To Siesta Key…And Beyond Tour 2017 – Day Three April 13th 2017

Holidays are fun. Holidays are relaxing. It’s a chance to unwind, chill out and put the stress, strains and worries of every day life behind you. There’s no need to be getting up at silly times to get to work, it’s a time to do what you want, when you want.

So….I’d set my alarm for 6.30am as we needed to be out early to make the most of the extra hour for onsite guests. After making my contribution to the chocolate hostage release programme, amazingly we were out before 8am. It turned out that we should have set the alarm for about 4.30am as I shall now explain.

We walked to Universal rather than take the water taxi as again it was very busy.

On site guests are able to enter the parks from 8am. The Potter stuff is the only thing open at this time so this creates a stampede to that end of the park and despite a commendable power walking effort from all three of us, as we entered Diagon Alley on our way to Gringott’s, the queue for that was already at the brick wall. Yep, the wall that is the actual entrance to Diagon Alley…at 8.20am. There was no chance of us enduring that.

For me, this is one of the main reasons that we won’t be rushing back to Universal anytime soon. Aside from the fact that future trips are likely to include a small human (if you don’t know why then read this) for whom a lot of the rides won’t be suitable, the premium you pay for onsite perks didn’t feel like value for money for us this time to be honest. I found this bottle neck of onsite guests at the one open ride for the extra hour a bit silly. The fact that Potter rides are not eligible for the Express passes, and that only those are open for the extra hour makes the whole thing a bit of a waste of time really. Rides like Minions have a half hour queue even with Express and generally, we found it hard to fill a full day in one of the parks, whereas twelve hours in a Disney park seems like we’re still missing things. It may have just been a symptom of Mum & Dad not having Express but I’m not sure that was the whole reason. I shall no doubt wax lyrical further into this report when we arrive in WDW about feeling at home and all that…so it may just be that Universal is not Disney and you can’t blame it for that.

Anyway, I shall no doubt return to this theme at the end of the report….something for you all to look forward to I’m sure.

So we retreated to Starbucks and joined a queue that was only a little shorter than the one for Gringotts and got some breakfast. I don’t often visit Starbucks I’ll be honest so I never know what to order. The menu is more complex than theoretical physics, so during this trip I adopted the strategy of just having whatever Emily ordered. I can’t tell you now what I had to drink, but it was nice, had something call soy in it, which I’ve only ever put on my Chinese take away previously and it had ice in it. It was lovely. I also had a sandwich, or at least a miniature version of one.

Whilst breakfasting I had employed glorious multi-tasking skills to book a time for the new Fallon ride. By the time we’d finished eating it was time to do that.

This new “reserve a time” thing is, in my worthless opinion, the future of rides in theme parks. Having seen a few vlogs about the pre-ride waiting experience for Fallon (and the best in my view are The Trackers) I was a little gutted to be immediately summoned to ride. I had wanted to have a good look round and see the stuff they put on to distract you from the three hour wait…which for us was about thirty seconds.

The ride itself is very enjoyable. As most of these things are, it’s a bit short, but it’s a busy one and you’ll need a good few times to take it all in.

As we exited I got a message from Dad that he was in the park and ready to meet. I told him where we were and from his reply it was clear that he wasn’t in the right park! They had gone to IOA. Leaving them to get the train over to Universal we headed to the Mummy. We always love this one and rode on the front row. I don’t know if this was the reason, or if they had changed the ride a bit to include more water but for the first time in a good many years I found myself moist riding Mummy.

Luckily it’s quite dark in there…..

I left Louise and Emily there and walked up to King’s Cross to meet Mum & Dad. I found them easily enough. Dad had chosen to hire a wheelchair today as he was really suffering with sciatica. He’d soldiered on yesterday but today he would be pushed around whether he liked it or not.

Once back with Louise and Emily, we parked Dad up in some shade with Mum whilst we went off to ride Rip, Ride Rocket with our Express passes. No matter how many times I ride this I am always surprised by its intensity and by how much it feels like you are going to fall out backwards on the way up. This ride is harsher than the crazed Admin’s banning policy for the It’s Orlando Time Facebook group! Actually, probably not.

You have to take so many things off to ride this that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes the first naturist ride in Orlando.

I discovered a few new swear word combos on the way round as it threw my aging body in directions it was not built to withstand. Good fun!

We considered doing Minions (without Express for Mum & Dad) but the 80 minute wait was about 60 beyond our tolerance so we did Shrek. This was our first experience of entering a ride with a member of the party in a wheelchair. We were ushered to the front of our very own line, had our own route into the theatre and were allowed in first. All very nice, but all things considered, I’d say it’s best not to have someone needing a wheelchair than cutting a few minutes from your queue.

