Friday 31 August 2012

The Rental Roundup

We've rented a lot of cars in our travels, and it's cost us lots of money. Even though I spend tons of time searching for deals and trying out every car rental code available, I'd still venture to say that we've probably spent enough on renting cars to actually buy one outright for ourselves. How I'd magically teleport that car to wherever I need it is another question (you can't drive to Hawaii), but it's still a little sobering to think of all the money spent on something we can't take home with us.

When we started renting cars though, we thought it was the coolest thing. Our early travels were sans kids, so we opted for whatever the best looking car available was whenever we needed to rent, and then we made sure to take a picture of it.

We started to take pictures of our rental cars in places that would remind us of our trip...

...but after renting quite a few, we found that we were taking pictures of our rental more to remind ourselves of what we were driving. Nothing like looking at an open surface parking lot when you can't even remember what make of car you're looking for. Thank goodness for panic alarms.

Once our kids started joining us on our journeys, the cool looking cars became less of a concern and we started looking for space...

...and eventually we decided that the easiest way to do things was just to rent a minivan. Preferably the exact same one that we had at home.

So now our vehicle rental life has become fairly boring. It's still nice to drive a newer (and much cleaner) version of our own van, but it definitely lacks the excitement of renting the sportier cars we started out with. Still, whenever I feel like I'm missing out, I think back to a certain trio of rentals early on in our car rental careers. These might not have been the flashiest or most impressive rentals that we've had, but I'll always remember them as the first three rentals after Lori quit her job as a Price is Right model...

C'mon...I know you want to say it with me..."It's a New Car!"

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 whose kids can sit in the back of a normal sized car without killing each other. For a few minutes anyways.

Written by Steve Pratt

Thursday 30 August 2012

Things I Wish I'd Taken a Picture Of

I'm not one of those people who always has his camera at the ready. I wish I was, but I find that I'm usually carrying other things and my camera inevitably ends up in my wife's purse and, as most things do I've come to realize, finds itself buried underneath more things than the laws of physics should allow to be contained in such a small space. The odds of my getting the camera out of Lori's purse in time to capture a split-second event are almost nil. My chances of getting it out in time to photograph a slow moving turtle are only slightly better.

Sometimes however, I can't blame my wife's attempts to get on an episode of Purse Hoarders for not getting my picture. Sometimes I just find myself caught up in the happening, and taking a picture doesn't seem like priority number one at that moment. Sadly, these are the exact times that I look back on later and wish that I had something to help me remember them by. In honor of today's Travel Photo Thursday, here are (or aren't) some of the pictures that I wish I'd taken:

Disneyland - New Years Eve 1996
Showing up late to Disneyland on New Years Eve is not a good idea. Actually I didn't think we were that late, but by 8pm when we arrived, Main Street had been taken over by people camping out for the fireworks and there was no possible way to travel the length of the street. This forced Disney to open a behind-the-scenes pathway between the front plaza of Main Street and Tomorrowland. I'm sure walking backstage at Disney wouldn't thrill anybody who's ever worked there, but for me it was a surreal experience. I vaguely remember cast members sitting on benches behind the Main Street stores, but I was too caught up in looking around to take any pictures. 17 years later, my memory could sure use a little photographic evidence to help me remember it clearly.

We were cutting behind the buildings on the right.

Las Vegas - July 2003
It was only our third trip to Vegas, but I'd already decided that royal flushes were mythical things that casinos fabricated to get people to keep putting money in their video poker machines. Of course, that didn't stop me from playing. I just had very lowered expectations. I became a believer early on day two of our trip though when the 10 thru Ace of hearts lined up on the machine I was playing at Treasure Island and "Call Attendant" started flashing on my screen. I sat there staring at the machine with a huge smile on my face, but it never occurred to me to take a picture of the hand. I've photographed many royal flushes since then, but I'd love to have a picture of the first one that made me a believer.

As close to the memory as I have, but this was years later at the Silverton

Coeur d'Alene Resort - November 2004
Every year the Coeur d'Alene Resort sets up an amazing holiday light show, complete with a lake cruise to the North Pole. It's exactly the kind of event that's made for great family pictures...assuming of course that you remember to bring your camera. Unfortunately, this was back in the days when my flip phone wasn't capable of taking pictures, so while we had a fantastic time at Coeur d'Alene, we have no pictures to remember it by, leaving my kids free to insist that they've never been to the resort and that I should take them back immediately.

A copy of one of Lori's parents pictures. At least they remembered their camera.

