(New Day 2 and Pics!) Urgent Visit to WDW 2/27-3/5 Both solo and w/DW
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I suppose the origin of this trip actually lies back over a year ago. My extended family tries to ...
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(New Day 2 and Pics!) Urgent Visit to WDW 2/27-3/5 Both solo and w/DW
I suppose the origin of this trip actually lies back over a year ago. My extended family tries to spend Christmas together every even-numbered year. During the odd-numbered years, my sister and her children visit her husband’s family in Norway, my children visit their mother/my ex-wife in Toronto, and my parents usually take an extended trip somewhere near my brother in southern California. Things get pretty quiet for my wife Patty and me during those odd years when the kids are gone, but we usually go down to Atlantic City for at least a few days to visit her family there.
Sometime shortly after Christmas 2002, which was held at my sister’s home in Michigan, I proposed that our family gathering in 2004 be held at Walt Disney World. No one rejected the idea, but then again there were no firm commitments either. Getting a family of independent-minded folks who are stretched out across the country organized and committed to a major vacation nearly two years away proved to be no small task. I would raise the issue every so often, only to be told, “That sounds like fun, but we aren’t ready to make plans that far in advance yet so let’s wait and see.”
Finally, in early January 2004, recognizing that the Walt Disney World area books up far in advance of the holidays, everyone signed on to spending Christmas near the House of the Mouse. My father asked me to investigate accommodations for our group of 7 adults, 2 teens, and 3 pre-schoolers. I found a great 6 bedroom pool home in the Windsor Palms resort subdivision where I have stayed twice before. It’s just a few miles from the parks, and I think it is going to be perfect for our needs.
Unfortunately, I didn’t/couldn’t stop with finding the home. You see, I am something of a guidebook and travel-planning junkie. I started making proposed day by day itineraries for a trip which was eleven months away. Worse yet, I realized that – unless I did something soon – I could waste every free moment between now and Christmas obsessing over the details of our family holiday.
There was only one thing I could do – make a trip to Walt Disney World now in order to get the Mickey Mouse monkey off my back! It had been three years since my last trip to the Magic Kingdom, and I simply needed to refill by pixie dust reserves to avoid going crazy before December.
The kids had school, but Patty was surprisingly willing to allow me to go by myself. I think there are a number of reasons for this. First, she was sick and tired of hearing about Disney World and knew that this would give her at least a short-term break from my ramblings. Second, I recently had to cancel a trip to Las Vegas so a visit to Orlando would make up for that. Third, Patty has her own mini-vacation scheduled for the end of March. Fourth, I have a major surgery coming up in a couple of weeks so I deserved a little trip if it would make me feel better. Needless to say, Patty is a great woman and shows an amazing capacity to put up with a lot of nonsense from me.
It was now time to make my reservations. I booked nonstop flights between Hartford and Orlando on Southwest for just over $200, departing the morning of Friday, February 27th and returning the afternoon of Friday, March 5th. A little research revealed that I could book the Hilton in the Walt Disney World Resort (across the street from Downtown Disney and eligible for the Extra Magic hour) for $60 per night through Priceline, which is exactly what I did. To avoid being hostage to airport shuttles and resort buses, I booked a premium-sized car, also through Priceline, for another $25 per day. I think I got some great deals, and while there is something to be said for staying in an actual Disney-themed resort, dollar-for-dollar I think the Hilton and a nice car beat Pop Century and shuttle buses hands down. But that’s just me.
About a week before I was to leave, I had a crazy idea. Why not get a babysitter so Patty can fly down with me on Friday, spend the weekend in Florida, and then return home Monday morning? I immediately called a good friend of mine who had stayed with my son (14) and daughter (12 ½) before. He was available and willing so I called Southwest and booked Patty’s ticket just minutes before the seven day advanced purchase window closed.
Initially I wasn’t going to tell Patty about her ticket until she was driving me to the airport. I figured I could sneak some of her clothes into my suitcase and then really surprise her at the last minute. A couple of days later, however, I sprang the news on her. Why? For one thing, I am not very good at holding in surprises (and I always want to give presents early). I was also a little worried that Patty would really be thrown off by a last minute trip. She isn’t a big planner herself, but she doesn’t like major events sprung on her with short notice. A major side benefit of telling her early is that I wouldn’t have the pressure of worrying about what to pack for Patty and sneaking it into my suitcase.
When I subsequently asked Patty whether she would have preferred to be surprised at the airport, she said she really didn’t know. She’s never had a surprise like that and was unsure whether her primary reaction would be excitement or stress. The one thing of which she was certain, however, is that I probably wouldn’t have packed all of the right clothes and accessories she would need for the trip.
With the major details handled, I was now free to read guidebooks, make to-do lists, develop itineraries, and otherwise wallow in the minutia of Walt Disney World to my heart’s content. I made lots of plans, but as usual only about half of them ended up being implemented during the trip. One splurge in particular was spending about $25 for three customized touring plans created using the software developed by Len Testa for Bob Sehlinger’s “Unofficial Guide” to WDW. More about the plans later in this trip report.
As Patty and I awaited our Friday departure, there was just one dark cloud on the horizon … and it was in the shape of my right ankle. I injured my ankle on the ice a couple of weeks earlier and it was slow to heal. When Patty and I tried taking a short one-mile walk to build up my stamina for the theme parks, it started hurting again and made it difficult for me to walk. Ultimately, the health of my ankle was a major issue throughout the entire trip.
