Escape of the Inner Monologue

World, inside of my head. Inside of my head, world.

Life, To Go

Since our relocation, I’ve been working remotely, an arrangement that requires me to visit one of our two primary US offices each month. So I’ve been traveling quite a bit recently, and I’ve developed a top 5 list of bits of advice I think I’ll print on cards to hand out during my next trip:

  1. Security is not a surprise: I am always authentically excited for people who are taking their first trip on an airplane. Whether they are 2 or 92, this is a unique experience that will literally take them to places they have never been before. It’s a landmark! But I do think that like any other travel experience, preparation is key. The guidelines for the security checkpoints are well publicized and thoroughly documented – reading them before your arrival at the airport will prevent you from having to entirely unpack your bags in the TSA queue. And if this isn’t your first plane ride, you really don’t have an excuse for wearing your lace up thigh high boots for travel day.
  2. TSA Pre Check is worth it: The lines are shorter. The agents are nicer. Belts, shoes, and laptops stay where they belong. It’s a relative paradise.
  3. Food Up… Respectfully: Everyone is nicer when they aren’t hangry. Pack yourself some snacks or pick up a meal and leave yourself time to nosh. Staying hydrated is also key, even if it means you will have to use an airplane bathroom. But if you’re going to insist on eating a drippy sandwich stuffed with fish and onions, please eat it before boarding the plane.
  4. Remember, Kids are People: And so are their parents. If you want to fly without any children on your aircraft, please book yourself a private jet. I am always horrified when I see people tossing dirty looks at babies just for daring to exist inside of an airplane. Guess what – you’re on public transport, and kids are part of the public. And for many of them, they never asked to get lugged into a pressurized steel tube in the sky, overcrowded with tired, cranky adults. Remember who the grown up is in this situation and mind your manners – and your facial expressions.
  5. Be Aware of Your Limits: If you can’t lift your suitcase, don’t bring it on the plane – check it instead. If you can’t contain your belongings in the paper Gap shopping bag you’re dragging behind you, put your stuff in an actual nylon tote. If you can’t be aware of your surroundings, and walk so slowly you cause a severe traffic jam behind you, stay to the side. Know your own limits and you’ll be a happier traveler because no one will be shooting you nasty glances.

Travel with a toddler? That’s an article unto itself.

Trip Flashback: Disney Cruise

In the fall of 2014, we went on a wonderful trip on the Disney Fantasy. I posted this lengthy write up on a now defunct blog I had going at the time. Now a terrific group of friends are planning on a Disney cruise on the Fantasy in 2016, and I wanted to be able to share my rambling thoughts with them. At the time, our daughter L was one and half years old, and R and I were as mid 30s as we currently are (let’s go with that, anyway). So, in all its glory, the blog version of a flashback episode, I give you:

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Disney Life at Sea

We just returned from a 7 day western Caribbean cruise on the Disney Fantasy, and we are (Captain) hooked. What a marvelous experience! As with all things vacation, the Mouse is spot on. Here’s a little recap of our adventures for those of you who like reading about me eating a lot of cookies…

Travel days are not anyone’s favorite. We had to be out the door at 5:30am to catch our flight to Orlando. L was a little trooper though, and we got to the airport with too much time to spare. I almost wanted to go through regular security instead of taking advantage of our TSA Pre-Check status. Almost. The flight was nice and smooth, and I even got to watch most of Maleficent while L slept on my lap. Then we laughed with wild abandon as we bypassed baggage claim… Disney handles that sort of plebeian task for its guests, don’t cha know. They collect your bags and take them straight to your stateroom.  We grabbed a quick lunch at the airport and then got on the Disney Magical Express to the ship.

The check in process at the port was pretty easy, especially compared to other cruise lines we’ve been on. I should qualify that statement by saying that we were sailing at the Concierge level, so we had a nice dedicated check in and waiting area, and a personal escort to the front of the souvenir picture line and onto the ship. But even the regular lines seemed to move pretty quickly. And when you walk onboard, there are several uniformed crew members waiting to cheer as your party’s arrival is announced. L was confused but pleased by the clapping.

I would strongly recommend both the Concierge and one bedroom suite. The Concierge services start well before the trip… we got to book our excursions, restaurant reservations, and nursery time before anyone else. And we had an immediate personal assist for any questions we had prior to travel. Once onboard, the Concierge staff works really hard to handle everything for you – we used them for placing room service orders, getting tickets to events on the ship, changing reservations for the nursery, and getting general tips and info. Plus we had access to the lounge, with its convenient supply of snacks and apple juice, twice daily free happy hours, and awesome-for-fireworks-watching sun deck. Yes, they shoot fireworks off from the ship one night of every cruise. The one bedroom suite was extremely well appointed, with two full bathrooms, a giant tub, a tv in the bathroom mirror (which made vacation bath time the easiest bath time since L learned how to crawl), a dining area, and a little family room with a fridge. And we had a giant verandah with a wonderful view. The extra space was great with a little one (and the pack n play and diaper genie they brought in for us to use at no cost).

