Day 8 The Last Hours of the Last Day

Like NASA, so much had to go right to make sure it all didn’t blow up in our faces.

We’d not seen everything there was to see at the Kennedy Space Center and (The-Youngest would like to point out), we didn’t do the only ride there (a shuttle launch simulation.)

But we had to get on the road. We were about ½ an hour behind what was already a tight schedule. To make it, we would need the luck of the Irish to catch our flight.

Basically, we had to have no problems on the road, no problems turning in the car, no problems at the check-in counter, and, lastly, no problems going through security.

Easy, right?

By the time we pulled out onto the highway, even I was stressed, and The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World kept checking her watch like a terrorist wearing a bomb vest about to go off.

I drove as fast as I could without being super crazy. The roads in Florida are Albertan in their straightness, and a huge hill in Florida is about the height of our car. So we made good progress and we blazed through the toll stations (not stopping to pay because we had a pass that captured our rental car’s license plate and we’d be charged later).

We made it to the airport at 4.

The first hurdle overcome!

Thanks to the superior navigating team of The-Youngest and The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, we didn’t make any mistakes finding the rental-car parking lot. And, as we pulled in, someone came out immediately to check the car in. Alamo did a fantastic job speeding us through the process. A quick read of the mileage, a quick check for damage, and we were in the airport by 4:15.

Second hurdle overcome.

We found the counter for Alaska Airlines and, again, everything went smoothly, the woman behind the counter ensuring we found seats together – and even upgraded us to the comfy-seat section (not first-class but apparently the seats had more legroom.)

Third hurdle overcome!

It was about 4:45 when we reached the security line, a line as long as any in Disney World and with far less fun at the end (unless you enjoy your bags being scanned, opened, and your bottled water taken). Without slowing, we got in line and waited because, at that point, that’s all you can do. Passports were pulled from backpacks, water was thrown out, and The-Oldest kept his eye out for a piano.

It took a while to get through the various stations. Passport control (where I always look guilty of something for some reason), then the baggage check (where I always forget I left something in my carryon like suntan lotion) and finally the human scanner (where I have to enter, beltless, holding up my pants like a failed German general in Hitler’s kangaroo court).

But we played the lines like pro’s (and very un-Canadians), leaping into one that just opened up by the baggage scanners.

We’d cleared security by about 5:45.

We’d cleared our last hurdle with a good hour to spare.

Huzzah, I say, Huzzah!

Stress melting away, we ate in the food-court, looking like people with peanut allergies surviving eating 10 peanut butter sandwiches. Due to time constraints, this was the only meal we’d had since breakfast, 7 hours earlier.

As we boarded our plane, only one problem

remained. We had a tight turnaround for our connecting flight in Seattle. Everyone said it wouldn’t be a problem, but then everyone thought the new Star Wars movies would be awesome.

In the end, like any good story, it all worked out

But the luck of the Irish was indeed with us as we arrived at the Seattle Airport 20 mins ahead of schedule! I credit The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World (for using her mystic power to bend the world to her will.) I suspect she may have promised the dark gods a sacrifice of a chubby, nerdish husband, but that’s another story.

This story, however, ends well, with us arriving home at about 3am, very tired, very happy to sleep in our own beds. It had been a perfect end to an epic trip.

A final few blogs remain, blogs I’ve promised. Stay tuned!

Day 8 – The Day That Broke the Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World

NASA awaits!

Now you have to understand. The Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World is the most easy-going, fun-loving, goofy, giggly, accepting, loving, tolerant, patient, understanding, funny, and positive person I know.

But not by the end of this day, the Day That Broke the Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World.

In hindsight, we fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia,” but only slightly less well known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line!” Or, the much lesser know, trying to do too much in one day, especially with a need to be at an airport at a specific time.

See, we’d planned to get up, drive out to the Kennedy Space Center, on a Sunday, see all we could see, then, casually drive back, looking at all the lovely Floridian scenery.

The plan faulted at the start, with no one super keen to get up, eat and get on the road. So, instead of arriving there at 10, we got there at 12. Not a big deal, I thought. Our flight was at 7, and we had to be there about 5, so taking two hours to drive there, say 2 ½ to include parking and me taking the wrong exit off the freeway… that left, ah, wait, 12 minus 5, minus, uhm 2 ½, carry the two, errrrrhm, about 2 ½ hours there. Plenty of time, right?

Wrong.

But that time crunch was only a part of what broke The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World. That stress of having to do stuff quickly was bad enough, but all of the waiting in line had to be outside in the scorching heat of the Florida summer sun!

Plus, on a Sunday, in the middle of the day, the crowds were thick and nasty.

It began well enough as we raced (and The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World HATES racing) past the JFK Monument to the entrance, past all the cool rockets on display outside, to stand in line for the Heroes and Legends Museum. It was hot, and while it wasn’t humid, the heat cooked us like a turkey at thanksgiving.

In the line, I became Chatty-Joe for some reason and we talked with a nice, wheelchair-bound lady Floridian who was originally from Bawston, her accent still thick and delightful. We met two guys from Kentucky who were very outgoing and entertaining, and one fellow from California who seemed like a very nice young man. (Good lord, when did I get old????)

Inside, the museum was extremely well put-together but we moved through it like coffee through my colon. Pictures were taken, one plaque was read but I’m pretty sure The-Youngest fondled everything in the building. Twice.

By the time we left, it was 1ish. We had found out that the big tour, the one where you get on a bus and see the launch sites and the big Saturn rockets took about 45min. That was doable, since we would finish about 2, and needed to leave by 2:30.

So we got into line. We could do this, I said, perhaps blindingly optimistic, but while we stood in the heat, again, sweat running down my back, The-Youngest took this time to start acting up. I have no idea why. The-Oldest will stoically endure anything, but The-Youngest, the moment he gets his nose out of joint at something, he can be a bit of a challenge.

We almost called it at that point, but we’d stood in line for about 15 min and we had that weird choice where you invest a ton of time in something that abandoning it seems like a failure, yet other factors (the heat, the time stress and, now, The-Youngest) seemed to make leaving a good idea.

This is the moment that The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World broke. Unlike me when I break, there’s not a lot of swearing and stomping of feet, she just frowns and withdraws. Instead of her normal chatty self, she’s monosyllabic. Instead of having a cheerful air, she radiates murderous discontent.

Being me, I wanted to fix it, but I was way, way too late on that one. Like realizing I should have put on suntan lotion at 9am, not after 8 hours in the sun.

But she was still determined to see the rockets. We still had enough time, and the bus would have A/C.

The countdown to launch clock, or our clock as we ran out of time

At about 1:45, we got on the bus. 45 min to finish, that left us at 2:30. Tight, but we could still get to the plane on time.

The actual tour was fantastic, with a grumpy old bus driver taking us past the launch sites, the MASSIVE vehicle assembly building, and even an alligator lurking in the water. I took lots of pictures while The-Youngest came out of his funk and gaped at all the rockets.

It really is a fantastic tour and I would highly recommend it, and when the tour ended it, was 2:35.

Good, right?

No, because the tour didn’t end at the main site, (where our car was), oh, no, it ended in the building with the Saturn Rocket, and we had to take a bus to get back.

The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, now in DESPERATE need of a bathroom, gave me a look that said, “if there’s a cliff, I’m pushing you off it,” but I was still hopeful. All we had to do was race through the building and get to the bus.

