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My Childhood Family Vacations

Thinking back to my childhood, I remember that I always wanted to go to Disneyland for a family vacation. That's a really common kid dream that pretty much permeates all generations since "the happiest place on earth" first opened up in 1955, isn't it? Well, in my case it didn't end up happening, mainly because my mom never had enough money at one time to fund such a trip, but we did end up traveling for three different family vacations during my childhood. And that's okay... because when I think back on these trips now as an adult, I think I probably had just as much fun as I would have had if we had actually gone to Disneyland. That's because the places where you vacation or what you do while you are there isn't as important as the people you go with and the people you spend that time with. It's all about that family bonding, right? That's what I believe, at least. So, without further ado, let's get going talking about the actual trips I went on during my childhood.

1996 - the family vacation to Indianapolis

I was quite close to my older sister as a kid (I still am, really) and was therefore pretty crushed when she took a job in Indianapolis, nearly three hours away from our home. She ultimately ended up staying there for about three years before moving back home. Since my mom didn't drive, that meant that visits with my sister became very scarce during this time, but we did end up taking a Greyhound bus down to Indianapolis for a few days one summer. This is what I consider to be my first family vacation.

The first day we were there, we arrived somewhat late in the day, so we ended up doing nothing more than heading out to eat and then renting a couple of movies. Kind of standard stuff for most people, but keep in mind that my mom didn't drive. For us, this was a treat because dinner out and a movie were rare. While I couldn't remember where exactly it was that we ate (hey, I was only seven-years-old when we went on this trip!), my mom tells me that we ate at Steak 'n Shake.

What I do remember much better, though, are the two movies we rented. My mom and sister wanted to rent the latest James Bond flick (Wikipedia tells me it must have been GoldenEye) because my mom had had a kind of a thing for Pierce Brosnan ever since he had starred in Remington Steele, while I opted to rent Hook because I was really into Peter Pan at the time. The animated show Peter Pan and the Pirates was at one point in time my entire life. I can't say that I was all that interested in the Bond film (I was more into the James Bond Jr. cartoon at the time. Anybody remember that?), but I remember being so into Hook that I played Peter Pan out in the backyard afterwards, pretending that I was Peter Pan and that the dirt in the yard was fairy dust. I think my mom played as Wendy and that my sister was Tinker Bell, but my imagination was great enough at that time that they barely needed to do anything for me to have a good time.

Some of the highlights of this trip included a visit to the mall where we went to the Disney Store and my mom bought me a pair of mouse ears like what you saw on the '50s version of The Mickey Mouse Club as a souvenir (the closest I ever got to a trip to Disneyland), a day at the Children's Museum where I had the opportunity to take part in an exhibit that showed kids what it was like to be an archaeologist digging for fossils, and a day at the Indianapolis Zoo where my sister and I had the opportunity to ride an elephant. Riding the elephant was, without a doubt, the best part of my trip! I remember watching the 1997 George of the Jungle movie a year later and seeing the title character riding an elephant. As I watched the movie, I remember thinking that it was cool that I had already experienced riding an elephant myself. In the mind of a child, to have personally experienced something that a movie character was doing onscreen was totally awesome indeed.

On the left, my sister and I on an elephant. On the right, movie stars Brendan Fraser and Leslie Mann doing the same thing in George of the Jungle.

That about wraps up my memories of Indianapolis. Believe it or not, my next family vacation didn't take place until four years later during the summer of 2000. That year, my mom and I went to Wisconsin Dells with my grandmother and my uncle.

2000 - the family vacation to Wisconsin Dells

Since my mom and I took this trip with my grandmother and uncle and since both of them drove at the time, we ended up renting a car to take to Wisconsin Dells. Knowing that a road trip with a kid in the car can be difficult, my mom made sure to buy me a Scooby-Doo coloring book, some crayons, and some cassette tapes to occupy my time. That way, I wouldn't be asking, "Are we there yet?" every ten minutes. My cassette tape collection was a bit unusual for a kid of the '90s since it was comprised of artists who were all from before my time (Bobby Darin, the Beach Boys, Ricky Nelson, George Jones, and Loretta Lynn), but they served their purpose in keeping me quiet for most of the trip. In fact, I don't think I said a word until we passed by a billboard for a Paul Bunyan themed restaurant.

At the time, I was deeply interested in folk heroes from tall tales after having seen the Disney movie Tall Tale. If you've never seen the film, it is about a young boy who gets help from legendary folk heroes (Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, and John Henry) to save his father's farm. After seeing the movie, I had checked out just about every book collecting tall tales that my school library had, and now I was about to have the opportunity to go to a restaurant themed around my second favorite of these characters I had been reading about. (Sorry Paul Bunyan, but Pecos Bill was and still is my very favorite American folk hero.) I couldn't let this opportunity pass me by.

And so, I begged my family to stop in there for dinner. Since we were all hungry and since the restaurant happened to be on the road to our motel, my family obliged. From what I remember, the food ended up not being all that spectacular, and my grandmother complained about the prices. Still, the decor of the place was top notch. You really got the feeling that you were eating among lumberjacks and that Paul Bunyan himself might show up at any moment.

