“Baba” plays the part of the matriarch and rents a house on the cape, then invites the families to come stay with her. Our responsibilities include making dinner (plus cleaning up) and enjoying ourselves.
This year was one of the rainiest summers in a long time, among the top 5 since record keeping began, but we still had plenty of time for fun.
We went on a whale watch out of Provincetown on Wednesday. It was really foggy and we didn’t see any whales, or anything at all, for almost two hours.
Suddenly, out of the fog, we stumbled across some whales that really showed off for a bit.
We discovered Skaket Beach, on the bay side of Orleans, on a beautiful afternoon.
The beach is very flat so as the tide retreats you can walk out very, very far.
There are natural tide pools that trap crustaceans. The kids had fun hunting hermit crabs and minnows. Tim dug up a couple of steamers to show the kids what lives beneath the sand.
Beta child made some new friends, as usual. Baba did, too, with a couple that lives in the next town over from us. Meghan and I had fun talking with them about local stuff, and listening to the husband grouse about local contractors and the crappy McMansions they put up.
A couple of days into our stay, a local hawk mother decided that her chicks were ready to leave the nest. One of the three wasn’t quite ready and complained, loudly, every remaining day of our stay.
The mother hawk, to her credit, never strayed too far away. The siblings showed up as well to coax him off his branch. This one, however, mostly hopped from tree to tree and demanded a nest and food.
I got a text from my sister-in-law on a Thursday: would you like a pair of tickets to see Blue Man Group this Sunday? Something came up and we can’t use them.
Always quick on my feet, I got back to her over an hour later, asking her where (even though there’s only one place in the area).
Both girls declined repeated offers to go with me. Apparently I smell bad or something, but opportunity only knocks once. At least Meghan was willing to go, but only after I promised to keep to the speed limit this time.*
The show was hilarious and high-energy. It does appear to evolve over time, as it’s not the same show that we saw last time – except for the general tenor it was basically a new show to me. If you too haven’t seen it in twenty years, go again.
*this is a short story: before Meghan and I were married we went to see Blue Man Group with Kennon and Katie. While cruising down the Massachusetts Turnpike I was pulled over for “speeding and weaving.” I disputed the ticket because I honestly don’t think I was speeding when the cop saw me (I now freely admit to having been speeding earlier) and the weaving charge was just plain stupid. I was half successful.
Another change of venue this year: Wellfleet, MA. We seem to be creeping further up the Cape every year.
Day 0: Driving and Arriving
We left the house around mid-afternoon, planning to arrive fashionably late. Our intention worked as planned; we rolled into town around 6 pm and got busy making a pasta-and-meatball dinner for everyone.
After a short dinner, we took everyone to the closest beach to let the little ones burn off some energy. The Fox family had been on the road since morning, and rolled in around 7pm; the kids were exploding with pent up energy and excitement.
Day 1: Rain!
Meghan and I woke up on our usual schedule, 6am. (This continued for the duration of the week.) The weather was forecast to be poor, and it proved true for most, but not all, of the day.
We headed out to a full-size super market in search of a coffee maker (the house’s was AWOL) and groceries for dinner. I prefer to spend a little extra money rather than pack the car with perishables.
After breakfast, the weather cleared enough that almost everyone headed to the beach — I stayed home and napped to catch up on a week of poor sleep, and missed seeing a Great White shark off Marconi Beach.
Dinner turned out to be an unpleasant adventure: we had picked up a pair of roasting chickens that morning, but after unsealing the packages we discovered that the fowl had gone very foul. Tim and Kelly started cranking out their dinner planned for the following night, and Meghan and I dashed back to the store to get our money back.
After dinner and the little kids had gone to bed, we sat down to play Cards Against Humanity —with Alpha and Beta. It was a night that they will not soon forget… nor will I.
Day 2: Chatham
I woke up early to a beautiful day and took a bike ride around the perimeter of Wellfleet. The ocean side of the cape was still socked in with fog, but the land and western side were clear.
After breakfast we took a ride down to Chatham for some shopping and lunch.
We introduced the Fox kids to Ponyo. Tim and Kelly don’t seem to be big on anime, but the kids were fascinated. (Sorry, guys!)
A documentary of Ted Williams premiered on PBS that night, which was important to Joan, so we cleared the deck, got the kids in bed, and watched with her.
Day 3: Marconi
We chose to go hiking around the Marconi Wireless Station on Tuesday.
Day 4: Biking and A Guest
Meghan and tried out the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which has a trail head in Wellfleet. Our goal when we started was Marconi Beach, but the ride was so easy we kept going and made it to Orleans before turning around.
