Friday, August 31, 2007

The Orlando Ordeal

Every successful vacation comes with baggage - 'The Planning'. Planning ahead does help in saving a pretty penny. Battling my mental inertia, I sketched out my trip in advance and in retrospect, it was worth it.

It all began with the flight tickets. We had to book them in advance to get a good deal. Never having used travel-centric portals, I was circumspect about buying tickets online for a vacation that consisted of 3 working days. After a lot of research I zeroed-in on the following websites.

Expedia - Many songs of praise about this, but somehow didn't impress me as much.

Hotwire - This would be my second choice. It does have a huge fan-base and many companies have corporate deals with them. If your vacation is a last-minute plan or you are pretty flexible with the dates, this is a good bet. Many airlines fill up their open slots using Hotwire.

Orbitz - The mother of all travel-related deal portals. I found it very user-friendly and easy to use. The prices were a tad lesser than the other ones. Many of my desi friends prefer this website.

A few tips to get a good deal on your flight+hotel package
1. Book a couple of months in advance if you can. This almost always gets you the best price bargain.

2. Choose week days as opposed to weekends for your flight journey. This can mean lesser air traffic and cheaper tickets.

3. Choice of carrier might not make a big difference if your journey time is less than 4 hours. But a few pointers : Choose departure and arrival times (both start and destination) keeping the local transportation in mind. You don't want to be wasting money on a cab to the hotel because you land at midnight. From my experience (and advertisements), looks like Continental is the only airline that provides in-flight entertainment and food during the journey. The others are budget-airlines and there are absolutely no freebies. Also make sure that there are no stop-overs. Flight options that have one or more stop-overs may cost a little less though.

Choosing flights from La Guardia airport gave me many more cost-effective options. I got a pretty good flight+hotel (4 nights) deal for $290. The airport is well connected through public transport too. We had to check-in 90 minutes in advance. The self check-in American Airlines kiosks setup at the airport are true time-savers. We checked-in our baggage and got our boarding passes printed out in a long lines. Our's was a non-stop flight. There was an unconvincing 1-hour delay due to 'air-traffic', but we still got there in time. The take-off was scary... I could smell something burning. The bemused looks from my fellow-passengers corroborated that. Thankfully, it did not turn out to be anything serious. We reached Orlando at 8:30 pm.

Palms Hotels and Villas in Kissimmee is not connected by public transport and hence hailing a cab was Hobson's choice. It turned out to be a blessing that we were traveling light. The cab ride cost us around $55. We reached the hotel and check-in was smooth. Hail Orbitz!
We loved the room. It was replete with a mini-fridge, microwave, complimentary Internet et al. These facilities (apart from Internet) are not guarenteed, but special requests made in advance may help. I did get annoyed when there were no signs of the Ethernet cable that the instruction manual spoke of, but the staff got it fixed right away. That did leave a good impression. The hotel did not have an in-house restaurant, but there are a lot of choices with free delivery options in the neighborhood. We ordered pizza and deferred the Chinese for the next day.

The hotel provides free shuttles to the Disney parks. Being from NY, we should be forgiven for our subway addiction. Not having a valid U.S license meant that the shuttle was our best option. The flip-side is that you will be running your lives according to the hotel's time-table. Complimentary breakfast between 7-9am and the shuttle at 7:50 am. Being the late-risers, we had to run though breakfast... too bad I couldn't enjoy the Continental food at leisure.

Our first stop was the Magic Kingdom. I was just blown away! The colors, the atmosphere and the staff. It really felt like a vacation. Not a moment did I think of office! In Disney's world, it does not matter if you are 6 or 60, you will feel like a 6 year old kid. I could appreciate the time and money they put in to keep the tourists captivated. This was by far the best of them all.
The maps clearly show the layout of the park and detail out each attraction. The park was big enough to keep you occupied for a whole day and hence the though of maximizing the benefits provided by the Magic 3-day Disney tickets (with Park Hopper option) never entered my mind.
The Fast Pass option that comes with a Magic Your Way ticket was indeed a God-send. Using the Fast pass kiosks, you can know upfront when your turn on a particular ride/attraction is. You can come back at that designated hour after checking out other attractions. Our favorites were Pirates of the Caribbean (indoor boat ride), Mickey's PhilharMagic (3-D or should I say 4-D!) and Space Mountain ( A thrilling ride through the galaxzy far far away) . These are must-sees. The day culminates with the Disney Parade which we decided to pass.We headed back to the hotel (which has The Radisson in the neighborhood) and hit the sack at midnight after devilishly devouring the Chinese moo-shoo.

