All Around Orlando
Bob and Terry on Tour 2013, with Justin, Kim, Ellen and Richard
Days One and Two

I’ve been debating how to open this travel journal, and have started it quite a few times.

Basically, 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.

One 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 and Unexpected volume featuring Florida doesn’t include last fall’s journey to Savannah, Ocala and Orlando.

As 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 other possibilities.

So 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.

The 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.

No. Really. Express the idea and then walk away.

Don’t defend it.

Don’t explain it… expand on it… modify it… or whatever.

Just 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.”

Walk away.

Don’t talk about how we could both use a few days away from routine of the real world.

Don’t talk about how eating in or traveling over the right dates could reduce the costs.

Just… walk… away.

What happens after that is kind of miraculous.

Let’s 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 though…

“Look, 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.”

In 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.

It’s 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…

“If 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.”

(Maybe I should ask about a puppy.)

We 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.

The 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.

As 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.

Now… 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.

When 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.

So the Animal Kingdom. A good, solid choice.

Yeah… and then… the humorous return of the Magic Kingdom to the conversation took place.

Turned out, Kim had never been in a Disney theme park.

She’s 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.

Well… 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.

So 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.

As 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.

Justin liked the idea of Epcot, which features Soarin’ along with the recently renovated Test Track.

The 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.

And, there again, was the Animal Kingdom… not visited by us since 2005… with Expedition Everest.

Are you still with me? Because we’ve covered a lot of ground and haven’t even booked the flights yet.

We 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.

Immediately, we were faced with a couple of interesting decisions.

First 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.

And 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.

That’s when Ellen comes through with amazing colors and a terrific offer.

She 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.

So 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.

This 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.

Also, 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.

We’re on our way to Orlando folks…

Day one – Saturday, April 20, 2013

Usually 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.

This 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.

When 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 each other.

Molly 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.)

So 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.

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.

Some of you 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, thrilling fun.

A 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.

That 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.

Also, 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.)

Two hysterical things happen for this conversation subject…

First 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.

Second, 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 night.

Anyway… great flight… crew was fabulous… and we arrive in Orlando.

Backpack 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 paragraph.


To 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Back to flying.

Generally, Terry and I fly Southwest. (And if the people from Southwest wish to contact me… 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.)

From 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.

Especially 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.

From 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.

So there you go… the first new feature… flights without hidden surprises… Southwest works very nicely for us.

We’re 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.

I’ve 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, but no.

The 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.

Backpack Tip: (Wow. Another one already. That was quick. Ok…)

I have never rented a car outside of the United States.

And 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.

I 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.

And 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.

For Strange and Unexpected though, I got this:

Kerri: When overseas make sure it’s an automatic if that’s all you can drive.

Kris: Get car insurance when driving in a foreign country.

John and Margaret: Never had any problems so far. That said, always check the car over before driving away, especially in Spain.

Jay: 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.

Do you see that?

Kerri 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 warning:

“…always check the car over before driving away, especially in Spain.”

Wait… what? Be extra careful in Spain?

If 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.

Once, 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 you immediately.

The 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 wallet.

I 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.

I 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.


When 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.

We’re 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.

The 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.

We are not disappointed.

Ellen 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 loved it.

While 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.

As 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 Kingdom.

Since 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.

Without 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.

Richard 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.

Ellen 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.

So 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 wait.

Matt 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.

We 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 nights.)

Back 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.

As we prepare for bed, the Sunday outline is in place…

Folks… we’re going to Disney World!

Day two – Sunday, April 21, 2013

Not yet though. No Disney today.

This morning one of us is going to work, and three are headed to Orlando. Officially, Disney begins tomorrow.

We wake up and begin assembling two very different days.

Richard 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.

Since 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.

The airport is calling, and the first part of our day involves meeting up with Justin and Kim.

The 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.

Things 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.

He 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.)

The plan works perfectly.

Sort of.

We 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.

I decide to drive past and circle around.

For whatever reason, this has Terry and Ellen concerned. They think I should pull over and wait.

The 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.

This 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.

When 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.

The 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.

(Do 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.)

The 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.

We 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.

Bill 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.)

Terry 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.)

Terry, 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.

We 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.

Terry 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.)

Anyway… we’re lost.

Not 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.

I make a phone call to sort it out. That doesn’t give me much room for debating their routine.

Now 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.

It 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).

The 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.

Basically, 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 bath.

A “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).

The 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.

On 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…

Ok… 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.

“Not sure,” I reply while opening the car door. “But I think your mother and Ellen may have booked a reservation for a time share presentation.”

And the answer is… it wasn’t the room. It was both yes and no to the presentation… but mostly yes.

I’m 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…

The 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.)

The 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.

Backpack 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.

Instead… 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.)

I’m 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 ask for.

However… 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.

Now… 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.

And yet…

As 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.

Remember I mentioned Vacation Village is affiliated with properties we’ve been to? It’s not Orange Lake, but we are familiar with what they can offer.

So… 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.

Ready for the results that really tipped the balance?

Basically, 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.

A 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 tax).

Now 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.

Still… 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.

Vacation 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.

(I’m 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 fun extras.)

There would be no discount involved for Ellen and Richard. One-day tickets were going to be priced as one-day tickets. But…

Four 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 four-day tickets, plus an afternoon at DisneyQuest, plus two one-day tickets -- we do attend the presentation -- just over $1,000.

An extra day for four of us along with an added day at DisneyQuest, and the tickets for Ellen and Richard. Same price.

In this case, it was absolutely going to be worth it to attend the time share presentation.

And 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.

Let’s get out of guest services and head to the unit.

We’re 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 adding.

As 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.

We 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.

And 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…

Vacation Village internet service…
Ha-ha, the word “service” implies we actually got something…
Part one -- The first request

After 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.

I 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.

Hmm… ok. So it’s a setting on my laptop.

I 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 Lake.)

Since 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.

Turns out… they contract that support service to an outside provider.

I 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.

Look… I explained my problem. I can see the network, can’t log on, and we have successfully logged on with an iPad.

The 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.)

Next 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”).

Now… 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.

If 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.

But no. Of course… no.

Instead 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.

And thus ends part one of our story.

It’s time for dinner.

The 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.)

Terry 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.

Barely 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.

We 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.

I’m 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 one-day tickets.


He 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.

We arrive in a lot on World Center Drive a few minutes early, and step into a gift store to check out a few items.

We 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.

The food?

Well… 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 helping.

And 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.

Justin 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.)

Terry, Ellen and I begin some three-way Dirty Hand and Foot games. I win the opening round and Terry takes the second game.

As 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.

With that settled… it’s off to bed.

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