I’ve been debating
how to open this travel journal, and have started it quite a few
there’s a story involved. And while not a long story, it develops
in stages, and I couldn’t decide if it worked better as one long
story to kick things off, or several shorter stories placed into
the daily entries of the travel diary where additional twists
and turns would add to them. Eventually -- stealing the description
a bit from Arlo Guthrie -- I decided that one big story was better
than several little ones.
thing that needs to be included in all of these thoughts -- a
background idea of sorts -- is this… Terry and I have enjoyed
visiting Florida a lot in recent years. We’ve been able to make
several trips to the Sunshine State -- the heart of the Travel
Trilogy is based on trips since December of
2004 to Florida, California, and Las Vegas. And the Strange
volume featuring Florida doesn’t include last
fall’s journey to Savannah, Ocala and Orlando.
2013 kicked off, Terry and I were trying to set up plans for vacation
time and possible travels during the year. We have been promising
one of my sisters, Kris, a visit ever since she had moved to Seattle.
The other sister, Kerri, was looking at a late 2013 or early 2014
visit from Australia, which in turn might include some ideas based
around Orlando. We also expected to try and work out some visits
to the boys… Jay and Justin… over extended weekends or through
there were some ideas taking shape. And one that definitely wasn’t
expected was a trip to Florida in the first few months of the
year. So when I asked Terry if she’d be interested in thinking
about a few days with Ellen and Richard, playing cards, celebrating
birthdays, and just generally getting away from New England… well…
I wasn’t surprised when the answer was a no to the trip, even
though the interest definitely was there.
trick with Terry is… things change quickly. And especially when
it comes to travel, you have to be willing to walk away once you
bring it up.
Really. Express the idea and then walk away.
explain it… expand on it… modify it… or whatever.
mention it and get out of there.
“Hey, would you be interested in heading to Florida for a week?”
“We can’t afford that right now.”
“Yeah. You’re right.”
talk about how we could both use a few days away from routine
of the real world.
talk about how eating in or traveling over the right dates could
reduce the costs.
happens after that is kind of miraculous.
say I asked Terry about getting a puppy. Of course her answer
would be time and money and a few other things. Within a few days
if we did get a puppy, you’d have to be the one feeding it,
getting up with it, and walking it most of the time.”
short… plant the seed and let it grow on its own. By not forcing
the issue, you don’t trap Terry in a corner where she is forced
to fight from the opposing view. That just cements her position.
corny… and there’s more to it, a lot more, as there is
with all relationships… but sure enough, after asking about visiting
Ellen and Richard, about five days later…
we did go to Florida, we’d have to limit ourselves to staying
with Ellen and Richard and maybe one big dinner for all of your
birthdays. No theme parks. No Disney. Nothing else. We go to
Ocala and stay with the Sabettas.”
I should ask about a puppy.)
began targeting the weeks between March and May. School vacations
and other concerns were kicked around a bit… work schedules were
considered… and soon it was decided that a trip would definitely
happen, a day at Disney was actually a possibility after all,
contact was made with the Sabettas, and the planning started to
pick up speed.
last trip that Terry, Justin, Jay and I made to Florida as a group
was back in 1999. Justin hadn’t been to Florida at all since that
trip. Even though plans for this visit were pretty low-key, a
call was placed and the boys were invited to join us. Jay had
some work obligations that he couldn’t get away from… but Justin
would be able to go and wanted to join us.
ideas began getting kicked around more seriously with him, Terry
asked Justin if he wanted to invite his girlfriend to join us
as well. With that… Kim quickly became a part of the travel party.
in a quick aside to the story… anyone that has followed the travel
adventure of ours, and specifically the wonderful tales from Florida,
may be aware of the fact that Terry and I have a bit of a running
joke. It’s in two parts. (1) For a variety of reasons, the Magic
Kingdom has been involved in the last three Florida trips. (2)
We haven’t returned to the Animal Kingdom since 2005.
we first began truly thinking about Florida with specific dates
and thoughts, and Disney was becoming an option, the two of us
were giving the nod to the Animal Kingdom. We went to Epcot
in 2010. We went to the Hollywood
Studios for Christmas in 2011. We went to
the Magic Kingdom… together and with friends… for a
special visit in 2011, for Christmas
in 2011, and for Halloween
in 2012. And with Kerri and her family coming
soon, it seemed like Disney would be part of the plans again soon.
the Animal Kingdom. A good, solid choice.
and then… the humorous return of the Magic Kingdom to the conversation
out, Kim had never been in a Disney theme park.
gone to a water park in Disney World during a group trip. (Which
we later identified as Typhoon Lagoon.) But never to one of the
four Disney World theme parks.
if you know Terry at all, you know there was absolutely no way
she was going to let this lovely girl travel to Florida with her
and not visit a Disney theme park. And, barring the most extreme
of circumstances, if you can only visit one Disney theme park,
it should be the Magic Kingdom.
let’s do some quick reviews. Justin hadn’t been to a Disney theme
park since 1999. Kim had never been. Disney World was on the map…
and the Magic Kingdom would most certainly be a part of it.
we discussed the possibilities of one park, the Animal Kingdom
was providing some traction for a thought or two to be given to
the possibility of at least thinking about a second park day.
And through those thoughts and subsequent conversations, it became
quite evident that beyond getting Kim to the Magic Kingdom, the
other three parks all had a variety of reasons for becoming the
second for our adventure.
liked the idea of Epcot, which features Soarin’ along with the
recently renovated Test Track.
