On Learning the Art of Theme Parking.

On Friday morning of our two mom/five kid adventure, we sat out for our first true undertaking – to Dollywood, the theme park.

I am quite inexperienced at the whole theme park thing – remember Disney? Yeah – they didn’t even let me in the front gate. So I was beyond thankful to discover that Not-Crazy-Renee is actually fantastically adept in the art of theme park planning and navigation.

I mean, I knew she’d done Disney with a baby (something I would never dream of attempting), but she hadn’t told me how good she was. She just quietly researched the park, and when we arrived that morning, she confidently said, “Okay I’ve studied the map and we need to go down Showstreet and through Rivertown Junction to get to County Fair which is where all the rides will be for the kids.”

I hadn’t even thought far enough ahead to fully realize that oh yeah – the rides would be separated by age.

Tip #1: If you’re going to do a crazy adventure, make sure that one of the moms is a planner, and has actually successfully gotten her family into and through a theme park.

But her planning started before we even left the hotel, when she borrowed a sharpie from Ali (what nine year old travels without sharpies?) and wrote her phone number on her children’s arms in case of getting lost.

IMG_4581 copy

(I followed up with writing my phone number on my children…slightly smaller, on the inside of their arms, and without the giant “MOM”. But nobody ever accused Not-Crazy-Renee of not being bold. Remember the Neighborhood Package Thief?)

The phone number thing really was brilliant, and all the other moms at Dollywood kept commenting at our preparedness. However, it’s been five days and my number is still on Noah’s arm. So now it’s beginning to just look like he managed to snag some young lady’s number.

(And if someone saw the way he looks at Loulie, they’d have a pretty good guess of whose phone number he wanted to snag.)

IMG_4576

But Dollywood.

The rides were really fantastic. Teacups were a big hit,

IMG_4578

As were the bumper cars.
IMG_4573

Some took it more seriously than others.

IMG_4572

The favorite ride, but also the most complex for our outnumberedness, were the elephants.

IMG_4565

IMG_4570
Ali-Dollywood-IMG_0256

Ali-Dollywood-IMG_0257

Here’s a Theme Park Math Problem For you:

Riders over 48” can ride alone. Riders under 48” must be with a rider that is over 16 years old. The baby in a carrier could not ride. There can only be two riders per elephant. Ali was over 48” and Noah, Jonas, and Loulie were under 48”. Plus, one adult had to stay off to hold Joshua, the baby. How many rounds had to be ridden to let everyone have a turn?

The answer is three, and the bonus answer is that Ali got three turns each time we rode the elephants (Perks for being the oldest.)

1. Adult/Noah, Ali
2. Adult/Jonas, Ali
3. Adult/Loulie, Ali

Thankfully, there were no lines that day, so this was relatively easy to accomplish. But since Elephants were the favorite, we ran this triple circuit multiple times. And sometimes, the kids waiting for their turn actually had a good attitude.

IMG_4575

(By the way, Noah was BARELY under 48”. If he’d been over 48”, everything would’ve been easier. Tip #2 from Not-Crazy-Renee The Theme Park Expert: I should’ve glued a one-inch foam wedge to the bottom of his shoes. I want to go back to Dollywood this weekend just to try this BRILLIANT plan.)

At first, due to my Theme Park Status of ignoramus, I was completely confused by all the different height requirements, number-per-ride requirements, and height-measuring poles. But then I began to appreciate it, because there was a ride for every situation.

Jonas got to drive a car:

IMG_4564

Loulie and Ali were able to ride a small roller coaster alone:

IMG_4566

And everyone was allowed to ride in the Bumblebee and a couple other rides alone, even Jonas and a VERY proud Noah:

IMG_4571I’ve still got the Bumblebee song stuck in my head.

We spent the majority of Friday at Dollywood, until my stamina gave out first.

We’d been awarding everyone’s good attitudes on the trip with Lego Bucks, so we stopped at the gift shops on the way out of the park for an energy pick-me-up, distributing swords and candy to the children, and delicious truffle-things to the mothers (because I am telling you we EARNED ourselves some Lego Bucks.)

