Saturday, November 6, 2010

Child Goes to San Francisco for 27hours

Recently when some friends moved back to San Francisco we decided it was time to pay them and the city a visit. But it would be a very fast trip. Rather than fight the Friday evening commute traffic we drove in Saturday morning. Coming in around lunchtime we immediately needed some substance. And our friends new place located in North Beach made it easy access to many of a child’s favorite of pastas and pizzas. We found ourselves at North Beach Pizza. Recently remodeled it was still perfect for two small children. And we were able to order pizzas with light sauce and other things to their liking.

The weekend turned out to be one of the first rainy ones of the fall season, so we spent the rest of our day in Union Square and enjoying some yummy walking treats from the bottom floor at Macys where there is an array of to go eateries, including one of my daughter's favorites, Ben and Jerry's. Then we hung out watching the Giants clinch their berth to the World Series. Which the kids really enjoyed hearing the city erupt into celebration as we looked out upon Coit Tower awash in orange in support.

With it still raining heavily the next morning we opened the windows to allow the kids to enjoy the parrots of Telegraph Hill. The parrots, a group of cherry-headed conures, which travel every morning and every evening right past our friends’ windows. The kids stood and watched for about 30minutes as they birds circled the neighborhood and eventually went on their way for the day.

A rainy, blustery day in San Fran meant we must plan something indoors. As a young married couple we had visited the Palace of the Fine Arts on numerous occasions. But we had never ventured to the other side of the complex where an incredible museum of art, science, and human perception exists in the Exploratorium. There is a rather large free parking lot close by, but on a rainy weekend you must arrive within about 1 hour of opening as it fills up quickly. Once inside for the cost of $10 (ages 4-12) & $15 for adult (18-64) you are greeted by over 600 exhibits. Most of which were hands on. I don’t know any other word to explain this museum, but amazing for adults and kids alike. I have been to many children’s museums, but this put everything I have been to to shame. Now many scientific explanations were over my children’s heads, like how fog forms & hearing sensory, but my daughter enjoyed standing in the enjoyed standing in the fog machine and helping other children send a ring of mist 30ft high into the air while my son and I sat in a sound room and identified locations based on sound alone.

We spent nearly an hour and a half on the first floor and didn’t even see it all and barely touched the top floor when it was time for my daughter and I to enjoy the tactile dome. We paid extra for this…our admission plus tactile dome was $20 a person. The dome has been open since 1971 and is still a major attraction. Space is limited and only 2 times were left by the time we purchased our tickets less than 1 hour after opening. The dome is just what it sounds like a dome inside the larger Exploratorium. You get to take at least 3 trips through, climbing, crawling, walking the dome in total darkness using only your hands and sometimes you ears via sounds to guide your way through.

After about 4 hours in the museum we had only seen probably 2/3 of the exhibits, but our children were absolutely mentally exhausted. We opted to skip the very crowded cafĂ© and headed to Unwind on Union Street just a few blocks west for lunch. I was a little worried when we entered to wood floors and a rather crowded bar area with the smartly dressed San Francisco crowd. But the kids were quickly greeted at the hostess stand by a hand full of gummy bears and we were led to the greenhouse patio. Here we enjoyed watching Sunday sports while the kids enjoyed hearing the storm raging outside against the glass roof and coloring with my ever present crayons and paper in my purse. Again I was nervous when the very serious waitress approached us to take our orders, but a smile from my son and the ice was broke and we quickly learned she was one of 7 children in her family and she brought us kid-sized everything, extra napkins, etc.. Ahhh…much more relaxing than the fighting for a table for mediocre, overpriced museum food and instead the kids' enjoyed Belgian waffles off the brunch menu and we enjoyed crab cake sliders and sweet potato fries. A stop at the Starbucks on the corner, less than a half a block up, for a little caffeine for the 2hr drive home and we were on our way….

