Wednesday 31 August 2011


I can't dance.  There's your disclaimer, and something to keep in mind as I tell you about our evening at Jabbawockeez, a dance crew performing at the Monte Carlo in Vegas.  It's possible that my general lack of rhythm should preclude me from reviewing a dance show, but since I was at the show and you weren't (Unless you were, in which case why didn't you come over and introduce yourself?) I'm going to do my best.  Suffice to say, if you can keep beat to anything more complicated than 4/4 time, then you might want to take these thoughts with a grain of salt.

Prior to their arrival in Las Vegas, the only thing I knew about the Jabbawockeez was that they were eliminated pretty early in season two of America's Got Talent.  Apparently after that they went on to win the first season of America's Best Dance Crew, and have gotten bigger and bigger since then.  They did a couple of short stints as a guest act at the Monte Carlo, and then were signed to a contract when Lance Burton decided to end the run of his magic show there.  It's definitely brought in a much younger audience to the casino.  At Tim McGraw/Faith Hill I felt really young.  Here I felt like I should be parenting (or maybe grandparenting) some of the young'uns attending the show.

Lets start with the good stuff.  The preshow is long, but it's very funny.  A lone Jabbawockee (is that the singular?) comes out to entertain for a while by interacting with the audience.  There's actually quite a bit of audience participation in this show, so be warned that the front five rows are prime territory to be chosen as a "helper", unless, of course, you are young, wearing a little black dress, and recently overestimated a little when getting breast implants.  You they'll find wherever you may be in the theatre.  The music choices are good.  As I would expect, I don't know every song from the rap genre, but there were plenty of familiar songs, and those are the routines that kept my attention the best.  That just leaves the dancing.  Obviously they're amazing dancers, so that must be the best part of the show right?

Kind of.  Look, they are amazing dancers, but the problem with amazing dancing is that it's everywhere these days.  It's on TV all the time.  Every pop star tours with an entire crew of great dancers.  Just yesterday I walked down the street in San Francisco and saw some incredible dance moves from people who only wanted you to throw them a dollar or two, not the $85 that Jabbawockeez is asking.  It's kind of like sawing a lady in half.  The first magician to figure out how to do this probably became an instant star, but pretty soon everybody was doing the trick, and the only way to make your version stand above the others was to put your own spin on it.  This is where Jabbawockeez are.  They're "putting their own spin" on the dance show and I'd say they're about 60% there.  There's still some dull moments, and the storyline could use some cohesiveness as everything seems to fall under the giant umbrella of "Finding your own muse through music", but they're getting there and what they've started with is pretty good.

What I'd really like to see though, is something to differentiate between the different Jabbawockeez.  The white masks are worn so that you have to focus on the group as a whole and not as individuals.  This is fine when you're dancing, but when you're trying to develop separate personalities within a story (Wow! I sound like an English teacher.) it's hard to do without being able to tell them apart.  I want to cheer for the guy who lost the girl, I just don't know which one he is anymore. 

I hope the Monte Carlo keeps this show around for a while, as there's a ton of potential in it.  Most likely it will depend on whether or not the audience that the show brings in is the one that Monte Carlo is looking to attract.  I would absolutely be interested in going back to see the show again if it changes and evolves some more.  I'm just not going to sit in the first five rows, and I'm definitely not wearing my little black dress.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Dear Harrahs...

Dear Harrahs,

Thank you so much for hosting us for a few nights recently.  I really do appreciate your letting us stay with you, and I am really thankful for the tickets to the Tim McGraw/Faith Hill concert.  We had a fantastic weekend, and even though I tried as hard as possible, we didn't seem to lose very much money this weekend.  Unless you count the money my wife spent shopping.  If you got even a portion of that money then you made out like a bandit inviting us down.  I was looking over something on your website yesterday, and I couldn't help but notice a couple of discrepancies between what I saw this past weekend, and what you've chosen to use in your promotional materials on your website.  As a thank you for your hospitality, I thought I would point them out to you.

Firstly, I noticed that on the virtual tour of your Classic room, which we were assigned to, the cabinet in the room was closed, thus depriving people of the opportunity to preview the wonderful TV that you've placed in the room.  I was a little surprised to find a 25" tube television inside the cabinet, as I didn't think they made them any more, but after watching it for a little while I realized that it must be one of those new 3D televisions, as the picture was far fuzzier than any normal television could ever be.  I never did find where you hid the glasses in the room, but I'm sure it would have been a really fun way to watch TV.

It also seems that you forgot to include the details on your wireless internet for the hotel.  At least I assume you have wireless, as that's what your tech support person told me when I called for help.  We really did try, but for some reason my computer could never find your network.  It could find the business center's, Toby Keith's, Wyndhams, the Venetians, and four or five of the personal networks belonging to the people who live in the apartments behind your casino,  but not yours.  That's ok, as it was a lot more fun to move the table between the two beds so we could connect to the really short cable for the wired internet.  We could have used the computer as a night light, but we didn't need to, as the message light on the phone blinked solidly for the entire three days we were there, no matter how many times we tried to get it turned off.

My favorite bit of website magic however, is on your home page.  You have four pictures of people having a good time in your casino.  My favorite is the lady jumping on her bed (maybe she found the wireless network?) but they all have a certain something special about them.  Oh wait...I know what it is.  They're all sober!  Where exactly did you take these pictures, because I spent three days wandering around your hotel, and I didn't see anyone as sober looking as the people in your photos (OK, maybe the guy with the spoon hanging from his nose had a few drinks, but he's got a giant coffee in front of him now.)  You've either got an accomplished Photoshop technician on your staff, or you're hiding all the sober people somewhere.  If it's the latter, I'd love to know where.

