Friday, June 4, 2010
Jenny and I enjoyed a wonderful Florida vacation during the last week of May. Our trip served no real purpose; it was just about time that we return to our favorite Sunshine State haunts. We go about once a year, tucking into meals at Sonny's, noting the transformations of buildings and roadways, and gathering with friends and family to retell old stories and share new ones.
We began with an overnight visit to Miami, which has not yet seen any traces of that wretched oil spoil that's plaguing the Gulf of Mexico. Despite nightmarish images of black sludge lapping up against those pristine sands, we found that Miami's South Beach water remains blue-green and gorgeous. I know it sounds somewhat lubricous, writing about sandy beaches when the ecology of an entire region is being wrecked, but all sorts of commercials and public service announcements are running in Florida begging locals and visitors alike to assure everyone that the state remains open for business. It is -- for now.
Upon arrival, we enjoyed lunch at Larios, our favorite Cuban-style restaurant, before settling into our room at Villa Paradiso, which offered a relaxing and quiet break from the bass-pounding boom of car stereos and the exhortations of barely-clad partiers who'd gathered for what some folks euphemistically label "Urban Week." Jenny and I wandered along Lincoln Road, shopping and chatting, and saving room for hot fudge sundaes at Ghirardelli's. Even some evening rain merely offered an excuse to dip into a Taschen bookstore and grab coffee at a Nespresso shop (yep, the folks who make the stuff I drink in my office).
The next day we headed for the Delano for our traditional mid-morning meal. And this time, inspired by one of Jenny's flimsiest hints, I chatted with a woman at the front desk and tried my best charm offensive to score a deal on a room. Maybe I was just lucky, but she offered a surprisingly decent rate for a return visit this fall. It's an obscene amount of money, actually, but we've always wanted to stay at this landmark hotel, and now Jenny and I have reserved a happy moment in the not-too-distant future when we can lounge poolside without some pleasant official asking to see our room keys. The afternoon was spent blissfully relaxing on rented beach chairs in the shade of an umbrella, both of us taking refreshing dips in the warm water and me marveling at all the exposed flesh on display. Perfectly timed late-afternoon rain brought us back to Larios, where we discovered a new favorite meal of fried shredded beef, followed by another trip to Ghirardelli's for another one of those decadent sundaes. By nightfall we exited Miami and headed to Largo.
The next couple days were devoted to spending time with friends and family. Staying at Jenny's grandmother's place, we chatted and even engaged some friendly political discussion in a time when there's much to debate. We also caught up with our pals Mary and Craig. Hours of conversation, punctuated by a chance to smoke cigars with Craig on the porch, drifted into morning, and Jenny and I left with plans to return in a couple days for one more visit. Another one of my own customs, I also spent some time driving around Dunedin and Clearwater, where I grew up, even taking a few moments to photograph a motel that served temporarily as a home for my mom and me.
On Monday, Jenny and I drove to Orlando for a Disneyworld visit, thanks to free tickets we'd earned doing a half-day of volunteer work earlier in the year. Given the deal we got getting into the park, I had no problem splurging on our lodgings. Realizing another nearly lifelong dream, I convinced Jenny that we should stay at the Contemporary Resort -- that's right, the one where the monorails pass through the A-frame atrium.
Again, the price was crazy, way exceeding our ticket savings, but I didn't care. We dropped off our bags and enjoyed a full day in the Magic Kingdom, generally hiding our cynicism for this sort of fakery, except to laugh every time someone reminded us to "Have a Magical Day!"
After a quick race to Space Mountain, the fun really started at Disney's Carousel of Progress, the classic celebration of better living through consumer electronics that has caught my imagination for years and even inspired me to sing "It's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" to classes of bemused (and surely confused) college students. Jenny and I belted the lyrics as loudly as we pleased, since we were the only ones seeing the show. From there, we raced back and forth from realm to realm. Unexpectedly short lines at Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion were balanced by long queues at other attractions like Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain, which was somehow even more fun than we'd remembered.
Thankfully the park's Fast Pass eliminates the need to wait in those snaking lines, though lots of people seemed unaware of the service. Though we generally focused on old favorites, we also sampled some new park attractions.
One ride that was new to us, Stitch's Great Escape, was a disappointment; another, Peter Pan's Flight, was a delight, especially with its transformation of London into a "tiny town" viewed from above. Dinner was an all-you-can-eat family style meal at Liberty Tree Tavern, and the evening wrapped up with a lovely fireworks show.
Then, for the first time, we did not join the race to the parking lot but instead caught the monorail to our room at the Contemporary. Was it worth the money? In a certain way, no. It never could be. In another way, of course it was! I remembered those times as a kid riding through the atrium and dreaming that one day we could stay in one of those rooms, "like living in the not too distant future!" We enjoyed our visit so much that we arranged to stay the next day, even after checking out of our room. And sure enough, after sleeping in, we shopped a bit and chilled at the pool until we got our fill of Contemporary Life.
The rest of our trip was dedicated to more visiting and the sadly necessary process of packing to head back to California. Given that our flight to Florida was marred by miserable delays -- including a will-we-or-won't we escape Denver debacle thanks to three tornados striking the airport complex -- it was nice to enjoy an uneventful return home. One final tradition, the inevitable routine of a born-traveler: I barely returned home before anticipating our next Florida trip.
(Photographs by Andy and Jenny Wood)