A Prick Of The Conscience

Moving house, or attempting to, seems to elevate your waking state to a constant mild hum of stress, with occasional peaks. Mostly, I am just sick of people being in my house, be that for valuations, energy certificate surveys, viewings or as we had last week our buyer’s survey. Those with dogs will know the pain of corralling them away from visitors so they do not love them to death and potentially scare folks who don’t do well with dogs. It’s just all a bit of a faff.

From the second the surveyor left our house and we began the wait to hear the results, we did, of course, think that would return all sorts of negative stuff that would either reduce our sell price or completely scupper the sale. Our glass was on its side, rather than in any form of fullness, half or otherwise. We felt a little battered and bruised by the rough and tumble of the short process to date.

Last week I also spent a silly amount of time on the phone to the bank formally applying for our terrifying new mortgage. The chap from the bank now knows more about us and our spending habits than our immediate family. Again, we now await the decision of that jury. Waiting and stress. It’s just a lovely combination.

I don’t know when we might move. I guess there’s an outside chance of it being before Christmas should winds be blowing in the right direction and no hitches be encountered. Our estate agent has warned that the stamp duty exemption has created a spike in activity and solicitors are and will be busy so things may take a little longer than normal. For a process that is not known for its swiftness, this may mean we will have one last Christmas in our current house.

Of course, should the survey show our house was held together with sellotape and spit and was worth about £7.50, then the whole thing would be irrelevant and we’d be back to square one, just minus all the money we’ve now spent on surveys and other move-related things. Did I mention elevated stress levels?

Anyway, on Friday morning we received a phone call to confirm that our buyer’s mortgage offer had been issued, meaning that the survey was all good. This was good news of course and now meant that the harsh reality of moving was very likely a thing we’d have to actually go through with. Between now and then we will have to undertake one of THE biggest declutters the world has ever seen. Yesterday I began the enormous task of clearing out our cellar. Imagine a place where for eight years you have put stuff you don’t really need but don’t want to throw out. Well, now that has caught up with us and I’ll be rectifying it at length.

What I really need is some form of holiday or break to look forward to. Luckily I have such a thing booked for next March. How I am looking forward to that definitely going ahead.

I have to say that I have pretty much-made peace with the fact that this will not be happening. I would love to be convinced otherwise, but I cannot see anything that will significantly change between now and then. I do of course hope that very shortly the US gets a President who is not incompetent, deceitful and seemingly intent on killing his own citizens. If the US gets something like a plan in place that’s got to help, but it doesn’t fix our issues or open up the airways from the UK to the US.

Should we not be able to travel by March, I’m not sure what we will do. I suppose it will depend on the cancellation policies of the companies involved. I suppose we would rearrange to a later date again, mainly as I really fear for the future of many of these travel companies and want to spend some money with them to keep them viable for when this is all over, but the temptation to cancel the whole thing and come back to it when some form of normality is available is growing.

Florida seems to be doing OK if the published figures are accurate. I say OK, in the context of the number of deaths every day is stable as is the number of new cases. The theme parks seem safe, mainly as they are doing a good job of mask enforcement and social distancing. Maybe there’s a clue there for the rest of the world? Crowds are growing it seems, with Universal yesterday reporting that the parks hit capacity by mid-morning. Nobody really knows what capacity limits the parks are operating at, but with so little open in most parks, queues are long.

As that, of course, doesn’t look too enticing, some part of me thinks it would be better not to go in those circumstances, but another part of me would just like to be there.

The wild card in this game of holiday roulette is a vaccine but within the timeframes, we are working in, that seems unlikely. Would I have it? Yes. I suspect other countries might insist on incoming visitors having proof that they have done so, and for that and many other reasons, I would gladly endure the prick. However, I will not endure any prick who comes at me with anti-vax bollocks, and similarly that the COVID virus and resultant death toll is a hoax. Facebook is awash with “medical experts” spewing up this shite and if it’s not too much a contradiction, I wish a pox upon their collective houses.

I try not to let that make me too angry as it isn’t productive. These days, as you will know from my Twitter activity, there is much to bring despair and anger to daily life and the world is not in good shape. I keep that political stuff out of my blogs as nobody comes here for that. However, this week I am going to make an exception without apology. The decision to not provide food for kids who might need it over the school holidays was an abhorrent disgrace and I just needed to get that off my chest. How anyone can make peace with that is an absolute mystery to me. Sure, some parents are a bit shit, and maybe a few fit the Daily Mail stereotype of pissing their meagre funds away on iPhones, cigarettes and Sky, but even if that were true of the parents of every hungry child, how on earth is that the fault of the children? Honestly, if you can imagine any child in your life being truly hungry and without food and be able to imagine not doing whatever it takes to feed them, then please read another blog. Sigh…..

