Travel

Pls to advise re: cruise ships (with children) (and irrational Titanic fears)

We don't have a ton of orders lined up for July - actually, if it weren't for the subscription boxes I'd be worried. But because subscription boxes are starting we are scheduled to make over 500 cookies in our rental kitchen this weekend. Katie says this is possible. I... am not sure. 

Between the subscription boxes and preparing for the street fair the first weekend in August, the bakery is giving me hives. Good hives! But oh man, SO MUCH to prepare for and think about. With the additional stress of knowing that EVEN THOUGH we are doing better each month, the thought of being able to pay ourselves seems light years away. My whiteboard displays six different bullet lists noting everything from renting a canopy to printing labels to noting the subscription box that needs to be sent two weeks late to "buy blue sprinkles" to "try sealing bags with flat iron?" Wait, let's ignore that last one as I'm sure some food inspector person will take issue AHEM.

WE ARE DOING WELL. But the rest of life has to happen too, and I can't focus my entire brain on the bakery, and I think this is what's been hard lately. I've also had to think about the end of the school year, having the kids home, family vacations, moving bedrooms, who's grown out of what, etc. etc. I've been short and snotty with everyone in my family because of it. One of my STRENGTHS is to sit down and zero in on something and get it done, but one of my enormous FLAWS is the inability to un-focus when something else needs my attention. This is why I have flown into fifteen rages over someone requesting a drink of water. 

It's also why I have been cranky about something WONDERFUL and FUN and EXPENSES-PAID in my life, that being a week-long Alaska cruise with Phillip's side of the family to celebrate his mom's retirement. I am ASHAMED of my crankiness while also not really trying to un-crankify myself. My issues are: 

  • I have been and forever will be terrified of Massive Bodies of Water and potential Titanic Scenarios. I just am. Drowning is my thing. I have never wanted to go on a cruise and I truly am anxious about the Out In The Middle Of The Ocean-ness, no matter how many times my dad snorts in reply and tells me that we're "only" going up the Inside Passage and I need to get over myself. 
  • You cannot check your email on a boat. At least not as many times as I prefer to check my email. And when I'm able to do so it will be $$$. Did you hear I have started a new business? And am the main point of contact for all potential customers? 
  • I just LOOK at a boat and get seasick.
  • We're going on a cruise to ALASKA, where it will most likely be Not Warm, in the middle of July which is one part of the year in which my city is reliably warm. As a Warm Weather Hoarder, this also makes me anxious. 
  • How much weight am I going to gain a cruise? No really, HOW MUCH. OMG.

Okay, so those are the major cranky factors. I am doing my DARNDEST to focus on the following:

  • When the Babysitters Club went on a Bahama cruise it was super fun and they met lots of exciting people and also Intriguing Love Interests and my inner 12-year-old awaits the many possibilities for At Sea Adventure.
  • The opportunity to bring a bunch of cute dresses and wear all of them. 
  • The opportunity to go out every night. I am TOTALLY the person who will love a cheesy song-and-dance cruise ship show and I TOTALLY intend to watch at least fourteen. 
  • A connecting room with my in-laws means I CAN watch fourteen shows. 
  • The kids will love it. 
  • Phillip has always wanted to go on a cruise. 
  • Katie will take care of everything at home. 
  • DESSERT TABLES. There will be dessert tables, right? 
  • I don't HAVE to get off the ship and sightsee in Alaska. My MIL totally has my back if I just want to hang off the deck, gaze at an iceberg or glacier for a few minutes, and then go find the on ship spa. I don't have to go PAN FOR GOLD or whatever crazy excursions we've looked at over the last few weeks. I CAN BE A HORRIBLE UNINTERESTED IN SIGHTS PERSON. 
  • MIL also tells me there are lectures on the boat! Lectures! I love lectures! I hope they are not ALL about the history of Alaska. Do you think there will be a WW2 expert on board?
  • I am also STRONGLY considering blondness in honor of my 35th birthday (well, as far as my colorist will take me, which will maybe be 3 strands of blond mixed in with proper grown up hair) and I QUITE like the idea of being a BLOND lady with CUTE DRESSES on a SHIP in the EVENINGS with a DEVASTATINGLY HANDSOME CHINESE MAN on my arm and my CHILDREN in BED. Right? That sounds FUN.

Okay, so, now it's your turn. Hit me with your best cruising tips, people. Seriously. I have never done this before and have waited until now to give it more than two seconds' thought. Pretty sure my SIL has every detail imaginable under control, but JUST IN CASE! TELL ME EVERYTHING.


After stocking up on Vitamin D

*blows dust off the ole blawg*

The last time I went to Europe I was pregnant with Jack. It seems like forever ago. It was even MORE forever ago that I stopped going "home" (Italy) once or twice a year (Christmas, summer). So it makes absolutely no sense that I am still so happily surprised to note that traveling doesn't HAVE to be a days-long, multi-flight, jet-lagged affair where you must be sure of everything you're packing because WHO KNOWS if you'll be able to buy it THERE. 

I was SO AGAINST flying with children, because flying, to me, was (see above) a days-long, multi-flight, jet-lagged affair that took on all sorts of new neuroses after 9/11. I didn't fly anywhere for a long time. No interest. When I planned our first trip to Disneyland it was going to be a road trip. Oh yes. I was not getting on a plane WITH CHILDREN. 

But then we flew to Vegas with Phillip's family and I marveled at how easy it was. And we flew to LAX for the Disney trip. Twice. And seriously, I am still SO amazed when I am sunning myself mid-morning in a California backyard and fixing my kids dinner by 5pm in Seattle. WHAT A NIFTY WORLD WE LIVE IN!

