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Joshua's Orlando Trip Report: Departure and Arrival

Walt Disney World: Come with Josh as he explores the sights, sounds and smells of scenic I-95.

From Joshua Counsil
Posted September 14, 2009 at 3:03 PM
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A Brief Introduction

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Fellow Insiders may recall my announcement of a summer Orlando report a few weeks back. Well, as promised, here is my trip report, encompassing Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando. I should note that due to my hectic school schedule, the report may take some time to finish.

And, being of a cynical, sarcastic, Generation Y nature, my report is sure to disappoint and sadden you all. Enjoy!

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On the Road Again

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First, before you Insiders begin questioning my merit, it was not my idea to visit Orlando in August. I do not enjoy large crowds or immense heat. I was sweating profusely. I mean buckets. After every attraction I experienced, it was not uncommon for people who witnessed me exiting to think they were queuing for Popeye & Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges. When light breezes blew on me, people assumed that Hurricane Fred had just passed through. But more on that later ...

My Ottawa friends were to pick me up at 4pm in Kingston, Ontario, where I had been working and studying for the past four years. I picked up a bottle of cheap, sparkling wine fine champagne to toast the trip. And with a glass's clink, we were on our way.

There were eight of us, all high school buddies, and two cars, with a ninth joining us by flight later in the week. We are mostly college students. As mentioned in earlier reports, most of the clan were Disney virgins. How fun.

What American road trip is complete without a stop at one of its fine highway dining experiences? Cracker Barrel was our first stop, and I definitely think they need a name change. Perhaps Gravy Barrel, or maybe Butter Barrel. As Mr. Niles addressed in his summer trip report, American portions are huge. Take, for example, my meal: Chicken Fried Chicken, topped with pure lard Sawmill Gravy, served with Buttermilk Biscuits, Corn Muffins with "real Butter", and your choice of three "country vegetables". Now, I'm from the country, and I'm not sure that hashbrown casserole, macaroni 'n' cheese, dumplins, steak fries or mashed potatoes with gravy qualify as vegetables, but I'll play along. Regardless of my criticisms, the food was good, portions were large, service was friendly and prices were cheap. At this point, however, I'd like to recommend one cup of pure bran for every teaspoon of Cracker Barrel ingested.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We continued on, passing through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. Somewhere between Maryland and North Carolina, there is an interesting change in culture. Advertisements for JR Cigars, South of the Border and Jesus Christ become rampant. Here are a couple of our favorites:

From Orlando 2009

From Orlando 2009

Delightfully campy. After its creation, Disneyland was surrounded with tacky shops and restaurants that Walt felt took away from the magic of the resort. With Walt Disney World, he wanted more land than he'd ever need so that guests could enjoy respite from the outside world. The I-95 is a macrocosm of Walt's previous problems and, eventually, Disney will have to buy entire stretches of interstate highways so that guests can truly escape from reality.

And while I'm on a tangent ...

With eight people and two cars, the 24-hour drive from Ottawa to Orlando is bearable. Much more so than flying, anyway. I hate flying. Well, I love flying, but I hate everything that precedes and proceeds it. Dealing with discount airline websites. Leaving absurdly early for the airport. Waiting in line for baggage check. Waiting in line for baggage claim. Waiting in line for customs. Waiting in line for security checks. Waiting for the flight, then having it delayed, then missing your next flight because your previous one was late. Then dealing with indifferent service reps. Horrible, overpriced food. That disgusting, thin layer of film that develops all over your body. Airport terminals that remind me of what the world would look like if Hitler won the way. Tiny, cramped airplane seats. The air ventilation system, which feels like warm, high-velocity breath. The smell. That airplane smell. I'll take a 24-hour drive over flying any day.

After another stop for classic American fare (this time at Sonic, where roller skates are still cool), we were nearly in Florida. By the time we hit Georgia, the weather was a face-melting 95 degrees F. With humidity, it felt like 108, according to the news. Too hot for a husky Canuck like myself.

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Welcome to Orlando (Bienvenidos a Miami Orlando)

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Finally, we reached Florida, and I began seeing the advertisements, starting with one for, "Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit: Now Open!" I think a more accurate description would have been: "Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit: Now Operating on Occasion!" More on that later ...

A few ad-filled miles later, we arrived. As mentioned in previous reports, we were staying at Disney's Old Key West Resort thanks to a spectacular deal I encountered. We preregistered online, making check-in a breeze, and combined our prepaid Disney tickets and hotel keys into one card. We unpacked and hit the pool before going out for dinner and groceries.

On the way to the pool, we were yelled at by security for not using the sidewalk. There was no sidewalk on the side of the road we were on, but they still could have asked politely. This is the second instance of jerk security guards I've encountered at Disney, with the first one being even worse ("I don't drive on your sidewalks, so don't walk on my road"). Not a great introduction of Disney service to my friends.

