Trip Report: The 2010 Triangulation Vacation

I have a knack for making up words using creative ways to describe stuff! Over the last week, my family completed the 2010 Triangulation Vacation. I call it “triangulation” because we made it a three point trip. We went from Columbus to Panama City Beach to Orlando and back to Columbus. This term was used in our 2004 vacation going to Las Vegas and Key West. Here is my trip report of this year’s summer family vacation!

Panama City Beach, FL

We left Columbus on an early (7:15 AM) flight from our airport. I wasn’t wild about this departure time, but it put us on the ground at 10:30 AM which was quite attractive. Our route was CMH-MEM-ECP on Delta, though both flights were operated by a Delta Connection carrier on a Canadair Regional Jet. I don’t mind those aircraft. I always hear people complain about them, but here is an interesting tidbit. The seat dimensions (width and pitch) are the same on these aircraft as other coach seats. I’ve taken a tape measure and confirmed this! They are a smaller aircraft and you feel it on the window as the wall has a tighter curve. The height from your head to the overhead panel is also very tight, so that reduces your perception of space. The overhead bins are smaller also. I haven’t measured or confirmed, but I believe the seat is lower to the floor on the ERJ/CRJ. Will take my tape measure next time! All flight segments were on time, and we spent some time in the Sky Club in Memphis on our voyage down. Our daughter, Rilee, did pretty well on the flights. Here are some pictures of the trip down:

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One thing that I’m going to have to do different is somehow pack lighter. We checked a total of 6 pieces of luggage, one of them was Rilee’s car seat. This was a problem as it was too much gear for us to walk and carry. I later reconfigured our luggage straps to make caravan pulls, so it was easier. But this was simply too much. We had a longer trip, so it was somewhat of a necessity to roll so heavy. We had a small problem upon arrival in Florida; Rilee’s car seat didn’t arrive. I was literally FREAKING OUT. I could have lived without any other piece of luggage, and I’ve had bags arrive late before. In fact, it’s not that bad if the airline delivers the bag later in the day. The issue was that Avis was out of car seats. I didn’t reserve one this time, as I am bringing my own – but it didn’t show up. I wasn’t alone in missed baggage. In fact, there were probably 20 of us looking for bags, so something was up. It turns out my car seat was there all along, it just didn’t make it to the baggage claim. There only 7 gates in the airport, it isn’t big and I didn’t get a real reason why it took so long. But, I waited an extra hour just trying to get information and track the bag.

The ECP airport is new, just opening in May. Southwest Airlines (WN) now serves the region, and in my opinion is too much air service. A local investor has subsidized the flights by WN, we’ll see if they last. They appear to do well, but this area had literally only 350 seats or so per day of air service before May of this year. With the new WN service, they are running 6 x 150 daily seats and the other carrier (Delta) is sending larger aircraft as a competitive response and to dilute the fare grids. I’m all about competition, but I am just not sure if the region can sustain the service. Anyone can fill them up on Saturday and Sunday, but let’s see how they do…

We returned once again to the Aqua condominiums in Panama City Beach (PCB). This year, we rented unit 1708. Years past, I’ve rented 1108 and 1408. The 11, 14, and 17 denote the floor number and 08 is the eighth unit with a floor plan that works for us. The 08 unit is officially a one bedroom, but the bonus room effectively is an additional bedroom and has proximity to a full bath. The floor plan is shown below:

 

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The 1708 unit was well equipped, and our favorite of the three we’ve rented there. It had the most up-to-date TVs, DVD players, etc. The units also come with broadband access from Comcast, so that makes connectivity from a tech junkie like me a breeze. The 3G service in PCB was also pretty good on my Droid X. Here are some shots from the unit, including our view of the ocean from the unit:

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One of my personal highlights of vacationing in the region is renting a bicycle and getting some additional riding in with new scenery. I rented from a different place this year that provided really good bicycles. I rented a Fuji mountain bike, and wow what a difference it made. I’m the “$150 bike” type of guy, and this place was renting bikes that cost $800 or more. I was stuck in an afternoon rain which became an excellent time to take a photo of the bike I rented:

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During the PCB segment, we did a bunch of stuff that was good. I cooked two dinners for family (tacos and grinder sandwiches) and spent a few days doing beach and pool stuff, we rented a pontoon boat and went to an island on a local state park. That was cool, as I drove the boat! That was a throwback to my younger days when I drove the boats a lot. Back in the day, I was the junior pilot of the family boat which was a small Sea Ray in the Florida Keys and the 40’ Chris Craft on the Ohio River. Here is a shot of me on the boat, I love the “BIG GUY” wearing the 3Par “THIN” t-shirt:

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One of my personal missions during the trip was to “FIND THE TARBALL” in the water or on the beach. The water was great but I found a few items in the sand that I believe were tarballs. They were triangular, black, flexible, felt rubbery and crumbled easily. I was the only one who thought they were tarballs, and I lost the souvenir one I wanted to take back for analysis.

