Monday, 31 October 2011

Saying No to the New York Yankees

Yankee stadium. To me it's one of the ultimate sporting destinations, and the fact that it's been replaced by a newer version makes no difference in my mind. Nor does it matter that I'm not a Yankees fan (I'm an Oakland guy), the history of the Yankees franchise has so many great characters and stories that I couldn't come to New York and not make a trip out to see the stadium. I wanted to go for the atmosphere. I wanted to go for the tradition. I wanted to go for the history.

Lori wanted to go to catch a ball. Actually Lori will go to almost anything if there's a chance of catching a ball. Or a puck. Or a rock or a frisbee or whatever item it is that the game we're attending uses. The best part is that she is the most eternally optimistic person in the world when it comes to catching things, even though she's never caught anything in her life (Well, she did catch a feather thrown by the Indian of the Village People once, but even I can't spin that into something sports related.). Every sporting event we go to, she's convinced that the ball is coming her way. We once sat in the top deck for a Los Angeles Clippers game, and you could see Lori trying to figure out how the ball was going to get to her. I don't know what could possibly happen in a basketball game for the ball to end up in the top deck, but that, my friends, is the definition of optimism.

We decided to get to the game the way a true New Yorker would (because being from western Canada I know exactly what a native New Yorker would do) and take the subway. It's a pretty easy ride out to Yankee Stadium, but the further you get from Manhattan the more colorful your traveling companions become. By the time we were entering the South Bronx every person on the train reminded me of one of the terrorists from "The Taking of Pelham 123". No sign of John Travolta or Denzel Washington though. They probably don't take the subway to games.

Of course, getting to the stadium was only half the journey. Now we had to climb up to our seats. Since neither Lori nor I are huge baseball fans, we didn't bother to splash out big money on tickets. We were coming more to see the stadium than the actual game, so any ticket that allowed us inside the park would do. Needless to say, the cheap seats are cheap for a reason. After what seemed like 20 or 30 escalator rides and a couple of stops to acclimate to the altitude, we arrived at the top deck of Yankee Stadium. How high up were we? Even my eternal optimist wife looked at me and said "We're never going to catch a ball up here are we?"

Once we got to our seats, we realized that we had made a mistake in our ascent. Obviously when you buy tickets in the top deck you're supposed to take the stairs up instead of the escalator, as that's the only way you could possibly stay skinny enough to fit in the seats up there. In addition, the Yankees have ensured that you'll receive a true baseball experience by making sure that every row has at least one child who's only purpose at the game is to repeatedly kick the row of seats in front of him. We were fortunate enough to have a family of three behind us, which ensured that we never ran out of rhythmic beating, even when one of their legs got tired. Lori and I lasted through the first couple of innings, then decided that we'd had enough of our underage masseuses, and we set off to explore the stadium.

There's plenty to see in the stadium, most of which probably means a lot more to diehard Yankees fans than it did to us, but it was still interesting. The one place that absolutely captivated us however, was the Great Hall. This is the main entry area of the stadium, and giant banners hang on the sides commemorating some of the greatest baseball players ever. You know they were great players when even Lori recognized some of them, although you did have to read between the lines a little to understand who she was talking about (when she says "That candy bar guy" she means Babe Ruth). Still, when you're surrounded by that much history and the images of all the great players of the past, there's only one thing to do, and that's take pictures.

That's what we were doing in the Great Hall when a stadium employee approached us. He asked us if we wanted him to take our picture together which we gladly accepted as the number of in focus (meaning not taken by one of our kids) pictures of the two of us together is ridiculously low. After we finished smiling for a couple of pictures, the gentleman gave us back our camera and then explained that he worked for the online division of the New York Yankees, and asked if he could take our picture for the Yankees website.

You'd think nobody had ever told him "no" before. In fact, he kept setting up for the shot for a few seconds before he realizing what we had said and coming back with "I'm sorry, did you say no?" I explained that we were just visiting the stadium and that we weren't really interested in being on their website, but no matter what I said he kept coming back with "But it's the Yankees." Eventually people started to pause to see what the conversation was about, and I decided that we'd be best served to make our getaway now before the temptation to yell "I don't like the Yankees" overtook me. Strategically plotting our escape route took us past a couple of drunk twenty something girls who immediately captured the photographers attention and, let's face it, will do far more good for the Yankees website than a couple of middle age Oakland fans.

