The Mother of Adventure

Stargazing

Michael J. FoxI’ve never been a huge idolizer of celebrities.

As a kid, I distinctly remember a dear friend of mine, Jennie, was completely obsessed with Michael J. Fox. She had posters of him plastered all over her bedroom walls (and I think there was one in particular she used to kiss goodnight – ha!). I didn’t quite get it. I mean, I loved Back to the Future and I could see that he was a good-looking guy, but this obsession…these pictures…I couldn’t grasp it.

My mentality stayed relatively unchanged as a grew up. Don’t get me wrong – puberty kicked in and I had the odd, fleeting crush: Andrew McCarthy (remember Mannequin?), Antonio Banderas (yes, seriously!!), Matthew McConaughey (yes, yes…I’ve heard) and Arnold Schwartzenegger (my brief interest in muscle-y men) to name a few (and yes, I do realize that I have eclectic taste). But I’ve never cut out a photo or rushed to the tabloids to read the latest “news.” In fact, my friends have sometimes smirked at my lack of knowledge in the latest Hollywood happenings.

I guess I just can’t bring myself to care enough much about these overpaid, skin-deep personalities who live in a reality so far from my own. Brangelina is fighting again? Oh NO…but they’re supposed to be in looove! What happened??!? Selena Gomez didn’t wear the right dress? Oh, the HORROR!!

It’s all a bit annoying; the only time I peek at the tabloids is when I’m at the hairdresser, which is about four times a year (yep, I’m pretty lazy about my hair, too). Otherwise, I can pretty much always find a more productive use of my time.

Star mapConsidering I’m such a kill-joy, celebrity cynic, I was pretty surprised at how much fun it was to stake out the homes of the stars in Beverly Hills last summer. It was the first day of our 10-day trip, and we’d flown into Los Angeles the day before. After breakfast, my husband went around the corner from our hotel and picked up a ‘Map of the Stars’ from some overpriced souvenir shop, and off we went to Beverly Hills in our uber-cool Ford Fiesta (I’m pretty sure we blended right in!).

Following our over-sized, cartoon-ish map of Beverly Hills felt a bit like a star-studded scavenger hunt. As Ian cruised down Sunset Boulevard, I navigated the various milestones printed in bubbly text on the map. Every couple of minutes, I’d call out something like, “This intersection is where Lindsay Lohan crashed her $100k Mercedes over the curb, on the wrong side of the road!” or, “The restroom of THAT park was where George Michael was arrested for performing a lewd act!”

Ours girls, who are mostly (blissfully) immune to Hollywood gossip, were slightly bored with our driving adventure. But with their unique outlooks, they did notice a few interesting things. For instance, Lily noted that the fire hydrants in Beverly Hills were painted silver. That’s right, no unsightly red or yellow here…even the hydrants must sparkle in Tinseltown!

Stop signsWhen we stopped momentarily – to take a quick picture of a street that was home to several celebs – Elissa noticed an amusing contradiction in signage; located just a few feet from a regular stop sign was a sign that read, “No stopping any time.” She found that pretty funny. Clearly, we weren’t the first family in a poorly-constructed, domestic rental car who had stopped to gawk.

The problem was that you couldn’t really get anywhere close to the celeb’s homes. You could drive up their street (or what our map claimed to be their street), but every property was gated by a massive, 15-foot gate and an astounding amount of high shrubbery. So most of my photos ended up with captions like, “This is the gate to Danny Devito’s house!” or “This is a picture of the street that Ellen DeGeneres lives on!”

There is something a bit thrilling about the fact that it was possible that Danny DeVito could have stepped out of the gate, wearing a housecoat, to get the morning paper. (I’m kindof glad that didn’t happen, however, as I don’t think a lifetime would be enough to get that image out of my mind!)

When we’d had enough of looking at famous gates and shrubs, we headed to Rodeo Drive. While our bank account didn’t allow me to re-enact the spiteful shopping scene from Pretty Woman, it was fun to window-shop outside the stores of the rich and famous. The kids kept asking why we weren’t going in any of the stores.

“Sweetie, we can’t afford anything in any of these shops…and I have the feeling the clerks wouldn’t be very friendly to us,” I explained. But we did partake in some Hollywood ice cream – from a very lovely chocolatier located just off Rodeo Drive.

I bet Danny and Ellen go there all the time.

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Forever Young

Birthday pic

My girls and I at SeaWorld; notice they both opted for their aquatic-themed t-shirts that day.

For me, SeaWorld is one of those magical places that allow you to tap into your inner child, no matter what your age. That’s probably what made it the perfect spot to spend my 38th birthday with my family this past summer; what better way to forget about 40’s impending approach than to act like a kid for a day??

