Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lest We Forget

Has it really been five years?

December 29th is a day that will always cause me to stop and reflect, give thanks for the many blessings in my life, and say a special prayer--a prayer for the Holtz and Higgins families and prayer for all my Mighty MSP shipmates who share my heartache on this day every year. I would never wish such an experience upon anyone, but having lived through it with the images painfully burned into my memory, I hope it makes me a better naval officer and leader to have experienced such a tremendous loss. I feel I owe it to COB Higgins and Petty Officer Holtz.

For background, please see this post.  Also, last year's post had a video put together by an MSP shipmate.

Sailors, Rest Your Oars.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Great Wolf Lodge, Grand Mound, WA

Hey folks!  Posting has been light because I haven't been around much to write.  This year I'm thankful to be home with my family for the holidays though.  My wonderful wife said she wanted to go someplace warm during the holiday stand-down.  Unfortunately, our passports are out-of-date / expired, so that ruled out a lot of places.  I checked around a bit and we could have gone to Hawaii, but that was gonna cost us my right arm and her left leg plus our first born son.  Instead, we settled for a visit to the Great Wolf Lodge about 90 minutes south of here in Grand Mound, WA.

In case you aren't familiar with the Great Wolf Lodge, it's a big indoor waterpark-hotel.  It's not overly crowded and the lines are never very long because the number of people in the waterpark is limited by the occupancy of the hotel (you aren't allowed in the waterpark if you aren't staying at the hotel).  It's fun for all ages - they have water slides and sections of park for wee-itty-bitty toddlers all the way up to adult-size scary swashbucklers.  (Please note:  Nobody at GWL is paying me anything to write this blog post - these are my honest opinions.)

The room rates might seem a little high for a simple hotel room, but it's important to realize that paying for ONE night in the GWL gets you admission to the indoor waterpark for TWO days (both the day you check-in AND the day you check-out.  At any other major waterpark, we would have spent way more money for 8 admission tickets x 2 days than we spend for one night stay at the GWL.  Oh, and they have a pretty good military discount, too (use promo code "HEROES").

We had previously visited the Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City during one of our drives across country.  We also went to the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, VA for my younger son's birthday a few years ago.  (You can click on those links to read the previous posts and see pictures from those visits.)

There were some nice changes this time around.  Last time when we visited the Williamsburg GWL, I really liked the waterproof RFID bracelets you use instead of a room key.  Now, they've taken that a step farther and linked the RFID chip in your bracelet to your credit card, so you don't need your wallet the entire time you're there.  Just swipe your wrist band at the cash register in the restaurant, the bar, or the gift shop and they charge it to your room.  Oh, but don't worry - the kids' wrist bands do NOT link to the credit card, so they can't go hog-wild in the ice cream parlor, arcade, and gift shop without you there.

Another pleasant change from our previous GWL visits was the food options.  This time around, there were two restaurants in the lobby, the snack bar in the waterpark, plus you could order pizza to pick up and take back to your room.  We never waited more than about 10 minutes for a table, the service was decent (not excellent, but friendly and eager to please), and the prices were reasonable (NOT Disney prices - I thought the prices were comparable to most restaurants here in the Kitsap area).

We did the MagiQuest thing again (see the Williamsburg post for a description of that).  They've now made it so you can register the MagiQuest wands in teams, so you can work on the quests together instead of each child having to tap each clue as you go around the hotel. 

Last time, I noted that the uniform of the day at the GWL for kids was either (a) swimwear or (b) pajamas.  Pretty much everyone spends the day in swimsuits, then goes back to their room to shower and put on pajamas and goes to dinner in one of the hotel restaurants.  This time, I noted that it wasn't just the kids.  There were several adults wearing pajamas going to dinner, too.  (That'll be me next time I go.) 

My only disappointment this time was that there is NO lazy river at the Grand Mound GWL.  That was one of our favorite parts about our previous two GWL visits.  We would do the waterslides for a while, and after we got tired of climbing the steps to the slides, we'd take a leisurely float around the lazy river to relax. 

Not here.

As a result, our routine at the Grand Mound GWL ended up something like this:
- MagiQuest (lots of climbing stairs inside the hotel searching for clues that could be hidden on any of 5 floors)
- Yellow slide for a warmup (I think there are 4 levels of slides at this GWL - the wee toddler size being level 1, the yellow and red slides on the fortress with the big bucket on top being level 2, then the blue and green slides being level 3, then the big insane tornado slide at level 4).
- Green slide, green slide, green slide (70 steps up each time - yes, I counted)
- Blue slide, blue slide, blue slide (another 70 steps up each time)
- Wave pool (sorta like being at the beach with an artificial wave-generator)
- Green slide, blue slide, green slide, blue slide
- Break time, more MagiQuest... climbing the inside stairs instead of the waterslide stairs
- Wave pool
- Blue slide, green slide, blue slide, green slide
- About this time my legs felt like jello and my knees gave out, so we called it quits for the day and went to get cleaned up and get some dinner.

Why did I run 3 miles on the treadmill that morning before going to the GWL?  Note to self:  Going to GWL is like spending two days on the stairmaster, so don't worry about exercising the morning you leave.

Overall, we had a great time, and we totally got our money's worth.  It's a nice getaway not too far from home for those of you in the Kitsap area (or Seattle or Portland for that matter).