TR: Last Trip of 2012 and First Trip of 2013 Pt. 1: SeaWorld (12/29/2012)

TR: Last Trip of 2012 and First Trip of 2013 Pt. 1: SeaWorld (12/29/2012)

Post by Alan Conceica » Wed, 09 Jan 2013 13:20:49

(working title for trip report series deemed too long: How We Learned To
Stop Worrying and Love Orlando, along with a Disney cruise which we didnt
love so much. version with pictures can be seen at my blog at
realtalkguidetoawesome.wordpress.com)

Having being fairly consistently employed for the last 8 years or so, weve
had the money to do a lot of trips, and a lot of them end up involving
Central Florida. In the last 2 years, my wife has flown into MCO 6 times, me
5, all for pleasure. Sometimes I admit to being a bit snobbish about
Orlando. In many ways, Orlando represents the nadir of western culture. It
is a world of fake experiences set up to simulate better real ones in child
safe environments intended to appeal to the lowest common denominator of
society. Everything from the food to the interactive museums on I-Drive
represent these qualities of consumerism and declared ignorance over
knowledge and understanding. And yet, I go. Regularly, actually.

This particular trip came about as a way to merge two things my wife and I
had discussed doing many times into one, cogent, not ***ly expensive
vacation to the Orlando area. One half of the 4 nights would be spent in
Orlando itself, shrouding ourselves in the warm glow of SeaWorld and its
related attractions (Discovery Cove, Aquatica). The second half would see us
take a 4 night Disney cruise aboard the Disney Dream this is their bread
and butter route, and stops at their acclaimed private island Castaway Cay.
At this point, having cruised regularly over the last 3-4 years and racking
up as much experience as we have with other lines, this seemed a good time
to be able to compare what Disney really offered. We originally planned to
make the trip even cheaper by going with a free stay at the Sheraton Lake
Buena Vista (Formerly the Sheraton Safari) near the Downtown Disney entry
area of Walt Disney World. About a month and a half before the trip, we
ended up flipping our points for that to use in reserving a room for a major
trip down the line this year in Rome, and instead decided to pay straight up
for a room across the street from SeaWorld at the Renaissance Orlando At
SeaWorld.

As is often the case, we stayed overnight at the Westin Detroit Metro on a
park and fly package prior to our departure. We were given an inside facing
room on the top floor and had plenty of time the next morning to have
breakfast. There was a bit of a delay getting out of Detroit due to
mechanical issues, but we had nothing substantive scheduled on our first day
in Orlando anyhow. No biggie. At least the wireless at Detroit is free for
the first half hour or so.

We rented our car through Alamo, which since our last rental with them a
couple years ago has instituted a online check-in system in which one can
check in with all their applicable info online, then walk to the class of
automobile they have and proceed to the exit of the garage with their rental
agreement. For reasons we dont understand, of the in-terminal Orlando
rental companies, Alamo was cheapest with a 2 door convertible at the time
of booking. At about $50 a day, it was more than Id like to spend, but
considering that Hertz was requesting upwards of $120 a day for a compact, I
was much happier taking this route. We ended up with a practically brand new
Chrysler 200 with a convertible top. I was actually very happy with this set
up and would probably use Alamo again as a preferred car rental agency over
Hertz because of it Hertz charges you $70 a year to have that kind of
access to a vehicle. I much prefer free.

On the drive to the hotel, it was clear that one thing we hadnt really
thought that much about was going to play a role in exactly how much we left
the immediate area: traffic. Lots of it. The drive should have taken us
about 17-20 minutes and went well over half an hour. With the holidays
people hit the parks hard. At that point, we knew that we made the right
call with moving our hotel. Trying to get in and our of Sea World under
other conditions would have been nightmare-ish, a fact reinforced in our
minds later.

The Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld is somewhat unassuming from outside,
looking not entirely different than a lot of other large resort hotels in
the area. Inside, the Renaissance seems vast: It contains a convention
center and a huge covered atrium, replete with waterfall, restaurants, bar,
fantastic blown glass aquarium, and Wyland mural. With few balconies
present for the guest rooms, theres a lot of focus on the inside of the
building, a fact present in a great number of hotels from that era (1970s
through late 1980s). If this were an urban space, I could see the criticism.
In Orlando, where the Contemporary Resort is one of the aesthetic landmarks,
it is hard to complain about such an impressive place. Check in offers
either cider or champagne, which is a nice touch. Shame Marriott has the
worst elite program out there, because I really do like what they offer.

