Friday, August 19, 2011

Traveling with a Toddler: Galveston to Houston.

Thursday was our big water day. We thought we were going to hit Schlitterbahn Waterpark just as soon as it opened at 10 a.m. Well, that didn’t happen. And it wasn’t because we slept all that late, either.

I was working on my regular writing when Hunter got up around 9:30. We got through our morning routine, got the hubster up and started the packing job.

I have to tell you… I have become a master of the quick pack. When I go from city to city working this job, I know exactly what I’m carrying with me. I can pack down the computer, get everything into my small rolling back and be out of a room in five minutes flat. I’ve always added another 10 minutes to get Paul up and out. For a toddler, though -- let’s try an additional hour. If not two!

Part of that is my need to be organized. That means separating out all the clothes -- the clean ones, the dirty ones and the ones worn once that aren’t so dirty. The really dirty ones are easiest to figure out -- those go in the laundry bag, and they’ll stay in the car when we go to the next hotel. The clean ones are carefully repacked, the others on top. There’s a sock check, to make sure every sock is retrieved, even if it’s wrapped in a sheet or duvet. There’s a swimsuit check, too -- I’ve left far too many swimsuits over the years on the back of hotel bathroom doors.

There was getting all the materials together for my research. There were all of Hunter’s toys to scoop up. There was getting the ice chest packed with ice and the contents of the refrigerator, packing the dry stuff, putting up the computer and packing up Hunter’s potty. There was making sure our stuff for Schlitterbahn was packed separately -- towels, clothes to change in afterwards (we all wore our suits over there), camera, sunscreen, snacks and pool shoes.

And then there was getting a cart, packing it and taking it downstairs. I estimate it took us just over an hour to complete all of that. That number startled me. It took us about 30 minutes to pack up after our one night at the Livingston, TX Holiday Inn Express (a very nice property with nice people, btw) so I hadn’t expected the delay.

And then there was the small matter of acquiring a snack that wouldn’t fill us up too much but would satisfy our hunger. After all, I’d had my breakfast of fresh fruit and cheese at 6 a.m.; Hunter had her yogurt and banana at 9:45 and Paul hadn’t eaten at all. In the end, with the car already packed, we drove into town and hit the drive-thru at Whataburger (not to be confused with Feltner’s Whatta-Burger) and then drove back.

Technically, we didn’t need to repark at all -- Schlitterbahn Waterpark is right next door to the Moody Gardens Hotel. But I am glad we did. We found a family just leaving and pulled into their spot, which was about a half block from the entrance. It didn’t matter much going in but it sure mattered a lot coming out.

Now, while I’m at it, I need to mention something to you. We had our deal in hand when we went up to the Guest Office and got our wristbands. But I did see the rates on a day at the waterpark. It’s about $45 if you just walk up and pay and go in -- $63ish if you go online and get admission and a souvenir cup and towel.

Let me say this: If that’s what you pay, you’re not paying attention. There are deals everywhere. You can get a package deal if you’re staying at the Moody Gardens Hotel. I bet you can get deals at other area hotels too. Online it’s $2 less for admisssion. If you decide to go later in the day, you can get in a lot cheaper -- for about $34. Just do an online search for “Schlitterbahn Galveston Deals” and you’ll have all sorts of possibilities. There you go.

So we get over there and through the gates (funny, on one side it says “No alcohol allowed inside the park” and on the other it says “No alcohol allowed beyond this point.”) and the first thing we really notice is the big tiki style pavilion in front of a wave pool with a big overhead sign announcing the park. And it’s all that Swiss-German sort of design. Crazy.

We rented a locker, found it and deposited all of our belongings, including overwear worn into the park. It was just enough room, if I smushed it a lot.

Now, there aren’t a lot of photos from here on, since I didn’t have a waterproof case for my camera and frankly, who carries a camera in a waterpark, anyway?

We found the kids area first, and got Hunter accustomed to the idea of being in the water. Paul and I were both nervous Hunter would balk at the water, after her experience at the beach a few days ago. Not to fear -- she saw all those kids roaming everywhere and jumped right in, running up to the top of the pirate ship and staying there… not sliding down, not climbing down but just playing on the top of the amusement, just out of reach.

We did talk her into going with us to the lazy river, and I’m glad we did -- because I think that’s what we liked the most. We started off by boarding tubes at the Torrent River beach. Schlitterbahn offers these two-seater tubes along with the one-seaters, and we found one that was marked “Child Safety Seat.” This one had been adapted with the addition of a plastic bit across the second hole -- a great place for a child to sit. Paul helped me get Hunter into it, then he boarded a single tube and we all set off down the stream.