Only one problem! There was no direct route. We had to go through the space shows, normally very interesting histories of what happened or recreations of the space launches in the control room, but when you’re already behind schedule the inability to race through the damn place was super, super stressful.

However, after we cleared the first room, I went up and asked an attendant if we could just skip this and go through ‘that there door,’ like my life depended on a yes answer. She did say yes and we moved with astonishing speed through the building, ignoring astronaut memorials, cool suits to touch, and even another control room where it looked like we could control stuff.

By the incredibly huge Saturn rocket, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World found a bathroom, but like all women’s bathrooms, there was a huge wait. Bouncing from foot to foot, she waited while a family of 10 decided to have a chat in one of the stalls, all the while our clock ticking down.

The-Boyz mugging it up on the ass-end of the Saturn Rocket. That rocket is HUGE!

While The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World nearly exploded waiting for a toilet, The Boys and I wandered around the Saturn rocket. Honestly, you wouldn’t believe how big that thing is, and looking at it, walking along its length, it hits home just how incredible this achievement was. Putting a man on the moon was one of the most epic moments in history and those going up into space risked their lives to accomplish something extraordinary.

When we finally took the bus ride back to the main site, ran through the space center like we were being chased by rabid dog zombies, and reached our car, it was 3:07. We were now seriously behind schedule and in danger of missing our flight.

Everything had to go our way not to make this one of the biggest traveling mistakes I’ve ever made.

Day 7 – Universal’s Wizard World Part 2 and the Hulk

universal them park orlando florida hogswart school
Taking the Hogwart’s Express Train to the other side of the Universal Theme Park

With my tummy full of Butter Beer, my skin warmed by Dragon’s breath, and my nerdy gauge filled up with magic, we left Diagon Alley to take the Hogwarts Express Train to Hogsmead, AKA, the 2nd part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Theme Park.

The Hogwarts Express is a ride itself, and we boarded with little wait. Inside, we were locked in our cabins while the Potter gang wandered in the corridor and Dementors flew by our window, feeding on our happiness (which I think they do on a daily basis for me).

I could see why this could be terrifying to young kids (being locked in a small room and then have the spooky, ghost-like Dementors wail outside the window), but for us, it was just fun.

Hungry, the lines now HUGE for most rides, the weather blazing hot and stiflingly humid, we chose to eat. That took a good 40 min of sweating in the Leaky Cauldron’s line-up, but the food was delicious, (all very British with fish and chips, toad in the hole and cottage pie!) Set in a medieval setting, we sat at wooden picnic tables and ate our fill.

Recharged and re-energized, we strode back into the crowds as thick as Mrs. Dursley’s Pudding. The-Boyz went on Flight of the Hippogriff, while The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I tried to shop for something special.

However, the crowds inside the stores, and bumping against sweaty muggles made it hard to fondle things like a Gryffindor House scarf, a Howler pop-up card or a Sorting Hat, so we left to find what shade we could and wait.

See, the thing that both Disney World and Universal don’t seem to understand is that it’s hot outside and we muggles need shade. Or AC.

A Wizarding cloak!!! With a Hufflepuff scarf! OMG. I want. I want

Waiting for the young wizards to finish rides in the sweltering sun is not fun – It’s draining and uncomfortable and I’m pretty sure I end up smelling like a homeless hobo.

The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, being Hermione-Granger-smarter than me believes this is on purpose, to drive us into the shops or restaurants which are air-conditioned.

She could be right.

With the line soooo long, we couldn’t do the newest ride, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, so we made our way out of the Wizarding World and into the rest of the park, jumping on the Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls ride, then lining up for the terrifying Hulk Coaster.

The Hulk was something to see (and probably ride, but there was no way I was going on that behemoth). As the coaster shot out of the loading area, it roared so loudly that you could hear it from the parking lot, then it flung the riders down a steep incline, then around and around, and somewhere along the lines, I would have thrown up or passed out. (Video HERE)

For The-Youngest, this was the reason for coming to Universal… that and getting a good wand, but the coaster, (like Volcano Bay), well, he had dreamed about it, researched it, and watched every youtube video on it (including how it was built!).

But, the truth be told, he too was terrified, and (as he explained) had worked his way through the rides in the park to build up his courage.

However, despite the fear that was making him bounce around like a drop of water on a hot pan, he wasn’t going to back down. To me, that’s brave – He did something he was scared to do.

For The-Oldest, he really didn’t get a HUGE kick out of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, (which is completely wrong to me) but he did enjoy the terrifying rides. Those things don’t scare him at all. Nor do heights. Jump scares. Or It-like clowns.

Hulk Coaster in the Universal theme park. Not the MOST terrifying, but close!

S0 that Hulk coaster certainly met his criteria for a good ride. Fast. Good drops. And a great start to the ride.

By the time The-Boyz came back, the line-ups were too long to do the MOST terrifying ride, the Rip Rocket, and, frankly, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I were done. Exhausted, sweaty, wet from a small rain shower, we slogged back to the car and drove back to the resort where we all passed out about 8pm.

It had been a great day, even if we missed about 2/3rds of the rides there, and even if we failed at sticking to our tried-and-true plan of getting there at rope drop, going back to the resort to recuperate, and then heading back to the theme park.

However, the toughest day was yet to come, the day that broke The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World.

Day 7 Universal Theme Park – The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter

Diagon Alley in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Would The Wizarding World of Harry Potter live up to its hype?

As we approached the secret entrance to Diagon Alley, I became even more childlike than usual.

I won’t lie, I was super excited about wandering around Diagon Alley, going on the Gringott’s ride, and maybe even buying a wand. Both The-Youngest and I had done our research. We knew exactly where to look for the secret entrance so we weaved our way through the passage into Diagon Alley.

It wasn’t the best weather and here the crowds were as thick as Mandrakes in Professor Sprout’s greenhouse, but it didn’t matter. We had been transported to a different world.

Crooked buildings lined the street, strange signs swinging over colorfully painted doors. Arcane goods could be seen in foggy windows. Kids stood on brass plates, waving their wands, making a curtain move or a house-elf look up. Stands had been set up for multi-colored potions in antiquarian bottles.

But at the far end of the Alley, looming above it all, stood a dragon, waiting to breathe fire upon unsuspecting muggles.

At that moment, I realized I should have brought my wizard robes because this was the place to wear them (though, apparently, NOT at my wedding). Quite a few people, and not all of them kids, were decked out in Potter fashion. Wands. Robes. Wizard hat. House scarf. House-elf stuffie.

This was a zone of nerdishness, a zone of non-judgment.

The-Youngest and I bounded from shop to shop, looking around. We found Ollivanders Wand Shop soon enough, but it was far too crowded inside. However, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World found a girl in wizard robes who told us the actual wand show wasn’t busy at the moment.

OMG. We raced inside and soon stood in front of an old wizard behind a counter, books and wand boxes filled the walls around us. The old wizard would determine what wand would be the best fit for an aspiring magic-user.

Despite me waving my arms and saying “pick me, pick me, oooooh,  ME! Me-me mememememememe, meeeeeeeeeeee,” he chose The-Youngest.

The-Youngest marched up looking like he was about to be turned into a newt, took the wand offered and tested it out. Chaos ensued – Bookshelves fell, bells rang, wands failed to move as each wand he tried, failed. Then, finally, The-Youngest chose the right one, the best one for him, and all his spells worked. (see how he used them in Diagon Alley HERE.)

We left through a secret entrance back into the shop where The-Youngest bought his wand after much dithering.