IMG_4567Why yes, Noah is auditioning for “So You Think You Can Dance.” Why do you ask?

As we left, I asked Renee how much of the park we’d accomplished in our many hours there. She said about one eighth of the park. One eighth! That made me want to go back without the kids to do the other seven eighths, mostly more intense rides. But it was pretty amazing that there was a whole day’s worth of rides they could ride – it made the concept of theme parking with kids so much more doable.

(I’ve always been a little scared of theme parks. But now I know. If I can do it with two adults and five kids, I can TOTALLY do it with Chris and just my kids.)

The next day, before heading back home, we went to the Waterpark. I was even more skeptical that this would work – The odds were ever NOT in our favor.

But they had three full kid areas, plus a lazy river and wave pool.

Kid area #1 (Little Creek Falls) had two mild slides that the three oldest kids could do alone (even my very risk averse Noah (who won’t even go down the slide at the YMCA pool) went right up and did it – no coaxing required!)

IMG_4556

IMG_4558

Kid Area #2 (Bear Mountain Fire Tower) was a bit more intense – there was water squirting at every angle, and a giant bucket that doused the entire play area every few minutes. I was shocked my kids were up for this one, but they were – we had to drag them out.

IMG_4555

Kid Area #3, The Cascades, was the best kid area in my opinion – it was bigger, yet more laid back and quieter, but still had a couple great slides.IMG_4544

One of the slides was perfect for Ali to take Jonas on, a treat that they both loved.

IMG_4587

We chilled for a while at the wave pool,

IMG_4557

Which proved to be a perfect Dippin’ Dots / Cotton Candy break for everyone.

IMG_4585

Renee and I also each took a turn taking Loulie and Ali on a big raft waterslide – a slide that had way too much adrenaline potential for Noah.

IMG_4690

But the real adventure came, ironically, at The Lazy River.

Oh, I wish there were pictures.

We had decided we could do it – Renee could hold Joshua, I could hold Jonas, and the other three could be on their own floats. But the waterfall was loud and the river was somewhat crowded – and I couldn’t figure out how to sit on my float, be able to steer, and hold a two-year-old upright. I followed Expert Renee’s lead and hefted one leg up over the float, balanced Jonas on that leg, and left the other leg hanging down with which to steer, looking very much like Leg Lamp Boat Rudder. I wasn’t sure if my legs would ever go together again.

Meanwhile, Noah decided that a REALLY FUN GAME to play on the Lazy River would be (he didn’t name it this but he might as well have ) “The Drowning Game”, where he kept flipping over backwards in the middle of his float, flailing just below the water level (even though he could totally touch), allowing a couple of seconds to go by, then jumping out of the water laughing hysterically.

And no matter how hard I tried, I could NOT get him to quit playing this game.

We took two laps around because it had taken us the time of three laps to get into the river, so we couldn’t quit at one.

Tip #3: If you are grossly outnumbered by your children, leave the Lazy River to the happy romantic couples who are only dreaming of creating offspring. No need to show them what that dream actually looks like.

Aside from the Lazy River adventures, though, the waterpark was a smashing success. Everyone had a place they could play at a level they were comfortable, we stayed for six hours and the kids would’ve stayed longer, and we left with the same number of children we possessed upon arrival.

We threw everyone into dry clothes, doled out iPads and headphones, and started the journey back to Birmingham, enjoying the lovely view of worn-out, silent, double-screening children.

IMG_4549

And we congratulated ourselves. Because we were CLEARLY rock stars.

(With an honorable mention to Ali, who was crazy helpful and much needed all weekend. Tip #4: Don’t travel without a kind and happy-to-help oldest child.)

IMG_4582

Ali-Dollywood-IMG_0222

We were sure to give her many reading breaks and covertly sneaky treats that the other kids never saw. We made being the oldest totally worth her trouble.

IMG_4563

A couple days after returning home, Noah called me into his room to show me what he and his Daddy had built the night before at bedtime.

