politics. What has happened in the last seven days in the small world (see what I did there?) of WDW holidays has dwarfed anything that has ever happened in Westminster.

It’s been an odd week for sure. Away from WDW, work has been off the scale busy, with me barely having time to knock another day of our countdown on the fridge each morning. There was also all sorts of COVID crap going on too. Having just read through this post before publishing it, the scattergun, all over the place nature of it reflects the nature of the week just gone quite well, so I’ll leave it as it is.

Florida seems to be trying to become the new global centre for infections, leading to the Mayor of Orlando issuing a mandatory mask executive order from yesterday for the “Disney” counties. No doubt the same folks who think they need to take an AR-15 to Taco Bell just in case shit goes down and they need to lay down some covering fire will find a piece of cloth across their mouth too much to bear.

Disney, although understandably busy getting their act together did not cover themselves in glory either. Early in the week, Floridatix posted a since-deleted blog post with all sorts of odd stuff in it. There was talk of reservations for the parks being required right through 2021, the removal of the 7 and 14-day park tickets from September 2021 and some other bizarre stuff around 21-day tickets that my brain couldn’t take on board. Displaying all of my customary wrongness I, of course, dismissed it as nonsense.

It does appear that Floridatix jumped the gun as did a couple of other ticket companies, but despite me originally thinking it was all bollocks, as the week progressed it became clear that something along those lines was in the planning. The fact the information was published and then removed and that there was no immediate communication from Disney itself was if you looked at any of the WDW related Facebook groups, causing some angst among Disney fans.

It was a bit poor in my view. Disney knows that a lot of the fun of going there is the planning and anticipation and the current chaos and random communications have killed all of that. Now, I recognise there’s a pandemic going on and they are busy reinventing their entire operations, but this death by a thousand cuts approach to their communication isn’t good. It’s a stressful time for the planners in the party.

So by the middle of the week, it did look to be the case that park reservations would be in place going into next year. By I think Wednesday, the Disney website had been updated to show those bookable dates for park entry for AP holders through June 2021.

The ticket companies, when they prematurely communicated this stuff were suggesting everyone pay their balance asap so that they could link their tickets to My Disney Experience and make their park bookings. The one bit of missing info at that stage was what the window might be to do that. If there was no window and you can literally book your days as soon as you have your tickets then I figured I’d likely cough up the balance to give us the best chance of getting into our parks of choice. If they said you can book from say, 60 days out, then, of course, we’d pay up just before that. It would just have been nice to know what the hell was going on.

Well, on Friday, it became a little clearer with the following info being released this time by Disney.

Booking Dates for Park Reservations

The Disney Park Pass system will be available soon to select Guests. Booking dates vary based on your plans.

Beginning June 22, 2020, Disney Resort and other select hotel Guests with a valid theme park admission can make reservations.
Beginning June 26, 2020, Annual Passholders without a Resort stay can make reservations.
Beginning June 28, 2020, existing ticket holders can make reservations.

Park reservations will be available through September 26, 2021, based on your Resort stay and ticket eligibility or ticket eligibility window.

So that made it clear(ish) that we would need to have our tickets paid for and linked up asap so that on June 28th we could attempt to secure the parks we want. Hopefully, we will be able to get them sorted. Thankfully, when I booked our theme park tickets I included cancellation cover so should we find there is not enough availability during our stay then we will be able to return them and sack the whole thing off.

I do wonder if Disney have not put a booking window in to help themselves and their ticket company partners. It is clear they have all had a torrid time, taking in very little new revenue and no doubt refunding a lot of people. With this new system many folks will be encouraged to pay for their 2021 park tickets now, helping the cash flow of those selling tickets. I have some sympathy for that, if that is the case, as we all need those companies to stick around.

Overall though, this is just a whole heap of stress and uncertainty that should not be the case with an expensive holiday. It still seems odd to me that Disney is announcing so many changes so far into the future. To be releasing policy changes up until the end of 2021 when nobody knows what the end of next week looks like seems premature to me. I do hope they are not using the current situation to make some changes they ideally would have liked to anyway, but feared the backlash. The termination of the 7 and 14-day tickets from September 2021 seems especially weird. If that persists beyond the 50th celebrations that will have a material effect on UK visitors. I understand that many of you will be more outraged by the withdrawal of the dining plan. We’ve never used it so that doesn’t really affect me, but I shall be angry on your behalf.

In all of this, I am clinging on to the hope that they are going for the worst-case scenario and it can all be taken away as things improve with something like a vaccine. My naive yearning for normal is never-ending.

In other news, Canada and the US extended their border lockdown until July 21st. Now, this may be a coincidence, but Virgin have been saying for a while that they are planning to start flights again from July 20th. Virgin this week also said they would start up again from early August from Manchester. This is a total guess, and please bear in mind my very poor track record on this sort of thing, but maybe Virgin know something, and that is the date that the US will open up to international visitors. Not that this affects us anymore. Trump got bored with COVID about three weeks ago and is instead concentrating on infecting lots a few of his supporters at rallies so who knows. When he remembers the ban exists on international visitors he may just lift it.

As this traumatic week came to an end, cases across Florida spiked above 4,000 in a day and the whole country’s stats look like they are on the rise. There’s some chatter about this being OK as hospitalisation and death rates are flat. I want to buy into this theory, but there is a few weeks lag between infections and those then needing to go to the hospital and/or dying so I think it’s too early to tell. The thinking that the increased testing in Florida was driving the spike in cases seems to be largely incorrect. The positive case rate is up above 12% compared to around 5% for recent weeks in early June. It’s not good.

So ahead of me is another week of stress as I watch the front door waiting for our tickets to arrive. This time next week I need them in my sweaty mitts so that I can be online booking our park reservations. We’ll be fine, right?

Till the next time…….

The Post Postponement Post

Welcome to the first blog post after the big reschedule. This shall be an attempt to embrace the “new normal”. A normal in which my countdown went from a very lovely 80ish days to around 270. It will take some adjusting to, but try I shall.

One thing that this whole debacle has taught me, or should I say reminded me of, is that there is no bad time to take that holiday. I of course specifically mean one to WDW but I guess it goes for those who do holidays wrong too.

I was about to try and count all the years that we went despite probably thinking we shouldn’t for all sorts of financial reasons. The truth, however, is that was probably the case every year. We could always have spent the money on something else. The fact that we didn’t and instead blew all our disposable income on these trips is something I never regret. Now, later in life, with probably more disposable income and options, the fact that we have been prevented from going is ironic at best and a complete shower of shit at worst. So I am very glad we were “silly” in the past.

Just to complete the loop on my reschedule planning, I was correct for a second time last week when I predicted that the car hire folks would suddenly need a load more money. To move our booking required a 20% increase in the fee. I did a quick comparison on a few sites to see if a fresh booking and losing my £50 deposit would be cheaper but it wasn’t worth the hassle. I swallowed the ridiculous increase and just got on with my life, only pausing briefly to moan about it in my weekly blog that nobody reads. It is news to me that March is somehow more “high season” than the end of August but what do I know about trips to WDW?

I have rebuilt “the plan” around our new dates, retaining the bulk of all the theme park days and eateries, but they may get a little tweaking over time just to cater for the weekends falling on different days of the trip for us now.

It appears that the Flower & Garden Festival is scheduled to start on our first day too. Louise, Emily and I have experienced this before, but it will be a first for everyone else on the trip. As nice as it is to get to see different things like this, I still would very much have preferred to go in bloody August.

I have been keeping a close eye on how things are shaping up in Florida. Having done so previously to desperately look for reasons that we may still be able to go, now, it’s more to check that we made the right call. I, like probably both of you reading this, watched the Tim Tracker video of him going to Universal, face mask and all. It looked OK to be fair, but there did seem to be very few people about and he only did a couple of hours. How that would be for a full-on park day with capacity crowds (whatever they may be) I don’t know. Look, I know I’m trying to subliminally convince myself we made the right call, just play along.

I’ve also been continuing to enjoy and appreciate the daily updates from Lionel over at Hit The Theme Parks. He’s been doing some useful and welcome analysis (in a spreadsheet and everything) about what the recent spikes in Florida cases are all about. It does seem to be linked to some more tests being done, but there is an increase in cases, which is to be expected when re-opening up everything, but whether it is the catastrophe the headline figures suggest, we don’t yet know. If case numbers rise rapidly but hospitalisation and death rates don’t then this might be tolerable. Let’s hope things can be kept open and under control until that vaccine arrives just in time for our trip in March to be just like the good old days!

So with all the kerfuffle of making the decision not to go finally behind us, now we need to settle into the reality of the longer countdown, so much more work and the prospect of a glorious UK winter to endure. If I moan about that from time to time, forgive me. It’s not like me to do that, as you know, but I can’t make any promises.

Till the next time…….

Virgin On The Ridiculous

Virgin On The Ridiculous

We have a lot to get through so let’s not waste time. Take it as read that I’m a first world problem, holiday obsessed idiot with no awareness of the real problems going on around me.

The week began in a maelstrom of self-doubt and second-guessing. As soon as I pressed the button (metaphorically) to change our trip everything suddenly seemed to be getting a lot better very quickly.

This, of course, was just my perception and a reaction to having made the call, but it did not stop me persecuting myself. I’m not often right in my predictions but my spider-sense was absolutely spot on with regards to Virgin. Their website promises a joyously seamless experience should you wish to move your booking to a new date. I feared this was bollocks and I was very correct.

I emailed them and got no response within the 48 hours promised so I resorted to messaging them. What followed was a text message conversation that lasted longer than a 13-year-old talking to his first crush.

It may well have been that I just struck unlucky with my agent, but I don’t know what happened. It was a mess. I understand many agents are working from home and they may be worried about their jobs and long term future with Virgin of course, but it won’t stop me moaning about it like a man-baby.

It didn’t start well as their first reply to my initial message confirmed that my booking had been moved to the 26th of August. I pointed out those were my original dates and could they move it to the 1st of March as I’d requested. I was then told to go online and do that. If the agent knew anything about me at all they would have known that I would do almost anything to avoid dealing with a human being if an online alternative exists, but I patiently explained there was no option to change my booking to new dates online, or else, I would have done that before emailing and texting them.

Having run a dummy booking on their site for our new dates I saw that I could get Premium both ways for a few hundred quid more so I requested that. Apparently, when booking that via a person it comes with a slight surcharge of £425 each. Not wanting to prolong this agony I told them to just move the thing as it was to the new dates. This was just the beginning of the longest run of changing facts since the Vote Leave campaign.

