Thursday, May 5th.
Cinco de Mayo. My grandmother’s birthday. Day one of our spring Disney vacation. All told? A good day.
Unlike our October trip, the first day of our May trip started with me at work. Exciting! Actually, with all the adrenaline I had trying to get everything done by the time CP picked me up at noon, it was a fairly exciting morning. In the end it turned out I walked home from work a bit before noon, as CP was waiting for our new refrigerator to be delivered and needed some help with the last-minute packing. Amazingly we ended up ready to go ahead of schedule, dropped our housekeys off with our cat sitter, and we were on the road by 12:45.
Realizing we were hungry and that our flight wouldn’t arrive in Orlando until after 7pm, we stopped off at a Panera for lunch, as the Hartford airport isn’t exactly brimming with exciting (or even decent) lunch options. Soon we were back on the road, and within 40 minutes we were arriving at the airport. The thing I love about the Hartford airport is that you can park in long-term parking in a lot right across from the terminal, all for the price of $8 bucks a day – in the end, our parking for this trip cost less than it cost for one of us to take Amtrak one-way to the Newark airport for our October trip. (Thank you, JetBlue, for starting Hartford service!). By this time it was 2:30, our check-in went quickly and painlessly, and we had plenty of time to kill in an airport that offered few diversions. So, we wandered about, found a quiet bathroom in the airport hotel, and played games on our iPhones until we decided it was time to get through security and get to our gate.
We breezed through security painlessly, and I was delighted that we avoided full-body scanners given the uproar around them that had pervaded the news in the previous weeks. Once at our gate, I called to wish my grandmother a happy birthday; checked in with my mother; and generally enjoyed the people-watching you’re guaranteed to find at a gate of people about to board a plane for Disney. (I mean, really – you have to figure 80-90% of people on our flight were Disney-bound. Why else do people go to Orlando?
For some reason I was feeling more nervous about this flight than ones on trips past. I had already taken my mother’s little helper, but was still feeling it. Boarding the plane, I took a deep breath, and settled into my customary window seat a row or two behind the wing, the same place we sit just about every time we fly JetBlue. I should also mention that JetBlue is a MACHINE – they de-planed the flight before us, cleaned the plane, and boarded us within minutes, and thus we were ready to depart ahead of schedule. Take-off was fairly bumpy and I will certainly admit that I had a white-knuckled grip on the armrests; even CP admitted later that it wasn’t one of her favorite take-offs, either, and she loves to fly. After a few minutes, however, things settled down, and I was able to watch tv and doze until we began our descent into Orlando. It turned out to be a lovely flight; even the infant seated across from us slept peacefully the entire trip and didn’t make a peep.
It was a lovely day to fly into Orlando, and were able to see the city, nuclear power plants, and the many lakes dotting the landscape before we landed just before 7. I was pretty ecstatic to land early, but we ended up held on the tarmac because there was no gate for our plane. Fingers tapping, we powered up our iPhones to check e-mail and see the news, and finally we pulled up to a gate and patiently waited to exit, into that wonderful, humid Florida air. Seriously. There’s something about the smell of arriving at MCO that instantly gets me in the vacation mood.
Our next mission was to procure our luggage; well, to be honest our first mission was to find our way to our luggage. After all these years and all these trips, there’s something about the A side-B side configuration that gets me a little turned around. Eventually we found our carousel, grabbed our suitcase in short order, and then giddily skipped on our way to the National Car Rental Emerald Aisle.
A note about car rental here: in the weeks leading up to our trip, I obsessively futzed with car rental discounts and contract codes and pin numbers, starting with a reservation for a Prius through Hertz for just under $300 for five days – not great, but we figured we’d save on gas. Eventually, however, thanks to a free coupon to join the Emerald Club through MouseSavers (note: you can still get the $50 membership for free by clicking here) and browsing MouseSavers’ collection of National discounts, we ended up with a guaranteed midsize car or larger for the whopping price of…$103. BOOM.
So. We made our way to the Emerald Aisle and were greeted by an Impala. And then another Impala. And then…you guessed it…an Impala. Further down the Aisle there was a Ford Fusion, and then two brand-new Toyota Camrys, one in white, and one in a color I’ll charitably call “Dust.” After sitting in both and seeing if there was a discernible difference, we went with the white Camry on account of it smelling better than the other. Drove to the National check-out booth, where the attendant scanned the car’s bar code, and we were on our way. Easiest car rental experience I’ve ever experienced – when you record your preferences on National’s Emerald Club website, you can bypass the rental car desk and don’t have to put yourself through the annoying process of declining extras and insurance policies and gas fill-up “deals.”
