Sunday November 4th, 3 am in the morning. I was sitting outside my room in the smoking area, having a cig and drinking a coffee. My bus would be leaving in 2 hours to take me to Orlando Airport and home. The alarm clock didn't compute for the change in Daylight Saving Time so I was up an hour earlier then intended, but it was a good thing because I needed the extra time to pack. In any case, it was a nice mild morning and all I could think of was, "Damn... I just got here?!!?" Contrast that with how I felt when I first got to Orlando, which was... "Damn... How did I get here?!!?"
I've been a member of TC for about 10 months and I've competed in a number of their Studio competitions. TC appreciated my participation so much, they invited me to apply to be on the Studio Review Board for TC Collegiate Challenge 2007. Once I applied and was confirmed to go, (YAY!!!) it was a hectic 40 days of running around, and wading through bureaucracy to gather my travel documents. My Passport actually didn't come in until 2 weeks before the event so getting a Visa was out of the question. I'd just claim it was a pleasure trip and as it turns out, that was pretty much the case.
I got into Orlando airport around 6 pm on Tuesday, October 30th. After finding my way to a smoking area (By that time - I hadn't had a cigarette in 6 hours) I was greeted by warm, humid air and tropical foliage. I'm from Ontario, Canada so I was quite taken with the scenery. I must have looked pretty funny, puffing madly on a cigarette and gawking at the palm trees. I then took the bus to the resort and checked in. My room was amazing... The atmosphere of the place... Exhilarating. I signed in with TC at the convention center and received a nifty giftbag filled with assorted goodies, including a program, personal itinerary, a Disney World Park Hopper pass, a mousepad, an event T-shirt and a beautiful embroidered pullover.
I then toured the TCCC Arena and was thoroughly impressed with the layout. I greeted a few of my fellow Studio members. Everybody was walking around with huge grins. This was the opening reception so there was no competition; that would begin in earnest the next day. The Contemporary Resort main building, which houses the Concourse, Monorail stations, restaurants and shops (We stayed in the South Building which is more "hotel-like") has huge wide-open spaces and is wildly over-engineered.
Wednesday morning I was sitting out on the patio outside my room, leafing through the TCCC07 Program when I was assaulted by a duck. I first saw him out the corner of my eye, waddling onto the patio, but was unaware of the threat he posed. He regarded me inquisitively - I paid him little attention until he started pecking my thigh. Startled... I looked around thinking maybe this was his room. I then realized he was probably just hungry. I went inside and dug through my luggage for a packet of Delta Airlines snacks - Came back, sat down and hand-fed the duck mini-pretzels... Which he seemed to relish.
Here's a series of shots taken inside the Contemporary Resort Wednesday and Thursday. All the shops and restaurants are down below. I got to judge a pumpkin carving challenge there, alas... No pics. Which is a shame, because those pumpkins were incredibly well done.
There is a spacious outdoor veranda on the North side of the 4th level Concourse which doesn't get much use. This makes it a wonderfully quiet smoking area! You also get some great shots. The weather was pretty spotty the first couple of days, what with a hurricane lying 700 miles to our South/East. It was still very nice and surprisingly non-windy.
There were fireworks around 9:45 every night and I had wanted to take some photos of that, but I kept forgetting to hurry up there to take shots. And I always knew when I missed my chance, because it didn't matter where you were or what you were doing, it sounded like we were being bombed by Cuba. It's one of two opportunities I missed that I kick myself about. The other one being; taking the passenger ferries around the lake. Oh well... Maybe next year!
On Wednesday night, we did a Disney Team-Building exercise called The Incredible Race. There were 8 teams named after various Disney characters, and my team (Team Tigger) was comprised primarily of Polish coders, an Italian Studio member, an Argentine Studio member and a Spanish blogger named Ricky Martin (No lie!). The race itself involved running around Epcot center, (Ok, walking fast... We weren't allowed to run) solving Math puzzles, doing a line dance while singing a Polish folk-song, trying to keep our hula-hoops up consecutively for 30 seconds, getting lost, and generally annoying the tourists. It was a total farce and so I had a great time! But it was also very tiring. Unfortunately, I couldn't take any photos. But a Disney admin did take a photo of us in the Polish line-dance, which I'm trying to track down.
