Disney Marathon Weekend 2011 Day 6

Today is the saddest day of all and a very hard day for me. I find it difficult to be in Disney World and not go into the parks even if we just go in to people watch and take in the atmosphere. Matt and I decided not to burn a full days pass since there were a few outside the parks things that we wanted to do anyway and we could probably fill the time before we need to leave for the airport.

We checked out of Bay Lake Towers, stored our bags and took a bus to Downtown Disney to get something for Lorie and Jenna. The are has change quite a bit form last year an Pleasure Island is a shell of what it was when it first opened. I only saw 2 clubs and could not tell if they were even open since the bars did not open till after 7pm normally. The whole island is just restaurants and a few shops and quite a bit of demolition and construction going on. The West Side is pretty much the same with the swapping out of a few stores for some more current ones. One big store that is gone is the Virgin Megastore which took up a huge two story warehouse. In its place is a ‘Build an RC Car Shop’ which did not even take up all of the first floor of the previous tenant. It is kind of a Build a Bear for boys. Build a basic car then trick out out with customizations and drain the credit card.

We did a bit of shopping for about and hour before taking another bus from Downtown Disney over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge villas to see the DVC rooms. We have never stayed there so we wanted to see if it was something we might consider in the future. The rooms were nice, very similar to the other DVC studio and one bedroom accommodations, except for the African inspired furnishings. The property was appealing as a novelty, but I still don’t like the fact that it is so far removed from everything else. If you stay there to see the animals outside your balcony, that is nice, but after about an hour of that I have seen what I need to see and want to move on, so I don’t think we will be staying there anytime soon.

While on property, Matt and I had a nice lunch at Sanaa where we split a burger and had a nice salad sampler, just enough food to hold us over for the rest of our last day. We grabbed our final bus from Animal Kingdom Lodge to the Magic Kingdom then had a short walk back to Bay Lake Towers to catch our Magical Express to the airport. We still had about an hour to kill so Matt suggested we go to the rec center and play some shuffleboard to pass the time. This was another first for Matt and it only took him one game to catch on. I took the first match and he took the second. He was a avid watcher of curling during the Olympics so he knew the basic premise of what to do and caught on very fast. He now has the skills to become a hustler when he retires to warm climates.

The Magical Express arrived right on time and got us to MCO about 1.75 hours before the flight to Charlotte. I checked on my Droid and both our flights ( to Charlotte and to ORD) were clear of weather all the way through. We boarded on time and settled into 2A and 2C for the first leg of the flight. I was a bit disappointed that we did not get a meal on the US Air flight but they did double up on the drinks and it was very smooth ride all the way.

We landed in Charlotte and grabbed some fast food chicken ( I took all the skin off mine and ignored the biscuit as next week starts my calorie counting test, which I will outline in a later post) and I passed the 1.5 hour layover time by catching up on some of my kindle books and my pursued new high scores on a few of his handheld games.

We boarded the flight to ORD and settled into our same two seats for the last leg home. On the flight from MCO, I had put the Thumper stuffed animal that I got for Jenna on the large arm rest space between Matt and myself, and it ‘rode’ there for most of the flight. I placed him in the same spot when we boarded and as I looked up I noticed we had the same flight crew from the previous flight even though it was a different plane. The flight attendant said ’Are you following us?’, in reference to the same two guys in the same two seats with the same rabbit between us, on a different airplane. I said ‘Yes, and I am hoping you are taking us someplace warm tomorrow. Where are we off to next?’

This flight was equally smooth and in no time we were landing in Chicago. As we pulled off the runway
I called my wife who was waiting at the Oasis and told her to head on over to pick us up. As most of you know, ORD and MDW are VERY strict about waiting at the curb to pick up arriving passengers. They will make you circle endlessly or have you park way over in the cell phone lot, which is OK. Lorie prefers to wait at the O’Hare Oasis since she can get there early if need be and have some coffee, use the free Wi-Fi and just wait for our call. The timing works out well because by the time we get to the gate, deplane, and walk all the way out to terminal 1 she is just about there.

I will have some reflections about the race in my next post, but for now, home again, glad to be here, but already planning the next trip.

Can’t I Get A Full Can?


I paid over $800 for my flight to and from Calgary and I can’t even get a full can of pop on the flight. ‘I’m sorry sir but we can’t do that’ was the reply I got. United you suck!

