Part X: Coast-to-Coast Disney Trip Report

Now is the scene in the trip report, were this a movie, where the pages would start to fall off the calendar, and the seasons would change in a series of frames dissolved through the frame. You wouldn’t have many calendar pages fall or much of a season change, though, as we were home for a week before leaving again for Walt Disney World.

Given that it was only a week, I’ve decided to treat this as one trip report. Well, one trip report in two parts. Sort of like the Godfather (although as the Michael Corlene figure, I won’t be killing any politicians in this installment, nor will I be seeking refuge in the Italy pavilion). I know a week is a long “layover,” but convincing myself this was only one vacation justifies additional future vacations! When we booked our Disneyland trip, we did not plan on taking this trip to Walt Disney World. In fact, we booked Disneyland for the dates we did after making the definite decision not to go to Destination D.

About 3 days after we booked our flight for Disneyland, we were convinced to go to Destination D, too, and we booked the trip. I was a little weary of taking two trips so close together, especially since we had just moved into our new house and had plenty of things to get done with it. (As I sit here typing this trip report, we still have plenty of things to get done…most of which should probably be prioritized above writing a trip report, but then again, they’re not nearly as fun!)

The second leg started much like the first, with packing (Yossarian the Cat even helped!), and with us going to work before leaving for the airport midday. We both typically work from 6:45 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., but on this day, we left at 2:45 p.m.. When you’ve got Disney on your brain all day long, that’s not nearly early enough. For our next trip, I’m suggesting we book a flight that departs at 3:30, so we can be out of there even earlier!

Once we got to the airport, we both changed clothes into our “Disney clothes” and headed to the…AirTran…counter to check-in our luggage. I almost feel ashamed that we betrayed Southwest, but as frugal consumers, we book the cheapest flights, and AirTran had a cheaper flight than Southwest that was also direct. Southwest’s cheapest flight was still more expensive, and had one stop. In any case, our airfare was still going to Southwest, as it had already acquired AirTran, so what’s the difference? I just hope Southwest doesn’t cease offering low fares because it doesn’t have as great of an incentive to do so (with a competitor out of the market).

After we checked our bag, we saw a beautiful German Shepherd who was with a TSA agent. I wanted to take its photo, but again, I worried about getting in trouble taking photos of “the wrong things” at the airport. Disney Security had told me in October 2009 that me and a few photographer buddies were taking photos in a “suspicious way,” so I figured if taking photos of Spaceship Earth is suspicious, taking photos of airport security dogs really would raise some red flags. Oh well, I thought.

We went on our way to the food court, where I got, you guessed it, some fine McDonald’s cuisine. Everywhere else, Big Macs were 2 for $4. Obviously, this promotion wasn’t going on at the airport. However, the airport had just added a dollar menu (sometime since December), and a cheeseburger was only $1. By contrast, the Big Mac (my holy grail of lunch and dinner McDonald’s cuisine) was $3.59. I figured 3 cheeseburgers would fill me up, and would only cost $3. Versus 2 Big Macs, which would cost $7.18. (These are the things that I spend the bulk of my time pondering.) Just as I was about to order the cheeseburgers, I exclaimed, “to heck with it, I’m on vacation!!!” and ordered the Big Macs. Okay, I didn’t really say this out loud, but I certainly thought it. As you have probably surmised, I am very passionate about Big Macs. Like much of the rest of the civilized world, Sarah thinks my enjoyment of McDonald’s, and its “fake” products is disgusting. I think her love for disgusting tasting organic foods is disgusting. I suppose we balance one another out well.

Consuming a Big Mac, if done properly, is a heavenly experience. The bun, like a sesame freckled breast of an angel, resting gently on the ketchup and mustard below, flavors mingling in a seductive pas de deux. Two patties of ground beef so exquisite, swirling in your mouth, breaking apart, and combining again in a fugue of sweets and savor so delightful. This is no mere sandwich of grilled meat and toasted bread. This is God, speaking to us in food.

The How I Met Your Mother fans out there probably aren’t impressed by “my” eloquent words above, but I certainly think they apply to the Big Mac just as much as that storied “Best Burger In New York.”

After my taste buds finished dancing with delight, my mind returned to the German Shepherd I saw earlier. Empowered by the delicious burgers, I decided to ask the (human) security guard if I could take a photo of the (canine) security guard. He obliged, and I snapped a couple of frames before running off. I probably got myself high-scrutiny surveillance by the FBI, CIA, and the rest of the alphabet soup of intelligence agencies thanks to that little move. If you’re out there monitoring me around the clock and reading this, security-dudes, sorry that my life is so oddly boring!

We then made our way to the AirTran gates. This was like entering bizarro-airport, as the gate was on the exact opposite side of the airport from Southwest’s, the men’s and women’s restrooms are all on the opposite side of one another, and all of the airport staff walks around backwards. Well, maybe not the latter two, but it was odd finally venturing to the other side of the airport.

