Traveling with friends

All I can say is proceed with caution. We’ve had some good experiences and some bad. The first trip we took with friends didn’t go that well. We knew what they were like ahead of time so we should have known. They have been known to drink too much and get into arguments. Sure enough, it happened on vacation and we weren’t sure if we would still be friends when we got back home.

Last year we went on vacation with another group of friends. It went well because our friend Cara insisted on planning everything a year in advance. You can pretty much trust someone who is a project manager to plan a good trip. All I had to do was show up.

Fast forward to 2020. This year we are planning a spring break vacation with Cindy and her family. We started talking about it last spring. I wanted a commitment by late summer, but didn’t get one until Thanksgiving. By the time I looked at a trip to Disney for 10 people all the deals were gone and nothing was left in our price range. So I started looking at places to stay outside of Disney.

My friend Cindy wanted me to do all the planning. I have the time, plus I am very detailed, organized, structured, experienced traveler who tirelessly thinks about and searches every option. I had no problem with that. I researched flying vs driving. They were pretty convinced they wanted to drive. Again, I looked at all the options. I even called a place that rented out a 12 passenger van. I researched the driving route. Everything. Then I presented it to them and they said they didn’t like the van idea because it had bench seats which weren’t comfortable. Okay.

Then they wanted to fly again. So I searched all the airlines again. Now the prices were sky high, pun intended. They baited you with an affordable flight but once you wanted to return home you had to add on another $250 if you wanted a good flight. What I mean by good flight is not leaving late at night and getting to our destination the next morning, leaving very early morning, or having 2 layovers.

From our home airport the going rate to fly to Orlando was almost $1,000 per person. I flew to Thailand for less than that price. Insane! We couldn’t fly anywhere out of the state of Wisconsin for much less than that. Yes, I checked. Everyday I checked. We could fly out of Chicago for $750 per person which is still pretty expensive. But we were leaning towards doing that.

We are now less than two months from our trip. I asked Cindy to give me a call and we could sit down at our computers to book a flight together. I just sat down to eat supper with the whole family, nothing short of a miracle, when my phone rang. I didn’t answer the phone because I have the boundary that no one is going to disturb supper with my family. It was Cindy.

By the time I was done eating, Cindy had already booked their flight by phone. Yes, by phone! She told me she was able to find a flight for half the cost and wanted us to do the same. I was like, no way! My husband looked up the company they purchased tickets from. The company had several complaints filed against them with the BBB. Some consumers were calling this company a scam. Sure, they got a cheap flight but they are also taking a big risk. They received their ticket confirmation from a gmail account. Geez!

I was very upset. They couldn’t wait until I was done eating to talk about it? They totally circumvented me in the process after all the work I did. But then I realized something. Our friends are very spontaneous, disorganized, and impulsive whereas I probably ruminate the details more than a serial killer. Honestly, I was so upset and hurt that I didn’t even want to go on vacation with them anymore. We’ve had such a rough start before the trip even started. It all could’ve been prevented if they were more organized. But I already knew this about them.

It took a couple of days to feel better. Last night our family made the decision to drive down to Florida. We want an adventure. We want to do our own thing. We will head out after school on Friday and spend the night in Chicago. From Chicago we will drive to Chattanooga, TN. Then we will spend almost a week in Orlando with a couple days at Disney, a day in Universal, and some down time at the beach. Then we will spend a couple of days in New Orleans before heading back to WI.

Today I spent the morning planning out the rest of the trip and I almost felt happy. I love planning trips. I’m glad we are taking two separate vehicles now. We have the option to do different things. We can be structured and they can be spontaneous and hopefully our worlds don’t collide.

Stay tuned…

 

 

 

Animal Kingdom’s peculiar animals

…the herd is taken over by a younger male gorilla…the older male loses his family and remains alone…the staff member says as she waves her hand towards an older gorilla that we are gazing at. 

Two little boys (~6) slide in next to me by the gorilla display. 

Boy 1: That gorilla doesn’t look very happy. 

Boy 2: That is because he is an adult. All adults look sad. 

Boy 1: I think he is a female. 

Boy 2 turns to me and asks…Hey lady, is he a female? What do you think?

I turn to the boys with a smile masking an inward chuckle. I tell them that the gorilla is an old male. Look at his white fur. He is simply old and tired. 

The boys, satisfied with my answer, thank me and walk away. 

