Another Damn Plan

When you’ve been writing a weekly blog post since 2009, it can be challenging at times to come up with content. Lord knows you know that. Some weeks I wouldn’t read it, and I wrote it!

However, living through a pandemic that is playing havoc with travel plans is, oddly, a blessing in that department. The same trip has now given me three iterations of the plan that I can share with you. You didn’t care about the first two, but if you think that will stop me sharing the third then I’m not sure I can help you.

I often find that sharing it here helps me to visualise it more clearly than when it is just in my spreadsheet. What? You don’t have a spreadsheet for your holiday? I’m not sure we can be friends.

So here we go, with the third time’s a charm plan for my 50th birthday trip (yes, that is still a thing).

Day One 14th June – Travel

Sigh, how I miss and yearn for that morning at the airport buzz. I’m all new trainers and gassy excitement, happy to pay £30 for an average breakfast and sit in a metal tube for almost nine hours.

We are scheduled to take off at 10.30, so that will mean we will taxi down the runway sometime after 11. We are still flying Virgin (hang in there, we are all counting on you!) and we are in something called Economy Delight on the way out. I do wonder if any aspect of flying Economy can be a “Delight”, but we’ll see I suppose.

We are scheduled to land at 14:30 US time. My original car hire booking with Us Rent A Car had to change as our new dates saw their price double. How I laughed. It was cheaper to cancel that and lose the £50 deposit and go elsewhere, so our Full-Size SUV awaits us.

The big change at this point is that we will head straight to Universal. As we are on a hedonistic 16-day trip (but no so hedonistic that I would pay for anything other than a 14-day WDW ticket), we cannot enter a Disney park for the first couple of days as that would mean the 14 days would be up before we got to the end of the holiday and if we are not in Magic Kingdom weeping on our last day then have we even had a holiday?

So we need to keep our WDW powder dry. We have two nights booked at the Hard Rock Hotel. We will arrive all sweaty and tired, check-in, and head to City Walk for dinner. As an added bonus, we don’t have to unpack as we’ll be moving again in a day or two, so after a quick stock up on waters etc for the room we can go eat. The first restaurant of our trip will be Cowfish. The Cheeseburgerooshi is one of the most pleasant things to enter my mouth. It is delicious and I know I will be having that….and a pudding.

Full and tired we shall retire to bed.

Day Two 15th June – IOA

Hopefully, rising early we shall be at the park for rope drop and make full use of our front of line access. If I go into as much detail for every day as I did for the travel day we’ll be here till next week so let’s keep it brief.

We plan to eat at City Walk again, at Antojitos.

Day Three 16th June – Universal Studios

We will have checked out nice and early, stored the cases somewhere and be off for another day in a Universal theme park. Once we’re done, we will hopefully have dinner at Teak as it is up in that neck of the woods, and then check into our villa, having done a supermarket run to stock up on essentials.

Day Four – 17th June – Magic Kingdom

We might need a rest day ideally here, but how long do you think we can wait to get into a Disney park? Adrenaline and jet lag, with lots of coffee and calories, will get us through I’m sure.

Dinner plans involve an ADR at Ohana should it be open and should we be able to secure one.

Day Five – 18th June

A rest day for heaven’s sake. We shall do some of that at Typhoon Lagoon. A day for some skin crisping and lying down.

Dinner is another step in our relentless calorie quest, tonight at The Cheesecake Factory.

Day Six – 19th June

Epcot at last. How I have missed this place. We will probably focus on Future World, whatever is left of it now, trying to bag the big rides.

Dinner plans are Italian at Via Napoli and who knows, maybe some fireworks.

Day Seven – 20th June

Hollywood Studios, getting frustrated at not being able to ride Rise of the Resistance. Dinner at Bahama Breeze.

Day Eight – 21st June

Amazingly I only have half-formed plans at this stage. I have it as either Magic Kingdom or Volcano Bay. It’ll probably firm up as we get closer or who knows I may leave it fast and loose and we can just decide how we feel the night before. Madness!

