Sunday, June 16, 2013

Florida (Part Two)

In case you were hanging there in suspense (which I doubt, because you probably haven't even read the first Florida post yet;), I thought I'd finish out my story regarding our trip to Orlando! As mentioned, we stayed at an awesome place for the first part of our trip, and we loved pretty much everything about it. The apartment-style rooms were awesome, the hotel's proximity to stores and restaurants was perfect for not having a car, and the pool area was just right for our needs. You can read all about that experience in detail in the previous post. So now, it's time to pick up where I left off, and that was when we left Blue Heron to head to the big hotel where L's conference was at. Here goes!

You may or may not know this, but L and I both work in the same profession (Career Services), just at different institutions. In the higher ed world, there is a national conference for just about every area including, advising, career services, housing, etc. The conference L was going to is called NACE, which is the national conference for career services peeps. Unfortunately, my work isn't that supportive of professional development, so none of the people from my office could go to the conference. Booo. So, I did the next best thing and went along to FL for a vacation! :) The conference was hosted at the Orlando Marriott World Center, which is where we stayed for the second part of our trip. Perhaps we're abnormal or something, but this hotel didn't appeal to us before we even got there. If you go to the hotel website, you'll see a picture of how gigantic the hotel is. That alone is unappealing. Not to mention, it seems any time you go to a 'fancy' hotel, it ends up being a let down where you pay three times as much for something that isn't even that special. Anywayyyyyy... Didn't so much have a right to complain since L's work picked up the entire tab (definite plus!), but you'll soon see why this wasn't the most enjoyable experience we've ever had. Below are a few pics from when we first got to the hotel, and then I'll continue on with the rest of our adventure.

 Walking into the room.
 Cool full-length mirror.
L checking out the view.
 Cool view from the balcony!
 Hanging out by the balcony.

Okay, so we'll start with our arrival. We took a cab from our first hotel to the second hotel. They were pretty dang close to each other, so that was good. There were people outside to help us with our bags, and we went into the lobby which was huge and nice. We got there around 11:30am, and check-in isn't supposed to be until 4:00pm. Fortunately, they were very accommodating and were able to find us a room. We wanted a king bed room, but to get in right away, we just took a room with double beds. We also had the option of a higher or lower floor, so we took a higher floor option in order to have a cool view of the Disney fireworks at night. We went upstairs, and the above photos give you an indication that it was a pretty nice place. They offered us a mini fridge at no charge (which we didn't think we'd get), so that was exciting. L and I wanted to bring food for me so I didn't have to go out to eat for every meal, but we didn't bring much because we didn't think we'd have the option. Kind of a bummer. After we checked out the room, we decided to go check out the pool area and the little pond on the premises (pictures below).

 Beautiful pool area!
 Neat gazebo-type area that L took me to to look at turtles and fishies!
 I'm tellin' ya, those lizards are everywhere!
 Enjoying a few drinks at the pool bar.
 Another view of the pool.
L taking a dip in the pool! I joined right after. :) The first day we were there was the best day for swimming the whole time we were at that hotel. Otherwise, it was pretty overcast and rainy, so I'm glad we took advantage of the opportunity to swim while we could!

Alright... Now, everything seems good so far, right? It was, but let me bring you into our reality... After the first day in the hotel, things started to go downhill. That first night, we ordered in pizza from Papa John's so that I'd have some leftovers to eat for the next day or two. As we were eating, L noticed that there were quite a few ants by the balcony door, inside our room. Ick! He knows more about bugs than I do, but even "I" know that there's something very weird/wrong about finding a colony of ants on the top (19th!) floor of a hotel. We called the front desk, and to their credit, they sent a guy up with some spray pretty quickly. Unfortunately, it wasn't residual spray, which means it only killed the ants if they were sprayed directly. After the guy left, it only took about 5-10 minutes for L to notice that there seemed to be significantly more ants, almost as if the spray brought them to the surface. We called them again, and the same guy came back. We asked if he had a stronger spray (i.e., Raid), but he said they couldn't use that because of the smell. He told us he'd have the actual company come the next day and spray our room. We got a call from the front desk that night to see when we wanted the company to come since we'd have to leave the room for it. We told them a time, but sadly, no one ever showed. We decided not to complain or inquire because the ants seemed to be under control. In the meantime, since L's conference wasn't really in full swing, we spent the day hanging out by the pool bar, chatting with the bartenders, enjoying a few brews, etc. We also went out for sushi in one of the hotel restaurants. I'll be real, I don't eat sushi that much, but I was not overly impressed. It was clearly pre-made, and while I know grocery store sushi can sometimes be a treat, that's not what we wanted at a pricey restaurant. Oh well. That's what you get when you travel to a resort in Florida. Below are a few pics from that day.

