Friday, April 27, 2012

April Vacation 2012

By K.J. Cardinal

Sapphire Beach (St. Thomas, USVI)
This is without a doubt the most amount of time I've ever spent on one single post for The Cardinal Blog, and I guess it's only fitting because it's the first real vacation we've taken to an exotic destination since I launched the blog back in 2007. Needless to say, the vacation was a long-time coming and it didn't disappoint for a second.

I don't blame you if you don't read this entire post, but I had to do it so we will always be able to look back on what an amazing week we had. So, if you're not interested in the daily run down of our trip, then just be sure to scroll through to see the pics and most importantly the videos. Definitely some really cool stuff. Anyway, here goes...

Sunday, April 15: Coney Island

By flying out of JFK instead of Logan, we were able to save over $200/ticket on our direct flights to St. Thomas. This was obviously a no-brainer, which meant we would head down to NYC the day before our flights to enjoy a day at Coney Island.

Sad way to start the trip... a sniper took out all three kids on the Merritt Parkway.

The only thing I really knew about Coney Island was that it annually plays host to the Nathan's hot dog eating contest... and quite frankly (pun intended) that was really all that Leo and I needed to know about the place.

We arrived around 11:30 a.m. and were able to get free on-street parking as it was pretty early for a spring beach crowd. [As an aside, Sunday trips to NY will be in our future as free on-street parking and a late-awaking city was a treat.]

This dog didn't stand a chance.
First things first, we did what every red-blooded American should do immediately when they get to Coney Island... and that's grab a hot dog from Nathan's.

Nathan's (Coney Island)
The hot dog's didn't disappoint, but the cheese fries were a surprise hit with the ladies and I was pretty psyched to get a 32 ounce draft beer in a paper cup. Kinda made me feel like I was sneaking beers in a movie theatre and pouring them into an empty soda cup... not that I'd ever do that, of course.

After fueling up, we ventured over to Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, located directly on the boardwalk. I was rather surprised by the number of rides, especially for little kids, which were right in Anna's wheelhouse. We bought a bunch of tickets and off we went.

Sammy can't contain her excitement.
Leo was enjoying his time on my back in the MacPac, which meant that Anna could really dominate some rides. For the first of a million times on our vacation, Sammy proved to be the MVP of the trip as she hopped on the whales with Anna to get the festivities started.

Anna was in her glory as she bounced from ride to ride. First the whales, then the dragon coaster, then the train and the ducks with Leo and so on and so forth.

Photo op on the Wonder Wheel.
She really showed how she's getting older and more daring with ride selection. First, Anna opted to go on the big Wonder Wheel with Sammy and I. This isn't your traditional Ferris Wheel. Sure it goes super high, around in a circle, but the cart that we were in was on this free-flowing track that enabled the cart to roll and swing and sway while way up in the air. It was pretty scary for Anna, but she was unfazed by it all.

Deno's Free Fall.
After the Wonder Wheel, Anna mustered up the courage to go on Deno's Free Fall. This was a kids' version of the Tower of Terror, but still went pretty high and was the maiden voyage for Anna on a ride that "really got my belly" as she told me.

The very first "fall" that the ride took, caused Anna to have a brief look of panic on her face, but that quickly turned to elation as she loved the ride so much that she wanted to "do it again" immediately after the first run ended.

There's nothing in the world quite like seeing the look of pure joy on your child's face. Anna always lets her emotions show (for better or worse) and when it's for the better, her energetic personality just infects everyone around her.

Watching her on the Free Fall was not only a treat for us, but for all the other park-goers as well. I mean, her screams did tend to draw some attention...

This is one of my favorite photos that I've ever taken. I really outdid myself.
While Coney Island on a Sunday in April didn't have much more to offer than hot dogs and the amusement parks, the place was pretty cool and the kids definitely enjoyed themselves.

We piled back in the Xterra and headed to check into our hotel. After checking in, Sammy and I did some solid research on Yelp! and came across a dinner and dessert destination.

