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Sheri Niklewski -- September 2004 -- Walt Disney World (Offsite, PCR)

The Who

  • Me - Sheri (42) - trip report writer, a recently (as in the day I started this trip report) unemployed accountant (again!)
  • Husband - Rich (44) - E-Bay expert and keeper of the cats - well, he puts up with them all day long and that’s a full time job.

We’re both Disney World veterans. I’ve gotten to the point now where I don’t even count how many times we’ve been there. Rich says “too many”. I say “not enough”.

The What - Disney World for a three day weekend

The When - Friday, September 3 - Monday, September 6, 2004 - Labor Day Weekend

The Where - Offsite at La Quinta and then Pop Century for two nights

The Why - Because we can

The How - The mind-numbing seven hour drive from our place outside Atlanta down to Kissimmee - a necessary evil.


Rich and I live so close that it’s fairly easy for us to make frequent but shorter trips to Disney World. We had a dry spell since neither one of us was working, but then I was gainfully employed so I made up for lost time. I vowed that for 2004, there would be no three day weekend that went by without us being at Disney World. We did Easter (I had Good Friday off), Memorial Day, and the dreaded Fourth of July (wasn’t that bad, just hotter than heck). Labor Day was next (yes, I already have Thanksgiving planned too - IF one of us gets a job).

I was looking for offsite possibilities because no discount rates for Disney property were available until mid-July. I wanted to book something just in case. I was also looking for a much longer trip that will include Christmas and New Year’s. I found the Days Inn Suites on Highway 192 (aka Irlo Bronson Highway) for the December trip. We were hoping that our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter could join us. The suite would sleep six and have a full kitchen. The price was great - less than $60. Rich thought that sounded wonderful so I did some reverse bookings. I booked it for Christmas/New Year’s, then Thanksgiving, then Labor Day. I was happy with the choice. Offsite doesn’t bother us too much. I’d much rather be in the Disney magic 24/7 but we’re still frugal. Being unemployed really smacks you upside the head with expenses.

Rich and I went to Disney World for the Fourth of July and stayed at Pop Century; which totally blew us away. I’ve stayed at just about every Disney resort - deluxe, home away from home, moderate, and value. This little value place was awesome for us. It’s not for everyone but it sure was for us. All the icons, the history of the decades, I guess they don’t call it The Classic Years for nothing. I knew it was a winner when Rich, of all people, was still gushing to our friends about it after we got back. Rich just doesn’t do that kind of thing.

A discount code available to everyone was announced and I pounced (I love it when I rhyme and don’t realize it). I called 407-WDISNEY from work one afternoon and grabbed a room for the two nights at Pop Century. The price was $55 and that was in line with the Days Inn Suites. Rich grumbled a little about losing the extra space and the kitchen but I persuaded him with the plea that it was only two nights, we love Pop Century, and we’d have that Disney quality the whole time. He must love me because I put the deposit on it two weeks later. I did leave the other reservations at the Suites for Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s. You’ll have to wait for those trip reports to see if I ended up staying there.

The General Plan

We almost always leave our place on Friday night after I’m done working (when I worked). We drive four hours to south of Valdosta and stay at a Days Inn there (can you tell I have a frequent stay plan with Days Inn?). The last trip, I waited too long to make a reservation and had to settle for another Days Inn in Valdosta. I wasn’t that thrilled. So even before I booked the Disney World portion of this trip, I had my reservation off Exit 5 of I75.

On Saturday, we’ll be on the road by 8:00am with a stop in Ocala at the Disney Information Center (excellent bathrooms) and then be checking in by 11:30 or so at Pop Century. I have absolutely no idea what we will do for the rest of the day. Probably Animal Kingdom as it seems we alternate between MGM and Animal Kingdom and we did MGM last trip. Besides, there’s no way we could compete with the Great and Mighty Greg Wilmot and try for the Hot Seat at Who Wants to be a Millionaire - Play It. Damn kid was the Fastest Finger winner four freaking times in one trip! Anyway, we’re due for a dose of nature. Sunday will be our usual - Epcot and ‘Off Kilter’. I’m hoping that the weather will be much better - read COOLER. We couldn’t do much at Epcot last trip because it was just too bloody hot. I did manage a trip to Mars with Gary Sinise at Mission: Space and that was about it. I am itching to force Rich into The American Adventure or, at the very least, the film in France. The man needs culture.

All of our meals will be on the fly. I’m saving the sit down restaurants for Thanksgiving and December trips; so no rack of lamb descriptions here. It’ll probably be Spoodles take out pizza, beef fried rice at Lotus Blossom Café, or - if Rich gets his way - New York Pizza World (off-site). We’re so boring these days and so predictable. I’m going to have to find a way to jazz up this report so people don’t start using it as a sleeping aid.

The Week Before - “Why is it that no Disney World plans are ever what you think they will be?”

The Sunday before this trip, Rich and I were totally exhausted. I know - we’re both unemployed, so why were we tired? Because we manage to fill our weekends with really stupid things for full grown adults to be doing. We had just come off a double dose of a Friday night Atlanta Falcons pre-season football game (they won!) and then a Saturday all day free concert series (the fabulous Peter Noone). The weekend before this trip was another Falcons pre-season game (they won!) and then our fantasy football draft on Sunday. After all that, Rich and I took the Fat Cat, Todd, out to our front porch and relaxed and realized that we are definitely too old for this kind of stuff. And we’re doing Disney World in five days?! Ugh!

So we’re sitting there, reading the Sunday newspaper and Rich actually had to remind me of the upcoming trip. He asked what time we were leaving on Friday. I looked at him like he had two heads. “Where are we going on Friday?” Then Rich looked at me like my face had gone green. “Um, Disney World?” Oh yeah!

We both basically did a big slap on the forehead thing. Why just drive four hours and stop in Valdosta on Friday? Why not just go earlier and drive all the way to Kissimmee? Rich suggested getting a cheap offsite place for Friday night. He really amazed me because he usually doesn’t even think more than one day in advance. I was about to race upstairs to the PC to see what was available but calmed myself down and pretended that it was no big deal. I more than likely could have gotten Pop Century for Friday night but even an extra $20 was enough to sway my decision. Offsite was what we could deal with for that night. And we’d have flexibility on when we left the Atlanta area. The Friday before a three day holiday is a killer for going through the heart of the city.

We came in from our little sit and I was dying to get online. But Rich wanted to relax and watch a movie. When he started to fall asleep (we are way too old for our adventures!), I suggested we just stop our crazy schedule and go to bed. BUT, I wanted to shut down my PC first. Hehehehe. Five minutes later, I was logged into Hotwire.com.

I had used Hotwire in early May for a quick one night stay at Disney World. It’s like Priceline and the others in that you don’t know what resort you are getting until after you make your commitment and your money is gone. It’s very blind in that regard but you do know the level of your resort. You don’t bid on the resort - the rate and star level is given to you beforehand. You get to pick your general area of stay as well. I was extremely happy with the other time I used Hotwire and the rate was unbelievable so I spun the roulette wheel once again.

