Day 34 – Volcano Bay

Sunday 16th September 2018

We awoke today with yet another milestone having been reached. Sandy and I are married thirty years today. It’s in fact one of the reasons underpinning the fact we’re here on this rather long holiday in central Florida. Both Sandy and I love it here and have been here many times before. Our having been married for thirty years seemed like more than sufficient justification for coming here and lingering for as long as we have. For the most part, we did nothing all morning. Well, almost nothing. It is our anniversary after all.

Rather than eat out today, we sort of mulled around and had a lazy breakfast at home. There wasn’t really much energy for much else. As I say, it is our anniversary after all.

By around noon (which is how long it took us to recover – we’re not as young as we once were), we gave some thought to what to do today. The original pre-planned schedule has long since bitten the dust. We were teetering in either going back to Universal and using our iFLY repeat fly vouchers or going to Volcano Bay. Sandy wasn’t overly keen on Volcano Bay, but she suggested to see what Joey would prefer doing. Anything for a quiet life. I posed the question to Joey and, quite to my surprise, he chose Volcano Bay. I posed the question several more times, but it didn’t matter how much of a bias slant I placed on the question, he remained insistent he wanted to do Volcano Bay.

I deferred to Sandy’s better judgement, since I felt she wasn’t actually that keen on a water theme park, but she decided to go with Joey’s wishes nevertheless. Perhaps she felt she’d at least be able to relax and rest at the water park for a bit. What can I say? It was our anniversary after all.

We packed all the swim things for a day of swimming and, we hoped, relaxation. What are the odds? With everyone eventually piled into the minivan, we made our way over to the Universal car park. It’s the same one for Volcano Bay as it is for the other Universal theme parks, which meant the same $22 charge. Once again, we were afforded a parking slot close to where we would need to catch the bus on account we were toting a Joey. Initially, we were told we couldn’t park in the disabled section but close to it. When we got there, the attendant manning the cones said we could go into the disabled section after all.

We got into the awaiting bendy bus after parking and made our way the short distance over to the Volcano Bay water park. Jennifer and I had already made this journey before but it was a new experience for both Sandy and Joey. The ride lasted all but three minutes or so.

Joey was in a good mood this morning. He was bubbly and enthusiastic. I wondered how long that would last. Any guesses? Within about a minute of entering the park, Joey’s happy disposition evaporated faster than you can say sand. He hates sand. It’s everywhere here in the park. From what we could tell, just about every last chair or lounger was on sand. Shit! Joey’s aversion to sand isn’t a new thing. He generally dislikes going to the beach and has done for some years now. Not only does he hate sand, but he has become quite vocal about it. Again, I’m hit with the same parenting dilemma we’ve encountered so frequently on this trip. Tell him to just suck it up and deal with it or accommodate the eccentricity somehow. What to do? With the former approach, we already know that there be dragons. The battle could last years, and many people could lose their lives. We’re here to relax and have fun, right? How hard can it be to find somewhere to park that doesn’t involve sitting on sand? Sandy eyed me. She wanted to know where there were loungers that weren’t on sand. Truthfully, I didn’t know. I told her as much. So, off we wandered, in search of the ideal spot that had shade, wasn’t already occupied and didn’t involve sand. That can’t be hard, right? Well, two out of three ‘aint bad. We did eventually find a row of chairs adjacent to one of the smaller lagoons after a few minutes of trundling around the park. The only problem was there was no shade. After standing there for a few moments, the piercing sun beating down on me with arms full of heavy bags and other swimming paraphernalia forced the issue. I dropped all the bags and proclaimed this was to be our spot. The lack of shade would have to be the compromise. We’d likely not be sitting here much at all anyway. We’ll all be off swimming, enjoying ourselves, having a wonderful family day out, loving each other, working together as a close-knit family unit and everything would be rosy. We’ll finish the day content, relaxed, in loving harmony. We’ll drive home with the kids dozing in the back with no traffic on the road. The little cherubs will brush their teeth when we got home – without being asked fourteen times first. They’ll volunteer putting on their pyjamas and will be off to bed after a loving good-night hug. Sandy and I will snuggle up together all cosy and then make mad passionate love for the rest of the night, falling blissfully into a restful sleep right through till morning, where the harmonic song of the morning bluebirds will bring us gently out of our peaceful slumber.

