A Family Guide to Richmond Virginia

Have you ever wanted to visit the history filled Richmond, Virginia area? Both the Revolutionary and Civil wars have marks on Richmond and the surrounding area, making it a great place to learn from hands-on field trips or to just take in the beautiful parks and nature that is found all around this beautiful city.

A Family Guide to Richmond Virginia - The beautiful, history filled city of Richmond has so many opportunities for adventure. | www.joyinthehome.com

A Family Guide to Richmond, Virginia

Whether you are a visitor or new to our area, you will find a lot of things to do for free in the Richmond, Virginia area and some things completely worth paying to do.

Historical

Outdoor Fun

Museums

Entertainment

Things worth the drive…

President's Homes

Amazement Parks

Looking for a great place to stay while in Williamsburg, Virginia?  Take advantage of a special from Westgate Resorts with Reference Number #9018954900.

 

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The Complete Cruise Guide

My husband and I went on a 7-night cruise to celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary. This was our first cruise and we had a great time, but we learned a lot of things we will do differently next time. It was a wonderful experience and one that we look forward to doing again, but not without sharing some of the things that we learned along the way, because the stress we had before getting on board was enough to make me decide that there was a need for a complete cruise guide.

The Complete Cruise Guide All You Need to Know for the Best Vacation | www.joyinthehome.com

The Complete Cruise Guide: All You Need to Know For the Best Vacation

I feel like I need to start at what is the MOST important aspect of a cruise, because this was the most stressful part of our planning stage and could have been completed avoided if we had some clear, correct advise.

TIP ONE: Have the Necessary Documents in Your Hand BEFORE Booking Your Cruise

You will need to have your proper paperwork in order to be able to get on a ship. If you don't have these papers, you won't be given permission to board. PERIOD.

Don't worry, we were able to board, but not without sleepless nights, tears because of mounting stress and not having the right papers until 24 hours before our flight. I'm not joking!

We were told by several people that you need a passport to go on a cruise. So, my husband and I each paid over $200 to process our passport and have it expedited to get it before our cruise that was 3 weeks away at the time. My passport came in 9 days, however my husband ran into some issues because his PA birth certificate did not have his birth parents name on it, nor the location of his birth. This is now required, so he needed to obtain a new birth certificate and get it to the Passport department in New Hampshire and back to us in now 2 weeks from our cruise.

Long and stressful story short, we overnighted his original NEW birth certificate, without getting a copy, the same day that New Hampshire received 2 1/2 feet of snow, shutting down all government offices for the rest of the week.

In desperation, we called the cruise line to see what our options were and we were told that for our destinations, a good copy of your BIRTH CERTIFICATE was only required. Yes, we were relieved and stressed all at the same time, because we never copied the birth certificate before overnighting it, so we still had NOTHING for my husband to board the cruise.

We decided to have the package returned to sender, overnight, since it was never delivered but it never arrived. Further calls made us realize that it wasn't going to be here. Our last resort was to call the Vital Record department and pray for favor for them to overnight us another copy of his birth certificate. After being told two times that they weren't able to do this for us, they transferred the call and the next morning we had his birth certificate in our hand and we left the next day.

To know what you need, visit the cruise's website or call them directly. This is what we found and was confirmed on the phone, as well as on our cruise:

“The passport requirement does NOT apply to U.S. citizens traveling to or returning directly from a U.S. territory.” sourced here.

TIP TWO: Shop for the Cruise Ship that Fits Your Vacation Desires

We had a great time on our cruise, but as we had more time on our 7-night cruise, it became apparent that our ship's amenities and activities didn't fit our desires for our cruise as much as we anticipated.

We traveled on the Carnival Splendor and we spent a lot of time researching the ship AFTER we bought the tickets. The ships pictures on the site were NOT the way the ship actually looked, not even close, so we were already disappointed by the retro decor that was everywhere, not the beach-pool feel that the website ‘promised' when we were planning our anniversary get-away.

We were also surprised by the buffet feel of the ship and how the menu never seemed to change, unless you went to the assigned dinner times in the restaurant.

Ask for referrals from those you know that cruise a lot. Ask to look at their pictures, hear their stories of their experience on the ship, for the service they received and the food experience. 

