There were some very traumatic, unanticipated problems, on our trip from Cali, Colombia to Orlando FL, USA, but all of those problems were overcome. We had a wonderful trip and it was wonderful to have this long delayed trip happen and to see the smiles on Melissa’s face.
The trip almost ended in the Cali, Colombia airport (CLO) at 240 A.M. on Sunday, April 24th, before it began. When it was our turn at the Ticket Counter, to our astonishment, we learned that Melissa could not leave Colombia with us, unless we had a copy of her Colombian Birth Certificate, showing that Pilar and I are her parents. Possibly/Probably, we should have thought about that happening and had a 3 cent photocopy with us. Colombia is very strict about minor children doing international travel, and we were well aware of that, but since both of her parents were with her, we did not anticipate having a problem. The problem was that neither her U.S. Passport or her Colombian Passport have our names in them. A WONDERFUL Avianca ticket agent helped us, when it was our turn to check in (we had 2 bags to check and that was how this began) and I will write a letter to the President of Avianca, praising her. Also, my Stepson and his wife are living with us and Pilar remembered that she had put a copy of the Colombian Birth Certificate in a Photo Album which is in the living room. They took a photo of that and emailed it to us. The lady from Avianca wasn’t able to Print a copy, due to technical issues, but she gave us the 2nd Boarding Pass, for the flight from Bogota (BOG) to Orlando (MCO) and we paid about USD $3.33 in a Kiosk in the Bogota airport, for Internet access, and printed two copies of the Colombian Birth Certificate. We thank God for the help that Avianca employee gave us and for the fact that my Stepson (Camilo Eduardo) and his wife (Mayerli) came home and answered their cell phones at 3 .A.M., after dropping us off at the airport.
I had a problem, because my Resident Visa was issued in 1994 and is in an old expired U.S. Passport and I hadn’t brought that along. I should have thought about that and brought it along. I was delayed in Immigration, leaving Bogota and also the night after we arrived in Bogota from Orlando. I should have anticipated that and brought the expired Passport, with my Colombian Visa in it. I had been issued a new “Cedula” (National Identity card) in February, so they had updated information in their system.
Leaving Bogota, in Immigration, Pilar and Melissa were stuck, because I was not with them, so after I was cleared, they called me to the booth they were at and after a minute or two, we were free to leave Colombia with Melissa.
Our flight from Bogota up to Orlando was about 3 hours 34 minutes and the Avianca computer had assigned us some of the best seats in the Coach cabin. There was a tailwind approximately ¾ of the trip, and then a strong headwind (100+ MPH) as we got closer to Florida.
Totally unexpected, never anticipated, when we went through U.S. Immigration, the man did not permit Pilar to enter the USA with us. She frequently has problems with Fingerprints (Dermatitis or something) and this was the first time she had used her new Colombian Passport and her new U.S. Visa. We were stuck in the Baggage Claim, wondering where she was and what was happening with her She was there for approximately 1 ½ or 2 hours, until it was her turn to be helped. After they cleared the issue in their system, Pilar was asked how long she was going to be in the USA. She told the person, “I’m going back to my country in one week”. She was admitted to the USA for 6 months. We were waived through U.S. Customs, without any inspection.
When we got to the main terminal building in Orlando, where the Dollar Rent a Car office is located, I let them “upsell” us to the Uninsured Motorist Insurance, which cost approximately USD $54 extra for the week, including the taxes. I had requested a Toyota Corolla or similar. We got similar. Had I known that, I would have requested a “Mid Size” car and we would have saved a few dollars. We picked a Silver Chevrolet Sonic (I wanted a light color car, because of the heat). It had a large trunk and we had no problems with the car or Dollar Rent a Car. When we returned the car, the man told us he would give us a ride to the terminal building in the car, so we didn’t need to unload the car and walk to the terminal building with our luggage, which was nice. We were afraid to leave the Rental Papers in the car and Pilar had them in her purse. We went on the River Rapids ride in Animal Kingdom, 3 times, and her purse and the papers were drenched. Fortunately, Dollar Rent a Car did not need the papers, when we returned the car on May 1st.
