Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party 2016

As I mentioned a few days ago, the kids and I spent a long weekend in Orlando in mid-December.

We stayed at my mom’s place near Winter Haven, FL, for two nights and then headed to Orlando for the third (and final) night to attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

A quick tutorial: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is held on select nights in November and December (this year there were 21 dates; we attended on Friday, December 16th).

I’d seen some other sites describe this as a “hard ticket” event, which I guess means that you need a separate ticket – not theme park admission – to attend. Furthermore, if you happen to have purchased a Magic Kingdom theme park admission for a day when the party will be held, you will also be asked to leave when the party starts unless you have a separate party ticket. Whomp whomp.

Officially the party starts at 7 P.M., but I’d read on several other sites that you could get into the Magic Kingdom starting at 4 P.M., so that’s what we decided to do.

After checking into the Swan Hotel at 3 P.M., MGM (9), Trixie (7), and I took a Disney bus to the Magic Kingdom. The bus wasn’t crowded and we made quick time, arriving in less than 30 minutes. Since our party ticket wouldn’t get us into the park for another half hour, we took the monorail to the Grand Floridian to see their huge gingerbread house.

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We arrived in the nick of time to see Cinderella and Prince Charming sweep into the lobby and admire the (huge, elaborate) Christmas tree that was there. They were followed by an entourage of fans, mostly girls in princess dresses. There was a live orchestra in the lobby balcony that started playing a waltz, and several couples joined the royal couple in a dance by the tree.

We had a great vantage point from the balcony for this, and when it was done we headed down to the gingerbread house.

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Many Disney resorts have elaborately themed gingerbread houses on display. We didn’t have time to do a full hotel tour of holiday decorations, but I’ve read about this on other blogs and it sounds like fun.

The Grand Floridian’s house was two stories tall and housed a shop (accessible from the back) that sold various gingerbread items and Christmas sweets. Cast members provided us with a menu while we waited in line a few minutes to order. I was pleased to see a small gluten free section for Trixie and she got a snickerdoodle cookie. It was pre-packaged and the one adjective she used to describe it was “hard.” I opted for a gingerbread Mickey head ($8.50) with chocolate dipped ears. MGM declared that he didn’t want any of it.

Honestly, the gingerbread cookie was disappointing. The flavor was pretty bland, and I was expecting it to be crunchy when, in fact, it was soft and cake-like. I ate the chocolate covered ears and tossed the rest. 

By now it was time to head to the party.

We took the monorail back to the Magic Kingdom’s entrance and went through security, scanned our party tickets and got wristbands indicating that we were there for the party. As the evening drew closer to 7 P.M. I saw many people without wristbands – regular parkgoers – (politely) denied entry into ride queues and also being asked to leave the park.

We decided to take in a few rides before the party started and also took our traditional picture trying to pull the sword from the stone in Fantasyland.

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We still didn’t get it.

Let me pause for a second and talk about cost:

  • Disney admission now varies on whether your trip is considered Peak, Regular or Value season. Our trip coincided with Regular season, so a one-day Magic Kingdom ticket would have been $110 for me and $104 for each of the kids.
  • The Very Merry Christmas Party ticket prices also vary by date, with the earlier dates being slightly cheaper than the ones closer to Christmas. On the night we attended prices were $99 for adults and $94 for children.
  • Since I knew that our theme park stamina would not be strong, I decided that the time allowed for the party (essentially 4 P.M. – 12 A.M.) would be more than sufficient for the three of us to enjoy the Magic Kingdom, so in the end it was about $30 cheaper for us to attend the party rather than buy one day park admissions.

Because of this mindset, we decided to do the theme park stuff we wanted and not go crazy trying to cram in all of the special party experiences.

Trixie is bold and adventuresome and had one thing in mind: rides.

We started off with the Haunted Mansion. The wait time was about 15 minutes. We wandered over to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train but the wait time was 140 minutes. No thanks.