See, the most powerful wand is Elder wand, perhaps created by death himself, so The-Youngest wanted that one, but wait, he also wanted the wand that had for chosen him since every wizard knows the wand chooses the wizard, not the other way around, but then, again, the Elder wand is made from “Elder wood” and has a “Thestraltail-hair core” and was owned by Dumbledoor, but then, hmmmm, the wand that had chosen him could be as powerful as….

It took about 20 min for him to decide, but in the end, he went with the Oak Wand with a Dragonheart String core, the wand that had chosen him. With crowds of muggles gathering like there was a Black Friday Sale at Walmart, we made our way to the Gringott’s Ride.

The amazing entrance into Gringott’s Goblin bank in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal

The line-up wasn’t that long and, like Disney World, there was so much to see along the way. It started out with a spectacular Goblin bank entrance, a diamond chandelier overhead, shining marble floors at our feet, and goblins grimly going about their banking tasks.

The ride itself was good, telling a decent story as we weaved our way down through the secret vaults, pursued by Voldemort and his Death Eaters, and to make the occasion, we bought an expensive photo of us at Gringott’s

As soon as we got outside, The-Youngest went about using his wand at all the wizarding stations. (see video here!)

Butter Beer! Not everyone liked it

I didn’t get a wand, since none had chosen me, so I went to get a Butter Beer, bought a potion, and tried to get a picture of the dragon breathing fire on all the muggles.

As The-Youngest gagged on the Butter Beer and The-Oldest announced it tasted like sweet vomit, the moving river of people slowed around us. Not because The-Boyz were complaining about Butter Beer, but because a man had knelt on one knee outside of one of the wizarding shops and asked his girl to marry him.

Like The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, she jumped up and down, happy, and like The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, she agreed to marry the nerdy guy. The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World teared up, fluttering her hands around her eyes as if she could evaporate the happy tears.

Our visit to Diagon Alley couldn’t have ended better, as the Dragon breathed fire above us all, bathing us in heat, and the happy couple looked up.

We left, having seen all we could see, done all we could do, and, at least for me, had the most magical of times.

Did Harry Potter’s Wizarding World live up to the hype? Gosh, yes! Because, at least for me, as Hagrid would say, “I am what I am an’ I’m not ashamed.”

Day 7 Universal Studios Begins

universal globe at universal studios theme park
universal globe at universal studios theme park
Time for Universal Studios!

At 10:40, the crowds at Universal Studios were beginning to grow, so we had to choose wisely.

So, we decided to do the important adventures, first. Not the Hulk ride. Not the Rip Ride Rocket. Not one of the water rides.

No. We were going to do something for me. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Expecto Patronum!

The lineups to get into Universal Theme Park were longish, but not bad, and we had the best attendant help us get through. I had booked tickets online and wasn’t sure how that would work, but it turned out all we had to do was use my phone to show them, then press our finger for the fingerprint scanner, and that was that.

The attendant was an older fella. Older than me, anyway, and he had the biggest smile on his face, and when he found out where we were from, he talked hockey. His team was, and always will be, the NY Islanders. Where he was from.

I can’t tell you how impressive it is to be greeted in a positive way when you start out in a park. Disney does this well, no, really, really, really well. So, too, it seems, does Universal.

We made our way out of the crowds into the Universal Studio streets. The-Youngest loved that he could walk in the middle of the road and no one yelled at him. The-Oldest saw ‘Doc’ from Back to the Future walking around, and waved at him. Marilyn Munro walked by in her iconic white dress and looked at The-Youngest, saying “I think that one’s giving me a look.”

The-Youngest is about to meet Marilyn Monroe

The-Youngest blushed so red, he looked like someone had lit a fire inside his head. Before she could say anything more, he rushed away from her like an energizer bunny suddenly hit by lightning.

Then we entered one of the BEST parts of Universal. Simpson’s land.

Now, it’s not the BEST place for rides, sure, but it ignited the nerd inside of me. There was the Springfield sign, and over there, the Kwik-E-Mart. Over there, look, there’s Krusty Burger, OMG, we HAVE to have a Krusty Burger, and there’s Duff Beer, OMG, I have to have some Duff beer, OMG, there’s Mo’s Tavern, we have to go in and burb with Barney, and there’s Lard Land Donuts, OMG, we have to get a Homer donut!

See, I guess at my core, I’m less of a Disney guy and more of a movie and TV guy.

As I hopped around pointing at everything in Simpson’s Land, the Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World looking at me like I was having a seizure, The Boyz decided they’d go on a ride – The not-too-scary Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl. The-Youngest told me, “Joe, did you know, it’s a good plan to do easier rides before you do the Hulk ride. You have to work up to it.” (The highlight of his plan was going on the terrifying Hulk Coaster.)

Kang and Kodo didn’t disappoint. At least didn’t disappoint The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I. We watched the boys go around and around, and laughed out loud at the commentary. “You will know the ride has ended when your vehicle comes to a complete stop, or you have been eaten…I didn’t just say that.” “Thank you for betraying mankind. Go home and enjoy your shame.”

After The Boyz got off, The-Oldest, much to our surprise, decided he HAD to have a Homer t-shirt. No words on it, just a Homer face. All yellow.

Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone. This is the secret entrance to Harry Potters Wizarding World.

Since it was so very, very, very rare for The-Oldest to want anything that didn’t involve a piano, we got him the shirt. Could it be that he was going to have a good time here?

I looked over towards Diagon Alley. I knew I was.

Time for some magic!

Day 6 Universal’s Volcano Bay Waterpark in the Rain

volcano bay universal theme park waterpark orlando florida
universal volcano bay orlando florida rainstorm
Was it a dream? Did we really go back to Volcano Bay?

I won’t lie.

We were desperate to salvage the day. Maybe a movie? Maybe find an indoor race track? Maybe a gun range. Wait, what, no guns for The-Youngest? Ok. But something. Something…

After successfully bra shopping for The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, (The Boyz remaining in the car to avoid awkwardly looking at women trying on bras), we decided to give Volcano Bay one last look on the way back to our resort to reconsider possibilities.

With the rain still pouring down, our thinking was, yes, it was still raining in a way only a tropical location or movie shoot can rain, but we hadn’t heard or seen lightning for a while, so where was the harm in checking Volcano Bay?

So we drove past more churches than I’ve seen in my life, through lakes forming on the roads, beside rivers raging in what had been drainage ditches, past houses darkly stained by mildew, hoping against hope.

By now The-Youngest had come to terms with the idea his life was over and all that he had ever hope for, dreamed about, lay in ashen ruins. But when we drove near Volcano Bay, despite the rain still falling, we saw people climbing steps. To rides!

The-Youngest sat up so quickly that I think he popped a joint, but he’s young and joint popping isn’t that big a deal. Excitedly, he bounced up and down, as we took the turn into the parking lot.

Now, I won’t say this was my finest driving moment, but it was one of the oddest. The cones were all over the place and I had to stop in a parking lot so vast it can be seen from Mars to figure out where to go. As I did so, dozens of cars literally raced around me, like I was a frightened rabbit on Lightning McQueen’s race track (when in fact, I was just a confused old guy!)

It didn’t take long for us to get into the park as no one was there. It was a little spooky, but kind of cool as well. Maybe 200 people wandered around, (which I totally get is not ‘no one’, but in a park built for tens of thousands, it seemed to have more staff than customers.)

So, we made a plan, cuz, you know, that’s what we do.

Hit the most important rides first! We didn’t know how long they’d allow us to stay in the park.

