Thursday, April 28, 2011

Car Rental Return Woes

Update: I just heard back from AVIS and they have a record of someone else renting the car we had the same day we returned it. So, they should refund our money soon. I'm really glad I caught that charge, and relieved it was so easy to resolve!

We spent nearly a week in Florida a couple weeks ago. We had a rental car through AVIS for the whole time we were there. I returned it on time, even spent extra on a hotel that had a shuttle that would take me to the AUTEC terminal the next morning so I wouldn't have to keep it any extra time. Everything seemed fine, and I saw the guy who returned it check our odometer and tell me all was well.

Fast forward to this week, when I noticed a charge on our credit card account that was more than we'd initially paid for our rental (we booked it through Priceline, which is SO much cheaper than anything else we've tried) from AVIS. So, I sent an email disputing the charge. They came back and told me that we'd supposedly returned the car four days late, so we were being charged for the extra days plus late fees.

Wow. I was a little blown away by that. We've rented a lot of cars since we've moved here and this is the first problem we've had. The return was exactly like all the others, too. I don't really blame AVIS in particular since we've used them before with no ill effects, but clearly some paperwork was not done or filled out incorrectly. I'm waiting for them to get back to me about it, but we've been debating how to prove we returned it on time. We didn't fly commercially, so don't have a plane ticket to prove we left the area, but Oliver thinks he can get a letter from his command stating we returned the day we did. Clearly, we have no need of a rental if we weren't even in the country, right?

Anyway, just thought I'd pass this on with a tip - if you are renting a car, make sure they actually returned it for you. Otherwise, they will sock you with big charges. This is kind of aggravating, too, because car rental companies almost never give you anything when you return your car. They just look at the paperwork, check the odometer, and send you on your way. I guess I can't let that be it next time...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Vacationing With Kids....Or Just Dumping Them With a Sitter?

So, originally we were going to go on a cruise this year. I had hoped for something that hopped a bunch of islands around us. When I went to go price them out, however, I discovered most cruise lines don't run Caribbean cruises during the summer due to the hurricane season.

I certainly can't fault them for that decision, but now we have to come up with something else. I've been digging around, looking at "family friendly" resorts and such. It seems, though, that everything I come up with that's labeled "family friendly" prominently describes its babysitting services and kids' clubs. It's difficult to come up with vacation ideas that assume you are going to actually take the kids along with you.

Call me crazy, but I've always defined "family friendly" as something the entire family could enjoy together. If I really wanted a trip where Oliver and I could just go off and do everything alone, I'd just send the kids to my in-laws where I imagine they would have a better (and much cheaper) time.

Who knows what we're going to do. It might just end up being a park hop in Florida. I suspect we will never reach the end of those. At least I am completely aware that the children can cheerfully tag along with us if we do that.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Wyatt's spring break is all of next week. We've talked it over extensively, and have determined that this week will be spent on a Caribbean vacation complete with vacant, white sand beaches, plenty of peace and quiet, and a quaint little place steps from shopping and eateries.

Okay, you can start laughing now.

And, yes, I really do love it here that much, despite the desperate need every three or four months to go somewhere else.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Yikes. I think it's clear another ipod will be joining our house sometime in the future. And I'm in app-heaven. I've spent all afternoon digging through them, and the first thing Wyatt asked me when he got home from school was whether he could play with the ipod. Yeah, if he can drag it away from his daddy first....


For my birthday this year, my fab hubby let me pick out any ipod I wanted while we were in Florida last week. He actually bought me the MP3 player I've been running with back when Wyatt was a baby. It's been giving me trouble recently, so I've been talking about getting an ipod for awhile. I just couldn't rationalize the expense.

So, I'm thrilled. We picked it up at Patrick Air Force base, which saved us a big chunk of tax money. I am now the proud owner of an ipod touch.

At this point, I'm not really sure who around here is more excited about it. I downloaded some free games and the boys are all over them - the biggest one included. Clearly, this is going to be a fun toy when we are stuck somewhere. I especially look forward to having it around in the airport where free wifi is easy to find. Because you can also go online with it, which is awesome.


We travel so much, this will be fabulous to look up stuff. Like on this last trip where we accidentally left behind the folder with all the addresses and directions for the hotels and places we were planning on going. Oops. Whoever decided free wifi was a must at places like McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts is a genius. Or rather, a serious life saver. We'd gotten a place through Priceline for our first night in West Palm, but it was a place we'd never stayed at before so not only did I not remember the name of it, I didn't know where it was at all. We had to stop at the first place with wifi (McDonald's to get it over with - the boys love it, but not us so much) to figure it out. Our laptop is not exactly small, so it'll be nice not to have to haul it out for stuff like that.