Next we made our way to the Monster’s Cafe where we were to leave Mum & Dad whilst we expressed Minions. On the way, I couldn’t help marvel at how rough Bob Geldof is looking…

As we approached Minions it was clear that even the Express line wasn’t very Express. It snaked to places any Express line should never snake. This was enough to put Louise off and she opted for a bench in the sun, so it was Emily and myself.

Luckily, these days she is just about tall enough to ride!

After a very un-Express like thirty minute wait we rode before exiting, finding Louise and heading back to Mum & Dad. Despite numerous visits, I honestly can’t remember this Monster’s Cafe existing before today. Either it’s new or my memory is in as good a shape as my waistline. It’s a quick service place with the usual selection of fast food fare.

Emily ordered a cheeseburger and Mum & dad shared one…

Not for the first time, Louise and I shared a foot long…..

After lunch we went over to the Horror Make Up Show starting at 1pm. Once again we were special cased due to the wheelchair but there was no queue or crowd to speak of. I did spot what I assume is the latest hipster trend in foyer…

and my usual reaction to hipsters…

Next we did the Terminator ride..

As we waited to enter, (an important comma that one) a girl close to us in the queue dropped a full drink all over the floor. I found it strange that she was even allowed in with it but even odder that the staff wandering about did absolutely nothing about it having clearly seen it. The waiting area was dark and as soon as that queue started to enter someone was going to go full Torvill and Dean through it.

As we were first in via the wheelchair line we didn’t get to see what happened. My Disney snobbery reared up in full effect, declaring this would never happen on Disney property. I know that everyone appreciated me entertaining them with my views.

This Terminator show is on an impressive scale I always think. It’s almost a forgotten attraction now but the mix of live action and film and all the effects is excellent and seems to go under the radar. I’m not sure how much longer the Terminator brand will endure to make this relevant and I’ll be honest and admit I’ve never watched any of them, but I applaud the effort!

It was time to call it a day and head to the exit now after a restroom stop for some.

Emily wasn’t “restrooming” there on the bench, she was just waiting!

We water taxied back to RPR and once again found some sunbeds in the kid’s pool area. The ladies used our room to change first whilst me and Dad guarded the beds like some German sun towels and then we changed too.

Snoozing, reading, swimming and cocktailing filled the afternoon along with a soupcon of swimming. Dad found the hot tub which worked wonders on his sciatica.

At around 6.30 I drove Mum & Dad home and returned to find the readying of Emily and Louise not as far along as it should have been. At 8pm we set off for Teak Neighbourhood Grill. The walk from our room, to the car park and the subsequent pick up of Emily and Louise from the front of RPR, followed a few minutes later by the same at Mum & Dad’s hotel became a familiar routine. As my usual routines in life go, it’s up there in my all time favourites.

We stopped en route at a pharmacy (not for the last time this trip, but you knew that already) to get some Milk of Magnesia for Emily. I know she won’t mind me sharing with you that she was more full of shit than Katie Hopkins and needed an intervention pronto.

We went all crazy and ordered some appetisers as if we had never eaten here before.

We got two lots of Mozzarella Rounds and a Crab Dip whilst we studied the menu.

I was eating the missing one, sorry.

I didn’t eat any of the crab dip if I’m honest as to me, that tastes like an I’m a Celebrity Bush Tucker Trial with the emphasis on bush.

Our entrees were

Me & Emily – A badly photographed Cronie Burger & Garlic Fries

“french doughnut” tossed with cinnamon-sugar served with a half pound Angus burger topped with maple-pepper bacon, smoked Gouda cheese and an over med egg…a must try!

Louise – French Dip 2.0

open faced thinly sliced prime rib, provolone cheese, horseradish mayo on garlic artisan baguette served with au jus dipping sauce with garlic fries.

Again I can only apologise for the photo

Dad – Imperial Trooper Burger

mozzarella cheese, tomato, spring mix drizzled with sour cream-chive sauce & imperial stout glaze served on toasted brioche bun. He added a side of Scallop Potato which he declared to be incredible!

Mum – Plain Jane Burger

american cheese, bibb lettuce, tomato on toasted brioche bun…pure simplicity with chilli cheese fries.

The Cronie Burger was so good, you can have another photo of it.

Dad had beer, Louise wine and a sangria and the bill was $150 including a healthy tip. I love this place! I was so sad to be leaving that I took photos on the way out feeling all emotional…

We left at 10pm, lost in a fog of calories and the glow of satisfaction. After dropping Mum & Dad off we barely made it to bed before falling asleep. I think I read for about ten minutes before welcoming a coma like sleep into my body.

Till the next time…..

