Mandarin. Hmong. Spanish. French. German. Korean. Ojibwe: No, these aren’t ethnic dining options — they’re Minnesota elementary-school language-...
Oh, the places you'll go!
Our family vacation was off to a pretty good start. We were chanting:
Seuss is on the loose!
Seuss is on the loose!
Seuss is on the loose!
All before we received our requisite tropical sunburns, island braids and Ron Jon T-shirts, we joined in this mantra with an enthusiastic group of fellow Carnival Cruise passengers, marching not just behind Sam I Am, but also Thing 1 and Thing 2, who led us down the ship’s long corridors.
The Cat in the Hat was missing.
How we got here
Two months earlier my husband, Jeff, and I began belatedly planning our summer vacation. After having a spirited family discussion, a unique idea came to the fore: We could bridge the kids’ love of reading with our family trip:
We could take a storybook-inspired adventure!
The goal: To transport our children into settings based on their cherished books.
Seuss at Sea
The first stage of our trip put us aboard the Carnival Breeze, departing out of Miami to the balmy West Indies. The Seuss at Sea program was featured on our ship and, as the name implies, the experience draws passengers into Dr. Seuss’ world of stories and rhymes.
That’s how we ended up at the Seuss-a-palooza Parade on our second day at sea.
Families waved pom-poms and carried Horton Hears a Who and Lorax-themed banners and character cutouts from the childhood tales.
The crew-led parade made its way to the ship’s Ovation Theatre where we were met with a red-and-white striped circus tent backdrop and colorful triangle flags waving overhead.
Full of anticipation
Beneath the decorations, children popped like hot corn kernels as they anxiously awaited what was to come next. Our youngest child, 1-year-old Maisie, was no exception as she shrieked and danced along to the festive music.
Spoiler alert: The famous feline was found and upon first sight the young crowd frantically waved and hollered with delight. And the reward was an interactive Seuss-a-palooza Story Time.
Attendees were picked out of the crowd to participate in the story. Cruise Director Matt Mitcham good-naturedly read from an oversized Cat in the Hat book and entertained the crowd of book lovers sitting on the floor.
Young and older
Our other two children — Jeb, 11, and Maddie, 10 — were amused by the jovial spirit of the story. And they enjoyed recalling the rhymes from their young childhoods.
Later in the week, an evening featured a series of meet-and-greets and photo ops with the book-themed celebrities.
Our final day was celebrated with the Seuss at Sea crew at the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast ($5 per person) featuring whimsical menu options such as Truffula Tree Pancakes, Fox in Socks Steak and Eggs and Dr. Seuss’ A-B-Cereal.
The dining room crew was dressed in Thing 1 and Thing 2 fashion, and the entire clan of characters returned to visit and offer autographs.
Potter fans, unite!
The day we docked back in Miami was bittersweet.
As we climbed into our minivan, a fresh buzz of excitement began. Our next destination was Orlando, where Maddie’s dream was about to come true at the two uniquely different lands of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — one located in each of Universal Orlando’s two theme parks.
When we entered Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida, Maddie declared that Jeff and I were Muggles (non-wizards), but welcomed us into her make-believe world.
Signs overhead beckoned us to magic classes. Gift shops offered Quaffle Balls, Golden Snitches and other book-themed merchandise that any Potterhead would recognize.
My daughter explained the most intricate details of this come-to-life world, including that Diagon Alley is a play on the word “diagonally.”
Dragons and butterbeer
Our first scheduled stop was to pick up a magic wand for Maddie at Ollivander’s wand shop, but not before being stopped dead in our tracks when a fire-breathing Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon let out a fiery, forceful roar over Gringotts Bank.
After my daughter’s “Hermione wand” was in hand, we meandered through the alley as the wand was put to good use, lifting feathers and performing other magical feats at several storefronts.
After a creamy butterbeer tasting, we walked through a brick wall, best known as Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross station in London and boarded the Hogwarts Express for Hogsmeade located within Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
The rest of the day was spent walking through Hogwarts Castle, riding the high-speed Dragon Challenge roller coaster and dining on authentic British food while Maddie beamed: “This is just like the book!”
Two months later, our eldest Jeb was reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
“I wish we could go on a chocolate-themed vacation,” he said.
Jeff and I looked at each other and smiled.
We had another trip to plan.
Beth Blair is an author and freelance writer who lives in Lakeville. She’s co-owner of the award-winning site thevacationgals.com. Her work has appeared in Shape magazine, BBC Travel, Forbes Travel Guide, Catholic Digest and St. Paul Pioneer Press. Blair's latest book, The Unofficial Guide to the Mall of America, comes out in June.
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