Lament and Lamination

With the week just ended, the plan, whilst not quite laminated, is pretty much complete. I am happy with it. I lament the fact that the plan is not perfect, but they never are, as the fact that other people insist on being there at the same time and stealing our desired eating times means that to secure some of our choices we are having to eat at odd times. We shall somehow cope.

I think I left you last week in our Universal break, where we plan to eat at Cowfish on night one and Teak on night two, and I was waiting for those days to pass to try and secure the last few WDW ADRs.

I was majestically successful with Via Napoli, if you consider eating dinner at 3.55pm a success. Similarly, Sanaa was bagged with the minor sacrifice of only being able to eat at 9.10pm. That, I think is our latest dining time of the trip and staying awake long enough may be a challenge for those of us pregnant, under 5 or middle aged and overweight. We will endure.

The last day (in Magic Kingdom of course) is always a tricky one. You want to go out with some sort of culinary bang, but also want to spend as long as possible in the park and the two things can be mutually exclusive. I considered just letting it all hang free and we would scavenge as best we could from snacks and counter service, but the compulsion to plan overtook me and I booked something.

I am very happy with the result. I decided to go for Steakhouse 71 at the Contemporary, for lunch. It’s a stroke of genius, well, as close as I come to one. We get to nip out of the park when it will theoretically be at its busiest, try a new eatery within a resort that is always worth a visit and a look around and finally, and let’s face it, most importantly, there is this….

I know the whole concept of booking meals 60 days in advance will be bizarre to some not au fait with the whole WDW thing, but I also know what dessert I will be having.

With that done, we will back in Magic Kingdom by early afternoon, ready to weep through the final few hours. Then when we become hungry again just a few short hours later, we can unleash the snacks.

So overall, I am pleased with the plan. Let’s be honest, after all this time I am just happy to have one at all. There are some ADRs I couldn’t get but that has just meant us trying new places or revisiting some old favourites and it’s all good.

To avoid anyone ploughing through the entire plan again here is a list of all the places we plan to eat.

  • Whispering Canyon
  • The Cheesecake Factory
  • Bahama Breeze
  • 50’s Prime Time
  • Hash House A Go Go
  • Miller’s Ale House
  • Rainforest Café
  • Jungle Skipper Canteen
  • Cowfish
  • Teak Neighbourhood Grill
  • Olive Garden
  • Via Napoli
  • Ford’s Garage
  • Sanaa
  • Steakhouse 71

I’ve put on half a stone just typing that out.

I am still waiting for definitive news on the day 3 test Freddie needs in the States. It is looking like they are unsupervised and based on an honour system so we should be able to take a free NHS lateral flow test and just make sure he is negative. I can’t see anybody checking on these as folks fly home, but we’ll find that out this week I guess as those who went out on the 8th start to return.

My paranoia about one of us testing positive before we fly grows by the day. The irony of getting so close and then producing a positive test would be unimaginable. It is made worse by the fact that we will be taking those tests on New Year’s Eve so if the worst happens, trying to contact insurance companies, airlines and any bugger else will be a nightmare as the two days after that are holidays. Best not to think about it. Yeah, right.

It may be a form of trauma caused by the trip denials and delays of the last couple of years but I still can’t fully believe we will go. I just have this awful fear something is going to happen between now and then. Unfounded I imagine, but unsurprising based on recent history.

The other planning decision we made this week was to do airport parking rather than a taxi. There were two main reasons for this. Firstly I couldn’t get any bloody taxi firm to get back to me with a price and confirmation they were available and secondly having done the airport parking thing recently for Gran Canaria, we preferred it. So that is all booked now. It removes one small worry about taxis turning up at either end of the trip.

With our trip happening right after Christmas our decorations are going up a bit earlier than usual, as they will be down again before we leave. It does appear that we bought the incorrect house as our tree does not fit anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, the new house is bigger than the old one, it just has lower ceilings and odd shapes, being an old Farmhouse, so we spent a good deal of this weekend trying to find a solution. Moving house again is not one of them. The expense of buying another tree is equally unacceptable.

As we get close to departure now, with just four weeks left at work, Freddie was measured a few days ago. In his new trainers he is a fraction under 44 inches. This means there is very little he can’t get on and the stuff he can’t I don’t think we’d want him riding anyway. It’s good to know he will be able to enjoy most things, unlike his Mum who will be sat outside the majority of rides watching Ryan! There will be other trips!

Till the next time…..

Kungaloosh!

Thanks for all the nice messages about last week’s good news. It was nice to be able to finally share that with everyone and hopefully put behind us what has been a fraught number of months. I know Rebecca and Tom would want me to thank everyone who wished them well.

It is only now can you fully appreciate the level of planning skills I have had to deploy to cope with that lovely news and a global pandemic when trying to get us on this bloody holiday!

On the subject of lovely news, at the other end of the life spectrum, last Sunday we held a small get together to mark Louise’s Mum’s 90th birthday. After almost two years of lockdowns I think she loved seeing all the friends and family we had gathered together and the left over party food that’s been in our fridge all week has done nothing for my pre WDW diet.

I have been nuts deep in work this week, but I have managed to find sufficient time to be equally deep in ADR getting. Results have been mixed. I reported last week that we could not get O’hana, but Whispering Canyon was a worthy alternative. On the positive side (despite a few of you telling me Prime Time was now crap!) I did manage to get us in there on one of our Hollywood Studios days. Hopefully the experience will be somewhere close to our memory of previous visits.

I was less successful on other days, having to sub in Rainforest Café for Yak and Yeti at the Animal Kingdom. I know what we are in for there, and I’m not expecting life changing food, but the theming and experience should go down well with the four year old in our group. I will try to get into Yak and Yeti on another day at AK. If not we will try a walk up, such is our fondness for the place.

For the 10th of January (in what other context would planning your eating 60 days in advance be normal?), when we are in Magic Kingdom, I again tried O’hana for dinner but there was more sign of my fringe than an opening there so we moved to plan B. In the spirit of trying something new I booked us in at the Skipper’s Canteen Jungle Cruise place. That is almost definitely not its correct title but it is one of those places that I will never get the real name right for. We have had to go for a mid afternoon time slot but if there’s one thing we can do, it is eat whenever required to.

I haven’t read any reviews and I’ve only had a cursory glance at the menu, but at the point I read this, the booking was confirmed.

Kungaloosh!
An African-inspired Chocolate Cake with Caramelized Bananas served with Cashew-Caramel Ice Cream topped with Coffee Dust

I do suspect our party size is making ADRs harder to come by. We could try and book separate ADRs for a four and a two I suppose but the faff of that is off putting. I imagine eateries are geared up for more normal parties of two and four as standard table configurations.

We had a break for a few days in terms of securing ADRs as the next two days of the trip are at Universal and then I have some off site stuff planned in. Next I need to secure our usual spot at Via Napoli on the 14th of January. That has quickly become one of our firm favourites. That will pretty much see the plan complete from a dining perspective, with just Sanaa on our minds for our first day at Coronado Springs. I intend to have a three course meal, each of which will be the bread service.

I have our last day in Magic Kingdom currently with no eating plans and that’s always a tricky one, as we want to spend as long as possible in the park. We have in previous years “nipped out” to an off site eatery and we do need to find a spot for Romano’s Macaroni Grill if we can but I may succumb to somewhere in the park, even if it is counter service just to give us maximum “bottom lip” time on our final day.

Away from food, nothing seems to be any clearer with regard to some of the testing required. I watched the first flights leave for Orlando last week, and over the next few weeks we should start to hear what those with unvaccinated children did for their 3-5 day test in the US. My gut feel is that you sign the attestation form to say you will test them and isolate them if positive and nobody checks that you actually did. The question I currently have is whether you can just take a free NHS lateral flow test from home and use that or whether for some inexplicable reason you need to buy one instead.

Last week at work we went live with a major project that had taken many months to deliver and that seems trivial when compared to the logistics of getting on holiday to WDW right now.

Rebecca and Tom went for their 12 week scan on Thursday (I think). All is well, the baby had hiccups during the scan and Rebecca is starting to feel movement now, so everything is looking positive. She is due her 20 week scan on our first full day in Orlando so that has had to be pushed back until the day after we get back. Whatever is in there quite rightly already has a WDW trip as a higher priority than being scanned to find out whether they are a boy or a girl. He/She will have been on two holidays by the time they arrive and that somehow sets the tone nicely for what lies ahead I hope. If you look closely below I’m sure I can see some Mickey ears being worn.

Then to end the week, we’ve spent a lovely weekend entertaining some friends of ours from Yorkshire who we haven’t seen in too long and it’s been lovely catching up and eating lots together. They are Disney experts and DVC owners so it’s always nice to have fellow Disney folks to chat to.

Imagine getting me ranting about Genie, COVID and price increases in person rather than in a blog you can just stop reading! Poor Steve and Di.

Till the next time…….

One Day Like This…

Ok, I’ve calmed down a bit now. To be fair to me I did say last week’s post was knee jerk but it doesn’t matter what limb is jerking, I stand by my opinion. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a universal (pardon the pun) condemnation of a Disney change and there have been many over the years.

I also said that the whole thing would get smoothed out and maybe refined. That hasn’t happened yet of course but I stand by that thought too. I’ve watched some more vlogs and feel better that ignoring the whole shit show could be a viable option, especially during the hopefully quieter times in January.

Certainly being very selective in any use of these paid for options will be the order of the trip if we do at all. In effect Disney have removed the three free Fastpasses we used to have and it stinks. Making the best of that means that I may need to up my game in terms of planning our park days and break out some of the strategies honed over the years to get on stuff with the least amount of waiting.

Rather than just piss and moan, whenever Chapek gets a minute to read this here is my suggestion if they absolutely insist on introducing a paid for option. Retain the three free FastPass+ rides that guests can book in advance. Then, if guests wish to upgrade they could pay that $15 per person (or maybe even a little more) to get one FastPass go on all the rides that day.

For now I think the best thing to do is to put it to the back of my mind and focus on the very positive news that we are very close to another Florida adventure and it will be be full of lots of good stuff.

With that in mind let’s trot through the plan as it stands. The thought of getting lots of days filled with fun stuff all in a row is almost unthinkable after the last couple of years. Just one day like these would have been very welcome at any point in that time!

One major change enforced by the park reservation system is that we don’t have many formal rest days planned. Usually we operate on a two days on, one day off scheme but now, having to book your WDW park days, we cannot risk being “locked out” if we plan a rest day but then decide to pop to a park late in the day.

So every day has a park booking of some sort and we will not use/cancel them when we know for sure our plans for that day. Factoring in the weather in January too makes that more of a requirement as rest days typically need to be warm and sunny and January might see some that aren’t and we would need to have a park to visit.

For those who may have missed the details of our flights, and heaven knows there have been many changes over the last couple of years, we have booked with Aer Lingus direct from Manchester. We leave the UK on the 3rd of January at 11am. That fact has still not completely sunk in.

We land around 3pm and have a minivan reserved with Sixt at MCO at a price that could be confused with buying one. I have set up the app to use the Visitor Toll Pass thing. I’m hoping it will save us scrabbling for quarters from the bowels of Ryan after a nine hour flight in a car crammed with suitcases and tired people. We head straight to the villa and depending mostly on Freddie’s tiredness levels we will either order takeout (see I am already mentally in the US) or if he and everyone else is up to it, head out for tea. I haven’t planned anywhere for that meal. Who am I?