Finally, I think you've missed a huge opportunity to promote your Party Pit.  When I look at the picture you've chosen to use, it contains three lovely young ladies.  This is good, but if you'd just widen the shot a little you could get the timeshare booth behind them into the picture.  Now I know that some people consider the timeshare people a nuisance, but that's only if they're talking to you.  When they're talking to other people, it's funny, and when they're talking to drunk people, it's hilarious.  I was fortunate enough to be around when a timeshare salesman captured the attention of a really drunk lady and her husband, and even though I was already running late to meet my wife, I couldn't tear myself away.  The poor timeshare person kept trying to offer an incentive to the couple to come to a presentation, but the husband kept insisting that the offer needed to be higher, while his wife kept insisting that it should be less.  This went back and forth for a little while and ended when the timeshare person declined the opportunity to participate in a conversation about the purity of the husbands family tree.  Things like this don't happen in the room where they keep the sober people.

Seriously though, the important part of a visit is the customer service, and yours was exemplary.  Between the great service, your low room rates, and your perfect location right in the middle of the strip, you may be one of the best values in the city.  We have fond memories of the weekend and we hope to return real soon.  Besides I really want to find out if that couple ever bought the timeshare.  

Monday 29 August 2011

Celebrating in San Francisco

You're not getting too much from me today as it's my birthday and I've only got 24 hours in San Francisco to go explore the town.  I don't want to leave you empty handed though, so here's a tour of the suite Lori and I are staying in at the Fairmont San Francisco.  No...we don't usually stay in rooms like this, but it's nice when it happens!

Sunday 28 August 2011

That's Not What a Las Vegas Audience Looks Like

I had this post all worked out ahead of time.  I was sitting in the Theatre for Performing Arts at Planet Hollywood this evening, waiting for a private concert by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill to start, and I was sketching this entry out in my mind.  The thought was to write about Las Vegas audiences, and how musicians must hate coming to play here.  I've been to plenty of shows here in Las Vegas by now, and I can't count the number of times I left a show feeling sorry for the performer.  When a performer plays at a casino, the casino gives away a lot of tickets to its best players, and when you give people something for free, they usually take it, whether or not they really have any use for it.  The performers give it their all, but when your audience is composed of people who are hearing your music for the first time, it's almost impossible to get people up on their feet and dancing.  Actually in some cases, it really is impossible.  Casino patrons tend to skew towards the older demographic.  So tonight the plan was to write about how frustrating that must be for an artist.

Maybe another night.

Tonight was a night for us old folks to get up and dance. Especially the ladies. I don't know what it is about Tim McGraw, but he has some kind of hold over his female fans.  It's almost as if handsome, funny, and physically fit are back in again.  Who knew?  Apparently it was no secret to the ladies at the show tonight, as they chased Tim back and forth across the theatre every time he was brave enough to come into the audience.  When Tim wisely retreated to the safety of the stage, the front of the theatre packed up with people standing, dancing, and having a fantastic time.  It was very un-casino-y.

Give the credit to Tim though, as he kept imploring the audience to get into the show.  He started the show off playing with his band, and played hit after hit until everybody had to have heard at least one of their favorite songs.  He made serious efforts to connect with the audience, joking that "I know you're all just waiting for the pretty blonde girl to come out" and when it looked like people might be sitting back, Tim went into the audience himself, causing an almost stampede from nearly every woman in the room.

Then, the pretty blonde girl did come out.  Faith joined Tim for a couple of duets, then took center stage herself for a few songs while Tim took a break.  Faith hasn't been doing a whole lot of shows lately, and it was a real treat to see her back on the stage.  She still sounds great, looks good, and has all the same charisma that her husband does.  When the two of them are on the stage together, it's readily apparent that they are still deeply in love.  Or maybe it was apparent because Lori kept tapping my arm and saying "Look how in love they are" every 5 minutes or so.

Tim came back to play some more, since he still had more hits that hadn't been jammed into the show yet.  I love those concerts where you knew every song, and can sing along to everything that gets played.  Of course the people sitting around me probably wish I didn't know every song, or at least that I could sing better, but at least I knew the words (It's "Live Like You've Been Frying" right?)

The show was a private concert for members of the Total Rewards program, which means that Lori and I were probably some of the younger people invited.  Everybody got a free room for the weekend and two free tickets to the concert.  This is not an ideal way to fill a 7,000 seat theatre with diehard fans, but the group that came out tonight was one of the better audiences that I've seen at a Las Vegas concert.  It'll take more than one good crowd to make me change my thinking about Las Vegas audiences (I'm keeping my original ideas on file) but tonight was a treat to have such a lively group.  Congratulations to Tim and Faith for a fantastic concert and I hope they enjoyed their "night away from the kids".   

Saturday 27 August 2011

Criss Angel's Believe

I've been avoiding seeing Criss Angel's Believe for a couple of years now.  It didn't start that way.  I'm a huge Cirque fan, and I find Mindfreak somewhat entertaining.  When the show opened in 2008, I was pumped and couldn't wait to see it.  Cirque with magic?  Brilliant!  How could it be anything but incredible! Unfortunately, at the time it was a couple of months until I could get to Las Vegas, and before I could get there, the reviews came out.  Apparently it could be less than incredible.

So I left the show for a while.  Three years actually, and I still wouldn't have gone, but Lori wanted to see it.  Do you know how hard it is to tell Lori that you don't want to do something that she wants to do for three years?  I've earned my medal for bravery, let's just say that.  Finally though, as she always does, Lori got her way.  Cheap tickets and a free evening mean that I spent last night at Believe.  So is it as bad as the reviews say?

Not really, but this may not be a fair comparison.  The show was heavily revamped about 10 months ago.  Gone are almost all traces of the Cirque influence, and left in it's place is a standard Criss Angel magic show.  I like magic, and Criss seems like a pretty good magician on TV, so this should be better right?  The problem is that the magic isn't very impressive.  If you've seen David Copperfield's show then you've seen the tricks from Believe, but you've seen them performed better.  Actually if you've ever seen an episode of America's Got Talent then you've probably seen most of the stuff from Believe. 

