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Sheri Niklewski -- October 2002 -- Walt Disney World (Offsite)


Introduction
  • Participant - Me - Sheri (40) - accountant looking for work in today's economy and going through one of the most unusual times in my life
  • When - October 11 - 15, 2002
  • Where - Offsite at Rodeway Inn Maingate at 5995 West Irlo Bronson Highway (Highway 192)
  • How - Personal vehicle from Georgia
  • Experience - Veteran (25th trip)

Why

The reason for this trip is just because I needed a break. The past three months have brought many changes to my life and I wanted some stability. Disney World will do that for me. We started with our son Chris, finding someone he wants to share his life with. That's fine and dandy except Chris lives in Nebraska in our old house, his girlfriend Chandra lives in Ohio with her four year old daughter, and we live outside Atlanta. Chris was set to move to Ohio so we needed to sell the Nebraska house. My husband, Rich, has been laid off since last year and he was going to Nebraska to get the house on the market. His parents who live in Maryland would pick him up here and then the three of them would go onto Nebraska. That's when I had a job. Then I got laid off. Oops. Anyone want to see this recession go away?

It's been tough but we're managing. I'm the planner in the family so I got to plan the whole move. And I wasn't even going to go! It was a little difficult to juggle everyone - Chris, Rich, Chandra, the in-laws, and myself. But I managed to get things going and set up for October 9-18. I'd stay back in Georgia and take care of the cats and continue to look for a job (it ain't easy). Trust me, over a week with the in-laws and dealing with the move in person would have me in a loony bin so this worked out.

I felt like I was entitled to a little fun since I cut back on everything after losing the job. Everything. So I asked Rich if he thought I could go to Disney World while everyone else was doing the move. Sounds extremely selfish and probably is but a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do. I found a decent rate for a hotel, gas would be an expense but I'll take advantage of Georgia's prices as much as I can, and I don't eat that much. Rich said "go for it". I did. I love the man.

Hotel

Well, I'm certainly not going to be breaking the bank with accommodations. One of the reasons I even considered this trip was I saw a nice rate at the Rodeway Inn for $30/night including taxes and the resort fee. I went out to www.wdwinfo.com and the DreamRes system for it. This place is supposed to be near Celebration so I know it's not that far from World Drive and Disney World. It's not going to be the fanciest place on earth but it will function for my needs. I don't want nor need that much - I enjoy the extras when I get them but I'm fine for this trip.

Tickets

Another reason for Annual Passports! Yes, this was one of the lame excuses I pulled out for the trip. "Gee honey, admission is free". I think I got rolled eyes from Rich on that one. But the Minnie pass goes along - no cost there. Thank goodness I renewed these when I had a job!

Touring

I planned this trip with only one thing in mind. Look at the dates. Look at Off Kilter's normal performance schedule. I'm hoping to do marathon sessions on Sunday the 13th and/or Monday the 14th. Rich and I have been playing their CDs every day. They've done a lot for us and we find that a morning with Off Kilter just starts things off great. Don't know if the guys will be there on those dates but I'm going anyway. If they aren't there, I'll find other things to do.

I'm also going to take advantage of the nighttime Boardwalk entertainment. Rich and I have been enjoying this the past few trips thanks to our friend, Lindy. Hopefully a few of our favorites will be there. If not, I'll still enjoy.

Food

Fast food and eating in the room all the way. One of the first things Rich said after he agreed to the trip was "no way you are going overboard on food". Nope, don't have to. I'll take breakfast muffins with me as well as cheese and crackers for after the parks. While in the parks, I have several counter service places I like. Lotus Blossom Café in China at Epcot, Spoodles pizza window on the Boardwalk, the pizza and/or the potatoes along Sunset Boulevard at MGM, pretzels all over the place, ice cream, desserts anywhere. All these things are fairly cheap. Heck, I'm even thinking about going for a turkey leg!

General Plan

Be on the road Saturday from outside Atlanta by 6:30 AM. I can easily get up at 6:00 and be ready in a half hour. Thankfully, the weekend interstate repaving along I85 is now done (it actually was finished ahead of schedule) so no construction to think about. The drive is about seven hours so I should be in Kissimmee easily by 2:00 with stops for breaks. I tend to stop every two hours or so when I'm driving by myself.

I'll go to the Rodeway Inn, check in and do either MGM or Animal Kingdom. Then end up at Epcot and/or the Boardwalk Saturday night. Sunday and Monday would be worked around Off Kilter and I'll leave sometime on Tuesday.

The Week Before - Or "Never Think You Know How to Arrange a Disney Trip and Have Everything Go According to Plan"

I got the in-laws and Rich off to Nebraska on Tuesday. Not an easy task but it was done. I took the rest of that day to recover from the stress and events of the past couple months. And to deal with our son who was himself dealing with his major life change. I had the role of playing Peacemaker via internet. Fun times.

On Wednesday, I was making my first list of things to do before the trip. That shows you how the past couple of months have been. Only three days before the trip and I'm just now starting the lists. So I'm writing everything down and thought I'd check the Off Kilter schedule for the week to make sure they are still doing the Sunday-Thursday schedule. Sometimes they cut off a day or so. I logged into Steve's site at http://pages.prodigy.net/stevesoares/index.htm and went to see the schedule. Good thing I am very flexible on these trips!

Off Kilter was playing Wednesday-Saturday. The Sunday and Monday schedules were not available and wouldn't be until Saturday. I couldn't take the chance that they would be off those days. So I wanted to see them on Saturday for sure. With the original plan, I would have missed the guys on Saturday and possibly not seen them at all for the trip. It would not have ruined the trip but I would have been disappointed. So, thanks so much Steve for your site! Disaster potentially averted.

Once I saw the playing schedule, I knew I had to be in Canada for all four shows on Saturday just in case there were no shows on Sunday and/or Monday. Since the first show is at 1:30 and I'd have to get up in the wee hours of morning to make the drive, I had to make alternate plans. I booked a Days Inn in Lake Park, GA at Exit 5 on I75 for Friday. It's right near the Florida border and takes about four hours to get to from my house. We've used this place before. It's only $33 for a single occupancy with a king size bed. The rooms are functional and there is a breakfast of mini muffins and cinnamon rolls in the morning. I usually take quite a few and store them in a Ziploc and I'm set for the rest of the trip.

I'll leave my house at 6:30 PM on Friday. The reasons for only going halfway and stopping are three adorable cats - Todd, Gus, and Belle. They were just forgiving us for Rich leaving and now I'll be leaving. We did arrange for cat sitting on Sunday and Monday. I couldn't bear to think of our children being on their own all day Friday and Saturday. They wouldn't treat me too badly if it was just Friday night. Also, the Atlanta traffic always has to be factored in with a drive. I should avoid most of the horrible Friday night downtown traffic by leaving at 6:30. I'll be at the infamous Spaghetti Junction around 7:00 and, barring any earlier accidents, should just have heavy traffic, not a parking lot. We always figure if we make it south of Hartsfield Airport in an hour, we're doing extremely well. The traffic situation does help on the way back. I'll just have to stay for the first Off Kilter show (if they are playing) since I don't want to be in Atlanta until well after rush hour (well, it sounds good).

I'll get up on Saturday morning, gas up with Georgia stuff and save the gas taxes, and be on the road no later than 7:00. I should be in Kissimmee by 11:00. I'll check into the hotel and realize that my room will probably not be available until later that day but at least the paperwork will be handled and all I'll have to do is just pick up the room key later. Then I'll go and enjoy Epcot for the day.

I'll catch some nighttime Boardwalk things and then decide if I want to go back to Epcot for Illuminations or not. Depends on how tired I am. Sunday and Monday will be open. I do want to do Animal Kingdom, specifically Dinoland. Rich doesn't like Dinosaur anymore (he says it's too loud - maybe he's just getting too old) so that's a must for me on my own. Neither Rich nor I liked the new carnival type things back there the only time we saw them. But since we'll have a five year old with us in May (we plan on bringing Chris, Chandra and Marlie), I want to see it from that aspect.

Day One - Friday, October 11, 2002

I tried to stay busy all day today and not watch the clock. It was hard to do. Chandra helped since we chat online a lot. She had some things going on with the move so she kept me occupied. I kept taking items out to the car one at a time so the cats wouldn't catch on. I think Todd did but I fooled him since I took the suitcase out in the mid-afternoon and then spent a couple more hours in the house. He'll still hate me when I get back but he'll get over it. Belle was clueless and Gus just wanted to know why I left two bowls of food out. That's all Gus thinks about - food.

I left the house shortly before 6:30 after monitoring the Atlanta traffic online. It didn't seem that bad so I was hopeful. And it worked. Other than heavy traffic at some points, it pretty much was a straight shot to Lake Park. It was interesting to go through a lot of the area where Jimmy Carter grew up and see all the historical markers on the way. It was announced today that President Carter was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. Maybe his presidency wasn't the best one but he's done so much since then not only for America but also for the entire world.

I made one maintenance break and then got the CD player hooked up for an Off Kilter CD for the last leg. It was dark so I had to make sure everything was set up before I took off. I'm not driving alone down the interstate in a 70 MPH zone trying to deal with a portable CD player and putting in a CD. My pet peeve of the drive. Why the heck do people insist on putting on their fog lights when there's absolutely no reason for it? It's like driving with your high beams on. I can't tell you how many cars and mostly trucks were doing this. I have fog lights. I use them, dur, when there's fog. I got blinded from the back so many times.

