Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Orlando, Florida

Feb 16
We’re now departing Orlando after a fun-filled two weeks. Our friends Julia, Matt, Sophia, and Alex flew home to California yesterday, welcomed by rainy, stormy weather and a power outage at their home! We miss them already. One of our favorite days was the day before they left. We just stayed at the resort and enjoyed the activities there including tennis, paddle boats shaped like swans, miniature golf, bike rentals, and of course swimming. At one point, we had 8 players on one tennis court….what a hoot! Having kitchens in the condo gave us the added flexibility of prepping meals while the kids swam and played. The best dinner was Julia’s turkey burritos, and we all caught up on conversations missed over the last year and a half.

While here, we were busy visiting all four parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios) along with a trip to the water park (Blizzard Beach) and also to the game site of Disney Quest. On Valentine’s Day, Julia hid chocolate hearts for all the kids to find, and gave them each a Disney character pen. On our last day, Alex and Sophia gave our boys a complete bag of magic tricks! Sam was especially excited to learn the magic coloring book trick, and Robby stayed up late one night working on tricks with Thom.
We’re heading east to the Atlantic where we hope to find a good camp ground on the beach. Now it’s time for school.

Feb 13
Yesterday we stayed at our room and had a school day. We’re reaching the saturation point! The boys asked if we could just stay here and swim instead of going to a park. So I proposed a school day, and although they weren’t crazy about the idea, they didn’t resist. Matt, Julia, Alex, and Sophia went off to the Animal Kingdom and had a nice afternoon. They came back and cooked up a big Mexican burrito dinner for all of us!

Then we drove over to Disney’s All-American Music Hotel where we had a lovely evening with Roger, Tammy, Parker, and Jackson Hoselton. We also met Tammy’s brother, Brian who is visiting from North Dakota. The Hoselton’s are friends from Delta Junction, Alaska and it worked out great to be here at Disneyworld simultaneously. The kids all swam together, and then Parker and Jackson shared their toys and guns for out-of-the-pool action. We brought Thom’s guitar, in hopes that Roger would treat us to some live entertainment. He did! He sang some new songs like the Alaskan Rooster and Welcome to the Deltana Fair, as well as old favorites like Mini-Me’s, This Old Black Guitar, and Lexapro. Yes, this brought back so many fond memories of Ft. Greely, Alaska. It was great seeing them again.

A couple days ago, we picked the warmest day to go to Disney’s Blizzard Beach. It’s a terrific water park with about 8 different large water slides, a lazy river encompassing the park, and a huge wave pool resembling the beach. Thom, Alex, and all our Besch boys shot down the challenging “Summit Plummet” where a single person drops straight down a chute reaching speeds up to 60 mph! I expected one of them to get cold feet up there, but nobody did. They all loved it, but weren’t willing to stand in the hour-long line again for a 2nd run.

That evening, Thom and Matt took all the kids to Disney Quest, the 5-story building packed with video and interactive games. Julia and I went to a piano bar with dueling pianists. They’re phenomenal. Two pianists play songs on request from the audience. There’s no music or lyrics, and these two men knew what to play. They were great, comical entertainers as well. Julia had never seen dueling pianists, and she could really appreciate their talent since she’s an excellent pianist herself.

Feb 10
Whew, now it’s late after a full day at Epcot with our friends. Even though our own family was just there three days ago, we had a terrific time exploring parts of Epcot we hadn’t seen yet. The weather was ideal, and for the first time, we all applied sun block. New things for us included Test Track, where you get to try out “new cars” on things like bumps, heat, cold, and speed. “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” was an interactive show we enjoyed.

For me the best part was walking though the countries of Epcot. We laughed at a street performance of King Arthur comedians in Great Britain, listened to drummers in Japan, and the best stop was seeing the Italian juggler. He took a liking to Sophia, and called her up as a volunteer. She’s a terrific 9-year old athlete, and that’s exactly what he needed. She was given a net, and then caught every ball thrown to her. By her 4th or 5th catch, the crowd was clapping and cheering her on. The juggler instructed Sophia to run way back behind the crowd. He threw the ball at least 100 feet and sure enough, she caught it in her net! Sophia was beaming!
We then watched the Chinese acrobats again, some of which are only about 10 years old. After that, we went soaring on Soarin, followed by the spectacular fireworks show again. Now it’s time for a good night’s sleep.

