Hold On Daddy's Coming!

Stories, rants and reflections by a clueless father of three

Archive for the tag “travel”

Mario-Karting Through Tokyo Is A Thing You Can Do and It’s Glorious

When someone told me you could actually drive a go-kart through Tokyo while dressed as your favorite Mario character I really didn’t believe it. And apparently I’m not the only one….

Indeed, MariCar is a Tokyo-based company that is not affiliated with Nintendo, Mario, or anything having to do with the game that makes this activity so nostalgically amazing. I’m told this was all the subject of contentious copyright litigation. Evidently MariCar has some amazing lawyers.

Anyway. A group of friends from my command organized a 90-minute tour around the streets of Tokyo and it was on…like Donkey Kong. Oh yes.

We started in Yokosuka at the Navy Base and headed over to the train station. It’s about an hour and fifteen minutes to some place called “Akihabara”, which is the launch point for the trip. Meanwhile, “Akihabara” is super fun to say.

Navigating the Tokyo train system as a newcomer is not fun. I got through by repeating “now what am I supposed to do?” to my patient Japan-based friends each step of the way.  This is far more desirable than actually learning the system.  

Eventually we arrive at the MariCar location. They verify that you have an international drivers license and collect $50 – a small price to pay for a night of pure glory.

Now for the important part: picking a costume. I intended to go as a legit Mario character but the group was already saturated with Marios and Luigis. So, Jackie and I went with Toy Story.

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Some members of the group were a bit more courageous and in no way is that a bad thing…

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Having paid and dressed, we head out to the garage.

Now for the safety brief. The company rep asks us questions and gets a kick out of giving those who answer imaginary gold coins. As it turns out, they don’t allow you to throw bananas into the road, and this whole thing isn’t a race per se, its actually just a tour.   Regardless, the entire time I’m fantasizing about living out all my favorite scenes from Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.  I’m sure it was a great safety brief.

We hop into the cars and they divide us into 5 person groups, each of which gets an assigned lead driver. Ours was sporting an amazing cat outfit and kinda didn’t speak English.  This worked out perfectly.

Ready, set, go!  

And there I was, driving through downtown Tokyo at sunset dressed as Sheriff Woody. It was fantastic. Unfortunately the initial rush didn’t last long, as our leader blew through a light just before it turns red, leaving half the group separated at a busy intersection. The cars straddle a busy intersection and the leader hops out to navigate the rest of the group to weave through a few cars and perhaps a bus or two. And that’s when I grabbed my camera…

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Right about here is where it dawns on me: the fact that this whole thing is legal is a legit miracle. I mean, here I am making a mess out of local traffic without the slightest idea where I’m going and how to drive on the left side of the road…all while cars and busses go whizzing by just feet away.  But, whatever. “Hey guys let’s get a picture!”  

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You’d think locals would hate everything about this operation, but quite the opposite seemed to be true. We found ourselves receiving applause and thumbs up virtually every step of the way. It was incredible. I mean, just imagine a business in the United States that encouraged foreigners to drive on legit city roads.  It’s actually horrifying.

About 45 minutes into the trip we stopped at the Tokyo Skytree for pictures. I’ve already taken hundreds, but when you’re gallivanting around Tokyo dressed as Sheriff Woody this is just what you do. Besides, any given picture could be that magical Facebook pic that says “I’m an adult with responsibilities but I also like to party.” Cheese!

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We hop back in and drive. The course is a mix of highways, cross roads, and narrow alleys, and the route is not self-explanatory. Indeed, during our picture break someone tells me his lead driver got lost and had to use Google maps to get back on track. I don’t recall this being an option in Mario-Kart, but then again this is MariCar, which is totally different.

As for speed, these things go about “60km,” which means nothing to me because I’m from America and don’t use the metric system. It was fast enough.

Eventually we hear the sirens of a cop car. But the sound is ridiculously loud.   In addition to the siren I hear a man barking orders in Japanese from some megaphone. Apparently this is a regular thing here.  Fortunately he wasn’t coming to arrest me (although being dressed as Sheriff Woody would make for a great mug shot…).  This guy means business, so I make sure to get the heck out of the way.

About 90 minutes into the trip and we arrive at the garage where this adventure began. But we’re missing the fifth member of our group. None of us can recall how long she’s been missing. Uhh, whoops…

We notify our lead driver that a member of our group has gone missing. I’m guessing something got lost in translation, because immediatley his eyes light up with joy as he declares “THAT MEANS YOU WIN!” 

