Posted by: mfoz1 | July 21, 2009

Day 1 Wednesday 8th July

Best laid plans… i.e. twilight check-in the night before didn’t happen for a couple of reasons, the main one being that Deb managed to fit all of the luggage in our car which meant that we would only need to take one to the airport. The other reason was that the thought of spending a couple of hours at least on the M25 in rush hour traffic filled me with more dread than the idea of queuing at the Virgin check-in desk tomorrow morning. So we did online check-in instead and hoped for the best. Just like the night before Christmas when I was a kid I found it difficult getting to sleep and when it did finally happen it wasn’t quality (deep) sleep. Consequently I woke up feeling awful which wasn’t the start I wanted. I wasn’t alone as Charlotte (21) who isn’t a morning person at the best of times had hardly slept either. Not the happiest bunch then as we loaded the car and headed off to Gatwick.

The traffic this morning isn’t bad at all and although we poodle from the M26 onto the M25 and all the way round to the Gatwick junction we are moving at least. We decided to park in the airport as Deb managed to find a deal online before we left that was even cheaper than using one of the off-site parking services. This was a breeze as we simply parked in Car Park B I think and then made our way into the terminal in the same way as if we had been visitors or were meeting someone at arrivals. It also meant that when we arrived back we wouldn’t have to queue for a bus with our luggage or wait for someone to deliver our car, we could just go to the car and go home. I have very little patience on the return journey as I am usually half asleep and not happy about being back so anything that can make that experience easier is a big help. The first thing I notice when arrive in the South Terminal is the queue of people. S*** this is exactly what I head feared and why I always like to check-in the night before. I am instantly regretting our decision to stay home yesterday but it turns out that the queue wasn’t for the check-in desks at all, it was for passport control or whatever it is they call it. I ask one of the people at the Virgin desks what the problem is and they tell me that someone set off a fire alarm in the departure lounge earlier and they had to evacuate it so the queue was for everyone trying to get back in. By this time the queue stretched right round the entire terminal and looked like it would take hours to clear. Thankfully there is no queue at the bag drop off for Virgin and we are processed quite quickly. The guy I spoke to earlier suggested we went upstairs to get a cup of coffee rather than joining the queue so we headed towards the escalator where there was a member of staff who seemed like she was turning people away. Luckily she was dealing with someone else so we were able to walk past and head up. I was hoping that the upstairs entry to the departure lounge was less busy than downstairs and sure enough there was only a small queue which we were happy to join. 20 minutes later and we were airside and ready to go. Charlotte, Nicholas and Lucy decided to have McDonalds for breakfast but Deb, Alex and myself had eaten cereal before we left and weren’t hungry. Deb and the girls went into the main duty free shop looking for Birthday presents for my in-laws while Nick and I went magazine hunting. Soon enough our flight was called and Gate 13 it was again. Cripes. The only upside was the walk would be relatively short. It was now time for my obligatory pre-flight ablution so I decided to use the facilities in the Departure lounge which turned out to be a good choice as they had been refurbished and were extremely clean. Gate 13 was pretty quiet and I thought the flight would be about half full judging by the empty seats waiting to board. Our section was completely full though so perhaps I misjudged it. We were flying on Barbarella which I am told we have flown on before but I can’t remember when. I think she has had a seat upgrade and she also has the entertainment system that includes games even though none of us would take advantage of it on this particular flight. We take off around twenty past eleven so only a few minutes late. Our journey time is 8 hours and 50 minutes which is a little longer than I had expected so there must be quite a strong head wind today. The flight is uneventful for the first 3 and a half hours and I check the air map as we are passing below Iceland. Then, just as we are below Greenland there is annoucement asking for a Doctor, Nurse or Paramedic to make themselves known to a member of the crew. A few minutes later and there is another annoucement that I can only remember being some kind of code that I think meant something like “S*** we have a problem” as every member of the crew rushes up both aisles towards the front of the plane. If we weren’t worried before I think it is safe to say we all are now. They all gather around the far galley area which is next to the plane’s entranc/exit door. A man who I believe to be a paramedic joins them and then there are what looks like first aid kits of some sort being gathered and taken up to him. After a while some of the cabin crew make their way back down the plane and I ask one of them if everything is ok. She tells me that an elderly gentleman has had a suspected heart attack and that they are working on him at the moment. I look at the map and see where we could possibly divert at this point and the closest location is Gronthab but God knows if that has an aiprort that could take a 747 or a hospital. A little later I ask another crew member if we are going to divert and she says that she doesn’t think so. I don’t know what Virgin’s policy is regarding people being taken ill onboard planes but I am guessing that if it is life threatening they would divert woouldn’t they? Everything goes quite and the Captain comes on the intercom and apologieses for the lack of service due to a medical emergency. He shouldn’t have to apologise but I wonder if he did because people further back are complaning. Who knows? I am just worried about the poor man and his family. Eventually a member of the crew tapes up the curtain around the galley area and it remains like that until we land. The next few hours seemed to take forever even though the plane had sped up and hour flight time was now just over 8 hours. There were a few storms as we came in to Orlando and it seemed very grey and miserable. The Captain asked everyone to remain in their seats when we reached the gate as there was a team of paramedics waiting to come on board. As we taxied towards the gate their was a fire track and two ambulances with their lights flashing waiting for us. I doubt we were waiting for more than five minutes before we were told that everyone could leave the plane with the exception of the people who are required to stay behind (the families and paramedic I presume). The rest of us are ushered off quietly and quickly. I pass the taped up galley and wonder if the man has passed away. Judging from the look of the cabin crew it isn’t good news. I check on the internet over the next couple of days but I can’t find anything so we just don’t know. I do hope he is ok. As is our tradition we ch0ose the wrong immigration queue and stand around for ages to be processed. The upside of this is that our bags are ready and waiting to be collected. For some reason we are also not required to give them back for transport over to the main terminal, we are simply instructed to take them with us. The queue for Dollar is horrendous. It’s not helped as we have come to the wrong place as Virgin Holidays have moved their Dollar desk from A to B or vice versa. Deb decided it would be qicker to queue here than make our way back across the terminal and she is probably right. We landed at 15:18 and eventually are in the car by 17:40 which is at least an hour longer than I expected. We are all in a bit of a daze at this point but at least the car stereo has an auxialliary out for the ipod (thanks to the person who told me it would have when I asked a few weeks ago by the way). The hotel is easy to find as it is right next to the Crossroads entrance to Disney. Check-in hotel is painless and we are in our suite in a few minutes. The rooms are clean and modern which is what we had hoped prior to booking (currently the highest rated hotel in Orlando by Trip Advisor). Deb and Charlotte or Alex head to Quiznoz to get us all soemthing to eat. I think the mahjority of us have the meatball sub which is tasty but not as nice as the traditional pizza that we usually have on our first night. I hit the pillow around 9pm and fall into a deep sleep.

