Tuesday 31 January 2012

Entertaining the Non-Rider: Get There First

I have a couple of daredevil kids in my family. We spend plenty of time in theme parks, and these two are usually looking for the biggest, fastest, most turbulent ride they can find. Their method for choosing the next ride they want to go on is to bring up the name of the ride, and then see if either Mom or Dad hesitate. If they sense even the smallest amount of fear, that's the ride they want to go on next. Those two kids are fairly easy to deal with in theme parks. The problem, of course, is that I have three children.

My youngest isn't in to the thrill rides yet. She's tried a few, but at this point in her life, they're not really her thing. We try to do rides that she likes, but while I may think twice when my older two mention the Death Drop 2000 roller coaster, I go into full-on retreat when the words "teacups" or "Tilt-a-Whirl" are brought up. Even worse is the thought of riding It's a Small World over and over all day. Obviously the family will have to split up, but how do I entertain my non-rider for an entire day while her siblings attempt to terrorize themselves?

I'm sure your kids aren't competitive, but mine have this drive to beat the other two at something. It's not universal, as despite my best efforts I can't get them to compete for the best grades in school, but when it comes to seeing new things, the first one there wins, so the first thing youngest and I do is go visit all the rides that we won't be going on. This didn't go over so well the first time we tried it, as for some reason this child, whose favorite line used to be "You can't make me!", now thought that I was going to grab her and strap her in to some monstrous thrill ride without anybody acknowledging her howls of complaint. Once we conquered that completely rational fear however, we got on with the real purpose of going to rides that we're not planning on trying, and that's getting there first

My older two children are probably going to spend the first hour of their day at a theme park in line for a major attraction. During that time, youngest and I walk around and check out all the other big rides and attractions. We take pictures as we go, so that when we join back up with the others, they can tell us all about the ride they went on, but my youngest can tell them all about the rides they still have coming, complete with pictures of her at each one. This makes her the "go-to" source for information on rides that she has no intention of coming within a hundred yards of (Seriously, in the picture of her at the Superman ride, that is as close as she was willing to get. A hundred yards might be generous.) and let's her feel involved in the discussions of the big rides without ever having to set foot on them.

This is just the beginning of our day obviously, but it gets everything started on the right foot. I get to see all the rides in the park, and decide if there are any worth begging my wife to let me ride with the kids; my youngest gets to be involved in the discussions about the big rides and has information that my other kids actually want; my older two kids get the lowdown on any rides that are closed, have long/short lines, or look particularly lame; and my wife, well, she gets to be married to me! See...everybody wins! For the first hour of the day anyways. After that, even being married to me isn't enough. Fortunately, I have more tips. You'll just have to come back for them...

Up next: Entertaining the Non-Rider: Rides You Usually Skip

Monday 30 January 2012

A Tweenage Birthday Party at Big White

When my daughter suggested to me that we have her birthday party at the Tube Park at Big White, I only saw the positives. Not only would I not have to fill my house with pre-teen girls, but I probably wouldn't have to be too involved in the actual hands-on management of the party itself. Between my wife and all of the staff at Big White, my only real job would be to show up and pay the bill. Painful enough, but still better than trying to keep adolescent girls entertained.

Of course it's never that simple. When you leave me with nothing to keep my mind occupied, it starts to wander on it's own. I may look like I'm standing to the side without a thought in my head, but really I'm trying to figure out the deeper, darker mysteries of the universe. Things like "Why do bad things happen to good people?", "Which is a stronger emotion, Love or Hate?", and "How do they get the caramel into the Caramilk bar?" If it's a particularly thought provoking day, I might even challenge the greatest of all mysteries - "Why do teenage girls do that?"

That's the track that my daughter's birthday party took, and if you think you can help me figure that last question out (or any of the other ones really) then I'd appreciate your help. You're going to need the details though, and once again, they're not here. Today's post is being hosted over at the Travel Mamas site and before you say it, I know what you're thinking. Why would a guy who complains about being called a Mommy Blogger write a post for a site called Travel Mamas?

The answer to that is the lovely Travel Mama herself, Colleen Lanin. Now before you head over to Colleen's site, let me prepare you for what you're getting into. Colleen is blonde, gorgeous, and lives in Southern California. Got that image? Now add in the fact that she's an author, a freelance writer, has a masters degree in business administration, teaches both blogging and parenting classes, is a wife and Mom of two herself, and runs one of the more successful Family Travel websites around. I also highly suspect that she may have been a child movie star at one point in her life. IMDB doesn't list her, but I've seen her give interviews on the news and she's just too at home on camera for there to be much doubt.

So go to Travel Mamas and read the story of me taking a bunch of pre-teen girls tubing. Watch the video of their group run and try to explain to me why pre-teen girls do the things they do. Then take some time and enjoy all the great stuff that Travel Mamas has stored on their site. Just don't let Colleen know that we're on to her movie star past. I hear those retired celebrity types like their privacy.