While we were gone, the Foxes hit Mayo Beach in Wellfleet. When Meghan and I got back we headed to the beach with the girls as the Foxes were leaving. We stayed about an hour and a half, and came away with minor sunburns, but the water was warm and the swimming was easy.
We hosted a friend of Joan’s who lives on the Cape, and her young daughter, for dinner.
On this night an issue withe the youngest of the Fox clan, Kappa, not going to bed at bedtime became particularly troublesome. We pledged to find doorknob covers the next day so that he would have to stay in his room at night, even if he wasn’t going to go to bed.
Day 5: P-Town
After a very slow start to the day, we headed to Provincetown with Joan while the Foxes went back to the beach.
We started at the far eastern end of the main drag and worked our way westward. People watching in P-Town is always an adventure. The girls are still young enough to not really notice how bizarre the crowd is and have more fun shopping.
Day 6: Cape Code Lighthouse and Pilgrim Monument
Meghan, Alpha, and I spent the day being tourists.
We checked out the Cape Cod Lighthouse, where Meghan went up –and down– the spiral staircase of the lighthouse.
We then went to the Pilgrim museum and tower in Provincetown. I, however, was the only one to climb the tower.
After dinner at home, the adults stayed up to watch Jaws with the RiffTrax overlay.
Day 7: Leaving
We were supposed to vacate the house by 9 am. We missed the time by less than five minutes (WE were ready, but the Foxes have a small army to move.)
We ate an excellent breakfast at Laura & Tony’s kitchen, and hit the road for home. Others in the party were hitting the beach one last time, but we were all ready to be home.
We made an impromptu trip to Maine with our friends Sam and Joanne.
There’s a back-story: we were supposed to be camping this week with Sam and Joanne (and others) but a conflict with school forced some to cancel, and eventually everyone canceled. Since we all had the time off already scheduled I had the idea for a quick road trip with S&J. Meghan made the arrangements when they bought in, so game on.
Day 1: Foul Weather, Destination Southport
We left home on Thursday. S&J had the longer drive, but our house was on the way so we met up here and caravaned the rest of the way together.
A bundle of rain followed them from Connecticut, and would continue to follow us all the rest of the way.
Meghan and I neglected to pack until they arrived, as we were running around all morning doing chores, so they got in a short, much-needed break from driving in the rain.
We rolled into the Ocean Gate hotel around 5 pm. We had rented three rooms: one for S&J and their son; one for Alpha and Beta; and one for Meghan, me, and Butter-the-dog. We were spread across different buildings in the resort, but the girls were close to S&J so that was ok.
Our room, unlike the others, had a full kitchen — indeed, that was one of the selling points for us. It was billed as “not having a view” but that was a lie: the view was, in fact, beautiful.
We went out to dinner at a tiny-but-tony restaurant called Oliver’s at Cozy Harbor. The food was excellent, btw. Joanne went high-end and got a “lobstertini,” lobster meat served in a martini glass, but most everyone else went basic with burgers or fish-and-chips.
We did check out some of the “traditional” Maine sight-seeing, which is to say we took pictures of the fog:
Day 2: Swimming, Shopping, Dinner at Home
Sam and I started Friday off with a bang: we went biking. The kids started off with fun: they went swimming in the pool. Meghan and Joanne started off with style: they took a dip in the hot tub.
After everyone felt ready to start their day, we packed into the cars and took a short ride to Boothbay Harbor. It was hot so we had an ice cream lunch. The girls shopped, while I took Butter on a walk up and down the main drag. She’s truly an adorable dog and we stopped to talk to several people that wanted to “say hi” to her.
We all took a siesta in the late afternoon back at the hotel, except for Sam who ignored the impending thunderstorm and went kayaking.
After a brief downpour and a bit of lightning, we got going on our planned “traditional get together” dinner: spaghetti and sauce. This is why the in-room kitchen was important, you see.
For years, when we lived near each other, we would gather at one house or the other and feed everyone with a simple pasta, meat sauce, and garlic bread dinner. From time to time we do it even now, but the drive is much longer.
I made the pasta, Sam made the garlic bread, and the kids watched TV. This was about as traditional as you can get without being home.
After dinner I washed up while everyone else played a game at the table until bedtime.
Day 3: Freeport and Home
Our stay was intentionally short because we were trying a too-good-to-be-true hotel and everything came together last-minute. Much too short.
