A city on water makes every dream seem possible. It’s a vision, a work of art that is part man-made and part divine intervention. With every breeze, you feel movement. With every wave, you feel a swelling potential. That is why I was always drawn to Venezia. When I was dating Antonio, my now husband, I often dreamed out loud about someday making it there.
In the summer of 2007, when I landed in Naples, he whisked me off to a car and told me I was in for a long road trip. He wouldn’t say where we were going except that we were heading north. I had a feeling I was about to step into the painting, experience the magnificence, and then some. Indeed, he was taking me to Venice, but not directly.
Once I guessed our destination correctly (when we were almost there), Antonio explained we’d be staying in Jesolo, which is accessible to Venice by a short water taxi ride. Most Americans have never heard of the place. I had not, and I have been traveling to Italy from the time I was 2 and writing about it since 2003. To be honest, I was a little disappointed at first. But my then boyfriend promised I was going to love it, and that we would enjoy this town, too. I hate to admit this because I don’t want to give him a big head, but he turned out to be right. It was fabulous.
Of course, we first headed to Venice. We visited St. Mark’s Square, where we became engulfed by a sea of pigeons. It was just like the movies. We shared a kiss near every bridge and watched the gondoliers take advantage of the tourists. We didn’t go for a ride because we recognized the swindling going on. Besides, we have plenty of relatives, who (after a few glasses of vino) serenade us with “O Sole Mio,” which is a Neapolitan song and shouldn’t be sung by those with Venetian accents anyway. We tried on the famous Mardi Gras masks. (Here, Mardi Gras is Carnevale.) We held hands, ate delicious food, and took in the scene. It was everything I hoped it would be.
Then, we indulged in gelato, our drug of choice, and hopped on a water taxi to visit nearby Murano, where we observed the finest glass makers in the world at work. And I shopped for vases and glass candlestick holders that I still treasure today. When it was all over, we returned to Jesolo, where we stayed at the family-run Hotel Fenix that cost less than half what it would have cost in Venice. While the hotel wasn’t perfect – the room was a bit small and the food was decent but not outstanding – it served its purpose. The staff couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful, and my future husband didn’t go broke making my dream come true.
Perhaps, the best part of staying in Jesolo was the nearby beach, where we lounged for an entire day, just the two of us. We took in the sun, walked along the shore as the waves tickled our feet, and savored anguria (watermelon) and peach iced tea. In the evening, we were super Italian and went on the passeggiata (walk) to the town’s square, Piazza Mazzini. We also did more shopping along Europe’s longest pedestrian zone. My husband bought chess sets made of glass that we are still giving out to friends and a ceramic chicken with a plump belly that sits in our kitchen in Italy, a reminder of the fun we had. Now, we can tell all of you that if Venice seems too costly, you can always stay in Jesolo.
Indeed, leaving Jesolo and nearby Venice was tough for me. But that was only the first of the dreams my then boyfriend had in store. On the way back to Naples, we stopped in a church in Padova, where he asked me to marry him. But that’s a story for another time.
The sweetest pain I know is the weight of my 4-year-old son suffocating me as all 40 pounds of him sleeps soundly on my chest. This moment is precious because it is fleeting, because all too soon he will be embarrassed to be seen with me. In the next blink, he’ll have a life of his own, and I’ll be griping that he forgets to call. These were the thoughts rattling around in my brain in the wee hours of Sunday morning. They were shockingly interrupted when I began hearing a jarring noise just outside my bedroom window. Unwilling to give up the deliciousness of the heaviness on my heart by moving my son to the nearby pillow, I ignored the ruckus.
But the sound wouldn’t ignore me. It never ended. It was as though someone was shaking heavy metal doors on a big rig. I wondered why someone would begin moving at 4 a.m. on a Sunday when it was pouring rain outside. Or was it just the rain and wind causing the banging and clanging? I wondered if it was my parents, who live in the rear apartment of the home and run a landscaping business from the garage and driveway. I was furious that my stubborn, older Italian father was already up and at ’em and making this much noise so early in the morning. He wouldn’t do that, would he?
