Monday, November 22, 2010

One more day in Orlando

Florida Orange

We are again at our industrial-park boondocking spot in Orlando (map), about 18 miles from Disney's Fort Wilderness. We arrived here late Friday evening, after again spending the day Friday in the overflow lot at Disney. Fort Wilderness gave us a late checkout to noon (from 11am), so we could enjoy a leisurely buffet breakfast at the Trails End restaurant in the campground before moving to the overflow area.

We had already used up our five-day parks passes, so we spent the afternoon at Disney's Grand Floridian Hotel, the flagship resort at Disney World. Disney has done a great job giving the place the look and some of the feel of a grand-dame hotel from the turn of the (20th) century, with sweeping public spaces and cast members in period costume. Any illusion that you might actually be in such a place, like, for example, the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, or the Greenbrier in West Virginia, is immediately shattered once you encounter the actual guests, who are generally dressed for a theme park visit with oft-screaming children in tow.

In addition to two pools, both much nicer than the ones at the campground or even some of the other resorts, this property also sports Disney's in-house wedding venue, and as we passed through the lobby a wedding party was having photos taken. A cast member in waistcoat, boater, and spats followed the bride everywhere tending her train; he looked old enough to have been a bellman at the actual Grand back in its heyday. The lobby also housed an enormous Christmas tree as well as an actual gingerbread house large enough for three cast members to be running a store inside of it. A small orchestra played softly on a balcony overlooking the atrium; Louise chatted them up and they've been playing there more or less continuously for two decades.

The Grand Floridian Society Orchestra

Besides wandering around the hotel and the grounds, we enjoyed a glass of wine at a quiet bar behind the orchestra. The wine here is more expensive than at the other resorts, but we decided it was the cheap way to enjoy the hotel -- rooms here start at $410 per night in the cheap season and one can easily drop two grand a night on a two-bedroom suite. This was also the classiest cocktail lounge we'd encountered at Disney, and they even put out mixed nuts with the cocktails. Again the illusion of elegance was shattered when other guests entered with passels of small children; call me a curmudgeon but I have grown to appreciate states where bars, at least, are the last bastion of adults-only relaxation. Seriously, with literally dozens of other child-friendly and appropriate venues in this one hotel alone (including some serving alcohol), why would parents bring children to a cocktail lounge?

The Grand Floridian is also home to Disney's lone Mobil 4-star, AAA 5-diamond restaurant, Victoria & Albert's, and we peered in through the glass to check it out. The place is nearly impossible to get into, reservations selling out well in advance, and besides which I am not fond of the prix-fixe format with limited offerings daily. The modern Citrico's next door was more appealing, but it was too early for dinner and we instead lingered over our wine before boarding the monorail back to the Contemporary resort, where we'd need to catch the boat back to Fort Wilderness. On a lark we asked about walk-ins at the upscale California Grille on the top floor, and were surprised to be handed a pager and whisked onto the elevator.

As with all of Disney it was overpriced, but the food was fresh and tasty and the view is spectacular. We just caught the last of the sunset as we settled in to the bar to await our table, and we had a view out over the Magic Kingdom in all its holiday finery while we dined. Dinner here gets you access to the rooftop viewing platform for the fireworks, but we were unwilling to wait two hours and so we simply went straight to the dock after dinner.

In all we had a nice stay at Disney this year, much less crowded and hectic than our last stay with our friends at Christmas week. Even though it is not yet Thanksgiving, most of the parks and resorts are already fully decorated for the holidays, and we again were treated to the spectacle that is the Osborne Family Lights at the Hollywood Studios. No photos this time but you can see my earlier feeble attempts from our last visit. We also hit some new-to-us dining venues on this visit, including Il Mulino in the Swan, Mama Melrose's at Hollywood Studios, and Artist's Point in the Wilderness Lodge.

This latter property, by the way, attempts to capture the essence of the great lodges of the national parks. The lobby atrium looks to be lifted straight from the Old Faithful Inn, with other elements taken from the Ahwahnee, El Tovar, the Furnace Creek Inn, and perhaps the Crater Lake Lodge. There are odd juxtapositions of Tlingit totem poles and plains indian headdresses, southwest sandstone adjacent to pacific northwest lumber, and, most importantly stately grand lodge elegance with hordes of Disney guests sporting mouse ears and blinky lights. One can almost imagine being in Yellowstone sipping a glass of wine in the comfy atrium chairs until someone in the adjacent and ironically-named Whispering Canyon restaurant bellows "I need ketchup!"

After a full five days on campus, we were definitely ready for a break from the mouse. The campground is actually, relatively speaking, an oasis of calm and tranquility on the property, notwithstanding the over-the-top decorations on some of the sites, many of which were already in place (including the same gentleman I wrote about last time). In hindsight we should have budgeted more time at the campground and less at the parks. In any case, it is all behind us for this visit and we're happy to be back to our more mundane life which, apparently, consists mostly of living in parking lots.

Our plan had been to spend just one or perhaps two nights here before moving on to someplace less conspicuous and more holiday-friendly for the week. I spent most of the day Saturday doing research on where, exactly, that might be, and we've decided on the Cocoa Elks, where we've stayed previously. In addition to being a short walk from downtown and many dining venues, there are several resort hotels within easy scooter distance, and one of them is sure to have a decent Thanksgiving spread. Beyond that, it is a short drive to Titusville, and we are hoping to again catch a shuttle launch, tentatively scheduled for the night of December second.

We'd already be en route, but we learned last week that our friends Ben and Karen are nearby, in Sanford, about a half hour or so north of here. For a while it looked like they might be in Orlando on Friday, and we tentatively planned to meet them for dinner at Downtown Disney, but their trip was postponed to today and so we will meet them here for dinner tonight instead. They live in a Prevost but are working on downsizing into a classic Flxible, and they have a travel history much like ours, but with better photos.

So tonight will make four nights in this spot, and in the morning we will start rolling east to Cocoa. Had I realized we'd be here this long, I would have tried to take on fuel on our way here -- the tank level is below the generator dip tube, and we finally needed to charge the batteries last night. Fortunately there is only a very small fuel penalty to using the main engine and its massive 6.5kW alternator to charge the batteries on fast idle, and between 20 minutes last night and another 20 this morning we are in good shape. I expect to need another 20 minutes tonight as well.

As it stands now our plan is to be in Cocoa through the end of the week, hovering around the Space Coast for the possible shuttle launch and/or the COTS-1 rocket launch on December 7th. We will then head south to Stuart for a boat open house on the 10th. Sometime in the following two weeks I'd like to get to Lakeland for an oil change and some other service on the bus, which will take us up to Christmas. We have no idea yet where we will spend that holiday, but immediately afterward is the annual bus rally in Arcadia. We'll then have two weeks to make our way back to the east coast in the Fort Pierce area for Louise's training cruise, after which we will make our way back to Fort Lauderdale for Trawler Fest.

Orange photo by LoneGunMan; orchestra photo by Samantha Decker; both used under a Creative Commons license.

1 comment:

  1. Please pass hugs all around for us this evening at your dinner with Ben & Karen. Missing all four of ya!


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