The old gorilla looks my way. I bet he thinks how peculiar the humans are that parade by on display. 

Heading to Orlando

I printed off our boarding passes this afternoon….we are headed to Orlando. The best part is that we will be meeting up with some good friends for a few days at Disney before the business part of the trip.

I got the feeling that we might be traveling on Sunday despite the hurricane. My daughter Arabella said that she was starting to feel sick. She is the kid that has gotten strep the last couple of times we left home without her.

That was a good(?) sign we were heading out of town.

Arabella had me take her temperature this morning. It was normal. She is a little congested, but that is all. I did feel really frustrated with her at first.

But instead of being angry, I decided to talk to her about…gasp…feelings.. She admitted to feeling afraid when I leave. It is touching that she feels that way in high school, but I am starting to worry about college. Will she be the kid that ends up living in my basement?? I was betting on the music majors…hmm…maybe I got this all wrong..

She is worried that I will die. Too tell you the truth, I worry about that every time I step on an airplane. So of course I had to book my first trip out of the continent to Asia. Nothing like a 22 hour flight to conquer my fear of flying!

Thank God for the little white pills that keep me from having a 3 hour long panic attack on a plane.

(Oh my gosh, I’m going to be flying 22 hours soon!!!!).

As for today, I am excited to go to Florida. Maybe I will have a few pictures to share when I get back…

Blizzards, hurricanes, and airplanes

My husband and I are flying to Florida next week…or at least we are (were??) planning to.

As you may have guessed, we have become obsessed with the news coverage of hurricane Irma. We are going to Orlando for a conference and decided to go a little early to spend a few days at Disney without the kids.

I was surprised to see people sharing things on Facebook about it being the end of the world. Major hurricanes, wildfires out West, and a solar eclipse…but all of these things have been happening since the beginning of time. At least we have modern technology to know about the storms before they hit.

Some people also have been thinking that the world was ending for awhile too. I remember hearing stories in my lifetime of people waiting on their rooftops for the end of the world to come. They would’ve died waiting too…which sends my thoughts to wonder how many fell off their rooftops? I wouldn’t want to climb out on mine, especially in winter.

Maybe people are talking about the end of the world because it seems like America is getting hit with some pretty nasty natural disasters.

Did anyone proclaim the end of the world when eBola hit Africa?? What about during the Salem witch trials, the year 666, and during the bubonic plague??

My brain might explode!

Do I believe that someday the world will end?? Yes, perhaps so, but I believe that the world has been ending since it first began. Kind of like life…people will debate over when life begins..Does it begin at conception or birth? But no one would debate that the minute something is living that it begins the process of dying whether it is a plant, human, or animal…

Wow, that is morbid and deep…okay, enough of the philosophy.

I don’t know if we will be flying out next week…As a Midwestern girl, I know nothing about hurricanes. I’ve only dipped my toes in the ocean a handful of times. I’ve never seen a shark in the sea. I’ve never seen an alligator or crocodile in its natural habitat. I couldn’t tell the difference between them.

All that Wisconsinites know about is blizzards.

Most of us know how to drive in a foot of snow. Some people around this neck of the woods can manage driving in a foot of snow drunk. I wouldn’t recommend it.

We rarely shut down for more than a day for a snow storm…usually a few hours. Most people have a truck, snowmobile, or 4 wheel drive. We’ve gotten used to white out conditions, sliding into snow banks, and leaving the house when it is 20 below without gloves and hats. We can live 3 months barely seeing the sun. We’ve become accustomed to seasonal depression. We shovel the snow out of our driveways with snot dripping and freezing onto our jackets. We are so desperate to get out that we fish on the ice. The bravest of us see how long we can make it before turning the heat on.

But hurricanes, I don’t know anything about that! I can’t even comprehend its impact.

I suppose I too am guilty of being self-centered. I am worried about myself, my flight, my ability to get away for a few days. I seem to be more concerned about the storm for my purposes then the people that have lost everything even their lives.

I admit I am rather happy that all of the news on Facebook isn’t political rants, rioting, and that weird stuff about statues. But I feel horrible about the stories of devastation that are replacing them.

Oh, and I never did read that article about the end of the world.

