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Old 05-22-2018, 10:12 AM   #1
Silvercat
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A Triumvirate of Firsts! October 2017

TRIP REPORT : A TRIUMVIRATE OF FIRSTS!
DISNEY CRUISE LINE, UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, WALT DISNEY WORLD

Cast : Carolyn – happiest when trip planning
DH - grateful not to have to do any planning!

Experience : Carolyn - 15 trips to Walt Disney World, 1 to Disneyland, 9 to Disneyland Resort Paris, 1 to Hong Kong Disneyland, 1 to Tokyo Disneyland
DH - 8 trips to Walt Disney World, 1 to Disneyland, 5 to Disneyland Resort Paris, 1 to Hong Kong Disneyland, 1 to Tokyo Disneyland

Resorts : Disney’s Art of Animation resort
Disney Cruise Line – Disney Dream
Universal’s Royal Pacific Resort
Disney’s Port Orleans Resort French Quarter

Transportation : Personal car, aeroplane, Disney’s Magical Express, Disney Cruise Line bus, Disney Dream cruise ship, hire car

Dates : Saturday 30 September to Sunday 22 October 2017

PLANNING

In April 2016 the special deals for UK guests were released by Disney, and we had a look to see where we would like to go this time. DH and I agreed that much as we had loved having the free Disney Dining Plan, on our last trip in November 2015 we had found the dining reservations somewhat restrictive in that they limited where we could go and when. That sounds ungrateful, but we felt very lucky to have been given this for the last few years and thought it might be nice to have a year off from it. We looked at a few other resorts at Walt Disney World as we quite fancied trying somewhere we hadn’t stayed before, and we really liked the look of the Caribbean Beach Resort – it looked fun, colourful and exciting, and we could still get the Quick Service Dining Plan for free if we stayed there. We also decided to move our dates back a little – years ago, we always used to go to Florida at the end of September and into October, but over the years we seemed to have slipped closer and closer to Christmas time, and although it was fantastic to see the parks all decorated up for the holidays, we were struggling a bit with the short amount of time between returning from Florida, and getting everything ready in time for Christmas. So this time we thought we’d move the dates back to the beginning of October, meaning we would be returning just as the schools break up for October half term in the UK, and that way the parks should be slightly less crowded.

Dates chosen, talk turned to starting off the trip with a Disney Cruise – we’ve never cruised before but some friends of ours cruise around Europe every year, absolutely love it, and we’ve always fancied trying a Disney cruise. We looked at the options available, and decided on a 4-night, 5-day cruise around the Bahamas on the Disney Dream. This didn’t look as expensive as I had thought it was going to be, I was quite pleased with the price, and we chose a cabin that was mid-ship with a veranda, as I am very prone to sea-sickness so at least if we hit bad weather I would be able to stand outside in the fresh air, which helps me to feel a bit better normally. I booked this really easily online, paying a deposit to secure the booking, and was even able to book exactly the room we wanted – room number 6570, which I had picked from the online maps as being the ideal location for us, on the 6th deck and near to the elevators.

I had been a little cautious about the whole cruise thing – I am extremely sea-sick, I managed to nearly throw up just standing on a floating dock on the Thames in London a couple of years ago, and don’t get me started on annual trips across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man when I was little – urgh. In the UK, it is really hard to find travel sickness tablets that actually work for me. I had tried a variety of brands, none of which helped any more. People in the USA were praising a brand called Bonine, but that contained a drug that had been discontinued in the UK a few years ago – it used to be sold under the brand name of Kwells, and did actually used to work for me. I have no idea why it is no longer on sale here. An online friend managed to get me a packet of Bonine when she visited Orlando, which she posted to me, and when I saw the active ingredient, I managed to get a tub of 100 generic no-brand tablets from USA Amazon, quite cheaply actually, so I was going to use these for the cruise duration.

As we haven’t been to Universal in Orlando for a few years, and there was a whole new Harry Potter area (Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express) to explore, we quite fancied a couple of nights onsite, particularly as it would mean we would get a free Express Pass for staying onsite. I have always baulked at paying for these, particularly as we wouldn’t get use of them for the bigger rollercoasters because neither of us would ride any of these. I looked at the different resorts at Universal, and it came down to a choice between two – Royal Pacific Resort, or the Hard Rock Hotel. DH said he wasn’t particularly fussed about which one we went for, so going purely on other trip reports I had read, I decided on Royal Pacific Resort. I booked us in for two nights there, after we return from the cruise.

I then booked our Walt Disney World part of the trip, 6 nights at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, with 14-day tickets for the price of 7, free Quick Service Dining Plan, $200 gift card, and free Memory Maker photopackage.

It would be another 6 months before I would be able to book our flights, but after a few weeks I was beginning to worry about only spending 6 nights at Disney – would this be enough time to do everything we wanted to do? Having already booked 3 weeks off work for our big Asia trip in 2016, I wondered whether my boss would mind if I had 3 weeks off again in one go next year! I had a chat with him, and luckily he is a Disney fan himself, and so he was quite happy for me to do this – I do get a large package of annual leave each year, but feel guilty if I have more than two weeks off at a time. Then I talked to DH about it, and he laughed – he said he had wondered how long it would take me to extend our Disney part of the holiday! I rang the Disney Holiday UK booking line, and easily got another 7 days added on, which would now give us almost 2 weeks in Caribbean Beach – yay! We only had to pay for 7 extra nights’ accommodation, as the tickets we had will last for 14 days anyway. I managed to book us a King bed room rather than 2 queen beds, as this wasn’t any more expensive and we do like a King bed.

Just before our holiday to Asia in November, I booked the flights – flying with Virgin Atlantic from Manchester to Orlando and back again. I discovered I had accumulated enough air miles to upgrade our seats free of charge to Exit Row seats, which are always more comfortable for my 6’4” husband, mostly because there is no-one in front of us to recline their seats to within an inch of our noses!

Because the cruise ship was sailing on the Monday, we opted to drive to Manchester on the Saturday, stay overnight there, fly to Orlando on the Sunday, stay overnight at Orlando International Airport, and then get the Disney Cruise Line bus to the port the next morning. I booked a ‘meet & greet’ parking package at Manchester airport than included one night at the Raddison Blu hotel for a really good price, then began to check out the hotel at Orlando airport. However, I then had a brainwave – DH has a bit of a thing for Ariel, the Little Mermaid, and has always wanted to stay at Art of Animation in one of their Ariel-themed rooms. Therefore, I still checked the airport hotel, but I also checked how much it would cost to stay for one night at Art of Animation. It actually worked out around £35 more to stay at the airport, so without telling DH I booked us a surprise night at Art of Animation for before the cruise!

Time to look at transport – I booked us a hire car for after the cruise, using the broker I usually use as they are very good and check all the car hire companies for the best price. They were offering an SUV for only about £10 per week more than an intermediate, and we’ve had an SUV a couple of times before and really liked it, so I booked that. We have a Ford Escape (or similar) with Dollar.

I rang the Disney Holidays UK booking line and booked us 2 spaces on the Magical Express from Orlando airport to Art of Animation on our arrival day, then added 2 spaces on the Disney Cruise Line transportation from Art of Animation to Port Canaveral, and then from Port Canaveral back to Orlando airport when we disembark the cruise – we will collect the hire car from the airport, and then drive to Universal. I had to pay for the Disney Cruise Line transport, but I had expected that anyway.

We started to look to see if there were any events or shows we would like to see this year. We discounted the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in favour of spending a couple of evenings at Animal Kingdom to take in the new Rivers of Light show, and decided against any paid tours this time around, apart from possibly doing the Behind the Seeds tour, which we have done once a few years ago and really loved, but we knew we could book this on the day we were in Epcot. I quite fancied seeing The Blue Man Group show in Universal, as we were going to be there for more than just one day for the first time, so I found a UK-based ticket company that were selling tickets at a better price than buying them directly from Universal, and I bought some for the Saturday evening we would be there. The tickets are actually vouchers for any show, so I then had to ring up the box office at the theatre and book actual seats for the show, which was really easy to do and worked out fine.

Because we only had the Quick Service Dining Plan, we didn’t need to make any dining reservations. However, we still wanted to eat at Trail’s End at the Fort Wilderness Campground, as it is a kind of tradition of ours to dine there on our first Disney night, so I booked us a table for the Sunday night that we would arrive at Disney after the cruise, and we would pay out of pocket for this. I was quite keen to get us a Rivers of Light dining package at Animal Kingdom at some point, dining at Tusker House, as we really like the buffet food there. The other venue for that dining package is the new Tiffins restaurant, but I checked out the menu online and knew that it wouldn’t suit us.

I sketched out a rough plan of where we wanted to go on which days, but didn’t have to be too precise with this as we had more flexibility this year. I also made a provisional spreadsheet plan of the opening hours of each park for October, although I also knew to keep an eye on websites for any time changes.

I thought everything was going to plan, and all was under control. Then suddenly, in February 2017, rumours began to circulate in the online Disney fan community that Caribbean Beach Resort would be undergoing very extensive refurbishment beginning in April 2017 and lasting well into 2018, which included demolishing some blocks of rooms and the total closure of the food court, store, arcade, and various other areas. At first, Disney denied that there would be building work going on and said it was minor refurbishment which would not affect guests too much. However, after a few days, they began to email guests with bookings there to say that there would indeed be some works going on, and that some areas of the resort would be closed to guests. They promised that the disruption would not be too extensive, building noise would only happen between 09:00 and 16:00 hrs, that a temporary food court and food trucks would be installed, and that there was nothing to worry about. The online community exploded, and began to contact Disney Holidays UK in their hordes – wait times on the telephone ran to 4-5 hours every day, and Cast Members were still saying it wasn’t going to be that bad and that if anyone wanted to move resorts, it would have to be done at their own expense. I discussed this with DH and we decided to wait and see what happened, as we still had plenty of time before our trip.

Other people began paying out of their own pockets to move to another resort, and then finally Disney admitted the work would be extensive and began to make offers of compensation. Anyone who had paid to move would be refunded their extra costs, anyone who was still booked into Caribbean Beach Resort and wanted to move to another resort could do so at no extra cost, (subject to availability), and anyone who wished to keep their booking there would receive £50 per night room credit, which quickly became $50 off their room cost per night, then £25 per night room credit, then the threat of no compensation at all, and then finally £50 per night off their room cost from Disney Holidays UK, plus a $75 per night Disney Gift Card per room from Caribbean Beach Resort themselves to say thank you for staying. DH and I discussed this again and decided to try and move, as we really didn’t want to be holidaying in a building site – we quite often spontaneously decide to drop our plans if we don’t have dining commitments and have a quiet, pool day at the resort, and we knew this would be impossible if buildings were being enthusiastically demolished around us!

Therefore, I rang the Disney Holidays UK phoneline, and had to endure listening to “Beauty & the Bees” whilst on hold for around 3 hours. Endlessly. Over and over again. If I never hear that music again, it will be too soon ……. I finally got through to quite a sweet Cast Member, who first of all tried to get me to move to Coronado Springs Resort, but I refused that, because that resort is also being refurbished, albeit to a much smaller degree. She then offered me Port Orleans French Quarter, which was a more expensive resort but as a gesture of goodwill, they would match the King-sized room I had already booked, and not charge me the extra room cost. I agreed to this, and soon had a new invoice showing that the goodwill gesture amounted to $700.

I was happy with this, Caribbean Beach would have been a new resort to us but we agreed that we wouldn’t be seeing it at its best with all the building work going on, and Port Orleans would also be new to us so we were still getting a new resort.

Over the next few weeks, the situation with others booked at Caribbean Beach was getting quite bizarre though. Different Cast Members were offering people who called them different compensation – one person got a second $200 gift card, someone else had their dining plan upgraded from Quick Service to the Disney Dining Plan, another guest was given $75 a night off their room cost plus the Gift card, it was all very confusing. Then people started to be offered extra free FastPasses for the inconvenience of the situation, so this was the point at which I called them again. I queried the different levels of compensation being offered, but the Cast Member I spoke to on that day dismissed this, and said it simply was not the case. She was not prepared to offer me additional FastPasses, so I left it at that. However, the longer this went on, the more irate people were getting with Disney Holidays UK – and ultimately they began ignoring the holiday company and emailing the top people at the Walt Disney Company directly. Anyone who did this swiftly received a very polite and friendly telephone call with a variety of different offers of further compensation, depending on several different factors. I thought I may as well try for extra FastPasses again, as having to sit for 3 hours waiting in a queue to speak to someone about an issue that wasn’t our fault was not a pleasant thing to have to do. I therefore emailed one of the top people, and a couple of hours later received a phone call from a very nice Cast Member who agreed with my woes and offered me one additional FastPass per day each for the duration of our stay. I accepted this offer, and was pleasantly surprised to receive email confirmation of this within another couple of hours. Subsequently, I was reading reports from others that showed just how extensive and disruptive the onsite building works were, from reports of work commencing at 6.00 a.m., to occasional power cuts, the food trucks not offering any kind of vegetarian options at any meal, the temporary food court being set up in a large marquee which was noisy and incredibly crowded, (you had to queue to get in, then queue again for each item of food), random pool closures, coke freestyle machines not working, and limits on what was available for the refillable mug system. The food court and trucks also closed much too early in the evening to be of use to anyone returning from the parks and hoping to grab something before bedtime, too.

Then other stories started to emerge of promised Gift Cards not materialising upon check-in, with reasons given being that “you have already received the room discount, and no-one is getting two lots of compensation”. This despite being originally told that one compensation was from the holiday company, and one from the resort management. However, this did not hold true for everyone, as anyone who had written proof (i.e. emails) that they would receive both offers, did indeed then get them. All in all I was really glad we had opted to move resorts! There was just too much uncertainty, disruption, and upset involved. Ultimately, management at the resort withdrew the gift card offer for those who had already accepted a reduced room cost, and several ABTA complaints were taken out against Disney Holidays UK.

Meanwhile, I had read online that if you were starting and ending a vacation at a Disney resort, they would hold and transfer your luggage for you during the time you weren’t there. This would really suit us, as we wouldn’t then have to take 3 weeks’ worth of luggage on the cruise with us, we could just take the smaller cases with us for the cruise and the Universal sector, leaving our larger cases with Disney for transfer from Art of Animation to Port Orleans resort. I would have to plan my packing carefully though so that I didn’t end up repacking all the cases before we left Art of Animation. To this end, I arranged for our Owner’s Locker storage box to be delivered to us at the Art of Animation resort, where I would be able to take out just what we needed for the next week and then send the box with our larger cases onto Port Orleans, hopefully. I also took the plunge and bought some packing cubes – for anyone who doesn’t know what these are, they are very lightweight, zipped nylon cube-shaped bags, and everyone had been raving about them on the Disney boards, so I bought a pack of 5 peach coloured and 5 blue coloured ones from eBay, paying around £5 a set for them.

Some time at the beginning of the year, I received a message from my friend Robin, who lives in Texas and was supposed to be holidaying with us in Japan in 2016, (her mum had had an accident and Robin and Larry had been unable to join us in the end). She and Larry would be in Walt Disney World during the last week of our vacation! I was over the moon about this, it meant we could spend a week with them in 2017! We linked our accounts on My Disney Experience, and began planning together. They would arrive at the start of our second week, and will be staying in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, so we arranged to have dinner with them at Saana that evening – we’ve never eaten there and it looked really good. Given that last time we had been in Florida at the same time as them and kept bumping into them in different parks, it seemed that we had very similar tastes where Disney was concerned, so I reckoned the planning process with them would be really easy. We were really looking forward to seeing them again, and they were quite keen to try some delights at our favourite event, the Food & Wine Festival in Epcot.

I started to look at the Food & Wine Festival special events, as I knew that a Cheese Seminar was one of the events, and DH absolutely adores cheese – he would live on it, if he could! On the day that the booking window opened, I went online and managed to buy him a ticket to the Seminar on the day that our friends arrive. While he enjoys the Seminar, I will potter about Epcot for a while, maybe riding Spaceship Earth or just getting coffee and relaxing somewhere.

Then I noticed a new tour starting to be offered at Animal Kingdom, called Caring for Giants. This was a one-hour walking tour, cost $30 per person, (all of which went to an elephant research and conservation fund), and offered an up-close viewing of the elephants at Animal Kingdom, along with a guided talk to caring for them there. We really liked the look of this, and checked if our friends would be interested, but they declined as Robin said she feared it would lead to her wanting a pet elephant! Therefore, I rang up and booked it just for the two of us, for our first week at WDW.

Robin and I also talked about the new Rivers of Light show at the Animal Kingdom. The show was part of the FastPass system, although other folk were noting that if you booked a FastPass for this, it would tie up your ability to book another one for that day, (once you had used up your allocated 3), as Rivers of Light would be on quite close to park closure time. Another option that soon appeared was to book a Rivers of Light Dining Package, similar to the one available for Fantasmic at the Studios currently. The dining option restaurants were Tiffins, or Tusker House. Robin was interested in trying Tiffins, but I had checked the menu online and knew it would not suit us really, so we discussed this and eventually we agreed on a lunch reservation at Tusker House, with a 7.45 p.m. showing of Rivers of Light. I booked this, as Robin had already booked dinner at Saana for us all.

I became aware of a new dessert package available for Fantasmic, for $39 each, and remembering how much we had enjoyed this at Disneyland in 2014, and given that this is DH’s favourite Disney show of all time ever, I decided to treat us to this, and booked it through the Disney Holidays UK travel agent number.

One of the unofficial Disney chat boards that I frequent regularly had a thread one day about a Groupon offer in the USA for a voucher for Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream with a value of $14, which you could buy for $7. It appeared to be valid in Universal Studios, which I thought was brilliant as we would be there anyway, so I went online, checked the terms and conditions, and then bought a voucher as it did indeed list Universal Studios as being a valid outlet. However, after a day or so it began to look as though this particular Ben & Jerry’s kiosk was refusing to accept the voucher from people who had bought it and were trying to redeem it. Groupon eventually acknowledged that they had made an error – because this kiosk is a franchise, they were quite within their rights to refuse the voucher. Therefore, Groupon apologised and refunded anyone who had bought the voucher and no longer wanted it. It could also be used in several other locations in Orlando, but we weren’t going anywhere else other than Universal and Disney, so in the end I reluctantly accepted a refund. Shame!

FastPass day rolled around slowly, but eventually it was time! I was at work, but had deliberately blocked out my calendar for 2 hours from 12 noon so I had plenty of time to make our choices. With half an eye on what Robin had said they were interested in, I went ahead and booked our FastPasses (they couldn’t do theirs till a week later). I really struggled to get one for the new Avatar ride in Pandora in the Animal Kingdom, Flight of Passage, but eventually managed to find just one opening. At this point, I wasn’t sure I would be brave enough to do this, or actually physically fit on the ride due to my being rather ‘fluffy’, but I got two FastPasses anyway, figuring that DH could always ride it twice if I couldn’t or wouldn’t ride on the day. I always forget between visits how complicated this FastPass lark is, you have to ensure you don’t get them for rides on opposite sides of the parks unless there is time to actually walk there in between, and it took me the full two hours to get everything we wanted sorted out. Anyway, finally I was happy with what we had, so that was something else crossed off the list.

At around the same time, our window to book any excursions or events we wanted to do when on the Disney Dream opened up, so we sat down with the lengthy list of what was available and began to eliminate things. For example, we weren’t bothered about doing a ‘swim with dolphins’ type excursion as we have already done that, (2014, Discovery Cove), and we didn’t particularly want to jetski, snorkel, fish, or parasail. That left exploring-type excursions, which we were much more interested in. We decided that we wouldn’t book anything for our Castaway Cay day, (Disney’s private island in the Bahamas), as we just wanted to enjoy the island, beach and sea. We looked at the onboard activities but didn’t really fancy meeting the Princesses, or learning to mix martinis. So that just left us with our day in Nassau. We narrowed the choices down to a 2-hour mini-bus tour, a shorter tour with a visit to the Atlantis resort, or a shorter tour with a trip to a bird sanctuary/garden, and eventually decided on the 2-hour mini-bus tour. I booked that, and gave my credit card details, assuming I was paying for it at the time.

We talked about the details of the cruise, so I could ensure DH was up to speed on the rules – all meals, snacks, soft drinks, tea/coffee etc. are no extra charge, including room service; however, room service soda and candy, popcorn, and alcohol bought anywhere onboard, would incur an extra charge. We rarely drink very much, but I had a great idea, which was to pick up a couple of bottles of really nice wine from Duty Free at the airport before we left the UK, and then take these on the cruise with us so that we could enjoy a glass of wine on our balcony before retiring for the night. I also suggested we take a couple of our old refillable Disney mugs with us, so that we could fill them up at the drinks dispensers and take them back to our stateroom – I knew there were no coffee machines in the rooms.

Robin emailed me to ask if we fancied doing the Tomorrowland Firework Dessert Party one evening, and when I said that sounded like fun, she said good because she had already booked and paid for it as an apology for abandoning us in a foreign country last year! We were really happy about this event, it sounded brilliant, a private viewing area for the new Happily Ever After fireworks, plus – cake! We also discussed booking breakfast at Be Our Guest restaurant, and Robin went ahead and booked this for us on two separate mornings.

I’m not sure how this planning section got to be so long, normally they only run to a couple of pages or so, but this holiday does seem to have involved a lot more planning than normal, oddly. Anyway, the final thing to add is the suitcase story. After our trip to the Far East in 2016, we had been aware that our suitcases had taken quite a battering over the years, and were perhaps not in the best condition. One of the giant cases we had bought from Wal-Mart a few years ago was so squashed during the bus journey to Hong Kong Disneyland that the zip broke, and despite our best efforts, we were never able to satisfactorily repair this. Therefore, we decided it would have to be thrown away and so we began to keep an eye out for suitcase-y bargains. In Tesco’s one day towards the end of 2016 we spotted some lovely, VERY lightweight, soft-sided, 4-wheeled cases, which we have never had before – they kind of swivel round on the wheels and this makes them very easy to move. We took the plunge and bought a couple, they were around £40 each, which seemed like a good price for the quality. However, when we measured them against the existing cases we intended to use, we realised that the new cases would not fit inside each other or the larger of the two existing cases we had, so we would have to pay for an extra case going out and 2 extra coming back. Normally, we take 2 inside another 2 going out, and then only have to pay for the extra 2 on our return. Hey ho, no way around it.

Once it got to packing day, a couple of weeks before we were due to leave, I organised all our clothing into the packing cubes – one large cube each for the first week of the holiday with outer clothing, one each for first week underwear, one cube for toiletries/medication, and one for electrical (cables, spare batteries, etc.) and other peripherals, and these were all put into one suitcase. Then the other cubes held everything we would need for the remaining holiday dates, at Disney – these went into the other two cases, one of which already contained a fourth case. This worked spectacularly well, all the cases were so neat and tidy, and everything was kept together rather than being spread out everywhere! (I wish I had bought these for our trip around Asia in 2015, we stayed in 9 different hotels over 3 weeks then so never really unpacked anything, and it became impossible to find anything in the cases after a week!)

About a week before travelling, I surprised DH by telling him where we would be staying on our first night in America – he was really excited! We then celebrated this by watching the film Avatar on DVD, to prepare us for what we would find in the new area of Animal Kingdom. I had seen the film before, but DH hadn’t watched it at the time – I thought it was just okay, a bit over-rated, at the time. However, this time, we both really enjoyed it.

And so, after a huge amount of planning and then some very impatient waiting, the holiday began ….

DAY MINUS ONE – Saturday 30 September

Plan : Travel to Manchester airport

Actual : We set the alarm for 08:30, thinking we would have a fairly long and busy day so would probably benefit from a start that wasn’t too early this morning! I bathed our pet Bearded Dragon, Zelda, and fed him the last 5 worms remaining in the tub, before we popped him into his carrier, wrapped up warmly in his blanket, and drove to our nearby reptile rescue centre, who also do reptile boarding. We’d booked him in a few months previously, when he had stayed there during our visit to Disneyland Paris earlier in the year, and we knew he would be safe and happy there.

