"" Writer's Wanderings: March 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Other Side of Disney-The "Mickey House"

The last time we went to Disney as a family two years ago, we dubbed the place we stayed as the "Mickey House." So as we made plans for this trip and talked with the grands about it, we called this the "Mickey House" too. Unfortunately, this time we weren't as fortunate in our choice.

The house was ideally located in Emerald Island Resort which is a community made up mostly of homes that are vacation rentals and only about 15-20 minutes from Disney. It's a lovely area, nicely landscaped with quite a dramatic entrance and gated. The club house sported its own pool (mainly for the condos, I think) and a gathering room where there were some scheduled activities if you weren't at the park and a fitness center, if you felt the need. There was also wifi available there, for a price, which was not available in the house.

We had booked this house through a group called Villa Direct. We liked their website. It was easy to navigate and we could compare homes. The home that we chose was called Casa Sol y Sombre. Upon first glance, the house looked wonderful. It was clean and the tables were set with dishes and napkins--very inviting. We have rented condos and homes before but this was the first time I ever went into one where there was not a lick of anything either leftover from previous guests or supplied as starters (other than TP and little soap squares). Usually we find some dish soap and laundry detergent.

We soon discovered the ice maker didn't work in the fridge. Neither did the back burner of the stove. An algae ring around the pool didn't go away the entire two weeks even though the pool was "cleaned" and treated. There were several other irritating malfunctions I won't bore you with but there was no lack of little posted notes all over the house, neatly put into 4 X 6 wood frames telling us what not to do. It took us two weeks to find them all.

The big letdown in all of this was finding out we could have saved $500 with a AAA discount had we known it was possible when we booked. As it was, Villa Direct said they would have to cancel our reservation and rebook for the discount. The cancellation would have wiped out the savings. [Update 5/2010: Villa Direct has agree to pay us a part of the discount.]

The house we had two years before was called the Hideaway at Terra Verde it only had six bedrooms (Sombre had 7) and was a little farther away from Disney especially when you factored in traffic. But the quality of the house and the amenities were much nicer. They even had two Disney themed rooms that the kids loved.

It was tough to decide whether we'd made the right choice--being nearer Disney or having the other house which was nicer. It was especially frustrating when the refrigerator started to alternately defrost leaving pools of water around the food and then freezing. At least the ice we bought didn't melt.

Still it was nice to come home for an afternoon break of swimming and not loose a lot of time traveling. As I always say, a good travel experience is based largely on attitude and if you learn to roll with the punches a bit it works out in the end. Even if you end up flat on your back with bronchitis.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Other Side of Disney: Outside the Park

The pace at Disney can be grueling. Rushing from attraction to attraction and standing in line. Then standing in line again for food. (We beat that by taking in sandwiches, chips, carrots, and fruit. You're allowed a small bag of snacks.) Taking a break to do something a little more leisure saves on frazzled nerves and sore, tired dogs.

There is lots of other stuff in and around Orlando. Some things are inexpensive, others are not. One one off day, we spent some time in the pool at our "Mickey" house (more on that later) and then went off to "the world's largest McDonald's." It's on Sand Lake Rd near International Blvd. Imagine a Chuck E. Cheese only with the Hamburglar. Most of the two story restaurant is full of video games for kids and adults. There's also a large indoor play area for the little ones. It's eclectic in decor and was a lot of fun to visit and walk around. There's some gourmet sandwiches available here too.
The video games played for fifty cents or more. A little more expensive than Chuck E.'s. Still, a fun place and if you can get out without buying tokens, a great lunchtime experience.

Downtown Disney is another area that is fun to peruse on a morning or afternoon. There is no entry fee. The nightclub area at Paradise Island is being rennovated. There wasn't any information available as to projected finish date. But there are tons of shops including the Lego Store where the kids can stand at a table and create to their heart's content. (It's supposed to be age 3 and up but Annalise insisted on diving in.) Several large Transformers, Dinosauers and one very large Sea Creature all made out of Legos are there to view.

We walked from one end to the other and took the free boat ride back to the Marketplace. The kids loved it.

Sea World is nearby but we passed because of the expense. If I was to spend that kind of money, I would rather go to the Kennedy Space Center which is about an hour to hour and half away. We've been there before for an afternoon (not long enough to see it all) and it was fantastic! It was also the place where my family got to go to watch the most recent shuttle launch. Unfortunately I was sick by then.

Our son, Rob, was able to contact his congressman from Florida and arrange for tickets to get into the VIP viewing area which is near the Saturn Museum area. It was about 3-4 miles away from the launch pad--as close as anyone is allowed. There was major security they had to go through but all was worth it. Even two-year-old TJ was impressed.

