Endless ESTAs

It’s been a tough old week. Sure it was only four days long, but having had a busy weekend, I started it running at around 3% of my battery, with no hope of recharging until Saturday.

We’ve been eating buffet food for most of the week, so it’s not been all bad. I think I will have to admit defeat now and throw away what’s left before it becomes a health hazard.

I took advantage of the bank holiday Monday by applying for all of our ESTAs. I was convinced that most of them were still valid, but I was wrong. Only Emily has one that will cover our next trip so I completed six applications in one sitting and I was done by sometime on Wednesday. Is it me or have those forms got a whole lot more complex in recent years? I think I gave fewer personal details on my last mortgage application. I’m old enough to remember trying to fill in green forms on the tray table on the plane whilst Colin from Barnsley in front of you reclined his seat half way through.

As expected, we initially got the pending message for all of them but when I checked the next day we had all been approved for travel. That’s a good thing as I would hate to have to leave anyone behind.

I had no need to apply for ESTAs yet of course. Someone more sensible than I may have waited until a few weeks before we travel to have the two-year period cover as many trips as possible. Call me stupid, but doing ESTAs feels like a bank holiday task and completing the forms just made the trip feel a little closer. Sometimes, you just need that, right? Plus, should Freddie’s criminal record be a problem and he be denied entry we wouldn’t have much time to do anything about it.

At a tenner each, I am happy to sacrifice the few months we may lose for that peace of mind, and who is to say we will always go at the same time of year over the next two years. We are no longer shackled by the cruel mistress of the school term. The peninsula of Florida is our oyster whenever our hearts desire…and we can afford it….and can get time of work….and find someone to mind the dogs…but other than that…whenever we like.

I also had my first look at theme park tickets last week. It is nice and simple this time as we are only doing the Disney thing, so the 14 day ultimate is all we need. It seems they are around ¬£360 each at the moment. As we will be on Disney property pretty much every day of the trip that’s about ¬£30 a day. That’s less than the Alton Towers daily rate, so I feel comfy with that price. Offer me a ticket for Reflections Of Earth for ¬£30 and I’d be likely to throw my money at you before you increased the price, so getting everything else thrown in as well seems decent. It appears that this price also includes the Memory Maker. We had that on the last trip and failed to use it at all. I don’t know why that was, but my guess is that I felt it would delay our movements by a vital few seconds having to wait for the official photographer to snap¬† and scan us and I preferred to do my usual snap and move technique.

It probably increased the number of rides we managed to get on by around zero. Having said that we only did four days in WDW on the last trip so I’ll blame that instead.

That recharging I suggested I was in need of at the start of this post still hasn’t happened. Louise has been working all weekend so all the lovely household tasks have fallen to me, whilst she selfishly has fun tending to Bolton’s sick, including a long overdue tip run. Then, last night, young Freddie stayed with us. That’s always lovely but there’s a reason most people have babies in their younger years. I’m shattered.

He’s been a little star though. He slept from 10.30 until after 9am and he’s since had some breakfast, a bath and is now flat out again. Life at six months old is something we all aspire to.

We treated Freddie to a bit of Eurovision last night. It was the usual mix of insanity, mediocrity and dross, but I don’t know if you spotted Tim Tracker representing Albania?

A strange career development but fair play to him! Maybe that’s what he means by paying the price?

Till the next time…..

Happy Birthday Rebecca!

My work here is done. Rebecca turns 21 tomorrow and so all parental responsibility ends at midnight. It’s been a wild ride and now I can put my feet up, relax and never worry about either of my daughters ever again now that they are both over the age of majority.

yeah right laughable animated GIF

If my parental journey has taught me anything it is this. Those younger years of a birthday party every weekend, reading bedtime stories and hosting sleepovers for 35 kids were the easy bit. Once they started growing up, having minds of their own and bloody boyfriends the fun really started. Still, with them both now officially grown up, life will be a breeze I’m sure.

We celebrated the event will a full-blown 21st party last night at my Dad’s golf club. It had a Disney/Pixar theme and it was fantastic that so many of those attending got into the spirit of things and dressed up accordingly.

Louise was dressed as Ursula. She doesn’t have a severe blood pressure problem.

