Thursday, May 20, 2010

There and Back Again

One day there was a certain young man named Kyle who dreamed of seeing a manned space craft take flight. Knowing the opportunities were limited, he researched his quest and found that the best opportunity to see such a sight would take place in May at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. For, behold, the Space Shuttle Atlantis was scheduled to take to the skies at 2:20 p.m. on May 14, 2010. So the young man reserved his hotel room, bought plane tickets, and then sent off an e-mail that would forever change the lives of his parents and 5 siblings - or at least cause them to jump aboard the vacation band wagon.

Yes, all the Dickersons assembled in Florida. And it was relatively successful. Much more so than some of the times that all the Dickersons have tried to assemble in a foreign state. (cough cough Idaho)

My mom found a sweet vacation home rental on the internets. And by sweet I mean awesome. (It is important to explain slang for ancestors...especially when you define slang with more slang.) We rented a 6 bedroom, 6 bathroom house with an enclosed pool and spa, and a game room. Our 1-room share of the rental house cost less than a room at the Super 8. (If anyone is looking for a place to stay in the Kissimmee/Orlando area just ask and I'll send you the link.)

Day 0:
Flew from SLC to Orlando. Long flight. The kids did fine. This was the first time we have flown without either child being in a car seat. Luckily it took Sawyer a while to figure out that he could take his seat belt off and stand up. I think we have flown with the kids enough times to have figured out how to make it bearable. The main trick being to have enough food on hand to feed the entire plane if necessary. And Dramamine. But the children's kind I bought wasn't chewable and they both spit it out.

Day 1:

Slept in after a late-night arrival. Went to Downtown Disney which was totally deserted during the day. The boys had a grand time playing in the fountains.
We found a Ghirardelli chocolate store which allowed me to erase my regret over not buying a Ghirardelli sundae when we were at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco a few summers ago. Not wanting to let the opportunity pass me twice, I ordered the chocolate peanut butter sundae with Rocky Road ice cream instead of the standard vanilla. When they brought out our order, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but TWO huge sundaes. The waitress explained that they had made it with vanilla the first time and rather than throw it away she just brought out both. This resulted in the happiest day of my life. (Ok maybe there are a few other contenders.)

But it quickly became the saddest day of my life. Just couldn't fit in another bite. I looked around desperately for someone to bestow my extra sundae upon, but you order at the door before you sit down so anyone in the restaurant had already ordered and didn't look in need of more ice cream. So sad. There may be an oil spill in the Gulf (or will be...since I am writing this in the past), but this is what true tragedy looks like:

Then back to the house for swimming. I'm sure we ate some food somewhere too.

Day 2:

Magic Kingdom. Otherwise known as "30 minute periods of tantrum-filled whining and waiting followed by 30 second bursts of happiness." Yes, there were lines. Yes, it was hot. Yes, the stroller parking areas rivaled the Disney parking lots themselves. Yes, a single child's admission plus parking is over $100 for 1 park for 1 day. (Bryce and I had free passes from the Day of Service promotion and Sawyer was 2 and therefore free.) But watching my child whine that he just wanted to go back to the house and swim after an hour at the worth it. Overall the kids were pretty good. They definitely enjoyed the rides. They did not enjoy the waiting in line...which we did a good amount of. Sawyer has a bird obsession and he was particularly fond of waiting in line and then suddenly taking off into the crowds in search of a bird he had seen fly by. For anyone considering taking small children to the Magic Kingdom itself, we did it entirely the wrong way. We wanted to be there right when it opened. And we almost made it. We got in about 30 minutes later. Which meant we woke the kids up to get them ready to go. We got to the park along with all the other families that wanted to be there right when it opened. And it was hot. By about 4 in the afternoon the crowds and the lines had cleared out dramatically. And it was significantly cooler out. But the kids were totally exhausted. We hung around for a couple more hours trying to fit in a few more rides and then gave up and went home. We missed the parade and the fireworks. If I were doing it again I would say - 1. Let the kids sleep in...there were no benefits of being there early, except possibly that we waited in a shorter line to meet Mickey because we raced there first thing. 2. - If your kids can't handle a very full day (which they more than likely can not) get to the park later in the day and plan to stay later. Take advantage of the cooling temperatures and the non-existent lines in the late afternoon when the other families with small kids have given up and gone home. 3.- Plan to take breaks. I think my kids had more fun playing in the fountain outside one of the restaurants than they did most of the day.

