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Old 6 Nov 21, 07:47 PM  
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moosha
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A Holly Jolly Poly Christmas - Pre-Trip Report

I've moved the full introduction to the index so if you don't know who we are you can find all the details there.

Let’s get started with the story of how we ended up with a booking for December 2021.

In late February 2020 we got back from our last Orlando trip which was a week at Universal.



At that point Covid-19 was already a thing but obviously not as serious as it was about to get. It’s funny to look back now and remember how we were asked at the boarding gate ‘Have you been to China recently?’ as the only precaution because at that point no one knew what was going to happen.

So our February 2020 trip was lovely, but we didn’t have the great weather we’d had the previous February half term, and as we’d done only Universal, we agreed our next Florida trip would be longer. We wanted the opportunity to do all the parks again, therefore writing off a return in February 2021. We’d managed to do all four Disney parks and the Universal parks in one week in February 2019 but it was full-on. I would definitely recommend February because it feels like a lovely treat in the middle of winter and really works wonders on the January blues. I expect a lot of people here like me suffered with that this year with no clarity on 2021 trips and no chance of getting away in the first few months of the year.

We knew we didn’t want a third one week trip in a row, so our Florida return was very much up in the air as we left the States in February, mainly because we had a big three week California road trip booked for August 2020. We were really going all out with that one so realistically couldn’t consider a return to Orlando until at least summer 2021.

Well we all know what happened next. In May 2020, we decided to cancel California completely, even though we didn’t know at that point what would be happening with summer holidays. We reasoned that even if things were better by late summer, we didn’t particularly want our first trip to California as a family (I went a couple of times as a teenager and Mat has been once for work) to be ‘watered-down’ with places still shut. We decided we’d prefer to go somewhere familiar for our first holiday after the pandemic. As depressing as it was to be cancelling, we cheered ourselves up by booking instead our dream Florida trip: Christmas 2020 at Walt Disney World. Something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a child.

So we cancelled our BA flydrive. BA were very helpful and efficient. I also had to cancel nine lots of accommodation which was fun, but we got all our deposits back quickly with no problems. We added our BA flydrive cancellation voucher (we’d only paid a very low deposit for California) to our new Christmas Florida flydrive which at the time of booking was Heathrow to JFK and returning Tampa to Gatwick. We prefer Tampa to Orlando but very much do not prefer Gatwick to Heathrow so we were pleased that our next flight would be from Heathrow.

We decided on two days in New York at the start of the trip (we’d been every year for the past eight years and liked the idea that we wouldn’t have to miss 2020) and booked an internal flight as part of our flydrive that I think was with Delta, from JFK to Orlando. We would then have ten days at our favourite Disney resort, the Yacht Club, booked as a package with Ultimate tickets via Disney Holidays and then a couple of nights at the Hard Rock over New Year before flying back just in time for the girls to go back to school. It sounded perfect, until it got closer and we started to realise we wouldn’t be going. The Delta internal flight got cancelled around early October and I decided we needed to start thinking about cancelling and rebooking rather than just avoiding thinking about it.

While Christmas was booked, it was always in the back of our minds that if we couldn’t go, we would stick with Orlando rather than California and rebook summer 2021. We have only visited Disney World in August as a family once, in 2018, and it was a bit of a ‘never again’ situation because of the heat and the fact it was much more crowded than we had expected. However, after the pandemic, I’m now in the ‘I don’t care what it takes anymore, I just want to get back to Florida’ camp, and I just felt grateful to be able to go at all.

I placed an August 2021 booking in October 2020 to secure what we would want to do in summer 2021 if Christmas didn’t go ahead, knowing that I could easily cancel or move it if need be. I put together another perfect trip for us for August: three weeks at Sapphire Falls, Hard Rock Hotel, Yacht Club and Polynesian Village. In late October we cancelled the Christmas booking as it was almost time to pay balances and it was pretty clear it wasn’t going to happen, and then cracked on with the rubbish long lockdown over the winter and spring and put the trip to the back of my mind until it was time to make ADRs in June.

