Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Florida: Friends and Disney!

After we finished our cruise, we had to head out to grab a rental car from a nearby hotel and make the drive to Orlando, where the rest of our trip would commence.


We were particularly excited, because some of our friends were going to meet us there!
The Beigles (previously mentioned throughout our summer activities, including our momentous trip to Charlotte) were down in Tampa for their one year anniversary, and were going to meet up with us to spend a day around Orlando, and a day in Disneyworld!

Day 1: Orlando, Florida!

That morning (Thursday, August 2nd) we docked in Miami at around 8am. 
It took quite a while to get off the ship; our deck was the last to be called!
So, while we were waiting, we decided to take a last tour around the ship. We went and got some breakfast, sitting down and holding hands and enjoying our last morning on our first cruise together.
It was a pretty sad feeling. But we had so much to look forward to, and we had an appointment to have Afternoon Tea at The Grand Floridian that afternoon.
So, I mean. We could handle the sadness.

I guess Afternoon Tea is kind of a tradition for us and the Beigles? 
Which is funny. Because Jon HATES tea.

Anyway, got off the ship and waved a very fond farewell.
Have any of you guys had to take a cab? I have before, and it's always either life threatening, frustrating, or just really uncomfortable.
I can remember one really enjoyable cab ride, and that was when Dusty and I were in New York with our friend Lauren. We were all excited to be fancy, riding in a cab in New York. And Dusty had never ridden in one, so he was giddy.

Well, this cab ride was no such picnic.

We waited in line, and the lady told us to go to a cab at the very back. We walked all the way back there, and the driver man (whose English was iffy, at best) told us to wait for a moment.
He then gestured for us to follow him, and got in his cab and drove off.
Confused, we grabbed our luggage and walked after him. He was now parked at the front, next to the line of people waiting for cab rides.
He got out of the cab and popped his trunk. Dusty grabbed one of our bags to put in, and the guy begins to wave his hands around and says, "Hey, you have to wait in the line!"
Which, of course, prodded the line of cab-waiting people to start grumbling and yelling, "Ay!" "Oy!" "'Ey you there, wait your turn!"
People, people.
Needless to say, we loudly defended ourselves against the mob, shoved our suitcases in, and jumped in the cab.
"Ay, oy, 'ey you, we're innocent, I swear!"

Sweating from the heat, we just sighed and tried to enjoy the ride. As much as you can, in a cab.

We arrived at the hotel and before we knew it, we had our rental car.
The guy was super nice, and upgraded our rental at no charge!
We were kinda sad we wouldn't be needing a rental car for more than a few hours.

The ride to Orlando wasn't quite what we expected.
I'm not sure what we had expected...perhaps we had no expectations whatsoever. But it was beautiful. And swampy! In a good way.

Once we got to Orlando, we had just enough time to get quickly settled into our hotel room, return the rental car, and head to our scheduled Afternoon Tea. :)

We rode over to The Grand Floridian with the Beigles.

There was something so exciting about experiencing a whole new kind of Disney.
Going to school in California, we were able to go to Disneyland all the time. We had annual passes most of our years there, and would drive the 30 minutes multiple times a week to get our Disney/churro fix.
Also, when I was in Japan a few summers back, we were able to take a day and go to one of Tokyo Disney's parks, called DisneySea. We had the most amazing time.
Particularly hearing the entire Indiana Jones ride in Japanese.

Back to Florida: the Grand Floridian was gorgeous.

Up ahead on the second floor balcony, there was a band playing.
While the boys parked the car, Emilie and I waited in that lobby area, enjoying the live music. 

In the corner was the "Garden View Lounge", the hotel's tea room.

The four of us sat in the far corner, at a round table right up against one of the windows.

Emilie and Jon

It was such a beautiful day. At one point, we saw a bride and groom walking across the lawn outside.
Emilie had a friend who got married around there, at Disney World. There were definitely plenty of gorgeous spots for a wedding!
They even have a wedding spot that has a little ceremony arch, perfectly situated so that the Cinderella castle from the Magic Kingdom park is encircled by it. Picture perfect!

We were ready to relax and enjoy the magic!

