Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Journey to Magic... Post #700

So, I felt dorky about doing my 700th post with Idol as the subject.  Yes, I do a ton of Idol, because I'm a fan and it comes on twice per week... but for number 700, I thought I'd do something a little better... Walt Disney World.  We had a long vacation, so I wanted to talk a little bit about it.  Hopefully, too much time won't go by that I just forget about the rest of it, cause I got so much to talk about.  Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

The hardest part about any vacation is the return.  I don't necessarily mean the return trip, per se, but the actual "return", like, when you are standing in front of an espresso machine, making drinks, thinking to yourself  "24 hours ago I was on The Haunted Mansion..." and you text The Lovely Steph Leann things like "Hey, did we just go away for 11 days and we are already back, or do we leave this Thursday for 11 days?"

Cause it goes by so doggone fast... we had been planning on leaving for our yearly week long Disney World trip on Thursday, February 3rd, maybe around 3 or 4p, after The Lovely Steph Leann got off of work.  This would put us getting there around 130, maybe 2am Orlando time, if we did leave at 3, and stopped minimally.  Our vacation was for Thursday night, the 3rd, through the following Sunday, the 13th, staying at Port Orleans French Quarter the entire time.  

We love French Quarter because of two main reasons--one, its small.  Seven buildings to be exact, meaning no matter which building they put you in, you are close to the main hall, to the ferry dock that takes you to Downtown Disney, to the bus stops and so on.  Two, double sinks.  Never realized this was such a big deal until we stayed at other resorts, like Pop Century (my other favorite resort, btw), but when The Lovely Steph Leann opens up her bag and she's got fourteen bottles for her hair alone, then you know you need two sinks. 

Riverside is also nice, which is the other part of Port Orleans, but its huge.  There are two or three bus stops alone that go with it, and its just too far to walk from place to place.  So, French Quarter it is. 

At the beginning of vacation week, The Lovely Steph Leann informed me that she would, in fact, be off on Thursday, so we could leave Thursday morning, early, maybe 3 or 4 in the morning, putting us there mid-afternoon or so.  We could relax in the room, maybe get dinner somewhere, then either go out to a park or turn in early, getting sleep and rest to be able to hit Animal Kingdom the next day.   Then, I had the bright idea of... why don't we just leave around 10p Wednesay night?  Drive all night, get there around 7 or 8 in the morning, check in--we've arrived early in the day on several vacations, and our room is always ready, so no big whoop, right?  Right.  Anyway, then we could sleep as long as we wanted, and we'd be there!

At this point, we were both frozen solid,
and I think we both caught asthma from
the insulation.
My only issue is, Starbucks has myself, Melanie and others involved in a community service project, in Ensley, doing Habitat for Humanity.  At the time, I had no idea what we would exactly be doing, so therefore, I had no idea how tired I would exactly be.  The Lovely Steph Leann and I went back and forth on when we should leave, and she finally just leaves it up to me.

Wednesday rolls around, and its time to leave for Ensley, an ethnic, poor, somewhat dangerous part of the Birmingham area, so Melanie, myself and two others drive out there to meet everyone.  Of the several jobs that are offered, she and I take on putting up insulation in one of the framed bedrooms.  Lest I forget to mention, its cold. I mean, really, really cold.  Like in the mid, maybe lower 30s cold, all day.  I'm freezing, she's freezing, we both through working caution to the wind and stand very close to keep warm.  Its butt cold.

Melanie is hilarious because, as tough a manager as she can be sometimes, she's... well, she's a princess sometimes.  Love her dearly, but putting up insulation is not what God had in store for her life plan.  The day wears on, we continue to freeze, we all end up having a meeting later, and finally, the day is over.  And now, even though I've packed most of my clothes, even though most of our stuff is gathered, even though over half of my "do we have ____?  Check!" list is checked off, I still have a ton of errands to run.  You know, those errands that somehow get put off until the last minute, even though you have been planning this trip since, what, October of the previous year?  Yep.

