To Siesta Key…And Beyond Tour 2017 – Day Fifteen April 25th 2017

We didn’t leave for Hollywood Studios until 10am. Anyone might think we’d done something stupid last night like stay out past 1am drinking. Rest assured I felt great and was my usual ray of sunshine as we drove over to pick Mum and Dad up.

It must have been a morning for things that never happen. Not only did I have a mild hangover for the first time since I had hair, but by some strange alignment of the Gods, we parked at the very bottom of the row. This never happens to us…oh apart from EVERY OTHER TIME WE HAVE VISITED A PARK….EVER!!

I wouldn’t have minded so much but we were poised to be put at the very top of a row but the evil and vindictive cast member chose the line of traffic I was in, rather than the one at the side of me to make the long journey to the Mordor of the car park.

We slowly, very slowly, made our way back to civilisation.

Oh I never did show you a photo of our hire car did I? This is what happens when you refuse all the upgrade hard sell.

We were parked in…

by the way. I didn’t take that photo to remind me where we had parked. I took it to identify the evil cast member responsible for our six-mile walk so I could exact painful revenge.

We boarded the next tram to arrive only having to man handled half a dozen small children out of our way. Maybe this is why I don’t drink very often?

As we flashed our bands though the entrance Dad made his way to the garage to hire himself an ECV. When I had made our first FastPass of the day some sixty odd days ago, I had not taken into account spending the previous evening out with Oliver Reed and Richard Harris resulting in such a late start, and so I was a little tense as the process of hiring said ECV was taking an age and the end of our FastPass slot for the most popular ride in the park was approaching more quickly than my need to buy some elasticated trousers for work.

Once Dad was in his vehicle we mowed down anyone silly enough to be in the way as we headed up to Toy Story Mania.

In the end we made it with a few minutes to spare and we barged our way past the ever-present entrance loiterers (why do you do it people, why? Either go in or get out of the way!!) and made our way through the queue.

I scored a bang average 137,000 but that was enough to shame all other family members which is, let’s face it, more important.

My natural talent for planning was demonstrated once again now as we had to walk all the way to the Tower of Terror for our next FastPass. Dad cared not one jot as his machine was fully charged and he sped off looking like Richard Hammond before his next hospital visit.

Even though he absolutely should not have done so Dad rode with us, but Mum sat out.

This is one of those rides that, no matter how many times you do it, every time you leave, your love for it is reaffirmed and increased. The theming is just incredible and the ride is just a load of fun.

We had a walk over to Rock n Rollercoaster next to see what the standby queue was like. Mum & Dad were not riding so we three joined the half hour standby line. It took a little less than that and as ever much of our waiting time was spent stroking the beady door. Just us?

With adrenaline pumping, the ladies needed a restroom as we exited. I took the chance to capture the same photo as I have on every previous trip.

Feeling the need for a snack we stopped at the fruit stall thing opposite Beauty and The Beast. We didn’t buy any fruit of course, we’re not monsters. Instead we had some hummus, well I didn’t, I had a huge pretzel with some cheese that I’m pretty sure didn’t contain any actual cheese, but it tasted great. I was to be thirsty now until the end of July.

Nothing is more nutritious than a cheese flavoured pasteurised cheese snack.

Full of stuff that is produced with genetic engineering, we made our way into the 1pm Beauty and The Beast show. With Dad in his ECV we were directed to a special area of the theatre, which turned out to be the front row. With this in mind I Facebook Lived the whole thing, mainly for the benefit of Rebecca back home.

The show begins these days with a chat from this chap before he mortifies some teenage girl on stage by singing at them.

Emily spent her time appreciating the sentiment of the pre-show but thanking her lucky stars she was not picked for it.

The show was great of course, all the better for our unfettered view.

You should appreciate the talent it takes to both Facebook live with one hand and take photos with the other.

With Dad keen to test the top speed of his ride we decided to motor on over to the Great Movie Ride next.