Sunday 29 January 2012

5 Oscar Questions

I mentioned on Friday that the Oscars are kind of a big deal at our house. At least they have been. I'm not so sure about this year, as I've yet to see a single one of the nominees for Best Picture, despite having a couple of them cued up on my iPad. Last year at this time I was half way through, with most of the Best Actor and Best Actress performances on deck. The year before that I even got through the Best Supporting Actor and Actress movies. This year I'm thinking that I might have to make my Oscar pool picks based on the trailers. Or the posters. What I'll probably do though, is go back to the system I used the one year I won my fantasy football league and let Lori pick based on how cute the choices are. So Lori, Best Actor...Who's it going to be...George Clooney or Brad Pitt?

Do you really care what they wear?
I know for some people the awards end as soon as the red carpet finishes. Personally, I really couldn't care less what the celebrities wear to the event, but I'm pretty sure their goal isn't to impress me. I can't imagine the pressure that the stars must be under to look their best when you have to walk a red carpet in front of people who actually care about fashion. Guys seem to have it fairly easy, as long as they don't get too ambitious, but the ladies must lose a lot of sleep trying to decide what to wear that will at least get them a passing grade from the fashion police. I can understand why some of them just snap and say "Screw it, just wrap me up in a swan and I'll deal with the outcome."

Do you watch the red carpet?

What's your biggest Oscar disappointment?
The very first time the Oscars ever captured my attention was in 1978 when Star Wars was up for Best Picture. Since everybody knew that Star Wars was going to win everything it was nominated for (and perhaps a few it wasn't), I begged my parents to let me stay up and count the awards as they came in. I half expected the Academy to declare the Oscars finished at the end of the telecast, as there was no point continuing since the greatest movie possible had already been made. I had no idea who this "Annie Hall" was, but my shock and disappointment at the moment Star Wars didn't win Best Picture is one of the clearest memories of my youth. I didn't watch the Oscars again for ten years, and then just as I got re-interested in them, I looked back and noticed that the same year Star Wars lost, so did John Travolta for Saturday Night Fever. That cost the Oscars another five years, but eventually I came back. I still won't watch Woody Allen movies though.

Have you ever been completely disgusted with an Oscar winner?

Is there an Oscar category you don't understand?
Just picture it in a box, with a roadrunner or something...
If you ever stay for the credits at the end of a movie, you'll see this long list of names that played a part in getting the film made. The job that always catches my attention is "Key Grip". I have no idea what a Key Grip does. I'm guessing he holds something (and if it's keys I'll feel really stupid) but I've never seen it explained anywhere, and to be honest I'm too lazy to Google it. Fortunately there's no "Best Key Grip" category, but there's a couple of awards that I'm not too sure what they're about. For instance, I have no idea what criteria you'd need to meet to be nominated for Best Art Direction. When I hear "art", I picture somebody with scissors and glue trying to make a collage. I assume that there's something more to the category than that, because if there isn't, I have an awesome Grade 6 desert diorama that I'll be submitting for consideration next year. Hopefully I'll be up against a Woody Allen movie and I can get some revenge!

Is there an Oscar category you don't understand?

Did your all-time favorite movie win for Best Picture?
To be honest, I didn't know the answer to this one. I know my favorite movie - Casablanca - but I had no idea what year it came out, never mind whether or not it won the Best Picture Oscar. Turns out that it did, and it also won Best Director and Best Screenplay. Now I'm not saying that there's a connection here, but did anybody else notice that five months after Casablanca won for Best Picture, Paris was liberated from the Nazi army? Coincidence? Could be I suppose, but I prefer to wonder if it would have been even quicker had Humphrey Bogart not lost the Best Actor award. Just something to think about for all the people who voted for Paul Lukas.

Is your all-time favorite movie responsible for the freedom of a nation?

How did only two songs get nominated for Best Original Song?
This one I wasn't too lazy to Google, and it turns out that every song gets rated on a scale of 6-10 (Why we couldn't just use 1-5 I don't know) and a song has to average at least a 8.25 to be nominated. I like both of the two songs that got nominated, but when you're turning down songs by people like Elton John, Pink, Brad Paisley and will.i.am then you might be judging just a little hard. On the other hand, I'm sensing an opportunity here. If any of you want to submit a "More Kids Than Suitcases" theme song, I'm sure we can work it into the blockbuster movie that Hollywood will inevitably want to make about my family. Just try and make sure to use the line "He can't skate, he can't ski. How he's still married is a mystery..."

You wouldn't leave Brad Paisley out of the Best Original Song category would you?

Saturday 28 January 2012

Crystal Mountain - It's My Muscular Calves

Skiing is pretty much a part of life in Kelowna, to the point where if you're the person who doesn't like to spend their days in the freezing cold, dodging trees that at any moment might decide to jump out and take you down, then you're the weird one. It's even a part of our kid's school curriculum, which means that I've spent more than my share of time at the local ski mountains, despite the fact that I started and gave up skiing within a two hour window during grade seven. I've always thought that I might have given up too easily though, so when my daughter's school headed up to Crystal Mountain for their skiing lessons this year, I decided to tag along and see if the 30 year break from skiing had improved my skills.