 Not much of a maxi dress wearer, but I've kinda gotten into 'em lately. Here's one I sported on the trip!
 I made L take a pic with the Bud Light lime because the color matched him. :)
The bartender was nice enough to take a pic of us.
 He has the habit of making crazy faces, and he finalllllllly allowed me to capture him on film. ;)
 Eating at the sushi restaurant!

Overall, it was a pretty fun day. Not gonna lie, we both got a little tipsy! ;) The weather was still pretty nice (very warm), we had some friendly service at the pool bar, and it was nice to enjoy another day of 'just us.' I was sad that he had to work at that hotel because I felt like it was less exciting and more expensive, which is never a good combo! Not to mention, the weather was shittier, so it just was a downer.

On our third day at the new hotel (Wednesday), I kind of just hung around while L did some conference stuff. I went down and got myself a bloody mary at the pool bar, but the weather was pretty icky, so I spent some time in the room. L was able to sneak back to the room a few times in between sessions, so we just kinda hung out during his downtime because that's what I wanted to do most. :) That night, he had a social to go to until about 7:00, and then his friend Natasha from high school came to pick us up at the hotel. He literally hasn't seen her since they graduated, but she saw via Facebook that he was in Florida, so she messaged him and the rest is history. We weren't even sure what it'd be like, because it's been 13 years since they graduated, and they weren't super close in high school. Would she be nice? Would she be super awkward? Ha! Fortunately for us, she was totally awesome. That should be indicated by the fact that she drove all the way up from Tampa to pick us up from the hotel and take us out. Aside from seeing her, it was also really great because we really had no opportunity to leave the hotel without a car. It's this HUGE resort, so they kind of intentionally trap you. Even if we had had our own car or a rental car, we would have paid like $20/day to park there. For that reason, I'm glad we didn't drive, but for the fact that we were literally trapped at the resort, it would have been nice to be able to get out on our own. Natasha ended up taking us to this really awesome place called Cafe Tu Tu Tango. It is a tapas-sytle restaurant, which I've never been to, so that was fun. I also really liked it because there was artwork all over the place from local artists, and there were even real artists doing paintings while we were there. If that wasn't enough, they have live entertainment each night, and on the night we went, it happened to be a belly dancer. She was so cool! I took a lot of photos, but sadly, I couldn't get the lighting to quite work because it was very dark in there. I even mentioned when we got there that my dad would hate the place for how dark it was. ;) Anyway, the food was really great and the atmosphere was awesome. If I ever go back to Orlando, I'll for sure be going there again! After dinner, we went to Universal Studios because they don't charge admission after 7:00. We had a drink at Margaritaville and just chatted awhile before Natasha took us back to the hotel. She was just so super sweet and we had a great time with her. I can't thank her enough for getting us out of there for a bit!

 Some of the decor inside the restaurant.
 Enjoying my white sangria and flautas!
 L looking all sexy with his wine. ;)
 The belly dancer!
 Love this pic! Only wish the lighting were better.
 Natasha doesn't eat dairy, so I got the ice cream part of her dessert. Yum!!
 One of the cool paintings at the restaurant.
 Once we got to Universal, we (or should I say "I") couldn't resist photos on the surfboard! :)
 Natasha got in on the fun too!

