WDW 2014 Day 1

6 Feb


6th February we started out by running around the house packing, cleaning etc, well I was working so you can figure out who did the running around. We left about 7pm and went to twilight check in, a great idea to avoid the hassle in the morning and just breeze through security.

I have not been to Gatwick for about two years and it has changed a lot. The new owners have spent loads of money improving the airport and it shows. I’ve not seen the new security yet so am looking forward to seeing the changes airside. I really enjoyed Jamie’s in North a few years back so I expect to see quite a few new brands to keep me entertained for a few hours tomorrow morning.

Off to bed now staying in the Première Inn. I booked the one opposite the airport as it was £29 versus the one on airport at £85. Seems crazy to have such a huge variance, I can see the other one from my room.

Kids watching Kardashians so I’m contemplating self harm. Sorry I mean earphones.

More later!


Another year over, 2014 just begun…

1 Jan

New Years always seems a funny time to me. The day should feel special but it doesn’t. We celebrate the coming of the new year and look back with a mixture of rue and fondness at the passing of the last one. I suppose the best way (from a managers perspective) is this day is natures way of making us set a strategy. It’s our own meeting with ourself where we look at our past performance and set targets for the coming year.
Of course in business terms this time frame is not ideal and this is probably why those resolutions fail. Not that they are good resolutions but waiting one year for feedback is far to long a time to wait. This is why it seems a funny time as it makes more sense to do this exercise far more frequently, weekly ideally but certainly monthly at the longest. Don’t have the time or not sure what to set as goals? Try these as starters:

1) set 1st of the month as your review date. Allow 30 mins and write down your results / thoughts to review next month. (Minutes)

2) Try three goals to start as a maximum, any more and you will lose focus. Pick from:
– Personal goal (self development not just stop doing something that’s far to negative!)
– Business goal (career development, training, bonus achievement etc.)
– Helping others. (Help somebody or do some thing without gain which helps somebody else)

3) once you have your goals break these down into monthly or weekly activities to achieve. If helping others is raising money by running a marathon then plan in training to get yourself ready to ensure you can do this.

4) reward. This is the fun bit, when you achieve these things how will you reward yourself? This can be big or small treats but this is your prize for success.

One word of warning is goals fail if they set with impossible targets. If losing weight is your personal goal the. Set lower targets with shorter time frames to celebrate the wins. So what about me? Having written about this I thought I’d share mine with you so you get the idea!

Personal Goal: go on a great family holiday in Feb
Business goal: Take on a new venture by April.
Help others: raise more than £500 for charity.

In March I’ll set a new personal goal as this one was set a few months back now.

If your reading this I hope I’ve inspired you or at least made the hangover a bit more bearable as you wake up.
I wish you a very happy new year for 2014.

Thanks for reading. Ian

Walt Disney World – Shopping!

20 Mar

If you are British and coming to Walt Disney World then you will most likely want to spend some time shopping. The bargains to be had here against UK prices are too good to pass up, in fact there so good you may flaunt the import duties by quite some margin. The amusing pass time we used to have was spotting all the new white pairs of trainers on the flight back (when they were fashionable).
Why are prices so good? Put simply at present tax rate here is 6% versus the UK’s current 20%. Also with the exchange rate generally better than $1.50 to the £1 it’s easy to see how even full priced goods become a bargain. A great example is an iPad 16gb wifi only. In the UK they are £399, in America $499. So adding tax brings it to $529 which at current 1.55 conversion brings it out to £341.25, a near 15% discount.

Warning: US runs on 110v versus our 240v so not all electrical items will work (and the plugs different) Also DVDs / Blu Rays and most game console games are incompatible.

Of course it’s not just iPads that are bargains, some of the best are clothes. Gap in the UK is a fairly high end retailer, in the US it is more like Primark pricing. Then you have the dedicated discount shopping malls such as Orlando Premium Outlets or Lake Buena Vista outlets which are very close to WDW. Here you’ll find brand outlets such as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hillfiger, Hugo Boss and Reebok to name but a few. The prices though can be unbelievably low. How low? Expect to pay up to 90% less than UK prices, really.

20121009-152602.jpg My favourite shop!
At a recent shopping trip at Tommy Hilfiger I bought two T-shirts, two polo shirts and a pair of shorts. The bill? $95 or £62, averages at £12 a piece for brand new, branded goods. I even got a voucher which took $5 off a T-shirt in Calvin Klein so that cost me $12.


Don’t shop without coupons. Nearly all shops have coupons of some kind either printed in the weekend papers, online or available at popular eateries around the area ( such as Denny’s).

20121009-154850.jpg These are great as a guide map and they have coupons. Pick up the small ones by this too.
If you head to the big departments stores at the weekend such as J.C.Penny, Nordstrom or Macy’s for example, always check out the newspapers as they have coupons to take with you. Don’t worry too much if you forget or can’t as I found the stores freely give these out at stands close to the entrances or even hand them to you as you enter. Top tip here is if you are looking for trainers I recommend looking in the department stores as I have picked up more bargains this way than at the official outlets such as Nike, Adidas or Reebok.

Of course the advantage the factory outlets have over the malls is the sheer range on offer. Some are huge and if you can’t find a pair of trainers here…



One of our favourite places to shop is Walmart. I know it sounds crazy you go all that way to enjoy a grocery store / supermarket. For any first time Brits what you don’t realise is firstly the enormity of these super centres (think PC world / B&Q / Halfords / Asda / Primark rolled into one).


We discovered this gem on our second trip to WDW when we had a car, a large apartment and an American fridge that needed filling. The nearest one to WDW is just off SR535 before you get to the 192 (when heading south). On this map it is by Indian Wells at the bottom right:

    Warning! For the uninitiated this is a time trap. Time moves at three times normal rate and if your not careful you can lose half a day or more quite easily.
    I’m not kidding, there’s a Subway in here for goodness sake. The place is huge. No really, when I say the place is huge I mean gigantic. The shops I mentioned before? Just imagine these just bolted together, not reduced and you get the idea. In terms of football pitches you could probably get about 8-10 games going on in there.

    It is fairly easy to negotiate and has two entrances. If you just want groceries enter to the right and stay there. The entire right third of the store is all groceries and the first aisle you’ll see is fruit e.g:

    The fruit always looks good and the grapes seem super sized compared to the measly ones in the UK. Apples also look good as they look like someone has waxed and polished each one. Personally I don’t like the apples as the texture is different but the rest of the fruit is all good.
    Other things to bear in mind for groceries is that there are lots of options on nearly every product you want. By the way skip the UK section unless you enjoy paying way more than usual and will you really miss Digestive biscuits for a week or two?

    Cereals are the same but with different boxes but you may find the kids want to experiment with different types. Butter doesn’t exist and nor does bacon or sausages in the same format. Eggs are white shelled and bread is smaller and more artificial but I’m being picky it stays fresher and tastes good.

    We always stock up on breakfast and drinks to save time & money at the parks. We don’t breakfast at home every day just every now and then as Denny’s will always get a visit or two from the Hetherington clan! (Resort breakfast can be good but for a treat do Crystal palace in Magic kingdom for buffet breakfast with Pooh, piglet & friends!)

    For drinks we get a 10litre water to refill bottles as well as juices, cokes etc. if your staying on resort you won’t need so many as the all you can drink mugs are definitely worth the money.

    For the rest of the layout the front & centre of the store is clothing, the rear is electronics and left rear is sports / outdoor. The left side from front to back is pharmacy, toys, household and car. This map shows a typical layout and is roughly accurate for Florida but a mirror image:

    Note: mirror image of Florida layout as groceries are on the right.

    Lots of fun can be had here and don’t forget to pick up rain ponchos for about 40cents each, much cheaper than Mickeys! Also as in previous posts look at cheap buggies rather than rental and leave this at resort to save the next guest even more money. (See previous post, you still save loads). Ill leave you with a shot of my girls who found Batman masks and had great fun jumping out on poor shoppers thinking they were me!


Walt Disney World – Downtown Disney guide and tips.

11 Oct


Update 2014 – Downtown Disney is undergoing a major transformation into Disney Springs. Much of the below may now be inaccurate for example Capn Pete’s is now the boat dock area for the resorts. There is also a multi storey car park (in the former West Side) and Pleasure Beach is now gone. The new Disney Springs looks fantastic and should be ready 2015/16 so I will post about this when I’ve seen it in all its glory!