Whatever we do, dinner intentions are firm at Homecomin’, should we be able to get an ADR of course.

Day Nine – 22nd June

Animal Kingdom. We will return to Tiffin’s for lunch on one of our AK days as we loved it last time, but I don’t know if that will be this day. Crazy! However, we ALWAYS do Yak & Yeti for dinner.

Day Ten – 23rd June

For my birthday, I was given a night at the Beach Club. It is my favourite resort. We will be staying here today, enjoying the resort and pool(s) as a rest day. We might do a character breakfast at Cape May and there’s a strong chance we will wander into Epcot after dark for some World Showcase action. Dinner plans are Cantina De San Angel.

Day Eleven – 24th June

A proper Epcot day, tidying up any missed rides and getting around World Showcase. Dinner plans are mainly bread at Sanaa.

Day Twelve – 25th June

Back to Hollywood Studios to continue the frustration about not riding Rise of the Resistance. Dinner is off-site today at Olive Garden. Bring me the breadsticks!

Day Thirteen – 26th June

We are off to spend the weekend at the beach. Vero Beach to be precise. It’ll be an early start so that Louise can be prone on the sand by the time the sun rises. Dinner will be at the resort. I think it’s called Wind and Waves.

Day Fourteen – 27th June

More beach, more sunburn and probably a lot more calories. Not sure where we will eat. Hit me up (sorry!) if you have any suggestions for good places close to Vero please.

Day Fifteen – 28th June

Checkout from Vero, Louise will cry all the way back to Orlando and the intention is to go to Animal Kingdom. Dinner is tentatively planned for Romano’s Macaroni Grill at Lake Buena Vista. We had a break of a good few years from eating there but returned last year. It was awesome.

Day Sixteen – 29th June

Our last full day so you know where we will be. Assuming these things are back on, we *may* make Fantasmic over at DHS our farewell show. The MK fireworks, now not being Wishes, haven’t yet captured us, so as the last remaining “traditional” nighttime spectacular that may see us head over there, for tears and dread of the return home.

Day Seventeen – 30th June

We have a late flight home at around 7pm, so the day will be spent frantically packing, onboarding life-threatening amounts of food, probably some Disney Springs and then admitting defeat with a drive to the airport. We are flying home in Premium, so that’ll make up for having to come home right?

For the love of all things holy and not, please let this bloody thing happen. If for no other reason that you can’t go through another change of dates. It will break you.

Till the next time……

We March To June

I am not, it may shock to you learn, a “wait and see” kind of guy. One thing I am not blessed with is a laissez-faire, let things unfold attitude. Things escalate quickly with me, and after digesting the news and implications of the vaccine announcements last week, it became obvious to me very quickly that the 1st of March was going to be too soon. I suspect that the act of writing my thoughts down in last week’s post actually helped me to process all the information and options. So, yes, you guessed it, here we are, with this holiday rearranged again, on its third set of dates.

Why did I come to the conclusion that March wasn’t happening? Well, my thinking is….

  1. Our government seem to be suggesting that Easter 2021 will be a reasonable timeframe to vaccinate most of the vulnerable folks and begin relaxing restrictions etc. That’s April at best.
  2. Biden won’t have a chance to do much until late January so the US vaccine rollout will probably be worse and not better/quicker than ours.
  3. Even if borders are open for March, it would (in my view) still see theme parks with mask policies and that’s not ideal especially with a three-year-old who won’t understand why he is being forced to wear one.

So, I began the initial investigatory work on new dates in earnest early last week. The real push to do so actually came from a blog reader and long time Dibber/Disney associate, Matt, who contacted me after last week’s blog. He noted that I had said our current villa would not be available for any dates next year should we need to rearrange the trip again and he kindly suggested that his villa might be suitable. It just so happens that when he sent me the link, his villa was a gorgeous and glorious affair, very close to where our last booking was.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself a little. At that point, I had defaulted to our usual late August range of dates. I’m not sure why. I guess my inner diva wanted my birthday in WDW, having been denied it last year and we have just always gone at that time. After chatting with all members of our travelling party though, for reasons I won’t trouble you with, those dates may not have been ideal for various plans already in place for 2021.

