Something like a year ago, Ginger said "Hey Joyce, my family is going to Orlando for my dad's birthday next year. Want to come along?"
Gee let me thin- sure. :)
So, the original plan was that Ginger would get into the Orlando airport 11:30ish on Friday. I would pick her up, we would zoom out to Kennedy Space Center, and we would do KSC all day, since her folks weren't getting in until late that night. When the Space Center closed, we'd head down to Cocoa Beach for ocean and seafood before zooming into Orlando to meet up with her parents.
Thursday and Friday, June 30 and July 1
In order to make this plan happen, I had to leave on Thursday, unless I wanted to get up at 2am on Friday morning (um, no). So, I packed up and took off Thursday morning and headed south. The drive was boring but uneventful. I spent Thursday night in St. Augustine at a KOA - I didn't get to see the fort, for which I am still kicking myself, but I did get to go play in the ocean, which was the goal. :)
As already noted some time back, Ginger's flights got foobared, and so she wasn't going to get into Orlando until late. She told me to go ahead and do KSC, so I did. We had tickets for a tour, so I did that (absolutely fascinating, though I heard way more about alligators than I ever thought possible) and took myself through the exhibits and generally had a very good time (it would have been better with accompaniment, but we'll be back. With the shuttle program ending, our tour guide said that they're going to be cleaning up areas that the public hasn't been able to go into before and expand the tour, so...)
The Center itself is gorgeous; most of it's a wildlife refuge, and it shows.
With nothing better to do after the Center closed, I stuck to the original plan and drove down to Cocoa Beach and had a great shrimp Caesar salad at a bar on a pier overlooking the ocean, and then waded in the ocean some more. Then I pointed the car back towards Orlando, and got to the airport a little early, but that was on purpose; I borrowed their free wifi and got some work done. Ginger eventually texted, I found her baggage claim, we got all of her stuff stuffed into the Bug (she is moving piecemeal and storing stuff at our house, so she had more luggage than normal, including the duffel bag of doom - I should have gotten a picture), and headed towards the time share. We tried to find an open grocery store, failed, and met up with her folks to get checked into the time share. Her folks hadn't had dinner, so we ended up doing a 1am Denny's run with them, which was a slightly surreal start to our vacation.
Saturday July 2
Saturday we got up bright and early, but Ginger's dad had been up earlier, and found the open grocery store. So there were some breakfast makings available. So there was breakfast, and sunscreening, before the 4 of us packed up for the day and headed over to Universal Studios. We had two day park hoppers, so we spent some time in each and rode a lot of stuff (and discovered how many holes my movie education had in it, and started The List of movies I need to watch). I liked the MIB ride the best. The Spiderman sim was a little too realistic (I Do Not do heights), which resulted in Ginger having to say to a terrified me "We haven't fallen, we're not going anywhere, we're still in a sim, close your eyes.")
After we had done all we wanted to, we headed back to the time share, by way of Chick-fil-a for dinner. After we dropped of Ginger's folks, we accomplished a Target run for this and that that we'd either forgotten or not brought with us, plus some more breakfast materials.
Sunday July 3
Seaworld with Ginger's dad (Ginger's mom was relaxing at the time share for the day). This was a nice, lady back day, with a lot animals, so I was happy. We saw a lot of shows - Shamu, a pet tricks show with a lot of adorable cats and dogs, a pint sized version of something similar to Cirque de Soleil (which I'd be skeptical of, and which was amazing), and a lot of other cool stuff. There were also animal exhibits - sharks and stingrays and baby dolphins among others. Ginger and her dad did the two roller coasters in the park while I held bags and looked at stingrays and penguins.
Lunch was fast food sitting on a deck overlooking water, which was very nice.
After we'd gotten our fill of the park, we picked up Ginger's mom and did Chili's for dinner (fajitas, no tortillas, omnomnoms).
Monday July 4
The morning of the fourth was kind of a cluster - Ginger and I had been dispatched to go to a time share presentation so as to secure Arabian nights tickets for the group for later on in the week. The chick we'd been assigned to started out the morning by saying "I don't know why I got assigned to you, I normally work only with owners" and tried to lose us in the parking deck, which was not a good beginning. But she thawed after she got some coffee in her (and then tried to start the girlie husbands and kids conversation with us. Talk about misjudging your audience. :) ) Breakfast was reasonably tasty, and she cut us loose without trying to sell us at all, so overall, the morning was a win. We took our vouchers and picked up our tickets, and went back by the time share to meet up with Ginger's mom and dad.