It was a traditional family do, with guests of all ages and the obligatory buffet with enough pastry based goods to keep Gaviscon in business for the next few years. Tragically, we seemed to have over-catered by some distance and I had to bring home several “platters” worth of party food that will need eating before it goes off. I accept the challenge.

There was  dancing and some Mustard action too, and Rebecca had a great night which was the whole point after all. She loved the venue so much that towards the end of the evening she even gave the toilet bowl a cuddle for a few minutes. These moments of parental pride have to be savoured before they flash by in the blink of an eye.

So for those of you who have “known” Rebecca virtually, that little girl you saw in those trip reports on the Dibb is now 21 and a Mum. Yep, I feel old too. I mentioned those sleepovers earlier. Here are some of the girls who used to take over our house on a regular basis.

So there we are. Parenting “done” in what feels like five minutes. I know that’s a clich√©, but most clich√©s exist for a reason. Would I do it all again? Sure, it’s been the best job I’ve ever had and the only one that I’ve enjoyed. Would I do things differently? Christ yes, I might have enjoyed the job but I couldn’t even begin to count the number of mistakes and things I wish I could re-do. Such is life.

Neither of my offspring have been to prison, drug rehab or a Coldplay gig so I guess you have to count that as some sort of success. One thing I got absolutely right were the holidays. There were many years when a sensible man wouldn’t have blown a small fortune on getting us across the Atlantic and the penny-pinching before and after was a strain and a struggle, but as I have said a million times, but it’s still true, your kids are only the age they are once, that day, that minute and you have to make the most of it.

Every time I see someone say they are going to wait to go to Disney (or anywhere for that matter) until their kids are older and can appreciate it I want to cause them harm. You will never get that chance again. That moment, that year vanishes in a puff of smoke whilst you do the commute and make their tea. If you can afford it, go, always, there is nothing to debate. It’s no good, in my view, looking back when they turn 21 thinking, coulda woulda shoulda. Some of our most fantastic experiences and memories are from our WDW trips and we are just getting started (sorry Louise).

Enough preaching and sepia tinged schmaltz. I have things to do, buffet to eat and another gig this afternoon. Happy birthday Rebecca, you’ve been a constant (well, almost) source of joy, fun and laughter and it’s a privilege to be your parents. Never doubt what a fantastic job you and Tom are doing with Freddie. Your Mum and me are astounded every day at how two people of your tender years are taking everything in your stride. Soak it all in because in about five minutes you’ll be posting photos from Freddie’s 21st and God knows what shape I’ll be in then!

Love you pud.

Till the next time…..

My Fantasmic Package

In the hurly burly of the last few weeks the act of planning has been a casualty to my lack of free time. This shall not stand.

You may remember, no, you will remember as the contents of this blog are of course your top priority and every syllable uttered is burned into your consciousness every week, that I wanted to book the Fantasmic Dinner Package at Hollywood Studios. See, I said you would remember!

At the time of ADRness those packages were not available on the app/web site so I just booked a meal at the Brown Derby instead. We knew we wanted to eat there anyway, as clearly we have more money than sense.

During a recent five second break from the daily madness this came to mind and I fired up the web site to see if this oversight from Disney had been corrected and if my multi-million dollar law suit for my emotional distress had been replied to. One of those had been addressed and I was now able to secure our seats in the amphitheatre. I know deep down that we probably don’t need to reserve seats in this manner but a few factors means it made sense (to me).

  1. It is Labor (for a country which starts with a U, I don’t know why they insist on omitting them from words that need them) Day on this day in question.
  2. We have a toddler with us and standing in a queue for 60 to 90 minutes may not be the best experience of the trip
  3. The package costs no more than just dining at the Brown Derby.

The Labor Day thing is an odd one. Any public holiday usually sees me making plans to being in a different state or continent to the theme parks. Those days like New Year’s Eve or Thanksgiving, when the parks shut due to hitting capacity are the few of the year when I wouldn’t automatically rather be in them. Louise especially does not do well in a packed theme park. Those nights when we have had to go to Magic Kingdom to see Wishes and a parade as it was our last night were always a struggle for Louise.