The Fantasy is a gorgeous ship – it’s got an art deco theme, and is in immaculate condition. It’s HUGE. I am quite certain there were whole areas of it I never saw. There are three dining rooms, and you rotate between them each night (with the same wait team following you to each dining room). There is a huge theater, and a separate huge movie theater. There is a whole adults only area on Deck 4, and a gigantic water slide above two big central pools. It’s an amazing ship.

We unpacked and then went to the muster drill, where L slept through eight tremendously loud horn blasts. Ah, to be a baby.

The food on the ship was kinda hit or miss, and that’s the only critical thing I have to say about the whole week. Some things were really delicious, and other things were just ok. The service was consistently outstanding, though, and they were always sure to bring L’s food out straight away. The waitress even cut up L’s food for her. And they always had both apple juice and orange juice waiting for L at the table. Disney does not supply sippy cups or toddler utensils, so I was glad I brought those, but highchairs and booster seats were plentiful in every dining space onboard. The Concierge team even brought a booster seat to our room for us to use the whole week, so clearly they weren’t hurting for them in the public spaces. The Animator’s Palate was far and away my favorite dining room for entertainment, although the Enchanted Garden was the prettiest.

Our first full day of vacation was a day at sea. We booked L in the nursery for most of the day and went to one of the fancy restaurants onboard, Palo, for a champagne brunch. And then we napped. I had forgotten how absolutely fantastic naps are! Then we picked up princess and got ready for Formal Night… Although we should have called it Glitter Night as L’s Tinkerbell gown was spewing sparklies like a volcano. My suitcase looks like it’s been used as a stripper’s wardrobe for several weeks. Minus the smell of second hand Axe body spray.

We fell into a nice little pattern of going to dinner, going back to the room and changing into comfy clothes, going to the Concierge lounge for popcorn and drinks, and then going to the theater. L LOVED the shows. She was clapping and pointing and having a ball, except for when people were doing boring things like talking instead of singing, or being people instead of mice or ducks. She got a little scared during the final scene of Aladdin when Jafar turns into the giant snake, but that passed quickly. I have to say I was really impressed as well – again, it’s Disney, so you can count on the entertainment being beyond top notch. The guy who played the Genie in two of the four shows was especially good.

After the show it was back to the room for bedtime. Disney does not do in room babysitting so once L was down we were in for the night. Although once L was down I was usually down for the night too. But the ships offer all the Disney and Pixar movies on demand, so there’s no shortage of entertainment.

On Monday we were in Cozumel, and we took L on an Ocean Explorer excursion. There aren’t a ton of excursion options for the under 3 set, but there are some choices in each port. Given L’s love of aquariums we figured this would be a good choice, and she seemed to agree. We essentially went for a ride over the coral reef in an underwater room with windows – the submarine didn’t submerge or dive way down or anything. But we got some great views of the coral and fish.

The next stop was in Grand Cayman…. for most of the ship. Our next stop was actually at the onboard Health Center. L had been unusually cranky and not sleeping well, so I looked in her throat on Monday night and saw lots of red and white. We called the Concierge to find out what the medical hours were – they weren’t open until the next morning except for emergencies. So I fed L some acetaminophen and we watched some TV. And Julia, one of the Concierges, brought her a stuffed Goofy to cheer her up. The next morning we went right down to the med center, where we were seen within 15 minutes of arriving, even though they already had a couple of families waiting. (Lots of allergic reactions on the cruise ship, evidently. Bring Benadryl, parents! I had some with me in case L got seasick, not realizing I was also preparing for the chance that her face would swell up.) The doctor was very nice and diagnosed her with a ear and throat infection. They whipped up some of that magic pink amoxicillin and told us to keep her out of the nursery for a little while. So that changed our Grand Cayman plans quite a bit… Ron was supposed to go scuba diving, but offered to cancel and stay with L so I could still make it to my hot stone massage.

The hot stone massage was like a little slice of heaven served up on a chocolate plate. There was an attempt to sell me some product at the end, but it wasn’t a hard sell.

By the next day, L’s fever was gone and she was feeling better, so we dropped her off to play at the nursery in the evening while we went to see Guardians of the Galaxy in 3D. Because Disney shows their first run films for free on the ship. In 3D. Because Disney. This was the first movie I have seen in a theater in several years, so this was extra fun for me.