I plugged in the date of September 3 and then the Disney World area. One hint - if you’re doing Hotwire or any other place, Kissimmee really isn’t the area you want. Check out the maps for your target areas. The results came back very, very mixed. A Four star resort for $75, no thank you, a one star resort for $50, definite no. I got a 2-1/2 star place for $33. The only other time I’ve used Hotwire, I got the Clarion Maingate which is 2-1/2 stars for the same rate. Cool. We loved the place. Click, and was asked for my credit information. Quite honestly, I think we closed our mortgage on the house faster than this security level. I don’t think Supreme Court Justice Nominees go through this much screening. Rich heard words I don’t think he’s ever heard in locker rooms. It wasn’t Hotwire; it was stupid Bank of America. I think I might have given up my second born grandchild in the process but I’m not sure.

I finally cleared all the hurdles and was the proud owner of a room for one night at the La Quinta Inn Lakeside at 7769 Highway 192, which is a great location for us. We’ve never stayed here before so I checked out the La Quinta website and saw the exact location. It’s a little bit farther out on Highway 192 but we can use the back way to get onsite. It should be fine for what we need. And the $33 ain’t something to sneeze at. I cancelled the Valdosta Days Inn which was a higher price anyway. Now, we’ll be able to enjoy Friday evening in the Disney World area.

So now we’ll have two full days at Disney World. All the plans we had just went out the window except for Sunday and seeing ‘Off Kilter’. We’ll have all day Saturday and Friday night now. I offered up the New York Pizza World for dinner Friday night. Rich was all for that. We have some 10% coupons from previous visits. And I might really angle for a trip to Epcot as well. If we leave our house by 9:00am (and believe me, I’ll be monitoring the traffic situation all morning), we should be in Kissimmee well before dinnertime.

The Calm Before the Storm - “You call me Frances and I’ll Kill Ya”

Mother Nature sure has a wicked sense of humor, doesn’t she? Just as the Orlando area is recovering from Hurricane Charley, in marches Hurricane Frances. I had bookmarked a ton of websites during Charley since my dad and stepmother and my sister and her family live in the Florida Keys. I found more for monitoring Frances.

Rich and I respect hurricanes. We lived in Biloxi, Mississippi for three years and I endured five hurricanes in 1985. All of the storms are different. I did take the son, the two dogs and the kitten and evacuated when Hurricane Elena hit. She was a Category Five at the time (which is considered the highest level). I also went through Hurricane Danny that year and was stuck at home for three days until the water cleared out. So we understand the power of the storms.

On Tuesday, it looked like Frances would be stalled outside the Bahamas by 8:00am Friday. The path did have her going into Orlando. Rich said not to panic and if the situation stayed the same, we’d be driving down south on Friday. Pretty stupid for us to be driving into a hurricane but, like I said, we’ve been doing crazy things these days. We’ll monitor the situation several times each day before we leave. We’re not really THAT stupid.

Wednesday brought a slightly different picture and it looked like Frances would go a little south of the Orlando area. And it wouldn’t make land on the Florida coast until Saturday morning. Of course, that was still three days away and anything could happen. We were still planning on going Friday morning. I did, however, throw out the possibility of leaving on Thursday instead. We are taking bottled water and snacks from here in case the Orlando area does get a bit depleted with those things.

I also checked Steve’s entertainment site and saw that Off Kilter was scheduled to play on Saturday. That’s unusual for them. That’s the schedule, anyway. If the storm comes through, they won’t be playing. Heck, Disney World might even be closed for some time during the trip. Which is fine with us, there’s plenty of other things to do besides the parks.

We’re probably crazy for driving towards a hurricane. Our trip could easily be changed or canceled. But we need this time away from the house and to be together, just the two of us. From now until the end of November, just about every weekend is filled with activity. We need some time to gear up for that. We’ll either not get that much effect, or have some great stories to tell.

On Thursday, I monitored the hurricane more than I monitored my contractions when I was in labor. I think I found every single site out there on the internet for hurricane tracking. And for what? There was no single answer. The paths went everywhere. People in Georgia were freaking out. “It’s coming here!” Trust me, if a hurricane hit Atlanta, you might as well throw in the towel. These people can’t even function with a simple drizzle, let alone a hurricane. An inch of snow shuts down the city. But anyway, I got such conflicting reports on what was going on, I didn’t know what to do.

By 5:00pm, I’d had enough. I had sent emails to our family members saying that the trip might still be on. If we made it, we’d call from the hotel on Friday night. I realized that a friend of ours, Jane, and her family from Omaha were at Disney World right now. Rich and I retreated to our front porch and Rich had the idea to call Jane. To see what the situation was right now. How Disney was handling it. Great idea! I think that front porch is wonderful to bring out the best in Rich. I pulled up Jane’s last email - they were doing Universal, then Wilderness Lodge and then Riverside. This was towards the end of their trip so I figured Riverside was a safe bet. I got the phone number from allearsnet.com and placed the call. The Cast Member who answered the phone made sure I knew the person I was calling. I was asked where Jane was from. Of course, Jane wasn’t in the room but I left a message. And then we waited.

At this point, Frances was still a Category 4, which is a bad, bad storm. I called my stepmother in the Keys and she said it was absolutely beautiful there and that they were the only coastal area in Florida not under any watch at all. And they were the first ones to be told to evacuate days ago. Hurricanes have a way of not doing what everyone predicts and that was my dilemma. I told Rich that we would pack like we were going and then wait until the morning and make a game time decision. And then Jane called.

She was surprised I was concerned. She said it was business as usual at Disney. Allearsnet.com had the Friday park hours posted and we discussed those. Jane thought they sounded like the normal hours. Epcot was open until 9:00 like usual. This helped quite a bit with deciding what to do. Jane didn’t even know the airport was closing tomorrow at 3:00. They were scheduled to leave on Sunday so they’d have to make alternative plans. This swayed me over to the 80% of going. And then there’s the Bobbie factor.

Bobbie is my wonderful mother-in-law. I had also emailed her with our intentions; her response? “Sheri, I’d love to go with you, you know how much I like storms”. This is a woman who, when we lived in Omaha, was disappointed when a tornado didn’t appear during her visits. Bobbie cracked me up. She’s all for adventures so she swayed me too.

So on we go….

Day One - Friday, September 3, 2004 - “Frances Smances”

The alarm was set for 7:00 and we didn’t need it. Stupid cats decided to play on the bed at 6:40. Rich and I both pretended to be asleep for the benefit of the other but I was anxious to run over to the PC. The alarm finally went off and so did I - to boot up. Whaa? Hurricane Frances was now down to a Category 3? What to do, what to do? What’s the path? A Cat 3 is still serious (love how I picked up all this hurricane talk in the past week). Well, one path had the storm going right through Orlando. Not good. But a few others had it going south. This storm was huge - the size of Texas - so Disney World was going to get some effects of it anyway. I pondered. Then I decided. I went over to the bedroom, got my clothes together for the day and told Rich “we’re going”.

