Traveling With Kids – San Diego 2014 – Tips

10 Things to Make a Vacation With Kids Successful

1)      IMG_0087Have a place to call home. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be if we had to pack up every morning and move to a new hotel, a new location. How many things would get left behind, valuable things, like stretchy frogs or a gorilla cup? And how much harder would it be to unload all the stuff, deal with an ice maker that’s making too much noise or a bed that has too many lumps in it?  So, yeah, being in one place for a while was the way to go.

2)      Good shoes. So important. It may be important for the kids, too, but for adults, it’s more critical than having a bottle of Xanex in a purse, or taking a thermos full of Jack Daniels.  Nothing will grind a great adventure to a IMG_3419halt like sore feet. Oh, the heat, the smell, the blisters, the bone aching agony of wearing a pair of cheap shoes. If you spend any money on vacation clothes, spend it on shoes. You’ll thank me.

3)      Always have a first aid kit. Now, I don’t mean stock it with plasma, a bone saw and a vial of morphine (though the latter may come in handy sometimes,) but having a bit of bug spray, a small can of that numbing stuff (like Bactine), a handful of wet wipes and a few spare bandages comes in handy. I mean, hey, let’s face it, especially with boys (old or young), there’s a good chance they’ll climb something they shouldn’t, stick their hand into something icky or prickly, trip over something, fall into something, scrape their knees on something, or burn their skin on something. It’s not that you can’t find supplies nearby (at least in San Diego), but it not only saves time running off to a pharmacy or first aid station, but keeps everyone from crying a lot.

4)      Do not over-plan. Not as easy as it sounds. But one thing that continues to amaze me is how long it can take for 2 boys to get ready and out the door. If you think you can do, ‘9:00-9:05 brush teeth, wash face, go to bathroom, 9:05-9:37 Drive to gun range. 9:38-10:57, shoot guns,’ you’re kidding yourself. It’s ok to have a rough plan. Like we’re going to see the aircraft carrier, today, maybe even in the morning, but the more flexibility you have, the less stress there will be (and this will save money on the minibar bill at the end of the trip.)

5)      Leave one day (at least) free for simple fun. With a 7 and 11 year old this should have been pool time. It sort of goes to #4, don’t overplan, but by having a flex day, there can be a day everyone can relax and bit and avoid burn out. I wish we’d done this. I think by the last day we were just going through the motions of touristing.

6)      IMG_3746 (600x800) (2)Food. Eat food. I know this should be a no-brainer, but it’s easy to skip on snacks, or push supper to later to go on that one last ride or yell at the lions to wake up one. Bring snacks if you have room in a backpack or simply set your fancy iphone to remind you or organize breaks at a certain point. Lack of food nearly ruined the Midway experience. Lack of food caused more than one melt down. And realize, as I often have to, that children have different eating/drinking needs than we, as adults, do. I know, another no-brainer, but the signs of hangry kids are not always there until it’s almost too late.

IMG_2224 (598x800)7)      Have distraction devices or ideas.  An iphone with Angry Birds can stop a meltdown. A DS3D can make a long drive tolerable. Even playing the ‘would-you-rather’ game can make a wait for your Denny’s pancakes go by faster. It’s something I’d had to learn. Distraction is your friend. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world is good at this. “Mommy! I want to go on the Deathspin ride!!!!!” “Oh, look over there, there’s a giant jug of milk! Don’t you just want to hug it?”

8)      Know that things will go wrong. Things you can’t plan for. Things that will cause you to be late or miss something or have to use #3. Short of arterial bleeding or a zombie invasion, most of the obstacles  are actually pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Even missing a plane can be dealt with. My way of coping is to remember that all the crap that happens makes for good stories. I mean, who wants to hear, “hey, the vacation was fine, we had fun and nothing bad happened”? Better, “OMG, you wouldn’t believe what happened when the youngest …”

9)      Ask for help. As a guy, this is one of the hardest things to remember. If you’re can’t find Bricksburg in Legoland, ask. If you need to find a good place to eat, ask. If you need a bathroom really, really badly, like now, like really now, ask. It helps to ask people who might know – The concierge at the hotel, a taxi driver, a theme park employee, google, a friend who lives there. If you doubt me, watch Amazing Race. The winners will ask for help all the time. It’s ok. Really.

10)IMG_2222 (598x800)   Remember the purpose is to have fun. Fun for everyone. I loved that on this trip, everyone had something they wanted to do. I think that’s important. That we talked to the boys and found out what was important for them to see, to do. I loved that both the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and I both got to do some adult-like things. It’s not that everyone can’t enjoy what the others enjoy, but how much better will a trip be that meets everyone’s needs at some point or another. So, ask, what EXPERIENCE are you looking for? “I want to experience the thrill of a fast rollercoaster.” “I want to see my friend, again, and reconnect.” “I want cotton candy, cuz, I dunno, I want it, like, it tastes good and we don’t get it at home.” (that was me, by the way) “I want to find out how claustrophobic it is on the lower decks.”

I’m there are dozens and dozens of other ideas. What tips would you give to other parents traveling with kids?

Traveling With Kids – San Diego Zoo Safari – Tour Guides

The Expected Tour Guide

IMG_0229We’d made the safari tour. I would have bet against it. I sat beside the tour guide, while the boys and the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world sat at the back. Like tailgunners.

I can’t report how the boys thought about what they saw, at least until I talked to them afterwards and, by then, it wasn’t their pure, immediate responses, which I so love.

We saw rhinos and zebras and camels and all manner of deer-like creatures, and birds and giraffes and wild horses like the Mongols tamed and cows with the hugest horns I’ve ever seen.