Plane tickets are expensive and child care is complicated, but I highly recommend hopping on an airplane every so often to visit a friend. There are fare deals to be had and grandparents to sweet talk and you can make it happen! Bonus points if your friend lives in what is basically The Tropics compared to your marine temperate locale and your weekend souvenir is an awkward and unfortunate tan line. 

Elizabeth will tell you that the first time Getting On A Plane And Visiting An Internet Friend came up I thought I would only go for one night. I couldn't POSSIBLY stay longer. Not because my kids needed me or I would miss them so much or anything nice like that, I just felt like I wasn't ALLOWED. I can't go anywhere BY MYSELF! JUST FOR FUN?! So it's totally crazy to me that a few years later here I am taking off, alone, for absolutely no reason, for four days... good crazy. 

I had such a great time, you guys. And it was so nice to get away. I feel bad because pretty much my entire family was sick while I was gone - either getting sick or continuing to be sick - and I was off, you know, lolling about a beautifully landscaped yard and plotting my move to California. But after the house guests and the holidays and the sicknesses and the stuck at home it was nice to just GO. I am so lucky I'm able to GO. I am so lucky I have such great people to GO to.

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And whenever you start to feel like a lame frumpy housewife, there's nothing better than parking your own car, taking the shuttle, going through security, sitting at your gate all by your lonesome to feel like a Jet Setting Sophisticated Cosmopolitan Lady. (Just me?) 

Also, airport snacks contain no calories. FYI.

Anyway. School starts again this week, I have the Great Spring Clothes Sorting to suffer through, and a six-year-old's birthday to plan. Back to real life! I kinda missed it.

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ooh! ooh! Before you go, I have a serious question. How cost prohibitive do you think it would be to install a SLIDE alongside the DECK STAIRS????? (I'm calling contractors this week. I AM.)

 


In which I steal my own private jet

TypePad is SUPPOSED to email me when someone comments here, but I didn't get any emails about yesterday's post and I was feeling pretty dumb. Until I stopped by my little command center to write something new (have to get that embarrassing post off the front page! gah!) and saw all the nice things you said and all the people who were totally cool about those wacky Catholics and SIGH. I really love my dorky little corner of the web. 

Tonight I am looking at airfares. I have to say, I don't really recommend it if you're already of a high strung nature. Points being: 

I had EVERY intention of tagging along on Phillip's latest work trip, a couple of days in Sacramento to tour some workplace facility (it's where they house the robots? keep the secret codes? I don't know) and you know this is where my favorite Princess Nebraska lives and I was IN! But then holy cow, it's $300 to fly from Seattle to Sacramento and also the trip got cut to one day and BOO. BOO I SAY.

Next I was looking at flights to NOLA for the Blathering and YIKES. Five hundred dollars! Worse: no direct flights! So I'm looking at leaving at the crack of dawn and arriving with hardly any time to hang out on Thursday night. Unacceptable! I'll start my letter writing campaign tomorrow. 

THEN I was looking at flights to St. Louis. Becaaaaaaaause I am kind of sort of super leaning towards attending Urbana the week after Christmas. Urbana, for those of you too lazy to click, is this ginormous student missions conference that happens every three years. I never went to it when I was in school, mainly because 1) it cost several hundred dollars and 2) I spent my Christmas breaks in EUROPE not MISSOURI and 3) I was going to be a starving unpublished author when I grew up and starving unpublished authors are far too navel-gazing to do missionary work, are you kidding?

Do not fear, Internet, I am far too navel-gazing NOW, in addition to soft, lazy, and extremely fond of American convenience food, to become a missionary. I actually have the opportunity to attend as a full time volunteer for prayer ministry. Remember my friend Pancakes and how she is a muckity muck in the NDCF - she has to go to Urbana for WORK. And somehow she passed me off as a worthy and dedicated alumni so I could go with her. I just got the This Is How You Register! email from the prayer ministry lady today and now I am in A State. 

PROS: 

  1. HOW AWESOME WOULD IT BE! OH SO AWESOME! I can't even imagine what it would be like to pray with these hard core prayer people. This really is an incredible opportunity for me. If my mini-experience in Portland is anything to go by, I would learn SO MUCH. It'd be intimidating, but I think it's fair and not TOO dramatic to say it's potentially life changing as well. 
  2. Pancakes and I would have a big fat huge BLAST.

CONS:

  1. It's six days/five nights long! Gah! I have never been away from my kids that long. Phillip has never taken care of them on his own for that long. I'd leave early Thursday morning and come back Tuesday night. THAT IS A LONG TIME. Even with the weekend in the middle of it, meaning Phillip wouldn't have to take a whole week off, even with help from grandparents, that just feels like a LOT of hard work and time for something that is essentially a Fun Trip Just For Me. 
  2. I'm responsible for airfare, lodging, and meals. I'm not all that worried about hotel and food expenses, but airfare is pricey. Again, all that money (or frequent flyer miles that we could save for that ten year anniversary trip with the kids) JUST FOR ME.
  3. AND I'LL HAVE JUST GONE TO THE BLATHERING! As I type this I'm reading responses to my "Woe is me, tickets to NOLA are so expensive and have horrible timing!" tweet and one "solution" seems to be to leave a day early and stay overnight in a connecting city, or even road trip, and OOOH THAT SOUNDS FUN TOO! But no! That is too much time! That is too much fun! That is too much for just MEEEEE. 

Self-indulgence... it weighs a lot.

P.S. My husband, because he is made of amazing, is Pro Maggie Going Pretty Much Anywhere To Do Anything Awesome. I mean, he is a TEENY bit perturbed about SIX DAYS AWAY, but he's been really supportive about "what a great opportunity". And he DOES have a bazillion frequent flyer miles, right? Think a bazillion is enough for two nearly-cross-country flights? 