Understand that this decision did NOT come easily. There were a lot of conflicting emotions going on inside of me. Our resort rooms could go to someone evacuating from the coast. We could stay home. That was the weight on my mind with this decision. I am normally a very giving person to strangers and quite honestly, if Disney had called and asked me to give up my reservation, I would have. But we are going through some tough times personally right now and I decided to be selfish. This trip would not happen any other weekend. Our weeks are filled with job applications and surfing the net for opportunities. That brings down any family. I know there are people out there that are going to disagree but that’s OK. It was a personal decision and so is your opinion. I don’t have to justify this anymore.

After getting ourselves ready, we got the car packed up. We were prepared. We go to the Atlanta Falcons games and tailgate so we have what is called “The Dirty Bird Tub”. It’s a plastic container that is filled with our supplies; like plastic plates, utensils, paper towels, foil, Ziplocs, etc. I decided to bring that. I packed it with our snacks too. We had a bag with PB&J supplies. If nothing else, a PB&J sandwich is a perfectly fine dining experience. Two boxes of wine (hey, if we’re stuck in a hotel room with just each other, we’ll need something), a 12 pack of Diet Coke (Rich would die without that), and a case of bottled water. I had packed a flashlight, Rich picked out Yahtzee to take along in case we were stuck in the hotel room, and I grabbed a deck of cards. We both had Stephen King novels to read (Rich is on the latest Dark Tower series, “Song of Susannah”; I just re-read anything since I get so lost in everything the man writes). We were prepared. I began a mantra - “prepare for the worst, hope for the best”. Rich still thought we were stupid.

And realize that all this was being done while dealing with the cats. They were so not happy with us going. They were all over the kitchen counters, where they are not supposed to be. The kittens tried to get into the refrigerator. I actually had to open the freezer to make sure I didn’t trap Meeko in there. It was an aggravating hour to get everything together. At one point Rich was yelling to the four guys (Belle was smart and was upstairs out of harms way) “Don’t you understand what I’m telling you!” I was upstairs and just cracked up. Yeah, sure, cats don’t understand Human at all. Although they all had this sneaky look in their eyes, I think they’re up there now having a poker game with the stray cats in the neighborhood.

We were finally ready to roll at 9:00. We gassed up and Rich grabbed himself a Diet Coke (go figure). Then we headed (foolishly, I know) south on I85. Rich was driving because he informed me last night that I was to never, ever drive him through Atlanta ever again. Our trip through the area was uneventful but that was unusual. I just don’t have the patience for Atlanta drivers. I think everyone here does not know what the term “speed limit” means. They either poke along or speed by. I never really relax until we get past Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Then we get into the more southern Georgia way of life.

The radio was on to our local oldies station (we’re not that old, we just like the music) and Rich drove and drove. Every time the news came on, we turned up the volume and kept track of Frances. Damn girl. Our trip south was traffic free. The north side, however, was another story. The Florida evacuation was taking place and people were fleeing into Georgia. There were a ton of backups all along I75 when we got down there. It didn’t help that Georgia was stupid enough to continue their construction issues and had lanes blocked off at spots. At one point, the northbound interstate was down to just one lane. Thanks Georgia, the largest evacuation in the history of Florida and you had the notion to give them all just one freaking lane to use.

I do have to take a moment and point out one nice thing that happened for the evacuees in the state of Georgia. Well, for those with RVs. The Atlanta Motor Speedway, which has some nice camping areas, opened up for any of the evacuees to stop there. That was a huge gesture on the Speedway’s part. They normally don’t operate unless there’s a race going on. But they thought doing something right was better than not doing anything at all. Kudos to AMS.

We also saw a couple of accidents; one was quite bad. That would be extremely harsh, to evacuate and then end up in an accident on your way. We had only one incident on our side. How people can crash on a perfectly straight road is beyond me but these two cars sure as heck did. Both cars were crunched up. Now we were down to one lane but not courtesy of the Georgia DOT.

Rich drove until we got to Valdosta. We did make one stop for a bathroom break along the way. We had a very unusual stop for gas. This was a mandatory stop for the lower Georgia prices. We chose Exit 11 and a BP station. What a station. Rich pulled up to the pumps. Which were the manual ones! We hadn’t seen these in about twenty years. Fortunately, Rich had pulled up to a Regular Gas pump - that’s how old these pumps were. You had to pick the right one. It was funny when Rich got out and realized that it was a manual pump. The look on his face was priceless. I didn’t think about it until later but I should have taken a picture because I honestly don’t think our son, Chris, has even seen a manual gas pump. We even had to pay inside. That was fine since we picked up beverages and snacks. Not a bad place, though. That’s a BP station off I75 Exit 11. The only bad thing was their bathroom was out of order.

I took over driving and we stopped just a few minutes later at the Florida Welcome Center. With our bodily needs taken care of, we were motoring south. I got tired of the oldies and classic rock stations so while Rich dozed, I turned on my choices of CDs. I didn’t even stop at the Disney Welcome Center off Exit 350 since Rich was still napping. Rich woke up after I got onto the turnpike so I asked if we could stop at the rest area there just so I could get out and stretch. Rich took over for the last 45 minutes of driving. He was amused that all the tolls were forgiven for the hurricane. He thought maybe only the ones for people going north. Not for the stupid people going south.

Rich got us to the La Quinta and I realized that we had stayed here before and liked it. So I was happy; IF they still had our reservation. That was my fear all day. That our rooms would have been given away to people with bigger needs. Fear unfounded. The front staff here wasn’t that attentive but I was finally helped and we were put way in the back of the property and were told it was the quietest building. I think maze builders should come here and take lessons on how to get back to our room. Me - “turn here” Rich “no, I think it’s here” Me - “no, look at the sign - building 1-10 this way”. We finally got back there and determined that everyone was put into building 5.

The La Quinta is a very nice motel. It has 15 two story buildings, on a lake, with miniature golf and three pools. Our room overlooked the lake. There’s a Pizza Hut and an on site restaurant. It’s very close to Disney World and just off Highway 192 and at a traffic light which is essential in these parts. I was happy once again with Hotwire.

We unloaded everything that we needed from the car into the room. I made phone calls to Rich’s parents and to my dad to let them know that we were here for the duration. My dad advised that we should get gas ASAP. Very good advice from a hurricane veteran. I took notice on the way in that our favorite gas station on Route 27 didn’t seem to be open. We still had a half of a tank but that wouldn’t be good enough to get us back to Georgia. Rich and I got “park ready” which for this evening, was just my camera bag. Epcot was open until 9:00 and that’s where we were headed.

