Famille Du Pentium

Another Day, Another Llama Video

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Day 1 – Disney Studios

Day 1 we checked out of the Nick Hotel and made our way over to the Port Orleans Riverside so that we could get our park tickets.  Sometimes your room is ready early, and if so you can check in and even dump your luggage before you go, which is what we did.  So we got to Disney Sutdios a little after opening, but our touring plan was already severely limited based on the rides we wanted to take. 

We ended up taking everything we wanted, including the new Lights, Motors, Action! stunt show.  Thi s was a great show, with a large stage that a bunch of smallish cars did jumps and other stunts.  

Later in the day, it started raining.  Soon, it was a heavy downpour that wouldn’t stop.  Undeterred, we moved on donning our ponchos.  We became wetter and wetter, but the forecast had called for the showers to come and go, so we kept moving.  

After dinner at Hollywood and Vine, we had a couple hours to kill before our Priority Seating at Fantasmic!  It was still raining, so we took in shows and did some shopping until then.  It was still raining when Fantasmic opened for seating, and asking a few Disney CMs didn’t yield any sort of plan as to whether we should skip it or not.  So we went to our PS entrance, they let us in, and we went to sit.  We sat for 45 minutes, in the pouring rain with our ponchos on.  Justin was so tired, he fell asleep.  On an aluminum bench.  In the rain, with a poncho on.  And when he fell asleep, he fell forward, and landed on the ground.  In a large puddle of water.  And then, he woke up.  Really mad.

Shortly after that, we heard an inaudible announcement, and the lights went down and some fireworks started.  A few people stood up and left, which we thought was odd, considering we had all been waiting an hour in the rain.  Turns out this was the "consolation show" that they put on when inclement whether cancels their regular show… about 15 minutes of fireworks.  I’m sure the kids thought we were stupid for waiting 45 minutes in the rain for that.  But hey, it’s vacation.

So we went home, soaked to the bones, and when we got to our room – for the only time during our entire vacation – we turned the room’s heater on.  And then, we went to bed.   

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 3:47 pm  

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Hotel Review: Holiday Inn Express Scottsburg, IN

Like our first stop, our last stop was a no-surprises Holiday Inn Express with everything we expected.  A clean room with the bed layout we can fit in, an indoor pool, and a respectable free breakfast.  This Holiday Inn, in a little town in Southern Indiana near the Kentucky border, fits the bill and we would return again.  The only issues, which did not detract from our stay were:

  • The paint in the pool area is peeling.  They need to strip & repaint it.
  • The breakfast area is a bit small for the size of the hotel, so we had to stand around and wait a bit for a table.  They could easily reconfigure the lobby area with more tables to accomodate their guests for breakfast.

Otherwise, this was great.  Keep it up!

This is my last hotel review.  Next, I’m going to post some stories about our trip, and that will wrap up the Disney portion of our Family Vacation 2007 blog.

Coming up next: Wisconsin Dells 🙂 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 9:37 am  

Friday, June 29, 2007

Hotel Review: Holiday Inn Express Atlanta/Bucktown

This is another example of "Surprise!  Hope you weren’t expecting THAT!"

This would be a very nice hotel with a few modifications.  They have townhouse-style suites that are laid out very nicely in a heavily foliage area, adding an air of residence to the hotel.  The outdoor pool is nice, and the whirlpool was a comfortable 100 degrees F.  They had a good breakfast with plenty of room.

BUT, we had one problem – and it’s one they created themselves.  Apparently in an effort to save money, they put their air conditioners on a motion sensor.  The idea is, when you leave the room (or stop moving) for 15 minutes, the A/C shuts off until you re-enter the room (or start moving).  

The problem is these are suites (i.e. multiple rooms), and the sensor is in the living room.  So you go to your bedroom, close the door (or even leave it open), go to sleep, and 15 minutes later you’re sweating in unairconditioned 95 degree weather.