Maybe it was the marathon of Forensic Files I had been watching when I couldn’t sleep or the mamma bear in me, but I couldn’t shake it. Then, I heard what sounded like a big rock getting thrown against the pavement. I wondered if there was an animal, such as a raccoon, out there arguing with my father. It’s happened before. Don’t mess with Italians and their tomato gardens. Any pesky pest will tell you. But those are stories for another time, and this didn’t seem like one of those situations. I began to worry that it wasn’t my father playing garden police.
I gently moved my son and went to the window. I saw nothing. I looked a few other times. Still nothing. So, I went back to the bed believing my mind was deceiving me. Then, someone began jiggering my front door. It seemed as though someone was in my entryway. Heat radiated through my entire body. The hair on the back of my neck literally stood up. That seriously actually happens. I jumped up, locked the bedroom door, and grabbed the phone on the nightstand. But what would I say to the 911 operator? I just heard a series of strange noises…during a rain storm. I almost felt silly. That’s when I heard more noise coming from the driveway. This time when I looked out the window, I spotted a man I did not know crouching by my parent’s car and rummaging through my father’s landscaping tools, flowers, and equipment. He was frantically trying to open doors to the parked vehicles.
Shaking, I fell to my knees and slowly closed my bedroom windows. I didn’t want this man to hear me on the phone. I crawled to the other side of the room and put my hand on my son’s belly. He still angelically slept. First, I called my parents to tell them to stay locked in their house because there was a stranger near their front door. Many will fault me for this. But an Italian man, like my father, believes himself to be Superman, no matter his age or health. If someone threatens him or his family (not to mention those tomatoes), he will react. I had no idea whether this stranger was armed, but he had easy access to rakes, cages from lawn mowers, and those rocks and bricks. Any of those could have seriously injured or, God forbid, killed my father. That split-second decision to call Papa first was the right one for us.
Once my parents were staying inside, I called 911. The operator took the information quickly and told me to stay locked in the room with my son until the police came. My son woke up and laid perfectly still in the bed. I kept my shaking hand on him and planned to cover him with my body should someone get into the bedroom. I don’t know why that was my first thought, but it was. I whispered, “Are you all right?” He whispered, “Yes,” and clutched me. I prayed slow and hard. I felt heat radiating off me, and it felt as though blood was rushing to my heart, which swelled and raced and nearly burst. I could still hear the man but didn’t want to run to the window. I couldn’t bear letting him see us. The longest five minutes of my life were underway.
The next thing I heard was my father’s voice and then a stranger’s voice yelling, “Get inside! Get inside!” Apparently, the man had begun to try to open my parent’s door when he saw the police. My father thought the trespasser was the policeman and opened the door. Luckily, the police were right behind and grabbed the man and put him face down on my parent’s staircase, handcuffed him, and brought him to the front of our driveway. The police had my father go outside to confirm we had never seen this man, and he had never worked for my father or anything like that. No one asked us any other questions. My mother came to our door, and my son ran to the window, where he saw the “villain” (he’s in his superhero phase) and the policemen.
Just like that, we’re living in fear. I have not slept soundly since this happened. I obsess about every lock on every door and window. My son, who already feared being on a different floor of the house than me, won’t even stay in a different part of a room. He even demanded to sit on my lap while I was peeing. We were lucky. Nothing happened. The only crime that was committed was trespassing. But this makes no difference to my body, which is functioning on high-speed adrenaline, a queasy stomach, and a mind teeming with worst-case scenarios. Indeed, the instilled fear is the greater crime, and one I’m having a hard time erasing. Still, the moral of the story is to lock your doors and fight the fear. Or else, the villains will win.
A wave of exhaustion washes over me, and I am completely paralyzed. I’m under water and suffocating. And I just can’t lift myself up and out of the storm, so I can breathe again. It feels like the end. Sadness is murdering me. I’m unable to fight back.
I know the depths of pain that come with missing someone who was so much apart of your everyday and your entire being that you took him or her for granted, who helped shape you, who profoundly loved you, who you profoundly loved, who is part of your soul. There’s no getting over it.
People will tell you that time will heal. But it actually gets worse. As more time passes, you go through the motions of creating new memories. Certainly, there are new people, who come into the picture. Yet, the ones who are gone are never replaced, and with every memory made, you’re reminded that they have missed one more important part of you. Their seat at the table is empty. You are empty.
