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Thread: Sue (Holland) Rayford, Treehouse Villas, January 14-18 2021

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    Sue (Holland) Rayford, Treehouse Villas, January 14-18 2021

    Who/When/Where:

    Who: Sue (62), DVC Member
    Holli (57), friend & co-worker
    Chris (34), my son
    Amanda (32), daughter-in-law
    Ari (4), grandson
    Dates: January 14 18, 2021
    Resort: Disneys Saratoga Springs Resort
    Experience: Very Experienced 18th stay at SSR but only 2nd stay in a Treehouse Villa

    INTRODUCTION:
    Its a new year hopefully 2021 will be a big improvement over 2020. Unfortunately, covid is still interfering. This trip should have been another concierge level stay at Jambo House very hard to get, requiring lots of effort. Thanks to covid, Jambo House isnt even open yet, and Disney isnt doing concierge level services anywhere yet. Seeing the writing on the wall ahead of the trip, I consulted with the others and canceled the Jambo House rooms moving us to a treehouse.

    However, a treehouse is not that big. Besides the master bedroom, the bedroom with a queen size bed only has that bed in there (no kiddie bed). The third bedroom is tiny, with just enough room for a set of bunk beds. Initially I thought that wasnt going to work for the 5 of us, since I generally dont like anyone sleeping in the living room. I booked Holli a separate studio even though it would be some distance away. However, it worked fine with her in the living room & sharing my bathroom when we stayed in Frans 2-bedroom at Beach Club in November. We talked about it and she was agreeable to the living room again so I canceled her studio. Itll be much easier all being in the same place, and she can use my bathroom for showers and if she needs a bathroom in the middle of the night the 2nd one is off the hallway (not in anyones bedroom). She & I arrive separately on Thursday, but the Hollands dont arrive until Friday evening.

    Im preceding the trip with dental appointments in Ft Myers, and hope to arrive between noon and 1pm. I booked an Epcot park reservation for me, assuming the treehouse wouldnt be ready that early. Hollis renting a car to drive down, so Ill need to meet her in time to return the rental car before 4pm theres a location at the Hilton in Disney Springs, which is pretty convenient. Well set up the faux concierge lounge that evening, although since were in a treehouse well refer to it as Tree Hugger Happy Hour (thanks to Cheryl for the name).

    Friday our travel agent Cheryl will join us for Tree Hugger Happy Hour and the Hollands arrive late (around 9pm). Other than making an early morning trip to Publix, we dont have any specific plans. I had a park reservation for Animal Kingdom but cancelled it prior to the trip. Holli doesnt have a park pass, and there was nothing over there I really needed to do. Plus, were having another big outbreak of covid at work right now, so its difficult working around calls and things that need to be done related to that.

    Saturday those of us with park passes have a reservation for Magic Kingdom. I may or may not join the Hollands there I thought I would for part of the morning, but its expected to be really cold! We plan to grill that evening, since theres a grill at each treehouse. Theres an amazing butcher/meat place near Chris & Amandas with the best burgers weve ever tasted. Well do that, along with the sides/other stuff Holli & I picked up at Publix the day before.

    Sunday is another Epcot reservation and another cold morning. Festival of the Arts is going on right now, which Amanda loves. Its my least favorite of the festivals, mainly because I dont care for the artsy food they have at the booths. Food & Wine, Flower & Garden, and Festival of the Holidays are much more my style! However, I do look forward to checking it out.

    Monday we all head home. Its a holiday for Holli and me, so theres rush to be on the road before dawn. Chris & Amanda have the day off as well, so theyve booked breakfast at Topolino (at Riviera) and then have a park reservation at Hollywood Studios.

    One of the biggest challenges with the treehouse villas is theres only 1 parking spot per treehouse. Its a real pain! To park 2 cars means youd be taking someone elses space, which isnt right. Guests with more than 1 car are supposed to park the extra car(s) at Saratoga Springs in the Grandstand section. For us, when Holli arrives well return her rental car and park my car at the treehouse. Friday sometime well move my car to the Grandstand, so when Cheryl comes shell be able to park at the treehouse. Shell likely be gone by the time Chris & family arrive with their car. Since bus transportation is a big pain in the butt when we go to any parks well go in Chris car. Sometime Sunday Ill move my car back to the treehouse so that Monday morning Holli & I can load up and go. Chris can then retrieve his car from the Grandstand for his family to load up. Owning the points (and paying the dues) has its perks <g>.


    The plans so far are:
    Thursday 1/14: Drive to WDW, Epcot, Tree Hugger Happy Hour
    Friday 1/15: Animal Kingdom, Tree Hugger Happy Hour
    Saturday 1/16: Magic Kingdom, Grill
    Sunday 1/17: Epcot, Tree Hugger Happy Hour
    Monday 1/18: Drive to Gainesville


    DAY 1 Thursday 1/14/21
    Who: Sue (62), DVC Member
    Holli (57), friend & co-worker

    Plan: Drive to WDW, Epcot, Tree Hugger Happy Hour

    Actual: This morning I was up bright and early to enjoy my usual routine of doing some jigsaw puzzles online, checking email, etc. Unfortunately the internet was down, and I couldnt really wake Chris up at 4:30 a.m. to ask why <g> so it was a disappointing start to the day. I finished up some work on a spreadsheet (for work) that was on my desktop, tried restarting the computer to see if that was the problem (it wasnt), and basically just sat around. I thought of setting up a hot spot, but couldnt figure it out from my personal phone, and when I tried the work phone it wouldnt work because theyve locked that down we cant text, set up a hot spot, etc.

