This trip started off as a disaster.
A friend bought this travel package over a year ago and a few months ago asked if I'd like to go with him to South Florida. Ft. Lauderdale, a cruise to the Bahamas, and Orlando--what's not to like?
I'll tell you what's not to like.
Getting into Orlando and getting the rental car after midnight wasn't a problem. Getting to our hotel the first night wasn't a problem. Driving across Florida to get to Fort Lauderdale wasn't a problem, and encountering our first of many thunderstorms wasn't a problem.
The Ramada "resort" in Fort Lauderdale was the beginning of the problem. Out in the middle of nowhere ("The Gateway to the Florida Turnpike"?), run down, and only a resort if you consider having a tennis court in the parking lot a "resort"; it's only a resort if it's your last one. We went to the Florida Visitor Center there, and that's when we got the news: if we wanted to get all the things he'd been promised when he bought the travel package, we had to go to a timeshare presentation.
But when he bought the package, he asked three separate times if this package had anything to do with timeshares. He was told that it did not. When he asked if I wanted to go, I asked him if there were timeshares involved, and he was emphatic in his no. Yet, part of the reason he bought the package in the first place--and it was not cheap--was for the additional goodies it supposedly included. Not seeing a way out of it, we went. After all, what harm could come from looking at nice properties for 90 min?
I won't go into details, but it lasted 4 hours. It only ended when I got, shall we say, "direct". Given a couple of our salesman's comments, we probably could have gotten out of there quicker had we been black--not even subtle racism. Yes, that will be going into our complaint letter to Ramada, which sold the package.
We're from California's Central Valley. There are a few things you don't see there. Overt racism is one, and summer rainstorms are another. Both of us have traveled to such climes before, though, so we knew to expect rain. But we didn't expect what we encountered. We didn't get just a short afternoon rainshower. No, we got hours-long violent thunderstorms.
You'd think Fort Lauderdale would have some form of nightlife. We searched but didn't find much. And then there's beach. The Welcome Center folks sent us to a crappy beach (over 20 min away), when another 10 min of driving would have gotten us to a much nicer (and more populated) strand, even though there was a lot of rain. After 2 days of this, hopes were being dashed of having a nice vacation.
Phase 2 of the trip was a 2-night cruise to the Bahamas. It was a small ship by today's standards, displacing only about 35,000 tons and still carrying 1500 passengers, and the ship was full--and there were a lot of fellow Ramada passengers on board. The ship looked nice enough, though.
And then we got to our cabin. First off, it was on Deck 8. There were only 9 decks, and on a ship, upper is better. We didn't pay to upgrade to a nicer cabin; we were told we'd get a tiny interior cabin. Instead we got this outside cabin on Deck 8, and the bathroom in there was bigger than the one I had in my cabin on the Carnival cruise I took my son on during Spring Break! Things were starting to look up, but our hopes for a good trip had been crushed to such a degree that we were cautiously optimistic.
When we checked in, there was a sign that said "Ship full, no upgrades available". I flirted a little with the lady who checked us in, and we think that might explain our upgrade. Don't really care why we got it, just glad we did.
It was a short cruise. Sail out one afternoon, visit Nassau the next day, and dock back in Fort Lauderdale the next morning. That short cruise was enough to reinvigorate us, though, as it was fantastic. Nassau was everything I'd hoped it would be, and the Atlantis resort was just what I expected--Vegas-like.
I spent a lot of money in Nassau, especially on rumcakes! (Shared one with a neighbor today and it was delicious.) Took lots of pictures, and even some video. And after Nassau we still had one more night on the ship! And the weather, for the most part, was cooperating!
But we had one more day in Fort Lauderdale when we got back, and our room reeked of cigarette smoke. We found the nice beach on our own that afternoon, leaving when the hurricane hit. Didn't even go out that night--I wanted to get up early so we could leave that city as early as possible. Fort Lauderdale, and everything associated with it, was sapping my will to live.
Heading north on I-95 we headed for the Kennedy Space Center, where I haven't been since Spring Break '86 (just a few weeks after Challenger). En route we were hit by another hurricane, and the rain was coming down so hard that everyone was driving 25 on the freeway with their flasher lights on. Freeways there are white (they're black here in California), and with the rain I sometimes couldn't even see the lane lines on the road. Just followed the lights ahead of me....
The weather let up shortly before we got to KSC. There's a big (and expensive) visitors' center there now, and included in the theme-park-level admission price was a trip in the shuttle launch simulator. Tres cool! We had a reasonably good time there.
Then on to Orlando. The timeshare guy said we'd have to endure another presentation in Orlando--another of the many lies he told us--so we were in no hurry to get there. When we did, though, we found that these two Ramada facilities represent Good and Evil. While the Ramada in Ft. Lauderdale was crappy and their Visitor Center staff lied to us, in Orlando they were exceedingly helpful and friendly. Maybe it's Good Cop/Bad Cop, I don't know, but we things continued to look up for us after leaving Fort Lauderdale. Even this hotel was cool--our room overlooked an interior patio that contained a pool, hot tub, bar, and restaurant!
On our one full day in Orlando we had to decide what to do, and settled on Wet N Wild water park. I figured I'd get more out of that than I would any Disney theme park, and I'm sure I did.
We left for home on the 4th of July. I'd scored us emergency exit row seats on both legs our flight home, so again, life was good. Our connecting flight left Salt Lake City some time after 9, and as we took off I could see fireworks going off at different places all over the city. I didn't see Reno until we were well past it, but a flight attendant said he saw fireworks going off down there. And as we flew down I-80 and the Sacramento metropolitan area appeared before us, I could see fireworks celebrations going off all over the place.
We didn't wait long for the shuttle bus to pick us up and take us to the parking lot, and on the way I realized that I hadn't even noticed the weather. It was about 70 degrees at 10:30 at night--calm, low humidity. In other words, perfect. When you walk outside in Florida you're hit with a broadside of stifling humidity; you can't help but notice it, and the air conditioning, in buildings and in the car, stays on 24/7. But not here, not home.
I'm glad to be home. My next trip is very soon. My neighbor ladies and I are going to Las Vegas :-)