Coast Trip Day Two – NASA!

I’ll give you the gallery now, Kit’s setting up the video today of the entire trip (with slideshow, video clips, etc.) Below are more details about our day at NASA. The kids keep coming up to me and saying, “That was so awesome, Mom. I can’t believe we did that.”

So we got up bright up and early and headed downstairs for breakfast where the kids made their own belgian waffles and drank way too much orange juice and ate frosted flakes. Chad met us at the hotel at 8am and we followed him over to a different location through security and inside an enormous building. Someone came out to meet us (I wish I remembered his name, I will find out!) and brought us into what looked like a huge hangar with a wall 20′ high – and a pool on the other side. (I asked how thick that wall was!) We walked up some stairs and suddenly there’s the pool, which is 40′ deep and there’s a space center inside it! (Not the whole thing, of course.) It was so much to take in and so surreal! There are divers in the pool and people around the edges and up in this control booth and I’m praying Livy doesn’t get any ideas about swim time. Though I have no doubt she would have been totally fine with this crew around, that would have really been awkward if they had to fish her out. ๐Ÿ™‚ Continue reading “Coast Trip Day Two – NASA!”

Coast Trip Day One – Galveston

IMG_4794We woke up early and buckled sleeping kids into their carseats and attempted to get out the door before rush hour. We failed, because apparently Dallas rush hour starts at 6:30am and goes through at least 8:30am which I think is how long we were on the road. I was not a happy camper, but interesting that the timing worked out to land us on the door step of the Russell Stover’s Factory exactly 3 minutes after they opened! We were sad to realize they didn’t allow tours but the kids could watch a video tour and check out their factory rejects section – which was very cool. There were also samples everywhere and what a great idea, chocolate up the kids at 9am and then stick them in the car for four more hours! I’m smart like that. ๐Ÿ™‚ Continue reading “Coast Trip Day One – Galveston”

Coast Trip – The Introduction

Kit’s working on the video so you’ll have to just read the story in the meantime.

Last year (pre-eyeball update) we had planned a trip to camp on the coast with cousins but the weather last minute looked horrid so we cancelled. We wanted to reschedule and just hadn’t gotten around to it as things got really crazy last fall with some various challenges. When we received the news about Ben’s eye report he wanted me to make sure I included the ocean and NASA on his wish list. We researched how much it would cost and where we could stay and just let it sit on the list while waiting for life to calm down a bit and to budget for it.

Then the kids started the truffle fundraiser which lead very surprisingly to the newspaper article which was shared around and we were contacted by a great guy named Ron who got us in touch with another wonderful person named Chad who happens to work for NASA! (You should have seen Ben’s eyes pop out of his head when I showed him the email that actually said NASA.gov – he was deeply impressed.) Chad offered to help let us see some of the NASA sights and we thought – NEAT! We’ll go do the public tour and meet someone who really works there and maybe see some of the public exhibits up close – how cool will that be?

But oh, no. Apparently Chad had something else in mind. All I knew was that Chad did something there involving astronauts (which the kids thought was neat, he had met real astronauts? Little did they expect…)

The timing once again managed to work out beautifully that I wasn’t on call and Kit was able to get a couple days off work (with his always fantastic boss watching our dog while we went) and we were going to go soon! In a couple weeks! We looked around quickly for hotels and just picked one that was reasonably priced and looked in the vicinity of the space center. I asked for trip suggestions online and got wonderful ideas – a shrimp restaurant, the ferry ride, things in Galveston, etc. We wanted to make sure we drove down the day before to see the ocean (another wish list item), spend a night at the hotel, NASA, then head back home since I was going on call that following day for an expectant mom.

