Father's Day 2017: Family Trip to Atlanta

Many of y'all who follow me on Instagram saw that my month of May was absolutely AMAZING, thanks to a sweet and thoughtful husband who made Mother's Day and my birthday into an entire month of special surprises. (Retroactive posts on that to come!) 

Since his birthday was in March, I knew that Father's Day would be my best chance to plan something legit for him in return. My husband would far prefer a special excursion or some quality time to an expensive gift in most cases.

Long story short, my original "surprise" plans ended up falling through, and I had to tell him the Tuesday before Father's Day that I was starting from square one. (Mostly because I can't keep anything from him to save my life. haha!) 

He ended up suggesting this weekend trip to Atlanta. I'll admit it made me feel like a little bit of a failure for not swooping in with the big surprise element after all that he did to surprise me recently.

But I think it worked out just as well. We were able to coordinate it together, and be on the same page as we got everything ready for an overnight trip with two kids two and under---our first time to take 2 kids to a hotel. 

 Here's a quick recap of our trip, and some advice if you and your family are looking to make the excursion to Atlanta for some sight seeing and quality time any time soon. 

 

Low quality pic, but I wasn't planning on using it. Atlanta, here we come! 

Low quality pic, but I wasn't planning on using it. Atlanta, here we come! 

The Plan: 

  • Saturday---get up super early, drive to Atlanta, go straight to the zoo, check in to the hotel, change, go somewhere fun and cute for dinner.
  • Sunday---get up early, have a good breakfast, get to the Georgia Aquarium right when they open, stay as long as we want and *hopefully* stop in at IKEA before we head home. ;)

So. Did anything go as planned? Welllllll......

Saturday Morning: 

We woke up before 6:00, intending to leave before 6:30. This is a huge deal for me, especially when we were up until nearly 1:00AM with Henry. (Whyyyy?)

We didn't get on the road until 7:00, and we had to stop for "mama restroom breaks" aka "I have the smallest bladder in the world and literally can't help it." We also managed to sneak Starbucks in on one of the stops because my body was NOT liking the lack of sleep. 

We made it to the Zoo around 11:00AM (you lose an hour going from Central to Eastern Time Zone), but parking was a bit of a nightmare and took much longer than expected.

NOTE: If you are planning a visit, you need to either get there early or plan to park on the neighborhood streets and walk. When we finally got near the entrance, Bradley had to go back for the printed tickets, which were in the console of the car. I used that unfortunate opportunity for a quick photo session. 

No one looks thrilled here, but I swear there are happier faces somewhere in the 100 pictures I took.

No one looks thrilled here, but I swear there are happier faces somewhere in the 100 pictures I took.

The zoo was HOT (as expected), but fortunately most of the walking areas and exhibits were well shaded, which helped a ton. We are members of our zoo in our hometown, so we saw a lot of the same animals we see on a normal weekly basis.

But we also got to see the most adorable panda bears, some seriously neat gorillas, and a few other cool surprises. Bennett is literally obsessed with animals, so he was in hog heaven. Especially in the gift shop where we added a substantial amount to his toy animal collection. (Yes, it has become a real, legitimate, bona fide collection. A post on this later...) 

 

The boys ate nonstop snacks, and we held out as long as we could so that we could head to Fox Bros BBQ immediately after leaving the zoo at around 2:30. We arrived to discover (not shocked) that we would have to park wayyyy down in the neighborhood and walk to the restaurant. We had visited here before when Bradley's brother and his wife lived in ATL, so we knew it was delicious and so worth it.

I stayed in the car to quickly nurse Henry, while Bradley and Bennett walked ahead to get a table. Well...they tried to. An hour and a half wait (at 2:45pm??) was not going to cut it for us, which was sad. 

We ended up desperately searching Google Maps for anything close by, and we settled for a Mexican Grill chain that was essentially the same thing as Moe's but under a different name. (Side note: we hate Moe's. Chipotle forever. Anyway.) It was ok, because any sustenance would have done the trick at this point. I just felt disappointed that things were not shaping up "as planned." Bradley's favorite food is BBQ, so of course I wanted that to be a part of his celebratory weekend. And I hate eating at chain restaurants period, but especially when we're on a trip and could savor something local and special. Bummer. 

We headed to the hotel to check in, since we figured now we would need a little time to get ready for dinner/decide where we wanted to go. We were staying at the Omni Hotel, which is attached to The CNN Center and essentially adjacent to the Georgia Dome and Phillips Arena. My husband had stayed here before on numerous occasions with a previous job in football. Bonus:  it's within walking distance of the aquarium (and lots to eat) so we felt confident in our selection.

As we neared the hotel, there were literally mobs of people in the streets surrounding the park and the hotel. It was super nerve wracking to be driving in the crazy traffic and then navigating wayward pedestrians. We were puzzled as to what could be going on, and then when valet took about 30 minutes, we were really beginning to wonder. 