    My dental appointments were 8:30 (hygienist) and 9:00 (dentist), and I wasnt on the road until nearly 10:20! Ive been in SW Florida since Monday evening, so Id had time to do a few other things and pick up any last-minute items for the trip. Since I stayed with Chris family, I brought up some of their stuff with me. I arrived around 1 and had gotten the notification at 12:15 saying the treehouse was ready!

    Since I had a park reservation for Epcot and had not canceled it, I didnt want to be a no-show. I also didnt want to spend a long time traveling on Disney transportation to get there. The best way for me to visit Epcot is via International Gateway, walking over from Beach Club Villas <g>. As luck would have it, a friend is staying there now and said it was fine to use her name & room number to get into the parking lot. That will let me make a quick loop around World Showcase without running out of time before Holli arrives. I drove straight to Beach Club without going to the treehouse, and didnt do a complete loop in the interest of time. Its cool enough that I wasnt worried about anything in the car.

    Epcot wasnt very busy, and I breezed right in. The cast member before the temp check asked me if this was my first park of the day, so I assume if I said no I may have had to wait until 2pm or somewhere close to 2pm. Since this visit would be very brief, I headed directly to Pop Eats and got the tomato soup with grilled cheese. At $5 its one of the lower cost items, and its also pretty much the only food item (vs desserts) I think Id eat. I took it over to a table and had my lunch it was actually very good. The soup did not come in a tin can, but rather one of the small white cardboard cups Canada uses for the cheese soup during Food & Wine.

    After eating I turned around and headed back to the International Gateway, got my car, and drove over to the Treehouse Villas. Holli got a later start than planned when she lost her house keys. I dont think shes found them, but maybe theyll turn up in something if she unpacks. I dragged all the stuff in my car up to the treehouse, taking 3 trips. Id forgotten how many steps there are, lol! It looks the same as last time, meaning its in need of an update <g>. Its very rustic, but it would be nice to have be a nicer rustic instead of looking so dated.

    At first I couldnt find a closet in the master bedroom and thought that was really odd, but then I found it behind the door to the bathroom. There are no drawers in the living room (where Holli will sleep), so I left 2 of the 4 dresser drawers empty for her in case she unpacks. Theres also a smaller piece of furniture with 1 deep drawer in the master bedroom, which she can have. The master bathroom is good sized, and has 2 drawers and 2 shelves in addition to the long vanity. I set my stuff on one end.

    The living room has a closet, but I left some room in the closet in my room in case she prefers to put her stuff by the bathroom where shell be showering. The other side of the treehouse has a small bedroom for Chris & Amanda and an even smaller one with a set of bunk beds for Ari. Amanda had bought Ari a plush of the lead guy in the Soul movie (the blue version) so I set that on his bed so hell see it when he goes in there. Across from these 2 bedrooms is the laundry room (stackable) and to the right is the other full bath it's accessible only from the hallway, and not from inside a bedroom.

    The deck has a round table with 4 chairs, and a bench off to the side. Perhaps well do the first Tree Hugger Happy Hour out there tonight! Its a shame were not overlooking the canal, though. The grill is just away from the bottom of the stairs, and they provide the grilling tools on the kitchen counter. I brought charcoal (the kind you just light the bag) and a torch.

    After unpacking I had time to quickly update the report, and I caught the last 20 minutes of General Hospital. Holli should be here by 3:30 at the latest, and we need to return her rental car before they close at 4! I decided to see if there were any parking spots at the pool (for our guest tomorrow night), so I grabbed my phones and walked over there. Just before I got to the pool Holli called to say she was in the Treehouse Villas complex but didnt know where to go. I gave her our treehouse number and turned around to meet her at the parking spots.

    Between the 2 of us we got all her stuff up to the treehouse in one trip, and after putting the wine and cheeses in the fridge we headed out to return her rental car. However, she needed to fill the gas tank first so we went to the gas station across from what used to be (and should still be) Pleasure Island (now Disney Springs). Since she was getting gas I decided to refill my tank as well. From there we drove to the Hilton at Downtown Disney.

    Id assumed there would be a parking attendant, but I was wrong. To enter Id have to take a ticket, and would be charged $22. Sorry, thats not happening. At this hotel now you pay $22/day to park whether youre staying there or visiting. I was trapped in the lane, with Holli behind me and another person behind her. I got out and told Holli I wasnt paying $22 to enter the parking lot, and she wondered if shed be charged as well (the rental car return was beyond the gate). I told her theyd no doubt validate hers. She couldnt back up, so I walked to the car behind her and asked the guy to back up so I could turn around. After a few maneuvers (due to being in the narrowest part of the roadway) I was out of there and drove around through the front entrance.

    I parked along the curb outside Benihana Steakhouse, figuring Id be out of the way, and texted Holli to let her know. Soon a Hilton guy came over to me but when I said I was waiting for a friend who was returning a rental car he said no problem and take as long as I needed. She had to wait to return the car, put the parking ticket in her pocket, and walked through the lobby to the front entrance and joined me at the car so no $22 for her, lol.

    We drove back to the treehouse and set out to show her around. We checked out the pool (not far) and then took the walking path over to Saratoga Springs. While walking over there we ran into an old DVC buddy of mine Evie! It was so nice to meet her like this. We wandered around part of the resort, going into the Springs area and checking out all the venues there. Holli really liked the resort. I agree its pretty & nice, but the drawbacks are the location is not good and the many bus stops make visiting the parks a big negative (just like Old Key West). However, for a resort stay this is very nice. We may end up back here in late May, since Jambo House concierge is NOT going to be happening, and all we have to pick from is this or OKW at this late date.

