All Around Florida
Bob and Terry on Tour 2012, with Ellen and Richard
Days One, Two and Three

This trip was promising an amazing adventure. If for no other reason, it wasn’t just one trip… it was taking shape as three trips in just under two weeks.

Thirteen days… September 28th through October 10th.

Starting with Ellen and Richard… and six days based out of Ocala total, with a four-day journey to Savannah in the middle.

And then… finishing in Orlando… meeting up with Donna and Joe, catching some Mickey Mouse Halloween excitement, and three nights on the Disney property.

Ocala… Savannah… Orlando…

Ellen… Richard… Donna… Joe…

Spanish Moss and city squares… theme park and not-so-scary hijinks…

Wall-to-wall fun.

And we’ve got the travel diary to prove it.

But first… you need to know something. These will not be the normal travel diaries. We’ve got four of them. Three, beginning here, are based in Florida. And the fourth, from the middle of this trip, you can find in the Travel section of the site by looking for Georgia.

In the end… there will also be all of the usual fun columns and coverage that you always get here at the Backpack. But for now… we’ve got a plane to catch…

Day one – Friday, September 28, 2012

This is not the first time I’ve been awake at 4am on a travel day. It’s happened before.

We’ve needed to head out for an early flight previously. And I’ve stayed up all night working on projects I wanted wrapped up before leaving. But this time…

I don’t recall any other time with the alarm waking me at 4am so I could head in to work.

Yup… I’m moving well before sunrise to get myself out for an 8-hour day before returning to get Terry and head off to Warwick and the airport.

I believe the motto that no good deed goes unpunished. But if you’d rather -- a 4am wake-up call and a full-day of work are not the first indicators you’d check off as signs of good things developing for the start of a vacation. (But I’m ahead of the story. Let’s get to Green Airport.)

We’re flying Southwest… and before I even tell you the full story I want to take a moment to thank the folks working for this fine airline. Big round of applause. I am going to tell you right now that they went above and beyond, and quickly addressed our concerns and problems when we called them. I want you to know that as you follow our adventures. There was an issue… not a good one, and one with several layers… and the representatives we spoke with provided an answer. And I want to thank Southwest for that. Back to our departure…

It’s not raining… it’s waterfalling. Torrential downpour as we leave our house. Still raining by the time we’ve dropped off our car, and Dad is taking us to the airport.

We check in and go through security, and find ourselves pretty much set with a bit more than two hours to go until our flight. Nothing out of the ordinary there… except maybe the rain… as we generally try to arrive roughly two hours ahead of the departure time.

I haven’t eaten since leaving the house around 5am though, and it’s now after 3pm. So Terry and I get in line at a Quizno’s counter, order a sandwich, and sit down for a few minutes. By 3:30pm we’ve eaten, used the restrooms, and are walking toward the gate.

Gate 19.

Piece of background information… Terry broke her wrist a few months back, near the beginning of the summer. So though I normally, gladly, accept the duties of pack mule for her, I am being extra cautious as this trip begins.

As we start heading to the gate, Terry is cleaning up our table while I grab our bags and start walking. The end result is that we have a good 50-feet or so between us when I glance to the side of the walkway and spot a problem.

Yes… problem.

A quick look at the departure board and I can see the word “delayed” next to our flight details. I stop and begin to scan for more. By the time Terry catches up to me, I’ve figured out that they are showing a 4-hour delay. We’re not leaving around 5:30… it’s going to be closer to 9:30 now.

We stop at the gate, confirm the delay, and head to a bench to try and make some phone calls and adjustments. In order to pick up the pace a bit for the story while Terry and I regroup, I present some bullet-point nuggets for your consideration.

