Binging, Bean and Bonkers Behaviour

Remember when it wasn’t raining? Good times, good times…..

The weather has been a meteorological metaphor for my past week at work. Each raindrop representing some element of my working week that washed away my energy, resilience and will to live.

With no immediate end in sight to the current madness and a diary chock full of things I don’t want to do with people I don’t want to do it with, I am clinging onto sanity by looking at my fridge door on a regular basis. Why? Because that’s where our countdown sits.

Evenings have been a vegetative state of binge watching, with Louise similarly busy, it’s all we can muster. Last week we polished off the new Killing Eve in two nights, caught the first episode of the new series of Handmaid’s Tale and then, whilst surfing around Netflix, Louise chose Dr Foster. We are always on the cutting edge of new releases. I probably wouldn’t have picked it to be honest but it was largely good. The end of series 2 seemed to be a case of the writers losing it a bit and letting the whole thing get away from them, but it was very watchable for the most part.

I was out gigging last night at a wedding in Tottington/Bury and Louise took the opportunity to binge watch all of the current series of Love Island. This has to happen when I’m out of the house otherwise I have to set the TV on fire.

Away from exciting TV related news, that I know you live for in these blogs, yesterday Rebecca started her wedding dress search. She, Louise and Emily went to a couple of shops where apparently you now need to make appointments. Clearly I am not involved in this process and will not see the selection until the day, but she has not yet found “the one” but did try a few on which she really liked and found it helpful.

The cake has been ordered now and lots of other things are being looked at and selected. It’s full on this wedding lark isn’t it?

During the hurly burly of my working week I got wind of utter madness going down in Orlando. I have to say it did fill me with a bit of horror and dread for what might be in store with the opening of Galaxy’s Edge. I didn’t have time to read too much detail of what was going on, but for the opening of what (it seems to me) is the re-theming of a fairly standard roller coaster, folks were waiting over ten hours. Ten. Hours!!

I barely tolerate a flight shorter than that to get to Orlando never mind to ride one thing. Come on folks, have a word with yourselves. Apparently the park had to shut the gates at 10am after reaching capacity, and the queue literally filled the whole park.

I mean, I have a soft spot for this ride already. For those paying attention, it was the announcement of this ride that forced Louise into wanting to go back, (next year) to ride it. Sure, another trip then got shoe horned in this year but still, it has played its part in our Orlando obsession. But, look, just, look….

Look at how happy they look. Ten hours…….ten hours!!

I would go so far as to say, despite all my work related moaning that I probably would rather spend a day at work than queue for anything for ten hours. That is the level of my disdain for this stupidity.

Before I go, I need to mention two occasions of note. The first, as Emily would be upset if I didn’t give it a “shout out”, is Bean’s third birthday. She’s a pain in the arse at times, but can also be a loving, funny ginger nuisance. Happy Birthday Bean.

The other of course is Father’s Day. With both of my daughters having the audacity to be spending this morning out of my house with their respective partners, there was no breakfast in bed and I had to source my own bowl of Shreddies.

Having said that, I live next door to my Dad and I didn’t make him breakfast either so I suppose that’s fair enough. I shall pop round later Dad with a gift that will in no way reflect what you deserve for everything you’ve done for me, Louise and the girls. Happy Father’s Day to my Dad, all of yours and of course to those Dads who aren’t here to receive their gifts in person. Louise’s Dad is in that category so a special mention to him.

Oh, and it’s 72 days folks. I don’t know if I’ll remember to give you a weekly update on that but I hope so!

Till the next time…..

To Siesta Key…And Beyond Tour 2017 – Day Four April 14th 2017

Day four already? This trip will soon be over for the second time before we know it.

No alarms were set this morning and I rose majestically without any need for encouragement at 7am. I got out of bed shortly afterwards too.

It took the usual hour and a bit for everyone to be ready and our first stop was at the gift shop in reception. Louise needed to buy a cover up T-shirt as, amazingly, she had somehow got herself sunburned. How this happened is a mystery to us all.

With one “Yes I am Tourist” Universal Studios T-shirt secured and adorned we could start the day. We water taxied again, tolerating yet more dreadful weather…

and arrived into the park at 8.50. Top of our list today was the new (to us) Kong ride. The ten minute walk from the entrance to the ride felt longer than that but we Expressed our way in just after 9.

