The consensus is that "Harry Potter and the Hidden Journey" still reigns, even with the relatively new "Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts" and the Hogwarts Express now available at Diagonalley. This is good news for the peeps who live near Hollywood, as the former is being recreated there and is more easily accessible. All are well worth it for devoted Potter fans.
In January, when Anna let us know she would be joining the trip, I had to revisit our Universal Studios hotel (Portofino) to get one more bed in the room. We opted for the "Minion Suite," which consisted of a king size bed in one room and two twin-size minion themed beds in a heavily minioned, attached room. I imagined the kids' surprise
when the door to the room opened, Aili thinking this was kind of fun, and Anna thinking this funny.
Both our flight and Anna's were delayed, but Anna's was much later, so Aili saw the room on her own first. Unfortunately, she was somewhat nonplussed about it. Here's a photo of her opening the door. And a poor shot of her with her eyes closed in the room. There were a fair number of preteen, "How will I sleep?" and "I don't even fit in those tiny chairs" comments.
Anna arrived after Aili had gone to bed. She was famished and ate a pizza while we discussed the next day's activities. The bathroom was on our side of the "suite," and she took a shower without disturbing Aili, so it wasn't until really late that she noted the door and opened it...
and collapsed laughing. Got her!
I was going to start today's blog by asking what people thought would be the first item lost or left behind on this trip. Yesterday, the first day of travel, Aili lost the back of an earring; but we found it right away, so that doesn't count. Not because I'm watching to see if anyone is reading this blog, but feel free to enter what you think the first item to actually go astray is. If you want to gain further honors, you might add who will lose/misplace it and on what day. Amongst more obvious potential candidates are electronic devices, shampoo bottles and important documents. Please be as specific as you care to be.
Not intending to leave you in too much suspense, about an hour of sleuthing has revealed the following: the plurality of couples with information available on the internet have some affiliation with investments or funds. There are two dentists, an oncologist, a neurologist, and an orthopedic surgeon, so when you include the Nat Geo doctor on board, we're just about covered health-wise, so long as no one gives birth on the plane. Three former CEOs, including my husband. Three former government related individuals, including the former governor, a former diplomat and a former UNESCO representative. Two couples from agriculture. A small number of retirees from Texas in oil/gas. Potentially the group is more diverse than I expected... but they are looking like a Republican stronghold.
As a tech person, I'm actually just as interested in the people who cannot be found on the internet, and not just the ones with names like Mary and John Smith. What's THAT about? They have really good Facebook security settings? I have a suspicion they are quietly retired, possibly since before the internet age. I will have to report on these later.
So, it's the day before we leave... I know you're dying to hear how the logistics are going. I consider it a good day when we remember the pencil sharpener. This is because it is actually a really critical item when traveling with kids (flight attendants never carry spares), and yet it's the last thing to pack. And we remembered it tonight, so we are now getting down to the details. Downloaded Harry Potter movies? Check. Last minute purchase of a rain jacket for Aili because ponchos might not cut it when it rains in Florida and Peru, as we can now see will happen? Check. Extra hand wipes? Check. Remember the chargers tomorrow? We'll see.
Just for the sake of anyone that might take this trip after us, I found the best way to unravel the packing was to focus on getting the three-nights-in-Peru-small-suitcase packed; then focus on the four days after Peru in the big suitcase (which gets us to the washer and dryer in Australia); THEN focus on the two days before Peru: technically a day at Harry Potter World and a day on the plane to Peru. I DO envy those people flying into Orlando from closer by.
I'm feeling vaguely confident. We've covered snow, rain, heat, and gloom of night. I've got the airplane outfits and the walking around outfits; the dry-beach weather (turning out to be a bit rainy), the tropical weather, the dry-desert weather, the thin altitude weather are covered. I wore my "tennis shoes" all day today and my feet felt almost springy at the end of the day. Some friends gave me a gift of a scarf and hat, and I managed to get two more scarves to help coordinate my black, white, and tan travel-wear, so I'm feeling as though I've risen above the mad scramble of what one friend called "packing as sport."
As great: Aili is really excited. You can be worn out with packing, but when a kid is telling you she feels like Christmas is coming tomorrow, you know you're doing something right.
My friend Janet has a saying, “Never join a party you can’t leave.” It suddenly occurred to me that we are about to be living and dining with those 70 of our closest friends for 24 days. The last time I was in this much proximity to strangers for so long was in college. I feel some ambivalence about this; I struggle with remembering names and faces.
So, I’m wondering what kinds of people will be on our trip… Clearly, they’re all interested in international travel but they haven’t been to all of these places before. Abercrombie & Kent offers a more expensive, competing trip like this with “flat bed” seats in the airplane, so our fellow-travelers are likely less concerned about sleeping on planes, more cost-conscious or more science-bent, interested in the experts to which National Geographic has access.
