All Around Orlando
Bob and Terry on Tour 2013, with Justin, Kim, Ellen and Richard
Days Seven, Eight and Nine

Day seven – Friday, April 26, 2013

Ellen and Richard are joining us again tonight… and there are some changes in play for the reunion. We had originally intended to head up to see their house and have dinner there, but plans worked out better for them to head our way. Orlando has officially become the only home Justin and Kim will know for this trip.

The pair should arrive around dinner time, and we have a very busy day… created out of a very slow day… planned.

Part of our Disney ticket package included admission to DisneyQuest. So our activities are centered around Downtown Disney.

I start things off by wandering on my own down to the pool. It’s still a bit early… only a few minutes after the pool has opened… and I have the place to myself. It’s an awesomely quiet start to the day.

Back upstairs in the room, Tigg and I play some Dirty Hand and Foot. And eventually all four of us arrive at a point where we’re ready to head out and looking for lunch.

I’m pushing for Earl of Sandwich for today, and Terry is in agreement with the selection. We’re off for the Marketplace.

Disney has announced plans for the area. Basically, expansion and further development. Granted… we’ve heard this before… and plans have come and gone, with many of changes ultimately realized and developed not being exactly what was announced or even outlined. Some beloved places have faded into memories. But this time… the future of Disney Springs has all the marks of a development on the way to reality.

The new project promises parking garages (bringing MUCH needed additional spaces to the area). It also calls for an incredibly expanded World of Disney store. And there are other surprises as well.

Honestly… Downtown Disney is the craziest part of the Disney World property. It is organized chaos, and only just-this-close bordering on the inside of the outer edge of organized. Busy? That doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Here’s a good example -- If you went from your car directly to Earl of Sandwich, and we started the clock as you pulled off of Buena Vista Drive, there are many days when you could spend well over an hour just trying to park and place your order.

Not eat. Eating isn’t included in that time. Heck, getting your order served isn’t included in that time. I mean arrive at Downtown Disney, drive around and look for a spot… look for a spot… drive into a different area… look for a spot… realize a car is leaving from the first lot you had been in and work on getting back there… look for a spot… give up on the first lot a second time… look for a spot… find a spot… park… spend a few moments in quiet celebration and reflection… walk to Earl of Sandwich… get in line… wait, wait, wait, wait… wait… order… and at that point an hour or more has gone by.

No food in hand.

Not lunch finished.

From driving into the parking lot to the point of ordering… more than an hour.

(And here’s the kicker… people that know what they are about to get at Earl of Sandwich spend that hour SMILING. I defy you to describe and explain this phenomenon. And that isn’t limited to Earl of Sandwich. It’s a Disney phenomenon. Go into other places around Disney World, stores and restaurants and theme parks, and even with the lines and bumping and frequent “we don’t have that _________________” (size/color/etc.) or “items like that are at _________________” (different store, etc.) or whatever, people are still smiling.)

Ok, while just telling that story, we’ve driven in, parked the car, and we’re now inside Earl of Sandwich.

I’m just going to say it… order the Holiday Sandwich. For one thing, it’s brilliantly tasty… a great combination of turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce. The bigger thing though is that they’ve perfected it. Per-fect-ed it. Using a creative stacking ordering of the items, and just the right amount of each item, this hot sandwich that includes mayo, cranberry and gravy does not get soggy. It’s fantastic and delicious and wonderful from the first bite to the last.

Thinking about expanding our experiences here, Terry and I also ordered a Chipotle Chicken sandwich with the intention so split them. (We both love avocado on sandwiches, and wanted to give it a shot. It was good. Very good. But not in the class of the Holiday Sandwich.) Justin also went with the Chipotle Chicken, while Kim elected to try the Hawaiian Chicken. Everyone loved the lunch.

We decide that the afternoon is going to be so low key that instead of rushing over to DisneyQuest, we’ll walk around a bit. In Goofy’s Candy Company I buy a cookie and… well… awful. Very disappointing since I usually enjoy so much of what Disney does. Normally I get my cookie fix on Main Street of the Magic Kingdom. Since the bakery was closed in the Magic Kingdom on this visit, I didn’t get my normal cookie fix in yesterday, and had hopes of enjoying this one. Sorry… didn’t.

After a quick stop to admire a couple of storefronts, including some Toy Story decorations, we’re heading back to the car to drive over to DisneyQuest.