They say that there are only a limited number of illusions, and that the difference between tricks is the personal spin that magicians put on it.  This should play into Criss Angel's hands as anybody who has seen an episode of Mindfreak will tell you that he's incredibly creative.  It's not on display in Believe though.  The tricks are bland and obvious.  Criss' spin seems to be adding some small pyrotechnics and a lot of swearing.  It makes me wonder how real the tricks on Mindfreak are.  How can anybody who does such amazing stuff on TV have such boring tricks in his live show?  Is the real magic of Mindfreak the "magic of television"?  It makes you wonder, and I wonder how much of it will stick in my mind the next time I stop to watch a Mindfreak episode.

After the revamp of the show, the ratings improved a tiny bit, taking his show from a one star level, up to two stars.  That sounds like about the right placement for this show, so although it might not be as awful as the original reviews, it's still not good.  It does seem that the show may still be transitioning in it's move away from Cirque though, so I'm going to give the show another three years and then, if by some miracle it's still playing, I'll come back and try the show again.  Until then, congratulations to Mystere.  You are no longer my least liked Cirque du Soleil show.

Practicing the pose.  If it's not better in 3 years, I'm ready to take over.

Friday 26 August 2011

Surviving Southwest

A couple of months ago, I wrote about buying my first ever Southwest ticket.  Guess what day today was?  It was finally time for me to test out the world of festival airline seating.  I've been dreading it for a while now, but eventually it had to happen.  So was all my worrying warranted or a huge waste of time?

Hmmm...get off in Vegas or carry on to Tampa during hurricane season...

Let me start of with a disclaimer and say that I did cheat a little by paying extra to have Southwest automatically check me in for the flight as early as possible.  Southwest numbers your boarding passes by the time you check-in for your flight.  There's A,B,and C groups and each group (on our flight anyways) had 60 slots.  You want an A boarding pass, as that way you get let on the plane first.  The boarding order goes Group A 1-15 (reserved for people who buy business select fares) / Group A 16-30 / Group A 31-60 / Families with small children / B 1-30/ B31-60/ C group. 

Our automatic check-in garnered us A24 & A25.  When it's time to line up, there are signs dividing the line into fives (eg. A16-20, A21-25, etc...) but Southwest tells you to find your own place in line. This is entertaining as you have to find the person with the boarding pass ahead of you, and it creates a clear pecking order as people try and make sure they're in the right place.  I found myself feeling incredibly defensive of my spot in line, leaving me trying to scan the boarding passes of the people in front of me to be sure that I hadn't been usurped by somebody with a lower number.  At this point in the day, my spot at the end of A21-25 was my most precious possession, and though I looked enviously at the few people in front of me, there were many more I could look back at with pity.  I was convinced that those poor people with C passes would be riding in the luggage hold.

They called our group forward, and everybody ahead of me grabbed seats in the first couple of rows on the plane.  Hello?  Ever heard of the exit row people?  Lori and I went back further, and sure enough all of the exit row seating was empty.  Lori even got a seat with no seat in front of her, which in hindsight was probably a bit of a waste as we don't really need that much legroom, but it became a point of pride as later people would come by and look longingly at the seat.

The plane filled up, and the flight attendant (We had two male flight attendants on our trip.  First time I've ever had more than one.) came out to ask the exit row questions.  I've answered these many times before on Alaska, where the flight attendant comes over and asks if you are comfortable with the duties of sitting in the exit row and we all say yes.  Southwest apparently takes this a little more seriously as we had a long discussion on how to open the emergency door and when it should be done (apparently not any old time you feel like it).  They also told us that in case of an evacuation, we would need to man the emergency exit, as they would be busy elsewhere.  I found that humorous as I had visions of me on the airplane wing helping people out while the flight attendants were pushing the beverage carts across the tarmac.  

Eventually we got underway and, much to my surprise, once you're up in the air Southwest is very much like every other airline.  It's kind of like the casinos in Vegas.  Every one of them looks different from the outside, but when you're in the middle of a sea of slot machines it all looks the same.  The flight was a little bumpy on the way in to Las Vegas, but no matter how hard I try, there doesn't seem to be a way to blame that on Southwest's boarding system.  We landed right on time, and we were off on another Vegas adventure.

So I've survived my flight with Southwest, and it wasn't as bad as I thought.  I'm still not a fan of the boarding process, but it wasn't the complete chaos I'd feared, and it does have the added bonus of making sure people show up at the gate on time.  They say Southwest uses this boarding system to allow them a quicker turnaround, but Alaska boards their planes in half the time.  I do love the fact that bags are free on Southwest, not because of the savings (we get free bags as elite flyers on Alaska), but since everybody checks their bags there is lots of overhead bin space.  Although I'm pretty sure that's where some of the people with C boarding passes had to sit.

Thursday 25 August 2011

How We Entertain Our Kids In Las Vegas

Lori and I are heading to Las Vegas tomorrow....alone!  Yes as much of an advocate as I am for traveling with your kids, every once in a while we need some time to ourselves.  Harrah's has invited us down for a concert on Saturday night, so we thought we would make a weekend out of it and have some fun.  The fact that it's my birthday this weekend just happens to provide a great excuse. 

Even though they're not coming with us this time, my kids have spent plenty of time in Vegas in the past.  People say that children and Las Vegas don't mix.  I'll give them a 50% for accuracy on that one.  I'd say that kids and "the strip" don't mix.  Outside of the main drag where all the tourists congregate, there's a city of almost two million people, a couple of which are under the age of 18.  So what do we do with our kids when we're in Las Vegas?  I'm glad you asked...

Bowling: Sure you can go bowling anywhere, but you can do it really cheap in Las Vegas.  Casino's will subsidize pretty much anything to get people in the door, so take advantage of the deals.  I don't actually know how much bowling costs anywhere else, but in Las Vegas I look to pay $1 per game and a couple of bucks for shoe rental.  Maybe a little bit more if I need them to bump up my score so my kids don't beat me.

