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….

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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.

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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….