Let’s get back to more normal topics. For now, the whole house move thing is proving to be stressful, but in a way, a welcome distraction from fretting about the holiday every minute of every day. Even I have a limit as to how many things I can stress about at once.

As that house move shifts into the realms of reality, we are now confronting the “problems” of where all our stuff will go in the new place. This brings to light the lunacy of buying a house. It is odd, is it not, that the biggest purchase you are ever likely to make is decided upon within the few minutes you wander around a house. Now, as we have to think practically about what we will have and do in each room, I realise that I can’t actually remember most of the rooms in any detail. I say that as if I will have any input into those decisions. Of course, Louise will be doing that.

Let’s pull this meandering rant to a close with a collective wish for that vaccine. Ideally, all the medical experts from the Facebook comments section will be recruited into the teams trying to come up with a vaccine so that their undoubted expertise can speed things up.

Till the next time…..

Being 50 Is A Beach…..

You may have noticed that I wasn’t bouncing off the walls with excitement about my imminent birthday. Firstly, as a milestone, it was one that just confirmed I was old(er). Secondly, of course, I was in the wrong country. However, in a turn of events that bucks the trend and tone of recent weeks, I had a really lovely day.

It started as planned with a round of golf with my Dad. Having played about three or four times this summer, there were actual signs that I knew what I was doing in short bursts and it was very enjoyable. The weather was glorious, and as we sat out on the patio outside the clubhouse enjoying a post-round beer, my brother phoned me from France, where he has spent the summer at his cottage. He was just about to set off on the long drive back to his imminent quarantine and he called to wish me a happy birthday.

On my return home, everyone had gone to a lot of trouble to make the day as lovely as it could be. There was a US themed lunch laid on, with almost as many calories involved as I may have eaten had we been in WDW. Hot dogs, cupcakes, cheesecake, Danish (is that the plural?) and all sorts of other wonderfully unhealthy snacky delights were on offer alongside this glorious cake.

So I spent the afternoon eating food and receiving gifts, which is always a decent way to spend your time.

There was everything from cash (always welcome) to useful stuff I needed like clothes, alongside lots of really thoughtful stuff that blew me away. Rebecca and Tom put together a really lovely photo collage which had been framed and will take pride of place somewhere in the house once it gets moved from its current location on the mantlepiece. Louise had the absolute nerve to buy me a new rucksack, suggesting that it might be time for Ryan to be replaced. Do I want to replace Ryan? As Rebecca said when I’d unwrapped it….

Cut It GIFs | Tenor

Amongst the many things my Mum & Dad got me, the highlight was this lovely keepsake. This will be worn as I walk Rebecca down the aisle next year and generally looked after as a lovely memento of turning 50.

Emily had put together a photo/music presentation, (in addition to getting me some Vans cos I am a cool and trendy Dad who is well down with the kids) which it turns out mainly included photos of me with food all over my face. It chronicled our trips over the years and the ever-increasing number of my chins, but it was lovely, and at the end, there was “just one last thing”…..

The final photo bore the caption….. The Beach Club was looking forward to welcoming me back.

Lousie and the girls know this is my favourite resort. No, that’s an understatement. It is one of my favourite places on the planet. They have arranged a night there during our trip in March for Louise and I. The fact that they had the absolute nerve to amend THE PLAN was forgiven. Having very sneakily got access to it without my suspecting a thing a few weeks ago, they have expertly dropped this addition in, without too much disruption and I can’t wait.

All in all, I was overwhelmed with everything and the huge efforts everyone had gone to in order to stop me sulking like a huge man-baby.

Of course, as soon as the “festivities” were over I had to fire up the laptop, dive into the plan and make sure the new addition was properly catered for. I am not known as a complete control freak for nothing.

They had done well to be fair. It bodes well for the years when I am no longer able to do all the planning and just need to be wheeled between meals and fireworks shows. Our stay is on the night of what would have been my birthday had we been there now, with that day seeing us in Epcot with (ADRs permitting) brunch at Beaches & Cream and dinner at La Hacienda de San Angel at the Mexico pavilion. So being able to wander back to the Beach club afterwards works well. Tom will have to assume driving duties and transport everyone else back to the villa.

The next day was marked as Volcano Bay, but it would be wasteful to leave the Beach Club early in the morning to do so, so that has been sacrificed so that we can spend the day at the resort. The others will spend a leisurely morning at the villa before joining us at some point for some rest time at one of the quiet pools there. That evening has hopes of dinner at Whispering Canyon, before the next two days being spent at the Hard Rock at Universal. This detailed level of planning pleases me greatly.

