Friday, June 14, 2013

Florida (Part One)

Hey y'all! I'm back! As I mentioned not long ago, L and I embarked on a trip to Orlando, Florida two weeks ago. I had been anxious for the trip for months, so to finally go was suuuuuper exciting! Honestly, I'm not even sure where to begin, so I think I'll break the trip into two parts. We stayed in two different hotel while there (one 'vacation' hotel and one 'work' hotel since part of the trip was for L's work). There was quite a world of difference between the two experiences, so it makes sense to split it up. I'll start from the beginning....

First of all, I went to L's the Thursday night before our trip, and he made this lovely dinner for us. Looks (and is) kinda random, but it's fried chicken, gyosas, and rice with a spicy ranch sauce. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the store Trader Joe's, or if you're a fan of gyosas, but man, they have the BEST gyosas! L makes them to perfection, so that was a good way to start our vacation. Doesn't the picture just make you hungry?!

After dinner, we got all our stuff packed up. The deal was that we'd each bring a carry-on and then share one checked bag. L was traveling for work, so his work picked up the tab for the checked bag. That's why we shared it. I was really concerned about my ability to pack everything and to get L's stuff to fit in his half of the suitcase. It was a tight fit as you can see below, but we made it work. And we were 6 pounds under the maximum weight if you can believe it! :)

The next morning, L's friend Tou came over to have breakfast with us and to ultimately take us to the airport. L made a great meal of eggs, dirty rice, and chorizo. Seriously, I hate to brag, but this man can cook, and I feel so blessed to be treated to such deliciousness on a regular basis! We also decided it was appropriate to have a beer at 10:00am to celebrate the fact that we were truly on vacation. Don't judge us. ;)

Our flight was scheduled for about 2:30pm on Friday, 5/31. It sure was nice to have Tou be able to take us to the airport because then we didn't have to worry about a car and parking and all that jazz. We had a bit of time to kill in the airport, so we got a beer and a snack at the Great Dane in the airport, and that was nice. We also had something occur that I'd never experienced before. Originally, we were supposed to fly from Madison to Detroit, and then Detroit to Orlando. The weather was supposed to be a bit iffy that day, and I was worried that we wouldn't get out of Detroit with such a short layover time. Fortunately, we didn't have to worry about it. Why?! Because when we checked in, the airline attendant asked us if we'd be interested in or willing to take a slightly later flight in exchange for a voucher. In doing so, we'd be flying through Minneapolis instead, which made us more comfortable. Since we weren't in a rush and felt better about connecting through MN, we took the 'deal' and ended up with a $300 voucher to use on another flight. How cool is that?! We have a year to use it, so we're already trying to figure out where we want to go next. :) Anyway, the flights went really smoothly, thank goodness. Below is one of the cool pics I got from when we were flying. I love getting neat pics like this!

Once we arrived to the airport in FL, it was about 10:00pm (9:00pm WI time). We got a cab that took us from the airport to our hotel, and wowza, that was pricey! $60. Thankfully L can get reimbursed for that too. (Sadly, traveling the same distance in a cab in Milwaukee would have been way more expensive. Bleh.) The first hotel we stayed at was called the Blue Heron Beach Resort. I probably shouldn't call it a hotel, because that's not really what it is. Essentially, it's a bunch of condos that people own but rent out to guests. Many people choose it because it's only a mile or two from Disney, but it just worked out for us really well for a number of reasons. L was the one who tracked down the info to this place, and we were so happy with what we saw when we got to our room/apartment. The below photos give you a sense for our environment for the first three days of the trip. Go ahead, be jealous!

 Bedroom. There was a bathroom off to the right, but I didn't get a good picture.
 View we saw when we walked into the room. Bunks on right, second bathroom on left.
 Second bathroom.
 Livingroom area that leads to balcony.
 View of the pool from our balcony. Holy moly.

After our first sleep in the resort, L woke me up and said, "Hey, come check out the view!" When I looked, I couldn't believe my eyes. We had no clue the night before that there was a big lake beyond the pool area, so to see that along with the gorgeous sunshine was such an awesome surprise.With L's AAA hotel room rate, we were able to get our room for $87/night. Seriously, is that even possible?! At that price, we weren't sure what to expect, so seeing a view like this really helped solidify our love for the place.
Because we were staying in a condo, we had everything that comes standard in a full apartment. The night we got to FL, we walked across a very busy road to get to a Walgreens so that we could have a few things in the apartment. Essentially, we got breakfast food and booze. ;) Believe it or not, you could buy liquor and beer until 1:00am there! We got some Miller High Life and Straw-Ber-Itas. What more do you need?! Anyway, the below picture shows the yummy little breakfast L made for us. We got made fun of for eating potato chips for breakfast, but they were so good! Walgreens has its own brand of kettle chips, and the salt and vinegar ones are to die for! :)

After breakfast, we got dressed into our suits and walked around the property. They had a bunch of cool pathways that led you to the lake. It was interesting to me, because the first view looks like Florida, and the second view looks like up-north WI. Was kinda cool to see! The pathways weren't as long as we thought they would be, but it was still need to just walk and explore the area a teeny bit.

Here is a view of the two towers that make up the resort.

One of the coolest things about this was resort was that as long as your stuff wasn't in glass, you were allowed to bring your own drinks to the pool area. I feel like that's somewhat rare, at least at a resort type of location. We enjoyed a few drinks while we sat by the pool and just had a really nice time. There was also a tiki bar there, and we met a cool little lady named Linda. She is the sole person who staffs the tiki bar, and she had all sorts of stories to tell. I think she told us about every 5 minutes how cute we were. ;) We actually spent a good chunk of time down by her during our time at Blue Heron. She spoiled us a bit, and she was just fun.

