Shuttle Launch/Disney Trip Report

Dec 15th, 2006, 05:49 AM
  #1  
mms
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Shuttle Launch/Disney Trip Report

As quite a few of you know, our family went to Florida last week for the shuttle launch and took a few extra days to do Disney World. We are back, but still on east coast time it seems.

We were stationed in Orlando about 17 years ago, so it was fun to be back in the area.

Fellow posters, dsquared and kopp, were very helpful in our planning! Thanks

We left last Tuesday and flew on Alaska from PDX to SEA to ORD on the redeye. Redeyes are not our favorite, but it worked best with our schedule so we sucked it up. Found tickets for $307 each, which was pretty good. Flight to SEA was noneventful. Left SEA late, but only by an hour or so. Had planned to curl up and sleep, even bringing my pillow/blanket thing from Restoration Hardware. I bought these pillows after a thread here at Fodors last winter mentioned them. They are wonderful!!! Anyway, curled up only to have my darn restless leg syndrome kick in (haha!). So no sleep for me. The FA's came thru the cabin about 2am with warm ginger cookies and milk for anyone that was awake, so that helped

Arrived at ORD, and quickly found the shuttle for Hertz. On the way to the lot the driver mentioned a particular gas station that he highly recommended NOT to fill the car up at when returning. This gas station was the subject of a recent thread here. The normal gas prices, even near the aiport, were about $2.20 and this station was charging $3.59. It used to be a Chevron, but no more...although the blue colors remain. No signs indicating price as you drive up...apparently only on the pump itself. Anyway, this station is at the intersection of Semoran and Butler. Nice that the shuttle driver was trying to help tourists out.

DH is a gold member, so we had our car and were out in less than 5 minutes. Got on the Beeline and headed to Cocoa Beach.

Stayed at the Hilton there, right on the beach. Checked in there, no problems, had a nice room with a view of the water. The room was $129/nt. Standard business class hotel, nice beds and bedding...but the bathroom left a lot to be desired. No fan in there, so very muggy. No sink outside of the bathroom, so hard for a family of 4 to get ready (especially since 2 are teens, lol!). The room did have a refrigerator, so we stocked that with water. There was a nice outdoor bar/restaurant area near the pool, and an area to get towels for the beach. At the towel kiosk you could also sign up for surfing lessons.

Headed over to Ron Jon's for old times sake. Wow, that place is huge! Got towels and sunscreen (never ended up needing that) and a few things the kids wanted.

Then back to the room and out to the beach. Not real sunny out, but warm enough to swim, so we swam and played the rest of the afternoon.

By this time, friends arrived who we traveled with the rest of the week. I had made the room arrangements for both of us, and when they checked in the hotel said the reservation had been cancelled when we checked in. We got it worked out, but the lady (well, not sure if it was a lady...was referred to the rest of the trip as the shemale) was snotty and we had to go to the manager. Finally he gave them a room, although not the water view that was reserved. The next two mornings our friends received 5:30am wake up calls that they did not ask for. So at checkout all this was mentioned, and I will say the lady on duty that morning was fantastic and reduced their bill.

Anyway, the whole reason for this trip was the shuttle launch. A friend of ours is an astronaut and this was his mission, so he invited us, and obviously we could not pass up the opportunity! So Thursday morning was spent at a brunch hosted by his family at the Doubletree, which was just down the road from the Hilton. Looked like a very nice hotel, and we actually wished we would have stayed there. Oh well. During the brunch, our friend called and was on speaker phone. Very nice to hear his voice!

The afternoon was spent on the beach again. As we were out in the water we saw two dolphins right by us! Really wish I would have had the camera available! But we all really enjoyed that!

Then it was time to head to Kennedy Space Center for launch stuff. It was to be a long night. Had our pass, went thru security, several times actually til we got to the right area, then toured the museum and the rocket garden. Beautiful at night!!! Boarded our bus and headed out to Banana Creek for the launch. The Saturn V building there is really interesting. Good thing, as we were there for a few hours before launch time. Weather was very iffy that day...very cloudy, so we knew there was a good chance that it wouldn't go, and it didn't. So it was a letdown as far as the launch, but very cool to think our friend was in the shuttle ready to go.

Friday morning we gathered with friends for a late breakfast at IHOP and then headed over to Disney. Checked into the Boardwalk Inn there and absolutely loved it!

The hotel was right on the boardwalk, with lots of restaurants along it, and it was a less than 5 minute walk to the back gate of Epcot. The hotel, in typical Disney style, was very helpful with everything. I loved having the different park maps right there too to grab before heading out each day.

