Orlando – day eight

Read about our whole trip:

Orlando – Day one

Orlando – Day two

Orlando – Day three

Orlando – Day four

Orlando – Day five

Orlando – Day six

Orlando – Day seven

Saturday, travel day.

Leaving this behind.

Our trip from Orlando to Vancouver was anything but direct. Nope, we were leaving MCO and heading north to Ottawa, from Ottawa to Toronto and only then from Toronto back home to Vancouver.

I love traveling. I mean that in the sense of exploring new places, but also in the act itself. I like checking my bags, I like boarding flights, I like take-off, I like landing, I like claiming my bags. I especially like connecting flights. The more airports I can visit on any leg of travel, the better. Yes, seriously. Fortunately, Kevin is pretty laid back when it comes to travel, too.

Manuel picked us up at our hotel three and a half hours before our flight and thanked us for our business and our friendship when he dropped us off twenty minutes later. It was nice to know him while we were here. He promised to let us know if he ever came to Vancouver. If you ever go to Orlando, let me know and I’ll give you his number. He’s fantastic.

We walked into the airport in front of the Air Canada desk and it was immediately clear that it was a total mess. A totally insane shitshow.

We never did find out what exactly was the problem or if there even was one, but the kiosks would not take payment for baggage, wouldn’t print baggage tags for people who’d paid for bags online and people were lined up for check in AND bag drop-off as far as you could see. Hundreds of people everywhere. And *maybe* ten Air Canada staff members to handle it all. (I think there were more like only five or six.)

I don’t want to dwell on the negative, but we waited about 75 minutes to drop off our suitcase then had to hustle through security, onto the little shuttle train and over to our gate in order to get there in the nick of time. This was easily the least prepared I’d ever seen a travel situation in all my time and that is pretty frustrating to be in.

But…we survived.

Since we obviously weren’t the only ones who were delayed and we had arrived three hours before our flight, we made it there and boarded like we normally would.

I guess it’s normal that, departing from a place like Orlando, the flight would be full of families and large groups of travelers and that just added to the insanity. Kevin and I weren’t sitting together, but we had plenty of entertainment to dig into. I’d just started the third Harry Potter book, but took a break from reading when I noticed that The Night Of was available on the entertainment system. Our friends had raved about this show and I’d listened to a podcast featuring some of the cast members so I was very interested in that and watched the first episode right away.

Our flight to Ottawa was smooth without any major disruptions.

Upon our arrival, we had to figure out what we needed to do and how to do it in a short amount of time. We knew we had to clear customs, but we didn’t know we had to claim our checked luggage, hand in our declarations then drop our checked bag off again before heading to our next gate. With 45 minutes to do all that, it seemed tight, but when nobody else seemed worried, neither was I.

The signage wasn’t the best in the Ottawa airport and we got a little lost, then, once back on track, discovered we’d have to go through another security check.

While waiting in line there, we compared notes (boarding passes) for the first time and realized that we weren’t actually on the same flight to Toronto! No, Kevin’s flight actually left one hour later!

Once we cleared the security check in Ottawa, I hustled over to my gate and Kevin took off to explore.

My plane for this flight was smaller and it was full. (I found out later that Kevin’s was bigger and empty.) I mostly just read and we were up and down in what seemed like no time.

Once I arrived in Toronto, I hunted down some food for our last leg of the trip. I knew Kevin had only fifteen minutes between his arrival and our boarding time so I gathered a meal and some snacks for our flight home.

He arrived and was a little shaky after a turbulent flight so it was probably good that our flight was delayed for a while. We took a stroll, filled our water bottles and talked the staff into switching our seats so we could sit together.

Our flight back to Vancouver was in a Boeing 787, probably the nicest plane I’d ever been on. Even better: we had a whole row to ourselves.

And so it was, fifteen hours after we started clear across the other side of the continent, we arrived home happy, healthy, safe and sleepy.

Also, it’s raining here.

Orlando – day seven

Friday. Our last full day in Florida and we had one thing on our minds: space. Well, that and the space coast.

Kevin had made arrangements to rent a car and we were taking a drive out to Kennedy Space Centre, estimated to be about one hour outside of Orlando.

I’d been to NASA once before, when I visited Houston twelve years ago (I remember because that trip, too, and as just after an election.) but Kevin never had. My visit to Johnson Space Centre definitely left me game for going again.