 Blargh. I have to decide this soon.


How to go to Disneyland with a toddler and a baby and not die

This post is for Jen from The Short Years because SHE ASKED FOR IT. I am not subjecting you people to any more Disneyland than what is absolutely necessary, okay? BLAME JEN. (Also, I just looked through this and DUDE, longest post you have no interest in reading EVER.)

That said, DON'T MIND IF I DO! Because I loved this trip. You have no idea how many times I think back to this trip and smile, and how many times I wonder how we can swing it again in the nearish future. Not only did we Not Die, we had an Absolute Blast. 

I did a massive amount of research for this trip, because I am a massive amount of research kind of person (read: very annoying to live with.) The original vision of the trip included road tripping down and staying at one of the Disney hotels for three nights, with two days in the theme park. Say it with me now: KRAZY! Then we went to Vegas with Phillip's family in August and everything changed. Namely 1) I was no longer afraid to fly with the kids, especially on another short flight and 2) we could not would not stay, all four of us, in the same hotel room. (Also, 3) it was going to be CHEAPER.) So we decided to fly instead of drive, stay longer since we could be there longer, and find another hotel because two room suites at the cheapest of the three Disney hotels were three hundred some dollars a night. HOLY HECK. 

Guide book The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland - you will need no other. Even though this book gets a bit psycho, even for me (there are FITNESS schedules to get in SHAPE for all the WALKING) it was invaluable when it came time to figure out how to DO things in Disneyland. Not a big deal for a bunch of grown ups with two or three days to spend, but a serious help to those of us with little kids. 

When to go We happened to schedule our trip for the last day and three or four days after Labor Day Weekend. RECOMMEND. Crowds are low, weather is perfect, hotel prices were cheaper. Definitely go during the off or slightly-off season. There was a major difference between the last day of Labor Day weekend and the last day we were there crowd-wise, although I should note there were fewer events and parade times. 

Where to stay I spent 90% of my trip planning time wringing my hands over hotels. You should see my spreadsheet. I was comparing two different flights, four different hotels and three different flight/hotel packages. It was ridiculous. At one point I had five different hotel reservations and people I NEEDED that spreadsheet to keep track! I was trying to find that perfect sweet spot between affordable and manageable, which for us meant more than one room. The awesome thing about the hotels near Disney is that so many have family suite options. And they're not just two hotel rooms with a connecting door, they're actual suites, sometimes KID suites with bunk beds and activity tables in the second room. AWESOME. My requirements were: at least two rooms, within walking distance of the parks, a great pool and a rate that didn't make me faint. 

In the end, after going through every travel site and reading every review on TripAdvisor, our best option was to book everything separately. We flew Virgin America into LAX and stayed at the Howard Johnson. HIGHLY recommend the Howard Johnson. I picked the Howard Johnson over other closer/cheaper hotels because of one thing - the pool. There is an AMAZING toddler spraypark area and since I assumed we'd be spending a lot of downtime at the hotel (we did) this was worth the extra cash and then some. (Manda, I believe, will vouch!) Jack and Molly both loved the one foot toddler pool and the splash area, but they also loved the quieter grown up pool in a completely different part of the hotel. The spraypark also catered to older kids, but the big kid toys were on their own side, which meant my kids weren't getting run over by excited ten-year-olds. The rooms were on the newer side and perfect for us. Nothing fancy, but the second room had a bunk bed for Jack and I requested a crib for Molly. It was hard getting them to sleep in the same room (NATCH) but we managed and it worked out well. It's about a ten minute walk from the theme park, the staff was great and the rooms were quiet and always made up when we returned for lunch. The one and only complaint I have about the hotel rooms are that you can't fit a double stroller through the doorway!  

How to get there After nixing the driving option and not wanting to pay for a rental car, we booked our airport-hotel transportation with the Disneyland Express. I was a little nervous about it since it picks up and drops off at numerous hotels and you have to wait at each one, but there were very few families on our bus, the ride was shorter than I expected and it's by far the cheapest option. (And you don't have to worry about car seats.) 

Strollers Maybe you remember me freaking about strollers and what kind and if I should rent and blah blah blah. We ended up bringing just our double stroller and of ALL the decisions we made beforehand this one was by FAR the smartest. I was worried about maneuvering a double stroller in the airports, maneuvering it through a crowded theme park, how in the world we would carry it AND all our bags, but this was silly. Yes it was bulky and heavy, but I can't imagine why I ever thought two single strollers would be better. Or one stroller and renting the other at Disneyland. It was a LIFESAVER in the airport - being able to strap two kids down and have one parent wheel them around while the other took care of business was huge. You people who travel a lot are probably rolling your eyes, but wow am I glad I didn't do the single stroller! Renting looked easy, and for a while I thought I'd borrow an Ergo and put Jack in the single when he got tired, but no, a double was so much easier. 

Food I was pretty stupid on this point. There are a million places to eat - we passed a dozen restaurants on the ten minute walk between our hotel and the Disneyland entrance - but it is EXPENSIVE. Our hotel, like most of the other hotels we passed, had a little convenience store inside: ALSO EXPENSIVE. We budgeted for food, but I could have thought through this a little better. I brought a ton of snacks with me, but I wish I'd also brought dry cereal for breakfasts, juice boxes, bread, peanut butter and jelly. I ended up buying all of these things almost every day at the convenience store. Food in the park was hit or miss, convenient but always pricey. Oh, and Manda pointed us to these TO DIE FOR French fries at the Cafe Orleans near the Haunted Mansion. We went there twice. Ahem.