The day certainly started easily enough, despite my fears that I'd be stuck in the equipment rental hut for a while with all the schools that were on the mountain that day. I was actually shuttled through in record time, even getting some personal attention when I couldn't get the straps on my rental boots closed. Hearing the words "No wonder you can't close them, you have insanely muscular calves!" started my day out on the right foot, although I noticed that when I had trouble zipping up my snow pants nobody pointed out my incredibly muscular gut. Still, even with that oversight, I found the rental process to be fast and efficient, and when you couple it with the lift ticket lady finding me a discount that I would have had no idea I qualified for, I was thrilled with Crystal Mountain before I even set foot on the hill.

Now there may have been some technical mistakes in my plan. For instance, instead of joining in on my daughter's beginners lessons, I brought my son up to the mountain with me, figuring that having a private tutor would be much more beneficial than trying to learn in a group setting. Why I thought that I'd be given more attention from my teenage son, who can't even focus for more than a minute if the topic isn't video games, than a professional instructor is beyond me, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I will say this for my son - he talked me out of my original plan of "Let's just take the chairlift to the top of the mountain and you can teach me on the way down". After we got my daughter situated in her lesson, the boy and I headed off up the mighty T-bar to restart my downhill career.

You know what the problem is with ski resorts? They build them on these steep hills. Seriously, how much easier would it be if everything was just a slow, gradual slope down to a flat field filled with pillows? Alas, apparently that's not how ski mountains work, although I was later informed that the run I chose to start with, the "Bunny Blue", was as close as it comes. I still suspect that there may have been a sign mix-up and I was actually on the "Ski School Cliff" run, but whatever the real name was, there was plenty of slope for me.

Now here's where the problem with my plan comes into play. After successfully ascending the T-bar with no issues, then managing to get it shut down by falling flat on my face during the exit process, I stood at the top of my chosen run and awaited instructions from my son. Have I told you about my son's report card? While his grades are all fairly good, almost every comment section includes the phrase "needs to learn to communicate his ideas more clearly". I have a new found appreciation for his teacher's concerns now, as the extent of my ski training was "Go that way".

I'm pretty sure this is Bunny Blue. At least it felt like it.
So I did, and here's where a little television is a bad thing. Have you ever watched the professional ski racers on TV? They look so graceful, and while I never really paid much attention to their technique, the one thing that stayed with me from watching them was that they were always in a tuck position. Figuring that the only difference between them and myself was a few hours of practice, I pointed my skis down the hill, got myself into a low crouch position, and took off down the hill. For about five feet. Then one ski went left, the other one detached itself from my foot and went right, and the rest of me landed hard on the side of the run. Feeling a little discouraged (and a whole lot bruised), I looked up to my son and awaited a critique of my performance, with perhaps a small suggestion as to what I could do better. His helpful advice? "Don't tuck".

Fine. I didn't expect to have a crash-free day on the mountain, and now that I'd gotten it out of the way, I could get on with enjoying the rest of my skiing adventures. After realizing that the hard part of learning to ski isn't the falling - it's the getting back up - I got myself together and aimed down the hill again, this time standing as straight as an arrow. My second attempt lasted almost 30 feet, but while that may sound like an improvement, what it really did was give me more time to gather speed, so that when I went down, it was more spectacular. This time I managed to avoid the hard thud of the main run and landed in the pile of soft powder at the side. I'm not sure if this was better or worse, but judging from my "instructors" laughing, it was funnier.

An hour and a quarter. That's how long it took me to get down from the top of the T-bar to the bottom of the run, and during that time it became obvious that there was another major difference between myself and the professional skiers on TV - they didn't have to deal with my muscular calf problem. No wonder they came flying down the hills at top speed - their skinny little legs were keeping their center of balance exactly where it needed to be. Unfortunately for those with muscular calves like myself, we'll probably never be able to balance ourselves out properly to attain "top skier" status. I blame my many years of soccer stardom for my lack of success as a skier.

As I was standing at the bottom of the hill, pondering my future as a non-skier, I saw my daughter's class come down the mountain. They were zig-zagging back and forth, making turns with ease and even slowing themselves to a stop without having to bail into a nearby snowbank. I watched them glide down to the bottom, and began to wonder if I would have done better if I'd taken some professional lessons. Apparently Crystal Mountain's instructors knew what they were doing, and maybe I too could have been cutting across runs, looking like I was having a great time. When she got to the bottom, I asked my daughter what the instructors had told her to improve her skiing so much.

"Don't tuck", she said.

It's gotta be the calves.

Friday 27 January 2012

Downtime at the Movies

Ice Age Standee

It's Oscar time again, and even though the Academy and our family have drastically different ideas as to what a quality movie consists of, I still get excited every year when the nominations come out. Lori and I used to go to movies all the time. When we first met, I was working as a movie salesman, and we would get invited to all the movie premieres and be totally up to date on all the Oscar contenders. I still couldn't predict the winners, but I could make very informed wrong guesses.

Nowadays our movie going is pretty much limited to when we're traveling. At home we're just too busy to take in many films, but we always try and catch up on our "must see" movies whenever we need a break while we're on the road. Of course we have to document everything...