My favorite tea in the world (so far) is Dragon Pearl Jasmine Green Tea. It is the most fantastic, floral, beautifully delicious tea. It's perfect with cream and sugar. I can drink it all day. Although I don't, because it's expensive.

My tea ensemble came with a pot of tea, little sandwiches, and scones with jelly and devonshire cream.
Dusty ordered the Gentleman's Tea, which was a delicious smattering of cheeses and pates.

Partway through the tea, a woman came over and gave Emilie and I roses. Dusty reached out for one, but...was sadly denied.  

I don't know if you've ever had scones with jelly and devonshire cream...
If you haven't, you're sadly uncultured. I had my first taste a whole 8 months ago. So please, get with the times.
See how thick, creamy and delicious that cream is? My mouth is watering. 

As if that weren't enough, my tea came with a tasty dessert. I could choose between a few choice dessert pastries, or fresh strawberries and cream.
Cream? Did somebody say cream?

I'm officially an addict of afternoon teas.

We walked around a few of the shops on the second floor of the Grand Floridian before we left. Emilie and I spent some time in a really pretty soap store, smelling all the lovely fragrances.
The boys leaned against the railing, talking and enjoying the atmosphere.

Afterwards, we decided to walk around for a bit.
We weren't going into the parks that day, since we arrived around 2pm from our drive from Miami.
We had the day to ourselves, to be tourists and sight see.

We walked all the way through the hotel property, and out to the docks.
There is a large lake that winds through a lot of the Disney properties. You can hop on a boat that will take you to the different hotel stops. You can ride for fun, just enjoying the view. So we did!

We pulled up to the next hotel stop, and there was a large beach area with a giant volcano structure.
It was the Polynesian Resort. So cool!

We walked around the resort for a while, then spent the rest of our day driving around.

The Beigles took us to the most incredible hotel, the Gaylord Palms.

Honestly, it was incredible. The entire inside was decorated to look like you were still outdoors.
There were waterfalls, greenery, balconies, a castle, an italian restaurant, a lake, a ship, gift shops...oh, and alligators. Yeah.

When you first walk in:

Then you swiftly enter a never-never land of exotic landscaping.

We couldn't believe how enormous this place was. There were bridges, caves, seating areas, coffee shops and stores...

Before long, we found the jackpot.
If nothing else, this surely sets this hotel apart from the rest...

 Who knew!

Jon and Emilie continued to give us the tour, and I think our jaws were dropped the entire time.
It was such a fun idea for a "hotel lobby".
I loved the feeling of walking the streets of some mysterious jungle-city, with all these strange features and mysterious trails. It was like its own theme park!

Hotel room balconies.

The "Market Square".

Welcome to the castle.
An Italian Villa (restaurant), next to the castle structure.

We climbed the stairs and walked the castle walk, where there were benches and lanterns. Below our feet, in the "castle"s inner circle, there was a wedding reception going on. That fiery glow you see beneath the castle walls is a catering table. It was awesome.

We walked around the Italian restaurant, and through an alleyway of gift shops.
On the other side, we came to a whole new portion of the hotel.

A SHIP restaurant. On its own lake.
I mean, I don't think I'll ever be satisfied with a regular hotel ever again.

Another cool place we went to was Celebration

Celebration is basically the perfect town. Envisioned by Walt Disney himself, it's a hot spot for great restaurants, cute shops, and entertainment. It's a living area modeled after small American towns. 

We had such a fun time walking around.
We stopped in a few places, including Starbucks and a cute little animal shop where I got my mom a few things. 

We decided we would go back that night for dinner, to a really yummy Cuban place. 

Before we did, we hung out at Emilie and Jon's hotel. They were staying at the Waldorf. (Fancy!). So we went and dipped our feet in the pool, and went up and watched TV until the 9pm fireworks at Disney!
They had a huge window with a bird's eye view of all of the firework shows. 
It was a really fun way to spend our evening.

After the fireworks, we went back to Celebration to eat dinner.

The restaurant was really nice.
Since it was late and had cooled down outside, we decided to eat out on the patio. 

Cuban is swiftly becoming one of my favorite food groups. 