I got to the Days Inn before 10:30, which was very good time. I pulled into the parking lot and saw the attendant put a sign on the door and then walk down the walkway. I figured it was a "no vacancy" sign since the lot was pretty crowded. But I had a reservation and this has happened before so no big deal. Except the sign said "be right back". Ugh! I'm tired, I want my room! I went back to the car and called Rich. I had told him I'd call him before I left but I tried the Nebraska hotel room and the house back there and no answer at either. I tried to call from the rest area but nothing there at that time. Rich was not too thrilled because he thought I'd call his cell phone. I hate doing cell phone to cell phone. But I told him I made it and he got me caught up with what was going on back there. Sounds like they have their work cut out for them. I think the whole thing is just overwhelming.

While I was talking with Rich, the desk clerk came back so I went in to check in. I got one of the two rooms Rich and I always get. It's kind of funny. It's either first floor way back or second floor next to the pool, which is the one I got. Either one is fine with me. I went back to the room and hauled my stuff in. I'm right next to the stairs so that made it easier. I got some ice for the cooler, watched a little TV, and then decided that I should be tired enough for a good nights sleep. I have not been sleeping the best. I keep waking up in the middle of the night and thinking about things too much. I can't tell you the last time I had a full night of rest. Lights out at 11:30.

Day Two - Saturday, October 12, 2002

Well, I still won't have a full night of rest. I woke up at 2:00 AM and tossed and turned until well after 3:00. I had the alarm set for after 6:30 so that wasn't a problem. The problem was these idiots at 4:00. I don't know if they were checking in, checking out, or coming in from a night out. A couple of groups of full grown adults were standing in the parking lot and talking loud enough that I could hear them over the air conditioner and on the second floor. It was ridiculous. Now, I could see a couple minutes of this but it went on for at least fifteen minutes. I was tempted to open the door and yell out "do you know what time it is?" but refrained because I was by myself. The last thing I wanted was repercussions. I thought about calling the front desk but the person on at nights is by themselves so what could they do? I thought, "let it go, they'll eventually settle down". Which they did - and turned up the damn TV in the next room. I could hear it was on but not what was being said. Aggravating. That went on for another fifteen or twenty minutes. So I tossed and turned and thought again.

By 5:30, I had enough so I got up and figured a game plan. I am not exactly a great person when I don't get a good rest. I used to get up by 6:00 every morning and that was fine because it was always uninterrupted sleep. Now, the sleep cycle is broken but I do get to stay in bed if I need to. What was I going to do? Stay at the Days Inn in Lake Park, GA until I felt refreshed? I thought I could handle getting up slowly and then just driving and taking in Future World in the morning, Off Kilter in the afternoon, and then checking into the hotel after.

So I got ready, checked out, grabbed some mini cinnamon rolls for breakfast (I also had a granola bar while packing up), and headed out. While I was checking out, I had a major delay. This guy just couldn't understand why he was told his room was $40.50 and now he was being charged more than that. The clerk had to explain hotel taxes to the guy. And the guy had two rooms and one had to be on cash and one had to be on a different credit card than the one he had given the night before. It took a long time to get that all taken care of.

I stopped and topped off the gas tank at a nice Citgo right at Exit 5. It's brightly lit and it feels safe. I really didn't need the gas but wanted the lower prices. With that taken care of, I headed south, once again in the dark. Yeck. And it was so, so foggy. Yes, I did put on the fog lights because, jeez, that's what these things are made for! Not to blind other people on a clear night.

About a half hour into the drive, I realized that I should have stayed at the Days Inn until I was refreshed. I felt so tired and out of sorts. The purpose of this trip was to de-stress myself and I wasn't doing that if I got up at 5:30 just because of other people. My stomach felt awful and I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open. Not even a repeat of the Off Kilter CD from last night was helping. I have a listing of all the rest areas along I75 (gladly shared if anyone wants it) so I pulled that out. One was coming up in 20 miles. I thought I could make it. OK, I must be tired because it was 30 miles. I'm an accountant, I just can't do math. But I struggled on and got there. Thank goodness.

I used the facilities and realized that I should not be driving like this. I was tired, I felt like hell, and the fog fooled even the roosters since hardly anyone was out and about. I thought I was in a Stephen King short story. The last thing you want to do is be driving on an interstate in dense fog when you don't feel well. So I decided to go back to the car and rest for at least twenty minutes before starting out again. Said rest turned into a twenty minute nap. When I woke up, I felt decent but still not great. So I rearranged myself and thought I'd go another twenty minutes. An hour later, I'm finally awake. I did feel perfectly safe with doing this since there was a manned police car in the rest area when I pulled in.

I felt about 80% so I decided to forge on. It was around 9:00 by this time so everything that I had thought about doing when I "woke up" at 5:30 went by the wayside. It was a big "play it by ear" day. I got headed south again and thought I'd stop every hour until Disney World so I could take stock of how I was feeling. First stop was the Disney Welcome Center. This morning, I didn't think I'd get there because of how early I left. Well, things change. I used the facilities and did a trip around the gift shop. There was this one guy in the gift shop who had all the park brochures and wanted to know why the performance times weren't noted. The Cast Member had to explain to him that since the times change so often, the show guides were now just given out separately and were available week by week. The guy whined "but I have to do planning before I get there". Dude, ever heard of the internet? Parades and fireworks are listed on the official Disney site.

There must have been some pixie dust in Ocala because once I got on the road again, I felt fine. Whoo hoo! Maybe it's because the fog was lifting and the sun was coming out. But whatever it was, I just continued straight on till morning - oops, more pixie dust. I just kept going until Kissimmee. I got there around 11:00 and decided to check into the hotel. I'm back to the original plan or whatever plan. I've had so many I've lost count. Traffic on Highway 192 was not that bad except for one thing. I honestly think that the rental minivans in Florida have a huge flaw. They are all pre-programmed and cannot go above 40 MPH. Doesn't matter what the speed limit is.

I knew the Rodeway Inn was on the east side of I4 from Disney World. I had some general knowledge (crack myself up - think Cranium Command) of the location but I thought it was on the right side of the highway. Nope, come up to Celebration, looking, looking, looking. There it is on the left. Now, most people in this area would slam on their brakes and try to switch over the three lanes of traffic. I was just looking for somewhere to turn right and then get back to the Rodeway. But, hey, the left lanes are all clear. Yes! The day is looking up. The access to the Rodeway Inn coming from Disney World is an easy left with a designated lane. There's also a Waffle House and a RaceTrac gas station here. So it'll be easy coming back from Disney World using Highway 192.

I pulled into the Rodeway Inn and I didn't expect much. It's $25/night for a deluxe room after all. I just about died laughing because there was a stretch limo sitting in the parking lot! Hey dear, let's have some fun, let's rent a stretch limo and then go to the Rodeway Inn for the night. Actually, I have no idea what was up with this but think of a white limo right in front of a very economy motel. I wish I had the guts to take a picture of it but I don't think the chauffeur would have been very happy.

I checked in and found out that my room was ready which was very nice. There are eight two-story buildings here. I'm on the first floor in building seven which means I have to drive my car all the way around to the other side. You can only access the buildings from one side of the complex - the other one is blocked off. There are plenty of signs about 24 hour security which I will come to greatly appreciate in the next couple of days. I parked and took a few things into the room to check it out. I'll describe the room now because you'll be rolling on the floor laughing with how the rest of my day went.

It's a typical motel room. Two double beds, table with two chairs, dresser and then another dresser with the TV on top of that in kind of an armoire set up. A sink outside the shower area. A place to hang your clothes (it's not very big). There is a safe but I later discovered I had no key to it. Don't know if it's worth the hassle to get one after the day I had. But I get ahead of myself. The deluxe feature is that I get a decent size micro-fridge and a microwave. And after today, it was well worth it to have some wine chilled in the room.

What happens next is going to seem to be a big deal at the time but I thought I handled it quite well. Ha! I went out to unload the car. My car is a 1993 Pontiac Bonneville. Wonderful car. Just went over 150,000 miles on this trip. She's been a saint. Up till now. She has all the bells and all the whistles. Like remote entry. That's so sweet. So sweet that I decided I didn't need the door key to bring along (I was trying for the bare minimum of stuff since I was on my own). Why would I? The remote has been so nice to me for the past 10 years. Until now. Click to open the trunk. Nope. Not going to. OK, click to open the doors so I can do it manually. Nope. Click again. Nope. Click, click, click, click, click. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. The only things I had taken into the room were the hotel information and the room keys. Everything else I owned was in the car and I had no way of getting to them! Panic, panic, panic. I kept clicking and finally I heard a "clunk". Yes! The drivers' door was open. That's a start. OK, let's get the trunk open and I can manually do the other car doors.

Great, I can get everything out but how to secure the car? The trunk is fine - who cares if that opens with a remote again this trip? I decided that I'm leaving for Epcot soon anyway, leave the car open. I take everything into the room, drop it off and proclaim I'm ready for the day. I really took a brain drain today because I did two other stupid moves. I left the cell phone in the room instead of taking it with me. Hello? Single woman on her own - take the cell phone! But no, I put it in another bag to haul it into the room and forgot it. Second stupid move. I took my entire stash of cash with me in the fanny pack. Never do that - if you lose that, then you are sunk for the entire trip. My mind was not in gear at all today. It would get better before it gets worse.