So after a lovely bank holiday Monday, I have spent my week off work mainly eating all the glorious leftovers from the celebrations. I have eaten more high-calorie crap this week than I may have done had we been in WDW. A bold statement, but the scales back up this claim. There has been some unavoidable unpleasantness in the form of DIY, but overall, so far being 50 has gone quite well.

As evidence of some sort of acceptance, I don’t even know where we should have been on this day had we been in WDW. If that isn’t a demonstration of maturity and personal growth, I don’t know what is. Being 50 might be good for me.

Till the next time……

That Was The Week The Wedding Wasn’t.

Before I move on to more important matters let’s get the angst-ridden holiday waffle over with.

There has been a lot happening this week. I’m sure some of it is positive and some negative but I have no idea which is which.

I was very surprised to see Universal announce they will open on June 5th. That’s a whole month ahead of when I thought that might happen. Once again, proof, as if you need it, that I have absolutely no clue. That feels early to me if I am honest but I refer you to my last sentence.

Disney Springs opened last week too. I watched some vlog footage of that and it looked very, very quiet so it’s hard to make any sort of judgement on that so it is one to watch I suppose.

Disney seems to be keeping their powder dry as to when their parks may open. I think there might be a couple of factors here. They may have been waiting to see what Universal announced and I think the discussions for them to host the rest of the NBA season at WDW were also a factor. That seems to be happening in July which may suggest their resorts and perhaps the parks might be open then too.

Then the 14-day quarantine was announced for folks entering the UK from June 8th. It may seem odd that the country with the worst record in Europe is starting that this month, long after other countries did, but little shocks me right now. There is no clue as to how long that will last for, but I think there’s an exception if you somehow manage to drive to Durham on your return to the country. Of course, if that were in place at the end of August, assuming entry into the US were allowed (and it currently isn’t) that would be another reason we won’t be able to go.

All ends up, we’re not really any further forward on knowing what will happen for us. The only real change is that I am more accepting of what will be I suppose. I don’t feel driven to be moving the thing right now as I was last week and I am fairly comfortable with seeing how things pan out. My own personal view right now is, should we be allowed and able to travel on our dates then I would be happy to go to have some form of holiday.

What I think will happen is that we won’t be able to travel and that will mean we should be able to cancel our villa booking without losing our chunky deposit and then I can then rebook the whole thing on the best dates for us rather than being tied to when that villa has availability. Having spent days (literally) finding that villa, that will be a bitter pill to swallow, but there is no perfect outcome here.

I think flights to the US will start running around our dates but I have a strange feeling that they will start from early September, discouraging those with kids from taking their summer holidays as schools may be open to some extent. Boy, am I glad my two are out of school. I do not envy any parent that decision of whether to send your kids to school. If my prediction is right (and there is no precedent for that) then our departure date will be a few days the wrong side of flights starting up and we will be rearranging.

We’re still three months out and things are changing rapidly now so who knows.

In more important news, yesterday should have been Rebecca and Tom’s wedding. They have, of course, been upset this week. It didn’t help that we couldn’t all be together to help them through it, but everyone rallied round as best we could to make the day as tolerable as possible. Flowers, afternoon teas, posh takeaways and all sorts of other treats were bestowed upon them from all sorts of folks and all things considered they had as nice a day as they could.

Rebecca made this lovely video for Tom which sums up how they feel about the whole thing.

It is no consolation but the weather yesterday would have made the day an interesting one with gale force winds for most of the day. Hopefully, next July will see better conditions.

I, like you no doubt, am very much over all these ruined plans and hope that we can return to some kind of certainty soon. A large chunk of my life is spent planning stuff so these conditions are not my natural habitat.

Till the next time……

Beach And Moan

It has become clear to me now that each week I shall just be papping on about our upcoming holiday and doing big baby wah wahs about the fact that it might not happen.

I’m sure you came to that realisation more quickly than I did.

Just a few short weeks ago I was very bullishly saying that there was no way that stuff would be locked down at the end of August. At the time, that was five months away. Now, as we round the corner of four months away, my hope is receding more quickly than my hairline did.

As I said a couple of weeks ago it’s the uncertainty that I don’t deal well with. For someone who revels in planning eating choices 180 days in advance all this “up in the air” stuff doesn’t sit well.

Right now my thinking is this. I think there is a 60/40 chance that non-essential travel to the US will be allowed. I think the parks will be open to some extent and crucially restaurants will be open with social distancing restrictions.

The parks seem to be gearing up for some sort of June opening, but it may be for Florida residents initially, then US guests and finally international ones, and I have no clue as to how quickly or slowly those changes will come.

