Our first full day in Florida was spent just hanging out at my sister-in-law, Ann’s, house and going to the beach. She made sure to warn us that because their backyard butted up against a nature preserve, you had to watch for the occasional wandering bear. The bears, it seemed, were fairly easy going. They’d knock over your trash, wander up onto your porch uninvited, and then move on to the next house. Kind of like a giant raccoon, except that IT’S A FREAKIN’ BEAR!! Between bears in the north and Burmese pythons in the south – why would anyone WANT to live in Florida? Something about sun? Yeah, ok, whatever…
The second day, Ann and her boyfriend, Bill, took us out on their sailboat for a voyage to a small island in the channel.
On our third full day in Florida, Ann and Bill took us to Baytowne Wharf, a boardwalk that had shops, restaurants, and a couple of large playgrounds. Bill said it was built by the same folks who built Disneyworld – it definitely had the same feel to that of the MGM Studios Themepark.
We walked around for a bit to find a place for dinner, and ended up near a live band. Lucy was getting a little squirrely, so I took her to see the band’s instruments when they took a break in between sets, and then we walked along the boardwalk to see the beautiful boats docked there. On our way back, we saw a handful of jumping fish – I couldn’t tell what kind they were, but they were each at least 10″ long, and jumping half their body length out of the water, I presume to catch bugs. It was a great distraction for both Lucy and I.
On our way back, the band started back up again, and I found that Katherine and my niece Naomi had found the hoola hoops that the band set out. Several kids were playing with them, and the girls had just joined them. Just before the band began their next song, the bass player asked a couple of the kids if she wanted to join the band, and reached into a box in front of him and pulled out a cowbell and drumstick. The kids all shied away from him. He just smiled and started playing. Apparently he gets this reaction frequently.
After dinner, we visited one of the playgrounds, and let the girls run off some energy before the drive home.
Our last full day in Florida was spent chilling out at the house, and packing the Explorer for the drive home. We would be returning +1 child and luggage (we brought my niece back with us), so we had to completely rejigger how we had the vehicle packed on the way down.
The first day of the drive back, we got to sleep in until 6am – woohoo! We got back on the road later than we wanted, but made good time. We bunked out at a hotel just north of Nashville that night.
The next afternoon, we arrived at Great Wolf Lodge in Mason, Ohio, an indoor water park.
We had stayed at the one in Sandusky on our trip back from Virginia last year, and the girls loved it. Naomi had never been to one, so this was a real treat for her.
The one in Sandusky was one of the oldest in the chain, so it didn’t have a newer feature called MagiQuest, but the one in Mason did. You buy a wand, and a pass that activates the game for you for a certain number of days.
Around the common areas of the hotel are all manner of treasure chests, gems, pictures, fake animals, and other items that would come to life when you waved the wand at it.
Several of the items had to be done in a specific order, and a central server would keep track of which things each wand was used on. Some of the training quests had the girls looking for runes that would unlock a larger one involving taking on a dragon.
Which both of the girls did manage to take out.
The quest for the dragon actually is an amusing substory. The girls did all the prerequisites for taking on the dragon, but then had to wait in line behind several other kids to actually do the dragon quest. The majority of the kids had to first set up a protection spell, then deflect the dragon’s fire, then stab it with an ice arrow – rinse and repeat twice, and you’ve beaten the dragon. All of the spells had to be cast by stabbing your wand at a particular spot on the dragon, and pressing the correct buttons on the console in front of you (which would determine which spell to cast at any given time). A couple of the kids ahead of Naomi failed, either by not using the correct spells at the correct time, or by stabbing at the wrong part of the dragon. Naomi, Katherine, and CJ watched them, and learned from their mistakes. When it came time for Naomi to take out the dragon, she got it right on the first attempt, but had to switch arms midway because, well, it’s freakin’ exhausting to stab in the air continually for minutes on end!
When it came time for Katherine to walk up, she waved her wand to start the quest. The dragon came on and immediately capitulated. No stabbing, no spells cast – nothing. The secret? When you purchase your wand, you can buy custom toppers that do certain things in the game. Naomi’s unicorn topper apparently allows her to heal faster. Katherine’s, however, allowed her to beat the dragon without firing a shot. One of the kids who tried it ahead of Naomi stayed around to watch the girls do it, and his jaw completely dropped when he saw Katherine’s attempt. Totally awesome.
The girls did all the quests in pairs, with CJ running ragged trying to keep up. The stations were placed on three separate floors of the hotel, and the rules stated kids on quests were not allowed to use the elevators – you can guess how often THAT rule was abused.
The girls actually managed to get on the high score board for the first day by collecting 8 runes in about a 90-minute period. There were also high score boards for gold collected and overall points. All of the boards had #1 spots held by truly fanatic fans of the game (6 and 7 figures for the latter two).
The wands will work whenever we come back to a Great Wolf Lodge with the game (as long as we buy another game, that is), so this will undoubtedly become a perennial favorite.
All in all, it was a good vacation. We saw some cool stuff. We did some cool stuff. No one got eaten by a bear. Life is good.