So, you know how any time you do something for the very first time (unless it’s something supremely easy), by the time you’re done you have created a laundry list of ways you’ll do it differently (and waaaaaay better) when (IF!) you ever do it again? Well, that’s sorta what happened to us when we took our first crack at attending UWG.
For those who didn’t read my brief post on our ‘Countdown to Kalahari’, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about and the acronym UWG could means so many things to you: Unofficial Women Gunslingers, Unruly Wacky Gradeschoolers, Unripe Watermelon Gatherers… you get the picture. But just to allay any gunslinging, watermelon gathering concerns let me give you a quick 411 on what UWG actually is.
UWG stands for the Unschoolers Waterpark Gathering (for those not in the know, unschooling is a form of homeschooling). It is an event held annually, in Sandusky, Ohio at the beautiful Kalahari Resort which boasts the world’s largest indoor waterpark (righteous!) among many other wonderful amenities. This year was their 6th year hosting, but our first year attending. They have speakers come from all over the country (people who actually unschool/homeschool and thusly have mucho experience in this arena) to guide you in the ways of ‘non-State mandated education’. Multiple seminars are available each day for parents, ‘funshops’ are available at the same time for the kids (idle hands, you know?), there are family activities planned each night (not mandatory), and then you have free reign of the resort the rest of the time (totally included in your stay at no extra charge!) We get a hugely reduced rate because we attended in the thousands (!), so it’s definitely a vacation that delivers on the cheap. But I do have to admit, it was one that was fraught with… shall we say… difficulties… and by the time I got home I had a list a mile long of things we’ll do differently if we do it again (well, not really a mile… but you get the gist). Bear with me, there’s good stuff at the bottom! So, without further ado….
#1- DON’T make the trip in one day. I’m not really sure exactly what I was thinking (or even if I was thinking). We live in Eastern NC- the resort is in Sandusky, OH- according to Mapquest it’s only 10-12 hrs. ‘Psssht!’ I say ‘We can do that in one day easy!’ Oh. My. God. I could NOT have been more wrong! I guess I forgot that we have 4 kids (plus the 2 of us) which equals 6 bladders that constantly need attention. I also forgot that I have a 13-year-old and 11-year-old with metabolisms like Hoover vacuums that have to be fed regularly or all hell breaks loose. Add to that the cargo area in our car is a joke and we have a cramped space, for a loooooooong trip, with 4 irritable kids. Not exactly a match made in heaven.
#1A- DON’T leave at 4 a.m. (or any a.m. before 9 for that matter!) It just isn’t worth it folks! It didn’t get us there any faster, we were so tired from lack of sleep which made driving treacherous in those mountain passes, and we STILL didn’t roll into Kalahari until close to midnight. Ugh! It was awful! If it weren’t for the time suck in Virginia (yep, I said time suck- we lost 7 hours going and 3 hours coming back- true story!) we probably would have made better time. I’m convinced if you look at old maps of the USA you’ll find some black hole type swirly vortex mark right over where the state of Virginia should be- it’s obviously where time (and matchless socks) go to die.
DO OVER- Next time, we will break the trip up into a 2 day segment. There were a lot of cool places we passed on our way up (and back) that we thought would be interesting to stop and see. Most notably would be the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (I’m up for anything that includes Aerosmith!) but I’d also dig hanging out for a day in Charleston, WV- it was a beautiful area and I’d like to get to know it better. We’re even thinking of extending the return trip home and taking the kids to see Niagara Falls next time! By breaking the trip up into 2 days, we don’t have to leave quite as early and we can take a more leisurely pace (that’ll make EVERYONE happy). Plus, it adds a bit more to the vacation- I’m constantly telling my kids it’s not always the destination that’s important… sometimes half the trip is in the getting there.
#2- DON’T room with another family (unless you already know them and are comfortable with them). Please don’t get me wrong- we roomed with a lovely family from PA and although the other mom and I hit off off beautifully through email for the several months leading up to UWG… it’s just a little weird to suddenly have 5 people you’ve never met and don’t know from Adam sharing a hotel suite with you. Their kids were a bit older than ours and had VASTLY different interests than ours. We got along swimmingly with the parents for the most part, but had completely different views on how to interact with and raise kids and sometimes it got a bit hairy in there. Where we thought we were going to spend all this time together, having this awesome kind of bonding type week, we spent more time circling one another and staying irritated. So it wasn’t as positive as I would have liked.
DO OVER- Next time, I will pay a bit more attention to the room offerings and we will just stay on our own. We realized, after getting there, that we could have had the king/kitchen room and one of the 2 queen attached rooms (with the adjoining door) for basically the same price we were paying to split the 3 bedroom suite with the other family. It would have plenty of space for us, we could have been as rowdy and obnoxious and we wanted to be, and it wouldn’t have bothered anybody except… well…us!
#3- DON’T go into this thinking that because you’ll have a kitchen you’ll cook all your meals there. Just because you do it at home DOES NOT mean you’ll do it at UWG! They have things booked from 7 a.m. to midnight and if you’re not partaking in that then you are downstairs in the waterpark, the arcade, the mini golf, or doing something else. If you try to cook everything there, all you will do is spend a lot of useless time in the kitchen and be miserable because you’re missing out on a lot of fun.
