Review Feature

The joys of the family vacation

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It's incredible, but true.

As spring break approaches, many American families are compelled to gather in the living room to discuss how to best spend the upcoming week of freedom. And invariably, these otherwise smart and forward-thinking adults make the same boneheaded mistake, year after year.

They decide to take a family vacation.

Don't get me wrong. There is nothing inherently wrong with family spring-break vacations provided you are discriminating in your choice of whose family you'll be accompanying. I once spent a spring break in the Bahamas with my dentist's family, for example, and had a wonderful time.

No, the trouble begins when you start thinking of going on a spring break vacation with your OWN children. As I did. Exactly one year ago. When my school-age son and daughter decided that they'd most like to spend their spring break in Southern California, where we could make back-to-back visits to Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm.

Actually, my son had nothing to do with the brainstorming of this plan, since he never has any desire to leave the house except when wealthy relatives die and he can't collect his inherited cash unless he shows up at the reading of the will.

My daughter, however, is a confirmed and card-carrying Disneymaniac who does not think of the Magic Kingdom as a mere vacation destination. To her, it's where dead people go if they've been very, very good and haven't lost the urge to shop.

As for the second leg of our journey, my daughter has actually uttered the sentence, "You know, when you get really tired at Knott's Berry Farm, it's almost like being in Disneyland!" In other words, if there was an escape route, I didn't see it. But once committed, I was determined not to repeat mistakes I had made in the past.

For example:

Since kids are physically incapable of agreeing on which ride to go on at any given moment, I invited my mother, aka "Grandma," to join us thereby increasing the probability a good time would be had by all, and decreasing the probability that I'd be arrested for throttling one or both of my little beloveds in public.

Before we begin our journey, a final warning. Please keep your hands and feet in the car at all times.

DAY ONE: DISNEYLAND

8:10 a.m.: We arrive at the Happiest Place on Earth. I get out of the car, discover the admission price is $43 for adults and $33 for children, and get back into the car. My mother explains that these are bargain prices compared to the cost of a trip to Euro-Disney. Stumped for an argument (not an uncommon event in my family), I get out of the car and reach for my wallet (not an uncommon event in my family).

8:16 a.m.: For two weeks, my daughter has been expressing her desire to hug Mickey Mouse. So we head for Mickey's Toontown, where America's wealthiest rodent takes up permanent residence. But it's so crowded we can't get in. Tragically, there are no lines at all in front of the neighboring attraction, "It's a Small, Small World" the most morbidly cheerful corner of the Happiest Place on Earth.

9:30 a.m.: "Ooooh, that was fun, let's do it again," my daughter swoons. I look her straight in the eye and explain that ride is so special NOBODY is allowed to enjoy it twice.

9:40 a.m: My son and I head for Star Tours a simulated space adventure inspired by the "Star Wars" movies.

10:00 a.m.: We're still in line for Star Tours. I complete my living will.

10:30 a.m.: I write a book and mail it to my agent, who sells the tome to a major publishing house and sends me an advance check which should cover a Disneyland lunch for five, provided we dine in one of the cheaper eateries.

10:37 a.m.: We enter the Star Tours space pod!

10:40 : We exit the Star Tours space pod! The ride went so quickly that my son (who, sadly, was born without an attention span) missed it entirely.

10:45 a.m.: We go to Mickey's Toontown and actually get in ... but it's so crowded we can't see anything, so we leave.

11.00 a.m.: All of us queue up for Splash Mountain. During the ensuing wait, I read that Martin Scorsese has purchased the movie rights to my book. I begin work on the sequel.

12:27 p.m.: We board the Splash Mountain boats for a combination sing-along kiddie ride and hair whitening log-flume plummet. Three minutes later, my son vows to never again go on a ride with the word "mountain" in its name.

1:14 p.m.: We return to Mickey's Toontown. Silly us.

1:30 p.m.: Lunchtime! I was wrong. The book advance isn't enough. I borrow money from Grandma.

2:42 p.m.: We take the river raft to Tom Sawyer's Island, a true family paradise. For kids, there are caves to explore, rope ladders to climb and plenty of room to run and burn off excess hyperactivity. For adults, there are benches. Lots of them. The size of cots. In the shade.