SeaWorld was the first major attraction on our laundry list of parks, beaches and general merriment in California. Two years ago, we visited the SeaWorld located in Florida; so we were not totally new to it. I had fallen in love with SeaWord Orlando, and SeaWorld San Diego certainly did not disappoint either.

Although we arrived bright and early on a Monday morning, the entrance to SeaWorld San Diego was busy! In fact, it ended up being the longest admission process to any of the big parks that we visited. Not only was there a long, slow-moving line for tickets, there was also a hefty wait to pass through security (after getting your tickets). We decided to divide and conquer; my husband, Ian, stood in line for tickets while the kids and I waited in the security line. Ian secured the tickets and joined us at the front of the security line, effectively cutting our wait time in half.

SeaWorld Oscar ride

Ian (in stripes) and the girls on one of their many rides on ‘Oscar’s Rockin’ Eels.’

Once we were in, however, everything flowed smoothly and the park didn’t feel overly busy at all. We kicked off the day with a few amusement park-style rides for the kids (there are 10 to choose from). About half the rides have no minimum height requirement, meaning that even the little kids can ride. Our girls totally loved ‘Oscar’s Rockin’ Eels’ which was essentially a classic pirate ship ride with a sideways twisting motion thrown in.

Shamu show

The obligatory ‘Shamu shot’ from the stands.

After the girls had their fill of rides, we sat down in the stands to watch the ‘One Ocean’ show at Shamu Stadium. It was fun to see the quintessential Shamu and his posse, but the show lacked the diversity of the one I remembered from Orlando. Looking back, I realized that the real show-stopper was the ‘Blue Horizons’ show – which presents almost like Cirque du Soleil over water, with beautifully-costumed acrobats and a large variety of trained animals. SeaWorld San Diego does indeed offer the same show, but we didn’t have the chance to take it in this time around. If you’re just planning to see one of the aquatic shows during your visit, I would definitely recommend the Blue Horizons show over One Ocean.

SeaWorld lunch

Lily digs into chicken strips and fries – from a Shamu-shaped box, of course.

This was about the half-way point in our day, so we hit the ‘Shipwreck Reef Cafe’ for lunch (yes, the SeaWorld marketing team clearly had a hay day coming up with aquatic names for just about everything!). Since food places at theme parks tend to be way heavy on the grease and sugar, I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of fresh and healthy lunch offerings here; there were tons of salads, fruit and yogurt available. (Did we eat them?? Well, no…but the healthy options were there had we been disciplined enough to choose them!)

Our first destination after lunch was the ‘Shipwreck Rapids,’ which is a splashy family ride down a simulated river. This one was a bit of a wait (about half an hour) but it was worth it; the kids loved the ride and fellow park-goers took some good shots at our family from the riverside water cannons – leaving us good and soaked by the end of it. Clearly we were not the first ones to be saturated, as the adjoining gift shop was completely sold out of towels. We opted to spend $5 on a family-sized, walk-in dryer for a few minutes.

Another group heads down the "river" on the 'Shipwreck Rapids' ride. Don't forget your towel.

Another group heads down the “river” on the ‘Shipwreck Rapids’ ride. Don’t forget your towel.

Between handling live starfish, watching a trained animal show called ‘Pets Rule!’ and taking the kids to a massive play structure and enclosed bouncy area, the afternoon passed by in a total flash. Before we knew it, it was after 4 p.m. and we were slowly – but surely – starting to get hot and tired.

We found refuge from the heat in the lovely, air-conditioned theatre for ‘Madagascar Live: Operation Vacation,’ which is a live musical show with professional dancers and the whole fuzzy Madagascar crew. It was a well choreographed, high-energy presentation which was great to sit back and watch from the cushy theatre seats.

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A gorgeous view of the San Diego harbour from the gondola ride in the park.

Our final stop before exiting the park was the ‘BaySide SkyRide,’ a gorgeous gondola ride that takes you right over the San Diego harbour. It was fantastic to feel the breeze as we glided above the water, waving to friendly jet-skiers below us.

The beauty of being the birthday girl is that nobody can really say anything if you ask for treat after treat throughout the day – especially at a theme park like SeaWorld. So on the way out, I called for an ice-cream stop.

The girls enjoying their overpriced Shamu-shaped ice creams...right before Lily's fell off the stick and hit the pavement.

The girls enjoying their overpriced Shamu-shaped ice creams…right before Lily’s fell off the stick and hit the pavement.

It seemed only fitting that the girls choose Shamu-shaped, chocolate-covered ice cream before we hit the road, marking the end of an awesome day for the kids and a memorable birthday for this kid at heart.

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