We left the game early, having gotten our fill of Yankee lore for the time being. Yankee Stadium is absolutely beautiful, but I don't feel any real pull to get back there right away. There are other stadiums I'd like to see like Fenway, Wrigley, and of course the Oakland Coliseum. I'm not sure my wife will be willing to indulge my live sports fetish to quite that extent though. Maybe I should aim for the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Texas as there's more home runs hit there than anywhere else. One of these days, she'll catch something more than a feather.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Five Ways Hotels Could Be More Kid Friendly

There's some hotels that don't need to get it. If you're a high end, major city, five star hotel that only wants to cater to rich couples with no kids, then you can stop reading right here (Although seriously, thanks for stopping by. I don't get a whole lot of readers from your demographic.). The hotels that I want to get it, are the ones that actively chase the family business. You spend a lot of money advertising your family packages, and I appreciate any deals you can put together for us, but when I arrive with my kids it always
Hey, she's not MY kid.
seems to baffle you. A couple of months ago we stayed in a hotel in Phoenix on a "Family Getaway" rate, and when dinner time came we asked at the front desk if someone could direct us to the nearest fast food franchise. Burger King, McDonalds, Wendys, any one would do. It was discussed among five employees, and the best anyone could do was suggest that there's probably a fast food place to the south. Now maybe Phoenix is the fittest city in the world, but somebody has to drive past a Jack in the Box on the way in to work right? Anyways, I'm here to be helpful (still not true, but I seem to make that claim a lot) so in exchange for me not letting my kids tear around your hotel on luggage carts, here's five things I'd appreciate you considering that would make my life easier.

#5) Get Rid of the One Device per Internet Fee Rule
I'm not going to get in to the whole "Should hotels charge for internet" discussion, as I assume that's something they figure out the profit margin on and make their own decision. What drives me nuts is when I'm willing to pay the charge for the internet, but you'll only let me connect one device. Do you know what causes more fights in our family when traveling than anything else? Having to wait for a turn on the internet. Well...that and when they look at each other in the car, but mainly the internet thing. I'm pretty sure nobody has just one device that needs to have internet access these days, so allowing only one connection has to be pissing off everyone, including the solo business traveler with no kids. If you have to, put a password on it, so when I pay for the wi-fi, I can use the password to sign in all my devices. I promise not to share the password with the room next door. Unless I can't sleep because their kids are fighting over whose turn it is on the internet.

#4) Have a Kid Friendly Pool
This isn't intended for the $59 a night, budget family hotel. If you guys have a pool, great. At that price that's about as much as can be expected. Same goes for the skyscraper type of hotels that are in the middle of a city. I'm looking at hotels that bill themselves as resorts, then put a four foot deep rectangle on the outskirts of their property. Build a waterslide, throw up a basketball hoop, and host some movies by the pool at night.   A nice hot tub so I don't have to to freeze while watching my kids would be nice too (They're Canadian. If the pool isn't iced over, they want to go swimming.).

#3) The Disney Channel
Here's one that should just be universal. What does it cost to add a channel to your hotel lineup on a monthly basis? It can't be that much, and believe me, if I'm choosing between two relatively equal hotels, I'm going to take the one with Disney channel every time. Even the five star business hotels should have this channel (Rats..I told them to stop reading.) as once in a while I've been known to be sitting in a hotel room on a solo trip and think to myself "I wonder what Phineas and Ferb are going to do today?"

#2) The Motion Sensored Mini-Bar
These things are deadly to parents. It used to be bad enough before, when the train of thought behind mini-bars was "Lets fill a fridge with candy, put it down low where the kids are sure to see it, then let the parents deal with it". Now, with the new motion sensors, if you even knock something over you've only got 15 seconds to get it back upright before you get billed. It adds a whole new sense of terror when you see your 5 year old grab the $35 intimacy kit off the sensor and take off across the room, giving you no chance of getting it replaced in time. That's always a fun argument to have with the check-out desk.

#1) Connecting Rooms
I understand the other side to this one, as it kind of sucks to get a connecting room when somebody else is in the other half. When you're a family of more than four though, connecting rooms are almost a necessity. Yes, we can move things around and make room for five of us to sleep in a single hotel room, but it's a whole lot quieter when we can spread out. It's also nice to be able to give the kids their own room, and for Mom and Dad to have their own space to retire to at the end of the night. Besides, we've already been billed  for that intimacy kit. No point letting it go to waste.

When we can't get connecting rooms, we have to improvise.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

I'm a Different Dad When Traveling

Being a traveling Dad is strange. At home, my role is pretty much defined. Dad's the guy you go to when your computer isn't working, or if you need help with math. Other than that, you're going to have better luck asking Mom. I used to take offense to this, especially when my kids would ask if I knew where Mom was because they needed something heavy moving (Hello! Alpha male here! Do I have to....Oh never mind. Mom's in the living room.) but eventually I just accepted it. I've noticed though, that what my family expects from me at home, and what they expect from me on the road, are very different. I don't know if it's because of the "unknown" factor of traveling, but when we're away my family expects me to be strong, to be a leader, and to be brave.

That, of course, takes on a different form with each member of the family. The toughest person to be strong with is Lori (probably because my children seem to think she can bench press elephants). Most of the time Lori is fairly self sufficient, but at least once during each trip, I'm going to have to take her aside and explain to her, that she has to stop shopping. Normally it's because the mall has closed, which you'd think would make it easier, but if I don't hold firm and explain to her that the stores need time to restock, she'd probably just wait outside the door until somebody got nervous and called security. I'm pretty sure my strength in this area has kept my wife from having a criminal record (Can you be arrested for stalking a Ross store?).