Umm…

Minutes later, our entire group was reunited safe and sound.  Everyone provides assurances they will send the pictures they took.  

Frankly, the trip was glorious.  I cannot conjure up a better, more fun way to take a tour around Tokyo.

If you have a pen, put Real World Mario Kart on your bucket list immediately. And if you’re ever in Tokyo, run – don’t walk – to the magical place where they give you a car and a costume and let you tear up the city at night. I mean, the worst that could possibly happen is someone gets lost. And you know what that means?

THAT MEANS YOU WIN!    

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Our ‘Classic Guam’ Dolphin-Watching Experience

This week, I decided we needed some dolphins in our lives.  I mean, why not?  Dolphins are super cool and there are no penguins nearby, so this is a no-brainer.  Bonus: the boat launches from the neighboring town of Agat, which will make this an easy voyage.  Yea Dolphins! 

We packed all the essentials – water bottles, sunscreen and Pokemon cards.  Because you never can be too prepared.  

We also brought friends.  Well, I should say Jackie brought her friend Sabrina and the kids brought some of their friends (Sabrina’s kids…).  None of my friends came.  See, if my wife fails to make arrangements for me to hang out with other dudes, it doesn’t happen.  My reliance on her literally stretches this far.  

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Not pictured: Any of Jim’s Dude Friends

We get to the Agat Marina around 10:15 but we cannot head to the boat because Dwayne Johnson is singing our children’s favorite Moana song.  We’re not going anywhere until it’s over, and frankly I have no problem with this.  You’re welcome, kids! 

So we’re in the parking lot and already this adventure has all the makings of a legit Guam experience: no signs, no customer representatives, and no boats preparing to take people out.  There’s also no clarity on what time this thing actually starts – indeed, the brochure says 10:15, but our voucher says 10:30, and some random guy tells us this thing starts at 10:45.  Classic Guam.   

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No information, no problem. 

While we wait, the kids feed fish in the marina with goldfish. I assure you the irony in real-world fish eating Pepperidge Farm Goldfish is not lost on our four year old.  “DADDY!  THE FISH ARE EATING THE FISH!!!”  

Why yes.  Yes they are.  

We set sail as expected, right at 11:00. Before we even get out of the marina, the kids begin identifying all the amazing sea creatures they somehow see.   Brody sees a dolphin and sharks.  Jimmy sees a whale.  Riley sees an octopus…  

I see adorable liars.  

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A few minutes into the trip and the kids see Flying Fish.  But for real this time.  And who knew fish could fly?  Add this to their list of things that apparently exist.  

These fish have a legit superpower, and watching them in action easily occupies our group and about 30 asian tourists for the first 15 minutes of the trip.  Unfortunately, these little suckers are hard to photograph.  

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It’s a fish that flies.  Or is is a bird that swims?   

Right about here is when the boat started serving lunch.  The menu?  Sandwiches and water.  Only, the sandwiches are made of nothing but cake frosting.  Oh yes.  It’s a frosting sandwich.  Inevitably, the kids will ask me if they can have desert because they ate all of their sandwich.   And indeed they should be rewarded with cake.  

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Eat fresh, kids.

So. The boat keeps going out and we get word that there are dolphins in the area.  And sure enough there’s like eight of them swimming together. I’m super excited because we now see dolphins and that was the whole point of this trip.  Mission Accomplished! 

But another part of me is bummed because there’s a money back guarantee if you don’t actually get to see dolphins, and I was kinda hoping this whole thing would be free.  So it’s a mixed range of emotions.  

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Priceless

Anyway, we watched these dolphins for about 15 minutes while they entertained us tourists.  They’re mesmerizing – I could stand and watch them all day.  

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After the dolphin viewing we head out to some other remote area where we would be for the remainder of this excursion.  Upon arrival, the captain tells us we can fish or swim. Our kids don’t get many opportunities to fish cuz I hate touching those slimy suckers.  But there’s a crew here to take care of all that, so naturally we’re taking this opportunity to do some fishing.

Two minutes in, and Brody’s pole is trying to pull him overboard. I seize the rod from him and reel in a sweet-looking blue fish.  A member of the crew informs us that this particular fish has something on its gills that, if touched, will make grown men cry.  A solid reminder of why I despise touching fish… 

The crew member puts the fish into a bucket.  This will become relevant later.  For now, suffice it to say Brody is a proud fisherman. 

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Nearly an hour of fishing would yield zero additional fish. I’ll add that I definitely underestimated how much physical labor goes into assisting a bunch of young children with bait, rogue hooks, and intertwined fishing lines.  Which is conducive to this…

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Got er! 