When I booked our restaurants I still didn’t believe it would actually happen but a few weeks later just before our balances were due, there seemed to be whispers that maybe things would get moving and we could actually go. This was when the UK and US were speeding through vaccinations and our case rates were going down, plus when it seemed the traffic light system seemed like a productive thing right at the beginning. There was a couple of weeks where we were in limbo and I would swing between ‘I think we’re going to actually go’ and ‘it’s definitely not going to happen.’ I spent a lot of time on the August 2020 thread on here and as always, was massively grateful for the Dibb and having other people to chat with who felt exactly the same. Everyone on the thread’s flights started getting cancelled and I think it actually hit me that we wouldn’t be going before our own flights got pulled when I saw others go through it. There was a day where I let it all out and got upset, all the false starts having got to me and especially this one where I had actually planned days with meals and it had started to feel ‘real.’

Back in June I had booked a flydrive for October half term, Heathrow to Orlando for a week before the prices went silly. This was a back-up for August but it would be a chilled week at Universal and would only happen if August didn’t. I also booked a week at Easter 2022 but could only get Heathrow to Miami at a reasonable price, and could only book a week because my girls at different schools have completely different Easter holidays next year. I couldn’t book February half term 2022 for the same reason, for the first time the girls’ half terms are different weeks. As well as the different school holidays, Seren is now in year 11 so we had to consider her mocks and GCSEs when booking. All of this as well as the travel ban and the inflated prices because of pent-up demand from the pandemic and the shortage of hire cars meant it all seemed much more difficult than it should be.

When August 2021 cancelled, we planned to move everything to August 2022, so the October and Easter trips were just short little holidays to tide us over before we actually went back for a full on trip, and probably Universal only. And we would only be taking one of the two week long trips.

While we were waiting for our October flights to be cancelled in September, knowing it was going to happen again a few weeks before it actually did, the unexpected removal of the travel ban happened. I must admit that although I knew this was a great thing for everyone after so long, I was gutted that our October 23rd - 30th holiday dates meant we would just miss out. I did have a little cry that afternoon and then I started to wonder whether we could actually get there at Christmas. Within a couple of hours I had priced up London to Orlando and Miami for Christmas (still way too expensive especially with car hire) and then tried New York. New York was reasonable over Christmas so I suggested it to Mat who was on board. We just felt like we had to take the opportunity to get back to the US as soon as we could and we’ve always loved New York, in fact 2020 was the first year since 2011 we hadn’t visited. After I priced it up, I had to drive the girls to a dance class and then rushed home to sit down and book it with Mat hoping desperately prices wouldn’t rise in the meantime. I don’t know what made me do it, but I loaded up BA’s website and instead of putting in London to JFK, I said ‘Let’s just do one more quick look at Florida’ and put in Gatwick to Tampa.

For a week over Christmas it was coming out at £3139 for the four of us including group F car. Mat said ‘Book it!’ So I did. Compared to all the other depressing flydrive prices I’d been looking at for school holidays over the previous few months this seemed much more reasonable. (As an aside, for some reason since we booked, the price on our booking has been updated to £2559 so no idea what’s happened there apart from them applying a refunded Avios booking to the balance but I’m not complaining.)

After booking the flydrive I then set about looking at accommodation. As it was a second chance at spending Christmas at Disney World, it wasn’t going to be a Universal only trip. I played about with three nights at Universal and four nights at Disney and vice versa, and the only way I could get our favourite Universal hotel, the Hard Rock, at a reasonable enough price, was to do the first three days there and move to Disney on Christmas Day. The best news of all was that when I searched for the four nights at Disney on the Disney website it offered me the Polynesian. The hotel we’d been gutted to cancel in August and which wasn’t showing up when I’d searched for any of the other trips we’d had booked.

I booked the Hard Rock through Expedia as I always do (Quidco cashback) and Polynesian through Disney. Knowing we had the flights, car and accommodation booked I decided to leave it at that for a few weeks because of the uncertainty around whether teenagers would be allowed in not being double jabbed. That was a very long few weeks, and during that time again I was very grateful for the Dibb to be able to chat about it with others in the same position and share any little bits of information we found. Mentally I kept switching between ‘It will be fine, we’ll be going’ and ‘Of course they’re not going to let our single jabbed girls in.’ We had Disneyland Paris booked for over Christmas before the borders announcement so we had a back up and at least knew we would be in a Disney park on Christmas Day, but I just wanted to know which country we’d be in so I could get on with planning and booking.

