Monday, November 21, 2011

A Disney and Daytona Interlude

The end of a long day at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World.
by Carol Joynt

On a business trip to central Florida, with an extra day and not too many miles between myself and Orlando, I decided to make a visit to Walt Disney World. It wouldn’t be a first – I’d been there more than a half dozen times since it opened in 1971 – but it would be a first visit in a decade. I was curious to see what was new, or not new, at the world’s largest resort and amusement park.

After all, Thanksgiving marks the seasonal migration south for all kinds of people; retirees, the so-called “snow birds,” but also families looking for holiday getaways. Disney is ready for them, all of them.

A measure of how good business is at Disney World, and business is very good, was that The Grand Floridian Hotel had only one room available, one of 867. I grabbed it. I like this hotel. It is one of only three hotels on the “Seven Seas Lagoon,” a man-made lake that is adjacent to the Magic Kingdom, and connected directly to the theme park via Monorail.
The car and monorail entrance to The Grand Floridian.
The view from the sandy shore of one of Disney's many lakes.
Another view of the "beach," with the Polynesian Resort in the distance.
The Grand Floridian from the interior plaza that connects the hotel's various buildings. In the main Victorian-style lobby it was full-on Christmas.
In the lush and well-tended garden beds, more holiday spirit. Flowers and landscaping are a Disney specialty.
Even the trash cans are well-appointed and ready for the holidays. The hotel's marina; all the boats are available for rental by guests.
Outside a ground floor room at The Grand Floridian.
The smoking terrace is stylish and has a gorgeous view of the lake.
The other two are the Polynesian Resort and the Contemporary Resort, but of 33 hotels on the thirty thousand acre property overall, The Grand Floridian is considered Disney’s most luxurious hotel. Rates start in the low $400s for a standard room and go up to $2300 for a club level “grand” suite.

The first thing I noticed upon entering hotel's towering lobby was actually not the towering Christmas tree (though it is impressive). What I noticed was the enticing aroma of maple. It is a maple-infused public area and that's not an accident. It's intentional. Disney studied us humans and learned we respond favorably to the scent of maple. It makes us happy and hungry, which explains why I broke training and ordered banana pancakes for breakfast the next day. I craved maple.
Housekeeping staff have head to toe uniforms that reflect the "Victorian" theme. A hallway inside The Grand Floridian. Cleaning and tidying up goes on round the clock. The dark objects on the right are strollers – a single and a double-wide.
Inside room 315.
The towels on the bed at The Grand Floridian Hotel
It’s Disney, so there’s a lot about The Grand Floridian that’s over the top, but it’s a very well run hotel: up to date, clean, heavy on service, gorgeous grounds, one of the great swimming pools, a spa and big gym, easy access to golf, lots of places to eat, shop, and to sit in the sun and read. It’s so well done that the fact children are everywhere is not an issue, whether you are traveling with or without children.

Don’t get me wrong. The whole point of Disney is children, and going with children is the best way to go, but it’s possible to be there without children and not feel weird. Walt Disney would want you to tap into your inner child and let go.
Ceiling detail at The Grand Floridian conference center.
The Grand Floridian "cafe," one of several dining options in the hotel, which range from casual to luxe formal, and there's also a cocktail lounge, Mizner's. Banana Pancakes at The Grand Floridian "cafe."
The resort's Azure Restaurant.
The main pool at The Grand Floridian at noon on a Thursday.
Pool towels neat and available.
I had only 24 hours and actually spent most of them by the pool and at the Seven Seas Lagoon “beach.” A secret to an adult visit to The Grand Floridian is that during the day, especially morning to early afternoon, most of the families are over at the theme park. The main pool is empty and quiet. They have a full service bar and food (hamburgers, sandwiches) can be delivered to your chaise.

