markbernstein (markbernstein) wrote,

Back from vacation

Ever have a week where just about everything went right? We just did.

When we drove to the airport Friday morning, there was an accident causing a miles-long backup on the freeway. Lucky for us, it was in the opposite direction, and didn't slow us down at all. The whole day was like that. We made it to the airport in plenty of time, had a short wait to check our bags, and sped through security (have I mentioned lately how much I love TSA Pre-Check?). Our flight pulled away from the gate five minutes early and landed fifteen minutes early. When we landed, I had an email waiting saying our car was ready. When I reserved with Enterprise they had a sale on renting full-size cars, so we picked a Nissan Altima, a most comfortable ride.

We stayed at Lakeshore Reserve, a Marriott timeshare resort. These resorts never guarantee the availability of a room before 4 PM, so it was a surprise to have our condo, a 1-BR, ready for us when we arrived at 1:30. Which gave us plenty of time to settle in, have lunch at the poolside grill, then go grocery shopping. I fell asleep from 4 to 7, so Sharon made herself a snack from the groceries, and I ordered a very good pizza from the on-site convenience store. Lakeshore Reserve has a gigantic pool and two good hot tubs, which accounted for another part of my evening. (I only visited the pool a couple of times, mostly because I was tired from other things and feeling a little lazy. There was one time I tried to go, but the pool was closed because there had been reports of lightning only 1.5 miles away.)

Let me tell you about the biggest bargain we've ever found in the Orlando area. Saturday morning, we drove about 25 minutes to a small town called Winter Park, to visit the Charles Hosner Morse Museum of American Art. While there were a number of fine pieces (you know that Maxfield Parrish painting of the nude youth on the swing? They have the original.), the Morse Museum's primary claim to fame is their extensive and beautiful collection of Tiffany glass. It's a mid-sized museum - we covered it completely in less than two hours - but well worth seeing. And the cost? $5.00 for seniors. (I believe the regular adult rate is $6.00.)

A short walk from the museum, we found a number of nice restaurants, and opted for a Turkish place called Bosphorus. Sharon had the braised lamb shank (a house speciality), while I ordered the lamb kofte, a mix of ground lamb and ground veal. We also had house-baked lavash, hummus, and an excellent red lentil soup. Everything was delicious. As we expected, we took home enough leftovers for an entire other dinner.

Afterwards, we shopped at a chocolate shop and a French bakery. Good quality in both cases.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing, and eating leftovers for dinner.

I see I haven't mentioned before now that we planned this to be a mostly non-Disney vacation, since we've both been to DW before. Looking around online for other things to do, I found a deal for tickets to the I-360 complex on International Drive. Our tickets included ICON-360 (a 400-foot-tall Ferris wheel, recently renamed from The Orlando Eye), the local Madame Tussaud's, and an aquarium. It was raining when we went up in the ICON, and the views weren't all that great anyway, but there was enough fun in each of the three stops for us to feel that the whole thing was worth the price. We also paid extra to visit SKELETONS!: The Museum of Osteology, which has over 500 skeletons of various animals on display. That was the most interesting stop of the day.

Afternoon and evening were, once again, for taking it easy. Pacing ourselves was an important part of making the whole vacation enjoyable.

Monday morning, we did another half-hour drive, this time to the Harry P. Leu Botanical Gardens. It was beautiful and inexpensive, a good way to spend half a day.

That evening was our big splurge of the week. We had dinner at Victoria and Albert's, at Disney's Grand Floridian hotel. If you're not familiar with the name, here's a quick introduction. It's a Victorian-themed, elegant dining room that serves a choice of fixed-price tasting menus. It's the #1-rated restaurant in Orlando on both Tripadvisor and Zagat, with a Zagat rating of 4.8 out of 5 in food, service, and ambiance. It's rated five diamonds by AAA and five stars by Forbes, and probably the only reason it doesn't have at least one Michelin star is that Michelin hasn't come to Florida yet.

A week before the reservation, they called us to review Sharon's food allergies (primarily soy and milk). When we got there, we were presented with personal menus, with Sharon's customized to avoid allergens.

We went in saying this was a once-in-a-lifetime splurge, and ordered the least expensive option, the seven course menu. By the third course, we were both saying that we might go back someday to try the ten-course option. Every course (amuse bouche, fish, one-I'm-forgetting, quail, beef, sorbet, dessert) was utterly amazing.

Sharon's main objective for this trip was to take me to Sea World, as she'd been there but I hadn't. I'm glad she did. It was hot, and humid, and she developed pain in her ankle, and we were both completely worn out by about 3, but we had a great time. Best, of course, were the dolphin show and the orca show. It's a fine alternative if, like us, you feel like you've seen most of Disney. I even managed to get a couple of great pictures of dolphins and orcas in mid-leap.

While there was on-and-off rain all week, Wednesday was the only day of consistent, heavy rain. Which was perfect for us, as we were both still worn out from Tuesday's Sea World visit. The only time we went out, I opened my Movie Pass app (have I mentioned lately how much I love living in the 21st century?), and found a theater near us that was showing "Solo". We both liked it, though neither of us would call it great.

Well, I did say mostly non-Disney. The one new thing I wanted to see was the Pandora area at the Animal Kingdom. My one big mistake in planning this trip was forgetting that you can now get Fast Passes online. So by the time we went on Thursday, there were no FPs available for the two Pandora rides. We got the park half an hour before opening and went straight to the most popular ride, Flight of Passage. When we reached the end of the line, I asked the cast member there for an estimate, and he said 90 minutes. He was just a little too conservative - we waited about 70 minutes. And it was worth it. They've taken simulator rides to a new level, thanks to VR goggles that surround you with video, and a perfect coordination between the video and the motion of the ride. I've read that lines have gotten as long as 6 hours, which I wouldn't do for any ride, but . . . wow. (The best t-shirt I saw all day was on a grey-bearded gentleman. It said "I grew this beard waiting for Flight of Passage".)

After that, we waited another 90 minutes for the Na'vi River Ride. It's a slow boat ride ("It's an Alien World"?) with great effects and the single most advanced animatronic I've ever seen, but I can't say it was worth that much wait. Close, though.

The only other thing we did that day (once again, it was very hot and humid, so we only lasted until mid-afternoon) was see "Finding Nemo: The Musical". Very kid-friendly, and the songs weren't especially memorable, but well-performed and fun.

Check out time was 10 AM Friday, and our flight wasn't until 4:15. So we had breakfast, loaded the car, checked out, and then sat in the air-conditioned lobby reading for a couple of hours. We got to the airport early, sped through bag check and security again, had lunch at Bahama Breeze, and sat at the gate until boarding. The only issue all day was a 20-minute delay circling Detroit until a storm cleared.

And now we're home. Sharon spent yesterday working in the yard. I've been catching up on stuff online, and went grocery shopping. It's all good. :)

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