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.

Disney World Top 10 Lists – From The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World

Fun with the family

The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World made 2 Disney World Top 10 lists –  Her best moments and Mom advice. As well, at the bottom is a bonus list drawn from our brilliant Disney World travel agent, Alyssa.

Getting The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World to share her insights wasn’t easy. When I first asked her, here’s what she said. “I don’t know, stop bugging me.” Then, later, “I’m in the shower, can’t you wait until I get out?!” Then, much later. “You’re not going to stop asking me, are you? Ok, here it goes…”

Top 10 Disney World Best Moments

  1. Seeing Everyone Happy – Kay, I’m gonna cry, but the best moment was seeing Joe and Carter so happy. They’d done so much planning and preparation, then had the best time there.
  2. The Pop Century Resort room – because their amazing efficiency blew my mind. USB ports everywhere, many places to store things, and it didn’t feel crowded or messy even though it wasn’t a big room.
  3. The Disney business is a magnificent machine – if I had more time I’d want to pay attention to how it’s run, it’s like nothing else in the world.
  4. The Bus rides – I said one time that the buses were my favourite ride and I stand by that. No wait, when you get a seat, then they’re my favourite ride.
  5. Anywhere air-conditioned was the best.
  6. The Service – It was above and beyond, generally speaking. Every ‘cast member” took their character to heart. Even the waitresses and waiters. Even the guy in the 50’s diner who upset The-Youngest. He was just playing his part, but also probably digging up his past, going through therapy. I sensed there were some issues there.
  7. No Reservations Needed – I liked that we could get into the themed sit-down restaurants even though guides said we had to have reservations. The food didn’t blow me away, but it was the whole experience that was cool.
  8. The 3D Muppet Show – I’m gonna cry, again, but I loved it. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. Why? Ok therapist Joe, I guess a part of it was the music, I used to play it on the piano all the time when I was young. Plus, I grew up with Kermit and Miss Piggy and Gonzo and everyone in the show. They were my friends in childhood, though I hated the grumpy old guys cuz they were boring. Oddly enough, I find them hilarious, now.
  9. Safari Twice – I’m glad we took a friend’s advice to see the safari in the morning and at night. Different animals were out. The lighting was different.
  10. Unplanned Fun – Stop making me cry. Sometimes the most fun I had was not planned. Even just, you know, taking a break and relaxing on the bus, or listening to The-Youngest go on and on about a rollercoaster’s stats, or watching The-Oldest be goofy. Little things, but little FAMILY things. I don’t get enough family time.

Top 10 Mom Tips

It’s ok to have a lazy day on the lazy river. Blizzard Beach.
  1. Wear breathable fabrics, loose, breathable fabrics
  2. Be prepared to do laundry.
  3. Be prepared to abandon the plan if you’re not having fun, because I saw so many families with screaming babies and kids melting down because they were going to have fun, dammit
  4. Be prepared for a LOT of walking. You don’t really know how much there is until you’ve spent 12 hours walking or standing in a line.
  5. There is not a lot of shade or AC. Even though it’s Florida and you’d think they’d be prepared, they’re not. Unless you go into a souvenir shop or a restaurant or … wait, maybe this was all part of the plan, a clever scheme, I see it now. (See the Disney Business Model above.)
  6. Umh, if you have the time, take it. Try not to rush through stuff.
  7. I now believe in the Fastpass concept. Line-ups suck. Line-ups in the sweltering heat suck even more. When you only have a few days, it’s painful to waste time.
  8. As mentioned before, do the Safari twice, day and night. You won’t regret it.
  9. The meal plan was complicated but worth it. It takes a good 24 hours to figure it out, but it pays for itself (and allowed The-Oldest to eat without the guilt of how much that extra banana would cost.)
  10. Don’t buy the themed, free-refill mugs. You have to take them back to your resort room (which takes, like 30 min) or you have to carry them along with you, all dirty, and leaking sticky stuff everywhere. They’re a complete waste of money and time.
  11. OH, bonus, wear matching T-shirts! Next time, I want all of us to wear matching T-shirts, but they match to each theme park. Animal kingdom T-shirts for animal kingdom day. See, I’m buying into the Disney machine.

Alyssa’s List can be found HERE! It’s the perfect list from someone who’s a regular visitor to Disney World.