However, there are a million things to consider.

  1. Even if travel by plane is allowed, considering I seem to get a cold every time I fly, do I really want to have us stuck in a metal tube of people for eight hours?
  2. Even if the parks are open, they may not be for international visitors.
  3. If they are, capacity may be very reduced, wait times very high and generally the experience may not be a good one.

It turns out there were three things to consider. I suppose the other thing to consider more generally is that I and nobody else really has a clue what the state of play will be in four months time.

With each passing day and more importantly Trump press conference, the US may have been wiped out by one his medical recommendations long before we have to worry if the Olive Garden is open.

One scenario I have percolating is where flights are operational and that removes our option to get a refund or a free move to new dates and therefore we (concerns about infectious metal tubes aside) would still need to fly or lose the cash, but the parks, for one reason or another aren’t doable.

What would we do then? Well, we’d save a heap of cash on theme park tickets and staying on-site at Universal for a start. My thinking is that we’d probably do a trip similar to the one we did in (I think) 2011. It was a road trip of sorts, starting in the Keys, then Naples, Vero and ending up in Orlando. Another twist on this winding road is that Universal “could” be open to on-site guests and that would include us, so we might still be able to do that. Complex, innit?

Should we need to do a different, non-park based trip then I am, semi-consciously constructing an itinerary. It is very early days, but to break up the trip I am thinking multiple locations, in a higher standard of accommodation than we may usually enjoy due to the savings mentioned before. Maybe both coasts? I don’t think we would venture south…..(not in the Alan Partridge sense) for a couple of reasons –

  1. It’s a long drive for us all but especially Freddie
  2. Miami and the south of Florida seems to be suffering more than other parts right now.

Vero may be an option so if anyone reading this has DVC points this wish to rent, stand by your beds, and the other side of the state anywhere from Clearwater down to Siesta Key would be the other option.

You know what’s coming now don’t you? For those of you that have done more of this beach stuff than we have, let me have your thoughts and recommendations, please. It may of course not happen, either because we don’t go at all, or we go and the parks are viable. Just typing that range of options gives me anxiety. Oh, certainty where art thou?

The other serious consideration for the non-park version of a trip may seem silly but, if you’ve followed any of our trips over the years it shouldn’t be. The only thing that stops us returning from holiday looking like this….

is the fact that we do a lot of steps most days around the parks. Should our days be based around the beach instead then I really fear for my weight gain capabilities. For the sake of my wardrobe, health and the person sat next to me on the flight home, if it comes to it, there will need to be some serious exertion during the days to counter this. Just being in lockdown is doing nothing for my waistline other than expanding it so the struggle is always real for me in that regard.

Beach holidays are not my first choice. You may have spotted this over the years as we tend to go to WDW! However, Louise loves it, and after being locked down for so long just being able to be together would be lovely and as much as Tom might be bored quite quickly, with Freddie to play with even his tolerance for doing not a lot may be raised.

If the season is still going we could take in a baseball game. Are there any other sporting events we might consider?

We’ve had some of our most lovely times in Florida during “beachy times” so this option would not be the disaster my big baby whinging is perhaps indicating I think it might be. We are of course lucky to be able to take these trips and a holiday in this form would be lovely, relaxing and one which would create a whole load of lovely memories.

In all the struggles currently ongoing, this isn’t one worthy of however many words I have just wasted on it, but, I spend the rest of the week concerning myself with all the other stuff as my tweeting testifies, so on Sundays, on my blog, I allow myself some self-indulgence.

I’d love to hear your current thinking on your upcoming trip, especially if you’re due to go at a similar time to us and what plans you are formulating if the parks are not the option they usually are.

Stay safe and stay indoors….

Till the next time…..

Sense and Sensibility

As we bid a fond farewell to summer for another year, it has at least served its purpose and allowed us another American Adventure. Clearly, being a grown man, with a job that almost matters, bills to pay and real life day-to-day issues I have this week done absolutely none of the following –

  1. Researched if it’s better to stay on site at Universal or to buy the Front of Line passes instead.
  2. Checked hotel prices for our on site stay.
  3. Spent a not inconsiderable amount of time working out our departure date, based on pesky work schedules, flight prices, the ability to do MNSSHP again and my inability to wait longer than I absolutely need to.
  4. Looked at several menus for restaurants we may eat in eighteen months from now.
  5. Browsed some villa websites.

Nope, I didn’t do any of those things as that would have just been silly.