    After touring around we walked back to the treehouse and decided Tree Hugger Happy Hour would definitely be on the outside deck. Our neighbors across the street evidently had the same idea. Wouldnt it be fun if treehouses had a way to communicate & organize a neighborhood happy hour, or progressive dinner thing? Maybe not during a pandemic, but in a normal world that could be fun.

    Holli cut up some of the cheeses espresso bellavitano, chardonnay bellavitano, a certain cheddar, and garlic/herb spread. I arranged an assortment of crackers thats how we divide the labor <g>. Wine was the Governors Bay sauvignon blanc (Marlborough region), which is a favorite. We took it outside to the deck, and it was lovely out there.

    As the sun set it did get cooler, and eventually we moved back indoors. Although the treehouse is small, it has ample living room seating. I think theres more here than in the 2-bedroom villa at Saratoga Springs, which feels bigger. We spent the evening with tv, online stuff, chatting, and relaxing.

    Other than the dental delay, today was a great day. Work was an afterthought, because I didnt have time to keep up with it. Ill take some time for it tomorrow, and do our calls (skipped today) from here. The treehouse is terrific I just wish there was a bedroom/bath for Holli. A kiddie bed for Ari with the 3rd bedroom having an adult bed would be better for us. But, well make it work Holli is a very considerate guest and were all pretty easy going.

    Tomorrow we need to finish grocery shopping, and with the key fiasco Holli didnt have time to stop at Whole Foods as planned. Good news she found her keys in one of her bags. Theres a Whole Foods 19 minutes from here, so well head over there & hope theres also a Publix in the area. If not, well hit the Publix I know on the way back. Maybe well ride the skyliner for something to do. Cheryl will join us for the next Tree Hugger Happy Hour, and then Chris/Amanda/Ari arrive later.


    DAY 2 Friday 1/15/21
    Who: Sue (62), DVC Member
    Holli (57), friend & co-worker
    Chris (34), my son
    Amanda (32), daughter-in-law
    Ari (4), grandson

    Plan: Animal Kingdom, Tree Hugger Happy Hour

    Actual: Last night I watched a little tv in my bedroom but then I couldnt turn it off with the remote. It worked to turn it on and change the channel, but now its not working even though the red light on the remote lights up when I press buttons. Thankfully I found the button on the back of the tv and was able to turn it off manually! The bed in here is not a king, as the small room wouldnt have space for a bed that size. Maybe its a queen, but it looks more like a full. Its perfect for 1 person though, and very comfortable.

    It was a little cool, and Holli was using both extra blanket so I used my dvc bathrobe as a throw and well order a few more blankets today when housekeeping is working. I got up at 5, and again couldnt get the remote to turn on the tv. I discovered the button on the back of the tv functioned to not only turn the tv on and off, but it also changes the channel and adjusts the volume, so I was able to watch the local news while doing my online stuff. I made my cappuccino, and took it back to bed while I relaxed online. Id canceled the Animal Kingdom park reservation a few days ago, so I didnt have to worry about that.

    Just after 6:30 I took my shower & got dressed, then joined Holli out in the living room. She was already up & dressed, enjoying her coffee shed folded up the sleep sofa and put everything away. She went in and took her shower while I was rearranging the Memorial Day weekend trip (since concierge level would not be operating). I was able to move us to a 2-bedroom at Kidani Village for that trip well all have our own bathrooms, we can park in the shade under the building, well have the animals to view and room for the faux concierge lounge. I wasnt able to realign the points 100% to my liking, but I can call later and have member services take care of it. My AKV points have premium value to me since I use them for concierge bookings, so I only want the banked points (which would otherwise expire) used for this stay, and the rest my least desirable OKW points.

    Once Holli was dressed we headed out to get groceries for the rest of the weekend. The first stop was Whole Foods, where she got the pita chips she loves (we have hummus and buffalo chicken dip as part of the Tree Hugger Happy Hour supply) and a cracker assortment. We had a bottle of wine in there too, but they cant sell wine before 9am and it was only 8:42. Wow, crazy rules. Our next stop was Publix, so we figured wed get wine there. The cashier gave us directions, and Publix was pretty much right around the corner.

    Here we got all the stuff on the list, some wine, sundries & got to the register around 9:15 safe, lol! After loading it all in the trunk we headed back to Disney, getting caught by traffic caused by an accident on I-4. Thankfully it wasnt too long, but from the glass & debris on the road it must have been a real mess for the cars involved.

    After putting the groceries away in the treehouse we discussed options. Neither of us had eaten breakfast and I wanted to get something for lunch, preferably earlier rather than later since we were doing happy hour at 5. We ended up driving the car over to Saratoga Springs and parked it in the Grandstand parking lot right next to the entry to the walking path to the Treehouses. We took that path, and once in the treehouses took another path over the bridge that spans the canal, where the walkway connects Old Key West and Disney Springs.

    There was a sign that said there was no access to Disney Springs, but we decided to take our chances. I assumed with the silly temperature check nonsense they were not allowing entry from the back side, but we were willing to walk around the front to get to an approved entry point once there. As we got near Disney Springs they had a metal barrier with a no access sign, but it was just set up in the middle of the path very easy to walk around it. We did exactly that, and cut through the parking lot. Several cars were parked there. We asked a cast member where we needed to go to enter Disney Springs, and she pointed us in the direction of the garage and told us how to walk over there.

