Saturday 5th April 2008 The Cast: Me (Matt) 42, though young at heart! DW (Claire) 41, and ditto DS11 (Samuel), already a teenager! DS9 (Tommy), daredevil coaster rider! After two years of planning, the day finally arrives, and DW has woken up with a hacking cough, having started a streaming cold the evening before. Uh oh! Im not sure how much any of us have slept, but were all up at 4am, ready for the taxi to come and pick us up at 4:45 for the trip to Gatwick. It arrives dead on time, and were soon on our way. I sit in the back with the kids, and DW is up front with the driver (given that said driver is female, it gives them a chance to rabbit about shoes and shopping ). A relatively trouble-free trip is only of note due to the fact that the driver misses the exit on the M23 for Gatwick because, by her own admission, she is busy talking to DW! We arrive at Gatwick just before 8am, which seems ridiculous to me, given that our flight isnt until 11:15, but those are the rules, so who am I to argue? Weve already done the online check-in yesterday so, armed with passports and boarding passes, we join the already lengthy queue for bag-drop. Looking across at the normal check-in queue, it looks considerably shorter so we start wondering whether the online check-in has been worth it, but our queue moves rapidly, and theirs seems stationary by comparison so all is well! With our bags dropped off by 8:15, and having been told that they will start calling us forward for boarding at 10:15, we head straight through security to the airside and decide to give Garfunkels a try for breakfast. There is a little bit of a queue, but we are in within 10 minutes or so, for what is a not-bad-at-all breakfast. I have the full English job, whilst the others settle for croissants and such. With plenty of coffee and orange juice as well, we are all well satisfied, and head for the duty-free shops. DW manages to find the perfume she bought last time we went (and has only just run out), but we decide to leave the spirits until the return flight (as will become apparent in the final-day report, this will nearly come back to bite us). All that remains now is to wait ..and wait ..and wait .. By 10:30 we are starting to sense that maybe things arent going to schedule. By 10:45 we are starting to get cross (the Departures board still says 11:15) By 11:00 we are resigned to being late. Finally, at 11:10, passengers for Virgin Atlantic flight VS027 are advised to make their way to Gate blah blah blah. No apology for the late departure or anything, just that we should make our way to the gate. This we do, and are met by one security chap, who is tasked with checking the hand luggage of all the 500+ passengers due to board the plane. Needless to say, the departure lounge fills up very slowly, and it is some time before we are actually called forward for boarding. We eventually take off at 12:45-ish, wondering what will have happened to VS015 (which was scheduled to take off at the same time). The flight itself passes by uneventfully, with the usual barely-edible food on offer (I have some sort of beef and ale stew and DW has vegetable tortellini, though she leaves most of it). In fairness, the kids thoroughly enjoy their pasta in tomato sauce, so it isnt ALL bad! Given that we took off an hour and a half late, and our original landing time was 15:25 local time, the fact that we make up 40 minutes, landing at 16:15, by flying a more direct route across the Atlantic ought to cheer us up, but we are still grumbling about the fact that Virgin have offered nothing in the way of either an explanation or an apology. The mood is not lightened by the fact that it is decidedly rainy outside, but things do take an upward turn with the putting into practice of our first forum tip. On arriving at Immigration, there are already queues at most of the desks, so we head to the far right lane, as suggested, next to the US Citizens Only desk. This pays immediate dividends as the guy on the US desk has no customers and calls us forward. Literally 5 minutes after getting off the plane, we are through Immigration! On now to baggage claim, and it becomes apparent that we might as well have queued at Immigration, as our baggage seems to take forever to come through (it is probably only 15 minutes but, after the previous success, we were expecting better). No matter, we at least have all of our cases intact, and we make our way across to the Monorail. We are all advised that, if we are prepared to manage our own luggage, we can take it on the Monorail, otherwise, if we would like assistance, we can use the second baggage drop. Were not giving our cases up for anyone, so we heave them all onto the train and set off to the main building. Were all now vaguely remembering last time, and know that we need to take the lift down to the car rental desks. Sure enough, we get it spot on, and end up in the right place. I remember that the Virgin Dollar desk was towards the end on the left so I head off (passing the main Dollar desks on the right), but find no sign of any Virgin desks. We join the queue at the main desks and are advised that the Virgin desk has been moved to the other building. Whether this means we could have collected our hire car without getting the monorail across is unclear, but were here now so thisll do. The girl is very formal (read: unfriendly), and will not give us our car without a swipe of our credit card (despite much arguing from myself regarding Virgin Platinum Insurance etc), but we finally get our hands on a shiny new Dodge Charger, set up the Sat Nav, and off we go. The journey to the Villa is through quite possibly the most torrential rain we have ever witnessed. Several drivers are pulled over onto the hard shoulder (do they call it that in the US?) because the visibility is so poor, but I am a man on a mission, and I plough on with the wipers on full pelt. South Access Road, the 417 (with two toll booths at $1 each), exit onto Celebration Plaza (50c toll via two quarters in an unmanned booth), left onto the 192, and the Sat Nav is telling us that the turning to Old Lake Wilson Road (down which our Villa is located) is coming up. We decide to carry on down the 192, as we know there is a Publix up ahead and we need bread, milk etc. Once were stocked up with essentials, were all thoroughly exhausted, and we head back down the 192 and turn down Old Lake Wilson, where we find Indian Ridge a couple of miles down on the right. Were about half a mile in on the right and, driving through, it is so obvious that this is a residential community, not a holiday resort (this is a very good thing). The Villa is very nice indeed, though we dont really take it in that much as were all knackered! The kids are more or less packed straight off to bed (to them it is now 1am, and theyve been up since 4am), though we manage to keep going till 10pm local time in the (vain, as it turns out!) hope that we sleep till a reasonable time in the morning. And so ends a very long, tiring day.