I did the Studio Review (Ostensibly, the reason I was there) on Friday morning with my fellow board members, nathanmcclain and kristofferrouge. It didn't start out too well as the Wifi kept cutting out, and all of us lost the first scorecard we had been marking. The IT guys snaked in a hardline and we were off again. The project was, design "... a poster and postcard that will promote Studio to college students." I was very impressed with the finish and quality of the work. When you consider that the Studio finalists had only 8 hours from start to finish to render their submissions, that's a helluva accomplishment. I learned a great deal about TC Studio during this phase as the admins were sitting across from us, ready to provide guidance in case we encountered any problems. They were funny, generous and highly professional. Oh, and they made plenty of Halloween candy available! By 1:30 pm, we had submitted all our scorecards and the admins compiled the results. This was the last review of the event and so, at 3 pm, the first place winners for all tracks were announced. abedavera won first place in the Studio Competition!
That night we were to go to the Italian pavilion at Epcot center for the formal closing reception. I had planned to go and had taken a nap after the winner announcements to rest up for it but I slept in. I didn't fret but ordered a nice sirloin steak dinner, watched some Olbermann, and called it a night.
The next day was Saturday and this was the day everybody had been waiting for. We had been given Park Hopper passes, which meant we had the option to hit any or all the Disney theme parks. I chose carefully, flagging the wildest rides and using them as guides to plan my route. I first took the Monorail to Epcot, and transferred to a bus to get to Disney MGM Studios. Just as I entered the park, I was almost run over by a traveling show called High School Musical 2, which was just about the most frightening moment of the whole trip. Imagine, if you will, being trampled by a herd of cheerleaders.
After collecting my wits, I found my way to the Star Wars, Star Tours ride - A virtual attack on the Death Star with R2D2 as the co-pilot. I remember watching Star Wars as a kid when it first came out so this was a real thrill. It was also my first time in a flight simulator so I was doubly impressed.
The lineup was very long and it was about 30 minutes before I finally got on the ride. We all sat down in the "elevator" and strapped on our seatbelts, as the creepy doorman wished us "good luck..." The door closed, and we felt the elevator kick in and started to ascend... We stopped, the door opened, and we were treated to a truly Twilight Zonesque light and hologram show. The door closed again and we ascended some more. The door opened again and we were looking out at MGM Studios sprawled below us, we must have been 150 feet up. I looked over at my neighbour, a thickset Spanish dude about my age and we both smiled. Then our seats fell out from under us, the seatbelt bit into my waist and my arms swung out over my head. Everybody was screaming as the elevator fell 13 stories down the shaft. (I still get vertigo just thinking about it.) It slowed down as we neared the bottom... And then sprang right back up again. I remember the door opening and lights flashing to take our picture, but for the most part, we was just falling and then springing back up. I swear... I couldn't control my arms. When the ride was over, I literally staggered out of there and everybody was wearing the same silly grin. I stopped briefly to look at my photo and laughed.
After leaving the Tower of Vertigo, I briefly considered the Aerosmith Rollercoaster and decided I wouldn't have enough time. So I left MGM Studios and took the bus to Animal Kingdom. When I arrived, I went first to Dinoland USA and the Dinosaur ride. On my way there I found Sue, the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil ever found. She was massive. I had seen photos of her before but they don't do justice to her size. I was really impressed. (Notice the little ham at the bottom...
The wait for getting on Dinosaur was 60 minutes, so I got a FastPass ticket which shortened the wait to 30 minutes. FastPass is a nice service for those holding certain Park Passes, especially those that are staying at one of the Resorts. Sort of a fast track to get on the rides. I sat around outside Dinosaur, watching people wander about, and made small talk with those who were also waiting. I was feeling pretty rested when I finally got in line and onto the ride. The theme of which is: You are going back in time to the Cretaceous period - in order to rescue a dinosaur - just as an asteroid is hitting the earth. Sound tame? It isn't... It's your typical darkly lit haunted house, but with huge animatronic meat-eating dinosaurs, grand mal seizure inducing strobe lights and very loud sound effects. I found the whole experience rather disquieting and, well... I wouldn't recommend it for kids.