For dinner, we headed to Flushing and visited this Chinese joint called Sifu Chio. It was amazing. Without a doubt one of the best hole in the wall restaurants I've ever been to. For dessert, we hit up a place Sammy had heard of called Max and Mina's for ice cream. They didn't have as many off-the-wall flavors as we had hoped for, but they made a killer Black Raspberry that definitely rivaled Lone Oak... which is saying something.

We decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel as we had a 8 a.m. flight in the morning. Overall a fun, but relatively low-key, low-stress way to start our vacation. Now, off to paradise...

Monday, April 16: JFK to Paradise

Gratuitous tourist photo #1. 
My 5:30 a.m. alarm came VERY early as we had to shower and pack up the car to head to JFK Long Term Parking. The kids were somewhat out of it initially, but the talks of taking a shuttle bus and an airplane definitely put a little pep in their step.

Leo & Pluto just chillin.
I was a little worried about the process of getting the kids through the airport and security, but Angie had picked up this luggage cart that we strapped Leo's car seat to and he was perfectly content just cruising through the whole process.

Angie really made a big push for 2012 Mother of the Year as she had prepared and pulled out all the stops for the first flight of Anna and Leo's lives.

Fully charged iPhones, iPads, MacBooks. Snacks. Toys. Candy. Gum. Lollipops. You name it, she had it. And boy-oh-boy, did it work like a charm. The kids were good as gold on the four-hour direct flight.

Flying in style.
Of course Anna didn't nap, and therefore wouldn't let me nap, but she was pretty psyched to have a window seat with her plethora of goodies, including noise-cancelling headphones and Puss and Boots.

Daddy was extra happy as the credit card machine on the airplane wasn't functioning properly so this meant that food and drinks were on the house. This type of stuff never happens... well, not to me at least.

As the plane was landing, Anna couldn't have been any cuter. She was looking out the window excitedly and was giving pretty loud commentary to every thought that was running through her head. The plane would dip with a little turbulence, and she'd giggle and say "it tickles my tummy". Then as we got close to the ground, she said, "This is cool... I'm a little scared... but it's OK." Her inner monologue was coming out of her mouth and everyone within ear shot was in hysterics.

I so wish that I had video footage of that. It was priceless.

We landed in 84 degree weather and vacation was officially on. Adam had warned us to be patient as everyone operates on "island time" and that was apparent the minute we tried to get our rental car. It was a rather lengthy process and the kids had so much pent up excitement and energy that the time from baggage claim to lunch seemed like an eternity.

Anyway, we got our white Ford Fusion from Budget and grabbed some lunch in Charlotte Amalie at the Fat Turtle. The waterfront restaurant was a great starter as not only was the service and food great, but the waitress was throwing some food scraps in the water feed the fish and it was quite a spectacle. Baracudas and other tropical fish came out to feast, while crabs and iguanas on the rocks were basking in the sun.

Needless to say, we were all psyched to be in the Caribbean and couldn't wait to hit the beach.

View from the living room balcony.
Before we did that though, we had to go check into our condo for the week. We stayed at the Elysian Resort in Cowpet Bay. We found one of Nancy's Condos through and the place was awesome.

Two bedrooms. Three baths. Open concept kitchen, dining room, living room. Ceiling fans and ACs in all rooms. Three separate balconies... one off of each bedroom and the living room. A wine rack stocked with wine and alcohol?!?! It was amazing... better than advertised.

We headed down to the beach at Cowpet Bay, less than 100 yards away, and then hit up the amazing Elysian Resort pool.

Cowpet Bay (St. Thomas, USVI)
Cowpet Bay was calm waters and completely empty in the late afternoon when we first ventured there, which was a pleasant surprise. A solid beach for the kids, but an average beach for the Caribbean.

Now, the pool on the other hand was spectacular. I knew the kids would love the pool, but I didn't realize how much I would love it as well. Every day we'd hit up a beach or two in the morning and then come back to the hotel to regroup, hit the pool, have dinner and then go night swimming.

There is this grotto area in the pool that has two entrances with little waterfalls over each. The kids were in love. We spent countless hours by the pool and ended up being a HUGE hit of the trip... as you can see...

