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November 2021 - Florida - Day 1

Today I woke up stressed. What if our paperwork was wrong, what if the queues were so long we missed the flight, what if those stupid protestors clued themselves to the road blocking the tunnel to Terminal 3, what if, what if what if…..


Not the best way to start our much longed and awaited trip back to the sunshine state.


Back to those protestors for a moment. I believe in the power of free speech and whatever you may think of our current government I do sense that they are adept at making quite spectacular U turns quickly when the mood of the country tells them they need to. This is a good use of people power. Protestors must be mindful though not to be causing a bigger problem than they are trying to solve and not generally antagonise the vast majority of the rest of the country. These idiots who are stopping traffic by gluing themselves to the road need to think about this. If perhaps it was to do with Climate Change and was related to COP26 then I think people would be more respectful for a while. But to protest over the single issue of fact I may not have enough insulation in my loft is beyond belief. I believe they are either ‘professional’ protestors who go along to protest about anything and everything or have been brain washed or probably both. To stop ambulances and doctors getting to hospitals is beyond a protest.


Anyhow, we were up and out of our rooms at 6.55am and made our way to Terminal 3. The route was protestor free but even with the GPS I took the wrong turning off a roundabout and ended up doing a loop to double back.


Sunny, our Heathrow parking man was waiting for us. After a quick chat about Barry (who had dropped his car off the night before as their overnight Hotel was within walking distance of the Terminal), Football and his disgust at Heathrow charging a £5 drop-off fee, we made our way into the terminal.


There were lots of TV crews waiting outside reporting on the fact the USA borders were open from today. There were also Heathrow staff waving large UK & USA flags for the cameras.


Inside the terminal it was busy but not stupidly so. We were directed to the first of many security checks. Flying to the USA on an American airline (our outbound flights although booked through Virgin were with Delta) always means more checks. I’m all for it, better to be safe than sorry. The security check also checked all our certificates which all passed the muster.


Whilst in the queue there were various people walking around continuing the borders opening theme with their costumes. I spent a memorable few minutes’ chatting with an Elvis impersonator in his full regalia. He said he was Taking care of Business.


After this we were allowed to join a quite short check in queue. Karen & I had been able to check in online, but Neil hadn’t which was strange as we were all on the same ticket. It turned out that he had been selected for a random extra security check at the gate and there was no actual problem with his ticket.


Going through actual security, my travel stockings proved a problem again. They show up as something bulky on the body scanner and so I subjected to the full body pat down. Again, I don’t mind but I do feel sorry for the poor guys who have to do this.


After this Barry & Ellie were sitting waiting for us in the terminal general area and it was lovely to see them. It did seem bizarre that although we were all USA bound that we would still be thousands of miles apart when we arrived at our destinations. They were just so excited for their trip, and it was infectious.


We had planned to go into Wetherspoons but the queue was horrendous and so we settled for takeaways from Pret a Manger which we all sat and ate together in the general area. All to soon though Barry and Ellie set off for their gate. I was so pleased that they are finally able to go this trip together. Although we would have loved them to coming with us, there is always next year where we plan to be all back together in Florida.


It was then time for us to relocate to our gate. Boarding was straightforward. We had a row of 3 in the middle cabin. I took one for the team and volunteered for the middle seat. The only issue being that both Karen and Neil seemed to think both armrests were theirs and I ended up with none for the whole flight to Detroit.


The flight was smooth. The entertainment system available was vast. There was also free WIFI for basic messaging which I used. I watched Jungle Cruise to start with which was quite watchable. The three lead actors were very good. What was not so good was the fact I had forgotten that on our last long haul trip home from Perth, the audio cable for my sound cancelling headphones started playing up. The audio wire got gradually worse on this flight to the point of not working at all by the halfway point. I could also not find the free set of headphones I had been given before take off. This made me grumpy.


Incidentally you cannot believe the difference sound cancelling headphones make whilst flying. They do remove all the background noise from the engines and plane. We have the cheap ones from Amazon Basics. The reviews describe them as 90% effective as the £400 Bose ones but at less than 10% of the cost. I do like a bargain, but only when they work. Probably shouldn’t have got the cable from Poundland.


The cabin service was friendly but sparce. The food was awful. But that is just my opinion, Karen said it was just OK and Neil seemed to enjoy his. Fortunately, I had packed some provisions in my hand luggage which kept me going.


As it had been at Heathrow and was enforced all through the flight mask wearing was 100% compliant. As the air is recirculated so often during the flight, we felt quite safe on the plane. To be honest we forgot we were wearing the masks most of the time although by the end of the day my ears were getting sore with the straps around them.


At Detroit Karen and I decided not to use our Global Entry status and waited in the same short queue for immigration as Neil. The officer was quite friendly.


We had to collect our bags to go through customs and then dropped them off again on a conveyor belt.


Detroit airport is huge. We wandered a long way to find Karen a coffee at Starbucks. It was shut. We have no idea why. Instead, we got her one from illy and she became human again.


Whilst she was drinking this, I called Avis the rental car company to tell them we would be arriving on a different flight to the one I had put on the booking form as I claimed we had been ‘re routed’. This was a deliberate white lie. I had tried to change the booking before we left as I knew we would be arriving 4 hours later returning 4 days earlier. However, Avis wanted over £400 to make the change for me to have the car for over 4 days less. I checked their T&C’s and found that they would not guarantee me a refund if I returned the car earlier than planned (which was far better than charging me more), however they could not guarantee my booked car would still be available if I was more than 2 hours late picking it up. Hence my white lie. They were fine about it when I spoke to them and gave them my sob story..


After a quick sit down, we decided to walk to the Longhorn Restaurant which was the other end of the terminal for a hot meal. Whilst the meals we had were tasty, the service was poor, and Karen was not happy with the overall cleanliness.


Then it was time to board the short 2-hour flight down to Orlando. Again, all very smooth and easy. When we arrived as we had already cleared immigration, we just had to make our way to baggage claims. I left Neil & Karen to do that whilst I went further down to the rental car desk. There was no queue and I thought I was quite quick, but by the time I got back to them they were already sitting with our bags.


Neil and I then headed off on a long walk to get the free visitors transponder pass which entitled us to use the toll roads at a discounted rate. I could have hired one from Avis at $60 per week plus full toll fees but wisely had prebooked the free one instead. It was a long walk there and back.


Finally, we walked across the road to actually get the car which was a Kia Sportage (I can hear Barry saying now – see ya in a Kia!). We navigated our way successfully out of the airport. As Barry has the more difficult driving in California, I had given him my USA Sat Nav, and we relied upon the app on my phone. I moaned at the route it took us. Whilst on a map it may have seemed the best way, my local knowledge would have saved us at least 10 minutes as we got to the 192.


We got a message from Barry saying they had arrived safely into their Airbnb in Hollywood which pleased us enormously.


We had a quick stop in a Racetrack garage to get some water for Neil and some milk for tea for us. Food shopping, we decided would wait until the next day.


For the first time we had booked a villa at Emerald Island, which is a gated and guarded community just next to Sunset Lakes in Kissimmee where we have been staying recently. We had to see the guard to let us through until we can pick up the gate pass tomorrow at the clubhouse.


The villa seemed fine and was a standard large Florida villa. Neil was pleased to have an en suite room and not forced into a child’s room. We made a cuppa before retiring at what was 4am UK time.


We were here and the holiday proper starts in the morning.


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