Month: July 2011

Great Wolf Lodge

I spent a night at the Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, WA.

Now, before I left, I had done much reading of reviews and perusal of their site. I knew, much like going to Disneyland, I was to hand over my wallet at the door and let them tell me how much I should be left with.

I had a fantastic time.

Great Wolf Lodge is a place for kids: an oversized, indoor water park with a hotel and multiple eateries and shops attached. The catch is that you must stay the night in the hotel, you can’t go into the water park without a room for the night. I went, not as the typical nuclear family (2 adults, 1.7 kids), but as the typical single mom: 1 adult, 1 kid. This is important to note as it impacts how you operate within a water park (for example — you stake out your table and need to go to the lockers to retrieve something?  You’re both going — there is no other parent to hold on to things.)

At a nominal average price of about $180-$200 for a night, depending on seasonality, you get:

1. Wristbands to let you in to the park. The adults get RFID wristbands that allow you to do things like open the room or charge things to your room. Ergo, your wallet stays in the room and you are not tethered to it.

2. Access to a large water park from 1pm to 9pm on day of check-in, and from 9am to 9pm on day of check out

3. Access to an arcade. (Games cost the same as everywhere else).

4. A relatively nice, standard hotel room.

For $40 more, you get a wand and an interactive game that will take you the whole day, even if you rush at it. It involves climbing a lot of stairs and running around, and I enjoyed it as much as the small child.

Taken together, your total outgo minus food is about $230 for one kid and one mom. GWL has a reputation for being hideously expensive but, I will note that same room would run you about $120 or so elsewhere. The remaining $110 then is to cover the magic game and the water park and the convenience of your RFID tag. (That convenience goes both ways — proffering your wrist to pay for something removes you from the emotional attachment you may have for your cash).

With the magic game prepriced at about $40 (there’s the cost of the wand and the cost of the game itself), you’re left with $70 for two day’s access to a water park for two people. And here’s where the “it’s overpriced” argument fails: 4 water slides, a wave pool, an activity pool, a kids pool, and an indoor-outdoor pool and sunning area, unlimited clean towels, thorough and plenty lifeguards are yours for 2 days for $35pp. That is on par with local water parks — even those without as many slides.

YES, you will pay $10/day for locker rental (you check out at 11am, so if you have things like car keys or cell phones or wallets, and you don’t have a spousal unit out of the water at all times, you’ll need a locker). YES, the food is relatively overpriced (relatively = overpriced for “normal places to eat”. Not overpriced in the context of amusement park food, theater food, etc.) and it isn’t really all that good: but your admission comes with in and out privileges, and there are plenty of local restaurants (La Tarasca, Dicks Northwest Brewhouse) to go to. There is a Starbucks inside the building and it’s priced normally, too.

More to the point, there isn’t a single place in the edifice where you are not responsible for your own child (I regard this as something worthy of kudos). If your child is in the water park, so must you be. There is no day care, kids club, babysitting service, etc. If you want to go play in the spa or the bar, better have your spousal unit watching the kids and trade-off with you — because you, parent, do not get to abscond your responsibility. This, to me, was great. Also, the entrance to each water slide is monitored, and they ask you EVERY TIME, regardless of if they remember you (and they did remember us after 5 or 6 goes) if we met the height and weight requirements. (I’m not 700 pounds yet– that’s another post).

Now, there was one down side to GWL: I blew out my knee going on the Howling Tornado. It’s six flights of stairs to the two largest water slides, and we went on them multiple times. We were both eight years old this weekend — we’d ride down the slide, tumble out of the inner tube, scream “AGAIN!”, run up the stairs, wait in a very small line, and ride down again. After a day and a half of this, my knee has started making audible cracking sounds, and it is rather swollen; I’m going back to Mme. le Docteur next Monday. At least I will have a really fun story as to why it is doing that. I expect I’ll get a bunch of physical therapy, some more exercises, more taping to do, maybe another injection.