There will be a supermarket visit somewhere around this time and some unpacking and then bed.

You’ve been here long enough to know that the first day will be spent at Magic Kingdom. we are very close to ADR day now and I’m hoping to snag one at O’hana for an early tea recognising our body clocks will see us eating lunch at sometime around 10am. If I can’t get that ADR then we might do somewhere in the park or do offsite. We have to save our pennies for going on popular rides now you see!!

Day two is traditionally a rest day. It might be this time. I see Typhoon Lagoon is reopening in December and if temperatures allow we will be there on this day. If not I have a park reservation at Hollywood Studios. Dinner plans are for The Cheesecake Factory.

Day three is Epcot probably trying to get on rides in Future World before heading off site to Bahama Breeze for dinner. One of our absolute favourites.

The next day is Hollywood Studios watching other people get on Rise Of The Resistance. As it stands I have nothing in the plan for dinner. I am suitably ashamed. Let’s see what ADR day brings.

Day five is a Saturday and it’s the weekend of Disney run things so I expect things to be busy. With that in mind I have the closest thing to a rest day on the plan. It starts with breakfast at Hash House a Go Go and then most of the day recovering from that around our villa. I do have an Epcot park reservation if needed and things don’t look too mad.

Animal Kingdom appears on day six for a good old full day of park touring. Dinner of course is at Yak and Yeti.

Monday the 10th of January next and plans are still fairly basic with Magic Kingdom on the cards but again no dinner plans as of yet. Perhaps an ADR at the new Skipper’s place in the park or we will head off site depending how long we stay in the park.

The next two days will be spent at Universal. We have crowbarred this in on the cheap so with no Front of Line we will be theme park commandos for two days getting done what we can get done. Dinner on the first day will be Cowfish and on the second night, we’ll I’m not sure yet.

Day ten sees a park reservation for Hollywood Studios and not much else at this stage. I am wrestling generally with how many in park dining reservations to make or whether we go off site.

Day eleven is Epcot and hopefully Via Napoli for dinner as we wander World Showcase and the following day we are back at Animal Kingdom. We have to pack up and leave the villa the next day so I have dinner at Ford’s Garage as it is very close to our villa so we can head back and get packed.

Next we check in to Coronado Springs for two nights. Weather allowing, the first day I have us around their pool and dinner at Sanaa, ADR permitting.

Then comes our last full day and you know where that will be spent. Magic Kingdom with as yet no dinner plans.

The next day is just full of a huge breakfast and travelling so let’s not think about that yet.

So you can see plans are loose as yet. I have work to do but that can only really happen once we can book dining. The weather is a potential curve ball at all times too. With all the date changes and uncertainty it’s clear my detailed planning has suffered and I need to up my game. I suppose deep down I still can’t believe we are going and it is having an impact.

Hopefully these blogs continue to contain more planning normality and less moaning going forward. We can all but hope.

Till the next time……

Booked It, Packed It 2 – The Return Of The Fat Guy

It won’t surprise anyone reading this to learn that I have a well developed persecution complex. Most weeks, despite living a largely untroubled and privileged life, I can find something to moan about. I often trot out the phrases “you couldn’t write it” or “you couldn’t make it up” to bemoan whatever the latest minor upset might be. However, after what has been a troubled couple of years holiday wise, the events of the last week or so really have been comedic.

Having moved our Florida trip four or five times (I have honestly lost count) when the last cancellation happened I did jettison my toys from the stroller a little and instead of moving it, I cancelled everything. Breaking the habit of a couple of decades, off I went and booked a holiday to another country, crucially nowhere near the US. What could go wrong?

Within a few days of doing so, a volcano in The Canaries that has laid dormant for half a century suddenly became active. Sure, it doesn’t currently seem likely to affect our plans but we don’t know for certain and my head shaking was incessant at the “you couldn’t write it” aspect of this.

Whilst licking those wounds, and lay on the couch Facetiming Rebecca chatting no doubt about our upcoming trip not to America, Emily cried out at some news she had just seen on her phone. I did indeed feel a disturbance in the force.

“The US border is opening in November”. she relayed.

Once that had sunk in after a few seconds, my stomach churned and those special words escaped my lips. “You couldn’t (expletive) write it”.

After a family chat including phrases such as “It is what it is” and “It’s too bloody late and hard now to cancel The Canaries”, I entered into a mild sulk. I did fire up a couple of apps and checked out flight prices to Florida for 2022. Having laughed long and hard at the prices for anything close to summer my mind began to whir.

My inner Verruca Salt kicked in. I told myself things like….

“You work really hard (highly debateable) and deserve the holiday you really want”

“I still haven’t had my 50th trip and I deserve that too”

My mind began to do its work, thinking about when we may be able to get over there. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the logistics of getting six of us (at least) away at the same time, balancing everyone’s work, life plans, other commitments and of course finances is on a par with undertaking a moon landing.

After much analysis and discussion (including Tom persuading his Boss to be very flexible with his holidays) a very small window of opportunity emerged. Flights were checked, research was done, chats were had with the owner of our villa of choice and it was decided.

We are returning to WDW on the 3rd of January 2022.

This would not be our ideal time of year of course. Temperatures will be much lower than we prefer but at this point that does not matter. Again, for reasons I will not trouble you with, if we were not to take this chance, it would be very unlikely we could fit a trip in during 2022 and having not been since mid 2019 this would be very upsetting indeed, indeed probably totally unacceptable.

Appreciating the absolute carnage that is probably ongoing now in the rush for UK tourists to book stuff, I feel quite smug that we have pretty much everything in the bag for prices we can tolerate.

Having had the Aer Lingus refund for several hours, I gave it all back, booking flights with them again. Let’s not dwell on the fact that I could have got a voucher for our flight price plus 10%. This whole thing is already a shit show of incompetence and bad decision making, let’s not make it any worse.

Our villa of choice was thankfully just about available. We will have two days at the end of the trip for which we need to find somewhere to stay as the villa was booked for those. On that note I did think we would use our DVC credit notes (remember those?) to stay somewhere nice on-site to end the trip. Having spoken to the DVC rental company, they tried our dates and there was not one DVC room available on any property in Orlando. What the f…..??

I have no idea what is going on there, as I am not a DVC expert. I am hoping over time things settle down and something does come up that we can use. I am as we speak in “talks” with the folks I have my credit notes with to try and source something suitable.

Having not had our refund from Floridatix of course, and now needing some tickets (I know, I know…) I contacted them. Amazingly they were able to use some of my refund and move that to a brand new booking within minutes, but yet, it looks like I still have another month at least before I may see any sign of monies owed to me. Funny that. These new tickets should arrive any day now so I can do our park reservations….again.

So all of a sudden we have two holidays in close succession and our holidaying budget will be well and truly drained, but after the last couple of years I give not one shit. There is still much to know of course. There has been no formal announcement on the exact date in November when borders will open and what tests will be needed and how kids fit into all of this. By the time our dates roll around I am sure….no, I am hopeful that will all be sorted.

Needless to say I have resumed vlog watching, actively seeking out some from January to see how bloody cold it might be. We have been once before at that time, back in 2005 into 2006 but memories fade over time. I seem to remember the days being fine, but fleeces being required at night. I have a vague memory of buying the girls gloves and woolly hats to watch Fantasmic.

Whatever it is, we shall make the most of it. The reduced heat should make for less weariness and getting more done. We have had to sacrifice Universal which is very upsetting, but the budget just won’t stretch to the extra thousands involved in tickets and an on-site stay. Next time. That cash is sitting now with TUI for our October trip. Water parks will probably also be out of bounds and indeed closed in January? I can’t remember, but we will just go eat instead! Any thoughts of using our DVC credit notes for Vero were scuppered after watching a vlog or two from that time of year, with folks on the beach wrapped up as if they were in Blackpool in Autumn.

Having ignored most of the Genie+/Lightning Lane stuff, hoping it would go away, I am also hoping that in early January, in what historically has been one of the quietest times in the parks, we will not need them. All bets are off I know, post pandemic, and there could be three hour queues for everything, but I’ll take my chances in a more positive frame of mind on that than if we were going next August. I suspect things will take a couple of years at least for crowds and travel patterns to settle again.

So Florida looks to be re-opening for us and normality is returning. On that note I went back into the office for the first time on Friday. It was not something I was looking forward to and all I will say is that it lived up to expectations. It is only right and patriotic of me now though to support our glorious Brexit cause and conserve petrol by not driving to the office again for quite some time. Until of course they work out a way to put all our sovereignty into petrol tanks.

It seems most of my colleagues are on board with this plan already. See the bustling environment I was working in by 9.30 on Friday morning.

Anyway, all that matters is that we have a plan and a countdown and I can now try to use them to block out all the real world shite that is going on. Balance has been restored to the force.

Till the next time…….

Aering My Grievance

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear some positive upbeat holiday news around here? News of refunds effortlessly winging their way to my bank account and our new alternative holiday being booked without any hiccups and us having a countdown of sorts to a much needed getaway.

Yep that would be lovely.

Of course, no such thing has happened. Aer Lingus are not covering themselves in glory in relation to their 5-7 day “promise” for that refund. It was requested on the 27th of August and here we sit drumming our fingers still.

I chased them about three days ago. Sure they are busy and no doubt have a lot to get through but I did check in with another affected Aer Lingus customer and blog reader who requested their refund after mine and of course there’s arrived very quickly and without faff.

Sigh.

Anyway I feel much better and totally reassured as I was told that the refund request would now be passed to their Priority Team who would deal with it urgently. Firstly it’s always nice to know you weren’t a priority in the first place and secondly when I asked how long the refund would take now it sat with the Jedi Masters of refunds I was told they could not give me a timescale but maybe within a week or so. I think we need a chat about the word Priority.

For someone who plans holidays in advance, being a few weeks away from our potential departure and not being able to book is an alien concept but here we are. I can feel my ire rising (not a euphemism) and I shall be having a chat with my Irish flying friends very early next week.

Away from the will they won’t they of our holiday (listen to those cheers), it has been brought to my attention this week about some Disney vlogger drama. This is actually the second week in a row this has happened.

Last week I caught wind of some UK Youtubers who had sparked controversy by getting to Florida by first spending two weeks in, I think it was Crotia and the Disney online community had gone berserk at them. I think what they did was called “not reading the room”.

There was a lot of anger at them doing this with everyone else suffering cancelled plans and having no hope of getting there anytime soon. I didn’t care very much about this as I had never watched any of their videos and probably never will but I put it down to that age old demon where some folks start getting some attention and traction for their online activity and they begin to crave it and do stupid things.

At its most extreme I’ve heard of some (non Disney) Youtuber having a bath in bleach to generate views. That did not end well. In this case I suppose they thought being the first UK folks out there would bag them a lot of attention. Well it did but in the form of anger, unsubscribes and vitriolic comments.

I don’t really know how that little storm ended but hopefully it involved those folks getting a little perspective about online attention and the drug it can become.

This week’s drama involved The Trackers. Apparently they have been dropped from the media event list by Disney and Universal due to some “content” they posted a decade ago. It’s not really about that as far as I can see. As ever it seems there is someone or someones out there on a mission to bring them down and they have been bombarding Disney and Universal via multiple email addresses insisting they cut their ties with The Trackers due to this content that they say is not in line with Disney’s/Universal’s values. There are rumours of who that is but I won’t share those as there is no proof but suffice to say the theory is another vlogger is trying to knock them off their spot and take their place.