“Look Mom, it’s a time Machine. See? You turn this wheel and you can go back in time.”

IMG_4627

“Cool! Where are you going to go back in time to? Or are you going to go to the future?”

“Oh I am definitely going back to Dollywood!”

I’d call that a successful adventure.

Not-Crazy-Renee And The Dollywood Adventure.

A couple of weeks ago when we were on our way home from our beach trip, during the window of “Last Hour of the Road Trip Home” which has a very strict rule of “No serious conversations because we WILL get snippy with each other”, I got a text from my dear friend and neighbor, Not-Crazy-Renee.

IMG_4594

She continued to explain to me that she would like for me to possibly go on a road trip with her – to Maine. Which would take two 10 hour days to get there, it would include a stay for about three days, and then two 10 hour days to get back.

Just me and her. Oh – and our five kids.

Although her timing on asking me to go on an epic road trip was super poor, I was still intrigued. Because Maine. And scenery. And adventure.

So I inquired further.

IMG_4595

IMG_4595 copy 2IMG_4595 copy

IMG_4596

Despite how well I know the little-bit-crazy parts of not-crazy Renee, the ludicrous INSANITY of “can you leave 16 hours from now and put in an entire workweek in the car with five children even though you’re not home yet from your last road trip?” just stunned me.

Yet I was STILL slightly interested. Because I’m a glutton for adventure. However, our family had already made plans for the upcoming weekend and there was just no possible way to make it work. But I had been promising Not-Crazy-Renee that I’d road trip with her all summer, so I re-upped that promise and determined in my heart to make it come true – sooner rather than later.

And so I began to look around and plan – where could we take five children and not hate ourselves for it? Where could children the ages of 9, 5, 5, 2, and 9 months all have fun and not make us lose our Mommy Poop? We discussed this at length.

IMG_4593

After considering many options and trying to optimize all the components to making our complex situation actually fun, we landed on Dollywood – the DreamMore Resort and the theme parks. And ironically, our plans didn’t fully come together until the day before we were supposed to leave. So at least I also provided that feeling of thrill and panic that she had attempted to give me with her Maine proposal. And on top of that, both our husbands were going out of town, so if nothing else, we were saving ourselves from Daddyless weekends at home.

We left Thursday morning, bracing ourselves for exhaustion, screaming children, and hating life. The odds were NOT ever in our favor. But we started out knowing we were rock stars, because we packed seven people for two nights this amazingly lightly:

IMG_4547

We were already winners.

The car trip went shockingly well, thanks to half a dozen screens. Twenty minutes before we arrived, reveling in the fact that no one had cried or even whined, we started to get hopeful. Maybe we could actually handle and maybe even enjoy this adventure we’d gotten ourselves into.

Ten minutes before we arrived, the screaming began. One kid started crying, one kid started screaming because the other kid was crying, two kids began whining and covering their ears, and we began our Lamaze breathing. Childbirth ain’t got nothing on a minivan full of screaming children.

But we arrived, and they were immediately distracted from their whining by the glory that lay before us.

“WHOA! Are we staying in a castle?!?”

“Yes, yes we are.”

160818e-Dollywood

They squealed with delight and couldn’t wait to explore their new kingdom.

Dollywood_MG_3996

160818b-Dollywood

Dollywood_MG_4015

Dollywood_MG_3984

Dollywood_MG_4012

Dollywood_MG_4002

One of the first things they noticed was the recurring theme of butterflies. It became a game to count how many different places butterflies were featured in the hotel, all the way down to the toilet paper monogram.

Another feature helped the kids remember why the name Dolly Parton sounded familiar to them: the Imagination Library. Her book benches featured some of the best books she sends in that free program – including the first book, The Little Engine that Could.

160818c-Dollywood

On that first night, they were fully entertained by just exploring. The hotel, the playground, the fire pits around the pool (we didn’t make s’mores but it was fun to see other people doing it), the barn, and this old truck, which made for some pretty epic photos for Noah and Loulie’s future wedding slideshow.