Memorial Cup Championship - May 2004
It's not often that you get the chance to go to a league championship game. It's less often that you get to go to it in your hometown, and it's even rarer when the home team is in the final. The 2004 Memorial Cup Championships were held in Kelowna, and after an incredibly tense three periods, our Kelowna Rockets came out with a 2-1 win and the national championship (If you're not sure what the Memorial Cup is, think Final Four only for hockey). It was a fantastic experience, and I'm thrilled to say that I was there, but I can't prove it to you. Somehow, despite the final celebration taking place right in front of our seats, I never thought to take a picture. I'm pretty sure I must be in the background of some media shots from the game, but all I can really use to remember the moment by are our ticket stubs from the game.

Got a picture that you wish you'd taken? Gone somewhere great and forgotten your camera? Share with us in the comment section underneath. Let me know that I'm not the only one who does things like this.

 This post is a part of Travel Photo Thursday over at Budget Travelers Sandbox. If you didn't get here from there, you should really head on over and check out some of the amazing travel pictures that get posted on Thursdays. Most of them probably remembered to take pictures of what they had for breakfast this morning, never mind important moments in their lives.  

Written by Steve Pratt

Wednesday 29 August 2012

The "D" in Disney

Welcome back to Disney's Wordless Wednesday. Today we're talking about the letter "D". I gotta say..."D" is a tough one. If only there were some blatantly obvious path to follow for that letter...Something maybe a duck. Oh wait! I know a duck that has a connection to Disney!

Whew! The baby ducks at Epcot save the day! Seriously though, I'm going to challenge you a little this morning. Here are four pictures from Disneyland that have a simple connection to the letter "D". Try and see if you can figure it out before the end of the post.

Ummm...since I'm such a great photographer and all, I should point out that the last picture is of my daughter going into the whale's mouth on the Storybookland canal boats. 

So did you figure it out? What if I was to include Peter Pan's Flight and Snow White's Scary Adventures (which apparently I've never thought to take a picture of)? Would that help? I'm sure all you old-school Disney fanatics figured it out almost immediately, while people from my kids age group really had almost no chance.

The rides you could use a "D" coupon on, back in the day when you had to have a ticket for each ride instead of an all-day pass. I remember using these tickets the first time I went to Disneyland. I also remember my parents complaining about how expensive the tickets were. Ummm...Mom..Dad...35 cents to ride Peter Pan? Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

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 hang out there on Wednesdays. Some of them might even have been able to remember the name of that other duck that has a connection to Disney. What was his name...David?...Drew?...Daniel?...

Written by Steve Pratt

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Things to Know Before Taking Your Kids to D.C.

When it comes to a vacation, I like to do my homework. I check hotel rates and reviews, go over infinite airline routing possibilities, and familiarize myself with as many local attractions as I can at our chosen destination. When I leave home to start a trip, I usually feel like I'm headed to a place that I know fairly well, even if I've never been there before.

I can't, however, prepare for everything. In particular, as a parent, I'm never going to have all the answers for the questions that my kids have when we're traveling. Most of the time I can get away with the time honored response of "Go ask your mother", but when push comes to shove and I have to give an answer, I do what all Dads do in moments of desperation....I guess.

Turns out though, that I'm a lousy guesser, so in the interest of helping out my fellow parents, I'm going to give you some of the questions that were asked of me on our recent trip to Washington, D.C., and the proper answers. You might not need this if you're better at faking answers than me, but hopefully it will help somebody out.


The question: "Hey Dad, this looks familiar. Where have I seen it before?"

The real answer: So many places. The Lincoln Memorial is depicted on the back of both the American five dollar bill and the penny. It was the sight of the Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech and, if you were paying attention, it was featured prominently in the "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" attraction at Disneyland.

The answer I gave: Apparently, this isn't where they filmed Rocky, and running to the top of the stairs and jumping up and down with your arms raised will earn you nothing but looks of consternation and mumbles of "That's Philadelphia you moron".


The question: "Why do the bricks change color half way up the memorial?"

The real answer: The monument began construction in 1848, but experienced a delay in construction from 1854 to 1877. That 23 year gap is blamed for the different shades of the marble used to finish the tower, which was completed in 1884.

The answer I gave: In my defense, I was totally guessing on this one. Still, I probably could have come up with something better than "That's how high the hose reaches when they spray it off".


The question: "How did the Wright Brothers Flyer end up here?"

The real answer: While the Wright Brothers wanted to donate their flyer to the Smithsonian early on, the secretary of the Smithsonian at the time chose to recognize a different flight as the first powered, controlled flight of an aircraft. Eventually the disagreement was sorted out, and in 1948 the Wright Brothers Flyer made it's way to the Smithsonian.

The answer I gave: I kind of knew that this wasn't where they landed, but it seemed like such an easy way to put a stop to the questions.


The question: "Why does somebody have to carry a flag instead of a sword?"

The real answer: Unit flags were used to allow commanders to see where their troops were and what kind of progress they were making. 

The answer I gave: "Flags are longer than swords, so you could hit people from further away". Seriously, if any of my kids pass History, it'll be a miracle.

