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June 7, 2007

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

I’m not sure a vacation recap qualifies as an “Outdoor” report, but the way the weather looks this week, it is likely the only way I am going to get this editorial spot filled. Besides, my family’s four-day “vacation” to the West Coast offered so much comic relief, I simply could not pass up the opportunity to share some of the tales. Well that and the fact that my accountant tells me if I write about my trips, I can write off some of the expenses as business related. And I definitely can afford to do that after paying for five plane tickets and giving over an arm and a leg to gain entry to Disneyland, Sea World and the San Diego Zoo.

Running a weekly newspaper makes vacation scheduling a challenge. We tried to maximize our travel by printing the newspaper a day early. While the concept is right, that means cramming an extra day of work together, with packing and last-minute planning that ultimately leads to some issues.

It all seemed okay until we arrived at the airport a little behind schedule. Well, we arrived on time, but construction and detours had us searching for the entrance to the parking area for way too long.

Once we ultimately caught the bus to the terminal and checked in our luggage, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then checked in. This is where I wished we had allowed ourselves a little more preparation time. As an infrequent flyer, I was unaware that you could not carry on any liquids (above the tiny travel size shampoo, etc.)

I’m not one for messing around, so I suggested that my wife simply dump her toothpaste, hair products and 99 other creams and accessories in the trash can so we could get through security.

Instead, security and their cooler heads prevailed, recommending that we simply check the carry on in as a regular piece of luggage. I was still lobbying for a quick disposal, but my wife gathered up the massive amount of toiletries and snatched one of the girls back packs and began repacking, all too the dismay of the growing line behind us. She charged off to the baggage area and finally made it back as we were preparing to board the plane.

Who says vacation is supposed to be about relieving stress? That phrase must have been coined before the clamp down on air traffic security. If not, I’m quite certain it was never uttered by a vacationer from a little Midwestern town who finds himself thrust into the chaos of Los Angeles traffic.

Any Californian wouldn’t even bat an eye at the short jaunt from L.A. to Anaheim. But when your hometown doesn’t even have a stop light, the 12 lanes of high-speed, merging traffic can be a bit intimidating to say the least. Add to it, the fact you have no idea where you are going, and you have four screaming kids in the back of a full-sized cargo van that drives like a tank with a dozen blind spots and no acceleration - let’s just say I was happy to arrive alive at our hotel at the doorsteps of Disneyland.

I wasn’t the only one. Katie was up at the crack of dawn and was fired up to start the day off with Mickey and the gang.

We tried to sneak in a quick breakfast break before we headed across the street but she would have nothing to do with it.

“Fill me up a cup of milk to go and I’ll meet you at Disneyland,” she told her uncle as she tried to march off to the park. We ruined the escape attempt, but needless to say we didn’t get much time to enjoy our breakfast.

Disneyland was awesome. Just ask my Jedi-trained daughter. Abigayle is a big fan of Star Wars. She found the feature on the park’s website and informed me she would be attending Jedi-training school at the park.

After we watched the first show from the background of a huge crowd, I was a bit concerned about her options. On the other hand, she had no doubts. With just under an hour to wait for the next show, she dragged me through the exiting spectators to lay claim to her spot on the front row, as we awaited the return of the four Jedi knights.

The wait proved well worth it, as Abi was among the 20 or 30 youths picked from the crowd to participate in the training session. She was outfitted with a robe and a toy lightsaber and was given instruction in wielding the futuristic sword before ultimately going head-to-head in battle against Darth Vader himself.

The rides, the other attractions and even the huge finale, a parade of all the Disney characters, were all incredible, but they couldn’t hold a candle to Abi crossing swords with the Star Wars villain.

After more than 12 hours at the park, it was back into the van to drive from Anaheim to San Diego. It could go without saying that I slept well that night when we finally arrived at the home of my sister-in-law’s parents.

My slumber did not last long enough as we were up and at ‘em early on Thursday for a day at the San Diego Zoo.

I don’t mean to short change the nation’s greatest collection of animals, but it is all a blur.

That’s because sleep-deprivation was beginning to kick in. Day three had us again breaking camp early en route for Sea World.

We arrived just in time for the first Shamu show. I couldn’t believe that we were able to get seats up front. It never registered, even after the vendors passed down the aisles selling waterproof ponchos and towels. The huge killer whales did not disappoint. Their aerobatics had me spellbound, so much I never even noticed the big signs at the end of each row in our section that said “WET ZONE.”

I was awakened from my stupor by a tremendous torrent of icy-cold saltwater. The tidal wave had to have impacted me directly in the chest, as I was immediately 100 percent soaked from head to toe. As I saw the whale surface, and then do a somersault underwater, I barely had enough to time to hide my camera behind my back before the whale kicked its tail down, not once, but twice, drenching our area.

Fortunately for me and the kids (unfortunately for my wallet) the fine marketing people at Sea World just happened to have a large store at the exit of the Shamu show where you could purchase towels and dry clothes.

I refused to give in to the scam. By lunch time I was starting to dry out, and my teeth chattering in the cold just helped me chew up my food that much better.

All that was forgotten as we took in the sea lion and dolphin shows.

Despite being all washed up, I’d say Sea World was still my favorite stop. It offered plenty of interaction with the animals. The kids got to handle starfish and even were allowed to pet the dolphins. The latter is yet another ingenious scheme of the park’s bean counters. They allow you to buy fish and feed the dolphins. Mark Twain got his buddies to paint the fence for him, and Sea World not only gets you to feed the animals for them, you are more than willing to buy the food as well.

All kidding aside, it was well worth the price, as the kids ate it up, just as much as the dolphins did. Not the cold dead fish, but the experience of being up and close with the animals, actually petting them as they gently fed within inches of you.

But the park isn’t just about the animals. They have incorporated a ride or two into the amusement factor as well.

The big finale for our day was a ride on Journey to Atlantis. My brother-in-law and I did the good dad deeds, and watched the two youngest children, so the girls could enjoy the ride.

After three days of near perfect behavior, our two little ones went into full meltdown mode, crying for mommy and just about everything else in the world the entire 20 minutes they were in line and enjoying the ride.

I was about ready to cry too, when they finally got back. It was time to head to the van, but Katie wouldn’t have it. She was going to ride the water-filled roller coaster one final time.

As my luck would have it, I found myself in the front seat. I still had a few damp spots from Shamu, but those were all replaced as our car slammed into the water after a speedy descent from the top of the cliff.

Drenched for the second time, I hardly noticed the next seven hairpin turns, climbs and twists. We topped it off with another plunge that insured I had not a single hair left dry.

I guess the ride attendant thought it was pretty funny. She said the park was closing but we could stay on and ride the roller coaster down to the end if we liked. Katie informed us that we could be chickens and walk down if we wanted, but she was not passing up a free ride.

Saturday, our schedule was a bit abridged as we had an afternoon flight back home. We used the morning to give the kids a quick trip to the ocean beach.

Our strict instructions of a short visit went unheeded. So there I was in line at the beach-front store, purchasing yet another set of dry clothes for my three little girls who somehow had found themselves trying to learn how to bodysurf.

For some reason, they all three slept nearly the entire plane ride home and hardly stirred in the car on the trip back from Kansas City to Memphis. I was sure glad to get back to work on Monday, so I could relax.


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