Dollywood_MG_4081

Dollywood_MG_4083
Dollywood_MG_4100

Dollywood_MG_4103

(Obviously, this part of the slideshow will need to be played to the tune of “I Will Always Love You” in deference to Dolly, who provided these magical moments.)

But magic or no, the injury list didn’t take long to start piling up. Within two hours of arriving, one kid had rolled off a bed, and another kid had stuck their fingers into the opening elevator crack and panicked as they watched their fingers being sucked in.

(If this ever happens to you, yank hard on said kid’s hand. It will rip free with all fingers in tact and a much higher respect for elevator safety.)

Our rooms were beyond ideal for our situation. We couldn’t have done what we did without the fantastic layout. We had two adjoining rooms, each with a bunk room and a separate king bedroom.

IMG_4296

IMG_4293

So at the end of each night, each family had their own kid room and their own Mommy Room. Granted, Renee had to share her room with the baby, but Joshua was by far the easiest guest of the weekend. How could you not want to share with this face??

IMG_4287

And if that weren’t enough, I had a sunset view from my bed. Clearly Dolly designed her hotel with me in mind.

View-from-Dreammore-ResortYes of course I posed them for this picture. They were way too busy playing to care about sunsets.

I even took sunset pictures out the window – and Dolly cleaned her windows well enough that they came out like this.

160819-Smokies

The resort had Dolly memorabilia in every part, which led to many interesting conversations about her. Such as this philosophical conversation I had with Ali:

“So is Wood not her last name?”

“Who?”

“Dolly.”

“No! It’s Parton.”

“Oh.”

“She just owns the place so she named it Dollywood…kinda like Hollywood.”

“So a woman named Holly owns Hollywood?”

Makes sense to me.

As for Renee and I, we were quickly realizing that outnumberedness, along the number of very small children, meant that every moment of our trip was going to require a quick “okay, what’s our strategy?” conversation.

How will we get our bags in?
How will we get food?
How will we get this poopy diaper changed?
How can I go pee?

(I know that there are many families with five or more kids that probably live their whole life in strategy-mode, and I appreciate those people all the more after this weekend.)

There was a lot of “okay you take those three, I’ll take these two” and “can you watch this one for a second?” and even more of, to the children, “Do NOT tell us what you want to do. We’re here to have fun. We’ll make sure you have fun. Don’t. Ask. For. Anything.”

(That didn’t work. OBVIOUSLY.)

But despite their constant requests to do ALL THE THINGS ALL AT ONCE, thanks to Dolly and the joy of being with each other, the kids had an incredible time.


Next time, we talk about our adventures at the Theme Parks. Yes, you heard me right. We took five kids to 
more than one theme park. So don’t call us wusses.

Kidtopia.

We spent most of last week making our children’s dreams come true, as we attempt to do every year.

Okay we attempt it every day but at least once a year we actually succeed – and more often than not, it’s on this trip.

IMG_3833

The time had come for our formerly-semi-annual-but-now-annual beach trip with their best friends, AJ and Tessa (and their parents and a babysitter. But our kids may or may not realize there are other people present on the trip.)

all-kids-2

We cannot discuss this year’s trip without first going in reverse to look at the prior trips. Because they were just so dreamily adorable.

2008….

2008 beach trip

2010

IMG_9773_thumb[1]

…Including a new addition.

IMG_9836_thumb[1]

2012

IMG_2910_thumb

…Had another new addition.

IMG_6738_thumb

2014

IMG_6957_thumb

IMG_6942 copy

2015

IMG_0291_thumb

And 2016, where we now have children the ages of almost 10, 9.5, 7, and 5.5.

all-kids-2

And yes, Noah’s wearing the same swimsuit as 2015.

all-kids

And yes, Noah did smile charmingly for one single solitary picture.

all-kids-3

Our two original tagalongs have done a lot of growing, both in their height and their eternal best-friendship.