After shaking that off, I wandered over to Asia, and Expedition Everest. I was fascinated with the surroundings, large timbered buildings, statues and flags...
After giving them my email and promising I'd send them the photos, I returned to waiting in line. What made the wait bearable was the beautiful blonde directing traffic onto the ride. Sorry... No photos. I was paired with an elderly East Indian woman on the ride, and we were off! I really enjoyed this one. It starts off like your typical rollercoaster, climbing and then dropping off to nothing. The real terror comes from the fact that YOU CAN'T SEE WHERE YOU ARE GOING... It twists and turns around and through the mountains at very high G, the train stops, because the track ahead has been torn up (Ostensibly, by the Yeti...) So we started to go backwards, slowly at first but quickly picking up speed... That's where it really got interesting. After we rolled to a stop, I climbed out grinning, but was very unsteady and almost walked into a wall - LOL. I found a place to have a smoke and was sitting there, trying to get my balance back and that stupid smile off my face.
I was still in Asia (LOL), so I went to the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Sort of a walk-through zoo.
I also saw some Asian deer, a Brahma bull and some Tigers. I had wanted to take some photos of the Tigers but when I saw one pacing in front of a wall, I knew he didn't want to be there... I felt sorry for him and it took the sails out of me a little.
I walked out of Asia and into Africa. My primary goal had been to take the Kilimanjaro Safari but the wait was 60 minutes, and the ride was closing before that. I was floored. I had been really looking forward to taking that safari. It was getting late but the reason I was at Animal Kingdom was to see the animals, so I took the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail instead. The first animal I saw was a huge Hippo. The exhibit was pretty cool, a large tank of water with a glass viewing area below the water line. And people were lining up to take photos of the Hippo as it swam/ran past. I took a photo but it didn't look like a Hippo, more like a brown blur and murky water.
The next area was the Meercats! I've always loved these guys, I don't know why.
Just outside was the open-air exhibit of the Gorillas. There were 3 Silverbacks (Big Alpha-male Gorillas) and according to the Park guide, the dominant Silverback was in the trench below us and out of our viewing area. The other two smaller (I found that hard to believe...) ones were above him, making noises, beating their chests, and assuming threatening postures.
I took a few photos and trust me, it's very discomforting to know that there is nothing between you and a testosterone-tripping Gorilla, except air and a 12 foot high trench. I saw a sneaker down there, assumed maybe the owner was lying nearby but after a quick glance, didn't notice anything amiss.
It was getting pretty late, so I found the exit and boarded a bus back to the resort. I had spent 7 hours touring 2 theme parks and well, I was very tired. Once I got to my room, I ordered some Dominoes pizza, kicked back and watched TV til bed-time. Which was 9:30 pm because I'd be waking up early the next morning to pack, checkout and begin my trip home. When I woke up Sunday morning, I made some coffee and sat outside meditating on the trip. It didn't seem like I had just spent 6 days there, and I felt a lil melancholy. BUT, it was time to return home...
Below is my ride home, well... my ride to Cincinnati. I'd layover there an hour and catch my final flight to Toronto. The flights were great - window seats all the way and I got some spectacular views of the Appalachians. I listened to my MP3 player and watched the earth drift by, it was one of the most relaxing moments I had on the trip.
I got into Toronto airport at around noon. After tracking down my luggage and clearing customs, I walked to the parking lot and was greeted by a dead car battery. ARGH! A friendly traveler gave me a boost and after thanking him and his wife, I was on my way home. I felt very grateful, as this was the only negative event experienced during my trip. (Well... That and the portabello mushroom sandwiches catered for lunch!)
I'll leave you with a shot of a Copa Airlines jet on the opposite side of the Delta gate at Orlando Airport. The sun was just starting to rise, slowly burning off the mist on the runways.