She can sleep anywhere.
Day one in St. Thomas was so perfect that I didn't want it to come to an end. So, we went all out and hit up the fancy resort restaurant to treat ourselves to a high class dinner.

Delicious food, a friendly server, live steel drums playing in the background, open air seating. It was heavenly. Anna felt so comfortable in fact, she put her head on my lap and fell asleep :)

Our first day in the islands was complete and I couldn't wait for more.

Tuesday, April 17: Coki Beach

Morning cartoons.
The sound of waves on the beach was a blessing to wake up to each morning. Just a perfect way to start the day... well that and having Leo come into bed to snuggle and watch a morning cartoon... couldn't get any better for Angie and I.

Our plan of attack was to get up early in the morning each day as the kids are definitely at their best before the late afternoon. So, we had breakfast and were out the door around 9 a.m. with Coki Beach as our destination.

Anna was convinced she'd catch him.
Coki Beach is the home of Coral World Sea Park, so it's kind of touristy, but I thought it had a cool local vibe to it. We didn't visit Coral World, but rather went to the opposite end of the beach and got a prime spot next to the rocks.

Friendly local vendors coming by to offer up lounge chairs, drinks, food, etc. wasn't entirely what I was expecting out of St. Thomas, but I also surprisingly didn't mind it... actually, I enjoyed it.

Snugglin' on the beach.
The kids explored the rocks, experienced snorkeling for the first time (on their cool snorkel rafts), Anna tried to catch a pelican, I had a bucket or two of beers, Sammy lounged in the sun, Angie enjoyed some local smoothies and the Caribbean jerk chicken for lunch was legit. Coki had a little bit of something for everyone.

Leo had a good time, but little did we know that he had some major chaffing going on with his swim shorts and inner thighs. It was a slight problem that left him a little gun shy with the salt water for the next day, but he battled back and finished strong.

We left Coki and headed back to the Elysian for more pool action and a much more casual dinner... pizza.

Angie and I decided that Wednesday would be our day in St. John... so early to bed and early to rise was once again the plan.

Wednesday, April 18: St. John

I think I must've been pretty excited to go to St. John because I woke up around 5 a.m. and started packing up things for our day trip. We decided to take the car ferry over and it turned out to be a great plan.

By taking the car ferry, we could really explore the island faster and cheaper in one day and also got to experience some kamikaze driving. After the quick 15-minute ferry ride over, we hit the roads for Trunk Bay.

Along the way, I had to stop to capture this amazing view...

St. John (USVI)
Our early departure from St. Thomas meant an early 8:45 a.m. arrival at Trunk Bay... or as I like to call it... Paradise.

There were only probably a dozen other people on the beach for the first two hours we were there and it was my favorite two hours of the trip.

Trunk Bay (St. John, USVI)
Just a picture perfect setting. Pristine sandy beaches. Impossibly blue water. Green mountain ranges.

The waves were strong enough to knock me over if I was sitting chest-deep in water, but the sand was so soft, with no rocks at all, that Anna and I must've spent hours letting the waves have their way with us.

We positioned ourselves in the shade of a big tree that the kids ended up playing under and the whole time there was just something that I will never forget.

Anna lovin' life at Miss Lucy's.
After a long morning of playing on the beach, we took a drive and had lunch at this cool local restaurant, Miss Lucy's. It was kinda pricey for lunch and super slow service, but I'd eat there everyday for the rest of my life and be perfectly content.

It's right on the water in a rocky cove and the property that abuts the parking lot is full of goats. So, the long wait for lunch didn't seem so bad as the kids took turns roaming the area and enjoyed their smoothies at our table in the shade.

After lunch, we drove around to check out the other beaches. Angie and I were plotting our return trip already :)

Words simply can't do the scenery on St. John justice. I am so glad that we took a day trip over there and I will be dreaming about a return trip there until the day when we are fortunate enough to go back.

Our day in St. John was perfect.

Thursday, April 19: Magen's Bay & Sapphire Beach

Our last full day on St. Thomas started with a long trip up to Magen's Bay.

