Sunday, January 24, 2010

Our trip to Orlando

Okay, so it's only taken me two whole months from the time we took this trip to the time I finally got around to writing about it, but anyway...

Last November, Lori, Kirby, my mother, my father and myself all went to Orlando (my parents were there for the entire week; Kirby, Lori and I were just there for a few days). We had planned the trip several months in advance in order to catch a University of Houston football road game as well as take Kirby on his very first trip to The Evil Empire Disney World.

The first day we were there we went to the Magic Kingdom. Here, Lori and Kirby pose in front of the Dumbo Flying Elephant ride, which turned out to be one of Kirby's favorites:

The nice thing about visiting Disney World during the "offseason" is that the park is less crowded and lines for rides are much shorter. I was able to ride exponentially more rides during this trip than I was able to ride during my last visit there several summers ago. To be sure, there were still lines, and Disney's FASTPASS System came in handy on more than one occasion. We rode almost all of the famous rides, including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Goofy's Barnstormer roller coaster and, yes, It's a Small World. The only drawback was that my favorite Magic Kingdom attraction, Space Mountain, was closed for renovation. And, even though Lori and Kirby enjoyed it, I could have done without riding the Mad Tea Party ride. It made me a bit dizzy!

As night fell, the Cinderella Castle was let up to a stunning wintry effect:

Even though Thanksgiving was still two weeks away at that point, Disney had already bedecked the entire park with Christmas ornamentation, including these along Main Street USA:
The following day we went to Epcot. As was the case the day before, the relative lack of crowds meant that we could ride most of the rides, including my personal favorite, the GM Test Track. Here, Kirby stands in front of the iconic Spaceship Earth Pavilion.
We also spent a lot of time at the The Seas with Nemo and Friends Pavilion, which, in addition to a ride that Kirby wanted to ride multiple times, also included a large aquarium and a children's show that Kirby enjoyed. Here, the two of us "pose" with one of the sharks from the movie:

On Saturday, my parents, Kirby and I traveled to The University of Central Florida to see the Cougars take on the Golden Knights. UCF is as big in acreage as it is in enrollment (with 53.5 thousand students, it is now the third-largest university in the nation). It took us a full half-hour to walk from our parking garage to the campus stadium. That gave us an opportunity to experience the school's rather lively tailgating scene.

I had heard stories that recently-completed Bright House Network Stadium was a low-bid, aluminum "erector set" with inadequate amenities and seating areas that bounced. Upon visiting the stadium for myself, however, I discovered those stories to be completely untrue. The structure was sturdy, the sight lines were good, and the restrooms and concession areas were spacious and modern. Pretty good, considering its $55 million price tag. If the University of Houston plans to build a new stadium, they could do worse than to follow Central Florida's example:

To be honest, I had my doubts going into this game. The Cougars, ranked #13 at the time in the USA Today poll, were playing the second of back-to-back road games and were coming off an emotional and miraculous last-second win at Tulsa the week before, so I was worried that they'd be mentally and physically fatigued. My fears, unfortunately, proved to be true. After some initial success - the Coogs were up 17-3 midway through the second quarter - the team began to sputter. The Cougar offense got bogged down, thanks to a less-than-stellar outing by QB Case Keenum, three turnovers, some boneheaded penalties and some suspect playcalling. This put the game's burden on the backs of the beleaguered Cougar defense, who simply had no answer for UCF QB Brett Hodges or UCF RB Brynn Harvey. The Golden Knights took control of the game midway through the second quarter and went on a 24-3 run before Keenum and the offense could finally attempt a late comeback:
The Coogs scored the game's final 15 points, but the rally was too little, too late. Final score: UCF 37, UH 32. This was the Coogs' second loss of the season. It's hard to win when your offense can't protect the ball or control the clock. At least Kirby seemed to have had a good time, in spite of the outcome:
Big props to the UCF staffer who gave the four of us a ride in his golf cart across campus back to the garage after the game. I know he did it because he felt sorry for us but we appreciated the classy gesture nonetheless.

Lori and Kirby flew back to Houston Saturday afternoon. I stayed for one more night, and that evening mom, dad and I went to see the Blue Man Group perform at Universal Studios Orlando. We had an outstanding experience; if you ever get a chance to see this ensemble perform at any of their locations, I recommend you do so. I took this picture of Universal Studios from my plane's window as I departed Orlando the following day:

All in all, and in spite of the outcome of the football game, we had a good time. Kirby is already looking forward to his next trip to Orlando.

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