Just in time for my next GWL visit! AGAIN!

Frankly France

My boss is French. My skip-level is French. And I think I’m becoming a closet francophile, but NOT because of them. We had an offsite.

In Lyon, France.

For those not in the know — which, until about a week ago, included yours truly — Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France. I was there for 4 days and gained approximately 1 pound per day, and so we can all acknowledge that this was due to the fantastic food. I ate everything and then some, and in a country where bread is served at every meal (and contains only the classic ingredients — none of this corn syrup business or dough conditioners, thank you very much), this was no small feat. Oh, and the wine.

The Wine!

As I stated, my bosses (plural) are french. And so when it came time for wine to be decided, the menu was handed to them, and after a studied reflection of the menu and nonverbal cues between them, they’d summon the wait staff and give them the cursory order. In French. In other words, I couldn’t understand a bit, and so I can’t repeat what they ordered, but everything tasted wonderful. (In the states I eschewed French wines as “dusty” — not a speck of it in France. Not sure what is up with that!)

I see I’m babbling. Let me go at it chronologically:

After a day of travelling — Seattle to Heathrow, Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle, CDG to Lyon via train — I checked into my hotel (the Radisson Blu, which has unparalleled views in Lyon and quite the nice breakfast!). It was 10pm at this time, and the short walk from the train station allowed me to see the perfect pinks and oranges of the sun as it set. Bracing myself for “French disdain of the American”, I asked the concierge downstairs for restaurant recommendations.

I was presented in a charming and friendly manner with a map, highlighted directions, and two options: did Madame want something “safe”, or did Madame want something traditionally Lyonnaise? Madam indicated Lyonnaise, because I am not about to let a little jet lag in the way of Madame’s sense of adventure. A right from the hotel, and then the next right, and then a left, down two blocks: I found myself at a not-very-distinguishable bistro on a cobblestoned lane.

I was one of 3 tables at that time: a french couple having a romantic dinner, a set of Americans doing their best to keep all sorts of boisterous clichés in place, and then, well, me. The waiter switched to nearly-flawless English (and not in a disdaining way) when he discovered my French was non. He did want to make sure I understood what I was ordering as I was picking it out of a French menu but fortunately French is a Latin-based language and I can understand it just fine, I can’t speak it. Anyway, chicken with mushrooms and a side of ratatouille, and an okay bordeaux was dinner. It was beautiful (hey Kevin — the ratatouille was WAY better than that one we did, so we may need to revisit that at one of the HP get togethers), and then there was dessert.

Oh yes I did. I’m sorry, but my weight loss programme does not extend beyond the borders of the US, and so tarte tatin it was, and it was AMAZING. That, and coffee in a little demitasse cup.

Sated, I went back to my room… and woke up promptly at 5am. With the local gym not open until 8am, and no power converter (the three that I had brought with me did not work, and the person in charge of adapters at the hotel was not in until 9), I went for a run. Lyon is an excellent place to run — the walkways are wide, it’s mostly flat, and you cannot help but look at amazing architecture, beautiful scenery, and it’s cool in the morning even on a summer day. I only did about 4km — the knee is messed up again (that is another post for another time). However, it helped me feel better about the caloric intake of the night before.

I will say nothing of the meetings in Lyon that I was there for because they are proprietary to my company, with the exception that they were incredibly productive and useful. I was surprised because usually these sorts of things are endless power point decks and stifled yawns, but by day 3 we were still active and passionate about what we were doing, and had come to a better understanding of how each wheel works in this little clock of ours. I came home with 7 pages of notes.