If I had been that silly I would have discovered that Universal wanted £1500 for Front of Line passes for two days for our party. That is of course is in addition to our tickets to get into the park. This, Universal, is madness. An on site stay for the same number of folks in two rooms, (suck it up Emily, you’re sharing with Mum & Dad), was about £500. I guess the method in their madness is that they want you to stay on site as they hope you’ll spend more than the difference when you do.

So, on site it is. I would suspect, had I researched prices, I would have decided that it will be the Royal Pacific again. We love the Hard Rock, but it’s about £300 more and as we’ll probably only be there for one night it seems silly. However, when we come to book at a time more sensible, we shall see what deals are around. I mean, what idiot would be looking so far away from their travel dates?

As if he somehow knew what was being planned, Freddie recently took part in a photo shoot, and naturally it had a strong Disney theme. Indulge me sharing a handful of them here….

He’ll thank his Mum no doubt for that Mickey costume when these are shared at his 21st!

Again, if I were an idiot, I might have had an extended conversation with Emily about how tall Freddie might be when we go and which rides that might mean he can go on. Thankfully, I am not that stupid.

Sticking to my declaration last week that I won’t over plan this trip will be a test of my resolve, mainly as it is a long way off and but also because I am a sad act.

I mean, how silly would it be for me to ask both my readers to send me their suggestions for any nice 4 bed villas they know of in developments around Sunset Lakes, Emerald Island, Lindfields and Formosa Gardens. If I had given it any thought at all, I would know that we only want to be staying in that area. Don’t be suggesting me stuff ten miles down the 27 that claims to be “15 minutes from Disney”, this isn’t my first rodeo.

Thankfully, such silliness has not taken place, and I am proud to see nobody else in our travelling party has indulged in any such nonsense. I mean, had I been an obsessed over excited idiot, I might have sent my daughter a text just to tell her that Caseys’s now do a foot long Corn Dog only to have her tell me that my other daughter had already messaged her the day before to tell her the exact same thing. They make me proud every day.

Till the next time…..

Hagrid Makes Me Happy

I have long been an admirer of Disney. I appreciate this may not be a surprise to many of you, but it is true. I do recognise they are not without their flaws. The fact that they insist on charging me to enter their parks and stay at their hotels being the largest. They are also a money-making machine, as is their right, but I do feel like many others, that they price things a little too high, and it has only been fifteen minutes since they increased the price for parking at one of their theme parks.

What really impressed me this week was their control of the weather. I know that may sound odd but there is no other explanation. Clearly, at the last Disney board meeting, as they were studying my latest blog posts, there must have been real concern and the risk of a profits warning at the news that we would not be returning any time soon. So they called the weather department with an urgent request.

Said department were clearly instructed to crank up the temperature and reveal the long hidden sun in the UK. These February balmy temperatures cannot be explained away with any other plausable scenario. Why did they do this I hear you ask?

Well I will tell you. If you trawl back through last (almost) ten years of this nonsense (who is sillier, me for writing these for ten years, or you for reading them? Think on) you will see that every time we say we have no Florida plans, it is pretty much always at the first sign of spring that we buckle and find some way to do so. Now, I am not saying at this stage that anything is booked. Certainly this year will not be possible, but alongside the Disney weather Gods making the weather nice, they also got their fierce competitor to announce a new roller coaster.

What nonsense is this? What am I going on about? Well, they realise that the decision to go to my happy place is always dependent on the green light from Louise. They also know, from my blogs, that Louise is a huge Universal fan too. So due to the combo of the nice weather and Disney making Universal do their bidding, this happened.

For those concerned for Louise’s health, she had been close to the toilet for many hours this week. You know she doesn’t mind me sharing this stuff, right back to the Vagisil episode of an earlier trip report.

So having sworn that we would not be darkening Florida’s shores within the foreseeable, with a caveat that nothing yet is guaranteed, the Disney board, along with their weather department and spies within Universal may have influenced Louise enough to have opened a door. It’s impressive.

When Craig, I hear you ask? When will you be returning? I don’t know dear reader, but thanks for asking. All I know is that next year contains a significant birthday for me and if I’m not stood in Epcot at some point during that day either the world will have ended or Louise will have changed my mind. It’s on!

For now, there’s no formal planning in progress (or real clue as to how to fund it) for many reasons. It needs to ferment a little in my mind first. Clearly Universal is “in scope” due to the newly announced roller-coaster successfully chipping away at Louise’s will, so that needs to be considered, and baked into the overall schedule. But, and this may shock you, I intend to learn the lesson of the last trip and not over plan things. This may strike you as strange and going against everything I stand for, and you would probably be right, but it needs to be done.

Things will be planned and organised of course, but I intend to leave more to ever-changing winds of freewill and the going of flows.

