Sunday, October 04, 2009

4 OCT 09: ORL Exam

Wow -- another month, another road trip. As you read this, we're attending an annual church convention in the Florida panhandle. No, I did NOT pack a hammer and blue tarp in case a hurricane strikes.

But it occurs to us that we never went into detail about our first big road trip. Two months ago today, we were in a different part of Florida to mark our birthday. In fact, a woman at the Walt Disney World ticket gate put my name on a big "Happy Birthday" button to wear - getting my hopes ridiculously high for discounts at pin shops.

We noted in August that we drove to Disney World in suburban Orlando to take advantage of a 2009 special offer - free admission to one theme park on your birthday [6 Aug]. Our goal was to make the entire trip as inexpensive as possible. That way, I hoped to recoup some money when I got home by selling the story to Zaneta Lowe.

So we prepared for the road trip to Orlando well in advance. We had a coupon for a free grilled chicken dinner at KFC, from their troubled giveaway offer earlier in the year. We had 50 dollars in BP gift cards for gas, thanks to credit card rebates. And "My Coke Rewards" provided a coupon for a free 20-ounce bottle - a coupon most BP convenience stores probably wouldn't accept.

Starting with about a half-tank of gas, we drove non-stop from Columbus to Tifton on Highway 520. After turning south at Interstate 75, we made our first stop for gas at a BP station in Lenox, Georgia. No one should ever confuse that little town with Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta....

The dinner stop for free grilled chicken came at a KFC along the interstate in Valdosta. As we filled our cup with soda, we couldn't help commenting on what another man was doing at the fountain with his chicken. "Cold drink and hot sauce, eh?!"

Our next stop on Interstate 75 was the Florida Welcome Center at the state line. We wanted to check the booklets with coupons for discount motel rooms. Trouble is, others wanted to check the racks as well - and that swarm of sand gnats followed us back to the car.

The best coupon deal we found to stay overnight near Orlando was about an hour northwest of the city. We bypassed Gainesville, Florida and pulled into the Wildwood Inn on the edge of Wildwood. The booklet promised a 35-dollar room, plus a free breakfast at International House of Pancakes next door. Short stack of pancakes equals big stack of dollar bills in my wallet.

Thanks to travelers checks left over from years of past trips, I paid for the motel without using a credit card. But sadly, I'm finding growing numbers of motels no longer accept travelers checks. It's as if the name "American Express" is trustworthy only with a racing stripe on the back.

The next morning brought a short walk to IHOP - where the "free breakfast" actually meant a six-dollar discount. I could eat a short stack of pancakes with that discount, but I had to pay $4.41 for drinks and a tip. I doubted my server would accept the argument that a "free coupon" freed me from tipping her.

The Wildwood Inn put me practically at the north entrance to "Florida's Turnpike," the toll road leading me to Orlando in an hour. I was struck by the lack of Walt Disney World billboards from the Georgia-Florida line to downtown Orlando - but then again, the Disney folks probably already knew why I was coming.

Three dollars in turnpike tolls put me on Interstate 4 in Orlando, and finding the Disney World exit from there was easy. But then came the first surprise of the day -- as simply parking outside Epcot Center cost 12 dollars. Imagine what the valet parking your car at a "moderate Disney resort" might have expected.

On top of that, my row of cars had NO tram ride to the Epcot Center entrance. Disney starts working up your appetite for lunch right off the bat....

As I waited in line outside the Epcot Center gates, I was struck by how many people around me had British accents. They'd scheduled vacation trips to Florida well in advance - and a couple of tourists also had visited Disneyland Paris in France. I didn't know that park had a "Main Street USA," or I would have asked them if that street had the mandatory McDonald's.

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: Our format will change while we're away for the next few days - as we become a "travel-blog" recalling memorable recent trips. Our Disney World report continues Tuesday, as we actually go inside.)

To offer a story tip, advertise to our readers, make a PayPal donation or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post your e-mail comment and offer a reply.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: Suspended for vacation

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

site stats