Tag Archives: Virgin holidays

#40thcelebrations

It will come as no great surprise to many of you when I say that February 2017 has been all about the #40thcelebrations in our household. Last year, I marked the occasion of 30 years living side by side with T1D, so this year it only seemed fitting that I celebrated with equal clamour that next big milestone in my life: hitting the big 4-0. c5ao3diwmaatk4uI am a huge fan of celebrating birthdays in style and you will often find the birthday cards in our house hanging around for a good 2 or 3 weeks past the notable date itself. Unlike my husband, and possibly much to his disappointment, I don’t likeabsolutely hate…’m not so keen on surprises and would much prefer being involved in the planning, to a greater or lesser extent, of any significant occasion. The plans for celebrating my 40th this year were no different.

When I turned 30, there were 2 destinations I wanted to visit, Las Vegas and New York. We discussed at length where we would go and settled on Las Vegas, with the clear understanding that only New York would do when it came to turning 40. The last 12 months or so have been filled with booking, researching and planning the finer details of our perfect trip to this iconic city and since just before Christmas, the excitement has gradually been building. Thanks to my Mum, we were able to spend an entire week in the USA and even managed to tag on a couple of extra days at the beginning to be part of the judging panels for this year’s Free From Food Awards. Her generosity meant we could take full advantage of travelling without children and fitted the trip in before we hit the price hikes of February half-term.

c3p22qjweaihqonWe decided to travel with Virgin Atlantic, from whom we have had great customer service in the past and again were not disappointed, especially when they marked my birthday with a couple of complimentary glasses of bubbles and bars of chocolate on the flights. We also chose to book our hotel and city passes as part of a Virgin holidays package and settled on the Hotel Beacon for our stay. Located on the Upper West Side of NYC and within 5 minutes walking distance of Central Park, the Hotel Beacon was a fantastic choice and we loved everything about it. As well as being able to walk to Central Park, we were also able to walk the couple of blocks to the 72nd subway station and were surrounded by a great selection of cafes and restaurants to try. What we particularly liked was the fact that the rooms have fully equipped kitchenettes, which may have only had a limited use for our stay this time, but would be perfect for when travelling with anyone with food allergies who might want to prepare safe food themselves.

img_34951Our trip was understandably dominated by our sightseeing plans and we did pretty much everything we wanted with a few added extras thrown in for good measure along the way. I’d be hard-pushed to narrow down my favourite part as everything we did was gloriously marvellous in their own unique ways. Mike loved seeing the architecture of the city, from the splendour of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, to the stunning beauty of the interior of Grand Central Station and the sheer engineering magnitude of the Statue of Liberty. One of Mike’s favourite parts was, without doubt, our Sunday spent on Ellis Island, where he was able to track down the immigration paperwork for when his mother and her family moved from Jamaica to Canada by way of NYC in the late 1940s.
img_35731I loved our wander through Central Park, both in the blazing sunshine and then again in the snow as we made our way to the Frick Collection, a fabulous small museum containing some leading Old Master paintings and sculptures. Around every corner we stumbled across yet another masterpiece and I am so grateful to my colleague who recommended this as an ideal way to spend a couple of hours seeing these well-known pieces of art. Thanks to our open bus city tour, we also discovered, to my absolute delight, where we could see the original Winnie-the-Pooh and friends given to Christopher Robin Milne before they became the inspiration for that much-loved children’s classic, a visit that took up hardly any of our time and yet was a worthwhile stop for this literature fan. In stark contrast, we spent a long afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial, a hauntingly heart-breaking and harrowing museum to visit, which did an amazing job in walking the visitor through both the timeline as it unfurled on the day and the stories of great heroism and unbelievable tragedy.

Our week-long stay was a truly fantastic way to celebrate my 40th year and there is so much more that I’ll be sharing over the next few blog posts.

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The Triumph of Disneyworld

jamboWe were off to a great start, thanks to the fantastic Virgin team and the successful delivery of my on-line grocery order thanks to gardengrocer.com.  Not willing to leave anything to chance that first day, I had booked dinner at our hotel for the evening of arrival rather than facing the challenge of finding somewhere to feed M and G safely whilst struggling with jet-lag.  I had left it a little late to book and we ended up with a table in the delightful Jiko restaurant at  Jambo House, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Not my first choice for our first evening as  I was afraid we wouldn’t enjoy the delicious menu as much as we could when we were slightly less travel-weary, but needs must and I looked forward to seeing what exactly was on offer for M.