Schedule The first day in Disneyland I was so excited I pushed everyone a little too far. Just one more ride! One more ride! We got there when the park opened, but didn't leave until after lunch. By the time we got back to the hotel the kids were beasts and Phillip and I were exhausted. The next three days went much much better: get to the park as soon as it opens (easy to do when you're waking up at six with a one-year-old), ride all the popular rides, go back to the hotel for lunch, play in the pool to ensure an extra long nap, watch a frillion episodes of Greek on your laptop while the kids nap, head back to the park for dinner and the parade. The end. This schedule, which we adhered to diligently after Day One, was perfection. 

Rides The guide book was so helpful in determining which rides would have the longest lines, which ones might frighten little kids and how to spend the least amount of time in line. SO HELPFUL. My favorite ride was Peter Pan, which was one of the most popular rides and ALWAYS had long lines. The kids loved it too. But they also loved It's A Small World, Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, visiting Mickey in his house and possibly the biggest hit was the spinning teacups. Phillip and I have a high tolerance for cheese and silly and babyishness, so we had no problem doing It's A Small World over and over and I managed not to barf on the teacups. I would skip Mr. Toad and Pinocchio because they're jerky and scaryish (although J and M were fine) and we skipped Snow White because the guide book said it was bad and we'd rather stand in line for Peter Pan again. The book went on and on about the lines, but we were always there when the park opened and had absolutely no problem riding even the most popular rides, like Dumbo and Finding Nemo, even on the last day of Labor Day weekend. Towards the end of the trip when they'd gotten used to rides in general, we took them on Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. I can't say they had a good time, but I don't think they were scared. What WAS scary was the Finding Nemo ride. It's got great effects, but it's cramped and claustrophobic and DARK. Molly was not a fan. 

I was bummed that some of the Fantasyland rides were closed when we were there, and a lot of the things to do in Toontown were kind of boring. J and M weren't impressed with the Jungle Cruise, although that could be because that was the last thing we did on the first morning and they were exhausted. We also poked around Disney California Adventure, the 'sister' park across the plaza, but that one is missing something. The 'magic' of Disneyland, maybe? I thought Jack would love Playhouse Disney Live, but nope, he was not amused. Even the train ride around the park wasn't a hit, maybe because it doesn't look like a train when you're ON it. WHO KNOWS. 

Other Stuff In Disneyland Jack and Molly's favorite part, by FAR, were the parades. We saw one the first night and the reaction was so awesome we saw the parade every. single. night. I can STILL sing that stupid song. Singing, dancing, characters far enough away so as not to freak them out, lights, confetti, props - Jack and Molly were FANS. We really wanted to see the fireworks and this other special effects show whose name I forgot, but 9pm was a little too late for the kids so we missed those. The parades were several times a day and only once did we camp out on the sidewalk to save our spots. 

We also loved The Billys, a bluegrass group that performed in the Golden Horseshoe theater. We love bluegrass music and it was a really fun (and just long enough) show. The kids loved it and when Phillip bought the CD I made fun of him, but we listen to it all the time. (Sorry people who come over to my house.) 

The gift shops were overwhelming, but fun. Our favorite was way back in Critter Country near the Winnie the Pooh ride (which was neeeever crowded). It was a sweets shop with a giant room of stuffed animals and it was fun letting the kids pick out a toy (Jack went with Pooh Bear, Molly liked Minnie Mouse.) 

Sometimes we liked just slowing down and looking at the gardens and statues. We had enough time to do this, of course, but we have some great pictures of Jack and Molly with the Disney character statues near the Cinderella castle. 

The Verdict Disneyland may not be the best vacation for a toddler and a baby, but you will have NO PROBLEM meeting your kids' needs in the park. There are highchairs and booster seats galore and the "castmembers" don't bat any eyes over any child-centric request. Kid friendly food on every menu. If you are hauling a baby on your hip everyone wants to help. Changing tables in every bathroom (INCLUDING THE MEN'S ROOMS.) Snacks, treats, sights, smiles, help everywhere you look. You stroller almost always fits, and when it doesn't, someone is right there to tell you where to park it. I had real doubts over whether my kids would enjoy ANY of the rides, but they LOVED them. The carnival rides AND the special Disney storybook rides. It wasn't always fun standing in line, but we made sure not to stand in very long ones, and we didn't have any trouble. As long as I had some snacks, a pacifier, sun hats and some leftover confetti from the parade, my kids were good to go. Also, it helps that I am a total sucker for manufactured magic. Phillip is less so, but we both absolutely loved watching our kids experience everything.

Call me commercial, but I love it when Jack wakes up from his nap and I hear him singing 'It's A Small World' to himself over the baby monitor. 

If you have any questions, or want to know what other hotels I looked at etc, email me! I'll obviously have no problem telling you about it AT LENGTH. 


Correspondence: The Disneyland Files

Dear Geography-Challenged Man Sitting Behind Us At 'It's A Small World',

That was not China, that was Thailand. And that was not England, it was France. Did you not see the FREAKING EIFFEL TOWER? Seriously. My children are young and impressionable and it was all I could do not to cover their ears during the entire ride. Your kids' teachers will certainly have their work cut out for them this year. 

Best, 

Maggie


Dear Disney Employee Who Told Me My Baby Couldn't Go On The Flying Rockets Because She Wasn't Wearing Shoes, She Wasn't Even Wearing SOCKS,

REALLY?!

Unbelievably,

Maggie


Dear My Mom,

The baby is not wearing socks because 1) it's HOT and 2) she kicks her shoes off and then pulls her socks off WITH HER TEETH. What is the point? But apparently, no shoes, no service for babies at Disneyland. 