Anywho, a little bit of research about Labor Day reassured me sufficiently to allow us to attempt a park on that day. Several blogs and vlogs are of the opinion that Labor Day is not on the same scale as other public holidays, as it is just the one day, and historically crowd levels have been normal, if not a little quieter than usual. What could possibly go wrong?

So, on the off-chance that those blogs are wrong (not something you will ever find here my friends!) and Louise is close to murdering someone, specifically some fat bald bloke with a rucksack, we know we have a lovely meal booked and a seat in Fantasmic without waiting. Add in out three Fastpasses and a couple of shows and that should do the trick.

All of that could of course be totally irrelevant due to our track record with this Fantasmic Dinner Package. My memory is probably playing tricks on me, but it feels like every time we have booked this thing at vast expense the show has been cancelled due to rain. Now I could find out if that is the case quite easily by reading all of my trip reports but who wants to do that? In fact why don’t you all do that this week and report back to me next Sunday?

In other news I am ill. This is not Vitamin D related, this is a proper manly, visible, and understandable illness that I can wear like a badge of honour. I feel dreadful, can’t sleep, can’t really function and there are even signs that my appetite is slightly diminished. The latter being a real cause for national concern. It is just man flu of course and the odds are I will pull through but let’s not take that for granted.

Last night we had Freddie over for a few hours whilst Rebecca and Tom went to the cinema. Being infected and infectious sadly I couldn’t be too hands on but it is always lovely to have him around.

I shall leave you now to tend to my illness. I had a long to do list for today so let’s see if I can medicate myself sufficiently to get any of it done.

Till the next time….

Summer Lovin’

I love the summer. I only hope that next year it falls on a weekend.

I have blogged previously about my aversion to winter. As well as being at times sad in a not groovy kind of way (I am down with the kids and all their lingo), I do believe that I have a case of SAD, (seasonal affective disorder) the thing which makes you all grumpy and down when the sun goes away.

The last couple of days of decent weather reminded me yet again that I and pretty much all of the country are different in the sunsheeeeine, as Mr Gallagher may put it. Even Bean, our nut job of a cocker spaniel is a big fan. When the weather is warm we leave the back door open and she can be found outside lying in the sun.

All of this may make some sense, but only some, of my love of Florida. It’s called the sunsheeeeine (I’ll stop now) state after all. It’s not something I’ve made up. I have been under the doctor recently. That sounds a bit odd, but you know what I mean. I have felt a bit crap for ages and yet as many tests have confirmed, I apparently have absolutely nothing wrong with me. So this is just how you feel at my age? Eight hundred and four blood tests can’t be wrong!

However, after my last visit I have been declared deficient. That won’t be a surprise, but that deficiency is not in intelligence (not officially anyway), charm or good looks, but hey you knew that right, but instead, in Vitamin D. I have to take the stuff, having had it prescribed. What that really means is that the doctor says I must get more Vitamin D, which means I need more exposure to the sun and ergo, the doctor says I need to go to Florida more.

Sadly, that isn’t something the over stretched, under funded and short-staffed NHS (a bit more politics, but hey my wife’s a nurse, so don’t @ me as the kids might say) can afford, but it is official, my poor efforts so far in spending as much time (and money) there as possible have been frankly, poor and I must do better.

So knowing that my country and climate are making me ill, and with it being some 128 days until I land in some better stuff, what is to be done? Clearly the UK has shot its bolt weather wise for this year as I sit here looking at some rain, and I have unavoidable incidentals like the mortgage, food and other nonsense to use my meagre earnings on so perhaps I need to buy one of those sun lamps that my Mum had in the seventies?

My only option seems to be to start a petition to have my incurable disease addressed on the NHS. Me living in Florida for around nine months of the year looks¬†to be the only way to address this crisis. I can tolerate the UK from say June to the end of August, which will be a blessing to the UK tax payer and a sacrifice I am willing to make. Naturally, all of my family will need to be funded too as I will need their help and support to get me to all the theme parks and restaurants. The risk of me being “a bit tired” when all alone is not one that I wish to burden the conscience of the medial profession with. I am caring and compassionate in that way.