Feb 10
It’s a quiet Tuesday morning here. The boys are still sleeping at 9am, after a full day yesterday at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Our friends Julia, Matt, Alex (12), and Sophia (9) flew in two days ago from San Francisco! As I mentioned earlier, our last visit was when they came to Alaska a year and a half ago. It’s great to see them, and all our kids are having a blast together. They’re treating us to a time share condo for a week. So our motor coach is parked nearby, while we’re staying in a beautiful 2-bedroom condo. There’s so much space! The boys noticed the gigantic Jacuzzi bathtub in Thom’s and my bathroom right away. Then there’s a nice kitchen, dining area, living room, and screened-in porch with a table and chairs. We’re right next door to Matt and Julia’s condo, so the kids zoom back and forth between the two places. In addition, we’re next to a fairly good-sized pool and Jacuzzi. The kids went for a swim both nights so far.

Yesterday was the first park day for our group at Hollywood Studios. Once again, Robby was the planner and navigator. He knows his way around all four parks quite well now. We’ve got the “fast pass” routine down well. The longest lines for the big rides can be as long as 2 hours, with wait times posted in front of each ride. You can get a fast pass for a ride by using your entry ticket. Then you come back to that ride later and there’s only a 10 or 15 minute line for the fast passers.

So we went on Tower of Terror, Aerosmith’s Rock-n-Roller Coaster, Toy Story Mania, Star Tours, and the Great Movie Tour. Disney’s shows are first class, and our group saw the Great Stunt Show, Indiana Jones, and Fantasmic. For the stunt show, we sat in the grand stands which seats thousands of people. They had at least 10 stunt cars which performed an amazing chase scene in a French village setting. Then there were about 5 motorcycles that did another chase scene, which included some seedoo’s getaway stuff. The highlight was when a car went up and jumped off a big truck, landing on a 2nd truck’s roof, and then finally landing on a huge airbag. One of the motorcyclists caught on fire, which was part of the show, and then the crew came out and sprayed him down.

I think my favorite was the roller coaster. I rode it three times, but Ben topped that by riding it four times! Most of it was in the dark, and it accelerated immediately at the start. Ben and I missed the Fantasmic show because we were on the roller coaster a bit too long. He said it’s OK since he liked that ride so much. But our friend Alex told us that Fantasmic was his favorite thing all day.

By the time we came back to our room last night, we were starving and exhausted. The guys cooked up steaks, sausage, and hot dogs, while Julia prepped a healthy salad. The best part of the day was relaxing with good friends, eating, drinking wine, and then sitting in the Jacuzzi!

Feb 7
I didn’t mention too much on my last update about the Animal Kingdom. We spent a full day there, and enjoyed it more than most zoos. We rode on their safari jeep amongst the lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes, ostriches, and gazelle. They were all very active with the cooler weather, instead of just sleeping in a corner like we often see on a warm zoo day. We didn’t see the lion chasing the gazelle, although they were in the same vicinity. Thom said it’s because they feed the lions so well. ….pretty amazing to see.
We rode the Mt. Everest roller coaster, the scary Dinosaur ride, but skipped the water ride because we didn’t want to get wet. It was a chilly day. In the middle of the Animal Kingdom is the Tree of Life. It’s an artificial tree, but huge and the coolest thing is that it’s been personally carved by many famous artists. You can see all kinds of animals, birds, and insects carved into the tree. We also visited the petting zoo, where we watched a funky llama wriggle his head around in a weird way each time he reached one corner of his large area. We finished up at a great theatrical performance of Nemo, with live dancers and singers impersonating the beloved characters.

A couple days later, we decided to take a break from the Disney excitement. Thom drove us to a place in Orlando he visited a long time ago. He pulled up and announced we were at “Sky Venture.” Sure enough, we all signed up for our first experience flying in a wind tunnel! Thom’s been skydiving for years with over 100 jumps, so this wasn’t new for him, as you can see from his picture. But the rest of us were a little anxious as we went through our training. Angel was our instructor, who’s also a gymnast at Cirque de Soleil nearby. Sam’s now decided this is what he wants to be when he grows up!

After the training and putting on our flying suits and helmets, we proceeded to the wind tunnel. We all did really well! I went first, and had one minute in the tunnel. The wind blows straight up from below. With my instructor’s help, I simply fell forward and held the classic position with my legs and arms out. The wind blew my body up and I bounced around a bit into the walls and back down. Angel caught me, reminded me to straighten my legs a bit, and up I went. Each Besch boy then followed, one at a time. They all did really well, getting a feel for the new phenomenon. Sam had such an amazing back arch that he kept sinking down. Angel helped him straighten his back out to catch more air for lift. Ben was a natural, and his little body started zooming upwards right away. Thom said the instructor actually stepped into the wind to bring Ben down a bit! Robby’s legs were floppy at first, but he quickly got the hang of it. Will was a little stiff at first, but relaxed and soon was flying as well. Along came Thom, who needed no help from the instructor. Thom easily maneuvered his way around, catching air and quickly moving upward. We then each had a 2nd turn, again for one minute. Everyone improved, and Angel flew along with each of us to get us higher up in the wind tunnel. It was a blast. Thom attempted to flip over onto his back, but Angel quickly realigned him saying we could only fly in the beginner position. Thom understood, but was hoping to do some of his old stunts for us. Then Angel gave us about a two–minute demo of some pretty incredible stunts. We each received a flying certificate.