See you soon,

Maggie


Dear Main Street Balloon Vendor,

When we saw a nice man handing out balloons to each member of his family, we thought it'd be fun to buy one for our two-year-old who was, I'm sure you noticed, practically stage diving into your wares. And while we certainly weren't surprised when you told us each balloon was twelve dollars, we are very sorry for fainting into your arms when we realized the man in front of us had paid you EIGHTY-FOUR dollars for BALLOONS.

Somewhat horrifically,

Maggie


Dear Our Hotel,

You are just about perfect. We love you. We especially love your crazy awesome pool and play area, which we've taken to calling Toddler Nirvana. But we think the main door of the kids' suite should open into the parents' room, not the kids' (because how do we get in and out while they're napping?) and what is with the doors being too narrow to fit a double stroller? Annoying! But we're willing to forgive most anything on account of Toddler Nirvana. Thank you for ensuring the afternoon nap. 

Sincerely yours,

Maggie


Dear My Husband,

Today is your thirty-first birthday and I am neglecting the occasion, AGAIN, because we have Other Stuff Going On! Which isn't to say I didn't ask the hotel staff about getting you a cake or something in the room, but I was gently chided about Waiting Until The Last Minute and, well, I already agreed to this sushi making party you want to have when we get home, even though it sounds like a fast track to food poisoning lawsuits, and WHATEVER. I'm sorry I didn't get you a card because I was too busy freaking out about whittling down my nineteen hotel reservations and I'm sorry you didn't even get the Happy Birthday song because your son keeps saying, "No, it's MONNY'S birthday" and filling in MONNY instead of DADDY and if it were MY birthday I'd be WAY UPSET. But you are sweet and patient and not the kind of person to expect a parade on your special day (although, if we're being honest, you DID get a parade, I have PICTURES) and I love you and I hope it was happy. 

Love,

Your Wife


Dear Everyone Who Said My Kids Were Too Young For Disneyland, 

P1000540


Bite me!

Maggie


The Verdict

When we told people we were going to take our two- and one-year-olds to Disneyland, we got some pretty varied reactions. I'd say anywhere from, "Oh, that will be SO MUCH FUN!" to "You guys are CRAZY." (Not to mention the few who were all, "Ew, Disneyland" to which I say YOU PEOPLE ARE MADE OF STONE.")

I was worried we were a little crazy, so I bought a guide book and read up on exactly how crazy it would be to take a two- and one-year-old to Disneyland. Just a little? Or wildly so? It was obvious Phillip and I wouldn't get to go on any of the big fancy rides. The book recommended taking advantage of this switching off thing, where you stand in line and one parent rides the ride, and when that parent is done the second parent can ride without having to get back at the end of the line. But we (or maybe I should say I) didn't want to do that. I don't like riding rides alone (especially the fast jerky scary kind) and I was going to Disneyland to have fun with my kids. Not ride the rides. So maybe it was a little crazy, because who knew if we'd go on any rides at all? 

I read up on which rides were good for toddlers. A very few, if you're interested. They can GO on a lot of rides, but some are dark, some are anxious-making, some are confusing, some are disorienting. The Haunted Mansion is my favorite Disney ride, and the last thing I wanted to do was drag Jack into the Haunted Mansion, find out he was old enough to be scared, and have a kid at Disneyland for four days with no interest in going on any of the rides. When I was 9 my family went to Disneyland and I remember holding my sister in my lap in the Haunted Mansion, and not seeing any of the ride because I was busy being the Strongest Human Seatbelt in the world. 

I read about strollers and which kind to take and how to make sure no one makes off with them. I spent an entire summer obsessing over hotels - within walking distance? On site? Suites? Bunk beds? I examined pictures of hotel swimming pools, trying to figure out which photos were the most altered. I pored through TripAdvisor (and if it wasn't six something in the morning and I had more of my wits about me, I would find for you this video of a British comedian making fun of people who write TirpAdvisor reviews OMG it is HILARIOUS and also TOTALLY ME.) So anyway, I was doing all of this stuff solely in the interest of making sure I wouldn't be TOO crazy for taking my two- and one-year-olds to Disneyland. 

NOT TO WORRY. 

Sure, it's hot. It's a long-ish walk. There are throngs of people and lots of waiting in line and standing around. And we've only been there one day so far, but my kids LOVE this place. Molly, who we've always known is a bit of a fearless daredevil, naturally likes the rides that whip her around. (And I'm not talking Splash Mountain here, give me some credit, more like the spinning teacups.) Her entire face disappears behind a huge and delighted open mouth, and her deep baby chuckles come gurgling out all at once. Jack, being older and therefore aware of what should make him nervous, held on to me for dear life when we met Mickey. But then he begged to go next door to meet Minnie. He likes anything vaguely reminiscent of a choo choo train (though Casey Jr. AND Storybook Land Canal Boats are both closed, BOO!) and I know this is super commercial of me, but I am DYING to take him to Playhouse Disney Live so he can see all his characters dancing on stage. Oh, and both those kids loved the parade, the few minutes we caught of it. There has been much dancing, a lot of pointing, a lot of "Oooh! Oooh! Oooh!" from Molly and "Wet's go see Mickey AGAIN," from Jack. 

The hotel is awesome. The pool is double awesome. The walk is easy. The food is kid friendly. There are changing stations in every bathroom, mens' rooms included. I let Molly walk barefoot (wait, I HELPED her walk, this girl won't be walking for YEARS) because it's DISNEYLAND. It's CLEAN. We dropped some goldfish on the street and three seconds later a man was sweeping it up. 