To Siesta Key…And Beyond Tour 2017 – Day Two April 12th 2017

I have to confess that I have been procrastinating. Tackling day two has felt like an increasing weight on my shoulders as the week has rumbled on. Why you ask? Well, even if you don’t I’ll tell you. Day Two, the first full day of the trip is so full of promise, excitement and hope that sat here now, in a rainy Bolton, as far from going on another holiday as it is possible to be, I’m finding it hard to put myself through it. My heart is broken that I am not now just starting the holiday all over again, wrapped in the comfort blanket of the hot Floridian sun, feeling more at home than I do at home with all that holiday laid out untouched in front of me.

Sigh.

With that said, I must press on and try to convey all of that as we revisit that day together from the comfort of my blog.

At a ridiculous 4.20am, I was awake, bleary eyed and bloated from the flight and still full of all that yummy Outback goodness. Emily was already awake and of course on her phone, suggesting that some snoring may have kept her awake. I hope those in the next room don’t do that again!! Courtesy of the time difference we all chatted with Rebecca back home for a bit and I simultaneously arranged to meet Mum and Dad at 7am.

Then I find, examine and operate the coffee machine in one silky movement and make some coffee for Louise in my boxer shorts. I couldn’t find any filters but they did the trick instead. Hmm, full of extra flavour due to my special roasted beans.

Readying started at 6am and I went to collect Mum & Dad at 6.50, managing to find yet another way to get lost in that five-minute journey to their hotel. Once back at the RPR we wandered around for a bit trying to locate the water taxi.

We naturally went the wrong way before eventually finding a lovely long line waiting for it. It also looked like they were checking room keys due to said long lines, and with Mum & Dad not residents we elected to walk. It took ten minutes, most of which was spent by me concentrating on not walking too fast, doubling back to let folks catch up and Louise telling me off for walking ahead of everyone. I was excited!!

We had our first encounter with the new security set up here. Airport style scanners and an emptying of all pockets into a tray just as we entered City Walk.

We joined a healthy queue at the gates of Islands of Adventure (IOA) and waited for about ten minutes. Mum and Dad, not having the extra hour of on site guests, went off to get some breakfast on City Walk and we arranged to meet later.

We walked to the Potter stuff at a pace that just allowed almost everyone else in the park to overtake us. Room cards were being checked on the way but in no great detail. They were just required to be wafted at the staff asking to see them with no checking of dates as far as I could tell.

By the time we got to Hogwarts there was a thirty minute queue posted but I think that was just to get a locker. Knowing what was in store today I was travelling bagless. Ryan was resting in the room and I had all I would need crammed into the small sack at the front of my shorts.

The ride itself was a walk on, but that walk takes about ten minutes. We had only ridden this once before so it was nice to do it again and notice almost all of it that we missed the first time. If you don’t like spiders or have kids that may never sleep again after being attacked by a twelve-foot dementor, perhaps give this a miss. We loved it.

Still firmly in that first morning adrenaline rush we headed straight for what was Duelling Dragons.

It was a walk on at this hour but even I had to succumb to a locker on this one. Even my small sack was not allowed. I showed it to the lady at the entrance and she said it was very nice but too big to ride with, and also suggested I seek medical attention at the first opportunity as it shouldn’t be black.

We were quickly loaded and off at silly speeds through all sorts of loops and inversions. There is no greater sign of getting older than how you feel upon leaving a roller coaster. Until recent years I would do them all day with barely a repercussion. More recently I have wandered off rides feeling like Oliver Reed after a lost weekend. I was dizzy, queasy and bilious, three of the lesser known dwarfs, I admit.

I tried to put this down to not yet having eaten rather than becoming an old git and declared it breakfast time. Knowing what I had planned food wise for the rest of the day I was hoping to just have a light snack to save space in my expanding belly for the shenanigans later. The need for food was too great to be picky and we stumbled across the road into the Broomsticks place.

This was our second visit here and the speed at which you choose your food has not improved. It wasn’t that busy and it still took us far too long. Perhaps that feeling was exaggerated by my rumbling belly? There are around half a dozen set menu options and we went for –

Me – Porridge Breakfast (on the right) and Emily American Breakfast

Louise – Pancake Breakfast

I had to be quick with these photos as preventing folks from eating was a danger to my health at this point. In fact by the time we actually got our food our hunger was a real problem. The last time something was this hotly anticipated in Hogsmeade was when Ron Weasley used his wand to perform his Hymenio Destructo spell on Hermione.

It was $57 for the three of us.

They were tasty enough and did the necessary to fill the gap but this meal wouldn’t make it into my top ten list for the holiday.

By the time we had finished eating Mum and Dad were waiting for us outside. We had a quick wander back up to Hogwarts so they could take some photos and then we escaped what was becoming a very busy Hogsmeade and headed for the train station.

There wasn’t a queue at this time which was nice. The last time we took this train we waited forty-five minutes. It’s a very clever ride, if that’s the right word.

