Tempting Superstition with a 13th Anniversary Trip

Just a quick warning to all of you triskaidekaphobics (fear of the number 13) – you may want to stop reading right about here.  It could be a bumpy ride for you.  IMG_2883

This August, my lovely bride and I will be celebrating 13 years of marriage.  While sitting around home one day discussing Disney World (a pretty common discussion topic around the ol’ homestead), I playfully suggesting that we should take an impromptu trip to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to ride the 13 story tall Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 13 times on our anniversary. Rather than the “you’re crazy” look my harebrained ideas normally elicit from my better half, her look this time had a definite “you’re still crazy, but that just might work” vibe to it.

So I set off on a little fact finding mission.

I checked Disney’s park hours website, but hours for August were not yet posted at the time. However, with a little careful deduction, I guessed that the park would probably be open from 9am to 9pm.  And if their pattern for June and July held true, Monday would be an Extra Magic Hours night, giving us until potentially 11pm.  Getting 13 rides in 14 hours does sound daunting, but look at it this way:  get to the park before rope drop.  DHS usually starts letting people in between 8:30 and 8:45.  While the crowd is rushing to Toy Story Mania, we head down Sunset Blvd, grap Fast Passes to ToT, then jump in the standby line for the first ride of the day.  Jump in again as soon as we get off.  Depending on crowds, we could get 3 rides in before our FastPass window even opens.  And if the kids and grandparents are leaving to go swim or something, I’m sure they would love to get us some FastPasses before they go. Attraction lines could thin a bit during Fantasmic, so that could help as well.  13 rides in 14 hours just might be doable.  (Note:  Disney has since updated the park hours to 9am to 10pm, with EMH until midnight, giving us 15 hours to work with.)

(Hmmm…this just might work)

runDisney stumbled and fell on this one…

It was just over a year ago that I wouldn’t have dreamed of calling myself a runner – no way, no how.  My rear end was planted firmly on that couch, thinking the only reason I’d ever run was to get away from a bear.  And even then I figured I might try to see if I could talk my way out of being eaten before trying to run.  But then I was challenged to run the 2013 Walt Disney World Half Marathon.  

Being a typical guy, I couldn’t back down from a challenge. It took some doing, but eventually this mystical “runner’s high” – combined with a little Disney Pixie Dust and Magic – got me hooked.  I did some “warm up” races locally where my wife and kids really got into the spirit and cheered me on.  In fact, my kids thought what I was doing was so cool that they wanted to get in on it too. (Shhh…don’t tell them that it’s actually “exercise”).  We signed them up for the Kid’s Races – my daughter doing the 800 meters, my son doing the Mickey Mile.

We made it down to Marathon Weekend 2013 and had the best time.  The kids did awesome in their runs, and they joined the ChEAR Squad to cheer me on as I ran through Cinderella Castle and again at the finish line just outside of Epcot.

After all of the excitement had faded away and we arrived back home, my wife looked at me and said that she saw everyone having so much fun and getting all this exercise, that she wanted all of us to do the Family Fun Run 5K at the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.  So we asked the kids and they got really excited about being able to set this goal as a family, train for it throughout the year, and cross the finish line as a family – the four of us running, and my one year old son coming along in the jogging stroller.

But then runDisney stumbled and fell.  After signing us all up using our Disney Vacation Club early-registration perk, I found out that runDisney will not be allowing any strollers in the Family Fun Run 5K.  WHAT?

I’d heard that for previous runDisney 5K events, strollers started in the back.  I can understand that – they don’t get in the way of any of the competitive runners starting back there.  I did a little research and found that at the 2013 Royal Family 5K (Part of the Princess Half Marathon weekend) strollers had to stay behind a pace-setter – making sure they stayed at a walking pace.  Hey, at least you’re still walking 3.1 miles, getting the health benefits of that, and still able to spend that time together as a family.

