What a Carry On! Part 15 – Sunday 31st August 2008.
We wake naturally at 6.15, a quarter hour before the alarm is due, and check the weather forecast – it looks a bit unsettled today; typical! The holiday intends to end as it began, methinks.
I prepare coffee and we eat breakfast; as it comes light, it’s obviously cloudy and a bit breezy, feeling damp. Everyone packs (not a difficult task, as we only have carry-on amounts of clothes, remember?), showers and tidies, before saying goodbye to our home for the last 14 nights and leaving at 8.30 or so.
We decided last night that we would squeeze another park in today, weather permitting, and (as even my tolerant, nearest and dearest may rebel if I suggest Epcot again!) head to Animal Kingdom, parking at Unicorn 24 before 9.00am. The crowds are heavier than I anticipated, to be honest. I am slightly nervous at the turnstiles, as I am only 95% sure that my ticket has another day left – it does, thankfully, and we are in.
There’s no rush today, and we take a bit more notice of the delightful landscaping and resident animals in the Discovery Island approach.
There might be no rush, but we still want to ride Everest again if we get chance, so we head that way. The standby time is around 20 minutes (at 9.25) and it seems worth getting Fastpasses: six in total, which will allow Amanda, Beth and I two rides each after the 10.20 slot opens.
Some of the party (not me for a change!) need the restrooms, after which we cross the Asia bridge back onto DI for the Tough To Be A Bug show. The approach beneath the Tree of Life seems much longer than I recall from earlier visits – has it been altered?
Anyhow, there’s no line and only a 5 minute wait at the theatre doors (reading the terrible, mock film posters - “Stinkbug Named Desire”, “Little Shop of Hoppers”, “Web Side Story” “My Fair Lady-Bug”etc!) before we enter and enjoy the next show.
Great fun! We are outside into bright but cloudy conditions by 9.55. It feels like the humidity has been notched up a bit.
We backtrack a little and head in to the Maharajah Jungle Trek, one of my favourite animal attractions. The huge (flying fox) bats are fascinating, and the viewing experience is made more interesting by the informative and friendly presentation by Ron, a cast member.
The trail continues to the tiger temple area with its wonderful theming and decoration. Only a tail is visible at the first viewing area, but we find where they are hiding at the next one!
Deer and oxen are also present – and the hidden boundaries make it seem that the tigers could just stroll across and have them for lunch if they wished!
We exit the area around 10.30, and set off to Expedition Everest to use our FPs. Mum, Dad and Adam rest on a bench nearby.
Two great rides ensue, taking only 10 minutes or so for both! I am naughty, and keep my camera handy..
Our next and possibly last attraction is to the Lion King show at Camp “Minnie-Mickey” (without doubt, the undisputed winner of the stupidest ‘zone’ title in Florida!). The humidity remains high, but the skies seem to be breaking up a bit as we walk round.
It’s 11.05 when we reach the main, queuing area outside the theatre, where we enjoy ice creams purchased nearby whilst waiting for the 11.30 show.
A modest crowd has built up behind us by 11.20 when the doors are opened and we are shepherded inside the surprisingly dark theatre. I have seen this show before, but it must have been 5 years ago, and I’ve forgotten most of the details about the venue and the performance.
It’s a fun show overall, good rather than great, although I know that many people rate it higher. We are glad we’ve seen it, (well, the adults are anyway – the teens reserve judgement!) and we head towards the park exit when it ends around midday.
We take the tram back to the car. It has grown very windy now, but remains hot. Lunch beckons, and I suggest the Pepper Market at the Coronado Springs Resort.
This suits everyone, and we select a variety of dishes from the different stands, before taking them outside onto the breezy terrace to eat.
Right, that’s it. The Fat Lady is definitely running through her warm-up.
There are no significant activities we can fit into the few hours that remain before our flight, so we head off for the airport via the 528, arriving at the hire car return area just after 2.00pm. A few spots of rain have started to fall, but, excepting flight cancelling hurricanes, it can pretty much do what it wants now, as we will be indoors for the rest of our time in the States.
The car drop is fast and efficient. We collect our “Carry On” (remember?) cases… (here are some of the tour party, with their luggage – are you tempted to try it next time folks? )
…. and enter the main terminal building in search of the U S Airways desks.. they are found, naturally, at the far end of the building!
