As happens so often these days, when I know I have to get up early in the morning, I can’t sleep. Since I normally go to bed around 3:30 a.m. and sometimes can’t sleep then either, retiring earlier doesn’t help. Consequently, when Diamondqueen arrived to pick me up for the airport around 7 a.m., I was bleary-eyed and already fatigued.
We had all kinds of trepidation about what we’d face at the airport, but things went surprisingly smoothly. Even security wasn’t too much of a hassle, although I did temporarily lose my sandal and had to go running back with one bare foot. (I’d overlooked my sandal in the plastic bin that went through the x-ray.)
Neither J. nor S.Hooligan had traveled by jet before. They’d had one local flight in a small tourist aircraft. S.Hooligan seemed indifferent, but J.Hooligan was a nervous wreck. At the same time, he seemed intrigued by all the unusual shops near our gate. After sitting awhile, he and I went exploring. Eventually he wound up going back to a candy emporium and getting some treats. S.Hooligan had spotted a McDonald’s and dispatched her mother for food. Apparently the line was long, and Diamondqueen kept texting S. about her progress, which S. didn’t share with us. I tried to close my eyes and doze sitting up, but J. kept bringing up things that worried him about our flight or to say, “I wonder what’s taking Mom so long?”
Once they started boarding our flight, J.Hooligan was somewhat nonplussed to find out it would take time for us to be called because of the hierarchy of passengers who were allowed to board first. Finally we made it on, J. and I sitting behind Diamondqueen and S.Hooligan. J.Hooligan had the window, but he was afraid to look out of it, even though we were still parked at the gate, and wanted to keep the plastic shade lowered.
J. fussed and fretted through the whole procedure leading to take-off. I convinced him to keep the shade up so at least I could see out. I muttered reassurances and told him to take deep breaths, but he was in a state. When we finally lifted from the runway, I was too distracted to see how J. was doing. Across the aisle and behind us, two pre-teens apparently were experiencing their first take-off as well. As the plane picked up speed, their voices rose to a prolonged shriek that heightened in pitch until we rose into the clouds. I glanced back at one point and saw their mother shielding her face with her hand, which was clasped to her forehead, and murmuring almost apologetically, “I don’t know them, I don’t know them.”
The flight was without incident and shorter than I expected. J.Hooligan relaxed a bit, but his eyes were closed a lot and he refused refreshments when the cart came around, which surprised me. It didn’t help that Diamondqueen couldn’t get the online access to work that she’d paid handsomely for (something to do with a mix-up about the sign-on). S.Hooligan played games on her phone the entire flight and annoyed her mother in non-obtrusive ways. I almost fell asleep a couple of times, but some teens a few seats over were playing cards, which caused them to erupt into yells and cheers.
We descended toward Orlando through heavy clouds and landed on a wet runway. Next came an odyssey through the airport to pick up our bags, then find the car rental desk, then figure out how to get to the garage to locate our car. Finally we approached our vehicle: a taxi-cab yellow Kia with only one back door and a hatchback compartment not much bigger than the inside of my carry-on. S.Hooligan figured out how to get the back door open (there was no exterior handle), we scrunched into the tiny seats, and Diamondqueen peered through the porthole-like windows as we made our way out of the garage.
Despite unfamiliarity with the area, challenges with GPS, and other misadventures, we did make it safely to the Cabana Bay Resort, part of the Universal complex. I’d seen pictures of it online, but the first sight had quite an impact. My first impression brought thoughts of Vegas and Dean Martin and the Rat Pack, although maybe the effect of a building covered with rectangles in bright colors is classic old-time Florida for all I know. Diamondqueen was delirious with joy. The area in front of the entrance was crowded and chaotic; eventually Diamondqueen was directed to a space reserved for valet parking.
The minute I rolled down the windows, it started to rain. The air was as wet and heavy as a steamed towel, and I knew no one would save us from a closed car as they might a pet. As I started the car for the air conditioning, all the moisture gathered itself and came down in a torrent. By the time Diamondqueen returned to the car, though, the sky was already clearing.
Naturally we were too early to check in. Diamondqueen had been directed to park around back of our “tower”; we’d have to hang out until our room was ready. We all were starving, so we explored for somewhere to eat.
The “retro” feel of the place was almost too much, although it grew on me throughout our stay: a swirl of atomic boomerang shapes and starbursts, orange and turquoise, Eames-style chairs, and vinyl-upholstered everything. The excitement of it lifted Diamondqueen right out of her fatigue.
There was supposed to be a “diner” in the hotel; what we discovered was an elaborate food area with individual food lines according to various menu items, self-serve areas for salads and frozen yogurt, and two end areas of refrigerated cases filled with milk, cheese, prepared sandwiches, and so on. You got everything on a tray and carried it to a check-out, then made your way from there to a huge hall of tables and chairs.
One line advertised lobster rolls. They were pricey, but I’d never had one. I got some other incidentals and a cup for iced tea, then tried to pay with the key card we’d already received. It turned out we weren’t officially checked in, the cards were so we could get into the resort from the parking garage, and there was a bunch of confusion. Diamondqueen was nearby, so she just put everything on her credit card.
On both ends of the dining hall were enormous screens showing clips from vintage commercials, cartoons, and TV shows. It was entertaining and distracted me from the fact my lobster roll wasn’t very good. At least it was fuel. When we were done, we pried ourselves from our seats and set out to explore the various attractions. We spent some time in the Universal gift shop; Diamondqueen and J.Hooligan were especially interested in the Harry Potter merchandise, although we’d be going to the theme parks the next day. When we reached the huge lobby, I staggered toward an inviting orange retro chair and collapsed, never moving again until finally Diamondqueen was able to check us in.