Written by Steve Pratt

Monday 27 August 2012

Hyatt House Miami Airport

Considering our endless hotel hopping, it's a little surprising that we've never had a chance to stay at a Hyatt House. Part of that is the fact that it's a relatively new hotel line, having only been created after the purchase of Summerfield Suites in 2005. The other is simple preference. Our family is used to Hyatt Place. We like the fact that every Hyatt Place room looks the same, and we know exactly what we're walking into. We're creatures of habit, and it takes some tempting to get us to try new things.

Or a cheaper rate. When we needed a hotel at the Miami Airport for an early flight the next day, the Hyatt House was a good $20 cheaper than most other places. Combine that with the fact that their rooms are full suites, meaning that on the last day of our trip we wouldn't have to sleep on top of each other, and it was a simple decision to take Hyatt up on their offer to "Please consider our new house, your new house."  

Of course, when you throw out a slogan like that, it invites comparisons. I quite like my house, so before I consider making a switch to a new house, I need to see what I would be gaining by making a move. Therefore, here are the differences between my house, and a Hyatt House.

The Kitchen:
The Hyatt House has a nice kitchen area, complete with stainless steel appliances. Everything is shiny and looks fairly new, especially the stove which nobody knows how to use in our house either. The fridge seems rater devoid of information however. Hyatt should consider putting some sticky notes on the front of it that say "Get Milk" or "Are you ever going to mow the lawn?" The fridge can be the site of great amounts of sarcasm at our house.

The Couch:
This one isn't even close. I have WAY better couches at home. Granted, my couches don't pull out into a bed, but I'd be willing to bet you that there's been far more naps taken on my couch at home than there has been on the Hyatt House couches.

The TV:
For a hotel room, two flat screens is pretty good. It's about four TVs short for the minimum that we need to function as a family, but we can share when it's only for one night. Let's face it, we may have six TVs at home, but four of them are probably tuned to the same channel at any given time.

The Beds:
Obviously we don't all sleep in the same room at home, but the beds were big and comfortable enough that it wasn't a real hardship for one night. The real difference between Hyatt House beds and ours at home is that we don't match our bedspreads with our wall art. Or maybe we do. To be honest, I can't even tell you what's on the walls in our bedroom, never mind what color our bedspread is. 

The Bathroom:
While one bathroom would never be enough for our family of five, I did like the fact that the sink and counter area were separate from the bath and toilet. I also liked the fact that I didn't have to look through 36 bottles of nail polish and twelve different types of band-aids to find the toothpaste. 

The Wi-Fi:
The connection was good, solid, had pretty decent speed, and most importantly, it was free. They need to spend a little more time working on the creativity of their Wi-Fi network names though. While "Hyatt House Guest" is reasonable, it lacks compared to our home network name of "Mom, click here for internet".

The Breakfast:
Here's a big bonus area for Hyatt House. Complimentary breakfast, including ham, eggs, potatoes, fruit, juice, muffins, and seven kinds of cereal. We might be able to muster up seven kinds of cereal at home, but it would be all those crumbs in the bottom of the bag that nobody ever wants to take so they just put them back on the shelf and pretend that they didn't see it. Definite points for Hyatt House here.

The Shuttle:
At home I have to drive myself everywhere. I don't have a driver at my beck and call, willing to take me wherever I need to go at a moments notice. My kids on the other hand, probably didn't even notice a difference. To them I'm sure it was just a slightly different van.

For a one night stay before or after a flight, the Hyatt House would be perfect. You get that extra bit of space, a good nights sleep, and they'll send you on your way with a great breakfast (if you arrive early enough, there's an evening appetizer serving that's free as well). I don't know that I'd be willing to give up my house to live here, but I do know that the next time I grab a box of cereal with just crumbs in it, I'm going to give it some serious thought.

Written by Steve Pratt

Friday 24 August 2012

The Steak 'n Shake Revelation

I've always been one of "those" burger guys. We're not hard to find out on the West coast. If you bring up fast food or burgers in general, we'll start spouting off about the greatness that is In-N-Out Burgers. We can be quite a sanctimonious group, possibly inspired by the bible verses printed on the underside of our milkshake cups, and we're more than happy to tell those of you living in the eastern half of the U.S. just what you're missing out on (If we sense you're not jealous enough, we'll bring up the climate too. We're kind of jerks like that).

A wrong turn has changed all that. On our way up to the Radisson Oceanfront in Melbourne, we got caught in the wrong lane in a construction zone. Forced to take a right hand turn that we didn't need, we quickly swung into the nearest parking lot to turn around and found ourselves staring at this:

Now I've tried Steak 'n Shake before at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas, but nobody else in the family was with me, so this seemed like a great opportunity to get some consensus that Steak 'n Shake was good, but it wasn't going to live up to In-N-Out standards.