There is also the as yet un-researched (as I was sulking due to us not going) imminent opening of Stars Wars Land to look into. There are some practical things of course, like a wedding to organise and pay for yet, but the die is cast and the cogs are turning.

So thank you to the Disney weather department, you have played a blinder. I thank you, even though my retirement savings plan may not. Rebecca, Emily, don’t ever plan on inheriting a penny, you have and are enjoying it in the form of sunshine, fun and food, and I suspect you respect my decision.

Now that I have blogged about this, it shall be so, and the green light cannot be over turned. That is the law.

Till the next time…..

Freddie’s First Florida Fiesta – Day Five 2nd September 2018

I look at my notes for today and it says we had a lazy start. It feels like there was a lot of this already this trip. I do wonder then why, looking back now, that I was definitely the most tired I have ever been on one of these things this year.

Sure, I’m the oldest I’ve ever been, but without stealing my Jerry Springer style summing up at the end thunder, I may have pushed the pace too hard.

Anyway, lazy we were and there was some TV watching, Freddie had his toast for breakfast and everyone generally did nothing until about 10.30 when readying began. We left the villa at 11.30 and headed for what turned out to be a very busy I4. I don’t tend to think about things like this when planning, but we were heading for Toothsome for lunch, and if I were back home I would seriously question driving that far to anywhere for lunch. It’s different here and on holiday of course food is very much part of the destination not the journey for us, and there is only one Toothsome, so travel we must and did.

It took us forty-five minutes to get to a Universal car parking spot and, another thing I wouldn’t do at home, I spent $22 on parking without blinking an eye or ranting for three and half hours, which I definitely would do in the UK.

We were in Spiderman 455. We unloaded everyone and Freddie’s stroller and after a battle with some escalators and some elevators that weren’t working, or at least not quickly enough for my patience, we were on the moving walkways and heading into City Walk.

By jingo it was hot.

We arrived at Toothsome, and again, it’s a bloody long walk from the car to get there, just after 12.45. There was no wait and we were taken upstairs and seated immediately.

Now, we were here for food. The chap at the front desk clarified that, as they must get a load of folks rocking up just for milkshakes. Regardless of our dining intentions, our priority of course was a milkshake so we spent many minutes looking at a menu we had read many times before the trip, even watching a vlog about them all, to help in our decision-making process.

I still rushed it a bit, and ended up blurting one out feeling pressured by the waiting server.

Me – PB&J

Mikey & Rebecca – Celebration

I can only apologise for the blatant lack of a photo. There is no excuse.

Emily – Key Lime

Tom – Brownie

Louise – No milkshake, but some wine

They are absolutely bloody lovely. I know they look impressive and that is important, but the taste does not disappoint. I loved mine as did everyone else.

We sucked on these whilst waiting for our meals to arrive.

Me – Red Reuben

Louise – Houmous & a side of Onion Rings

 

Emily, Mikey and Rebecca – Chicken Sandwich

Tom – Burger

Freddie – Pasta

Imagine the fullest thing you can, double it and add a bit more and that was me. I was absolutely stuffed, bordering on hospitalisation. So a good meal!

We walked, slowly, back to the car in incredible heat wondering if we would ever need to eat again. (We did).

The plan stated that this afternoon was a non-theme park day and instead we were to go shopping. How this would make the day any more restful, I have never known, but we have always done some shopping so off we went. The location was to be the Premium Outlet Malls at Lake Buena Vista.

The fatal flaw in this plan was defined by the very reason for its existence. Today was Labor (sic) Day weekend, and as such, my plan was to stay as far away from theme park crowds as possible. It seemed that all of those crowds had instead congregated at this mall. We toured the car park for about twenty minutes before finally admitting defeat. There was just no chance of us finding a spot and so I left that traffic nightmare and drove straight into another. The queue of cars to get back to the Crossroads area (Benny says Hi….ask your granddad) past Bahama Breeze was just bobbins. We sat and waited for about half an hour inching forward slowly. Just as we got to the front of the queue some f*ck nugget tried to just indicate and swing in right in front of us. If Freddie’s first words are unrepeatable, this moment will be why. I can assure you, I did not let him in.

Denied of retail therapy at one location we headed to Disney Springs, where these days, the one thing you can be pretty sure of is a parking spot. We pulled into Lime, found a spot easily and disembarked.

We wandered some shops, I have to say halfheartedly.  Emily got a hoodie but other than that nothing was purchased and enthusiasm for such was very low it had to be said.

Rebecca voiced those views first and said they’d rather be in a park. Faced with a fairly forceful sulk, it was agreed that we’d chance a theme park as they couldn’t be any busier than these bloody shops.

