The Amazing Adventures to Kure Beach, North Carolina, Day One

Almost every year, Todd’s family travels en masse to a warmer climate in a southern state, which translates to eight adults and eleven children between the ages of 3 and 13. Before I became a part of the Tighe family, they traveled to Gulf Shores, Alabama, and since I married into the Tighe clan, we’ve spent time in Florida (St. George Island) and Alabama (Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan). This year, however, we’re exploring new horizons and find ourselves in North Carolina. I’m writing this while staring at the beach and beautiful waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Because it’s already day three, I’ve got some serious catching up to do, but don’t want to forget the adventure in itself that just getting here turned out to be. So here’s the story of our trip to the beach…

As you would imagine, trying to pack for eight people for a trip for 10 days is quite the challenge in itself. Thankfully, we knew we’d have a washer and dryer at our house, so I planned to bring about four outfits for each person plus swimsuits. Add in all the accessories that eight people need for 10 days and our van seemed to get smaller and smaller. This was probably the first year in our history of travelling that we didn’t have to take a pack n’ play with us, though, and that left a good space in which to fill with other stuff.

Even with trying to pare things down as much as possible, as we surveyed our supplies, it still didn’t look like it would fit in the van and leave any room for the actual people that needed to ride in it! After talking about it and going through different scenarios, Todd had the bright idea to try Space Bags. Why hadn’t we thought of this before?!? When we traveled to Korea back in (gasp! has it really been that long!?) 1996, and we thought we needed to bring every single thing we owned, we used Space Bags to fit so much more stuff into our trunks. As much as we’ve traveled since then (and by traveled, I really mean going up and down I-75 from Detroit to Lexington and Lexington to Florida or up and down I-65 from Lexington to Gulf Shores…We are not well-traveled people, you see…) you’d think we would have come up with this solution to our space problems! Last year we tried a car topper and lost about seven miles to the gallon from the drag it created, so we were really trying to avoid that, especially with gas at heart-stopping, gut-wrenching rates already. It seemed like the Space Bags were the answer to our problem, and they absolutely were. We fit everything in the back of our van and didn’t have to add anything to the back or the top. My husband is a genius!

We talked about leaving our house at 8:00AM and do the last minute errands that Todd had to take care of before getting out of Dodge for over a week. In actuality, we left the house at 8:09AM. Pretty good for us! We usually run at least 15 minutes behind at life in general, so the day had started out well. We ran our few errands and stopped to get gas (and tried not to cry or curse about the total cost), and by shortly after 9:00 AM, we were on the road south. Woohoo! The 650-ish mile trip to a warmer climate had finally begun.

We have no qualms about using the DVD player when taking long trips, since it makes them so much more enjoyable for all parties involved. The kids rotate through in age order who gets to choose the movies, so there is little arguing. Surprisingly, Hannah, who chose first, picked The Pistol, the biography of basketball marvel Pete Maravich. Who knew? Maybe she likes short guys. In any case, that got us well into Tennessee, so no one was complaining. Since we like to pay as little as possible for lunch to feed the kids, Todd scopes out the Sam’s Clubs along our route so we can stop at one for a meal. We found one around Knoxville, I think, and it was close to lunchtime, and we stopped to have the usual: two pizzas and a few drinks. The kids love to eat there and we love to pay less than $5 per person to have a meal.

After filling up our tummies and our gas tank again, we were off for leg 2 of our journey. So far so good. Our older van gave me a little scare on the mountains as the engine tended to get hot as we climbed up, but since it would return to a safe level every time we descended, it seemed to be the effect of being ten years old and having 173K miles–and carrying a full capacity within.

Our trip seemed to be going swimmingly and everyone was in high spirits, anticipating our arrival at the beach, until we stopped for gas shortly after crossing into South Carolina. (Don’t question why we had to go to South Carolina to get to North Carolina if coming from the north…If you’re confused look at a map. That’s what I had to do!) Todd got out and started the process of pumping gas. He hadn’t gotten very far into the process when he poked his head back in the van and asked, “Our card has been declined. Any reason you know why that would happen?” Of course this was said in a very non-confrontational way. It wasn’t in a “Did-you-forget-to-pay-the-credit-card-bill-my-love?!?!?!” kind of way at all. Regardless of how it was said, I had no idea why we have been declined, so he got on the phone to see what was up. Apparently the credit card company put a hold on our card because in the course of the day so far, we had used it in three states. Of course they put on hold. How could we make the rookie mistake of not thinking of the “Three States in One Day Security Lock-Down”?!? (I joke, but seriously, I’m glad that they have such tight measures. Next time we travel, I’ll know to call ahead to alert them of our travel plans. As it was, it was little or no trouble to confirm with the consultant that it was in fact us who were putting charges for gasoline on our card in our beeline to the beach. We hung up, feeling like we’d taken care of it, and could safely put it out of our minds.