Back home, DH finished off his packing whilst I stripped out the Dragon vivarium so I could give it a deep clean, which is too difficult to do when Zelda is in there! DH changed the UV striplight, (which we have to do about every 6-9 months), I pulled out and scrubbed his tiles, fake grass, glass doors, and the inside of the viv, and then DH added a new silk plant (which has to be screwed to the wall because Bearded Dragons like to climb and if it wasn’t secured firmly, he would probably pull it down and get tangled up in it!), and a new bulb guard for his basking bulb. Once that was all done, we put it all back together again and admired how clean and tidy it was, (until the re-addition of the Dragon in a few weeks’ time!)

We cleaned out the fridge, bleached the loo, and changed the bedclothes, grabbing a bacon sandwich from the café up the road at lunchtime, before packing our hand luggage. Finally, everything was done and we left the house at around 4.00 p.m. for the really easy and quick drive from Birmingham to Manchester. The last 20 miles or so were very roadwork-heavy, but we still made the journey in about 1 hour and 40 mins, which was good going.

We arrived at the Terminal 2 Meet & Greet car park, and booked in the car. We had used this service the year before, and were really pleased with it, it was so easy and convenient. Unloading the luggage, we then made our way over the skywalk bridge to the Radisson Blu hotel. The room was really gorgeous, and the bed was huge! I think the hotel had undergone refurbishment not long before, because the room was so modern and clean-looking. We were starving by this point, so after dropping off our luggage we made our way back to the terminal, hoping to find somewhere fast-food type to eat. There was precisely nothing there! We were shocked at the lack of food outlets, there was one tiny newsagents, and a very small Greggs kiosk. Oh well, Greggs it is then – we got a meal deal thing and had a steak bake (me), cheese & onion bake (DH), a doughnut each, and a bottle of ginger ale and one of lemonade. They had a few tables and chairs there, so we ate in. Not overly glamourous, and certainly not what we were expecting, but there was quite literally no other choice.

After “dinner”, we wandered back up to our room, made some coffee, and watched TV for a while. Lights out and we were asleep by 10.30.

DAY ONE – Sunday 01 October

Plan : Fly to Orlando

Actual : We slept a lot better than we normally do before a holiday, particularly a trip to Disney! The alarm went off at 7.30 a.m. and we had a quick wash & brush up, before checking out and heading over to the airport. We were both really impressed with this hotel, and would definitely stay there again – the bed was really comfortable, and we loved the convenient location of the hotel.

We walked back across the skyway and to the bag drop area, as I had already checked us in online the day before. There was a not insubstantial queue, but it went down quite quickly, and we were soon bag-free and heading up to departures. Customs was quick and easy, and we then paused in the Duty Free shop to execute my bright idea of getting some wine from Duty Free before we flew. We carefully selected a nice rose for me, and (surprisingly!) a nice white for DH (when he does drink wine, it usually tends to be a red one). We also picked him up a pack of 200 cigarettes as I knew these weren’t easy to buy at the theme parks, and would be very expensive on the cruise ship.

We then found a very small Upper Crust kiosk not too far from our boarding gate, and I picked us up a couple of bacon rolls, coffee for DH, (I didn’t want a drink, for some reason), and I also got a cheese & tomato baguette for later on the plane, in anticipation of yet another airline meal I wouldn’t be able to eat. I have IBS but Virgin Atlantic don’t recognise that as an issue and have insisted for years on trying to serve me curry, or something full of cooked tomatoes, garlic, onions and/or peppers – all of these things are the worst triggers to set off my IBS. I gave up complaining years ago and now just take my own sandwich with me each time I fly with them.

We didn’t have very long to wait before boarding began, and we were seated in 34A and 34B, the exit row seats I had booked. A nice man sat next to me in 34C, who smiled and said hello, then kept to himself for the rest of the flight. We took off about 10 minutes late, and had a very long flight, or so it seemed, with the odd, tiny bit of turbulence, but nothing too bad.

As I had predicted, the food choices for lunch were chicken pesto (garlic!), garlic sausage & mash, or vegetable curry. I chose the sausage and mash and just ate the mashed potato and broccoli, giving DH the sausage. It was very tasty, despite being just mash and veg. There was a lovely pink coleslaw with (a lot of!) green leaves as a starter, and a really delicious GU lemon cheesecake dessert. However, the cheese & crackers contained garlic soft cheese! I think Virgin must have bagged a job lot of garlic for this flight. Anyway, between all this and my cheese & tomato baguette I had more than enough to fill me up, so that was okay.

We synchronised our in-flight entertainment and watched a documentary film together, called “24 Hours”, about Ford vs Ferrari at Le Mans. It was very good! (We always do this, watching at least one film together, although my sister thought this was weird when she came with us once – we thought everyone did this and it was normal!) DH had a nap, and I watched a Disney Nature film I had really wanted to see, “Born in China”, which was mostly about pandas and was extremely good. I fell asleep after that, and missed the Fab ice-lolly, which was slightly irritating as I love them!

We were served lots of soft drinks throughout the flight, although I found the coffee to be too strong and bitter for my taste, so I mostly stuck with apple juice. About an hour before landing, we were given some really nice cheese and tomato chutney sandwiches, and my favourite ‘plane’ crisps.

At some point during the flight, in between film watching and eating, something slightly horrible happened to us. We were sat chatting to each other, when a woman who was queueing for the toilet caused a bit of trouble. She had sat herself on the bulkhead, ironically on top of the “do not sit here” sign, and she was wittering on to another woman who was stood by her, when she leaned back and shut the window blind behind her. The sun was shining through the window onto her fat (and illegally seated) backside. But this window was the only one we had to see out of, as the exit row seats didn’t have a window beside them. I know there was nothing to see outside other than clouds, but we like having the sun coming in, so DH politely asked her to open the blind again as that was our only source of natural light. She muttered something, grumpily pulled the blind partially back up, and then ignored us and carried on chatting to her mate. She didn’t seem that bothered. A few minutes later, when she had been to the toilet and left again, a man suddenly came up and stood right in front of DH, and began shouting at him! He said, “you disrespected my wife!”, and then pointed to a spotty, gangly youth standing beside him, and said, “you disrespected his mother! This is my son!” I thought to myself, “never mind, I’m sure he’ll grow out of his spots and gangliness”, but didn’t say that. We asked him what we were supposed to have done, and he said something about yelling at his wife for pulling down the blind. We didn’t bother to tell him she was sat where she shouldn’t have been, as it was difficult to get a word in edgeways at this point. I looked around to see if we could attract the attention of a steward to try and get rid of this man, but there were none around. He continued to glower over us like an unfriendly alp, saying he would be “speaking to you afterwards!”, whatever that meant. DH chose this moment to stand up to try and diffuse the situation, and in a purely comedy moment the man watched him get slowly to his feet, all 6’4” of him, and tower over this little bully. Then he went into the toilet before stomping back off to his seat somewhere behind us. Spotty oik trailed after him, after giving us one last oily, menacing look.

We finally got hold of our lovely steward, and told her what had happened. She looked very sympathetic, told us not to worry, and disappeared off to have a word with him. I have no idea what she said, but we never saw him again!

I spent the rest of the flight really wound up, and wasn’t able to relax and watch anything else on the IFE as I was really worried about him causing trouble after we got off the flight. With hindsight, I should have trusted DH more to have the situation under control, due to the nature of his job he is security trained and licenced, and knows how to diffuse difficult situations, as well as how to defend himself physically when things get out of hand. (Much later on, when we were waiting for the luggage to come round on the carousel, DH told me the man had winked at him before going into the toilet, which I can only take to mean that he was aware that his wife had lied and exaggerated about the way DH had spoken to her, and the man was putting on a show in front of his son – I wish DH had told me that at the time, though!)

Anyway, we landed pretty much on time, deplaned without further incident, and then had to wait AGES for customs clearance. We were all sent into a large room with passport kiosks around the edge, and told to use these. Mine worked find, but DH couldn’t get the machine to recognise his fingers as being in the right place on the machine face, so eventually we had to queue up again to be seen at a desk. (We did spot the troublesome family further ahead of us, but we ignored them and they ignored us, fortunately, and then we really didn’t see them again after that). Once we were past customs and round to the baggage carousel, the luggage came out really quickly.

We then made our way to the Magical Express check-in desk, which appears to be about 5 miles away from the arrivals hall – you walk past allllllllllll the car hire desks, and just keep going …… and going …… and going ……..

We got there in the end, hot and sweaty and exhausted, and checked in for our bus ride to the magic. We were a tiny bit disappointed to find that our bus was a Disney Cruise Line one that had been co-opted in to help out, rather than a Magical Express branded bus, but we soon got over the disappointment and handed our cases over to be loaded into the storage area, before taking our seats. We had to wait for about 15 mins before the bus was full enough to leave, which was fine – we were sitting down in air conditioning and were quite happy!

It was around a 40 min journey to Art of Animation, DH was jumping up and down is his seat like a 5- year old as the resort came into view! We disembarked the bus, grabbed the luggage, and went to check in, being given a purple Magic Band for DH and a yellow Magic Band for me. We then went to Bell Services to collect our Owner’s Locker box, although I had trouble getting the Cast Member there to understand what I was looking for at first – maybe she was new and hadn’t seen these before? Although lots of people have them, so I don’t know what was going on with her, but anyway, we got there in the end. As we had 3 heavy suitcases, two small, wheeled hand-luggage cases, my travel handbag (which is HUGE and I only use for travelling there and back, not for lugging round the parks – there isn’t much in there going out but it is sneaky extra luggage space for coming back!), and the O/L box, we asked if someone could help us take our bags to our room, and a very nice CM with a big trolley gave us some help. We were wowed by the resort as we walked to our room, it was a few minutes’ walk through the most fantastically themed areas. We walked through the Lion King section, which was just amazing, and then to the Little Mermaid section, I thought DH was going to cry with joy!

After tipping the Bell Services CM, and running around the room oohing and ahhing at the intense theming, we left the cases there and walked slowly back to Landscape of Flavours to get some dinner. We were very tired by this point, but needed something to eat, so I opted for chicken nuggets with fries and a side of grapes, and got DH an Angus bacon cheeseburger, fries, and coleslaw. (We weren’t on a dining plan at this point). We also got cold drinks, just bottles of Sprite. The meals seemed huge, particularly the mounds of fries we both had, but we managed to finish everything. On checking my receipt, I noticed I had been charged extra for the grapes, although the Cast Member who had served me the meal had assured me I could have these as a side instead of coleslaw. I took the receipt back to the tills, explained this, and they gave me my money back for the grapes. It was over $3 for a tiny bag!

After dinner, we explored the resort, having a look around the store first, although we didn’t buy anything. We absolutely loved the Cars section, it was amazingly detailed, DH took loads of photos. We had a good look around everywhere, despite feeling shattered, as we knew this would be our only chance to explore. We did consider trying out the pool, but were just too tired, although we both agreed we would stay here again in the future as it was such a lovely resort.

Eventually, we wandered back to our room and while DH took a shower, I unpacked what we would need for our first week from the Owner’s Locker box, including my ‘touring’ handbag, before resealing it. DH was in bed and asleep shortly after this, I had my shower but was then feeling really thirsty, and as I remembered I had seen a vending machine nearby, I grabbed some change and headed round there. Unfortunately, the only thing it stocked was diet coke! (Neither of us like the taste of coke much, although we’ll drink it if there is nothing else). I was desperate though, so paid $2.50 for a bottle and took it back to the room. We did really well today, staying up until around 10.00 p.m., but as soon as I got into bed I fell asleep immediately. I got up twice during the night for a bathroom visit, but other than that, slept right through.

DAY TWO – Monday 02 October

Plan : Travel to Port Canaveral, board the Disney Dream

Actual : As the Art of Animation rooms only have Queen beds in, I had opted to sleep separately to DH last night. When I am extremely tired like I was last night, I can be very restless all night in bed, so didn’t want to run the risk of disturbing him during the night. Although apart from the bathroom visits, I don’t think I moved all night!

We woke up when the phone rang at 7.45 a.m., and were both amazed that we had slept so late. Normally on our first morning in the USA, we are awake from around 4.00 a.m. We felt great for having had a long sleep. The phone call was from the front desk, to enquire whether our luggage was ready to be collected for the cruise – it is collected from your resort room, and then the next time you see it will be in your stateroom aboard the ship. I had packed a few things into it last night from the O/L box, plus I put the bottles of wine in there as I thought that would be safer than putting them in our hand luggage cases. We were told the case would be collected at 8.30 a.m.

We got up and got ready for our day, packing up the toiletries etc. that we had used in the room overnight, and also my huge travel handbag, as I wouldn’t need that again for 3 weeks. Someone came and collected our case, and we hung around in the room until around 9.00 a.m., but were then desperate for coffee – there are no tea/coffee making facilities in these resort rooms, sadly. So we walked over to Landscape of Flavours for breakfast. We both had pancakes (DH’s were choc chip), bacon, and fresh fruit. It was all really delicious, and the coffee was particularly good.

After breakfast, we took another slow stroll through the Cars section as we liked the theming so much there, and then went round to Bell Services to borrow a luggage cart – I had to sign for this, which was fine. We went back to our room and collected the two cases and the O/L box, and then went to reception to check out, although we were told there was no need as it was done automatically. We then spotted someone wearing a Disney Cruise Line shirt, and holding a clipboard, so I went up and asked him if he was checking for folk who were due to board the DCL bus. His name was David and he was lovely, really funny. He checked us off the list, and asked about the other cases we were lugging around with us, but we told him they were going off to Port Orleans for when we returned. Or, as I put it, “when we get back, our cases will be there for us, Bob’s your uncle!” He had no idea what “Bob’s your uncle” meant, so I had to explain it to him. He loved the expression, and promptly used it for the whole time he was with us that morning, although at one point he started saying that we had probably made this up so that it made the Americans look stupid when they kept saying it! We had to reassure him it was a real, British phrase.

We then took our luggage round to Bell Services and had them label it for Port Orleans French Quarter, using the words “long term storage” and with the date of our arrival there, as we had been advised to do. I put the collection ticket safely away in my purse.

We went back into reception and stood in the queue that had formed for the DCL transfer bus. While we were there, I suddenly remembered that we had had a message left on our room phone last night that there was a letter for us at reception, so I popped off to pick it up. It turned out to be 2 Disney gift cards for a round of complimentary mini golf at Winter Summerland, which apparently should have been part of our holiday package there but hadn’t been mentioned when I booked it! I thought that was lovely, and we put them away to see if we would have time to use them on our return to Disney in a week. (Spoiler alert – we didn’t have time in the end, and they came home with us!)

We finally boarded the bus, with David happily telling everyone to have a great time, “Bob’s your uncle!”, and off we went. We were both really excited! The drive to the port took about an hour, and was really lovely – we could see Kennedy Space Centre in the distance, and the VAB, which was fun to see.

We arrived at Port Canaveral, and followed everyone else into the cruise building to check in. As we were waiting to be seen, I happened to see a sign on the wall which read, “all alcohol must be in hand luggage, any alcohol in checked luggage will be held until the end of your cruise”. I’m such an idiot, I suddenly remembered I had read about this ages ago but had completely forgotten it! It meant that the nice bottles of wine we had bought to enjoy on our balcony would be confiscated until the cruise was over. Ah well, nothing we can do about it now, and as we aren’t big drinkers anyway, it wasn’t a big deal.

We got to the front of the check-in queue fairly quickly, and a lovely male CM checked us in, giving me a DCL pen that he was using and that I was coveting! He then gave one to DH so he didn’t feel left out, which was so nice of him. We thought the cruise building was lovely, and we walked through a giant cut-out Mickey head shape to get to the gangway, which was exciting! We paused to admire a cut-away model of the Disney Dream briefly, before heading through Mickey’s head and onto the gangway. As we stepped onto the ship, a Cast Member announced, “the Millward family”, and two lines of Cast Members clapped as we boarded – it was such a lovely moment, I cried. The atrium was stunning – just breath-taking, all gold and sumptuous, very reminiscent of 1920’s cruise ships, and so big! There was a huge, bare-branched tree at one side of the room, and as the week went on, this filled up more and more with decorated pumpkins for Halloween.

We followed the signs and found our stateroom, number 6570 on the 6th deck. The room was surprisingly large, I was expecting a much smaller room, but there was a huge bed, small sitting area with a sofa and coffee table, separate loo and sink room, bathroom with a bath and over-bath shower and a second sink, and lots of storage space. Our suitcase wasn’t there yet, but it can take up to 5.30 p.m. to arrive, and it was only 1.30 p.m. by now.

We needed to get some lunch as we were on the earlier dining rotation, (I had chosen the earlier one as the later one just seemed too late for us to be eating a large meal), and didn’t want to jeopardise dinner by being too full, so after looking round the room, we left our hand luggage there and headed up to the buffet restaurant on deck 11, called Cabana’s. It was quite busy in there, but we had a look at the offerings and then found a table. I waited first while DH went up and got himself some pizza, mash, mac & cheese, chicken strips, cod in batter (bite-sized), fries, and some dressings. Meanwhile, I took the two steps to the hot drinks machine and got us both some coffee, and some fresh apple juice and cranberry juice. When he returned with his food, I went up and got chicken strips, fries, mash, mac & cheese, and some snow peas. We only got a small plate of food each, and didn’t bother with dessert at this point. The food was all very good, hot and fresh, yum!

After lunch, we went and explored the ship a little, finding the smoking area on deck 13 for DH, the unlimited hot & cold drinks machines, the pool deck, the adult-only sections of the ship, and what looked like a whole deck of shops!

Eventually we went back to our stateroom and our case had arrived, so we did some unpacking, whilst waiting for the lifeboat drill to be called. There was an envelope addressed to us from Tour Adventures on the side table, so I opened it up at this point, expecting it to be our tickets for the Tour of Nassau port tour tomorrow. However, what I found in there was a letter saying that as we had been the only people booked onto the tour, it had been cancelled! We were really disappointed, but the letter also said to call in at the Tour Adventures desk to check what else would be available for us.

At 4.00 p.m., we left our room and followed the hoards to deck 4, where we lined up as instructed and took part in the drill. After that, we made our way to deck 12 and looked down at the sail-away party show on the stage on deck 11, which was great fun to watch! Lots of characters came out, there was very lively music and a great atmosphere! We alternated watching that and watching the ship actually leaving the port, and once the show was over, we went up to the smoking area on deck 13 to watch the departure properly. We sat up there for a while, it was really lovely, and DH decided to have a beer, which he bought from the nearby bar. (I stuck with the coffee I had picked up earlier). This was so relaxing, and we just spent time chatting to each other and others around us. As yet, I couldn’t feel the movement of the ship very much, but had started taking my meclizine tablets earlier on in the day just in case. They were chewable, raspberry flavoured, but the recommended dosage was a bit vague, so I just chewed one every couple of hours to be on the safe side.

Our first night’s dining was to be in the Enchanted Garden restaurant, so around 5.30 p.m. we wandered down to the restaurant. You are allocated the same table number for each restaurant every day, and we were given table number 81. We made our way to the table, and noted that it was a table for 4, which was nice, as it meant we would be dining with another couple. (Not that we have anything against families or children, but it meant we could have a relaxed, adult conversation at dinner). Our table mates arrived shortly after us, and we all introduced ourselves. This is where Disney excels itself – we were seated with a lovely couple who were of similar age to ourselves, with similar interests, (although Disney are onto a bit of a winner here, none of us would be on this cruise if we didn’t have at least a love of Disney in common!), and with grown up children, just like us. So whilst I suppose they can’t guarantee that you will get on with your table mates like a house on fire, they at least try to put people together who should get on. Luckily, we LOVED our table mates! They were such a lovely couple, totally bonkers, we had such a laugh with them the whole time we were together! And we have done what I always swore I never would, we have become friends on social media, and kept in touch! (I’m such a snob, I never like the idea of keeping in touch with people you meet on holiday, and always avoid making friends with others when we are away!)

Anyway, Bill & Deana are from Kentucky, they are both teachers, and they were so nice, friendly and chatty, we had a lot of fun with them. In between learning more about each other, we met our servers, Jemaine and Priscilla, (who also travel with you from restaurant to restaurant each night, so you have the same people around you for 5 days and don’t have to keep explaining dietary issues to different people every night), and the head server, Ivan, and ordered our dinner. I was still a bit full from lunchtime so opted to skip a starter, as did DH. I also told our servers about my food issues, the garlic and onions avoidance thing, and they said they would ensure anything I had would be fine. For my main course I chose steak, jasmine rice, and broccoli, followed by orange polenta cake with yoghurt jelly. DH had grilled chicken, baked potato, vegetables, and then sticky date pudding. All was really delicious, such excellent quality food. We chose iced lemonade to drink (and from that night on, our servers never asked us what we wanted to drink, they just brought us our choice without having to ask again – impressive!), plus there was iced water on the table.

After a fabulous dinner, we bade farewell to Bill & Deana, and went up to the deck 13 for DH to have a cigarette. Then we made our way to the Tour Adventures desk to find out whether we could change our cancelled tour for something else, as I thought I had already paid for the tour at this point. We stood at the desk scanning what else was available, none of which really appealed to us as they all involved really long walking tours, or water activities such as snorkelling or fishing. Suddenly, there was a commotion behind us, and a woman in a Disney uniform of some kind came rushing up to us. She said she recognised us from our pictures on the cruise files, (there are pictures of us on their cruise files??), and she was really glad she had found us because the tour was back on! Apparently, another family and then another couple had booked, so that made 8 of us which was enough to run the tour. Brilliant news, we were really pleased. She went behind the desk and got the tickets for the tour for us.

After this, we went to the Walt Disney Theatre to watch the Golden Mickeys musical show, which was absolutely fantastic! Full of characters and princesses, lots of singing and dancing, it made me cry as it was so moving and emotional! (While we were in the theatre, we had clearly sailed far out to sea and were beginning to suffer from some slightly turbulent water, with the ship rocking from side to side quite a bit. To be fair, we were sailing shortly after several massive hurricanes had been through the area, and I think we caught the tail end of the last one. Although it was a bit unsettling to feel the movement like that, I didn’t feel at all seasick thanks to the meclizine tablets).

After the show was over, we were really tired, so we grabbed a soft drink from the machine on deck 11, and went to deck 13 for DH – it was really, really windy out there! Although not cold, and still dry at this point.

We were in bed by 10:30 p.m., but I had a rubbish night’s sleep – for some reason, we were unable to turn the lights off fully in the stateroom. We could dim them right down, but they wouldn’t switch off. The dim light and the distinct movement of the ship all night really disturbed me – I kept expecting to feel nauseous, but didn’t. After a couple of hours, the sea died down a bit and we were very still, so I managed to sleep for a couple of hours. I was wide awake at 5.00 a.m. for about an hour, then dozed back off again. Ugh.

DAY THREE – Tuesday 03 October

Plan : Nassau Day

Actual : We got up when my phone alarm went off at 7.30 a.m., and got ready for the day. This included turning on the TV and watching our Cruise Director, Trent, do a run-down of what was coming up that day. We loved Trent! He was really funny and entertaining, and the presentation was done in such an interactive, humorous way. We actually spotted Trent in person once or twice on our travels around the ship over the week, although he was always surrounded by other people or I would have gone up and shaken his hand for doing such a great job!

We looked out of our balcony door to find that we had docked at Nassau during the night. Our tour wasn’t scheduled to meet for a couple of hours, so we headed up to Cabana’s for breakfast. We got bacon, pancakes, scrambled and fried eggs, Mickey waffles, etc., as well as coffee and fruit juice. It was all really good. It began to rain a bit while we were in there.

After breakfast we popped up to deck 13 briefly, and then made our way to the D-Lounge which was where we had to gather for our tour. We were a bit early, so just took a seat and watched other people being told that due to inclement weather (it was by now raining quite hard and very windy), their tours had been cancelled! This was mostly the water-based tours, snorkelling and so forth. People were so disappointed, understandably – we saw some very grizzly children! When it was our turn to check in, we met the rest of our tour group and were given a small sticker with characters from Bambi on them, which would identify us to our tour guide onshore. As we disembarked the ship, the weather was pretty awful – warm, but very windy and extremely showery. My sticker promptly blew away!