There are so many different elements going on that I suspect it will take many rides to appreciate them all.

As I stood up to leave the train I moved towards the window rather than the exit to take a snap of the plaque I had spotted above the window which seemed to have my name on it. Just as I stood, Louise, sat across from me did too and her head attacked my hand. It resulted in a decent slap to the side of her head. That’s my story Officer and I’m sticking to it. The worst thing about that was the blurry photo it resulted in.

We will never know why that plaque had my name on it.

We alighted the train and wandered into Diagon Alley.

The Gringott’s ride had a wait time of 115 minutes. Nope! Instead we meandered through the shops and streets and eventually found a bench from which we could watch a show that had just started. I forget what it was called but it was the one with the puppets/storytellers.

After bumping into Frank Bough…

and a drink we left via Weasley’s magic shop thing…..

and struck out for Men in Black so that I may inflict a demoralising defeat on everyone. After another f***ing locker farce we entered via the normal muggle line rather than Express so that we could all ride together. It was only a ten minute wait.

In the interests of appearing to be a grown up I shall draw a veil over the scores achieved on this ride. One shouldn’t sully family fun time with such base trivia as the scores on some game that really doesn’t matter. Anyway, I do think my gun was faulty. I was giving it all I had but there was just nothing happening. Again, I’m told it’s not a big deal and it’s happens to all men.

We made our way around to the Simpson Ride. As often happens Louise decided to sit out in the sun rather than ride. I don’t know if you know this, but she’s keen on the occasional bit of sunbathing.

Again we took the non Express line as Mum & Dad were riding and it was only ten minutes. Fate dictated that we would share our car with a family competing in the “Worst Parenting Skills of the Year Award”. A youngish couple with two very young kids joined us in the waiting room. At this point the kids were just noisy. As we entered the actual car to ride the younger child decided to go to Defcon 3 in the tantrum stakes. They had been allocated the front row of the car but Damona decided she wanted to ride in the rear row. We loitered barely concealing our disdain as the family moved to the rear row to satisfy the demands of the mini demon amongst us. Once in that row, this child proceeded to go into full Linda Blair, head spinning, spitting and kicking meltdown for reasons nobody could fathom.

At this point the chap loading us in suggested they leave as there was no way the ride could operate with the child in that state. They took his advice and he exchanged a glance with us that communicated all that was required.

I think that family are still outside the Simpsons Ride with the parents discussing in a calm voice their mild disappointment with their offspring’s behaviour whilst it rips clumps of hair from their heads.

It was 11.30 by the time we exited the ride and by normal first day rules this was time for our evening meal. With this in mind we started the walk to the exit for our lunch at Toothsome.

We walked slowly as it was very hot now.

We got there just before 12, hoping it wouldn’t be too busy to get a walk in table.

It wasn’t and we were seated immediately even having the option of sitting inside or out. As my immediate future included a milk shake fashioned from ice cream, inside was the only choice. Plus I needed my newly acquired moist patches to dry out in some nice air conditioning.

Amazingly I wasn’t really that hungry. I could have eaten of course. We all have our sacrifices to make, but I had one eye on our evening meal plans at Cowfish in a few short hours so I decided to be sensible and just have a drink…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mum & Dad hadn’t had a large breakfast like us so they ordered a Chicken BLT each.

Louise had some wine. It was barely the afternoon by the time it arrived so that was OK.

As we sat, we were visited by a couple of the characters that wander around. I’ll be honest, I didn’t read the bit on the menu that explains who they are and what the story is supposed to be…I had a milkshake to choose, so our interaction with them was a little awkward as we had no idea who they were or what they were talking about. Indeed, my Dad kept asking this lady what she was out of…..to her credit she didn’t break character once.

The bill was $90ish and I have to say the milkshakes were superb and Mum & Dad reported that their meals were excellent too. The place itself is fantastically themed and if you don’t fancy a full sit down meal you could of course just pop in for some take out or I think you can also sit in the reception area and have a milkshake.

Feeling very proud of my restraint at only taking on board around 2000 calories in a drink, we set off to Universal Studios. Once back in the park we made use of our Express passes for Shrek whilst Mum & Dad had a wander and did some shopping.

We waited as long as it took for the current show to finish before entering and Louise and Emily were treated to this year’s first rant about those morons not moving all the way to the end of their row.

After exiting we went across the street to Minions but even with Express, the queue was huge so we decided not to bother. It was hot, we were starting to feel that first day effect come mid afternoon so we decided to wander back to the hotel for some rest.

There was no chance of us walking back to the hotel. We waited about fifteen minutes for a water taxi and enjoyed the breeze as it took us back.

I drove mum & Dad back to their hotel whilst Louise and Emily got changed for the pool. I joined them once I had done a quick change into my mankini. I hadn’t had that waxing for nothing!