Don’t worry, the pin had been removed from the back of this badge…I mean pin…no, I mean badge. There was nothing sharp on what Freddie was holding here is what I am saying.

Once back in the car we pointed the van at Magic Kingdom. He who dares wins.

We parked in…

At this time of day there was no army of Cast Members waving you to the bottom of a row so we drifted around the car park like it was the Premium Outlet Mall again until we found a spot.

We were by now getting quite skilled at the routine from the car, onto the tram and off again. Everyone had assumed a role, and we dismantled the stroller and boarded in a few seconds like on of those F1 pit land crews. We didn’t wear helmets though.

We monorailed in

Once in the park we consulted the app to see what horrendous queues awaited us and to confirm that no FastPasses would be available for anything.

 

I have to say, I struggled with the app this year. It was constantly flakey. Certain pages never loaded. For example, whenever I viewed our plans, unless I filtered by something, no content appeared. It froze a lot and was generally about as fast as an episode of Poldark. (Sorry my hatred for all Sunday evening period dramas seeps out now and again).

With every ride rammed we resorted to meeting a character. We rarely do this these days and hadn’t done any this trip. With Freddie with us, we should and we did. We struck out up Main Street heading for Tomorrowland and Buzz who was out doing a meet.

On the way, we passed “the purple wall”. If you “do” Instagram you’ll know….

Mikey, Tom and Rebecca joined the queue for Buzz for Freddie’s first ever official character meet.

We wondered if he would be terrified of them. It may run in the family as Louise is quite scared of other large things with weird heads.

As they queued I loitered ready to take a few photos once they got to Buzz.  There was an Edna drive by…

We needn’t have worried about Freddie. Like everything else on this trip he took Buzz in his stride.

As did Mikey.

Whilst waiting I had used the app to book some FastPasses having found some actually did exist. The first of which was…

This is a ride I hadn’t been on since 2003 I think. After a pre-ride wee our FastPass time came around and we all boarded except Louise who I think thought it may be too thrilling for her.

After feeding Freddie, we now headed back to Tomorrowland (sure, I do know we just came from there…) and we did the old faithful rides when things are busy and you need something to do between FastPasses. First,

Even this had a small queue, but we were soon aboard, enjoying Magic Kingdom at dusk.

When you are “the planner” of the group there can be a certain pressure. Every time you leave a ride all eyes turn to you with a “What now?” attached. So I often find that whilst on one ride my mind is thinking of the next step or two. In this case, the answer was right in front of me and we did Carousel of Progress.

There was a holiday many years ago when Rebecca was obsessed with the song and we had it in the car for the whole fortnight. There is no greater testament of our love for her than the fact that she survived.

Our second FastPass was now due and thankfully it was for Buzz and not some ride at the other side of the park.

Again, the scores weren’t important. These competitive Dads who can’t just appreciate the joy of taking part with their family are a real source of dismay!

As we exited the ride the fireworks were on. This was a problem as Emily and I had been avoiding all online showings of Happily Ever After so that we could watch it for the first time live. So as we bolted for the exit, we did our best not to look up or indeed listen to what was going on! We must have looked a bit strange, head down, shouting instructions to each other, trying to avoid the gathered crowds whilst only looking at the pavement.

The other concern of course was that the fireworks would finish, and thousands of folks would start heading for the exit too, so this was a full paced extraction. We still took the resort monorail as the queue looked shorter and we were soon back at the car.

Right, time to get back on plan! Applebees it said and Applebees we would do.

We did the one on the 192 and were pleasingly seated immediately. More pleasing for those not driving was the news that it was two for one on most alcoholic drinks.

There were so many flying about that I lost track of what they were.

This one is actually Tom’s milkshake. He has an addiction problem, and this is it.

 

 

Freddie was alseep so we had brought him in still in his car seat. Applebees had an ingenious contraption that could be placed at the end of the table that we could rest that on so he wasn’t on the floor.

The fact that the only child in our party was out of it did not stop us from commissioning something from the wandering balloon person.

 

Yes, even at my age, I can still get Woody.

We ordered some appetisers as it had been several hours since our life threatening amount of food at Toothsome.

Me and Emily shared some nachos. Louise and Mikey had some Mozzarella sticks.

For mains we had –

Me – Thai Salad

Louise, Mikey and Emily – Various Pasta things

 

Tom – Club Sandwich

Rebecca – Boneless Wings

Who knows why I didn’t photograph those!

It was all superb. I know Applebees isn’t fine dining but it is good fun, great quality and at $200 including a 20% tip great value too. Full and tired I got us back home and we were in bed by 11.20.

Till the next time…..