Make a list of amenities that you would like to enjoy while on the cruise. Ours had dive-in movies, which we did enjoy and family friendly comedy shows, which were by far the best entertainment we had on the ship, plus a 9-hole putt-putt course (I beat my man!!!) and a large chess game on the floor.  Other than the pool and hot tub, we really didn't do anything else with the amenities… well, my hubby did try his hand in gambling, but I will share more on that in a minute.

TIP THREE: Bring a LOT of Small Bills

This was great advice from some family members that cruise often. It was a GREAT tip! We decided to take enough cash to tip those helping with luggage, guides on the excursions and for some light shopping, while leaving our debit card at home.

We ran into a pickle, though. When we went shopping two times, we forget to use our credit card in stores that accepted them, leaving us short $35 short on cash and you guessed it, out of it before we were done cruising. We decided to get a small cash advance on our credit card, but neither of us remembered our pin number. We called the 800 number on the back of the card, but they were only willing to mail us a new number in 7-10 business days.

We were out of options, until another cruising couple told us that if we charge something on our Cruise's Sail and Sign card (needed to board and exit the ship, but also for any and all purchases on the ship) to use in the Casino on board, that we can play a little and then cash out our chips for cash. It worked perfectly and my hubby was happy to try his ‘luck' out on the cards. He actually did pretty good leaving with $2 more than what he started with.

We were surprised to see that they charged 3% to do this, but in the end it was cheaper than doing the ATM machine on board, so it really is a good tip to know, if you ever find yourself in our shoes.

TIP FOUR: Everything Isn't Included in Your Ticket

You may believe that cruises are all-inclusive, but they really are not. The basic things are and that is good for many people. However, if you like soda, frozen drinks or even alcohol, you are going to pay a hefty price for each drink. They do have a drinking plan that may vary from cruise line to cruise link (something to research when you are choosing the right ship for your vacation), but on our cruise it would cost $49 a day, plus tax for unlimited soda and limit on any speciality drinks from the bar. Many people did this but it would be over $350 a person on our cruise and we never drink enough to justify that expense.

They do have unlimited water (not bottled), juice, tea and coffee on one deck, which we maximized on, while getting some exercise. We did buy a few virgin frozen drinks through the week, and we did bring 24 water bottles with us, so it helped a lot.

Each cruise line is different, so research if you can bring any water bottles and soda with you. Our cruise allowed 12 bottles per person. We only spent $5 for the water we purchased, and we would have spent almost that for one bottle on the ship. VERY smart! You will have to carry it on board if you do this, but we went to guest services once on board and asked them to hold it until our cabin was ready. They put our cabin number on it and we picked it up later that first day, when we were in our cabin. Totally worth doing!

There were a lot of desserts, but nothing that really excited us… well, except for the 24 hour soft served ice cream and we did enjoy the dining room desserts when we went.  So one day we both wanted chocolate, which we paid $20 for 1/2 a pound.  If you think you will miss your favorite candy or snack, do your budget a favor and pack some!

What to Pack for a Cruise - Don’t overpack, but pack with purpose for a great vacation. | www.joyinthehome.com

TIP FIVE: What to Pack

This is something that I took a lot of people's advice on and missed the mark. We didn't have enough clothes, because we packed lighter than we should have and we had more bathing suits than we wanted to wear… at least all day long.

If you are a pool lover, sun-soaker, lay at the pool kind of person while you cruise, you will want to be sure to have several bathing suits. We each took 3 for our 7-night cruise. We had the right amount of swimming suits for our water activities, but because I was told that you will be in your bathing suit more than you realize and to cut your luggage in half, we didn't have enough of comfy clothes to keep us for our entire 9 day getaway.

We felt that we needed one casual outfit a day, 3 swimming suits, swimsuit covers, flip flops, sneakers, two pants, two long sleeves, a sweater (the evenings were cold, but at times the air condition proved to cause you to be chilly in the main eating areas) and if you are doing the elegant dinning experience outfits for those days. We didn't want to go elegant, but I did pack some clothes that we would go to a nice event in and it was just what we needed to enjoy the elegant wear for the dinning room. (We loved our dinning room staff that it was always the highlight of our day to get to know them, their goals and about their families back home)

We packed some heavy duty magnetics that went on the wall to hold our sweaters and towels. Be sure to pack these in your check-in luggage, not your carry on or you will be stopped in the security line at the airport.

