Last summer I loaded up my wife and three kids - two of whom are college students, understand - for one last cross-country vacation together. One last "great American road trip," if you will; the one that would finally satisfy my own wanderlust and satiate theirs. This would be the trip that would finally end the 50-state odyssey that we started so many years ago that I lost count.
The point is, I truly thought that last summer's vacation would be the last one that all three of the kids would choose to take, college bowl games notwithstanding.
I was wrong.
Sometime last winter, I was discussing our summer plans with my oldest child, Jamie Leigh, when I casually mentioned that her mother and I would probably just get away for a few days by ourselves, since I was certain that she and her siblings would have neither the time nor the inclination to travel with their parents again this year.
"Over my dead body," might not have been her actual comment, but what she said was something along those lines.
"We're going to be like Eli Manning after winning the Super Bowl," she told me. "We're going to Disney World."
Jamie Leigh has always been a little like Lola in the Broadway play, "Damn Yankees." What Lola wants, Lola gets. Ditto Jamie Huckaby.
Our eldest child had spoken. She said summer vacation would be a family trip to Disney World, and a family trip to Disney World it was - and more.
Once I informed my lovely wife, Lisa, of Jamie's executive decision, she began planning the entire operation. During March and April, she spent more time on the Internet than Bill Gates and Al Gore combined. She bought every Disney guide book there is - both official and unofficial versions - and covered our dining room table with charts, graphs, spreadsheets and diagrams. You'd have thought she was Ross Perot's campaign manager.
I don't know if you've been to Walt Disney World or, if so, when your last visit was, but let me tell you that you can't just drive down to Florida, wander up to the ticket window and spend a nice day or two with Mickey Mouse and friends. The place has gotten way too big for that. There are all kinds of ways to make money, and Disney has figured out every single one.
They have four major theme parks - five counting Pleasure Island, the after-hours Disney version of Sodom and Gomorrah - plus their own giant-sized shopping district called Downtown Disney. Combine that with about 50 resorts, hundreds of restaurants and thousands of attractions and ...
Well, there is a lot to see and do, and you'd better plan ahead if you are going to negotiate the place in such a way that you get to actually spend your time seeing and doing, not just waiting in line behind the thousands of other folks who have come to Disney to see and do.
I must say that Lisa did an exceptional job.
She didn't keep the fun to herself, either. Lisa enlisted the aid of our friends, the Stapps, who have been brave enough - or foolish enough - to camp with our clan on Jekyll Island for two springs in a row. She convinced Holly Stapp that camping for a week in the hot Florida sun and negotiating the enormous crowds in the ever evasive pursuit of happiness would be fun.
Before you could say "Jiminy Crickett," the Stapp family was aboard. Never one to be left out of the action, my mother-in-law decided that my kids' grandparents needed to be a part of what might be our last great summer vacation, and suddenly our trip had evolved into what Disney calls a "Magical Grand Gathering."
So for the past week, we have hustled and bustled among the throngs that have flocked to central Florida. We have jostled and been jostled, ridden every type of ride imaginable, from the most thrilling roller coaster to the simplest kiddie ride, seen dozens of shows, taken in thousands of calories, oohed and aahed over spectacular fireworks displays, walked more than 100 miles, spent more money than we could afford and, thanks to months of planning, stood in only one line for more than 25 minutes. Oh, yeah. And we made many, many, many wonderful memories.
Disney's Magic Kingdom truly is magical. But that said, I'm taking my wife on a Mediterranean cruise next summer, and Jamie Leigh and the kids, well, they can come too, if they can afford it. I've shown them the country. They can see the world on their own.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.