Give Us A Clue

I have absolutely no clue.

This statement is applicable to me on a regular basis, but right now, it has seldom been more true. It is both horrific and hilarious that we are sat here approaching 18 months into the pandemic and we still have no clue on whether we will ever be able to travel for fun again.

Why am I so befuddled? Well, I do try and look at the facts and what is going on and draw some sort of sense out of it. You will know from reading this drivel each week that I have been spectacularly wrong on a spectacularly consistent basis so I think it best I give up. Here are the current states of play that are causing me so much confusion…

  1. The UK government have declared the pandemic over and announced we no longer need to modify our behaviour in any way (in England anyway) in a couple of weeks.
  2. COVID cases are rising at a ridiculous rate and the R number seems to be somewhere around 14.
  3. The FCDO have changed their guidance and said it is fine to travel to the US for non-essential purposes pretty much on the same day that…
  4. Virgin and BA seemingly cancelled all flights until late August/early September.
  5. Hospitalisations and deaths are rising again but obviously at much reduced rates than before due to the vaccines.

Some of those things don’t seem compatible with each other. The government policy of herd immunity laid bare now worries me for non-holiday reasons, but in the context of going to some theme parks, I do very much worry that a country with potentially 100,000 cases a day in a few weeks won’t be the one the US really want to invite into their country.

I’m all for lifting restrictions and trusting the vaccines, don’t get me wrong. We have to get back to some sort of normal asap, but I’d just appreciate the feeling that those we have making the decisions could tie their own shoe laces. It would at least be helpful if both the UK and US governments would treat us as adults and share their thinking with us, so folks could make some sensible plans rather than the endless moving of dates and uncertainty we have now.

I have long stated that I think our government have little appetite for getting foreign holidays back up and running and would much rather we spent our cash here this summer. Or maybe they are terrified of letting Brits holiday in Europe as that would expose the joy of standing in a non-EU member passport queue for 12 hours whilst we marvel at our sovereignty.

The government here must know what they are doing….right? I mean, on the face it, letting the disease rip through the under 18’s and unvaccinated with no regard for long COVID or facilitating vaccine escaping mutations might seem like a stupid idea. I mean it would be like….

  1. Allowing the pandemic stockpile to dwindle to nothing so that when one happened nurses had to wear bin bags…..oh
  2. Sending schools back for one day in the middle of the pandemic so that the pupils could nicely infect each other before schools were shut again, taking their newly acquired COVID home to their older relatives….oh
  3. Telling the country that the PM thinks it’s fine to still be shaking hands with COVID patients in hospital at the start of a global pandemic…..oh
  4. Telling the country they could mix freely for 5 days over Christmas before then changing that to 1 day at the last minute when everyone had made plans…oh
  5. Deciding to send untested elderly people back into care homes to facilitate the death of thousand of grannies….oh
  6. Knowing that a more contagious variant was running riot in India and not restricting visitors from that country as the PM didn’t want to upset the chances of a trade deal, despite putting two neighbouring countries on the red list three weeks earlier than India…oh
  7. Spending £37bn on a test and trace system that at its peak was contacting 60% of exposed contacts….oh
  8. The bloke in charge of the nation’s health swapping spit with his mistress after being on telly every day telling us we couldn’t hug our families….oh
  9. Launching Eat Out to Help Out last summer which a University study claimed drove new infections up by between 8 and 17%….oh
  10. The PM’s main advisor blatantly taking the piss by having a trip out for his wife’s birthday undermining the adherence to lockdown rules for millions of people…..oh

Sadly, that list is not exhaustive and I could go on, and if you follow me on Twitter, I often do, but I list those things to demonstrate that those running the show have absolutely no clue what they are doing and are setting out plans based on popularity polls and pressure from newspapers and MPs they cannot afford to upset.

So on a daily if not hourly basis, my belief that we’ll be in WDW in October changes like the wind. I tell myself that there is no way the US will be letting our Delta riddled asses anywhere near their border anytime soon, but then reconcile that with the fact that they would insist on a negative test before entry and most folks would be double jabbed so maybe they would?

In an ideal world it would be great if the US said that double jabbed folks were welcome, and anyone not able to be so could provide a negative test very shortly before arriving. That would seem to be the most sustainable solution but I suspect it may not be that simple.

So where do I think we are with all that being said? Truly, I have no clue. However if Virgin and BA are now cancelling nearly all of August then it seems the US will not be an option until our kids are back in school. That still fits with our dates of course but we’ve been here before and who knows if I will be sat here moaning still in September as our October flights get cancelled too.

To make matters worse I now have to go and do some mowing. Insult on top of injury when all I want to be doing is planning with any degree of certainty which meals I will be eating in a few months time. Is that too much to ask?

The longer all this goes on the more weary I become and I may continue to lash out at those I perceive to be the root of the continued pandemic, as evidenced by the above. I am sure Johnson is terrified! I appreciate that not everyone will share my vitriol and blame assigning, but hey, it’s my blog and I can be emotional and potentially wrong (I’m not wrong) if I want to.

Till the next time…..

One Date More…

Another day, another destiny, this never ending road to Kissimmee…

We move our trip another time, if we can’t go I’ll lose my mind,

One date more….

The time is early afternoon, the day last Wednesday. I’m at work, attending to things that don’t really matter, but somehow demand all my attention and time when somewhere in my “socials” I see the news.

Aer Lingus had cancelled all their Manchester flights up to the 30th of September. Well, that was just rude.

I’ll be honest. There was a period of around half an hour where I just sat and stared at my keyboard genuinely not knowing what to do. I mean, that is often the case with work related matters but seldom with holiday stuff.

Staring down the barrel of a fifth set of dates, the wind was well and truly out of my sails. I pissed about on the Virgin Atlantic website laughing out loud at their prices for our dates. I really, really did not want to have to pick up and move everything again, but switching airlines was clearly not an option.

We were moving. Again.

I think coming to that conclusion was the catalyst and kick up the arse I needed to spring into action. As much as I had cursed Aer Lingus for their out of the blue decision, when I phoned them, settling in for a few hours on hold, their automated message told me I could change my flights on their website. Virgin, take note. Also, Virgin, any time you want to give me my refund for the flights you cancelled over two months ago, that would be lovely. We are at the “our dog ate your refund” stage of excuses now. It’s bordering on fraud at this point.

The ability to move my own flights was excellent and allowed me to manipulate a series of dates to find the set that suited us best. I was resolute in my desire not to spend another bloody penny on this trip that never is, so my main criteria was getting flights for the same money.

It took some fiddling but I managed it. We had to sacrifice a day off the trip so it’s 16 days now, not 17, but to be honest the extra length of the trip was in honour of my 50th celebrations which seem so long ago now that it kinda feels right to sacrifice that specialness.

So with the flights moved, it was onto everything else. Our new dates are the 3rd of October to the 18th of October. We’ve been in October once before back in 1999, so we know it well.

A Collection of House of Cards' Best Frank Underwood Side-Eye GIFs | Frank  underwood, Kevin spacey, House of cards

I once again saluted the flexible nature of Travel Republic and Discount Florida Car Hire, who have made all this pissing about a lot easier. Alas, Hard Rock is not available for our new dates so we have defaulted to the Royal Pacific, as we have in the past, so no great hardship there.

I am getting incredibly efficient and effective at this now. Within about an hour I had cancelled/rebooked/moved almost everything I could. Two elements remained outstanding.

  1. Vero. Borrowing DVC points via a broker is probably not the wisest move in a pandemic as it seems we are likely to lose that cash now. Unless borders are still closed on August 20th, we won’t be able to get a credit note for our bookings. It stinks and I probably won’t use this company again, but it is what it is.
  2. Park tickets. The ones we bought, sometime in the late 90’s it now feels like, were set to expire at the end of September. My Dad’s tickets which at this point were somewhere in the postal system having only ordered them a few days ago may also have had a similar end date. An email to Floridatix was replied to a few hours later and it seems our dates had been extended and certainly for the ones I had in my grubby mits, I was able to book new park reservations for our new dates. Yesterday, my Dad’s tickets turned up and they are all park reservationed up now too.

I am very much over all this now. We just need to go on holiday.

I am refusing to let myself believe these dates will happen. I daren’t. Florida it seems is charging back to normality at lightning pace as we lurch back into more lockdown having pissed away all the benefits of the vaccine programme. These are just the latest set of dates in the diary. When we are sat on the plane, wheels up, I may let myself think we’re going.

Trying to fill my glass at least half way, if we go on these dates the 50th celebrations for Magic Kingdom will have started. I am telling myself that WDW will for all intents and purposes be back to normal by then and there will be lots of new things specifically for that anniversary that we may not have seen otherwise.

It will be Halloween. I mean, it’s Halloween in WDW from August, but you know what I mean. I don’t think we’ll do the Boo Bash thing as it seems pricey for what you get and I suppose we could try and do Halloween Horror Nights at Universal but it isn’t suitable for Freddie and Emily may well pass out with fear if we subject her to that. The weather will be slightly less hurricaney and we’ll be safely back in the UK before the half term crowds are unleashed on the US from the UK.

Last week brought all the usual speculation and reading between the lines on when travel may be allowed. Fauci was interviewed and seemed to suggest September and it makes you wonder if the airlines have been given some form of heads up to that effect that may have informed Aer Lingus’ decision?

Other rumours are that it will be late July/early August. From a UK perspective Johnson has seemingly painted himself into a corner, saying that July 19th is a “terminus” day and if that is the case there can be little wiggle room not to allow leisure travel at that point. The balance to that logic is that he also said we’d break the back of it in 12 weeks in late Spring 2020 so there is that plus an entire back catalogue of lies, incompetence and failure.

There are even leaks and rumours that double jabbed folks will be relatively unrestricted in terms of the faff required to fly etc. Nobody knows and if anyone thinks the clowns we have running the show have any sort of masterplan then I can’t help you. Literally every case of Covid we have in this country is the one that was allowed in from India by not adding them to the red list at the same time as Bangladesh and Pakistan. I know I piss and moan about governmental incompetence a lot but it makes me angry. Of course they are screwing our holidays up but think of all the businesses that had recruited and planned to open on June 21st. It’s gross negligence.

So as much I enjoy planning these trips, the ratio of five lots of planning to zero actual trips is not one I can get on board with. I am weary of it all and just want any form of certainty at this point.

Away from moaning about governmental incompetence and travel uncertainty, I will end today’s post with a Happy Father’s Day to my Dad and all those who assume that role in any form.

May be an image of 1 person

From my perspective it is the best job in the world interspersed with occasional horror but it’s the only job I’ve ever had that I never wanted to change.

Join me here next week for more head in hands incredulity linked to the simple act of booking a holiday and going on it.

Till the next time………

Cancel Culture

I have, over the years, had better weeks. I’m not one to moan as you know, but amongst other things I have spent a good amount of time this week cancelling all our June bookings and plans. There is literally zero joy in any of that work, especially when there are no new dates yet to replace the old ones.

However, having done so, and knowing it was the only call to make really, despite no official announcement having been made (at the time) there comes with it a form of liberation and release from the stress of analysing and worrying about every little announcement, nuance and tweet related to travelling to Florida in the coming weeks.

I know now that we won’t be doing so until late summer at the very earliest and if I were looking for sliver linings to this cloud of shit, then the fact that things will have settled down, become clearer and hopefully more normal by then has reduced my stress levels considerably.

Everything related to our June trip was cancelled by mid-week where possible. Virgin and our Vero DVC points booking remained outstanding and then on Friday I got the email from Virgin telling me our flight was cancelled. For once, it turned out I was right. Their email came before the 5pm announcement of green countries so clearly airlines etc had been given a heads up, and Virgin’s move to start flights again to Orlando from July 1st ties in with all the predictions around when the US could open their borders.

The Vero booking, should borders not be open by the 26th of May, (one month before our stay there) will become a credit note.

The dates of any next trip remain uncertain. I know it doesn’t seem like it just by reading what I put here most of the time, but there are a couple of real world things that we need to get clarity on in the coming weeks and maybe months before committing to new dates and this is why I cancelled the Virgin flights rather than just move them. That in addition to their flight prices being ludicrous for later this year of course. So we wait for these real life events to sort themselves out and for Virgin to give us a refund. Who knows which will happen first.