Posted by: mfoz1 | July 19, 2009

First things first…

Well we made it back. I hope to provide a day-by-day trip report over the next few days as some of them will not take very long to write as we chill-axed (is that the correct spelling?) and there’s not a lot more I can say about that. As always our pre-holiday ideas and plans were changed or adapted at the last minute and so things that we expected to do were either shelved completely or moved around to accomodate other stuff (mostly shopping) but not a single pair of shoes were purchased this time.

Nine days goes very quickly, too quickly really although the holiday itself did the job as I feel much more relaxed and I am even looking forward to finding a new job (the sooner the better).

I must mention the weather, which was far too hot, and if we had planned to do Disney then I don’t think I would have been able to cope with it. The weather forecast said that is was low to mid 90’s most days but it felt a good deal hotter than that. I have no idea how people deal with walking around parks all day and are able to queue for rides. The best I could manage was a quick hop from the sun lounger to the swimming pool. Although we have been in July once before I didn’t recall it being as hot as this although Deb assures me it was. I also didn’t realise that July is lightning season and sure enough we were treated to some impressive afternoon storms.

First time ever we encountered a pervert at Typhoon Lagoon and then learned that there had been four similar instances in Orlando waterparks this summer. Then it happened again at Typhoon Lagoon on Thursday. This time involving a 14 year old boy. I have been coming here for 15 years and have always felt safe on Disney property and the thought of that kind of thing happening has never crossed my mind. Of course thinking about it now it seems obvious that a waterpark would be a magnet for people like that. What is the world coming to?