You will not be crazy to take your small children to Disneyland, my friends. And do it now, because once they turn three YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR THEM. And that? will be painful. This may be the happiest place on earth, but you pay for what you get!


Because I am helpful

Do not be fooled by the 110 degree Las Vegas temperatures. Do not think, "Oh, it's going to be so HOT, I'm going to wear THIS little sundress and THIS one and why bother bringing PANTS it's hot enough to FUSE THEM TO YOUR LEGS!" Do not do this, because you will find yourself shivering in front of your video poker machine, wishing you'd brought even your tiniest thinnest sweater. Every Las Vegas casino is kept at meat locker temperatures, and how these women go around wearing nothing is BEYOND ME. I herded everyone into a Banana Republic so I could buy an overpriced shrug in the exactly three minutes before the Blue Man Group started. And thank God I did because the only worse thing than being bored is being bored and COLD. 

Do not get a rental car. What is the point? Having a rental car means you have to DRIVE the rental car and, if my experience was anything to go by, just crossing the street takes you half an hour. And that's before you add in the time you'll spend waiting for the valet to FIND your car in the cavernous black holes that are casino parking garages. 

Do not take a taxi. Especially if you have kids. Especially if you have more than ONE kid. Technically they are supposed to be in car seats and wow is that a pain. Not technically you can hold them in your lap, but then you are worried about all sorts of morbid things and the cabbie is worried about The Police and no one is having any fun. Except the kid. 

Do not walk. You CAN'T walk. The hotel across the street from your hotel? IS NOT REALLY THERE. The hostess at our restaurant in the Paris hotel confirmed this interesting fact. "Oh yes," she said, "our nickname is The Mirage." Do not attempt to walk because unless you already find yourself on the Strip, no one is expecting you to walk and no one has provided a sidewalk and it is going to be a long hot dangerous confusing stroll. And if you manage to find the Strip, the hotel you'd like to visit is undoubtedly situated four miles BACK from the Strip so then you have to cross all THAT territory. And it is hot. Did I mention that? Those mister things don't really help when it's windy. And then the thing you really want to see inSIDE the hotel is another mile through jangly slot machines. Actually, if you are on your own, go ahead and walk. It's a nice way to see what's going on. But if you have a two-year-old it's a quick way for your toddler to lose his you know what and you to lose what's left of your mind. 

Do not ask for directions when you're walking either. People will look at you like you are Nuts because SERIOUSLY? WALKING? And then they will give you the WRONG directions and you will curse them under your breath until you give up and go back.

Do not eat at buffets. Dear God. Did you go to Vegas to gain forty pounds? I DIDN'T THINK SO. 

Do not bring your credit cards. Everywhere you look there is something to buy, from tacky-as-all-heck Eiffel Tower-shaped plastic cocktail glasses to frillion dollar bags. Right now you are all sane and rational, but when you are standing outside the shop window in a froofy Vegas mall you are not in possession of your usual smarts. YOU WANT THAT BAG. And no one's going to stop you so you better stop yourself. Just make it easy and leave those credit cards at home. 

Do not bring cash. Did you know penny and nickel and quarter slots don't even take pennies and nickels and quarters? THEY WANT BILLS. You have to slide actual paper dollar bills into those suckers and then you're STUCK. 100 credits in a penny slot machine! Gah! And don't get me started on the tables, and the freaking ten dollar minimums for blackjack. Not that I wanted to play at a table. I can't add that fast. Pressure! But seriously, do you WANT to default on your mortgage? Then leave your cash at home. 

Do not go to the swimming pool. Not unless you like being squeezed in amongst The Humanity, not that you would recognize them as their skins have turned to leather. But perhaps you enjoy the sight of middle-aged ladies pulling down their swimsuit straps and lounging about. Speaking of straps, they were very much on display. Did you know that in Vegas it's perfectly acceptable to wear a beautiful backless dress with a regular old bra? It may mean that that one white girl in the middle of all the Chinese people may stare at you all through lunch, because she's just never really SEEN anyone DO that before, but really! It's okay! Just ask the lady who pulled her tank top straps down over her shoulders, so that the tank top sort of sagged all over, revealing about 100% more bra than anyone should ever have to witness. So maybe that's another tip: do not bring a bra. Why bother?! 

Okay. That's it. This is the LAST VEGAS POST I SWEAR. I'm done. We had a great time, and the parts that weren't so great were of the Good Story variety not the How Do I Disown Everybody variety. In fact, our flights went so well and our kids traveled so well that tonight I plunked down the cash for another set of plane tickets for our Disneyland trip. To heck with this driving thing! And, confidential to me, one last piece of advice: Do not feel guilty or failure-ish about deciding to fly instead of drive you anxious neurotic DORK. You DO happen to be the only person you know who thought driving five hours a day with two small children would epitomize The Awesome.


What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and what happened in Vegas was my MONEY

When I wasn't sitting around waiting for people to get ready to leave the hotel, or waiting for the valet to bring the car, or waiting for everyone to finish dinner, or waiting for the kids to fall asleep or wake up (there was a lot of waiting on this trip), I was trying to decide how much I loved Las Vegas. Did I love it just a little bit? Because it was over the top and gaudy and gross? Or did I love it because of those things, and even more because it was as opulent and grand and mesmerizing as it was tacky?

All I know about Las Vegas I learned from Ocean's 11. It's a little hard to pretend you are Julia Roberts when you are carting two small people from casino to casino, but in the evenings I wore dresses and lip gloss and tried to sneak my way into the more glamorous side of Vegas. One night we went out with brother- and sister-in-law to the Venetian for dinner and a show. I'd heard all about this Venetian place and I was sure I'd hate it. I have been to the real Venice a bajillion times (I am saying that in my Snob And A Half voice, I know, sorry) and my nose was turned up in advance. I mean, GIVE ME A BREAK, Las Vegas. PUHLEEZE. 

