I had no idea what to expect on my first visit to Las Vegas, a trip my pool team had earned as State Champions. I’d spent plenty of time in Atlantic City, the smaller, East Coast den of iniquity that I knew to be a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Surely it’s big sister, nicknamed Sin City, would be much worse, bags of cocaine replacing bowls of mints in hotel lobbies, prostitutes lined up outside of every bar and casino.
It’s nothing like that of course, modern day Las Vegas desperately trying to court families and escape the more notorious aspects of it’s past. There are still Elvis impersonators on every corner, but if any of them were secretly pimps I was unaware.
Like any big city, however, it’s not a place where one should wander drunkenly by yourself in the early hours of the morning, a lesson I learned when my credit card, seemingly safely tucked into the front pocket of my jeans was lifted by what I can only assume was an evil little fairy. A fairy that bought $500.00 worth of CVS makeup in the twenty minutes that it took me to notice it’s absence.
The reason for my solo hike down the Strip wasn’t stupidity (this time) but chivalry. On our last stop of the night my group and a group of Polish women were the only patrons left dancing, a lobby bar somewhere small where a cover band was playing passable renditions of ’80s hair bands. When it was time for us to leave, probably past time for us to leave, we discovered that somehow one of the women had been left behind by her friends. We spent some time searching the area but it became apparent that she had been abandoned.
She was distraught, spoke little English, didn’t have a room key, and wasn’t even sure which hotel they were staying in. Her first night in Vegas was going very badly.
So I walked with her, a relatively short distance to where she was staying, a longer conversation to convince security to let her into her room and produce something inside with a name matching her ID, and I was on my way. Good karma that was rewarded with a few hours on the phone with my credit card company.
I tell this story, now over a decade old, because I was presented with a similar situation this past weekend in Fort Lauderdale.
My wife safely tucked into bed I wandered the half mile to the nearest late night liquor store to stock up on tailgating supplies for the Miami Dolphins football game we were attending the next day. A short walk but a dark one, all streetlights turned off for the month of October while turtles nested or some such business. A significant stretch of road without tacky beachfront souvenir shops or Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley songs played on acoustic guitars for raised decks full of intoxicated party goers.
About halfway down I encountered another damsel, seemingly in distress. Arms raised I approached slowly, willing myself to look nonthreatening as I asked her if she was OK.
She blew a whistle and started running.
I wasn’t mad, wasn’t upset or defensive, offended that my maleness immediately labeled me as a potential predator.
It made me sad, more so because if it had been one of my girls walking that darkened pavement I’d want them to do the same. I want to teach them that there are good guys out there, guys that will walk a stranger home without expectation. Guys that they don’t have to run away from just because they are guys and nobody else is around.
I want to teach them that, but not as much as I want to teach them to be safe. I’ll teach them to avoid circumstances where they are drunk and alone in a strange place, a dark road. I’ll teach them never to abandon their friends, never to leave a drink unattended, not to let a seemingly nice guy into your Vegas hotel room to use the bathroom before he begins the long walk back to his friends.
I’ll teach them that and I’ll fucking hate it. I’ll fucking hate it because shouldn’t we instead be teaching our boys to keep their goddamn hands to themselves.
We’re back, flights to and from Florida completed without incident. The 2017 family vacation to The Happiest Place on Earth now nothing more than memories.
Upon returning home we found that our time away had been approved, a letter from the kindergarten’s school administrator informing us that because of her previous attendance history a few days missed would’t adversely affect her learning progression. This was a great relief as we had neither asked permission nor intended to alter our plans in any way had we been denied.
This is in no way meant to imply any lack of respect for scholastics or educators and in that spirit I have decided to pass along some of my own knowledge, a dad’s moderately constructive guide to surviving Disney, minimizing stress and helping you have at least as good a time as I always have.
1. Regardless of whether or not this trip is a surprise and when the big reveal comes, that initial excitement wears off quickly and the plane ride becomes a torturously long and tedious exercise in patience. Alaina spent both rides contentedly watching movies and munching chips while all around us families bickered about who’s responsibility is was to make sure that kid’s electronics were charged. Pack snacks and remember that if you guess wrong about your child being responsible enough to charge their own device, you will now be responsible for their on-board entertainment.
The youngest was so content and excited about her first plane ride that after landing in Orlando she thanked us for her surprise and asked if we could stop at a restaurant for dinner on the ride home. It wasn’t until we pulled into the hotel that she started believing that we hadn’t just flown in a big circle and landed at the same airport.