Overall, the PCB segment was great! We had a wonderful time with family and enjoyed the beaches. Rilee had a particularly good time. We snapped this great shot of her one night showing off her new swim goggles:

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Orlando, FL

As I mentioned earlier, the PCB airport (coded ECP) is new and has additional service; including WN. WN flies 2x daily from ECP to BWI/HOU/MCO/BNA. That is a pretty strong route network if you ask me. Again, we’ll see if it works. But in the meantime, we took advantage of the non-stop service from ECP to MCO for our Orlando segment. We considered driving to Orlando, but the mapper puts it at over 6 hours – let’s fly… We again left at 7:15 AM from the airport. The check-in was seamless and we had a less stressful time to check out the new ECP airport.

There are 7 gates, two of them are regional jet only (ground level/no jetbridge). The facilities are nice and new, but if you didn’t know any better the ECP airport is effectively the same in all aspects as the Fort Walton Beach airport. One comment is that when we arrived the airport felt too crowded. During that time, there were two Delta flights getting ready to board with ours arriving and WN had one departing. In the baggage chaos area, there were three flights collecting at the same time. I seriously felt as crowded as you would in OAK (Oakland, CA) or something. I pick on OAK because it is a facility that is designed for like 4 million passengers annually, but processes something like 11 million annually – and you can feel it. Anyways, ECP is nice but if it is busy; it gets a little crowded. Here are some snaps of the ECP airport and us on our way to MCO:

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Upon landing in Orlando, we gathered our luggage promptly and correctly to proceed to the rental car. We were given a convertible from Avis… I didn’t like it, even in Florida. So many operational things are just “WHACK” with a convertible. Everything from the trunk lid being too heavy, the seatbelt shoulder strap being only on the seatback, putting a car seat and kid in the back sucks, visibility is limited from the top line, there is limited cabin lighting, it is just such a clumsy car setup – I’ll never buy one. Amie didn’t like it either.

Anyways, I did get everything in the car and we headed over to our hotel. We ran over to Downtown Disney for lunch and quick walk around to “CHECK THINGS OUT”. The main objective in that endeavor was lunch. We went to Wolfgang Puck’s Express. I had a wonderful Italian meat sandwich, and Rilee had some “ROCKSTAR” macaroni and cheese. Amie had a turkey club and was “neutral” on it. Here is my meal and Rilee going to town on the Mac and Cheese!

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We stayed at the Hilton Walt Disney World Resort. I stayed at this property when I spoke at TechMentor 2010 in Orlando in just March of this year. When I was there, I had a different room, but told myself this would work for our trip. The hotel also had bus transportation to the Disney properties and is walking distance to Downtown Disney. The hotel was fine enough, but our room (274) was just awkward. It was clearly formerly two different rooms with the middle wall removed. The room’s bathroom maintained the size of the previous room and had nice surfaces, but was small for the three of us. The HVAC functioned very well. We had a few ants, which was a bummer. I wouldn’t stay there again, which was unfortunate as my March visit was in a really nice room. So, I had two totally different experiences at the same hotel.

That night we went to Giordanos (Chicago Pizza) and met my cousin for dinner that lives in the area. That dinner was really nice, and “I HEART CHICAGO PIZZA” – a bunch. On the way over to dinner, I snapped this oh-so-Vanity Fair picture of Rilee:

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Our “MISSION” the next day was to go to the Magic Kingdom park. We “were so fortunate” to all three go to the breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table in her castle. We had a reservation for 8:35 AM, the park opens at 9:00 AM so we had to take the earliest transportation options and we didn’t make it into the castle until 8:50 AM. The bus took us to the monorail station, which was then then chaotic trying to figure out anything in the mass pool of people waiting to get in to the park. Anyways, we did the “VANOVER HUSTLE” to get to the castle and we got into the breakfast.

This officially counts as the most expensive breakfast in which I’ve ever participated. Hopefully that distinction doesn’t get superseded (or repeated!). The good news is that the food was actually really good. We had a nice picture and one-on-one time with Cinderella and met Belle, The Little Mermaid, Jasmine and Sleeping Beauty during the breakfast. Here are a few snaps of the breakfast and princess endeavor:

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After that breakfast, we started a short exploration of the park and enjoyed some rides. The other “OBJECTIVE” for this trip to Magic Kingdom was to have the character lunch with Winnie the Pooh and 3 of his cronies. This food was good, but not worth the price. I’d put it a notch below an average Las Vegas buffet. This was at the Crystal Palace restaurant at the Magic Kingdom. I think it was $88 after tip, and was of the quality of an “OK” Vegas buffet that would be priced probably 10-20% less. It also lacked variety or total number of option stations, there were two sides but they had the same content. The character part was OK I guess, Rilee really liked that. Here are some shots of this event:

 

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After lunch, Rilee was lucky enough to catch these celebrities in the park:

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We rode a few more rides and took in some shows to round out the afternoon at Magic Kingdom. Towards the middle of the afternoon, we headed back to the hotel to give Rilee a nap. That was tough logistically and operationally. The bus and monorail experience made it take about 45 minutes each way or more, then Rilee didn’t want to take a nap! It turns out that the gap went really well as there was quite a bit of rain in the afternoon which we ended up avoiding. We returned to the park around 6:45 PM to go back in to see some more as well as hang around for the parade and firework show later that night. The park was really crowded at that time, which I did not care for as I really dislike crowds. The firework show and parade were really enjoyable. I just didn’t care for all of the people around me (trust me, I’m a people person – I just hate crowds).

