Sooner than I thought the time for our vacation approached. It was quite an event for us to visit the States again, since our last visit was already two years ago. We left Berlin on October 1st. We had to change planes in Frankfurt and luckily my friend Gisela from Giessen, which is not far from Frankfurt, made it to the airport, so that we were able to see each other one more time. We left Frankfurt late afternoon and although it was the same flight number, we had to change planes in Washington DC too. Of course we had to go through customs and immigration, but I wasn’t aware of the fact that we had to take another plane. We had to go to another gate and wait about an hour to go on. Luckily I still had some change left from the last vacation we needed that for drinks and an ice cream for Nicole. Anyways, we arrived in Orlando at midnight, got the rental car and drove to the Disney Hotel, where they had already awaited us. The Coronado Springs Resort is built in Mexican/Southwestern style and we liked it very much. The next morning we asked if my orders (stroller and address labels) had been delivered, and surprise! We had two strollers and no address labels waiting for us. We sent back one stroller and will hopefully get the money back soon. I already have a mail from the company that they apologize for the misunderstanding and that they will credit my account immediately. I have sent an email regarding the address labels to the company, so hopefully we will have that solved soon too.
We spent a week at Walt Disney World and as usual we loved it. Nicole was a little bit shy in the beginning but that disappeared soon. It was pretty hot and humid and unfortunately we did have quite a lot of rain from a very stationary low pressure front that didn’t move for a couple of days! Still we did all the parks and we had a lot of fun. Nicole loved the slow ride in Spaceship Earth at Epcot! We did that several times. And she was so impressed by the palmtrees. She also liked the new Winnie-the-Pooh ride, the Peter Pan flight, the Mad Tea Party and looking for Minnie Mouse in her house. I do think she enjoyed it. It was the first time we had the chance to visit the Animal Kingdom and I really liked that. On our last Disney day we had a reservation for a character breakfast with Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends and that truly was an experience! It was really worth it. That day we wanted to have dinner at the Disney Marketplace, but when we got off the bus at the bus station it didn’t even rain – it poured! We were soaked in a few seconds. So, instead of waiting for the rain to stop we hopped on another bus back to the hotel and had dinner there. Really, I think it’s great to get around the whole Disney property without using your own car. Altogether we spent two days at the Magic Kingdom, two at Epcot, one at Animal Kingdom and one at the MGM Studios which we would probably skip next time. We did the backlot tour and saw the Little Mermaid Show and spent some time on the Honey, I shrunk the Kids playground, but I don’t have to see this again. I’d rather spend more time in Animal Kingdom or the Magic Kingdom as waiting in line takes alot of the time there, especially in the Magic Kingdom.
So, the next day we left for St. Augustine Beach, new territory for us, as we have never been north of Orlando. We had a reservation for a condo, but when we arrived at the rental office (on Saturday) it was closed. They had a note on the window that during slow fall season they’d close for the weekend. Additionally they would be closed on Monday too as it was Columbus weekend! I fumed! They should have told us! Anyways, we didn’t have a choice, we had to look for another accommodation. It fortunately didn’t last long until we had found another condominium, directly behind the dunes, which was fabulous. Two bedrooms, two baths, washer, dryer, microwave, fridge, dishwasher – why haven’t we chosen a condo before? That was really comfortable and Nicole was excited to have a room on her own. We had a wooden walkway across the dunes to get onto the beach. You should’ve seen Nicole, she was so excited and loved to play in the water. The water wasn’t even cold, although we had strong winds and waves. But it was sunny! St. Augustine is America’s oldest city, with very old buildings and a unique walking area with little shops downtown. We took a trolley to drive around and do some sightseeing. We visited a lighthouse, although Nicole wasn’t allowed to get up, so we took turns. You have to be 7 years old to be allowed to climb up the stairs. I think we will have to go to St. Augustine again in three years! We visited an alligator farm, which was quite interesting, Castillo de San Marcos, an old fort, and every day when we went home in the afternoon we headed for the beach. One day we went shopping and I mean shopping! We went to an outlet mall and spent quite a few hours there. This day it was the first time on TV that hurricane Irene was mentioned, directly heading for Florida. I was scared. I have never been that close to a hurricane. I had a weird feeling in my stomach! It wasn’t still not close enough so we had another beautiful day, which we spend on a playground and at the beach, but the following day a flood watch and a tropical storm warning had been in effect. We didn’t go very much outside that day at it was awfully windy and it rained alot. Thankfully hurricane Irene didn’t move northeast, but north, so we weren’t hit directly. I feel very sorry for the people in the Carolinas, as they were hit by another flood, only four weeks after hurricane Floyd. And although Irene was just a category II hurricane, it brought torrential rain. I was somehow glad to leave that area anyways, we headed for the Gulf coast the other day. I was surprised how detailed the Weather Channel reported. Sometimes we watched for over half an hour and it wasn't repeated.