On a more general note the stats in the US and UK continue to be excellent. Much better than the models predicted I think and as I said last week, I think it is clear now that WDW and Universal are very much planning for as much normality as possible by the time we get to “the fall”. What Mark E Smith has to do with it I don’t know. (Ask your Dad). Only yesterday, or was it today, cast members working outside now have the option to wear a mask or not. Over the coming weeks and months I expect almost all COVID related restrictions and practices to be removed from the parks and resorts.

My vlog abstinence continues. I just can’t bring myself to right now. That’ll change as our plans emerge from this fog of uncertainty but for now, it’s too soon.

It was pleasing to see TUI take a lead on the testing front. For as long as those are required, the absolutely ridiculous prices that PCRs are being offered at are profiteering of the highest order and TUI’s offer of £20 a head is much more like it. That will surely now force the hand of the other airlines and operators to offer a similar service. Again, by the time we go, hopefully with all adults having been able to get a couple of jabs, the vaccine will be enough.

In other more pleasant news, Friday saw Rebecca turn 24. I say it every year, but does that make you feel old? It was only about 18 months ago you were reading about her in my trip reports as a small child. She was a small child not you, I suspect.

Here come the usual set of photos to commemorate her big day.

A second birthday amid COVID restrictions for Rebecca then but Tom was able to take her out for an al fresco meal at least this time.

So the excitement and anticipation of having a countdown is gone, although I can’t say I have been too excited about any of the three sets of dates we’ve had booked recently, as we always suspected they wouldn’t happen. Hopefully, we can rectify that soon to avoid any prolonged huge man baby sulk on my part and weeks of me whinging on about it here.

I know you wish for it too.

Till the next time……

June’s Too Soon

You will be glad to hear that I cannot bring myself to spew out another post all about the ifs, buts and maybes of a potential holiday. This will make for a beautifully short post for you this week. This is mainly as it is now confirmed that we definitely won’t be going in June. But for anyone who is looking for a summary of another crazy and fast moving week in the world of international travel resumption here is where I think we are.

  1. It seems clearer by the day that the US will re-open its borders to some at the end of June.
  2. Virgin seem to have pushed back resumption of flights to MCO to the 1st of July
  3. Although they denied this was the case when I contacted them. I suspect they want to rearrange/cancel all the May bookings before dealing with those in June
  4. There has been a ton of progress in terms of removing and reducing COVID restrictions in and around the theme parks
  5. There’s a roadmap for mask mandate removal linked to vaccination rates, and temperature checks and hand washing stations are all being removed from the parks sooner rather than later. The parks seem to be planning for “normality” or close to, over the summer months.

So as soon as Virgin admit what is going on I will cancel our flight with them and settle in for the wait for the refund, along with all the other cancellable bits booked for June and take stock as to what we do next and when.

As and when the border re-opening is confirmed for late June as is now widely predicted that will be good news for everyone booked for later in the summer. In line with the expected mask mandate roadmap, by the time we get to the late summer/autumn it could be that masks are pretty much gone and even social distancing will be lessened or removed. It is testament to the efficacy of the vaccines that this is looking possible. They seem to be much more effective at everything it was hoped they would do than anyone could have hoped.

Certainly by 2022, assuming the variants knocking around continue to be handled relatively well by the vaccines and whatever boosters are produced, then I think we should be able to start to dream of a Florida holiday as we used to know them.

So if you have something booked for July and beyond it is looking like you will be allowed to go if you wish. How do you feel about that? Are you going regardless of the remaining restrictions and testing requirements or have you decided to leave it until the day that we can think of a trip as “normal”?

There is still a lack of clarity around tests I think. Last week Grant Schapps said in an interview that the test requirements were no big deal as they were already offering everyone free tests. Those of course are lateral flow so was he saying they would be acceptable or did he mis-speak?

It was also announced that the NHS app will be your proof of vaccination. Because I am wired the way I am, I downloaded it to see if my first jab was there. It isn’t, so I wonder if it only shows up once you are fully vaccinated? I’m hopeful that in coming years, an up to date vaccination for COVID will negate the need for any tests but as ever we can only wait and see.

So as things take shape week by week, some clarity is emerging for future trips. Now it’s clear ours will not happen, it’s time to take a breath and some refunds and regroup. Alas, you will hear all about it as usual.

Till the next time….

Mow, Mow, Mow

Another week drifts by and it had been largely filled with more nothingness, rumour and confusion. It’s almost as if the government don’t want anyone going abroad and giving those nasty foreigners our money this summer.

I know this next statement makes me an absolute whopper, in light of the horrific scenes out of India at the hands of this virus, and of course when compared to those anywhere in the world suffering financially and with their health but as ever the ramblings here are my own little world and mostly holiday and travel related so please accept the large grain of salt provided to you free of charge. At least I am not gathering with thousands of other dickheads on the streets of London to protest that I cannot do the very thing I am actually doing.

I am getting annoyed and frustrated at the eternal state of limbo now with this trip.

There I said it. My own little temper tantrum and foot stamping written down for all to see.

I know no updates were promised or expected specifically last week but all this vaguery cannot be good for the industry, never mind my inner two year old. They are going to need notice to recruit or rehire staff, put petrol in the aircraft and other such vital safety measures.

Update wise, there was a little kerfuffle in the land of Disney Facebook groups on Thursday driven by an article in some newspaper about the US putting the UK on some do not travel list. My understanding is that’s where we’ve been for the best part of a year and nothing has changed, but crucially needs to if we are to go.

Then an article from the chap who had been my beacon of hope until now suggested that the US would open up around the 28th of June.

We are due to go on the 14th.

A few quotes from the article….

I understand the Government will reveal which countries are in the new traffic light colours of red, amber and green on either 6th or 7th May

The USA will go green before 4th July Independence Day, as Biden re-opens borders to the British as part of a reciprocal deal.”

“So, this suggests 28th June would see the US opened up.”

As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m at a point of not being arsed either way, I just wanna know.

Should that prophecy come true then we are back to rearranging again and all the faff goes with it but, if he is right we should know on or around May 10th if the US is not open for our dates, from a UK perspective anyway.

My plan B, if rearranging again is my fate is September. Why?

  1. Our current theme park tickets are valid until the 26th of September
  2. Our borrowed DVC points used to book Vero have to be used by October 1st
  3. Mask requirements may be less than they are now by late summer
  4. I don’t want to wait until January

With that in mind and in light of the article above I once again contacted Virgin during the week. Once through to someone (via text) I asked about our options and it does seem the rules change every time you speak to them. This time it turns out –

  1. As I have made two changes already any further ones would incur amendment fees and price difference
  2. When they actually went to price up the new dates I was told that my fare didn’t actually incur any amendment fees. I have no clue why.
  3. The price difference was £2500 on top of what I paid for June
  4. I had priced up the new dates on their web site and got a price that was about £900 more, but I couldn’t have that apparently as when moving dates I had to retain the same cabins, Economy Delight and Premium and with those in place the price was silly.

So we are trapped in the current dates until it is known that travel will not be allowed on the 14th of June as seems more likely now, or it is and we get to go.

I suppose if the US does not make it onto the green list for the 17th of May then that would at least allow us to move forward and do something. Maybe. Would Virgin take that as enough to allow me to cancel, as is now my wish? I will explain why shortly. My worry is that the US is on our green list, but the US don’t respond and we are waiting who knows how long to know whether we can travel or not.

Should we ever know that the 14th of June is not allowed, my current plan is to cancel my Virgin flight and book instead with Aer Lingus who have much more acceptable prices for our September dates, but of course over time that may change if and when demand increases and this frustrates me greatly.

Not really feeling motivated to do so, I had dipped my toe half-heartedly intro the ADR pool in the early part of last week only to be met with disappointment and dull dining options. I get it. Most eateries are not yet open in WDW, but all our dining plans are in the bin it seems should we be able to travel. We won’t starve of course, but much of the fun of these trips is the build up and planning of such things. All of which have not applied so far. I have made one ADR for House of Blues. None of our other planned options have been available and this popped up and seemed OK and somewhere we should have tried by now, so it is in the bag for now.

I never thought I could feel so underwhelmed less than 60 days out from a (potential) trip but these are not normal times. It’s the mixed messaging which is the most frustrating. One minute it’s all dangerous variants and the next it’s the vaccine is doing its job and the stats are incredible. I’m just venting frustration here at not being able to move on with life never mind the holiday. I know these are unchartered waters and all that, but doing our trip or not alters our cash flow significantly and not going means we move ahead with some house stuff whilst going means that waits.

How many more weeks are you going to be subjected to this self-obsessed whinge fest about visiting some theme parks?

Right, on a change of subject, and in better news, we have taken advantage of the less strict rules to spend some time in the garden. We have equipped said garden with all manner of things that a three year old would approve of as you can see.

It’s been lovely to see a bit of sunshine and family members in our new garden. This was a large part of why we moved house and we are very glad we did.

However that theory was tested yesterday when, having spent about 100% more than I ever wished to on a lawn mower I had to tackle the meadow/field thing that came with our new place. Still, judging by the lockdown paunch sported here, a few mo’ mowings wouldn’t hurt me for sure.

Apologies for the horrific quality. Louise posted it on Facebook and the only way I could include it here was to video the video.

This was about half an hour into what turned out to be around three hours of mowing. With about 5% of the field remaining the mower gave up, presumably overheated, much like the idiot pushing it.

So my endless torment linked to a simple holiday abroad continues. I’m at the point where I can’t watch vlogs currently as I get annoyed about that uncertainty and not knowing when we will return and it takes away from my usual enjoyment of vicarious visits.

I wear my tantrumming tit badge with pride.

Till the next time……

Feast and Famine

After a busy and confusing blog last week, documenting the all you can eat buffet of news and announcements about international travel, this week has seen us stricken with a famine of facts. Having hyped ourselves up to think we may get to go away in June, for whatever kind of trip that may be, now we seem to be in a vacuum of updates, without even a firm timeline for when we may know more.

The death of Price Phillip probably hasn’t helped as the country has been consigned to a six month mourning period it seems and nothing can happen until that is over.

So what are we waiting for now?

  1. The US to be added to the green list for UK travellers. The timeline here is “early May”.
  2. The US to confirm they will accept UK travellers. No timeline here, only rumours. I’d hope it coincides with the UK’s publishing of the green list of course.
  3. Confirmation and clarity on what type of tests will be needed to travel.

We only need the first two in order to know if we can go or not, but the third would be nice. Much is said on the news and by politicians about whether or not folks could and should book a summer holiday this year, but the many people like us who have had a trip booked since 2019 that still hasn’t happened, despite shifting it multiple times, seem to be ignored. Our money is spent (to some extent) and sunk into a trip that never seems to happen. It’s hard to cancel and often costly and any rebooking after that sees prices sky rocket compared to what we booked at. It’s a shitty situation.

As time pushes on, balances become due, employers need to know if we’re going and generally the whole pandemic is becoming an inconvenience to my ability to undertake a holiday. If that isn’t the real cost of this virus I don’t know what is! I joke of course, but for the likes of us, it has been an 18 month exercise in planning and logistics, just trying to lose as little money as possible in the whole debacle.

Due to the lack of clarity and a timeline my confidence of going in June has dipped a little from last week, but I suspect nothing has fundamentally changed it is just phycological. We are fast approaching critical timelines though. By the middle of May our balances for the Hard Rock Hotel, villa, car hire and our stay at the Beach Club will all have been due and it is fairly likely we still won’t know for sure if we can go.

If us travellers are feeling like this imagine the boardrooms of airlines and other travel related companies right now. How will they cope with another summer of lost revenues?

Speaking of which, one confusing and surprising piece of news came out of Virgin yesterday.

As I saw on the Brit’s Guide to Florida Facebook group, oddly, Virgin have chosen to push back the resumption date of flights to MCO to the 1st of June from Manchester and Heathrow. With travel possibly being allowed again from May 17th that seems an odd move, unless of course they know something the rest of us don’t? I can’t imagine these huge companies with thousands of staff on furlough won’t be in regular contact with the government, but I am as ever just guessing.

What this means for us I don’t know. That new date is still two weeks before we are due to go, but it may just be now that Virgin are moving their dates back by smaller margins now as we hopefully start to approach some form of normality.

Should we get to go, and mask policy becomes something we need to be aware of, there were further murmurings of relaxation in Florida “towards the summer”. I guess at some point, the vaccine has to be trusted to do its work and maybe a move towards masks being optional outdoors or something similar could happen. I don’t know but the Mayor of Orange County, interviewed again this week, was suggesting a phased approach over the coming months. It will all depend on the stats of course and I guess we have to assume that it will be what it is now and anything better will be a bonus.