No matter how silly we look doing it....

Sometimes we even take pictures of movies we're not going to see, just because it seems appropriate...

And sometimes we have to administer a little friendly persuasion to get our kids in the picture...

People wonder why we'd want to waste our vacation time doing something we could just as easily do at home, but for us it's our two hour downtime that lets us recharge and reset for the next adventure. Even if it's not helping me to pick the Oscar winners.

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 people there who actually didn't like Chipwrecked. What's wrong with these people?

Thursday 26 January 2012

Kualoa Ranch - Movies and Magnum P.I.

As much fun as it was helping make memories for Japanese tourists, the Ocean Voyaging Tour was only half our day at Kualoa Ranch. We booked a half day package that included two tours and a buffet lunch because really, I'll book anything that includes a buffet lunch. Seriously, if you've got a waterboarding experience, and it includes a free buffet lunch, I'm in. Fortunately the choices were much more appealing at Kualoa, and we decided to spend the second hour of our visit on the Movie Sites & Ranch Tour.

This seemed like a simple, winning concept to me. Plenty of movies and TV shows have been filmed at Kualoa Ranch, and it was bound to be a ton of fun driving around and seeing locations where some of our favorite movies were filmed. I envisioned myself reliving scenes with my children, but it quickly became apparent that I'd forgotten something. My kids haven't seen these movies.

I realize that admitting it might cost me my membership card to the "Parents of the 80's" club, but my kids have never watched Jurassic Park. When our tour stopped at a tree stump that was used in the movie for the actors to hide behind while a giant T-Rex fought with other dinosaurs, the significance was completely lost on my children. I tried to explain to them how it worked, and that they should imagine an enormous dinosaur stomping around in the valley, but all I got was blank stares. Finally I just told them to go hide behind the tree so I could take a picture and we could move on, although believe me, it didn't get better from there.

I tried my best to explain each of the movie locations that we stopped at to my kids, but really, if you don't know who Godzilla is, that footprint is just a giant hole in the ground. And how do you explain something like Magnum P.I.? I could give them the premise of the show maybe, but there's no way I could explain the  really bad Hawaiian shirts or the even worse moustache. It fell this way throughout the tour; George of the Jungle, Pearl Harbor, 50 First Dates...I tried to explain each one to my kids, but each time they just tuned me out.

Yet despite my mounting despair, it became apparent that my kids were having a good time. They weren't disinterested in the tour, they were just disinterested in me talking (a feeling I'm all to familiar with). While I was spending all my time and effort stressing the "movie" part of the tour, my kids were enjoying the "ranch" side. Kualoa is, after all, a working cattle ranch, and there are plenty of animals roaming freely amidst some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth. Some of the high trails we drove on led to amazing ocean views, although you would have missed them if you were frantically looking to the left trying to find the bunker from Pearl Harbor. The denser forestation was home to some unique animals that can't be found anywhere else, but I probably didn't notice them while I was trying to envision Brendan Fraiser swinging from the trees. The tour itself doesn't dictate how you should enjoy what it has to show you, it just shows you.

There's a lesson to be learned here. My kids will tell you that it's about letting them experience things in their own way. That they might not have enjoyed the Movie Sites & Ranch tour as much as they did if I'd kept yammering on about T-Rex here and Godzilla there. That I need to give them some more freedom and trust them to take from experiences what they will. These are all great lessons, and hopefully I've learned some of them, but I think the real lesson of the day would only be obvious to the wiser, more experienced minds...My kids need to watch Magnum P.I. I'm on my way to iTunes to download all eight seasons right now.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Taunted by Tourists at Kualoa Ranch

Long before our suicidal catamaran ride on Waikiki Beach, we tested the Hawaiian boating waters with the Ocean Voyaging Tour at Kualoa Ranch. Kualoa is a privately owned, 4000 acre working cattle ranch that features some of the most beautiful scenery on the island, so much so that many movies and TV series have been filmed there. I can see why, as the setting, between mountains yet extending all the way to the ocean, kind of leaves you awestruck, and you'll catch yourself looking up at the scenery almost constantly.

That, however, is when you're on the land. If you take the Ocean Voyaging tour like we did, there's other things to look for, like dolphins or turtles. At least these were the promises we made to our kids to get them excited about the early morning tour we were booked on. We were on the first run of the day, which goes out at 9am. The drawback to this is obvious, but the benefit is that there are very few other people crazy enough to get out of bed that early on vacation. Our tour was populated only by our family, and another extended group from Japan who spoke no English.

We were shuttled out to the boat where the safety information was explained. After a lot of sign language to ensure that our Japanese friends understood where the life jackets were stored, our captain explained that both levels of the boat were open, and that those who wanted to stay dry and get a good view should go up top, while those who wanted to be closer to the water could stay downstairs, but be warned that you will probably get wet. The Japanese family immediately climbed up the stairs to the top deck (leaving me wondering how they understood the phrase "stay dry" with such ease) so our family took up residence on the bottom. The captain explained that if you stayed back in the seating area, you would probably stay dry, but if you went up to the front railing, you'd best hang on and hold your breath.

