We woke completely giddy like bad kids taking the family car for a joyride with a lot of booze along for the trip except the booze was luggage. And we were on the road at exactly 4:30AM.
We made the decision to take I-10 through Slidell hoping it wouldn't slow us down too much. The Twin Span to Slidell, as it's called in the NO area, was severely damaged during Katrina but one side had been repaired ahead of schedule and was just reopened for two-way traffic. The alternate route could have added almost an hour to our travel time so we went I-10.
We live in Kenner, part of Jefferson Parish, which is west of New Orleans. We still see lots of damage in my part of town but there's also lots of signs that life is returning slowly to normalcy. Once you cross over the infamous 17th Street Canal into Orleans Parish, there is nothing remotely resembling normalcy. It's brown and empty. That's during the day. When night falls, there are few streetlights in the neighborhoods seen from the interstate, almost no lights on anywhere and it's evident that there really is nobody home. It's scary.
I've driven around the city a good bit since we've been back from evacuation but driving in the affected areas from dusk until dawn is not for the faint of heart. Through Mid-City, past City Park, the LSU Dental School which is completely dismal with not a light on throughout the entire building, seeing pitch blackness off the Franklin Avenue exit that my family used everyday to get to my father's drugstores in the 9th Ward when we were kids. Eerie.
As we approached the High Rise over the Industrial Canal, it was bleak. And then as we got to the top of the bridge, well, there is nothing that can prepare anyone for the sight of tens of thousands of homes that should have twinkling street lights and porch lights all shrouded in gloom.
I didn't mean for this to get so morose but this part of the drive was quite sad. One sign of hope was the sight of all the construction happening under bright lights to repair the other side of the Twin Span. I finally fell asleep before we drove through the parts of Mississippi that were also affected by Katrina. But it wasn't very peaceful sleep.
When I woke up about an hour later, we were stopped in traffic in Mobile because of an accident right outside of the tunnel under Mobile Bay. I slept some more as Juannie pushed on through sunrise and woke up in Florida! I got to see more construction on the bridge in Pensacola damaged during Ivan. Once we passed that, it was a relief. No obvious reminders of hurricane seasons - past or present. The ghosts of these two hurricane seasons will be hanging around for quite a while on the Gulf Coast, though.
The rest of the drive was fun and relaxing. Even though I didn't sleep very much, I did fine during my turn at the wheel while Juannie snoozed for a couple of hours. Now few people realize this but there is a real treasure in Central Florida that has nothing to do with Disney World, the beach or NASA. It's called The Citrus Tower. It's an air traffic control tower type multi-story building in the middle of the citrus groves in Clermont, FL. Juannie and I look forward to it with a perverse glee. First and foremost, we love the ode to citrus because it means we are less than forty minutes from our destination but also because it gives us as a chance to marvel at something so goofily representative of the 1950s. (Be sure to partake of the panoramic view from the tower on the website. Simply thrilling!) Other opportunities for a Florida chuckle are the towns called Howey-In-The-Hills and Okahumpka. Please keep in mind that we have been driving a very long time when we see the signs for these places. We are punchy.
A little while later, we pass through Orlando's massive onslaught of tourist entrapment watching impatiently to see the signs that tell us we are nearing the Disney World property. And then before we know it, we are really there!
We normally stay at one of the All-Star resorts which are the Disney equivalent of the cheap seats but this time we got quite a deal on a room at Coronado Springs so we decided to try something new. This hotel was much better than the All-Stars. It's always so exciting to check into a nice hotel.
We had noted on our online reservation that we were celebrating our anniversary in the hopes that we would get a free upgrade at check-in to a king bed. The lady checking us in was very sweet from the start but she took it to another level when she found out we were from New Orleans. That started a conversation about the city, the damage and our house. Then she noticed on our info that it was our anniversary. She tried to get us the upgrade but told us that they were extra busy that weekend because of all the Wilma evacuees from South Florida. We were thoroughly pleased with our room nevertheless and had the added bonus of a mini-fridge.
We quickly unpacked the car, freshened up and hit Epcot. We rode some old favorites like Maelstrom at Norway and the tacky but fun El Rio Del Tiempo in Mexico, ate a few tasty Food & Wine Fest morsels and appreciated the beautiful sunset over the Epcot lagoon.
Day 1 Sunset
Then on to dinner. We had problems getting a reservation for this night even two weeks in advance. One of the few places that had availability was the Teppanyaki Dining Room. It's like Benihana. Neither Juannie or I are big fans of Benihana but we'd never eaten at any of the Japanese restaurants at Epcot so we decided to give it a try.
We were seated with two other groups, a family of four and a young couple. We said hello to everyone as we were seated. The family was having problems getting settled so we were able to talk more with the other couple. They turned out to be Wilma evacuees from Miami so we had lots to talk about. When our first round of drinks arrived, we toasted most heartily to the end of hurricane season.
All of the food was excellent but the best thing was the ginger ice cream for dessert. It had chunks of crystalized ginger mixed in with the sweet, spicy ice cream. So delicious! Juannie bought a cookbook that has the recipe in it. I can't wait to try it again.
By the time our meal was over, we also talked a good bit to the other couple while the kids finished up their desserts. They were from New Jersey and had been affected by a lot of the rain in the Northeast. Yet another weather-weary group getting away from it all at Disney World.
We returned to our room right after dinner because we both of us were very tired and very full. After a lot of laughter brought on by fatigue-induced silliness, Juannie and I slept oh so well that night!