Hollywood Studios boasted Fantasmic! and Toy Story Midway
Mania!, which would be a terrific show with Kim involved along
with a ride we’ve never been on.
there again, was the Animal Kingdom… not visited by us since 2005…
with Expedition Everest.
you still with me? Because we’ve covered a lot of ground and haven’t
even booked the flights yet.
narrowed down the travel dates and did in fact book our tickets.
Terry and I would be leaving on Saturday the 20th of April from
Rhode Island. Justin and Kim would follow the next day, departing
from Baltimore Washington International Airport.
we were faced with a couple of interesting decisions.
up… both Ellen and Richard were dealing with work schedules, and
yet they couldn’t be certain of their days off until closer to
the trip. There was a very real scenario developing where Terry,
Justin, Kim and I would be spending some time without Ellen and
Richard. Possibly any Orlando portions. We needed to rent a car…
especially since in addition to being on our own as four, there
would at times be six of us moving around.
second… Orlando and a hotel. See, depending on which day or days
we visited a theme park on, we might need to stay in Orlando overnight.
One… two… three rooms in a hotel, for one… two… three or more
nights… and I’m sure you too can see the dollar signs adding up.
when Ellen comes through with amazing colors and a terrific offer.
calls us up one day to let us know she checked our travel dates,
and while Orange Lake wouldn’t be available, there was another
resort on Irlo Bronson that would be… Vacation
Village at Parkway. She booked a week at the
property for us, from Sunday the 21st through Sunday the 28th.
And no matter what days we might need it, the seven nights --
featuring a unit consisting of two suites… two bedrooms and two
bathrooms total, with pullout couches) -- would cost less than
one hotel room for two nights pretty much anyplace else.
there you have it. The outline… the story… of how the trip to
visit Ellen and Richard based on playing cards and simply getting
away for a bit had transformed into all sorts of amazing options
that centered around at least one Disney park and hotel reservations
in Orlando for seven nights. There were still a few weeks to go
before we would leave, and plenty of things to talk about… still,
most of the trip had set itself up nicely for just about any possibility.
travel diary is divided into four segments… beginning with Terry
and I arriving in Florida and meeting up with Ellen and Richard…
then finishing as we drop off Justin and Kim for their flight
and get ready for our own. I don’t want to spoil it by describing
now where the breaks take place. Basically the center of the adventures
involve the Mouse and… a bit of a nod to Harry Chapin this time…
you’ll see why when it comes on by.
the web site will ultimately feature nine… yup, nine… articles
from this trip, including the famous “Best of…” column. The park
reviews, travel diary entries, and “Best of…” summary have developed
over the years here on the site. And, with Florida so big a part
of previous journeys, there’s plenty of reason to look for new
ways of expressing thoughts and information. So, for this trip,
I tried to dive into the records and bring back a few things that
had dropped away for one reason or another over the years… look
at some of these moments in a slightly different way than I have
before… and overall try to bring the same fun and excitement while
freshening things up.
on our way to Orlando folks…
one – Saturday, April 20, 2013
I have some incredible last minute challenges… organizing projects,
printing boarding passes, packing the final items like a laptop
or looking for battery chargers… and Terry manages to have the
clothes and everything from her list organized a few hours before
I do. That in turn leads to Terry getting to sleep early, and
my heading to bed around 1 or 2am, with the alarm set for 3:30
or some other nearby hour that makes me debate whether or not
the nap will truly be worth it.
time though… yeah… I’m going to blame Molly. Everything went smoothly
for the most part… bags packed and ready to go… list crossed out
from top to bottom… and both of us ready for six or seven hours
of sleep before the alarm was set to wake us at 3am.
we traveled to New Hampshire for a weekend
little more than a month ago, we had forgotten a bag. And so…
perhaps concerned about the possibility of either of us forgetting
something… it seemed like the two of us were perfectly in synch
when it came to having things prepared and double-checked with
though… she kept waking me up. She wouldn’t settle down, and with
a week away getting ready to begin I felt too bad to block her
out of the bedroom entirely. And of course, Gus played along in
supporting Molly. (In fact, I think it was Gus that handed me
the remote to the television on the trip downstairs that resulted
in my watching an episode of James May’s Man Lab that
I had saved.)
as we head off around 4am… beginning the usual drop off of the
car and shuttle ride from Dad to the airport about two-hours ahead
of the flight time… I’m still tired. And yet… I suppose that’s
not really new. Same situation… different story getting there.
was nothing special about this flight down. We ended up with an
empty seat between us and arrived a few minutes early in Orlando.
Everything was great. However… just before the flight… we overheard
a few conversations that had us chuckling.
might recall our 2012 trip, where the Friday
evening flight delivered a wonderful list of events. A four-hour
delay… baggage contents thoroughly soaked… just non-stop, one-thing-after-another,
woman we spoke to back then told us it was her second time having
the Friday evening flight delayed and she thought something was
up with the airline’s schedules. This time, it’s Saturday morning
and one of the people next to us is talking about how their flight
from the night before… yup, judging by what she described, that
same Friday evening flight… had been delayed and ultimately she
decided to fly this morning.
got my thoughts racing, since the waiting area was pretty quiet
at that point, but it was still pretty early. And if I heard her
correctly then my possibly not-nearly-filled flight this morning
might be booked with other holdovers from Friday yet to arrive.
I have a habit of using Southwest’s auto-registration process.