Over time, there are always more people to miss. Death takes many away from us. For me, I’ve lost all but one of my grandparents, aunts and uncles who were like second parents, and close friends, who were taken away from us way too young. Many of them suffered in the days before they were ripped away from us. Death was almost welcome in those cases, but it doesn’t make the pain you are feeling from the top of your head to the tips of your toes any easier. The shock wears off, maybe. But the devastation is permanent, an indelible mark on your very essence.
There are those who are physically alive but have cut you off or you’ve cut them off or it was mutual. Regardless, you still miss whatever it is you had when things were good or you thought them to be good. The loss is often profound and harder to accept than death. You might see these people live and in person. You will look past each other, but memories of what you had will flood you. You might even feel the flood pumping your heart in that moment. In some rare cases, the feeling is mutual and you both turn around and change what happens next. But, most of the time, you can’t turn back. You are no longer meant for one another. Your brain might even know that you’re all better off without one another. After all, together, you are poison. But the heart doesn’t always get the message in time. The risk is that you’ll go back to one of these relationships, try to revive it, die from the venom, and end up missing yourself most of all.
Perhaps, the worst longing I’ve known was the loss of someone I never really knew. Six years ago tomorrow, I experienced a miscarriage after 8 weeks of pregnancy. The bean that seemed to be growing inside me was an empty shell. I remember lying on the couch and listening to the leaves in the wind. I remember wrapping myself in darkness. I remember this life literally draining out of me. Even though my angel eventually brought me another child to hold in my arms, I can’t let go of what might have been. I can’t let go of who I became the day after I learned that my little heartbeat had stopped. I can’t forget the loss. It’s the ultimate unrequited love.
When I miss all these others, I am really missing the old version of myself, the one whose strength was propelled by an inability to conceive of a world without these souls. It was naivete, maybe. It was happiness, definitely. It was a time when I wasn’t drowning. I felt more capable, more secure, more loved. I miss the world we all inhabited together. I felt more able to face it.
The older I get, the more I feel, the more I miss. To read this is to believe my prospects are grim. To read this is a report of gloom and doom for you. But that’s actually not how I see it anymore. Missing all these people – talking to them out loud knowing full well I will never get any answers – makes me more alive. The more you lose, the more you gain. Today, I don’t take anyone for granted. I work hard to take mental photographs of all the meaningful moments, and recognize they are all meaningful. The son who lived inside me for nine months, who I get to hug and kiss and hold, is the embodiment of my gratitude. He personifies hope and unwittingly carries with him the bits of each soul I have loved and lost. Every tear I shed makes every smile more valuable. To know losses of this magnitude is to know pure and hopeful love.
As the breeze caressed my cheek, I rocked back and forth, back and forth. The giraffe, along with a few other animals, came into view. While I lifted my camera to zoom in on the beautiful creature as it chomped on leaves, its breakfast, I heard the bang, crash, boom. My then 3-year-old son had just walked into the glass door with his head. He was hysterical and all shades of red. At the time, he still wasn’t talking, so I don’t know what was going through his head, other than what I imagined to be sharp pangs. Just like that, the magic of the previous moment was but a memory.
But wait, this is Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., where magic is a must. We were staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village. A cast member came running over with stickers and a smile. She slapped a Mickey Mouse badge on my son’s shirt, while I wiped away his tears. Someone else handed me ice for his head, extra precaution. Just like that, the magic was back. My son began to giggle and point to the mouse that was now stuck to him. Of course, that is the reason families continue to make the pilgrimage to Disney despite the ever growing costs. Magic comes at a cost, right?
Well, that might be true. But just before I booked this trip, I was starting to get a little sick of the sticker price whenever I tried to book a Disney vacation. And I didn’t want to stay at another value resort, which are known for their cramped quarters and loud teenage guests (practicing cheering chants and songs late into the night). All true, by the way. I’ve been there.
Desiring a step up and having always dreamed of staying at a hotel with zebras and giraffes in its backyard, I decided to do a little digging. I began researching the possibility of renting Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points. I was planning a trip for a large group that included four families, including my own. My brother, sister-in-law, and sister were among the travelers and were either working for Disney or former employees. They all warned against renting points because of horror stories they encountered, in which people thought they were renting points, paid a third party, and arrived at Disney to discover they had no reservations. Many would end up stranded, and Disney could do nothing to help them.