I drove onsite and parked at the Swan for the walk over to Epcot. As I was getting the car and myself ready, a foreign man who had just parked with his family approached me. I thought he would ask me for directions to Epcot or MGM but he wanted to know if this was the Holiday Inn! Oops. He spoke very broken English and I felt bad for him. I attempted to explain to him how to get to Highway 192. He understood about going out to the light and going to the right and following the signs. I have no idea which of the many Holiday Inns he was looking for but I thought if he could just find one, they could get into their national reservation system and guide him on his way.

As for me, I did not trust my remote system at all so I devised a plan. Silly me. I'll just lock all the doors except one of the back ones. I tested the remote and it seemed fine most of the time. But I still wasn't satisfied. So I left one of the back doors open. Smart plan, right? I did not have anything in the car to steal so I felt OK with this. And my security system is supposed to be pretty good. But Epcot and Off Kilter call so off I go.

I was early for the first show of Off Kilter so I went to France to poke around in the shops a little. Rich loves to walk around World Showcase but he's not into the shops at all. I'm not a shopper by nature but every once in a while I want to take the time to peruse the Epcot stuff. I didn't realize that you could buy wine by the glass inside the wine shop - I thought it was for tastings only. I will have to remember this, as their selection by the glass was different from the kiosk outside. I also took notice that the kiosk had raised their prices just in time for the Food and Wine Festival that starts next weekend. Happened a couple of years ago too. Humm.

It was a little early for Off Kilter but I went back to Canada anyway. I took notice that the lack of sleep and the upset stomach of earlier were not going to go away today. Plus, North Georgia had a nice "cold" spell go through the week before I left. I think we didn't go over 75 and most of the days were in the 60s. It was going to be in the low 90s at Disney World today. I dressed appropriately and was prepared but with everything else going on, I knew I needed to take it easy. So I sat on a shaded bench at the Off Kilter stage area and just people watched and got myself acclimatized to the Florida weather. I was not going to overdo it.

While I was waiting three older people arrived and I knew I recognized them from somewhere. Then it hit me - these were the Alberta Bound groupies I saw in June. I said I thought I remembered them and we chatted for quite a while. These people are hysterical! They banter off each other and just have a great time. They come here all the time just for the Epcot entertainment. My kind of people! But they had this whole itinerary of where they were going to be based on fifteen minute increments. That's a bit too much for me. They were having fun though, and that's what is important.

Off Kilter came out for the first set and I settled in. Things got really funny in a hurry. A guy standing over to the side of the seating area yelled out "Fields of Anthry" which is probably the most requested Off Kilter song. Mark (the bassist) just said "No" but kiddingly. The guys looked up at the control booth and then launched into the song. Since this is one of my favorites, it was great. After this, Randy (lead guitarist) pointed to a guy in the back of the audience and said "how about one for that guy in the black T-shirt?" The guy was wearing a Black Sabbath shirt. Off Kilter does a very nice Ozzy Osbourne/ Black Sabbath thing. Which they went into and then didn't know if they should continue or not. They did for a while. Then Mark came up with doing "Karma Chameleon" for a guy in the front row of the benches who had lizard on his T-shirt. At that point, the booth guy came down with a lacrosse stick and threatened the guys since they went off the play list. After that, a fan in the audience yelled, "how about 'Rap'?" So the guys did that too. We got heavy metal, whatever you call Culture Club and rap all in one set.

I wanted to do a walk around of World Showcase in between the first and second sets so I was off. My friends were going to see the Hoedown Jamboree at the American pavilion and told me it was great. I just didn't want another show if I was going to be with Off Kilter all day. So I went for a walk. I started towards Mexico. Did I mention it was hot? It was so funny (well, not at the time) because I just did Disney World with Rich last month and it was just as hot, if not hotter. But that cooler North Georgia weather did me in. I made it to the African Outpost before I had to sit down. Whew. Nice tables and even nicer umbrellas. What's next. Germany - bathrooms. Which means a wipe down of the face and arms. Pure bliss. OK, then it's the American pavilion and the gift shop. Red, white, and blue. Red was the color of my face, I'm sure. Air conditioning, though. Onto - Morocco? Where there is no shade. France. Oh, let's just go back to that wine shop and get a glass of wine. Chardonnay, thank you very much, here's your $3.25. Outside. Where the wine promptly goes warm. Yeck! Yes, it was that hot.

Throughout the whole walk around, I was getting as much water as I could. One memorable incident came as I got out of the restroom in Germany. I think Disney water fountains are some of the best I've ever had - usually very cold and don't have that Florida taste to it. But I digress. I headed for the fountain. I am carrying a fanny pack and a camera case. No water bottle because I'll do the fountains on solos trips (the husband will carry something on the duo trips). This lady is coming towards the fountains at the same time with one thing in mind - filling her water bottle. That's cool. But we arrive at the same time. I'm on the side of the adult fountain, she's on the side of the kids'. She steps in front of me! Why the heck couldn't she just fill up her bottle from the kids' side? Fortunately, I'm small and used the kids' side. It wasn't that bad but the woman could have been a little more aware of the situation. Thank goodness I wasn't Brad Garrett or someone like that.

Oh, and in the American pavilion, as I was coming out of the gift shop, I heard a woman say the following:

"I've never been to America before (meaning the pavilion) because it's just too, well, American". OK, and is the Germany pavilion Polish too? Of course the American pavilion is American. Just like the Mexican one is Mexican. And no, I didn't see the World Trade Center flag today. I could have seen the American Adventure since it was starting in just ten minutes but I deferred. I thought I might, just might, make it through a trip without tearing up.

I got back to Canada and Off Kilter with the French wine and enjoyed it again with the people from the first set. And a few other people they had met. Very nice. After this set, I had about a half hour to kill so I went over to the United Kingdom to cool down again. Those wash downs will really help out. Hint - carry a washcloth in a Ziploc with you. I do this in the rest rooms but if you're not shy, use the water fountains everywhere.

I looked into the United Kingdom shops and then came out when the World Showcase Players were just starting up. This is a comedy troupe that does a take off on the Holy Grail. I've seen parts of this many, many times but never the whole thing. Since it was just starting and I had time, I stayed put. The group of three picks two audience members to join in. It's very off the cuff and the "extras" had a good time. It's very well done and worth the time to see it. It's performed on the streets of the United Kingdom so it's a casual event. Then I left for another Off Kilter show.

When I got to the seating area, the benches I normally sit it were all taken. Drat. I like those seats. But I sat on the other side. I kind of listened into the conversation of the people in "my seats". After a while, I realized that these were two random groups of people who just wanted a place in the shade. They were sharing all sorts of stories and experiences. One group was older folk and one group was a family with pre-teen boys. I loved watching the interaction. These people had never met before but were laughing and talking and giving advice on all kinds of things. A very nice Disney moment.

At the second set, the other people that joined us were having beers and they looked very good. The day was hot darn it. The call of the Moosehead sounded. So I had a small draft. The people that were visiting weren't there for Off Kilter and they left so I grabbed my favorite seat. A young woman had been going from bench to bench, trying to figure out which was the coolest. She sat behind me and did the smartest thing I've ever seen anyone do at an Off Kilter show. She pulled out a fanny cushion. The benches in Canada are hard wood. Probably because of maintenance due to rain. Can't imagine the wear and tear if these things were padded. So we talked a while and she joined me in the front row. She was here with her mother and the young lady had enjoyed her birthday on Thursday with Off Kilter. Today was her mother's birthday but she was off because she said she had enough of them. Oops. But the young lady and I (never did get her name) passed some time and chatted. She comes here a lot so I'll be sure and look for her on future visits. She did tell me that Off Kilter would be there tomorrow and Monday. OK, plans are changing yet again.

For the third set, Off Kilter announced that it was one of the techs last day on the job for them. He'd still be with Disney but "going on to bigger and better things". Whaa? Off Kilter isn't good enough? Just kidding. So they did a tribute to him - "Magic Carpet Ride" and "Born to be Wild" and if you've never seen this group do this, well, wow. This third set was very nicely enhanced by Jamie (bagpiper and lead vocalist) misinterpreting something the sound guy was doing. Jamie thought it was "Just Around the Riverbend" from "Ponchantas" and then started imitating it. It was extremely funny and the sound guy came down from the booth and threw leaves at Jamie like when Ponchantas was going down the river. I guess you had to be there but it was one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

There's only a half hour in between the third and the fourth sets so I tend to stay put. So did my new friend so we stayed on the bench. Some of the guys were visiting. Their time is limited and since we go so often, we let others talk to the band. Tony (the keyboardist) was down and talking and he came over and kissed my friend and then kissed me too! And then kissed our new seatmates! Truly nice guy. We talked with Tony for a while and then he started talking to our seatmates. Tony is from Puerto Rico. Our seatmates were from Mexico but live in Chicago now. Everything from that moment on was in Spanish. Tony never did get a backstage break since he used up the half hour talking with people in the audience.

