Carnival Sunshine Trip Journal: Part 1 – Chicago to Atlanta to Orlando + Disney Springs

Carnival Sunshine Trip Journal: Part 1 – Chicago to Atlanta to Orlando + Disney Springsfeatured

These always start the same, don’t they?

I feel like they do.

We book a trip (probably a month before we leave, unless we’re going to Europe). I write about how work keeps me busy (always true) and how things snuck up on me and suddenly, we’re leaving. This time, I kind of knew these things were coming up and instead continued on with an intense marathon of the entire series of Gilmore Girls with my coworkers when I probably should have been planning or packing or…something.

So this starts the way everything else does. It snuck up on me. Again.

We couldn’t decide on a cruise this year. We knew we were heading to the Baltics in May, but we couldn’t figure out where or what for the holidays. Stephanie had more time off work for New Years than for Christmas, so we pushed back a week. For a while, we were favoring the Oasis of the Seas. We’ve done the Eastern Caribbean ports, the Western Caribbean ports and most of the Southern Caribbean ports, so we didn’t really care where we went as long as it was warm and we could get in as many sea days as we could to get some proper R&R. And then the price of a Sunshine cruise dropped enough that the Oasis just didn’t make sense – the Sunshine offered eight days instead of seven and better ports of call. And we like the Sunshine, so it was a pretty easy call to make.

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We’ve sailed the Carnival Sunshine before and had really enjoyed it

Airfare was a mess. But it always is during the holidays, isn’t it? Flights to anywhere in Florida were over $500 and I can’t bring myself to spend $500 on a flight to Orlando when I can fly direct to, like, Paris for the same price. Paris >>>> Orlando. I can’t do it. But thanks to the magic of Google Flights, we figured out that if we flew into Atlanta and out from Tampa, the price of the flight dropped more than $160 a person. Flying into Atlanta meant we could stop at the peach farm we used to visit back when we road tripped to Florida twice a year and it’s been five years since we’ve taken a good road trip. An evening flight from Tampa meant we could stop back at Disney Springs before heading home. It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t entirely unappealing, either. It was leisurely. I like leisurely.

We spent most of our Christmas break packing. I came in from the city on Tuesday night so we could all head to the airport together on Wednesday morning. We packed up Stephanie’s car and had to run the defrosters forever because it’s Chicago and the winter is terrible, even when it’s not so bad. Chicago winters are terrible as a general state of being.

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The defrosters ran for 20 minutes and this was the best we could do. Eight days in the Caribbean couldn’t come soon enough to get us out of the Chicago freeze!

O’Hare is less than 20 minutes from Mom’s house, and offsite parking runs about as much as a taxi to and from the airport and at least lets us travel at our own pace. We left Mom’s house at 5:00 am, parked the car, took the shuttle to the airport, checked our bags (which were, spoiler alert, over packed…again) and the magical combination of Priority and TSA Precheck allowed us to walk through security, even on a busy travel day. We were at our gate by 6:15 am.

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We arrived at our gate just in time to see the sunrise

Our flight to Atlanta was on American Eagle, American’s regional carrier, which meant instead of the 737’s we were used to flying on, we were on those tiny regional jets for this jaunt. I wasn’t sure what the flight experience would be like, but found it to be pretty comfortable – less people meant quicker boarding (and deplaning), the seats felt wider and the leg room was more than adequate in our Main Cabin Extra seats (complimentary at booking with my Platinum Aadvantage status). And aside from a few bumps of turbulence as we coasted through the Tennessee mountains, it was a quick and uneventful flight that had us landing in Atlanta just before 11:30 am.

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The regional jet was smaller than we’re used to flying on, but was plenty comfortable for our hour and a half flight to Atlanta

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See you in 2017, Chicago!

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Hey, Atlanta! Long time, no see!

In some measure of magic (or, more likely, our bags getting sent to Atlanta on the earlier flight), our luggage was already set out and waiting when we got to baggage claim and we were able to head straight to the air tram to the car rental center within a matter of minutes.

We contemplated making a quick stop at Zoo Atlanta to see the panda bears but figured we were better off heading straight downstate so we could make a quick visit to that peach farm on our way to Orlando. The two hour drive passed quickly and we were soon making our way down that quiet country road we used to know so well.

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On the road again!

Peaches weren’t in season this time of year, but that wasn’t why we were going. We pulled into the same parking lot, we walked past that same giant peach sitting to the right of the entrance, next to those same rocking chairs I’ve taken a dozen and a half pictures of and…it was like nothing had changed. Five years passed, so much has changed since our last visit, but stepping through those glass doors – I could close my eyes and it was a different time in the same place.

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We hadn’t been to the peach farm in five years, but it felt like no time had passed at all

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Fresh peaches weren’t in season when we visited, but there were plenty of peach products to tide us over

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Georgia pecans, however, were in abundance for our winter visit

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I’ve spent many visits passing time rocking in these chairs

The pack of Biscoff’s they handed out on the plane wasn’t really doing it for any of us, so we grabbed lunch in the small café, taking some dessert to enjoy in the car (because you can’t go to Georgia and pass up on cobbler and pecan pie!).

We had figured the drive to Orlando would be quick and easy – quick being a relative term because the drive is just about six hours, but when you drive from Chicago and break it up over two days, the six hours from Atlanta to Orlando pales in comparison to the 12 hours it takes to get from Chicago to Atlanta. I guess we’re out of practice, though, because while the drive was just as easy as we remembered, it dragged on. And on. And on. And just when we started to get somewhere Disney like, the traffic hit. It was nearly 8:30 pm by the time we got to the hotel.

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First we’re-in-Florida-LOOK-A-PALM-TREE picture of the trip

We booked our stay at the Omni Orlando Resort at Champions Gate this visit because we couldn’t get a decent rate at the Gaylord Palms, but we’ve stayed at this Omni before – the rooms are spacious and comfortable and the grounds are quite lovely. The staff were extraordinarily welcoming, even offering us free breakfast passes when we checked in.

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The Omni Orlando Resort at Champions Gate is one of our favorite Florida resorts

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Our room wasn’t the largest, but was comfortable enough for our three day visit

It was nearing 9:30 by the time we were checked in and got all of the luggage up to the room, so we decided to postpone our errands and head out to Disney Springs. Stephanie still hadn’t seen the renovations and Mom wanted to grab a quick dinner at Earl of Sandwich.

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Obligatory sandwich stop

Disney Springs is the area formerly known as Downtown Disney. Over the past five years, they’ve renovated the entire area, building a thriving shopping and entertainment district that reminds me a bit of The Grove in Los Angeles. But what I really loved about it is that when you walk through the Disney Marketplace area, it’s all the same. There’s a nice comfort in having a space that holds so many memories in tact while everything around it changes so drastically.

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Disney Springs is a leveled up version of Downtown Disney, with better shopping, dining and entertainment options

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Even with all of the changes, the same old Disney touches are sprinkled throughout

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We even saw some fireworks in the distance coming from one of the parks!

We didn’t stay at Disney Springs for long – an hour or two, maybe – but we had an early morning planned for Magic Kingdom and we would need all the rest we could get for the next two days in Disney World.

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