Monday 30 April 2012

Hyatt Regency Jersey City

We arrived at the Hyatt Regency in Jersey City by way of limo. It wasn't our choice, as the car was arranged by the concierge at the Hilton Times Square, but it was definitely an attention getting way to pull up to a hotel. It might, however, have been the cause of some confusion. Here we were, riding around in a stretch limousine only a few blocks from Giants stadium, on the very day that Tim Tebow was scheduled to arrive in New Jersey to make his first appearance as a New York Jet. Actually, if there was some confusion, that would explain a lot.

I'm not sure if Tim Tebow uses "Steve Pratt" as his fake check-in name for hotels (although it seems strange that he would use the name of somebody as famous as I am), but if he does it might explain the service that we received from the Hyatt in Jersey City. For days before our arrival, we were peppered with e-mails
Hyatt-Jersey-Bedroomconfirming the details of our arrival, although the best I could give them was "We'll be there sometime on Friday" (sounds like a celebrity not wanting to reveal too much to me). When we arrived at the hotel, the bellhops addressed us by name, and although they tried not to show it, I caught them exchanging amazed glances at just how out of shape Mr. Tebow was. At check-in we were greeted by a V.I.P. host who gave us an overview of everything in the hotel, and assured us that our needs would be top priority should anything arise. We were being treated like the superstar that Tim Tebow is, and while I suppose it's possible that they offer this kind of service to everybody, any doubts that there had been a mix-up were removed when we got to our room.

This was a room truly worthy of a superstar. Sure, the real Tim Tebow probably wouldn't have had to burn a guaranteed upgrade certificate to land this type of room, but I wasn't complaining. The Hudson River Suite that we were upgraded to had a giant bedroom with a super comfy king size bed, and a window that gave a great view down the south shore of Jersey, including the Statue of Liberty (whose torch makes a really great nightlight if you leave the blinds open). There was also a nice work desk (for reviewing the playbook), a 42" flat screen TV (for watching game film), and a window bench all along the wall (ummm...for practicing kneeling?).

The living room had a giant couch that was big enough for two of our kids to sleep on without fighting, another 42" TV, and a bookshelf that contained a large number of literary classics. Much to my surprise, this actually interested my kids, until they found out that there was no way for them to download the books. At that point their interest turned to the snacks that had been sent up as a welcome gift. Apparently Mr. Tebow likes humus, olives, pita bread, and has a thing for Pepsi.

The best part of this 700 square foot room however, was the 20 square feet of balcony. The Hyatt on the Hudson is right on the water, directly across from Lower Manhattan. If you want to really enjoy a view of New York, this is the best one that I've ever had. Removed from the city you get fresh air, tranquillity, and a view of New York that stretches from Times Square right down to Battery Park, then across the river to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. I could have sat out on the balcony all day, imagining what it would have been like to be there when Sully landed the plane in the river or, tragically, on 9/11. It only got better at night when the lights came on, and none of my kids wanted to close the blinds at night, no matter what time the sun was going to come up.

Tim Tebow probably has a car and driver, but for the rest of us, as a point for venturing out the Hyatt is about as good as it gets. If you're trying to navigate New Jersey, the transit exchange is right out front. The PATH train station is right underneath the hotel, making it ridiculously easy to get into New York or further into New Jersey. You're also only one station away from Hoboken, and a visit to Carlo's Bake Shop. For you seafaring types, the Paulus Hook ferry station is a two minute walk down the boardwalk.

Look, let's be honest. Nobody mistook me for a finely tuned athlete brought in to be the savior of the New York Jets. I'm more likely to be mistaken for an accountant than a quarterback, but the point is that the service at the Hyatt Regency Jersey City is exemplary. Lori and I are diamond members with Hyatt, which I'm sure accounts for some of the attention (and explains the suite upgrade certificate), but from what I saw everybody was treated very well. Even if you have no status at all with Hyatt, I highly recommend giving this hotel a shot. If you're a Diamond member, you have to stay here, and on the off chance that Tim Tebow finds himself reading this ( could happen), I'm pleased to report that the Hyatt on the Hudson is ready  for your visit sir. If you could though, please stop checking in under my name.