No words are going to be able to adequately express just how amazing that first meal at    Disney was.  I am so used to restaurants struggling to come up with a complete meal for M when we eat out in the UK, that I fully expected to encounter similar problems at WDW.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Our server knew about M and G’s allergies and quickly     requested that Chef Tom came to the table to discuss what he could prepare for their       dinner.  SAM_1906He was happy to cook any meat or fish that they wanted and suggested what sides could be safely offered too.  Despite not having sweet potatoes in the restaurant, he went to the other hotel restaurant to find out if their sweet potato fries would be safe for M or not and, when the answer was sadly no, prepared a beautiful dish of plain rice, seared scallops, carrots and green beans for him instead.  Both children enjoyed their meals and fell asleep at the table as soon as they had finished their main courses, before dessert became an issue.

excellenceWhat’s even better is that this experience was not a one-off.  As promised, every booking at Disney was annotated with their food allergies and as soon as we were seated, the serving staff were made aware that we would need to speak to the chef.  During our 2 weeks, G and M enjoyed breakfasts, lunches and dinners unlike any they’ve eaten out in the UK.  We tried a variety of restaurants across the 4 Disney parks and the numerous resort hotels and had equal success everywhere.  Even the counter service restaurants had allergy information to hand and managers who knew exactly what would be safe for both children to eat.  There was no skimping on meals and they were able to enjoy puddings almost everywhere too.

My thanks go to the fantastic staff at WDW – Chefs Tom, Renee, Ricardo, David, Dave, Duane & Brian and serving staff Jamal, Sheldon, Chris and David as well as the others whose names I forgot to note down

the brilliant restaurants – Jiko (Jambo House), Tusker House (Animal Kingdom), Coral Reef (Epcot), Cosmic Rays (Magic Kingdom), Mexico (Epcot), Fulton Crabhouse (Downtown Disney), Mara (Jambo House), Raglan Road Irish Pub (Downtown Disney), Citricios (Grand Floridian), Hoop-dee-doo (Wilderness Lodge), Backlot Express (Hollywood Studios), Fairfax Fare (Hollywood Studios), Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom), Chef Mickeys (Contemporary Hotel), Sunshine Seasons (Epcot) and the many others we never got round to trying

and to Disney itself for the huge efforts it has made to welcome those with food allergies to its resorts and to make their stay as special as it can possibly be.

It truly is a magical place and one we will definitely be planning to revisit in the future.

Virgin Fantastic!

The time had finally come and the night before we flew, I sent tweets to both Virgin Holidays and Virgin Atlantic to issue my challenge to meet my holiday expectations and both accepted it immediately.

First up was Virgin Holidays and their Gatwick V-room.  As I wrote back at the end of July, I had been promised a supply of rice milk for M as well as some suitable options for his breakfast and I was keen to see just what would be waiting when we got there.  Upon arrival, we met the fantastic Dominic, who knew all about M and our request for rice milk.  As soon as we found a table for breakfast, he brought the milk over and then spent some time discussing all of M’s allergies and what food they had on offer that might suit him.  I was impressed to learn that they stock B-free bread and although it contains egg and therefore isn’t suitable for M,  G snapped up the opportunity to have 2 slices of toast as part of her breakfast.  Both children also had some cereal with the rice milk and there was fresh fruit and smoothies available for them too.  I was hugely impressed with Dominic’s attitude throughout our time there and at no point felt that we were an inconvenience to any of the V-room staff.  Even better, we were able to take the remainder of the carton onto our flight with us, which meant we could go on our holiday knowing M had a limited supply of safe milk to hand.

It was then on to our plane and it all started well.  The check-in staff had confirmed that the special request meal had been noted on our booking and the cabin crew provided us with a ready supply of ice to keep the cool-bag of medicines cold for the 9+hours we’d be in the air.  I was equally impressed that they offered to place our ice packs in their on-board freezer to ensure that we could keep everything cool until we reached our final destination in Orlando.  Eventually it was time for the meal and here we hit our first rocky point. oops I had requested a gluten-free meal for G which quickly turned up, but there was no sign of the requested meal for M.  The cabin crew searched high and low for it, but couldn’t find it and we were left with the option of whatever fruit they could get their hands on plus the snacks I had packed to keep M’s appetite filled.  Just as I was mentally drafting a letter of complaint to Virgin Atlantic expressing my disappointment at being let down in such dramatic fashion, our air stewardess hurried up with a tray of food and an apology on her lips.  The confusion had arisen for 2 reasons: 1) the meal had been prepared with G’s name on it rather than M’s and 2) it had been assigned to the seat number of another passenger who had also requested a special meal and the names had not been cross-checked to make sure everything was right.

Disaster was averted, but only just.  The meal prepared was exactly what I had asked for – plain grilled chicken with rice and vegetables and a fantastic fresh fruit salad for dessert – and M tucked in with gusto.  We were lucky that the other passenger had not started eating the meal before the mistake was identified and I’m glad to say that our return flight was not plagued with the same problem, although it still appeared that G had 2 meals (both the gluten-free and special request meals being assigned to her name), whilst M had none!  I hadn’t considered that a smaller snack would also be provided on the flight and was delighted Virgin Atlantic had thought further ahead than I had and provided another delicous fresh fruit platter for M to enjoy safely.

Gold stars all round!

Gold stars all round!

I have been really impressed with how well both branches of the Virgin family accommodated our needs and requests on the flights and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone going on holiday with special medical needs.  We didn’t run into any unexpected problems with our travel arrangements and I will definitely consider travelling with them again.