Still, I had read positive accounts on numerous Web sites, so I didn’t give up. I just quit talking to them about it. Besides, my sister and friends of ours live in the area, so I figured if we decided to do this and we had no hotel reservations, we would still have places to crash. The Disney Tourist Blog, which has a great reputation and provides lots of helpful advice, finally convinced me to go for it.
The first step is understanding how DVC works. Essentially, it’s like a timeshare. DVC owners buy a piece of Disney’s property. Unlike a timeshare, it’s not like they are necessarily staying in the same room (or even the same hotel) every year. They have a home hotel, say Animal Kingdom Lodge, but they can stash their points and use them to visit other sites as well. It’s a bit more complicated than this, but you don’t have to get so caught up in the details. If an owner can’t make his or her trip for whatever reason, and the points are going to be lost, they might try to rent the points for one-time use to others.
As I was researching this, I learned that you could rent points with minimal risk if you were smart about it. For starters, you need to either personally know the DVC owner and work directly with him or her or you need to go through a rental points business. Of course, you could also search forums for those who are renting out their points and work one-on-one with the owner. I’ve heard of lots of people who have had success with this, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing it, especially after the warnings from my Disney family.
So, I turned to the two most popular rental points businesses – DVC Rental Store and David’s Vacation Club Rentals. I ended up opting for DVC Rental Store because the agents quickly responded to my questions, and it did not require a deposit to check availability for me. I appreciated the safeguards in place, including paying in installments to insure that the owner of the DVC points would be making my reservation and any changes to it.
One thing you need to know is that you don’t have full control over your reservation. The DVC points owner must make the reservation for you and handle any changes. They are the ones to add dining plans, for example. You pay the DVC Rental Store, and one of its agents communicates whatever you need to the owner. You can even check on your reservation. Once you have begun the payment process, you will be alerted by DVC Rental Store to hop onto a Disney site to input your reservation number, and you can link it to your My Disney Experience account.
Now, let’s get to the nitty gritty. The No. 1 reason I convinced myself and the others in my group, including those who had warned against it at first, to go with point rental was the price. You should know the rental points businesses usually charge more than those freelance DVC owners on the forums. But you get some added security. DVC Rental Store even offers a point protection plan in case you have to cancel your trip for any reason. If you have to cancel without such a plan, you will lose all your money.
What you’re more interested in knowing (as I was when I was conducting research) is how much is this actually going to cost and how does it compare to the prices you’d pay by booking directly with Disney. Using the DVC Rental Store calculator, I see that a stay from Dec. 7 to 13, 2016 at Bay Lake Tower, which are the DVC villas next to the Contemporary, in one of the standard deluxe studio rooms would cost about $1,408 total. (The points cost more or less depending on the day, time of year, and how far in advance you book.) When I plug in the same information for the exact same dates and room type on the Disney booking site, I learn that it would cost a whopping $3,472.02. That’s more than double. A garden-view room at Port Orleans-Riverside, one of Disney’s moderate resorts, for those same dates would cost $1,300, only about $100 less than renting points at a deluxe resort villa. A stay at Bay Lake Tower means an ability to use the monorail to reach Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and all the other Magic Kingdom resorts, not to mention a walking path to MK. That kind of convenience is definitely worth a mere $100 more than a moderate resort. Hellllloooo!
Certainly, there are no guarantees here. You offer up your first four choices in hotel when booking through the DVC Rental Store, and you don’t always get what you want. I did this twice now. The first time we wanted AKL for the animals, and it was available with no problem at all. The second time, my husband and I were going alone with our son, and we only sought the more convenient monorail hotels. These are super popular and we were going in February, which is when many schools around the country offer weeklong winter breaks. We managed to get a spot at the Polynesian, but every other resort was booked. You can book as long as 11 months ahead of your trip, but I never do that. I just don’t know if we can go until closer to the date, so we’re usually planning six months out. This affects the price, too. We usually can pay $1 or $2 less per point, but we have less of a chance of getting our first choice hotel.
My husband and I always have rented deluxe studios, which are pretty standard. Each has a kitchenette, which is nice for washing out cups and mugs and heating up stuff in the microwave. But my parents rented a two-bedroom with my brother and his wife and children at AKL, and it had a full kitchen, including a table, and a washer and dryer, which is a great luxury when traveling with lots of little ones.