Patty and I didn’t finish a previously scheduled early morning meeting until 9 a.m. Fortunately, lack of traffic (and state police) allowed me to make the one hour plus drive to Bradley Airport near Hartford in less than fifty minutes, giving us sufficient time for our 11:05 a.m. departure on Southwest. I handled curbside check-in while Patty parked the car in the long-term lot. Normally, I would have parked, but she was going to be coming home first and needed to know where the car was.
Check-in went smoothly. Because I was using a cane to take a bit of the strain off my right ankle, we were able to preboard the flight, which any SWA customer knows is preferable to the usual mad scramble for seats. We were able to get two seats together near the front of the plane where the ride is supposed to be smoother.
This was significant for me because, I must confess, I have not always been the world’s bravest flier. For many years I either refused to fly or was very nervous the entire time. My doctor, however, now gives me an anti-anxiety medication (Xanax) to take just for flying and it makes all the difference! It is so nice not to fly with fear anymore, even when it gets a bit bumpy like it did during our descent into Orlando.
Our flight arrived a few minutes before 2 p.m. We collected our suitcase and rental car fairly quickly. I was hoping for a Crown Victoria, but Avis apparently doesn’t buy Fords so we received a Buick LeSabre instead. It’s a nice car and, even though I didn’t use it a tremendous amount, I enjoyed the built-in XM satellite radio. I’ll have to consider that option whenever I am finally able to buy a new car.
Before going to our hotel, Patty and I were ready for lunch and there was only one place that would do – Giordano’s Pizza. For those who don’t know, this is a small chain with locations in Chicago and Orlando. I LOVE their cheesy deep dish pizza – it’s the best I’ve ever had. (And for some reason, the LBV restaurant is actually better than the one I have visited in Chicago.) As it happens, they made a small mistake in our order so the manager gave us a credit for a free pizza on a subsequent visit. I was quite happy for an excuse to eat there again.
We then made our way to the Hilton at Walt Disney World Resort (across from Downtown Disney). I had requested a nonsmoking room with a king-sized bed, but one wasn’t available. I didn’t have much leverage having booked through Priceline so we settled for a smoking room with a big bed and decided it wasn’t worth the bother to change rooms the next day. Perhaps in partial compensation, the desk clerk gave us “Executive Tower” keys even though our room was only on the second floor. We probably saved at least $10-15 in potential minibar charges by taking advantage of the free drinks and snacks offered to Tower guests.
Our room was good sized and didn’t smell too smoky. (I’m 38 and remember when all hotel rooms smelled a little smoky.) All in all I was quite pleased. While it obviously lacks any Disney theme, the Hilton is a nice hotel in a great location and, at $60 a night, a great bargain. I would absolutely stay there again and encourage anyone on a budget to consider it.
My schedule called for us to spend a few hours exploring and shopping in Downtown Disney before heading to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for 8 p.m. PS at Boma. Instead, Patty and I promptly fell asleep and didn’t wake up until 7:50! We called the valet to bring around our car (the valet staff was always very prompt and friendly) and made it to AKL about a quarter past eight. And even though we were running late, I insisted that we pop into the gift shop to buy our Pal Mickey before dinner.
With that essential purchase in hand, we checked in at Boma, were given a beeper, and told we could expect a table in 10-15 minutes. We used the time to have a quick look around the AKL lobby and pool area. Sadly it was too dark to see any animals except for a few flamingos I’m afraid I woke up with the flash from my camera. It is a beautiful hotel, and I hope some day we will have a chance to stay there with our kids.
Our beeper soon beckoned us back to Boma. While all the reviews I had read were outstanding, I was a little concerned about what to expect since I am very much a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Indeed, I think my family and friends would be surprised that I ate at an African style restaurant and actually shocked at how much I loved it.
Patty and I both found the food at Boma to be wonderful, which is interesting when you consider that we didn’t share a single entrée in common. Not unlike Jack Sprat and his DW, Patty was observing a meatless Friday for Lent while I was my usual carnivorous self. I enjoyed the crusted prime rib, spicy chicken, marinated sirloin, and potatoes with Afritude. Patty sampled a number of vegetarian offerings including butternut squash soup, watermelon rind salad, cous cous, pasta salad, and koolie cole slaw.
Marital harmony was restored as we found common ground at the dessert table. Our favorites included pineapple cheesecake, chocolate mousse, and the world-famous zebra domes. The big surprise for me was the size of the zebra domes – they were tiny! Pictures I had seen made them look about four inches across, but these mini-ZDs were only about an inch and a half wide. But they were still quite good. And I later learned that the larger ZDs, while not available at Boma, were still on the AKL room service menu.
The only negative at the restaurant was little Daniel, a six year old demon visiting with his family from England. His rambunctious behavior – including breaking a glass which sent shards of glass to Patty’s feet – caused our server Debbie to apologize repeatedly. But we took it all in stride. To begin with, it wasn’t Debbie’s fault at all. (As for Daniel’s parents, however, well ….) Also, you shouldn’t visit WDW if you aren’t prepared to occasionally encounter an unruly child. And finally my own DS and DD undoubtedly disturbed plenty of other diners in their day, so I really don’t feel in much of a position to complain too loudly.
After dinner we walked around the Lodge a bit more. We wanted to check out the Savannah Overhang, but it was too dark to see anything. Besides it was really cold that evening! I’m not sure it was any warmer in Florida than it was back home in Connecticut.
It was time to head back to the Hilton. Once in the room I probably spent an hour going through my Disney books and materials. So many plans, so little time! But then I had to get to bed. Patty and I had a big day ahead of us.