Turning 50 wasn’t so bad after all. It’s hard to be bummed about anything when you are on a beautiful Caribbean island with warm sun, soft sand and crystal-clean turquoise water. Especially after five months of freezing your butt off in freezing New Jersey while on sabbatical in Princeton.
We decided to go to St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, for my birthday when I looked at the calendar and saw that it was the same week that Shea wanted to go back to California for Brooke’s Bat Mitzvah. I came up with the brilliant idea of putting Colman on the plane to CA as well, and John and I could go celebrate on our own.
(Poor Ginger had to go to a kennel. But we put her in the exclusive All Good Dogs kennel: costs twice as much, but no cages, no loud barking, no stink, and the dogs are actually happy there.)
Snow was falling as drove to the airport. We loved our week in the sun. This So Cal girl needed relief from the constant cold. Our cottage did not get cell phone reception and did not have wi-fi, so we got a break from the buzz of technology as well. It was also our first real vacation without the kids, and we felt so blessed to know they were in good hands with trusted friends.
We loved the vibe on St John and the beautiful turquoise water. The snorkeling was not on par with Hawaii, but still fun. My underwater camera bag did not leak, and I got pics of a stingray and a shark. We lucked out and stayed in a charming cottage owned by an artist.
I learned a fun vocabulary word this summer when we took a hike through Bryce Canyon: hoodoo. That’s what they call these bizarre spires of rocks that make up Bryce Canyon. As we trekked a three-mile trail, I felt like I was walking through a Tolkien book . . . or on another planet. We kept making up stories about dragons or other supernatural creatures that must come to life at night in these totem-pole-like rocks.
Look at the bottom right and note hikers making their way through these weird rock formations.
Hoodoos form strange sculptures that look as if they could topple over any minute.
Many of the hoodoos seemed to have faces.
It was hot.
Dramatic and eerie at times.
We hiked with just water bottle, a couple apples, some nuts, and a bad map. After an hour I was praying that the loop really did loop back.
Tunnels and caves at times.
Shea in the hoodoos.
One tunnel made the wind blow.
Tall hoodoos make you think of a higher power.
Hoodoos made us think of castles you make at the beach by dripping sand.
We made it back alive after hiking through all this!
Mount Rushmore attracts tons of visitors who ooh and ahh at four towering American heros carved out of a countain. But did you know the project was never completed?
Here’s a photo we took on our trip across country this summer . . .
Impressive, of course! But after we viewed the movie about the monument that went on and on about what a great tribute it is to American ingenuity and tenacity we saw what the original model looked like . . .
What happened? Looks like a job half done! We asked the park ranger why the sculpture was never finished. Worked stopped on the project in 1941 after 14 years because other priorities came up and funding dried up. Neither the taxpayers nor private parties ever came up with funds to complete it. So it was just pronounced completed. The cost: $989,992.32.
Did you know there is a cave behind the carving called the “Hall of Records.” It was intended to house the story of Mount Rushmore but was never completed due to lack of funding as well.
So much for American ingenuity and tenacity. We visited the Crazy Horse Monument down the road before we went to Rushmore, and found it much more interesting. That huge undertaking has taken a lot longer to get going, but at least they are still blasting away.
The Crazy Horse Monument: Right Down the Road From Mt. Rushmore
In a cross-country family drive, you can’t miss Mount Rushmore. But did you know 17 miles down the road is another must-see sculpture carved out of a mountain? We stopped by to see the Crazy Horse Memorial, and found it more impressive than Rushmore. Started in 1948, the Crazy Horse sculpture is still in progress and when completed, it will be the world’s largest sculpture. I’m a little torn about carving up a sacred mountain, but I gotta admit the site–which includes a museum and lots of history about the sculpture–is fascinating.
At the top is Crazy Horse's head. The white markings are where the head of his horse will be. Scroll down to see pics of the models.
The sculpture’s final dimensions are planned to be 641 feet (195 m) wide and 563 feet (172 m) high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet (27 m) high; by comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mt. Rushmore each 60 feet (18 m) high.