Except I looooooved it. It was SO! PRETTY! It was totally the Disney version of Venice: cleaner, brighter, more room to move. St. Mark's Square was missing St. Mark's and the canals didn't have nearly enough bridges, but the whole place made me swoon. Something about the lighting, the way it felt like a permanent dusk - the perfect time of day, when you are awash with exciting possibilities for your evening ahead. 

Of course, then we went and saw the Blue Man Group which: SNORE. I admit I was the only one in our party of four who was bored out of her ever loving mind, but I remain steadfast in my Not Impressedness. I couldn't figure out if it was trying to be this Quirky Critique of New Media or just an all out effort to slime as many audience members as possible. And [SPOILER!] toilet papering the audience at the end? HELLO CLAUSTROPHOBIA! The best parts: 1) when a couple walked in late and they interrupted the show (!) with some guy running out to sing "You're late! You're late!" all opera-style while a huge spotlight tracked the offending audience members and 2) before the show even started and a reader board asked the audience to recognize people with birthdays or some lady who was on the Olympic curling team. You'll just have to trust me that it was super funny. 

The next day we saw the Paris hotel which elicited the same feelings as the Venetian. We ate lunch in the main casino area and while we waited forever for our food (of course, WAITING was the THEME) I took a million pictures of the ceiling and the building facades and the little pastry shop where we spent another hour eating our second lunch. Sure, the theme park feel was semi-ridiculous and silly and totally overdone, but it was also beautiful and fun and happy-making. 

Although the presence of nickel slots everywhere you looked was a little disconcerting. Lost a few bucks on those.

We headed over to the Bellagio on our last night, and everyone agreed it was the favorite. It was fabulous and gorgeous without the Disney, and everyone in the Bellagio was a little better looking and definitely better dressed than any other place we'd been. It was much easier to pretend to be Julia Roberts at the Bellagio. My kids were at the hotel, I had my hair up and DUDES I won money at BLACKJACK! Video blackjack, and only enough money to make up for all the money we'd lost earlier, but WHATEVER. I caught the bug. This is not good. You have no idea how many times Phillip and I have discussed a possible overnighter to the fancy casino north of Seattle. GAK.

But we walked back to our hotel, which was a timeshare type place behind the Flamingo, and the Flamingo is NOT the Bellagio. There were half naked girls dancing on tables right at the entrance. There were old ladies with cigarettes drooping from their mouths and icky looking men and girls wearing skintight dresses. The carpet was worn and thin, smoke hovered over the chairs and you couldn't hear anything but loud music and slots. We speed walked through the Flamingo at midnight, when Vegas was just getting started, zooming towards our quiet condo-like rooms for a few hours of sleep before the plane ride. 

I tried to detach myself from the scenery long enough to take a cold look at Vegas. As a giant shrine to money it's a little revolting. I think gambling is a little scary, you know? And there's really nothing to do in Vegas except blow huge amounts of money. It's practically required, whether you're in a mall or a casino. And the carrying drinks everywhere you go and the waitresses in the tiny skirts and the acres devoted to luxury items and the dude I saw with his arms around three beautiful women in matching black dresses (which, combined, would have made one black dress large enough to cover half of my body). Not stuff I'm usually excited about.

But then I went back to being impatient for my brother-in-law to finish his stupid drink so I could go try my hand at video poker, I mean, COME ON how long does it take to drink a freaking MARTINI?

I'd love to go back with just Phillip. I can see why it's a fun weekend trip. You don't want to be there forever, but it seems like a fun way to spend a day or two. I loved the weather (I'm the one Seattleite who's bummed the upper 90s have disappeared) and I can read a book poolside all day long till it's time to dress up and lose a bunch of money. 

The kids had a good time too, thanks to Grandma and YeYe and the cousins. I definitely wouldn't take just the four of us on a trip to Vegas - that'd be fun for nobody. But with grandparents as built in babysitters and cousins to play with in the pool, Jack and Molly were set. I'd do a few things differently, but I'll save that for another post. OH YES there will be MORE of this Vegas drivel. I didn't have internet almost the entire time, people! What do you expect?! 


In which we get there. Eventually.

By the time we found our way to the rental car, we were in various states of Done. We were in Vegas, although hours later than we planned, and everyone just wanted to get to the hotel. I was probably the Done-est. I hate flying. I hate waiting. I hate letting other people make the decisions, even though I'd given myself a good talking to before our trip as Going With The Flow as official Trip Policy.

We'd talked about Phillip being the driver, but when Father-In-Law clambered into the driver's seat and started poking around, we knew the plans had changed. Phillip and I had a quick conference:

"My brother sent me directions. Here's a map. Do you want to sit next to my dad and help him navigate?"

There was a pause while I thought about how much Assertive I had in my stores, whether I really knew where we were going and how much trouble I wanted to invite. I was feeling confident, at least at that point, so I agreed.

The directions were only a few turns long. That plus the fact that you could see the entire Strip from the airport made me think it wouldn't be difficult. So I loaded the bags into the back while Phillip fumbled with car seats, Mother-In-Law watched the kids. Right before I finished FIL dashed around to the back of the car, rummaged through his suitcase and produced a small electronic gadget. (It runs in the family.) "My GPS!" he said triumphantly.

OhGodOhGodOhGodOhGodOhGod

Still, I lightly hopped into the passenger seat and showed him the map. "Do you want to see where we're going?"

"What?" said FIL. He was punching buttons on the GPS. I waited.