However, being beside the tour guide, I felt obligated to always respond to stuff she said. I dunno why I felt that need, but I did. “So, over here you’ll see two indian thing-deerie things peeing on the tree,” and I would say, “Cool.” “And by the side of the road, there’s a wagawagagnome licking its testicles.” “Wonderful.”

IMG_0232I even answered questions. “Can everyone hear me.” “Yes,” I said, sitting right next to her. “Has anyone seen a baby Rhino?” “Only on TV.”

However, after two stops where we got out in the rare rays of sun, the youngest decided he wanted to sit up front. And the fun began.

See, contrary to what his teachers may think, the youngest actually knows everything. At first he was a bit shy to share his expansive knowledge but all it took was one person in the back responding to a question and giving the wrong answer.

Tour guide, “The zipline is the longest zipline in the world.”

The other tourist, “When we were in Whistler, they said it was the longest.”

“Well, actually, there are several zip lines at Whistler,” says the youngest. “Only one was the longest.”

And off he went.

“Rhinos…” began the tour guide as we slowed to watch a pack of them lumber by…

The youngest turned to her. “Well, did you know that Rhinos are endangered?”

“Well, ah, yes, yes they are.”

“I know all about Rhinos.”


“I did a project at school,” he told her. What he forgot to mention was that he had to be hauled to do it kicking and screaming. “There are white rhinos and black rhinos and did you know that they can reach up to 35 miles per hour?”

“Yes, yes I did.”

“And did you know that they…” Well you get the idea.

I loved it. It was hilarious. But he really did know his rhino stuff. Who says school is a waste of time? He also knew a lot about horses, cows, lions and what’s the best popsicle.

We loved seeing all the animals. The youngest told the group all that we do to help save the animals and the environment. “Did you know that we recycle our plastic?”

Tour guide, “That’s great.”

“And did we don’t drink pop. Mom says we can’t.”

“Well, I’m, ah sure, yeah, that helps, too.”

“And we don’t throw things out of the car.”

“And at my dad’s, we bag up all the grass.”

“Also, good…. Ah, anyone else?”

Luckily he did not talk about his plan to use farts to power his cars.

But seeing the animals, once again, up close, in the open, either standing around, or eating or snuggling each other, gave us a much greater appreciation for all living things. Seeing them, made us all want to protect them and made us realize how valuable and amazing life can be on this planet.

IMG_2126The oldest vowed to do better. The youngest vowed to make sure he did.

For me, I loved that they told stories about the animals. These Malaysian deer were rescued from the Boxer rebellion and there were only a dozen in the world, but with careful breeding, we’ve brought them back from extinction and now there are thousands.”

The stories made a difference.

I thought it was a great way to start a day. Little did I know it was just the beginning of what would become the BESTEST DAY ever!

Traveling With Kids – San Diego Zoo Safari – Need For Speed

Will We Get There In Time? San Diego Safari

The tour left at 11:00

We had to be there by 10:50. It was like the Amazing Race.

IMG_059410:10, we tore out of our hotel, not far enough behind to make this a complete disaster, but far enough that we had to really haul ass.

By 10:30, we turned off the highway. Still a ways to go on slower roads with schools and speed limits and armies of cops waiting to stop us. (Hmmm, it sounds like Smokey and the Bandit, or for you younger people, Need For Speed.)

By 10:41 we were in the line to get parking. I had ignored the posted speed limits is a very bad way. Of course, the guy in front of us was chatty. 3 cars went by in the other lane while we were in ours.

10:44. We get to the booth. We have a free parking pass. This doesn’t confuse the attendant, but she wants to give me a receipt. Slowly. Like a sloth.

10:46 We screech into a parking space. It’s starting to spit rain. Great. Just great.

10:48 We’re out of the car. We have everything. Phones. Bags. Wallets. Tickets for the park. Kids.

10:52 We’re inside the park. We’re walking as fast as we can with two little ones who are both like that dog in Big, “Squirrel!!!”

We are already late.

images (1)10:58 We rush to the tour bus area.

We are the last to arrive.

Everyone is looking at us. The youngest waves at them. The tour guide looks at her watch, then us, then at her watch, then us. And frowns.

But we made it. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and the boys sat on the back seat facing behind them. I sat in the front with the tourguide after both of the kids politely declined (No WAY!) to take that position.

Then the ride started.

Traveling With Kids – San Diego Zoo Safari – Morning Stress

Wed – Good Morning Stress or Math is My Friend

IMG_2009 (2)So far on this vacation, we haven’t had a lot of deadlines. The flight we had to make was one. We left early to counter any border problems or traffic problems or problem problems.

Of course nothing went wrong and so we sat in the airport for a good 3 hours. Even the long line at the border (according to the website) was only ½ as long. And that included a pretty thorough inspection of our paperwork (to allow the boys to cross the border.)

So today, after not being able to get on the tour to see all the Asian animals on safari yesterday, we had booked the ride for 11:00. We had to be there at 10:50.

10:50, the ticket dude said. “Seriously. 10:50.”

Now, had this just been the Prettiest-girl-in-the world and I, hey, no problem. But we had the agents of chaos and destruction to contend with so…

I did the math. It will about ½ hr to get there. There’s parking we need to find. We need to walk there to the safari starting point. And, hey, it takes the boys a little longer to get into the car and there’s always the possibility of something like the youngest deciding today he would press all the buttons on the elevator. So, let’s say we had to leave by 10:00.

Now, there was no way we could say we need to leave by 10:00. If we were lucky, we’d be out about 10:15, short of dragging them around by the ears.