….of course with a little detour at my daughter’s request which we easily obliged as outbound is free…a crossing of the Gold Gate Bridge.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Child “Falls” for Campground & Angora Lake

Time to fit in one more camping trip before school starts. It took a early reservation through, try May, to secure two campsites at Fallen Leaf Lake Campground for mid-August. Located in South Lake Tahoe north on Highway 89 you can see the appeal as it doesn’t have the crowds of Camp Richardson, but is only a stones throw away on the west side of the road.

We rolled into sites #38 & #39 late afternoon. Note: There are 6 yurts if you don’t have camping

gear. Great location, close to very clean, updated bathrooms with showers (quarters required), but not so close the traffic to and from would wake us. Both sites backed up to a huge grassy meadow where the kids would spend a lot of time exploring and creating their own little world in a little aspen grove. And the sites were cleared well for the kids to run between them. The roads are plenty wide for bikes and the Tahoe bike trail is an easy ride from the entrance. All set-up, dinner, and early to bed for the munchkins as we had big plans on Day2.

Up and at’em early as we had to reach the parking lot for the trail to Angora Lake earlier rather than later as it fills up was our driving force. We packed lunches for the kids and several munchies and few beverages and planned to supplement from the snack shack at the lake. After driving up a single lane road not well marked, so either ask directions or GPS it, we rolled in about 10AM. On our way in we would cross a ridge where to our left we really got to see the devastation of

the 2007 Angora fire that destroyed 254 homes and charred 3100 acres. Once in the lot rather than stopping at the self-registration ($5) prior to parking…we snagged spots, then self-registered. What a perfect little hike. Only about a mile up a maintained trail with a optional bouldering cut-off it was just long enough for the kids to enjoy and not start whining. At the top we would find one of the most pristine small lakes (~1.5mi around) I have seen in NorCal. And I can’t believe this has been a resort since 1917 and I am just discovering it?!?!? On one side were some small rental cottages along a beautiful little beach lined with picnic tables and row boats for rent. The other side, if you dare hike there or row across, were massive granite boulders for jumping (at your own risk).

So we pulled up a bit of sand. The Dads did some hiking. The kids did some bouldering, swimming, and sand play. Also a row boat would be rented to allow all a boat ride across the lake. Hiking the first

half counter clockwise around the lake was too difficult with the kids. But we deposited the older kids with the hiking Dads and they would hike the 2nd half back around to the beach without issue. Lunch would consist of our sack lunches supplemented with homemade tuna sandwiches, chips, and the famous lemonade from the snack shack. A quick stop at the porta-potty then grabbed dessert for the hike back down….that famous lemonade frozen into a Popsicle with strawberries. YUM!

A little rest and then we packed up Happy Hour and biked to the back of the campground and took

the very short walk to Fallen Leaf Lake. Much bigger (~7mi around) this

one was not quite hike-able with the kids…even though the next morning we would run a few miles of it to burn off our

samores and vino of the evening before. The beach was a rock one with plenty for skipping. However, a storm was rolling in, so we explored and found a large clubhouse made from sticks and a fallen tree. We hunkered down and enjoyed our happy hour and the kids added to the clubhouse. Another evening around the campfire with glowsticks and samores and everyone slept well.

The next morning as usual we spent most of it packing up. Then we headed not even a 1/2mi down the road to Taylor Creek Visitor Center. I was in shock I had never been here. But it was perfect for the kids with signage for them to read and the stream profile

was on par with any museum. We wound up wandering around the trails for an hour. But knowing how Highway 50 traffic can get we quickly hurried on the road home and still found ourselves at just noon at a virtual standstill taking us 45min to go about 3miles. But it was so worth it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bend, We Will Be Back!

From Crater Lake we traveled about an hour and a half north along Highway 97 to Bend, OR. We are lucky to have some college friends who live there. Driving into town through roundabouts passing Organic Eateries and sculptures made from kayaks we knew we had found anyone on the go mecca. I mean come on the XTERRA National Trail Running Championships and the USA Cycling Championships are held here.