Downtown Disney is the area in Walt Disney World which is free. Sorry I had to put that in as everything else here costs but this one is free, gratis. Yes it’s free to park, free to get in and free to watch any street entertainment. If you’ve never been to WDW before then free parking is a big benefit as the parks all cost $14 if your not staying on resort and this can soon rack up if your here for a few days. This was such an issue that recently the Disney Buses stopped going straight to the parks from Downtown Disney. This of course will not stop the determined and judging by the amount of cars parked here early in the day, it hasn’t. If you are tempted to do this then you’d catch a bus to a resort and then another to the park. This can be very time consuming though, so is the $ saving really worth it? If you really want to save this way then options are:
1) Magic Kingdom – bus to Contemporary and walk to MK
2) Epcot – bus to Poly, walk to the ticket & transportation centre, then monorail to Epcot
3) Hollywood Studios – bus to Boardwalk / Yacht and walk to Hollywood studios
4) Animal Kingdom – park at Blizzard Beach then catch next bus to Animal Kingdom. Be warned though, on the return trip you’ll have to go to a nearby resort and catch another bus back to Blizzard, and be sure it’s not shut when you do or there won’t be a bus!
Anyway I digress, Downtown Disney (DtD) is split into three areas all themed around a lake. The first area is Marketplace and as the name suggests has lots of shops as well as a few eateries including Rainforest Cafe (the only full service this side). The second area is Pleasure Island which used to have a separate gated entrance but has since been turned into the walkway between Marketplace and West Side. Pleasure Island used to host lots of nightclubs but now just has a few shops and restaurants. West side has the entertainment (as well as some shops) and is good for restaurants / bowling (from 2013)/ going to the movies / Disney Quest or goto Cirque Du Soleil. I’ll delve into each in more detail a bit later.

Travelling to Downtown Disney

Depending on where your travelling from, the easiest way to get here is exit 67 off the I4 or enter from SR536. When you pass under the Mickey welcome sign you’ll need to take the first exit on the right and then turn right at the lights.

Don’t forget if the lights are red you can still turn right here, but you must give way to oncoming traffic. (If you want to see more about driving in America see my previous blog here:
You will now be heading East on Buena Vista Drive and very shortly will encounter the multiple entrances to park. Depending on what you want to do depends on where you need to park, entrance 1/2 is good for Marketplace 3/4 is good for Pleasure Island and 4/5 is good for West Side.

One word of warning it gets very busy, especially at the weekend. Also note at the end of the road when you enter one of the parking lots, it is one way and you cannot enter back into the car park easily, especially at peak times. If it is absolutely packed there is an overflow car park accessed via the exit to car park / entrance 5, behind Cirque du Soleil. If you are staying at another resort and drive in you may choose to park at Saratoga Springs and walk in.

20121010-210141.jpg Good luck finding a spot at peak times…

One of the easiest ways to get here, if staying on resort, is of course the free buses. They are very regular and stop at Marketplace and Pleasure Island before returning to resort. (Note when open they also stop at Typhoon Lagoon after the Pleasure Island stop).

One thing I found is that at the Pleasure Island stop they seem to change drivers here regularly. It only takes about 10 to 15 minutes, but can be frustrating if you’re tired and just want to get back. On the plus side you’ll be cool and dry in the bus. One other thing I noticed is the buses do alternate their routes in and out of DtD at peak times to minimise delays.

Another option if staying at a local Disney resort is a boat trip. Well worth it, but only available if your staying at Port Orleans (both parts), Saratoga Springs Resort and Old Key West. When my daughters were younger it was a great end to the evening at DtD to have them snuggle up for the boat ride back to Port Orleans. Highly recommended especially if your at one of these resorts as its a nice gentle way to travel and learn about local wildlife from the captain. If your not staying at one of these resorts either grab a launch anyway and explore the resort or hire a boat from Cap’n Jacks Marina in Marketplace and cruise around.

20121009-102001.jpg Entrance to Cap’n Jacks marina.

20121008-160530.jpg View from one of the boats when coming into DtD West Side.

What’s there?

It’s probably easier to say what’s not here! There is so much to see and do that you’ll want multiple trips here to either blow off steam, relax or spend some more money. Here is an example of some of the entertainment on offer: Concerts, Movies, Bowling (from 2013), Cirque du Soleil show, Sunday Gospel Choir, Boat rentals, Balloon flight, Indoor interactive theme park, live FREE entertainment and kids rides.
Want to eat? Easy the place is packed with restaurants of every type to suit every taste palette and budget. Particular favourites in our house are Planet Hollywood (book this!)

20121009-102346.jpg Check out the movie memorabilia around this restaurant too, including the Jenny from Forrest Gump!
Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant (book this too)

and push the boat out with Fultons Crab house (if you’ll pardon the pun)

For quick snacks then I’d recommend Ghirardelli’s for ice cream / shakes, Earl of Sandwich and Wetzels Pretzels. We haven’t been but I’d also recommend Pollo Campero for healthier snacks. Ghirardelli’s is a particular favourite of ours and is a must do on at least one occasion. One word of warning is that if your using your snack credits from a Disney Dining Plan you can only pick items to $5 in value. That only includes drinks and single scoop ice cream, so I chose a single scoop with chocolate waffle cone, which was more than enough generally.


OK but what’s Free?
The entertainment! As you walk through there always seems it be musicians playing various instruments and entertaining the crowds. My favourite spots are House of Blues bar, by the Balloon ride and just on from that in Pleasure Island. They have some fabulous guitar players.

The majority are in West Side and Pleasure Island areas with the large entertainment area in Marketplace active in the evenings. This largest area is opposite the largest Disney store in the world, in Marketplace. (So you can’t miss it). I have seen local events held here like a battle of the bands, a famous Brazilian pop group perform (judging by the screams & Spanish spoken) and a cast-member conducting a dance competition with select members of the audience as the dancers. The best thing about this for me is it allows some members of your party to shop whilst you relax and watch the entertainment (unless the Brazilian pop groups playing in which case, no seats!).
Then you have lots of photo opportunity moments with pre-set areas for you to get those once in a lifetime snaps. At the entrance to marketplace (when you arrive by bus) is a water fountain to help your little ones cool off.

There’s also Stitch at the entrance to the Disney store who ‘spits’ at unsuspecting passers by!

20121009-103355.jpg Kids love this. At this entrance to the Disney store are skeletons rattling their cell and just outside another family photo opportunity!
Some of the pre-staged areas for you to get some family shots are great to either get those once in a lifetime shots, or if your lucky to visit regularly use them as regular spots to see your kids growing up.

The other thing to do is to grab a drink, sit on one of the many benches facing the lake and just watch the boats go by as the sun sets.

OK what’s not free that I’d like?
If you have any budding princesses in your family who may have been miffed when your son got turned into a Pirate at MK then you’ll want to head to Disney Store and get them into the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. They will also turn sons into budding knights too, but this is really about the princesses (like Pirates of the Caribbean is about the pirates!)


If your the father, then do as I do, hand your credit card over, wait outside and enjoy your new princess when she emerges. Don’t ask your wife how much it cost. Trust me. Just take the photo then look at her smile when the credit card bill arrives.
The other area you are likely to spend time (unless its raining) is Disney Quest.

This Disney theme park comes inside with lots of great rides and games which are all free (once you’ve paid the entry fee!) Yes you read that right an indoor theme park and I said unless its raining. I know it sounds ideal BUT when the rains come where do you think the 100,000 theme park guests are going to head for? Best time to go is day time, earlier the better. Avoid bad weather at any time and evenings especially weekends. They do shut when it reaches capacity but the busier it gets the longer you have to wait for each ride – and some can take a while…
Another great evening will be had at Cirque Du Soleil which is easy to spot at the far end of West Side.

Personally I’ve not been here (yet) but know from the reviews it is a fantastic show and well worth it (if your budget stretches). Oh and if you travel with Virgin Atlantic (from UK) you can check in here the morning you fly and drop your bags so you don’t have to carry them around all day.

Wow, I didn’t know there was so much!
Hold on! I’ve not even talked about the main thing here yet….SHOPPING!!!!!

There are loads of shops here and most of them are interactive to some degree. What do I mean interactive? Well how about building a bespoke remote control car and trying it out? Sitting on a Harley, getting a personalised Disney drawing, watch toffee apples being made, making your own bath treats and lots more besides. The point here is even window shopping is fun! If your credit card took too much of a battering that day just do some window shopping and come back once it’s feeling a bit better to buy those treats!

20121008-223019.jpg Basin is a great stop for my wife & daughter.

The flagship here is of course the Disney Store quite rightly called “World of Disney” As I said earlier it is the biggest in the world and you can easily get lost inside as each room leads into another, each with more than one exit. Above each entrance is a particular character and well worth photographing in my opinion.