So after discussion, it was suggested we look at earlier dates in the summer. So we needed a time that was far enough away that things may be somewhere adjacent to normal but close enough to avoid the reasons that late August wouldn’t suit some of us.

Typically for me, within minutes of that discussion, I was a whirling dervish of planning, spreadsheets, google searches and waiting to speak to Virgin. I was a little upset to see that US school kids are on holiday in June, but a little research suggested June was not as busy as July and early August. To be honest, I think all bets are off for what counts as busy for 2021 once things start to free up a bit.

I was a multi-tasking, multiple chat window planning animal. I had the usual chuckle whilst Virgin tried to tell me the price of our new flights, as they had apparently more than doubled for the first dates I suggested to them. It almost made the 90 minutes on hold worthwhile. A couple more tries with dates and a play around with cabins on a few dates saw new flights secured for less than the ones we had booked in March, so I’ll be getting a nice refund once they process that, so most likely it’ll hit my bank account just before next Christmas.

A quick request to Matt to change his quoted dates from August to June for the villa and that was secured too. So, before I get into any more details, I will share our new villa here, as everyone likes looking at Florida villas, don’t they? Here’s a random room from it.

I have taken the opportunity to start from scratch with the plan. There are some radical new ideas and approaches being taken for reasons I will share with you even though you don’t care. Those crazy new ideas have also been joined by something of a greatest hits element, with us somehow squeezing more into the time we are there and going back to some of our favourite hotels.

We will still be staying at the Hard Rock, and Louise and I will still get our night at the Beach Club that I was given for my birthday. The most radical change, breaking the unbreakable law that you have to be in Magic Kingdom on your first day is that we will begin our holiday at the Hard Rock. When working through the change of dates, I spotted a huge flaw in my original plan and that was that our 14-day WDW tickets would run out a day too soon if we went to a Disney park on the first day of our trip. So I had to go left field and have us go directly to Universal from the airport for two nights there, enjoying Front of Line access to everything.

From there we check into our villa and begin our time at the Disney parks. Our one night at the Beach Club slots in nicely in the middle of the trip and then, in a real quart and pint pot extravaganza, I have somehow shoehorned in two nights at the beach towards the end of our trip. This is always popular with sun-worshipper Louise but we all know that Freddie will also love time on the beach and a couple of days of not having to be somewhere at set times will be welcome for all.

I had toyed with the likes of Clearwater, St Pete’s and Cocoa Beach, but like a tractor beam built of familiarity and reliable quality, Vero Beach pulled us in, with our resistance being futile. We haven’t been there for many years and it will be lovely to go back.

So, having skipped this crucial detail so far, our new dates see us departing on the 14th of June and returning on the 30th of June 2021. Come on vaccine….do your thing and get us to some state of normality by then. I am missing WDW very badly indeed and need some incentive to shed some lockdown pounds too.

At this point, I just want a holiday that actually happens. I still don’t feel totally confident that even these dates will go ahead yet, but hopefully, as we move through the winter and spring, with lots of folks getting the jab, restrictions will fall away and life can begin again. As much as I do enjoy and (if I may say so) excel at planning all this stuff, having done so three times now, I do need the actual release of having the holiday at the end of it. Let’s have a collective crossing of fingers for this and everyone else’s upcoming trips.

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…..

And that’s Magic!

With a new trip booked, we are all, to varying degrees, (me more than most I admit) thinking about another journey to our favourite state, Florida.  Even the girls, who can be ambivalent to the (what seems to be an) annual event, have been chatting about it, and last Sunday night, Rebecca asked if we could watch “the Florida DVD”.  This happens to be from our 2001 trip, which shamefully is the only one I have actually spent the time on to “cut it” into as working DVD, with music and everything.

