Gold Coast Sep 2015 – Day 1 – getting there…

Ok, here we go again! Exactly 2 years ago, we were doing the very same thing – rushing around trying to get ready for a week’s worth of Queensland fun. We’re even staying in the same accommodation and flying with the same airline on this holiday. Get ready, Gold Coast! The Morgans are coming!

As seasoned travellers, we tend to be quite relaxed nowadays when it comes to travel preparations. Sandy has been ‘getting ready’ for this trip for the past few weeks but I ended up waiting until a few minutes before bedtime on the night before to get my act together. Consequently, I may have been just a little distracted as I tried to remember all the things I should be taking with me this morning. Sandy, as is typical for her, was feeding me instructions every few minutes. I, as is typical of me, was probably not paying attention. By the time we eventually left the house, I was going through the virtual checklist in my mind.

Luggage – check!
Cat care arranged – check!
Doors locked and secured – check!
Chargers – check!
Cameras and accessories – check!
Money – check!
Carry-on bags – check!
Kids – check!

I had a hankering for a Maccas breakfast so we decided to leave even earlier than we planned, and we would stop somewhere on the way. I was quite prepared to stop at the Maccas just up the road. We knew where it was; there would be no traffic; it was a known entity; there would be zero stress. Oh, but no, no, no! Let’s travel a bit in the car first, she said. Let’s get some distance from here first, she said. That’ll help break the journey up, she said. Fine! We’ll find one on the way. Ok, so I don’t actually ever recall driving past a Maccas on the way to the airport before but I’ll humour her for the benefit of my pre-the departure sanity – despite my now rumbling tummy that’s already starting to eat into my positive energy reserves. Ok, so now we’re actually on the road and Sandy is tinkering with the phone, trying to locate a Maccas that’s reasonably on the way. The first 2 turnings I was instructed to take had both whizzed past right at the moment she mentioned them, so that chipped away at my now dwindling positive energy a bit more. Unfortunately, the tank was just about to be tipped out completely, as Jennifer proclaimed ‘I’m hungry’. ‘Didn’t you eat that toastie I made you this morning?’ Mummy asks. Suddenly, I’m shifting uncomfortably in my seat. The word ‘toastie’ somehow rings a bell but only on a sub-conscious level. I say nothing but soon feel the sharp daggers of Sandy’s eyes staring at me. ‘Chris! Didn’t you give Jennifer that toastie I started to make!?’ And then the realisation dawns … on both of us. The toast machine is still on! Oops! Ok, calm down. Just call the neighbours and ask them to turn it off. They have a spare key and will be looking after the cats anyway. So, the prudent thing would be for Sandy immediately to call Rebecca, right? No! She opens the Messages app and starts compiling a text message instead. ‘Can’t you just call to make sure she gets the message!?’ I ask with a sense of urgency? ‘You know how much I hate talking on the phone!’ Smacks palm firmly on face.

Ok, so with a little help from our very good neighbours, toastie-gate is resolved and we’re back on track for a stress-free holiday. Hmmm. One of the last things I was doing last night was composing a letter to our local state member to invite him to an upcoming community event I’m helping to organise. It’s at this point that I just realise that I still have the letter sitting on the arm-rest between us. Doh! Positive energy is now entering into negative territory – just what we need to kick off the holiday. Oh well, I think to myself. Perhaps we’ll find a letterbox at the airport. I certainly wouldn’t want to have to post the letter from Queensland when his office is just a few hundred meters from where I work here in Victoria.

Fortunately, our pre-departure stresses dwindled as we made our way to the Maccas at the airport and topped up with some much-needed energy. We dropped off the car shortly thereafter and the shuttle bus whisked us to the nearby Tullamarine Airport. The parking facility staff were very friendly and accommodating and even stopped en-route to the airport to allow me to drop the letter into a street letterbox. That’s one less worry to drag me down.

The Tiger Airways check-in process was effortless, painless and completely free of all human interactions. Just a few taps on a screen and we deposited the bags onto an unattended belt at the instructions of a piece of technology. One bag was just over the allowance but fortunately, the system accepted this since the other bag was just under. Phew! The security check-points were all but devoid of any other passengers and we went straight through, although we did temporarily ‘lose’ a bag. My fault … of course.