One piece of advice here is don’t split up as your bill will get very high! Also if your staying on resort, get your purchases sent back so you don’t end up carrying it around all evening. Of course if you drove in then expect frequent trips to fill your boot (trunk).
My other favourite stop off and photo opportunity is the Lego store. You’ll easily spot it close to Fultons crab house and has ‘Nessie’ the Loch Ness monster in the lake

20121008-225059.jpg in the background is the stage for the evening entertainment mentioned earlier…

Having been quite a few times they are frequently changing the displays and currently have the seven dwarves, toy story and a fire breathing dragon.



Always a popular photo spot, you may need to wait to get the right shot, or come back when it’s quieter.

There are loads of shops and you can buy: sunglasses, cigars, swimwear, branded sports wear, Disney pins, Christmas decorations, homeware, art, teen clothing, sweets, vinylnation figurines, Harley gear, Lego, customised baseball bats, toys, tea & spices and of course practically every Disney themed souvenir you may think of (and most you hadn’t).

OK it sounds brilliant, but what’s the catch?
It is brilliant. Without a doubt I couldn’t conceive of a Disney vacation without coming here as it has a great vibe. It is also a routine on our first night to get the girls slushes from Wetzel Pretzels to turn their tongues blue / red.

20121009-105610.jpg It’s not permanent and wears off…eventually.

The only catches I can think of really are these;
1) Downtown Disney is very popular. The crowds can sometimes get oppressive, especially if your hot. The stores are always busy and the worst is the World of Disney with its narrow aisles and pushchairs galore.
2) It is vast and you will end up walking a lot. Be wary of where you are as if you drove it can be a long way back.
3) It’s not cheap so don’t expect a bargain. You want cheap, goto a mall.
4) There are very limited seating opportunities if your not buying food / drink.
5) Getting a walk up dining reservation is nigh on impossible, especially at peak & popular restaurants. Rainforest on a Friday night? Forget it unless you want to eat in three hours…

Some hints and tips I have are:
1) Use Disney transport to get here if possible and make use of the send purchases back to resort scheme they operate. (If you can)
2) Try to avoid peak times, if not possible then try to stick to one of the three areas.
3) Have frequent meet points in case you split up. Definitely do this for World of Disney, you will get lost & split up.
4) Take your time, relax and drink lots. Watch the entertainment, let your kids blow off steam in the water features just chill and you’ll enjoy it a whole lot more.
5) Have a plan B. If the restaurant you want to eat in is booked, where else could you eat ? If Disney Quest is too busy, what else can you do? If DtD is packed and you can’t park what’s another option? Plan B is much easier in advance than getting frustrated at trying to find a parking spot while the kids are complaining. (One option there is to do the reverse of the Disney Bus routes to the parks I mentioned earlier. If you bought parking at one of the theme parks, best park at Magic Kingdom (once you’ve bought parking at any of the four parks you can park free that day in any of the other three) – which is the ticket & transportation centre, walk to Polynesian and take the bus from there.)
6) If the walkways are too busy and your trying to get from one part to another in DtD, use the car park walkways instead of the ones in DtD. This will especially save time if going from West side to marketplace or vice versa.

Finally have fun. You can end up spending a fortune here but we always have a great time and incorporate the spending into our holiday plans. (Including dining as all restaurants here accept the Disney Dining plan.)
I have talked a lot about things I like and I know I will have missed some aspects of DtD but there really is so much to do here. For a full list of what’s on offer and a guide map click here:
Downtown Disney Guidemap
Don’t print this as there are plenty of these available when you get there. And they change frequently.

Special note of thanks to my nephew for taking the time to photograph the car parks for me!

Walt Disney World – People in Theme parks – Part 3

1 Oct

In this part I’d thought I’d focus on the annoying habits of people you find in theme parks and how they behave. I don’t mean to offend anyone here, although I know I will, it is simply highlighting some behaviours which may upset fellow guests. Also before you think I am being judgemental, I fall (or fell) into some of these categories myself, so some of this is based on personal experience from my families point of view. An excellent blog on this has been Scott Russo who since 2008 has published his Park Peeves articles. This one (as with 2009) covers this topic:

Deep down we all know what our faults are (not that we’d admit them in public!) and anything that doesn’t measure up to our own standards or beliefs can wind us up. For example, I rush around and like to get places quickly ahead of the crowds. During my first visit it caused many arguments with my wife and complaints from tired kids. I learnt to slow down and adapt to enjoy the journey and my surroundings. This resulted in everyone enjoying their holiday.

So here it is, split into my own ideas on titles for these people, enjoy!

Mobile muppets

Always on the phone talking business or personal calls. Yes they booked the day off, travelled here, paid for parking, bought expensive tickets and are paying over the odds food and beverage prices to enjoy a family day out. So how do they spend it? Yup taking business calls or personal calls whilst touring the park because it cannot wait and it’s more important than your own family. Words fail me.
Disney have started to roll out WiFi in the parks, so now they can update Facebook too….


Will get to that next attraction regardless of the carnage they leave behind. Normally out at rope drop.

Pac Man
Treats all you can eat buffet as a challenge.


Manic Mum

Dad goes charging off with older child leaving mum to keep up with her buggy, usually resorting to some ankle warfare along the way.

Manic Dad
I’ve paid for this holiday, it’s cost me twice as much as any other holiday, so by god we are going to enjoy everything this place has to offer. Yes manic dad ensures you stay from park open to close riding every attractions and watching every show. Usually has Manic Mum in tow along with sleeping / crying / whining kids. Often heard to utter the phrase

your supposed to be enjoying yourselves!


Scooter skittles
Electric scooters in a crowd with inexperienced old person = carnage. I think rules are 5 points for swearing adult, 10 points for crying child and 20 points if first aid required.
Of course looking at it from a wheelchair users perspective when faced with hoards of guests all fixated on where they’re going and what they want to do cannot be easy, here’s a great video about wheelchair usage: http://thehappycripple.com/?p=241

Snob ends

Treat cast members as though they are a pile of doggy doo doo they just stepped in. Particularly evident at any eating place, quick serves more than others. Seem to think shouting, swearing and generally abusing these fantastic people is acceptable behaviour. In evolutionary terms amoeba would give them a run for their money. Perhaps one day they’ll meet again in an operating theatre when the cast member qualifies as a surgeon and performs a stickorectomy on them. (removing a large stick from their nether regions)

The Tour Group ‘parade’
Seem to swarm about in large (50+) groups walking around in single file causing you to stop until this ‘parade’ passes and you can carry on. Easy to spot as the lead of the tour group carries a pennant. The other issue with this lot is they hog the fast pass machine of the key rides (one member takes all tickets and feeds the fast pass machine for about an hour) or if they go on the ride just before you…

20121001-164206.jpgThey don’t all have tour guide Barbie, some have pennants!


Insist on filming everything rides, shows etc. Why? Who knows. There’s scores of YouTube footage of each show / attraction so you don’t have to bother. Worse point is they usually impact on the rest Especially true of the iPad / iPhone wielding fiends holding their devices over their heads, further obscuring views for the rest, especially at parades / shows. They also insist on using flash when told not too, which spoils the effects for everyone else. All I can say is I hope they serve decent coffee showing off 30 minutes of shaky footage to their poor friends & relatives. Shudder.

No Hablo Americano
Usually spotted trying to get their party onto a ride via the single rider line. Also try to get onto fast pass rides early (I guess they don’t change their watches?) Or using extra magic hours when not staying on resort. Always feign ignorance at the poor cast member rejecting their pleas of ignorance.

Heffalumps and Woozles


A Heffalump or Woozle is very confusel
The Heffalump or woosel is very – sly – sly – SLY – sly
They come in ones and twoosels
but if they so choosels
before your eyes you’ll see them multiply- ply – PLY – ply
They’re extra-ordinary so better be wary
Because they come in every shape and size, SIZE, size, size.

The most apt description for those types of people who – park map in hand stop suddenly, or look at their options in the middle of the walk way. They can also block aisles in shops, especially entrances / exits. Particularly fond of sending grandparents to secure a parade spot, before the rest arrive 5 minutes before to block the others who waited long before. Also found at condiment bars hogging ketchup dispensers and toppings, reserving dining tables for their party of 15+. Unaware of anything or one around them. Glares accusingly if they bump into you. Walks straight regardless of who’s in front. Does not look where they’re going.
Best piece of advice is:

they’re quick and slick, they’re insincere, Beware, Beware, Be a very wary bear.