Some aspects of Disney has changed and not for the better in my opinion. Downtown, especially PI and West Side are like ghost towns and feel like they have been abandonned. Personally we have enjoyed many an evening strolling through PI people watching and having a dance to Frankie and the West End Boys. Deb and I also used to enjoy the Rock’n’roll club and the country and western club and I know that many people loved the Adventurers club. I really miss having that experience and hope that they do something to address it rather than simply walking away. I understand that it is all about the money but it was always busy when we were there so I don’t know what went wrong. If anyone from Disney is listening I’d like it back please.

When we left England a little over a week ago the headlines in one newspaper was something like “swine flu is less severe than normal flu”. When we arrived at Orlando airport on Friday I saw someone reading the Daily Mail in the departure lounge and the front page read “Swine flu will kill 350 people a day in the UK”. We live in strange times and I think that is why I need to escape every so often.

Posted by: mfoz1 | July 6, 2009

It’s almost time…

The last couple of weeks have been real slow but we are finally getting close to departure, in fact tomorrow night we are driving to Gatwick to do the twilight check-in… before driving all the way back to Ashford to try and sleep. This will be difficult as it always is but probably better than trying to sleep in one of the hotels up there. You would have had to have read our last trip report to California last summer to understand how we feel about the rooms at the Hilton. Also, as we are on a budget, it should save us some money which we can spend when we are on Orlando (something I think we would all prefer to do).

Did I mention the credit crunch yet? Oh boy it has hit us hard and to be honest there have been times over the last week or so when I thought we would have to cancel. I’m still not sure that either of us think this is the most sensible thing to do but why change a habit of a lifetime. We know we are coming back to face some hard times and tough decisions, like many of you I expect, so we are taking this opportunity to say goodbye to Orlando as it may be our last visit for a long time. The Christmas trip is looking more and more unlikely and unless we win the lottery (which we don’t do) or someone breaks the bank for my (not inconsiderable) services I fear this will be it. We’ve had a good run though so I’m not companing… probably will be in August.

Bear in mind this is almost but not quite a non-Disney trip so I don’t know how interesting it will be. One of Charlotte’s ex-Epcot buddies is still working over there and is working on getting us complimentary tickets in to Epcot for a day so fingers crossed there will be one or two Disney moments. We’re not used to operating on a budget so it will be interesting to see how we cope and how much entertainment we can have for free while we’re there. Any last minute ideas would be greatly received at this point as I currently have none.

I will be trying to blog while we are there and will definitely be tweeting so check out the blog if you want to keep up to date. A more comprehensive trip report will follow when we get back (and this time it won’t take me 6 months to complete).

Cheers,

Mark

Posted by: mfoz1 | June 19, 2009

Shuttle Launch

Learned yesterday that the Space Shuttle launch for June has now been postponed until July 11th which is when we will be in Florida. Very happy about this news as we have never witnessed a launch before. We got close a few years back camped out near Titusville with a clear veiw of the launch site but it was postponed at the last second due to high winds if my memory serves correct. Hopefully it will be all systems go this time. Charlotte was lucky enough to see a launch during her year at Disney so I don’t suppose she will be so excited but as the launch is schedule for a 19:45 lift off we plan to spend the day at Daytona Beach before heading down to Titusville later afternoon to get a good spot. I am also toying with the idea of leaving around 8am and heading for Gainesville first to see if we can make the 10am tour of Ben Hill Griffin stadium which is home to our beloved Gators. How I would love to visit on a real gameday but I don’t think finances will allow it this year which is a real shame being that it is Tim Tebow’s senior season and he’ll be off to the NFL next year.