Off we headed to Frontierland and in fairly quick succession we hit Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain, then Pirates of the Caribbean and the Swiss Family Treehouse. The kids wanted to do the Mad Teacups and I sat it out. I hate this vomit inducing spinning nightmare.

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Good news: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train now only had a 40 minute wait so we got in line. This was a new attraction to all of us and was pretty fun.

We took a short ride break to get hot chocolate and cookies. There were about half a dozen stations set up around the park to pass out these free (!!!) treats for partygoers. I’d heard that the cookies were snickerdoodle, but I thought my two tasted more like sugar cookies. Either way they were decent. I thought MGM would want to go back again and again for cookies, but this was the only stop we made. They had pre-packaged gluten free cookies available, too, but Trixie took a few bites and tossed them into the nearest trash can.

A this point, Trixie still wanted more, more, more adventure and asked what the scariest ride was, so we went to Space Mountain. 

MGM wasn’t convinced this was a ride for him. He kept asking if there were steep drops or darkness, because he didn’t want any of that. Sorry, bud. That’s all Space Mountain is. 

I offered to let him wait for us, but in the end he decided to go, too. Both kids loved it and declared it their favorite.

By this time we were hungry and waited in a long line at Cosmic Ray’s fast food restaurant. Adjacent to this there was a dance party with holiday characters like reindeer and elves. MGM loved it and got totally into the dancing, which was good since it took about 25 minutes to get the food.

Once we were done eating it was pushing the time for the evening fireworks to begin. I think this was now almost 10:30 P.M. We’d totally missed a Christmas parade that happened earlier, which was ok with us given the fact that we wanted to do attractions but probably wouldn’t make sense for more serious Disney fans who came for the unique party entertainment.

We grabbed a spot on Main Street and watched the show. The castle looked great with holiday icicle lights.

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The best part came next: it snowed on Main Street!

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Spoiler: this is actually some type of soap, but the kids still loved it.

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The crowds starting exiting the park en masse at this point. We decided to cool our jets for 20-30 minutes to get the initial waves out and did some shopping. I am a sucker for stuffed animals and bought this (ahem) for the children:

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Image via Disney Store

So much for saving $30 on park admission.

By now it was after 11 P.M. and we easily got a bus back to the Swan Hotel.

The kids wanted a picture with the holiday decorated swans in the lobby fountain.

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We were all pretty punchy at this point.

Trixie was so tired that she slept in her clothes.

The next morning we had breakfast at the adjacent Dolphin Hotel. As we passed through the Swan’s lobby to get there, we saw the World’s Largest Chocolate Santa.

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Of course both kids immediately wanted this.

The trip home was unenjoyable but uneventful, and we arrived safely back in Minnesota on Saturday night.

The kids complained a bit about the trip being too short and since returning I’ve heard repetitive pleas to move to Orlando, but I told them that if they hadn’t had a lot of fun they wouldn’t want to go back, so this was a sign that we had a great time. 

I think that went over their heads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orlando Getaway

The kids and I spent three nights in Florida over the weekend.

I told them it was a “getaway,” and not a vacation due to its quick turn around.

They were not buying it and requested at least two months at Disney World in the immediate future.

Spoiler alert: not happening. Nope.

We left on Wednesday morning, which I thought was a generous bonus of letting them play hooky from school for three days.

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Our flight to Florida was uneventful and we were able to smoothly pick up our rental car.

My mom has a house about an hour from Orlando and we headed there to spend two nights.

I hadn’t been to my mom’s place in about two years, and I forgot how nice it was.

My mom and her husband spend the winters in a 55+ community where the primary mode of transportation is via golf cart. 

She immediately took Trixie and me for a spin, where we toured some of the holiday light displays in the neighborhood:img_1228

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Some of these were quite elaborate. One even had a feature that was activated with the push of a button. Trixie gave it a whirl.

We went for a swim. The pool felt like bath water. I mean that in a good way. Temps were in the high 70s.

The community has two lending libraries and we checked out a puzzle. Everyone worked on it. In the end we were missing a few pieces but you get the gist:

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End product

On Thursday we went to Legoland. 