We found our tour guide and checked in with her, she was lovely, as was her assistant. They took us down the side of the port building and to a minibus parked behind it, where we were introduced to an equally lovely driver! We piled into the minibus, were given complimentary bottles of water, and had a really fabulous, 2.5 hour tour of the island. We saw the Prime Minister’s house, Bob Marley’s house, the place that Anna Nicole Smith used to stay in when she visited the island and then the plot in the cemetery where she is buried(!), and some other important Government buildings. We drove slowly through a huge tourist resort called Atlantis, which looked amazing but very touristy, and also slowly past a very popular, local beach resort called Junkanoo, where apparently you could buy the best conch fritters in the Bahamas. We stopped at some small, natural caves, where we got out of the minibus and luckily it had mostly stopped raining at this point, so we explored the mouth of the caves and saw fruit bats roosting in there, which was lovely! We also had a restroom stop at the airport, which was quite small and didn’t seem very busy, but was spotlessly clean.

Eventually, we arrived back at the port. We really enjoyed this tour, it was so interesting and great fun. The driver imparted all sorts of interesting information about Nassau and its occupants and history. As we got off the bus, I had a handful of dollar notes ready to give them all a tip, but they just waved us off and locked up the bus, which was weird – I had expected to have to tip them.

Our other tour mates disappeared, and we were going to get back on the ship, but it was only late morning and we weren’t hungry yet, so DH suggested we explore the port a bit. The weather looked quite dry, so I agreed and we walked for a couple of minutes to the main road which was their equivalent of Downtown. However, the shops there were all either high-end designer stores, or tourist traps full of tat, so after about half an hour we gave up, particularly as it had started to rain again then. We sheltered for a few minutes under an awning, hoping it would let up a bit, but if anything the rain got heavier, so in the end we had to just make a dash for the ship. We got DRENCHED! The rain came down like someone was chucking buckets of water at us, and we had neither coat nor brolly. DH took a really funny picture of me stood under a sign that said, “Welcome to the Bahamas!” with rain running off my nose and a disgruntled look on my face.

As we got back on the ship, Cast Members were handing out towels to very damp passengers! Because of the dinner timings, we didn’t have time to go back to the stateroom and dry out, so we just squelched our way back to Cabana’s for lunch. We had some sandwiches and bags of Lays crisps, then I had a tiny Key Lime cheesecake, and DH had pumpkin cake, plus we got coffee.

Up to deck 13 for a quick “fresh air break”, as we had taken to calling DH’s cigarette breaks, then we went down to deck 3 to check out the shops. Turns out they close on port days until 6.00 p.m.! We therefore went back to our stateroom, and DH took a nap while I had a shower, then he had his shower once I was done. We relaxed in the room for a couple of hours, reading and watching TV, and then got dressed and went down to the Royal Palace restaurant for dinner, via deck 13 again.

Tonight was “Halloween on the High Seas” night, so lots of guests were dressed up in fancy dress for the occasion. We hadn’t bothered, as our holiday was complicated enough without adding in costumes as well; however, as we sat in the beautiful dining room and admired the Cinderella theming, we looked up from table 81 and saw Bill walking towards us dressed as The Flash, and Deana dressed as Wonder Woman! They looked AMAZING, and we had another wonderful evening with them. Our servers hadn’t taken down details of my food issues the day before, and were very embarrassed and apologetic about this as they had to ask me again, (this was the only time this happened though, from now onwards things were different!), and this resulted in me having much the same dinner as last night, although the chefs did prepare me a bowl of fresh fruit for starters – strawberries, raspberries, melon, grapes, blueberries. This was followed by steak and jasmine rice again, and then a coffee/chocolate layer sponge thing for dessert. DH had deep-fried brie to start, then duck, and then the same dessert as I had. It was all very, very good!

Mortified by the fact that I had had to have the same dinner two nights in a row, Jemaine now brought me the menus for tomorrow’s dining so that I could chose something I liked the look of, (making me keep it a secret from everyone else, as you aren’t supposed to see the daily menu until the actual dining day), and that way he could ensure whatever I wanted was prepared for me without the garlic, onions, cooked tomatoes etc. that was in everything ordinarily, which was great.

After dinner, we said goodbye to Bill and Deana as they were going off to do some character meet & greets, and we went shopping. I was so impressed by the number and size of the shops on board, and also by the range of merchandise – there was a lot of DCL specific items, and some really lovely other Disney-themed items that I hadn’t seen anywhere else. Disney stores all over WDW tend to mostly sell the same things these days, but there was lots here to excite us! First of all we visited the Pandora section, and picked up a Beauty & the Beast bangle that my parents had asked me to get for my sister as a Christmas gift, then DH bought me a plain bangle as mine at home is now full of Disney charms so I clearly needed another one! Using some of the money I got back from the compulsory purchase of my Disneyland Paris shares earlier in the year, I picked up a couple of DCL charms. We also got DH a DCL pin to add to his pin collection, and a Halloween on the High Seas and Pirates in the Caribbean t-shirts for him. We also checked out lots of other things to pick up next time we shopped.

I would have liked to have done some trick or treat trails, they were set up all around the ship and you didn’t have to have children with you to do them, but two things put me off – for one thing, everyone was supposed to have been left an empty trick or treat candy bag in their staterooms, and we hadn’t received these. I know we could have gone to Guest Relations to collect them, but once we saw the length of the queues for the treats, we couldn’t be bothered to trek over and collect bags, and then wait in long queues. This was the second thing that had put me off taking part – the HUGE queues of guests everywhere! So once we had weighed up our options, we decided not to bother. We also discussed watching the Halloween show in the Atruim, but again we knew it would be really crowded and we just didn’t feel up to battling crowds tonight.

We took all our goodies back to the stateroom, and bumped into our room steward for the first time. He introduced himself to us, and we desperately asked him how to turn the lights off! He showed us that rather than holding the button down, which just dims the lights, we needed to give the button a sharp jab, which then turned off the lights completely – we felt so stupid for not knowing this, it seemed really obvious once we knew!

DH popped back out for some ‘fresh air’ and to get some coffee, while I put away the shopping. There was less wind tonight so the sea was calmer – I could still feel the ship rocking slightly, but it was nowhere near as strong as last night. We relaxed in the stateroom for an hour or so and then finally turned in around 10:00 p.m., very happy to be able to turn off the lights completely! It took me a while to get off to sleep, I was tired but was finding the movement of the ship slightly unsettling still. It was such a weird feeling, I knew it wasn’t making me feel sick thanks to the meclizine, but I still felt like I should be feeling sick due to the movement. Anyway, I got off to sleep eventually and slept really well, once the ship slowed somewhat and there was no movement I could discern.

DAY FOUR – Wednesday 04 October

Plan : Castaway Cay

Actual : I woke up at around 7.30 a.m. because the ship was doing some weird juddering thing, I stayed in bed and tried to go back to sleep but I felt like the whole ship was wobbling in some way. I did doze back off for a little while, and woke up again just before 9.00 a.m. We got up to discover we had docked in Castaway Cay, (which explains the juddering!), and the weather looked glorious for the first time!

We put on swimwear and a cover-up, (in DH’s case, swimshorts and t-shirt), and went up to Cabana’s for breakfast. We got doughnuts, croissants, a pain au chocolate, apricot Danish pastries, and a cinnamon whirl. All were delicious! (Well, except the cinnamon whirl, I don’t like those!) We also got coffee, cranberry juice, and apple juice.

After breakfast and a quick “fresh air” break, we then made our way down to Guest Services as I wanted to clear the room charge. I was expecting it to be around $300 given what we had spent yesterday on shopping, but was really shocked to be handed a bill for $500! It turned out that the excursions to Nassau that I thought I had paid for ages ago, had only been secured with a credit card, and now we had done the excursions, the cost had been added onto our room bill. Plus they then put another $98 in gratuities on there! I knew I was paying the gratuities at the end of the cruise in cash, so got them to remove that, and then handed over $350, which was all the cash I had taken from our room with me. I would have to clear the rest later.

It was now time for us to disembark for the first time onto Castaway Cay, Disney’s own private island. We had been keeping an eye on the weather, as a huge dark front looked like it was heading our way, but people had been going onto the island for the past couple of hours so we thought it would be okay. We went down to the disembarkation point, but there was a huge backlog of people there, and Cast Members were saying a storm was about to hit and the island would be evacuated! We backed away and made our way to our stateroom, to see what was happening outside. It was quite horrifying to see the speed with which the storm came across us – we could see guests being hurried along from the island and back up the ramp onto the ship, but by this time there was a lot of wind and rain. Then the thunder and lightning started, and the mist was so dense that, despite being docked right next to the island, we couldn’t even see land! The ship stayed quite still, as it was obviously tethered, but we quite enjoyed watching the storm from the safety of our little stateroom.

We read, watched TV and relaxed for a couple of hours. At around 12:30 p.m. the weather didn’t seem to be improving much, so we went up to Cabana’s to get some lunch. The crew were incredible, obviously they must have experienced this sort of thing before, as they instantly arranged all sorts of on-board events at very short notice, for both adults and children – we were really impressed! We debated whether to get changed out of our swimwear, as I was convinced we (sadly) wouldn’t be setting foot on Castaway Cay today – we were due to sail again at around 5.00 p.m., and it really didn’t look like the storm was going to go away anytime soon. DH said that he thought we ought to keep our swimwear on though, we may be able to go in the adults-only pool after lunch. As we went up to deck 11, it became obvious that the pools were all closed due to the lightning! Anyway, we got ourselves some BBQ ribs, mashed potato, sweetcorn, and a spoonful of mac & cheese. DH also added a slice of pizza, some pasta with salmon, and assorted dressings, (he has a terrible weakness for dressings of any kind!). I followed this with a strawberry & cream puff, and DH had a chocolate truffle mousse. Plus the obligatory coffee.

We were just sitting there finishing off our coffee, when an announcement came over the tannoy. Trent the lovely Cruise Director announced that the gangways were now open, and people could head for the island! Given that it was now around 1.30 p.m., lots of people were arriving for lunch, but we had finished! I hugged DH for talking me into keeping swimwear on, and we legged it out of that restaurant as fast as we could, given that we were full of buffet lunch …..

It was still raining a little, but the storm had moved away. We grabbed some towels from a Cast Member at the gangplank and shot off that ship like rats off a sinking ….. oh. Anyway, we were the first people off the ship, and we splashed our way straight to the waiting shuttle tram. Originally, our plan had been to get the shuttle round to the adults-only beach on the far side of the island, but by mutual agreement we now just went for the first beach we came to, which happened to be the family beach called Scuttle’s Cove. We didn’t care, we just wanted to get into that beautiful, pale green water. We belted down the soft, fluffy, white sand beach, discarding our towels and cover-ups as we went – okay, we placed them on a couple of loungers – before kicking off our shoes and wading into the sea. It was bliss! The water was as warm as a bath, and then as we waded further out, we could see large grey and yellow fish swimming around our legs. Wow.

It was wonderful in the sea, we ignored the slight rain and floated and splashed around for over an hour. Other families arrived over the next hour, but not that many of them, so we were never being splashed by kids or having to listen to the yells of other people, it was so lovely.

We were conscious of the time though, as we knew we didn’t have very long and we wanted to explore a little, so after a while we got out of the water, wrapped towels around ourselves, and went to the tiny store called, “She sells Seashells”. We got a fridge magnet, pin and t-shirt for DH, and had a look around there. (I felt guilty that I had ordered a special meal from Serenity Bay BBQ but we didn’t even get that far round the island that day).

The rain was coming down a bit harder now, and we felt a bit cold as we were still wet through, so we had a look around Scuttle’s Cove and then headed back to the ship. When we got there, Cast Members took our wet towels off us and gave us dry, warm ones, which was lovely. We discovered that all-aboard had been extended by an hour that day to enable guests more time on the island – however, I don’t think we would have stayed much longer anyway, we had done what we wanted to and were feeling cold and tired by this point. DH went to pick up some coffees, and I went straight back to the stateroom with our bags.

Today was “Pirates in the Caribbean” day, so when I got to the stateroom I found two red pirate bandanas on the bed for us to wear to dinner!

We had showers and got dressed, then DH took a nap while I read and did some puzzles in my arrow-word book. (I always buy a new arrow-word book when I go on holiday, and NEVER touch it again once I am off the plane! However, this year, I did at least make use of it on the cruise).

Just before 5.00 p.m. we went down to dinner, DH wearing his pirate bandana around his head, and me tying mine around my wrist - this was to be our second night at the Royal Palace. We greeted Bill & Deana, and while we waited for our food, caught up on each other’s day. This was a lovely thing to do every day, it gave us chance to recount what we had done, and hear how their experiences had been different to ours. Quite a few guests were dressed up as pirates tonight! Bill had an amazing Captain Jack Sparrow tricorn hat on, complete with beaded dreadlocks, (like Bill needed any excuse to get dressed up!)

I had melon, pineapple and grapes to start, followed by lamb shank, mash, green beans, and a red wine reduction – this was so delicious! The meat was soft, flavourful and tender, and the reduction was savoury and salty (not in a bad way!). Dessert was a macadamia & caramel cheesecake – wow. DH ordered some kind of brie and bread thing to start, but Jemaine told him before it arrived that some guests found it too heavy and dense, so recommended he order a second starter as a back-up. He was indeed correct, DH thought the brie thing was nice, but really dense, so he happily left most of that and had crab cakes instead. He followed this with steak with Yorkshire pudding, sweet potatoes, mash, and vegetables. His dessert was rum-soaked chocolate cake. He said all of this was really, really good, particularly the dessert.

After a lovely dinner, again, we headed out to the Atrium in time to watch Mickey’s Pirate Party show, which was lots of fun, then we went to the Walt Disney Theatre to watch a showing of the film, Nightmare before Christmas, in 4D. (Surprisingly, we had never seen this film all the way through before). We were given 3D glasses, and thought the film was excellent, we really enjoyed it. There was real ‘snow’ in the theatre at one point, and streamers at the end, and then Jack Skellington appeared on stage at the end of the film.

Once we got out of the theatre, we could see huge queues everywhere for character meets, but we made our way out of the area and over to the lifts in order to go up to deck 12 for the fireworks at sea. As we were walking to the lifts, a woman said to me as she passed me, “Bob’s your Uncle!”, which startled me a little. I stared at her in surprise, and then she said she had been on our DCL bus from Art of Animation earlier in the week, and had heard us explaining to David the Cast Member about it! She told us she had been using the phrase all week to her family! So funny.

The weather had been wet and windy again since we had left Castaway Cay, (we had sailed away while we were having dinner), so the ship’s crew had sailed off the regular route and to an area where the weather was dry, otherwise they would have had to cancel the fireworks. However, this meant that the ship was rocking around quite severely as we were sideways onto the swell of the sea. I downed another couple of meclizine and hoped for the best.

We found a place alongside the rail on deck 12 where we could look down onto the Funnel Vision projection screen. Before long, there was a fantastic series of pictures and film clips on the screen, shown in synchronisation with the fireworks and music. The firework show was just breathtaking – we couldn’t believe how wonderful this was. When the Pirates of the Caribbean sector was on, there were red and black swirls of colour, giant skulls, and clips from the films on the screen, and the music was just amazing. It seemed to be a really long firework show, too – we were just blown away by the whole thing!

After the show and a quick ‘fresh air’ break, we went down a deck and picked up some coffee. We bumped into Bill & Deana, and asked them what they thought of the fireworks show, but they said that they had been queueing for character meets and had missed it! They said that they spent 2 hours waiting to meet Jack Skellington and Sally. Much as we love the characters, I was glad we had opted to watch the fireworks instead, as they had been the best part of the cruise for us so far.

We made our way back to our stateroom, and were in bed by 11:30 p.m., tired but happy.

DAY FIVE – Thursday 05 October

Plan : Sea day

Actual : We didn’t set an alarm this morning, but amazingly we slept in until 9:30 a.m.! I think the sea air was wearing us out. We got dressed and headed up to Cabana’s for a leisurely breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuit and a bagel. Usual coffee and fruit juice, too.

After breakfast we needed to get some more shopping done, so we went down to pick up a gorgeous Beauty & the Beast rose snowglobe for my sister for Christmas, and we also got some DCL fridge magnets to give as gifts to family. From there, we went to Guest Services in order to pay off our room charges, and then took the shopping back to our stateroom, before changing into swimwear and cover-ups. Today was going to be an ‘at sea’ day and we were determined to relax and make the most of this, as we knew it would probably be our last relaxing day for another couple of weeks!

We picked up coffee and gorgeous icy-cold Minute Maid lemonade from deck 11, then went up to deck 13 with our drinks and a book each to spend some time in the adult-only lounge area. There was no-one else there when we arrived, so we picked a couple of sun loungers and spent the next 2 hours reading, chatting, watching the sea, and just generally relaxing. A few more people arrived, but it was never particularly noisy or busy. Irritatingly, there were a few families walking through a couple of times, with kids that ran around noisily and jumped on the sun loungers, but that didn’t last long.

2 hours later, we decided we were bored with just sitting there! We don’t really do holidays where not much happens, and whilst it had been nice to rest, it was now time to move on. We went down to Cabana’s in the hope of picking up some dessert, (we were still a bit full from a big breakfast), but where I thought this place was open all day and evening, it turned out that there is a period between lunch and dinner time that it is closed! We had missed it by 15 minutes, drat! Just outside Cabana’s though is the ice-cream kiosk, called Eye Scream, so that would have to do. Yum! DH got a chocolate cone, and I had a chocolate and vanilla swirl. Then I decided I needed a second cone so got a banana and strawberry swirl! To be fair, I did give DH my actual wafer cones as I don’t like them, so I’d just had the ice-cream. They were lovely!

DH wanted to ride the Aquaduck water slide, which goes out over the side of the ship and back again, so I sat in the sun and read my book while he did this. The posted wait time was 45 minutes, which he pulled a bit of a face at, but I said it was okay, I didn’t mind waiting, and we might not get time again to do this, so off he went. It was more like 25 minutes though, and I got some great photos of him whizzing past over my head! He loved it, he said it was great fun.

We went for an explore of some areas of the ship we hadn’t been in, mostly aft and upstairs. We saw the sports area and the mini golf, which looked fun, but was very busy, so we decided then to spend some time in the adult-only pool. This was quite small, but rather deep! There were a few people already in there, including a bunch of middle-aged American guys who were busy posing and bragging, in their sunglasses and with bottles of beer or champagne. We ignored them and pottered about in there for a very pleasant hour. Great fun.

We eventually went back to our stateroom to shower, get dressed, and pack as we had to leave our case outside the stateroom door by 10:30 p.m. tonight. It didn’t take us long to pack up, and we then headed down to Animator’s Palette for dinner. Bill & Deana looked lovely, they were all dressed up for our final dinner. We had a really nice last evening with them, and caught up with their day.

I had my usual melon and pineapple etc. to start with, followed by rosemary and lemon chicken, mashed potato, and cubed root vegetables. For dessert, I had something called Lemon Icebox Pie, which turned out to be lemon meringue pie, and was really good. DH had black truffle pursettes, the same chicken dish I had, and then a chocolate cheesecake. The restaurant was beautiful, there were digital ‘sketches’ around the walls that came to life and moved and sang, and as the evening went on, the room became more colourful and bright. We loved the Mickey Mouse dining chairs! We had loved all the restaurants on the ship, each one was very different and it was impossible to pick a favourite. We would be back in here again in the morning for our last breakfast.

After a quick ‘fresh air’ break, we went to the Walt Disney Theatre for the final show of the cruise, called “Believe”. This was so beautiful, and made me cry, although this could have had something to do with it being our last night on the ship!

After the show, we took a slow walk back to our stateroom to finish off the packing, put our case outside the door, and we were in bed by 10:30 p.m. (We had received orange luggage labels with pictures of Goofy on – this would correspond to our collection point for our luggage the next day). I also prepared our tip envelopes (which had been left on our bed today), with the recommended amounts of money. I am normally a bit reticent about tipping, but I understood it is expected on cruise ships, so had gone along with it. Although in my defence, we had only seen our room steward once, but he had kept the room clean and tidy (though we are fairly tidy guests), and had left us an assortment of towel animals each day. One day, we had turned up at the stateroom to be terrified by some kind of weird, huge orang-u-tan thing made of towels and hung up on a coat-hanger from the curtain rail which made us jump as we walked in! Jemaine and Pricilla had been lovely, and Ivan had been nice but a bit smarmy, and mostly absent. Still, they all got tips.

It took me quite a while to get off to sleep, we were crossing the gulf stream again and there was a fair bit of turbulence with the ship rocking quite a bit. (Earlier on, I had been talking to Deana about the meclizine I was taking, and it turns out I was only supposed to be taking one a day – I had been wolfing them down at the rate of one every couple of hours! Oh well, they did the trick and I don’t suppose there are any lasting after-effects).

DAY SIX – Friday 06 October

Plan : Disembark ship, travel to Universal’s Royal Pacific Resort

Actual : After another good night’s sleep, I suddenly woke up in a panic as the alarm hadn’t gone off! Luckily, it was only 06:10 a.m. and we had needed to get up at 06:00 – phew! We were dressed and out of the stateroom door in 10 minutes flat (breakfast was at 06:30!). Our case had disappeared and we hoped it would be waiting for us onshore! We left the envelope for our room steward with his tip in it, in the room for him, as we wouldn’t be back there again.

DH popped upstairs for a ‘fresh air’ break, and I went down to Animator’s Palette to wait for him. We settled ourselves into table 81, said good morning to Bill & Deana, and ordered a Route 66 breakfast – bacon, scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage, and ham. We also got coffee. According to the menu, we should have had a plate of fresh fruit, pastries, and some yoghurt too, but they didn’t materialise and we thought we had enough food anyway, so didn’t mention it.

We swapped email addresses with Bill & Deana, and had some photos taken using DH’s camera with our tablemates plus our servers, Jemaine and Priscilla, and hugs were also exchanged all round. (We didn’t see Ivan again). We left their tip envelopes on our table after we enjoyed our breakfast, and then sadly left Animator’s Palette for the final time.

After a quick, final ‘fresh air’ break, we went to the photo desk on deck 4, called Shutters, to have a look at our cruise photos. We hadn’t had any character pictures taken, sadly – I would have loved to have had a picture taken with Mickey or Minnie at some point, but the queues were just longer than we wished to wait, so we didn’t bother. However, as we had boarded a few days ago, we had posed for a picture, so we wanted to check it out and possibly buy a copy. There were 3 to choose from (using cool, automated photo machines to view our pictures on!), and we picked the one we liked best, adding the charge of $21 to our onboard account. Then we had to go to Guest Services to pay that off straightaway, as it was nearly time to disembark.

We queued up to collect our bottles of wine, luckily having remembered we still had to do this, using the receipt we had found in our suitcase when we unpacked. They were nicely labelled and in a sort of mesh bottle cover, so we shoved them sheepishly into our hand luggage, waved a final, tearful farewell to the Cast Members and the beautiful ship, and sadly left the Disney Dream.

We joined the hordes of people looking for their luggage in the Customs hall. Luckily, we easily found the orange Goofy section, and spotted our case quite quickly – it was a large, orange one, which matched Goofy! As we were then standing in the queue to actually clear Customs, DH was randomly selected by an Agent for further questions. The Agent was very nice, and kept reassuring DH that he hadn’t done anything wrong or suspicious, it was merely random, and that I could go along with him too.

We followed her over to another desk, away from the crowds and out of view of the other guests. She asked DH a few questions such as how much money did we have on us for our holiday, (he had no idea, I had to answer that one!), how long we were staying and where, things like that. She was very polite and friendly, and we weren’t worried or scared at any point. As we didn’t have anything to hide, we felt quite happy that they do this as at least it makes us feel more safe and secure when travelling.

After this, we finally got outside and to the DCL bus stop. There was a bus waiting, so we stowed our case underneath in the luggage store and found ourselves a couple of seats. The bus set off shortly afterwards and we waved at the ship until we couldn’t see her any more! The cruise was utterly amazing, way better than I ever thought it would be, and we would definitely do this again in the future.

But now it was time for the next part of our adventure! 45 minutes later, we arrived back at Orlando International Airport, disembarked the bus, collected our case, and headed to the Dollar car rental desk. I have no idea why it always takes us so long to collect a hire car, it is so irritating. The female assistant didn’t try to upsell us anything though, surprisingly, although we did have to pay an extra $36 as we were several hours earlier than I had stated on the form that we would be, to collect the car. This was better than hanging around the airport for another 4 hours though! She did try to sell us a full tank of fuel, but I refused, saying we would take it out full and bring it back full, which she didn’t like – she tried to tell me fuel was $6 a gallon from the service stations nearest to the airport, and we HAD to fill it within 3 miles of the airport, and they would need to see a fuel receipt proving this on our return. Luckily, I knew fuel was cheaper than that at the station we always use in Florida, which is quite close to a villa we once rented over there and is on the way back to the airport with only a slight detour, so I was adamant we weren’t buying fuel from Dollar.