A bored-looking lady official tries to guide us into the regular (and lengthy) check-in line, but when I explain that we only have carry-on, she looks surprised and sends us to a self-check-in terminal nearby. This spits out our boarding passes for both flights within a minute or so and we are done.
There’s a decent sized lounge adjacent, with a good selection of shops, serving ‘our’ gate area (57) but I want to have a look at the huge, central court where the Hyatt Hotel is.
The journey across to the Hyatt takes a few minutes; there are dozens of stores and outlets along the way, and it feels more like a shopping centre than an airport!
This is a lovely space! We make camp to one side (here are those teeny cases again!)
…and then take it in turns to drift off and browse the shops. I take some photos.
While doing this, a heavily tattooed and multi-pierced guy approaches me and asks if I’ve been to ‘the convention’. I look puzzled and he explains that there has been a large tattoo convention in the area over the last few days. He admires my ‘sleeves’ and we chat for a few minutes before shaking hands and going our separate ways.
Amanda and I head over to a bookshop where I select ‘the Husband’ by Dean Koontz as my homeward reading material. We buy coffees at starbucks next door and return to the family. The kids have disappeared into the Disney and Universal stores, leaving my dad guarding the bags.
Once everyone has had enough, we give Adam a travel sickness pill and make our way to, and through, security. This is pain-free, taking less than 10 minutes, and by 4pm we are aboard the shuttle to gate (now) 55. I know the windows are heavily tinted, but it appears very grey and dull outside, if dry as yet.
The plane is already on stand, which I take as an encouraging sign, but I’m mildly rattled by an announcement that the flight is over booked, and does anyone want to volunteer to stand down?
They only need a couple of people, and are actually only interested in those who are not making connecting flights, so we are safe.
Boarding commences at 4.40pm and we are among the first groups to be called. Our seats for this first leg are towards the rear, on the right hand side, rows 27 and 28, seats D, E & F.
The rest of the passengers board quickly and after being pushed back at 5.02, we are airborne by 5.10. Goodbye Orlando.
Although intending to read, I feel dozy, and actually fall asleep until around 6.10. I wake to find that Adam and Amanda are fast asleep on either side of me!
I wake them unintentionally at 6.30 on my way to the restroom, where the soap dispenser dispenses soap foam right across my groin. Cheers, thanks for that! I mop up as best I can and hurry back to my seat before anyone spots the stain and assumes I need additional protection at my age!
There are a few pages left in my outward-bound book (the third of the Emperor series by Conn Iggulden) and I finish these in the last part of the flight. Looking out of the (right-hand) eastward facing side of the plane, I can see a sandy coastline with narrow barrier islands.
We descend steadily in the sunlit evening – the co-pilot advises that it is 83° in Philly – and the view widens as we leave the coast, to include an increasing number of villas and apartment complexes with swimming pools.
The final approach takes us over a wide river or estuary and docks area. We land at 7.22pm and are off the plane by 7.30! This never happens in the UK!
Our connecting flight is (happily) from the same terminal (A) so I am relaxed enough to allow a restroom stop on the way to the appropriate gate (21).
Ah. There’s a gate change. We gather our bags and walk around 200 metres further to A25. The information board suggests that our flight is on time. It may be a while before our next meal opportunity, so we buy lovely, fresh (and cheap!) sandwiches and salads at a café nearby (Le Petit Bistro). There’s next to no line here, although the McDonalds next door has around 100 people queued up! Go figure!
We are called to board at 8.15, amongst the first groups once more. I’ve selected three rows of two again, near the back (rows 33,34 & 35, G & H). It’s an A330, a bit tatty around the edges, but with seat-back TVs and entertainment consoles.
It takes around 30 minutes to load everyone, and there’s a moderate amount of bedlam due to families having been split up, including some with small children. The cabin crew are patient and helpful, and it all gets sorted out eventually.
Just as we think we should be ready to go, the captain announces that, due to high winds pushing across the Atlantic, our predicted flight time is only 6 hours 9 minutes, or about an hour less than normal. Sadly, this means that we will be kept on the ground here for about an hour, as we won’t be able to land if we arrive too early in Manchester!