Maybe one reason they haven’t made it to all of these places is that they haven’t had the time; otherwise, they’d spend a week in India, a week in Morocco, etc. At four locations the tour will split into two different trips. In Peru, you go to Macchu Pichu OR see the north coast. In Australia, you can see the Great Barrier Reef or the rainforest. In China, you can see the terra-cotta warriors or go to Tibet. In Africa, you choose between N’gorgoro Crater and the Serengeti. Like us, some of our fellow-travelers must have already visited these places.
They’ve now reached a point in their lives where they have the resources, so potentially self-employed people or people who have run businesses. Maybe some heirs. To have the time to take off three and a half weeks, one partner in each couple is likely to be retired or on sabbatical or in-between positions. Definitely no accountants on this trip, right before taxes are due. I suspect the vast majority have adult children or no children, with a few relying on a relative who will take their children for three weeks.
We likely all share that this is a “bucket list” trip, a trip we will take once. We all feel the pressure of time, sand sifting through the hour glass. Some may be feeling it more than others.
When we signed up for the trip, I asked if anyone else was bringing a child, and indeed, another family is “crazy enough” (the mother’s words) to also bring a 10 year old. I’m sure she and I are both hoping for frequent snack-stops and nap-opportunities. In a complete surprise, a friend told us he knows another couple on the same tour: hooray for one degree of separation!
Nat Geo sent us a list of the names of the people who are coming, and the cities they are from. Fifteen people “seem” to be traveling as singles with unique last names or separate hometowns. These must be VERY adventurous people. Perhaps, they are married daughters or stepchildren of other couples. One set may be traveling together from Fort Lauderdale. There are FIVE people ostensibly from Scottsdale, two couples and a single. Geographically near to us are: La Jolla (1), Newport Coast (1), Anaheim (2). Altogether, 17 are coming from all over California, including us.
An interesting question this year would be: how many Republicans and how many Democrats?
But why speculate? If I’ve got a list, there’s always Google to fill in the blanks… Whoa! First hit: a former governor with his own Wikipedia page!
On this trip, we will take 13 flights between countries, four flights within countries, and the roundtrip to/from LAX and Orlando for a total of 19 flights and 93.5 hours of flying time. This calculation excludes time spent waiting at airports and customs (hoping this is minimized by Nat Geo and the jet ports). It sounds smaller when you divide by 24 to get 3.9 DAYS on a plane, though that will mostly be spent awake because we are intended to overnight in hotels, not on the plane.
The first thing that leapt into Scott's mind when I mentioned this was radiation. And of course Deep Vein Thromboembolism occurred to me, though Nat Geo is really clear that they want people to get up and move around the cabin. But I don't worry about radiation or DVT. I worry about catastrophic failure. I'd like to think I've gotten better about it over the years, but walking around the cabin invites injury-via-turbulence, so I prefer to stay in my seat. With my seatbelt buckled. Where I'll get DVT. It reminds me of a Spadling Grey movie, "Swimming to Cambodia," in which he finally stops worrying about dying by drowning in the ocean because he's worried his wallet on the beach will be stolen.
Which leads me to oft-quoted supposed reassurances about turbulence. "In-flight turbulence is the leading cause of injuries to airline passengers..." I'm not so sure about this. I suspect deadly trauma injuries are greater, but no one ever sets the numbers side by side. And here's CNN: "...and how often have you heard of an airplane actually crashing because of (turbulence)?" Never. Because the people are DEAD. When writing about crashes, no one ever asks, "Do you think some turbulence might have preceded that event?" They don't report that the Black Box said, "It was a Richter 7.3 before it plummeted!"
At any rate, I've now taunted the flight safety gods enough, and I will try to focus on the idea of sitting relatively still for 93.5 hours and maybe: getting something done! If I fly by myself for five hours, the time feels like a precious jewel because there are no interruptions. Flying with children... not so much.
Eventually all this contemplation turns back to logistics: what does one wear on an airplane for 93.5 hours? Or for 19 separate flights? And remember: the same 70+ people will see me in those outfits at least 17 times. What is the optimal number of plane-outfits so that people don't think, "God, that poor woman is wearing that same thing again... she should burn it when she gets home?" So far, the only clothing I would want to wear on 19 flights are pajamas. Maybe I should get one of those onesies with the drop-drawer in the back. Yoga pants? Sweat pants? Oh, dear... the trip starts in 10 days.
As I age, I'm reminded when I travel that I'm too attached to my toiletries... Why do I have so many? Why can't I simplify? Have I been oversold by the beauty or body-care industry? It's not that I'm too snobby to use the products they leave in hotel restrooms... it's just that after using them for any time, my hair fades and I develop alligator skin. So out come those little bottles that leak EVERY SINGLE TIME I fly anywhere.
I used to schlep my 3 ounce liquid, cream and paste toiletries in different ziplock bags which could be easily tucked in around clothes, with one set particularly separate for the sake of security. On this trip, all toiletries will go in the suitcases in the hold, so I could technically carry gallon jugs of shampoo, but we still need to keep things small. I decided to research which would be the best leak-free containers, and how I could best keep this stuff organized because everything in separate bags makes stuff hard to corral as you depart the hotel room, and we will be departing a LOT.
