The Best Vacation Ever!

I have friends who complain about having to make all the arrangements for their family vacations. They book all the flights, all the hotels, and all the tours. All their husbands need do is show up. For many of them, this is a bone of contention in their marriages. I don’t have that problem. My husband is the best vacation planner ever. He does all the work. My biggest concern is how to fit a week’s worth of clothing in a small carry-on suitcase and how to keep up with him as he speed-walks through seven days of jammed-packed, magical madness. Our recent trip to Walt Disney World was no exception to the rule.

img_0561We explored the wizarding world of Harry Potter and spent time with the Simpsons at Universal. We laughed, danced, and got splattered with goo in the front row at the Blue Man Group. After a full day at the Magic Kingdom, we witnessed the 360 fireworks display from Frontier Land and saw Cinderella’s Castle decked out in all its patriotic glory. At Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest took us to the top of a mountain and Kilimanjaro Safari took us on a trip through the img_0722heart of Africa. We ate, shopped, and polka danced our way around the world at Epcot. Hollywood Studios sent us to the Twilight Zone in the Tower of Terror and through the history of film on The Great Movie Ride. We had lunch in the Beast’s castle, sampled Mexican and German cuisine, enjoyed the music and Shepherd’s Pie at an Irish pub, and were wined and dined at Iron Chef Morimoto’s Asia. And those are just a few of the highlights.

I do buy in to the idea that Disney is the “happiest place on Earth”. It must have magical powers of some kind, because the children didn’t fight. Or at least they fought less than usual and my husband managed his usual lead and averaged thirteen thousand steps a day while still nursing a sprained ankle. As for me…  My ankles swelled and developed what is affectionately called “Disney Rash” from the heat radiating off the pavement. Between the sweat, water rides, and sporadic downpours it felt rather like a week-long wet T-shirt contest and there was nothing sexy about it. And I’m still not certain I won’t end up having a time-delayed stroke from all the colored, flashing lights of the Mickey Mouse bubble blowers I was exposed too on a nightly basis. But, it’s all part of the experience. Good and bad, it’s all woven into the tapestry of memories that will last a lifetime. I’m blessed to have had the time with my loved ones on what the kids are still calling “the best vacation ever”.

How will we—or should I say he—ever top this one? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m going to spend next week getting reacquainted with my couch. I’m going to watch soap operas and start on the pile of books I have left to read. Thank God my kids will be at sports camp for five days, because I need a vacation from the vacation!

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Sin City Is Not Just for Sinners

I have a friend who insists she’ll never go to Vegas. When asked why, the only reason she can come up with is that it’s all about gambling and sinning. Now, I know there is some truth to that. You’re faced with slot machines the second you step of the airplane. You can walk around with open containers 24/7 and… Shhh! Prostitution is legal. But my husband took me on my first trip to Las Vegas last week, and I can honestly say that those things were some of the farthest from my mind. Based on my experience, Sin City is Summer 2015 227not just for sinners. There is truly something for everybody.

If your idea of “the arts” is iconic Vegas burlesque with female body parts and feathers, Jubilee or Fantasy might tickle your fancy. But for those who are true theater-lovers, you can catch any kind of show from Broadway’s Jersey Boys to Cirque de Soleil Beatles Love as we did. You can see old-fashioned song and dance acts like Donnie and Marie. You can enjoy the comedy stylings of folks like Kathy Griffin and Carrot Top, though, I should point out that this is not a personal endorsement. I still have no idea why Carrot Top is famous. You can catch a magic show with David Copperfield or, for the best of both worlds, a magic and comedy show with Penn and Teller, which I would highly recommend.Summer 2015 243

If it’s action you’re after, the options are endless. We drove a Lamborghini, a Ferrari, and an Audi R8 in Lake Mead National Recreation Center, reaching speeds I’m not allowed to mention. We flew in a sixteen passenger plane to the Grand Canyon, rode a roller coaster at New York, New York, and rose 550 feet up on the High Roller, the highest observation wheel in the world. If you’re even more daring, you can sky-dive, zip-line, or bungee-jump. And if you prefer the historical take, visit the Mob Museum and then follow up by learning to shoot machine guns. Summer 2015 205

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, take your pick of restaurants from any corner of the world. Dine on meatloaf and burgers at the American Grille at the Rio, Brioche from Le Café in Paris, or Sushi from Japonais at the Mirage. We did all of the above, but my personal favorite was the five course Hell’s Kitchen Tasting Menu at Gordon Ramsay’s STEAK. Between the Scallop Risotto, Beef Wellington, and Sticky Toffee Pudding with warm toffee sauce and brown butter ice cream I don’t know which would be my favorite. Summer 2015 306