Movies: Remember what I said about the casinos being willing to subsidize things?  It applies to movies too.  There's almost always a deal going on if you're willing to get up early.  Of course, I mean early by Las Vegas standards, so pretty much any time before 6pm will do.

The Pinball Hall of Fame: This place is as much for Dad as it is for the kids.  They've got 10,000 square feet of pinball machines and (despite the name) classic video games like the original Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.  All the pinball machines that you used to play in your youth are here and generally in good working order.  It still costs 25 cents to play most of them, although a couple of the newer machines are more, and you can spend an entire afternoon here for around $10.  Unless you suck at pinball like me...then you'd better budget at least $20.

Skyzone: My kids are not big into physical exercise, but they absolutely love this place.  Picture a warehouse where they tear out the floor and replace it with trampolines.  Then just to make it a little more appealing to those with no sense of fear, they replace the bottom half of the walls with trampolines as well.  If your kids are driving you nuts with pent up energy, bring them here.  An hour of bouncing will wipe them out for the rest of the day (It wiped me out for the better part of January.) First thing in the morning is the best time, as having the place to yourself is insanely fun, although when there's more people around they open up dodgeball games which are a blast as well. 

Mac King:  There's very few reasons I would recommend taking your kids to the strip, but this is the best one I could ever give you.  Mac is probably the most likeable personality in Las Vegas, and his show is as good as any of the late night big budget shows that you can break the bank for.  He's an amazing comic/magician who performs a one hour show afternoons at Harrah's casino, and while his show isn't necessarily aimed at them, it's perfect for kids.  I could heap praise on this show forever, but let's get to the best part...the price.  Full price is $33 per person, but it's almost impossible to make your way to the showroom without somebody trying to hand you a coupon (if you're really stuck, ask at the Total Rewards desk) for a free admission with a drink purchase, which is usually around $12.95.  I don't know how they pay Mac with tickets that low, but he's worth every penny that he gets.

There's plenty of other things to do for the entire family like Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, or the Adventuredome at Circus Circus.  Las Vegas with kids can be an enjoyable stop, but please don't be the person dragging their child up and down the strip at midnight.  Stick to the rest of the city, and leave the strip to the partiers.  Your kids will get there soon enough when they turn 21.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

The Time I Was In An Earthquake...Kind Of....I Think....

I'm glad nobody got hurt in the earthquake that hit the east coast today.  I'm sure it's a shock to people who live in a relatively inactive seismic area when a shift actually takes place, but you have to admit it's kind of humorous seeing everybody out on the street wondering what to do next.  It was probably particularly funny for Californians, who most likely wouldn't even spill a drop of coffee in a 5.9 earthquake.  It would probably take at least a 7.0 before a Los Angeles driver would even slow down to the posted speed limit.

I live nowhere near earthquake country.  The so called experts keep predicting a big earthquake for Vancouver, but even if the big one did hit right in the middle of the city, it's still not going to cause much damage where I live.  Actually if the entire Vancouver area fell into the ocean, the biggest affect on me would be an increase in my property values as the ocean moves closer to my house.

I do, however, spend plenty of time in California.  I've wondered on occasion what it would feel like to be in a real earthquake.  Not a huge one, but just a little 6.0 or something like that.  Then last year, I got my chance as we were lucky enough to be in Anaheim when an earthquake struck (Yes, for the purposes of this story, that was lucky.) 

It was an average day at Disneyland (Can there be an "average" day at Disneyland?  I mean, you're in the happiest place on Earth!  By definition shouldn't any day at Disneyland be an "above average" day?  Unless you have a really exciting life.  Then maybe.) and the boy and I decided to try and get one more run of Space Mountain in before heading back to the hotel.  The ride was good (I'd even say "above average" life's not that exciting) but as we got off we noticed that they weren't putting anybody else in the cars.  We assumed that the ride had broken down again, as that certainly wouldn't be a rare thing (see here).  On our way out though, we noticed that the lines had stopped moving for almost all the rides. 

We hurried out to catch the shuttle back to the hotel, and on the ride somebody asked if we had felt the earthquake.  What!  There was an earthquake and we missed it?  How is that possible?  My wife says that I never notice anything, but I asssumed she was talking about the baskets of unfolded laundry, not earthquakes. 

We're not the quickest people on the planet, but eventually we put the clues together and realized that the earthquake must have occurred while we were on Space Mountain.  That would explain the ride shutting down, as Disney always retests everything after any kind of tremor.  It certainly didn't make me happy though, to have missed my chance to experience a real California earthquake.  Do you know what a ride on Space Mountain feels like during an earthquake?  It feels like a ride on Space Mountain.

As the shuttle got us back to the hotel, the guests who had actually bothered to leave the hotel during the mandatory evacuation (otherwise known as non-Californians), were being allowed back in.  Up in the room I turned on the TV and scanned for news of this historic event, but apparently in Los Angeles earthquakes aren't noteworthy unless the freeway collapses or a Starbucks closes.  I tried to look for news on the internet, but it wasn't working.  Aha!  The collapse of one of our key methods of communication surely was an indicator that I had survived something major!  Alas, it turned out that my 24 hours of internet time had run out, and I simply had to sign in for the next days allotment.  Upon reconnecting, there was no news of the quake anywhere.

So I'm left with the argument as to whether or not I've been in an earthquake.  I suppose that by virtue of being in the area, I can say that I have.  On the other hand, I can't begin to explain to anyone what it feels like to be in an earthquake.  It's a question for the ages I suppose...If an earthquake happens on Space Mountain, and nobody bothers to report on it, then was Steve really there?

