During the past 2 years I have not taken a true vacation with my family. During that time our daughter Robyn was born, and I have been busy with work. Most vacation days were spent at home with sick children and in many cases working too. I have realized that it is important for all of us to take breaks at times and re-energize ourselves. We have good friends from England vacationing in Florida during the month of December. We couldn’t wait to see them! A car trip to Florida, seemed like an excellent alternative to traveling to Europe. Hey, we could even visit Disney! This was a last minute trip, but the stars seemed to align for a great vacation. I needed a break and with all the travel recently it was good to spend time with the family.
Like a good father, I prepared for the vacation. Since we were driving down, I picked up a DVD player for the car. I also purchased a new GPS map system as ours was stolen from my car in a Philadelphia parking garage not long ago. For my sanity, I also invested in satellite radio. Unlike the movie Vacation, I did not pick up a new car, but our Volvo wagon, which we affectionately call the Family Truckster, seemed to be in good shape. On Friday evening I took the dog to my parents and started to pack the car. This was not our first drive to Florida, so we knew what we needed. Early Saturday morning we finished packing the car and loaded the kids. Now it was time for a nice relaxing 1024 mile journey to Orlando. Our first stop was to the Christiana Mall Disney store to purchase tickets (we were told purchasing tickets at the Disney store was best approach and this store was in Delaware so it would be tax free). This first leg of the trip was smooth as can be. We went into the Disney store and found that we could only purchase tickets for 3 days or more. We only planned on spending 2 days in the parks since we have a 1 year old (almost 2) and a 3 year old. If they were older we may have planned more. So that was a waste of a trip, but it was a quick bathroom break and a snack. The journey continued!
Driving with a potty trained 3 year old is so much fun! At first she did not want to use potties on the road, but as the drive continued she started a quest to visit every McDonald’s bathroom along the east coast. Every 50 miles or less I would hear “I HAVE TO GO POTTY!” This was getting old really fast. I could not wait for everyone to fall asleep. We stopped at a Cracker Barrel along the way for dinner, then they started to sleep. Actually it was funny Lily yelled the infamous “I have to go potty,” and by the time I turned around she was asleep. I was not waking a 3 year old, so the trip continued.
I drove through Georgia, with everyone asleep most of the time. At one point I had to pull over to give my eyes a rest. There is a large construction zone on interstate 95 that has a lot of these yellow squares lining the way. They should have chosen another color, because after driving since 8:30 in the morning (now it was around 11:00 PM), it was very psychedelic. I felt like I was in a weird late 60′s movie. I finally made it through that, and began looking for a place to spend the night. It was at that time it started to pour rain. So instead I kept driving until it slowed down a bit and I would not have to carry the girls in the rain. Finally, just over the Florida border, I pulled over to a hotel. At this time it was around 1:00 AM and kids were sleeping for about 4 hours. In retrospect, it was probably not the best idea to stop at a hotel and wake them. This was their first stay in a hotel. It was also late so I did not ask for a crib for the 1 year old. We decided it was best to separate them and have Carolyn sleep with Lily and I slept with Robyn. Neither of them were tired anymore. In fact they were wide awake and kept each other energized. I did not get much sleep that night. The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel and then we were off to Jacksonville Beach to visit Carolyn’s sister.
We had a nice visit with Carolyn’s sister and seeing her new house. It was great because it was 2 blocks from the beach and the work they have done was starting to show. We walked down to the beach, which the kid’s loved. Lily was having fun digging in the sand. At one point she dug up a dead bird that was buried in the sand. It was at that point we realized it was time to continue our journey to Orlando. After a piece of homemade cake and a drink of Gatorade we were on the road again!
The trip to Orlando was uneventful. We stopped for a much needed Starbucks fix for me and everyone else napped the whole way. We arrived at our hotel, which was a Marriott Springhill Suites. I was not expecting much, but it was free stay using the Marriott rewards I have earned over the years. It turns out it was the perfect place for us. They had a crib for Robyn, Lily was able to stay on the sofa that pulled out to a bed, and there was a king size bed for us. The best part for traveling with a family is the room had a kitchenette, which was very useful. The people were great too, but more on that later. After we were settled in, we went to visit our friends from England. They had a house nearby so we decided to get “Takeaway” (that is the term for takeout in England). Steve and I went to search out a place to get takeout. This required some driving around, but we found Outback Steakhouse, a place they liked when they visited us a few years ago. While we were driving around the engine light came on.
We ate our meal and enjoyed conversation while the kids ran around. Then one of the English boys came running out from the bedroom yelling that Robyn did a pooh in his bed. We all looked a little stunned, then the other kids yelled “not pooh, sick!” Well this was a way to close out the night. Thankfully they had a washer and dryer in the home, so easily dealt with. We then went back to our hotel. The entire ride back was a discussion about the engine light, and if we should delay plans for the Disney park and have it fixed, or let it go until we went home. The car seemed to be running fine. We decided that I would take the family truckster to the nearest Volvo dealer in the morning to have them check it out.