There was a show in progress as we walked past the “bit where the hat was” and these were waiting to go on…

It was a twenty-minute wait to ride, which we could have avoided if Dad hadn’t parked up outside and walked in. ECVs were being directed to the front of the queue. I don’t know which idiot told him he’d have to leave his outside.

The ride has been a favourite of ours since we first started the trips with the girls. Rebecca especially always wanted to ride this. I don’t think I knew it was closing as we rode for what would be our last time but my notes do record that I thought it was looking a little tired. The standard of the acting seems to have gone downhill in recent times or that could just be the fog of nostalgia from when I first rode it as a child.

With no regard for my own safety, we walked across to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid next. As long as we sat the back where Ariel couldn’t see me, we should be OK. She gets upset looking at what she could have won.

Luckily ECVs were being directed to the very rear of the theatre.

As ever some absolute knob took some flash photos during the opening puppetry scenes. I imagine they also did not move all the way down to the end of their row.

As we exited I noticed that the March of the First Order was imminent so we took up a position to view it.

Feeling all Star Warsy now, Emily and I went to ride Star Tours. Louise, Mum and Dad opted to sit out in the sunshine and have a drink.

The wait was the full half hour promised but we were rewarded with a new (to us) story line.

It was 4.15 now and time to head out of the park to eat.

Bahama Breeze was on the plan, one of our absolute favourites.

We arrived and were seated without delay around 5pm. Our server had a hint of headmistress about her and we found the service to be a little rushed even though the place was fairly quiet.

To start we ordered some cheese bites and chips and guacamole.

It might just be us, but we find it really annoying when entrees turn up with your appetisers still on the go. They did.

We had –

Me, Louise and Emily – Jerk Chicken Pasta

Mum – Burger

Dad – Steak

I was a little late with the camera!

As is the law here, desserts must be had and it must be Rebecca’s Key Lime Pie. We were, it has to be said, missing her today.

The bill was $180 including a good tip. We headed straight back to Hollywood Studios and parked in Stage, yep, right at the bottom of the row.

We trammed again and wandered the shops for a while.

I say again, dusk is just a fabulous time to be in a theme park at WDW.

Dad not only had a means of getting about but also his very own personal seat to be in as everyone else walked around the shops.

Having got several gifts, mainly for Rebecca and Tom, we made our way over to the Muppets, and I don’t mean the gimps taking flash photos of the Little Mermaid show earlier.

Of course, much of this park is a building site currently.

Next, the long trek all the way across the park to take our seats for Fantasmic. Mum and Dad stayed at the back with the ECV, but we three made our way as far down as we could, mainly so that Emily could see as she had forgotten  both her contacts and glasses.

It goes dark quickly in Florida.

As ever I took some awesome photos.

I threw my camera into that fire.

We had a moment of rare disappointment as the show ended. For reasons best known to Disney, the Star Wars firework show we really wanted to watch started the precise second Fantasmic ended. This of course meant that we were shuffling our way out of the show instead of being stood watching it. We could see the odd firework in the sky above us, but this seemed a very strange bit of timing. Maybe Disney think it will make you visit the park twice?


It was a long walk out…

We met Mum & Dad at the stroller/ECV return and then stood admiring the view as Louise had a long meeting with the porcelain. There are worse places to wait.

The tram took us back to the car and we dropped off Mum & Dad before getting back at home just after ten.

A lovely day in one of our favourite places.

Till the next time……
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Rip It Up and Start Again

Forget everything I said. All those previous posts and considerable amounts of planning are all for naught. For a mere mortal such a monumental change might be too much but I have rolled with said punches admirably and adjusted quickly and seamlessly like the trip planning Jedi I aspire to be.

I spent most of last week down south due to work. It’s never great being away from home for days at a time but I used my evenings to good effect giving some thought to our holiday plans. As time has moved on, flights now are searchable and I was looking at many options in line with all the previous thinking which was (to recap) a flight into Miami or somewhere close, some time on the beach in that area, a drive up to the Vero area before ending the holiday at Universal and Disney.