We walked over to the car hire garage, and after drooling over the Luxury SUVs, (I really want a Yukon one day!), we selected a silver Nissan Rogue. The number-plate was registered in New York and the first part of it read “HMP”, which meant thereafter we referred to it as the prison car, making it easy to find it at the end of a long day in the parks! (For anyone reading this who is not from the UK, HMP stands for Her Majesty’s Prison).

We popped our case in the trunk, and DH drove us to Universal’s Royal Pacific Resort, which was a very straightforward and easy drive away. (I already had a bag of change and a handful of $1 notes ready for the tolls we knew we would pass through). We temporarily parked in front of the hotel, and DH stayed outside with the car while I went in to check us in, as we weren’t sure how to use the car park at that point. I was very impressed as I walked in, the hotel looked really pretty – it smelt gorgeous, and there were (both real and fake) flowers everywhere. All the lobby areas were huge, and very high, the whole reception area was so light and spacious. There was no queue at the desk, so I went straight up to a member of staff who checked us in and gave me our Front of the Line passes. The room wasn’t ready yet, as I expected, so she pointed out where we could leave our luggage. She also gave me a couple of artificial flower leis, which were very sweet, and instructed me on how to use the car park barrier (I had to have a temporary car park pass until we had our room allocation number).

Back out to DH, we drove round to the car park and successfully managed to park – the car then stayed there for the next 3 days! We took our case and the hand luggage into Bell Services, and tried to find our way round to the water taxi. This wasn’t easy, we had to get into a lift, go down a level, and then wind our way around the outside of the hotel, past a couple of restaurants, through a little garden, and to the boat stop. However, this was at least signposted all the way, which helped. We thought the walkway, and in particular the gardens, were really pretty.

There was a sheltered area with a few benches and a security desk at the boat dock. They checked our bags as we went into the area, and we only had to wait a few minutes for the water taxi to arrive and unload, before we were allowed to board. There were around 10 people waiting for the boat. The journey was really nice, we chugged along seeing all the things that were new since we were last at Universal, such as Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, which looked amazing – we said we would have to check that out at some point over the next few days! (Spoiler – we never did have time to go there in the end!)

We finally arrived at the dock at City Walk, and set off in search of lunch. I was quite keen to try Cowfish, having read and heard good things about it, so in we went. We were seated straight away, upstairs and by a window. As I was more thirsty than hungry, I decided to just get a milkshake and a side of fries. I was looking through the milkshake menu, which was pretty extensive, when I noticed they did a yuzu milkshake. I had discovered yuzu when in Hong Kong in 2016, it is a citrus fruit that has a flavour something like a cross between a grapefruit and a mandarin orange, and I fell in love with the flavour! I asked the waiter about this milkshake, and he said it wasn’t very popular because it was more citrusy than sweet, but that appealed to me no end, so I ordered this. DH ordered a black & blue burger and fries, and some coffee.

We didn’t have to wait long for lunch to be delivered. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realised that the fries would have some kind of garlicy seasoning on them until I tried one – I had to get them replaced with unseasoned fries and then just add salt myself, but the waiter was fine about that and didn’t charge us for the first lot of fries. The milkshake was – oh my life – AMAZING!! Very thick and creamy, and with the unmistakable soft, lemony, citrusy taste of yuzu. I loved it, and it was huge – I just about managed to finish it, although there was no way I was leaving any of it! DH also really enjoyed his burger and fries, he said it was outstanding quality. Overall, we thought this place was a bit pricey, but the food was very good indeed, and we would go back there again.

After lunch, we decided to make the Studios our first stop. It was a very hot and humid day, sunny with some cloud cover, but we were quite hot as we walked. The first thing we noticed was that the Studios were set up for Halloween Horror Nights – there were props everywhere, which was a bit distracting, but I guess all the theme parks are quite often set up for some event or another. Looking for a sit down in some air conditioning, we decided to watch the Horror Make-up show, which has been there for years but we have never made the time to watch before. We didn’t have to wait long until the next show, and we really enjoyed this, it was funny and lots of fun! (With us both having a slightly twisted sense of humour, we enjoyed the gore and bloody segments probably more than we should have done!)

We decided to fly with ET next, so used our Front of the Line passes to bypass the queue, (not that it was that big to start with), and we were soon off to Neverland – oh wait, wrong ride. Anyway, we always enjoy this harmless little ride, (which I’m amazed is still there, I suspect it will go at some point in the not-too-distant future), and ET managed to get our names right at the end, although it was a bit hard to understand him.

The park seemed fairly quiet at this time, and we wandered onwards. Then we found the crowds, which were all clearly avoiding ET! I quite fancied doing Men in Black, but the area was packed, so we carried on to the new Harry Potter area. We walked past the new Kings Cross station, taking lots of pictures as we went, and decided to ride the train across to the Islands of Adventure tomorrow rather than today. We were absolutely melting in the heat, so grabbed a couple of bottles of icy-cold Sprite from a nearby cart, and paused in the shade of the hoardings around what used to be the Disaster show/ride, and the Beetlejuice show – this was all going to be a new Fast & Furious attraction, due to open in a few months’ time, but right now it was just a nice place to sit in the shade for a few minutes!

We carried on round the park and saw Marilyn Monroe and some army girls doing a performance of songs for the troupes, so we watched that and then I had my photo taken with her. I was wearing a long sundress with a floaty skirt, and she said we both had lovely, floaty skirts, and we should pose with them pulled out on display, which we did! She was lovely, so sweet.

DH wanted to try the Race around New York with Jimmy Fallon ride, so we went in and walked through to the pre-show area. We were called through by section colour, and because I wasn’t sure I would like this, I opted to sit in the family waiting room for him. It wasn’t that long a wait, and a random panda came and interacted with people in the waiting room – I think this is something to do with Jimmy Fallon but we don’t really know who he is in the UK so it didn’t make much sense to me. Anyway, DH said he enjoyed the ride, it was a bit like Star Tours but through New York, and he thought it would probably have not been my favourite ride as it may have knocked my poorly back about a bit and affected my motion sickness.

When we stepped back out into the park, the sky had clouded over and it was spitting with rain a little, so we headed into the Shrek 4D show as we really like that. It was great fun, as usual, but when we came out of there the rain was coming down a bit harder so we made a dash for the big Universal store. We picked up a couple of things for our granddaughter, a Thing 2 t-shirt and a tiny, matching handbag, then had a debate about whether to buy ponchos or not as it was really pouring by now. The debate turned into a minor disagreement, I was saying that I thought they were an unnecessary expense, and DH was blaming me for not picking up the ponchos we already had that morning, but leaving them in the cases back at the hotel – I think we were both tired at that point, and I felt guilty about not bothering to take the ponchos which made me defensive and irritable. Plus the shop was absolutely HEAVING with people trying to avoid the downpour, making egress around the store really difficult.

Eventually we just decided to suck it up and head back to the hotel, so we forced our way through the hoards and out of the doors. We got absolutely soaked through as we splashed our way back to the boat dock! Luckily, there was a boat already pulling in, and we were soon back at the Royal Pacific Resort. I went back to reception and got our room allocation, while DH picked up the luggage from Bell Services. We had room 2722 on the 7th floor, it was a bit of a trek to get there but we really loved the room, it was huge! The décor was really pretty too, big orange flowers dominated the walls and the carpet was a pale grey colour. The view from the floor-to-ceiling window was amazing, too. DH decided to test out the comfort of the bed, while I put my phone on charge, set up the Wi-Fi connection, and made some coffee using the whizzy coffee-pod machine.

I was desperate for a warm shower, but before I did that I wanted to get some snacks from the shop downstairs, as I knew we wouldn’t be going out again tonight – we were very tired and the weather was awful. So I grabbed my purse and headed downstairs again.

The shop was very small, but had a fairly decent selection of goodies, and as I was browsing and wondering what to get, I suddenly heard a woman behind me talking to her two little girls. She had a Glaswegian accent, and I knew that a lady I knew from one of the Disney fan website discussion- boards was due to be at Royal Pacific Resort at the same time as us, and she was from Glasgow, although I didn’t know what she looked like in real life. So, I thought, it’s worth a try – I politely said, “Excuse me, are you Suzanne1972?” (her name on the Board). She said she was, and we exchanged big hugs and she introduced me to her children! We had a lovely chat, and it was so nice to finally meet her, she was such a nice person and her girls were adorable. Her husband appeared, and after more introductions he gathered up his family and they left. We hoped to see each other again, but I never did spot them again anywhere, sadly.

Anyway, I got some cheese Lays for DH, cheddar popcorn for me, bottles of soda, and a giant pink doughnut for us to share. I was picking all this up while still talking to Suzanne, and it wasn’t until I got back to the room with the goodies that I realised I had picked up plain popcorn instead of white cheddar – and I had set my heart on cheesy popcorn for dinner! DH needed some ‘fresh air’ so he volunteered to go back to the shop and change it for me, which he did, while I rang housekeeping to order some more coffee pods and creamer – this was delivered quite quickly.

When DH returned, I had my shower and then we relaxed in the room, eating junk for dinner, (the doughnut was surprisingly light and delicious, not overly-sweet, and very easy to eat half of considering how large it was!). We WhatsApped my family, watched some TV, and I played some games on my Kindle Fire. We managed to stay awake until 9.30 p.m., when we turned off the lights and settled down. DH was asleep immediately! I played a few more games until 10.30 p.m., but then slept.

DAY SEVEN – Saturday 07 October

Plan : Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure

Actual : I had a really fitful night’s sleep, for some reason. I was wide awake at 7.00 a.m., so got up and made some coffee. DH got up shortly after me, and we got ready and were out of the door by 8.30 a.m. Wesh News was telling us that today would be hot and humid, with temperatures in the 90s but with a real-feel of 105 degrees! We picked up our brollies, not wanting to risk being caught without any kind of rain protection but also not willing to boil alive in plastic ponchos!

We got a boat taxi across to the Studios again, and began to explore. DH wanted to ride The Mummy, he had done this ride in Universal Studios Singapore in 2016 and loved it, (I still can’t quite believe this is the same man who shrieked like a terrified child the first time I took him on Space Mountain, and wouldn’t ride it again for years!). The wait time wasn’t too bad, and as a single rider, DH was on and off in about 15 minutes. He said the ride was awesome!

We walked round to the new-to-us section of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and loved the way you enter Diagon Alley through the wall! We had a good look around the area, and thought it was themed fantastically well, although once you had explored it and looked around the shops, there wasn’t really much else to do. I wimped out of doing the Gringott’s Bank ride, so sent DH on ahead as a sort of scout to see whether he thought I would like it or not. The wait time said 25 minutes, but DH used his Front of the Line pass, although it was still over half an hour before he got back to me. I sat in the sun near a gold-coloured statue and waited, it was nice there. DH came out and said he enjoyed the ride, but that I probably wouldn’t have liked it as it was a bit spinny and there were several fast drops. Just out of curiosity, I went over to the test seat just to see if I would actually fit, being on the Pooh-sized side, and it turned out that my legs were too fat for the lap bar to click closed anyway! So I felt better about deciding not to ride, as I now didn’t have a choice about it and would have been DEEPLY embarrassed to have discovered I couldn’t fit having stood in line for an hour.

Despite not having had any breakfast yet, we were too hot to be hungry, but we did need a drink, so I suggested we get a Butterbeer. There was a small store nearby, so I sent DH off to find a handy bench in the shade, and got myself a frozen Butterbeer and a regular one for him. It was delicious, and exactly what we needed, plus it was nice to sit in the shade for a little while. After a quick visit to the nearby restrooms, we explored Knockturn Alley, which was absolutely amazing – very dark and sinister. There was a fantastic shop in there called Borgin & Burkes, which sold merchandise themed to the Dark Arts and was just brilliant. We picked up an Azkaban prisoner t-shirt for DH from there, and admired all the skulls, shrunken heads, etc. Some amazing stuff, well worth a visit.

When we found our way out of Knockturn Alley and our eyes had adjusted to the light again, we walked round to Kings Cross station, pausing to admire the houses of Grimmauld Place as we went. If you stand and watch the curtains for long enough, you can see shadowy figures of Sirius Black and Kreacher appear at the windows and peer out at you. The wait time for the Hogwart’s Express train was only 15 minutes, but we used our FOtL passes and went straight in. (As we were in effect park hopping, we also had to use our park passes at a small turnstile). We watched the guests in front of us “disappear” through the wall of Platform 9¾! When it was our turn to walk through the wall, I wished we could have got a picture of ourselves doing this, it was a really neat effect.

The train ride was loads of fun, we loved watching what was happening out of the window, and also all the shadowy figures going past our carriage, so clever. When we got to the Studios, we decided we really should eat something, so we checked out the 3 Broomsticks. However, it was just after 1.00 p.m. and the queue was out of the door, so we carried on round into the Lost Continent. There was an outdoor quick service place there called the Fireater’s Grill so again I sent DH off to get us a table, while I picked up chicken strips, fries, coffee, and bottles of cold soda. We were hungrier than we realised, and we soon demolished this lot.

We walked around the Lost Continent a bit and took some photos, we do love this area. In particular we spent some time lizard-spotting around the Sinbad’s Voyage show, although we didn’t go and watch the show as we have seen it a couple of times and find it quite frankly to be very boring and hammy. We then walked slowly through Dr Suess land, but didn’t go on anything there either, as nothing was leaping out at us today.

We were struggling a bit with the heat, and decided to pop into Starbucks for a cold drink and some respite from the sun. There were no seats inside, but we found a table outside with an umbrella, and DH went to get drinks. He got a pumpkin spice Frappuccino, and I just had a blended iced coffee. We relaxed for about half an hour, enjoying our cold drinks, and felt a bit more refreshed after this. We carried on walking around the park, just looking round and enjoying being there, although we were starting to feel like we would be done with Universal for a few years now as there really wasn’t anything that we felt like doing at this point. We got back to the Harry Potter area, and used our FOtL passes to get through Hogwart’s Castle for the Forbidden Journey ride. I was feeling slightly off-colour due to the heat, and opted not to ride, but I was still able to walk all the way through the Castle with DH and then just before he boarded, I was directed through a side gate by a Cast Member, where I stood and waited for DH in the unload area. He said the ride was fun, but he was done with it for now.

We went back to just inside the Lost Continent to get some cold bottles of soda, and then decided to ride the Hogwart’s Express back across to the Studios. This was fun, the ‘views’ out of the windows are different on the way back! Although unfortunately our carriage was full of drunken, loud, young Americans on some sort of outing together – they were all wearing matching t-shirts with various Harry Potter quotes on them, but including references to alcohol, such as “Accio Wine”. They thought they were all being hilarious, but they were shouting and we couldn’t hear the narration that was going on from the views out of the windows. In the end I asked them if they would mind being a bit quieter, as we were trying to listen to what was going on, and to be fair, they did apologise and shut up at that point.

DH decided to give the Transformers ride a try, again this is one he tried in Singapore, but he said this one was different here. Still good, just different. I waited outside for him and he wasn’t gone for long. I don’t quite know how this happened, but DH then talked me into going on the Mummy ride with him. He said it was fun! He said it was a bit like a slightly bigger Big Thunder Mountain, but a bit faster. Well, he not so much lied as underestimated my fear of roller-coasters slightly. It was horrific! Really fast, loud, very scary. I wish I had had time to appreciate the theming, but I was so busy trying not to scream up a lung that I may have missed some bits of the ride! Truly horrible. When I could breathe again, I may have slapped him a bit. But I also did think that I might ride it again at some point, now I know what to expect, so that I could have a proper look at the theming …. (Don’t tell him I said this).

When we came out of the ride, the rain was starting again, but this time we got out our trusty brollies! We were done with the Studios for the day, so we left there and walked towards City Walk as we had tickets for the Blue Man Group show that evening. The rain got heavier and heavier, and despite the brollies, our legs and feet were pretty wet by the time we got round to the theatre. Luckily, there is a covered area to sit and wait in, and once I had collected our tickets from the Box Office, we were able to stay relatively sheltered. The rain stopped after about another 10 minutes.

At 5.30 p.m. we were let into the theatre. Our seats were A31 and A32, about 4 rows back from the front and over to the far, right-hand side. I did worry about this a bit when I saw that we were over to one side, but that proved to be a pointless worry as the seats were perfectly fine. The show started at 6.00 p.m., and had been preceded by some really funny comments and actions being scrolled across a banner above the stage, enough to keep the audience occupied prior to the show. The show itself was utterly bonkers – we had had no idea what to expect, and it is difficult to explain what we saw, but it was funny and mad and clever, with lots of really great, live music thrown in. All the way through, I kept thinking, “my dad would love this show!” (he loves anything that Cirque du Soleil do, for example), and consequently, when Blue Man Group toured the show in late 2017, I was lucky enough to be able to take my dad to a showing of this locally in the UK – and I was right, he did love it!

We had a really great time, and were very glad we had seen the show. Once it was over, we walked back to City Walk to get some dinner. I quite fancied going to Panda Express, as I love their orange chicken, so DH agreed with this and we picked up a double orange chicken and fried rice order from there, sitting in some outdoor seats in an upstairs area to eat. I also got some kind of soft-cheese wonton things for DH, which he loved. The atmosphere was brilliant, there were lots of families around but there was a sort of buzzing vibe to the place, it was great. Dinner was delicious, as expected, and afterwards we took a slow stroll back to the boat dock to get a water taxi back to Royal Pacific Resort. We were very tired but in a good way, and were soon in bed once we arrived back at the hotel.

DAY EIGHT – Sunday 08 October

Plan : Check out of Universal, travel to Disney

Actual : We both slept really well, and work up just after 8.00 a.m. We relaxed in the room for a little while, having coffee in bed, before getting up and packing as today was moving day.

We said goodbye to our beautiful room, and both agreed that this was a lovely hotel, so well situated for visiting Universal. We left our cases with Bell Services and checked out at reception, although they told us we had an automatic check out so didn’t actually need to queue up and see them.
We caught the water taxi back to the Studios, and began our last bits of Universal touring. We wanted to see the Terminator show today, as it was its last day of operation before closing down for good, so we made that our first port of call. The show was great, we really enjoy this, but I guess it is time to update it with something else now. One brilliant thing happened though, normally you are discouraged from taking photos or recording the show, but as the Cast Member introduced the show, she said that we could photograph, video, record, anything we wanted to do, as today was a very special day for the show and so the usual rules didn’t apply! We took a few photos, and a guy sat in front of me recorded the whole thing from start to finish. There was such a weird atmosphere in there, everyone was whooping and cheering at everything, but equally there was a sadness about everything, too. Anyway, we had a great time, and left there feeling a bit sad.

We were a bit hungry, so went into a nearby bakery for an early lunch. Unfortunately, I got a bit carried away as the food all looked amazing, and ordered a ham & cheese croissant for DH and a tuna croissant for me, both of which were HUGE, and I also got us a piece of cheesecake each – cherries jubilee for DH and espresso for me. Plus coffees and cold drinks. There was so much food! We did manage to get through it all, but with hindsight we should have had either the croissants or the cheesecakes, but not both. Ah well, we enjoyed it all.

After lunch we went into the main Universal Store to pick up some shopping, as there were a few Harry Potter bits and pieces that I wanted to get for my daughter in law for Christmas. We then walked around the corner towards the Mummy ride, and as there was no wait for it at all, DH went off to ride while I took photos of an ancient Egyptian character on stilts, who just kept staring at me (in character!) without smiling, he was really good. DH enjoyed the ride, and then we carried on round to Harry Potter land, where we picked up some more shopping in Diagon Alley.

After this, it was time to make a move and leave Universal, so we made our way back to the boat dock, caught a boat to the Royal Pacific Resort, collected our cases from Bell Services, and trekked round to the car with everything.

We bade farewell to Universal, and began the next bit of our adventure – Disney!

Following the map I had printed out before we left the UK, we drove easily to Port Orleans French Quarter, and our first impressions were really favourable, this looked like such a pretty resort! We left the car in the short-term car park and went inside to check in. Slightly surprisingly, our room was ready (it was around mid-afternoon by now), and the Cast Member confirmed we had a King bed room, which had been my original booking. We collected our new Magic Bands, purple for me and green for DH. She then told me that they were running an experiment at the moment, and if I was willing to accept less housekeeping, I would receive a Disney Gift Card. She explained that we would not receive daily housekeeping, but only trash and towels being done every 3 or 4 days and then a full clean on days 6 and 12, or something similar, I can’t remember the exact details now. However, in exchange for this, we would get a Gift Card for $120! As there are only the two of us in the room and we are pretty tidy anyway, always hanging up towels to dry after we have used them, we opted to go with this, and the Cast Member got me to sign a waiver and then emailed me an electronic Gift Card! We were very pleased with this, what with this and the $200 Gift Card we were getting as part of the package, we thought that would probably cover all the Christmas gifts we had wanted to bring home for friends and family! She kept stressing that this was optional, we didn’t have to do this, and also we could contact housekeeping at any time if we needed extra supplies or clean linen/towels.

DH went off to Bell Services just after this, to collect the cases and Owner’s Locker box that should have been kept here for us, and returned a little while later, saying a Cast Member was bringing the luggage round on a trolley, along with several other Guests’ luggage. We had to wait a few minutes for this to happen, but someone eventually appeared and we offloaded our bags and struggled back to the car with everything.

We drove round to building 1, and found room 1341, which was a corner room on the 3rd floor, with a lovely view of the gardens. We parked up and hauled everything to the lift, which was at the very far end of the building! By the time we finally got ourselves and all the bags to the room, we were very hot and slightly irritable, but this was soon negated by how gorgeous our room was – and it was huge, too! We had a couple of strings of brightly coloured beads on the table, draped into the shape of a hidden Mickey.

We unpacked and then stored the cases under the hanging rail by the sink, made some coffee, and relaxed and cooled down for an hour. (We popped the two bottles of wine into the fridge!) I also unpacked all the paperwork I would need for the next 2 weeks – spreadsheets of park opening hours, our daily itinerary, FastPass spreadsheet – wait, where was my FastPass spreadsheet?? Turns out, I forgot to bring it – it was at home in amongst some other paperwork I thought I didn’t need to take with me!! I’ve never forgotten this before, and began to panic a bit. We don’t rely on our phones when we are away, to be honest we quite like the break from them, so we certainly don’t use them to keep checking on FastPasses etc. I logged onto My Disney Experience from my tablet and was able to find our booked FastPasses, so just made a note of them for each day in the back of the little notepad I carry around with me for taking trip report notes. Phew!

The coffee maker was a bit odd, very small, and only capable of making 2 small cups at a time. Luckily, we had a handful of Folgers coffee bags in the storage box left from last year, as we do drink a lot of coffee and always have to ask for more from housekeeping. However, we knew we would need to go food shopping soon as we would need more coffee bags and also some Coffee Mate, which we normally keep in the box, but the stuff from last year had gone out of date and we had chucked it away.

At around 6.30 p.m. we left to go to Fort Wilderness Campground for our traditional first night Disney dinner at Trail’s End. We normally struggle to park here, but we found a space quite easily this year, and were soon riding the bus to Pioneer Hall. However, we checked in (about 15 minutes early for our reservation), only to be told they were running about 30 minutes late! We were tired and hungry at this point, and this was not good news. We managed to get seats on the rocking chairs on the front porch, and sat there with our pager, trying not to be grumpy about the delay.

At 8.05 p.m., the pager went off, exactly 30 minutes after our dining reservation time. We were seated upstairs quite close to the buffet, for the first time. We love this place, and had been looking forward to dinner here for quite a while. I got some fried chicken, mashed potato, corn, mac & cheese, and a slice of smoked brisket – yum! DH had a similar plateful, but without the brisket and he added some salad items. He then had a small second helping of everything, adding a slice of pizza, before we both had apple cobbler and ice-cream (to which I added a drizzle of caramel sauce to mine!). DH also got some pomegranate lemonade, but I hate that stuff so I just stuck with Sprite and iced water. We thought our server was a bit abrupt and lacklustre, almost like he wasn’t really paying attention to us. Anyway, all the food was really lovely, and we paid the bill of $64 before leaving.

