Friday 28 September 2012

Thursday 27 September 2012

Things I've Had to Teach My Kids About Traveling

My kids are a lot of fun to travel These days we've got the routine down, and when it's time to get going, everybody knows what they have to do and when they have to be ready. Sure things still go wrong, but usually it's just life throwing curves at us, not our unpreparedness for the situation.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Eeyore, Emmys, and Evacuations

It's time for another Wordless Wednesday hosted graciously by Deb over at Focused on the Magic. This week we're talking about the letter "E". I considered posting a picture of my high school physics grade, but I really wasn't sure how to make that related to Disney, so instead I've found five other pictures that should fit the theme.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Tips for Avoiding Ski Trips

It's still ridiculously hot and sunny here in Kelowna but, much to my chagrin, it seems that everybody is gearing up for ski season. Every weekend there's another ski gear swap going on, and all of our local outdoors shops have put away the bikes and plastered their windows with posters reminding you that the time to buy your season pass for our local mountains is now! There's even starting to be an increase in Australian accents around town, as the winter-seekers from down under begin to arrive and get ready to work the ski season up at Big White.

What this means for Lori and I though, is another season of attempting to gracefully decline invitations to go up to the mountains for a day of skiing. We're just not skiers. I even went back and gave the slopes another try last winter, but if you weren't around for that story, let me give you an idea of how that ended up:

Monday 24 September 2012

Paying with Points

I guess summer is over now. Despite the fact that we're still caught in a streak of scorching hot weather (which isn't helping our forest fire situation any), the calendar now officially reads fall, and with the first couple of weeks of the new school year behind us, that means it's time for me to start looking at possible destinations for our Christmas vacation. So far I've priced out trips to the Bahamas, Maui, Barcelona, and the south coast of Australia. If you've seen my bank balance, it should be obvious by now that I still believe in Santa Claus.

Thursday 20 September 2012

Could You Travel With Us?

If you travel much, you probably hear it. "Can I hide in your suitcase?". We get asked a lot, and to be honest, I'd be more than happy to smuggle a few people along in my suitcase, but since we already know how little suitcase space the husband is allowed, it's just not going to happen in my section (If you can fit in a carry on, send me a separate message). 

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Fantastic Food while Floating

Food. It's not a subject you have to ask me to talk about twice, so when Disney Food came up as the topic for this weeks Wordless Wednesday, I knew what I was going to talk about. The food of the Disney Cruise Line

Monday 17 September 2012

Who You Can't Take Out of School to Travel

Recently, I've been talking with a bunch of people about taking their kids out of school to travel. We don't do it often, but it has happened on occasion. Most recently, I pulled my 14 year old son out of school to come celebrate Leap Day at Disneyland with me. We're fortunate in that my children's school is fairly accommodating when it comes to missing classes. Tests can be taken ahead of time while all classwork will be posted online so you can keep up with daily assignments. This does lead to some surreal moments, like my son sitting in front of the Haunted Mansion, frantically trying to figure out what the volume of a cylinder would be if you installed a right angle, while I badger him to do his homework later and come on rides with me instead.

Friday 14 September 2012

Stay Away From Seattle Day

In all fairness, it's a brilliant idea. Sunday is National Stay Away from Seattle Day - A day designed to let the people who call Seattle home get out and enjoy their city, without having to navigate around those of us who are normally messing up traffic downtown (Although it would really help if you'd quit closing all the on ramps to the freeway!) Twenty four hours of not being stopped by people who want to know where they throw the fish, and a complete day of never being stuck behind the person who insists on asking, "What kind of coffee do you have?".

Thursday 13 September 2012

The 5 Dumbest Things I've Spent Money On While Traveling

Early disclaimer: I'm not exactly known as Mr. Money Management around my house. Lori makes sure she has money hidden away for emergencies, my kids have perfected the eye roll when Dad comes to borrow money off them, and any kind of power or cable outage in our home isn't greeted with complaints about our supplier, but rather a chorus of people shouting "Dad! You forgot to pay the bill again!"

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Magic Memories

Welcome back to Wordless Wednesday and this week the topic is Magic Memories. I guess Deb is getting a little tired of tossing us easy topics to post about, because this subject seems rather restrictive. In fact, I'll bet there's plenty of people who have absolutely no pictures that fit the topic at all this week.

Not us though. Our pictures for this week were taken a couple of years ago when we took our kids to Las Vegas and we got a chance to see the one...the only....David Copperfield.

Whew! Well I'm glad I managed to find something to fit in with this weeks topic. Hopefully Deb will pick something a little easier next week. In the meantime, you should still go check out the other wonderful people who hang out at Wordless Wednesday over at Focused on the Magic. See if anybody else managed to come up with anything for this super-hard category.