Success in any sphere attracts trolls I suppose. I mean I get bombarded all the time with jealousy and sabotage about my blog which has had pretty much the same number of readers for a decade. You can’t buy that sort of consistent mediocrity.

When you are The Trackers and are getting more views than quite a few TV programmes now you are always going to get divided opinions. It’s clearly too simple to say if you don’t like them don’t watch them it seems. They are and have been a consistently excellent source of information for Florida travellers over the years. Sure some of their content won’t please everyone, but how sad do you have to be to spend your time trying to destroy what somebody else has achieved.

Hopefully they will be reinstated soon but in the meantime I hope they will be laughing all the way to the bank in their Tesla and giving that troll(s) the finger as they drive by.

Shall we reconvene here next week, when my refund will absolutely have happened and our new trip will be booked, just in time for the October lockdown to drive a coach and horses through it? October lockdown? Well, the government have both not ruled it out and said they have no plans for one so I think that’s crystal clear as usual. Two days ago vaccine passports were happening but in the 48 hours since they have seemingly reviewed all the factors, that presumably they lost down the back of the couch on Thursday and now they are “definitely not going ahead with those”.

It’s the hope for competence that kills you.

Till the next time……

Can We Go On Holiday? Yes, We (Probably) Can-ary.

After a week off work you’d imagine I would be rested, relaxed and raring to go. I’m not, but it’ll take more than a week of mowing grass, answering work emails on my phone and not lying in as long as I would have liked to achieve that.

As the week drew to an end both Louise and I also seem to have inherited some of Emily’s (non Covid) illness which isn’t that bad (for me at least) other than it prevents sleep. Louise is doing less well.

My birthday on Tuesday was a quiet one and I don’t think it will surprise or upset anyone to hear that I have had better birthdays but it was lovely to see family and get lots of lovely gifts. Most gifts were clothes which seemed to be a family wide conspiracy to tell me I am overdue a new wardrobe. I am set for any upcoming holiday now with many new T shirts.

We’ve been searching for that alternate holiday destination this week and I think we are there. An all inclusive hotel has been identified in Gran Canaria for our October dates and as soon as anyone fancies sending me a refund we will be booking that. The hotel is called Riu Vistamar on Gran Canaria. Hopefully those refunds will be any day as Aer Lingus said theirs would take 5-7 days. We sit here on the cusp of the end of that period so we will see what happens.

Floridatix received my tickets early in the week and quickly issued our cancellation invoices. Of course for some reason it will now take up to sixty days to actually see the cash returned. I mean they’ve only had thousands of my pounds in their bank since late 2019 so that seems fair.

Shout out to Matt (villa owner) who had that deposit back with me almost before I requested it. Travel Republic, through which we had booked our Universal stay, also refunded our small deposit within a couple of days.

My fear of the US opening shortly after we book for elsewhere is subsiding. Whilst there are small hints that the US know they are coming under increasing pressure to come up with a plan, I still think it will be 2022 before we are allowed in. Regardless, it will definitely be then before we can return now. What state the parks will be in with all these changes and how silly flight prices might be we can only imagine.

I think the US has a little bit of time to go yet to ride out their current wave and we will have our own new surge in cases with schools now back. I am hopeful for 2022 but I have lived in that naïve state for almost two years now so nobody hold your breath.

Had you told me in September 2019 as we left the parks for the last time on our most recent trip that we wouldn’t be back for the best part of three years (at least) not only would I have wept (more) but I may have chained myself to the flagpole on Main Street. Having been so often we were, I think, definitely at the stage of taking these trips for granted. Never again.

So in just under a month we should be overseas (probably…I just cannot bring myself to think about any travel plans as concrete), enjoying the sunshine, unlimited food and not being at work. It will be lovely of course, but just not quite the holiday I would have wanted. Who knows, maybe I will rediscover my love of these types of holiday. They were all I knew until the age of ten. I’m not kidding anyone with that, especially myself, but excuse my positive spinning after what feels like endless whinging (I don’t need to tell you that, right?).

How is my beach body diet going? Well, let’s just say that I am no heavier now than I was last week, and at this stage let’s embrace that for the positive step that it is.

And with that I shall leave you. We appear to be in for a heat wave this week so make the most and try to imagine you are somewhere in Florida if you can.

Till the next time……

Yearn To Fly

It’s been a long and winding road, starting in November 2019, but the trip that never was is now officially dead.

After five sets of dates and endless stress and faff, on Wednesday Aer Lingus postponed the start of their Manchester to Orlando service until (at least) mid December. We all knew this was coming of course, but it is still a big kick in the nads when it does.

I knew that something would need to give in the next week or so as we had balances coming due in early September that I would definitely not be paying if there was no border news. Aer Lingus, thankfully, in a way, put me out of my misery….and into a new, different misery instead.

Previously when flights were cancelled we simply picked the whole trip up and moved it into the future, naively believing that by “that time” everything would be back to normal. Not this time my friends. With the US infected with lots of Delta and even more stupidity, I can see no prospect of travel to the US in the coming months.

So on Wednesday and Thursday I began the very sad and labour intensive task of cancelling everything and this time requesting refunds. I called Aer Lingus who tried to tempt me into vouchers with a 10% bonus, but there’s seems little point in that really. So full refunds were requested and then I sent back all our theme park tickets, requesting our refund for those too. They expire at the end of 2021 and I think there is zero chance of a trip before then. I can’t tell you how upset I was sending those back. It was a physical manifestation of the death of our plans. I was also very scared that the postal service will lose them and that envelope contained lots of cash value in those little plastic cards. Until I get receipt confirmed and the refund processed that will be something else to worry about.

For a few weeks now we have been chatting about what to do as and when our October WDW plans died. Ultimately our need for some sort of holiday has kicked in and we are now looking at alternative countries for a different kind of holiday, just to get some sun, relaxation and fun. I have all kinds of reservations about that. The testing regime, the ability of our government to screw holiday makers over by changing the colour of a country either just before you go or whilst you are there and the fact that frankly it isn’t Florida, are all on my mind.

However, I will be happy to go, and just not be on Teams or mowing grass for a little bit.

As far as Florida plans go, well we have none and that is never a state I like to be in. Our position now is that we will wait for the border to be opened and then see how many organs we need to sell to fund the surely ridiculous flight prices that will be used to gouge every penny from the pent up demand.

It would be par for the course now for the US to open their border, probably just after we press the “book” button on some trip to the Canaries or similar. Sure, I am feeling sorry for myself. I earned it.

When looking for these alternative holidays the constant issue of no hotel being in Florida or being operated by Disney persists. Those that “look” nice then have unsettling amounts of horrifying reviews on Trip Advisor. There’s also the fact that we haven’t holidayed anywhere else for twenty years or so (as Louise constantly reminds me) and that makes me scared of the unfamiliar.

I suspect we will find something suitable and have a really nice time, but of course, it will not shock you to know that I will be thinking about the next WDW trip the whole time, like some unfaithful ex.

We did get our Vero DVC element transferred to a credit note. We have 36 months to use that. Should be fine. right? In my gut, I suspect it will probably be next summer before we get back over there and it will probably need to be before the end of August as Freddie will start school/reception in September. We may have to sell the house to fund that trip. I mean, I like this house, but needs must!

We did briefly consider moving the trip to January, but there are only so many times you can get hurt and keep coming back for more. If by some miracle the US open up say on January 1st then you will probably have to wrestle me to the ground to stop me booking us a trip for that month. Sure, it’ll be cooler/chilly at night but not as bloody chilly as Lancashire will be!

In more cheery news I have a week off work next week. How I have enjoyed everyone I talk to at work asking “Are you going away anywhere?”. I refrain from explaining my two year struggle to get on a plane and just smile and say, “No, just relaxing at home.” If only they knew…..

In reality I will be mowing stuff no doubt, answering work emails on my phone and not lying in as long as I would like to. Oh and dieting. If we are going anywhere near a beach or pool any time soon, then for the sake of others, things need to change in a big way and quickly. With just over a month till we go, I figure I can lose say three pounds?

So as I remember sitting in our old house, watching the news of the pandemic around April 2020 and telling Louise that our August 2020 trip would be absolutely fine as there was no way this thing would go on that long, let us all marvel at my spectacular ability to get things wrong. If that trend continues in the same vein then any day now the US border will be open and I’ll be seething on a flight to somewhere else.

Fingers crossed that the return to school over here (I know Scotland are back already and seeing this) doesn’t see a huge spike in cases that may lead to even our second choice of holiday being threatened. I can’t say it often enough. You can keep destroying my overseas holiday plans as much as you like but I am not booking a bloody holiday in the UK!

Till the next time…….

We’ll Be Back?

Another week rolls by and it’s another in which I have not shelled out five grand to sit in a cottage in Cornwall and look at the rain. You can still shove your staycation up your arse.

I would much rather shell out considerably more than five grand to stare at the Floridian rain thank you very much.

Still, the bumbling ball sack in charge continues to drop hints and leaks about what “might” be possible at some random point in the future. Hopefully in the coming days we will have it confirmed that July 19th will signal an end to restrictions here and those having enjoyed two pricks can travel to Amber or Green destinations without quarantine on their return. There will no doubt still be a ludicrously costly testing regime involved but if you insist on spending your holiday cash with them dirty “forriners” then they are going to get some money out of you another way.

Noises out of the US this week, from the President’s Press Secretary suggested the US would not be insisting on the vaccine to enter the country, but I would hope that those of us having had it would be afforded some advantage over those who have not. Ideally, double jabbed folks won’t need to test at all or at least not as much as those unprotected.

This comes amid endless Facebook group rumours about certain flavours of vaccine not being good enough for various things. This seemed to relate to the fact that the AZ shot has not been approved in the US. A quick look at the CDC’s web site confirms this is indeed nonsense and any vaccine approved by the WHO is fine.

This is just an inevitable symptom of endless uncertainty, stress and worry from those desperate to get away who have been starved of any real information for months.

On the never ending roller coaster of confidence levels in our current dates, I would say that I am as confident now as I have ever been that we may actually be back amongst the coasters and calories before too long. Whilst the Johnson Delta variant runs riot across the country still, the vaccines are working and keeping hospitalisations and deaths down and from Johnson’s bumblings on the news this week he seems intent on sticking to the July 19th date. Again, he did state we would be through the worst within 12 weeks over a year ago so there isn’t any breath held in this household.

The latest set of leaks and briefings do seem to suggest that the UK will be restriction free after the 19th of July. I’m sure we all have our own views on that and of course everyone should continue to act in a way that makes them feel comfortable. I fear somewhat for the unmasked and unvaxed in schools who seem to be part of some herd immunity programme, but Scotland have already begun their summer holidays and the UK is a few weeks away from that so hopefully that will help.

With that complete relaxation looking to be the case it would seem incredible, yet not impossible, to have travel restrictions in place at the same time. For those travelling to Europe, enjoy the queues to show your passport as you marvel at all the control we have taken back. Those of us who travel to the US have been familiar with the immigration hall queue and often steely glare from someone you just want to stamp your passport for some time.

Should we succeed in our battle to have a holiday I think it’s going to be busy when we are there. The 1st of October seems to be the date upon which Disney is unleashing the Kraken of new and re-opened things. It will be what it will be and we will deal with it.