Do NOT pack beach towels, like we did. They give you wonderful ones in your room and will give you clean ones if you use them. You can even take them on excursions, but if you don't have the same number in your room at the end of your cruise, you will be charged a hefty fee.

I also would recommend taking two beach towel clips, per person, to be able to clip your beach towels to your chair. It will serve as a great way to keep your towel in place on a windy day and will also help you identify where your things are with a quick look.

Of course, you can't forget to pack sun screen, a hat and sun glasses. They are a MUST!

You may consider packing motion sickness relief or my favorite, Peppermint Oil and Lavender Oil to aid with sleeping! You may also consider any other medication or immune boosting supplements.

Get more packing tips in my What to Pack for a Cruise.

TIP SIX: Fly in Early and Leave Late

We flew into Miami, Florida, which is a large airport and because of the popularity of cruises, the number of people coming into and leaving can be very overwhelming to the airport.

The cruise may offer those arriving the day of and leaving the day of return a transportation options for a charge, but it will be hectic because of the number of people taking this offer.  (Our cruise offered to take your luggage straight to the airport for you, but I don't have experience with that service and I'm concerned of lost luggage) On their site, they recommend flying in EIGHT hours before departure to ensure you have plenty of time to go through the airport, arrive to the port and go through check-in and boarding procedures. 

This all can take a lot of time and I can't image the stress level that we would have experienced if we arrived the morning of the departure and traveling more than two people, especially with young children.  We don't regret the extra expense of two nights stay because it completely eliminated the rush of getting checked in before departure and the rush of getting to the airport and through the masses leaving that same day – 5 ships came in within the same time period and all with 3,000 or more guest!

We arrived the night before departure and left the morning after arrival at port.

TIP SEVEN: Save Money While Enjoying Excursions

If you don't take advantage of the excursions available to you at the ports you visit, you really aren't taking the best vacation that you could take. However, excursions are EXPENSIVE and completely WORTH IT, if you know they have good reviews and how long each will take.

You can learn about the cruises you have the options to participate in, on the website of your cruise line. Although it is available to purchase your excursions online, I highly recommend that you DON'T. Use these resource to learn about what is available and more important take the time to read the reviews on the ones that interest you. This time spent eliminated several that were top on our list because they received really bad reviews, however some that are similar to those received excellent reviews and won our place on our ‘wish list' that we took on our cruise.

The first day on the cruise, go to the EXCURSION DECK, and purchase the excursions that you are interested in doing. We purchased excursions on 3 of the 4 stops our ship took and earned us a 15% discount, that saved us almost $90!

If you want to save MORE money and are willing to be completely flexible with what excursions you want to do, you can wait until you get off the ship at the port and see what excursions are still available. When we stopped at San Juan, Puerto Rico, we planned on just shopping and going back to the ship when we were done (which we did) but we could have easily taken a 2 hour tour for $10 each. The same tour cost $40 per person when booked on the cruise. That is a BIG difference!

Another way you can save money on excursions at the ports you stop is to learn about each port BEFORE you cruise. We booked an excursion at Grand Turks but had time before the excursion started, so we took advantage of the beach that we were ported at. We were surprised to find out that the beach and chairs were FREE to cruisers.  In addition, the shops were the best we had experienced and would have LOVED to just shopped at my leisure.  We had the same type of opportunity at another port, but we paid $70 each to do what we could have done for FREE at this port.

Do you ever think about Cruising With Kids? Don’t do it without my tips! They will make your dream vacation full of memories you will cherish for a lifetime.

Cruising With Kids - Tips to make your vacation amazing. | www.joyinthehome.com

TIP EIGHT: Shopping Tips to Save You Money

We were told by several people to ALWAYS BARTER with the shops and never pay what they are asking for without trying for a cheaper price.

This is so true, but shouldn't always be done.

Each time we attempted to get a better price, it worked. However, we also did price comparison in other shops on the same island and found several items that we wanted to purchase marked different prices, saving us several dollars per item. Seeing the difference from one shop to the other, we knew that the cheapest price we found was actually a price that was worth what we would be willing to pay and in those situations, we didn't barter.