This theme park is only about 10 minutes away from my mom’s place, which was awesome. It was totally un-crowded on a weekday. They had their “Christmas Bricktacular” up and running.

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I liked the area where they had miniature cities represented. Most of them had Christmas overlays, too. It was fun to spot the hidden Santas.

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NYC

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San Francisco

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D.C. with Vegas in the background

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MGM (9) being forced into a shot

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Santa’s sleigh is flying between the buildings!

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The First Family in Santa hats

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Lady Liberty and her Lego torch

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Trixie and her slushy torch

The rides were extremely tame.

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We spent about four hours at Legoland, which was more than sufficient. 

For the rest of the day, I went running, swimming, took another spin in the golf cart and worked on that darn puzzle. I was determined to get it finished before we left the next day.

When we woke up on Friday morning, we decided to head to a flea market that was about 20 minutes away.

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All I did was ask them to smile nicely for the camera

I was not prepared for this.

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There were live wolves and alligators:

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Trixie came home with a lot of swag. I think the total tab was $6.00.

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My kind stepfather finished the puzzle while we were gone, so we got to see that to the end.

After lunch the kids and I packed up the rental car and headed back to Orlando, where we were set to spend the night at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kauai Trip Report, Part 3

[If you need to catch up, Part 2 is here].

I’ll try to wrap up the rest of the trip, which consisted of Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We had a late flight out on Saturday night (10 PM), but we were still able to enjoy the day.

On Thursday we woke up, ran and had breakfast again at the hotel. I made the mistake of ordering the breakfast buffet. I say “mistake” because when food is unlimited, I tend to eat unlimited amounts. This wasn’t an exception. I had an omelette, an eggs Benedict concoction with crab, a small kale salad, a mini carrot muffin, part of a piece of toast with lilikoi (passionfruit) jam, and some fried rice (!). Oh, and then pumpkin bread pudding for dessert and some token fruit. Ugh. I can easily say that I got my $39 worth of breakfast, not that this should be a point of pride.

After such a decadent breakfast, I needed a nap. The weather was overcast, so I also checked in with the spa to see if they had any openings. Bingo! They did. I had an excellent massage and a facial, both with Michelle, who is the spa’s trainer. Hotel spa treatments can be hit or miss, but this was all hit. Michelle was the bomb. I liked the skin care products they used, too. The brand is Osea. Michelle told me that she calls their Red Algae mask the “hangover mask” because of its complexion reviving capability. I made a mental note of the product.

By this time it was the afternoon and we decided to head to Hanalei for dinner. The valet recommended driving to the end of the road as long as we were heading that way. It’s true: the road deadends at Ke’e Beach, which is also the start of trails to hike the Napali Coast.

The drive to the beach was quite interesting since we had to cross about seven one lane bridges to get there.

When we arrived the parking area had about a dozen cars but the beach never felt crowded. The surf was pretty strong but a few people were swimming, despite signs advising against this posted at the (empty) lifeguard station.

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I’m the worst at selfies. 

We had dinner at the Dolphin Restaurant in Hanalei, which had some of the best sashimi I’ve ever tasted. This was the second – but not last – time we had sushi on the trip.

Friday was a rinse and repeat for the A.M. routine: wake, run, breakfast. I wisely avoided the buffet. We were nervously watching the weather because we had a helicopter tour scheduled at 11 A.M. and were praying that the sunshine would hold. It did.

I decided not to take any pictures during the helicopter tour and just experience it. I’m glad I did it that way. I am actually quite scared of heights and was also a teensy bit worried about becoming airsick in a helicopter, but once we took off, neither of those problems emerged. It was really cool!

I was seated next to our pilot, Steve, who made corny jokes but reassured me when he said that he had over 25,000 hours of flying time. I decided right then and there that we probably wouldn’t crash. Spoiler alert: we didn’t.

This was my first time in a helicopter, and it felt like we were floating. I loved it. The views were incredible. There would be an amazing waterfall and then bam! A better waterfall. Rinse and repeat for 45 minutes. 

