Gina and I were both tired this morning, but the kids recover a lot faster. They go to bed earlier, too. That may help.
The idea was to get up in time to order the breakfast cart - we call it The Muffin Man. The Muffin Man is a wonderful little convenience that provides a continental breakfast to your driveway. It's a golf-cart powered gut truck that resembles an old traveling vendor. Service begins at 8:00 and it's first called, first served I think. Anyway, that was the plan. I forgot to turn the alarm back on. About 7:00 or so Gina woke up and set about getting everyone else up. We figured at this point it would be too late to call the Muffin Man, so we just got ready to go to the Ice Cream shop again.
Being on vacation throws everyone off their routine, so everything takes longer. By the time we were all ready to go it was nearly 10:00. We strolled over to breakfast, and saw Pluto and Goofy again, but this time they were with Belle instead of Mary Poppins! Another character meet and greet! We caught them just at the end of their visit, so we all said our good-bys and we went to breakfast.
|Kayla enjoys train rides.|
We also made a stop at the Castle to ride the carousel and see where the Star Fairy put Kayla's star. We found it easily, thanks to the mapping system they have in place now, and Gina's embellishment of putting our initials on the points. I don't have a picture of it yet, though, because it's high on a vertical wall and won't photograph well (or at all, really) from the floor. The Fairy took a picture when it went up and we'll get that on a CD when we check out, so no worries.
By the time we got back to the villa and were ready to go, it was 12:30. Daytona Beach is an hour and a half away from this side of Orlando. Tonight is the Christmas party at GKTW and it all starts at 6:00. Is there really any point in trying this? YES!!! We all want to go for a variety of reasons, and a bad day at the beach is still better than a good day at work, so we're off!
Orlando is a complete maze to me, so I depended on the GPS to get us to I-4. We got there okay, but apparently the satellite constellation isn't clearly visible to TomTom when you're in a minivan heading east. We're rolling along just fine when she says "In 250 yards, turn right." I'm doing 70 mph. There will be no turns of any kind in the next 250 yards. I look at the thing and it seems to think we're on a different road running under a bridge or something. Turn it off, we'll just follow the signs now.
Made it to Daytona with no troubles and the kids even played well in the back for the whole drive. Jason about flipped when we passed the Daytona Speedway, and Emily amped him up by insisting she couldn't see it.
|Someone else's photo. I was too busy driving.|
"It's right there!"
"I don't see a race track *giggle giggle*."
"There! Right in front of you! Aiiiiggghhhh!"
Little sisters are such a pain. Right Melanie?
It's getting close to 2:00 and we'll have to leave around 4:00 to be back in time for Christmas, but I'm taking them on Dad's Poverty Tour anyway.
First stop, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University where I failed Tuition 101 some 20 years ago. Hey Mom, remember that letter you got from ERAU soliciting funds for a new statue in front of the library? They got it. Looks great, too. Oh, and tuition is up to $1170 per credit hour. Brother, can you spare a dime?
|Hovel, sweet hovel.|
Next up is my old "apartment". Whoever owns the place now has really let it slide, which is a shame since it was near the bottom of the slope to begin with. I'm guessing the "Mother-in-law suite" doesn't get much use anymore.
The restaurant were I used to work closed some years ago and the building stands empty today. Maybe we're off season, but there are a lot of shuttered buildings here. The beach turns out to be nearly vacant; only once did I notice other cars passing us. There are other families and couples around, but the steady stream of traffic I remember is gone.
After stopping to get drinks and break an AmEx traveler's check, we take Rt 92 straight to the beach access. I'm ready to pay out the $5 for a vehicle day pass when the toll taker asks if the person the handicap hang tag serves is with us. With a quick "Yes!" and a thumb over my shoulder to point out Kayla awake in the back, he smiles and tells us there is no charge! As I write this, it occurs to me why that is. In Daytona, public parking is a rare luxury near the beach. In this case, the car is seen as an assistive device. The person using it depends on it and to say "You have to pay us to get your equipment through" would run afoul of the ADA. Regardless of the reasons, I am happy that this nice guy smiled and gave us a freebie, so today's Wish Magic is "Nice people doing nice things outside the Disney ecosystem".
Next challenge: we need a place to change into our suits. Yes, you could say it's bad planning to not have worn them to start with, but then we'd still need a place to change afterwards. Salt water in your shorts will not keep you comfy-cool for the 1.5 hours you spend driving back. We cruise down the beach a bit with Emily just amazed that the car can go on the sand, and find a public restroom with easy access.
You know how park bathrooms are? Dirty, smelly, almost scary? Yeah, that's what we found. And now I have to change my pre-teen daughter in the men's room without a flat surface to put her on. Normally in a situation like this, we just use the van. I have no idea why I didn't think of doing this now. It's got to be that "vacation from routine" thing clouding my mind. Jason actually proved to be helpful in this situation, and we got the job done.
We all got changed and made our way back to the van. The tide is out and beginning to turn, so we have a wide expanse of hard wet sand and some decent waves that Jason can really enjoy. We take our goodies and Kayla in her chair to a point a bit out of reach of the water, then I carry her to a low spot the waves have dug out for us. We sit down and I hold her in my lap as the waves splash across our chests and by George, she's awake. I don't know how long we sat there and enjoyed the waves. The water was warm enough that I had no worries about her hypothermia. There was one moment where it got even warmer for a second or two, and Kayla seemed to laugh and relax a bit. Think about that for a minute. I retaliated.