Next, I was told there were no seats in the cabin we had booked on our outbound flight and there would be a price difference to pay as we’d have to go “Economy Delight” rather than “Classic”. I asked how much that would be and/or if the next day’s flight had better availability.

Some time passed and I was then told I’d be better off getting back to them “later” as they’d know more then what might be available. “Later” seemed to mean closer to our original departure date. How unavailable seats become available “later” wasn’t clearly explained. I explained I could not do that as I had a million other moving parts of this trip, some of which were holding dates for me and I just wanted to move the booking as promised on their web site.

I was getting tetchy at this point and having run that dummy booking on their web site, I could see a load of empty “Classic” seats. When I pointed this out, suggesting several rows that I’d be happy with, suddenly they miraculously found some too and, good news, they could be mine for just £145 extra…each. I declined, questioning why I needed to pay extra for the same cabin I had on my existing booking.

Amazingly, now they went back to insisting there were no “equivalent” seats on the outbound again and I would need to pay them lots of money. I asked about a refund. All I got was a standard reply saying I had to email another address and refunds would take a lot longer then the 90-day rule says it should. Confused? So was I.

I enquired why they were inventing extra charges. They said they were not, and they just had no equivalent cabin seats and I would need to upgrade. Pointing out that the dummy booking I was looking at was actually cheaper than the price I paid for our original dates they said they could not price match to the web site as it gave a discount. I do love a consistent brand experience across their various channels. You can’t beat a company’s website competing against their own call centre agents to give customers a warm glow. I said I did not want a price match, I wanted them to book us some of the available Classic seats I had already paid for and I could see lots of online.

Then I was told that I didn’t have Classic on my original booking (even though I could see it on their website that I did).

Apparently, they suddenly decided to tell me that I had OSCAR reservations which were promotional and funnily enough my new dates did not qualify for that promotion so I would need to pay another £900 if I changed to the new dates.

So the only option I now seemed to have was to apply for an open ticket as apparently then I could make my own new booking on their website. I abandoned the text conversation at that point and I filled out the form on their web site requesting that my booking be converted into an open ticket. This was Tuesday, four days after we decided to move the flight and we were still no further forward. Those who know me at all will understand that this would not be good for my planning obsessed, uncertainty allergic state of mind.

Much time passed and nothing happened. The form told me that I could relax now and, although it may take a few days they would sort it all out and come back to me.

They did not come back to me.

By Saturday I was stressed out, anxious and angry. I’d already moved the theme park tickets to next year, investing in a new one for Freddie who will be three next March and I had the villa holding our new dates, now, for over a week. I had a Frankenstein of a trip, made up of two different sets of dates and nobody at Virgin cared one jot.

On Saturday afternoon I decided enough was enough and I did something I never do. I phoned them. I had to wait 90 minutes listening to Bitter Suite Symphony by the Verve, before getting through to someone. Melanie, the agent I was connected to was Welsh, lovely, professional, efficient and understanding.

Not that I have anywhere else to take my Trans Atlantic business in future, but she restored my faith in the company I have to fly with.

Within ten minutes the dates were changed. Did I have to pay the extra £900? Nope. There was no charge to amend the booking of course, but there was, for reasons I didn’t understand or care enough to get into at this stage, a £30 per person fare difference. This would be more than compensated for by the £210 refund I was due for the bubble seats we’d upgraded to that no longer existed. I did have to pay the extra there and then and wait about six months for the refund, but all in all, after the angst of the week just gone, I took that as a victory. I did have one last concern.

With the dates now moved, I had a fear that my request to convert my booking into an open ticket (remember that?) would still be carried out. Melanie assured me she would add notes to my booking so that would not happen. As much as I want to believe my new friend Melanie, I hope that works out.

Immediately I could see the new details on their web site and I was able to book seats and meals. It was a relief.

With that in place, I could now move through the other required changes like a virus at a protest. Of course, everyone wanted their extra pound of flesh. I could change the villa booking online as that was with Airbnb. I had been messaging the owner and I did again to query whether the chunky extra fee I was being shown was valid and they really would charge me that. It was and they did.

I booked the Hard Rock for our new dates and again, the prices now quoted were significantly higher than the ones for this August. I also requested our original booking was cancelled. Travel Republic allows you to book with a very low deposit with free cancellation right up until the booking, so surely that will all be straightforward. Right?

I have messaged USRentaCar to move our booking to March. The same intuition that told me Virgin would be a shit show also tells me there will be more money heading their way for the privilege. I will, of course, let you know.

I emailed our airport taxi, and that change was the least painful of them all with an immediate reply saying that was all OK with no mention of extra costs. There’s time for that I suppose. I even messaged my nephew Jack who house and dogs sits for us and booked him for the new dates.

So I think we’re all sorted now, or as sorted as we need to be at this stage.

Having found it so hard to make the change, I did feel an unexpected sense of relief at having done so. I did get a cold shiver after seeing the new dates for the flights on the My Booking part of Virgin’s site. It was a sudden horrific confirmation that I wouldn’t be there this August, but overall, I feel it’s probably the right thing to do.

This view has been confirmed slightly by the case numbers in Florida spiking over the last few days of course. They do seem to be rising quite dramatically and were we still planning to go at the end of August that would be stressing me right out.

There’s some suggestion that the extra positive cases are a result of increased testing, but that, from the Republican Governor hell-bent on re-opening seems like a bit of a stretch.

Disney is publishing more detail on resort and park rules and I’m more convinced than ever that we wouldn’t be getting into a Disney park every time we might want to so I suppose that is some consolation.

Now, I can concentrate on stressing about what things will be like next March of course. I just pray there is a vaccine between now and then.

It’s been a week I wouldn’t wish to repeat and now you just have to endure me papping on about this trip for the next 267 days or so. Enjoy!

Till the next time……

Defeated and Demoralised

Let me get the obligatory “first world problems” caveat out of the way. We are all healthy, housed, clothed fed and safe. I understand most folks have it worse than me and I know I am a snivelling gimp for what is to about to happen. With that said, I am about to unleash both barrels of my moan-gun all over this blog.

On Friday the decision was made to postpone our upcoming trip.

I am very much not OK about this. Yes, it was a special trip for my 50th and that hurts a bit, but more than that, I just miss the place, need a holiday and was really, really looking forward to spending some time with the family in nice weather with nice food. (I refer you again to paragraph one above).

Why did we take that decision? Well, for many reasons I suppose.

First, of course, is our own safety. Whilst this is our primary concern it isn’t the thing that I feel is the highest risk or the main reason to defer. I am pretty confident I have had it, along with Tom and Rebecca. Louise suspects she had it very early in the outbreak but of course none of us knows for sure. Hopefully, that affords us some protection. None of our party is particularly at high risk, but of course, we need to protect ourselves as much as possible. However, we are no less likely to catch it here than in the US, to be honest.

In reality, the procedures outlined by Disney for their re-opening were the straws that broke this camel’s back. I woke on Friday to the news that all my ADRs had been cancelled as I suspected they would be. You can’t socially distant in restaurants that are full. It also became almost clear that there would be a reservation system to get into Disney parks. Being off-site scum, without a valid park ticket (yet), I assumed we would be some way down the pecking order in getting those. That would make the investment in a 14-day ticket unjustifiable.

Add to that the fact that masks would be mandatory for Freddie and there would be no parades or fireworks, then for us, I felt the effort and investment to get over there, didn’t feel like it would be worth it. I am not moaning about Disney doing any of this. They need to do what they need to do. In a way, I feel they want to deter visitors, certainly in the first few weeks.

There is still much for Disney to outline, flesh out and confirm of course but for us, with park tickets to buy in the next few weeks, there is too much uncertainty around gaining entry to parks for us to go ahead and do that, with the seemingly unavoidable risk that we may not get a reservation to get into a park on some days.

Secondly, I don’t want to get into political discussions on here, that’s what my Twitter is for, but all I will say is that I have very limited confidence in the respective governments of the UK and the US getting their countries out of this any time soon. Neither have a test, track and trace scheme in place and neither are seeing their infection and/or death rates coming down as other similar countries are.

It is spikey, but the above shows the new cases in Florida. The trend just isn’t going down. Even if international travellers from the UK were allowed into Florida by the end of August, that may only add to what seems to be a second wave forming from the limited re-opening the state has allowed already.

As for the UK. I do despair. Our trend looks better, but we haven’t opened up things like restaurants, gyms and hairdressers yet as Florida has. Yet we do seem to think it’s OK to send the kids back to school whilst the test and trace scheme so crucial to ending lockdown was “launched” prematurely with all the hallmarks of success we have come to expect from the response to the pandemic so far.

With gatherings of up to 6 being allowed alongside schools going back and with large parts of the country citing Dominic Cummings as an excuse to do whatever the hell they like, my confidence in us avoiding a second wave, or more accurately a prolonging of the first, is not very high. That, in the context of our holiday, might mean non-essential travel not being allowed any time soon. That also brings up fears of the sustainability of airlines like Virgin who are currently sitting on a good chunk of money.

I understand many of you may feel differently about the approach and “success” so far and I respect that. I’m just outlining some of my thinking whilst trying to avoid too long a stint on my soapbox.

So, for those and many other reasons I won’t bore you with, it was with a heavy heart and massive sulk on that I emailed Virgin on Friday and requested our booking be moved to the 1st of March. I haven’t had a response yet and I do have a fear deep down that this change won’t go as smoothly as their website claims it will, but if all goes to plan that is when we will be going.

I have emailed the villa and they are holding our new dates until Virgin confirm the change and then I can swing into action and sort out everything else.

Now that the decision is made my worry can be transferred onto the topic of whether or not things will be any different in March. My main hopes there are that there might be a vaccine so that things like masks and social distancing won’t be needed as much, but I just hope stuff is more back to “normal” than it would be in three months from now.

I am most definitely not OK. The dread of facing a whole other winter before getting back there is horrifying. As for how I will feel on the 26h of August, our intended departure date and my birthday a few days later are not worth thinking about.

Inevitably, even before the new flights are confirmed I am doubting the decision. I think (and hope) that is just driven by how much I miss the place. I watched a vlog of someone wandering Disney Springs yesterday, and despite the masks and distancing, it was still that beautiful dusky time of the evening, lovely and warm and full of that twinkly light Florida loveliness and my heart broke.

I wonder if I have gone too early and with three months before we would have arrived, might things have improved/changed in the parks by then? If I am sat watching folks enjoying stuff without too much disruption in early September I will be very hard on myself. I also constantly wonder if we should have just abandoned the parks and gone for a “relaxing break” on a beach somewhere in Florida but that isn’t the first choice of holiday for a few of our party and the rejigging of accommodation would inject quite a lot of extra cost into a trip with a lot already invested.

