Last Ever Vacation to Orlando

Yes, that’s right, this weekend, I took what I expect will be my last ever trip to the Orlando area. It’s been a long and happy run, but it’s over. Never again will I board a plane in Albany or Hartford, fly down to MCO, and return a week or so later.

Of course, that’s because the next time I head to Orlando, I’m not coming back. 🙂 My move will commence on Saturday, August 6, 2011. I should be moved into my new apartment completely by Wednesday, August 10th.

This past weekend, however, was a working vacation. It was originally supposed to be Apartment Hunting, Part 2. But then I went and signed a lease at one of the places I toured during Apartment Hunting, Part 1: Key Isle at Windermere. So there was really no need for this trip, but I’d already booked a non-refundable rental car and hotel room, so what the heck, right? On Wednesday, June 15, I logged off work 2 hours early and flew down from ALB to MCO to begin a 3-night trip.

After arriving at MCO and getting my rental car, I drove straight to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. By far the most looked-forward thing on this trip would be experiencing the new Star Tours: The Adventures Continue attraction. I have to say, this was 100% a home run in every conceivable measure. Well done to the Imagineers involved. With 11 possible scenes randomly selected to create 54 possible combinations, every flight is different. The effects are outstanding, and the feel of being inside the Star Wars universe is leaps and bounds better than the old version of Star Tours. Even the 3D effects are brilliantly done, as they’re used to project “outward” away from you, rather than making stuff pop out toward you. I rode it twice and got a 100% different sequence the second time.

After my second trip on the Starspeeder 1000, I wandered over to Pixar Place and saw that, even at 9:00pm, Toy Story Mania still had a 75 minute wait. Sheesh. I hadn’t eaten since lunch, so I decided to try getting a table at the Hollywood Brown Derby. I was seated within 10 minutes of approaching the podium. I had a very delicious cobb salad, which was served with all the ingredients finely chopped but segmented individually. Upon serving it, the waiter proceeded to then mix everything together. Really nice.

After dinner, one quick trip on the Tower of Terror (virtually no wait), and then I exited the park. I had initially considered going to the Magic Kingdom for a couple hours, but by this point, the thunder and lightening were getting pretty heavy, I was tired, and I had to work the next day. So I drove to the Ramada Main Gate West and checked in. Not a bad hotel, I suppose. Just very non-Disney. When I got to my room, I found that the wireless Internet wasn’t working. That would be a problem, as I needed to work from the hotel both Thursday and Friday. I called down to the front desk, and they were able to reboot their routers and I got online finally. Whew, crisis averted.

Thursday, I worked from the hotel room, pausing long enough to get lunch. The hotel was right on Rte 192 (aka Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway), which is basically one gigantic strip of tourist traps. I found a Ponderosa Steak House not far from my hotel. I hadn’t been to one of those in probably 20 years, when the one on Memorial Ave in West Springfield closed. But before that, I feel like my family went to it ALL THE TIME. After going to this one in Orlando, I understand why they closed down. Bad food, poor service, high prices. Blech. When I move down to Orlando, Ponderosa will not be one of my regular stops.

After working the rest of the afternoon, I logged off work and started driving to the Magic Kingdom. When the parking tollgates were in sight, my phone rang. My boss. Telling me there’s a production issue, and he needs me to log back on and join a conference call. Grrrr. So I turned around and went back to the hotel. The “issue” was someone in the company deciding to fiddle with hardware he shouldn’t have, resulting in us sending the client an unreadable tape. My entire involvement was sending an email to the data center saying “After they undo their damage, run this command to regenerate the tape”. Yup. But hey, at least I get paid overtime these days.

Okay, so one false start later, and I was back to the Magic Kingdom. First stop was to Haunted Mansion, to check out the new queue again and see what other effects have been added to the hitchhiking ghosts scene. I’d only been on HM once since the recent update. That time, my HHG swapped heads with me. This time, he took off his beard and put it on me. I like the randomization they’ve added here. Very well done effects.

I went on a few more attractions, including Jungle Cruise and Pirates, before leaving the MK and getting on a bus to the Dolphin. Lou Mongello is always raving about Todd English’s BlueZoo, so I decided to give it a try this trip. It was definitely a higher-end restaurant than I normally go to at WDW, with prices to match. Most of the menu was seafood of one kind or another. On the server’s recommendation when I told him I’m not really a fan of fish, but am trying to branch out, I had the Monk Fish. My waiter told me it has a similar taste and texture as lobster. He wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t nearly as good as lobster, but it was definitely better than most fish I’ve had. I think if I was at WDW with a friend who had, shall we say, evolved tastes, I would come here again, but there’s no way it’ll be a regular visit.

After dinner, I went back to the bus stop to get back to the MK. Very slow bus service. After about 40 minutes, a Magic Kingdom bus finally arrived. I made it back to the MK just in time to watch Magic Memories & You and then Wishes. I cannot get over how packed Main St was. seriously, from the castle to Town Square, every inch of the street was filled. Welcome to Disney World in the summer, I guess. After the fireworks, I exited the park with everyone else in the mass exodus. Seeing a huge line at the monorail, I decided to take the ferry back to the parking lot. One tram ride later, I was back in the rental car and heading back to the hotel.