We hopped in our car and headed east to Titusville. A friend had warned me to be careful driving because all the highways are tolled and if you get off at the wrong exit, you’ll end up paying the same tolls over and over. That was a sound warning and we totally did that. The upside of a lot of tolls: I got rid of almost all the American change (about a zillion pennies), some of which I’m sure I had been carrying around for a decade. 👍🏼

The ride was smooth, well-marked and we made it there safely in less than an hour. There was plenty of parking ($10/car) and we found a spot easily. We walked up to the ticket sales area and skipped the line-ups, opting for self-service instead. The process is easy and user-friendly and we had tickets in hand ($50/person) in minutes. One quick stop for a photo with NASA’s ubiquitous logo statue and we were on our way.

We entered with the rocket garden on our left and walked through some of the early displays. We ducked in to watch a movie in the Journey to Mars exhibition. That’s when we found out that there was a lunch happening the very next day after we were there. We were super bummed that we were so close, but would still miss it! I can’t even imagine how cool it would be to see something like that!

We hopped on the bus and took the tour over to the Apollo/Saturn V Center. On the way over there, we got to see a launchpad, the monstrous Vehicle Assembly Building and even the rocket that is launching tomorrow in the distance.

At the Apollo/Saturn V Center, we watched two videos detailing the Apollo launches, then walked into a room that houses the Saturn V, the largest rocket ever flown. We toured many exhibits inside this huge building and even had lunch.

The food was decent, (My first veggie burger in Florida!) but I thought it would have been better if it had all been space food. 😂

Although, this is kind of space food…

Once we were done roaming around, we headed back to the main visitors part of the centre and explored the Atlantis building. Upon entering, we watched a film about how space shuttle technology has evolved. Once the first film was complete, we were moved into a second room for another film. The finale of the second film and the introduction to the exhibition were so wonderful and seamless, it was probably my favourite part of the day. The next part was Kevin’s favourite: the shuttle blast-off simulator.

By the time we left the Atlantis building, we realized that we’d been at the KSC campus for seven hours! And we’d thought we’d have a bunch of time to go to the beach. Ha!

We left shortly after that, but not before we checked out our route to the (now dark) beach and former home of some friends, Cocoa Beach. Our drive through Port Canaveral took us straight into Cocoa Beach and we stumbled across a night market there. We couldn’t resist so we pulled over and parked the car. We took a stroll through the market and stopped to split a delicious lobster roll (my first!) and New England clam chowder from Jazzy’s Mainely Lobster. Once we’d had a look around, we were heading back to the car when Kevin asked some locals about a bar we’d been told to visit. He asked the right people! We stood and talked to this lovely couple for about fifteen minutes. They were so friendly and directed us to Coconuts (the place we wanted to go), to the pier where we could see the ocean and insisted that we stop at Ron Jon’s before we left town.

I’d never heard of Ron Jon’s, but Kevin filled me in that it’s a really famous east coast surf shop. Now, even as someone who has never surfed, I LOVE surf shops. And Ron Jon’s did not disappoint.

But first we hit up Coconuts. Our friends who now live in Turkey, but once lived in Cocoa Beach recommended it and on this Friday night it was hopping and literally right on the beach. It was like being in a surf movie party!

Next up, we headed down the road to Ron Jon’s. To say the place is huge is an understatement. As far as the eye could see there were branded t-shirts, surf boards, hats and, as Kevin out it, “every kind of flip flop you could imagine!” (True story!)

I regret not taking any pictures inside the store because it was such a cool place to be, but it was impossible to resist shopping so, put it this way: we took a lot of other souvenirs away from there.

After that, we turned our Chevy Impala towards Orlando again and headed back to our room at the hotel to pack up the rest of our things and hit the pool for a midnight swim.

Our trip was quickly coming to an end and we did a debrief on our ride back to the city. It had been a lot of fun all around and Kevin even suggested it might be one of our best trips ever.

Orlando – day six

Finally, a little freedom! Day six was our first without any obligations or expectations and we were excited to get it and explore!

We woke up early (for a vacation day) and we skipped a morning swim because our cab driving friend from yesterday (I’ll tell you his name. It’s Manuel.) was picking us up at 9:30 so that we could get to the Amway Center for an hour later.

You see, as Canadians, five days without hockey was too much so we were checking out our very first ECHL game between the Orlando Solar Bears and the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. (I repeat, the ORLANDO SOLAR BEARS and GREENVILLE SWAMP RABBITS. Best team names ever.)

So, the game started at 10:30. AM. This was something new for the team and it was designed to allow school age children to come and check out the game. Two thousand of them. From schools all over the city. It was actually pretty cool and the kids were so funny. When they sang along with Sponge Bob Square Pants arena music, when they waved their rally towels every time the Solar Bears scored and, when they chanted, “go bears go” and when they sang their little hearts out to Let It Go on jumbotron karaoke. Adorable.

From the moment we arrived, we were treated so wonderfully. A host came outside just to tell us about a secret entrance where we could avoid the big line-ups of kids. The woman at the box office was really patient and accommodating. Everyone made a point of saying hello to us and welcoming us to the arena.