But now, runDisney has crossed over the cautious line with the “Family” Fun Run 5K and gone straight on to ridiculous.  Disney has taken the “Family” portion completely out of the event.  My daughter will be nine-years-old during the 2014 Marathon Weekend.  And like many kids her age, she’s a little heavier than she should be.  She’s never been interested in any sports, until she saw everyone running through Walt Disney World in January.  Now all she wants to do is train with her family – including her baby brother – to do the same thing.

And it’s not just families with small children that are affected by this decision.  Walt Disney World is the destination of choice for thousands of families with disabled children.  Walt Disney World prides itself on its accessibility.  But now those families that wanted to have quality bonding time doing a fun run are shut out as well.

Disney markets themselves as being all about families.  And runDisney markets itself as being all about physical activity.  The “Family” Fun Run 5K was a perfect union of those two philosophies.  But by banning strollers from what used to be the premier fun run race in the country, runDisney has alienated hundreds, if not thousands, of families of potential runners.

So please runDisney – reconsider this foolish move.  Let families participate in the Family Fun Run 5K.  We’re not asking to start in the front.  We’re not trying to get in anyone’s way that is trying to set a personal best.  We’re just asking that we be allowed to encourage our children to be active, and reward them with some quality family time surrounded by Pixie Dust and Magic.

To Surprise or Not to Surprise?

I’m sitting here enjoying several things: Magic Kingdom Background music on my computer (I’ve already gone up Main Street, USA, turned left and wandered Adventureland, then veered north where I’m currently in Frontierland), my nice comfy Walt Disney World blue hood sweatshirt (which feels extra comfy on this dreary, rainy Wisconsin day) and finally, the fact that I have a trip to Disney World coming up in 35 days.  The best part about that last item is that my kids have no idea it’s coming.  For the first time ever, we’re planning a surprise trip.

My family’s situation is a bit different than most, in that my wife’s parents live 45 minutes from Mickey’s doorstep.  They are our children’s only living grandparents, so the kids (and us, and the grandparents) really enjoy our visits.   Since we are separated by  1200 miles, 7 states and a time zone we don’t get as many visits in per year as anyone would like.  If we’re lucky, we’ll get down there twice a year, and they’ll come up to our house once or twice.

When the visits are over, the kids are pretty heartbroken.  So it helps to be able to tell the kids things like “we’ll be back down in June” or “Grandma & Grandpa will be up to our house for your birthdays”  (The kids’ birthdays are one day apart in October).  We always have a date and time in the future that the kids have to look forward to the next time they can see their grandparents.  And because of that, we’ve never been able to plan a surprise trip.  Until now.

Last fall we started planning a family trip to Houston to visit my Aunt and Uncle in Houston, TX over my daughter’s school’s Easter Break.  The plan was to fly down on Good Friday, spend a few days, then return on Wednesday.  We’d spend the rest of the week around home, taking care of all of those odd jobs that never seem to get done.  Then in February, my wife was talking to her mom and found out that her dad has been having a pretty rough time.  His father recently passed away, and after spending several weeks with his family in Northern Wisconsin, was once again feeling isolated down there in Florida.  My wife approached me with the idea of spending the last half of the week in Florida with them.

We hadn’t purchased our plane tickets yet, so I started looking into the pricing of adding another leg to our trip.  Southwest had some pretty good deals,  so booked a flight from Houston to Orlando.  I called DVC Member services and booked 4 nights in a standard view at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kinani Village and set up Magical Express.  We have Annual Passes from out December trip, so tickets aren’t a problem.  I made one ADR – O’Hana.  We know it will be busy because it’s Easter Week, so our touring plan will be very relaxed – do what we can and just enjoy the time with family.  And just like that, we had a trip planned and we still haven’t told the kids.

We talked about it (in hushed tones and using code so the little rugrats won’t catch wind of our plans) and have decided to not tell them at all.  They already know that we’re going to Houston, so packing bags and driving to the airport won’t be a surprise.  If they notice and question why our departing flight is going to Orlando, we’ll just tell them we have a layover.  (We won’t tell them that it’s a 4 day layover 🙂 )  Part of the excitement for us is wondering when they will figure it out.  At the Magical Express counter?  On the bus?  Once we drive under the Magical Sign that announces your arrival at the Happiest Place on Earth?  And what will their reaction be?  Jumping up and down?  Screaming?  Disbelief?