We still had very heavy rainfalls in the Jacksonville area, but the more we went west, the better the weather got. First little blue holes in the clouds, then a mix of sun and clouds and in the end – no clouds at all! But – my pal Jean warned me, the drive on I-10 was sooooo boring! We had a reservation in a small hotel directly on the beach in Panama City Beach. I wasn’t too impressed when we arrived. It is a very touristy area, it must be awfully crowded during summertime. And due to off-season, many shops and restaurants were already closed until next spring, so it was kind of a morbid atmosphere sometimes. The motel wasn’t exactly what I had expected, not exactly a flea bag, but not very good either. Still it was cheap. But I don’t think I will ever have such a cheap motel again just to save money. It was okay for a couple of days tho. The beach was gorgeous! Almost white and so deep! And I almost couldn’t believe my eyes, the water was turquoise. Lots of little crabs and shells, crystal clear. Beautiful! That day we arrived I also met my penpal Jean for the first time. She came down from southern Georgia for one night. I was nervous somehow. I always am when I meet penpals I haven't met before. She called shortly after we had arrived and we met on the beach. Her hotel was just one block south, so it took just a couple of minutes to meet. She came with her twin sister, Jane, and we got along great. Talked for a while and met again for dinner at a seafood restaurant in Panama City Beach. The next morning we met again on the beach, talked and talked and talked and at noon they had to get their stuff and go home. They were already thinking of calling in sick and stay another night! We were glad to be there off-season as not many people had been on the beach, it was very quiet and not at all crowded. Sometimes I had the feeling we were the only one there. We visited Gulf World, the Zoo and just spent time on the beach, very relaxing. One day we wanted to make a dolphin watch cruise, but the ship was broken and just this day it was cloudy and cool, a coldfront was approaching the southern states. The next day we left, one day early, but here comes why.
Almost five years ago, on our last Florida vacation, when I was already pregnant with Nicole, we visited Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park at the Gulf coast, where they have manatees, just a couple of miles south of Crystal River. It was awfully cold back then, but I liked it, so we decided to go there again. We spent the night in a Days Inn in Crystal River which had a pool and a playground and what I liked – a Denny’s restaurant! I always liked having breakfast at Denny’s, and before that we either had breakfast in the Disney hotel or made it ourselves in the condo and the motel in Panama City Beach, which had a small kitchen. The next morning we packed our bags again and went to see the manatees. The park isn’t big, so it was just right for a half-day trip, after that we drove on to Orlando, that is to Kissimmee/Lake Buena Vista. We had one day admission left on our Disney tickets and we also wanted to see Sea World. And that’s when the adventure began. It was Friday afternoon when we arrived in Kissimmee, and due to a big convention and a golf tournament we couldn’t find a hotel room! No vacancies at all and this was the only time I had not made a reservation in advance. We even thought about returning to a Disney hotel, but only a few, very expensive rooms were left, Disney was full! And imagine how many rooms Disney has!!! We were already looking for a hotel for about two hours when we took a break to have a snack and search for a restroom, when we were dumb enough to lock the car keys inside the car. I almost freaked out! Fortunately there was a Hertz car rental station nearby (we had rented the car from Hertz), so Christian asked them what to do. They called a locksmith and it took only 15 minutes and we could go on. We left Hwy. 192 East because of many construction sites and suddenly by accident saw a nice hotel on International Drive South. We both actually wanted to have a suite, not only a room, and this Holiday Inn was called Family Suites, so we decided to ask. They were almost booked, but we were lucky to get a suite for our last days. This hotel had an old wing and a new wing, opened just a week before which we later learned. We stayed in the new wing. Our stay there was quite adventurous!! The main door didn't close properly, and the bathroom ventilation was way too strong so we had a constant subpressure in our room, which meant, the air was whistling and howling through the main door that we almost couldn't sleep. The next morning we called the front desk and they promised to send a technician. When we came back that evening, nothing had changed. It was late, because we watched the fireworks at Epcot, but called again. They promised to send a technician right away, but no one came. Another scary night. The next afternoon we asked to get another room. The weekend was over, so they offered us a Kids' Suite, which was nice, because Nicole had her own room again. We moved. The following afternoon, having just arrived from Sea World, we were changing to go to the pool, strange noises came from the bathroom and within a couple of minutes, the tub and the toilet were filled with dump water! It was smelling awfully! And the toilet even overflew. Nicole and I went to the pool and Christian called the front desk for an emergency. It thankfully only took a couple of minutes, then about 6 to 7 people stood there. They told him that since they opened this new wing they had nothing but problems. They found a big piece of styrofoam in the pipe, so that's why we were literally flooded with shit (sorry). Anyways, it didn't take long and I saw the bellboy with our bags heading for another room in the old wing. It was a Kids' Suite again, which we really liked. The walls in the kids room were painted with Coca Cola polar bear motifs, Nicole loved that! The last two nights were eventless – thankfully! What also made the stay there enjoyable was the fact that breakfast was free, and kids under the age of 12 ate free with one paying adult.