We could still lose the park to lightning or a North Korean attack, so doing the rides in any other order made no sense.

The ride The-Youngest chose was the Krakatoa, a ride like a roller coaster where we sit in a canoe-like thingee and get shot through tubes, up hills and down, through waterfalls, all by magnets.

Without ANY lineup we got on and shot off like a rocket. Wow. Every hill we crested we got air. Every turn we made in the tunnel seemed one inch from being an exercise in physics to see if we could glide on the roof.

Volcano Bay. With the soft, tropical downpour, we had the park to ourselves, making this one of the best days ever!

It was amazing fun!

Then, because we were old and slow, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I went on the lazy rivers. Again, with no people, the faster river was a completely different ride, the waves much, much higher, the speed much, much faster, and there weren’t a thousand people constantly accidentally punching you in the face.

We had a blast, but man, was it ever a workout to try to keep together, to dodge the painfully, powerful waterfalls and avoid the few numbers of little kids who rocketed the rapids like insane otters.

The slower river was better for us, though if you saw me trying to get into an inner tube, you would have laughed. It was like trying to fit a polar bear into a lifesaver.

But, as we got our lazy river on, The-Oldest and The-Youngest went on ride after ride after ride, literally walking on to any ride they wanted. Their bare feet slapped on the wet concrete as they raced from the Krakatau Aqua Coaster to the Kala and Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides then to the Ohyah and Ohno Drop Slides.

No line ups. None.

With the most beautiful purple sky overhead, we joined them for the Krakatau Aqua Coaster (which was a powered by jets of water), and boy, was that fun, especially since all we had to do was climb a few steps and go right on it.

While the rain continued to fall, as the light began to fade, The-Boyz raced away from us to do their final rides before the park shut down. We floated in the lazy river one last time as I soaked up the experience.

The rain was soft and heavy, but warm, not pelting down like ice needles. I didn’t care about the rain, we were in a waterpark getting soaked, so getting extra soaked really made the experience even better. No, wait, more than better, it made the experience immortal.

We were in the rain in a waterpark that we basically had to ourselves. Like we were billionaires.

I wandered around a bit, taking pictures of the stunning sky, I but I knew, I just KNEW I would remember this magical night forever. Like when I first looked upon the green, rolling hills of England when I was 18, like when I first smelled a peat fire when I was 24, like when I saw The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World walk down the aisle to marry me, breathtakingly beautiful, me wondering how I managed to get so lucky.

What had started out as a disaster had ended up being an amazing day!

One of the best pictures I’ve even taken – of one of the best nights I’ve ever had traveling. No filter on this shot at all, but (to be honest), the light was even more spectacular in person.

Day 6 Universal’s Volcano Bay – The End of the World

universal volcano bay orlando florida
Universal’s Volcano Bay Waterpark. A great start. Good weather, few people, full tummies.

The-Youngest’s most anticipated theme park was Universal’s Volcano Bay.

He had watched hours and hours of videos. POV videos. Review videos. Park exploration videos. He knew how to use the Fastpasses, how to use the Taputapu wrist bands, where we should get our lockers, where the best food was, and, of course, what the best rides would be.

He’d even planned out a route, taking advantage of the fact we’d get there before a lot of the crowds, and had plotted how best to use the Taputapu bands (simply tap the wristband to the icon at the ride you want, it assigns a time for you to return for your ride. The clock on the wristband counts down and buzzes when it is time to return to your selection.)

In short, he was one super prepared little kid. Or to quote him, “I’ve been planning and dreaming about his park for 6 years!” Ok, maybe a bit overdramatic, but he was so excited, he was quivering.

And by the time we arrived, there were a few clouds drifting off in the distance, another warning of rain, thunder and lightning had been issued, but the sky was blue, the lines were light, and after applying so much sunscreen we would survive on the surface of the sun, we raced off to have us some fun.

Our tour guide, The-Youngest, took us to our first ride in Volcano Bay. Maku Puihi. Something everyone could do, even if they couldn’t pronounce it.

Our tour guide, The-Youngest, took us to his first choice, a good family ride, he said, knowing that his mom and I would not be super keen on the drop slides or super fast ones. He wanted us to share this experience with him as much as possible.

We had to climb a lot of stairs to reach the top of the ride, but I have to say, it was a blast going down. Then we did the lesser one, which was, for me, more fun since I didn’t risk flying off the side of the ride.

Excited, clouds beginning to form above us, The-Youngest raced off to do the ‘fun’ rides, the Krakatau Aquacoaster, the Kala & Tui Nui Serpentine Body Slides, the Ohyay  and Ohno drop slides, and the very, very terrifying Ko’kiri body plunge (“Featuring a 70-degree fall through a drop door and 125 feet of white-knuckle fun, this dizzying descent ends with a watery tribute from Vol himself.”) Here is a vid if you want to see what it’s like.

Even thinking about that last one made my stomach leap into my throat.

So, after securing chairs, while the-Boyz enacted The-Youngest’s masterplan, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I went on the Swift Flowing Lazy River, which is an oxymoron (like saying jumbo shrimp or Microsoft works), but it was relaxing, and little by little, the stress from the past few days melted away into the water,

But as we began our second lazy river run, the clouds overhead had thickened and blotted out the sun. Tiny raindrops began to fall. Not a big deal. We’re from Vancouver. We’re used to rain.

Then the clouds overhead became dark and menacing, like something looming over Mordor. Thunder cracked in the distance and the rain began to fall like it had on the first day we’d arrived. Heavy, wet drops, fell, the sound like a waterfall.

No problem, we’re used  … then came the announcement. The rides were being closed due to the storm. I mean, it kind of makes sense if the lightning came our way because the last thing the park would want is a whole pool of people being electrocuted, but for The-Youngest, it was the end of the world.

Dark clouds over Volcano Bay. Soon the rains came, followed by thunder and lightning and one sad little boy

At 11am, his plan of doing the entire park in one day, of sliding on all the cool slides of experiencing that terrifying Ko’kiri body plunge, fell to pieces.

He was, in a word, devastated.

We returned to our seats, under an umbrella, and tried to wait it out. By 12:30, it had only gotten worse.

So, we decided it was pointless to wait around. We had to declare the park a disaster and think of doing something else.

The-Youngest slumped back to the car, completely unexcited about going bra shopping for The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, but none of us had any idea how the day would really work out.

Day 6 A Rental Car for Universal (Theme Park)

Our car, the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

To do the next part of our epic vacation, we needed a rental car for Universal (Theme Park). An easy task for most people, but for me, well, read on.

It all began well enough. I managed to get a good sleep at our Disney World Resort. Drugs for my sore feet, fam quiet, room cool. All good.

I woke up with a good attitude at 5:54am. Before the alarm went off. I could now get up without waking anyone. Assuming, that is, I didn’t stumble into anything, drop anything, or bang my shins on anything and start swearing like an 8yr old first discovering the word f*ck.

The plan was simple. Take the shuttle to Disney World’s Car Care Center, rent a car, use GPS to get home. Being prone to getting utterly lost, and without either of my legendary navigators, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World or The-Youngest, GPS would get me home for sure.

I’d done a check-in last night and arranged for a car to pick me up. That I’d gotten up even before the alarm boded well for the day. Yes, it was going to be a good day. A good day indeed.

I grabbed a coffee, waited outside until the shuttle found me and got the car pretty quickly. Everyone was outstandingly friendly, one of the lot attendants even standing outside listening to opera. The-Oldest would have been proud.