Then there were a few times that we found something that I had been searching for as a gift and I knew the price was something that I would be willing to pay, because the shop was clean, the customer service was wonderful without being pushy and the products offered were high quality. Even then, I felt that I got a great price with what was marked and never thought twice about paying what was being asked.

TIP NINE: Important Things To Do Before Leaving

Only take a minimal amount of credit cards, we each only took one. You need to let your credit card company know that you are traveling and where. You can normally do this online, but you may find it more comforting to call them, so you have further questions, like your PIN number. You should also call your bank if you are taking any debt cards with you.

Be sure you get the right amount of cash – Formula is $1 a bag, times the number of times it will be handled by someone else. In our situation it was four times at the hotel stays and one time at the ship (we did self check out of our bags), $2-$3 per taxi ride for your group, $2-$5 per excursion for two people.

If you are leaving your children behind, be sure to give a letter of permission for the care giver to get them emergency help if needed, along with their insurance cards. Be sure to pack your insurance card in your wallet. We know of two people on our cruise needing emergency care while at different ports.

Be sure you pack your drivers license and birth certificate or passport in a wallet or small purse, because you will need this each time you leave or enter the ship.

Update your voicemail and email to notify people that you are out of town.

TIP TEN: Extra Charges Added By the Cruise Line

This one took us by complete surprise, so I wanted to be sure you knew about this additional charge that is added to your account with just a paper on your bed to inform you it was added… at least that was our experience. This was for the tips for those serving on the ship in the staterooms (your cabin) and dinning areas. (Note: if you purchase drinks, you need to tip them at the time of the drink, which can easily go on your Sail and Sign card) We were charge $12 a day per person, so $84 per person for the 7-night cruise.

This tips is a nice feature to allow you not to worry about tipping each time you eat or on a daily basis for your stateroom steward, who are also so quick to ensure your trip is relaxing and enjoyable. However, if you don't know it is coming you will be as surprised as we were and especially if you need to budget for your cruise and keep it within a budget that works for your family.

 

 

The Homeschool Guide to Williamsburg, Virginia

A Homeschoolers Guide to Williamsburg, Virginia www.joyinthehome.com.jpg

As a homeschooling family, we love field trips and living only 45 minutes from Williamsburg, Virginia is as wonderful as it seems.  I know that not everyone is so blessed, so I thought I would offer a homeschoolers guide to Williamsburg, Virginia.  Even if you aren't a homeschooler but would love to take advantage to this historically rich area, you will want to be sure to pin this post and save it for your travels.

A Homeschoolers Guide to Williamsburg, Virginia

Historic Jamestowne

Historic Jamestowne is the site for the first permanent English settlement in America.  The original fort is no longer standing, however the church is still standing, along with a museum that holds the artifacts that are being excavated at this site, at the side of the James River.  You could see almost everything in about 3 hours.

Jamestown Settlement

Jamestown Settlement is a great hands-on museum with the replica of the original Jamestown fort, Indian villages and an indoor museum of the historical details of this important beginning of the new world.  However, going on board the three replica ships and learning about the long, hard journey to the New World will likely be the highlight of your day… well, that and the shooting of the musket guns. You can easily spend all day learning, exploring and discovering.

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg is an amazing opportunity to study the colony, the functions of the colonist, see the culture and dress and experience time travel like nothing else.  The moment you step into the large area of Colonial Williamsburg, you will be transported back into the days of before the Revolutionary War.  You can step into shops and watch work begin down just like it was done in that day. All works are there for your experience, available to answer questions and demonstrate the day in the life of a blacksmith, silversmith, shoemaker and more. Our favorite part of this experience is when it comes alive with Revolutionary City. You must experience this reenactment in the streets, as it moves from one part of the city to the next. By far my favorite part! My children absolutely love the entrance of the Governor's Palace.  Don't forget to bring your picnic and enjoy it on the lawn in from of the Palace. You can spend two or three days enjoying all that Colonial Williamsburg has to offer.

Yorktown Victory Center

Yorktown Victory Center is the location of where the Revolutionary War was won and our independence secured. You can learn about the colonies and the entire Revolutionary war at Yorktown Victory Center. The artwork is amazing and historical, which makes it one of my favorite things there. My children enjoyed the dress up area and we have great memories of our son being a volunteer to demonstrate how the cannons were loaded and fired. Oh, and be sure to pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the view of the York River.  You could spend all day enjoying everything.