Tuesday 23 August 2011

10 Reasons to Travel WITH Your Children

I'm sure nobody with children needs any help thinking of reasons for a getaway without kids.  The peace, the tranquility, the general lack of the "Are we there yet?" question provide plenty of motivation for solo travel.  There are, however, some pretty decent benefits to bringing your kids with you when you're traveling, even if you do have to suffer through a few more choruses of "He touched me!" from the back seat.

#10 - Justify a bigger room
Is there really any point in paying for a suite when it's just you and your partner on a trip?  I suppose if it's a very special occasion it might be an option, but generally if Lori and I are traveling alone, any room will do, and there's no point spending money that Lori could be shopping with.  If you have kids with you, the extra space becomes important.  Also, as long as your kids are under 18, Hyatt will sell you a second room for them at 50% off.

#9 - Going places you wouldn't normally go
There's some places that you're just not going to fit in if you don't have kids with you.  Last October we went to Phoenix to see a Selena Gomez concert.  I like Selena, but if it had been just Lori and I there (or worse yet, just me) with thousands of preteen girls, it would have seemed kind of creepy.  Since we brought our kids with us, I transformed from creepy, stalkerish-guy to loving Dad doing things for his kids.  That's a good trade-off.

#8 - Doing things you wouldn't normally do

Sometimes going somewhere is acceptable, but doing a certain activity is weird.  For instance, a grown man can go to Disneyland and blend in without too much scrutiny.  The same grown man riding flying elephants around on Dumbo, looks weird.  It's not always age either.  At the Arizona State Fair, I was just too big to crawl in to the inflatable hamster balls and try to run on the water, but my kids weren't.  They did it for me, and I got to share in the fun by spinning their ball until they were too dizzy to stand.

#7 - Meeting people
People who travel with their kids all tend to have the same exasperated, worn out look on their face.  It's like being teammates on a sports team, it gives you guys an instant connection.  You're both playing for team "What the heck were we thinking bringing our kids here" and you know that neither of you have any hope of winning the game, you're just hoping to finish.

#6 - Sympathy / Distraction
Having your children with you can earn you that little bit of extra tolerance when you do something stupid.  When you have to go to the customer relations desk and tell them that you forgot to bring your print-at-home tickets with you (again), always take a child with you, preferably the cutest or most innocent looking one.  You're much more likely to avoid the (well deserved) sarcastic comments.
Conversely, if distraction is your goal, you'll want your most talkative child.  Say, as a purely hypothetical example, you booked a car rental at a rate that you technically might not qualify for.  Take your little serial talker up to the counter with you, and then ask him/her a question about Webkinz, Pokemon, or whatever really gets them excited.  The poor counter person has no hope of getting to speak with you, and might as well just give you your car and move the line along.

#5 - Foods
I don't know who came up with the idea, but kids packs are one of the most brilliant inventions ever.  Food, drink, and a toy all wrapped up together!  Who wouldn't want to order one of those?  You can't though, unless you've got one of your kids with you.  You're probably also going to want children with you if you're heading to a character breakfast.  You can say you're there for the food all you want, but we see your eyes light up when Pluto comes to the table.

#4 - They remember weird things
As parents we quite often have many things on our mind, and sometimes we don't hear everything that's said.  That's my explanation anyways.  My kids say that as a parent I'm getting old, and I don't remember what was said.  Either way, my kids are full of random bits of knowledge that lock themselves into their minds.  As an example, it doesn't matter how many pictures I take of the lot signs, I always have to rely on my son to get us back to wherever we parked the car.  He also knows where every single-rider line in Disneyland is (they aren't labeled), so when we're headed to Indiana Jones, he's in charge.

#3 - Faster service
This works on the same principle as the doctor's office.  When you show up with kids (the more the better) it can be disruptive to the normal flow of things.  Quite often it's just easier for the restaurant/hotel/shuttle bus driver to deal with you first, and then go back to helping everybody else in the correct order.

#2 - You can ask for better seats
It doesn't work so well at places like Disneyland where everybody has kids with them, but in other places you can usually get away with asking for a seat upgrade because "my daughter can't see".  This could be tried without kids, but I have visions of the usher channeling my mother and yelling "Don't slouch! Sit up straight!!"

#1 - They'll make you laugh
My wife can make me laugh, but my kids can leave me doubled over in stitches.  Apparently when you say "on vacation" their logic processing centers shut down.  I've heard some real head scratchers like "Is my seat on the left side or the inside of the plane?", "What time does the six o'clock shuttle leave?", or my favorite "Are we going to park at the drive-in?" 

I love traveling with my children, and these extra benefits just make it even easier to continue.  Besides, as my kids get older, they become much more patient and far less demanding when it comes to travel.  As long as the shuttle is on time, and I keep booking seats on the inside of the plane, we should do fine.

Monday 22 August 2011

Chilliwack Flight Fest

We were supposed to stay downtown after Mamma Mia last night, then spend today at the PNE so we could see the Miranda Cosgrove concert tonight.  We made a trip to Los Angeles last fall to see one of her shows, but it got cancelled for some reason.  My girls were very excited to get another chance to see her, but then ten days ago she got in to a bus accident and hurt her ankle, thus causing her to cancel her tour.  I'm glad she's going to be fine, but either she's avoiding us, or we are really bad luck for her.  At least it was only a 4 hour drive this time instead of a cross country flight.  One day....

We decided to head home a day early, but since we were under no time constraints, we took a break and checked out the Chilliwack air show.  When we were driving in to Vancouver yesterday, we noticed a bi-plane doing stalls and barrel rolls just off the highway.  I assumed that either somebody was practicing death spirals or Allegiant Air was doing some training, but it turned out that it was a two day airshow going on. 

It seemed like a strange time to have an airshow, with the gigantic Abbotsford airshow having just wrapped up the week before.  This, however, was much more my speed.  While the Abbotsford airshow draws over 125,000 people and costs around $40 a day, the Chilliwack "Flight Fest" only had a couple thousand people there, and there was no charge for admittance.  This was a great chance to see what the airshow scene is all about without too much of a time or money investment.  Heck we didn't even have to invest any exercise.  From our parking spot right in front of the airport it was maybe 100 yards to the main building, and then maybe another 100 yards to the runway.  When my kids don't have time to complain, you know it's a short walk.