I think they call it an early bird option, where for $10 per ticket
they will confirm your seat assignment the moment the 24-hour
check in window opens up. Well… in this instance we had eight
flights involved when you add in Justin and Kim, the cost of early
bird confirmation has gone up to $12.50, and adding an extra $100
just didn’t make much sense to me. So I was there… 23-hours ago…
getting boarding assignments for Terry and I at the very first
moment possible. (Justin and Kim are flying tomorrow from Baltimore.
Ellen is kindly and wonderfully taking care of getting their check
in handled since we should be in the air when the time arrives.)
hysterical things happen for this conversation subject…
off, the people sitting with their backs to ours are discussing
the online registration process and how they did pick the early
bird option. Terry and I ended up with B5 and B6 without it. She
and her flying partner are barely ahead of us in the B group.
So… yeah… while I will consider the early bird option again someday,
I’m feeling pretty good about saving the money this time around.
a guy nearby shows some real brilliance. He’s arguing with one
of Southwest’s agents at the counter. Seems he logged on last
night. (A reminder, auto-registration starts 24 hours ahead of
your scheduled flight time… so for this flight I had been online
around 7am on Friday morning.) Even though he set things up before
arriving at the airport by being on-line at 10pm last night …
he wants her to know, quite forcefully repeated and emphasized…
he’s upset his assignment is late in the C boarding group. Seems
he cannot believe that all of these people -- wide, sweeping arm
gestures referring to our collection of travelers in the waiting
area of gate 21 -- would have confirmed their places not just
before arriving at the airport, but also before he did late last
great flight… crew was fabulous… and we arrive in Orlando.
Tip: Ok… new feature where I’m going to try and high-light something
that I find interesting or helpful or just generally worth sharing
and possibly better if set aside somehow for easy reference.
For this story, we’ll bold it and italicize it and indent the
me, the process of booking a flight is incredibly similar to
buying a house. (I know… stay with me.) This similarity is in
the search process, which is divided into two distinct areas.
first part is the stuff you know as you get started. This involves
preferences and particulars. Maybe you want a hassle-free or
short commute… a big yard and great neighborhood for walks for
the dogs… an extra bathroom… a master bedroom, one bedroom per
kid, plus an extra bedroom to turn into an office… and these
items make up your starting points.
second part is the stuff you learn as you start looking around,
and usually don’t know much about the first time you are buying
a house. The potential impacts of a “shared” driveway… homeowners
associations… what services the city or town does or does not
offer… and as you look at homes, or learn from past experiences,
you begin to incorporate these items into your decision making.
Terry and I fly Southwest. (And if the people from Southwest
wish to contact me… Bob@inmybackpack.com...
you are a great airline and I would happily speak with you about
endorsement possibilities. However, there is no paid reasoning
behind this statement right now.)
that first part of the comparison: we like to fly non-stop…
we usually travel for long enough periods of time that we both
have a bag to check, and normally return with one more in addition
to those we began with… and we enjoy the convenience of flying
out of Green when we can.
to Orlando, Southwest is routinely the least expensive, with
no surprise fees such as for checked baggage, while offering
direct flights to and from Orlando.
that second part: the early bird check in has been a great assistance,
especially when we weren’t sure if we would be close to a computer
24-hours ahead of our departure time.
there you go… the first new feature… flights without hidden
surprises… Southwest works very nicely for us.
off to the Thrifty counter to pick up our rental… which, naturally,
is the very last counter in the terminal. And man… that counter
of rental cars just goes on for-e-ver in Orlando.
said before that in general I will usually consider the gas option
for a rental… the one where you prepay so you don’t have to fill
it before returning. I know… probably losing a few dollars in
the transaction… but I like not having to worry about stopping
for gas on the way back to the rental agency. Usually though,
I’ve booked the car I need, so an upgrade isn’t really something
I want to pay for. Offer it for free… sure. Pay for it… thanks,
regular pitch is made... upgrades and such… and this time we have
some slightly different questions. We’re being offered a Crown
Victoria in the upgrade, and at an additional rate that we think
sounds pretty decent… which is fine. What we want to know is if
it has a full front seat since we want to get six people comfortably
inside. Otherwise we’d still need two cars for getting around,
since upgrading to something like a minivan was not a cost efficient
option. Turns out the Crown Victoria does… and we take it.
Tip: (Wow. Another one already. That was quick. Ok…)
have never rented a car outside of the United States.
this idea came up as really interesting to me when working on
the final drafts of the Strange and Unexpected efforts. See,
I contacted family and friends that had been on the adventures,
and I asked all sorts of questions. I wanted to assemble some
new material just for the books, and one of the questions involved
tips such as… go figure… rental cars.
am not telling you anything new when I say things like I did
a few paragraphs ago, which is that we all get the standard
routine at the counter for rental cars. “Buy our insurance”…
“We have an option for purchasing gas”… “I can upgrade your
car”… and so on and so on.
if you’ve ever rented a car -- ta-dah! – that’s nothing new.
Standard stuff to consider. And while it may or may not be worth
it to you, the consideration you give to any of those options
are up to you, and… as is the case on this trip for upgrading
to a larger vehicle… may depend (and vary) on the situations
and circumstances involved.
Strange and Unexpected though, I got this:
When overseas make sure it’s an automatic if that’s all you
Get car insurance when driving in a foreign country.
and Margaret: Never had any problems so far. That said, always
check the car over before driving away, especially in Spain.