Each of these locations have ‘Homeschool Days' which allows for great discounts during special times of the years. To learn more about these days, contact the location for your choice and get the dates. It is always the same time for all these locations, but the fees change and are different for each one.

Looking for a great place to stay while in Williamsburg, Virginia?  Take advantage of a special from Westgate Resorts with Reference Number #9018954900.

 

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Would you like to eliminate the challenge of homeschool curriculum choices while finding confidence that you are buying the right curriculum for your family? If so, you can download my free guide that includes secrets to evaluating curriculum that is a perfect fit for your unique family. Just click here to get Curriculum Evaluations The Why, What, & When to Making Curriculum Choices for FREE in your inbox.

CURRICULUM EVALUATIONS

A Family Guide to Sea World

A Family Guide to Sea World www.joyinthehome.com

Our family visited Sea World Orlando and they gave me two tickets to write a Family Guide for families like ours to come and get the most of their park. 

Get 2 Day Tickets

Our family absolutely loved Sea World!  We are already talking about going the next time, but getting a two day pass because you just can't do it all in one day and we want to do it all and then do somethings a second time. I'm not joking!  We may even be getting a 3 day ticket because this was the highlight to our Orlando trip.

Sea World Dolphin Show www.joyinthehome.com

Plan a Head for Your Favorite Things

For our family, the dolphin show, Up Close with the Killer whales and the Sea Lion show were the best things about the park.  These are the things we would love to do more than once.  We recorded some of these things on my cell phone and my little guy LOVES to watch it again and again.

He is all about the animals since our visit! (I will be adding a learning section at the bottom of this post that I will be doing with him because he just can't get enough)  He even tried to swim and dance like the dolphins later in the pool and now in his bath.

Be sure to visit Sea World's website to find out what is offered and plan according to the time that you have to enjoy the park.

Sea World Flamingos www.joyinthehome.com

Pack a Backpack

We never visit an amusement park without a backpack. Not all parks allow you to bring food or drinks in, but Sea World does and we did!

We packed sunflower seeds, sesame sticks, nuts, raisins and cranberry boxes, granola bars and beef jerky to snack on when we needed it.

You can also get wet while you visit Sea World! So pack a towel and maybe a change of close for younger children.  We went on a rainy day, so we purchase rain ponchos to stay dry from the weather, because it was cooler than normal.  We were glad we did!

A Few Other Tips

I lost my son for about 5 minutes while at Net Climb.  It was the most frightening thing I have experienced.  I shared what I learned through this fear gripping experience for my own knowledge that next time we go and for parents like me, who are very attentive and because of an obstruction from view and to much temptation for a little guy to ignore.

If you can purchase the Dine All Day ticket, you should! My oldest son can't seem to get enough to eat these days and the energy you go through at an amusement park can really make you hungry and thirsty. This pass was worth the money!  He ate anytime he was hungry and got as many drinks as he needed… all day! (only certain restaurants participate)


A Family Guide to Magic Kingdom

A Family Guide to Magic Kingdom www.joyinthehome.com

Our family went to Magic Kingdom recently, so I contacted them and asked if I could write this Family Guide for them.  They gave me two tickets in exchanged for helpful tips to families, like ours that visit Magic Kingdom year round.

Plan Your Day Before Arriving

Using the online map of Magic Kingdom, our family mapped out what rides, attractions and shows were important to us.

From that list of ‘must do', we planned our day to navigate the park in a methodical way to save on energy and maximize our one day ticket.  Because our family has two adult children and two younger children, we decided to divide and conquer at the beginning of the day, taking advantage of shorter lines at the start of the day.

Stick to your plan!  By knowing what you want to see, ride and experience, along with the times that each of the shows start we were able to see everything we desired to do and in recorded time.

Arrive Early

We were so happy we arrived early on the day we went to Magic Kingdom.  I was so surprised by the lines already formed when we arrived and entered the gates about 10 minutes before the crowd of people, excited to start their ‘magical day'.

For those eagerly waiting, they were witness to Mickey Mouse, Minnie and other of his friends arrive on the train and entertain you at the start of your magical day. When the gates open, fire works go off and the crowd literally starts running into the park!

The Castle

The Castle is what everyone thinks of when you mention Magic Kingdom, so no wonder it is the first thing you see when you enter the gates.  Be sure to stop and get your photo taken with that icon behind your family.

