Sunday, April 16, 2017

Come Sail Away

Now that we're both back from vacation and I have a laptop again, I should write something up. If nothing else, it's a good way to learn how to type on the new laptop without accidentally hitting the touchpad. I'll cover the special parts of the cruise we went on in the next post. For this one, you get San Diego and the general ship experience.

Our first stop was Legoland. Don't go to Legoland if there's a chance of rain. The park handled it terribly. On top of that, at least with our package, you had to cancel 5 days in advance of your reservation, so by the time the weather forecast is reliable enough to make a decision, it's too late. We got to experience one indoor ride, one kid play area, one 4d movie (that sprayed us with water on this rainy day, repeatedly), one water ride (that spun people around in a circle and got them wet), and one indoor area where you could build and race Lego karts down a ramp. There was also a Mindstorms experience, but both kids were too young for that, so we missed out. The worst part, though, was how the refund policy works. They say up front that if they have to close the park for two hours due to bad weather, you'll get credit to return to the part free within a year. Let's ignore the cost of plane tickets, car rental, and lodging, and accept this as a good faith gesture. That gesture was ruined by what actually happened, which is that the rain stopped almost exactly two hours before closing, but instead of getting those two hours to experience the rest of Legoland (other than the one ride we'd been cycling through, which broke down several times), they closed the park early, secure in the knowledge that the 2-3 dozen of us there that day had no grounds to demand vouchers to return. Great guest experience there.

The rest of the trip went really well. We were easily able to bus from our hotel to the San Diego Zoo, there was a convenient spawning point for getting Pikachu wearing a party hat, and we discovered there's a Ghirardelli Chocolate in San Diego, which went a good way to offset not getting up to LA for doughnuts this trip. We'd planned to go back to Balboa Park for another day, but the kids were happy enough to play at the park next to the San Diego Clerk/Recorder Building. By the way, if anyone reading this is on a career path that would set them up to be County Recorder or something like that, this looks like a gorgeous building to work in. You should consider it.

After that, we boarded a ship and went to Mexico. None of us had gone on a cruise before, so this was a new experience. We lucked out, choosing a midship cabin, which limited how far we'd have to walk to get anywhere, since the things we wanted were spread out all over, and child care was four decks straight above us. Midship also had more elevators, although I tried to use those sparingly to offset the food and drinks. The cabin itself worked well for us, with a surprising amount of storage and a very efficient layout. We were in a suite, since it was something we could do, and made sense for having the four of us share that space for a week. It did mean we got a bathtub, which Shannon and the kids appreciated. We also got what the ship called a dressing room, which Moira really enjoyed, plus a custom Davis Storage Compartment. We'll see how well it works on future trips, assuming they happen.

The movement of the ship was a lot more pronounced than I was expecting. We had some minor concerns about seasickness before going, so took a number of precautions. Honestly, most of the problems I had were after returning to land. Either that, or while we were gone, everyone else has taken a much more casual approach to the frequent minor tremors we had.

I'll leave you with a few moments of Davis checking out our stateroom


Friday, May 27, 2016

All the Way Home

We made it home on schedule. I'm still recovering to some extent, but overall it was a good trip. With the luxury of a regular internet connection, this will be a bit photo heavy. Blogger could really use better tools for photo layout. I've spent 5 minutes trying to get the first three photos put together in a reasonable way, so I'm going to give up on the idea of things being perfect early.

Fortune from dinner on the first night of the trip
Don't lose track of your water bottle

Breakfast of Champion Campers
The last day of PCH was probably the best as far as progress on the road. It was also our closest encounter with law enforcement. Thanks to someone flashing their lights at me, I took it easy for a while. About 10 minutes later, I was running out of patience behaving behind a couple slower cars when I saw the reason for the warning. A chain of three of us passed the slower car in the passing lane with the cop parked on the side, and then back to travel as usual.

We made great time from Santa Cruz down to Malibu, in spite of the cop, road work, and having to twice get around the Nebraska mobile home doing 30mph and ignoring every turnout. It would have only been once, but Moira's breakfast that morning of fresh fruit and Vanilla Coke wasn't the best choice of the trip.

Fireside selfie from the second night after successfully
making fire in the wind
 There were some doubts about being able to get to Anaheim from Santa Cruz going along PCH, but leaving at 8:30am, we made it to the eastern end of Malibu around 5pm. Given Moira's love of Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse (yes, I made that a link -- that doesn't mean I recommend you click on it), I thought she'd like seeing the real thing. I didn't realize how long it takes to drive the whole length of it though. Since we'd decided on Panda Inn in Pasadena for dinner, anyone who's lived in LA can probably guess how things went getting from Malibu to Pasadena starting at 5pm on a Tuesday.