The fourth set usually gets fairly crowded as people are on their way to dinner or just for a night at World Showcase for Tapestry of Dreams and Illuminations. I figured a Saturday night would even more crowded and it was. The guys did not disappoint and their last song was for the tech guy who was leaving them. He had requested "Trouble in the Kitchen" which I don't think I've ever heard live before and my friend said she's never heard it either. She said she's heard it requested before but Jamie said no because he didn't have that much energy. After the show, we both could see why. It's really rocking and the guys get into it. I thought Scott (drummer) was going to blow the drums out. My friend turned to me and said "I'm exhausted, I can't imagine how the guys feel".

My friend's mother had rejoined her and didn't look very happy. It was the mother's birthday after all and her daughter just spent all afternoon with a group the mom had seen all week long. I don't think I would have been happy either. They were staying at the Yacht Club and I was going over to the Boardwalk so we kind of walked together. Mom wasn't happy about that either because we talked about Off Kilter. They took the lower walkway to the Yacht/Beach Club and I went up to the bridge to go over to the Boardwalk. I hope things got smoothed out between them. I think they were heading to Downtown Disney for dinner and the evening.

The ESPN Club was mobbed. College football was on, the baseball league series playoffs were on, and the sports fans were out. Thank goodness they all wanted sports because the Spoodles take out window was deserted. One slice of cheese pizza later, I was happy. I sat along the lake and enjoyed the food and the coolness of the evening. Much, much better than when the evil sun was out.

I had had a long, long day but I did want to see if Randy, a juggler was on the Boardwalk that night. He's a favorite of ours. I thought he usually started performing a little after 7:00 and it was getting to be that time so I decided to stay for just a little while to see if he came out. I stood at the boat loading dock and just wondered why all these people were waiting for the boat to Epcot. It wasn't hot now and the walk isn't that bad. OK, maybe it's because I've always been a walker but some of these people were younger than me and they needed the boat? Oh well, to each his own.

I saw Carlo riding his bike to set up on the Boardwalk. I knew from Lindy that if Carlo was performing, then Randy would not be. Yes, I'm starting to know the Boardwalk entertainment too. There's got to be a twelve step program for me somewhere. That was fine because I needed air conditioning and some rest. I headed back to the Swan. On the way out of the Boardwalk area, there were four ducks coming from the Yacht Club over to the Boardwalk. Just waddling and quacking. I was a little concerned because they were right where the surrey bikes would come flying along. I kept an eye on them and they made it to the grass safely. First nature report of the trip. Now I knew I wasn't feeling good if I didn't stop and watch nature up until now.

Back to my car and I hoped the remote had stopped acting up. Click, clunk! Yes, the doors opened. Whoo hoo! Worries are over. All I can say is that I'm damn glad that remote worked in the Swan lot or I might not be here writing this now. I headed back to the Rodeway Inn but I used the Osceola Parkway instead. I turned right onto International Drive and then a quick right onto Highway 192 since the Rodeway Inn is right there. I figured Highway 192 up around World Drive would be busy with people going out to eat and doing nighttime things. I had very little traffic with my way.

I did the same thing with locking the car. I left one of the back doors open and locked the rest. I thought the remote would be fine but I wasn't taking any chances. I got to the room, took off my shoes and grabbed a glass of water and a glass of wine. Both were greatly appreciated. While I was sitting there, I realized that I had a Club for the car. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a device you can put on your steering wheel so it can't be turned. Of course, the key for the Club was sitting safely back in Georgia on the same key ring as the car door key. But I could put it on there for show, just in case. So, in my stocking feet, I go back to the car. The remote doesn't work. Fine, I'll just open that back door.

Oh boy! My security system still works. Does it ever. Lights start flashing, horn starts honking (and that thing is loud). My brain goes numb thinking about the 24 hour security at the hotel. Aagh, how to get the system off? The only way to do it is to either use the remote or manually use a car door key to open the driver's door! That ain't going to happen. I just kept clicking the stupid remote and it finally clunked and the system stopped. Whew. OK, enough of leaving the back door open, I'll leave the driver's door open and lock the rest. Problem solved, I went back into the room.

And then I remembered I didn't even put the Club on the steering wheel so I put shoes on this time and went back out. I opened the driver's door. Well, the security system works even if any door is left unlocked while the other three are locked. Sorry to everyone in building seven at the Rodeway Inn tonight. The remote refused to cooperate. I thought maybe if I started the car. Nope. Brain was in total freeze and I thought if I put the car into gear. Nope. If I drove it. Nope. I really was panicked. I had visions of having to sit there for an hour with the system blaring, the lights flashing and waiting for it to shut itself down. All the while, I'm sure security would have shown up and I would have to explain everything. I just kept clicking and clicking and clicking. Something finally clunked and there was silence. Well, except for my heartbeat which I think might have been louder than the security system. My only solution to the problem was to leave the entire car unlocked. I did put the Club on the steering wheel this time. I love my car but at this point, I was so sick and tired of it.

I came back into the room and had to call Rich and give him the phone number here. I left a message for him on his cell phone and read off the number on the phone plate. I had given him an 800 number earlier but figured the local number would be better. I also gave him the room number. Then I worked on the report and recharged my cell phone. I still hadn't heard from Rich after 9:00 so that was strange. I took my phone off the charger and had a message. I guess my phone won't ring if it's on the charger. I'm learning all kinds of electrical stuff today. Not that I wanted to know any of this, mind you. Rich had called back almost right after I left my message so he was not a happy camper. Plus, he tried to call the Rodeway Inn and was told my room number didn't exist and I was no where in their system. His mood would not get any better with my news.

I called him at the Nebraska hotel and tried to make light of the situation. But he misunderstood what I was saying. He thought the car was locked up and I couldn't get into it. Now, that's a scary thought. I have AAA so that would not be a problem to call them to get me in. Rich was not happy that I had to leave the car unlocked and told me to simply replace the remote battery. Easy solution, right. That was the first thing I thought of. I'm not that mechanically stupid. But in order to get the remote's back off, you need one of those teeny tiny eyeglass screwdrivers and I don't have one of those. Rich tells me to go to K Mart and just have them replace the battery like they do with watches. Err, I don't think watches have screw off backs, do they? Rich agreed. He wasn't the happiest husband in the world and said some things he probably shouldn't have said and I said some things I probably shouldn't have said and phones were hung up.

I thought it was odd that the Rodeway Inn had no record of me when I was comfortably in my room. I called my own room number and got a busy signal so I knew the phone worked. Then I used the cell phone to call the number I had given Rich. Evidently, the Howard Johnson next door must be affiliated with the Rodeway Inn because these phone plates are from the Howard Johnson and that's the number I gave Rich! The only place for the right number is on the phone info sheet in the room. I called Rich back, gave him the correct number and then hung up. What a day! And this is supposed to be a de-stress trip. Oh well, I'll relax for the rest of the night. I worked on the trip report in total silence that was nice. I usually have to have sports on with Rich. Then "Saturday Night Live" which was not the best show I've ever seen and then lights out after Weekend Update. Please let me get a good nights sleep!

Day Three - Sunday, October 13, 2002

Yeah, it figures this day would have something associated with the number thirteen. I can laugh about it now and I did keep my composure at the time but this day started out being the most frustrating time I have ever had. I'll start with the wee hours of the morning. Thank you to whomever decided to set the hotel alarm clock to some ungodly hour of the morning. It might have been 2:00 AM. I grabbed the clock and punched buttons to try and get the stupid thing off. Plus, the volume was maxed. I finally turned on the light and hit what I needed to hit. Ugh! This is not the first time this has happened to me. From now on, the first thing I do in a hotel room is to check the alarm clock and make sure the person before me actually turned it off. With my sleeping habits lately, I wasn't hopeful for the rest of the night but it must be Off Kilter or something because the next time my eyes opened, the clock said 9:15. Pure heaven. Except for the alarm clock thing, that was the first time in over a month I got over eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

I got up and slowly got ready and decided what I wanted to do. I knew Rich wanted me to get the car remote fixed so I thought about it. There's a Walgreens just right down on Highway 192. In fact, it's within walking distance as I found out later. Walgreens has just about everything so I thought maybe they would have an eyeglass repair kit and I could at least get a little screwdriver and see what kind of batteries I would need. I got ready and dressed. I went to put on my jewelry and looked at the watch. I thought it was 11:00 according to the alarm clock. That's what I was relying on. My watch said 10:00. What? Then I remember the alarm going off. I must have hit the button and advanced the clock time by one hour. I turned on the TV and verified with both CNN and ESPN of the correct time. Ugh! This was way too early for me.

But I went outside, closed my eyes, turned the corner, and the car was still there. Whew. I got in and drove to the Walgreens. I now dub Highway 192 and this whole area as "Turn Around Central". Left turns are severely limited so in most cases, you have to make a right turn, get over into the left lane, and then make a U-turn. Very interesting. That's what I had to do. Not a big deal since Atlanta is "Turn Around Central King".

When I went to leave the hotel parking lot, I couldn't get out. There were two tour buses blocking the way since they parked diagonally and there was a pickup truck parked behind them. I don't even think a motorcycle could pass between them. I had to back up and get around the whole thing. No common sense at all. I figured the buses had left off a group of people at the Waffle House or IHOP nearby. As it turns out, these people were staying at the Rodeway Inn. Trust me, don't book yourself on a tour and expect to get luxury accommodations at Rodeway Inn. Ain't going to happen.