The weather for today? Beautiful. Temps in the low 90s, little breeze, puffy clouds. It was a great night for Disney World. Rich got us parked at the Swan and we noticed a couple of changes right away. Usually, the first four rows on the left side of the parking lot are fenced in for valet parking. The fences were gone and the first two rows had cars parked sideways to block them off. And all the trash cans were tied down. On the walk to the lobby we saw another change. All the plant stands were tied down as well. We expected more preparations for Frances during our visit.

We made our way over through the BoardWalk and I offered up the suggestion of the Spoodles pizza take out window. I know, I know, we do this every trip but we weren’t sure what was going to be open inside Epcot. We sat along Crescent Lake and enjoyed the dinner. Ah, we really are here at Disney World!

Things were still set up along the BoardWalk and I had a good feeling that the storm was going to be a nuisance and nothing else. Maybe the parks would be closed on Sunday. But hurricanes are not predictable so I was prepared for anything.

After dinner, we went through the International Gateway and Rich picked up an entertainment guide. He checked the Off Kilter times for tomorrow. I said “IF the parks are open”. He grimaced at that thought. Let’s see what the witch Frances has in mind. But we’re here at Epcot, let’s go and enjoy for the moment. Rich has absolutely no sense of adventure or fantasy. He’s the most practical and sensible person I know. Maybe I should just start calling him Wilber after the pig in “Charlotte’s Web”. All the goofy, stupid stuff we do is usually my idea. Rich takes fifteen minutes to figure out which brand and size of potato chips to buy. I go up and grab something and leave the store. It was going to turn out to be a very long weekend.

But onto the fun! First up was a stop in France for some wine for me. It had been a long, long week for me. I had asked Rich time and time again for his opinion on what we should do. I felt like it was my decision and I had made it. So far, so good.

All the carts were belted down with yellow straps. Disney World was definitely getting ready for Frances. The Cast Member at the wine place said there was talk of closing tonight at 7:30 and then not opening tomorrow. OK, we’ll go with the flow until we’re told otherwise.

We walked over to Morocco and MoRockin was performing. Rich likes the group; I feel they are an acquired taste. So I suggested that he enjoy and I’d poke around in the shops for a while. I really like the Moroccan shops. The crowd level was so low tonight that I think there were more Cast Members than there were guests. After my “window shopping” (I wasn’t going to buy anything), I went back to Rich and he said we could go and continue our walk.

All the kiosks and things along World Showcase walkway were gone. And the crowd was subdued for the Friday evening before a three day weekend. But for everyone there, it was great. The atmosphere was wonderful. No indication of an impending storm. Rich made the best of it with stopping for a beer at the American pavilion. Nothing was open outside - not even the turkey leg cart! Which made Rich say, “Darn, I wanted a turkey leg this trip”. That was a total joke. Those things are gross to us.

While I was waiting outside for Rich to get his suds, I saw the Illuminations globe being brought out. It hadn’t registered that it wasn’t in the Lagoon by this time. And no floats yet either. I guess Disney was waiting for a game time decision to see if Illuminations would be going off that night. Smart choice. The night was still pretty still and calm and nice.

We kept walking and I said we didn’t need to be there for Illuminations. That was a big give up for me. I love the show. I tear up just about every time. But it was a long week, a long day, and Rich was being so nice for just taking this chance on being here. Then I jokingly mentioned that Test Track and Mission: Space probably wouldn’t have very long stand by lines. Rich said, “Mmm….hadn’t thought about that”. So the very responsible adults headed over there. On the way, we passed the African Outpost and everything was gone. Yep, Disney is definitely taken precautions. Why are we here again?

Maelstrom at Norway was an option with a 5 minute wait. But we bypassed it since we had seen it recently. Rich couldn’t remember the last time we were on Test Track. That was the first destination. We approached the entrance and all the times. No FastPasses available but there was a return time from earlier. Standby and Single Riders were both 20 minutes. We went Standby. And walked right on. There really was no single rider line at all. This was at 7:00 PM on Friday before Labor Day. An omen? We went through the pre-show and boarded our test vehicle. I was on the left, Rich in the middle, and a single guy on the right. After we started, all three of us realized our monitor in the back wasn’t working. I told Rich that made for a much more enjoyable ride. The guy on the right agreed. Maybe because it’s been so long since we’ve been on here; but the blast outside seemed faster. The ride was great.

Off of that and over for a Gary Sinise fix - err, I mean Mission: Space. 10 minute Standby wait, no singles line. We did have to wait 10 minutes and there were return FastPassers. But only two pods were open at this time. We were the second group to be let in from our line. Not bad. After the pre show and my eye candy (I really like Gary Sinise), we boarded our space ship. We had a little girl and her father in our ship. We lowered the restraints and the girl had a problem. She had yanked hers down and it was too tight. So everything was released and we re-settled. Right before we were going to take off, the father started banging on the side like he wanted to get out. But the girl told him it was fine. Those two were really kind of strange.

We had a great ride although our monitor was out on this one too! Very odd. But we sucked it up and figured it was part of the storm coming. No more Gary Sinise for me. I’ll get him again on another trip, I’m sure. After we got back from Mars (or did we?), Rich remarked that with the low crowds maybe we could send out some video emails. The booths were full but one family was just finishing up so we waited. They left so we sent a crazy one to Chris, our son. When we were done, we exited and saw there was no one waiting so we went back in and sent another one to Bobbie, Rich’s mother. With this one, I had fun. I acted like I was in fear and screamed “Hurricane! Hurricane!” The result was quite humorous. I still wonder if my mother-in-law thinks I’m sane.

After these antics, Rich looked at his watch and said it was 8:00 and we could still make it around to Germany and see Illuminations if I wanted. I joked and said with the low crowds, we had a ton of time. So we meandered back to Germany and got a place on our favorite overhang. At this point, I was kind of beat. I took off the shoes and sat on the ground. Heck, we could have taken a bench and still had a great spot for Illuminations.

I went for a bathroom break and the music had changed to something that sounded familiar. I was browsing at the glass shop cart (and they were busily trying to close so I didn’t take long) and then it hit me on the way to the bathroom. “Steam Train”! That is my all time favorite instrumental by Off Kilter! OK, I probably won’t get to see the boys this trip but I got a little dose tonight. Once I got back to Rich, he said the same thing. It wasn’t Off Kilter but it was a version of “Steam Train”. Little things, little things.

I thought this show of Illuminations would be the one I didn’t have a problem with. But halfway through the thing, it happened. I don’t know why. I thought about a lot of things and how wonderful it was just to be there at that particular moment with someone that I loved. I made like I had an eyelash on my cheek when I wiped away the tears. Illuminations will do that do me every time. That’s just me.

We walked back through the BoardWalk area which was doing business as usual. After a quick peek into the ESPN Club to see if the Atlanta Falcons pre-season game was on any of the screens (it wasn’t and that was a good thing - the team ended up losing 27-0), we got back to the Swan and the car. We didn’t get back to the La Quinta until 10:00 or so. It had been such a long day and we were both very tired. And then I realized the one item I forgot to pack - pajamas! It’s always something. Oh well, T-shirts will be fine for the nights. Rich immediately said “don’t even look at my extras to wear!” We each took a bed and watched Nick at Nite reruns until lights out at midnight. Who knows what tomorrow will bring with Hurricane Frances.

