|Mar. 29th, 2007 06:48 am Orlando Trip Report, Part One|
I've re-edited this and had Tara take a look. If you've already read this, you might want to take a second look
Pictures added on April 4. Date not altered
Here is the first part of a trip report on our vacation to Orlando Florida. We are taking advantage of Derrick's spring break, and the vacation that I have to take each year, and visiting the parks down here when it is not quite so hot, or crowded.
Due to a lack of advanced planning -- we talked about this trip for months, but only started making arrangements in late December -- our flights out left later on Sunday than I would have originally wanted.
Our flight was scheduled to leave O'Hare at 3:55 on Sunday, changing planes at Dulles for a 6:30 or so departure for Orlando that would get us in about 9:30. I had scheduled for the driver to pick us up at 1:00. A bit before one, I started moving the suitcases out to the driveway to make things easier, and soon we were all sitting out there waiting. About 1:15, I called the company for an update, and was informed that the driver would be there shortly. About 10 minutes later, the driver arrived. When he opened the back of his Scion (the company we've been using recently drives Scions instead of vans or limos), it was obvious that he'd had a flat. We had to juggle pieces of the car and our luggage around to get it to all fit. We arrived at O'Hare about 2:00, later than I wanted, but still near enough to two hours before flight to not be a problem -- normally.
However, we hadn't contended with some of the staff of United Airlines. Our tickets were technically through US Airways, but all but one of our flights (the first leg on the return trip from Orlando to Charlotte) are actually United or United Express flights. We wait in the long line to get to a self-service check in kiosk, now the only way to check in to many airlines. I first try to use my frequent flyer card, and when it failed I manage to pull up our trip using my Amex. I went through all of the check in steps, including adding my frequent flyer number -- which is important since a change in airline policy at work give me "silver" status. When I got done, it said it could not check me in. I tried a second time, got the same error and asked for help. The first United employee who responded, wrote down the locater code that the kiosk gave us, and sent me over to an expert.
This expert used the locater to look up our tickets, and promptly informed us that we were flying US Airways and had to check in over there. Instead of pulling out our literary and arguing, we took the train over to the next terminal -- pushing all of our luggage -- and got into the US Airways check in line. Quickly I flagged down an employee who confirmed that we did need to check in with United. We went back to the United terminal, and found an agent who would check us in. We had already wasted an hour in this process, and now were late.
This agent worked very hard to get us checked in. She managed to get our bags checked all the way to Orlando, and got us boarding passes -- but only as far as Dulles. We were able to use the priority security line -- I'm not sure if it was because of my frequent flyer status, or that we now had less than 30 minutes before departure. We got to the gate, to find the plane already in general boarding. Due to a brain spasm, I sent us down the wrong aisle of the wide body, and we had to cross the middle seats to get to ours.
The flight to Dulles was fine, fairly smooth and only marred by the fact that I couldn't take advantage of United's inclusion of the cockpit communications on the entertainment system.
We arrived at Dulles a few minutes late, and had to wait for most of the plane to empty before getting off. I rushed ahead to find our gate and try to get boarding passes. When I got there, I was informed that since we hadn't checked in 30 minutes before -- when we were still in the air -- our seats had been given away and there weren't 3 seats. I was sent to customer service, only a few gates away, where I got into a slow moving line.
Tara and Derrick soon caught up, and Tara was able to get food, including stuff I could eat while waiting in the line. After about 30 minutes of waiting -- due to several complicated cases, possibly made slower by a new employee -- I finally made it to the front of the line.
I explained our situation, and the agent, the aforementioned new employee, understood and worked to get us two plans. First we were to be put standby on the 9:40 flight to Orlando, which would get in just before midnight. Second we would get confirmed seats on the flight the next morning to Tampa with me having to drive the last 70 or so miles.
