They finally let us out of the basement and we went to Florida: Our trip from New York to Clearwater Beach, St. Pete and Walt Disney World

toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
It’s been quite a while since we’ve visited Walt Disney World. My first trip was in 1983 when my boyfriend, Michael, took me for my 20th birthday. (Did I mention that he’s been my husband for almost 35 years. You can read into that as a cause and effect, and you might not be wrong.) When we had a little family---by little I mean our only son, Jake (28)---we started visiting Walt Disney World or Disneyland or a Disney cruise almost annually, beginning when Jake was 7. However, as he grew up, we started to explore other destinations as well. Our last trip to the World was in August 2018. We were celebrating our 31st anniversary as well as my recovery from breast cancer and two incidents of bilateral pulmonary embolisms, all of which impeded traveling a bit. But I’m still healthy, so yay!



This trip is composed largely of plane tickets, park passes, Disney Visa points and rented DVC points for trips to Walt Disney World planned in 2020 and 2021 that were cancelled due to COVID. If you have your own less stringent health practices, you do you, but with my medical history, none of us were taking any chances. I taught remotely for a year and then retired from teaching earlier than I would have liked to avoid COVID. Happily, Mike already worked from home, even before the pandemic. Jake was furloughed from his job when New York City construction was closed down. So the three of us have been at home since March 2020, cooking, reading, watching movies and spending a lot of time in the basement. What have we been doing down there? Well, Michael works from his office, Jake plays video games, and I use the Peloton. It’s a good thing we get along well because our family has spent a lot of time together over the past two years. When my doctor gave me the green light to travel, I had to promise to “wear a mask indoors and outdoors when in crowds ,” we were all too eager to go to Disney World.



Jane, don’t you have family in Florida? Why, yes, yes we do and some of them get miffed if you enter the state without visiting them. Truthfully, we hadn’t seen Mike’s Mom or his nieces and nephew since September 2019. We were overdue for a visit to Clearwater, where they live. Clearwater is only about two hours from the World, so we decided to combine the two destinations. I thought I would include the Clearwater part in my trip report because I often see people on Disboards asking for recommendations for a beachy area to visit and Clearwater Beach is lovely. Also, my most beloved childhood friend lives in St. Pete and she was itching to give me a tour, so we did that as well.



What follows is 8 days of family, fun, food, sightseeing, surf and our return to the magic during the 50th anniversary celebration and during the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival, an event I’ve always wanted to attend, but couldn’t because it’s during the school year!
https://flic.kr/p/2nnCSav
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toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
I should add that I'm having a tough time posting photos, so I'm trying to use Flickr. Click on the links to see us!
 

toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
The Planning:



This trip was originally planned for August 2021. Then, we moved it to September 2021, but I hurt my back. Then, we planned for December 2021, but the doctor said COVID rates were too high in Florida. By May 2022, he was comfortable with letting me travel. As a result, much of this was already paid for or purchased at rock bottom pandemic rates. We had some flight credits, so airfare for all three of us, roundtrip from New York to Tampa, was a mere $595 total. Why fly to Tampa instead of Orlando? We were going to Clearwater first anyway and airfare to Tampa is generally cheaper. If you usually rent a car, flying into Tampa International Airport and driving to Walt Disney World can save you money.
 

toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
The Lodging
For our three nights in Clearwater, we chose to stay at an Airbnb because that is generally less expensive than two hotel rooms, although if you need a hotel in Clearwater, the Clearwater Sand Key Marriott, where every room is a suite is the place! We also prefer Airbnbs because we like to cook for ourselves whenever possible. The condo we rented, known as Sandy Feet Retreat, was under $300/night for 3 bedrooms and 2 baths with a view of the water.

As for lodging at Walt Disney World, here is where we splurged. We rented points for a two-bedroom lockoff with savannah view at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jambo House. We have stayed at AKL four times before this. To me, it is one of the most unique properties at Disney World and worth the expense. I love watching the animals in the savannah.
 

toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
Park passes: We already had park passes, but were wondering: What is this Genie+ everyone is talking/complaining about? Honestly, reading about it didn’t help much, so we watched a few videos on Youtube to find out how Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes work. We concluded that Genie+ was worth the investment and had it added to everyone’s park passes for all four days.

Park reservations: Our park reservations each day were for Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom again, because I was having anxiety that we wouldn’t get all of my favorite attractions at MK.
 

toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
Dining Reservations:

We were disappointed with dining availability at 60 days out, but booked dinners at Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs, Grand Floridian Café, Tokyo Dining at Epcot and Art Smith’s Homecoming at Disney Springs. We also booked the MK Fireworks After Party at Tomorrow Land Terrace, using ************ alerts to monitor availability. ************ came through for us for the Magic Kingdom Fireworks Party, but not for Spice Road or Rose and Crown at Epcot. Still, I would recommend using them.

