*The following Trip Report is rated PG-13 and only recommended for mature, non-judgemental readers with a twisted sense of humor, free spirit and appreciation for the ridiculous.
Since I got heavily back into coasters 4 years ago, found TPR, started to meet other enthusiasts, decided I needed to get out and ride these things for myself, I naturally started a bucketlist - the top of which were parks such as Cedar Point
, Kings Dominion
, Dollywood, SFOG
, and Busch Gardens Tampa. I've miraculously managed all but DW and BGT.
Every year since, I've promised myself I'd get down to Florida to ride coasters on my birthday, something that a Philadelphian with a December birthday couldn't do locally. Of course that was until Great Adventure's Holiday In the Park started a few years ago. While that event is great, it didn't quell my lust for the steel behemoths and warm sunshine of Tampa. The park and its rides just looked so good! Each year came and went, other things came up, HITP shortened the off season and certainly made putting off the trip another year a little easier. Then a visit to Busch Williamsburg
last year intensified the desire.
Not to mention, this is a big birthday. Midlife, here I am. And since I have the hobby of a 13 year old, why not celebrate it that way? If you want a deeper backstory on this trip (like how we ended up staying in Orlando, etc), or help planning a similar Florida park trip, dive into this planning trip thread. If you don't give a crap and just want to get to the juice, read on...
As discussed in the trip planning thread our plan was to fly down Thursday night and fly back Sunday due to work restraints. Thursday I had to work almost a full day thanks to the fact that as manager of a real estate office my job inevitably becomes incredibly busy the end/beginning of each month. You may not have noticed but I have actually scheduled the majority of my prior trips around the middle of the month to avoid screwing over my coworkers who have no choice but to pick up my slack due to the nature of our business. But, this was my birthday, and a big one at that. You don't get to choose when you're born and my staff had to suck it up for one day.
Dawn (commonly known to you all as "the missus") had taken Thursday off to take care of last minute shopping and prep, packing etc. Since we were doing this all without a car, and my office is 10 minutes north of the airport, while my house is 30 minutes north of the airport, we had our first - and hopefully only - logistical challenge. She could leave her car @ my office (not the worst place, but compared to the airport was free, though we'd have been much more comfortable with it @ the house) or I could have her download Uber and she could make her way to me. I did some googling and figured out that we could keep things simple and that I could call an Uber for her from my
phone and have them bring her to me, and that yes I could add a second trip on so that we don't have to get a second Uber. (protip: make sure when adding a 2nd stop you tell the driver right after pickup so he doesn't schedule another call after yours. We knew this going in, and it wasn't any issue but just an FYI)
I normally close my office @ 5pm but our flight was at 7pm and they recommend you arrive 90 minutes early. The office is 10 minutes north of the airport but we have to pass our stadium complex (which luckily had nothing scheduled) and get down a small stretch of 95 that should normally take 10 minutes or less but rush hour traffic can turn into 30+. We gave ourselves plenty of time anticipating this with me calling her Uber @ 4pm. She made it down to my office by 4:20, I hopped into the car and into the weekend-long phenomenon of quirky, foreign-accented Uber drivers, starting with this friendly gentleman from Albania. We talked about all the places he's lived and he eventually went off on a tangent about his adventures smuggling pot on flights into Siberia when he was younger. He got us to Philadelphia International @ 4:40, just before the rare earthquake we had that day
. Standing in security, we didn't feel it, but Dawn happened to ask me the time and when I checked my phone, as we later recalled after reading news reports about the quake, it read "4:47", the exact time it apparently happened. Strange stuff.
Security @ PHL was mostly a breeze, and we quickly found our gate and the Chickies (of course) two gates down. With an hour and a half to kill before boarding we saddled up at the bar and ordered our first of the incoming weekends' many drinks. I was delighted to see Mad Elf on tap, as it would guarantee a buzz before boarding. The bar was busy but not slammed and the two bartenders were complete sh*theads who were more interested in socializing and playing with the register than making money off of customers.
