For the past two years, my 11-year-old has requested experiential gifts for Christmas. Especially for older kids, I think this can be a great idea. My son didn’t need more stuff (though I did wrap a trinket to represent the present). Experiences make memories and can stretch out the fun of the holidays well into the new year.
A caveat: I am not sure how sustainable this would be if all four of the kids started requesting big experiences as Christmas presents, but so far that hasn’t been an issue. The others still like toys. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Anyway, this year the 11-year-old asked to go to San Diego, and see the zoo, Sea World, and the Zoo Safari Park. Last year, my husband took him to the Georgia Aquarium, so this year was my turn.
It was a lot of traveling for just 2.25 days of being there. We flew out of Newark (instead of Philly) in order to fly direct, but this added 90 minutes of driving to the beginning and end of the trip. I was especially aware of this on the way home when our flight to Newark was delayed*, making it a very late night jaunt on the New Jersey turnpike. Also, I was sick for much of the trip. I woke up every night coughing and had to find a CVS to replenish my Ricola cough drop supply.
But we did a lot of cool things. We stayed in Pacific Beach, in a hotel on the ocean, and every morning I did a quick run along the beach walkway. My son and I took a long walk along the beach together on our last morning; the previous evening I went down to the water and put my feet in. In January! We also enjoyed a few plunges in our hotel’s outdoor hot tub, and even a quick dip in the regular pool, which was surprisingly reasonable.
(Because let’s face it, one of the upsides of a trip like this was missing the snow and the temperature plunge on the east coast. Both Saturday and Sunday were mostly sunny and 70 degrees!).
The zoo, which we visited on Saturday, was cool as usual. We especially liked the new section that opened since our last time there (in 2016) with exhibits from the African highlands and Madagascar. It’s also a nice touch for parents on zoo duty that most of the snack carts sell craft beer. The panda exhibit was underwhelming considering its fame, but the three polar bears were all up and eating meat chunks that had been attached to the rocks. We left midway through the day and jetted over to Sea World, where we saw the dolphin show, the orca “encounter” (they’re not calling that one a show anymore) and the Wild Arctic, which was my son’s personal favorite. He liked the simulation bouncy helicopter ride in, and then he watched the belugas and walruses for a long time. We visited friends after for pizza. We actually ate pizza both nights and in the San Diego airport on Monday. Did I mention that this was the 11-year-old’s Christmas present?
Our visit to the Zoo Safari Park on Sunday was definitely a trip highlight. It’s a great park in general, with animals displayed in something closer to their natural habitats (possible in 1800 acres). But what made it particularly fun was that we booked their “caravan safari” and went by truck into the African plains exhibit, where we got very close to giraffes and rhinos, and got to feed both of them. Now, as a veteran zoo-goer (I do have 4 kids) I have fed giraffes before. But not a rhino! The rhino also let us pat her after feeding her apples. That was a new experience for me. It is amazing to see those animals up close. This is an upside of experiential gifts for kids. Sometimes they can be cool for parents too!
Alas, the flight home was incredibly bouncy — penance for the nice weather I suppose, and we landed in terminal C after parking at terminal A, necessitating a long wait for the AirTran (how can 4 trains go by in the opposite direction before one comes your way?). If only southern California were closer to Pennsylvania. But then it wouldn’t be California, I suppose, a fact driven home as my son and I raced through the 15 degree cold to the car in our t-shirts and fleeces.
Photo: A mommy and pre-teen son rhino. Just like us!
*Of course, this is why we fly direct if remotely possible. A one hour and 15 minute delay could easily mean a missed connection, thus magnifying the delays.