Monday, 13 June 2016

An American Adventure!

My family and I were recently very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Orlando in Florida, to enjoy a fabulous holiday and also check out some of the amazing attractions on offer. We shopped around to try and find the best deal that we could on flights, however we found that direct flights for the 5 of us during the Easter Holidays were coming in at £3200 just for direct flights alone, before we had even taken accommodation, tickets and spending money into consideration.

 I therefore decided to take my search online, and widened our search to all UK Airports as both my husband and I were happy to drive to an airport further away if this meant that we could reduce the cost, in addition we also began to consider the benefits of indirect flights and layovers, and with the help of Skyscanner we managed to rapidly reduce this price.

We finally settled on a flight, however whilst carrying out further research, I found out that there were no seat back televisions on board, which I really wanted so that the kids had at least something to keep them entertained on a long flight, so it was a case of going back to the drawing board. I then had the idea of checking out the prices from Dublin. We live in North Wales and so Dublin is easy accessible by both ferry and budget airlines flying from Liverpool and Manchester. To my delight I managed to find flights for the 5 of us from Dublin - JFK - Orlando for £1500 return! I quickly checked out Ryanair and managed to find return flights from Manchester to Dublin for £19.99 per adult, for some reason the children were only 1p on the outbound flight and £9.99 on the return, making it a bargain price! We were also able to take advantage of the family luggage offer, where two children have half price luggage when an adult has purchased full price luggage, along with discounted family seating. The flights were also the same for a day earlier, so we decided that we could also get a full day in Dublin and an overnight stay prior to our flights out to Orlando.

We booked through AirFrance, and the website was very simple to use, we had a couple of initial problems where checkout kept timing out, however we were able to hold the fare free of charge for 24 hours so we chose to do this, and try again the next day which worked absolutely fine. The flight although booked through Airfrance was actually a codeshare with KLM and Delta, and the plane was Delta operated. Once we had booked, we found it easier to use Delta's website to make amendments such as seat & meal selection.

When it came to the day of travel we arrived at Manchester Airport at 6am which gave us plenty of time to check in for our 8am flight. I know that many people report of having had issues with Ryanair, but we have flown with them many times with no problem. I think as long as you read all the rules and check your measurements and weight of luggage prior to arriving at the airport as well as remembering to check in and print your boarding passes (or store them in the Ryanair App on your phone) then there shouldnt be an issue. I found the check in staff very polite and friendly, and check in was quick and easy. We were taking a stroller with us, and we were able to take that to the gate free of charge, which made getting through the airport with a toddler in tow, a lot easier.

Our flight was on time, and took approximately 50 minutes to reach Dublin, our stroller was waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs and we out of the airport in just 20 minutes.

We chose to stay the night at Premier Inn Dublin Airport, and we went there first so that we could drop our bags off and because the hotel had empty rooms the receptionist kindly let us check in straight away. The hotel is located on Airside Retail Park so there are plenty of shops and dining options right on the doorstep. The hotel also provided us with a bus schedule to travel into Dublin. The rooms were really spacious and comfortable with the usual Premier Inn decor and it was ideal for a quick stopover. We enjoyed our day in Dublin and felt like it was lovely to have had the opportunity to do something else prior to travelling to Orlando.

As mentioned previously our flights to Orlando were being operated by Delta. We had found out prior to our flight that Dublin offer Pre-US Clearance, this means that you complete security and customs prior to travel. This is fantastic, as when we have travelled to the USA before, we have been met with very lengthy queues to get through security and customs, and I was worried about having to do this with 3 children. Whilst it does still take some time to get through this process it was much quicker than we have experienced before and a real bonus. It also meant that our baggage was able to be checked through to the final destination rather than needing to collect it in New York and re-check it in.

We had never actually flown with Delta before, but found ourselves really impressed. The plane was immaculate, the seats were comfortable and the entertainment units in the back of the seats had loads to keep the kids occupied including movies, tv shows, and games. Once we had boarded an air stewardess came and gave the children some badges and made the effort to be very friendly and chatty with them. 

The onboard beverage and food service was fantastic, and we never once felt hungry or thirsty during the flight, the food was delicious, and there was plenty of choice of beverages. The 8 hour flight was very smooth , and for someone who hates flying, I actually ended up enjoying it. I also made use of the Delta gogo wifi service and purchased an hour pass for $5.99. This allowed me to check emails, message family, check the news, and I also took the opportunity to book a vehicle to pick us up from Orlando Airport & transport us to our first hotel using the Mears website. We had originally planned to just grab a taxi, but with us feeling tired already I decided that it was probably best to have it all booked especially with us arriving late at 11pm.

The connection in JFK was really easy and we arrived in plenty of time for our connecting flight. The flight from JFK to Orlando took approximately 3 hours and had a basic food and beverage service onboard which was fine as with us being tired we slept for most of the flight. Once we arrived in Orlando it was really quick to get through arrivals, and we found our Mears driver waiting for us in the luggage hall. He helped with the bags and in no time at all we were in the vehicle on our way to the hotel.

Our first hotel where we were staying for 2 nights was the Coco Key Water Park Resort & Hotel located on International Drive. A normal taxi will cost you around $45 + tip + tolls. The luxury SUV I booked was $72 inclusive of tip + tolls, and included car seats at no additional charge. I felt that this was really reasonable as only worked out about $10 more than we would have paid for a cab, and the SUV was lovely, along with a very helpful driver who helped us with our bags. Overall our journey to Orlando was not only stress free but also enjoyable.

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