I had a few different flight options on the go, some into Miami but others even including into Key West as a left field option. However, upon running said flights past Louise a veto was played, as those flights, on the outward leg were not direct. Louise can control her fear of flying to some extent, but the ordeal of landing and then taking off again is typically and understandably a step too far. So, this is how it came to pass that all the plans had to be re-evaluated.

The only direct option really was flying into as well as back out of Orlando. We were always going to fly home from there, but landing there meant that Miami was no longer really an option. We could have reversed the entire holiday I suppose and started in Orlando and made our way down to Miami, but we still had the same issue of either driving all the way back to Orlando to fly home or do an indrect from Miami.

So with all that in mind, and wanting to keep the basic structure of the trip the same, the plan now has changed to –

Fly into Orlando, looking like with Virgin on the 14th of March.

A week or so on the West Coast of Florida, somewhere we have never been to in all these years (other than a few days at Naples). My current preference is to stay in Siesta Key.

We could do Busch Gardens whilst over there.

Back to Universal for a healthy number of nights at the Hard Rock.

A few nights onsite somewhere around the Boardwalk for Jellyrolls etc.

Fly home from Orlando on the 30th of March.

My idea to stay in Siesta Key is driven by a couple of folks we know having done so in recent years and then being very complimentary about it and with a cursory bit of research the fact that it looks to be exactly what we are after. Lots of beach and sunshine in the day time with then a walkable night life with a good variety of restaurants, bars and shops to wander around of an evening, without of course the loud night club scene that we are way too old to tolerate!

Plus it looks like this….

I will also be able to take my new hobby of beach volleyball to a new level…did I not mention my long standing interest in this sport?

I know that St Pete’s and Clearwater are options too, and are a little bit closer to Orlando for that bleary eyed drive after landing, but, Siesta Key looks more suitable for our needs. Of course, again if anyone has experience of one or all of those places I would love to hear from you. I think the north of Siesta Key is the place to be, in and around Siesta Key Village, but do tell me if I am wrong!!

With that rough plan now built around fairly firm flights the search for accommodation begins. Siesta Key looks to be short of hotels as such and a cottage/townhouse may be the way to go. I haven’t done enough research yet to know for sure. Again, for those in the know, should you wish to point me at places please do.

So, like some sort of irresistible tractor beam Orlando has pulled us in once again. However, it will be a different type of trip for all sorts of reasons, dominated by more leisurely activities, with only a sprinkling of theme park elements. The force is strong in MCO!

Till the next time…..

The Adults Only Tour 2015 – Day One


Those familiar with holidays in Florida will understand that they are not simple and straightforward. With the advance of technology, it could be argued that the planning of them is getting more complex, with the need to use apps and web sites to arrange your eating and riding preferences many weeks before you will actually do them. This extensive planning is one of the best things about these trips, as it extends their reach into your non-holiday life and the excitement builds for months before you step on a plane.

If there was a scale of complexity in holiday planning, then I think the one you are about to enjoy with us would be a contender for the top ten. Some of the easiest trips we’ve had over the years have involved just the four of us (my wife and two daughters making up the four) and have gone like clockwork. Should you wish to read about any of our previous trips you can do so in my books or various places online.

This trip, by intention and design turned out to be one of the trickiest and most complicated adventures we’ve done. Much of that was down to the size of the party. Here’s the full cast list for you….

Me – Craig, forty something Dad, blogger and trip planner.

me kitchen sink

You know what I look like, so here’s one from the archives!

Louise – Wife, mother, sunbather and red wine sponge.

louise bag on head
Emily – Eldest daughter, twenty years old, Disney nut job, soon to be Cast Member.