Last week of course fireworks returned to the parks, Casey’s Corner opened and no doubt countless other things made a step back to “normal” that I missed.

I do, every now and again try to keep an eye on Florida case numbers etc but it seems that has stopped now. The graphs I used on Google no longer update daily and the sporadic numbers I do see seem unreliable. I guess if De Santis doesn’t let anyone see the numbers, he’s doing a decent job, right?

To reflect my dogged determination and current optimism around getting on a plane, next week, unless some world shattering event that I cannot resist forcing my view upon you happens, I am going old school with my post. I am going to share with you a day by day plan for our trip (as it stands) just like in the old days when you didn’t need a crystal ball and medical record to go on some rides. We still can’t book ADRs so it will be full of hopes and aspirations, but you’re having it anyway.

And to end this post on a note of celebration and delight, this week in the calendar is marked by an excuse to listen to two of the best songs ever written on repeat, not that I need such an excuse.

The 1st of July is Canada Day and as I shared during the week, you are compelled to listen to this for roughly 23 hours a day.

This attraction in World Showcase is currently closed, seemingly until September. If this is not open by October there will be strongly worded blog posts as an inevitable result.

Secondly, as today is July 4th, I join with my US brethren to celebrate their Independence and frankly, their lack of gratitude with this absolute banger that I never tire of hearing.

So we are now on a seven day countdown to see if I remember to blog my plan as promised. The anticipation and tension will only be rivalled by any updates from government about which rules they will no longer need to break whilst we follow them.

Till the next time…..

One Date More…

Another day, another destiny, this never ending road to Kissimmee…

We move our trip another time, if we can’t go I’ll lose my mind,

One date more….

The time is early afternoon, the day last Wednesday. I’m at work, attending to things that don’t really matter, but somehow demand all my attention and time when somewhere in my “socials” I see the news.

Aer Lingus had cancelled all their Manchester flights up to the 30th of September. Well, that was just rude.

I’ll be honest. There was a period of around half an hour where I just sat and stared at my keyboard genuinely not knowing what to do. I mean, that is often the case with work related matters but seldom with holiday stuff.

Staring down the barrel of a fifth set of dates, the wind was well and truly out of my sails. I pissed about on the Virgin Atlantic website laughing out loud at their prices for our dates. I really, really did not want to have to pick up and move everything again, but switching airlines was clearly not an option.

We were moving. Again.

I think coming to that conclusion was the catalyst and kick up the arse I needed to spring into action. As much as I had cursed Aer Lingus for their out of the blue decision, when I phoned them, settling in for a few hours on hold, their automated message told me I could change my flights on their website. Virgin, take note. Also, Virgin, any time you want to give me my refund for the flights you cancelled over two months ago, that would be lovely. We are at the “our dog ate your refund” stage of excuses now. It’s bordering on fraud at this point.

The ability to move my own flights was excellent and allowed me to manipulate a series of dates to find the set that suited us best. I was resolute in my desire not to spend another bloody penny on this trip that never is, so my main criteria was getting flights for the same money.

It took some fiddling but I managed it. We had to sacrifice a day off the trip so it’s 16 days now, not 17, but to be honest the extra length of the trip was in honour of my 50th celebrations which seem so long ago now that it kinda feels right to sacrifice that specialness.

So with the flights moved, it was onto everything else. Our new dates are the 3rd of October to the 18th of October. We’ve been in October once before back in 1999, so we know it well.

A Collection of House of Cards' Best Frank Underwood Side-Eye GIFs | Frank  underwood, Kevin spacey, House of cards

I once again saluted the flexible nature of Travel Republic and Discount Florida Car Hire, who have made all this pissing about a lot easier. Alas, Hard Rock is not available for our new dates so we have defaulted to the Royal Pacific, as we have in the past, so no great hardship there.

I am getting incredibly efficient and effective at this now. Within about an hour I had cancelled/rebooked/moved almost everything I could. Two elements remained outstanding.

  1. Vero. Borrowing DVC points via a broker is probably not the wisest move in a pandemic as it seems we are likely to lose that cash now. Unless borders are still closed on August 20th, we won’t be able to get a credit note for our bookings. It stinks and I probably won’t use this company again, but it is what it is.
  2. Park tickets. The ones we bought, sometime in the late 90’s it now feels like, were set to expire at the end of September. My Dad’s tickets which at this point were somewhere in the postal system having only ordered them a few days ago may also have had a similar end date. An email to Floridatix was replied to a few hours later and it seems our dates had been extended and certainly for the ones I had in my grubby mits, I was able to book new park reservations for our new dates. Yesterday, my Dad’s tickets turned up and they are all park reservationed up now too.

I am very much over all this now. We just need to go on holiday.

I am refusing to let myself believe these dates will happen. I daren’t. Florida it seems is charging back to normality at lightning pace as we lurch back into more lockdown having pissed away all the benefits of the vaccine programme. These are just the latest set of dates in the diary. When we are sat on the plane, wheels up, I may let myself think we’re going.

Trying to fill my glass at least half way, if we go on these dates the 50th celebrations for Magic Kingdom will have started. I am telling myself that WDW will for all intents and purposes be back to normal by then and there will be lots of new things specifically for that anniversary that we may not have seen otherwise.

It will be Halloween. I mean, it’s Halloween in WDW from August, but you know what I mean. I don’t think we’ll do the Boo Bash thing as it seems pricey for what you get and I suppose we could try and do Halloween Horror Nights at Universal but it isn’t suitable for Freddie and Emily may well pass out with fear if we subject her to that. The weather will be slightly less hurricaney and we’ll be safely back in the UK before the half term crowds are unleashed on the US from the UK.

Last week brought all the usual speculation and reading between the lines on when travel may be allowed. Fauci was interviewed and seemed to suggest September and it makes you wonder if the airlines have been given some form of heads up to that effect that may have informed Aer Lingus’ decision?

Other rumours are that it will be late July/early August. From a UK perspective Johnson has seemingly painted himself into a corner, saying that July 19th is a “terminus” day and if that is the case there can be little wiggle room not to allow leisure travel at that point. The balance to that logic is that he also said we’d break the back of it in 12 weeks in late Spring 2020 so there is that plus an entire back catalogue of lies, incompetence and failure.

There are even leaks and rumours that double jabbed folks will be relatively unrestricted in terms of the faff required to fly etc. Nobody knows and if anyone thinks the clowns we have running the show have any sort of masterplan then I can’t help you. Literally every case of Covid we have in this country is the one that was allowed in from India by not adding them to the red list at the same time as Bangladesh and Pakistan. I know I piss and moan about governmental incompetence a lot but it makes me angry. Of course they are screwing our holidays up but think of all the businesses that had recruited and planned to open on June 21st. It’s gross negligence.

So as much I enjoy planning these trips, the ratio of five lots of planning to zero actual trips is not one I can get on board with. I am weary of it all and just want any form of certainty at this point.

Away from moaning about governmental incompetence and travel uncertainty, I will end today’s post with a Happy Father’s Day to my Dad and all those who assume that role in any form.

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From my perspective it is the best job in the world interspersed with occasional horror but it’s the only job I’ve ever had that I never wanted to change.

Join me here next week for more head in hands incredulity linked to the simple act of booking a holiday and going on it.

Till the next time………

New Dates and Doubts

In the recent scheme of inactivity, this week has been a right old hive of occurrences with some things actually happening outside of work, dog walking and going to the recycling bins 412 times a day.

The week began with Louise having a high temperature on Monday night, along with aches and general unwellness. This meant of course that she had to stay home from work as they have enough unwell people in the hospital already apparently. The symptoms were mild but the rules are the rules. By Wednesday she had been contacted to attend a COVID-19 test at a local health centre, which she did on Thursday. Yesterday she had the call to say that the result was thankfully negative and she will be back in work tomorrow. She feels better now so clearly it was just a “run of the mill” bout of illness and that test has saved her having to spend another seven days away from work.

In other COVID related news, after much thought and deliberation, Rebecca and Tom have decided to postpone their wedding until 2021. They had moved it already from late May until early July this year, but they felt that was still too risky, and the countdown to the date would be dominated with talk of the lockdown, with lots of stress and worry attached. Hopefully, 2021 will behave itself a lot better than 2020 is doing and they will have a trouble-free time before their big day.

I think it’s the right thing to do, for what it’s worth. The lockdown may well be a little more relaxed by early July this year but there is absolutely no guarantee that wedding venues would be open by then and with a good number of more mature guests the last thing they would want is for anyone to be concerned about attending their celebrations. Dates for next year were, as you can imagine, being snapped up very quickly with lots of couples in the same position no doubt so to bag a prime July Saturday was good going and a small positive to take from what is a rubbish situation.

With the important stuff done, thoughts and this post can turn to more trivial stuff. On the subject of our late August holiday, my thinking veers from certainty of it going ahead to dark realisation that there isn’t a chance. At the moment I am definitely in the latter camp, thinking that there is so much that needs to change in order for it to be unaffected that there is little chance.

Watching what appears to be a car crash happening in slow motion in the US right now, I am finding it hard to be positive about our chances. I was looking at pictures of Florida beaches re-opening on the same day that the state recorded it’s highest number of new cases in a day with my jaw sitting on the floor at the sheer stupidity of it all. If this sort of things continue I’m not too sure there will be much of a state or country to visit by August.

I am already formulating rough plans for what new dates we might try to reschedule for. We are lucky in a way that we are not confined to school holidays so should we need to the hopefully quieter autumn/early winter dates might be the best option. In fact, the compulsive planner in me has November in mind so that we can experience the Christmas stuff in the parks without encountering the seasonal crowds. Of course, that is assuming things will be “normal” even by that time.

Maybe I’m just being too pessimistic and you can remind me of that when we’re sat at the airport in late August. I hope you can.

On a more pleasant note, our voracious appetite for stuff to watch lead us to an unforeseen gem this week. Disney+ provided us with a night of escapism in the shape of Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings.

It is, of course, a very long advert for Disney’s wedding services, but if you like to see the Disney parks and lose yourself for a bit then this is for you. At one point Louise was googling how we could apply for a vow renewal, assuming that if you get on the programme such things are funded by the programme-makers. I suspect we are not quite glamorous enough for their selection criteria. Well, I certainly am not.

We continue to miss folks we can’t be with, and with at least another three weeks of this stuff to go, it’s becoming harder. It’s lovely then to see photos and videos from Rebecca and the latest seem to suggest that Freddie has become a teenager since all this started.

I hope you are all finding ways to muddle through this as best you can and that these weekly ramblings provide a few seconds of distraction, if only by marvelling at its very low quality and lack of any value whatsoever.

Till the next time…….

Freddie’s First Florida Fiesta – Day One 29th August 2018

I’m tired, jet lagged, and dreading work tomorrow. What better frame of mind could I be in to start writing this thing? Well, I could also be sad that I’m back in the UK, and somehow as the wheels hit the tarmac at Manchester I could have instantly developed a life threatening cold.

Sitting here now, a little weary and down beat for various reasons, looking back at my notes from the start of the trip just gone, I have to say I am not looking forward to recounting the untold joy, optimism and excitement of the start of a WDW trip. It is a necessary evil so it is time to stop moaning and get on with it.

