Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Epic Winter Road Trip - Wild Spaces and Family Faces

(DISCLAIMER: I post NO ads through sponsorship. This blog is a labor of love - that is not subsidized by sponsorship at this point in time.)

The night we spent at Great Wolf Lodge was fantastic. It's always refreshing to be around folks where you pick up right where you left off - despite the years passing.

This time, we headed further south to spend 2 nights with my family in Southern California. We kept the evening simple with a sushi dinner to catch up with my mom and brother. After a good night's rest, we were ready for a day outside.

As a special treat, my mother offered to take us to the San Deigo Safari Park and take us on a jeep safari through the open savanna there. The Savanna is truly what makes this place stand out among zoos. (Well, that and a robust rhino and condor breeding program.) 

 I grew up in Escondido, so it'll always be the Wild Animal Park to me, but I loved seeing all of the improvements and expansion this park has made since my childhood.

It's very different than a typical zoo - mainly because of its wide open savanna and large open air exhibits. There is no traffic noise these animals have to contend with, and the staff is top notch as well.  The savanna includes hoof stock and herbivores from around the world. Their have had a special emphasis on breeding programs have aided in keeping condors, rhinos and other species on the map. All of that, and it offers all of the things typical zoos do as well. While zoos are a problematic attraction in the world, people tend to not care about things they don't experience - including animals. For example, carved ivory is beautiful - but so are rhinos and elephants. But if you've never really seen an elephant or rhino up close - but you've seen a lot of beautifully carved ivory - are you really going to care much about the plight of those creatures? For most, the answer is saddly "No". Just as we often don't think about where our food comes from. (This is NOT be advocating. Just bringing awareness.) 

  Anyway - I digress.

The weather cooperated to a lovely 70 degrees and sunny. It was a great way to get some energy out and go see some new creatures we don't get to see in the Pacific Northwest.

To get an idea of what a trip through the savanna might look like, check out this live cam (and other live cams). 

In my tween years, I spent a lot of time at this park. I even painted faces as a voluenteer during their winter holiday Festival of Lights. This trip to the Safari Park was really special though. I'd never been out in the savanna. Seeing the animals up close and free ranging was a magical experience. The jeeps weren't too loud, which made The Impossible Girl very comfortable - and we got her a buddy from the gift shop that she could hang on to. (Never underestimate the power of a stuffed animal.) 
 I left my phone and my camera off to enjoy the experience first hand, but luckily My Sailor captured lots of photos from the day.

We hiked for miles and spent lots of time learning about the natural world and why protecting it is so important. 

The Australia exhibit was fantastic, and included a platypus area! It was dark, so we didn't grab any pictures in there, BUT I'm so glad that the San Diego Zoo Safari Park follows along with KultureCity

It truly took the 'guess work' out of taking someone with SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) to a place like this. 

They offer packs of tools at the Ranger Station (including lap pads, fidgets, headphones, etc.). While we brought our own, they have clearly posted signs that indicate that indicate when noisy areas are coming up (and headphones might be helpful), or where quiet areas are, etc.
 For those of us helping someone with SPD, we know what these signs look like, so we don't get taken by surprise and can gear up appropriately to help our SPD kid enjoy the experience. I really hope this catches on. It will help SPD folks manage as adults as well - if they have a little warning, they can prepare themselves for what's coming. 

A big request on the way out was that we find the cheetah, so we hiked around the park and tracked down the cheetah exhibit. And it certainly showed us what cats do most of the day. Sleep! 

It was a long day on our feet, so we grabbed an early dinner at a local seafood place in Escondido and headed home for a bit of a movie and some more rest. Tomorrow was the BIG day! 

Epic Winter Road Trip - Christmas Eve on the Disney Wonder

(While it's closer to Winter 2023 than Christmas 2022, I'm loving reliving this adventure, so I'm going to get this posted so I can catch up on the rest of life. I've missed writing and missed the blog - and yes, I've missed my readers, ye brave, ye few.)

On land, I am rarely awake with the sun (unless I have to be). For some reason, on a Disney Cruise, I am awake with the sun. I never want to miss pulling into a port - which is a remarkable feat of human coordination to complete successfully day after day. But there is something inherentlyt magical about the sunrise from the deck of a ship. So on Christmas Eve, I got up early to get coffee from the Cove Cafe (all coffee is included in Disney Cruise line fair except for the goodies at Cove Cafe - which are priced on par with a local Starbucks and offers a frequent buyers card). The characters they put on our lattes are always a welcome touch. 

