This week was both a transition week and a birthday week. Transition because we’re ending the “beach phase” of our journey, or at least the West Coast beach phase, and birthday because we have 60% of our family celebrating them. Tacco, then I, then Woodsprite get officially older within a five day stretch, and Halloween hits two days thereafter, so we wanted to find some place where we could do birthday stuff and possibly trick-or-treat without too much effort.
The Naval Weapons Station at Seal Beach got the nod for several reasons, not the least of which was RV site availability – it was a weekend after all. Potential activities and proximity to people helped too. Having grown up in that area, I still have several close, lifelong friends who live there. Generally I attempt to let my birthday disappear into the valley between my wife’s & daughter’s birthday, but this time, with my parents still with us and with the opportunity to celebrate not only with family but with some friends I don’t often see, I opted for a Me day.
Seal Beach is a somewhat sleepy little beach town due to its size (small) and location; the Naval Weapons Station there is equally sleepy, though not at all small. In fact it’s quite sprawling and sports a grid of weapons storage bunkers that you can see from the road. I remember wondering what they were as a kid, and assuming it had something to do with nukes and the Soviets. But the base isn’t busy at all, and only a few military folks actually work there. The RV park, though well-appointed and clean, seems to have vacancies most of the year. There wasn’t much of anything to do on the base other than ride bikes around the empty roads, but it was nice to have clean showers and free (two in a row!) laundry.
We had given Woodsprite a few options for a birthday celebration, particularly since her first choice (party with her friends in Maryland) wasn’t on the table. I previously mentioned a 3-day park-hopping military deal available for Disneyland, and she jumped at the chance to do that when she heard she could. They deck the park out in Halloween / Fall garb as well as modifying a few of the rides to fit that theme, so we figured it was a good time to visit regardless.
Our plan was to hit Disneyland on Woodsprite’s birthday, and then the adjacent Disney California Adventure park the next day. We reasoned that while it might be a little bit crowded on Sunday, we could alleviate that by arriving right at park opening, and regardless we’d have the whole place to ourselves on Monday. Is anyone laughing?
On my b-day, we (plus my parents and friends) met up at our lifelong family friends’ house in the waterfront Naples section of Long Beach and spent the day watching football, stand-up paddleboarding, and cruising around the canals in their Duffy Boat. Oh and eating and drinking. Our hostess kept pulling out these insanely good bottles of wine from their cellar, as well as a steady stream of snacks. Hard to beat a day like that.
And then Sunday at Disney. About the laughing? Yeah, it is NEVER uncrowded at Disneyland. Somehow I’d forgotten that little tidbit. Unlike Disney World (which is also crowded), Disneyland is surrounded by a metro area of 18-pushing-19 million people, a very large percentage of whom are Disney fans. It is not a stretch to imagine that many thousands of them might find heading down there on a beautiful Sunday, particularly when the park is decked out for Halloween, a decent idea. And that doesn’t count the tourists. [Side note: I looked up Disney’s attendance figures, which they don’t publish, but it’s estimated that on average 44,000 people a day walk through the front gates, and their capacity is about 75,000. That translates to a lot of waiting before you get to float by Jack Sparrow as he hobnobs with the 50-years-his-elder pirates.]
So our arrival at park opening did nothing to alleviate line wait times, but it did give us a bit more time in the park. Our previous couple Disney park visits came with a meltdown timer – the trick was always to figure out how much time you had left on it and to leave just before it ticked to zero. This time, however, it was reasonably possible that our time in the park would be limited by our exhaustion level instead. Woodsprite may have a meltdown or two left in her, but at 6 she’s pretty level-headed, and would probably fall asleep in a line for a ride or on my shoulders before she’d come unhinged. The park does stay open until midnight, though, so it was a very good bet that we would shut down before it did.