So we told them 9:45. Shhhh. Don’t ever tell them our secret. But realistically, that would mean we’re out of the room by 10:00.

IMG_3390So, doing the math, going backwards from 10, we need 40 min to eat at the restaurant in the hotel. Everyone could be done in 30, but the youngest loves to stare at his food a lot before eating it. So, yeah, if we are on him, we’ll likely get done in 40. Say 5 min to get there and back.

That means we’ll have to get dressed by 9:10. Getting dressed can either take as long as 3 min. Yes, I’ve timed it. Or it can take as long as, well, forever and ever and ever and ever.

And then there’s showers and hair-blowing and braces cleaning and all of that.

8:00 I figured. If we get up at 8, we may just have a chance.

As I wrote this, it was 8:34.

I gave 50/50.

Traveling With Kids – San Diego Safari Park – Mini Adventures

10 Mini adventures at the Safari Zoo

1)IMG_2090IMG_2095IMG_2093 After we saw the gorillas, we measured ourselves up against the gorilla. The oldest, “You’re nearly as big as the gorilla, Joe.” Ah, thanks. A lot. Then we did the gorilla pose outside of their area. (I used the picture yesterday). It’s fun to do interactive stuff, even if we make it up ourselves.

2) IMG_2099     We ate looking out at the bird lagoon. The youngest continued his photobombing of everyone while the oldest was sure he was being stalked by a red-eyed bird. (The youngest even photobombed the bird shot). We ate, hot dogs, as promised and though it’s not exactly news worthy, I could actually bite one (something I couldn’t do for nearly 2 months due to stupid-ass braces.) Oddly enough, that bird, or one of his cousins, seemed to appear everywhere we went. Hmmm. Maybe the boys shouldn’t have shouted at the ducks. Apparently there is a bird mafia.

3)      Let’s remember how important bathrooms are. Not that I want to talk about what goes on it in there or the adventures we had, (though they youngest is obsessed with wanting to put his face in the air dryer), but it’s vital to not be far away from one at all times. For some reason I don’t yet understand, at 1:10, they don’t need to go to the bathroom, even when asked. At 1:12, they need to go NOW!!!! So we’ve developed a routine, like eating little bits throughout the day, go bathroom throughout the day.

4)      Elephants rock. They’re the Morgan Freemans of the animal world, stately, majestic and likely to kick anyone’s ass who messes with them. Despite the fact it poured with rain for about 5 minutes, we lovIMG_2145ed watching them lumber around their enclosure. One little elephant played with a barrel while mom watched and occasionally showed him how to roll it. Plus, afterwards, the best picture of me EVER was taken. I almost look good (and yes, I am that vain.)

5)      Lions do not rock. They should. They are the most beautiful of creatures, but for the entire time we were they, they snoozed. This is what they do. For ¾ of the day. It would be like someone watching me for a whole day. The boys were massively disappointed though I think if they had to see a lion take down a gazelle and tear it bloody limb from bloody limb, they might have different ideas. As it was, not matter how much the youngest yelled at them to do something, or the oldest muttered how bored he was, the lions refused to perform.

6)      We had a race up the stairs to the top of the observation tower. The oldest and I bet we could beat the youngest and the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world who took the elevator. I nearly had a heart attack. I beat the oldest but he claims, (and is somewhat justified) that I said it was a race when I was already half up the tower and he was at the bottom. Luckily CPR was not needed though I won’t be doing that again any time soon.

7)      IMG_3542 (600x800)We took the free tour through the African savanna. I could watch giraffes running forever. They are so graceful. Again, seeing these creatures live, in their own habitat, doing their own thing (mostly munching on leaves or trying to find a way to eat bark from a tree protected by extensive fencing wire), allows us to connect to them on a whole different level. We care about them more. How could we not?

8)      The boys loved the rhinos which, I have to say, kinda look like me on a Sunday morning, all grey and grumpy and looking to bang a head into something. The rhinos didn’t do much. Much to my disappointment, they didn’t charge the tour or stand on two legs or sit at a computer writing out a novel, but, again, they were magnificent creatures to see.

9)     IMG_2119 Lemurs are stinky. Skunk stinky. We walked into their enclosure and it smelled bad. Apparently, like skunks, they spray nasty-ass stuff on people they don’t like or who bother them. We kept the youngest far, far away from them. But they kept an eye on him, let me tell you. Sure htye looked like they were sleeping, but they’d heard from the birds, this little guy was trouble.

10)  IMG_3494 We saw the most amazing thing. To calm cheetahs, the animal, not the yummy, orange snack, they’ve introduced dogs to them. DOGS!!!! Big, hairy, very calm dogs. Apparently, the two species bond. Dogs are great at bonding with a variety of animals, small cats, turtles, horses, sheep, Dennis Leary, but big-ass cats? Who would have guessed?

So, despite the fact we couldn’t do the Asian savanna tour, we had an incredible time. I didn’t have a meltdown, the boys had some amazing experiences seeing the animals and we only got partially wet. Nothing was rushed in the end. We found an Applebee’s to eat at, and while the youngest had a small meltdown over something we never did figure out, the day was a success in my books.

IMG_0223We even got to bed at a reasonable time. We watched Ender’s Game, learned a thing or two about war, and then went to sleep.

Tomorrow, though, we HAD to make it to the Safari Park by 10:40. We’d booked that tour and despite having the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world with us, (she was not against using her powers of pretty to get people to make exceptions to the rules), we were told it would leave on time with or without us.

How hard would it be to make that appointment?


