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Old 10-26-2006, 07:01 AM   #1
Boo Boo Too
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Amazing Trip - Orlando, Cruise & LA (part 1 of 1)

Boo Boo Too (me) – 32
Hubby – 34

Just thought that I would post a BRIEF (all-in-one) trip report from my recent holiday. We didn’t spend very long in Orlando (4 days), then went on a Caribbean Cruise, then flew to Los Angeles to spend 6 days with family. We had an amazing holiday and I really appreciate how lucky we are. Thank you to those whose advice helped with bits of this holiday (UKdeb and others).

Pre-trip (3rd October 2006)
We live in the South West and our flight from Gatwick was fairly early (11.05am) on the Wednesday, so we chose to stay the night before at a hotel at Gatwick. I booked both the hotel (the Sofitel) and the parking (NCP Flightpath North Terminal Parking) through www.holidayextras.co.uk. I found that booking them separately worked out cheaper than booking a “hotel plus 15 days parking package” (where I would have had to have paid for the extra four days parking).

We ate dinner at home before leaving for the airport and got to Gatwick at a little after 11am. Since it was rather late and our luggage wasn’t TOO bad (a carry-on bag and one 26” wheeled trolley case each), we drove straight to the NCP carpark and caught the bus to the North Terminal.

We walked the short distance from the bus stop to the Sofitel and checked-in. Got a renovated room (albeit with impractical beige striped carpet – understandably, there were a few marks on it) with an atrium view on a high floor. I quite like atrium view rooms – I like to people watch the activity below. Had a very comfortable night’s sleep and got up to go at about 7.30am the next morning. Discovered that the shower wasn’t working properly: the shower head wasn’t quite right and shot water all over the bathroom if you weren’t careful (got drenched and so did most of the bathroom). Adjusted it – so that 90% of the water went in the right direction – and made do (nothing else we could do at that stage and we were shortly going to check out…). TV check out was not working, so we checked out at the front deck shortly after 8am and walked across to the North Terminal.

We were travelling in British Airway’s Club World on this trip (I buy WorldTravellerPlus tickets directly from British Airways and upgrade, at the time of booking, with BA airmiles). There were only two or three people infront of us at check-in, so we were quickly checked in for our flight to Orlando.

We then went through to departures and signed up for the new Iris Recognition Immigration system being trialled at a number of UK airports (http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/applying/iris/). The IRIS enrolment station at Gatwick’s North Terminal is really not easy to find (at the bottom of the spiral ramp going to gates 59-63): there are no signs pointing to where it is and only a very small sign next to the door. We were the only applicants there, so were seen straight away. Took about 10 minutes in total for the both of us to register and get our irises scanned.

Next we browsed around Dixons and went to the larger WHSmith to buy a few magazines. We then proceeded to the BA Terraces lounge. Husband used the Wi-fi to check his email. We both had coffee, juice and breakfast pastries.

The flight itself was good. The service was incredibly slow (apparently the crew were new to longhaul service and, although they worked very hard, it took them about twice as long as an experienced crew to find and do everything…). Food was pretty good. Watched “Over the Hedge” (cute, but not really a gripping plot…). Had a nap for about 3 hours. Had about an hour of turbulence (but nothing too dreadful). Landed on time.

Took us over an hour to get through immigration – despite being amongst the first off the plane and having no flights before us… We got to the immigration hall JUST at the wrong time and joined the wrong queue. We joined the frightening slow queue and, although they opened up other queues, no queues opened up near the one we were already queuing in. So I saw all of the rest of the BA flight plus about 80% of the Virgin 747 that arrived behind us get through before us. I much prefer the US immigration halls that use one long queue and each immigration booth takes from the front of that queue – a much fairer system.

Reclaimed our two trolley cases (which had probably been circling the carousel for some time by now!) and sent them down the shoot to the main terminal building. Took the transit to the main terminal and then had to wait ages (about 45 minutes or so) for the bags to re-emerge.

Caught the shuttle bus to the Hertz to pick up the car (Hertz Gold Club members – so we just pick up and go). Then drove to our rental villa in Reunion, just stopping quickly at the Publix at Championsgate on the way to pick up the essentials (fruit juice, soda, coffee, fresh fruit etc).