Saturday 28 April 2012

Cupcasions - Sorry with Cupcakes

Yesterday wasn't one of my most stellar efforts. It seems that those five baskets of laundry Lori left for me were meant to be folded. I'm not sure how I was supposed to know that (I mean, I guess I could have read the note, but let's not get crazy here), but I've been married long enough to know that ignorance of the laundry is no excuse. To make matters worse, not only did I not fold the laundry, but apparently at some point in the day, I moved the baskets to a new spot, thus eliminating my standard "I didn't see them" excuse. Nope, by the time my wife got home, the only thing I could do was apologize and try to make it up to her, and in our house, that requires a visit to Cupcasions.

You see, every wife has a gift that works as a "Sorry I'm an idiot" offering. For some women it's flowers. Others prefer jewelry. Even more are only happy when the appropriate amount of wine is brought forth. For my wife though, it's Cupcasions, and in specific, their Pina Colada cupcake. If I brought a half dozen of these cupcakes home I'm pretty sure I could get away with just about anything, but since I only forgot to fold the laundry, all I needed to go in search of today, was one.

Now I can get Cupcasions cupcakes in lots of places in Kelowna. They sell them in cafes, gas stations, and I'm pretty sure I even saw them for sale in a Weight Watchers store once (although that might explain why Lori sent me to get my eyes checked last week). If you want the best selection though, you have to go to the main store on the corner of Springfield and Spall. That's where they make the cupcakes, so that's where you'll find the best variety of flavors and, more importantly, sizes.

See there's an art to saying "I'm sorry" with cupcakes. If you overdo it and bring home too many cupcakes, you're going to get in trouble for insinuating that your wife would eat that many cupcakes. (Editors note: If you have to apologize for bringing home too many cupcakes, don't do it with more cupcakes. Lesson learned the hard way.) If you just bring home a single cupcake, it kind of comes across like you didn't put much effort into your apology. This is where "Celebration Size" cupcakes are perfect. These are super-sized cupcakes, and they strike just the right balance of "I really am sorry" and "I know you could never eat more than one cupcake." (Editors note #2: If you actually say those words, do NOT stress the word never. Again...voice of experience here.)

So today I made a stop at Cupcasions to get my wife a Celebration Size cupcake. To my horror they hadn't made any Pina Colada today, but there was a French Vanilla Cappuccino cupcake that probably still expressed the same amount of remorse (anything with coffee is usually a safe bet). For myself (Hey, I was sorry for getting myself in this mess!) a Blueberry Cheesecake cupcake was the calling. As I was waiting for the lady to box up my cupcakes, I was looking around the store and saw pictures of some absolutely beautiful wedding cakes that the store had made. While I was wondering just how badly those guys had screwed up, it occurred to me just how great it would be to start off your married life with a giant "I'm sorry" cake. It should be enough to get you through that first year anyways. After that, Springfield and Spall. You can place a standing order if you want.

Friday 27 April 2012

Angry Birds in New York

Sometimes it doesn't matter how much you plan for a vacation, something happens that throws all your preparation out the window. Sometimes it's a little thing like a flight delay or the Statue of Liberty being closed. Other times it's something much more major...

Like Angry Birds releasing new levels on the first day of your trip.

Angry Birds at Carlos Bake Shop

Angry Birds at Central Park

Angry Birds in the car

Angry Birds at Build-A-Bear

Angry Birds in the Limo

Angry Birds at Rockefeller Center
The good news is, he beat all the levels....again. Just don't ask him where he was.

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 don't spend their vacations throwing birds at pigs. At least not while they're playing video games anyways.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Sailing on the Staten Island Ferry

It's the kind of thing that could give a guy a complex. Every time we go to New York, we put the Statue of Liberty on our "must do" list (along with Times Square), and every time we get to New York, it's closed for renovations. It's like Lady Liberty is avoiding me. Now don't get me wrong...I've had plenty of women avoid me over the course of my life, just never a 112 foot tall one...those ones are usually in to me. I guess we could have gone to Liberty Island anyways, but if I'm going to pay the $50 it was going to cost for the five of us to get there, I at least wanted my kids to be able to climb some stairs. Instead, we decided to take advantage of a free option, and do a sail past on the Staten Island Ferry.

