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Wyoming/Montana Trip

We went on a road trip through Wyoming to my cousin's wedding in Bozeman, Montana last week. Posted some photos. Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Old Faithful, and a beautiful wedding. Good week!

Disney Cruise - Alaska

Our first visit to Alaska was great fun. I wasn't sure if 7 days on a ship would feel like too long, but I think it's safe to say we enjoyed every day. Monsters University was screening on board on the day of its release, so we even got in a new Pixar movie. The kids are ready to go again.

Two sets of photos to share: scenic photos and pics of the travelers.

Hawaii in December

We spent the week between Christmas and New Year's Day in Hawaii. First trip there for most of us (second for some). Fun trip. The kids had a good time: got to ride a horse together and hide under the log from Jurassic Park! Full Gallery

Disney Cruise 2010

Last week we took the kids and went on a Disney cruise with my mom, my brother and my sister. I'd been on one cruise prior to this, but it was over 20 years ago, so this was a bit of an experiment. We had a great time.

Check out the gallery of photos from the trip.

Breakfast with Elmo

We took a brief trip to San Diego this week. Dana hadn't been to Sea World in around a year, which meant it was time.

This wasn't Jessica's first trip to Sea World (we went last summer), but of course she could appreciate many things in a whole new way now. She really liked all the shows, and visiting many of the animals. (Note to self: take a video of Jessica demonstrating how penguins waddle for the blog.)

One highlight was "Breakfast with Elmo". Jess has never watched a full episode of Sesame Street, but she has watched a number of the short Sesame Street video podcasts, and she has many books and other toys through which she has been introduced to Elmo, Ernie, Bert, Zoe, Big Bird, etc.

She was so excited to see these characters walk around during breakfast. When she first saw Elmo, especially, her eyes just about popped out of her head, and she repeated his name in some register only dogs (and furry monsters, perhaps) could hear.

Breakfast with Elmo pic

In her typical cautious fashion, while Jessica was super excited to see these friends and watch them interact with other children, she wasn't crazy about the idea of getting too near any herself, much less getting her own hug. We did get some pictures with Elmo and Big Bird, though being that close to them made Jessica too anxious to really smile.

While Jessica was sitting in a high chair at the breakfast table, though, she had nowhere to run when a character approached. She leaned back a bit, but did very well during some interactions with Zoe, Cookie Monster, and Bert (who were all very friendly and handled it very well). Bert picked up a napkin and wiped Jessica's mouth. She gave a smile, and Bert gave her a hug.

Escondido Canyon

We had a nice hike this weekend up Escondido ("Hidden") Canyon. There's a waterfall at the top; it was beautiful even now, but must be really something early in the spring when there is more water flowing.

Check out a few photos (click to see more):

UPDATE: Our Travel Story

In the original post about this story, I don't believe I mentioned the name of the airline on which we were flying. That was intentional; we weren't too happy with them at the time, but the truth is most of the trouble wasn't due to any negligence on their part. The customer service handling the canceled flight could have been better, to be sure, but it's ultimately better to not fly in a plane that might be having mechanical issues than to go ahead and fly just to avoid any inconveniences.

This week Dana and I each received an envelope from the airline. The envelope contained a cover letter apologizing for the canceled flight, and a travel voucher for $200 toward a future flight. That seemed to us like a nice gesture. I appreciate the pro-active nature of it. I didn't have to hunt down someone and request a voucher; they sought us out.

I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but one thing puzzles me: they sent vouchers to Dana and I, but not to Jessica. I'm sure somewhere along the way it was recorded that Jessica is a small child, and someone decided that small children didn't need an apology letter and a voucher. Fine. But still, we did pay for 3 seats on the canceled flight. Shouldn't we get a voucher for each paid seat?

Our Travel Story

(UPDATE: See this entry for the follow-up.)

If you don't feel like reading yet another holiday travel story, you should skip this post. I wouldn't blame you. But we had an interesting time getting to Colorado for the holidays, and I want to tell the story.

Traveling with a one-year-old is something that requires some extra planning under any circumstances. I'm grateful to be able to do this with Dana. Working as a team makes has made this pretty manageable. When I hear of parents traveling alone with a very young child, I can't imagine how challenging that must be.

We did what we do to get to the airport and through security. We went to the gate and soon learned that our flight had moved to a different gate. In a different terminal. At the far end. We had plenty of time, so we hiked over to the new gate, where the sign indicated a flight to Orlando. We were still quite early, so we waited. While we waited, Jessica walked to a window to see an airplane. It was a Virgin America plane: Air Colbert. The pilot sitting in the cockpit waved back at Jessica through the window. I'm looking forward to giving Virgin America a try.