Day Two - Saturday, September 4, 2004 - “Lockdown at Disney World”

I got up around 8:30 and turned the TV on but muted it so I wouldn’t disturb Rich who was still snoozing. Frances had been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane so I was encouraged. However, Disney World had decided to close the theme parks. Oh well, we’ll find something else to do. Rich got up and ready and then I followed. We re-packed everything and discussed briefly trying to get out of the area and go home. Rich now informs me that he really thought we should have stayed home and not have worried about the non refundable hotel room and coming to Disney. I was a little miffed because I had been agonizing over the decision all week and I did it almost all verbally while he was in the room. If he had just come out and said “Sheri, I don’t think we should go” or “Sheri, we’re not going”, we would have stayed put. Now we were here and the storm looked like it was shifting south and who knew what the day would bring.

So we checked out and decided to go over to Pop Century and get checked in there. On the way out of the La Quinta, I mentioned to Rich that we had a half tank of gas and that wouldn’t be enough to get us into Georgia when we did leave. Rich suggested we go out and look for a gas station. I thought something out farther, like on Route 27 would be a good choice. We headed out there and it felt like we were driving through a ghost town. Lots of businesses were closed or closing. Many were boarded up. We saw two gas stations open on the other side of the road and there were lines of car waiting for their turn. Out on Route 27, our normal BP station was taped off with yellow caution tape. At that point, we should have just continued on and gone back to Georgia. What we did do was go up Route 27 to an open gas station with available pumps. We topped off our tank and then very stupidly went back to Disney World. Hindsight is always 20/20, Monday morning quarterbacking, and all that. I honestly thought that at least Downtown Disney would be open or something. But Frances had other ideas.

Rich got us over to the Pop Century and told the gate guard that believe it or not, we were checking in. So far, though, the weather was fine, a bit breezy but not bad at all. The guard told us that they were looking at doing a lockdown around 1:30 which was in a few hours. Ugh! But it’s too late now, we’re committed.

When we entered Classic Hall to check in, there was a very large sign saying that Everything Pop, which is the gift shop and food court area, would remain open only as long as it was safe. People were encouraged to stock up on non-perishable goods because they could be asked to remain in their rooms for a long time. We were the only ones checking in but there were a lot of people who were extending their stay. Obviously since the airport was closed and no word at all on when it would reopen. The Cast Members were very helpful to everyone.

Our Cast Member was a college student from the University of Houston. I said “we’re the stupid ones checking in”. He said that that might be a good thing because Disney World is probably one of the safest places to be in a storm. I guess there were a lot of cancellations because I was shown a property map and told I could have my pick of the 50s, 70s, 80s, or 90s buildings. I choose the 80s since we liked that area when we were here on the Fourth of July. Then I figured I’d ask for a king bed. The only non smoking king bed they had was in the 70s building so I took that. Or I thought I did, turns out that the room wasn’t ready yet. With a potential lock down coming up, I wanted to be in our room ASAP. So we were given a two double bed room in the 80s building. I didn’t care where it was, I wanted to be settled.

The Cast Member went through all the phone charge issues. Which is: you’re going to be charged 75 cents any time you pick up the phone. Then he said “So, in other words, use your cell phone”. I thought that was kind of funny.

After getting our room keys (we declined the theme park information since they weren’t going to be open anyway), Rich wanted to get a newspaper so we went over to Everything Pop. The first things we saw were hurricane kits with snacks in them. Disney World was also selling styrofoam coolers that were being snatched up on a regular basis. Moms were going through the store filling up the coolers as they went. Shelves were pretty well stocked. No newspaper for Rich, though; only the USA Today which was the weekend edition so no current news.

The instructions for parking for our room had us in the 80s area. With a walk through the Roger Rabbit building, past the computer pool and then up into the Walkman building around the other side. Our room was 9213. It had started to rain by this time so we took as much as we could in the first load. And walked and walked and walked. We were pretty darn wet by the time we finally found the room. Of course, one of the things we left in the trunk of the car were our ponchos. We just weren’t thinking straight this entire weekend.

We got everything into the room and wanted to settle down before we went for the rest. Rich sent me out for some ice but I didn’t get very far. The ice machine on our floor was out. I guess people were really making use of those styrofoam coolers. I did realize that we had a parking lot view. Of the 90s parking lot. There was a stair case right next to our room and we were only on the second floor. So we headed back to the car and moved it over to right outside our building. The second unloading was a lot easier than the first one. We got everything up to the room but left the bottled water in the trunk. Rich figured he could always go back out and get that later. One thing we did do was unscrew my car’s radio antenna. I didn’t want that whipping around in the winds.

Then we went on a hunt for ice. Figuring it would be better to go up, we tried the third floor. Rich filled the bucket and I had the insulated insert. He was successful but I only managed to get two cubes. So he went back to the room and I tried the fourth floor. Yes! Then we relaxed in the room and watched the storm coverage. We really didn’t have that much of a choice. All the local stations did nothing but storm coverage. Disney did take off their devoted “why you should love Disney” channels and were showing constant loops of “Finding Nemo” on one, “Brother Bear” on another, and “Monsters, Inc.” on a third. The only problem was we didn’t know when they started. So we’d be clicking through the channels and always arrive in the middle of the movie.

By 2:00, the weather looked fine so we decided to take a long walk around the grounds. I took my digital camera with me since my still camera decided to run out of batteries yesterday. We did a complete tour of Pop Century and I got shots of all the icons. We noticed that the pool chairs were all stacked up. That didn’t stop people from using the pools, though. All of the signs along the way were shrink-wrapped and taped down. It was very interesting to see all the preparations.

We decided to check out Everything Pop for something to take back to the room to eat. The food court area was doing a very good business and only a couple of the stands were open. Rich spied the pizza place so he went over there while I went to the pre-packaged stuff for things for maybe later. Rich was back with the pizza in about two minutes. They had pre-made pizzas ready to go. I checked out the alcohol selection and spied an $11 bottle of wine but I hadn’t brought a corkscrew. We are so sophisticated that we enjoy our wine out of a box. A six pack of beer was $10.80 so we picked up one of those. Against all hope, we wanted to watch the NASCAR Busch series race on NBC that afternoon. Total damage was $27. People were also stocking up on refillable mugs. We stocked up on napkins for later and Rich spied the strawberry jam in a bin. I had just brought grape jelly for our PB&J sandwiches so this added variety.

