Disney World, Part 2

A few months ago I wrote a whiny post about my kids choosing a trip to Disney World instead of a two-week camping trip. I didn’t want to go to Disney World but foolishly let The Boy and The Girl decide where we’d vacation. I don’t do crowds well under the best of circumstances and throw in tired, travel-weary children and I was pretty sure I’d wind up in Disney jail for assaulting someone.

We are now home from our visit and I can say I managed to avoid a criminal record and actually enjoyed our time in the Happiest Place on Earth. Yes, there were lots of people and, yes, it was overwhelming at times but the kids had a fabulous time and it was worth it. I made sure we had down time for the kids (and me) to decompress and get away from the masses, which is what made the whole trip bearable.

We stayed at the Port Orleans French Quarter resort, which was well-maintained and our room was nice but tight with four people. One of the buildings in the resort was being refurbished but we never heard construction noise or were bothered by the work. I was amazed by how clean the resort was with all the people there.

Our first real Disney experience involved princess and knight make-overs at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. We went to the Disney Springs location because I didn’t make reservations soon enough to get into the salon at Cinderella’s Castle. I’d originally booked the lowest tier of make-overs for The Girl and The Boy but I’m a sucker and upgraded when we got there. As we were waiting for our turn all these little girls were coming out wearing princess gowns (which wasn’t included in what I’d first chosen) and I didn’t want to explain to my princess that Mommy was too cheap to pay for a gown. And since The Girl got an upgraded package The Boy did too.

The Castle package for The Girl involved glittery makeup, a princess-like hair style and she was able to choose which princess gown she wanted. (Elsa was the winner.) The Boy was transformed into a knight with an armor-printed t-shirt (complete with attached cape), a gelled hair style (complete with dragon scales sprinkled in) and a foam sword and shield. He was sworn to protect the royals and was knighted with his own sword. The Fairy Godmothers In Training were fantastic with the kids, and talked with them about what it was like to attend Fairy Godmother school. Did you know they are in school for 1,000 years before being sent out on their own? It was definitely worth the cost and I’d highly recommend it if you have little ones who would enjoy becoming a knight or a princess.

After the kids’ transformations we headed to Epcot for rides and dinner. Frozen Ever After was a fun and slightly thrilling ride, which was perfect for our anxious Boy who didn’t like any of the faster rides. Turtle Talk with Crush kept the kids and adults entertained. We had dinner at The Garden Grill, a farm-to-fork type restaurant that slowly turns through various landscape scenes. We met Mickey and Pluto there and the kids were able to get their autographs. Our picky eater, The Girl, was not enjoying the family-style meal but lucked out when the entire building was evacuated for undisclosed reasons. We still don’t know what happened but had already been served most of the meal when we were told the building was being emptied. We were not charged for the meal.

A day at Magic Kingdom was next and the relative emptiness of Epcot did not prepare me for the mass of people there. The Girl loved the fast rides; The Boy not so much. The Pilot and I split up and he took The Boy on the slower rides and to see the Hall of Presidents while The Girl and I hit a couple of roller coasters. We left just as the fireworks were starting because it’d been a full day and we were all pooped.

Animal Kingdom was the destination for the next day and we took a river journey in Pandora, went on a safari and had lunch with Mickey, Donald, Daisy and Goofy. The safari was nothing short of amazing — and I don’t use that word lightly. The animals are up close and personal and free to roam. One of the trucks in front of us had to stop while an animal (we never found out which one) blocked the road. Don’t miss this attraction even if you don’t have a Fast Pass for it. I liked walking around the Tree of Life and finding all the animals carved into it. We cut the day short to head back to the resort to swim and relax but I could have spent the entire day there.

On our last full day, we decided to head back to Magic Kingdom to spend more time in Adventureland, which we had missed the first time we were there. The one thing we didn’t do that I wish we had was to take a raft to Tom Sawyer’s Island but we just ran out of time. The Swiss Family Robinson Tree House was interesting and the kids enjoyed climbing to the top and back down. You get a nice view of the park from the upper platforms and we did it twice. The Boy really liked that one.

The Pilot and I dropped the kiddos off at The Sandcastle Club at the Beach Club resort for that evening. They were able to eat there and spend the evening doing kid-friendly activities (dress up, making a volcano, eating snacks and playing video games). They even got to meet Captain Hook and Mr. Smee that evening. The Pilot and I headed back to Epcot for dinner at the Coral Reef, where you can eat in front of giant aquarium. We got to see SCUBA divers working in the tank and one of them got the entire restaurant to do The Wave. It was a nice adult evening and more relaxing because we knew the kids were having a good time too.