Some very welcome resting happened next. Emily and Louise had a cocktail or two and we did some reading and quite a lot of nothing for a while. The only free beds at this time of day were around the small kiddies pool. I always marvel at the absolute lack of shade provided in the US at public pools and water parks. Luckily my legs were well shaded by my over hanging gut.

I did point out to Louise that she may want to shave her legs….

We went back up to the room around 6ish and I popped out to get Mum & Dad at 7.30 hoping that by the time I got back Louise and Emily might be ready. They were and we got the water taxi again over to City Walk.

Cowfish told us there was a forty five minute wait for a table, so they took my phone number, to text me when it was ready and we wandered off in search of a drink.

No, don’t worry I didn’t have another milkshake…I’m not an animal.

Instead we found a table at a bar and ordered some drinkies, enjoying the ability to sit outside in a T shirt at night. Tomorrow I might even wear some shorts too.

I felt a throb in my pocket after about thirty minutes which coincided with our table being ready. We were seated upstairs. It can be a bit noisy in here. It’s very open plan with very few soft furnishings but the food is worth it.

We ordered –

Me – Cheesburgerooshi. I would find this very hard to describe so instead here’s what the menu said..

Seasoned Certified Angus Beef, yellow cheddar cheese, white cheddar cheese, applewood bacon, and red onion, wrapped in soy paper and potato strings then flash fried. Topped with ketchup, mustard, dill pickle and Roma tomato. Served atop Cowfish sauce. Served with house seasoned fries.

It looked like a non blurry version of this..

It was stunning and I would highly recommend it.

Mum – Crab dip with chips. This was an appetiser as Mum was still full from lunch.

The photo was once again rubbish…

Dad – I recorded it in my notes as a Lobster/Shrimp thingy. I suspect this was not the official name..

It looked like this….

Emily had a burger of some kind. (Top note taking tonight Craig!)

After consulting the menu it would appear to be a Dynamic Duo Burger.

The Dynamic Duo*
Beef burger, braised short rib, sweet roasted garlic, provolone cheese, tomato onion jam, lettuce, onion, tomato, onion roll.

As did Louise.

We all shared two pieces of cheesecake just to make sure we had hit our 10,000 calories per day target and it was delicious.

The bill was $145 including tip.

Emily cleared the whole burger and a very respectable amount of cheesecake. It was an impressive and valiant effort. Nobody knew if they were more full than tired and so we water taxied back to RPR and I sleep drove Mum & Dad home before falling into bed just after 11.

Till the next time……

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….

Changing Gear

A month today we shall be full of first day adrenaline, charging around our first park of the trip. Jetlagged, jubilant and just about staying awake beyond tea time, that first day is always a good one. There are two days in most years that I don’t mind being awake in the early hours. The first is the travel day when typically we’re up around 4am to start our journey. The second day is that natural early start on the first day in Florida, brought on by the time difference and excitement that usually sees us sat waiting for a theme park to open and then eating lunch at 10.30.

Unusually for us we won’t be spending it in Magic Kingdom this time. That unwritten rule has been obeyed on almost every trip and as I have often said, if you are going shopping, to Sea World or any other such nonsense, then you’re doing it wrong. The last time I made that tongue in cheek assertion I was attacked in the comments on my own blog and banned from a certain Orlando based Facebook group. The internet is a funny old place.

However, this trip is different and Universal is our first stop. As this trip started off as one for just Louise and I at some posh hotels and the beach, then we tore up the rule book a little. So this year we will find ourselves having an early morning meeting with Mr Potter and his friends.

Another key difference is Emily’s age. She has been pondering all of her alcohol based selections as this will be her first post 21 trip. Of course the other more upsetting difference is Rebecca’s absence. We’re already upset at the prospect of leaving her behind. It just won’t feel right. A bit like today when we all went to see her new apartment that she has moved in to with Tom. It’s lovely. Modern, spacious, secure and a lovely place to live. It doesn’t change the fact that we still call one of the bedrooms in our house Rebecca’s room and probably always will.

Emily has been making changes of her own and having recently bought her first car, she has been discovering the independence that can bring. After passing her test she was never the most confident driver, but now with a car of her own choosing and with it being automatic too, she is finding driving a pleasure and is just driving for the fun of it, discovering parts of her home town all by herself.

Her mini, which of course is called Mickey, is lovely and has more gadgets than some space stations. It compares very favourably to my first car, which was a V reg Fiesta. I didn’t love it any less than Emily loves hers.

During the process of buying Emily’s car, Louise was seduced by a car she saw in the showroom. On what was probably one of the best day’s of the young salesman’s life, an order was placed for one after some negotiations and bartering. Being a new one, that car won’t be with us for a few weeks yet, but it is a lovely looking thing.