We looked on the schedule and found that Daisy, The Impossible Girl's favorite character, was greeting that morning, so we stopped to say hi to her on our way off the ship. 

What you may not know, is this type of interaction is a really big deal for her. She almost got out of line several times and it took other kids reassuring her to get her to stay. Her knees were shaking and she wasn't sure about meeting her hero. Daisy seemed to know just how to handle it, helping keep the interaction just the right length and letting us get some great photos to remember her by. A year later, she remembers meeting Daisy and said it was a scary experience at first, but she's proud she did it anyway.

Then our Mexican adventure began! 

A bus took us near downtown and we strolled through a pavillon where a few merchants were offering wares. The Impossible Girl was struggling a bit with the change of scenery, but a yoyo at a local shop caught her eye, and that became her momento from Ensenada. We strolled down the port as she worked to master her yo-yo skills. 
We were able to walk through the waterfront district nearly completely undisturbed - aside from a few overzealous coffee shop and bar barkers. Christmas Eve is a time when many families in Mexico celebrate at home, so much of the hustle and bustle of shop keepers was quiet. The day couldn't have been more beautiful.
Art abounds on this little stroll along the port and I found the statues truly fascinating. All in all the walk was about a mile on way. While I was disappointed I wasn't able to find an open place for a legendary fish taco, we were all ready to head back to the ship for a late lunch.

I held out hope that they would do a Mexican themed meal, but alas I was a little disappointed. Not in the food. Cabanas, the on board buffet is always delicious. It would have been a really nice touch though! While the kiddo took some time to unwind in the room after lunch, I spent a little down time on the verandah enjoying my score from a local merchant. (It's been almost a year and it's still a favorite blanket in our household.)
Have I mentioned how awesome the kids clubs are on Disney ships? I know I probably sound like a paid advertisement, but I'm not. I'm just a fan of a vacation where I can actually spend some time with My Sailor. It's a rare currency in our world - and certainly makes these cruises worth every penny. 

After lunch on board and some downtime in the room, The Impossible Girl went to the Oceaneer's Club (she loves the Frozen area, complete with a modest Oaken in a steamy sauna) and My Sailor and I got to enjoy some downtime together.

We got a drink at the New Orlean's themed bar beside Tiana's Place (a New Orlean's themed dining room), played a round or two of Bingo (the only gambling on Disney cruise ships - we didn't win, but it is always a fun time), and walked a few laps on the deck enjoying some time to reconnect (and maybe be a little but Goofy).

We picked up The Impossible Girl in time for dinner at Triton's. While it wasn't really a special holiday menu, any menu is special when it's at Triton's. This dining room is more elegant than the other 2 on board (Tiana's Place and Animator's Palace). I am chagrined to admit that on our first sailing on the Wonder, we had 3 meals in this room and I never noticed this giant mosaic. 

We did the early dining, so our dinner was followed by a show. Tonight was the Golden Mickeys - a fun little show that is set up like an Oscar style award show gone-awry, including a variety of Disney acts looking to win the Golden Mickey (instead of an Oscar). It's always a fun show, and we all enjoyed it. 
Since tonight was Christmas eve, it only made sense to stay up a little late and let Mrs. Clause pop in for a reading of The Night Before Christmas. On our 2019 cruise over the same dates, Mrs. Clause was in front of the Christmas tree, but this year they opted to use a D Lounge (the ship's small stage) instead. While it was slightly less magical, the kids had a great time (especially when Mickey and Friends came out after the show). 

On our way back to our cabin, the crew was handing out milk and cookies for Santa, so we could take them back to our room. It was a fun gesture that really made me smile. Our shipmates had gifted us a small mug with a slot for a cookie in it, so we used that to make sure Santa had an appropriate place to enjoy his goodie. 

And our cabin host didn't slack on the holiday cheer either.

 Now, our kiddo has never really been about the gifts at Christmas. If you've followed previous blogs (ye brave, ye few), she's more about the fun of it. I feel like Santa could have missed us all together and she still would have had a great time. Now that Santa was coming tonight, who knew what tomorrow would bring? 

Stay Tuned for Christmas Day!