On the plus side I was very happy about the number of rides the kids were able to go on. We went on different rides all day. I think the only repeat we did was the carousel, because after waiting in line to go on it in the morning, we walked by it again in the afternoon and there was no line at all. The boys both liked the Pirates of the Carribean ride. Sawyer was enthralled by "It's a Small World." Will was scared of "Snow White's Adventures." I have been to Disney World once before, but I had forgotten how many of the rides consist of sitting in a car on a track as you ride past different vignettes. We went on the only roller coaster that the boys were big enough to go on - "Goofy's Barn Stormer." If they let 2 year-olds on it, how bad can it be right? Well, I don't like roller coasters in the first place, but it was a lot more intense than I expected! Way faster and bigger drops than the kids' roller coaster at Sea World. Both of the boys loved it though. You wouldn't have known it by looking at Sawyer, however. I rode with him and he didn't even hold on to the bar or anything. He just sat there, totally expressionless, bumping into the side of the car. It occurred to me after that he couldn't see over the sides or the front of the car, so I'm not sure if he really understood what was happening or if he thought the cart was just bumping around a lot. As I think every child must be, the boys were totally unimpressed by Cinderella's castle. Heck, I was disappointed the first time I saw it and I was almost 17! Looks cool from the outside, but nothing to see on the inside.

Day 3: Launch Day

The way the schedule worked out we had to pack our two busy days right in a row. The day after Disney World was the space shuttle launch. The kids were exhausted and we didn't want to wake them up to get to the Space Center early only to fight through crowds of people all day. So while the other members of the group left early in the morning, Bryce and the boys and I, along with Evan, Laurel, and Paul all left later in the morning. Our tickets said to arrive by 11 a.m. and it was supposed to take about 1.5 hours to get there. We left at about 9. We got to the Space Center close to 2. We were getting very worried by the end of the drive, because the tickets had warned that no traffic could enter the Space Center any later than 2 hours before the launch. And then we got more worried when it took us over an hour to go less than 1 mile and we were still 6 miles from the Center with less than an hour to go before the launch. Just when we thought it was hopeless we realized that we were at the guard station where they were checking for vehicle passes. After watching about 10 cars in front of us argue with the guard and then get turned around, we figured out that the vast majority of cars causing the traffic jam did not actually have passes or tickets to go to the Center for the launch. I do kind of feel sorry for people that spent hours trying to drive there only to be turned around and sent home, but at the same time isn't that something you might look into before going? Rather than just thinking, "Hey, there is a shuttle launching today - let's drive down and go see it!"? We ended up parking and making it into the Center about 30 minutes before the launch.

After watching the launch, Sawyer kept asking when the shuttle was going to take off. I was explaining that we had just watched it take off. He didn't seem impressed. And then we figured out that he thought the mock shuttle we were standing under was going to take off. The poor kid had been waiting for the thing overhead to go somewhere and was not thrilled about the light far off in the sky that we tried to interest him in. Oh well.

After the launch I battled the line in the gift shop for about 45 minutes and then we gave up and left because the entire complex was so crowded that we couldn't really do anything. We knew the one highway back to Orlando was going to be a nightmare so we got off at the first exit and found somewhere to eat. After our dinner we used Bryce's phone g.p.s. to find a backroads way back to the house and managed to avoid the traffic.

Day 4: Citrus Grove and Gatorland

The boys spent the morning swimming and then we went and picked some oranges at a nearby citrus grove. We were well past the peak of the citrus season and we discovered that it was an "organic farm" so the fruit was looking kind of sorry. I'm told it tasted good..somehow I managed to never eat any of it. After the citrus grove we went to Gatorland. Which was pricey and campy and full of alligators. The boys got to sit on a real alligator. I'm not sure if Sawyer knew that it was real, but Will had no fear and ran right out there and plopped down and grabbed its mouth. There was a boardwalk through a bird nesting area which was full of thousands of nests, many of which were close enough to the trail that you could have touched them. We got there late in the afternoon so we didn't have enough time to see everything, but we did find the enclosure where you could feed parakeets. For $1 you got a popsicle stick covered in bird seed and then the birds would swarm and land all over you. Sawyer, our bird lover, loved it. I thought he (and Will too) might freak out when the birds landed all over their hands and arms and heads, but they both loved it.