Since this ride opened Emily has had a never-ending panic attack at the thought of encountering scare actors in the queue. This made the walk through the queue area a little nervy for her but thankfully for her it turns out there weren’t any in the Express queue.

As with most rides, the first time is a bit of a blur looking back. I was impressed with it though and it is something a little different to traditional rides with the mix of actual ride stuff and the 3D film elements.

Having ticked off our main objective before the park got busy naturally we needed food having only had a light snack last night. We walked back into the Marvel area in search of something stupidly unhealthy….apart from me.

Emily and I struck out at a proper walking pace having left Louise to sunbathe on a bench. Yes, she was already burnt, but this made perfect sense and should not be questioned.

Like some sort of sugar filled tractor beam our bodies ended up outside Cinnabon, which had a handy Starbucks next to it. I drank whatever Emily ordered and we got some stuff from Cinnabon that you’d struggle to qualify as food. It was ridiculously good.

We walked back to Louise, juggling our haul and made it to a bench with an umbrella not far from Spiderman.

With a huge sugar rush surging through my system it made perfect sense to add a good dose of adrenalin to that so we went to ride the Hulk. We Expressed but it was a slightly disappointing fifteen minutes. Again, a locker was required. These new lockers are operated by your park ticket which is a neat idea, but Universal do employ one member of staff to stand by the lockers with a microphone repeating “Do not lock your park ticket in the locker!” endlessly, over and over and over and over.

The fact that despite this I very nearly did proves that humans are stupid.

After its big refurb, I have to say I didn’t spot a great deal of difference but I can’t say that I memorised how it was before. The start of the ride felt a little quicker but that could be my accelerating old age. It remains a great ride and a guaranteed trigger for my roller coaster Tourettes.

Somehow Mum & Dad were waiting for us as we exited the ride. Perhaps they heard my swearing as I rode?

Those with an Express ticket rode Spiderman next, whilst those who didn’t had a sit under the same umbrella we breakfasted under. Again, it was a fifteen minute queue.

We made our way into the Jurassic area of the park and got a drink. It was hot today. I was taking a photo of Emily and Mum resting on a wall (there doesn’t need to be a reason, OK?) when a kind lady offered to take one of the three of us.

As I took my place on the wall I whispered to Emily that if this nutter did a runner with my camera, as the youngest it was her job to chase her down.

Now, just to be clear for those in a panic at that photo. That is Dad’s rucksack. Being a good son (sometimes) I took it off him to make his walking around a bit easier. Ryan was back in our room enjoying the facilities unaware of my infidelity.

I apologise for my rare appearance in a photo.

We all joined the non Express queue for the Jurassic River thingy with the promise of a thirty minute wait. As we entered, staff were rejigging the queue rope things to extend it and altering the wait time to 45 minutes. I submitted an immediate written complaint and stood there and sucked it up.

We got a lot less wet than I remember. Emily seemed to have finally conquered her childhood terror and fear of this ride caused by some idiot parents taking her on it when she didn’t want to at a young age.

We wandered on for a bit and entered the discovery centre in search of some cool air.

There wasn’t much else of interest in there to be honest so we made our way out of the rear of the building to discover a lovely view.

After a few minutes taking that in and posting it on Facebook to remind everyone we were here and they weren’t, we walked on a bit going nowhere in particular.

For regular readers, this is a special moment. We’d eaten a lot recently and it was therefore probably inevitable that at this point I encountered, for the first time this trip, turtle head.

That (attempt at a) joke feels like a member of the family I am so familiar with it. As I took the camera out to take that photo, Louise began to ask me why and then stopped. She knew….we all knew.

Having already spent her allocated shopping budget for this trip on that very special Universal Studios T-shirt this morning, Louise was going crazy trying to find some sandals. It is as inevitable as the turtle head joke that a few days into the trip, whatever footwear Louise has brought with her will no longer be suitable and we must undertake a mission to find ones that are. We went into EVERY shop on our wanders, with no joy.

Her pain would have to continue…..and I did.

I do try to give my own wardrobe choices a little thought. For example, it is not the done thing to wear Disney merchandise in Universal and vice versa. Knowing which park we were doing today and that it included a certain ride, I had chosen this one today.

I am actually more muscular under the T-shirt, but not green.

We found ourselves in the Seuss bit of the park

and Emily and I used our Express specialness to go on One Fish, Two Fish.