More than anything I am just horrified at the prospect of how much work is stretching out before me now until we get to go on holiday. That’s a whole lot of stuff I don’t want to do and I am very sad, probably in more ways than one.

Till the next time……

That Was The Week The Wedding Wasn’t.

Before I move on to more important matters let’s get the angst-ridden holiday waffle over with.

There has been a lot happening this week. I’m sure some of it is positive and some negative but I have no idea which is which.

I was very surprised to see Universal announce they will open on June 5th. That’s a whole month ahead of when I thought that might happen. Once again, proof, as if you need it, that I have absolutely no clue. That feels early to me if I am honest but I refer you to my last sentence.

Disney Springs opened last week too. I watched some vlog footage of that and it looked very, very quiet so it’s hard to make any sort of judgement on that so it is one to watch I suppose.

Disney seems to be keeping their powder dry as to when their parks may open. I think there might be a couple of factors here. They may have been waiting to see what Universal announced and I think the discussions for them to host the rest of the NBA season at WDW were also a factor. That seems to be happening in July which may suggest their resorts and perhaps the parks might be open then too.

Then the 14-day quarantine was announced for folks entering the UK from June 8th. It may seem odd that the country with the worst record in Europe is starting that this month, long after other countries did, but little shocks me right now. There is no clue as to how long that will last for, but I think there’s an exception if you somehow manage to drive to Durham on your return to the country. Of course, if that were in place at the end of August, assuming entry into the US were allowed (and it currently isn’t) that would be another reason we won’t be able to go.

All ends up, we’re not really any further forward on knowing what will happen for us. The only real change is that I am more accepting of what will be I suppose. I don’t feel driven to be moving the thing right now as I was last week and I am fairly comfortable with seeing how things pan out. My own personal view right now is, should we be allowed and able to travel on our dates then I would be happy to go to have some form of holiday.

What I think will happen is that we won’t be able to travel and that will mean we should be able to cancel our villa booking without losing our chunky deposit and then I can then rebook the whole thing on the best dates for us rather than being tied to when that villa has availability. Having spent days (literally) finding that villa, that will be a bitter pill to swallow, but there is no perfect outcome here.

I think flights to the US will start running around our dates but I have a strange feeling that they will start from early September, discouraging those with kids from taking their summer holidays as schools may be open to some extent. Boy, am I glad my two are out of school. I do not envy any parent that decision of whether to send your kids to school. If my prediction is right (and there is no precedent for that) then our departure date will be a few days the wrong side of flights starting up and we will be rearranging.

We’re still three months out and things are changing rapidly now so who knows.

In more important news, yesterday should have been Rebecca and Tom’s wedding. They have, of course, been upset this week. It didn’t help that we couldn’t all be together to help them through it, but everyone rallied round as best we could to make the day as tolerable as possible. Flowers, afternoon teas, posh takeaways and all sorts of other treats were bestowed upon them from all sorts of folks and all things considered they had as nice a day as they could.

Rebecca made this lovely video for Tom which sums up how they feel about the whole thing.

It is no consolation but the weather yesterday would have made the day an interesting one with gale force winds for most of the day. Hopefully, next July will see better conditions.

I, like you no doubt, am very much over all these ruined plans and hope that we can return to some kind of certainty soon. A large chunk of my life is spent planning stuff so these conditions are not my natural habitat.

Till the next time……

(Unf)Air BnB

In all my times of whinging and a moaning over the years, seldom have I been so securely ensconced within a glass case of emotion.

Last week was the one when I seriously started to consider realistic options for our holiday. Now, again, I know I seem to talk exclusively about this here, but that’s kinda what this blog is about and for. I am appropriately concerned, stressed, worried, perplexed and angry about a whole range of proper stuff in real life so don’t take this weekly obsession with a trip to some theme parks as a litmus test to my moral compass.

Is it only me who can remember about three things from school? One being litmus test, one is an essay I wrote about the French Revolution, including the opening sentence (and got an A!) and the last is how to ask for black forest gateau in German.

I am in deep turmoil. I swing on a minute by minute basis from thinking our original dates might work and then just minutes later I wonder if even postponing to next Spring will give us enough time for this thing to get sorted to a level where holidays can happen. It’s one roller coaster I don’t enjoy.

I have watched the footage of City Walk re-opening (or small parts of it) and heard the news of Disney Springs planning to do the same. Online commentary ranges from “I don’t know why they even shut the parks as I have been injecting disinfectant into my eyeballs since February and this is all a hoax…MAGA” to “the parks will be shut until 2050 and anyone who even considers setting foot in one before that has the blood of children on their hands”.

Florida has just moved into “full phase one” which means restaurants can go to 50% capacity as long as the 6ft rule is observed and they opened barbers, nail salons and gyms even though those were not officially included in phase one. Infection rates in Florida are steadyish currently but the next few weeks will be crucial and determine if they proceed to phases 2 and 3. Theme parks are now allowed to request permission to open by submitting their plans to keep folks safe.

I am torn between wanting things to get back to something approaching normal of course but fearing what we will see in a couple of weeks time when the limited reopening in Florida possibly leads to a spike in infections and deaths. I don’t like the current situation.

I have found and enjoyed useful information from this chap on You Tube.

I have never watched any of his “normal” videos which I assume are theme park based, but his concise daily summaries have been helpful. He covers daily infection and death rates in Florida and outlines and then visits stuff as it opens up again. He is on the ground in Florida so has useful insight into what is actually going on. For what it’s worth, his thinking is that parks are set for a July 1st opening, with oodles of restrictions.

My thinking this week has been in the form of a few different options. None of them are particularly pretty and certainly, none are perfect. This whole decision is more complex than a complex thing. Very few elements of our existing trip plans function well together with any change to our dates and with most options, we are likely to lose money.

Option 1

We go as planned and make the most of the likely limited park experiences. This assumes flights are operating and the US is allowing European flights in and there are no 14-day quarantine restrictions at each end. That’s a lot of moving parts to fall into place and for that reason, this option, right now, seems unlikely to me. Virgin tell me our flights are currently scheduled to depart as planned but that means little without both the UK and the US allowing non-essential travel to resume. You may have gathered by now that my confidence in either administration’s ability to manage that adequately is on the low side.

One of the other big unknowns with this option is the limited capacity in the parks. Suggestions are that you may need to book your attendance each day. Six Flags have published their “rules” for re-opening and this is what they are doing. Shanghai Disney are saying…

“Guests are required to purchase dated admission tickets prior to their arrival, and Annual Pass holders must make a reservation for their visit date and time through the resort’s official online channels before their visit to the park.”

Now for parties like us that have spent thousands on 14-day tickets, how will that work? Do we risk not getting “in” on some days and therefore losing that money? This is one thing that will need lots of clarity and will be a big factor in us being able to go ahead with plan A should we even want to.

Option 2

We go as planned, assuming all the same stuff as above and don’t do the parks at all (maybe Universal as we’ll be on-site). Instead, we do a beach holiday. Again, we lose the cash paid to the villa already and need to pay for new digs. However, we do save many thousands by not buying theme park tickets.

Option 3

We move to a late November/early December date this year. Things may be clearer and more settled in the parks or they may not. I do like the idea of experiencing the Christmas stuff without the peak holiday crowds in early December but the uncertainty of all this is doing my nut and I have no idea what to do.

A significant consideration in all of these options is that should we move dates, the villa we booked is unavailable on all dates prior to March. On the face of it, should we move dates before next March and then we have to find a new villa/accommodation and we lose a non-trivial amount of cash already paid to Air BnB.

Option 4

We move the thing to next year, say, early March. January and February may be too cold and I don’t want to wait until next summer as I want a holiday and I will stamp my feet until I get one. Currently, our villa has dates available so we would not lose any cash in this scenario.

This experience has got me thinking twice about whether I would book through Air BnB again as their deposit requirements are high and cancellations costly. I have not yet spoken to the owner directly and they may, of course, be more forgiving, but I suspect they don’t have too much wriggle room as they are bound by the terms of the site we booked through.

Virgin Atlantic updated its policy last week. If like us you booked before March and travel before October you can move your dates for free, with no penalty or price difference for a new trip with a return before November 30th. That doesn’t work for us dates wise but still, if we move dates, we won’t be charged any admin fees but would need to pay any price difference.

As we would be moving from August to a quieter time, any price difference should be minimal. Looking at the Virgin site we could rebook for early March and get Premium both ways, rather than just on the return leg as we have now for a couple of hundred quid more.

Being me, I, of course, want to get it sorted and reinstate some certainty back in to (that part of) my life but I don’t feel informed enough to do so. If I haven’t pushed the button on any of this soon, things will come to a head in June as that is when balances on things like car hire are due and we’ll have to decide to do something or nothing at that point. Knowing me, I will have done something already as I am not renowned for my laid back, let’s see what happens approach!

Part of me is urging that I just sit tight for a while. This will allow us to see what the parks do, and more importantly, if non-essential travel crucially is allowed again. If it isn’t and the flight gets cancelled on us, our options for moving it without penalty or price difference would be extended to later dates….perhaps. Having said that, that doesn’t matter too much as the flights in November or March are a similar or lower price than we paid for our current August dates.

Sigh, I suspect you are all more fed up of this than I am. Well, let me tell you, you may think you are but you are most definitely not. But at least I actually get to go on the trip if and when it gets sorted. You just get all the moaning. At this point, writing this stuff here is close to therapy and is an outlet for my frustration and angst. Having laid out the options in detail and worked through the finances of all of them, I think I have discounted the November option. The loss of villa deposit and having to find new accommodation makes that too pricey. It would appear we are faced with a choice between going as currently planned or going next March.

Deep down, I know that March is the only option that gives any drop of certainty. The thing stopping me pressing the button on that is the thought of the horror of having to endure another UK winter without a break. At this point I honestly don’t know how I would drag my flabby exhausted self through that.

Sigh…..answers on a postcard please.

Till the next time……

Teams & Tantrums

Rebecca turned 23 on Thursday. Many of you still may think of her as the “little girl” from the trip reports, as do I, but time waits for no man and she has, without any regard for my feelings on the matter, gone and turned into a fully grown human.

It was, of course, frustrating that the best we could manage was a brief socially distant giving of presents in her back yard, but this week I shall be doing all I can to refrain from moaning like a big baby so instead, I shall be grateful for that and for the fact that as a family we are so far relatively unscathed in this crisis.