Orlando is a city of tourism. Everyone here is on top of their customer service game and, you know what? It’s really nice.

We did a loop or two of Amway Center, checked the place out and got to our seats just in time from puck drop. I was inspired to do a special ECHL edition of my “Our NHL experience” series so I won’t give away too many details, but I will say that we really enjoyed the game. The action itself was exciting (3-1 Orlando after one period, 3-3 after two, 7-4 final) and the game day experience was really well done.

Afterwards, we took a peek inside the Orlando Magic team store. They’re the roommates of the Solar Bears. We didn’t buy anything there, but I did try on a blazer that can only be described as snazzy.

Manuel has shown us the way to walk to get to an area of that boasted restaurants, cafes and things to see so we headed in that direction.

Downtown Orlando is quite pretty. It’s very clean and well-kept. There are trees at regular intervals and street art on most corners. The streets are brick and well-marked with big fancy signs. It felt largely like a business district, but it was peppered with enough eateries that it was also tourist friendly. It has a very southern feel to it.

We were hungry and Manuel had recommended a pizza joint for us to try, but then, while looking it up on a map (thank you, Downtown Orlando free wifi!), we discovered Wahlburgers was nearby. We’d watched the show (on hotel tv, of course) and we’d talked about going to one in Vegas with my brother, but we never made it.

I loved the vibe of the restaurant as soon as we walked in. Everything was really dark wood with lime green chairs and accents. It looked really nice.

We were greeted by a super friendly hostess who gave us the lay of the land and sat us at a table in the full-service section. I decided to try sweet tea and Kevin had water. I was a little surprised that the drinks came in paper cups, but /shrug.

Once our server came and introduced himself, we ordered a portobello sandwich for me (“Ma’am, you’re aware there’s no meat on that?” Uh, yeah.) and an OFD for Kevin. Sides were onion rings for me and tater tots for him.

When everything came, it was served in baskets and it was really, really good. The portobello sandwich was a little melty/drippy, but delicious. Kevin really enjoyed the OFD. I wouldn’t get the onion rings again – they were super thin and didn’t taste much like onion at all – but overall, is give the place a big thumbs up. I would definitely visit if I was in another city where there was a location.

As we were getting ready to leave, a couple of guys came in with WWE championship belts. Kevin has always really liked those so he noticed them right away. We overheard them talking about a WWE event that was happening because Wrestle Mania is being held here in Orlando next April and tickets went on sale (presale and in person sales only) that day. We walked away and didn’t think much more about it.

We were deciding between staying downtown and looking around and going back to our hotel for an afternoon at the pool. We leaned towards going home, but I said I wanted to walk at least a little further. I stopped at a bank machine and then we turned a corner and saw some kind of event being set up on a lawn across the street. We carried on and as we got closer to the action, Kevin saw some WWE signage over at the Dr Phillips Centre so we crossed the street. It turns out that we’d just stumbled on the main event!

We asked a host who was working at the end of a long line of people and he said that everyone in his line was waiting to buy tickets to Wrestle Mania at 4pm, but there was “some kind of party” on the lawn starting at 5pm and that it was free.

Sometimes it feels like Kevin and I just run into the most random events and the next thing we know, we’re in the middle of them. It’s actually one of my favourite things about our relationship, that we can make plans, but also break them when something like this happens.

We decided to stick around and see what was going on with this party. We walked around to ththe front of the lawn (which was all cordoned off) mostly just to get a picture, but then we came across a line-up of people. This was just after 3pm.

We got in line and waited until they let us into the party at 5pm. We watched food trucks arrive and tents get set up, we watched photo stations for people who wanted pics with the championship belt and a we saw the real wrestling ring and televisions set up at the far end of the space.

The whole time, I just kept laughing. When is woken up that morning, I’d never expected I’d be attending a wrestling event!

We got let in and went to the photo area so Kevin could get his pic with the belt. Next, we headed straight for the ring and ended up with spots right at ringside! We waited for another 40 minutes and then the hosts came out and introduced themselves. They showed some videos and then welcomed a few wrestlers (including Booker T!) out into the ring.

Next up: the action! We stuck around for NXT matches, one men, one women and then we decided to explore the other tents and start heading home.

We called Manuel and he was about 25 minutes away so we grabbed a couple of Kona Ices and walked around.

We ran into Kevin’s friend from earlier in the day, Shades. He’s the mascot for the Solar Bears and came running up and hugged Kevin like he was a long lost brother. It was awesome!

By the time we made it back to Caribe Royale, it was 9pm. So much for our afternoon at the pool!