So, not needing much encouragement to wallow in some magic we put it on.

Wow!  Back in 2001 the girls were 6 and 4, and of course looked very different.  There was a distinct lack of eye liner for a start!!  I have to admit to feeling a little emotional about the whole thing, and of course Louise and I made the usual comments about time whizzing by, and understanding why Grandparents take such delight in their Grandkids, having missed their own kids growing up in a blur of careers, housework and day-to-day nonsense.

Rebecca Beaches and Cream
I need a spoon Daddy!

The DVD itself contained scenes from The Garden Grill, Fantasmic, and two lovely scenes, one from Beaches and Cream, where Rebecca’s face is a picture of wonderment contemplating the milk shake in front of her that is bigger than her head, and lastly, a scene in our All Stars Music hotel room, where the girls re-enact the parade, in their Cinderella and Belle dresses.  I’m sure I’ve told you about this stuff before??

Emily had the Princess wave down to perfection, and was for those brief moments a Princess.  You could see in her face that she absolutely believed it, and was beyond happiness.

Now in the context of just having booked yet another trip, and worrying ever so slightly about the creative ways in which we shall be affording such an extravagance, within the space of a few seconds of each other, both Louise and I said exactly the same thing, in slightly different words.

“Worth every penny!”

To be fair, I think Louise was referencing the ridiculous cost of the dresses we had bought them (and did every year until they got too big).  For me, it was bigger than that.  With every passing year, that DVD becomes more powerful.  By the time they leave home, turn 21, or get married, I shall be a weeping uncontrollable mess before anyone presses Play!

Even uber cool Emily, at 15, updated her status on the bible of teens, Facebook saying that “Disney made her happy!”  It does.  I don’t know why.  The whole brand wraps you in cotton wool, whispers in your ear that everything will be OK, and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy.  This state is how they get you to hand over such huge sums of money with a smile on your face.

Magic Kingdom
Man, Mouse, Magic!

I think that no other brand on the planet has this impact on its customers.  Universal, in many ways very similar in terms of product, comes nowhere near the experience.  Don’t get me wrong, Universal do lots of things very well, but it is just different.

As a brand, Disney get into the physce of their customers in a way that blows the mind.  Add to that a product of such quality that no-one can compete, and it is a juggernaut that cannot be stopped.  At a top-level, they do a few things very well –

  • Exceptional customer service as a given
  • Cater for all ages equally
  • Ensure things are always clean and neat

However that is moving towards far too clinical an analysis.  If you start digging too deep into the theory of Disney, then you run the risk of unmasking the ugly corporate beast that lies beneath.  From the very beginnings of the company, Walt was renowned as ruthless and incredibly focussed on success, and even today, the power of Disney is legendary.  You only have to witness any sort of minor fall or accident in a park to see the “machine” in operation.  Out of nowhere, multiple Cast Members appear, with audio ear pieces and walkie talkies, surrounding the “victim”, and whisking them away from the public gaze as quickly as possible.

This of course is no doubt the first stage in an operation to remove any risk of the member of the public suing Disney, but should the worst happen (from Disney’s point of view), then the aggression and quality of their legal power is again something of legend.

Remember, nobody dies on Disney property!!

I am open to the suggestion that my kids (and me) have been brainwashed in the past twelve (or 30 in my case) or so years, and that they are not a good stick by which to measure this, but I don’t think this totally explains the whole thing.

What this experience has reminded me is that –

a) The money on these trips is an investment to be repaid in later years.

b) I really must get my arse in gear and “do” the other half-dozen lots of video into a DVD.

What I fear is that I shall become an over emotional, weeping wreck whilst doing so.  God help me if and when we ever have Grandkids.  I will indeed be leading the charge up Main Street to Splash Mountain with young Gerard and Hayley (I’m guessing the girls will name their kids after their current musical heroes), with Louise raising her eyebrows and giving me her knowing look which tells me I am going all Chevy Chase again.