We got her a Nintendo Switch with Animal Crossing which is a throwback to the game she and Emily played a lot as children. Emily bought herself the exact same set up so they can now “visit each other’s islands” and there has been group chat about gifting fruit and ladders. I don’t know what that is but if it takes Emily’s mind off the fact that she can’t see her boyfriend still then it’s a good thing.

In the continuing search for positives, the four day week was very welcome. Despite the fact that all I have done for the last couple of months is work and walk the dogs, I am very tired. Not having to sit on my laptop for work all day on Friday was a joy and instead, I could sit all day on my laptop looking for news on things that may affect our holiday.

The highlight of my work week (unless my employer is reading this) was finding out that in Microsoft Teams (for those who might not know, this is a software programme that allows for online collaboration and video chat etc) you can upload custom backgrounds that can be used when you are on video calls. It means you don’t have to worry about where you are sat in the house and what folks might see behind you.

I was supposed to add to my library a range of branded company ones but instead, I just chose a load of my favourite WDW photos from over the years and loaded those in. Now, when I’m sat on two-hour video calls that should have been an email, at least my colleagues can marvel at the night time shot of World Showcase or my slightly blurry castle photo that I am sat in front of.

Indeed on one call yesterday, a colleague with a similar WDW obsession and I spent a good portion of the meeting discussing exactly from where I took the shot of World Showcase. It was time well spent.

It was this photo.

Here are some of the other backgrounds I will be discussing boring stuff in front of in the coming weeks. They will give folks something to look at as we inevitably circle though the unavoidable shite like….

“Who just joined?”

“Can you see my screen?”

“You’re on mute!”

“We’ll just give it a couple more minutes for people to join” despite the fact that I had the courtesy to turn up on fecking time.

“Sorry, you broke up a bit then….what did you say”?

“He just dropped off I think……”

You will know, due to it being a fantastic photo, that I did not take the one above.

Or that one…..

The shame of it is that I will be sat in front of these glorious backdrops blocking the view, but frustratingly, it is a condition of getting paid that I actually attend meetings.

To capture my current thinking on if and when we may ever see these things again, let alone in August, I would say my expectation of being able to do our holiday as planned has worsened since last week. That isn’t saying a lot as my “likelihood rating” was almost zero. You all knew I couldn’t resist papping on about this again, right?

Despite Virgin trying to make plans to stick around for a while, unless you want to fly from Gatwick or of course unless you are one of the 3,500 staff affected, that slight ray of hope seems almost irrelevant as the overall situation seems to be worsening on a daily basis.

Disney Springs and City Walk are both opening up in the coming weeks with very limited capacity and lots of new rules, which could be the first step on the journey back to normality. The fear, of course, is that a second wave ensues and the US is back to square one very quickly. To be honest, I’m not sure “second wave” is the correct term as I don’t think they are through the first wave yet. So whilst that and news the Shanghai are also opening their park soon is in one way welcome, my hopes still aren’t high or indeed existent.

It’s clear from comments made by senior Disney folks at a recent shareholder meeting that they are working very hard on how to make things safe(r) and how they can get some folks back onto property anytime soon. That’s slightly encouraging but I am still in a big man-baby sulk that my 50th trip is in serious jeopardy and just because that is a trivial concern in the midst of a global pandemic, spreading death and destruction upon the human race, it won’t stop me, in some small way, stamping my feet a bit every now and again. Unfortunately for all of you, that tends to be here every Sunday.

There was news yesterday that it seems the wearing of masks/face coverings will be mandatory when the parks reopen. I’ve seen stuff from some airlines too, suggesting they will be required on flights. Freddie aside, I don’t see a mask as too much of an issue on a flight for a few hours but they are less than ideal in a park all day.

All in all, I’m very much in the headspace of just trying to figure out what the best outcome will be of the holiday not going ahead at the end of August. Can we reschedule, how much cash will we lose, will things even be noticeably better later in the year? And for that reason, I am more than a little sad. To reassure you that I’m not a one-trick pony, I have other emotions too of course, such as……

If you or anyone you know were involved in the conga or a rendition of Oops upside your head that were reported during VE Day street parties on Friday, you’re an idiot and you are contributing to people dying and this thing dragging on for longer than it needs to. The fact that you are bored and have had enough of the lockdown would seem, to an intelligent person, a reason to keep to the advice rather than break it. I understand that government advice has all the consistency of blancmange but we are able to make our own judgements and you should strive for good ones.

See, I set out on this post trying my best not to moan about a holiday and in a few hundred words I have not just failed, I have ventured into berating people I don’t know and have never met. This is what happens when a shallow knobhead like me can’t get his holiday.

Till the next time……

Beach And Moan

It has become clear to me now that each week I shall just be papping on about our upcoming holiday and doing big baby wah wahs about the fact that it might not happen.

I’m sure you came to that realisation more quickly than I did.

Just a few short weeks ago I was very bullishly saying that there was no way that stuff would be locked down at the end of August. At the time, that was five months away. Now, as we round the corner of four months away, my hope is receding more quickly than my hairline did.

As I said a couple of weeks ago it’s the uncertainty that I don’t deal well with. For someone who revels in planning eating choices 180 days in advance all this “up in the air” stuff doesn’t sit well.

Right now my thinking is this. I think there is a 60/40 chance that non-essential travel to the US will be allowed. I think the parks will be open to some extent and crucially restaurants will be open with social distancing restrictions.

The parks seem to be gearing up for some sort of June opening, but it may be for Florida residents initially, then US guests and finally international ones, and I have no clue as to how quickly or slowly those changes will come.

However, there are a million things to consider.

  1. Even if travel by plane is allowed, considering I seem to get a cold every time I fly, do I really want to have us stuck in a metal tube of people for eight hours?
  2. Even if the parks are open, they may not be for international visitors.
  3. If they are, capacity may be very reduced, wait times very high and generally the experience may not be a good one.

It turns out there were three things to consider. I suppose the other thing to consider more generally is that I and nobody else really has a clue what the state of play will be in four months time.

With each passing day and more importantly Trump press conference, the US may have been wiped out by one his medical recommendations long before we have to worry if the Olive Garden is open.

One scenario I have percolating is where flights are operational and that removes our option to get a refund or a free move to new dates and therefore we (concerns about infectious metal tubes aside) would still need to fly or lose the cash, but the parks, for one reason or another aren’t doable.

What would we do then? Well, we’d save a heap of cash on theme park tickets and staying on-site at Universal for a start. My thinking is that we’d probably do a trip similar to the one we did in (I think) 2011. It was a road trip of sorts, starting in the Keys, then Naples, Vero and ending up in Orlando. Another twist on this winding road is that Universal “could” be open to on-site guests and that would include us, so we might still be able to do that. Complex, innit?

Should we need to do a different, non-park based trip then I am, semi-consciously constructing an itinerary. It is very early days, but to break up the trip I am thinking multiple locations, in a higher standard of accommodation than we may usually enjoy due to the savings mentioned before. Maybe both coasts? I don’t think we would venture south…..(not in the Alan Partridge sense) for a couple of reasons –

  1. It’s a long drive for us all but especially Freddie
  2. Miami and the south of Florida seems to be suffering more than other parts right now.

Vero may be an option so if anyone reading this has DVC points this wish to rent, stand by your beds, and the other side of the state anywhere from Clearwater down to Siesta Key would be the other option.

You know what’s coming now don’t you? For those of you that have done more of this beach stuff than we have, let me have your thoughts and recommendations, please. It may of course not happen, either because we don’t go at all, or we go and the parks are viable. Just typing that range of options gives me anxiety. Oh, certainty where art thou?

The other serious consideration for the non-park version of a trip may seem silly but, if you’ve followed any of our trips over the years it shouldn’t be. The only thing that stops us returning from holiday looking like this….

is the fact that we do a lot of steps most days around the parks. Should our days be based around the beach instead then I really fear for my weight gain capabilities. For the sake of my wardrobe, health and the person sat next to me on the flight home, if it comes to it, there will need to be some serious exertion during the days to counter this. Just being in lockdown is doing nothing for my waistline other than expanding it so the struggle is always real for me in that regard.

Beach holidays are not my first choice. You may have spotted this over the years as we tend to go to WDW! However, Louise loves it, and after being locked down for so long just being able to be together would be lovely and as much as Tom might be bored quite quickly, with Freddie to play with even his tolerance for doing not a lot may be raised.

If the season is still going we could take in a baseball game. Are there any other sporting events we might consider?

We’ve had some of our most lovely times in Florida during “beachy times” so this option would not be the disaster my big baby whinging is perhaps indicating I think it might be. We are of course lucky to be able to take these trips and a holiday in this form would be lovely, relaxing and one which would create a whole load of lovely memories.

In all the struggles currently ongoing, this isn’t one worthy of however many words I have just wasted on it, but, I spend the rest of the week concerning myself with all the other stuff as my tweeting testifies, so on Sundays, on my blog, I allow myself some self-indulgence.

I’d love to hear your current thinking on your upcoming trip, especially if you’re due to go at a similar time to us and what plans you are formulating if the parks are not the option they usually are.

Stay safe and stay indoors….

Till the next time…..

Lockdown Life

Thank you for all your comments, messages and well wishes last week. I am much better now. The cough is slowly subsiding and the only remaining symptoms seem to be that I have become 87 and need to be in bed by 9.30. I literally can’t keep my eyes open. The tiredness is real. A walk of the dogs has me spent and breathless so I won’t be posting one of those “inspirational” home workout videos anytime soon.

I’d rate my illness level at about 7 out of 10 compared to all other forms of illness and flus I have experienced. Two days were touching an 8, with most others being a 6 or 7. There appears to be no tangible end in sight for the country as yet and indeed I think the next few weeks will see things get a lot worse before they get better. I am still annoyed and frustrated at the lack of testing and the preparedness of the NHS, but I’m not going to soapbox that here.

Rebecca is recovered but now Tom has the symptoms, which is not surprising. He has had a high temperature and a cough for a few days. I guess it is inevitable that if you put several people in the same house as someone who has symptoms, they will too.

Having said that, neither Emily or Louise have had any tangible signs of the virus. Louise has had a feeling of a temperature from time to time, but nothing she would consider out of the ordinary. She is, like many, convinced she had the thing about three weeks before I did, as she had a week of struggling to breathe with a terrible chest. Hopefully, an antibody test will be available to soon to give us all a clue.

As weird as things currently are, I have to say, I am not yet missing the commute. I’m sure as the weeks and months go by I will yearn for my usual three hours a day in the car, but right now, my work-life balance actually exists and I feel less “murdery” after a day’s work and the drive home.