  • Ellen and Richard are already in Orlando. They left the house to head in for dinner… planning on eating, maybe getting a bit of shopping done, and then picking us up. The regular flight would have landed just after 8pm. We’re not scheduled to leave now until well after our original flight would have landed. The new flight will arrive after midnight.
  • Terry makes a joke about our luggage. See… when we confirmed the delay, the gate agent told us somewhat casually that the plane that was supposed to come to Green Airport and become ours had been diverted. Amazingly… apparently… no one knew of the delay about 30 to 45 minutes ago, because when we checked in they took our bags, weighed them, tagged them, and placed them on the conveyor belt without a sign or a whisper of a flight delay. Basically, Terry’s joke revolves around the concept of being early, checking in bags, and then having them sorted and stacked and on their way to a plane that doesn’t exist. She wants to know where they are going to end up.
  • An announcement is made over the terminal speaker system. As if Terry hasn’t poked the superstitious bear enough with her luggage joke, the information sounds pretty strange to us. Southwest is announcing that passengers will be compensated for the delay. All of this has happened and the clock hasn’t reached 4pm yet. That’s some 90-minutes-plus ahead of the original plane leaving and they have the next flight scheduled with times plus we’re already hearing they plan to compensate passengers. (And… back to the first point… keep in mind that they didn’t tell us the flight was delayed less than an hour ago when we checked in. All this accomplished in 30-45 minutes? Hmm.)

Terry and I get in touch with my Dad. Fortunately Mom and Dad don’t live too far away… so after confirming with the airline that there will not be some unexpected miracle and a plane showing up at 7pm, we head off to meet him and a few hours of waiting in more comfortable surroundings.

Ever hear those stories of companies that answer social networking complaints right away? I settle in on Dad’s computer and begin a social networking storm of Facebooking and Twittering and ampersatting and hashtagging.

I hear back from a couple of friends. Nothing amazing… “sorry to hear about the delay”… “lucky that the parents had their house nearby instead of being stuck at Green”… and so on. Nothing from Southwest. But honestly… I didn’t expect anything from them right away. Let’s review…

We got to the airport. Four hour delay. That’s all we really knew at that point. We might be upset, but that isn’t something worthy of a quick response.

For people that have ever experienced true travel delays and miseries, a four hour delay while getting something to drink and spending time with Dad isn’t exactly an awful evening. While not the way we want it, it’s Ellen and Richard that have it rough for now… because they could have stayed home, and it isn’t worth it for them to try a round trip to come back later at this point. Heck… we even got to pick up a card for Ky’s birthday so Dad could mail it for us… so we’re getting some to-do stuff accomplished.

Again -- no answer from Southwest to a post or five? I get it.

(Ahh… but this story has merely been pushed off the top of the hill. The journey down the mountain… and picking up speed… is about to begin.)

We head back over to the airport around 7:30pm. Since we left the building, we don’t have bags to check this time but do need to go through security.

We go to the desk at Gate 19, and a Southwest agent is there with a stack of travel vouchers. She’s nice enough -- but let’s face it… there is only so much patience and convincing sincerity a person can convey when a flight has been delayed four hours, everyone in front of you was on that plane, you’ve already spoken to dozens of people with a “we’re sorry about your experience today, please take this voucher and join us again” apology, and you still have dozens of vouchers left in your hand for customers yet to return.

During our delay, Terry and I had been talking about this already-decided-voucher concept and something just wasn’t ringing as true. We’ve gotten vouchers and such on trips before. It wasn’t that they were offering them… even as far back as pre-original-flight-time… that connected as wrong. Instead it was the idea that in less than an hour everything had been settled, and it seemed to indicate a feeling that everything was neatly wrapped up with ribbon on the letter of apology envelope, and that was that.

So as the woman at the Gate 19 desk hands Terry our two vouchers, Terry wants to know if she can ask a few questions. No one was in line… we were once again really early for the departure time… and the two of them strike up a conversation for four or five minutes.

While she’s doing that… I spot someone I haven’t seen in about twenty years. I used to work in a hospital. And one of the nurses… we haven’t been in contact, so I’m guessing we last spoke in 1993… is sitting in the waiting area at Gate 19 with some members of her family.

Good to see her… Terry arrives… we continue talking and catching up on some names for a few more minutes, and then the rest of her group shows up and all of us begin looking for places to settle down. Terry and I walk away from the group at the gate to an area with a table, and I break out the cards so we can play Canasta for a bit while waiting for boarding to start.