At any rate, each day had breakfast in the hotel — oh, the cheese! — and a prearranged luncheon. Dinners were out on the town with the bosses, and that was where the careful wine menu scrutiny/ordering took place. Dinner conversation was equally as pleasantly a surprise as the meetings themselves: our party included two from Hong Kong, one from Amsterdam, two from London, the aforementioned two French, a few Americans, an Italian Australian, an Italian Italian, a Swede, and three from India (originally). I discovered many things, including that restaurant service and gratuity expectation/practice varies widely globally, that personal space in social situations does as well, and that the US is sorely behind in languages for its children. Case in point: my colleague from Amsterdam had mandatory Dutch and English until she was 10. Then French was added in. Two years later, so was German. She took Latin and Greek for fun.

(If you’re counting that as six languages, let’s take note that she knew a handful of words in other languages including Spanish and Italian).

At any rate: Lyon was pretty, with a variety of architectural styles but mostly consisting of the beige stucco/stonework and reddish-tan roofing, most buildings not exceeding 4 or 5 stories. We visited the local cathedrals (the two biggies, anyway), if I can get them off of my iPhone I will post pictures.

In short: Lyon is a 2-hour train from Paris and worth it.

As to Paris: I spent half of one day there (by the time I got the train and metro sorted out). In that half of a day I saw the Arc de Triomphe (larger than expected, and there were people at the top, which I hadn’t realized was possible), walked down the Champs-Elysees (endless shopping possibilities, but I’m not a shopper and people were thick — in both senses of the word), walked around the Louvre (not in it, I’m afraid, time being what it was), and down to Notre Dame (did walk in, it is GORGEOUS).  If you’ve ever seen the TV Miniseries The Pillars of the Earth, you will learn how they figured out how to make the heavy stone archways (and not have them pulled down by gravity and killing people, for example) or the architectural purpose of flying buttresses; and this makes the Notre Dame all the more impressive. That, and the realization that all of that lovely colored glass was done without chemicals — or not the way we think of them. For example, did you know that in order to get RED glass you need gold?

I didn’t make it to the Eiffel Tower, as I dawdled (dawdled??) in my walking — the architecture in Paris is AMAZING. You can tell the difference in building ages just by their accoutrements — who has gargoyles, who has scrollwork, what kind of columns were in fashion. Some buildings are relatively new — say, mid-1900’s– and about twenty feet wide, having been risen between two older buildings that formerly may have had garden space between the two. Cobblestone streets abound, and the smell of everything is in the air. I don’t know a better way to describe it, but I’m in love, I truly am.

My only dinner in Paris I had close to my hotel (Hotel Ampere, 17th arrondissement, absolutely beautiful in and out) and was a fixed-price with some choices. I sat outside, so as to watch the people walking by — I love people watching — and had a very leisurely dinner. The service was very friendly and attentive, I had to ask the people to my left — four older French people, two older couples — if tipping was okay or would elicit offense. I had to do this in Spanish as it was the only common language we had, their English being only fractionally better than my French. (I am not dissing them at all — at least they spoke another language! Never mind two. America, we need to catch up!) After some discussion, they agreed that the service was very good, and that leaving service (propina in spanish) was okay — in this instance. Of course she would not be offended, I just needed to realize this was only done when it was *really good*, not as a matter of course.

Morning came on my last day, with enough time for a quick breakfast and then 4 Metro lines (kinda like our subway system) to the RER train, back to my flight. In all, travel on my last day took 22 hours. I was very happy to see my bed.

I will be seeing France again though. I politely informed the male person this morning we are going back and spending some real-time there. He took it rather well.

Travelling, Light

[editor’s note: this was actually written nearly 6 days ago. I’ve been in France, and will wait until tomorrow — on my FOREVER flight schedule — to update on the sheer awesomeness that is France. No seriously: France is awesome. So awesome that I can’t be bothered to blog, tweet, check-in, etc. ]

This is actually a two-fer, because I find myself on a British Airways flight with no Wifi (this is acceptable. On a transatlantic flight I can appreciate the engineering feat that wireless internet would represent. On a 2-hour flight to San Francisco, there’s no excuse.)