We grabbed some food at the marketplace, headed to our room, relaxed, tried to figure out how we’d get everything back into our suitcase and prepared for our last day of vacation and a road trip out to the coast.

Orlando – day five

Approaching 1am on Wednesday morning, I was sipping rehydrated clear noodle soup because I hadn’t eaten dinner at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Approaching 7am, my wake-up call for the final day of the conference, I was a new level of tired. I thought I was exhausted on Tuesday morning, that was nothing compared to Wednesday. I had a Harry Potter hangover.

Fortunately, day three at KronosWorks is just a half day and it composed of three quick and easy morning sessions. I went, I saw, I grabbed my to-go lunch and came back “home.” 

I’d left Kevin at our hotel because we needed him to check out of the room while I was away and then store our bags at the bell desk. We weren’t leaving town yet, but we weren’t sticking around the Hilton any longer either. When we were planning the vacation part of this trip, I’d discovered that after the final day of the conference, the Hilton was sold out. I went on Hotwire (hotel roulette as I like to call it) and found something else, but it meant we had to move mid-trip. No biggie. 

We had one final lunch at the Hilton, went for a swim, played some golf and then got a cab over to our next destination: Caribe Royale.

I feel like one of my favourite things to happen this day was the conversation we had with our cab driver. He’s a guy who moved from the Bronx to Orlando twenty months ago. He’s happy here and says that it’s much more affordable. He owns four cabs and gave us his number when he dropped us off so that we could call him if we needed to go anywhere else. This was perfect since we actually would be needing a cab. I was able to text him later and he agreed to pick us up next time we were on our way out. That part was convenient and cool, but it was also nice to just have a conversation with someone who has a totally different experience of life than either of us do. This, THIS, is what makes traveling so interesting.

We checked into our hotel, were given a room way earlier than we’d expected (hey, it never hurts to ask!) and here is where the most bizarre thing that’s happened so far on this trip happened.

We made our way through the hotel lobby, out and around the pool, into our tower (it’s seven floors, easy guys) and to the door of our room. We used the key to open the door and we’re just as surprised as the housekeeping employee who was eating her lunch inside. I just laughed, but she apologized over and over and over again.

A couple things here. First, if you were to ever ask me what I thought would be the worst job in the world, I would tell you it’s hotel housekeeping. We all know that people tend to misbehave while away from home and hotels give them a sense of anonymity. That, friends, is a killer combination. I bet housekeeping sees a lot of things that they just can’t unsee. Gross. Second, I didn’t think it was that big a deal. It was just really, really weird and awkward. But, hey, I’d rather she eat her lunch than not – it was just weird that the smell of someone’s home cooked leftovers lingered in our room for a while. Third, she just kept apologizing. Like she was really scared of what was going to happen. And that made me sad.

It took a good twenty minutes of just sitting in silence in our room to shake off the awkward feeling from that encounter. Also, trying to connect to our not so solid wifi.

So, we comforted ourselves with something we’ve started to become hooked on: TLC

We don’t have channels like The “Learning” Channel at home and, as Kevin keeps pointing out, there isn’t anything to learn on them at all anymore. I call it hotel TV and it’s something I look forward to on my trips to the US.

  • 90 Day Fiance
  • Outdaughtered
  • Say Yes to the Dress
  • Married by Mom and Dad
  • My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding

These are just a few of the shows we’ve had on in the background this week.

And, I mean, where do they come up with this stuff? No wonder marriages never last, they’re increasingly treated like game shows!

Eventually, we roused ourselves and headed check out our new pool. 

This hotel is a little different than our last one. First of all, it’s busier. This may be attributed to being in a much smaller area. The property is big, but the common areas are a little crammed together. The pool is a bit smaller, but it’s situated in a way that allows for more pool deck space and there were ten times as many guests taking advantage of that than there were at any one time at the Hilton, maybe even combined. The entrance and lobby area are pretty opulent, but also dated. We’re not picky, though, and I t’s nice enough. Besides, we rarely spend much time in any hotel room.

…Except our first night there. The rush of everything we’d been doing since we left home combined with not having any events to attend left us feeling tired and a little lost. So, we wandered around and explored the hotel, ordered a pizza from the take-out cafe in the lobby and went to bed early. (After binging on My Cat From Hell episodes. Not TLC, Animal Planet.)

I realized when we took a walk on Wednesday night that it was the first time that I’d actually stepped foot on a real Orlando street. I anticipate plenty more Orlando streets in the two days until we leave for home.

Orlando – day four

Day four of our travels was my second full conference day and I woke up EXHAUSTED. I knew that straddling the time zone we came from while living in the one we were in (three hours ahead) was catching up to me. I also noticed I was looking pretty puffy in the photos we’d been taking so I needed to be more conscious about drinking more water. I needed to get myself together!

