Friday, August 8, 2014

Parental Rite of Passage: The Disney Trip (part 1)

Because I travel a lot for work, I rack up points with different airlines and hotel chains. Respectively, my favorites are Southwest and Hilton. For the latter, I received a call from Hilton’s time-share division about an offer. Typically, I wouldn’t even answer unknown calls, but the number came up as a Florida number and I mistakenly thought it was one of my co-workers, who had a Florida-based mobile number.

The salesperson must have caught me in a happy-go-lucky mood, because I agreed to set up a vacation at a Hilton for an extremely low rate, in exchange for listening to a time-share spiel. I picked Orlando at the Hilton on the Disney property, and timed it to coincide with my cousin’s wedding in Florida.

Quick confession: I LOVE Disney. Yes, the princess movie themes go against everything I believe in, the company’s immense revenues are sickening, and the child stars Disney shows have spawned are crimes again humanity. But still. The Disney parks are my happy place. And because I hadn’t been since I was 18, neither of my children nor my husband had ever been to Disney, and we all had to travel to Florida in March anyway, it was an easy sell.

To prep, I found some of the cool Disney documentaries on Netflix and watched them with Maya. These documentaries may be nothing more that Disney propaganda, but I dare you to watch them and not get excited about visiting.

I also spent the five months leading up to the trip planning. Specifically, I wanted to figure out the food situation. Spending three nights in a hotel and our days at theme parks screamed “expensive food” to me.

Fortunately, there are entire blogs devoted to dining at Disney and options for food. Through these, I was happy to learn that you can bring food into the parks, so we loaded up our bags with the essentials: bread, PB&J, granola bars, raisins and instant oatmeal. Little hotel hack with the oatmeal: Brew hot water in your in-room coffee maker to make it if you don’t have a microwave.

No Gideon's were harmed in the making of this photo

The basics: Kindle, coffee, peanut butter

We also made reservations ahead of time for the obligatory character breakfast. We picked Ohana at the Polynesian. The food is OK, but it’s really all about the experience. They had a kids’ parade through the restaurant, which Maya loved.

The characters also visit your table repeatedly. Jane was obsessed with their shiny noses.

Oh my god! It's the Big Cheese.

Must. Touch. Nose.

And Stitch!
So many noses. Not enough time.
I said noses, not roses. MORE NOSES. 

Finally, I planned out our itinerary. I’ll go into the actual trip details in the next post:

Day One
Fly in, travel to hotel
Settle into hotel, pool time
Dinner at Downtown Disney (walking distance from hotel)

Day Two
Magic Kingdom!

Day Three
Morning getting time-share pitch
Afternoon at Planet Hollywood

Day Four

Animal Kingdom

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Super Bowl Shuffle

After the excitement of Costa Rica, followed by the dizzying stimuli of Las Vegas, our next trip this year was a bit more subdued: a weekend road trip through Iowa and Missouri.

Still, the trip included some highlights neither the girls nor I had experienced, like visiting the town where Chris grew up:

Boy Wunder's boyhood home
Where our future hero had his first job

and eating at one of his favorite restaurants, The Machine Shed:

Pork. It's what's for breakfast. 
Hi Cow Pig. I ate you. 

Although Iowa is always a popular mid-winter vacation destination, the purpose of our trip was our annual trek to Kansas City for a Super Bowl party. Over the years, this party has morphed from a group of 20-somethings watching the game in the big home theatre, to scattered groups of 30-somethings chasing children and watching about 5 minutes of actual football. The beer and wine consumption, though, is relatively unchanged.

Haha, oh Mom. You won't be able to watch a sporting event in its entirety again for another 18 years. 

"Can you believe how quickly Oreo responded to the blackout?"
"I know! I wonder if any other brands will try to do the exact same thing over the next two months?"

Monday, August 26, 2013

Vegas, babies

So, I'm trailing about 8 months behind on posts. But it's hard to keep up when our little family is constantly on the move. So far 2013 has brought us to quite a few places in the States — some new destinations for the girls, and some revisited.

The year began with us in the air, returning from Costa Rica. And although we probably needed to keep our feet on the ground for a good, long stretch, we only stayed put for about three weeks. Then it was off to the most logical, mid-January family destination: Las Vegas.

My girls are high rollers.

The truth is, the stars aligned in such a way that we just had to visit LV. I was traveling there for work (i.e. free flight) the very same week Chris' dad was traveling there for work. Add in dad's ability to get us a free room, and my inability to ever say no to Vegas, and there you have it: Six Wunders in the middle of the desert.

This was actually Maya's second trip to the Sin City. She went once with Chris (again, to meet up with family) when she was about a year and a half old. On that trip, the spirit of the city most have gotten to her because she had the most Vegas of experiences: public nudity.

(Apparently, her diaper fell off while she was wearing a dress. So, she lifted up her dress and ran around showing everyone what had happened.)

On this second trip, we all managed to keep our clothes on in public. We spent most of our time there at an off-strip hotel that included, among other amenities, a movie theater, an arcade, a bowling alley, and lots and lots of unhealthy food options. So, we made sure to let the girls indulge in (almost) all the gluttony that is Las Vegas:

Dude, no embarrassing photos, please.

If you can't drink while bowling, have a donut.

Mmrrrrawww, I totally won't regret this tomorrow!