 

goofy and pluto

Character Experiences, Stage Shows and Parades

Using the interactive map to plan your day and to be sure you see the Disney Characters that matter most to your children, you will want to pay attention to the times these are happening throughout the park.

You can bring your own autograph books for them to sign (or buy one at the many shops around the park), take pictures of your children with the characters or have lunch in one of the restaurants that provide even more of a magical experience.

Be sure to escape the heat and enjoy the President's Hall in Liberty Square, where all 44 presidents are on stage.  Our family has also enjoyed the escape from the heat or weather with the Mickey's Philharmagic 4D Show.

jungle cruise

Family Attractions

When you think of Disney's Magic Kingdom, you already think of the popular rides that are advertised everywhere.  I want to share with you a few of the ones you may over look and shouldn't!

Our family really enjoyed the very entertaining Jungle Cruise and you will love the Liberty Square Riverboat!

One of my favorite rides to enjoy with my youngest was the Many Adventures of Winnie Pooh.  All along the line are hands-on playing stations for your children to explore, experience and enjoy as they move up the line with you.  Save this one for when your children are needing a break from waiting in lines, because you will not hear them complaining in this line!

MAGIC KINGDOM - TOMORROWLAND - SPACE MOUNTAIN - DEC 90

Thrill Rides

My older children are thrill lovers.  Arriving early allowed them to ride Space Mountain four times in about an hour and that truly was the magical moment for their day.  They have also enjoyed Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, as well.

These are popular rides and tend to have very long wait lines, so using the FastPass+ option for the must ride would be the best way to use this option.

Other Helpful Tips

Pack snacks!  

You are able to bring food and water into the park, so do it!  We always use a backpack.  We packed it full of sunflower seeds, sesame sticks, pistachios, sweetened walnuts and pecans, granola bars, raisin and cranberry boxes and beef jerky, plus our water bottles.

We took breaks to snack and get drinks before heading out of one area, to be sure we did everyone and reconfirm our plan for the next area of the park. This really helped to keep hunger and attitudes from popping their ugly head in long lines.

Bring a Stroller with Storage Room

Save money and bring your own stroller, but be sure there is storage for your water bottles and bag when you need a break.  There are stroller parking at different parts of the park and although we have never left our book bag, the items we have left in the stroller never seemed to be touched.

Pack a Towel and Dress to get Wet

There are a few places around the Magic Kingdom to help you beat the heat and cool off.  We always through a towel in our bag and pack a change of clothes for the younger ones in the car, so that they can get out of the clothes when we leave (if we plan to leave early) or pack them in the backpack if we are making it a full day until closing.

Don't Overlook Your Children's Needs

I was surprised to see how many parents were not having a good time, because their children were struggling with the overload of the day.  If your children are still taking naps daily and they are off their schedule, you are going to run into some issues. Plan an indoor show for the adults around their nap time and cuddle with them, allowing them the opportunity to rest or take a nap.  Do the same later in the day, if you plan on staying for the nightly fire works!

Feed your child often.  Don't allow their tummies to get hungry because all hungry people get grumpy.

Acknowledge their needs when their attitude shifts and take time to meet them and your time will be built around the memories you are making for them at their age and their ability.

I hope these tips help your family to enjoy the ‘magic' of your visit to Disney's Magic Kingdom!

What I Learned When I Lost My Son at Sea World

What I Learned When I Lost My Son at Sea World www.joyinthehome.com

We recently visited Sea World in Orlando on a day in February that was rather cool and rainy in the morning.  Due to the weather, Sea World was not as busy and we really were having a wonderful day exploring, learning and making memories.  All that changed so quickly, when my sweet four year old boy disappeared and I lost my son at Sea World.

It was getting late in the day and dinner time for our family.  We decided to split up and conquer, which we do often.  My husband and my older three children went for our dinner, while my four year old and I headed for the children's play area.  My son was so excited about the Net Climb and I was excited for him, but knew that his siblings would LOVE to explore this area with him, so I told him that we will just enjoy the slides together, while we waited for them.