Ice cream never makes the Daddy line
The easiest one to help out is my youngest daughter. The biggest problem for her when traveling is finding something she likes to eat. Her palate runs strictly along the hamburger/hot dog/peanut butter sandwich line, and while those things certainly aren't hard to find, sometimes it's just not what everybody else wants. When we would visit the monster buffets in Las Vegas, I would encourage my daughter to go and try some new stuff by assuring her that "If you don't like it, I'll eat it for you". Never say that. This led to the formation of "The Daddy Line" where anything she didn't like got slid over to my seat. I used to think that this policy was working great, as she would try all sorts of new things. Eventually though, I began to suspect that "Daddy will eat it for you" had changed into "What can I make Daddy eat?" I have a hard time believing that Octopus salad and braised starfish were the first things to grab her attention at the buffet.

Way, waaaay past the boundaries!
My older daughter's needs are different (although she does like to send food to the Daddy line too). I'd love to say that what she needs is a leader, but what she really needs is a leash. This girl is the first to volunteer for everything (I mentioned the Globetrotters story before - she hasn't learned her lesson) and what my job here really should be is to set some boundaries. The problem is, I'm not really good at boundaries. Everything that she wants to do sounds like a pretty good idea to me. "You want chocolate for breakfast? Pass me a handful too please." "You want to learn how to twirl fire for a hula dance? Let me grab my camera." She knows that I'm a terrible judge of limits too. If she's looking to get away with something, she comes to me. Unless she's looking to go over budget shopping, then she goes to Mom.

Then there's the boy. The boy has kind of moved past the whole needing Dad for reassurance thing, and now we travel as buddies. Sure he still needs me to drive and pay, but other than that I'm there to talk about whatever's going on in his life that day. I thought that I'd miss having a little boy to take care of, but it turns out that it's a lot of fun just having another guy to hang out and do crazy stuff with. Whether he needs it or not though, I still try to seem strong when we're together. I mean after all, I'm still his Dad, and whether or not I'm seeing it, he might still be taking his cues from how I lead the family. Fortunately, I'm one of those guys whose face always shows a look of quiet confidence, so I'm kind of the poster boy for bravery. I hope he's paying attention.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Trying to Stop the Trick Or Treating

We're not really big Halloween people. It was fun when our kids were younger and we got to drag them around to all the people that we knew, and show off how cute they looked in their little costumes, but now that they're older it's not such a big draw for us. Giving out candy isn't really a feature for us either, as we have one of those really long driveways that everybody, except the people who know you personally, skip. Additionally, where we live it's 50/50 that you'll be trick or treating in the snow, and nothing takes away from the effectiveness of a costume like having to wear a ski jacket over it.

It's not like our kids need the candy either. We keep a fairly generous stockpile of candy in the house at all times (there's boxes of it stacked on the treadmill in the end room) and when given free reign, our kids really don't eat very much junk. Still, right up until last year, they all wanted to go out trick or treating.

Last year we were determined to get out of the trick or treating rut, so we told our kids that if we skipped doing the whole Halloween thing, we could take the money that we saved from costumes and candy and we'd get away for the long weekend. This persuaded them, so last year was our first year without any trick or treating. Of course....

It might have been cheaper to just buy a few extra Mars bars.

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby and Friday Daydreamin at R We There Yet Mom. If you didn't get here from one of those sites, you should really go check them out. They've got candy!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Turtle Bay Resort - Look Both Ways for Things to Do

I like to explore hotels that I'm not familiar with. I find it interesting to walk around and look at the amenities and services that are available, even if there's no chance I'm ever going to use them (I'm looking at you, Hotel Gym). More than once I've found some great little features that I didn't know the hotel had that really improved our stay, and occasionally I've found something that was going to have to be completely avoided (although I kind of understand why a hotel can't put "Next door to a Strip Club!" in it's advertising.). The point is that I usually do a pretty good job of knowing what activities are available to us at a resort. That's what makes my oversight at Turtle Bay Resort a lot more annoying.

I got to put my advance research to the test almost as soon as we got to Turtle Bay. Lori developed a huge migraine headache on our journey in, and really needed to rest in a quiet room for a bit. Since neither the kids nor I have ever been accused of being the quiet type, we decided that we would go out and let her rest for a little while. I had read that there was a fantastic beach walk to the west of the resort, so I gathered the kids and we headed out with visions of meandering along the sand in our minds.

It's never quite what you envision is it? It was a great walk along the ocean, but if I had visions of a shoeless walk along a sandy shoreline, those were quickly dashed. Once you get a little bit away from the hotel, most of the oceanfront is covered by giant rocks which create little pools between them. My kids thought that it was much more fun to make their way over the rocks, and I didn't give it a second thought since our kids do something similar all the time at home. Hey Steve....It's not the same thing. You live on a lake. This is the ocean. Do you remember the difference? Before I figured it out, the first wave came in and knocked two kids down and absolutely soaked me. We gave up on the beachwalk, but for those of you who actually know how to avoid the tide when it comes in, it's a beautiful walk and you'd probably really enjoy it.

