This entry is a little late – I have already been in Jeonju, Korea for 11 days now! (Wow.)
Nonetheless, I still hope to capture some great memories from the Florida Road Trip in this entry. 😀
Saturday, June 30, Jesse, Craig, and I started our road trip down to Florida.
The morning of the 30th was quite a busy day for me. Early in the morning, I headed down to the post office so that I could receive my NOA (Notice of Appointment) for my position with the public schools in Korea (!!). Then, I was to meet with book club for one last time.
After book club, Jesse and I had to quickly pack so that we could meet Craig in St. Joseph, MI. Check in for our hotel in Orlando for 4pm was not until the next day, July 1st.
After going through a few lectures from Craig’s father, we were on our way. The drive was long between the two of us driving (Craig and me – Jesse does not have a driver’s license).
Seventeen hours later, an hour away from our hotel, we stumbled upon an antique mall.
I do not recall any of us buying anything there (after all, our trip just started). I think we figured we could always do it on our way back. We did, however, eat at the little cafe.
Anyway, an hour later, we checked into our hotel, the Best Western Plus Gateway Hotel. For the $51 Hotwire price it was not a bad deal (normally it costs $100+ to stay there). The hotel offered a free shuttle to Universal Studios – which is a deal in and of itself since parking at the parks costs $17 a day. My only issues with the hotel were these:
1.) When we arrived, the clerk told me that there was a $3.50 fee/day for the use of the free amenities like the internet, the pool, etc. Those were her words. Granted, $3.50 is not much, but do not word it like that!
2.) Never have I been to a hotel with no cable. There was a huge 50″ + television in the room with only about 10 channels (ESPN, Discovery… and infomercials?). It was geared for people who wanted to use Pay-Per-View. Although we did not bring any kind of gaming system, we noticed that all of the ports were blocked so that one would be forced to rent a game (again – it was geared towards a pay-per-play/view type crowd). There was a controller hooked up to the television.
3.) There were two water bottles in the room. $2.99 each. To gain perspective, we were staying there because it was close to Universal Studios. It is supposed to be expensive to eat at Universal Studios. I am fairly sure it cost $1.99 to get a nice large soda/tea at a restaurant*.
*I should note here that if you ever plan to go to Universal Studios, the drinks that the vendors sell in the stalls along the walkways are more expensive than going into a restaurant and buying a drink. The same drink I mentioned that cost me $1.99 at the restaurant would cost almost $4 at a vendor stall.
4.) The “business center” – the little room that had two computers did not allow a visitor to download any attachments. Or do anything outside of using the internet. I found this out because I wanted to print additional copies of some forms from the Korean Consulate. I highly doubt business men would find any use for this computer center. (For one, a business man would already have a laptop that he could use to browse the internet, and/or use his smartphone to check his e-mail.)
5.) I thought the All You Can Eat breakfast (~9.95) was lukewarm at times. However, Jesse and Craig did not notice and feasted..
Other than feeling like I was being nickel and dimed all of the time, our stay at the hotel was nice. But not as nice as other deals I have experienced with Hotwire.
Our first day, actually out and about, started with me stopping by the UPS office (at the Hilton) to mail out my passport and visa application. I had a frustrating moment with the UPS clerk – she seemed not to understand the concept of inserting a “self-addressed prepaid envelope”. I was mailing out my passport and visa application to the Korean Consulate in Chicago and it was imperative that my passport get mailed back to me! It did not help that later on I got e-mails saying my order was cancelled, etc. Though it did all work out in the end.
Because it took so long with the UPS clerk (combined with Craig having to deal with his insurance agent) we missed the shuttle to Universal by probably 30 seconds. However, we were able to take a cab for $7. By this time, it was already 9am. Though we did not mind (most people get there before 8am, sometimes 7am) since we all had Express Passes for both days! No lines baby!
When we arrived at the Islands of Adventure, I realized that I forgot my Express Pass at the hotel.