We stopped at a Walgreens just off of Highway 535 in the southeast corner of the World. We bought a few staples, including MGD (my favorite American beer), and were off to dinner. We ate at Bennigan's next door. Service was very friendly, portions were enormous (I split my Monte Cristo into two meals) and we even had entertainment in the form of a balloon lady, who sculpted me a T-Rex hat. I was hoping she could make the T-Rex eating a balloon Donald Gennaro off of an outhouse toilet, but you can't win 'em all.

From Orlando 2009

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The Best of the West

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Layout and Theme

This was my third time staying at the Old Key West Resort. Although not one of the more lavishly themed resorts, it is pleasant and very comfortable. The pastel colored buildings and finely kept golf course setting provide a serene escape from the sensation-overloaded parks. The resort is quite huge, though, and making your way from your room to the buses, lobby and pools can be a task.

Rooms

The rooms are well-appointed, with a comfortable amount of space for eight people. I also really enjoy the balconies - they provide a nice spot to have a cocktail when the overcrowded, overheated theme park afternoons get to you. I also like the spacious kitchen area and multitude of bathroom sinks available. Getting ready in the mornings never seemed to be a problem. The toilets are extremely high-powered, creating a small, inhabitable vacuum every time you flush. You'll be thankful for them after a diet of nothing but Cracker Barrel and Sonic.

Amenities

The resort's pools are nice, especially the main pool, complete with lighthouse sauna and sandcastle slide. The problem, however, is that the pools never go deeper than five feet, making adult swimming less enjoyable. Not to mention the water feels like a warm bath of urine. On a hot Orlando day, they do not provide the refreshing coolness I crave. There are boats available for rent at the resort, but the only views you will have are of other villas. Additionally, the boats run at a costly $1/minute. Sorry, but there's profit to be had.

Food

OKW's biggest failure. Although Olivia's provides a decent menu, the prices are outrageous, and the place is bustling with screaming children, even after 9pm. The counter service restaurant, Good's Food to Go, charged over $5 for a peanut butter sandwich, so we passed on in-resort dining. Dining wasn't a complete failure, however. The Turtle Shack Snack Bar provided one of the most interesting drinks I've ever had: pumpkin beer. It tasted almost identical to pumpkin pie, but with enough beer flavor to convince me otherwise. Refreshing, cool, and not a bad idea for the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure.

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That's all for now, folks. Tune in next time for my review of SeaWorld Orlando, including a head-to-head comparison with Robert Niles' Summer Roadtrip report.

Previously on Josh's Orlando Trip Report:

Introduction
Pre-Planning and Suggestions


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

From James Rao
Posted September 14, 2009 at 5:31 PM
Josh that post was an absolutely brilliant beginning for your trip report. I laughed my arse off. Keep 'em coming.

BTW, if you think Cracker Barrel and Sonic are bad, I hope you took my suggestion and avoided Waffle (Awful) House...

From Anthony Murphy
Posted September 14, 2009 at 8:59 PM
Good stuff, a couple of things:

While you can toast in Canada, we Americans look down on drinking and driving :)


While the security guards are jerks, they want to make sure you are safe. People sometimes drive through OKW like they are on the highway (sometimes busses, ahhh)

Not sure when you went to eat at Olivia's, but try Lunch. Much better. You can also order Pizza from Saratoga Springs. Not bad (for FL). Stay away from Sausage

If you want some good pizza, go to Giordano's in the Crossroads near Downtown Disney. Good Chicago Pizza!

From Derek Potter
Posted September 15, 2009 at 3:56 AM
Waffle House is what I would consider American road trip food...more so than the Cracker Barrel because of the sheer number of WH restaurants you will encounter while driving down the interstate. It's what I would call a hit or miss restaurant. In my road travels, I've eaten at quite a few. Some of them have the absolute nicest, most attentive service, and some of them are terrible.

The food is what it is. I used to work in a kitchen, and I've seen the WH cooks work... and the food at Waffle House is cooked no differently than it is at Cracker Barrel, Bob Evans, Frisch's, IHOP, or any other breakfast restaurant. They use the same grease for the grills and order hash browns/eggs/bacon from the same suppliers. I'm sure that the 1972 decor turns some people off, and if you are at a "bad" Waffle House with crappy service and a mediocre cook, your perception would probably be that of James Rao's and I wouldn't blame you. I can say this though, I've never had a bad cup of coffee at Waffle House.

From Anthony Murphy
Posted September 15, 2009 at 7:23 AM
I like the Waffle House because there are none anywhere near me (I live in Chicago). Its kinda fun going there.

Also, did you mention Bennigans? Most of them closed down! Congrats on finding an open one :)

From Joshua Counsil
Posted September 15, 2009 at 9:18 AM
Thanks for the praise.

Anthony -
I suppose I should have mentioned that the drivers only had a sip of champagne. We split the bottle eight ways, not enough to get anyone remotely buzzed.

I do not endorse drinking and driving.

Though I do endorse drinking and riding! More on that later ...

From Gareth H
Posted September 15, 2009 at 1:02 PM
I-95 sounds more exciting than the I-75, what a snore fest.

My Trip report of Six Flags Georgia is coming, sometime soon, I think, possibly????

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