Top 10 List of Disney World Moments – By The-Youngest

Rockin’ Rollercoaster, probably the best ride in Disney World.

The-Youngest: “Wait, wait, what, I have to do a top ten list on rides? Really, Joe? Really?”

“Yes. No one knows more about rollercoasters.”

“So do you want the best rollercoasters?”

“No, my bad, not just rollercoasters. Rides. Tell me about your top 10 rides.”

“It may not be totally in order, but I do have the #1.”

Top 10 rides in Disney World – the Youngest

  1. Rockin’ Rollercoaster – Has to be the best for its speed. Its ‘launch’ at the start is very forceful. It has double vertical flips and is smooth for Vekoma (which is the make of the rollercoaster, not glaucoma as Joe heard it.)
  2. Expedition Everest – Could be #1, but it has a scary yeti. A very scary Yeti. Still, it’s got a huge drop and great speed.  It almost made me grey out at the bottom of the big drop, and going backward was cool, and being in the dark made it feel like a backward flip.
  3. Space Mountain – felt more forceful than the one at Disneyland. The restraints are better, but not enough space for feet. It’s a toboggan-style ride, which I don’t like, but it’s in the dark so you never know what’s going to happen, except that I did because I watched YouTube videos of what it’s like with the night-vision goggles on.
  4. Splash Mountain, better than Disneyland, because it had 2 per row and it was long and had a better ending song. That’s important. The drops were more intense. More wet, too.
  5. Seven Dwarves Mine Train – I thought it was cool to have a rollercoaster drop right at the start, and the trains moved side to side. Animatronics were well done, too, and didn’t scare me at all. Music was good, too.
  6. Avatar: Flight of Passage – A good ride, but Joe liked it way better than I did. Lots of close calls that feel like you were going to hit a tree, or bang into a cliff. Not intense, and I like intense, but riding in a weird position, like on a bike, that was kind of fun, too.
  7. Thunder Mountain Railroad – No Fastpass. A terrible wait, but cool things to do in the line, like blowing up things with dynamite as the rail cars passed, but even though it was not that intense, it was still fun. Good speed and quite smooth.
  8. Test Track –  Very fun! You designed the cars, and I made a car that looked like a terrible car but it beat my parents! It was the fastest ride in the park. My eyes dried out. Even big rollercoasters don’t do that. That was fun.
  9. Buzz Lightyear Ranger Spin – A shooting ride. Lots of fun. I’d seen the vids and knew where to shoot. It’s fun to do with family because you can spin around and control where you shoot. Or spin away just as your mom is lining up a shot. This ride has strategy!
  10. Slinky Dog Dash – A good ride if you like launches, but only really good if you’re really young or like my mom, because the launches are not forceful. Not much air-time, but a good ride, for someone just getting into rollercoasters.
Time to blow something up. Magic Kingdom’s Thunder Mountain Railroad. This is how you make a line-up fun!

It’s not that I didn’t like some of the other rides. Star Tours was ok. The Muppet Show was kind of fun. But I could only have 10 things, so those are my 10 recommendations. One that I’d avoid – the water ride in Animal Kingdom, Kali Rapids. You got super wet but it was super boring.

However, my most favourite ride will be the Tron coaster that’s coming in 2020. Epic ‘launches.’ Flips in a motorcycle riding position. Fast. Intense. There’s already one in Shanghai.

I wonder if my parents will take me back to Disney World to see it. I need to start a gofundme campaign or get some Patreons.

Top 10 List of Disney World Moments – By The-Oldest

Top 10 moments?

As always, The-Oldest gave a lot of thought to his answers.
  1. The rainstorm when we arrived! Oh yeah, yeah, the big rainstorm was amazing.

2) The architecture is amazing. The world-building, like how things looked, the time, you know, to get it right, that was incredible.

3) Favourite ride? Rocking rollercoaster had a lot of umph, but it wasn’t my favourite. In Epcot, the racecar ride one was one of the best, cause it’s got more story, but Splash Mountain’s still my favourite. It helped that we had a Fastpass but I’d wait in line for two hours for that ride.

4) Epcot had the best fireworks. I guess what made it the best was that it had a ton of room, even with huge crowds. We could see everything. Fireworks are best when you’re not being pushed around by crowds.