After dinner, I got a Life Achievement - ordering off the menu at The Donut Man. A strawberry donut, of course, plus reserving two fritters for the trip home. We arrived at our hotel in Anaheim about the time fireworks started. Having grown up in Anaheim, I don't remember the fireworks happening on school nights, so that was a bit of a surprise, but nice for those of us visiting. Shannon and Davis flew down on Monday to meet us, so were back in the room after having spent the day mostly at California Adventure when we arrived.

A duck skipping the line and tailgating the boat in front of us.
It bailed out before going into the ride proper.
All packed up after our last night of camping
Disneyland was a lot more crowded in mid-May than I expected. Lots of school groups, new grads, and otherwise pretty teen-heavy compared to our other recent trips. We still managed pretty well, even if we couldn't go on all the kids' favorites multiple times every day.

Moira's Roller Coaster Buddy
Moira really talked a good game going into this Disneyland trip, deciding she'd try Goofy's Sky School, Splash Mountain, and give Pirates of the Caribbean another try. The first one we tried was Splash Mountain. Turns out, neither of the kids were fans of getting splashed. They recovered well after a bite to eat, but no more daring adventures that day. We all stayed for the parade. Moira and I also hung out for the fireworks, with the intention to hit one or two more rides afterward, but given how hard it was to get around after the fireworks, we wound up just heading back to the room.

Our second day at the park, we were on our own as Shannon and Davis headed back. Moira tried Goofy's Sky School, but in spite of how slow it works when you're watching it from the ground, she felt it went too fast. With two strikes against new rides, she wasn't ready to consider Pirates. We did find that Soarin' Over California was still open despite plans to convert it to Soarin' Around the World very soon now, and she really enjoyed that. It was even more fun, having just driven through a number of the scenes on our drive from Seattle. She also picked out a stuffed monster (apparently named Angel) as a souvenir that gave her enough bravery to get through both Goofy's Sky School again plus a swing ride she'd also been to afraid to try earlier. We watched World of Color (note to self for the future: when the guides say that the wet areas only get a light misting, remember they're neither standing up there nor accounting for the wind blowing toward the crowd). We were also hoping to catch the fireworks on the way back to the hotel, but they were called off due to the weather.

Best breakfast of the trip!

 Our trip home got off to a slow start. We slept in later than any other day, had to get the car packed up again, and then stop at Donut Man and Tommy's on the way out. I picked up my pre-ordered fritters seconds after the people next to me tried to get fritters only to be told they'd run out. They were better than my last report, but not everything I'd hoped. I did figure out why I was originally so taken with them - they're at least twice the size of any other fritter I've had lately for $2. The reserved ones were not overcooked this time, but still could have used more apple cinnamon flavor. You'd think this would have been our breakfast stop, but for whatever pathological reason, I was determined to head to Tommy's. Turns out, it wasn't as bad an idea as you'd think. While my body may have expressed some regrets of the trip five days after getting home, it worked out that day. Moira said they make the best hamburgers without chili, and did acknowledge the merits of dipping fries in the chili, which I'm pretty sure is how I started.
Crossing 10,000 miles

We wound up leaving Pasadena right around noon on Friday when many other people I new were arriving for Alumni Weekend. Ah well, we'd planned this trips months in advance before I knew the dates for that, so it just wasn't in the cards this time. With our late departure, we didn't get to Redding until close to 10pm and decided to call it quits there.

Final trip summary according to the car
We finished the trip by meeting my dad for dinner in Kelso. We did have a bit of a scare, running very low on gas because signs for Curtis, OR made me think it was larger than it was. Couldn't find gas there, and Cottage Grove didn't make it easy, but we did find maybe the only gas station there before running out.

It was a good trip for both of us, I think, and it's good to be home again. We'll see how many of the smells the car picked up come out, and how the tires are doing after all this when the car goes out to Bremerton tomorrow.

Davis is somewhat concerned about his road trip with Daddy. His sense of time doesn't do so well with time periods between two weeks from now and four years from now. He's stopped objecting for now, but these things have a way of coming up again out of nowhere.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Road Goes On Forever

Other forgotten items:

Handle for the borrowed camp pot (which hopefully wasn't permanently hidden by the cleaners)

We wound up bringing too much food. I was expecting to be hungrier after long days on the road, so the prepackaged foil pouches were too large. I think next time we don't assemble them in advance.

Turns out, we stole someone's campsite that first night. He came by after we'd gotten mostly set up and started cooking, showing us his paperwork. I guess he thought leaving a single camp chair behind would have been enough for people to know he was coming back. Instead, he's now down a camp chair and had to find a new spot.

