In Austin, traffic is heinous enough to make you give up driving forever if a) it’s Frid… more
Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category
By Daddy Clay Monday, June 17th, 2013
In Austin, traffic is heinous enough to make you give up driving forever if a) it’s Friday afternoon b) it’s a holiday or C) it’s raining. So there we were in a monsoon at 4pm the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, me, my tween daughter, and 9-year old son on our way to a “travel” soccer tournament. I use “on our way” and “travel” loosely. There we sat.
Which gave us time to take in our automotive surroundings. We found ourselves seated in a 2014 Kia Sorento SXL. And we would be putting it through its paces. As a matter fact, I challenge any automotive magazine to come up with a better test for a midsize SUV than the one we had in store. Hundreds of miles on Texas Interstates to visit previously unexplored soccer fields in the wilds of suburban Houston, torrential rains, then on to muddy ranch roads as we stopped in to visit a friend’s ranch in the Texas Hill Country, and, as an encore, we traversed the fastest stretch of road in the country on our trip home. Read the rest of this entry »
By concretin_nik Wednesday, June 5th, 2013
Yes, I went to Walt Disney World as a kid. I was 7 (I think). ‘Twas only the Magic Kingdom back then. Epcot was still under construction. I remember having some fun, I remember not having fun, because I have 2 older brothers. I remember almost puking after the dreaded tea cup ride with one of said
turds brothers (I may have actually puked). (Sidenote: They’re not turds today, I’m actually quite fond of them as adults.) And I remember wanting to go back ever since. I’m 40. My son is 5. It was time.
And this time it was different. There were no travel woes of driving for hours on end. We took a direct flight and we did a full destination package. Now there was still a bit of near-hurling, and yes, that was me again. There were moments of DadJoy™, MomJoy™, KidJoy™, and most importantly, FamilyJoy™, and very few instances of preschooler meltdown. Which is quite impressive, for any family on a week long tour of 4 different theme parks. But to be fair, we have been blessed with a fairly easy going lil’ bugger. This will be a multiple post series about how we(and Disney) set the bar very high for all future family vacations. Read on to see how I actually planned much of the good parts, and how we caught a few breaks on our epic vacation. I’ll talk about planning, prepping TheBoy, the vendors we used, where we stayed, and finally some tips about the visiting the parks themselves.
Part 1: ScorpioticNeurosis™ (Planning)
Part 2: Prep & Customer Service Level – EXPERTS
Part 3: Hollywood Studios & Epcot
Part 4: Animal Kingdom & Magic Kingdom
5 years. Well, about 30 years really. But 5 years is how long I’ve been waiting, and KNOWING, I was going back to Walt Disney World. TheBoy needed to be old enough to understand how to behave in public, yet young enough to still be thrilled to meet a six foot tall mouse. But not freak out. Your kids may vary, but really, if you can help it, don’t take a 2 year old. It’s REALLY not worth the hassle, for you, the cast members and characters, nor your kid, or their older siblings. The families I saw that didn’t look particularly happy all had one thing in common, they had at least one infant/barely walking wee one. Seriously, wait until they can truly enjoy themselves, which means you can too.
A co-worker(Tracey) who visits WDW at least once a year got me in contact with another Tracy, at TravelOnADream.com. She had me determine which dates we wanted to attend, and then helped us book a package including our lodging, park tickets, and dining needs. Airfare was up to me to figure out. No problem, we always fly Southwest, because they are always the cheapest. The best tip I can give you about airfare is this: once you book your flight, even if you think it’s a great deal, KEEP CHECKING! Tracey pointed out TWICE that our flights were on sale, AND from our home city. (We had originally booked out of Indianapolis, a two hour drive, because it was significantly cheaper.) Southwest won’t issue a refund, only credit. But there were no fees involved in our rebooking and now my family has over $200 in reserve for our next fare purchase, and we flew out of the airport only 5 minutes from our door. Win! Our Travel On A Dream package included lodging at the Pop Century Resort (one of Disney’s value priced locales), an extensive dining plan that included a snack, quick service meal, and table service meal for each of the three of us each day, park hopper tickets for the 4 main parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom), and Disney’s Magical Express airport transport service. With the Magical Express service, once we checked our bags at the curb in Louisville, we didn’t have to fuss with them until they hit our hotel room. (Staff will tell you it can take up to 3 hours after check-in for your bags to arrive, ours took 5. Disappointing, but not a deal breaker by any means. Just be sure to pack your swim suits in your carry on, so you can hit the pool. When my brother went several years ago, his bags arrived before he did.)