The families show up mid-afternoon – the parents’ with their eyes popping out, and the kids tired and cranky. That’s when it’s a good time to take a visit to The Magic Kingdom. It will still be crowded, but not as crowded, and the wait times for rides can be as few as 15 minutes. In peak times the waits can be 40 minutes and up.
In the evening's an orchestra performs from the second floor terrace overlooking the lobby. In this instance the repertoire was all Christmas Carols.
The main pool is practically the size of a small lake and is open well into the evening for a late-night swim.
Another one of The Grand Floridian's restaurants, Narcoossee. The specialty is seafood. The view is of the lake and the Magic Kingdom, which has fireworks every night.
A table set for an evening party. In the distance, the Magic Kingdom.
A private party at The Grand Floridian as it gets started.
Boarding one of the boats that ferries guests from The Grand Floridian to other destinations on the lake.
This rack at The Grand Floridian's gift shop says everything about the random sudden needs of their guests: a child's toothbrush, Band Aids, Krazy glue, film, condoms, a corkscrew. Oh, and Advil.
My visit to the Magic Kingdom was at 3 p.m., in time for one of the Main Street parades. I also stopped in a café in Adventureland for a passable Nachos. Food in the theme park is designed for the palates of 12-year-olds. Be mindful of that, and don’t complain. If you hunt around you can find a turkey wrap or chicken salad, but most of the menus are standard fast-food fare.

To my eyes, much of the Magic Kingdom had not changed in ten years, or twenty  or thirty years. In fact, there were bits of infrastructure that seemed plain tired. The famous rides – Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain – are as they were. But I did notice a lot of construction. In fact, Disney is doing a $1 billion dollar rejuvenation, which will include new rides, including a new roller coaster. The work is expected to be done next year.
The famous Monorail runs directly from The Grand Floridian to the main gate of The Magic Kingdom.
Main Street, Disney World.
Nachos in Adventureland.
The logo.
The beautiful Merry-Go-Round.
Princesses are everywhere in the Magic Kingdom. The daily afternoon parade on Main Street, shot with the "1969" Hipsta film.
A friend who is a Disney executive took me to dinner at Citricos Restaurant in The Grand Floridian.  The theme is stylish but casual European, with an open grill and a good wine list. We had short ribs and a paired Cabernet. I said to him, “If you’re doing a billion dollar investment in the park then business must be good.” He said they are hitting new records and the projections for the future were even better. “Is that telling us something about the economy?” I asked. He said, “Yes. Disney is a consistent barometer of future economic trends.” Let’s hope he’s right.

The reason for my trip to central Florida was a book event in Daytona Beach. I was interviewed on a live radio program that was hosted by Marc Bernier at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, where students come to prepare for careers as pilots, engineers and astronauts. (Ironic, since I am a white-knuckle flyer). Even in the early evening it was buzzing with activity, and the distant sounds of jet engines starting or shutting down at the adjacent “classroom” airfield.  My escort, Tina Guerra, a senior majoring in aeronautical engineering, plans to apply for the astronaut corps.
Daytona Beach, the view from the balcony of room 315 at The Shores Resort & Spa.
The same view at sunset.
Night time, at the edge of the surf. That's the moon hanging over the sea to the left.
They put me up at The Shores Resort in Daytona Beach, which I’d been told is “the best” on the beach. I’ve been to Daytona only a couple of times in my life and I’ve never known exactly what to make of it, especially with cars being allowed to travel on the beach, but then cars rule in Daytona.

There’s a kitsch factor that is entertaining, but I gather one needs to be a racing car enthusiast to fully appreciate visits to Daytona. The speedway looms and is an impressive sight to see while arriving on International Speedway Boulevard.
The pool and beach from The Shores dining terrace.
The Shores resort, from the beach, where automobiles are as welcomed as people.
Daytona is car crazy, and here's a good example.
Mike's Galley, and yes the breakfast (eggs, bacon, grits, cinnamon toast, coffee) was just right.
Breakfast with the Beach Patrol at Mike's Galley.
Even in Daytona, as with Disney World, the holiday season had started. Decorations were up among the palms and in a town park was the sign “Happy Holidays.” As with all the photos in this story, I shot the almost woebegone holiday sign with the camera on my iPhone 4s, using the lens that comes with the phone but also the Hipsta App and a few of its film options, including Ina’s 69, Claunch 72 Monochrome, and Pistil. The period films seemed totally appropriate for Daytona Beach.

Regardless of the particular spot on the Florida map, it was a delight to be by the sea, under a warm sun. Better still would have been to head south rather than north when the trip ended.
Daytona feels so period, that it seemed the perfect place to shoot with various film options in the Hipsta App: Beach, lifeguard, The Shores in the background.
The Ferris Wheel on the boardwalk.
The window of the "NY Style Bakery."
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
4401 Floridian Way
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830

The Shores Resort & Spa
2637 South Atlantic Avenue
Daytona Beach Shores, FL 32118
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

Carol Joynt's memoir, Innocent Spouse, can be ordered from Amazon, HERE.