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Unread 4 May 19, 02:14 PM  
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Making a Florida Fanatic 2020 Pre-Trip Report - 07/03 update (ADRs)

Making a Florida Fanatic
August 2020 Pre Trip Report

Coming back after four years away...

Spring 2017, I was wearing my mums apron pulling old wine boxes out from under my parents bed
I was staying at my parents home for a while, on leave from work after the breakdown of my marriage. Id stopped writing my trip report of course. And somewhere in the back of my mind reluctantly - I was beginning to acknowledge that I would never go back to Florida.

Id told my mum ages ago that we would have to digitalise her old photographs. My parents have boxes and boxes of them, and I dread the day, long from now, when Ill have to decide whether to keep them for my parents sake, or bin them because I cant recognise the faces in the pictures.

So, Id been sorting through them for two days. Checking names and faces and places with my mum and writing on the back of each one. I found a pack of photos that were all misfiled. And then I found this: -
Disney, 1991 Liberty Boat

It was the only one in the pack, so I searched until I found the set. Our old Disney pictures were stacked neatly in a repurposed box for J.P. CHENET Blanc de Blancs.

To be honest, when I found that box, I felt relieved. Returning to the excitement of Florida is like returning to sweet childhood but Id lost sight of that by avoiding the more recent memories Id made there with my ex husband. The photos altered my perspective by reminding me that my childhood memories were more important than the ones I'd made when I was married. Which meant I could go back.

The renewed prospect of a Disney holiday was rejuvenating. I moved to a new house and got a new job. I even made plans for a trip for me and my mum to have a girls week in the Magic Kingdom - at least until my mum admitted that she couldnt go back now that everything had changed since our first family trip.

I worked and saved until Christmas 2017 when, by chance, I met Michael. Life has not been the same since.

Its nearly four years since I was in Florida.
Summer 2018, Id worked on a few big projects and Michael had the patience of a saint, whilst I turned our living room into an office for my work. I asked if hed like to go on a cheap holiday to celebrate the end of my hard work and his tolerance.
It was at this point that Michael confessed that hed never been on holiday before.


Yes, hes never left the country. Ever.

Hes never been as far as London or Scotland.

Hes never been in a plane.

Hes never touched a palm tree .

Where do you take someone who's never been anywhere?

We considered a weekend in London

And we looked at a week in Benidorm.

We watched the Disney World advert on TV.
How do you feel about visiting Florida with me in 2020?
It just gets blurted out and, of course, hes onto me and my Florida obsession by this point in the relationship and he says:-
Yeah of course
Obviously, I make sure hes absolutely serious first and then - Quick return to the Dibb to announce that Im back and I have a new countdown I start planning.
Introductions please *drumroll*
<<<<<< Samantha. I am the planner, note taker, photographer, guide, visionary. I am most looking forward to spending more time in Animal Kingdom and watching my partners face when we fly above the clouds. I will be 31 when we fly in 2020.

>>>>>>>> May I introduce Michael? . 36 years old. He likes Harry Potter and vaguely remembers a few Disney films. Hes had the entire Star Wars collection forced on him for his improvement (erm). Michael has become a keen follower of the Disney Food Blog. Hes one of the most generous people I have ever met.

Making a new plan...
Which brings me to the few considerations and challenges for this trip. Michael is a holiday virgin and, obviously, I want this trip to pave the way for repeat trips . It would be wonderful if Michael wanted to return to Florida. So, my plan will incorporate things that I think he will want to do again.

And this is the inspiration for the title of this report: The Making of a Florida Fanatic.

Oh, and by the way: I became Michael's wife on 19th October 2019 .

We had the most beautiful, intimate day. With no specific honeymoon in mind, we have decided to continue our celebration when we visit Florida.

We started with three weeks. I dont want to offend anyone, but I get a holiday every three years. Three weeks does it for me. Not two.

We decided to try and plan for August 2020. Although, it took a while for Michael to get his head around waiting that long for a holiday. August is my preferred time of year. I love the heat, even if it hates me. Michael was confident about coping with the climate (I tested him in the greenhouses at Tropical World ) and really didnt want to go when it wasnt warm enough to swim. Which is weird, because he cannot speak from experience.

Were now in 2020 and its been three whole years since I found that photograph and decided to return home.

OMG its booked
Three-year waits for Florida are part of my everyday life. Countdowns keep me ticking in a stressful job. But, for Michael, even waiting a year to book was exhausting. It took stints of the Disney Food Blog to keep him happy .