Wow that took 4 hours to post. The site kept crashing. Anyone had problems like that?

It does take a bit of time to write and load pictures for a blog, but usually only an hour or two depending on how distracted I get looking up pictures of Scarlett Johansson in a bikini for my blog. 

So, hey, if you like photobombs or would like to see more pictures of Scarlett J. Lemme know. And please share the blog. Peace out (yes, I just said that!)

Traveling With Kids – San Diego Zoo Safari – Fate

Is There Such a Thing as Fate?

Here’s the thing. When we arrived at the Safari park, I managed to leave first my phone and the jackets in the car. Don’t ask me how, I’d had my cups of coffee. But as I stood in line, the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world had to go back for them.

The line took a while. Now it wasn’t a long line, but the people in the booth were very helpful. I’d even say massively helpful, which is awesome when you need information, but not so awesome when you’re trying to get into the park before sunset.

We’d arrived at about 11:30, and, when I got to the window, sure enough, the tours were all booked. Dammit, I should have thought to book one online. Blah.

IMG_2123But they said if we rushed, we may be able to see the baby gorilla. So I booked a tour for the next day and we all hoofed it over to the gorilla area. As Dora would say, past the bamboo forest, over the bridge, along the lake, through the tunnel and then you’ll find the gorillas.

See, there’s the safari part, where all the animals get to roam around on the grasslands and interact with each other and play tennis and stuff, and then there’s the zoo portion where the animals are held in traditional (but pretty expansive) pens.

IMG_3446Such was the case with the gorillas. As we passed through the tunnel to reach them, the oldest one observed something deep and profound.

“Animals stink.”

Yes. Yes they do.

As we approached the gorilla exhibit, we saw there was a pretty big crowd. We heard the zoo attendant say the mother and her baby were out. We couldn’t see them as they were far in the back. The mom was protecting her child or at least keeping him away from us human types. The young gorilla scavenged and played on walls of the moat. Cute as hell. Others sat in trees, a couple wandered around and one gigantic silver back sat on a rock outside the group’s cave keeping an eye on things.

IMG_0277The silverback was magnificent. The oldest boy watched him in fascination. I couldn’t blame him. The youngest marched around like he was in a cage, like he wanted to go in there and play with them. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world kept her eye on the mom, concerned. She hated that the mom had so many people staring at her. She felt like we were invading her privacy.

I watched the expressions on all the gorillas. Unlike giraffes or rhinos, they have emotions, expressions, eyes like us. I wondered what the silverback was thinking on top of that rock. Look at the picture. What do you think? I watched the young gorilla play and watch us as much as we watched him. I watched another female gorilla get a serious expression on her face, then take a banana over to the new mother.

I know some people don’t agree with zoos, but this is how we connect to animals. It’s not enough to look at them on youtube. To see them, to observe them, to hear them, to even smell them makes us realize how related we are to them, how important it is that we make sure they’re not made extinct.

As we watched, the mother came down from her faraway perch. The crowd got all excited.

[wpvideo 30bsDmvu] Then we saw the mother and the baby. She held him close to her chest at first, then flipped him on her back like I would a backpack.

We watched her for as long as she would let us before she went inside. It was amazing to me how the other gorillas reacted. So .. like us. The younger one wanted mom’s attention so badly. The mother so determined to protect her newborn. It was an honest moment.

[wpvideo Gu3CT2LY]It was a magical moment for us. A rare moment for the zoo to have a new born. A truly rare moment for us to be that the right place at the right time. A professional camera crew was even there on the off-chance they baby would come out. There’s a better blog about it.

The boys were stoked they saw the baby. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world, a little mixed. She loved seeing the new mom, but this felt a little invasive for her.

Had we gone on the tour, we would have missed that moment.

Fate had intervened.


Anyone who’s been to the Safari Zoo have a similarly magical experience?

And if you ever are bored and need to reblog this, or share it, or tell your friends about it, please do. I love to be read.


Traveling With Kids – San Diego Safari – The Best Yet To Come?

The Safari Day

Would this day be as epic as yesterday?

9:30am and the boys were still sleeping. That’s one of the signs of the apocalypse, I think.

They’d walked for hours and hours yesterday, ate what would feed a small village in Mexico, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that they didn’t leap out of bed at 7.

Sleep is always good.

Like food.

I hadn’t gotten up either. I wrote in bed, having snuck my laptop out of its bag and tried to make some quick notes about yesterday.

However, we had to get going at some point.

The map: the key to any plan
The map: the key to any plan

Today was the Safari Zoo day.

No rides, as far as we could tell. Just animals.

Would that be enough?

We tried not to have concrete plans. Like 9-10, we eat, 10-10:15 boys brush their teeth, apply suntan lotion. 10:16 allow complaining about suntan lotion. 10:16-10:30, leave room, take elevator, get boys into car, 10:31-10:36 allow boys can poke each other in the eye while we check we have everything…

So we left it open. If we needed to see Legoland, again, we could have. But the boys wanted to do something else. Whew. I had no desire to return to Legoland. Therefore, the San Diego Zoo Safari was the choice.

We literally dragged the boys out of bed with promises of a visit to best waffle house in America. There was grumbling, some feet dragging, some complaining, and that was just me. Clearly the boys would have rather slept in until noon. I could totally understand.

Outside the weather still iffy. Grey. A bit chilly. No sign of rain.

But we weren’t fooled. We packed for all weather conditions. Rain jacket. Hoodie. Suntan lotion. First aid kit (which had come in handy yesterday when the youngest stubbed his toe so hard it bled.)

Best Waffle House?
Best Waffle House?

