Who are you wearing?

One of the more underrecognized departments is Costuming and Merchandise.

Not Disney, Silly. I’m talking about Louise.

She’s in charge of the logo and matching wardrobe we all sport on these trips, and let me just say, this year’s design was epic.

I might be making this fact up, but I think they say you can see the Epcot ball from space. After this week, you could add our group of 14 in the matching gold reflective T-shirts to that list with the Great Wall of China. We really are a sight to behold, and despite the obvious fashion statement, it does serve a greater purpose of keeping us altogether in a crowd. On the day we laundered our shirts and arrived to Hollywood Studios dressed all random-like, the only way I could identify our group was by the teenagers begging to wear them again for the Gram. (I also was still suffering from the swimmers’ ear, so it is possible I wasn’t hearing them correctly.)

It helps to have a uniform when we are playing our roles in Snow-Not-Quite-Right and the Ten Dwarves. We’ve got Sweaty, Texty, Sticky, Line-Jumpy, Always Hungry, Fortnitey,  SnapChatty, Summer Reading Avoidy, Sunscreeny, and Visco. (Roles are interchangeable by the minute.) Louise and I both resembled the Evil Queen offering up suspect snacks from our backbacks that probably have turned to poison by now.

And speaking of Epcot, if it’s possible to create an international incident in a fake country, consider our party officially banned from at least 2 pretend continents.

Our offical apologies, Japan.  I realize our mass extradition was made simpler by our identifying dress.

Winning

From my prolonged silence on the matter, you may have assumed that we succumbed to our various illnesses. Or perhaps we contracted Legionnaires’ disease at our Atlanta hotel because there was a Legionnaires’ outbreak at our Atlanta hotel. Or maybe we have been stuck atop Space Mountain all this time and none of you have bothered to contact the proper authorities. Thanks a lot.

None of the above actually occurred–except there really was a Legionairre’s outbreak–and instead we just found ourselves dead on our feet at the end of each day and trying to get our Magic Bands to open up a bottle of wine. Which to our disappointment, it never did. Thanks a lot, Walt.

Though it does turn out that a proper corkscrew is about the only thing a Magic Band can’t do, and we got pretty savvy using it to do all sorts of things around the Magic Kingdom. Our first park day was a success–and the weather was perfect, being just shy of 1200 degrees, with a late afternoon storm of boiling hail. Somehow, we brought 2 rain ponchos for 14 people, so that worked out just as we had planned.

After having gained entry without the dreaded Supervisor Call Over or the Guest Services Walk of Shame, hitting all of the big rides with a Fast Pass itinerary that was surely the envy of all, finding the one restarant serving sangria for lunch, and outwitting further Legionnaires’ from the misting fans all over the property; we pretty much won Disney on Day 1.*

 

*I only write that last reckless sentence after a safe return from atop Space Mountain and a clear pulmonologist report.

 

 

 

Halfway there and indeed, living on a prayer

Un-stranding yourself from an island is more difficult than you might think.

After 5 days on the beach, a Quincearna baseball game and a private fireworks show from one of the world’s richest men that we just happened upon with no invitation; we attempt departure from the sheer randomness of that sentence and half of our vacation is over.

We leave this part of the Sunshine State a little battered–if we tally up the ailments we stand at 1 sprained ankle, 2 swimmer’s ears, 437 bug bites, a 2nd degree sunburn, a latent case of Strep throat, and suspected case of flesh-eating bacteria accompanied by severe hypochondria.

In other words, we are our usual hot mess by Day 6.

But vacationing with us stops for no one, so we pile into the RV (shocked that it’s still at the sketchy campground we left it) and head for a stock up trip to Publix and Walt Disney World! (The two establishments that have most of our money, btw.)

Disney campgrounds really are a superior camping experience. To accomodate our small army, we also have 2 cabins so we can spread out a little, but truth be told we could have filled a third. Heat makes things and people expand, and it’s hot here.

After an incredibly efficient camp set-up and our first of 300 Magic Band search and panic missions, we end our long day with the most expensive Mac and Cheese/BBQ Buffett this side of Space Mountain but grateful we aren’t cooking it. We turn in early because a theme park awaits in the morning and everyone knows that’s the perfect environment for a few compromised immume systems and heat sensitivity!

BRB, R&R

We’ve all spent the last few days “relaxing” on the beach. Dad-style.

This has included planning a tennis tournament with the kids in 110 degree heat with athletes 30 years younger and more able; and then spinning drama and controversy from said tournament that they themselves crafted the framework and rules.

~Recovering physically from the tournament, both from the injuries incurred, and the egos which were bruised.

~17 daily trips to and from the beach carrying an inordinate amount of beach toys and adult beverages, but never seeming to have the right number of either.

~Sand-removal. From so many places and people parts sand just shouln’t be.

~Ice runs. Because Dads need a lot of ice; and need to talk about the means, amount, melt-rate, etc. about as much as they need to talk about Dream Teams in every sport.

