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Archive for the ‘Parts Unknown’ Category

Washington DC

No me definitely had not planned on another extra week of this already extended vacation. Neither did we think at any point that we would be driving home. But since we obviously are we are trying to make the most of it. Thankfully the eastern seaboard had some pretty great cities. Next up – Washington DC.

I’ve been to DC a couple of times, but Jacob has never been. It ended up taking us the better part of the day to travel from Charleston to DC so we thought it would be nice to stay right inside the city. We got checked in to our Yotel (they’re awesome!) and went out for a stroll in search of sushi.

The next day we woke up to rain (it’ll become a trend for the rest of the trip). We had sweet ponchos for the kids, a sure sign of being a tourist. We stopped in to take a look at the capitol building (no insurrections today) and headed over to the museum of natural history. The kids had fun wandering around seeing the dinosaurs, sea creatures and gems.

Because we were in the area we decided we should stop by and try and say hello to Joe. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to walk up Pennsylvania Avenue because protestors had chained themselves to the fence so the secret service had everything blocked off. We headed up to Lafayette park where we would still be able to glimpse the White House. We got to talk to a really nice agent while they were clearing the area. We hey eventually detached and arrested the protestor and we got a closer look.

By now the kids were just about spent. We managed to persuade them to walk back down to the Washington monument where we caught a bus back home to grab the car and head to NYC!

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Charleston

Next stop on the impromptu road trip adventure was Charleston. It was the biggest city that wasn’t a crazy distance away. Dan and Becky always had good things to say about it so we figured it would make for a good afternoon. Along the drive we stopped in to a Cracker Barrel. Georgia seemed like the right place to eat Chicken n Dumplins with sweet peach tea.

We got into the city early evening and had a lovely walk around. We walked rainbow row, battery point, along the age front and just found a playground for the kids to work off some steam.

We only spent a couple of hours in Charleston before we had to hit the road. It was a short but great break from the car. There were loads of great looking restaurants that we would have loved to check out but didn’t seem worth it with the kids. Instead we hopped back in the car and knocked off one more American restaurant from the list- Waffle House. It turns out it was one we definitely could have skipped. We had planned on getting a bit closer to DC that night but we were all still exhausted from our nights of van sleeping so we crawled into the hotel next door and grabbed some sleep.

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Daytona Beach

Our first stop after we left hell was Daytona Beach. We had a bit of time to kill before we could check in to our hotel so despite not having showered, slept or brushed our teeth for two days we headed out for brunch.

We have been attempting to try as many classic American restaurants as possible on our road trip home. We had already crossed off IHOP so we figured we owed Dennys a visit. We headed to the nearest one and stepped right into ‘Merica. This restaurant looked like it hadn’t been updated or changed since the late 90s. It was dark and empty and there were only a handful of people working. There was a group of four waiting for a table ahead of us. We overheard their conversation including enlightening information on “the number of blacks in the social security line” , “the good ol’ days when there were no cell phones” , “Biden is ruining America” and on and on. They were very concerned about the lack of manners and respect in children “nowadays”. The next thing I know though she was screaming at the hostess about the wait and the downfall of Dennys. She threatened to never darken their doors, and they all left. Brunch and a show!

Daytona has certainly lost a lot of its lustre since I have been there. Or maybe we were just in the wrong area. It looked like literally nothing has changed since I was there in 2005. After our naps we took a quick stroll on the beach, grabbed some snacks from the 7-Eleven, witnessed a fist fight and ordered in some Dominos. Room service and some Die Hard was a great way to end our night.

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Floriddance

Friday was another travel day. We needed to return the MacPhees van to the Miami airport for them then head to Fort Lauderdale to catch our flight to Buffalo. When we were looking for our flights home we found really great tickets to Buffalo that would allow us to catch a hockey game and see our friends before flying home out of Toronto. Sounded like a great way to end the trip.

We set out on Friday and everything was going just about perfectly. We stopped in Wellington to see Liz and Harry. The kids had a great time riding around, playing with Lizs dogs and the duck. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to see Liz so it was great to catch up. We grabbed some lunch and kept going.

We arrived in Miami and returned the van without any issues. We grabbed the Tri-rail and shuttle and headed back to Fort Lauderdale. We got checked in for our flight exactly on time. We went through security and as we were sitting down to eat we got a notification that our 9:40 flight was delayed to 10:30. No big deal. Flights are delayed all the time. By the time our meal was ordered the flight was pushed to 2:15. We finished eating and headed to our gate. At around 12:30 they announced that our bags would be available at carousel 1 and our flight was cancelled. So was every other JetBlue flight for that night.