Come on, Holiday Inn – don’t be such cheapskates!  You earned my business by providing a basic service, and I pay you a fair price for it.  You don’t need to chisel a few extra bucks out of your utility expenses by making my stay uncomfortable! 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 7:01 pm  

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hotel Review: Royal Pacific Resort Orlando

After our eight day Disney vacation, my wallet still wasn’t empty enough so we stopped by Universal Orlando to sort things out.  Universal has three "on-property" resorts – the Hard Rock, the Portifino Bay, and the Royal Pacific.  The Royal Pacific is sort of their "cheap" hotel (in that it’s the least expensive) but it certainly isn’t cheap from a real mney perspective.  Also, it blows away Disney’s "Value Resorts" hands down, in fact it’s more comparable to the Deluxe Disney resorts.  In fact, the Royal Pacific reminds me *a lot* of the Polynesean. 

The rooms are big and comfy.  They have lots of amenities that Lowes is famouse for.  

The resort has several famous restaurants, included an Emeril’s.  However, the Best Restaurant In The World (TM) is here… this is a rare honor, and I only give it… well, only to this one.  The on-site standard restaraunt includes a "family room".  This is going to be hard to describe, so bear with me.  Around the perimeter of the room are four booth-style tables that would seem to hold a family of eight if needed.  Between two booths are a childrens buffet (cheap – but don’t remember the price) that is constantly stocked with chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, hot dogs, etc.  And they bring out deserts.  Between the remaining booths are toys.  Yes, toys.  They encourage your kids to play.  But here’s the kicker – in the middle of the room is a big, square four-poster bed with canopy, and mounted on two sides of the canopy are big LCD screens tuned to Nick Toons!  I could not believe my eyes.  Marla and I ate a nice quiet meal together, the only time during our entire vacation.  The kids spent the entire meal grabbing food from the buffet (helping themselves!) and laying on the bed watching TV.  

I don’t know who designed this room, but I bow to him or her.  I’ll abstain from blastpheming, but you get the idea.  I’m agog.  In awe.  

That alone will bring us back to this hotel.  The rest is gravy.  Yadda yadda, they’ve got a boat that goes to Universal Orlando, big pool ("largest in Florida" says the bellboy), yadda yadda yadda amenities.  Final point: they have a kids help-yourself buffet and a giant bed with LCD TV’s in the middle of the restaurant.  

Enough said. 🙂 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 8:30 pm  

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hotel Review – Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside

So we arrived after spending the night at the Nick Hotel, and immediately the Disney "magic" begins.  If you’re looking for Mickey waltzing up to your kids in the lobby and magically transporting them to Fantasia, your bar is set a bit high.  But if you’re looking for a themed resort with a lot of attention to details, Port Orleans Riverside will do it.

The foliage is really the major point of this resort.  Apparently they’ve won awards for the horticulture.  It’s all in line with the theme, Louisiana Bayou River foliage.  And it’s lush and very nice.  

We pulled up to the lobby and I checked in while the kids watched Disney movies on the T.V. in the lobby.  Good start. 

The CM at the check-in desk was a little less magical.  First, she printed off our room key / park ticket / meal plan IDs, then realized that she printed my oldest Son’s card with charging privileges.  No big deal, I said.  I don’t think Aaron is going to try to charge anything, he’ll be with us the entire time.  But no, she said in broken english, she must reprint the card.  So she did, but somehow she confused the new card with the old card and voided the new one in the system instead of the old one.  So the first park we went to, we had to visit guest services in order to get him in, and I had to visit the lobby one more time to have his card reprinted *again*.  Second, I knew that last time we visited, I charged somewhere in the neighborhood of $1500 on my room charge for a week.  So I asked to up the starting approval (which they get from your credit card anyway) to $2K.  I have plenty of room and cash waiting at home to pay this off, so it should be no big deal.  But no, she says in broken English, $1000 is the standard.  Yeah, I know.  But you can go over the standard.  She didn’t understand.  Standards are standards, you don’t deviate from them.  Someone send this woman back to "Disney Magic" school.  

Anyway, check-in aside, we got the bellboy and headed to our room to dump our luggage.  The bellboy was great; kind of reminded me of Jerry Van Dyke in his speach and mannerisms, and he let the kids ride on the golf cart.  

The rooms in the moderate resorts are nominally bigger than the Value resorts, but they also put more in them – like the big hutch for the T.V., the luggage stand, and the refridgerator.  We didn’t care much about size, this was the cheapest room on-property that could sleep two adults and three kids.  it does this by way of a trundle bed, which is fine for us.  The decor is definately "in-theme" down to the light fixtures and bedposts.  

