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Old 01-09-2009, 10:25 AM   #1
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Sans Friends - Flight and first evening at the BoardWalk

Preamble

Sunday, 2nd November

The aim is to leave the Sofitel around 7am and at 7.10am we're heading up through the tunnel which links it to the North Terminal. As checking in is the part of the pre-journey process which I find most stressful, it’s always good to get it out of the way the previous evening. I feel completely chilled as we make our way to upstairs security in the South Terminal knowing we don’t have that ordeal to contend with. There are no queues at all here, so we sail through. They’re not even interested in Matt’s camera bag, which is a first.

This trip is going to see less spending than usual, so it’s just a quick stop at Duty Free for some Marc Jacobs Daisy and Vera Wang for Men. We both end up buying gift sets as they’re exactly the same price as the fragrance alone (£39.95 and £46.40 respectively). We figure we can dump the enormous boxes if we don’t have room for them on the homebound journey. Normally I’ll stock up on make-up, Matt will get a few cigars and we’ll buy some spirits and champagne for the holiday, so we’re feeling quite judicious, even if we have parted with nigh on £200 even before leaving the UK.

We each pick up some magazines in WH Smith (for the avoidance of doubt, we then also pay for them ) before heading for the V-Room. [This is a first for us. We normally use the Virgin Clubhouse, but it was fully booked. The nice man at the Frequent Virgin Club kindly suggested we might like to try the V-Room. We were a tad surprised given that it’s advertised as being solely for the use of Virgin Holidays’ customers (we’ve booked flights only with Virgin Atlantic), but we weren’t going to argue.]

First impressions are good. We’re greeted at the podium by a cheerful and welcoming young lady who offers us some kind of edible treat (I think it may have been a Halloween cookie). Passing through the entrance, the first area you encounter is a Virgin Holidays sales area. Beyond this (to the left as you face it) are the toilets, a kids' playroom and an area equipped with computers, a pinball machine and back-to-back TVs linked to gaming consoles. There may be an air hockey table or something similar, but I can’t be certain. The remainder is open plan and comprises several help-yourself food stations (smoothies, juice, fresh fruit, cereals, facilities for making toast and hot drinks), a manned hot food station (pre-made sausage and bacon rolls, beans on toast), cafeteria style seating, a bar and an adults only area (complete with its own internet stations).

Virgin Holidays sales area. You can just see the entrance from the corridor, together with the podium, to the right.



This additional promotional area is perpendicular to the first. It's just about possible to make out the sign for the toilets. Immediately behind this wall is the kids' play area and, beyond that, the computer area.



Kids' play area



Computer area



In the opposite direction are the hot and cold food stations. To the right of this picture is the cafe seating. The bar and adults only area are at the far end.



The same area taken from the opposite end.



Cold food stations









The bar.



Internet stations in adults only area.



I didn't get any good shots of the cafe area, but you can get an idea from this.



This tickled Matt. It's hard to make out, but it reads: STAFF ONLY - caution - swings both ways. Knowing Virgin, I wouldn't be surprised to learn it's a deliberate faux pas.



We take up position in the adults area next to the bar (well, come on, what did you expect?). The staff here are every bit as friendly and helpful as those in the Clubhouse, but the significant difference is that they don’t come to take your order. The Clubhouse staff are exceptionally attentive and I do miss that. As the alcoholic beverages aren’t free, I forego my usual Champagne in favour of Cava. The drinks are reasonably priced (something like £2 for Matt’s Guinness and £2.50 for my glass of bubbly) and I end up getting two for the price of one as “the bottle’s nearly empty” *wink, wink* (I told you these staff were friendly).