The light at the end of the tunnel for the NHS is that by living in Florida for most of the year I shall die nice and early from an obesity related disease and to keep costs to a minimum I shall have my ashes strewn outside the nearest Applebees during one of their happy hours so that those attending can pop in and get a lovely meal and a couple of cocktails at minimum expense.

So happy Autumn. That paddling pool you bought on Wednesday can go in the shed now until next year and you can pat yourself on the back that you only invested in a couple of disposable barbecues rather than that £2500 gas powered thing you keep promising yourself.

Feel free to write to your local MP to highlight my struggle.

Till the next time…..

My Poor Sack

It’s fine. Really…don’t worry about it….I spend many minutes making my blog look all different and nobody makes a comment.

Image result for it's fine cry gif

Moving on…

For a four day one, last week did its best impression of a twelve day one, or was that just me? As much as I was all upbeat last week about being on the home straight of the countdown to our holiday, sometime during the endless monotony and despair of my working week, the unavoidable, and seemingly unending road to that particular event hit me like a car driven by a Geordie TV presenter. (Too soon?)

If I’m not careful this post could easily set off down mid-life crisis boulevard so I shall apply the hand brake to that train of thought, un-mix my metaphors and head in a different direction.

My West Wing addiction has continued, with season two now completed. When’s the new series out? Due to watching that,¬†I have to confess that I was the one person in the UK who didn’t watch the Saturday Takeaway thing last night. I didn’t watch it last year either. It’s a bit weird I suppose for someone like me with such an obsession with the place, but I feel upset and offended by it. I don’t want people to know about Florida thank you very much. If the secret gets out I’ll be waiting an extra ten minutes for every ride. Stop, advertising it on prime time TV!

In a small yet potentially vital planning move, I made a strategic purchase last week. As part of the preparation for Freddie’s first time, I have assumed that there will be times when the bangs and crashes of WDW will be a little too much for a ten month old, especially if he’s having a kip. With that in mind, he now owns his very own set of noise cancelling headphones. The fireworks of an evening at the various parks are likely to upset a sleeping toddler so we’re hoping we can just slip these on and he’ll be oblivious.

They will also be getting a first live trial at Rebecca’s birthday party in a few weeks to defend his ears from the face melting awesomeness of Mustard.

There are some other milestones on the horizon but as nice as it is for them to arrive, they are things like paying the balance on the villa next month. Things get a little more exciting as we hit the summer and we need to get the theme park tickets sorted so that we are primed and ready for the securing of FastPasses. It is then, and only then that I can start to think about considering the plan done. There is always the chance that an unavailable FastPass may mean some juggling of days. The laminator will be idle until then.¬†Of course, as soon as Freddie’s passport turns up, we will be ESTAing too.

I should also share with you some troubling news that I have kept hidden from you for almost a year now. Ryan is not in good health. If you don’t know who or what Ryan is, this next section will be very confusing to you.

He is currently resting in the spare room with a busted zip. I blame myself. I tried to get too much into him and for a sack of his years, it was all a bit much and it broke him.

There are two schools of thought in play.

  1. He’s had a good run and now, with a new generation of the family in tow, it could be a good time to introduce a new sack, Ryan’s daughter if you will, to our trips.
  2. We shall rebuild him.

I am hopeful that the second option will be possible. I need to seek out someone with the necessary skills to remove and replace the busted zipper and make him whole again. The girls are a big fan of option two, and were genuinely upset that Ryan may have travelled for the last time. I hope they feel the same way about me in years to come when my metaphorical zipper gets busted.

Should anyone be an expert in these matters and be willing to handle this delicate operation then do get in touch!

Till the next time…. Discount Disney Tickets

Scary Stuff

Before I begin, it’s only right that I share with you the results of my very scientific poll last week. For those who didn’t read that post…..get out…go on…if you aren’t here every week, begone, I hold no truck with part timers….ahem…

The poll was asking if the charges for parking your car at Disney resorts would make you reconsider staying on site. Turns out, for most it would…

I suspect there may be larger, more representative polling mechanisms than me asking my two readers, but it does seem that this new policy is causing folks to pause and consider their options. It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out. The entire Disney board, who read this blog every week, will no doubt be holding emergency meetings this week as a result of this.