The evening before our trip began, I noted that things were very busy and stressful. We had a million things to do, parents to see, takeaways to order and eat as well as last minute packing and seemingly never ending chores to complete before we were allowed to leave the country. As we wouldn’t all be at our house in the morning, I had to take this chance to take some traditional photos. Rebecca wasn’t very impressed as she had her rollers in and her dressing gown on, but a tradition is a tradition and she had to suck it up.

Then, a new tradition, with Freddie’s first by the door photo.

and Tom’s…

Somehow, we got through everything we needed to do, and I think I got to bed around midnight, honestly looking forward to the 4am alarm I had set going off.

Somehow I was awake before it went off, probably due to others already being up. Upon picking my phone up to turn the impending alarm off, I saw that I had a text. It was from Virgin. They regretted that there was to be an hours delay to our flight. Not as much as I regretted not knowing that before I went to sleep. It could have meant an extra hour in bed had I had chance to delay the taxi pick up. Ah well, showers were had, cases crammed full, weighed then opened again and things were re-arranged into other cases, and then weighed again until we were fairly confident that all of them might be under 24kg.

The taxi arrived a few minutes early, a rushed goodbye was said to the dogs and finally after all this waiting, we were off. The loading of the taxi was a rush and a bit of a panic, and I spent the journey to Rebecca and Tom’s wondering what I’d forgotten. It turns out that was my hoodie, which sat in my wardrobe. Balls.

Rebecca, Tom and Freddie were ready and waiting to go as we pulled up, and we added their luggage to the groaning pile already in the back of the van. It was a tight squeeze and on the assumption that our mini van I’d hired would be smaller than the bus we were currently in I was quite concerned for our ability to get all the luggage from Orlando airport to the villa.

Being so bloody early the journey to the airport was a quiet one. There was some chatter in the back, but I was sat next to the driver and thankfully he was wasn’t a talker so I could sit in the uncomfortable silence in peace. We arrived at 6.10 and took the lift up to departures to endure a horrific five minute queue to drop our luggage off.

 

Two of our cases were just over the 24kg limit despite our best efforts but the kind lady in the ill fitting Virgin uniform “waived” the charge that should have been levied against us. The car seat had to be taken to a special drop off point at the other end of departures and once we’d done that we were free to head through security, up another level which needed another lift. Rebecca, Tom, Freddie and the pram (it will be a stroller as soon as we land state side!) were diverted through the fast track lane and I made a mental note to ensure that Emily would be in a pram the next time we come. The rest of us endured the normal route and we all got through within a few minutes. Louise was searched as usual.

We weaved our way, Ikea style through the absurd collection of poncy displays and arty photos that are meant to flog perfumes and headed for food. Frankie and Bennys seated us immediately and then ignored us for about ten minutes.

Freddie had his food at the ready so he cracked on anyway.

The rest of us waited for our order to be taken.

Me and Tom – Eggs Benedict, which was to be the smallest plate of food we would see for the next two weeks.

Emily – Nutella and Banana Thing

Louise & Mikey – A Big One

Rebecca – A fry up of some sort

Some toast was ordered for Freddie so that he didn’t feel left out.

With coffees and juices for most, (two drinks each? well we are on holiday!) the bill was £90.

We strolled duty free for far too long, and lost Louise and Mikey who snuck off to the loo without telling anyone. Emily got some sunglasses, and crucially, Louise bought very little. We found some seats and rested for a while before finding a bar in which I could have a £27 diet coke. Technically, there were seven drinks purchased, but you know what I mean.

I took the chance to release the chocolate hostage on UK soil, so that wouldn’t be needed later in the confines of the plane toilet. With that task complete, gate 210 was located and we sat and watched folks queue up for ages to board and take the seat they had reserved.

It was about fifteen minutes until we boarded and made our way up to the bubble. As we were settling in a stewardess (is that what they are called nowadays?) told us that there were a number of empty seats on the flight so if we wanted to use some of them after take off it would give us more room for Freddie.

We took off at 11.30 which Louise enjoyed as much as she always does. We were up to altitude quickly and the seat belt signs were off. Within three seconds some bloke from a few rows away literally threw himself into the spare row in front of us, claiming them as his own. Mikey had a word with the cabin crew and he was directed to another empty seat near his own and Mikey and Emily took up that row meaning we were now three rows of two, and we all had more room which was excellent.

The bubble seats have a really handy shelf/storage bin down the side which is great for putting stuff on and in, but also, if you have an infant with no seat of their own it is useful for them to sit and play on too.

Despite my earlier Eggs Benedict I was starving. They were a bit small and pretty average to be honest, and I shouldn’t throw stones in that particular glass house, but I needed food. With a predicted flight time of eight and half hours drinks were brought round (free, which was nice), and I hoovered up the six pretzels that came with my diet coke in seconds.

Thankfully, food was not far behind and I had a sausage in my mouth quicker than a guest at a Michael Barrymore pool party (I like to keep things topical). It all tasted very good.

We now settled in for the duration with some trying to sleep…

Others, played with Vera…whoever she is….

and most crucially some of us were just impeccably behaved. Freddie was a star for the entire flight, without a hint of trouble, noise or complaint….

There was a lot of looking at this…

and this…

I watched the Darkest Hour with a forty minute nap in the middle of it. After playing Solitaire for a bit I finished the flight by watching Downsizing whilst eating our snack…

I was hungry again so it mattered not what it tasted like. It was devoured. The film was a bit weird, felt about half an hour too long and lost its way a bit.

We started to descend at 7.20 UK time. As they tend to, my ears gave me a fair bit of pain on the way down but I don’t mention it much….just every time I go on holiday.

We were one of the first off the plane and the relief and joy as the first bit of Orlando heat seeped through to us on the walkway from the plane was palpable. I have to say that Orlando is a mess for arrivals. It is warren of corridors and double bag drops and/or dragging cases up and down escalators. It could be a million times easier. Immigration was a ten minute wait and another similar wait for our luggage. As is traditional, Louise is “desperate for the loo” at this point but she was told in no uncertain terms that she could wait until I was getting the car. Words were exchanged, most of them not repeatable here.

Another ten minute wait saw us heading for the garage to choose our carriage for the next two weeks. The criteria was simple. Whichever had the most luggage space would be chosen regardless of all else. After a few minutes of opening various trunks (we are in the US now) we settled on what turned out to be a Toyota Sienna. It took all the luggage fairly easily which was a huge relief.

I was determined to take a few minutes now to get myself familiar with the knobs and buttons at my disposal, again like a Barrymore pool party….but started the thing up to get the air con going. It was a keyless ignition thingy but I did note that there was no sign of the key which could be crucial when it came time to lock the thing later. A search of nooks and crannies proved fruitless and so I piled out of the car, a little frustrated, looking for assistance. The chap I found spoke as much English as I did Spanish, but I think I got my point over as he said, whilst helping us look for the key “No key, car no vroom”. I understood that he meant the key must be somewhere in the car or it wouldn’t start. After a few more minutes Tom found the key under the driver’s seat and we were finally on our way, with me a little sweaty and agitated.

I had unleashed our trusty old sat nav and stuck that to the windscreen but of course in the underground garage it was picking nothing up. The fact it had been in its box for 18 months in a cupboard in the UK also won’t have helped. It was at this point that I made a mental note that in future it would be a good idea to write down, on something close to hand, the actual address of the villa so that I could put it into the thing. As it was, as we emerged from underground and it started working, I browsed recently found destinations whilst trying not to hit anything and chose one that was pretty close to where we were heading. I think it was Old Town, and I figured that if I got us there I’d be able to find Emerald Island Resort.

The first few minutes behind the wheel felt as alien as ever, but I soon settled into it and began to enjoy our travels. It took about half an hour to get to the 192. I had retained all the loose coin from our last trip, rather than leave it behind as I often have and this proved a stroke of genius as they were very handy for the couple of tolls we encountered on the way.

As we reached the Formosa Gardens turn off the 192, there were roadworks and an annoying queue at the lights which made the last five minutes of our marathon journey today a little frustrating. Upon arriving at Emerald Island, I got us past the guard on the gate with some photo ID and the paperwork sent from the villa owner. That same paperwork directed us, without delay or diversion to our new home.

The cases were dragged in and exploring was done. There was a momentary concern that I couldn’t find the second master ensuite bedroom but after turning a corridor upstairs it was located and all was well. Yes the villa was that large that a bedroom could be hidden.

As unpacking happened, I took Tom and Mikey to the supermarket for the procurement of essentials. On the way out I stopped at the clubhouse to get a pass for the gate so we wouldn’t need to speak to the guard every time and with that done we were on our way to spending over $300 on food and things. We returned, unpacked and Louise had a shower. By this point, Freddie was just too tired to function and it became clear that he wouldn’t be fit to come out to eat. So Rebecca, Tom and he stayed at the villa whilst the rest of us ventured out to the Outback.

There was a ten minute wait for a table but were soon knee deep in cheesy bacon fries and a bloomin’ onion.

We had –

Me – Aussie Cobb Salad

Louise – My notes say a cheesy chicken thing

Mikey & Emily – Chicken Caesar Salad

We ordered some stuff to go for Rebecca and Tom, namely some more cheesy bacon fries, a philly steak sandwich and another Caesar Salad which took the whole bill to $140 including a good tip for our lovely server who reminded us of Karen from Will & Grace.

We were back at the villa by 9.30 to find everyone asleep so the food went into the fridge and everyone else hit the hay within seconds.

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 disorderthe 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…..

Irma God!

Florida is in my thoughts more often than it isn’t. Usually, that involves me wishing I was there. Right now that isn’t the case due to the horror that is Irma which is bearing down on my favourite destination.

We have been there at this time of year, hurricane season, a lot. We’ve been very, very lucky and (touches wood) have never been impacted by more than an impressive storm. In 2004 we missed hurricane Charley by a few hours, arriving just after it had hit and we saw very clear evidence of its power at our resort (Cypress Pointe) and on the golf course we played with many of the villas around the course being without their pool covers.

Again riding our luck we were the last flight out of Sanford at the end of that holiday as the airport closed for another incoming hurricane.

As you can see, the damage from Charley that we saw was relatively minor (ignore the wrong dates from my camera!). Having said that a quick google search tells me that 15 people died in Charley and it cost $16 billion to repair all the damage. I guess Orlando has typically escaped major damage in the past as it is very central but to see parks closing shows how serious Irma could be.

You’ll probably know that the weather in Florida can be an obsession. There is a weather report on TV every sixteen seconds with all sorts of analysis of every weather front. For us, none of the nasty stuff that was being tracked during our time there ever turned into anything of note. They either broke up or veered out to sea. We’ve had some serious rain at times but nothing on a scale that could be as bad as Irma looks. I just hope that the ever present weather obsession doesn’t make folks complacent that Irma will also prove to be less than predicted.

Irma looks so different. Its track has looked like going right through Florida for days and there seems to have been no last-minute deviation or reprieve.

It can only be hoped that the incredible damage seen by the islands already hit by Irma isn’t replicated in Florida. Having been to the Keys, I really fear for them down there. The buildings, beautiful as they are, just don’t look strong enough to withstand a hurricane of this magnitude.

This seemingly very active hurricane season is especially interesting to me as we will be in Florida this time next year. It has made us think, what would we do in such circumstances. Of course an interrupted holiday is nothing compared to what residents may be facing but we can only hope, for our own selfish reasons, that this year isn’t repeated next year.