For the most part, our visit was centered around six attractions…

First up, five specialty games/attractions -- Buzz Lightyear’s Astroblaster… Invasion! An ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter… Ride the Comix…. Virtual Jungle Cruise… and Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold.

And second, generic games throughout the building. (Yup… there’s a story. (Or more precisely, a description. But we’ll get there.))

When you enter the building, an elevator takes you to the third floor… which adds to an incredible feeling of confusion that is already sweeping over any new visitor. See… the building consists of five floors, and they’re basically placing you in the middle of it.

It’s actually not bad once you get yourself oriented. But curveballs keep getting thrown at you. For instance… All of the coin-operated games aren’t coin-operated. They’re free. Play as much as you want. And then consider something such as an attraction like Ride the Comix, which it operates in two separate locations. One is on the fifth floor, and the other is on the fourth. But as you pass by it for a second time, it sure seems like it should be a different version of the attraction. (Say “Ride the Comix” on one floor, and “Ride the Comix 2” on the other.).

It’s a crazy thing… like sorting out where the restrooms might be… and most of the visual clues seem to be missing. But once you take a few corners and get a handle on some landmarks, things begin to feel more comfortable.

We played Ride the Comix and Invasion! An ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, and… ok. (Insert shoulder shrug here.) Same result from the Jungle Cruise… where Terry and I paddled like mad and yet never really felt like the attraction was doing ANYTHING even remotely close to responsive to our movements.

Terry, Justin and I have visited DisneyQuest previously, which was more than ten years ago with Jay. And… honestly… the place could use a makeover. In a digital world where iPads and smartphones are making things faster while exploring incredible levels of creativity, a few of the sections here are dusty and in need of overhauls, renovations, or just plain replacing. And yet… there’s nothing like good-old-fashioned fun…

We started our visit with Buzz Lightyear’s Astro-Blaster. It’s kind of a warped version of bumper cars, where you drive your vehicle, pick up balls quite reminiscent of a dodgeball, and fire them at other vehicles by using an on-board air cannon. Once you get the hang of it (and figure out which car is occupied with others from your group), there are plenty of laughs found here.

On the fourth floor we found a section of arcade games… including those throw-a-football and shoot-basketballs-for-a-minute machines… that pulled us in and kept our attention for quite some time. We simply couldn’t pull Justin away from them… and once Kim set a high-score of 61 on one of the basketball machines, we lost him for a long time while he tried to at least match her score. (He never did.)

Just before leaving we found ourselves on the first floor, and Terry and I decided to try Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold.


We had a blast on it, with the two of us working as a team and setting a “King of the Caribbean” score that cleared 3,900. That feat became even more impressive when we were joined on a second round by Justin and Kim, and the four of us failed to match our previous score.

I would recommend DisneyQuest to anyone. It’s a fun place to spend some time. You will laugh… you will scream… you will enjoy it. There’s at least one cool discovery waiting for you per floor (on average). It is definitely something you won’t find back home.

And yet… part of it for us, and a large part of the recommendation, was that the visit was free. Our multi-day passes included an optional extra, and we decided to make that a visit to DisneyQuest. I would most certainly not recommend it at the single-day admission prices… which from a quick look seem to run over $45 a person for a day.

Four adults? $200? No. We did not have that much fun during our couple of hours.

We get back to the room, and Justin and Kim head off for the pool, while Terry and I wander off to Publix to pick up a few things. With Ellen and Richard returning tonight, the plans are in place to make a steak dinner.

Everything goes really well with dinner, and we settle in to play cards. And that leads us to the story to finish off today.

Richard and I won the game without a count. But, it is possible that Ellen might not have been concentrating on the game as fully as she normally does. It’s back to the internet service story, but first, a bit of background…

Have I ever told you that Ellen can be one of the most obsessively compulsive people you will ever meet?

Now… she’s not hideously bad about things. Most of the time you would never even notice it about her. She just has her ways of doing things. That’s all. But when something bugs her… wow… it bugs her.

We were playing cards a few years back. She and Terry were picking on Richard and I, while also slamming us in the game. So I told her that before we began playing, I had tilted a picture frame somewhere in the house. And, go figure, it was… right at that very moment… off balance and hanging crooked.

You could literally see the tension and uneasiness building in her. It began with here tapping her fingers and glancing around the room during the shuffle and deal. It moved on to a loss of concentration during the hand, with her leaning in the chair to see if she could check out the walls in nearby rooms without having to get out of her seat. And immediately as the hand concluded, it led to her racing from room to room so she could check each and every picture in the house.