I fully understand what I am about to say, and here it is
anyway… consider buying the insurance. I’ve just got stories
about times when having it worked out better than not.
you see that?
mentioned that you need to pay attention if you can only drive
an automatic… Kris mentioned insurance internationally… Jay
and his friends have been in foreign countries. Hmm… but then
John and Margaret bring the entire conversation to a very specific
“…always check the car over before driving away, especially
what? Be extra careful in Spain?
you rent a car in southern California, you will quite likely
get a long warning from the representative of the car rental
agency. The story will involve the coverage, and allowances,
of travel into Mexico. You might even get the same idea conveyed
to you by the representative of your insurance company if you
call them ahead of your journey to confirm you are covered by
your policy for a rental. Basically the policy you have from
home might not cover you internationally.
on a trip to Las Vegas, I had a blast dealing with a rental
company that wanted nothing to do with my insurance company.
(Or yours.) They had you sign at the beginning to indicate you
understood that if you declined coverage, they planned on billing
tip here is simple… and car rentals are a beautiful example
of it on so, so many levels… do your homework. Know what you
are talking about and/or getting. It’s one thing to decline
insurance from the rental company. It’s quite another to know
what your policy does actually cover or to consider scenarios
that could cause you headaches and damage the contents of your
will not laugh at you if you pay extra to upgrade. I’ve been
offered free upgrades that were terrific surprises… and I’ve
paid for upgrades.
won’t shake my head if you purchase the agency’s rental insurance.
I won’t make fun of you for accepting the full-gas-tank option.
You do what you feel comfortable doing.
you decline the coverage and get into an accident only to find
out you aren’t covered for rentals because you went with the
lowest coverage requirement options for your policy… and it
turns into chaos with your credit card company because they’ll
pay what your insurer doesn’t, which means basically they plan
on paying your deductible and not a bill of several thousand
dollars with possible medical costs involved as well, and they
hold off on paying you anything while asking tons of questions…
and so on… when all you needed to do was make a phone call before
the trip to your provider, but you didn’t do that because you
just couldn’t be bothered making the call… yeah, then I might
raise an eyebrow while judging your right to bitch and complain
about the world being unfair.
off to Ocala to meet Ellen. (Richard is working today.) And once
we arrive at their house we are promptly assaulted by Sam. It’s
a happy assault, and we’re just as thrilled to see him and he
is to see us.
three of us head over to Guadalajara. We
found it on our last visit, and really enjoyed the food there.
Prices were good, service was friendly, and so we are looking
forward to a decent lunch.
are not disappointed.
goes with tacos, while Terry and I both order flautas. In addition,
Terry spots a bacon wrapped shrimp appetizer. It’s called Camerones
Especiales, and features prawns filled with Monterey Jack, wrapped
in bacon, and served with a dipping sauce. Terry and Ellen both
catching up with Ellen, and discussing some possible plans based
on their work schedules and thoughts, she explains that she and
Richard are looking for a bit of an escape as well and want to
head into Orlando with us as much as possible. Though Ellen is
off all weekend, Richard has to work tomorrow too. But they are
both off from work on Monday and Tuesday, along with Friday night,
Saturday and Sunday next weekend.
the three of us enjoy our lunch and start kicking around this
information, an interesting reality is taking shape. We want to
spend as much time as we can with Ellen and Richard on this trip.
The only theme park they are really intrigued by is the Animal
she has joined us at the three other Disney parks in recent years…
and Richard has been to the Magic Kingdom along with Epcot in
the past couple of years… the Animal Kingdom is good for them,
and now a go for Monday. And… given the details about their work
schedules… to maximize time with them before they head back to
Ocala midweek, the Disney days with the kids are likely to involve
Wednesday and Thursday.
really mapping it out, these developments mean that we are very
likely to be staying in Orlando for most of the nights, if not
all of the nights, after checking in on Sunday.
is still a couple of hours from home as we arrive there, and I
am falling asleep while the girls are talking. I get kicked out
of the living room… without a fight… and take a nap.
has been dying to try two Japanese steakhouses nearby, and one
of them is the initial destination as we set off after Richard
joins us. When we arrive though, the waiting time is estimated
to be about two hours.
we hit route 200 and begin tossing ideas around. I really don’t
know how, but once it becomes evident that Bob… the one that doesn’t
like much seafood… has no objections to Red Lobster, it isn’t
long before we have a pager in hand and a 15-20 minute expected
took care of us at Red Lobster, and he did a great job. For the
record… Ellen and Richard each went with a multi-course-meal-special,
with Ellen basing hers around coconut shrimp and Richard a tilapia…
Terry ordered a crab-stuffed shrimp plate that included shrimp
skewers, along with a lobster and crab stuffed mushroom appetizer…
and I went with a steak that had a great crumbled blue cheese
topping and added some snow crab legs.
all loved our meals. Great stuff… and both Justin and Kim were
grateful for the leftovers that managed to be transported to Orlando
the next day. (Which were enjoyed in parts on a couple of different
at the house, Richard and I build a gigantic lead in Dirty Hand
and Foot (our version of Canasta), only to have Terry and Ellen
storm back from the depths in the final two hands to win.
we prepare for bed, the Sunday outline is in place…
we’re going to Disney World!
two – Sunday, April 21, 2013
yet though. No Disney today.
morning one of us is going to work, and three are headed to Orlando.