Friday afternoon was beach time. I ordered tacos and a beer from my chair and had to fight off this chicken for my lunch.

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We decided to eat dinner at the less fancy restaurant at the hotel. We had sushi and fresh (cooked) mahi mahi. It rained but we were still able to sit outside under an overhang. It was lovely.

We started watching “Dateline” at 8 P.M., but both of us were snoring before we even found out Who Did It. I did not regret falling asleep at approximately 8:20 P.M. for a second.

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Saturday was a sad day since we knew we had to leave. We ran, breakfasted, and then (reluctantly) packed up our belongings and parked them at the bell stand.

We spent the entire day at the beach, probably eight hours total. It was mostly sunny. I swam. I read. I visited my jumping crab friends one more time.

At 6 P.M. we started to get ready to go. Pro tip: since many flights depart Hawaii at night, many (nicer) hotels will have a courtesy suite where you can shower, change and prepare for your (sad) return to reality. The St. Regis kindly gave us a key to an unused room and we were able to do exactly that.

Intercession: some of the Christmas decor at the hotel.

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We left the St. Regis around 7 P.M. and were prepared for an hour drive to the airport, leaving enough time to gas up and return the rental car. The valet told us a startling piece of news: there was an accident on the lone highway and a fallen telephone pole was blocking all traffic in both directions. He told us to be prepared for a three hour trip.

We set off and – for the win! – did not encounter any problems. The accident had cleared by the time we reached it and were able to get to the airport in our anticipated time of 45 minutes. We had planned to eat dinner there but the options were Slim and None. We went to Starbucks and Spouse had a sandwich; I had a bag of sweet potato chips and a Clif bar that I found in my bag. What a sad letdown from the gourmet food of the prior days.

Our first flight was slightly delayed. We left around 11:30 P.M. when the estimated departure had been 10:28 P.M. I wasn’t worried because I knew on the flip side that we had nearly three hours to kill at LAX before our final flight.

I was still pretty hungry when we boarded and sad to discover that even in First, there was not a meal service. I would have gladly eaten an airline meal at that point. The flight attendant was awesome and gave me a snack box, which I basically inhaled and then regretted because it was all junk food and salt. I felt really gross when we touched down at LAX nearly six hours later.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the details, but our final flight was delayed nearly seven hours and I spent most of the day in the Delta lounge, eating more salt, reading my iPad and people watching. Once we landed in Minneapolis, we were met with single digits temps. Ugh. I asked myself for the millionth time why I live here. 

Final thoughts:

  • This was an exceptional trip.
  • If you love low crowds, traveling between Thanksgiving and mid-December is something you should strongly consider.
  • Nightlife on Kauai, especially Princeville, is – from our experience – limited. If you want to party, go to Vegas. If you want to chill, Kauai is your ticket.
  • Unpack half of your stuff, particularly anything fancy. This is the jewelry I brought that went unused:

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I brought this new bag but felt ridiculous carrying it during the one night that I wore a dress:

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  • The grocery store is your best bet for souvenirs, unless you have something special in mind. We didn’t.

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You may notice that I stole 10 swizzle sticks from the St. Regis. I have a collection. It’s a Thing. 

  • You need to rent a car if you plan to go anywhere. I mean anywhere. Be prepared for low to no radio options and bring cords to connect to your phone if you want music.
  • Plan a picnic. I wish I would have done this. There were so many excellent beaches in Kauai and I saw several people hanging out, eating sandwiches and drinking beer. While we were staying at a really nice resort, the beach was still public and the view was free. Anyone could bring down provisions and basically enjoy the same thing with much less expense.
  • Consider bringing your kids. I hesitate to write this, since Spouse and I remarked several times that we were having a wonderful time sans kids. However, I saw many children at the St. Regis, and there seemed to be even more staying at the neighboring condo properties. The beaches and slow vibe of Kauai are ultimately kid friendly. The time difference for most people also means a naturally early bedtime and wakeup, which is right up Kid Alley. Even without kids, I don’t think we made it past 10:30 P.M. on any given night. Kauai accommodates toddler schedules quite well.
  • Spring for the helicopter tour, even if you are scared of crashing (Me!) or heights (also Me!).