The plan was for me to run such errands, The Lovely Steph Leann to run her own errands, and I'd be starting a nap by, say, 8, maybe 830, I'd get up around 10, maybe 11, and we would be on our way.  As it turns out, I lay down around 945.  Red Robin is packed, all loose ends are tied up, errands are all accomplished, and when I get up, then we just get in the car and go.  Only problem is, when The Lovely Steph Leann wakes me up at 11, I'm like, "Whaaa.... uhhhh... I... uhh..."

She smiles and quietly says, "Hey... if you want to get up, we can.  If you want to sleep, we can do that too.  We can leave whenever you want, its okay."  I groggily nod, and somehow set my alarm for 1am, then pass back out.  The alarm goes off a few hours later, and after a few "snoozes", we finally get up around 120.  Twenty minutes later, with every thing we need stuffed into Red Robin, I reach up and hit the garage door opener.  The rumble begins, and the darkened garage gets slightly brighter as the outside light from the drive comes in.  The door opens, I move the gearshift into D, slightly press the gas and we begin to move.

We are on vacation.

The Journey Is Half the Fun, right?  Right!  Well, I guess it was fun.  It was a 9 and a half hour drive.  We have found that if you travel down Highway 280, pass through Auburn, cut across the corner of Georgia through Columbus, Albany, Ty Ty and others, getting on I-75 in Tifton, then take 75 down to the Florida Turnpike, cut across the 40 miles or so, then take the exit to World Drive... its faster.  I've been through Atlanta (too much construction), and I've taken 231 to I-10 (too far out of the way), and though I didn't believe 280 until we did it a few years back, I believe now.  Take 280.  Easier.

We listened to Inside the Magic podcast's "Ear In Review", a five hour 2010 recap show, most of the way down, pausing it for The Lovely Steph Leann to snooze a bit here and there.  Red Robin drove like a dream, and Sirius Satellite Radio is the most awesome way to listen to the radio, like, ever.  Ever ever. 

The sign everyone wants to see.
We stop in Tifton around 7am (Eastern time) to eat breakfast at Chick-fila, and she snoozes again.  I listen to Stephen King's "Cujo" on audiobook as I drive down 75, and a few hours later, we get on the turnpike.   We make a bathroom stop along the way, then finish the last leg of the journey.  Anyone who has made this trip enough to be familiar with the landmarks can't help but get excited when they make that turn that says "TAMPA", and then they turn off another exit a few miles down the road, take that left and a few minutes later are greeted with a big arch over the road that says "WALT DISNEY WORLD".

If you are driving, and especially if you are going to be on the Turnpike, plan ahead.  We had a little bag in Red Robin's console with about 10 one dollar bills and 5 bucks in quarters ready to go, so when we got to the toll booths, there was none of that "looking around for change... honey, you got a buck... we need two more quarters... dang, I guess we will have to give her nickels... make sure you go to the 'gives change' line..."   Have your money ready. 

The Lovely Steph Leann and I are almost beside ourselves... first, we ARE AT DISNEY WORLD!!  Secondly, we are both tired, and I'm exhausted.  I'm sooooo looking forward to laying down on the bed, closing my eyes, snoozing, and waking up... well, whenever.  The Lovely Steph Leann is also tired and will take a nap, but since she hasn't showered in now over 24 hours, she's looking forward to a hot shower where she can wash her hair and put on some fresh clothes.

We follow the familiar road signs through the familiar roads, and come upon Port Orleans French Quarter. I stop at the gate, look at the old man security guard and say, "Checking in!"  The old man at the gate asks for my name, I show him my ID again, and he says, "Don't got know record of your name here checking in."  I stare at him for a second, then said, "Uh... yeah, we are checking in.  I have a reservation number.  We are paid in full."  He looked again and said, "Ah yeah, looks like you already checked in at 10a..."  I smiled and said, "Yeah, we did online check in, and were going to be here by 10...  but we are a little late."  It was 1145a.  The Lovely Steph Leann is getting impatient.  Finally, the old man security guard waves me through, and we drive up to guest parking.

