Almost exactly three years ago, I was invited to lunch by the mother of one of my students. She mentioned that she owned a home in Orlando and that I was very welcome to use it if I wished. Since my time with her daughter was coming to an end (so there were no conflict of interest issues) I accepted her offer.
That decision ended up costing me around $30,000.
My first trip to WDW was during the last week of August, 2017. I stayed off property at my student’s (beautiful) home, and I went with a friend — for fear that it would be odd going alone. And she did the driving.
Arrival day was perfect.
Our first stop was MK and we got there just before 6pm. Almost as soon as we entered Town Square the Move It Shake It Mousekedance It Party started. It was as if they had been waiting just for us.
We slowly made our way to BTMR and then Splash. From there to the HEA dessert party with Plaza Garden viewing. Even though a young girl’s intrusive dancing during HEA really irritated me, HEA itself blew me away. The projections, the music — and the words. I’d never experienced anything like it.
I’m not going to re-write my entire trip report for that trip, or for the four that followed it, but suffice it to say that being “blown away” by wholly new experiences was to be the theme of the next almost three years.
I was hooked. Almost as soon as I got back home after that first nine night trip, I was desperate to go back. I remember craving the Cobb salad at HBD and the steak at LC.
So I did go back, the following July. Again for nine nights, but this time I spent two on property — one at the Poly and one at YC. But this time I travelled alone. Highlights included dinner at V&A and the WAT — the Wild Africa Trek.
By November of the same year I was yet again experiencing a desperation to go back. It was so strong I booked a Christmas trip immediately. This time staying wholly on property — at Pop. (I felt I couldn’t keep asking my student’s mother if I could use her house, and I wanted to experienced the bubble.)
This was the most magical Christmas I think I’ve ever had. While I had some good Christmasses as a young child, I had become very Bah, Humbug about Christmas as an adult. WDW broke that. This trip was full of magic. It was wonderful. As much as anything it was the unplanned, spontaneous moments that spring to mind — feeling blue for some reason and leaving MK, only to bump into the Dapper Dans as they started up. Exploring WL when a bell-ringing group suddenly started to play their set.
Oh, and this —
Did you ever see anything so beautiful?
2019 saw two more trips — this time June, and again in December. In June I stayed at CSR; in December I was back at Pop.
Two trips were planned for this year — in June and in October.
All told, the five trips that actually went ahead — 37 nights — cost me around $30,000. A big chunk of that was the flights. Nine hours is a long flight and I hate flying. So I flew either in Premium Economy, or in Upper Class — Virgin’s version of business class, which features lie-flat beds. If you know what you’re doing, these flights aren’t as expensive as you might imagine. But they’re not cheap.
(Sadly this cabin no longer exists. COVID forced Virgin to do a restructuring of its fleet and it has abandoned all its 747 aircraft. End of an era indeed.)
And no-one does up-charge events like I do.
As a single man, I answer to no-one. There’s no-one to tell me to hold back or to stop or to dial it back. I’ve done every dessert party (actually, except the ROL one) — the HEA dessert party many times (all three variants). I’ve done MNSSHP and MVMCP (plus dessert party, plus parade party). I’ve done all three versions of DAH (MK, AK, HS) as well as DVAH. I’ve been on the deluxe dining plan. Twice. And, as I said earlier, I’ve dined at V&A and I’ve done the WAT — also twice. I’ve done the non-private VIP tour at UOR three times, as well as the UOR equivalent of DAH — an Orlando Informer Meet-Up.
I have an addictive personality (no? surely not?) and Disney became my cocaine. It wasn’t just the vacations themselves. It was the planning — which spoke to my mathematical side, and to my desire for perfection. I think it’s entirely possible I spent more hours planning my trips than being on them. I got so good at it, I can plan a trip from scratch — fully fledged, all ADRs, all FPPs, the entire trip planned in 15 minute increments — in a single day.
You could frame these and put them up on your wall as art.
I’ve been incredibly lucky, pretty much from the get-go.
My first trip was off-property, so I had no FPP advantage. A liner umbrella’ed me into her trip allowing me to book my FPPs at 60 days.
My first trip was shortly after Pandora opened. My second was shortly after TSL opened. My fourth was shortly after Gran Destino — which revolutionised CSR — opened. My fifth was shortly after ROTR opened. (I rode it three times.)
I made friends with another liner, which led to this —
That would be a Club 33 baseball cap. Yup, I’ve been lucky enough to visit three of the four Club 33 lounges (AK hadn’t opened) multiple times. And I’ve even been on a private VIP tour. The exclusive pins they give you are two of my favourite souvenirs.
Oops. I appear to be showing off my Club 33 magic band. Actually, that one’s a sore point. It’s never been used. It was going to be used for the first time this June.
Clearly my cup has runneth over. Big time.
I don’t think I ever thought it would end.
I wrote earlier this week about the increasingly difficult emotional price of taking trips to Orlando — leaving my soon-to-be-10-year-old dog behind. And COVID has changed what’s on offer so much that I don’t know that I could bear to be part of it. And I wore a surgical mask this week for a couple of hours on a quite warm and certainly very humid day. It wasn’t fun at all.
I continue to believe that this amazing ride is over for now. My personal finances have taken a hell of a beating — $30,000 in three years? Seriously, WTF?
My current thinking is that I won’t return to Orlando again until after that very dark day when Calvin and I are parted. And that — when that day does finally come — I may well return very swiftly indeed as a way of trying to deal with it. We’re talking booking a flight, booking a hotel and leaving home within days.
I still can’t quite bring myself to cancel what’s left of my October plans. Financially there’s no advantage in doing so. The refundable parts don’t need to be cancelled until the week before I’m due to depart. Who knows what will happen in the next four months.
But it is time to step away from all things Disney for now. It’s too addicting. I need to find new things to focus on. I need to give my attention to other things that deserve it.
I leave you with this. It’s an appropriate picture to end with, and one of my favourites.
I’ll be back. One day. God willing.