We both opt for a bacon roll. Even the best prepared bacon roll on the planet wouldn’t normally be my top choice of breakfast item and, in a league of “Top 1000 Best Prepared Bacon Rolls On The Planet”, this would struggle to come in at 1000th. The fat isn’t at all crispy and the bread is soggy. It seems almost as if the whole thing has been assembled and then heated in the microwave. I suspect that the bread has probably become soggy due to having been wrapped in cellophane and kept warm on a hotplate. The sausage option would undoubtedly have been better. Or beans on toast. Or cereal. Or fruit. Anything other than the bacon roll. On the plus side, the man charged with the important job of keeping the rolls at an optimum level of sogginess is friendliness personified (did you spot him waving in one of the shots above?)



The design elements are quirky and that, together with its newness, makes for a very pleasant environment to while away a couple of hours. It isn’t up to the standard of the Clubhouse, but at £15 per head as opposed to £35 it’s certainly comparable in terms of value. All in all, a positive experience and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

Our flight is called just before 10:10am. We wait around 20 minutes before making our way to Gate 13 and by-pass the queue using the separate UC/PE line. (I always squirm slightly, but it is one of the benefits for which we pay extra, so it’s silly to get too hung up about it.) We’re sitting in our seats, Champagne in hand, by 10.45am (or, if you prefer to believe the camera time-stamp, 10.53am).





Continued below.
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Last edited by UKDEB; 01-09-2009 at 10:33 AM.
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Old 01-09-2009, 10:26 AM   #2
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VS27 takes off and lands bang on time (a definite result given the horrendous delays of the previous couple of weeks). We both watch the new Indiana Jones movie, which is a jolly jape, but somehow lacking compared with its predecessors (and compared with the two National Treasures which are my current favourites of this genre). Prince Caspian is next up, but annoyingly I fall asleep at the start and then can’t get into it. I also watch Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, a very old-fashioned screwball comedy starring Amy Adams (who plays the lead in Enchanted). It’s superbly acted, both by her and the supporting cast, and is a real delight, if a little leftfield. Matt watches Get Smart which is, erm, a film with some actors in it.

Although the fleet on the Gatwick route hasn’t yet been fitted with the new PE seats, the other elements are in place, so our food is served in china and we have proper cutlery. OK, it’s still served in the same way as in Economy, rather than course-by-course on proper plates as it is in UC, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless. On the menu today is:



Needless to say, the promise is much grander than the execution, but meets expectations. I’m not a big fan of desserts, but the Fru Flirty Berry Pot is a surprise sensation.





Towards the end of the flight, the Captain announces that Lewis is F1 World Champion. We’re thrilled, but at this juncture, totally oblivious of the drama we’ve missed. In 15 years, we’ve probably only missed one other Grand Prix and, in hindsight, I’m both relieved I didn’t have to live through the stress, but devastated that I missed the most exciting climax to a season (and a race) in recent memory. [We still haven’t managed to see the race in its entirety, so if anyone out there has it recorded and could burn it to a disc, we’d be eternally grateful.]

We’re disappointed at the news that it’s a cloudy 60 degrees in Orlando. Not what we were hoping for at all.

As is often the case, we’re second off the plane. On this configuration, upstairs PE passengers are allowed off the plane ahead of UC passengers. As we tend to sit at the back of the cabin, near the stairs, we’re usually off second only to the economy passengers sitting in the exit seats. Here’s the 101:

(1) Make sure you unfasten your seatbelt the second the wheels touch the ground, ignoring all requests to “remain seated with your seatbelts on until the Captain switches off the seatbelt sign”.
(2) Immediately retrieve your hand baggage from the overhead locker. Don’t worry if, in your haste, you clumsily knock the head of the passenger sitting below. It’s all about getting off first! This is no time for discovering a polite streak, people.
(3) Fight off any cabin crew who try to physically restrain you as you head down the stairs.
(4) As soon as the Cabin Supervisor requests “doors to manual”, barge the crew member out of the way and do it yourself.
(5) Run through the jetway and into the immigration hall as fast as your legs can carry you.

Seriously, with the exception of opening the cabin door, I have witnessed all of these things at different times. Needless to say, we do behave with decorum and it isn’t the be all and end all, but we are on the ball and we do like to get on with it.

