A May 2006 trip
to Orlando by shaunandtrish
Quote: A family holiday courtesy of Mom and Dad. A sister, a brother-in-law, and nephews came, too. They did the whole Disney theme-park extravaganza, but we decided we'd rather eat razor blades. Here's what we did do.
Inside Orlando shuttles and buses are plentiful. So if you plan on doing not much more than alternating between your I-Drive base and the parks, a car is by no means a necessity.If you want to do a bit more or if you want the flexibility of your own to and fro times, a car is an asset. If one is not provided with your package I can recommend All States Car Hire for a great deal. Pick your car up from their office inside the Holiday Inn on I-Drive. Couldn't be simpler.
Traffic can be a bit of a pain. The main arterial, the I-4, gets very slow and busy for at least a couple of hours every morning and afternoon and the roads in and out of Orlando in every direction are criss-crossed by other roads and invariably extensively traffic light-controlled. Maybe 4 or 5 sets per mile. This can make for very slow progress in and out of Orlando when you venture out on your day trips. Your first 20 miles may well take an hour, so factor this in to your trip journey calculations.
So, what do you get for $55 a night? Well, you get a reasonably large room with large and clean beds, shower and bath that work, cable TV, the use of a pleasant-enough central pool area and bar, functional and hard-wearing (rather than plush or aesthetically pleasing) carpets and fixtures, tea/coffee making machine, and hair dryer. It also occupies a better-than-average spot on International Drive. For the uninitiated, the degree of tackiness decreases as the number on the address increases, all relative, of course, on I-Drive. The Champs Elysees it is not.
The establishment is designed to stand up to the treatment dished out by its clientele. This is I-Drive, which means families with kids that do the parks on alternate days and charge continuously between the outdoor pool and the hotel room on the off days. If you were the manager, would you lay the best carpets? Access off I-Drive is easy and parking is plentiful, and apparently dead safe. There’s no restaurant at all, but there’s a small shop near the front desk. There are soda machines and free ice machines on every balcony, so you can cunningly convert your wash basin into a cooler.
Minus points? None really at that price. It is sandwiched between I-Drive and the very busy I-4, so there is some traffic noise. I could imagine if you had a room directly facing the I-4, it could bother some people. Also, if you want a quiet drink on the balcony, it’s the communal one that runs outside your front door, so you have to put up with a bit of passing traffic.
It's OK at $55 a night.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 19, 2006
Best Western Plaza International
8738 International Dr.
Orlando, Florida 32819
Attraction | "Friendlys"
This particular Friendlys is right next door to the Best Western, a 2-minute slow walk. It opens its doors at 7am, but with the All You Can Eats around, it doesn’t seem to do so much of a roaring trade. This is a pity, because if you add your tax and drink on to the $3.99 all-you-can eat at the Ponderosa, for instance (the trough of choice for many, no doubt because of its kids-for-free discount offers), the prices charged at Friendlys for something you may actually want, cooked-to-order,...well, there’s not much to pick between them.
Breakfast choices are varied and calorific--everything on I-Drive is. A couple of days I had a toasted bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich with home fries for about $6, which was good. A plate of three good-sized pancakes and syrup is $5. Coffee is nothing to scream about. In the evening, again, the un-discounted prices are competitive. A plate of sirloin tips, rice, and vegetables.
The piece de resistance of this franchise, however, appears to be the sundae. Approaching middle-age as I am and desperate to get there on the right side of 85kg, I watched creatures less calorie-conscious than I demolishing the most delicious-looking $5-ish ice-cream creations. Most of them may well be dead by now, but the sundaes did look good.
One curiosity is their preference for seating you at a table of their own choosing. We walked in one day to find that we were one of only two or three parties in the place, were greeted, and led to a table in the middle of the room. "Oh, can we sit over there next to the window?" I innocently inquired. The waitress paused for a moment and looked at me. I think I was supposed to say, "Oh, but if it's too much trouble, it's OK," but I stood my ground. Eventually there was a shrug, "You see I’ve already allocated you a table on the roster, your server is allocated by the table you sit at, and you should be Bernard’s. Bernard doesn’t serve on that table and it's his turn." Again, I was supposed to say, "Oh, I understand, it's OK, we’ll sit here"--BUT I WANTED TO LOOK OUT OF THE WINDOW. After another painful pause, there was a shrug and we were taken back to the front desk to watch the roster being changed. I think we were meant to feel some shame, and then we were seated at a window table. We were served by a Marion, not Bernard. We were, however, allowed/forced to witness the exaggerated explanation to Bernard, who was looking none-too-impressed with the situation.