The next day we took it easy by hanging around the pool in the morning. Rilee will always be up for a swim, and she is developing her swimming skills very well! I had an awkward experience in the pool. A 6-year old girl by the name of Christina came over to Rilee and I in the pool and started hanging on me. She only spoke Spanish, so I could communicate with her. But, I didn’t want to be making any contact with some kid in the pool that wasn’t mine. I don’t know how to tell someone to go away in Spanish, so I kept moving away and acting like I could speak less and less Spanish. She wanted to play with Rilee, whom kept saying “Siete” over and over. Rilee made every world “Siete” but Christina didn’t want to speak in the language of seven. Anyways, the kid was nice but her parents were nowhere to be found and I do not think it appropriate to be making any contact as a grown person with someone else’s child in a pool. It made me incredibly uncomfortable.

We then had a scrappy lunch in the hotel room of leftover pizza from Giordanos and snacks we had sitting around. After Rilee’s nap, we went back to Downtown Disney and went indoors to Disney Quest. That was actually pretty fun. Disney Quest is what they refer to as a “minor park” in the DisneyWorld scheme of things. Other minor parks include the miniature golf and water parks. The major parks are Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot. We enjoyed some of the games at Disney Quest, especially a little nook upstairs on the top floor for the 2-7 year old kids. Here is a video of Rilee playing one game (I then played this game for 10 minutes!):

 

After Disney Quest, we went Bongos, a Cuban restaurant in Downtown Disney for dinner. Rilee picked the place, ironically. She was satisfied when she determined they had chicken strips. I had a Cuban fish creole and Amie had a Cuban roast chicken. The place was really good. After dinner, Rilee provided us some entertainment on the Bongos outside the restaurant:

 

The next day, our big adventure was Animal Kingdom. This was a pretty good venue. Don’t just think it is a zoo. There are a lot of shows and themed materials supporting the wildlife there. Our first stop was the safari ride, where I took this peculiar shot of a giraffe:

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The Animal Kingdom day was filled with pretty good shows, exhibits and rides. Rilee got a little tired and cranky around the 4:00 PM mark insisting to us that she is not tired. We intentionally wanted to stay the whole day as this park closes earlier. The mission was to stay for the parade late in the day. We did stay, though she was a little fussy towards the end of the day.

We then went back to the hotel and again ventured to Downtown Disney for a bit of shopping and dinner. We went to the quick-service Irish restaurant (not the table service one) and it was pretty good. I had the scallops and chips.

After the evening venture, we headed back to the hotel to pack and get ready for our early flight in the morning.

Return travel

The return trip was from MCO going through DTW to Columbus. The Delta flight left MCO at 9:15 AM. Our trip to the airport was uneventful until there was some traffic closure in the airport for all traffic going to the B terminal. That was somewhat inconvenient as we had to traverse around a bit to get to our check-in area.

The three of us scrapped together a breakfast at Burger King before boarding our flight to Detroit. We had an awkward 3.5 hour layover in Detroit. We made lunch out of it and spent some time again in the Sky Club. Rilee watched a movie and I started to tackle my inboxes. Amie made good use of the time getting on the phone as well.

We then got home and started to resume normal life.

Overall on the 2010 Triangulation Vacation

The vacation was good. There were some things I don’t like, summarized below:

  • August is too hot for Florida. I don’t think I’m going to do that again.
  • Disney needs to get rid of their food programs in the parks. The “themed” ones are okay, like the Princess breakfast and the Crystal Palace buffet. But the other venues are over priced for inferior food products. I don’t mind the prices, just give me something good. Take the airports, they have branded food establishments doing the business. Disney should focus on the entertainment and not on foodservice. The hamburgers are soy burger crap. I didn’t try the smoked turkey legs (they were everywhere). Not sure what is up with that.
  • I’m a cheap old salt. I hope I never go to Disney again.
  • I’ll never rent a convertible again with luggage and a car seat (though the Vanity Fair Rilee picture was worth it).
  • It was nice to spend time with Amie through the day, every day should be a first date!
  • I don’t like Orlando roads (the tolls).
  • The ECP airport is nice, but somewhat feels undersized at 5 months old.
  • The ECP airport parking lot for rental cars and general parking is unnecessarily far away. There is a water ditch effect that you have to traverse to get anywhere. Looks good if you are riding through in a golf cart. It blows chunks when you are carrying luggage and a cranky kid.
  • The Aqua condos continue to rock.
  • I wouldn’t recommend the Hilton Walt Disney Resort because of the variable factor of what you may get there.
  • As much as I complain about this and that or that PCB and Orlando are not an “exotic enough” destination, I see Rilee’s excitement to go there and it is all made right. She doesn’t get to go to a lot of places, and this was huge to her. That made it all worth it.

 

 

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Jane on August 19, 2010 at 3:52 am

    Long long a report. Nice pictures, nice smiles~

    Reply

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