 Tiki bar!
 Delicious drinks from the tiki bar! (Lava Flow and Pina Colada)
 I could have laid here all day if someone let me. ;)

Our first full night in Orlando, we decided to go out to dinner at a place across the road called Santa Fe. It was incredibly similar to Texas Roadhouse, even down to the butter they give you with the rolls. Yum! We each had a tasty meal (I'll admit, I wasn't as happy with mine as I'd hoped, but L got this stuff called Texas Sausage as part of his meal, and it was SO good!) We also were able to get a bucket of 5 beers for $10. Thought that was pretty good! Below are a couple pictures from our dinner out.

 Beautiful sunset when we returned from dinner!

The next day was another beautiful day. The weather was very hot and humid, so while I initially had a good hair day, that quickly changed. L made us another good breakfast, and then after breakfast, we went mini golfing right next door. We both did pretty terribly, but I DID win. :) By the time we got done golfing, we were ready for the pool again because it was so warm. I loved just being able to pop back and forth between our room and the pool so easily.

 At the golf course (above and below)
Unbeknownst to me, there are lizards roaming around everywhere in Florida. They were kinda cool!
 Cool view of a hot air balloon while we were waiting for the elevator!
Pretty view from my seat at the tiki bar!
After a dip in the pool.

That same evening, we were lucky enough to meet up with L's friend Shannon. He went to college with her and they still keep in touch. She works at Disney, and we had agreed to meet up with her one night. Little did we know that she'd end up taking us to Epcot, and for free! I never, ever would have expected that, and we probably would've gone either way. But it was really neat to spend time with her and to get into one of the Disney parks for free considering it costs like $100 a person. One of my favorite parts of Epcot was what's called the World Showcase. Essentially, there are little areas that are each built to represent a particular country. They had everything from England to France to Mexico to Japan and so on. It was very neat to walk through and see different cultural things and differences in buildings and such. It got pretty cloudy that day, but fortunately it didn't rain until the very end. Below are a few pictures from our adventures at Epcot!
 My whole life, I always wanted to see the Epcot "ball." So cool!!
 There was a place in Epcot where you could go in and try "Coke" from all different countries. I feel kinda silly for not knowing this, but what Coke tastes like to us is very different than what it tastes like in other countries, even though it's produced by the same company. I thought it was fascinating, and it was fun to try free samples of all the different ones!

We also went on this little 'ride' in Epcot that took us through this really cool building where they grow and maintain all their crops that are used in some of the restaurants there. They use fish poop (eeew;) as fertilizer and are able to sustain a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in the same building. L and I both found this incredibly fascinating, though he has seen this before. Take a look at a few photos from the ride and from the aquarium we peeked in afterwards.
 Lion Fish (above) and Seahorse (below).
 Take a good look inside the shark. See me?!?! :)
 I'm such a tourist. In my defense, this one was Shannon's idea. :P This was the start of our walk through the World Showcase. As you'd hopefully guess, that was in "Paris."

L and I got frozen beer in "Japan." I would have never known about it, but one of my colleagues told me about it. He and his family have been to a lot of the parks, and while he's never tried the frozen beer, he encouraged me to do so. It is apparently only made at Disney World, in Japan, and at some random place in California, so we figured we might as well give it a shot. It was very cool. Not even really sure how to describe it. That white stuff on top of the beer looks like foam or whipped cream or something, but it really IS frozen beer. It felt like I had to chug because the beer would start melting, and since the cup was overflowing, you had to stay on top of it. I really liked it, and L thought it was fantastic. If we ever go back, we will definitely get it again!

The Werther's Original store in "Germany."

 L and Shannon. Had to give L some crap for having shoes that match hers;).
 Each night, Disney does fireworks. Above is me and L waiting, and below are a few shots from the show.

Right before the fireworks started, it started to really thunder and lightning. I don't like storms, so as you might imagine, I was kinda freaking out like a little kid. Well, that's not even accurate, because the little kids all around us didn't even seem phased. ;) Anyway, thankfully, they always do the fireworks unless there is a major storm issue, so we were still able to watch. In the process, I got the above photo without even trying. I thought it was pretty cool! Right after the fireworks were over, we got poured on. That was a bit unfortunate, but we were lucky it held off until then!
The Epcot "ball" at night. Cool!

After Epcot, Shannon brought us back to our hotel and we just hung out a bit before going to bed. That was our last night at Blue Heron, so we were kinda bummed. Of course you never know what to expect when going to a hotel in a major city, but we were so pleasantly surprised with this place that we didn't want to leave. Not to mention, L and I are pretty simple creatures, and the thought of switching over to this HUGE chain conference hotel was unappealing to us from the start. We got all our things together that last morning and made the trek over to the new hotel. As mentioned at the beginning of this entry, this is where the first journey ends. I have lots to say about our experience at the second hotel, so I figured I'd keep you in suspense for a bit. ;) I think you'll find the second half of this story to be very interesting.......

Goodbye, Blue Heron!


rlzimmerman said...

What an awesome vacation! Love the pictures and can't wait for part 2!

Casey Smith said...

Looks like SO much fun Nae! So glad you got to go! And awesome that you got that $300 comp from the airline! Can't wait to hear what you settle on for your next destination/vacation!:)

Courtney Smith said...

LOVE the hotel. and all the photos so far... cannot *wait* to spend some time in a pool or at the beach in Florida!!!

Renee said...

Thanks ladies!! It was truly an amazing place, and we are really excited as we think about our next possible destination! :) Court, I hope you guys all have a great time when you go. Fingers crossed for no rain, as I'm told it's their rainy season now, eeek!