After a while, a number of people arrived at the gate. We overheard snippets of conversations which indicated these folks had been moved around, too. Things like "They found a plane for us coming in from San Francisco." An older woman sat next to me and asked me to read the sign for her at the gate. I did, and she told me that she was going to Florida, and that they had been waiting for another plane but it had air conditioning problems, so now they were getting on another plane.

This made us suspicious, of course, so we checked the monitors again. Our flight was now back in the first terminal, right next to where it was initially supposed to be. Undeterred, we made the hike back. Once there, we were able to gather that the plane we were about to get on was the one from the Orlando flight. They had fixed the problem, so were giving us the plane to go to Denver.

We got on the plane. It was around 3:30 pm.

As the last passengers settled in, the captain announced that there was too much fuel on the plane. You see, the plan had been prepped to for a flight to Florida. Apparently if the plane flew to Denver as it was, it would be overweight when it came time to land. De-fueling was going to take around 45 minutes, we were told. It actually took longer.

Once the plane was lighter, it pulled away and taxied toward the runway. About halfway to the runway, we stopped. For a while. The captain came on again.

"Folks, you may have noticed that we've stopped." We had. "We're getting an oil filter warning light up here. We asked maintenance about it, and we weren't able to make it go away, so we're going to have to go back to the gate so they can take a look at it."

We went back to the gate. 15 or 20 minutes passed. We began to detect the smell of oil in the air from the little air nozzles. The captain came back on.

"Folks, you may have noticed we stopped and restarted the engine. We wanted to see if that fixed the problem, but it didn't. The warning light is still on. So they're going to have to get the part, and then it will take about an hour to replace the filter."

It was a few minutes before 6 pm.

Some more time passed, and the flight crew announced that they were going to give out meal vouchers, so if we wanted to leave the plane and get some food, we could, but we should take all of our belongings. We didn't want to gather up everything, so Dana took Jessica and brought back a quick bite.

A little after 7 pm, most of the passengers were back on board. Some passengers, who had long since missed their connecting flight in Denver, had tried to get alternate flights to their final destination, but this was 5 days before Christmas and empty seats on other flights were not easy to come by.

The captain made another announcement. "Folks, we've installed the new oil filter and started the engines again, but the warning light is still on. We're going to have to troubleshoot a bit to find the problem."

It wasn't too much later that they seemed to fix the problem, and as we pushed away from the gate the cabin was filled with the sound of applause. We taxied to the runway and took off.

It was around 8 pm.

About 20 minutes into the flight, the captain made yet another announcement. "Folks, you may have noticed that we haven't been accelerating as we normally would. We made it to 10,000 feet and the cabin isn't pressurizing properly. We've asked maintenance about it, and tried a few things, but it isn't going away, so we're going to have to go back to Los Angeles. Sorry about this."

When we got back to Los Angeles and parked at the gate, it was 9:30 pm. Jessica had been sitting on a plane for 6 hours, with one short break when she and Dana grabbed a bite to eat.

Despite the fact that the powers that be knew we were coming back for about half an hour, the airline was completely unprepared to deal with us. The first customer service representative to arrive at the plane told us, "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I just started my shift, and they told me to come meet this plane. I don't know what we're going to have you do, and they aren't answering my call at the podium, so I'm going to have to go to the main counter and find out what the plan is. Thanks for your patience."

A few minutes after that announcement, the flight crew told us "the captain says he's not flying this plane," so we were able to get off. The gate agent was also not at all prepared, at one point berating the crowd, saying he'd talk to us when we were rational.

He sent us to the customer service desk in the terminal, where all 100 plus passengers got in line, and the folks at the counter began helping one or two at a time. After waiting 10-15 minutes, they decided they couldn't handle us there, and led us downstairs to ticketing. Where we all waited in line, and they began helping us one or two at a time. Then they realized they couldn't handle us there, either, and led us away. Some more waiting, and we're led to yet another counter.

At this point they're still only helping one or two parties at a time. We, and a few others, decide to just find our bags and get out of there, planning to handle the re-booking on our own, though at this point I wasn't 100% sure we were going to try again. Jessica was completely exhausted, and Dana and I were pretty drained from all the waiting and trying to keep her entertained.

We head down to baggage claim. Since our flight wasn't exactly an "arrival", there was no clear indication of which carousel might have our bags. After some asking around, we got someone to figure it out for us and announce that we should go to carousel 3. About 10 minutes later, they changed their mind and sent us to carousel 1. We did get our bags, and made it home (thank goodness we live so close) around 11:30 pm.

I called the airline and they booked us on a new flight the next day, with a connection through Orange County. The only downside, other than the silly short flight from LAX to Orange County, was that they couldn't guarantee us three seats together, or even two seats together. Since one of our three seats was for Jessica, it wasn't going to work if we had three separate seats. In that case, we would have just put her in our lap and left the third seat empty.