Sigh. There was a nudge on my shoulder. Sandy was looking at me as if to wonder why I hadn’t taken her bags off her shoulder yet. I tore myself away from my little daydream and we all took a seat. Joey immediately went for his full-face mask and snorkel we bought for him while on the cruise a couple of weeks ago. I remember thinking it looked a little dangerous at the time. If water flooded the mask, it might be a struggle to remove it, so you could breathe. It turned out to work really quite well. It was a water-tight fit and the snorkel is designed such that it’s impossible for water to actually get in. Joey was loving it. A few onlookers were also admiring it, which I’m sure stroked Joey’s ego a little.

The lagoon we were in was adjacent to the main wave pool lagoon. Between the two bodies of water is a tube that’s the end point of one of the main slides. It’s the main attraction in the park, or at least the most thrilling. The starting point is way up at the top of the volcano. Victims stand up inside a tube on a trap-door. When the door is opened, you drop and then slide at high speed through the tube all the way down and through this see-through acrylic section into an awaiting pool. The design is such that the clear tube forms one side of the lagoon we were swimming in. This means the level of the water in our lagoon is about a metre higher than that of the main lagoon. Each time someone comes rushing through the tube, you can see them from our lagoon by looking down and from the main wave pool lagoon by looking up. The water park has a lot of really nice design elements like this. Sadly, they missed the mark on a few things as well. The layout can be confusing. It’s hard to know where things are and how to get to them. It’s a bit of a maze, in fact. For example, there are four identical locker bays (incidentally, $16 for the use of a locker is a bloody rip-off, but I digress). The locker bays aren’t named or numbered but all look exactly the same. One of the staff was telling me that he’s forever having to deal with people that swear they have found the right locker but haven’t realised they are at the wrong locker bay altogether. I mean seriously. How hard can it be to number them and place a large map depicting their location on the park. There are lots of ways they could/should improve people’s ability to figure out where they are or to help find where they need to be. Even the staff had difficulty a few times today trying to explain where we needed to go to get to somewhere specific.

After we had all cooled off with a bit of a swim, Joey and I decided we’d head off to do one of the many rides the park has to offer. One of the family raft rides in particular took his fancy. There are actually two of them with the same starting point. One is slightly more thrilling and the other slightly less. Joey opted for the slightly less. Since the ride was showing ‘RIDE NOW’ on the display panels near its entrance, we didn’t need to use our TapuTapu to obtain a return time. We did still need to tap on, but we were allowed straight in. Incidentally, on the bus ride over, I joked with Joey that if you look at the word TapuTapu and speak it phonetically, it could almost be pronounced as “to put a poo”. That gave him a tickle.

We emerged at the bottom end of the six-man raft ride with Joey grinning from ear to ear. He liked it so much that he decided we had to go up again (thanks – it’s a hell of a climb!) but this time I convinced him, despite his initial protests, that we should give the slightly more thrilling version a try. When we came out of that one, he was jumping up and down saying how much he really liked it. This is a classic example of where we have to sometimes push the boulder up the hill with Joey. If left to his own devices, he’d never leave the house and never try anything new. The art is in knowing when and how hard to push to get him to do new things. It isn’t easy.

We went back to meet up with the others. Re-united, we all piled in to the lazy river for a spot of effortless drifting. Up to this point, everyone was having a good time. We did a few circuits before making our way back to our spot by the lagoon. This is where things started to fall apart a bit.

Joey wanted to go with Sandy on one of the big family raft rides again. Sandy wasn’t keen on climbing up the hundreds of steps and so elected to not go along. Joey cannot deal very well with disappointment. He became very moody and sullen. I said I’d go with him and off we walked. It was too late. He was by now already non-compliant, choosing to walk ahead of me quickly and looking to bolt. If I lost him, it might take forever to find him again, so I couldn’t let that happen. I insisted he stay close to me. That was enough to send his disposition plummeting still further. At this point I lost it. I was angry – fuming, in fact. For the umpteenth time, it seemed like his moodiness was going to spoil the day again. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back today. I took him by the wrist (he hates that) and frogmarched him back to our spot. I’d had it with him. He was going to sit down and stay there, dammit. In all truthfulness, I really hadn’t thought this through. I was just acting on impulse. He needed to be taught a lesson and I was going to teach it to the little shit. That’s what was going through my mind as we made our way back. Classic system-one thinking and, of course, entirely an ineffective strategy that was only really going to fuel an already blazing fire. Sometimes I can’t help myself. I react out of frustration and need to win the battle – or at least have the sense that I won the battle. In this instance, winning meant dragging him back to where we were sitting. Just what was going to happen when I got there wasn’t something I’d planned ahead for, which of course made me feel all the more stupid when we got there. When we arrived, Sandy was on hand to relieve me. That was the pressure relief valve. We often do this for each other, albeit Sandy is the relief valve more frequently for me than I am for her. What this situation needed was for me and Joey to be apart for a bit. Sandy could see that and put that plan into effect. She agreed to sit there with Joey, so he could calm down, while I took Jennifer off somewhere – Sandy didn’t care where we went, so long as it was somewhere…else.