So, to summarise, America once exported customer care to the world, but has it forgotten to keep some back for itself?
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on August 19, 2006
8718 International Drive
Orlando, Florida 32819
Attraction | "Universal Studios"
I have but one piece of advice for anyone using this park--GET THERE BEFORE 9:30am, and spend your first hour racing round the attractions as fast as you can when queues are 15 minutes or less. This first hour or so is great fun with few drawbacks. As the day draws on, the queues will become long and tiresome and FastPasses are charged extra.
Shrek 4-DDelightful, funny, and surprising animation in a large auditorium. All senses touched in some way, like when Shrek sneezes, you get soaked, when spiders run around the screen, things tickle your legs...that sort of thing. The auditorium is large, so the queues are not so bad for this one. Great fun.
Back to the FutureExhilarating (if a little stomach churning), bumpy ride through time in a four-person carriage that doesn't actually go anywhere. It puts you in a dilemma, this one. Get there early and queues are shorter, but the chances your recent breakfast will make a return visit are higher. Do ya feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk.
Terminator 3-DOK but nowhere near as good as Shrek. Mix of live Arnie, Edward Norton, etc., lookalikes out front nipping in and out of the predictable 3-D film show.
TwisterA bit of a tame reconstruction of a high-wind drama in a farmyard. Being able to see the wires when cows are "blown" across in front of you lets it down a bit. You will get wet.
JawsPredictable and tacky, but all good fun as your boat ride is way-laid by the aquatic assailant. Luckily your guide sees him off with his shotgun after a few histrionics. I knew we'd be OK: I'd seen the boat out and in several times as we waited in line for 40 minutes and the queue behind us for the next boat was a mile long, too. I also noticed the shark was plastic.
Mummy ReturnsOut of order
EarthquakeGreat demo of subway earthquake scenes with audience participation. Insight on disaster movie techniques and secrets, finishing off with you being caught in the middle of a subway earthquake. Again, you get wet.
Other attractions not sampled were ET and M.I.B. After a couple of hours, the thought of another 45-minute wait...
The general layout of the place, with its New York/San Francisco, etc., "film sets," make it an enjoyable place to spend a few hours. A better bet for adults and older kids. Shame you can't just pay for entry to this one alone.
Here's the website.
Universal Studios Florida
1000 Universal Studios Plaza
Orlando, Florida 32819
(407) 363 8000
Attraction | "Universal Islands of Adventure"
Plus PointsVast and imaginative expanse of various worlds and islands, each with its own theme, like Jurassic Park, Ancient Egypt, etc., that are generally impressive and pleasing to the eye. Rides may well be the best in the world, capable of shooting you in every direction at once and persuading your insides to pop outside your body. Nice enough park to walk around. Plenty of toilets.
Minus PointsWe visited first week in May, so this was by no means "peak" for visitor numbers; however, by the time we'd finished with Universal Studios (about 2pm) and wandered across to see what the other half of our ticket had to offer, we found that the shortest queue was 45 minutes. Consequently, Bilge Rat was the only ride we used. It was OK. We got wet, it lasted 2 or 3 minutes, and then that was that. The whole balance of the place is wrong and bordering on a complete rip-off. Rides are great, but frankly they do not occupy a huge floor space--there aren't that many of them, so queues are always going to be long. God only knows what things are like in August. Commercial booths, on the other hand, do occupy a large area of floor space, meaning that even though you've parted with $75 just to get in, the number-one priority of the owners is to secure more once you're inside. Frankly, I can't see how anyone can possibly get their money's worth out of this place--there simply are not enough hours in the day, even if you can bear each of the long queues, to get round all the rides.
Hated it. Commercialism at its worst. People need a better deal--either drop the entry fee or give them more! Contact me for details of an organised peasant revolt.