Anyway, we got our rooms and settled in. We had made the reservations through Shades of Green (the military resort there), and got a great rate of $305/nt. The room was nicely decorated, the beds were comfortable, and there was a small daybed that could be used as a couch or for a small child. The bathroom was decent sized, and there were two sinks with a large mirror just outside of there. After the Hilton setup, we were happy to see this. There was a refrigerator in the room as well, so that helped with keeping water and oj stocked. We had a small patio with a couple chair and table which was great to relax on early in the mornings.

Didn't waste much time in the room after checking in, so headed over to Epcot. It was very cold on this day, and just got colder. We didn't pack for cold...oops! So while we did all the rides and visited only parts of the world showcase, the younger kids were too cold to continue. So the men and boys went back to the hotel, but my girlfriend, DD and I kept going. Ducking into shops was a great way to stay warm Bought a few things along the way, of course.

Got back to the hotel just as the Illuminations show was beginning. But thankfully we could see the show from the balcony, so that was fun.

The next morning, Saturday, we slept in a bit. Then started to gather up stuff to head back over to the beach for the 2nd attempt at the launch. I had mailed a package home as we left CB on Friday, so this morning I realized I had accidentally mailed our launch passes home! So a quick call to our friends parents took care of that. Whew!!! So we headed over to the beach early to stop by their place and get what we needed. Then off to KSC yet again. This time the weather was perfect for launch!

As the countdown neared, there was an announcement that there would be hydrochloric acid that is released (made?) when the shuttle launches, and the winds had it coming directly at us. So after launch we were to hurry back to the bus.

A few minutes before the launch, someone sang the National Anthem. It was very moving in that everyone sang along. It was amazing to hear so many spectators join along in full force!

The launch itself...OMG, words cannot describe it! Beautiful, amazing, scary, and exciting are a few. I took a bunch of pics while DH filmed it. The acid reached us before we got to the bus, but it wasn't bad.

Long drive back to Orlando, but we were on such a high that it didn't matter.

DH flew home early Sunday morning, but the rest of us stayed.

Sunday we spent at Magic Kingdom. Started in the back of the park at Space Mountain and worked our way to the front. Did almost every ride, and the fast passes worked great for us. The only ride that we thought was way too corny, even for Disney, was the jungle cruise. Our "guide" was awful (DS asked if she was on crack) and the tour was just plain hokey. But hey, the rest of the day was great! Loved Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain, and Pirates of the Carribean. It's A Small World and the Teacups are favorites of mine, going back to my childhood, so everyone had to suffer along and go with me They loved the teacups, but I sure took a lot of grief about IASM from the boys the rest of the day, lol! Oh, and my girlfriend...she had not been on that ride for about 10 years. Last time she was pregnant and the ride broke down. They were stuck on it for 45 minutes, with nothing moving, but the music kept going. So she had bad flashbacks of that, lol! She is such a good friend though that she didn't complain and went with me, and enjoyed it, lol!

Our friends left the next morning, so now it was just my two kids and myself. That day we did Animal Kingdom. Loved it!!! The new ride, Expedition Everest, was the BEST ride that we had been on in all the parks!!!!! OMG, absolutely fantastic! My DH is a mountain climber, so he was really bummed to miss this, so I felt bad telling him about it. The safari at AK was really good too, but not a wild ride like EE. We had a great time checking out all the animals, and just took it easy this day.

Came back to the hotel by early afternoon as the kids had a bunch of homework to start in on. I wandered the boardwalk and just relaxed. That evening we had dinner at the ESPN place there on the boardwalk, which was DS choice. I was surprised, but the food was pretty good. Of course a teen boy was in heaven there, lol! After that we rented the surrey bikes and rode around the boardwalk. Lots of fun!

A few random thoughts...

The Disney buses were great. Not crowded at all, and very quick. Very easy to find the correct ones too.

The Boardwalk Inn Lobby was beautiful! There was a huge gingerbread house, with a train running through it. Too hard to describe, but very pretty.

The lounge at the hotel was very comfortable. The kids stayed in the room one evening while us adults went to the lounge to warm up after the cold night at Epcot. Very nice atmosphere, not like a bar at all. Good drinks too.

The hotel has a business center where you can mail packages home, or use their computers. This was nice to print out our boarding passes before returning home.

Disney's Magical Express is their complimentary transportation between the hotels and the airport. We had the rental car for the first part of the trip, but used the ME for returning. Very easy to use, and the bus was right on time for us. It is a large motorcoach, so pretty comfy. The only drawback is that we had a very early flight that morning, so the bus picked us up earlier than we wanted to be awake. Not their fault though.