The next day came, we repeated our get-to-airport routine, just half an hour earlier than the day before. We flew from LAX to Orange County on a tiny plane, and the flight attendant was able to put Dana and Jessica together despite our seat assignments. Must be the shortest flight I've ever been on. Wheels up to wheels down was one quarter hour.

We ended up able to get three seats together for the flight to Denver, and Jessica did very well. When we got to Denver, however, there was one more surprise: no bags. Seems they had made it to Orange County, but were never put on the plane to Denver.

This was at 9:30 or 10:00 on Friday night. Our bags were eventually delivered to us at my Mom's house around midnight Saturday night.

That, I believe, is the end of this particular story.

San Diego and Sea World

We took a very brief summer vacation trip to San Diego earlier this week. We stayed two nights in a nice little hotel called The Dana (appropriate, huh?).

We had a great time at Sea World. We went for 1 1/2 days. Jessica never got too fussy during the shows, when she had to sit still the longest, and even when she didn't really understand that the swimming animals were what everyone was looking at, she still enjoyed flirting with anyone whose eye she could catch and joining in the cheering and applause.

The first night was a little rough with her. It's been a while since we had her in a hotel room (6 months), and a lot has changed. Also, this time there was no closet or anyplace to put her crib that was out of sight of the bed in the hotel room. So it was all very new to her: we put her down in a strange place, in a pack-and-play that is not her usual crib, and then we didn't even leave the room. She wasn't pleased with this arrangement. Dana and I ended up sitting in the dark on the floor on the other side of the bed. After she settled down, we got out our computers, and ate room service by the light of our LCD displays.

The second night was many many times better.

All in all, a great trip. Lots of Sea World, a little swimming, and a painless car trip both ways. Could have used another day of vacationing, but better to leave wanting more than to get to that "I can't wait to go home" state.

The hippos are wiggling their ears

Disney is currently celebrating a "Year of a Million Dreams" at the Disney parks. I recently found out that they're holding a "Dream Job" contest (sponsored by The winners will get to go to Disneyland to experience one of the following jobs: Jungle Cruise Skipper, Parade Performer, Pirate, Princess-in-waiting, Haunted Mansion butler/maid.

By the time I learned of the contest, there wasn't much time before submissions were due. Entering the contest required submitting a short video (45 seconds). I liked the idea of the jungle cruise, so I thought of a couple jokes, found a hat, and made a quick video.

Long story short, I'm one of 20 finalists for the jungle cruise job. I'm including my video below, but if you have a moment, I'd appreciate it if you'd vote for my video in the contest.

Here's the the page where you can vote for my video (click "This one gets my Vote!"):
Here's the the contest page, so you can see all the videos you'd like.

Seemed like something kind of fun. If you do vote, I thank you.

Flying with an Infant

Some background and an update:

I may have mentioned this before, but I think it's interesting. The FAA requires that children over 2 years old sit in their own seat on an airplane, but leaves it optional for younger children, who are otherwise allowed to sit on an adult's lap. Interestingly, the FAA flatly states that having these smaller children in their own seat (preferably in a carrier) is safer than being on a lap, but they've opted not to require it. Why? Because if they require that infants have their own seat, then many families may opt to travel by car rather than pay the added expense of another airline ticket. And traveling on the streets and highways is statistically more dangerous than traveling on an airplane, even sitting on someone's lap.

Here's the update: Until recently, many airlines have offered a reduced fare (usually half-price) for families buying a seat for their infant of less than 2 years of age. Apparently this is changing. Airlines are dropping this discount, and according to the story, the motivation is market forces, plain and simple. For a time, many airplane seats were empty, but lately capacity has been reduced and demand has increased, so flights are more often full or close to it. When chances were that the seat would otherwise be empty, airlines were happy to get 50% fare for it, but now that the seat would likely otherwise be occupied by a full-fare passenger, half-fare isn't such a good deal for the airline.

Here's a brief commentary on the story which includes a brief survey of airline policies via their websites.

One more wrinkle: online versus in person booking. Many airlines offer their cheapest fare online, even offering a discount over the same flight booked on the phone with a person. Those that do still offer an infant fare reduction typically don't let you book that online; you have to call in.

This weekend I booked tickets with Frontier for the three of us (Dana, Jessica, and myself) to visit Colorado in late March. I searched for the flights we wanted online, then called in to make the reservation so I could get the infant reduction (a big deal for me; I pretty much always prefer an online transaction to placing an order over the telephone).

I got two tickets at full price and one at (roughly) half-price. Great. Except that I was getting the 'in-person' booking fare, not the online booking fare. I didn't do the math until I'd hung up the phone, but it turns out it would have been cheaper to buy 3 full-fare tickets online than it was to buy 2 full-fare and 1 half-fare ticket on the phone. Live and learn. (The third commenter here found a similar scenario with Southwest.)