Later that day, we linked up with Cyndi Landers at a radio station. She works for 592 FM, along with five other radio stations in the Orlando area. Thom and her husband, Mike went to NPS (Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey) together about 15 years ago. Cyndi treated all of us to an eye-opening tour, which included time in two on-air personalities’ studios. Yes, they were on the air while we listened in! Shadow had country music going, while Hildy hosted classic rock. Robby and Will asked many questions, while earning credit towards their communications merit badge for Boy Scouts! Cyndi was then so kind as to give us t-shirts for all the boys from the radio station!

We then zoomed over to Disney’s Polynesian Hotel to meet our friends Anne and Jim Clifford. We haven’t seen each other since our last visit to Florida 11 years ago. They brought a variety of cheeses, bread, nuts, Greek salad, Jim’s homemade pumpkin pie, Anne’s apple crisp, strawberries, and chocolates. Oh, and a nice bottle of French red wine from the Rhone too! So we sat and visited, while the boys swam in the huge pool with a water slide. We all enjoyed Disney’s 8pm fireworks show, as well as the 9pm Boat Show with lights. Anne and Jim then came over to visit our home on wheels. It was great catching up with them again. All in all, it was another wonderful day in Orlando!

On Saturday, we explored Epcot. This is my favorite park. It’s huge, with so many things to see. There’s no way to cover it in a day. I think you could visit each of the other parks in a day, but not Epcot. We all loved Soarin, where you fly over the favorite places of California. Mission Space made me a bit queasy, as we accelerated and spun into space as astronauts. The part I enjoyed the most was exploring the countries around Epcot’s big lake. We watched a belly dancer and enjoyed lunch in Morocco, saw Chinese acrobats, went on a boat ride through Norway, and watched a wood carver from Africa. I was pleased that the boys recognized many things from our recent travels to Europe. Every night at 9pm, Epcot puts on a fabulous fireworks show called IllumiNations. Once again, Disney impressed us with music, a glowing and changing floating Earth on the lake, and of course wonderful fireworks.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Disney World and Tampa, Florida

We are in the midst of our Disney escapade. Only Thom has been to Disney World before, and that was over 20 years ago. It’s really a new adventure for all of us. The boys used to say that everyone they knew had been to Disney at least once…when could we go? So here we are for two full weeks at the happiest place on Earth.
We’re camping at Disney’s Fort Wilderness, which is a first-rate campground. It’s huge, with 3 different bus routes just within the campground. From what we can see, it’s close to capacity but extremely quiet. Not many children and young families are here, yet it’s a favorite destination for retirees. Many people camp here for 3 months, and Thom even met a couple who’s here for six months! They set up their yards, complete with Disney character lights and signs marking their families’ names and site numbers.
We bought 9-day park passes….. can you imagine 9 days of Disney?! So far we’ve logged two full days, to include the Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom. Disney is awesome. It’s not just the big things like Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Everest roller coaster that make it great. It’s more subtle things like spotting a robotic recycling container which looks identical to a trash can. The boys spotted it at Animal Kingdom as it zipped around talking with people. The trash can asked Sam where he’s from. When Sam answered, “Alaska,” the recycler replied, “Psst, I have a little secret. Tell your parents that Disneyland in California is a lot closer!” The boys loved it. Then as we were walking to Asia in the same park, we spotted a Disney entertainer camouflaged as a walking tree along one of the paths. She was marvelous, and posed for a hundred pictures.
Robby is working on his Family Life merit badge for Boy Scouts, and one of the requirements is to plan a family event. So he researched all the parks, and is our official guide. He has the map, briefs us as to where we’re going, and runs ahead to get fast passes for the big rides. This cuts down on the time we spend standing in lines.

Weather has been chilly, with lows in the 20’s and highs in the 40’s. We’ve been heading south for months in search of warm weather….where is it?? Luckily, the forecast predicts weather in the 70’s next week. Our first day at Disney was a soaker; fortunately we had our rain coats and the lines weren’t long anywhere. A little damp weather never slows down these Alaskans!