Unfortunately enjoying our going would be slightly delayed as our son’s mosquitoes bites from Crater Lake had caused an allergic reaction and he would proceed to swell up and look like Quasimodo. However, as any good outdoors person would know our hosts pointed us to the local Urgent Care at the Bend Memorial Clinic. Where the entire staff was incredible. In fact the doctor even ran out to our car after we had been dismissed to give us his cell and hours the next couple of days in case we needed him. And the hospitality did not stop there. Stopping at Safeway to get my son some prescribed relief the pharmacist was ever so concerned and had the bakery send over cookies for the children while I waited for the fill. So night one would be dinner in with fresh baked cookies and movies. But after the children settled into bed we went outside and enjoyed the incredible evening stars.

The next day we were up at at’em. First to breakfast at the very scrumptious Jackson’s Corner where there were massive 16’ square tables with benches on all four sides. Definitely needed for the incredible portions of serious YUM! Lots for the kids to feast their eyes on as well as baskets of crayons and coloring books.

Next we would venture downtown for what our hosts informed us is nearly every weekend occurrence…a festival. This weekend happened to be The Bend Summer Festival. But they said the set-up is generally the same. Each street is a different theme…music, art, clothing, food, wine…AND tucked away on a back street an entire children’s area. There were some vendors and then numerous bounce house structures where you could buy individual tickets or a wrist band for all day fun for $10. We went with the $10 bands and more than got our money’s worth. Again we enjoyed an evening in with our friends and a lovely Bend sunset.

The next day the kids and I would sleep in then head out for a walk while the hubby enjoyed a bike ride on a bit of the incredible trail system they have throughout the town. Then to cool off we would partake in the nearly ritualistic way for Bend folk to beat the heat…floating the Deschutes. We put in at a local park and floated for about 1hour along with hundreds of others. We were very well-equipped having borrowed a massive 8 person circular inflatable complete with back rests and drink holders. But you would see it all…the tire tube to the pool float. We did place our kids in their life jackets. The ride was very calm and in most places an adult could actually hop out and touch the bottom. We would take out and then proceed up the hill to deflate our raft and then await the BAT (Bend Area Transit) and for a very small fee shuttle back to the parking lot we started from. Serious good times.

And we just saw the tip of the iceberg in Bend…there are amazing concert venues, more festivals, great dining, hiking, caves, rafting, etc…and lest us not forget winter and Mount Bachelor close by. So we pointed the vehicle south and waved goodbye, but before we left we asked our friends….”Can we come back again next summer?”

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Child GOes to Crater Lake National Park

After this trip we agreed we are starting to meet the spirit of our #1 on our empty nest list and until the big road trip will continue to do so by visiting at least one National Park each summer. Remember we own a pop-up trailer, so several months ago we booked our campsite with Xanterra at Crater Lake National Park for $25 a night. We would be venturing that direction for a Thursday & Friday night.

We left home at 8:30AM, but quickly had our first emergency (what is it with our summer trips this year being cursed). Our trailer had a tire issue that would force us to a Big O Tires in downtown Sacramento. What we thought would be a 45 minute job sent us for a brief walk to a Java City for a mid-morning snack. Then we walked couple of more blocks to Capitol Park where the kids enjoyed running, the rose garden, and spending a bit of time discussing war, soldiers, etc at the War Memorials. Back at Big O we would learn our troubles were worse than feared and it would be longer. Equipped with a laptop loaded with movies we would create a movie theatre in a corner of the waiting room. And after one show we would cross the street to California Pizza Kitchen and with a quick call enjoy lunch with a friend who worked downtown.

Finally on the road at 2PM we had a back-up campsite in Redding at Mountain Gate RV Park in case we didn’t think we would make it to Crater Lake by dark. A little bummed my research lunch stop at Dam Burger was early evening when we made it to Redding. But with 100+ degrees and daylight until at least 9:30pm we pressed on with Mt Shasta looming in view. Dinner was the always convenient McDonald’s with a play structure with one of the best views in the United Stated we are guessing as it sat at Shasta’s base in Weed, CA. We pulled into Crater Lake at 9:30PM. Gate house and check-in already closed our friends who were joining us had made it in time and left a note with our site# on the communication board. They had also left us with a warning the mosquitoes were bad.

