Saturday, August 11, 2012

Summer Vacation

This time last year, we were getting ready to head to Disney World.  Needless to say, that wiped out our travel budget and then some.  We wanted to take some sort of vacation this summer, but because we were starting from zero and only had about 6 months to save up, it needed to be somewhere pretty close and reasonably affordable. 

Several months ago, we caught a good sale that Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine was running for reservations booked far in advance.  We checked out some other vacation options and realized the sale made this one of the cheaper possibilities for trips we were considering. 

If you haven't heard of Great Wolf, it's a hotel with an indoor water park.  Not just a pool and a slide or anything like that, a full water park.  There are also other fun activities for the kids, like MagiQuest.  The girls were WAY more into MagiQuest than I expected.  It's basically a hotel-wide scavenger hunt.  You have a wand that is programmed to know which quest you are on and you have to run around the hotel finding certain things.  When you point your wand at the items, they light up or move or talk and your wand remembers that you've found them.  You make your way through different quests and can continue to play if you come back another time. 

First, the basics.  Great Wolf isn't cheap.  There are sales to be had depending on when you go and, generally, the earlier you book, the better.  We have tried for last minute reservations before and it's never worked out.  The prices rise as the hotel gets booked up.  The rooms do all have a fridge and microwave though and we used that to our advantage by packing all of our breakfasts, lunches and snacks.  The last time we visited a Great Wolf Lodge, we only stayed for 1 night, so we spent all of our time in the water park.  This time we stayed for 3 nights, so we had plenty of time to do other things.  We bought each of the big girls a paw pass.  The paw passes are a just a packaged deal that gives you all the basic activities at a discounted price.  I think they may vary from location to location, but for this trip, each paw pass included one build-a-bear type activity (they got one animal and one outfit of their choice for the animal), a MagiQuest wand and game, a photo print out (there are a few chances to have your picture taken), a glitter tattoo, 20 tokens at the arcade, a scoop of ice cream, and a t-shirt they got to color.  Needless to say, between all of that and the water park, they were occupied the whole time we were there.  I only had two complaints about the hotel.  First, all of the stuff the kids want to do is crammed together in one hallway that you walk through to get to the waterpark.  The Great Wolf in Grand Mound, Washington is set up differently and I much preferred their layout to the Grapevine layout because it reduced crowd traffic a bit.  Second, the internet in our room didn't work.  You could connect, but it was too slow to actually do anything.  After a half-hearted attempt to say the problem was on our end (it definitely wasn't) they refunded all of our resort fees (which apparently cover internet, but they aren't optional), which I was fine with. 

I don't have a whole lot of pictures, because there just isn't much time for worrying about keeping a camera dry when you're watching 3 small children in a water park.  I did take our waterproof handheld video camera, but lots of kids in bathing suits and this blog just don't mix. 

So this trip was interesting.  It was in danger of being cancelled up until the day before we left because we were all sick and I wasn't getting better.  Things turned around at the last minute though, and we were able to stick with our plans.  When we arrived at the hotel, we went straight for the water park.  Within 10 minutes, I lost my glasses.  Now, I'm really blind.  I know people say that all the time, but my vision is so bad that with my glasses off, I can't even see the E at the top of the chart.  I don't mean it's blurry, I mean I can't see it at all.  It's so blurry it goes away.  You don't get exact numbers at this point, but my vision is somewhere around 20/1000.  What normal people can see from 1,000 feet, I have to be at 20 feet to see.   I can't read a book without glasses and most importantly for this trip, I can't recognize my children without glasses.  Without glasses, there was no way for me to be of any use for childcare unless I had uninterrupted physical contact with one of the kids.  Once they let go of my hand, I was hopeless to find them without grabbing every random kid in front of me.  We had a very tense half hour or so where I sat in a chair with the little girls thinking of how to get around this situation while Josh and Sierra searched for my glasses.  Several times, Josh came back with an "all is lost" expression, but he kept going back to look more because really, what else are ya gonna do?  He finally found them in a very unlikely place and we all breathed a HUGE sigh of relief while I bee-lined it to the gift shop to buy a strap that would insure no such craziness happened again.  

We played for a couple of hours before grabbing a pizza for dinner and then heading to the nightly story time.  When we got back to the room, we realized we had brought a lice infestation with us on the trip.  Just what you want on vacation, right?  Bugs.  It was 9:45 and the nearest drugstore was only open until 10.  We made a mad dash to buy supplies and stayed up way too late combing hair and washing stuffed animals in the guest laundry room.  The late night on day 1 led to a meltdown on day 2 when the adults decided to go out to eat and the kids revolted and cried for sandwiches in the room because they were so tired.  On day 3 we found out one kid had a bunch of hard and swollen lymph nodes (we've been to the doc now, it's nothing major, but we weren't sure of that then).  And along the way we ended up with four minor, but "ouchie when combined with chlorinated water" injuries.

Really though, we're fairly good at rolling with the punches most of the time, all of those things are a humorous foot note.  I think the reason it felt like a stressful trip was mostly because of Secora.  She has some sensory issues that can't quite be diagnosed yet because of her age and inability to really tell us too much about what she's thinking.  For a long time, we have been focused on her eating because these issues kept her from really eating anything at all (she nursed a lot) until fairly recently.  Now that she is eating and we've learned her quirks and adjusted to them, days seem somewhat normal here at home.  Getting her out of her element kind of emphasized that things aren't normal.  She enjoyed herself and there were plenty of times you could tell she was having A LOT of fun.  But you could also look around at all the other kids her size and see that she was not acting like any of them.  She was clearly distressed with being around a lot of people in an unpredictable situation.  The small stresses of taking care of her here at home (that were driving the desire for a vacation in the first place) were sometimes magnified while we were gone.  That just feeds my own anxiety and feedback loops of anxiousness are just oh so fabulous. 

It was all still worth it though, I think we'll just be a little more prepared for what to expect next time. 

On to the pictures!

Secora in the room.  She LOVES to draw and recently figured out how to draw on Sierra's DS.  So, she's taken to stealing the DS whenever Sierra leaves it within reach. 
Sierra and Sedona coloring their t-shirts.  This is in the Cub Club.  They also have movies playing and regular coloring sheets and crayons.
The big girls outside the Bear Paw Cafe
In the lobby, there are big easels.  During the day, the boxes are full of blank over-sized coloring sheets and crayons.  At night, during story time, all of that stuff is picked up. So, Secora took advantage of the empty box to make herself a little cubby hole and play with the ball Sedona won in the arcade.
Every night, there is a short animatronic show in the lobby, followed by a Cub Club employee reading a story, then a character greeting.  Our last night, the character happened to be Violet, the only one the girls would go to.
Pictures with Violet!

When we checked out of Great Wolf, we decided to go to the Legoland Discovery Center before we left town.  Sorry to say, I can't recommend that.  The lines were ridiculously long and it was packed with people.  They had to have been in violation of some fire codes or something.  We couldn't really get in to do any activities and it was too much stress for what it cost.  Perhaps at different times of the year it would be better, but we won't be going back.  The store wasn't very good either, but maybe we were spoiled by the Lego store at Disney World.  On the other hand, the Russell Stover store in Corsicana, TX was a pleasant surprise.  They have a HUGE 75% section in the back of the store and I chose to finish up the trip by purchasing 5 pounds of chocolate.

That's our vacation in a nutshell! It'll probably be a while before we have another one.  Our current situation just isn't as conducive to road trips as it has been in the past.  This is a season in life for staying put, I'm sure another traveling season will show up eventually!

*I was not compensated in any way for this trip or writing this post.  Just writing about our vacation!

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