The Vacation

Sunday thru last night at eight, we’ve been gone on vacation.  Every year, we go to a waterpark ’roundabout the time snow is starting to think about melting.  NoTe:  An unfinished post showed up yesterday that shouldn’t have.  I took it down, and apologize – I’ll finish it and put it up again, at a later time.  I didn’t catch it, because I was busy floating.  Lousy excuse, but there ya go.  And if you want to know the truth… I almost didn’t get to GO floating.

The story begins last week, when my family called up at almost 11pm to ask if they could come for breakfast in the morning.   I said yes… but I had NO idea what was going to happen.  Anyhow, when they come over, my mom always wants to know what we’ve been up to.  Mostly?  Nothing.  I school, I tend critters, I read… we watch a movie or see a play, but mostly our weeks are very similar.  I like it that way.  So it’s not always easy to come up with ‘news’.

The ‘news’ that I came up with was “I finally got our reservations to Great Wolf Lodge made”.  Being careful, of course, NOT to tell when we were going.  I even took my calendar off the fridge and put it by my computer.  It’s no secret on this site that my mother and I have not gotten along in the past thirty years.  AT ALL.  She does everything in her power to take over everyone and everything around her, and I don’t cooperate.  This doesn’t mean that she hasn’t showed up and gotten a camping spot at the same time as us, commandeering my children or making sure we spent all of our time with her.  And it’s not just camping.  She’s horrible.  We used to go to Bronner’s at X-mess with her, but even a one day trip became a horrific nightmare, and we stopped.  We used to humor her and go sledding… it wasn’t fun.  The list goes on.  So NO, I don’t want my mother on our family’s little waterpark trip.

And please note that when I mentioned having gotten reservations, they said NOTHING about having reservations, already.  Not  my mother (who would say, “Oh, we already HAVE  *our* reservations in” if they had), not Pop who likes to share stuff, not any of their little girls.  No. One.  They don’t go to Great Wolf regularly like we do, anyhow.  And yes, you know know where this is going, but stay with the story.

Our vacation started out marvellously.  Brian got all the side work in the barn done on Saturday, while the kids and I assembled backpacks, did the last of the laundry, and started packing.  We were giddy with excitement – well, the kids have been talking waterpark since January!

Sunday morning we loaded the car, topped off the critters, and started out on our adventure!  We started north, and the snow was falling beautifully.  We went to Little Sable Lighthouse – the drive along a winding beautiful river was SO breathtaking, I tried to capture it, but… the picture doesn’t do it justice.  I was actually the only one to get out and see the light – it was c-c-c-cold, but you know how die-hard I am.  ‘Sides, I hadda full bladder.  I won’t tell you about THAT adventure, though.  LoL!!

From there we drove up to Ludington, where we will be taking the ferry across to Wisconsin, this spring… maybe.  Since we were there, we decided to drive thru town to the docks and see the big ships.  They’re docked for the winter, you know.  Owen LOVED the big boats.  So exciting.  And we talked about how they’d stow our car in the bottom, and we’d ride up in the top levels… it fun.

U.S.S. Badger.  This is the boat we might be riding on!

There are TWO lighthouses in Ludington – the Pier light, and Big Sable – which is out at the state park.  Since the pier light is just a couple blocks from the ferry docks, we cruised over and climbed out on the walkways (not very far – it was iced over pretty heavy, and c-c-c-COLD!).   But we got to see the light.  We’ll see it again on our way to Wisconsin… or at least when we camp in Ludington.  Which, btw, we’re going to have to do.  First, I hear Ludington has the second best bike trails in the state (next to GR)… and also because we drove the scenic ride into the state park, but it’s a 1.8 mile hike to the Big Sable Light – one way.  And with it being 3 degrees (and who knows HOW low the windchill was… it was fiercely blowing!)… it would be too much for the kids.  We’ll go back for a weekend, maybe in the fall?

But we DID get to see blue ice!  Well… the water shoves the ice back and up, so that it looks jagged and VERY kewl.  That in itself is stunning… but beyond that is the blue ice.  Take a look:

There are the jagged ice chunks, shoved back by the water!

See the blue peeking out beyond, peeking at us?!  Beautiful!!

Keeping on our trek up north, we kinda got lost.  See, it’s been on my bucket list to go to Leland’s historic Fishtown for a long time, now… and since we had time on that first day, we headed up that direction.  Except that NOBODY in that area posts signs.  Not road signs, not ‘Town – this way’ signs… nothing.  We got so hopelessly lost, we were driving in circles.  We found this incredible castle that is being turned into an old people’s facility… it’s very kewl.  We also found things that were crazy, like this little shed with a BIG windmill on it!