Officially, Disney begins tomorrow.
wake up and begin assembling two very different days.
is preparing to take Sam to his resort… the kennel at the vet…
and then will head off to work for the day. Depending on how bad
the forecasted rain is later on we could see him join us in Orlando
late tonight. Some strong storms are expected though, and it is
possible we’ll see him tomorrow morning.
plans yesterday began taking the turn that we would be spending
the majority of the week in Orlando, Terry and I left our bags
packed. Ellen is now ready to go as well, with her suitcase prepared
for two nights with us.
airport is calling, and the first part of our day involves meeting
up with Justin and Kim.
pair is headed our way from Baltimore… with a twist. We weren’t
able to get them a direct flight. While they are staying on the
same plane, there is a stop in South Carolina. Also… Ellen logged
in yesterday to book their boarding assignment. And while nothing
seemed to be developing as a problem… yeah… there’s always some
fun when multiple hands are getting involved, especially from
different locations, even if it’s just crossing your fingers that
everything stays the way it looks.
seem to be fine for us when we get on the road, and only improve
when Justin calls to say they have landed after the first leg
of their journey. Since he hasn’t been in Orlando in years --
meaning he likely doesn’t remember the shuttle that runs between
terminals -- Terry talks to him for a moment about his arrival.
We are basically set to arrive at the airport as his flight lands.
If we try to sneak in a quick stop for gas and a visit to the
ladies room, Justin and Kim could be on the ground and moving
toward the entrances before we even reach the airport. Plus, with
no checked luggage, they have no need to stop in baggage claim.
thinks they can get to the roadway with no troubles, so we make
plans for them to call when they are in Orlando and we will likely
pick them up curbside. (Because of changing levels between things
like baggage claim and check in desks, we are going with a meeting
on the departures curb. Just more of a straight walk for them.)
plan works perfectly.
are nearing the airport when Justin calls us… and by “nearing”
I mean that we are passing the signs separating the terminals,
arrivals from departures, car rentals from parking. And that means
we will be passing the curbside zone just about the time they
would be getting off the shuttle and several minutes before they
could reach the outside.
decide to drive past and circle around.
whatever reason, this has Terry and Ellen concerned. They think
I should pull over and wait.
thing is… I really don’t feel like pulling over and having a discussion
with the local authorities about the car being in an area where
they frown on standing for any length of time. I’ve driven around
the Orlando airport many times and know that the roadways… as
they do at most airports… circle around so I can be back at the
same spot in under five minutes. I keep driving.
starts a comedy show where Terry and Ellen proceed to question
my thought process, my driving skills, the stubbornness of men,
the inability of men to take directions, and so on.
we reach the entrance again, I still don’t see the kids, and I
continue driving into another loop. Terry and Ellen decide they’ve
wrapped up the first act and move on to warning me about traffic,
pedestrians, and other assorted potential obstacles as they play
off they idea that I am unaware of my surroundings. They warn
me about palm trees. They warn me about the car constantly turning
to the left. Heck, during this show Terry notices what sunglasses
I’m wearing, and she warns me not to leave the ones she likes
at home on the next trip.
doors we have asked Justin to look for are once again coming into
view and the comedic geniuses are now cracking jokes about my
slowing down since it will cost me on my lap time when I take
off again. But I think I’ve spotted two familiar figures with
one wearing his just-about-always-there baseball cap… and I have.
I pull over just as the automatic doors open for Justin and Kim
to step outside.
I need to mention that the car is not immediately filled with
wild applause or praise for my timing? Didn’t think so. I’m sure
I’ll do something wrong in the next hour or two and The Terry
and Ellen Comedy Show will kick off again. Check your local
listings and set your DVRs.)
five of us have barely pulled away from the curb when the decision
is made to get lunch before heading over to Vacation Village.
It’s not even noon yet, so the idea seems to make the most sense.
head to Miller’s Ale House -- in this case, specifically the Kissimmee
Ale House -- and it’s a return visit for us,
as the location is near Orange Lake and one we’ve stopped at before.
is looking after our group… and I’m certain he was training. (He
was great… had a few people following him though, and those people
kept checking in with our table.)
got lobster bisque, and then she and I shared zingers and calamari.
Ellen ordered a veggie sandwich. Justin picked a blackened salmon
sandwich. And Kim rounded out our group with her zinger salad.
Everyone seemed very happy with the results. (And Justin’s grin
widened as people began sliding their plates to him with offers
of “dig in” or sharing of leftovers.)
Ellen and I know that there is a Publix more or less right across
the street from the Kissimmee Ale House, so we hop in the car
for barely two minutes and head in to get some basics for the
rooms. Within a half-hour we are outside, milk, orange juice,
bottled water, and a few other essentials squeezed in around luggage,
people, and basically into any space available.
head to Vacation Village… which is on the other side of Irlo Bronson
(Orange Lake being “west gate” in Irlo Bronson Disney-speak, and
Vacation Village at Parkway being ever so slightly “east gate”)…
and, sure enough, opportunity has arrived. This episode of The
Terry and Ellen Comedy Show is focused on Mi Luv U.
and Ellen laugh when Richard and I use our GPS units. They make
fun of its female voice -- and, in fairness, changing my Garmin
to the female British voice certainly didn’t help my fighting
the girls in picking on me any time before, and it won’t help
today. (Though I still contend that CBS and Garmin have to team
up on a Sheldon-themed Big Bang Theory GPS voice, with
games and other fun becoming part of any trip.)
really lost mind you. We are driving around Vacation Village at
Parkway buildings, and I would learn in about two hours that Mi
Luv U had brought us pretty much to the dead center of this Vacation
Village resort property. The trouble was that she had used one
street off of Irlo Bronson as the entry point, and it was actually
the next one that led to the main offices and check in desks.
make a phone call to sort it out. That doesn’t give me much room
for debating their routine.
at the office, while Terry and Ellen head inside to register,
let’s take the time for a general overview of Vacation Village…
both this property and others.
turns out that Terry, Ellen, Richard and I have stayed at Vacation
Village locations previously. The
Grandview in Las Vegas… home of our 2008 trip?