This turned out to be much harder than we thought, and the reason may explain most of our earlier problems. For some reason my ticket -- and only my ticket -- was locked to US Airways in some way that made it very difficult to issue United boarding passes. Eventually, after the agent working on my case called the help desk, and the supervisor called US Airways, they were able to get my ticket released, and Tara and Derrick headed over to the other gate to officially get into the standby list, while I waited for what I needed for the backup flights.
By the time I got to the Orlando flight, Tara had turned our standby requests into three boarding passes, but in three different rows. After just enough time to visit the bathroom, they started boarding. We waited until the end, and as we got to the gate agent, she switched two of our seats for adjacent seats in the premium coach seats. Not wanting to deal with an overly tired kid, I let the two members of my party with the shorter legs have the longer legroom seats and took my seat near the back of the plane.
We got to Orlando without any further hitches. At the Orlando airport, we had only two minor glitches. First, the GPS unit that I had reserved wasn't waiting with our rental car. Second, Tara and Derrick were waiting on the lowest level, and I had to pick them up at the middle level -- and had to go around twice because the cops wouldn't let me wait for one minute for them to get outside.
We got to our hotel without any further ado, got checked in and all went to bed, exhausted.
Having gotten in 3 hours later than we had planned, we decided that getting up early to hit a theme park on Monday wasn't a good idea. Instead we slept and spent the day shopping.
First we headed to the North end of International Drive where there is a mall with several uncommon shops. We got to the mall and worked our way around, skipping Shepler's Western Wear. Tara's big disappointment was when we got to Hilo Hatties, and found that the store had recently -- probably within the last couple of days or weeks -- closed. We then checked out the Big Dogs shop -- where Derrick and each got a shirt, mine on clearance. Then we went to the Ron Jon's Surf shop where Tara got a shirt.
After that, we worked our way down International drive, found no more interesting places to go, and headed south of our hotel to find a Target I had located. We wanted to hit up Target to save some money on the hotel breakfast (and to get a faster and more Weight Watcher's friendly breakfast). We ended up picking up stuff for dinner as well, and headed back to the hotel to rest. Tara and Derrick went to the pool, and I bought a decent road map to replace the Avis map and the nonexistent GPS.
Tuesday we got up early, and left about 8:00 to get to the MGM/Disney Studios at their 9:00 opening. Our plan worked, and we were in the crowd at the main crossroads when they did the opening scene and then let everyone into the park.
Our first stop was the Tower of Terror. For month's Derrick has been convinced that he was too scared of this ride, even after Tara and I repeatedly explained that it wasn't any scarier than some of the rides he went on last Summer at Universal Studios in California. All this was for naught. As we got closer and closer, Derrick panicked to the point of crying and refusing to go forward. With the help of some other guests, we were finally able to get him on the ride. After riding the ride, with 3 or 5 drops (Tara and I got different counts) we got off and Derrick reported that the ride was "Sweet!"
After that, we decided to pass on the Arrosmith rollercoaster, and tried to see the Narnia exhibit, which was closed without any announcements -- it was even listed in the time schedule for the week. We took the studio tour -- which isn't as good as the one at Universal in California, since this is an artificial studio, even if it has done some real productions.
Our only photo of Derrick with a Character -- Mickey at the Disney/MGM Studios.
We then tried to find a snack before hitting up the stunt show. Instead we ended up seeing the Muppet's 3D film -- which is great and very Muppety (complete with an animatronic Waldof and Statler in a box heckling the film). On the way we found our selves on streets made to look like New York and San Fransico -- where we kept teasing Derrick about his poor navagation skills.
We then went to the stunt show, which was very loud and well done. It also did a good job of explaining how the stunts were done and the safety precautions used.
Derrick riding trough the jungles of Eddor.
After that, we got lunch at the ABC Commissary, since we would have needed reservations for the sit down places. After lunch we saw the Indiana Jones stunt show, rode the great movie ride and headed home.
The park was not crowded and we rarely had to wait in line at all. We never bothered to get a fast pass (reserved ticket time) and Tara wasn't bothered with standing in line at any time.