We got the bus back to the car park, and then drove back to Port Orleans. I left DH relaxing in the room and walked to the food court, Sassagoula Floatworks & Food Factory, to collect our refillable mugs. I was delighted to find they had the Coca Cola Freestyle machines in there! I hate regular Coca Cola, but do like to experiment with different flavours, and you don’t have to have a coke base with these machines. First up I tried a Minute Maid pink lemonade base, then added peach flavouring to it. (Over the coming days, I would always have the same base but would add vanilla one day, strawberry another day, and lime on another day. The peach ended up being my favourite!) I just got coffee for DH as I knew that would be all he wanted. I also used a couple of snack credits (welcome to the free Quick Service Dining Plan!) to get a bottle of fruit-flavoured Vitamin Water and a bottle of Blue Raspberry Powerade, in case we needed a drink during the night, as we didn’t have any bottled water in the room yet. I was really pleased with how compact this resort was, we usually stay in places like Old Key West or Saratoga Springs, both of which are HUGE and you certainly can’t easily walk from your room to the food courts! It was also just so pretty here, lots of plants and flowers, and pretty décor. Plus the river was running alongside the resort, and we knew there was a boat dock which would take us to Disney Springs.

I took everything back to the room, we wound down and finally turned off the lights around 11.30 p.m.

DAY NINE – Monday 09 October

Plan : Shopping, Animal Kingdom

Actual : We both had a bit of a restless night, no real reason for that, but it left us a bit tired and so we didn’t get going as early as we had wanted to. We eventually headed out and went to our favourite USA supermarket, the Super-Walmart on the 192. We got a pack of bottled water, some sugar-free water flavouring powder sachets in a large variety of different flavours, (some for here, some to take home), deodorant to take home (myself and my sister particularly love Dove solid in Powder scent, and a friend had also asked me to pick her up some Secret solid deodorant too), cinnamon toothpaste for my sister, some underwear, (plain, white undies are quite hard to find in the UK, and I prefer us to have these in the USA as then I only need to do a lights wash while we are away), a large tub of Coffee Mate, a box of Folger’s Coffee Bags, and some snacks for the room. We ended up getting quite a lot of stuff! From there, we drove back down the 192 until we found the IHOP we like, which is just past the Taco Bell turnoff and on the left hand side of the carriageway. It looked to be quite busy, but we were seated really quickly. DH ordered a pumpkin spice short stack of pancakes, with bacon and sunny-side up eggs. I got a short stack of something called Lava Java, which was coffee flavoured pancakes with salted caramel syrup, plus a side of bacon. We also got bottomless coffee. It was all really delicious, particularly my pancakes, although I do get a bit fed up with the current raving trend about salted caramel – I prefer just caramel flavour, personally. The bill was quite reasonable, under $25, and we once again lamented the lack of IHOPs in the UK while filling our faces.

After breakfast, we drove through the small roadways behind us to the Walgreens next door. I had been reading on the internet about a new flavour of M&Ms being released, (which naturally never makes its way to the UK, something else we miss out on!), and I had been hunting for these without success so far. However, we found them here – coffee nut M&Ms! They are like peanut M&Ms, but with a coffee flavour coating – yum! I also picked up a couple of bags of bite-size peanut butter Snickers bars; I love these, and guess where we can’t get them? Yep, the UK.

We paid for our shopping, piled back into the car, and drove back to our resort. We staggered back to the room with our haul, did our usual thing of dumping it all into one corner of the room where we steadfastly ignore it until it comes to packing time, freshened up, then left again and headed over to the Animal Kingdom. The car park there was quite busy, but we were surprised to drive up near the entrance and get a good parking spot – I think this is quite often the case when you go a bit later in the day.

We had a FastPass for Expedition Everest, which was showing a 70 minute standby time, but only took around 20 minutes with our FastPass. This was tremendous fun, as usual. I went through a phase a couple of years ago of talking myself out of this ride, I had previously loved it but was nervous about the first, big ascent, where there is nothing to either side of you as you slowly go up a massive incline, and I really wasn’t keen on the one big drop towards the end. I stopped riding it for a while, then gave myself a stern talking to because I really like the rest of the ride and I love the theming, so I reminded myself of the fun bits (including the backwards in the dark bit!) and made myself ride again.

It was now time for our first look at the new Pandora area, so we made our way over there. As we approached, we could see a sort of bridge to walk over, and there was a massive queue on the bridge, with a Cast Member holding a sign saying “End of Queue” – gosh! We had watched the film Avatar a couple of weeks before this holiday, just so we’d know what the theming and rides were all about here, and whilst we quite enjoyed the film, we had been a bit bemused at the hysteria surrounding the theme park area. However, we were pleasantly surprised once we began to explore Pandora, it was amazing! So pretty, and definitely very “other worldly”. Our next FastPass was for the Na’vi River Journey, which had been the only one I’d been able to get for Pandora today, so we made our way to the entrance. It was showing as 95 minutes on standby, but we walked straight on, although we did think it was quite a long walk to get to the loading area. We really loved this ride, it was beautiful. When we got to the bit just before the singing Shaman, the ride stopped for a good 10 minutes, and we were able to have a good look around and appreciate some of the detail. There were frog-like creatures on the leaves above, we were watching their shadows as they hopped around, and the plants were just gorgeous. Eventually we got moving again, and we were totally blown away by the singing Shaman – she was incredible! Overall, we really loved this ride, but agreed we wouldn’t wait more than half an hour for it on standby.

We went over to have a look at the queue for Flight of Passage, which was showing as 165 minutes on standby – wow! We both tried the test ride vehicle, although I wasn’t intending to ride this year, intending for DH to have a go first so he could let me know whether I would like it or not. We both fitted (just!).

It was now time for us to check in for the Caring for Giants tour I had booked, so we walked over to Africa and found the check-in desk. I spoke to the lovely Cast Member on the desk, confirmed our names, and we were given a lanyard with a slip of paper in it, that he wrote our names on. We had about 15 minutes to wait, so found a nearby wall with a bit of shade and sat ourselves down. Eventually, another 4 people turned up, and we were called over. We followed another Cast Member through a nearby gate which took us backstage. He outlined a few rules and regulations, all done in a friendly and polite manner, and then handed us over to a female Cast Member who loaded us into a big minibus and drove us to a backstage area behind the elephant enclosure. She explained that this area had originally been used for keepers and vets to observe the elephants, before they opened it up for these tours. Apparently, the majority of the money we had paid for this tour was going to an elephant conservation fund. She gave us a lovely pin badge, and told us loads of interesting facts about elephants in general and Animal Kingdom elephants in particular, we learnt so much! We also chatted to another keeper, who told us a lot about elephant conservation in (the real) Africa, and we were encouraged to ask as many questions and take as many photos as we liked. We were really close to the animals, and could clearly see the baby playing around – she was gorgeous!

We had a very quick rain shower at one point and the Cast Member handed out rain ponchos, but by the time we had struggled into them, it had stopped again anyway. It was very hot again today! We thought this tour was fantastic, we really enjoyed it, but all too soon we were being bundled back into the minibus for our return, sadly.

After handing back our lanyards but being told we could keep the slips of paper with our names on, (which were actually made of recycled elephant dung!), we said our goodbyes and walked to the nearest smoking area for a quick fresh air break. After this, it was time for our Kilimanjaro Safari FastPass, which was right next to where the tour had been – I had known they were next to each other and had deliberately booked the FastPass for after the tour. We had an excellent 2-week tour, but as we disembarked the truck, we agreed we were both very hot and tired at this point, plus we were a bit hungry by now as it had been a long time since our pancakes earlier today. We decided we were too tired to walk anywhere else to use our “free” FastPass for the day, and lamented the fact that they didn’t roll over to another day, which would have been great.

We took a slow walk out of the park, and drove back to the resort. Even though our room was within walking distance of the food court, we were too tired and hungry so just parked at the front of the resort and went into the Sassagoula Floatworks & Food Factory. I sent DH off to find a seat, although it wasn’t really that busy in there, and got him a pulled pork burger, coleslaw, and fries dusted with paprika (these were HUGE fries, and were delicious!); I got fried chicken on a biscuit, the same fries, and macaroni salad, which turned out to be pasta in mayo and was VERY yummy! We were starving and practically inhaled all the food. I also got a bottle of pink grapefruit juice which was delicious, and DH had a red berries soft drink.

After dinner, we drove back round to our room and relaxed, before lights out at around 10:30.

DAY TEN – Tuesday 10 October

Plan : Epcot

Actual : I’ve been meaning to mention the weather we have been having. Every day so far since we disembarked the cruise has been very hot and sunny, with heavy rain showers lasting from a few minutes to up to an hour between 3 & 4 most days. This is somewhat unusual for this time of year, we know this happens in August but not usually in October! Temperatures have been a bit horrendous though – 105 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday and Sunday, down to 95 yesterday and down again to 92 today. Humidity has also been a bit higher than we are used to at this time of year.

Anyway, we slept really well last night and awoke with the alarm at 7.00. We were out of the room by 8.30, and drove to Epcot, where we made rope drop! I was pleased with this, it doesn’t happen often, we always intend to get out early but then struggle to actually achieve this. We had a FastPass for Test Track, so thanks to the FastPass tiers we hadn’t got one for Soarin’ today. However, we went straight to Soarin’ and used our “free” FastPass to ride. This was the first time we had seen the new “Soarin’ around the World” film and I had been a bit nervous about this, I LOVED the previous version and could even (sadly) hum the soundtrack and know which bit of film it related to, so I was desperately hoping the new film would be just as good. I needn’t have worried – the film was FANTASTIC! We loved it, and it actually made me cry as it was so beautiful. The soundtrack was subtly different yet familiar enough to me, and the new scenes are breathtaking.

We went to Sunshine Seasons to grab a quick breakfast, and 4 snack credits later we had 2 cups of coffee, a key lime cheesecake (me), and a peanut butter & jelly cupcake (DH). The cupcake had the most lurid green frosting on the top, it was supposed to be a flower with leaves but we were quite surprised by the depth of colour in the frosting. DH got some on his fingers, and we were very bemused by the staining it left there. Little did we know that by the next day, the staining would make quite a shocking reappearance for him ….. Urgh.

Anyway, cake and coffee consumed, we then went over to Test Track as our first official FastPass of the day was ready. Standby was showing as 95 minutes, and it was still really early in the day – even single rider was 30 minutes, and we quite often use this option as it is normally 5-10 minutes. Even with our FastPasses it still took us about 20 minutes before we were whizzing happily round the track. We do love this ride, we tend to alternate between designing a car that will save the planet and is very ecologically friendly but has the speed of a tortoise, to one that kills stone dead all the dolphins but wins every race going!

A bit of shopping next, so into Mousegear. I wanted to check out the Epcot 35th Anniversary merchandise, although suspected we may be a bit late to the party for this. I was right – there was a small amount of stuff, but no t-shirts that would fit us. We picked up a few pins, and DH bought me a Food & Wine Festival 2017 cookery book. I also got the kitchen apron I had had my eye on for a while, it has Figment on it! Shopping all sent back to the resort, of course.

Our next FastPass was for Mission Space, and we were interested in particular to see the new film in the green side. As usual, there was no real wait for this side of the ride, and within 5 minutes we were onboard our space shuttle. Whereas both films used to show a mission to Mars, (both the orange, intense side, and the green, less intense side), now the green side shows a view around the Earth filmed from the International Space Station. Unfortunately, I have a real thing for Mars, and used to really love the feeling of pretending to fly there in a spaceship; now, the film is nothing more than an aerial view of the Earth, and whilst quite nice, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed with this. DH enjoyed this film much more than I did, though. I have ridden the orange side before, and hated the feeling of G-force on my face, swearing I would never ride this again, but I may have to seriously rethink this as it is the only way I will get to see that mission again.

We had a quick fresh air break at the nearby smoking area, and then headed over to the Festival Centre. We weren’t looking to buy anything at this point, just have a look around and of course get our free chocolate sample from Ghirardelli’s! (Pumpkin spice, yeurgh! Gave mine to DH, he loves these). We admired all the amazing chocolate sculptures done by the various Resort chefs and Cast Members, taking pictures as we went. They were all lovely, but my favourite was one of pandas and bamboo, in celebration of the newest Disney Nature film called Born in China, which I had managed to watch on the flight coming over.

It was now time for our FastPass for Spaceship Earth, so we made our way over there – the standby queue was 60 minutes, and the FastPass queue was quite long, too – the park was really busy today! After we happily descended back to Earth again, we bypassed the “build your own skeleton” game that we normally do as this whole area was packed with people, and went over to The Land pavilion. Living with the Land was showing a 70 minute wait, but we could tell from looking at the queue that it was nowhere near this, so we joined the queue and were boarding our boat in about 15 minutes. We adore this ride, it is one of our favourites, we always find it so inspirational.

Next we went to the Imagination building, and went into the theatre that formerly housed the Captain EO film. They were showing a Pixar shorts festival of films, only one of which we had seen before, which was “Get a Horse”. We also saw “Feast”, a very funny yet romantic short about a very small dog with a huge appetite, and “Piper”, a short about a baby bird. That one was our favourite, it was really funny and sweet, and the whole theatre (which was pretty full) applauded at the end! The films were all in 3D, and we really enjoyed them.

Journey into Your Imagination was next, with a surprising wait of 10 minutes, although it was showing 20 minutes standby. You know Epcot is busy when there is a queue for this ride! It was quite cute, but I don’t think we need to ride it again for a while. I do miss the original version from years ago!

It was by now late afternoon, and as we hadn’t had much to eat today, we decided it was time to start our Food & Wine Festival exploration, so we started to walk around World Showcase. We stopped at the Cheese Studio first for the cheese-monster I am married to, to get a Cheese Trio – this came with bread and crackers, along with bits of relish and honey, and he really enjoyed it. We used snack credits for our food around the Festival today.

Next up was Scotland, where DH got the Tipsy Laird – that was polished off quite quickly, before we moved onto Canada for the Cheddar Cheese Soup for DH and the Filet Mignon for me – yum! We carried on past the United Kingdom, where nothing much took our fancy, and over the pretty bridge into France. We do love this part of Epcot, it is so attractive and atmospheric. In France I got the boeuf bourguignon, which was delicious. DH didn’t fancy getting the garlic snails today, and by this time we were very hot, tired, and a bit full, so feeling like the Festival had beaten us this time, we decided to get a drink and take a break for a little while, as we were too tired to stay for Illuminations tonight. (We must have been really tired because this is my favourite firework show at Disney!)

I sent DH off to find a seat by the American Adventure pavilion, while I picked up some coffee for him and an iced mocha for me from the nearby Joffrey’s cart. We sat outside the pavilion under cover from the sun, and relaxed whilst enjoying our drinks and watching the (Disney!) world go by. We listened to Dennis de Young from a band called Styx playing on the AA stage, one of the Eat to the Beat concerts, which was quite nice. Once we felt a bit more cool and relaxed, we continued our slow journey around the rest of World Showcase, stopping in Japan to check out the store there; however, I was looking for ANYTHING yuzu flavoured and there was nothing to be found, disappointingly. As we walked past Norway we checked the standby line for Frozen Ever After, just in case by some miracle it was low, but the wait time was 105 minutes! We had a FastPass for this later in the holiday, anyway.

We were heading towards the exit when I suddenly remembered that I had wanted to pick up some of the new rose-gold Minnie ears, so we sidetracked into Mousegear to check out their ear supply. Unfortunately, they were all out of the new ears, so I told DH I wasn’t going to turn this into a massive hunt for them, if we spotted them somewhere I would get them, but it wasn’t the most important part of our holiday. (Ultimately, I never was able to get any – they were so popular, they were sold out everywhere we went! Ah well, there is always next year).

We left Epcot and made our way back to Port Orleans, parking by our room, picking up our refillable mugs, and then walking back to the food court. I got coffee for DH, peach soda for me, and I also picked up some beignets as people had been raving about these. For one snack credit I was able to get a box of 6 beignets! So I got 3 plain, and 3 pumpkin. I took all this back to the room, and we decided we had better open the bottles of wine as we hadn’t touched these yet. We shared the beignets and had a glass of wine each, which was really lovely. DH loved his pumpkin beignets! I thought they were just okay, I think they would have been better had we eaten them straight away when they were warm, rather than pottering about and eating them about 20 minutes after collecting them – by this point they were a bit greasy and the powdered sugar had clagged up a bit.

We suddenly realised it hadn’t rained today, which was good! It had been incredibly hot and humid again though.

Lights out and we were fast asleep by 10.00 p.m.

DAY ELEVEN – Wednesday 11 October

Plan : Magic Kingdom

Actual : I woke up at 5.00 a.m. not able to breathe properly, my nose was blocked and my chest felt tight – I think I have a cold coming. Typical, one of us usually comes down with some kind of cold or cough when we are at Disney! Anyway, I sat up for a little while and was finally able to get some more sleep. (Ultimately, the cold never really developed beyond this, and I forgot about it as it went away again!)

We woke up with the alarm at 7.00 a.m., and got ready for the day, heading out to the Magic Kingdom by around 8.00 a.m. The Ticket & Transportation Centre looked very busy, and it was another scorching hot day, so we loaded ourselves onto Monorail Orange and made our happy way to the Magic Kingdom. For the third day in a row, DH was ‘randomly’ selected for extra screening at bag check! Clearly he looks like a suspicious sort ….

Our first FastPass was at 9.00 a.m. for the 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, which already had a standby time of 95 minutes at this point! We were straight on though, and got the very back row for the first time. It was very fast and lots of fun!

As we came off there, we realised we were quite hungry, so checked to see if Casey’s was open as we reckoned hot dogs for breakfast is fine when you are on holiday. However, it wasn’t open yet, so we did our usual standby thing of getting rice krispie treats from Goofy’s Candy Co and sat on our secret bench round the side to eat them. DH had a regular chocolate dipped one, but I got a Halloween one with white chocolate drizzled on to look like a mummy – it was delicious!

After breakfast, we wandered through Adventureland, but Pirates had gone 101 so we kept going to Frontierland. Splash Mountain was shut for some serious renovation, the water had all been drained and it looked so weird, all pink paint and dry waterways. Our FastPasses for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad were not quite open yet, so we went to the smoking area nearby. It was very noticeable how much Disney have cut these areas down over the last few years, DH gave up smoking for over 7 years and has only recently started again, (unfortunately), so we have really struggled to find places for him to go. We could only find two in the Magic Kingdom, this one near Big Thunder and the walkway to Tomorrowland. However, it does appear there is also one somewhere near the entrance, although we never did find it.

Anyway, once our FastPass window opened, we approached Big Thunder Mountain. The FastPass queue was HUGE! It wrapped around and around (via some temporary barriers), and then extended back to the bridge across Splash Mountain! There was a Cast Member holding a big sign that read “End of the FastPass Line” and we found her, and joined the queue. However, we were incredibly impressed with Disney’s queue management here, they worked this really well and to our surprise within 10 minutes we were inside the building! 5 more minutes and we were on the ride. Excellent! As we came out, the queue was no less long, and some guy towards the back was moaning to the Cast Member at the size of the queue. DH went up to him and basically told him to stop complaining, that Disney were doing a cracking job of crowd management, and that it had only taken us 15 minutes from the back of this huge queue to being on the ride. The guy backed down immediately, and apologised to the Cast Member!

We walked to Pecos Bills to get a drink. DH had coffee, and I got a strawberry/lemonade slushie, which was incredibly sweet. DH visited the restroom while we were here, and this was when he made the shocking discovery of the after-effects from the bright green frosting of yesterday!

I wasn’t feeling very well at this point, I was a bit shaky, had a headache, and a slightly upset stomach. I was saying to DH that I felt as though I had a cold coming on, and he said maybe, but then pointed out that this was our 6th park day in a row, which may have had some affect on how I was feeling! We walked round to the shady area by Pirates, and sat there for another 10 minutes to cool down and relax. Our FastPass was now open for this ride, so we walked around the front only to find it was still closed! Cast Members reckoned it could be closed for several hours, and said our FastPasses would become “multiple experience” passes, good for any rides except 7 Dwarfs and Peter Pan, at any point today.

The park was still really crowded, temperatures were over 90°, and with me not feeling too well we were really struggling today. We decided to give Haunted Mansion a try with our free daily FastPasses, and bypassed the 75 minute standby line to board within 10 minutes.

We exited into the crowds and began to fight our way over to New Fantasyland, dodging kids and pushchairs as we went. We used our Pirates FastPasses to ride Journey of the Little Mermaid, and even this had a massive standby queue.

We decided we could do with something proper to eat, having not eaten much over the last 2 days due to the heat, so we checked out Cosmic Rays, but this was packed, and we were also scuppered by people starting to line up for the parade now as well.

We gave up and left the park, catching the ferry boat back to the Ticket & Transportation Centre. We collected the car and drove back to Port Orleans, where we went straight to the food court. DH had the same burger he had yesterday, and I got chicken nuggets, fries, and macaroni salad. I also got pink grapefruit juice, and DH had coffee. I had been starving, but then filled up really quickly and had to take half of my lunch back to the room with me.

Back at our room, DH lay on the bed and promptly fell asleep for 2 hours! I sat and played games on my tablet, checked emails, etc., but basically just rested. With hindsight I think today was a bit too much for us, we were exhausted all day. 6 park days without a break is not something we can do any longer!

I woke DH up at about 6.30 p.m. and we changed into swimwear, gathered up the laundry and some washing powder, and went to the pool. I was surprised to find that we had to pay for both the washing machines and dryers, we are used to being able to use them for free in Old Key West and Saratoga Springs resorts. Anyway, I used my credit card to pay $3 as the machines don’t take cash, and put a large load of washing in. Then we went and played about in the pool for half an hour, it is a lovely pool, and wasn’t too busy either. There was a Cast Member doing activities for kids, but that was kept within one small area and was easy to stay away from. We got out and DH went for a fresh air break, while I swapped out the washing into the dryer, (paying another $3), and then we got back in the pool again. We spent some time watching the lifeguards who seemed to be walking round like caged animals, following the same route all the time and seemingly concentrating on walking very quickly rather than actually watching out for anyone drowning, although I’m sure this isn’t the case, it must just have been the way it appeared to us. Finally, at around 9.30 p.m., we got out for good, collected the dry washing, and headed back to the room. There were plenty of towels and loungers at the pool, and we had had a lovely time – this was definitely the best way to finish off a hot and tiring day. We had showers, put away the clean clothes, and collapsed into bed shortly afterwards.

DAY TWELVE – Thursday 12 October

Plan : Hollywood Studios, Fantasmic Dessert Party

Actual : I haven’t mentioned the Swolphin game up to this point. We adopted this a few years ago from Robin & Larry, which is basically that the first person to spot either the Swan or Dolphin resort each day gets to yell out, “SWOLPHIN!” and punch the other person on the arm. This is always a bit fraught, as we are both extremely competitive, but as DH is usually driving at the time and I’m not keen on us ending up under a Disney bus, I have to try and participate a little more gently that I would like. Also, DH always says I have an advantage as he is trying to concentrate on driving at the time, although I don’t think that counts as I am usually wittering on about something insignificant as we approach these resorts, so quite often miss them. Anyway, at this point in the holiday, DH was leading me by one point …….

So we didn’t set an alarm for today, thinking we would get a slightly later start as clearly yesterday had left us feeling exhausted. We slept in until around 9.30 a.m., and then took our time getting ready, just pottering about and relaxing until 11.00 a.m., when we finally got going and left the room to head to the Studios. The downside to leaving this late is that it is almost impossible to find a disabled parking space there by then, as they are very limited at this park. We ended up driving round and round looking for somewhere, then we noticed an overflow section a bit further back, so managed to park there.

Our first FastPass today was for Toy Story Midway Mania, which I won for a change – yay me! DH has got better and better at these sort of games over the years, so I rarely win any more. I play lots of computer games, always have done, and I always used to wipe the floor with him on things like Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Blast, but he has vastly improved and so I have a real battle on my hands now. Revelling in my glory, we agreed this ride is great fun, and moved on.