So off the waffle house.

It was just down the road. We (and by ‘we’, I mean the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and I) wanted to eat quickly and head on. The boys had other ideas. They had locked into SoCal time. Do things slow and easy, man, slow and easy.

However, we kept them focused and made a plan of amazing things to see.

  • We would take the safari tour through Asia.
  • We would see some amazing animals.
  • We would not get out of the moving tour bus. Not even to pee.
  • We would not throw our poo at any monkeys, giraffes or rhinos
  • We would find hot dogs to eat.
  • We would not make faces at the gorillas.
  • No brother would push the other into the lion’s den.
  • We would see if we could find a popsicle.
  • We would have the bestest time ever.

The boys grunted which I took as agreement and we tore off at about 11.

The drive was eventless. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world navigated brilliantly. We’d paid ahead of time so we wouldn’t get any roaming charges on our phones down in the states. That way we could use the gps, txt each other and, at least one of us could IMG_2083check facebook to make sure the world hadn’t actually ended and no one told us about it.

So she used her phone to help make sure we never got lost, even when that little dot had us about 2 miles from where we were.

But when we arrived, our plans to take the cool safari tour were upset by the gods of travel who had something else, something amazing in store for us.


Thanks, again, to everyone taking the time to read my blog and sharing our adventures. Don’t be shy about sharing it. Blogs love to be shared. It makes them feel happy and warm and all snuggly inside.


Deeper Into the Land of Lego

Legoland pt 2

IMG_0099With all the things to see and do, the youngest chose to go into the video game building and play xbox 360 games with his brother. A game they could have played at home. Oh sure they got to sit about 2” from a 40” screen, but the prettiest girl in the world and I had to shake our heads.


A video game they could play at home?

The prettiest girl in the world put a 5 minute mommy limit on that!

So we went to … the very next building beside us. A place where robots are built. Wait, not robots, Joe!!!! It was the Lego Hero Factory. Where they, ah, build robots. No matter what the boys call them.

IMG_2024 (2)We all gathered around a round table. Inside a deep box built into the table was all we would need to create a ‘robot’ that could crush the world. No one seemed interested in building one that would save the world. No. First order, build one that would beat everyone else at the table. Next, crush the world.

The oldest built his with incredible speed. Like a master builder. Like he should do this for a living. And, if you think about it, it doesn’t make any difference if I built the world’s greatest robot (and I totally did!), if it was destroyed in the factory by a lesser, but more quickly built bot. This is a lesson the Russians taught the Germans in WWII.

IMG_0101The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world built, well, a pretty one. Color coordinated. Balanced. Good use of contrasts. The youngest, well, he ended up not building anything. He went over and took a completed one from another table.

It was then that I realized, I was far from the smartest one at the table.

Then we were off to the park, proper. We spun in the spinny ride while the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world took pictures. It was sort of like the Disney teacups so naturally I said we’d go so fast and spin so much that we’d make everyone else sick.

IMG_2030 (2)It never occurred to me that I could make them sick as well until I stumbled off the ride like a drunken frat boy, all dizzy and trying not to fall on my face.

God help me if I’d have made them sick!

But it was a good test ride. If they could survive that, then the others wouldn’t be so bad. Or so scary.

IMG_2033 (2)I think we were all a bit dizzy with what to do next. The oldest wanted to hit the rollercoasters and DEFINITELY go on the mummy ride. The youngest wanted to get wet in the worst way. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world wanted to see the set of the lego movie and me, I wanted this to the best adventure ever.

People blurred around us as we stood debating –  A large family dressed all in the same t-shirt. A little one bundled up in stroller like it was winter in the Yukon. A dad walked by with his young girl wrapped around his leg and clinging on for life. A mom held her too-young-to-go-on-that-ride son and pointed to their dad on a roller coaster. He waved widely as he zipped by.

Smells wafted all around us as we made our way through the park. Popcorn that I can no longer eat, buttery and all popcorny. Fried onions and hot dogs. Cheezy warm pizza. Charring meat. Coconut sunscreen. All things I can no longer eat.

Then we hit the first real disappointment.

IMG_2032 (2)See, in all the videos and ads, they don’t show the lineups. We’d talked to the boys about this, but seeing one, standing in one for a half hour, well, that’s a whole other level of realization.

It’s frustrating to inch along while other people shriek with fear (or glee) on a ride you really want to ride. Like now.

It’s worse, though, when, after waiting 20 min in line, the ride breaks down.

That’s exactly what happened on the project X rollercoaster. I stood by, waiting for my camera moment, (not cuz, like, I was scared or anything… I’m not scared, really, I’m not), but when they declared a technical difficulty, that the rollercoaster was out of commission, the Prettiest-girl-in-the- world decided it may be time for food.

It was now noon.

We’d been there for 2 hours and basically done 2 rides, built some robots (ok, ok, Hero thingees!), played video games and gone beserk in the toy store.

We only had 4 hours left. 3, after food.

Things would have to change if we had any hope of seeing what needed to be seen. And doing things that needed doing.


Land Of Lego

Legoland pt 1

Would it meet expectations? Would it be all the boys hoped for, dreamed about, sang about?

A lot of people decided to see Legoland on this cold, grey day. More would have come if it was sunny, but the lineup to get into the parking lot was not that bad. Took 20 minutes depending on how you count where the line actually started.

IMG_2014 (2)We looked out the window at the legomen built by the side of the road. People-sized lego. One had a snake. the boys like snakes. One had a legoman taking a picture of his three lego buddies and in his viewfinder, they’d lego’d his three friends. IN HIS VIEWFINDER! That’s attention to detail!