I was trying to avoid buying park tickets until we knew if we were definitely going so there was a bit of a game of chicken going on for a while with me holding out and checking park pass availability to make sure we could still book Disney parks once I did purchase tickets. Initially we were hoping for Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day but in early October when we were discussing park reservations and ADRs in the Christmas planning thread, someone mentioned that Christmas Day had sold out. It had only happened in the few days previous because I’d only recently checked availability, but it pushed me to crack on and buy our Disney tickets so I could make our park pass reservations.

I did a bit of research and went for 7 day Ultimates from Attraction Tickets (used them before, always happy with their prices and service) with £15 covid cover in case we needed to get a refund. These were the cheapest prices I could find and I used the Dibb £10 discount too. Within two days of buying them I had made our park reservations. I had initially been a bit disappointed about not going to Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day but we made a back-up plan of going to Animal Kingdom and all quickly got excited about this idea. We’re expecting it to be a little bit quieter at DAK than it would be at MK and we’re going to go to Disney Springs for dinner and for the evening.

I booked The Edison as a back-up Christmas Day dinner around the time I made the park reservations because our first choice, House of Blues (who doesn’t love an Impossible burger for Christmas dinner?) was not yet taking reservations that far out. A couple of weeks later I booked our Universal (CityWalk) restaurants via the Universal website. We’re at Universal 23rd and 24th December and I didn’t have any problems booking our restaurant choices at near enough the times we wanted.

ADR day was last week and I didn’t quite get everything exactly as I wanted. I think this is because of how busy Christmas is, the fact that restaurants aren’t at full capacity yet and also because our ADR window didn’t open until Christmas Day as that’s our Disney arrival day, so we were behind on-site guests arriving in the lead up to Christmas when you take into account the +10 days.

Unfortunately ADR day clashed with a family day out in Brighton so I was sat in Starbucks with clenched teeth switching between Starbucks’ not great wifi and my slightly rubbish in that area 4G combined with Disney’s famously glitchy website. Because of the lack of availability, we’re eating at slightly odd times in some places. Our ‘lunch’ at Beaches and Cream is at 4 pm, the earliest dinner I could get at Rose and Crown on our Epcot evening was 8 pm and I didn’t manage to get anything at Sci-Fi Diner across any of our four Disney days so had to give up on that one until next trip. I really wanted ‘Ohana dinner now they have a vegan option as we’ve only been for breakfast before and, well, I don’t think we’ll have many opportunities to stay at the Polynesian in the near future judging by how difficult it is to book so I wanted to take advantage of being able to just walk back upstairs afterwards. Again I couldn’t get anything on ADR day for any of our four Disney days but I tried again the following day and a 9.45 pm appeared. I lost it before I could complete the reservation and kept losing similarly timed bookings that popped up (it happened about five times) before I finally confirmed a 9.55 pm. My plan is that we’ll arrive around 9.30 and grab a drink in the lounge outside the restaurant in the hopes of getting in a little bit earlier (they close at 10 so hopefully staff will be keen to seat us asap.)

So our restaurant bookings are:

House of Blues
Antojitos
The Cowfish
Hard Rock Cafe
Tiffins
The Edison
Liberty Tree Tavern
Skipper Canteen
Rose & Crown
Beaches and Cream
‘Ohana

I also have two bookings at Oga’s Cantina on different days and just need to work out which will work best with our plans. We will also have Blaze pizza one day (can’t go to Orlando and not do that). Our restaurant choices might seem a bit obscure or unpopular with a lot of people but Mat, Seren and I are all vegan plus Freya is pescatarian and they’re all pretty good choices for vegans.

New to the parks for us this trip are Galaxy’s Edge, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure (which we have done at DLP), Minnie & Mickey’s Runaway Railway and Velocicoaster. Also new is that Freya has now left Team Wimp (Mat and I) and moved to Team Daredevil (Seren.) This was thanks to a couple of trips to Thorpe Park this year where she went on all the big rollercoasters because she didn’t want to look a wimp in front of friends including this monstrosity (photo from thorpepark.com) :




She also did all the horrific looking rides at Flambards in Cornwall and on Brighton Pier this summer:





A few years ago she struggled with Haunted Mansion and especially Tower of Terror so this is quite a turnaround for her. In 2020 she braved Rip Ride Rockit for the first time which Seren was super excited about as she’d had to ride alone previously. But now I think she’s pretty much up for everything at Disney and Universal which Mat is also happy about as he’s been dragged on some things he’d very much prefer not to ride (aforementioned Tower of Terror and Dr Doom’s Fearfall to name two. I absolutely don’t do drop towers.) So hopefully that will mean less stress over who gets to / doesn’t get to ride what they do / don’t want to, and more time for Mat and I to just sit down and chill (hopefully with coffee or cocktail in hand) while the girls have fun doing the scarier rides.