 

The travel diaries, Disney

We took our first family vacation to Disney World in Orlando. We liked it so much that we came back a couple of years later with my parents. We stayed at Disney both times. The first time we stayed at the moderately priced Port Orleans resort. What I liked about it was that it had a restaurant there that we could eat at in the morning. All 5 of us shared one room. My son slept on a trundle bed. He wouldn’t fit on that right now like he did back then. The second time we stayed at the tree house villas. We had a little bit more room and even had a kitchenette that we didn’t really use since we had the dining plan. I would suggest getting the dining plan if you decide to stay there. The biggest drawback to staying at Disney was that Disney was the only thing that we saw. Last month, we did not go to Disney because we really didn’t have enough time. We checked out Universal and Sea World. Frankly, I liked Disney the best.

image

The picture above was taken at Animal Kingdom. You really feel like you are on safari with the rides and exhibits. I really enjoyed this park a lot. However, if you have a very limited time at Disney I would probably skip this park as it is very similar to a zoo that you could see anywhere.

image

The above picture is my all time favorite AK photo of my wild animals. The face painting made my kids very happy.

image

The picture below was taken at Epcot. I really enjoyed going on the ride Soaring. They use different images and even scents to make you feel like you are flying over various locations. The hydroponic vegetable technology ride is a must see. Then we spent most of the day exploring the different cultures presented at Epcot. Disney brings ambassadors in from the countries of Japan, Germany, China, England, France, Canada, Norway, Mexico, Italy, and Morocco. I was tempted to buy a belly dancing costume from Morocco. We ate french pastries and sipped German beer. The Italian ladies ran off with Paul. We ate at a wonderful restaurant with an underwater aquarium. It was nice to see fish swim by as you are eating. They even had a diver in the tank that waved at people. The evening ended at Epcot with a spectacular fireworks display. Epcot is my favorite park and is a favorite among adults.

image

The second time we were at Disney during the Super Bowl. That was the year that the Packers were playing and won. My family had to parade around Downtown Disney sporting their Packer jerseys. After the Super Bowl, Disney has a parade in Magic Kingdom with someone from the winning team there. That year it happened to be Aaron Rodgers.

image

While everyone was back at the resort watching the Super Bowl, Angel and I got away for a couple of hours to see Magic Kingdom. They offered extended hours that evening for resort guests. We were able to get on our favorite rides without a line. Space Mountain is the most intense roller coaster that I will ride. We really liked a moderate roller coaster at that park which mimics riding through a mine shaft. The comedy show at Monsters, Inc. is always worth the wait. I would skip Lilo and Stitch though if you don’t like the smell of pepper burps. We saw a Disney throughout history show too which was really neat to see how homes looked throughout the decades.

image

Magic Kingdom is the best park to take the kids. I loved it there. It is neat to see all of the characters and of course the castle. The fireworks in the evening at the castle are worth seeing too.

The last park at Disney is Hollywood Studios. It is a park that you could go through in a half a day and see pretty much everything. What I really enjoyed there was the Sci-Fi Diner. It is mainly a burger, fries, and milk shake joint. Waitresses come to the table in roller skates. You are seated at tables inside of an antique car just like you were sitting at an outdoor theater. The best part is that they are playing old black and white sci-fi movies. Out of all of the parks, HS is my least favorite. That being said, it is still pretty good.

We really enjoyed our time at Disney. It is great to be picked up at the airport. You don’t have to worry about driving the whole time that you are there. The wait times for the buses are never very long. It can be a little pricey, but is worth doing at least once. We had a wonderful time there. I hope to go back again some time, maybe even run their marathon. It truly is a magical place!

 

 

The travel diaries, Orlando

Last month we took our last family vacation before our oldest child graduates. I already told you about the craziness getting there and coming home, so I’ll get right to our trip. We rented a vacation house through Orlando Vacation Homes 360 that was big enough to fit my mom, my brother Luke and his family, and the five of us. The house was comfortable and roomy. We also had a movie theater room and outdoor pool. Unfortunately it was too cold to use the pool, but the house was wonderful and if we had questions they responded right away.

image

We spent our first two days exploring Universal and the Island of Adventure. Paul was approached by Olive Oil who asked if he was a sailor. He responded, “As a matter of fact, I am.” If it wasn’t for Popeye, we might have had to leave him behind. Lol

We went to the Harry Potter village and sampled the sweet frothy butter beer. My favorite ride was there, it was a 3D roller coaster ride. I also liked the Spiderman ride which was similar. Angel and I got tricked into riding The Mummy which was too much of a roller coaster for us. Paul had to buy the picture because Angel and I were so terrified that we would never do that again. It was very funny for everyone to remember how frightened we were, forever. Angel and I didn’t go on the huge rocket roller coaster. I told her that would rather eat worms, so she brought me back a bag of salted worm larvae. I didn’t really mean it, Angel!