While I think my kids are unique and maybe a little strange, they are like every other child in one aspect. They are almost always excited by the hotel pool. I use the term "almost always" because at most of the hotels in Hawaii, the pools seem to be major afterthoughts. I understand that you've got a huge ocean right on the doorstep, but I like sliding down waterslides and jumping off diving boards with no chance of landing on a Manta Ray. The pool at Turtle Bay is pretty plain, the kind of thing that you'd most likely find in your neighbors back yard, with one major exception. Your neighbors pool probably isn't located on a peninsula at the tip of a Hawaiian island, with unlimited views to the west, north, and east. I don't know if the kids enjoyed the pool or not, because I was too busy watching the sun rise, set, or just make it's way across the sky. I will say that I enjoyed being by the pool, and in our family that's about the highest pool praise that there is.

There were lots of other activities available that didn't particularly interest us. There was a games room (We used to use game rooms a lot, then my son got better at video games than me. We don't use them so much anymore.), the aforementioned surf school (can I use the word aforementioned when I mean two or three days ago?), hiking trails (they were aforementioned too, but only a paragraph or so ago, so I don't feel the need to use the word), tennis courts (which oddly enough were overrun by cats. I can't make the connection, but my girls loved going to "play tennis"), and horseback riding (Yeah right. Not making that mistake again, but that's going to occupy a post of it's own someday.). Still, even with all these activities, it struck me as strange that, other than the surfers, you hardly ever saw anybody in the water.

This is where my lack of reconnaissance comes in. If you go to the east of the resort, you venture in to the parking lot, which we went through every day. The lot is separated from the ocean by a line of trees, and I assumed that the beachfront there was the same as everywhere else along the shoreline, very rocky and with killer waves. We never poked our head through until the last day. Of course once we did, we found a beautiful bay with a perfect sandy beach. There was even a coral reef which blocked most of those killer waves from coming through, and kept the really big sea creatures out. It was exactly the kind of beach that we had hoped to find at the resort, but we'd managed to not find it until the last day. I never get any grief for that one.

I don't remember what we had planned to do that day, but we cancelled our plans and spent the day on the beach. There was a booth there for snorkel rentals which were included in the resort fee that we had been paying every day, so we all figured we'd better get at least one days rental in, and we grabbed some gear. Now here is where focusing on money and real life collide. I was determined to get some value out of our resort fee, so I was heading out snorkeling. That's the money talking, and it was blocking out in my mind the fact that I don't like being in the ocean. Normally, if a fish or even some seaweed was to brush up against me in the ocean, the scream would qualify me for a spot in the next
Miller Light commercial as "the first un-manly thing I've done today". However this wasn't about manliness, this was about not wasting money, so our entire family headed out into the bay, and you know what? It was fantastic. Absolutely the highlight of our stay. We spent most of the day in the water, and saw more kinds of fish than we ever could have ever imagined. Our youngest decided that she didn't really like using the snorkel gear, so the booth gave her a boogie board with a glass window in it so we could take turns pulling her around in the ocean while she watched the fish (the boy didn't get a turn pushing her around on the board though, to prevent a repeat of the Paris Pool Incident). Everybody had a fantastic time and agreed that it was the best day of the stay. They also agreed that it was my fault we didn't find the beach sooner.

While up to the last day I might have said that Turtle Bay was a little light on activities, after finding the beach area I'd say there's plenty to keep you entertained. In fact, once we got outside of the room, it was a great place to spend our time. I'd have a hard time recommending that you book a room at the hotel, but I'd have no hesitation suggesting that you spend some time at the resort. Just remember to poke your head through the trees as soon as you get there.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Why I Always Read Expedia's E-mails.

I just got an e-mail from Expedia announcing a prepaid Mastercard rebate on Vegas vacation packages for the next six months. It's a mediocre offer that really has no value to me, as I'm pretty sure I can do better booking things on my own. So why do I mention it here? I mention it because after last years Vegas promotion, I check every one of Expedia's offers very carefully.

It was a dark and rainy November day (Actually, I have no idea what the weather was like. Considering that I live on the west coast of Canada, it seems like a safe bet that it was rainy at the very least. Let's go with that and move on shall we?) and I was doing what I do every morning - checking the Flyertalk message boards for deals. I usually try and check the message boards a few times a day, as super deals tend not to last too long once people start booking them. This time, among the smattering of JFK-MIA deals (Why is that route always on sale?) was a post about Expedia offering $300 off vacation packages to Vegas. I vaguely remembered seeing an e-mail on something like that the day before, but I hadn't bothered to read it too carefully as I'd never actually found anything good in an Expedia e-mail before. Fortunately, other people are far smarter than me.

The Expedia offer was supposed to be for vacation packages originating out of Canada (about time we got some love up here) but somebody noticed that Expedia had failed to specify the "out of Canada" part in their  terms and conditions. That meant you could fly from anywhere to Vegas and get $300 off. Do you know how much a vacation package to Vegas costs from pretty much anywhere in the United States? Yeah, less than $300. You could literally book free flights and hotels to Las Vegas on Expedia (It was available to New York and Cancun as well, but from where I live that's way more than $300.). There were some restrictions of course. If you were flying from further away, airfare ate up most of your $300, so you had to choose from the cheaper hotels to keep your total low. Those who were closer, were able to afford some of the nicer hotels, and those who had really short flights in from California, had to add show tickets to their package just to get it up to $300.