I’m at a point of being fine with going or not, but I just need to know one way or another. It is impossible to plan life, never mind the holiday, with all this up in the air with around 60 days to departure.

On that note, tomorrow we can book ADRs for our first day at Disney. My plans there too lie in ruins as the first one on my plan was O’hana which, as yet, is not open. It’s the ultimate first world problem I know, but I live in a first world country and I have problems!

I suspect it may be open by the time we are there but with all the pent up demand, for this and other eateries it could literally be like The Hunger Games trying to get reservations.

All we can do is hope that the data remains good, and the roadmap can be adhered to. I do worry what may happen after May 17th when indoor hospitality opens, based solely on the number of images I’ve seen of people shivering to death around a drink they have been able to have at home for a quarter of the price. With many of those who will want to go drinking not yet being eligible for a jab, case numbers will surely surge at that point? Perhaps it is then that herd immunity can be obtained, with the younger ones getting it and not dying and the ones who may be most severely affected having been jabbed. Alas, my O Level in Biology does not equip me with the required expertise to know.

In my own little coming out of lockdown, later today we are once again able to rehearse and so Mustard will reconvene this afternoon to see if we can still play things. With most of us being very old, we are jabbed up and to facilitate social distancing we have chosen a rehearsal space so large we may not be able to hear each other. Baby steps.

The road back to normality may well be as long as the one we’ve been on trying to get to WDW, but as a wise man once said…

“Stop papping on about your holiday you middle aged, middle class arse biscuit”. And I think we can all get on board with that sentiment.

Till the next time…..

The King Of Wishful Thinking

Right, if you are busy today and want a summarised version of the next few hundred words in a handy gif, to save you the trouble of wading through them, here you go.

The Hangover GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Usually when it comes to writing these posts, I rock up the laptop at some point on a Sunday morning and spew out whatever word salad comes to mind. You can’t tell can you?

This week, with so much happening in the world of travel I thought I would get ahead of the game and jot some thoughts down during the week. Now, as I sit here on Sunday, most of those thoughts have been overtaken by events, so what follows is a mish mash of old and new news and it all leads to a mass jumble of confusion. Enjoy!

Things are changing quickly and this last week has seen significant news. The general mood still feels a bit, two steps forward and one step back, but, and this may shock you, as things stand right now, I am probably in a confident state of mind that we will be able to go on June 14th.

The key word is able. Whether we will or not is still slightly debateable, but I think if we can go it will be a case of…..

Me Leaving The Bar GIF - Scrubs AllAboard ChooChoo GIFs

Anyway, having suggested travel may be possible, allow me now to argue the case, proving that I really do know nothing.

Why do I now think we will be allowed to fly by mid-June? Well, as expected Johnson’s “update” on international travel last Monday was another masterclass in a lack of detail and information. However, and bear with me as this is a bit of a stretch, my first step in the “convince myself we will get a holiday trail” was this.

Three times in his ramble he made a very obvious point of saying something like, “I see nothing in the data to make us deviate from the roadmap”. With this mind, and with the 17th of May being outlined as the date from which international travel may be possible, politically he needs to have some travel start on that date. If we know one thing it is that his actions are always driven by his own needs and desires so this encourages me a little.

The traffic light system has since been announced but with little detail (the story of the pandemic so far for this shower in power) but what is clear is that the destination country needs to be green and travellers need to tested negative before they can travel.

So assuming some travel is to be allowed on that date, which countries could be green if not the US? Only Israel and the UK have vaccination rates and improving stats similar to the US and there have been rumours about a mid-May opening of borders by Biden for a while. I suspect this has already been discussed and negotiated and assuming the data does not change significantly in the meantime I would guess that the US will be technically and legally do-able on May 17th.

Airlines do seem to be planning for travel to resume, as my reading between the lines (or reading into things what I want to) of their activity and tweets from travel industry folks indicates. One such pundit confirmed a while ago that one key US airline plans to have all its fleet operational by the end of May including its long haul jumbos.

He also seems very confident that some travel to a growing number of “green” countries will be confirmed for May 17th.

More recently he is more bullish.

If you want to follow him he is https://twitter.com/PPaulCharles

So all those factors and thoughts led us this week to begin facing the decision of what we should do. We know from my chat with Virgin that if travel is permitted, our options are very limited. Indeed all we can do is change the dates, paying all the fees and price differences (and My God the prices are high for late summer/early 2022) if we do not want to go in June.

One other small factor is our Vero booking, made with DVC points via a broker. If we can travel and don’t, it is very likely we will just lose that cash. It’s not the end of the world, but I’d rather not if we can help it.

As we all chatted about this, watching the snow tumbling in April, freezing our arses off, I suspect the lack of any sun or holiday since September 2019 really started to hit home and despite us all dreading the prospect of masks everywhere, and knowing that going on holiday would mean the most serious dieting effort ever known to man, we started to come up with ways to convince ourselves that it might be OK.

Option 1 would be to go and not do any parks. Now, that looked favourite at the start of the week, and it would be OK. Sun, food and not being at work or in lockdown all sound pretty good but it would be tough to know the parks are “right there” and we can’t go to them.

Then, out of the blue, two significant pieces of news came out. Firstly (and I caveat all this with it being almost certainly just wishful thinking) the Mayor of Orange County suggested in an interview that he thought it would be possible to look to reduce or remove the mask mandate as they got to 50% vaccination rates. This, he said, should be possible by June or July. Just too late for us possibly, but a move in the right direction nonetheless. I did think that whatever he might do, Disney would ignore it and stick to their policy of masks being enforced until 2022, but then, a bombshell. An out of the blue change to WDW mask policy, that guests can remove masks for photos. A small change of course, but the first sign that things are getting better.

A cynic may just think that they want to flog more Memory Makers of course, but I read that they are also in the process of rehiring a large number of cast members which also suggests they are planning to open more stuff and increase capacity for the summer, and maybe that is because they are hoping for the return of international visitors. Added to that Disney also announced a large programme of extended park hours through to mid June. So I do think they are expecting international guests to return and are gearing up for that.

This gives a glimmer of hope that within the next two months they could move again on masks. Perhaps only mandating them indoors or for adults only. Who knows? Certainly not me. Baby steps and each one is welcome.

So assuming my guess is correct and travel is allowed. What hoops will we need to jump through? Some travel experts had been predicting that everyone, vaccine or not, will need to do a full blown test both ways (not just the lateral flow things that the government are happy to trust a 12 year old to do themselves to prove schools are safe) and this could add a big chunk to the costs. This seemed to be confirmed by the government later in the week, but there is still, just for a novelty factor, a lack of clarity, as far as I can make out anyway, about which tests may be needed and that will massively impact the costs.

So with all this going on, I think, right now we are at the collective head space of thinking that if we are allowed to go, we will (despite the testing hoops potentially being onerous and costly). On balance, the cost of any tests is less than the costs and losses of moving the trip to new dates.

We would even try the parks. Freddie is being introduced to masks, gently and in small doses, just to get him familiar, but we would make of it what we could and if anyone is uncomfortable we would retreat from the parks and do something else. With nine weeks still to go till we travel we suspect other things will change, and hopefully improve in that time.

On that note, another area of slight concern is the flight. Current Virgin policy is masks for everyone over two. This seems to me that it may change too in the coming weeks. Why? (Inserts usual caveat of wishful thinking and not having a clue what will happen).

Well, if leisure travel is allowed on May 17th, to even get on the plane you need to be in possession of a negative test and of course large numbers of customers will be vaccinated. You have to de-mask to eat and drink anyway (that is maybe 25% of the flight?) and Virgin reassure their passengers that…

“You can breathe easy with our onboard HEPA filters, which use a vertical airflow and extract more than 99.999% of particles from the air, including bacteria and viruses.”

Now, if everyone has tested negative and/or is vaccinated and with the above filters in mind, why insist on masks for just 75% of the flight? I know that I know nothing. I am no expert, but perhaps with May 17th and new travel rules they may change that?” Who knows? I’m old enough to remember there being smoking sections on a plane with a curtain being the only thing stopping the clouds of smoke forcing their way into the non-smoking section!

In the end, I suspect our desperation for some sun, fun and food may see us overcome the large number of worries and obstacles we still see. We will make the call when we have all the information I guess. The complexities and mess around getting on a plane may just be too onerous but we can only wait to see what is announced.

We recognise that this trip, if it happens, will come with challenges –

  1. It will be hot – Having been in August for decades, we know and like hot. Masks may make it harder, but it’s not like we are first timers. We can do less parks if we need to.
  2. It will be busy – I refer you to point 1.
  3. It won’t be the full experience with no fireworks and shows – Agreed. Although let’s see what happens between now and then, but we’ve seen them before and we’ll see them again.

The thing playing on my mind most right now is that I am at this stage lacking all the details I crave about the testing requirements and the logistics of it all. It seems unavoidable that we will need to do a test 48 hours before leaving the UK and if I understand it correctly, do the same 48 hours before leaving the US. If that is the case I really hope that the likes of Virgin will partner with some US tester and offer appointments somewhere (maybe Disney Springs like their luggage drop) where their passengers can get their tests. Otherwise there will be lots of Brits googling testing providers in Florida and trying to source their own.

In truth, I hope the moans of the travel industry and the clamour to allow lateral flow tests instead of the full blown and costly PCR test come to fruition before the 14th of June as that would just make things a lot easier. A country being “green” by definition means it has low COVID rates and no real variant concerns and the reasoning for a PCR test is to track new variants. By next year of course it will be full on vaccine passports I think and these tests may not be required. Yes, of course I am simultaneously already planning next year’s trip. I don’t know why anyone might be shocked by that!

Having been all bullish up to now, of course the glass half full part of my brain has something to say about that and it needs to add some balance. As we open up more from next week and again in May, our case numbers will inevitably rise. It will be critical to not see deaths and hospitalisations also rise for all and any travel plans to be potentially scuppered. Having the US accept UK visitors, regardless of our own government’s policy of course is key and whilst they are delivering incredible numbers in terms of jabs into arms, the vast, diverse and in some cases stupid nature of the population means anything could yet happen there and their numbers could of course still worsen.

Looking at Florida’s numbers, taking into account the lunacy seen over Spring Break and knowing that the state has been fully open for some time now, their case rates are steady, if not rising a little. At this point their death rate is actually falling, but it could just be that the lag between new cases turning into deaths means that will come or, of course it means the vaccine is doing its job.

Since when did statistical analysis become part of holiday planning? I probably need to get out more, but can’t yet.

If, in the end, all my stabs in the dark do not come to pass and it turns out we cannot fly on June 14th then I think plan B is to move the whole thing to either later in the year, if we can find flights that do not double the amount we have already paid, or into 2022.

It all remains a mess, but as we edge closer to our booking’s date, it is forcing our hand to at least decide what we might do in each scenario. The people most pleased about all this coming to end one way or another will be you dear readers.

Much like Johnson and his infamous writing of two articles on either side of the Remain or Leave debate, I could easily have published a post today outlining why travel to the US for a holiday in June is less likely than flying to the moon, but I chose to be positive and I will almost certainly be proved very wrong.

By next week everything may have changed again, and that will only mean more of this guff for you to read. Sorry.

Till the next time…….

How To Sweep Her Off Her Feet

Happy Easter all. This may be a brief one as I have a few things to get done today.

So let’s address last week’s cliff hanger regarding Louise’s present. I appreciate cliff hanger may be a little strong as I doubt anybody lost sleep, but I’m going to tell you anyway. It didn’t arrive until Tuesday but when it did it was received very well.

Now, having been married for a long time now I am more than aware that you should never, ever, buy domestic appliances for your wife on her birthday. However, as an exception that proves the rule, this year I did and I lived to tell the tale.

So what was it? Meet Trevor, our new robot hoover.

To understand why I broke the unbreakable law of not buying your wife a hoover for her birthday, we have to go back to just after we moved in and Louise suggested, several times, that we should get one as it would be ideal to keep our kitchen floor clean without us having to hoover every day manually.

So after all that kerfuffle, late it might have been, but it did the trick.

On Monday of last week, not able to wait any longer to do something about the holiday, I contacted Virgin. I don’t know if I was just lucky or if they have finally managed to sort out their wait times over 12 months into the pandemic, but my message was answered very quickly.