It was lunchtime so we headed for our favourite Studios Quick Service place, the Backlot Express. It was quite busy but DH was dispatched to find a table, while I queued for food. I got him a Royal Guard burger with fries, and coffee. And for me : Dark Side Waffles & Chicken – yummy! Little waffles shaped like Darth Vader, and chicken nuggets, plus Minute Maid lemonade.

After lunch we went to Star Tours, but I didn’t fancy riding it as although I was feeling loads better than I did yesterday, I had just eaten and didn’t fancy revisiting my lunch! So I waited on a handy bench nearby, taking care of DH’s backpack, while he took my Magic Band and used both FastPasses to ride twice. He said he got some new sectors in the film that he hadn’t seen before, which was fun.

We walked round the corner and visited the Muppets 3D show, the pre-show was halfway through when we got in there so we were in the theatre fairly quickly, (although we do love the pre-show film!), and the show made us laugh in exactly the same places as it always does.

Next up was the Frozen Singalong with our FastPasses. This was really lovely, but probably not something we need to keep repeating. However, the problem with the Studios at the moment is that so much is closed while both Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land are being built, that there is a limit on what we could get FastPasses for at the moment. We still enjoyed the show, but may give it a miss next time.

We then went to Sunset Boulevard, and while DH rode Rock & Roller Coaster using one of our free daily FastPasses, I picked up some coffee (him) and chocolate milk (me) from Fairfax Fayre. He thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and considering he had never been a big fan of roller coasters (being a bit chicken about them, to be honest, until he had to ride it or lose face in the company of my grown-up son in 2016!), he was raving about how much fun this was.

We were in time for the last showing of Beauty & the Beast at the nearby theatre, we haven’t seen this for a few years and had forgotten how lovely it is! Such an amazingly good quality performance. I tried not to cry at the ending (again!) and failed miserably.

We walked to the Tower of Terror merchandise store to see what they had, and had a good mooch around in there but didn’t buy anything. Then it was back to Rock & Roller Coaster for DH to use the other free daily FastPass, and he was soon happily swooping around to the sound of Aerosmith.

After this, we took a slow stroll up to the Fantasmic theatre, and checked in for the dessert party that I had booked a while ago. We were given a lanyard with a light-up disc on it, proclaiming “Fantasmic Dessert Party!”, and a light-up plastic tankard, which we could have filled with our choice of cocktail. DH had the (alcoholic) blue curacao, and I got the (non-alcoholic) pineapple & cranberry. Both of them were delicious, although I preferred mine! We were also given a small carrier bag each containing the goodies – a box of incredibly tasty salted corn chips, some cubes of cheese (both red and white), a tiny cheesecake with strawberry-flavoured sugar pearls on it, an apple crisp (pastry with apple filling), strawberries dipped in white and milk chocolate, a small tub of trail mix, and a small chocolate cupcake with bright blue frosting (that I didn’t like). Apart from the chocolate cake, which was too rich and sweet for me, (although DH didn’t have a problem eating two!), it was all really tasty. I ate everything except the trail mix, as I was too full, so took that back to the resort with me. We also got a small bottle of water in the bag each.

We took our desserts and drinks to the reserved seating area, right in the middle of the arena, with great views, and enjoyed our picnic before the show. The show was as wonderful as always, although we did think the dragon was possibly a new one, as it seemed a bit bigger and scarier than previously. After the show, we were directed to leave via a backstage walkway, which was cool! We could see fireworks going off elsewhere in the park, and assumed this was something to do with the new Star Wars fireworks show that I was aware of vaguely, but we had no plans to go and see. We had thoroughly enjoyed our dessert party, and would definitely do this again if we could.

We left the park at this point, tired and happy, and drove back to the resort, stopping off at the food court to pick up coffee and peach lemonade, and also to collect the shopping we had bought in Epcot yesterday and had sent back.

We were in bed with the lights out by around 11.00 p.m.

DAY THIRTEEN – Friday 13 October

Plan : Disney Springs, shopping

Actual : We slept really well, and didn’t get up until 9.00 a.m. I made some coffee and we lounged around, watching TV and surfing the internet until midday, and nibbling on whatever leftovers we had in the fridge.

We finally pulled ourselves together and got ready to go out, walking to the boat dock to catch a boat ferry to Disney Springs. We only had a short wait before a boat turned up, and the ride across to the shopping centre was lovely, really peaceful. We sailed past Saratoga Springs Resort and could see the pool we had used when we stayed there a few years ago, plus we also spotted the Treehouse Villas – these are on my bucket list to stay in one day!

We docked at the Marketplace, and decided to walk to the very far end of the Springs and start exploring from there, so made our way to the Cirque du Soleil end, before slowly walking back and having a good look around each of the stores that we were interested in. We thought it was a very pretty area overall, but were a bit disappointed to find it has lost a lot of the Disney charm – we felt like we could have been in any high-end shopping mall in the USA. Stores such as Zara, L’Occitane, and SuperDry are all over the place in the UK, and although we think it has been really well put together, we didn’t feel the need to go into any of these stores. We were too hot to think about going into any of the restaurants, too. We did have a look around the huge Coca Cola store, which was 3 floors of stuff you could buy but was just to advertise Coke, we thought! I had been reading online about the Coca Cola Polar Bear, who you could meet and get a picture taken with, and he looked great fun – very mischievous and playful. So we trekked all the way up (in the lift!) to the 3rd floor and joined a short queue to meet him. What a letdown! I tried to get him to do some of the things I had seen online, like biting people’s heads for example, but he just wasn’t interested and it was a very boring meet & greet! We got our photo taken with him, which was then added to our PhotoPass account, but the pictures never appeared so we have no record of having met him at all now. Such a shame.

DH went off in search of a smoking area and I went into Pandora to get some charms for myself and a friend, who wanted me to pick up a Fantasyland set of charms for her. The store had a special offer on, if you spent more than $100 you got to pick a free gift up to the price of $60, so I got a gorgeous silver ring with a pale pink stone, another ring shaped like a tiara with a tiny white stone, and two pairs of earrings – yes, I actually spent that much money in there! I got my friends charms, plus several Disney Park ones for me. Then I went into the Alex & Ani store, I had been wanting to get a couple of their bangles for ages, and my family had given me some dollars for my birthday earlier in the year, so I got a Partners statue bangle, and a Spaceship Earth one – they are both gorgeous, and I wear them A LOT.

DH came back to look for me, I had been gone for that long, and we then went to Raglan Road for a drink and a break. DH had a beer, I got an orange Fanta, and we sat outside and watched the technicians setting up the stage for some live music later.

World of Disney was next, this was for the big shop! We collected our $200 gift card, (that came as part of our booking package), and together with the gift card we had received for having less mousekeeping, we spent the lot! We got loads of Christmas presents for people, plus some nice things for ourselves as well, including a set of Haunted Mansion and a set of Little Mermaid kitchen towels. We staggered out of there and went to Ghirardelli’s for another drink – this time, DH got a pumpkin and caramel shake, (which he loved!), and I got a really yummy strawberry shake. After we had finished there, we transferred DH and all the shopping to a handy nearby bench, and I went into Basin (DH hates the overwhelming smell of bath bombs in there!) to pick up some of their scented slices of soap – Halloween soap for my daughter, Christmas soap for us – I love their soap! We then went into the small shop at Ghirardelli’s to get lots of bars of chocolate and some bags of squares as gifts for home), using snack credits and some counter service credits too. Our free square sample was caramel.

The pin store was next to get some pins for DH, and finally we went to Goofy’s Candy Company to spend more counter service and snack credits on bits and pieces from there. (The weather had been so hot this first week that we hadn’t really been eating a great deal. We had hardly used any credits, so we used some of them up now!)

We needed to grab a bite to eat, so went to the Earl of Sandwich, which was right next to us. DH sat outside with all the bags and I went in and got him an Hawaiian BBQ sandwich, coffee, and potato salad, and myself the Original 1762, Minute Maid lemonade, and a side of pasta salad, all with counter service credits. This was all really good, and that was the point at which we realised we hadn’t really eaten much all day!

After dinner we walked to the boat dock, and there was a boat waiting to leave. The Cast Member spotted us arriving and held up the departure for us so we could board, which was kind of him. We just about got all our shopping back on the boat!

We got everything back to our room and then just relaxed there for the rest of the evening, turning in at around 11.30 p.m. I made a coffee/peach lemonade run at one point.

DAY FOURTEEN – Saturday 14 October

Plan : Epcot, meet the Wilmots!

Actual : Another great night’s sleep, and we got up with the alarm at 7.30 a.m. Usual quick coffee and dressed, and we set off for Epcot for the day. We parked with ease and headed round to the Joffrey’s coffee stand just past Mousegears, for coffee and huge, iced doughnuts for breakfast!

Fifteen slightly sticky minutes later, we walked up to the Festival Centre to check DH in for his Cheese Seminar. We were a bit early, so took a slow walk around the Festival Centre before joining the queue that had started to form at the entrance to the Seminar. We checked DH in at the podium, I kissed him goodbye and he happily went in to participate. I walked back around the Centre to have a restroom break, then wandered into Ghirardelli’s to pick up a dark chocolate, salted caramel mini chocolate square. I asked for an extra one for DH and waved vaguely behind me, as if he were following me in, and the Cast Member gave me the extra – I promptly put them both in my bag, as I am not a big fan of dark chocolate and definitely not keen on salted caramel!

I now had 1 and a half hours to fill, on my own in Epcot! I decided I would just wander around a bit and enjoy the atmosphere of the park, rather than trying to do too much, but the first thing I had to do was a ride on Spaceship Earth, my favourite ride in this park. There was a very small queue, which was supposed to be a 5 minute standby line, but I just walked straight up the walkway and onto the ride. It was beautiful, as always. When I exited, the queue had gone up to 25 minutes, so I clearly timed that well.

I went into Mousegear to pick up a few items, and got a lovely Epcot 35 Christmas tree decoration, which I had seen a few days ago and really wanted. I checked the t-shirts again, but nothing. However, I did pick up a Food & Wine Festival t-shirt with Figment on it, which was really lovely, for me. (Consequently, when we got home, DH “forgot” this t-shirt was mine, and when I asked him if he’d seen it anywhere when unpacking as I couldn’t find it, he sheepishly produced it from his pile of new t-shirts and said he thought it was his! Cheek!) I had the shopping shipped back to the resort.

I went back outside, and just sat near the Fountain of Nations for a while, watching guests passing by, and also the Fountain “dance” to the music – it was a lovely half hour, so relaxing and peaceful, I just love this part of Epcot.

Just after 11.00 a.m. I went back to the Festival Centre and found a handy bench to wait on, until the Seminar finished. DH came out and said he had had a brilliant time! He’d really enjoyed the Seminar, had drunk 2 glasses of Californian wine and tried 5 artisan American cheeses, along with various crackers and fruits to enhance the flavour of the cheeses. I knew he would like this Seminar, and felt quite smug about this! (I did have to stop him from scooping up leftover bits of cheese from plates of non-attenders as we left, though!)

We walked round towards Norway, with DH telling me all about his experiences that morning, for our first FastPass of the day – Frozen Ever After. This was our first time on this ride since it reopened, and we were quite looking forward to it. Our first impressions were, “gosh, this looks nothing like Norway at all!” as we entered through what used to be the exit of Maelstrom. Overall, we thought the ride was very well done for a Frozen ride, the animatronics were beautifully done, but the scenery and backgrounds were a bit simple. However, the biggest downside for us was the fact that the ride had no storyline whatsoever, and just appeared to be a series of backdrops with added songs, and there was NOTHING left of Norway at all. We felt so bad for the Norwegian Cast Members on duty at this attraction, how awful to now be in charge of a representation of your country that now represented something totally fictional! The whole ride felt like a knee-jerk reaction by Disney, shoe-horning bits from a wildly, (and for Disney, surprisingly), popular film into an existing ride. There was just a sadness about the whole thing. We wandered round the inevitable merchandise shop at the end, picking up a ride pin for DH, and just felt really sorry for the Cast Members there.

I had been craving a Dole Whip for days, so we went to the Refreshment Port to get one, although it seemed a bit small to me! This didn’t stop me from inhaling it, though. DH doesn’t get all the fuss about these, but he’s not a big ice-cream fan anyway. Then we went into the Port of Entry to pick up a bottle of Moonshine for a mate of DH’s at work, which had to be sent to the pick-up point at the front of the park as we weren’t allowed to carry it round with us. This was fine by us as we didn’t particularly want to carry it around with us either!

Time for our next FastPass – Spaceship Earth. Crowds not looking too bad for a Saturday, we were on pretty quickly and happily enjoying the ride. The Land pavilion was up next, where we went to Sunshine Seasons as DH clearly hadn’t had enough cheese for one day. We got him a cheese Danish, and in a break with tradition, he also had a bottle of chocolate milk. I was a bit peckish, and wanted something savoury as that doughnut earlier had been really sweet, so I got a kid’s meal of grilled cheese (on a half-baguette), mac & cheese, and a small bottle of chocolate milk. We also got two coffees. DH still manages to surprise me sometimes, we have been together for 17 years and in all that time this was the first time I’d known him to choose chocolate milk in Disney! All was very good, and exactly what we needed.

We used our free daily FastPasses to ride Soarin’, and decided that we thought this new film was even better than the old version, and considering how much we loved the old version, that really was saying something – well done, Disney imagineers! The film is very crisp and clean, very exciting, and there are lots of different scents. I still couldn’t detect the orange scent that is supposed to be in there somewhere, but I was picking up jasmine over the Taj Mahal, and that is one of my favourite scents so I was very happy! The film ends up in Epcot, which set us to thinking – I wonder if the version in Disneyland ends up in California?

We walked across the pavilion to Living with the Land, (or, as our friend Larry calls it, Living with the Lettuce; I had also christened it Cruising with the Cucumber at some point), although we still had a 5 minute wait until our FastPass opened. I didn’t know you could get in 5 minutes early, so we just kind of hung around to one side of the entrance (out of the way of other people, unlike some others we saw!); however, once we joined the queue, the ride went down for around 10 minutes. DH went outside for a fresh air break while I waited to see if the ride was coming back up again, and by the time he returned it was indeed running again, so we happily boarded and enjoyed the ride, again.

We needed to leave after this, as we wanted to take a break back at the resort before meeting up with our friends for the evening, so we headed to the package pick-up point and collected our Moonshine before leaving the park. But then – we lost the car! This was the first time in YEARS we have done this! DH was convinced we had parked over to the left of Spaceship Earth, and wouldn’t listen when I said I thought we were on the right, so we trekked around for about 10 minutes on the left, to no avail. I said I was just going to have a quick look on the right, he protested, I ignored him, and within 2 minutes I had located the car ……

We drove back to Port Orleans and relaxed in the room for about an hour, before changing clothes and setting out for Animal Kingdom Lodge. I remembered that Robin and Larry had told me which of the two Lodges they were staying in, and we drove towards it. The car park was very confusing, we ended up parking in some kind of multi-storey car park and then couldn’t find our way into the resort. We followed signs for Sanaa, but had to walk what felt like miles and miles through corridors of rooms – clearly we had come in the back way somehow, and it must have taken 15 minutes of walking before we finally found ourselves in the main entranceway. Robin and Larry were waiting in some very comfy easy-chairs for us, and we spent the next hour catching up with them, it was really lovely. We sang a bit of the theme song to a ride that Larry hated in Tokyo Disneyland, called the Voyages of Sinbad, which made him laugh – we loved the ride, it is a bit like It’s a Small World but has the world’s longest and catchiest theme song, and we had managed to learn a snippet of it in Japanese to impress him! I’d also copied an official Tokyo Disneyland park music CD for them, which I handed over now. The CD is lovely, but is no longer available and I’d managed to find a nearly-new one that was fairly reasonably priced a few months ago.

Anyway, after a wonderful hour of chat and laughter, we made our way to Sanaa for our dining reservation. We looked at the menu, and due to my various food intolerances I asked to speak to our waitress about what I could have off the menu. I told her I couldn’t eat garlic, onions, bell peppers, cooked tomatoes or anything too spicy. She stared at me for a moment in silence, and then burst out with, “but that’s most of our menu!” We had a bit of a laugh about it, I was extremely apologetic for being a nuisance, and she assured me I wasn’t, but asked what I could actually eat. I told her steak, rice, and broccoli, so that’s exactly what she ordered for me. DH chose some kind of lamb kebab with vegetables thing, which he said was delicious, and my food was also really, really good – so tender and absolutely full of flavour. Robin paid for the bread service for us all to share, and the kitchen plated me up a plain naan bread so it didn’t come into contact with the garlic one, which was kind of them. I didn’t note what Robin and Larry had to eat, but they did enjoy what they had, despite starting to feel really tired by this point – they had had a very long travel day and had been awake since 3.30 a.m.

Our share of the bill was $70, which I thought was really reasonable given the quality and quantity of the food. We had really enjoyed our evening, the food was gorgeous and the company even better. What a great night, one of the highlights of the holiday. We chatted for a few more minutes after dinner, made arrangements to meet up the next day, but then left the Wilmots to get some sleep and headed back to Port Orleans, stopping off for refillable mugs of coffee and some kind of fruit lemonade on the way. Bed.

DAY FIFTEEN – Sunday 15 October

Plan : Animal Kingdom

Actual : We were up nice and early this morning, and set off for Animal Kingdom, arriving in time for rope-drop. We had a FastPass for Flight of Passage in Pandora, so walked over there, although I had already decided I needed to sit this one out until I knew exactly what the ride was like, and I also still had reservations about physically fitting on the ride. So DH went off with his and my Magic Bands, and I found a seat on a bench nearby and waiting for him. I took a few photos, and just enjoyed the atmosphere of the area while I waited.

About 45 minutes later, DH reappeared. He had ridden twice, and said it was an amazing ride, a lot like Soarin’ but with more swooping and an actual, breathing banshee under your bum! He did say it was an awfully long walk from the entrance to the actual ride, and the pre-show got a bit boring the second time around though. I decided maybe I need to do this next time, particularly as the ride vehicle, (i.e. banshee), doesn’t actually leave the ground, unlike the Forbidden Journey ride in Universal.

We went into the merchandise store for a look around, and I bought a build-it-yourself necklace, based on an ancient and traditional Pandoran design, and we got DH a ride pin.

Time for a quick breakfast of an ice-cream cookie sandwich from a cart just around the corner, and then we headed over to Expedition Everest where we were due to meet the Wilmots shortly. They arrived just a few minutes after we did, and after exchanging jolly greetings, we all headed in to ride Everest with our FastPasses. Larry said, “let’s wait for the front row!” – we didn’t know you could do this, and there is even a separate queue line, so we joined it. We’ve never done the front row before. AND NEVER WILL AGAIN!! It is TERRIFYING!! DH quite enjoyed it, but my level of “enjoyment” was visible for all to see in the hilarious ride photo, where I have a face like I’ve just been confronted by murderous zombies. In a bad mood. Holding axes. I was so panic-stricken during the first hill climb that I completely forgot to “Swolphin” DH’s arm on the way up!

Anyway, once I had recovered and my so-called friends had all stopped laughing at me, we went over to Tusker House for our lunch reservation. We checked in, and took a seat off to one side with our pager. However, we had to wait AGES to be seated, and were probably a good half an hour later than our reservation time – good job we didn’t have anywhere else to be! We passed the time by chatting away and having a lovely time with our friends.

We were finally seated, and everyone got plates of various buffet foods. Channelling my inner 5-year old, I got some corn dog nuggets (yum – love these!), mac & cheese, mashed potato, lemon & cinnamon rice, and a couple of slices of roast pork. This was all really delicious! I didn’t have a second plate, but everyone else did. Instead, I saved myself for dessert, and got a plateful of tiny, bite-sized desserts, which were all very good but also very sweet. We all enjoyed lunch, and were visited by all the characters, who were a lot of fun, full of enthusiasm, and seemed happy to interact with us even without us having children with us. Goofy in particular was great fun, doing all sorts of daft things to make us laugh. At the end of the meal, which we paid for out of pocket as it wasn’t covered by our dining plan, we were given our Rivers of Light FastPasses for use later on.

We briefly parted company with Robin and Larry now, as they wanted to explore Pandora and we wanted to watch the Festival of the Lion King show, so off we went to the theatre and were seated fairly quickly in the giraffe section, although I like the lion section the best, purely because I love big cats! The show was nice, but we did think it was a bit flat, and lacking in energy – maybe we’ve seen it too many times now, I don’t know. We met up again with the Wilmots as we all had FastPasses for the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, so we had a fun and interesting 2-week safari ride, after which we all agreed we were totally exhausted!

Robin and I sent the boys to find some seats at a nearby outdoor dining seating area, and we went into Zuri’s Sweets shop where Robin bought us all a cold bottle of soda each. (DH and I had Fanta orange). We then did something we’ve never done before, but I think we will definitely adopt for future trips – we just sat and rested in these seats for about an hour. Larry attempted to sleep but didn’t quite manage it, but we did all just rest and relax. Normally, if we take a break like this, after 5 or 10 minutes we power onwards, we have never just sat somewhere like this for an hour, but it made an incredibly surprising difference to how we felt – we were completely re-energised and recharged, I was amazed at how much better we all felt after this!

So, feeling tons more energetic and refreshed, after our rest we moved on and walked over to Dinoland, as Robin had used our downtime quite usefully and had picked up FastPasses for the boys to ride Primeval Whirl on her My Disney Experience app. I don’t like the look of this ride, it spins too much for me, and Robin wasn’t keen either, but DH has ridden this before and quite likes it. We watched them going round and waved at them! I then suggested the boys use our free daily FastPasses to ride Dinosaur, something DH and I have never done, and I couldn’t think of anything else we wanted to use them for today, so they happily did that. DH enjoyed this ride, although he said it was very bumpy and threw him about a bit. We went into Chester & Hester’s Dinosaur Treasures to see if we could get DH some ride pins, but couldn’t find the ones that he needed.

It was now time to take our seats in the Rivers of Light seating area with our priority FastPasses, so we made our way over there and went in. The bench-style seating is not very comfortable, and Robin, (who is having issues with her knees, and has been using a mobility scooter for this trip), struggled to get comfortable in the first seats we chose, right at the back – I went for these, originally thinking that they would provide back support with the wall behind us, but they didn’t then leave a lot of leg room as you couldn’t scoot backwards on the bench a bit, so in the end the Wilmots moved a bit further forward from us to allow Robin a bit more room to be able to bend her poor knees.

We had about a half hour wait for the show, so we sat and watched the sun go down over the Tree of Life, which we could see in the distance. It was so beautiful! Then the show began, and we LOVED it. The music was amazing, and the lights and floats were just wonderful. I know this show has got mixed reviews from others, but we really, really enjoyed it, as did Robin and Larry.

After the show, we agreed we were all too tired to carry out our original plan of exploring Pandora in the dark, (this will have to wait until our next visit now as this would be our last trip to Animal Kingdom on this holiday), so we left the park, taking a slow walk out together and enjoying our last few minutes of the day, before bidding the Wilmots a fond farewell and heading back to Port Orleans. We got the usual coffee and some obscure flavour of lemonade in our refillable mugs, went back to our room, and relaxed. It has just dawned on me that we didn’t eat again that day after our lunch at Tusker House!

DAY SIXTEEN – Monday 16 October

Plan : Epcot

Actual : We slept well again, and were up and out by 8.30 a.m. We were meeting up with Robin and Larry a bit later, as our FastPasses weren’t co-ordinated today. So we went to The Land pavilion and rode Soarin’ with our first FastPass, realising that we have now ridden this in all 3 of the theatres there. The ride was amazing, we still can’t get over how wonderful the new film is.

Afterwards, we sat outside on a low wall and video-WhatsApped my parents and sister for a while, making them very jealous of our location! All was well with them. As we were chatting to them, Robin and Larry came past us, they had just ridden Soarin’ too! We didn’t really get much chance to talk to them though, as we were having some technical difficulties with our video connection, and after a few minutes they said goodbye to us and moved on. We finished talking to the family, and went back into The Land pavilion as it was now time for our Living with the Land FastPasses. Wonderful boat road, as usual. It was very interesting to see some Food & Wine Festival ingredients markers up amongst the various fruit and veg in the biodomes.

We took a break at Sunshine Seasons for coffee and cake, getting a slice of orange cake for me and a slice of mocha roulade for DH – both were delicious, very soft and flavourful.