I went into a deep [though temporary] depression – we were able to get brand new Express Passes at Guest Services. 😀
The surprise Great Ride of the day turned out to be The Amazing Spiderman. It was so different – so unique compared to the typical roller coaster. We wore 3D glasses, and rode around in our little buggy (not a kiddy ride). What made it so cool was that when a villain shot fire at us, there was fire, and it was hot. There were actually a few times I looked down away from the glasses!
At the end of the day, we realized that we only took photos of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWH).
I feel that, with an update similar to The Amazing Spiderman*, The Forbidden Journey (the main attraction) in the WWH would, hands down, be the best ride at the Islands of Adventure.
*The Amazing Spiderman received updates in March of this year. Those updates were phenooooooomenal.
The second and last full day in Orlando, we visited Universal Studios. I admit, I looked forward to Universal Studios probably more so than the Islands of Adventure merely because I was not sure what to expect.
The grand prize/hidden gems at Universal Studios are:
The Mummy ride and…
The Horror Make-up Show. Really. It was hilarious. No spoilers here.
The Mummy was great because of that element of surprise. When the ride first starts, there’s some corny animatronic mummies that talk to you that make you think that it is going to be a corny, non-updated Disney ride of some sort.
Then suddenly, the lights go out, you “fall backwards” (it’s a roller coaster), and the real ride begins after you zoom into fog… then fire…
It is the type of ride you want to do over and over again.
All in all, the express passes made both days at Universal phenomenal. We were out of each park each day within five hours. The few rides that did not allow express passes (The Forbidden Journey at Harry Potter, and the Rip Rocket) have “single riders” lines. If you do not mind your party riding individually on the ride, the wait is only a 4th of the wait for those who want to ride as a group. And, depending one’s luck, one may end up riding with one’s friend or significant other anyway. For example, Jesse and I ended up riding the Rip Rocket together despite entering through the single rider line. (The purpose of the single rider line is just to fill in any gaps caused by groups wanting to be together on a ride, so it does not necessarily mean that ride operators shuffle the single riders single-y.)
We opted not to buy the meal plans, because knowing us, we would end up wanting to eat at other restaurants not included in the meal plans. And then we would not eat at those places because we would not want to waste our meal plans. First world problems. The one place we did eat turned out to be – gasp – normal priced. For example, Jesse and I got a meal (croissant and soup), plus two drinks (large), and a muffin. All for less than $20.
At the end of this day, we realized we forgot to go on E.T.
We drove to Miami, Fl to stay with Craig’s mom, who was to permanently leave for Guatamala in just a few weeks. We did nothing on July 4th except drive,
and go on an unsuccessful hunt for Howl’s Moving Castle.
We visited the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, Fl.
There, Craig climbed all of the banyan trees he could find.
That night, we found Howl’s Moving Castle and reflected on how good looking Christian Bale is as a cartoon character. Then we stopped by Little Havana for Cuban food, and a nice walk to a showing of Putin’s Kiss.
Actually, we didn’t go to see Putin’s Kiss. But only because we hope that Putin will track us and, with his bare hands, hold us down…
We went to John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo, Fl to ride on a glass bottom boat tour. The glass bottom part was completely overrated. This is mainly due to the fact that the entire purpose of a glass bottom boat is to be able to see the marine life – marine life through cloudy water, viewed from a downward angle. One might as well go to the local grocery store and watch the lobster in the tank. At least then, we can see the lobsters up close.
However, the actual ride out in the choppy storm was entirely worth it.
July 8 – July 9
We drove back home to Michigan. We visited a random Antique Mall in Tennessee and I was able to acquire a nice suede [laptop] bag. I am sure it was not intended for laptops. Anyway, there, I used one of my favorite public bathrooms ever.
When we finally reached home, I was filled with sadness, stress, and excitement. Mostly just sadness and stress. I was to leave for Korea in one week.