2. Spend some time researching and thinking about what you are looking for regarding accommodations. One of the recommendations that most Disney bloggers make is that by staying on-site, you remove the need for a rental car, are able to enter the parks earlier than the general public, and have a place to take an afternoon break before returning in the evening. These are all very valid points, but they are also staying for free in exchange for these “tips.”
For roughly the same amount of money as a moderately priced room for four at a Disney Hotel, we stayed in a three bedroom, two bathroom suite about twenty minutes away. The car was an added expense and we definitely would have gotten more of our dollar’s worth out of the park tickets, but we did have a pool with a kick ass pirate ship water slide. Also, did I mention that it had two bathrooms? Decide on what to prioritize in order to keep your family happy.
3. If you have a family member or members that take an excruciating amount of time to get themselves ready at home, don’t think that it will be any different on vacation. A lesson that I learned a long time ago that I will reiterate here is that the fastest way to start your day off wrongly is by appearing anxious to get going or trying to rush somebody out the door. Get ready, get out of the way, and tell them how beautiful they look. This tip is transferable to any time or any place you are ever going for the rest of your life.
4. Have a plan. Don’t make it a supremely detailed, step by step plan for what you want to do every minute of the day, I’ve done that before and was surprised to find that it wasn’t as appreciated as I thought it would be. Have a plan for the rides and attractions that are your “must do’s” and make an effort to do those things first. There may be backtracking and added distance walked later as you go back and hit your secondary targets but this will ensure that nobody leaves disappointed if you leave sooner than you had expected or if longer lines and time constraints leave you unable to do everything, an impossible task to begin with. Little feet get tired, flip flops break, hunger and heat lead to crankiness. A full day at a Disney park is a grueling test of endurance that can break even the strongest of wills.
5. Know the height limits of the various thrill rides and decide on their appropriateness. Disney roller coasters have a shorter minimum than most other amusement parks but some of these rides might be too scary for children able to reach the mark.
The highest threshold and the only one that my five year old couldn’t meet is 48″ at Hollywood Studios Rock N’ Roller Coaster, a ride that starts off by launching you from 0-57 mph in 2.8 seconds. The minimum for Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror is only 40″ but features a 130 foot free fall at 39 mph. Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom has a minimum of 44″ and moves at a relatively slow 28 mph, but is very dark with flashing strobe light effects. Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom is also 44″ and features a main drop of 80 feet and reaches speeds of 50 mph. There is also a Yeti chasing you. It was my daughter’s favorite ride of the weekend, but she is a complete lunatic and probably a bad example.
6. This will probably be less of an issue after Pandora – The World of Avatar opens in a few weeks, but for now I continue to hear people describe Disney’s Animal Kingdom as being nothing more than an expensive zoo and the park to skip if that decision needs to be made. I strongly disagree. Besides being home to the previously mentioned Expedition Everest coaster, the best in all the Orlando Disney parks, the Kilimanjaro Safaris offer a guided, motorized animal watching experience I have yet to find anywhere else. Along with The Magic Kingdom I think these are the two “must hit” parks for those burdened with small children.
7. If you are staying off site and have access to a rental car, take a quick ride into Kissimmee for a dinner show. There is an Al Capone themed one, another based around the story of the Titanic, magical comedy, several mystery dinners, and three different pirate shows, one of which is adults only and on the list for the next time we are down there without kids.
We stuck with the classic Medieval Times and it was as fantastic as I remembered. With all the knights, princesses, falconry, jousting and sword fighting I was surprised that my daughter actually ate her meal. She loved cheering on the Red Knight, the hero who’s section we were seated in, and booing the others. The first time in her life that I’ve seen her speechless was after catching a rose thrown her way by that dashing fellow and I’m fairly certain she may have developed her first crush. It was one of the highlights of our trip.
8. Pick accommodations that have a pub within walking distance. If you can manage to have children twelve years apart, start working on that now in order to have your own babysitter for after the youngest crashes for the night. If this is unrealistic, consider bringing somebody else along for that purpose. It may greatly increase the overall cost of your trip, but can you really put a price on a nice, cold pint and watching the game in peace after a long, hot day surrounded by thousands of children?
9. Prepare yourself the night before for the inevitability of check out. It’s OK to feel melancholy but a full tantrum and locking yourself in the bathroom because you don’t want to go home is a horrible example to set for your children. Pull yourself together, gather your belongings and don’t look back. Spend the entire plane ride home daydreaming about your next visit.
