A couple of weeks ago we took a big family vacation to Florida with my wife’s side of the family. This was one of those rare occasions when the wife, the kids, parents in-law, and Courtney’s brother and his wife were all able to come together at the same time, in the same place. It was hectic at times, stressful at times, but over all it was one of the best vacations I can remember…..ever.
For those of you out there that know me, you’ll understand just how out of character this is for me to say. I am in no way a person who loves, enjoys, or will usually tolerate a large crowd of people I don’t know jostling me, brushing past me, cutting in front of me, and, in general, annoying the crap out of me. I think this all stems from growing up in a “town” that as of 2013 still had fewer than 8,300 people spread out over nearly 100 sq. miles. I’m used to open spaces and room to breath, even after years of living in the suburbs of Charlotte, which has a population orders of magnitude larger than the “town” in which I was raised. Still, this vacation was a chance to catch up with family that I rarely get to see, including my oldest son who lives in Florida with his mom. It was a chance to re-tie those bonds that sometimes get frayed by time, distance, and the hectic day to day chaos that often is my life, and I’m sure most of yours as well.
We started the week off in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. It was hot and humid as expected, but not unbearably so. The crowds weren’t nearly as thick as I had expected. We were in the parks at just the right time, though, and managed to land roughly halfway between the Spring Break madness and Summer Vacation swarm. Even the lines for rides that we didn’t have selected for Fast-Pass moved remarkably quickly, and I don’t think we waited more than about 20 minutes or so in any one line. We managed to hit all of the real popular rides including It’s a Small World, Space Mountain, Winnie the Pooh, and Dumbo, which my two year old daughter thought was the best thing ever. Without intending to, we managed to time our wanderings through the kingdom so that we were able to catch one of the street parades which was absolutely fantastic (again, WAY out of character for me). The dancers were well choreographed, the characters were amazingly done, and the animatronics were phenomenal, complete with fire breathing dragon machine-monster from one of the newer movies I haven’t seen yet.
We went to Kennedy Space Center next, which was probably my favorite stop on this trip. After the bus tour of the actual launching facilities, we were able to visit the Saturn V rocket display that paid homage to the moon landings of the late 60’s and early 70’s. I have to admit that during the opening, when the video played an excerpt from John F. Kennedy’s famous address at Rice University, I got choked up when he said the famous words, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard.” That single line has always represented what is best about the American people, and indeed about humanity (for regardless of what anyone tells you, we didn’t make it to the moon on our own). When we choose to stand up, and to do the hard things, we can achieve damn near anything we can imagine together. As much uncertainty, doubt, and at times, fear that I feel for my children and the world they will inherit from my generation, that single thought returns every time to give me hope. After the Saturn V display, it was back to the main center to check out the orbiter Atlantis and the amazing story of the NASA shuttle program. My youngest son actually got to hold a piece of the skin and a heat shield tile from the shuttle. He asked some very deep questions about the materials and their constructions, and the NASA engineer at the display was impressed to the point he received a souvenir coin for curiosity. The crowning moment of the day, though, was the launch of the SpaceX rocket. That was the first launch I’ve ever seen in person, and even from nearly 7 miles away, it was unbelievable. The color of the flame propelling the rocket was unlike anything I’ve ever seen and the noise seemed to fill every inch of air and ground around us. When the Orion rocket takes flight for the first time, I will be there to see it.
After Kennedy, we took a day off to rest and recuperate. There was rain in the morning and hot, humid sunshine all afternoon….Florida at its best. We walked around the shops of Downtown Disney and marveled at some of the best Lego art I’ve ever seen. The kids had fun, for the most part, and they got to share a frozen strawberry drink while Momma and Daddy enjoyed concoctions of our own from the same Cuban restaurant (hint, mine rhymed with Bohito). After the much needed day off, we spent the next full day at Epcot. This was my first trip to Epcot since I was very very young, and the only one that I can actually remember. It was a really cool experience to tour the countries and see the different cultures on display. The kids got passports and had them stamped at each “port” by people representing that culture and country, and they enjoyed it immensely, though my two year old was sometimes disappointed that the stamps went on her passport and not her hand.
After Epcot and another day of rest, we ventured into Universal Studios. That park was more my kind of place than the Disney parks, and the rides were amazing. We started with the Hulk, and moved around to most of the major roller coasters from there. It was another long and full day. By the end of it all, we were drained and exhausted, and the real impact of this trip hadn’t settled in yet. I think it’s only just beginning to really hit me just how special a time this really was. My family very rarely took grand vacations growing up that I can remember. For most of my childhood, my dad lived someplace else while working for the US government in one capacity or another, so most of our “vacations” involved going to see him and spend time with him. I don’t regret those trips…far from it, in fact. Those seasonal adventures were where some of my best memories were formed and I treasure them even more now that he is gone.
Looking at my kids as we walked through the parks, and thinking about those days since, I have come to the realization that as fun as this trip was, and as amazing as the rides, sights, and exhibits were, they really weren’t the point of the whole thing. It wasn’t so much about the moment we were in, but the memories that we were making. Memories that, years from now, when I am gone from my childrens’ lives in all but their thoughts and their hearts, will hopefully bring them a smile…