We priced up holidays in January 2019 and visited Thomas Cook for a quote when prices for 2020 were finally being released by them. Thomas Cook usually released their flight prices very early. At this point, I received a quote of roughly 13,295 to include all the details below. January was a frustrating time for Michael, after I explained that Easter (a whole four months away!) was actually the best time to book for Free Dining. We were desperate for a countdown by then. When April arrived, we made an appointment to return on the 11th but were called by TC to come and book on the 27th, after the official release dates were announced.

So, it was honestly a relief when the day finally arrived to put some kind of a deposit down. I checked the prices in the morning, with various travel agents, before going into TC. The surge in flight costs (which were TC flights) meant that the holiday had increased by 1000. I was concerned that things were getting a bit silly even for a trip this special.

Michaels excitement in the TC store was palpable. I gifted him the full experience by asking him to pay the deposit.
Im joking. Its a joined account.

We had a slight blip when our agent announced that there were no rooms in our preferred hotel, so we tweaked our original dates and ended up with a booking that begins on the 9th August and sees us fly home on the 30th.

And the cost folks?

The cost was 1000 cheaper.
Update following Thomas Cook collapse:
As soon as Thomas Cook started to appear in the news, we checked it every day, trying to stay one step ahead. According to the internet, the flight prices were predicted to increase dramatically if the company failed.

On Saturday 21st September, Michael was glued to the news. The general consensus was that the company were going to go into liquidation, so that evening we had a conversation about whether it was worth the risk to book another holiday on Sunday, before the announcement was due to be made. The maximum we could have lost at this point was just short of 500, if the company survived.

On Sunday, we took the plunge and visited Tui. Despite being able to book three week holidays with Tui in the past, we were told that they could no longer accommodate us.

So, we went to Virgin instead. I have never booked with Virgin. Ever. I have never been able to afford their prices. After pricing everything up separately online, we decided to go in there with a quote in mind, and to make it clear that we could not afford to pay more than that amount. The quote was just short of the original cost of our Thomas Cook holiday.

We got very lucky with Virgin. They were very happy to meet our budget and promptly applied a 500 discount to their quote to match our needs, without compromising on a single detail of our original plan! At this point, I was not aware that there are some differences between Premium class with Virgin and the Premium Economy that is/was offered by Tui and Thomas Cook. However, we are very excited about the extra luxuries! This means that we've booked something even nicer for slightly less than we were paying before!

To seal the deal, the travel agent even gave us the V Room at Manchester airport free of charge - and applied another 50 discount to knock this off of our bill. The one change we did have to make was to our holiday dates. Our holiday now falls between 26th July to 16th August. However, this also means I have two weeks holiday left when we come back, because I'm a school teacher.

So, in the middle of a horrendous situation for so many holidaymakers and workers alike, we actually came out with a slightly better, slightly cheaper holiday.

And...we received the information to link to My Disney Experience almost immediately. Michael ran out of the loo when I told him that we could choose our Magicbands already.

Lets look at hotels then
Our first three-week plan incorporated a one week stay at the Royal Pacific Resort, followed by one week at Port Orleans Riverside, and a final week at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. However, I decided to stick with my tried and tested plan which is a one-week stay in a Universal hotel and two weeks staying in a single Disney Deluxe resort.

I love the RPR. I love the restaurants, the rooms, the pool and the distance from the parks. I appreciate the glossy walk-in shower experience before the uninspiring shower/bath/curtain combo at Disney resorts. I never regretted spending a week at the Universal resorts before. It is so relaxed there!

Not to mention those front-of-line passes are pretty hard to turn down!

For Michaels first trip, I wanted something very special for our Disney stay. I also wanted this to be Michael's dream coming true, so I asked him to choose the hotel. I set him up with a string of YouTube videos and a bag of sweets and let the magic take place.

Michael set his heart on the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Nothing comes close to his enthusiasm for that hotel. He was raving about seeing the giraffes from the bedroom.

So, he looked so uncomfortable when the Thomas Cook agent initially declared that all the Savannah View rooms were booked on our dates. Although this was quickly rectified. There were no issues whatsoever when we switched to Virgin.

As an added bonus, following my comment about showers at Disney, I noticed some very pretty walk-in showers in the refurbed savannah rooms.
Animal Kingdom Lodge (Google images)
It may confuse some Dibbers that were not looking at villas and outside-the-parks time for a month stay, but thats just not us. Its entirely possible that Michael may feel differently after the first trip, but I hope he doesn't.