A few days before we were getting ready to go I get an email from Chad that says, “I may have spoken a bit too soon…” which made my stomach drop. Oh, no! Maybe we weren’t able to get clearance to visit with our little ones (I knew there were age restrictions for some of the public tours) or a work thing came up or something went wrong? Then I kept reading – and I cried. The issue was he had told us we would be meeting in the afternoon for a bit, but a lot of people around there wanted to help out so there was a growing list of tour opportunities that would be starting bright and early that morning – if we wanted. Then I read the list, and I got goosebumps. I knew these were once in a lifetime experiences that were being offered to our kids, and I knew it was going to absolutely blow them away! (And we had truly been expecting to just buy the public tour tickets and maybe see something special in that main building with Chad – we did not expect this!!!) I think I read that list four times going – no WAY! We get to see that????? I think at this point I realized Kit was possibly even more giddy about this than the kids were, and he was telling them all about the things they were going to see.

We had been studying space for awhile and the kids read about astronauts and the space station and we talked a bit about the Challenger and I let them watch an edited version of Apollo 13. They started to write up all their questions for the trip and checked out every book they could find from the library about space.

So of course we told Chad yes, yes, a hundred times yes, you say when and where and we will be there!! (I’ll share all those places in tomorrow’s post when we get the pictures up.)

Onto the first day…
Day One – Galveston
Day Two – NASA
The Sad Journey Home

Visual Memories – If You Could Share Them

We were at the lake today and I was pondering things I want the kids to see (especially Ben while he still has time) and wishing there was a way I could give them these memories, or afford to take them to all of these places. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I wanted to make a list because maybe that will help me find places closer to home (and more affordable) that may give them a little glimpse of what these places are like. SO, if you have ideas for similar scenes, please share them! I recognize that many of these are rather unique but if we can at least give them the visual gist of it then I would be happy… I cannot get them to Switzerland, but I bet we can find a mountain lake stateside!

In no particular order:

* The tulip fields in Holland in the spring. All those colors as far as the eye can see! And the canals and windmills and how lovely Amsterdam is.
* The lakes tucked between the mountains in the valleys of Switzerland. Those silly cows that you fully expect to roll sidewise down the steep sides as they graze! I love those cows and their massive bells.
* The white cliffs of Dover. There was just something about them.
* The Christmas markets in Germany, with the little booths and greenery and lights (and freezing cold cobblestone!) and the delicious smells in the air.
* Those gorgeous rolling hills with little sheep and stone walls across England.
* The towering pine trees in the northwest, everything seemed so green and beautiful there.
* The palm trees and sandy beaches and those soothing waves on the beach in California. I would spend hours just laying there listening to the surf (though that’s an auditory memory, not a visual one I realize.) ๐Ÿ™‚ We’ve not been there in over a decade so I’m not sure which beach we should check out in California when we go.
* The Lincoln memorial at night. Really, most of the memorials in DC at night.
* The red rocks of southern Utah.
* The snow covered Rocky mountains, since the Alps are a bit far – and I hate cold, but I want them to see how breathtaking the mountains are covered in white.
* Standing below Nike of Samothrace. She’s my favorite there, but I also love all the naked people falling down statues in Paris because they make me laugh and think of Joanna and Debbie and my siblings on our trips to Paris.
* Watching a meteor shower from the top of a mountain, with the stars so BIG.
* Walking along the shops of Annapolis harbor eating ice cream from that yummy place whose name I cannot remember… but I loved Annapolis, with the old red brick buildings and little shops.
* Driving through the desert and suddenly seeing the lights of Las Vegas – I know, that sounds funny, but I made that drive SO many times and every time I saw those lights it made me smile. I think the kids would get a kick out of Las Vegas.
* The Berlin wall and Brandenburg gate – those really would have to be the actual sites, as there is nothing similar! They’ve been reading about Germany and life behind the wall and visiting there in 1990 had such an impact on me. (I’m named Heidi because I was born in Germany, so it felt very personal to me learning more about why Americans were stationed there.)
* The view of Heidelberg castle from the philosopher’s walk.
* The changing leaves in the fall when the forest is a rainbow – but Texas doesn’t really have that, so we need to head north.

That’s it for now…

If you could give someone a visual memory of yours which would you want to share?

Any suggestions for places closer to Texas that we could show them similar things – tulip fields? ๐Ÿ™‚ Mountain lakes, meteor showers, happy cows? We would truly love your suggestions – share away, you can comment or email me because I love your ideas.