Although it was a smaller airshow, it seemed like there was plenty to do.  They had rows of older planes there for you to look at and sit in.  The really neat ones were the old military planes, although how anybody could resist the urge to throw a scarf around their neck and yell "Curse You Red Baron!" over and over again is beyond me.  There were also some military ground vehicles that you could climb around on, and one giant army helicopter that was the source of the only line in the entire airshow (not including the concessions, of course). 

Then there were the performers.  Nutcases, every one of them, but I appreciate the show they put on.  When we first walked in there was a plane taking off leaving a smoke trail behind him, upside down.  It only got more impressive from there.  We spent about an hour at the show, and there were endless loops, rolls, dives, spins and figure eights.  It was dazzling to watch, but it made me feel like a complete wimp for ever complaining about turbulence on a flight.

The time went by too quickly and we still had a long drive home, so we could only stay for a little bit.  It was fantastic to be able to get this close to some of the old planes and see just how talented the pilots really are.  The feeling of adventure is prevalent at an event like this, and my mind turned to all the future trips there are to be taken on (slightly larger) airplanes.  There really is no limit to where we can go with all these fantastic flying machines in the air.  Which is good because who knows how far we're going to have to trek to actually get to see a Miranda Cosgrove concert.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Mamma Mia in Vancouver

I think I've discovered another one of my (many) shortcomings as a parent.  We're in Vancouver tonight, taking the kids to see Mamma Mia at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.  Nothing wrong with that.  In fact it almost seems like a responsible thing to do...exposing your kids to live theatre.  No, the actual problem didn't become obvious until about half way through the first act, but once I noticed it I spent the rest of the evening trying to figure out how this happened...My kids didn't know any of the words.

OK perhaps it's not a major parenting shortfall, and besides, it's all fixed now.  Two and a half hours straight of catchy pop songs is enough to leave a permanent imprint of a band on anyone's mind.  So now that they are armed with knowledge of the greatness that is ABBA, how did they like the show?  Meh...

In their defense, it wasn't the greatest version of Mamma Mia that I've seen either.  This is the fourth time that I've seen the play performed, and this would be probably be my least favorite cast.  They weren't terrible, but they just didn't have a real charisma, and they seemed almost a bit mechanical.  I guess my kids have been to enough shows now to be able to decide for themselves if they like a show or not.  This one wasn't panned, but it wasn't the focus of conversation afterwards either. 

The end of the Blue Man Group in Las Vegas
While I was prodding for a reaction on the drive home after the show, we got to talking about other plays that the kids had seen.  I asked them for their favorites of the Broadway shows that they have been to.  Both of the girls chose the Blue Man Group as their favorite, with one putting Mary Poppins in second place and the other selecting Aladdin as the runner up.  The boy couldn't choose his favorite, so he co-selected Blue Man Group and Wicked.  No votes for Mamma Mia, which seems like almost exactly the right call.  Guess my kids are ready to be theatre critics.

No votes for The Lion King??
Lest I make it seem like the night was a disaster, we did all have a fun night out.  Mamma Mia is a very light, fluffy musical that really lightly brushes over almost anything that could be considered controversial.  It had lots of laughs, but I do question whether or not it's truly kid friendly.  At one point during the show, Sophie was reading from her mother's diary, and had just read out "We danced on the beach, kissed on the beach, and dot, dot, dot."  A few seconds later I got a text from my youngest daughter (who was only two seats down from me) wanting to know if "Dot, Dot, Dot, meant sex, sex, sex?"  I gave my response some careful thought, then texted back "Ask your mother!"

The kids at Wicked in San Francisco

Saturday 20 August 2011

The Most Interesting Car Rental in the World

A couple of months ago I posted about car rental codes, and specifically about a discount code that I wasn't sure I'd be able to use.  At that time I was looking for a rental in Orlando, and I didn't end up using the code as I found something else.  Of course a couple of weeks later, I needed a rental in California, and nothing was even coming close.

Sometimes you just gotta take a shot, but that doesn't mean they have to make it easy for you.

We'd made the decision that if we were turned away at the rental counter we'd just take a cab to our hotel for the first week and deal with a back-up plan from there.  While it would be a great convenience, a van wasn't a necessity for us during the first week.

When we came off the plane, there was a huge line for the rental place.  I tried using the machine but as expected I got the "Your rate is ineligible for kiosk use.  Please see attendant" message.  So I got in the back of a long line, hoping that at least the huge number of people renting would have the counter guys just trying to get people through as fast as they could.  

Of course, for the first time ever, tons of new counter people showed up to help everybody who was waiting, and the line started moving really fast.  This never happens to me when I'm actually in a hurry.  To make matters worse, there was nobody new getting in line behind me.  When it came my turn to rent, I was the only person left to help.  Great.

I gave over my license and credit card to the gentleman at the counter, who began pressing keys.  It took a minute or two and then it came.  The Look.  His head went back a couple of inches, eyes widened a little, and a "What the..." came out from under his breath.  I wanted to lean around and look at the monitor, but I was afraid I'd see something like "Call Airport Security Immediately!" stamped across the screen.  I waited patiently.

The gentleman resumed pressing keys, and then leaned over to the guy next to him and asked "Do you know what we do with this code?"  He shook his head and my guy went back to pressing keys.  It occurred to me that if nobody ever had this code come in, that maybe it was for a very specific situation.  Perhaps I had stumbled upon the Dos Equis code for the most interesting man in the world.  I stood a little taller, tried to look mysterious, and considered whether or not I could pull off the accent I might need to qualify for this rate.