Woodsprite’s 6th ended up being an entirely fitting celebration for her. She rode all the of the thrill rides she was tall enough to ride, which included Halloween-themed Space Mountain. They project a bunch of freaky demon-ish images on the walls of the normally pitch dark ride through “space,” and frankly I wasn’t sure how she’d do. A few years earlier we’d subjected Keeper to it, immediately after which he calmly informed us that he hadn’t enjoyed it one bit, and that “no kid should ever have to see that.” So of course we put his sisters on it this time. Seriously though, it’s not terribly freaky, just loud and dark, and both girls enjoyed themselves this go around. Woodsprite couldn’t be bothered to chat up any of the characters that roam the park, or to wait in line to see any of the Disney princesses (yes!), but wore a smile pretty much the entire day.
We quickly learned the Fast Pass system, which allows you to schedule a time to ride the most popular rides and skip the majority of the waiting. It certainly didn’t cut waits out altogether, but we did get to see a decent chunk of the park.
Kids’ verdicts on the various classic rides:
Space Mountain – yes!
Matterhorn – thumbs down… too rough, not very fast, and don’t like that yeti one bit
Pirates of the Caribbean – double yes!
Haunted Mansion – meh. (they turn it into a Nightmare Before Christmas / Jack Skellington ride in Oct-Dec and I had to agree with their assessment)
Teacups – always! (I didn’t join them, and won’t ever)
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – um, what was the point exactly? And did we really just end up in hell? Weird story line.
Big Thunder Mountain – approaching best ever!
Splash Mountain – actually see the below picture, which about captures it. Firebolt is the one completely enclosed in fleece. I think she sat that way the entire ride. I was trying to make a face for the camera, but blinked. Tacco / Keeper – yes!! Woodsprite – hmm… For whatever reason, this was the only ride that exceeded her thrill threshold. Grossly. It’s blurry, but she’s in full caterwaul there, which continued all the way up to disembarkation. She did recover quickly afterwards though.
The following day we spent largely at California Adventure, as planned. Still crowded, despite its being a Monday, but at least we were ready for it. Interestingly all three kids proclaimed afterwards that they like it better than the original Disneyland park, and I have to agree that it’s extremely well executed. It’s subdivided into several “lands,” like Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, etc, but all of them (ok most of them) are based on different aspects of California’s landscape, history, and culture. I mused to Tacco in all seriousness that it takes a pretty extraordinary (and extraordinarily diverse) state to be able to pull off theming an entire Disney park on it. Which led to silly riffs on Disney Florida Adventure (Beachland and Swampland), Disney Maryland Adventure (Crabland and Old Bay-land), and Disney Texas Adventure (Brisketland, Severe Weather-land, and Everything’s Really Big-land). I keed, I keed…
It was another fantastic day, a highlight of which was Firebolt conquering her roller coaster fear once and for all on “California Screamin’” But we’re amusement parked out.
One huge plus to our neighborhood near Annapolis is how well it does Halloween. Just about every house participates and attempts to outdo each other, the parents are out in the street, there’s a party atmosphere, and all the kids are able to run around and collect candy safely. The Long Beach neighborhood in which we were able to let the kids trick-or-treat courtesy of friends of ours gave our Maryland neighborhood a run for its money. The residents had closed a few blocks to cars, rented a bouncy house, and even hired a band to play cover tunes into the evening. Tacco and I loved it, as did the girls. Keeper, though he certainly appreciated it, was left bittersweet as the whole scene reminded him too much of home and what he would’ve been doing with his friends that night had he been in Maryland. Understandable.
I left for another trip the following day and returned for the final stretch of our SoCal stay, during which our only plans were to hang out with friends.
How much time we opt to spend visiting friends and family versus having our own family time is both an as-yet-unresolved question and an interesting little dance. Having lived on both coasts and elsewhere, as well as having been in Navy squadrons which bring together people from pretty much everywhere, Tacco and my group of friends is large and widely dispersed. In an ideal world, of course, we would visit everyone we could, everywhere we went. The RV Around the Country world, however, is neither ideal nor immune to the myriad time constraints that limit our real world experiences. So how on Earth do you pick and choose?
