Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Disney Wine and Dine Trip Report

This blog post is about the non-race portions of my recent Disney trip.

This trip became one of several “firsts” for me. This was my first solo trip. I did really miss having my wife along, and know I would have had a better time with her there. However, I did have an outstanding trip nonetheless. I learned how to better watch the small details that I might have missed before, as well as not having family around gave me the opportunity to spend more time with the friends with whom I met up with over the course of this short trip.

My trip over to WDW was a good one; I woke up early and arrived around lunchtime. I tried a remote parking service for the first time, “The Parking Spot”, which I ended up liking. They literally picked me up right at the back of my parked car and dropped me at the terminal faster than if I had parked in the main airport garage--and a lot cheaper as well! The only real problem with my trip occurred somewhere in the parking/loading process where I lost my iPod Nano (grrr!). I thought about it when it was too late to leave the airport terminal thinking I had placed it on my car as I gathered some things together, but hoped that I had just left it in the car. Because of the short nature of this trip I chose to rent a car, my first time for doing this in Orlando. I had little trouble navigating quickly to the Walt Disney World Resort area due to bringing my Garmin car GPS unit along. While in the WDW area I did have the occasional trouble with directions and turns, but no major problems were had (although I did end up at the Animal Kingdom or Animal Kingdom Lodge an extra 3 or 4 times during the first 2 days. It’s not that diving at WDW is overwhelming, just that you have to pay a lot of attention to where you are going. Overall, I thought the car rental was a net positive for me, especially since I was able to get a $15.95/day rate through Hotwire on short notice for what turned out to be a Dodge Caliber from Avis.

I had done the online check-in process through the WDW website, although it was not ready when I arrived about an hour ahead of schedule. Fortunately, there was no wait at check-in and I was quickly taken care of. Unfortunately, that seemed to be the last of the really good service I would receive at the All Star Music Resort. It’s not that service was bad there, just that getting anything done was either slow or seemed unusually cumbersome in where I did not get the service I expected from the staff (which might be more of a policy issue where the cast members could not provide me with what I thought they should be able to provide). The cast members themselves were very nice and professional, in many ways they were better than those in the parks. My main disappointment was with the food court where even a short line seemed like it moved unnaturally slow. In about 4 attempts to eat at this food court I always became frustrated with the long wait for short to fairly short lines and grabbed something like an apple/banana to eat instead of ordering food.

After getting situated for that first day there, I got a snack at the Downtown Disney area to tide me over for a few hours before heading over the Magic Kingdom for the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party that night. After that I attended the live podcast of the Be Our Guest Disney Podcast and got to tour the very nice 3 bedroom Treehouse Villas. (If anyone reading this happens to be a DVC owner and wants to get one of these for a group, I’ll be very happy to come over and help occupy the unit!) Then I headed over to the Magic Kingdom Park where I was able to enter the park just after 4 P.M. even though the party did not begin until 7 P.M. This provided me the opportunity to pretty much just walk onto many prime attractions a bit later. I took in the sights and smells of Main Street as I walked my way into the main part of the park. I also took this early time to get dinner at the Plaza Restaurant, where I have wanted to eat but never got to over past trips. I had the Rueben Sandwich (and their homemade potato chips), which was good. Now that I was prepared for the night I started doing some rides. I was able to get on Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover, Space Mountain (with the new music playing), Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise in not much more than an hour, certainly much less than 90 minutes. By this time the Halloween Party was close to starting and the theme of the park was adjusting as well. I got a candy bag for some in-park trick or treating, which was done at numerous booths set up across the park and also did the occasional additional ride throughout the evening. I also made sure to catch the special parades, fireworks and castle stage shows (including catching the parade twice from 2 different locations. I now count this Halloween Party as a “not to be missed” event if I get to go back during Halloween season in the future. While I am sure my legs were not helped by the 7 hours I spent in the park this evening, I still had a great time.

On Saturday, I was up for breakfast around 700 to 730 A.M. due to the noise of other hotel guests even though I had hoped to sleep in a bit longer. I took my time getting up and around before I made another frustrated breakfast attempt at the food court before I headed over to the expo. There were a ton of cars at the expo, which was held at the Wide World of Sports complex, but there did not seem to be so many people ahead of me. I was able to check in easily and spent plenty of time going through the expo at a leisurely pace—and I even picked up a few items. Before leaving I grabbed a decent lunch at the on-site restaurant. At this point I went back to my room to go through my race packet and rest for a while. I met up with some friends I have made through the WISH (We’re Inspired to Stay Healthy) Team for ice cream at the Beaches and Cream restaurant at the Beach Club Resort. The ice cream—I had a pineapple sundae with vanilla ice cream-- was great and the camaraderie was even better as I met with these team members and their families. I also think I might like ice cream as a regular pre-race snack. Afterwards, it was back to the hotel for some more rest until I got ready to dress for the race and catch the bus to the starting area, back at the Wide World of Sports Complex. At this point, if you want to read my race blog post you need to hop back to the previous post before this one.