Day 5: back to Kennedy and the beach

Our launch tickets allowed us to return to the Kennedy Space Center on another day for free. We slept in and then headed back. We saw one of the IMAX movies, although we were lucky enough to watch it right after the 3d thing broke. I don't really understand what you have to have to show the movie in 3d, but whatever it is was broken. So we saw it in regular-d. Will had been very excited to go on the shuttle launch simulator, but when we tried to get in line they said he was too short. I had measured him and thought he was fine, but the workers insisted he was 1/2 inch too short. That led to a meltdown. Evan and Bryce went on it and said the extent of the "ride" was that the chair leaned back and then shook you...but the workers insisted they couldn't let Will on because it was too dangerous. I think we could have gotten him on if he'd been wearing sneakers instead of sandals, but I didn't have any with us. A sympathetic employee gave Will a Space Shuttle Atlantis commemorative token and it appeased him a bit.

After a heated discussion about whether or not to go on the bus tour, we left and went to the beach. Oh come on, are we seriously the only ones who can't go on vacation without arguing at some point? If we are, you can now all feel better about yourselves. You're welcome.

The beach was empty and the kids loved it. What kid doesn't love the beach?

On the way home from the beach we came around a bend and this guy was on the side of the road saying hi:

Just hanging out in between beach parking lots. We took a picture and then turned around so we wouldn't be stopped in the middle of the bend and tried to go back for a better view, but by the time we got turned around some other car had stopped and shooed the alligator back into the brush. No good do-gooders. That night we left the boys at the house and went to Steak 'n' Shake with Michael and Evan. Thank you, Florida, for providing me with a craving that can't be fulfilled in the state of my domicile. Patty melt and Strawnana shake.....mmmmmmm.

Day 6: hmmm
I'm pretty sure we hung around the the house and swam. My mom and siblings took the boys mini-golfing in the afternoon while Bryce and I checked out Celebration, Disney. Celebration is a planned community owned by Disney and it looks like the set of The Truman Show. Everything is perfect. All the houses are perfect. The yards are perfect. The shops are perfect. The street lights are perfect. They pipe music out through a PA system around the lake. Trees line both sides of the streets. Sigh. It was lovely. I am now accepting applications to live in Erintown...a planned community. There is a dress code - no pants or shorts with words across the rear and no halter tops unless on an evening gown. There are a few rules: no letting your dog poop in other people's yards, music playing within your car should not be audible outside your car, kids are required to ride bikes to the drug store to buy milkshakes, old guys are required to meet at the diner for breakfast, you get the idea. If I build it, will you come?

After an entire week of debate about whether the pool was heated (as it was supposed to be), or not, and whether the so-called "spa" was intended to be hot, or not, the maintenance man came out and it was determined that the spa should have been hot and the heat wasn't turned on in the pool. Too bad it was the day before we left. (Everyone point at Mom and whistle now.) After a full day in the pool we went back to Downtown Disney with Evan in the evening, which is apparently when people go to Downtown Disney because it was very crowded and we didn't last long.

Day 7: Swimming, packing, cleaning-up, flying home.