One of the newer ferries
If you're looking for a close up view of the Statue of Liberty, the Staten Island Ferry isn't your answer. The ferry keeps it's distance from the statue, venturing a little closer on the way to Staten Island than on the way back, but it still provides a good, if distant, view. You catch the ferry at the South Ferry terminal, right beside Battery Park at the very south tip of Manhattan (It's also the last stop for the #1 subway train). It's a huge, well labeled building, and there's almost no chance of getting lost, wandering through a gathering of protesters at Wall Street, then having to stop and ask a homeless guy for directions. Yup...pretty much a zero chance of that happening (no, I don't want to talk about it).

We got to the terminal just as a ferry began to load, so we joined the queue. Actually there wasn't really a queue, just a mass of humanity funnelling itself into a couple of select openings to make their way onto the boat. Fortunately each ferry holds about 4,000 people, so we had no problem getting on the boat. On the other hand, there only seems to be seats for about 1/2 of those 4,000 people, so on our way out we weren't able to get seats. That's OK, since the real fun of the ferry is to be outside where you can see everything, but here's where we learned something we didn't know about the Staten Island Ferries.

There are two different kinds of Staten Island Ferries, and if your goal is to have a good view of the Statue of Liberty, you only want to be on one of them. The older two ferries, built in 1981, don't have outside areas on the side of the boat. This means that the outside areas on the ends of the boat can get quite crowded. In fact we couldn't even get outside on our trip out, and our kids first views of the Statue of Liberty were through a window that looked like the FBI had been using it to record fingerprints. Not quite the experience I hoped for, but I had a plan.

Old Ferry - No outside seating
When you get to Staten Island, everybody has to get off the ferry. The actual commuters head for home, but a large portion of the passengers just turn around and re-board the ferry to head back to Manhattan. We decided to hold back until the ferry we came over on had departed, and then we caught the next ferry, which happened to be one of the newer ones, back to the city. This ferry had outside seating, so we were left with the outside front area of the boat largely to ourselves. Actually it would have been nice to have a few more people up there with us. It might have kept my wife from trying to re-enact scenes from Titanic.

The ride back was exactly what we had hoped for. The kids got a chance to get a good look at the Statue of Liberty, and as an added bonus the views of Manhattan as you pull back into the city are amazing. Of course the best part (free) was the time that we got to spend together as a family (free) experiencing one of New York's most famous (free) attractions. At least that was my favorite part. My kids were probably far more concerned with how much it cost.

Skyline from Ferry

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Mixed About May

It's time for Disney Wordless Wednesday again. That day of the week when I try (and fail) to post a picture and then not say anything about it. You wouldn't think that this would be a hard concept to follow, yet here I am on line three or four already, and I haven't even gotten around to introducing the theme of the week. That's probably a sign of something, but I really don't have time to figure out what right now. I'll just chalk it up to being an overachiever.

So this week the theme is "May Calendar Shot". That doesn't sound too hard right? What picture would I use if I was making a calendar for the month of May. The problem is that I have very mixed feelings about the month of May. I love the first half of the month. The weather is getting better, the days are getting longer, and everything seems fresh and new. To represent the happy feeling I get from the first half of the month, I'd probably choose this picture of my girls at the start of a ride on the Sun Wheel.

I've got different feelings about the second half of the month though. That's the part of the year when life really starts to get crazy. Extra-curricular activities are all wrapping up with year end recitals and play performances, and that means lots of extra practices. The end of the school year is getting close, creating lots of stress from finals and year end assignments. Combine that with all the Spring work that has to get done around the house, and I'm going to need a very different picture for the second half of the month.

Yeah...that ought to do it.

This post is a part of Wordless Wednesday over at Focused on the Magic. If you didn't get here from there, you should really head on over and check out some of the fantastic people that I've met there over the last few weeks. Some of them even have it together enough that they only need one picture for the month of May in their calendar. I'll bet they're screwed for June though. Nobody's that organized. 

