An Extended Stay in Florida – Day 1

Waking up, back in Ft. Lauderdale was sad to me, despite all the mess that had happened. I hate the “when it’s over” feeling and push to get off a ship. I could hear the planes behind me, preparing to land at airport. We were back at Terminal 29, the one closest to the approach path.

This morning, I would find out just how well Amit would be able to help us with our phone bill dilemma. I crept out of bed opened the door and reached out to grab the final bills. The phone charges would be on my bill as I was the main guest in the suite. Looking through the papers… Mom, good. Brian, good. Kristin, good. Then I came to mine, 2 pages worth (I spend money on cruises, aight?). When I got to the final figure, I wasn’t sure I read the whole bill right. Sure enough though, I was good. As a matter of fact, not only did Amit help with our phone bill, the charges for the phone were completely wiped from my account! WOHOO!!! Truth be told, I was prepared to pay the charges for the calls, but the fact now that I didn’t need to pay a cent was awesome!

Mom had woken up when I went to review the bills and was just as happy as I was to learn that Amit was able to strike the phone charges from my bill. Brian and Kristin too when they found out.

Mom and I had placed our suitcases out in the hall the night before (something I RARELY do) so that we could have a more relaxed time waking up, having breakfast, and leaving the ship. It was nice waking up and not needing to think about having packed everything, since I did it the night before. While Brian and Kristin stirred and gathered their belongings, I sat out on the balcony enjoying it for what it had been. It was truly nice to have, if only the weather had been a little more ideal.

After Brian and Kristin finished, we made a couple rounds of the suite before setting off for the last time. Our last breakfast in Windjammer as well. We took our food over to a table in Chops where we talked about the trip as others around us looked sad as well. Amit was running people to the debarkation area. During breakfast, I used my phone to book a rental car with Budget at Ft. Lauderdale airport. We’d need some way getting around at least. When we finished our breakfast, I thanked Amit profusely for helping me with the phone charge. We crowded into an elevator with others, took it down to deck 4, and began leaving the ship.

In the cruise terminal luggage was separated by numbers and tiers. Our luggage had pinnacle and suite tags. Because we were in a suite, our luggage was placed in a better area from where we’d be led to a MUCH shorter customs line. Customs itself was a breeze.

Once clear of the terminal, we boarded an airport shuttle, cramming the thing solid with others who’d already climbed in. Thankfully the trip to FLL was short, and our stop was the first.

The car rental building and lot at FLL airport isn’t the easiest to get to if you’re not leaving terminal 1. You can either wait for a bus that takes a long time to go a short distance, or walk that distance and use the walkway over in terminal 1. Once inside, there are 3 stories of rental car companies. That makes sense though with each company having a section of one level of the parking deck outside.

Check in with Budget was a breeze. The nice clerk from Jamaica was joking around with her coworker and it was fun to joke along with them. She offered me an upgrade deal and I swiftly took advantage of it. There was honestly no way that a compact like a Corolla would hold ALL our luggage. Although she pushed the new Chevrolet Malibu, the Toyota blood in me went for the Camry SE. Boy, was I glad I did too because we were JUST able to fit everything in the trunk. We were all also comfortably seated inside being that it was a mid-size. After packing the car with ourselves and our crap, we headed over to the Hilton Ft. Lauderdale Marina Hotel.

I had stayed at the Hilton Marina before in March 2015, so there were no surprises here. The only questions were, what time was check-in, and which section of hotel would they have us stay.

When we arrived, everyone but me hopped out and took our belongings inside. I went to park the car in the remote lot. The hotel automatically charges you for parking when you check in, so keep your parking pass and it will be applied to your account. The lot otherwise uses your room cars for the gates.

Back inside to meet with the others, we found that check-in wasn’t until 4pm. Our luggage was taken by a hop and stored for us while we waited a little while. We spent a little over an hour sitting in chairs in one of the corridors figuring out how to spend our evening. I made a reservation at the Mai Kai Polynesian restaurant for dinner while just hanging. There were many people coming and going at this time. Shuttles to the ships in port were calling for their passengers. There were two couples nearby who were in a similar situation to us. Their flight had been cancelled and they were trying to get back to New England. The husband of one couple was driving me up a wall with his constant pacing and worried theorizing of how they’d get home. It was making me anxious, I didn’t want to sit around there anymore but get out and see someplace. I didn’t really care where.

We decided we’d head to Sawgrass Mills for a little while to kill some time. I hadn’t been since 2001 and figured much had changed. After a 15 minute drive NW of the Port Everglades area, we arrived to the entrance featuring the same old alligator teeth logo. Getting around the mall itself wasn’t as easy as I remembered it. There was work being done on some sections, while other wings or terraces had been added. The only thing I remembered was the mall itself and the outside shops that were anchored by Ron Jon’s Surf Shop.

