We’ve just concluded our annual Bahamas Boy Trip Adventure so I thought it would be fun to share the story behind this phenomenal tradition. Our boy trip consists of a week of fun in the sun with my two little buddies at the Atlantis Resort at Paradise Island in the Bahamas. I turn off my cell phone and disconnect from my e-mail for a week to dedicate 100% of my time and energy to my boys. The entire trip from start to finish is all about having fun and building amazing memories together that will last a lifetime!
Way back in 2010, my twin boys were just five years old. I travel a lot for business and had recently missed out on a weekend of playtime with them. I was airborne heading home to Orlando thinking about what sort of special treat I could do to make up for our lost time apart. As I cruised along at 10,000 feet, I looked out the window at the bright sun, then glanced at my airplane’s display – and there it was, a moment of clarity and inspiration as I spotted the Bahamas in the upper left corner of the map. It was one of those times in life that you know you’ve just stumbled upon something special, even without experiencing it yet. I landed safely and then formulated my plan for what would become the legendary Bahamas Boy Trip.
I’d been to Atlantis once before during an industry event so was familiar with the resort, but had never imagined I was ready to take two active little boys there on my own. This wasn’t a quick weekend get-away, it was literally a trip to a different country to spend almost a week together. Yet another moment of clarity hit me, this wouldn’t be so tough so long as I clearly explained the rules of the trip – the only rule was that there are no rules! Playing all day, staying up late, jumping on beds, being silly, eating candy – it was all fair game because this trip was designed to be a wild crazy adventure to remember. The candy part of the equation actually came about by accident. As we left for our first trip, Landon became scared of the unknown ahead and was a bit homesick just blocks away from the house. As I saw tears rolling down his cheeks, I knew something had to be done to bring a smile to his face. We made an impromptu stop at the convenience store where I announced to the boys they needed to pick out some candy. They’re both well mannered children and each selected one treat. I spontaneously blurted out that one treat wasn’t going to cut it, we had days of fun ahead and they needed to grab as much as they could possibly carry. I’ve never in my life seen two more confused (yet excited) children. After a brief pause to gauge the sincerity of my offer, soon there were two little hands devouring the candy display. Needless to say, the tears were gone and were quickly replaced with giggles and smiles. Little did any of us know, but we’d just started the candy tradition. The subsequent boy trips have always begun with a candy cart bonanza – the rule is they can have as much candy as they can fit into a shopping cart – yes, you read that right, a big shopping cart! They’ve become quite the little engineers arranging items for maximum capacity, this year managing to pack in a full 85 lbs of candy. If you’re a pilot and haven’t ever needed to figure in the weight of a candy stash when doing your weight and balance calculations, you haven’t lived yet. While looking at our massive stash of candy I couldn’t resist snapping a picture – which I then texted to the boy’s dentist with a short note that we’d be seeing her soon – something the boys regarded as being “an absolute terrible idea”. All part of the fun, especially since we’ve got an amazing dentist with a wonderful sense of humor!
Candy in hand, it was time to head over to Orlando Executive Airport where we’d be departing. In the following years, I’ve always picked them up early from school to start our adventure. I’ve found that a trip like this works best a few weeks into the school year – for the simple fact that all the responsible parents have their kids in school during this time. Kidding aside, it makes a HUGE difference in the lines at the resort. During the summer months, lines for a single water park slide can run an hour long. Wait until the school year has begun and you can play all day riding slides again and again waiting no more than a minute or two any line – often times, never waiting at all. Like so many of the traditions of this trip, this revelation also came by accident not even realizing the perfect timing while planning the trip.