Magen's Bay (St. Thomas, USVI)
I'm not sure if Trunk Bay left me with high expectations, but I was less than impressed with Magen's Bay. It was touristy and crowded and didn't offer much in the way of snorkeling or waves and I was just bored.

We stayed only a few hours before deciding to head out to find another spot.

[As an aside, that's the beauty of the Virgin Islands. If you are bored with a beach or if it's overrun with people, you can simply pack up shop and drive 15 minutes to another amazing location... which we did.]

We ended up at Sapphire Beach and it was awesome... definitely my favorite beach on St. Thomas that we visited.

Sapphire Beach (St. Thomas, USVI)

Sapphire had everything that I was looking for and it was a great way to cap off our last beach of the trip.

After a late afternoon at the beach (we clearly didn't want our vacation to end), we headed back to the resort for dinner.

I was completely exhausted after dinner, but Anna, the Energizer bunny, wanted to go night swimming one last time. I knew that my dad would've taken me on the last day of vacation, so I took one for the team and took Anna out for one last dip.

I'm so glad that I did because we were the only ones in the pool and we had a moment that I will never forget. This was our conversation...
Me: So, did you have fun on our trip to St. Thomas and St. John? 
Anna: Yeah, dad. Thanks so much for taking me to cool places.
Me: Awww. You're welcome, Anna. Isn't it great here?
Anna: Yeah, but not as great as you, Daddy.
I can't make stuff like that up and it seriously caught me so off guard that I got all teary-eyed. It was without a doubt the perfect thing to say at the perfect time. Anna has the biggest heart of any kid I've ever met and I'm so glad she's mine :)

The entire trip she didn't nap once. She'd dose off for 10 minutes or so when we were in the car, but never a full blown nap. She was an absolute warrior and had a great week.

Leo continued to steal the show everywhere we went... just be being himself. The locals absolutely loved him. From our server at the Fat Turtle to the parking attendant at Coki Beach to our server at the nice restaurant at the resort, Leo had everyone eating out of his hand and made me smile at every turn... like he always does.

It was also so special to be able to take Sammy on an awesome trip for the final high school vacation. We ask a lot out of Sammy, so it was great to be able to reward her for doing well in school and being  a great big sister to Anna and Leo.

Lastly, the person that deserved this trip more than the rest of us combined was Angie. As a stay-at-home mom for nearly a year, Angie is the glue that keeps our family running and she needed a break. Sure we had the kids along with us, so it wasn't a break from them, but we prefer to do things together anyway. The change of scenery couldn't have been any better and the kids were great, so I know the vacation was special for her.

On Friday, we flew back to JFK and drove home to Hudson. Nothing too eventful.

Well, that's our trip in a very, very long story. Anyway, here's a video of our travels. Enjoy...

Kamikaze driving in St. John

By K.J. Cardinal

During our vacation in the Caribbean, we took the car ferry out of Red Hook in St. Thomas to Cruz Bay in St. John. The five of us all piled into our white Ford Fusion rental and took the quick 15-minute trip over to the neighboring island.

In St. Thomas you drive on the left side of the road but the steering wheel is still on the left side of the car like in the States. I was surprised that it didn't take any effort at all to adjust to driving on the left.

Sure, the first time on-coming traffic came at us and it was in the right lane, I thought I was going to kill my entire family. But, rest-assured I didn't and it was pretty much smooth sailing from then on in St. Thomas.

But, when we went to St. John it's a completely different story. You still drive on the left and the steering wheel is still on the left, but it's a much less developed island and the roads are unbelievably winding and narrow. The scenery was breathtaking, but driving was without a doubt scary as hell.

Being dumb tourists, we were just navigating the islands off of the Google maps app on Angie's phone and while it always got us to where we wanted to go, while on St. John it took us on Route 108... which apparently is an "un-driveable" road. I was honestly worried that we were going to bottom out so bad that we'd rip the exhaust off the rental or get stuck in the middle of nowhere.

We miraculously managed to get the Fusion through this road and survived the journey.

