Orlando: The Swan and Dolphin Resort and Universal Studios

Orlando Travel Blog

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Sunday the 15th (tax day!) the husband and I left for Orlando. My employer sent me there for a SAS programmer’s conference and Jonathan (hubby) tagged along since there was no extra charge at the hotel for him to do so. We had dropped off our girls (the puppies) at their Aunty Anna’s house the night before to be petsit while we were away. We were a bit worried because it was raining when we arrived in Florida, but it stopped by the time we got to our hotel. We stayed at the Swan Resort on the Disney property. Very lovely landscaping and a beautiful hotel.

We checked into the hotel and then took a cab over to Universal Studios for the day. Neither of us had been to Universal in Florida before so it was a new and exciting experience. The tours and rides were great. My favorite was the Twister tour, which set you in the scene of the movie Twister and gave you goosebumps while the tornado was brought to life around you. We did some shopping for friends and family at the various gift shops, including the Hard Rock Café and then we took time to slow down the pace and enjoy a leisurely dinner. We dined at Emeril’s restaurant. We had both been wanting to visit one of his restaurants for several years, ever since we fell in love with him on the food network. I was actually disappointed in my menu selection, but it was my own fault. I have never like gnocci but I just assumed it was because I had not had it cooked authentically. So when we ate at Emeril’s I ordered the gnocci dish because I figured a great chef like Emeril would probably be making it authentically. Guess what? I don’t like authentic gnocci any more than I like the cheap diner versions of the dish.

We took a shuttle van back to our hotel and relaxed in the outdoor hot tub. It was after hours, but a woman working for the hotel said we were fine to swim as long as we didn’t disturb other guests. The resort pool area was pretty extensive. 3 hot tubs, at least 4 pools (one grotto pool with a waterfall), and a sandy man made beach area.

Monday morning I completed my registration and orientation session for the conference and then we were off in a shuttle van to Universal for another fun filled sunny day. This time we spent the day in Adventure Island, riding all the coasters. The park was pretty empty since it was the week AFTER spring break and we hardly ever had to wait more than 10 minutes in line for a ride. If you go, I highly recommend the fire and ice dragon coasters. Fantastic looping steel coasters that make you feel like you are flying. The only coaster I didn’t like was the Hulk- it caught me off guard in its sudden burst of speed in the beginning and I never recovered. It made me feel discomforted the way hearing news of an animal being tortured does. I can’t explain it better than that- it just made me anxious. After the rides on this day, we spent the evening in Margaritaville (bar/restaurant) eating fabulous food and enjoying live music. The people there (they call themselves parrotheads?) were STRANGE. During the famous Margaritaville song this middle aged woman got up and shook her salt shaker and chanted “salt salt salt” while others cheered her on. Still, the music was relaxing and the food was so good! I thought of my friend Joanne back home who calls herself a parrothead so I got her some nifty souvenirs from the place as I wasn’t sure if she had ever been there.  We made it back to the hotel in time for the opening night presentations of the conference (the conference officially kicked off that evening) and then enjoyed the conference after party until late that evening.

Tuesday was my first full day of conference seminars/classes. I learned a lot, met some great friends and really enjoyed the productive time. Jon relaxed by the pool/went to the gym/caught up on napping and reading while I was busy with the conference. We did make time to meet for lunch at the outdoor cabana by the pool and then we caught up together again after the conference activities. We took the conference chartered bus over to Downtown Disney and enjoyed an evening of live music, more shopping, and dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant. You know, it was awful food. I thought it would be great- this is the man that can make tomato soup in a can taste good- but it stunk. Overpriced, overcooked and generally unappetizing. I would have been really sad if I had been paying for dinner instead of my employer. (It sort of made it a pain though because at every restaurant Jon and I had to get separate checks). Tuesday after we got back to the hotel we tried to spend some time hot tubbing again but got kicked out of the pool area by a very snotty security guard who didn’t care what “that other hotel lady told” us because “she was wrong”. At this point Jon and I were NOT happy with the hotel overall. Jon griped every morning that he couldn’t believe such an expensive resort didn’t serve free continental breakfast and that ALL the amenities were nickel and dime affairs that cost extra. We did get access to the gym and free internet, but only because SAS sponsored that for all attendees of the conference.

Wednesday was more of the same in terms of conference activities for me. Jon took off for the day to go to Disney’s Blizzard Beach and reports he had a swell time. He rode one of the tallest water slides in the world there. (It was more fun for him not to have me there since I am terrified of water park slides). I DID have an interesting experience Wed morning. First I was bummed because it looked like the conference was not providing breakfast that day for attendees as they had before. There was nothing setup outside the main lecture hall. So I went to the hotel lobby bar café and got a bagel. Then I go upstairs to the classroom and there is the breakfast laid out! Grr, money for nothing. I go into the class and sit down and pick up my bagel out of the bag the lobby café had given me. As I am putting it in my mouth THIS GIANT COCKROACH IS CRAWLING ACROSS THE BAGEL TOWARD MY FACE. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! I let out a shout, disturbing the presentation and getting strange looks from my fellow attendees. I was still mad about the treatment from the security guard the day before and now this. I had it! I went to the registration desk and complained to the guy on duty. I brought him the bag with the bagel and the roach inside. He screamed like a girl when he opened it. He apologized and tried to bribe me into being happy with a $50 gift certificate to the hotel gift store. Ok, that helped a little, but I still would never stay at the Dolphin again or recommend the place to anyone.

Wednesday evening was the big BIG dancing and drinking party put on by SAS for the conference attendees. It went until well after 1am and there was a lot of alcohol. I stuck to just one drink but got my kicks out of these plastic ice cubes that had flashing lights inside. They were provided by Comsys and they blink when you drop them in liquid. Flashing pink- very cool! There were 3800 at the conference and pretty much everyone showed up to get toasted at the party. There was a lot of strange dance moves, with attendees coming from 44 different countries. I sat at a table of men who worked for SAS in the office in Sweden and they had lots of questions for me when they found out I was American. “Where is Washington, D.C?” “Where are Boston, NY and Seattle?” “Do you own a gun?” “Does your family have lots of guns?” “Have you ever shot anyone?” “Do you know where Europe is?” Etc. Made for lots of interesting conversations. We struck up a good debate on socialism, gun control, and national defense policies.

Thursday morning I finished up my SAS classes and that afternoon Jon and I caught a flight back to D.C. We didn’t get back until after 1am between the layovers, getting luggage, etc.

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photo by: Reephboy