As we inched forward, we planned what we would see first, which way we’d turn to get there, what ride they were most excited to go on, what thing they were most excited to see. By now, the boys were all gigglie and excited and ready to explode like air bags out of the car.

We parked in the preferred parking for $10 extra dollars. My thinking was, at the end of the day, literally, I would likely pay a billion dollars not to have to walk any farther than I had to on sore feet. I try to go for a walk every day, but this would be the first time in a LONG while that I would walk for hours and hours and hours.

But experience told me three things. Wear good shoes. Sit whenever you can, even if it’s on a spiky fence railing. And shave off any walking distance you can.

The boys leapt out the car like sled dogs waiting to pull a sled. The prettiest girl in the world and I got out, took the backpack and a very deep breath. To their credit, the boys, unlike some little kids all excited and stuff, did not race across the parking lot. They walked with us. Even stood still for a picture, though, as you can see, still is a relative word.

IMG_2016 (2)I would have preferred sunshine, to be honest. A lot of it. Not only was I wearing a layer of sunscreen so thick I could have scraped off a layer and covered a schoolbus full of children. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world tittered at me when I put it on, but I’m an indoor Joe and burn easily so I didn’t want to take a chance.

Plus we had all dressed for warm weather. See. Shorts. T-shirts. Awesomely cool hats.

No coats or hoodies. Oh, they were back at the hotel, but in the backpack, ah, no.

So, first stop, get some hoodies!

entrance to legoland (800x600)We bought the tickets, $300 worth, and I gave them to the oldest so he could present them to the ticket taker person. I said they’d ask, could I see your tickets, please, sir? And he was to reply, in his best English accent, why yes ma’am, I have them right here.

First disappointment, she just said, “tickets?” which totally threw off the oldest. He replied, “Errr, yes, umm, I, err … tickets!” Then he thrust them at her, head down.

I told the agent what I thought she’d say and she smiled and told the oldest that he had something on his shirt and when he looked down, she flicked his nose. And old trick but it made us all laugh.

All the lego workers, (at the risk of giving any spoilers) were amazing and friendly and awesome.

IMG_0096 (800x600)Then we found two hoodies for the boys in what was called The Big Store and all the boys (me included) went a little bat-sh*t crazy at all the lego we could buy (I mean, they had a hobbit hole lego kit for the love of Gandalf!!!!! Who would not want to buy that?!?!?!)

The prettiest girl in the world dragged us out and the youngest chose the place he wanted to see first.

Was it the coolest ride in the universe? Was it the more awesome lego structure (which for me was the HUGE Einstein face)? Was it food or a bathroom or something where one brother got to spray another brother in the face?

It was something I never expected.

Day 1 – Today, We Are English

Day 1 – Today, We Are English

At 6:30am, as we lay in bed, the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and I overheard the boys say how excited they were about the day. They were going to Legoland!!!

3 exclamation points in their voices. Maybe 4.

lego movieWe were still tired, but how could we sleep in when there was the land of lego to see, the land where everything was awesome?

So we got up.

I needed to head out to grab supplies since we had to depack so much, so I asked at the hotel desk where was the best place to resupply? Walgreens, they suggested. They gave me directions. Take a left at the bottom of the driveway. Drive along Taylor road or street or highway and it’ll turn into Rosencrantz, (not Guildenstern) and on the right would be a Walgreens.

Ok, easy enough, but I had that deep, dark fear I’d get lost.

Long story short, I didn’t get lost, but nor did I ever find that Walgreens. But this is the land of malls and I found a grocery store that was open. At 7am! I bought all the things we’d left behind and some pepto to counter balance the wasabi nuts and tortilla soup someone ate last night. Then I headed back.

Everyone was up and we hit our first challenge of the day:  1 bathroom. 4 people. Hard to all brush our teeth, have showers, floss, blow dry our hair (or gel it), put on deo, sunscreen, makeup… in such a tiny space.

We had to do it one at a time. But the boys were so excited to go, they were ready in record time, so for a laugh, while the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world got ready, the boys and I decided to be English.

Upper class English at that.

Just because we could.

My apologies to any of my English friends for what followed.

flagMe: “Right, oh, gentlemen, today we are English.”

The oldest one was the first to respond, and respond correctly. “Jolly good.”

Me: “Today, we shall speak in English accents, which is in fact, an accent not too dissimilar from how we now speak, and we shall use ten words when, in truth and without a doubt, only one word is utterly and completely necessary.”

“Jolly good, sir,” pipped the oldest.

“Jolly, jolly, jolly, jolly good,” said the youngest, using, as was required, far more words than necessary.

We straightened our backs and I asked, “So, young chaps, how were the crumpets you feasted upon this morning?”

The oldest: “The crumpets were the finest crumpets, sir.” Oh, I sure loved the ‘sir’ addition to their speech.

The youngest: “What? What’s crumpets… I mean, fine sir.”

the queen“Excellent, most excellent,” I said. “Well then, I think we shall put our hands behind our backs and stand even straighter and think lofty thoughts about our queen.” Where upon I began to sing God Save the Queen.

They hummed along, which was, and indeed remains, a surprise that they would not know the song.  Then, after I had finished, I added, “And when mommy comes out, she shall inspect us and ensure that we are presentable enough for the public.”

The oldest: “And if he fail the inspection, mommmy will spank our bottoms.” Though how he knew about bottom spanking, I have no idea.

We all laughed.

“Just so,” I said. “Well played.”

