Saturday, June 21, 2008

June 21st, 2008 - The End

Up early and on the road - the hotel had no free breakfast bar and we weren't willing to pay the per person price for the buffet. We stopped nearly two hours later for good ol' McDonald's, then hit the road hard and for good.

Up through Louisiana to Shreveport where we caught I-20 then headed West into Texas. It wasn't long until we hit Dallas and we were into familiar territory again. The final push to home wasn't bad at all.

Over to the ol' folks to get the dogs. Some quick catching up with them and we loaded up the animals and all their gear and headed for home. Got in by late evening and it was a very nice thing.

It's good to get away but it's better to get home. And it's good to get away with the ones you love. Doesn't matter what we do, as long as I get to do it with them.

That's it for this. I know the posts are rather hurried but they'll have to do as a document to our trip. I'm afraid they don't give much of a sense of the delight we had in going to all of the places we went and doing the things we did and seeing the people we saw. Believe me, it was a wonderful, wonderful time.

Now, about next year. . .

(One last word: I posted only some of the pictures we took; here's a link to the entire album on Picasa. I think I published the best of what we took or those that helped tell our story but you may find some you like better.)

Friday, June 20, 2008

June 20th, 2008 - Departure

Well, we knew this day was coming, didn't we, when we started on this journey two weeks ago? All good things, etc. etc. Doesn't make it any easier but, hey we can't come back if we never leave, right? (I know, I know, we've sworn we weren't coming back. Not any time soon, that is. At least, not next year. Unless. . .)

As promised, we took a few shots of the resort right after breakfast and before we pulled out for good.

Whoops. Need to let the camera acclimate to the morning's mugginess. Yeah, we keep things kinda frigid there in the room.

Just about ready to go. One final shot of inside the room. Fairly ordinary but there Disney touches abound to make it special.

Looking back up the trail to the building our room was in. You get the very same feel of being at a Caribbean resort as you did staying at Saratoga Springs.

Clara thought these were lovely, and they are. A nice parting shot.

Say goodbye! Our room number and Emily, poised for departure.

So long, Disney and Grandpop Pete and Nana! We had a great time but we gotta get back on the road and head on home.

On to I-4, over to the Turnpike and north to I-75, then I-10 and west. A new route for us and we didn't realize how far we had to go to get through the Florida panhandle. In case anyone should ask, it's almost exactly 700 miles from Grandpop Pete's driveway to Pensacola. If we'd traveled that far from Oklahoma City, we could've been in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana - those states just flew by, after Florida. We had a room booked in Baton Rouge and we made it without any problems. It helped to gain another hour entering back into Central Standard Time.

Exhausted, hungry, grateful to have made it. We'll sleep well tonight and then get up early for the final push tomorrow.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

June 19th, 2008 - Looks Like Rain

It looked like rain this morning so we decided it would be best to pass up any of the water parks. There was shopping we wanted to get done so we thought that would be the best thing to do and not waste a day at a water park, dodging raindrops and hoping it'd re-open once the thunder and lightning passed.

Of course, that means it didn't rain.


When we finished with our shopping, it was as hot and muggy as only Central Florida in June can be hot and muggy. In short, an excellent day for a water park. Too bad we had to be so smart.

Instead, we treated the girls to Disney Quest while we saw The Happening over at the movie theatre. (Not that we had a hankerin' to see the movie but it was the only one we thought worth seeing. Meh. Nowhere near Shyamalan's best but it had it's moments.) So it wasn't a day spent entirely on shopping.

Back to the resort when we were through. We ate at the Old Port Royale Food Court, which is where we'd been having breakfast. Turned out, dinner wasn't too bad there. Convenient and filling. Then back to the room to begin the final packing of the journey.


(Sorry, no pictures today.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

June 18th, 2008 - Disney Studios

We've done all we wanted to at the parks and the only one left is Disney Studios. (Hey, when did they change the name from Disney-MGM Studios? Maybe it says at the link but I can't be bothered to look. It's a mystery.) So that's our plan today.