We were delighted to discover that our Alaskan friends, the Siers Family, are here. John and Susan called us the night we arrived. Their son Chance is Sam’s best buddy. So they joined us at our campsite for dinner, and Sam was in shock to see Chance all the way here from Alaska! He just stood there looking at Chance. Later on, Sam said he thought it was a boy from the campground, and he didn’t know it was Chance. Soon, they were running all around. We went to a marshmallow roast hosted by Chip N Dale, along with a sing-along cowboy. The guy called on John, and couldn’t believe he was from Alaska!

Chance celebrated his 7th birthday today, and Sam was able to spend the day with Chance and his family at The Magic Kingdom.

Next, Julia and Matt are flying in from California with their children Alex (12), and Sophia (9) on Sunday. They’re treating us to a week at their timeshare! Wow, a real hotel. We’re all so excited to see them. They traveled up to Alaska to visit us in the summer of ’07. They earned their “happy campers’ rank” as we toured all the way down to Homer with two pop-up trailers. Now we’ll spend a week together at Disney.
Another family we can’t wait to catch up with is the Hoselton’s from Delta Junction, Alaska! Roger, Tammy, Parker, and Jackson are arriving next week to escape the winter cold. Tammy home schools the two boys using the Calvert curriculum (same as ours). She influenced us in a very positive way as we made the big decisions regarding home schooling. They also took care of three of our boys last May when Ben underwent eye surgery in Anchorage. Roger is the talented songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist who many of you know or have heard sing in Thom’s retirement slide show. We’ll be sure and bring the guitar next week when we get together around the pool.
Tomorrow we’ll be visiting with Anne and Jim Clifford, friends from FL who I’ve known since my single days back in Southern Calif. We’re meeting at Disney’s Polynesian Resort so the boys can swim.
I should also mention amidst this fun and socializing that our boys have accomplished two full days of school since we arrived Feb 1. I wasn’t sure if this would be possible, but as it turns out, the breaks are good. Will awoke today with a stiff neck and could hardly stand up. Too many rides on the roller coaster? It could just be from a bad night’s sleep on the air mattress. Anyway, I was happy to lay low for a day since my legs were aching from all the walking. The boys are all now past the halfway point with school for the year!
Before we arrived in Orlando, we enjoyed a few days at McDill Air Force Base near Tampa. It was the weekend of the Super Bowl, so all campsites were booked. That’s OK. We “dry camped” which means no hook-ups. We had a good supply of our own water, and the campground provided showers and laundry.

We really enjoyed catching up with Chris, Sue, and Justin Miller who live at McDill. Thom and Chris attended the fellowship program at Univ of Texas at Austin together about 4 years ago. They had us over for a delicious teriyaki chicken dinner, complete with chocolate-dipped strawberries that Sue and Justin prepared! They have four precious puppies which our boys adored and played with the whole time. Even when the pups were exhausted from playing, Sam continued to check on them napping. He wants a dog so badly.
We also stopped by Paul Ostrowski’s home for a valuable visit. Paul and Thom worked together about 12 years ago, and Paul is now a Colonel in acquisitions at McDill. He built an incredible home in Tampa, which he designed with eye-catching archways and refinished antique furniture. The kitchen is a dream, and to top it off, he added a built-in pool and hot tub in the back yard. The boys went for a quick dip and now want a house with a swimming pool. Thom and Paul discussed the world of work, and opportunities currently available. We hadn’t considered Tampa, but we’re open to all possibilities. Thom truly enjoyed working with the soldiers as an acquisition officer, meeting their ever-changing needs. This might be just the right job for him.
Since we were in the Tampa area, we drove through the downtown area as well as Ybor City the day before Super Bowl Sunday. It was crazy! There were definitely more Steelers fans and jerseys, compared with the Cardinals. We went rollerblading along Tampa Bay, enjoying the beautiful sun and gorgeous homes.
Just north of Tampa is where we camped a bit earlier. The KOA campground had a small heated pool that the boys enjoyed daily. This was a good stop for school. They completed Test 80 for Calvert, which is exactly the halfway point…yeah! We had a chance to visit with Frank Riley, Wendy’s Dad. Wendy is our sister-in-law up in New York and she put us in touch with her Dad. Frank brought us fresh lemons and grapefruit from his own yard. The boys squeezed them for lots of lemonade and fresh grapefruit juice.
We’ll be here in Orlando until Feb 15th. Then we’ll make our way to Florida’s Atlantic coast, near Cocoa. Thom’s parents will fly in for 5 days to visit. I’m sure looking forward to Louise’s help as a teacher! She’s great with the boys. We may even get a chance to see the shuttle launch from Cape Canaveral.