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Keane and PiC's October 2007 Florida Trip Report - Days 1-5

Index

Me In Dinoland
Who is driving this thing, anyway?

Notes on this August 2012 repost

This was my second posted trip report to rec.arts.disney.parks. (The first was a drive-by posting in 2002. I was a lurker then...)

2007 was going to be the year I started to photo document the parks. Up until then, I was doing mostly video, but I was returning to my photographic roots, so to speak. I had started a web site (not this one), just to host pictures from trips for friends. It was time to stop designing slideshows and creating/burning CD's. It was 2007, after all. Besides, I needed to learn a little HTML...

I was on a server I could use free, but didn't have that much disk space. (Okay, so I ran the machine and could have increased my quota. But I think that would have been a little... slimey.) In the end, it really just turned out to be my prototype/developement site, anyway. After about a year, I was ready to move on.

Soon after, I bought a new camera, a Canon G7. It was a huge improvement in almost every aspect compared to my G2 or PiC's G5. It only shot JPG and had a fixed rear LCD, but took double the data from the G5 (10MP vs. 5MP), with much improved image quality. The speed (from turning the camera on and off to shutter lag to storage of the image after it was taken) was like getting into a Ferrari after being in a '60's VW Bug. Okay, maybe not that extreme...

But I still had no web storage. There were 1020 usable images after editing, but didn't have the space to put them online. So the Trip Report I wrote was an abbreviated one. Instead of a thousand pictures, 129 made it on the site. I did some more research into html, css, java, yadda, yadda, yadda and rewrote the site, and in April 2008, got a real domain name and *this* site was born.

So the plan was to rewrite this trip report when I got the new site up, and include more pictures. The 2007 trip replaced more than half of the stock photos I had. (Many of the 2007 images have since been replaced by higher quality or better images, but a few hundred still remain... Interestingly the G7 was only used one year. The G9 was as much a quantum leap forward as was the G5 to the G7. (There was a Canon G6, but there was no G8.))

Of course, that was in 2008... Then came 2009, then 2010...

But in 2012 (a mere 4 years later) I was redesigning the site for the third time, and was reimaging every picture from scratch to make the entire site more consistant. So when I was doing the pictures from 2007, it was only logical to complete the project that had been on the back burner for years. And here we are.

Except it didn't turn out to be just the addition of some pictures.

If you google the original report, it was a trip report done by location, rather than by date. That really bad idea was scrapped, and the trip report reorganized (not re-written), and with all the new images (the old trip report had 129, there's now 960) was like creating an entirely new, multi-page trip report from scratch. (Actually, it was creating a multi-page trip report from scratch...)

The text is all original and unchanged from the original report, just in a different order. Any new comments from 2012 have been put in brackets, [like this].

Keane's 2007 Fall Vacation, or Is it time for my mid-life crisis yet?

Grandfather Mountain
Grandfather Mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We did a little detour on the way to WDW to see if we could find some fall color...
This is an abbreviated trip report. Just the highlights. And the lowlights.

You can google me and find another one of my trip reports from 2002. I have an odd sense of humor that you'll have to deal with, since I know many things don't survive into the written word.

My unnamed companion on this trip was PiC. (That could be short for partner in crime, but you didn't hear that from me.) If you visit other portions of this site, you should be aware that this page is only available from my home page. [No longer true...]

Months ago I said I'd put up a website with my photos. Things were going well until I did some calculations on how much web space I'd need. It was about 1.5 to 2GB. I was looking for alternatives, got busy with other projects, and the web project got put on hold. [As of Aug 2012, web site is now just over 11.3 GB, but 7.3 GB of that is video.]

I also found I was short on pictures of Disney World. Many of the pictures I thought I had was actually video. A brand new Canon G7 would solve that issue. I have over a thousand usable images from this trip (out of some 3200 taken, but many of those were exposure bracketed triplets), but there's only 125-130 of the best (or most interesting, or just personal favorite) images included here. The rest will eventually be filed into the rest of the site. [See note above.]

Enough administravia, on with the show.

August 2007

Time to plan a vacation. Last October I was in Pennsylvania, and just happened across some beautiful red and orange trees. Well, lots of red and orange trees. But I was there on business, and was sick. Probably picked it up from some darn kid in Hershey World on the way to Eastern Pennsylvania. But I digress...

So I wanted to go take fall color pics, something I've never done. I also had to get to Disneyworld before my annual pass expired. (I have to amortize my annual pass over two trips to be cost effective...At least that's how I justify it. :-)

So the plan was to wait until Disney announced their fall annual pass rates, make reservations, and then go to wherever the tress were turning colors.