Hang on....I've been informed that the topic for this week is actually Magical Memories, and that perhaps I've taken too literal an angle with this weeks post. I'm kind of relieved, as I was going to have a hard time tying Vegas and David Copperfield in with Disney (We drove to Disneyland the day after the show. Does that count?) but Magical Moments are easy to come up with at Disney!

Our first family picture with Mickey, taken just before our youngest realized that she was being held up against a giant mouse...

Getting to meet Tinkerbell on Main Street...

My daughters first time down Splash Mountain, and my Dad's last (He passed away a couple of years later)...

The Magic Mirror, and discovering Disney magic isn't just in movies...

And of course, our family tradition of spending Christmas morning at Disneyland. There's nothing more magical than walking down Main Street first thing Christmas morning. 

OK, in hindsight, that was a much easier topic than I thought. This post is still a part of Wordless Wednesday over at Focused on the Magic though. 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. I'm sure all of them have great magical memories from their time at Disney. Bet you none of them posted about David Copperfield though.

Written by Steve Pratt

Monday 10 September 2012

Forest Fire Fervor

Things are getting a little crazy up here in the Okanagan today. A forest fire has broken out very near Peachland, which is just a little south of Kelowna, and our skies are filled with water bombers, helicopters, and smoke. Lots of smoke. In fact, the smoke is blocking out the sun and making it so dark here that nobody believed me when I tried to wake them up for school this morning. Of course they don't believe me any morning, but today they actually had a reason.

Fortunately for us, we're out of the way of this fire, but we had our turn three years ago. We'd just come back from a trip to New York and had a few days at home before we left for Las Vegas, when somebody decided that they liked their campfire so much, they wanted to share it with the rest of the city. It gets pretty dry around here in the summer, so things can get going pretty fast. One minute we were out enjoying a nice summer afternoon, the next...

...things started getting a little ominous.

Water bombers flying over your house is never a good sign. Sure enough, a couple of minutes after this, the police came around ordering everybody to evacuate. We all ran inside to start packing irreplaceable things. The kids started packing their toys, Lori started packing the photo albums, and I started emptying the fridge (Hey, everybody has their priorities!). 

Lori and the kids headed out immediately, taking all of our stuff with them, but once you leave the evacuation zone, you're not allowed back in, so I stayed behind for a little bit to make sure that we had everything we were going to need. That and there was still some ice cream that hadn't been eaten yet. 

What finally convinced me that it was time to go? 

Was it when the fire reached the end of our street?

Nah, that was OK. Was it when the only thing standing between the fire and my neighbours house was this guy?

Maybe a little. What really convinced me that it was time to leave though, was when this cloud of smoke came rolling down the hillside and started filling up our street.

Even with almost a 1/4 carton of ice cream to go, that was enough to convince me that it was time to leave while I could still see the street. I grabbed the last few things (yes...they were sandwiches) and got out of there. 

In the end, we had no problems. The firefighters did a fantastic job, and while a few houses were lost the damage really was far less than it looked like it could be in the early stages. It was three days before we were allowed back into our house (See...I was smart to eat the ice cream...) but we returned to find everything in excellent condition, except for a slight barbecue smell which made me constantly hungry. Fortunately, we had to head out to Las Vegas the very next day, so I was able to satisfy my cravings for smoked food at the best buffets in the world. 

As I sit here listening to the water bombers fly overhead once again, here's hoping for equally good results for all the evacuees in Peachland this week (and if you need any help with your ice cream, give me a call).

Written by Steve Pratt

Thursday 6 September 2012

TripAdvisor's Strangest Complaints

A few days ago I was mentioning some of the complaints I found on TripAdvisor about the views available at the Four Points Kamloops. While those complaints were probably valid, a reader of this blog (who writes a fantastic blog of her own called Malaysian Meanders) pointed out that the last hotel she stayed at had people writing TripAdvisor reviews warning of silverware that was too big for children's mouths. It got me wondering if that was the weirdest thing somebody had ever complained about on TripAdvisor.

It's not even close.

Apparently people like to complain. Now I'm all for people warning about serious issues with a hotel. I always check TripAdvisor before booking a hotel that I'm not familiar with, and I appreciate all of the information that people take the time to share, but I have to wonder if some people aren't just trying to bait the poor hotel manager, who has to respond to these comments, into an early retirement. I'm pretty sure I'd rather call it a career than face a page of complaints like this every day:

"The double beds are very small"
     - I have to confess that I prefer it when my double beds are king sized.

 "The staff were very, very friendly, which made me very uncomfortable"
     - Hotel managers really should spend more time training their staff to be less friendly. A few well placed insults would have drastically improved this gentleman's stay.