After long last, we arrive, and will be
getting showers and naps and... wait,
"Can you just go in without me?" she says.
"No, what if they want your ID?  Come on.  We are on vacation.  Let's go," I reply.  She sighs, puts on her shoes and opens the door.  I grab the folder with all of our paperwork, we have our pins around our neck, and we walk to the main hall.  Once inside, we are both giddy... we are here!  And I'm going to get to sleep in like, 30 minutes, and she'll get a shower in about 30 minutes and its all good and...

"Your room isn't ready yet," the cast member at the desk tells us.
"Seriously?" I ask
"Yep.  Bad weather kept people here a few days extra.  Its not guaranteed until 3, anyway."
"We know," The Lovely Steph Leann says, and I can tell all the excitement in her voice is gone.  "We usually are able to get right in this time of year."
"I'll give you a call when the room is ready," the cast member says as she hands us our room packet and our new Keys to the World.

We stumble back to Red Robin and get in.  I must tell you that 30 minutes away lives Jason Young, The Lovely Steph Leann's childhood bestie, and lifelong friend.  He is married to The White Jada, and they have two kids present, one on the way.   Every time we come to the area, we have intentions of getting together, and somehow, we aren't able to do so.  Along the trip, The White Jada posts on Facebook telling me that we all need to get together, so The Lovely Steph Leann pipes up, "Maybe we call The White Jada, and see if we can come visit.  And get a shower."

Calls to The White Jada were fruitless, however.  I finally said, "Well, why don't you get a bag, put in some fresh clothes, and some makeup and whatever else it is that you chicks use to 'freshen up', and go to the bathroom and do just that--freshen up.  Take your time.  I'll wait in the lobby.  You'll feel better, and afterwards, we can eat, or go to the parks or whatever."  She agrees, and we spend the next few minutes in the back, me moving suitcases around for her to get into them and get what she needs.

She heads to the restroom to freshen up, and I hang in the lobby, hitting the little gift shop and trade some pins.  We've already dropped our luggage off to the bag services guys, and I parked Red Robin by Building 2, which is where our room is supposed to be, and I'm back in the lobby checking on our rooms.  She comes out, looking fresh and refreshed, and we walk around a bit, go to the Sassagoula Food Court and have some overpriced burgers, and she asks me to check on the rooms, while she relaxes on a bench outside.  "Get us a renovated room!" she asks in her "I'm asking but I'm actually telling you nicely" tone. 

Where we were spending the next
ten nights, on vacation!
French Quarter is being renovated building by building, and out of the seven buildings, only Buildings 4, 6 and 7 are finished (I believe they are working Building 5 at the time I'm writing this)  When I get to the front desk and inquire about our rooms, they tell us that the rooms are ready.  I then ask about a renovated room, and the cast member quickly looks and finds us one in Building 7--we just have to return our room keys so they can give us new ones.  And our keys are in Red Robin, which is parked by Building 2... so I tell her to hold that thought, and hustle out, past The Lovely Steph Leann sitting on the bench, chatting away on the phone with her sister, and off to Red Robin.  I grab the keys, and race back, and get new ones... and off to room 7235 we go! 

The renovated rooms are great.  We have two double beds, and the double sinks are now surrounded by lots of counter space, new tiles, new borders around the walls, fresh paint... it just looks great.  Bell services shows up a few minutes later, our bags are unloaded, the guy is tipped and leaves, and the door is closed.

I ask The Lovely Steph Leann if she's going to take a shower, but before I get most of the question out, she's already sprawled out on the bed, buried in her pillow.  I unpack some things, do a few things around the room, and finally, I lay down next to her and both of us are dozing away.

Ah... we are on vacation.

Next: Animal Kingdom Days and Hollywood Nights

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