Friday, May 27, 2011

The Big Digital's Journey to the Magic Kingdom (but only to the gates) and His Less-than-Magical Return Trip

This week I went to Orlando for the very first time, but somehow managed to avoid ending up in any theme and/or amusement parks.  I was actually there for work to present my work with death certificates at a public health informatics meeting that was held in the Walt Disney World Swan hotel.

I got into Orlando late Tuesday after a relatively painless one-stop flight on US Airways. (Brief layover in Phoenix).  Talk about bare-bones, though.  Not even a peanut on a 4 hour flight from Phoenix to Orlando.  And they've even sold the tops of their trays to advertisers (Verizon).  Oddly enough, at the Orlando airport, they've sold advertising space on the inside of the security bins where you put all your belonging to go through the x-ray machine. (

Anyway, US Airways got me there before too late at night, and I shared a van from the airport over to the massive Disney complex with about 9 other people, some of whom were British 20-somethings coming to work summer jobs at Disney World. That might be fun, right?  Probably the highlight of the trip was one of the Brits, getting excited over what she thought was the big ball thing at Epcot, but actually turned out to be a water tower many miles away from Epcot. :)

That night, as I met with the other person I was presenting with, I discovered that staying at a Disney hotel means that there's no such thing as a Wendy's anywhere nearby.  I was pretty much stuck, food-wise, with the restaurants in my hotel, the restaurants in the neighboring Dolphin hotel, or the restaurants on Disney's "Boardwalk" area.  And the one that my co-presenter suggested was probably the cheapest actually charged me $14 for a burger with fries. Ouch. Thank goodness for travel reimbursement, amirite? :) Thankfully, once the conference started Wednesday morning, a lot of food was provided by the conference and a couple of the sponsors.

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Looking across at the Dolphin hotel from my room

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I could also see the Tower of Terror or whatever they call it at Disney World.

I gave my presentation Wednesday afternoon, and it went well, I think. Not a huge crowd by any means, maybe 12 to 15 people in attendance, but the last time I presented something at a conference, it was as part of an 8 person panel where there were a total of 9 people in the room (including the panel members).  After we presented our slides, we got a good number of valid and interesting questions, so that made me feel like the people who were there at least had paid attention and were interested in the topic.  Oh, and originally we were supposed to present Thursday, but at the last minute were switched to Wednesday (which actually was really nice given my tight travel schedule the next day) with the promise that the switch would be well advertised in the opening session. Then in the opening session they mentioned the switch, but got it backwards. :) I at least spoke up to say that it was the opposite of what the lady announcing it was, but that may have confused a few people who might have otherwise been in attendance.

The rest of Wednesday, with my presentation out of the way, I had a little time to relax and enjoy our surroundings. I went for a quick and sweaty jog (more in this weeks Y5K post), that included sights like the entrance to "Disney Hollywood Studios" (whatever that is) and then nearly all the way over to Epcot from there. I, sadly, did not realize how close I was, and didn't get to see it's trademark ball-thingy.  But I DID see a turtle by the side of the waterway, so that was cool. :)   After my jog and a quick shower, I hit the pool and hot tub with some fellow Utah informaticists, and finally a few of us took a Disney shuttle to "Downtown Disney", an outdoor mall of sorts with shops and restaurants and a smidge of entertainment here and there. They have a hot air balloon ride there, that I thought might be worth checking out, but it was running by the time we made it over there.  So we wandered around and eventually got some dinner at the House of Blues.

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The balloon ride

Thursday, I woke up bright and early (waking up on Eastern time always kills me) and headed down to the keynote/continental breakfast.  As I was waiting for things to get going, I checked my email and found, to my delight , that my direct flight home from Orlando to Salt Lake had been canceled for undisclosed reasons. I assume it was underbooked or something.  Anyway, I'd been booked, instead on to a one-stop flight that left Orlando about an hour later and arrived in Salt Lake 3.5 hours later than my original flight would have landed. Bit of a bummer there.  Instead of getting in at 8:18, I was now scheduled to get in at 11:51.  The friend who was going to give me a ride I know goes to bed early because she gets up early to teach school, so I told her the bad news and said I'd try to find someone else.  One facebook wallpost later and I was able to find a friend who didn't work on Friday who was willing to stay up and come get me. Little did she know what she'd be in for. More on that later....

