To Siesta Key…And Beyond Tour 2017 – Day Fourteen April 24th 2017

My celebratory tone at returning to a theme park and more specifically WDW was to be short lived. For reasons best known to those in charge and not me, today, we would rest. Yes, yes, I know we just spent what felt like three and half months on more white powdery stuff than was seen at an Amy Winehouse party, but these two very heavy theme park days had resulted in “tiredness” and the need to do nothing for bit.

You know me. I can moan about anything in even the best situations and locations and I will. But, should I need to not visit a theme park when one is located just a few hundred feet to my left, then I suppose an acceptable place to do so is around Stormalong Bay at the Beach Club.

Having no particular place to go, the 8am awakening was mildly annoying. I took as much time as I damn well liked after I had showered putting on my shorts and T-Shirt before wandering the long corridors from our room to the shop in the lobby for breakfast.

Having listened to endless apologies from Louise yesterday I granted her permission for her to join us today and so we ordered a breakfast platter for Emily and a Breakfast Sandwich for me and she who was so very wrong.

There were no seats available outside so we wandered into the solarium to eat.

Whilst eating, we had a quick chat about what our next trip might look like. We all agreed again, that Louise had been very wrong to only allow us such a paltry amount of time at WDW this time around and all future input from her would now be forbidden, leaving Emily and I to do all future trips properly.

After breakfast we wandered out to the pool, picked up some towels and found some suitable beds. This involved Louise calculating wind speed, the trajectory of the sun and the local plant life to ensure that she would be able to capture the optimum levels of sun.

Once she was happily prone, I assumed the position.

It was, as you can see, fairly quiet today. There was still a Cast Member checking that you were resident before allowing into the pool area. We rested and read for a bit until Louise and I ventured into the pool. This was followed by a couple of cocktails for the ladies from the wandering waitress.

The early cloud cleared up nicely….

We then Facetimed Rebecca…

She is there, honest.

It was, quite frankly, a real bummer not having her with us. We shall remedy that on our next trip!

We went back to our room at around 2pm to get ourselves ready.

Mousekeeping had been in….

Whilst Emily and Louise took far too long to get themselves decent, I picked up Mum & Dad from the All Stars, driving back to the Beach Club to be disappointed that they still weren’t ready.

With some mild tutting and polite herding, I was eventually able to seperate them from the hairbrush and other such faffing and head into Epcot via International Gateway.

Yes, I know I take the same photos every time I walk this way….what of it?

This picture reminds me that in the first version of the plan for this trip (one of very many indeed) we were booked to stay at that hotel. When we had to move dates and everything else it was no longer available and we ended up paying a fair bit more to stay at the Beach Club. I’m perpetually tight, but right at this moment I didn’t begrudge a penny.

Oh, I can now also explain why we had to move our dates. Shortly after booking the trip Rebecca discovered that she was pregnant and was due too close to our travel dates for us to risk it. So we moved the dates back by a month or so into April. Unfortunately Rebecca then suffered a miscarriage and began a heart breaking few months of that happening more than once. So in the end we needn’t have moved dates but some things are more important than when we holiday.

Thankfully, Rebecca is now well into a pregnancy with our first grandchild due this November.

Here is little Freddie cooking nicely.

We wandered around World Showcase, starting at France, heading towards Norway for our Frozen Ever After FastPass.

Thankfully we only went into one shop and that was Italy. It draws Louise in like a pasta based tractor beam on every trip and once again, we left much poorer, Louise the proud owner of a new necklace. Her other 612 seemingly no longer ft for purpose.

I think that at some stage of a Florida trip we have all felt like this young man….but speaking honestly, this is how I feel on most Monday mornings back home.

I applaud the mother for quite clearly tweeting that rather than dealing with it.

Here again, rather than queue to meet a character, a distant photograph with random strangers does just as well.

Arsene Wenger…..

Nope, I have no idea what Emily is doing with her hands either.

That’s better.

Once at Norway we scanned our bands and joined the FastPass queue.

The standby queue was like a scene from Ghandi.

Louise proved that it wasn’t my fault that a lot of pictures were blurry.