When Rich picked out the six pack of beer, a guy remarked that that was one of the most expensive six packs of beer we’d ever buy. Rich said “yeah, but you gotta do something”. The guy said that they had been offsite at a grocery store and the alcohol sales were being suspended at some places. We guessed they didn’t want people to go out and get liquored up and do stupid things during the hurricane. Then we realized we made yet another stupid mistake. The gas station we went to had a little quickie mart. We could have easily stocked up there. The other guy was concerned about tomorrow night’s NASCAR Nextel race. Would it be shown since all the local stations were devoted to storm coverage? Glad to see we weren’t the only NASCAR freaks here this weekend.

For once this weekend, we had made a wise decision. When we got back to the room, we had a message from the front desk. Everything Pop was closing at 4:00 and people were requested not to leave their rooms after 5:00 until further notice was given. We enjoyed the pizza and had some slices left over - maybe for dinner tomorrow. Right before 4:00, there was a knock on the door and a Cast Member with information. He reminded us about staying in after 5:00 and the flyer we were handed said to be prepared for 30 hours of this. 30 hours! Wow! We were very prepared with food and things to do so not a problem. But 30 hours of being in the same room with just each other? Surely that can’t happen.

Well, if you’ve made it this far and are reading this for Disney World hints and tips, you just might want to skip ahead to the very end. If you’d like to know how we survived with the two of us not being able to go outside of our hotel room for 24 hours, then read on.

We spent some time watching people going down to Everything Pop (Classic Hall was right across the parking lot from our room). I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many refillable mugs in my life! Just about everyone had one. We also called Bobbie and Ed and my dad and Betty to let them know of the lockdown. My dad asked if we could possibly get out. Err, no, the police were out and checking everyone to see just why they were out and where they were going. All the roads were utterly deserted. We’re here, we’re staying. Rich also called Chris (our son) to get the NASCAR radio affiliates for the area in case we don’t get the Nextel race tomorrow. Chris didn’t even know we were here! He said he was waiting for us to get online. Silly boy. I have no idea why he didn’t think his parents would actually travel to a place expected to get a hurricane.

There was one very pleasant surprise. There were two NBC affiliates and at 3:30, we were shocked to see one of them end their storm coverage and put on the NASCAR Busch race. That was wonderful for us race fans and gave us something else to watch other than storm coverage. Little did we know that would be the last regular programming we saw until midnight the next night.

I worked on the trip report and watched the race; Rich napped a bit and watched the race. Other than it being a bit more breezy than normal, the weather was like a typical Florida summer rainy day. After Kurt Busch won the Busch race (no relation), we had a bit of dinner - cheese and crackers. We would come to be very thankful for bringing all this stuff with us.

We clicked through the TV channels and tried to find the start of a Disney movie. We had never seen “Brother Bear” so when we came upon that choice, I thought it was at the beginning. It wasn’t but we didn’t know that and I knew enough of the storyline that we could enjoy the rest of the movie. We knew it was on a loop so we waited until the DVD was recycled through and watched the beginning. You could clearly see these were just DVD hookups and someone somewhere had to reset the DVD after every cycle. That was true for the other two channels that were showing Disney movies.

After our movie viewing, which BTW, I thought Brother Bear was a good movie, we pulled out a couple of diversions. The storm coverage on TV was getting into the hysterical phase since Frances was due to hit the coast at any minute. Rich and I started to play Triple Yahtzee and quickly settled into our competitive ways. I’m usually not that fierce of a competitor, it’s only with my family. I kept flipping the TV back to the Disney movie choices and saw that the variety had changed. We had just started with “The Rookie” with Dennis Quaid so we put that on for background noise more than anything. It was kind of funny because I was in the bathroom and Rich noticed that the movie was different. He said “They now have that Disney baseball movie on with Jeff Bridges” and I knew exactly what he was talking about! He tends to get Jeff Bridges and Dennis Quaid mixed up.

Rich and I usually don’t play games at home with just the two of us. It was kind of nice playing Yahtzee since both of us had grown up with the game. Rich’s family would play all kinds of games on their family vacations while they were settled in hotel rooms. My family, we were campers and I think Yahtzee is a standard staple in every trailer in America. For those people who don’t know what Yahtzee is, it’s a dice game where you have to make three of a kind, four of a kind, straights, and the big Yahtzee - which is five of a kind. Kind of like poker with dice but you have to get one of every option.

We had a blast teasing each other with our habits. After Rich rolled the dice and determined what he was going for, he moved the remaining dice over the corner (we were using the top of the Dirty Bird plastic tub as a table on top of the bed). With me, I absolutely cannot touch my remaining dice. If I do, I think I’ve jinxed myself. I also cannot change my mind about what I’m going for. No matter if I get something better with the second roll. Silly habits that we all have. No, I’m not superstitious at all. Not me.

After a couple of games (Rich won one, I won the other), we switched over to cards. This is a sad, sad commentary on our lives these days. We couldn't remember how to play Rummy! Not Gin Rummy, just the plain, build on everyone’s sets and runs Rummy. We finally settled on dealing eleven cards and then went from there. I wanted Rich to call his parents since they play cards all the time. He wouldn’t so if we were wrong on the Hoyle’s set of rules, oh well. It was the Niklewski set of rules and we were in agreement.

We finished a couple of hands with Rich just killing me. Rich asked when the game was over and I said normally 500 points. He said at that rate, we’d be done in two more hands. Since it was just the two of us, we were getting higher scores than if four played. We had time to kill so I said we’d play until 5000 points. What the heck, right? Rich continued to kill me with getting over 100 points just about every hand. I think I might have topped that once. Oh well, we’ll have plenty of time over the next day to continue the game.

Around 10:00 and the end of “The Rookie” (which I didn’t think lived up to its hype except for Dennis Quaid’s performance), we decided to take a break and just chill with the TV. I can’t remember what we watched but the storm coverage was going on and on and on. I learned more about Florida counties than I wanted to know. I had the state road map with me so I saw where everything was going on. By midnight, we were so sick and tired of storm coverage. The brunt of the hurricane had just hit the coast so it was going to be a while until it reached this area. The winds and rain had picked up quite a bit. We had a sign hanging outside our window that identified the building. We watched that sway back and forth to gauge the velocity of the storm. There wasn’t anything we could do so we turned in and waited for the morning.

Day Three - Sunday, September 5, 2004 - “Lighten Up Frances!”

Rich and I were both kind of up around 7:30 to check on things. There was a steady noise coming through the door. I thought it was Rich snoring but it was the wind coming through towards the hinges. There definitely was a hurricane going on outside. By this time, Frances had been downgraded to a Category One but it was going to be a very wet and windy hurricane. That’s something about hurricanes - each one is different. Charley had rolled through the area three weeks ago and that one had much higher winds but little or no rain. And Charley was in and out in a relatively short amount of time (which probably felt like forever to the residents here). Frances would prove to be a stubborn girl. Rich and I decided there was absolutely no reason to get up so we went back to bed.

BTW - Disney was leaving messages on the room phones with status updates. So if the message light was on, we had an update. The last one we had was basically “stay in your room until you hear back from us”. No message light was blinking so we were stuck for a while; might as well get caught up on our sleep.