On the way home, we stopped at a VF Factory Outlet, where I got three new pairs of jeans. The last time I bought pants, I got pairs with a 44 inch waist. Knowing that none of my pants would even come close to staying up without a belt, I first tried 40 inch waists, but they still fell down. I then tried a 36 inch waist in a pair of stiff jeans, and couldn't sit down -- they were too tight in the legs. So I finally settled on three pairs of 38 inch waist pants -- smaller than I've gotten since at least college.
Wednesday we repeated our plan and got to Epcot shortly before it opened. Since we were ending our day at the Polynesian resort, we parked at the Magic Kingdom parking lot and took the Monorail, which was an enjoyable ride.
Our first stop was Mission Space. I was a bit leary about taking the more intense version, since I'm somewhat subject to motion sickness -- I cannot ride most spinning type rides anymore. But we went with that option, and I had no problems. The ride was very fun, even if I had to cover three jobs -- my "commander's" job, Derrick's "Pilot" job and the engineer's job where there was an empty seat. Not that it mattered, the simulation had a "computer override" if any of the buttons weren't hit in time.
Before this was a brief, but much less intense, repeat of Derrick before the Tower of Terror, but it passed before we even got into the park.
Next we went to the test track, after having to return to Mission Space to retrieve forgotten property. This was another fun ride.
After that we worked our way across the front part of Epcot and went on Soarin'. This was another fun ride, and we got to tease Derrick about his poor flying skills.
Then we worked our way around the world showcase. We didn't spend much time in Canada, England or France. We had a light, shared, lunch in Morocco and spent quite a bit of time looking around there. We then spent some Japan, where Tara found an exhibit about Tin Toys that she studied and photographed. We then continued around, skipping the US exhibit and only briefly stopping in Italy.
Tara and Derrick with a giant model of one of the Tin Toys
In Morocco we found a program where kids could collect stamps and charms on a mask in most of the counties. From then on, any place we stopped we had Derrick get his charm and stamp. In Japan they wrote his name in katakana. In Italy, Tara got Derrick's charm while he and I found the bathroom.
After Italy, we stopped in Germany. Derrick didn't like that I kept answering "Weer inst Deutchland" every time he asked where we were. While Tara went looking for a small snack -- finally ending up with a dark chocolate and marzipan bar -- Derrick and I looked at the clock, before determining that it wasn't going to do anything interesting at 1:30.
We finished up the world showcase without much excitement. In China, Derrick got his name in Chinese added to his mask (after the lady from Hong Kong almost got his name right from the katakana -- she guessed "Eric"). In Norway we rode the only operating ride in the world showcase -- a water ride featuring Norway's relationship with the sea - a viking ship. In Mexico we saw a number of Oxacan figures, and watched one of them being painted for a few minutes.
After that we left the World Showcase, and briefly returned to the Mission Space gift shop and then went to the venerable Spaceship Earth before leaving Epcot. Derrick ohed and ahed throughout this.
We then took the monorail back to the parking lot, and another to the Polynesian resort where we had reservations for the 5:15 dinner show.
The dinner show was enjoyable, and the food was good. But I suspect that my mom would find it a bit to touristy, especially the framing story parts. They featured many different dances including traditional Hawaiian hula, Tahitian, Moari, and Derrick's favorite, the Samoan fire dancing. The food was not Polynesian, which was fine. I also caught myself noticing technical details that I wouldn't have a few years ago -- including the mics that most of the speaking parts were wearing -- Countryman E6 or similar -- and that the backup band was using and Aviom monitor system.
After dinner we took the monorail back to our car and drove home.
I have a few photographs, but due to slow uploads from our hotel, I cannot share them at this time.
After reading over this, I'm reminded of a statement, I think from The Hobbit about how the bad parts make the better story. I spent more time writing about the bad parts of the trip then the good parts, but the good parts really outweighed the bad. There just wasn't much to write about.
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