    At this point our 10:30 COVID call began, so we listened to that while walking. We were basically alone most of the time, so it wasnt disturbing anyone else. Inside the garage I failed the security check once again, even though I was holding both phones in my hand. Ive been setting off the beeper most of the time, and I have nothing metal in my bag. Even the cast members who end up having to search it comment that I really dont have anything in there and they dont know why it triggered the alarm. Oh well.

    We stood off to the side while the call wrapped up, and then we wandered around Disney Springs. We went into a few shops including World of Disney, and then backtracked over to Chicken Guy for lunch. I wasnt sure if theyd be pushing the mobile ordering thing too, but they welcomed us inside and told us where to stand to order at the counter. Holli got some type of salad with chicken. I got the 2-strip kids meal with a side of cole slaw. Holli secured a table outside, which I joined her. They ask for your name when ordering, so when its ready they walk outside calling out the name and bring the food to you it came out very quickly too.

    The food was good Id definitely eat here again. We talked about what to do next, and Holli picked touring the monorail resorts. We walked to the bus stop and took the bus to Grand Floridian, with a long wait due to a bus driver change (about 20 minutes after we boarded the bus). On the ride over she asked if wed seen all the dvc villas, and since wed skipped the Poly bungalow and never attempted Bay Lake Tower, that became the plan. We got off the bus at Grand Floridian and walked the path over to Polynesian, going into the lobby to the dvc kiosk. A very nice young man took us over to the bungalow, which was the one on the very end by the Ticket & Transportation Center.

    The bungalow is cute I actually liked it better than I did the first time I toured one. The cast member asked which I preferred bungalow or wilderness cabin, and I said the cabin. He said he liked the cabin better too. Since we were so close to the TTC we walked over there, where I failed another security screening and then boarded the resorts monorail.

    The Polynesian station is closed while the resort is under refurbishment, so the first stop was Grand Floridian. We got off there and wandered around inside, including browsing in Basin. It smells so good in there! Coming back outside, I expected to set off the security alarm again but I didnt makes no sense. We rode around to Contemporary and walked across the sky bridge to Bay Lake Tower. Down in the lobby they gave us the villa number that was open, and we rode the elevator up to see it a 2-bedroom villa. The dcor looked different from what I remembered from my last stay, which was quite a while ago. It seemed odd that the beds in the 2nd bedroom had no headboard just the wall. Other than that, it was nice.

    From there we walked back to Magic Kingdom and took a bus back to Saratoga Springs, getting off at the first stop (Grandstand) and taking the path to the treehouses. I caught the end of General Hospital, and Holli had a conference call at 3 so I half listened to that while updating the report. When she finished I called DVC at first the line was busy (bad sign), then I got through but it hung up, then I dialed back in to find a 55-minute wait. Ugh. But, I left it on speaker and figured Id see how it went. It was getting close to 4pm at this point, and HALs Nieuw Statendam was scheduled to depart from Port Everglades at 4:30 and we want to watch that (although its sad/weird with no passengers on board). I also have to meet Cheryl at the entrance at 5, so most likely even if it sails on time Ill have to miss the end of it.

    Holli & I prepared the happy hour platter around 4:45 and the Nieuw Statendam was casting off her lines so I put my laptop up on the breakfast bar/island so we could watch it while we worked. Just then DVC answered my phone call, and I explained to the cast member what I wanted to happen. She put me on hold and took care of it. This way all of my current year Animal Kingdom Villa points are freed up and can be banked into next year when hopefully concierge level stays will be happening. As soon as I hung up from her I saw Cheryl had texted saying she was 5 minutes away! Also, Chris & Amanda were texting saying they were getting on the road but theres an accident that will slow them down.

    I left Holli to watch the ship sail away and rushed out on foot to the entrance of Treehouse Villas to let Cheryl in. Were almost to the very back, so its about as far away as you can be. I forgot my mask and realized it halfway there, so I tried to look like I was exercising, lol! I was walking fast! At the entrance I could see a car parked off to the side and knew it was Cheryl. When I got there I had her go up to the gate and used my magic band to open it, then hopped in the car to ride with her to the treehouse.

    The HAL ship was still sailing, so we gathered up the food, wine, plates/napkins/glasses and went out to the table on the deck. I also brought the laptop out so we could finish watching Nieuw Statendam sail away a few crew the only people waving from the verandah staterooms. Once she sailed, I put the computer back inside. We had a lovely evening catching up and talking about travel and a host of other subjects. At one point the breeze picked up, which was part of the cold front that would be passing through tonight rain is expected around 9, which is when Chris & Amanda would be arriving.

    Around 7:30 Cheryl left to meet her husband at her resort, and Holli & I went inside. We put away the leftover cheese & crackers, and watched Wheel of Fortune before switching to HGTV. Chris & Amanda are due to arrive in Celebration at 8:30, where theyll charge the car for a half-hour (super charger), and will come here after that. Ill wrap up todays report now and finish up anything else at the start of tomorrows.

    Today was a great day relaxing, but we walked a LOT considering we didnt go to any parks (17,463 steps as of now). SB would not have wanted to be here doing all that walking, lol! Trying out Chicken Guy was a good move, and Holli got to complete her tour of DVC resorts. Were really enjoying the treehouse and the relaxing environment having Cheryl over for an evening at home was a great ending to the day!

    Tomorrow the Hollands are headed to Magic Kingdom I canceled my park reservation. Its supposed to be 41 degrees tomorrow morning, and I have no desire to freeze my way through the park. Holli & I will head out a little bit later and will tour the Skyliner area. Tomorrow night were all grilling here at the treehouse should be fun!