I just wanted to assess my options really. Of course, as right now our flight on the 14th of June is running, they are limited. I can cancel and get about £7.50 refunded to me or as I have now had my two free changes, if we move it again, it will incur change fees and price differences. I tried new dates in January. That resulted in me having to pay the price I had already paid again unless we dropped Premium on the way back in which case it was just £30 each to move it.

I didn’t, which was an amazing show of self-restraint for me as I need to let things play out a bit yet. Who knows if masks will be gone even by January anyway.

We have been chatting about our options and a lot depends on what is decided for May 17th by the governments involved. It is being suggested that the US may be on a “green list” by May 17th allowing travel, probably with proof of vaccine or a negative test going out and coming back in for those not yet able to get one. If so, of course our options with Virgin come down to either going or moving it to a set of dates like January where the financial pain of doing so is not too high.

We aren’t too keen to go in June I have to say. As amazing as that sounds, it would no doubt entail masks for the nine hour flight and at the airports. We probably wouldn’t do the parks for that reason too and so it would be a chance to relax, eat, recharge and just be there. I’m sure we’d enjoy that but it isn’t the holiday we have planned.

If we move, then when do we move it to? Masks may be a thing at WDW for a long time yet. Maybe January would be more tolerable in the cooler temperatures, but who knows if the winter might bring a rise in COVID rates and new restrictions anyway.

All the while, what really upsets me is the time that is passing and the lost opportunities to have Freddie experience what we have all known and loved for so long. It’s a mess really.

I guess there is one last option of, if allowed, going in June, doing the parks, sucking up the mask thing and doing the best we can. The worst that could happen is that the parks become no fun and we end up only doing them a little bit and wasting the money on our park tickets. Also, with the lack of shows, fireworks and all that jazz, Freddie’s memories of the first trip he will probably remember would be a shadow of what they should be.

Sigh.

We may know more tomorrow as the PM is due to give another of his clear, concise and enjoyable briefings and it is rumoured to cover international travel. The US did 4.1 million vaccines yesterday which is just mind blowing. It is amazing what can be done when you don’t have an idiot in charge.

Who knew that going on holiday could ever be so hard?

OK, I did warn this may be brief. I can feel the weight of my outstanding chores on my shoulders so I need to crack on. More unhelpful waffle about US travel options next week no doubt.

Till the next time……

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……

Being Right & Retro

In a very rare turn of events it appears that I made the right decision.

This week Virgin pushed back any possibility of flying to Orlando until October at the earliest. So now as I sit here with new flights already secured, updated plans made and park reservations in the bag, it does appear that making that decision a few weeks ago has saved me a considerable amount of stress and panic right around now.

I guess we would have now been waiting for refunds, rearrangements and all that jazz along with everybody else cancelled for our original dates. It may well be a one-off occasion that I made a right call, so please allow me to wallow in it.

I have to say that although the 1st of March is so far in the future I don’t think we can still be 100% sure that we’ll definitely be going then. That may sound mad, but in a country where new records are being set every day for infections and deaths are rising again, you have governors banning cities from enforcing mask-wearing in public.

This level of stupidity cannot be comprehended and it is this sort of muppetry that may see me stressed and panicked again in the new year trying to move stuff once more.

As you will have seen on Friday when I shared an old, yet recently rediscovered photo on Facebook, we found some old photos. Emily is getting a new bed and re-doing her bedroom so she is currently trying to make her room look a little less like one of those “hoarder houses” you see on the telly.

Having gone through the photos from the box she discovered deep under her bed, I’ll share a few more now. I’ll try to keep it to those of historical interest as long as I can remember what they were.

This is from, I think 1999. It is from our only visit to date to the Liberty Tree Tavern. Rebecca is two here if it is 1999. My Dad took us and my brother and his family to Florida on his maturing endowment, which is not a euphemism.

It’s terrible that I can’t be sure of the year with a lot of these. If there is one positive from my writing of trip reports in the years that followed these early trips it is that we will always know the exact date of things we are looking at.

I think this is 2001 and the first trip we did as a foursome. This would make the girls six and four respectively which I think looks right. We stayed at the All Star Sports, paying massively over the odds for a package deal. I knew no better at this early stage in my Disney development. This was the first trip I booked as up until that point I had been with my parents or had been taken by my Dad in 1999.

This is Mickey or Minnie’s house. Both of course now a thing of the past.

Again, I am guessing but I think this is 2001 again based on Rebecca’s size and dress. This, if you can’t work it out is in France in World Showcase. The hours we spent with the girls getting those masks done. Every minute of them an absolute pleasure.

Now, this one is a bit of a rare find. This must be 1999 and the brief but glorious thing that was Tapestry of Nations. For those too young to remember this was an outstanding parade type of thing that made its way around World Showcase before ROE. Forgive the photo. I had an old steam-powered camera and it was very hot and raining.

Again from 1999, and this is my brother’s eldest son, Jack, at the time around six I think. This was when paper maps were relevant and in the Animal Kingdom, we still needed one. The park hadn’t been open that long at the time.

Again, I’m guessing that this was 2001. It’s some bizarre stage show that I have little to no recall of and I certainly have no idea what it was called. It had all those characters in that anyone from the UK only has a passing knowledge of like Rocky and Bullwinkle. I have to say, I have not mourned the passing of this show in the way I did Wishes!

This looks like 2001 again. Although Rebecca looks small for four. Maybe it’s 1999? No, I think 2001. I honestly can’t remember. See, if you think writing trip reports is for OCD idiots with nothing better to do, then, of course, you are right, but they do serve a purpose.

This was outside those silver character caravans in what was MGM at the time, near Little Mermaid and what was One Man’s Dream.

This was definitely 1999. Rebecca is two here and looking very similar to a currently two-year-old Freddie. This was taken at Busch Gardens. On top of her stroller is one of two giant stuffed toys that were won that day on the boardwalk games. We somehow got them home and they still sit in my Mum and Dad’s house. When the girls were younger and slept over at Nana and Grandad’s they had to be moved out of the bedroom as they terrified them!

And finally 2003, the first trip report year. For that reason and the fact that I remember this like it was yesterday this is outside Rock n Rollercoaster and that is Rebecca with the untamable and unfathomable hair she had at the time.

We were waiting for Louise to finish her ride before heading to The Brown Derby for our ADR. Just as Louise emerged and we set off it started with torrential rain and we got absolutely soaked. We had to get the girls a sweatshirt each from the villain’s shop on the way so they wouldn’t freeze to death in the air con whilst eating. Rebecca’s look of happiness and joy is a strong reminder of how (almost) every minute of these trips are happy memories and things to cherish as we make new ones with the new people now in our lives.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I finally got all of our old videotapes from many trips converted to a digital format and we’ve been watching those again. There are hours and hours of unedited and largely tedious ( to anyone but us) footage, so I won’t bother you with those, but if time allows I may try to share some highlights if I can master the required technology to do so.

Until I can spend some time finding out how to do it properly here’s a little clip from 2001, recorded from laptop to phone so excuse the sound quality and wobbly camera work. There are about another ten hours of this stuff…..

Till the next time…….

Virgin On The Ridiculous

We have a lot to get through so let’s not waste time. Take it as read that I’m a first world problem, holiday obsessed idiot with no awareness of the real problems going on around me.

The week began in a maelstrom of self-doubt and second-guessing. As soon as I pressed the button (metaphorically) to change our trip everything suddenly seemed to be getting a lot better very quickly.

This, of course, was just my perception and a reaction to having made the call, but it did not stop me persecuting myself. I’m not often right in my predictions but my spider-sense was absolutely spot on with regards to Virgin. Their website promises a joyously seamless experience should you wish to move your booking to a new date. I feared this was bollocks and I was very correct.

I emailed them and got no response within the 48 hours promised so I resorted to messaging them. What followed was a text message conversation that lasted longer than a 13-year-old talking to his first crush.

It may well have been that I just struck unlucky with my agent, but I don’t know what happened. It was a mess. I understand many agents are working from home and they may be worried about their jobs and long term future with Virgin of course, but it won’t stop me moaning about it like a man-baby.

It didn’t start well as their first reply to my initial message confirmed that my booking had been moved to the 26th of August. I pointed out those were my original dates and could they move it to the 1st of March as I’d requested. I was then told to go online and do that. If the agent knew anything about me at all they would have known that I would do almost anything to avoid dealing with a human being if an online alternative exists, but I patiently explained there was no option to change my booking to new dates online, or else, I would have done that before emailing and texting them.

Having run a dummy booking on their site for our new dates I saw that I could get Premium both ways for a few hundred quid more so I requested that. Apparently, when booking that via a person it comes with a slight surcharge of £425 each. Not wanting to prolong this agony I told them to just move the thing as it was to the new dates. This was just the beginning of the longest run of changing facts since the Vote Leave campaign.

Next, I was told there were no seats in the cabin we had booked on our outbound flight and there would be a price difference to pay as we’d have to go “Economy Delight” rather than “Classic”. I asked how much that would be and/or if the next day’s flight had better availability.

Some time passed and I was then told I’d be better off getting back to them “later” as they’d know more then what might be available. “Later” seemed to mean closer to our original departure date. How unavailable seats become available “later” wasn’t clearly explained. I explained I could not do that as I had a million other moving parts of this trip, some of which were holding dates for me and I just wanted to move the booking as promised on their web site.

I was getting tetchy at this point and having run that dummy booking on their web site, I could see a load of empty “Classic” seats. When I pointed this out, suggesting several rows that I’d be happy with, suddenly they miraculously found some too and, good news, they could be mine for just £145 extra…each. I declined, questioning why I needed to pay extra for the same cabin I had on my existing booking.

Amazingly, now they went back to insisting there were no “equivalent” seats on the outbound again and I would need to pay them lots of money. I asked about a refund. All I got was a standard reply saying I had to email another address and refunds would take a lot longer then the 90-day rule says it should. Confused? So was I.

I enquired why they were inventing extra charges. They said they were not, and they just had no equivalent cabin seats and I would need to upgrade. Pointing out that the dummy booking I was looking at was actually cheaper than the price I paid for our original dates they said they could not price match to the web site as it gave a discount. I do love a consistent brand experience across their various channels. You can’t beat a company’s website competing against their own call centre agents to give customers a warm glow. I said I did not want a price match, I wanted them to book us some of the available Classic seats I had already paid for and I could see lots of online.

Then I was told that I didn’t have Classic on my original booking (even though I could see it on their website that I did).

Apparently, they suddenly decided to tell me that I had OSCAR reservations which were promotional and funnily enough my new dates did not qualify for that promotion so I would need to pay another £900 if I changed to the new dates.

So the only option I now seemed to have was to apply for an open ticket as apparently then I could make my own new booking on their website. I abandoned the text conversation at that point and I filled out the form on their web site requesting that my booking be converted into an open ticket. This was Tuesday, four days after we decided to move the flight and we were still no further forward. Those who know me at all will understand that this would not be good for my planning obsessed, uncertainty allergic state of mind.

Much time passed and nothing happened. The form told me that I could relax now and, although it may take a few days they would sort it all out and come back to me.

They did not come back to me.

By Saturday I was stressed out, anxious and angry. I’d already moved the theme park tickets to next year, investing in a new one for Freddie who will be three next March and I had the villa holding our new dates, now, for over a week. I had a Frankenstein of a trip, made up of two different sets of dates and nobody at Virgin cared one jot.

On Saturday afternoon I decided enough was enough and I did something I never do. I phoned them. I had to wait 90 minutes listening to Bitter Suite Symphony by the Verve, before getting through to someone. Melanie, the agent I was connected to was Welsh, lovely, professional, efficient and understanding.

Not that I have anywhere else to take my Trans Atlantic business in future, but she restored my faith in the company I have to fly with.

Within ten minutes the dates were changed. Did I have to pay the extra £900? Nope. There was no charge to amend the booking of course, but there was, for reasons I didn’t understand or care enough to get into at this stage, a £30 per person fare difference. This would be more than compensated for by the £210 refund I was due for the bubble seats we’d upgraded to that no longer existed. I did have to pay the extra there and then and wait about six months for the refund, but all in all, after the angst of the week just gone, I took that as a victory. I did have one last concern.

With the dates now moved, I had a fear that my request to convert my booking into an open ticket (remember that?) would still be carried out. Melanie assured me she would add notes to my booking so that would not happen. As much as I want to believe my new friend Melanie, I hope that works out.

Immediately I could see the new details on their web site and I was able to book seats and meals. It was a relief.