The food was amazing. One of my favorites was the Black Bean Cakes, which was served with sour cream and guacamole. Mmmmm.

After the leisurely dinner, we went back to the hotel. We had a long day ahead of us!
We decided we wanted to get there as soon as the park opened. I love that the excitement of Disney never gets old.

Day 2: Disneyworld!

We had a pretty simple plan.
Get there as soon as possible, stay as long as possible, and see as much as possible.

If you don't know already, Disneyworld is HUGE.
It's miles and miles of land, and there are four parks.

We decided to start with The Magic Kingdom. It's the most like Disneyland, and usually the busiest of the four.

Riding the tram, with the Cinderella castle in the distance!
The crazy thing about the Magic Kingdom in Florida is that it's actually on its own island, of sorts. You have to take the tram from the main station into the park; or you can take a boat.

Once we got off the tram, we looked around to see this:

The distant Grand Floridian.
The boat docks.

Feeling thoroughly out of the confines of reality, in our own little island of magic, we headed toward the gates.

We waited in line for the park to open.
Once the clock struck 9, the cast did a musical number that included an incoming train with all of the beloved Mickey bunch to welcome us. It was pretty magical.

I think the weirdest part of the whole day was feeling like we were in California, at the Disneyland we know and love. But there were many differences, and it was an odd, deja-vu-ey kind of feeling.

We sprinted straight for Space Mountain, got a fast pass (it was temporarily broken, as always) and went to find our other favorite rides.

We started with Peter Pan, which was around the corner from Pinocchio village. :)

The ride was so different! I loved finding the differences in each ride. It made it more exciting.
Across the way, we saw another familiar ride:

TOTALLY different than our California version, which takes up the entire back side of Disneyland park!
Although, once we stepped inside, we found some familiar decor :)

I'm just being rude and assuming that you all have been to the Happiest Place on Earth before.
If you haven't, then welcome! Disneyworld can be your first virtual experience.

I would say the highlight for me (and Dusty would probably agree) was the PhilharMagic theatre.
It was so fun.

It was a 3D show that took you on a wild adventure with Donald Duck. He messes with Mickey's magical hat before a special performance, and ends up magically diving through all of our favorite Disney movies.
Including Aladdin, where you fly through Agrabah. It made me want to go and watch all of those movies!
It was really cute.

It was a very hot day.

But our spirits were high.
How could they not be?

We spent a little while longer at the Magic Kingdom, running over to Space Mountain and walking along Main Street before we headed out to catch a tram, then catch a shuttle, to the next park.

Next up?

While the Beigles would only be in Disney with us for a day, Dusty and I had another day to go. 
So we were able to touch all the highlights with our friends, and make a list of what we would want to come back to.
But the truth is, you could spend a good solid week in Disneyworld and still feel like there's more to see. It is truly the center of Walt Disney's genius. 
It's almost too massive...going between parks takes anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes. But you really need to see all four parks.
They're all special and packed with fun stuff to see and do.

We ended up doing 3 rides, and 2 shows while we were there. 
Emilie loves shows, and so she was the one to point out the best ones to go to. 
First up was the American Idol Experience.

It was SO fun.

You wait outside with a crowd of people, watching the screens and playing along as if it's the real thing.
Little did we know, it actually does mean something.

At 9am after the park opens, they open up auditions for anyone to come and try out.
They pick the best singers, and have them perform at the different showtimes throughout the day.
If they win, they come back that night for the finale show. The winner of the finale show wins a "Dream Ticket" to go to the front of the line at an actual American Idol audition!
Several contestants on American Idol have actually originated from the Disney Hollywood park show!

For us, it was just a great way to get out of the heat :)
We voted for our favorite (he won!) and enjoyed the performances. I was nervous just watching them.
The judges were horrible. I wanted to slap them.
But that's pretty true to the show, too.

Afterwards, it started to pour outside.

Did you know that in Florida, it rains pretty much every day?
It's a hot, horrible rain. There's so much humid moisture in the air, it bursts out angrily every afternoon, pouring for 20 minutes or so until it gets tired.

While it was raining, we took cover in The Great Movie ride.
It's a ride that features old Hollywood and the history of film.