We’ve been occupying ourselves as best we can. My daily dog walk is now something to look forward to, rather than a chore I used to dread. That is for two reasons. Firstly, it’s my one time out of the house every day and a token nod towards any form of exercise and secondly, I usually walk the dogs after my commute home and recently in sub-zero temperatures and sideways rain, so the better weather and lack of the drive home has improved the task no end.

We have been watching a lot of stuff of course and if you aren’t yet watching The Imagineering Story on Disney+ I can’t help you. That is right in my sweet spot and ticks all of my Disney geek boxes. It has also, if possible, elevated Roy Disney to a new level of hero status in our household. He never gets the credit he deserves, other than from Emily, who cried last night when his management of the Magic Kingdom construction and subsequent death was covered.

It was Louise’s birthday yesterday. Obviously, it was a strange one but hopefully, we made it as nice as it could be in the circumstances. There was a lot of relaxing, a Zoom quiz in the evening hosted by my brother and sister-in-law and a huge amount of takeaway Indian food. In a gesture of huge irony, I had a couple of Coronas.

Rebecca’s wedding is now pretty much re-arranged for early July. All the suppliers were able to move with us apart from the DJ who we will need to replace, and all we can do now is hope that by that time wedding venues are open and we have some sort of ability to go out of the house again.

These are very strange times and right at the bottom of every list of priorities are upcoming holidays. I have no idea if the world will have returned to any form of normality by late August or indeed if the airline industry will still exist, but all I can do is this….

and try to pretend that everything will be fine by then. Of course, should the gimp in the White House get his way, the US will be re-opened at Easter and annihilated by June, which would render our trip null and void.

In the spirit of trying to keep some sense of normality in these weird times, I have continued to book our ADRs, and I’ll share here how we’ve done, knowing all the while that they may not happen at all. I don’t know if talking about something as trivial as where we might eat is appropriate with everything going on, so if you aren’t in the right place to read that sort of stuff, now’s the time to pull the ripcord.

Overall, we did OK and got what we wanted. The major changes are around my actual birthday with California Grill not offering any times that worked for us, but in a way, it may have worked out for the best. I’ll come to that shortly.

Our first ADR is for our first day fittingly enough. We are being bold and assuming that at the end of the magical first day in Magic Kingdom we will be awake enough to do Ohana. I have booked it nice and early at 5.35, so we should be able to make it that far. Should we really be “on it” who knows we may spend some time down on the beach after dinner watching the sunset. It’s funny how simple things like this sound so appealing right now.

We are eating off-site for the next few days at the likes of Teak Neighbourhood Grill and Bahama Breeze before going to one of our traditional regulars at Animal Kingdom on day five. Yak & Yeti, at an OAP-tastic early hour of 4.30, is booked. We might do Rivers of Light, or we may not. This is just part of my flexible, devil may care approach to trip planning.

This brings us to day six and my birthday. So the original plan was to have a character breakfast, do some World Showcase and then have dinner at California Grill, ending with a balcony viewing of the fireworks. The breakfast was straight forward. Cape May Cafe is secured, with the added bonus of facilitating parking at the Beach Club rather than Epcot’s main car park. However, California Grill was only offering times that wouldn’t work with our plans. Neither 5.30 or 9.30 suited us. A 5.30 reservation would mean us having to head back to the villa around 3pm to allow for showers and makeup with me sat on the couch waiting for everyone to get ready. This is not how I wish to spend my birthday. The later 9.30 slot would be too late for Freddie.

This forced a bit of a re-think of the whole day, and whilst not having the “glamour” of Cali Grill, in a way I feel better about the new plan. It’s a traditional one and due to that is tried and tested.

Breakfast remains at Cape May Cafe at 10am. We shall then wander into Epcot just after World Showcase opens and spend a relaxed day touring the pavilions. Rather than then leave the park and waste a large part of the day driving and waiting for folks to get ready, we shall remain in Epcot, with dinner now booked for La Hacienda de San Angel at 7.30. We ate there for my birthday the year before last and really enjoyed it. Hopefully, we can secure a table seat again and we can play it by ear whether we watch the fireworks from the restaurant or find a spot outside.

The idea is that we have a day without too much queuing or stressing about getting on stuff or the logistics of being places at set times and just enjoy being in one of my favourite bits of the planet.

We are then at Univeral for the next few days, so there is no need for ADR bookings. We return with a bang on day 11 with a booking at Sanaa for all of the breads. I’ve gone for 6pm, hoping to get there a little early, see some animals and then eat.

Day 12 saw another ADR failure I’m sad to say. Homecoming was the ambition, but the only slots were late in the evening so again, I have simplified things, and kept us in the park of the day rather than travelling out to eat.

After a break of what must be almost twenty years, we are returning to the Rainforest Cafe at Animal Kingdom as that is where we are spending the day. Freddie was very much in my thoughts as I think he will love it. It also gives us another shot at Rivers of Light if we haven’t done it at this point.

Day 13 sees us back at Epcot and an ADR for what is becoming a regular and a firm favourite. Via Napoli is booked for some fine pizza at 6.40. Hopefully, we shall emerge from the experience feeling overly full into the glorious embrace of World Showcase at dusk.

With that, we are done. The remaining days are scheduled to be off-site eateries and then we come home, assuming we actually get to go in the first place.

Of course, current uncertainty is robbing us planners of much of the joy of the build up to the trip. It is a problem that deserves hardly a mention or consideration in the context of what is going on, but, it’s OK to be a little sad about it. We have the capacity to be sad about multiple things at the same time on many different levels. If reading this nonsense distracts you from the proper stuff for a few minutes then that’s good.

I don’t wish to add to anyone’s woes, and I’m not saying the world is ending, but it appears to be snowing at the moment here in Bolton, at the end of March…….

Till the next time…….

The Andrex Apocalypse

There is, of course, only one topic that I could blog about this week. It’s one of those situations where any other topic would be ridiculous and yet I am neither qualified or grown-up enough to write about it. In a situation that if it appeared in a film, might get dismissed as unbelievable, the world seems to be making its way to the hot place in a hand cart.

Working life has been dominated by the C-word all week. Every meeting inevitably comes around to the one subject, planning for worst-case scenarios and wondering if and when it will be the right time to have everyone work from home. For me, it is always the right time to work from home, but money still needs to be made and business needs to carry on, as much as it can. However, I think it is now just a matter of time until those that can, do.

As the working week drew to a close the bombshell dropped that Disney parks were closing around the world. It makes absolute sense really as if you were to design the perfect method of spreading a virus, a few hundred thousand folks crammed into theme parks in a tropical climate would be right up there at the top of the ideal scenario list.

I know that there are many more important issues linked to this virus, but that is a tangible benchmark as to how serious this stuff is getting. These parks only close when they absolutely need to. My heart breaks for those who have spent large amounts of cash and time preparing for their WDW trip only to find the parks closed for the rest of March at least. In the scheme of things, a ruined holiday is nothing and may seem even more insignificant as this thing escalates, but people are absolutely allowed to be upset.

I was particularly upset to hear the College Programme was cancelled and all the kids sent home. That would be heart breaking for all those who worked so hard to earn their place on that.

Of course, these are all the very definition of first world problems and goes to show how much of a cosy and untroubled existence most of us normally lead. Shit, as they say, is about to get real, and life as we know it will have to go on hold.

Our own personal concerns beyond the health of our family members include Rebecca’s wedding at the end of May, which I guess is at risk currently only as we just don’t know how things will play out over the coming weeks. Of course, we also have our WDW trip at the end of August, which, we’d have to hope will be OK, but with Trump at the helm over the pond, who can really know how the land will lie then.

So a global recession, a pandemic claiming thousands of lives and a toilet roll shortage lie ahead. You never see The Walking Dead address the issue of a lack of means to wipe your arse, do you?

To those of you who work in healthcare, I wish you nothing but good luck, good health and endless gratitude. This is going to be a testing time as if your normal duties are anything but!

Whilst this infection for most of us would, it seems. only mean mild symptoms, I wish you all the luck in the world in avoiding it but more importantly, look out for your elderly relatives and friends. It’s going to be an impossible balance between staying away so as not to potentially infect them and looking after them in what could be a lengthy lockdown.

On a lighter subject, it’s likely to be a few weeks or months of film and box set binging so do let me have your favourites. There may be little else to do for a while. I’ll also be up for your vlogger suggestions, but as you know my tolerance for those is fairly limited so they have to be top-notch. 🙂

Stay safe, stay sane and let’s try to get through this the best we can.

Till the next time…..

Bad Things Happen To Good Places

Bad weeks happen all the time, all over the world, to varying degrees. Even the places that are supposed to be the happiest on earth have them too.

Whilst you all had a great week last week as I did not blog, the place that is never supposed to have bad things happen suffered a bit recently.

Safety whilst in the parks is not something that ever crosses my mind to be honest, but it just goes to show that even the most perfect of places can have an off day or three. In recent times WDW has been in the wars.

It started with the sinking of a Jungle Cruise boat a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know how long that ride has been around and it’s not even worth googling. It’s been a long time and as far as I know incident free. So I suppose the law of averages state that something was bound to happen at sometime. Thankfully of course nobody was hurt apart from some moistness and mild shock.

Then just days afterwards , there were reports of two people mover trams “slamming into each other”. Now, slam may be an over exaggeration knowing the speed these things travel at, but I can bet it wasn’t pleasant.

With photo credit to @wrightculpepper on Twitter you can see the evacuation taking place after the event. Again, if you had to pick two of the safest rides in WDW, Jungle Cruise and People Mover would be up there I suppose, but to quote the greatest philosophers of our time, shit happens. Of course, there was also a very public issue with the new gondola system shortly after go-live which after all the testing we saw happening for such an extended period was very shocking.

So those relatively minor incidents in quick succession were oddly out of place with what to the casual observer may seem like a fairly blemish-free accident record. I’m sure that’s not the case and you don’t have to spend too long on google to see rumours and reports of lots of other accidents and incidents.

One of the most quoted rumours about WDW is that “nobody dies on WDW property”. We’ve all heard the tales of folks passing away but not being declared so until they are safely away from WDW. I don’t know if that were ever true but putting those two minor bumps into sharp insignificance was the horrendous news out of the Contemporary Resort where it appears someone committed suicide by jumping from the building. That is just horrific in every way and it shows even in places like WDW people can do the darkest and most tragic of things.

It feels a bit grubby even writing about it so I won’t share any links etc, as I’m sure you all saw the news anyway, and I apologise for inflicting such horridness on your Sunday, but I guess sometimes, real life is like that and not even WDW can help.