Walt Disney World – People in Theme parks – Part 2

16 Sep

Hi, and welcome back to the second part of this blog. If you missed the first part you can find it here: http://wp.me/p2kfTT-4c

One inevitable fact about visiting a Disney park is that it is full of people. Planning to go to the park recommended by Touring Plans, as it is crowd level 1 and has no extra magic hours? Great idea, unfortunately you and about 25,000 people will all do the same. The point here is if your trying to avoid crowds you won’t, they are everywhere, every day. Disney don’t say what capacity is in the parks, although I have heard 75,000 is when Magic Kingdom shut the doors, which on Xmas day is usually early. As I said parks will always be busy, you merely queue (wait inline) less time on quieter days or get better viewing for the parades / shows. The walkways, shops and restaurants will all still be busy, especially at key times.
If you want to know more about crowd levels during the year, check out this website: http://yourfirstvisit.net/2011/06/29/disney-world-crowds-in-2012-3/

See how many types of guest you can see in this line for Typhoon Lagoon. (it’s not normally this busy)

Types of Guest
There will be many types of guest visiting any one of the parks in Walt Disney World throughout the year. Here I will look at some of the most common types of guest and try to offer some hints and tips to help you save time and hopefully some money. Note- Disney is a money pit. No other holiday destination will relieve you of your cash or seriously endanger your credit limit than here. You will have a blast, buy some great bargains and get once in a lifetime memories. But one warning for your credit cards? Be afraid, be very afraid….

So without further ado lets kick off with some good news. What do all these types of guest have in common? They are all here for a good time. This may be explained in spending more family time together, doing lots of rides (or attractions), relaxing, seeing Mickey Mouse (or other favourite characters, guess who mine is!), revisiting to re-live earlier good times or visiting for the first time to see what all the hype is about.

One of the best sights in the world, let the fun commence!

Types of Guest (people)


Let’s start with the most common type of guest found in any Walt Disney World park. Families come in various stages from the young to the old, from the few to the many and anything inbetween. They can also bring along groups of relatives or friends (usually sporting the same T-Shirt) with for example:

“Hetherington family vacation Disney 2012”

And here’s a group photo (not the Hetherington clan though)


Young families
Buggies / Strollers
Young families are going to usually hire buggies (strollers) which Disney supply in either one or two seat configurations, currently $15 / $31 per day, discounted by $2 / $4 if you book multiple days in advance (excluding sales tax @6%). You then get issued a beige or blue buggy (stroller) to be lost amongst the sea of others. Tip here is if you rent one try to have an identifier like a balloon tied to the handle or some other unique way to find your buggy among the hundreds parked up in the same place when you watch a show (like Lights, Motors, Action in Hollywood Studios)

A typical scene you’ll find as buggies aren’t allowed in any attractions / rides.

For fellow Brits and non-residents who holiday for 10+ days, a much better option is buy and ditch. This involves spending $21.18 on the cheapest 1 seater (double for a sturdier one) or $94.34 for a double buggy, both from Walmart on SR535 (just outside Disney on the East). To put this into perspective for this to pay back:

Single buggy hire x 2 days at Disney = $27.56. Walmart cheap buggy = $21.18, you save $6.38
Double buggy hire x 4 days at Disney = $114.48. Walmart double = $94.34, you save $20.14
More days = more savings, less days = rent at Disney.

If you choose the buy & ditch option you simply throw away the buggy at the end of your vacation having saved your $$$. It’s wasteful I know, and I hate waste, but if you a on a 14 day holiday with two young kids and visit parks 10 times you would save nearly $192 buying a double buggy. You can buy everyone Mickey Ice Cream bars every day for that money!

20120903-215010.jpg I know what I’d rather do!
Note – prices quoted accurate as of September 2012. I am not perfect so always double check!

The other option of course is to bring your own and then save even more cash. From experience you will have enough trouble trying to stay below the 23kg per bag limit, juggling two tired toddlers whilst negotiating unforgiving security as it is. Yet another thing to get in the way and try to pack in your budget rental? Yep $94 – bargain.

Military strategy
Having been there myself I know how hard it is to go anywhere with small children (Especially bottle fed & nappies) Every journey requires co-ordinating the required number of bottle feeds, nappies, calpol, changing mat, water, talc, toys, nappy sacks, wipes and toys. I remember a trip to the mall with daughter #1 and by the time the boot was loaded with all the above plus a buggy we had no space for shopping!

The good news about Walt Disney World is everything is geared toward you, to ensure you have as great a time as possible. You will never be far from a restroom or a restaurant stocking baby food if you get caught short. Missing supplies? They have it covered. This helps take (some) of the stress out of the holiday.

Check out some great tips here: http://travelwithkids.about.com/cs/disneyworld/a/wdwtoptips.htm

Don’t forget how scary the characters can seem. Imagine if you were confronted with a 20 foot tall creature, how would you feel?

Middle Families
The biggest issue with middle families is the ages of the children. Whilst the normal world would classify a child as anyone under the age of 16, here in Orlando children are aged between 3 and 9. Yes, your dear 10 year old will have to have an Adult park entry ticket and also eat off the adult menu. Now the difference in park tickets isn’t too much but every penny counts right? The biggest issue has to be the restaurants not allowing a 10+ old to eat from the kids menu. One of my daughters is VERY fussy and unless Pizza, Hot Dog, Nuggets or Burger are on the menu will turn her nose up. The other issue is cost, adult meals are a lot more expensive than kids meals and lets face it there’s not many ten year olds that pack away adult portions. Especially the humungous portion sized servings here.

20120905-212742.jpg Lovely family shot of us four adults. Yep all 10+ in this one.

The other issue will be rides. Now all kids like to be bigger or older than they are, until they get to 29! Disney has its fair share of thrill rides all with height restrictions of varying sizes with 40″ the most common and 44″ or more for the more extreme. Thankfully there are not too many here but if you venture to Universal there are a lot more, good if you like thrills, not so good if your a middle family. The other consideration is of course your child might not actually like the ride. Just because you or another sibling loves it doesn’t mean it translates to everyone.

A few years back my eldest wanted to ride Tower of Terror (40″) so we waited in line. As we got closer our youngest daughter got so worked up that as we were next in line she burst into tears. My wife stepped out and I rode with our eldest. Thankfully Disney are prepared for this with baby swap allowing the other parent to ride so my wife went with our eldest again as she loved it so much. Peer pressure can cause lots of stress for younger kids so be mindful. If in doubt show them the ride on YouTube before you go so they can see what it does. (e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYgBuGdqoq4&sns=em ) Also check out the height restrictions if they see or hear about a ride before you go to save disappointment on the day.

20120916-075304.jpg This isn’t usually an issue!

P.s Standing on tippy toes to reach the height bar is frowned upon at Disney too

Oh and if your child is too short for a ride and throwing a tantrum please don’t take it out on the cast member, it’s not their fault!

Older Families

This is something I’m very familiar with at present having recently holidayed with two teenagers. Of course older families can also include grandparents, which I see a lot of, as this is a great way to see grandchildren enjoying themselves. (something I’d hope to enjoy but not for many years yet, parents of teens will know what I mean!)

Teenagers (or older) will want some freedom, especially from you, their uncool parents. Hopefully this won’t be all the time as this is meant to be a family vacation, but letting them have some freedom is easier here than most places for the following reasons:

1) Each of the theme parks has a central anchor point so it’s easy to schedule a rendezvous point.
2) Security at the parks is superb. 99.9% of guests are there to enjoy themselves like you. The 0.1% who aren’t quickly get caught and landed with a lifetime ban.
3) Cast members are everywhere so if they need help they just need to ask. Communications are superb so you’ll easily get reunited if you get into difficulties.

The bonus here is of course you get to do what you want to do rather than vice versa.

If staying on resort too:

1) Each of you can have a key to the world card (Disney speak for one card that opens your hotel door, gives theme park access, charge purchases to and holds your dining plan info)
2) Having their own card means they can meet you in the park later, order their own food and also charge goods (if you allow them!) Great news for teenagers who aren’t the best at making it for rope drop….
3) Disney buses to each park run every 20 minutes and stop close to your room as well as at the theme park entrance. There’s always help from a cast member or the bus drivers so little chance of error.

All aboard. Buses are so frequent and useful you won’t want to drive.

I must admit it was scary at first letting them loose, but with the fact that we were where we were made this decision much easier. We had been a few times previously (but only on site once before) so the girls were pretty well orientated to the park layouts. Also the bus stop was right outside our block and named “The Paddock” which gets called out when the bus arrives. During our stay we let the girls meet us at Magic Kingdom one morning and also let them go back on their own as we wanted to watch the fireworks on other days. This freedom (or part) meant the girls could take on more responsibility in a virtual consequence free environment. As a parent the biggest challenge has got to be knowing when to let go, to allow your kids some freedom. This is a great way to start!