Before the trip was over I went snorkeling. Despite Guam’s status as a mecca of underwater creature observation, I don’t do this often because (a) it’s too quiet, (b) sharks eat people, and (c), fish can apparently fly so who knows what else they’re capable of doing.  But with dozens of tourists in the water I figure I have math on my side.  

I will say, what’s amazing about these beautiful fish is that you can actually watch them poop.  It’s so cool! But thats about it.  

Eventually the captain tells us it is time to head back. Right about here is when the kids begin begging to keep the fish that Brody caught.  Our neighbor Vivian reminds me that she has a tank at her house the fish can live in.  That would be a beta fish…

We brief the kids on two potential courses of action.  Option One: we let the fish go overboard so it can be with its family.  Option Two: we keep the fish and it dies immediately.  

So which option did they choose?  I’ll let the suspense build for a second…

The kids unanimously vote for Option Two, despite the well-known fatal consequences.  Fortunately, the votes counted for nothing and there never really was an option, per se.  We let the crew keep the fish and I am quite certain he was fried that night.  But the kids don’t need to know all the details…

Before we reach land, I strike a perfectly creepy Titanic pose.  

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Feeling on top of the world!

In all, we went swimming, fishing, and saw some really cool sea creatures. We filled up on some frosting sandwiches, and I watched fish poop.  How could one ask for a better day?  

This is the kind of family time I need more of in my life.  It was a small reminder of why we agreed to come to an island in the middle of nowhere…  

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It was classic Guam.

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Our Wild and Crazy “Family Vacation” in Paradise

Vacationing with small children is a wild, exhausting, action-packed, drama-filled, Kodak moment-waiting-to-happen adventure suitable for those most brave, fortunate and reckless of parents.  I’ve pretty much said this before.  And in my family, it goes a little something like this:

The madness that was our recent trip to Aruba began right out of the gate.  Literally.  After landing, and then dragging four carry-ons and two diaper bags off the plane, and then weaving my way to the baggage claim, I notice something very odd.  Someone’s toothbrushes, sunscreen, big-boy underwear and other items are making their way around the conveyor belt, and everyone who was on Flight 829 from Baltimore is totally getting a kick out of this.  Whose luggage was it?  I’ll give you one guess…

Next stop: our all-inclusive beachfront resort where they serve endless amounts of French Fries drenched in nacho cheese, super-greasy chicken nuggets, and delicious fruity beach drinks.  This will be my meal of choice for the next nine days.  It’s a menu from Heaven – unless you actually mind undoing seven months of intense exercise in about four days.       

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Before I get too far ahead of myself, I should mention that in addition to my family (two adults, three kids) our group consisted of an additional five adults and seven kids all packed into four hotel rooms.  It’s a gloriously-chaotic compilation of nieces, nephews, and in-laws.  Ten kids.  Average age of the little ones?  Three and a half.  There were ten of them. 

Our time spent at the resort was an awesomely-tiring circus of fun and craziness.  Here’s how an average day would go down:

3:00am: baby wakes up.

4:30am: baby wakes up again.

5:00am: baby…

Look, anyone who can maintain their baby’s sleep schedule throughout the course of an international vacation really has this parenting thing down.  Furthermore, baby Brody had an ear infection and I’ve found that when you’re traveling, you’re only ever as happy as your least healthy child.   

6:00am:  Jimmy decides he’s ready to be up for good.  

Quickly and quietly, I surrender and take my oldest outside so my still-nursing wife and the other kids can get a few minutes of uninterrupted sleep.   See, when our family of five shares one small hotel room, each night brings with it yet another hostage negotiation, and these kids know they have all the bargaining power.  They’re cute little criminals.   

Don't be deceived...

Don’t be deceived…

8:00am-10:00am: kids play in sand nicely while mom and dad enjoy coffee and conversation. 

Umm, just kidding.  The kids are probably arguing over who had the pink bucket first… at least that’s what I gather as I hear a chorus of toddlers screaming “MINE!”   Or perhaps it’s a scuffle over the rightful owner of an incredibly popular Thomas the Tank Engine toy.   The purple sand shovel?  That’s “MINE” too.  If you’ve ever been on a trip with a bunch of kids, chances are you’ve said “you can share” many, many times.  Or my personal favorite: “well, take it back from him.”  Either way it’s gonna end in tears. 

The aftermath...