It was so much fun!
You drove in a big car, riding around a lot of classic movie scenes. Some from way back, and some more recently. We saw Tarzan swinging from trees (he was broken, and kept colliding into the wall...we had to stop for a while until maintenance came), Sigourney Weaver hiding from Aliens, Mary Poppins, and many more. 
At the end, you pulled up to this giant screen, drive-in style. They played a montage of scenes and pictures from some of the greatest movies of all time.
Not gonna lie, I teared up a bit.
It was really cool. It made me want to just curl up and watch a bunch of old movies, relishing in the good old days of Hollywood. 

The two biggies of the day were the main rides of the park.

The first is Dusty's favorite...

Tower of Terror!!

This also had a lot of really cool additions to it. I would highly recommend it.
We didn't actually end up riding it that day, we just grabbed some fast passes for later that night (but didn't end up redeeming them!).

And lastly, possibly my favorite from this park, was the Aerosmith roller-coaster.
I mean, c'mon.

The line winds inside to the ride, where you "meet the band" in their studio.
(It's all hologram).
They invite you to come with them to their next show.
Then, the party begins.

You load up into a "super-stretch limo", with Aerosmith music blaring. 
Then a loud countdown begins, where you SHOOT out onto the ride, into the city.

The ride is kind of Space Mountain-y, since it's dark and inside. But there are twists, turns, loops, and it's fast. All the while you're listening to "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" by Aerosmith. Super epic.

Next up!

The Animal Kingdom park.

I loooved the Animal Kingdom park. It's a Disney zoo. With all the magic of Walt, and all the real-life beauty of exotic wild animals. 

You enter and in front of you is the grand Tree of Life.

We only did two things in this park, and I'm sure there is a ton we didn't get to see.
But the two things we did were awesome. 

First, we went to the snow-capped mountain in the distance.
Similar to our familiar Matterhorn, it's a roller coaster ride.

Once we got in line, we were surrounded by colorful banners and interesting statues.

The entire thing was a realistically decorated, "Yeti"-themed ride. There were statues and Yeti memorabilia everywhere; it actually felt like we had stepped into some snowy, mountainous country that fears the mighty beast.

They had explanations of every culture, and their idea of what the Yeti actually is. Sculptures, painted masks, drawings, pictures, etc.
Artifacts from long ago were encased in glass, and pictures were posted on the wall of landscapes and blurry Yeti sightings.

At the end, there was a display of a tent and camping equipment that had been ripped to shreds. 
They were taken by the Yeti.

It was a really fun ride. It was really fast, and the only complaint I have is that I lost my beloved white hat. :(
It flew right off my head, and all I could think of was the jolly man on Thunder Mountain in Disneyland who says, "Hold on to your hats and glasses, because this here's the wildest ride in the wilderness!"
I should've known.

Ode to Hat:


This $3 hat from Wal-Mart saw many things. Many beautiful things.
Rest in peace. At Mt. Everest. 

After we left the hat-stealing Everest ride, we headed over to the Safari!

Our first thought was that it would be similar to the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. 
We came to find out that Walt Disney had always wanted to have real animals in Jungle Cruise; but it proved too difficult, too expensive, and too much hassle.
The Safari at the Animal Kingdom is a realization of that dream. You travel in a vehicle through a real habitat, within feet of the animals. It was incredible. 

There were several animals that were hanging out up against the fences in the shade.
We almost didn't see the cheetahs, since they were hiding themselves. :)
We didn't get any pictures of them, but it was so cool to see them so close!

One of the coolest habitats was the Hippo home.

We drove in a circle around their lake, and as always, they were just chillin'.

The paths for the cruise bus were really condensed, often passing through narrow corners, thick bushes and shallow rivers. It felt very private, just us and the animals. It was really cool. 
After a while, we broke into the open air.

Up ahead, there were giraffes that started crossing our car's pathway.

So we just parked, waiting patiently for them to walk across. 
He pulled up real close, and just let us take pictures and watch them for a while.
He said, "I'll hang here for a while, but if any of them gets too close or makes a move for us, I'll have to move on."

