Diving into Vacation

For the first time since I was seventeen years old, I went on vacation with my parents.  As this is their first time visiting America, we wanted to give them an impression of the scale of America and the variety of cultures and architecture, landscape and food.  A road trip was necessary.  We picked Massachusetts because New England is tangibly different from Pennsylvania without being too long a car journey.

Mr Pict and I had booked the accommodation months ago, having researched to find the location we needed at a price that suited our budget.  Then, with just days before we were due to set off, we were contacted to say that the boiler in our hotel had packed up and we would have to be transplanted – at the booking agency’s expense – to a more expensive hotel, though it was further away from the coast.   We accepted this.  Then, with under 24 hours to go, Mr Pict phoned the hotel to check that they understood all of the details of our original booking which had  been transferred to them.  That was when he discovered we had been billeted in smoking rooms.  None of us smoke and we certainly did not want to stay in a room that smelled like an ashtray with nicotine-stained walls when we had specifically booked non-smoking rooms.  During one road trip around Canada, we had made the error of accepting a mis-booked smoking room and the experience had been ghastly.  It was so ghastly indeed that a few days later, when we were again mistakenly given smoking rooms, we refused to accept them and had to go off-piste and desperately scramble to find alternative accommodation.  We ended up a a motel where the owner was sitting in reception beneath rows of hanging laundry wearing a grubby vest and yellowed underpants.  When we went to our room, we discovered deep claw marks in our door.  Perhaps from a werewolf.  Despite that experience of refusing a smoking room, we once again refused to accept the booking.  Finally, the evening before we were setting off, the booking agents found us some acceptable accommodation – again with them picking up the tab for the price differential – and we were back closer to the coast again.  Phew.  We could set off on our vacation knowing that we had a bed to lie in at the other end.

You may recall that my rule for claiming a new state is that you have to do two of three things in that state: pee, eat or sleep.  Following those rules, I am able to claim 25 US states and Mr Pict is able to claim 47.  On our journey to Massachusetts, we breakfasted in Cracker Barrel and by using the restrooms, my parents were able to claim New Jersey.  A little later on the journey, we stopped to pee at a McDonalds in Connecticut.  In addition to the bathroom break, my parents and kids had a milkshake which meant that technically they were all able to claim a new state.  No new states for me on this vacation.  That pit stop broke up a long and tedious journey with heavy traffic around New York and at spots along the I95.

Finally arrived at our hotel in late afternoon.  Our accommodation for the next three evenings was the Fairfield Marriott in Middleborough.  The rooms were nice.  We keep busy on our vacation so all we really need is somewhere comfy and clean to sleep and shower and it exceeded expectations on that basis.  My parents had a large room and Mr Pict and I had a room that was smaller but still spacious enough.  There were two double beds in each room so the each pair of kids had to share beds, which was a bit of an adventure in and of itself.  The best thing about the hotel, as far as the kids are concerned, is that it had an outdoor pool.

Within half an hour of arriving, the boys were in their swimming costumes and were splashing around in the pool.  When we arrived, there was a poor guy trying to chill out on a lilo.  He said he was happy to hear the sounds of my kids having fun – and they were very loud – but both Mr Pict and I were impressed by how zen he was, looking entirely relaxed and as if there was no chaos going on at the other end of the pool.  They had a whale of a time in the pool.

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We didn’t want to go far for dinner so we went to a Friendly’s just two minutes along the road.  In all my years of travelling around America, I had never once eaten in a Friendly’s.  This is somewhat odd since they were founded in 1935 so have certainly been around for long enough for me to have had the opportunity.  The choice was actually apt since Friendly’s was founded by two brothers – Prestley and Curtis Blake, aged 20 and 18 – in Massachusetts, Springfield to be precise, so we were eating “local” in a way.  Really, however, the choice was because of convenience.  And because my kids really wanted to have shark drinks.  The younger kids had been taken to Friendly’s by Mr Pict one afternoon a couple of months ago and had been raving about these shark drinks ever since.  It was a cocktail of blue raspberry sprite filled with jelly sharks and then they pour raspberry syrup in to represent blood in the water.  My kids are shark daft and love anything macabre so it was perfect for them.  The kids had food on skewers: cheeseburgers or chicken strips on sticks, served in a metal cone that contained their sides and dips.  They loved the fun presentation of the food.  Dessert was then a concoction named worms in dirt.  My first ever Friendly’s meal was fish tacos which were surprisingly delicious bu quite frankly any eatery that keeps my kids engaged in eating gets brownie points from me.

And now the vacation could properly begin.

Freezing our Coconuts off at a Water Resort

We had another dumping on snow over the weekend and we also had four young boys who needed to burn off some surplus energy.  Badly.  So Mr Pict had a brainwave and researched indoor fun swimming pools in the area.  He took “in the area” to include New Jersey and so it was that we found ourselves crossing the frozen Delaware and arriving in New Jersey to visit the Coco Keys Water Resort.

The word “resort” and the fact it is housed in a hotel complex had created the impression that the water park would be large enough to keep the kids occupied for a long time and have a variety of activities to keep them entertained.  The only ticketing option was a Day Pass so that too had given us the distinct idea that we would all be kept very busy there.  As we descended the stairs, however, and caught a glimpse of the “resort” Mr Pict and I were already disappointed.  Instead of the large space we had envisaged, the whole water area was approximately the same size as your average town fun pool.

The town we moved here from in Scotland had a community swimming pool, a fantastic resource given that the population was only a little over 2000 people.  It was just a swimming pool with no flumes or rapids or wave machine but it was a great facility and was an affordable indoor leisure activity.  Both my parents and my in-laws, however, lived near fun pools – the type that have slides, flumes, rapids and wave machines –  which we could go to when visiting them.  Although a little more pricey than our local pool, these places always provided great value for money as the kids would stay long enough to be thoroughly pruned and worn out from swimming and sliding.  So, based on these past experiences, we had high expectations of a place that categorised itself as a “resort”.  It did not meet our expectations.  And some.