    DAY 3 Saturday 1/16/21
    Who: Sue (62), DVC Member
    Holli (57), friend & co-worker
    Chris (34), my son
    Amanda (32), daughter-in-law
    Ari (4), grandson

    Plan: Magic Kingdom, Grill

    Actual: Last night Chris texted around 8:35 to say they were at Celebration. Theres a Publix nearby so he asked if we needed anything from there. Wed already gotten all the groceries, but Id noticed that the bottles of wine Id brought over to Hollis house last weekend for her to bring up were not in the fridge. Evidently she put them in the spare bedroom to keep her new dog from messing with them, and then she forgot to bring them. I gave Chris the name of a couple bottles, so hopefully theyll pick them up and save us from overpriced Disney bottles.

    By 9:10 they were leaving the chargers to head to the treehouse, and they arrived by 9:15 or 9:20. We all visited a little bit, and they got settled. Ari chattered away, as 4 year olds do <g>. Eventually he had his bath and we all turned in to our respective beds by 10-10:30. I watched a little more HGTV before turning out my light.
    .
    I was up at 5 again, and made my cappuccino. I went out to the living room around 6:30 and Holli was already up. While she took her shower I made my egg and slice of bacon, then later she made an egg for her breakfast. Amanda and Ari were up round 7 or 7:30, and we hung out talking with Ari while he ate his breakfast and then got ready for the day. Chris had noticed the light that shines on the grill was not operating, so he called to request they fix it today and ordered a couple more blankets. As it turns out, this morning isnt the really cold one that will be tomorrow. But, Id already canceled my MK park reservation and really had no desire to go over there anyway, so I didnt bother trying to book it again. I told Ari Id go with them tomorrow for Epcot.

    They were out the door by 8:30, and Holli & I got moving and were out by 9:30. We walked over to Disney Springs and caught a bus to Hollywood Studios. Just as we got to the bus stop our bus was pulling in. We took it from the Springs bus stop, so from there we went directly to Hollywood Studios.

    At the park we walked over to the skyliner station and walked right onto a gondola. It was a nice but short ride to Caribbean Beach, and they had the windows closed up so it was comfortable. At Caribbean Beach I was shocked by the huge mob of people waiting to board the queue areas to get to either Hollywood Studios or Epcot both were ridiculously long! They held us back from even exiting, due to the crowds, but we finally got out of there. This is a nightmare, and I realized this is the first trip where most of these massive resorts are open. Before, it was nice because there were so many fewer potential guests.

    We walked around Caribbean Beach, letting Holli see what it looks like. It looks kind of cheap & tacky to me dont like the motel style, the pool areas are not very nice, etc. The outside pool bar/grill (Banana Cabana?) is a nice spot, and I didnt look at the main feature pool. We also didnt go inside the main building at all. We continued walking around to Riviera Resort, which is beautiful.

    Holli wanted some coffee, so we went up to the lobby to Le Petit Caf. Id planned to get one of the banana breads from Primo Piatto downstairs later, but they had one in the bakery case here. She got it for me, along with a chocolate croissant and coffee for her. We took our stuff to the lobby and I ate some of the banana bread couldnt resist trying it, although my intent was to get it for later. When she finished her stuff we continued over to the skyliner station, where there was a big long line (outside the station, extending down the walkway towards Caribbean Beach.

    They did have some empty gondolas saved for Riviera guests but it didnt seem to be any specific frequency. I was looking for any type of pattern, like every 5th gondola for example, but it seemed random. Thats weird, considering the only stop before us is the starting point, so they could easily manage this. Once we got onboard and started moving it was pretty chilly, so I stood up and closed the windows! Then it was nice again.

    We had a nice ride to International Gateway, and this area was more crowded than Ive ever seen it it was ridiculous! I sure hope this isnt what I experience when Im at Beach Club Villas in early March! We walked towards Beach Club and did a loop of the Crescent Lake resorts before catching another skyliner (no wait) back to Riviera. We walked around front and over to the bus stops, where we had the longest wait of the trip for a bus to arrive headed to Disney Springs.

    At Disney Springs we decided to not bother with anything there & just head back to the treehouse. I was curious how the line was at Gideons Bakehouse (cookies), which had their grand opening today at 10am. The physical line was long but much shorter than I would have expected, but then I noticed they were doing a virtual queue, and the people in line were there because it was their time. We later learned it opened with a 3-hour line, but it increased to ELEVEN HOURS. Wow not happening here!

    We headed towards the West Side, figuring wed walk back on the questionably legal path we took yesterday (around the barricade that said no access but, it didnt say no trespassing). We had to go up to the 2nd level of the Orange garage and we were shocked at the huge number of people arriving towards the checkpoint. There were easily several hundred, probably over 1000. Ive never seen anything like it, and didnt really understand it. We went back down to the ground level and found our way out of the building. Along the way we saw several individual cast members or security, and stayed clear hoping we wouldnt be questioned or turned back.

    Finally we found the West Side bus stops and the cast member there said something. With the mask I couldnt understand, but he was just confirming we were going to Saratoga Springs and wished us a good day. We got back to the treehouse around 12:30 and Amanda had just texted saying they were on their way back.

    Amanda heated mac & cheese for Ari, and the rest of us nibbled a bit here & there. They put Ari down for a nap and let him sleep on the top bunk. He spent a good amount of time talking to his friends 2 plush characters from the Soul movie before falling asleep. We all hung out in the living room, waiting to see when Ari would wake up after his late night last night.