Terry tells me the woman gave her a number to call for customer service. They had talked about things like our checking in but no one telling us then about the delay and other general stuff, and it was a basic conversation since Terry knew there was nothing that could really be done right now. The trick is… Terry is still standing next to that superstitious luggage bear, and she has a feeling that the bear might have a stick of its own. So, she was happy to get the number to use -- get to Florida, settle in, get some rest, and then look back over things a day later with the place to call in hand if it still seems frustrating.

We wrap up our card game after three hands with me winning. Terry says something about the game not being official… but we both know we won’t get back to this specific game. It’s time to take our place in line.

We’ve got a good spot early in group A… we actually do pay the $10 per person each way fee since history has shown we’re not always near a computer 24-hours ahead of our flight time. So far, it has worked out quite well and been worth the extra money.

We start talking with the woman next to us in line. She tells us she travels between Florida and Rhode Island every other month. Turns out she was booked on this same flight in late July… and ended up with the same delay and same explanation. She believes there is something going on -- maybe two flights with low reservations getting merged with the result rearranging where planes are located and how they can be utilized when needed, or perhaps some other type of scheduling mishap that is moving assets and leaving Green a plane short at certain points in the schedule -- and, in the end, she is saying that this wasn’t some last-minute adjustment. She doesn’t know the frequency, but she does know it isn’t a one-time event.

(Of course… this plays right into the feeling that Terry and I have of the settlements and efforts seeming pre-determined and routine. How do you know you’re going to have vouchers and a four-hour delay 90-minutes both before the original flight would have departed and exactly as the delay is announced? Well… it’s less of a trick if you know of the delay days in advance and not minutes. Not saying that is what happened… not saying they don’t have a clear policy that allows seamless transitions and answers -- just saying this woman’s experience and theory matches up with the idea that some people on the Southwest side weren’t exactly surprised by this afternoon when a delay took place. Anyway…)

We board the plane, and as it begins moving to the runway I start counting. Now… obviously Southwest isn’t handing out cash. Some of the people on this flight won’t use their vouchers. That said… 23 rows, 6 seats per row but only about 4 or 5 in every row. I estimate they printed over 100 vouchers with a value north of $10,000.

The flight was good overall. Smooth and fine and nothing exceptional to report.

Until we arrive.

We get to the baggage claim area and our luggage is soaked. We don’t open them up to see if they’re wet inside and out (though we fear the worst). Instead… for this moment… picture pieces of luggage with rivers of water running off of them as you pick them up. It’s like someone sprayed them with a hose just prior to putting them on the belt.

Hold on though -- it’s not raining in Orlando.

It was raining in Warwick. All afternoon. And… thanks to the delay and how we experienced it (remember, we weren’t told of any delay when we checked our bags)…the bags could have been outside a couple of times and exposed to some pretty heavy rain.

But now? How are the bags this wet on the outside? They should have dried a bit… it should have soaked in… whatever. Go take a bag, pour a bucket of water over it, and let it sit in your living room for three hours. Then pick it up and shake it (as if moving it from a plane to a trolley, and then a trolley to a conveyor belt). Now… after all that… is there enough water left on the outside to create little rivers as you pick it up?

We’ve met Ellen and Richard and are just happy to be on our way to their house. Sam is thrilled to see us and bouncing around even though it’s six-hours past his normal bedtime. He’s so happy he’s actually hopping sideways out of the garage so he can watch us as Richard takes him for a walk.

We open our bags… and I don’t need to tell you, do I? Of course. Our clothes aren’t wet. They’re drenched.

Things are soaked in all of our bags, with items wet throughout… some of the clothes have been stained… and there’s a broken mirror and smashed boxes. A few of the boxes were destroyed by water damage.

Terry starts doing some laundry, and after a couple of hours we finally drift off to sleep.

Hopefully Saturday will be a little less exciting and a bit more fun.

Day two – Saturday, September 29, 2012

Terry wakes up and makes a phone call. She talks for about thirty seconds to a Southwest representative, gets referred to a customer service number that’s available Monday through Friday as a special help line, and hangs up.

After a few minutes, we head to see a friend’s new house that is nearby. Then it’s off to a favorite place for lunch.

We arrive at Harry’s Bar & Grille, and Terry and I make a decision to split items. We get an order of the She Crab soup, bacon wrapped scallops, and some wings. (Ellen went with the She Crab soup, and Richard opted for blackened wings.)