What I personally am finding is that, like most things, there’s a sweet spot. While not once have we visited anyone and thought “I wish we hadn’t done that,” we have gone for stretches of hopping from event to event that put a bit too much stress on us and the kids, and required “down time.” Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that this trip isn’t vacation, it’s our lives. I’m also finding that it’s almost never a matter of picking and choosing who we see, rather it tends to come down to identifying opportunities and then attempting to take advantage of them with whomever might be available at the time. Unfortunately we’ve already had to miss out on a few visits with people we would very much like to have seen simply because we only have 24 hours in our days and can’t create new ones. I could spend several months in the LA area doing nothing but hanging out with people I’d like to see, but it would defeat our purpose. On the other hand, part of our purpose IS to see people we don’t normally get to see. So yes — a dance.
That said, we were very happy to be able to carve out time to spend with our friends in Long Beach. He and I have been very close since High School and they were able to come spend a little time with us in Annapolis / DC this Spring, so the kids were looking forward to seeing them again too. More importantly, though, they are a family we look up to. They married shortly after college and just sent their youngest son away to UCLA, so they’re pathfinders for us in some sense. But it goes much deeper than that – I’m sure we all have people in our lives to whom we look for wisdom… or at least we recognize the wisdom in much of what they do and say, even if we don’t overtly seek it out. This couple is like that for us.
He, Keeper and I went to a shooting range in the afternoon, as Keeper had expressed great interest in doing so and I can think of no better person to introduce him (well, continue to… he’s already been introduced) to safe and responsible use of firearms. Despite maintaining my qualifications while I was in the Navy, I’ve never owned a gun and at this point probably won’t; there are far better people than I to teach Keeper these particular ropes. He wrote about his experience here; I think it was eye-opening for him.
We joined the rest of the gang at their house for dinner and managed to rope them into participating in our where-do-we-settle deliberations over some wine, in the hopes that some pearls of wisdom would emerge. And emerge they did. I suspect Tacco will go into greater detail on this at some point as the concept really stuck with her, but they encouraged us to ensure that wherever we ended up was someplace we, and by “we” I mean Tacco and I, truly wanted to be — that was best for us. While that sounds obvious on the surface, the idea they were getting at is more subtle, and involves giving the kids less say in the process, reasoning that, though we’re all capable of making the best out of any situation, dissatisfaction Tacco and I have with where we live will trickle down to the kids. Conversely, so will overt enthusiasm, lack of stress, and productive use of our free time. Deep down I think we knew this already, but hearing it said out loud from someone you respect, without prompting, is always helpful. It doesn’t quite give us the “A-HA!” that we’d love to have (and won’t get), but it does bring us closer to our goal.
I almost forgot the fishing! Can’t believe I almost forgot the fishing. One thing I discovered when bicycling around the Navy base was a guy with his two kids fishing from one of the short concrete piers near where they pull the ships in to load the weapons. That area of the base is strictly no-go and heavily guarded when it’s being used, but is as ghost-townish as the rest of the base when it isn’t. The guy was pulling mackerel out of the water one after the other, and I stopped to chat with him, figuring that it was long past time that I took the kids fishing somewhere where they might actually catch something. Some of the advice he gave me was good (use squid for bait), the rest less so (don’t worry about asking for permission from the Operations Office, even though the sheet you sign upon check-in tells you specifically that you have to, or about getting a fishing license, either, as no one around here cares), but of course I didn’t know which was which yet. The next morning I brought the kids out to the same spot and watched as they had similar luck fishing – mackerel fight pretty hard, even the small ones! We did do catch-and-release as the guy from the day before had suggested the water was polluted enough that the fish wouldn’t be good to eat. We never got to test whether that advice fell into the “good” or “other” category though, as up drove a police car with what appeared to be both a normal policeman and his military counterpart. Oops. I was able to intercept them near their car rather than having the conversation in front of the kids, but it started fairly confrontational, with them quizzing me aggressively and a bit condescendingly on “the rules,” but fortunately once they realized I truly had no clue (ok, I had a little bit of a clue, but didn’t see the point in making that apparent) and was just an RVer visiting the area and trying to show his kids some fun, they softened. Not soft enough to let us keep fishing, though, so we packed up. Keeper had already returned to the car after learning that we wouldn’t be eating the fish he and his sisters were catching – I later learned that his enthusiasm about fishing was predicated on their being a food source. He’s nothing if not practical.
OK, that about wraps up our coast time. Time to head to the desert!