As I understand it, the DVC Rental Store agents are knowledgeable about Disney and can help answer questions about how to navigate the parks, dining plans, etc. I have never really had to get help with anything of this nature, but I have had any questions about transactions or confirmations of reservations (including those for accommodations and dining plans) answered promptly. The process went smoothly and gave me no reason for alarm. I turned my loved ones, who were weary about renting DVC points, into believers, too. In other words, I recommend this service. It’s the only way I could ever afford (or justify for that matter) a stay at one of the more convenient and luxurious Disney resorts. You get that Disney magic for a magical price to boot.
Planning parties has been a pastime of mine for as long as I can remember. Even when I was in high school and college, family members put me in charge of making invitations and I sort of, kind of, definitely took over the whole entire festa. Always. That hasn’t changed. Now, however, thanks to the Internet, I have so many places to turn to spark the imagination and come up with new ways to celebrate. And the kids’ parties are the most fun of all.
Two years ago, my nephew’s love of Disney’s Cars spilleth over, so we made that the theme of his birthday party. After scanning Pinterest, some birthday party planning guides put out by top publications, such as Parents and Better Homes and Gardens, I decided I wanted the kids to be able to dress up as their favorite characters, eat some themed food items, and take cool photos.
Since we’re Italian, the food always comes first. It’s the law. The thing nowadays is to have elaborate dessert and candy buffets. I know. But my people won’t accept a sweets-only affair. You have to give them some good food first and there better be more of that than the indulgences. You need to have antipasto (appetizers), at least one primo piatto (a pasta or soup), and a secondo piatto (a meat). Often, we have much more. Indeed, the same was true for this party, but I only photographed the principle dishes to get better images to show off.
One of the first pictures I fell in love with was a hero sandwich that looked like a car from an old magazine (seriously, those print editions still exist). I didn’t want to make sandwiches, so I cut out the center of the bread without cutting through it. I turned it into one long bowl. I filled it with a simple dip (a container of sour cream mixed with Italian seasonings salad dressing packet). I made a face on the front of the car by using toothpicks to attach two olives for eyes and a slice of red pepper for a mouth. Of course, sliced cucumbers served as wheels. And I loaded the “car” with passengers, including carrots, peppers, and more cucumbers. I left all the extras on the side for anyone who wanted more. It was really simple and super cute.
I made pasta wheels with bacon, peas, and olive oil. You cook the bacon (or better yet pancetta) first in a sauce pan. Then, you saute the peas (I used frozen) and add olive oil to the pan to heat it up a bit. Then, you pour that over the wheels cooked to al dente. It’s how they do it in Italy, and the kids love it (except my son who refuses to eat any pasta at all). Some of my relatives topped the pasta with grated Parmigiano cheese.
Finally, I heated a spiral cut ham that I topped with warm maple syrup and chopped pecans. I also made a fueling station in the kitchen that included water, juice, and milk for the kids and beer and wine for the adults. The highlight of the “bar” was the homemade strawberry lemonade that I made with fresh lemons and strawberries. Yum.
I decorated the eating area in a really affordable way. I covered the tables with black plastic tablecloths from the dollar store and taped white rectangles to make each look like the road. The kids put their Hot Wheels on top and raced them for real. And I used my son’s Tonka dump trucks to hold silverware and napkins. By the way, my sister-in-law bought a gorgeous Cars cake from the local supermarket. Other relatives brought desserts they had made themselves.
I never met a cardboard box I couldn’t put to good use. I took a huge one, which is not in the photos above, and turned it into a giant car, threw pillows inside it, and the kids used it as a play area during the party. They also had the photo prop I purchased from Oriental Trading that allowed them to pose as a champion race car driver (see collage above). Then, I took smaller boxes, covered them in paper, and decorated them to look like Lightning McQueen, Mater, and Sally from the Cars movie. I attached long ribbons to allow each child to wear the car throughout the party. They kept switching into different characters. You can see McQueen and Mater in the images above. At the time, the kids were still pretty young. If it had been today, I would have purchased the unfinished wooden cars to have them paint those. The fact that my son fell asleep in the box at the end of the party was a good sign that it was a great party.
I always have words. Cheating spouses take away my words. That’s been problematic for me because I’ve covered relationships for publications and Websites, including iVillage and About.com, for more than a decade now. So, I’ve encountered many, many, many, many cheating spouses. I’m never quite sure what to say. My writing and reporting has been focused on keeping marriages and commitments intact, and I just don’t know how to do that when there’s been such a tear in trust.