Picking back up after the race, I got back to the hotel room around the 415 to 430 am range. After attempting a short ice bath and cleaning up, I was not able to get more than a couple hours of sleep before I was ready to go around 730 am. After grabbing a banana and muffin (i.e. another failed breakfast effort) at the food court I head out to the Animal Kingdom Park, primarily to ride the Expedition Everest roller coaster (in the front seat) and a few other rides as well. The park is pretty much empty this early and I am easily able to get on everything pretty fast, which is good as I am moving fairly slow with some sore legs. After this I head over to EPCOT, where I hit the main rides without much wait (with a FastPass on Soarin’). I also am able to take in the Captain EO film, which is replaying as a tribute to Michael Jackson, and which I had never seen as I made my first trip to EPCOT in 1997 (yes, I was deprived of Disney at a young age, although I did make a lone trip to WDW in 1972 growing up). Following the rides, I do get to walk a bit around the World Showcase to get a taste (pun intended) of the Food and Wine Festival.

After this it’s time to head over the Wilderness Lodge for lunch with friends at the Whispering Canyon Café. Lunch was good, I had the all you could eat skillet with BBQ ribs, chicken and sausage, and some iced tea. Now the Whispering Canyon Café is known for the “attitudes” of the waitstaff, and we certainly got some attitude in our service. After quickly drinking tea glasses of tea, my refill came in a large glass about 2-3 quarts in size (which I did eventually finish). When I asked for more splenda, I was brought a shipping carton of it—and later our server was bringing me sugar caddies from around the restaurant to refill. After a great lunch, our group splits up for a while, although many of us meet back up at the Magic Kingdom Park in several hours.

Having really enjoyed the Halloween Party on Friday, I jump at the chance to attend one more time during this trip, this time with friends. I am able to do some light trick or treating, watch the fireworks and parades, and do various rides with my friends. Perhaps most notable was that the Haunted Mansion had a “live” spirit on the lawn doing improve comedy, and was good enough that the ride cast member had a hard time keeping the line moving at times. Of course, all good things must end and as I closed the park with Amanda and Jeff, it was time for us to head back to our resorts for the night. We were certainly all exhausted as we had all been up early in recent mornings and to bed late each night in addition to finishing the half marathon less than 24 hours prior. I do manage to get several decent hours of sleep late that night.

Monday means it is time to head back home, and I quickly pack up and head out around 800 am that morning and get checked out. For breakfast I head over to Port Orleans French Quarter resort to get some beignets for breakfast. My wife and I used to often eat these for breakfast after my weekend morning runs before the restaurant we loved shut down some time back. The beignets were quite good and I enjoyed my last meal for this trip. Finally, it is time to head to the airport. While I have a bit more trouble navigating to the airport than I did coming in, I do manage to get back with little trouble. My main issue was following the signs to the rental car check-in, which seems a bit unclear at times, though I did make it back with only a bit of trouble. Rental car check-in was little trouble and I easily got to the terminal to check in for my flight. At check-in I was offered a low cost upgrade to first class, and I took them up on the offer. The flight back was nice (how could it not be in first class?) and soon I was back to Houston—and with it I was back to reality.

As I made it to the pick-up area outside the terminal, I did not have to wait long for the shuttle back to the remote lot. It is upon returning to my car that I get my most pleasant surprise from this trip—my iPod is sitting on top of my car right where I had thought I had left it, apparently undisturbed and still working perfectly!

All in all, I had a fantastic trip. Although I wish my wife had been able to make it with me, I undoubtedly was able to spend more time with friends because of my solo status on this trip. I am already looking forward to both my next Disney trip and my next Disney race, although I am uncertain when they will be. I very much recommend the Wine and Dine Half Marathon to anyone interested in doing this event.


Rae! said...

Great report! I have been to Disney only once alone. It was for the Epcot 25. I had fun meeting up with people from the podcast and I had a met with Kate. Whom I miss dearly.

My favorite place to eat, is The Bakery on Main Street first thing in the morning. They seem to have the best coffee. And the best view of the little show on Main Street in the early am.

I have to agree with you,on the All Stars service. I didn't like the menu at Movies much different than Sports. The lines moved, but the choices were not the best.

Our room was on a corner, it was quiet considering that we were so close to the front. never had problems with other guest noise this time or with people smoking in there rooms and it coming in our room like before. And the staff handled it well.

To me the CM's were not as cheery and they appeared to be over worked. Less staff, more hours on those who are there.

It was nice getting to know you.We had alot of fun at Lunch. It seems you are going to be haunted by the Splenda photos.:)

When next year is the Ironman Texas?? Maybe I see a road trip coming...

Amanda said...

Traveling solo is a different experience and it takes practice to be able to do it without the I wish I had "insert name here" feelings.

It was great spending time with you again and I hope we have more chances to do it again in the future.

I had the reverse travel difficulties...I took a completely different way to WDW and it was interesting, but allowed me an easy stop at Walmart. On the way to the airport it was quick and easy, but I agree the signs to the rental car return can be confusing!