That was good enough for me, and I headed for the front rail along with my older two children while Lori and our youngest stayed in the dry area to take some pictures. I have to say that all the warnings were a little over the top however, as the ride out to the area where sea turtles were known to congregate was perfectly smooth. It got a little choppy as we got further out, but we weren't getting anything more than a light misting. Once we got out from the land a little ways, Lori called us to turn around for a picture.

I suppose it could have been coincidence. Lori claims that she didn't know, but usually it's the people in the picture who are supposed to have a giant smile on their face, not the person taking the picture. Just as we turned around to get our picture taken, the ship dipped and we hit our first real wave. I don't know if there's a time when the ocean temperature actually warms up, but I can guarantee you it's not 9am. It felt like somebody threw a bucket of ice on my back and I let out enough of a squeal to attract the attention of the Japanese family on the top deck, probably because my yelp was high-pitched enough to sound like the dolphin they were searching for. In a move that made me wonder why anybody ever argues against stereotypes, they all pointed their cameras at the crazy, wet people at the front of the boat and started taking pictures.

There were a couple more calls from Lori for pictures, but having been fooled once, the most she would get from us was a half glance over the shoulder while we held on to the front ropes with an iron grip. We didn't really want to turn around anyways as, other than being a little cold from the water, the ride out was really enjoyable. Eventually the captain told us that we were getting to the area where sea turtles were usually found, and that we should keep our eyes open. Lori and my other daughter came out to join us at the railing, and we all stared into the water looking for Crush the sea turtle. After a little bit, there was a commotion on the top deck, and we could hear shouting. Figuring that they had located the turtles, we all turned to see what was happening.

What I didn't expect to see, was a wall of smiling Japanese faces across the front of the top deck, all with cameras pointed right at us. This threw me off for a minute as I tried to figure out what was making us so interesting, but while I was putting all the information together, I recognized that feeling of the ship going down a wave again. I grabbed my daughter and covered up, but sure enough another blanket of ice water came over the front of the boat and soaked us all. At the time, I assumed that they had been trying to warn us, but in hindsight, I'm guessing that if I understood Japanese the yelling would have translated into something along the lines of "Hey crazy people! Look at us!" 

Since we were all wet now anyways, we spent the rest of the boat ride out on the front deck enjoying the sun. The Ocean Voyaging Tour lasts about an hour, which is way less time than you want to spend on the water in Hawaii, but it's enough to give you a little taste of ocean life, and it's perfect as an adventure for the kids. We only found a couple of sea turtles (hence leading to our later visit to Laniakea Beach), and caught a glimpse of what I suspect were a couple of dolphins, but we really enjoyed the chance to get out on a boat, and the view of Oahu as you come back towards it is worth every penny of the cost (which is $24 per adult and $15 per child). Kualoa Ranch offers packages where you can choose one, two, or four of their activities during your visit, and if you have a spot, I highly recommend the Ocean Voyaging Tour. Maybe just learn a little Japanese before you go.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Hotels Stretch the Truth Too

I've been chastised, I've been reprimanded, and I've been told to get my circle of wives down to just one. Yesterday I wrote about a few things I may have not been completely honest about in the past when checking into hotels, and I want you to know that I'm thoroughly ashamed of myself and I'll never do it again. Except for maybe that fridge thing...or the movie thing....and if the hotel has really cool towels, I can't be blamed for that can I?

No no...I've (kind of) learned my lesson, but let's be fair about things. It's not like I'm the only one stretching the truth at the front desk. For every time I've given the check-in person cause to roll their eyes, there's been an occasion where I have to wonder how the agent can say that with a straight face. The hotels are every bit as guilty as I am of stretching the truth at check-in. Want some examples? I'm glad you asked:

"You've been upgraded to our (Non-descriptive term) room!"
Everybody likes to get upgraded, myself included, but sometimes I wonder if front desk people aren't just told to work the word "upgrade" into every conversation they have. It really comes off badly if you're a repeat visitor to the hotel, and know the room types that they offer. I had one hotel "upgrade" me to a Superior room, which was one level below the room that I had booked. I had another hotel tell me that they had "upgraded" me to a lakeview room, but when I got to the room all I could see was the next tower of the hotel. I asked the bellman if this was a lakeview room, and he said that they call it one because it faces the lake, and if the other tower wasn't in the way, there would be a perfect view. Makes sense to me.

"Just charge it to your room"
Does anybody ever feel good doing this? Every time I check into a hotel that includes free breakfast, internet, or has a dining credit attached to it, I'm told "Just charge it to your room and it will be deducted at check-out". What they don't tell you is that you'll have to come down to the front desk and explain every item in the charge to them, then remind them that your room package includes these things. I'm pretty sure that's why they come up with such creative names for their packages. They like to see me standing at the counter explaining that "It's included because we're staying on the "Lovers in Lace" package".