We ordered crab fries to split and wound up ordering another round of drinks while we waited... and waited... and waited for our fries, before we were suddenly asked if we wanted to settle up. We did, hoping the fries would be out and we could scarf them down before running to our gate, but upon inspection of the check we noticed they were never even put in. Sh*theads. That was the smallest tip I'd leave all weekend, as we luckily left the assh*les in Philthadelphia.
We flew Southwest on one of their newer planes. I don't know anything about aircraft other than I don't want to die in one, but it seemed like a big deal as the crew wouldn't shut the f*ck up about it.
I don't like planes but it was a nice plane, I guess. The flight was uneventful, in fact we even both dozed off (two Mad Elfs in quick succession will do that to you) and were landing in Orlando just before 10pm.
With only carryons we got out of the airport in no time and had an Uber on its way to grab us in less than 10 minutes, hitting zero traffic on the way over to the Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive
which would serve as our homebase for the next three nights. We were checked in quickly by an extremely friendly woman at the front desk (who also happened to have the appearance of a Jefferson Starship
reject) around 10:15, who showed us a map of the grounds and how to find our building and room.
When booking the place I'd read some good reviews and the website did a great job of selling me on it. The location was clutch - right between Seaworld and Funspot, we could get the shuttle to BGT at the massive Orlando Eye, which was right next to the hotel. It wasn't ridiculously priced, but obviously wasn't a budget hotel either, and it looked pretty nice in photos. Dawn isn't much of a park person and on paper the weekends itinerary looked like insanity to her, so I knew having a cozy base to bounce off of all weekend would make it much more enjoyable for her.
After booking the room I dug deeper and found some pretty awful reviews (bedbugs, photos of rooms on website not actual rooms, gross pool/gym/spa facilities, non-working A/C, the grounds being too spread out/impossible to navigate, sounds of nearby highway traffic all night). I was worrisome but went forward anyway, knowing that people are just whiny bitches and are more likely to leave reviews of negative experiences out of spite.
We immediately found the hotel to be above our standards. Not by much, its not new-construction-super-swanky-sh*t, and very obviously a renovated old school dorm-style hotel with a half dozen 2 story buildings spread out over a few acres of land, separated by two pools, a small restaurant, and a lagoon. It reminded me of the hotel my Grandparents stayed at when we all went to Disney in the 80s (my parents, aunts, uncles and all the kids stayed down the road at a sh*tty EconoLodge) with its winding palm tree-lined pathways, lush landscaping, small wooden bridges over the lagoons. As we wandered through the quiet grounds looking for our building, we immediately started joking about watching out for gators.
Upon finding our building we realized not only were we close to the lobby/entrance but also a short walk to the pool, which we had already decided we likely wouldn't do purely due to time constraints. Still, it was right there if we wanted to. Most exciting is realizing we were also right behind the Wawa adjacent to the hotel (what can I say, we were excited to have the taste and convenience of home all weekend - also this Wawa, unlike at home, has takeout beer!)
Sadly we didn't take any photos of our ("recently renovated") room but I can assure you it looked just like the photos on the website. We asked for a second floor room to avoid any kids jumping around above us. We had a balcony that looked out to some trees in front of the lagoon.
The room was clean, and so far we seemingly had none of the issues people had mentioned online - water got hot right away, no bed bugs, clean bathroom, working fridge/ipod dock/alarm clock/air conditioning. We unpacked, settled in and wasted no time making our way to check out this new Sunshine State Remix of our favorite hometown hoagie joint/convenience store, picking up some sandwiches, snacks for the room, as well as beer to stock our mini-fridge with, and headed back to finally eat some dinner.
We sat out on the balcony until after midnight, talking, laughing and discussing our plans for the weekend, before setting our alarms for 8am and turning in. We had a full day planned, chock full of massive B&Ms, booze, wild animals and a shady little spot where we've heard you can have a lot of fun.
Subscribe and stay tuned for part 2!