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Unread 26 Jun 19, 03:42 PM  
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Tea
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The Trip that nearly wasn't

Instead of doing a massive trippy I am going to post highlights, tips, highs and lows.

Date: June 2019
Accommodation: Wyndham Garden Hotel, AoA and Dibb Villa

We did the following:
- 1 day MK, 1 day AK on base passes. Bought with Musement, 10% off. Whatsapp was the quickest and most convenient way to reach their customer service. I bought these less than a week to go and they were quite slow to send them out, a few friendly prompts on Whatsapp sorted it out very quickly. They also refunded me the 10% discount when it didn't go through. Would use again.

- 3 Park Explorer- again used Musement, 10% discount.

- Floridatix- KSC tickets for adults. Excellent customer service. Best price I could find

- ATD: KSC kids tickets. Pain in the rear payment system if not booking online, which required me to use a VPN to pay as I was already in the US, bit of a faff. this was via UK customer service line.
ATD: special offer link from Dibb for 3 in 1 Icon, Tussauds and Sealife ticket. Well worth it for that price. Paid over the phone for this one in Ireland and it was far easier.

- Booking.com: Booked Wyndham and it was cheapest including the resort fee and so on. They (booking dot com) sent me on links to their activities and it gave me a great price of $10 pp for Starflyer so DS and I did that (not really worth it and glad I didn't pay more, 2 mins ride max)

- Priceline for AoA- it was the mystery hotel and it was a bit of a gamble but with great help from a Dibber, got a great price of $75 per night.

- Villa- fab as always.

- Car: Alamo. No problems at all and free upgrade from full size SUV to luxury SUV.

Lots of hassle with this trip that I am not going to go into again, but it panned out at the 11th hour. It meant a lot of work for last minute planning, FP+ booking and paperwork, which was nervewracking but it can be done and it was still fun to plan.

Flights: Outbound: Virgin. Inbound: Thomas Cook.

I had booked initially on the glitch from Belfast with Virgin but had to ditch the return flights. Virgin was fantastic. We flew in the bubble and I absolutely loved it. Service was excellent. Food was ok.

Thomas Cook: Customer service in the airport (by 3rd party agents, presumably) was excellent. Onboard was rather lacking. Very little drinks, water, hardly any movies (we slept so not a big issue), food was better actually, but cabin crew were clearly paying for the earphones and water out of their own pocket...

Restaurants Highs and Lows and So Sos

Highs:
Kobe: Fantastic night. Chef was very funny, great "show" and food was excellent. No issue prepping GF food for me.

Chick FilA: I know this isnt a restaurant with service as such, but the food quality is always very good, prices too, and the customer service behind the till is very good, free refills too.

Cold Stone: Love it, (geddit? ) and the staff are very patient. Often they leave off a topping as well at the till. I am fairly sure they used to have a tip jar but it's gone, so it isn't for that reason.

Outback: excellent meal here this time even if server was a little absent. Cocktail was passable.

Satuli canteen , AK: Got the mix bowl as recommended on DFB and was excellent quality. Tasty, healthy and delicious, reasonable cost for a theme park and real tableware/ cutlery. (In contrast see Lows)

Bahama Breeze: hadn't been to impressed here on previous visits but had a good attentive server, good food. Cocktail was ok.

SoSos:
Cici's: I actually think Cicis is ok. It's cheap and plentiful even if the surroundings can sometimes be a bit grotty. My younger kids adore it and would go here every single night if they could. The issue for me is that I can't eat there- but TBF to them they never make me pay at the till or anything. The drinks machines often had several drinks not available/ working and the toilets are a bit grim.

Unos: A good meal, nice choices now inc for vegans and coeliacs. the so so comes from the fact that it was freezing and we asked them several times to turn it down but they didn't. The server kept running by and we had to rugby tackle for more drinks. Cocktail was meh.

Hurricane Wild Wings: Sad that this is going into my so so and I think I am being overly critical - but just felt standard had slipped. it wasn't bad by any means- it was still delicious, but just wasn't feeling it as per previous visits. Cocktail was ok.

Teak: Again I am being critical here. Our server was amazing. She was flying it on the drinks refills and we never wanted for anything , really friendly, as was everyone we met in there. Food was good but not great. TBH I think that about most food in Orlando, so I am not writing these places off by any means- we will visit again on subsequent trips, just not stand out like the "highs".