 

 

 

Kauai Trip Report, Part 2

[If you’re late to the party, Part 1 is here].

Our Wednesday routine started the same as the day before: wake up before dawn, throw open the windows to hear the ocean, head out for a run.

A quick search on our phones showed a local breakfast spot called Lei Petite Bakery that was a few miles away. I got a breakfast sandwich and a chocolate macadamia nut latte, which was a big treat since I rarely get sugary coffee drinks. It was delicious.

We also browsed the nearby shops and picked up several souvenirs at the grocery store, Foodland. Tip: grocery and drug stores are reasonable places to pick up Hawaiian souvenir staples like chocolate covered macadamia nuts, coffee, salts, etc. They have a decent selection and the prices were a lot lower than the hotel’s store, which sold mostly the same stuff. They gave us a membership card to their savings club on the spot, too, so that knocked a few more dollars off the tab.

I struck up a conversation with a woman working at one of the boutiques in the shopping center and she suggested driving to the Kilauea Lighthouse, which was only about 20 minutes away. She also told me that if I stayed until 1:30 PM, she’d be leading a free tour of the lighthouse. We were intrigued enough to head over. This area is a national wildlife refuge and in addition to the amazing views of the waves crashing against cliffs, there was some interesting birdwatching. It was overcast that day, which is why this picture looks more like New England than Kauai:

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I wish I could give a better scale to the size of the cliffs and the waves. It was mesmerizing to watch them crash over and over. I was watching for the beautiful flash of blue that can be seen when a wave crests. I kept thinking “just one more wave,” and soon we’d been watching them for more than a half hour.

The weather cleared up a bit and we headed back to the resort and the beach. img_1159 img_1171

I should have taken better ground level photos of the beach and pool, but instead I took some aerial ones from our room to try and show how uncrowded everything was, especially the pool. I went in it twice and once was the only person swimming. The St. Regis also has a really nice set-up where they will outfit your chairs with towels. Most beaches in Hawaii don’t allow alcohol, but there is bar service here. One thing to note: this is still a public beach – like all beaches in Hawaii – so there were people not staying at the hotel using it, too. Even with that, it was never crowded.

If you look carefully at the pictures above, you may see small dots in the water: surfers! It was so much fun to watch them. Most of the surfers were in Hanalei Bay, and we were able to walk along the beach to the pier. We were surprised to see jumping crabs on the rocks and many sand crabs along the beach. It became a game to spot them before they scurried back into their dens. We spotted countless holes like these on the beach:

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We were planning not to miss dinner that night and had a reservation at the Kauai Grill, which is a Jean Georges venture that easily wins the “Fanciest Restaurant in Princeville” award.

But before dinner, I had one thing on my mind: sabrage.

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Sabrage is the art of opening champagne with a saber, and the St. Regis is known for it. 

In Kauai, they do it every night at sunset, and it’s basically the It Thing for Princeville nightlife. But for me, it’s always something I’ve wanted to see and secretly do. This has been a long-held dream, right up there with playing the drums in a super cool all-girl band. (I do not have any musical talent, sadly, but as someone who regularly performs surgery, this seemed like a better bet).

We arrived about five minutes before the sabrage was to start. I started talking to a friendly hotel employee named David, and he laughed when I told him that this trip was to celebrate my Unemployment World Tour. I also confided that I was supremely excited to see the bottle opening. David said that he was, in fact, going to be doing the sabrage and would teach me how to do it.

David then got up in front of the crowd and explained a bit about the hotel, the history of sabrage and then he sabered open a cold bottle of champagne and poured some for the guests, including us. I was thrilled.

What happened next was totally unexpected: David came back with another bottle of champagne and handed me the saber. When he said that he would teach me how to do it, I thought he meant that he was going to demonstrate to the crowd, but no – this bottle was mine to open.