The car they gave me was a Ford Fusion Hybrid which was pretty cool. I’ve never had a hybrid so I would get a chance to see what they were all about.

I got into my car. Lots of new stuff. No key start, one of those press buttons. No parking brake on that I could find. Lots of things on my dashboard screen about green options, but I was too caffeinated to sort that out just yet. I’m sure when I used my GPS to get back, The-Youngest could figure out all the gadgets.

I turned on my phone to get a GPS. I activated cellular.

And didn’t have a signal.

No WiFi either.

No signal, no WiFi… no GPS.

Without GPS, I had no idea where to go or how to get back to the resort!

I went into complete panic mode. Full body sweat. Heart racing. Brain zipping around like a moth in a flame.

Ok. Ok. Take a deep breath. I had loaded up the route last night on GPS. It wouldn’t be able to track the car, but I could use signs, and the route had been mapped out.

But no. Because I’d set a personal waypoint, the 90’s parking lot, there was only the map, no route to get to the parking lot.

Ok. Ok. I could see where I was and where I had to go. I had to take a right, get on the highway, go a ways, then take an offramp. I’m sure there’d be signs.

It was the ‘a ways’ that really worried me. There were a lot of turn offs and I had no idea if it was a 15 minute ride or 12, or 22. I had to pray for signs.

I started up the car, and being in a panic mode, I made my first mistake. I didn’t check the time.

I drove off, onto the highway, still about as stressed as a new driver taking their driving test with a beautiful driving instructor while nearly blind from allergies.

I realized my 2nd mistake right away. I hadn’t reset the side mirrors on the car. They’d been set for a Peter Dinklage sized person. My 360 vision would be severely impaired, and I would have to resort to the full shoulder check.

I drove ‘a ways.’ It seemed like 15 min or so, about the same time that the driver had taken.

No sign for Pop Century.

Now, what to do? I had no idea how far this road would go. Would I end up in Miami, then take a wrong turn and end up on some bridge to the everglades, then pull over only to be eaten by an alligator?

Ok. Ok. Take a deep breath.

I was lost, but not hopeless lost, yet. I mean, I was still in the USA.

But I didn’t want to go too far, so I took the next turn. A left. The plan that I came up with in my panicky brain was to find another Disney resort or one of the theme parks, get wifi, and reorient myself. I may have to go from resort to resort like a frog hopping to lily pads, but I was sure I could find my way home eventually.

Like maybe by noon.

But was turning off the highway to be my third mistake? The one where my obituary read, He went off to pick up a car and was never seen, again?

Ok. Ok. Take a deep breath.

I went ‘a ways’. No resorts. No parks. Lots of signs. No ‘Pop Century This Way’.

Great.

I drove on and found a sign saying Epcot resorts. Well, any port in a panic storm, so I took that one. It seemed to take me in the totally wrong direction from my resort, as far as I can tell directions, but then I saw a sign for a resort. The Caribbean.

I pulled into that one.

At the gate, I had to stop. A smiling attendant came out to scan my Disney World Magic Band. I said, sorry, (cuz I’m Canadian and usually begin all social interactions with ‘sorry’), but I’m not a guest here.

“No, problem Mr. Cummings. You’re welcome here.”

“That’s awesome,” I said. “But I’m a bit lost. I was hoping to park near WiFi and see if I could get my GPS to work. I’m trying to get back to the Pop Century Resort.”

“You won’t need GPS, Mr. Cummings.” (Clearly, he had no idea how lost I can get.) He pointed behind him to the right. “It’s the next resort. Turn around here, take a left onto Victory Street, and it’s your first left.”

Somehow, I had nearly gotten home by sheer luck.

F*cking hell!

Holy f*cking hell!

There is no joy in the world quite like being lost and suddenly finding out where you are. Maybe nearly dying of thirst in a desert and finding a MacDonalds comes close, but somehow, without any real understanding of where I was, I had found my way home.

I think I had a guiding angel. I think Margot maybe.

Either way, I turned around, took the left, then another left, then found myself in the Pop Century Resort, vaguely traumatized, but ok. I literally have nightmares about this kind of thing, and I greatly fear I’m not that far away from a dementia home at the best of times.

However, I hoped the rest of the day would be better.

What To Do In Alberta – Summary of the West Ed Mall

West Edmonton Mall 2018 wave pool

West Edmonton Mall 2018 wave pool
West Edmonton Mall. At 3pm, the wave pool was fixed and there was much happiness.

Because school has started and I really need to finish off this trip from July, let me be brief, (which, if you know me, is like asking the Pope to be Muslim for a bit.)

So here it goes. West Edmonton Waterpark – Both boys had fun, and because pretty much everyone in Edmonton had decided not to go to a waterpark that had only 20% of the rides working, there were no lineups. None.

zipline at west edmonton mall, 2018
West Edmonton Mall – the boys gear up for the zipline.

Even better, about ½ of the rides they went on were the ones The-Youngest had tagged as MUST-DOs. As well, they both got to do the zipline with their Edmontonian buddies after The-Youngest reminded me that it would make a good blog.

Then, at 3pm, the wave pool was fixed and they had a blast rolling with the waves and smashing into other kids.

west edmonton mall flowrider 2018
The-Youngest showing off his skills. He was amazingly good at this.

The highlight, though, was not free pop, was not the slides, nor was it even the wave pool. It was the Flowrider. See, you sit on a wave board while water is jetted underneath the board. Looks tricky and both boys took some spectacular falls. I would have broken a hip. And an arm And, likely, my back.

flowrider west edmonton mall, 2018
The Flowrider and The-Oldest. Man, was he good on this ride. Like pro-level good.

On the Flowrider, though, The-Oldest ran into a small challenge that his swim trunks kept falling down. Being me, and sadly flawed, I laughed. A lot. However, it made the attendants very uncomfortable. He was asked to leave or find a way to keep his trunks up.

But despite that, even he said, “Yeah, ok, it didn’t completely suck.”

As well, The-Oldest even got along well with the other kids. Like really well. He and the other oldest boy kinda bonded. Kinda talked. Kinda shared.

The only bad thing, at least for him, was that he was forced to eat. This is something I don’t understand at all. Never has anyone ever had to force me to eat, but then that’s why I’m 600lbs and he looks like he lives in Somalia.

The-Youngest’s only complaint was that they weren’t staying open to midnight. Or later.

Me: I wandered around the mall while the other dad, a superdad by any standards, watched the boys for a bit. Lots of shops. Bought nothing. 

Also got to watch a Timbits hockey game. Didn’t know there was a rink there. The-Youngest shook his head. “Didn’t you do your research, Joe?”

But my best time was watching the boys be goofy, fun-loving goobers.

West Ed Mall has a ship. And shops.

The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World? Well, she got to spend a whole day with her friend, shopping, talking about pillow fights, and drinking various coffees. Honestly, I have no idea what they talked about, I would find 8 hours of conversation utterly exhausting, but they hadn’t spent time together for a long time so I guess they had catching-up to do.

All-in-all, a great day by any standards, even though it started out looking like a disaster.

We made it home the next day after a very long drive and I would have to say, if you don’t have the time or money to go to Paris, Mexico, or Mars, maybe give a BC-Alberta trip a shot. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

And for a bit of video fun, check out the flowrider.

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What To Do In Alberta – West Edmonton Mall

West Edmonton Mall, Alberta, 2018, joe cummings

west edmonton mall
EDMONTON, CANADA – JULY 7, 2018 : Ice hockey arena in the West Edmonton Mall. It’s the largest shopping mall in North America and the tenth largest in the world.