Focused on the Magic

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Adventures in the New York Subway

Getting around New York is easy. It's a perfect city for walking, there's a taxi on every street corner, and the New York subway system runs anywhere you'd want to go. I personally prefer the subway, but for my kids it was a bit of an eye opener. There nothing like the New York subway in Kelowna. Heck, our idea of Light Transit here is when the reading light still works on the bus. It was a little nerve-wracking for my kids to descend into the crowded underground and catch a train into darkness for the first time (Of course it was only the first time since I screwed up the train from Washington), so we decided that we would stay close together and make sure everybody was accounted for.

It took us about five minutes to lose our first person. Actually, we didn't lose Lori, but we did manage to get separated from her. We figured that it would be easiest to just buy one big MTA card (the pre-paid card for the subway system) and pass it back as we went through the turnstiles. This worked fine for the first four of us, but apparently you can only use the MTA card four times at a single station within a certain time period. Lori got stuck out and had to go buy a separate card for herself. I'm really glad that we didn't let one of the kids go last, although they'd probably fit under the turnstiles better than Lori would.

Once you get through the gates and down to the platform, there's really not a whole lot to do but wait. In an effort to kill time, the boy and I started betting on a couple of the giant rats that were racing along the tracks. This was fine, until we managed to get a little too vocal with our cheering, and drew the attention of the girls. Now I've got one girl who wants to leave the subway and catch a cab, one who wants to get closer and figure out if it's a rat or a mouse, and one (who I'm married to) that insists on trying to get a picture of the rat, thus making us look like the biggest tourists to ever venture into the city. This is as close as she came.

Now before we arrived in New York, I loaded five separate apps on my iPhone, all of which had subway maps on them. Two of them were specifically designed to help you figure out which train you needed to be on to get from point A to point B. I also had a fold-out pocket map with me, and I had signed up for text alerts to my phone for service interruptions. All of this meant that I knew exactly what train we needed to catch. What all of this preparation doesn't allow for however, is my super-human ability to always be looking away when a train comes into the station. No matter how focused I am, I always miss the number on the front of the train, and have to ask Lori or the kids which train this was.
There's also the little issue of the trains running in both directions. For instance, an #6 train can get you all the way south to the Wall Street station, or it can take you north to Central Park. This is why I never tell my kids where we're going. If I happen to get on the wrong train, wherever we get off is where I meant to stop. Sure, sometimes the kids wonder why we took the subway across town to see the outside of the Museum of Tibetan Art, but they know better than to question Dad, especially if it's close to allowance time.

There was something we encountered this trip though that I wasn't prepared for, and that's crowded trains. In our past visits to New York, our subway rides had been reasonably empty (with the possible exception of the trip out to Yankee Stadium for a baseball game), and since we were in town on a weekend, I kind of anticipated the same. Not this weekend though. This was national "Pack the subway as tight as it can go" week, and it seemed that we were the guests of honor. The first time we went to get on a subway and it was full, we decided to just wait for the next one. When that one arrived full, we waited again. When the next one arrived filled to capacity, we decided that things weren't going to get any better and we shoved our way onto the train. Being jammed in a tight space with a few hundred other people isn't exactly my idea of a great vacation moment, but it does have a few advantages. For instance, you don't really need to hold on to anything because there's no way anybody is moving no matter how hard the train jerks pulling out of the station. There's also the fact that the "What's that smell" game is infinitely more challenging with a full subway car. Finally, everybody is stuck in whatever position they're in, so when crazy tourists pull out their cell phones to take pictures, nobody really notices.

All in all, the subway would still be my preferred method for getting around New York City, but if you're thinking of trying it with your kids for the first time, let me offer this advice to you:

  • Don't have three kids
  • Never bet on the bigger rat, they're slower
  • Don't trust your kid when he tells you that it was the 'W' train that just pulled in
  • When your kids ask where you're going, always say "It's a surprise!" (because it probably will be)
  • If you're guessing the smell is coming from the giant bodybuilding dude, keep your voice down and don't point.