As it has been in the past… the food is really good.

We step outside and I spot a boxer out for a walk. “Boxers are cute” is Tigg’s observation. (Yes… there have been some very early discussions about a friend for Molly and Gus. Very early.)

Ellen and Richard are learning… well, actually, they already knew this… Terry and I can be a handful when we’re tired. Today though, we are just unstoppable. Comments and sarcasm and one-liners all over the place. It’s not that we’re upset or even cranky…we just get a bit goofy… and beyond the lack of sleep, the whole Southwest situation had us up washing clothes plus there still really isn’t a resolution. So when something funny or strange or in even a slight way noteworthy happens… well… we’re all over it with an inappropriate running commentary.

I have long contended that Ellen and Richard should be pitched to networks as a reality television show. I don’t know how to describe it to you in a way that really captures the full experience. I can share plenty of stories -- because once Ellen gets talking to herself and Richard begins mumbling… these are rarified levels of comedy. Someday I should just tape it from the back seat as we drive around.

This afternoon Ellen is driving. That alone should tell you we’re in for it. (She happens to be a horrible passenger for most people -- don’t know why, but my driving doesn’t seem to bother her as much. She is also easily the most aggressive driver of the four of us. This is a woman that will turn right at a red light when she wants to go straight -- needs to go straight -- just because she doesn’t want to wait at the light.)

In today’s episode, Ellen is asking Richard for directions, then deciding he’s wrong and more or less turning exactly the opposite of his suggestion. When… time after time… it turns out he’s right, she’s getting mad and increasingly frustrated. Kind of like this…

“Which way is the gas station Richard?”

“Well, you can turn here or at the next light, but either way you need to go left.”

“No. We’re further down the road than that. Do you know where we are? I’m going right.”

Ellen moves the car over a lane and then turns right.

“Oh s**t, it was to the left.”

Richard… wisely and showing tremendous experience… says nothing.

Now you have to really know Ellen (and Richard) to understand I’m not being critical of Ellen. Love her. Great woman. I’m just trying to bring you along for the ride. She gets into a zone, moving along at warp speed, and then when she asks you a question there is just no way you can answer in time… because as she’s asking, before she’s finished the question, she’s already made decisions and started moving the car based on her expectations of your answer.

Terry and I have settled in to the day and we are in a ridiculously silly state of mind. Since lunch, I’ve been making up lyrics for a would-be Ellen and Richard Show theme song. As Ellen is asking Richard how she can turn the car around to head the other way and get to the gas station, Terry has joined me in a chorus…

“There’s Ellen
and Rich
and Sammy Sticks.
It’s the Ellen and Richard Show!”

Up front, Ellen and Richard seem amused by the song… but… Richard has just told Ellen to take a right, she went left, and now we’re finding out that left was not the correct choice.

It’s at this point of the day that I’m going to save you some time. We made a quick stop to check out some cowboy boots. (Didn’t buy anything.) Went into a kitchen supply store. (Bought enough that I have no idea how we’re going to be able to get everything home. Mind you… especially since we arrived after midnight… this is our first day in Florida and dinner is still a couple of hours away.) And now…

We’ve arrived at Hobby Lobby. Since her first visit to one, it’s become Terry’s favorite store. We’re going to be here a while. So if you have something to do… feel free.

After we get out of Hobby Lobby, we decide to spend the evening playing some games and that we’ll order a pizza.

Ellen and I win a game of Hand and Foot (version of Canasta) without a count. Then Richard and I are off to pick up a stuffed double-crust pizza with ricotta and garlic knots from Pavarotti’s Restaurant. It was ok… but nothing special. It’s mainly here to document it. Not really a recommendation.

We were early for picking up the pizza, so I wandered into Publix and came out with a half-pie (Mango Key Lime… Publix is awesome) and Otter Paws ice cream. Great ending for a goofy, fun day.