After a big breakfast we packed up and rolled out, destination: Freeport. Sam had only passed through Maine before, never stopping, and Joanne has never been at all. Both wanted to see the main L.L. Bean store in Freeport. Meghan is always game to go there. I walked around with Butter while everyone wandered inside the store for an hour because I just can’t even. We also made time for the Ben and Jerry’s store, of course.
We made our final leg home, where S&J paid us a final visit before making their way home as well.
Grandpa died over a decade ago. I found out about the Cobia several years after he died. Grandpa never mentioned that it still existed, though he had attended crew reunions there. I think he considered his service to be very personal and never spoke of it much. I’ve wanted to visit, to make a pilgrimage if you will, but I wanted to take the girls when they were old enough to remember and appreciate the history of the thing.
I took advantage of a confluence of events this year to do it: 1) Alpha is old enough, 2) an impending total eclipse would pass (relatively) close by, and 3) I wanted a vacation and a road trip. Alpha was agreeable to going, and she too wanted a road trip, so boom it was on.
As a side note, Alpha handled this trip with aplomb. She has a bladder of iron, remained agreeable even when things went sideways, and is generally helpful around the car.
We chose to leave on a Friday. I put in enough of a day at work to count it as a full day and avoid using another vacation day, which meant leaving around lunch time. Alpha and I were packed and ready to go by 1 pm. A final stop to see Meghan at work, and we hit the highway… and traffic.
I made the mistake of assuming that traffic would be moderate at mid day. Friday afternoon rush hour tends to be nasty, especially so in summer, but it begins earlier than I know.
As we crawled our way down the turnpike we witnessed an almost-crash in front of us. We mostly idled our way until Charleton. I guess that house rentals in Maine must run from Saturday to Friday, since a large portion of the cars around us were from NY, NJ, and PA and they all peeled off at the I-84 exit.
The rain moved in as the traffic cleared. We made fair time for a couple of hours as we skipped into New York state under showers.
Skies cleared by mid-state, with a few hours of sunlight left. After dark we cruised through the Seneca reservation. All of the road signs were translated into Seneca, which was kind of neat. They also have a casino that, much like Foxwoods, rises out of the forest in a jumble of incongruence.
We made Erie at about 9:30 that night – a Motel 6 alongside Interstate 90. It was a plain, but clean and serviceable hotel. We turned in sans dinner and slept well.
Central and western New York are very boring. We didn’t get cell phone service anywhere and the highway just seems to go forever. There are some peculiar town names in western New York, ‘Horseheads‘ was a particular favorite.
Along the way we found some sites and some sights. The day was warm but a little cloudy, which meant that it never got too hot. I was looking forward to rolling with the top down on this trip and I was not disappointed. We hit the sweet spot for a convertible: 50 mph @ 72 F, moderate humidity.
Before we left Conneaut, Ohio we stopped at a lemonade stand; the kids even served us in the car. (I’ve made it a policy over the years to always stop for lemonade.) The roads were beautiful, alternating between showing us the lake and just being green.
Lake Erie itself is gorgeous. The towns that border the lake are a mix of quaint, middle-America, and gaudy: some reminded me of Cape Cod, some reminded me of the over-commercialized beach town of Misquamicut, RI, and some reminded me of any number of nondescript towns that I’ve encountered along my travels.
We switched over to the highway around Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, as we became conscious of the time: I wanted to get into Chicago before sundown. Being Saturday we didn’t have to worry about rush hour. We rolled into town around 5:30, which was perfect.
Our hotel in Chicago was right next to Chinatown, so we took a walk to find some dinner. We found a hole-in-the-wall with some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had.
We turned in no long after dinner; we had a full day ahead. We spent a little time unwinding and calling home. Earlier in the day we had found out that the USS Indianapolis had been located, and shared the news with Meghan and Beta. They proceeded to watch Jaws (with the Indianapolis scene) and brag to us about doing so.
Route 531 along the coast of Ohio is beautiful.
The Indiana turnpike is bumpy as hell, and boring, until you approach Elkhart.
Day 3: Destination Cobia
This was the main event. We arrived around lunchtime.
There are regular tours of the submarine, from forward torpedo room to aft torpedo room. They’ve restore the submarine to about 80% working condition.
We found at least three, possibly four, photos with Grandpa in them. The questionable photo is from a reunion photo, not everyone was looking at the camera and, sad but true, old men all start to look alike after a certain age. One other photo that we saw him is from a reunion, the final two are from his time on the submarine.
Our tour guide was new – his first day! – and he wasn’t familiar with any of the crew besides the captain. Grandpa, being an officer but not the captain, wasn’t a name he knew. The tour was about twenty minutes from bow to stern.