Monday 23 April 2012

Hilton Times Square - Not Quite Hidden Enough

There's a couple trains of thought when it comes to fronting your hotel in Times Square. You can either go big, splashing giant video screens and bling all over your building, or you can go small, blending in with your surroundings and garnering yourself a sort of 'secret' vibe. The Hilton Times Square tends towards the latter, which means that you have to actually pay attention, or you're going to walk right past it.

Of course we all know that teenagers don't pay attention. It was a mere half block walk from where the Bolt Bus dropped us off at the Port Authority to the Hilton, but that was enough time for my kids to start worrying about where I was taking them. I could see their eyes darting all over the frontage of the buildings, looking for something that resembled what they're used to in a hotel. Finally, just as their eyes locked on the giant neon McDonalds and they started to wonder if we were going for food first, or if maybe we were planning on spending the night in the restaurant (the practicality of which would not be lost on me), we hung a sharp right and ducked through a revolving door into the lobby of the Hilton Times Square.

Or what was left of it. Now I'd done my homework, and I knew that the lobby for the Hilton Times Square was on the 21st floor, and that the temporary entrance at street level was under construction. I knew that, but I'm a Dad, and it's my job to tease my children whenever possible. I stopped as soon as we got inside the revolving door, put on my shocked face, and said "Oh no, it looks like they've closed!".

When my kids were younger, this would have been cause for great concern in their world. I would have been able to enjoy taking in their worried looks for at least a few seconds before Lori would tell me to stop acting like a preschooler and explain to the kids that everything was fine. That's the way it would have unfolded a few years ago. This time, when I informed my kids that the hotel was closed, the boy whipped out his iPhone, launched the Hotel Tonight app, and informed me that there was plenty of room at the Plaza tonight for only $700 a room. Apparently my days of teasing my kids are coming to an end (although it's also apparent that the boy doesn't read my blog, or he'd know why we can't go back to the Plaza).

I'm not a huge fan of hotels that you have to take two elevators to get in and out of, but I suppose in New York it's fairly common place. 21 floors up, check-in,
then another 14 floors up got us to room 3505, the room from which my kids would later discover they could see Times Square. It was a fairly normal sized room for a Hilton, which means that in New York terms it was quite spacious. We had no trouble spreading out for the one night we were staying there, although there were a few battles for window space to see everything there was to see out on 42nd Street.

Night View from room 3505
My favorite part of the Hilton Times Square? The location. It's located a half block from the heart of Times Square, and right across the street from the Foxwoods Theater where we went to see Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark. Being so close to the action meant that we didn't have to walk far, we didn't have to stray too much to find something to eat, and most importantly, we didn't all have to go shopping. Lori and my daughter could go and do their part to support the New York economy, while the other kids and I could walk back to the hotel room instead of having to wait on a bench somewhere.

My kids favorite part of the room? Well aside from being able to see Times Square, it had to be the internet speed. Granted, it was a wired connection, but here's the speed test we ran shortly after arrival:

That's probably faster than the speed of our internet connection at home, although in all fairness we use a wireless system at home that's connected to just short of a billion separate devices. As Gold Hilton Honors members our internet charges are waived, but if I was going to swallow my objections to paying for the internet, this would be a connection that I'd be pretty happy about.

Day view from room 3505
Another benefit of being Gold at Hilton is an option for free breakfasts. In the (21st floor) lobby there's a breakfast buffet every morning, so we made sure to get up in time to eat before leaving. It's a standard buffet with bacon, sausage, eggs, waffles and the other expected breakfast foods. The food could definitely have been hotter (or at least luke-warmer), but we were very close to the end of the service, so that could be an explanation. In any case, we're always appreciative of being sent on our way with full stomachs.

And it was when we were sent on our way that the Hilton Times Square impressed the most. As a family of five, taxis don't work that well for us, so instead of trying to find a mini-van cab, we usually just ask the concierge of the hotel to arrange something for us. That's what we did as we were leaving the Hilton, and we were told that an SUV would be right around to pick us up. Instead, when we went out, this is what was waiting for us...