I got to the Walgreens and had to refrain myself from using the inside door locks when I left the car. That would be great. Get myself locked out of my car. I wandered the store and actually found what I was looking for! A nice repair kit with a screwdriver, four tiny screws, and a magnifying glass. Only $2.19 so not bad. After I paid for the kit, I saw some watch batteries and checked those out. If I can pry off the back of the remote, I'll come back in and see if Walgreens carries the batteries. Back out to the car.

I actually got the tiny little screw off! I couldn't believe it. I usually strip these things, especially since the remote screw was a Phillips one and I was using a regular screwdriver. But it worked. There are two batteries for the remote so I took them back into Walgreens not having much hope. They had them! Whoo hoo! Things are looking up. I got two of them ($2.50 each) and then went back to the car to get the remote fixed.

I put in the new batteries and tested the remote. Click, clunk. Doors are locked (I was inside the car). Click, clunk. Doors are unlocked. Click and the trunk goes open. Click, clunk. Doors are locked. Click, clunk. Doors are unlocked. Whoo! Sheri fixed the problem! Yes! Clink, clunk, clink, clunk, clink, clunk. Out of the car to shut the trunk. Back to the Ramada to get ready for the day. I had planned on going to Animal Kingdom first and then to Epcot for Off Kilter after I was done. I parked at the Ramada and was planning on what to say to Rich when I called to tell him I got the remote fixed all on my own. "Oh gee, dear, didn't think I could do it right?" I hit the lock button before I got out of the car (that arms the security system) and was bounding towards the room. I turned around to smugly unlock the car with my newly energized remote. Click. Nothing! Whaa? Click, click, click, click, click. Nothing at all. I think someone should have been there with a camera for my expression. My car is now locked down. With a security system in place. I just looked at the remote like Gregory Peck looked at Damien in "The Omen" after he cut out some hair and found "666" on the kid's scalp. Pure evil was in force right now. I half expected Dobermans to come tearing around the corner.

I did see that maybe, just maybe, I didn't quite put the remote cover back correctly. OK, let's go into the room and fix that. I'll just take the screwdriver again and reseat the batteries and the cover. And where is said screwdriver? Oh, the reasonable intelligent college graduate decided that it would be better to keep the old batteries and the screwdriver inside the car so I can show Rich what I did. Did you know that banging on a car window doesn't make it go down?

I went back to the room to regroup my thoughts. The Walgreens is within walking distance (really, just down the way). I could go back there and get yet another eyeglass repair kit because I really believed that the remote just wasn't put back together correctly. Sigh. I took my room key and $3 and almost grabbed the car keys with the remote. Why? Damn thing wasn't working anyway. So I went back to Walgreens. This was the third transaction I did with the same cashier in the past half hour. I felt like Charlie Brown when he does that "how embarrassing" thing. The clerk did tell me to have a nice day. I muttered (not so she could hear me) "it can't get any worse". Back to the room again. I redid the remote and confidently went back to the car. Click. Nothing. I tried everything. I think I might have gotten a blister trying to get it to work. Wasn't going to happen. AAA, here I come.

I think AAA (Automobile Association of America for those who don't know) is a great organization and we have it mainly for situations like this and we rarely use it. But it's like insurance. I figured I'd be stuck in the room all day until someone could come and do something. I called and a very cheerful "counselor" (that's what they called them on the recording) helped me out. I was so happy when he said that the area was not backed up at all and someone would be calling me within an hour or so. It did take a little bit of time because I gave the address of the Rodeway Inn as Irlo Bronson Highway. AAA has this in their system as Highway 192 so if you ever need this service (and I sincerely hope you never do), remember that Irlo Bronson Highway and Highway 192 are interchangeable.

So I sat and waited for the phone call. I think my labor lasted longer. No, the guy was there within an hour and fifteen minutes but it just seemed longer. Since I had gotten up so early (I wish I could find out who stayed here before me and call and wake them up at 2:00 AM), football wasn't even on TV yet. I did have the preshow stuff and went back and forth between Fox and ESPN and decided that Fox is now like Football Lite. I like the anchors but they are throwing way too much sugar into the mix. Anyway, the phone rang and it was the front desk telling me that the locksmith was at my car. Thank you!

I went out there and this guy, Tracy, was very nice. He said it was not a problem to unlock the car. Thank goodness. And then I told him that I had a security system and it was armed. He said that would definitely be a problem. Tracy didn't know if the system would go off even if he tried to force open the driver door. At this point, I had no idea when or if the security system would stop once it was triggered. Tracy said that most times, the system will shut down but you can't start the car. I had no idea. I would become educated. Tracy's company does make keys and I asked if I could just get a door key made. He said he could call for the code for my type of car but AAA wouldn't cover that. I really didn't care. He said it would be $20. I said I'd do that. But first to get the car unlocked.

I asked Tracy to force open the driver door just in case the system would be fooled. American technology at its finest. It wasn't that easy (and I'm glad) but the latch was hooked. Tracy opened the door. Honk, honk, lights, lights, honk, honk. I dove into the car and grabbed the owner's manual from the glove compartment. I had no idea how long the system would be going off. Search, search, search. Man, you take these things for granted. After three minutes, the system went silent. Thank goodness. But Tracy said now I wouldn't be able to start the car. And if the driver's door closed even though it was unlocked, when I opened it up again, the whole security system would do another cycle. Basically, I could never start the car again until I either used the remote or the door key. I finally found the section on the security system and he was right. OK, the car is open but how the heck am I going to drive it? Tracy asked if I had the key codes. What are they? Oh, those little metal things they gave us like 10 years ago and have been misplaced by now. Those were the things the dealer said not to put on the keyrings because we would need them should we ever loose the keys. Well, if I had that on my keyring, I'd be home free! Damn.

Tracy was great, though. He said he could call Pontiac and get the key codes for me. It would cost me $20 but I didn't care. So he calls Pontiac and then I have to talk to Jeff, who was great. I had to give my name, address and phone number for verification. Tracy gave his company and then Jeff needed to call Tracy back. Even Tracy's company had to be verified. Nice sense of security but if I really was going to rip off a car, would this be the way to go? Tracy also had to give the vehicle identification number and answer Jeff that, yes, it seemed like this was my car. Jeff called back with the key codes and Tracy was able to make a door key from his setup in the back of the van.

After my car accepted the fact that someone on the planet actually had a physical key to her, she was fine. It seemed like it was close to dinner time but the whole thing only took about a half hour. It was only 1:00 and I placed the call to AAA right before 11:30. I think I aged 10 years. I paid Tracy and then asked him for a business card. I thought he did a great job, was very professional, and handled everything nicely. And I did thank Jeff from Pontiac as well. So, shameless plug for this report - if you need a locksmith, it's Gary's Lock & Safe 407-892-0696. They do service Disney World in case you need them. Tracy said he'd been there five times that morning alone.

One note - Tracy did give me key codes for future use. Those things that were on the metal tags from ten years ago. He suggested I write them in the owner's manual (yes, we still have that). So I did and I'm glad I have them. However, the next day I thought about it. If I lost the keys or locked them in the car, I'd need those codes. And where would they be? Locked in the car! So I'm going to put a card in my bag with the codes. And I'm making sure Rich has these as well. Is there something like too much security?

I went back to the room to de-stress. I think the last 24 hours have been more stressful than the last six weeks! Not exactly what I expected. I called Rich and left a message on his parent's cell phone to call me when he could. I was taking the cell phone with me today no matter what. I relaxed in the room for about a half hour just to calm down. I think I handled everything fairly well but when it's over, you start to think about the "what ifs" and it gets to you. Rich did call and I let him know the situation was taken care of and what had happened. We know we'll have to take the remote into a Pontiac dealer and find out what is wrong with it. For now, I'm back to "primitive" and keys all the way.

After my very eventful day so far, I decided to chuck Animal Kingdom and go for some Off Kilter and a Moosehead in Canada. I thought I needed and deserved it. I got into Christine (her new name) and drove over to the Swan for parking. I used the newly purchased door key to lock the car so the alarm system wasn't activated. I just didn't want anything to happen in the Swan lot and have Christine doing the devil trick again. I might carry that alarm sound to my grave.

I got to Canada and saw a friend of ours that is usually here on Sundays. I figured she would be here. I walked to the benches and Tony was visiting with people from the first set. He saw me and we talked a while. He had an interesting car key story to tell as well. His was a lot worse than mine, though. At least my car is still in one piece! My friend was engrossed in her book and didn't even realize I was there. I nudged her when Tony had other people come over to talk with him. My friend just jumped because she hadn't expected me to be there. It was still very early for the second set so we visited for a while. I told her about my morning and then went and got a beer from Canada. It really hit the spot.

The weather started rolling in when Off Kilter came out. Jamie kind of joked about bagpipes bringing rain and he was right today. The guys could only do three songs before the rains came and they had to leave. Their stage is covered but they end sets or cancel since they are so wired into the instruments. The combination of electricity, water, and human don't mix very well. My friend and I both thought this would just roll through but the Florida weather is so unpredictable. We moved from the benches under the umbrellas to the more stable little overhang of the stage area. We chatted and visited for a while and the rains let up quite a bit. In fact, the sun came out. There's hope for the third set at 5:00. We moved back to the benches.