    He was up a little after 3, with his hair all wild on top. He let his parents (napping in the next room) know he was up, then went to use the bathroom and wash his hands. He stomped out to the living room all upset because Daddy said he didnt wash his hands, but he did wash his hands. I asked if maybe Daddy was just kidding, since Chris definitely inherited the sarcastic humor gene must have been from his father since Id never exhibit such behavior <g>. Ari didnt think so, and was so upset. Then he learned Chris wasnt serious and all was well again trauma ended.

    They left to drive over to Animal Kingdom, where the wait for Expedition Everest was 40 minutes. Ari has been wanting to ride that since he was too short, and then last trip he was tall enough but it was down all day. Well see how he likes it Amanda expects some tears.

    I texted cruise buddy Fran to see if she was up for facetime later, and we set it for 6pm. Its been a while since Holli & I facetimed with her, and shes never seen Ari except in photographs. Amanda posted a video Chris took of her and Ari riding Everest, and they were the front row with hardly anyone else on the train. She said Ari cried, and when they got back around 5:20 Ari said he didnt like it because the Yeti was scary. Perhaps when hes a little bigger <g>.

    Holli & I tested preheating the oven to be sure it wouldnt be a repeat of Saratoga Springs. This oven is old though, and it heated up (for the tator tots) in normal time. It was too early to cook them yet, so I turned it off until needed. Chris fixed/seasoned the burgers and then put the bag of charcoal in the grill & lit it. He discovered the outside light still wasnt fixed, so Amanda called again he ended up having to grill using his cell phone flashlight. In the meantime Holli & I facetimed with Fran while Amanda fixed the tater tots and heated the baked beans.

    Dinner was excellent, as this beef is a mixture of ground beef and waygu beef and the ones they bought had bacon and cheddar cheese blended in with the meat. Holli & I had ours on a pretzel bun while Amanda & Ari stuck with the regular Publix deli burger bun and Chris ate his without a bun due to still healing from having wisdom teeth removed earlier this week. While we were eating we noticed a maintenance guy outside in the dark working on the light. He got it fixed, but at this point itll benefit the next guests staying here.

    After dinner we worked on a 200-piece Disney jigsaw puzzle Id brought, finishing that sometime after 8. Ari likes puzzles, and is very good at them. At this point he went for his bath and the rest of us were winding down. When he went to bed I retired to my room and Chris & Amanda did the same, letting Holli relax on the sleep sofa in the living room. Today was a really nice day, but it went by so quickly! This whole trip has flown by.

    Tomorrow Amanda is making eggs benedict for breakfast, then Ill join the Hollands for a trip to Epcot and the Festival of the Arts. Holli doesnt have a park pass so she plans to chill out in the treehouse and take a soak in the big jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom while were gone.


    DAY 4 Sunday 1/17/21
    Who: Sue (62), DVC Member
    Holli (57), friend & co-worker
    Chris (34), my son
    Amanda (32), daughter-in-law
    Ari (4), grandson

    Plan: Epcot, Tree Hugger Happy Hour

    Actual: Once again I slept very well, getting up at 5 to make my cappuccino to take back to bed. I got up again just after 6:30 to take my shower and get dressed for the day. When I came out Ari and his family had just gotten up, and Holli went in to take her shower. Chris and Amanda made eggs benedict for everyone, and they were delicious! Ive had them on cruises, but theirs were even better. With Chris healing from the oral surgery, he just stuck with the poached eggs and hollandaise sauce but the rest of us had the whole deal.

    It's chilly out today, which isnt much fun but its better than sweating to death in the hot/humid months. Chris recently bought 2 pairs of long pants (he only wears shorts, and scrubs at work) and came out in a pair of jeans. He looked so funny to not have shorts on as usual, lol! We relaxed around the treehouse until it was time to leave for Epcot around 10, and drove over in their car.

    We were held up at the entrance to the parking booths, but it started moving before 10:10. Epcot is barely a mile from Saratoga Springs, so it was a short drive. They have 4 parking We were held up at the parking booths, in a relatively short line. The park is only a mile from the Treehouse so it didnt take long to get over there. They were letting cars in before 10:10 though. At Epcot there are 4 spaces for electric cars, and theyre way up front. We went there and got the 3rd one (first 2 were already taken). From there it was an easy and quick walk into the park.

    The first order of business was riding Test Track since it would be Aris first time. We walked over there and joined the end of the line, which started moving before too long. Once inside the building Ari loved all the car stuff and thought it was really cool. When we got on the car and started the ride he didnt like it too loud, dark, and scary to him. I think its too loud, dark, and doesnt offer any real benefit I like the original version much better. The inside is just the boring part you have to put up with. Once outside he loved it thats the only part of the experience thats worth anything.

    Once back outside we walked out to World Showcase and started on the Canada side. Along the way to World Showcase we checked out some of the chalk art on the ground some very talented people out there!

    We stopped in France, where Amanda got the bread bowl w/melted brie and I got the molten chocolate lava cake. Ari saw the cake and wanted it, so I told him Id share it with him. It was rather small for the price ($7.75), even by Disney standards. I hope this isnt the sign of what to expect for Flower & Garden and Food & Wine this year. I would have expected to pay around $5.50 for it. It was delicious, though every one of us had some bites and really liked it. I tried a bite of the bread & brie, and it was ok. Amanda loved it, but she really likes brie and I really dont.

    We continued walking, and stopped next in America. It still wasnt crowded at this early hour, so it was really nice! The sun had come out and Id shed the jacket in the parking lot, and now I was regretting wearing a thin shirt under my spirit jersey. In America Ari got a blue frozen lemonade thing. Chris, Ari & I sat at a picnic table in the sun while Amanda went up to get food. She got the beef wellington shed been looking forward to, a strawberry beer, and one of the big chocolate chip cookies that is shaped like a painters palette and comes with a paintbrush and 3 colors of paint icing.