(I know. I’m evil. Richard and I lost that game, but we were both smiling about it. With great power comes great responsibility.)

The thing is… if you are aware of this tendency of hers, then you can probably imagine the impact of the next sentence upon our Friday evening.

Ellen has noticed a flashing light on the phone.

Vacation Village internet service…
Ha-ha, the word “service” implies we actually got something…
Part four, part two -- Ellen wonders about a light

At first Ellen simply asks if we know the message light is on. I tell her that we do, and that I can’t clear it.

We joke a bit about how resorts leave lots of lovely messages, and how the message light being on is really nothing new for any of our trips, and we settle in after dinner for some television and cards.

“Did you ever get a call back about the WiFi” Ellen asks me while looking in the direction of the phone.

“No,” and I discard from my turn.

“Maybe it’s that,” Ellen offers.

“Could be,” I respond.

A few more plays go by in the hand of cards.

“No one ever called back about the presentation the other morning, did they?”

“I didn’t hear anything,” answers Terry.

If you watch The Big Bang Theory, and remember the episode where Sheldon is getting frustrated by Leonard refusing to answer his cell phone, and ultimately freaks out when Leonard won’t check his voice mail… yeah… that’s it.

The conversation continues a bit as the round of Dirty Hand and Foot moves along. And when it ends, and the scoring is being added, and the next round is being shuffled and dealt, Ellen is missing. She has disappeared into her suite.

A few minutes later she’s back. She had checked on the message and it was the WiFi people. They wanted to know if our problem was fixed.

Well… honestly… no, it wasn’t. But I really didn’t care too much about it being fixed. After all, we had worked out our main needs by the time that message was left late yesterday. We didn’t need WiFi access now. At all.

The thing I don’t get is why they called the room. I mean… I get why they would call the room, since they had the details about our service call and could probably figure out the extension for the room’s phone. Still… in three separate calls, each time they specifically asked for a contact number and I gave my cell number as that contact, and on the second and third call they confirmed that as the contact number multiple times. They never said anything about having, using, or needing a number for the resort unit we were occupying. And, they have yet to call my cell phone.

Far be it for me to make assumptions… but let’s see what we can work out here. Maybe… just maybe… they didn’t want to talk to anyone.

How about that?

See, if they called my cell, I probably would have answered. I didn’t even need to be in the room to get a call on my cell. It was with me all the time.

But… a call to the room… Orlando is the vacation center of the universe, and chances are better than average that at any respectable calling hour a person wouldn’t be in their room. They’d be out enjoying Orlando. Especially -- sarcasm alert -- especially, oh, I don’t know… if they didn’t have WiFi service in their hotel room. So if you wanted to check off that you returned the call the way you should, but wanted the best odds of not having someone answer, well, those odds would favor a call to the room.

(But again… that’s just me. Generally I don’t care if we decide the glass is half full or half empty. I want to know who took the half that’s missing.)

In this case… I didn’t care if it was the resort’s wireless offerings or some setting on my laptop. Tell me you can’t help me because it’s my laptop and not the WiFi, and you don’t provide tech support for that, and I will head off to the Magic Kingdom with no worries and nothing bad to say about you at all.

That’s not what’s happening.

We’re just being told… in exceedingly polite “your call is important to us” tones (my words, never quoted to me during this experience, but oh so familiar to all of us that have experienced the land of automated and put on hold customer service)… we’re being told to go away. After all, if the situation plays out long enough, eventually I will leave and head home. And that, for better or worse, closes out this work order.

Day eight – Saturday, April 27, 2013

The plans for today are a bit all over the place. For instance…

Justin needs some boots for work, so we are thinking about heading out to one of the outlets to check out some options.

It’s about time to update our cell phones… and Justin is seldom around and not busy when we get together… so we are debating heading out to one of the stores for our service provider and getting that taken care of.

We haven’t been to Kobe Steakhouse yet, and have that set up as tonight’s dinner option.

There are some thoughts of wondering over to Old Town to check out one of their classic car nights as a close to the day.

See? A little bit of everything, some of it general exploring and not really vacation or specific to where we are in nature, with no true focus.

Breakfast is made in the room… and I have to say, travelling with Terry and Ellen provides all the examples you would ever need as far as the benefits of having some sort of suite -- common area and kitchen offerings -- for a trip.

Richard and I can hold our own in a kitchen. I’m not saying we could come up with a full week of terrific menus, with a dazzling balance from salad through dessert, offering simply brilliant entrées. Once in a while though, we’ve both been known to pull off a great meal or two, with all phases covered.