Then something clicked.  Papers started printing and a huge smile came over the face of the gentleman who was helping me.  He began to explain the rate to me and what it included, then folded some papers, gave them to me and asked if I had any questions (Oh so many, but the correct answer here seemed to be no.)  I thanked him and headed out to find our van.

I felt a little bad using a rate that I'm not sure I was eligible for, but I justified it to myself by noting that I wouldn't have rented a vehicle at all for their original quote.  They got a decent amount of money out of me, and I got the van that I needed.  I have decided though, that it couldn't have been a Dos Equis code.  There's no way that the most interesting man in the world would be booking a minivan. 

Friday 19 August 2011

Why We'll Still Go To Concerts

As a frequent concert attender, I'm not too fond of seeing all the stage collapses that have been occurring lately.  I've spent way more than my share of time standing at the front of these stages, and to be honest the thought of something landing on top of me never really entered my mind.  I always figured that if I was going to be crushed to death at a concert, it would be from the people behind me and not the equipment above me.

I've had my share of incidents at concerts.  I had my shirt set on fire by a souped up spinning windmill at a Def Leppard concert (It was the Pyromania tour.  That should have been a hint.)  I was fairly close to a light that fell at a ZZ Top concert.  Somebody hit me
in the head with a bottle at an Echo and the Bunnymen show and I was at a Midnight Oil concert that was called off when lightning struck just outside the stadium.  The worst was at a Billy Idol/Platinum Blonde concert where the organizers decided to protect the gym floor by laying plywood across it.  It only took a couple of songs before the people on the outside of the floor realized that the plywood acted as a trampoline, and that by jumping up and down on the edges they could double bounce the people in the middle of the room.  It only lasted a short while until the plywood cracked, but for a brief moment there was some serious Cirque du Billy Idol going on down front.

The stage is usually the least of my concerns though.  I've been backstage at a few shows, and I've worked on the construction crew of a couple others.  There are some pretty strict rules when it comes to putting the stage together, and no matter how tight for time we were, I've never seen anybody cutting corners.  The stage is designed to have a little sway at the top, but it's pretty darn solid at the bottom, and I've never felt unsafe standing on one.  Of course I've never been on an outdoor stage in the middle of a storm either.

We've started taking our kids to concerts these days, and our safety concerns are reflected by our seat selection.  There will be no more purchasing of floor seats (actually my wife vetoed those after an unfortunate exhibit of seat destruction at a Motley Crue concert) and we usually grab those safe side seats on the lower level where the stage would literally have to leap across the arena to even land a glancing blow on us.  I've noticed though, that when you sit further back, the sway of the stage is much more noticeable.  We took our kids to a Lady Gaga concert earlier this year (Why yes, it did require some explaining afterwards.  Thank you for asking.) and up until the show started we spent our time watching the top of the stage move from side to side and wondering if those adventurous souls climbing up to the rafters to man the spotlights were really brave or really crazy.  After seeing the show, it turned out that the crazy people were on the stage, thus making the spotlight workers brave by default.

I started going to concerts when I was 13 (My first show was Triumph for $11.25.  That won't even get me a drink at a concert these days.) and by the end of high school I had been to almost 200 shows.  The beauty of being young, was that safety never really occurred to me.  The burden of being a parent, is that it has to.  I have way too many great memories of my concert going youth to not expose my kids to the excitement of live music.  We're just going to do it from a few rows further back.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

I Want To See More...

I kind of laugh when people say we travel a lot. We do, but there's a big difference between getting on a plane once a month and actually traveling. I've been spending time reading about other people's adventures in the world, and I'm starting to feel a little envious.

I want to broaden our horizons.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not lamenting the time we've spent on the road, but we've been sticking to the same destinations over and over again. While we've been adding cities to our rotation, it's still been very basic, North American touristy destinations.

I want to go further.

I'm not talking too far off the beaten track here. Heck I'm still talking about a paved road with luxury hotels and outlet shopping malls. There will be no need to cross deserts on camels or swim crocodile infested rivers to get where I'm going. I leave that to all the travelers with the word "nomad" in their name, and I will eagerly read all of your adventures from my recliner.

I just want to step outside of my comfort zone a little.

I have two comfort zones though. There's a very big one when it's just Lori and I traveling. As long as there's no camping involved, we can probably deal with most things. My comfort level when my kids are along, is much smaller. I'm infinitely more protective when I'm in Daddy mode, but I think I'm probably ready to stretch that zone a little too. It most likely won't kill them if they have to go without Pizza Hut for a couple of weeks.

I usually tell people that if you're trying to figure out how to afford a trip, you're over thinking it. Unless you win the lottery, there will never be a time when you're perfectly set up financially for traveling. Don't wait until you can afford it, don't wait until the kids are older, and please, please, please, don't wait until you're retired.

It's good advice. You'd think the man who gives it would listen to it.

I've dodged international travel with my kids for a while now. It's cheaper and easier to keep going to Disneyland or Las Vegas than it is to cross oceans. Eventually, like most things, it comes down to simple math. Are three weekends in Disneyland > one week in Spain?

When I'm being lazy, the answer is yes. I suspect that truthfully, the answer at this point in our life, is no.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

"Winning" in Las Vegas...

Every trip to Las Vegas is a little different for me.  I've spent time there on my own (boring), with friends (better), with my wife (best, but oh so much more expensive), and with the entire family in tow.  When people ask about our trips, some ask about the shows (great!), some ask about the food (double great!), some ask about the nightlife (beats me) or the shopping (apparently it's really good).  Everybody, however, asks about the gambling.  "Did you hit any big jackpots?" is almost always the first question I get asked.  Most of the time I just say no and talk about other things, but every once in a while I get to tell stories of triumph over the dastardly casinos.  These are my five favorite tales of "Winning".