Boarding began almost as soon as we arrived over there, and Sarah and I assumed we’d board first since we were near the front of the plane. As we watched 6 other groups board in front of us, I began to second guess our seat selection. I also began thinking about how boarding an airplane “for real” isn’t nearly as cool as boarding Soarin’. For one thing, the experience just isn’t as fun, there’s no awesome score, and you can’t see as much; for another thing no Puddy (you may know him as Patrick Warburton) to guide you through the experience. I wish all of my flights had Soarin’s score and Puddy as a flight attendant. Now that would truly be flying first class!

Finally, we boarded, and found that, sure enough, we were near the front. In hindsight, it does make sense to board the rear of the plane first, but it did have us a little worried (even though it would ultimately make only like a 5 minute difference in getting off the plane).

Upon finally getting off the plane, we debated whether to pick up our checked bag (we checked only one bag because of AirTran’s $20 fee per bag) or just let DME try to find it. Due to an aggravating mix-up between our travel agent and DME (I don’t know which party was to blame, and in case it was not our travel agent’s fault, I don’t want to slander their name, but suffice to say, we will be booking our own reservations from here on out barring some extraordinary circumstances) our DME luggage tags were sent to New York instead of Indianapolis.

We didn’t realize we hadn’t received our DME materials until 3 days before the trip, and by then, it was too late. DME reassured us that their agents would get our bag if we identified it, but we were a little incredulous. Ultimately, we decided to just take the risk, and let DME get the bags. It was more Sarah’s decision than anything, as I had barely anything that I couldn’t replace easily in the bag.

Even though there was absolutely no way we’d make it to the park by 9 pm for the park’s closing, and probably only a slim chance we’d even make it by 10 pm, a small part of me hoped that record crowds had descended upon the Magic Kingdom, and its hours had been extended until 11 pm. We’ve seen the park hours extended by an hour on the same day on several occasions, so was two hours really out of the question? I hoped not.

This is what Sarah and I call the “Cross Over.” It’s actually the no re-entry point in the airport when you head towards baggage claim. When we cross that threshold, it signifies to us that we’re actually “in” Florida. (Weird, I know.)

As soon as we got in line for DME, our bus was ready. We didn’t even stop moving once we got in the line. I don’t think we ever had that short of a wait prior to then for DME. Great sign thus far! Unfortunately, the cosmos didn’t align for us that evening. All Star Movies was the last stop the DME bus made, and we didn’t arrive at the resort until around 10 pm. Worse yet, once there we discovered that the operating hours of the Magic Kingdom hadn’t been extended until 11 pm.

As we pondered just calling it an early night, it felt like our vacation was one of those commercials you see on tv stating, “It’s 10 o’clock, do you know where you children are?” Except in this case, the commercial was snidely remarking: “It’s 10 o’clock. Do you know where your sense of fun is? It’s your first night of vacation, lame-os!” If there’s one thing by which I won’t be insulted, it’s a fake tv commercial airing inside my head! I sneered at this thought, and prepared to head out of our room and do something. Anything.

Sarah was torn on what to do. She was really tired and generally requires more sleep than me, but it was the first night of our vacation. She teetered back and forth a few times, before ultimately opting for doing the responsible thing: going to sleep. With her decision made, I headed out, on my way to do some shooting at the monorail resorts.

I like Disney bus transportation. I like it because it allows me to kick back and relax, without worrying about renting a car, navigating on foreign roadways, or breaking the “Disney bubble” and transporting me back to reality. Those are about the only positive things I can say about the bus system. On the negative side, there are two few buses, they are inefficient, they aren’t exactly the paramount of futuristic or cutting edge transportation methods, have poor and too few routes–anyway, I’m sure you get the idea. I could go on and on.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because I had to rely on Disney buses to get me from All Star Movies to the Contemporary, and back home on that particular evening. Upon arriving at the bus stop for Downtown Disney, I noticed there was a Magic Kingdom bus dropping people off. Great, I thought, I’ll just take that bus and catch the resort monorail. Quick and painless! No, unfortunately this bus driver was only dropping people off, as the park had closed. I said that I was going to the monorail, which didn’t matter, he was only doing loops to pick up people from the Magic Kingdom and drop them off. I figured he had no say in the matter and couldn’t pick me up without getting in trouble, so I thanked him and let it go. But I think it’s a stupid policy, nonetheless.

Ten minutes later, a bus bound for Downtown Disney stopped. Excellent, I thought! However, as it was unloading, a father informed the bus driver that his daughter had a protein spill on the bus (unfortunately those aren’t the words he actually used!). The bus driver told me and the other guests waiting for the bus that we “didn’t want to ride that bus” and that another bus would be there shortly. I thought to myself, “oh, you don’t know what I’ll tolerate to get to my photo-destination earlier!” but kept that to myself. Finally, after about another 10 minutes, another Downtown Disney bus arrived.