August 19, 2007. Fall annual pass rates announced. Special deal at Saratoga Springs, a $100 dollar dining card. (I've never been there, and I try to get to a new resort (with the exception of Animal Kingdom Lodge) every time I'm there.) (Postnote: 75% of the CMs encountered had no clue what a Disney Dining Card was. Still got all $100 out of it though. :-) )

So I have five nights at Saratoga, arrival 10/21, depart 10/26. Check Universal's web site. No annual pass rate rooms for 10/19 to 10/20.

August 22, 2007. Check MNSSHP availability. 10/23 is a passholder night. $10 off per ticket. Okay, I'll bite. Purchase 2 will-call tickets. Still no annual pass rooms at Universal. Check 10/26-10/27, *after* my trip to Disney. There's a room available at the Portofino. I've never been there (I've been at the Royal Pacific three times, and Hard Rock twice, but never the Portofino) so I book two nights.

So there are two hard dates I have to plan for in Disneyworld, Day 7 for the Halloween Party, and Day 8 for the nighttime Extra Magic Hours in Animal Kingdom, otherwise all the dates are flexible.

Planning done. Now I just count the days.

Mid-October

No real reports of trees turning color. Between the hot weather this year and the drought in the Southwest, there's some slim pickin's. We need to make a decision on where to go. We decide to go to Great Smoky Mountain National Park and take part of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Even if there's no color, it'll be a nice drive (wrong) and it's on the way to Florida.

View from the balcony
View of the Pigeon River from the balcony. Nice place to have your morning Joe...

Day 1 - On The Road

It's a 10 hour power drive to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. There's some color the trees as we go Southeast, maybe we'll get lucky.

Finally get to Pigeon Forge about 5:30PM Eastern time. I was last through this area in 2000. Wow. Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg might as well be one city now. Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg has become a combination of Wisconsin Dells, Branson, International Drive and the less shady parts of the French Quarter all rolled into one. I hate places like this. Hundreds of tourists in hundreds of cars, gawking at everything and pretending they remember how to drive a car. The Comfort Inn is on the river, and has some nice views out the balcony. We drive into Gatlinburg, and find a promising restaurant. It turns out to be another random, nameless, completely forgettable place. We visit a couple of the candy stores and shops along the main drag, and call it a night. We might have a long day tomorrow.

I'm sure I'm not giving Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge it's due, but I'm not there to visit Gatlinburg, *or* Pigeon Forge. Gatlinburg is the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Days 2 and 3 - Great Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway

I made the reservation for the room using frequent stay reward points, so not only was the room free, but you don't have to pay those stupid 'entertainment' taxes. We stop at one of those local pancake houses for breakfast. Why can't I get good eggs outside of the Midwest? At least they filled up my travel mug with coffee, so they get a thumbs up from me.

View from my room in Gatlinburg
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[ This link will take you to my 2007 Fall Road Trip page. ]

Get into the Park, stop at the Visitors Center. It's sunny with fluffy white clouds. Might be a nice day after all. (Wrong.) Mr. Ranger tells me that due to the warm weather, there's really no color change in the Park. Bummer. Bypass plans to go further into the park, and just take the main route directly to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The last time I was through here it was early March, so there weren't any leaves on the trees. Now there's nothing but leaves. And they're mostly green. Some rain, some fog, but it's not that bad.

PiC decides we should go up to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park, which is supposed to have some great panoramics. Instead, we get a portent of things to come. As soon as we get above about 3000 feet, the low clouds we've been seeing becomes fog. We get to the parking lot, and walk the first 500 yards or so, and find that my 600ft above sea level body is objecting to the 6000ft above sea level air. There isn't any. Or at least there isn't as much. Further, it's cold, damp, and you can only see 30-50 feet. Our first excursion ends with a whimper.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park
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Stopped in at Mingus Mill, a working mill built in 1886, and the Mountain Farm Museum, where the roosters only crow when my camcorder is off. We soon find ourselves on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park
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The Blue Ridge Parkway follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountain chain. We sometimes get *some* color, but we never see the sun. Worse, as we climb in elevation, visibility sometimes gets so bad you can barely see the other side of the road. We're forced to crawl at 10 to 15 miles per hour.

We end the day in Asheville, North Carolina, 100 miles short of my intended stopping point. I try to find a Comfort Inn that's supposed to be at the exit from the parkway, but can only find a Ramada Inn. I call the Comfort Inn, only to find it's now a Ramada Inn. Well, another mystery solved. At least there's a decent BBQ (real smoked, don't need no stinkin' sauce BBQ) joint close by.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 1
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The next day is just about as bad, but I'm determined to get at least as far as Grandfather Mountain and the Lynn Cove viaduct. I do. After vacating the Parkway, we get away from the mountains, and the fog goes away.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Day 2
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We're on a speed run South down US-321 toward Charlotte, when I see a Quonset hut. Painted pink. The sign says "The BBQ Man". I announce lunch. Or maybe it's called supper down here. Any arguments about having BBQ last night is squelched, and I make a U-Turn. The pork gets 5 stars. Wallowing back out to the car, we get south of Charlotte and call it a night.