On our flight home we were supposed to have a layover in Denver. That means the first leg of the flight is pretty lengthy. Laurel gave me an awesome tip and said she put Dramamine in her little boy's yogurt and he ate it without noticing. Guess who bought yogurt in the Orlando airport? Yup, me. 1/2 a pill of children's Dramamine in a bite of yogurt for each of them. Guess who was asleep by the time we cleared the runway. Yup, both my boys. Will slept for over 2 hours and Sawyer slept for over 3. And, no, I don't feel guilty because I always take a good dose of Dramamine myself because I get airsick and it turned out to be a turbulent flight and the last thing I want is 2 kids barfing while I feel like doing the same. The fact that it knocks them out is an added bonus. After many hours of flying I began wondering why they hadn't done the "we are now beginning our initial descent" routine. Then the captain announced that there was bad weather in Denver and we were being diverted to Albuquerque to refuel. After another half hour of flying the captain announced that they had changed their mind and we were cleared to head back to Denver. Since our flight time had been extended by over an hour we were a little worried about missing our connecting flight because we only had a short layover. Luckily, everything was delayed so after running to our next gate with Megan and Chad - who were on our same flight home - we found that our plane wasn't even boarding yet. After a short wait they announced that they were going to board our flight. We all lined up and got on board. As we sat there waiting for the rest of the passengers and the baggage we could see the storm in the distance and the lightning flashing. Then the Captain announced that they had to stop loading the bags because of the lightning in the area and that we would have to wait until they could resume. We sat and sat and then the rain started pounding the windows and the lightning was much closer. I was having a good time watching the storm until we heard the Captain again. This time he said that "they had decided it wasn't safe for us to be onboard in this weather and that they needed everyone to leave their bags and get off the plane quickly." Now, I'm the kind of person that when I'm told "Hey, leave your bag where it is and get off quick" I'm inclined to leave my bag and get off. Other people didn't feel that way. We stood there while everyone ahead of us got their carry-ons out of the overhead bins and slowly made their way out. After a few minutes the Captain came on and said "We need to get moving people. Leave your bags and get off the plane." That encouraged people to move a little more quickly, although a good many of them still felt that surely he wasn't talking to them and kept trying to get all their bags. We left everything like the obedient kids we are and got off. The terminal was empty and we immediately stepped over to the windows to have a look at the storm. Then we noticed the airport employee ushering everyone away from the windows. He told us we had to get away from the windows and down to the tornado shelters (a.k.a. restrooms and stairwells). We went in a stairwell. A few minutes later an employee told us we could all come out now. We walked out and headed back towards the gate. We had only been out for about a minute when the tornado siren started going off. An employee told us we had to get back in the shelters. A lot of people just ignored him, but Megan and I weren't inclined to do so and booked it back to the stairwell. We staked out our spot next to the door leading to a down staircase. You had to have an i.d. badge to go down or in the case of an emergency you could "push on the bar and the door would open after 15 seconds." As I pointed out to Megan, 15 seconds would feel like a REALLY long time in an emergency! I can see it now "One-one thousand, two...come on, come on, crap!" You're dead. Seriously. And then Megan and I noticed that the pilot and the flight crew headed straight to the nearby elevator, swiped their badges, and took off for the basement floors. Followed by another airport employee who walked past us, swiped his badge, and went down the stairs. We refrained from screaming "Take us with you!" but we've seen enough movies to know that when the upper ranks take off into the bunker it is bad news for the peons upstairs. I called Kyle who checked the weather and told us there had been two tornado sightings in the area. Megan and I were fully prepared to take off downstairs at the first sign of trouble, and were amused by the girls that pushed past us so that they could "get up the stairs." They just wanted to go up a flight and sit down. Because clearly up in the air is where you want to be in case of tornado. Have it your way. Less competition for the stairs. Where is Bryce in all of this you ask? Standing nearby annoyed by his over-reacting wife and sister-in-law I suspect. But I don't mess around when it comes to tornadoes.

After another few minutes in the stairwell they once again told us we could come out. We went back to our gate and they said they would start re-boarding us soon, but since they had taken our boarding passes from us the first time we would all have to show i.d. and they would have to check us off the flight manifest. We weren't in a hurry to get back on so we waited until the end of the line and then eventually made it back to SLC 4 hours late. I've done a fair amount of Utah-CT etc. flying since coming to college and it was definitely the most eventful trip we've had. It didn't bother the kids at all. At one point the plane took a sudden jump down which about made me throw up, but Will was too busy begging me for more gum to notice. I will be very glad if the kids didn't get my motion sickness gene. I've never found it to be an asset.

And thus, the young travelers, returned to whence they came, having seen a shuttle take to the skies, frolicked through a magic kingdom, bathed in the salt waters of the Atlantic, tamed the ferocious wildlife, and survived the fury of the weather gods one more time.


Nicole said...

Sounds like it was a great trip (minus the hot, humid, sweaty part). ;-) I abandoned flying through Denver long ago. I've never been there without having a major delay!

M.M.M. said...

Favorite part:sawyer with his pacifier.

I used to be deathly afraid of tornadoes. However the only reason I am not anymore is because I live in Phoenix and have realized that tornadoes do not seem to be one of our problems. Although if there was a real threat of tornadoes you can bet I would be hiding out on the stairs.

I also loved the picture of the boys on the alligator. How quaint!

Also would love to less "pleasantville."

And it looked like you guys were all rather hot most of the time...I can sympathize!

Lauren said...

Great synopsis! I agree with all you said about Disney--although it looks like you had a great time despite the waits. If you build Erinville, I will live there in a heartbeat, as long as I can be your neighbor. Speaking of which, I had a fun time tonight getting to know more of your neighbors.

Crazy stories about the tornadoes--I'm sure it made it even more true that there's no place like home. :)