Our final booked FastPass was for Spaceship Earth, so we did that next and then walked over to see how Test Track was looking. Single Rider was only 5 minutes, so we joined that queue and were on the ride quite quickly, ending up in the same vehicle but behind one another. However, the ride kept breaking down and we ended up being in the car for over 20 minutes! The other riders in our car were a bunch of college students who were really funny, one of them in particular was hysterical with some of the things he was saying during our stoppages. We were stuck for ages outside the tunnel with the truck in it, so we began telling jokes and then at one point I started singing “It’s a Small World”, which everyone joined in with! The car finally started up again and we drove really, really slowly past the ‘scary’ truck, so we all fake-screamed in slow-motion, it was so much fun!

When we finally got off, we waved bye to our car-mates, and walked round to the American Adventure pavilion to meet up with Robin and Larry. We picked up a couple of lobster rolls for our lunch, although I was watching them make them up and asked what they were adding to the lobster, as I had no idea it had other ingredients in it, I thought it was just lobster and mayo in a roll. It turns out they put a garlic and herb mayo and a spicy seasoning on it, so I accepted one with these on and then asked them to make the second one without anything added to it. We love these rolls, the bread is soft and slightly sweet, and it goes with the slightly sweet yet salty lobster perfectly. They are also incredibly good value for a snack credit at the Food & Wine Festival as they cost over $7 each normally.

The Wilmots arrived and we caught up on each other’s morning activities, before walking round to France. We went inside and watched the film there, something we haven’t done for a few years, and the film was as idealistic and romanticised as we remembered! But Robin and Larry enjoyed it, although they were sat a couple of rows in front of us (in end seats so Robin had a bit more knee-flexibility room), and Larry seemed to be muttering things to Robin all the way through the film, so maybe they didn’t enjoy it as much as we thought! I forgot to ask them what they thought as when we came out as one of us (might have been me) spotted the ice-cream shop and our heads were then filled with thoughts of ice-cream. Again, we sent the boys off to find seats and Robin and I went to buy the goodies.

As it was so hot today I thought DH would probably prefer a fruit sorbet to ice-cream, so I got him a mixed berry sorbet in a waffle cone, which he loved - he said it was sharp and very refreshing. I got a scoop of a very colourful ice-cream in a cup, it was called Candied Peanut & Peanut Butter Fudge, and was basically bits of peanut M&Ms chopped up, with swirls of peanut butter and (presumably) fudge. It was really nice, but I couldn’t really taste the peanut butter or see or taste any fudge. Anyway, I still ate it all and enjoyed it. Larry and DH had managed to find a high-topped table surrounded by low chairs, we looked like small children sat there eating our ice-creams!

Robin and Larry had FastPasses for Frozen Ever After, these had been for earlier in the day but the ride had gone down, so they made their way over to Norway to see if it was running by now. We went to Test Track to use our free daily FastPasses, and the ride seemed really fast now after our slow trip earlier. As we came out of there, we spotted Robin waiting on a bench, it turned out that Frozen was still down so Larry used one of their FastPasses and went on Test Track too. We all walked round to Ireland where DH got some kind of cheese dip thing from the Food & Wine Festival booth, that looked like mud, although he said it was delicious – we took his word for it, as no-one else fancied risking it!

The plan next was to catch a performance or two by the British Invasion, a band that Larry really likes, so we found a couple of benches behind the UK pavilion. We left Robin and DH there, and Larry and I went to the fish & chip window to get some dinner. In all our years of going to Walt Disney World, I have always point blank refused to have fish & chips from the UK pavilion, as I was adamant that a) I could get this at home at any time, and b) they wouldn’t be as good as I could get at home. Well, I learned a valuable lesson today – don’t have a firm belief without giving something a try first! Larry was really keen on these, and said they were lovely, so I put my faith in him and picked up a portion for DH and I to share. (We had a lot of Counter Service credits left at this point, so I ‘bought’ dinner for all of us). The Cast Member that served us was wearing a nametag that said her home town was Birmingham, UK. I quizzed her (we are from Birmingham) and it turns out she was from an area called Sutton Coldfield, which isn’t really Birmingham at all! We ribbed her a bit about this, all in good fun, and it was nice to talk to her.

So we got back to the guys and just relaxed, chatting away and enjoying our food. I was extremely impressed with the fish & chips, they were absolutely delicious! The fish batter was light and crispy, and the chips were crisp and dry outside and then soft and fluffy inside – it was all really lovely and full of flavour.

The British Invasion came on and did a really rocking set, and after they had finished we sat and chatted for so long that they came on and did a second set before we realised how long we had been there! They did a lot of Pink Floyd covers in the second set, and we really enjoyed everything they did.

It was time to find somewhere to watch Illuminations, and due to Robin being in her scooter we were able to access the disabled viewing area to one side of the Port of Entry shop. We got settled, then I decided, as there was still about 20 minutes before the show, to go into the shop and pick up another bottle of Moonshine for a work colleague, so I did that. As the park would be closing after Illuminations, I was allowed to take the bottle with me rather than have it delivered to the package pick-up point. I was let back into the area to stand with DH and our friends, and was able to lean on fence as well, which was relatively comfortable. I did have some random bloke standing next to me who insisted on talking to me right up to the point of the torches going out, much to my irritation. I don’t always mind people talking to me, that’s part of being in a Disney park, people talk to each other, but he had a very concentrated Southern accent, which made him quite difficult to understand sometimes. Plus he kept leaning in towards me all the time when he was talking, making me feel a bit uncomfortable. Of course, because I’m British, I put up with this and wasn’t rude to him, but had he not shut up when he did, I was at the point of moving away from him because Illuminations is my FAVOURITE Disney show EVER and it all starts when I help by blowing out the lanterns, so he did need to shut up at that point.

Anyway, Illuminations was beautiful, as always, and this was a great viewing spot, we were fairly close to the globe at the end but not so close as to be unable to view the scenes properly. After it was over and I had regained control of my grizzling self, we took a slow walk out with Robin and Larry, parted company at the entrance, and made our way back to our resort. Did the usual coffee/soda thing, and lights out by 11.00 p.m.

DAY SEVENTEEN – Tuesday 17 October

Plan : Magic Kingdom, Be our Guest breakfast

Actual : Ugh, our alarm went off at 5.45 a.m.!! It was still pitch dark outside, and we reluctantly got ready and were on the road by 6.45 a.m. DH looked mightily impressed, sat in the car in the dark, at sparrow fart ‘o’ clock!

We got to the Ticket & Transportation Centre entrance, and the parking booths were completely unmanned, so if you want free parking for offsite guests at the Magic Kingdom, the trick is to arrive before 7.00 a.m.! We were the first car in the guest car park, which was the ultimate horror for DH – he has terrible trouble parking when there is more than one free space available as he can’t choose a spot – oh how I laughed! Anyway, we walked to the Resort monorail with a small handful of other guests, who I assume had arrived by bus, and were soon at the park entrance. We went through the tapstiles after confirming we had a dining reservation, and joined the right hand side queue to enter the park. Both sides had equal length queues, so I have no idea why we picked the right hand side.

After about 5 minutes, we were joined by Robin and Larry, who had just arrived. And although it had been a struggle to get up this morning, we were all really glad we had made the effort and were excited to be having breakfast at Be our Guest today!

We were all let into the park at around 7.50 a.m., and followed the small crowd down Main Street and round to New Fantasyland, where Robin and I checked us in (me because I’m bossy and have to be in charge, and Robin because the reservation was actually in her name!). DH and I had already agreed that we would ‘buy’ breakfast this morning with our spare Counter Service Credits, but we didn’t tell the Wilmots that until we were in the restaurant and placing our orders. DH ordered a Croque Madame, and I got the Gaston’s Feast, which was basically good old bacon & eggs with a few extra bits. Once we had ordered and ‘paid’, we went and found a table in the Ballroom, near the centre of the room. We got our platter of pastries, which we politely (but honestly - none of this, “oh no, after you!” rubbish!) divided up, and coffee, juice, soda etc. It was all really good.

After getting soda refills, we made our way out via a restroom break and walked quickly round to 7 Dwarfs Mine Train. The park had only just opened, and with a 5 minute standby time, we soon boarded and had a great time. (Robin went to ride Peter Pan, hoping to get the same short standby line as us. She did!)

All together again, we walked towards the Carousel, and Larry and I decided to ride this as the queue was almost non-existent. DH went off in search of a restroom (I told him to go when we did, earlier – he never listens!), and Robin watched us from the sidelines, waving each time we passed her. This was particularly funny as she was soon joined by DH and every time our horses went past them, they would wave in a different way each time, it was very inventive! Then the Carousel stopped, and for some unknown reason, my horse stopped right at the top of its rotation, meaning I was about 40 feet off the ground (perceived, anyway). I couldn’t get off! I was perched with both feet on one stirrup stand thing, and Larry was hovering underneath me, wanting to be a gentleman and help me down but unsure of where he could place his hands to enable this without getting slapped by his wife or punched by my husband! It was so funny, and in the end I had to sort of fall off and try and land on my feet – Larry did indeed manage to assist without too much embarrassment and we laughed about this for the next few minutes.

I made a bit of an error after this. We were walking through Fantasyland, and I suggested we do It’s a Small World, which was a walk-on, not thinking about Robin and her poor knees. We went through the disabled entrance, but instead of going on the adapted boat we just got onto a regular one and all sat down. The ride was lovely and we all sang lustily, but when it came to time to disembark, Robin’s knees had locked up and she really struggled to stand. She was getting more flustered and I was feeling really awful, there wasn’t much we could do to help but eventually Larry managed to assist her out of the boat. I felt so guilty, I should have thought before suggesting this ride. Anyway, she insisted she was okay, but I made a mental note to think more carefully before suggesting some rides.

Haunted Mansion was next on our journey, the standby was showing as 40 minutes but we could tell from looking at it that it would be much shorter than that, and we were inside within 15 minutes. This was fun, we enjoyed this together.

We continued round, checked Pirates of the Caribbean but as it was also showing 40 minutes and we weren’t sure whether Robin could get in and out of the boat, we carried on. Jungle Cruise was looking good, 20 minutes showing but only 10 before we boarded, and whilst it was a fun ride, both DH and I had difficulties in understanding the Cast Member who talked MUCH too fast, and we also felt a bit bored by the same old jokes again, so we may give this a miss for a while now.

We were in need of a break now, so went to Tortuga Tavern for coffee, and I got a chocolate milk. We only sat around for about 20 minutes though, as there were still rides to do! We headed back to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as we all had FastPasses for this, but the ride was down. Larry went to the restrooms near Splash Mountain while we dithered about where to go next, and by the time he came back the ride was running again! Robin sat this one out, and we had great fun on the Wildest Ride in the Wilderness.

After this we went back round towards Haunted Mansion again as we had actual FastPasses for this in a while, but paused by the Hall of Presidents as it was nearly time for the Muppets show. This was new to us, and takes place in the windows above the Hall; there are 3 or 4 different shows, I believe, and ours started off with a young soldier coming round and talking to the gathering audience, before singing a song to start off the show. (While the soldier was walking round and talking to guests, we watched a very small baby accidentally being tipped out of a pushchair and banging its head really hard on the pavement. He/she cried A LOT and suddenly there were Cast Members quietly everywhere, gently and discretely ushering the family away to take care of them. No fuss, no dramas, it was all very well executed with a minimum of disruption to the area. Impressive.)

Anyway, Sam the American Eagle suddenly appeared in an upstairs window and told us this show was about “Celebrating Independence!”. It was hilarious! Really, really funny, we enjoyed it a lot! I loved the way they banged on about being independent from the British, and every time they said something, the soldier looked nervously at us, as he knew we were British and was playing up to the part!

The show finished, and before we knew what was happening, Cast Members began neatly and efficiently putting up ropes around us and we became the disabled viewing area for the parade! (We had been sat on a wall). We discussed this, and decided that as we had already ridden Haunted Mansion today and didn’t know when else we would have time to see the parade, we would stay put. About 30 minutes later the Festival of Fantasy parade began, and we had the most fantastic view, with no-one in front of us and a handy wall to sit on! It was really brilliant, and we do love this parade.

Once the parade had passed and the Cast Members had freed us from the ropes, we said goodbye to the Wilmots and they set off for Tomorrowland as they had FastPasses for Buzz Lightyear and Space Mountain. (We had such a fabulous day with them, they are great company!)

We went round to Pirates of the Caribbean to use our next FastPass, and after we got off we decided it was so much fun that we used our free daily FastPasses and rode again! It was sprinkling with rain when we came out, but it didn’t last long and we didn’t get anything other than slightly damp.

We were a bit hungry and it was mid-afternoon now, so we went to Casey’s for lunch/dinner. DH had a huge bratwurst hotdog with fries and coffee, and I got the meal I always get from here – corn dog nuggets, fries, chocolate milk.

After ‘linner’, we went into the Emporium to see if we could find the ride pins DH still wanted from the two Animal Kingdom rides he had done the other day. We found the Dinosaur pin, but couldn’t get one for Primeval Whirl, unfortunately.

We left the park after this, as we were really tired, and after collecting the car, drove to Super Walmart to do a bit of shopping. We got DH 3 pairs of really nice trainers, (he needed some new ones), I got a really pretty pale pink jumper dotted with tiny sequins here and there, and we also got some Oreos, M&Ms, etc. We were still looking for some cinnamon Werther’s for my sister, and also some pumpkin spice or cinnamon Coffee Mate for her, but couldn’t get either from Walmart, so left there and tried both Super Target and Publix, not having any luck in either. Humorously, being quite tired by now, we pulled up in the car park of our usual Publix, and thought – blimey, it’s quiet here, there’s hardly anyone else here! We got out of the car and walked over to the supermarket, which looked closed. Then someone came up and told us it had shut down about a year ago! Luckily, another one had opened up a few minutes down the road, so we sheepishly got in the car and drove to the open one.

We gave up after this and went back to our resort, relaxing in the room with a glass of wine, before bedtime.

DAY EIGHTEEN – Wednesday 18 October

Plan : Typhoon Lagoon, Magic Kingdom

Actual : We slept in a bit this morning, and didn’t really get going until 11.00 a.m., so decided to not bother with the water park today. Instead, we went down to our resort pool for a couple of hours, and did a load of washing while we were there.

Around 2.00 p.m. we went back to our room, and while DH had a shower, I went to the food court and picked us up a ham, cheese, salami and peppers Muffaletto sandwich and fries to share. We were a bit peckish, but only really wanted to share a sandwich; however, this Muffaletto thing was the best we could get, and although it was a bit soggy and I wasn’t keen on the filling, we ate it as there wasn’t anything else. I took my shower, we hung up the washed t-shirts to dry on the little line over the bath, and we were out of the room at 3.00 p.m. (I used pegs to hang up the t-shirts, which was much more effective and space-saving than just draping them over the line! The pegs then went into the locker box for future use).

We left the room at 3.00 p.m. and headed to the Magic Kingdom, via the monorail. Our first destination was Pirates of the Caribbean with our FastPasses, and by now we knew where the (newly installed) Photo Pass camera was located, so were able to get a good picture taken! We had been given a Memory Maker photograph package free with our holiday booking, and had been making the most of it, getting pictures taken whenever we spotted a Disney photographer, but also checking every day to see that our ride pictures had been added to the account. This is done automatically now, thanks to Magic Bands – they truly are magic!

We then went to Pecos Bills for coffee, and I also picked us up a side order of nachos (with snack credits) to share, with sour cream and grated cheese from the toppings bar. DH isn’t a big fan of nachos, but I knew he was peckish and would like these with the cream and the cheese. We both really enjoyed them, and they were exactly what we needed at that point.

Our next FastPass was for Mickey’s Philharmagic, which we hadn’t seen yet this trip, and we really enjoyed it. Lots of fun, I particularly like the scents in here. Next up we decided to ride the Haunted Mansion with our free daily FastPass, and then our final booked FastPass was for 7 Dwarfs Mine Train – yay! We always have great fun with the vulture animatronics at the top of the first hill, each of us pointing to the other one and trying to persuade the vultures to eat DH or me first! A bit daft, but one of our silly little traditions.

We just had time for a quick fresh air break on the walkway behind Space Mountain, where there were LOTS of tiny lizards darting about in a very cute way, before we went to the Tomorrowland Terrace to meet Robin & Larry for the fireworks Dessert Party. We checked in at the podium and were given wristbands. Robin & Larry were already there waiting for us, at a table at the back of the room, and had got their first plate of goodies! We said hello, then went up to get some desserts and drinks. We got glasses of sparkling apple juice, and then lots of tiny, gorgeous, bite-sized desserts. The pineapple one with cream was my favourite! I also had a bowl of ice-cream, which technically was for children but the Cast Member believed me when I told her I was 5 years old, and we also got some coffee. There was a huge platter of assorted cheese cubes and fresh fruit too, which was delicious and balanced out the sweet desserts nicely. We had a lovely time with the Wilmots, catching up on each other’s day. A Cast Member brought round a big disc for us to hold that had the name of the party on it, and then a Photo Pass photographer took some pictures of us all together – these came out really well, we were pleased with them.

After eating our own bodyweights in very tasty food, we needed to get to the reserved, private garden area for our first viewing of the Happily Ever After fireworks and projection show. There was a Cast Member standing outside the front of the Tomorrowland Terrace with a big sign, so we joined the small group of people standing around her, and then once she had checked she had everyone, she set off and we followed. This was a bit of a challenge in itself! The area around the Hub was RAMMED with people waiting for the show, and our poor Cast Member had to really shove her way forward through the throngs. Periodically, random people tried to join our group of hardy trekkers, but if they didn’t have a wristband, they were shooed away. There was another Cast Member guarding the entrance to the viewing area, and again they had to be really vigilant to stop randoms from following us all into this garden!

We settled ourselves against the railing, it was lovely in the garden area, lots of grass to sit down on and loads of space around us, unlike the sardines outside the fencing! We chatted until the projection show started, with Larry teaching DH how to utilise his fairly new camera a bit more to get the best night-time shots. We thought the pre-firework projection show was really lovely, and then Happily Ever After started. Oh my life. We had always loved Wishes, and knowing the story behind the little girl who used to sing the theme tune to it, (it was her dying wish to sing something in a Disney show, the suits got her to audition for them and were just blown away by her voice, so had her sing the Wishes soundtrack before she sadly passed away), always made each show more poignant to us; however, this new show is something else entirely. Disney have definitely stepped up a notch with the technology used in this show, it was utterly and totally amazing. The soundtrack was beautiful, and I was a bit tearful but not too blubby until they started screening bits of the Hunchback of Notre Dame onto the Castle – I’ve always loved that film and it makes me cry like a baby every time I see it.

Well, the show finished and although I could hardly see through my swollen and streaming eyes, I stumbled my way to Robin who was sat in her scooter. She turned her tear-sodden face up to mine and we burst out laughing and had a big hug! We all agreed that this show absolutely beats Wishes in our opinion, it is just a wonderful show. Robin and I mopped up our faces as best we could, then the Wilmots went off to ride the TTA/Wedway Peoplemover one last time. We were shattered, so decided to leave. It took us an hour to get from the Hub back to the Transportation & Ticket Centre! The monorail queue was humungous, so we went to catch the Ferryboat, and the queue was unbelievable – huge doesn’t quite describe it. Cast Members had put up rows and rows of barrier fencing and to be fair, they once again handling crowd control spectacularly well. We were constantly moving within the barriers, and they seemed to have as many ferries as possible coming back and forth.

We had had another wonderful day, had loved the dessert party and the fireworks, but were very happy to get back to our resort and fall into bed that night!

DAY NINETEEN – Thursday 19 October

Plan : Magic Kingdom, Be our Guest breakfast (again)

Actual : Once again we got up at 5.45 a.m., although we were slightly less reluctant this time as we knew what a great time we had had two days ago. Out by 7.00 a.m., and via the monorail we arrived at the Magic Kingdom for our third day in a row. We queued at the front of the park in the same place as two days ago, because when we arrived Robin & Larry were already there!

This time, when we arrived at Be our Guest, and once we had placed our orders and I had insisted on ‘paying’ for everyone’s breakfast again, we chose seats in the Rose Room. It is quite dark in there, but we love the atmosphere and the petals falling from the rose every now and again.

DH had the same breakfast as before, the Croque Madame, but I went for a croissant with bacon and eggs, served with a bowl of melon and grapes. We got coffee and soda, and divvied up the pastries again, although I ended up taking the last couple with me for some reason, wrapped in a napkin and crammed into my handbag. I guess this was just in case we couldn’t find food elsewhere in Walt Disney World that day ……

After breakfast we went onto Under the Sea with the Little Mermaid, there was absolutely no queue at all for this, and we loved it, it is such a cute little ride! Then we walked to Tomorrowland and rode Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin with just a 10 minute wait, merely the time it took us to get through the queue. However, my laser gun didn’t work properly, it was loose and not firing very well. I only scored 20k something, and DH only got 56k something, when normally we both do much better than that. We also thought the whole ride was looking a bit shabby and tired, there was chipped paint everywhere and not many of the flashing lights and targets were working properly.

Next we walked up the ramp to the Peoplemover, again there was almost no queue for this and we were soon gently gliding round Tomorrowland – we all love this ride a lot.

After this we parted company with Robin & Larry, they went off to ride Space Mountain and we walked round the ‘smoking’ path into Fantasyland, where we had a short wait for a train at the station. We rode the train all the way round the park one and a half times, and disembarked in Frontierland. It was a lovely ride, so relaxing.

We then stopped off at Pecos Bills for coffee (DH) and chocolate milk (me), before riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with our first FastPasses of the day. We had such fun that we promptly went back on again with our free daily FastPasses!

After this we walked towards the Haunted Mansion, and DH made me stand outside Memento Mori for a few minutes while he went in to make a secret purchase, (which turned out to be some lovely Christmas presents for me – a really cute pen with a top shaped like my favourite bat stanchion, in a coffin-shaped box, and a gorgeous snow globe), so I waited outside and just enjoyed the sunshine. We then rode Haunted Mansion using our FastPasses, with very little wait.

It was around mid-afternoon by now and we were a bit peckish, so we went in to Columbia Harbour House where DH went upstairs to find a table and I placed our order. I got him a lobster roll, which came with crisps, and coffee. I chose the sandwich I love here, the Anchor’s Aweigh, although I wasn’t really very hungry and only managed to eat half of it. DH finished it off for me, along with some of my crisps too, although I managed my own coffee!

(Before coming out here this time, I had wondered how we would adapt to the way to dining plan had changed, we had got used to having a dessert with each meal before, but this had been removed and an extra snack credit added; however, in reality, there wasn’t one day where we missed the dessert or felt anything less than full after each meal, and we loved having the extra snack credit for occasions when we fancied an ice-cream or rice krispie treat!)

After our late lunch we walked back to Frontierland and visited the Country Bear Jamboree! I LOVE this show, it is so much fun and so un-politically correct! I have to be careful though, several times over the years I have caught myself singing the songs to myself and I have found that “Mama, don’t whup little Buford!” can be misconstrued when taken out of context.

Pirates of the Caribbean was next, using our last FastPass of the day. Yo-ho and all that.

We knew we still had lots of counter service and snack credits left on the Dining Plan, and with only a couple more days to go, we had to spend them or lose them, so we walked back down Main Street to Goofy’s Candy Company and bought half a ton of fudge, rice krispie treats, bags of candy, and cookies. I also bought a couple of bags of maple bacon popcorn, which was not part of the dining plan thing. Our bag from this store weighed so much! Luckily, we knew this was the last thing we were going to do here, so we left the park and headed back to our resort.

We stopped at the food court to get drinks, and then went into the resort shop to spend some more snack credits on different types of candy than we already had. We also got DH a resort pin, and I bought a couple of bags of cheddar cheese popcorn.

I have no idea how we managed to lug this lot back up two flights of stairs to our room, but we did indeed manage, and once there, we rested for an hour. DH fell asleep and I checked emails, etc. I woke DH up at 6.30 p.m. and we went down to the pool for a couple of hours, which was fun, then we went back up to the room for showers, a glass of wine, coffee nut M&Ms, and we also finished off a box of doughnut holes we had been nibbling on for a few days.

I was in bed, fast asleep by 10.00 p.m. DH watched a bit more TV and finally turned off the lights at 11.00 p.m.

