Mini-holiday without our boy

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 1, 2014, 8:59 PM | comments: 0

Finally, for the first time since late 2012, Diana and I had an overnight without Simon. My dear friend Kara offered to watch him while we did adult stuff. I think she offered because of some combination of us watching her dog or her love for hanging out with Simon, but whatever the case, I'm incredibly grateful. I trust her completely, and she engages him at a level that I can't possibly sustain. She always ends up cooking with him or taking him to interesting places or something, and this weekend was no exception.

Meanwhile, the Puzzoni leadership team started our 27-ish hours of fun by driving out to Port Canaveral to do a Segway tour. I think we scored a Groupon for around $50 for two of us, on a 75-minute tour. Considering we've paid nearly a hundred each for Segway outings at Epcot, this was a no-brainer. There really isn't a ton of stuff to see out at the port, but it is fun. Obviously you can see the cruise ships there (the Disney Fantasy was in port), and there are also a bunch of little restaurants there that cater mostly to the marina folk, I assume. There's a big observation tower museum thing, but we passed on that. We did a lot of off-roading on the Segway, which was super fun. Plus, they're not governed like those that Disney used back in the day. We did go over to the Army Corps of Engineers lock between the port and the river, where a couple of manatees were humping.

We lunched at a place called Milliken's Reef, which I could only describe as uniquely coastal Florida. Live entertainment every day, tiki bar in the sand, waitresses with tiny shorts... there are probably hundreds of places like this on both coasts. Fortunately, this one had pretty good food, and we would totally go there again if we were in the neighborhood. I would be fun to watch the ships leave in the late afternoon, I'm sure. I need to watch for it the next time we're actually departing from port.

Our bigger picture goal was to relax and take it easy. While there are certainly a billion things to do around Florida, we didn't want to spend a bunch of time driving either. Even the trip to the port approached three hours total. I did look at some of the usual places on the gulf coast, but they were crazy expensive, including the spot we got married down near Ft. Myers. But as it would turn out, Disney had a crazy good Florida resident rate on everything for the weekend, and the calendar implied (correctly) that the parks would not be busy.

We scored a room at the Yacht Club for $250, on a room that's normally at least $400. Score. They also have a spa there, which was the other goal... couples massage. They had a 15% passholder discount. This quickly shaped up to a deal that appealed to my inner "benefit oriented consumer," meaning you are willing to pay to be well taken care of.

Yacht Club and Beach Club are essentially the same resort, even if they do have separate lobbies. They still share the same pool, spa, food places and such. The only significant difference is that Beach Club is a little closer to the rear entrance of Epcot. We picked it because we wanted alone time, a great pool and that Epcot proximity for dinner and dessert. I really do think that these are the best two hotels in all of Walt Disney World. If you have kids, and expect to spend a lot of time at Magic Kingdom, sure, a monorail hotel may be a better choice, but you'll pay dearly for it.

We checked in just after 4. Let me get out a rant here about Disney, and understand that I'm super critical because software is what I do (and did it for a year at a theme park company, no less). On one hand, they seemed to get the Magic Band situation right. Since I booked online, logged in with my Disney account, they shipped us new Magic Bands (now we have two each), and figured out to associate them with our annual passes. The system wasn't smart enough to see our passes as additional room keys, but whatever, that would have just been extra awesome. What they did fail at is getting the room folio to work. You can associate a credit card with your reservation online, and they even confirmed it at the desk when we checked in. When we went to use it, however, it didn't work. The whole point of the system is to easily use it to spend money freely. In any case, I went to guest services, and after being on the phone with the resort for about five minutes, they got it straightened out, gave us some Fastpasses, and I was on my way. Additionally, we encountered "server too busy" messages on the WDW sites, and it's pretty typical that using the mobile app fails at least once every time you attempt to use it. I'm probably too "inside baseball" on this topic, because you can't work in software without knowing people who worked on these projects, but it's amazing how fragile their system is, and that's unacceptable. It leaves people on the front line having to bat cleanup for them.

In any case, we had a 6 p.m. reservation at the Rose & Crown in the UK part of Epcot. While we've had many beverages there, including Pimm's and the non-American Strongbow (they recently changed it to a sweeter formula for us American fatties), we have never actually had food there. I'm sorry we waited. I had the Indian-style chicken masala, and it rocked my world. Diana had salmon, and she also loved it. If that weren't enough, we had the best nerdy and adorable waitress ever who was all geeked out about finding good Indian food in Orlando. She said "indeed" a few times, and we decided that we needed to use that in every day speech more. We really enjoyed ourselves, even at an outdoor table, though it was very breezy and they have many fans. We'll absolutely go back.