When I have to throw myself into work, which is stressful, I crave my Disney bubble.

For our Universal stay, were spending our first week at the Royal Pacific Resort. This was a lovely resort last time (minus the perpetually faulty room key) and the proximity to the park is magical. Were staying in a standard view room as the views here are, to my knowledge, generally decent.
Royal Pacific Resort
So, the holiday arrangements are as follows:
Royal Pacific Resort / Standard View / 1 week / 26th Jul - 2nd Aug
Animal Kingdom Lodge / Savannah View / 2 weeks / 2nd Aug 16th Aug
Finally, we got around to looking at our airport hotel. After a successful stay last time, I decided to rebook the Radisson Blu at Manchester airport. I love a pre-holiday hotel. It makes the build up so much more exciting and technically extends my holiday time. To make it even more exciting, we have actually booked an airport-view room this time (since I'm not paying for two rooms on this occasion).

I think this came to about 140 for an airport-view room.

(Images from the Radisson Blu: Manchester Airport website)
Lets talk flights
I have something of a Thomas Cook Premium Class addiction. Ive had it once and I keep stretching my budget to fit it in. Im hooked on queue jumping.

Despite the holiday price initially soaring, with the flight cost increases, the overall cost of the holiday was actually less than our initial quote. So it doesnt feel so bad paying for this luxury now.

UPDATE: Of course, after switching to Virgin, we've completely fallen in love with their Premium class offerings. Within a few minutes of getting home, we'd had a complete look over their website, including all of the films on offer at the moment. Perhaps we're taking the real cutlery thing a bit far.

Michael did make me smile quite a bit when he asked whether he could sit by the window. It occurred to me, recently, that we still have no idea whether Michael even gets travel sick.

Weve got 9 hours to find out!

The (updated) details are as follows:
Outbound / Sun 26 Jul 2020 09.55 / From Manchester / To Orlando Int. / arrival 13.55 same day / Virgin Atlantic Premium
Inbound / Sun 16 Aug 2020 17.00 / from Orlando Int. / To Manchester / arrival 06.05+ Mon 17 Aug / Virgin Atlantic Premium

After many years of hearing about the mysterious, coveted 'bubble' on Virgin flights, I got a little excited when the travel agent explained that there was an 'upstairs section' on the plane. I promptly blurted out 'is that the bubble!?' and the travel agent (laughing) told me it was. So, as soon as we could choose our seats, we nabbed two on the back row (Dibbers row!) of the bubble and are excited about the possibility of meeting other Dibbers on our flight. We're in the middle (but still in the bubble!) on the return journey.
Discovery Cove

A bit of a controversial choice here for some people. I dont want to get into a debate. I've done my research, and I now take an interest in the work that SeaWorld does to preserve sea life.

All that being said, ordinarily, I would not have chosen to go back to Discovery Cove after swimming with dolphins twice in the past seven years. As much as I love the park, its a lot of money for a single day. However, this changes with Michael of course. Michael is so excited about the swim and I think it is a crucial aspect of his vision for our holiday. I dont want to edit out this part of his dream.

Thats all very well, before we look at the prices. You probably dont remember, or have never read about, my last trip to Disney. I paid 848 for four swim tickets for the 16th August 2016. So, I felt a little put out when I saw that Discovery Cove are charging 570 for two swim tickets on 13th August 2020.

When did they get this expensive!?

Cabanas have also gone up in price, so it is no longer a good deal to book the Elite Package, which includes photos. As far as I can tell, it is better to pay for a cabana and photos separately. Which is still much more money than I paid for the Elite package before!

This really pigged me off! Not cool Discovery Cove!

My searches through other websites showed that the price was fairly consistent, so I opened a thread on The Dibb for some help. You can access the thread here.

Dibbers nearly always come through for me. We waited until November to book around Blue Friday when there are usually cheaper tickets to be had. On 25th November, I booked two Blue Friday tickets for 430. Before I could regret the cost, I also booked a cabana for $399. This confirms that, on this time around, we will have to buy photos separately. To be honest, considering what has become of my old photographs, I think I'd like to cut down on the number of pictures I buy this time.

The Food Stuffs
Shockwaves were sent through the household when I placed responsibility for booking ADRs into Michaels inexperienced hands. Even my mother, who hasnt been to Disney since 1991, understood the gravity of this judgement.

Immune to this baseless criticism, Michael made the bookings just fine .

Contrary to previous years, weve decided to book restaurants for our Universal stay also. Me and Michael are perfectly matched when it comes to chronic indecision. If we want to eat anything at all, without it taking the whole holiday to decide, then we need to decide now.

