Part 1- STS-132 launch from a first timers point of view. Please skip to post 2 on for Disney World TR
I just came back from an incredible weeklong trip to Orlando and WDW and I just wanted to share some of the joys that I experienced on this trip with you my Mice Chat friends! Long version but I hope you enjoy it.
The purpose of the trip was two fold, the first was to see one of the final launches of the Space Shuttle. The second was to experience the magic of the Walt Disney World parks.
I was fortunate enough to secure two tickets to the Kennedy Space Center Causeway for the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis. Getting the tickets for the launch was for me a blast to the past to the 1980's day's of trying to win concert tickets from radio stations. The original ticket sale for STS-132 went on sale at 8:45 am Florida time, which meant that I had to wake up at earlier, then 5:30 am to prepare my computer and my phones for the "lottery" to obtain the Causeway viewing launch tickets.
The Kennedy Space Center ticket site, crashed under the immense load of prospective ticket buyers, I had then spent about 2 hours using my multiple landline and cell phones to attempt to reach a human at the Space Center. After finally not getting a busy signal, navigating the phone tree, waiting on hold for over 1 hour and reaching a human, I was told that the ticket sales were canceled due to the computer crash and they would be setting a new ticket sales date in the next week. Strike 1!
Well the new ticket date was announced via Twitter and the web site, so again I woke up 1 hour earlier in the morning to prepare my girlfriend and my self’s computer, landlines and cell phones to attempt to purchase 2 tickets for the causeway viewing at the Kennedy Space Center.
The ticket sales via web were now being handled by a ticketing agency that had much more server bandwidth although tickets were being sold on a "Lottery" Basis, meaning that by logging into the site you were not guaranteed a ticket unless you were randomly selected by the computer! I logged into the site and was told to "Please Wait” Judging from the twitter messages it appears that the tickets had been sold out via on-line in a matter of minutes. But thankfully I had also been dialing the phone line ticket sales and after easily a few hundred busy signals, I somehow magically made it to a live operator who happened to still have 2 tickets remaining! It was just like the old days of trying to win concert tickets from a radio station! I won! Although of course this time I had to pay for the tickets!
Thankfully we were able to obtain these tickets the "real" way and did not have to pay scalpers the 500+ dollars a TICKET they were trying to sell each Causeway ticket for! It really is a shame that so many of the tickets are sold to Scalpers who just end up reselling these tickets for astronomical prices. It is so unfair, but that is for another post I guess!
Either way we had just secured our tickets for Space Shuttle Atlantis's final launch! We now had to book our tickets to Florida! While so many people mention that you should not make plans around a Shuttle Launch since there are so many ways that a launch can be postponed, scrubbed or canceled, we decided we were going to take that chance! Through an on-line travel company we secured 2 direct flights from Los Angeles to Orlando along with 6 nights of a nice 3 star hotel near Disneyworld for about 500 dollars each! We were very happy with that!
We arrived Thursday night from Los Angeles to Orlando; we quickly rented our car, which was upgraded, to a very nice car for no extra charge! Thanks Alamo! With the help of our GPS we brought from home we were quickly on our way to Wal-Mart to purchase some provisions and lawn chairs for the Friday launch! We finally made it to our hotel, checked in and went to sleep at about 10:30pm; we had a very early day ahead of us so we needed our sleep!
Friday morning 4:00 AM, Orlando time 1:00 AM Los Angeles time! We are awakened by our multiple alarms that we set to ensure we made it up!
Quickly jumped in the showers and got into our cars for the 1 hour drive from the Hotel to Kennedy Space Center! We had to be at the Space Center at 6:00 AM so we left very early to ensure we would have no problems getting there on time. Thankfully we left early enough and there was no traffic, so we made it to Kennedy Space Center a bit early and secured rock star parking at the center.