10. Know ahead of time that this isn’t a cheap, relaxing vacation, and be OK with it. Take lots of pictures, cherish every smile and make lots of memories. Expect to come home broke, a few pounds heavier, and even more tired than when you left. If you aren’t than you’re doing Disney wrong. Try harder next time and re read this before you go. Tell anybody you know that is planning a trip to Disney World that they should probably read this too.
I’ve been fortunate to have been able to visit a lot of very fun places over the years. Weekends in Montreal, Myrtle Beach and Miami. Week long parties in Las Vegas, Nashville and Aruba. My wife and I sneak off to Boston pretty much every chance that we get.
My favorite remains Walt Disney World in Florida, the one place that I never seem to tire of. For over three decades I’ve never gone more than a few years in between visits. I can’t tell you exactly when, just in case there are potential burglars that may be reading, but I’m becoming pretty excited about how close we’re getting to my next trip, the first time since we brought Kayla ten years ago that there will actually be children accompanying us.
I’m excited, but not without worry. After the initial surprise wears off there is a three hour plane ride that Alaina will have to sit through. There will be higher temperatures, long lines, and unfamiliar sleeping arrangements.
I took care of one of the biggest potential problems by finding accommodations with two bathrooms and was pleased by how she handled my secret practice day at Six Flags New England during spring break. Long lines on their second open day of the year were tolerated and although the heat did take an eventual toll, the long pants and boots needed to gain that last bit of extra height for a few of the thrill rides won’t be necessary in Disney. She clears all the requirements there by a comfortable margin.
My other concern was somewhat placated last month at parent teacher conferences. As absurd as I think it is that there should be a problem with a kindergartner missing a few days of school for a family vacation, the attendance policies at her school are roughly equivalent to that of a low level correctional facility. It’s the longest section of the student handbook, reminder pamphlets are sent home periodically and signs are posted all over school grounds. When picking her up for a mid-morning dentist appointment earlier this year I was told to be sure I had her back in school within two hours so that “it wasn’t held against her.” More than ten missed days over the course of the year and documentation is required to prove that these days were medically necessary. What the consequences would be are left unspecified.
English father Jon Platt found out what the repercussions were from his Isle of Wright school, recently losing a legal battle he took all the way to the English Supreme Court after refusing to pay fines levied against him for taking his seven year old daughter to Disney. The Court ruled that only the head teacher, not the parents, had the right to determine what was an appropriate absence. Nearly 150,000 other English families were fined last year for similar offences.
It’s completely absurd.
I understand the importance of early education and the role that attendance plays in a child’s success. I agree that children should be encouraged to take learning seriously and develop a sense of pride in their academic efforts. I’m sure that there are many irresponsible parents that are hindering their children’s education by enabling unnecessary truancy and that this should be monitored.
I’ll also be damned if I’m going to ask somebody else’s permission to take my kids to see Mickey Mouse.
Besides her academic progress and classroom behaviors, one of the things that my daughter’s teacher was required to comment on during our meeting was attendance, a perfect opportunity to inform her or our upcoming plans. She was refreshingly sensible in her response.
Whether or not the administrators are similarly rational remains to be seen, but as the trip approaches their response remains low on my list of concerns.
I’m more afraid that somebody is going to spoil the surprise.
This past weekend marked the return of TerrifiCon to the Mohegan Sun Casino, an event that I’d been waiting for much longer than I should probably admit. Somewhat less excited was my wife, my sidekick for this year’s adventure. A child-free night in a hotel room and promises of dinner and drinks significantly aided in increasing her enthusiasm.
Part of the problem was my inability to properly explain what it was I was dragging her to. Yes, there were comic books, rows of vendors selling T-shirts, toys, posters, and books. Alongside these were booths for comic creators, legendary artists and writers like Neal Adams and Jerry Ordway available for signings. There were also people talking about comic books. She was amazed at the number of people willing to pack conference rooms for a lecture about the history of DC Comics or a panel discussion about Captain America’s place in pop culture over the past seventy-five years.
More interesting to a non-enthusiast was cool stuff like the Batmobile from Tim Burton’s Batman films and all the celebrity appearances. On Saturday we saw Jason Mewes, Jeremy Landon and Katrina Law among many others. Michael Cudlitz, Abraham from The Walking Dead, was a lot smaller in person than I would have guessed.
People watching is about as entertaining at a comic-con as anyplace else that you will ever go. Where else are you going to see Freddy Krueger stopping for a quick chat with Iron Man?
