Everyone knows that spending time together as a family is important. However, our busy lives often prevent us from doing so. Work, school, and social obligations can make it difficult to carve out those precious moments that strengthen our families’ bonds.
As parents, we have to reclaim those moments by any means necessary. It can be something as simple as eating meals together or something more extravagant such as taking a family vacation.
My family tries to do the former as much as possible, and we take vacations on a regular basis. This year we decided to attend the Family Forward conference in Orlando. This conference not only gave us an opportunity to have fun and relax, but it also helped us to grow stronger as a family.
Through a series of workshop, community events, and theme park adventures, my family and I made some meaningful family memories that we will cherish for a lifetime. Here are five of my favorite:
Learning How to Fly an Airplane
My 11 year old son and I love things that go fast – cars, rockets, and planes. We were both excited when we saw that a pilot from Southwest Airlines would teach us the basics of aeronautics. We learned about lift, angle of attack, propulsion, and aerodynamics (BTW – My daughter also learned these things when she piloted a plane). Although we enjoyed learning about the technical side of flying, we were more interested in speed. After the pilot’s presentation, we asked him what it was like to fly a fighter jet. His face lit up with a huge smile and I could tell that his mind was filling up with pleasant memories.
“It was a thrill,” he said unable to wipe the grin from his face. “I’ve pushed it to Mach 14. When you’re going that fast, the G-force makes your blood vessels burst. Your body is full of bruises when you exit the cockpit.”
After listening to a few more stories, my son and I returned to our table.
“Do you think you’d like to be a pilot,” I asked my son.
“Maybe,” he said. “But not a fighter pilot. I don’t want my blood vessels to burst.”
Getting a Cooking Lesson from an Italian Chef
My family loves Italian food and it was a real treat to learn about authentic Italian cooking from Barilla’s guest chef Daniele Baliani at their Share The Table session. While discussing tips and tricks to make mealtime more meaningful for families, he told us a story about his aunt taking him and his cousins to the beach during the summers. She would cook delicious food and set a table, complete with a table cloth, on the beach to serve it. He fondly reminisced about those meals as he taught us how to cook one of his aunt’s recipes – Barilla Penne Salad with Roasted Peppers, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Arugula Fresh Mozzarella & Basil (Click here for the recipe).
The recipe was simple enough that my 7 and 11 year old sons were able to help and we could prepare the meal as a family. My 7 year old son poured the pre-cooked and measured ingredients in the bowl while my 11-year old son mixed them together and served us.
“You guys are great chefs,” I told my boys after taking the first delicious bites.
“Yes, we are,” said my 7 year old son.
Running Away from a Crocodile
Reptile expert Dr. Brady Barr from Animal Jam gave us an up-close lesson about Crocodilia. We learned how to spot the differences between crocodiles and
“When you place a crocodile on his back and rub his belly he becomes immobile,” he said. “I could leave for several hours and that croc would still be lying on that table.” Just as those words escaped his mouth, one of his assistants touched the animal and released it from its immobile state. The croc flipped over, rolled off the table, and started scurrying through the ball room.
Pandemonium ensued as panic-stricken children scurried to escape. No one was ever in danger because the animal’s mouth was taped shut and the handlers grabbed it immediately.
I gathered my sons who had made it to the hallway.
“When you are afraid, always run to Daddy,” I said. “I promise to always protect you.” Although I wished it weren’t prompted by a runaway croc, I was glad that I was able to share this promise of love and protection with my sons.
Encountering a Fire-Breathing Dragon
A couple of years ago, my sons and I took a Mancation to Universal Studios. Although it was fun, we longed to share the experience with my wife and daughter. The Family Forward Conference gave us the opportunity to do that.
However, we did have a bit of a snafu before my wife and daughter arrived. Universal Studios gave us an exclusive tour of Diagon Alley in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I was excited to ride HARRY POTTER AND THE ESCAPE FROM GRINGOTTS, but a fire breathing dragon, prevented me from doing so.
My 7-year old son noticed the dragon perched on a rooftop. He grabbed my hand and moved closer to me as he eyed the monster.
“Daddy I’m scared of that dragon,” he said.
“Don’t worry about that dragon,” I said. “It’s not real. It’s only a statue.” At that moment, I was unaware that this dragon came to life periodically and roared while breathing fire into the crowd.
My sons and I discovered this fact a few minutes later when the dragons roar was punctuated by a plume of fire. As I watched my sons run away in fear, I felt the heat on the back of my neck. I located them hiding in one of the shops. My 7 year-son was crying uncontrollably. Through his tear-stained face, I could see a look in his eyes that said, “Daddy how could you lie to me?”
After that experience, we decided to go back to the hotel and visit the park again when my wife and daughter arrived.
When they arrived, we had a more pleasant experience. Over the course of a weekend we experienced all that Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures had to offer. Our favorite rides were: Transformers, The Amazing Spider Man, Minions Mayhem, Flight of the Hippogriff, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Ironically, my 7 year old son, who was still a bit shaken by the whole dragon situation, found solace in learning about dinosaurs at The Jurassic Park Discovery Center.
Having Fun with My Family
While we enjoyed all of the planned events during the conference, I was most happy about spending five fun days with my family. Whether it was playing in the pool, watching the stars from our balcony, playing bocce, or enjoying meals together at City Walk, we made the most of our time together. Best of all, my wife and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary during this trip by sharing a cup of gelato. It was a simple gesture, but it allowed us to connect and celebrate our family.
Join the conversation: Share your family vacation memories in the comments section.
Disclosure: Barilla paid for my travel, accommodations, and conference fees.