Christmas Eve service
We each booked a flight and two nights hotel at the Excalibur, which after the $300 discount brought our total to $9 per person. We only used six of our hotel nights, taking two rooms for three nights each and throwing the other four away. Figuring that three days in Vegas would be plenty for our kids, we then rented a van and went to Disneyland for four nights (including Christmas Day, my favorite day to be at Disneyland) and then to Phoenix for three more, before coming back to Vegas for one night prior to flying back home on New Years Eve, because if there's one place I don't want to be with my kids on December 31st, it's Las Vegas.

Obviously I don't expect somebody to hand me a free vacation every year at Christmas, although I'm more than willing to make it a tradition if anyone wants to make a similar offer. I do have to say that it made me feel a little guilty. It took Expedia almost 24 hours to get the offer shut down last year, and there were quite a lot of people who got in on the deal. It wouldn't have surprised me if Expedia had decided not to honor the mistake, and I doubt that I would have held it against them if they chose not to. I was very impressed that they elected to make good on their error, and if I can offer them a little something in return, please know that since that day, I always, always, always, read every e-mail that Expedia sends out.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Turtle Bay Resort - 2BR Pikake Suite

Apparently a lot of you saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall. After I posted about us visiting Turtle Bay Resort to check out all the things from the movie, I got a whole bunch of questions from people who were wondering about the resort. Well I'm nothing if not helpful (actually I'm very rarely helpful), so I'm here to answer those questions. Except the ones about pineapple. I'm ignoring the questions about pineapple. And alcohol. I don't drink so I can't really tell you about the bar (plus they serve pineapple juice there). Let's skip the surfing questions too, as that's a bit of a sore spot. So let's see, that leaves....ummm....nope....*shuffle*....more pineapple....Ah! Here we go..."Did you see turtles?" Sounds like somebody wants to know about the room!

Two Queen add-on room for the Pikake Suite.
I mentioned in the other post that the rooms from the movie looked fantastic. I'm sure they really are, but for our family they were either too small (the Beachfront Cottages) or too expensive (the Presidential Suite). We had to settle for a two bedroom Pikake Suite, which believe me, they didn't use to film anything for the movie.

Our Pikake suite was located at the end of the hall on the second floor. I should have thought twice about it when they told me the room would be on the second floor, but they assured me several times that the room had gorgeous views. They were kind of telling the truth, as if you looked to your left you could see out over the ocean. To enjoy the view straight out however, I would have had to chainsaw quite a few palm trees that were taller than our room, thus blocking most of the view. Somehow I'm thinking that might not have endeared me to management.

The two bedroom Pikake Suite is two separate rooms, one with two queen beds and the Pikake Suite itself which has a king bed and a  huge sitting area with a couch and two chairs. The two queen room is just an add-on that makes it a two bedroom suite, and you can reserve just the Pikake suite side of the room. The two queen room was reasonably nice, and would compare to what you would find in most other mid-range hotels. The Pikake Suite itself, looked like they ran out of furniture budget before they got to the end of the hall. The room was really quite large, but there was a ton of empty space, and it looked kind of thrown together. For instance, while I appreciated having a little beer fridge, the fact that you had to bring in a side table to put it on up against the wall definitely makes it look like an afterthought. It also seemed a little strange that there was absolutely nothing on the wall, except for two small pictures over the bed.  Essentially it resembled a college apartment - a couch, two chairs, a TV and a beer fridge - every morning I woke up and felt like I was late for class.

Our college dorm room...I mean Pikake Suite sitting area.
The worst part about the room however, was the bathroom. The add-on room had a normal bathroom, a little small but decent enough. The Pikake suite however, had what I have to imagine was a handicapped washroom. It was huge, but felt like a college locker room, as everything was tiled and the sink, toilet and shower were separated only by a wall what was open to walk around. It was also in need of a good cleaning, as you could easily see grime and what looked like mold building up on the tiles.

King bed in the Pikake Suite.
Of course once you got outside (and looked left), you could see what you were paying for. Our room may have had a limited view of the ocean, but the part it looked at was directly where the sun set each night. Better yet, it looked right over the main surfing spot for the resort. If you want to feel like you're away on a Hawaiian vacation, then sit on your balcony and watch surfers go in and out on some pretty sizeable waves. If you're done feeling like you're on a Hawaiian vacation, and you just want some entertainment, then watch the surfing school lessons. This is where the hotel is perfectly situated, as you have a great vantage point to watch the surfing novices, but you're just far enough away that you can't hear them. We went for a walk down in the area later, and believe me, huge wipeouts aren't followed by the phrase "Oh shoot!"

Overall, we were pretty disappointed with the room. This isn't a cheap resort to stay at, yet the rooms look like they haven't been updated in a long time. I suppose in all fairness their hands may have been tied, as the property was going through a bankruptcy procedure at the time of our stay, but they certainly weren't offering reduced rates because of it. It's a shame that a resort in such a beautiful location doesn't have fantastic rooms, but it did allow for a moment of connection with the movie that brought us here. When Jason Segel tried to check-in at the resort, only to be told that the only room available was $6,000 a night - that may have been as close to telling the truth as the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall got.