Yup… Vacation Village. South
Florida in 2009… the main home base for our
travels was a Vacation Village property (called Mizner Place at
Weston Town Center).
basic room setup is kind of funny, until you experience it. Why?
Because they keep using the word suite in an almost interchangeable
way for different things that make sense, but are completely different.
every room is called a “suite”… with a kitchen area, a washer
and dryer, living room with a pull-out sofa, bedroom, and a full
“unit” consists of two suites. The primary suite has a master
bedroom with a king-size bed, Jacuzzi tub in the bedroom, and
effectively a full kitchen. The secondary suite puts a queen-size
bed in the bedroom with no Jacuzzi, and the kitchen is more of
a kitchenette (full refrigerator, but assorted items to make up
for no stove).
confusion is caused by the terms suites and units and how they
are used. By the above explanation of the layouts, when we booked
our stay it was for a unit… both suites. But, we are finding many
people are using the term “suite” to cover both what is actually
the suite as well as to describe a unit.
our past trips, you may recall that we’ve stayed in rooms where
both suites were not always rented together. (Check out the 2008
Las Vegas stories for the fun of switching rooms and other tales.)
This all means that even though we’ve experienced the basic floor
plans… at two other properties and in two different states, yet
with the same basic layout and furniture… we’re only pretty much
certain about what we’re getting and not 100% convinced. So when
my phone rings…
honestly… I wasn’t expecting it to be a problem with the room.
But they asked me to come in, and if not the room reservations
there was really only one other possibility. And please… please…
don’t tell me Terry and Ellen were calling me in for that.
“What’s up” Justin asks.
sure,” I reply while opening the car door. “But I think your
mother and Ellen may have booked a reservation for a time share
the answer is… it wasn’t the room. It was both yes and no to the
presentation… but mostly yes.
not going to share the entire encounter here… it would take way
too long, and honestly the absurdity of it works best if you could
watch it as it unfolded while not as well in print. Still…
representative they were speaking with began talking to me, and
even though he was trying to explain things again, the way he
was doing it by offering new material while recapping what he
had told the girls confused me, and ultimately I was trying to
take a step back. That only frustrated Terry and Ellen, who thought
I was trying to say no. Instead, he had said something that I
knew wasn’t true, but when I tried to explain what I meant, his
response was (yes, a quote): “I do this every day sir, so I’m
sure of what I’m telling you.” Which served to tick me off. (And
yeah… apparently he wasn’t so sure, because he was wrong.)
reason Terry and Ellen had called me in was because the presentation
included an offer for discounted park tickets. And with four of
us thinking about multiple days, plus Ellen and Richard joining
us on one day… and Terry and I having been talking about possibly
getting something at Orange Lake… well… the prices they were shown
looked really good for a few hours sacrificed on an open morning.
Tip: Almost every discount ticket offer you see in Orlando is
a scam. It would take me hours to try and explain them all to
you, or even just to try and establish even a really good concept
of what takes place. But the reality is, there are no street-corner
stands that can get you into the parks, without fail, for a
great reduced rate.
let’s say you see one of those roadside places and decide to
stop and check it out. You walk in, and… amazingly… the person
with the tickets isn’t there. He or she just so happens to be
out of the office right then. It’s an incredible coincidence
that you just happened to stop in while this busy person wasn’t
there. So you leave your name and a contact number, and get
told to expect a call so we can work this all out. Go figure,
the phone rings. (We’ll stop here. If you check out such a story
by doing an internet search, you’ll find that once you finally
meet up with them, get the tickets, and head to the park, the
tickets don’t work at the gate. Unbelievable! Who could have
seen this coming? Even more amazing… you’ll learn that most
people never find that person in the office.)
not saying this is a hard and fast truth. What I am saying is
that when someone offers you something too good to be true,
generally, it is too good to be true. And if you pull up your
favorite search engine and type something like “Disney discount
scams” as the search words, you’ll see plenty of results covering
what I mean. If you want more, check
out this article at MouseSavers, which as a site
is generally one of the best sources on Disney details you could
there is one way to get discount tickets that usually is a legitimate
offer. And it’s from the time share industry. In these cases
you need to give up some time and join a representative for
a presentation on purchasing a property. As their gift to you,
the offer of discounted theme park tickets is extended. You
don’t have to buy. The understanding is that if you don’t attend
your session though, you will be charged the difference in price
between what they offered and the actual face value of the tickets.
these time share presentations take time… valuable time… away
from your vacation. Most of them can last two or more hours.
And honestly, if you aren’t interested in buying, they may not
be for you. I am not recommending that you visit a time share,
attend a presentation, and do it just to get discounted theme
park tickets. These are major sales pitches, where you will
be introduced to lots of very friendly people trying to get
you to buy something. And it’s one of the smoothest, hardest
pressing pitches you will ever experience. These folks are good.