Hash House a go go: we loved it here last time we visited it so was expecting amazing things. A bit like Hurricane, I felt it had slipped a bit, food was ok/ good. Server was ok. he said I could have a salad as an Appetizer and then brought something totally different.. when I asked for the salad I had requested, he said it was only available as a entre- so I ended up with 2 main courses which was far too much food. We got the voucher from travelzoo ($29 for $50 of food and we used 2 on the one visit which made it excellent value)

Lows:
Sugar Factory: While the burger here was the best I had tasted all trip(when I finally got it), and DS agreed burgers were fab, the service here was extremely lacking. I left a tip but it killed me to do it.

For starters, the place was arctically cold. Glacial. Kids had to go outside at one stage to warm up.
They have no kids menu at all, which shows what sort of clientele they are aiming at but ironically there were loads of families.
It is all fur coat and no knickers-all these photos of celebs, sod all food and tonnes of booze. It is also unbelievably loud. Style over substance.
Clearly they are aiming at the selfie / Insta generation; there was plenty of (presumably) famous young women sucking lollipops on the walls.
Server was a total doze. I asked her if she could do the burger with a GF bun. She came back and said all the buns were GF. I was a bit dubious, but as this was a faddy "cool" (har har) place I thought it might be the case.
When the food came out, I just had a funny feeling about it. I asked a server who was passing by about it and he went to check. he came back very apologetic but said that it wasn't GF. Thank goodness I hadn't bitten into it.
He said he would get the manager over and my server. She came over after a few minutes- no apology but just would I like a salad instead.
I asked for the burger on a bed of salad/ lettuce. By the time this came out, the kids had finished their food and were penguins so I had to scoff it.
I went up to the manager as he had never come down. he was apologetic but fairly nonplussed that his staff had nearly caused me a day in bed. He had already authorised the server to take the burger off the bill, which I felt was rather ungenerous given the state of affairs.
The food was very good quality however, and the cocktail was phenomenal.

Blaze: We went one the first night and the place was a freaking zoo. It was like a chimps tea party, food, people, buzzers everywhere. OMG. I got a GF pizza and am shocked I wasn't poisoned tbh with the level of cross contamination. Kids loved it and pizzas are nice for the price.

Harambe market: some of us opted for the chicken or ribs bowls here. Absolutely terrible in comparison to Satuli. Very bland, boring and small portions. Did Mobile Order as did with SAtuli (speedy mobile order there; great) and the food took 35 minutes to come out. It is outside seating so no relief from the heat, and (yes I appreciate it is nature and they are everywhere) but DD saw a rat in the food area.

We got a dole whip from Tamu TAmu afterwards and felt very ripped off- easily half the size of the one we got in Marketplace Snacks in DS for the same price.

Edited at 06:15 PM. Reason: Adding more info bit by bit
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Unread 26 Jun 19, 04:28 PM  
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Weather: First week was hot but overcast a lot which was welcome to acclimatise. We had a few real wash out days and I was on the verge of vowing never to go in the summer again, when we had a few lovely scorchers in the last week.

Parks:
Felt many of the Disney staff were really dead behind the eyes this time- they may need to look at their organisational culture as it is starting to become more and more apparent IMO. Universal staff seemed a lot more with it (except for, irony, Guest Services, see below)

We did one day MK and it was park open to park close which was pretty intense. We took it easy and took lots of time outs in the form of water breaks, and attractions which the kids had never done like Country Bears and Carousel of Progress. We made full use of FP.

There was a huge downpour and park cleared a little which was helpful in trying to squash more stuff in.

AK: saw Divine again- you have to check with CMs when she comes out- I adore Divine.

We got loads done here too but it poured at 2pm until 7pm so we left about 3.30 which, on a one day base ticket with no chance for a do-over, gave me palpitations. We had done most of the rides but none of the trails, and kids were being seriously grumpy anyway- and by the time we went back in the evening, they were shut.

Next time, I would do a few headliners, then trails, then FP for lesser headliners. There isn't a whole lot in AK that needs FP once you have Pandora out of the way (We did FOP on DAS return time, then FP for Navi, Kali and KS, went to Everest after Pandora so walk on, and so on ... and went again in evening after downpour so again walk on, the rest were low waits as we rode in the morning). We went to the later showing of ROL and it was empty (rain helped)- sad that umbrella lady is gone- when did she leave?