1emily yummy

Rebecca – Youngest daughter, eighteen years old, glamour puss, selfie expert and drama queen.

model 2

Sarah – Rebecca’s friend, also eighteen, party starter, bundle of energy and Florida first timer.

sarah pic

Tony – My Dad. Grandad, full-time golfer and apprentice Alzheimer’s.

dad pic

Margaret – My Mum, Nana, full-time golf widow and semi-pro shopper.

nana pic

Add to the mix that Rebecca left her boyfriend behind and her need for WiFi would exceed that for oxygen, Emily would be starting work for Disney during the trip and the enormous range of ages in our party and it was clear that my planning skills would be tested to the maximum. It is hard enough consulting busy day guides and planning our activity around food consumption, but then you add in the unknowns of Emily’s shift patterns and training and the day-to-day itinerary gets to the point where you throw a six to start and see what happens from there. You’ll know that I am calm and relaxed about these things, so none of that would be a problem, right?

So this trip, in many ways would be a landmark one. For a start the kids were no longer kids (yet I’m still paying for them somehow!) and Emily would stay behind in Florida, completing her own personal fourteen year journey from Disney fan to Disney Cast Member. For that reason and a few more besides, this journey would be an emotional roller coaster (this is getting like the X Factor!) and things after the trip would never be quite the same again.

With that in mind, if you are still willing to join us then step this way as we begin the Adults Only Tour 2015.

Day One – Thursday 27th August

This trip started as most tend to with a very early alarm. During these early pre-flight hours I am the veritable busy bee, charging around the house doing stuff that nobody should when they are technically on holiday. At something past 4am I found myself emptying the bin, changing cat litter and generally tidying the house in preparation for anyone wishing to break in during our trip. More of that later!

What I didn’t know was that instead of undertaking these non-essential tasks I should have been concentrating on more important stuff, like making sure those travelling were awake and out of bed. With the taxi due to collect us at 6am, I casually poked my head around Rebecca’s bedroom door at about 5.20 as it seemed, quiet….too quiet. The reason for the quietness was that she was still asleep! She had slept through her alarm and she would now need to fit her three-hour getting ready routine into about fifteen minutes. I left her and her bottom lip to it, unable to reverse time for her and I set off to pick up Sarah from her house, which is about five minutes away. I arrived early, which, as Louise will tell you, is often the case. Sarah was up, dressed, ready and full packed. She had passed the test and would indeed be allowed to come with us after all. As we drove back past our house, I noticed that the house next door was in total darkness. This, you may think is not the most unusual thing to see at 5.30am, but you should know that my parents live next door to us and they to, should by this time be up, awake, fully packed and ready to go. Once parked up, I called them. They were the second part of our touring party to have slept through their alarm and they now had minutes to get ready too. Any sane person would have banned them from the trip at this point!

I returned home to find nobody as ready as I wanted them to be so I made myself a brew. My backside had been in contact with the couch for many seconds when Emily sent me a text (from her bedroom) asking me if I knew where her birth certificate was. This was the same birth certificate I had told her to locate about six weeks ago, knowing that she would need it for the endless Disney admin involved in starting to work for them, as Emily would during our trip. I casually started to rip the house apart to find said document and thankfully did so without too much stress and aggravation. This sort of last-minute panic is yet again evidence that no matter how long your countdown, how many months you have to think about this stuff, there will always be something you wished you’d done that you didn’t!

Once located, I took the birth certificate up to Emily in her bedroom, who still wasn’t ready, to find her suitcases still open and half her stuff across her floor. I could immediately tell that they would stay that way forever without some form of intervention. Grabbing stuff from Rebecca and Louise that would obviously not fit into their cases, I stuffed that into Emily’s cases and got them closed and ready to go. It says a lot that Emily, packing for eight months away had more spare room in her cases than anyone else did!

The taxi was five minutes early, which was not helpful as nobody was ready. I herded lots of females downstairs and hurriedly assembled some of them in front of the front door for the traditional photo. The rushed nature is obvious as –

  1. The front door behind them is open as my Dad had just come in to see why were not outside yet
  2. The girls look ill prepared for such a momentous occasion.

As stress levels were peaking about now, my camera decided not to work too. I had to quickly swap over to my phone to take these pictures. This was not the smooth start I had wished for.

I now wrestled seemingly endless luggage out to the cavernous spaces within our mini bus and this made me moist. It’s an odd fetish, but each to their own I say…don’t judge me.