Again, this mostly came from Michael. Didnt I tell you he was a fan of the Disney Food Blog now?

Michael entered the Cowfish and Toothsome Chocolate Factory into our plans from the go. Cowfish because its burgers. Toothsome because it looks cool.

Michael has been nattering about The Cowfish for months.

I entered Bubba Gumps because I havent done it before. I entered Jakes at RPR because it was fabulous last time.

The gaps were filled with Big Fire Grill, which is new, and Hard Rock Caf (ooo controversial) because we were running out of ideas.

I cant ditch the thought that Bubba Gumps and Hard Rock are going to disappoint us. Bubba Gumps because its fried fish, which Im not ecstatic about, and Hard Rock because it usually disappoints everyone. Give us a prod if you have any better ideas.

Theres a blank slot in the middle there, where Discovery Cove sits on our plan. This is an evening at the Florida Mall, where well be visiting the food court. Yep, thats the food court we had a strop about on my last visit because we wanted to eat at the Cheesecake Factory instead. Figures.

This might have something to do with our return.

Me and Michael were very honest with ourselves about the reality of shopping with our spending money. Mall at Millenia is beautiful, but its a little expensive for our lifestyle.

Disney, again, started with Michael. Jiko, Nomad Lounge, Flame Tree Barbeque, Morimoto, Spice Road Table and California Grill are all Michael options and, I suspect, borne from many hours of watching YouTube.

Unlike me, Michael loves a wider variety of food types, whereas Im odd.

But this is Michaels dream too.

Flame Tree Barbeque and California Grill would have made the final cut regardless because both were delicious last time. Ive entered Be Our Guest, Starlight Caf, Yachtsman Steakhouse, Grand Floridian Caf, Tusker House, Yak and Yeti and Sunshine Seasons. Lots of repeated options from last time.

Le Cellier are still not taking bookings for August, although we keep checking. That was another one of mine. For now, Michael has replaced this with Teppan Edo.

Coral Reef is doing a bad job of replacing Sharks Underwater Grill at Seaworld, which we have decided not to visit now, despite booking Discovery Cove. Mama Melrose and Crystal Palace are filling awkward gaps for parks that I struggle to make dinner arrangements for. These may change in future, but I never know what to eat for dinner at HS or MK .

So, without further ado, having gone planning-crazy as always, here are the official plans for ADRs.

Hold it right there!

Change of plans. On 12th January, I came home to this view:

Michael. Wonderful Michael. ADR prodigy Michael secured an ADR for Le Cellier, after checking MDE every day for an update. When MDE failed to let him book, he called Disney directly and got it sorted. He also had the foresight to cancel Coral Reef and move Teppan Edo across.

He picked me up in the car, after a very full working day, and broke the glorious news to me.

All hail Saint Michael.

And now, the plans:

Spreadsheet enthusiasts, youre welcome.

There's a big, white gap on one of the Saturdays where Michael fought for a free day to do whatever. We've compromised. Not using up our fast passes, even for a day, is giving me sweats. So, we're having a late morning, swinging by Grand Floridian Cafe, running through our fastpasses at Magic Kingdom and then...whatever.

Dollars and spending
We bought the bulk of our dollars in January, before the Brexit deadline. We bought $2590 for 2000 from Sterling FX, at an exchange rate of 1.2954. All cash.
We're also looking at putting a small amount onto a Caxton FX card, at an exchange rate of 1.283. This isn't the best exchange rate but the card is linked to an app that means we will have access to emergency funds if needed.

Michael was so excited when the dollars arrived. He waited with the envelope all day and then insisted that we both open it at the same time. I didn't understand until he reminded me that he had never seen foreign currency before .

The Boring Bits
Insurance this time is with Thomas Cook, who organise this through White Horse. Yes, I know, insurance with travel agents is usually a bad idea. However, in this case, I did my research and went for one of their premium options, after reading through the terms carefully. You never worry about insurance terms, until you need to. Its not worth the risk.

UPDATE: Following the collapse of Thomas Cook, we contacted White Horse, who transferred our insurance to our new holiday plans with Virgin. At not extra cost.

Our ESTAs were applied for, and approved, on the 28th September. I had to check the employer details requirements on the Dibb but, otherwise, everything was quick and easy.

I find it much easier to deal with this if I get all of my information together on a word document beforehand. Michael was chuffed to bits when the O.K. came through.