I said, Terry and I love Orange Lake as a property, have traveled
a lot with Ellen and Richard using a time share associated program,
and have been discussing making a purchase of our own.
I mentioned Vacation Village is affiliated with properties we’ve
been to? It’s not Orange Lake, but we are familiar with what they
the idea of attending one of their presentations, even if just
to learn a bit more, is ok with us. Add it all up, and the opportunity
to get tickets at a really good price makes this worth the time.
for the results that really tipped the balance?
we need two one-day tickets for Ellen and Richard. They are only
joining us for the Animal Kingdom day. For Terry, Justin, Kim
and I, we have been kicking around one, two and even three days
in Disney World theme parks as options.
three-day Disney ticket, as I write this… with no bells and whistles,
just a one-park admission for three days… runs about $260 per
person. For the four of us, that would mean over $1,000 (plus
Disney offers A LOT when it comes to bells and whistles
for their tickets. Hopper options (being able to move between
parks on the same day), water parks and Magic Your Way (which
can add water parks, DisneyQuest, mini-golf and so on), and extensions
on expiration dates are just a few considerations. It can be dizzying.
It is confusing.
for us… let’s go back to the basics. Three days, one park per
day, four people -- $1,000. Add in one-day tickets for Ellen and
Richard, and we are closing in on $1,200.
Village was offering us several ticket options for attending their
presentation one morning (and yes… the presentation would start
with a free breakfast). One was a four-day park ticket that included
the water parks, DisneyQuest or mini-golf extra.
going to note here that when we told Justin and Kim about the
tickets, he immediately looked like a child hopped up on three
boxes of some kind of chocolate-sugar-bomb cereal being told he
was going to… well… to Disney World. Huge smile… eyes wide open…
laughing while saying “DisneyQuest, really, oh I remember DisneyQuest,
and we have to go to DisneyQuest” over and over again.
In short… to save a bit of typing when it comes to the tickets
and options, from this point on I’m just going to say DisneyQuest
as part of the tickets because that is the option we went with.
If you wanted… or even if we had wanted… Typhoon Lagoon or Fantasia
Gardens mini-golf or whatever, it was a possibility. And having
played mini golf on the Disney property, and having visited both
Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, I can tell you they are all
would be no discount involved for Ellen and Richard. One-day tickets
were going to be priced as one-day tickets. But…
three-day tickets -- no extras and no pair of tickets for Ellen
and Richard… we don’t attend the presentation -- as I
mentioned, roughly $1,000.
four-day tickets, plus
an afternoon at DisneyQuest, plus
two one-day tickets -- we do attend the presentation
-- just over $1,000.
extra day for four of us along with an added day at DisneyQuest,
and the tickets for Ellen and Richard. Same price.
this case, it was absolutely going to be worth it to attend the
time share presentation.
to sum this up… if you’ve been watching how this story has evolved…
Terry and I were a bit stunned at this point, since we were now
looking squarely at not visiting one or two parks, but actually
getting into every Disney theme park during this trip.
get out of guest services and head to the unit.
in building 8, and the drive over goes right past the Arabian
Nights dinner show building. None of us has ever attended the
show… though honestly, you can’t visit Orlando and Disney World
and not hear about it (or see the sign with the horse next to
the highway). This gets me thinking that if I had known it was
going to be so close to us… literally walking distance from our
room, and a very short walk at that… I would have checked into
the show. Now though… with four days of Disney parks and all of
our nights spoken for, it isn’t something we could even consider
we approach our building, I’m noticing how small the parking areas
are. I mean… one row, of maybe ten to fifteen spots, along the
side of the building. Seems weird. But I find a space and park
fairly close to the building’s entrance.
open the doors to our suites… and yes, we have the full unit,
with both suites. After settling in a bit, we decide on a quiet
evening spent mainly in the room, which slowly spins into conversations
about what we might do for dinner.
when I say slowly spins I mean just that… since no one is hungry
and everyone is using vacation pacing for getting anything done.
That leads us to a start of a new, on-going production from this
trip. Let’s get it going now…
Village internet service…
Ha-ha, the word “service” implies we actually got something…
Part one -- The first request
we had settled in, but before making a decision on where or even
what to eat, I break out the laptop and begin trying to access
the internet service. The paperwork from the front desk has the
instructions and it seems simple enough. But for whatever reason,
while I can see the Wi-Fi network information on the laptop, I
cannot get the log on screen to appear.
ask Justin if he has his iPad nearby and toss him the information
sheet. In less than a minute, he’s logged on and has service.
ok. So it’s a setting on my laptop.
spend about twenty minutes running through setting after setting.
I never have problems with the wireless service at home… when
visiting Ellen and Richard… while staying with Jay… or, basically
at any other time. So I keep finding myself hitting dead end after
dead end, since this is not a frequently encountered problem.
(Certainly not one I’ve ever had, with this laptop, at Orange
Justin has some version of service, I’m not worried. I can just
use the iPad if I need something badly… oh, such as later in the
week when we have to check in for our flights home or to confirm
park hours over the next couple of days. Heck, Kim is already
looking up stuff on her phone for these needs. We’re covered.