"GeGe gave us directions," I said. "And we found the hotel on the map. It looks pretty close."

"I have GPS!" FIL informed me.

"But do you want to see on the map?" I asked again.

"Sure!" he said. But he wasn't looking at me. I don't even think he was listening.

"PHILLIP," I called to wherever he was. "I think you should sit next to your dad!"

FIL and Phillip argued over Directions vs. GPS for the first ten minutes of our trip, which consisted of 1) finding our way out of the parking garage and 2) deciding which way to turn out of the parking garage and 3) sitting at a light. At this point the argument reached its peak.

"GeGe says to turn right."

"I don't know," FIL said. "Doesn't look right."

"GeGe has been here before. He gave us directions. Let's just turn right."

FIL punched buttons. "What does GPS say?"

"Dad, we don't NEED GPS."

GPS decided to participate and said, "Turn left."

FIL swung left. Phillip crumpled up the directions and threw them out the window. Well, no, he didn't since the directions were actually a text message on his phone, but I'm sure he THOUGHT ABOUT IT.

It appeared the GPS was going to take us directly down the Strip. Phillip made it known that he was resigned to this fact via many shrugs and sighs and sarcastic "Well I guess we're going THIS way" comments. But the Strip was fine. For a while.

A few minutes later we saw that the traffic was getting sort of horrendous, and that there were also many large orange machines parked farther out in the middle of the road. A few minutes after that, all forward motion stopped. We sat.

I tried very hard to think about what a nice view we had of the Strip and whatever casinos we were sitting next to, but mostly I was tired and hungry and worried about how my kids were going to survive our big buffet dinner without a nap and wondering whether FIL was going to insist on using the GPS the whole trip and how I would survive the next several days as The Youngest which means NO ONE LISTENS TO YOU.

Several times we suggested FIL turn off the Strip and hook up with GeGe's directions, but it was either impossible to maneuver due to the packed in traffic, or FIL merged into the wrong lane. The GPS kept chirping, "Point eight mile!" "Point five mile!" and FIL would repeat this back to us, in case we were wondering if we were making any progress. (We weren't. We just wanted to be woken up when we got there.)

It took us a half hour to drive about a mile. I SWEAR. I will spare you the convoluted reasons why FIL suddenly feared we were never going to find our hotel and why he and Phillip decided to randomly turn right, which is how we ended up in some employment center parking lot on the phone with Phillip's brother. And while I couldn't hear what GeGe was saying, I could tell, based on where the hotel was (BECAUSE I KNEW) and where we currently were, Phillip was turned around and going the opposite way. Meanwhile FIL only had eyes for the GPS unit and it was utter utter chaos until I yelled, "GO THIS WAY!" from the back seat and saved the day.

Well, no, I kept my head down and prayed that we'd get there before the force of keeping my mouth shut made me spontaneously combust.

Several wrong turns later we pulled into the valet parking entrance of a hotel with the same name as our hotel. We unloaded everything and walked another mile into the lobby where GeGe was supposed to be. But he wasn't there. This was discussed in a tense phone conversation and even THAT took ten minutes before both parties realized we were in the WRONG HOTEL.

It was hardly the BIGGEST mix up of our day (and it wasn't the last) but it's the one that Drove Me To Distraction. (Drove! Ha!) The logistics of Vegas, especially with two small children, were impossible.

P1000169 

Here are Molly, me, my monster legs, Jack, and MIL in Caesar's Palace, seconds before Jack's Tony Award-winning meltdown, in which I play a supporting role hauling his bawling limb-throwing self out of the casino. This happened because I was all, "LET'S WALK!", which was the STUPIDEST IDEA EVER. But between rental cars, taxis and valet parking I considered stabbing myself in my own eyes a grand total of nine-hundred-eighty-four times. I have more to say about that, but I've got to cute my kids up for Lucy's birthday party.


In Summary

I don't even know what to say, you guys. Yesterday was... KERAZY. There are so many ELEMENTS that make up the KERAZY a true How We Got To Vegas post would take up the entire internet. 

First there was the Parking Garage Mix Up.

Then there was the Flight Time Mix Up. 

Then there was the Driving To The Hotel Mix Up. 

Then there was the Hotel Parking Mix Up, combined with an Are We Even At The Right Hotel Mix Up.

Then there was the Hotel Room MIx Up.

Then there was figuring out when and how to get to dinner. This took a good half hour, and is worthy of its own entry. 

Then there was the Casino Valet Parking MIx Up. 

And we went to bed thinking it couldn't possibly be more mixed up today. TODAY WILL BE BETTER.

It has to be, because you should see where we're staying. And if we get around to uploading pictures you WILL. This place is insane. It's some time share vacation club property thing and my brother and sister-in-law used up all their points or whatever to snag us all AMAZING ROOMS. We have a suite, which is actually a suite plus another ROOM. So we have TWO huge jetted tubs, two bedrooms, a living room, bathrooms with multiple rooms and a kitchen nicer than any apartment I've ever seen, with freaking granite countertops. The only complaint I have is that the hotel staff appears to be down on trash cans. Where I am supposed to toss the diapers?

I think my favorite part was getting to the hotel. I will have to write about that later when I have time to do it justice. I will have to break a few Blog Policies, but I doubt my in-laws will be reading my blog on vacation. Right? 

So this is just to say: We are here. We are in some fancy digs. We slept well. We have grand plans for swimming. And after the kids go to bed we're going out with SIL and BIL to dinner and a show and I'm sure there will be much raucous discussion of Yesterday. I will make sure to add, several times, that I have more sense of direction in my little finger than the entirety of the Cheung Family.