Grandparents get a great deal out of this holiday even if they can’t do all the rides!

It’s funny but my girls enjoyed having nan and grandad on the holiday I think as much as nan and grandad enjoyed it! To this day my mother in law says this is the best vacation she’s been on and I think it has more to do with the family time and seeing the girls enjoy themselves. My girls like the fact she was accident prone, REALLY accident prone. Like falling up an escalator as she forgot they moved or falling under the rubber tube getting off a water ride. (she wasn’t hurt) My girls find this hilarious and so they enjoyed teasing her about her mis-haps. Now I will give her this, she is a game old bird! There weren’t many rides she didn’t do, although she did have “dizzy pills” to take for the more extreme. It got quite funny when she’d ask about the next ride and I’d usually say “Dizzy pills on standby”. One of the funniest ride photos we have of her is from Splash Mountain. Despite the look she really enjoyed it. Honestly!


I think that’s enough for now. I haven’t covered other types such as going solo, golden oldies, disneyphiles, getting married and groups. I’m going to leave them for now, but next edition I’ll look at the types of people you may face who irritate you, just for fun of course!

Walt Disney World – People in Theme parks – Part 1

1 Sep

Welcome back to my regular readers! For any new readers, welcome too! My blogs are my experiences of touring in Walt Disney World with the aim of passing on some nuggets of info to hopefully help you enjoy this fantastic place even more. If you haven’t been before then you have an experience to come like no other. BUT excited traveller beware. All is not covered in pixie dust and I have seen countless families getting flustered due to time / heat / stress / money / unrealistic expectations.

The last point is where this blog focuses as the other points will be covered in other blogs or book. (plug, plug!) OK what do I mean “unrealistic expectations”? Well put simply as you are travelling to Disney and everything in Disney movies is perfect, with a happily ever after for each story, we expect Walt Disney World to deliver the same. To be fair to Disney they do deliver the best holiday experience in my opinion, but nothing is perfect. Let me put it this way, if I asked you to think of perfection what would come to mind? I expect a vacant sandy beach, palm trees swaying, cool breeze coming off the crystal clear sea whilst sipping a cocktail. Perhaps a bit like this….


Hmm sorry nearly drifted off myself there. Whilst this all sounds perfect if you were in this scenario at some point you would find the sand getting everywhere/ you burn under the sun/ you feel bored with nothing to do. The point here is whilst given perfection or our idea of it there will always be something that rubs us up the wrong way. This is life and yes life continues at Walt Disney World multiplied by lots of people.

OK I don’t want to scare you, the parks aren’t always as busy as this but its pretty close*. Worst times are parades (as shown), open and close (or end of fireworks).
*Unless you go Easter, Xmas, holidays, summer then prepare for lots MORE people.

One of my favourite pastimes in theme parks is people watching and I know speaking to other Disney fans this is also the case. Disney markets itself as “The happiest place on earth” (or used to) but you would not realise this when you see some visitors (henceforth called Guests as Disney calls us). I have seen people really lose it in the theme parks and I have read countless articles and posts online with the same stories. By lose it I mean:

1 – Screaming, top of their voice, at kids for crying, misbehaving* or whining. (usually due to being tired / dehydrated) Leading to….
2 – Hitting their kids, full smack, once the screaming doesn’t work.
3 – Threaten, blackmail and even bribe kids to keep going. Bribes usually involve sugary treats to be regurgitated on the next ride. This then invokes point 1 above.
4 – Have full on argument with their partner in front of horrified young kids. This may or may not be as a result of any of the above. This then usually follows with point 1 straight after.

*Misbehaving in the eyes of the frazzled parent can include: not keeping up, not staying within arms reach at all times, asking for presents, asking to stop (when your en-route to the 3:00 parade) for a rest or autograph from Goofy, asking for another ice cream, fidgeting and making bored noises whilst waiting for the 3:00 parade to start, drinking too much of the shared drink, not wanting to go on a ride resulting in crying (this then invokes point 3), whistling / humming / singing the same tune over and over, spilling food / drink, getting wet during a wet ride / attraction, not finishing all of the drink or food they asked for.

Now read the misbehaving list again and see if any of the points above warrant this level of response. No, clearly not, and your not the sort of person to react in this way are you? No, neither am I. Yet I have found myself shouting at my daughters for one of the reasons stated in the misbehaving section. So why is this? Why do normally calm, mild mannered people turn into parents from hell? Well going back the start of this blog the first four causes are all attributed to this: time / heat / stress / money either alone or as a combination. A bit like chemistry experiments you don’t know the exact concoction to create an explosion. All you know is an explosion is coming its just how big and when, a bit like the Wishes fireworks, except you know when they happen. Unfortunately life’s not like the cartoons this land is based upon and we don’t see the comic steam coming out the ears to defuse the situation.


The lead Guest (to clarify – the person who paid) has worked VERY hard, scrimped and saved to make this the best once in a lifetime trip for the entire family. So the pressure is really on to make sure everyone will have a great time. So you set out with unrealistic expectations for the holiday, having spent a lot of money, in temperatures not normally endured, walking more than you would while trying to make the times of the shows you must see. Since I started talking chemistry I’ll call this the big bang! And before you say “yes but I would never do that or act that way” I don’t think there is a visitor who has not said or done something they regret at some point.

So the aim of this blog is really to highlight that at some point you will feel like exploding. You need to recognise this and stop yourself from following points 1-4 above.

Here are some hints and tips from my trips that have worked well:

– Slow down. Really, take it easy. Don’t plan to do too much or rush around the parks. Enjoy the side entertainment which I find just as good as the main attractions on occasion. If your kids want to blow off steam in a water fountain let them, you’ll get some great pics.

– Stay out of the heat. Temps for most are way above what you are used to so try to schedule some indoor air conditioning either at an attraction or restaurant.

– Drink lots of water (not fizzy!) but rather than buy expensive park water refill one bottle from the water taps around (caution – it will be warm and metallic). Another option is to take a bottle of frozen water into the park to drink when it defrosts. Best result here is to store in a locker to drink in a few hours.

– Don’t print or use any of the touring plans. These are guaranteed to make you explode when you fail to make the timings they quote.

– Don’t overstay your welcome. By this I mean parks are open a long time so don’t stay from open to late just to fit it all in. Better to go home for a relax or nap and return later for the evening parades and fireworks. This is mandatory in the summer.

– Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Don’t get them wet early in the day as squelching around for 8 hours is neither fun nor comfortable.

– Have a plan B for shows in case they are cancelled due to weather or full due to crowds / if you arrive late.

20120901-222841.jpg Yes the ride was fun but in a few hours you feel damp and your shoes rub….

Walt Disney World – Orlando International Airport brit guide

19 Aug


Hi, and welcome to my latest blog dedicated to negotiating Orlando International Airport, mainly for first time British visitors but there may be some useful tips in here for everyone.


Orlando International is one of two airports you will fly into from the UK if visiting Walt Disney World or one of the other Orlando attractions. The two main carriers to get you there are British Airways who operate Boeing 777’s which have a 3/3/3 seating configuration in economy and Virgin who operate 747’s which have a 3/4/3 configuration. (Virgin have since added Airbus to their fleet, A330’s which have a 2/4/2 arrangement). Pricing varies slightly and usually comes down to personal preference, or who you book your holiday with. Both offer World Traveller Plus / Premium Economy as a next step up and First Class to really push the boat out. BA also add in a Club World if you can’t quite stretch to first and they offer personal space and fully flat beds too. As extra incentive Economy passengers in the British Airways flight get to see the smug looks on the upgraded (not first) passengers as you pass them!
I have heard a rumour that the market will open up and cheap carriers will be bidding for the lucrative route to the sunshine state but as yet it is just rumours. It is of course not clear which airport they will fly into and Florida is a big state, at two thirds the size of the UK and we have over 25 international airports!

At time of writing Virgin offer the most flexibility flying directly from three UK airports: Glasgow, Manchester and Gatwick. There are two flights a day at peak from London and Manchester, although Manchester and Glasgow do not fly daily. British Airways only have one flight per day from Gatwick, and that arrives just after the Virgin flight from Manchester, so prepare to get in a big queue at security!
Of course there are other options, going slightly off topic including non-direct flights, but do you really want to add to the circa 9 hour flight time? Usually stop-overs will mean travelling for at least 12 hours but if it saves you quite a lot of money…
Another option, and one I’ve done before, is to fly into Miami. Flight time is about the same but security is a lot quicker. I took an internal flight after spending the night at Miami and still saved a considerable sum on direct flights. Another option would be to hire cars here and drive to Orlando as the I95 and Ronald Reagan Turnpike will get you there in around 4 hours on a good day. (Read my car hire blog for advice on hiring) Or if you’re a little more adventurous try Harley Davidsons as some of my colleagues did!