It was now just after 7:30 and we hadn’t eaten since our Panera lunch around 1:15. Not wanting to waste too much time stopping to eat (after all, the Magic Kingdom was open ’til midnight and we had plans to close it down), we found the nearest Starbucks, grabbed a piece of coffee cake each and a latte each, and headed straight to the Magic Kingdom via 417. The sunset that evening was truly beautiful, and we were both giddy with excitement as we pulled through the Magic Kingdom parking gates and into the parking lot, where we easily found a parking spot within walking distance to the TTC. We hopped on the Express monorail, and within moments were arriving at the Magic Kingdom gates. Is there a happier feeling in the world than your anticipation of entering the MK for the first time?
Well, in any case I can certainly tell you that what didn’t feel NEARLY as good was what awaited us on the other side of the gates. Somehow we had failed to consider that we’d be entering the park as the Main Street Electrical Parade was wending its way down Main Street, relegating us to a harrowing ten-minute walk upstream in the river of hot and sweaty people trying to watch the parade and/or exit the park. I have to admit, my mood severely dropped off during this walk, but by the time we hit Tomorrowland and a (relatively) clear path to walk through, we felt better.
Our first plan of action was to get a FastPass for Space Mountain, and then, following tradition, we hopped on the TTA for a circle tour of Tomorrowland. During our ride CP very seriously asked me whether the Carousel of Progress was new.
Oh, if only! Anyway, we then waited in a five-minute line to ride Buzz Lightyear, and both ended up with scores so deplorable I can’t bear to repost them here. Afterward we walked through Fantasyland, watching Wishes above us, and headed to the Haunted Mansion, where again the line was nearly nonexistent. In this case I wouldn’t have minded a bit of a line, as we got to see the new queue but didn’t have tons of time to really get a feel for it. Now, we had heard prior to this trip that in addition to the new queue there were new hitchhiking ghost effects at the end of the ride, and while I won’t spoil it for anyone, I will say that we were kind of underwhelmed.
Continuing our “best of” first night tour of the Magic Kingdom, we headed to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which did in fact have a sizable line, so we doubled back and decided to ride Pirates of the Caribbean. We then headed back to use our Space Mountain FPs, and confirming the feelings we had on our October trip, found the FP track of the ride to be much jerkier and more jarring than the standby track. But in any case a ride on SM is better than no ride on SM at all, so we definitely enjoyed ourselves. Not as much though when we exited the ride and saw a lady leaning over a trash can and puking her guts out, but what can you do?
By this time it was after eleven, and exhausted and sore after a long day, we decided to head out and head to our hotel. The Express monorail was packed, so we hopped on the resort monorail and soon arrived back at the TTC. Although tired, we were both eagerly anticipating our arrival at the BoardWalk, and so we headed there, parked the Camry, and headed inside to check-in.
Although we had visited the BoardWalk before on previous trips, seeing the lobby as guests was somehow even more breathtaking. As it was close to midnight the lobby was quiet, and we walked right up to the desk to check in. A lovely cast member greeted us cheerfully – can’t remember her name, but she was a dead ringer in appearance and speech for Sarah Vowell, a favorite author and NPR commentator of ours. Our check in process turned out to be pretty slow, and Sarah Vowell was apologetic – apparently something was wrong with the system and our card couldn’t be processed (remember this for later), but eventually she sorted things out and handed us our room keys to room 4062. We took the elevator up one floor, walked down the hallway maybe fifteen feet, and there was our room. Nice! After reading horror stories about the BoardWalk’s long hallways, I had feared a much longer walk.
I’m going to admit that my first thought after opening the room door wasn’t the most positive one. The room smelled like…Florida. A bit musty, moldy, damp. Not wanting to spoil the wave of excitement we were on, and really not wanting to go back down to the front desk and waste anymore time there, I decided it would improve with the air conditioning on and that it wasn’t worth worrying about. In the end it turned out not to be the biggest deal, but if I had the trip to do over again I would have asked to switch rooms. The room itself, however, was beautiful, and the decor looked far better in person than it had in pictures posted online. We had booked a standard view studio, so I went to the balcony and expected to pull back the curtain and see a view of the driveway or the bus stop or something else decent but boring. What I saw instead, however, was the illuminated silhouette of the Swan Hotel – we had received an upgrade! After checking it out, settling in and unpacking a bit, we hit the bed, exhausted but eager to get started in the morning. We didn’t set an alarm (figuring we ought not to start off the trip exhausted), and fell asleep quickly around 1am, happy to once again be back in WDW.