During our stay at Wisconsin Dells, we had the opportunity to tour Wax World of the Stars, a wax museum with wax figures of many movie stars, and the American UFO Sci-Fi Museum, a museum dedicated to both fictional aliens, like the ones seen in Star Wars, as well as so-called "real" aliens, like the ones from the Roswell incident and those from various supposed alien abductions. For a kid who loved sci-fi and the paranormal, it was a pretty cool exhibit. My very favorite part of the trip, though, was going on the Duck Tour. The Wisconsin Dells Ducks are an amphibious truck/boat combination that can go on both land and water, and the tour takes you through both. I remember our tour guide being a very pretty woman who said that she wanted to be a movie star. She seemed like someone who could be a star, singing for us at one point and even autographing our tour booklet. I've sometimes wondered if she ever did make it to Hollywood, but I don't recall her name and can't find the booklet she signed. If nothing else, she provided us with a memorable experience and a cool souvenir. The autographed tour booklet wasn't the only souvenir that I walked away with, though. My mom also bought me a captain's hat. I remember my uncle saying I looked like either Gilligan or the Skipper while wearing it, which was just fine for me since I was and still am a huge Gilligan's Island fan.

There weren't any other special things we did on this trip, but I do have fond memories of the down times during the trip. The things I got to do at the motel, such as swimming with my mom and uncle in the motel pool and playing rummy with the whole family whenever we weren't out doing something, made the trip seem like nonstop fun. I didn't often get to play games with the adults of the family as a kid, so being invited to play rummy was something special. Likewise, I didn't go swimming often as a kid, so getting to swim in the pool was a lot of fun. It's memories like these that bolster the memories of the more traditional vacation activities.

The next year, the four of us, along with my cousin, who was invited along for getting good grades on his report card, made what was to be the last family vacation of my childhood by visiting my great-aunt in Missouri.

2001 - the family vacation to Missouri

I don't remember us doing quite as much on this vacation as we had done on our last one to Wisconsin Dells, but we did end up taking another boat tour, this time on the Mississippi River. We also took a tour of the Meramec Caverns, said by local legend to be the caves that outlaw Jesse James once used as a hideout. There is no definitive proof of this being true, but the caves were fun to explore all the same. The caves were also used in the filming of the 1973 Tom Sawyer flick, so if nothing else it felt cool to be in a location used in the filming of a major movie.

That wraps up my memories of childhood family vacations. Whenever I reflect back on these memories, I often smile in contentment. We definitely did a lot of cool things on these trips, but it was more than just doing cool things. It was the people I did these things with that make the memories special - the sister who I looked up to and missed greatly at the time of our Indianapolis visit, the mom who I adore that raised me all by herself, the grandma who did so much for me as a child, the uncle who I was never that close with but who I now have fond memories of thanks to these road trips, and the cousin who I spent a lot of time playing with when we were kids.
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Superman Posted on Jul 29, 2018 at 08:13 PM

@Lazlo Those sound like some fun vacations.

Lazlo Posted on Jul 29, 2018 at 02:53 PM

Wonderful account of your family trips. I have so many great family trip memories myself (See http://www.retro-daze.org/site/article/id/9302), including past memories of going to these cool attractions: Riverwalk in San Antonio Texas, South of The Border in South Carolina, the Incline in Chattanooga.) And caves were part of it too: Skyline Caverns in Virginia, and Ruby Falls in Tennessee. JUst great memories I'll never forget.

Superman Posted on Jun 20, 2018 at 04:59 AM

@Vaporman - Yes, these trips were very special. I had a lot of fun reminiscing about them while writing this article.

@NLogan - Riding an elephant was a lot of fun. I totally consider myself fortunate to have experienced it.

@pikachulover - It's so cool that you also had the opportunity to ride an elephant. I remember thinking it was so much higher from the ground compared to a horse, too.

@Hoju - Yes, these trips really were something special. I totally recommend Wisconsin Dells. I hear that Wax World of the Stars and the American UFO Sci-Fi Museum are no longer around, but I believe the other things I wrote about are still around. Plus, I'm sure there are newer attractions that weren't there during my visit and things that were around when I went there that I just didn't get to see.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Jun 19, 2018 at 05:05 PM

3 precious road trips that sound way more unique than Disneyland. Seriously I want to to go to Wisconsin Dells now, what a wonderland of Americana. I also got a chance to ride an Elephant as a kid and that kind of stuff sticks with you for sure.

pikachulover Posted on Jun 19, 2018 at 06:24 AM

I rode an elephant once at a county fair. I was a little kid. I didn't like how high above the ground it was compared to ponies and horses.

NLogan Posted on Jun 18, 2018 at 11:51 PM

I didn't make it to Disneyland until the 9th grade. We hit a lot of museums, national parks, and state parks. You are lucky to have ridden an elephant. Not many zoos in the US did that and I don't think any do still.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jun 18, 2018 at 07:06 PM

This was such a great read. It is very evident that these trips hold a special place in your heart. It comes through in every word. And in the end, it really does remind us of what makes an adventure truly special... the special people that we share them with.

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