She was too hopped up on donut to realize we never put in any quarters.

Oh god, how much did I consume last night?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Costa Rica part 3: Splish Splash

Costa Rica is a small country, bordered by the Gulf Coast on one side, the Pacific Coast on the other, and rainforests in the middle. Then there are lakes, rivers, estuaries, swamps, and more running through it. For such a small country, it sure is watery.

Why use a bridge when we can just run through the water?

So naturally, our trip included water-based activities on an almost-daily basis. First and foremost was the pool at our rental, which we used every day. It wasn't heated, but after a day in the sun, that didn't matter.

One them asked for a beer right after this picture was taken. I'm not saying who. 

We spent our first week in Costa Rica in the beach community Playa Grande. So naturally, we also spent a lot of time at the beach, including Christmas Day. Feliz Navidad, indeed. 

Forgot to bring the Santa swimsuit.

The day before, on Christmas Eve, we did a tour of the estuary between Playa Grande and the nearest "city," Tamarindo. On the tour, we got to spot lots of sleepy monkeys, different types of birds, and although I didn't personally see it, the one and only scorpion we encountered on our trip.

Monkey see.

Riding in style. 

Tamarindo itself is a touristy beach town, full of t-shirt shops, ice cream stands and Spring Break-style bars. It wasn't our favorite destination overall, although we did get a pretty view of the Pacific.

Just add tequila.

The day after Christmas, we did our hike at Rincon de la Vieja, which included a look at our first waterfall of the trip. Because we were there during this region's dry season, the waterfall was more of a trickle, but it was impressive nonetheless.

It's higher than it looks


The following day was Chris' birthday. We had planned to spend that whole day at the beach, but Maya was starting to develop a nasty cold and running a low temperature. So instead, we hung out at the house and the pool, drank rum and/or juice, and snacked on some of the area's good eats:

What is this strange fruit?

It kinda looks like an orange.

Yes, definitely an orange. Yum.

We did eventually make it the beach that day to see the sunset. I don't think I've ever seen such a beautiful one. 

Happy birthday, Dad.

Probably one of my all-time favorite pictures. 

Three lucky girls.


The next day, we left the beach and headed for the hills. On the drive, we watched the clear, sunny skies of the dry region morph into overcast and clouds of the highlands. 

Not to be confused with Loch Ness.

Those clouds, and their rain, remained with us for the next three days. But seeing as we were in a rainforest, we weren't surprised or disappointed. 

Our hotel here also had quite an interesting bathroom, which was supposed to simulate a waterfall, I think. Water came out of both the enclosed shower area, as well as from the top of the rocks in the corner. You could choose one or the other, or both. Either way, the bathroom flooded every time. 

Um, OK.

On our second day in the Arenal region, we headed down to the main city closest to us, La Fortuna de Arenal. Our water encounters continued there. 

Chris gets creative with my iPhone.

That afternoon, we did a hike at Arenal. To say we got rained on would be an understatement. As Forrest Gump once said, "We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin' rain... and big ol' fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath."

In other words, we got soaked. 

The ponchos do nothing.

His shoes still aren't dry.
The hike included our second waterfall. This one was quite a bit more than the trickle we'd experienced at Rincon:

On our last full day in Costa Rica, we hung out at the hotel pool, which was heated. Rain came and went throughout the day, but it didn't really matter. 

Play areas for Maya.

And a swim-up bar for Mom and Dad. 

I read in some parenting book once that when children are unhappy, just put them in water. In the case of Costa Rica, this was definitely true. Although this was certainly not a tear-free vacation (oh, the meltdowns...), most tears could be dried with a dip in the pool or a splash in a puddle. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Costa Rica Part 2: Mud Buddies

Maya is one of those kids who can't keep clean. Sure, all little kids are messy. But Maya's the type who, at any given time, and despite my best efforts, has ketchup on her cheek, peanut butter in her hair and dried yogurt all over the front of her shirt.

So far, Jane doesn't seem to share this trait with her older sis. In face, I often forget to use a bib when feeding her because she so rarely needs one. And if you've met Jane, you might be wondering, "If she's so neat, why is all of her clothing stained?" Because they're all hand-me-downs from Maya.

So, a vacation to an outdoors-y, rugged place like Costa Rica is pretty much perfect for Maya. As for Jane, if she wants to keep up with her sister, she'll just have to embrace getting dirty.

And embrace it, they did. Mud, sand, dirt, juice, beans, rice, you name it. They were in it.

Three months later, I'm still finding sand on her head.

Best Christmas Day ever.

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to Rincon de la Vieja, one of the country's many volcanos. We did a hike through the national forest there, and got to see a different kind of mud — the hot, bubbling volcanic variety.

Sign translation: Don't touch.

One creator of hot, stinky gas meets another.

Smoke monster.

The hike at Rincon ended with a visit to the area's hot springs, where the no-longer-bubbling volcanic mud is slathered on your skin, before taking a dip in the naturally heated springs.

At first we weren't sure if our 3-year-old would enjoy or appreciate this spa-like experience. Then we remembered that it was, at its core, mud and water. It might as well have been Goldfish and grape juice.

You missed a spot.

I really needed this.

And speaking of water, there's sort of a lot of it in Costa Rica. Who knew? I'll tackle all things H2O in my next post.