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Trip Report Disney World and Anna Maria Island - A quick four-day trip!

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I am the Disney College Program coordinator for the university where I am employed, and finally had the opportunity this month to visit Disney World (and Florida, for that matter), for the first time for an educator site visit. It was a quick trip – two days at Disney (March 8-9) and two days (March 10-11) for some personal vacation time on the Gulf Coast, but it all went very well, with only a few minor glitches!

When I filled out the site visit request, I had to indicate on the form if I wanted to stay the two nights in basic accommodations ($45 per night), standard ($60) or deluxe ($90). My boss approved the deluxe, saying we’d be hard-pressed to find hotel rooms anywhere for that rate. About a week later I heard from Disney, with the news that I would be staying at the Grand Floridian Resort. (Actually, I didn’t even know what the Grand Floridian was and had to look it up online, so you can imagine my pleasant surprise, and shock, when I realized that rooms normally go for several hundred per night. THEN I got excited!)

I flew to Orlando and arrived on Thursday. My twin sister joined me for trip, although she obviously got more free time than I did, but it was exciting to finally be able to see where my students work, live and study. The Grand Floridian is beautiful and you can really tell that you are at Disney because of the way everyone bends over backward to make your stay a pleasant one. The resort reminds me of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan (I’ve never been there, but I have watched “Somewhere in Time,” so I’m an authority, you know….). The room was wonderful and the grounds are lovely.

After checking in, we jumped on the bus that goes from the resort to Downtown Disney, where we were having dinner at the Raglan Road Irish Pub. Although I had made reservations, they were unable to seat us for approximately 30-40 minutes, so we decided to go ahead and sit at the bar. I ordered one of their Bailey’s Irish Cream/Coffee Liqueur milkshakes and it was very good! We had a great view of the stage and dance platform and enjoyed the dancing, the Irish music and a tasty meal. I ordered the Salmon of Knowledge (“Baked Atlantic salmon fillet topped with smoked salmon, served with a maple glaze. It'll give you brains to burn.”), and my sister had Paddy's Pork (“Tasty pork loin stuffed with our signature sausage, drizzled with a honey soy glaze, with buttered leeks, cabbage & mash potatoes.”)

We enjoyed a leisurely dinner, then strolled through Downtown Disney and got to see one of my students who works at the Candy Cauldron. We also just enjoyed sitting and people-watching – VERY entertaining!

About two hours after we had dinner we decide to head back to the resort as it had been a long day, so we went to the bus stop and waited to board a bus back to the resort. I was leaning on a column, kind of perched on a little ledge, when I started to feel a wave of sickness wash over my body, and began doing the whole tunnel vision thing. I vaguely remember leaning forward to get my head down and stumbled forward, but caught myself before actually hitting the ground. Needless to say, I was freaking out my sister at this point. So there I am at Downtown Disney, sweat streaming down my face with my sister thinking I’m having a heart attack or stroke. Two Disney staff came over and got me seated on a bench and I started to feel better, just a little shaky. The one man was orienting me to time and place (“When did you get here?” Where are you from?”), and I was able to answer with no problem, although during the “spell” I couldn’t respond well to my sister for about 60 seconds. I told him that I couldn’t blame it on the weather as it was about 70 degrees and not humid, nor could I blame it on drinking as I only had the one drink two hours before, but I assumed I was dehydrated. Since I was feeling better at that point, we got on the bus and returned to the resort, although I just about froze in the air conditioning thanks to the previous sweating.

It wasn’t until the next morning that it dawned on me that it was probably the dehydration compounded by the fact that I had donated blood the day before I left (I know, stupid timing – won’t happen again), plus I was restricting fluids the day of my trip (who wants to climb over two people’s laps to go use the tiny bathroom in the plane?). I had “added insult to injury.”