We are prepared for it being very busy, we’ve done Easter a few times so we know what it’s like in the parks when it’s really busy. We’ve decided to make a list of must-dos and then accept that anything we do on top of that is a bonus. We will have the benefit of Express Pass at Universal and will definitely take advantage of the 30 minute daily early entry for resort guests at Disney, plus extra hours at Epcot one night. I’ve been spending a lot of time watching YouTube videos about Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane attractions and I think we will use them some of the time but I’m not buying everything every day just because it’s a busy time of year. Rise of the Resistance is a must-do that I will pay for and I’m glad the previous nightmare boarding group situation is no more for our first time trying to ride.

We definitely want time to relax and just take in the sights and sounds and appreciate being back there. Some of our must-dos besides high priority rides are to visit the gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian and the gingerbread carousel at the Beach Club, Seren wants to see some of the character cavalcades that have replaced parades, and we have some snacks and cocktails on the list that are pretty high priority. Because we’re returning for a longer holiday next summer I don’t feel as much pressure to do everything.

Besides making lists of what to take, buying a few bits, making the essential holiday car playlist and packing, the other things we still have to do are:

Estas
Covid tests
Taxi to Gatwick
Universal tickets
Cattery for our four cats (I think although Mat may have already done this)
Magic Bands
Dig out the FairFX cards and passports which have been gathering dust

Thanks for reading this rather overly long pre-trip report….it’s all starting to feel real now .

*Pre-travel day update in post 21*

Edited at 10:39 PM.
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Old 6 Nov 21, 08:05 PM  
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Twinkle-Dolphin
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Can’t wait to read more
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Old 6 Nov 21, 08:31 PM  
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Wow - read this and completely reminded me of my own 2 years of cancellations and rebookings. We are now lucky enough to hopefully be going out for a Christmas visit too although I won't believe it till we get there! We have been for Christmas before - very busy but absolutely amazing! Have a really wonderful time
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Old 6 Nov 21, 09:04 PM  
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How exciting, we are also there for Xmas actually flying on Xmas day! Can’t wait to start reading trip reports again!
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Old 6 Nov 21, 10:20 PM  
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I think yours was the last trip report I remember reading pre covid Michelle and thinking how “normal” it all seemed when everything was very not normal at home. So glad to see you’re one of the first Dibbers back out there too!

I’ve said it many times but love seeing how your girls have grown in your trippies through the years. Particularly as I’ll be taking my two for the first time in May.

All this school holidays talk is filling me with a bit of dread for the years to come - how do you cope with two at two schools?

Your ADRs look brill. I’ve read about ohana taking walk ups semi recently so May be worth bobbing down a few times if you’re staying there, although I’m sure Christmas will be Uber busy and you’re happy with the ressie you’ve got.

Happy planning xx
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Old 6 Nov 21, 11:16 PM  
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How fantastic. Quite right to rebook. I’d have loved to have done Christmas this year but we’ve rebooked for Feb, Jul and Oct so can’t complain😂

Sounds like you have a great plan for Christmas and pretty reasonable expectations. I was a bit unsure of what it would actually be like over Christmas when we went in 2018, we did 24/12 to 4/1, I read so many negative comments before we went but we loved our Christmas trip and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Hope you have an amazing time.
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Old 7 Nov 21, 09:36 AM  
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Sounds great, Christmas out there is def on the bucket list for us. Seems overwhelming because of how busy it is but like your attitude of deciding on the must dos and everything else is a bonus.

Side note could you send us a few bottles of water from your fountain of youth? 😀
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Old 7 Nov 21, 09:50 AM  
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Your first Christmas in Orlando is going to be magical! We've all kicked the can down the road, cancelling and re booking many times. I'm so glad you're able to travel so soon and I can't wait to read all about it.
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Old 8 Nov 21, 03:03 PM  
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Originally Posted by Twinkle-Dolphin View Post
Can’t wait to read more
Thanks for reading and commenting 😊

Originally Posted by Buggles94 View Post
Wow - read this and completely reminded me of my own 2 years of cancellations and rebookings. We are now lucky enough to hopefully be going out for a Christmas visit too although I won't believe it till we get there! We have been for Christmas before - very busy but absolutely amazing! Have a really wonderful time
It’s been rough hasn’t it? So happy that people are starting to head back out there today . I know what you mean, it feels real to me to a point but until I’m sat on that plane I still won’t 100% believe it’s happening 😂.