Research, research, and more research led me to all corners of Pinterest and Google and many family bloggers with tips on ensuring a magical Disney visit. Daddy Clay had also referred me to TourGuideMike.com. My work schedule basically determined our dates, and as it turned out, it was the perfect week. Just after all of the spring breakers had gone home, but before school let out for the Summer, and only a couple of weeks after our 9 year anniversary. Wow, 9 years has gone by pretty fast. Anyway, TourGuideMike is a paid service. And it should be noted that some of his info is dated at 5 to 6 years old, but that doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate. It was about $20 for access to the EXTENSIVE information on ALL of the Disney theme parks. Including which days are less crowded (historically) during your selected dates, underutilized and hidden (read: less crowded) bathrooms and restaurants, expected wait times, height requirements and descriptions for the various attractions, and how to really take advantage of the dining plan, character meals and meetings, and Disney’s FastPass system. I’m sure much of the information Mike presents IS in fact available from Disney, blogs, forums and friends. HOWEVER, it is definitely worth the 20 spot to have all of that information readily accessible via one website, in an easy to read format. Though the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming. I wouldn’t recommend Mike’s service if you are leaving tomorrow for the House of Mouse. To get the most out of his tips and tricks, you need to take some time to read through the site. You’ll be glad you did. I used TourGuideMike to plan which park we would hit each day, which rides/shows we MUST see, AND what to avoid(crowds). I made notes and printed off a few things about each park.
Dining: Character meals were important for me. I wanted TheBoy to be able to have a bit of one-on-one time with each character, and I wanted to be able to take photos at a less frantic pace than the typical onsite meet & greets. Enter Tracy at TravelOnADream.com again. I gave her our time and restaurant preferences and she went to work. Now we were booking these only about 60 days out, so we did have to trade a few dinners for lunches, but we were able to schedule 4 character meals out of 6 table service meals. Once that was done, it really began to sink in that this was really happening.
Oh, and we also added Disney’s PhotoPass Plus. I won’t go into great detail about it, you can find the info at DisneyPhotoPass.com. But essentially, you prepay for photos their photographers will take of you throughout the parks. By prepaying, you get ALL of the photos they take, not just the ones you select after the fact, which would be $15 for two 5×7s of the same photo. Prepaying with PhotoPass Plus seems expensive, at $125, but also totally worth it. With 6 days in various parks, I was quite confident that we would get enough photos to more than make up for the price. (We ended up with well over 100 photopass photos.) You can add borders and Disney icons to the photos on the site BEFORE you request your CD, and those customized versions will be included along with the originals. (You do receive a limited personal use license for printing the high res files as well.) Special photo tips: ask your cast member photographer if they have any “magic shots.” These are posed photos to which they add surprise elements in post. They will also take a photo with your camera. Just ask nicely.
Throughout this process, there was this wonderfully overwhelming realization of fatherhood. I’m a Dad. And I’m planning a family vacation. Not a beach vacation that starts with a group house rental with a bunch of my skater friends. (Did that.) Not a trip to see the in-laws with a concert for Mom & Dad thrown in. (That too.) I’m talking ’bout THE quintessential family vacation, to Walt Disney World! Other than the reality check of my age, it was a fantastic feeling. I have indeed arrived. Clark Griswald has nothing on me.
By Daddy Clay Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
No conference I have ever attended can match the pure panache of the 2013 Mom 2.0 Summit. Obviously, there was the location. The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is perched on a bluff above the crescent cove of Monarch Beach affording views that were pure iconic California, complete with sparkling waters and surfers galore. Bloggers don’t usually book 5-star seaside resorts, but the conference rate brought it within range of us web hacks.* What a coup.
But beyond the stylishness of the conference (I’m not a guy that notices flower arrangements — they were amazing), and Wall Street Journal articles notwithstanding, there is a remarkable substance to what is on offer at Mom 2. There is a fist in the velvet glove, and the professionalism, marketing power, experience, and advice that presenters and attendees alike bring to bear is incredibly impressive. Read the rest of this entry »
By Daddy Clay Friday, February 22nd, 2013
Meet Ramesh Ferris, polio survivor and polio eradication activist.
Also a guy who hand-cycled 4400 miles across Canada to raise awareness for the cause.
Ramesh contracted polio in his native India at just six months of age. His mother, lacking access to rehabilitation, gave him up for adoption, and he was taken in by a Canadian Anglican bishop and raised in Yukon, Canada. Dedicated to giving back, Ramesh returned to his native country in 2002 to reunite with his birth mother and to visit the orphanage where he lived. Read the rest of this entry »