First, a shot of the Caribbean Beach Resort from my Blackberry while waiting for everyone to wake up.

I'll more pictures of the place in another post. For now, you kind of get an idea of the place. Oh, don't get me wrong, it's nice, but our misstep at the first has kind of thrown everything off kilter and Saratoga Springs has really spoiled us.

On to the park. There's not a whole lot we really want to see - just The Great Movie Ride, the Aerosmith Rollercoaster, the new, 3-D Toy Story thingy and, of course, The Tower of Terror:

We did The Great Movie Ride but couldn't get into the 3-D Toy Story ride. Emily and Clara decided they could live without The Tower of Terror and The Aerosmith Rollercoaster so they went to The Beauty and the Beast show and headed over to, yes, The Magic Kingdom. Okay, okay, so we're not really through with it yet.) We got four FastPasses for The Aerosmith Ride and then Rachel and I got in line for The Tower of Terror:

I don't know what the camera flare is that picture. Could be the mist from Rachel's fan thingy or from the misters in the jungle-like growth. But you get a sense of the oppressing heat, don't you? Yeah, I thought so.

I was only good for one ride so Rachel got right back in line and went again. After that, it was the Aerosmith Rollercoaster, twice in a row with the four FastPasses. By then, I was finished with stomach-churning rides and it was off to The Magic Kingdom for us, too.

Meanwhile, Clara and Emily were having themselves quite a time at The Magic Kingdom:

Emily loves, loves, loves the People Mover. She also loves The Buzz Lightyear ride:

And the Monsters Inc comedy show:

Rachel and I did one last turn on The Carousel of Progress. No, we really do like it, as cheesy as it is. I defy you to leave the attraction without singing the song: It's a great big beautiful tomorrow!

All right. Enough of the parks. Time to go back to the room and plan tomorrow. A water park. If it doesn't rain.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

June 17th, 2008 - Farewell to Grandpop Pete and Nana - Hello Again, Disney

Well, as the title of this post says, it's the last day for Grandpop Pete and Nana's. We plan to head out a little later in the morning since we're only going to Orlando and we'll be staying there for a couple of days before making the final jump on home. A final stop at the Magic Kingdom - Hey, wait a minute. Didn't I say we were through there? - and then maybe a water park and then we'll finally be through. I think.

First, though, no one really wants to get started:

But start we must. Though not before a few shots to prove we were actually there:

A happy time. We're so blessed to be able to do this, to have this family of ours.

Onward then, and no looking back. We hit I-75 and followed it to the Sawgrass Expressway on over to the Turnpike and raced north. In only a few hours we were there and checked in at the Caribbean Beach Resort.

Odd thing though: they said the room was ready but when we got there, it seemed only half cleaned. Oh, sure, the beds were made and the towels seemed fresh but there was trash on the table and the tub hadn't been wiped out or the floor mopped. As if they had only gotten halfway through. Great. So I called the front desk and was put on hold, gave up after a few minutes and we all just hauled ourselves back down there. Not nearly apologetic enough - it seemed the interns were crewing the computers since it was a slow time of day and they seemed more concerned about the correct procedure in getting us into another room. They finally did but, boy, we weren't pleased with the service. The first time Disney has fallen down on their task.

I'll post pictures of the place later but already this is turning into a place we don't want to stay at again.

Anyways. . .

Out to The Magic Kingdom for what I swear this time will be the absolute last ride on Splash Mountain. The magic's still there:

We ran into some rain but we were prepared. The dark skies made the lights in the castle warm and inviting:

We saw an obviously newlywed couple pose here - they asked me to take their picture and I did - so we thought this was good enough for us. I don't know if it's new or not but it's something I can't recall coming across before. See? There's still lots to explore at The Magic Kingdom!

A final shot of the castle with more storm clouds looming but Emily brought her own sunshine:

The rain kept up, off and on through the evening until we went back to the room.

Okay, now we're REALLY through with the Magic Kingdom this year. Tomorrow it's on to Disney Studios.