"Hotel too cheap to turn air conditioning on when it's 50 degrees out"
     - This review was from the Hilton Times Square for a stay in December, so I think we can rule out that we're talking about Celsius here. Who needs the air conditioning on when it's 50 degrees out? Isn't that sweater weather?

"I had a visitor park in the self park lot for less than a half hour and they were charged $6 each time they had to come in and out"
     - While I'm certainly not a fan of places that charge for self-parking, how many times did you come in and out of the lot in that half hour? Driving circles around the toll booth is pretty much destined to rack up your bill.

"We were there at the front desk for almost 2 years and neither D agent nor D manager tried to assist us with their error in billing"
     - This is probably a legit complaint. I can understand having to wait one year to get a billing error fixed, but by the time the second year comes and goes, there's probably a customer service problem somewhere in the organization. Good for the reviewer for trying to reclaim some of that lost time by substituting the letter D for definitive articles in their review.

"The fireworks started before we were ready" (From the Howard Johnson Anaheim)
     - Obviously the HoJo has to take the blame for this. A quick call to Disneyland probably could have gotten the fireworks held off for 15 minutes while these people finished watching Final Jeopardy.

"The golf course was too hard. For what they charge, you should be able to get a good score"
     - I'm not sure how this belongs in a review of a hotel, but outside of that I'm totally in support of this theory. I'd be willing to pay an extra $20 per round to drop 10 strokes off my score.

"They played kids movies during Dive-In movie night at the pool"
     - Because nothing screams "Family time at the pool" like full frontal nudity.

"The second D in the Radisson sign was burnt out"
     - Well I'm not really sure that's worth mentioning in a re....Wait...the second D?

"The valet insisted that I leave my keys with him, which I wasn't willing to do"
     - You know, with what some of these places charge for valet parking, they probably should have to push your car to it's space.

Written by Steve Pratt

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Back to School - Back to Disney

It's September, which means that summer is over and the days of my kids sleeping in until noon are at an end. School started yesterday for us here, and I'm pleased to say that everybody got up on time and out the door right on schedule. While I'm impressed, I'm giving a lot of the credit for that performance to it being the actual first day. Let's see how we're doing at the end of the first week. I fully anticipate having to install multiple alarm clocks in my daughter's room by mid-September again.

While I was getting my kids off to school yesterday morning though, it struck me just how similar getting off to school and getting going for a day at Disney are. Sure, my kids drastically prefer one over the other, but if you take a deeper look at things, there's a whole lot more similarities than you might think.

For instance, whether you're headed to school or Disney, you've got to get up early...

You have to get dressed, and girls (and mice apparently) have to share the mirror to fix their makeup...

It's important to have a good breakfast...

...but you have to get to school on time. If you're late, you'll need to get a hall pass.

Try and grab a seat next to your friend...

...and make sure that you bring your own pen and paper.

Be a good friend and share your snacks at recess...

...but make sure that when class is in, you study hard.

Perhaps the most important thing you can remember though, is to always laugh at the teacher's jokes.

Otherwise, there's a very good chance that you'll find yourself in detention. That's no way to start a new school year.

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 can probably even get their kids to go to school without promising them that the school bus is just like the monorail. Man are my kids going to be ticked with me.

Written by Steve Pratt

Tuesday 4 September 2012

BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops

Since we needed a one night stay at the Four Points hotel in Kamloops, we thought that we'd take the opportunity to visit the BC Wildlife Park. Opened in 1966, the idea of the park was to become a tourist attraction that would help turn Kamloops into more than a one night stop for most people. I'm not sure how successful they've been in that goal (we still only spent one night), but what the park has been successful in doing is becoming a wonderful sanctuary for injured and orphaned wildlife. 

There's all sorts of ways that animals end up here. Injured animals are brought here to work with rehab experts in an attempt to get them returned to the wild. Orphaned animals can find themselves here when humans bring them in, although the park stresses that unless you're 100% sure the animal is orphaned, the best plan is usually to leave the animal alone. There are also some captive breeding programs in place here, such as the burrowing owls, who have been bred and released into the wild for over 20 years from the park.

We really enjoyed getting a chance to see animals that, while native to the area we live in, are usually hard to get more than a glimpse of. My girls in particular were thrilled with the variety of animals to see, and they quickly discovered an important lesson about the animals they were observing. The stronger the caging, the more dangerous the animal. For example, this wolf had walls, but nothing too restrictive...

...While the black bears found themselves behind fairly tall steel cages.

The bison were given fairly free range in their area...

...but then again, so was the moose, despite the sign mentioning that when threatened moose have been known to charge people, cars, horses, and locomotives. I'm not going anywhere near an animal who charges a train.