It seems wrong to start waffling on about our plans for next year with all this in mind so I’ll save that for a later post. I’ll just say that our dates are sorted, a villa booked and a plan forming which ONLY involves Disney.

So I send my thoughts to anyone in Florida right now, resident or visitor and hope that this passes with the best possible result for all.

Next week hopefully, this can be a less sombre place and I can begin to bore you with every tiny detail of a holiday you won’t be going on or probably care about. It’s what I do!

Thanks to everyone for your comments last week. It was nice to chat with you all and hopefully there’s more of that to come. My throw away comment about killing this blog with fire was tongue in cheek. I wasn’t fishing for pleas to keep blogging but I thank you for your kind words and encouragement all the same. You are stuck with this nonsense for the foreseeable I’m afraid.

Till the next time….


To Siesta Key…And Beyond Tour 2017 – Day Eight April 18th 2017

For all you theme park fans who love to read trip reports about rides, shows and all the stuff that goes with it, today’s report will mostly be around golf, shopping and food. So….that’s good isn’t it?

Nobody was in any rush to get up today. This party lifestyle was taking its toll. More to the point, everyone was burnt to a crisp and the thought of spending another day lay in the sun was about as appealing as Piers Morgan.

On the plus side, the weather did look to be promising a little relief from the heat with some cloud and lower temperatures so I took an executive decision and, (are you ready?), changed the plan!  The plan had me and Dad down to play golf tomorrow but with sunburn at the forefront of everyone’s mind I pulled it forward by a day, meaning the ladies would be sheltered inside whichever mall I could find to deposit them at.

Cruising the internet like a pro, I quickly found a golf course and a mall close enough to each other to work. Dad did a crazy thing and actually phoned the golf course to book rather than do it online, whilst everyone got ready. These quaint old traditions do need preserving I guess.

We left the house at 10.20 and arrived at the same mall we went to last night to eat at the Cheesecake Factory thirty minutes later. The females rolled from the still moving vehicle before we sped off to Rolling Hills for our 11.20 tee time.  The chap in the pro shop who booked us in probably hadn’t been a Disney cast member earlier in his career. His disposition and cheeriness was that of a Remainer at a UKIP conference. He was so awful to us that Dad emailed a complaint in later, only to find it was the anniversary of his father’s death!!  So we felt great about that, but really he shouldn’t have been working in those circumstances. That could only happen to us….

We were clubbed and buggied up and out on time. My golf took a little while to warm up despite having played as recently as eighteen months ago.  As with most places a man of my standing and good looks goes, leggy birds were not too far away…

and I was watching Dad for tips on how to get the thing to go in the right direction.

I got steadily better, as to be honest, I could not have got any worse, and on the back nine (see how easily I slip into the technical lingo) I managed three pars on the trot. For those non golfers, you should be worshiping me as some form of sporting freak.

Dad was blown away by the value of this offer…

and was seriously considering selling up and moving over here just to take it up. It’s basically £30 a month to play three courses as much as you like, unlimited time on the driving range, a beer with every round of golf and golf lessons. There hasn’t been a better deal since the one we’re definitely going to get from the EU.

To even things up, the golfing Gods restored my incompetence on the final hole so I finished in a blaze of glory with a humbling nine. I think I was getting tired!

I still managed to get round in less than 100, which for your average hacker who plays once a blue moon is almost respectable. If I played more than once a year I’d be dangerous.

We handed our stuff back in and went to have our free lunch which came with the round. It was a very acceptable chicken burger for me and chicken salad for Dad. Thoughts now turned to the absolute financial carnage Louise could have caused in the many hours she had been left unsupervised in the mall. This thought threatened my free lunch escaping so we quickly got into the car and sped back to the mall hoping we had some dollars left for the rest of the trip.

It was a narrow escape. There had been some buying, mainly for Rebecca, and the obligatory large candle that for reasons that escape me, we’d have to now transport around Florida and back over the Atlantic. It could have been much worse as the ladies had spent not an inconsiderable amount of time contemplating how to get a double bed back to the UK for Emily’s room. It was lovely apparently. See what happens when I’m not around to squash their hopes and dreams?

We left the mall as quickly as possible and after all those hours shopping the next thing we had to do was stop at a supermarket to buy stuff.

Two photos there just in case you were not familiar with what a supermarket is….

My notes say we bought bits. I really need to start a business up that specialises in bits. It is a very lucrative industry.

As Louise inevitably visited the pharmacy for some medical apparatus, cream or pill we did not yet carry, I did notice this…

Now I know it is blurry, but it boils down to the fact that you can order your repeat prescriptions via text. In the UK you have to submit, in person, a written document, notarised by your local MP between the times of 9.00 and 9.03 on the third Tuesday of a month beginning with H, and the receptionist can still use it for toilet paper if they don’t like the cut of your jib.

We eventually finished buying bits and headed home. I think it was the nine on the final hole but I felt really rough when we got there. I resorted to lying down for an hour whilst everyone got ready and that seemed to do the trick. It also meant that for once I didn’t have to wait for an age having got ready myself, after being told “I’ll only be five minutes now” by Louise.

Having figured out that the free bus service stopped about six feet from our front door, we wandered there and waited for a few minutes until it turned up.

Dusk is a lovely time in Florida wherever you are it seems.

The bus ride was only a few minutes and after alighting we wandered down Ocean Boulevard to Daiquiri Deck.

We were immediately seated over looking the Boulevard.

Cocktails were ordered by all, except Mum, with this being my first of the trip.

If only I had written down what it was!!

We started things off with a shared Hummus platter and Nachos for appetisers.

Then we all had…

Emily – Chicken Caesar Wrap classily garnished with half a bottle of ketchup.

Louise – Siesta Burger

Dad – Shrimp and Scallops

Me – Ribeye (I am officially shite at taking these photos. In my defence, I have to do it very quickly as everyone is gagging to dig in!)

Mum – Chicken Fajita Wrap

The food was just OK to be honest. The location and cocktails are the main reasons to visit here I think. Whilst we were eating we saw the one and only sight of rain of the holiday (shocking for an August visitor) in a torrential downpour.

It only lasted about ten minutes and was all done by the time we were ready to leave. We had a wander around for a bit and found a bar with a live band so we went in there and had a drink whilst watching.

They were pretty good, despite playing a load of songs we’d never heard of. Having rocked out until the early hours, if early hours means 10.30, we left looking for a bus. Instead we flagged down one of the many free ride services that operate on the island. They are typically golf cart style things with fairy lights and a hippy driver and they are free other than a tip. She delivered us to our door and I gave her ten dollars, having no clue if that was enough or too much.

We were in by 11pm and sleeping within minutes.

Till the next time…..

Great Deals on Theme Park TicketsGreat value Blue Man Tickets

 

Is It Because I Is Back?

Hello? Is this thing on?

My body is back in the UK, but my mind is yet to accept this. Mentally I am still in the technicolour wonderland with a warmer climate where every meal is a brush with a cardiac arrest and the amount of money spent doesn’t count as dollars aren’t real money. I do quite like it you know!!

It always blows my mind that within a few short hours you go from wandering around a baking hot Disney Springs (don’t we all do that before going to the airport?) to landing in an ever grey Manchester.

I am avoiding reality for now. I haven’t dared go anywhere near the scales and I refuse to admit to myself that I have to work for a living again on Tuesday. I’m not dressed yet and I sit here in my dressing gown eating something between breakfast, lunch and supper watching people go past our window doing grown up things like jogging, walking their dogs and generally engaging with the world in a way in which I simply cannot right now.

Sigh.

We had a blast. We narrowly avoided a visit to a medical facility which is the exception rather than the norm for one of our trips, although we came close a couple of times. Instead, we spent more time in pharmacies than theme parks and if anyone needs a cream or potion for any ailment on earth, give me shout as we’ll have it.

That feeling of being at home over there gets stronger with every visit. I know after the amount of times we’ve been that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, but the feeling is strong.

I won’t steal any more of my own thunder as I need to get on with a trip report. I have made the token gesture of downloading all the photos to my laptop and getting them up on photobucket ready for inclusion but beyond that, the fog of jet lag and the fact that I am struggling to see the laptop over my stomach have restricted my progress…well, progress indicates that something is actually happening, which it isn’t yet.

I will say that we and especially Emily and I realised that we didn’t have enough time at Disney. We knew that before we went I think, and it was intentional that the trip would be different, but there was a feeling of being slightly robbed of time there as we inevitably missed out on some stuff that we love. As fantastic as our time at Universal and Siesta Key was, as soon as we got to the Beach Club there was a strong feeling of belonging, peace of mind and joy that reaffirmed what we probably already knew. Any future visits will be WDW centric. Still, moaning about that after almost three weeks over there seems churlish.

I feel confusingly knackered and refreshed in equal measure. Mentally it always does me the world of good I think, but physically I feel close to a hundred years old right now, not helped by gigging last night on seven hours sleep out of the previous 48 hours.

So I shall leave it there for today. I will commit to day one being ready for next Sunday as if I write it down here I will have to crack on despite my working week looking grim. Thanks to all of you that followed our trip online in real-time and hopefully I can keep your interest for the trip report to come. Oh and discussions for our next trip started before we got home….but hey, what’s new?

Till the next time….

Ask The Bill Payer’s Permission….

I’ve been blogging now, pretty much every week since 2009. Over that time I have covered every single topic available along with most of the emotions known to mankind. The content has been diverse (which is a polite word for “all over the place”) and I have ranted, gushed, moaned, bragged and been heartbroken at different times, sometimes all in the same post. However, today sees a first. I am to use a button that I have not yet pressed in all of these blogging years.

But first, some background. A few weeks ago I blogged about the annual event of us craving a holiday once winter starts to fade. We had house stuff to do as well and so the decision was not made. In recent days a top line plan has emerged that will see us to do both. Louise said that we both agreed that the house stuff is to come first which means that our holiday plans have been pushed back a little into early 2017 and it is looking like February. This is one of the joys of not holidaying with school age kids which goes some way to compensate for the fact that they’ve grown up now.

Now, at that time of year few places on the planet will deliver the skin scorching temperatures required by Louise if she is to sunbathe for 23 hours of each day. With the entire globe at our disposal I have exhausted all relevant possibilities and am now considering two locations….America and the USA.

With those lower temperatures in mind, our original plan of a more beach based trip seem to be foiled or foolish. I know for normal human beings the mid 70s would be fine for a day at the beach, but Louise needs skin melting rays to feel the day has not been wasted. This rules out (I think) the Miami/Naples/Keys type of trip that I had in mind last time I blogged about this stuff.

So here is where I need help (some may say I have needed help for some time). In my mind, (and lets face it, that’s all that matters. Louise is picking the stuff for the house so it’s only right I choose the holiday!) I…or rather we, are looking at three options, which are…

The usual Orlando based holiday.

However it will be anything but the usual as it is very unlikely that Rebecca (and Tom) will be with us. Emily will travel with us I think. I’m not sure we (I) want to do a fully Disney based holiday this time. I suspect there will be Disney stuff involved, but not the daily focus we’ve had in the past. Strangely though, having said that, I quite fancy staying on site for a chunk of the trip. We do want to spend an extended number of days on site at Universal too. We don’t feel that we’ve done the Potter stuff enough and we love staying at the Hard Rock. So in summary, option 1 is an on site Disney resort (I’m thinking Old Key West) followed by four nights at the HRH.

