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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Sunday—There’s Something Fishy Going On!

Colorful Fish Photo #9,852

After a quick bite at the coffee shop, we bid adieu to the gardens at the Hotel Gaylord and headed out of Nashville bound for Atlanta. We checked into the Hilton Garden Inn a few hours later and made a beeline for the Georgia Aquarium. I pleased to say that the drive was not nearly as eventful as the day before. In fact it was a great visit with hardly any drama at all….

Unless you count the food court feast of chicken fingers and nachos that cost fifty big ones and almost caused hubby to have “the big one”! Come to think of it, we only narrowly avoided a fit from the five year old when her arms weren’t long enough to reach the sting rays skimming along the bottom of the touch pool. We tried three different pools and all of them were just as deep. So, we distracted her with a slide at the indoor play yard just before she was able to launch a full blown tantrum. And of course, my son, in classic form, began to whine the moment he found out that we were seated in the “splash zone” for the Dolphin Tales presentation for fear he might melt. This is the same kid who stands directly under the dump buckets every time he visits a splash pad. It is also the same kid who conveniently forgot about his aversion to water the moment another boy his age sat down two seats away. He immediately asked to swap spots with his dad and the two boys began to pray for wild dolphin attacks so that they could get soaked and save themselves a shower before bedtime.

White Alligator
White Alligator

Aside from a few minor disturbances, it was an exciting day for the whole family, with rare white alligators and the Ocean Voyager Exhibit—the largest indoor aquatic habitat in the world. I’d highly recommend this stop to anyone with little ones. They’ll love all of the underwater adventures. Just a one thing…. Make sure you have plenty of storage space on your phone because your daughter may need you to take pictures of EVERY colorful fish you find. Oh! And you may be hard-pressed to get your son out of there at the end of the day. So, take my advice. Save the gift shop for last!

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Whale Shark (in a 60×30 ft window)

Saturday—The Grand Ole Family Vacay Begins!

We left home in the Ford Fiesta before 8:30 am, two parents, two kids, and several suitcases, ready for our first big family road trip. The gas tank was full and the excitement was high. It didn’t last long. By 8:53, we’d already had one episode of carsickness and one coffee spill in the new car. As the Starbucks soaked into the interior and the scent of used Asiago bagel wafted into the front seat, I shook my head and thought, “I can’t have nice things!” We hadn’t even made it off of the outer belt yet and we’d already had multiple mishaps. Needless to say, I was skeptical about the day—and the trip—to come.

Fortunately, things did improve from that point forward. Seven hours and one Cracker Barrel Stop later, we rolled into the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, rolled being the operative word. We actually rolled to a stop behind a very long line of other travelers eager to begin their own Opry Land Experience. After nearly another hour of starting and stopping, we reached the entrance and unloaded for the night. Children and parents alike were thrilled with the hotel accommodations, particularly the beautiful Cascade Conservatory filled with blooms and waterfalls of all kinds to explore.

Cascade Conservatory at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel

We grabbed a slice of pizza from Paisano’s and we were off to the main attraction: A Night at the Grand Ole Opry! To be honest, this was not something that my husband and kids were all that thrilled about, but they indulged me, as I insisted that like it or not, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that everyone should take advantage of. Hubby made jokes throughout the show to amuse himself, claiming that John Conlee was actually our own Bud Watkins, former District 40 Governor for Toastmasters International. Child number one repeatedly threatened to doze off, while child number two interrupted frequently to point out that the entire event would be much more exciting, if only there were snacks to be had. I, while never truly a country music fan either, was enthralled, lapping up every note and at times, getting just a little misty.

Grand Ole Opry House

At some point, I questioned what exactly it was about the whole thing that could evoke such emotion. I think it’s this. Every star that appeared on stage that night, whether old or young, seemed to show a genuine concern and respect for each other that often seems lacking in pop culture. They truly appeared to be one big family. When Little Jimmy Dickens, who was easily 90 years old, ambled out on stage and sang, admiration filled the air. Somehow, I have a hard time imagining the same type of reception for Britney Spears performing at age 100. Not only that, but the stories told by the music were incredible and there was no use of auto-tune or synthesized music. There was something simple, very raw, and very real about all of the performances that you just don’t get from most pop music these days. I was touched. I don’t know if I’d call myself a country fan just yet, but my appreciation for the genre might run just a little deeper.

We walked back to the hotel, enjoying the night air, happy to be away from the Ohio weather. We fell into bed, ready for some much needed rest. And as I lie there in the darkness listening to my son urging his sister to keep her feet off of him, I thought, “Day one is done. Only seven more to go!”