The English are polite, I told them. The English do talk about farting all the time or run around shouting at their brother to stop licking them in they eye. Nor do they eat gargle milk at the table. Nor do they ever ask, ‘are we there, yet.” NEVER.

More importantly, the English are always nice to their mommies.

They agreed.

So we would be English today?

“Yes, sir!”

The more we spoke, the more ideas we came up with of what if meant to be English, the more we laughed.

When the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world came out, she must have wondered why we were lined up against the wall all giggling.

It was good to be English.

I hoped it was a sign of how the day would play out.


Disaster For a Writer

Disaster For a Writer

What is the worst thing that can happen to a travel/life writer?


In fact, the worst thing is that only good things happen. What’s there to write about then? Huh? What?

allegiant airAirplane (Allegiant) arrived on time.

We didn’t have any problems with the luggage despite me fussing about it for about 2 hours.

The flight was fine. We had snacks. No one threw up. No babies cried. No one was drunk and obnoxious. Even me. The boys were great. Even the airline hostesses or whatever they are called these days were pleasant.

Very disappointing.

IMG_0087Then we arrived ahead of schedule. Found our car without any big problems. From Budget. A Galant. Silver. Found the hotel with the great navigation of the Prettiest-girl- in-the-world. Hilton Doubletree on the hotel circle. Checked in without problems. The room was fantastic.

The boys loved the bunk beds. We loved that we could have a room to ourselves.

IMG_3387We ate late, but had a fantastic meal. At least one of us smelled the flowers.

I guess the only thing that went wrong was a bracket on my braces fell off. Wires came loose. Blah, blah, blah. These things always have to happen on the first day. It’s a rule.

I’ll phone tomorrow. It could be a big deal. Or not.

Maybe I’m just too exhausted to care that much.

Tomorrow – Legoland!

Hopefully it’ll be equally awesome.

Cuz awesome is kinda fun. Even if it makes for bad writing.

10 Things I Had To Leave Behind

10 Things I Had To Leave Behind

baggageNowadays, the airlines have limits on the baggage weight. So, being a ‘rules’ guy, and having heard that Allegiant airlines was pretty strict about their baggage weight, I didn’t want to take anything that I didn’t absolutely need.

These things were taken out

1) My knife. Ok, it was a Swiss army knife, but the likelihood of me having to start a fire, gut a fish or saw a very, very small log (or my arm if I was trapped by a boulder) was pretty low. And I didn’t see it of much use as a self-defence weapon, I mean, why bring a knife to what would likely be a gunfight?

2) All explosives. Like my can of shaving cream. Or Axe sexy-smell-good stuff. Apparently aerosols are not something you want to take on a plane these days. I dunno why, I took them on planes forever, but these are different times I guess.

3) All liquids. Hey, I can buy some super spikey gel or pineapple-scented hand sanitizer or green, vita-juice in San Diego. If I had to cut weight, this was a good place to cut it.

catan4) All board games. No playing Catan while we’re away.

5) My dog. Vegas went to the doggie hotel to play with the other doggies. In fairness, she was the first thing I knew I couldn’t take. Weight restrictions or not

6) All adult toys. No way I want anyone, anywhere, at any time opening up a bag and asking. Ok, what is this? Not that I have any, you understand, I’m just saying.

7) My stuffed animals. I could claim they’d be for the boys, but…

8) My dress shoes. As nice as they are, let’s face it, the lions in the San Diego Zoo don’t care how awesome I look in them. So why bring them?

duck-dynasty19) My electric beard trimmer. I’ll just have to go all duck dynasty.

10)        All books. Ack. This was not easy. I love to pack a good hundred pounds of books and carry them all around the globe while never actually reading one of them. I guess they’re like a really hard security blanket.

As it turned out, they didn’t weigh the bags at all. So I could have brought Catan afterall.

However, I’m thankful they didn’t weigh me in when I got on the plane. What if that becomes a thing? Sir, you weighed 200lbs before going to the land of $5 all you can eat burger buffets and now you come back weighing 245. Please pay for you excess weight.

Food and Fidgeting

Saturday – Food and Fidgeting

We had some time to kill.

russiaIf there was a rule #2 of traveling, it would be avoid places Russia is likely to invade. But right after that would be make sure to eat at regular intervals. Hungry people are grumpy people. Little hungry people more so.

However, imagine you’re 7 and 11. Imagine you’re going on a dream trip to the most awesome place in the universe that doesn’t have mascots, cuz, you know, like, they’re creepy and kinda scary. Then imagine you’re IMG_3378forced to sit in a restaurant with your mom and her unbelievably amazing boyfriend as they discuss what pie they want the most.


Eating is likely the last thing on their minds. Waterslides. Rollercoasters. A themepark filled with lego. These are the things that are important. Not ‘do you want fries with your chicken tenders.’

Plus, we were so early that I could eat my pie one agonizingly slow bite at a time, which I kind of have to do anyway due to my stupid braces.

But the boys were awesome. Sure they fidgeted a bit. They vibrated with excitement to do… something. But they ate their food, they didn’t throw too many things at each other and they didn’t make fun of me when I almost left the restaurant without paying.

Embarrassing moment #1. I was so consumed with making sure we had the bags, the kids and my phone, I almost walked out without paying. At the door, the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world put a hand on my arm and asked, did I pay? I hadn’t and turned around before I could be tackled or, worse, someone thought bad things about me.

“What would happen if you didn’t pay?” The oldest one asked as we walked back to the car, having paid.

“We’d be in trouble,” I said. “Likely, you’d all have to do dishes.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I would’ve run faster than you. They would’ve caught you.”

“I didn’t know we hadn’t paid.”

