How to travel with the kids (and live to tell about it)

We used to live in Orlando, and when you live in Orlando, you spend a lot of time at the parks. People think Disney and Universal and SeaWorld are surely the happiest places on earth, and they can be, but they can also be miserable.

I’ve seen a lot of families shuffle out of the parks at closing time, sunburned and exhausted and barely speaking to one another. One time, at the Magic Kingdom, I heard a mom snap at her whiney little girl, “You will have fun!”

So, here’s what I’ve learned about family vacations from all those unhappy people and from being a dad:

Kids don’t care.

Kids don’t care how much you’re spending on vacation or whether you think you’re getting your money’s worth out of the trip, so don’t try to hit 7 parks in 7 days. You’ll regret it.

Kids don’t care about taking the scenic route or touring old homes. They don’t want to sit and wait while baby brother rides the carousel or big sister rides the coaster, and no matter how much you plead or scold, they’re not going to wait patiently while you shop for shoes at the outlet mall

So, don’t expect them to.

Our family vacations got a lot better when we started looping in the kids and talking to them about where we’re going and what they’d like to see once we get there.

We don’t try to see and do everything, because we can’t.

We try to figure out early on what we want to see most of all, then we see as many other things as time and money will allow.

We also stopped kidding ourselves that our kids want to spend as much time with us or each other as we want to spend with them, so we’ll split up. I’ll go off with Thing 1 while my wife takes Thing 2, and we’ll meet up for supper.

And we stopped using the hotel as a place just to stow our stuff and sleep.

I saw a survey a few years ago that said kids enjoy the hotel pool almost as much as they do the theme parks, and I believe it.

Whenever we tell the kids we’re going on a trip, the first thing they ask is whether there’s a pool. Pools with slides and lazy rivers are good, but so are indoor pools, in case it’s crazy hot or raining. Once we’re at the hotel, they can’t wait to jump in, and once they’re in the pool, it’s hard to get them out.

So, we let them swim.

We still make the kids go places and do things they don’t want to do, but we try to remember that we’re dealing with children — they’re 12 and 6 now — and children, no matter how great they are, are going to act like children.

If they’ve had a little fun, if they’re happy, they’ll be more likely to hang in there when we stop at the outlet mall or take the scenic route or do the boring things we like doing on vacation.

That’s the strategy, anyway. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Fall cleaning: Throwing out blog topics that didn’t work out

Despite what you might have guessed, I actually put a little thought into my blog.

For every post I post, there’s usually one or two that didn’t work out. Sometimes posts fail because the idea wasn’t strong enough. Sometimes, it’s because I couldn’t think of anything original to say. Sometimes, it’s because the idea works better as a 140-character tweet than as a 400-word composition. Sometimes, it’s just a bad idea.

So today, on the 1st day of fall, I’m doing a little house cleaning:

Image via Wikipedia

Fortune cookies: Sometimes, I wonder whether the people who write fortune cookies are writing with the “in bed” game in mind. This is when you read your fortune aloud and tack “in bed” at the end of it.

For example, I got one a while back that said, “Despite appearances, his intentions are honorable.”

I mean, a) that’s not even a fortune, and 2) you wouldn’t write something about a man’s honorable intentions unless you knew the reader was going to take “in bed” onto it.

I tell you, those fortune-cookie people are playing us like a cheap violin.

The last great R.E.M. album

R.E.M.: I listened to a lot of R.E.M. in the ’80s and ’90s. I liked the band when Michael Stipe mumbled the lyrics, and I liked the band after he started enunciating, but, seriously, I thought they broke up 10 years ago.

“Nevermind”: Saturday is the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” CD. It was released on Sept. 21, 1991. Some perspective: A kid born the year “Nevermind” came out would be a college sophomore today. “Nevermind” came out the same year as America Online … for DOS. “Nirvana” came out the same year Britney Spears was on “Star Search” and Jennifer Lopez became a Fly Girl on “In Living Color.” “Nevermind” came out 3 years before the first PlayStation and 10 years before Wikipedia. And it’s still great.

Llama: Guy in front of Best Buy the other day had a llama wearing a hat. It wasn’t a petting zoo. He was just hanging out. I was going to take a picture, but I decided that would only encourage him.

Sting: I saw a story in the paper (OK, it was online) about how Sting is writing songs for a new musical about a man who grew up around the shipyards of Newcastle, and I realized something: Sting will never go away. This makes me sad.

British groceries: There’s a British-food section in the international food aisle at our Publix grocery stores. Between the Chinese and Mexican-food sections are several shelves with things like McVittie’s digestive biscuits and cans of Heinz treacle.

When we lived in Orlando, there were a couple of British supermarkets, because Orlando had a decent number of British ex-pats, but I live smack in the middle of Tennessee now, right outside Nashville, birthplace of country music and home of the Grand Ole Opry.

People in Nashville are from places like Alabama and Kentucky and, ever since Nissan moved its North American headquarters from suburban Los Angeles to suburban Nashville, places like California and Japan. If you meet someone from Manchester, chances are they’re from Manchester, Tennessee (home of the Bonnaroo music festival).

I looked up the 2010 Census. Metro Nashville has a population of 1.6 million. Of those, 118,000 were born outside the U.S. Of those, only about 10,000 are from Europe. I couldn’t find statistics for how many are from Great Brittain, but it’s fewer than 10,000.

You wouldn’t think there’d be much demand for digestive biscuits in the town that invented the Goo Goo Cluster, but … oh, wait. It’s all starting to make sense.

Night launch

NASA photo

The space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled for liftoff Friday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, weather permitting. It will be NASA’s last shuttle mission.

When we lived in Orlando, we got to see a lot of launches, mostly from random parking lots around town.

Orlando is about 50 miles west of Kennedy, and from that distance, in broad daylight, the shuttle was like a very bright Roman candle with a thick tail of smoke that appeared over the horizon and arced across the sky. It dimmed after a few minutes then became a tiny point of light then disappeared in the heavens.

Once, though, we watched a night launch in New Smyrna Beach, about 30 miles up the coast from Kennedy.

We grabbed supper at this place on the beach and watched the countdown on the TV in the bar. T-minus 60 seconds, we walked to the beach and looked south and waited.

For a moment or two, it looked like sunrise, then the rocket appeared over the horizon. It was brighter than I imagined it would be, and I understood the tremendous power it takes to put a rocket in orbit.

The shuttle flew up the coast toward us. It was miles overhead and miles off the coast, but the flames were so bright I could easily read the numbers on my watch.

We could tell when the solid rocket boosters fell away because the light dimmed, but we could still see it heading north and up.

We lost sight of it after a few minutes, but we just stood there, staring after it, and I realized we weren’t alone. There were pockets of people all up and down the beach, but not a lot. This was probably in ’96 or ’97. Shuttle launches were routine by then. A lot of people who lived in Florida ignored space shuttles the same way they would an airplane overhead, but we still have airplanes.

Soon enough, there won’t be any more space shuttles.