Being a real WW2 submarine the quarters were very cramped; I’m not sure how my grandfather, being a few inches taller than I am, was able to fit through the tiny intra-compartment doorways.
The submarine part of the museum is a little small; there’s a somewhat larger section devoted to boats on Lake Michigan and the various wrecks. Alpha and I agreed that we’d like to come back another time to view the lake history in more detail.
We ate dinner in Chicago, a pizza place of course. After we got back to our room Alpha wanted to veg out. I felt cooped up by the car all day, so I went out for a walk around the neighborhood. I took some photos but they were terrible; I need a new phone with a better camera.
The state of Wisconsin replaced a large section of the pavement on Interstate 43, both northbound and southbound, with a concrete washboard.
The car’s computer calculated our average MPG to be north of the 30 mark sometime this day.
Day 4: The Eclipse
Alpha and I got going a bit later than I had originally planned, and had a smashing breakfast at a market that’s a block from the hotel.
Getting close to or under the eclipse path was a bonus, so we didn’t have any specific destination to reach, just “as close as we are able or choose to get.” I picked Marion, Illinois as a target and we started driving.
We hit some traffic along the way, not due specifically to the eclipse but around construction along the highway. I don’t know if traffic would have been lighter and we would have slipped right through if it hadn’t been for the eclipse. We probably spent an hour and a half sitting in various stand-stills, and 30 minutes more finding detours, and were about an hour outside of Marion when we decided to stop to watch the eclipse in Effingham. It was a fair place to stop, with fuel and food, and we weren’t the only ones peering up at the sun. While it wasn’t directly in the path of totality the sun was reduced to a tiny hair-like sliver.
From the stopping point, our next destination was Lexington, Kentucky.
We got into Lexington late, due in part to rain. A large part of our drive was on country roads which, more than the interstates, are long, straight, and surrounded by corn.
We arrived in Lexington after 7 pm. It’s a college town and we ate dinner at a joint that caters to the college crowd. It was delicious. Alpha had breakfast for dinner and I had a burger. As we walked out the door Alpha remarked how good it was. The person walking out behind us was, unbeknownst to us, one of the cooks heading out for a break; she flashed a huge smile and said “thanks!”
Alpha stayed in our room while I took a swim in the hotel pool. We were in bed and lights-out before 9 pm, as we were leaving very early the next morning.
Midwestern seasons seem to be like New England: almost-winter, winter, still-wintery, and road construction. The side roads are much better for driving than the interstates, and almost as fast and direct.
Indiana doesn’t seem to understand the concept of interstates. They have traffic lights and intersections on I-64.
Day 5: Destination Home
This was the longest, hardest drive of the trip: almost a thousand miles in one day. Under the best of conditions it would be a fourteen-hour trip. Alpha and I discussed doing it in one day or breaking it into two, and her answer was firm: lets go home today. So we did, come hell or high water.
We didn’t take any scenic routes or make any unnecessary stops, it was just pounding the pavement (so to speak). We left Lexington at 7:30 am and made it home around 11:30 pm. We texted Meghan every time we crossed a state line, and she was reposting our updates to Facebook.
Somewhere in eastern Kentucky we passed a field that could have been straight out of a Bob Ross painting, with a shed or small barn, happy little trees, and a small mountain in the background.
West Virginia is beautiful, even from the highway, though cell phone reception is non-existent. We suddenly had great coverage when we entered Maryland, even though the mountains didn’t stop, so it seems to be a political issue not a geographic one.
We reached a peak mileage of 31.8 MPG, according to the car’s computer. My back-of-the-envelope math came up slightly lower at our last fill-up, but close enough.
The climate control system lost it’s mind somewhere in Kentucky and was alternately blowing cold and warm, regardless of actual setting, for the rest of the ride. Things got a bit warm and sweaty, but not the worst I’ve ever had.
Pennsylvania doesn’t know how to manage traffic around construction, of which the was plenty, including some standstills well before rush hour. Neither does Connecticut, where we were hitting standstills at 9 pm. That shouldn’t happen on a Tuesday night.
Sixteen hours of straight driving is very, very tiring.
We’ve all had that moment (or at least those of us who are the “fun,” read “irresponsible,” part of the couple), where our responsible half, they who keep roofs over our heads, food on our plates, and everyone mostly on task, sighs a sigh of wistful desire. Well, mine happened today. Dad’s mountain bike is 25 years old, and in need of so much TLC at this point, it would be cheaper to replace it. This offends his sensibilities, so he’s been effectively without a mountain bike for years. Until today.