Sure, we are 46 and 21 and every other rider was not, but we cared not one jot.

It was time for another tactical meal, which required us to satisfy our immediate hunger (which was mild) and yet still leave our bodies ready for tonight’s inevitable onslaught. We chose the Croissant Moon Bakery as it was close and we had eaten there before so we knew they did sandwiches etc. Their isn’t a huge amount of choice but it did the job.

I failed to record what everyone had and to take any photos other than these…

You can do a post-mortem to figure out what we had just eaten. I think I had a hogie but I would probably be able to get a cream for that when we called at the pharmacy next.

We walked back to Spiderman so that Mum & Dad could ride and then headed for the wet rides. Mum and Dad declined the chance to get wet through on Dudley Do Right so the three of us entered via Express. Whenever you enter this ride you know that every item of clothing you are in will be drenched. What you don’t expect is to get into that state before you get on the ride itself. As we walked through the queue, above us a boat cornered and threw out a huge wave of water over the edge to unsuspecting idiots below which with perfect timing, I walked into.

My shock was only matched by Louise and Emily’s laughter. I buried my anger deep and plotted my dastardly revenge whilst stood in a stupidly long queue for us Express special people. The ice cool air conditioning was a joy for anyone who had just been soaked to the skin. Thirty minutes with Express isn’t really acceptable in my spoiled, over entitled head.

Everyone who walks from Dudley Do Right’s to the Bilgerats ride says things like “Well, we can’t get any wetter”. Everyone is wrong. You absolutely can.

We joined the muggle queue so that we could all ride together and it was annoyingly longer than the 20 minutes posted. As usual we got wetness in places that hadn’t been wet for a long time. We left the raft and quickly noticed that we were missing a member of our party.

We turned around to see Mum still sat in the barge. Maybe she wanted to ride again? Turns out she couldn’t get the seat belt off and the barge was moving round ever closer to her having to ride the thing all over again. Dad was trying to free her and then several members of staff also boarded the vessel in an attempt to free the Bolton One.

The rest of us of course stood watching and laughing.

With moments to spare the seat belt was opened and another ride averted.

Too wet to do anything else now we headed for the exit. Emily and I went in the opposite direction to everyone else as she wanted to buy a sweat shirt she had seen at the Jurassic River Ride earlier. After making that purchase we continued to do a full loop of the park at full walking pace. It felt good.

The park was very busy now, especially around Potter and we did our best full speed walking, people dodging moves to make our way back to the entrance. Feeling a tiny bit peckish we stopped for a quick snack.

We only wanted a churro and a pretzel yet were subjected to one of the most frustrating waits of the entire trip. That family at the front appeared to be doing their weekly grocery shop here and then paying with about six different credit cards. I have seldom tutted so loudly.

We ate our snacks as we walked to meet the others hoping to have done so before we got there to avoid any unnecessary sharing. We all walked back to the water taxi and then I drove Mum & Dad back “home”.

Louise and Emily did their lady readying things for a while and we left at 6.05. No doubt I had said we needed to leave at 6, but they do it out of spite. The traffic was awful for some reason so it took ten minutes to get to Mum & Dad and then much longer than I had planned it would to get to the Poly for our dinner at ‘Ohana. After a stressful, steering wheel gripping, teeth grinding journey we arrived at 7.10.

Before our meal we went to Trader Sam’s for a drink and hopefully some fun.

The only seats were those at the bar, so we mounted a stool each and looked at the cocktail menu. For those not familiar with this place, it is a grown up, cocktail serving version of Whispering Canyon. If you haven’t been to Whispering Canyon then I can’t help you.

Various rum based cocktails were ordered. I have no idea what they were, other than I had a Skipper Sipper which was from the “I’m driving” section of the menu.

I did taste Dad’s cocktail and it was what I imagine petrol to taste like. Bloody hell it was strong and he had to really battle through it to get it down. Louise had less trouble. You won’t be surprised to learn that she ordered a cocktail which was intended for sharing.

The bar tenders are very entertaining and there are several “show pieces” they do when certain drinks are ordered, but I won’t spoil those.

We did two rounds of drinks. Louise was sat at one end of the bar and I at the other and we had “chosen” the two comedy bar stools that slowly lower themselves to the ground. She can probably blame the drink but I noticed fairly quickly and stood up for a bit. About five minutes later Louise turned to her side to find she was looking at everyone’s knees and wondered if she’d fallen over.

