Sunday, Nov 5- Characters: Me- 39, trip planner, roller coaster fanatic and stay at home mom DH- 41, wonderful husband of 12 years Kids: boy 11, girl 6 but they stayed home this trip. DonÃ¢ÂÂt worry, we toured Universal as a family in Nov/99 and WDW in Feb/00. This trip it was just going to be dh and I. We just celebrated our 12th anniversary and thought it would a wonderful way to get reacquainted. We decided we would forgo our usual commando style of touring and simply wander around doing what we wanted, eating when we were hungry. I knew that all day front of the line access was starting tomorrow for Portofino guests and was eager to show dh what a great perk it was. We flew in from Manchester, NH on Southwest airlines, $465, 2 r/t. SW has made getting on the plane a little easier. Once they announce boarding will begin, you wait in separate lines with others from your number group instead of everyone pressing forward at the same time to get near the cattle chute. Moooo. We landed at Orlando airport at 11:30 am, 20 minutes early. The crew made us promise to tell everyone! We grabbed our carryon luggage and headed for Avis. I used my preferred card to get a good rate on the Internet. A full size car was quoted for $157/ 5 days. During our flight I realized I had left my card at home and was worried they wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt honor the rate. But after checking at the Avis counter (no wait) she said it wasnÃ¢ÂÂt a problem and directed us to the kiosk in the parking garage. It was much easier to find than I thought it would be. The attendant asked to see my license, I signed some papers and less than 10 minutes later we were in our car and driving out of the parking garage! They didnÃ¢ÂÂt even want to see hubbyÃ¢ÂÂs license, they only asked if he was my spouse. You donÃ¢ÂÂt even stop to show papers to anyone on the way out. My DH was very impressed. IÃ¢ÂÂm impressed!! We usually use an off airport car rental company. Using directions from my DIS board friends, we arrived at the Portofino Bay Hotel less than 30 minutes later. The setting for this hotel is amazing. One minute youÃ¢ÂÂre in the middle of traffic, congestion and noise but as soon as you turn onto the hotel road and the Portofino comes into view the whole world just seems to melt away. WeÃ¢ÂÂre barely out of our car when a bellhop comes to take our luggage. The great service starts before you even walk through the door. Pat parks the car in the self-serve lot/garage while I wait inside. Valet parking is also available, $8 per day. IÃ¢ÂÂve reserved a bay view with queen beds, AP rate of $179+tx. I politely ask if a room with a king bed and a balcony is available. The very pleasant desk attendant says thatÃ¢ÂÂs no problem but the room wonÃ¢ÂÂt be ready until 3pm due to a large check out that morning. I also mention our Loews first membership and weÃ¢ÂÂre given a choice of welcome gifts: fresh fruit, milk and cookies or bottle of wine. I also ask about an upgrade but she says she wonÃ¢ÂÂt know until tomorrow if itÃ¢ÂÂs possible. She gives us our hotel map and Portofino cards. Unfortunately our shorts are buried in our suitcases so we donÃ¢ÂÂt bother changing yet. We make our way to the boat dock. I love the relaxing boat ride to the parks. I already have an annual pass. Dh decided he wanted to get an AP instead of a 3-day ticket. When I remind him heÃ¢ÂÂll need to use it again to get his moneyÃ¢ÂÂs worth, he just smiles. (Yeah! This from the guy who is not a big fan of amusement parks). We cruise past the Hard Rock Hotel. ItÃ¢ÂÂs looking great. They were working on the roof and the landscaping was beautiful. We pay for DHÃ¢ÂÂs seasonal annual pass at the ticket window $143(includes tx) and then proceed through the Universal turn styles to the AP office. ItÃ¢ÂÂs to the left and the sign says vacation services. IÃ¢ÂÂm happy to see the passes are now laminated like a driverÃ¢ÂÂs license. (During the week I also traded in my previously purchased pass for a sturdier one.) The people are very pleasant and weÃ¢ÂÂre quickly off in search of a hat for hubby since he forgot to bring one. Usually we just lose the ones we bring, then buy new ones (lol)! After thatÃ¢ÂÂs accomplished we leave Universal (without even riding Men in Black! sob). WeÃ¢ÂÂre very hungry and decide to eat at Jimmy BuffetÃ¢ÂÂs Margaritaville Restaurant at Citywalk. You canÃ¢ÂÂt miss it. ItÃ¢ÂÂs the building with the neon parrots. In front of the restaurant are some brightly painted chairs, most with umbrellas. It looked like a perfect place to sit, enjoy your favorite refreshment and people watch. We look for seats on the patio but there arenÃ¢ÂÂt any in the shade. Inside is cool and weÃ¢ÂÂre seated immediately. Pat orders nachos and chicken wings. I have the veggie burger with fires. We indulge in margaritas ($7.50@), regular for dh and mango for me. TheyÃ¢ÂÂre both excellent but the mango is incredible! The drinks are brought immediately but the food takes about 20 minutes. The nachos are huge and delicious! ThereÃ¢ÂÂs enough to feed 3 people. He says the wings are great too. My meal is excellent. We present our annual pass for a discount of 10% (food not drinks), bill is $41. ItÃ¢ÂÂs past 3pm so we head back to the hotel. After checking in at the front desk, weÃ¢ÂÂre told weÃ¢ÂÂre in the east wing. The bellhop brings our luggage and he describes the various restaurants and shops as we pass. So we walk and walk and walk down the hallway. IÃ¢ÂÂm happy to see our fruit has arrived along with a large bottle of water. Unfortunately the fruit is very hard and inedible except for the apple. Next time IÃ¢ÂÂll choose the cookies and milk. The room itself is beautiful but when I go out on the balcony most of our bay view is blocked by a large palm tree. This was the first time IÃ¢ÂÂve asked for a balcony. But in the future I wonÃ¢ÂÂt bother. Most of them are standing only and even those are few and far between. My dh calls the front desk and asks if another bay view room, king bed, west wing is available. They are very gracious and switch us to a great first floor room. The French doors open to a small patio. I like being able to put my head outside in the morning to check the temp. The location is perfect. ItÃ¢ÂÂs just past the dock so the foot traffic walking by was minimal but we could still see when the boat was coming. The room is beautiful. The bed is high off the floor and is incredibly comfortable with soft sheets, fluffy pillows and a comforter. There are 2 night tables, a lounge chair w/ footrest and a table with 2 chairs. The armoire contains the TV, ice bucket w/wine glasses, 4 large drawers and the mini-bar. In the very large bathroom there is marble counter top with double sinks, tiled tub /shower and a generous supply of fluffy white towels. The toiletries supplied are the usual soap/shampoo/lotion along with cotton balls and shower cap. Ohhh, it feels so good to hop up on that bed, relax and watch football for awhile (go Broncos!). Soon we're restless but the parks are already closed. We go to the Thirsty Fish, which is located near the west wing. It was a great place to have cold Bass ale. We borrowed their backgammon game and sat outside enjoying the warm night air. At 9pm I returned to the room to watch the season premiere of the X-files (itÃ¢ÂÂs a sickness, I know). Since dh is a definite non-fan he stayed and watched more football. He comes back about an hour later carrying a delicious SalÃ¢ÂÂs deli pizza, $12.99. They also have huge sandwiches and a nice selection of side orders sold by the ÃÂ¼ pound. The selection ranges from a great fruit salad to olive oil based pasta salads and imported olives. Our tummies full, we drift off to sleep and dream of Spiderman (the ride, not the character). We're going to the Island of Adventure tomorrow!