We finally struggled up at 10:30. The TV got us quickly caught up on the hurricane situation. It was here. We were told to stay off the roads and everyone was paying attention to that request. The Disney movies had changed again and were now loops of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, “102 Dalmatians”, and the made for TV movie “Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror” with Steve Guttenberg. I remarked that if I was stuck in a hotel room all day, it was pure torture to have a Steve Guttenberg movie on a continuous loop.

I was feeling lazy so Rich showered and I asked “why?” Then we settled in to watch “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, having caught it just starting. Rich played Solitaire after having to remember how many piles to put out. The man plays this all the time on the PC! Sad, sad state of affairs.

After Eddie Valiant saved Toontown and those loveable Toons got Marvin Acme’s will, I was ready to get cleaned up for the day. It was actually cold in the room. We turned up the room control but could see the temperatures outside were only in the 70s or so. I had almost packed jeans and a sweatshirt and now regretted it. I’m the type that once I’m cold, I’m cold.

Pop Tarts were the breakfast/lunch option. By 2:00, we were so tired of the storm coverage. How many times could we see that the hurricane was here? I would have given my right arm for anything “normal”. The only other option were the Disney movies (which were OK for a while but watching “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” over and over again was not how I wanted to spend my day) and ESPN. Three channels of sports and you think we would have loved that. But it was SportsCenter on over and over again. They even started to repeat themselves. And still no message that we were OK to leave the room.

There was a group of kids that just couldn’t stay inside anymore. I have to commend their parents. Instead of sending them out and about, the kids were contained to running around the walkway outside the rooms on the second floor. They were getting soaked but what the heck. Normally, this kind of behavior would annoy the crap out of me but I wanted to go out and join them. Rich and I were going stir crazy in our room; I cannot imagine what people with kids were doing to occupy their time.

We continued our marathon Rummy game with me gaining some ground on Rich. Not much and then he started his run. When we finished this go-round, he was up on me by 1000 points. Rich did ask before we started if I wanted to begin again. I have my pride, thank you very much. We also played a couple of rounds of Triple Yahtzee too. At some point, I finally gave in and we watched “The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror”. It actually wasn’t that bad and Steve Guttenberg should still have a career. We really enjoyed seeing the scenes that were filmed at the attraction at MGM. The plot line was thinner than a piece of paper but Kirsten Dunst is one of my favorite actors so that was a bonus. And Nia Peeples was in it for eye candy for Rich. At this point, we were desperate for anything but storm coverage.

Right before 5:00, I saw the Sign of Life. The message light on the phone on blinking! Whoo hoo! We were now allowed to move outside our rooms. And Everything Pop would be open with limited food and beverage service starting at 5:30. Big Whoo Hoo! The winds and rains were still whipping and coming through but the hurricane had moved on to the Tampa area. We were getting the leavings of Frances now.

A few minutes later, we had another message. For tomorrow, Epcot and Magic Kingdom would be open. So would Downtown Disney. Everything else was closed. But at least for those who would still be here, there was an alternative, finally.

I called Bobbie and Ed and my dad and stepmother, Betty, with the news of our freedom. Betty said in the Keys they couldn’t really get any coverage on what was happening with us because all their TV stations were focused on what was going on down there. And they were closely monitoring the new Hurricane Ivan. That was due to hit Cuba and the Keys next weekend. How much more can Florida take? Betty said they were tired of all this. My dad is 75 years old and this was taking a hard toll on him. I invited Betty and the gang (my sister and her family are also in the Keys) up to Atlanta and to stay with us. Ivan was looking nasty. Both families have campers and while my neighbor association might frown on people camping in our driveway, I really don’t give a care. We’ll see what happens next week.

We waited a while to venture down to what we figured would be a packed food court. Rich was still hoping for the Nextel NASCAR race at 7:00 but I warned him not to be optimistic. He foolishly thought that maybe, just maybe, the local affiliates would give everyone a break from the repeated information about the aftermath of the hurricane. Honestly, how many times can you hear that there is damage, stay off the roads, there could be flooding, and that there were curfews? We had cabin fever so we donned our ponchos and took off across the parking lot over to Classic Hall.

You know, after being trapped for 24 hours, people still want to shop. The gift shop was packed with people just buying souvenirs. About the only thing we were looking for was a different option from our food choices in the room and some beer. Rich was still hoping for that race. I was fine with our room food so I talked Rich into getting two six packs of beer. It might be a long race was my argument. Rich asked if there was anything I wanted and I said a bottle of champagne to celebrate our “freedom”. But at $17.95, that wasn’t going to happen.

Along our walk to Classic Hall and back, the most we saw of damage was a couple of trees toppled over. These were trees that were still fairly new and hadn’t had the time to establish their own root system. The two we saw could easily be put right back to where they had been before. A few brave souls were even in the pool. And Everything Pop didn’t have “limited” service. All the stands were open and the place was packed but very organized. When we were checking out, Rich asked the Cast Member how long she thought they would continue to serve. She said until midnight! Wow! Rich asked if she volunteered to come in. She said yes and I hope that’s true. We did thank her and told her we really appreciated all the Disney effort for their guests. To me, ‘limited food choices’ doesn’t mean burgers and fries, pizza, pasta, and just about everything else. I expected pre-packaged sandwiches and that’s it.

We returned to the room and hoped that an NBC affiliate would take pity on us again and give us the race instead of storm coverage. It was not to be. But they did have an alternative. The race would be shown in its entirety at midnight. That’s great. Who the heck is going to be up at midnight to watch a three hour race and then drive back to Georgia in the morning? Well, us. Rich came up with the idea. He suggested we take a three hour “nap” now and then get up at midnight to watch the race. That was a great idea since we were both so tired of the damn Disney movies (we were now on ones I couldn’t really identify), ESPN coverage of sporting events we didn’t care about, and the never ending storm highlights.

The winds were still going strong so we had a new sound effect. The sign outside our room had this noise that every time it would swing; I thought a humpback whale was swimming by. Or a cow was dying. But we settled down and tried to get some sleep before midnight.

We were successful and Rich woke up right after 11:30. It’s a NASCAR gene, I think. At midnight, we FINALLY got something else besides storm coverage on a local affiliate! Whoo hoo!

Day Four - Monday, September 6, 2004 - “Get Me the Heck Out of Florida!”

This “day” really started at midnight when the NBC station flipped over to the taped coverage of the Fontana NASCAR race. The anchorperson did say they were getting lots of calls about the race. I guess we’re not the only ones that wanted something else. At least we had rested well so we were up until the race ended at 4:00 AM (Rich’s Elliott Sadler won with Kasey Kahne getting second place yet again this season - our little fantasy NASCAR car league might as well end today - Rich won). I set our alarm for 10:00 since check out time wasn’t until 11:00 and we were all packed and ready to go.

