As soon as the seatbelt sign pings off most of the passengers dive out of their seats, grab all their bags and then stand in the aisle for ten minutes waiting for the doors to be open. We don’t do that. Yes I know there’s an argument for getting off first and getting into immigration before everyone else but we didn’t bother. Besides the British Airways flight had beaten us down by a few minutes so the queues in immigration would already be building up. So we sat and waited for the masses to clear the aisles and then slowly walked off the plane surveying the devastation that passengers seated in front of us had left. Seriously am I the only person that tidies up before getting off a plane. It’s not too much to ask to pick up your rubbish and shove it in the bag that’s bought round now and again is it?
Anyway we are off of the plane and oh so close to actually being in America. We hear the noise from the immigration hall long before we arrive and yes it’s packed with people trying to be let in. The queue bent backwards and forwards across the long width of the hall about five times. Even with most of the stations manned it was taking ages to process everyone because you all have to have photos and fingerprints done now. Never mind it gives us a chance to people watch and we shuffle backwards and forwards. We see two women that look like Princess Fiona from Shrek and several children who had clearly lost the will to go on and just wanted to be asleep. And of course there was Barbie. Dressed in electric blue cropped tracksuit with high heels. The cropped design showed off her fake tan and tattoo and the sticky out veins in her hips. Every time we passed each other on our backwards and forwards journey I tried not to look at her but it was one of those people you cannot help staring at. Of course Auntie Jo and Nanny Lesley didn’t help with their continual pointing out of the poor quality hair extensions and how if she swims too much her hair will turn green and that sort of thing.
Eventually it’s our turn and we duly step forward for the ritual interrogation by an unsmiling member of the United States Immigration Service. I still remember the first time I entered the US through Newark and how the immigration officer there barked at me and scared the heck out of me. Sadly my experiences since then have not really improved and also took a downturn after 9/11. Let’s see what has changed. Well it didn’t start well when I tried to hand the officer our printed out ESTA applications. He barked gruffly that he didn’t want those and just to give him our passports. Warily I handed them over but after that he turned a pleasing shade of friendly while he did our fingerprints and photos. The boy was distraught to find out that he was too young to have his photo taken, especially after he had so meticulously cleaned himself up on the plane. Never mind son, we’ll make a special trip when you are fourteen just for the photograph and fingerprint experience.
Once we’d been scanned and photographed our passports were stamped and we were through and on United States soil. And now we had to find our suitcases. Actually we knew where they were because while we were snaking back and forth in the immigration hall we’d watched some of our bags carouselling round in the baggage reclaim section. We grabbed our bags and then spent a few minutes convincing Nanny Lesley that the bag with her name and address on it was actually hers. Of course we were now reunited with The Behemoth so Mr A is charged with dragging that around. Mr A is getting mightily stressed now about who knows what and is constantly nagging the boy about every little thing he does. Mr A is turning into his mother and Auntie Jo has spotted the resemblance too which only makes us laugh more.
So once you have your bags back, at Orlando you have the choice of keeping them or giving them back again. See you land at a satellite terminal and have to catch a little monorail thing to the main terminal. If you want they will whisk your bags up there for you. Of course The Behemoth is straight on the conveyour belt and so is our hard sided case but we keep the smaller bags with us. The little train ride is exciting because we are almost at the end of the journey. As we exit the little train I detour left so we can all use the restroom before collecting our car and heading off. This sets Mr A off again and he starts to go red and the vein in his temple may burst soon.
We hit the car rental desk two hours after exiting the plane. The longest journey through an arrivals area ever. Oh well it’s still good for most of us. Mr A is still stressed and manages to fall over the bags too which invokes a brilliant memory of my Grandad falling over a suitcase whilst getting off a train in case it went off and he was stuck on the train. At the rental counter the man does his very best to upgrade our pre-booked 7 seater to a slightly larger 7 seater. Ummm...why? Oh apparently it has a bigger luggage area. Dude can you see what bags we have? Well yes we have The Behemoth but apart from that we have four small bags and five humans in this massive car. We do not need an upgrade. He then tried to sell us extra insurance. Sigh. Look at the form – we’ve prepaid everything. Give us a car please or I’ll set Mr A on you. He gives us our paperwork and directs us across the road.
This is the bit we’ve been waiting for. Since Gatwick we’ve been cocooned in airconditioned surroundings and have not felt the outside air for about 12 hours. Now we are stepping out of the building. We know it’s going to be hot. So we line up; a bit like the astronauts coming out to their ship in Armaggedon. We approach the doors and they slide open. We step out. Jeez it’s hot. I mean hot. When the pilot said it was a ‘bit warm’ in Orlando he had come up with the understatement of the year. It was piggin’ hot. By the time we had crossed the road into the garage the sweat was running down our backs.
I gave our paperwork to a waiting person and she directed me to ‘that aisle down there’ and told me to pick a car. So off we went. This confused Mr A and he’s not used to just picking a car and he got all stressed again and panicky. At the head of the aisle was...Barbie. Seating in the front of a shiny black massive car. Probably chosen by Mr Barbie to replace some inadequacy elsewhere in his life. Barbie sat in the front like she was the queen of Barbieland. We pointed and laughed while they tried to get three massive bags into the tiny trunk of this car.
Down our aisle stood many Dodge Caravans. They were all silver-grey except for one white one. That one was ours. The bags were stashed in the back and we noted with a certain amount of smugness that the luggage compartment still had room for more bags. Thought briefly about going back to the rental counter and rubbing the guys nose in it but Mr A would probably have burst a kidney so didn’t. I’m driving so I jump in and spend a few minutes going over the controls and then stick the key in the ignition. Well that’s not right is it? After several perplexing minutes it turns out that the key is only for the petrol cap and that little plastic gizmo is what you stick in the ignition to start the car. Picture Mr A now!
A quick scan of our barcode on the way out and we are on to American roads. The boy promptly falls asleep. It’s not surprising as he’s been on the go since 6am British time and has been a total star all day. Not one complaint or argument or anything. He’s been the best behaved one of the lot of us if truth be told. The drive down to our villa area takes about twenty minutes during which time I turn on the windscreen wipers several times instead of indicating and probably swerve across lanes more than once. We have to go through two tolls at which time I played window lottery with the car controls. I had controls for all the windows but as I was concentrating on driving I wasn’t looking at what button I was pressing so it was anyone’s guess what window would open as we approached the toll plaza.
We find the villa complex easily and let ourselves in through the electric gates. Despite having four adults looking we still manage to drive straight past the villa so a bit of practising with the reverse gear is needed to get us to the right driveway. A quick key retrieval is done and we are in. First thing we have to do is all jump around in a panic until we have managed to switch off the alarm. Then we do a lot of wandering around and saying things like, “Wow” and, “quick come and look at this.” The boy is now awake again and itching to get into the pool. Bedrooms are quickly assigned to people and Nanny Lesley and myself leave the others to get sorted while we go off to get dinner. There is a Publix supermarket about a mile up the road so we dive in there to grab some cooked chicken and salad for dinner and some tea, coffee, milk and juice for the morning. On our return to the villa (which I drive straight past again) the boy is in the pool having found a second wind, despite now being awake for nineteen hours. We have something to eat and drink and then Nanny joins the boy in the pool. There’s a few pool toys for use so they go in too. Nanny makes a pathetic attempt to climb into the inflatable ring but fails hysterically.
Eventually though the tiredness catches up with us and we have to go off to bed. It’s 8pm Florida time or 1am UK time. As it’s a strange place for the boy I stay in the same room as him. He chooses the Toy Story bedroom.