5:09 p.m.: Well rested, Grandma and I get in line for Space Mountain.

6:00 p.m.: My agent sends me a telegram. The film version of my book is the box-office champ of the season. Maybe we'll be able to afford dinner after all.

6:56 p.m.: We board the Space Mountain roller coaster for a warp-speed trip through total darkness.

7:01 p.m.: I vow to never again go on a ride with the word "mountain" in its name.

7:15 p.m.: Dinnertime! Wrong again. This time, Grandma demands collateral.

9:45 p.m.: My daughter wants to go on Thunder Mountain. My son and I laugh and make a beeline for the video arcade. Grandma begins to sob uncontrollably.

10.30 p.m.: My daughter concludes this is the perfect late-night time to visit Mickey's Toontown.

10:46 p.m.: I am now certain that when Yogi Berra said, "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded," he was referring to Mickey's Toontown.

1 a.m.: After 15 hours of nonstop reveling, my daughter has finally succumbed to sensory overload and my son is walking like Lon Chaney Jr. in "The Mummy's Curse." We depart and try to remember if we left the car in the parking area called Dumbo Four, Bambi Six or Terminator Two.

DAY TWO: KNOTT'S BERRY FARM

7:02 a.m. My daughter wakes up in a horrible mood because she never got to hug Mickey Mouse. I try to console her by pointing out that she can hug Snoopy at Knott's Berry Farm. The ploy doesn't work.

10:02 a.m.: We pass through the Knott's Berry Farm turnstiles. Our first stop is Camp Snoopy a kid-friendly playground designed to get youngsters in a good mood. Well, MOST youngsters, anyway. Half of the rides are a little too adventurous for my son, who still hasn't recovered from Splash Mountain, and most of the others have height restrictions which he exceeds by three or four feet. After being refused admission at three separate locations, he tearfully proclaims Knott's Berry Farm a loser.

12:15 p.m.: We try to salvage the week by taking the boy to "Kingdom of the Dinosaurs" an easy, low-impact ride which combines two of his favorite things: time travel and the toothy, flesh-ripping monsters that time forgot. My son takes back all those mean things he said about Knott's Berry Farm.

12:50 p.m.: Lunchtime! And it's almost affordable!

2:00 p.m.: Leaving the kids with Grandma and without having to wait in line I take a ride on "Montezooma's Revenge," a high-flying, adrenalin-pumping, mega-loop roller coaster which takes off like a rocket and stops like a dum-dum bullet hitting concrete.

2:30 p.m.: After considerable prodding, I convince my son to join us for a joint thrill on the Bigfoot Rapids, billed as the longest man-made water ride in the world. We get in line and discover why the rest of the park is empty. Everyone in Southern California is HERE.

3:00 p.m.: We pass a sign which reads, "You will get wet, you may get drenched." For some reason, we ignore it.

3:30 p.m. My agent drops by with bad news. Harrison Ford has been replaced by Adam Sandler in the sequel.

3:45 p.m.: We climb onto the giant floating tires which will carry us down Bigfoot Rapids ... and directly into a waterfall. At ride's end, I suggest to the attendant a new sign reading, "You will get drenched, you may not drown," then sit down to wring out the family socks.

4:30 p.m.: We're losing energy rapidly. Happily, Knott's Berry Farm boasts numerous stage shows which can be enjoyed from a non-moving, sitting position. Upon entering, we buy the kids Magic Spinning Light Wands, which break immediately. We exchange them for new ones (which don't break until we get out to the car).

5:30 p.m.: Dinnertime! Not caring what it costs, we throw all our money at the cashier.

9:00 p.m.: After wandering around silently and aimlessly for three hours, and passersby start mistaking all of us for members of the Lon Chaney Jr. fan club, we realize it's time to end our adventure.

9:30 p.m.: Back in our hotel room, I get in line for the bathroom.

9:37 p.m.: I stand in line for the bathroom.

9:45 p.m.: My agent calls with bad news. Adam Sandler is out, Pauly Shore is in.

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