I have heard both sides of the argument for surprise trip vs. involving the kids from the get go.  Some kids may really enjoy helping to plan – picking out ADRs, must-do rides, etc.  Other kids will drive their parents crazy everyday by asking “are we going to Disney World today?”  Our kids have always been involved in the planning.  From the resort to the park days to the dining – they get a say in everything.  So this trip will be very different and very special for us.


So what say you, Dis Dad’s Universe?  To Surprise or Not to Surprise?  Have you done a surprise trip?  Let your voice be heard in the comments section!



Mini Trip Report – Northern Wisconsin – Part 4

Holy Cow!  I’ll bet you forgot that I was still doing this trip report, didn’t you?  Well, I didn’t.  Not.  At.  All.

Let’s just say I was taking a break.  We’ll call it a “Don Break”.  (And thanks Mark for pestering me about it.)

I probably need to do a little refresher, so here goes. We are up in the North Woods of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (by less than 1/4 mile, but Michigan none the less).  We had already gone swimming in Lake Superior and have just left the Montreal River Scenic Overlook.  Our tummies are getting grumbly, so we head back  toward civilization.

Our destination was Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters.  There are hundreds of little inn/lodge/restaurant establishments in the North Woods, but only one was home to an FBI shoot-out with John Dillinger and his gang.  With all the hype over the Public Enemies movie based on Dillinger that was partially shot there (get it?  “shot” there!) we decided to give it a try.  We’d never been there, so we searched the GPS database for it’s address, set it as our destination, and settled in for the 55 minute drive.

Now, Northern Wisconsin has an abundance of several things – lakes and trees being among them.   Put those two things together and you get very curvy roads and very indirect routes to wherever it is that you’re going.  So we weren’t too concerned when the GPS started telling us to make turns off the highway onto smaller and smaller roads.  I had a general idea where the lodge was from looking at online maps before we left, so I started getting a bit nervous when the GPS said we had less than a mile to go and we were on a back road dotted with nothing but vacation cabins.  Finally, the nice lady in the GPS told us that we were arriving at our destination.  I stopped the van, looked at the run-down cabin to our right and the swampy bog to our left and decided that maybe, just maybe, the GPS was wrong.

Exactly the way it looked in 1934! Except for the pavement, the conversion van, ...

So, I let Bambi drive while I search frantically for cell phone signal to find the real address.

Within 15 minutes we’re pulling into the complex.

I believe there are still guest cabins on the property, but from what I saw the entire main lodge has been completely turned into restaurant space.   We got there before the Friday night rush, so we got a nice table next to a window in one of the side dining rooms.  I didn’t take many pictures of the interior (mostly because the battery in my main camera had died and I was working with the backup waterproof camera), but the decor was typical North Woods.  Lots of rich, dark wood and plenty of dead animals on the wall.  The menu was filled with traditional fare – steaks, chicken, fish.  This being a Friday night in Wisconsin, they had a Fish Fry special.  I ordered that, Bambi got Prime Rib, Evan ordered a hot dog, and Madison got the Mac & Cheese.

Clearly, this place’s draw is it’s history.  Because it certainly isn’t the service or the food.  The Prime Rib was good, and  the rest of the meals were serviceable, but it’s certainly nothing I will need to do again.

So that’s really all of the interesting parts of the vacation.  I’ll have one more entry on all of the extended-family fun aspect of the weekend to wrap it all up.  I won’t take nearly as long of a break to get that entry up, though.  Because I’m going to Disney World in 31 days. 🙂

Little Bohemia Lodge

They're not trying to increase business by shilling for the movie, are they?

Evan checking out the bear in one of the dining rooms

Plenty of newspapers and other artifacts are on display

The back side of the lodge

Nope, nothing's changed since that shootout in 1934...