Often, I default to the therapists and counselors I’ve interviewed over the years. Many of them take a practical approach to the issue. They listen to both sides of the story, try to get each person to take responsibility for his or her part, and then come up with a plan for moving on either together or separately. If the couple is staying together, the plan always includes the cheating spouse completely breaking ties with the fellow cheater and building up trust by being reliable to a tee and never lying again. It’s the only way, they say. I agree. I’ve even written about the possibility of a marriage becoming stronger after one of the partners has had an affair.
Still, while I understand why therapists ask the victims of cheating to assess their role in the affair, I don’t think it’s right for every couple, maybe not even most couples. Quit blaming victims. In recent days, Hillary Clinton has been criticized by Donald Trump and others for things she said 20 years ago about women who cheated on her with her spouse. Much of what she had said was part of a private conversation with her best friend, who died and whose correspondence was then made public. But I digress. Some pundits have compared Clinton to Beyonce, whose recent Lemonadespecial addressed the rumors that her husband has cheated on her. Beyonce’s lyrics, dances, and use of poetry condemned the cheating spouse – and the cheating women – in no uncertain terms.
One woman, who claims to have had relations with Jay-Z, Beyonce’s husband, before he was married composed a well-written piece about how each woman is part victimized wife and part “Becky with the Good Hair” (Beyonce’s reference to one of the other women). I say that is total B.S. and something the other woman says to belie her own guilt. Speak for yourself, lady. I have never been Becky with the Good Hair. Never. And I don’t plan on it either. There are plenty of others like me.
Clinton might be running for president and could be the first woman to get the job. Beyonce might be a pop superstar, the likes of which we have never seen. But they are also mere mothers and wives. They are us. It’s not their fault that their husbands cheated (or allegedly cheated in the case of Jay-Z). It has nothing to do with whether they weren’t pretty enough or available enough for sex or easy going enough. No matter what kind of blame people want to give them, their husbands are adults who broke their promises. Period.
The reasons people give for cheating on their spouses (or boyfriends or girlfriends) are endless and mostly ridiculous if you ask me. With Jay-Z and President Clinton, if the success of their women was too much for them to handle or emasculated them, then that’s on them. Screwing some other random woman was never going to make their penises any bigger. If their woman was too demanding or mean or neglectful, they should have raised that issue and tried to resolve it, rather than going and creating a new problem. There was a breakdown of communication? Start talking.
Finally, if you have fallen out of love or you’re no longer attracted to your spouse (and you don’t think that will ever change again) or your partner betrayed you and you can’t get over it, leave him or her. Then, pursue whatever relationships you want. There are a million alternatives to breaking your vows or promises whether you’re married or in a long-term, committed relationship.
Yes, if you go to counseling to keep the marriage or relationship together despite the affair, you’re both going to be asked to take responsibility for what happened. But I don’t buy that. And I think that belief system is legitimizing affairs to an extent and making it all right for pundits to blame Hillary Clinton and Beyonce for the sins of their husbands. Now, I’m not saying that those who cheat are terrible people who can never be redeemed. I am just saying that they made a mistake (or more than one) and they need to own it. I’m calling for a real revolution here. Let’s bring back integrity, accountability, respect, and faithfulness. Let’s stop blaming the cheated on and start demanding better from the cheaters. You cheaters, quit pointing fingers and redeem yourselves.
Amen is, perhaps, the most comforting word in the English language, at least for me. I say it at least once a day if not more. It soothes me, almost as much as a warm hug.
Most of the time, I’m not sure how I feel about religion. It’s complicated. But I won’t bore you with the rationalizing that goes on in my head like a hamster on a wheel. Faith is a personal journey, and one I’ll be on until the day I die. Let’s leave it at that.
I consider myself Catholic, like most of the old-school Italians I know. Many of my relatives have pictures of the Pope on the wall. All of them have a Madonnina statue on the front lawn (as do I). Men and women alike wear crucifixes or saint medals around their necks. I wed a fellow Italian Catholic in a church, baptized our son and plan to have him attend Mass regularly and go to CCD and make Communion and Confirmation when the time comes. I’ve even written about my relationship with the Madonna (the mother of Jesus, not the pop singer) for Italian-American publications.