We headed for the ticket counter, along with just about everybody else in the airport. Thankfully ours was one of the first flights cancelled so we only had to wait 2 hours to get rebooked. Unfortunately though, they couldn’t rebook us until Monday night. Which was after the hockey game and our flight home out of Toronto. There was however a flight out of Orlando to Buffalo the next day if we wanted that. We said yes and headed to the rental car Center.

At around 3:00 we started driving BACK to Orlando. We made it about an hour outside Orlando before we grabbed a couple of hours sleep at a rest plaza. The car was returned to Orlando airport by 8:30.

We had a full day to kill before our 3:30 flight but since we hadn’t had any sleep we were in no shape to go anywhere or do anything so we just hung out in the airport. Thankfully we were able to get in to a lounge around noon because we were in for a hell of a day. Quite literally.

The 3:30 flight quickly became a 5:30 flight. And then an 8:30 flight. And then a 9:55 flight. The lounge was full of people in similar situations. We spent the afternoon and evening with the loveliest couple from New York. As the departures board began to show more and more cancellations we became more and more thankful for our lounge pass.

The lounge closed at 9:00 and we had to go back out and join the rest of the airport. What we found was chaos. Turns out Southwest Airlines had cancelled ALL of their flights out of Florida because their systems went down. JetBlue had no crew or pilots. There was problems with fog and thunder throughout the day that affected all the other airlines. We would later find out that over 3500 flights would be cancelled and 6000 delayed.

By 11:00 with no indication that our flight was going to leave we decided to just abandon it. I had our bags pulled and we made the ridiculous, but only, decision to drive home. The kids and I headed to baggage claim while Jacob headed to the car rental Center. Two hours later we had our bags back, after they officially canceled the flight, and Jacob had made very little progress with the car.

The kids and I headed down to join him to find the most chaos I have ever seen. By this time there are no hotels left within an hour or Orlando, there are no rental cars left, people are being automatically rebooked on flights 4-5 days from now, there are no available flights to purchase for at least that long out of any Florida airport, the buses are full, the train is sold out. An Uber drive to any destination within 10km is now over $100. People have actual tents set up in the rental car Center. The cops have been called in to do crowd control.

Finally at 6:30am after waiting over 7 hours for a rental car – they were giving them out one by one as people returned them we left the airport. We made it about half an hour outside of Orlando before we stopped to sleep in a Walmart parking lot. For the second night in a row. The kids are now seriously questioning if they will ever get to sleep in a bed again. After a Power Nap we headed to Daytona where we checked in to the nicest hotel with the nicest bed and shower I have ever seen in my life. We crashed hard. I showered three times. We will now spend the next week driving north and hopefully actually going home this time.

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For our final day in Orlando we figured we would go big on accommodations. The kids have been asking to go to a Waterpark basically since we landed in Dominican and saw an old abandoned one in the side of the road. We didn’t have another day of theme parks in the budget so we booked ourselves into a hotel with a Waterpark – figured it was best of both worlds.

We checked in and headed into the water park area. Little did we know you needed to be in line at opening to secure a seat. As we wandered around the waterpark area in obvious search of a place to sit this super lovely woman ran up to us and offered one of her seats. We ended up spending the day chatting with her and our other neighbour. Both happened to be from Columbus and had kids the same age as ours. The kids all ran around the waterpark, basketball, mini golf, pool area for the day and had a great time.

We finished our the day watching Boss Baby at the in house movie theatre and playing a few games in the arcade. Tomorrow is a big travel day as we head back south to drop off the MacPhees van and catch our flight to Buffalo.

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Universal

Charlie is currently obsessed with Harry Potter. I mean obsessed. He has read the series at least twice if not three times now. He’s read every spin-off book he can find on prime reading – including a cookbook. Sometimes we are concerned that he can no longer tell the difference between muggles and wizards. Universal studios has an entire section of the park devoted to Harry Potter. They have recreated diagon alley and hogsmeade. There’s a hogwarts castle and you can get butter beer. You can even cast spells with a wand around the park.