The Lost Files – More Trip Pictures

(I had multiple imports and just located the missing trip images.)

HARRY POTTER WORLD!!

If you are wondering how in the world we managed to get to Florida with six kids then you can read the much too long background story here. In a nutshell, we wrote on our Facebook page about Ben’s wish list and an anonymous amazing someone decided to make one of Ben’s dreams come true.

SO, where to beginโ€ฆ it was FANTASTIC. (Click the More to see the gallery and explanations.)

The timing worked out that we were able to visit Harry Potter world and have our first day in the park be ON C’s 12th birthday. We flew in the night before, got everyone tucked into bed between the two hotel rooms (connecting door) and then I pulled out some of the goodies I had hidden. C didn’t know I had managed to sneak in his robe and white dress shirts (despite our limited baggage space) so I set those out for him along with the new tie. When he woke up in the morning he was really excited to see them – and when I opened the curtains for their hotel room over the tops of the trees you could see Hogwarts Castle! They were absolutely giddy. Continue reading “HARRY POTTER WORLD!!”

Islands of Adventure

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I looked back and saw the two of them walking along swinging hands – the big kids were so good about looking out for the little ones. ย Not that there’s a big age difference between our 8 and 7 year olds. ย ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s just always sweet to catch them being affectionate with each other – I hope that never changes.
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While I knew the older boys were thrilled about this trip, I was actually surprised at how incredibly enthusiastic the little guy was about everything! He wins for biggest grin in the photos, as opposed to the poor older kids who just wanted me to stop already with the pictures and let them play!
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We raced straight through to Harry Potter world when we got there at 8am but we stopped on our way back to check out the animals and fun at the port of entry. It was funny to me that with these massive rides and crazy, loud shows that the kids could be so excited about a little non-moving tiger they wanted to sit upon. Continue reading “Islands of Adventure”

Do You Work Here?

Potter-59My sister, their Aunt Rebecca, made the Harry Potter cloak for C’s birthday one year and we added the patch this year (C used his birthday money from grandparents to buy it – he was thrilled our hotel had sewing kits for him to attach it while we were still there.) We didn’t think we would have room in the luggage but I snuck in this cloak, their white dress shirts, and we surprised them with the ties that morning of his birthday. So when he showed up at Harry Potter world he was certainly not the only child (or adult!) decked out in the garb, but our boys were the only ones with Harry Potter glasses. ๐Ÿ™‚ And they got a LOT of comments on it.

We did early admission to the Harry Potter world all three days (8am, the park opens to the public at 9am) and we were done with our big sights by 9am and heading back to the front to visit other parts of the park. As we walked past the flood of people entering I was walking behind the boys and just laughing at the reactions they were getting. Little kids were saying, “IT’S HARRY POTTER!” but even adults were staring and smiling and commenting on it. I was watching other people turn and stare at the boys – it was really cute, and I pointed it out to C & B.

When we were inside Harry Potter world later on C was checking out some stuff on the shelf and I would see people watching him, and their eyes getting wider. The staff without fail would ask him, “Wait, what are you doing here? Do you have a pass to be out of Hogwarts today? It’s school time!” (It was technically school days, he told them he was homeschooled.) ๐Ÿ™‚ I took a photo of C shopping and saw a flash – when I turned around a woman behind me was taking a picture of C, took! Then we started to notice more and more flashes – people were taking pictures of our kids wandering around Harry Potter world. When he posed for a picture with the train conductor people around us were taking pictures. I pointed it out to C knowing he would think that was funny and he said, “I wondered why I kept getting flashes in my face!” (He’s sensitive to light and hates flashes.)

On our final day we were exploring an out of the way spot and an older gentleman walked up and asked C, “Do you work here?” I think it was a real kick for our kids to feel like they were part of the show.

Planes, Trains, Boats, Mopeds, Pools!

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First, getting from the plane to our driver required an airport shuttle, which the kids were very impressed by – they also liked the moving walkways, escalators and elevators. Which means our kids are easily impressed, a good thing!