With that in place, I could now move through the other required changes like a virus at a protest. Of course, everyone wanted their extra pound of flesh. I could change the villa booking online as that was with Airbnb. I had been messaging the owner and I did again to query whether the chunky extra fee I was being shown was valid and they really would charge me that. It was and they did.

I booked the Hard Rock for our new dates and again, the prices now quoted were significantly higher than the ones for this August. I also requested our original booking was cancelled. Travel Republic allows you to book with a very low deposit with free cancellation right up until the booking, so surely that will all be straightforward. Right?

I have messaged USRentaCar to move our booking to March. The same intuition that told me Virgin would be a shit show also tells me there will be more money heading their way for the privilege. I will, of course, let you know.

I emailed our airport taxi, and that change was the least painful of them all with an immediate reply saying that was all OK with no mention of extra costs. There’s time for that I suppose. I even messaged my nephew Jack who house and dogs sits for us and booked him for the new dates.

So I think we’re all sorted now, or as sorted as we need to be at this stage.

Having found it so hard to make the change, I did feel an unexpected sense of relief at having done so. I did get a cold shiver after seeing the new dates for the flights on the My Booking part of Virgin’s site. It was a sudden horrific confirmation that I wouldn’t be there this August, but overall, I feel it’s probably the right thing to do.

This view has been confirmed slightly by the case numbers in Florida spiking over the last few days of course. They do seem to be rising quite dramatically and were we still planning to go at the end of August that would be stressing me right out.

There’s some suggestion that the extra positive cases are a result of increased testing, but that, from the Republican Governor hell-bent on re-opening seems like a bit of a stretch.

Disney is publishing more detail on resort and park rules and I’m more convinced than ever that we wouldn’t be getting into a Disney park every time we might want to so I suppose that is some consolation.

Now, I can concentrate on stressing about what things will be like next March of course. I just pray there is a vaccine between now and then.

It’s been a week I wouldn’t wish to repeat and now you just have to endure me papping on about this trip for the next 267 days or so. Enjoy!

Till the next time……

Defeated and Demoralised

Let me get the obligatory “first world problems” caveat out of the way. We are all healthy, housed, clothed fed and safe. I understand most folks have it worse than me and I know I am a snivelling gimp for what is to about to happen. With that said, I am about to unleash both barrels of my moan-gun all over this blog.

On Friday the decision was made to postpone our upcoming trip.

I am very much not OK about this. Yes, it was a special trip for my 50th and that hurts a bit, but more than that, I just miss the place, need a holiday and was really, really looking forward to spending some time with the family in nice weather with nice food. (I refer you again to paragraph one above).

Why did we take that decision? Well, for many reasons I suppose.

First, of course, is our own safety. Whilst this is our primary concern it isn’t the thing that I feel is the highest risk or the main reason to defer. I am pretty confident I have had it, along with Tom and Rebecca. Louise suspects she had it very early in the outbreak but of course none of us knows for sure. Hopefully, that affords us some protection. None of our party is particularly at high risk, but of course, we need to protect ourselves as much as possible. However, we are no less likely to catch it here than in the US, to be honest.

In reality, the procedures outlined by Disney for their re-opening were the straws that broke this camel’s back. I woke on Friday to the news that all my ADRs had been cancelled as I suspected they would be. You can’t socially distant in restaurants that are full. It also became almost clear that there would be a reservation system to get into Disney parks. Being off-site scum, without a valid park ticket (yet), I assumed we would be some way down the pecking order in getting those. That would make the investment in a 14-day ticket unjustifiable.

Add to that the fact that masks would be mandatory for Freddie and there would be no parades or fireworks, then for us, I felt the effort and investment to get over there, didn’t feel like it would be worth it. I am not moaning about Disney doing any of this. They need to do what they need to do. In a way, I feel they want to deter visitors, certainly in the first few weeks.

There is still much for Disney to outline, flesh out and confirm of course but for us, with park tickets to buy in the next few weeks, there is too much uncertainty around gaining entry to parks for us to go ahead and do that, with the seemingly unavoidable risk that we may not get a reservation to get into a park on some days.

Secondly, I don’t want to get into political discussions on here, that’s what my Twitter is for, but all I will say is that I have very limited confidence in the respective governments of the UK and the US getting their countries out of this any time soon. Neither have a test, track and trace scheme in place and neither are seeing their infection and/or death rates coming down as other similar countries are.

It is spikey, but the above shows the new cases in Florida. The trend just isn’t going down. Even if international travellers from the UK were allowed into Florida by the end of August, that may only add to what seems to be a second wave forming from the limited re-opening the state has allowed already.

As for the UK. I do despair. Our trend looks better, but we haven’t opened up things like restaurants, gyms and hairdressers yet as Florida has. Yet we do seem to think it’s OK to send the kids back to school whilst the test and trace scheme so crucial to ending lockdown was “launched” prematurely with all the hallmarks of success we have come to expect from the response to the pandemic so far.

With gatherings of up to 6 being allowed alongside schools going back and with large parts of the country citing Dominic Cummings as an excuse to do whatever the hell they like, my confidence in us avoiding a second wave, or more accurately a prolonging of the first, is not very high. That, in the context of our holiday, might mean non-essential travel not being allowed any time soon. That also brings up fears of the sustainability of airlines like Virgin who are currently sitting on a good chunk of money.

I understand many of you may feel differently about the approach and “success” so far and I respect that. I’m just outlining some of my thinking whilst trying to avoid too long a stint on my soapbox.

So, for those and many other reasons I won’t bore you with, it was with a heavy heart and massive sulk on that I emailed Virgin on Friday and requested our booking be moved to the 1st of March. I haven’t had a response yet and I do have a fear deep down that this change won’t go as smoothly as their website claims it will, but if all goes to plan that is when we will be going.

I have emailed the villa and they are holding our new dates until Virgin confirm the change and then I can swing into action and sort out everything else.

Now that the decision is made my worry can be transferred onto the topic of whether or not things will be any different in March. My main hopes there are that there might be a vaccine so that things like masks and social distancing won’t be needed as much, but I just hope stuff is more back to “normal” than it would be in three months from now.

I am most definitely not OK. The dread of facing a whole other winter before getting back there is horrifying. As for how I will feel on the 26h of August, our intended departure date and my birthday a few days later are not worth thinking about.

Inevitably, even before the new flights are confirmed I am doubting the decision. I think (and hope) that is just driven by how much I miss the place. I watched a vlog of someone wandering Disney Springs yesterday, and despite the masks and distancing, it was still that beautiful dusky time of the evening, lovely and warm and full of that twinkly light Florida loveliness and my heart broke.

I wonder if I have gone too early and with three months before we would have arrived, might things have improved/changed in the parks by then? If I am sat watching folks enjoying stuff without too much disruption in early September I will be very hard on myself. I also constantly wonder if we should have just abandoned the parks and gone for a “relaxing break” on a beach somewhere in Florida but that isn’t the first choice of holiday for a few of our party and the rejigging of accommodation would inject quite a lot of extra cost into a trip with a lot already invested.

More than anything I am just horrified at the prospect of how much work is stretching out before me now until we get to go on holiday. That’s a whole lot of stuff I don’t want to do and I am very sad, probably in more ways than one.

Till the next time……

(Unf)Air BnB

In all my times of whinging and a moaning over the years, seldom have I been so securely ensconced within a glass case of emotion.

Last week was the one when I seriously started to consider realistic options for our holiday. Now, again, I know I seem to talk exclusively about this here, but that’s kinda what this blog is about and for. I am appropriately concerned, stressed, worried, perplexed and angry about a whole range of proper stuff in real life so don’t take this weekly obsession with a trip to some theme parks as a litmus test to my moral compass.

Is it only me who can remember about three things from school? One being litmus test, one is an essay I wrote about the French Revolution, including the opening sentence (and got an A!) and the last is how to ask for black forest gateau in German.

I am in deep turmoil. I swing on a minute by minute basis from thinking our original dates might work and then just minutes later I wonder if even postponing to next Spring will give us enough time for this thing to get sorted to a level where holidays can happen. It’s one roller coaster I don’t enjoy.

I have watched the footage of City Walk re-opening (or small parts of it) and heard the news of Disney Springs planning to do the same. Online commentary ranges from “I don’t know why they even shut the parks as I have been injecting disinfectant into my eyeballs since February and this is all a hoax…MAGA” to “the parks will be shut until 2050 and anyone who even considers setting foot in one before that has the blood of children on their hands”.

Florida has just moved into “full phase one” which means restaurants can go to 50% capacity as long as the 6ft rule is observed and they opened barbers, nail salons and gyms even though those were not officially included in phase one. Infection rates in Florida are steadyish currently but the next few weeks will be crucial and determine if they proceed to phases 2 and 3. Theme parks are now allowed to request permission to open by submitting their plans to keep folks safe.

I am torn between wanting things to get back to something approaching normal of course but fearing what we will see in a couple of weeks time when the limited reopening in Florida possibly leads to a spike in infections and deaths. I don’t like the current situation.

I have found and enjoyed useful information from this chap on You Tube.

I have never watched any of his “normal” videos which I assume are theme park based, but his concise daily summaries have been helpful. He covers daily infection and death rates in Florida and outlines and then visits stuff as it opens up again. He is on the ground in Florida so has useful insight into what is actually going on. For what it’s worth, his thinking is that parks are set for a July 1st opening, with oodles of restrictions.

My thinking this week has been in the form of a few different options. None of them are particularly pretty and certainly, none are perfect. This whole decision is more complex than a complex thing. Very few elements of our existing trip plans function well together with any change to our dates and with most options, we are likely to lose money.

Option 1

We go as planned and make the most of the likely limited park experiences. This assumes flights are operating and the US is allowing European flights in and there are no 14-day quarantine restrictions at each end. That’s a lot of moving parts to fall into place and for that reason, this option, right now, seems unlikely to me. Virgin tell me our flights are currently scheduled to depart as planned but that means little without both the UK and the US allowing non-essential travel to resume. You may have gathered by now that my confidence in either administration’s ability to manage that adequately is on the low side.

One of the other big unknowns with this option is the limited capacity in the parks. Suggestions are that you may need to book your attendance each day. Six Flags have published their “rules” for re-opening and this is what they are doing. Shanghai Disney are saying…

“Guests are required to purchase dated admission tickets prior to their arrival, and Annual Pass holders must make a reservation for their visit date and time through the resort’s official online channels before their visit to the park.”

Now for parties like us that have spent thousands on 14-day tickets, how will that work? Do we risk not getting “in” on some days and therefore losing that money? This is one thing that will need lots of clarity and will be a big factor in us being able to go ahead with plan A should we even want to.

Option 2

We go as planned, assuming all the same stuff as above and don’t do the parks at all (maybe Universal as we’ll be on-site). Instead, we do a beach holiday. Again, we lose the cash paid to the villa already and need to pay for new digs. However, we do save many thousands by not buying theme park tickets.

Option 3

We move to a late November/early December date this year. Things may be clearer and more settled in the parks or they may not. I do like the idea of experiencing the Christmas stuff without the peak holiday crowds in early December but the uncertainty of all this is doing my nut and I have no idea what to do.

A significant consideration in all of these options is that should we move dates, the villa we booked is unavailable on all dates prior to March. On the face of it, should we move dates before next March and then we have to find a new villa/accommodation and we lose a non-trivial amount of cash already paid to Air BnB.

Option 4

We move the thing to next year, say, early March. January and February may be too cold and I don’t want to wait until next summer as I want a holiday and I will stamp my feet until I get one. Currently, our villa has dates available so we would not lose any cash in this scenario.

This experience has got me thinking twice about whether I would book through Air BnB again as their deposit requirements are high and cancellations costly. I have not yet spoken to the owner directly and they may, of course, be more forgiving, but I suspect they don’t have too much wriggle room as they are bound by the terms of the site we booked through.

Virgin Atlantic updated its policy last week. If like us you booked before March and travel before October you can move your dates for free, with no penalty or price difference for a new trip with a return before November 30th. That doesn’t work for us dates wise but still, if we move dates, we won’t be charged any admin fees but would need to pay any price difference.

As we would be moving from August to a quieter time, any price difference should be minimal. Looking at the Virgin site we could rebook for early March and get Premium both ways, rather than just on the return leg as we have now for a couple of hundred quid more.