It was not to be at all. There was a storm out in the distance and it flocked our way. Boy, did it ever. The announcement was made that this show was cancelled. It wasn't like there was a ton of rain, but the wind was the killer. You couldn't predict from which direction you were going to get wet. I was fine on the benches but the temperatures dropped too and my friend had a cold and didn't want to worsen it. So she went to seek refuge in the Canada shops. I stayed on the bench under an umbrella and put on my "two for a dollar" poncho. It worked well and I stayed dry. After about 45 minutes, the rains let up quite a bit and the skies looked like they were clearing. My friend came back out and called another friend who was on her way over. The last time we saw both these women was at Labor Day and they really hadn't seen each other since then even though they are both locals. We did sit and watch people for a while. We had a good time with how people try and keep their kids dry. We cracked up with this family with three kids in a double stroller. All three kids had yellow ponchos on. We could maybe see their eyes. Mom and Dad both had the ponchos too with a sixth one draped over the rented purple Epcot stroller. It was like seeing three bananas stuffed up in a giant grape.

The rain had almost stopped and I had taken off the poncho and dried off the seats as best as I could. I took a maintenance break and then went to the fish & chips stand in the United Kingdom for a side of chips for dinner. I wanted egg rolls in China but there was no way I wanted to walk around the soggy World Showcase for it. Glad I decided against that. I enjoyed the chips back in Canada with both friends and we hoped for the last show of Off Kilter. The rain has to stop sometime, right? Wrong. The skies just opened up again. My friends put up umbrellas under the umbrella because of the wind. I put on my poncho again. Mark came out and collected up his guitars so we knew there would be no more Off Kilter tonight. We waved goodbye to Mark and knew we'd be back tomorrow.

OK. Why did I stay in Canada all day when it was raining and there really wasn't anything to do? Visiting with my friends was one of the main reasons. Plus, I really didn't want to walk around World Showcase on my own in the rain. But the biggest reason was because I wasn't doing something "ordinary". I could have been back in the hotel room watching football. I could have been at home watching football. But I was somewhere else, Christine had met with the Exorcist and she was fine, and I wasn't thinking about the Nebraska to Ohio move for just a while. I do like thunderstorms and I was dry and safe where I was. I had called Rich during the worst of the storm so he would know what he was missing. I don't think he was disappointed considering he was drinking beer and watching football with dear friends of ours in Nebraska. Life can be good. It might seem "strange" or "weird" but mainly it felt "right".

I made my way out to the Swan and briefly thought about taking in the Boardwalk entertainment but I knew they'd all be inside the Boardwalk itself. With the day I had, I just didn't feel like making an effort. I also thought about going to the Yacht and Beach Club with some questions my friend, Adrienne, has about staying on the concierge level there. The line for the ESPN Club was out the door again for the pro games of today. The rest of the Boardwalk was pretty well deserted. I was getting a little cold and football was on the TV so I headed back to Christine. For the first time in a Disney trip, I actually was prepared for the rain and was not absolutely soaked when I got back to the car. I'm am learning. In 25 times, I'm actually learning!

The weather really was kind of bad. The wind was awful and I had to keep the hood of my poncho from flying off. My friends made it to the front of Epcot but they said it was hard going. They had problems driving home with the rains and the winds. The only living creatures that liked this stuff were the ducks near the Swan. They loved the recently developed puddles. Quack, quack, quack.

Once back in the room, I turned on ESPN and got caught up with the football news. I had to call Rich again to see what he had done with his fantasy football team (we're both in a league). He'll probably be the league's highest scorer this week. Whoo hoo for him. I do believe I won my match as well. The day is getting better. I worked on the report and watched the Dolphins/Broncos game. Rich has Brian Griese as his fantasy quarterback and my opponent had a Dolphin so I was rooting for the Broncos. I didn't want to stay up very late but it turned into a very exciting game so I was up until the end which was around midnight.

Day Four - Monday, October 14, 2002

I got up this morning and thought about what I wanted to do for the day. It was overcast and the weather prediction was for thunderstorms. I figured I had the best shot for one more Off Kilter set with the first performance since the storms usually move in for the afternoon (like yesterday). I thought if it started to rain, I'd just go and do some Future World stuff or, depending on how bad the rain was, walk to MGM for the rest of the day. But first I had a little bit of a mission.

I came up with the idea of sending Marlie a Disney postcard every couple of weeks until we get her down here in May. I wanted to go to one of the tourist traps that are so in abundance all along Highway 192. There was a little advertisement in my room for Bargain World and it was across the highway from Old Town which meant it was very close. I thought I'd go there and check out postcards. I thought I could get them cheaper there than at Disney World.

BTW - this morning I was woken up by Lawn Boy cutting the grass at 8:30 AM and then having to weed whack right after that. I'm beginning to think that I'm destined to never be able to wake up naturally.

I headed out right around 11:00 and found Bargain World with no problem. I will normally not set foot in these places but this seemed to be an okay place. Not too much of a bargain but they did have a good selection of T-shirts and souvenirs. And more importantly, and why I'm including this in here, is a nice assortment of luggage and travel needs. So if you buy a little bit more than you can shove into your suitcases for the way home, you might want to check this out. I picked up a booklet of twelve postcards for Marlie. She'll get these every couple of weeks. Mickey will send them. Hopefully, Marlie has never figured out what a postmark is. BTW - the Disney ponchos here are more expensive than the ones at the parks. So don't think you're getting a Bargain at this World on ponchos.

After my tourist indulgence, I went over to the Swan and then took the walkway to Epcot via the Yacht/Beach Club. My goal here was to ask the front desk some specific questions about the concierge service and rooms for my friend, Adrienne. It was around noon and I thought the front desk would not be that busy since it was past check out time and well before check in time. I was right. I asked what I needed to ask and the Cast Member was very helpful. Mission accomplished, I went out to tease Adrienne.

I sat on a rocker on the Yacht Club porch and called Adrienne. It was pure torture for her and I loved it! We chatted about things for a while and I gave her the information that I got for her. Now she can plan her trip in February (hopefully) a lot better. I did slowly walk towards Epcot during the conversation but kept to the side of the path and kept as quiet as I could. It had begun to sprinkle and the storm clouds were rolling in. I didn't even think the first Off Kilter set was going to go off.

My friend from yesterday was at the Off Kilter stage and we cursed the evil rain. Yeah, it was the evil sun on Saturday and now it's the evil rain. We crossed our fingers for the first show and hoped we'd get at least one in for the day. The guys came out and did a reduced set since a storm was rolling across Showcase Lagoon. OK, I've had Off Kilter shows for this trip. The forecast for the day was rain, rain, rain. I headed to Future World for lunch and diversion. I thought if the second set went off, I'd be back but if it stormed, then I'd be doing other things.

I headed for The Land for lunch. I wanted something light. I thought either a baked potato or fruit would be good. I walked over there and looked over the railing to the food court below. Oh my! Where did all these people come from? It was around 2:00 and the place was mobbed. Living With the Land had a 55 minute stand by wait. The lines at the food court booths had at least 10 people in each line. Not what I wanted to do. So I left there and thought about some other choices. Electric Umbrella was out because I did not want a burger or pizza. I figured I'd check out Wonders of Life and Pure and Simple. Have to have something healthy on there, right?

This pavilion wasn't that crowded but the lines for the food went a little slow. These Cast Members definitely do not break a sweat. I got a cheese and fruit thing for $3 which really hit the spot. I enjoyed a little time inside the Wonders of Life and then headed out, fully expecting the weather to be bad. Just take this as a lesson in "planning" - don't ever trust the forecasters. It had really cleared up. I decided to walk by Test Track to see what the wait times were. I went by the Mission:Space building and it looks pretty nice from the outside. Definitely an eye-catcher. At Test Track, the stand by line was 55 minutes and the FastPass return time was 7:45. This was at 2:30 in the afternoon. I thought there was a line at the single riders but it was just a bunch of people asking the Cast Member questions. A couple of people pardoned themselves through the clog so I thought, what the heck, I have time. So I went with the single riders line.

Note: The singles riders line is a special line at Test Track. In order to keep the cars filled to the maximum six guests, they will seat single people in cars whenever needed. No car at Test Track needs to go off with just four or five people in it. You can use the single riders line if you are a group. You just are not guaranteed you will ride together. An example. A husband and wife were in my group of single riders. She was assigned to a car that was going to take off well before her husband's. He was in my car. We were in the same waiting area, just for the next car. The wife would have had to wait at the end for her husband. Both the husband and I saw what was going to happen and at the same time, said the wife and I should switch. Which we did. But don't count on that happening every time.

I got on with a British family of five. The little girl sitting in the back middle with her father and me was so excited and kept saying, "when are we going outside". The only bad thing about the ride was it broke down. Right before we were going to do the evasive move. We were stuck next to the truck and it didn't stop its special effects for a while. That thing is loud! The little girl didn't understand why the car in front of us wasn't moving. She was fine after her dad explained it to her. I figured it would be a long wait because I was sure it was raining. It was only five minutes or so and then we were off again. The family absolutely loved the outdoor part and I was surprised to see sunshine. Off Kilter will be doing the second show.

I went back to Canada and grabbed a beer and sat with my friend and waited for the next set. I didn't plan on doing this much Off Kilter but I figured what the heck. Our next trip would be at Thanksgiving and the guys wouldn't be playing then (they are on vacation) so I wanted to see them now. Plus, I had such good company with my friend.

