Archive for the ‘Parts Unknown’ Category

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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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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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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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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We had originally intended to take the kids to two theme parks while we were in Florida. We knew universal studios was a definite – Harry Potter world was too good to pass up. We had thought we would attempt Disney World but it turns out you need to decide that way more than a few days in advance – it’s sold out until end of April 😳.

A much cheaper and much less daunting backup plan was Legoland. We have done a couple indoor Legolands in Toronto and Boston and they were always a big hit. Legoland is about a 45 minute drive from where we are staying so we figured we would book our tickets online en route. They were calling for some rain and possible thunderstorms so we wanted to wait until morning of to commit to the tickets. Little did we know that if you wait until day of the tickets go up $25/person. Thankfully after some Google sleuthing I found a discount code to get the kids in for free and we didn’t have to postpone the Legoland day.

We arrived at Legoland only slightly later than originally planned, in the pouring rain. We waited out the showers in the van so that we wouldn’t have to spend the day soaked, unlike all the other Legoland goers braving the elements in their ponchos.

The kids had a total blast. We got off to a shaky start after we had to be removed from the first roller coaster we went on. Thankfully we hadn’t left the station and didn’t have to scale down on the track like the other riders. It was smooth sailing from there though. There were almost no lines at any of the rides. A lot of them we were able to just cycle around. The kids went on every roller coaster in the park. All of them more than once. I even braved a few and didn’t hate them.

By 6:00 everyone was feeling pretty satisfied with our day. We had checked off every ride we wanted to go on – many more than once. We had refilled our unlimited (and shared) souvenir cup more times than we could count and walked over 7km. On our way out though we stopped at guest services – legoland has a rainy day policy. If it rains more than 120minutes during the day they’ll give you passes to return. We grabbed our free passes (that we are passing along to the MacPhees as a thank you for the van!) and headed for dinner.

We figured we would go really big on the day – it was too late to make it home and cook supper and everyone was still in high spirits so we headed to Chuck E Cheese for supper. I have to admit I was very surprised. I have never been to a Chuck E Cheese before but it was very clean, super bright and the pizza was delicious. I mean probably the best takeout pizza I’ve ever had. I had imagined a limp potentially undercooked soggy pie but instead it was crispy with a garlic butter stuffed crust. So good. The kids had a total blast. Again, because we are cheap, we split a single 60minute card at the arcade games. You have to space out your game taps a bit, but we definitely maxed our $25 worth of play.

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Florida doesn’t hit very high on my list of must-go places but pretty much all of the rest of the families we know swear by it. I won’t say I’m necessarily converted, I don’t see us rushing back year after year, but I’ms starting to get what they see in it. I will never understand why or how people stay at Disney resorts and spend more than we did on this 2 month trip in a week, but Florida itself isn’t so bad. There’s nothing you can’t buy, it’s relatively warm and everything is just so easy.

Since we were traveling late into the night and had no food at our place we thought we would introduce the kids to the local culture and visit an IHOP for breakfast. The kids were pumped with the sprinkle/chocolate/icing extravaganza dessert pancake options for breakfast. Charlie has already said this is the first place he’s going to come on vacation when he’s older and has kids.

After everyone was hopped up on sugar we went in search of my favourite American attraction, Target. The girls needed some new bathing suits, Nora outgrew all of her shoes while we were gone and I never turn down a chance to go to Target. When we left home we were only supposed to be gone a month to DR where we weren’t going to need a whole bunch of ‘real’ clothes, so we were all in need of some different clothing options. The first Target we visited was new and was oddly stocked and quite small so we headed 5 miles up the road to the bigger one. Several hundred dollars and hours later we had some new non-beach clothes. We grabbed some groceries at the closest ALDI and headed back to the resort so the kids could have some time on the playground.

We spent the next day much the same way – just with less shopping. Jacob had some work to catch up on so the kids and I headed up to the the splash pad for the morning. Thankfully I was able to find a dentist online that had an opening in the afternoon so while the kids embraced the Florida culture (again) and learned how to play shuffleboard I headed to have my tooth fixed. We lead a very glamorous life.

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Travel Days

Anyone who has done any amount of traveling knows that the days where you actually do the traveling suck. Because COVID complicates just about everything, we needed to be at the airport extra early to provide all of our certificates of recovery and negative test results. We had everyone packed up and ready to get in the van when my new dental work that I had put in last summer fell out of my face. Thankfully I was awake and didn’t swallow my thousands of dollars worth of fake tooth. After the initial shock of being down a tooth wore off, I thanked my lucky stars that today would be spent almost entirely behind a mask and we set off for the airport.

The rest of the morning was comparatively uneventful. We made it to the airport, got checked in without any issues, made it through security, booked a dentist appointment in Florida and got on the plane. We landed in Fort Lauderdale where we were met with the longest security line I’ve ever seen. It was so long that they kept us on the plane! When we were finally able to deplane we collected our bags and started snaking our way around the baggage claim area. Two hours later we finally cleared customs. We were landing in Fort Lauderdale but the MacPhee’s van that we were going to be borrowing was in Miami. Our original plan was to just Uber to the other airport but because it took so damn long to get through security we switched plans to take the tri-rail. Before we got on the shuttle to take us to the train we knew we needed to eat something. After two trips up and around the escalators and elevators the only options we could find was a vending machine. $50, several incorrect selections and a half bag of peanuts on the floor later we were headed to the shuttle. We made it on the shuttle, the train, then to the van. The kids were troopers. Nora did the whole thing with a huge blister on the back of her foot and didn’t complain once. They all hauled their own luggage. They were superstars.

Once we piled in the van we set off for Orlando – we finally got in around 1:30am and crashed. Tomorrow is sure to be a quiet day.

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Santo Domingo

Because we had to rearrange all of our flights, twice, we were no longer able to fly out of Punta Cana. The cheapest option we could find to get back to North America was to move up to Santo Domingo for our last few days before flying to Fort Lauderdale. We booked into a great little condo, right on the beach in Juan Dolio. It’s never easy moving cities and flying all in one day when you’re relying on taxis and going to a place you’ve never been before so we decided to give ourselves a couple of days to transition. The ride to Juan Dolio was super easy, we dropped our bags at the new place and went for a look around until we could check in. It was great to have a change of scenery, it certainly helped that the new place had a prey spectacular view.

We spent the rest of our first day getting set up in the new place and hanging out at the new pool. For dinner we walked up the beach to the Cafe del Sol. We all had some pretty great burgers while the kids practiced their balancing routine on fallen palm trees. It’s obvious that Juan Dolio is a better taste of the ‘real’ Dominican Republic. The beachside restaurant was full of locals out enjoying the beach, sunshine, music and some family time on the weekend.

The next day we spent much the same way, aside from Jacob having to travel to the stupid COVID testing clinic to get Mads cleared to fly. They both headed there first thing in the morning to have the test done and then unfortunately, Jacob had to travel back an hour later to collect the results. When we finally got the All Clear to fly we celebrated by heading to the next beach restaurant and booked a cabana to spend the day. It was a great way to spend our last day in Dominican. The kids all had fun in the very warm shallow water, Madeline and Nora made art in the sand. They all found a new fallen log to climb all over. Jacob and I laid in the cabana with our sangria. All in all a pretty fantastic end to 6 weeks of sunshine in the DR.

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