There was only one thing to do back in July – Visit the West Edmonton Mall.

The-Youngest had planned for it, dreamed about it, and now the day had finally come. He had one goal. Have fun!  Maybe do a few rides. But most likely he’d spend hours and hours in the waterpark doing waterparkie things.

What could go wrong?

We knew where we had to go (West Edmonton Mall wasn’t far from our hotel), we had guides (The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World’s best friend’s family) and The-Youngest was out of bed at 7am to make sure we arrived on time (and there is no better alarm clock than an over-excited 11 year-old wanting to get going.)

He knew which waterslide he was going on first. He knew which one he was scared to go on, but would go on if we went with him. He knew where the free pop was located. He knew how high the wave pool would go. He knew what to focus on if it was super busy, but he wasn’t too concerned.  “Joe, did you know it’s a holiday in the US, like our Canada day, and that means there won’t be any Americans there so it won’t be busy.”

In short, he had it all worked out.

So you just kinda know it would go to hell.

The previous night, we’d decided to go in two wagon trains. 1st one with all the younger boys (4, aged from 9-13 plus the 2 dads) would arrive at opening. 10am.

The next wagon train, with The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, her friend, and The-Oldest, would arrive later, at an unspecified time. That way all the kids going bat-shit crazy about the rides would be in one car destroying the soul of only two parents.

Man, forget wind energy! If you could harness that boy energy as they sat vibrating with excitement and goofiness, you could power the world.

To quote Joe Pechi, they f*** you at the drive-thru!

Since some of the boys hadn’t eaten yet, the other dad stopped at the drive-thru first.

“I’ll have two pancake breakfasts, one with sausage, please,” he began.

“That’s two sausage McMuffins?” And this is where we should have known the gods of travel had it in for us.

“No. Two pancake breakfasts. One. With. Sausage.”

“Ok, anything else?”

“Two medium cokes.”

“What do you want in your coffees?”

“No, two cokes, medium.”

“Ok, two medium coffees, two medium cokes.”

“No, no coffees, none, just cokes.”

“Ok, that’s four medium cokes.”

“No. Only two cokes. Two.”

“Anything else.” (I wanted to stop him here, but he powered on.)

“One orange juice, two hashbrowns, and one side of sausage.”

“That’s two orange juices, two hashbrowns?”

“Sure, whatever, and one side of sausage.”

(Me: ”Can you order one coffee for me, now? One cream, one sugar? This should be hilarious.”)

“And one coffee,” he added. “One cream, one sugar.”

“Ok.”

We got almost nothing we ordered, and at least one of the children in the car ended up staring at an Egg McMuffin like a dog looks at a bowl of celery.

But that was just the beginning because when we arrived, we were met by staff just outside the pool entrance.

That’s super friendly of them, I thought. How very Albertan. How very nice.

But no, they were there to apologize – the storms had knocked out the filtration system and 80% of the waterslides were unavailable.

Have you ever seen a face drop?

An 11 year-old face?

It’s a horrible thing to see. First, shock freezes the face, then like it’s melting, the smile dies, the lower lip extends, the face slackens in sadness and there’s a big swallow, like he’s swallowing his dreams.

To his credit, he didn’t shed any tears.

Instead, he studied the waterpark map like Caesar surrounded by Gauls.

He took a deep breath, trying to steady himself.

He knew each slide which would be open. He knew which he’d planned to see. He knew the expected wait times at 10am, the average size of the child on the ride and where they came from.

West Edmonton Mall, Alberta, 2018, joe cummings
Waterslides at the West Edmonton Mall. Only 20% were working. Gah!

The staff told us it would only cost $20 today and they were working hard on getting everything up and running. Maybe by 3, they said, but maybe not, cuz they’d been working on it for a whole day now.

We could go and have fun elsewhere or we could stay and have a chance at a good time at 3, or maybe not.

I looked at the-Youngest.

He said. “Hmmmm.” Then made his decision.

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If you like what you’re reading, please follow on FB, subscribe to my blog, or check out my coming-soon newsletter. Or, heck, just tell your friends, your baker, your accountant and your barista. 

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What To Do In Alberta – If You’re From There

my dad

calgary alberta 2nd birthday
I should remember the birthday cake, cuz, it’s cake, but I don’t. Me, age 2

Despite our best-laid plans,  we ran out of time to see the places in Calgary where I grew up, or as the Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World said, “the places that made Joe, Joe.”

It’s too bad.

Much of my early, happy life was here.

Here I had two parents. Here I had a neighbourhood full of friends. Here I played ice hockey on the icy streets, played soccer in snowy fields, and made snow tunnels so immense that the Vietcong sent me a note saying, damn, boi, that’s some tunneling. (Looking back, maybe we never had summer in Calgary for some reason).

calgary, alberta, home
My first home. I remember the sunporch and the garden.

Of my life in our first house, when I was a small child, I remember sitting in the sun on the porch with our dog, a lab named Bobby. I remember not getting supper one time because I refused to stop watching Lost in Space. I remember digging in the backyard, which I defined as gardening and not, you know, digging up the flowers.

But I recall so little of when I was that young. Most of my other ‘memories’ are no more than extensions of photos taken at that time. Funny how that is.

Of my life in our second house, I have many, many more memories. We lived on a cul-du-sac in LeDuc, and if not every house, then every other house had kids around our age. We built snow forts in the winter, and cardboard forts in the summer. We built used hot wheel car lots and stocked them with our best cars (then forced our parents to pick which one was best and even though I always made the best one, I didn’t always win.)

During those times, we ran wild and had fun, being kids in a time before iphones, youtube and stupid morons like Logan Paul. We had a street full of parents who made sure we never got into any real trouble and sent us home if we got out of hand (and God help us if that happened because, by the time we got home, mom had received a phone call detailing what we’d done!)

Calgary alberta 2018
Everyone getting ready for school. Well, not ‘everyone’ by a long shot, and yes, I played with girls.

I traded and collected hockey stamps in that neighbourhood. I threw stones at the bigger kids in that neighborhood, then spent a year hiding behind telephone poles avoiding getting beaten up by them (strangely, a lot of my childhood stories involve throwing stones at people for some reason I still can’t explain). I watched my first football game in colour at a friend’s house, played tag around the cars, and found the best places to hide for hide-and-seek in that neighbourhood.

We had street BBQs, no crime (at least anything serious), and so many kids to play with, we were never short of company.

Or at least that’s how I remember it.

I remember my dad made a skating rink in the backyard that took too long to freeze and rolled downhill, ultimately creating a very deep, but very narrow skating rink.  I remember walking the dog with my dad beside the yellow grass-way next to the highway. I remember making a lemonade stand with my mom in the summer. I don’t remember selling any, though… odds are, I drank it all myself.

I remember playing with my brother when he was my best friend in the world. I remember watching Bugs Bunny and eating hamburgers and ripple fries while my dad rolled cigarettes. I  remember being woken up one night when one of dad’s friends arrived at our house drunk and playing the bagpipes. I remember the wolf that used to hide in my closet and scare me. I remember my mom coming in and chasing it away with a broom. A whole lot of times.

So for the years that I lived there, did that place help define me?

Without question. I felt loved. I had a street full of friends. I had a small world to play in.

Only much later in life did I realize the magic of that time, of the wonder years of skinned knees and sleepovers, of living in a community, not just a house on a street.