Glad you had an amazing time when you went for Christmas before and that the crowds didn’t put you off doing it again 😬 Hope you have a fantastic time too 😊.

Originally Posted by danisleigh View Post
How exciting, we are also there for Xmas actually flying on Xmas day! Can’t wait to start reading trip reports again!
Amazing! Have a fab trip and yes, I can’t wait to start reading trip reports too (and writing mine) 😂.
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Old 8 Nov 21, 03:27 PM  
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Originally Posted by sheluk View Post
I think yours was the last trip report I remember reading pre covid Michelle and thinking how “normal” it all seemed when everything was very not normal at home. So glad to see you’re one of the first Dibbers back out there too!

I’ve said it many times but love seeing how your girls have grown in your trippies through the years. Particularly as I’ll be taking my two for the first time in May.

All this school holidays talk is filling me with a bit of dread for the years to come - how do you cope with two at two schools?

Your ADRs look brill. I’ve read about ohana taking walk ups semi recently so May be worth bobbing down a few times if you’re staying there, although I’m sure Christmas will be Uber busy and you’re happy with the ressie you’ve got.

Happy planning xx
Aww thank you Michelle, I know what you mean, it was weird going at February half term last year because while we were there it was as if covid didn’t exist but as soon as we got back things obviously changed very quickly. It occurred to me the other day how lucky we are that we got to go in 2020 and 2021 (obviously with a lot of cancellations in between.)

Yes the girls have definitely grown up a lot, even since last year’s report which obviously you’ll have seen from Instagram anyway. Freya is very much the typical grumpy goth teenager at the moment so I know everyone says it but treasure this time while your two little angels are small, make lots of memories and take lots of photos! How exciting that you’re taking them for their first trip next May .

To be honest, it’s only really recently that the girls’ schools have had different holidays but it’s not great. I would love to be able to go when it’s quiet and cheaper but I know we’re only a few years away from that again but that’s depressing in itself as it means the girls will be grown . So I’m not going to moan about having to squeeze in a week here and there at half terms or because of exams . Enjoy any flexibility you have though!

Thanks for the tip about ‘Ohana. Seren’s convinced we will walk in at 9.55 and they’ll shut up at 10 and throw us out without any food 😂 (obviously I’ve told her that’s not the case). But I think showing up a bit earlier when we’re done at Magic Kingdom may mean it doesn’t work out to be too late when we eat as I guess the CMs will want to get home.

Thanks as always for reading and commenting xx

Originally Posted by Rescuer View Post
How fantastic. Quite right to rebook. I’d have loved to have done Christmas this year but we’ve rebooked for Feb, Jul and Oct so can’t complain😂

Sounds like you have a great plan for Christmas and pretty reasonable expectations. I was a bit unsure of what it would actually be like over Christmas when we went in 2018, we did 24/12 to 4/1, I read so many negative comments before we went but we loved our Christmas trip and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Hope you have an amazing time.
Wow, Feb, Jul and Oct sounds fab, I guess we all have some catching up to do on the trips we’ve missed . So glad to hear you had a great time at Christmas in 2018 and would do it again.

Thanks for following along .

Originally Posted by landandword17 View Post
Sounds great, Christmas out there is def on the bucket list for us. Seems overwhelming because of how busy it is but like your attitude of deciding on the must dos and everything else is a bonus.

Side note could you send us a few bottles of water from your fountain of youth? 😀
Yes, I definitely think being reasonable about how much we can get done in a week at the busiest time of year is the way to go. Just being at Disney and taking in the sights and sounds is going to be magical enough I know .

Thanks for making my day but honestly Snapchat filters work miracles 😂.

Thanks for reading and commenting .

Originally Posted by Goldia View Post
Your first Christmas in Orlando is going to be magical! We've all kicked the can down the road, cancelling and re booking many times. I'm so glad you're able to travel so soon and I can't wait to read all about it.
Aww thank you Abby, I can’t wait 😃. The cancelling and rebooking seemed never-ending for a while there 😫. Hope it’s not too long until you guys get out there again too,
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