The nearby "quiet pool" is 24 hours, but no lifeguard, and is supposed to be, well, quiet.  But it was anything but.  I was doing laundry two nights (wet clothes and shoes one night, needed more clean clothes another night) and at midnight there were still kids making a lot of noise in the pool, with their parents right there.  If I were in a room adjacent to the Quiet Pool, I would have been very upset.  But I wasn’t 😉

The main pool area is actually on an island in the middle of the resort.  All the buildings circle "Old Man Island" but unfortunately only two bridges connect to the mainland.  So if you’re not near the front or Aligator Bayou, it’s quite a walk.  But again, lots of great foliage to take in on the way.  The pool area also has a bar that serves hot snacks and great foofie-drinks, if you’re into that.  The pool itself has one short waterslide, some waterfalls, a kiddie pool, and a whirlpool (where I spent most of my time – 104 degrees F, ahhh!)

The main lobby has a gift shop, a lounge (which I wanted to try out but never got the chance, it has a great piano bar), the usual food court, and a table-service restaurant, Boatwrights.  Boatwrights is nice but nothing special; you of course have to make reservations but it’s not a memorable meal, just good.  They could stand to add something to it, like more ambiance or maybe characters.  

Outside the main lobby, there are regular activities (for which you pay, of course – but they add to the "magic") like horse-drawn carraige rides, face painting, a marina where you can rent watercraft (if you have reservations), and a water taxi that will take you to the other Downtown Disney resorts plus Downtown Disney itself.  We tried this, but thunderstorms broke out and the boat taxi (which is entirely aluminum) had to shut down.  So we had to take a bus from Old Key West to Downtown. 

I wasn’t pleased with the bus service from Port Orleans Riverside.  We waited 20 minutes for a bus to Magic Kingdom.  It takes ten minutes to drive there.  I shoulda drove in the first place.  We did on later visits.  I don’t know if it was a one-time thing or what, but the busses were few and far betwen and it wasn’t because of low volume that day – every bus was jammed with standing passengers and some always got left behind.  

Housekeeping did an OK job.  I was actually more pleased with the housekeeping staff at All Star Music four years ago.  We tip well, and we expect a little extra in return.  Out of seven nights of tipping, we really only got "special treatment" one day.  I’m not a crybaby about it, but it’s an unwritten rule – heavy tippers get extra amenities every day, and this housekeeper broke that rule.   

We definately would like to stay at this resort again sometime, although probably when we’re older with no kids.  Between the joking piano player in the bar, the carraige rides, and other adult amenities, it would be a great place to stay for an adult Disney visit.  Don’t get me wrong – the kids will love it and be treated great, but as an adult you will find yourself saying "I wish I could spend some time here without the kids…" 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 7:31 pm  

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hotel Review: Nick Hotel Orlando FL

There is very little bad you can say about this resort.  It was exactly what we expected, down to the room layout and water park amenities.  You can read all about what you’ll get at Nick Hotel at their website.  Note that Nick Hotel is run by Holiday Inn’s parent Intercontinental Hotels Group, and as such Priority Club members will get points or miles for staying here.

Now down to the nitty gritty details:

The family suites are roomy.  Big even, in my opinion.  There’s a big LCD TV in the living room, and a tube T.V. in both the master bedroom and the kids room.  The bunk beds include lights so the kids can stay up and read in their beds if they want.  Like Disney resorts, this is a big spread with the various buildings getting increasingly further from the front lobby.  But that’s OK, they all circle around the pool area, which is the focal point of this resort anyway.

The pool/waterpark is a big, fun place that will have something for everyone.  The only complaint we had about the waterpark is that the main pool (the one with the zero-depth pool, for toddlers like ours) was closed for planned maintenance in the middle of the day (4PM) for an hour to 90 minutes while some guy walked around and took water samples.  This is something that can and should be done at night, not during prime play time.  But that’s OK, we lived with it.  

The table service restaraunt in the food court was great – we ate their for dinner the first day and (character) breakfast the next day.  The character breakfast was great – uncrowded, lots of Nick characters including Spongebob, Dora, Chucky, and others I can’t name and plenty of the characters for each guest.  We had a great time, and the pictures are in the gallery

The only problem I had was that when I checked out, there was a PPV movie on our bill that we didn’t order.  This happens to frequent travellers enough at many hotels, and telling them I didn’t order it got it removed right away.  