Trip Insurance: We insured our trip through Allianz. I think that in this, age of delays and cancelled flights, you need to protect yourself from unexpected travel expenses and as you will see, it came in handy.
 
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toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
Day 1: Delta had cancelled our 11 am flight and rebooked us for a 7:00 a.m. departure. This is not a time that I recommend traveling. We left our home at 4:30 a.m. to get to JFK by 5:30. The flight left on time, and I can’t tell you much about it because I was asleep. Here’s a picture of JFK airport in the early morning.
 

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toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
Arrival We arrived in Tampa by 10 a.m. and picked up our car at Hertz. Rental cars have been insanely pricey lately, but we received an email with a 30% discount about a week before our vacation. This brought the price down to $450 for the week for a Nissan Rogue.

We left the airport and headed towards my mother-in-law’s apartment in Clearwater, stopping at a Starbucks in Safety Harbor. Safety Harbor is a cute little town not far from Clearwater.
https://flic.kr/p/2nnFqY6 https://flic.kr/p/2nnPwnv From there, we picked up my mother-in-law and took her to lunch at Bon Appetit in Dunedin, another cute little town outside of Clearwater. I love my mother-in-law and Bon Appetit is her favorite restaurant, and we had not seen her in a while, so we wanted to make her happy. That said, the food is only OK, and the bill was $160 for lunch for four people without drinks, appetizers or desserts. You are paying for a view of the water.
 
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toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
Arrival at Clearwater Beach: After lunch, we dropped my mother-in-law off and went to Publix for groceries. Then, we arrived at our Airbnb, Sandy Feet Retreat. The hostess, Stormie, had been nice enough to allow us to check in early. Wow, were we impressed! This condo was huge---three bedrooms and two baths--- and very attractively furnished. The water views from the living room and primary bedroom were gorgeous. Overall, the unit had everything we would need for a comfortable stay. Here are pictures of Sandy Feet Retreat.
https://flic.kr/p/2no4xeq https://flic.kr/p/2no4xeA https://flic.kr/p/2nob4Pi / https://flic.kr/p/2no4xeF https://flic.kr/p/2no4Eno
 
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toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
Dinner at Cesare on the Beach: For dinner, we ate at Cesare on the Beach in Clearwater Beach and it was phenomenal. We New Yorkers are picky about Italian food, but Cesare on the Beach is a 10/10. We ate outdoors and there’s a lovely view of the Sand Key bridge. Jacob had the mozzarella appetizer with tomato and basil. The cheese was fresh, soft and rich. For an entree, he had the pasta carbonara and it was extraordinary. The prosciutto was so flavorful and smoky. I had a salad and the grouper francese. The salad was generous and fresh and the local grouper was extraordinary. The waiter mentioned that it was a popular choice and I can see why. Mike had the linguine al frutti di mare. He is a connoisseur of pasta and seafood dishes and could not say enough good things about it. Sadly, no one had room for dessert.



Here's the view of the bridge. Sorry there’s no food porn. I was too hungry.
 

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toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
Day 2: Clearwater Beach


We woke up and had breakfast in the condo. Everyone had slept comfortably. It was a beautiful, sunny day and having come from New York where it was still in the 30s and 40s and miserably windy in early May, we were eager to soak up some sun at Clearwater Beach. The beach was about a ten-minute walk from the condo, which came equipped with a beach wagon, chairs, umbrella and beach towels. The water was pretty calm and warm. If you are interested in adding a beach visit to a Disney World trip, Clearwater Beach is one of the highest rated beaches in the United States. The sand is soft and white and the water is clean and clear. Here's the early morning view from our balcony and some pictures of Clearwater Beach:


https://flic.kr/p/2no9EYc https://flic.kr/p/2nnFwhN [ https://flic.kr/p/2no9T3e https://flic.kr/p/2no4rVe
 
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toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
The town of Clearwater Beach is kind of touristy---lots of hotels, motels, T-shirt shops and restaurants. However, there’s also a nearby aquarium and a children’s museum if you are looking for something to do with your kids.

After our trip to the beach, we returned to Sandy Feet Retreat and prepared to go to dinner. Because Jacob had recently celebrated a birthday, we planned a family birthday dinner at Casa Tina’s, a healthy Mexican restaurant in Dunedin. We stopped at Publix first to pick up a birthday cake we had ordered. The Clearwater area is short on bakeries and most people get their cake at Publix. We purchased a vanilla cake with dulce de leche filling and whipped cream frosting.