After the second set, Jamie (bagpiper) had the handler remove his monitor/speaker in front of him because it wasn't working. Which had my friend wishing she had a camera. Usually, you will get pictures of the guys with equipment in the way below the knees. But this opened up the stage quite nicely. I suggested a single use camera so my friend went off to get one. I held our seats and the day just got better. The clouds rolled away completely and it was such a nice evening. I stayed put for the third set. ODing now on Off Kilter but that's OK. That's the Epcot I like.

While my friend was getting her camera, she said there was a bride here in her wedding gown. OK, not the ideal way to tour Epcot but whatever. My friend later pointed out the bride who had on a longer dress but nothing extravagant with a train or anything. More like a satiny dress. She did have her veil on. She was wearing pink ballet shoes which seemed very comfortable for walking around. Her new husband, though, wasn't into this at all. He was wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.

In between the sets, Randy was on the stage talking with one of the handlers about the equipment. A guest came along and approached the stage area. I thought she was going to ask for an autograph or something. But she wanted to know how to get out of Epcot via the International Gateway. Someone had told her it was near Canada. It's actually in between United Kingdom and France so she had walked right by it. This encounter is one of the things I love about Disney World and the Cast Members. The woman asked "excuse me, but how do I get out of here?" Randy immediately replied "you can never leave, you're stuck here". The handler said "it's like a big combo lock, you have to go three times around World Showcase, then back two times, then back around one more". The flustered woman started to laugh but got her directions from the guys. It's little moments like this that make a day more special for a guest. Just a Cast Member taking the time to enlighten a situation.

The third set was great since they did Ozzy Osbourne again. This is definitely not expected by the casual guest who sees "bagpipes" and thinks the traditional stuff. But it is appreciated by most of the audience. I get such a kick out of watching the people at these shows. I know the sets and I know the songs. Things are mixed up quite a bit throughout the day and even throughout my short visit. When I looked and saw this group of older people having such a great time with the Off Kilter version of "It's a Small World", it was even better than the group itself. That's part of the reason I go to Disney World. It's hard to explain but seeing other people enjoying themselves is part of the magic. I get here enough so I have my favorites that I repeat. These people are watching Off Kilter for maybe the first and only time. I love seeing that they are having an experience.

After the third set, I needed to get up and walk around so I did a tour of World Showcase again. I had really only done one walk around which is not my usual. And that was on Saturday when it was so hot. This time, it was much, much better. I could take my time and not be worn out with the weather. What a difference two days makes. All the entertainment around World Showcase was out. The mime in France (I don't like mimes so I continued on), the Japanese drummers, the Fife and Drum Corps in America, the wood carver was doing his thing at the African Outpost (first time I've seen him out), I just missed the acrobats in China. The parade route for Tapestry of Dreams was being set up. There's a reduced route now - just between Morocco and Germany. I do like this parade but I think I might be in the minority.

I made it back to Canada for the last set of my trip. My friend was still there and she was talking with someone that she knew. After a while, the three of us chatted for a little and then the other person had to leave. The fourth set was great since the guys did, on special request (not from me), "A Walk in the Irish Rain" which is my all time favorite Off Kilter song. The lyrics are just so upbeat compared to the other ones. I mean "Danny Boy" is about someone coming back and finding his dead lover's grave? "Fields of Anthry" is about a guy getting sent off to a prison because he stole some corn? So I ended it with a high note. I said goodbye to my friend and I hope to see her at future sets. BTW - she used up all 39 shots in the single use camera on the guys.

The night was absolutely beautiful so I wanted to see what was up at the Boardwalk. The ESPN Club had just a little bit of a line so I guess the Monday Night Football game of the 49ers and the Seahawks wasn't as enticing as Saturday or Sunday afternoon. The Boardwalk was kind of deserted. I was looking for Randy, the juggler but I didn't have much hope. No bunches of people anywhere. I did find Randy. All alone juggling. I stopped in front of him and said "my favorite juggler, Randy!" He continued to juggle and we chatted for a while. I hoped for a crowd of some sort to gather but it was really a dead night. I stayed for the entire time but it just wasn't the same. Even the little kids weren't getting into it. I tried to get things going with clapping after a routine but no one was stopping for anything. After this set, I told Randy I'd see him on the next trip and he went his way and I went mine.

I drove back to the Rodeway using Osceola Parkway again. Easy commute this way. Back to the room in about ten minutes or so. I watched the National League Championship Series, Monday Night Football, and "Third Watch" while relaxing. I decided to sleep in the next morning and just see what I felt like doing. If I'm up early enough (like I could actually sleep on this trip), I could do Animal Kingdom and then head home. Although another set of Off Kilter was a temptation. I'll see what happens. This is definitely a "don't plan anything" trip.

Day Five - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

I didn't sleep in as much as I wanted but just rested and organized my thoughts. Today was the day for the Nebraska folks to pick up the rental truck and we've had disastrous experiences with two of the big names in the business (won't name them but one starts with a U and ends in Haul and one is Ryder). This time, I rented from Penske. I'm from Reading, Pennsylvania which is the hometown of Penske so I was crossing my fingers Roger and company comes through for us.

I finally got up and packed up the little I had. Laundry bag into the almost empty suitcase, laptop away, I'm set. I did bring an extra set of clothes and plenty of extra socks. I was prepared for rains but the only day I really had them was Sunday and I stayed fairly dry with the poncho. While I was doing that and getting ready for the day, I thought about what to do. I needed to stay at Disney World at least until 12:30 or 1:00 in order to time the Atlanta traffic on the way back. Sounds odd but you really do have to watch it around Atlanta. By this time, it was around 10:30 so I figured I wouldn't have that much time at Animal Kingdom if I went there. And I didn't want to hurry myself either. Off Kilter for the first show was calling and I knew my two friends would be there. But that meant I wouldn't be able to leave until at least 2:30 which would put me back home around 10:00. Much too late for the kitties to forgive me. I'd be late enough as it was.

So I came up with something I hadn't really thought about. Downtown Disney. The day was predicted to be thunderstorms and rain but it was beautiful right now. I loaded up the car and actually tried to use the remote on the trunk. Duh! I checked out and then headed out. I stopped at the RaceTrac right in the same parking lot area as the Rodeway Inn and filled up. I had a half tank but once I started out, I wanted to keep going as much as I could. Filled up and then went to Downtown Disney. I could have easily jumped on I4 and gotten there faster but one last drive through Disney property was in order. I must have hit every red light on Buena Vista Drive but it was worth it.

There's a ton of construction going on at Downtown Disney. Seems there always is when I'm here. I turned with the masses into the Marketplace and the habits of people just continue to crack me up. Once we all slowly crept our way into the actual parking lot, we had a choice - right which was closer to the shops or left which was further out. Every one of the vehicles in front of me went to the right. I went to the left, easily found a space and was crossing the street and going to the shops while the other cars were still circling.

My goal here was to check out the new Once Upon a Toy store. I heard good things about this on the newsgroup so I wanted to see it myself. I figured now that I have a child in my life again, I should check it out. Big mistake. I really had to refrain myself from buying out the store and I hadn't even gone ten feet into it. A big selling point for me is they had all the Disney versions of the classic board games. I know one of Marlie's Christmas gifts is going to be a Junior version of something Disney. I'll be here again before Christmas so I'll wait and ask Chandra if Marlie has any favorites. Another thing that caught my eye was these keychains with miniature versions of the board games. That you can actually play. Kind of cool. A little Yachtzee keychain, a little Sorry one, etc. These would be great for packing into a carryon and playing on the plane back. Cost of only $5 each. I almost picked up every one of them and then realized that I haven't flown since I moved to Atlanta. We drive every where now. Back they go. And then I saw these little Monopoly cars with some of the properties listed on them. Remember that I'm from Reading, PA. My mother still lives there. Yes, that's the Reading Railroad on the Monopoly board. They had a car for it. I grew up just a half block from one of the main switches. In fact, my childhood house was built especially for the engineers so they could come back to town, walk home, crash for a while, and then walk back to the yards. This got purchased for my mother for Christmas. Cost of $6 and you get a Monopoly token to add to your game if you want.

I did like that they have queues set up to check out here. I think they need that at the World of Disney. I didn't venture in there today since I don't call it the Scary Store for nothing. Next up was the Christmas Store since Rich doesn't like these types of places. I liked that you can have things personalized for just a little extra (I think it's $3 for a name, $5 for name and date). I also saw where you could get a Guest of Honor Badge. I'm not sure if you can get these personalized but I'd love to get one for Marlie. I'm sure she doesn't get very much with her name on it (it's a hybrid of her grandmother and great-grandmother - Mar for Mary and lie for Hallie).

Then I just strolled around looking at everything. I saw the Wolfgang Puck's Express tucked back in the corner. Might be able to entice Rich with a pizza here. I came back to in front of the World of Disney and got a cold beverage. The day was not that hot but the sun was out (good thing I saw it when I did) and I had time to kill. I was getting into the music and realizing that I made it through a Disney trip without tearing up. Until the damn song came on. Disney pipes in music everywhere. I don't think there's a place that doesn't have it. At Downtown Disney, it's soundtrack music. "You'll be in My Heart" from "Tarzan" came on. I thought about Chris and his big life change. He'll be in my heart always. And I have two new people in my heart now too. I didn't make it through a trip without crying, sorry.

