Home sweet home.
I missed you home. I missed you bed. I missed you air-conditioning, especially after spending 2 1/2 weeks in a car and on a boat in the heat, with 3 very energetic children.
We had a wonderful time and a tiring time as the same time on our family vacation. Read on to see how we survived and maybe you will find some ideas for a trip with your families.
Since I do not generally like to announce my impending vacations, I kept this one quiet but now I can spill the beans and talk about this trip and how we became friends with Irene. Hurricane Irene that is.
At a very high level here was what we did;
Our trip began with a nice relaxing drive from Toronto to Rochester, NY in which we had to pull off the 401 (Canada’s busiest highway) so my 4-year-old son Stewie could pee. Sure I asked them to pee before we left and yes he was the one who didn’t need to, but while we were standing on the shoulder with cars zipping by, he took the longest pee ever recorded on the cement barrier separating the West-bound traffic from the East-bound traffic. It never ended. My wife started laughing, and then I did too.
As well, having all 3 kids in the same row of the car was… Interesting. When they were not doing the WWE / UFC and trying to kill each other, they were quietly playing on their iPad‘s, watching the Cat in the Hat, or playing Angry Birds or Plants versus Zombies.
So we left beautiful sunny Toronto at 1:23pm and arrived in Rochester just past 8pm. We stayed at the Strathallen Hotel and it was awesome. There were some nice things to do close to the hotel, but we arrived late in the evening (kids bed-time is normally 7:30pm) and it rained SO much that there was immense flooding in the area we decided to grab a pizza and hit the sack. Of course the kids wouldn’t eat the pizza so they ate the fruit we packed and went to bed really late in the night, a pre-cursor of things to come. As well, a huge tree around the corner from the hotel uprooted, blocking off the road. Little did we know the rest of the damage.
Rochester looked like this:
After it stopped raining, Rochester looked like this:
For our Rochester activity, we took in the Children’s Museum and it was fantastic! The kids loved it, there was so much to do there and we raced from display to display. We of course stopped in the middle to eat grapes and watch the pouring rain.
The 14th of August, our museum day, looked like this after the rain left:
I’m pretty sure we caught the tail end of this mishap as we sat in the car and watched the police drain the water into the sewers under this bridge. The car had probably just left.
From Rochester we drove to Howes Caverns, NY and we stayed in the motel and went into the Caverns the next morning. It was very cool… Literally. My wife had to purchase a hoodie from the gift shop prior to the adventure. The 45-minute trip was fun, the tour guides were very knowledgeable and they get extra credit for the boat ride that they had to paddle the 20 of us through. All in all, it was totally worth it and the kids loved it.
Later that day we headed closer to New York and stayed at a horrid Super 8 motel in New Paltz, New York. It was small and gross and the only thing that saved it was the 24 hour coffee and the “breakfast” the next morning. Sure the coffee in the morning was just coloured water, but at night when I needed it, it was hot, wet and strong.
From New Paltz, we headed into Brooklyn, New York where we had rented a floor in an old brownstone through http://www.airbandb.com. What an amazing experience. Not far from where Jay-Z grew up, we were on the top floor of this historic building in a pretty interesting area. We parked the car in front of the building and left it there for 3 days until we had to move it for the street cleaning.
An aside: Do you know how hard it was to find cottage cheese or plain yogurt in Brooklyn? I mean why spend $5.99 on yogurt when you can buy a prepared dish full of preservatives and salt for $1.99. That was one horrible realization for us. Might be a reason for rising obesity rates in Americans…
From our headquarters in Brooklyn, we hit the subways and headed into the City. Navigating the subway was easy enough but lifting the stroller up and down the stairs, not so fun. That and the subway staff couldn’t give a rat’s ass whether you had directions or not, or if you paid or not. They often chatted with each other instead of tending to the people around or they mumbled their responses back to everyone. The announcements were inaudible. These guys could learn something from the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) who had dramatically improved the clarity of their announcements, especially when calling out stations. But all that aside, we were really worried about Berry who hates subways, and the first trip we took she was held by her mummy, head down on her shoulders and very scared. But as we travelled, she really started to enjoy the subway trips, and eventually she came around. Whenever someone looked at her, she would point to herself and say, “Berry”, then wave and say hi. She had quite the audience and considering how friendly New Yorkers are, each trip was a lot of fun. She had plenty of new-found friends to keep her company and give her attention and we had one less frightened child with us.
We hit the City every day and visited a bunch of must see shops, like; M&M store, Lego store, FAO Shwartz (kids played on the giant piano there), Disney store, bead shops and TD Bank which has no ties to the Canadian TD Bank… Very odd there. We walked to Canal Street and bought Cherries, raw peanuts and strawberries from the vendors, we bought a Hello Kitty backpack for Berry and Angry Birds t-shirts for the boys. We took a cruise of the skyline and saw the Statue of Liberty and the new and old Twin Towers locations. We walked up down and sideways the City, my step count for the Global Corporate Challenge was in the 40,000’s almost every day. We ate Dim Sum in Chinatown and found yogurt in Manhattan. We took in a unique Chinese candy store and had the kids pictures taken with New York’s finest. It was a hot, tiring, but really fun experience. We had very little rain, usually in the evenings and the apartment we rented had air conditioning and Netflicks so the kids were kept cool and they watched Phineas and Fern, Dora and Diego and other kids shows to bide their time from their 6am wake up’s.
