Sunday, January 6, 2008

The final leg

The jet continues east all the way to the west coast of the Florida peninsula and out a bit over the Gulf before turning north. With Disney World behind us, literally and figuratively, we settle in for the flight to Dallas.

I get a ginger ale from the flight attendant and enjoy my M&M’s, and then I doze off. Actually, I sleep – hard. I’m out for half of the flight, waking about forty minutes before landing. It’s a nice way to pass the time.

Becky tells me she dozed some as well, but not as much as me. Benjamin… is still out like a light, draped across his lap tray. It’s pretty cute.

We get another semi-interesting view out of the window as we pass just to the southwest of downtown Dallas. I take a picture of the skyscrapers, and then try to spot landmarks, ending up with finding the red brick, four-story Sammons Center for the Performing Arts, where the Vocal Majority practices each Thursday. We’ve had a few weeks off following our Christmas shows, and I’m ready to be back singing with them!

The flight lands right at 12:52 – Central time, now. Within thirty minutes we have our bags and wheel them out to the Super Shuttle stand. There’s a couple of families waiting there already, but we have a prepaid reservation, and a van comes to get us within a few minutes of our checking in!

Along the ride back to Becky’s parent’s house, Becky calls her friend and fellow church children’s choir worker Tina. Becky and Benjamin actually have a rehearsal this afternoon, preparing for a joint musical debut with another church’s kids! Tina , her husband Rob, and their son Ryan will be taking their first trip to Walt Disney World in a few months, and Ryan was one of the kids to whom we sent a “postcard from Mickey” a few days ago. Becky asks Tina if he got it, and laughs when she realizes that Rob and Tina didn’t realize that we had sent it – they thought it was just a magical Disney thing!

The ride back to Bob and Linda’s house is otherwise uneventful. With a choir practice to get to, we’re not doing the traditional “viewing of the pictures” on the TV, just loading our minivan and heading out. I get my keys from where I’ve left them in their house and pull the minivan around front. We load the luggage, say our goodbyes, and start to leave…

…only to find that the right rear tire has lost some pressure. I get word to Linda to have Bob meet me around back with his air compressor.

I pull to their driveway in the back of the house, and when I get out, the tire is hissing audibly. Uh oh. I must have run over something. Becky and the boys go inside the house to wait while Bob and I work on the minivan.

One tire change later, we repeat our goodbyes and thanks and are finally on the road. We drive through a Wendy’s to grab lunch before getting on the freeway, and eat on the way.

It’s a very different atmosphere in the minivan, compared to the end of our last two Disney vacations. With both of them, we were heading home, settling down after nine days of exhaustion. Now the kids are older and more involved, and we have to hit the ground running. Oh, well, life goes on.

We drop Becky and Benjamin off at their rehearsal, and then Brandon and I stop off at the grocery store and then, finally, head home. We unload the suitcases and put away the groceries. Once that's done, I fire up the computer for the first time in a week and a half. There are 122 emails waiting – and 1,720 new posts on Stupid Guest Tricks!

The adventure never ends.

Stay tuned – one more post coming!

One last Disney surprise!

The time doesn’t drag too much, and before 11:00 we are on the plane. We push back from the gate right at 11:15, taxi to the runway, and are in the air quickly.

We’ve departed to the south, and then make a climbing turn to the east. Usually our flights back to Dallas turn north or northeast fairly quickly. I’ve always wanted to spot Walt Disney World from the air, but so far it hasn’t happened. Although I’ve practically memorized the place from the air by looking at Google Earth and Virtual Earth, and the rest, I’ve never seen it from the air with my own eyes. But having departed south from the airport and then turned east, maybe, just maybe…

Yes!! There’s Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. If we keep going the same way we’re going, we will pass just south of WDW, giving us a perfect view of the World from the air!!!

We do!

We see Walt Disney World approaching. Bay Lake is in the center of the photograph.

Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake.

Epcot, with World Showcase at the bottom, the parking lot at the top. The brightly-colored rooftops of the Caribbean Beach Resort are at the bottom right.

Another shot of Epcot.

Seven Seas Lagoon. The Magic Kingdom is just above it, while the WDW Speedway is at the bottom of the picture. Space Mountain is clearly visible at the center right of the picture. Sharp eyes might be able to make out the Contemporary just below it, and even the green roof of the Wilderness Lodge.