Anyway, the real purpose of this post isn't to brag about my ipod. I'm living in a bit of a music vaccuum. The only radio station we get is out of Nassau, and we can't seem to pick it up inside the house. So, we only listen to it for the fifteen second drives to the beach or the rare trip out of the gate. It mostly plays America music, and you forget it isn't coming from the States until the DJ comes on with his Bahamian accent. Pretty much all music on the web is blocked for us because we live internationally, which is a bummer. Really, unless I'm willing to troll YouTube for random music videos, I am a little out of it when it comes to what's new in the music world these days.

So, what do you listen to? Any great new artists? Any songs I just have to check out? I'm especially looking for good workout music. What I have is really getting old.

P.S. Oliver's birthday is only weeks away from mine, so I told him to pick out a GPS for my present to him. He's wanted one for years, and he was pretty happy with it. As for me, well, I have always been a map girl so I wasn't interested in the whole GPS thing. I think I get now why they are so popular, ha. I don't think we'll ever travel again without it - at least not if we need to drive anywhere.

Monday, April 18, 2011

And you thought we were only headed to Florida.

P.S. Space ice cream is so not the same thing!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Nassau - Part 1

For once, I'm gonna get pic heavy, so this one is going to be a two parter. I had the opportunity to go along with Wyatt on his school field trip to Nassau yesterday, and I'm so glad we were able to go! There were 9 kids on the trip, 3 teachers, and 4 parents. I'm glad there weren't any bumping issues because I would not have allowed Wyatt to go without me. If he were 12 or something, sure, but not at 6.

Anyway, here are some of the highlights, because pictures make this much easier:

Here is a shot taken inside the tour bus that met us at the airport. Notice what looks like a large armrest on the side of the right hand seats? They were actually folding seats that filled the aisle. Thankfully, we had no need of them. I shudder to think what trouble that would have been in an accident.
Oh, and the seats themselves were covered in clear plastic. They got pretty sweaty sitting on that afternoon.

Someone said a James Bond movie used this house with the pink wall surrounding it to film around. Maybe someone a little more into James Bond will recognize it?

Cruise ships in the distance.

Our first destination: Hotel Atlantis. Rumor has it it costs $500 to spend a night here. I don't doubt that after having been inside, although we didn't see what the rooms themselves looked like.

Nothing like a waterfall on the outside of your hotel!

Inside the main lobby. The kids were really impressed with this, although I couldn't get a decent picture of it due to the lighting. You'll have to be satisfied with this sketchy picture of one of the murals up on the walls surrounding the huge dome.

Okay, since clearly we weren't there to admire the expensive hotel, here is the first shot of why we came: Atlantis has a whole aquarium going on inside it. This was a walkway with tanks on either side and above us (which is what the picture is of) full of lobsters. It made me hungry.

Terrible picture, but these are Lionfish. They are poisonous, and a nuisance in Bahamian waters. Apparently, their flesh tastes good, however, so they are training Bahamian chefs to prepare them. It's tricky because not only do they have avoid being poisoned by them, they have to make sure their customers aren't, either. I haven't made up my mind as to whether I will try them or not.

This is a "one-man submarine" from Atlantis. There were a lot of things like this along our tour. What got me was how seriously our guide talked about them. Halfway through, I had to stop and decide whether she was telling the truth, she was that good. Hopefully, the kids don't think this stuff is real, haha.

We saw both Manta and Sting Rays, and this picture should give you a good idea of how large these suckers can get. Our tour guide told us they had one that outgrew their tank. Yikes...
Our tour guide also seemed to know which was male and female by looking at their underside as they swam past. Wyatt latched onto that and kept trying to figure it out for himself. Me? Yeah, I still have no clue.

 Here is how they start out. These baby Sting Rays get their own area to grow before they are put in with the rest of the sea life.

 We saw a lot of very large fish. I think this is a Barracuda, but I'm not positive.

We stopped at this long, low tank full of sea life we could touch. See that horseshoe crab in the bottom right? I remember finding those all over the shore when my family would go to Cape Cod every summer. We'd bring home empty shells, but this is the first time I've held one that was alive. Wyatt was freaked out about all it's legs and didn't want to touch it, but he was willing to handle this starfish. It's upside down because he didn't want to touch its feet.

 After the tamer stuff, we got to see the predator tank. From underground. They built a tunnel that runs underneath it, and we got to stare at sharks as they swam overhead. Here Wyatt gets close to one of them.

 There were a number of Sawsharks hanging out on the bottom of the tank. This one nicely decided to swim right over us after we had spent a few minutes staring at them. He looks like he has a face underneath him.