A few miles after we got back onto the normal paved, windy, narrow roads, we made our way back to Cruz Bay and had to go through a rotary... on the left side of the road.

Now that kinda blew my mind. Thank god there were cars in front of me, allowing me to just go with the traffic, otherwise I might've had to pull over to think about that one for a second.

Anyway, I obviously did what anyone would expect in this situation... I strapped a camera to the front of the rental and got the drive on video.

A few things to note:

• As if the windy, narrow, unpaved roads weren't enough, you randomly encounter donkeys and goats in the middle of the road to contest with as well.

• And, I sped up the video in portions to avoid making a 10-minute video... plus it adds more excitement to the 5-10 MPH snails pace I was on at times.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Leo mans the GoPro

By K.J. Cardinal

Well, I have begun sifting through all the video footage from our April Vacation in the US Virgin Islands and came across this gem. Leo got ahold of my GoPro camera, managed to push record and began shooting. Cheeeeeese!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Meet Harvey Polgreen

By K.J. Cardinal

Anna and Leo were treated with a special guest today as Adam stopped by with their new dog Harvey.

He's a rescue dog from Alabama and, as you can see, one of the cutest dogs of all-time. He's a beagle, maltese mix and was perfectly behaved while he was here.

Not surprising to anyone that knows her, Adam's daughter Katie is in her glory with him and feels like the luckiest lady on the planet.

I'm nervous for the day when Anna bats those eye lashes at me and asks for a dog. Don't get me wrong, I love dogs, I just don't see myself as a dog owner... just yet. Maybe someday. But, until then hopefully we can get some QT with Harvey to fill the void.

PS: Don't worry Bauer, Anna wasn't cheating on you with another dog... you'll always be her best friend.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Daddy's new work toy

By K.J. Cardinal

Pack Network recently purchased a shiny new HDSLR camera and it is my new work toy.

Per usual, I will put the new equipment through its paces and teach myself the ins-and-outs of it by using my favorite test subjects, Anna and Leo. The Cardinal Blog benefits once again.

Here's a little video from my first time I got my hands on it today...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter 2012

By K.J. Cardinal

Wow. What a day. We starting things off at home with a quiet Easter breakfast with just Angie and I and the kids.

Ang fired up some eggs, of course, and then Anna and Leo opened their "Easter baskets"... AKA the best things the Dollar Tree has to offer. At four and a half and 21 months old, it doesn't take much to amuse our kids.

Anna soon became inseparable with her little dog stuffed animal, while Leo fell in love with his fireman's hat... and so did we.

After breakfast, we made our way to Ludlow to celebrate with Angie's family.

As expected, the day was all about cousins. Anna, Julia and Kassie were glued at the hip all day, while Leo just kinda mingled around and made everyone's day... he tends to do that.

Nezzie got the girls matching dresses and the boys matching sweater vests and shirts. Naturally, the girls were all about donning the new attire and posing for pictures, but the boys weren't too into a photoshoot... as you can see...

We were treated to quite the feast by Nezzie and then the kids took advantage of the nice weather by playing outside. The girls are at such a great age that they all get along together and just live it up when they're in each other's company. It's so much fun to see.
Anna capped off the day by taking a walk to Lisette's parent's house to check out their bunny rabbits. She was so excited when she returned and you can see it on her face in this awesome photo that Lisette snapped...

Another great holiday with the kids. As soon as Leo takes his fireman's hat off, I'll let you know. Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Anna rides... and falls

By K.J. Cardinal

We got Anna a new bike this week and after just one ride around the block with me walking next to her, Anna clearly had the hang of it. Yeah, her training wheels are still on, but just the fact that she could navigate herself and slow down or stop when necessary was a big step.

So, I did what every good father would do... I strapped my GoPro camera onto her bike, hopped on my bike and followed her around the neighborhood.

She only had one spill, which, of course, the GoPro just happened to capture. It was accidental genius.

Before you say it, don't worry... I'm not going to put my kids in harms way to get good footage... but if it just happens while I'm rolling, you can bet your ass I'm gonna post it :) Enjoy...