Our room was an Executive Suite, facing SeaWorld on the 6th floor. The room
itself was massive 818 square feet as listed by the hotel. The bathroom is
quite small, probably only accounting for 1/8 of that space. Clearly the
room seems to be intended to match up via connecting doors to make a monster
room with the spaces around it for a big family. We arent such a family,
but still enjoyed the cavernous space, the sectional sofa, massive 52 TV,
the dining room table, and large windows facing the park. The furnishings
are very modern and cool this is probably thanks in large part to a
refurbishment that took place in 2011. Did I mention that we really liked
this room? We really liked this room.

My wife and I werent the only people at the hotel. In fact, it wasnt so
much SeaWorld visitors using the hotel as it was football fans. The
Renaissance was chosen as the official hotel for the Capitol One Bowl, and
it seemed that the Georgia Bulldogs were there along with us signing lots of
autographs and having team meetings in the convention spaces. Plenty of
their fans made the drive to Orlando to watch them too. Lots of flags and
t-shirts were seen not only at arrival, but all week long leading up to the
game on New Years Day. Naturally, being Big Ten people, we felt completely
out of place in this situation, as they were playing Nebraska, the 2nd place
Big Ten team and probably the 4th-5th best team in the conference.

Chatter had been had before the week that perhaps we would use our opening
night in Orlando to go do something we hadnt done before maybe I-Drive?
Maybe a dinner show? With the traffic being what it was, we thought better
of both ideas and decided to just take in an easy night of SeaWorld
visiting. We had free entry because of our Discovery Cove package, and going
to do something for free seemed a lot smarter than going and spending $100+
doing something that might not be as good. The distance from the hotel to
the park on foot is negligible. Most of the travel is done across the
parking lot, and it takes no more than 7 or 8 minutes door to door.

SeaWorld was pretty busy but not absurdly packed per se. Around the usual
pinch point (Voyagers Smokehouse/Sky Tower area) there was a ton of people,
but walking around the edge of the park through the Christmas Town area
there was nowhere near as many people present. There were no big plans on
this evening wed go on some rides, wed maybe see a show if something
looked appealing, and see some animals. We got to visit the killer whale
viewing area by Shamu Stadium to look at the big guys, passed through the
childrens area briefly (and got confused as to how to leave), and found
ourselves by the arena where O Wondrous Night The Greatest Story Never
Told was being shown. The doors were open and accepting guests, and so we
made it our first real activity of our visits to the park.

O Wondrous Night shows in the same enclosed theater as the Cirque ripoff
ALure during Christmas time. It is a puppet show with live animals
providing backup, and tells the tale of Jesus birth in Bethlehem to the
masses. It is the kind of show Id kind of expect in Branson rather than a
major Orlando theme park (ie not Holy Land Experience) theres no doubting
the religious context here. It is also pretty grandiose, with people on
cables, an enormous array of animals including trained doves, camels, goats,
sheep, dancers, gospel singers, and the like. It is pretty modern, and to me
seems like something TBN would record and broadcast to whomever it is that
watches their network. Im not a religious man, so a lot of it is lost on me
spiritually though I can see the show is quite impressive and tries hard to
be moving. My wife thought it decent but expected more animals (they only
really appear at the very end) and less puppets and poppy carols. The thing
we were least enthused about? Uncomfortable metal bleacher seats.

We headed from there over to the parks coasters. Manta had a bit of a wait
going on, so we went instead to ride the coaster that never has a line;
Kraken. Meredith was one and done on this evening while I went around a
couple more times to ride before being reminded by my body that I should
probably have had my motion sickness patch on if I was planning on doing
much more. We did a lot of touring of shops otherwise, looking at
merchandise, planning what we might or might not purchase during our time at
the park. We left around 10PM to get back to our hotel, and watched the
nightly holiday firework show from our window. Pretty fine way to start our
trip low impact, high degree of pleasure.