We waited about ten minutes to ride.

It’s a nice ride, obviously using the exact same track as Maelstrom. It won’t change your life but it’s lovely and must be magical for the young children.

We completed the World Showcase loop stopping at Mexico. Green Day haven’t aged well.

I had maracas to shake. I think my shorts had shrunk.

By now I’m sure this has been said a million times, but here, in Epcot, Donald got his wall at Mexico.

We walked down into Future World, making the long trek to Spaceship Earth for our next FastPass. It was very hot today and we needed a drink and sit down half way there.

It was a long slog but we finally made it to Spaceship Earth five big balls of sweat with tired legs……it was down! How I laughed.

In the desperate hope that it was a temporary blip we wandered the shop for a bit, used the restroom and loitered, but to no avail.

We admitted defeat and began the long walk back the way we had just come. We were distracted and cheered up by some singers on the fountain stage.

They were very good and improved our mood as we set off on the long slog back to International Gateway. Whilst watching them sing my mind was ticking over. The plan stated that we now must head out of Epcot to get over to Celebration for our evening meal. I was tempted to suggest we sack that off, stay in Epcot, eat where we could and just save us the hassle of the trek. I dismissed that idea only to learn that my instincts were correct, but a crystal ball was something I did not have.

We made it to our car, well I did, everyone else sat and waited for me in the cool porch of the Beach Club. Off we went then to Celebration for our evening meal.

Prior to the trip, I had been warned that one of our most favourite eateries, The Market Street Cafe, had changed ownership and was now a little bit pants. Being an idiot I ignored this advice and took us there anyway.

Celebration was still lovely though.

We were seated quickly and that’s where the quickness stopped really.

The service was a shambles from start to finish. John Barrowman’s more effeminate brother served us, not getting off to strong start by telling us they had just had a huge party in and he was tired and all over the place. We soon discovered he was correct.

We ordered cheesey fries to start as we had always loved those here. We waited an age and then they brought all the entrees out. We pointed out that we hadn’t seen our appetiser yet and they were taken away, no doubt to be kept lukewarm.

Eventually, said fries came, followed, unsurprisingly quickly by all the entrees again. Somehow Louise ended up with two lots of Nachos rather than the one she ordered, but worst things happen at sea.

We somehow ended up with –

Me – Fried Chicken

Emily – Chicken Parm

Mum – Chicken Wrap

Dad – Chicken Pot Pie

Louise – As you know by now…Nachos x 2.

He took some stuff off the bill for all the mess ups and as annoying as it was, he had tried his best so we pretty much put it all back on in the form of our tip.

We left having taken much longer than anyone should to eat a simple meal and headed over to Woof Gangs.

Alas, there was no sign of Otis, the huge Newfoundland we met on our last trip so we did a quick wander around the cinema and fountains…

Before jumping back in the car to get back to Epcot for Reflections of Earth. Our wandering time here had been severely curtailed by the overly long meal.

Mum & Dad were tired so we dropped them off home and headed back to the Beach Club. With all the delays to our meal we were now rushing to get there in time for the start of the fireworks, rather than having some time to wander World Showcase at night, which is one of my favourite things to do.

We rushed through security…

However, we then took up our usual spot on the bridge between the UK and France and didn’t have to wait long. Suddenly everything seemed right with the world again.

I shall spare you all the crap blurry photos I took.

As it ended, I turned to Emily and gave her a big hug as she was inevitably in floods of tears. Me being a very manly man I was nowhere near doing anything so silly.

We walked back to our room and quickly got changed as tonight, like me getting out of the bath, there would be Jellyrolls. The ability to do this is just fantastic and one of the best things about staying in this location.

We walked round and paid our entrance fee, with the door staff taking an age over Emily’s passport to confirms she really was 21.

It was busy and we started off on some chairs at the side but through the course of the night we table hopped as they became free. I was glad we did, as in our original seats we were right by a huge crowd of conference attendees who were leathered, loud and leary, dancing very badly right in our eye line.

We had a fab night. We started a tab with one of the waitresses and settled in. The performers are just superb and if you haven’t been, you must.