For a more positive spin on things, here's the website. Don't believe a word of it.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on August 19, 2006
Universal's Islands of Adventure
Universal Orlando Resort
Attraction | "Celebration"
The highlights are the market stalls on Sunday morning, with all manner of knickknacks, fresh-baked goods and the like to be browsed around, and the waterfronts. There are a series of about four man-made (I think) lakes, joined by an impossibly pleasant walkway that makes you just want to walk and walk. Returning the "good mornings" regularly as you go, I may add. Sunset around these lakes is the jewel in the crown (see the photos). Sunset over the water, the occasional fisherman, small alligators, herons, and ospreys out hunting for the last meal of the day...fantastic. Cap it all off by sitting in the deck chairs watching the quiet waters in front and the gentle evening goings on behind you. The cinema is right out of the '50s, too.Thoroughly recommended. It came as no surprise to me that the price of real estate in this area is astronomic. However, with all this no doubt comes some sort of commitment to observing and upholding the standards that keep everything so uniformly pristine and, well, everything is either green or white.
I'm sure it has its detractors, and whether you end up loving or loathing it, it's a unique chance to see an active social experiment in progress.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 23, 2006
Celebration Planned Community
NW Osceola County South Of U.S. 192
SizzlersSame format as Ponderosa, but for a couple of dollars more you get more. This is more evident at dinner than at breakfast, when the all-you-can-eat starter buffet is immeasurably superior. My tip; if you're hungry, go to Sizzlers, order the cheapest entree at about $9, safe in the knowledge you can fill up on the very good "thrown in" salad and starter buffet. Again, no alcoholic drinks are on offer.
TGI FridayTaking it up a notch, a team of two will get no change from $40 for dinner at this All-American standard. It's not a budget choice and there's no "all-you-can-eat" troughs. That said it gets busy every night and you will have to wait for your table. And then your drinks. There is a bar here. The food when it finally does arrive will be good and generally meat/burger/fries and variations on that theme.
Tony RomasMuch the same format as TGI and similar price range. There's no bargain all-you-can-eat here, but then there are the world famous ribs (which are good). Bar choices are a bit better here too with some half decent beers on offer. Again, be prepared to wait 30-60 minutes for a table most nights after 7pm. Tony Romas does give you the chance to kid yourself that you're eating healthily by offering things like green beans or coleslaw as an accompaniment to the half a braised pig on the other side of your plate. But then, you're on holiday ...
Bad Ass Coffee Co.Good for people who like coffee to taste like coffee. If, like us, after a few days of taking half a litre of saturated fat with each meal, you yearn for something lighter, then this coffee house of Hawaiian origin offers an alternative. It's in the arcade just next to the Best Western. A coffee and bagel will set you back about $6 and its never busy. Come to think of it I can't see how they make any money. Maybe they don't. In addition there's some high speed Internet laptops here for $5 a half hour and a range of Bad Ass merchandise. This is surprisingly pricey and invariably features a donkey baring its backside in various circumstances.
Premium OutletsNow Premium Outlets can be found off the other end of I-Drive (southern end, just off the I-4). These are a bit better than Belz with more choice and generally more pleasant semi-open air surroundings. Good bargains from Adidas and Nike especially here, and a better Gap. There was also a dead Armadillo being eaten by two vultures out front. This feature may not be permanent. The buses that roll up and down I-Drive more-or less use Prime and Premium as the start and ends of their loops so they're a doddle to get to if you can't be bothered to drive. Or if you're too sozzled or have fallen out with the driver in the party.
Florida MallThe Florida Mall is the place to go for the more established up market brands, it's a large, well maintained mall with just about everything you could want, but no outlets as such. Proper shops in other words. Consequently it's not a bad place to spend half a day. You'll find all the high street standards here, American Eagle, Abercrombie & Fitch, Bath and Bodyworks etc. and more than a few large department stores like Nordstrom where bargains can often be had. It's about 2 miles along Sandlake Road heading east from I-Drive. There's a large food hall in the center of things with all manner of fast food on offer. The food hall is one place to avoid however at lunch time on a rainy day.
Pointe OrlandoThis was half open/half under construction at the time of our visit, but it will add something to I-Drive when its fully up and running. It's a medium sized shopping area towards the Conference Center end of I-Drive providing the type of shops not common elsewhere along I-Drive. i.e. quite nice ones. There is a huge multi-plex cinema at its heart where we saw The Poseidon Adventure for reasons I'm not still clear about.
Durham, United Kingdom