5) Is there a ride not worth the wait?  Sure.  Lots. For us, we waited about an hour for the Goofy plane ride, the Barnstormer, in The Magic Kingdom. Very short. Not worth even a 15 min wait.

6) It is really hot there, you know. Close to torture at some point. I would not want to go in summer, again. Too crowded, too.

7) Is there any park I’d wanted to spend more time at?  I would want to spend more time at Universal, but I think I had enough of Animal Kingdom, but I don’t think we spent enough time in Epcot or Hollywood Studios, but Magic Kingdom definitely needs more than 1 day, as we were very tired and not ready for the heat.

8) Favourite place to eat? 50s diner, chah, you know what I’m saying- it’s getting into the feel of the 50s, so yeah, I’d recommend it. But my favourite, the German restaurant with live music. It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. They played mountain horns and had a buffet of German food. Chah.

9) Was the Resort good? Pop century, yeah, big time. I was excited because I like the really old stuff, like the 60s and 70s stuff. And stuff from the dark ages, like the 50s and 40s. Wait, why are you scowling at me, Joe.

10) What was the most terrifying ride? Expedition Everest, yeah, that yeti, even knowing ahead of time didn’t help. That yeti was scary.

“We’re here to have fun.”

11) (Yes, 11, he’s giving one extra one for free) What’s the one thing I’d tell everyone? Manage stamina. No matter how fun the ride is, don’t wait for anything too long, it kills the fun, and you’re there to have fun.

Getting It Right For The-Oldest – Epcot – Vacation Day 5

The-Oldest with the Spaceship Earth growing out of his head.

Getting it right for The-Oldest is NOT easy.

See, Disney World for The-Youngest is a no-brainer. Candy. Rides. Loud sounds. Bright lights. More candy.

But for The-Oldest, it wasn’t the way he wanted to spend eight days. For him, being away from his music was like me being away from my girlfriend at that age.

He was an amazing sport, though, and went on all the terrifying rides with his brother, even enjoying a few, but there was nothing super special about the trip until the Biergarten in Epcot.

No, he didn’t have a beer, again, but it did have an oompah-pah band.

And a buffet where he could choose what to eat. 100% his choice. No potatoes he didn’t like. No gravy that someone poured onto something that shouldn’t have gravy (like peas). No spices cooked into the pasta sauce or meat flavoured with too much flavour.

Instead, he could have a plate full of wieners if he wanted. With a side of peas kept very separate from the wieners. And buns. Lots of buns. With butter.

Plus, while he ate, he could listen to Oktoberfest music (and dance if he wanted to, but that was as likely as me wanting to sing naked in front of my high school French teacher while dancing on a red-hot grill.) The music, I have to say, was fantastic, but stopped us from talking (which was also a HUGE plus for The-Oldest.)

Now THIS was The-Oldest’s idea of fun.

There is a video here.

Literally dripping wet, we all had a great time. I ate so much food, I think I gained 40lbs before I left the restaurant. Think Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. But then, I LOVE German food. Sauces. Sauerbraten.  Spätzle. Strudel. Red cabbage. I think in a former life, I was German. Or at least starving.

Nothing like good fireworks

With darkness falling and the rain letting up, we decided to stay for the fireworks and what a great decision that was. The-Oldest had the best reason why this is the BEST fireworks in Disney World (and that will be a part of his Top 10 list coming soon), but from my perspective, nothing beats a good fireworks show.

I don’t know why. I’m like a little kid seeing a puppy for the first time. If there is a heaven, mine will be filled with fireworks. And German food.

For some reason, it didn’t rain at all as we watched the sky explode around us, as the crowd oooh’d and aaah’d, as the air filled with the smell of explosives.

A great picture of a great day!

Everything had simply come together for this evening to make his adventure amazing.

Despite the rain, we got to ride on the Test Track.

Because of the rain, we went inside to a sitdown restaurant where The-Oldest had his best experience.

With no rain, we got to enjoy an incredible fireworks show.

I couldn’t wait to see what the next day would bring, not knowing at the time that I would get to experience one of my real-life nightmares.

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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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.

 

**********

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. 

If you want to support a starving writer, check out the coffee link at the top right-hand corner of the website.