Well, bring it on.  As long as the girls don’t bank on me leaving them any cash once I’ve gone to the big castle in the sky then all is well.

All of this may seem like an odd outburst for someone who is claiming that they won’t be stepping foot into a Disney park this year.  Well, maybe, but I am confident we won’t.  In fact to prove my resolve, it is probably timely to share our plans for our upcoming jaunt.

We fly out on the 28th of July at 8.30am.  That’s an early flight at the best of times, but as we flying from Heathrow, it would be a little testing to make it from Bolton.  So on the 27th we’ll load up the Mondeo and head on south to the luxurious Travelodge Heathrow Central.  At an extravagant £27 for the four of us, I can safely say this will be the cheapest night of our plans.

I have booked parking at the Long Stay thing at T3, and handily that is where we fly from.  A few hours later we touch down in Toronto, and after a couple of hours, we complete the journey down to Fort Lauderdale, arriving at around 5.30pm local time.  One of the quandaries I have been wrestling with recently has been what to do upon arrival.  I did not know whether we should hunker down in Fort Lauderdale for the night and then drive down south(er) the next morning, or to bite the bullet and endure a matchsticked eyelid drive down to Key Largo.

I have gone for the latter, embracing a “He who dares wins” attitude, and hoping for the usual adrenaline filled euphoria fuelling my body for the drive.

Hilton Key Largo
Lots of Hilton, no Paris!!

At Key Largo, we are booked into the Hilton.  This was primarily driven by our lovely experience at Daytona last year, some good reviews on Trip Advisor, and the fact that it was on the beach.  This is crucial for us throughout this trip, as the four of us have different tastes between pool and beach and it is lovely to have both next to each other so each can do their own thing.  We have three nights there, and during that time we will drive down through the Keys to explore what is has to offer.

This takes us through to the 31st of July, and we then make the journey cross-country to Naples.  Again through a mixture of google, trip advisor and inordinate amounts of time on the internet, I have plumped for Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club.  This again is right on the beach front, and hopefully is as nice as it looks.  With five nights there, it had better be.  During that time we are off to a baseball game on one evening.  We are this time supporting the Fort Myers Miracles.  Again, the value is incredible, at $8.50 each!  Other than that we have loose plans to perhaps visit the zoo, but mainly, we will relax!

After these two new experiences we then head off to more familiar territory, with the next two nights at Vero Beach.  Although we are not DVC members this place truly feels like coming home.  Hopefully if the waves are performing I shall be showing off my world-renowned boogie boarding skills.  You have been warned.

Then finally, we head “home” again, with our last five nights in Orlando.  We have a villa booked now, at Lake Davenport, courtesy of course of yet another kind Dibber.  Shamefully my planning for those last few days is centred mainly around our favourite eateries, and we should just have time to squeeze in –

  • Applebees
  • Bahama Breeze
  • Olive Garden
  • Romanos

We have also made arrangements to meet up with Jakki, Steve, Aodhan and Niamh, as is becoming a tradition now (probably much to their regret).  As nice as it is to see them, this year, the fact that we can watch Wishes from BLT with them adds to the occasion!!

So as you can see we have no theme parks planned, and certainly nothing Disney on the cards (OK, OK, Wishes is sort of Disney but we’re cadging it for free courtesy of Jakki and Steve!!).  We MIGHT go for Universal if funds allow nearer the time, as it would require a night at the Hard Rock, as we just couldn’t do it without FOTL I’m afraid.  We’ve been spoilt.

So there you go, if your internet has been a bit slow over the last few weeks, that would have been me using it all up, reading and researching these new things and areas we are visiting, and I have a bit more to do.  However, it is nice to have the basics in place now.

For anyone not able to go this year, I can can only apolgise for the planning orgy!!!

Till the next time…..