~Dream Team compilations and drafts in every sport.

 

But to be fair, in between all of this “relaxing,” there’s been a lot ice cream fetching, fishing, firework-watching, wildlife appreciation, intense binge watching of the new season of Stranger Things on Netflix and superb grilling.

Just make sure he flips the burger with the good arm and doesn’t mistake the Aspercreme with the ketchup.

But it’s a fun cult

As a high-ranking member of the logistics committee, I recognize that when all 15 of us descend on a location in our uniforms of matching T-shirts, crazy hair and road-weariness, it takes a few minutes for onlookers to figure out exactly what or whom they’re seeing. Is it a poorly-run summer camp or a rogue family reunion gone terribly wrong? I’ve seen the look of confusion wash over the faces of Publix cashiers, ticket-takers at baseball games and now ferry-boat captains as they try to comprehend our little army;  a mix of wonder and distaste as they try to match up the very skewed child:adult ratio. Then they might hear Louise start praying aloud or me yelling across aisle 9, “I swear to all that’s good and holy, if there’s not BOGO Pinot Grigio in my cart in the next 38 seconds, there will be hell to pay!” and they logically and sadly conclude that we are some sort of cult.

I believe this is how we were regarded upon entering the island.

We’ve been to this particular island destination many times over the years. It’s truly one of our favorite spots on the planet. But there is definitely a science to the preparation of an isolated destination such as this, and for years our goal has been to pack so that we never have to leave for any of our supplies. In other words, to be a group of people living semi off-grid, self-sufficient, and cut-off from the rest of society while mumbling nonsensical secret codes to one another like, “Where’s the bug spray? You remembered to pack 3 different kinds of gourmet stuffed olives for your martinis but you couldn’t manage room in the bag for some OFF?” Or when Louise tells the woman at the check-in counter that it doesn’t matter which charges go on which credit card because it’s all the same anyway and the woman looks horrified and says “Sister wives,” as she goes to the back to call the authorities.

Cult probably isn’t too off-base.

But at least we are an inclusive cult, always seeking new members. We met up with old friends here and now all of the kids are calling one another, “Brothers,” which doesn’t exactly dispel the cult myth, but it’s heart-warming nonethless. The strangers fighting for grill space with us probably aren’t quite ready to join, but I’d bet they’d accept a pamphlet to learn more about the program later.

So all is well as long as you know the secret handshake and tythe in margaritas.

See you on the mainland, Brother Reader.

 

On the Road Again

Greetings, Fellow Adventurers!

If you recall from our last episode, the caravan of 15–because obviously that is the best number in a traveling party–made its way around the Northeast, at times even crossing international borders. A fabulous time was had by all.

This summer, the menfolk feedback from Louise and my amazing past itineraries was,

“Less driving, more beach.”

“You guys know there’s cameras when you blow through toll booths, right?”

“If I eat one more powdered egg breakfast from a Hampton Inn free buffett, I’ll vomit.”

“What’s that smell?”

We heard:

“We want to spend way more time on the road with you and the kids, please oh please, let me drive.”

So we did just that.

This year we set aside the more aggressive destinations Louise and I originally hatched up (Oh you’ll still be there Grand Canyon, Alaska and an RV rental counter in Reykjavik next summer) and head south to Florida for a couple of weeks of beach, Disney, Cape Canaveral and St. Augustine. Although there isn’t much “camping” involved this time around, we are still traveling in the RV, because no vehicle is better in water, sand and heat than this combustible beast!

And packing? It’s a breeze to supply a dozen or so teenagers with the essentials to be self-sufficient on an island for a week. Oh, and there’s a ferry involved, so we will transfer those supplies 27 times in 4 different vehicles in unseasonably hot weather because this is way more relaxing than a geyser tour of Iceland. And think of all that money we’ll save  sticking a little closer to home because everyone knows Disney World is for the budget conscious.

We hear you loud and clear, Dads.

So join us, Friends on this year’s summer adventure because according to Butch and Sundance and their planning efforts, this is going to be the best trip yet.

 

 

 

Follow the Chocolate Brick Road

A wise man once said, “Give me chocolate or give me death.”

Hershey, Pennsylvania opted to give us both.

Ok, maybe no wise man ever said that, but I do know two very wise women who recognize when they’ve met the natural end to an amazing adventure. After almost three weeks of perfect weather, flawless logistics even in the most complicated of circumstances, no traffic, no ER visits and everyone still talking to each other; Hershey wasn’t as cooperative. After moving our accommodations 4 times, we enjoyed their amusement park, left our lunches on as many rides as possible and pulled up stakes to begin the long drive home.

This won’t end well.

It was a sweet ending to an even sweeter trip.