Being me, I, of course, want to get it sorted and reinstate some certainty back in to (that part of) my life but I don’t feel informed enough to do so. If I haven’t pushed the button on any of this soon, things will come to a head in June as that is when balances on things like car hire are due and we’ll have to decide to do something or nothing at that point. Knowing me, I will have done something already as I am not renowned for my laid back, let’s see what happens approach!

Part of me is urging that I just sit tight for a while. This will allow us to see what the parks do, and more importantly, if non-essential travel crucially is allowed again. If it isn’t and the flight gets cancelled on us, our options for moving it without penalty or price difference would be extended to later dates….perhaps. Having said that, that doesn’t matter too much as the flights in November or March are a similar or lower price than we paid for our current August dates.

Sigh, I suspect you are all more fed up of this than I am. Well, let me tell you, you may think you are but you are most definitely not. But at least I actually get to go on the trip if and when it gets sorted. You just get all the moaning. At this point, writing this stuff here is close to therapy and is an outlet for my frustration and angst. Having laid out the options in detail and worked through the finances of all of them, I think I have discounted the November option. The loss of villa deposit and having to find new accommodation makes that too pricey. It would appear we are faced with a choice between going as currently planned or going next March.

Deep down, I know that March is the only option that gives any drop of certainty. The thing stopping me pressing the button on that is the thought of the horror of having to endure another UK winter without a break. At this point I honestly don’t know how I would drag my flabby exhausted self through that.

Sigh…..answers on a postcard please.

Till the next time……

Teams & Tantrums

Rebecca turned 23 on Thursday. Many of you still may think of her as the “little girl” from the trip reports, as do I, but time waits for no man and she has, without any regard for my feelings on the matter, gone and turned into a fully grown human.

It was, of course, frustrating that the best we could manage was a brief socially distant giving of presents in her back yard, but this week I shall be doing all I can to refrain from moaning like a big baby so instead, I shall be grateful for that and for the fact that as a family we are so far relatively unscathed in this crisis.

We got her a Nintendo Switch with Animal Crossing which is a throwback to the game she and Emily played a lot as children. Emily bought herself the exact same set up so they can now “visit each other’s islands” and there has been group chat about gifting fruit and ladders. I don’t know what that is but if it takes Emily’s mind off the fact that she can’t see her boyfriend still then it’s a good thing.

In the continuing search for positives, the four day week was very welcome. Despite the fact that all I have done for the last couple of months is work and walk the dogs, I am very tired. Not having to sit on my laptop for work all day on Friday was a joy and instead, I could sit all day on my laptop looking for news on things that may affect our holiday.

The highlight of my work week (unless my employer is reading this) was finding out that in Microsoft Teams (for those who might not know, this is a software programme that allows for online collaboration and video chat etc) you can upload custom backgrounds that can be used when you are on video calls. It means you don’t have to worry about where you are sat in the house and what folks might see behind you.

I was supposed to add to my library a range of branded company ones but instead, I just chose a load of my favourite WDW photos from over the years and loaded those in. Now, when I’m sat on two-hour video calls that should have been an email, at least my colleagues can marvel at the night time shot of World Showcase or my slightly blurry castle photo that I am sat in front of.

Indeed on one call yesterday, a colleague with a similar WDW obsession and I spent a good portion of the meeting discussing exactly from where I took the shot of World Showcase. It was time well spent.

It was this photo.

Here are some of the other backgrounds I will be discussing boring stuff in front of in the coming weeks. They will give folks something to look at as we inevitably circle though the unavoidable shite like….

“Who just joined?”

“Can you see my screen?”

“You’re on mute!”

“We’ll just give it a couple more minutes for people to join” despite the fact that I had the courtesy to turn up on fecking time.

“Sorry, you broke up a bit then….what did you say”?

“He just dropped off I think……”

You will know, due to it being a fantastic photo, that I did not take the one above.

Or that one…..

The shame of it is that I will be sat in front of these glorious backdrops blocking the view, but frustratingly, it is a condition of getting paid that I actually attend meetings.

To capture my current thinking on if and when we may ever see these things again, let alone in August, I would say my expectation of being able to do our holiday as planned has worsened since last week. That isn’t saying a lot as my “likelihood rating” was almost zero. You all knew I couldn’t resist papping on about this again, right?

Despite Virgin trying to make plans to stick around for a while, unless you want to fly from Gatwick or of course unless you are one of the 3,500 staff affected, that slight ray of hope seems almost irrelevant as the overall situation seems to be worsening on a daily basis.

Disney Springs and City Walk are both opening up in the coming weeks with very limited capacity and lots of new rules, which could be the first step on the journey back to normality. The fear, of course, is that a second wave ensues and the US is back to square one very quickly. To be honest, I’m not sure “second wave” is the correct term as I don’t think they are through the first wave yet. So whilst that and news the Shanghai are also opening their park soon is in one way welcome, my hopes still aren’t high or indeed existent.

It’s clear from comments made by senior Disney folks at a recent shareholder meeting that they are working very hard on how to make things safe(r) and how they can get some folks back onto property anytime soon. That’s slightly encouraging but I am still in a big man-baby sulk that my 50th trip is in serious jeopardy and just because that is a trivial concern in the midst of a global pandemic, spreading death and destruction upon the human race, it won’t stop me, in some small way, stamping my feet a bit every now and again. Unfortunately for all of you, that tends to be here every Sunday.

There was news yesterday that it seems the wearing of masks/face coverings will be mandatory when the parks reopen. I’ve seen stuff from some airlines too, suggesting they will be required on flights. Freddie aside, I don’t see a mask as too much of an issue on a flight for a few hours but they are less than ideal in a park all day.

All in all, I’m very much in the headspace of just trying to figure out what the best outcome will be of the holiday not going ahead at the end of August. Can we reschedule, how much cash will we lose, will things even be noticeably better later in the year? And for that reason, I am more than a little sad. To reassure you that I’m not a one-trick pony, I have other emotions too of course, such as……

If you or anyone you know were involved in the conga or a rendition of Oops upside your head that were reported during VE Day street parties on Friday, you’re an idiot and you are contributing to people dying and this thing dragging on for longer than it needs to. The fact that you are bored and have had enough of the lockdown would seem, to an intelligent person, a reason to keep to the advice rather than break it. I understand that government advice has all the consistency of blancmange but we are able to make our own judgements and you should strive for good ones.

See, I set out on this post trying my best not to moan about a holiday and in a few hundred words I have not just failed, I have ventured into berating people I don’t know and have never met. This is what happens when a shallow knobhead like me can’t get his holiday.

Till the next time……

Black and Hacked Dogs

Another week, another chin added to the collection. They now ripple, like my moods, ever-changing in the bizarre existence we find ourselves in.

I think it’s fair to say for one reason or another, the overall mood at Mkingdon Towers dipped slightly this week. It is inevitable I suppose with so much uncertainty, worry and added to all that, recently a bereavement. Having already heard of the sad passing of two extended family members on Louise’s side of the family since lockdown, a few days ago Louise’s Aunty passed away too.

It wasn’t, as far as we are aware, Covid related, but the fact that Louise couldn’t console her Mum when the news came through certainly was virus related. It was very upsetting of course. Louise struggled with that as it only added to the obvious worries about her elderly Mum who has been alone since this whole thing kicked off. Add to that, the fact that Louise is having a tough time at work and I know she’s feeling low at the moment.

I have to admit that I too have been feeling a little “down in the dumps” for no specific reason. It is probably just a combination of everything that is and isn’t going on. Acknowledging my personality traits, and on top of the predictable worries everyone has right now, I understand this, for me, is also about a lack of certainty, unanswered questions and an inability to “get things sorted” until time passes, and I don’t even know how much time that will be.

I don’t share my low mood that to garner sympathy, more to admit to it and suggest it’s probably normal and OK to have ups and downs at the moment. I’m no mental health expert but I suppose it’s better that way, rather than bottling everything up which is my trademark.

Onto more trivial (and no doubt easier to read) matters, the eternal sway between the possible, various holiday outcomes, last week brought some news. I don’t know whether it was good or bad news, but there was some news.

For clarity, just to keep a track of my thinking as time passes, right now, my expectations and hopes of being able to do any holiday at the end of August rate at low to zero.

I think it was on Thursday when I watched the Governor of Florida outline the plans to “re-open” the state. There were no huge surprises in his announcements, but despite the fact that I should have known better, there were some surprises in the comments that were cropping up on the Facebook live. I’ll summarise them as “Freedom, liberty, I own a lot of guns, it’s just like flu and/or a hoax and I need a haircut”.

Phase 1 of the re-opening basically just reinstated elective surgeries and allowed shops and restaurants to open at 25% capacity. All we can do now is watch what happens as restrictions are lifted but as I say, I am not hopeful of our yearned for trip being realised. Whether Florida gets out of Phase 1 or needs to lockdown again is the first thing to watch for and then we can maybe start to think about any moves to later phases. With theme parks at best in phase 3, the rumoured June plans to re-open them in some capacity seems fanciful at this stage.

Layer over that Virgin Atlantic teetering on the edge of collapse and the very bleak prospect of no holiday this year might just be the root cause of some of that glum stuff I mentioned earlier. I fully acknowledge the silliness of that, but, for me, these trips are an important anchor and focus around which I function. A Virgin collapse (that would be a great name for a band) would bring the added bonus of probably losing the money paid out for our flights and longer-term if Virgin cease to exist then the prospect of any Trans Atlantic holiday in the future also looks unlikely. Wow, I am a fountain of joy and positivity this week aren’t I?

I should count myself lucky really as Oli has suffered a much worse fate than maybe not getting a holiday. He has had half a haircut. Having not been attended to since early winter, his locks were flowing in all the wrong ways and directions and he was struggling with the warm weather. So a combination of Louise and Emily, over a series of days has made him cooler, but only in temperature, not necessarily in looks. The clippers we normally use have long since been in their prime and hacking with the scissors had to be resorted to.

As you can see, he’s looked better. He does feel better though as the day after this was done, out on our walk he was charging round with Bean in a way not seen for months. He must have felt about a stone lighter!

He will not let us touch, never mind brush or cut the fur on his legs so as you can see he has these very dapper bushy legs when compared to the rest of his body. At some point, hopefully soon, we’ll be able to get him to the groomers and make him look presentable.

Ending on a much needed upbeat note, the relative gloom and doom were lifted greatly yesterday when we had a socially distant visit from Rebecca, Tom and Freddie. Being able to see them in the flesh, and interact and play with Freddie, even from a distance, brought welcome smiles to our faces. We quickly developed a game where he threw pebbles at me across the garden. He is at that stage that each time we do see him, the mere fact that he has a whole range of new words in his vocabulary brings an involuntary smile to our faces. If nothing else, being able to do that normally and safely at some point in the future is something to look forward to.

If you got to the end of it, apologies for the “black dog” tone to most of this week’s ramble. It is what it is and no doubt next week will be back to normal, with me just moaning about stuff in my usual sunny manner.

Till the next time…..

Where There’s a Villa There’s A Way…..

What’s this nonsense? A mid-week Mkingdon blog? As if it isn’t enough effort to write one of these a week, never mind the effort of actually reading more than one.

When I’m mid-trip report, as I am currently, you lovely readers miss out on the weekly cut and thrust of my exciting life. It’s like if Keeping Up With The Kardashians were cancelled, put in a skip and set on fire, twice, and then blown up for good measure I imagine, and I do like to imagine that.

Anyway, whilst you have all been enjoying enduring the weekly updates from a holiday that happened a long time ago now, I have been busy. For the first time ever, and I recognise that this might be hard to appreciate or believe, upon landing in Manchester at the end of a trip, I knew for sure that we would be returning the following year. This is because I will be celebrating a significant birthday. That gets me a free pass with Louise, as you know she has often put her foot down and stopped us from going back to Florida year after year….

Image result for spacey side eye gif

So, like a multi-masking maestro, I have been writing about the last trip and simultaneously planning the next. I’ve managed to fit a bit of work in here and there too.

It hasn’t been easy. Firstly, Louise is back at University on a short and very intense course to become a midwife. As such her holidays were fixed and as they stood, meant that she would need to be in the UK on my actual birthday, which would have been a shame for her. Anyway, many weeks of negotiations, pleading and crossing of fingers saw them agree to her taking a holiday outside of the set dates….twice.

That “twice” was important as the first set of dates saw prices of flights that seemed to be inclusive of owning a good chunk of the plane and not just travelling on it. Many weeks of checking prices for mid-August passed with no success and hope was fading that we’d be able to go at all without a seven leg journey via New Zealand.