My thoughts are with the poor woman and her family and anyone else who was involved in that horrible situation.

There’s no jovial coming back from that, so I won’t attempt any light-hearted sign-off. I know this is supposed to be a place of trivial nonsense, and it nearly always is but that struck a chord with me, being the most tragic of events against the “happiest” of backgrounds.

If anyone is struggling, as we all do from time to time, then please use the help that exists.

Till the next time…….

A Bob Iger Come and Get Me Plea….

I have often suspected the senior leadership team at Disney sit poised to read my weekly blog. Having just last Sunday laid out my own personal gripes in great details about the FastPass tiers, specifically at Hollywood Studios, I was pleased, but not too surprised to see them take my thoughts to heart and change things up.

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway has been added to the top tier of FastPasses at Hollywood Studios. Coincidence? I think not. There may come a point when I need to start invoicing them for my consultancy services.

With three rides now in that tier that can only help to spread the demand out and make it even easier for us to fail in getting one for the two we really now want and begrudgingly settle for one for Slinky Dog.

In terms of career aspirations, I don’t harbour too many any more other than for a better commute and enough money to fund further trips to WDW, but if I could be one of those folks you see wandering around the parks in slacks, a remarkably non-sweaty shirt and an earpiece, then yes a position somewhere within Disney management would appeal. Imagine going to work every day to do something you are truly passionate about. The downside would be that if we did live in Florida I would need to be winched out of my front room within 12 months of our arrival as the smorgasbord of culinary delights on offer would see me behave like some sort of adult Augustus Gloop in a place where everything is seemingly is edible and either covered in Cinnamon or double Cinnamon.

This new railway ride opens in March. Demonstrating once again why this isn’t a blog you should rely on for up to the minute Disney news, I have no clue what this ride is. There are no height restrictions which is good for a party like ours with a Freddie in tow, so it won’t be rivalling Rock n Rollercoaster for thrills, but these family “everyone can join in” rides are for me, really important for WDW. I believe that the whole idea for the parks came from Walt having to sit and watch his daughter’s go on fairground rides without him. There are times when you do want a G force laden thrill a minute ride, but there is equal joy, perhaps more, in watching the face of the younger members of your party experience rides that everyone can do together.

On better Disney blogs than this one I’m also seeing rumours of Disney abolishing free FastPasses and the ability to book them ahead of time. That, to me sounds like a very bad idea. Not only do I not want to pay more for what I now get for free, but Disney must surely realise that the complex planning that a lot of WDW visitors do months in advance is very much part of the trip. The rumour is that you would only be able to buy FastPass privileges on the day and then I guess see what you can get.

That way carnage lies. A trip to WDW is already VERY expensive and no doubt by the time we get back there it’ll be costing somewhere close to $100 to park for the day, so charging for FastPasses as Universal does for off-site guests would be a very unpopular move in my view. Hopefully, it holds as much water as most WDW related rumours do and this never comes to pass.

Knowing as I do that all the top Disney execs read this, here’s my advice –

  • Leave the FastPass system alone
  • Stop increasing parking costs every few weeks
  • You need to either build a fifth park or undertake some major expansion to one or two of the others.

I say the last point as the continual addition of new resorts and rooms means they are pumping more and more guests into parks that have a finite capacity. Sure, there are new rides and lands, but the real estate they are in is pretty much what it always was. There are no longer any real quiet periods at WDW now, with Disney doing a fantastic job of inventing seemingly endless events and festivals to get people in.

This is good, as it gives them higher revenues which to their credit they then re-invest into the parks, but we’re coming to a point now where people will stay away if the very crowded scenes that happen at peak times continue. There’s little to no fun in that scenario.

Now, I do know that in December 2019 Disney bought 235 acres of land just west of Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course.

In January 2019, Disney also bought 1,575 acres for $11 million in Osceola County and before that, it bought 965 acres for $23 million from nearby B-K Ranch in December 2018.

Disney has made no announcements about potential uses for the land, but it is located near other Disney golf courses. It would be an anti-climax if all that land was for golf, as much as I do like a round of that in Florida.

With Universal launching a new park in, I think 2023, it is usual for Disney to respond so I’m hopeful we get that long-awaited “fifth gate”. For as long as I can remember, a Villains Park has been rumoured. I think to be honest that rumour has just been a product of internet speculation and it may be more likely that another land is added to Magic Kingdom in that theme, as that to me would work well.

The worst-case scenario could be that they just use this newly purchased land to build more resorts. That would just compound the issues in the parks now. It’s almost as if I’m suggesting that some idiot from Bolton knows more about the workings of an organisation than those who run it.

So Bob Iger and the lovely Disney execs. I am available for consultancy and/or full-time employment at competitive rates and will take partial payment in food.

Till the next time…..

FastPass Tiers and Tears

As we endured the 74th week of January last week, I was pleased to see it whizz by quite quickly. Work was busy, and so that hecticness stole away some more hours of my life I’ll never get back. As I hurtle towards my half century I have come to the realisation that most of my life now seems to be spent either communting or recycling.

In the whirl of normal life, I remember seeing some news that the FastPass+ tiers have been amended at Hollywood Studios. That was pleasing but you have to remember that it usually doesn’t affect us as our account on My Disney Experience has been blacklisted for all the rides everyone wants FastPasses for.

You may remember me from such films as “Flights Of Passage? Are You Having A Laugh?” and “Slinky Dog? I Should Cocoa!”. But, like Charlie Brown, once again trying to kick the football as Lucy holds it, I’ll be there on the relevant days going through the motions anyway just to fail spectacularly.

It’s a Safari FastPass for you!

Sumggler’s Run has now been opened up to FastPass bookings which is nice. That and Slinky are grouped together so I suppose the upside is that we may finally stand half a chance of getting one for Slinky Dog. We did ride it last year, but to date have not been anywhere close to a FastPass.

At this rate, we’ll be easily snagging FastPasses for Rise Of The Resistance when we go for Freddie’s 18th birthday. It is the theme park version of the circle of life. I’m old enough to remember rides like Test Track and Soarin’, being THE ride to get a FastPass for. It was only five minutes ago that I was dad jogging all the way through Animal Kingdom to get an old fashioned paper FastPass for the Safari as that was the headliner at the time. These things come and go and if you are mature and sensible you’ll realise that and not spend your Sunday morning pissing and moaning about it in a blog post.

For anyone who missed it –

Tier 1 will include: Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Slinky Dog Dash. Guests will be able to pre-select one of these attractions as a FastPass+ reservation in advance of their visit to the park.

Tier 2 will include: Toy Story Mania!, Alien Swirling Saucers, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Disney Junior Dance Party!, For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Muppet*Vision 3D, Fantasmic!, Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage. Guests will be able to pre-select two of these attractions as a FastPass+ reservation in advance of their visit to the park.

So Tier 1 is going to be a bit competitive isn’t it? Not for us of course. We’ll just end up with the dregs, but it won’t affect me and I won’t go on about it endlessly.

We are 205 days out now. It won’t be long until we can begin the ADR process and we have a few to do this time. Disney are smart in allowing ADRs 180 days out. It makes the upcoming trip exciting earlier and for longer, having to imagine what and where you want to eat several months out. Then after me moaning about not being able to get some of them at the time or day I want them, a few months later I can do it all again because I can’t get onto a theme park ride without queuing.

Anyway, there’s no planning I can do right now, so I am away to tick off my list of Sunday chores. It’s amazing how upon opening my eyes on a weekend morning I can see a full day of nothing laid out in front of me and within moments it becomes filled with stuff that “need” to be tackled and tackle I must.

See you back here next week for more upneat musings and moaning.

Till the next time……

Planning By The People

There are times when I and certainly you may wonder, what is the point of these blogs each week. There will be several different answers to that question, many of which I wouldn’t want to share here, but one of the reasons was borne out last week.

Despite this blog being, I suppose, some sort of Disney blog, I never profess to be an expert and I’m certainly never up to the minute on all the stuff that’s going on. It’s a Disney blog, sometimes, by theme, audience and intent more than design. With that in mind, it is always useful to get the often more expert views of those hardy fools who persist in reading these posts.

When I lay out my plans for our next trip as I did last week I can always guarantee that I will get some feedback that will change my thinking and often the plans themselves. Last week was no different.

It’s funny how some eateries emerge from the pack at certain times as “the one” getting the buzz and reccomendations. The name just seems to crop up in conversations, blogs, vlogs and exchanges between like minded Disney foodies. That’s how we’ve discovered many of our favourites over the years. This time it is Rock and Brews. It got two or three seperate mentions from different folks as a place we should consider.

It may be sacriledge, but one of our all time traditional absolute rock solid eateries, Applebees, was wavering on the cusp of the plan. It has done nothing wrong, other than not cater especially well for vegetarians and with our group now including one, it has become a consideration.

With that in mind, a change has been made, and instead of our Applebees pilgrimage we are now going to try somewhere new in the shape of Rock and Brews.

If like me you’d never heard of it until about now, then the menu is here. Now, I don’t think it’s breaking any new ground in the culinary experience but that’s no bad thing. The menu looks interesting enough, with a decent nod to non meat eaters and it is local to our villa so fits nicely into our plans as an Applebees alternate without us changing our direction of travel.

The other joy from last week’s post came via Twitter from SchmeichelJFox .

We’ve both ignored our football incompatability enough over the years to follow each other on Twitter and this paid dividends when he slid into my DMs this week.

Apparently guests staying at the Hard Rock Hotel are allowed to enjoy the pools and facilities at Portofino Bay. As my DM read….

“Last time we stayed at Hard Rock (love it) we found out we can use all the facilities in Portofino Bay. They have quite a few pools to check out – one with an amazing bistro and waterfall that’s great for a chilled afternoon (more chilled than Hard Rock and a little more room to play with the kids). Also, the bay itself is a great place for ice cream and a beer watching all the boats and singers who come into the square…. We always had a pre city walk beer or two at the thirsty fish in the bay of the hotel in its “square”. A lovely way to maximise the value from your Hard Rock purchase. We were quite shocked how much was available at this hotel so far away from the parks and city walk.”

Now, I’m not sure my then 25 and 23-year-old kids will be wanting to play with me in the pool, but Freddie might. But more crucially, we are always on the lookout for stuff like this. This sort of venue sounds perfect for a just showered, slightly sunburned pre or post-dinner chilled out drinkie and so this sounds right up our street. Our time at Hard Rock is limited but we shall be trying our best to avail ourselves of that and maybe the pool option too should the Hard Rock be a little too “Magaluf” as it can get at times.