By the time we got back to the hotel that night, it was about midnight or a little after. We started to get our stuff together for the night, and all of a sudden L noticed an ant on the bed closer to the balcony. Fortunately, that's not where we were sleeping! Then I looked down, and I saw a couple ants in our suitcase. Oh HELL no! It's one thing if they stay close to the door, but when they start getting in our shit, I am DONE. Then L came over and noticed a swarm of them by the little end table between the two beds. I'm not talking a few ants, folks. I'm talking like 20-30 of them just swarming around our stuff. I was so grossed out. We called the front desk, and they offered to put us in a different room, so we happily took that option. They gave us that option initially, but we were reluctant to give up our room too quickly because the view was so great. I was finally at a point where I didn't give a shit about the view if it meant a cleaner, less disgusting room that had no ants. As you might imagine, we had stuff everywhere, so we essentially had to repack. Super annoying. We waited about 15 minutes and a guy came up to help us move. Now, the way the hotel is set up, there are multiple towers, and while the whole hotel is connected, it literally takes about 15 minutes to get from one side to the next. Go figure, we had to move from the north tower to the east tower, which was quite a hike, especially at 1:00am. When the guy came, I just let him know that the ants were really concentrated between the two beds, and his response was, "Oh, I didn't even know what the problem was. They don't tell us; they just tell us it's a room change." I told him it would be wise to pass the information along. He said he would, but who knows if he did or not. When we finally got to our new room, we were quite disappointed. Our view was facing the backside of the hotel, right above a bunch of fans that made a lot of noise. Really? You take us out of an awesome room for something that is YOUR problem, and your solution is to put us in a shitty room in a completely different tower with no offer for anything to make up for our troubles?! NOT a way to win me back as a customer, that's for damn sure. Regardless, we got ready for bed, and as I was sitting there, I jumped, because I got bit by an f'ing ant that had been in my pajamas. Seriously? I don't think it'd be much of a surprise to you that I didn't sleep well that night. Man, what a shit show. We did lie down for bed eventually, and then L had to get up really early for conference stuff. That's exactly what we wanna be dealing with late at night when he has to be up at the crack of dawn. Ugh. One of the most interesting things about the whole situation is that while they always responded quickly, the staff seemed to be very robotic. We often got, "We're very sorry for the inconvenience...." but there was no one that really seemed to CARE. And as L kept saying, "Ants are a big deal!!!" I agree. They don't really get transported in by people because they'll eventually die without their colony, so clearly there is something that is keeping them there if they're on the top friggin' floor of the hotel, and I don't even want to know what it is.... I only hope they didn't throw someone into that room the second we left it...

Thursday (our last full day) was a pretty boring day. It was probably L's biggest day at the conference, and I couldn't do much of anything because it rained like a biatch. See the video below. There was a tropical storm coming in, so it took away my ability to do the one thing I enjoyed at the hotel, which was to go down and swim. Nowhere does the website say anything about an indoor pool, so I was under the assumption they didn't have one. Apparently they do, but I didn't find out until after we left. L did have a nice break in the afternoon, so we hung out in the room and watched a movie, but I must admit, I was quite restless. If I wanted to be trapped in a hotel room to watch movies, I could have just stayed at my apartment, you know? I think I was also just pissy because of the whole ant disaster and not feeling like they really gave a shit about us. Typical chain hotel.

Listen to it rain! (It was worse than it looks/sounds.)

Same view, less than an hour apart. Thankfully it cleared up a bit!