At some point in the day, we took care of finding a hotel to stay in that night. At first, we planned to go about halfway and stay the night, but after an exhaustive search for a hotel with an indoor pool that yielded little usable results, we decided to go all the way to Carolina Beach in a day and find somewhere to stay before we arrived. For some, this may strike fear in their hearts (What?!? Not have a reservation before locking the house door and pulling out of the driveway?! Are you inSANE!?!), but we were feeling crazy like that. Todd’s friend had recommended a place that he spoke very highly of. I looked it up and found a link to the Paradise Inn. When Todd called, however, he was directed to the Surfside Motor Lodge, and quickly found out that the Paradise Inn had not only been closed for several years, but had also been torn down. Strike one. Apparently Todd’s friend had not been to NC for a while…. After talking to the Surfside guy, Todd asked him about having a room, and was able to get a suite that would sleep all of us. The place didn’t have an indoor pool, but it did have one, and it was right on the beach. Todd took it. We told him we expected to arrive around 8:00 that evening.

Fast forward a few more hours to our second stop of the day at a second Sam’s Club of the day (this time for dinner, and woot, we planned to let the kids splurge and pick off the cafe menu!!). We decided to fill the tank again before dinner so we could eat and run. Before we stopped, the GPS told us to expect to arrive at our destination around 8:30PM, so we knew that stopping to eat would delay that time somewhat, but not much. It felt a little like “second verse, same as the first” when he poked his head back in the van again to announce that our card was again declined. Huh? This time I made the call to find out what had happened, a little ticked off thinking that the message hadn’t gotten through to whoever takes care of this sort of thing and they thought something wacky was going on with our three state run–soon to be four. I spoke with one woman and explained our situation, assuming that it was their fault. The first woman put me on hold, saying she had to transfer me to customer relations. After what seemed like a long time (isn’t it always, though?) and Todd announcing a couple times “The card still won’t go through, honey!” another woman came on the line. I started to interrupt her as she spoke about suspicious activity on our card, but she threw down her trump card when she asked, “Did you purchase a plane ticket from Singapore Airlines for $2300 today?” I stopped short. Oh dear. Signal the adrenal glands to open the flood gates….

Of course, I told her no. She then asked, “Did you make a purchase to Air India for $2050?” NO! She then went on to list a litany of fraudulent charges that had been made that day on our card. Suddenly the three states in one day joke didn’t seem funny anymore. I was trying to fill Todd in with the situation while answering “no” to every one of her questions about charges made. Finally I handed the phone to Todd, whose adrenal glands don’t feel the need to be overworked, and he took care of the rest of it. Somehow someone had gotten our number and was going to town with our funds. Thankfully, our company has a policy of protection and I was very thankful. We will have to go through the disputed charges and take care of some paperwork, but on the whole that’s nothing compared to paying for someone else’s trip to Asia with all the fixings plus who knows what else. We also had to shut down our account until they could reissue us new cards, which meant we couldn’t use that account for the rest of our trip. Fortunately, we had another card that we could use, so that wasn’t a big deal. Even though it could have been a lot worse, I still felt…what’s the word? Violated? Stolen from? Whatever it is, I felt it. Who knows how they got our information, but they had. I was so thankful that the credit card company jumped all over it.

That whole fiasco cost us at least a half an hour, but I’d rather have lost a half an hour that thousands of dollars. We continued on to dinner and ate before getting back on the road. Now we were scheduled to arrive after 10:00. Todd called the Surfside hotel to inform them that we would arrive a couple hours after we had originally thought, which wasn’t a problem. In fact, the manager told Todd that he had reserved us not a suite, but a cottage, complete with a kitchen area. Sounded nice! Waiting until the last minute to secure a room had paid off for once!

The kids were still doing so well, too. They had moved from Pistol Pete to some Veggie Tales and other movies I’ve tried to block out, and even had a long stretch of quiet time. Chloe managed to sneak in a couple naps along the way as well.

The last leg of the trip was like pulling teeth, I must say. It was dark, we had to take a back road for a long stretch through some small towns, and for crying out loud, we had been in the van since 8:00 that morning. The quote of the day, though, came from Chloe at one point before we made a stop, when she declared, “Daddy, I’d like to feel my butt again!” which was followed as a close second by Brendan telling us, “I think my tailbone is about to crack off!” On the whole, however, we couldn’t have asked for better behavior.