I won’t spoil this for those yet to go, but this is a highlight of the evening.

I think we were in there for over two hours. I’m really not sure. That’s because we spent $145 on booze. We left at around 1.30, very merry and highly satisfied with the time spent there.

I assume we then went to bed!

Till the next time……
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Cram Packed Planning

Thanks for your votes and thoughts last week. For those interested, it seems we are a trusting bunch around these parts…

a-poll

How productive was your week? I had a good one and got lots done, despite being at work for far too much of it.

As soon as we booked our next trip I added calendar reminders to my work diary on the days we could book the ADRs we wanted. That way, nothing silly like work would make me forget to get those sorted asap. Last week saw three of those reminders pop up and I snaffled them all with great gusto. Who he is and why there was a magician at work I don’t know?

We’re only on Disney property for four nights, so four ADRs seems an awful lot for someone who keeps saying they will be eating off site mainly. Whichever idiot planned to only have four nights on site at WDW is now desperately trying to cram in all the stuff we need to do and it may not be pretty. For example, our only day in Epcot (which is at least a two-day park) is the day we leave Siesta Key and check in at the Beach Club. So half the day, or at least half the morning will be taken up traveling back and checking in etc, so we won’t get into the park until close to lunchtime I think. I am planning on setting fire to the Siesta Key rental in the early hours of that Saturday morning just to make sure we’re all up and out nice and early though.

To make matters worse one of our must do ADRs (Sanaa) had to be on that day, so we’ll need to leave the park in the late afternoon to allow getting ready time (seven minutes for me, a couple of hours for Louise) to get to our reservation in time. It’s an early one as I want us back into Epcot before 9pm to catch Reflections. That may seem tiring but hey, we’ve just done a week at the beach, so be prepared to use up all that saved energy in the next few days.

So with only a few hours for such a large park I was getting a little concerned. At Emily’s suggestion I checked to see if Epcot had Extra Magic Hours that night, with us being on-site superstars and all that but alas it did not. However, I did see that Epcot has EMH the very next night. Well, that works nicely as we are at Animal Kingdom that day, which closes early at 7pm. So once done there, having eaten at Yak and Yeti (an ADR success from this week) we can head back “home” to the Beach Club, and stroll on into Epcot for another couple of hours until 11pm. If our legs can carry us, heck, we can even do Jellyrolls after that if we want to. It’s on our doorstop!

Sure we have to be up nice and early the next day to get to Hollywood Studios for another twelve hour park day but we have a whole nine hours of sitting down to do on the plane home a few days later so it’s all good.

Our final ADR is becoming a little bit of a tradition. Trail’s End is a nice way to break up our final day which of course is always at Magic Kingdom. A lovely boat ride over to the campgrounds, an all you can eat buffet that will threaten to sink that same boat on the way back in to the park just as the sun sets. That’s always a favourite and magical time for me and I love the parks at that time.

In theory we could do a park on the day we fly home but usually we spend that shopping for all those gifts we saw on day two and said something like “we’re here for ages, we’ll get it later” and then have to panic and run around in the final hours trying to remember where we saw it. That and eating. Speaking of which, I posted a few weeks ago about the Toothsome place at City walk.  I’ve also posted recently about WDW and Universal being good for us tourists as they have to compete. Well, as if I knew what I was talking about, did anyone see the extreme milkshakes that are on the way at the new Planet Hollywood place?

Image credit to Inside the Magic

Image credit to Inside the Magic

Yes, one has a full slice of cake on top, what of it?

The problem now is of course, I have to shoe horn these buggers into my plan too. I’m not sure what will kill me first, the calories or the stress of planning.

Till the next time…..

Let me explain…or at least try to.

Girls with Mickey

Three of my favourite things

I have been incredibly lucky. Don’t get me wrong, at times I have also been incredibly unlucky, but the luck I refer to being good is that since 1999 I have been able to go on holiday to my favourite place more or less every year.

So in some respects, each year follows a similar pattern as the countdown does exactly that. Depending on how early we book, I mentally tick off certain landmarks of the year as they pass. If we booked nice and early, then this mean Christmas, Easter, and then as we get into summer, the passing of Rebecca and Emily’s respective birthdays in May and July tell me that we are getting close.