Posted by: mfoz1 | June 5, 2009

Cast and Crew

San Diego 013Mark (Me) 44, professional writer although you probably wouldn’t guess it from my ramblings here. Have had a love affair with America and American sports for as long as I can remember. Will be taking in a Tampa Rays game while we are over there this time. Will also be picking up a raft of pre-season college football and NFL magazines so that I can relax in the sun and get excited about the new season in September. Get well soon Lee Corso btw. I love nothing more than sitting at Typhoon Lagoon and hearing the whoosh of the wave machine whilst listening to Jimmy Buffett over the PA. Ahhh, life can be sweet sometimes. Traditionally I have become responsible for selecting the music in the car, don’t underestimate the importance of having a holiday soundtrack as it can make all the difference, just ask the kids. I love Orlando for the shopping as much as anything else nowadays. I especially enjoy man-shopping with my son, which is like girl shopping but a lot quicker and more decisive, a bit like a crack SAS team in fact. No doubt we will have the opportunity to sharpen our skills at some point while the girls are wandering around the Florida Mall. Rather than me introuducing the rest of the family I thought it would be interesting if they did it themselves. You have been warned…  

deb2Debra (43)  the stay at home Mum of this brood. As you can see I have 4 wonderful children, a husband, 2 cats and 2 dogs (who will be sorely missed whenever we go away), they all keep me rather busy. I still wish that I had at  least another 4 hours in each day as I really seem to need it most of the time! This break has come as quite a surprise, but a very welcome one none the less. We fancied a get away from it all and chill holiday but had real trouble finding a hotel that ticked all the boxes at the beach so I found one in Orlando and now I’m just hoping that it ticks those boxes and doesn’t let us down. But then again I think we will have so much that we want to do that we might only be at the hotel to sleep anyway. I am hoping that on this holidyay I get to read and sun bathe and get a bit of swimming in, anything other than that will be a bonus. My main role now is to make sure we are all kitted out for this trip and then don’t forget to pack anything!!! With the way my brain is at the moment that’s a tall order… 

CharlotteCharlotte (21) The uni student of the household, studying business and management for 8 hours a week, typical student. Haven’t been on a family holiday since I was 17 so this is going to be an interesting experience considering the reaction I got from my siblings. I have a love for media and so having a father that has a range of music and movies and mags on tap is amazing. I’m looking forward to getting some sun, mainly because I’ll stay as white as a vampire otherwise. Obviously shopping is high on the list, just got to find the funds for my expensive habits. Going to see a baseball game will be great too as I’m still high after seeing the Capital One Bowl game 2 years ago (1st experience and I didn’t ask questions!). 

Alex3Alexandra (16) I may be 16 but I have a mental age of 5! I figure if you live life young there’s less to worry about and life’s a lot easier. Some people may think I have an obsession with Disney but I think of it as an interest of mine, I’m a big kid at heart and Florida has never grown old to me and will always be my home away from home. I am also the child that some members of the family would say as ‘having issues’ for simple reasons as, my father was winding me up one day whilst I was eating a cream egg, I warned him that the cream egg would land on his head if he didn’t stop but he continued. This resulted in a squished cream egg on the top of my dad’s head. I am looking forward to going back to Florida since we have not been for 2 years and I need my dose of sunshine, shopping for my school uniform as I am going into sixth form when we come back and seeing the entrance of Disney, which always puts a smile on my face. Knowing my reputation in the house for asking lot’s of questions during sports on TV I am proud to say I did not ask many questions whilst seeing a baseball game last year. This year I will be able to prove to my older sister that I can be quiet!

nickNicholas (14) I’m a big sports fan, and I could watch almost any type of sport and be happy. I find there is no better experience than going to a stadium to watch a sports game. I also like computer games, either sports or ‘shoot em ups’ as I find it amusing. I don’t believe in homework; if you work hard at school all day what is the point in going home and doing even more work? I hold the most potatoes eaten in our family in a single roast dinner with 9, but I fear Lucy is catching up. I also would rather not have exam’s, I don’t get nervous before but I’d rather not have to do them. For my GCSE’s I took: P.E, Geography, Science and Media. I took P.E because I enjoy sport and I like to keep fit, I did Geography in year 7 & 8 and I quite liked it, I had no choice and had to take science as an option, and Media because I like watching TV, listening to music and playing games. If I am correct, this will be the 15th time I have been to America, and what can I say, the amount of times pretty much explains it all. Relaxing in the pool is great and going to water parks is a thrill. No rollercoaster could scare me, if you dont think I’ll go on one then think again. Man shopping is awesome as every female in our family takes forever to shop, this is why I generally don’t go shopping with them.