By Saturday – a week later – we had said goodbye to Brooklyn and we drove to the pier in Manhattan where we parked for only $21/day so we could hop onto the Norwegian Cruise Ship, the Jewel, for a week long cruise. The Jewel is identical to the Pearl which we had been on before, however this time with 3 kids we needed 2 staterooms and we had adjoining cabins with the ocean views (we were concerned about having balcony’s). Each room had a bunk bed and a pull out, but we ended up sticking the 3 kids in one room and we hung out in the other.
The cruise was good, the kids camp was okay (although for the life of me I never understand why they won’t: 1) change the kids – not an issue this time around, the boys are 4 and 6, but was a huge problem on the Pearl when Stewie was left standing in the corner soaking wet because they would not ask him if he needed to pee and he forgot, and they didn’t want him sitting and getting the floor wet. 2) Why the kids are inside all the time. 3) Why the kids watch movies in the camp. I don’t pay all that money for my boys to cruise so they can watch TV. I can turn up the heat at home and we can do that here.
Anyways, we had Berry with us for the trip and that was fine as she was too young for the kiddie camp. As a family, we all ate together, we swam, we walked the ship endless amounts of time and we walked up and down the stairs instead of taking the elevator from the 5th floor, to the buffet on the 12th floor whenever possible and that includes Berry.
Speaking of Berry, she stole the show this cruise with her knowledge of her body parts in Tagalog, with all the Filipino staff calling out for her to perform – which she obliged to do – and the other staff asking for a wave and a smile. Since this ship was also a Nickelodeon ship, and my daughter loves Dora the Explorer, this doubled her fun. “Berry see Dora… Yeh-hey” was her cry. She was one very happy camper. Linus on the other had was miserable. He had bumps on his tongue and refused to eat anything healthy, sticking to the starches – bread, pasta, crackers, cereal and it took him 4 days to get something with vitamins and nutrients in his body before he could have any treats – which turned out to be the night of the chocolate buffet.
So we saw Dora, Diego, Sponge Bob, Patrick Starr and 2 other guys – Chum Chum and Fan Boy if I remember correctly at the character breakfast and at other events for the kids. It got to the point that the Nickelodeon crew would point out Berry to the characters and she would get hugs and high fives. She loved them and they loved her. She had a blast.
Our had 3 scheduled stops; Port Canaveral Florida, their private beach and Nassau in the Bahamas.
We stayed on the boat and swam on the Florida day, taking an hour in the afternoon to taxi into Cocoa Beach to buy bottled water and to play on the beach. Our $24.00 case of water was cheaper than the ships $4.50 a liter water. It was a good buy even if we had to shlep the leftover bottles with us back off the ship. I’ll never forget my wife’s comment to me as we were packing them up; “Start drinking!”
Also in Florida, we walked around Ron Jon’s – which was identified to us as being a tourist destination – it was very cool in there and super hot and humid in Florida so that worked for us. Taking Berry into the ocean for her first time was a lot of fun. We walked to the beach and dipped in our toes, but because it was so hot and the water was sooo nice the 5 of us ended up soaking wet, the boys essentially jumped into the water fully dressed. That was a ton of fun until walking back when they started complaining about being wet, tired and full of sand.
It was also in Florida where we got more information on Hurricane Irene. It was really coming.
From that point I started with my Hurricane Helms sayings… “Stand back, there’s a hurricane coming!” I had the kids doing it too. It fit.
The following day on the Great Stirrup Cay expedition we met a couple couples, both from the NY/NJ area, and we hit it off with a couple from NJ who had kids around the same ages as our boys. We hung out with them the rest of the trip. It made it more fun for us because of the adult conversation and it gave us an opportunity to keep our kids up late and hang out as families.
A side note from the NCL private beach was that Linus got stung in the inner thigh by a jellyfish. He was complaining of an itchy rash on his leg and it looked really ugly, but when I saw an older teen complaining about the same thing, I asked the lifeguard and he said, “oh yeah! There are jelly fish and they sting!”. Thanks buddy. So we went to the dive hut and they sprayed it with vinegar which stung a LOT. Linus crumpled to the floor crying and the woman there said in a very monotone delivery; “I won’t kid you, the vinegar stings worse than the bite, but it will get better”. No shit. Really.
10 minutes later he had completely forgotten about it.
Another highlight of this beach was the outdoor buffet and our 4-year-old eating machine, Stewie, who ate 2 giant hamburgers at 11am topped with lettuce, tomatoes and onions. These were big hamburgers, not the small thin ones.
We never did make it to Nassau as a result of Hurricane Irene scheduled to be there the same day as us, so the ship turned and booted it for Washington where we stayed for 2 days in the middle of the ocean.
We came into Manhattan and everyone got booted off the ship earlier so the Jewel could take the next group into the ocean before the storm hit. We got into our car and headed out to visit my wife’s uncle and then to New Jersey to hang out with her cousin.
While in Jersey we were west enough that the hurricane hit at night when we were sleeping and the following day there was a lot of wind, but we were not in any danger. The kids LOVED staying inside and playing on their iPads with their cousins and playing with toys and eating treats they would not get at home. I was watching the clouds fly by in the sky, I took a walk in the storm (and got soaked), my wife went to Target to shop for school supplies, and the kids had the blast.
We hung out for an additional day and left the next morning at 8am, arriving in Toronto at 10:30pm after stopping at every rest station and to shop.
A fun, yet tiring vacation.
Would we do it again? Sure. If there was a way to seperate the kids, it would be better. Or maybe a shield like they have in cabs. Watching Berry using the back of his fist to backhand smack Linus every now and then was funny – it’s what she saw them doing, but the mouth fart noise that Stewie taught her… So NOT cool.
I love NY!