I was supposed to go to the Disney Casting Center for meetings on Friday morning but truthfully, I still was feeling a little less-than-perfect and didn’t really want to drive the rental car by myself, so I called the man I was meeting with and asked if he could pick me up and he was able to do so. We toured one of the gated housing complexes (I was VERY impressed – they are more strict with the students than we are when they are in the residence halls on campus. No one gets into the complex without passing by the gate and showing identification.) The students are provided with bus transportation from their apartment complexes to the parks where they work. They also go through an extensive orientation prior to their employment, and work in quite a number of varied positions – fast food service, retail, custodial, entertainment, etc.).

After a morning of meetings, I was given tickets for the parks so I could meet with some of my students. Originally they told me that they could only provide me with a ticket, but since I didn’t use the one they had reserved for me for the day before, they went ahead and gave me both, so my sister was able to go to the parks with me for free. (I made her buy me breakfast the next day as a thank you!)

We took the ferry from the resort to the Magic Kingdom and got to see Main Street USA and the parade while eating Chicago-style hot dogs from Casey’s. Not bad, but a little too much “stuff” on the dogs. The parade was fun, though! One of my students had emailed me that he worked at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Castle and offered to give us a tour, so I contacted him and we headed through the throngs (and I mean THRONGS) to the castle, where we met Robert. It was very enjoyable having a personal tour guide who was able to tell us all kinds of little tidbits about the construction of the castle, what it costs to have dinner there or have your little girl get the whole princess treatment (OMG!), etc. He had the rest of the afternoon off so we walked around Magic Kingdom with him before getting the ferry over to Epcot (truthfully, Magic Kingdom was too crowded and most of the crowd seemed to consist of fretful children and impatient parents. I kept thinking, “Calm down – you freakin’ brought them here - let them enjoy themselves!!”)

Once we got to Epcot we decided to go on the “Universe of Energy” ride hosted by Ellen Degeneres and Bill Nye the Science Guy, which I enjoyed (the humid atmosphere in the dinosaur section was neat, and the sensation of flying during the Big Bang part was fun), plus it was nice to just sit for 45 minutes.

Robert left to meet some friends, so my sister and I walked around the Epcot Spaceship Earth structure. I was unable to touch base with a couple of other students, as they weren’t where they originally thought they would be and it’s a little like finding a needle in a haystack. We walked through the Countries section and thought we’d try to have dinner in England, but weren’t surprised when they were unable to seat us. We did go into the English candy store and bought Galaxy bars, as we became addicted to them when we were in the U.K. They are S-O-O-O good!

We strolled back through Epcot (warm temperatures, although it drizzled off and on) and caught the monorail back to the resort in time to watch the fireworks over the castle, since the Grand Floridian sits directly across the lagoon from the Magic Kingdom. The only mishap in this part of our day was when we were strolling past the lagoon and my sister was looking out over the water instead of where she was going, and managed to miss the fact that two steps were in the pathway, so down she went, scraping most of the skin off of her knee. I had to go buy antibiotic cream and a small pack of band-aids so we could decorate her knee with about six of them….. We’re obvious dangerous when we’re together!

The next morning I was schedule to attend one of the Disney Program classes, so I got up early and decided to go outside and walk around the grounds, but it was very humid and everything outside was black with mosquitoes! After deciding a stroll was not going to be in the plans that morning, I caught a cab to one of the housing complexes where they have classroom buildings so I could meet the instructor and sit in on the class. The Disney instructors all have master’s degrees or higher, and the classes are fully accredited. Some of these kids come in to a four-hour class beginning at 9 a.m. after having worked the night before until 1 or 2 in the morning, plus they are required to dress in “Disney” style, meaning no short shorts, no cleavage up to here and no jeans. Once again, I was very impressed with the whole program. The instructor was a former director of university career services (my area) and decided to “retire” to Florida for a few years.

I left during the mid-class break and went back to the resort, where my sister had checked out of our room and loaded the car, so we started the second, personal side of our Florida trip and headed to the Gulf Coast, so more later about that part of our trip!

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