    Her beef wellington was outstanding, and seemed to cut like butter. She & Ari both enjoyed that. Chris also got Ari a side of mac & cheese from Sam Eagles smokehouse and I tried a couple bites. It was squiggly/corkscrew pasta and it was excellent. The cookie was a hit as well, although not something Id ever get for myself (too big). I think Chris & Amanda ate most of it, but Ari finished it when he was done with his lunch.

    When we left there it was noticeably more crowded. We walked through the caramel store in Germany and Chris bought something for later. While in World Showcase we saw both cavalcades a couple times. By 12:30 it was remarkably crowded yes, I know its a holiday weekend but this particular holiday never used to be such a big deal and neither did this festival.

    Chris wanted to try the orange chicken in China (counter service) but didnt want to hold us up while he ate, so he went there and Amanda & I decided World Showplace would be a pleasant diversion. Plus, theres a blood orange food item she wanted. Id thought about the chocolate taco in Mexico, but the line was so long I gave up on that immediately. I couldnt believe the crowds of people everywhere, and the wait times for the attractions. The wait to get into the Mexico pavilion was crazy, too!

    At World Showplace it was more crowded than Ive ever seen, for any previous festival, and there was nothing going on. They only have 2 booths for food (instead of 4) and one of them is 2 versions of steak tartare (raw steak not something everyone eats). That one had no line. The other one (where the blood orange thing was) had the queue space completely filled in, and the line outside extended way back towards the entry/exit part of the building. Amanda said no way. We stood at a table for a while, thinking either Carol Stein would start playing or the Cirque-type artists would do their stuff, but instead we had cast members moving crap from one part of the stage to another. That didnt make any sense, and when they finally stopped, still nothing happened in terms of entertainment so we decided to leave.

    Chris at this point was somewhere in Morocco, looking for something a friend asked for, and I guess he found it because then he texted that he was a ridiculously long and slow-moving line to pay. We stood around waiting, and I decided Id had enough of Epcot and would just take the bus back to the resort.

    Amanda, Ari & I decided to check out the Paint by Numbers thing, which Amanda had been talking about and looking forward to. Its over by the Land this year. We get there and the wait is estimated at 20-25 minutes to get your paintbrush and little thing of paint so you can go to the wall. Amanda & Ari stayed, and Chris joined them there after Id left. As I got to the bus stop I could see the Saratoga Springs bus turning the corner, which was a pleasure to see. After loading me and one other party we were on our way back to Saratoga Springs.

    I got off at Grandstand (1st stop), walked to my car and drove back to the treehouse. Holli was doing stuff on her ipad, and housekeeping had already come by to do the trash & towel. I joined her in the living room and updated the report, glad to get it all caught up before the others got back. I also got the photos off the camera and uploaded the ones for the album. When Chris & Amanda got back they left their car at the Grandstand and walked over.

    Theyd been able to renew their passes with a cast member at Guest Services, because they always had trouble with the website (one of their passes was on a separate contract). It was 3 days before the date they could renew, but the cast member relented <g>. They also did the moving in the Land, Living with the Land boat ride, and went in the Seas to look at the fish in the aquarium. The line for the ride was way too long.

    Im not sure what time they got back, but it was before the traditional dinner time. Theyd had a good time at Epcot, and thats all that mattered. Theyll be back in a few weeks with Amandas mom, so they can do what they missed then.

    We hung out in the treehouse and just before 5 Chris & Amanda were on the Disney app looking for a mobile order at Artists Palette, while Holli & I prepared the indoor tree hugger happy hour (it was chilly outside). Chris & Amanda left to get their food, leaving Ari with us. He was watching Disney Junior on tv, but he came over frequently and was filling up on various cheeses and salami. At Old Key West Id cut cheese to form his name and hed remembered that, so I did it again here.

    Chris & Amanda left as the bus was arriving, so they were able to catch it, get their food, and return while the bus was still at the bus stop to take them back to the treehouses. Amanda was not happy with the pepperoni pizza shed ordered it looked nothing like the photo on the app plus it had onions in the sauce. Eventually she did the chat feature and then got a call from a manager & received a credit for the $9 the pizza had cost. She ate a scraped off piece, but thats is. Chris had chili, which he ate. For Ari they heated up Chef Boy R Dee beef ravioli. I think he was somewhat full from all the cheese and salami hed eaten, but Holli played mind games and he finished the ravioli.

    We had a great evening, and at one point Ari was going to marry Holli, then he got engaged to me, and then gave Holli an even bigger play-doh ring. When he went to bed Im not sure who was going to marry him, but probably nobody at this point. Chris was watching the Saints game in their bedroom, and after Ari went to bed Amanda joined him. Holli was ready for bed by 9:30 so I went to my room and we all settled in for the night sadly, our last night here in the treehouse.

    Other than the horrific crowds at Epcot today was a really nice day. I enjoy the company of everyone here. Tomorrow the Hollands are headed to Hollywood Studios they canceled the Topolino breakfast reservation and booked lunch at Mama Melrose. Holli & I will be heading back to Gainesville in the morning, since we both have stuff to do.

    DAY 5 Monday 1/18/21
    Who: Sue (62), DVC Member
    Holli (57), friend & co-worker
    Chris (34), my son
    Amanda (32), daughter-in-law
    Ari (4), grandson

    Plan: Drive to Gainesville

    Actual: I was up at the usual time, doing the usual stuff. Today though it was nearly 7 before I went out to the living room. Amanda used my computer to make the selection for school choice for Ari he starts kindergarten in the fall. Where did the time go??