When we realized we were going to be making a stop in Florida on the way home we told Charlie about Harry Potter world. We had him write us a persuasive essay as part of his school work on why we should all go. The introduction: Hello Mom and Dad,I want to go to harry potter world at universal studios because I love harry potter and I want you to know why. There is so much things to do there. I bet you that you and dad will want to go straight to it after you read my book. He made a very compelling case in the next four chapters so on Monday we packed our bags and headed to universal studios.

We started the day off bright and early (for us). We were at the park gates as they opened at 9am. We got in line to enter and Charlie’s head very literally exploded. He got a nosebleed he was so excited! Because the girls aren’t tall enough to ride most of the big rides in Harry Potter world and they all had crazy wait times first thing in the day we thought we would start off with some easier ones along the way. We hit up ET, the Simpson’s and Men in Black before we ate our packed lunch perched on a kerb. We are very fancy.

After lunch we headed into Diagon Alley. There was so much to see and so many people that it honestly was just hard to take in. We wandered through Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes, headed to Ollivanders to get our wand and then watched the dragon on top of gringotts breathe fire before heading into the bowels of the bank to help Harry Ron and Hermoine escape. As a reward for our successful mission we stopped and had our first taste of butter beer before catching the hogwarts express to hogsmeade.

The Hogwarts Express was probably my favourite part. It was so well done. You would swear you were on the actual train. Hogsmeade was also super cool. It looked completely magical. There were three rides inside Hogsmeade, but unfortunately the girls were not tall enough to ride two of them. We decided to divide and conquer so that the girls and I could do their ride while Charlie and Jacob rode Hagrid’s motorcycle roller coaster. In the line to ride the Flight of the Hippogriff Nora made friends with the lady behind us and Sarah offered to be Nora’s responsible companion so that we could all ride together. We have been very pleasantly surprised by how friendly everyone has been.

We rounded out the day with some rides in Seuss ville and then one last trip to diagon alley to grab some gag gifts from Weasleys. We left the park at close (9pm) and grabbed some dinner at hard rock before ending our very large day.

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Disney-ish

It turns out if you want to go to Disney world you need to plan that trip waaay more than a week in advance. Disney is still limiting the number of people into the parks and the earliest we could get tickets for magic kingdom was the end of April. We didn’t think it was worth extending another month of vacation to go.

We figured we should still do something Disney-ish. Some families come here and that’s all they do – so we wanted to make sure the kids had an authentic Florida experience. Since we couldn’t do Disney world we figured we would head over to Disney springs and see how much free Disney stuff we could take advantage of.

We wandered around Disney springs area for a while – the kids learned the art of window shopping. We stopped in at the BoatHouse, watched an old car turned amphibious launch into the water, ate our packed lunch at Sprinkles – the kids were hoping to use the cupcake ATM but it was out of order. After lunch we went on a mission through the Disney store to try and find the cheapest and weirdest Disney souvenir. Corn on the cob holders at $8 were the clear winners.

The Coca Cola store in Disney springs has a roof top area where you can sample all the different coke products from around the world. We grabbed the two trays plus a float sampler and went on a flavour spin around the globe. Some were alright others were downright disgusting – Italy’s Beverly soda was by far the worst.

The kids were all done with window shopping – the line to get into the Lego store wrapped around the store – so we headed for the free Disney transportation network. We made use of all of the different options – buses, skyliner, boats and finally the monorail with a little break at the Disney boardwalk in between.

Last stop on the free Disney tour was The Polynesian Resort where you can make use of their beach area to catch the Disney fireworks. We shared a roll of sushi and some dumplings for dinner at one of their restaurants before the kids found the Just Dance party happening on the lawn.

We grabbed a spot on the beach where the kids did sprints to warm up. The wind coming off the water was chilly! The girls had never seen fireworks before. These did not disappoint.

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Putt-putt

We are trying to balance packing as much fun in as possible but not exhausting the kids. Legoland+Chuck was a pretty large day so we thought we would take it a lot slower and head for some mini golf. Mini golf was a big hit when we went to cavendish this past summer and playing the ridiculous courses they have here is one of my more vivid memories from the infamous Devine family trip.

We had a good round of golf but you could tell they were pretty sluggish. Charlie was far more interested in finishing the scavenger hunt advertised on the scorecard. Nora and Madeline were essentially sleep-golfing. We finished up our round – Mads made the only hole-in-one – and we headed home for some supper and an early bedtime.

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