#5) - The Venetian

The beauty of this one is that I almost didn't stick around long enough to hit it.  I usually play early in the morning in Vegas to avoid both the drunks and the smokers.  I was playing one morning in a pretty much empty casino when a guy came and sat down beside me and started smoking.  Hard.  There were 10 machines in the bank, but for some reason he chose the one next to me.  He was about 3 cigarettes in and I was thinking about packing up and leaving, when I hit this royal flush.  I usually hit the button again whenever I hit a major hand so that people don't have to listen to the payout ring up, but in this case I decided to sit back and let the machine bleat out all the noise it wanted to.  About half way through counting out my win, the guy who just had to be right next to me, got annoyed and left.

#4) - The Rio

I shouldn't have been playing when I hit this one.  We had our kids with us and were out at the pool.  I told Lori that I would go and get us some frappuccinos from Starbucks.  I got distracted.  On the other hand I brought back treats to go with the fraps!

#3) - Green Valley Ranch

It seems like a theme, but I nearly wasn't around to hit this one either.  A few hands before this, I was down to my last hand.  Actually I didn't even have enough to play a full hand (in triple play you have to bet all three lines) so for a couple of hands I only played one line.  Fortunately I hit enough to get me back up to playing all three, and then this royal came out.  It's also the only royal I've ever hit when holding only two cards.

#2) - Silverton

My birthday royal!  Actually it was the day before my birthday, but the real payout from the hand didn't come until the next day.  For my birthday, since I was feeling a little flush with cash, I took my wife to Tiffany's and let her pick out something that she'd like.  She chose a necklace with interlocking gold rings, which came in a little blue box that was apparently almost as important as the necklace itself.  For the next little while, every time Lori told the story of how she got her necklace, I became "that great husband".  To my fellow men: Sorry for setting such a stupid precedent, but you can't even imagine how many brownie points I earned for that one.

#1) - Wynn

There's a few reasons that this is my favorite.  Firstly, I hit it on the same day that I hit the royal at the Venetian.  Two in one day is pretty rare.  It's also the only progressive royal I've ever hit (hence the strange payout).  Most importantly though, is that I didn't have to do anything.  The supreme "lazy royal", I just hit deal and it gave me the royal flush.  I know you're wondering, so I'll tell you.  The odds of being dealt a royal flush are 649740 to 1.  I've played a lot of video poker, but I'm not sure I've played that much.

There's been others that could have been posted here.  My first royal flush left me so shocked that I didn't even think to take a picture of it.  I've also hit two in one hand before, but it's just not as exciting when you're playing for nickels.  This is no time to dwell in the past though (Wait...that's exactly what I'm doing here isn't it?) as next week Lori and I are going to spend a little more time in Vegas, and I'm willing to replace one, two, or even all five of these with new favorite jackpot hands.

Monday 15 August 2011

Six Flags Hurricane Harbor

We have a problem sometimes when we are doing theme parks.  My two oldest kids love rides, the bigger and scarier the better.  My youngest doesn't like rides at all.  She'll tolerate some of the dark rides like Little Mermaid, but in general I think she'd rather be back at the hotel than in an amusement park.  We thought we'd try something new to try and improve her day, so while I took the older two to Magic Mountain, my wife took our littlest to Hurricane Harbor.

We used to have waterslides in Kelowna, but as with everything else up here that has a lake view, there was more money to be made by developing the land.  Now we only have a couple of little slides that belong to our local swimming pool, but they are nothing like the ones at Hurricane Harbor.

I always wonder about the safety of some of these giant slides.  I love roller coasters, but I can see where I'm going to be attached to the track and buckled into the car.  The fact that slides are open and there's nothing to keep you stuck on the slide other than the static created by your bathing suit seems a tad worrisome to me.  Oh well, I drew Magic Mountain, so good luck Lori!

Fortunately Hurricane Harbor isn't all about the giant slides.  There's plenty of smaller slides for the more timid, a huge wave pool which gets pretty crowded, and there's a great lazy river for those who just want to be taken away from it all, but don't have any Calgon handy.  When my youngest daughter says that she had a great time, you've either got something for everybody in your park, or you've targeted the narrowest, most specific demographic ever.  Either way works for us.

So lets talk money.  Is the park affordable?  It sure is if you've got a seasons pass to Magic Mountain, or more accurately the coupon book that comes with your seasons pass.  Each coupon book has a "get in free" coupon for Hurricane Harbor.  Normal admittance is around $20, so since I was already $100 ahead of the game it would seem rather snide of me to complain about extra costs, but in the interest of giving you all the details, I will anyways.  It's $18 to rent a locker for the day (assuming your brought something larger than a comb) and food is your standard theme park pricing ($10 for a hot dog combo that you can't un-combo.)  You also have to rent your own tube in the park, which will cost you $7 for a single tube or $14 for a double.  You then get to spend the rest of the day carrying your tube around with you so that all the hopped-up, elementary school hooligans don't steal it.  At least it provides you with a seat no matter where you are.

Now for the scary part.  No it wasn't the slides or the prices (well maybe a little bit of the prices.)  You see the picture up above?  Notice the two feet off to the left.  Those belong to my oldest daughter.  About five seconds after this picture was taken, my son started yelling at her to "Move! Move! Move!"  It must have been his tone, because for the first time in her life a command from her brother didn't elicit the response of "Why should I?" and she scrambled to her feet and away.  So what prompted this urgent demand to action?

I know very little about Black Widow spiders, but I do know that, like teenage boys, I want them nowhere near my daughter.  Actually now that I'm looking at this picture, I'm a little disappointed.  I remember the spider being SOOO much bigger.  Perhaps you could just click on the picture and expand it to fill your entire monitor.  Now you're reliving the moment with me! 

Hurricane Harbor fills a perfect niche for us.  The bigger kids can ride roller coasters all day, and littlest can play in the water park.  The fact that the two parks share an entrance gate makes it really easy to go back and forth, thus allowing you to empty your wallet in both parks.  Six Flags convenience at it's best, and so far there's no extra charge for the spiders!