On Sunday, we hopped on the company plane, flew to Houston, and drove to Galveston for our first ever family vacation. It was an exhausting trip, but we survived, and the boys had a great time!
First Flights for Jonathan
We intentionally picked a short, wide-open flight for Jonathan’s first. That way if it didn’t go well, we wouldn’t bother as many people, and it would be over quicker. DAL-HOU is nearly as short as we could get, about 40-45 minutes in the air. After much debate over whether to bring their carseats onboard or to check them, we chose to check them. The boys had their own seats and sat very nicely after getting buckled in. I sat with Brenden on the way down and Jonathan on the way back, letting them watch part of a movie on my new iPad with kid-sized headphones. Jenny had their bag with a portable DVD player, paper, stickers, and other goodies to keep them entertained. Jonathan was a bit nervous at first, especially during takeoff, but didn’t seem bothered by the pressure in his ears. Later he said his favorite part was flying through the clouds. Brenden handled it like a veteran flyer.
Rental Car / Test Drive
We’d rented a standard mid-size car at Hobby. I was pleasantly surprised when they offered a Mazda5 SUV-minivan-crossover thing at no extra charge. We’ve been thinking about replacing our Grand Caravan with a Mazda5 in a couple of years, so this gave us the chance to test-drive it. As expected, it’s a cross between my Honda Fit and a minivan – sliding side doors, slightly longer and more spacious with an extra row of seats or storage in back, good gas mileage, and very comfortable. My only real complaint was the stereo, which needed more bass. I need to be able to crank Baby Got Back with feeling, and the Mazda5 just wasn’t up for it. That’s probably fixable, though. Brenden liked the vehicle so much that he wanted to take it home.
Ferry and Beach
We rode the free ferry across the bay. It was the boys’ first trip on a ferry, and a friend had told Jenny it was a great way to see dolphins. And the friend was right. The bay is teeming with dolphins. We probably saw a few dozen. Each sighting was brief, so watching for them required a level of patience that the boys didn’t quite have yet. But they did see a few and got really excited.
Then we played on the beach for a while, their first trip to the beach. Lots of firsts on this trip! We went to Stewart Beach, a family-friendly public beach across Seawall Blvd. from our hotel. The beach was free, but parking was $8. I’ll be honest. I’ve been to some amazing beaches (Ambergris Caye in Belize, Orient Beach in St. Martin, Panama City Beach in Florida, several in Hawaii, etc.), but this wasn’t one of them. Some of the other beaches in Galveston are probably nicer, like the ones I remember from childhood trips to the island. However, this year at Stewart Beach, the water was muddy, the sand was dirty, and the beach workers’ only concern seemed to be managing the rental chairs and umbrellas. But it was cheap, close to the hotel, and had sand, sea, and freshwater showers. More importantly, the boys had a blast digging in the sand, playing in the water, chasing seagulls, and just running around carefree. Brenden played Godzilla with any sandcastle that we built and immediately demolished it. None survived long enough to get a picture.
Grapevine Mills Mall features a Rainforest Cafe that I’ve seen numerous times but never patronized. Since we were on vacation with the boys, we gave it a try and were pleasantly surprised. Yes, it’s a bit expensive, but the food was MUCH better than I’d heard. My macadamia-encrusted tilapia tasted fantastic, as did Jenny’s bacon-wrapped shrimp. The theming is Disney-level, with animatronic elephants, gorillas, and anacondas plus simulated thunderstorms and authentic-looking rainforest trees. Our server was obviously comfortable with children and provided excellent service. After a bit of debate, we chose to try the Volcano, a ridiculously huge and amazing dessert that probably contains as many calories as I burned in Hotter’N Hell on Saturday. We ate all of it but one piece of chocolate cake.
On the drive to Rainforest, I was shocked to discover that a longtime Galveston landmark had been torn down. The Flagship Hotel, formerly one of the only hotels in the world to be built on a pier, had been demolished and replaced with a small, questionably named amusement park called Pleasure Pier. Apparently, the hotel took major damage from Hurricane Ike in 2008.
We stayed at the Best Western Plus on the east end of the island. It’s nothing fancy, just clean and cheap with decent free breakfast and a beach across the street. They let us check in early, which was very helpful. The toughest thing about the hotel was sleeping with the boys. This time we wore them out during the day, put them in separate beds while we got ready and checking our mail/Facebook/Twitter/etc., and waited for them to fall asleep. Once they did, Jenny moved Brenden into bed with Jonathan. It worked great until about 4:30am. One of them woke up and woke the other one up, and after that they were done. Jenny and Brenden swapped places. Finally, after some talking and tossing and turning, everyone went back to sleep.
Overall, it was a great trip. We learned some valuable lessons that we hope to apply for the Disney trip in January. Unfortunately, Jenny and I started off exhausted after Hotter’N Hell on Saturday morning and insufficient sleep the night before, so we weren’t in the best of moods until we got home Monday and napped for a while. The boys were tired as well after playing all day Sunday without a nap and then lack of sleep Sunday night. But instead of being grumpy like I was, they simply chose not to obey and seemed to have a flawless ability to push our buttons at the worst possible time. So the trip stressed Jenny and me out significantly, but the boys had a wonderful time, which is the most important thing. They already want to go back.