Rebecca said a lengthy and tearful goodbye to Tom, her boyfriend, for which I was very sympathetic and allowed her multiple seconds to undertake. With everything and everyone finally inside the vehicle by 6.10, we finally set off for the airport. We had the “if you have tickets, passports and money, anything else you have forgotten doesn’t matter” conversation, which is sort of true unless you left the gas hob turned on or the bath running.

As we set off I got my camera out and had a fiddle to see why it wasn’t working. With a little coaxing it went off in my hand all of a sudden, which wasn’t a first for me. I suppose expecting it to perform immediately after months of inaction was wrong of me!

This is what the road from our house to the airport looks like, in case you were wondering. The jaunty angle is intentional and artsy don’t you know.

At this point I needed to ask the good folks of Manchester what on earth they were doing on the roads pre 7am when I have a holiday to get started? There was far too much traffic in our way as we navigated the narrow chicanes between the endless cones of the M60.

Having made the mistake of arranging the taxi for 6am, rather than the 5.30 my guts told me would be correct, we were now, with the fifteen minutes of lateness added in, forty-five minutes behind my ideal schedule. This was to be pretty much the case until we landed back in Manchester in just over two weeks from this moment. We made our way to the check in desks (9-23) for Thomas Cook and joined the frustratingly long queue. It didn’t take too long to get to the front and with only minimal tutting and bottom lip protrusion, we were done, and as we seem to have to do every time we make this journey, we had to drag one heavy case over to the special drop off point rather than wave it off onto the convenient conveyor belt behind check in.

Some may tell you that I am careful with money. I rubbish those claims now by telling you that I had personally invested in a security fastpass for all seven of the touring party. How joyous I was to discover that it was an absolute waste of time, as for the one and only time on the entire trip, we encountered no queue at all. As we got to the bit with the trays where you have to take all your clothes off and have an anal probe, a young security chap was in attendance. Rebecca and Sarah were up first and as he told them they would need to remove their jackets he couldn’t suppress a smile and leering look as they thrust their assets unintentionally their way.

As Grandad approached him next to fill his tray, he made a comment to said security guy about his lustful expression and the young chap admitted it was a perk of the job. His expression then changed slightly when Grandad pointed out to him that I was Rebecca’s Dad and she was only just eighteen. Surprisingly I then breezed through all security checks without a pat down or even a second glance.

Unfortunately Grandad was not so lucky having left his iPad in his hand luggage as it went through the X-ray machine. One body search later and we were all ready to go and find some food.

Here are the Rebecca and Sarah post security.

We had a Giraffe for breakfast, which was an interesting offering I thought as usually we have a fry up. As always seems to happen, the greeter at Giraffe was stressed, sharing tales of them being busy and service being a little slow. How could they possibly know in advance that breakfast time on an August morning in a major airport could be a little busy?

Here, I have to warn you, that my usual practice of listing out what everyone had and taking photos of it will be a little hit and miss on this trip. With a party this large, it is often impossible to hear and/or remember what everyone had and by the time I get the camera out those served first are halfway through and almost on dessert. Anyway, I do my best….

Me and Rebecca – Healthy Nut Bowl (this is not some sort of sporting cuppage device). Rebecca also ordered some eggs.

Louise, Grandad and Nana – A fry up of some variety

Emily – Brekkie Burger

Sarah – Sausage, bacon, egg and beans

For reasons that were never made clear, Sarah’s turned up on three separate plates. I get that she asked could she just have Sausage, bacon, egg and beans, rather than the full fry up offered, but the multiple plate thing was strange.

We all had juices, teas and coffees and Rebecca and Sarah had a cider, reflecting the prospect of them not being allowed to drink for the rest of the holiday. The bill was £89.

Once fed we split up into smaller groups to wander the shops. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t shake Louise with her inconvenient knack of buying stuff and Emily came with us too. Louise got some perfume which was in no way overly expensive causing me to sulk at the preposterous idea of spending that amount of money on a small bottle of smelly water. We got some snacks and stuff from WH Smith and then wandered to the gate, meeting the others there.