On a journey that started in 1980 and has included more trips than I can remember (true story) it isn’t very often that I get to experience new Disney stuff on one of our Florida trips. Sure there are new eateries, and new rides along the way, but to do new stuff that we have never experienced before, we usually have to venture further afield.

The Keys, Daytona, Vero Beach, Naples, and Siesta Key have all featured in the quest to find new stuff and to make sure Louise tolerates us going to the same place all the time. We’ve loved them all by the way, and should time and money permit, we’d return to them all.

This week saw the booking of our Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party tickets. In all these years we have never done one of these party events and I am definitely looking forward to it. On our typical end of August trips, Halloween bursts out all over the Magic Kingdom on our last few days and with this holiday due to start a little later than normal, right at the end of August, we get the chance to do the party night.

With a complete disregard for my plan, Disney conspired to make life a little difficult. Despite the park hours saying that Magic Kingdom closed at 6.30 on the 6th of September, making me assume that we could safely bank on that being one of the dates for MNSSHP, it was not. Or at least there are no tickets available for that date right now. So, I had to do some swift emergency surgery to the plan, rejigging several days as if it were some trivial task. Should anyone less experienced than I attempt such a thing, disaster would surely ensue.

A future blog post will once again outline this new plan in graphic day by day detail. Try to manage your excitement and anticipation if you can.

To cut a medium length story short, we are now doing Not So Scary on the 9th of September and for reasons I won’t bore you with, it looks like we’ve had to cut Edison from our dining plans as a result. That was caused by a chain of events and a line of thinking that you wouldn’t believe even I were to explain it. In summary, it was either Edison or Olive Garden for the chop and as the latter’s Lasagne is Emily’s favourite food on the planet it was a short decision making process.

Somehow this change meant that we needed somewhere to eat a late lunch at on the day of MNSSHP, off-site, so we could go back to the villa to change as we didn’t want to turn up anywhere in our costumes before heading to Magic Kingdom for the party! So on the 9th we will be resting poolside for the morning and then around 2pm, venturing out to eat before going back to the villa to change into our elaborate costumes. It has been decided that this shall be Miller’s Ale House on the 192. We’ve done it once before and their wings and cheesy fries are excellent.

The double edged sword of doing new stuff like MNSSHP is that, yay, it’s all new and exciting, but, boo, I don’t know what I’m doing so much. So research is needed. Or I could just be lazy and ask you lovely folks the current question in my mind…and that is…

It rings a vague bell that there are rules around Halloween/character costumes, and adults cannot wear “proper” costumes, I assume for fear that some guests may mistake other guests for characters? I can see the risk as even out of costume I am constantly assumed to be Gaston, Prince Charming and/or Hercules. It’s a bother. So what can we wear? I see pictures of folks in “full costume” when I look online but it would be good to hear from some folks with personal experience and/or real knowledge unlike me!

Beyond my plan to recoup the price of the ticket in the amount of candy gathered, what other tips would you give to a first timer at Not So Scary?

For those of you who enjoy a Freddie photo. Here is a significant one, his first passport photo. I think he will be happy with that for the next few years!

Returning to normal life, I picked up my new (to me) car on Wednesday. I am probably the least petrol headed male in the UK, but still, it is always nice to get a new car and enjoy that smell for a few days at least. It has some groovy toys like a reversing camera, which I’m sure is handy if you are not a parking God like myself. It also has heated seats, which will definitely be useful and used as it seems winter has come for good and we are destined to live on single digit temperatures for the next 27 years. I have had a hot bottom for years and this will only enhance it. Steady ladies!

Today, Mustard begin their wedding season. The first of our wedding bookings for the year happens today and I’ll be there for most of the day and night. By the time you read this, we shall probably be setting up our gear, sound checking and then hanging about for a long time. The actual playing of songs is always a small part of the life of a function band. Without roadies and an entourage, it is very much a “Do it all ourselves” approach with the highlight being the pleasure of packing everything up, getting it into the car and then unloading it back into the house at some stupid time in the early hours. Safe to say, we do not do it for money!

Enjoy your Sundays.

Till the next time….