Monday afternoon was Epcot. We worked our way through the country showcase, and it was very very cool. The Mexico ride was neat, and there were a couple of 360 movies (Canada, China) that were very very cool. I also got to go up in the iconic big Epcot ball (which is the Spaceship Earth ride, and which was very very cool). We met up with Benjamin Franklin outside of lunch, and this is what Ginger had to say about the encounter:
While we were at the American Experience at Epcot, Benjamin Franklin was outside. So I asked him if he would hold my dinosaur. He graciously agreed and asked for an introduction, then stood Sir Richard on top of his walking stick. As I took the picture, I realized that Benjamin Franklin was making little "rar" sounds, complete with hand motions, at my dinosaur. This utterly cracked me up. THEN he fell off the cane, and Mr. Franklin picked him up, admonished Sir Richard to be sure he was drinking enough water to stave off dehydration, and took him over to the fountain for a refreshing drink. Best dinosaur experience ever.
Ginger's dad eventually took her mom back to the time share, and we wandered over to the Magic Kingdom, which was literally wall to wall people (fortunately, the 4th was the only really bad day for that). We got some ice cream, and Ginger's dad caught up with us.
The rest of the evening was watching the fireworks (very loud, very boomy, very pretty) and walking onto a lot of high demand rides, since the park was open very late and people started clearing out after the fireworks (things like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride - much fun - and the Haunted Mansion). We were all tired and loopy leaving the park, which resulted in getting lost looking for the road that we were currently driving on. It didn't help that Ginger's dad was on the phone with her grandmother, who was also lost. Eventually, we got back to the timeshare, and a long time and some cranky later, Gran, her boyfriend Tom, and Ginger's niece and nephew arrived. This is where the serious sleep deprivation started kicking in, too.
Tuesday July 5
So, since we'd been out until all hours the night before, I was not up when the first round of people left. I ended up riding over to the park with Gran, Tom, and Ginger's mom. Harder sleep has never been had. :)
This was a Universal day, with everyone, to begin with. The first party ran around and did some stuff that we did on Saturday, and then once the rest of us arrived, we went over to Islands of Adventure for Harry Potter, which was PACKED. It was absurd.
Gran and Tom and Ginger's mom did some stuff while the rest of us waited in an epic line for the Harry Potter line (which was much less simulation and much more roller coaster than I was expecting, nearly tipping us upside down twice. I spent a lot of time with my eyes closed. I was glad to have done it - once). In the middle of the day, there was a very tasty lunch at Hard Rock Cafe (mmm, nachos and peanut butter chocolate mousse) with a friendly waiter who sized up the group pretty well pretty quick. [Ginger's dad asked for the check, and the waiter said, well, sir, there's two people in line in front of you already. Her dad said, yes, but the first one is my mother, and she's senile. The waiter considered his choices, and Ginger's dad ended up with the check.]
After lunch, the older end of the party, except for Ginger's dad, headed home, and the rest of us spent most of the rest of day on water rides (including me accidentally ending up on one of those plunging log things, those I did not end up on the one with the 5-story drop, thank goodness.) [No, really, I do not do heights. We were on the "High In The Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride", a kids ride, and I started white knuckling and mutter "oh, no" until Ginger's niece asked what was wrong.] We did the white water rapids ride twice, walking right onto it both times, which made me exceedingly happy.
We headed for home, damp but content. (And exhausted on my part.) The party dropped me off at the time share and headed out to dinner (at my request. I needed some quiet and alone time and to get some work done). Eventually, that was sleep.
Wednesday July 6
Wednesday was Ginger's dad's birthday, and we did Disney's Hollywood Adventure (which used to be called MGM), Epcot, and the Magic Kingdom.
Hollywood Adventure was cool, if slower than a lot of the other parks. There were a lot of shows, but they were very good, including a back lot tour where we got to learn more about special effects that was a lot of fun. However, between my sleep deprivation and the overall togetherness factor of the week, nerves were starting to wear a bit thin, so Ginger's dad headed over to Epcot with the kids while Ginger and I hung out at Hollywood Adventure a bit longer, then wandered around Epcot on our own before meeting up with everyone else for dinner.
