Is there anything your family has always wanted to do, but seemingly cosmic forces thwart your plans and ruin your fun every single time?
Honestly, that’s my family every time we try to visit the Atlantic Ocean. We’ve gone to Florida several times in my life (once because I kept signing my parents up for Disney promotional mail during a cold winter and they totally fell for it), and had a great vacation every time. If you want an ultra-fun family bonding experience, I can’t say enough about Walt Disney World– especially if you stay onsite. My family always leaves Disney exhausted in the best possible way.
The issues we’ve had in Florida are related more to the times we’ve strayed away from Disney World to visit the ocean.
I can’t complain too much, because the last time we visited, we came away with only a couple bee stings and some sunburn– but that’s about the easiest we’ve ever had it.
It all started when I was maybe 11 years old, when we were on vacation with my whole extended family. My grandparents brought the whole family to Disney to celebrate their anniversary, and short of a couple instances of my teenage boy cousins feeling sick after eating too much at the buffets, things were going great.
But then came the day we planned to visit the space station and Cape Canaveral National Seashore. We had gone to Animal Kingdom the day before, where we got about as close to a safari in Africa as we could get in the contiguous United States. It was a grand time.
However, my mom has asthma, and happens to be allergic to certain animals. We had a cat at the time, and she was accustomed to taking medicine for her asthma to regulate the flareups, but some things are just too much. Like, for instance, excessive pollen in the air, or a bunch of tropical plants and animals. Not too great on the lungs.
So, there we were, in the urgent care in Orlando, Florida, while the rest of my family was at the beach. I just remember it was busy, and a lot of the kids were holding Disney stuffed animals or playing with their new mouse ears. We were all kind of in the same boat. Hours later, my mom was fine again (as long as she took the medicine she was given and avoided Animal Kingdom from then on), but it was too late to go to the ocean now. Not that we’d really want to– it was raining. We sat in our rental car, in the rain, not really sure what to do.
We settled on a movie (Brother Bear, if you were curious), and the rest of our family was back to the hotel by the time we got out. My grandma told us all about the jellyfish they saw and gave me a pencil set from the space station, but, you know, it was no ocean.
The next time we went to Florida, we were dead set on visiting that Cape Canaveral National Seashore. There’s no way we could go all the way to Florida again without seeing it. So we rented a bright blue PT Cruiser, piled our beach stuff into it, and headed off. It wasn’t a super hot day, but we were used to Lake Michigan temperatures, so it was absolutely perfect for us. The waves were huge because of the wind and it was just cloudy enough that we didn’t have the sun blaring on us all day. The “cold” Florida weather meant there were only a couple other people on the beach besides us.
Still, my dad didn’t trust these people, and wanted to make sure nothing important got stolen, so he locked our stuff in the car and kept the keys with him.
Now, back to those big waves…
Turns out, the waves were plenty big enough to knock some rental car keys out of a pocket. We discovered this only after frolicking in them for several hours until we were tired enough to go back to the hotel.
And then came the problem, the infamous “oh crap” moment in my family’s vacation history.
The keys were gone.
Now remember the other two people on the beach with us? Thank goodness for them, because they happened to be leaving right as we were trying and failing to break into our rental car, and, after a bit of explanation, let us use their cell phone to call the rental car company. We only had one flip phone in our family at that point, and it was locked in the car to keep it safe– obviously.
The rental car company was not too happy about the situation. They told us there should be a backup key hidden in the trunk area under the floor, but we didn’t have a key to get into the car in the first place, so they begrudgingly sent over a tow truck, one which would unfortunately not be coming to pick us up for a few hours. The people who let us borrow their phone wished us well and skedaddled out of there– they probably didn’t want our bad luck to rub off on them.
We didn’t have a lot to do but try (and fail) to get into our car and sit around for the next little while until a park ranger came driving by. And man, did he feel sorry for us. A bunch of dumb tourists, stuck in an empty parking lot by the beach, sitting on the pavement in our bathing suits and towels. It was a depressing sight.
He was kind enough to break into our car for us, which fortunately gave us our clothes to change into, but unfortunately set off the car alarm in the process. So we had some fun music to listen to for a few hours. My dad and the ranger tore apart our trunk looking for the mythical, invisible, magic spare key, but to no avail.
At some point they managed to turn the alarm back off, at least. And then we were sitting there again.
It was starting to get darker out, so the kind ranger offered us a ride to their headquarters. We had nice chairs to sit in, and he gave us granola bars, water and stickers! Considering how dry our throats were after inhaling salty air all day, and how hungry we were after skipping dinner, it was a giant act of kindness.
We called the tow truck company to get a better estimate of when they’d be arriving, and the ranger took us back to our poor little PT Cruiser when the truck got there.
I wish I could say the same things about the tow truck driver as I did about the park ranger. This guy was a classic rough-around-the-edges kind of guy, and all four of us had to pile into the front bench of his truck with him for the hour-long trip back to Orlando.
His name was Lil’ Jimmy, though there wasn’t really anything little about him, except maybe his vocabulary as he yelled at his wife over the phone. She was trying to put their son to bed, and she matched his language to the child. My sister and I sat quietly as we realized how good we had it when our parents wished us sweet dreams and turned off our bedroom lights. Yikes.
It felt like the longest drive I’ve ever had to endure, and we learned way more about Lil’ Jimmy than we felt we needed. What an experience. We finally made it to the rental car company, where they searched our car for the enigmatic spare key again (to no avail). We got a new car and got out of there as fast as we could.
Honestly, the worst part was that we left my Disney songs CD in the PT Cruiser’s CD player. I had gotten it from saving up UPCs off my Kid Cuisines, and there it was, lost forever. But we like to try to see the bright side in my family, so we tried not to let the whole disaster day ruin the mood for the rest of the vacation, and I hoped that maybe the next person who rented our old rental car appreciated my CD.
Sometimes all you can do it just go with the flow… and plan better next time. Someday we’ll get to the ocean with no problems at all– maybe.