It’s one of these…

We’re trading in what was my car, a Peugeot 308, which is starting to get on a but, I’m now driving the car Louise got just over a year ago and she will be having the new mini. Confused? Me too. It’s a miracle I get into the right car of a morning.

Louise has loved minis for a long time and this new Clubman with the extensive boot now allows her to have one and still be able to cram all her nursing gear in the back without her car becoming a one seater mobile medical store.

It’s all change, all round it seems. I’m told it’s as good as rest, in which case I should be more perky and energetic than I normally feel.

Till the next time……

Unlaminating The Plan

If you are the holiday planner in your house, you will know that when a plan gets to the stage we are now at, things are very delicately balanced. By now, the ADRs are done and it’s coming up to FastPass time so things are pretty much close to the stage where nothing can be changed. It is called the laminated stage!

Changing so much as a meal can have knock on effects that can take days of work to accommodate, so the last you want at this stage is any sort of fly in the ointment. Literally moments after posting last week’s blog, telling you all how busy we were and how much we were looking forward to some R&R I had some bad news.There was an issue with our flights. Again, if you are the planner you will know that the flight booking is the cornerstone of any trip. It is typically the first thing in the bag and everything else hangs off it. So the news was not welcome.

For reasons I won’t trouble you with, to avoid this being a very long post, our flights were no longer going to be available. On hearing the news I felt a bit sick. The whole trip was in jeopardy and with the dollar rate in the toilet I was very fearful that trying to book any new flights now would be impossible without a return to my career as a gigolo.

Virgin, as ever, were showing prices that only Branson himself can afford so the next stop was Thomas Cook. I found direct flights with them for a price not too far from the ones we had previously. There was only one problem…..they were on different dates!!

You can only imagine the carnage this can bring to the plan! It was only a day later but the cascade effect was enormous. I had to book the flights anyway to secure them and the trip and then start to pick up the pieces. To complicate matters, Mum & Dad are of course staying in different hotels to us for half of the trip so I had four lots of reservations to sort out plus the car hire. Safe to say I had a very busy few hours contacting folks, fettling things online and in the case of the car, being shafted by having to re-book it at today’s rates which pretty much doubled the fee. Then of course there was some fiddling with ADRs to realign them with the new dates.

The end result is that we now have four days at Universal and five at WDW either side of our week at Siesta Key Beach. I cannot say I am unhappy at the extra day at Disney. That part of the plan was always looking very busy so that helps. Of course, with dollar rate moves, amendment fees and all sorts of skulduggery the trip costs have risen but at this stage, with all the hassle and faff it has involved so far I just don’t care. Just get me on the bloody plane already.

With all that sorted earlier in the week, I read a few articles that the coming week may see some Brexit news that will make the pound crash even further. Apparently with a declaration that a Hard Brexit is inevitable the pound may dip a lot more. It’s fine though, as that will stop all these immigrants from coming here and ruining staffing our NHS. (Bit of politics!).

With that in mind it made sense to get the park tickets sorted before that currency volatility puts the prices up. I have no idea if that will happen but I found a price I was OK with, so I bought us 7 day ultimates with free memory maker for less than the 5 day Magic Your Way things would have been. I’ll be securing the Universal tickets shortly too. If it’s going to be 1 pound to 1 dollar by the time we go I want to reduce the impact of that as much as possible!!

As if that wasn’t enough hassle, being a glutton for punishment, I thought I’d just run a comparison of our Royal Pacific booking through Trivago to see if we were paying too much. We were. I found the same room for £250 less with Netflights, so having free cancellation with Hotels.com, I did that and re-booked it, also getting £70 cashback through Top Cash Back. This is a full-time job at times, but the rewards for the slog are out there.

Phew, I’m tired just telling you about it. Somewhere among all of that I have done a busy week’s work, including working two evenings (OK one was dinner with a supplier, but that’s still work right?) and a gig on Friday with Mustard. Safe to say the neglected DIY projects remain thus and I am looking and feeling more tired than a tired thing.

Still, at least the holiday is sorted!!

Till the next time…..

Blow By Blow….

Now that all the changes and faffing are done (hopefully) and the dust has settled on all the re-arranging of stuff for our next holiday, I thought I’d share our my (weirdly over thought and scarily detailed) plans with you for our trip even though it’s not until next April. Yes, I know that’s a long way away, but sharing this stuff makes the trip seem closer and reality a little further away, plus, with your combined expertise and knowledge, dear reader, you can point out any glaring errors or omissions. Your opinions are more than welcome, as long as I agree with them, otherwise you’ll just get yourself banned!!  That’s how the internet works, right?