"Check-in time is 4pm"
Sure it is. I realize that this isn't necessarily the hotel's fault, but worse than arriving at the scheduled time to be told that your room isn't ready yet, is the hotel's system for dealing with the situation. They always take your phone number down, and promise to call you as soon as the room is ready. I used to believe them, and would go off to have dinner or some other activity. Eventually I would come back and ask at the front desk, only to be told the room was ready. Then, a couple hours after getting into the room, I would get a phone call saying that I could check-in. We use a different system now. If our room isn't ready at check-in time, our whole family sets up camp in the lobby. The longer it takes for the room, the more rowdy my kids get. We never have to wait very long anymore.

"Yes... We have high speed internet"
I think what's missing here is a definition of "high speed". The qualification I use is "Can I upload a picture to Facebook in less time than it takes my son to complete an entire game of Angry Birds?" That seems like a fairly low bar to set, but you'd be surprised at how many hotels fail to achieve it (you'd also be surprised how good my son is at Angry Birds). It's particularly annoying when you're paying $14.95 a day for an internet connection that I sincerely suspect may still be an AOL dial-up line. Actually that would be kind of cool, and I'd almost be willing to suffer the lack of speed just to be able to hear "Beep...Whirrr...Click, Click" every time I tried to go online.

"Your rate is $X per night plus resort fee"
Actual conversation I held with a front desk agent this past summer:
Me: "Do you have free Wi-Fi?"
Agent: "Oh yes sir! It's included in your $24.95 a day resort fee."
Me: "So it's not free?"
Agent: "It's included in your resort fee sir. There's no extra charge."
Me: "What else is included in the resort fee?"
Agent: "It includes free parking as well sir."
Me: "The guy just charged me $10 to park in the lot!"
Agent: "Did you park in the lot in front of the hotel sir?"
Me: "Yes."
Agent: "That lot has a $10 per day charge. The lot that is included in the resort fee is down the hill. It's about a half mile walk."
Me: "So the free parking is a half mile away? Is there a shuttle?"
Agent: "No sir, but there are stairs."

It took every ounce of willpower I had not to ask if the stairs were included in the resort fee, but truth be told I was kind of scared of what the answer might be. I had visions of a toll booth in the middle of the fourth flight.

Monday 23 January 2012

Stretching the Truth at Hotel Check-In

I sometimes wonder just how often front desk people roll their eyes at some of the stuff they're told when people check in to their hotel. I can't count how often I've stood beside somebody who's trying to convince the agent that it really is the fourth anniversary of the day he first met his wife's sisters future ex-husband, and in consideration of that could they possibly upgrade him to the presidential suite? I've actually never used the "It's a special occasion" line with a hotel, although my favorite ones already know when my birthday and anniversary are. I may be guilty of stretching the truth on a couple of other occasions though. Here's a few stories that fall under that category, although please note that the names have been changed to protect...well...me.

"I need a fridge for medicine"
I really like having a fridge in my room, especially when I'm traveling with children, but unless I'm using one of their fancier rooms, I'm usually stuck with filling a sink full of ice. Once when I was traveling with some prescription medicine that had to be refrigerated, a bellhop offered to bring me up a mini-fridge at no charge to keep the medicine cool. Apparently this is an option that's available at lots of hotels, although they don't really advertise it. I don't use it often as I'd feel terrible having a fridge when somebody who really needed one was stuck without, but on the other hand, Diet Coke should probably qualify as some sort of healing concoction. It definitely makes me feel better, especially when it's cold.

"Oh he's not my kid"
I think I've expressed my non-enthusiasm for rooms with a capacity of four in the past. I understand that the hotel has to obey fire regulations, but if I'm just looking for a place to crash for a few hours before a flight, one room is plenty for the five of us. I doubt that the hotel really wants to make an issue out of it, but sometimes it's just easier to claim that one of the kids belongs to my sister who isn't there yet. That's my sister...always running late!

"I didn't order that movie"
Look, there's five of us in two rooms, and to be honest I'm never really sure who presses what button. Is it possible that my kids pressed the order button when flipping channels? Sure. Do I think they sat there and watched "An Investigation of the American Revolution - Part IX"? I'm pretty sure they didn't. That's the same story I use when "Jessica Rabbit Unrated" shows up on the bill for the grown up room. Still can't argue with the intimacy kit though.    

"How did that towel get in there?"
Despite the apparent popularity of the activity, I'm not usually one for stealing hotel towels. To be honest, towels aren't all that expensive, and if I want a nice one I'll just go down to Bed, Bath and Beyond and pick one up (or my wife will. She's there every other day anyways.). There was one occasion however, where I really wanted to keep my hotel towel as it had the hotel logo covering the entire length, so I claimed that the front desk had shorted me one towel card at check-in. It worked fine, and then when I got home I noticed that I had been charged for a movie that we didn't order - really this time. I decided that karma had evened things out for my grabbing the towel and called it a fair trade, but I'm still mad that even though I've paid for it, I've never seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

"Yes, I'm married to her, her, her, and him"
Ah Vegas, where anything goes. Lori and I host some friends in Vegas every summer, and on the first few trips we would accept enough offers from different casinos that everybody got their own free room. Of course, since the offer was directed at me, I had to check in for each room, but I didn't really want to have holds put on my credit card for all four rooms. The solution was that I would check in with the wives of each couple, and they would give their credit card for the room deposit. One couple only had one credit card, and it was in the husbands name, so I had to check in with him. I love that the front desk never blinked when the two of us checked in and requested one king bed. I'm pretty sure that if I ever get on the wrong side of Lori, there's enough hotel receipts out there with my name and other women (and one man) to let her win any lawsuit she wants to file.