With about an hour to sit and relax until our gate opens, I’m finally able to really relax a little by sitting here in this new terminal building with lots of places to sit comfortably and, most importantly, with lots of power outlets to fuel my digital needs.

Not much to write about here on the plane. We’re in row 22 – just about as far from any emergency exit as is possible in both directions. I’m sure it will be fine. A little game I like to play whilst in flight is to read through the magazine in the seat pocket in front of me. I like to sit a chuckle at the unmitigated gall at how airlines over price snacks and things. It isn’t just the ridiculousness of the fact that a can of Pepsi is whopping $4 or that a tiny tube of Pringles is maddening $5 it’s the fact that there are actually people out there that encourage this behaviour by buying these things. I mean, who on earth, right?

As it happens, the holiday has actually gotten off to a better start than my journal here reflects. Last week, I happened to tell a colleague where we were going. He wanted to know more and so pulled up the web-site of the place we’re staying at – Ashmore Palms. I was sitting there chatting with him and telling him how much we spent. As he’s browsing the web-site, he notices that there are some special deals on at the moment. Upon closer inspection, it seems those specials actually coincide with the dates we’re staying. Hmmm. I’ll give them a call to see if we can take advantage of these offers, I thought to myself. We’ve already booked and paid a hefty deposit so they don’t really have much incentive to give us the discount but it doesn’t help to ask, I suppose. Well, to cut a long story short, they were playing around on their back-end and the specials showed up just very briefly by accident BUT we happened to be looking at that very moment. Luckily, the good folks at Ashmore Palms decided after a while to honour the specials and our booking was suddenly readjusted to be $300 less – bonus!

Kids seems to be enjoying themselves on the flight. It’s a 2 x 3 row configuration and I lucked out with the isle seat, whilst Sandy is sandwiched between the two kids on the other side of the plane. As I’ve been sitting here typing, I’ve been quietly chuckling to myself, as the trolley dollies have been wandering up and down the isle selling their expensive wares. Haha! Suckers! As I’m proof-reading what I’ve just been writing, Sandy calls over and asks me if I’m hungry or thirsty. I look over to see her holding a can of Pepsi and a tiny tube of Pringles.

I did my level best not to get annoyed with the passenger in front of me that decided to steel my leg-room by placing his bag under his seat instead of under the seat in front of him. Other than that, the flight was smooth and uneventful. It was quite warm by the time we disembarked but luckily not too humid. The luggage came off the belt with relative ease and we made our way out to the shuttle bus waiting area, where we were to collect a shuttle ride to the car rental company. When I booked the tickets initially, there wasn’t actually any indication that we would need to leave the airport to collect the car but, so be it. We were starting to warm up in the Gold Coast sun by the time the shuttle bus arrived, which was after about fifteen minutes of standing around and having finally found the actual spot where we needed to be. As it turned out, 2 shuttles arrived together but even then, there didn’t seem to be enough space to ferry all the people that stepped forward when they pulled up. At one point, the driver of our van suggested it might be necessary for children to sit on their parents’ laps. “Erm, no!” I said. Fortunately, with a bit of shuffling and with me in the front passenger seat, we managed to all squeeze in, albeit with Sandy and Jennifer having to find space in the second bus.

It was a short ride to the car rental depot and all the staff were attending to existing customers, so we had to mull around for a few minutes. The man that eventually called me to the counter went through his very-well rehearsed spiel and started to tell me all about the extra levels of insurance I could buy. Some years ago, I decided not to bother about these additional insurance options and simply told him I wasn’t interested. “If you don’t buy the extra cover, your excess will be $4,000, Mr. Morgan” he explained. “I understand. I still don’t want to pay the extra,” I persisted. “Ok, then I’ll need to take an additional $1,000 deposit from you as bond.” Several seconds of stunned silence passes by as a staring contest begins. Ok, hold on. So I need to buy the extra insurance that I don’t want OR I need to deplete my bank account by $1,000 in the hope that they will pay this back to me ‘at some point’? Nope! Not happening. Despite his claims that ‘it’s all in the paperwork’, I certainly have no recollection of anything like this being described at the time I booked the tickets. This brought me to a bit of a crunch. I mean, here we are having just arrived on holiday and potentially stranded with no form of transportation and I need to make a decision about whether to grin and bare it or to make a stand. We’re also now hot and bothered and starting to get tired. Worse still, I have two restless children and several large, and not to mention heavy, pieces of luggage that we’re awkwardly toting around. I looked at Sandy and then back at the rather unyielding and not overly sympathetic man behind the counter. Nope! No way, Jose! I shook my head and said this wasn’t acceptable. “Would you like me to cancel your reservation then, sir?” the man said swiftly and with a hint of enjoyment that seemed just a little out of place. “I’ll let you know,” I said. “Next please!” he then shouted loudly over my shoulder. Bastard!

