Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Friday, January 23: We Arrive

If I could write a rulebook - note I said rulebook, not guidebook - for parents traveling with their kids to Disney, or anywhere, it would begin thus:

"When seated on the aircraft preparing for departure, try to squelch any discussion of aircraft incidents from your child. Comments such as 'Joey said that the plane they were on last time, there was a big loud CRAAACK, and the plane felt like it was falling right out of the sky, and then the lights all went out and the pilot said they'd been hit by lightening, and they had to make an emergency landing, isn't that COOL, Mom? Wouldn't it be SO AWESOME if that happened to US?' Conversations like this may result in your child being impaled on the knitting needles of the passenger in front of them. Seriously. Drug them if you must. But shut the kid up."
In spite of the little charmer behind me, I was able to make it through take-off, flight and landing without taking any pills, or committing any criminal acts upon the kid's head. Once we began to taxi, the little runt was suitably nervous enough to clam up. Apparently this was his first flight. I think he learned a lot.
Once on the ground we boarded the airport tram which wooshes passengers from their gate into the main terminal.Some people enjoy this ride a great deal, and use it as an opportunity to "play monorail", as you can see above. We've only ever gotten the front of the actual monorail when we had kids with us, because although Mr. Wonderful wants very much to ride up there, he's afraid to ask. So this is as close as he gets.
Next we went to find our ground transportation. And herein lies a warning. THRIFTY SUCKS!! (oh wait, you might want more info, no?) First, when a car rental location says "At Orlando International Airport" be sure to get specific definition about what exactly that means. "At" the airport apparently means there is a shuttle "at" the airport which will eventually retrieve you after a prolonged wait on a cigarette smoke filled platform, as opposed to "On-Site" which means the cars are right there, with minimal lines, better policies, and no smoke. Thrifty LIES like a DOG, and in more ways than one. I don't think there are words strong enough to express my disappointment with Thrifty on more than one front! Once we'd discovered this little nugget of "at" versus "on" and found our platform we waited, suffused in smoke, until a shuttle arrived; about fifteen minutes. After a ride of approximately ten minutes duration in a cheap, crappy, decrepit and smelly shuttle van (See. Not loving Thrifty) we found ourselves deposited in front of a low concrete building behind a hotel and across from the Hertz rental location - meaning they're not actually "on-site" either. Inside we waited for at least an hour in line to get the car. Yes, an hour. I have never stood in line for a car like that before. Maybe I've been lucky, or maybe National just knows how to make the magic happen. I should also add here that in the end, the bill from Thrifty was JUST as much as anyplace else. They hit us with a second driver charge even though Gene was the only driver. I booked the car in my name, but never had any intention of driving. The clerk asked if I wanted to add a second driver, and I quipped "Well, he's the only driver!". She failed to mention that under Thrifty's policies an additional driver was a whopping $80 - meaning our "cheap" rental jumped to as much as the higher priced rentals, many of which do not charge for a second driver, especially if that driver is your spouse. It didn't occur to me to ask if there would be a charge as 1.) I'd been standing in line for an hour and 2.) my rentals had all been with other companies who didn't charge for my husband to drive. Never again will I rent from Thrifty, in Orlando or anywhere else! Once in our rental vehicle - and not the economy car I'd requested, but a "mid-size", meaning worse mileage so more money, of course!! - we headed for out first official bit of business. We always make a grocery stop. We buy water in gallons, wine and beer, snacks, and anything I forgot to pack, like cocoa butter, or sunscreen. Or sneakers. But I didn't realize that 'till later, so we don't buy sneakers today...
We began our grocery stop at Target and ended at Walgreen's, where one can get not only cold beer, but...sushi as well.Because I always like a little raw fish with my cheap flip-flops and Tylenol.
Next we headed for Walt Disney World, which was, of course, the whole point of the trip! Along the way we met one more major obstacle.I let it go. I figure spending the vacation in jail for throwing rocks at a stoplight is not a good plan. But it was tempting.
I'd had this great plan for Friday. Our flight got in early in the day, like 10am, which I thought would mean a relaxing day in which to recreate. You know, perhaps play mini-golf, go see a movie, have some dinner. We arrived at Port Orleans Riverside well past noon (Thrifty, how I do despise thee) and headed to the check-in desk. There was a huge line of people who's just come in on Disney's Magical Express. Thanks to Thrifty (see, really not loving Thrifty at ALL here!!), my plans had already been messed up. No mini-golf, and no movie, and no lunch. And by now it was well past lunch time. I looked at the line for resort check-in and began just a wee bit of begging - please, could we leave the car and go anywhere else? No more lines, please! Gene had also had enough, so we decided to forget about checking in, and instead parked the car and headed for Downtown Disney on the Sassagoula River Cruise. Because they check names at the resort gate now, you would not be able to get your car in unless you were either registered, registering, or dining at the resort. We felt pretty safe leaving the car in the check-in lot. Things get much better from here in, promise! I love this resort. It's very graceful, peaceful, and relaxing. Lots of water, which I find soothing.And it's just darn pretty.You can rent a cane pole and fish in the Sassagoula; catch and release only. Your fee covers poles for your whole party, up to six poles I believe.You can hang our with duckies and anoles and things, and watch the Martins dive seeking bugs.You can swim in the very theme-y pool, or grab a drink at the Muddy Rivers bar and pull up a lounge chair and knit (not like I know anyone who maybe did that...)There's a water slide, and a ton of lifeguards if you've got kids. A ton. One kid got into a tiny bit of trouble, and the lifeguard, fully dressed in long sleeves and pants, jumped in and grabbed the kid. Those guys that this lifeguard thing to a whole new level of intensity!