I’ve studied religion at length, both in school and on my own. I took a high school course and two college courses on religions of the world. I read the entire Bible (both Old and New Testaments), the Koran, and the Talmud for one class alone. And I have read writings on Hinduism and Buddhism. I have great respect for them all. I also understand and, in a way, even admire those strong enough to cast off religion all together. For me, faith is like my nephew’s security blanket in that it keeps me cozy and able to sleep at night. Mostly I feel this when I pray, and I pray hard everyday.
Once upon a time, prayer was my solitude. Now, I share it with my son. He’s slowly learning to repeat, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.” It’s become our little ritual in the car when I’m driving him to school. I recite the “Our Father,” and he tries to follow along. Once in a while, I shout out a “Hail Mary.” We visit the cemetery and light candles. Don’t get me wrong. I have my problems with all organized religion, and there’s no doubt that human beings have manipulated and exploited the faithful since the beginning.
But life is so very hard. I selfishly need to have conversations with God, a being higher than I am. I selfishly need to believe that He exists and He is the guard of Paradise, the home I will win after leading a decent life here on Earth. My logical brain laughs behind my back about these beliefs. But I don’t think I could go on without prayer, these moments of reflection, moments to show gratitude for what I have, look at the positive, ask for help if I need it, and feel as though there’s something out there watching over me and lifting me up.
In times of great need, I pray all the more. I don’t limit my talks to God alone. I sometimes turn to the saints (most southern Italians do). When I had a miscarriage and could not get pregnant, a friend of mine brought me to the Shrine of St. Gerard at St. Lucy’s Church in Newark, N.J. I purchased a candle there, and my husband and I lit it and prayed for a baby on a regular basis. Our prayers were answered, and I took my son to the annual blessing of the newborns at that same church three weeks after he was born. When I was with my grandfather when he took his last breath last year, I prayed for his soul and mine. Seriously, what kind of Italian Catholic would I be if I didn’t pray to St. Anthony every single time something – such as my car keys – went missing? So, I pray.
And I pray for you, too. Prayer allows a moment to think about the people around you and what they need. Too often, we are the “me” nation. What’s in it for me? We’ve stopped worrying about our neighbors. We put each other down rather than lift each other up. We see it in headlines about bullies and violence. We don’t trust each other. We don’t love each other. We make this hard life even harder, not to mention rather lonely.
Yet, when I pray I give thought to how you’re doing. Recently, I seem to get bad news every time I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed. Old friends and some family are facing sadness, regret, disappointment, and all sorts of losses (jobs, loved ones, faith in humanity). And it has made me ponder what’s really happening in the hearts of the others on my feed. They seem happy and there have been joyous occasions celebrated (birthdays, weddings, births). The thing is, however, we never know what’s going on in someone’s life unless he or she chooses to share. A few of my friends have been reluctant to ask for prayers because of their lack of religion or atheism.
What they don’t realize is that prayer doesn’t work that way. I can pray for anyone regardless of whether they are of the same faith, regardless of whether they share my beliefs. For me, prayer is an expression of hope for someone’s well being, for someone’s presence in my life, for someone’s spirits and happiness, for this world to be a better place. So, from now on, I will include you in my daily prayer. You matter to me. More importantly, you matter.
Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort is the crown jewel of accommodations at the Mouse’s House. (See below for more photos.) Some would argue that the honor really goes to the more sophisticated Grand Floridian or the Contemporary with the monorail moving right through it. But the Polynesian is not as stuffy as GF, nor is it as modern as the Contemporary. It’s the perfect balance of luxury and whimsy. It reeks of nostalgia, and it’s just plain pretty. That’s probably why it’s always called to me, but it always seemed too expensive to justify.
Until February 2016, I had only ever stayed at the resort once – for a weekend that I gave as a wedding gift to my husband in 2008. Frankly, if it weren’t for the discount of my relatives (who worked at the resort at the time), I never would have been able to afford it. Disney is expensive. Really expensive. And the Polynesian is among its costliest accommodations. (There are different categories of hotel, with the most affordable being value resorts, and the most expensive being deluxe resorts or villas, which are the most expensive.) Polynesian is a deluxe resort.