Equally as hard to explain was our night time entertainment, an Evening With Kevin Smith. Just describing what he does is difficult. In 1994 Smith wrote and directed the movie Clerks, using $27,000 of his own money and filming at the convenience and video stores where he actually worked. Shot entirely in black and white it’s one of my favorite comedies, and one of my favorite films in general. All of his movies feature prominently in my DVD collection.
He produces the television show Comic Book Men, a reality show set in a comic book store that he owns, co-hosts a late night talk show called Geeking Out, and plays Silent Bob in his early movies. His stints as writer of the Daredevil and Green Arrow comic books are some of my favorites with the characters and his two Batman mini-series are also bagged and boarded in my basement.
He’s a renaissance man, but most importantly he’s an extremely gifted storyteller, whatever the medium. The event we attended was billed as a question and answer session, something that he does often, but the audience questions could more accurately be called prompts, a jumping off point for musings and exposition on anything and everything.
We stayed for three hours and it was interesting, often hilarious, and sometimes poignant, as when he discussed his friendship with the late Alan Rickman, took the cellphone of an audience member who’s friend was unable to attend due to a family death and called him, and when he came off stage to hug a veteran who told a story about his PTSD support group watching Kevin Smith movies together.
If it sounds like I’m a big fan, I won’t deny it. As silly as I find it when people pay attention to the private lives of celebrities, I follow this dude across all his social media channels. I have a signed copy of a tongue in cheek book of life lessons that he wrote and he’s the first name I’d give if asked about famous people I’d want to have dinner with.
I also loved the way he handled an Internet troll that posted some terribly cruel things on the Instagram page of his daughter, seventeen year old Harley Quinn. Instead of lashing out the way I probably would have, it was taken in stride, simply something that unfortunately happens to public figures. Instead he offered the offender some words of wisdom, telling him that “the better use of your time is to make YOUR dreams come true, instead of slamming others for doing the same. Show the world WHY we should be paying attention to you instead of anyone else. Create something nobody’s ever seen before and there is a good chance the world will notice you.”
Impressive magnanimity, and also good advice for all of us.
When I wrote about our recent trip to The White Mountains of New Hampshire, I mentioned that I wasn’t planning on waiting another twenty years before returning. At that time, I wouldn’t have expected that it would actually only be about six weeks.
My wife’s birthday was once again upon us, much to her annoyance. Time was taken off of work and last year’s weekend in Plymouth had set the bar pretty high. Uncertainty about the teenager made it difficult to book anything very far in advance, but a few days on the beach of Lake Winnipesaukee and nights in Laconia’s biker bars sounded pretty good.
For the past 93 years, Laconia, New Hampshire has hosted one of the biggest motorcycle rallies in the entire country. Every June over 300,000 motorcyclists gather for nine days of music, stunt shows, races and more.
For all that, it turned out to be a very dry, very family friendly area, almost completely devoid of actual biker bars. I had spent a weekend there in my twenties and had remembered it as a pretty wild area. Like many of my memories from that decade, they were either outdated or simply too fuzzy to be credible. I’m going to use the passage of time as my excuse because my parents are probably reading.
That’s not to say that there aren’t fun places to go. We enjoyed the beach bar that was at our resort, The Nawa, and found a few other places to waste our evenings. We have a habit of making places less boring than prior to our arrival.
The biggest benefit, of course, was simply being away. To be able to stay up late without thinking about that early morning tap on my shoulder. To be able to sit by a body of water in the sun and read a book without worrying about the five year old’s new desire to do underwater handstands or need me to “watch this” every thirty seconds or so. To be able to get some action whenever the mood happened to strike.
I know people that never go anywhere without their children. That feel it’s unfair to leave them home and deprive them of these family memories. I understand this point of view, but am going to respectfully disagree.
Parenting is hard. It’s an all consuming job that naturally takes priority over all others. The problem becomes when the gap becomes too large. When being parents starts to get in the way of being a couple. It’s not an overnight process but a gradual stagnation. An emotional exhaustion.
I find time away together important to maintaining that spark. Date nights and stolen moments. Effort made to try and remember what brought you together in the first place.
It’s important enough that we decided that we weren’t done yet, taking advantage of a gracious grammy and driving across state to Hampton Beach. There we came across two of my new favorite nightspots on the east coast, The Goat Bar and Grill and Wally’s Pub. Great food, varied whiskey selections and better live music on a Tuesday night than I’m used to seeing on weekends at most other establishments.
Check out this guy, Rob Benton , Here . He kicked ass.
After a relaxing few nights it was exactly the sort of rowdiness that we were looking for and quite possibly our destination the next time that we decide to run away from home for a few days.