Monday, June 16, 2008

June 16th, 2008 - Grandpop Pete and Nana's - 2nd Day

You don't have to look far for exotic wildlife in Florida. Exotic to us, anyway. Just take a wander out to the driveway and you'll see a white, bird thingy taking a casual stroll to somewhere:

Or go around back to the lake and catch a glimpse of an iguana. See it?

Look closer. There!

I tried to get even closer but he scurried off before I could.

These are just two of the animals we've seen on just this visit alone. Before, we've seen snakes, turtles, wild parakeets, assorted lizards, not to mention the fish we've caught in the lake. You used to hear alligators calling at night in the wetlands across the lake though Dad says you don't hear them much anymore. (Could be he doesn't get out at night like he used to, too.) You'll see a lot of Florida just looking out your back door.

An nice and easy day just enjoying the company.

Emily gave Nana some tips on Solitaire:

Dad and I got caught up on whatever we needed to get caught up on while Clara grabbed a quick glass of water:

The big event of the day was taking Grandpop Pete and Nana out for lunch at the Grand Lux Cafe at Sawgrass Mills. Great tine and great eats but no pictures. Sorry.

We got back to the house and Clara and I went back out to a nearby mall for a while. Back to the house to spend some more time together before we had to start gathering things together for starting the journey home tomorrow.

Another nice day, though. It's so good to be around the ones you love.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

June 15th, 2008 - Grandpop Pete and Nana's - 1st Day

Disney has it down to an art so that when we docked, we were hustled through breakfast and then down to the dis-embarkment line swiftly and without hassle. No pictures because no one was really in the mood - grumpiness abounded to be at the end of this leg of the journey. We got through customs - the officer turned out to be from Oklahoma and, as with all Okies, he was quite friendly and helped ease us back into the every day world of Florida.

Our porter got us to the car, which seemed in fine working order, I tipped him after he helped us load, and we were off. Over to I-95, and then south for about 3 hours to Ft Lauderdale. I missed the turnoff for I-595 so we had to double back and catch it the other way. On the overpass, we caught sight of a car crash - emergency vehicles were just arriving - and we gawked like everyone else. But coming from the opposite lanes of 595, someone else was gawking and lost control of their truck. We saw it roll over at least three times before coming to a stop. I'm not sure if anyone was harmed - it looked like it was entirely survivable - but the emergency vehicles would have another accident to clean up soon.

Thank goodness we were fine and we went our way to Grandpop Pete and Nana's without further incident.

Grandpop Pete was there to greet us when we arrived. Yay! Nana was out at church and was dropping by some place to bring us something for lunch. Great to see Grandpop Pete - he's had quite a year with his arrythmia and knee replacement surgery, and he was getting along pretty well. The girls were thrilled to see him and he was glad to see them, too.

Nana arrived with lunch from Doughboy's - pasta, ravioli, salad, garlic rolls - not as good as Grandpop Pete's but it'd do. Emily declared it the best evah! But first a huge welcome from Nana and hugs all around. Great to see her, too; she's holding up well looking after Grandpop Pete and she'd missed her granddaughters. The girls have missed them, too.

We ate, visited, took it easy:

No big plans. Just some family time, a time to get caught up and recharge our batteries and tell tales of the places we'd been and things we've seen and -

Oh. Sorry:

Shhhh. He needs his rest. Let's let him sleep awhile and we'll pick up things tomorrow.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

June 14th, 2008 - Castaway Cay

Today: Castaway Cay. (Hey, not bad on the alliteration front.) Nothing planned other than paddling around in the water and exploring the island. Lunch will be the highlight - something about eating outdoors just makes it better and we remember last year's offering as being extra yummy. Hope it'll be the same today.

When we awoke, we were already here:

Looks like it'll be a beautiful day. We made sure we were slathered well with sunscreen because last year we were a little lax and Clara and Rachel really paid the price.

Yep, just about postcard perfect:

Here's Emily wrangling her float:

Aaaand. . . that's about it for pictures at Castaway Cay. What the - ? Well, we kept the camera with our stuff all day and we just didn't get around to pulling it out and taking some pictures. You'll have to trust me: we had a fine time.