I give you his new bike. Its another Specialized Rockhopper, and he loves it. The rack was pretty simple to put on, as far as trunk-mounted bike racks go. That means the swearing was kept to a minimum, and there was no blood spilt.
We took it out for a dry run with Beta. A traditional trip to the Panera downtown to grab some lunch and have some fun. Their kitchen sink cookies are not for the faint of heart, but oh so good if you share.
We hung out for a while, until the whinging from certain parties about going home became too much, got back on our (lovely, new) bikes and headed home. The ride is surprisingly flat (yay floodplain), which made testing out and finding gears so much easier.
After we got home, the statement was made: I want to go to the beach (guess who). After some digging to find a beach with other things to do. Apparently we were not doing bathing suits today. Some pretty slick Googling came up with Castle Island. Beach, walking trail, dog beach, perfect!
After some finagling, browbeating, and the promise to play Minecraft when we got back, we piled everyone (including the dog) into the car and took off for South Boston.
The place is surprisingly pretty. It is right next to the docks for the really big ships, so we got to watch a cruise ship put out to sea. Beta and I walked the beach, while Dad and Alpha walked the dog around the causeway. Beta turned out to be the periwinkle whisperer. We didn’t count how many she found, but they were all still alive. We put them someplace safe to wait for the tide to come back in.
We had a great walk, and found a couple of live oysters, too. After a while, we started down the causeway towards the open ocean. Beta walked back on the outside of the fence, only having to jump across about half way back (no more asphalt to walk on, and I lost my nerve). We met up with Dad, Alpha and the dog a little while later, and packed up to head home.
Our southern friends from Connecticut invited us to go camping at Hammonasset Beach State Park with them. They go every year as a big party, with family and friends.
I only recently found out that this is a thing; our neighbors/friends from across the street go up to a campsite in New Hampshire every year to meet with other friends, some of whom they only know from camping.
This was our first time going camping as a family, ever. I’ve gone deep-woods camping by myself. (No facilities, no roads, no people, no nothing — I’ve never smelled worse than three nights of that.) Meghan had been camping at Pennsic and Gulf Wars during college. (She has stories that amaze.) Beta has been overnight camping (in cabins) as part of Girl Scouts. We’ve all been “camping” in the backyard. This trip was a first for being away from home and trucking everything we would need.
We arrived mid-afternoon and immediately set to pitching our tent, figuring that there could be nothing worse than setting up a tent in the dark when you’re exhausted. Though the tent was new and this was our first time, it went up pretty quickly and cleanly.
Our friends provided dinner: our traditional Friday night get-together victuals, spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic bread, only on a Monday. Being experienced campers with a lot more room to pack stuff, they graciously offered to provide dinner for the two nights we were there. After dinner there were s’mores around a communal campfire, where we got to meet the rest of the party — more Gaileys and some family friends.
There were kids of all ages, including a few that were right around Alpha and Beta’s ages. They played boffer swords until dark, then convinced a couple of us adults to play manhunt.
We didn’t tuck into bed until about 10 pm. As the kids washed up some of us gathered around to chat and stargaze, and we were able to point out some satellites going by. The other adults hadn’t known that you could see them so easily. Schwing!
Sleep, for a variety of reasons, was somewhat elusive the first night, except for Alpha who can sleep through pretty much anything.
We started the day with pancakes, eggs, and bacon. The Gaileys possess a propane-fired flattop grill which made cooking a breeze.
Sam wanted to get the two Hobie Cats they brought along into the water. We got to the beach and set to rigging them, then took ourselves and the kids out for some sails.
We were at the beach for about four hours, and as a group we only got slightly burned — I had planned ahead and coaxed the girls into going to the beach with me for a week leading up to the trip. Meghan got a bit burned across the shoulders, and oddly enough Mu (the junior Gailey) got sunburned on the tops of his feet.
After packing the boats back onto their trailer, we headed back to camp (with a detour into town to get aloe) in order to make dinner. Second night was a communal pot luck, with hot dogs, hamburgers, and a bunch of sides. We got to know the other campers in the party and found that we have a lot in common.
The rain, which had been holding off all day, finally came in the form of a few brief showers and a rumble of thunder. I checked the weather radar back home and, wouldn’t you know it, heavy storms were moving through our town. (I love thunderstorms but seem to have a repelling effect on them. Even the strongest storms peter out as they reach our area.)