We grabbed our information from the front desk, and headed to the room. A bell hop had our bags on a cart, and we figured he'd be right behind us. -----45 minutes and a phone call downstairs later, he arrived with our bags. It was now getting too late to get all dressed up to go to dinner anywhere fancy, so we reluctantly decided to walk down to The CNN Center and find something in the food court. My mama gut was telling me that this wasn't a stellar idea, but I thought that was just the fact that I didn't want Chick-Fil-A for the 5th time this week. 

When we got down there, it was SO crowded and there were people cutting up and acting foolishly. (We found out later that this past weekend was Atlanta's wildest concert of the year featuring extremely well known headline rappers, and the party was cranking up right about the time we were in the middle of everything. But as tourists, how were we to know?)

When someone came out of nowhere and slammed a fifth of vodka on the Chick-Fil-A counter, demanding a "LARGE LEMONADE," and someone stepped on my toddler's foot, making him burst into tears, we knew it was time to take the kids upstairs to eat our food on the go.

I walked across the food court with Bennett to grab something from another restaurant, and was headed back to where  Bradley and Henry were waiting on us. I guess a fight was breaking out or something, because people started screaming and running, and we very narrowly missed getting actually trampled in the process. We were shuffling to the outskirts and got bumped a little, but it could have easily been much more dramatic.

Cops came out of nowhere, and I have no idea what happened next because I (in true dramatic mom fashion) got super upset and started crying. When you and your child narrowly miss being stampeded over by a large unruly crowd, you just feel shocked and emotional. 

It wasn't an overreaction, though, because we really could have been injured in that scuffle. My husband is always one to downplay a situation or let me know when I'm being over the top, but he affirmed that this was unacceptable and upsetting.

As we passed the hotel lobby check-in area with armfuls of Chick-Fil-A bags and a panicking mama with a tear streaked face, of course someone on hotel staff approached us. They already knew that things were getting out of hand in the hotel, and it was written all over their faces before they even articulated it to us. But because we no longer felt comfortable staying there, she politely assured us that it was no problem and that we wouldn't be charged for our awful experience. 

To shorten what could turn into a really long story, valet took FOREVER to find our car and get it to us because they were dealing with some crazy situations as well. The bright side is that we were offered to come back as a complimentary stay, which we will probably do and will likely enjoy since this hotel is usually pretty nice when music festivals aren't taking place and mass inappropriate behavior is not abounding. (I promise I'll post about what I'm now referring to as the "Redemption Trip.") haha.

We got on the phone with the Ritz Carlton just down the street, thinking it would be a better bet since it wasn't attached to the concert venue itself.

NOPE. As we pulled in, valet was at a standstill, and we saw more tomfoolery going on in the street entrance of the lobby. I immediately called the front desk and asked them to cancel our reservation, and to please transfer us to the Buckhead location of the Ritz. My brain was fried, I was so tired, and SO DONE. I didn't mind driving 17 minutes down the road to be out of this situation and in a quiet, quality place with my kids (it was already 8:00 and I hadn't eaten my dinner yet because what southern girl can even think about eating anything when she's all in a tizzy? Especially a disgusting wrap from a food court.) 

We made it fun by making it a bonding experience. After all, it wouldn't be one of OUR trips without having a huge hitch in the plans. ;) (LEST you forget about example A: our trip to the River House previously documented on this blog.) 

The only picture I took at the first hotel. We had a pretty neat view of the new Mercedes-Benz stadium, the Georgia Dome, and downtown. Also... look at that sweet Daddy's boy ;) 

The only picture I took at the first hotel. We had a pretty neat view of the new Mercedes-Benz stadium, the Georgia Dome, and downtown. Also... look at that sweet Daddy's boy ;) 

ANYWAYS! 

Now that the soap opera is done, on to the rest of the trip. 

So I've stayed in a lot of nice hotels, but never a Ritz Carlton. I just want to say (I'm not getting paid to say this!) that from the moment we pulled up at the Buckhead location well after 8:00pm, we were greeted with smiles. There was a kids table set up with toys and activities for Father's Day weekend, and a family movie by the pool was just starting. 

The staff was very sympathetic to our long journey that had led us there, and they were great at getting us settled in quickly. I have to say that I really enjoy the traditional simplicity of their rooms, as well. Nothing too flashy, nothing too contemporary. It was then, once I was comfortable and everything was figured out, that I realized that I was starving. 

We ordered a pizza to the room, and they said it would take 40 minutes. But by the time I had gotten my things together to jump in the shower, there was already a knock on the door! (Thank you, Lord!) 

Another low quality, "in the moment" picture, but hey---I wasn't necessarily planning for a photo shoot on this journey. Wine + Pizza= Problems Solved. 

