Friday the 5th I remembered Saturday night at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in 2005, I went to see GrooveLily and Jim Infantino at the Budgiedome and when I got back Mike from efo had stopped by with bandmates, then returned with friends, Randy, Mark and Rhonda, two guitarists and a mandolin player. They and about 30 other people (and Stuart on guitar) were out in the middle of the road singing cover songs. I finally asked Mike permission to post it my recording, and he said yes. Later that evening Nina’s school was hosting another drive in movie at Wolf Trap, but last minute Jill’s car wouldn’t start. Nina went with friends to pick up ours and theirs food from The Sandwich Shop while Jill and I transferred everything to my car and met them there. The movie was Sing, which I’ve seen several times so I didn’t need to pay full attention as I tested out using our big power bank in the wild for the first time – radio worked fine, crockpot with the hot chocolate (it was a cold night) was quite a power drain.
Saturday I ran errands with Nina including stopping at Duck Donuts and Flippin’ Pizza. That night Jill and had our postponed Valentine’s Day date at Le Diplomate. They had really taken pandemic dining to a new level with their “Streetside Chateus”, partioned stalls with tables and chairs as well as a vent with heat (so hot in fact I took off my jacket and sat near the outside edge). The food was wonderful, I went with the lobster frites as they made the fries unsalted. We maxed out our time, and Jill got creme brulee and I got a bottle of port to go (Nina got to play with her friends).
Saturday the 13th was nice enough the girls wanted to kayak after starting to build a cardboard boat. Tuesday was Nina’s return to school as she was back on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Unfortunately her teacher did not return to school, so she used headphones and a laptop on a classroom with other students whose teacher was still virtual, but getting do Specials (like Spanish and gym), playing on the playground with friends and going to the library made up for some of that. I thought it was very strange to drop my daughter at school for the first time in a year. But it felt right. What felt wrong was making her lunch in the morning. So used to making it at lunchtime now.
For Saint Patrick’s Day on Wednesday the 17th, I brined the corned beef, made pumpernickel bread and what I thought was my mom’s chocolate cake, cut into the traditional clover. Turns out it’s her mom’s recipe, and great-grandma’s dad immigrated from Ireland, so that was traditional as we can make it. That weekend we had a European tour of seafood: paella on Saturday, mussels for lunch Sunday, and fish and chips for dinner that night. The good news: Nina ate them all. I got my first shot of Pfizer on Saturday morning at EagleBank Arena (aka Patriot Center) and it was weird to be there for something other than a show, but I was in and out fairly quickly. Tuesday the 23rd I took advantage of Nina in school to get the maids in for the first time in over a year, then went out to get a haircut. When I took a walk on Thursday, I realized that the cicadas don’t feel like waiting any longer to go outside. I feel ya, fellas.
When the pandemic started, we had been planning a trip during Spring Break to Orlando with Jill’s mom and Nina’s cousin. We had moved it to the fall, and when it was clear that wouldn’t work, moved to this Spring Break (the Disney World tickets would expire soon after, and were not cheap). There was disturbing news as in Miami people weren’t masking or observing social distancing, but Disney World and Universal Orlando had enforced the restrictions strongly since reopening. Nina’s pulmonologist told us he was ok with her going, but she shouldn’t fly. So we decided to rent a minivan. Jill decided to go with Dollar, and after all the extra fees they added on, then didn’t have the minivan she’d reserved. But they had a Chevy Traverse that had Florida license plates, which made it a winner. Sue and Ava drove down that Friday, so we were able to leave early morning on Saturday the 27th.
We had decided to try and do the whole thing in 1 day because we had a packed week. Besides Jill driving, most people slept after our 4:30am start. We made our first stop at Anne’s Donuts in NC where they had the most delicious cream cheese donut. We also stopped at a Sonic for drinks. Nina loves White Castle, and one is opening up in Orlando soon. We had heard Krystal was their equivalent in the South, so decided to stop at one past Savannah in Georgia for lunch. Of course thanks to many backups, it was late afternoon when we got there, and that and the Starbucks were drive thru only. We made the best of it, sitting at a Starbucks table, but the food just wasn’t that good. We didn’t make it to our hotel, the accurately titled DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando until 9:30pm and didn’t manage to do much besides fall asleep.
Sunday we were up early because while Universal Orlando didn’t require park reservations like Disney World, they did stop letting people in when the parks reached current capacity. It was the easiest park to get to that week with a 15 minute walk to CityWalk, but then we had a wait as the Universal Orlando tickets had expired. I had set up an exchange with someone at their Twitter account, but still needed to go stand in line at guest services and then find the original pdf of the tickets from my email. But after that we were good to go inside Universal Studios Florida and soon got on the Transformers ride. Ava really wanted to do The Simpsons ride, so we went there next (Jill and will skip that in the future), then went over to what we’d been waiting for a decade, Diagon Alley.
Diagon Alley was as real as we’d hoped it would be. After wandering around Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes (astonishing how close the Wizards Unite version was to it) and around, we noticed there was a long line for Ollivander’s Wand Shop, so I got in it. It was 90 minutes long, so Sue and Ava left so Ava could ride the rollercoaster, and Jill and Nina went to the Leaky Cauldron to get lunch. I did get to see the 2 shows there while I waited, plus we tried the Gillywater from the Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment stand (I had the Fire Protection Potion). As the line got closer to the front, Jill switched with me and I had lunch as Nina finished up. Then we went inside and Nina got to choose her wand with Ollivander (very well done) before we did some videos with Sue and Ava who had finished. Nina got to play with her wand as there’s a number of places to interact with it there, and as we were about to get in line for Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, the ride broke down.