After all my complaining about going on this trip, I did end up having a good time and could see us returning in a few years. I’d do things a little differently next time, though. I don’t think we’d sign up for a dining plan again as we struggled to use all the entitlements. That’s partly because we didn’t get charged for one dinner and we were able to stock up on snacks and sandwiches for the trip home but it was a lot of food. When you’re trying to make better food choices an included dessert is not always beneficial. It would be nice if you could make substitutions, say a salad instead of dessert. Some restaurants allowed you to do that but not all. I’d probably skip Magic Kingdom in the future and spend more time at Epcot and Animal Kingdom. Epcot has more educational activities and The Boy (a scientist at heart) really liked those exhibits. The Girl said her favorite park was Magic Kingdom but I don’t think she’d complain about spending more time with the animals, especially if we also do some of the fast rides there.

The one thing I would do the same, however, is go off season. I can’t imagine the parks being even more crowded than they were. The crush of people was enough to severely test my patience. If there were even more humans, I’d definitely need to budget bail money into our trip planning.

Sand, sand and more sand

Little SableLast weekend we took the Fun Finder to the west coast of Michigan for a quick getaway. Silver Lake is in sand dune country on the shores of Lake Michigan. Silver Lake is a smaller lake between the dunes and the campground of the state park. We got there late Friday night, well after dark even though we took the kids out of school early so that wouldn’t happen. Somehow we end up behind schedule no matter how much we plan ahead. I don’t get it because the only things we need to pack and haul to the camper are our clothes and food. Everything else we need for a camping weekend is already in the trailer.

We weren’t even 15 minutes into the trip when The Girl tells us she has to go potty. Of course, she does. Since she’s only 6, we take these pronouncements very seriously lest we end up with a puddle in the back seat. Then we had to stop for dinner because we would be getting to the campground too late to fix dinner there.  Then we had to stop for gas because the fuel mileage in our Durango is atrocious when we’re towing the camper. Then we had another potty break before finally arriving at the park. What should have been a four-hour trip became a more-than-five-hour one.

Now it’s time to fill the freshwater tank. We can never remember which side the fresh water is on and which side the black and gray water pipes are on. I think I’m going to make a sign that says “fresh on the right, gross on the left” to keep in the car so we don’t have this debate every time we take the camper out. Every campground we’ve been to with the Fun Finder has all the water spigots on the left. Silver Lake was no exception. Great. A little maneuvering and all is good. We have water and get the camper parked on our site.

Did I mention that Silver Lake is made of sand dunes? This became important as we tried to level the camper around the drainage ditch that ran through the middle of our site. We have those snap together blocks to drive the camper onto to level it. After multiple attempts and using pieces of wood to keep the blocks from sinking into the sand, we gave up and said “good enough”.  It was actually fairly level but I think that may because the whole trailer sank into the sand.  The kids fell asleep pretty quickly that night so Daddy and I enjoyed a couple of adult beverages with some of the people we were camping with before calling it a night too.

Some of the reviews we read about Silver Lake before we left said the DNR staff was very strict about noise levels. I believe one review related the staff to the Gestapo and stated that people were forced to gather in the restrooms to hold normal conversations. It was a pretty quiet campground but the only issue we had was when a ranger asked us to turn off the outside speakers because it was officially quiet time. It was well after 10 p.m. when the ranger came by so I don’t think Gestapo is really a fair description. “Rules enforcer” would be more accurate.

Despite our late night, the kids were up bright and early the next morning. The Boy, using his 8-year-old logic, decided he’d let Mom and Dad sleep a little more and get his own breakfast. That would have been fantastic if he hadn’t taken a box of Rice Krispies into his bunk and spilled them everywhere. His bed, the floor, the bunkhouse dinette seats were all covered in little crunchy bits of cereal that were crushed underfoot as he tried to clean them. A little help from Mom and all the Rice Krispies dust was swept up.

The Girl has a love of the beach and begs to go every time we’re near one. We relaxed at camp until after lunch when we decided to give in to The Girl’s pleas and head to Lake Michigan. We followed the signs for the lighthouse and found ourselves on a beach. Little Sable light house offers tours and you can go all the way to the top for a 360-degree view of the area. We did not take the tour because neither of the children wanted to and I didn’t feel like listening to them whine all the way up. I’ve been to the top of a Great Lakes lighthouse (Au Sable in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore) and The Pilot is afraid of heights, which is a pretty odd phobia for someone who flies airplanes for a living. I think it was $5 per adult and maybe $3 per child for the tour but I’d check that if you want to go. There was a small gift shop on site too.