During a countdown that is usually months long, some weeks I don’t really think about our holiday. I know it is there, like a long term promise, don’t get me wrong, but other life stuff takes over, and I am swept along with it. The business of life doesn’t really impact this, as some other weeks I can do little else but think about our upcoming trip, even if I am rushed off my feet at work.

I suppose this is the main difference between “normal” holiday makers and those who see it as more than just two weeks away. A trip to Florida is pricey. You can’t get away from that, but to coin a phrase, it is the holiday that keeps on giving.

With the level of preparation and planning required over things like –

  • Flights
  • Accommodation (often several different places each trip)
  • Park Tickets – A million different combinations
  • Dining Reservations
  • Car Hire

and a host of other things, it can be, and some days is, a full time job.

Then upon returning to the UK, if you are so inclined (and I am) you can then continue to enjoy the holiday for weeks and months to come. This, for me, takes the form of writing my trip reports. This takes a while, and I usually don’t finish mine until late October.

Then, often the cycle starts again, as the next trip begins to cross my mind!

I know that many of you visiting my blog do so (very kindly) as you have read and hopefully enjoyed some of these trip reports. This means that all this will probably make sense to you. I do of course understand that there are those outside this “club” that simply don’t get it.

Holidays for those not of this mind set, can be a very simple affair, and they certainly would never dream of writing about it when they got back!! That’s OK. I am not in any way criticising anyone for this. I fully understand that I am not normal!

I have given up trying to explain to non believers what this is all about. Disney is only for young kids, it is a theme park (singular) like Alton Towers, and isn’t something that adults could enjoy for two weeks, with or without kids. I have heard this a million times. As I say, no point arguing. Besides, the more people who don’t get it, the shorter the queue for Soarin!!  If someone calls the Florida version Disneyland then you know they don’t get it at all!!!!

Last week has been one of the weeks when I have been thinking about the next trip. Aside from stressing about the abysmal exchange rate, I have been fine tuning the plan, and browsing various web sites, trying to inject a little of the Disney magic into an unseasonably cold and windy UK week.

I am re-reading for about the four hundredth time a couple of the Disney books we have hanging around. This all helps.

But why? What is it that keeps drawing us back?

Well, if I could put my finger on that, I could sell it, and make a fortune. All I can do is perhaps try to express how the place makes you feel.

In my rational mind, I fully understand that Disney is very much a for profit organisation. I can see the business elements hidden behind the magic, even as I hand over my handful of dollars, which I know is probably inflated for the privilege of spending them on their hallowed turf, but I don’t mind at all.

Magic Kingdom 1980

And so it begins....

Disney is built on nostalgia, on the legacy of generations, and of course family. It is a haven from the madness of the real world, and a sanctuary for a family to escape to, and make some memories.  The beauty of their business model is that we market to ourselves. For me, I was hooked early. I first went when I was ten, in 1980. We actually stayed in Miami, but drove up Orlando to spend two days at the Magic Kingdom, and the rest is history.

Now, WDW is a common language spoken by the extended family. I am by far the most addicted, but we’ve invested thirty years and unimaginable amounts of money in the place, and this means that every time we go back, we stumble across a memory, a half remembered episode of a previous trip that sparks a warm glow, or in some rare cases a shudder!! But the latter are very few and far between. Disney have somehow found a way, like childbirth, of having their guests forget about the time when they queued for Dumbo for two hours and had a one minute ride, or spent a day in a park when it was so busy you couldn’t see the pavement below your feet.

The special memories, and the place they hold in the hearts of my family are unique, emotive and unforgettable. I may be an extreme case, but I feel many things as I step onto Disney property –

  • Safe
  • Comfortable
  • Happy
  • Relaxed
  • Privileged
Magic Kingdom Castle

A heck of a pull.

I don’t have a favourite park, but the essence of the experience for me is the Magic Kingdom. Every penny that a trip costs is paid back on the first morning stroll up Main Street. The castle seems to draw everyone up Main Street towards it like some sort of friendly tractor beam, using smells unique to this one place on earth, sights that are both familiar yet ever exciting, and perhaps this is the crux of the experience, friendly, engaging, welcoming and highly professional Cast Members.

