A Roller Coaster WeekendApr 27, 2015 03:15PM ● By Jason Huddle
Our Flight from Concord that was not to be.
In 2013, Allegiant Air (www.allegiantair.com) was introduced to Cabarrus County. Flying out of Concord Regional Airport, it offers low-cost flights to destinations in Florida: Orlando/Daytona and St. Petersburg/Clearwater. And on the 8th of this month, Allegiant will fly to Ft. Lauderdale. What a coup – to have a commercial airline fly out of our local airport.
The objective of this article – to showcase the affordability, fun and convenience of taking a non-stop flight from Concord to Orlando for a long weekend – unfortunately, evolved into frustration. Up until about 10:55am on April 10, everything was going to plan. I remember thinking, “This will be great! When we get back, we’ll only be ten minutes from home and we parked for free!”
Allegiant Air graciously provided me with two round-trip tickets for the purpose of writing about my experience, but note that everything – from checked bags (and carry-ons) to in-flight snacks – is extra. For a quick weekend getaway on a short flight, however, it’s likely less luggage and fewer snacks would be needed.
Everyone was on the plane, and all the pre-flight safety speeches had been made. Just when we should have begun to taxi out to the runway, the entire plane went dark. There was no electricity, not even in the cockpit. What followed was several hours of miscommunication (or none at all) between the gate crew and the passengers, some of which were on a deadline to make other destinations.
It wasn't the gate crew’s fault; the problem was that there doesn't seem to be a contingency plan if something like this happens. I was lucky. I was able to communicate directly with my contact at Allegiant’s corporate office. While she didn't have any more information than we did, I greatly appreciated her help.
Lesson 1: ALWAYS have a contingency plan when traveling. No matter what airline you’re using, realize that delays and cancellations happen. Know your options.
Only by happenstance, I learned that Allegiant also flies out of Asheville, and there was a flight leaving that night at 7:30. Several of us knew that if we switched our reservations (no charge), we still had time to drive to Asheville and make that flight. Keep in mind, they had yet to cancel the Concord flight at that point. That happened 20 minutes after we left; I received a text.
“Unfortunately, we did not have aircraft or crew available to send to Concord and perform a rescue that day,” an Allegiant spokesperson later explained. “We ultimately rescheduled the flight to the next day, as the crew at Concord were close to timing out for the day by the time the equipment to repair the aircraft arrived at the airport.”
All this juggling and a late departure meant we missed La Nouba – the Cirque du Soleil – Friday night. Thankfully, it was the only casualty of the weekend.
We found our accommodations in Orlando by researching discount websites such as Hotels.com and Hotwire.com. Through them, we were able find a room normally valued at $250 per night for $96. We also booked our rental car through Priceline.com, which proved to be considerably cheaper than any other option we could find – by about 25 percent.
Other money-saving options include the Orlando “Eat and Play” card (eatandplaycard.com), which offers discounts to several area restaurants, accommodations and attractions for one small fee. You can also save gas and money by purchasing one-, three-, five-, seven- or 14-day tickets on the I Ride Trolley (www.iridetrolley.com). This trolley ventures between many of the area highlights and attractions around town, including Sea World, but not Disney or Universal. You are free to get off and on as you please for the duration of your ticket.
Lesson 2: As long as you are not traveling during peak summer months, you can usually find numerous discounts in Orlando and other tourist-oriented cities, especially last-minute deals. Going during these times also means less crowded parks.
Our first day was spent at Walt Disney World. Your costs may vary here. We had a one-day park hopper ticket that allowed us to visit as many of the four Disney parks as we wanted
during that day. These are valued at $330 each; however, if you want to visit just one park, you can go for about a third of that cost per ticket. We enjoyed a sampling of three of the four parks.
I recommend Kilimanjaro Safari and Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom, the new Seven Dwarves Mine Coaster in Magic Kingdom, Soarin’ and the newly-revamped Test Track in Epcot, and Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Roller Coaster and the Tower of Terror in Disney’s Hollywood studios.