What we found to be most impressive was not just the size of the undertaking, but the fact that is has all been done with sheer tenacity in both the carving (by blasting) and in fundraising. Unlike Mt. Rushmore, which received tax dollars, this project receives no federal or state support.
The project began when Polish American sculptor Korczak Ziółkowski, who had worked on Mount Rushmore received a letter from Chief Henry Standing Bear, which stated in part “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.” The project became a lifelong work for Ziółkowski, who died in 1982. In fact, his whole family, including his wife, Ruth, and their ten children worked on the Crazy Horse Project.
The site includes models the artist made so you can see what it will look like. It also includes a film about the project and a museum with lots of history so you can see how a mountain can be blasted with enough precision to make a sculpture. The museum also focuses on the sculptor and his family and includes a Native American Cultural Center with lots of artifacts and art.
Model of the sculpture in the museum with the mountain in background.
The museum includes lots of info about the sculptor and his family.
If you are planning to see Mt. Rushmore, schedule half a day to also visit the Crazy Horse Memorial. Well worth the cost of admission. Bring camera. If you want more info, visit the Crazy Horse Memorial’s site.
Plan Ahead for the Best Legoland California Discounts
Legoland is fun, but expensive. With adult one-day tickets almost $70 and child tickets almost $60, taking a family quickly adds up. Parking is $12. Plus you will need to eat and maybe shop.
But if you plan ahead, you can save a bundle. Here’s some tips on how to get free Legoland tickets, the best Legoland coupons, and the best deals at Legoland California. I’ve used these tips to save at Legoland San Diego, but they may work with other Legoland parks as well.
Join Lego Club. If you have ever purchased a Lego set or received Legos as a gift, you received an invitation to join Lego Club. You probably just tossed the card away. But joining Lego Club is a great idea. Lego Club is totally free! Club members get a free subscription to Lego Magazine, which comes about every other month. And Lego Magazine often has coupons for discounts at Legoland and other special offers. Sign up by sending in the card that came with your Lego set, or even easier just sign up online. There is no downside really to joining because you do not get a bunch of junk mail or spam. Plus the magazine is fun for Lego lovers. It has the latest sets and news about Legos and is well designed. (As a graphic designer, I give the magazine top praise.) Offers in the past have included a free child admission to Legoland.
Join BrickMasters. BrickMasters is not free. You pay about $40 to join for a year plus about another $5 for shipping. What this buys you is six exclusive Lego sets sent throughout the year. If you are a Lego lover, it is fun when the new set comes in your mailbox. These sets are not big, but they are exclusive, which means you cannot get them in any store. In addition, you get a couple coupons for $5 off at Lego.com. The way I look at it, that basically gives you free shipping if you want to buy at Lego.com. Sure, you can get Lego sets at other places. But Lego.com offers “Pick-A-Brick,” a way to buy individual pieces you can’t get anywhere else. Plus you get six BrickMaster Magazines a year. These are similar to the free magazine you get with Lego Club, but with more pages and better coupons. Best of all? BrickMaster gives you a coupon for a free child admission to Legoland with a paid adult! Your free child ticket comes in the mail. If you are planning a trip to Legoland, it makes sense to join BrickMasters just for the free child admission coupon.
UPFATE: Lego recently announced they will be replacing BrickMaster with another program in 2011. Lego has a special offer letting you order the 2010 LEGO BRICKMASTER exclusive sets and magazine content in one shipment. It includes the free entry coupon. No word yet on what will replace BrickMaster in 2011.
Join both Lego Club and BrickMaster. Even though the magazines are similar, it makes sense to join both Lego Club and BrickMaster because you get more coupons that way.
Get a Legoland Membership PLUS Pass. If you think you will go back to Legoland more than once a year, it makes sense to look into getting a membership PLUS pass. You get free admission plus free parking and a discount at the shops and restaurants in the park. Getting a pass is a great deal if you live near San Diego.