The point being… we can offer you things a bit more complicated than a boxed mac-n-cheese followed by pudding cups.

That said… Richard and I would also be the first to offer you waffles when we have waffles planned for breakfast. Of course, with toppings featuring strawberries and apples and warm syrup… but waffles.

Terry and Ellen? Prepare for those waffles to come in two different styles (say a buttermilk and something they’ve been meaning to try with beaten egg whites and fifteen steps of preparation). Be ready for the sides of home fries, sausage, and a fruit salad. And don’t forget to try the syrup prepared with bananas and pecans. There’s likely even going to be a fixins-station, with fruits and chocolate chips and whipped cream and 14 options of flavored butter.

Some people swear by kitchenettes in their hotel rooms because they offer cereal and coffee without leaving the room. Maybe a bagel. It’s a way to manage costs and menus to a degree… where either by cooking for the family or targeting specific take-out meals to bring back to the room, the dollars involved and perhaps even the inclusion of salads and fruits instead of bottomless soda and fries offers the opportunity to take a deep breath away from the park.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work.

I remember trips to Orlando in 1997 and 1999 when Jay and Justin didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning to take a shower, and you could pretty much forget them even looking for an apple or something else to eat. But they did understand the concept of getting the most out of the day and wanted to be moving toward the theme parks or day’s activities. And what happened as a result? Well… the kids moved enough to get dressed and to the car, and woke up just about the time we got inside the front gates. That’s when these lovely children… so young and precious and “really, I’m not hungry” just 15 minutes earlier… began asking about lunch.

I suppose what I am trying to say is simple… best intentions are simply perceptions. They need to apply to reality in order to have value.

Paying extra to get a fridge and a stove of some type in the room is something I would highly recommend. On the other hand… if absolutely no one is going to cook (and the idea of cooking can even mean filling a bowl with cereal and pouring some milk)… if you are going to skip the burgers and fries inside the park so you can hit a drive-thru for burgers and fries… a fairly strong case can be built around the idea that you aren’t maximizing your investment.

Over the years, Terry, Ellen, Richard and I… as a group of four and with others… have stayed in several resorts while on vacation, and have had the pleasure of playing cards, cooking fantastic meals, and generally (and genuinely) enjoying the amenities of a suite in a resort. And this morning’s breakfast is just another reminder of how fantastic it is when you the group turns perception into reality.

After cleaning up, we head out for the day. And the first stop… an outlet mall… is packed.

No. No. I’m not sure you understand.

I mean packed.

As in… if we hadn’t been able to get there in one car, I honestly don’t know if we would have ever found a second parking spot.

It’s a brain-teaser of sorts for us. Here we are… center of the tourist industry for the world -- Orlando. Sure… it’s a Saturday. Yes… lots of people living and visiting the area. Still… what the heck are they all doing shopping at an outlet mall on an average day in April?

It… is… nuts.

I’m not even going to bother confirming my notes and truly identifying the place we went to. It was fine. We did get some deals on things, including Justin’s boots. We wandered through a couple of stores. But honestly… we didn’t see anything that we couldn’t have found at any of a number of factory outlet settings in many areas across the country.

Justin and I spot a place to sort out our cell phone situation, and I will mention that we both left with smartphones… not to direct anything in particular to this, except to say that once we leave the store the WiFi in the room is even less than no longer necessary for the trip.

It’s still early as far as dining options for dinner. (After Terry had made breakfast, no one was hungry at all for lunch.) So we decide to swing past Downtown Disney again for some last minute items we had been planning to pick up today or tomorrow.

We stop at World of Disney… get our samples at Ghirardelli… and I even take the Visa card we got to put some gas in the car. And now, it’s time for dinner.

When in Orlando, a meal at a Japanese steakhouse has long been our tradition. One placed we loved… on Irlo Bronson during visits in 1997 and 1999… has closed. So we ate in Japan at Epcot once, which was awesome. And then we tried Kobe’s in 2005. Since then, a stop at Kobe’s has been a part of every Orlando visit… and it never disappoints.

Tonight the six of us have a fabulous meal. And just moments down the road we arrive at Old Town for one of their classic car shows. Richard and Justin are in heaven talking about the cars, and all of us had a fantastic evening.

Back in the rooms, Richard and I win another round of cards to wrap up a really great last full-day of the trip.