So all my planning last week was done by others. This was handy as work was inconveniently busy and it was a Mustard heavy week too. We had no gig, but we took the chance to slot in a rehearsal to get some new songs into the repertoire which take some time for my ageing brain and limited ability to soak in.

We also released a video. Yeh, I know!

Sometime in early December, we spent a cold, yet interesting and enjoyable Sunday in a local rehearsal room being filmed not actually playing some of our songs. Thankfully, the unwritten rule of the music world is that bass players cannot feature in more than 1% of the footage used and for that, I have to be honest, I am thankful.

The chap who did this for us has performed a “silk purse/sow’s ear” standard of miracle making five middle-aged blokes slightly beyond their best look almost acceptable. Now, that’s talent.

Should anyone require the services of a great band for a special occasion, then Mustard may be for you.

I will leave you with that pop perfection and see you back here next week when hopefully you have all improved my holiday plans again. You know it makes sense.

Till the next time……

Man With A Plan

OK, so we’ve done the Christmas, New Year and the moany back to work posts. Waistline aside, things are back to normal and so, with barely a mention so far of our new and exiting WDW plans for my 50th, it is well overdue that I drag you kicking and screaming through a day by day account of the plan as it currently stands.

I’ll be honest, it’s probably much more complete and finalised than even I imagined at this stage. In fact, moments after confirming the dates and flights, the day by day template was filled in and if it changes significantly between now and August I’ll be astounded. It would appear, that shockingly, I’m quite good at this now. Still, that won’t stop me obsessing over it at regular intervals and adding extra, unneccsary expense to it as we go. It’s what I do.

Last year was a “cheap as chips” we shouldn’t be going affair so we held back on the ADRs and on-site dining. There are no such restrictions this time around so you will notice much more going on in that regard.

Day One

We fly on August 26th from Manchester with Virgin. We are bubbling as we enjoyed that so much the last time we flew with Virgin. I’m pleased to say we take off (around) 10am (no plane has ever left the tarmac on time in the history of mankind) and land at a very sociable 2pm at MCO. We didn’t enjoy the later flight times last year as it meant getting into Orlando at 7pm, and by the time we’d got to the villa there was no time to go out and eat. See where our priorities lie?

I’ve hired an overly extravagant car from Dollar. I have shunned the mundane mini-van for some sort of monster truck equivalent that will take up three parking spots wherever we go. I’m only 50 once, if at all.

We will be picking that up and leaving the airport more quickly than the It’s Orlando Time group left Facebook, but under less suspicious circumstances.

Our villa is a doozy, again an absolute extravagance, near Formosa Gardens. We should be there some time around 4pm, and after a little unpacking and a trip to the supermarket, taking our seats at the Outback Steakhouse as tradituon dictates some time around 9pm UK time.

Day Two

If you don’t know by now that our first day is spent at Magic Kingdom, I can’t help you. With a more civilised arrival time on day one, we should be fed and in bed by a sensible time, meaning we are fully rested for day two and a full day in the park. The plan is to last until late afternoon/early evening and then go to the Polynesian for our (hopeful) ADR at O’hana.

Day Three

Traditionally a rest day but in recent times we have chosen to spend it in a water park. This works well as those who want to can rest up and those who get bored after an hour around the villa pool can go off and risk life and limb on the slides and stuff.

We are going in strong from the start food wise with a trip to Teak Neighbourhood Grill planned for our evening meal.

Day Four

Hollywood Studios today. Hopefully Rise of the Resistance has calmed down a bit and we won’t need to be outside the park gates at 6am. I can say with some certaintity that whether it has calmed down or not, we won’t be doing that!

Again, like some dining greatest hits collection, another firm favourite for many years is on the plan for tonight, at Bahama Breeze.

Day Five

Animal Kingdom. We didn’t see Rivers Of Light last year, mainly due to time pressure but also because we suspected Freddie wouldn’t sit through it. With another 12 months under his belt he might so we’ll try to give it a go.

The hits keep on coming with Yak and Yeti for dinner (by that I mean tea but I’m aware people south of Birmingham read this).

Day Six

As tends to happen every year, this will be my birthday. It’s a big one, and not only does it mark my passing into my 50’s and no doubt another pants size, it also marks the 40th anniversary of my first ever trip to Florida. I spent my 10th birthday in Miami all those years ago, and look what’s happened since! We drove up to Orlando for just two days at what was only the Magic Kingdom then. It was clearly enough to create the monster I now am.

Epcot of course. You knew that, but we are cramming more food than is wise into the day with a character breakfast ADR at Cape May (we can then park at the Yacht & Beach), a wander around World Showcase and then probably back to the villa to get something vaguely presentable on. That’s because I am hopeful of securing an ADR at California Grill, followed by a re-mortgage and a viewing of the fireworks from the viewing deck.

Day Seven

Something new today. We are doing a few days at Universal, and the first part of that will be to give the “new” water park Volcano Bay a go. I need to do some proper research and vlog watching on this as I have very little clue as to what goes on there and the best way to tackle it, but, again it serves as a rest day after the excesses of yesterday’s celebrations and a chance for the more adventurous members of the group (Tom) to go and play.

To keep that theme going, for dinner we are going to try the Ford’s Garage place on the 192 for the first time. If you’ve been and think we shouldn’t, now is the time to tell me.

Day Eight

So now we start our holiday within a holiday and check into the Hard Rock at Universal. This is one of our most favourite places in Orlando and despite probably only needing one night to get the required front of line passes to complete both parks, we’re doing two. It gives us more chance to experience the parks, especially as it is Tom and Freddie’s first time and hopefully rest around the pool.

We will start in Islands of Adventure today.

It also opens up some of the excellent dining options on City Walk and we HAVE to do Cowfish as the Cheeseburgerooshi is the most delicious thing on the planet and that’s where we will head on this evening. Toothsome for dessert may be an option or perhaps Voodoo Doughnut’s taken back the room for an orgy of excess.

Day Nine

Universal Studios today, with perhaps some pool time followed by a meal at Antojitos, which is a Mexican most of us have never tried but Emily recommended it after eating there during her CRP stint.

Day Ten

We checkout from the Hard Rock but of course sill have front of line access so we will park hop and re-do anything we want to. Once we’re done we will head back towards the villa and eat at Applebees on the 192.

Day Eleven

All I have so far for this day are food plans. They are BIG food plans, and I’m sure we will fit something inbetween them, but after three park days, some relaxed down time filled with calories will no doubt be required.

Breakfast/Brunch will be at the excellent Hash House a Go Go. Several hours of moaning and swearing that we’ll never eat again will be followed by dinner at Sanaa at Kidani Village where there will be literal fist fights over the bread service. We all do like us some bread. Hopefully we’ll also be able to show Freddie some of the animals wandering about out the back.

Day Twelve

Back to Animal Kingdom today. We loved our light lunch at Tiffin’s last time out so we may wander back there for cocktails and food around lunchtime. With that in mind, I just have Homecoming at Disney Springs in my plans for dinner, as that is known for it’s light, healthy menu!

Day Thirteen

Our second day at Epcot. It feels late on day 13, but that’s how things work out sometimes. Tonight will be our chance to watch whatever they have seen fit to replace Illumnations with. No pressure.

With that in mind, we will return to Via Napoli as we have loved it on our past two visits.

Day Fourteen

As we will have 14 day tickets for all the Universal stuff I have pencilled in a return today. We won’t have front of line of course, but we can have a more leisurely wander and ride anything that doesn’t have horrible wait times. By this time in the trip, we will be well into September, past Labor Day and hopefully, there will be sufficiently low crowds to make this worthwhile.

Our dining option of choice tonight is Cheesecake Factory. This is another awesome eatery and we were all gutted not to be able to fit this in last year.

Day Fifteen

We are lucky enough this year, due to my 50th splurge, to be staying a little longer. We return to Hollywood Studios today with little more planned than that. Olive Garden is pencilled in as our eatery.

Day Sixteen

Our last full day is of course spent at Magic Kingdom. Last year we popped out to eat off-site at Romano’s Macaroni Grill and were delighted we did. We hadn’t been for a few years but if you haven’t been, you must. With that in mind, it is planned to do the same this year, but if other events take our fancy we may do those instead. Who said I was a planning obsessed overweight ball sack?

Day Seventeen

Travel. Enough said. We’ll do a huge breakfast somewhere and then fly home after buying gifts for people who have hundreds of Disney gifts already.

The only positive about today is that I managed to get us into Premium for less than economy so we may get some comfort/sleep on the way home.

So there you go. I’m tired after typing that out so who knows how we will cope with the real thing.

If you have any advice or suggestions on new places to eat that we should do instead of returning to past favourites I’ll be all ears.

Till the next time…….

Where There’s a Villa There’s A Way…..

What’s this nonsense? A mid-week Mkingdon blog? As if it isn’t enough effort to write one of these a week, never mind the effort of actually reading more than one.

When I’m mid-trip report, as I am currently, you lovely readers miss out on the weekly cut and thrust of my exciting life. It’s like if Keeping Up With The Kardashians were cancelled, put in a skip and set on fire, twice, and then blown up for good measure I imagine, and I do like to imagine that.

Anyway, whilst you have all been enjoying enduring the weekly updates from a holiday that happened a long time ago now, I have been busy. For the first time ever, and I recognise that this might be hard to appreciate or believe, upon landing in Manchester at the end of a trip, I knew for sure that we would be returning the following year. This is because I will be celebrating a significant birthday. That gets me a free pass with Louise, as you know she has often put her foot down and stopped us from going back to Florida year after year….

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So, like a multi-masking maestro, I have been writing about the last trip and simultaneously planning the next. I’ve managed to fit a bit of work in here and there too.

It hasn’t been easy. Firstly, Louise is back at University on a short and very intense course to become a midwife. As such her holidays were fixed and as they stood, meant that she would need to be in the UK on my actual birthday, which would have been a shame for her. Anyway, many weeks of negotiations, pleading and crossing of fingers saw them agree to her taking a holiday outside of the set dates….twice.

That “twice” was important as the first set of dates saw prices of flights that seemed to be inclusive of owning a good chunk of the plane and not just travelling on it. Many weeks of checking prices for mid-August passed with no success and hope was fading that we’d be able to go at all without a seven leg journey via New Zealand.

Having somehow got those later dates agreed, it made all the difference and yes, I am delighted to announce that we are now booked to return to Florida in 2020 for a special birthday trip.

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We leave on the 26th of August and I seem to have done very well with the flights, more through luck than judgement I would admit.