There were elephants,

Addax things with crazy awesome twirly horns,

And then came the rhinos.
"Okay now everyone, don't make any sudden movements, stay seated, and stay very quiet."
And then came the fear for our lives.

Probably the coolest part of it all.
And believe me, it was dead silent.
No one was gonna mess with those bad boys.

After we finished the safari, we leisurely made our way back toward the park exit, and to the shuttle area.
The plan was to finish our day in Epcot.
I don't know if any of you know much about Epcot, but it's basically a taste of every country and culture all neatly situated in a big magical circle.
I don't know why, but it was my favorite of all the parks.
It has little to no rides, but it's not crowded like the others. It's peaceful, interesting, and really beautiful. Each section glides from one country to the next, and each "country" has its own foods, shops and buildings. 

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

We went to Epcot:

The entrance to the park is situated in front of this giant globe.
Inside the globe is actually a ride that takes you into the stars and around the universe....but more on that later. :)

You walk into this large entrance area, with a few ships and a giant fountain.

Then there's this little beauty.

"Club Cool" is a Coca-Cola store.
They have different Coke products from all around the world!
Free to sample!
We went here a lot.
When I was in Japan a couple summers back, they had the most delicious Melon soda. It was a vibrant shamrock-green and oh-so-delicious.

Here, they had sodas from:
China, Mexico, Israel, Japan, Germany, Italy, Costa Rica, and Mozambique.

The China one was my favorite. It was watermelon! Mmm.
Italy was absolutely disgusting.
Mexico tasted like a bubble-gum Fanta drink.
Germany was cool, because it was a mix of Coca-Cola and orange. They often mix their beer with non-alcoholic beverages, and the coke/orange flavor enhances the taste of the beer.

After we drank a LOT of soda (and pranked every little kid we saw into trying Italy, because it was "the best ever" kid got really mad at Jon), we headed into the main park.

I had been making videos the whole day for my friend Britany, who had asked me to. :)
This is the one I took for her right as we entered the park. Turns out, I say "like" a lot when I'm on camera.

The first place we walked into was Canada.

Check out that Maple-Leaf fence!
Then we moved into England:

Excuse us while we cross the bridge to Paris...

The Paris section had a fabulous French restaurant, and a little Crepe stand. Which we visited later. :)

Oui, Oui...Pari!

Next, we went into Morocco. 
We decided to take a break and eat here, at a place Emilie had been before. Fine with us!

It was tucked away in the back, past the camel wearing a hat.

This place was a perfect spot to cool down.
I had delicious iced mint tea, and we shared their chicken kabobs. Yum!
After a while, a belly dancer came out and they started playing music as she danced.
We were by ourselves at a table on an elevated seating area, and were just enjoying the atmosphere.

I don't think we would've even seen that place, had it not been for Emilie's past experience!

After dinner, we headed into the Asia section.
Oh, boy!
This was fun for me. It looked so much like places I had actually been!
And their stores were full of familiar candies and souvenirs.

It was super cute...they had this little bar with a bunch of oysters in water, and there were these lovely girls breaking them open and revealing the special pearls inside. You could pay to pick an oyster, and keep the pearl that was inside.
She was so animated and so fun to watch. They had this little sing-song routine as they went along, and the kids loved it. There was a line of people watching.

 Then came the obsession with this bag:

Guys, I like cats.
I don't really think it's a secret.
To date, I've least 6 cats, I'm sure many more, to my parent's house throughout the years.

And this is officially numero uno on my birthday list this year:

I'm not even ashamed.

But when I saw this bag, that said, "Cheri with Cats", I melted a little bit.

To backpedal a little bit, the Japanese have adorable little trinkets like bags, notebooks, cards, etc...that have really sweet sayings on them. The only problem is, the English is never quite right.

So cute!
Needless to say, I walked away, saddened without my Cheri with Cats bag.
We were trying to be practical, not buying any souvenirs.
This wasn't the end of the Cheri story, however....although you'll have to wait until next time to see how and why we blew through our "no souvenirs" rule...

We left Japan behind us,

And headed through Italy,

And landed in Germany for a while.

Where Dusty and I got really distracted by this sign:


We then went over to China, and spent some time there.