DAY TWENTY – Friday 20 October

Plan : Shopping, packing, Hollywood Studios

Actual : I slept in until 9.00 a.m., so I must have been really tired yesterday! DH woke up at 10.20, just as I had finished showering and making coffee. We dressed and walked down to the boat dock, waiting about 10 minutes for a boat to Disney Springs. We split up in World of Disney as I wanted to pick him up a set of models of Disney buses as a Christmas gift, and I also got my son a set too. We reconvened and headed out of the store to pick up some brunch. I wasn’t particularly hungry so while DH went to the Earl of Sandwich and got himself a BBQ Hawaiian sandwich, I walked round to Wetzel’s Pretzels and got myself a salted pretzel with a cream cheese dip. We sat outside Earl of Sandwich and enjoyed our food.

After this we walked to the boat dock and within a short time we were back at the resort. This was such a lovely way to visit Disney Springs, much less stressful than driving. We set about packing. The first thing I did was to sort out the mountain of shopping in the corner of the room – we do this every time we visit a Disney resort, we just shop and shop and shop and then dump everything in one corner of the room, followed by ignoring the growing mountain until packing day! (Apart from one of the years we had a villa, when we chucked everything into a small cupboard in the bedroom and didn’t actually realise how much was in there until the day before we left, when I opened the cupboard door and everything fell out on me! We had to rush up the road to Walgreens and buy another suitcase …. I’ve lost count of the number of holidays to America where we have come back with one more suitcase than we went with).

Anyway, with almost manic precision, we packed everything carefully but fairly easily into the 4 cases we had brought with us, and I put the goodies I had bought to take into work on the top of the cases, so they would be easily accessible when we got home without my having to completely unpack everything straight away. Then we tackled the Owner’s Locker box. For a bit of backstory, DH used to be a Stage Manager, and has toured with many theatre companies over the years. This taught him the art of packing a large amount of unwieldy and bizarrely shaped items into small spaces, such as the backs of cars or small vans. He has passed this skill onto me, and so between us we managed to get a huge amount of stuff packed very neatly and securely into the locker box! The secret is to totally unpack everything onto a bed, study what you have and imagine what will fit where, and then to keep moving things around until you have filled every available tiny space. We have some vacuum-pack bags for clothing, which enable us to squash the bags almost flat and eliminate every bit of air-space from them. I was very proud of our packing skills when we closed and secured the lid on the box!

Packing took us a good couple of hours, but once this was all done, (aided by several cups of coffee), we finally left the room and headed over to the Hollywood Studios. As usual, we struggled to park at this time of the day, (it was by now late afternoon), but finally found something in the overflow disabled car park.

We walked down Hollywood Boulevard, and I sat on a bench near the crossroads with DH’s rucksack, while he went to ride Rock & Roller Coaster with our first FastPass of the day, only riding once though as he said the queue was quite long when he got there.

I was messaging Robin while waiting for him, and despite them walking straight past me without either of us noticing, we arranged to meet outside Toy Story Midway Mania, for which they had FastPasses but we used our daily free ones. DH thoroughly thrashed me today! We had great fun on the ride, and we ended up with a nice bonus – as we had to wait a little while for the vehicle that allowed Robin to ride with a wheelchair, (there was more knee room in this one than in the regular disabled access one), while we were waiting, a Cast Member gave Larry a couple of paper FastPasses as he clearly thought we were waiting longer than we should have done. We weren’t making a fuss or anything, we had just been patiently waiting, but the Cast Member was very kind and made this generous gesture. What we didn’t realise until we went to use them shortly afterwards, was that they were Cast Member FastPasses, meaning we could use them for multiple attractions and at all tiers! He had also given Larry enough passes for all 4 of us to use, too.

We began to make our way round to Sunset Boulevard, but I stopped briefly at a popcorn stand to pick up a BB8 drinks mug that I knew my son would LOVE, (he is a big Star Wars fan), and chose orange Fanta as the drink. I was shocked at the price, though - $15 for the mug including a drink. I spent the next 4 hours complaining about this to anyone who would listen, (and several people who didn’t!). I caught the others back up, and DH reminded me that it was for my son, and he would appreciate it, to which I grumblingly agreed.

DH and Larry then rode Rock & Roller Coaster using the free FastPasses they had, while Robin and I found a nearby bench and just relaxed and chatted. The boys really enjoyed their ride together.

We walked to Rosie’s All American Café, where Larry and I went to get some food for us all. I got chicken nuggets & fries for us, and burgers and fries for the Wilmots, using more of our Counter Service credits again, (I had deliberately saved 4 for this after yesterday’s candy extravaganza!). We also picked up a variety of diet cokes, coffees, Minute Maid Lemonade, etc. We carried all this up into the Fantasmic theatre, where we used the free FastPasses again to gain access to the priority seating area. We had great seats, right at the top of the theatre, and chatted whilst enjoying our dinner. The show was wonderful, as usual, and it was so much fun to share it with friends.

At the inevitable end though, we took a slow stroll out of the park, and sadly said goodbye to Robin and Larry for the last time this trip. It had been absolutely brilliant to meet up with them over the last week, we had laughed a lot, and had thoroughly enjoyed their company all week.

We went back to the car, and drove to the resort for our last evening. A glass of wine later, (we needed to finish off the bottles, so they were large glasses!), we relaxed before bed.

DAY TWENTY-ONE – Saturday 21 October

Plan : Epcot, leave for home

Actual : We got up with the alarm at 8.00 a.m., showered, dressed, all coffee-ed up, packed up the last bits and pieces from the room, and then DH took the Owner’s Locker box down to the car first. Then we said a sad goodbye to our lovely home for the last 2 weeks, and lugged 4 suitcases down to the car. We dropped off the locker box with Bell Services from where it would be collected at some point today, and drove to Disney Springs. We hadn’t been looking forward to this bit, in previous years we have really struggled to park anywhere near the Virgin Atlantic check-in area. However, we found a parking space really easily today, to our surprise!

There was only a short queue to check in, and we happily paid our $20 for the privilege of being able to use this service. All our cases were either slightly underweight or exactly 23kg, which was good. A couple of years ago I bought a hand-held suitcase scale so I had a pretty good idea of how the weights were looking, anyway. We checked in for the flight, paid for the extra 2 cases we were taking back, were given our boarding passes, and one hour and $20 later we were suitcase free for the day – well worth the money and time, in our opinion.

We were doing really well for time today, everything was running to plan so far. We drove to Epcot, parked up with no problems, and headed in to use our first FastPass for Test Track. However, when we got almost to the loading area, we suddenly realised the ride had gone really quite and nothing was coming in or going out. We heard an announcement of “PPF Responders to the Tower”, but had no idea what that meant, nor have I been able to find out since what this meant – very mysterious. Everyone had to be evacuated from the building, we weren’t given the option to wait around to see if the ride was going to come back up, and as we exited, a Cast Member with a special kind of electronic device was scanning everyone’s Magic Bands to put the FastPasses back on them, but as an ‘open’ FastPass that could be used for anything.

Our next FastPass was for Spaceship Earth, and we really enjoyed our final trip around this, our Spaceship Earth. Thoughts turned to lunch after this, so we made a pit-stop at the Electric Umbrella, one of our favourite quick service places in Epcot, for an Angus Bacon Cheeseburger & fries for DH, and chicken nuggets & fries for me, with the usual drinks. While we were in there, I got a message from Robin saying that they too were in Epcot, and I messaged her back and then tried to call her, but I never managed to get hold of her again after that, sadly.

A quick restroom break, and we headed over to the Land pavilion. Our final FastPass was for Living with the Land (lettuce/cucumber), and as we wanted to finish the holiday on the Disney ride we started it with, we then rode Soarin’ using our free daily FastPasses. It was just amazing, we kept forgetting how much we loved the new film! We debated going back over to Test Track in the hope it would be working again, but in the end decided to just use our ‘open’ FastPass to re-ride Soarin’ again, so we did this.

DH then went to the smoking area nearby, while I went into Mousegear to spend our last 11 snack credits on a few more bags of candy and rice krispie treats, all of which would need to be packed into our hand luggage. I was pleased to find lots of really cool Star Wars-themed rice krispie treats, and also a lovely Lion King one that had leopard-print chocolate dipped ears and a raffia tie closure. We had 3 counter service credits left, and the Cast Member in there wouldn’t let me use them in exchange for 3 snacks, despite me telling her I had been doing this with no issues for the last 2 weeks! So irritating, it meant we would lose these last 3, I do wish they would be consistent with this rule.

We finally and reluctantly left Epcot, and began the drive to the airport. We needed to fill the car with fuel, (we picked it up full and needed to return it full), so we drove to our usual service station off Boggy Creek Road. I had to run in and pre-pay, as the pump will only dispense fuel if you put in a credit card but this has to be registered to a USA address, so I gave the guy behind the counter $20 and he authorised the pump. Except he authorised the wrong pump, which I discovered when I got back outside and encountered a slightly cross DH! I checked the receipt, and that was when I found petrol guy had unlocked the wrong pump. I got him to change it, and DH filled up, but then we realised we would need a bit more fuel – when we had collected the car from Dollar, they had insisted it be taken back full to the brim, so I went back inside to put another $5 on there. Predictably, petrol guy authorised the wrong pump AGAIN, but I was waiting for this and got it corrected before I left the store. This extra $5 filled up the tank nicely.

We then headed for the airport, but I misread the road signs and made us turn right, when we should have gone straight on at a junction. (I blame all the roadworks and new roads that have been built there over the last couple of years!) This meant we had to go through an unmanned toll booth, but when we pulled up there, the automated screen said we had 97 cents remaining to pay. I assume the person in front of us hadn’t paid the full amount, so we dropped 97 cents into the basket, and off we went. We then had to pull off the highway, cross under it, and go back the way we had come, but this meant a toll booth again and I was almost all out of change now. We were supposed to pay $1.50, but all I had was about 35 cents in copper, so DH dropped that in the basket and we drove on, fully expecting some kind of fine to come through for both parts of the journey. However, at the time of writing this report, (6 months on), we have not received any notification from the authorities nor a charge to our credit card from the hire company, so I guess we must be alright now – sorry, USA authorities!

We finally got to the airport, but due to it being really busy in the car hire return garage, (there were cars and trucks driving around everywhere), we missed the sign for Dollar return, and ended up in the Alamo garage. I thought they were owned by the same company, for some reason, but when they tried to check the car in for us, to our great embarrassment they pointed out we were at the wrong return garage. We apologised profusely and sheepishly drove off again, going all the way around the garage before finally managing to find the Dollar return, around the corner from where we had been. We handed over the car, and a really nice lady briefly checked the paperwork, said all was good, and we could go. I asked if she wanted to see the fuel receipt, as the darned woman we collected the car from had been very insistent they would need this, but she said that in her opinion the fuel was full, and she didn’t need the receipt – grrrr!

We collected our hand luggage and went into the airport, glad to get there. Honestly, we have never once been able to return a hire car without there being some kind of drama to deal with over the years! The airport was absolutely heaving with people, and there was apparently a 2 hour wait for security, so we didn’t have time to have a last look in the Earport store or the Kennedy Space Centre store, both of which I love. Luckily, we had been randomly given TSA pre-approval for clearing security, so we breezed past the hoards and into an extremely short queue, where we were waved straight through to screening. We didn’t have to remove liquids or electronics from our hand luggage before it was x-rayed, which was really nice! However, I had to be given extra screening for some unknown reason, so was thoroughly patted down and hand-swabbed, but all was clear.

Our gate was being announced, so we made our way to Gate 85 on the little monorail, and soon saw our plane waiting for us – she was called Ruby Tuesday. We didn’t have long to wait before boarding began, and had just enough time to put on our flight socks and organise our bags so that the things we wanted for the flight were easily accessible. Boarding began at 6.55 p.m., and we were surprised to see quite a few empty seats on the plane. We had exit row seats, DH sat by the window again and I sat in the middle seat, but the aisle seat next to me remained empty, which was brilliant – I was able to stretch out a bit and use the seat to store pillows, blankets, bottles of water, etc. The seat also seemed slightly more roomy than when we flew out 3 weeks ago. I mentioned this to DH, and he said he felt the same. We think that all the walking we have done, coupled with the fact that we didn’t eat as much as we normally do in Florida due to the heat this time, has meant that we have both lost a small amount of weight.

The flight took off on time, and we mostly listened to music, rather than trying to watch films, as we were hoping to get some sleep. The food surprised us both this time, it was actually rather good! I had some Japanese salty and sweet sauce over chicken, jasmine rice, green beans, sweetcorn, and peppers (which I didn’t eat), and it was all really delicious. There was also a nice roll and some butter, and a really good, sharp Cheddar cheese with crackers. Dessert was Red Velvet Cake in a tiny jar, and was also really tasty. DH got pasta with a mushroom and garlic cheese sauce, which he said was very good indeed.

We slept for about 3.5 hours in total, which is more than I normally sleep on night flights, and we had a breakfast of warm Pain au Chocolates, melon, and a blueberry yoghurt, which was all good. The flight had been very smooth with no turbulence, and we landed on time in Manchester airport very early the next morning. Our luggage came out surprisingly quickly, and once we had managed to negotiate our cases around the million idiots who ram themselves right up against the conveyor belt in the hope of being first to the cases, we walked outside, tired and cold, but happy to have experienced the most amazing 3 weeks.

Our car was waiting patiently in the car park just over the road from the airport exit, and DH left me with the cases while he went to collect the keys from the office. We were soon on the road and making the journey home, which took a couple of hours as we had to make a coffee stop at one point!

Home was a welcome sight, it had been a long journey, and we hauled in the cases before going back out again to pick up some groceries; and then began the struggle to try and stay awake until our normal bed-time!

FINAL THOUGHTS

So, another Walt Disney World trip in the bag. We had a wonderful time, and came back thoroughly exhausted and needing a holiday, always the sign of a good Disney trip. We were in agreement that we would love to cruise with Disney again at some point, maybe trying a different route next time, although it would also be wonderful to take my sister with us on the Dream as she would love to do a Disney cruise.

I think we are done with Universal for a while, much as we loved the new Harry Potter areas, to us they didn’t merit another visit for a few years.

We particularly liked the option of giving up daily Mousekeeping in return for a Gift Card, we are quite tidy ourselves and didn’t miss having our bed made for us every day, but did appreciate some extra spending money.

I have to give a mention here to Bob’s Barricades! I have no idea who Bob is, but he must have enough money to nicely retire on after seeing the number of his Barricades on site around Disney property this year! They were EVERYWHERE! The construction going on around the whole of Disney property at the moment is astonishing, from the resorts to the parks to the roadways, and whilst it didn’t interfere too much with our holiday, we did find the roadworks to be a bit of a nuisance as it made it harder to negotiate our way around all the time.

So – what’s next? Well at some point during our time with Robin and Larry, I can’t quite remember at which point, they talked about their plans for next year. Larry will be 60 on the exact same day as several attractions in Disneyland, Anaheim, such as the Matterhorn, and the Railroad. He wants to spend his 60th birthday in Disneyland, and is asking all of his Disney friends to join them. This would be in June 2019. We discussed this between ourselves overnight, and agreed that we would love to do this – we had been planning to return to California at some point anyway, as we wanted to explore a bit more of the area and maybe do a road trip. (Although the main reason for the road trip bit, to go to Cooperstown in Phoenix, just went out of the window, as it closed down with very little notice recently!) We have never been to America at this time of the year, and expect it to be hellish hot, but are very keen to accompany our friends on their quest, as well as maybe visit Las Vegas briefly and possibly also a National Park – I’m thinking Yellowstone perhaps. So whilst we have yet to finalise plans, this does look like our next big adventure!

In addition, Disney Holidays UK very recently released the same fabulous package for UK guests that we have had for the last few years, and my amebae backbone kicked in and I booked us 14 nights at Caribbean Beach Resort for early December 2019 – I want to see the Christmas décor again! Life is too short to not go to our favourite place in the world – while I can still afford it and our health allows us to make the flights, let’s do it!

Thank you for coming along on the journey with me for this latest trip, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and here’s to the next one.

Bye for now!
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Silvercat

(Enjoy reading trip reports? Why not try my books, "Tiggerific Travels Parts 1, 2, 3 & the new volume 4" - available now as e-books)

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Old 05-22-2018, 08:04 PM   #2
purplegal
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Well I just spent a fabulous few hours reading your report. We were there at the same time as you and couldn’t believe how crowded it was. You sure had a great trip with long days and accomplished a lot.
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Old 05-22-2018, 09:58 PM   #3
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So happy to see you have written up your TR! I'll respond to your TR in pieces. Just finished your planning segment and love how all came together in the end. I remember the fiasco with the Caribbean Beach resort. Disney really dropped the ball there in customer service. I can't wait to hear your opinion of the Caring for Giants tour as we loved it and got to do it again this month.
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Old 05-23-2018, 04:01 AM   #4
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Well I just spent a fabulous few hours reading your report. We were there at the same time as you and couldn’t believe how crowded it was. You sure had a great trip with long days and accomplished a lot.
Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it! I can't believe we were there at the same time, I wish we had known, I could have looked out for you! Yes, it was horribly crowded at times and when that happens it can wear you out faster than anything else, but we still tried to fit as much in as we could. Like Chezp, we never realise how much we do until I look back on my notes - it's no wonder we always come back from our holidays needing a holiday!

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So happy to see you have written up your TR! I'll respond to your TR in pieces. Just finished your planning segment and love how all came together in the end. I remember the fiasco with the Caribbean Beach resort. Disney really dropped the ball there in customer service. I can't wait to hear your opinion of the Caring for Giants tour as we loved it and got to do it again this month.
There seemed to be much more planning involved this year than previous years, I have no idea why it was like that! Yes, the CBR fiasco was a bit of a nightmare, we're booked for December 2019 now to give it a proper go, hopefully without any building works going on!
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Old 05-23-2018, 11:06 AM   #5
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My goodness what a grand adventure you guys had!! Your writing is witty and funny and I thoroughly enjoyed this TR!! Thank you for sharing your trip!!
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Old 05-23-2018, 06:49 PM   #6
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Except for not finding a fast food place at the terminal, your Day Minus One seemed to go quite well, complete with a great night's sleep. Day One -- Crazy situation on the plan! So glad it all eventually blew over. I love how excited your DH got as soon as he saw Art of Animation and even more as he saw your room. That is magical!
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Old 05-23-2018, 11:20 PM   #7
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That was quite a long trip and as you know I was also at the Royal Pacific the same time you were. At least for your first two days. Loved the resort and Universal as well.
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My Previous Trips1995-2000, 2006-Various in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, France, England, Holland, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Lichtenstein, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Morocco; 1998-U.S. National Parks (California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada) 1999-Las Vegas, 2001-Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii, 2005-Memphis, 2011-Austin, TX: ACL Festival and Orlando: Bay Hill Lodge; 2013-Paris and Eastern France's Wine Country, 2015-Memphis for 7 WDW: 2002-WL, 2003-CSR, 2004-AKL, 2005-BWI, 2007-POR, BC, 2008-Offsite Championsgate Omni & CBR, 2009-Poly, POR (Decade of Dreams), 2010-POFQ, GF, 2011-POFQ, 2012-CSR,WL, 2014-POR, 2015-DCL Magic in Western Caribbean, 2016-B Resort in DS, 2017-USF: Royal Pacific /WDW: Dolphin
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Old 05-24-2018, 03:29 AM   #8
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My goodness what a grand adventure you guys had!! Your writing is witty and funny and I thoroughly enjoyed this TR!! Thank you for sharing your trip!!
Thank you for your kind words! I'm really glad you enjoyed it. We did indeed have a grand adventure, but it seems like most of our holidays are like this, we never seem to do anything in a simple fashion. Still, at least we are experiencing life to the full while we still can!

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Except for not finding a fast food place at the terminal, your Day Minus One seemed to go quite well, complete with a great night's sleep. Day One -- Crazy situation on the plan! So glad it all eventually blew over. I love how excited your DH got as soon as he saw Art of Animation and even more as he saw your room. That is magical!
Tell me about it - I was super-nervous in case they started something up again, but luckily apart from one brief glimpse in the border patrol hall, we never saw that family again.

DH's face as he was looking around the Little Mermaid-themed room was priceless - he was as excited as a small child! Bless him. I do love taking him to Disney, he is a delight (most of the time!) as he gets so much out of these holidays.

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That was quite a long trip and as you know I was also at the Royal Pacific the same time you were. At least for your first two days. Loved the resort and Universal as well.
I am so sorry we missed each other Dave, that was my fault for not arranging something with you beforehand, even though you had already told me you would be there. But you seem to have had a great time, reading your trip report!
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Old 05-24-2018, 04:34 PM   #9
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Day Two -- The start to your day seemed very smooth, getting your luggage checked and then wandering the resort. Oops! On forgetting that your wine needed to be in our hand luggage. Such a nice first day on board, too. Disney does do a wonderful job of selecting table mates. At least we have enjoyed our companions on each of our cruises. Sorry that you didn't sleep well the first night. Hope you got the light situation figured out.
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Old 05-25-2018, 06:51 PM   #10
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Just finished reading the section on traveling to Orlando. I can't believe the crazy family in the plane! I would have been pretty anxious for the rest of the flight as well.
How fun to stay at Art of Animation for the one night! Judging from DH's reaction, it sounds like it was the right decision!
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Old 05-27-2018, 06:08 AM   #11
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Your first two days on the ship sound great! It's nice your tour was not cancelled after all! OMG - getting drenched on the way back to the ship! You must have been soaked to your skin!
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Old 05-27-2018, 07:30 PM   #12
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Day Three -- Oh my goodness! That rain sounds like no fun at all. Otherwise the day sounds like a good one. You made some great purchases at the ship stores, too.
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Old 05-28-2018, 12:36 PM   #13
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Day four - how nice that you got to experience a Castaway Cay. It sounded nice like a very relaxing afternoon.
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Old 05-28-2018, 07:37 PM   #14
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Day 4 -- Bummer! The rain does seem to be following your ship. I love how excited you two got when you were given the all clear to disembark and enjoy Castaway Cay. Disney's fireworks at sea are so amazing! Glad you made sure to enjoy them.
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Old 05-29-2018, 05:54 AM   #15
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Day Two -- The start to your day seemed very smooth, getting your luggage checked and then wandering the resort. Oops! On forgetting that your wine needed to be in our hand luggage. Such a nice first day on board, too. Disney does do a wonderful job of selecting table mates. At least we have enjoyed our companions on each of our cruises. Sorry that you didn't sleep well the first night. Hope you got the light situation figured out.
I can't believe I put the wine in the luggage, I felt like such an idiot! We had been really looking forward to enjoying a glass on the balcony, as well. The light situation was so irritating at the time, but we were too tired to get our brains properly into gear at this point .....

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Just finished reading the section on traveling to Orlando. I can't believe the crazy family in the plane! I would have been pretty anxious for the rest of the flight as well.
How fun to stay at Art of Animation for the one night! Judging from DH's reaction, it sounds like it was the right decision!
I know, that family were such a pain, and I know I over-reacted - I should have trusted that DH could take care of himself and just ignored them.

DH loved our night in the Ariel-themed room, and we both loved the resort - definitely one to look at for a future stay.

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Your first two days on the ship sound great! It's nice your tour was not cancelled after all! OMG - getting drenched on the way back to the ship! You must have been soaked to your skin!
Ugh - we were indeed very wet - I was like a small, self-propelled pond!

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Day Three -- Oh my goodness! That rain sounds like no fun at all. Otherwise the day sounds like a good one. You made some great purchases at the ship stores, too.
We loved the ship stores, they had such varied and exciting stuff! Much more choice than the generic stuff we have seen at WDW for a few years now. We could have bought so much more than we did!

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Day four - how nice that you got to experience a Castaway Cay. It sounded nice like a very relaxing afternoon.
It was indeed a fun and relaxing couple of hours, and we were just so relieved to be able to get onto the island after having looked forward to it for so long.

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Day 4 -- Bummer! The rain does seem to be following your ship. I love how excited you two got when you were given the all clear to disembark and enjoy Castaway Cay. Disney's fireworks at sea are so amazing! Glad you made sure to enjoy them.
We were off that ship like rats up a drainpipe! Oh, the fireworks were just so beautiful, I was so glad we saw them. The way they were timed to the soundtrack and film on the big screen was just incredible.
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