Because Thursday was our last full day, we decided that we'd do a nice dinner in the hotel. There is an Italian place we wanted to try, but when we went there, they told us they only took reservations, so it'd be a 3-hour wait. What?! Their website allows you to make reservations, but it doesn't say you HAVE to. I think maybe it was just a busier night, but even still, I was kinda pissed. Right next door to it in the hotel was a sports bar, so we decided we'd try that. Same f'ing thing. How do you you not have places for people in a sports bar?! The only thing they could offer us was a communal high top with strangers. Yeah, we really want to sit at a table with strangers on our nice dinner out. We opted out of that as well. What a nightmare. We could have done sushi again, but we felt it was overpriced and under quality, and since the only other option was a super pricey steakhouse, we decided to eat out at the pool bar/restaurant again. They have good food, but their menu is very small. And because every other place apparently need reservations, it was packed. They have a bunch of tables, but they were all full, so L and I had to sit at their bar-style seating facing the pool that's open to the outdoors. Since that was the only available seating there was, we had to sit there getting somewhat rained on in the cold. Real pleasant. I've gotta say, for a freakin' hotel that has 2,000+ rooms, having only 5 real restaurant options is absurd. L's conference didn't provide dinner, so there were hundreds and hundreds of people trying to eat at their extremely limited selection of restaurants. Pretty pathetic in my opinion. Anyway, we ordered our food (seen below), and it was great, but sadly, our service was terrible. The food came out decently fast given how busy it was, but once we got it, it's like we were invisible. They were clearly understaffed, but we were very low maintenance as usual, and we got blatantly ignored. The guy who was our original server didn't even bring out our food, which I can understand, but that doesn't mean that you don't come check on us. We finished our food and sat there with empty drink cups for over 30 minutes until the guy who brought us our food (again, not our original server) came by and we flagged him down for our check. Meanwhile, our original server passed us at least 3-4 times, never looked at us, and never asked us if we needed anything else. We did want to just leave, but what if we had wanted another drink or something?! We waited probably another 15 minutes after we asked for our check to actually get the check, and our actual server brought it out. Rather than saying anything, he threw it in front of us and walked away. No, "Sorry for the long wait, guys," or "Is there anything else I can get you?" Nothing. I was appalled. VERY rarely do I not leave a tip. Actually, I've only done it once in my life. However, this guy and the overall service was just so bad that we could justify a very small (under 50 cent) tip. I am an understanding person. I was a server. I know what it's like for things to be stressful, especially when you're busy and you're understaffed. However, I never see that as a justifiable excuse for terrible service. Jerk. They're lucky the food was good, or I would've gone ape shit. ;) (And if I'm being totally honest, I got the nachos earlier in the week too, and they were better the first time. The second time, the cheese was a bit thicker as if they didn't have it melted enough. I think I'm just being critical because I was pissed about the experience in general, but just kinda funny how it all went down.)

 Nachos (above) and Fish Tacos (below).
L had enough sense to ask a bit more about the fish tacos before ordering them, and when he asked, we found out that the fish was actually raw. He's a big raw fish fan (hello, sushi), so that was great. However, they said nothing about it in their menu, and all I kept thinking was, "Don't you think people would want to know that the fish is raw?!" I know more people in my life than not who would be grossed out by that, so it seemed very odd to me that they didn't mention that at all in the menu. Yet another strike. ;)
 Trying to look happy at dinner. ;)

After that whole mess, we were just happy to have a good night's sleep before we left Florida. We were able to sleep in the next day, so that was great. We had to check out of the hotel by 11:00, so we packed a bit the night before and just took our time in the morning. Based on what I heard about the weather, it wasn't supposed to be nice out. We were even worried about our ability to get out FL, but when I opened the curtains, much to my surprise, it was beautiful. Not gonna lie, it almost crushed me. The whole time, I felt stuck in this rather miserable hotel, not even able to enjoy the pool, and then on the day we had to leave, it turns into a beautiful day. I'm not sure what got into me, but on a whim, I decided that I wanted to go for one last dip in the pool. Couldn't convince L to go with me, so I threw on my suit and ran down. Dunked for about 15 minutes, sat out on a chair for a bit, and headed back up to get ready to go. It was refreshing to be able to do that. Just sad we couldn't have stayed longer, especially since we had a LONG wait in the airport. Oh well. Took advantage while I could!

 View from my pool chair on the last day!
 Another view from one part of the hotel.
 As I mentioned, the noise that we could hear in our second room was LOUD. Thought I'd take a video to show you just the shit we were dealing with in this place. Ha. Oh, and to make matters worse, you see those two tall towers in the distance as I scan to the right? That's our old hotel. All we kept saying was, "Man, I wish we were back there..."
 We brought a few beers over from our first hotel, so we took our last few minutes in the room to enjoy the last two and soak in the beautiful day. Was nice to have that moment together!
Hanging out in the airport! We got there around 11:30 and didn't fly out until 6:00, so it was a long time in the airport. Fortunately, we are good at keeping each other company. We also had Yahtzee on my phone to keep us entertained. Oh, and there's also the fact that we ate lunch AND dinner in the airport, ha! Good times. While I really liked Florida, and overall had a great experience, I was ready to leave that second hotel. Fortunately, all our flights (both to and from Florida) went very smoothly. No real issues. I did have problems on the way back. My ears were giving me troubles, and I was also having a major sinus issue. I don't know how to describe it, but it felt as if a vein in my forehead above my left eye was seriously exploding every time the pressure changed. I know it sounds dramatic, and that's not what was actually happening, but it was so painful. I cried. :-/ L was very supportive, despite not being able to do much for me. It was just nice to get on the ground again, even though it didn't fully go away until later the next day. It also weirdly made my nose run, so something was very clearly going on inside my head during our flights back. Sucky, and I hope I never have to experience that again.