Tomorrow Ellen and Richard will leave us after lunch… Justin and Kim will need to get to the airport… and then Terry and I will drop off the car and get on our flight home. The trip is winding down… and a great trip is has been.

Day nine – Sunday, April 28, 2013

Packing up and moving out is usually an event, and one I have shared previously in travel stories. In this particular instance though, things actually move along smoothly with no true stories to tell.

We are planning on heading out to Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza again for lunch, and are wrapped up and out of the rooms by 10am. A couple of things are on the minds of different people… and that, along with the need to shuffle along a bit until lunchtime, leads us to Downtown Disney one more time.

We get to lunch, and it turns out Ellen and Richard also remember Anthony’s. Not sure of the exact one they visited, Ellen tells us they stopped in a different Florida location previously and enjoyed it. After a second great visit to this location, it looks like we might have a new regular place for pizza options in Orlando.

As lunch wraps up, so does our time with Ellen and Richard. They are headed back to Sam and Mia, and depart us for their drive.

Terry, Justin, Kim and I have been debating trying to catch a movie during the time we have left, but the start times and a few other factors sweep that off to the side. We eventually decide on a round of miniature golf.

We arrive at Pirate Cove’s on International Drive, and I notice I have a voice mail. It’s the final chapter of our continuing story…

Vacation Village internet service…
Ha-ha, the word “service” implies we actually got something…
Part five -- Would you please take our survey?

It’s another call about the WiFi service. Now… remember… we’ve checked out. So you can imagine the rush I was in to return their call, despite their invitation to do so since they were there if I needed any assistance.

This leads quite nicely into a summary of Vacation Village.

Honestly, everything was fine.

The rooms we stayed in were nice. We definitely utilized the kitchen space, along with the pool. And the location was about as good as it gets when you are in Orlando and have the use of a rental car.

We elected to take part in their property presentation… and benefited from the discounted theme park ticket prices as a result.

A group size that fluctuated between 4 people and 6 was comfortable every night.

For all of this (and, if I read over my notes and journal entries for particulars, I’m sure for a few assorted other reasons), I would give Vacation Village at Parkway a solid grade. Yes, if I was headed to the Orlando area and someone said we were staying at this property, I wouldn’t have a single problem with the accommodations.

Compared to places like Orange Lake though… well, there is no comparison. Orange Lake is superior in every way.

And if you want to stay on the Disney property, that’s an experience that can’t be duplicated.

Understanding those concepts… you aren’t getting the best of the best, and that instead Vacation Village is being compared to a standard room or suite with no frills… and it looks really good. The staff was fine, the rooms were clean, and we enjoyed our stay.

Heck, THE question about any part of a trip is based around the “Would you fill-in-the-blank again?” concept. If the answer is yes, then the answer is good news for the subject involved.

Would we stay at Vacation Village again?


So, there you go. Vacation Village at Parkway, if it is an option and you are wondering, is a place I have been and I would return. With no other adjectives involved… that is about as good as it gets.

As a final note though, I simply have to point to our “Vacation Village internet service” soap opera. The stay was far from perfect.

To say that the elevators in our building were slow would be far too generous. They barely moved.

The parking was limited, and on most nights the car was in a garage completely out of view from the building we stayed in.

And, then there is the story that concludes with them leaving a message… after we had checked out… to find out how things were going with a problem we had first reported a week earlier, had called about a few times, and never had resolved.

Not exactly impressive. Not one of those places that has you already dreaming of a return before you leave.

After a round of golf we head over to the airport and drop off Justin and Kim. Terry is still interested in catching a movie, but I honestly don’t know the area around the airport well enough to gauge where we should be looking for a theater.

We end up… I think… at the shell of the Festival Bay Mall. You can go run an internet search if you’re interested. From what I could find -- Ron Jon Surf Shop… Cinemark movie theater… sense of despair and empty stores -- yeah, that’s the place. It looked interesting, and we bought a few things at Ron Jon’s. But, this is a place that needs some work.

We drop off the car and finally finish our shopping for that one final Disney item at the Disney Earport store. We head out to our gate area and decide to try and eat at Kafe Kalik. And…

I ran out of paper.

Seriously… I ran out of paper in my notepad.

I remember the food was ok. Nothing special, nothing amazing, and nothing I can say anything about in a good or bad way. It was fine. And there is a notation about two parents not paying attention to their two out of control young children. But there isn’t enough to go on.

And with that… Terry and I lined up to board the plane, flew home, and brought to an end a superb trip.

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