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.