As usual we sat and watched in awe as folks created a huge queue to board the plane on which they have a reserved seat and waited in comfort.

When the queue was this long….

we joined it. At this point, I have recorded in my notes that I was already exhausted after a busy and stressful morning. I may be getting too old for this.

I challenge anybody to correct me on my assumption that no plane in the history of aviation has ever actually left the tarmac at the time it is supposed to do so. We pulled back from the gate a few minutes late and then taxied for what seemed like a couple of hours before engaging the engines properly and getting on with stuff.

Louise had popped her medication at the gate and now enjoyed, as she always does, the joy of take off by gritting her teeth, squeezing my hand occasionally and screaming out loud at every bump and change in engine noise. A good flyer, she is not. I must say though that this year both outgoing and on the return were two of the calmest flights I have done with her. The fact that we were both in tears for most of the return journey was probably a distraction, but you’ll need to stick around till the end of this whole thing to find out exactly why.

I’ll just point out at this point that the end that I refer to above may be some time away. You may have noticed that we have only just taken off and I have written a small novel. Hunker down…..get comfy…..we’ll be here a while.

So, we looked at this for many hours.

We upgraded the in-flight entertainment systems for £4 each which was worth it. See, smiling faces!

Louise made regular checks on the wings and engines. All seemed well.

Grandad did what he always does.

Still there, still not on fire.

Emily tried her best to catch up on some sleep, but Nana was having none of it.

We bought a few rounds of drinks…yes, bought.

We would have to see a doctor upon landing to see if we could get that phone surgically removed from Rebecca’s hand.

I watched American Sniper and enjoyed it and then enjoyed the bangers and mash. It left me feeling really bloated, but I always do after airline food, I don’t know why.

I was disgusted to see that after many hours of flying we were still just outside of Leeds.

If you follow my blog at all, you may have picked up that the build up to this holiday was long and at times complicated and stressful. It was now, as we sped our way to the magic that I could actually feel the de-stressing process starting to kick in. I was wound tighter than Rolf Harris’ belt buckle in cell block A, and it would be a few days yet before I really did feel the benefit.

I made the schoolboy error of going for a wee at the wrong time and due to the movement of trolleys and trolley pushers found myself stranded at the top of the aisle whilst they made their slow progress up to me. I was missing for about half an hour and Louise was getting quite concerned as I had the money and she wanted another drink!

I filled out the white customs form at this point, as usual cursing the lack of space in economy as I inevitably dropped the pen and had to fish around for it under my legs unable to fully bend without smashing my forehead into the seat in front.

Next, I watched Kingsmen, which passed some time, although I thought it was about twenty minutes too long and I think Emily did actually get some sleep at some point. Yet more drinks were purchased at vast expense without so much as a grumble from me, as my Diet Cokes were currently costing me about £25 a round.

With still many hours ahead of us in the blue yonder I waded into the third film of the flight, Tomorrowland. Again, it was OK, without rocking my world and it saw me through until our descent into Orlando began. It was at this point that the teenage girl sat in front of us said “We’re going down now”. She said it again a few minutes later. In fact over the next ten minutes she said it more than twenty times. I counted!

Resisting the urge to throttle her with my headphone wire, we made our seemingly endless drop into Orlando and hit the tarmac at around 3pm local time. Each year, I tell myself to relax and enjoy the journey and each year I fail. This year’s journey felt particularly full of faff and my aforementioned stress levels probably didn’t help things. I was very glad to be on US soil, but still tense at the thought of all the upcoming faff before we’d be set free onto the roads of America. As it always is on the Manchester side, the airport experience for me seems massively over complicated. Folks are always checking the same documents you had checked five minutes ago by someone else and you get asked the same questions multiple times too. I’m all for thwarting terrorist activity but unless my tracksuit bottoms were made from explosive hemp, I don’t think I look like much of a threat.

At baggage reclaim, we were the cliché that is getting all your cases but one very quickly and then standing tutting as the last one comes off last. Whilst waiting for the last case, which by the way, contained nothing of mine, I glanced at one of the last barriers between us and a car, that being the food/white form checkpoint. No queue existed which pleased me greatly.