Bad would turn out to be an understatement. With melting snow and 90+degree days it meant prime breeding. And the second we stepped out of the car we were attacked. Sprayed down we quickly popped up and headed to our friend’s campfire for the added protection of smoke.

Breakfast the next morning would be spent huddled inside our trailer avoiding the biting. And it was a comfort once we loaded up and started climbing towards to Ranger Station the mosquitoes lessened. The Steel Visitor's Center (aka Ranger Station) was packed with folks asking questions, etc.. We found our way to the auditorium for a 18 minute video on Crater Lake’s history and snow removal process. We also grabbed Junior Ranger paperwork for the kids to complete to earn a badge. Then we headed up to the rim.

Tempted to park immediately upon arrival we didn’t and found more parking around the Rim Visitor's Center and closer to the Rim and Lodge. We walked the edge and enjoyed the view from Sinnott Memorial Overlook, then took a snack from the rocking chairs lining the deck at Crater Lake Lodge. With raindrops starting to fall we headed back to mosquito alley aka camp. Other than the paved trails there wasn't much for a 3 & 5yo as well as our friend’s dog who was in tow.

Back at camp we lit a Off® PowerPad Lattern and we were mosquito free for the afternoon or reading and chatting tucked away under our awning while rain showers passed in and out of the area. There were bike rides around the campgrounds and stops at a very well-equipped store for cortisone for our 3yo who was being munched on more so than the rest of us. At first we thought we were quite lucky to be on the “E” loop with the amphitheater until we learned all the programs (posted on the bathroom doors) occurred at 9:30PM well after our children’s bedtimes. Disappointing… : ( Speaking of bathrooms though it did seem they sprayed there a few times a day as the mosquitoes were minimal once hidden away inside. There is 1-2 bathrooms per loop. Unfortunately on of ours was being remodeled. And showers were a coin operated and a bit further away. If we returned we liked site “F9” for its size and location to a small creek. Otherwise we would return E8 or if traveling with another group would choose E5 & E8 so the kids could venture between sites without wandering onto the road.

The next day we would pack up quickly to escape the biting and head for the Rim Village Cafe and Gifts and to turn in the kids’ Ranger papers. Sadly we didn’t know what a big deal it was and we have no pictures or video. But the kids stood alongside the Rangers with their little hands held high and was issued the oath “to protect Crater Lake….” Needless to say the experience was quite the grin producer. Definitely worth the 6 pages of fun learning activities. They program paperwork said 6-12 years old. But with our help they let our 3 & 5 yo old participate.

We did note there was not a single campsite reserved for more than 2 nights. With lots of snow, minimal hiking trails open, or other activities it seemed a lot of folks were just passing through. There was one activitiy I should mention that we did not do which was the boat ride. On the opposite rim (~15mi drive) you could for a fare sum of money take a boast nearly 2 hour boat ride around the lake and to Wizard Island. We opted out with our children after learning there was a steep hike down to the boat launch. So steep they said it would take 30minutes going down and an hour and a half coming out equivalent to 70+ steps and 700+ elevation gain.

Crater Lake was amazing. Definitely worth the trip.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Eating @Disney World® Without "GO"ing Broke

OK, with all these activities one has to eat. As our room had a kitchen we wanted to use it to keep costs down. Had we driven we could have loaded coolers and cars full. But we were flying.

We initially pondered checking a couple boxes and coolers of food. We were on Southwest Airlines and with free bags and 7 people we could have checked up to 14 items. But we went with Goodings. A local Orlando grocer with delivery service. If you ordered $50 dollars in food you paid $25 for delivery. And between the cost of our time and a cab ride we went for it. Because our group of 5 adults and 2 kids would easily surpass the $50 minimum.