I walked up towards Pleasure Island and took notice of the play area at the Lego Store. Marlie will love it, I'm sure. I'm really noticing much more things for kids during this trip. Like seeing all the kids with their masks over at Epcot. They were all so tickled to be doing these and carrying them. Well, the parents were carrying them. But, back to Downtown Disney. I walked as far as Fultons and Portabello Yacht Club. I wanted to check out their lunch menus. I really think I need to get Rich here for lunch at Fultons. A younger couple came up to look at the menu when I was there. The young lady said "look, they have a burger and you can get your oysters on the half shell". The guy replied "let's do it". That would be Rich and me in reverse. He'd be eating the flesh and I'd be eating the snot, err, oysters.

It was still a little too early to leave. I took my beverage back towards where I parked and sat at a table next to the water. It wasn't marked for Ghiardelli's so I didn't feel bad sitting there with just a beverage. A construction worker with a McDonald's bag came over and sat at the next table to have his lunch. I think he does this quite often. He shared most of his french fries with the birds. Yeah, you probably shouldn't feed the birds these things but that's mostly what they live off of. This guy looked like he could eat nails for lunch and here he was patiently feeding the birds.

Another song came on - "A Whole New World" and I did it again. Thinking about Chris and Chandra and their whole new world. Thank goodness the sun was out and I had on sunglasses. OK, I'm a Disney music sap, sue me. An older couple sat at another table with some frozen drinks. They clinked glasses - well, as much as you can clink plastic - and then kissed each other. They obviously were having a very special moment. Another thing about Disney World. It caters to all ages. These people could have easily been my parents and they were having a great time.

I did call Rich to find out how the rental truck went. He was just finishing up the transaction. He had to call me back because he had to lead his parents back to the house since they didn't know where to go. Penske came through. They didn't have the little truck we reserved but wondered if we would mind going with the next highest size at the same price. Fantastic! And the truck was ready, it was clean, it was new. Excellent! Rich said he will never rent from another company again. Shameless plug off for this Reading, PA girl.

It was a little after 1:00 so I needed to head out. Another quick trip comes to an end. I used I4 to get to the turnpike. I figured it was a Tuesday early afternoon so traffic would be non-existent and it was. Out to the turnpike and as soon as I cleared Orlando, it started to rain. That's all I would see in the next eight hours. It wasn't that heavy until later but enough of a pain. I stopped for a couple of maintenance breaks and just drove. I did see one billboard that was interesting. For a Christmas store in Michigan. Said it was the largest Christmas store in the world. OK, maybe I75 goes all the way to Michigan but how many customers are you really going to bring in with a billboard way down here? Interesting marketing strategy.

I stopped for gas in Macon, GA and then things got very interesting. It started to pour. As in a deluge. I was fine with driving until I got onto I675 going into Atlanta. I think my top speed was maybe 50 MPH since there's not a lot of lights here and the lanes are marked with just paint and no reflectors. Add to that the roads aren't paved very well so water gets splashed back at you from all the cars and the many, many tractor trailers going through here. I285 came up faster than I expected but I got off there and I think this was worse than I675. I just wanted to make it to I85 where I knew the road and I knew there wouldn't be the water backlash and there were lights and reflectors. It would take just a little longer than I thought. I guess someone zigged when they should have zagged and there was an accident that shut down the left lane. It looked bad since an ambulance was pulling away before I got to the crash site. I had slowed down considerably on the drive because I figured safety was much more important than time. Not everyone had the same idea. Once past the accident, I had to maneuver through Spaghetti Junction not only at night but also in the pouring rain. But then I was on I85 and heading north. I was much more confident with this road. I still stayed under the speed limit because of the rain but I made it home with no problems.

The cats were surprisingly calm about me getting home. Until I saw the plant that they knocked down. And the package of croutons that they somehow managed to get down from a high shelf in a closed pantry. And this is even with a cat sitting service. I think cats have a seventh sense of just when their parents are coming home and do the most damage right before then. But all was forgiven and shy little Belle even wanted to be petted within ten minutes.

Final Thoughts and Overall Impressions

Food

I ate fast food and things in the room. I brought snacks from home and ate those at night after the parks and had muffins and granola bars for breakfast before going out. That made it easy to just get a snack during the day. Not much - the Spoodles take out pizza, the side of chips from United Kingdom (they were freshly made and perfect for the rainy night), and the fruit and cheese platter from Wonders of Life. All these choices were less than $5 each. I made ample use of the water fountains all over Epcot but you can easily carry a water bottle with you and refill as you go. A water bottle strap, if you don't already have one, costs $3 and it makes carrying hands free. That's much better than spending $2.50 every time for a bottle of water. I did splurge for a beer or two but couldn't do much since I had to get myself back to the hotel. I'd say my food and beverages were well under $40.

Hotel

What can I say about the Rodeway Inn? It certainly was cheap enough. The whole stay with taxes and resort fee was $96 for three nights. The location was great and close to World Drive and Maingate. The staff was very nice and helpful. I did tip housekeeping although I'm a fairly low maintenance person.

With that said, there's really nothing wrong with this place. But I wouldn't recommend it except for doing what I was doing. A very, very cheap trip for one or maybe two people. And that's stretching it. I couldn't put my finger on it when I was talking to Adrienne about it. It wasn't dirty or anything but Adrienne said it best - it was worn. I didn't expect much and I didn't get it. I did get a room to come back to at night and a bed to sleep in. Adrienne said that her family enjoys an afternoon break and if they had to come back to a worn out room, they would have been so disappointed. I think that sums it up the best. There are just so many better options that might not be as cheap but cheap enough all up and down Highway 192. I'd definitely go with a little better class of hotel next time.

Touring

After I got back from the Labor Day trip, I knew that my small, one compartment fanny pack was not going to be big enough for a solo trip. I also have a nice shoulder bag that Rich and I use for our duo touring so we can hold two ponchos and everything else we need. I didn't want to take that because Rich and I switch off carrying that and I didn't want something on my shoulder the whole time (medical reasons). Thanks to the AllEars newsletter, I checked out nutztogo.com. This is a travel accessories site. I found this great multi-compartment fanny pack for just $10. It has a large zippered main compartment that easily held my washcloth, poncho, cell phone, and keys. Another zippered compartment had slots for eight credit cards or IDs. A velcro flap held cards and receipts. Then there was a main flap that closed over all that with another zippered compartment on the outside of that. Below that flap was a small zippered compartment that was for sunglasses. I loved this since I have to have sunglasses on all the time. There was also a zippered compartment on the back side for money so it was up against my body.

I thought all the zippered compartments would be a problem with security at the gates but I always took off the pack, unzipped the main compartments and was put through without any hassles. I highly recommend nutztogo.com. The package came within a couple of weeks of me ordering it. This is a great value for $10. I'm going to get Marlie a kids fanny pack that's on there for $4.50.

I did just one theme park - Epcot. I wanted to do Animal Kingdom but Christine just prevented that. I did more Off Kilter shows than I thought I would but I don't feel like I have to justify that at all. This was a de-stress trip and that's what I did. If sitting there in Canada enjoying great music and good friends is what it takes, then it was well worth it.

The spur of the moment trip to Downtown Disney was great. Rich doesn't get into this very much so I might compromise with him next time. He can do his KMart/Target run as long as he drops me off at Downtown Disney first. Then he can meet me later. The new Once Upon a Toy store is a must for everyone.

Planning

I did plan the trip when I decided to go on it. Then everything changed just three days before I left. And then things changed so many times during the trip. The Christine episode certainly wasn't planned. I guess the lesson here is that you can plan everything you want to but realize that you can't expect to hold to a minute by minute itinerary. The only day that went off like I planned was Saturday and that started out horribly. Sunday had the car incident and the rains. Monday was supposed to be rainy but turned out beautifully. And I didn't expect to see Off Kilter either Sunday or Monday since they were on Saturday.

Overall, I had a great trip even with Christine. Since we've been home, she's decided that her parking brake is on all the time so she constantly dings while I'm driving. I think she teamed up not only with Damien but with Regan as well.

I do want to thank my special Off Kilter friends. I have two women who share in enjoying the band. The times spent with them in Canada were very nice and I'm looking forward to seeing them again. Both were disappointed Rich wasn't there. And Rich was disappointed he didn't get to see them. I've made many friendships via Disney World and this is just another one.

Next trip will be Thanksgiving unless we change to going to the Food & Wine Festival instead. I told Rich Off Kilter wouldn't be there over Thanksgiving and I said that was good news. He asked why - he wanted to see them too. So maybe I'll trade the Food & Wine Festival and Off Kilter and give him Thanksgiving at his parents. We'll see.

And we did see. Thanksgiving was moved to going to Maryland to be with the in-laws. Next trip is November 9-13 for the Food & Wine Festival. Got a free night at a Sheraton and then three nights at $49 at All Star Sports (Annual Pass rate).

Feel free to email me with questions or comments - just put Trip Report in the subject line if you don't mind. Spammers just adore me these days. In the words of Off Kilter - don't run with scissors, don't let your meat loaf, and have a great Disney day!

Sheri Niklewski

disnut8@hotmail.com


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