Having somehow got those later dates agreed, it made all the difference and yes, I am delighted to announce that we are now booked to return to Florida in 2020 for a special birthday trip.

Image result for excite gif anchorman

We leave on the 26th of August and I seem to have done very well with the flights, more through luck than judgement I would admit.

Prices north of £1000 each for our original dates were laughed off for a long time, and only very recently using the new dates, I struck lucky. With the demise of Thomas Cook, it left us only one direct operator from Manchester so we had three choices –

  1. Virgin
  2. Aer Lingus, indirect via Dublin
  3. Stay at home

Thankfully, option 1 came through for us, and with paying a little extra for bubble seats on the way out and Premium on the way back we secured flights within the budget. Having been contacted by a reader after posting on Instagram about this booking, it seems we have been very fortunate indeed. They (Hi Julie, I hope you get your flights sorted) were telling me that even in late September they were seeing prices over £800 for standard economy, which is just crazy. I’m taking it as a sign that this trip was meant to be, or the Virgin web site was broken. The latter may be true, as, for reasons I could not fathom, on our return leg, the Premium option was actually cheaper than economy. I booked it very quickly!

It was nice to have that in the bag and have the main task done. Or so I thought. This just moved me on to phase 2, accommodation. The easy element of that was booking our time at Universal. Hard Rock was always the intention and it was just a matter of finding the best deal. I was just about to book with someone else when I stumbled across Travel Republic who were offering just a £30 deposit to secure the two rooms we needed, with the balance paid just before we go. Thank you kindly very much and that was done. Two rooms for two nights in early September.

This was all going so well. Onto the villa. We had a fairly testing set of requirements, so it maybe should not have shocked me that it was so much effort to find “the one”. They were –

At least 2 masters with en-suite and another Queen/Double if possible.

You would not believe how hard this was to find. There’s a whole other blog post in my mind for villa owners, about how to make it more likely to get booked. Some do make it really hard!

Location – Ideally around Formosa/Emerald Island/Sunset Lakes.

As with when buying a house, location x 3 matters. When visiting WDW, it just makes life easier and gives the flexibility to be able to “pop back” to the villa if needed. There’s nothing worse than a 40 minute trip to and from the parks.

Prettiness – Being a special trip, I wanted something that reflected the gravity/success of getting there, so I was looking for something eye-catching, nicely decorated and with a bit of a wow factor.

I have spent more time than I would like to admit looking at villas since securing our flights. I have endlessly wavered between villas that were very close to the parks, but are now a little dated (or the websites are and have photos from 2006!) and those villas only just built, but are so far down the US27 that they are equidistant between WDW and Miami.

To draw a veil over a long, long…..long process, finally, I bit the bullet and, paying a little more than I may have wished, but bugger it, this is a special trip, booked this one. You can click the image to view it…..

It’s on a new development at the end of Funie Steed Road. That is the road which runs parallel to the 192 past all the developments I mentioned above. So it is a good mix of everything we were looking for. Namely, shiny, new and yet still in that sweet spot of being close to WDW.

I feel I have short-changed you, by skipping the detail of the endless painful hours which brought me to that villa. Especially, after all that work and research, I eventually found it by going back in our family WhatsApp group and looking at some villa links I posted months ago that had caught my eye. Sigh. It was the second one I ever saw way back then.

I still have to book us a car, but that is easy, right? The first draft of our 16 (glorious) days is now crafted and of course, pretty much every meal spoken for. I won’t steal my own thunder and reveal any more as I will need something to write about when this current trip report comes to an end, and I can only moan about my commute for so many weeks!

So, yay and hoorah, we have a countdown and it feels good. Now, let’s all commit to finishing this current trip report strong and then we can gird our collective loins for the next one.

Till the next time…….

Freddie’s First Florida Fiesta – Day Fifteen 12th September 2018

I always vow to make serious notes on our travel home day. I usually fail and this year was no different. Don’t get settled, this won’t take long.

Despite doing nothing but moan about being tired all holiday, for reasons I cannot fathom I appear to have been awake at 3.45 am. I dozed off again around 5.30, waking properly at 8. That set me up nicely for the long gruelling journey home.

At this point, Louise was packing stuff into our cases, I of course had to venture out to buy an extra case as, much like me and my T-shirts, we simply wouldn’t fit everything in on the return leg. Favouring cheapness over quality I ventured round to the shops close to the Outback. Sensing that Louise would not be impressed with me returning with a couple of supermarket shopping bags, I drove a little further and found one of those classy gift shops.

I invested $35 in a medium-sized case that I felt had a 50/50 chance of surviving the journey home.

Once back at the villa I spent what felt like hours recycling and generally throwing stuff out. When Louise had completed the very easy task of packing everything I undertook a task that is only rivalled by landing on the moon. I had to get all the cases into the car. Every failed attempt meant wrestling every heavy case out of the car before getting them back in again in the next failed configuration. I had a sweat on and a desire to burn all the possessions we were trying to take home.

Eventually I got it all in but had to sacrifice one of the back seats, meaning that one of the passengers would be sitting on the half-sized, not quite a seat on the back row of the bus. I didn’t care which, they would have to fight it out Hunger Games style before breakfast.

With a final check of the villa and everyone crammed sweatily into the car, I set the alarm for the last time and girded my loins and other fleshy areas for the next twenty-four hours.

We made a pit stop at Winn Dixie for Freddie supplies for the journey home before setting off for Disney Springs to do the check in thing.

Not being a regular Virgin flyer I had no clue where this was and it only took one detour before we spotted it. Cases were dragged across the car park and placed on to a make do set of scales. Shockingly our main case was too heavy and with a deep joy, I had to open it and re-distribute stuff into other cases. No, really, it was no problem.

Not being a Virgin holidays customers we were robbed of $10 per person for the privilege of checking in here. Forcibly resisting the urge to outwardly show my disgust at the $60 I had just been robbed of, we set off, in a much roomier vehicle to get some breakfast for which I would happily pay double that.

We headed for the nearest breakfast place I was aware of, which was the Perkins at Crossroads. The breakfast on the final day has to be a festival of gluttony, punishing our bodies for needing to be back in the UK.

We all ordered the usual double whammy of coffee and juice and read the menu a couple of dozen times. A balloon artist (is that the right word?) came over and Freddie very much enjoyed her work.

We ordered –

Me – Big Country Skillet and Pancakes

Emily – Pulled Chicken Sandwich

Louise – Eggs Benedict

Tom & Mikey – Hearty Man Combo

Rebecca had a “Three Egg thing”. The piss poor attempt at the name of it and the lack of a photo serve as the perfect gauge of my mood at this point.

The food was excellent and the bill was $130 including a bountiful tip.

We headed back to Disney Springs for the traditional last-minute scramble for gifts. We parked in Lime.

We spent the next hour in World of Disney buying presents for those at home and Emily bought herself a Dooney and Bourke purse.

With the gifts purchased, Rebecca, Tom and Freddie decided to get a caricature done. It only took about fifteen minutes and the result was excellent.

Time was pushing on now and we needed to call at the Premium Outlets on the way to the airport so we rushed back to the car and headed in that direction.

We split into smaller groups for maximum efficiency. Louise and I went into a children’s clothes shop and bought Freddie’s winter wardrobe for back home. Mikey splurged oodles of dollars in the designer shops. We had arranged to meet up at 3.30 and Mikey was seen sprinting towards us several minutes after that time laden with lots of bags that I wasn’t sure how we’d get onto the aircraft. We did.

Onwards now to the airport. I somehow missed the turn off for the car return at the first attempt so we did a nice circuit of the airport before getting it second time around. The investment I made pre-holiday in the huge car seat bag was repaid now, as we were able to use it not only for the car seat, but also for all the random bags we now had from our shopping trip.

We found the place to check that in before going through security, slowly and then onto the monorail.

We arrived at gate 87 and I handed Emily and Rebecca my remaining dollars to fund a Starbucks run. I don’t know what I had as I always just tell the girls to get me whatever they are having. It tasted nice.

We boarded at 6pm and took off forty minutes later.

And there dear reader, my notes end. The flight, I remember, was the usual mix of discomfort, average food and a few films. Freddie was great yet again. He took a little while to go to sleep but once he did that was pretty much it. We had no free seats on the return leg alas so sleep was sparse and fitful.

We landed, got the cases, taxied home and well, got back to real life. Sigh.

So there we have it. The end. I wish I could say that I planned the dates of the trip so that the writing of the trip report would nudge nicely up to Christmas. I didn’t. What this trip has taught me is that I ain’t all that at planning to be honest. The balance between being able to show first timers as much as possible versus keeping everyone rested, and ready to go was not achieved if I’m honest. Despite building lots of rest days into the plan, our over eagerness to then use those days to not rest bit us on the arse a little bit. Ah well, you live and learn.

Before we left, all the concern, if that’s the right word, was around Freddie of course. How would he cope with the long flights, hot weather and the sensory overload of a trip like this. We had absolutely no reason to worry. He was, and I use this word intentionally, perfect. He was never an ounce of trouble and only enhanced the experience at every step. The memories of sharing his first Disney experience will always outweigh any of the inevitable tired, not so magical times we had. That, and don’t be offended dear reader, is why I have chronicled this trip here. As I did with the girls when they were young, these trip reports were always written so that we had a record of their experiences. Now, we will all always have this set of badly written drivel as a reminder of the time Freddie first went to Disney.

Hopefully, it won’t be the last, well, it won’t if I have anything to do with it.

There are no plans for further adventures just yet. Not Disney ones anyway. Other plans await us as a family which will become clear in the fullness of time.

Thanks as always for reading this stuff. It always amazes me that you do, and it is not taken for granted. I appreciate each one of your views, likes and comments.

If you and yours are undertaking a Florida adventure soon, I wish you a wonderful time and of course, as we have coincidentally landed at the end of this at this time of year, please have a magical Christmas and  a wonderful 2019 from everyone here in Mkingdon land.

Till the next time…..

Freddie’s First Florida Fiesta – Day One 29th August 2018

I’m tired, jet lagged, and dreading work tomorrow. What better frame of mind could I be in to start writing this thing? Well, I could also be sad that I’m back in the UK, and somehow as the wheels hit the tarmac at Manchester I could have instantly developed a life threatening cold.

Sitting here now, a little weary and down beat for various reasons, looking back at my notes from the start of the trip just gone, I have to say I am not looking forward to recounting the untold joy, optimism and excitement of the start of a WDW trip. It is a necessary evil so it is time to stop moaning and get on with it.

The evening before our trip began, I noted that things were very busy and stressful. We had a million things to do, parents to see, takeaways to order and eat as well as last minute packing and seemingly never ending chores to complete before we were allowed to leave the country. As we wouldn’t all be at our house in the morning, I had to take this chance to take some traditional photos. Rebecca wasn’t very impressed as she had her rollers in and her dressing gown on, but a tradition is a tradition and she had to suck it up.

Then, a new tradition, with Freddie’s first by the door photo.

and Tom’s…

Somehow, we got through everything we needed to do, and I think I got to bed around midnight, honestly looking forward to the 4am alarm I had set going off.

Somehow I was awake before it went off, probably due to others already being up. Upon picking my phone up to turn the impending alarm off, I saw that I had a text. It was from Virgin. They regretted that there was to be an hours delay to our flight. Not as much as I regretted not knowing that before I went to sleep. It could have meant an extra hour in bed had I had chance to delay the taxi pick up. Ah well, showers were had, cases crammed full, weighed then opened again and things were re-arranged into other cases, and then weighed again until we were fairly confident that all of them might be under 24kg.

The taxi arrived a few minutes early, a rushed goodbye was said to the dogs and finally after all this waiting, we were off. The loading of the taxi was a rush and a bit of a panic, and I spent the journey to Rebecca and Tom’s wondering what I’d forgotten. It turns out that was my hoodie, which sat in my wardrobe. Balls.

Rebecca, Tom and Freddie were ready and waiting to go as we pulled up, and we added their luggage to the groaning pile already in the back of the van. It was a tight squeeze and on the assumption that our mini van I’d hired would be smaller than the bus we were currently in I was quite concerned for our ability to get all the luggage from Orlando airport to the villa.

Being so bloody early the journey to the airport was a quiet one. There was some chatter in the back, but I was sat next to the driver and thankfully he was wasn’t a talker so I could sit in the uncomfortable silence in peace. We arrived at 6.10 and took the lift up to departures to endure a horrific five minute queue to drop our luggage off.