Finally, finally, we reached Leland.  It’s tiny, but full of charm, and of course Fishtown… well, if you do a search on Pinterest, the photos are just amazing.  In real life?  It was so cold that there wasn’t a SOUL around.  And I was CONCERNED about my car-cooped boys were going to shove themselves into the channel.  It was kewl, but… skeery.  And bitterly frigid.  But we went, we saw, and we braved the elements.

It was WONDERFUL to reach Great Wolf, with the crackling fireplace in our room.  We unpacked, got settled, and ordered the best pizza I have ever had in my entire life.  ((Dominos’  Memphis BBQ chicken and their Philly Steak n’ Cheese.  HomiGOSH, was that amazing pizza!  Either that, or we were starving, LoL!!))  We got everyone snuggled down and full of dreams of a full day of waterpark fun.

Now, the trick to Great Wolf Lodge is to reserve a room for one night, and let them slip an ‘Add-a-Night’ sheet under your door.  Because one night is something like $300 (with tax and fees), but with their ‘Add-a-Night’, you get another night for $119.  SOOO worth it, so that’s what we always do… but it means going down and getting the deal the next morning before going into the park.  So when Brian went down… well, we go every year, so we’re ‘premier’ guests, and apparently this year was like our tenth visit in a row r’something, so we got a $30 gift shop credit that had to be used before 11am.  So we got our shoes on, and went downstairs… we got postcards (for our collections as well as for the penpals), and each child got a GWL changepurse.  And as we were paying….

My MOTHER appears.  All smiles.  AT GREAT WOLF LODGE.  Well, look at that!  We have reservations at the same time as YOU do!  Isn’t that kewl?!  When did you put YOURS in? ((She knew when we put ours in, but this is the script, so play your part…))  Oh, well, we’ve had OURS in since December.   ((I. Call. BULLSHIT.))  They’re SOOO excited about the ‘coincidence’.  Right?  You’re buying this story, right?  And I think back and KNOW nobody mentioned reservations… but I did remember my sister disappearing into our parlor for a LONG time – ten to one, she was snooping up my calendar.  Either that or they took a guess and got lucky.

I’m NOT happy.  This is NOT kewl.  And you know what happens with that woman.  She’ll be all, “Oh, well, we want to take the kids on the slide, the girls want to play with your kids here, or there… and there goes our FAMILY vacation.  Livid.  Pissed as hell.  Do I lose it and cause a MAJOR scene in the lobby of a happy place?  No.  I’m an actress, I can play by the script.  Been doing it all my DAMN life, after all.  That conniving, lying, underhanded, HORRIBLE woman!!

Seeing my simmer, she goes, “Don’t worry – we’ll keep out of your way.  Stay on our own side of the park.”  YEAH, RIGHT!  Anyone with *any* experience with my mother knows better than that!  And it’s ONE ROOM… it’s not like you can avoid someone, there, hello!!  What a croc of crap!  Just LIE after LIE after LIE.  We’re not stupid!!

We smiled our way back up to our room, where both Brian and I agree that we are not going to have fun, with them there, if we stay.  It’s not yet 11am, so I send him downstairs to cancel our second day.  While he’s gone, the kids and I completely disassemble our room, mourning the loss of our waterpark stay.  Within the fifteen minutes Brian’s gone, we have the entire room packed, everyone back in street clothes, and he returned with luggage carts.  We’re gone before 11am.

My poor kids.  They were so looking forward to this trip.  And I wanted to salvage it, somehow.  It was Monday morning… Brian was off work until Wednesday.  There HAD to be a way to make things better. But if we did something else, it would cost double the $119 we just gave up.  DAMN it!   Well, we weren’t far from Boyne Mountain, and the second biggest waterpark (Avalanche Bay) is there, so we decided to make the hour trek up to Boyne and see if maybe we could do that, instead.  I reasoned that if we’d gotten a flat tire and warped rotor on the way to Traverse, it would’ve cost the same as the $200 extra we’d have to pay to hit another park.  Right?  Just think of my mother as a blown tire.

I’d never been to Boyne Mountain – it’s actually a HUGE downhill ski resort.  It was an adventure just going to see the hills, moguls, all those things.  It’s ENORMOUS, this picture doesn’t do it justice… it’s not even an eighth of what’s there.  But they also have a waterpark.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have a room for us, unless we got an ‘elite suite’ (for $450), and that didn’t include half our waterpark passes (extras, $65 each), and the park wouldn’t be open Tuesday until 4pm.  Um… NO.  What a joke!  There’s NO way.  No wonder everyone goes to Great Wolf.  So we drove back to Grand Rapids (by now it’s been two days and about 800 miles in a car), but there’s a tiny waterpark I know of on US131 and 68th in Grand Rapids, so maybe we could just have a little tiny waterpark adventure, instead.