I dragged out of bed and we headed back down to the track. I knew that getting a run in would help me start to feel better. And it did. My head cleared, I brightened up a little.

I got showered and dressed and walked myself over to the conference. I’ve heard many people grumble about the ten-minute stroll, but I like it. Kevin walked with me that day because he wanted to investigate the coffee situation at Dunkin Donuts. (I’d heard it was great. He gave it a major thumbs down.)

REAL TALK: we have barely had a decent cup of coffee since we landed in Florida. Starbucks seems almost non-existent and the hotel coffee so far has been, well, decidedly un-west coast.

Here are some of the luxuries that we enjoy living on the west coast. Travel has taught me that we are really lucky to have these things and I sometimes have to remind myself of that.

  • Healthy food. If you think being a vegetarian or gluten-free or low carb or whatever is tough in Vancouver, it is a LOT more challenging outside of it. I’ve been on trips when literally the only thing I’ve seen that I’ve been able to eat was green salads and sometimes even they have required some negotiation. Most major cities are coming around, but plan to step outside and I’d recommend you pack a few of your own essentials. (Both conference hotels have done a great job of providing healthy and interesting selections of food.
  • Good coffee. It isn’t the best in the world, I’m sure, and not every cup is perfection, BUT the close proximity of Starbucks’ origin certainly raised the bar as far as what west coasters were willing to accept. The tea drinkers attached themselves to the cause and they forced tea providers to up their game as well. If you’ve ever asked “what kind of tea do you have?” and been met with a blank stare or a stammering, “uh, Red Rose?” then you know what I’m talking about.
  • Free and accessible wifi. Everyone has it. I dare say that it has become our expectation. From community centres to entire cities, we have wifi and we share it with everyone. I saw this in Europe and, again, in some major cities (props to Vegas, especially and Irlando has also been great) but I learned to check that FREE wifi is listed as a feature before I confirm any hotel. I learned that the hard way. And wifi is one thing that it really irks me to have to pay for.

But, back to Tuesday. I skipped breakfast (I know, I know) because water felt like the thing I really needed most. Morning sessions were good and I even managed to get back to our room for a cat nap! (Breaks between sessions are much longer than I remember!)

Lunchtime was pretty good again: Greek salad, farro salad, green beans, rice, citrus salmon with coconut rice pudding and chocolate mousse for dessert. Thumbs up all around.

The afternoon was nice because not only did I get to two really great sessions, but I also got to see a couple of people I really like and call friends. An extra reward from attending an event like KronosWorks: meeting new people from all over the world.

We snacked on trail mix and fruit during our afternoon break and the conference started to buzz with anticipation of the big event that night: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Every year, there is one big event at the conference. Similar to the customer dinners on day one, this event is a private event held in a great location and the Kronos team does a really amazing job of making it fun and special and something you won’t want to miss. This year, however, they outdid themselves.

We were bussed from our hotels to Universal Studios where we had full private access to two lands that represent two major parts of Harry’s life: Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Each was located in a different one of Universal’s theme parks and we were able to move back and forth between them by taking a ride on the Hogwarts Express.

Dinner and drinks were provided and available in many locations throughout both locations. We had different priorities, though. We were there to ride the rides, see the sights and to check out the shops. It turns out that we have many big Harry Potter fans in our lives, but some of the biggest are also the littlest people we know. And I told Kevin that I didn’t care about the food – we could eat anywhere, but we only have three hours at Harry Potter!

We started in Diagon Alley and wandered the cobblestone streets in awe and amazement alongside all the other guests who arrived with us. We saw a sweets shop and a robes shop and even a wands shop across the way. High above Gringott’s a dragon sat perched and it wasn’t long before she let out some huffs and puffs and blew fire just to let us know she was there.

Our first decision point was to take our chances on the Escape from Gringott’s ride. We had to leave anything that could fit in our pockets behind and since I had a little wristlet with me, I was directed to a bank of lockers close by.

Shout out to these lockers: as I found out, they are located all over the parks in areas close to rides that require them. They are free to rent for varying amounts of time or you can pay to have them for longer periods. Using a touch screen, you identify your need to rent a locker then using a finger scan, your are recorded into the system and a locker is assigned to you. Just open it up and put your stuff inside – it’s big enough for a pretty big purse or some shopping bags – then press a button and your belongings are secure. When you come back to collect, you just scan your finger at the same computer screen and your locker will open up for you. Just don’t forget your locker number. The two-point verification requires your locker number AND your finger scan. (There was an option on the screen for if you forgot your locker number, but we didn’t explore it.) Each locker is assigned to a specific touch screen so you can’t unlock one from a different station. I’d guess there are maybe 25 per station so even if you didn’t remember your number, you’ll likely remember it’s location and be able to sort it all out.