After some instruction, it was my turn:

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Victory! The crowd went nuts! I went nuts!

This is exactly the kind of magical moment that turns a good trip into a spectacular one. I will never forget the second when the bottle top cleanly sliced off.

And then I immediately realized that the thing I need most in the world is my own champagne saber. It’s Item Number One on my Christmas list.

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[Sidenote: I never went back to see the sabrage again on the trip. I couldn’t. The first time was too magical. I also heard a rumor from another employee that she had never heard of a guest being allowed to open a bottle, and I am still harboring the fantasy that I was the first and only person to be able to do so. I couldn’t bear to go back and see that thought ruined if it is not true].

We *did* have dinner at the Kauai Grill and it was really good, but I was so jazzed about the sabrage that I could barely focus on the food. We both got the tasting menu ($145) with wine pairing ($95), so this was a splurge-y meal. I loved the dessert, which was a butterscotch pudding confection with macadamia nuts. They served it with port AND champagne. It was nuts. Spouse wasn’t crazy about it and passed his plate to me. I obliged and ate his, too.

And then I crashed into bed. I think it was about 7:30 PM. I slept like a baby. Heaven.

 

 

Home From Hawaii

Quick post: we safely returned from Kauai last night, although it was seven hours later than we expected due to a delay in the second leg of our trip.

We unexpectedly spent the day in the Delta lounge at LAX, where I felt extremely gross after flying a red-eye from Kauai to Los Angeles that morning. What we thought was a two hour layover turned into most of the day, but we made it back to darkness, snow and single digit temps. On the plus side: Delta sent me a message saying they were going to give me 17,500 bonus miles for the inconvenience.

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Bored in the lounge

Given my current unemployment, my schedule today is pretty open so in the end, I was ok with it all. But today I’m tired.

Back to the trip: it was fantastic! I will post many reports about our adventures, but in summary, it was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. Spouse agreed. 

I dubbed this trip my Unemployment World Tour:img_1111

As promised, I also drank champagne:

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This was a guava and champagne mimosa that I had for breakfast on our first morning. Yum.

One more teaser pic before I get some of the trip report ready:

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More forthcoming. Soon.

What To Do When You Are Between Jobs

As I mentioned a few days ago, I am between jobs.

This is a such a rarity for me that it’s only happened once before.

I don’t count the period between finishing residency and starting fellowship as one, because I only had a weekend to pack up my stuff, drive from Colorado to Texas, and establish myself in an empty house (save a mattress) with a dog. I started my new job on Monday. 

In contrast, many of my co-residents graduated and went to the East Coast to stay in a summer house that belonged to one of their families, where they spent a week bonding and having a last hurrah. Several took the summer off before starting their new, “real” job. My friend E. charted a sailboat and tooled around Greece. I so wanted to be with her on that boat.

Fast forward three years: after fellowship I had almost three weeks off before starting my new job, the one I just left. It would have been the perfect time to do something fabulous, except I was newly pregnant with Baby #2 (Trixie), and Baby #1 (MGM) was a rambunctious toddler. Spouse was cleaning up and out our old house and wasn’t able to immediately join us, so MGM and I suffered through two miserable flights before decamping to my mom’s for a few weeks. We lived in the basement. It was summer. MGM slept about three hours a night, which meant I did, too. I was mildly nauseated the whole time. Still, I remember it as a boring yet pleasant experience, although it wasn’t the Total Reset that I imagined would ideally mark the occasion.

I want this time to be different.

Originally, I had planned for a month off between gigs. It didn’t work out, and I am totally ok with that since this means my income and benefits won’t be on hiatus. The gap is now two weeks.

I decided to do something big to celebrate.

Over the past eight years, I’ve hoarded my Starwood Hotel travel points and frequent flyer miles enough that I could book two first class tickets to Kauai and stay at the St. Regis in Princeville for a week.

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Kauai image via Fodor’s

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St. Regis image via Starwood Hotels

So that’s what we’re going to do. Spouse and I leave in two days.