IMG_9819_thumb[1]IMG_3829

We went to Florida this year – to Seagrove Beach on 30A, to be specific. The perfect road trip stop on the way to 30A is the gem that is Florala,

160803-Florala

and their lovely park.

160803c-Florala

160803d-Florala

It’s the perfect place for a quick stretch-your-legs break.

160803e-Florala

And I do mean quick because it doesn’t take very long to crave the lovely air conditioning of the car again.

160803b-Florala

We arrived at the beach house and the children were beyond thrilled to find that the owners of our rental house were absolutely obsessed with televisions – there was one in every room, plus one in each of the four bunkbeds in the girl’s room. This discovery led to some epic mixed media chilling – four televisions plus two tablets on vacation where there aren’t screen limits? They found it nearly as exciting as the gorgeous beach.

IMG_3660

This was the first year that Noah had his own room (usually we split the kids by siblings pairs, but we let the three girls use the bunk room.) He was a little distressed by this arrangement before we arrived, but once he saw how BIG his bed was, and that he had HIS OWN TV and EVEN A CHAIR in his room and OH MY GOSH IT HAS A BALCONY(!!), he was one happy little man. As were all of his cars, which had plenty of room to stretch out and line up.

IMG_3735

Parenting really is all about the marketing.

We managed to drag them away from their many sources of Disney Junior to enjoy the fabulousness of the Gulf of Mexico.

IMG_3630

Although the kids didn’t seem to mind, the first day was a bit disappointing for us grownups who were looking forward to the shockingly clear waters of 30A, because there was quite the seaweed population happening.

IMG_3639

However, the water recovered by the next day and the seaweed moved on to irritate some other spoiled vacationers, and we were rewarded with the water we had been waiting for.

160805d-Deer-Lake-State-Park

It is really just stunning to experience in person. All you who haven’t visited the Alabama / Florida Gulf of Mexico shoreline need to give it a try. Tomorrow.

IMG_3832 2

We were even rewarded with a growing-smellier-by-the-hour puddle/stream that was perfect for placing a sandcastle right in the middle of it.

IMG_3831
IMG_3830

We took a babysitter again this year, an upgrade that I highly recommend. Giann got to do whatever she wanted all day while we played with the kids, and then at night, when the kids were way too tired to go out to eat, the four parents got a nice quiet double date out.

IMG_3816

During the other quite necessary rest times (Florida sun is exhausting, y’all), the smaller pair thoroughly explored all of the televisions,

Beach-Tessa-Noah

Beach-Tessa

And the older two stayed in the bunk room doing crafts and perfecting their three different secret codes utilized for sending messages back and forth in their between-bunk delivery system.

Beach-Ali-AJ

Chris, myself, David and Ashley and I used the kid’s daytime chill time to swap up and pair up for runs and bicycle rides, discovering such delights as the house from The Truman Show,

IMG_3649

And the local wildlife enjoying the other local wildlife.

160805-Lizard-Breakfast
I also woke up on our last day and took a long run, giving me the intense enjoyment of watching the sunrise as I ran.

IMG_3790

IMG_3814

And speaking of sunrise, you know I enjoyed sunset every night. And you’re just waiting for those pictures, right?

Wednesday night was creepy and stormy,

160803x-Storms-coming-in

Thursday night was demure,

160804-Sunset-at-Seagrove

Friday night was a show-off with its many stages,

160805q-Sunset

160805n-Sunset

160805j-Giann-in-Sunset

160805g-Sunset
160805r-Sunset

And Saturday night was determined, fighting off an incoming storm and wall cloud to get its sunset in first.

160806-Sunset-at-Deer-Lake

160806b-Sunset-at-Deer-Lake

160806e-Sunset-at-Deer-Lake

160806d-Sunset-at-Deer-Lake

As this last sunset was enjoyed on one of our double dates, we swapped out taking each other’s sunset couple pictures – because that’s what you do on a dreamy vacation.

160806c-Sunset-at-Deer-Lake

160806f-Sunset-at-Deer-Lake

But really. Seriously. The trip was totally for the children.