Buy an annual Membership PLUS pass for one child. Believe it or not, this pass may make sense even if you never visit again. That’s because this PLUS pass comes with a free guest pass! The default is for that pass to come to you in the mail for a future use. But if you ask, you can get the free pass that same day! In addition you get free parking. If you already paid for parking, ask for a refund and they will give you back $12! In addition, you get 20% off at all Legoland restaurants and 10% off at shops. It saved us a bundle even if we never go back. If you do get a pass, you will get special offers throughout the year that may include an additional ticket for a friend at another time. For more information on Legoland passes, see its FAQ page.
If you get a one-day ticket and wish you had got a two-day ticket or a membership pass, check with guest services before you leave and you may be able to apply the price of your ticket toward the other ticket or pass.
Check for a Local Legoland Promotional Deal. If you live in Southern California or have friends and family who do, watch for promotional deals. Sometimes Legoland will partner with another business such as a restaurant to give out buy-one-get-one coupons for Legoland California.
Check for San Diego Savings Deals on Legoland. Many San Diego area tourist websites offer Legoland discount tickets and Legoland vacation packages along with other San Diego tourist sites.
Check for Costco Legoland Deals. If you belong to Costco, check out its latest deal for buying discount Legoland California tickets. Costco often has great deals on Legoland. You can find these at any Southern California Costco.
Do a Keyword Search for “Legoland” and “Coupon.” You can often find a deal for $8 off per ticket or sometimes more. Do a search on Twitter as well.
Use Auto Club Legoland Discount. Be sure to show your Auto Club card if you buy tickets at the gate at Legoland because you get a discount. Check the AAA site. Often it is 10% off.
Use an Airline Legoland Discount. if someone in your family works for a commercial airline, they can get a discount on up to six tickets. Check the website for latest offer, but it has bee 20% off.
Use a Military Legoland Discount. Active military get a discount at Legoland. Check the website, but it has been 10%.
Consider a Legoland Hopper Ticket. Legoland recently added the Sea Life Aquarium right next door, which requires separate admission. In June 2010, the world’s first Lego-themed water park will open at Legoland California, covering an area of 5.5 acres and featuring everything from waterslides to an area where guests can build their own raft. If you think you want to visit the water park or aquarium as well as the original Legoland, check out special deals for “Hopper” tickets that allow you to do more than one park for a discount.
Save on Food at Legoland. If you don’t want to spend a fortune on food, you can bring a picnic. However, you will have to eat it on the grassy area outside the park. Remember that annual pass holders get a discount at all restaurants in the park . . . just remember to show the card. It is easy to forget. Check out the kids meals . . . they are usually a better deal.
Don’t Waste Time at Legoland. Nobody wants to pay for waiting in lines. Lines for popular Legoland attractions can get long and you can end up waiting more than an hour in line. Try to avoid going to Legoland on the most popular days. Try to go to the most popular attractions first before the lines get too long. Bring a phone or ipod or other little game to entertain yourself while waiting in line. Wear comfortable shoes.
Review the Legoland Site. Before making your plans or purchasing tickets, be sure to review the Legoland website. It shows all the rides and attractions so you can get an idea of how to plan your day or days at the park. It also gives you the height restrictions on rides.
Don’t Buy a Poncho at Legoland. If you want to go on the water rides, consider bringing a plastic trash bag to put over your clothes. The park sells cheap ponchos, but bring your own. In hot weather little kids sometimes bring swimsuits to play in water. Throw swimsuits in and have the kids change in a restroom. They will have a blast at the water sites.
Be Careful of the Souvenirs You Buy at Legoland. You can buy tons of different Lego sets and other Lego products in the park. But if you are traveling on a plane to get home, skip the big sets. You can buy them in a store near you or order online from Amazon or Lego.com. You do not want to have to deal with getting big packages through security or packing them.
If Time is More Important Than Money. This post is about saving money at Legoland . . . but if you are flush with cash and hate waiting in line, you may want to consider the secret Legoland wristband: you pay twice as much for admission, but it lets you cut in line!
You won’t find a lot of promotion about the wristband on the website or even at the ticket kiosk.