The Airport
The advantage of flying into Orlando International Airport is that it’s the closest to the action. Drive time from here to Disney is under 30 minutes (depending on traffic and route) and around double that from Sanford International.
The main website with all the information is here: http://www.orlandoairports.net/flights.htm

If this is your first visit you may want to print this way finding map as it shows you where everything is, including rental desks, airline desks and all the amenities.

The airport is laid out fairly logically in that the main airport building is self contained and is split into two terminals; A and B. It does not have any airplanes directly docking but instead has four satellite docking stations, two for each terminal. Both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways dock at the wing with gates 80~89. Your first taste of the Florida heat will hit (unless it’s raining / Winter) when you first step off the plane, before the terminal aircon hits you.

Plane seating

Depending on who you fly with and which grade of seat you chose will depend on how quickly you end up landside sorting out your rental / onward travel. Passengers are let off the plane in class order so economy is last. Baggage is given preferential service for the baggage reclaim too and with Virgin passengers the higher classes get their own carousel. If you fly British Airways you will arrive into the security hall AFTER all of the Virgin Atlantic Manchester passengers so even first class BA passengers will have a wait of around 45 minutes to an hour for the near 400 Virgin Atlantic passengers in front of them. (unless that flight was delayed). If flying economy the nearest seats to be first off are row 15 in a British Airways flight and row 21~30 (they vary) on a Virgin 747 / row 42 on an Airbus A330. Of course to request these seats you either have to pay a premium or be very quick at the 24 hour advance online check in. Best site I’ve found to check plane configuration is Seat Guru, check it out here once you know the flight carrier and route: http://www.seatguru.com/

As mentioned requesting seats in advance (whilst not 100% guaranteed) such as bulkhead seats for extra legroom will cost around £30+ per person, per trip. (family four = £240 for return trip). You may get lucky and be able to book these on the 24 hour advance check in or maybe they have an offer at the airport, you never know.

Security check point

Once off the plane you will pass through some 1970s inspired decor, for about 150 meters, zigging and zagging until you enter the security check point. You are not allowed any phones or cameras in this section so if you switched yours on to see what network you are now on, switch it off (or on silent but DON’T check it / answer it if it vibrates! This hall is massive, contains 20 check station desks with the last four dedicated to US citizens, disabled and flight crews only. You will join a line (the first of many on this trip eh!) which will snake all the way to the centre where you will be directed to your allotted desk. (if there are no other flights then you may end up at the US citizens desk). Be sure that you have filled in your form from the plane to say you are not bringing in any fruit / veg or last weeks Euromillions with you, ensuring you have filled both sides.
Now if you’re unlucky enough to be at the back of the line with about 500+ in front of you, it will take around an hour to do. If you have kids, this is going to be painful after a 9hr flight. Your body clock is at 22:00 or later and you’ve already had a long day. The kids excitement will rapidly decline into misbehaving, which in turn will get you angry….You can see how the start of the vacation can quickly descend into anarchy. You’d think to alleviate this, that all the check in desks would be open and there would be a special play / interactive area for the kids. You’d think so wouldn’t you? No there’s absolutely nothing, just a snaking boring line. On the plus side there are restrooms (toilets) so if you don’t like plane toilets or prefer to go somewhere where you can breathe whilst sitting then that’s a bonus. One thing I did see which was quite good was one member of the family and the kids sat at a wall area to the left, whilst the other waited in line. This allowed the kids to either move about more freely or at least sit and relax, some were using their Virgin goody bags to play with.

*Update 2014 – There are now new biometric security desks which are MUCH quicker. My mother in law was through about 15 minutes before us despite arriving 5 minutes later to the security hall. If you have new passports you can use these desks and take advantage. Our luggage was still not there though but it meant we got through quicker than normal.


Once you get to the security desk, you will be greeted by a US Customs and Border Protection officer. He will want to check the little white sheet you filled in and your passports. In turn each of you will need to have your picture taken and finger ID scanned (thumb & finger of both hands) before he stamps your passports for approval and waves you on. A family of four generally takes about five minutes for the entire process. Word of caution, do not try to make jokes as my wife did on our first trip in 2003 asking “what’s with all these checks, it’s not like we’re carrying a bomb or something”! These guys have no sense of humour and you may find yourself in a special room with a man in latex gloves quicker than you can say pass the lube.
I am not perfect though, after asking her to carry a banana for me, I discarded it before entering the security hall as it had gone mushy. That didn’t stop the sniffer dog coming up and sitting next to my wife’s bag though, checking for fruit & veg smugglers. Needless to say she was not amused and has still not forgiven me for the near ‘touch your toes’ experience.

Baggage reclaim to main terminal

Immediately after passing the security checks you are in the main baggage reclaim area. There are only a few carousels so finding yours should be easy. By the time you clear security your bags should be there.


Then after collecting them, proceed to the centre, at the rear of baggage reclaim to hand over your white form you filled in and proceed into the next stage.

Just after you pass this check you’ll turn left and be faced with an option of either:

A = Dropping your bags here and collect them inside the main terminal when you get there
B = Taking your bags with you onto the shuttle train.

We chose A on our first trip because we knew no better and only had a few bags. Now we take them with us to the shuttle as this is a lot quicker and easier. If you do drop your bags here, be sure to listen on the shuttle to find out where to collect your bags in the main terminal (and check your way finding map – see link earlier)
If you choose B then go up the Escalator, which is next to the bag drop and you enter the station holding area:


Trains run both sides and there’s an attendant there who undoes the straps to each door when the train arrives. It doesn’t mean that the strapped side is shut as I first thought. As with most transport in America disabled guests will get priority loading before you herd on. Doors are automatic and you get all instructions in Spanish as well as English before you are gliding to the main terminal. It’s a bit like Dora The Explorer for grown ups.


Again if it’s hot you will feel it here as the shuttle is mainly glass and the aircon won’t hide the heat that much. It’s also great to see a bit of Orlando, albeit an airport, and get a taste of what’s to come. When the shuttle arrives in just over a minute, the far doors open (opposite the side you loaded) and you make your way to the exit. You will notice guards rope off passengers trying to board as this stops people getting lost or bottle necks when it’s busy.

When you pass through you’ll find yourself in this area of the airport (see picture)

This is the main way out of security and you will come back here to get back airside when you return. The floors above are offices and the hotel on site. As you walk through you will notice the shops and will see Disney / Kennedy and Universal gift shops almost straight away. I must say this is an impressive sight. Most airports don’t have anything pretty at all when you arrive, but this central atrium with fountain and views of the hotel looks great.
Your next destination will depend on whether you gave your bags in again or not. If you gave them in then you need to head to level 2, which you’ll find on the lower level, as you are currently on level 3. If you want to head for the rental desks then proceed down to level 1 with your bags to find the right hire company.
Once you get a car you will need to collect it from the car park opposite. To get here, take the nearest lift or escalator down to the tunnel to access the main car park. (If your in Terminal A just walk across the road). Hire companies take the first few floors so check the signage, although the clerk should have told you all this. You can walk across the street if you feel like it (and can brave the heat this early on.)
If you have other transport arrangements such as Disney Magical Express, hotel pick up etc. then this also is at level 1, be sure you are at the right terminal as they direct though. (DME is B terminal side)

20120817-153804.jpg (unfortunately Mickey doesn’t actually greet you)

Airport Facilities

This airport has lots to offer and is really easy to navigate. As mentioned earlier there are two terminals A and B which simply refer to one end of the airport versus the other to save you walking. The centre of the airport has a food court offering:

– McDonalds
– Nathan’s Hot Dogs
– Chick Fil-A (like KFC)
– Sbarros pizza
– Krispy Kreme Donuts
– Carvel ice cream
– Quiznos Subs
– Panda Express

There’s also a Starbucks and a Seattle’s Best around if you need a coffee fix. Shops wise you have over 30 to choose from and if you get here too early for your departure will keep you entertained for a few hours. Heres a PDF to show you what’s about :

Of course there are also the usual facilities such as cash machines (automatic tellers or ATMs) currency exchange outlet and lots of restrooms. There’s also complimentary wifi apparently, but I haven’t been able to get it to work.