We spent the weekend at Universal with my best friend that moved to Florida. Afterwards, we went to see their house. It was great to have a cook out and bonfire with them in January. It was windy and cool while we were at Universal with highs in the low to mid 50’s which helped keep the crowds to a minimum.

image

We spent Monday at Sea World with my extended family. It was sunny and 70. We had a great time there because it was virtually empty. We didn’t have to wait in line for rides, exhibits, or shows. As you can see from the above picture, Paul and I were able to swim with the fish. We ate lunch at a restaurant with a large aquarium. The food was great although rather pricey. Yes, we could even order fish while watching them swim nearby. I ordered the lobster bisque and salmon with caper sauce. Mmmm, it didn’t disappoint. The shows were the best I have ever seen at any zoo or aquarium.

image

Our last full day in Florida, we decided to take the kids to Cocoa Beach. It was a cloudy day with highs in the low 70’s. My son really wanted to try surfing while we were there. We ended up renting a wet suit for him. It cost a total of $20 to rent the surf board and wet suit for the afternoon from Ron Jon. I had the misguided assumption that I could use the surf board for a short period of time to check surfing off my bucket list. Once I hit the water with my toes I knew that was not going to happen. The water temp was 65 degrees. Kind of like Lake Michigan in the summer. Paul and the kids went swimming anyway. I almost chickened out, but everyone was teasing me because I said that I would go in. So I did go in up to my chest. It wasn’t that bad once you got used to it. As for staying out a long time in deep water, forget about it.

image

One great thing about a dreary day at the beach is that we had it to ourselves. What a great time to take pictures too!

We were able to save a lot of money on this trip just by eating at our vacation house in the evening. We were thinking of taking sandwiches to eat in the car at the parks, but that is not practical. You could probably do that at Sea World, but not at Universal because it is a long hike back to your car. Almost every evening, my mom would bring out the jelly beans that she bought. Pretty much cured me of my addiction. Along with the normal jelly beans, there were some other flavors including soap, dirt, and vomit. Guess who got the vomit jelly bean? Yup, I did. I honestly don’t know how they can make it taste so real. Gross!

All in all, we had a great family vacation. We didn’t have the warm temps we were hoping for, but it did work to our advantage at the parks and beach. We spent a lot of time talking and laughing. We didn’t come back with a wonderful tan so the people at home were not hating us too much. I would recommend renting a vacation house. It is very affordable when you split the cost. Plus you don’t have to cram a family of five in a tiny hotel room. I thought that Universal was a great park to take teenagers to. Sea World had a lot for all ages to enjoy. One other tip if you are driving in Florida, take money for the tolls.

Happy traveling!

Travel woes, just trying to get there

You may or may not have noticed that I took a week off from my travel series. I took time off from writing about traveling to actually travel. We decided to take one last family vacation to Florida before my oldest child graduates this year. The trip down to Florida and what happened at the end of the trip was so horrible that I am still upset about it. I decided to vent about my woes with you today and then write about the trip (which went great) in another post.  

Last week my mom, husband, 3 kids, and I flew out of Milwaukee with Delta to meet up with my brother Luke and his family in Orlando. We were not able to get a direct flight to Orlando and had an hour layover in Detroit. Our flight ended up being delayed in Milwaukee because someone over fueled the plane which caused us to exceed our weight limit. Eleven people needed to give up their seats due to this. They also had to get a large hose to remove some of the fuel. When we were finally able to board they still needed to de-ice the plane which took a long time because they ran out of de-icer. It took an hour before we were finally able to leave. At this point, the flight attendant assured us that if we had a connecting flight they were aware of our situation and would most likely wait for us.

We ended up landing a few minutes before our next flight was scheduled to depart. We ran across the airport as fast as we could and got to our gate two minutes after our flight was supposed to leave. We arrived to the gate just as our plane was leaving. They could not wait for us for 2 minutes!! Then we were herded into a long line of passengers from our plane. At least 20 people that were sitting near us missed their connecting flights. After waiting in line for what seemed like forever, we were able to talk to an agent that barely spoke English. He said that the only way he would be able to get all six of us to Orlando together was if we took a connecting flight to Boston. At this point, I was extremely angry. He wanted to direct us into Boston right around the time that the east coast was supposed to be hit by a blizzard. I pictured my family being stuck in the weather that we were trying to escape from. You didn’t want to hear the words that seeped out of my lips.