Kids got a lot more out of the Wilderness Explorer this time as they are a little older.

US/ IOA: The first day we went to US (9th June) was a Sunday and it was remarkably uncrowded. We rode everything with low/ no wait and left the park at 5 p.m all done.

When we went back subsequently it was far busier as was IOA. In the end, especially with mine being late risers/ night owls, we would go after 6pm for a few hours and take advantage of lower wait times then.

We got on Hagrids after 3 attempts on our last night. We had AAP. The system was thus: Queue or after the first few days, single rider (which apparently was no advantage and queue was as long). No express pass.
For AAP, even if the ride was showing as "At Capacity", they would still let you on. You went through the exit / Express and queued. The ride broke down a fair bit and weather stops it too. On the night we got to ride, it was up and running, it was at capacity and we waited 45 mins. Very good ride; probably would not go over my max queue time of 30 mins to ride though- very few rides I would bar possibly Mako (exception made for DS who is recipient of AAP who "had" to ride it and spoke of nothing else in advance of the holiday).

Very frustrating experiences with Guest Services at IOA. On first day, we were told AAP would be valid etc etc. Part way through the holiday, we were told at the ride entrance that there was an issue. I explained to staff member that GS had told me it would be fine... no dice. I went to GS near Spidey. He was very nice but told me I would need my tickets. I had to walk all the way back and get tickets. Then asked a staff member if any other GS- and was told one near Jurassic Park... went there and queued again to be told... you need tickets AND i.d.
Went back to get I.D to be told that the wait time I had on the current AAP that needed changing would be lost if he changed it. :Could he not have told me this beforehand?! At this stage I had lost an hour running back and forth. We used the return time we had and went back. Luckily (for him!) it was a different staff member. I think he was just doing a computer says no routine to irritate me. He gave me dribs and drabs of info and then sat there impassively when I started getting upset.

A very odd experience as well at the talking fountain. I asked DS (13) to go up and ask when he might get to ride on Hagrids. Instead of coming back with a funny answer, he came back with "We have to look out for your safety and if the ride breaks down, we need to ensure that our guests... " I was sort of expecting a joke response instead of a Health and Safety lecture. This was on the back of a hilarious exchange with other guests on the meaning of life (it's 42)
I heard a similar question to ours being asked to a female fountain the next evening and it was a much wittier response.

Other than that, excellent time and very good staff members at the US suite of parks. Theming at HP area is a match for any at Disney, we had good food at Simpson land (tacos at Bumblebee) and the tickets are less expensive. The free parking after 6pm is a huge bonus too esp when parks open til 10pm

VB: Such a frustrating park. theming is beautiful but this makes it very hard to see where the rides are and the signage is terrible. They actually have paper maps if you ask I discovered on the 2nd day as there are not enough maps dotted around the park at all.

The beach is very crowded and the chairs are extremely close together.

The names of the slides are very confusing.

The tapu tapu is not a good system, IMO. We arrived early one morning to find 40+ minutes for everything bar Puihi. We tapped in to one, and by the time we had ridden it, everything else was 60+ minutes. We tapped into the 2nd one (and don't forget this requires physically walking over to the ride and tapping in before retreating all the way back to wave pool/ lazy river) and waited another hour... there are only so many times you can circle around the wave pool. It poured at lunch time and we waited, rode one more ride, it rained again and we gave up. The poor signage meant that except for a kind and observant staff member who overheard us, we would have been circling around this large park all day... he heard me saying to kids that we would need to walk around the park to X ride and he told us that there was a shortcut through the volcano... (there is zero signage for this )

2nd day was worse again. Rode 2 things (our fault for arriving a bit later), massive downpour and left.

One day we waited at the villa til AFTER the downpour and rode everything in record time.


Other stuff:
There is something about DS that it traps the heat. It was very warm this time. NB the shops don't open til 10 or 11 and the ferries to POR don't start til then either...as we found out when trying to go for brekkie. Some of the shops aren't as pricey as I thought. I got a dress with a pattern I preferred in Columbia for only $5 more than the outlets (same dress, different pattern)

We did the Surrey Bike. I was the only adult and I got a good work out! THis was super fun. Loved it. Love POR and had a fab brekkie there.