    I had an egg and piece of bacon for breakfast and packed up the rest of my stuff. We didnt really do much of anything since we all had stuff to pack up and needed to be out of the treehouse by 11. After saying goodbye to everyone, Holli & I were on the road at 8. The others were going to Hollywood Studios (couldnt get Rise at 7am) and having lunch at Mama Melrose (they canceled Topolino breakfast).

    The photos (same album shared on facebook) are on snapfish at https://www.snapfish.com/share?via=l...87060/SNAPFISH

    Overall this was a really nice trip, and the treehouse worked out well even with the parking limitations. I only went to a park 1 day, though. The crowds were a huge disappointment, both at the skyliner stations and at Epcot. With the physical distancing (which is a good thing), things take longer example, the skyliner only putting 1 party into each gondola means it takes longer to get everyone transported. The Epcot problem wasnt due to physical distancing it was just too crowded too many people. 35% of maximum capacity is a very crowded situation. The treehouses were sold out this weekend, but since everyone tends to just hang out at/in their own unit its not a problem. Luckily for us our treehouse was not far from the walking path to the Grandstand, so having one of the cars parked over there wasnt a big deal.

    I have no trips in February, but I will be back for the opening of Flower & Garden Festival on March 3rd. Thankfully that trip will be at Beach Club Villas, and will be Wednesday through Friday nights. That should be better than the weekend! I wont see the Hollands again until we all go to Hilton Head in early May with Pete & Judy.

    Thanks for reading, and stay well!

    Sue (Holland) Rayford
    WDW1972

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  3. #2
    Self-Proclaimed Disney Queen! Pammer's Avatar
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    Sacramento, CA

    Thanks for another great read, Sue! I will be at Epcot on March 4th, so we may accidentally cross paths! My park days will be mostly weekdays, so I'm hoping they won't be as crowded as yours was this trip...Touring Plans says Epcot was a 4 the day you went, so that may explain the crowds you saw.

    Pam
    DL trips: too many to remember actual dates, but they began in the 60s!
    WDW trips: 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013



  4. #3
    MousePlanet Columnist
    Join Date
    Apr 2001
    Location
    Florida
    Quote Originally Posted by Pammer View Post
    Thanks for another great read, Sue! I will be at Epcot on March 4th, so we may accidentally cross paths! My park days will be mostly weekdays, so I'm hoping they won't be as crowded as yours was this trip...Touring Plans says Epcot was a 4 the day you went, so that may explain the crowds you saw.
    Epcot (World Showcase) will be my main focus, hopefully after enjoying a morning by the pool if weather permits. I love dusk at Epcot too! Please say hi if you spot me.
    Sue (Holland) Rayford
    WDW1972

  5. #4
    Self-Proclaimed Disney Queen! Pammer's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Sacramento, CA

    Will do!

    Pam
    DL trips: too many to remember actual dates, but they began in the 60s!
    WDW trips: 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013



  6. #5

    I couldn't quite tell: Did Ari get to ride EE in DAK?

    Trips to DL: 2x 1978-1988, 90, 95, 98, 99, 00, 05 (2x), 10, 12, 15, 16, 17(2x), 18, 19(2x). WDW 11/2020.
    Me: 46, DH: 49, DD: 16, DS: 13

  7. #6
    MousePlanet Columnist
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    Apr 2001
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    Yes, he did. He thought the Yeti was scary, so not sure he'll be rushing to ride it again on their next trip, lol! 2 trips before he wanted to ride but was too short - he cried because he couldn't ride. Then, the trip before this one it was down all day, so he didn't get to ride again. Finally he did it this trip, along with Test Track for the first time too.

    Sue (Holland) Rayford
    WDW1972

  8. #7
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Location
    Drexel Hill, PA

    I lost track of this site for a while so it was fun catching up on a couple reports from you. Your reports are so detailed I can imagine all the places you write about. I have a long trip starting 10/29 this year and we will have a car this time. We are going to try to go to character warehouse for the first time. I have read your comments about going there but I didnt realize there were 2 locations. Do you mind letting me know which one you go to? If you go to both is one better than the other? Thanks for sharing your trips with us.I feel like Im watching Ari grow up


  9. #8
    MousePlanet Columnist
    Join Date
    Apr 2001
    Location
    Florida

    I hate I-4, so I typically go to the closer one, in the Premium Outlets there in Lake Buena Vista (off Vineland). International Drive has always been a nightmare to me. The bad parts about the Premium Outlets is they charge to park unless you get there early for one of the free spaces. Sorry, I refuse to pay to park in wide-open central Florida in order to shop! That's just really tacky of the outlet mall. Then, the last time I went (well before covid) the line to get in was an hour or more long, and then the merchandise was largely gone - thanks to some underground internet group of Disney fans who learn what's being released then get in & buy it all up, presumably to sell at a profit on the resale market. That was a huge turnoff, so sadly I have been back since.


    I did read someone's report recently where they went and had an hour wait to get inside, so not sure if the same nonsense is happening or if that was just due to limited capacity from covid.

    Sue (Holland) Rayford
    WDW1972

  10. #9
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Location
    Drexel Hill, PA

    Thanks for the info


  11. #10

    2 things:

    I think Tree Hugger Happy Hour is my new favorite Disney term and I want to try it.
    The selections you had on your cheese and crackers plate looked far superior to anything one can order, and despite having already brushed my teeth I'm tempted to re-create one right now with what I have on hand, at 9:30pm! LOL

    Thanks Sue!


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