When I started going to Disney World, I would usually fly from Gatwick with Thomas Cook or TUI (Thomson at the time) using an Airport shuttle service. When I was old enough to drive, I tended to drift towards airports closer to home. That meant the midlands' area airports were my main choice. When TUI started flying from Bristol, they got the majority of my business. Whenever we went to Gatwick we never even tried Virgin, mainly because we didn't have a Virgin high street travel agent. This year was our first time using Virgin in the many, many years I've been going to Disney World.
As always -- because TUI operate from Bristol which is closest to us -- we start off with them to get quotes for our late 2018 trip.
I decided to make this trip a 3 week one. We would do 1 week outside of Disney (to do Universal Studios and some shopping) then 2 weeks in Disney.
After talking with TUI like always, they gave me a price for that 3 week holiday. 1 week at Cabana Bay, 2 weeks at Pop Century, with tickets (both Disney and Universal), dining plan, premium flight upgrade and transfers and they wanted more than I was really okay with.
I decided on a whim to go into our local Debenhams and visit the Virgin Holidays agents in there, as much as I dislike the idea of driving to Gatwick. After telling the agent what I wanted (as described above) she gave me the price.
It was £1200 cheaper.
I was a little shocked and booked it on the spot. I know different airlines have different pricing strategies but that was a massive gap. I decided to take the inconvenience of going to Gatwick but saving a nice chunk of green. So, I booked with Virgin.
The plus side of Virgin is that they generally seem to know their Disney. Sometimes in TUI (or Thomas Cook) some agents do go a bit cross eyed when I lay down the exact hotel, tickets and tier of dining plan I want as they're trying to remember everything I say.
While being used to the service of TUI and Thomas Cook, I found it much better that you could pay your holiday off online without having to go into store, and the fact you can choose your premium seats right away instead of a few months before (although I think TUI premium is now the same).
The Virgin baggage allowance is the most generous I've seen. 2 x 23kg each! As we were going for 3 weeks, we bought and took an extra suitcase.
We tried out the V-Room lounge, which was nice, but I don't think it's worth the money. The food and staff were great, but I don't like to stuff my face with food before a flight so I don't really get the value out of it.
Onto the flight itself, for those who regularly travel Virgin probably know (which we didn't) their planes are starting to get old.
There is quite a lot of wear and tear in the cabin and the speaker next to our seats was broken, so we could barely here the announcements over the speaker system. Although the film selection was pretty good, the in-flight entertainment is so slow and laggy, and the screen quality is lacking. On the way back, we were told the overheads lights were not turning off. The bubble people had the option of either living with it, or delaying the plane and wait for engineer. The majority of course said to just get on with the flight. Another reason the plane needs updating. The food was no better or worse than other plane food, so not really much to say there.
The fact you can get Wifi though is a big plus, but at £5 an hour or £15 for the flight for very slow internet leaves much to be desired. I think even in premium it should be included for free.
We sat in the regular premium cabin on the way out, and then in the premium section of the bubble on the way back. I think we prefer the bubble area. There is more room, as the middle aisle is wider, and you get more storage space by the window seats. It feels much less cramped even though it's in a smaller area.
I know Virgin flight out to Orlando everyday, and the plane was only about half full. So I guess that might be why there were cheaper, but they have never been cheaper for us in the past.
Of course when on the way to Disney World, nothing else matters, right?
The Lost Bag
Over the many years I have travelled to Disney World, not once have I ever had a bag lost or damaged. The first time flying with Virgin, one of our suitcases got lost and damaged.
I couldn't believe it. We paid for premium to get off the plane first, and have our luggage off the plane first to get there and have to wait until everyone has left because one of our suitcases didn't arrive. The Virgin rep there was very helpful (as most Americans are) and he was convinced he was going to find it. I told him I admire his optimism but I have looked around here 5 times and it's not here. He conceded after the next flight was arriving. He told us where to go to file a claim. He said it will most likely be on the next flight, but they'll help us downstairs. We went to the Virgin desk and told them our bag never arrived and she apologised and sent over a guy to deal with it. He gave us a form which told us to go to buy essentials and then send an email with a copy of the receipt to claim back the money. I didn't know they did that, so that was a nice touch. The suitcase lost was the suitcase holding all our toiletries, suncream, etc. And this suitcase was brand new and bought because we were staying an extra week and might need more room. Typical, huh? He gave me some more details and said they'll call when they find it. (He specifically said "when" and not "if", you have to love this optimism.)
So as soon as we got to Cabana bay, we went straight down to Walmart to pretty much buy all our toiletries again. It was a fun game trying to find American versions of the products we used, that's for sure.
Our Walmart receipt came to nearly $150, and the baggage form said you can claim up to $80. We didn't intentionally buy the most expensive stuff, we needed to replace things like sun cream, shampoo, painkillers etc etc, there's no getting around that.
To be perfectly honest, I had no faith that we'd ever see that bag again. But, about 2 days later I got a call saying they found the suitcase and it'll be with me the next day. The next day arrived and I got a call again apologising for the delay, and they have it and will deliver it to the hotel that night. That's great, I thought!
After a day in the parks we to the Cabana Bay reception and there was our suitcase, and everything was still in it! It felt like a miracle.
Apparently the suitcase "never left Gatwick". Whether it was Virgin's fault or the fault of the airport staff, I'll never know.
We took our suitcase back up to the room to unpack, and notice several slits down the back of it. You could put your hand through it and inside the suitcase. How nothing fell out I don't know!
So while I was composing the email to Virgin for the Walmart receipt, I also told them about the bag. They were very apologetic and didn't question it, and simply offered to pay the full Walmart bill and the cost of a new suitcase. That process takes a few weeks and I have just received that payment.
Even though they lost our bag, the overall price and service I was happy with. I would use Virgin again even though they lost our bag this time. (Although when we use them next time and they lose a bag again, then that'll probably be it). Their planes seriously need upgrading or replacing, and I wouldn't consider using them over something like the TUI Dreamliner unless they were significantly cheaper than the competition (which they won't always be). However, it was overall a positive experience and we were fairly compensated for the trouble we had, and they were swift getting the bag back to us.
Our Score 4/5
Experience overview? Planes need updating, but great service
Would you use them again? Only if they do not lose my bag again
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