 

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…..

 

Ask The Bill Payer’s Permission….

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

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

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

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

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

The usual Orlando based holiday.

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

California

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

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

Somewhere Else Other Than The US

I have nothing to add here.

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

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

 

Till the next time…..

The Adults Only Tour 2016 – Day Nine

Day Nine – 4th September

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

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

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

I took the photo that everybody takes…

and made the long walk through the park towards Hogwarts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After a brief stop for photos…

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

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

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

Once we had a drink we wandered through Seuss Landing.

We rode One Fish, Two Fish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This brought us full circle back to Hogsmeade.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the ride we stumbled upon Megatron.

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

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

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

I had…

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

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

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

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

I think this is another view of mine.

It made me happy, fat and blurred.

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

Rebecca shared this with Sarah.

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

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

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

Till he next time…..

The Adults Only Tour 2015 – Day Eight

Day Eight – 3rd September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We enjoyed another strong pre-show here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandad’s bumbag game was strong!

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

Then of course the smile comes out for the selfie.

Louise and I are less skilled at this art.

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

Me and Emily – Pulled Pork Sandwich

Sarah and Louise – Fajitas

Grandad – Shrimp Platter

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

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

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

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

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

Till the next time…..

A Ticket To The Magic

The post doesn’t often deliver things to brighten my life. Bills, junk and more bills are the daily routine for those still intent on killing trees to tell me stuff, but this week, a rare delivery of joy tumbled through our front door. Well, actually it tumbled out of our post lady’s hand into mine as I signed for it.

ticketsUpon opening said package, our upcoming holiday raced a little closer towards us as our theme park tickets tumbled out. It is always a significant milestone in any WDW countdown as I’m sure most of you can appreciate. Once the weekend came and I had a little time, I undertook the task of linking each Disney ticket to our Disney app thingy.

For five out of the six it worked like a dream, seamlessly linking each scanned ticket to the person for which it was intended. As a side note, I decided who got what ticket, as I wanted to avoid the ugly scenes of Nana and Grandad wrestling each other to the ground for the Mickey ticket last time! The final ticket decided it didn’t want to play ball and wouldn’t link. However, when I then tried to link it again, the app told me that ticket had already been linked. Evaluating the two options of cancelling the whole trip and going to Butlins instead or seeking technical assistance from Disney, I opted for the latter.

I called the number suggested to me by the app, disregarding the enormous expense of a call to the US, as I am just crazy like that. I was connected quickly after a few IVR choices and was soon embraced in the warm, welcoming Disney tones of some chap on the help line. The US accent alone evokes every positive memory of every previous trip and I could almost feel the Florida sunshine coming down the phone line. The service was of course outstanding, with courtesy, apologies for the inconvenience and a promise to have things resolved promptly. He apologised again for having to put me on hold for a moment to check things out, but he needn’t have, as when the first few bars of the hold music kicked in I filled up and had to compose myself quickly as he returned to line.

A quick refresh of the app confirmed that the issue was resolved and every traveler was now linked. Not content with sorting out my problem, he enquired, with seemingly genuine interest, when our trip was, where we were staying and how long we would be staying with them. If I could have hugged him I would. One step from me suggesting we get married, he thanked me for my call and instructed me to have a magical day. Upon ending the call I sat collecting myself for a few moments before carrying on with every day life. The latter, being at times consistently challenging, with this week being no exception, this is an insight into how the Disney magic really operates. Whenever you engage with the Disney brand, be it on the phone, in a store or actually in the parks, it is that temporary escape from what can be quite sucky reality and long may it continue.

You will notice from the picture above that our Universal tickets also arrived. As much as I love those parks and the on site experience, for me personally, they just haven’t yet delivered that immersive experience of that elusive magic that will always see us visit Disney, with Universal being a casual and occasional addition.

Aside from tales of grown men over reacting to a simple call to Disney, I again find myself exhausted on a Sunday after two gigs on successive nights this weekend. Whilst I have no interest or much respect for their musical output, I tip my hat to the Rolling Stones, who tour in their 70’s. Two gigs in a weekend and I am ready for the scrap heap. Mind you, they don’t have to work all week and then transport, carry, set up and then take down their own gear, so I suspect they wouldn’t  be in great shape either after carting our gear up and then down two flights of stairs last night.

Both nights were good and I am now becoming much more comfortable with the whole thing, feeling like I know all the songs well enough to relax a little. We have a weekend off next week, but then three weddings on the bounce over the next couple of weekends. After that, we have a fairly lengthy break as there are lots of holidays within the band, including of course mine.

I must go now to stare at my theme park tickets a little more.

Till the next time…..