“Exactly. That would have given me the edge. That;s how I would have outrun you. Then, you’d have to do dishes until your fingers were all wrinkly and your skin was red from the super hot water.”

“Good thing we paid, then,” he said.

dishes“For all of us. You wouldn’t believe how guilty we’d have felt to have to watch you do all those dishes.”


I know one day these conversations will come back to bite me on the ass. One day they’ll ask, how can we take you seriously, Joe? And it’s a good point.

As much as I love joking around with them, I have to make sure that I don’t overdo it.

However, despite a LONG lunch, we arrived at the airport insanely early. Our bags were checked in. And we waited in the waiting area.

I marveled at how the boys interacted. They are each other’s best friends. They fight sometimes, sure, but watch them for any length of time and you’ll see how much they need each other, how much they like being together, how they love doing stuff with the other one.

IMG_2011 (2)When they play the 3DS, they share their triumphs and defeats, the tricks that they’ve learned, the funny things that just happened. When they’re watching planes come in or fidgeting and giggling while sitting in the waiting room or planning which ride will be the most awesome, the experience is simply better because of the love they share for each other.

I hope they never lose that closeness. They have no idea how valuable it is.

In a perfect world, we would have been able to walk right on the plane. But instead I got a chance to see the boys survive boredom together. I count myself lucky, even if they don’t.

On to San Diego!

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder

zombiesWhile you cannot plan for every eventuality, every bump in the road, every tsunami warning that shuts down beaches and highways, every zombie apocalypse, there IS a defense against most occurrences.

Leave plenty of time!

In fact, this would be my #1 item on any top ten list on how to make a vacation a success (and you just know I’m working on a list exactly like that.)

IMG_3371We’d left our home with the Rav4 stuffed with kids, bags and expectations. We had to get to the Bellingham airport, take a quick flight to sunny San Diego, pick up our car and find the hotel. Then on to Legoland, Seaworld, the Zoo, the Midway Aircraft carrier, and the safari.

All booked and checked and double checked.

That left only a few hurdles. We had to cross the border. We had to arrive at the airport on time. We had to hope that our scale was the same as the airline’s scale and all of our baggage was under weight. Then, I thought, the rest would be a breeze.

borderOf all of those things, only one had me really worried. At the border crossing , we had to present signed and notarized paperwork saying that we could take the children to the US.

Now, you have to understand that at the border, you have no rights. None. No avenue of appeal that’s reasonable. You’re subject to rules and regulations and, sometimes, the mood of the guard. To date, all but one of my experiences has been positive, but this was a new thing for me. Bringing children.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want it to be easy to take children to Dubai where their mother can never see them again. But if we couldn’t cross, the whole great epic adventure would come to a stupendous halt. And the boys would be crushed. They’d spent months believing that it wouldn’t happen, that something would come up to derail it.

So, it was with trepidation that we pulled up to the booth. The boys had heard that they have microphones everywhere and could hear everything you said. So it was like they were in church with nuns hovering behind them waiting to whack their hands with heavy wooden rulers. (Note to self: foster this belief in the house!)

The guard asked the usual questions. Do you have any fruits or vegetables? (hell, no, we don’t even have any in our fridge.) What’s the purpose of the visit? Where are you going? One time when I crossed the border I hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before and when asked that question, the destination vanished in my mind. I ended up looking like a guppy gobbing water bubbles as I searched my mind for the answer.

However, this time, the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world was sharp as a sharp thingee and answered all the questions to the guard’s satisfaction, presented her paperwork, did her best to look innocent and honest, and we were allowed through.

First hurdle passed. We’d read that the border wait was 30 min. We, therefore, assumed a bit longer than that.

It took, what, 10? 15 min?

microphonesThe boys burst into conversation as we roared onto the highway towards Bellingham airport, confident they were beyond the microphones. The traffic was light, the weather was great, the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world knew the way.

That left us with a small problem, we were WAY ahead of schedule. The flight left at 4ish. It was noon.

The First San Diego Trip Epic Fail

The Journey Begins: The Universal Fail

universal studiosFirst epic fail. We wanted to surprise the boys with a visit to Universal Studios which we thought would be such a cool thing to add on. (The picture is, by the way, how the boys see themselves when they are fighting each other.)

Anyway, while we waited in line at the border, we casually mentioned the cool rides, (like “I hear they have a new ride out in Universal Studios…).

We casually tied in all conversations to Universal Studios. The youngest, “So is there a haunted house at Legoland?”

Me, “Um, no, but there’s one at Universal Studios, I think, isn’t that right, Corinne?”

“That’s right, Joe, they have a lot of good rides at Universal Studios.”

“What place was that, Corinne? I didn’t hear you.”

“Universal Studios, Joe” Wink, wink. “Uneee-ver-sal studios.”

“Universal Studios sounds like such an awesome place.”

“It sure is, Joe, it sure is. If only we could go there.”

We thought we were being so very clever. We thought they’d be so excited, but instead it was like we stuck a cold ice cube down their shorts every time we said Universal Studios.

We didn’t know what to make of it. I mean, the boys can be all cool and stuff, not wanting to show excitement or emotion sometimes, but if they were pretending to not want to go, they were doing a pretty good job.

So we dropped all cleverness.

“So you guys want to go to Universal Studios?”

One shrugged. The other said, nah, and both of them went back to playing something on their 3DSs that involved baby Marios. Like we’d just said, hey, let’s go do some homework.

hahaThe Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and I just kinda looked at each other. Hmmm.  Looks like we’re not going to Universal Studios.

Color me disappointed.

Ha! Ha!

What other fails await us?