Work dad
Work dad. Suit. Tie. Good accounting glasses.

I understand why we had to move, why my dad made the choice to move.

He hated the long hours at work, hated not being with his wife and sons, and hated that he had not found the balance between money and a quality life.

He made the choice to move so he could read to his sons, throw the ball around with them, or take them to the library. He made the choice to listen to his boys in those terrible school concerts, to coach my soccer team (being English, this was more of a deal than I ever knew), and to be there to cheer us on, wipe away tears or teach us how to be men.

my dad
My dad and me on the first day of baseball.

Did he know he had only a few years to live?

I don’t think so, but I do think he knew that being a good dad, a good husband, a good man was more important than a big paycheck.

And I get that.

He made the best move possible, but I look back on those Calgary years as some of the best in my life.

Who could not? I had nearly everything a kid could want.

 

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What To Do In Alberta – The Dinosaur Museum

dinosuars in alberta 2018

dinosuars in alberta 2018
Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta. On display, a stegosaurus.

Who could not love a dinosaur museum? Well, not everyone as it turns out.

The Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller may be the most impressive dinosaur museum on the planet, certainly there are signs saying so, so it must be true, but for The-Youngest, it was a big building filled with stuff that looked like stuff he had to learn.

He took an instant dislike to the whole thing.

No matter, we dragged him through the entire museum anyway. Like a mouthful of medicine, it would be good for him.

The-Youngest’s review: Too many people. Not enough popcorn. The bathrooms smelled like poo. It was full of bones and who likes to look at bones? I was bored.

drumheller alberta 2018 royal tyrrell museum
Outside of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, the boys pose like prisoners going to be shot.

(That most terrible curse that afflicts our youth, boredom, like the world must be all flashy images and stupid videos about asshats wrecking a house.)

The-Oldest’s review: Could have been worse. Much worse. Things could always be worse. Or even worse than that.

The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World’s Review: Mmmmm. Busy. 3rd visit. Not a dinosaur person, really. It’s cool, but I liked the badlands better.

My review: Lighting is amazing. Seeing the size of those ancient behemoths is humbling. Reading about life before we decided to f**k with the planet reminds me how little time we’ve actually spent on earth.

dinosuars in alberta, drumheller, royal tyrrell museum
Size matters and in the dinosaur days, we would have been a quick snack for something.

I loved the pre-dinosaur history the most. Those creatures that plied the oceans were terrifying and so very different from what we see today.

I loved looking at the apex predators of their time like the Anomalocaris or Gorgosaurus.

I hate how much life has been lost forever in history. The mastodons. The Stegosauruses. George Burns.

But such is the harsh reality of evolution. Those that can adapt, survive. Being cute doesn’t save you. Being scary doesn’t save you. Being able to make a fire and craft a pointed stick does.

There was so much to read, so much knowledge to absorb, but that would take a whole day. Maybe two. And then even that would only scratch the surface of what’s in that museum.

Despite 3 out of 4 of us not being big fans of this particular adventure, I would say see this museum if you’re in Alberta (or go to Victoria where you’ll likely see as many old fossils.)

Next up, Edmonton, which The-Youngest looked forward to like a beaver looks forward to a forest of trees.

But for more pictures, check out this link.

 

 

**********

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What To Do In Calgary – The Military Museum

Sherman Firefly in Caen 1944

Canadian Sherman tank, Calgary Alberta, 2018
Canadian M4A2(76)W HVSS Sherman “Easy 8” tank . Military Museum in Calgary

Or Tanks for the Memories!

Of all the things we planned to do, the thing I looked forward to the most was seeing the Calgary Military Museum and their collection of tanks.

If you look at my website, you’ll see there’s a whole section for tanks. I love tanks. I don’t know why. My therapist doesn’t know why. There’s a lot of head shaking and eye rolling. But when I found out there was a military museum in Calgary of all places, I had to go.

The-Youngest decided to join me, (part of his plan) even though it meant getting up early. The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and The-Oldest were happy to sleep in.

We managed to get there in about 11 minutes. Ok, 16, due to me getting lost despite a perfectly functioning GPS (when the nice GPS lady said take the SW exit and the sign said south, I hesitated too long while I tried to figure out if there was a SW exit as well…. And, ah, no, there wasn’t.)

No matter. We got there.

Most of the tanks were outside, which was fine except that it had decided to rain. Of course. And I had not thought about bringing a jacket. Of course. I debated bringing an umbrella, but apparently, people who use umbrellas here are considered marginally “challenged” in Alberta so I thought what the hell, a little rain never hurt anyone.

Calgary Military Museum 2018
A WW2 “Churchill VII” tank

The tanks they had on display I knew well. The Churchill VII, a huge British heavy tank, a Centurion Mark III, perhaps the best post war 1950s tank built, a surprisingly big Sherman M4E8 (an ‘Easy Eight’), and a soon-to-be-restored Russian T-34-85. Near the entrance, they’d stationed a T-72 with desert camouflage. ‘

Both The-Youngest and I were super stoked to be there, to touch the tanks to look at them close up. Only one of us did a happy dance, and (spoiler alert) it wasn’t him.

t72 tank calgary military museum
A T72 tank with desert camo.

I took tons of pictures while The-Youngest told me stories of the adventures he’s had with the tanks while playing World of Tanks on the Xbox.

I had forgotten how huge tanks could be. Even the Sherman which was supposed to be a fast, medium tank.

No German tanks, though and let’s face it, the best tank builders in WW2 were the Germans. However, despite their Tiger tanks with their huge 88mm guns that could shoot straight through a Sherman, the allies produced so many tanks that we simply overwhelmed the Germans with very reliable, mass-produced machines.

But it makes me realize the courage of our tank crews. It’s all fair and fine to sit in an 80-ton German heavy tank with a massive gun and armor that’s almost impenetrable, and it’s quite another to try and fight one of those beasts in Sherman.

Yet, they did.

Sherman Firefly in Caen 1944
Inside Calgary’s Military Museum were plenty of life-sized displays. This one featuring a “Firefly” tank fighting in a city.

Often at great cost.

Inside, the museum itself was fantastic for its size. They had great displays set up in regimental rooms, from the famous stand of the PPCLI against the German gas attack in WW1, to the famous victory for the Canadians at Vimy Ridge, to the battles in Italy and France in WW2, to the heroic stand during the battle of Kapyong, in Korea, and finally, to the peacekeeping missions around the world.

Check out my history section if you want to see more about all of this.

After seeing all the regimental rooms, we quickly toured the naval part of the museum, then the air force section, but had to pass on seeing their collection of planes due to a particularly scary entrance into those hangars (though The-Youngest had been so awesome coming with me that I didn’t mind we missed the planes.)

I could have spent long hours there reading of the heroic moments of these Canadian regiments, but we had a lot to do and The-Youngest, while vaguely interested in guns and tanks had no stomach for reading, which seemed way too much like school work.

No matter.

We were off to see dinosaurs next.

However, if anyone gets to Calgary, has an interest in the military, a family member who served, or hell, you just love a good museum, check it out. The staff were awesome. The displays fantastic. Fun was had.

And the sacrifices of our armed forces should never be forgotten.

 

Hey, if you’re interested, here are a few other links.

World of Tanks (the best tank game ever!)

Tanks in Canada

PPCLI (Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry) Regimental History

Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) History

The King’s Own Calgary Regiment History

The Calgary Highlanders History

**********

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What To Do In Calgary

Calgary tower in Downtown Calgary, Alberta, Canada

in Downtown Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Tower of Terror, AKA the Calgary Tower

When in Calgary, why not do the Tower of Terror?