We truly enjoyed the last couple of days. The coldfront disappeared and we had beautiful weather! Since we had that one day of Disney admission left, we decided to do a long day, went to the Magic Kingdom first and we finally got to see Minnie Mouse! I guess, we only missed Goofy, we got a lot of autographs and I hope a lot of great pictures! Did a couple of her favorite rides again, the lines weren't as long as three weeks before, that was nice. We went back shortly to the Coronado Springs to ask if my address labels had arrived in the meantime, but nothing. Then we went to Epcot in the afternoon. We accidently saw the Millenium Parade which was absolutely gorgeous! We had dinner at the Mexican cantina, sipped on a margarita and waited for the fireworks. It was absolutely fantastic! I have never seen such fireworks before! Nicole also enjoyed it, ooohs and aaaahs all the time!
The next day we went to Sea World. This has changed alot since we had been there in 1992. Much bigger. I love orcas and dolphins, so this is the right place for me. And it seemed as if Nicole was enjoying it as much as I did. Somehow she's into fish and sea mammals. I always shiver when I see the killerwhale show. They are so majestic! I would love to work with these animals, a dream of mine, since I first saw a show like that. They don't do tricks with them, so it's not a show like they used to have, jumping through rings and all that, they just show these wonderful animals. I'm always very impressed. The dolphin show was great too, and you can even feed and touch dolphins in their habitat. Nicole loved that! Me too! Dolphins feel like rubbershoes, just softer. I have never been so close to dolphins, it was great. I saw a commercial on TV several times, that a new kind of theme park will be opened next summer, Discovery Cove, reservations only. You can actually swim with dolphins there! I of course checked it on the Internet at home, but no reservations taken yet. I'm sure the next time I will be in Florida, I will definitely try to get a reservation. We even waited for the evening show of Shamu, the orca, which was called Shamu Rocks America. Close to the killerwhale stadium Sea World has a playground for children, and Nicole played there awhile. Sea World had the second day free so we came back and saw and fed the sea lions, saw the Shamu show once more and simply enjoyed being there.
We didn't go to the Universal Studios this time. They do have this second park, Islands of Adventure, which we don't know yet, but to be honest, after Disney and Sea World, I was somehow fed up with theme parks. Also, we only had one day left, and this would've been to little time (and too much money!) for both of the parks. So we just went to the Universal Studios City Walk one day, a shopping area with bars and restaurants (nightlife!What is that?) because a co-worker asked me to get a t-shirt from the Hard Rock Café for her son, and the Hard Rock Café is located at the City Walk.
On our last day, we checked out of the hotel, and went to the Disney Marketplace to get the last souvernirs, had lunch and then we had to return the rental car and get back to the airport. Time to go home. I didn't want to leave and Nicole neither, we both cried the last morning when we packed the last stuff. Boy, we had at least double baggage than on the flight to Florida! We bought tons of stuff, some things for the kitchen, souvenir t-shirts, OshKosh clothing for Nicole, because this is soooo expensive here, stationery for me, software, music CDs, Disney stuff, rubber stamps, books etc etc. Way too much! Well, we arrived at the airport to discover that our flight was more than one hour delayed. In the end we had a delay of 1 ½ hours. Thankfully the connecting flight in Washington DC had to wait! We changed planes and took right off, about one hour late. We arrived in Frankfurt, Germany half an hour late, the flight lasted not even 7 hours. In American time, we flew the whole night, so we all slept, didn't even have dinner. In German time it was already noon the next day when we arrived. Arriving there, it was chaotic. Due to fog all flights that day had either been delayed or cancelled. Our flight had been cancelled, and the next bookable flight would've been at 9 pm. No way! The clerk told us we could go by train, the tickets would be good for that. But of course the train would be crowded too and she couldn't guarantee seats. She also couldn't guarantee we would get the fast train, which takes about 4 hours, the normal trains take about 7 hours. So, we then asked about our baggage which was to be checked through to Berlin. All baggage of cancelled or delayed flights was collected at the baggage claim area, we needed about half an hour to find our bags. And then we decided not to take the train, but rent a car. It was exhausting, about 7 hours by car after 10 hours on the plane but we had no choice. We were home at 9 pm – finally! I was glad I had the weekend ahead of me, time to get over the jetlag which wasn't that rough this time. Time to do the laundry of course!
Since Nicole enjoyed the vacation very much, being at the beach and of course at Walt Disney World, we thought about going again next fall for only two weeks, renting a house or a condo in the New Smyrna Beach area, as these beaches are the closest to Disney. I have always wanted to see the Christmas decorations at Walt Disney World! It must be beautiful! But as we already have planned to do another 4-weeks-vacation to Disney and South Florida with our closest friends in May 2001, I'm afraid we won't be able to afford it. Unless we win the lottery of course! Money will be tight soon anyways with me going from fulltime to part-time in a month. So all that is left are wonderful memories and daydreams and dreams for the future.