Monday, June 29, 2009

Humor Me: Vacationing with the kids

By MATT WIXON

The check-in line at Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine has a sign that says, “Start your adventure here.”

What kind of adventure?

Well, about 50 feet from the sign are two animatronic trees that will be harmonizing with a pretend raccoon before the day is done. It’s that kind of adventure.

It’s kind of like being immersed in a Disney movie about kids taking over a hotel and building an enormous water park inside. Unlike a movie, however, Great Wolf Lodge offers the added bonus of a chance to spend $25 on a magi wand or $50 on a stuffed animal with your child’s wish sealed inside.

Bring the whole family and your credit cards. It’s that kind of adventure.

But wait … this is actually a positive review of Great Wolf. The biggest reason is that the water park, which is huge, great for all ages and kept at 84 degrees year-round, has pretty much ruined every other water park for me.

Great slides for kids and adults. Very short lines. No sweltering heat or need for me to slather SPF 150 sunblock on my pale skin. It’s so different from the experience at most water parks, where you bake in long lines while trying not to notice aging back tattoos.

(TATTOO SIDEBAR: Have you ever noticed that tattoos -- while they are pretty cool, edgy, sexy, all that on young skin – give off a very different vibe on older skin? It’s kind of like seeing a mom drive by in a minivan that’s blasting death metal. And an elderly person who is heavily tattooed? He or she looks like a dented UPS package that fell off the conveyor belt and got stamped dozens of times as it traveled the world.)

Anyway, the Great Wolf water park is definitely a winner. The staff is also pretty cheerful and helpful. Not so helpful during my visit were the elevators, which broke down in the morning as we were trying to get a stroller to our room on the fourth floor. Also not helpful was the person who swiped my wife’s sandals off the deck of the outdoor pool, leaving Janell with no shoes as we were leaving the resort.

Janell had to walk to the car in a pair of sandals normally worn by our 6-year-old son, Ryan. Janell was pretty ticked off as she walked to the car with her toes hanging out over the end of Nerf pool sandals, which looked ridiculous enough to become the next fashion trend. But upon further review, we decided that her sandals were probably picked up by mistake and not actually stolen. That could certainly happen in the rush to pack up a family’s pool paraphernalia. Also, although the economy has caused us all some pain, I find it unlikely that anyone would stoop so low as to swipe a pair of $8 Wal-Mart flip flops.

My wife did manage to avoid the greatest adventure of our trip to Great Wolf: staying overnight in the hotel with our two oldest sons. That was a very exciting part of the trip for Ryan and Cooper, and for me, uh … it was memorable. Here’s how it went:

After a long day of water-park fun, my wife drove home at about 8:30 p.m. with our 16-month-old son. We decided that getting Nathan to sleep in a hotel room was more adventure than we wanted. So Janell left, leaving the two double beds for Ryan (age 6), Cooper (age 4) and Dad (age well beyond that at which sleepovers are thrilling).

After a trip to the arcade and some of Cooper’s leftover birthday cake, it was time to go to sleep. Or at least it was time to discuss the sleeping situation.

First, Ryan showed me several options that would create lighting conditions like those at home. Ryan flicked lights on and off throughout the room and brought up other creative ideas. My favorite was his idea to leave the door open on the microwave because that was like having a night light in the room. We finally decided to leave the bathroom light on and crack the door.

After a bedtime story, Cooper and I climbed into one bed and Ryan got into the other. But then Ryan decided that he wanted to sleep in our bed, too, giving us three people in one double bed. Then Ryan changed his mind because it was too hot and went back to the other bed. Thank goodness.

He fell asleep pretty quickly. Cooper, on the other hand, decided that he needed to touch my arm every 30 seconds to make sure that I was still there. I’m not sure how long it took him to fall asleep, but it took me even longer. Part of the reason was a tremendously overstuffed pillow.

(PILLOW SIDEBAR: Do hotels generally use overstuffed pillows because they seem more fresh or upscale than an average pillow? I can understand that a flat, mushy pillow can seem like it’s worn out, but that’s the kind of pillow I prefer. The pillows at Great Wolf were like completed Jiffy Pop bags. They were so plump that my head felt like it was nearly at a 90-degree angle as I tried to fall asleep.)

The next morning, Ryan and Cooper both agreed that it was the best sleepover ever and that they slept really well. Apparently, they slept well despite waking up several times to go to the bathroom and get drinks of water. Each time, Ryan would tap me on the shoulder to let me know what was going on. Cooper also would tap me on the shoulder, but not to tell me he needed a drink or needed to go to the bathroom. Cooper just wanted to make sure that I hadn’t died or been replaced by a mannequin in the 10 minutes since he had last checked.

The most interesting part of the night was when I noticed Ryan sit up in the bed for a minute or so and “sleep sit.” At least that’s what I think he was doing. I said, “Ryan, are you OK?” and he just kept sitting there, looking straight ahead, his eyes opening and closing as he nodded off. He looked like my dad trying to fight off sleep in the middle of a church service or me battling the sleep monster in one of my political-science classes in college.

The day we returned from Great Wolf, I felt a lot like I did in those political science classes. I was tired, hungry and a little confused. How could the trip to Great Wolf be so much hassle – going anywhere with three kids always is -- and yet so much fun?

At this point in my life, I guess seeing my kids have fun trumps just about everything else. And I know I should enjoy any experience in which my kids still want to have fun with me because I know that won’t always be the case. The “parents are a total embarrassment” stage will be here before long.

That will be a very different kind of adventure.

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