A last shot of the same area. The Mickey-shaped water feature at the Speedway is easy to spot towards the bottom of the photograph.

Seeing Walt Disney World for one last time on our way out of town is a real treat. Of course, it just makes me want to go back again!

On our own again

I’ve taken many, many pictures of the Disney Wonder from the bus after our previous two cruises. They are almost all indistinguishable from each other. Even so, I still find myself with my camera out, snapping away. It’s not only a beautiful ship, but there’s also a strong sense of not wanting this moment to pass – or if it must, to have a tangible record of it.

Soon enough, though, the bus turns onto the main highway and starts across the Banana River, and the ship is now behind us.

There’s no departure video, but a Donald Duck cartoon is playing, interrupted frequently by our talkative driver. I’m not sure about his mastery of the facts he is giving out, though. He points out NASA’s massive Vehicle Assembly Building – good so far – but then states that they are getting ready for a shuttle launch “to the moon, this time.” Umm, I don’t think so – the space shuttle is only made for low Earth orbit.

His interruptions continue to point out wildlife. I do spot a dolphin briefly in the water on the left side of the roadway, but after that I lose interest. Before long I notice that the other five members of my family have dozed off – Brandon, in the seat next to me, is leaning on me, with his head frequently sliding down my arm before he catches himself.

I power up my cell phone and find a couple of messages. The first says that our flight’s gate has been changed, from Gate 13 to Gate 12. The second, sent five minutes after the first, says that the gate has been changed again, from 12 to 16. Whatever.

The Donald cartoon is followed by a couple of Pluto cartoons, and before long we are arriving at the Orlando airport. Our group drowsily clambers off the bus, and for the first time in a week – almost to the minute – we are no longer in Disney’s hands.

We take our usual “freshen up” break on the lower level of the airport and then head upstairs to go through security. There’s a substantial line, but also multiple screening checkpoints, so the line moves quickly. I’m the first through, with the boys and then Linda and Becky close behind. We wait several minutes at the exit while Bob is wanded yet again. Thoroughly.

Poor guy.

Onto the automated tram we go, and then to our gate. We have an hour and a half to kill until our flight. I call home and check our answering machine messages. Nothing exciting there.

I notice for the first time that the airport seems to be gently rocking. Becky comments on it as well. As we learned after the first cruise, it’s the aftereffect of rough seas on our internal balance.

Brandon’s wearing his autographed t-shirt for the first time. It’s really cool with all of the signatures on it.

We take turns getting up, stretching our legs, getting a drink. I grab a Dr Pepper, my first in a week – they’re hard to find at Disney and on the ship. Brandon wants a snack “for the plane,” even though we’re still full from breakfast. Okay, sure – it’s still vacation, after all. He gets a bag of cookies and I add a couple of bags of Peanut M&M’s.

When we return to the gate, I half expect Becky to jump at the chance to have some Dr Pepper, since it’s her favorite, but she says, “Not before 10:00.” Within a couple of minutes, though, she’s reaching for “just a sip.”

I toss the bags of Peanut M&M’s into Becky’s purse, sheepishly joking to her parents that “I haven’t reached my chocolate quota for the week.” Bob just smiles and reaches into a pocket – to show his own bag of M&M’s! Great minds think alike.

Out and away

From the gangway we enter the terminal building, into that second-floor hallway we were so eager to walk up three days ago. There’s no one scanning our cards, though. Hmm. We just file down the hall with the other cruisers and head down the escalator to the baggage area.

This place has been redecorated since we were last here. Either that, or it’s just easier to see around the room, with so much of the luggage now being taken directly to the airlines. Either way, there are large sepia-toned murals on the walls depicting Disney cruise ships and characters as if they were around in the golden age of ocean liners, in the early 20th century. The Wonder and Magic with their classic designs would have fit right in.

Unfortunately, this is a customs area, so I can’t take any pictures of the murals.

The ever-friendly and helpful porters are around with their carts, and we’re able to find our bags quickly. There’s a double line for customs, but it moves quickly. We have our passports out, each opened to the photo page.

When we reach the agent, she takes the passports and the declarations page, quickly scans the passports with an optical reader, and waves us through. No questions to us this time, which is good, since I was a sputtering idiot last time.