Once at ORD, it quickly became a fiasco. Got our bags checked, but then headed towards security with our small carryons. The lines were extremely long, and the TSA people were just arriving for work. There were only 2 workers there when all the people were trying to go through. Someone needs to get those employees schedule to better coincide with when flight start to depart. Then, when we finally reached one of the tables, we took our shoes off and put those in the trays. Everyone was getting yelled at to hurry up and to just take their shoes off and to lay their bags down, but to NOT take out anything. I mentally questioned that as I knew we were to take our little 1 qt bag of toiletries out, but they didn't want anyone doing that. Oh well. So go thru the detector, go to gather my 2 bags, and a TSA lady asks if one bag is mine. I say yes, and she pulls me aside. Rifles thru it with the care of an elephant, and takes out my toiletry bag and scolds me for not taking it out earlier. I know enough to just smile and say "yes" to those people, but I was ticked. Then she takes my other bag and rifles thru that one, again in a snit. There was nothing in there...papers, hairdryer, not much...but she insisted on running it thru the machine about 3 times. I just waited, hoping it would be over soon. Didn't feel like making any comments as I was not in the mood for any full body searches, lol!

So the kids have their bags and have come thru the machines as well. Nevermind that neither of their toiletry bags was pulled out, and the lady didn't seem to mind about theirs. UGH! But after I didn't put up a fight, we were let go. Sheesh! Oh, and DH said it was the same fiasco the morning he left.

This part of the trip we flew on American. The flight to O'Hare was fine, except for the kid in front of us who insisted on throwing his blanket over his seat and into the face of anyone around him. The flight attendant spoke to the mother, but it did no good. At least the boy was quiet.

Arrived in Chicago and promptly found a Starbucks. Thankfully our new gate was only a few gates from where we arrived, so that was nice. We sat and relaxed. The flight to PDX was delayed several times, so our layover was longer, but not bad. Flight to PDX was fine, except for another kid, lol! This one insisted on kicking the tray table behind me the entire time. Again, the mother did nothing. Oh well, at least I don't have to live with those families, lol!

So overall it was a great trip. We saw our friend go into space, which is truly a once in a lifetime thing, and had a few days enjoying Disney.


We are looking forward to him coming out in a couple months and being able to talk with him more in depth about it. He and DH and the DH of the friends we traveled with all mountain climb together, so they will all join up for another climb soon.

mms is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 07:55 AM
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What a fabulous memory for your kids ! I am glad they are old enough to appreciate how special this all was.

What exactly is that about the hydrochloric acid? Does it spray? or fumes? What happens if it gets you?
Did it get you and will you look the same when I see you next ? lol

You were "not in the mood for a full body search" ? And there are times that you are? LOL Is there anything worse than a TSA person in a snit?

Glad you had such a great trip, how great that you all were able to do this and how great that your friend and his crew are up there now, getting all of their work done. I hear he took a 'walk' yesterday..

Welcome home~
(did the wind blow your house away?)
Scarlett is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 08:07 AM
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Great trip report! I can't imagine how incredible it must have been to watch the launch.

And you have a good friend if she's willing to ride the teacups with you after her last experience with the teacups!
kureiff is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 08:33 AM
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GoTravel
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Fantastic report mms and the launch part had me emotional and teary!
 
Dec 15th, 2006, 08:34 AM
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Great report of what must have been a great trip, mms. Thanks!

I wasn't sure you had the flexibility to get back to KSC after leaving Cocoa Beach, so thought you might not get to see the launch. What a thrill that must have been. And you should pat yourself on the back for mailing those launch passes home. They'll be nice mementos!

As for Disney, you ALMOST convinced me to visit when we're in FL next year. ALMOST... ;-)
beachbum is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 08:51 AM
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ORD is Chicago I think you meant MCO....
travelina is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 11:01 AM
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mms
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LOL, Scarlett! We joked to DD that she would get some free highlights in her hair with the acid It comes down as rain...sort of misty. We did get it, but it just sort of irritates the skin. Washes off easily thankfully.

Kureiff--Yes, VERY good friend! An old sorority sister and still best friends.

GoT--I was so choked up that I couldn't sing along. I always get choked up during the National Anthem, but it was probably best I couldn't sing along this time. DH filmed that even, and I would NOT want to subject anyone to hearing my attempts, lol!