Back to Escape from Gringott’s. It was so much fun! We had to walk quite a long way to get to the actual start of the ride. Some of that was through somewhat empty rooms where the metals railings where hundreds of people would normally be corralled while waiting to access the ride. It was a good reminder of how lucky we were to be there when and how we were. Other parts took us through the heart of the bank where goblin tellers counted and recorded some kind of stats we’d never know while occasionally focusing their beady little eyes on us as we walked by.

Eventually, we wound our way to a room where we witnessed a dramatic encounter was taking place between Bill Weasley and a goblin before being ushered into an elevator waiting room. Once the doors opened, we descended into the depths of the goblin bank. From there, there was another long walk to get our 3D glasses and then up several flights of stairs to the ride loading area.

Once we were seated and strapped in, it was go time on 4.5 minutes of real roller coaster-ing combined with virtual roller coaster-ing, some spinning, some hot dragon breath and non-stop smiles and laughter. We returned to the platform clapping and cheering and everyone walked out chattering about how much fun it had been.

We were high on adrenaline and it was at this point, we decided to head over to Hogsmeade where there were more rides.

We made our way out of Diagon Alley and through King’s Cross Station to catch the next Hogwarts Express.

This slowed things down significantly – it was really fun and exciting, but in more of a story telling kind of way. We were seated in a compartment and as we traveled, we saw images related to Harry leaving London for Hogwarts outside the window side of the train and silhouettes of Harry, Ron and Hermione talking and getting up to something in the aisle outside the compartment side.

We arrived in Hogsmeade and immediately headed for the Dragon Challenge. Security at the entrance told us we couldn’t have anything in our pockets or hands. We found the lockers and gave up my wristlet, Kevin’s phone and even his glasses. I guided him up the ramp until I said, “whoa! This is a stand up roller coaster.” He stopped in his tracks. Over nearly six years, I think this is the first time I’ve heard him say that he simply would not do something. Stand up roller coasters. Who knew? (Its with a deep amount of regret that I tell you I discovered after the fact that and too late that it isn’t actually a stand up roller coaster, it just loads from above so in the dark the people looked tall enough that we thought they were standing. Waaaaaah! We missed it!)

Moving on, we headed to Hogwarts where we roamed the castle and went on the Forbidden Journey ride. The walk to the loading area is a fun experience in itself and this was my favourite part of our visit.

Rides aren’t like they used to be – where they terrified you with their stability – like, you actually thought the thing might fall apart or because you could see exactly how fast you were moving and the direction(s) you were going in. On Forbidden Journey, the thrills come through images and simulated movement. Through my research, I was informed that the ride is “not a roller coaster, but a scenic dark ride.” (Wikipedia)

Call it whatever you want, flying through the skies and alongside Harry, through the Quidditch pitch and back to Hogwarts, it’s a super fun four plus minutes.

Coming off Forbidden Journey, we were drunk on all things Harry Potter so we totally fell for the marketing scheme of making the exit a gift shop. We were so intent on shopping while we were at the park that we’d actually written a list of people we needed souvenirs for. I bought myself some knee-high Gryffindor socks and Kevin bought himself a really great Hogwarts golf shirt.

Next up, we took the quick one-minute family-friendly roller coaster, Flight of the Hippogriff. It was cute and good for a few laughs, but exactly what it promised: family friendly. Fun, but not super thrilling.

We hit up the sweets shop next and stocked up on staples like Every Flavor Beans (they really do include ten gross flavours including grass, vomit, sausage, black pepper) and Chocolate Frogs. I even got myself a bottle of Pumpkin Juice. (I haven’t tried it yet.)

By now, we only had about an hour left in our night and we still had a few things to find and buy. We were too excited to be hungry so we hadn’t eaten. Every so often we grabbed some drinks – water for me and beer for Kevin.

We were undecided about going back to Diagon Alley, but then talked to one of the hosts who told us that the story going from Hogsmeade to London is different than the story in the other direction so we decided to take another train ride.

Back at Diagon Alley, we hit up some more shops and knocked a few more gifts off our shopping list. It’s here that I discovered that Kevin has deeeeeeep pockets when it comes to Amy and Tyson’s Harry Potter loving kids! I also can’t tell some of the super awesome things he picked out for them because they’re surprises for everyone. 😉

One great thing about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and, I assume, all of Universal Studios was that the people there, the staff, are in character non-stop. To skeptics, I’m sure it’s a little (or a lot) hokey, but I thought it was really fun. We heard several references to Muggles included a storekeeper who referred to my credit card as Muggles plastic. It was cute and it really added to the experience.