KSC was good but I think my younger ones are still a bit too young. Again it poured so we were running from exhibit to exhibit. Very interesting but a little hard for the younger ones to conceptualise.

Void: the lads said it was fun but definitely over priced

AMC Dine in: food is passable and the seats are super comfy. Watched Toy Story 4. A good concept and fun evening.

AoA: Kids had great fun at the animation classes. Dead-behind-eyes CM did complex characters on both occasions, in record time, but they still managed to get funny drawings done.

HAving the lifeguards at AoA vs Wyndham is very relaxing

Wyndham location could not have been better- the walk to DS was less then 5 mins. Also, I dropped back the hire car after the airport run to the Hilton adjacent to it and told reception and was only charged one night's parking

Used the services of Debbie (angelbabe) and she was fantastic. Excellent customer service. Buying stuff online saves time and there are very good bargains to be had online.

Tips:

Keep at it with FP. I only got my Disney tickets a few days before I visited each park (MK and AK only) and still managed to get everything I wanted at times that I wanted- with a lot of app tapping- bar FOP and 7DMT.
I tapped on the FP I wanted and then relentlessly refreshed the app til I got it back to times that I wanted (note that this was done over 3 days, and I talking about a LOT of refreshing in some cases). can be a bit annoying but paid off as I got all the FP I wanted for morning times so I could go get 4th, 5th etc FP (and did the same with these too).

Go to parks after a big downpour. VB was annoying me with the long wait times and inability to queue for more than one thing at a time (unlike e.g. Disney, where in essence, you are "queuing" for 3 things with FP and then can also get in a physical queue) . We went after a massive thunderstorm. Arrived after 6pm (no parking charges) and got on all the rides as park was deserted. It is also really pretty at night with the volcano lit up. Similar experience at US parks and AK.

Get to Kelly Springs early. They only let 200 or so cars in for the day. once it's full, that is it. When it opens at 8 a.m., it could be full by 09.30

I know some people swear by water shoes and the ground at VB was sizzling... but you have to remove them at most rides which can be a bit of a faff (esp if assisting smallies) so cheap 1 flip flops from Primark might be easier to just pop on and off

Don't forget your coupons: I had a VIP Dine card that I got on groupon (lots of ticket companies give them for free too ). Forgot to use it at Teak but server was lovely so I don't mind. The VIP card takes off 15% of food most cases, so the saving covers the best part of the cost of the tip which is great.

Parks no longer consider lost MBs as a lost item- I asked a CM but he said as so many get lost now they really just chuck them out rather than bringing to lost property . We lost 2 (one in MK and one in VB) and got neither back. Make sure they are fastened properly!
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Edited at 05:52 PM.
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Unread 26 Jun 19, 04:36 PM  
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Thanks for sharing great report
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Unread 26 Jun 19, 05:48 PM  
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OK, it is rather longer than I thought. Few more edits to come including photos.
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Unread 26 Jun 19, 06:44 PM  
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In the Bubble. I now know what the fuss was about!


Enjoying a (large) dole whip at DS


Boxing clever with great value 3 in 1 tickets for Tussauds, Sea Life and Icon


Main St transportation. Something weve never done and part of a more relaxed attitude (on my part- planning Sergeant Major). Cm was amused... you know this brings you to the front of the park and its one way!?! (It was 9am)


My favorite photo of the trip. Its so rare to get a photo of DS looking happy and carefree. BTMR



We did it! Park open to close. 8 am to 1.30 am


Just a little snack, boys 🎼



Fab cocktail at the sugar factory. Bring a coat.


Divine. So elegant.


AK selfie of sorts


VB is v. Pretty at night. Open late ; nice change from TL and BB that close so early.
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Unread 27 Jun 19, 03:39 PM  
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We don't like blaze at all!... I told you so lol. Love the pictures
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Unread 27 Jun 19, 08:37 PM  
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Great report
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Our WDW Holiday.Return visit
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Unread 27 Jun 19, 09:33 PM  
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I'm glad it all worked out for you in the end and that there were more highs than lows. Looks like you all had a fantastic time creating new memories. Thanks for sharing.
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