There have been a lot of double takes with the car, but no actual comments to me. I'm getting better at packing it, nesting things together. I'm also packing faster, which is very useful for tomorrow, as that will be our longest driving day so far. We'll see how long we can stick with PCH. This is definitely the car for it, as I can actually use most of the passing zones as long as there isn't  oncoming traffic. It'll really come down to road work and how many people decide they don't want to use a turnout to let me by, and then they proceed to speed through the residential areas. Still, they are better than the one person so far with wheels in my lane when I came around a blind corner. I've been slowing down for all of them, and that time, it really paid off.

Sunday night, we successfully found our campsite, but it had no cellphone coverage. Neither Verizon, T-Mobile, or carriers they work with for roaming coverage gave us anything, in spite of finding some sort of Verizon facility about 20 minutes down the road. We had a quiet night and played checkers before bed. Tonight, we're power impaired, so I'm not dealing with pictures. I think that waits until we get home.

Sunday night was our most challenging camping experience. While not raining, there was a lot of wind. We went through our entire newspaper supply and probably 40 matches before we had a working campfire. Good thing too, since by that time, our only food option would likely have been Denny's in Petaluma, assuming we got a network connection to let us know that was an option.

Yesterday, we stopped at the drive through Sequoia. We didn't try driving through because my car has serious hips, and everyone there would have had a great laugh if I got stuck in the tree. Today was the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, which Moira was very excited for until she found out it was more aimed at teenagers. Still, she found a carnival game prize she liked, so that made for a good experience. We also met up with an old friend from Caltech who lives in Santa Cruz, which was nice. We went out to dinner, which meant no dealing with a campfire tonight, no cooking, less unpacking, and much appreciated break before tomorrow's long drive. I'd try to watch the race, but my tablet claims the Tivo is offline, so that will just have to wait.

Moira has been doing very well on the trip. Yes, there's a lot of time with her tablet, but we've had some good discussions, she's getting better with directions, and she has fun texting Shannon when circumstances permit. I'm really impressed with how patient she is with everything, especially when we've had challenges. After a discussion about speed limits, she has been nagging me from time to time about how fast we are going, but that's mostly when she hasn't noticed the sign saying we can speed up again. I know my mother will wind this hilarious as I did the same thing to her when I was a kid.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Lost in America

Also on the list of forgotten things: Band-Aids.

Morning was uneventful except for Moira getting a small cut on her finger and the local gas station not having air. We got relish and Band-Aids at a grocery and finally got the car to stop complaining about tire pressure a couple hours down the road.

We had more navigation hiccups today. The first, we got send off US-101S through some twisty farm road and back onto 101. Still not sure why. Lunch was at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. I really wanted the habanero cheddar mac and cheese, but knowing that I'm halfway through my forties, felt it wiser to go for the taco salad. We'll see how this winds up playing out.

Our second issue was at what was supposed to be our destination. Maps had us turn around a couple times, and eventually we figured out it was trying to route us somewhere unconnected from the highway. Turns out between Maps and the camping reservation system, we passed our campsite maybe halfway through the day. Oops. We wound up 25 miles south of where we were aiming for at a different state campground. Still managed dinner and getting the tent set up. I'm a bit disappointed in the camping mattress so far, but the real test is how I feel in the morning.

Speaking of morning, pictures will have to wait until then as not everything is as synced as it should be. Meanwhile, my crazy mixed up world of the roughing it, I'll be going to bed without watching the F1 qualifying session my tablet spent all day downloading. Maybe in the morning...

Friday, May 13, 2016

Love is a Long Road

My mind has somehow crossed Ocean City/Ocean Shores with Long Beach. I truly thought we were headed to Ocean City, which I remember as a major tourist trap, but I figured it'd be fun for Moira if we got there early enough to walk around, and maybe fly kites. Turns out, the hotel reservation was actually in Long Beach. Thankfully, I told Moira to navigate to the hotel rather than the city, so we wound up in the right place. Sadly, my confusion extended to discussions with my father, who attempted to meat us in Ocean City, which didn't work out at all. Again, sorry about that.

There was still a chunk of things to be dealt with at the last minute. They didn't all have to be, but I do find it tough to pack things that might be needed too far in advance of the trip. The biggest issue here was Moira's birthday pool party the Saturday before our departure, which meant swimming suits, towel, etc., which then had to go through the wash before being packed.

