Florida Part 1

So… We drove down to Sunnyvale and left our car at Mike’s house and took Caltrain to BART to SFO. That took about 1.5 hours. Then we went through security and waited at our gate. Our plane was delayed, apparently because of a mechanical issue in Salt Lake. But it wasn’t delayed much. So we flew to Salt Lake and found that our connecting flight was already boarding. So we power-walked through the airport and grabbed some slices of Sbarro so that we’d have some real food to eat (we also packed all sorts of snacks into our carry-on bags, and we didn’t check any bags, but those slices of pizza would soon prove necessary). So we got to our next gate and attempted to board to find out that they had run out of carry-on space so we had to plane-side check our bags. So despite not having any bags to check we still had to wait at the baggage claim when we got to Orlando.

The flight wasn’t too bad, we watched The Abyss on my laptop which killed about 4 hours. However, our backs are still a bit tweaked from the service project on Saturday, so sitting on the plane wasn’t a bunch of fun.

We arrived in Orlando and went to the baggage claim. Our bags showed up fairly quickly and then we went down to the Thrify rental car desk. There were about 25 people in line and 2 people working the desk and I think it really took them about 20 minutes per customer. It was pretty ridiculous. Eventually a third employee showed up which helped. It took about an hour. So by this time it was 1:00am.

The employee had given us a little map telling us to go out to the area labeled “Economy”, as it was labeled on our map. Well, they don’t actually have an area labeled “Economy”. So I eventually found another employee who said they don’t have economy cars and they were out of compact cars so we should pick one of the SUVs or minivans in the mid-size section. Well, we didn’t want to drive an SUV or minivan in an unfamiliar area. There was, however, a compact sitting off by itself in an unlabeled area. Since Jess has to do all the driving I was letting/making her make the decision. But the lack of sleep, and frustration and stress of traveling was getting to us both and things were looking grim.

An employee drove by, apparently done with his shift, and asked if we needed help. We told him our problem and he said that the compact was available, but seemed confused that we wouldn’t want the “free upgrade” to a mid-size. So we took the compact, a thoroughly unimpressive Chevy Cobalt. But we’d rather be driving that than a big honking SUV or minivan.

Now it was time to start off for the hotel. Placing too much faith in magical electronics I hadn’t looked up any specific directions because we brought our GPS. Well, the GPS had no hope of getting a signal inside the airport or the parking garage. So we started driving out of the airport “blind”. I did know we needed to go south-ish and west-ish. So we started following signs matching that plan which worked out fine. It only took about 5 minutes to pull up a solid signal.

We then discovered that to drive anywhere around Orlando you apparently have to pay $1.25 for every 8 miles. So we paid a toll. Drove 8 miles on the same road. Paid another toll. Drove 2-3 miles and exited. And paid another toll. We finally arrived at our hotel, Holiday Inn Express at Summer Bay Resort. Which is actually fairly decent. We checked in around 2:00 and asked where we might find some 24-hour fast food. So we went to McDonald’s to get food. We drove back to the hotel and got to our room, ate ‘dinner’, and fell asleep.

We had originally planned to spend today at Epcot, but, since that plan also thought we’d get to the hotel by midnight (local, so only 9:00 our time), it was abandoned and we’ll push Epcot to Saturday. So this morning we slept in, and are watching the History channel.

Christmas Vacation Part 1

Jess says it’s my turn to blog, so we’ll see what we can do here.

We got to the airport about 2 hours before our flight. Which was good, because we were apparently going to need most of that time. We went to the American Airlines self-check-in, walked up to a computer, punched in our information, got our boarding passes, and then waited for someone to come down, put the luggage tag on our bag, and place it on the conveyor belt. And we waited. And we waited. We watched while the guy who hates his job wandered up and down the line throwing people’s bags onto the conveyor belt. We watched while other employees walked into the back room and disappeared for several minutes at a time. We watched while people piled up at the kiosks and the line. After something like 30 minutes of standing there someone finally came around to take our bag.

Then we got into the security line. Something like 7-10 TSA employees to run a single line. By the time we got halfway through from where we started, the line was twice as long as when we got in it. They eventually opened a second line which sped things up considerably. I won the security-theater lottery and got patted down. Nothing like having your 4th amendment rights violated to make the holiday season cheery. However, TSA seems to be making some intelligent improvements. Further in front of us a mom and a dad were both holding small children when they got to the front of the line. The TSA employees allowed them to go through the metal detectors while holding the kids. Previously I’ve seen the employees demand that the children walk through by themselves, so the screaming, crying kids who have no idea what’s going on get pushed and prodded through the detector. So I’m glad someone with intelligence decided it wasn’t any less safe to let parents carry kids.

When the plane started boarding, the airline was offering $500 travel vouchers for people willing to bump to another flight. Which seems pretty decent, but that wouldn’t have covered the cost of the flight for our tickets; we might have considered it except for our hotel reservation and the plans for the next day.

The flight itself was uneventful, though American Airlines didn’t give us anything but a couple cups of soda during the 5-hour flight (you could, however, purchase a small sandwich for $10, or crackers and cheese for $5).

We arrived in JFK and went down to get our bags. For unknown reasons, the baggage claim signs weren’t providing any information at all, but the captain had announced which carousel our luggage would be at. That took forever. We did finally get the luggage and meet up with our pre-arranged car which took us smoothly to our hotel.

After checking in around 1:00 AM we asked if there was somewhere to find food. We were directed to a 24-hour deli on the corner which was acceptable.

The next day we checked out and left our bags at the hotel while we wandered around the city. When the rest of the family arrived (after a delayed train) we further wandered around the city ending up at Macy’s. We walked through their “Santaland” and then had dinner at one of the several restaurants in the store (there are something like 3 or 4 Starbucks inside Macy’s!).

N08_secondary-banner_colorOnce we finished up at Macy’s we booked it back uptown to see The Nutcracker performed by the New York City Ballet. It was fun. Jess didn’t cry and was able to enjoy the show. After the show we went back to the hotel and got our bags and then headed towards Grand Central. Jess had a battle with the subway again. She was being too nice to the ticket reader and it kept telling her to re-swipe. Once she flicked it through nice and quickly, it let her in.

The train ride back was fine, although we had to switch trains because there was some concern about whether our train was in proper working condition or not. I also spent most of the train ride fixing the Board. There were a few minutes when Mom and Dad called me over to solve a logic puzzle for them (which was part of an ad on the wall).

The next day we did nothing: our muscles and joints were a bit sore (did I mention that we walked around NYC for 6 hours?). Today we also did mostly nothing. We went over to the high school for a few minutes to say hi to some of my old teachers. Due to vehicle scheduling conflicts we then had no ride back home. So we walked home, pausing at Subway for lunch and to warm up again. This evening we went up to the Trinity College campus and watched It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen, which Jess had never seen.

That’s been our vacation thus far.