Finally, we also visited a large park in downtown Orlando. The city is quite beautiful and Lake Eola Park is in the central section. A huge round fountain is in the middle of the lake that hosts black swans and countless ibis. There was a huge playground with all sorts of equipment for the kids to play on. Parking was a little hairy but we found a garage that didn't charge much about half a block away. This was probably the best break we got and the cheapest!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Other Side of Disney--A three year old's view

As I sat one afternoon waiting for a parade to begin in the Magic Kingdom, I was talking with my three year old grandson, Caleb, and I suddenly realized that sitting down, I was just about his height. What was it he was seeing? I snapped the picture on the right. He was seeing lots and lots of legs. Nondescript legs. Some had jeans, some were bare to the length of their shorts. How in the world can a child be absolutely sure he has the right pair belonging to his own parent?

Actually I ran into that problem with our youngest, Annalise (18 months). She desperately wanted into the arms of the man standing next to me who had an almost identical red striped Polo shirt as my son. "Sorry, honey," I soothed, "right shirt, wrong daddy."

Imagine meeting the Disney characters when you are three and only about three feet tall. That would be like one of us at six feet tall looking up at a furry costumed giant of 12 feet or more. "And they want me to turn around with my back to this guy and smile?!"

The kids do catch a break in the restrooms. Disney is one of the most handicapped friendly places I've ever seen. There are lots of low sinks where a three year old can feel like giant as he washes his hands and reaches for towels.

I applaud the pluckiness of three year olds. Although there's a little fear and trepidation, they plod ahead and stretch their imaginations and their anxiety levels. Disney's counting on it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Other Side of Disney -10 Sure Things

As Grandma, I had the privilege of spending time in the shade with some of the littlest ones while they caught their nap. There was lots of time to people-watch and I was on a quest to see a different side of Disney. This is the first of some of my observations.

Most of us know or can imagine what all the wonder and magic of Disney can be. But I wonder if you've ever considered some of these sure things:

10. There will be strollers. Lots and lots of strollers. We have a friend who returned from Disney one year and declared, "It's stroller-hell!" He had teens.

9. You will be unlikely to find a stroller parking spot in the shade. And if you take the time to search one out or rearrange a few other strollers to fit in, your family will be halfway to the beginning of the ride and you'll have to try to excuse yourself and dodge scowls as you try to edge through the line to join them.

8. If your children leave crackers or Cheerios on the stroller tray, it will be automatically cleaned for you by the little birds in the park. I think these birds are real.

7. No matter how many people are sitting on the sidewalk waiting for the parade, it is guaranteed that they will all stand up when it's time for the parade making it more difficult to see.

6. If you have to go out of the secure zone for a potty stop while waiting to get into Epcot, the security guard upon your return will remember having seen your sandwiches in the bottom of your backpack.

5. Whining will increase in relation to the time of day and the heat rising from the asphalt.

4. Just when you're ready to snap the picture, the child will suddenly realize there's a huge mouse behind him with big ears.

3. Paying a royal price for a burger does not necessarily make it taste good.

2. Preschoolers are 20 pounds heavier at the end of the day.

1. There will be crying. But take heart, once you're done, you'll feel better.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What I did on my Disney Vacation.

I got sick.

Yup. All the anticipation and excitement of being with all my grandkids and about four days into vacation I knew I was in trouble. I'm not as tough as I thought I was. I tried pushing through but it ended up being Acute Bronchitis. There was nothing cute about it.

When my chest sounded like crinkling cellophane every time I breathed and fever and chills were my nightly campanions, I finally ended up at a Walgreen's Take Care Health Clinic. A particularly sympathetic Nurse Practioner prescribed some antibiotic and two days later I was feeling much better--just in time to come home.

So my apologies to my regular readers. I had good intentions of posting from Disney but just couldn't stay vertical long enough to do it. I do have some great thoughts and observations--maybe some things you never knew or considered about Disney. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Hummingbirds are coming!

On Sundays, we listen to In the Garden with Ron Wilson on the radio as we're driving to church. This past week he commented that the hummingbirds (of the Ruby Throated variety) are being sighted along the southern Gulf coast as they begin making their way back north.
When I reported that in our Sunday school class (I was looking for a good praise item), someone said that they thought hummingbirds were "hitch hikers," tucking themselves under the wings of larger birds that were also returning north. I found a site, http://www.hummingbirds.net/, that dispelled that rumor at least for the Ruby Throated variety.

For those like me who are eager for spring, this is another sign as the hummingbirds continue north. You can track them on the migration map at the hummingbirds site. In 2008, they finally reached the Northcoast and our area around 4/16. You can be sure that if it snows again in March, I will be searching the migration map in hopes that those little guys will be bringing warm weather with them and closing in soon.
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