After dinner, and with a few pints of cider in me, we used our Fastpasses on Test Track. Even though we can generally get a pass on any day we expect to go, by booking in the morning, we don't because Simon just refuses to try it. Diana had not been on the "Tron-ified" version of the ride yet, so it was new for her. It's fun. I know Simon would love it, with the touch screen car designing and such.

We happened to hear Off Kilter playing during dinner, by the way, and we need to make sure we see them a few times in their remaining four weeks. They've been playing Epcot for something like 15 years, and while I don't know the reason for their departure, Canada won't be the same without them.

The other big grown-up splurge for the night was doing the Illuminations Sparkling Dessert Party. They have an area split roped off on the north side of the World Showcase Lagoon, where you'll find many delicious desserts and sparkling wines from Washington and Italy. Have you ever seen doughnuts and churros flambéd? I haven't either, but pouring 151 rum on it, lighting it on fire and then putting chocolate, ice cream and whip cream on it, as it turns out, is pretty much the most awesome idea ever. It was fantastic. It's a little pricey at $49 a person, but it's not difficult to get your alcohol's worth, and the desserts are top notch. And hey, you get to view Illuminations from the absolute best spot. That show never gets old. Totally worth it.

By this time I was probably feeling a little too good, and we considered going over to do the fairway course at Fantasia Gardens mini-golf. Instead, we opted to do the pool. This is the only pool I know of that has sand in it. It's a very coarse, and yet very soft sand, and frankly it's completely awesome. What is less awesome is that the very short little lazy river they have is something like 8 feet deep at one point. I can't understand that at all. Since I couldn't easily climb out, I had to pull myself out, and that's when I had a wardrobe malfunction. I believe the lifeguard had to see my naked ass, if only briefly. Apparently I didn't think to tie up the drawstring in my shorts ahead of time. As they say, with alcohol, all things are possible.

One minor complaint: It's really hard to get snacks around there late. The kitchen at the outdoor bar and grill must close pretty early, because just before 10, there was no food to be had. I certainly didn't need more to drink! I had to go all the way to the little store and snack bar over in Beach Club, where I settled for Cheetos.

We slept in. In fact, we slept much later than we intended, but without our small human crawling into bed with us at 7-something, we stayed in bed until almost 9:30. The negative of this is that there was no chance we were going to get any kind of counter service breakfast (the nearest was at The Land in Epcot), but it was a small price to pay for sleeping in. We did have a Fastpass that we booked a few weeks ago for Test Track, so we did it again, and shot some video inside of it to show Simon what goes on. Shortly thereafter, we acquired a cronut. Sidebar: the stands for Food & Wine are already out of hibernation.

Our massage appointment was for noon. The last time we did this was 2008, at the Portofino at Universal. I must never wait that long again. The spa facility at Yacht/Beach Club is pretty nice, though not anywhere near the level of what they have at the Portofino. But with the passholder discount and such, it's still worth it. I walked around relaxed and feeling awesome the rest of the day, which is something to be said after the gluttony and alcohol of the previous night.

We grabbed lunch at Pei Wei on the way home, taking half of it home. Simon was excited to see us, and we were excited to see him too. Our philosophy has been to never worry about traveling with him, and generally that strategy has worked well. It's unfortunately expensive to fly three people around, but it's worth it. Kara took him to the science center and they had a blast.

Kara hung out at our house for the afternoon, and I think I dozed off for a bit. All four of us went back to the Beach Club to meet our friends Jeff and David, who were down here planning their wedding for this winter. They haven't revealed everything, but it sounds like they're going to make a huge impression. Disney can apparently do pretty much anything, so it should be interesting to see what they come up with.

And finally, for Labor Day, the reunited Team Puzzoni spent the morning at Magic Kingdom. I still had not been on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, so we made the attempt by getting to the park when it opened. The sign said 60, but we only waited 30 minutes. It's a cute little ride, and the animatronics are amazing. All told, I got to ride three roller coasters with my little family, plus Splash Mountain, the People Mover, Peter Pan and the train. We thought about doing more stuff, but all three of us were kinda tired. We had a nice lunch and packed it in. Who knew, but Labor Day is about the most non-busy day we've ever seen there. Bummer for the vacationers that it was a short day because the Halloween Party extra-admission stuff is underway.

We packed in a ton of action this weekend. Sure, some of it was stuff we've done before, or at the very least in places we've been before, but that's partly why we moved here. We're not pin-trading uber-nerds, but we do enjoy what Disney has to offer. It was really great to do some of the stuff we just don't get to do when Simon is with us. I don't think a lot of people realize how much grown-up stuff there is to do at the parks and on their ships.

It was one to remember, for sure. We need to schedule these kinds of short getaways more often. We love Simon and all, but we need couple time now and then, without it being parent time.


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