Without any promotions, the cheapest rooms are upward of $600 per night. In the last few years, the Polynesian has added longhouses (those are the complexes where the rooms are) that are part of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC). These are known as villas. If you’re not a DVC member, you can still make reservations directly with Disney for one of these rooms, some of which have kitchens and multiple bedrooms and bathrooms. The Deluxe Standard room is actually $456 per night for the first week in December at this moment, which is not a bad price considering how much money it costs for rooms in the rest of the resort. The bungalows – those fancy villas on the water – cost between $2,100 and $2,900 per night.
Right about now, you’re thinking, “Hey, crazy lady, I can never afford this. How could you?” Well, that’s a good question. I actually rented DVC points from the DVC Rental Store (which I will tell you about in a future post). For now, you should know that it’s a viable option and it’s significantly cheaper than going directly through Disney.
Why did I waste so much space in this review writing about cost? Well, I want you to know that I believe a stay at the Polynesian (if it fits in your budget via renting points) is well worth it. Here’s why:
Location, location, location – The Polynesian is on the monorail line, which means getting to Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and any of the Magic Kingdom resorts is super easy. When you have little ones or you make lots of dining reservations at the hot spots in that zone, this ease makes all the difference. It means having a more relaxed vacation. Whenever we stay at non-monorail resorts, which I’ve done many times and will probably do again, I have a great time but I feel like I need another vacation a week later after all that running around. While many people want pool views or castle views, I was perfectly fine to have a view of the parking lot because it meant I paid less for my room and was conveniently located within walking distance of the Ticket and Transportation Center, the hub for getting to Magic Kingdom, EPCOT or the resorts. (If you get the monorail outside the upstairs lobby of the Polynesian, you will have to transfer at the TTC to get to your ultimate destination.) We literally would roll out of bed, get dressed, walk to TTC and get wherever we wanted to go. And we could come back for a break during the day or before dinner whenever we wanted. We took Disney buses to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, all of which were on time and comfortable.
Food, glorious, food – Some of my favorite restaurants are at the Polynesian resort. Ohana, with its dumplings and wings and all you can eat salad and shrimp and beef, and that delicious bread pudding is a must do. Although I didn’t have a great experience at breakfast there, you do get to meet and share photo ops with Lillo & Stitch (more on that in another future post, so there’s lots to which you can look forward). Kona Cafe and its Tonga Toast and sushi are the stuff of legend. And, hello gorgeous, you can get the Dole Whip, which only available at the Polynesian and Magic Kingdom and nowhere else. That alone might be reason to stay here. The luau is awesome and includes a fire eater. Yes, a fire eater. No need to say more.
The pool is cool and so is the beach area. It’s in the shape of a volcano. If theming and kitsch are important to you, then the pool makes this place a winner. I’ve always loved the nearby beach area. Toward the end of our stay, we spent an afternoon playing in the sand and indulging in S’mores (at the fire pit). I imagine real Polynesia is way better, but this fantasy version is still a delight. There have been complaints that the pool area is crowded during the high season. I can’t comment on this but imagine it to be true because of the smaller size compared to other resorts. I have only been in the pool once, that first time I went to the Polynesian in 2008, and no one else was there because it was December, not exactly pool weather. This last time in February, it was too cold to bear the thought.
The room rocks. The deluxe standard room has a pull-out couch and queen bed. Plus, a small pull out bed, fit for a child. My son kept promising to sleep there, but he usually ended up in bed with us. We left the couch closed. But what we loved most about the room was the double bathroom. There was one room with a tub, sink, and toilet and another with a shower and sink. It made getting ready easy, and they were both simply beautiful. One downside was the water in the shower would always – I mean always – end up on the floor no matter where you moved the shower head. Small price to pay, especially since there was a seat in the shower. Heaven!
If it wasn’t for the price, I’d say everyone should just go to the Polynesian. Since it’s so expensive, I say you should try to make it a Disney bucket list item. If you get to go more than once, all the better. The best news is that you can go to visit the Polynesian for a few hours (not the pool but the resort) for free. Just hop on the monorail and go. You can grab a bite or just walk around and take it all in.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I have a close relative who works for Walt Disney World, and she has helped me get discounts and entrance to the parks, but I paid in full to rent DVC rental points to stay at the Polynesian deluxe standard room and to get Deluxe Disney Dining privileges throughout this stay. And her position in no way influences my opinions or writing.