Saturday, October 23, 2004


Just got home from a little jaunt at Disney World (dinner at Artist Point in the Wilderness Lodge, followed by the Wishes fireworks) and found some bad news on the internet. I've been sort of expecting it for a while, but like that river in Egypt, I've also been in De Nile. I kept hoping that something would happen to avert it, but now it looks like that's just a pipe dream.

As those who have read some of my other blog entries know, my husband and I are long distance commuters. We had to buy our home in Celebration a bit prematurely due to the skyrocketing prices that would have priced us right out of the market if we'd waited even a year. This means that our home and our hearts are down south, but our jobs are still up north. Thus, at least two Fridays a month we hop on an airplane for a precious weekend in Celebration, and then we fly back Sunday night.

We normally take American Trans Air, better known as ATA, as they generally have the best prices. Due to our frequent travels, we have also been able to take advantage of their generous ATA Awards Program, which gives us a free companion ticket for every three round-trips. Recently, we reached Elite status, although I've never figured out what that's good for, other than pre-boarding. We are supposed to get something called "preferred, front-of-the-aircraft seating," but I've never met any employee who could even explain what that's supposed to be.

But now ATA is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. We hold something like eight sets of tickets from now until December, and we've been afraid to buy more, even with some really good sales. Worse yet, we've been wondering if the ones we hold now will soon become worthless. I've been praying that they would find a way out of their financial woes. They've gotten salary concessions from the pilots and flight attendants, but so far that hasn't been enough. Between the lease/purchase of new aircraft right before 9/11 and the current negative impact of the hurricanes on travel to FL, they are maybe half a step from insolvency.

A month or so ago, it was being rumored that they would be leaving Midway airport. They adamently denied this and even took out ads to say it wasn't so. Now, I have it on good authority they will be selling Midway gates to America West. Their hub will shift totally to Indianapolis.

This is going to have a big impact on our commute. We're stretched pretty thin financially between two houses and a 1500 mile commute every time we want to get home to Florida. With ATA gone, the fares are likely to jump dramatically. We used to fly American or United, but their Orlando fares reached the ridiculous level a couple of years ago, and I expect them to stay there, or even get worse, with a big chunk of competition gone.

Southwest isn't much of a possibility. Our flight days and times are not too flexible due to our jobs, and they don't offer their best fares when we typically travel. Worse yet, direct flights to Orlando are as rare as spotting Mickey Mouse at Universal Studio. Our two-hour flight would stretch to goodness only knows how long if we have to do a stopover. That's not very practical for Friday evening flights.

Oh well, maybe a miracle will still occur. Maybe America West will take over some of the flights and keep the reasonable fares (yes, I know, I'm a dreamer). Maybe some other concession will come about that will be enough to bail out ATA without forcing them to take such drastic measures. I know, I know, Fantasy Land is at the Magic Kingdom, not at Midway Airport, but I can't help wishing. It's better than facing the thought that I might be stuck 1500 miles from the home and town that I love for any length of time.

At least it was a happy day in Florida today. The muggy summer heat is starting to slip into what passes for a "chill in the air" in the Sunshine State. Today was an utterly gorgeous, perfect day, with not a drop of rain. We didn't go to Disney World until late, and we didn't head into the parks because they were very crowded. We enjoyed a nice dinner at Artist Point and then went out to the Wilderness Lodge dock to see if we could see the "Wishes" fireworks at the Magic Kingdom.

Unfortunately, trees were blocking our view, so we hopped on a boat to watch them from the lake. The boat was supposed to stop at Fort Wilderness, head over to the Magic Kingdom, and then return to the Lodge. We got seats outside, and although we missed some of the fireworks when the boat went around the old Discovery Island, we got a wonderful view of some of the show. We also saw the water parade, with the lighted barges on the lake. My favorite fireworks were the ones shaped like hearts, although I was dazzled overall by the wide array of colors. They were gorgeous!

But surprise, surprise! When we got to the Magic Kingdom, we discovered that the boat's itinerary had been changed. Now it was stopping at Fort Wilderness only. I imagine this was due in some way to the massive post-"Wishes" crowds. There was another couple who found themselves in the same boat, both literally and figurately. Thankfully, since our trip had been changed in mid-stream, we were all directed to the woman who was controlling guest traffic for the boats, and she slipped us into the Wilderness Lodge boat line instead of making us wait all the way at the end.

The boat was packed to standing-room-only capacity and we set out across the lake for the Wilderness Lodge. I have always loved the Lodge, which was my husband's first Disney hotel (mine was the Contemporary). I think you always have a deep fondess for the first place you stay on property. On our first trip together to Disney World, which was his first trip ever to Florida, I tried to get the Contemporary, but it was totally book. The Wilderness Lodge had just opened, and the cast member I was chatting with at CRO really talked it up to me. He had stayed there during a cast preview, and his glowing description won me over. We stayed there once and instantly fell in love. I've been to the National Park lodges on which it is modeled, and believe me, Disney has done a superb job.

This time around, the Lodge wasn't "home," but merely a place to pick up our car before heading to Celebration. But I still love soaking in the ambiance as we walk past the geyser, around the pool, and through the gorgeous lobby.

Even though we're not officially tourists anymore, it's still fun to go to Disney World and mingle with the crowds. At night, people seem to get quite chatty on the transportation. In the short span of heading from the Lodge to the Magic Kingdom and back again on the two boats, we chatted with a woman whose family had been coming to Disney World and camping at Fort Wilderness ever since it opened and a lady with a adorable (and exhausted) little girl who chatted with us about their adventures over the last four days. I think half of the fun of going to Disney World is people-watching, and I always enjoy talking to new people. Maybe that's why I drifted toward psychology as my field; people fascinate me, and I love interacting with them.

It's late now, and my husband is already sound asleep, so I guess I should get to bed. No sense in worrying about ATA until they make the official announcement. It could never know. And if it doesn't, it's going to be interesting to figure out how to accomplish the 1500 mile commute on a regular basis. I feel more at home in Celebration than anywhere that I've ever lived, so no matter what, I'll find a way to get here.

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Anonymous said...

Maybe it's time to move down here and become permanent residents. We have jobs in Florida too, y'know? ;-)

Barb said...

Yes, it will be so awful if we are "forced" to move down permanently a little sooner than planned!