The large resorts are ready for this service with fridges and even freezers in the bell rooms to keep your groceries until you arrive. We found most of our needs easily available on their website and then just made customer notes for the items we could not find. Everything we ordered showed up without issue. There’s only a couple of things they won’t deliver – ice cream & alcohol. One other note about the service. We had to contact bell service to see if the groceries had been delivered to the hotel and ask they be brought to our room. They did not call us and let us know when they arrived.

So most of our meals were eaten in our room. We did opt to eat “out” 4 times:

  1. Breakfast at our hotel: The day we took off from the parks to enjoy our hotel we opted for the loud and rowdy, contrary to it's name, Whispering Canyon Cafe where our waitress easily managed our father-in-law's disappointment in not being able to order his eggs over-easy, potatoes thin and fried to just the slightest crunchiness, etc with her quick wit and comebacks. The kids also enjoyed running ketchup bottles to others tables when the wait staff hollered “Can we get some ketchup over here.” We were happy with the food and the value for the dollar spent.
  2. Lunch at Animal Kingdom: This was a day we would not be returning to our hotel for afternoon naps. So by following the Unofficial Guide to Disney World with Kids book we were set-up to have lunch in Animal Kingdom's Dinoland at Restaurantosaurus. Salads, kids meals, etc worked out well. We did pack two sandwiches and cheese sticks to offset the purchase a bit. And thank to reusable stainless steel bottles we were able to purchase one beverage and split it between the kids.
  3. Large Group Outting to the Hoop De Doo Musical Revue: With Midwest grandparents in tow we forwent the character meals and went with the Hoop De Doo Revue. A hilarious, audience participatory meal in a huge hall at Fort Wilderness, a 5min boat ride from our resort. All you can eat, family style chicken, ribs, salad, cornbread, beans, strawberry shortcakes, and beverages, including alcohol. We easily got our bang for our buck. The only shortcoming was I was concerned about my picky eaters and had read on-line I could ask the waitstaff upon arrival for something else. However, other than mac-n-cheese we were told we should have let them know 3 days in advance so they could have had it shipped over from our hotel. All they had on site were fryers and ovens.
  4. Our family of four last night dinner at Tony’s Town Square in Magic Kingdom: Again not a character meal, but a restaurant we were able to secure a reservation for 7 days in advance. Tony’s was located right at the entrance to main street, so when we returned in the evening after naps we did a bit of shopping and headed for dinner. Greeted with a lobby of carpet and TV playing of course Lady and the Tramp as well as a coloring area the kids settled in. But it was brief…having a reservation we sat less than 5minutes before our name was called. We felt guilty as we passed others on the way to our table who obviously were walk-ins who had been there much longer. Kids meals and adult pasta abounded. The only downside was our table was in the wait staffs' main drag so I was constantly ducking and scooting my chair in. The food was good not great, and good for the value.

Each day we took drinks and snacks into the parks. It was very hot, so we would freeze our kids stainless steel bottles filled with Gatorade and Yogurt Sticks the night prior and these worked as ice packs for anything else we took in our backpack. The kids' stainless steel bottles also worked well after they emptied their initial contents we could go into any fast dining establishments and get ice water for free or a large lemonade and split it between their bottles. And backpacks on the rides were no problem. Even the Kalahari Rapids at Animal Kingdom had a dry storage in the center to place it.

No, in the end we did not do a character meal. Very popular and expensive these require reservations made months in advance. So just a heads up if that is on your Must Do list.

In the end everyone was well fed staying within a budget of about what we spend at home on a weekly basis. Which the kids' quickly took advantage of our savings for souvenirs or ice cream treats.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Walt Disney World® Tickets & Planning Their Use....

OK we have our hotel selected, but to get some of the packaging rates we would need to advance purchase our tickets.