We took the opportunity to coax the girls into bed a bit earlier, though sleep was still hard to find the second night. Besides possibly being over-tired, the temperature dropped to nearly 50° F so everyone (except me) was cold despite blankets.
We all got up early to a beautiful morning. Meghan and Joanne took a walk back out to the beach to look for some bald eagles we had noticed the day before.
Checkout is 12 pm, and we planned to swing through Noank on the way home to see the folks, so we packed up the campsite right after breakfast (more bacon, eggs, and pancakes, plus sausages) and hung out with the Gaileys until it was time to go.
We bid adieu and headed out right at noon, spent a few hours having lunch and visiting with Mom and Dad Jones, plus Katie Jones and Eta (my niece). We made it home just in time to get Butter out of doggie daycare.
The Friday before February vacation, Meghan and I meet up for lunch and she drops a bombshell: “what if we take the girls to Disney next week?”
Last minute scheduling aside, this presents some very large hurdles: cost, PTO requests and balances, and arranging transportation. We kind of, sort of had the money but I had earmarked it for other things. I don’t get a lot of time off in my new job, and I’m husbanding what I do get for something we’re planning towards the end of the year — and we’re normally expected to schedule PTO in advance. Last minute plane tickets tend to be expensive, crappy flights.
Meghan wanted to do this, I was on the fence, so we compromised and decided to go. Meghan is vivacious, I’m the responsible one. A decent life lies somewhere in between, and I’ve learned over time to let go a little while still reigning her in enough that we don’t meet financial doom. It did mean that I would be working on this vacation. I’m fortunate to have a job that only needs a laptop and an internet connection, and an accommodating boss.
The most important decision we made was to keep it a secret from the kids. We had to make all the arrangements, prepare for the trip, and talk about it all weekend without letting them catch on — no small feat. Oh, and we had already planned to see some friends in Connecticut on Saturday.
We had to come up with a bunch of cover stories. Beta needed new shorts, and we can’t buy them without her trying them on. We had to get the dog to boarding before Monday without arousing suspicion, since we needed to be at the airport before 6 am. We needed to get the kids showered and in bed a little early, even though Monday’s a vacation day.
The final cover story: why we’re getting up before 5 am, which we had to provide the night before so the kids wouldn’t worry when we woke them, but something that wouldn’t make them too excited to sleep.
Monday: Getting There
4:30 am: Mom and Dad rise and shine!
4:50 am: kids roll out of bed and stumble downstairs
5:00 am: in the car
5:20 am: arrive at the airport long-term parking garage
5:30 am: shuttle drops us off at the airport
5:31 am: Alpha asks “why are we at the airport?”
5:33 am: security line, and we can’t keep the secret anymore
6:20 am: take off!
Our flight to Orlando had a long layover and transfer in Detroit. Both legs were packed solid. There was a class trip going to Disney that got on the plane in Detroit.
During the layover I got some real work done, while Meghan and the girls got some lunch and amused themselves.
3:45 pm: land in Orlando
4:15 pm: arrange some ground transportation
Orlando airport is huge. It has monorails to move passengers between terminals and the main building, but each terminal is pretty big in it’s own right. They’re also building another terminal right now.
We discovered that our on-property hotel of choice, The Swan, is not owned and operated by Disney and does not come with the typical benefits like a free bus ride between the airport and the hotel.
We secured a taxi driven by a guy named Victor, who hails from NYC. Our ride was very entertaining, as he got more comfortable his vernacular got very… colorful¹ but his stories and running commentary were among the best from a taxi that I’ve ever had.
4:45 pm: check into The Swan
5:00 pm: take a shuttle to Disney Springs to get dinner
Disney Springs, formerly known as Downtown Disney, is basically a mall with shops and restaurants dotted throughout. There aren’t any rides, so it doesn’t require a park pass. After looking around a bit and engaging in strong negotiations over who wanted what, we picked The Landing because it offered food that everyone would like while dining on a dock over the water.
To be honest, Disney Springs isn’t quite as much fun as it used to be. The stores aren’t unique anymore — they’re the same as any mall. The Landing was also a little disappointing, with fine-dining prices but takeout-quality food. We refused to let it get us down, though, and watched a beautiful sunset from our table.
7:00 pm: head back to the room
7:30 pm: Beta goes swimming in the hotel pool
8:30 pm: bedtime for everyone
Tuesday: Animal Kingdom
Morning dawned clear, bright, and warm. After a buffest breakfast at the hotel we went our separate ways: Meghan, Alpha, and Beta to Animal Kingdom and I back to our room to work for the day.