Going home 😦

Important tip: Be sure to have charged all your electronics as there are virtually no sockets at the departure gates and you don’t want to run the batteries down before you board. (Although you will probably sleep most of the way home, if you are able to sleep on planes)

When driving back into Orlando International you will need to follow the signs for the rental returns area for the applicable Terminal you are flying (A = Virgin B= British Airways) it is very well signed and unless your a complete klutz will find it easily enough. For ease I recommend staying in the lane next to the far left one so you can switch easily if you need to.

This is what your looking for, hence stay close it the left lane.

Once you’ve dropped your car off, proceed to the terminal via the tunnel you used to get there. The Escalator at the far end goes straight to level 3, where you check in and drop your bags.
If you’re travelling by bus / taxi etc then you will be at level 1 and need to take the escalator or lift (elevator) to level 3. This is the same level as security and departures, so nice and easy.
Once checked in we usually grab something from the food court as this has more choice than the satellite you are departing from. We also fit in some last minute essential gift shopping.

Next you need to go to security check, which is the same area you saw when you first entered the airport (see pic above). Security here is just as slow as when you arrived and they tend to have two lines converging into one until you get to the X-ray machine. Once cleared here you then board the train to your satellite area (you will have two choices so be sure to pick the one for Gates 60~99*)
*Always check the airport information as obviously these things can change. When checking the departure boards for Virgin flights ensure you look for Virgin Atlantic as Virgin America looks very similar but obviously doesn’t fly to the UK.

When the train arrives into the satellite area you’ll see several shops and restaurants all in the main hub including:

– Burger King
– Starbucks
– Outback Steakhouse
– Duty Free
– Sunglasses International (haven’t figured out why this is here if your leaving!)

There’s a few others which you can check out on this map: http://www.orlandoairports.net/concessions/images/shopping_airside.pdf But to be honest it won’t keep you entertained for long when all you want to do now is get home. The area you will walk down to get to the gate looks like this:


Be warned there are never enough seats for passengers, especially as they put the almost identically departing 17:30 flights for Virgin and British Airways close to each other.

Other bits and bobs

OK the last bit just really refers to anything else I haven’t mentioned that you may find useful. Firstly getting out of the airport, when you in a car, is probably the hardest thing to negotiate if you don’t want to take the 417 to Disney. I go the wrong way every time. Yep it’s really easy to take the wrong slip road and I inevitably end up in the wrong lane of the four to make the correct turn. Fortunately the airport is on a ring road system so if you mess up its easy to keep going and correct later. If not, as mentioned in the driving blog, follow your compass points and aim for South, then West and you’ll pick up a landmark. If not head back to the airport and try again. Signage and the roadway has had a $5.1m improvement and is a lot easier to navigate, just keep away from the edge roads and stay close to the middle two in case you need a quick change of lane.
Don’t forget your now driving on the right and you sit on the left. Yes you will try to get in the wrong side at least half a dozen times, we all do it. Be sure to look both ways carefully, it is very easy to miss traffic to your left, where you don’t normally look.
Before stepping onto an escalator check it goes where you want as some go beyond one level at a time.
When looking for your check in desk or car hire desk it can be better to send ‘scouts’ on foot rather than take all your luggage with you first.
If you need onward travel there are plenty of taxis (usually Mears) and transfer coaches if your hotel provides them. Telephones for complimentary transfers are usually on level 1, near to the coaches, and are easy enough to find.

I hope you have found this information useful. At time of writing and my own experiences, this information was correct. When you travel ALWAYS re-check gate numbers and other important data as delays / diverts happen and airport & airline plans change.

Thanks for reading and have a great trip (I know you will!)

Walt Disney World – Driving around.

16 Aug

For your first trip to America, particularly Walt Disney World, probably the most daunting prospect (from a UK perspective) is driving on the wrong side of the road.


I mean you have heard all of the horror stories about tourists getting lost, then mugged by ‘helpful’ locals. Or the confusing signs which don’t really tell you which way to go (I partially agree with this). Some news reports in the past stated tourists were being targeted by the licence plates, giving away that they were rentals. Although this has now been stopped it is very easy to spot a rental, they are the new white cars. (I’m kidding, rentals come in all colours, some operators let you pick too)

Now to put your mind at rest, none of this is true in my experience. In fact I would go as far to say that driving in America is a lot better than the UK. Sure there a some idiosyncrasies to get used to, but most of the driving is logical and easy. Although it’s not obligatory if staying at a Disney hotel, I recommend you have a car to get about, here’s why;

– Walt Disney World is spread over 47 square miles, roughly the size of Manchester in the UK.
– Will you just stay on Disney property, use Disney transportation and do nothing else? What about Universal or Seaworld and don’t forget about the shopping!
– There are no pavements (sidewalks) in America, outside of the major cities, so simply trying to cross the road may be impossible!

If your not staying on Disney property then a car is essential. Be warned: that Disney villa you booked which is ‘minutes from Disney’ could well be 59 minutes In off peak traffic on the I4! Also that hotel offering transport to and from the parks, that could well be one shuttle to and one shuttle return per day. They don’t call it small print for nothing.

As I said earlier I prefer driving here than anywhere else. The reason I say this is firstly that all the cars are automatic. Now this makes driving much easier and is one less thing to worry about when your trying to navigate. The second reason is major routes are based on compass points, so know your East from West and your laughing. Most streets and roads are north, south, east and west, SUVs (Think big 4×4) come with an inbuilt compass, so even if you feel hopelessly lost just apply this logic and generally you will find a recognisable landmark. Yes I have used that bit of advice on many occasions.

I think the main reason though has to be the roads themselves. They are big, very big. Even some of the equivalent A roads are three lanes or more. Come to a junction and two additional lanes appear to filter the traffic and allow the main road to run freely. Each junction has traffic lights over the road, so it’s easy to see on approach and road signs so you know where you are. One slight negative is that traffic lights do seem to take ages when your waiting, so trying to avoid roads with too many has become my hobby.

The cars also are bigger generally than you find in the UK. Sure you still have familiar models such as the Focus and Fiesta (although with boots!) but there are an awful lot of the bigger SUV type car. One of the more popular types are the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban (bit longer than Tahoe). To give this some scale the Tahoe would dwarf a Range Rover, yes its that big. Is means lanes are slightly wider and importantly parking spaces are bigger. Another popular model is the Ford 350 van, this is like a stretch Transit, but has seats for the family and is a strange sight at Walmart seeing a local do their weekly shop in a van.

The main benefit of driving though is the cost of fuel! At time of writing the cost of fuel per gallon is about $3.40 compared to £1.35 a litre here, converting the US price it works out to £0.48p, nearly £1 cheaper per litre! Filling the tank from empty on my Corolla recently was $37 or £24, in the UK it costs about £70!

The road system is split into various types, as it is in the UK. The main roads are Interstates, which are similar to our motorways. They are fast (up to 65mph) have multiple lanes, usually 4 or 5, and you leave them on the right. The second class down is a state road and then a country road. The main roads you will encounter when travelling around Orlando are:

Interstate 4: This connects Daytona Beach to Tampa, effectively an East to West connection covering 132 miles. You’ll use this when driving between Disney, Seaworld, Universal, Legoland and Busch Gardens. If you make a mistake and miss your turn off, most junctions, like on UK motorways, allow you to turn off at a junction and then rejoin the other carriageway. You may also use this if you arrive at Sanford airport by driving west along Lake Mary Boulevard.

SR417: main route from Orlando International or Sanford to Walt Disney World. Fastest and most efficient route….and the most expensive. Yup this is a toll road (there’s a few) where you’ll need some change smaller than the $20 you got from the travel exchange. Be warned too, some booths are unattended on this road so you’ll need the right change.

528: the cheaper option from the 417 for Orlando International, takes a bit longer but is cheaper on fees and puts you onto the I4. WARNING: If taking the 528 from the airport (either one) and you get to the Interstate 4 junction DO NOT head to Orlando. Walt Disney World is actually located at Lake Buena Vista so when you se the option of Tampa (West) or Orlando (East) make sure you head to Tampa and turn off around junction 67. You can turn off for Disney for around three junctions so don’t panic if you miss one, unless you end up in Tampa!

535: connects Disney to the I4 and the 192. Has Walmart on it (nearest large supermarket – see separate post on this) and various eateries, especially breakfast. Also has Lake Buena Vista shopping outlet near to Walmart and further up toward the I4, turn off onto Vineland avenue for Orlando Premium Outlets. If you go too far North it becomes a country road, just turn around.

536: runs out of Disney and crosses the 535 so can be a handy route out (or in). Accessible from the 417 if you took that in.

192: runs south past Disney and great access to Wide World of Sports and Animal Kingdom. Quite a few shops and attractions along here including Medieval Times, Old Town (Saturday night cruise) as well as more shops etc.