We rented a 2 Bedroom Timeshare in “The Villas at Summer Bay Orlando”. Those are the smaller 2 Bedroom units in Summer Bay Orlando, that can hold up to 6 people, if 2 of them sleep on the Sofa Bed. I would rate our Unit and our Experience as 9/10. There were several issues, but we would return there in a heartbeat, if we had the money to do so. The Unit we were in was very clean and well equipped. We went to the nearby Publix supermarket, the first night we were there and bought things and Pilar cooked a light Breakfast, 6 of the 7 mornings we were there. That saved us money, but more importantly saved us time, not needing to go to the nearby Denny’s restaurant. The check in was very quick and the people who helped us were very nice and courteous. The first issue was after the Check In, they had a horribly Obnoxious woman show us how to get to our Unit, on a map of Summer Bay Orlando. She put pressure on us to attend a Presentation and we were under no obligation to do that, I told her that if I wanted to buy a Timeshare I would buy one on the Resale market, if someone wouldn’t give their Timeshare to us. She promised me it would only be 45 minutes and that she would put USD$100 into my hand after that. I told her, several times, that we had been up since Saturday morning (this was about 5 P.M. on Sunday) and that Pilar was extremely hungry. We never heard from her again. We ate in the Snack Bar, behind the area where the Check In was, after escaping from her. Two of us had Pizza, which was very good to excellent and 2 had Salads, which didn’t look that great. Melissa said the Wifi was excellent and that was the case, until Wednesday morning. We could connect to their WiFi, but had no Internet access. I think their ISP changed the DNS Servers or something. I called the office and the lady said they could put me in touch with their ISP, but we were getting ready to leave and I didn’t have time for that. I called again, about 30 minutes later, and she said another guest had called, and they were in another building. The only other issue was someones error: Either a previous guest or an employee had closed the “In Room Safe”, rather than leaving it open, so we couldn’t use that. I didn’t call them about that, so they had no opportunity to resolve that. The unit was very clean and well equipped. We were in the 108 building, which is near the entrance to Summer Bay Orlando and behind the Crown Club Inn, which I think is their hotel.
We were unable to buy a Certificate from Sky Auction.com because their Form for processing Credit Card payments only had Drop Down lists for States/Provinces, etc. for 4 countries, in their list of countries. Colombia was not one of the 4 countries. We ended up buying on eBay, which cost us $80 extra. The PayPal page said the Seller was SkyAuction.com We paid $399.99 for the week, which included everything (taxes, WiFi, parking, service charges, etc.). We did not have time to use any of the wonderful facilities at Summer Bay Orlando, other than eating in the Snack Bar after we checked in. The grounds are beautiful.
Summer Bay Orlando has free shuttle buses going to both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World. The first day we were there (Monday, April 25th) we took the bus to Universal Orlando. The schedule said they would pick up at 705 A.M. At 705 A.M. I saw the bus enter Summer Bay.Orlando The driver made one stop at another property, on the way to Universal Orlando, and I believe one man ended up standing. On the return, they stopped at 2 other properties and many people were standing. We did not take the free shuttle buses to WDW, because of the schedules and paid $20 each day to park the car.
We bought one day Park to Park tickets at Universal Orlando. The last night we were in Florida, Pilar said that in retrospect, knowing what we know now, we should have purchased 2 day Park to Park tickets for Universal Orlando and spent Monday and Tuesday there, instead of only Monday. The first thing on the list Melissa had was the “Dragon Challenge”. I had no idea it was a Roller Coaster and it has probably been 10 or more years since I had a Stress EKG. After the ride, Pilar told us she had closed her eyes, thought she was going to die (she has Vertigo, which is one reason she is not an Astronaut) and that she would never ride a Roller Coaster again. She did ride one with us in Magic Kingdom, the next day.
Melissa is into Harry Potter and she bought a lot of things (a Cape, a Magic Wand, etc. that she had wanted for a long time). The ticket lady tried to Upsell us to something expensive. I think about $95 for each person for the day. The VIP experience or something. I told Pilar it was for people with a lot more money than we had. She was interested in knowing more. I told her that we didn’t need it. She understood that. Note: When the parks are really full (we were there in “Regular” season, not “Peak season”) if one can afford it, I believe that would be money well spent. I think you can go to the head of the lines, etc.
CAUTION: DO NOT have only one form of payment or getting cash available. A few days before the trip, Pilar and Melissa called the bank that issued the cards, to tell them we would be in Florida. They were told Melissa’s Debit Card could be used in Florida. She tried, several times, to make purchases with her Debit Card, but there was no success, so we paid. And, for curiosity, she tried to get Cash with it, after that, but as expected, that did not work either. It is a “Maestro” card, which I believe is a trademark of MasterCard. I don’t know what someone would do, if they only had one way to pay for things, or get cash from their bank account, and that one method did not work…
We were planning to buy 4 Day tickets for WDW. The lady who helped us was from Colombia. We let her Upsell us to a Park Hopper ticket. That was great. One day, we were in 2 parks. On Friday, April 29th, we were in all 4 parks. Animal Kingdom, unexpectedly, was our favorite of the 4 WDW parks. Epcot, which Pilar and I had been in, 16 years ago, was a big disappointment and we were hot We left Epcot Friday afternoon and went to the 3 other parks, looking for other things to do, and for something Melissa hadn’t purchased, the first time she saw it. In retrospect, we should have purchased a 3 day Park Hopper ticket for WDW.