When we finally pulled up to the Surfside “motor lodge,” it was about ten minutes after ten. While we weren’t expecting to stay in the Taj Mahal, it quickly became apparent that our accommodations were going to be less than stellar. Still, the hotel part of the Surfside looked nice enough. Todd went into the main office to get the key and do his usual schmoozing. Minutes later he returned and informed us that our “cottage” was across the street from the main hotel and we drove over to check it out and collapse after a long day.

Memories of our original honeymoon cabin (I’m working on that sure-to-be memorable blog post!) came to mind as we walked up to the front door of our “cottage,” and I could hardly wait to open the door to see what type of fantasy crash pad we’d rented for the night. The Surfside did not disappoint.

Upon opening the door, we walked into a lovely dining room area with a convenient hot water tank in the corner. We were instantly enveloped in a wonderland of wood paneling and the bygone era of Formica as a unique scent diffused throughout the space.

Just steps from the dining area we found a kitchenette completely devoid of supplies, but big on character–such as the out of order dishwasher and the refrigerator that was surely from the year Todd was born. Although we didn’t end up using such a fine amenity, I’m not sure what we would have cooked on should we wanted to put it to use.

Adjacent to the kitchen was a small sitting room/den with a TV, couch, and chair. We made many memories and spent several quality minutes in that room that surely will become treasures to every one of us as we look back fondly on our time at the Surfside “motor lodge.”

It was a short walk to the two bedrooms of the “cottage” with a bathroom on the right. The bathroom…. I could go on and on, starting with the dip in the floor that made you lose your balance every time you “got in place” to use the toilet….and sometimes when you were just passing through to use the sink or look in the mirror. And while we’re talking about the mirror, I’ll just let the picture speak for that. Above all (and sadly I don’t have a picture for it), I appreciated the shim visibly sticking out of the cabinet over the toilet. Nice touch to the details. The shower, arguably the most recent part of the entire “cottage,” was something we chose not to use throughout our stay.

I can’t believe I didn’t take pictures of the bedrooms (actually, I did take a picture, but in my blonde-ness deleted it), but I will attempt to use word pictures that will do our bedding and beds justice. In the first room, there was a double and a twin, complete with a TV and dresser. The mattresses were sufficiently lumpy and decidedly squeaky. The bedding looked like fine antiques that could have fetched at least enough to get a frappuccino at Starbucks had it been auctioned off on eBay. At least at first inspection, the room had everything included except bedbugs.

We worked to get the kids into their comfy beds and settled for the night. While they weren’t as smitten with their room as completely as we were, we hardly heard a peep out of them as they quickly slipped into dreamland. Meanwhile, Todd and I spent a few minutes relaxing in front of the TV and snuggling on the cozy couch before retiring to our relaxing retreat of the “cottage.”

The next morning we woke up early since the kids were more than excited to hit the pool. Nevermind that it was 57 degrees at daybreak, we came to swim!! It was marvelous to wake up and not have to travel another five hours or so. We took a short trip to McDonald’s for a quick breakfast. As we walked through the restaurant to the front, we passed by what I could only assume was the local Morning Group of Retired Guys and Gals. One of the guys, who watched us file in, commented to Todd, “Wow, you’ve got your hands full!” to which my quick-witted husband responded, “Yep! Next year we’re going to bring them all!” This elicited a lively response from the group and the original commenter, who proceeded to make sure all of his buddies heard Todd’s answer. The kids were just as tickled as the Group was. They are getting old enough to notice that people notice the size of our group, and sometimes they ask about it–like the time Brendan overheard someone say “you’ve got your hands full!” to me at the grocery store and he whispered, “WHY DO PEOPLE KEEP SAYING THAT TO YOU, MAMA?!?!”

In any case, we enjoyed our breakfast outside and hurried back to the “motor lodge” to let the kids change their clothes and get into the pool. It was barely warm enough to swim, but that didn’t deter the kids. They all enjoyed a good frolic in the pool up until it was time to check out from our “cottage.” We sadly said goodbye to the Surfside Motor Lodge of Carolina Beach. Perhaps it won’t be for the last time. And even though it may not have been the best of accommodations, I can’t help but hold it in comparisons to some of the places we stayed while we lived in Korea. Once there was a red light over the bed in our hotel in Insadong, Seoul, South Korea, and another time when we stayed in Seoul with friends the hotel owner brought us their equivalent of Raid for cockroaches on a serving tray (along with a bottle of water or two) while we unpacked. And when we checked into our hotel in Phuket, Thailand, we were greeted by the absolute biggest cockroach either of us have ever seen (but weren’t served the spray on a tray!). Compared to those places, I thought I heard the faraway voice of Tom Bodette who always said “a clean, comfortable room” and suddenly it wasn’t that bad. Having said all that, one night was certainly enough.

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