 We spent some time topside, too. Here is a shot of the bridge that separates the swimming pool from the shark tank. How's that for vacation excitement?
We walked past this pool of sea turtles. The kids were counting and got up to nine before we had to hurry on so we'd have time for lunch. This was probably my favorite part.

 We caught these two seagulls hanging out. I had to take a picture because I rarely see seagulls on Andros. These two also look different from the ones I remember growing up. They have black wings.

Finally, we were taken to Earth & Fire, a clay studio in the hotel. They sell various clay forms you can paint with ceramic paint. Depending on what you chose, you can cure it at home in your oven (which is what the kids did), or have it fired in their ovens to make a food-safe product. It's not cheap, so it was pretty nice that this was included as part of the tour. 
Here, Wyatt wields a hair dryer to help set his paint enough to take his dolphin home.

To be continued...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Plans and Pay

We've got big plans coming up. We haven't ventured out of our island home since Christmas, and I think we're all getting a little stir-crazy. So, Oliver has some leave papers in play, and we're making plans. It's gonna be a Florida road trip, and I'm really looking forward to it. We pretty much never drive here, so spending some time in the car weirdly sounds appealing.

The boys have made a few requests, and since the closest place to get me a new ID card (the real reason we have to go) is in Orlando, we've got a nice list going. Hopefully, we'll get around to most or all of it. Some of the highlights include a trip to the LEGO store at Downtown Disney, a day at Cape Canaveral, riding Thomas at a railroad museum that is happily hosting a Thomas' day out event every weekend this month, and hitting up a few Man vs. Food restaurants.

All of this comes, though, as we are staring at the news and wondering if Congress will ever get off their butts and work together to prevent a government shut down. If that happens, pay will stop. The trip to Canaveral will also probably have to be scrapped as it will likely be closed. We are luckily not paying a mortgage or have any debt, and this trip is coming from money we have in savings, so the loss of pay for awhile (he will get back pay when it is all worked out) won't really hurt us. I feel, though, for all the people who are going to be very negatively affected by this. I certainly hope no one in Congress, as well as the President, are going to be getting pay, either. Considering this mess is a complete and utter failure on their part to grow up and behave like adults, they should be paying the highest price. Sadly, I doubt that will be the case.

I read somewhere that Donald Trump is considering a run for President next year. Not that long ago I would have said no way, but now? Why the hell not. Maybe he'll fire some idiots. One can always hope.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Some Things I'd Prefer They Not Teach My Kids

We've had a couple incidents around here that have got me rolling my eyes at the people who think that teaching my very young kids about health is a good idea. Wyatt came home from school today and immediately started going on about how bread and tortillas (tortillas?) have sugar in them and can rot his teeth out. Apparently, he watched some video about dental health or something along those lines at school.

As for Oscar, he caught some healthy eating message in between cartoons on PBS the other day that had him running around the house singing, "Don't supersize me!" over and over again. It was basically all about telling kids to say no to extra servings.

I do understand that there's a real obesity issue going on, and I also know these health spots are aimed at teaching kids better habits. Let's face it, though, the child running through the house singing, "Don't supersize me!" weighs all of 30 pounds dripping wet. He barely eats his dinner, which we are considering renaming "breakfast" just because the word "dinner" seems to send him fleeing for his life. Encouraging him to push his food away is really not helpful. Trust me, he's got that one down already.

And teaching my kid that tortillas and bread have excess sugars in them? As an adult, I understand where they were going with this, but Wyatt had no idea. He mostly just got the message that these two things were somehow unhealthy for him. At six, he's not ready to understand glucose. If they really wanted to harp on something, soda and candy would have been much better candidates.

Maybe I'm wrong, but the roots of childhood obesity seem to lay in the responsible adults in these kids' lives, not whether or not the school or TV infomercials are laying out the right message about health. My kids are a healthy weight because of several factors, the prime factor being that I work hard to provide healthy food for them and limit the junk around here. I do terrible things like make them eat soup, don't let Wyatt buy chips at school for snack, and only occasionally provide sweets, most of which have been made at home. Soda is something we only get when we eat out, which is not too often these days. Otherwise, it's water or milk, with juice for breakfast only.

My point is, the real education needs to happen with the parents, not the kids. I've discovered that almost none of these "healthy" messages that we've seen on TV are effective for my kids. Most times, they pick up on something odd and run with it, while the main message goes right over their heads. (Hence the refrain of "Don't supersize me!" in our home now - I will laugh if he ever asks me to sing it to him for his bedtime song.)

Ultimately, I'm responsible for my children's weight. If they don't get enough exercise or will only eat pizza all day (pizza that I would, of course, have to be providing for them), that's all on me. They have no medical condition that affects their weight. Only a world full of junk. My job is to teach them to navigate it. No one else is ever going to be able to do this more effectively.