The birds of course were fully caged, although most of them were there because of injury and unable to fly anymore...

...While the strongest cage (thank goodness) belonged to the two Grizzly bears that call the park home.

Surprisingly though, the Grizzlies weren't the most securely guarded animals on display. I'm not sure what he did to deserve such heavy lockdown, but I promise you this little guy wasn't going anywhere.

Of course, some of the animals didn't take a whole lot of securing. Sometimes a comfortable environment is all it takes to keep an animal from wandering, no matter how tight the containment.

We spent about a half day at the park, which was enough time to visit most of the animals. Admission in the summer months was $13.95 per adult and $9.95 per child. If you visit from September - April it's $3 cheaper (Children under 2 are free). There are animal encounters run throughout the day which are included with your admission. The park is over 100 acres, so it may seem a little large for youngsters, but it's very stroller friendly. There is also a miniature train that does a route throughout the park which only costs 50 cents per child and $1 per adult.

Just remember if you ride the train to not upset the moose. That guy's a little crazy when it comes to trains.

Written by Steve Pratt

Monday 3 September 2012

Four Points Hotel in Kamloops

It's hard to believe, but in all my years of chasing hotel promos and status benefits, I've never found a reason to stay at a Starwood property. You'd figure that a Sheraton or a Westin somewhere would have had a deal that I found irresistible, but it just never happened. Finally, this summer, they came up with something good enough to tempt me into trying their product.

Well, technically they tempted Lori. I don't know if I did something to annoy Starwood or if they just really understand how decisions are made in our house, but while ignoring me they decided to offer Lori a free night in the future if she spent one night at one of their properties. I never got a great offer like that, but I suppose offering it to Lori is just as good. We had the entire summer to pick a Starwood property anywhere in the world for a one night stay. Possibly the easiest promotion we'd ever have to complete.

Fast forward to the last possible minute. Our summer ended up being a little more hectic than usual, so as the final weekend rolled around we decided that we absolutely had to get this stay in and claim our prize. Unfortunately, in Kelowna, we're still seven or eight months away from getting our own Starwood hotel, so the nearest place we could find a qualifying hotel was Kamloops. Not my dream destination, but at least it was only an hour and a half away. The girls decided to join us for a Saturday night journey, and off we went to try out our first Starwood property.

Now as I always do before going to a hotel, I checked out Trip Advisor. There were a few mixed reviews on this hotel, so instead of writing my own description of the room, I'm going to answer some of the Trip Advisor comments for this hotel. Some people are picky (complaining because you didn't get an upgrade isn't a valid complaint), but some issues were raised over and over again. Happily we encountered very few of those, but the most repeated problem still is an issue:


Parking if you arrive in the day
There's probably plenty of parking here for hotel patrons, but they have a very popular restaurant on site as well (Ric's Grill) and on the Saturday night we stayed, the restaurant patrons kept the lot full until well past midnight. If you're arriving late to the Four Points, you might find yourself searching out some of the street parking that is available behind the hotel.

Parking if you arrive around dinner
Have to Ask for a Remodeled Room

A common theme in the reviews was that you should ask for a remodeled room, as the older rooms were a little sub-par. Fortunately, the interior renovation is now completely finished, and all of the rooms have been remodeled. Quite nicely too I might add. They all have large flat screen TVs, a safe, coffee maker, and a mini-fridge. I don't know what they looked like before, but the new rooms are great.

Poor Views

You're definitely not going to get great views if you're looking out the back of this hotel, but out the front there's a nice view of the Kamloops valley....if your eyesight is good. While this picture looks like a pretty nice view, it's taken with the zoom engaged on my camera. Take the zoom off...

...and the view isn't quite as engaging. If you view your life with 20x zoom, you'll love the views from the front of this hotel.

Bathroom Was Dirty

I saw a couple of complaints that their bathroom was dirty, but ours was absolutely spotless, and blindingly white. I'm sensing that the message about dirty bathrooms has been passed on to the housekeeping staff however, as they even went to the trouble of labeling the room as "clean" for us.


We were given the room directly above Ric's Grill, so if anybody was going to have a noisy room it should have been us, but we didn't hear a single noise from below. On the other hand, if we opened our window, the smell of the great food from the patio at the restaurant was totally unfair to people who just had pizza for dinner.

Pool Small / Crowded Fitness Room

OK, the pool is a little small, but most people are only in it for a few minutes then they go to play on the waterslide. If you're looking to swim laps for fitness, this probably isn't the ideal pool for you. As for the crowded fitness room, I guess it's possible that you might have to wait a little bit for a machine. It's hard to argue when there's finely tuned athletes perfecting their technique ahead of you.

Written by Steve Pratt