Now what ticket levels do you buy…access to a single park each day (aka Magic Your Way Base Ticket), access to allow you to go to one park in the morning and a different one in the evening (Magic Your Way with Park Hopper Option), access to theme parks and waterparks+ (Magic Your Way with Water Fun & More Option), a ticket that never expires…meaning you decided to skip a day and that ticket will be good for life and you can return another time to visit (Magic Your Way with No Expiration Option). And the more days you purchase whatever option you choose the cheaper the rate per day calcs out to be. Again it's all a little overwhelming...

We would be staying 4 full days & 5 nights, so we opted for 3 days where we could enter one park a day. Meaning we bought 3 days worth of Magic Your Way Base Ticket. This ticket would allow us to go to the Magic Kingdom in the morning, go back to our hotel for the 3 year olds afternoon nap, and return only to Magic Kingdom in the evening. This would also allow us to take one day off and enjoy the incredible amenities our hotel offers I mentioned in my last post. Speaking of hotel...your credit card looking hotel key is imprinted with everything, including your park tickets you just purchased. Keep a close eye on these...they open your hotel door, get you in the park, get your Fast Passes, and can be your currency if you tie it off to a credit card when checking in.

OK with tickets bought and hotel booked…now the overwhelming plan of attack. I had been told horror stories about hours of waiting or failure to ride the sought after Buzz Lightyear. By gosh I was spending all this money and wanted this to be pleasureable I would make this work, so I reached out to our travel agent with my anxiety. She pointed me to “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids” This book was full of information as evidence by its 480 pages built from comments and tips on Walt Disney World® from surveys of more than 12,500 families. And it's done annually. But there it was in the back…the Holy Grail for maneuvering around the parks. Iteneraries based on your childs age, who they were going with (parents or grandparents), how many days you were allowing per park, etc.. It told you when to see a show, when to get a fast Pass (Disney’s reservation system to ride something later in the days), when to head back to your hotel, suggestions on where to eat, etc.

My family mocked my purchase and reading of this book. But now they worship my decision. It worked like a charm. Following the steps my kids road everything they wanted, saw every show, made it back for naps, etc.. Riding back from a visit to downtown Disney on our park day off my purchase was doubly confirmed when a father of 3 who makes the visit annually said he has bought the book 4 years running and has never been let down.

So I got my family a great hotel and we got to see and do everything at the parks we wanted how about energy to make all that happen. Also known as food. Next a family of four didn't go broke eating at Walt Disney World®.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

DisneyWORLD here we come! - Lodging

Ok, this is a bit of a departure from my traditional truly active travel vacations, but think about it...Disney is definitely it's own classification of active only it can be.

We live in California where families take trips to DisneyLAND sometimes once a year. We have not been yet. But as we would be spending the entire month of June basing out of Indiana we decided this was our chance and probably our only one to visit DisneyWORLD. It also needs to be said our children’s paternal Grandfather who is a big kid himself has always said when we go he wants to go.

So who’s the leader of the club….???

That would be me as far as this trip was concerned. Now I plan multiple trips a year, write this blog, but Disneyworld scared me to death. I mean the complex has grown so much since I went in 8th grade a few years ago and Epcot was new. For perspective the cast members (Disney’s name for their employees) shared the following facts during our visit:

  • Disneyland can fit in DisneyWorlds Magic Kingdom’s parking lot and there would still be 2000 parking spaces available
  • Disneyworld is as big as San Francisco or 2X the size of Manhattan
  • Only 30+% of the Disneyworld-owned property is developed, another 30+% is for future projects and the remaining 30+% is protected.
Are you breathing hard yet? For me who likes trips to be well researched and go off with minimal issues I was near anxiety attack stage.

First I turned to my friends who had been there before, perhaps even multiple times. They gave me many websites for my reading/panicking pleasure such as:,, a complete guide to disneyworld

After reading several I found myself circling back to Small World Vacations, Inc as booking time neared.