Our zoo experience couldn’t have been better, unless, you know, the pandas danced or sang Oh Canada or re-enacted the battle of Waterloo. The weather had turned nice. The crowds were light. And the animals were mostly out and about doing animal things. We had fun.

And the day wasn’t done.

Next up, if we had time, was to see the Calgary Tower. Now, back in my day, it was the tallest building around and my Uncle Jim would take us there for ice cream for a very special treat. Today, though, it sits in the middle of downtown Calgary, nestled amongst the new buildings of glass and steel.

Now, why go here?  I mean, it’s a tower. In the middle of a city. No pandas up there. No waterslides. No pianos.

But it did have something that it didn’t have back in my day. A glass floor extension out from the observation deck. It’s the kind of terrifying thing I try to avoid in my elder years. Being petrified of heights, I can think of a lot more fun things to do like scoop my eyeballs out with a stained crack spoon or see how many fire ants I can eat while juggling flaming scimitars.

However, both The-Youngest and The-Oldest boy wanted to go. Both of them. That is like Di Vinci and Michelangelo agreeing to spray paint the Sistine Chapel. Or (to quote The-Oldest) “Like Stravinsky and Prokofiev agreeing to compose together.”

So, after finding a great area for restaurants (in a very trendy, former warehousie area of downtown Calgary that reminds me of Yaletown), we marched off to see the tower. The elevator that took us didn’t have any windows, which is like a car not having windows (which I guess is a van) but that’s what this elevator felt like.)

On the observation deck, I had to face my fears and go walk out on the glass floor that was at least 10,000 feet from the ground below. (Truth update from The-Youngest, it’s 525 feet down.) As I walked out, everything that could clench, clenched. Even a few things that normally don’t clench, clenched. Had anyone asked, I could have pooped out diamonds.

Calgary Tower glass floor
The glass floor in the Calgary Tower. In my mind, I stepped out a lot farther

But I did look down. Shaking. Dizzy. My stomach filled with angry butterflies, I did it.

Then I walked off it and went in search of a bar. Finding none, I decided to read all the plaques.

Honestly, that glass floor aside, it was an amazing view of the city and they’d done a great job on making the information about the various locations interesting.

Glass floor on the Calgary Tower
Overcoming your fears is part of growing up. I guess I am still growing up

The boyz, however, couldn’t get enough of the glass floor. The-Youngest, when he actually stood on the edge of the glass, had serious second thoughts that stepping out onto the glass floor would be a good idea. Like Oppenheimer looking at the explosion of the first nuclear bomb and thinking, “oh dear, can I take that back?”

Calgary Tower
The-Oldest is fearless when it comes to heights.

But when his brother walked out, fearless as always, being the younger brother, he had to do what his older brother did. And when he overcame his fear, he wouldn’t leave the area. He sat down on the floor, lay down on it, and even took about a hundred selfies. Only when he started jumping up and down on it did we stop him.

The real success, though, was getting The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World to step out onto the extension. Like me, she was terrified, but unlike me, she is not motivated by overcoming her fear, of not being shown up by her children, or by needing to write a blog about something.

But when The-Oldest took one of her hands, and The-Youngest took the other, they were able to lead her over to the glass floor. She had that same look on her face that she had on her first date with me, that is to say, one where she wasn’t sure she was going to make it out alive.

She didn’t stand long on the glass floor, but she did try and I love her for trying.

In the end, part of any good adventure is doing stuff you simply wouldn’t do at home.

Tomorrow would hold more of those adventures.

 

 

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Why Does the Calgary Zoo Matter?

Calgary zoo alberta 2918

Calgary zoo alberta 2918
Zoos can bee punny!

The Alberta Zoo

There is a move these days to get rid of zoos. It comes from good-hearted people who have not thought through the idea. Oh, they FEEL the idea, for sure, but they miss a fundamental concept.

Zoos connect people with animals, many of which are in danger of disappearing.

Now, we’re not talking about zoos that treat animals cruelly, those should be reformed, but zoos like the Calgary Zoo allow people (kids in particular) a chance to see something real. Not something on TV. Not something on YouTube. Not a poster somewhere of something that once existed.

Too often now, we make choices that distance ourselves from the real world. In a sense, we are putting ourselves in a cage.

Think about it.

Ok, ranty-rant over.

Back to our regular programming.

After the pandas, The-oldest joked had an attack of pun-iness. “I was expecting total pandemonium. Or at least a pandemic.”

To be fair, considering his usual puns take 3 mins to set up, (“so if I was a lion and it was telling me a story, and I didn’t believe the story because it wasn’t very truthful, then, you could say it was lion), those panda puns were good puns. As was his remark about Himalayan Deer ‘they must be very valuable because they’re dear.”

His favourite animal, though, was the markhor deer. It had curlie horns and looked like it was about to shed about 40lbs of fluff. I think the Taliban ride them into battle. He tried to talk to it. A lot. But it didn’t respond so we moved on.

alpakas in the calgary zoo 2018
Alpacas! Perhaps the most cuddly of the camel family.

The-Youngest hated that all the food stands were closed, and he didn’t get any cotton candy, however, he did get to see the alpaca that looks a lot like our spazadoodle. He, too, tried to talk to it, but it wasn’t in the mood for a conversation and simply pooped.

For The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, her best time was at the panda exhibit. She loved how the pandas snuggled, but I think she enjoyed watching the baby gorilla explore his world, play with his food and look for things to play with.

lions at the calgary zoo 2018
The Lion does not sleep tonight! I am not lying. They were not lion around.

Me? I liked hearing the lions roar and watching them stalk about the cage. I haven’t seen lions move much (they mostly pull a panda and nap most of the time), but they were magnificent creatures this day, powerful but not as elegant as a leopard.

The highlight for all of us, though, was our time in the lemur cage.

See, this is where my whole zoo-is-good thing comes to fruition.

The zoo had set up an enclosure with nets overhead and Fort-Knox-like gates that allowed people to BE WITH the lemurs, you know, those cute little things that appear in Disney movies.

We were told not to move too fast or touch them or feed them or talk to them about Liszt, but we could watch them as they watched us, get close enough to them to touch them (but not, you know, actually touch them) and have a chance to see real live animals up close, no bars, no windows, no metal mesh separating them from us.

It was fantastic, even if one idiot did try to touch them.

One lemur even took a liking to The-Youngest, and if you want to see how he reacted, check out the video.

Hippos at the Calgary zoo, alberta 2018
Hippos! They taught the pandas what to do

But we all loved seeing the animals (though no one seemed to appreciate me singing “Walk with the animals.”)

We scouted out the tigers. We waved at the giraffes. We shook our head at hippos that looked suspiciously like me after a turkey dinner. We watched momma gorilla look after her little one.

And then I think the family pranked me with the idea that porcupines shoot quills. They were so convincing that I had to load up wiki-thing to show them otherwise, and then they all just smiled at me and giggled.

So, go see a zoo some time. Spend time with the animals. Make a conscious decision to experience an amazing part of our world instead of watching a documentary about our friend the lion or leaving it up to Disney to show us what animals are like.

 

And hey, thanks for reading this!  

If you like what you’re reading, please follow on FB, subscribe to my blog, or check out my coming-soon newsletter. Or, heck, just tell your friends, your baker, your accountant and your barista.