Sunday 22 January 2012

5 Food Questions

It's date night for us tonight. I'm taking Lori out to dinner and a stand-up comedian...not an A-level date, but time out of the house without any children. As much as I enjoy getting to go out with my wife these days, I do kind of miss the excitement of the early dates in our relationship when you wondered how the evening was going to end. There was a certain thrill to wondering whether you were going to end up with a handshake or...ummm...a kiss on the cheek (because that's as far as it should go on a date kids). Nowadays I know exactly how it's going to end. We're both hoping to have a good time, but what we're really praying for is that the night ends early enough that we can get home and get enough sleep to get through the next day. That's a successful date for us these days.

We are trying out a new restaurant tonight, and that's got me thinking about some food experiences from the past. By now, I'm sure you know what happens when I think...I have questions.

Have you ever ordered something you don't know how to eat?
I'm not what you'd call a high end culinary guy, and I certainly wouldn't be considered adventurous when it comes to ordering food at a restaurant. Once in a while though, we find ourselves in one of the fancier eateries, and inevitably our lack of experience comes back to bite us. We once had an anniversary dinner at Emeril's restaurant in Las Vegas, and to help us celebrate the chef sent over an appetizer. Lori and I both sat there staring blankly at it, as it looked like something you would pick up with your fingers, but that seemed pretty unlikely in such a sophisticated restaurant. Eventually we had to ask one of the waiters how we were supposed to eat the treat they had sent over, thus earning us the title of least cultured customers of the night. I'd say of the year, but I think we earned that title trying to get into a lobster at the Rio. Did you know there's a special tool for that? I didn't.

Would you ask if you didn't know how to eat something? Or just guess?

What do you drink with fancy meals if you don't like wine?
I'm a Diet Coke guy. I don't really drink anything else, but Diet Coke isn't a great drink when you're eating fancy food. It kind of overpowers every other taste in your mouth and replaces it with Aspartame, which is fantastic if you're eating at McDonalds, but not so great if you're paying $75 a plate. The problem is, I've never really found another drink that I like enough to order with fancier meals. I know we can stick with water, and that's usually what we do, but at some point I'd like the experience of saying something like "I'll have a glass of Chateau La Pierremont '67 please." and not "Do you guys have milkshakes?"

Do you know of a wine that would appeal to a non-wine drinker? Preferably one that tastes like Diet Coke.

Have you ever mixed up ingredients or toppings on your food?
I've heard of people mixing up salt and sugar plenty, but that seems to involve cooking, and I think we can all agree that's not an area I should be messing around in. My biggest mix-up was at a breakfast buffet in Las Vegas. I love buffets because not only do I get to change my mind half way through about what I want to eat (Who am I kidding, it's waffles. It's always waffles.) but I get to apply my own toppings. If you're going to have waffles, or pancakes, or crepes, or cereal even, then you've got to have whipped cream, and when you order off the menu they give you these cute little dabs of the stuff. That's not going to cut it. As a general rule, however high your stack of pancakes is, the whipped cream should be twice that height. This is easily accomplished when you're serving yourself, so I went up and got my plate of waffles then piled it sky high with whipped cream. Now here's my question...who puts a bowl of horseradish right beside the bowl of whipped cream on a breakfast buffet? Why would you even need horseradish at a breakfast buffet? Needless to say, that wasn't my best meal of the trip, although I think the rest of the family would rate it highly on the "funniest moment" scale.

Why would you have horseradish at a breakfast buffet?

Is there such a thing as healthy fast food?
I don't mean according to the scale in my mind, where leaving the cheese off my Whopper puts it on par with a bowl full of celery. Lately though, I've been reading about a bunch of people bashing McDonalds for not being real food, yet in my experience (and I have plenty of experience with McDonalds) they have lots of healthy options. I would assume that if you order a salad at McDonalds, it's the same as ordering a salad anywhere else, but perhaps I'm wrong? Is there some deep dark secret about McDonalds salads that maybe I don't know? Or are people just generically bashing McDonalds based on reputation. Really it's just a matter of curiosity for me, as we're Jack in the Box people, and everybody knows that's where the real health nuts go for take out.

Is there something you can order at fast food places that isn't insanely bad for you?