Then, I came across a couple of product reviews on YouTube by women who were gleeful about the perfect packing kit for THEIR toiletries and make up, and I realized I wasn't even average. Here is the LL Bean solution I went with, albeit requiring more room, but so far, in preliminary testing going to the Bay Area, it has worked:
I'm not super confident about ANY of the bottles holding their contents all "in." Here's hoping I don't regret this on every flight.
As part of the National Geographic tour, we have pre-paid for our own "small" expandable suitcase and an iPad. The iPad is sent in advance with National Geographic presentations pre-loaded, and you are expected to customize it with your email and upload books, music and other entertainment because it will be your primary on-board entertainment device. I wonder how easy this task is for people in their seventies who might be joining us on this trip. On the other hand, those septuagenarians are only organizing themselves, and I'm handling logistics for myself, Aili and my husband, who is disconcertingly accustomed to having a full-time assistant.
Last Thursday, we received our shipment. The first photo shows the size of the boxes with a scale factor.
The last photo is Aili pointing to the inside of the suitcase: "Look, Mom! It has maps on the lining!"
It's like Christmas in March! Albeit a Christmas you pre-paid in November.
Despite the fact that National Geographic is going to cover the "big" logistics: airport security, flights, transportation, hotels, tours and food, we're still left with quite a number of small things. Back in November, we executed paperwork for visas for Tanzania, China and India (you fill in four pages of the Indian application and hit submit, only to be told the system isn't working right then). We then got our inoculations for yellow fever and typhoid.
So far, the biggest challenge around which I've tried to wrap my mind is the packing. We are allowed one "large" suitcase, up to 50 pounds, and one "small" expandable suitcase, up to 60 pounds. To minimize laundry-related expense and potential damage, we don't want to have to send out more laundry than necessary. We are never in any hotel more than two days, so we will want to send it out on the first night of a two night stay. The only hotel with in-room washer and dryer is in Australia, on the seventh day after our departure from Orlando; for us, this will be the ninth travel day because we leave from LAX two days before the flights start; the tour itself commences with a cocktail party the night before we fly to Peru.
Contributing to the packing conundrum, we will not always have access to the "big" suitcase... sometimes, we must pack the small suitcase for one to three days and leave the big suitcase on the plane. Plus, the climates and temperatures will change a lot. The first third of the trip is more dry-beach; the second third is more tropical-humid-jungle (and cold Tibet); and the last third is more dry-desert. For dry-beach, we can wear shorts or regular pants. For tropical jungle, long sleeve shirts and lightweight pants but not shorts because of chikunguña, Japanese encephalitis and malaria. Two of the three dry-desert locations are Muslim, so longer skirts might be better. And don't forget that you might not want to wear your beach clothes or Indiana Jones outfit for five to ten hours on a plane.
Another packing concern is the medications (a combination of prescription and OTC medicines, including anti-malaria, anti-diarrhea and high altitude drugs) and electronics; three of our party will bring computers, and the adults will have phones. Someone said to me, "You can always buy it if you forget it," but that's not quite true. If we don't have it, or if we leave it behind, we may not be able to obtain it on short notice, remembering here a relative who arrived in Peru with an injection-pen medication... and none of the needles to administer it. Shampoo for color-treated hair? Tampons? iPad chargers? Perhaps, I will track how many Apple chargers I see for sale. More likely is that we might be able to bum something from fellow passengers. I have to wonder how many people on board will be carrying Sudafed in its original packaging. Asking what everyone brought and gathering statistics might make for a fun icebreaker on the airplane: "Alleve? Ambien? Xanax? Viagra?"
To summarize, we are going to take a "Private Jet" trip around the world with National Geographic, with 70+ of our closest friends. Well, they're not our closest friends yet... we tried to convince some of those to go too, but they were too busy. The tour is mostly in a pattern of "fly one day - visit a place one day - fly somewhere else one day- visit a place one day - repeat" fashion, with a couple of exceptions. We will fly in and out of the private jet ports of airports, thereby skipping the longest security lines.
Here is some information about where we are going and how long it takes to get there:
To interpret the table above, a few things to note. First, *in Peru and Tanzania --and from Chengdu-- there are additional "shorter" flights to get to the ultimate destination. We fly from Lima to Trujillo. We fly from Cheng-du, China to Lhasa, Tibet. And we fly from the Kilimanjaro airport out to the the Serengeti plain. Second, **on the two long flights, additional time has been calculated for a "tech stop" in Tahiti and in the Azores (still learning how to pronounce that name!). We believe that the plane is designed to not carry as much fuel as some; ergo, the extra hop. Lastly, please note the extremes of the temperatures because those, in combination with the risks of biting insects and their diseases, have my packing-logistics wheels spinning.