The usual wave of humidity doesn’t hit as we descend the jetway. Seems the Captain was right about the weather.

As we enter the Immigration Hall, the officers are huddled around one station, chatting, and are surprised to see us (I told you we didn’t hang around). Once through Immigration, it’s only moments before the UC/PE carousel starts up and our cases are 4th and 7th to come through. We’re the first through Customs and on our way.

This is the first time since the changes were made that we’ve been able to take our cases with us on the tram. In January, we each had both a suitcase and a set of golf clubs. This time we’re travelling light and have just one small case each. Even though we’ve got the second baggage reclaim down to a fine art (Matt goes for the car, whilst I collect the bags), this is much less hassle and a definite improvement.

When we reach the Alamo desk, there’s no separate Direct Road line. We’ve used this (and Dollar’s Express) to great effect on more than one occasion. I suppose it’s akin to Disney’s FASTPASS – a free and legitimate line-jumping tool. As it happens, there’s no queue to speak of, but it might affect our choice of provider for future trips. After years of using Dollar, we’ve tended to use Alamo of late because we like that we get to choose our own car. We’ve booked a vehicle in the luxury category, but the guy at the desk tries to sell us an “upgrade” to the Cadillac SRX, as well as sat nav and roadside assistance. We’re wise to these ploys and, sure enough, in the "Luxury" lot is parked a Cadillac SRX complete with sat nav. This has happened to us on every occasion we’ve used Alamo and they’re definitely worse than Dollar in that respect. Luckily, we’ve never fallen for it, but it makes my blood boil – they really shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

The other options are disappointing – other than the SRX it's just a Chrysler 300 and one long row of Nissan Maximas, which are not only ugly, but don’t match up to the likes of Lincoln Towncars, Chrysler 300s or the Cadillac CTS, DTS or SRX in the luxury stakes. It’s a toss-up between the Cadillac SRX and the Chrysler 300. We’ve had both in the past and like them both, but it’s a unanimous decision to go for the SRX.









It’s raining a bit as we drive away from the airport and we’re surprised to note that’s another first for us. This is always the moment I feel we’ve truly arrived and, as usual, a wave of sheer joy washes over me. I feel tired and dirty (the downside of using Twilight Check-in is that you have to wear the same clothes for two days running), but oh so happy.

Checking in at the BoardWalk takes just moments. We’re assigned a studio on the lobby level, just a short walk from Dundry’s Sundries gift shop. This is the first time we’ve stayed here and not had a BoardWalk view. It's seen better days, too and is well overdue for refurbishment, but, as I’ve already mentioned, we’re just happy to be within walking distance of Epcot for the Food and Wine Festival.







I have a quick dip in the tub and then we head off in the direction of the ESPN Club (you’ll probably be pleased to learn that I do dress somewhere between the two activities). We’re not at all hopeful of getting in as there’s a game on and, sure enough, the place is packed to the gills. Neither of us is in the mood to hang around hoping to pounce the second a seat is vacated, so we turn on our heels and make our way to the Big River Grille and Brewing Works. We’ve never been inside, although we did once sit outside partaking of the beer sampler. It’s surprisingly small and smells funny. Matt takes great delight in deriding me. Apparently it’s because “it’s a brewery, duh…”. Hmmph! I knew that.



I’m not entirely sure I want to be here and I consider sulking for all of about 3 seconds, but I have an uncharacteristic rush of common sense. For goodness sake, woman! You’ve been looking forward to this holiday for months and you’re about to get testy?

We both start with a pint of the Rocket Red.





Matt works his way through the beer menu, whilst I move onto two glasses of Kendall Jackson chardonnay and a Manhattan chaser (made with Basil Hayden). We each have a cup of the Beer Cheese Soup which is delicious (quite spicy) and we share the Flame-Grilled Meatloaf (an inspired decision as it’s enormous). Total bill, including tip, $110. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! Sofitel Schmofitel.