Disney doesn't waste any time getting back to sea. We re-boarded, showered, changed for dinner and Castaway Cay was already somewhere back on the horizon.

I'm always astonished, and pleased, at how blue the ocean is far from shore. You really can't get a sense of it, can you?

There's always time for bingo. This time we treated Emily to the electronic card:

She still didn't win. Oh, well. We had a good time, anyway. The bingo caller was very funny and really made the difference.

On to dinner. Animator's Palate tonight:

The room starts out in black and white and gradually turns to color as the courses progress:

No pictures of what I ate this time. Another fine meal, though.

Chronicles of Narnia was showing about 15 minutes earlier so back to the room to change and back to the theatre to give it another try. No good. Only made it a little later before the day caught up to us and we were nodding off. We had to get back to the room to make sure we were packed and ready to go anyway.

So, our little cruise comes to an end. We could stand another day or two but it's better to end wanting more than wanting less, I suppose. Still, it might be nice in the future to try something a little longer with more stops.

A wonderful time. And we're not done yet. Tomorrow: Grandpop Pete and Nana's! The adventure continues!

Friday, June 13, 2008

June 13th, 2008 - A Day with a Dolphin

We arrive in Nassau today and we have an encounter with dolphins scheduled at, well, Dolphin Encounters. We'd tried to book an excursion for just the girls, with Clara and me riding along as observers, but they required an adult to go along in the water and they didn't have three slots left. Yesterday, when we first got in the room, the excursion desk called and told Clara there were some slots available. So, we're on. But first -

Breakfast! We haven't quite docked at Nassau so we get to eat outside while we're still at see. This time I don't need written notes to tell you what I had:

Here's the Nassau harbor master's boat I told you about yesterday. You can't tell but it's not quite as nice as the Port Canaveral harbor master. Still, it's just as thrilling to watch 'em embark and disembark from the moving boat onto the moving ship. Too bad I didn't take a picture of that; that'd've been awesome!

Land ho! Our approach to Nassau.

Off we go, then. We gathered at the appointed spot on ship and then trekked out together as a group, down the gangplank, and lined up outside the ship.

A quick shot of Rachel and Emily while we're waiting to be picked up by the excursion crew:

Refugees? Hardly. Just more cruise folk heading out for their own excursions:

After a short ride out to the island, we're ready for our dolphin encounter. My, ain't we brave souls?

Say hello to our little friend:

A first for all of us: a dolphin sticks her tongue out at us:

Rachel's already mastered the intricacies of dolphin control.

We have more pictures and then we have the pictures taken by the staff that I can't post here since my scanner doesn't work. But it was an interesting encounter, something new for all of us. Emily was so thrilled she decided she'd like a pet dolphin next. She hasn't quite worked out the details of keeping one in Oklahoma but if anyone can figure out how, she can.

Coming back to the ship. It's about a 45 minute ride out to the island and back and I enjoyed getting a chance to just sit back and enjoy the family time and watch the boats and houses and the comings and goings of the people of the Bahamas. The dolphin encounter is just gravy.

Welcome Home, indeed! After a day with the dolphins, it's good to get back to the ship.

Tonight's dinner was in Triton's:

The service was fine but that didn't mean some of us weren't worried about getting fed. Ahem:

I should've written it down! Surely I didn't order, and surely they didn't serve, (Stop calling me Shirley!) plain ol' tomato soup. Whatever it was, it was delicious and I was a few bites into it before remembered to take a picture:

After dinner, it's back to the room to change back into our casual clothes. Tonight's towel sculpture: A monkey. With sunglasses.

Emily saw that The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian was playing at the theatre near midnight. We'd seen it a couple of weeks before but it's Emily's favorite movie so, well, why not see it again. We got to the theatre a little early:

Oh, don't worry, it got good and crowded by show time. We only made about 45 minutes of it before all of us kept dozing off. Well, it's showing a little earlier tomorrow night. We'll give it a try then. Off to bed for us but Rachel was still with the youth until the usual 2:00 in the ayem.