Orlando and Disney World Trip Jan 2010 – Part 1: On Our Way!

Today is New Year’s Eve 2009 and I’m writing this from the airplane as we are on our way to Orlando for our annual visit with my family and trip to Walt Disney World.

Since Andy started Kindergarten this year, we had to arrange our travel plans around his school schedule.  While we don’t really know whether or not his school and teacher would have been open to us taking him out of school for a vacation, we felt that we really preferred to try to find a time when he wouldn’t miss any.  Looking at the schedule, we discovered that his winter break extended for the full week after New Years, which seemed like a good opportunity.  We are hopeful that we will avoid the worst of the Christmas season crowds with this plan as well as take advantage of some good travel bargains.

We came up with the idea of traveling on New Years Eve with the hope that it might not be as busy a travel day as some of the surrounding dates.  We figured today to be a day that a lot of people would be more apt to want to stay at home or go out celebrating somewhere.  While our flight did end up being relatively full, the airport turned out to be pretty easy to deal with today.

For tonight and tomorrow, we are going to be staying at a Fairfield Inn near my parents’ house in Clermont.  We didn’t really want to deal with the Disney World crowds on the first two New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.  This should give us a chance to rest a bit tomorrow after the travel day as well as to give us some pretty good quality time visiting casually with my parents at their house tomorrow.

On Saturday, we will be transferring to Bay Lake Tower, the new Disney’s Vacation Club resort that opened next to the Contemporary Resort earlier in 2009.  Early in the year, we sold off our DVC points at the Saratoga Springs Resort (which we didn’t like very much) and re-purchased at Bay Lake Tower.  We are definitely looking forward to our stay at what is now the highest-end DVC resort.  We then plan to spend lots of time at the theme parks starting Saturday and through the rest of next week, flying home on a week from Saturday.

With the recent reports of heightened security after the attempted terrorist attack last week along with our uncertainty about how crowded the airport was going to be, we decided that we needed to get a really early start this morning.  The fact that today is a Thursday and not necessarily a work holiday for many people also introduced the potential risk of some major traffic on the 405 freeway heading down to LAX.  Because of all this, we got up at 4:30am this morning and left home pretty much right at 6;30am.  I guess we are kind of having to adjust to Eastern time a day early, although we still went to sleep on Pacific Time last night, making us really tired today.

None of the concerns really ended up being a problem, although I’m still glad we maintained some peace of mind by allowing all the extra time.  Traffic on the 405 turned out to be pretty much full-speed all the way, allowing us to get to the airport parking facility (we use WallyPark) in about 20 minutes or so.   At the parking facility, we were able to very quickly get parked, unload our luggage, and get onto a shuttle bus, which we had all to ourselves. 

At the Delta Airlines terminal, there was no line at all for curbside check-in, which let us take care of our checked bags very quickly and without any major hassle.  It was really very nice being able to avoid the need for a luggage cart or having to drag our bags through the airport to the regular check-in desks.  I suppose I could have saved the tip by checking the bags inside, but I felt the small cost was well worth it.

Security was probably our biggest worry.  Over the last week, I’d been hearing all kinds of horror stories about the wait, with reports of wait times anywhere from an hour or so all the way up to 7 hours.  Of course, these were all hearsay and the airport, airlines, and TSA were really saying nothing officially, leaving us with little idea what to expect.  At least this morning, though, the wait really wasn’t much at all.  We made it through in about 20 minutes, which included a little extra time for them to do a hand-search of my backpack, mainly because I forgot to take the camcorder out. 

We ended up getting to the gate nearly 3 hours before the flight.  That gave us plenty of time to get an over-priced breakfast at the airport McDonalds and otherwise catch our breath a bit before getting on the plane.  We found seats at the gate that were right in front of a window and Andy had quite a bit of fun watching the airplanes.

Security does seem somewhat increased from what we have seen in the past.  The security checkpoint felt a bit more formal and by the book than usual, although I honestly don’t know how much of that was perception.  As I mentioned, I did get a secondary search on my bag, which seemed pretty quick.  At the gate, they had a pretty substantial TSA presence during boarding, including multiple officers both at the entrance to the jetway and at the plane’s hatch.  They announced at the start of boarding that the TSA would be doing some random searches and pat-downs during boarding, although I didn’t see them actually pull anyone out of the line for it.  Before they started boarding, they also made a point of announcing that we were waiting for the TSA to search and clear the plane as well.

I’m going to conclude this first post of the trip by mentioning that this plane offers in-flight wi-fi and I have written all of this on-board and will post this momentarily from the air!  As of right now, we are flying over Texas with another hour and a half or so to go before arrival.  So far, the flight has had a bit of turbulence, but otherwise has been pretty uneventful.

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