Day three – Sunday, September 30, 2012

Terry and I have decided that we’re going to spend the final three nights of the trip in Disney. We kind of knew we’d be there for a night or two already. And the Mouse offers a great shuttle service to and from the airport. (Disney’s Magical Express)

When we were working on setting up our travel dates, originally we were going to stay about nine or ten days and leave on October 7th or 8th. Some of you might quickly understand that was Columbus Day weekend. As we checked on flights, the prices for coming back were enough that we decided to stay until Tuesday or Wednesday -- after some research, it wasn’t much more than just the cost of the flight on Monday for a couple of extra nights in a hotel and the cost of the flight on Wednesday.

What we hadn’t decided was what Ellen and Richard might do as far as joining us for a portion of the time in Orlando, and the day we would head that way. We have tickets for the Halloween event at Disney on Monday night… Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party… and everything else is open. Now it is settling in that Ellen and Richard are going to drive us to Orlando on Sunday, but need to think about whether or not they’ll spend that night with us.

Here’s where things start breaking in a great direction. We were planning on staying at what Disney calls a “value resort”… one of their All-Star locations. Terry gets Gina on the phone, and she has a surprise for us…

Terry gives the phone to me since I had done the research on it. When asked what I was looking for, I explain to Gina that I think the All-Star Movies Resort had the best prices I saw with availability for the nights we wanted. She explains that while she does have that same rate, it isn’t true for that being the best price. Disney has just opened the last section of their new Art of Animation Resort, and she can offer us a room in The Little Mermaid section for less than we were expecting.

We take the room, and I talk to Gina for a few more minutes. She walks me through the details of the Magical Express.

This is turning out to be a pretty good day.

Ellen has been craving Chinese food, which she normally can’t trick Richard into eating. Today though… she has rigged the voting to get the two of us to agree with her. So we head out for a quick lunch of Chinese food, and then stop in one of the antique malls nearby. (As to the food… it does seem to be true that finding good Chinese in Florida can be a challenge. It was ok at Wok N Roll II… prices were really good… and we would go back. But it wasn’t really good or something to advise you to seek out, and wouldn’t be a first choice for us. More of a nestled-in-a-strip-mall kind of establishment that fulfilled a craving we had.)

We end up spending a couple of hours wandering through the booths… often laughing hysterically at the memories created from some of the older novelty items like themed drinking glasses, lunchboxes and toys. Terry finds a few things for the boys… and it’s pretty much official. We were in trouble after the restaurant store yesterday for her to have any room in our luggage, and I knew it was bordering on a miracle once we came out of Hobby Lobby… even with us bringing an extra, empty bag. Now? After a few treasures obtained in the antique mall? I see no way we’re getting everything packed for Connecticut. (Of course… that’s Terry’s department… and she’s insisting we’re fine.)

After a while we head back home… have a steak dinner that couldn’t be beat… and sit down for some cards.

While discussing the events that will begin on Monday morning -- the start of the trip to Savannah -- Richard and I win the game of Hand and Foot by 200 points.

Ellen and I are playing dueling laptops as the game ends and conversation continues. We’ve both been a bit easy-going about finding things in Savannah to do up until this point. Not sure why. Just have been. (Maybe it’s part of the magic of the city -- “A Tale of Two City” -- and the spell it casts over people.)

This evening we’re kicking ideas back and forth… Lafayette Square and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist… looks like there might be a couple of railroad museums… City Market… and generally we’re just trying to get a feel for the city.

As we get ready to head off to bed, we’ve decided to target J. Alexander’s in Jacksonville for lunch. (An old favorite from our trip to Fort Lauderdale.) And, we’re looking seriously at Paula Deen -- The Lady and Sons -- for dinner.

For now though… the first weekend of the trip is wrapping up. It’s been very low-key, and we are having an awesome time so far.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I want to conclude this entry with a quick note… there isn’t going to be an entry for days four, five, six and seven. Well there is… but not by that name.

Tomorrow Terry, Ellen, Richard and I are headed for Savannah, Georgia. That’s right… we’re taking a trip within a trip… an adventure during the adventure… heading out on a distinctly separate journey. So… to continue this storyline, look for “Welcome to Savannah – Days One, Two, Three and Four” to continue the travel diary in order, with “Days Eight, Nine and Ten” taking over when we return to Florida. (And yes… there will be some separate efforts from a “Best of…” to an overview about Savannah.)

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at