We went over and rode Men In Black (shooting fine, 720 degree spins not fine), then Ava went to ride the rollercoaster again and we got drinks. I had managed to get a virtual line pass for Revenge of the Mummy, and Jill and Ava rode that. We decided we were done, but then saw there was a photo op with Optimus Prime in 30 minutes. Jill and I waited while Sue, Nina and Ava did the Transformers ride again. We stopped on the way out to take pictures at a studio (we had purchased the photo pass, so no additional cost), then walked back to the hotel. We still had to get our luggage and put it in the SUV, then take a short drive over to Universal’s Endless Summer – Dockside Inn & Suites. Even though I’d checked in online, I still had to wait through a long line of guests to get the room keys. In the meantime Jill decide we’d just get dinner there at Pier 8 Market and got orders for what was essentially a cafeteria. I got the room keys and parked the SUV and we all met for dinner (mostly burgers), then got the luggage and went to the room (it was nice with 3 beds – Jill and I got the separate room).
Monday morning we got the benefit of staying at a Universal resort as we got into the park an hour early. Most of the girls got food and drinks from the Starbucks in the hotel before we got on the bus. Jill had the genius idea of doing Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts first, so we did that and then took the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure (we had the 2 park pass), then explored Hogsmeade. Unfortunately Hogsmeade was very crowded and there wasn’t as much room to move around as Diagon Alley which was in an area by itself. We stood in line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Nina and I got off right before the ride started. Then we all had a snack and headed down to Jurassic Park which Ava wanted to see (Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure was virtual line pass only, and I hadn’t gotten one yet). Jill was trying to fix Ava’s unlimited soda cup, so the rest of us took a picture with the raptor, then had a drink break. Nina and Ava saw prizes at the carnival games they wanted, so they played the games and won (Nina’s prize was a sloth).
I finally got a pass for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, so while Ava went to ride the Hulk rollercoaster, the rest of us waited in line for that. However, the line was very long even with a pass, plus the ride broke down for 20 minutes. By time we were close to the front, Nina needed to use the restroom (and we weren’t going to ride anyway), so we went to Honeydukes where Ava was. I hadn’t had anything to eat and was exhausted, so I decided to leave. Ava decided to join me (after we got her a Ravenclaw hoodie) and we took the bus back. At that point the exhaustion took over, so I napped while Jill and Nina rode Pteranodon Flyers and Sue rode The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, then stopped for pizza. When they got back Ava went down to Pier 8 Market for another burger and I went to Del Taco for tacos (gotta love chains that give you sodium counts) and Walgreens for a beer and wine. Jill, Nina and Sue meanwhile had found the pool.
Tuesday morning I checked out virtually, then we got on the road to Hollywood Studios. Jill and I had gotten up early to try and get on a boarding group on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, but failed. We parked, then again I had to find the pdf of my tickets, then walked over to the Tower of Terror. Everyone rode but me, so I hung out with the stuff and surfed on my phone or people watched. Next we got in line for a new ride: Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Again quite a wait, but the ride was a classic, all ages ride. We had lunch at Backlot Express (burgers again, but Ava loves them and they’re usually low sodium for me) and Jill and I failed again to get a boarding group. Nina wanted to see Vacation Fun – An Original Animated Short with Mickey & Minnie so we watched that. Ava went to ride the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster while the rest of us did Toy Story Mania!, then walked through Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Knowing ahead of time getting onto the Star Wars rides would be difficult we’d already planned a 2nd day there, but I still wanted to see the layout before we left.
We still had to check into DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando – Disney Springs™ Area, so we did that. Thankfully it was the first hotel we could fully check in using the app on my phone as a key at first. We got to relax for a while, then ordered takeout from Miller’s Ale House. Nina got to check out the pool with Jill before Sue and I picked up the food.
Wednesday we were off to the Magic Kingdom. The hotel we’d picked had allowed early access into the parks and transportation, but the early access was on hold and the transportation was a chartered bus that didn’t run often, so we decided to just drive and park each day. We paid for preferred parking and were pretty close to the Ticket and Transportation Center. Due to long lines, I decided to ask whether the monorail or the ferry was faster, and got directed to the buses, and 10 minutes later we were in the park. Fantasyland was our first destination, and soon we were riding The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan’s Flight. The line for it’s a small world was pretty long, but moved quickly. We shopped for ears next, then lunch for most at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe (I found that Tomorrowland Terrace Restaurant carried a lobster roll).
Next, Sue and Nina did Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid while Ava, Jill and I rode The Haunted Mansion (which broke down just like the last time we rode it). Ava, Nina and Sue took a spin on the Mad Tea Party while Jill and I waited in line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train; when we got to the front Ava, Jill and Sue rode while Nina and I headed to the front where we had a Capture Your Moment scheduled. We took photos in front of the castle, of course.
Then it was off to Tomorrowland where Nina and Ava rode Tomorrowland Speedway, then Nina joined me in line for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, then we did Prince Charming Regal Carousel. The others did Space Mountain, then we met up. I’d read this genius idea to take a boat to Fort Wilderness and eat at P & J’s Southern Takeout, so that’s what we did. It was a relaxing ride over, and we were able to mobile order ahead of time. We sat picnic tables on the patio – the ribs were ok and the chicken was delicious. I only wish I’d known about the open bar so I wouldn’t have gotten a can of beer (I made up for it with the Smoky Mountain Apple cocktail from Crockett’s Tavern, the bar in the front). We took the boat back to the Magic Kingdom and then Nina had requested to ride the monorail back to the car.