Or it might just go the other way. One thing I don't like about In-N-Out is the limited menu. Using secret menu terms like "Animal Style" isn't really offering up a whole world of options when it comes to your burgers. Steak 'n Shake had plenty of options, even going as far as to let me get my beloved jalapenos on my burger, while the kids were able to order sliders and get to try a few different flavors.

Even my daughter, who is a vegetarian, enjoyed our lunch. Putting cheese on fries is usually an easy sell for her, but let's face it...When you're at a place called Steak 'n Shake, but you don't eat steak, what do you order?

Oh yes the milkshakes! These were a huge hit, and in fact they might even have been my favorite part of the meal. The fries were good, the burger was great, but the milkshakes were spectacular! Good enough that, although we ordered four shakes....

...We definitely could have ordered more. Assuming of course that we never wanted to get up from the table again. When the food was this good though, that certainly was an option.

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 already knew how great Steak 'n Shake was, and I'm not too happy with them for keeping it a secret.

Written by Steve Pratt

Thursday 23 August 2012

Concerts for Kids?

Music is a large part of our travels. It's amazing how much a four hour drive can be livened up by having a family sing-a-long of the latest Carly Rae Jepsen song. It's also extremely handy to know that, should I need to discuss something with my wife privately, all I have to do is turn on a little Flock of Seagulls and watch the kids scramble to plug their headphones into their iPads. I'm not sure if my kids aversion is to the techno-synth of the 80's or to the amount that I stretch my vocal limits while singing along, but either way I get the peace and quiet that I'm looking for.

It's not just the radio and digital downloads that provide the soundtrack to our journey though. We try and work as much live music as we can into our travels, but live music provides it's own set of challenges. I can preview a music track and know what my kids are about to be exposed to. It's a little tougher to know if a concert situation is going to provide an appropriate atmosphere for my children. I want my kids to get a chance to see their musical heroes live, but I don't need their childhood memories being things like Ozzy Ozbourne biting the head off a bat (Yeah, thanks for letting me go to that show Mom & Dad). 

Still, we've done some of the groundwork and learned a few lessons. It seems like the least I can is to share that knowledge with you. Here's a quick look at some of the shows we've seen, and a child appropriateness score out of 10. 

Selena Gomez & the Scene

Is she a Disney princess? Are most of her songs about being yourself and trying your hardest? Is she dating Justin Bieber? If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then you're in about the safest place you can be. Ideal for pre-teens, it would have been a perfect score except for a three minute dance tribute to Britney Spears.

Child Appropriateness Level - 9/10

Taylor Swift

The bad news is that most of her songs are about romance and finding Mr. Right. The good news is that she'll set your daughter's standards so high that no boy will ever measure up. Her show is pretty safe, but loses marks for singing about stuff like sneaking out the bedroom window and hiding things from your parents. Selena would never do that to us.

Child Appropriateness Level - 8/10

Simple Plan

The songs are fairly safe and catchy, but you know what happens when you put boys on a stage. A whole lot of silliness, crudeness, and plenty of posing designed to get the attention of the girls. Which must be hard when you look more like a church worship leader than a rock star.

Child Appropriateness Level - 6/10

Katy Perry

Lets see...she sings about kissing girls, skinny dipping, and getting married in Vegas in a drunken haze, then she shoots whipped cream out of her bra. Actually, the whipped cream from her bra was in the video. In concert she uses a giant whipped cream cannon (which I may or may not be interested in purchasing from her now that the tour is over).

Child Appropriateness Level - 3/10

Lady Gaga

Don't. Just Don't.

Child Appropriateness Level - 0/10

Written by Steve Pratt

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Disney Friends

One of the things that I love about Disneyland is that once you get through the front gates, it seems like you've entered a land where everybody around you feels the same thing that you do. Everyone is happy, everyone is having fun, and everyone around you loves Disney. It's like sharing the park with several thousand of your closest friends. Granted, on days like Leap Day I could do with a lot fewer friends, but most of the time, I appreciate the camaraderie.

I used to think that this mass friendship effect was unique to Disneyland until we got a chance to go on a Disney Cruise. On a boat in the Pacific, we found the same dynamic that we knew from Disneyland, only in a much smaller group. With the numbers reduced, we found it much easier to meet people...get to know them...and create some new Disney friends.

At mealtime we were paired with the nicest possible people, the Gomez family from California...

We barely saw our children while they hung out with all their new friends at kids club...

...but my daughter took it to extremes. We could barely get through our breakfast on the final morning as her new friends kept coming over to say goodbye.

Even Lori felt motivated to create a new friendship, and even though her new friend was a little more affectionate than I'd usually be comfortable with, I decided to let this one the name of Disney Friends.

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 hang out there on Wednesdays. It's kind of like being surrounded by Disney friends, without having to actually go to the park. Although, if you want to go to the park, I'm sure at least a few of them would be willing to go along with you.

Written by Steve Pratt