We had rented the villa direct from a private owner (http://www.reunionresort.us.com). It was absolutely AMAZING! We loved the space, peace & quiet and the privacy. It is expensive, but was looking to spend a similar amount if we had stayed at a hotel (before I booked the villa was looking at a Club level room at either the Hyatt Grand Cypress or the Ritz Carlton). There was a treadmill, cross-trainer and exercise bike in the garage (along with TV and air-conditioning unit) – so I was able to maintain my exercise regime (early each morning) whilst staying there. I would say that the villa was 15/20 minutes drive (door to door) from the Disney parks.

We went to Downtown Disney the first night that we were there. When we got there, we both realised that we were actually more tired than we had thought! Went to Wolfgang Puck’s for a quick pizza and salad, then back to the villa to sleep.

The next day we went to Magic Kingdom – my first time in about 26 years (similar for my husband too)! It’s amazing how much BIGGER the park seemed when I was 6… ok, it isn’t small now, but it seemed HUGE then… Made good use of the fastpass system: anybody who doesn’t use it needs their head reading – do they like queuing or something?! Had lunch at Liberty Tree Tavern. Lunch was good: we both had the cup of chowder followed the crab cake appetiser. If I had known how sizeable the crab cake would have been, wouldn’t have had the chowder too – we were stuffed! Left the park at about 3.30pm (having arrived at 10am): we had done everything we wanted to and it had become very hot. That night we had dinner at the Kobe Steakhouse, a teppanyaki restaurant, at Lake Buena Vista (http://www.kobesteakhouse.com/). Had a very enjoyable meal, the chef put on a real show and got quite attached to the Plum wine… 

The following day we had a quiet day of shopping (bits and pieces, nothing serious!), miniature golf, we went to Reunion’s “water park” (basically a very nice, very uncrowded lazy river, some nice pools and one chute) and spend some quiet time by the pool (dipping, reading and napping). That evening we went to Shula’s Steakhouse at the Dolphin hotel (http://www.donshula.com/locations.php?l=1&restid=10). I had wanted to try another steakhouse (maybe Ruth Chris’), BUT the attraction and convenience of Shula’s for having a wonder around the Epcot area resorts won out (especially since we weren’t staying on-site this year). The atmosphere at the restaurant was better than I remembered (I think having a good table made ALL the difference to the environment). The meal and the service were top notch! We shared half-dozen oysters (didn’t want to fill-up). I had a 10oz fillet mignon and husband had a glazed sirloin: both were fantastic, although I might have slightly preferred the flavour of his sirloin. We shared creamed spinach and the potato pancake (which we couldn’t finish!). We shared the hot chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice cream for dessert – it was divine . After dinner, we walked around the Dolphin/Swan/Boardwalk area – looked completely beautiful.

On our last day we went to Disney’s MGM Studios. We got there at about 9.30am and left at about 2pm. It is a nice park to wonder around, but – to be honest – probably our least favourite park: it doesn’t have a lot of things that we are interested in and pales in comparison to Universal Studios in California. Still we had a pleasant morning and quick lunch there. More time by the pool and dinner at Red Lobster. Husband had a whole lobster and I had King Crab Legs. Nice meal.

The Sunday was the day to leave the villa: sad in a lot of ways (could have enjoyed a lot longer there!), but we were looking forward to our cruise. We packed up, tidied up, locked the villa back up and drove to Port Canaveral – took about an hour and 15 minutes to get from the villa to the Hertz depot at Canaveral. We dropped the car off and took the Hertz shuttle to the pier. After a fairly long queue to get through security, we were quickly checked in and on the ship.

I wont bore you with too many details of the cruise, but am happy to answer any questions on it. We were on the Royal Caribbean’s “Mariner of the Seas” and did the Western Caribbean itinerary (sea day, private island off Haiti, Ocho Rios Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and another sea day). To be honest, this was the most beautiful and well designed cruise ship I have been on (have previously sailed on Disney Magic, Grand Princess, HAL’s Zuiderdam and RCCL’s Monarch of the Seas… it was a cut above all of these). It is an amazing ship and the service was consistently very good across the board. The choice of activities offered on board and the choice of shore excursions was amazing. We had a Grand Suite cabin which worked out very well (good sized cabin, good sized balcony, access to concierge and concierge lounge etc). We had a fantastic 7 days of cruising.

