Look, Grandpa, that building is upside down." Nine-year-old Becca (short for Rebecca) stopped in her tracks, pointed across the street and stared in amazement. So did I.
Sure enough, the massive structure on the opposite pavement was standing on its head. The point of its roof appeared to be smashed into the ground, as if the edifice had fallen from the sky. Where the top of the building should have been were ersatz grass and several palm trees which appeared to be growing down rather than up. Even the name over the entrance portico was upside down but readable: WonderWorks.
And a wonder it was, one of many encountered during a 10-person, three-generation trip to Orlando, Florida. Another wonder was that Walt Disney World was not the focus of our stay. As a result, we saved time (because crowds elsewhere usually are smaller) and money (which at Walt Disney World disappears quickly).
Planning for this sojourn took months and numerous emails and long-distance telephone calls. The first priority was selecting a destination suited to family members whose ages span seven-plus decades. Orlando has appeal as home to seven major theme parks and more than 25 smaller attractions.
Next came the choice of accommodations. After countless Internet searches, one place emerged as the odds-on favorite. Reunion Resort lives up to its name in every way. It’s a place for family members to gather, have fun, reconnect and spend quality time together.
When the departure day arrived, our family descended upon the land of sun and fun from Washington, D.C., Denver and Chicago. As each group arrived at the Reunion Resort, we soon understood how it got that name. As it turned out, the grandchildren would have been satisfied to spend virtually all of their time at the 2,300-acre complex.
During our initial visit to the resort’s five-acre water park, their mouths opened in amazement and they took off in different directions. Talya, age 4-plus, and her brother Josh, 3, are daredevil divers who headed for the boards and plunged into the large pool time after time.
Becca climbed into an inner tube float and disappeared around a bend of the Lazy River which meanders through the park. After several minutes she drifted past those of us waiting by the man-made stream, gave a happy wave and continued on her voyage.
In the meantime, seven-year-old Ellie had discovered the multiple slides in the water park. As soon as she emerged from an enclosed tunnel and splashed into the water below, she scrambled up a ladder for another thrilling ride.
After sliding, swimming and floating, our grandchildren took to the land. Organized games, both for kids alone and with their parents and grandparents, take place throughout the day. Along with a variety of fun-sharing activities like a water balloon toss were opportunities to paint a ceramic bank, decorate a tote bag and take part in other crafts.
Other attractions throughout the resort tempt both children and adults. With 11 heated swimming pools dotted around the grounds, you’re never far from one. A spa offers the usual relaxing and rejuvenating services plus some extras.
Then there’s golf. While the children may be enjoying half- and full-day camp sessions, their parents and grandparents may head for the fairways. The resort is the only place in the world with courses designed by golf legends Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.
Given the something-for-everyone appeals of the Reunion Resort, it became a challenge to persuade members of the younger generation to head out for other, very different settings. Once there, the challenge became convincing them that we had to return to the resort for dinner.
For me, the wacky world of WonderWorks was a personal favorite. From the topsy-turvy building to the imaginative experiences inside, the first challenge was to keep up with the youngsters as they flitted from floor to floor and room to room.
A simulated hurricane and earthquake proved to be just frightening enough for the young ones to enjoy without prompting nightmares. While my wife Fyllis kept her eyes tightly closed during most of a 4-D roller coaster movie, Talya begged to see it again — and again. The older kids were fascinated by a simulated space shuttle ride and mind control game.
WonderWorks bills itself as an indoor amusement park for the mind. It more than lives up to its claim that "the unexplainable will come to life and the unusual will be the norm."
Not far away, the Old Town theme park entertains children of all ages, and adults brave enough to accompany them, with rides that range from adrenaline rushing to tame enough for the three-year-old and up set. In the Kid’s Town area, little ones can hop on a merry-go-round, go for a spin in flying tea cups and ride the Wacky Worm Kiddie Coaster.
We adults held our collective breaths as Ellie, fearless mountain climber to be that she is, decided to conquer a ropes course that extends to more than 40 feet above ground. She clambered to the highest level, then confidently made her way over a series of plank bridges that swayed in the breeze.
More to the liking of Ellie’s grandparents was Main Street, several blocks of shops that range from fun to funky and conjure up images of years past. While the children were mesmerized by the glitter of stones in Black Market Minerals, we reminisced at the general store and enjoyed a treat at the A&W Root Beer shop.
If aptly named Old Town speaks to the past, Legoland looks to the future. Any child who has played with Legos is sure to be entranced by giant figures, familiar characters and entire mini-cities made, of course, of oversized Legos.
The park is divided into themed zones, and we had to move quickly to keep up with the little ones as they explored every one. They sampled many of the rides, which range from roller coasters to the youngsters’ first experience driving a mini-car and navigating a boat.
Following each excursion, we headed back to the Reunions Resort to prepare dinner, reminisce about our experiences and plan the next fun, frolic and family togetherness. Each evening, Talya proclaimed, "That was the best day ever" — until the one that followed. That observation alone made it the best family trip ever for her parents and grandparents as well.FP
Victor Block is a nationally published travel writer.
Plan ahead: Prepping for an intergenerational vacation
Here’s a brief checklist which can help assure that an intergenerational family vacation will be delight rather than a disaster:
Picking a place.The Reunions Resort and Orlando area turned out to be perfect of our family, but your preferences might be very different. Whether you prefer a dude ranch, visit to a large city or any other experience, take into account the choices of everyone, from oldest to youngest.
Plan together.While adults obviously make the major decisions like where to go and how to get there, let the youngest family members take part in the planning process. Give them a list of things to do and see and let them make choices for part of the time.
R and R.When young children are involved, set aside time for rest and relaxation. A crying, complaining overtired youngster is not having fun and neither are any adults within earshot.
Enjoy down time.Some of the most enjoyable moments and best memories often result when family members are just relaxing together. Our evening meal preparation followed by card and board games were times of fun and bonding.
Be flexible.Plans made can be plans broken. If an attraction you wish to visit is closed, have a fallback position. If you get a rainy day, have a Plan B of indoor activities.
Keep a sense of humor.Along with many benefits, intergenerational travel can have moments – or longer – of challenge. It’s important for the adults to set the tone by remaining relaxed and dealing calmly with any problems that might arise. That will make it more likely that children will do so as well.
If you go
Sharing family fun in an upside down building, exploring a reproduced vintage town and marveling at a wonderland of super-sized Legos turned out to be enjoyable for our three-generation travel group. But many of the most meaningful hours were spent at the Reunion Resort, where we shared two adjacent, spacious suites. In the evenings, we worked together to prepare most dinners, played card and board games, read bedtime stories and caught up with family news.
Spring rates begin at $250 a night for two-bedroom "villas," and $290 for three-bedroom suites, and special packages are offered year-round. Eating home-prepared meals can stretch the travel dollar, and every hour spent enjoying the resort attractions and activities is an hour not spending money at a theme park.
For more information about the Reunion Resort, log onto reunionresort.com or call (877) 845-9163. For information about the Orlando area, including theme parks and other attractions, log onto visitorlando.com or call (800) 972-3304.