 

 

 

Holiday planning

countdownIt’s that time of year when months, weeks or maybe just days of frantic planning come to fruition and families across the UK enjoy a week or two away from it all.  Whether it’s time in the sun, travels to far-flung shores or even just a few days experiencing something new in the UK, most of us wouldn’t think much beyond making travel arrangements, booking somewhere to lay our heads and throwing the essentials into a bag.  For years my saving grace was the thought that, insulin aside, if I had forgotten anything else even vaguely important, as long as we had money, we could pop to the shops to find a replacement.

Once you have children with chronic illnesses or food allergies, everything suddenly becomes that tiny bit more difficult.  No longer can you risk forgetting any part of the equipment or medicines you need to get your child through each day.  No longer can you assume that you will be able to get hold of the gluten-, dairy- or any other allergen-free food that your child needs to remain healthy.  And you have to consider what you would do if any one of your “what if” worst case scenarios was to actually happen.  With all of these things to complicate what should be a fun and relaxing time away from home, it’s no wonder that many families living with chronic illness choose to holiday at home, or within reasonable spitting distance, so that many of those concerns are alleviated.

Whether you consider it courageous or complete and utter madness, we’ve never been a family to stay close to home.  Mike and I both love travelling and have chosen to nuture a similar passion and willingness to explore the unknown in our children.  Part of that has no doubt been fuelled by our want to go back to Canada regularly to visit family and friends and over the last couple of years we’ve developed strategies to help us cope with travelling with M.  I carry doctors letters and copy prescriptions for both M and me in with our passports and last year discovered that we’re entitled to ask for additional luggage allowance to carry all of M’s medicines and foods with us free of charge.

walt-disney-mickey-mouseWith all this in mind, and our plans for this year’s holiday well under way, I contacted our travel company and airline to discuss our needs.  This year is our “holiday of a lifetime” as we are going to Florida to enjoy all things Disney and Universal before spending a relaxing week on the beach in St Petersburg and I want it to be as straightforward as it possibly can be given the challenges of EGID and multiple food allergies.  Planning for this trip started months ago and I had drawn up a list of things I wanted to find out to make our holiday as stress-free as possible.  My first set of questions was all to do with our flight out and I contacted the Virgin Atlantic Special Assistance team to talk over our needs.  I was quickly reassured that, as before, we could carry all of M’s medicines and foods in an extra suitcase and was advised to make sure I had copy prescriptions and doctors letters with me to make our security experience as smooth as possible.  They’ve also added a note to M’s booking to make it clear to all staff that we are entitled to carry extra luggage free of charge for medical reasons.  A big tick there that there will be no problems carrying M’s medical supplies.

Next the small matter of M’s in-flight meal.  I couldn’t imagine that any of the special meals on offer were going to avoid the wide range of allergens we needed them to, but again the Special Assistance team were able to help.  I sent an email with a full list of the foods M can’t eat and then followed it up with a phone-call.  The lady I spoke to agreed that it would be difficult to accommodate him with their standard meals, but asked what, if anything, would suit him.

Plain chicken and rice,” said I, “with no butter or sauces added and a few vegetables on the side.”

Leave it with me,” she said.

A couple of hours later an email popped into my inbox.  “I’ve spoken to the catering staff and they will make plain chicken and rice as requested for M for the flight.  I’ve passed on a complete list of his allergies for their reference, so please let us know if anything changes between now and your flight.  I’ve added all this information to your booking.”  I was amazed at just how easy adapting a meal to suit M was, but because I’m something of a worrier, I gave VA a quick call last week to confirm everything was okay for the meals.  “Yes absolutely.” said the man I spoke to this time round.  “I can see this meal marked on M’s booking and this list of foods to avoid.  Is that all correct?”  They’d even had the sense to annotate the return flight too, so I can be confident that M will be eating something safe in both directions.  They also suggested we carry a supply of safe snacks in our hand luggage (another extra bag could be carried free of charge if it was necessary), so that M won’t go hungry during the flights.

vroom_header_tcm4-588081The final element was our booking in the V-room airport lounge before we make our flight.  A complete breakfast menu is available to us, but scanning my eyes down the list of food, I could see that there was little on there that would be safe for either child, though G had a few more options than M.  This time I contacted Virgin Holidays as they run the airport lounges and asked what our options were.  I was given a list of foods that are M-friendly and advised to ask to speak to the chef when we arrive at the lounge to discuss what M would like for his breakfast.  They stock gluten-free foods as a matter of course and whilst they had soya milk as an alternative for dairy, this wouldn’t suit M.  Once again I was told that this wasn’t a problem and was hugely impressed to receive a follow-up email telling me that the chef of the V-room had contacted their suppliers and would get in some rice milk just for M on the day of our flight.  What more could an allergy-Mummy ask for?

fingerscrossed

Of course, there are no guarantees that any of this will work out as planned and I am cautious enough to be taking supplies sufficient to meet our needs as we make the trip to the US.  I will, naturally, let you all know how it goes once we’ve made our flight!