California

We have threatened to do this for years, but have always drifted back to Florida. We *will* do it at some point. We always say that just after booking for Florida again. I suspect the reason for that is familiarity and ease. We know Florida so well that the level of planning and preparation is much reduced and we can just turn up and engage auto-pilot, feeling like we have returned home.

There would need to be a high level of research and prep to undertake a Californian Adventure as (I think ) such a trip is much more sprawling. There is also the small matter of the very long flight, which for a very frightened flyer in Louise, is its own challenge. Once there, I also think it involves a lot more travel as the things we think we want to do are a long way apart. Having said that, my knowledge of the place is so rubbish that I only have a handful of things in my head that I think we’d want to do. Those are Disney at Anaheim, maybe Vegas, Alcatraz, a beach (see, I don’t know what the temperatures are in California in February), Six Flags and the curly steep road in San Francisco.

Somewhere Else Other Than The US

I have nothing to add here.

So here is where I need your help and this is the new thing I waffled about at the beginning. I have attempted to use the poll feature, so please cast your vote below, ask the bill payer’s permission, and do not vote if you are watching on catch up etc etc etc.

I reserve the right to completely ignore the results of the poll but I am genuinely interested in your thoughts of you all. Most of you are seasoned US travelers and probably know more than I about Orlando and definitely California.

 

Till the next time…..

The Adults Only Tour 2015 – Day Seventeen

Day Seventeen – 12th September

If you look back at my numerous, previous trip reports and had to summarise them, there are a few ways to do so, but in my mind they are pretty much just diaries of how to fill the time in between eating with the more than occasional knob gag.

Today is going to be a great example of that, as it is all about getting stuff into our bellies and little else.

We did not wake until 9am which is a good sign that the holiday is coming to an end as our body clocks are finally starting to make sense. Incredibly we were in the car by 9.45 which is quicker than we ever have been when it mattered on a theme park day.

We got to the Commons at 10.15 to pick Emily up and were soon pulling into the car park of The Beach Club. The plan today, having missed our reservation for it the other night thanks to our dodgy sat nav, was Beaches & Cream. Having no reservation today we figured arriving at opening would give us the best chance of getting a party of seven into one of the most popular, yet smallest eating venues on Disney property. God loves a trier.

Every time I am in this location I remember how much we loved staying here in 2010 and I always make a mental note to remember that if we ever book another trip.

After talking very nicely to the young ladies on the podium our only option was to sit at the counter in about an hour. We agreed to that, having no choice of course, and decided to have a walk around the Boardwalk area to kill the time.

We bought some gifts in Screen Door and had a general browse before catching the boat back to Beaches & Cream at about twelve. With buzzer in hand we still had to wait another half an hour to be seated.

For me there was no need to look at the menu as I knew I was having a Kitchen Sink. The fact that the girls opted to join me was fine. Everyone else opted for normal food.

It is indulgent beyond measure and despite our best efforts, including ordering tactical salty fries too, we just couldn’t finish it today. I am suitably ashamed.

The bill was $125 but I was too full and close to a sugar coma to care.

Next on the plan was a trip to (the very newly named) Disney Springs. We were directed to park in a spot near the Casting building across the road so we did.

As usual when shopping we splinter into smaller groups, so Nana and Grandad made their own way to procure the relevant gifts for the grandchildren not currently with us. The rest of us spent an age in the World of Disney and Louise bought me a lovely Mickey watch for my recent birthday.

We got ourselves a much-needed drink and sat on the benches near the stage area before continuing into Marketplace and Once Upon a Toy. Earlier in the holiday, near a face painting location, Sarah had refused to have one done as she was fully made up. She promised Rebecca that the next time we saw somewhere to have it done she would and Rebeca could choose. So….

All shopped out we left around 4pm and went back to the villa. There was some pool action for a while.

Then we had to get ready for our evening plans, which were, to my absolute delight, Teak Neighbourhood Grill. We were out by 7.30 as due to a twitter exchange with Teak, they had reserved us a table at 8pm. The journey was awful as it was raining. That word doesn’t really do justice to what was happening but it’s all I have. We arrived, ten minutes late and I was exhausted from the tension of concentration and the fear of death.

As we walked in we were immediately escorted to our reserved table and welcomed like honoured guests. Over the years a good number of folks have gone to Teak and told them that they heard about it from my trip reports/blog so we have often chatted on twitter etc and as and when we recreate the famous Donut Burger at home we always send them photos.

The welcome that awaited us tonight was something none of us expected or deserved. John and Tony, the owners, greeted us and stood at our table chatting for ages telling us about the number of times I’m mentioned from Brits eating there. If I had an ego it would have been nicely stroked. We were given an exclusive sneak peek of their soon to be released new menu which looked awesome (and will be launched by now of course.)

Sorry for the blurry photos…

We also had a look at their incredible beer selection which wasn’t something I had been too aware of, having always been driving.

The beer cocktails look amazing. We were even given a couple of samples of the newer items they are now serving.

That, and a pumpkin beer, served with sugar around the glass rim were my favourites.

We ordered –

Me – Cronie burger and garlic fries

It is no over exaggeration to say that this is one of the best things to ever be in my mouth and so deserves two photos. That cronut is an improvement on the Donut Burger I have had in the past and those garlic fries are just beyond delicious.

Emily – Donut Burger

Sarah – Chicken Tower Sandwich

Grandad – Chicken Breast Dinner

Nana – Crab Cakes Salad

Louise – Beef Sandwich with dip and garlic fries

This was THE best meal I can remember. Everyone was just blown away with the quality of their food and the flavours were just ridiculous. Being so full we were close to death, we refused to order dessert. Undeterred, the owners introduced us to their executive chef who arrived at our table with a dessert sampler to share.

Again, incredible.

Just when we thought the night couldn’t get any more special, the owners arranged for Ashton Kutcher to be our server! The girls were happy.

I had an incredibly unflattering photo taken with the owners showing exactly where all that food now was….

If you have read anything I’ve written in the past you will know that I have raved about Teak for years. Every time we go it gets better and some of the new menu items they have brought out are incredible. They even have a secret menu that you need a password for (Like them on Facebook for that).

We have eaten at the poshest of the posh Disney restaurants and most of the major chain places in Florida. What we love about Teak is that it feels like an authentic locals place, and that really comes over in the atmosphere. It is our favourite without any doubt.

Feeling full and humbled to be treated so nicely by everyone there we left around 10pm having given the biggest tip in my history of tipping.

An awesome night.

It will not surprise you to know we were home and in bed as quickly as humanly possible.

Till the next time…..

The Adults Only Tour 2016 – Day Nine

Day Nine – 4th September

The fact that I continued to wake up naturally, at times before I need to when back at home and going to work struck me as a weird combination of irksome and pleasing in equal measure. My pleasure was again dampened by the fact that it took two hours from me waking up to us being on our way.

Louise and Emily were very hard to rouse this morning, which was an unsurprising consequence of what was a very tiring day yesterday. I was impressively energetic considering I had spent the night in a hotel room with two women. At just after nine we dropped the cases off in the car…

and then we headed to the water taxi to get us over to Islands of Adventure.

I took the photo that everybody takes…

and made the long walk through the park towards Hogwarts.

The theming was as impressive as I remembered from our one and only previous visit.

There was a fifteen minute wait posted for Forbidden Journey but nobody said this was just to get a locker. To be fair Grandad did struggle to understand the instructions but still, it’s a right faff.

It soon became apparent that I had remembered very little about this ride from our previous visit. This was a good thing and maybe one of the advantages of my fading memory as I get older. I got to enjoy it for the first time all over again.

We went straight on to Flight of The Hypogrif, Hippogryph, Hypogryf…..the next ride.

Quite brief, fast paced and leaving you short of breath. You can put your own version of the usual joke there.

Having only had the two hours between waking and leaving the hotel, clearly breakfast had just not been an option, so now, food was on our minds. The Three Broomsticks satisfied our essential criteria of being open and right in front of us. It is a counter service affair, with your order placed at a till and then you pick the food up.

As we proved at Be Our Guest, co-ordinating an order for a party of seven in this manner is clearly a task beyond me.  Our order taker was in her tenth decade on earth which didn’t help her understand seven idiots from Bolton shouting orders at her randomly. Sarah almost pushed her over the edge as she ordered one of the standard dishes, but wanted it without about half of the items. This took much longer than you would believe.

With our order locked and loaded we filled up our trays and found a table. Guess what? My food was missing again. With only a minor sense of humour failure and a decent flounce I went back to the food counter to claim my pancakes.

It was 11am when we left and most of us then rode the old Duelling Dragons ride, which may not have been the best time to do it, with bellies full of food.

With our special passes we walked right to the boarding area, arriving just in time to see the ride break down and spend the next ten minutes awaiting a fix. This was really good fun.

After a brief stop for photos…

Next, Grandad, Sarah, Rebecca, Emily and I decided to do Poseidon’s thingy. This was a grave mistake.

We walked in, but were held behind a rope for almost half an hour waiting for the “tour guide”. Then, with the tour itself taking a similar amount of time Louise and Nana had been sat outside in the burning sun for almost an hour and Grandad and I had all the money, so they couldn’t get a drink!

Now I know why they call it Poseidon’s Fury.

Once we had a drink we wandered through Seuss Landing.

We rode One Fish, Two Fish.

Emily there, regretting forgetting her sunglasses, that I had purchased for her earlier in the trip at vast expense.

Next, Cat in the Hat, which I’m sure has much less spinning than it used to.

We completed the holy trinity of Suess rides with the Carousel thing. I know, somewhere in the world, somebody exists who has heard and understood the spiel the ride operator says before the ride starts, but it isn’t me.

Once the ride was over Louise struggled to dismount. Other less chivalrous chaps may have laughed and watched her struggle. I did too. I do have photographic evidence but obviously I am not stupid enough to post it here.

We continued our journey around the park, with The Hulk next. We had heard that there was to be a major refurb starting a few days later so this would be the last time we would ride it in its current form.

Nana and Grandad didn’t ride and with our Express passes it took the rest of us about ten minutes to do so. As we came back to the loading area we were held in our seats as the attendants dealt with someone’s lunch which was all over the carriage in front.

Sarah, Grandad and Rebecca did Dr Doom’s Fear Fall next. I’ve never ridden that one and don’t intend to. Instead the rest of us browsed some shops before all riding Spiderman once we were all back together.

Somehow, we got the impression that there may be some rain on the way.

With that in mind, it made absolutely no sense to do the water rides now, so we did. Well, most of us did. Dudley Do Right was first and it was as awesome as it always has been. The most impressive log I had seen all holiday.

Everyone leaves that ride thinking they are wet, until that is they then go on the Bilge Rats ride and experience whole new levels of wetness. We did just that. As we left that ride I blew many dollars on the human drier. It made no difference at all to our clothes but crucially we were able to dry out our paper express photo ID things.

I don’t know what it is, but yet again we entered and left the Jurassic Park bit without stopping. The Jurassic River Ride was down due to the incoming storm and without that is there anything else to do here?

This brought us full circle back to Hogsmeade.

We headed for the train station, hopeful of keeping dry.

I captured the natural beauty of my two daughters whilst in the queue.

It was our longest queue of the day at over half an hour and everyone but especially Grandad was feeling the two long theme park days in our legs.