Oh, and for the original question....the turtles were here.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Five More Movies That Are Inspiring Me To Travel

You'd think I'd learn my lesson. Yesterday I wrote about our first visit to Hawaii, and how we were lured there with Hollywood trickery in the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Normal people would probably learn a lesson from that, and not trust the Hollywood depiction of places in the future. I, of course, am not normal. Not only do I have another city that I want to see based on the impression I formed while watching a movie, I have a whole list. I'm sure there may be a few discrepancies between real life and these films, but I guess I'll have to go find out for myself, so here are the movies that are inspiring me to travel right now:

#5) The Princess and the Frog - New Orleans:
Wouldn't you want to go hang out in a place where there are trumpet playing alligators? Alright, even I don't believe Hollywood that much, but everything in this movie makes New Orleans look like a fantastic place to visit.  The whole movie centers on the great Cajun food that's available, the amazing live jazz that gets played on a riverboat on the Bayou, and of course, Mardi Gras. Disney does such a good job of representing Mardi Gras for the good, wholesome, family event that I'm sure it is. How could I possibly have been misled here?

#4) The Bourne Ultimatum - Paris
I've always wanted to go to Paris, but really I couldn't tell you a single connection it has with the Bourne movies. My wife, on the other hand, has a serious crush on Jason Bourne. No really, the first time we were in New York she tried to make me run across Grand Central Station and leap over the turnstiles because she'd seen Jason Bourne do it once (I won't tell you if I did it or not, but I will tell you that there is no YouTube footage of such an event taking place, so don't bother looking.). Taking her to Paris would score me countless brownie points, and if I can manage to throw in a couple of references to things that happened in the Bourne movies, I'll be her hero (at least until the next time I do something stupid). Combine that with french pastries and it's a good bet this trip will happen sooner rather than later.

#3) The Sound of Music - Switzerland
Unlike most of my world traveling friends, I have no desire to climb any of the mountains. I do, like every other person on the planet over the age of 30, want to sit in a field and spin in circles with the Alps as my backdrop, while singing "The hills are alive....with the sound of music....".  Also, any country where families randomly stop and break in to musical numbers is practically calling my gang to come visit. (Side note: Based on the above criteria, Mamma Mia and Greece were a close second. In the end, chocolate won out over calamari.)

#2) Crocodile Dundee - Australia
I think this one might be a somewhat subliminal yearning kind of thing. I'm never going to be mistaken for an Australian bushman - I recently took a job aptitude test and actually scored a zero on the "Works with hands" category (First one the tester had ever seen!) - so I'm thinking that maybe the Australian Outback is tapping in to a deeply buried longing for a "roughing it" experience. It's more likely though, that it's related to the beautiful beaches, the Sydney Opera house, my love for saying "G'day Mate!" and the whole "Shrimp on the Barbie" thing.

#1) Pirates of the Caribbean - The Caribbean
Here's my problem with this one...I can't envision myself arriving in the Caribbean by any mode of transportation other than pirate ship.  Flying to St. Thomas just doesn't sound as exciting as navigating to Tortuga. I'm also going to be pretty disappointed if everybody isn't walking around in 17th century pirate clothing. This trip is probably going to have to wait until somebody makes a replica of the Black Pearl, and then puts it in to commission as a cruise ship. If you know a travel agent who specializes in that kind of trip, please let me know.

There's a whole bunch more that I have in mind that I haven't listed here (I don't even want to try and discuss Lost in Translation - Tokyo in a family blog.) but these should be enough to keep us going for a while. After having my ideology shattered by the Forgetting Sarah Marshall filmmakers, I'm approaching these destinations with a slightly less optimistic outlook. I've come to accept that it's possible random buildings won't blow up in Paris, and that Grand Cayman may not be all taverns and brothels. Still I'm sure that there's going to be plenty of things from the movies that ring true in real life. As long as I can play a trumpet at Mardi Gras, have a car chase around the Eiffel Tower, sing in the Alps while eating chocolate, throw a shrimp on the barbie, and drink rum on a pirate ship, I'm willing to let everything else slide a little bit.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Turtle Bay Resort - Following Sarah Marshall

I have to say that I never really wanted to go to Hawaii. I know that it's one of those places that everybody wants to go, and that it's supposed to be so romantic and relaxing, but it just never seemed like my kind of place. For starters, I hate the beach. This has nothing to do with the fact that on occasion I can be mistaken for a beached albino walrus. It's just that I don't understand the point of locating the hottest spot you can find and then staking out a claim on a little patch of sand, wedged in between a million other crazy people trying to do the same thing.  I don't like swimming in water where things are living, surfing kind of intimidates me, and I'm not a fan of pineapple. Combine that with the fact that beaches tend to have terrible wi-fi, and you can probably understand why Hawaii was never on my "must see" list.