We did a little port shopping in Jamaica, but mostly stayed on the ship. The next day was a day at sea, and we managed to get L back into the nursery long enough for us to play bingo, eat lunch, contemplate buying into Disney’s timeshare program (we didn’t – it isn’t a good deal if you’re a cruiser), and ride the Aquaduck, which is the giant water slide that goes around the ship. I typically hate water slides but this one was a blast. We had about 20 minutes to sit in a lovely shaded pool on the adults only deck and then we picked L up and went to play the rest of the day away.

There’s only one water area on the ship for diaper wearing guests, called Nemo’s Reef. Its got a lot of fountains and rain and characters spitting at you. L made a couple attempts to enjoy this experience but never really got into it. Although she liked watching the other kids on the slide.

The last day of the cruise was a stop at Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay. We had booked a cabana so we could be assured of adequate shade and quiet areas in case of baby naps. Our Concierge team even set up a pack n play for L in the cabana for us. L got to play with sand for the first time – she was enjoying it, even to the point of eating it. We also took her into the ocean for the first time. I didn’t even see an ocean until I was 20 so being able to give her these kinds of experiences so early is important to me. She was ok in the ocean as long as she was being held. But sand was definitely the winner out of the two things. Disney served a delicious BBQ lunch on the beach, and we just sat around enjoying the breeze and sun.

There were frequent character appearances throughout the trip. These were all scheduled for 15 minutes, which meant that if you got in line during those 15 minutes, you would get to meet that character. So the princesses and Mickey especially had long long lines and spent way more than 15 minutes signing autographs, talking with kids, and posing for pictures. L got to meet Mickey twice and Tinkerbell once. She is a big fan of the Tinkerbell movies so she was more comfortable with Tink than the Mouse, but she warmed up enough to give Mickey a high five after their second photo session.

There were little tech things that really made the Disney cruise stand out. They have what they call Wave phones, which are essentially cell phones linked to your stateroom that let you stay in touch with each other and different services on the ship. You can call or text via your phone at no charge. We’d get notes from the nursery about how L’s stays were going, for example. We could also call to check on her at any time. And L was issued an Oceaneer bracelet, which has an RFID tag in it so they can locate your child anywhere on the ship, and keep track of what areas they are checked into. This was part of the security protocols for picking up or dropping off kids. We also had to provide our Key to the World Card (stateroom key/charge card) and a code word in order to pick L up from the nursery. But they applied tech in other ways too – for example, we could review all of our photos digitally, and they would sell us the digital files instead of hard copies if we wanted. And throughout the ship you’d find pictures or paintings that turned out to be animated if you stopped to look at them. Finally, they have an app you can download to your phone that has the schedule for each day’s events, a ship map, general info, and other useful stuff in it. This was incredibly handy and we used it all the time.

Every Disney cruise has a Pirate night, and people really get into it! Whole families were in costume. And on our particular cruise they were also celebrating Halloween on the High Seas. There was a costume night for that too, and all kinds of special decorations and events.

We had two really memorable dinners on the ship. The first was at Animator’s Palate the last night we dined there. They gave us all special placemats with people outlines and asked us to draw little characters. And then not 20 minutes later, everyone’s characters were incorporated into an animated feature shown on the screens all around the dining room! It was so cool – real Disney magic there. The next was the last night of the cruise at their fancy French restaurant, Remy. The theme is based on Ratatouille, so there are subtle rats worked into the patterns on the upholstery and a glass Remy hiding in a chandelier. The food was amazing, the wine was delicious, and we had a glorious sunset to watch through the windows. Although I would eat at Remy again in a heartbeat, looking back I probably wouldn’t schedule it for the last night, or I would do a better job packing before going to dinner. As it was, we got back to the room around 10 and had to have our bags in the hall by 10:30. Crunch time…

Disembarking was not as nice as embarking… there were some very long lines. But again, they seemed to move pretty quickly.