Saturday, April 30th, we went to Kennedy Space Center. Pilar and I had toured KSC, with a childhood friend and his (late) wife 16 years ago and then another friend came to Orlando and we had the spectacular experience of seeing the launch of the Space Shuttle “Atlantis”, STS-101, on May 19, 2000, when Pilar was pregnant with Melissa. “Atlantis” is now retired and on display at KSC. For Pilar and me, to see “Atlantis”, up close, was an emotional experience. I can’t explain that, but we have a “connection” with “Atlantis”.
We did not go to the USA to eat (I doubt that many visitors to the USA consider the food to be an attraction) and we had a low budget for food. The 2 best meals we had were not in the parks. One was Saturday afternoon, in the “Orbit Cafe” restaurant at Kennedy Space Center. Lots of very well cooked food, at low prices. The other was in the Food Court of the Outlet mall on Vineland, where the Croc store is located. Chinese food. We bought 5 pairs of shoes in the Croc store and probably should have purchased several more pairs. Excellent service.
We took the bus tour of Kennedy Space Center and toured the Visitor Complex.
The ratings for us for the parks (from Melissa’s, viewpoint, this trip was for her 15th birthday, which was last October, but we were not ready in October and I consider April and October to be the best months to visit the USA, because of the weather and the crowds. Universal Orlando, Kennedy Space Center and Animal Kingdom.
I asked in the Publix supermarket near Summer Bay Orlando, about the Stickers and Transponders that allow one to go through the “SunPass” lanes on the toll roads. The Sticker was $5 and the Transponder was $20.. I didn’t buy one, because I figured we would only use it 2 days. That was fine, until the last toll booth. I had gotten off 528 at exit 8, to buy gas, before we returned the car in the airport. When I got back onto 528, there was another toll booth, a big surprise to me, and it only took quarters (possibly other coins, but I can’t remember what it said).
Recently, we switched our cell phone service to Virgin Mobile Colombia. At this time, they do not have “Roaming” and I avoid “Roaming”, because of the cost. I looked in the Publix market for a SIM card for a couple of minutes, but didn’t find one that caught my eye. We had no cell phone service, we had no Data service. That was a horrible mistake and will not be repeated. For many reasons (emergency calls, locating someone in your party, using Waze and Google Maps If you need directions, or get lost, having service is necessary. That caused us a number of issues and would be worth whatever it costs.
Both of the international flights to/from the USA took approximately 3 ½ hours. After our flight from Bogota (BOG) to Cali (CLO) on May 1st, when the checked hard sided Samsonite suitcase I’d taken arrived in the Baggage Claim (it was about ½ empty when we went to Orlando and full when we returned) it had TSA tape all over it and it was open. They had opened it, for inspection. If they had had Avianca contact me, I had the key and would gladly have opened it for them. I will check to see if the locks work properly and if not will contact the company that issued the Travel Insurance policy, to see if that is covered. I think it covers lost or delayed baggage, among other things, but we bought it in case of medical emergency or accident. Possibly it covers damage to luggage also?
We did not have time to go to the Beach, so that’s for another trip. Ideally, one would have 10-14 days to do what we did and would not need to check into a Spa after their vacation, to recover.
Pilar said that you can tell who is in the parks on their first or second day, by the shoes they are wearing. The first days, people are wearing closed shoes and then changing to Crocs or some kind of clogs. I wore my Crocs or the similar shoes I’d purchased here, every day in the parks.
Book Recommendation: Early in August 2015, I “pre ordered” “The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2016”. The new editions are always published during August. We had previously purchased Print and Kindle editions of the same book, for earlier years.. Thankfully, the book includes information about Universal Orlando. To my surprise, a month or so before our trip, I learned that Melissa’s primary interest was in Universal Orlando, because of “Harry Potter” and other interests she has.
TouringPlans.com is the web site affiliated with the book. I signed up for a Free account and made Personalized Touring Plans, for the Attractions Melissa had on her list, before the trip.
FastPass+ in the Walt Disney World parks allows one to make arrangements for up to 3 attractions in one day. I suggest going to a FastPass+ Kiosk, immediately after entering the parks. Check the “Wait Times” on TouringPlans.com or on the web site of the park, before using FastPass+, so that you do not waste a FastPass+ on an attraction with a short “Wait Time”. If any of the attractions you want to see have short “Wait Times”, ride them immediately, after entering the park, after you get FastPass+ for other attractions.
Possibly something I’ve written will give someone else a hint on what to do, or, what not do do.
We had a WONDERFUL trip!