DO OVER- I will make SO much ahead and freeze it all: turkey burgers, spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, stuffed pasta shells, the works. Then, all you have to do is thaw and warm to make dinner (or breakfast or lunch). Easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy! And so much less headache involved- plus dinner gets on the table each night WAY before 10 p.m. (always a plus). Also, don’t be afraid to try out some of the food in the hotel. If you choose wisely it’s not that expensive and it’s incredibly tasty.
#4- DON’T hit the waterpark 400 times- it’s exhausting! It’s a trek just to get down there (our room was in the back forty) and then the waterpark itself is MASSIVE (173,00 sq, ft.!)
DO OVER- Make a day of it- for real. And then make smaller trips down there if you feel the need to go back. And for goodness sake’s rent a cabana! I’m not sure how much they are, but they can’t be too terrible and I know my kids would have really enjoyed having a place to warm up, watch a little tv, have a light snack, and relax before jumping back into the water. We are definitely doing that if we go back. Also, it can’t hurt to ask them to put my room closer to the waterpark so the walk there isn’t like trekking in from the actual Kalahari.
#5- DON’T skip out on seminars and activities. We were so wasted after our drive that it took several days to get back to rights. During that time, we missed out on several seminars and activities we wanted to attend because we were sleeping (or irritable from lack of sleep). Add to that we were a bit nervous because we didn’t know anyone and it tended to turn us into isolationists.
DO OVER- Hopefully by making a 2 day trip instead of 1, we won’t be so tired, so skipping things won’t be an issue. It also helps to have kids who are more adventurous and willing to go to family dances with their mom instead of responding, “Uh-uh! Not me!” I also think we’ll be a bit more comfortable the next time around because we know what to expect- so the fear of the unknown will no longer be a deciding factor.
So, there’s my list of what to fix next time. After reading it, you might think we had an awful time- right? WRONG! We had a GREAT time!! It was so much fun and could have only been enhanced by the list above. There’s something to be said for being surrounded by thousands of people who do what you do every single day and understand you like no one else can.
We attended some amazing seminars like one on ‘Right Brained Learning’ given by Cindy Gaddis which was especially helpful for me as my 13-year-old is ridiculously right brained. I’m also quite right-brained in life but very left-brained in my approach to learning and teaching, so Cindy’s talk really helped me to understand how to better approach D and help him grasp concepts better and stay on task more efficiently. My favorite seminar was given by Erika Davis-Pitre and was titled ‘Unschooling Your Teens’. Erika is AWESOME! She is so funny and really down to earth and gave us a lot to think about- especially as our kids have to be ‘deschooled’ (meaning they have to unlearn all the bad things ‘State mandated education’ taught them) before they can effectively be un/homeschooled.
|Ro’s sword from Kid’s Marketplace|
The kids got to be involved in some of the most fun things I’ve ever known to occur. Some of their funshops included making ‘Following Eye Pictures’ (you know, the ones where the eyes follow you no matter where you walk in the room? You can see my Mardi Gras inspired mask on the right) and indulging in a ‘Nerf War’ (you can imagine how much fun THAT was!). They even got to shop in a Kid’s Marketplace which is where everything is made, grown, baked, etc. by the kids and then sold and/or bartered by said children. It’s really fantastic watching them hone their entrepreneurial skills. Next year, D wants to take and sell some original artwork and Drew is working on an idea for something as well. We shall see….!
|Me… tattin’ up America’s future!|
We also had a great time at the opening night Carnival. The kids got to play all sorts of neat carnival games, there was an impromptu dance party, and I even got into the spirit by helping out at the temporary tattoo booth. Yep, I got my groove on by contributing to the delinquency of minors! By the end of the night, my 3-year-old daughter had a ‘sleeve’ and even I was sportin’ some tats! (Hello Kitty to be precise- her choice- not mine)
Kalahari is a beautiful resort and themed out completely in all it’s African elegance; it’s neat to see all the little touches here and there from the carpet to the artwork. They really put a lot of time and effort into this place and it shows. We did eat in one restaurant in the lobby and the food was wonderful. They boast a coffee bar and even have a candy/ice cream shop where we indulged completely!! (My mantra that week was calories eaten in Ohio don’t count!)
|Told you it was AMAZING!|
The waterpark was tons of fun but was somewhat disappointing when the babies were sometimes too short to go on some of the rides, even if an adult was present. I understand safety is paramount, but Little Miss especially got bummed although she thoroughly enjoyed the Lazy River Ride! Keep in mind you definitely get a workout walking through that place! Tim and I (plus the kids) really had a lot of fun in the Wave Pool and the guys thoroughly enjoyed playing Water Basketball.
|Drew- gettin’ his bowl on!|
I think more than anything, my favorite part of the whole resort was the arcade, because it wasn’t just your average arcade. They had the requisite games and whatnot, but they also had a blacklight mini golf, an indoor bowling alley, and a paint-your-own-pottery place. We participated in all of it! It was AWESOME! We had a lot of fun with the games and won some really neat prizes- bowling was a hit and we knew we needed to do more of it here at home- and even pottery turned out to be something everyone enjoyed. Luckily for us, we have a local pottery place right up the road, so pretty soon we will be common faces around the there!
All in all, I have to say it was a pretty phenomenal first time. Sure, there were some hiccups- there are with just about any vacation, but overall it totally rocked. We came home tired, sore, and 5 lbs fatter (guess those calories did count after all?) but very pleased with ourselves for having attended.
CONCLUSION: Will most definitely attend next year!