A Week In Paradise

It’s time once again for “Backpacking Dad Makes You Look At His Vacation Photos”. You love these posts and you wish I would do more of them? Oh, alright then.

We just spent a week in Hawaii with the kids. We split the week between the Hilton Waikiki Village and Disney’s Aulani resort. While both were very fun, and the kids had a great time wherever we were, Aulani was the clear winner for us. If you’re a long-time reader who has seen how much time we spend a Disneyland, right now you are thinking “Well, duh.”

Aulani reminded me of the Disney cruise we took in 2003. Everything was self-contained, within a short walk, and you felt like you were along for the ride. The Hilton felt more like a Vegas resort plopped down at the beach. There were shops and restaurants and bars everywhere, and crowds of people moving from one tourist activity to another (paying a little bit extra at every station). Where Disney invited the entire resort to an outdoor show, the Hilton put on the classic tourist luau. Where Disney had beach chairs set up all along the sand, the Hilton rented them out. Those are philosophical differences, of course. Disney charges for its little extras up front, building it into the room cost, and the Hilton charges as you go. It’s hard to economize at Alauni, and it’s hard not to feel like you need to wring your money’s worth out of the extras you opt for at the Hilton.

Enough review-y words. That’s not what you came here for. You want obnoxious vacation pictures!

First, here’s my giant face.


And Emily’s winning smile.


And Erin glamming it up.


Adrian contemplates penguins in Hawaii.


This is a good-looking group of people right here.


Fire-dancers? Hey, hey Adrian! Look at the fire dancers!


Adrian? Oh, sorry.


Hey! There’s a mouse at my resort!


And another one! This one is kind of cute, though.


The Fourth of July looks better upside down. And on a beach.


And no beach is complete without Watchmen.


In closing, here’s a postcard.


See you again soon, Hawaii.

Backpacking Dad’s Southwest Road Trip, Part 6: Disneyland

This is Part 6 in a series of stories (and tips) from our most recent road trip. Read Part 1, on the Calico Ghost Town, here, Part 2, on Las Vegas,here, Part 3, on Flagstaff, here, Part 4, on the Grand Canyon, here, and Part 5, on Phoenix, here.

We wouldn’t be us if we didn’t include some kind of Disney destination in our planning. Our Southwest Road Trip led us all the way from home to our home away from home.

One very nice thing about Emily growing up in Orange County is that she still has friends and family there: Grandma and Aunt Bonnie always join us at Disneyland, and Steven (Pop Culture Maven on the Internet) usually comes along too. This meant that as soon as we rolled into Disneyland, we had not one, not two, but three babysitters just waiting to take the kids for a while.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIPE #16: Always bring Grandma. Or Aunt Bonnie. Or Uncle Steven. When you are away from home for any length of time, your patience with the kids will grow thin. Take any opportunity you have to let other loving friends or family members spend some time with the kids, even just an hour, while you take a break. It isn’t always feasible, but try to make it happen. And always be the friend who can give other parents a break. You want that to come back around.

Emily and I relaxed for a bit.


And a bit more.


And a bit more.


The timing of our trip nearly coincided with Erin’s birthday, so we treated it a bit like a birthday trip. We were also joined by two other families from back home: all the adults are friends, and all the kids are friends, so we were a giant pack of pals roaming around Disneyland for a few days.


We spent a lot of time in the Radiator Springs area of California Adventure.


We rode every ride there: Luigi’s tire thing, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, and of course the Radiator Springs Racers.


We did Turtle Talk, Disney Jr. Live on Stage, The Little Mermaid, Soarin’ Over California, all of the Bug’s Land rides, and Toy Story Midway Mania.


The kids strolled around the pier, declining to go on the Ferris Wheel.


I don’t blame them. I kind of hate Ferris Wheels.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #17: Glowsticks. You can buy tubes of  them at your friendly neighbourhood whatever (rhymes with Schmarget) for a dollar each. No kid can turn down glowsticks. They’re decoration, which the kids like, and they make the kids easier to keep track of at night. Everybody wins.

But they do like the carousel.


Since we were there, putatively, for Erin’s birthday, we had lunch with the princesses one day. All of the pictures from that lunch have the other families’ kids in them, so here is one of Adrian with Ariel just before lunch. The rest of lunch was just as glittery.


Over the next few days we played at both parks, and in the hotel pool (monorail water slide FTW, btw). And we got both kids to go on Pirates of the Caribbean. Erin has refused to go near that ride for years.


And we rode the Spin n’ Barf…er…Teacups. Here’s Uncle Steven photobombing, well, himself really. I was trying to take his picture too.


And I made Emily take a picture with me in the spot where I proposed in 1998. (Hi, have we met? I’m a cheeseball.)


In the end, we hated to leave, just like we always do.


But everybody has to go home some time, and this was our time. So we packed up the car, waved goodbye to Disneyland, and, after a quick carwash, headed home.