Once we arrived at Downtown Disney, I got in line for the Contemporary/Polynesian Resort bus. You pay $400/night for a room, and you get the luxury of sharing a bus with another resort. Now that’s swanky! Downtown Disney was hoppin’ that night! Well, there were a lot of people leaving, at least. Maybe they arrived, said, “this is it?! I can buy this same crap at any gift shop on property! Where is the nighttime entertainment?!” and left. In any case, it was a mass exodus. I felt sorry for the Cast Members trying to get guests into lines at the cramped bus stops. Luckily, my bus came fairly quickly. Off we were, to…Pleasure Island!

I guess it has been a while since I have taken a bus to Downtown Disney (every time we had been there since 2007, we had walked from Saratoga Springs Resort), but I had totally forgotten about the separate stop for Pleasure Island. A quick stop there, and we were finally off for the Contemporary. I’ve read a lot about people cheating the system by parking at Downtown Disney to avoid paying for parking at one of the parks, but after this experience, I have to say that those people are truly idiots. (I myself was an idiot for not just taking a taxi, but I didn’t think of that at the time.) It took me an hour and ten minutes from the time I arrived at the All Star bus stop until the time I got off the bus at the Contemporary, and each of my buses was reasonably efficient. I could see that same voyage taking an hour and a half or longer on a bad day. Is an hour and a half of your time on vacation really only worth $12 (or whatever parking costs these days)?

When I got to the Contemporary, I began taking photos immediately. I figured the monorail would probably not be operating for much longer, and to get to the Grand Floridian and Polynesian before it stopped, I’d need to be quick. I spent about 10 minutes taking photos, then headed up to the monorail. It was closed already.

At that moment, I paused, and was overcome with the feeling I had made a huge mistake. If the monorail wasn’t running, did that mean buses back to Downtown Disney weren’t running? Would I be stranded there (a taxi hadn’t crossed my mind at this point)?! I thought I had heard that the last bus to Pleasure Island leaves the resorts at 1 am, and the last bus from Pleasure Island to the resorts leaves at 2 am, but now I was doubting that. I walked briskly (something that would become a common theme of this trip) to the concierge desk, and asked about the buses. Sure enough, I was right about the 1 am time. Phew. Then, I realized I had no way to get to the Polynesian besides going back to Pleasure Island and repeating the previous steps! Wait a second, I thought, the bus that dropped me off also made a stop at the Polynesian, and the Contemporary was the first stop on that loop. It thus stood to reason that if I boarded the Downtown Disney bus, it would stop at the Polynesian before the Contemporary. At least I thought that was right, I was so tired at this point that I was basically moving around on auto-pilot.

When the Downtown Disney bus arrived, I asked the bus driver if he stopped at the Polynesian before returning to Downtown Disney. I’d like to claim this was a rhetorical question, but it wasn’t. When he said, “I will for you!” I responded, “REALLY?! Thanks!” To which he laughed and said that he always stopped at the Polynesian after the Contemporary. I immediately turned and saw a bus half-full of people and realized that should have been a pretty good indicator of this. Like I said, I was really tired.

I didn’t even really know what I might photograph at the Polynesian. I just really wanted to visit the place on our first night. Even though we’ve never stayed there, and probably won’t be able to afford to do so anytime in the foreseeable future, it is without question my favorite resort.

From the beautiful tropical plants to the fragrant smell of the lobby to the signage all around the resort that really screams “Vacation Kingdom of the World” the Polynesian seems to have it all. I can only imagine how awesome the rooms must be!

Tired as I was, walking around that beautiful and lush resort was like being a part of a waking dream.

I have no idea how long I was even there, but judging by these photos, I documented the entire resort–inside and out–with photos during my short trip. Apparently, I even made it over the Grand Floridian and the Contemporary!

After wandering around soaking in the ambiance and taking photos, I decided to call it a night. I went to the bus stop and waited…and waited…for the bus to Downtown Disney. It was only 12:30, but I was a little worried that the last bus to Downtown Disney had already come and gone.

Apparently, I even took a nap!

Finally, at 12:50, a bus showed up. Phew, I thought, just in time! I figured I’d go back to Pleasure Island briefly, snap some photos of the closed clubs, including the Adventurers Club, which I had never photographed properly, and be on my way. The bus driver foiled those plans, though, when he asked if I’d like to go directly back to a resort. Figuring it was a good time to call it a night, I decided just to head back to All Star Movies, directly.

11 Responses to “Part X: Coast-to-Coast Disney Trip Report”
  1. Jen August 6, 2012
  2. Samantha Barnes November 30, 2011
  3. Rachel August 1, 2011
  4. John B July 25, 2011
    • Tom Bricker July 26, 2011
  5. Michelle Schaefer July 25, 2011
  6. Ellen July 24, 2011
    • Ellen July 24, 2011
    • Tom Bricker July 26, 2011
  7. Ben July 24, 2011
    • Tom Bricker July 26, 2011

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