The travel agent assigned to me helped me maneuver booking the right package for our group which would include 3 grandparents and our family of 4. She would also help me manage 2 hotel changes…1 on paper…and another mentally. I also price checked her quotes against Disneyworld's own on-line booking system and she definitely saved me some money.

So where to start with lodging...If you can afford it, and you should be able to as there are all levels of pricing, stay INSIDE the Disneyworld property. Some of the amenities this affords you are:
  • Extra Magic Hours: Early or Later access to the parks versus the general public that comes in from outside.
  • Transportation: To & From the Airport, Parks, nix the rental car and all the headaches of getting it and returning it
  • Luggage Transfers: With special tags we checked our bags at our home airport and didn't see them again until they were delivered to our room at our hotel. And on the return we checked them in at our hotel and didn't see them until we got to our home airport.
  • Access to Concierges: who know all the ins, outs, tips, etc to everything…from getting from point A to B to dinner reservations, etc..
  • And my kids favorite…a message from the big cheese himself, Mickey Mouse, welcoming you on your vacation. This was probably played on speaker at least 50 times during our stay
  • And much, much more including the incredible hospotality every cast member has down pat including the daily "Have a Magical Day" from our maid staff and hotel maintenance.
Speaking of hotels. Just inside of the Disneyworld massive property your selection is endless, from value resorts to the deluxe ones. We decided with our party of 7 it would be better to try to get us all into one room versus 3 separate rooms, so our selection was narrowed to properties that would have accommodations with 2+ bedrooms. We initially looked at the Tree Houses at the Saratoga, but eventually ruled it out due to the amount of walking required to get anywhere for the youngest and oldest in our party. Then we briefly entertained a 2 bedroom at the Saratoga, but opted out for its distance from the Magic Kingdom (as we have a 5yo & 3yo this would be our most visited theme park) and eventually landed at The Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge.

Excellent decision! Magic Kingdom was a 5min boat ride away with boats every 20-30min. And a little insider tip here...if you have already seen the parade...head for the boat back to the hotel just before the fireworks. We were out in the harbor just as the fireworks started booming over the castle and our captain informed us with a sheepish grin "Folks we will have to hold here for oncoming traffic." And we enjoyed the entire display from a amazing vantage point. We would apply this same tactic just before the electric boat parade and again we would get to see the entire thing from the water almost right next to it. The farthest bus ride to anywhere was 30minutes more because we shared the buses with the Grand Floridian and Polynesian resorts not because of distance.

The accommodations were wonderful 2 huge bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms, kitchen, living room, 2 decks, and laundry. The hotel amenities were wonderful as well. 1 large pool with a waterslide where every afternoon a cast members led fun games, crafts, etc for the kids. There was another smaller pool with bubblers located through out which was a bit quieter for the adults enjoyment. The Cubs Den provided free crafts every afternoon from 2-4PM. And you could book them as well for evening childcare for ~$10 an hour with dinner included. We also enjoyed free cookie decorating each afternoon at the Roaring Fork, the quick service, ala carter restaurant. Also on site was a arcade, bike & boat rental. Free nightly movies on the beach. The Sturdy Branches Health Club to work off the treats consumed at the parks. And if you ventured out to the boat dock at about 9:30PM you could catch the electrical light pageant. Forget something … on site was the Mercantile which had of course your Disney souvenirs, but also some food and toiletry items, which were not marked up too horribly.

We were very, very happy with this hotel. And if we ever did decide to return with our family of four we would certainly entertain staying at Fort Wilderness Lodge in their standard hotel rooms located in the building right next door.

OK, shew anxiety level coming down as room reservations were made...stay tuned my next installment will be tickets & dining/food

Monday, July 12, 2010

When Parent GOes without Child

We have left our children for 24-48hours before. And in preparation for this summer my husband talked me into going to Jackson Hole, WY for a 3 day ski trip without the munchkins this past February. So I would be emotionally ready with our 9 days away from them this summer.