At lunch I went exploring to see what was around the hotel and found a beach, playground, and much larger pool complex with a water slide, two hot tubs, and a waterfall/grotto.
About the same time I was wrapping up work, everyone else came back to rest up a bit. Beta wanted to swim a bit, Alpha did not, so Beta, Meghan, and I suited up and walked down to the pool. Alpha stayed behind to charge her introvert batteries.
We played at the big pool for over an hour, until we started getting hungry. We decided to go back to the Animal Kingdom to get dinner, try a few more rides, and watch the light show.
After a light dinner at one of the short-order restaurants we headed over to “the Himalayas” to try out a ride that Alpha wanted to see called Expedition Everest. It’s a roller-coaster that is partially inside the “mountain” (so it’s pitch black, like Space Mountain) and rolls backwards for part of the ride. Very intense, very fun, especially after dark.
The girls also convinced me to take two cruises on the Kali River Rapids. I managed to stay merely damp after the first pass, but I was completely soaked after the second.
We went back to the hotel after that. The light show was wrapping up and we wanted to beat the crowds back to the shuttles. It was also pretty late, after 9 pm, when we finally got upstairs.
This was a rainy day. This was also a tricky day, activity-wise, because Meghan was only able to take half the day off and had to work during the afternoon. We had breakfast at the hotel again, and I headed upstairs while the rest of the family went over to Epcot for a little while.
Everyone was back in the room at noon, as the drizzle started outside. I knocked off work a little early (hooray for getting my crap done!) and took Beta over to the hotel’s game room while Alpha recharged her introvert batteries again.
About 2pm we decided that we wanted to go (back) to Epcot – me, Alpha, and Beta. Meghan was still working but had arranged reservations at the Garden Grill at 4:45. It’s Meghan’s favorite restaurant in Disney.
The rain remained light and drizzley while the girls and I toured the World Showcase in Epcot. We stopped in a few of the “countries” along the way, from France (where the ferry dropped us off) and counter-clockwise around through China, which is almost exactly opposite.
While we poked around a shop in China the rain picked up, then picked up some more, so we stayed inside and waited for it to slow up — the clock was ticking and we had a date with Meghan in an hour. I refused to pay $9 per poncho.
A little after 4 pm the rain appeared to lighten up so we made a break for it. We got out of China and were in front of Norway, the next country over, when the skies opened up into a torrential downpour. We were soaked to the bone in seconds, before we could even dart under an overhang. So much for being dry at dinner.
We squished our way up to The Land in time for our reservation inside, a couple of minutes late but sooner than Meghan. The rain not only stopped after soaking us, but the sun popped out before we arrived at the restaurant.
After dinner we took the slow ride that goes around the restaurant, and headed out to enjoy the rest of Epcot. We went over to the ride in Mission: Space (not to be confused with Spaceship Earth, a.k.a. the golf ball) which is a pretty cool G-force type ride.
The rain continued to come and go so we wound up buying a couple of ponchos and an umbrella for the walk home. This was a fortunate decision on Meghan’s part because the rain came back in earnest while we walked back to the ferry.
Thursday: Boardwalk, DVC, and Heading Home
Our last day, but a late flight (9 pm) so we had time to have some more fun. I arranged with my boss to put off work until late in the day, since there were no meetings scheduled. Meghan had to work in the morning and doesn’t have flexible scheduling.
We were a little disappointed with the Swan overall² so we decamped for the Boardwalk, just next door (and a Disney resort) with shops and things to do. I took the girls out to play and walk around while Meghan sat in the lobby with our bags. We discovered that Epcot is just a short walk away.
After making a circuit around the “harbor” it was lunch time. Alpha wanted to read but Beta and I were still a bit restless. We headed down the walking path towards Hollywood Studios. Not to go into the park, just to see where the path goes and look for alligators. (We didn’t see any.)
Even after all that we had a few hours before we needed to get to the airport so I wandered into the DVC office to gather some information. Meghan and I have talked about buying back into the vacation club for about a year, as changing fortunes have allowed us to travel and vacation more frequently and the DVC can actually be viewed as a money-saving way to travel. As the agent brought our information back up we discovered that Meghan had been making inquiries while she was at Epcot the day before. There was an open house at another resort where we could get all of the information, so game on: I judged that we were both ready to plunge back in, and got us a ride to the open house.
This was late in the day, getting close to the time we should really start heading to the airport, so we had to hew to a tight schedule with the sales guys. We arranged it perfectly, though, and got back to our starting point in time to meet Victor (remember Victor the taxi driver? we liked him so much we called him back for our pick-up³) at our pre-arranged pick-up time.