But once Terry and Ellen say they are still about ten minutes
from being done unpacking their stuff, I decide to call the help
number for the Vacation Village Wi-Fi service.
out… they contract that support service to an outside provider.
get a friendly guy on the phone, and we begin running through
a checklist of items. It starts off easy enough… where am I staying
(which turns out to be a conversation on how they are managing
several networks not just for Vacation Village, but all over the
place), what building I’m in, and so on. We get to exchanging
a contact number in case we get disconnected or someone needs
to call me back at a later time, and -- since I hadn’t checked
the phone number for the room and didn’t know if there was something
crazy with multiple steps involved, and, I might be going out
for dinner and not be near that phone anyway -- I give him my
cell phone number. Then… well… we move deeper into the checklist
and things start downhill quickly.
I explained my problem. I can see the network, can’t log on, and
we have successfully logged on with an iPad.
first response after we had confirmed everything was that he figured
it was an access point, but first we should try connecting to
the network with my laptop while he was on the phone, just so
we could cover every possible problem. He asked me to restart
my computer. (Ok… fine… temperamental computers. I’ll play along.)
up was having him check the access point for my room, the highlights
of which were the conversation about turning it off (“now tell
me when the network disappears from your computer screen”) and
then turning it on (“and now let me know when you can see the
network listed again”).
please keep in mind… I TOLD him that we had accessed
the Wi-Fi using an iPad. In other words, I knew there was a signal
and that it was working… from the password and instructions we
were given all the way through the process to actually getting
it to work. My problem was I could not get my laptop to match
up with the network, regardless of what steps (or tricks) I tried.
the representative had said something like this -- “Gee, I’m sorry
we can’t get you set up right now. But given the information we
have, it appears to be a problem with your laptop and its settings,
and I cannot provide support for your equipment.” -- I would have
thanked him, understood completely, and told Justin to charge
his iPad because I was going to need it for a few minutes each
day. A week without my laptop and the internet? This could be
the start of heaven.
no. Of course… no.
he told me that the problem appeared to be above his authorization
level. He confirmed my cell phone number, told me that someone
would call me back, and that while it might be in a couple of
hours it usually took only about ten to fifteen minutes to get
a return call.
thus ends part one of our story.
time for dinner.
five of us are kicking around quite a few options. As I mentioned
before, Richard is working and won’t arrive until after 10pm at
the earliest, which means we can consider all of things Ellen
likes that normally he doesn’t enjoy. We narrow things down to
Chinese and pizza, and ultimately decide that Chinese is probably
the best bet since pizza could easily show up one or two times
later in the week. (By the way… Richard loves pizza… that was
just a general guiding idea in our discussion.)
and I put together some basic suggestions of an order from everyone,
and then we head off. We haven’t ordered yet because our plan
is to stop at the registration office so we can go to the ticket
counter and make the actual purchase. We’re thinking of asking
for a restaurant recommendation as well.
away from our parking spot, I notice something while looking down
one of the connecting roads… we’re not even 100-yards away from
where Mi Luv U had us just about two hours ago. So she was right,
since she had us at the correct place and I wasn’t familiar at
all with the area… but wrong, since she definitely hadn’t brought
us to the main Vacation Village building, I still needed to call
and confirm directions, and after all, the point of a GPS unit
is to help when you don’t know where you are.
get our tickets and I’m smiling… the girl we spoke with confirmed
my understanding of tickets was correct and Mr. “I do this every
day sir” was way off. I mention this because… in that funny way
that the world and Murphy like to play with you… Terry and I are
looking for a recommendation for where to go for Chinese food.
The girl we’ve been speaking with refers us to guest services,
saying they’d know nearby places better than she would and likely
even had some menus. So… we turn around and approach the guest
service desk… and guess who makes eye contact with us and offers
to help? Yup. Mr. “I do this every day sir” was there with a smile.
being hard on him. Too hard. And I know it. Overall he was a very
nice guy. Terry thought I was overreacting (and still does whenever
I tell the story). And, like I said, he was friendly and helpful.
Just a bit snarky when I pointed out something about the discounted
ticket prices along with the difference between hopper pass and
gives us a couple of options, and we eventually decide to go with
a place called Asian Harbor. We call ahead, place an order to
go, and start driving over.
arrive in a lot on World Center Drive a few minutes early, and
step into a gift store to check out a few items.
step over to pick up our food, and the two women we dealt with
were great. Smiling… grabbed some extra mustard and duck sauce
packets when I asked about them… and just pleasant to deal with.
I can’t recommend Asian Harbor to you. It was ok, but nothing
special. We covered a decent portion of the menu… four or five
appetizers, at least three entrees, some rice… and not one thing
really stood out as an item that had you looking for a second
yet, Justin and Kim certainly took care of the leftovers during
the rest of the week. The food was definitely ok… it was fine…
just not more than that.
began torturing us by watching the NBA playoffs on television.
When I asked him why he was watching it, his response was that
it was live sports. That was it. I would like to note that Kim
seemed fine with him turning it on… virtually every night of the
trip, including him watching multiple games on the same night.
(He either needs to be quite appreciative that she feels this
way, or, be very concerned about the possible subjects he’ll encounter
in the future that she decides are important enough to battle
with him about. For now… I’ll go with appreciative.)
Ellen and I begin some three-way Dirty Hand and Foot games. I
win the opening round and Terry takes the second game.
we’re finishing up Terry’s victory lap, Richard calls. He’s decided
to stop back at the house for the night and then finish the drive
to us early in the morning. Apparently the rain has been brutal
since he left work, and on top of that he’s noticing that all
of the trucks on the road are causing a traffic nightmare. He
figures it will be a better world in sunshine and daylight.
that settled… it’s off to bed.