Some of the stuf Dillinger left behind when he fled

The stairs were roped off, but I'm sure some very interesting things happened up there

Mini Trip Report – Northern Wisconsin – Part 3

Looking West Along the shoreline

After leaving Potato River Falls, it’s only about a 15 minute drive to Saxon Harbor County Park.  It’s a very quaint park, with a campground, boat slips, playground equipment, picnic areas and a beach.  I Parked right next to the sign saying that all vehicles needed an Iron County Parks admittance sticker, we unloaded our picnic and headed for an open table.  Lunch was quickly devoured (did I mention all the stairs and hiking we did in my last post?  I did?  OK) and it was decided that it was swimming time!

Madison and I decide to make a break for it. Canada here we come!

Along with all of the rain the area had in the past few days, they also had a nice run of warm temperatures.  The water was chilly, but not enough to send the boys crawling up inside, if you know what I mean.  We spent a good couple of hours at the beach.  Rocks were plentiful, so Evan spent much of the time rearranging their location in the water.  IE, throwing them as far as he could.  Both kids felt the need to be buried up to their necks in the sand, and like any good father, I obliged.

After emerging from sand, Evan needed desperately needed to get rinsed off. But where could I find the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and is the world's third-largest freshwater lake by volume? Conviently, right behind me!

We loaded up all of our beach gear, plus 8 or so cool flat rocks that we had found for some arts & crafts projects at home, and headed up the restrooms to change.  After I got Evan out of his swim suit, I was dismayed by the amount of sand remaining on (and in) him.  I was then overjoyed that there was shower!  I was then perturbed that it was a buck a minute.  I was then content to wash him with paper towels I soaked in the sink.  (Insert thumbs up smiley here)

Thanks to the self timer on the camera, we were able to get some nice family shots. Coming soon to a Christmas Card near you!

Looking out at Lake Superior from near the top of Superior Falls. On the right is part of the hydroelectic generating plant.

Our next destination was less than a mile away: Superior Falls.  We also go to cross “Michigan” off the list of places the kids had never been.  The Montreal River forms part of the border between Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and is the source for Superior Falls.  The parking lot is on the UP side, so technically we took them to Michigan.

Looking across the river at the cliffs on the Wisconsin side.

As part of an agreement with local governments, the utility that operates the dam and hydroelectric plant have to maintain so many cubic feet per minute of water flow over the falls and allow public viewing access.  They have a nice crushed gravel parking lot and a fairly well maintained path leading up to a viewing area.  There is a chain link fence there to keep people from falling into the water.  It’s probably a 80′ foot drop that will really ruin your day.  Luckily, we knew the way around the fence.

The trip is about a 5 minute hike along the fence.  Once the fence stops, well, just take one more step and you’re around it.  It’s really not that hard – or secret.  Once you are past the fence, you have a lot of area to wander around and explore.  It’s very steep, a fact that we had forgotten in the 7 years since Bambi and I came here last.  We we hiking around in just sandals and flip flops.  Oops.

Looking down at part of Superior Falls

The area is quite well-traveled by people getting a better look at the falls, so there is very little underbrush.  All of the iron in the soil makes for the red tint to everything, including the water.  The kids decided it looks like soda.

Ignoring everything our mothers ever taught us about safety and taking the well-traveled path around the fence.

Bambi and Evan navigating the steep descent

The root beer colored water heading out towards the lake

A serene family moment enjoying the great outdoors.

We drive 7 hours then hike close to a mile into the wilderness, just to pee into a waterfall. I love my family.

We enjoyed the falls, for  while, then headed back up those steep descents.  Although, this time they seemed to be steeper ascents.  Odd.

We crossed the parking lot and went along a path to the Montreal River Scenic Overlook.

Montreal River Scenic Overlook

Evan asked to be carried back to the van. I don't beleive this is what he had in mind.

Finally, we had enough of the breathtaking views and headed back to the van.

In my next update: Danger!  Gangsters!  Mushy fish!

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