I recently had the pleasure of going to Dallas. That’s right. I said “pleasure”, and I totally mean it. I went to Dallas in late June/early July, for work, and you’d think that this would be a Fate Worse Than Death, or at least a Fate Worse Than A Really Good Beating, but no, I actually enjoyed it.

I’ll wait until you retrieve your jaw from the floor.

Dallas was roughly 100 degrees and humid each day, but it was warm… and sunny… and the people were IMPOSSIBLY friendly. Example: the hotel I stayed at — to be reviewed — had complementary passes to Gold’s Gym. At Gold’s Gym I ran across a lady who was probably 3 years my senior and 30 pounds lighter, with flame-red hair down to her knees. It was gathered up in a braid but still, it was gorgeous. I couldn’t help but comment — I’m like that — and instead of the typical “Seattle Freeze” (e.g., “hey thanks!”, and then promptly go away) she chatted me up. Wanted to know where I was from, did I usually come in the morning because she didn’t remember seeing me. Dallas was like that all over — exceptionally friendly, down to the Subway guy who gave me the 2nd chocolate chip cookie because really, that’s how the meal is supposed to be. Or something.

This is not like when the Lesbian Lawyer from New York chatted me up. I was flattered, she had great shoes. That was a fun dinner.

At any rate, I stayed at the Hotel ZaZa.

If you are going to Dallas– and really, I don’t care why you are going — stay at the Hotel ZaZa. Oh! Where to begin.

Accommodations:

The room was only slightly smaller than half of my house. The bathroom had a separate tub and shower, and the tub would fit two strangers or three very well acquainted people. The toiletries were “racing fuel” — separate shampoo, conditioner, lotion, bath gel — in those cool wide-open mouth containers that some of us (Hi!) use (re-use) for gym toiletries. The bed was exceedingly comfortable, it’s a shame I only slept five hours a night. I never tried the TV or the room service (hey, that’s a first!) but the restaurant attached (Dragonfly) had wonderful food and a great wine list (Malbec, represent!). The hallways are littered with funky Vogue and W magazine photo ops, all framed and they help you find your way by day two. The butler’s pantry (on the way to the elevators) is stocked with all manner of breakfast beverage to kick start your day, complete with to-go cups. The hotel staff is incredibly friendly and accommodating — I parked in the wrong place and couldn’t figure out the internet at 2am — and they were there to help.

Am I going back to Dallas? Oh, I hope so. And when I do, I’m staying at ZaZa, even if I have to pay for it myself!

Fast forward one hectic, crazy week. I spent 4th of July at my mom’s… where I ate everything, naturally … and then home to 4 days of back-to-back meetings (excellent, productive meetings — normally I eschew them but these were actually *productive*), and then 1.5 days of errands, laundry, and family fun before here I am on a British Airways flight.

My first British Airways flight.

So far they’re a decent 2nd to Air France (sorry, mate). Granted, I’m only 36 minutes in, but damn! The service is good, the flight attendants are incredibly patient, and I am overstocked with 2 blankets, 2 headsets, and 1 pillow. I’m in a 3-stack to the starboard side with no one in the middle, which is excellent. My seatmate and I established rules of engagement — she’s an American lit student from England (wait, what??) wearing a UW Rosebowl 1993 sweatshirt. I asked her, “Oh, were you there?” and she said, “No, I was at UW, but I had to buy something, I was at the student store… did you go to UW?” to which I had to say “Yes… and I was there…”. Sigh, I have aged myself.

At any rate, I’m watching “Paul” with Simon Pegg, drinking red wine from a screw-cap bottle (tempranillo garnacha, so it’s good, actually!), and enjoying a very comfortable seat. The flight seems consisted of 75% expats going home (like my seatmate) and I’m relishing the variety of accents.

Before I got on the flight, I spent a harried 20 minutes downloading data and emails from my local machine — so alas now, I must actually use said data. I leave off, going back to watching “Paul”, and playing with numbers.

Some work perks defy easy naming, but are beyond words in other ways.