On the other hand, all those things I hate, my kids love. Well maybe not the bad wi-fi, that's still a huge strike, but beaches, swimming in the ocean, and even pineapple are big positives to them. My wife had always wanted to go to Hawaii as well, which really meant that it was only a matter of time. I could keep on pretending that it was my veto vote that was keeping us from going to Hawaii, until Lori got tired of that game and told me that we were going, or I could find some reason to change my mind. So what changed my mind?

Mila Kunis. Well actually Forgetting Sarah Marshall. In the summer of 2008 we saw the movie starring Mila Kunis and some other people (My wife tells me it was Jason Segel and Russell Brand) which was filmed almost entirely in Hawaii. To be specific, it was filmed at the Turtle Bay Resort on the north shore of Oahu. Everything in the movie seemed almost perfect. The beaches were empty, the sunsets were amazing, and nobody ate pineapple. Throw in the fantastic looking hotel rooms, and I decided that this was as good a chance as any to look like Hawaii was my idea. We booked a week at the Turtle Bay Resort and headed to Hawaii, ready to enjoy all the luxuries that the characters from the movie had enjoyed.

Stupid Movie Magic.

Ok, I didn't really expect Mila Kunis to be at the front desk to check us in (although it would have been a nice touch). I did expect the front desk to be there though. It seems that when Hollywood makes a movie, they switch some things around to suit their own needs, which makes sense. I know that they do it. Nothing drives me nuts more than shows filmed in Las Vegas where the Flamingo and the Golden Nugget are right next to each other (They're 6 1/2 miles apart and aren't even on the same road.) so a few Hollywood liberties probably shouldn't have surprised me too much in Hawaii. I just probably shouldn't have booked the room based solely on what I saw in the movie.

For starters, in the movie Jason Segel got off the plane and decided to just "try his luck" at Turtle Bay Resort. He must have been feeling pretty lucky, because the resort is over an hour away and isn't near any other hotels. The front desk where he checks in was constructed just for the movie. The real one is in the same room, but doesn't have an ocean backdrop. Finally, as you might expect, our rooms paled in comparison to the Kapua suite that Jason Segel found himself in for the first few nights of the movie.

This isn't meant to be a knock against Turtle Bay, the resort was fantastic. The sunsets were beautiful, the beaches were empty, and the pineapple, well...that was everywhere. Still, for a place that I never wanted to visit, it was a great place to get away. Letting a movie inspire you to go explore somewhere is as good a reason as any. Just know that Hollywood may have taken a few liberties with your destination (and that Mila Kunis probably won't be there.)

Saturday, 22 October 2011

How To Be Evacuated From Space Mountain

Let's face it, this isn't information that's going to save your life. In fact, the odds of you ever getting a chance to use these tips are pretty slim, unless you're a Disney-freak like me, in which case you probably already know how this works. I'd love to tell you how to survive an earthquake or escape a burning building, but I honestly don't have any experience with either of those situations (Well, actually I do have experience with being in an earthquake while on Space Mountain, but I've told that story already.) so I'm going to stick with what I know and explain to you how an evacuation from Space Mountain works.

First, you have to stop. There's generally two reasons that you'll be stopped on Space Mountain. One is that there's a backup of cars at the loading station. This usually occurs when a group of 10 or 12 people come through the line together and all want to ride in the same car, but they have a specific seating arrangement in mind that they want the ride attendant to guess. If you get stopped for this reason, you'll just sit in the dark for a few seconds while the poor ride attendant tries to explain to the group that if they want to ride together, all 12 of them won't be able to sit in the front row. Once the laws of physics have been explained to them, you'll be back under way with no real inconvenience.

The second reason for stopping, is that something has gone wrong. When this happens your car will coast in to a designated stopping section of the track and wait until the lights come on (I always envision someone fumbling around at the bottom of Space Mountain, trying to find the light switch.) Of course, just because the lights came on, doesn't mean that you're going to have to be evacuated. An announcement will come on, asking you to stay in your seat while they try and figure out the problem.  I'd say about 3/4 of the time, they figure it out, and you'll be moving again soon. It's the other 1/4 of the time when things get interesting.

If they can't get you started again right away, an attendant will come around to check on everybody and let you know that they're working on the problem. At this point, you'll notice that while most people think it's kind of cool to be stuck on a ride, there's always somebody who didn't really want to be on Space Mountain anyways, and they're convinced that the only possible reason for the ride to be stuck is that somebody has been killed. Most of the time I just feel sorry for these people and try to reassure them, but sometimes they just carry on way too much. In that case, it's fun to shake the car just a little and ask "What was that?" over and over again. Hey, I came to Disneyland for my entertainment, not yours.

Eventually, if they can't figure out the problem, you're going to get evacuated. When this happens, an attendant will make their way around the track, and manually release the lap bars on each car. They seem to have a set order that they do this in, but so far the only pattern I can discern is "Steve's car last". When they do get to your car, they will get everybody out (starting at the back moving towards the front, then Steve) and the attendant will walk you out. While you walk out, you will notice two things. First, Space Mountain really isn't that impressive a roller coaster when you can see where you're going. If the track was outside in the light, I doubt that anybody would spend more than five minutes lining up for it.  Second, Space Mountain must host a lot of supermodels, as they're the only people wide enough to comfortably fit along some sections of the escape route.

