Saturday, February 23, 2008

February in Florida--Part 1, The Big Surprise!

Those of you who read my previous post will recall that we planned to surprise the kids with our Florida plans. I was amazed that we were able to keep it a secret for so long, since by necessity and personal nature we had shared our plans with many people. Not one person spilled the beans!

Saturday we asked my parents to take the kids out to dinner so we could pack. Before then I had been gradually piling up summer clothing and other items to pack in containers in our bedroom (and even in the living room!). I joked to Mike that it's proof that our children are used to living in chaos, since they didn't notice a thing (or just that they are not particularly observant!). Even when they walked in the door with the suitcases open and full in the living room, Chris and Kieran didn't seem to notice anything at first. We sat them down and asked them if they noticed anything different. No! We suggested they look around. Aha! The open suitcases!?

Chris' first comment upon being informed he was going to Florida? "Well, this is really unexpected!" That came before the scream of joy. It was very cute (and caught on videotape). He and Kieran proceeded to dance around the room, followed by Nicholas, who had no clue what was going on but he thought it looked like fun!
Chris expressed some concern that he would not be around to help his team in the next round of "Battle of the Books" (a reading competition he participates in at school) and wrote an e-mail to his teacher, asking her to apologize to the rest of his team. (Unfortunately, his team lost the next round while we were gone!)

Next came the big task of managing expectations, as we always need to do when we do Disney. Orlando in particular has so much to do, and so many ways to spend money, and we had already planned our activities to match our wide range in ages and interests: 2 days in Disney parks, and 2 days at SeaWorld (mostly because we could get in the second day for free). No Universal Studios, no water parks, no extra adventures...part of how we have managed to do Disney frequently is to do it on a more moderate level and not spend 5 to 7 days at the theme parks...which is just not practical with small children (much less affordable!).

We flew the red eye on Saturday night, and we had bought a seat for Nicholas for the first time, thinking it would be worth the extra cost. Unfortunately, Nicholas and I were seated at the back of the plane, and two people fainted on the flight. The flight attendants burst into activity at the back of the plane, administering oxygen and medical care, and it was all very noisy...of course he woke up and I ended up holding him most of the flight. We should know better by now about taking red eyes, because I'm virtually incapable of sleeping on airplanes, even when I'm not holding a baby. But sometimes that is the cheapest way to go, an important consideration when buying five tickets.

After arriving Sunday morning in Orlando, we drove to our condo, which was a delightful 6th floor unit looking over Lake Bryan. It's the second time I've had great success booking through The condo was called the Blue Heron Beach Resort. It was a one-bedroom, two-bath unit, with bunk beds for the boys in the hallway and a full kitchen and laundry facilities. For $107/night (not including taxes), it was bigger and a much better value than a hotel! It allowed us to save some money on food, because we ate breakfast and a few dinners in every day.

Here are some photos from our balcony:

Being the off season, this pool wasn't heated--but there was a delightful smaller pool around the corner of the building that was just the right temperature and depth for our family. Chris tried the cold pool a couple of times, but the rest of us preferred the heated pool. I'm just too old for cold water nowadays!! :)

Every time I looked at the lake, I kept thinking of alligators! I told Kieran that Florida has gators in most of its lakes, but Mike's aunty Nancy corrected me to say that they have gators in ALL of their lakes, much to Kieran's dismay! He was very concerned that I would let Nicholas swim in a lake and that he would get eaten by an alligator.
Has he no faith at all in my parenting skills?

Mike's mum (who had arrived a few days before) and his aunt Nancy suggested we meet them for brunch at a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. We don't have Cracker Barrels in the Northwest, so neither of us had ever been there before. We enjoyed our brunch and appreciated the large portions and reasonable prices. The front part of the restaurant is the "Old Country Store" part, and that offered diversions for jet-lagged and wired Nicholas and Kieran while we were waiting for our food. Mike tried grits for the first time and liked them! (No thanks for me...they look like cream of wheat, which is not one of my faves.)

I had vaguely heard of Cracker Barrel, mostly through news stories about racial discrimination suits. I noticed the prominently placed sign in the lobby about serving everyone regardless of race, etc. Mike did not recall reading these stories, which is odd because he reads the news far more thoroughly than I do.

On our long car trip to Tallahassee later in the week, I did some research on my BlackBerry about Cracker Barrel, and discovered some highly disturbing information about the business! For example, from 1991 to 2002, they had a specific policy requiring employees to display "normal heterosexual values"! Although that policy was overturned in 2002, the company continues to score very low on gay rights issues. In addition, the company has been accused on several occasions of discrimination on the basis of race. (Searches on the internet will yield lots of examples about this--with testimonies from both staff and customers.) Furthermore, they donated to Tom Delay's PAC. Read all about it at or by doing a Google search.

Issues shoppers that we are (refusing to enter a Wal-Mart or Domino's Pizza for example), we will not be returning to Cracker Barrel, even if they do decide to open one in a Northwest blue state! The kids did love the trademark rocking chairs in front of the store, though!

Mike took the kids swimming on that first day (while Nicholas and I took a SECOND nap!), but that was about all we accomplished. We had an early night to try to catch up on our sleep and prepare for the first theme park the next day: SeaWorld!

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