Yeah, my kids were fairly impressed with the Hilton Times Square, and to be honest, I was too. It had the perfect location for our stay, super friendly staff, and lightning quick internet. I just wish they'd make it even a little bit harder to find. It takes a lot more to fool my kids these days. Anybody know of a hotel with no signage at all?

Sunday 22 April 2012

Planet Lazer Kelowna - Hunger Games Lite

Laser tag used to be different. Once upon a time, it was a man's sport (I mean, for those of us too good looking to incur the welts that paintball would leave). It was a chance to get out on the playing field and test your wits against an opponent whose sole goal was to eliminate you. It was a throwback to the primitive days when man's survival was based on his skill as a hunter, and you had to rely on your basic instincts just to make it through the game. In short, it was a place for men to be men.

Then everybody went and watched this Hunger Games movie.

It's all different now. My daughter was invited to an all-girls laser tag party at Planet Lazer in Kelowna a little while back, and having played my share of laser tag in my youth, I decided that I'd tag along for a few laughs (That and the fact that Lori told me she'd done the last five birthday parties, and if I ever wanted to sleep in the same bed as her again then it was my turn.). What I expected to find was a group of timid girls more concerned about chipping their nail polish than getting shot. What I actually found was a room full of pre-teen girls, each of whom thought they were the next Katniss, and after watching the pre-game briefing, I think they may have had a point. Pretty much all of them already knew how to handle their guns, and the most focused upon part of the instructions was how to take out large clumps of enemies with your grenade launcher. It sent a couple of chills down my spine, and made me very glad that I wasn't playing.

You see, what I considered a "man's sport" when I was young (and apparently oh so chauvinistic) has morphed into something ideally suited for girls. Laser tag is a game of planning, thinking ahead, and gamesmanship. It's about trying to understand what your opponent is up to and where they're going, then counteracting their plan with one of your own. You want to be fast, you want to be stealthy, and you want to be deadly.

What you don't want to be is a Dad.

Teenage girls may never be able to agree on "Who Johnny likes best", but when the need arises, they are an amazingly unified and organized group. If you want to change the entire dynamic of a laser tag game, just put a Dad out on the playing field. Actually I imagine that pretty much any male would do (except for the aforementioned Johnny...he might get a pass). All it takes is the introduction of a little extra testosterone to the game, and it's all different. Girls who moments ago were locked in a fierce battle with each other, suddenly stop and turn their focus to any man silly enough to invade their playing field. I made the mistake of wandering out into the open, and you would have sworn that I had an allergic reaction from all the red dots that covered my body, and I was only there to take pictures. I wasn't even playing. I felt somewhat sorry for the birthday girl's Dad, who was the sole male playing and was left on his own to face the wrath of a dozen teenage girls. Man, I remember that feeling from high school.

It all changes soon enough though. I mentioned this was a birthday party, and while Dad's may be enemy number one on the laser tag grid, we're always more than welcome at present time. Planet Lazer has two party rooms available for rent, so after spending an hour trying to hunt each other down, our group was able to retire upstairs and rehash the battles over birthday cake. There were no hard feelings and, unlike the Hunger Games, everybody gets to go home safely. Unless "Johnny" decides to show his face around our daughters. Me and a few of the other Dads wouldn't mind having a word with him.

Friday 20 April 2012

The Insiders

Look, I'll admit it. On occasion, the kids and I have been accused of being TV junkies. There's just something alluring about that little, flickering box that grabs your attention and makes you want to stare at it all day long. Fortunately for us, I'm married to a woman who's willing to take control of a situation. Sure, we might give her some resistance...

...but Lori is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that we don't spend our entire lives inside. When things get really bad, she takes us to these places called "parks", that apparently have no cable reception at all...

...and because we love her (and are slightly intimidated by her), we always go along for the outing. Truth be told, it's not that bad being outside. The air is fresh, there's lots to see and do, and sometimes there's even this giant, glowing thing in the sky that's really warm. Still, just because the outdoors is somewhat tolerable, that doesn't mean that Lori can let her guard down. Lose track of us for just one minute and...

Why doesn't this thing get HBO?

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 go outside of their own free will. We used to call them "The Outsiders", but apparently that name has already been taken.