Jennifer and I went off to find the fearless river. We’re actually not quite sure what it’s really called. Like everything else at Volcano Bay, it does have a Polynesian name, but all those names are hard to remember. Sometimes we call it the Crazy River or the Fast River. Whatever it’s called, we both had a lot of fun whizzing around again.

After our several circuits of blistering speeds around the fast river, we explored one or two of the smaller lagoons around the park. Before making our way back to our spot, we did the Ohno tube slide drop. There’s the Ohyes and the Ohno. They are regular tube slides that wind back and forth several times but with a four-foot (1.2m) or six-foot (1.8m) drop into a pool at the end depending on whether you opt for the Ohyes or the Ohno version. Before you land in the awaiting ten-foot (3m) pool, you’re photographed. Naturally, Jennifer opted for the Ohno one – the one with the largest drop at the end. The slide wasn’t especially fast but the drop at the end was quite arresting. The photos came out really well also.

On our way back to our spot, Jennifer and I bumped into Sandy and Joey. Whatever it was Sandy did, it worked. Joey had by now calmed down and was happy-go-lucky again. In all likelihood, she probably didn’t do much at all other than to separate the two of us. That said, she did say to me that Joey cried for a good half hour before he calmed down.

Our time at the park was coming to an end. The shadows were starting the lengthen and the stinging of the sun was ebbing, although only slightly so. We made our way back to collect our things and then headed to the changing rooms. After emerging from the changing rooms, Jennifer had a hankering for a churro. I asked a nearby staff member what was the best route to the exit with a churro in my hand. Unfortunately, the route was to head back into the park away from the exit and then to double back. I contemplated telling Jennifer she was out of luck. She looked at me with beseeching eyes. She doesn’t ask for much, so I figured it would be the right thing to do to go and get my little girl a churro. For good measure, Joey and I each had one as well.

Near the exit is a market place, which is their way of describing several retail outlets. There are also some photo booths there, so we took the opportunity to ensure that all the photos taken of us in the various rides were linked to our Universal photo pass.

We made our way back to the bus and over to the Universal car park. With everyone and everything finally loaded, we set off in search of dinner. That turned out to be the nearby Chili’s on I-Drive.

From our vantage point at dinner, we could see an electronic sign across the street at one of the billions of tourist outlets that line the streets here. It cycled between a number of things this particular tourist trap sold. One of them was SIM CARDS. For the past few days, I’ve had zero luck re-activating our now deactivated SIM cards. When I bought them, they came with a one-month plan for voice and data but that’s now expired. Try as I might, I just can’t get them to take my money to get the phones working again. Their website doesn’t work correctly – despite me trying with three different browsers. Their automated phone system doesn’t allow you to speak to a human, despite the extraordinarily unhelpful IM chat staff via their website telling me repeatedly to press option #5 for technical support (the phone menu doesn’t permit option #5 at any point). I’ve even downloaded their smartphone app, but each time I get to the point where I click the ‘BUY’ button to finish off the lengthy top-up procedure, it generated an error and asked me to call them on that same automated system that has infuriated me each time I try to use it. Seriously, why should it be such hard work to achieve a relatively simple aim? With all this frustration, I thought it might be worth giving up on Straight Talk, the company whose SIM cards I purchased at Walmart a few weeks ago, and simply buy something new. I went over to the shop after dinner and asked about their SIM cards. The young lady manning the register gave me a deer-in-the-headlight stare like I was from mars. She called the manager over. He said they didn’t sell SIM cards. I told him their electronic sign out front begged to differ. He said he’d need to change the sign. Really? Did I do something wrong in a previous life to deserve this?

On the way home, I let the kids play the spot the out of state license plate game. With everything else that had happened or gone wrong for me today, I figured what the hell. Throw another $20 into the bloody ether.

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