We’ve had a few days to unpack, clean out Viktor and start the endless laundry process, but I haven’t started unpacking the memories yet. It’s one of those tasks that I need to savor, and I’m afraid if I start going through the slideshow in my mind, that means it’s over–and I’m definitely not ready for that, yet. We saw so many sights, did awesome things all together with some of my favorite people on this planet, and that’s not as easy to find the natural end.

Hershey!

(Stay tuned as we wrap up with the numbers and a few more fun things to share!)

Beantown

We rolled into Boston licking our wounds, as in the bites, stings, stabs, disembowelments, or whatever the native Maine insects inflicted upon us over the last four days. They are intense little buggers, that’s for certain. So a couple of nights in a hotel was just the respite we needed.

But Boston had other plans for us than a relaxing weekend–it wanted some fun! We were treated to amazing day at Fenway–the Red Sox gave us a tour, delicious lunch and great seats to an afternoon game and I can tell you that those that were already baseball fans were obviously smitten, but those who weren’t have fallen in love after this trip. It’s hard not to surrounded by all that history and tradition.

Fenway!

And because there’s never enough sports–some went on to an MLS game that evening after the baseball game, and the rest of us played rugby over dinner at perhaps too nice of a restaurant for our road-weary crew in our matching T-shirts.

Our team of 13 now splits off to ten–Butch and Sundance will depart with a camp attendee, and Louise and I will make our way home in Viktor and the pace car by way of Hershey Park.

I’m going to need some chocolate comfort facing the end of this amazing trip.

Siri Vs. Viktor

I keep trying to foster a healthy relationship between Siri, our passive-aggressive navigation system, and Viktor, our 33 foot long RV.

It’s not going well.

Viktor: Good morning, Siri. I need to go this next leg of the journey all on interstates, avoiding these small back roads, please.

Siri: Recalculating route.

Viktor: Wait, this takes me through four 1-lane, unpaved streets and across someone’s front lawn! Can we fix that?

Siri: You said you wanted the shortest route. Recalculating.

Viktor: OK, how about the fastest route instead?

Siri: Recalculating.

Viktor: (Surveying map.) Um, this takes me through the Holland Tunnel at rush hour, a ferry, under at least 2 low clearance bridges, a private road and a herd of migrating bison. That’s tough to do with my size and height.

Siri: Sigh. That is the fastest route. Recalculating.

Viktor: Do you have a setting that eliminates shortcuts, and just takes the most straight-forward way?

Siri: I’m sorry, but I’ll have to check the Internet for that.

Viktor: (Under his breath) That’s where I would start….

Siri: Recalculating.

Viktor: (Glancing over the third route.) Ok, this seems better to start, but it looks questionable at the end. Is there a way to fix just that part?

Siri: Oh don’t worry. I will secretly recalculate you periodically throughout your journey just to mess with your head and to prove to you that my knowledge is superior to your so-called “needs.” It’s like a survival skills test which you miserably fail.

Viktor: Wait! No! I have someone following us so we need to be on the same route!

Siri: It seems like you need more than a navigation system for this particular trip, Viktor. (Under breath) And life in general.

Viktor: You’re right about that much. Right now I’ll start with Jake from State Farm to help me get un-wedged from this Dunkin’ Donuts drive thru bypass that I know can’t be a real driving direction you gave me…

Siri: (Evil cackle.) Recalculating….

Maine

After the longest drive of our route to date–6 hours–we wound our way through New Hampshire and back up along the coast of Maine. We had a picnic near a Moose Crossing sign before landing in Bar Harbor at the entrance of Acadia National Park.

Our campground was a full one and the sites were pretty close together, but since we had abandoned any sense of personal boundaries by Niagara, it was fine. And then we got a look at the oceanside views, and all else was forgotten. This was our first waterside camping experience, and it will not be our last.

Bar Harbor Camping

Louise quickly lapsed into a lobster-coma, and Butch teetered on an actual medical coma from his shellfish allergy, as Louise’s new boyfriend steamed fresh lobster every night 50 feet from our RV. I’m hoping both will regain consciousness by Pennsylvania.

We spent an afternoon in beautiful Bar Harbor–ate more lobster and Benadryl–and spent a lot of time in camp chairs around a fire and missing the actual sunset every night. Acadia National Park did not disappoint, and I’m quite certain our hike of 13 people along the Ocean Trail could be seen from space.

Acadia National Park

We have spent the last five nights in camping mode, and it’s beginning to show. We have used all of the hot water in Maine, so the few showers that were taken were short and inadequate. The laundry situation is officially out of control; there seems to be hidden stashes of dirty clothes everywhere that only appear after all of the quarters have been spent. Supplies are running dangerously low, and if it weren’t for the limes in our cocktails, we’d be battling a scurvy outbreak by now. (Sorry kids, you’re on your own.)

Hiking!

So it’s a good thing we are about to hit Boston, with it’s hotels and non-communal bathing options. Because we need to restock on just about everything for the home stretch. Even dessert.

The biggest tragedy of the trip.