The website does have a short paragraph on it:
Premium Play Pass (Front of Line Privilege)
The Premium Play Pass is available at $150 for adults and $130 for children and includes one-day admission to LEGOLAND® California and SEA LIFE™ Aquarium, front-of-line privileges and reserved seating at our shows. These passes are available in a limited quantity on a first-come, first-served basis at our outside Guest Services window. Advance reservations are not possible.
I learned about the Legoland wristband in a Los Angeles Times article.
According to the article:
Compared to other amusement parks, Legoland’s line-skipping program is admirably low-key, said theme park aficionado Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider.
“People just sort of have to know to ask about it,” he said. “It’s like In-N-Out’s secret menu.”
The Carlsbad park, aimed at the under-12 crowd, sells no more than 65 Premium Play wristbands each day, at double the price of regular admission, said Legoland spokeswoman Julie Estrada.
It’s like a secret entrance for the well-heeled crowd.
To be honest, if you go to Legoland on a busy day, chances are you will end up waiting in lines that last an hour or more. So try to go on a less popular day, or maybe check out the orange wristband deal. But remember, the wristbands are limited, so get there early.
I hope you find these tips helpful. Let me know in comments section below if you have any other tips for visiting Legoland to add.
If you want to learn more about Legoland, check out the book below.
Believe it or not, you can get free songs for your ipod from Amazon. You might download some to listen to while you wait in line. Check out link below.
Learning How to Surf at a Surf School Near San Diego
Catching a wave at San Elijo State Beach
I always hated the sand dripping from my brother’s wet suit in the shower growing up in Huntington Beach. He never cleaned out the tub. I adored the smell of the surf wax on his board though. I spent about a decade living at the beach, but I never tried surfing. I regret it now, not only because I missed out on the thrill of catching a wave, but because now I cannot teach my kids how to surf.
When my daughter wanted to try surfing during a camping trip to San Elijo a few years back, a friend took her out on his 10-foot surfboard, and she loved it. The next year we gave her a certificate for a surf lesson for a Christmas gift. When summer came we went back to San Elijo, which is in northern San Diego County, and she got her lesson at the Billabong Eli Howard Surf School located right in the campground. This summer she went back to the same surf school and her younger brother took a lesson there, too. See my review of this surf school below.
The surf instructor taking my kids out to the next wave.
If you’ve never surfed, but you want to help your kids want to try it, here’s some tips.
Follow basic safety precautions:
Make sure they are strong swimmers.
Make sure they have experience swimming in an ocean, not just a pool.
Make sure they know what a rip tide is, and how to swim perpendicular to the shore to get out of one.
The next step is to pick your beach and your instructor:
Pick a beach with one- two-foot waves that come in slow sets and a beach that does not have dangerous rocks. The season and time of day make a difference.
Pick an instructor who is patient and enjoys kids. A friend who surfs may work fine (and do it for free). But you might want to try a surf school for the very first time. These instructors have been trained in water safety. They also have experience in explaining a sport that is a bit hard to explain. Most important, they know how to help “launch” a beginning surfer. You will not have to buy or borrow a surfboard if you use a school as they usually have long foam boards. These board are easy to learn on and softer if they hit you in the water. Surf schools usually offer wetsuits during the lesson as well.
To find a surfing school, just Google the words “surf school” or “surf camp.”
My son's first surf lesson.
The school at San Elijo was professional. It offers private lessons, semi-private, or group. They also have surf camps for summer.
A great feature of this surf school is location. You can take camping gear and make a trip out of it. Surfing lessons are not inexpensive, but if you camp instead of staying at a fancy hotel, you can save in lodging.
The waves at his beach are perfect for beginners. The water is pretty warm . . . in late summer you do not even need a wetsuit. The vibe is good for families. And there are great restaurants nearby if you want to camp and fall asleep to the sound of the ocean, but do not want to do your own cooking.
If you are looking for a great gift idea for Christmas, a birthday, a graduation or another special occasion, a surf lesson may be a great idea.