We eventually take off at 9.25pm. I spend time getting acquainted with my new book, until a stewardess rams a steel cabinet into my foot, spoiling my concentration a little! Amanda suggests we swap places, to avoid a repeat, so I wedge myself into the window seat.
I won’t drag the next few hours out too far…. I was engrossed in my book or napping, badly, for most of the flight and didn’t really take much notice of the rest of the family, although they mostly seemed asleep when I looked around. We ‘enjoyed’ a chicken dinner at 10.30, which was ok, if a bit dry.
Around midnight, I reset my watch to UK time, so…..
Monday 1st September 2008
…it’s now 5.10am, and I’m tired, grumpy and a bit squashed up, and wondering whether Florida holidays are worth the long haul flights back? Of course they are! I was only kidding! Roll on that Lotto win, and First Class forever…..
(Incidentally, 5.00am is Amanda’s and my normal ‘up’ time, even at weekends, so in effect we’ve lost a full night’s sleep. Oh dear, that jetlag’s gonna bite us later!)
There’s a lovely, gradual sunrise outside.. I try a few pics, although I’m not happy about the quality of them…
7.30 – they serve a breakfast roll and juice, followed by coffee.
8.20 – we’re over the Irish Sea now, and it’s getting cloudier as we approach home!
8.25 – I finish the new Koontz book, all 415 pages.
8.30 – we fly past the Ikea store at Ashton, north and east of Manchester, so I think we are probably circling the airport waiting for a slot.
8.43 – touchdown at Manchester. Grey skies and 12° C.
That’s pretty much it, folks. We are through passport control in minutes, and having no bags to collect, out to the taxi within half an hour of landing. The (wrong side of the road!) journey takes about 45 - 50 minutes, so we arrive chez Jones, having dropped my parents off on the way, at around 10.15am.
The bit at the end..
So how was it? Well, pretty good overall, with some grumps about the weather! Some random, possibly unrelated thoughts, in no particular order:
That Weather! Historically, we’ve avoided the hot, summer months, in case we were hit by hurricanes etc., but this time we had few alternatives available and decided to risk it.
TS Fay spoiled the party a bit for the first week. We worked hard, though, and carried on with our plans almost to the letter, (swapping the Busch Gardens day to the 2nd week was virtually the only major change) but the grey skies and rain did flatten our mood noticeably until the middle weekend.
Conclusion? I’d take some convincing before I’d go again between in July or August! (Unless you are paying, of course!)
In reality, I don’t think it will be a problem in the future: I’d already assumed that our ‘family’ holidays to Florida were over anyway, due to the kids needs diverging from mine/ours since my divorce and remarriage. But, due to my parents’ generosity, we were able to test the theory once more, and it worked out well, I think, although I am able to say it’s very unlikely that we’ll be doing the same again over the next few years. Given the state of my business, and the current financial crisis, I can’t see any major vacations in the next couple of years.
Carry On Luggage: - Amanda and I have done this before, and Mum and dad usually travel light. It takes all the hassle out of waiting around in baggage halls, and there's no chance of losing a case. And, believe it or not, I still brought things back that I didn't wear or use!
The Villa – we enjoyed our stay at Rob & Linda’s comfortable home, and Sunset Lakes is a very convenient location, only 10 minutes or so from WDW via Sherberth Road. The owners have worked hard to refresh and upgrade the property since they bought it last year, and some of the touches were lovely: for the comfort of your clients, I recommend that all villa landlords get an outdoor ‘George Formby’ and lanai TV immediately! Oh, and iPod docks in all rooms please, like this one had.
The Car – our 8 seater Toyota Sienna was fine for our group, and would certainly seat 8 if you needed it to, but ‘normal’ luggage plus 6-8 adults would not fit!
Blue Man Group – fantastic! Everyone over 5 or 6 should see it!!
Universal Hotel/FOTL – worth every penny! I can’t imagine going to either park without it: even at quieter times of year, the headliners will still have longish lines.
Busch Gardens – we only went for Sheikra, but were very impressed by the upgraded park we discovered, having last visited 7 years ago and not been too impressed.
Well, thanks for reading along with us… if you made it this far, I congratulate your perseverance and hope you’ve enjoyed the ride! There are a couple of unfinished, city breaks in the pipeline, (Rome & London,) which I may get around to completing now this marathon’s over!
Mike & Amanda, Pat, Bob, Bethany & Adam