That was also a bust – their park is only open on weekends, and it’s booked weeks in advance.  So I remembered a hotel on 28th Street that had a pool on the TOP of it.   We went to look at it, and it was THE scummiest thing I have ever seen… and they wouldn’t allow more than 4 guests per room, so we’d’ve had to get two rooms, and he couldn’t authorize a cot… Forget it.

We went home.  Everyone was  so disappointed.  But what to do?  Brian said he and the kids would tend critters if I would get on-line and see if there wasn’t a waterpark in Kalamazoo or Holland or something.  I suggested just doing Chuck-E-Cheese, SkyZone (a jump-pad adventure in town), and then the Flick Family Film, “Free Birds”.  The kids were/are PISSED at my mother for ruining their vacation.  I just wanted to turn the lemon into lemonade.  The Holland Aquatic Center sucked, there was nothing in Kalamazoo… but a while back I looked into Zhender’s Splash Village in Frankenmuth, and suggested it as an alternative to Great Wolf.  It’s another 3-hours to get there, but it’s only 4:30pm… we could be there in time for supper and sleep, and spend the whole day in the park, Tuesday.  So we called.  They had a room (two queens with a pull-out sofa), including waterpark passes, for under $250.  YES!

So we were home a total of thirty minutes before getting back in the still-packed car and driving across the state to Frankenmuth.  LoL!   And upon entering the hotel, we saw this:

We had just stepped into THE most magical, wonderful place!  Everywhere you looked there were fairies, elves, flowers, mushrooms, trees, grasshoppers… it was INCREDIBLE.  We were delighted.  The kids were so excited!!  Our room (177… TWO sevens!) was directly between the TWO waterparks there.  See, once upon a time, Zhenders didn’t have a waterpark.  They had a pool, but they broke it into three parts with glass blocks (VERY kewl idea.).  Part was deeper and shaped like a lap pool.  Part was shallower, with underwater benches for parents, and TWO waterfalls and little fountains for the kids.  And another part was a hot tub, that you could literally step into from either other pool!  This area also had a sauna. 

It was older, but because it was away from the *new* glam waterpark, it didn’t get much use.  So we ordered supper, unpacked, got suited up, and spent the evening in the smaller, older waterpark, where you could actually swim, do somersaults and water hand-stands, warm up in the hot tub, and then – at the end of the evening – calm down and warm up in the sauna.  We were in there until 10pm!

The next morning?

Will you LOOK at this?!  We’re not at Great Wolf, Toto!

Practically everywhere you looked, there was a critter, fairy, or flower hidden.  It was just absolutely MAGICAL!  Beautiful.  It had all the same things that Great Wolf has, but better.  The hot tub was hidden in a  little mushroom covered cove.  There were basketball hoops on woodland backs, lily pads with a snail playing centurian over it.  There were the two big slides, the fort (which was twice as big as the one at Great Wolf ) with the bucket, although only one sidewinder slide.  The kiddie area had a merry-go-round, a tree fort, a turtle you could climb on, and two slides.  The lazy river was unrestricted – you could swim it – and reeds, flowers, and frogs squirted water out at the floatersby.

There’s a tunnel directly under the bucket,
so you can snap pics as the kids are getting dunked!

And more is coming… by Fall 2014, they plan to have a HUGE addition put on the hotel.  Will you look at this thing?  The steel structure is already up – it’s pretty impressive.  They also have other things that GWL doesn’t have – they have an option where you can keep your room until 4pm for $50… in case you need a place for just the afternoon, but not another night’s stay.  That’s nice.

And there were only seven other families or so there with us.  It’s smaller, and lesser known, so it’s much quieter and quainter.  We had the slides to ourselves – no waits.  And the food at concessions was so reasonable, we just ate pretzels there (normally DON’T do that).  And the guy running the concessions was SO nice – he told us not to buy three pops, but just one larger one for $1.15… because refills are free (and he gave us three smaller cups/lids, to pour the large one into!)  It was REALLY nice of him.

We played six hours in the park before we were WHIPPED from the vacation/trip/driving.  So we went across the parking lot to Bronner’s (Largest X-mess Store), wandered a while and got a few clearance things for fun, before heading to Zhender’s restaurant, to be served an enormous four-course meal.  Then we settled back into the car, sated and sleepy, and drove home – the kids watching ‘Nim’s Island’.

We loved it so much, we’re considering changing over.  It’s certainly cheaper, half the drive/travel time, quieter, and there’s SO much to do in Frankenmuth.  I don’t know.  But our vacation was a success (the hiccup in the middle not withstanding).  We had a wonderful time, it was TOO much more… and we tried something totally new and amazing!

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