Have you ever ordered off the kid's menu?
Occaisionally I have a hard time finding something that appeals to me on a restaurant's menu. It's not necessarily that there's nothing good on the menu, but sometimes I'm just in a finicky mood and nothing really appeals to me. I never have that problem when I look at the kid's menu. They have wonderful stuff on there, and the best part is that kid's meals almost always come with dessert! Or a toy! McDonalds hooked me once with their Happy Meal toys. They were doing a "100 years of Disney" promotion where each Happy Meal came with a figurine of a Disney character, and there was a set of 100 to collect. At the same time as they launched this promotion, they had a sale on Happy Meals for $1.99 each. Guess what we ate for approximately the next month. In a stroke of marketing genius, the characters came in opaque bags, so you couldn't just ask the counter people to look for the ones you were missing. I managed to get 93 of the set myself, then I turned to E-bay because I just couldn't bring myself to order another Happy Meal. Besides, the drive-through people were starting to look at me weird since I was a grown man coming through and ordering six or seven Happy Meals at a time, and after a while my kids refused to come with me anymore so it looked even worse. On the other hand, I completely cured my kids of their McDonalds addiction.

Has the meal you really wanted ever only been available on the kid's menu?

Saturday 21 January 2012

The Mind Reading Staff of Kelowna's H2O Centre

Unlike skating, swimming is something I can do. Or at least I thought I could. Turns out swimming at Kelowna's $46 million H2O centre isn't so much about actually swimming at all. It's about sitting, bobbing, sliding, diving, floating, and even a little surfing. In fact, out of the six or seven pool areas in the building, only one - the Olympic size swimming pool - would actually involve any swimming. Guess which one we never got around to?

At the risk of sounding like an old man, it's all different these days. When I was young, a pool was exactly what you pictured when you thought of the word pool - a giant rectangular hole with water in it. If you wanted to get across the pool, you swam. Now they have this thing called a lazy river. I'll admit that when my kids told me to meet them in the lazy river, I had a visual of floating along down a slow moving creek on some sort of luxurious raft. What it really consists of is a fast moving current which requires far more energy to navigate than the word "lazy" would ever imply. I found myself getting carried around in a circle over and over again until one of my children showed me how to grab on to a rail at one of the exits and get out. I have to confess that I'm a little clueless as to the purpose of the lazy river, although I harbour a suspicion that it's purpose is to trap anybody over the age of 40 and keep them away from the other areas of the pool.

Like the wave pool. Now this is my kind of area, largely because they give you lots of floaty devices to hang on to. Bobbing up and down on the waves while floating on a board is far more entertaining than you might think, but it didn't take long for my mind to wander to the areas it always does, and I began to wonder if it would be possible to stand on the board. Then my mind moved on to standing on the board in the lazy river! Then I put the ideas together and thought about riding one of the waves from the wave pool into the lazy river! Then I realized that the lifeguard was looking right at me. She gave me that "I know what you're thinking - don't do it!" look that I usually only get from my wife, and after a moments consideration I decided that, despite the odds, there was a chance she really did know what I was thinking and it probably wasn't worth being sent back to the holding pen for grownups that is the lazy river.

The pool complex is equipped with just about everything, but if there is an area of the pool where I feel they fell short, it would be the diving area. Not the area itself, which is really nice, but the fact that they didn't build a high diving board. The tallest diving board at the H2O centre is only 10 feet high! I don't have an exact measurement, but I'm pretty sure the diving board at the pool I used to go to was at least a half mile up in the air (editors note: the diving board at the pool the writer grew up swimming in was exactly 10 feet high) and I feel bad that my kids won't get to know that feeling of climbing up 500 steps (editors note: more like 15) then jumping off a board and free falling for a full minute (editor again: it was about 3 seconds. Let's face it, the writer lacks perspective) before hitting the water. Those were the days. One other note in case you haven't been on a diving board in a number of years: the rules have changed a little. The onus is now on the person second in line to wait until the first diver is out of the way before proceeding. This is a change from the old days where it was the first diver's responsibility to get out of the way before the second diver could land on them.

They've added some fantastic stuff to what falls under the definition of swimming pool these days. There's three full size waterslides which are plenty of fun, even if they don't use radar to tell you what speed you're going. Then there's this:

To be honest, I'm not sure what to make of this. A simulated wave machine looks like a lot of fun, but why is it that everybody who rides this thing can do so at expert level? Even the little kids who took a turn looked impressive. It occurred to me that perhaps it was just easier than it looked, and that the only reason there were no out of shape, over forty year old Dad's trying it was because they were all still trapped in the lazy river. I decided that it would fall to me to become the standard bearer for my age group and I headed over to get in line, but as I got close the lifeguard caught my eye and gave me the "I know what you're thinking - don't do it!" look that is apparently part of basic training for all lifeguards these days. I laughed and mumbled back something along the lines of "Yeah, like I was going to try that", then turned and retreated back to the lazy river.

I have to say, when I was a kid, the pool was not one of the places where I felt there needed to be a lot of improvements made. After all, how do you improve on water? Obviously I simply lacked imagination, because these new complexes such as the H2O centre have done just that. They've kept it affordable too. Adults admission to the complex is $10, children are $7, and there's a family rate for 2 adults and up to 3 children for $25. That price also includes admission to the fitness facilities, but I'm definitely not qualified to review that for you. Just walking past the gym caused one of the trainers to give me a "I know what you're thinking - don't do it!" look. Apparently it's company wide training.