There’s a roomy beach at Little Sable and it wasn’t very crowded. I’m assuming it would be much busier before Labor Day but the weather in mid-September was perfect, mid-80s and sunny. The water on Lake Michigan was a little rough. A few people were trying to surf but they weren’t having much luck. The kids played in the cold waves for a little bit before we decided to head back to Silver Lake for calmer, warmer water.

Silver Lake has a nice beach too and there weren’t many people there. Again, I’m sure it’s a different story during the peak summer season. Silver Lake is a large lake that can handle speed boats and Jet Skis. The beach is really shallow for a long way out, making it perfect for my less-than-perfect swimmers. I didn’t have to worry they would accidentally step into deep water. I was even able to lounge in the sun on the beach while the kids were playing in the water. We spent several hours at Silver Lake and there’s a playground available for the kids to enjoy while drying off. The park has a picnic area with charcoal grills and clean bathroom/changing facilities.

We had a potluck dinner that night with the rest of our group and called it a night pretty early. The sun takes it out of you, ya know? Part of our group had spent the day SCUBA diving a shipwreck in Lake Michigan and the others went to a nearby winery, the Fox Barn. Yes, I had them bring back wine for me, including a delicious blueberry one. The divers said the shipwreck was neat so if you’re into that sort of thing you could check that out too. Silver Lake has a designated off road vehicle area so people are able to play on the dunes with their ORVs. One member of our group took her four-door Jeep Wrangler out.

Sunday morning was spent relaxing over breakfast and packing up to head home. Check out time for Silver Lake is 1 p.m., which we missed by a few minutes. The campground was pretty empty so I don’t think the rangers would have enforced it even if we’d left a little later. All in all, I’d recommend Silver Lake as a fun getaway, though definitely be prepared to have sand everywhere. It was in my teeth, my hair, the camper and we’re still finding pockets of sand at home. I would recommend an off-season visit as it would be pretty crowded with summer travelers.

For more information, you can visit this website: http://www.michigan.org/property/silver-lake-state-park.


First drafts

“The first draft of anything is shit,” said the great Ernest Hemingway. Those words hold a special meaning for me these days as I work to polish my first manuscript. I’ve dreamed of writing a book for as long as I can remember and I have at long last achieved that dream. Now the real work begins: editing, rewriting, creating a synopsis and a query letter, editing and rewriting again and again and again. My beta readers have the second draft in their hands and I’m anxiously awaiting their reviews and suggestions. When I need a break from editing, I research the path to publication. One suggestion that keeps popping up is that agents and publishers like authors who already have an online presence. And so Camping and Other Ways to Stay Sane was born.

As the title of this blog suggests, there’s more to me than writing. I find myself inspired by nature and my writing reflects my love of the wilderness.  I find that I am happiest when I am outside or when I am creating something. This blog will likely be a reflection of the usually scattered aspects of my life. Here’s a short of list of topics I may write about:

Camping: Our family bought a camper this year. I enjoy getting away from the suburbs and spending time around the campfire. I may detail camping trips we’ve taken and review the campgrounds we’ve visited. I may even include the littles’ reviews of the camping trip.

Writing: I’ve been writing (or trying to) for most of my life. I remember getting a manual typewriter for a birthday, the kind with the plastic cover to keep dust out of the keys when it wasn’t being used. I spent hours pounding out Detective Becky stories because I was a huge Nancy Drew fan and wanted so much to be like her. When I need a break from editing my manuscript, I’ve been working on a short story that I may post here when it’s finished.

Crafting: I am a creator and sometimes the words just aren’t flowing. When that block happens, I work on making crafts to break through. I find that turning my mind to something else lets the story percolate in the back of my brain and I’ve come up with some of the best aspects of my works that way.  I make wreaths, signs, t-shirts and work with vinyl decals frequently. You may see some of my projects here.

Family: I’m the wife of a commercial pilot so I spend a lot of time solo parenting my littles. Some days are great. Other days, not so much. You may get to hear about the great days and the bad ones. Probably the bad ones.

Adventure: Since I spend so much time solo parenting and my kids are still too young to be home alone, sometimes I escape to an adventure. I’m usually backpacking when on an adventure but not always. I have had adventures on horseback and on the water too. My adventures always include the outdoors, though. I can’t imagine any blog of mine without adventure posts.

These are the some of the ways I stay sane while trapped in suburbia. I look forward to sharing these with you and hearing about your methods of sanity.