We got back to L's place around 10:30pm, and his friend Tou hung out with us for awhile since he picked us up. I eventually went up to bed because L and I had agreed to get up super early and go to the Dane County farm breakfast with some of his family. There are a few pictures below from that. It was fun!

 L's first farm breakfast experience!:)
After the breakfast, we came back started prepping for dinner. L's sister T came over that afternoon and had dinner with us and watched a movie. She wasn't planning on it, but she ended up staying over that night because we watched a few movies and had a few too many drinks. ;)

 L and his family make this wonderful creation called pepper dip. Essentially, it consists of Thai peppers, cilantro, green onion, garlic, line, and fish sauce. It's gotta be the right mix (as my mama found out the hard way;), but it is so fantastic. It goes really well with a lot of stuff, especially pork and chicken. A warning for the weak: It is quite spicy, so be careful if you ever get a chance to eat it!
 Frog legs! Ever had 'em? Tasty!
The full meal. Seriously, this man can cook!! I am way too lucky. I must say, it was so nice to have a couple days back in Madison after the trip to just unwind and recharge. As usual, it was so hard to leave to come back to work. I typically stay over on Sunday nights and then get up pretty early on Monday to leave straight for work. It ain't always easy, but it's so worth it for a few extra hours with my babe. :) 

Anyway, thanks for hanging along with me as I finished sharing about our trip! Clearly it became quite an adventure at the second hotel. I'm sure glad we didn't pay for it because you're damn right I would have been demanding a refund, at least for the night we had to move (after 3 calls to them regarding the damn ants)! Pretty bogus. Let's just say I will not willingly be staying there again any time soon. ;) L and I are actually considering going back to Orlando again and staying in the place we stayed the first few nights. It was a perfect experience for us, and since we have our vouchers, it could totally work out. We are also toying with the idea of a couple other travel options (Hawaii, Alaska, New Orleans, and Boston, to name a few), but we're just kinda looking at ticket prices and seeing what will happen. We don't even know when we'd go, but likely sometime within the next year so we can actually make use of the vouchers! I'll keep you posted if any plans get made. Until then, I'll just dream away. :) Now the summer is gonna fly, so I hope I am able to actually enjoy some of it! I'll do my best to keep you up to speed on my adventures over the next few months, but for now, it's bed time so I can start another week. Night y'all!


Casey Smith said...

EWWWWW about the ants and that shitty hotel! I appreciate the review and will NOT everrrrr be going there! See if you can put a review up on TripAdvisor or something to warn others!
Also, LOVE the photos. Love all the fun you guys did have! Just a bummer it didn't end on a super high note, like it started.
ALSO. Love your travel destination ideas! Hawaii, New Orleans AND Boston are some of my hopes for the future too:) AND another trip to Brooklyn:) I can't wait to hear what you decide:):)

Courtney Smith said...

I despise over-priced and under-delivering hotels. and ANTS... seriously! that's a bit ridiculous. Like Casey said, huge bummer the trip ended so poorly. But looking forward to hearing about the next adventure. Dave would vote HAWAII!!! ;)

Renee said...

I agree. It was really sad to have the trip end that way, but it is what it is, and we still had a good time overall! I just couldn't believe what a big letdown such a 'fancy' hotel was. Oh well. Live and learn! Oh, and Casey, I most definitely did a review on TripAdvisor (actually just got posted today). I did one for the good hotel too! :) I'll let you ladies know as soon as we decide on our next trip!