Orlando 12/02

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Lines and tickets and bores - oh my!...

Kennedy Space Center "Rocket Garden"

After years of begging from the kids, I finally broke down and agreed to a family vacation in Orlando. The week before Christmas is a good one for travel (see also Berlin, Grand Cayman) because the kids are out of school,  no one really wants to shop that week and most business travelers are home for the holidays. The weather was generally good for our five days which included the Kennedy Space Center and Disney's Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom and MGM Studios. The Disney spots were predictably tacky, devoid of anything resembling culture or a moment's respite from hard-sell marketing.

Thursday December 19th

After a security mess at American's LAX Terminal 3 almost caused us to miss our plane (for the trick that saved our flight see the security section in travel tips), we were off to Orlando. We rented a car at MCO and drove ~25 miles to the Courtyard at Walt Disney World, which is located 10 minutes by foot from Downtown Disney - a collection of shops, entertainment sites and restaurants. We grabbed dinner there at Planet Hollywood. Since rain was in the forecast for Friday, we postponed the theme parks and planned our trip to the Kennedy Space Center for the next day.

 

Mary Lou and Craig rocketing in the Magic Kingdom

Friday December 20th

After sleeping in to kill some jet lag we headed out in the late morning for the hour drive to the Kennedy Space Center on Florida's coast. The Visitor Center has some exhibits like the Rocket Garden (large picture at the left - top of the page) and a full size Space Shuttle you can walk through (first picture above), but the real interest is a bus tour of the grounds that stops at two locations. The buses were managed poorly, forcing needless waits at the beginning and both stops. The first stop allowed a good view of the two Shuttle launch pads, one of which had the Shuttle Columbia in place awaiting its launch on January 16th (second picture above), on what we now know to be its final tragic voyage. The track and the vehicle that moves the Shuttle back and forth between the assembly building and the launch pad are shown in the third picture above. At the second stop, there are good displays of earlier rockets from the moon trips. It is true that you don't really appreciate how big these rockets are until you see them up-close (fourth picture above).

That evening at our hotel we bought four day Park Hopper tickets for the Disney parks ($200 per person) that allowed us some flexibility moving around during our stay. Since our hotel was on Walt Disney World property, we got free bus transportation around the parks. It turned out that the bus transportation was no bargain - overcrowded (first picture below) with little information about how they work or the routes. You learn the system by the time you leave. Here's the missing explanation: There are three different buses - all labeled Downtown Disney even though none stop there, that go to 1) the transport center for the Magic Kingdom, 2) MGM studios and then EPCOT and 3) the Animal Kingdom. You pick these buses up at space 26 at each park for your return and there are no signs directing you to where these spots are. Disney makes a lot of noise about how big Disney World is compared to Disneyland, but what that translates to for visitors are 45-minute-plus bus trips through deserted swamplands to get from one place to another. Okay, enough whining - on with the trip.

Saturday December 21st

We headed out for the Magic Kingdom (second picture above) early in the morning to beat the crowds. The Magic Kingdom is laid out differently than Disneyland in California, but is otherwise essentially the same. Crowds were low for a couple of hours after the park opened and then grew fast. We hit the half dozen rides we wanted (third picture above with Ben, Craig and Mary Lou driving mini-cars and the large picture top of page right) and were out of the Magic Kingdom headed for EPCOT by noon (fourth picture above). EPCOT had a lot going for it, especially in the Showcase of the World section with individual areas for about a dozen countries. The food was reasonably good for lunch in France and for dinner in England with the English pub dishing up half-yard Bass Ales and authentic meat pies. The rides in the main EPCOT area were typical for a Disney amusement park. A long half day each for the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT seemed about right for us.

Sunday December 22nd

We headed out for Animal Kingdom early in the morning. They have rides and exhibits themed to a wild animal park. After hitting a couple of popular rides (first picture below) early to avoid crowds, we took the safari tour around the park lands, where the animals came right up to the vehicle we rode in (second picture below). We took in a pretty good mini-show of the Lion King (third picture below), grabbed a late lunch at the Rainforest Cafe just outside the gate and headed back to the hotel for some afternoon swimming and relaxing. A long half-day was plenty for the Animal Kingdom.

Monday December 23rd

We headed out for Disney MGM Studios early in the morning (fourth picture above). They did a good job with shows and demonstrations (first picture below - special effects, second picture below - stunts) along with rides themed to movies. For lunch, we ate at the 50's Prime Time Cafe, which should not be missed by anyone who grew up in baby-boom times or knows what the "Clean Plate Club" is. The waitresses treat the customers like a 50's mom did - Mind your manners and elbows off that table! Misbehaving kids have to stand with their nose against the wall. Everyone must finish their vegetables or get a lecture and sit there until they are gone. Mary Lou was "Sis". Very entertaining and memorable. We took in a well done mini-version of Beauty and the Beast (third picture below) and a late evening multi-media show, Fantasmic, with plenty of pyrotechnics (fourth picture below) and a unique projected image on a screen of water. The studios were well worth spending a full day. We returned to the hotel late, slept in the next day and headed back home the afternoon of Christmas eve.

Home Up Boston 5/01 Grand Canyon 11/05 Hawaii 11/00 Hawaii 2/08 and 3/08 Hawaii Big Island 9/13 Maui & Kauai 12/12 Kauai 10/14 Key West 12/06 Key West 12/09 New York City 12/04 Orlando 12/02 Pacific Northwest 4/02 Philadelphia 8/02 San Francisco 12/05

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