When we were all done, we had enough time for one last spin around the alley before walking back to where the shuttles would pick us up.

We left the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with smiles plastered on our faces and we couldn’t stop talking about how much fun we’d had.

We got back to the hotel and ate marketplace food past midnight, but it (and the lack of sleep) was all totally worth it!

Orlando – day three

Here’s something about Orlando: when I’m here, my hair gets really frizzy, really fast. I’m like Monica Gellar in Jamaica. Well, as much like Monica Gellar in Jamaica as a girl with dead straight hair can be. You probably wouldn’t even notice, but I did. And so did Kevin. Unless he was just trying to humour me.

Anyway. We woke up bright and early on Monday morning to take advantage of the quarter mile track that our hotel has to offer. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t run outside. I probably just wouldn’t run because I have no interest in treadmills. Also, they kind of terrify me.

We hit the track and learned that running in Florida is different than running in BC. There is humidity and heat to battle. Neither is so bad in and of itself, but it sure does make it tough to breathe! And a quarter mile is a very short distance if you are doing it multiple times to meet your goal. At home, we are lucky to have a large enough space to run in that it never really looks the same. A quarter mile is nothing and you see the same thing over and over.

But even a repetitive run is good. And, in FLA, sweaty.

I headed to my conference for breakfast and the keynote address featuring several Kronos staffers (Kronites) and Seth Mattison, an expert on workplace trends. Seth was inspiring, thought-provoking and entirely enjoyable. 

Once the two-hour kick-off was complete, we collectively made the trek from the Hilton to the Hyatt Regency (about ten minutes) to get started in the day’s learning sessions. I spent some time getting educated about burnout, organizational design and using data to improve productivity and efficiency. It was a lot to absorb, but it was good.

One of the things I’m most curious about at conferences is the food they will serve. I love seeing how innovative catering can get especially with really large groups like our 2.5k crowd. 

Breakfast was pretty standard, as was lunch. Snacks were fruit and muffins, croissants, etc mid-morning and fruit, popcorn, nuts and cakes mid-afternoon. The mid-afternoon almonds and perfectly shaped tiny pear (they called it korelle on the basket, but Google has never even heard of such a pear, so) were my favourite part.

Things I ate for the first time today:

  • Dragon fruit
  • Swamp cabbage
  • Grouper
  • Hominy

After my day of learning, I was ready to retreat back to the room for a little time out. Only about an hour later, it was time to get moving again and catch the shuttle to the evening’s festivities: the customer dinner.

Each year at KronosWorks, attendees are organized by their industry. Many events are applicable to everyone, others are tailored to a specific industry. The customer dinners are a networking opportunity for people in the same industry. They are always a special event and this year, the manufacturing and energy group (my industry) were whisked off to a private “block party” at Universal City Walk. Bob Marley’s, Pat O’Brien’s and Rising Star. Tables were set up serving small plates, there were life sized board games to play and the bars were open with different entertainment in each (Monday Night Football, Dualing Pianos and karaoke, respectively.) 

The most interesting part of the food for me (and from a distance) was a MASSIVE pot of jambalaya. Kevin liked the sliders. I just ate some plain pasta and an M&M ice cream sandwich. (To my knowledge, we do NOT have these in Canada.)

We watched a little football and then decided to break out from the party and explore the surrounding area. 

If you’re like me and haven’t been in an amusement park in a looooong time, it’s a real change of scenery. Lights, action and people EVERYWHERE. It was neat to walk around and see everything that was going on in a place designed to be totally excessive and to completely overwhelm your senses. Mission accomplished! (And this was after the rides and parks seemed to have closed.)

We walked a loop around the area and poked our heads into the different stores and kiosks we came across. Kevin picked up a Grinch holiday shirt for our upcoming Santa Shuffle (benefiting the Salvation Army) and I got my Orlando and Florida Starbucks You are Here mugs.

Once we’d made a full loop, we headed for the shuttle area and made our way back to the hotel for a swim and to get some sleep.

It was a really fun night and just another detail that makes this conference such a specatacularly organized and enjoyable event.

It’s been three busy days since we left home and the conference is only a little more than third of the way through. 

Me being on conference is something we’ve never done before, but I think Kevin had a fun time wandering around and hanging out at the pool during the day. Thankfully, KronosWorks is a very spouse-friendly conference and that is super awesome because it means I don’t have to choose between leaving him alone in the evenings and missing some of the fun! 😁

One and a half more conference days, the BIG special event and then we’ve got a couple of true vacation days coming our way!

Orlando – day two 

Who comes to THE SUNSHINE STATE and doesn’t pack SUNGLASSES? 