I woke up on Monday morning and went to a Volvo dealer about 5 miles away. They were accommodating and were willing to check it out. Of course there is $100 fee just to check out the service engine light. They did it while I waited, so I asked them to also do a oil, lube and filter, since it was due anyway. It is boring waiting for a car to be done, so I was checking out new and used Volvo wagons. I could not believe the cost, but we do like the safety. In fact our truckster was hit when it was new, and it held up like no other car. I debated the cost of buying a used one if the cost of repair was to much, but I can not seeing paying that much for a car, and now was not the time. Anyway it turns out the light came on because the gas cap went bad. Total bill $182, for oil change and gas cap. So much for the cheap vacation.
After that we went to Magic Kingdom for a fun filled day. We pulled up to the booth to pay for parking. The booth was on the passenger side, so Carolyn lowered her window. This is when we saw the strangest thing! The window flipped side ways and went down on the right side with the left side sticking straight up in the air. Ugh! A car with a lot of electronics, we had to decide what to do. I decided to park and see what can be done. With the help of another visitor to Disney, we were able to get the window back up. It was cracked in 6 places but did not appear to be all the way through. So we carefully shut the door and went into the park for the day.
This was my second time to Disney, but nothing could compare to the trip we had with our Angel Gia (more about that here). I did not realize how hard it was to see some of the characters. Everyone we went up to was closed. The worst was when we went to see Princess Tiana, the handler said nothing that she was going in (he was busy chatting with a girl) and the line area was not gated off. We were waiting for a number of minutes with another family. He then asked if we were together, and when we said no, he then said she is done. It was very odd, and probably would have been better to ask us to be quick or start off with she was done (of course doing that after waiting about 10 minutes was wrong). It is hard to explain to a 3 year old that the characters have to go in. Lily was not bad, she was just sad. Anyway it still turned out to be an a good day in the park. The kids really enjoyed the rides (although we did get stuck due to mechanical difficulties on “It’s a Small World” – the song is still stuck in my head). The best part for Lily was the parades. It was her chance to see the characters. We learned that she really liked the Princesses and not so much the ones with masks.
The next day we woke up and I immediately started my phone calls to Safelite auto glass to try to get the next repair done. It turns out the Volvo has “special” glass and has to be special ordered through the dealer. I called the dealer we were at the day before, but they did not have the part in stock. So I decided we would drive home with the cracks and I contacted our local dealer to order the part and schedule an appointment for later in the week when we returned. Of course the jingling of the glass made for an interesting ride, but the reason it was a special order part is because it is laminated, similar to the windshield, so the glass stayed together. Now to the parks for day 2.
This time we went to Disney Studios. The kids had a fun day. They really liked the Ariel show as well as Beauty and the Beast. In fact up until then, neither loved Beauty and the Beast, which was Gia’s favorite. After that show I think it is theirs too. The parade in Disney Studios was more of a block party and with the exception of Potato Head coming up too close to Lily they had a phenomenal time. Lily and Robyn even went into the street to dance with the performers! After the block party we headed over to Epcot. This turned out to be a great decision. There was no wait for any of the rides for the kids, so they enjoyed Figment, Nemo and a few others. We enjoyed walking through the international pavilions. We did continue to have trouble seeing the characters, but they did get to see Pooh and Tigger. They were still scared of the big characters! And thanks to the handler for a Princess Jasmine, who did say she was going in, but if you hurry you can catch Snow White. We hurried and did just catch her. Now it was 7:30 and we had 2 hungry and tired kids. We decided to try to find a place in the park to eat. As we reviewed the brochure we found a place in Norway where they had a Princess story time. We went over to see if they had space. The woman was nice and said if you come back at 8:35 they can see if they can fit us in. At this point I really felt like Clark W. Griswold, and I was going to do whatever I could to get them in. I went back at 8:10 and was told we would have to check in at 8:35. This time I decided to campout and wait for the time to get it.
Well, like in the movie Vacation, we did get in. The meal was simply magical and it made the trip. Lily had a number of pictures with the Princesses and they experienced the similar Disney magic that Angel Gia had years before.
The next day we met our friends for lunch and then we began the trek home. We drove the 17 hours straight, arriving the next morning by 8:00 AM. In the end it was a great trip with a few unexpected car expenses. The car went in on Friday and it needed the $500 window, another $500 part for the window, and while it was there it was inspected. Add on brakes and routers, gas door hinge, wiper for one of the lights (not sure why they even have that) and the total bill was about $1800. Add the $182 gas cap and we could have had a good down payment on a new or used Volvo. But now we can plan on keeping our family truckster for a few more years.
Today is the end of our vacation and I had to dig out from the snowstorm, much different than the 80 degree weather in Florida. The plan is a quiet day and maybe watching the Vacation movies.
Next up will be the Christmas Vacation! Actually no more vacation time, and I do not see myself trying to track down a bonus, when my company does not do that this time of year. So maybe instead we can enjoy a quiet holiday with no more unexpected expenses. Happy holidays everyone!