First off, even with $5 shaved off each ticket by booking online in advance, this was not a cheap day out.  I, therefore, very much resented having to pay an additional non-refundable $5 for a tiny locker in which to store our valuables.  The rest of our items – clothes, shoes and towels – had to just be left sitting on one of the chairs that edged the “resort”.  The changing rooms were also bizarre in that there were only four cubicles in each of the male and female changing rooms and the privacy of each cubicle was provided only by a diaphanous gauze curtain.  This instantly gave me flashbacks to the anxiety and horror of swimming lessons at the municipal pool in the town where I grew up, where curtains that were too narrow for the cubicle would be whipped aside by cruel bullies.  As a family, we have become accustomed to co-ed changing rooms (something that is pretty critical when you are a family containing both genders) with proper doors with proper locks.  This was like a throwback to a bygone era.  Furthermore, the changing rooms were pretty clean and tidy when we were getting ready to enter the pool area but were in a disgusting state when we went back to get dried and dressed with towels borrowed from the hotel complex dumped all over the floor and all manner of grotty run off working its way along the grouting of the tiled floor.  I don’t expect to pay so much to be made to feel as if I am contracting a bacterial disease by being there.

The resort is organised into different areas.  My little’uns liked the Parrot Perch which was a large climbing frame with slides set in a shallow paddling pool.  As they clambered around it, jets of water would go off and a bucket of water would tip and drench everyone waiting their turn for the slides.  Our four year old in particular had a blast since he was able to go up and down independently and hurtle down both the open slide and the enclosed twisty tube slide.  I am glad he was willing and able to go up and down the climbing frame himself because it was torture on my feet.  Three words: wet scramble nets.  Now I don’t know about you but I never did train as an eighteenth century sailor so my feet are not conditioned to cope well with the texture of rough, wet rope.  Smaller feet supporting a smaller weight did not seem to mind it.  The smallest Pict might have a career as a Powder Monkey to fall back on.

Mr Pict and the older boys went on the large flumes which they declared to be “awesome”.  They came down them in either single or double inflatable tubes – shaped like an O or shaped like an 8 depending on whether you were fluming solo or with a chum – and had a choice of a dark tube slide or one with light.  The first few times they did it were no hassle at all but towards the end of our time there, mid-afternoon, people seemed to be getting very pushy and impatient.  My ten year old and six year old were queuing for ages for a double tube while adults just pushed past them and snatched tubes from their grasp.  Yes, adults.  It was only resolved by me pushing into the queue to help them out.  Members of staff were meanwhile happy to blow whistles at anyone whose feet touched a step into the exit pool for tube exchange but were completely uninterested in maintaining order.  They then experienced yet more queue jumping while waiting their turn to come down a flume.

The three older boys had fun on the lillypad area, a pool containing floating green platforms that they had to negotiate in order to get from one side to the other without falling in aided by a rope net above their heads for balance.  My 8 year old decided that was his favourite activity.

The area we spent most time in was the Coconut Grove Lazy River, essentially a loop of gently moving water that pushed you along while you float in a large inflatable ring.  The reason we spent most of our time in that area was two-fold: a) there was deep enough water that you could actually start to feel warm and b) queuing for a ring took an age.  I am sure the idea had been that people would do a circuit, maybe even two, and then they would pass their tube on to the person who was next in the line.  That is not, however, how it was working this weekend.  Instead it was a free for all as people scrambled for rings as they became available.  Strangely enough small kids didn’t stand a chance in this melee while muscle-bound brutes always seemed to be up front and centre when it came to grabbing a turn.  I actually witnessed one skirmish in which an adult man literally plopped a child out of a ring because he reckoned he was next in line.  It was like a human soup of moral turpitude at times.

Then there was the general discomfort of being in a building where the water was tepid at best and the water wicked off our skin in frigid air temperatures.  As there were no swimming pools and most of the water was very shallow, we found ourselves trying to get warm by sitting in some of the shallow water just to be moved on by cross lifeguards who informed us we had to either be “queuing or doing”.  I also saw lifeguards telling parents off for letting their toddlers play with the jets of water that were shooting up from the floor.  What other purpose were those jets there to serve than to entertain small people?  Two areas that did have a decent depth of water were the jacuzzi and the Slam Dunk area.  The latter was a small pool set aside for playing hoop shooting games and had been comandeered by competitive young adults; the former was designated for adult use only and, even had I been able to briefly nip away from the kids, I was not sure it was sensible to go and get properly warm in the jacuzzi just to re-emerge into the chill air again.

So the upshot was that we spent nearly three hours there and the kids had a fun time, though they did lament the lack of pools to just swim and splash around in.  Our kids, however, do not have the comprehension required to make value for money judgements whereas Mr Pict and I do and deemed the whole thing to have been a bit of a rip-off and certainly not a trip we would repeat not just any time soon but ever.

Much better value for money was the late lunch that followed at a nearby Bob Evans.  Mr Pict has a nostalgic fondness for Bob Evans.  I have actually only eaten in one once: my first ever restaurant breakfast in America was in a Bob Evans in Frederick, Maryland, in the Summer of 1995 as we travelled to Gettysburg and the meal was so vast I did not have to eat for another 24 hours.  The children had never eaten in a Bob Evans at all, of course, so Mr Pict decided to introduce them to it.  The food was good, the kids portions were generous, especially given how cheap they were, and the service was very good.  A much better experience all round then being jostled for an inflatable ring.