This is all still pretty loose. Well, when I say loose, I of course know where we are eating most days and which parks we’ll be in for the Orlando time, but loose as in each second is not yet accounted for. It is bound to change a few times between now and departure date as I see and remember stuff we have to do….

Day One

We fly out of Manchester courtesy of Mr Branson at around 12.45. I have yet to experience a flight that actually left the ground at the time advertised so let’s say we’ll be airborne sometime in the early afternoon. Once home, myself Louise and Emily will drop off Nana and Grandad at the Holiday Inn Across from Universal (official title, not a description) and head off to check in at the Royal Pacific Resort. Once checked in and short pants adorned we shall collect some grandparents and head out to the Outback. It’s become a tradition that this is our eatery of choice for this first night. It became so as we stayed around Formosa Gardens for quite a few years in a row and it was convenient. A few Bloomin’ Onions and Cheesey Fries later and it’s become a must do.

With us staying quite some distance from Formosa of course, I’ve substituted it for one on I Drive, trusting that the quality will remain regardless of location. With full bellies we shall retire to a fitful sleep, ready for the early rising which is of course inevitable.

Day Two

With us no doubt being awake before it gets light we shall make best use of this by using the early hours access to the Potter stuff. With the grandparents “off site” they may have to wait at City Walk with a coffee until the muggles are admitted. We have five days here so at some point they’ll be able to do the Potter stuff they are allowed to go on. Heart conditions permitting!

Dinner is planned at Cowfish on City Walk. We tried this for the first time on our last trip and it was excellent. I intend to repeat my choice from that trip too with a

The Cowfish Has Offically Left The Building (A.K.A. The Hunka, Hunka)

Full-pound beef burger, creamy peanut butter, fried bananas, applewood bacon, brioche bun. Choice of side. (Make it a SINGLE HUNKA LOVE, half-pound beef burger for $13)

I will not be making use of the $13 option!

Day Three

Today is the tired day. The journey, the early morning wake up and a day in a theme park mean that this is always down as a rest day for us. We shall spend it by the pool at RPR but we shall make the effort to get across to the new Toothsome Chocolate Factory for lunch, which may just be made up of milk shake and pie. We are on holiday!

Dinner is pencilled in for Celebration. We usually do the Market Street Cafe but I have been warned that a change of ownership has not gone well so we may look elsewhere in Celebration. The main thing we want to do is meet Otis again, who we bumped into and fell in love with last year.

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Should time and energy allow we may pop to Disney Springs for a look and a wander (but no spending, unless it’s food).

Day Four

Refreshed and revitalised we shall tackle Universal Studios today. A train ride across to IOA may come into play should we be done early before heading off for dinner at the Teak Neighbourhood Grill. It’s very much a favourite of ours and we’re much closer to it than we normally are so it cannot be missed.

Day Five

It’s our last full day at Universal so we shall mop up any stuff we haven’t done or want to do again, no doubt with a bit more pooling too. The plan for dinner is a Disney one and assuming the ADR Gods are smiling upon us when the time comes, O’hana is the plan. We haven’t been since the girls were very small and that was for a breakfast. We did dinner there back in 2003 I think, so I think we’re due a visit.

Day Six

Our first move and it sees us pack up and head for the beach. We check into Siesta Key, here…
final siesta

and relax. We plan to do the beach, food and some cocktails and beer over the next week. Should we, by any chance get bored of days here…

We always have the option of popping to Busch Gardens for a bit of theme park action.

Day Seven

Beach! Food and alcohol for dinner.

Day Eight

Beach! Food and alcohol for dinner.

Day Nine

A radical change today as golf is on the plan for me and my Dad as we leave the ladies to do the beach. The two courses currently contending for our custom are Rosedale Golf Club and Palms at Forest Lakes. Whichever presents the lesser chance of me losing a dozen golf balls in water will get the nod.  I have planned to drive out for dinner to the nearest Applebees. Again, a firm fave and we don’t have time to fit it in during our Orlando time.

Day Ten

Beach! Food and alcohol for dinner.

Day Eleven

Beach! Again, a drive out for dinner to the local Olive Garden. A perennial treat for us. Nothing fancy, just great food, great value and Emily’s favourite Lasagne on the planet. The bread sticks and salad are as addictive as crack cocaine ( I would imagine!).

Day Twelve

Beach! Food and alcohol for dinner.

Day Thirteen

We leave Siesta Key and head back to Orlando. The plan says Epcot from whatever time we get there and at some point we will check into All Star Sports (Nana and Grandad) and Beach Club (the rest of us) for our final few days and whistle stop tour of the Disney parks. We’ve done the resting, now some proper theme park days!

Dinner is tentatively planned for Beaches & Cream and the night will be spent watching some duelling pianos at Jellyrolls.