Another low quality, "in the moment" picture, but hey---I wasn't necessarily planning for a photo shoot on this journey. Wine + Pizza= Problems Solved. 

Now I don't know about you, but I LOVE to order room service, but I am rarely satisfied by the quality of the food once it reaches my room. I don't know if we were just THAT hungry or if the pepperoni pizza really was amazing. I think both ;) We then proceeded to order a second one, this time with fresh arugula and mozzarella--it was just as good! 

With full bellies, clean pajamas, and weary bodies, we finally were ready to get the boys down so that we could all go to sleep. Luckily, Bennett was such a champ about getting in the pack n play and going right to sleep even while I was still up making a little noise while getting Henry to settle in. We were both so proud of how well he did on his second time ever staying in a hotel! 

Sunday Morning: 

We had planned to wake up early and get to the aquarium when it opened, but we were SO tired that we snoozed the alarm. We all started stirring at 9:00AM, right around the time the aquarium opened. That extra hour and a half were so needed. 

Since there was construction on the casual cafe downstairs, they were serving breakfast in a different area of the hotel, and we decided to forego getting all fixed up for a sit down breakfast. We got ourselves together and headed out, passing the Florida Marlins team in the lobby on the way out. 

Easy like Sunday Morning :)

Easy like Sunday Morning :)

They did pretty great for being curious toddlers trapped in a hotel room. But it was time to get out of there before some serious mischief took place!

They did pretty great for being curious toddlers trapped in a hotel room. But it was time to get out of there before some serious mischief took place!

So ready to see all the fish! 

So ready to see all the fish! 

 

We drove a few blocks to a cafe we thought we could slip in and out of, only to see that it was a little more "well to do" than we planned to visit in our "athleisure" clothing for the day. So we turned the car around and went through the drive-thru at Caribou Coffee, a place I'd only visited once before on a trip to Washington, DC. It was good, y'all! 

After all of that, we didn't arrive at the aquarium and get inside until about 11:00ish, but at least we were rested, fed, and ready to go. It was SUPER crowded during the first part of our visit, but it began to clear out as the afternoon went by. 

We did everything that we had planned to do. The sea lion show. (Funny story: we got seated next to Michael Vick and his personal escorts, which was random but hey. Second celeb-isa sighting of the trip.) The dolphin show. The whale shark feeding time.

We visited every exhibit--some of them twice! We saw the belugas (Bennett is obsessed with the characters from Finding Dory, so he was starstruck by the whale sharks and belugas specifically), and the famous tank that you can walk underneath. We even overpaid for mediocre aquarium food and enjoyed a late lunch together with Bennett while Henry passed out in the stroller (a rare but beautiful quiet moment!) 

For anyone thinking about planning a trip, I would say the Georgia Aquarium is absolutely worth the time and investment. We can't wait to go again, and Bennett keeps asking when we are headed back to the "acranium" ;) 

Their wonder and awe at the majestic creatures of God's creation was sweet to watch. (Featuring: the beluga whales!) 

Their wonder and awe at the majestic creatures of God's creation was sweet to watch. (Featuring: the beluga whales!) 

This is Destiny the whale shark, for all my Finding Dory mamas out there. 

This is Destiny the whale shark, for all my Finding Dory mamas out there. 

We finally left pretty late in the afternoon, but fortunately we gained an hour on the way home. No, we didn't get to stop at IKEA. :( 

BUT this trip was about family time with Daddy, and unless we are on a specific mission for a carefully selected piece of furniture, IKEA is not his idea of fun. So I sucked it up, we got some Starbucks, and we enjoyed each other's company while the kids relished watching Veggie Tales in the back seat (they usually don't love the carseats for too long, so the two hour trip was the perfect amount of time. I highly suggest the Veggie Tales "Noah's ark" DVD!)

I think that all in all, it was a good trip. I could write about 1,000 more words about how much I appreciate Bradley as a father (and husband), but I think I'll save a lot of it for another post.

This past weekend did allow me to stop and appreciate his role in our family: provider, caretaker, protector, love-giver, scheduler, "make it happen" guy, and so many countless other things.

In a way I'm glad that it wasn't a dramatic surprise, because we got to work together and do exactly what HE wanted to do, which was spend time with his family doing things that we all enjoy. I'm so blessed to have a husband who is ALL IN, and who would rather spend Father's Day (HIS day) schlepping around hot zoos and crowded aquariums because his kids love it than doing anything else in the world.  (Although I DO still want to plan a surprise non-kids, stress-free outing for him at some point, just for good measure.)

What are some special ideas you plan for the Fathers/husbands in hour life?

I'm taking suggestions and looking for creative ideas, because I want to make a point to continue to celebrate him more than just once a year. ;)