Things we tried very hard to forget:

  • Rain jackets
  • Moira's books and toys
  • Towels
  • Pillows (actually turned around to get these)
  • Oven mitt (but I have a hand towel that'll work in a pinch)
  • Relish (well and truly forgotten)
We hit the traffic we were trying to avoid, so the trip took about 3.5 hours. Navigation worked pretty well until the end, when things got a bit confused, so we had to backtrack about 10 minutes to get where we were going. Not sure what happened -- I think we missed a turn. Moira wants to put away her tablet as we approach each turn, so it's likely that we missed the second of two turns that came pretty close together.

Specialty child insurance. Too bad it's for the other one.
Chinese food, a walk down to the beach, and then bedtime to round out the night. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Heading Out to the Highway

Time to hit the road. I don't know how much the extended period of packing the car helped with not forgetting things, but it did cut down on the last minute things that needed to be rounded up before leaving.

Weather reports look like we'll catch rain down the Washington and Oregon coasts, which will add more challenges that I was hoping for on this trip, but we'll manage. Worst case, we don't actually cook at the campsite. I suppose that would have been an advantage to getting a camp stove, which might have fit in the boot, but given how much other stuff we had to buy for the trip, I'm okay with this.

One of the tricks of the trip is that we each have a drink + snack budget of $5/day. Part of the goal of the trip is teaching Moira about budgeting and comparison shopping. She's picked out a couple things she really wants to get on the trip, so we put that on her tab already as a placeholder. She also has a couple of things from local grocery stores or Costco. She's also bringing leftover Christmas and Easter candy to stretch things farther. Meanwhile, we had a little lesson on measurements and ratios so that I can fill a couple flasks to bring with me. I'm not sure I've ever had an actual cause to use them before, but this seems like the perfect opportunity (except for the part that I need to make sure they go in the boot). I'm personally reserving budget for Donut Man and probably a shake from Foster's Freeze on the return trip.

Since Moira is navigating, we told her tablet to download maps from here to Anaheim. We'll see if she actually has enough space. Maybe this will be enough to inspire an interest in math, since during the measurement and ratio lesson, she complained about how bored she was.

First stop, Ocean City, and we'll see how well I can manage to update on the road.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Take The Long Way Home

I'm not a stranger to road trips, but it has been a while. Moira and I are planning a road trip from Seattle to LA in two weeks. Well, the planning has been going on quite a while, but it's getting more serious as departure date approaches. Small discussions started about a year ago, with things getting more serious after Christmas. She started out wanting to go a Wizard of Oz museum somewhere at first, and then switched to somewhere in Texas thanks to Go Go, America. Eventually, the siren song of the Magic Kingdom won out, so that's where we're going. US-101/PCH down and I-5 back.

Most of my road trips happened around college if I remember right. Sadly, that was pre-social networking, so it's hard to go digging through archives to get the data to verify that. Anyway, whether or not it was college or shortly after, what I remember is that planning was pretty minimal. The important things to be done in advance were making sure important car maintenance was done and making sure the necessary music for the trip was available (meaning put on cassette, or making sure your method of connecting a portable cd player to the existing car stereo worked). I think these are about the only two things I'm not worrying about for this trip. The car needs an oil change once per year or at least 10,000 miles. The car will likely crack the 10,000 total mileage mark while on the trip, and should probably get a new set of tires when we get back. We'll see how things look and feel when I get back, since the tires I want don't exist yet.

One huge change, other than travelling with an 8-year old will be that we plan on camping for three nights of the trip. I'm hoping to finish up shopping for that this weekend, as we're light on camping supplies. With all that, I can start packing up the car. Unlike past road trips, the car is strictly recreational, so I have the luxury of being able to pack well in advance.

Beyond camping, and having reservations pinning down our travel schedule for the trip, there are a couple other differences this time around. First, I have to let Moira navigate. We had a dry run last weekend helping Liz scout around the Olympic Peninsula, and she did remarkably well. It's a lot easier to let her make mistakes close to home where I know my way around, and the consequences are measured in minutes instead of hours. Our current plan is letting her navigate on her tablet and letting me have the car's map for reference, so I know if there's a mistake and can decide when to intervene.

The other big difference is the rule against eating in the car. I think this just means more stops than I used to like, but that's probably not a bad idea, especially with Moira. We're aiming for about 350 miles a day, so that shouldn't be so bad. It's significantly less for our day in the Bay Area, since she wants to go to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, but that means we have more distance to cover the final day. We'll just have to see, once we get to LA, how much I stick to PCH. I think the draw of The Donut Man will triumph over sticking to the coast. The real question is, with one dinner in the LA area, where do we do that?

* Technically, we'll be taking the short, quick way back to our current home, but since I lived in Anaheim for several years, and felt that was a much better fit for me as a person than Michigan, so that's why it gets to be considered home.