Park Strife

Park Strife

There has been no booking of ADRs in the past week which has made it all the tougher. Staring longingly at the plan during weeks like the last one goes some way to lessen the burden of some of the absolute shite I have to endure to earn a living. Being able to book ADRs for an upcoming trip is a cure for most such ills and I have missed it.

My mood has not been improved by the weather over the weekend either. It’s the middle of bloody March, with British summer time imminent, and this shite white stuff has caused Mustard to miss their gig this weekend. We were due to be out in Buxton, which according to the internet is pretty much closed, so it was the correct decision to cancel, but an upsetting one.

Yesterday, despite the snow, we had a ride out to the local car showroom to discuss changing my car. It’s coming up on three years old and is about to start needing an MOT and no doubt lotsa money spending on it. So it didn’t take long to come to a deal to change to a newer model of what I have currently, with a welcome warranty, three years of servicing and a better spec for the same monthly money. Hopefully I’ll be picking it up during the coming week.

We have also started to plan Rebecca’s 21st birthday party. After saying for a long while that she didn’t want a party, it turns out she does. I have to say we were shocked! So we have swiftly moved into action, booking a function room at my Dad’s golf club for early May, arranging the obligatory buffet and booking an excellent, top notch function band called Mustard. We got a great deal from them!

It may not surprise you to discover that the party will be Disney themed. Costumes are being sourced as we speak!

In other non Williams news last week, Disney, as it sometimes does announces something that really upsets some folks. It would appear that on-site guests now need to pay a parking charge per night at Disney resorts. It does seem that UK bookings are exempt, but I could be wrong on that, but naturally the Disney internet community has, I believe the phrase is, blown up this week with much discussion of this change.

It begs the question, when does a Disney holiday become just too expensive? The answer may well be different for each individual, and not being a regular on-site guest, and not from the US, this one doesn’t immediately impact me, but this sort of extra, along with what seems the weekly increase in parking charges for the theme parks can come over as a little greedy from a company that makes billions of profits.

Now, as much as my love for the Disney brand and experience can blind me to many things, it does not stop me appreciating that they are a public company, who exist to make profits. I’m sure they have done some extensive and expensive market research before launching this new charge, but it is a strange one. I have personally paid a parking charge at other Florida hotels, including Universal, but to me at least, it matters a little less as those stays tend to be quite short. If I were to stay at a Disney resort for two weeks or more, this new charge would begin to bite into my budget and ultimately either restrict my spend on other areas and/or tempt me to stay elsewhere.

I suspect any down turn or back lash will be minimal and there are enough people still willing to pay what is required to holiday in Disney and ultimately their balance sheet will look a little better. It would cost you $24 a night to self park your car at a deluxe resort. So that’s $336 for a two week stay. Does that matter? If you can afford to stay at the Grand Floz for two weeks surely that’s a minor dent in your budget? However having stayed at another Deluxe, the Beach Club, I have to say that extra amount would be significant enough for me to have to consider it.

Perhaps they are doing it to discourage folks from driving? A green agenda and a tax on cars in a country so obsessed with motor vehicles seems unlikely and that would inevitably put a strain on the Disney transportation system too. Add to that the fact that day guests, visiting a resort to dine or look around do not pay the charge, it all seems just a bit odd. The official line seems to be that it brings them in line with industry standards, but it could be argued their room rates have always been slightly above that so adding this in may push them out of the price range of some folks.

Anyway, we’re in a villa this time round, so I’m alright Jack!

There is no escaping that a Disney trip is an expensive business. Especially for us UK visitors. We have to fly over lots of water at great expense, and typically stay for at least two weeks to make that journey worthwhile. This might explain the UK exemption?

But what’s next? With Disney fans always willing to pay for that “extra special thing” to make their trip that little bit different and memorable, Disney already have a million ways to part guests from their cash. The sacred cow may be charging for FastPasses and/or some sort of front of line experience. Would Disney go there? I hope not. There’s already a train of thought in Disney online communities that the ” average” family is being priced out of a trip, and with there seemingly no longer being a quiet time in the parks, charging folks to beat the lines seems punitive.

So, I’d be interested in your thoughts. If these parking charges do eventually apply to UK guests, would it change your thoughts and plans about staying on-site?

Till the next time……