The BBQ Man
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Days 4 and 5 - Kennedy Space Center

Speed run down I-77 to I-26, first time I'll be on either of these interstates. Then onto I-95 to Central Florida. Not much to see, farmland and forest and swamp. Somewhere in Georgia, we decide to stay on the East coast of Florida, and then go to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) the next day. There's a shuttle launch in 3 days, after all.

PiC makes reservations (cell phones are wonderful) at the Comfort Inn in Cocoa Beach, Florida, we stop to get discount coupons for KSC. (Which we forget in the car. I blame it on PiC. Got a AAA discount anyway.)

Room isn't bad, it even has a stove and a fridge. Ron Jon's is a block away, and it becomes a destination for later. I refrain from looking up Nelson, Healy or Bellows in the phone book. We look at available options for dinner. There's a Sonny's Real BBQ Pit. PiC doesn't even try to argue. We're a block from the beach, and go there first. You can see a Disney cruise ship leaving port. I'm sure there are reasons people like to cruise, it's just not my thing.

We start walking towards Sonnys, and can't figure out how far away it is, so we fetch the car. It's a good couple of miles. While good, it's a distant third compared to the two previous days. After we get back, we walk right through the new hotel next door to Ron Jons. I've seen the billboards for this place for years. Two stories of stuff for the beach. And there you are.

Next day I'm pleased to find that the signs to KSC don't route me all the way back to I-95. It starts to rain like it did the last time I was here. It eventually stops and becomes a pretty nice day. But that was later.

I opt for the Up-Close tour, which will get me the closest to Pad 30a and Shuttle Discovery. We go to the I-Max and see the International Space Station 3-D movie. It's very good, even if Tom Cruise narrates. Afterwards, I go on the Shuttle Simulator, PiC decides to wait for me at the exit. It's no Mission Space, but they don't need to keep barf bags within reach either. HAHAhahahaha....

The tour itself is pretty cool. When we get to the closest point we're allowed from Pads 30a&b, the Tour Guy explains that even though we're a mile away from the launch pad, the sound blast from a shuttle launch would kill you. What an interesting fact... You eventually end up in the Apollo / Saturn V Center, where they have one of the last three Saturn V's. The sucker's huge. We were hungry by that time, and had one of the nameless theme park burgers in the cafeteria they had there.

After the tour, we went through the two story gift shop, and I didn't buy anything. Even I was amazed.

Cocoa Beach
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Kennedy Space Center
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Saratoga Springs Resort
Saratoga Springs Resort at night...

Sidenote: Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa

[ I'm going to group all of the resort pictures here, rather than have then sprinkled throughout the report. Go to my Saratoga Springs Resort page for more details and pictures of the resort. ]

We left KSC intentionally early to get to Saratoga Springs during the day, so we could get a feel for the place without the hindrance of dark. Saratoga Springs Resort (SSR) is the 6th Disney Resort I've stayed at, and felt (at least to me) like a larger, more opulent Caribbean Beach Resort. Since we weren't there as Vacation Club members, we got maid service every day. There was concern there for a couple of minutes as we read the rules.

The food court wasn't all that great (breakfast was okay), sometimes long waits, and make sure you double check your order...And pay for the food first. I told the CM on the second day when I was told to pay first that if the CM yesterday told me that, it would have helped. And even though the Disney Dining card was a perk to Annual Passholders to stay at the Saratoga, there were still CMs at the registers who hadn't seen the card. But I digress again...

No comments on the Turf Club (the resort's table service restaurant,) PiC didn't like anything on the menu.

This is a big place. At least our room in The Paddock was next to a bridge across the lake. (Here's a time waster the next time you're bored next to a body of water at Disney. Just pretend you're throwing something into the water, and see how many fish you can attract...) There are rooms at this resort where I might consider driving to the food court...

The first panoramic suffers from not having enough information on the bridge at the 180 degree mark. :-) Other images are from walks around the resort, and the last three are panoramics from West Side in Downtown Disney.

Entrance, Lobby, Common Areas
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The Paddock Area
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SSR @ night
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SSR from West Side, Downtown Disney
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End End Keane and PiC's October 2007 Florida Trip - Part 1 of 6.

Jump to: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

Revisions:
  • 08/23/2012 - Page added
  • 12/30/2012 - Update to v3.1
  • 08/31/2014 - Update to v3.2