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Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina 01-20-2012 08:43 PM

3 Canucks Visit "The Other Side of Orlando": A Trip Report (Complete!)
So, let me first say that this is all new for me :) . Never having done a trip report before, I have no idea how this will turn out. Hopefully you'll all forgive me if I commit a TR faux pas or two along the way. :upsidedow I am sure there might be a few!!!!

I thought it might be fun to share with you some of our favourite moments and memories from our recent trip "down south". After five months of planning and a wonderful Christmas with family, we disassembled the tree, took down the lights, packed our bags and left home on December 30th for some New Years fun in the sun!

At any rate, here's our "cast".............

First, there's DH. My best friend, and my highschool sweetheart :love: . We will celebrate our 19th anniversary this coming May, and I can honestly say I love him even more now than I did the day we married. Here he is celebrating his 40th birthday this past June at Oh Canada Eh! in Niagara Falls:

Then there's DS ... my pride and joy. He is just a great kid that I can't help but be proud of. He is an honour student and the family jock: he plays volleyball, basketball, hockey and softball, keeping us travelling hither and yon most of the year. This is Jake's grade 10 photo from September:

DS is our "only"......after I was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1998 (when Jake was 2), statistics gave me a 50% chance of living five years. 10 years of potent drugs to keep my seizures at bay ended our hopes of growing our family, as the medication that finally "worked" for me was known to cause severe birth defects. Happily, after successful awake surgery and lots of TLC from my medical team, I am considered cured by my doctors and in better shape than ever :thumbsup2 . I am also grateful for every healthy day I enjoy on this earth. The fact that Jake is my one shot at parenthood also makes our bond pretty darn tight. So yeah, he holds a special place in my heart. :hug:

But, I digress. Here's the whole works of us, jet boating on the Niagara River in the summer:

Yup, I'm the short one. :headache:

As for me, I am the family vacation planner: the one who researches and studies and attacks planning our getaways with vim and vigor! (unlike my boys, whom are far more relaxed than the only female in the house!! :lmao: ). I believe the cure for the after-holiday blues is to start planning the next vacation. Or maybe doing a trip report on the Dis!

So that's the fam. Next up: we're off to Syracuse!

Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina 01-20-2012 09:09 PM

December 30th:

After booking our getaway wayyyy back in August, the big day finally arrived. While we had hoped for good travelling weather (Syracuse is about 3 hours or so from our home), Mother Nature decided to rain on our parade (and snow, and sleet) so it was a slippy trip eastward. No worries though, the snow tires were on the car and we left nice and early, so we knew we'd take our time and roll with whatever we encountered. Our flight didn't depart until the following morning, so we had the whole day ahead of us if need be.

After a minimal wait at the border (about 30 minutes) and stopping at Cici's Pizza in Watertown for lunch (DS's fave American pizza place), we arrived in Syracuse around 2:30 p.m. Lots of time for some shopping at the Carousel Mall!

Sadly, I couldn't convince the boys to ride. But it sure looked like fun!

We stayed the night at the Holiday Inn Express right across from the airport. Got the room for $60 by cashing in some of my Priority Club Points. Hotel was in a good location with lots of quick dining establishments nearby. Here's a pic of the exterior:

And here's the room:

I would like to say we got a good night's sleep there, but they ended up removing two rooms worth of guests from our floor just before midnight due to their loud and rowdy behaviour. With a 4:15 wake up call, it meant for some pretty heavy eyelids in the morning!!! But the hotel was clean and bright and the staff were all very friendly. Excellent shuttle service and so very close to the airport.

You can kind of tell here that we were suffering from a deficiency of shut-eye:

But we were very excited to be finally on our way! Now I hate flying.....I really this made me kinda nervous:

But I put on my big-girl panties and we boarded the plane.

The flight was VERY turbulent (the pilots even came on and apologized), meaning we ascended and descended through the entire flight trying to find that nice pocket of calm air, but it was to no avail. Add in that my TV wasn't working (meaning no "diversion", though it did net me a $15 credit on my next flight without even asking :thumbsup2) and it was a long flight for this air travel chicken! But man, was it worth the wait!!! We arrived in Orlando on New Years Eve day at just after 9:30 a.m., and it was just as warm and beautifully sunny as we had hoped!!!

Wahoo......we made it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina 01-20-2012 09:22 PM

December 31st:

I was so happy to find that the Orlando airport was still all decked out in its holiday finery. The trees and decorations were so very festive:

We headed to the Alamo counter to pick up our car. We had a compact booked for $75 for the week (taxes included) thanks to a HUGE reduction in price just a week before we leaft. The girl at the counter couldn't get the same rate to pop up, as her rate was LOWER when she entered the details in the computer. So we ended up getting the car for the low, low price of $68 for the entire week. Sweeeet!