While we were there, we decided to go over to the theater to see some acrobats that were visiting for a few shows that day.

It was really fun!

This was the point where my phone died.
The camera had died earlier in the day.

But, the rest of our evening was perfect.

We headed over to see the rest of the park, including Mexico! We decided we'd get tacos there the next night.
As the sun started to set, we made our way back toward Paris, so we could get crepes before the stands closed for the fireworks show.

We grabbed a few, and sat at a quaint little bistro table that faced the lake.
The fireworks show was a big event, and took place on platforms in the water.
We decided to leave the park before it started, so we wouldn't get too crowded in the mass of people trying to leave.

We bid the Beigles farewell, since they were heading back to their car so they could head back to their place in Tampa.

Dusty and I decided to run back to the Hollywood park to use our fast passes for Tower of Terror.
Unfortunately, we were past our time slot...and the lovely mean-faced "hotel" worker man wouldn't let us through. Thus began the spirit-dampening.

Having been ruthlessly denied, we decided to leave and spend the rest of the night at the Magic Kingdom.
There was a shuttle that went from the park to our hotel, so we knew we just needed to get back to the shuttle spot by 12:15am.
We were already so exhausted, but the earlier one was at 9:45, and we didn't get back to the shuttle spot in time.
Oh well...we were here for such a short time, why not go all out?

I hate to even share this story, since we had had such a great day.
And it was about to end so badly.
But, this is a true blog. An honest blog. And this blog post is already so long, why not add a tragic twist?

We were 30 minutes early to our shuttle time.
It was the last one of the day, so we wanted to make absolutely sure we would be there on time. Plus, we were exhausted, and our feet were killing us! We had been walking around nonstop for almost 15 hours. We both had blisters.

We sat. And we waited. And we yawned...
Growing a bit nervous, seeing no sign of our bus 15 minutes before, (Dusty had called the hotel to find out the bus company they used, so we could be looking out for the name on the side) we decided to grab a Disney worker and ask them if they knew which parking spot our bus was assigned.
He told us they'd be in spot 35.
So, we went and stood in spot 35.
I grabbed a bench nearby, and as the clock slowly approached 12:15, the spirit-dampening was intensifying.

I can't really stress the extent of our fatigue at this point...and when Dusty called the hotel at 12:20, and they said the bus had already come and went...when we had been standing in their spot for 20 minutes...well, he blew a fuse. He blew several. We both did. I was closer to crying than hitting someone, but we were both at our breaking point. Was there anything the hotel could do? A van they could send, something, to help us out? We knew they hadn't come like they said they would.
Then the lady said, "Well, you can walk. It's only 5 miles."


I'm a pretty easy going person. But if there was a time to cuss, a time to scream, a time to all-out freak-out...this was it.
Luckily, the Disney worker we had spoken to earlier knew we had been there waaayyy early. And he had seen our frustration and knew the hotel was totally wrong.
He arranged for us to get a ride on another shuttle to Downtown Disney, which at least got us only a mile and a half from our hotel.
We were dropped off at around 12:45am or so, and began our slow shuffle to the hotel.
We could barely move. Everything was sore, our feet were about to either explode or fall off or become permanently numb and swollen. I was sure I was going to find bloodied socks when we got there.
To make matters worse, it was pitch black, and every person that appeared out of the woods or started walking behind us was a potential murderer. I thought, "This is it. I'm going to die. At Disneyworld."

I just kept chanting, "I hate this I hate this I hate this so so much."

I don't remember when we got to our hotel. I don't remember much of anything after that. We had to shower the humid sweat off of us, and we both sat, butts against the wall, legs straight up in the air, to relieve some of the swelling.
We got to sleep around 2am, and I don't think I've ever been so miserable.

Needless to say, the rest of the trip was almost ruined. The next day, we woke up so sore, so incredibly pained, we could barely walk. We had to stretch for twenty minutes just to get moving.

But that's another story. :)

In love,

1 comment:

  1. The hat stealing Everest ride and the bloodied feet is making me sad right now. But the experience sounds amazing and wonderful! Glad you survived the disappointing parts and lived to tell the story.