The Torrent River is connected to the other two lazy rivers on site to make up one big circuit. We went around the Torrent River once with Hunter, just to make sure she was okay with the whole setup. The Torrent River has waves and can be swift in a few places, but is for the most part a typical lazy river style attraction. Our next trip around we took the option of heading out on the Krystal River, which goes around a good section of the park and which is slower. We got around to the Whitewater River and took a neat flat designed escalator for tubes, which took us up in elevation and dropped us off at the top of a set of rapids.

I was apprehensive about taking Hunter on the rapids, but she’d been hollering “faster!” for some time, so I wrapped my feet around her and instructed her to hold onto the handles. And she did. And she loved it -- so much we went around the whole Whitewater River course twice in a row. We would have gone a third time but I was concerned about Hunter and I getting sunburned. We’re both very fair, so it’s a concern.

We wound back around the Torrent River to the beach where we had originally boarded and then walked back over to the Wasserfest Kids Area, where we had started. Hunter was so enamored with playing with the other kids that we decided to stay there. Paul was going to originally take on some of the many slides around site, but we were both already starting to wear out. I retrieved the sunscreen and beverages and got us cooled down and sunscreened up.

The Wasserfest area of the park, as it turns out, becomes the winter version of the park. During the colder months, a selection of screens and windows and plastic windows are put in place to hold in heating. It’s a neat and novel concept. Rates are lower in the winter, since you don’t get as many attractions, but it’s still pretty awesome.

Paul and I wore down quick. After four hours at the park we were both toast, but Hunter was still going. It took a lot of talking and a promise to let her take a dip in the next hotel pool to get her to come out of the water and get changed.

The only complaint I had about the Schlitterbahn Waterpark were the changing area/bathrooms. They were hot. So hot, in fact, that I had to change me and Hunter in stages. I know, it’s hot outside and maybe the idea was to keep people comfortable, but boy wouldn’t a fan or two have made things better!

By the time we got Hunter in her sundress and out of her swimsuit she was starting to show a little drain, too. We slowly made our way back to the van, where I pulled cold beverages out of the cooler and passed them around. Hunter was asleep before we got on I-45 -- I suspect she was asleep before we left the whole Moody Gardens compound.

That was a long trip - the one from the waterpark into Houston to where we were staying. Those 48 miles felt like six marathons. We were all beat!

That being said, when we got to the Embassy Suites in downtown Houston, we were received cordially. The parking option is valet, just so you know. I went in and checked in, hair all stringy from the park, t-shirt and shorts… but they still treated me as if I was their special guest.

And our room. Wow. Another neat room. The Embassy Suites Downtown Houston is a new property, LEED certified and just nifty as all heck. Our room consisted of a living area with a desk and an L-shaped couch, flat screen TV and a couple of very strange tables. There was a little kitchen area with a half-sized refrigerator, microwave and coffeemaker, a huge bathroom with vanity and walk-in shower and a bedroom with a huge king-sized bed.

That description really doesn’t cover it, though.. It’s just neat. Neat neat neat. The doors are painted with that hard shellac sort of yellow paint that will never need to be touched up. There are great design elements everywhere -- beautiful Millenium Eco designs featuring reflections of plant life. There was this fabulous mirror with a modern Celtic knot design over it.

And then there was “Punchy.” Hunter walked through the room with me when I was taking my photographs. She thought the couch was neat and the sink in the kitchenette was cool, but what she most took a shine to was a little decorative plant. She named it Punchy and started carrying it with her everywhere around the suite. I was concerned there would be an issue with parting with the plant when it came time to leave.

We went down for the Manager’s Reception, where free snacks and beverages were being served. This was actually quite nice, since we were rather road weary and a snack was well in order. Hunter perked up a bit with some hummus and chips.

Still, we were exhausted, so exhausted that when I went through the options for dinner and mentioned delivery, Paul and Hunter BOTH breathed a sigh of relief. We found a Thai place that delivered to the hotel called Padthai Thai (I kid you not) and ordered some Pineapple Rice and Beef Pad Thai and Spring Rolls. The $30 for food and tip was a little over our budget, but since we hadn’t had a full meal anywhere else throughout the day it still kept us under the $50 a day food allowance I had hoped to stick with (and which we’d busted the night before with that $87 spent at Landry’s).

Afterwards we went to the pool, but were surprised at how cool it had become. Officially it was 80 degrees, but the wind whipping across the pool on the 3rd floor made it seem much colder. Paul and Hunter took to the pool, a neat long pool that goes from three to four feet deep, changes colors with special lights and which has heated jets of water arching into it. Hunter also loved the little fountains at the end of the pool. I had a nice soak in the hot tub before coming back upstairs. I think I started to fall asleep before they returned a short time later.

And all would have been perfect -- except for the oddity of all three of us sharing a bed. I had thought it would be fine, since Hunter regularly crawls into bed with us each morning. However, I didn’t take into account her fingernails and toenails, which were due for a clipping. Egads.

Still, I had to suck it up and get some coffee the next morning for the trip to the Space Center.

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