TRAVELING WITH THE KIDS TIP #18: The carwash is your friend. Take a few minutes after getting gas somewhere with a carwash to actually drive through it. It can be in the middle of your trip, or toward the end. It doesn’t matter. It’s not just a good idea to get all the road crap off the car once in a while, it’s another cheap, low-pressure entertainment that the kids can enjoy and you don’t have to unbuckle them for.

Our grand Southwest Road Trip was over.

Until next time, Road.

Backpacking Dad’s Southwest Road Trip Part 5: Phoenix

This is Part 5 in a series of stories (and tips) from our most recent road trip. Read Part 1, on the Calico Ghost Town, here, Part 2, on Las Vegas, here, Part 3, on Flagstaff, here, and Part 4, on the Grand Canyon, here.

We drove down from the mountains as the sun was setting, and made it to Phoenix before bedtime. Having been on the road for a few days, and with Phoenix being the midpoint of our trip (and a respite with family after much touristing), we took the opportunity to stock up on road trip/hotel supplies.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #13: Don’t overbuy. Unless you are going out into the desert for a week, there is probably going to be a Target somewhere on your route. Plan a mid-trip resupply instead of stuffing the car full of things you don’t need to be carting around with you. Also, a trip to the store in the middle of a road trip gives the kids a little anchor to the world. If your kids aren’t comfortable being away from home, then, as much as I hate to admit it, a place like Target is a little touch of familiar for them. It adds to the normal.

We dashed through a Target in Chandler (our “Phoenix” stop was really a “Chandler” stop, which probably means something to people in Arizona, but for convenience I’ve just been calling this part “Phoenix”. Sorry, Chandler.”)


After crashing hard at our hotel (another corporate-y place with full breakfast; this one also had a little kitchen in the room, which we would make use of over the next few days), we awoke and went to do what the locals in Chandler do at 9am: We went to a make-your-own pizza party at Peter Piper’s Pizza.


It was like a Chuck E. Cheese’s, with games and mouse warrens running along the walls. Our cousin, whom we were in town to visit, invited us along to her daughter’s daycare party. I don’t think kids are usually just allowed in the kitchen.


And that’s how we found ourselves baking and eating pizza in the morning, in between air hockey games.


In the afternoon we joined our cousin (Emily’s cousin) and her kids (Erin and Adrian’s second cousins, for those keeping score) back at their house. We wandered over to a playground in the development, which has a duck pond just off to the side. After getting bored with the playground, the kids explored the duck pond. We watched as Erin, ever the daredevil, got closer and closer to the edge of the grass. We told her if she got too close, she would fall in.

And then, because I’m like this, I kind of hoped she would fall in. She’s a good swimmer, and it was warm, and the water wasn’t deep or dangerous. So I felt like if anything was going to impart a little caution to her it would be to suffer the consequences of her own daring.

My wish was granted. I’m probably a bad father for enjoying it so much.


Erin fell in the water, spun around, and clambered out again. She wasn’t upset, really. Shocked, yes. Very soaked. But she was very matter-of-fact about her escapade.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #14: Have a day bag handy with changes of clothes for the kids. You might think to yourself: “Of course they have a change of clothes! I brought a whole suitcase, didn’t I?” But those clothes don’t do any good back at the hotel, and you might be in unfamiliar territory when you need them.

We went back to our cousin’s house and Erin got cleaned up and changed. Adrian entertained himself by being a suburban scooter kid.


We spent the next day at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. The first thing we did was sit around while Adrian made a little friend, and they bonded over said friend’s Octonaut toys.


Then we explored the museum. Adrian did some painting with his cousin.


And he did some crafting with his mom.


And he rode a tricylce around and through a tunnel set up like a carwash.


The kids ran through foam jungles and played in sized-down supermarkets and played with sand on light tables and slot cars and all manner else of children’s things.

And Erin tried to grow up. No motorcycles for you yet, kid.


Later that night, not really knowing what else to do for dinner, we went back to Peter Piper’s Pizza. Not the same one. Apparently, it’s a chain.

We headed west on the 10 out of Phoenix the next morning, and almost immediately hit traffic. Was it all the hipsters driving to Coachella?


No. About forty miles outside of Phoenix, a Fed Ex truck full of Zappos shoe boxes had been opened like a can of sardines by another truck. It was a sight. More impressive than the Grand Canyon, in some respects.


We burned a lot of time sitting in that traffic, but we didn’t really have a place to be. We could take advantage of the little stops along the way. For instance, once we hit California after lunch, we stopped at Cabazon to see the dinosaurs.


It’s the weirdest sort of road side attraction, and exactly what you need on a road trip: Dinosaurs, for no reason.


TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #15: Be cheesy. If you are bored and annoyed at little delights, your kids will be also. If you are enthusiastic about them, your kids will be also. Kids can have as much fun sitting in front of a fake dinosaur in the middle of nowhere as they do riding roller coasters. Kids enjoy everything, as long as you let them.



We were finally back in California, but our trip was not over. Next up, the icing on the cake: Disneyland.