We pulled into the Orlando Executive Airport and the excitement was so strong the boys were practically bouncing out of their seats. Even though they’ve flown since they were six weeks old so it’s quite routine, this time was especially exciting since we would be flying over the ocean to a foreign country. I received my take-off clearance and knew this was the point of no return as I slowly nudged the throttle forward and my Cirrus Aircraft raced down the runway and into the sky. We were airborne and on our way, it was really happening, this crazy adventure had begun! The boys watched in excitement as we crossed the coastline off-shore then traversed the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) which separates the United States from international airspace. Just thirty minutes after take-off we were overhead Freeport in the Bahamas. Our journey would take us another hour southbound to Nassau, passing miles and miles of crystal clear blue water along the way. The boys were having a great time munching on candy and we hadn’t even landed at our vacation destination yet. Before long, Nassau came into view and it was time to bring the bird in for landing. The magical phrase “November Two-Two-Five-Hotel-Lima, cleared to land” echoed in my headset. As a side note, my tail number, N225HL, was actually created for the boys – their birth date is 2/25 and of course HL stands for Hunter and Landon. Our landing was perfectly smooth and it was time to clear customs. Usually when the word customs is spoken, folks cringe. But not in the Bahamas, customs means being greeted by warm and welcoming people who handle all the paperwork while asking about your day and wishing you a wonderful stay. Our town car quickly whisked us to the resort, all the while perplexing the boys as to why we were driving “on the wrong side of the road”.
Our time at the Atlantis Resort itself is beyond amazing. We typically show up the first day in time to enjoy a great steak dinner – yes, even for two little boys – this trip is about going all out in a big way! The next morning begins early, and when I say early, I mean really, really early. The amount of energy and excitement packed into the boys ready to conquer the water park can’t be contained. But first, we need to load up on a great breakfast. I’ll never forget that first year when they spotted donuts and fruit loops – their candy stash was one thing, but they questioned whether I’d really let them have those too. Of course, it’s the Bahamas Boy Trip!! Pancakes, waffles and every sugary confectionery treat you can image are on the table. You’d think I was setting myself up for a very challenging day ahead with all that sugar, but I had a trick up my sleeve to combat the sugar crash – just let them keep eating it all day and night, hence no crash! I’m only partially joking, anything and everything is okay this one week of their lives.
We’re soon off to the water park. The water park at Atlantis is like no other in the world. It’s absolutely huge and consists of a massive variety of different types of slides to fit every age group. In addition to the slides, there’s also a children’s play area which the boys really enjoy. Even now at eleven years old, having graduated beyond the kids area (and not “technically” supposed to be there), they always still manage to get in time playing with all the water jets and other fun little kid toys. During our early trips, most of our time was dedicated to the kids area due to height restrictions on the larger slides. By our second and third trip more and more slides were able to be ridden as the boys magically grew a few inches each year. Despite Landon being tall enough, his slim frame still makes him appear smaller than he is, especially when riding in an inner tube. He’s become an expert at hopping out of a tube to stand next to a measuring stick presented by the ever vigilant lifeguards. Hunter on the other hand has a bigger frame, he’s not heavy by any means, but he just looks like there’s more to him so he doesn’t even get a second glance. His downfall comes at the little kids water park area where the life guards instantly recognize he’s one of the big kids crashing the party! Big or small, there’s trade-offs in everything in life and I actually love this diversity with the boys since they spend so much of their lives being known as “the twins”. Back to the slides… All three of us love them all! They were both terrified the first few times they took the “Leap of Faith” shooting through the shark tunnel, but now approach it with a cavalier attitude that “they’ve got this, no big deal”. They really love the dueling race slides too – and as a parent I’m especially thankful that the folks at Atlantis put up big digital timers indicating the winner so I never need to judge the contest! On one particular trip, I think we literally rode down about 50 slides over the course of a single day. My body felt the sting of our daylong riding adventures, but I was having so much fun and was so happy that it was easy to pretend I too had the resiliency of an eight year old’s body! Between slides we’ll often take a float in the river on tubes. Notice I didn’t say “lazy” river… while there are some calm, relaxing parts, the majority of it is filled with the excitement of rapids, waves, rocks and even a conveyor belt system bringing your tube to the top of a fun downhill slide at the Power Tower. We’d ridden that slide in the past, but quickly realized this was a much better way to get to the top than by lugging tubes up the half dozen flights of stairs inside the tower.
While the slides and water park are amazing, there’s even more daytime adventures in store. Each year the boys pick out a special bonus activity – swimming with dolphins, walking with the sharks, snorkeling the Atlantis ruins (with sharks too!) – something that’s going to be really cool. This is always a total blast and we never run out of something new, different and exciting to experience. Our hands down favorite out of all these activities has been swimming with the dolphins. We were very fortunate to experience a private interactive while the dolphin habitat was closed to other guests which was BEYOND AMAZING! There were dolphins here, dolphins there, dolphins everywhere, circling, playing, splashing, popping up for spontaneous nuzzles, it was so much fun. Side note since these private interactions are rare, we’ve also done regular group dolphin interactions and those were a blast too! Walking with the sharks definitely ranked up there as a top pick, though the boys had to be ten years old to participate, so were just able to participate in that activity for the first time last year. We captured some great close up pictures of gigantic sharks passing just a few feet away from us which was a thrilling experience. Fortunately, the sharks are very well fed and seem perfectly content to glide along without being tempted to have any little boy treats for desert.