Of course as soon as our last case was in our possession it looked like a crowd scene from Les Miserables and I was certainly Miserable about it. I made the queue go more quickly by tutting and huffing expertly and we were finally free, to join another throng of people waiting for the monorail. We inevitably made the “Por Favor Mantengese” joke (and if you don’t know what that is, we can’t be friends) as the doors closed and sped off to the main part of the airport. Once there, signage was bobbins and we wandered around a little until we found that we needed to take an escalator down one level and then a lift down again to the hire car places. At this point my heart rate was at Olympic marathon runner levels with excitement and stress, so imagine my joy as the lift doors kept re-opening every time we pressed the button to close them. It took about three minutes to get going, which I know doesn’t sound a lot, but, just close your eyes and count to 180…and imagine standing in a lift, one tantalising floor from your hire car and the growing queue to pick it up.

The queue I mention was in reality about ten minutes and I know I say this every time, but what are you doing at the hire car counter for longer than five minutes? There were people there with sleeping bags rolled out and lawn chairs as they chatted seemingly without a care in the world to their agent from Alamo. When it was finally my turn I thrust my documents and credit card at the chap, gave him my best “I’ve been up for twenty hours and I don’t want an upgrade” glare and let him push his buttons rather than mine.

He did try to sell me a toll pass thingy, at which I sneered with haughty derision. As I turned from the desk with our car now literally throbbing in anticipation of our arrival just over the road, Sarah, at that moment sat on her case and promptly fell off it with all the style and grace of me ice skating. I left everyone chuckling at that as I tore across the road to the car garage at incredible speed. I flashed my credentials at what I hoped was an Alamo employee and he was suitably impressed enough to point me at a row of cars to choose from. We had discussed spending some time choosing the best one for us, as since booking the car, for a party of six, Emily had joined us and made it seven, so we knew space would be tight on this one trip from the airport. In the end, we went for the nearest one and spent a good few minutes trying to get large objects into tight spaces.

The result was pleasing and left me sweaty and out of breath.

I think the crowded car and long journey had tipped Nana over the edge.

Don’t even ask me how Rebecca managed to swap sides mid-journey! I was busy driving!!

The journey was painless, due to the use of Sat Nav, which we bought back in 2010 and had been one of the best $60 we’d spent on US soil.

We found the villa with little swearing and I hopped out to undo the key box, release the key and let the holiday really begin. Call it stupidity, lack of sleep or, well yes, it was stupidty, but there were two boxes with a combination on the wall outside the villa, one at eye level and one at shin level. For some reason I only saw the latter and spent far too long trying to open it with the wrong code, again getting hot and sweaty. Just as I was about to drive the car through the villa’s front door to gain access, the top box was spotted and opened easily. We were in.

It was lovely. Mark and Tracy had left us a lovely welcome package too. Don’t worry, Mark and Tracy own the villa, they didn’t break in to leave us some treats.

Within minutes bodies were in the pool.

I spent my time unpacking a bit and seemingly putting about seventeen different things on charge.

Next, was the important job of figuring out how the TV worked, which, for the next two and a half weeks, I remained the only person in the villa competent at doing so.

After a little while hunger forced us to get ready for some food and as tradition dictates it would be the Outback Steakhouse up at Formosa. We left the villa at 6.30, tired, excited and hungry…the other dwarves couldn’t make it.

Our server reminded us about everything we love about the US dining experience and we ordered -(bear in mind my early caveat about tracking everyone’s order in a larger group).

We started with cheesy fries and a Bloomin’ Onion of course…with the complimentary bread. This eating is serious business!

Emily’s lack of sleep cannot prevent her smiling as it went down.