The aftermath…

All of this leaves me wondering why I’m drinking coffee when I could be drinking bourbon.   I’m kidding, of course.  The bar doesn’t open til 11… 

10:00am-11:00am: get ready for the pool. 

Getting small children ready for the pool truly is God’s work.  If you’ve ever seen how ghostly pale I am, you’ll know that we’re rollin’ to the pool with sun shirts, sun hats, and lots of SPF 75 sun screen.   Spray-on sunscreen is amazing, but the best way to cover a face is the old fashion way, which can get sloppy.  So imagine all this happening while two toddlers scream “MY EYES!!!!” at the top of their lungs.   

Ready to swim?  Almost.  All we need is our flotation devices and ear plugs.  And one last trip to the potty.  Oh, and JUICE! 

I may need a vacation from all this vacation…

11:00am-2:00pm: pool time.

Time spent at the pool is legit family fun time, and involves a lot of playing a pretend “silly” lion, or launching kids up in the air as far as humanly possible, or contests to see who can make the most amazing football reception while leaping into the deep end.  It’s all good stuff.   

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My wife and I keep those kids swimming as long as possible because every two minutes spent in the pool adds another minute to naptime.  It’s science.  And when you’re vacationing with small kids, each hour of naptime is like a stick of pure gold.  You treasure that stuff.   

2:00-3:00pm: shower and prep kids for their naps.

Getting multiple sandy children to willingly take a shower is painful, and once in the shower, getting them out can be twice as difficult.  I find bribing them with Skittles helps move this process along quicker and with fewer tears, but if you have a better method please let me know. 

3:00pm-5:30pm: naptime.  

Now quick!  Grab a drink, take a deep breath, and enjoy every glorious moment of childless conversation.   And remember the cardinal rule of naptime parenting: you wake ‘em, you take ‘em.   

NAPTIME!!!!!

NAPTIME!!!!!

6:00pm-8:00pm: dinner.

If there’s one way to ensure you’ll get terrible service and judgmental looks from strangers, it’s walking into a romantic restaurant at its peak busy hour and asking for a “table for 14 plus 3 high chairs.”  Predictably, once we’re seated it’s nothing but chaos.  Picture broken glass because someone didn’t use two hands.  Picture a toddler in timeout because he was climbing on the table and yelling for no reason. Picture a scene as loud, wild and destructive as a group of college students on Spring Break… only louder.  THAT’S what it’s like dining at a table for 14 plus 3 high chairs. 

CHAOS!!!!

CHAOS!!!!

8:00pm-10:00pm: keep kids occupied until bedtime. 

This usually involved long walks, contests to see who could make one of the babies laugh the hardest, or dance parties – and indeed, some of these kids can really shake it.   At this point I’m down for pretty much whatever it takes to bridge the crucial dinner-to-bedtime gap; however, that does come with a few caveats.  Climbing rocks?  “Just be careful.”  Running around the pool?  “Be careful.” Dancing around a cactus?  “CAREFUL!”

Which brings me to my point: I don’t understand why I tell my children to “be careful.”  It’s as senseless as “it is what it is,” and as unhelpful as when you lose your phone and some genius says “well, it’s gotta be SOMEWHERE.”  Lesson learned: “being careful” means nothing to my children – particularly Jimmy, who actually did fall on a cactus.  I guess that just is what it is… 

Not my fault.  I told him to be careful...

Not my fault. I told him to be careful.

10:00pm: bedtime. 

How do we go about capitalizing on this newfound freedom?  We go to sleep cuz we’re exhausted and this whole process will repeat itself in the morning.   

So yea, that’s what it was like vacationing with a bunch of kids. 

Timed family photo fail...

Timed family photo fail…

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering what it’s like getting a flight out of Aruba, apparently this is the process: you stand in line to check in, and then check your bags.  Then you stand in a line to have your passport checked, after which you stand in another line to have passport “verified.”  Then you stand in line to go through security.  Once your shoes and belt are back on, you make your way to “US Departures” where you grab the bags you just checked, and then stand in line again to go through another layer of customs, after which you go through security.  Again.  And then you check your bags.  Again. 

It was every bit as long and painful as a tax audit.  Or a Redskins game.  At one point I actually wondered if this was the island’s way of punishing me for not attending a single timeshare presentation.   Perhaps I’ll never know. 

What I do know is this: in a few years, these trips will be relaxing and rewarding.  But for now, while the kids are this young, I’m simply thankful that it was indeed a very rewarding nine days in paradise. 

Cuz let me tell ya, there’s nothing relaxing about a table for 14 plus 3 high chairs… 

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