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Our hotel, including the boat dock and ferry to get to the park. We could walk to the park in about 6 minutes but the boat was fun for the kids (and good when legs were tired.) Often we were the only ones on the boat and the wait was never more than 10 minutes. The kids would alternate the front seat vs. the very back bench, and it was a fun side adventure. All these photos above were in/around our hotel, which was the Royal Pacific.

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We visited the pool two days, both for the “dive in movie” (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and the Lorax) and the sand and the pool side games and the water sprayers and the frozen grape snacks, plus the heated towelsโ€ฆ I wish we could have spent more time just lounging there but it was a great break both of those days to have some quiet time by the pool then head back to the park for the dinner/evening time.

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The pictures above are another one of the on site hotels. We visited Portofino Bay and it was also lovely – we took the shuttle from our hotel to Portofino then road the boat back to the park. The kids loved the ducks, mopeds, fountains – it was all gorgeous. It was just as the sun was going down and we had the golden glow. The kids loved the (very well bolted down) mopeds and ducks. We were amused at how tame the animals were!

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Our second night Kit and C got sushi to go from the Orchid Lounge at our hotel, and we ate it in bed while watching cooking shows. It was delicious! And it was good to have the Tuesday night at the hotel – the park closed an hour earlier than the other nights and I had made the mistake of going on a couple rides – and I was really feeling it! I felt woozy and light headed, I had vertigo and I was happy to lay in bed watching cookie shows with Livy while Kit let the other kids watch the Lorax in the pool. (I felt fine by the morning, it just reiterated to me that I don’t get along with any fast or twisty ride at all – which ones made me sick? The Cat in the Hat and the Flight of the Hippogriff! Little kid rides! It’s okay, you can laugh at me.)

Hotel thoughts – they are opening a new “budget friendly” family hotel on site in 2014 and I’m guessing it’s to prepare for the Harry Potter expansion flood. (Figurative, not literal.) The hotel is going to be less expensive than the current three hotels and will allow the one hour early park admission to Harry Potter world but will not include the express passes (which lets you skip to the fast lane on many rides, but not all) and doesn’t include the water taxis. (There are still walking trails and shuttle buses, but I’m not sure where the new hotel is located – our hotel was the closest one to Islands of Adventure.)

I thought our hotel was lovely, and it had the one restaurant the kids wanted to try (sushi) and we didn’t bother to even check out the Hard Rock hotel, though they were interested in the idea of the pool with music playing underwater. However, I thought Portofino hotel was more romantic than Royal Pacific, but probably because I love the European feel. The Pacific hotel was romantic in another way – just more tropical!

Flights on Spirit – HP World Adventure

First, this trip was made possible in part because Spirit Airlines had a CRAZY cheap deal running – like their round trip flight I thought was one way, the tickets were that inexpensive. But we had heard Spirit is poorly rated for customer service, not on time often, and charges for everything. (We had people tell us they charge to use the bathroom – they don’t, for the record.) ๐Ÿ™‚

But the tickets couldn’t be beat on price so we went for it and read through their whole website and called their customer service line to verify things.

You do pay for bags – checking bags or carry on bags over a certain size. You can take a stroller, carseat, and diaper bag for free (we gate checked a stroller – you take it literally to the airplane door and pick it up as you exit.) You can also bring a bag on with your meal (lunch, dinner, etc) and your jacket and umbrella. None of those charge, and you get to take a “personal” item on for free – as long as it’s under 16″ by 14″ by 12″ – so we just measured all our bags! My big, yellow carry around bag fits that as well as the gigantic black diaper bag Kit and I use to pack for trips. Then we found several of the kids’ back packs under that size (some were NOT, if they had wheels/handles.) However, no one ever asked us to check our bag size. We flew with seven bags and a lunch cooler bag plus jackets and a stroller and we didn’t pay any extra fees. We could have taken more!

I’m still shocked we packed all our family of 8 needed for a 4 day/3 night stay including special park costumes for Harry Potter world, swim clothes, snacks, etcโ€ฆ and all in 7 “personal sized” bags. If we can do it, you can, too! Continue reading “Flights on Spirit – HP World Adventure”