Our nighttime activities at the resort begin with heading out for an incredible dinner. We choose a different restaurant each night for a variety of different food choices and experiences. The boys have never been big fans of seafood, yet one particular spot had a wonderful fresh selection, so it was my chance to try to tempt their pallet. I asked if they wanted a bite of my “steak” since it was different than what they were eating. Apparently, they’d missed the part in the ordering process when I’d chosen swordfish – yes, it was a “swordfish steak”. I still haven’t lived down the memory of how I fooled them into eating “that fish you told us was steak”! It was totally worth it for the giggles and laughs that followed. Though one time they were wise to exactly what I was trying to get them to eat when I tried to entice them with my shrimp… it cost me big dollars to bribe them into giving them a try (they weren’t fans). They still swear I haven’t paid those debts despite me spending enough money at the resort’s gift shop to fill a pirate’s treasure chest. Food dares and silliness aside, our dinners are a wonderful bonding time to relax and chat about the day, as well as to decide which adventures to conquer the following day. This past year Landon got a GIGANTIC dolphin that was as big as his body, so we had an extra guest at dinner – yes, even at the five star steak houses! Our eyes are always much bigger than our stomachs, but that doesn’t seem to stop us from ordering lots of everything on the menu. After all, the Bahamas Boy Trip is about going all out in everything we do, which certainly includes food… that bring us to our next stop – ice cream – EVERY night – without exception – we’ve got to have ice cream in the village.
Following our ice cream time, it’s time for our late night adventures. There’s a fantastic movie theater on property but we tend to opt for more active things, which is almost shocking considering we spend our days being so active already. We often go out to the caves and explore the resort. It’s so much fun to run around through the dark tunnels and there’s always an attempt for little boys to try to scare dad or vice-versa. The underground aquariums are fun to walk through at night too, seeing all the marine life swimming and crawling around. We’re also big fans of visiting the Atlantis Speedway where the boys get to race remote control cars – often times ending up being silly driving the cars in reverse around the track. This past year it was really stormy and rainy one evening which led us to explore even more of the inside of the resort. We discovered a big conference ballroom which was completely empty… match that with the football we’d purchased to play with earlier in the day and we had own indoor football arena! It was so much fun to play ball for what seemed like hours. A staff member walked into the room at one point and we totally figured we were busted and were about to be booted from the room. Instead, they asked for us to throw them the ball, which they then threw back and forth playing with the boys for a few minutes before getting back to work. Very cool of them to allow us to keep up our silly boytime fun, even though I’m sure indoor football isn’t exactly condoned on the property. We were being safe though… except for the tackles… and the running… and the jumping… well, actually, come to think of it, we weren’t even being remotely safe… but the boys survived with no bumps or bruises, just gigantic smiles from all the fun.
I’m smiling right now reminiscing about our boy trips and hope you enjoyed reading about our adventurous tradition. These trips hold an incredibly special place in my heart filled with so many amazing memories. I travel the world and have had good success in my life – yet nothing compares to the joy I feel when spending dedicated time with my two best friends for a week of fun in the sun together at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.
I’ve concluded every speech I’ve ever given in my career the same way – which I think is most appropriately exemplified here to sum up the spirit of our Bahamas Boy Trip Adventures…
“Live Life to the Fullest and Enjoy Every Second of the Ride!”
* As a teaser for a follow-up post, something really amazing happened when Atlantis heard about our wild crazy tradition while they were looking for unique stories for their 20th Anniversary Celebration. They had a film crew accompany us to bring our Bahamas Boy Trip Adventures to television screens everywhere! Our commercials have been on television and cable networks hundreds of times which has been so much fun to see in the midst of watching shows! That experience was so amazing it’s worth its own blog post, which I’ll be posting soon. In the meantime, I’ve included two behind the scenes shots taken during the filming of one of our boy trips.