Disney has set the standard when it comes to family entertainment and that has not changed; the amount of construction both in and around the parks is evidence of that. Downtown Disney will soon be renamed Disney Springs, with a re-vamped look and feel. Besides the free shopping area on-site, there will be more parking, stores and nightlife.
New attractions on the horizon include an Avatar-themed land (with a new coaster) in Animal Kingdom, a new Frozen-themed ride in the Norway Pavilion (where the Maelstrom ride was located) and a rumored expansion at Hollywood Studios where the back lot tour was formerly located. To plan your visit or vacation to Disney, go to DisneyWorld.com.
On Sunday morning we awoke before the sun in order to fly high with the folks from Orlando Balloon Rides. In business for about 30 years, this company runs a safe and fun ship. They only fly once a day – at sunrise – when conditions are safest and most predictable. Whether or not we would go up that morning was under debate until the last minute because of weather conditions, a safety precaution appreciated by the guests.
General Manager, Damien Mahoney, was our pilot - a 15-year veteran from Ireland. He kept everyone laughing as he reacted to changing conditions in the sky. “Every day is a new flight path,” he explained. Because balloons are at the mercy of the wind, flights can take you over different areas. I must say I never felt unsafe or as if the pilots were unsure about anything before, during or after our flight. This adventure should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Once in the air, the ride lasts about an hour; however, an early-morning safety briefing at the main office, loading into the vans, traveling out to the launch site, preparing the balloons
for flight, actually flying in the balloon, and then packing up the balloons and loading the baskets back on the trailers and driving back to the home office takes about a half-day.
Costs per person range from $195 to $225 for adults and $99 to $109 per child, depending on the day you’d like to fly. Discounts and coupons can be found fairly easily online. If you think you’d like to fly, visit OrlandoBalloonRides.com.
Our next stop that day was Sea World. Single tickets for this popular marine park run $75 on weekdays and $85 on the weekends, although there are several promotions currently being offered that will allow you to get more for your money, including a two-day ticket for $99. Sea World parks are currently celebrating their 50th anniversary and are randomly giving free gifts to patrons just for visiting the park. These can range from free apparel or food to free park tickets. For information on ticket prices and the park, visit SeaWorld.com.
Sea World is more about the shows and less about thrill rides, although they have added another roller coaster and other rides in recent years. The draw is and has always been, Shamu, the killer whale. The new show, One Ocean, demonstrates how we can help preserve our oceans and marine life. A new sea lion show opened last month, plus be sure to also catch the Blue Horizons dolphin show. Seeing all the Sea World shows and enjoying the rides can take two days.
After an evening spent dining and shopping at Downtown Disney, we were exhausted and ready for the trip home, but one more stop awaited us.
Lesson 3: Try not to plan too much for one day. Orlando traffic and other factors may keep you from doing everything you wish, so it’s best to prioritize and decide what you care about experiencing most.
Our final stop on Monday was a Friday reschedule. The Spa, near downtown Orlando, offers massages, reflexology, manicures, pedicures, body scrubs and more. A tour of the facility was a lead-in to our hour-long treatment session. My masseuse, Nicole Gray, gave me strict orders to get a massage at least once a month...I am obliged to comply. For more information on The Spa, visit TheSpaLLC.com.
Now relaxed for the trip home, it was off to the airport. As there was some bad weather in North Carolina, we were handed a piece of paper at Allegiant check-in. It briefly explained that, because of the weather, our flight may be delayed, cancelled or diverted to an alternate location.
Thankfully, none of these things happened.
The paper also stated that, had any of those options – delay, cancellation or diversion – been taken, Allegiant Air was not responsible for any additional costs incurred as a result. Again, always have a contingency plan.
Lesson 4: If you don’t have a contingency plan for the return trip home, see Lesson 1.
We arrived safely home having both enjoyed ourselves immensely and become a little wiser in the process. And the bottom line remains the same: If you want to get away for a few days without flying out of Greensboro or Charlotte, the option is here for you. Even if funds are limited, you can have a weekend for the record books. Safe travels!