Now for the most important part, compensation. The attendant will walk you to the exit corridor and point the way out. They have to go back and evacuate another car (unless you were riding with me, then you know you're the last one out) so go and find the attendants who work the loading/unloading station. Explain that you got evacuated from the ride and ask for a return fastpass so that you can come back when the ride is fixed. They don't have access to normal fastpasses at the ride station, but they do have a few special "apology" passes which are valid for up to six people for any ride in the park (except Nemo) including rides that aren't set up to accept fastpasses. They don't always have enough of these passes for everybody, so sometimes they hand them out without having to ask for them, and sometimes they don't. Make sure you ask for yours.

Now you just have to figure out what to use your pass on. Most people take it somewhere like Indiana Jones or Splash Mountain, but I like to use it somewhere that I can't get a normal fastpass for. Like Dumbo. You get very few chances to cut to the front of the line for Dumbo. Of course, then you're stuck riding flying elephants around in a circle, but you've probably achieved the maximum benefit of breaking down on Space Mountain.

Friday, 21 October 2011

My Daughter Thinks She's A Giraffe

Do you ever wonder if your kids are paying attention? I'm not talking about those comments you get on report cards that say "Is capable of so much more if they would only stop daydreaming." (I may or may not have copied that directly from my grade 7 report card.) I'm talking about the important things that people tell them like "Don't talk to strangers", "Don't forget your homework", or "Don't stand too close to the giraffe because to him your hair looks like food."

This picture was taken on the night we spent camping at the San Diego Zoo. The campout included a behind the scenes tour, so they took us inside the giraffe pen and gave us a chance to feed them. They also had one of the handlers come out and teach us all sorts of interesting things about the giraffes. It was during this talk that I began to wonder if my kids were even listening to what was being said, as their eyes kept wandering. I got my answer however, when the handler mentioned that the giraffes have very long tongues and can touch their own noses with it.  Two seconds later....

Obviously I was worrying about nothing. I'm just glad giraffes can't lick their ears.

This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby and Friday Daydreamin at R We There Yet Mom. If you didn't get here from one of those sites, you should really go check them out. There's a whole lot of talented writers there who can give you some actual helpful tips on how to travel with kids (as opposed to this site, which seems to just keep finding ways that you probably shouldn't do it.)

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Major League Baseball's All Star FanFest

People think that my kids have an easy life. They think that my kids are either just lazing around in a classroom for six hours a day, or they're off on a trip to some amazing place full of adventure and excitement! They think that my kids have the cushiest life possible and that all they have to do is pull a suitcase through airports and follow around a pair of strikingly beautiful parents who lead their children with wisdom, style, and an incredible amount of flair and charisma!

Yeah, I might be one of those people (Actually I'm probably all of those people).

What they don't see however, is the grueling little things that my kids have to go through in order to keep the journey rolling. Sometimes I make them get up before 10am. Sometimes one of them has to go without a computer for five minutes while I check our flight status. Sometimes I make them have something other than Pizza Hut or Jack in the Box for dinner, and once, just once, I made them go to Major League Baseball's All Star Fan Fest.

I'm guessing from the above picture you can identify the problem. While I'll admit that none of my kids really had any interest in the Fan Fest, I had one who felt it particularly important to voice her displeasure with the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball today. Or maybe she was voicing her displeasure with her sister. I don't remember, but really, how bad could the day be? I'm holding a Build-A-Bear bag. How bad can your day be if you've been to Build-A-Bear? Maybe I should try and explain that to her.

Well that didn't work. So now that's Build-A-Bear and the world's biggest baseball that haven't taken her mind off the problems facing sports these days. I thought about taking her over to the batting cages, but that would probably just remind her of Barry Bond's questionable home run record. I considered taking her to the area where you could practice stealing bases, but that was only likely to remind her how drugs have made today's players faster. Perhaps what was needed was some sympathy for the dilemma that players face today. Maybe what we really needed to do, was find my daughter some synthetic substances of her own, so she could see what all the fuss was about.

(What did you think I was going to shoot her up with steroids? Go back to that first picture and tell me that that's somebody you'd like to make prone to fits of rage.)

So baby, now that you've sampled some synthetic substances of your own, is it easier to understand that nothing is entirely cut and dry when it comes to performance enhancing drugs? Can you move past the things that are bringing you down, and just get back to the pure enjoyment of the game?

That's my girl! I'm very proud of my daughter's ability to take a complicated issue, study both sides of it carefully, evaluate the options, and then have her thought process completely altered by a frozen dairy treat. It's that kind of critical thinking that will help you understand the trickier issues in sports. It will help you understand that most things have a bigger picture that you need to consider. Most importantly, it will help you to understand that your real purpose here...

is to help your Dad rack up more of the free stuff they're giving away.  One pack of cards per person. Ha! There's five of us! (We should have had more kids.)