Spring Break Travel in Canada

I had my first experience with travel in Canada during their spring break. According to the airport employees I was working with that travel weekend is as busy or busier than the Thanksgiving travel weekend in the US. Let me temper that with the thought of volume. Although it was busy, Calgary airport does no where near the volume of passengers that Chicago’s O’Hare does, especially not on the US Thanksgiving weekend. I have never been caught in a long customs line at YYC (Calgary Airport) but they were running almost 1.5 hour wait time in the line. YYC has a policy that you cannot get in the customs line more than two hours before your flight, and they we keeping a strict eye on that.

They were forming two lines, one for people who arrived more than two hours before their scheduled flight and one for those who arrived with under two hours till their flight. When you get to YYC, the customs line is directly behind the United Airlines counter so I could see how busy it was or was not. When I arrived at 7:30 am there was virtually no line. I got there early to try and stand by on the 12:50 flight to Chicago. I was not scheduled to leave until 3:51 PM the next day but we were going to finish the class early today (excellent attentive students) so I thought I would wing it (no pun intended).

The United staff was excellent (thanks Tim) and informed me that yesterday the customs line was two hours, so I should line up no later than 11 am for my standby flight. The plane had 15 seats available the night before but by the time I got to the counter that morning, they were booked even (all seats sold). I was put first one on the wait list, paid my change fee and went upstairs to give my class.

We finished up just before 11 so I gathered up my gear and walked down to get in line. That is when I saw why Tim said to get there early. The line was all the way out of customs, wrapping behind the United counter and into the concourse shops where all the restaurants are. The customs line easily had about 200 people in it. Even the two hours and before line had about 40 people in it. Now you would think those lines would cause a huge problem, but YYC is very efficient and has a sharp staff directing traffic. The airport has what I would call Wal-Mart Cowboy Greeters (CG’s). They are older, probably retired men and women who walk around the airport in jeans, white long sleeve shirts, red vests and big white cowboy hats. If you have ANY question you need answered, they are very easy to spot and approach.  The CG’s were the ones making sure that our long snaking line did not interfere with other passengers in the concourse or the businesses that we were moving in front of.

As I mentioned, there were two entry lines on either side of the entrance to customs. If you were smart enough (planned ahead like I do) to get to the airport with plenty of time you were put in the plus two hours line. You would think you would then be penalized for your efficiency, as late arrivers got into the other longer line that was constantly moving. But the way they worked it was every ten minutes or so, one of the YYC employees would go over to the plus two hours line and pull people out of a that line and allow them to cut into the customs line. So at 11:30am he would call out 1:30pm and before flights. It worked really well and people were very polite and understood the process (although Canadians are very polite to begin with so I don;t know if this would work at JFK).

It got to the point where I was not even to the customs door at it was already 11:30, so they were coming to the long line and pulling people to the front of the line by flight if you had less than 1:20 till you flight. So if you are dong the math, the early planners (plus two hour line) had at least a 40 minute advantage over those who did not plan ahead. I figured that long lines would work to my advantage in getting a standby seat, but as it turns out, luck was not on my side, at least for flight number 1.

United Airlines Adds Paperless Boarding

This morning I tested the new paperless boarding that United is starting to roll out. The mobile web code (very similar to QR Codes) replaces their paper based system and allows you to use a mobile device as your boarding pass. The codes are available via their Mobile United web application (beta) on the iPhone, Blackberry and other PDA type devices.

It was very easy to get my code and the code can be used as a pass for both the TSA security line and the actual boardingUnitedMobile of the plane. All I had to do was access the United Mobile application, login with my confirmation number or email address, choose my flight, fill in an email address that I want the code sent to and request the code. An email is then sent to the address you entered at the prompt and within seconds you have an email with a link to the code. Opening your email and clicking on the link takes you to a page that displays your departure and arrival times, your seat assignment and your code.

I used he code only for boarding this morning and all I had to do was bring up the web page on my cell phone screen and swipe it over the reader at the gate. It took about 3 seconds for the reader to recognize the code and I was on my way to board the plane.

Keep in mind that in order to use this new feature, you need a data plan on your phone (it requires access to the web) and you need access to the email account that you tell United to send the confirmation link to. The code scan is only available in the following airports with more to come

• Chicago – O’Hare (ORD)
• Dallas – Fort Worth (DFW)
• Denver (DEN)
• Las Vegas (LAS)
• Los Angeles (LAX)
• New York LaGuardia (LGA)
• Orlando (MCO)
• Philadelphia (PHL)
• Phoenix (PHX)
• Portland (PDX)
• San Francisco (SFO)
• Seattle (SEA)
• Washington Dulles (IAD)

The process is pretty simple and works well. It will be nice to not have to carry another piece of paper on my trips.