Our flight out was pretty uneventful. We took off on-time at 8:45 pm and landed at 11:30 pm, a bit of turbulence in between. The kids stayed awake, I worked for a bit, Meghan napped (a first for her on a plane!). We rolled back into our driveway at half-past midnight.
All in all, a success!
1: We don’t worry much about letting our kids hear profanity. We have taught them some simple lessons: profanity is what you say when you don’t have the vocabulary to express yourself; profanity doesn’t make you cool, and certain people will judge you poorly when you use it; profanity is just words. Moreover, making a big deal about “bad words” just increases the taboo-ness of them, which makes them more desirable. Return
2: Our time at the Swan ranged from merely average to disappointing. The room was of average quality, but we’ve stayed in downtown Manhattan for the less per night with more included as part of the nightly fee. Some of the disappointment was due to poor expectations: we thought that it was a Disney resort with same benefits like ground transportation from the airport included; some disappointment was because they nickel-and-dimed us to death (e.g. a $25-per-night “resort fee” to cover the complimentary internet access and pool, which we only got partially refunded). Return
3: Victor’s cell phone is 321-945-1003, call a few hours ahead to arrange a ride with him (dispatch will only send the next available). His voicemail box was full but he responded promptly to our texts. He seemed to genuinely appreciate having a guaranteed fare. There are cheaper methods to get in and out of the airport if you’re by yourself, but none quite so hilarious. Return
Meghan gave me an awesome Christmas present: tickets to see Neil Gaiman read from his latest book, Norse Mythology at The Town Hall on February 9, 2017 in New York City. She only purchased two tickets and it’s a Thursday night. Too bad kids — you’re staying home! (We arranged for our neighbor’s adult daughter Sam to stay with the girls for the night).
As the day approached I watched the weather forecasts with growing interest. Snow was forecast for Thursday, the day of the event and the day we planned to travel to NYC. By Tuesday the forecast was clear: snow, and possibly a blizzard. Driving to NYC was out of the question, and flying would be problematic as well. We have easy access to trains, though, assuming they would run in a blizzard.
The storm could not wait to arrive and it was snowing hard by the time we left the house for our local train stop. In order to head south on Amtrak, we take commuter rail from our house to Boston’s North Station, the subway (or walk when the weather is nice, which is to say not this time) from North Station to South Station, and pick up Amtrak there. The Amtrak train was scheduled to depart at 11:15, so we left the house by 9 am to catch everything on time. As usual, we forgot a few minor things like toothbrushes, and had to purchase them when we got there.
Amazingly enough, train service ran perfectly despite being a real, legitimate, certified blizzard. We had periods where we could not see the landscape at all, but the train continued to rock along at 100+ mph (verified via Waze on Meghan’s phone). The ride from South Station to Penn Station is about 4 ½ hours.
By the time we got to NYC the snow had wound down, though it continued to snow back home for another six hours. The streets were messy and wet, with snow piled up at every corner. The hotel is only a few blocks from Penn Station, a few blocks from Times Square, and a few blocks from The Town Hall — NYC is great that way.
We ate dinner around the corner from our hotel at the Beer Authority. The food was yummy, the beer selection is well-curated, and we had a very enjoyable time. (I thoroughly enjoyed a Founders Porter and Meghan tried a Timmerman’s Strawberry Lambic that was surprisingly tasty.)
We killed a little more time before the show by wandering the local neighborhood. Times Square is always blindingly bright, but within a few blocks are much nicer views.
Finally, the main event: Neil Gaiman. “Norse Mythology” was finished some time before the 2016 election, and every story in it is a faithful retelling of stories from the original eddas, but the story he chose to read was eerily appropriate: a book about the gods building a wall around Asgard to keep the ice giants out. The reading was followed by a pair of previews, one for the American Gods miniseries (based on his excellent book), and one for a movie adaptation of an old story of his, How to Talk to Girls at Parties. Finally, he came back out with Ophira Eisenberg for a Q&A session. Mr. Gaiman is, by turns, very thoughtful and very funny. Despite the cramped seats made for midgets with abnormally short legs we really enjoyed ourselves.
The next morning we ate breakfast at the hotel and killed some more time waiting for our 11 am train. We visited the Empire State Building’s lobby and checked out a few adjoining blocks. Our train was delayed for nearly an hour due to “missing equipment”, but we got back to Boston by dark and back to our car by 6 pm. (Rush hour on the subway is never fun, but all in all it wasn’t too bad.) Glad to be home!