Fantasy land with the family I and Big Bill (Visa) came too

25th July 2003 at 01:00

Tomorrow sees the start of our two-week holiday to Florida. It took Gail a long time to persuade me that we could afford it, but Margaret's excitement as she viewed the Disney World video so kindly supplied by our travel agent melted my heart and convinced me that it would be worth it.

There are few things that a father will not provide for his six-year-old daughter and the chance for Margaret to meet some of her favourite cartoon characters seems well worth the final instalment of our McCrone pay package, due upon our return from holiday (and desperately needed to help reduce our credit card bill).

We plan to set off for Manchester airport at midnight tonight. It was cheaper than flying from our local airport but does involve a rather tiresome drive to catch our early-morning flight. And by the time we've finished paying for fuel to get there, plus a fortnight's parking, I do wonder whether the savings will be as much as I'd hoped for.


I write this as we sit forlorn in the departure lounge awaiting the long-delayed arrival of our plane, and having been persuaded to undergo further financial outlay that has virtually wiped out any savings accrued from using Manchester as our departure airport.

First of all, there was the kindly offer of the parking attendant to have our car valeted during our absence. At 6am I am not at my sharpest and I have to confess I agreed before realising the cost.

Then there was the cost of sustenance in the restaurant. For some bacon, sausage and egg that had been sitting in a grease-laden hotplate for several hours I was unprepared for a bill that almost equalled that of the luxury dinner Gail and I had enjoyed last week in celebration of our wedding anniversary.

All in all, it was rather a depressing start to the holiday.


In spite of the fact that free car hire was included in the cost of our holiday, the process of taking the car away has proved anything but free.

Apparently, the insurance provided with our standard-issue Chrysler was also extremely standard issue. Or so the booking clerk advised us, as he painted a picture of litigious Americans and ambulance-chasing lawyers wishing to sue us should we encounter the smallest of mishaps that caused injury to any unfortunate third party who happened to cross our vacation paths.

I handed over my credit card with a heavy heart but he refused to debit it until he had persuaded us of the value to be gained in taking an upgraded car. "After, all, ma'am," he arched his eyebrows at Gail and continued in Southern drawl: "that ol' car you've gotten is a fine car, make no mistake, but it's only two dowers an' with the little kiddy there, surely you'd prefer easy access to the rear in case of an accident. An' that's why ah'd suggest the fower-door Fowed for yore family groupin'."

"The four-door what?" I asked.

"Fowed," he repeated. "The car maker. Henry Fowed."

"Oh Ford!" I understood. "A four-door Ford?"

"That's what ah sayed, sir," he looked strangely at me.

By this time I'd lost the will to live. "Whatever," I sighed. "Give us the four door I er I version."

"Shore will, sir," he swiped my credit card with alacrity. "Got it all ready for ya."

"So quickly?"

"Yeh. Kinda figured you folks'd go for the upgrade. Most folks do."

And, I thought quietly to myself, most folks have probably got "Gullible mug" written across their foreheads, just like us, when they get off their 10-hour flight.

After debiting the best part of a week's salary for our "free" car hire, the man then had the temerity to wish us a nice day.

"We'll try," I said drily.


One of the best things about Florida is that suddenly I feel extremely thin, in spite of my burgeoning waistline. Here my 36 inches are positively sylph-like, as I join breakfast queues behind rotund Americans in gaudy Hawaiian shirts who pile their plates with pancakes, maple syrup, crisp fried bacon and doughnuts before waddling to their tables. All this for breakfast, I repeat!

Mind you, we nearly missed breakfast this morning because of sleeping in after our lengthy drive from the airport yesterday. The car hire representative who assured us that we "couldn't miss the freeway turn-off" was proved sadly mistaken and it was with fraught nerves that we eventually arrived at our hotel in the late evening.

Consequently, we were rather late in getting off to The Magic Kingdom today and by the time of our arrival the queues were awesome, to use the local vernacular.

Not as awesome as the cost of our five-day passes, mind you. Yet again, a charge that Gail had airily assured me was included in our package transpires to be an extra.

Once more I found myself handing over the plastic fantastic with a deepening sense of foreboding as the ever-smiling customer relations agent charged the cost of a decent fortnight (full board!) in Saltcoats for the pleasure of accessing their Wonderful World of Fantasy.

And then the queues: they seemed to stretch for ever. We waited 45 minutes to give Margaret a shot on a Dumbo flying roundabout that lasted 150 seconds and didn't look much different to the one at the Christmas carnival in the SECC.

Then it was into the hour-long queue for "It's a Small World", a three-minute miniature train ride.

By the time that had finished, Margaret was exhausted by the heat and wanted to go back to the hotel for a sleep.

Even Gail conceded that, at the cost of three full-day passes, it had proved an inordinately expensive means of having two funfair rides.

"But it'll be different tomorrow, Morris," she set her lips firmly. "I think it's about time I took charge and we had some proper organisation about this holiday."

I've seen that determined look on her face before and have learnt from experience that it's better to be a bruised reed than a broken rod.


If I ever dreamt that this would be a relaxing holiday, then my illusions were well and truly shattered today.

Gail had got hold of some book that told her how best to organise a full day's entertainment at the theme parks that avoided queues. This was all very well but it did involve getting up at 6am in order to be at the park gates as soon as they opened and then embarking upon a military-style operation that bore resemblance to the D-Day landings in its complexity.

First of all, we had to race to the farthest end of the park in order to be first on one of the most popular attractions (Splash Mountain) before planning an assault on the other popular rides in a strict order of rotation based not on their proximity to each other but on their average length of queuing time at particular sections of the day. It meant a lot of very swift walking.

To allow Gail and me some quality ride time of our own, she had drawn up a child-care programme that allowed one of us to pick a favoured ride while the other attended Margaret on a less frenetic attraction.

Having foolishly followed Gail's example of choosing the Tower of Terror for my free-time allocation, I decided to forego my next slot and allow Gail more time alone. Quite frankly, when that lift plummeted to the ground, I thought I was going to be sick. Unfortunately, there was a photograph to prove it, which greeted me as I made my shaky way down the exit ramp. Alas, Gail saw it too and insisted on purchasing a copy using my much-maligned credit card.

At the hottest part of the day, it was back to our hotel for lunch and a rest, then a return to the park for the late afternoon parade - an absolute joy for Margaret - and some more carefully planned rides before the evening parade.

I have to concede that Gail's approach was successful and am happy to allow her complete charge of our plans for the rest of the holiday. I think I deserve a rest from responsibility, after all.

I still can't help worrying about the eventual final cost to our bank balance, though. At this rate, it will be a miracle, not McCrone, that I'll need to pay off the Visa bill.

Still, I thought to myself as the evening parade began with a spectacular light show and fireworks, who could begrudge the enchanted smile on Margaret's face as Buzz Lightyear, Aladdin and Simba danced past and waved especially - it seemed - to my daughter.

I put an arm around Gail's shoulder as we smiled down on Margaret and gazed in wonder at the parade. It was good to be on holiday. Greenfield Academy and Rockston Primary seemed thousands of miles away. Happily, they were.

Next month: It's back to reality. Greenfield Academy is in new surroundings, a new pupil joins and the results of social inclusion become painfully apparent

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