Being the tourist suckers we are, we purchased every souvenir glass it was possible to do so and with that in mid our bar bill was somewhere close to our monthly mortgage. Well, we are on holiday.

With four fifths of the party now a little worse for wear we had to find ‘Ohana and check in. As is always the case it seems, as we got to the check in podium there was a family in front of us taking much longer than it should to undertake a simple task. We stood waiting for almost ten minutes as they faffed and discussed why the poor cast member couldn’t find their reservation. They resorted to texting someone called Kay to ask what name the reservation would be in. Then Kay was asked what time it was made for and how many people it was made for. Rather than call Kay and find all this out in one go, we waited for the texts to come back with dwindling patience.

What they didn’t ask Kay was which fecking restaurant their reservation was for. Turns out it was Kona Kafe. Thanks Kay. How we laughed and laughed. The cast member smiled and wished them a magical day as did we all.

We took about seven seconds to check in and started the wait for our table.

After about ten minutes we were seated. I don’t know what the odds of this are but we were shown to the exact same table we had the last time we were here …

The bread and salad arrived immediately and were lovely.

Then the mains started to arrive…

Shortly after that several men turned up waving their meaty swords at us. We were also served chicken, shrimp and steak and it was awesome.

We ate more than any human should. Dad had a really bad attack of heartburn towards the end of the meal. I think his rum cocktail was melting his insides to be honest. He had some milk and a visit to the loo and felt a bit better.

It didn’t matter how full we were, pudding had to be done as it was the main reason we had booked this place.

We all shared this…

It was incredible and probably took a couple of years off my life expectancy.

At 9.40 we paid and wandered down to the beach to find a spot to watch Wishes from the beach.

The music was inaudible/non-existent so we were probably sat in the wrong place, but the view was great.

My camera skills were less great so I will only share a couple of my attempts.

We meandered back to the car with a stop at the front desk as Louise had left her sunglasses on the table in the restaurant. Luckily they had been discovered and handed in. Those cocktails have a lot to answer for.

The drive home and the drop off for Mum & Dad were uneventful and we were all in bed by 11.30 thinking about which clothes might still fit us tomorrow.

Till the next time…..

A postcard from Drayton Manor

As my trepidation filled previous post outlined, we were off to Drayton Manor on Saturday, and this meant a fairly painful early start to the day.  I was personally up at 6.30, and after a quick shower I was then stuck with the job of waking up Emily, Rebecca and Nat (Rebecca’s friend) in an attempt to get to the park before lunchtime.

They were pretty good to be honest, and we left the house at 8am, only half an hour later than I felt would be ideal.  The SatNav predicted just under two hours, which should be fine for a 10am opening.  Indeed yes, we arrive at 9.40 (what do you mean I must have broken the speed limit?) and with a complete lack of queue, caused by the sub zero temperatures and what turned out to be constant drizzle for the entire day, we are into the park just before 10.

Medieval Fringes

How happy I was to learn then that the rides did not open until 10.30!! So we wander about a bit and try to kill some time and get our bearings. With the cold starting to turn apendages blue, we seek out an indoor space to cower in for half an hour.  A hot drink each sets us back the best part of a tenner, and we wait for stuff to be open.

We then wander outside and see rides starting up, and decide to do a nice gentle one to get everyone warmed up.  It was a sort of Octupus style thing, but with Mexican Hats!!  Yes, I know.  A decent enough ride, apart from the fact that the bucket seats were filled with an inch or two of rain.  When asked if they were going to wipe the seats down, the “cast member” shrugged and walked back to the hut he started the ride from.

So with moist bottoms, we endure the ride as the wetness made its way north.  Nice start.

Apocolypse ride
The Terror of a Tower

Rebecca has turned into an absolute fear free zone in theme parks, and is not happy to realise that Nat, and to some extent Emily are less than daring with every ride.  This also impacts on me as I am now dragged onto the Apocalypse ride with Rebecca.

Don’t get me wrong, I like most rides and fear very few, but I am less than keen on the ones that take you up a couple of hundred feet and just drop you to the floor.  Indeed, as we find ourselves walking straight on to the ride, and making our way up the tower (how bloody high does this go???) I did turn to Rebecca and tell her that I hated her!!

