We took Naples for a ride this week, specifically the Ritz Carlton in Naples. Yeah, Maria and Mario in the Ritz Carlton. Very scary. We figured we’d be kicked out within 24 hours but surprisingly, I think management was ready to bring us back. Maria and Mario definitely added some life to the place with their unabashed commentary and their hilarious antics. Jon and I had our trepidation about the flights, the hotel, the itinerary day after day. But in the end, the trip could not have been more fantastic. The flights were a piece of cake. Maria is an executive in the making pulling her roller bag behind her with no problem at all. Mario is a hiker in the making throwing his roller bag/backpack onto his shoulders and carrying it through the airport. Jon and I could not stop watching them on the plane. They were so excited to look out the window and watch the plane ascend into the sky. And the amazement of being in the clouds! Jon and I found ourselves laughing every other minute at all of the little comments they made as we flew.
The hotel was decadent. We were on the 12th floor and our balcony provided a good view of the beach (the kids loved going out on the balcony but it freaked me out!). They also loved the bathroom because it had a tv in it. They realized that before Jon and I, and they locked themselves in the room one afternoon and watched Tom and Jerry. We didn’t realize it until we needed to go to the bathroom and after knocking and knocking, Maria opened the door and Mario was on the counter top hunched over with eyes glued on the tv. But other than those few episodes, the kids barely watched any tv on the trip.
The breakfast buffet reminded us of heaven. Pecan rolls, waffles with chocolate chips and whipped cream, omelettes, bacon, fruit loops, eggs benedict. Every morning, the kids would sit back in their chairs and say “this is the life.” Jon and I could not disagree.
We lived at the pool and the beach. Overall, the kids liked the pool better because it was not salty, you could see under the water, and it was less rough. Jon and I would have liked to be on the beach more, but they were pretty good about heading down to the ocean after an hour or so in the pool. Maria enjoyed the ocean more than Mario because she could go out farther in it. She also liked riding the waves. Mario would try to karate chop them as they broke; Maria would just move her body with them bobbing up and down. Our first morning, we went out into the ocean and as we stood in the water, a dolphin swam 50 feet in front of us and then another. We stood in awe – what a way to begin the trip. The pool provided much fun, especially for Mario. He dove to the bottom and swam all over. Jon and I could not believe that he was not fast asleep by 7 pm every night the way that he did cannonballs off the side and swam five feet under the water to touch the bottom. Maria enjoyed resting on the noodles, drifting around the pool. We came up with a game where we named an activity and then we all went under water to act it out. We picked apples from an apple tree, had a tea party, played baseball….
We broke up the morning and afternoon with lunch on the beach or in the pool area. Maria loved the beach restaurant because they served chicken strips, french fries, and a cookie! Jon fell in love with the grouper sandwich and I loved the chicken wrap. All for only $90! Yeah, that is right. Luckily, our package had a credit of $100 a day so the lunch was paid for in the end. If not, I would have had a coronary. It was a treat to have everything right at our fingertips – the pool, the towels, the food, the beach, the sand, the shells. In the evenings, we would head out for dinner to avoid paying $1000 for dinner at the hotel. We hit Buca De Beppo one night, and Mario choked on a piece of mozzarella cheese. Scared us half to death. Jon threw him my way after he hit his back a couple of times and Mario continued to choke. I stuck my finger down his throat and got the cheese out but I was a shaky mess afterwards. Maria did that to me when she was about a year old – we were in Krogers and she choked on a grape. Such a scary few seconds. Ugh! We hit Ruby Tuesday another night with all of the 70+ year olds. That was a trip. We had not been in one of those restaurants for quite some time, and remembered why afterwards.
On Tuesday, we traveled to the Everglades. We saw a slew of alligators off one of the roads recommended by the hotel for alligator sightseeing. The kids rolled down there windows to see them, and Maria kept yelling at Jon not to fall into the water. Mario dared Jon to get out of the car. Quite a difference in the reactions of these two! We took an air boat through mangroves hoping to find some alligators but didn’t see any on that trip. We caught an osprey on our return to the dock, though. After the air boat, we went to the Wooten’s, which we were told was a kids’ museum. It was really an alligator farm. In addition, it housed a turkey, bobcat, tiger, river otter, and turtles. It was a bit disturbing. The kids held a baby alligator, and Maria even kissed it. Mario lifted it up over his head and the caretaker grew concerned when the alligator began squirming (as did I!).
On the way to the farm, Maria had asked whether alligators crossed the road after we saw a sign for jaguar crossing. Jon and I laughed and told her that alligators probably don’t cross the roads. As we pulled out of the farm and traveled up 41, a five foot alligator waddled across the road in front of our car. Jon and I looked at each other and pointed him out to Ri. She proceeded to yell “I told you so! In your face!” Our sweet little 6 year old talking like a 14 year old. While she was yelling that at us, Mario was singing “I’m sexy and I know it” out the window. When we hit a more pedestrian area, he kept repeating “Where is a hot woman? Come to daddy!” Jon and I almost fell out of our seats. Where does he get these crazy sayings? I have never heard Jon talk this way and I don’t think he is bottling it up and going down Grandview Ave. shouting it out so I have no clue where it is from. All we can think is that it is innate in his little brain. God help us. We laughed so hard together in the car that day – it was wonderful.
We played putt-putt on Wednesday in the burning heat. We just had to break up the day at the pool because we were starting to get burnt even though we were lathering up on 50 sunscreen. Of course, it probably wasn’t the smartest move to head to outdoor putt-putt to get away but at least we could cover our shoulders with shirts. That is where we were all getting burnt. I remain the putt-putt queen but Jon gave me a run for my money. Maria and Mario both got two hole-in-ones, thank god. They would switched back and forth getting mad about not getting one when one of them got one.
In the evenings, we would head down to the beach for the sunset. It was cloudy all of the nights except one. That night was amazing. Maria and Jon stood in the water watching the bright red sun descending on the horizon, and Mario and I watched from the beach. It is those moments that rejuvenate me like a shock to the heart. Ahh, so this is what matters to me. Now I remember again. My family, laughter, time away. We all walked back up to the hotel room and as I stared at Maria and Mario ahead of us and Jon by my side I felt such joy and contentment. This is why vacations are needed. Re-start those engines.
We packed it all up on Thursday afternoon and hit the trinket shop to buy souvenirs. The flights home were uneventful. The kids fell straight to sleep on the second flight from Atlanta to Columbus. We arrived at 11:30 pm, and poor Maria had to wake up and walk the entire airport with us since Jon had to carry luggage and I had to carry Mario. She cried during most of the walk but she persevered and walked all the way to the car while sobbing “I just want my bed!” She is a trooper.
Mario woke up in our bed on Friday morning and asked whether it was a dream that he was in an airplane the night before. We chuckled and told him that he had fallen asleep and we carried home to the car and put him in his bed. As I unpacked our clothes, I caught myself wondering the same thing – was it all a dream now that we are back in our “routine?” No way – the sunsets, the pool-time, the beach, the dolphins, the car trips, the time together was all too real and too refreshing to ever be a dream.