Parking was the hardest part of our time there. I had to drive around to where I figured would most likely find the emptiest lot, Marshall’s. We walked inside for a bit, Mom stopping at a Disney store before we paused for a snack in the food court. After a quick bite, we set off in separate ways to see what we could find. I was very surprised to find the mall much larger than I remembered or anticipated this visit. Easily double the size of Potomac Mills here in the DC area. Not only larger though, but overall nicer! There were fancier stores, nicer fittings, and overall more clean. My favorite part of the shopping center was the newer outdoor area, The Colonnade Outlets. All the high end brands like Gucci, Armani, Versace, etc… had stores here. This area featured valets to park your car.

I walked to the other side of the mall where the other outdoor section called The Oasis was. This is where I’d find Ron Jon’s, Old Navy, and the theaters. I remember this being here in the 90’s the first time I had come by this mall. I stopping inside both Old Navy and Ron Jon’s, picking up a couple shirts from each so I’d have some decent shirts for the following days in Florida. Stepping back inside, I decided to see what I could find for sunglasses. One of my addictions, buying numerous shades, was pulling at my wallet. At Sunglass Hut, I caved on a pair of Armanis, before meeting with the rest of the gang to head back to the area of the hotel.

On the way back to the hotel we made a pitstop. Kristin had mentioned she was really looking for some good seafood. Choosing wisely, she had us go to Kelly’s Landing. A true New England style seafood joint. Complete with menus featuring items in the “local dialect.” I had some very good clams, while others had lobster and fish dishes. Everything they were eating also looked and smelled good. I had an appropriate beer to accompany my clams.

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The hotel notified us that the room was ready as we finished. We headed back to the hotel. We found out that we were put in room 3130 of the East Villas. A ground floor room with a “balcony” that looked right into the pier behind it. Anchored to the pier was a massive yacht, the Star*Ship. The room was nice overall, but we noticed the plumbing was a bit odd. The handles for the shower were loose and could come off. When using the toilet, you’d have to hold its lever as it flushed. As it did, it howled rather loudly. Otherwise, nice room!

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CLIP – THE NOISIEST TOILET EVER

After waiting for a while, Brian and Kristin asked for a ride to the beachfront so they could walk around a bit. I dropped them off and went back to the hotel. Ships were beginning to leave Port Everglades and walked up on the draw bridge to catch them sailing off, taking their new passengers off on vacations. It was cooling rapidly and there was a good bit of wind so wind chill would have me miss Navigator of the Seas sailing.

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Once the sun had set, it became rather chilly. I went back inside for a while before getting ready for dinner. Brian and Kristin would have their dinner on the beachfront, while Mom and I went to the Mai Kai Polynesian Restaurant (and show). It was roughly a 20 minute drive north from Port Everglades. Upon arrival there was a line of cars waiting to for valets. I chose to tip the valet heavily and as a result he’d have our car right out front.

Inside the Mai Kai, it was a mad-house. There were crowds in front of the check-in counter, presumably those who were there for the dinner and dance show. After having to force my way past some people who were just standing around in the middle of the entrance, we got checked-in and brought to our table. Walking in the halls of the old restaurant was awesome. Fishing lanterns hanging from the ceilings, massive bamboo stalks, and really, really, cool tiki decor. We were seated in a less busy area of the restaurant that didn’t see as much of the show, we were just there for the food mostly and the “neat” factor.

CLIP – WALKING AROUND THE MAI KAI

We had a couple of servers that night. Two of them made no secret of the buy one, get one special that was listed on their site, yet acting like it was hush-hush. The drink menu was pretty neat and featured some cool drink mugs. I chose a rum drink that came in a barrel. The drinks came really fast, however, it took a very long time between food orders. As a matter of fact, it took so long, Mom and I considered walking out as she has reflux and shouldn’t eat after certain hours. Fortunately before it got that bad, we placed our orders, and had it come out an acceptable amount of time after. The food was pretty good, not outstanding, but tasty. The rum drink I ordered was just a little too heavy for my liking, so I couldn’t finish it. The little lamps on the table have shades that people write dedications or memories on. I did so as well, writing, “Happy Retirement Mom! 1/23/16” on ours.

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After dinner we walked through the outside courtyard area with the pools, waterfalls, and tiki god statues. Pretty neat at night and would be even more so during a Halloween party. Walking around inside, we passed the Polynesian show that was being performed, pausing shortly to watch it before moving on. Before leaving, we stopping in the gift shop where I purchased a barrel mug like the one I drank out of.

CLIP – POLYNESIAN SHOW

On the way back home, I discussed the options with Mom for what we could do to spend or waste time while in Florida. Brian and Kristin would be heading north to see her dad the next day. I would be just Mom and I hanging out in Southern Florida. I figured we could have a mini-road trip, and gave her a choice. Key West or a Disney Park. Both solid options with me leaning toward the former and her, the latter (she LOVES Disney, me… not so much). I told her that if she wanted to Disney, I would get to choose Epcot. As we pulled into the hotel, she smiled and said “Lets go to Epcot!”

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