We would definately go back to Nick Hotel, and spend more than one day there. 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 6:55 pm  

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hotel Review: Holiday Inn Express & Suites – Savannah, GA

This is, unfortunately, an example of a "Surprise!" you don’t want to get while you’re on the road for three days.  The hotel was otherwise fine, but we learned that the Holiday Inn website was wrong about the pool amenities here. 

We rely on a consistent pool experience while we’re taking road trips.  The kids sit in a car for 12 hours per day while we’re driving, and the only energy-consuming activity they get during these trips is pool time.  So it’s not just a luxury, it’s a neccessity.

So the website says that this hotel has an "indoor pool".  It turns out, they have an outdoor pool.  By "indoor" they mean that they have a reciprocal agreement with another hotel in the area to allow H.I. guests to use their indoor pool.  Here’s where things get really odd.  Their outdoor pool is unheated.  This was confirmed by their front desk staff as standard procedure.  And so is their whirlpool.  OK, I can see some odd thing about hotels in the South not heating outdoor pools, since it never gets much below 70F.  But unheated whirlpools?  What’s the deal with that?  It’s B.S., I call.  They were too lazy to fix a broken heater, I say.

Savannah is a beautiful city and one that we plan to visit again, when we have more time to spend on the city.  But we won’t be staying at this hotel again. 

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 9:37 am  

Saturday, June 23, 2007

RIP Hank Medress

The vocal talent credited with making "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" a number one hit has died, at the age of 68.  Hank Medress recorded "Lion" with the Tokens in 1961.  The song had been a folk standard (originally performed by The Weavers in the 1950’s) but acheived number one on the Top-40 chart with the Tokens version. 

The Tokens were the second band for Medress, his fisrt was the Linc-Tones with fellow Lincoln High School buddy Neil Sedaka.

Medress moved into music production and was credited for the success of the Chiffons "One Fine Day" and "He’s So Fine" in the 60’s.

After he broke off from the Tokens in the 70’s, his first solo production effort was convincing a record company executive, Tony Orlando, to handle lead vocals for a band called "Dawn", which was recording a new song called "Knock Three Times".  Medress also produced "Candida".

In the 1980’s, he was responsible for re-inventing New York Dolls lead singer David Johansen as "Buster Poindexter" and producing his first hit single "Hot, Hot, Hot".

Rest in Peace, Hank Medress

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 4:09 pm  

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hotel Review – Holiday Inn Express & Suites, London Kentucky

This is an example of what a Holiday Inn should be like.   Unfortunately, it is the only one during our trip.  No surprises, and we got exactly what we expected from a H.I. Express:

  • A clean, working, relatively new room with the bed layout we expected
  • An indoor heated pool
  • A free breakfast

This hotel stay was exactly what we expected.  The King Suite was roomy and enough for five. 

I’ll tell you more about our other hotel experiences in later reviews.  For the purposes of completeness, I have a few minor gripes about this hotel, but nothing that detracted from my experience:

  • The alarm clock time was set way off, this is something that housekeeping should fix in every room. 
  • Check-in was efficient but front-desk staff was a bit terse.
  • There was only one towel (and only room to hang one) in a multi-bed suite.  I had to call for more.
  • When I called, their front desk VRU system was in some sort of infinite loop, prompting me as follows: "Please … press zero for guest services" (press 0) "Please press zero for guest services"… oddly after I mashed the zero key repeatedly about ten times, they answered.
  • The desk has a lamp and notebook power outlet.  However, the desk is not located in the vicinity of any wall power outlet, and as such the lamp and notebook outlets have no power, and no way to get any.

Again, overall a good stay and I’d stay there again.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 3:16 pm  

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Disney Summary

So here’s a summary of our vacation:

  • 15 Days; 6 on the road and 9 at the parks
  • Drove 2625 Miles total from curb-to-curb through eight states (Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida)
  • Stayed at seven hotels 
  • Visited five theme parks in those nine days (Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney-MGM Studios, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom plus Universal Orlando) – visited Epcot twice and Magic Kingdom three times
  • Spent $391 on gasoline
  • Took 382 pictures

More stories to come… hotel reviews next.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 3:05 pm  
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