Last year we started researching a trip to get away during his 8 week sabbatical which only comes every 7 years. During the last one, prechildren, we had done 3+weeks away on a multi-sport in Australia & Fiji. But now we have two little persons that not only carry half of each of us in their genes, but in their hearts. So even though we knew it would not only be good for us, but good for them and the grandparents with whom they would be staying 2 questions loomed large before me…how long can I leave them and how far away can I go?

Luckily I had an alter ego…a good girlfriend who did the trial run for me. She is a good friend, one of the inspirations behind this blog, mother, traveler, and basically a “me” with blond hair and a few less inches of height. In fact the alternate me even swapped due dates with me on our first children. She had her boy on my due date and I my girl on hers…10 days apart. She embarked on an adult only trip for 15 days to France last year leaving her boy with the grandparents. Now one other difference between us is she works every day and travels even ever so often for work, so when she said “15 was too long and France was too far.” I knew my destination needed to be a bit closer and my stay shorter. So with that we decided on Costa Rica for 9 days, including travel to & from.

Next decision…do the grandparents come to our home or take the kids to theirs? Our children only see their grandparents, who live half way across the country, every 3-4 months and their home once a year. So we decided to go with the grandparent’s home. The novelty of their home would buy them a couple of days of interest. The biggie for the decision though was having he grandparents on their turf. Where they were comfortable to drive, not only to places of pleasure, but to a hospital in case of an emergency.

So for 3 months we counted down the days till we would go to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Behind the scenes we were mapping out adventures for the kids while there once the house novelty wore off. The grandparents also hit the yard sales for 2 bikes and borrowed DVDs, toys, etc from other local grandparent friends whose grandchildren visit more frequently than us. And on our end at 2weeks out we packed a box of favorite toys, stuffed animals, etc and took advantage of parcel post and sent them ahead of us…so a bit of home could be waiting when we got there. In fact it arrived early enough Grandma took a picture of the stuffed animals awaiting their arrival on their beds and sent it over email. Now the excitement was at fever pitch.

We arrived in town 2 days before we were to depart again and spent time settling the kids in and shopping for their favorite snacks, foods, toothpaste, etc.. We also made a countdown calendar for our trip and hence our return to them. Each day showed what we would be doing or where we were so we would have a discussion topic when we spoke to them. Speaking of which…the Internet age has made that piece so much easier. Thanks to VOIP (Voice Over Internet Phone), Email, Text Messages, Cell Phones, and Skype we were able to communicate almost (exception when we were in the rain forest) using one method or another.

Our last step before departing which wound up being a massive one…that would work, but we would also learn from would be to prepare for an emergency. We left copies of our insurance cards as well as a letter stating the grandparents were given the right to make health care decisions in our absence. And here’s where I must take a deep breath.

Our trip and preparation was perfect. The first 7 days were wonderful for all. The kids enjoyed all their adventures and we ours. And via our modes of communication we shared pictures, video conferences, etc and discussed them all. Until Day 8. We had been in the jungle for 2 days and returned to hear our daughter was ill. Day 9 our last day we called to check in to find she had been taken to an emergency room. And within 2 hours we would learn she was being ambulanced to a children’s hospital for an emergency appendectomy. And here we are in Central America.

The grandparents were armed with the insurance cards and thanks again the modern age we were in constant contact to help make decisions regarding hospital choice, etc.. We even gave our verbal consent for the surgery over cell phone to the surgeon in Louisville, KY while awaiting our flight in San Jose. We had been 99% diligent in our preparation. The 1% miss was that last statement. Now as her condition was life threatening they would have performed the surgery without our consent. HOWEVER, in a less life threatening event had they not been able to reach us it may have been delayed. But you say you left a letter giving the grandparents rights. Well, to make the letter fully legal and actionable we should have had it witnessed and notarized.

I don't mean for this story to scare you or discourage you from GOing without your child. I believe it is healthy for all involved for these parent-only trips. My story is to only help ultimately put your mind at ease for the longer, farther trips. By sharing my 1% miss you can now be 100% prepared when you as a parent GO without your child.