Archive for March 2010

Day 7: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

About 7 years ago, we visited Disney World for a quick day trip with Quinn & Ian. We opted for Magic Kingdom because that was the suggestion from our friends who lived in Tampa--who took us there. We couldn't have timed it worse. It was the end of March and Spring Break for most the eastern seaboard. In fact, they closed the gates to visitors at 1:00 p.m. because of they had reached capacity! Even at 7 and 5, the boys were still too short for many of the rides. The food was mediocre and expensive and the lines were never-ending. After we returned home we learned that we should have gone to Universal instead. This was where the rides were--and all the fun.

After doing some research we decided on a 5-park Flex Pass. This gave you admission to Universal, Islands of Adventure, Sea World, Aquatica and Wet 'n' Wild over a 14 day period. It was really the best deal to be had and one that met the desires of all 7 of us. Quite a tall order in itself. We started at Universal and did half the day there and half next door at Islands of Adventure. Universal was more Disney movie oriented and reflected many of the hits from the 90's. Islands of Adventure had more restaurants and larger scale rides like "The Hulk" and "Jurassic Park". They were also putting the finishing touches on the "Harry Potter" castle.

Here we come!

Ben attempting to look pleased despite not being tall enough to go on the big, big rides. Sorry, kiddo.

This guy was hilarious. His mouth moved and he really did talk personally to every kid who approached his window. And he sounded exactly like Eddie Murphy errr... I mean "donkey".

The "Rip Ride Rock-It" intimidated me at first but Ian convinced me to join him. The ride begins with going up at a 90 degree angle for the first 15 seconds. I just closed my eyes and tried not to think about it.

Doh! It's larger-than-life Homer.


Day 6: Disney here we come

Saturday, March 27, 2010

We left our hotel in Cocoa Beach and went back to NASA for another half day. The adults wanted to take in a couple of the IMAX 3-D films and the kids were dying to do the Shuttle Launch ride again. We left there around 3:00 and headed to Orlando. Mimi booked two 2-bedroom condos on Hotwire so she wasn't sure of the details. When we pulled in the parking lot, it was clear that she hit the jackpot! (she's always been lucky) Lake Eve Resort is a "condo-tel" meaning it's set up like a hotel with a front desk and housekeeping but each unit is individually owned. When she and Papa Jim went to check in they were told that one of the condos was no longer available so they were refunding the cost of one and upgrading us to a 3-bedroom on the 12th floor. It was like a penthouse! After dinner and swimming we all tucked in to rest up for tomorrow's first day at Disney World.

Quinn & Ben were already making their plans for the next 3 days.

The view from our bedroom.

The view from the balcony. The pool was heated to about 75 degrees and no one was in it--except us, of course.

Super comfy living area.

1 Comment »

Day 5: Back to reality, sort of...

Friday, March 26, 2010

We docked back in Port Canaveral and were off the ship by 9:30 a.m. We were greeted by a few raindrops and by the time we reached Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canveral it was a torrential downpour. A perfect day to tour NASA. One could easily spend a week there. Our favorite part was the virtual Space Shuttle Launch ride. It really does simulate every last detail of an actual launch. As you exit the ride, the ramp back down is lined with plaques of all the Shuttle launches from beginning to present. Both the Challenger and Columbia were made of gold and engraved with the names and pictures of the astronauts along with the sad explanations of those tragic flights. That was sobering but also made you proud to be an American.

At least it was 68 degree raindrops!

I have no idea what this is--maybe a submarine?

The control room for Apollo 13.

This building is actually only ONE story.

Too cool for words.

He looked so real-life.


Day 4: At Sea

Our last full day on the ship held the best weather so far: High 70's and sunny. I parked myself on a chair at the "Adults Only" pool and prayed we'd get stuck in the middle of the ocean for at least another day--or month. I just wasn't ready to leave. None of us were. Our final dinner together was at the fine dining restaurant, Triton's. I don't know if I mentioned this or not but the same waiter follows you night after night. We were blessed with the most charming, fun-loving gentleman from Jamaica, Kerry. He was a total delight. On our farewell evening we learned that he had a wife and two young children back home. This job requires him to be gone for 6 months at a time. Well that just endeared him to us even more. And the dinner was by far one of the better meals we shared. Escargot to begin with, Sea Bass on Mushroom Risotto for the entree and the most perfect Creme Brulee for dessert. But the best part of all was that all 9 of us were together for what could be a very long time until we meet again.

There were over 50 countries represented by the restaurant employees. They paraded around the room with their respective country's flag to "It's a Small World After All"

I'd say we cleaned up quite nice.

Our dear Mister Kerry. Ian particularly loved him.