If you read any of the many books on the market that talk about some of the behind the scenes elements to how all this works, you know that the level of detail, and the attention to it is a massive part in the chasm between WDW and UK theme parks. Every smell, note of music and each blade of grass is there for a reason, and is controlled to be exactly as they want it to be.

This is where the detractors can be heard to bemoan the manufactured sterile nature of the place. I can understand that point of view. To be honest though, I live fifty weeks of the year in the non manufactured, natural, uncontrolled environment, and frankly, most of the time it sucks. With that in mind, I can suspend belief and normality quite easily and allow myself to be swept along with the magic.

I also think that there are two (well, there are hundreds, but bear with me) main types of holiday to WDW. Both are wonderful, and can honestly be a once in a lifetime (every year!), but they are different. This is where my Disney snobbery raises its head, be warned.

The first type of holiday is the one most probably undertaken by everyone going for the first time. If you haven’t stumbled across one of the many Florida planning forums you will still have a great time, but perhaps only skim the surface of the place and I have known people return from this type of trip and be less than impressed. One family we know were a case in point.

I spent not an inconsiderable amount of time writing up a series of tips, recommendations and things to avoid, all of which they seemed to ignore. Their main priority seemed to be that the hotel had a bar!! Having holidayed in the Med for years, their holiday focussed on the pool and as much alcohol as they could imbibe. Wow, I do sound snobby here, but let me explain.

Ironically had they read my tips, they may well have discovered an angle to Disney that not many do. One of the multiple faces of Disney, in their unending ability to morph themselves into the exact experience you are after, is the night time entertainment at places like Jellyrolls or Pleasure Island at Downtown Disney (which was still open when they visited).

As I type this, Louise is in the kitchen pursuing her hobby of ironing, and whilst she does she has Meatloaf blaring out. Right now the song playing only means one thing to me, and that is Jellyrolls. Paradise by the Dashboard Light is not a song I was really aware or fond of earlier in my life, and Meatloaf is by no means a regular on my iPod, but having had a couple of fantastic nights at Jellyrolls, this song now takes me there, and I can almost smell and taste the place, right here on my sofa in Bolton.

Disney even make getting drunk slightly magical, and classy, and you don’t really see that advertised on the telly…but it’s there if you know where to look.

So this second type of holiday is the one that sees the extra bits of Florida, the slightly more hidden gems of WDW, and you only tend to find out about these from –

  • Someone who has been there and discovered them
  • Knowledgeable folks on the internet
  • Guide books

For me it was a mix of all three, but I was pointed in the right direction by a colleague who had been a DVC member for years. He dropped the bombshell that you can wander around Disney resorts whether you are staying there or not. This opened my eyes, and the door to many hours of doing just that. With appetite whetted, my thirst was quenched with endless hours of internet use and book reading, and like most things, you only realise what you know when you try to explain it to someone else.

In the case of the family I gave the tips to, I wish I hadn’t bothered.

As my colleague often quotes now, using a Star Wars analogy, back then I was the young Jedi to his Obi Wan. I have since spent many metaphorical years in the swamps with Yoda and I am now the one telling him about new things, and old, which I have discovered, and we can easily spend too many hours in the office swapping stories and experiences from our trips.

The real trick that Disney, and of course the rest of Florida have up their sleeve is that there is still so much to discover that despite all my trips and research, I still don’t know what I don’t know yet, and if I went every year for the rest of my life (what do you mean if!!) I would still find new things every time.

I’m not really sure why I have felt the need to write this post. I think it is undoubtedly part of the countdown process, and a rock to cling to in the seemingly unending passage of days to the next trip. I still don’t feel that I have managed to explain any part of why I feel like I do, and that is eternally frustrating.

There we have it I suppose. If what Disney did was easy, then everyone would do it. For their attention to detail, unending pursuit of excellence, insistence on quality, and the undefinable essence of magic, I salute them, thank them, and ask them to put the kettle on, as we won’t be long now.

Till the next time…..