We ended up with a 2011 Chevy HHN:

I honestly don't think that was really a compact car.....we had TONS of room in it for luggage and whatnot. However, there were only 3 cars to pick from (2 Yaris vehicles and the Chevy HHN) so it was a no brainer and definitely in our favour!!! And for $68!!! How awesome was that?

We drove from the airport to the hotel behind an airboat. Only in Florida.

Then we stopped at Olive Garden for lunch.......we were starved as the food options were minimal at the Syracuse airport, and the lines were too backed up for us to grab something quick.

Next, we headed to the hotel to see if we could possibly check in a little early. And another yay! Our room was ready!

Next up......a tour of the Hawthorn Suites on Canada Avenue, just off I-Drive.

c&m 01-20-2012 10:00 PM

Ahhhh...what a nice family!:love: And what a story! Thank you for sharing, and I look forward to reading more of your trip report.

I always like to read WDW TRs from families with teens, now that our kids have hit those teen years. It gives me a glimpse of how my teens will probably experience our upcoming trip. So please, keep it coming fast!!! I can't wait!!!:yay:

c&m 01-20-2012 10:06 PM

BTW, to get your fantastic car rental rate, did you use any special discount codes like Costco?? Thanks!

Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina 01-20-2012 10:14 PM


Originally Posted by c&m (Post 43800150)
Ahhhh...what a nice family!:love: And what a story! Thank you for sharing, and I look forward to reading more of your trip report.

I always like to read WDW TRs from families with teens, now that our kids have hit those teen years. It gives me a glimpse of how my teens will probably experience our upcoming trip. So please, keep it coming fast!!! I can't wait!!!:yay:

Hey, thanks for the kind words and for joining in! Glad to have you along! :banana:

We love to travel as a family.......I am so fortunate that we continue to have a great time together. Tis true, you have to adapt as the kiddos grow up on us. This trip was certainly different with Jake being an older teen than on our trip to Disney in 2009. Both he and DH were adamant that this was to be a "no Disney" getaway, so we opted for the "other side of Orlando" and visited Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Discovery Cove and SeaWorld. Great choices for our boy who loves a little more thrills than Disney provides.

Yet all that said, as far as Jake is concerned, if there is shopping and food involved, it is the perfect vacation. Everything else is just a bonus :rotfl2: .

More coming up soon.........I can't make any promises about being fast, but I will keep the updates moving along!

Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina 01-20-2012 10:18 PM


Originally Posted by c&m (Post 43800199)
BTW, to get your fantastic car rental rate, did you use any special discount codes like Costco?? Thanks!

Actually, it was crazy easy. I signed up to be an Alamo Insider (which was free to do), then applied my membership number with a $35 coupon that was found on the Alamo website. And voila! There it was.

My original car rental rate started at almost $300 USD for the week :scared1: . I keep nudging it down by changing companies and then rates dropped like a stone just before Christmas Day. We drove for the whole week and only used $26 in gas. Hoping for a similarly fab deal on our upcoming August trip!!!

Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina 01-20-2012 10:38 PM

So, it was off to the 4th floor to check out our home away from home for the week. We had a one bedroom suite, conveniently located just steps from the elevator and right around the corner from the laundry room (just as I requested). We also had a nice view of the pool......but not the one at our hotel (rather, of the Crowne Plaza next door).

Here are some room pics:

The room was a little worn in spots, but impeccably clean. Lots of space for us to move around in. The full kitchen was nice (especially the big fridge) and we used the microwave quite regularly as well. The appliances were a little on the old side but again, the room was spotless.

After unloading all our stuff and getting set up for the week, we headed to explore the outdoor amenities:

There was a big barbecue area available to guests:

You can't see the hot tub in this pic, but there was an 8-man one off to the left:

The boys spent a ton of time over the course of the week on the basketball court. It is mid-season for my son and he needed to keep his shot sharp:

The basketball court was the key reason we picked this property. We found several other hotels in the I-Drive area that offered 1 bedroom suites (a must with a snorer in the family....doh!), an included breakfast buffet (a must when feeding two males with hollow legs), and a good proximity to the Universal and SeaWorld parks. But not all of them had bball courts onsite. So the Hawthorn it was!

After a tour of our new digs, we toured around I-Drive to see some of the sights, then headed to the Florida Mall for some shopping. OMG, it was soooooooooooo busy!!! No parking AT ALL at the Premium Outlets, and we had to park 3 blocks away from the Florida Mall and walk in through the throngs of people. It was so busy I didn't even get any pics from this first foray through the mall!!

By this point, our early morning and lack of a good sleep the night before were starting to catch up to us. We grabbed a quick meal at Cici's (yes, AGAIN.....don't you love the eating habits of teen boys? Pizza is a food group for them) and headed back to the hotel for a swim. The night was still so warm and lovely, I couldn't think of a better way to spend New Years Eve:

And a little bball under the stars as the final hours of 2011 drew to a close:

I'd like to say we whooped it up as we rang in 2012, but quite honestly, we were all sound asleep as the New Year arrived. We had a big day planned for January 1: our long awaited (and much anticipated) visit to Discovery Cove!

Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina 01-21-2012 09:52 PM

New Years Day: January 1st, 2012

This was the day I had been most excited about, and yet most worried about at the same time: our day at Discovery Cove!

Excited because our opportunity to swim with the dolphins was tops on our must-do list for this trip, and worried because we feared the weather might end up being so chilly that it would be difficult to enjoy all the water based activities. We were totally pumped when Mother Nature blessed us with glorious sun, warm temps, and just the most picture-perfect day you could imagine. We couldn't have even hoped it would be THAT nice!!!

We arrived at check-in at about 8:15 am.

We were greeted by just the sweetest employee. Actually, all of the staff here were great, and really made us feel welcome and special.

The gardens were breathtaking, and we were mesmerized by how beautiful and lush the grounds were. This was about the moment that I decided I wanted to be a Snowbird in my old age. Not a lover of Canadian winters, I could totally see myself living in Florida in my retirement.

So it was over the bridge, and down the path to our most memorable day of a very, very memorable week:

First stop was breakfast. An awesome selection of foods were ready and waiting. Can't say enough about the all-you-care-to-enjoy included meals and snacks. There were 3 fellows playing Carribbean music right alongside the outdoor seating area, and we loved just kicking back and listening to them play while we ate (they were excellent performers :thumbsup2). After breakfast, we got our wetsuits, stowed our stuff in our lockers, then it was off to the Sand Dollar cabana for our 9:55 dolphin swim.

As for the dolphin was everything we had hoped and more. An experience we will always remember. And worth every penny.

We ended up buying the $125 photo package which provided us the CD of all our photos during the course of the day, six 6 x 8 photos, 2 keychains, and beautiful stone photo frame. An excellent value.

Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina 01-21-2012 10:11 PM

After our dolphin swim, we had the rest of the day at our disposal. The day was just so relaxing and slow paced, it was fabulous. We enjoyed some time at the Aviary:

Chillaxed on the beach:

Swam in the lazy river (this was our favourite ..... we stayed in here for what felt like hours):

And snorked in the Grand Reef:

We left around 4 p.m., totally spent (all that time in the water is quite tiring!) and so happy that we included this in our getaway. Initially it was not in the plans, and only added on later in the planning stages when we decided we didn't want to be in a packed theme park on New Years Day when the crowds were bound to be heavy. At $199 per person which included all our food (and my boys can we definitely got our moneys worth in that aspect alone :rotfl:) our dolphin swim, our day's activities, unlimited alcohol, and 14 days admission to SeaWorld, it really was a great value too. We dragged our exhausted fannies off to the hotel for a short break, then it was off for dinner.

Next up, the Worlds Largest McDonalds! (I'm a sucker for the weird and wonderful..........stick the words "Worlds Largest" in front of a name, and I'm so there!!! lol)

Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina 01-21-2012 10:32 PM

After indulging all day at Discovery Cove, we decided we didn't want a huge meal for dinner. The monstrous McDonalds on the corner of Sand Lake Road and I-Drive had caught our eye earlier in the day, so we figured....why not?

Loved the Bistro menu here.....we are normally not huge fans of McDonalds food, but this was awesome. My angelhair pasta with alfredo sauce, chicken and garlic toast was HUGE and sooo good. All other McD's should stand up and take notice.

Now as good as the food was, this is not the place to go if looking for a quiet meal. Lots of games and kids and noise. But it was fun and we had a child-like good time.

Up the stairs to the 2nd level for a little fun after dinner:

An onsite gift shop, of course:

I will forever have the song "Mac Tonight" in my head every time I see this pic:

But let's not forget McDonald's most famous ambassador:

All in all, it turned out to be a fun way to end a simply wonderful day. When we finally used up our game credits, we headed back to the hotel for an evening swim, then it was off to bed for a good night's sleep.......tomorrow, we would be off to SeaWorld! :banana:

iluvtheworld 01-21-2012 10:41 PM

I LOVE your trip report so far! My kids would LOVE that McDonald's! Can't wait to read more!

Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina 01-21-2012 11:22 PM


Originally Posted by iluvtheworld (Post 43808936)
I LOVE your trip report so far! My kids would LOVE that McDonald's! Can't wait to read more!

Aw, thanks!!! :hug: lol, I wasn't sure anyone was really reading all my ramblings. Good to have you along!!!

Ted in Halifax 01-22-2012 06:44 AM

Great thread ... really enjoy it!

Gina-Gina-Bo-Bina 01-22-2012 07:36 AM


Originally Posted by Ted in Halifax (Post 43810233)
Great thread ... really enjoy it!

Thanks Ted.....its great to have you following along!

More coming this morning on our adventures at SeaWorld.....popcorn:: .

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