Once we made it into the Space Center and passed security we had a number of hours before we needed to board busses for the Causeway, Since I have read on multiple sites that there is always a very good chance a launch will be scrubbed, we decided to wait until about 2 hours before the launch to get to the Causeway incase the launch was scrubbed so that our tickets would not have been invalidated (you can purchase new tickets to the Causeway for $25 dollars in case of scrub but they are limited supplies, we did not want to take any chances) This probably was not the best option since it meant that we did not get the prime Causeway spots, (which ultimately did not affect us but it did require us to walk far from the bus to get to a good location, since there were brushes that were obstructing our view where the bus had stopped) Hindsight I probably would have boarded the bus a bit earlier but it was not a big problem.
While we were at the space center prior to boarding the bus to the Causeway we took the Kennedy Space Center Bus tour, which was abbreviated due to the impending launch (no visitations of the Launch Pad obviously) Although we did get to visit the Apollo Launch Museum and visit the Space Station processing bay's. It was very cool to see and also very bitter sweet to hear about how many people will be losing there jobs once the space shuttle program ends next year very very unhappy about that but that is another topic altogether.
The tour was incredible, once back to the Space Center we boarded the bus for the Causeway, it was incredible to be at such a historic place and time, My eyes were welling up with emotion. We put our chairs down on a spot which I at first thought was a incredible view of the Launch Pad, but after looking at the pad for a minute through my camera, I realized that there was no shuttle at the Pad I thought I had a fantastic view of! Thankfully I realized this about 1 hour before Launch! Unfortunately since we got on the bus late we had a small island/bush out in the water that blocked the Atlantis Launch pad from our location, so we had to walk about 10 minutes in the other direction and find a spot where we would be-able to have a clear view of the correct pad from! I am so glad I figured that out early enough!
Magically we found a spot to watch the launch from unobstructed we were ready for the final countdown at which point word was getting around that at T-5 Minutes there was a potential scrub issues due to a loose ball bearing that was found! Oh no! We were beyond tired at this point since we had woken up very early for Orlando time let alone LA time. We were running on fumes at this point, please oh please let there be no scrub (of course safety is the number 1 priority but I still was hoping the launch was a go!)
Thankfully the countdown continued and everything was a Go for launch!
We were at T minus 10 seconds, everyone was counting down together and there was the ignition, the giant plume of smoke and exhaust and the Fire illuminating my forward view, then majestically Atlantis rises into the sky, tears welling from all our eyes as we watch her climb higher and higher, then comes the roar of the engines the rumble of the immense power of the Space Shuttle and her gigantic engines. We are all overcome it is like a dream, I am really here standing watching this historic occasion, fulfilling a dream of mine and a long time dream of my girlfriends Grandfather who sadly did not live long enough to experience a shuttle launch himself.
We all continued to watch the Shuttle climb higher and higher until it was no long visible or audible, the smoke and the trail filled the sky and then it was now time to pack up our things and head back to the bus. What a incredible moment, God Speed to the Crew of the Atlantis-132 what a incredible launch it was.
Once back at the Kennedy Space Center we spent the rest of the day taking in the various exhibits and attractions including the, Launch Simulator attraction (think of a more intense Star Tours type of simulator, very cool) We watched the IMAX documentary on the Hubble (AMAZING! You must see this, it is incredible!) overall we had a mind blowing, immensely rewarding day that I am so ever grateful for having had this opportunity to experience with my own two eyes.
After staying till closing of the Space Center and a bit of a nap we drove carefully back to the hotel for some very needed sleep. We had lots of fun planned for the next 5 days! We had lots of Disney Parks to see!
At first we were thinking that we would get a park hopper and visit all the parks in two days and then Visit Island Of Adventure and some other attractions.
After careful consideration and analysis and discussions and help from our MiceChat friends and forums, we decided against this! (Boy am I glad we did!)
We decided to purchase a 5 day magic your way ticket (which hindsight we should have purchased many more days and paid for the no expiration option, but hey live and learn I guess)
I signed up for the Touring Plans web and I-phone App which in addition to the great advice I received from the forums really made a incredible difference.
By Following the recommended days to visit specific parks utilizing fast pass correctly and standby lines, we did not encounter 1 line in which we waited over 30 minutes at any of the E-ticket attractions the week we were at the parks! Now I am sure luck had a good part to play with this as well, but gosh oh gosh it was un-real!
Since this post has already gone over many pages, I will post each park as a different item here. Thanks for reading!