In asking, I don’t think I really need to answer, right?

Yeah, it was me. 

So, we spent our first Orlando daylight hour hunting down a new pair. Fortunately, it wasn’t so challenging and we’d slept so late that at the same time I was also able to get registered for the conference that brought us here in the first place: KronosWorks. In short: it’s an annual conference and learning opportunity for people who use and maintain the scheduling and payroll software that I implemented in my workplace.

So, we took a walk to where part of the conference is taking place: the Hyatt Regency Orlando. The walkway took us through the Orange County Convention Centre which is seriously HUGE. But everything here is. Huge buildings separated by huge open spaces. 

We checked out where I will be spending the next few days, grabbed some lunch and wandered around over there.

So far, here’s how we assessed Orlando amid all the palm trees, outrageously loud carpets, dim lighting and random roller coasters: Spacious Vegas.

After our stroll around the neighbourhood, we came back for a mid-afternoon swim. We’d hung out in the family pool last night and today we went to the adults only pool. We swam, we sat in the sun, I read. It was great.

We towelled off and headed out to the first of our KronosWorks engagements: the Canadian Customer Reception where I got to see some old friends and meet some new people over drinks and a nice spread of cheese, veggies and dip and a couple of hot hors d’oeuvres. We hung out at that reception for a couple of hours before the next event began.

As we made our way through the hotel to the big welcome dinner reception, we wound through wide hallways and down escalators (to say the hotel is sprawling would be an understatement.) We turned the final corner and it opened up to a wall of windows behind which we could see lights, flames, bright colours and lots of action. It was such a delightful surprise, I wanted to go running out onto the promenade to see it all. (Unfortunately, photos don’t do it justice.)

Once we were outside, we could see that the event was spread over a very large space and tiers of grass and concrete. Tables of all sizes were spread throughout and small stations of food were everywhere. 

I love this kind of party! Small plates with lots of different options. In this case, they included:

  • A flatbread station: like pizzas minus the cheese
  • A pasta station: freshly cooked ingredients that went into the pasta right in front of you, one cream sauce, one in vodka sauce
  • A Mediterranean station: hummus, feta, pita chips, chickpea salad, roasted eggplant and other veggies
  • Salads
  • Standard prime rib and mashed potatoes
  • A station with risotto, vegetables, chicken and mahi mahi 
  • Chocolate fondue and handmade truffles
  • Dessert! Key lime tarts, chocolate mousse, red velvet cake pops, grapefruit upside down cake and macarons 
  • Coffee and tea
  • Plenty of bars serving domestic beers and wine
  • A craft beer station completed with a Kronos ice sculpture and CO2 glass cooling contraption

It was a super fun time. The food was so good and it was neat to walk around in that outdoor party atmosphere. 

After a little over an hour trying as many different foods as we could, we headed back to our room to relax, digest and change back into our (wet) bathing suits for one last swim for the day. 

Our first full day in Orlando was full indeed! And, funny, we don’t seem to miss the Vancouver rain at all! 😉

Orlando – day one

I gave Kevin a really hard time when he booked travel him from Prague with a NINE HOUR layover in London. It wasn’t enough time to get out and tour the city, but it was too much time to sit in a terminal and still maintain our sanity. Alas, we survived and life went on.

I evened the playing field on this trip when I booked an international flight that left at 7am. We’d decided last year that we wouldn’t take any flights that left before 8am, especially international flights, because it requires such a ridiculously early wake-up call. I forgot. In my defense, flying from Vancouver to Orlando isn’t nearly as easy as you might think.

So, our alarms went off at 3:30am and we did all our last minute packing, kissed the cats goodbye and took a cab to YVR. We flew from there to Dallas Fort Worth where we explored the Cowboys Pro Shop, grabbed some lunch and picked up my Dallas Starbucks You Are Here mug before we were on our way.

We arrived at MCO around 6pm and to our hotel, Hilton Orlando, about an hour later. We dropped our bags and hit the pools, swimming, floating the lazy river and having slushy drinks. 🍹

We eventually went back to our room and got changed so we could hit the lounge downstairs in the hotel. We watched seven screens of sports action – college football, basketball, UFC – while we snacked on salad (me), wings (him) and (shared) the most amazing crab nachos.

We explored a little further, accidentally discovered that I’ll actually be able to walk to my conference instead of taking a shuttle and picked up some coconut water from the hotel marketplace because I was feeling a strong need to rehydrate. 

By then, it was 11pm local time (8pm in our west coast minds, but we were tired) we headed back to the room for some sleep.

What travel booking risks do you try to avoid? Have you ever booked something you really wished you hadn’t? Do you have any great travel tips for us while we are here?