Dinner was at the Coral Reef Restaurant (Ginger's dad's pick since it was his birthday), and it was one of the best meals I've ever eaten (and not just because I got my own gluten-free bread basket). I had "Grilled Mahi Mahi with Rock Shrimp, Hearts of Palm, Jasmine Rice, Cilantro, and a Coconut-Lime Sauce" and it was out of this world. Ginger had "Pan-seared Sustainable Seasonal Catch on Lemon and Pea Risotto with Bay Scallops and Citrus Oil", and the risotto was so good, we're going to try to replicate it in February (shouldn't be too hard). We shared some chocolate mousse for dessert and watched the aquarium, and it was a very nice day.
We'd ended up with all three cars at the park that day, so after dinner, I went back to the time share and fell over while the older folks rode the monorail and then came home with the kids, and Ginger's dad and Ginger closed the Magic Kingdom for his birthday.
Thursday July 7
Thursday we did Disney's Animal Adventure and more Hollywood Adventure. In the evening, we used the Arabian Nights tickets that Ginger and I had obtained earlier in the week.
The highlight of the day, for sure, was the safari ride at Animal Adventure, similar to what we did at NW Trek a few years ago. The kids especially really seemed to like it.
That afternoon was the only time we got rained out of a park during the week, and handily, it was a day we were leaving early anyhow. :) The skies just opened up, we're talking 6 inches of standing water in places... we were soaked. We scooted back to the time share and had just enough time to get everyone showered and changed and over to Arabian Nights, which was luckily a quarter mile down the road.
Arabian Nights. Heh. Ginger put it way better than I could have:
The dinner show. Good lord. The horsemanship was kind of cool, though I've never seen a horse stunt show where multiple performers fell off multiple horses multiple times. The dinner was good, albeit not the greatest quality. The social commentary was .... terrible. First off, the main theme of the Arabian Nights dinner show was GOD BLESS AMURRIKAH, which was a little weird. The "cowboys" got an entire 8-horse brass band rendition of every damn patriotic song you can think of, the "Indian" was a half-naked dude covered in feathers and fluorescent paint riding in slow circles around the arena to Enigma's "Return to Innocence", the "gypsies" were ... problematic ... and I spent a lot of time wincing. :P
Yea. It was interesting.
Afterwards, we went back to the time share, half the party ate birthday cake, and we all fell over.
Friday July 8
Ginger's dad got up oh-gods-early to take the kids to the airport (their flights were out of an airport a couple hours away. Ginger's mom opted for the chill out at the time share plan. Ginger and I went to the Magic Kingdom. :) We got in a lot of good rides, and then met up with her dad for lunch at the Rainforest Cafe. He came back to the Magic Kingdom with us, we all ran around for awhile longer, and then I headed back to the time share and fell over while they closed the park.
Saturday July 9
Saturday was back to Hollywood Adventure, then Epcot.
We tagged out a couple of things we hadn't gotten to see at HA during the week (including an amazing, very short, version of Beauty and the Beast; now I want to see the full stage production). Then, we moseyed over to Epcot. We debated lunch options before settling on the restaurant in Mexico, where we had an amazing set lunch of the best tortilla soup I've ever had, chicken enchiladas, and Bavarian mousse. Ultimately, the lunch ended up upsetting Ginger's stomach a touch. =/ But we all agreed it was very very good.
Lunch was entertaining in ways non-food related: the wait staff sang happy birthday to Ginger's dad, and then the waiter yelled something in Spanish to a boatload of Argentinians that were floating by (we'd been seeing them around the park all week), and they sang too. :)
We tagged out some last stuff in Epcot, then zoomed out and met up with everyone for dinner at Golden Corral. Which would have been pleasant, except it was overrun with busloads of about 500 total South American teenage soccer players (kid you not, that estimate courtesy the wait staff), who mixed up all the food, ran around with steak knives and didn't pay attention to who they were almost stabbing, made a ton of noise, and kept trying to bowl over the oldest, most unsteady members of the party. Not cool.
Sunday July 10
Ginger's parents had an early flight. We got some more sleep, then checked out the of time share. We headed over to a practically empty Seaworld for a few hours, including a good long time hanging around Wild Arctic visiting the polar bear, who was actually awake, watching the beluga whales get fed, etc.
Eventually, we headed out, got some lunch at Qdoba, and then I dropped Ginger off at the airport.
My drive home was uneventful, except for all the damn tolls. At the sixth one of the day (I am not even kidding), I ran out of cash and had to take an I-owe-the-state-of-FL. This apparently happens a lot, and the cashier was trying not to giggle at my apologies.
I rolled into home at 12:30 in the morning, by the grace of my VW Bug, This American Life, Eminem, and Mountain Dew.