First Base

Trip Start May 14, 2010
Trip End Jun 08, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Florida
Saturday, May 15, 2010

I made it!
3 flights and 29 hours after jetting off from the dreary International Terminal at Perth Airport I touched down in Orlando to end the first travel phase of the trip.

At Perth Airport Qantas must be having a crackdown on carry-on luggage as mine was
weighed and deemed (at 9kg) to be too heavy.  As such I had to put my
emergency American-airports-and-handlers-are-going-to-lose-my-bag
clothes and a book into my checked luggage.  The surly check-in lady
wanted me to check my suit bag (I am going to a wedding later on) in
too, making some remark about how I'd better not be taking more than 2
bags onboard, but I just put my small camera bag into the suit bag to
shut her up.  I did have to get the camera bag out once I'd gone through immigration to then claim my GST back through the Tourist Refund Scheme.  Silly surly Qantas check-in lady.

The first flight was on Qantas to Tokyo and went pretty much as expected.  The only surprise was the late arrival of the aged 767-300ER from the domestic terminal, causing a flow-on effect that delayed our departure by about half an hour.  A sign of how great Perth Airport is was that the check-in staff apparently could not control the display that automatically announced that the flight was boarding as if it were on time, leading to many queries and crowds for them to deal with in the meantime.  At least I had a Qantas Club pass to use (thanks Mum and Dad) so I could relax and enjoy the free refreshments while I waited.  I also met up with brother Charles and 2 of his work colleagues at the Club as they were waiting for their Jetstar flight to Singapore for a cheap weekend away.

Despite the late departure we landed in Tokyo under sunny skies and right on time.  Everytime that I've take this sector the flight has always taken half an hour less than scheduled.  I was on the left side of the plane so was afforded nice views of Mt Fuji during our descent. The pilot was good and pointed it out over the PA system.

Connecting in Tokyo was easy, not least because our plane pulled up at the gate adjacent to the one that my next plane was parked at.  Despite this I had to walk down to the centre of the terminal to go through transit security to then walk back to the departure side of the gate.  I noticed that my phone was not logging on to any networks and summised that due to a recent change of plan (but still on Optus) the roaming function had been disabled on my account.  I bought 24 hours of WiFi credit (the shortest time available) and made some email enquiries and sent some SMSes from the internet to let people know that I was okay but phoneless.

Soon enough I was boarding my American Airlines 777-200 for the flight to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.  AA had already got off on the wrong foot by using a different booking system to Qantas which meant that when I checked in with Qantas my AA seat requests were lost and I was allocated B seats for my 2 AA flights, meaning there was going to be someone between me and the window.  I was pleasantly suprised when I boarded as the flight attendants didn't seem too much more crabby than some of the older ones I've had the pleasure of travelling with on Qantas and the interior was certainly newer and nicer than the old 767 that I had just come from.  However, while the plane itself may have been up to scratch, pretty much everything else was lacking.  Each seat had its own TV but the system was not on demand; users had to wait for each show or movie to start every 15-30 minutes, not that one wanted to watch many because there were only 10 available.  To rub salt into the entertainment wound for whatever reason AA don't have curtains separating the forward economy cabin (in which I was seated) and the aft business cabin, so I had a clear view of their larger screens and much larger selection of on demand content.  Also, who knows what was happening on the music side of things - the channel that was supposed to have the "hits of today" on it was playing songs which haven't been on the radio for years.  Nothing on there would've been less than 5 years old.  This is in addition to the choose songs from a CD feature being inexplicably non-operational.

Beyond entertainment, the food was pretty poor.  Sure, they served it on large trays but there was a lot of space on those trays and everything clearly had come out of a tin.  Leg room was passable but the seats themselves were awful.  They must've been designed for midgets because the headrest was at my shoulder blades and even though it could be raised, the padding ended there and curved outward slightly, coercing me into an uncomfortable hunched position.  You really start to notice after sitting there for 11 hours!

While my fellow passenger at the window was a nice enough, small Indian lady that was polite and didn't invade my space, the window was lost on her.  She, like 99% of the other passengers prefered to have the window shade closed all the time.  Sure, when people are sleeping this makes sense but when there's a great sunrise out the window and everyone's already been woken for breakfast anyway, or when you're reading and you turn on the artificial reading light instead of letting the natural morning light stream through the window?!  I at least thought she'd open it as we descended, but with 10 minutes and around 10000 feet to go I couldn't wait any longer and asked her to open it, which she did.  Annoyingly AA don't share Qantas' policy of requiring all window shades to be open at takeoff and landing so I didn't even have that as a fall back.