Beachbum--Yes, we were SO fortunate to be able to make it the 2nd time! DH flew out less than 12 hours afterward. Our friends mom told her son that morning to "just go" as she needed him to go so she could stop worrying. Course she won't stop til they return back on Thursday.

travelina--Yes, MCO, you are right. Too many airport codes, lol, but we did fly thru ORD on the way home. Does that count
mms is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 11:39 AM
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mms
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Todays mail brought a great reminder of the launch! At the Saturn V gift store, they sold these envelopes with the Discovery's logo on them and inside is a paper with the shuttles objective and mini bios of the crew. The idea is that you address it to yourself, put a stamp on it, then when the launch goes off it is post marked with the date and time, and has a special KSC and launch postmarks. We sent several of these to family, and sent two home for each of the kids.
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Dec 15th, 2006, 01:12 PM
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What an exciting adventure mms! That was a once in a lifetime experience for all of you. I simply can't imagine the thrill of watching a launch up close, especially one that carried a good friend of mine. Yup...it would bring tears to my eyes too.
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Dec 15th, 2006, 01:24 PM
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LOL, I would have just stood there weeping through the entire event, til the acid rain hit
I want to see the things that you got in the mail!!
Scarlett is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 01:46 PM
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Hi mms, I am thrilled to see your trip report as I thought of you and your family the entire time you were there. I was afraid you would miss the launch when it was delayed so it is wonderful that you were able to return and experience it. I get chocked up also when our National Anthem is played. Thanks so much for sharing this very special trip with all of us.
LoveItaly is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 01:47 PM
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So glad that you got to see the launch and had an enjoyable vacation!
dsquared is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 02:06 PM
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mms
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Yes, lots of weeping That started at the brunch watching his mom though. Oh I cannot even imagine how hard it was for his immediate family, including his kids who happen to be the same ages as ours.

dsquared--Our first night at CB we had to go to Coconuts for old times sake. Thank goodness it was not a weekend, as the kids were with us, lol! It was fun to go back to one of our old haunts, lol! We went to the Publix on the north end once, and omg, there was a bell ringer there that was the funniest thing we have ever seen! You HAVE to go see her! We were all making bets as to which drug she was on. She was doing this bizarre dance, and well...hard to describe, but she was awfully happy
mms is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 03:01 PM
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mms, that bell ringer is at Fred Meyers this week
Scarlett is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 04:17 PM
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Yes, I'll have to head over to Publix at lunch and take a look!

Good ole Coconuts - my college economics honor society used to have its "meetings" there. I believe we discussed the correlation between cheap beer and raucous laughter. ;-) Love their margaritas!
dsquared is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 05:23 PM
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I'd love to see a successful launch. The only launch I ever watched was the Challenger disaster from my backyard...
travelina is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 08:36 PM
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Thanks mms~ my younger son and I met Bill O. at the Challenger center when it was dedicated in 2000 in Kenai Ak.. he was very nice and encouraging to my son about a future in the military.
We left with an autographed picture, and when we found out he was piloting this mission, we were very excited and proud of him.
Glad you were able to be there and witness such an incredible and meaningful event. J.
jetset1 is offline  
Dec 16th, 2006, 03:05 AM
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We went to Cocoa Beach to see the last launch John Glenn was aboard. The condo balcony we were on faces the beach and as the ship went up you could hear numerous bottle tops popping and lots of people yelling and clapping. I don't know how I ever managed to get some pictures through the tears - it was such a proud moment!

Ahhh, nothing better than the walk down the beach to Coconuts and then try to get back after a couple margaritas.
That, along with Ron Jons and Frankie's wings was always a staple of the trip agenda. I am still in shock that Frankie's has closed......
ccolor is offline  
Dec 16th, 2006, 05:00 AM
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mms
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Scarlett--LOL! DS commented that the Disney jungle cruise tour guide must have been a relative of the bell ringer

jetset--I thought of you, being from up there. Did you know your Gov. has declared Dec. 1st to be Bill O. day? Of course he will get razzed about that for years to come, lol! He and his family are such nice people. So down to earth, etc. I think that is why it didn't really hit me too much til the actual launch because he is such a regular person.

When we lived in Orlando years ago and went to Coconuts, we had no idea it would become such a legend, lol!
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Dec 16th, 2006, 08:19 AM
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mms~ I hope to take my kids down there to see a launch some day.. I can't imagine the intensity of seeing it lift off in a dark sky.

You know, prior to this, we've had Jewel, who is from my hometown, and from reality tv fame, Slade, the guy on The Real Housewives of Orange County, and Kai, the second place finisher from Biggest Loser, so Bill O. is definitely a boost to our state's pride!
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