Fortunately, one of the shuttle bus drivers was very much more customer friendly and we chatted with him about our options. He was more than happy to take us back to the airport (he was doing that anyway all day long) and he even suggested another rental car company just outside the airport terminal building that we might consider. In the event, I decided we’d go back into the airport terminal building, as there is a battery of car rental desks there and I figured I’d just try my luck and see if anyone had any cars available. What was going through my mind at this point was my experience of being at those same car rental desks exactly 2 years ago, when we were going through the formalities of collecting our holiday rental car at the time. Whilst I was being served, numerous incoming passengers were arriving and asking for cars but they were all turned away because there were no cars available. What if we were now going to run into that exact same problem ourselves? There’s just no way we would survive up here with no car – not without making the holiday a miserable one, at least.

I frantically went to all the car rental desks in turn. Fortunately, most of them had cars either immediately or within the next hour or two. Phew! Unfortunately, they were all quoting me ridiculous prices – 2, 3 and even 4 times what I had originally planned to spend on a rental car – and I still had the problem of the huge excess on the contract to deal with. As if to add insult to injury, half way through canvassing the car rental desks, I realised that I’d lost my glasses. We looked around at the car park where the shuttle had dropped us off and through the terminal building but they were nowhere to be found. Bugger! Whilst kicking myself over this, I was starting to lose hope on getting a rental car at a descent price when I remembered that the shuttle bus driver had suggested this out of the way car rental agency. Sandy and me racked our brains to try to remember what it was called but neither of us could remember. I wandered out to the taxi rank and spoke to one of the locals and he came up with the name for me – Cut Price Car Rental. I gave them a call. Wonder amongst wonders. Not only did he have a car but it was at a decent price and included all the insurance cover with a zero excess all in the price. Bingo! Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel was now in sight. Half an hour later, we collected said car and were finally out of the airport and heading towards Ashmore Palms.

Although I’m very glad that we eventually managed to resolve our travel problems, it does have to be said that the car we ended up with is not, erm, modern? In fact, it has around 280,000 Km on the odometer and is showing a few signs of age. Still, with all its little eccentricities, it’s ours for the duration and it gets us from A to B. We pulled in to Ashmore Palms and checked in. The ladies at the front desk were extremely welcoming and sympathetic to my tale of transportation woes. It seems this is not an unusual occurrence with visitors to this place. They were telling me that they regularly hear of similar stories and even worse. Sometimes, they told us, people turn up and find that their credit cards are being declined because the rental car agency had charged $3,000 to their cards as a bond and simply not told them anything about it. Imagine arriving at your accommodation and finding you have no means to pay for your stay!?

The check-in formalities were handled very well by the attentive and friendly staff and we were even presented with a gift for being repeat customers. Suddenly, the holiday was starting to feel like it’s an actual holiday. We went through the orientation process and given various directions and instructions. We found our cabin to be pretty much identical in ever way we could remember from 2 years ago and were soon settled in. We will be very comfortable here for the duration.

Sandy and the kids stayed to unpack and I set off to find a nearby supermarket to top up on all the bits and bobs we’ll be needing for the coming week. My supermarket run was followed by a fish ’n’ chip shop run and we just kicked back after eating our fill. Kids are now in bed and it’s … peaceful. Whether we will hit the theme parks from the get-go tomorrow or take it easy to recuperate from today’s excursions we’re not yet sure. There’s lots to do right here in the resort so we at least have plenty of options. Tomorrow will be a new day.