She looked less than convinced that this was a great idea, but of course it was all too late now.  Sat at the top of the tower, having left my glasses with the attendant, I can make out rough shapes below, and it seems Louise was one of them, waving with a very wicked smile on her face.

Those few seconds before realease were pure hell.  What few muscles I possess, I had them tensed.  Then, the fall happened.  My God.

Feeling just a little sick, we stagger back to the other cowardly lot, and mentally make a note that we don’t need to do that ride again.

The rest of the day is spent trying to avoid hyperthermia, and the heaviest of the rain.  They have some decent rides, like G Force, although the loading capacity is shocking, and the ride very short.  The girls enjoyed the pirate ship thing too.

It is very obvious that someone from Drayton has been to Florida.  There are some things that have been lifted almost directly.

They have the shark hanging upside down thing, just like Universal, and a couple of rides are sort of “own brand” equivalents of US rides.  The Happy Feet 4D cinema thing is sort of like Philharmagic/Shrek 4D, but just less good!  As an example, during the show it won’t surprise you to learn that the seats move, and some water is sprayed on you.  We sat on the front row, and I wondered why every time the audience screamed at getting wet I was wasn’t.

As I left the show I realised why.  The jet of water was aimed perfectly at my crotch.  A large target area I grant you, but I spent the rest of the day looking like I had poor bladder control.

The ultimate rip off though is the Pirate’s Adventure ride.  The attempted similarities to Pirates of the Carribean are beyond uncanny, from the entrance/queue, to the boats, even down to the scenes as you go around.  The scene with the dog holding the keys is identical, although the dog at Drayton is a goat….yeh, we couldn’t work that out either.

It really is a complete rip off, scene by scene, just on a crapper level, with much poorer execution.

Bearded Dragon
Is that lamp portable, I'm freezing?

The zoo is OK.  The highlight of the day was the reptile house.  The reason being it was lovely and warm, and we spent a long time in there!

I am aware that my level of negativity isn’t good, and it might sound snobby to say that if you hadn’t been to WDW, you might not have the same opinion.  Snobby it may be but I think it is true.  I can’t help that really.

As expected the staff were young kids, with little or no interest in the guests, just going through the motions.  This is the essence of the difference between the UK and US experience.  No-one was rude really, just bored, cold and looking forward to going home, which spookily is how we felt too.

To be fair, Rebecca enjoyed the rides, so in terms of her birthday outing it was fine, and gladly she and Emily took it all in the right spirit.  Yes, we know it isn’t Florida, but we’ll make the best of it.  Maybe some day they can teach me that level of maturity!

I tweeted a couple of times during and after the day, and I was mildy impressed to find that Drayton Manor has replied to one tweet where I said…

“Back from Drayton Manor, kerrriiiist it was cold!! Dominos ordered, heating on. If I say I’m going to a UK theme park again, shoot me”.

They said…

“That seems a little drastic, maybe just wait for the summertime when it’s warmer?!”

Rebecca and Nat
Girls just wanna have fun....

I’m sure a warmer, drier day would make all the difference, but then again, that would mean higher crowds, and the prospect of a long queue for the rides there would just upset me more!  Alas, the weather is not the issue really.  It is the fact that all UK theme parks (that I have visited) are tacky, a bit dirty, have surly staff and charge more than their US counterparts, which are none of those things.

This I think also contributes to that glazed, knowing expression you see on people’s face when you tell them you are going to Florida (for the umpteenth time).  The lack of comprehension is palpable, and it is clear they try to reconcile their knowledge of UK themeparks with flying for nine hours to spend two weeks in one.

It is like saying you are going watching the local Sunday League footy match, when you’ve been a season ticket holder in the Premiership.  The concept is the same, but the standard and the execution is woefully inferior.  This of course doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the Sunday League match, but given a choice most would choose the Premiership…especially if it was costing you the same to watch both!!

I fear I am a lost cause, probably not representative of most visitors to a UK theme park, and looking at their Twitter feed, they do indeed have lots of positive feedback from customers after their visits.  So maybe the quality of the park is not the problem, maybe it is my expectations?

Oh yes, we always had some sort of political event this week too, but I don’t have the time, knowledge or will to comment on this trivia when a major event like a chance to slag off a UK theme park has presented itself!!

All I will say is that I have found the events quite riveting, which is probably quite sad….anyway…

Till the next time…..