And then it was back to real life. And planning our next Disney cruise. 🙂

If you are the type who would be thinking of cruising with an 18 month old, here are some things I’d point out…

  • There wasn’t a big need for child proofing in the stateroom. The verandah balcony has glass and is impossible to climb, although an enterprising child could push a chair over and climb up that way. The outlets are international and recessed, and there are maybe only one or two within reach for a shorty. I had brought some masking tape in order to cover any outlets but didn’t end up using it, as they were so inaccessible. There are tables with corners and drawers that will pinch, like anywhere you go.
  • I had packed a nightlight to help with the DARK ocean nights, but Disney’s green efforts prevented us from being able to use it. They have a system where you have to put your key card in a slot by the door in order to power the room. Evidently as part of this, they also power down outlets that aren’t drawing a lot of current. Our little nightlight didn’t need enough power to keep itself on, and therefore it would get turned off. But all the cabin lights were dimmable so we worked out a nice lighting solution.
  • Disney has strollers available for use during your cruise. They require a deposit but are free on a first come first serve basis. We brought our own from home and had no problems, although we avoided using it as much as possible just for simplicity’s sake.
  • Although it is a cruise and food is therefore plentiful at all times, I was still glad to have L’s favorite Goldfish crackers and yogurt dots on hand.
  • They offer a service where you can buy diapers, wipes, formula, baby food, etc online and have it waiting in your stateroom when you arrive. We brought our own – we just checked a box with the airline.
  • The pack n play and diaper genie were also provided for us at no cost, but reserve these early!
  • I brought L’s utensils, a plate, sippy cups, and snack cups. Which means I also brought dish soap and a scrub brush. Very handy. Especially with the unexpected development of washing medication syringes three times a day.
  • I had read online that the nursery does not provide meals. This isn’t true – they offer snacks, lunch, and dinner. I had packed a lunch box and ice packs to use to pilfer food from the buffet to pack for her, and it turned out I didn’t need any of it. This was especially interesting as their own pre-cruise Concierge team told me the nursery did not provide meals.
  • When you send them to the nursery, you send them with all the stuff they might need, so plan on your diaper bag going with them, full of diapers, wipes, extra clothes, extra binkies, their lovey… whatever your child might need. We also toted the diaper bag to all meals, shows, events, etc. just like in real life.
  • Make sure baby has sandals or shoes you don’t mind getting wet – those decks get hot in the sun and slippery in the wet.
  • Every single person on the cruise is super nice and seems to genuinely like kids. You won’t have to deal with people getting impatient while your little one navigates the stairs, or shooting you dirty looks because your kid is whooping during lunch. And that was true for both the crew and the passengers. It was really awesome.

Camp Throwback

About a week ago, one of my closest friends and I got in the car with approximately 3,451 pounds of stuff and drove to that BFE place I’ve heard about so much over the years. We were on adventure decidedly outside the boundaries of my comfort zone – camping with about 100 strangers.

I had first heard about Camp Throwback from its founder, Brittany Gibbons. She’s an extremely engaging author, advocate, and fun-haver who writes a blog called Brittany Herself. You should go and read that blog immediately, and also buy her book Fat Girl Walking, which just came out. You should not miss the words coming out of this woman, seriously. Anyway, she had designed an event where adults could go and spend the weekend sleeping in bunk beds, doing camp things, and drinking alcohol. The response was amazing, and I thought to myself, maybe one day I’ll go.

Fast forward to May 2015 and our arrival at camp. Before we had even officially arrived we got welcomed – several cars were pulled over by the entrance sign for camp. We thought this was the line or something, so we pulled over as well. We were immediately hugged and warmly welcomed by strangers, and we all took turns taking pictures with the camp sign. We headed down the road and went to actually sign in, where I made an ass of myself by fangirling at Brittany as she sat innocently behind the registration table. Then we went off to find our cabin.

If college had done as good a job pairing me with roommates, I never would have moved off campus. I was extremely nervous about being in a cabin with 6 strangers, but they turned out to be the nicest, funniest, and funnest group I could have dreamed up for us.

Despite my loud mouth, I am at my core a shy person, who torments herself in her spare time by guessing how others might be judging her. But I had been told so many times that Camp Throwback was a place to be yourself, I discovered that I wasn’t worried about it. I didn’t worry about my hair, I didn’t worry about whether people would think I was a quitter if I didn’t Slip N’ Flip, I didn’t worry that people would roll their eyes at me if I said hi. I just was. And it was fantastic.

Camp has lots of fun activities – trivia contests (which my cabin won!), decorating shirts for field day, making friendship bracelets, napping. Getting dressed up and dancing to 80s songs. Three legged races involving SoCo shots. Cards Against Humanity. Napping. But the true richness of the event was in the environment and the people. I’ve seen a lot of campers commenting that they now have 100 best friends. I can’t say that, because I don’t think I even managed to learn the names of 25 people. But I can say that there are 100 people in this world who are allies, who believe that fun can be had with anyone as long as you be yourself, who won’t think you’re weird or awkward and not cool. There are 100 people who, if they saw me in my camp t-shirt at a store, would walk up and likely hug me and ask if the camp bruises were gone yet or if I’d been menaced by a raccoon lately. There are 100 people who I genuinely hope to see next year because I want to get to know more of them.

And that makes every spider sighting worth it.