After the cruise we took a coach transfer back to Orlando International Airport. Flew American Airlines to Los Angeles, rented a car from Hertz again and spent 6 days staying with family (who live over there). Spent our time by the pool, shopping, playing miniature golf – just really relaxing. Then flew a convoluted route home: American Airlines from Los Angeles to Dallas, then Houston, then catching a British Airways flight from Houston back to Gatwick. The odd route was because BA’s West Coast flights fly into Heathrow - we wanted to fly into Gatwick rather than Heathrow (so we could pick up the car). All the American Airlines flights were in first class: appreciated the extra room, the food was pretty good and the seats had power ports so we could watch DVDs on husband’s laptop. I bought the AA flights about 6 months in advance and they came to about £330 per person – I didn’t think that was too bad (for about 8 hours flying time in total).

Arrived back on Sunday – to a miserable, rainy British day. Used the IRIS system to get back through immigration: it worked a treat (although the queues were not that long – I could see the benefit if they had been longer). Picked up the car (no problems) and drove home through the rain.

Had a really fantastic trip - seemed very well balanced (although it might have been nice to have had a few extra days in Orlando) and was completely spoilt rotten .

Now it’s back to reality… Christmas to look forward to. Then back to LA (staying with family again) on New Year’s Eve and on to 15 days skiing in Colorado.

Boo
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September 2007 Cruise on Liberty-of-the-Seas and Reunion Villa
October 2006 Reunion Villa, Cruise on Mariner-of-the-Seas, Los Angeles
Summer 2004 San Diego, Las Vegas, Los Angeles
Summer 2003 Back-to-Back Caribbean Cruise on HAL Zuiderdam
Summer 2002 Grand Princess Cruise, Disney's Yacht Club, Ritz Carlton Biscayne Bay
Summer 2001 Grand Princess Cruise, The Registry at Naples
Summer 2000 Disney Magic Cruise, Omni Rosen on I- Drive, Disney Swan
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Old 10-26-2006, 10:00 AM   #2
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That sounds like a really great trip. I hadn't heard of the IRIS thing before?
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Old 10-26-2006, 10:07 AM   #3
Minniespal

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I'm exhausted after reading your report

Really enjoyed it ~ Thanx for posting
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Old 10-26-2006, 10:35 AM   #4
Boo Boo Too
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chilly
That sounds like a really great trip. I hadn't heard of the IRIS thing before?
The easiest thing is to read the information on the link (http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/applying/iris/).

But basically it is an iris recognition system that means that you don't need you passport checked to re-enter the UK (although, obviously, you need you passport to enter the country you are visiting...).

When you register (like we did before flying to Orlando), they swipe your passport, take/confirm some personal information and take a scan of your eyes (well, your irises). Everybody's irises are completely unique (like your finger prints, but less easy to forge...).

When you re-enter the UK (well certain airports and terminals - including Gatwick North and all of the Heathrow terminals), there is a little booth next to the immigration queues. As you approach the doors of the booth, they automatically open. You go into the booth (alone) and look into the scanner. It tells you to move forward/back/whatever to ensure that you are correctly lined up and as soon as the scanner can capture and recognise your irises, the doors on the other side open and that's it (you have just cleared immigration). So you don't have your passport checked or speak to anyone. Since not many people are registered, you rarely get any or much of a queue to use it.

It's all a bit "Dr Who", but I am a sucker for things like this: it is currently free to register AND helps to avoid queues - fantastic

Boo
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September 2007 Cruise on Liberty-of-the-Seas and Reunion Villa
October 2006 Reunion Villa, Cruise on Mariner-of-the-Seas, Los Angeles
Summer 2004 San Diego, Las Vegas, Los Angeles
Summer 2003 Back-to-Back Caribbean Cruise on HAL Zuiderdam
Summer 2002 Grand Princess Cruise, Disney's Yacht Club, Ritz Carlton Biscayne Bay
Summer 2001 Grand Princess Cruise, The Registry at Naples
Summer 2000 Disney Magic Cruise, Omni Rosen on I- Drive, Disney Swan
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Old 10-26-2006, 11:12 AM   #5
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great report what a fantastic trip
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Old 10-28-2006, 05:58 AM   #6
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What a fantastic trip
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Old 10-29-2006, 01:04 AM   #7
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Great trip
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