While planning travel is one of my great pleasures in life, I’ve left this trip entirely open.

I’d like to do some hiking, a helicopter tour, and visit a coffee farm. Honestly, I didn’t research Kauai enough to know if there is a coffee farm there, but I’m hoping for it. Of course I will also hit the spa as much as legally allowed, and I will drink champagne.

When we return I’ll be home for two days and then I’m taking the kids (just me, no Spouse this time) on a short trip to Florida. I have to pull them out of school for a few days, which I know is not ideal, but with all the changes that are coming I thought it would be nice to do something fun for them. The three of us will leave on a Wednesday and return Saturday. We’re spending two nights with my mom at her place in Florida, and then one night at Disney (staying at our favorite place, the Swan Hotel) to attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

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Image via Disney

And then I start my new job on Monday. Whew.

Full trip reports forthcoming.

 

 

 

 

 

Weekend At The Children’s Museum

We were lucky enough to spend all of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with our dear friends T., A. and their daughter K. at my mom’s lake house.

Overconsumption was definitely the first order of business, but we also managed to put together two 500 piece puzzles (an activity that the adults were surprisingly into; next time I’ll bring two more puzzles or ones with more pieces) and play a few rounds of Not Parent Approved, which is basically Cards Against Humanity for the entire family. Top tip: this is a great holiday gift if you have kids somewhere between 8 and 13.

[Don’t worry: once the kids were out of earshot, we got a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity in, too.]

My sister and her husband came over for post-Thanksgiving dessert and brought an ice cream maker, which was also kid-approved and kept them enthralled for long enough to mix the ingredients, watch the churning and make outrageous sundaes.

One of the most popular outings over the long weekend was to the local Children’s Museum, which featured a traveling exhibit about Japan.

There was a portion dedicated to Japanese street culture and all things kawaii (a.k.a. extremely cute).

They even had costume props to dress up:

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There was also a pretend sushi bar, which got a lot of attention from Trixie and K. but made me supremely hungry, since it was well past lunch time.

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What’ll you have?

My order:

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I loved the Shinto shrine. You could write a wish and hang it on the tree.

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K. graciously wished that everyone would have a home.

Trixie wished for toys. 

Some of the wishes were hilarious (“I want to get mared [married]”), and others heartbreaking (“I wish mom and dad would stop fighting”).

There was also an area where you could get a fortune for a penny.

Here’s mine:

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I vehemently disagree with that LOVE section.

To quote my friend A.:

I never thought I’d be disappointed for something that only cost a penny, but I am.

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By the end of the weekend, I think we were all slightly diabetic and exhausted, but even now, I’m ready to do it all again, and better.

Takeaway thoughts from spending a holiday vacation with another family:

  • I should have done a better job with meal planning. In the end, we had way too much food. Our friends brought a lot and so did we. They also very generously contributed a lot of cooking. In the future, I’d assign different meals to different people to avoid food duplication.
  • The games were a lot of fun. Many kudos to A. for bringing Not Parent Approved. We all thought this was hilarious, and it’s hard to find something that 3 kids and 4 adults agree on.
  • Puzzles were a hit. They could be set up and people could randomly work on them for a few minutes at a time. This is an especially perfect, quiet activity for kids who wake up early.
  • Get the kids to cook. I gave them a pass on this, but in the future I’d consider planning a taco bar or panini station where kids had to at least assemble part of their meal.
  • Find enough places to sleep. While my mom’s lake house is well-suited for entertaining and general vacationing, the kids had to share quarters, which prompted late night whispering, giggling, arguing and eventual separation. If possible, I’d keep all of the kids together during the day but apart at night, which maximizes quality sleep and pays dividends the next day.
  • Plan active outings. The weather wasn’t terrible, but obviously it was too cold to swim or go tubing, two activities that historically have burned off a lot of energy while we are at the lake house. Kids + Pent-up Energy = Meltdowns.
  • Booze. Self explanatory.

The best news? T. and A. have a beach condo and we’re going there next!

I am so grateful for good friends and the opportunity to spend time together.