It is safe to say that capturing the ride’s effects on camera is not easy, so please don’t judge the attraction by these poor efforts.

Why that Weasley is giving Rebecca the middle finger I don’t know.

By the time we arrived at our destination the rain had also arrived. We left the station and found shelter in what I think was the exit of Disaster.

It rained a lot for quite some time. Not quite long enough to persuade me to buy any ponchos or anything daft like that.

After about half an hour the rain died away and we made our way to the same Starbucks we went to yesterday for refreshments. Whilst everyone ordered I took Emily to a nearby shop to get her a hoody as she was freezing in all the air conditioned rides etc. Filled nicely with coffee of various types we once again rode The Mummy, this time without Nana and Grandad.

Next, we undertook a first for everyone by riding Transformers. Honestly, now, I can’t really remember much about it but I think it was very similar to another ride.

After the ride we stumbled upon Megatron.

We rode Minions again, ending our Universal experience as we started it.

It was time to leave and we made our way to The Cowfish for tea (dinner).

No appetisers here as we were saving ourselves for the huge burgers we had been looking forward to experiencing here.

I had…

The Cowfish Has Offically Left The Building (A.K.A. The Hunka, Hunka), which is, Full-pound beef burger, creamy peanut butter, fried bananas, applewood bacon, brioche bun. Choice of side.

It was awesome. I was so busy indulging in that awesomeness that I didn’t write down what anyone else had.

This was Louise’s (I recongise her boobs in the photo).

This must be someone’s burger. I know it isn’t Emily’s as that is her new hoody on the next seat.

I think this is another view of mine.

It made me happy, fat and blurred.

Astonishingly Emily and Rebecca ordered a dessert. I was close to hospitalisation I was that full so I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Rebecca shared this with Sarah.

Emily had cheesecake. As my organs were shutting down due to the enormous calorie intake, my photographic skills were poor.

Somehow I dragged my body around some shops for a little while looking for things for people other than me. Before too long sense prevailed and we ambled on to the water taxi and made it back to the car.

Somehow I managed to operate it and get us back to the villa and our welcoming beds.

Till he next time…..

The Adults Only Tour 2015 – Day Eight

Day Eight – 3rd September

The pain of these early starts, and today was once again a 6.30 am wake up, is paid back in spades if you are out to the parks before many others can manage. So imagine my levels of upset as again, it took us over two hours to get out of the villa. I should not have been too surprised as this morning we had to pack for our overnight stay at the Hard Rock Hotel. For me, that was underwear, swim shorts, normal shorts and two clean shirts. For others, it involved what appeared to be about a week’s worth of kit.

It was a depressing 8.50 am before we reversed off the drive and made our way up the I4. This meant an arrival at Hard Rock at 9.30 am. Naturally I self-parked and then spent far longer than we should have checking in. It took an age. This may have just been my perception as my need to be on rides already was as large as the chip on my shoulder at the late start.

Our room was not ready of course, but no matter, we would just check our bags and get on with it. Alas, no. It seems now that on-site guests need an extra photo ID thing to use the front of line privilege. This was a self-serve affair at a kiosk in reception. It could have been a tad more intuitive and for reasons that never became clear, Nana ended up with a moustache on her photo.

We wandered out to the pool area, trying to remember where the path started to get to the water taxi before lunch. I really do need to learn to relax in these situations.

It was 10.15 before we got in to the park…thankfully that was am and not pm.

First up, and with a suitably smug flash of our special passes, was a walk in to the Minions ride. There was already a queue that we would not have tolerated without our golden tickets.

This ride is of course just a re-hash of all the other rides that have been here before, most recently Jimmy Neutron, but it made it no less enjoyable. The pre-show is very good too. I would imagine this ride will stick around a bit longer than its forerunners judging by the amount of Minions stuff both in the parks and the movie franchise.

We crossed the street to Shrek and again avoided a woeful looking queue. This clearly pleased Rebecca.

We enjoyed another strong pre-show here.

The obvious next ride was Rip, Ride Rock It which now appears to have stricter security than most airports. I can only imagine someone was injured to such a degree that a law suit followed, by some object falling from the ride. The checks are only just short of full body cavity and the riders, had to go back to the non-riders, Nana and Grandad, to leave our glasses, hats, phones and most of our clothes with them.

We of course were able to walk on without a wait, and it was apparent that I have aged significantly since my last ride on this, as it felt much more intense and painful than I remembered. We watched the video clip of our ride as we exited and I marvelled at how I managed to hold that pained expression for the entire ride.

We wandered back to Nana and Grandad who had taken the chance to chillax in the shade.

This wasn’t as good an idea as it may have first appeared as he then couldn’t get up again.

Breakfast had been so long ago by now that food and drink became an urgent priority. We made our way up to the Starbucks past the Mummy ride for coffees and pastries.

Once refuelled, there was a mildly awkward moment as we appeared to be having a conversation about how bad it was to ride Mummy. Thankfully, I realised in time that this was the roller coaster we were walking to and I was glad to have kept my opinion to myself.

Everyone rode this one, mainly as we all lied to Nana and Grandad about how intense it was.

Here is the photo everyone wants to see, the gift shop as you exit.

We wandered on with no particular plan and sort of stumbled upon Diagon Alley. This was because it wasn’t here when we were last.

We briefly ambled around a shop or two with me cursing my lack of preparation and research about this new area. It was also very busy compared to the other areas of the park.

Somehow we found ourselves outside Gringott’s and wandered inside to ride. The bank hall as you enter is probably the most impressively themed thing I have seen on any ride. It was incredible. You may wonder then why I did not capture it in a photograph. Well, I was Periscoping instead.

Looking back now, the ride experience was a bit of a blur. I seem to remember being herded into a cubicle to have a photo taken for reasons that never became clear and then we joined the queue. There was a lift involved somewhere along the line and then we climbed some stairs up to the boarding area.

As we sat down there was a right old palaver.  Grandad had been put in the front row but was then told he’d have to move as he didn’t fit. The young ride attendant then had a complete brain meltdown as she tried to reconfigure the seating to accommodate our party of six and everyone else in with us. Despite us all telling her what to do, which was obvious to everyone other than her, she just couldn’t bring herself to get it sorted. It took forever before we just ended up moving ourselves around, into the arrangement we had been telling her to do and we were off. We all have times at work like that I guess.

The ride was of course superb but inevitably a little too short. Louise tells me that it is something you get used to eventually. We made our way over to Men In Black where I continued my form from Buzz a few days ago.

We then made our way to the exit feeling hot and tired. We spotted some familiar faces on the way.

The water taxi took an age to arrive but at least our rooms were ready now. I always like to pay that bit extra for the preferred view.

To be clear, I NEVER pay for a preferred view.

At this point five of us (everyone but me) went down to the pool. I went to pick Emily up now that she had finished her work for the day. On the way back to the Hard Rock we stopped at a 7/11 to get her some lunch and then after changing in our respective rooms joined the others at the pool.

Louise had worryingly already opened a tab so I went in the pool to try to block that from my mind. Grandad, Emily, Rebecca, Sarah and I went down the slide and generally just messed around in the pool for a bit.

There was a DJ on by the pool who had a few games going that we absolutely did not take part in. Instead we rested and drank for a few hours.

It was around 6.30 when we left the pool and ventured upstairs to get ready. I had to have a lie down for a while after settling the bar bill and then spending another $75 in the hotel shop on “bits”.

I quickly showered and then caught up on my trip report notes whilst I waited for everyone else to be ready to go.

We made our way to the water taxi as we had a reservation at the Hard Rock Café for dinner.

As we arrived at the taxi stop we were approached by a blog reader who had recognised us. We had a quick chat and a photo before boarding our vessel. It was lovely to meet you Debbie.

Grandad’s bumbag game was strong!

We were immediately seated and over ordered spectacularly once again. We took some family photos to pass the time. Emily, as ever, was delighted to be photographed.

Then of course the smile comes out for the selfie.

Louise and I are less skilled at this art.

A few Nachos the size of a small planet were our appetiser.

Me and Emily – Pulled Pork Sandwich

Sarah and Louise – Fajitas

Grandad – Shrimp Platter

Nana and Rebecca’s meal were not recorded in my notes I’m afraid. However, Nana’s looked like this.

My body hated me for how full I had made it and despite the very real physical pain we left and started to try to walk off the impending heart failure.

This is one of our favourite places of an evening. It looks lovely…

However, tonight we were simply too full to enjoy it.

We ambled to the water taxi stop and it somehow carried our excessive weight back to the hotel. The youngsters sat by the pool for a bit but all the oldies were in bed by shortly after ten. Yes, that’s what you call Hard Rocking at the Hard Rock Hotel.

Till the next time…..

Back In Body, If Not In Mind.

Hello again. We’re home and already, sadly, back into the routine of our every day lives. After two and a bit weeks in the technicolour landscapes of Florida, landing back in Manchester on Tuesday was like living through the Wizard of Oz but in reverse, ending up in black and white.

We returned home with one of the party missing of course, and I can confirm that it is entirely possible to be upset for an entire eight-hour flight. We were fine(ish) when we said goodbye to Emily in her apartment, but as soon as the wheels left the tarmac of Orlando airport both Louise and I fell to pieces. We apologise to those around us for the sniffles and wailing as you tried to watch that film.

The holiday itself brought us many more new memories and some definite highlights we’ll remember forever. With the other stuff going on during the holiday, it was a bit of an emotional roller coaster at times, knowing that it would end with Emily staying behind and understanding that, with the girls at the ages they are, it could very likely be the last of its kind.

For anyone who hasn’t seen this via Facebook, this is Emily from her first day on stage. By God, it’s been a long stressful road to get there for her, but we’re so proud of her.

emily crp uk pav day 1

It was reassuring for us to meet most of her flat mates who seem lovely, and to know that she’s made friends with her UK pavilion colleagues. It doesn’t stop us thinking about her all the time whilst she is thousands of miles away of course and hoping she is doing OK. She has been so busy with work since we left that we’ve only managed a few quick Facebook chats. Hopefully we’ll be able to Facetime her on her days off soon…..(take note Emily!).

Work was right where I left it, and within half an hour of resuming my place at my desk it felt like the holiday never happened. Imagine how that post holiday grief was magnified as this weekend I have had to go away with work on our annual conference thingy. As much as I appreciate the investment my company makes in taking us all away for these things, this weekend, of all weekends, I just needed to lock myself in the house and rock myself slowly in a corner. A day of Powerpoint slides with Kris Akabusi (true story) in a Birmingham hotel was not at the top of my “must do” list right now.

I haven’t even thought about writing any of the trip report. Work has been manic and my weekend has been seriously curtailed. The coming weeks look similarly bobbins with trips to head office down south and, more pleasingly, quite a few gigs on the horizon. Right now, I don’t feel exactly driven to write the thing, but I’m putting that down to jet lag, worry about Emily and the shock of not being in Florida any more. I’m sure I will get to it, but don’t hold your breath.

We have also returned home to some good news. Rebecca has her first job. Before we left she interviewed for an apprenticeship in Childcare and she got it! She’ll be starting as soon as her CRB check is done, which is just great news and another source of enormous pride for us. Well done pud.

So allow me this weird, all over the place post today as I acclimatise once again to a non holiday life and I’m sure by the time next week rolls around things may feel more normal.

Till the next time….