Woooah! Wait! What? What happened to the last trip report?
The last trip report stopped midway into the first Disney week - roughly half way through - immediately after the end of my marriage. As part of this separation, I lost access to all my photographs and notes I understand theyve been destroyed and this has made it impossible to carry on with the show.

I am very grateful for the wonderful comments I received as I wrote the report. I never imagined it would be enjoyed by so many people or that those people would be so disappointed that the writing stopped. I really enjoy reading it back now and some of the information I've recorded has been very useful this time around. My nephew has very fond memories of Florida and my Sister-in-law likes to drop hints about future holidays every now and again.

On this occasion, I shall be making a back up of everything I'm using for the report so that I can commit to the end.

COMMENCING 27th APRIL - Finally booked! - See the announcement here

UPDATE 4th JULY - Have just looked at Discovery Cove prices for our dates and they're an absolute fortune! After some good Dibb advice, I've decided to wait until November for the Blue Friday sales. See the full thread here.

UPDATE 8th JULY - Michael sent me a message today to remind me that our countdown is now in the 300s .

UPDATE 22nd SEPTEMBER - We have moved our holiday to Virgin after the collapse of Thomas Cook. The trip report has been updated throughout with all the details - including new holiday dates for the summer!

UPDATE 24th SEPTEMBER - Hooked up to My Disney Experience!

UPDATE 28th SEPTEMBER - ESTAs submitted and approved!

UPDATE 30th SEPTEMBER - Blissfully now in the 200s . It's coming down fast!

UPDATE 30th SEPTEMBER - Booked into the Radisson Blu at Manchester Airport for our pre-flight stay!

UPDATE 25th NOVEMBER - Discovery Cove booked!

UPDATE 3rd JANUARY - Dollars sorted! Mostly cash with a Caxton FX card this time. Michael insisted that we open the envelope at the same time.

UPDATE 7th JANUARY - Delighted to be in the 100s now . Michael is ecstatic! He's fretting over the timings for ADR bookings and giving daily countdown updates.

UPDATE 4th FEBRUARY - It's ADR day! Trusted Michael to make the bookings and he did very well. Just three more restaurant bookings to make and then I have some fab spreadsheets to show you all .

UPDATE 7th FEBRUARY - Final ADR booked today. Michael secured California Grill this afternoon. Check out the trip report for some nifty spreadsheets!

UPDATE 12th FEBRUARY - After checking every day, ADR prodigy Michael was able to book Le Cellier finally! Fabulous that we were able to secure this booking after so long of not having access to reservations for this restaurant. I know some Dibbers were a little frustrated with this, so hope you all get sorted. Michael has cancelled Coral Reef and moved Teppan Edo across. All hail Saint Michael!

UPDATE 7th MARCH - Michael sent me this message today. It's our Little Big Book of Magic

UPDATE 21st MARCH - Just thought I'd check in with you all. Obviously, we're on tenderhooks right now, in light of the outbreak. Michael won't talk about the holiday. Our plan is to wait as long as we can to keep our plans. Ultimately, we will simply move the holiday if we're forced/able to. I fully intend to celebrate double digits if we're still on a countdown by then. Stay safe!

Edited at 09:20 AM.
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Unread 4 May 19, 02:35 PM  
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What a lovely pre trip and reference to your earlier visits.

Like many dibbers on here, your experience is not about a fastpass or restaurant, its all about memories..., awakening those in the past and laying down new ones for the future.

Fondest regards to you and have a great time

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Unread 4 May 19, 06:53 PM  
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I remember your last trip report. Really happy to hear things have worked out so well in the end. Sounds like you have an amazing holiday planned!
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Unread 4 May 19, 07:06 PM  
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Sounds fantastic and you sound much happier than before!

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Unread 4 May 19, 07:20 PM  
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I don't post much but I remember your unfinished report and your posts explaining why. I just wanted to tell you I'm so pleased you are doing well
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Unread 4 May 19, 07:22 PM  
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Im so pleased that you have found happiness again after such a terrible time. How exciting being able to show your new partner all the wonder and magic of Disney, Im sure he will be a fanatic once he has been to Disney. I look forward to reading along.
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Unread 5 May 19, 09:42 AM  
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So glad you are back Samantha- I enjoyed reading your previous report. Really pleased you are now happy and moving on with a new Florida adventure to look forward too. We are there the same time as you next year so Ill keep my eye out for you! X
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Unread 5 May 19, 04:19 PM  
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So great to see you back and settled down.

Hope you have the best trip!
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