1 Comment »

Day 3-Evening at Palo's

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mimi got some excellent advice and was told to make reservations at the "adults only" restaurant on the ship prior to setting sail. That very day I had said to Trey, "The food has been good but I've been craving Italian." Isn't just like Disney to grant my wish? The kids were occupied by a dodgeball tournament and we arrived at Palo: Fine Northern Italian cuisine. Ahhhhhhhhhh.

Our waiter, Dragan, was from Croatia so I rattled off the four Croatian words in my vocabulary and we were fast friends. He wined and dined us like we were royalty and brought enough delicacies to satisfy us for a year. We had lasagna, calamari, proscuitto, asparagus and fried peppers--and this was only the appetizer course. I had lobster and mascarpone chesse lobster and the most decadent chocolate souffle on earth--or shall I say, "sea"?

The most handsome men on the ship

Uncle Mike and glamorous Jen

This was the nightly towel art waiting for us

1 Comment »

Day 3: Castaway Cay

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Castaway Cay (pronounced 'key') is Disney's private island in the Bahamas. Yet being on the island with 2500 other people didn't feel so private. However, it was pretty big with many different beaches to choose from. We ventured over to the north end right next to the adults' beach and parked ourselves. Fortunately it warmed up quite soon and the water beckoned. Ian, Ben and I kicked around on some tubes and they tried their hand at a ropes course over the ocean while I watched. At mid-day the staff (40 of whom get to live on this exclusive island) cooked up a big barbecue lunch with chicken, ribs, burgers, hotdogs and all the fixins. Everyone did as much or as little activity as desired. At the day's end, everyone but myself and Papa Jim took part in swimming with the stingrays. Their barbs had been trimmed and they were quite docile but I was content to be the photographer.

Britney helped everyone get to know the stingrays..

Before you're allowed to snorkel and swim with them, everyone has to feed them a large portion of fresh squid.

"They feel like slimy velvet"

Ben's stingray "Brown Sugar"

The whole gang soakin up the sun

At the highest point of the island

LOVED this bike!

2500 of our best friends

All the boys sans Quinn. The teen club rated much higher than spending time with us.

Donald hasn't changed a bit. Notice the name of the post office manager above "May B. Tamara"


The happiest place at sea-Days 1 & 2

Friday, March 19, 2010

I really thought I'd have a post and some pictures on way before now but I've been living in denial that this amazing vacation is actually over. Sniff. Sniff. All I can say is Disney does it right. The best description would be "the Nordstrom of cruise lines." They didn't miss a beat on anything. No matter what your age, likes or dislikes, there really is something for everyone.

Ready to board

Our home for the next four days.

Day 1: After an overnight red-eye flight through Atlanta we arrived in Orlando at 8:00 a.m. Papa Jim picked us up and whisked us away to Port Canaveral. We met up with Mimi, Uncle Mike & Jen at the Radisson and thehotel's transportation service took us to the cruise terminal. We took pictures, had identification cards made and waited (impatiently) for our group to be called onto the ship. Around 12:30 they announced lucky number 13 and away we went. Just after crossing the gangplank and stepping onboard they loudly announced "Welcome aboard, Carpenter family!!!!! folllowed by hoots and hollers and picture taking. Permanent smiles were etched on our faces. We had definitely entered the "happiest place at sea". Our rooms weren't ready until 1:30 but we were free to visit the restaurants for lunch. We chose the deli where they made grilled paninis, salad and fruit. Right next door was the self-serve, soft-serve ice cream machine--open 24 hours no less. That's all the kids needed to hear. We checked in to our cabins and that's the last we saw of the boys until the send-off party. Being a family-oriented cruise, there was no breaking of champagne bottles on the side of the ship but instead a big ol' dance party on the upper deck replete with streamers, music and dancing. Most of us were too tired to participate but enjoyed sitting by the pool to watch. By 8:00 we were all tucked in and fast asleep.
Day 2: We woke up to find our ship was docked at Nassau, Bahamas. The weather was pretty overcast but warm. We left the ship to do some exploring only to find that the extent of it was an open air market with locals selling baskets and waterfront businesses persuading us to take a boat ride or buy oversized conch shells and starfish. There was the option of taking a bus to the Atlantis Resort and viewing their world famous aquarium. No one was really interested so back to the boat we went, sans Ian & Trey. They wanted to go explore the island. I wanted to go explore the adults only pool. Around 6:00 we checked the younger boys into their kids' club and they stayed for all of about 30 minutes. They're just not "club" kind of kids. They would rather swim, visit the arcade and sport court. The way dinner works is that you have either a 6:15 or 8:15 seating with a rotation to each of the four restaurants. The really cool part is that the same waiter stays with you every evening. This night we ate at Animator's Palette. The walls were decorated in sketches from many different animated Disney movies. Intially they were in black and white and then one-by-one they would come to life in color. The food was pretty good. I'm not picky as I was just glad I wasn't the one doing the cooking.
Senor Frogs

Ben wishing the surfboard was portable.