It’s still well before 8 o’clock, but as that’s 1 o’clock to us, we agree now would be a good juncture at which to head back to the room. I decide I need to make a recce of Thimbles and Threads en-route. Apparently, I move swiftly from one Disney gift to the next, shrieking delight at each. Several people on their way out for the evening decide the entertainment’s better here and ask if FASTPASS is available. [Note to self: stop before the huge glass of neat spirits.]



As we’re passing right by it seems churlish not to stop at the Belle Vue Room for a snifter before bed. What do you mean, it's not close-by? It's relatively close-by. Okay, okay, it’s the opposite direction to our room! Happy now? We getting chatting to a couple of guys from Texas who are drinking Sidecars and I figure it would be extremely rude of me to decline their offer to join them. Mmm… more neat alcohol. Another guy appears at the other end of the tiny bar and, before you know it, we have a party on our hands. The lone guy is desperate to go to Jellyrolls and spends a good half hour trying to persuade the rest of us to keep him company. It’s the last night for our Texas friends and, although they’re tempted, they manage to see sense and stick with their plans to head over to Epcot for IllumiNatiions. We, on the other, are not feeling at all sober... um, I mean sensible... and agree to go with him. I have vague recollections of paying to get in, making lots of new friends, singing loudly and dancing… erm… well, let’s just leave it at dancing. Sometime after midnight, we stumble back to our room and fall into bed precisely 24 hours after getting up.

Bar at the Belle Vue Room



Our new friend



Some crazy cavorting woman



Thank you, and goodnight!
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Old 01-09-2009, 10:32 AM   #3
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Great start to the holiday, love the door in the V-Room with the sign

Thank you for all the pictures it makes a trippie come alive

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Old 01-09-2009, 11:03 AM   #4
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Brilliant report Deb and good on you both for managing to stay up so late, bring on the next one
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Old 01-09-2009, 11:12 AM   #5
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love the virgin sign and no i didn't spot the guy waving ( i went back to check tho )
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Old 01-09-2009, 11:17 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by UKDEB View Post
and welcoming young lady
Ahhh, my favourite kind
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Old 01-09-2009, 01:06 PM   #7
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Lovely report Debs. I love the start of the holidays.
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Old 01-09-2009, 02:42 PM   #8
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. . . and as though to prove her theory that having friends and family in tow just slows her down, Debbie manages to squeeze THREE Days out of one.
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Old 01-09-2009, 03:02 PM   #9
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Wow what a day, I am exhausted just reading about it!
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Old 01-09-2009, 04:15 PM   #10
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My name is Karen and I love the Belle Vue Room and I love Allen the barman and I love the version of Rosa Regale that they serve there... And that's all I have to say about that...

Great start, Deb...
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Old 01-09-2009, 04:54 PM   #11
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OMG, as a bit of an ale buff I have to say that the rocket red looks cloudier than a summer day in Manchester, that is a stomach issue waiting to happen.

Great start, i would have packed the family off to eat and gone in the ESPN, love sports in the bars. Great trippie so far
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Old 01-09-2009, 06:05 PM   #12
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Really appreciate all the detail of the V-room

Looks like the holiday is off to a flyer
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Old 01-10-2009, 03:43 AM   #13
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The V Room actually looks nicer than I thought it would. Shame about the soggy bacon butty though.

Respect for the stamina shown on making it through to Jellyrolls! Anyone that knows you will appreciate that you did well to make it past 9.30 pm GMT. By me reckoning you should have been asleep whilst getting off the plane.

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Old 01-10-2009, 05:44 AM   #14
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A brilliant start to the holiday. The V room looks lovely, may consider that if we go with Virgin in October, will be sure to avoid the bacon butties though! Brilliant stamina, very impressive, it looks like a great time was had by all, well done on getting to Jellyrolls the first night.
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Old 01-10-2009, 06:58 AM   #15
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Verty impressed Debs. Are you sure there were no power naps , other than the one on the plane?

Love the car as well.
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