Did I mention the pool is heated? Mmmmm. But it was cool for our first 24 or so hours, so we didn't swim right away.
Where was I? Oh, yes. We made our way to Downtown Disney via boat, and discovered great things along the way.The tree houses have been rebuilt and will now be part of Saratoga Springs Resort, which is a Disney Vacation Club property, and the only one I'd ever buy into, though I have no plans to do so. This is another view of Saratoga Springs,taken from Downtown Disney. I love this resort from a distance, though we've never been. I loved it when it was The Disney Institute as well. I don't quite know why.
Hungry, and as I said well past lunch time, we wandered into Wolfgang Puck Express at Downtown Disney Marketplace - there's a second location at Westside.Oh the yum. Two huge salads that we didn't come close to finishing. Mine was Chicken Caesar, his was Rotisserie Beef. I have to say that one salad would make a more than adequate lunch for two. If we'd known how big they were, I think we'd have gone that route. Very yum, though, if a bit of overkill on the dressing on mine.
We did some wandering, just looking about us and getting into some kind of happier Disney-fied place, watching kids romp and play, watching people in general.Last year I had a margarita here. This year I skipped it. But I love to sit here and watch people anyway.
And we both love this. These boats that shuttle you back and forth between the resort and Downtown?I sometimes think we could spend the whole day going up and back on the boat and be happy.
After we'd settled into our space, we headed back to Port Orleans and checked in. We were greeted by Rhona from Turff, Scotland who had us into the nearly perfect room in no time at all. (THANKS RHONA!) Generally when we stay at Port Orleans we "prefer" the Mansions, and will ask for them. We've never stayed in Alligator Bayou, which we were convinced would be more heavily populated with kids, since there's trundle beds. We were wrong! Miles (ok, feet) closer to resort center, very near a bus stop, the only drawbacks were 1.) no elevator, meaning we had to schlepp our not-small suitcases up the stairs and 2.) neighbors who thought having their kids race outside of the room before breakfast and in the evening before dinner was a great way for them to burn off energy. No, really. They raced. "Ready, set, go!!" And once we peered out and discovered the kids just sitting quietly outside of the door. This is a trend I noted in Virginia that I thought might be an isolated incident, but apparently it's not. It appears that when mummy and daddy want 'special grown-up time', they throw the kids out into the hall, or in this case onto the second floor balcony. These parents even gave their kids coloring books and crayons - generous, right? This displays a level of crappy parenting and selfishness that I cannot really wrap my head around. OK, so you want to get laid, I get that. We're all adults here. But locking your kids out of your hotel room is incredibly stupid and terribly dangerous.
Any-who - we headed back to our room to dress for dinner, which that evening was at Todd English's bluezoo at the Walt Disney World Dolphin. No pictures, sorry, as the restaurant is unbelievably dark. Because of my glutanimous personage, I was requested to restrict myself to the Simply Fish, which on this occasion was mahi-mahi which I requested with a red curry coconut sauce. Gene had bacon wrapped tuna. The food was ok - Gene's being MUCH better than mine. Mine was dull even with the curry, honestly. It wasn't bad, just flat. Mahi-mahi is not my favorite fish. I had a bite of Gene's tuna, which I love, and wished to heaven I could have had it. The gluten thing scares chefs I think, and at some locations they ask you to restrict yourself to a stripped down piece of meat usually served with some naked veggies - which is not what I leave home for. I can do better here. The experience was, sadly, not stellar. Although the place is lovely, we were seated right outside of a large dining room from which would periodically emerge guys with cell phones who felt it totally within the realm of appropriate to make calls from around our table. I found this ironic and intrusive - they'd left a dining room full of collegues to come and make a phone call - presumably so as not to disturb their dining companions - but in doing so were disrupting what was supposed to be a romantic relaxing dinner for us. It happened more than once, and with more than one guest. I glared pretty intently at the last one, and there were no more calls made from our table-side. I'd like to hold the diners solely responsible, but there were plenty of tables empty throughout the restaurant that we could have easily been seated at and avoided the nonsense of the guys with their cells, so I have to hold the staff in part responsible. True, I could have asked to move. But by then we were past ordering, and into our aps, and didn't really want to disrupt ourselves further by having to move. We didn't order desert, and probably will not return. In terms of food, value, experience; we've had better service, and can do better elsewhere, and will. You'll hear more about that later in the trip.
In all, once I got over the Thrifty disaster, a good day. A day in which there was no snow, temperatures over 30F, and enough magic to get me happy!


Anonymous said...

You gave me my most recent favorite mental image. I can totally see you chucking rocks at the stoplight and then mouthing off to the cop coming over and asking you to stop.

Anonymous said...

I had a less-than-perfect car rental experience in Orlando also but it was partially my fault. I got to the airport to rent a car, waited in line for an hour and found out I forgotten my license. I finally got the car after retrieving my license and waiting another 45 minutes in line.
I didn't understand the hour wait either, especially i a place that exists to cater to the tourist trade.


tina said...

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. This Orlando girl misses her Disney. How I love your annual virtual trips! The Thrifty touch and the stoplight were especially nice interludes! :)

2monkeys_mom said...

Do you listen to the WDW Today podcast? I think you would like it. I'm planning to go read more about the treehouse villas!