https://flic.kr/p/2nodkF8


Then, we met the whole Florida family (MIL, niece, grand-niece, nephew, niece’s BF and his two kids) at Casa Tina’s where the food and ambience were just great. We had several platters of nachos and then a variety of entrees---my enchiladas verde were excellent and so was the mojito! The wait staff sing “Happy Birthday” with a drum and make the birthday person an aluminum foil Viking hat .Everyone said the cake was delicious, especially the dulce de leech filling.
Here’s Jacob, the guest of honor:

https://flic.kr/p/2nnDk3m The police?
On the way home, we got stopped by the police. We heard the sirens and couldn't figure out what we did wrong. Traffic in Clearwater Beach doesn't allow you to speed, even if you wanted to. The officer knocked on my window---the passenger side---which further confused me, although given the traffic it was probably safer for him. I tried to open my window. It was child-locked. Michael tried to open it from his controls, but ultimately, I just opened the door to the car. By now, the policeman was laughing at our complete incompetence. I said "I'm sorry. It's a rental. I don't know where anything is." He said, "Do you know why I stopped you?" Truly, we hadn't a clue. It turned out that our lights weren't on. When we left Casa Tina's, it was still daylight. As the sun went down, we didn't make a special effort to turn on the lights, probably because all of us drive cars in which the lights go on automatically. The officer left us with no ticket and our own abject embarrassment. Lesson learned: Always check the lights on a rental car.
 
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toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
Day 3: Breakfast/St. Pete


We met my nephew Matt for breakfast at Garden Grille in Palm Harbor. I’ve never been to this casual spot before, but boy was the food good! The huevos rancheros were delicious and our waitress, Romona, was very nice. I would absolutely return.

From there, we went to St. Pete to visit my childhood friend and her husband. They took us on a driving tour of the city. What a wonderful, artsy community! St. Pete is full of art galleries, breweries, clothing stores, restaurants and so much more. I can’t wait to go back for a longer visit. Our friends also showed us Pass-a-Grille beach and encouraged us to rent a place there are next winter. It’s certainly tempting. Here’s the lovely beach: .

MEDIA=flickr]2nnCfag[/MEDIA] https://flic.kr/p/2nnC7fm
 
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toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
Disney Anxiety:
After our day in St. Pete, we returned to Sandy Feet Retreat to pack and get ready for the Walt Disney World portion of the trip. We were heading to Hollywood Studios first thing in the morning, hoping to arrive by 10 a.m. All of us were feeling kind of concerned about how Genie+ would go. We knew we had to be logged on and reserving lightening lanes at 7 a.m. on the dot. Would we wake up in time? (Mike set his alarm for 6:30). Were our phones charged? Was a credit card saved to everyone’s app? Did we totally understand how Genie+ worked? Would we get Rise of the Resistance ILL? What about Mickey and Minnie‘s Runaway Railway? We had gone over how the app worked and what attractions we prioritized. Now we had to hope it would all work as planned.
 
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toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
First encounter with Genie+ and we're on our way!
We woke up at 6:30 and got ready to encounter Genie+. At 7 a.m., we were logged on and---hooray---bought ILL for Rise of the Resistance at 2:45! Then, we scored Genie+ LL for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. We bid farewell to Clearwater Beach and sped off in our Nissan Rogue, listening to Disney tunes and anticipating RoR and M&MRR—two attractions we’d never experienced before.
 

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toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
Toy Story Mania/Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway: Our first attraction was Toy Story Mania, which we did as a walk-on. What fun! My score was awful. Jake's was amazing, but he had gotten some tips from his cousin the night before. From there, we headed to our first Lightning Lane---Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. It is in the former Great Movie Ride Building, but completely different. Although “Runaway Railway” sounds like a roller coaster, it is actually a trackless ride that is thrilling and fun, but not at all scary. There’s so much Mickey and Minnie content in the experience that you would have to ride it ten times to catch all the references! We all felt Disney Imagineers outdid themselves with this attraction.

https://flic.kr/p/2nnwS2T https://flic.kr/p/2nnFwma
 

toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
Old favorites : After that, we visited some old favorites---Muppet Vision 3 D and Star Tours. We loved both and Star Tours was a fun foreshadowing for Rise of the Resistance. So far Genie+ was going pretty well. I should say that none of us like roller coasters and I have a bad back, so both Rock’n’Roll Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror were off the table.

We mobile ordered lunch from Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo. It was the first time we had ever tried that method of ordering and it was pretty seamless! I had the Roasted Endorian Chicken Salad. Here it is:
https://flic.kr/p/2nnFwoe :
 

toodycat

DIS Veteran
Joined
May 4, 2008
Rise of the Resistance: (No spoilers) This was leading up to Rise of the Resistance. Would it live up to the hype? Well, first of all, the ILL really meant no wait at all. The entry process was extremely efficient and quick. But the attraction itself is so impressive! It feels like you are in a Star Wars film. I don’t want to give away the story, but the attraction has several sections and is absolutely thrilling. It is well worth getting Individual Lightning Lane to have this experience, especially if you are a Star Wars fan.
 








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