He booked us on the flight to Boston which we cancelled. Then he tried to get us all on the earliest flight available closest to Orlando. He had a few seats available but by the time he tried to type all of our names in the seats were gone. The best he could do was get an 8 PM flight to Tampa for my mom and Paul. He was able to get the kids and I on an 8 PM flight to Jacksonville. I would arrive in Jacksonville at 11 PM then have to somehow find a rental car to drive 2 1/2 hours in the middle of the night with 3 kids on roads I’ve never driven on to get to the house that we rented. You would think that they would agree to pay for the extra rental car to get us there. Nope, they told us that the flight was delayed due to weather and that they would not cover that additional cost. The delay was NOT weather related.

We noticed a half an hour later that another flight was leaving for Orlando. We decided to run across the airport to try to be on stand by for that flight. When we got there, they made the announcement that they were overbooked and were looking for volunteers to take another flight. That wasn’t going to work. We saw another flight leaving for Tampa in 30 minutes all the way across the airport. So once again, Paul and I ran as fast as we could with 3 children and a senior citizen with all of our carry on bags across the airport. When we got there, the Tampa flight was boarding. They told us that we needed to talk to customer service to be added to the stand by list. We went where they directed us to go and no one was there. When we found where we needed to go, we had to wait in line for 10 minutes to speak to someone. When we explained our situation, the woman told us that she needed to leave for her lunch break and directed us to talk to someone on the phone. While Paul was speaking to someone on the phone, my daughter called me in a panic to say that the flight was about ready to leave. We missed the opportunity to catch that flight.

Then we went across the airport again to get on stand by for the next flight to Orlando at 5:30 PM. It was at this time that I switched the Orlando rental car that I booked over to Tampa. I made several other troubleshooting and problem solving calls. I was so angry that I wanted to take my carry on backpack and slam it into the garbage bins to knock them over. I don’t think that I ever swore so much in my entire life. I don’t know what it is about yanking around people’s schedules (while feeling a total lack of control) that can turn reasonably sane people into raging bulls, but it does.

I will be totally honest with you right now, I am terrified of flying. Every little bit of turbulence, I agonize that the plane is crashing. I usually pop a couple of anxiety pills and sleep most of the flight arriving in a comatose state. Paul usually has to make sure that I get to wherever I need to be safely. I read everything that I could about flying to try to get over my fear. I read that planes don’t crash due to turbulence. Most planes crash during take off or landing. Thanks, now that scares the hell out of me too. I am afraid of dying. The thought of falling terrifies me. I feel trapped with a total loss of control while flying. My life is in the hands of some pilot that I don’t even know. You say that flying is safer than driving? Well, that scares me too. I spent a good deal of my life struggling with driving anxiety. I told Paul that I didn’t think that I could handle flying and then driving 2 1/2 hours after being awake 20 hours. He did everything that he could to make sure that the kids and I were on that next flight to Orlando. At the very last second, the person at the desk was able to get the kids and I on the flight. I told Paul to make sure that if they couldn’t get my luggage on that they would send it to Tampa. I had to fly totally alert and unmedicated ridden with anxiety.

Once we landed, I got the message that Paul and my mom were able to get an earlier flight to Tampa. They said that my luggage was in Orlando. My youngest two kids were fighting and touching the luggage carousel. I was just about going crazy, but I was there. My luggage never came out and I panicked. It turns out that they set some of the luggage to the side. Then, due to miscommunication, my brother did not know that he had to pick us up at the airport. We sat at the airport another hour waiting for him. Finally we got to our rental house after 10 PM. My mom and Paul ended up getting there at 11:30 PM.

It was a rough start to our vacation. I am glad that we were able to get there the same day. All of the stress could have been avoided if some idiot did not over fuel our plane. I don’t think I would have been quite as angry if we didn’t watch our connecting flight leave two minutes after the scheduled departure time without us.  Running back and forth across the airport with 3 kids and my mom was extremely stressful as well. I am thinking about writing Delta a letter. Unfortunately, our arrival back home was just as horrible and that had nothing to do with Delta. I will tell you about that next, this post is long enough already.