I will confess we did gamble while we were there—for approximately ten whole minutes. But to be honest, we’d have been done after five if we hadn’t been waiting for our free drinks. That’s how they get you! On our trip home the phrase “next time” came up several times. We discussed which restaurants we would re-visit, which hotel we might stay in, and the fact that we still need to take a gondola ride at the Venetian. Oddly enough, which slots we would hit never came up. Because believe it or not Las Vegas is not all about poker, slots, and booze. Sure, it’s there if you want it, but if you have any kind of self-control, you can avoid it and you’ll never miss it. If you’ve never been to Vegas don’t let wild tales of good people gone astray keep you from booking a trip. Trust me, from the Venetian to Caesar’s to Paris, a stroll down the strip is like a trip around the world and whether you want to jump out of a plane or swim with dolphins the opportunity is there. In Vegas, anything is possible. Summer 2015 169Summer 2015 197

Florida Welcomes You—with Free OJ and a Whole Lot More!

The last time we were in Orlando it was for a Disney World Extravaganza, complete with Park Hopper Passes and meal plans. We covered all four theme parks, one waterpark, and spent time at the hotel pool. It was an eight day fun-filled, fantastic, frenzy. Parents, kids, and grandparents all had a blast, but I’d be lying if I said it was relaxing.

This time we only spent one day with Mickey and Company and thanks to our friends and fellow Toastmasters, Jerry and Brenda, we got to spend several days enjoying the some of the less commercial fun that Florida has to offer.

Free OJ from the FLA Welcome Center!
Free OJ from the FLA Welcome Center!

We drove from Atlanta to Orlando on Monday and arrived just in time for a delicious dinner of Chili Verde, courtesy of Aunt Brenda, and the kids made themselves right at home in the spare room, enjoying Jessie on their own small screen TV. I’d say that having a television in their bedroom may have been the highlight of the trip, but I’m sure that it paled in comparison to Tuesday’s breakfast. That morning we sampled Uncle Jerry’s chocolate chip pancakes, which we topped with syrup, berries, and copious amounts of spray whipped cream. That was the day that the new “Five Second Rule” was born, five being the number of seconds that one must spray said whipped cream when topping one’s pancakes… or cookies… or ice cream… or coffee… You get the idea. (This rule may be modified to three seconds if needed for those who are faint of heart or in danger of a Diabetic emergency.)

Uncle Jerry's Famous Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Uncle Jerry’s Famous Chocolate Chip Pancakes

After our gourmet breakfast, we ventured to the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens. We spent the day strolling through the beautiful tree-lined paths and seeing all sorts of new creatures that can’t survive in cruel Ohio temps. The kids were so impressed by the zoo’s super splash pad and the camel rides, that they didn’t even miss the gift shop. And we even got to feed the giraffes!

Is your name Alice?
Is your name Alice?

 

 

 

 

The next day was spent at Cape Canaveral National Seashore. We had fun in the sun, a picnic on the beach, and took pictures that made all of our friends back home just a little jealous. But the best part of that day was hearing my son yell at his sister as they dashed across the sand, “Audrey that’s the ocean!” She squealed and yelled back, “I can’t believe I’m at a real beach!” We lathered them up with sunscreen and off they went. They played on the shore for hours, building sandcastles, collecting shells, and letting the waves wash up to their waists. The water was freezing, but they couldn’t have cared less.

Cape Canaveral National Seashore
Cape Canaveral National Seashore

 

Thursday marked our return to Disney World and the Magic Kingdom. This time, the day didn’t seem nearly as hectic. In fact, from 9:30 am to 11:00 pm, Disney World really did feel like the happiest place on Earth. We had minimal waits, beautiful weather, and we were named Honorary Patriots at the Liberty Tree Tavern when we helped open the restaurant for dinner. I think getting to ring the dinner bell almost helped to heal the scars left after we forced the children to ride Space Mountain!

We finished out the week with one more round of chocolate chip pancakes, packed up the car, and headed for Savannah. We spent Friday night at the Hilton DeSoto, in Historic Savannah. The impressive chandeliers in the lobby were original to the hotel, built in 1890. The room was well decorated with walls painted in a calming powder blue. The pizza from room service was affordable and delicious. Fortunately, the hotel security team was also remarkably efficient when they removed the guests across the hall at two am for unsportsmanlike conduct and/or excessive celebration in the hotel pool!

We arrived home on Saturday night after an eleven hour drive, safe, sound, and happy to be home. It was a wonderful trip filled with great family memories, but there is nothing like the feel of your own bed on that first night back. I’m just thankful we had Sunday to recover before returning to work. I don’t know about the rest of them, but all that fun and family togetherness in the Ford Fiesta took a lot out of me!