We didn’t have any housekeeping services during the lockdown (go figure) but they certainly made up for it this morning. We didn’t put out our Do Not Disturb sign because, quite honestly, we forgot all about it. Why put one out when no one was allowed outside? About 9:45, housekeeping knocked on our door, completely waking both of us up. Rich was the closest to the door but I scurried around to answer since I’m sure the lady would have been shocked with Rich’s attire. Once I told the lady that we were checking out, she was fine with continuing on.

We both got ready in a short amount of time. Then we took everything down to the car in a couple of trips. We weren’t the only ones getting the heck out of Florida today. It was overcast but it was breezy and with just a few of the parks open, we wanted to be out of there ASAP. From watching the never ending storm coverage, we saw that our area of Georgia was going to get the remnants of Frances by tonight or early tomorrow morning. We had a small window of opportunity to get back home before all that happened.

The express checkout was in order (we really couldn’t have too much to dispute since we never really went anywhere) so we were on the road shortly after 10:30. Getting that top off of gas was a brilliant move. Now we could glide into Georgia without having to worry about gas lines. And we could leave the gas for people who needed it more.

We hit the rains when we got to the turnpike. Rich was driving and we actually were going through the outskirts of Frances. I was a white-knuckled passenger for quite a long, long time. We outraced the Witch when we got to Valdosta but by this time, we were hungry for anything that wasn’t in a hotel room. I could tell Rich wanted a burger and he knew I didn’t want fast food. So we compromised on a Shoney’s.

Rich got the hickory bacon cheeseburger (I know him so well) and I got the breakfast that is served 24 hours a day. I just didn’t have the energy to do much more. Our server was really good so that was a nice treat for a “diner”. Our last experience with a Denny’s left lots to be desired. While we were eating, Frances caught up with us. When we left (a whopping $12 bill) the winds were really going to town and we were pelted by rain getting out to the car. Rich continued to drive and I warned him that I might not be able to get behind the wheel that much today. But he outraced Frances yet again. That wasn’t hard to do. We were doing 65 MPH; she was puttering along at 10 MPH.

We had a reverse of Friday. Now the northbound lanes were totally cleared but the southbound lanes were very heavy. Again, Georgia had lanes on I75 blocked off going southbound. Not down to one lane this time but only two lanes which was just as bad. The rains let up outside of Macon and I volunteered to take over driving the rest of the way. It’s only about an hour and a half from there to our house but Rich didn’t want me driving through Atlanta (and I didn’t want to either) so he drove the entire way today.

We were back at the house after a quick grocery store run by 7:00. The cats were happy to see us (I think). I know we were darn happy to see them. All four of the male cats got big hugs from me. We unloaded the car and then collapsed from the weekend. I made phone calls to the parental units and we informed Chris (our son) that we were finally home via IM. Our little adventure was over.

Final Thoughts - “I Survived Hurricane Frances”

Hindsight being what it is - would I do this ever again? Probably. We had a great time at Epcot on Friday night and enjoyed our walk around Pop Century on Saturday. I really didn’t think Disney World would be closed on Saturday and that was a deciding factor on the decision to go. Being in a hotel room for 24 hours was a challenge but we’re a strong couple and we survived it with lots of humor. We were more prepared than someone (like Jane) who had flown in and had no idea what was coming. Jane and her family also survived. Rich talked with Jane on Monday on our way back. They were at Epcot. They couldn’t take staying in the room any longer than they had to.

I have to give Disney World high marks on dealing with the hurricane. The emergency notices were paid attention to and the lock down was necessary. Disney dealt with it the best they could. Once the storm had passed and things were safe, Disney responded extremely well. The food court was totally open, the bar area was open, the gift shop was open, the characters were there for the kids. The Cast Members did their jobs with smiles on their faces even though I’m sure they were concerned about their homes and families as well. We certainly did not expect almost 100% right after Frances went through but we sure got almost that. I know some people will fault Disney World for going on with things while there was still massive clean up from not only Charley but now Frances. But I’ll tell you something - it was needed.

As for us, well, we got to go through Frances again only in the comfort of our home. It was a tropical storm by Monday night but we had lots of downed trees from the winds. Our back fence is down from some limbs falling on it. We made out better at Disney World than we did back here at home. Oh well, the fence is the responsibility of our housing development and if they pitch a fit about it, well, we don’t really need it anyway.

I did send a very chastising email to the Georgia Department of Transportation about continuing the construction on south I75 when the Floridians were trying to evacuate. I am very upset with my new state’s handling of Friday’s traffic going north. To anyone that was stuck in that horrible mess, I truly am sorry for it.

I also sent an email to the Atlanta Motor Speedway and thanked them for opening up their campground area for the evacuees. I received a response the same day. The Communications Director thanked me and said they were overwhelmed by the support they received from the local community. I guess once word got out the Speedway was open, they were flooded with food, blankets, water, and everything else that was needed. The Georgia DOT might be awful but the residents of this state can come through in an emergency.

And as I write this, we’re waiting out Hurricane Ivan. My entire family is on the run from this one. They all live in the Keys and are heading to the Disney World area for the duration. After my experiences there, I can’t think of a safer place for them. We here in north Georgia are going to get pounded again but that’s OK. It’s no where near what Florida is going through.

I still have the Thanksgiving reservations although they could be cancelled if we don’t a have job between us by that time. After that, our wonderful Christmas present from Rich’s parents - nine nights at Pop Century during Christmas and New Year’s. I’m working on all the details for that one.

I said I might come out of this trip with stories to tell. I guess I do. I’ve learned to never travel without two decks of cards with you (most of the games I remembered later required two decks). Top off your gas tank when convenient. I will never again wait until the day we leave to fill up our tank. I’ll always travel with a couple of bottles of water. And quick and easy snacks like peanut butter and jelly sandwich makings. If you don’t want to take bread, take a hard sided container of crackers. The peanut butter and jelly don’t need to be refrigerated.

Unfortunately, this trip report will be closed out with thoughts and hopes for the entire state of Florida. Stay safe and realize that the rest of the country is there for you. America is the first country to go to the aid of other countries in need. We won’t let you down.

Feel free to email me - just put “trip report” in the subject line. Thanks for reading. It ain’t the typical Niklewski trip report but then again, life just has a way of dealing things out, doesn’t it?

Postscript - Hurricane Ivan spared my family but not the people in the Florida panhandle. We got the backlash from that sucker too. As I finished this report up, we went through Jeanne. Disney World was closed up for her too. Right now, there’s nothing on the radar for any other storms for a while. Let’s hope Florida gets a break.

The Thanksgiving trip will be on - I landed a job this morning. I even negotiated to have the week off for the Christmas and New Years trip. It’s going to be a true family reunion since our son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter will make the journey from Ohio to Florida for the week. The in-laws will join us for New Year’s and to celebrate our wedding anniversary (23 years). Hold on tight for that trip report. It’ll be an epic one!

Sheri Kiklewski


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