lucyLucy (8) Im the youngest but im the third oldest in my class and im in year 3 and im nealy in year 4. My favourite Disney characters are Goofy and Pluto. I would like to be an artist when i grow up. I like playing with my best friends which are Grace, Daisy, Hayden, Bethen and last of all of them but i have more but it will take a longtime so the last one is…Jade and she makes me laugh. I really, really, really and really like tv and i like watching my tv shows which are on the disney channel and nickelodeon. I can’t wait to have fun and go to the water parks on holiday. I love to swim and i will be able to swim alot on holiday. And i enjoy playing tennis and going bowling on the wii and for real life. Last year we went on a holiday and on that holiday we went to a baseball game and dad and Nicholas enjoy the game and so did i because of the food and drinks and we are going to another baseball game. I hope the flight is going to be good and the food and it’s fingers crossed that I don’t be sick again.

Posted by: mfoz1 | June 5, 2009

Pre-Trip

So we started the year by booking a holiday to Orlando for Christmas 2009 and had no plans to do anything else but save for ‘said’ vacation which was going to be quite expensive as we are taking the in-laws with us and our eldest daughter which means 3 rooms for almost 3 weeks. Ouch. We revised this plan in April when it became obvious that the continuing credit crunch meant that our income was taking a hit and there was no way we could afford 3 rooms in the Swan Hotel. Changing the booking to a 6 bedroom house saved a good few thousand pounds which made me sleep a little easier but didn’t do anything to satisfy the nagging itch that I had been feeling for some time. Of course I knew what it was, knew it back in January when we booked for December but couldn’t say anything as we both knew it probably wouldn’t be practical or possible to have a summer holiday as well but then we didn’t know about Virgin Atlantic’s 25th birthday celebrations then and the offer of free flights for flying club members with sufficient airmiles. Actually, we only found out about them in May and a quick ‘what if…’ discussion later here we are booked to fly to Orlando on July 8th for nine days (because seven isn’t quite long enough).

To be honest Orlando wasn’t our first choice as we are heading back there for Christmas plus we are Disney veterans and you know what they say about familiarity. I’ve been feeling it a good while now, years according to Deb, and I think the three trips in one year when Charlotte was working as a Cast member in EPCOT was the final straw. Hark at me? During that year we got to stay at the Beach Club and Grand Floridian for christsakes. I don’t want to sound ungrateful as Disney has been a wonderful place for us over the years and the kids have grown up with it like it was their second home. We have been very lucky and had some amazing times but now I feel it is time for me to experience something else. Which is why this is going to be a non-Disney vacation… almost. I can’t go there in the heat of July and not spend a day in Typhoon Lagoon can I?  

I figure there is so much to see and do outside of Disney to keep us occupied not forgetting the main reason for going is that we all need to R.E.L.A.X. In fact once we realised that flying to Los Angeles, Miami or Las Vegas wasn’t going to be possible the original idea was to head to Clearwater or St Petersburg for a beach holiday but after many head spinning hours researching on Trip Advisor and Expedia we became very despondent as every single hotel had more than their fair share of negative feedback and some horrendous stories of filthy rooms, bed mites, broken lifts, food poisoning, and so on. I wasn’t prepared to take a chance and have it ruin our time as there is no way I could chill in that kind of environment. So we headed back to familiar territory and found a really great deal at the Radisson which is near the Crossroads, an area that we know very well. We haven’t stayed at the Radisson before but it is currently rated #1 on Trip Advisor and the rooms look new and clean.  I can’t wait. 

With 33 days to go, or something like that, we are now in the advanced planning stages and have decided to use the Twilight check-in service as I find it less stressful than queing on the morning of the flight. We won’t be staying at a hotel in or around Gatwick though, instead we’ll drive home (only an hour) and then head back in the morning. That way we can have breakfast at home and leave later. I like the idea of that and fingers crossed the M25 will be nice and clear or at least running smoothly on the 8th.

That’s it for now but I will be twittering during the holiday and may also update you on our plans before we go. See you all later.

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