Landing into Dallas was foggy so there was little to see anyway, but we were 30 minutes early thanks to some nice tailwinds that had us cranking it at over 1200km/h over the Pacific.  Immigration didn't take long, once they realised that we had arrived early and therefore should staff the counters sooner than expected, and my bag had thankfully made it to the right airport in the US, with the bonus of it not taking too long to come out on the carousel.  Once retrieved I did think to move some plug adapters to my carry on for using later but forgot about my emergency supplies that I'd had to move into my checked luggage in Perth.  I gave my bag to the staff at the carousel that I was told (by staff) was for flights to a range of destinations that included Orlando, hoping that it would be there to meet me when I arrived.

On my brother's advise I spent most of my layover time in the newer international terminal (D), paying for more Wi-Fi to try keep in touch and try to resolve the mobile roaming issue.  I was not suprised to read an email from Dad stating that I had to be the one to call Optus as they wouldn't accept his request becuase the phone account was in my name.  I transferred to dingy old Terminal A, via the realtively new Skytrain elevated people mover system, where I found a bank of payphones in the waiting lounge for my gate.  One call had it fixed and I was informed that roaming would be operational in "15 minutes to 4 hours".  Don't ask me why the timeframe is so variable, I can't figure it out either.

The bummy old MD-80 for the flight to Orlando arrived at the gate late, so we ended up getting out of Dallas 30 minutes late.  I had not been looking forward to this flight and it certainly didn't exceed my low expectations.  It was like flying in a bus.  Old, clapped-out, worn, a bit funky smelling and crampt.  Even the first class looked worse than a decent economy product.  There wasn't even audio entertainment!  There was no food, but this was not unexpected, but remains disappointing nonetheless.  The only redeeming fact was that this plane had been equiped with in-flight WiFi.  I had a look at the AA website as it was free, using it to check on the estimated arrival time of our flight.  In this way the WiFi substituted for the lack of onboard entertainment or information systems.  I decided not to pay the relatively modest for what it is $9.95 fee to surf the net because after my phone trouble-shooting exploits my battery was running low so I wouldn't have been able to get the maximum benefit.

Again the window seat was taken by a girl who didn't appreciate it fully, although she did look out a bit.  The flight was full, aparently something happened yesterday that prevented flights or at least people from getting out to Orlando.  While the flight from Tokyo consisted of about 50% Americans, this flight only had a smattering of non-US citizens.  They were living up to their reputation, being loud and needy, lazy and inconsiderate.  Being a flight from Dallas the staff and many passengers had a southern drawl or tang to their accents too, which didn't endear them to me.

We touched down in the infinitely sprawly Orlando only 15 minutes late, relieved that I had survived another flight on a clapped-out Mad Dog without it costing my life.  The airport itself was nothing to write home about and it took eons for our bags to come off the plane, so much so that other later flights got their bags before us!  Relieved and to be frank, surprised, that my bag had indeed arrived on my flight.  I then made my way across the terminal to reach the Disney's Magical Express shuttle check-in and departure area.  This service is free to guests staying at the Disney World "Resorts" (hotels) so I relaxed for the 30 minute trip, fighting off the urge to sleep.

Thanks to my friend Alicia, who I should be catching up with tomorrow, working here at WDW I was able to secure her castmember 50% discount, which allowed me to stay at Disney's BoardWalk Villas, smack-bang between Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios, with boats footpaths, buses and monorails connecting me to these parks and all the other parts of WDW.  Because of its relatively good location (most resorts are dead end exits off the internal highway-like road system with road-only connections to everywhere else) this accommodation and the others in the precinct are at the higher end of the spectrum, which has worked to filter the crowd somewhat, making the crowd a little less informal than anticipated.

Upon entering my room I showered and then crashed, before even reading the promo and informational material.  I woke again after about an hour of snoozing (I'd set an alarm) and went for a walk to check out the precinct and grab some dinner.  After about 30 minutes exploring and soaking up some of the last sun of the day it was time to retire to my villa (includes a microwave and some cooking facilities) to eat, get clued up and type this entry.

Tomorrow is my first day in the parks and my first chance to catch up with Alicia, which I'm excited about.  The time difference to home is an easy 12 hours at the moment so if you want to contact me late evening or until mid-morning Perth time is best.
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