Once past customs, we follow our agent outside and to the American Airlines desk. There’s no line there. Nice. As on our previous two trips, our bags are placed behind the desk and we hand our eTicket info to the agent, who checks us in, tags our bags, and gives us our boarding passes.

Only one thing left to do – board a bus to the airport. The Disney crew member at the door to the bus checks one of our KTTW cards – verifying that we have the ground transfer – and waves us onto the bus.

We find seats about 2/3 of the way back, and before long the bus is backing out of its spot and we’re rolling to the airport. This whole experience of departing the ship, finding our bags, going through customs, checking in with the airline, and boarding our ground transportation has only taken about 20 minutes. Amazing. It’s a seamless process and a great convenience.


We take the lifts down to Deck 4 and walk back to Animator’s Palate. The doors are already open, and we find Sutas and Nino smiling and waiting for us at our table. Bob cheerfully remarks to Sutas, “You’re up early!”

He evenly replies, “Always.”

As we are seated he starts reciting the menu items and stumbles once or twice, finally apologizing, “Sorry, but I’m not a morning person.” Hey, my kind of guy. We order our usual array of hearty vacation breakfasts and a plate of donuts.

While Nino is serving our drinks, Bob asks him what time he had to get up that morning, and is surprised to hear that he rose at 5:45. Bob thought he’d be up much earlier preparing the dining room. No, Nino explains, we actually set up the room the night before, and then cover everything, because then another crew comes in and cleans the floors overnight .

Breakfast is very, very tasty. Here’s another set of conflicting emotions – we’re tempted to linger over it and stay on the ship as much as possible, but we also have places to be and we’re anxious to get on with the next stage. We take a few more pictures of Sutas and Nino, and thank them for all they’ve done.

We’re out of the restaurant by 7:10.

We descend the big staircase on the other side of Shutters, with our carry-on bags in hand, and enter the atrium for the last time. The “See You Real Soon” banner is hanging over the exit on the other side of the floor. Sigh.

Just as we enter the atrium, a fanfare starts playing over the loud speakers, and Mickey’s voice thanks us (okay, probably not just us) for cruising with him. Hmm, never heard this before! He ends with – what else? – “See you real soon!” Maybe, Mickey. Maybe.

We walk across the floor, under the banner, and onto the gangway. We’re off the ship.

Into port, out the door

Sunday, January 6, 2008. It’s finally here – our last day. Wow. Once again, we deal with the emotional contradiction: Yes, we’re sad to be going home, but we’re also ready to be there. In that respect, these vacations are the perfect length – short enough to leave us wanting more, but long enough to have us really missing home.

My alarm sounds at 5:55 a.m., and I’m fully awake after only hitting the snooze once. I turn on the TV to the “View from the Bridge” channel. It’s dark outside, but there are stationary lights in plain view ahead. We’re at Port Canaveral and docked already.

I’m not too surprised. Christiaan, our cruise director, told us we’d probably be back at around 5:30. I hope Captain Henry forgives me for not getting up to help him dock.

As we rouse the boys up, I flip the TV over to the movie channels and find Nemo playing. I then step out onto the veranda and find Bob already there. He and I watch as a Royal Caribbean cruise ship backs into its dock just ahead of the Disney Wonder. We’re both hoping the ship doesn’t hit us, but intellectually I know it’s not as close as it looks.

Back inside, everyone’s dressed pretty quickly. It’s easier to do when your clothes have been laid out the night before and everything else is packed and gone. We spend some time stuffing everything that’s left – including the stuffed friends Benjamin and Brandon have – into backpacks and carry-ons.

It’s time for our final inventory before we leave the Suite for the last time. It goes like this:

Linda: “I have our passports.”

Me: “I have ours.”

Bob: “I have my driver’s license and Key to the World card.”

Me: “I have rhythm, I have music.”

Bob & Me, singing: “Who could ask for anything more?”

Sad to say, the time has now come to leave this blessed luxury in which we’ve been privileged to stay. The family files down the central hallway and out the door, with me trailing behind.

I pause to half-close the entry door and examine its back side, the one with all the paperwork and evacuation routes posted. There’s nothing really remarkable about it – I just figure that it may be my very last time to see that side of that particular door.

The door shuts behind me as I step out into the hallway. Goodbye, Walter E. Disney Suite.