While I'm getting Kayla all pissed off, Emily is screeching in my ear, grabbing me around the neck and trying to hide from the water by ducking behind me. She absolutely loved it, the whole thing. I showed her the holes in the sand where the clams are and she tried to dig up a few. I took her out to where the waves were breaking so she could feel that irresistible force. We got more quality daddy/daughter time in the water. Gina took her shell collecting and started a sand castle with her. She was back and forth between our spot on the sand and the waves, enjoying every second.
Interesting note on the shell collection. About halfway back home we found a long skinny spiral shell in one of the cup holders in the van. It doesn't match the normal find on Daytona's beaches, no one recalls finding it, and we know it wasn't in that cup holder before today. More Wish Magic?
Jason headed straight for the water, never pausing for a minute. He was the most excited to be going and now that he's here, look out. Jumping into the waves, rolling with them as they ran back to the ocean, going farther out than I liked. I think I saw his feet turn to flippers a couple of times. He is very comfortable in water, but happiest when he has a mask or goggles. Unbeknownst to me, he had packed a mask that covers his nose as well as his eyes. Once he remembered it was in the van, he ran back to get it. I think it got knocked off his head and lost in less than 10 minutes, but to his credit it didn't slow him down at all. If we moved to the Pacific Coast and introduced him to the surfer culture I think he'd find his place in the world.
After watching Jason as long as I could stand it, I left Kayla on her towel with Gina and Emily working on a sand castle, then took off into the water myself. It's been 20 years since I last saw the ocean, and this time I have people I want to share it with. I showed Jason how the water will take you north without you even being aware. I took him out to the breakers and showed him how to body surf. We dug for crabs, and wondered where the jellyfish were. We have got to take a beach vacation sometime.
With Kayla stationary, Gina and I had to split up in order to keep track of everyone. This must be why you need two people to have kids - tag team parenting. She strolled along the water with Emily, yelled worriedly at Jason and kept Kayla involved in the construction project. With her new hat, sunglasses and a beach backdrop, I swear she was in a Laura Ashley ad.
All too soon, it was time to go. Back to the restroom to change, and then pile into the van for the drive back. We pulled off the beach at about 4:30 and TomTom showed an ETA of 6:12. Not too late for the festivities, as long as all goes well. Yeah....
20 minutes later, traffic on I-4 is moving at a leisurely pace because the rain makes it tough to see. This continues on and off for most of the drive. Then we hit Orlando. At rush hour. Interesting thing they have here, is programmable speed limit signs. On the way out they all said 50 mph limit. Coming back they all said 30, and no one was going to get a speeding ticket. What is the point of lowering the speed limit in rush hour traffic? No one cares what the limit is anyway. You could set it at 100, and there will still be people trying to go 110. But adjusting the limit down to match traffic seems silly to me.
To make being stuck in rush hour traffic in an unfamiliar urban environment even more exciting, I recommend the gas gauge warning light. Just as we hit the back of the jam, I hear a little chime go off. My first thought is that the automatic door is trying to deploy the ramp into the next lane, but in fact we are just running out of gas. This comes as a surprise to me because we had half a tank when we left GKTW! Where'd it go? Now I'm starting to feel a bit anxious. I do NOT want to be on the shoulder in this situation and I don't care that the Road Rangers are out there helping stuck motorists. Like locking the barn door after the horses are gone, I switch to HyperMiler mode and do the best I can to get max mileage out of whatever is left in the tank. I don't know how much is there, what this car's average MPG might be or where I'd go to find gas anyway, so we just keep truckin'.
TomTom finally tells me where to get off, and we take the exit. We are near the main entrance to WDW at this point and right there is a Mobil station. Since the car has to be refueled upon return anyway, I'll just fill 'er up and get that out of the way.
Some years ago gas prices spiked and politicians made a lot of noise about busting gougers - those who charged ridiculous prices in response to a crisis. 9-11, the start of the Iraq war, and that time Hurricane Ike barreled through Ohio all saw this happen. Somehow, no one notices this one Mobil operator by Disney who is charging $3.59/gal when a mile away it's $2.56. I should have known there was a reason I was the only one on the lot. Forget the fill-up, just give me enough to get to the next station.
Long story continued, we get back to GKTW where I discover the staff seems to have nicknamed me. The nice young lady at the gate, whose name escapes me but is usually at the front desk, greets me with "Hi, Trouble!" Gina has been calling me that for years and just laughed and laughed all the way to the villa. I may spend too much time at the House of Hearts.
Christmas dinner is excellent, and we even get the addition of live music tonight. A really nice guy with a guitar and a British accent (there's a lot of those here) playing all your childhood favorites - Hokey Pokey, Bingo, Twist and Shout. I'm afraid we made pigs of ourselves, because somewhere along the line we realized we forgot to eat lunch.
|Kayla enjoys carriage rides.|
From Santa, Kayla got another stuffed animal that lights up and plays music; Jason got a Transformers car; and Emily got a WebKinz doll. We danced and visited with the GKTW characters for a while, played with the RC boats at Amberville Station, then it was time for the bedtime ice cream and a slow meander back to the villa.
I still don't know when the Swag Fairy comes. She must be watching us, because she never comes when we're here, and doesn't seem to come at a consistent time each day. Today she left certificates for each of the kids to play the crane game over at the Station. "Play the King's Treasure Hunt. Play until you win one of the exciting toy prizes!" We'll save them for Saturday when we'll hang out here until it's time to turn in the car and go through security.
Tomorrow is another day, yet somehow it never gets here. Other times it sneaks up and surprises you. Saturday will be here all too soon, so we will make the best of Friday. EPCOT!