I attended most of the conference for that day, leaving around 2:30 so I could go catch my van to the airport. The return trip was supposed to be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance and I'd made my plans before learning my flight was canceled/pushed back another hour, so I was kind of stuck with my time.  We made it to the airport around 3:30, quite early (even for Tripp standards) given my 6:30 departure time, and as I was checking in, the kiosk informed me that there might be earlier flight available.  All the ones it showed me were standby only, so I was hesitant to make a switch there at kiosk, wondering if it might somehow lose my reserved seat on the later flight.

After getting through security, I called Delta from a Delta "self-help" area and they added me to the standby list for an earlier set of flights that might get me to Salt Lake an hour earlier than expected.    Sadly...that was far from the ultimate outcome.  I hung around the gate for the earlier flight to see what my chances of making it standby were, and it soon became apparent that not only were there not going to be extra seats available, but also that this flight was going to be leaving around the same time as the flight I was already confirmed on. Atlanta was experiencing some rough weather and they pretty much shut down all incoming flights for a couple hours.  So we were all stuck there in Orlando waiting for the all clear.  At one point there were at least 3 planes sitting at the gates all scheduled to go to Atlanta. I started to get nervous that I'd have trouble making my connecting flight from Atlanta home to Salt Lake, but I (rightly, it turned out) suspected that everything at Atlanta would be delayed a bit by the weather trouble.

Eventually (about 90 minutes later than originally scheduled) we got to leave Orlando and head to Atlanta. Our scheduled arrival time was pretty much exactly the same time as the departure time for the Salt Lake flight, so I figured if it wasn't delayed I was pretty much stuck.  I'd been informed that my Salt Lake flight was the last one of the day, so if I didn't make that one, I'd be spending a night in Georgia.  Upon landing, and getting cell phone clearance, I texted Google for flight info and found that my flight had, thankfully, been pushed back about 40 minutes which would give me enough time to get to my gate without having to rush like a mad man through the terminal. Which was nice because, seriously, some people are slow. Just meandering around through the terminal with their bags and children and who knows what else.  As I hustled to my gate, I happened to notice Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks also headed somewhere. Cool. Moving on... got to my gate, and waited in the line to make sure I was booked on the flight. I was. Yes! Oh, but then the gate agent got on the intercom to inform us that the plane we were supposed to fly home on was "broke" and that she'd give us more info once she knew more.

I took advantage of the waiting time to take a potty break, get some dinner (at this point it was about 10:30 eastern time and I hadn't eaten in Orlando since everything was so up in the air the whole time), and keep my ride home up to date on the situation.  I even caught the last minute of the Bulls-Heat playoff game. I was clued in that it was going to be an exciting finish by a cheering crowd of spectators sitting at another gate. I was surprised that they seemed to be such fans of the Heat (since they're kind of the bad guys this year), until I found out they were all waiting for a flight to Miami. :)

Anyway, they eventually found us a plane to fly home on, and I settled into my seat, slept a few hours and before I knew was back in the friendly confines of Salt Lake International. Only 6 hours later than originally scheduled. :)  My friend Melissa gets mad props for coming to fetch me at 2:30 in the morning and being so kind and chipper about the whole thing.  It's nice to be back home.

Oh, and I'm leaving in 15 minutes to head up to eastern Washington for a wedding.  Yeah. It's been that kind of week. :)


Liz said...

Well, I'm glad you made it home temporarily. My thanks to Melissa for picking you up. Have a fun trip to Washington and drive carefully.

Kristie said...

That's almost the exact scenario I had on my way home from NYC. The difference was when I landed in Denver, I had like 2 seconds to get on my next plane. Flying is the worst, most stressful thing ever.