Prices north of £1000 each for our original dates were laughed off for a long time, and only very recently using the new dates, I struck lucky. With the demise of Thomas Cook, it left us only one direct operator from Manchester so we had three choices –

  1. Virgin
  2. Aer Lingus, indirect via Dublin
  3. Stay at home

Thankfully, option 1 came through for us, and with paying a little extra for bubble seats on the way out and Premium on the way back we secured flights within the budget. Having been contacted by a reader after posting on Instagram about this booking, it seems we have been very fortunate indeed. They (Hi Julie, I hope you get your flights sorted) were telling me that even in late September they were seeing prices over £800 for standard economy, which is just crazy. I’m taking it as a sign that this trip was meant to be, or the Virgin web site was broken. The latter may be true, as, for reasons I could not fathom, on our return leg, the Premium option was actually cheaper than economy. I booked it very quickly!

It was nice to have that in the bag and have the main task done. Or so I thought. This just moved me on to phase 2, accommodation. The easy element of that was booking our time at Universal. Hard Rock was always the intention and it was just a matter of finding the best deal. I was just about to book with someone else when I stumbled across Travel Republic who were offering just a £30 deposit to secure the two rooms we needed, with the balance paid just before we go. Thank you kindly very much and that was done. Two rooms for two nights in early September.

This was all going so well. Onto the villa. We had a fairly testing set of requirements, so it maybe should not have shocked me that it was so much effort to find “the one”. They were –

At least 2 masters with en-suite and another Queen/Double if possible.

You would not believe how hard this was to find. There’s a whole other blog post in my mind for villa owners, about how to make it more likely to get booked. Some do make it really hard!

Location – Ideally around Formosa/Emerald Island/Sunset Lakes.

As with when buying a house, location x 3 matters. When visiting WDW, it just makes life easier and gives the flexibility to be able to “pop back” to the villa if needed. There’s nothing worse than a 40 minute trip to and from the parks.

Prettiness – Being a special trip, I wanted something that reflected the gravity/success of getting there, so I was looking for something eye-catching, nicely decorated and with a bit of a wow factor.

I have spent more time than I would like to admit looking at villas since securing our flights. I have endlessly wavered between villas that were very close to the parks, but are now a little dated (or the websites are and have photos from 2006!) and those villas only just built, but are so far down the US27 that they are equidistant between WDW and Miami.

To draw a veil over a long, long…..long process, finally, I bit the bullet and, paying a little more than I may have wished, but bugger it, this is a special trip, booked this one. You can click the image to view it…..

It’s on a new development at the end of Funie Steed Road. That is the road which runs parallel to the 192 past all the developments I mentioned above. So it is a good mix of everything we were looking for. Namely, shiny, new and yet still in that sweet spot of being close to WDW.

I feel I have short-changed you, by skipping the detail of the endless painful hours which brought me to that villa. Especially, after all that work and research, I eventually found it by going back in our family WhatsApp group and looking at some villa links I posted months ago that had caught my eye. Sigh. It was the second one I ever saw way back then.

I still have to book us a car, but that is easy, right? The first draft of our 16 (glorious) days is now crafted and of course, pretty much every meal spoken for. I won’t steal my own thunder and reveal any more as I will need something to write about when this current trip report comes to an end, and I can only moan about my commute for so many weeks!

So, yay and hoorah, we have a countdown and it feels good. Now, let’s all commit to finishing this current trip report strong and then we can gird our collective loins for the next one.

Till the next time…….

No Licence To Chill

It’s been a very stressful last week of the countdown. It started in glorious fashion on Monday, when it suddently occurred to me that I hadn’t yet slotted all the cards I need to take with me into the card shaped slot in my bumbag. That’s right, I wear a bumbag, don’t @ me as the kids might say.

It not only looks impressive, manly and attractive, it is very practical too.

So I selected the relevant credit cards and went to add my driving licence to the collection. Hmm, it’s not in my wallet I thought, as I discovered it wasn’t in my wallet. A mild dew of sweat gathered on my forehead.

Not to worry. Last time I saw it, it was in that thing in our bedroom. Trouble is, since then our bedroom has been through a total rebuild and everything in it was scattered to the four winds for the duration. Most of it has never returned.

A moist half hour followed as I barrelled around the house doing my “man looking” for it and getting increasingly agitated. After exhausting every possible location, I decided I could waste no further time and had to apply for a replacment. A few minutes online and I was done and £20 lighter. I’d also applied for a new licence.

Seconds after hitting submit, I thought, I’ll just check “there”. There being under Rebecca’s bed in what is now our spare room/junk store/bomb site. Oh look, there’s that container thing my licence used to be in before we destroyed and reconstructed the bedroom. I pulled it out, but there was no time for that, so I put it away and had a look in the container instead.

Yep, there it was. Thank goodness. I quickly called the DVLA folks and explained that a mere sixty seconds ago I had hit submit on an application for a new licence, and that I had since found my current one and they could cancel that application.

Apparently the computer said no, and my application was now “in the system” and could not be stopped. How sad that there is an all powerful, omnipresent, sentient, undeniable force at work at DVLA that cannot be accessed or influenced by mere human beings. OK, no problem, I’ll just take my existing one that I just found and use that.

Nope. I was told that was now an ex-driving licence and would be no use to me unless I intended to use it as an ice scraper come the winter. I would need to wait for my new one and use that.

I enquired when that might be. “Within two weeks”, was the reply.

How I laughed. With further questioning, it appears that typically it takes 3-5 days so we should be fine, but the fear was real because if that thing didn’t arrive before we left, Louise would be driving for the full two weeks and that would be fun.

It’s amazing that no matter how long the countdown is I can leave myelf exposed to such muppetry. If only we’d done these trips before and I knew what I was doing.

Anyway, it arrived on Thursday and that particular panic could be called off.

Alongside that specific bit of nonsense has been a general feeling of anxiety and a sense that there a million things that need doing and time is fast running out. Louise’s passport wasn’t where it should be which added to the moist brow. Apparently it was in her car which of course is a very sensible place to store such an important document.

Work was annoying too. My plan to spend next Tuesday working at home was scuppered with the appearance in my diary of a handful of meetings I have to be in the office for, so that hasn’t helped. Every year this shit must happen but like childbirth, I completely forget the stresses of the final few days and getting everything in order and stumble blindly into it every single time.

Decelerating from the pace of working life and the hectic preparations is something that I will need to do quickly as I drive home from work on Tuesday if I am not to waste the few few days adjusting to be in holiday mode.

Louise is working all weekend, so I have been spending my time alone ticking off all the tasks I had been stressting about all week. Inexplicably that included some decorating as I finished some painting Louise started some months ago in the spare room, and very unsually for her (not) hadn’t finished. Our dog sitting guests will be staying in that room so it was only right I made it habitableish.

I have washed lots of things including the dog’s beds and rugs (they have a fine collection), ordered and had delivered the shopping for the dogs, cat and dog sitters for our time away and washed and curated my collection of designer wear for our trip. I have of course planned and co-ordinated all my outfits day by day so you can rest assured I will be rocking “the Gram” for the entire trip, so keep your eye on my acount.

So, one day in the office aside, we’ve made it. The counting down is done, the planning complete, and the waiting is almost over. If nothing else you all get a couple of Sundays off from me moaning here, and hopefully you will be joining us at various points on the trip as I share stuff online.

So away we go, and I’ll see you on the other side, back here, sometime in September.

Till the next time…….

All The Single Digits…..

We’re nearly there folks. Just a few more days and you get at least two Sundays off from this tripe. It’s a strange phenomenon that the fewer days we have left in the countdown the further away it seems. Getting through another week and a bit seems more daunting than when we rounded the double-digit day milestone.

Looking back over recent posts, I recognise that the last few weeks may have come across as a little downbeat, negative, or big girl’s blousey. That’s because that is an accurate summary of the content of recent posts. How can I be moaning so much this close to a trip?

I don’t know. I’m tired and emotional maybe and in desperate need of a break? Who knows? Or maybe it’s because I am being persecuted by the Gods of the FastPass to never get the ones I want and this is a clear case of victimisation and persecution…….ahem, we shall move on.

Anyway, not to break stride, and continue this maudlin mantra, this week I learnt that O Canada will be down for refurb whilst we are there. So there’s that.

To be honest I am at the moment in the mode of trying to dampen my own expectations for the trip. The countdown and build up are so long and arduous that there is a danger that the holiday never stands a chance of living up to the lofty heights your mind has created.

So I am mentally preparing myself for the fact that it will rain a lot, which is just like being at home right now, and that the crowds will be huge and annoying and we won’t get the FastPasses we want….oh I’ve mentioned that already….

I do this just so that I can take these minor set backs in my ever pleasant and smiling stride of course.

Looking at reports from folks over there at the moment, the rain thing is definitely on the cards. We are experienced and seasoned August travellers so we know this and are ready to deal with it, but hopefully it will be restricted to the normal afternoon downpours and nothing more and we, as we have so far over all these years, avoid a hurricane.

If I can ensure my expectations are not too high then there is every chance they shall be exceeded and for my (and your) sake let’s hope that is the case.

Today, we will slip into our single digit day dance territory with effortless grace and I face just one week left at work now. Technically, I am in work on the day before we go, the day after the Bank Holiday Monday, but I shall probably work from home that day at least saving myself the horrors of the commute, so I am not counting that.

It’s funny that the absolute need for this holiday is so great now that I cannot comprehend how I intended to survive until next summer before having a holiday as was the plan. Right now, getting through another few days in the office without head butting someone is looking like a challenge.

There will be just one more blog pre trip so now is a good time to do some recruitment for the old social media channels. I will mostly be posting on the Mkingdon Facebook page so if you haven’t liked that, now is a good time to do so. I will be going “Live” a fair bit so if you want to join us, you know what to do.

If you wish you can also “enjoy” my content on Instagram and Twitter. How many ways are there to hear me moan about stuff? I wouldn’t bother “hitting me up” on Snapchat as I’ve never been able to figure out how to use it, which is just how Snapchat like it.

Sometimes I do think that this point of the countdown is the best and it is a state that everyone should live in perpetually. Imagine always having a WDW trip just a few days away? Existing in a state of perpetual anticipation would be lovely, other than of course never actually going on the trip itself. Having lost about six ounces on my hellish never-ending healthy eating regime for the last few weeks I have tried on the shorts, selected those that fit and are worthy of the journey, and with that another pre-holiday tradition is ticked off. I think that pink lycra is the way to go this time, don’t you?

Till the next time……