Beautiful beaches everywhere.

This is what Ian and Trey used to explore the island. Ian loved gloating to his brothers upon their return.

1 Comment »

This is where I'll be............

Friday, March 5, 2010

...for the next 5 days. Grandma & Grandpa are treating our family to a Disney Cruise! I'm so behind on my packing so I'll have to save the words for when I return. They're will be more to tell then anyway. Bon Voyage!!


Isn't she lovely?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I just want to hum that Stevie Wonder song when I think of my BFF Laurie. And even more when I look at this picture of her beautiful face. This girl not only has some good genes but her beauty runs skin deep as well. In honor of her upcoming birthday (I'll let you guess the age) I wanted to share why this lady has a special place in my heart.

It all started back in early 2001. I had just moved back to the Northwest and the only friend I had was my college roommate who still lived here in Bellingham. She called me on a Friday morning clearly upset. She couldn't give me details right then but needed me to take care of her three kids that Monday morning. A former co-worker of hers had delivered a stillborn and she wanted to go clean the gal's house. I was happy to help with childcare but felt helpless to do more. I knew nothing about this woman but did know I wanted to do something to ease her pain. So I did what all Americans do in a crisis: made her dinner. When Janelle dropped off the kids, I gave her the meal and told her to convey my condolences to her friend. When she returned to collect her kiddos, she said Laurie really appreciated the meal and was doing remarkably well in spite of the circumstances.

Fast forward a month. I was sitting in my Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) discussion group when I noticed a new face in the room. Our leader introduced Laurie and told us how she took a break for a while because of some difficult times but she'd be sharing with us herself at the end of the lesson. When Diane gave Laurie the floor, she graciously and eloquently told the story of losing and having to deliver her baby at 26 weeks. She went on to share how God gave her his "peace that surpasses all understanding" in the midst of her pain. Her faith and completely calm demeanor was amazing to all of us surrounding her. All of a sudden it hit me: Oh my! This is Janelle's friend! Oh my goodness!! After class ended, I was racking my brain trying to think of how I could introduce myself without sounding like a total idiot and saying something like: "Hey, I made you that lasagna. Did you like it?" I approached her and said "I'm Janelle's friend. I watched her kids while she came to clean your house." She said "you're the one who made me that delicious dinner. Thank you!" and threw her arms around me. An instant and enduring friendship began.

The next week, when we sat together during class, she asked how many kids I had. She had two girls the exact same ages as my boys. I hesitated to tell her I was expecting #3. She made it easy for me when she said "are you going to have any more?" Ummmm, I'm actually 3 months pregnant. She was sincerely thrilled for me. As God would have it, she discovered her third was on the way just a couple months later and we waddled through the next few months together until our baby BOYS were born within two months of each other. I retired from childbirth but she went on to have another boy 16 months later. I honestly don't know how either of us would have survived the next 5 years without one another. We swapped childcare weekly and took turns doing the "Costco runs". We comiserated together when our husbands were traveling. We figured out how to occupy and keep alive 7 children until every last one of them entered elementary school. And, most importantly, encouraged and challenged each other to grow in our faith. I never thought I'd say it but I sure miss those days. It seems to be harder and harder to carve out time for each other now that the kids are older and busier. But we have always been consistent in celebrating our birthdays--which we did last night.

As far as our birthdays, we started this tradition of putting something on each other's cakes that represented a signifcant event from the previous year. One year her septic tank backed up and Roto Rooter arrived to determine the cause. Turns out that one of her boys had put an entire box of baby wipes down the toilet. That year I topped her cake with Tootsie Rolls and Kleenex. The picture below represents when her family went to Hawaii and due to an oversight in the planning, all 6 of them ended up squeezed in to a studio condo.

Earlier this year we were celebrating our other BFF's birthday when we got to talking about "what our license plates would say." In other words, what was your life statement? What phrase came to mind when others thought of you? Immediately she said "Buck Up". Perfect! She is a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of girl and gives this response quite often when she hears whining in others. I came home and "googled": replica license plates and, of course, found a company that made them for a reasonable price with a quick turnaround time. So this year I decided to forgo the cake in place of the plate. Because our state requires plates on front and back, she is planning to proudly display it in her kitchen.

Happy ## Birthday to my fun, forty-something, faithful and fabulous friend. I love being on this journey with you. Here's to many more!!!