Friday, work again. This time, I discovered that the hotel did actually have what they called a “Lunch Buffet”, but what would have been more accurately described as a “cold cut platter”. Whatever, it was quick and close, so I did that and then finished working. I used the extra time I’d spent the previous day to leave work early this day, and headed to the Animal Kingdom. AK was open until about 8pm, but since nearly everyone considers it a half-day park, by the time I arrived at 4:30, it was empty. And I mean empty. Safari and Dinosaur were both walk-ons. Tough to be a Bug was maybe 20% full. Everest was unfortunately closed due to the lightening that was still going on in the area. I considered going on Kali River Rapids, but seeing as I’d be going to dinner next, I didn’t especially want to be soaked.

I left the Animal Kingdom and drove to the Contemporary, for my second new-to-me restaurant of the trip: The Wave (Of American Flavors). Here I had a very good, incredibly tender (but also quite small) beef tenderloin, with a tomato & green bean salad. I also tried the appetizer of Florida Rock Shrimp & Lump Crab Cakes, which were also very good. Service was friendly and prompt. Unlike BlueZoo, I think the Wave might become a semi-regular stop once I move to Orlando. Plus, Valet Parking was free with my Tables in Wonderland card, so that was a nice little bonus.

I decided to go to Jellyrolls for the rest of the evening. I plugged it in to my GPS, and my GPS promptly freaked out. It apparently doesn’t understand that some roads aren’t open to the public, and it ended up taking me to areas of WDW that I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to be in. It also informed me that I was driving where there were no roads at one point (note that just a week earlier, I’d updated the GPS’s maps). So what I’m sure should have been a 10-15 minute drive ended up taking me roughly 30-35 minutes. I did finally arrive at the Boardwalk, and the person at the gate let me through – but only after asking to see a photo id. Why? I have no idea. It’s not like my name was on any list for a reservation or anything. This check served no purpose than verifying that I do in fact have a photo id. Why does that matter? Not a clue.

In any event, I went to Jellyrolls and the place was packed. Wall to Wall people, every table, chair, and stool occupied. It was a good crowd though – everyone was really into all the songs being played, lots of people having fun, no one absurdly over-the-top-drunk or obnoxious. The music was incredibly varied. I heard everything from Kermit the Frog’s Rainbow Connection (which was awesomely performed by one of the pianists, btw) to Lady Gaga’s Poker Face to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back (also performed by one of the pianists, though I don’t know that “awesomely” applies). I stayed for about 2 hours, and then drove back to my hotel.

The next morning, I packed all my stuff and checked out of the hotel. I decided to go to Typhoon Lagoon for the morning, seeing as the Florida heat was showing no signs of lessening on my last day. (On Thursday, the local news said Orlando was at 95-96°, and hit 105° on the heat index. Yikes! This is mid-June!). I made it to TL and got my ticket purchased and got changed into my bathing suit all before rope drop. I took one quick ride on Crush ‘N Gusher, and then spent the next 3 hours in the wave pool. I love that pool. I found out recently that Disney sells a Florida Resident After 2pm Water Park Annual Pass. Want to guess what’s going to be one of my first purchases after I move?

Around 12:30, I got out of the pool, showered, and changed back into normal clothing. I decided to spend my last afternoon at Downtown Disney, in the new “Fork & Screen” at the AMC 24 theater. The Green Lantern had just opened the previous day, so I bought a ticket to see the 1:30pm show. The ticket was $10 with my annual pass discount. Once seating opened, I was shown to my seat, and a server appeared a few minutes later to take my order. Drinks came back less than a minute later. My appetizer arrived during those pre-movie commercials, the “First Look”. My main entree arrived toward the end of the trailers. The server was very prompt in responding to the service call button (needed blue cheese for my buffalo chicken strips). She delivered the check about an hour into the movie. I think that was a really great experience, and not at all badly priced – my soda, appetizer, entree, tax, & tip came to $30. That’s basically two or three popcorns at any normal theater. Oh, and the movie itself wasn’t that bad either – though I think with all the exposition out of the way, they could make a sequel that’s much better.

After the movie, I did some pin trading and browsed one of the DTD shops, and then headed back to the airport. When I boarded the plane, I noticed that the Gate Agent’s screen claimed only 58 seats sold. I thought that had to be some kind of error, until I was sitting on the plane and the doors closed with darn near no one on board. Everyone who wanted one had an entire row to themselves, including me — until an elderly lady got up from where she was sitting and decided she wanted to sit in my row, for reasons surpassing my understanding. I got up to let her in to the window seat, and then thought better of it, grabbed my bag, and moved back to one of the still-completely-empty rows. And I’m glad that I did, because just before take off, the storm that’d been threatening all week finally broke, and we were left sitting on the tarmac for about 90 minutes. Bleh. Regardless, we finally made it back to Albany, and I picked up my car and drove home.

All in all, it was a really good trip. If nothing else, I proved to myself that I can work during the day and resist the temptation to play hookie to go to the WDW parks. 😛 I got to experience three new restaurants and one new attraction, and basically just did whatever I wanted, at my own pace. Very relaxed, very enjoyable.

My countdown is at 47 days until my move begins. That is just so incredibly soon, it’s almost hard to fathom!

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