Nana, Louise and Rebecca – Chicken Caesar Salad

Me – Australian Cobb Salad

Grandad – Talpai (which was, and probably still is, some form of fish)

Emily and Sarah – Burgers

With wines, beers and other drinks it came to $153 plus tip. Full and flagging we dragged ourselves around the supermarket to grab some essentials which somehow cost us $130. On the way back to the villa I tried to use the force and left the sat nav tucked away. I did OK apart from completely missing the turn into our development a handful of times, so the sat nav came out along with my bottom lip and we finally got back at 9pm. This of course was 2am UK time and about twenty-two hours since we last slept, apart from Grandad, who had about six hours sleep over the Atlantic. He was still asleep first!

Till the next time……

Final Fiddling and Fond Farewells

So here we go with the final blog before our latest US adventure.

Judging by the glacial pace of last week, I am hopeful our two weeks in the States will feel like about seven, but I suspect not.  One more long, long week to navigate at work before the fun begins.

Louise has finished now, and has all of next week to do all my packing.  She is having a day off on Tuesday though to take the girls to Alton Towers for a pre-holiday theme park warm up.  It’s fine, I’ll just go to work.

This weekend, I have checked and double checked all our documents, confirming for the one hundredth time that our passports are still valid.  I have checked our seating on the various flights and even tweaked them on one leg.  This is the final fiddling of a man desperate for the holiday to start.  There is additional final fiddling that I shall keep secret just for now too.

As I mentioned last week, always at the back of my mind is the worry around the journey.  I don’t think (like Louise) that we are nailed on to plummet to a fiery death somewhere over the Atlantic.  My fears are more mundane and revolve around us missing a connection and it eating into valuable holiday time.  It has happened before, and will no doubt happen again as long as we travel indirect, and that shall be the case until we do not need to fly at peak holiday times where direct flight prices seem to involve you actually buying your seat forever, rather than simply renting for around nine hours each way.

I am telling myself that should such things happen, they are outside of my control and I should not be upset or stressed about it.  What do you think the chances are?  Should we end up spending a night in Chicago, well that is all part of the adventure isn’t it, and should be treated as such.  We’ll see.

I often feel, after months of waiting and counting down, a sense of panic that I have not only forgotten something, but have not planned enough to make the most of the holiday.  It is silly I know, as we’ve not had a bad one yet, but such is the thought process for a planning Type A control freak such as myself.

This time next week we shall be in and around Chicago, about to undertake the final leg of our journey down to Orlando.  This throws up the age-old question of when does your holiday start?  Every year I tell myself to relax and enjoy the journey as much as possible.  This is a life lesson I would do well to heed in general, as even though the long journey can be arduous, tiring and stressful, it is better than any other day when we are not heading for Florida!

De Plane!

I love the child like excitement and anticipation of the airport on departure day.  It smells of bright white trainers, too much perfume, childhood memories and raw adrenaline.  In Louise’s case the latter is pretty much all from her as she still finds flying a major challenge. The enormous breakfast, the visit to WH Smiths and in more recent years Starbucks are all part of the pre-flight routine that confirm that we are heading off for fun and sunshine.

Here comes the annual offer of in holiday updates should you wish to follow any or all of us.  There are the links you need –

Me – @Mkingdon

Louise – @MrsMkingdon

Emily – @elmooose

Rebecca – @becky_willie

The advent of in park WiFi has changed things forever in my view.  Travelling to the States just a few short years ago meant leaving your phone and/or laptop at home, and being blissfully disconnected for the majority of your time away.  Now, you can get online all over the place, and this makes it much easier to taunt those stuck at home with photos and updates galore.

We will be pretty active on twitter I would imagine, but the trick is to remember to put the phone away (are you listening Emily?) and enjoy things in the old-fashioned way.

Jet lag dependent the next scheduled blog will be September 1st, but I make no guarantees.  I may not be able to see the laptop over my enormous stomach for a start.

As ever it does not feel real that we shall be back home in a few short days, dining in our favourite places, and doing our favourite things, but I shall do my best to adjust to the idea over the next week, readying my body for the onslaught of calories, heat and Disney.

For those we may encounter over there, I look forward to meeting you, and I hope my sack does not disappoint.

See you on the other side.

Till the next time…..