A tip : There is a lot of walking to do and you get dehydrated pretty quick. Constant fluid intake is essential to keep your spirits up!

Day 2 was a Disney day too. We were completely enervated by all the walking in Magic Kingdom and as as result, woke up late and missed the shuttle. We had heard that Epcot Center had a setup of many countries and that could get monotonous. So we decided to cram both Animal Kingdom and Epcot into a single day. The Park Hopper option allows this. The cab to Animal Kingdom cost us $20. Since Animal Kingdom closed at 5 pm, we decided that it would be our first stop. We liked AK too, but it definitely cannot hold a candle to MK. Our favorites : Expedition Everest, Bug's life, Primeval Whirl.

After lunch, we took the complimentary Disney shuttle (between any Disney parks) to Epcot Center. Epcot center seems to be high on everyone's list. Not on mine! This is a futuristic park with a lot for the science junkies. Very informative. I was particularly impressed with Living with the Land - a boat ride that exhibits the modern techniques used in agriculture among other things. A major part of Epcot is the World Showcase. We just visited Morocco. Our favorites : Mission Space, Soarin'.

Day 3 : Universal Studios and Island of Adventure
The hotel that we stayed in did not provide a shuttle to Universal parks. This was something that I missed out on checking online before booking my package. Most hotels do, but it is prudent to check beforehand. We had to take a cab ($35) for the 15 min drive to the Universal parks. We were betting on our timing (Sep 20th). The schools had reopened a week before and the long weekend was also through. The crowd was manageable and hence we did not have to shell out extra for the Flash Pass - the functional equivalent of a Disney Fast Pass.

A different experience altogether. I thought it was not as good as Disney's in my opinion, but in retrospect, maybe it was a case of 'apples and oranges'. Universal Studios are centred around Hollywood theme-based shows and indoor rides. Island of Adventure is just next door and this is for the outdoor rides.

IoA :
Spiderman ( a 3-D ride), Incredible Hulk (rollercoaster), Voyage of Sindbad (stage show), Dueling Dragons

Universal Studios: Shrek (4-D show), Twister, Mummy.

Twister was the pick of the lot. Amazing, but woefully short. It ends even before you realize it leaving you shocked!

By this time, the last-day-of-the-vacation gloom had already surfaced. We decided to make the most of the day and got into the 5th gear. We had seen some ads for Disney's newest water parks - Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. There was specifically a new thrilling water-flume ride that we wanted to try! Since the water parks have free parking facilities, Disney had a way of circumventing (well, not really) a scheme where people park at the Water park and take the Disney shuttle to the other theme parks. There are no direct Disney shuttles to the water theme parks from any other Disney theme parks. You will have to take a Disney shuttle to any of the Disney resorts when you can transfer to the water-park shuttle. I must have been carrying my lucky penny - it rained quite a bit, but we had left behind our camera at the hotel. Typhoon Lagoon was just okay. No wonder it came as part of the 3-day Magic ticket. We did enjoy the occasional water-ride, but rain marred the fun. We were all set to go to Blizzard beach (theme: artificial snow) when we realized how tiring and relaxing the effect of water(-rides) can get. We did not want to change out of the nice dry clothes for a second time in the day. We decided to skip BB and up came MGM studios. We had to economize on time and so checked out only the much acclaimed shows/rides.

We still had the evening to ourselves. What better way to end the vacation than a stint at Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island? This is a Disney layout for casual strolls, cinema and shopping. Being a forcefully-converted (a.k.a married) teetotaler, I let go the plan to enter Pleasure Island. We played a few indoor video games, but nothing worth writing home about.

The checkout was at 11 am. This is a standard in all the hotels. Check-in was at 4 pm. You will have to explicitly inform the hotel in advance if you are planning to check-in late (e.g. if you have an evening flight). Each hotel takes a per diem 'resort charge' ranging from $3 to $8. This is for the complimentary breakfast, shuttle to the attractions.

A few pictures of the Palms hotel we stayed at.

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Blogger Nirek said...

Wow, enjoying life in US! great.
btw that travelogue was very informative

Thu Oct 18, 10:43:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Nandhini said...


U R one hell of a planned traveller man.

Thu Oct 25, 05:56:00 PM 2007  

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