My son tends to be an obedient boy and because of this obedience, I gave him some liberties to enjoy with my supervision.  The photo below (provided by viajaretudodebom.com.br) is the Net Climb at Sea World and the pink, purple and green slides were where I gave him permission to play.  I watched him climb the steps, as I waited by the bottom of the slides.  From that area, I could see his feet and see where he had entered.  He loved coming down the slide and peek through the openings to see me waiting with a smile.

netclimb 3 slides

This routine continued for six turns, two trips down each of the colors of the slide.  He was heading for the steps again and I wanted to be sure he remembered that he could only go down the three sides and he replied ‘yes, ma'am'.

So again, I watched from the bottom of the slides and moved with his fee to the green slide, which was the furtherest slide from the stairs.  I saw his feet disappear and waited to see his face through the openings on top of the slide… but NOTHING!  I popped my head into the slide and called his name. NOTHING!  Seeing the light at the top, I popped up and thought that he must have changed his mind in went into the next one. I began scanning the top and looking through the other slides. NOTHING.  I called his name again. NOTHING.

I ran up those steps as fast as I could to only find NO ONE at the top.  I began to scream his name, as I spun in all directions trying to spot where he went and the only options was into the Net Climb through a yellow tube.  Once entering this tube, there is a large rope floor that leads to the next level.  I scanned that area to the right and I saw nothing… NO ONE!

netclimbing entrance mouseplant.com

As I began to scan more to the left, while screaming his name, I saw an area that lead to the left side of the Net Climb and I didn't see him, but I noticed a stair way down the other side.

My mind went wild…. ‘SOMEONE TOOK MY SON!'

netclimb's back stairs at Sea World by mouseplant.com

I ran down the stairs that I came up and began to look frantically in all directions for a glimpse of my son and couldn't!  I called my daughter's cell and began to cry into the phone, “I lost Manoah and I need y'all to help me NOW!”

I ran back up the stairs and a young father stopped me.  He looked me in the eyes and said, “Ma'am, what does your son look like and what is he wearing?”  I began to try to get a photo from my phone and I couldn't even stop from shaking. I stopped and prayed out loud, “Lord, help me!”  Immediately, I started to remember what he was wearing.

We both started scanning the second level and the young father pointing to the stairs between the second and third level said, ‘Is that him?'

“YES!!! YES!!!!” was all I could say.  I screamed his name and told him to come to me right now. He was coming in my direction and everything hit me. I hugged the young father, thanking him again and again.  I watched as my little boy was making his way to me, just as my family arrived.

I couldn't stop hugging my boy and then my husband, bawling the whole time!

This experience of losing my son has taught me somethings, even after 20 years of parenting and I wanted to share them with you.

  • Paying full attention to your child isn't enough – I was not distracted with my cell phone, talking with another parent or looking around. I have full attention on my child, but the obstacles in my way from a full view wasn't enough for me to know where my son was at all times.
  • It really only does take a few seconds – I have gone through this time again and again and can only expect that he was in the Net Climb for about 1 minute before I was at the opening. We are still puzzled of how he got where he got without me seeing him, but there are tunnels inside and although we can't get a full understanding from him, we believe that he was inside one of these obstructing my view of him.
  • First time obedience is crucial – My son is obedient most of the time and he admitted that he willingly disobeyed because he really wanted to go inside and play.  Even if your child is characterized to be obedient, situations can be more temptation for them then we realize.
  • Current photo is crucial – From now on, I will be taking a photo of my son and putting it on my screen shot when ever we go to anything that can obstruct my view from having full knowledge of where he is at all times. If I could have pulled that up immediately, he may have been noticed sooner.
  • Dress in something that stands out – Bold colors or in his case, a polar bear on a black sweater was helpful to spotting him quickly.
  • Ask for help before freaking out – No one stepped up to help me when I called his name several times and I didn't ask for it either.  I was freaking out before someone offered to help me. If my son was taken, that was precious time lost because I tried to do it on my own.
  • Train my son who knows no strangers safety rules – He talks to EVERYONE and immediately tells them his name and age. He just loves people. In today's culture, this could be harmful to him. We have already started to train him about stranger danger and walking away from us.  I have even gone so far as to have a family password, so he learns that if someone tries to get him to go with him, he can only go with them if they know our secret word.

I hope these tips help you to never know the fear that gripped our family that day.  Meanwhile, we look forward to go to Sea World again and build more memories that bring smiles to our faces.