 

Two of our cases were just over the 24kg limit despite our best efforts but the kind lady in the ill fitting Virgin uniform “waived” the charge that should have been levied against us. The car seat had to be taken to a special drop off point at the other end of departures and once we’d done that we were free to head through security, up another level which needed another lift. Rebecca, Tom, Freddie and the pram (it will be a stroller as soon as we land state side!) were diverted through the fast track lane and I made a mental note to ensure that Emily would be in a pram the next time we come. The rest of us endured the normal route and we all got through within a few minutes. Louise was searched as usual.

We weaved our way, Ikea style through the absurd collection of poncy displays and arty photos that are meant to flog perfumes and headed for food. Frankie and Bennys seated us immediately and then ignored us for about ten minutes.

Freddie had his food at the ready so he cracked on anyway.

The rest of us waited for our order to be taken.

Me and Tom – Eggs Benedict, which was to be the smallest plate of food we would see for the next two weeks.

Emily – Nutella and Banana Thing

Louise & Mikey – A Big One

Rebecca – A fry up of some sort

Some toast was ordered for Freddie so that he didn’t feel left out.

With coffees and juices for most, (two drinks each? well we are on holiday!) the bill was £90.

We strolled duty free for far too long, and lost Louise and Mikey who snuck off to the loo without telling anyone. Emily got some sunglasses, and crucially, Louise bought very little. We found some seats and rested for a while before finding a bar in which I could have a £27 diet coke. Technically, there were seven drinks purchased, but you know what I mean.

I took the chance to release the chocolate hostage on UK soil, so that wouldn’t be needed later in the confines of the plane toilet. With that task complete, gate 210 was located and we sat and watched folks queue up for ages to board and take the seat they had reserved.

It was about fifteen minutes until we boarded and made our way up to the bubble. As we were settling in a stewardess (is that what they are called nowadays?) told us that there were a number of empty seats on the flight so if we wanted to use some of them after take off it would give us more room for Freddie.

We took off at 11.30 which Louise enjoyed as much as she always does. We were up to altitude quickly and the seat belt signs were off. Within three seconds some bloke from a few rows away literally threw himself into the spare row in front of us, claiming them as his own. Mikey had a word with the cabin crew and he was directed to another empty seat near his own and Mikey and Emily took up that row meaning we were now three rows of two, and we all had more room which was excellent.

The bubble seats have a really handy shelf/storage bin down the side which is great for putting stuff on and in, but also, if you have an infant with no seat of their own it is useful for them to sit and play on too.

Despite my earlier Eggs Benedict I was starving. They were a bit small and pretty average to be honest, and I shouldn’t throw stones in that particular glass house, but I needed food. With a predicted flight time of eight and half hours drinks were brought round (free, which was nice), and I hoovered up the six pretzels that came with my diet coke in seconds.

Thankfully, food was not far behind and I had a sausage in my mouth quicker than a guest at a Michael Barrymore pool party (I like to keep things topical). It all tasted very good.

We now settled in for the duration with some trying to sleep…

Others, played with Vera…whoever she is….

and most crucially some of us were just impeccably behaved. Freddie was a star for the entire flight, without a hint of trouble, noise or complaint….

There was a lot of looking at this…

and this…

I watched the Darkest Hour with a forty minute nap in the middle of it. After playing Solitaire for a bit I finished the flight by watching Downsizing whilst eating our snack…

I was hungry again so it mattered not what it tasted like. It was devoured. The film was a bit weird, felt about half an hour too long and lost its way a bit.

We started to descend at 7.20 UK time. As they tend to, my ears gave me a fair bit of pain on the way down but I don’t mention it much….just every time I go on holiday.

We were one of the first off the plane and the relief and joy as the first bit of Orlando heat seeped through to us on the walkway from the plane was palpable. I have to say that Orlando is a mess for arrivals. It is warren of corridors and double bag drops and/or dragging cases up and down escalators. It could be a million times easier. Immigration was a ten minute wait and another similar wait for our luggage. As is traditional, Louise is “desperate for the loo” at this point but she was told in no uncertain terms that she could wait until I was getting the car. Words were exchanged, most of them not repeatable here.

Another ten minute wait saw us heading for the garage to choose our carriage for the next two weeks. The criteria was simple. Whichever had the most luggage space would be chosen regardless of all else. After a few minutes of opening various trunks (we are in the US now) we settled on what turned out to be a Toyota Sienna. It took all the luggage fairly easily which was a huge relief.

I was determined to take a few minutes now to get myself familiar with the knobs and buttons at my disposal, again like a Barrymore pool party….but started the thing up to get the air con going. It was a keyless ignition thingy but I did note that there was no sign of the key which could be crucial when it came time to lock the thing later. A search of nooks and crannies proved fruitless and so I piled out of the car, a little frustrated, looking for assistance. The chap I found spoke as much English as I did Spanish, but I think I got my point over as he said, whilst helping us look for the key “No key, car no vroom”. I understood that he meant the key must be somewhere in the car or it wouldn’t start. After a few more minutes Tom found the key under the driver’s seat and we were finally on our way, with me a little sweaty and agitated.

I had unleashed our trusty old sat nav and stuck that to the windscreen but of course in the underground garage it was picking nothing up. The fact it had been in its box for 18 months in a cupboard in the UK also won’t have helped. It was at this point that I made a mental note that in future it would be a good idea to write down, on something close to hand, the actual address of the villa so that I could put it into the thing. As it was, as we emerged from underground and it started working, I browsed recently found destinations whilst trying not to hit anything and chose one that was pretty close to where we were heading. I think it was Old Town, and I figured that if I got us there I’d be able to find Emerald Island Resort.

The first few minutes behind the wheel felt as alien as ever, but I soon settled into it and began to enjoy our travels. It took about half an hour to get to the 192. I had retained all the loose coin from our last trip, rather than leave it behind as I often have and this proved a stroke of genius as they were very handy for the couple of tolls we encountered on the way.

As we reached the Formosa Gardens turn off the 192, there were roadworks and an annoying queue at the lights which made the last five minutes of our marathon journey today a little frustrating. Upon arriving at Emerald Island, I got us past the guard on the gate with some photo ID and the paperwork sent from the villa owner. That same paperwork directed us, without delay or diversion to our new home.

The cases were dragged in and exploring was done. There was a momentary concern that I couldn’t find the second master ensuite bedroom but after turning a corridor upstairs it was located and all was well. Yes the villa was that large that a bedroom could be hidden.

As unpacking happened, I took Tom and Mikey to the supermarket for the procurement of essentials. On the way out I stopped at the clubhouse to get a pass for the gate so we wouldn’t need to speak to the guard every time and with that done we were on our way to spending over $300 on food and things. We returned, unpacked and Louise had a shower. By this point, Freddie was just too tired to function and it became clear that he wouldn’t be fit to come out to eat. So Rebecca, Tom and he stayed at the villa whilst the rest of us ventured out to the Outback.

There was a ten minute wait for a table but were soon knee deep in cheesy bacon fries and a bloomin’ onion.

We had –

Me – Aussie Cobb Salad

Louise – My notes say a cheesy chicken thing

Mikey & Emily – Chicken Caesar Salad

We ordered some stuff to go for Rebecca and Tom, namely some more cheesy bacon fries, a philly steak sandwich and another Caesar Salad which took the whole bill to $140 including a good tip for our lovely server who reminded us of Karen from Will & Grace.

We were back at the villa by 9.30 to find everyone asleep so the food went into the fridge and everyone else hit the hay within seconds.

Till the next time…..

Pretty Fly For A Tight Guy

What better way to start my 2018 blogging than with news of Florida related vast expense?

I have kept an eye on flights for a month or so now, with no real intention to buy unless the price seemed too good to be true and unlikely to fall further. I did see my arse at times as both Thomas Cook and Virgin seemed to be heading significantly north of £600 as notified by my Kayak alerts, but I held my nerve and told myself all would be well.

So with Louise out during the day on New Year’s Eve I found myself at a loose end. In the afternoon, I fired up the laptop and Emily and I demolished a selection box whilst going over our day by day plan with a fine tooth comb. We had a quick look at the busy day guides and realised that our trip could be summarised as, every park will be busy the first week as it is Labor (sic) day and quieter after that so we gave up trying to reconstruct the plan based on that and went with our gut instincts.

With Freddie in tow, I do realise that all planning will be subject to change, and going with flows will be the order of the trip so I’m not too worried about which park will be on which day. He may only be ten months old at the time, but he will be (quite rightly) dictating our movements.

What I do care about is where we are eating so we spent a good amount of time re-jigging some of those plans and that is now pretty much as planned as it can be until we can book the few ADRs we need. Having said that, new restaurants keep opening which lure us into changes. The Edison being the latest one to tempt us to change the plan.

Anywho, later that day it came to mind that I should perhaps have a quick look at flight prices. I did a Skyscanner/Kayak thing and noted a price with Virgin of just over £500. Now, either Branson was drunk or my laptop had been set to show prices in some weird currency. I tried to go to the Virgin Atlantic site and do a test run of a booking to see how they would double that price before I got to check out, but for some reason their website won’t let you book online if you have an infant in your party.

So I looked at the third-party options listed on Skyscanner. I discounted a few I’d never heard of as their reviews were as good as Trump’s approval rating, but decided to give Netflights a go, as I’d heard of them and indeed even booked with them previously.

They do let you book online with an infant in the party and the price held true. So, on the basis that any price around the £500 mark for direct flights in August (granted, late August this time) was unlikely to be bettered, I shot my bolt.

I did realise that I had not reserved any seats and that would be extra. Once I got the eticket details through from Netflights I went to the Virgin site to see which fellow passengers I would be inflicting a ten month old on for nine hours. As much as I tried to pay them money for knowing where we’ll be sitting, the web site was having none of it. I kept getting one of those ever so helpful error messages that web sites give so often.

“Something went wrong. You can try again or whatever.” was how it went I think. So I gave up. I was glad in a way as by sleeping on it my subconscious Florida brain kicked in and brought to mind “the bubble”. Now we hardly ever fly Virgin. I think we have done so just once in all these years which goes to show –

a) How tight I am

b) How they are pretty much always more expensive than other options

but I have heard and seen lots of talk of the bubble. With a bit of research and watching a couple of vlogs about it (Hi Guys!) it seemed this would suit us well. If we’re going to do economy (and we are, I’m not made of money), then being in that less populated, quieter space would mean we will be inflicting all that screaming on fewer people. I don’t mean Freddie by the way. Louise tends to get a bit vocal when scared. She’s not a good flyer.

So despite it being New Years day by this time, some poor soul was working in the Virgin call centre and I had to actually ring up and speak to someone. This is no way to conduct business in 2018!

Hilary (I think it was) was very helpful and explained that the system did seem to be glitchy, so much so that she could see two payments had been taken from me already from my attempts the previous day online and the seats were allocated.

A good dose of hold music later it was all sorted, a refund for the second payment was processed and I could now see our seats reserved online. For anyone flying on VS75 on the 29th of August, come say hello.

The plan was for Rebecca, Tom and Emily to be on row 80. Three pairs of hands will be needed for those really big smelly nappies! Louise of course has to have the window seat so that we don’t crash, so we will be in row 79 with one of us off our tits on red wine and Diazepam.

A couple of days after booking, our party grew and that spare seat in row 79 was filled. A new character will be introduced to the Mkingdon cast for 2018.

To cut a long story short, a friend of Emily, who is a boy (but not her boyfriend) was added to the party. He also works with Louise and recently attended an Anne Summers party with Louise, Emily and Rebecca! If he can survive that then he should be fine. He’s never been to WDW before and to be frank has no clue about what to expect or that the holiday will be shared in an overly detailed trip report to at least three readers.

Say hello to Mikey everyone. He knows not what he has let himself in for.

There’s no getting away from the fact that a nine-hour flight with an infant is going to be hard work, but if Freddie continues to behave as he has in his first couple of months then it shouldn’t be too bad.

So, by the time I’d paid for our seats it was around £570 each (apart from Freddie who was a very reasonable £9 pre taxes), which is a price I’m happy with and one I don’t think will go down between now and August. At least we now know we’re sorted, have seats in the more peaceful bubble and can really start to plan.

If anyone does spot the same flights for less between now and and August you can keep that information to yourself!

Till the next time….