Day Fourteen

Hangovers permitting, an earlyish start to get to Animal Kingdom and hopefully we will have enough stamina to make it all the way to the new night-time stuff too. Either way, Louise, Emily and I will all want to ride Everest in the dark.

We always seem to end up having lunch at Yak & Yeti, hopefully leaving enough room for a late dinner at Sanaa, ADR permitting. The bread starter thing is a thing of beauty and delight.

Day Fifteen

Hollywood Studios today for another park day. I’m hopeful of catching Fantasmic so it could be a long day and we may pop out late afternoon to eat at Bahama Breeze before heading back into the park for the show.

Day Sixteen

Where else, but Magic Kingdom to end the holiday. It isn’t everyone’s favourite but it’s the symbol of everything Disney and my tradition is to fight back the tears as we walk out of the park for the last time each trip. Emily does less well at the fighting part!

Dinner may very well be at the end of the boat trip across to Fort Wilderness at Trail’s End, which is too becoming something of a habit/tradition, but we’ll see how the day goes.

Day Seventeen

We have a full day in Orlando as our flight isn’t until around 8pm so I would imagine we’ll be doing our normal last-minute shopping at Disney Springs for gifts, souvenirs and those last few thousand calories before heading off to the airport, long pants and an enormous sulk.

As things change, I shall keep you updated of course!

Till the next time……

The Votes Are In…..

I’m so grateful for your responses to last week’s post. I had so much great advice from many folks who are clearly more expert (obsessed) with US travel than I. Via every medium available on the internet I had replies and help, so thank you for giving a toss about my trivial travel plans.

As far as the voting goes the results were as follows.

poll

I didn’t know what to expect, but I suppose I was slightly surprised to see California come out on top, or perhaps more specifically, Orlando not to.

Beyond the voting I got some very detailed, well thought through advice with one very kind soul even sending me their planning spreadsheet for their California trip in 2014. Thank you Sue! It is very nice to know, as I suspected, that many others are sad enough to have their holidays in such detailed Excel formats!!

Beyond the US there were great suggestions for destinations such as Dubai, Mexico, Jamaica, Antigua, Barbados, Tokyo and Thailand along with many suggestions of a cruise.

So what did we decide to do? Well, I have to say that Louise and I were leaning towards California and the results of the poll and the comments I got were encouraging us in that direction. However, with a little bit of research following up on some cautionary advice from those who have been before, it had to be discounted for the simple reason that in February, or even March, the temperatures are too low. Looking at various weather sites it would seem that we’d be lucky to see anything in the 70’s most days and for us a holiday can’t involve fleeces and long trousers during the day!!

However, at some point very soon in our holiday future, we WILL do California. Your feedback has confirmed that we must.

As far as cruising goes, that is a bit of a non-starter. Louise is very strange and along with her irrational fear of flying she also has a bit of a thing about the sea and boats…no matter how big they may be.

So we were then looking at either one of the other destinations listed above or a return to the familiar embrace of Florida. As much as Louise likes a beach and a sunbathe, even she had to admit that a whole holiday of that may not be for us after all these years of “doing stuff” for most of the holiday, So, with absolute predictability, that is how our journey back to Florida has come about. We have decided to push our dates back to March, as we got advice (thanks Di) about Florida in February being on the chilly side and so seeing that March seems to be in the mid 80’s most days, that is much more acceptable. Those extra few weeks before we go will be tortuous, but one thing I have learned about countdowns is that they always eventually end!

So, with that decided, I then moved on to making some rough plans. With warm weather back in play, the beach came back in to focus and so with startling speed, a day by day plan formed in my mind. I was actually quite shocked at how quickly and easily this came to me. A sign of where all my thoughts, time and money has gone for many years.

With flights not yet available for next March, nothing can be booked as yet (booking flights first is the law) but this has not stopped me from looking at lots of hotels around our pencilled in locations. So far, we’re looking at something like –

Flights into Miami

Four nights in Miami/Fort Lauderdale

A two hour drive up to Vero Beach (either at the Disney resort itself or another hotel in the area) for three nights there.

Over to Orlando for four nights on site at Universal

Four of five nights on site at Disney, ideally around the Boardwalk area, or if budget dictates somewhere like Old Key West.

Flight home from Orlando

See, easy this isn’t it? I believe flights should be available from around the end of April to mid May for our travel dates (current thinking is mid March departure) so until then I am coiled like an oily spring, consumed with pent-up planning tension waiting for the sweet release of hitting the book button. Such is the life of an obsessive such as me and you, judging by your responses last week!

Thanks again for all your help. I was delighted and surprised by your interest and generosity. If anyone has any recommendations for hotels in and around Miami or indeed the Vero area, should we not go the Disney route, then please do let me know. Should anyone have DVC points sitting on a shelf they may not need then again we may well be interested in those too.

Till the next time…..