Hints and tips:

– You can turn right on a red signal, but you must give way to oncoming traffic. The only time this is not allowed there is a sign by the light to tell you so.

– Always drive into a parking space, never reverse. In the US license plates are on the back of cars and police (sheriffs) need to check them when driving around parking lots.

– Take hotel towels with you to put on the seats (if leather), dash and trim as these get boiling in the sun. Consider buying a cheap sunscreen from Walmart to ditch at the end.

– Consider taking your sat-nav, especially if you’re bad at directions! Simply buy and download a map for North America before you go and pre-programme your destinations. This is quite often cheaper than renting a sat-nav from the hire company and you can use it again!

– When refuelling you will have at least three options of fuel as well as payment options. The fuel options relate to the octane rating and will depend upon the car you have. most will need the lowest (cheapest) octane rating 87. If you select pay in kiosk you will need to go in FIRST to pre-pay for your fuel, this is typical. If you use less than you authorised the credit is instantly applied without you returning. Some nozzles have a lock on lever which is handy and others require you to lift a lever on the pump too, before it starts. If you get stuck, ask but mostly it’s pretty straight forward.

– When leaving your car at the car park (parking lot), take a picture of your nearest reference point as you may forget later. Trying to remember Stage 47 after 12 hours can be tricky and your hire car is probably similar to thousands there.

– Usual safety advice applies in terms of don’t leave valuables on display etc.

– If you don’t have change then buy a water at the airport and ask for the change in ones and quarters to help you at the toll booths.

– When approaching a toll booth (unless your hire company specifically said you have a permit) keep right and do not go through the Sun Pass or other free access road. You’ll filter off to the right and pay at the toll booth before continuing. Remember if you go through the no pay section you may be liable for the fines under your agreement.

– One other safety point, don’t drink and drive. I don’t want to preach, but US laws are tighter in terms of blood alcohol level, so my advise is simply don’t. Speeding is usually fine as the police are scarce and seem to turn a blind eye (unless you go really silly) and best of all no fixed speed cameras.

Finally I hope you have found this article useful. To complement the advice, I recommend you read my piece on Car Hire as this too needs some careful consideration.

Walt Disney World – Car Hire minefield

12 Aug

I think the biggest challenge any (mainly European) holidaymaker has to face, once you’ve cleared security, is car hire. Of course many, staying at a Disney resort, simply board the Disney Magical express and use the free transportation for the duration of their holiday. Whilst I fully support this logical approach as it frees you up from driving (and allows you to drink), it can be quite inhibitive and contribute to becoming ‘Disneyed out’ (more on that in a future blog!) Of course if your not staying on Disney property then a car is pretty much a must have.

If you’ve not been to America before then know this simple fact – They drive EVERYWHERE. Seriously. Pavements are virtually non-existent, except where it gets you from car park to destination. I have heard tale that crossing a road at a non designated point or walking along a road is classed as a felony (crime). The other fact is Orlando is huge, it is the entertainment capital of the world with enough to keep anyone busy for at least a year or more, if you wanted. Consider also the fact that even if your staying at Disney are you likely to want to do one or more of the following:

– Seaworld
– Universal Studios (Incorporating Islands of Adventure & Harry Potter World)
– Shopping
– Kennedy Space Centre
– Busch Gardens
– Eat at a non-Disney restaurant.

When we first went to Walt Disney World in 2003 we did the full Disney experience. We stayed on property at Port Orleans, took the Disney Magical Express from Orlando International to our hotel and used the Disney Buses all the time. We also went to Seaworld for one day and to the Orlando Premium Outlets on one day. Both these trips cost about $75 each for return trips in taxis. Adding one more trip would have made it cheaper to rent than to take taxis. The main reasons I chose not to rent during our first holiday (I keep getting urges to write Vacation and earlier cabs instead of taxis!) was that driving in America scared me a bit and as this was our first trip, I knew we would spend most of our time at Disney.

Fortunately driving in the U.S is really easy so don’t worry, stay tuned as I have driving tips for the U.S to help you out at a later date. So onto the main topic of this blog, Pre-booking your car hire, once you’ve decided that this is the best route, is definitely the way to go. If your travelling from the UK (or over 8 hours travelling by air) then you will generally have been on the go for around 12~14 hours before you hit the Car Hire desks. You will be tried, excited and chomping at the bit to get your car and head off to the land of mouse for your holiday. The car hire companies know this and will play on this fact to sell you extras over your booking. Remember these are businesses and I’m sure their agents are on huge bonuses to sell you extras, so be prepared / warned.

Car Upgrade

You know what type of car you are going to need. If you generally drive a Focus then going for a similar sized car makes sense. You may wish to go for something a bit better, which I would recommend if you intend to drive a lot (i.e your staying at a non-Disney location), or simply as a treat to make this holiday that little bit more special. Main consideration is luggage space when going back to the airport, as you will have more so ensure it fits, even if your kids are cramped when a case sits between them! (it’s only a 30-40 minute trip) When you pre-book go for the one that is definitely big enough for your party and fits within your budget. If you book through a travel operator (e.g Expedia) then your basic insurances are all included too. The only extra you’ll need to consider is the pre purchase of a tank of fuel. (can you be bothered to fill before you return & like playing the how low can the needle go before I lose my bottle game!)
Whatever you book you will be encouraged to upgrade. Cardinal rule NEVER pay the rack rate they quote you. I was initially offered $30 a day to upgrade from compact to Intermediate, working out at $480 AFTER I asked for the total! To put this into perspective, when I got home I put in for a new rental of an Intermediate and it came in at £307, about $460. I refused and demanded my original car to which it was found I was on a corporate rate, having booked through British Airways and the rental was actually $3.55 per day, some 90% saving!
I think a good rule of thumb here is look for about 50% of the rack rate and you’ll be on the mark. Most will say they’re doing you a favour, this is staff rates etc. but it’s all sales talk. Just don’t get suckered in to paying over the odds for a car that’s way too big for your needs. (Why drive a full size SUV (4 x 4 in English) if you drive it twice on your trip?) Same with the convertible Mustang, yes I’ve been tempted but when can you drop the roof? Forget it in July or August as its way too hot and the air conditioning is far more desirable! I’d go for the Camaro instead.

One other warning, don’t go direct. A few years back I thought I’d be clever and book a car hire direct with an American hire firm based at the airport. The car was cheaper than booking from a UK agent / travel operator BUT what I hadn’t considered is that it didn’t come with any insurance. Once this was loaded on the car hire came out to nearly $1000 extra (with the upgrade). I cancelled this, re-booked via a UK agent and spent $500 for the whole thing (including small SUV upgrade)

My last firm, who shall remain nameless, a visual firm amongst the rental desks, was a nightmare.
I booked and paid for a sub-compact (Fiesta) via British Airways. I took along a voucher for a free upgrade to a compact car (Focus). After 5 minutes messing about she went away to check what she had as they had no compacts (shock!). After 10 minutes she came back and said they had a BMW (at which point my mind was going $$$$$$$) but no, that too had gone. I was then told they could do an Intermediate (next group up) or Full Size (think Mondeo) for $30 or $60 per day. I eventually got the Intermediate for $3.55 per day and we went on our way, opting to refuel ourselves.
We drove about 280 miles and returned the car with a full tank. When I got home I found I had been overcharged $194 for the upgrade and also $101 for fuel. On the receipt I had been billed for a full size upgrade in addition to the $3.55 I agreed. The fuel charge was due to the tank reading 2/8 according to them, even though their return receipt showed tank as full. Anyway it took WAY too many emails to get my money refunded for the overcharge, which I believe was down to simply human error. All I wanted (apart from the refund) was an apology.
Did I get an apology? No. Did I get the usual bull-pooh of we’re doing you a favour as a valued customer blah blah blah. Likelihood of me returning? About as much chance of my lottery numbers coming up next weekend…

So there you have it. I hope my experiences help you prepare for the greatest vacation you and your family are likely to take. (I’m only slightly biased). I also hired a car from Hertz with no real issue so can recommend them, but that was a while ago now so previous cautions from this post still apply. I also took one off site, which again was not a problem rental wise, it was a hassle doing a two stage bag change for us though. The cost of rental off airport is of course a lot cheaper, so if you don’t mind the double bag change then go for it.

I have tried quite a few car hire firms over my time travelling back and forth and the one which shines above all others is Budget. They are based on the airport, great value, give you an option of cars in your class (fun letting the kids decide) and also gave me a no nonsense upgrade price. Have fun and don’t forget the two parts of your drivers license!