My son just got his drivers license, his first car, and has spent the first time in his life as “an adult”. It’s a step that all of us take, and all of us go through. Every parent does it, and honestly I don’t know how. Those of you who have followed along on Behind The Thrills have seen many changes over the almost eight years that we’ve been operating. However, whether you know it or not, the heart of every single thing we’ve done has been our family. This isn’t a news story, this isn’t a rumor, it’s not a great big trip report. It’s a story of me, Erik the guy you’ve come to know (and some of you hate) from behind the keyboard, camera and Twitter account, and my son “the big guy”, and how theme parks shaped both of us. As many of our stories, ours starts at Universal Orlando.
Growing up in Florida we went to Disney, naturally. It was the thing to do. Spending summers in Ohio, Kings Island and Cedar Point were a way of life. However it wasn’t until 2002 came about that we dove head first into theme parks. I had always had a love, but the love didn’t morph into an obsession until I had a family of my own. My son was four, and Spiderman was a huge movie. To say it was big was an understatement. The web head was everywhere, and my son was a huge fan. We hadn’t ventured far outside of the Disney cone at that point. Universal wasn’t a big deal for us, simply because we had never been. Having smaller kids, coasters and big rides didn’t really appeal to us…so we didn’t really care too much about learning more about Universal. That is, until we learned they had a Spiderman ride. The young man really wanted to go, so for his fifth birthday, grandpa got us tickets. Even better, he bought us annual passes. It was cheaper than buying two day tickets, and meant that we would get a lot of family time together.
As we walked in, I was floored. The park was gorgeous, there was so much themeing and the rides were insane! Spiderman came waltzing by, and stopped randomly at my son who was wearing (naturally) a Spiderman shirt. They had a conversation for about five minutes about bad guys, good guys, and the ride. That was it…he was hooked. So was I.
The experience left me wanting to find out more about the park, which lead me to Jim Hill Media, and IOACentral.com. Both pushed me in a direction that lead me here, writing about theme parks on a regular basis.
As the years grew, so did our list of theme parks. We’ve visited every single one still standing in Florida, have been to Halloween Horror Nights and various haunt events every year, and have exhausted the poor kids on parks. Theme parks, to me have been our family get away. Every major milestone has been celebrated in a park. Because of the BehindtheThrills, we have been able to experience things that not many people do. We’ve met celebrities, been to concerts, and conquered fears one coaster and ride at a time. The first big roller coaster was Rock n Roller Coaster at Disney. It was more than just conquering the first coaster, it was conquering a fear of the dark, and the fear of not being able to see what was in front of you…it was trusting dad that everything was going to be okay. He knew it would be okay as he proclaimed “THIS IS AWESOME!”
Discovery Cove was the place where the kids connected with the ocean, and the reason I’m persistently nagged about going to the beach. Universal Orlando was the first place the kids tried unique and different things, and learned to speak with people…because what else are you going to do in line for 45 minutes?
Most importantly it gave us experiences to look back on, and build our family on. Sure, we’ve had amazing and wonderful times outside of theme parks doing a great many things…but without the parks to build on, they (and me) would not have had the courage to face them, and the urge to venture out and try new things.
A few weeks ago he told me “dad, I think you should cancel my Universal pass”.
“I just don’t have time to go with you guys anymore, besides how many times can one person drink Butterbeer?”
I was floored, and while I agreed and smiled I was quietly floored. Was our time coming to an end? It certainly felt like it.
Yesterday my son got his license, and purchased his first car. He’s also 18, which means being a senior in high school and working… a lot. The guy is as good as you can get.
He was nervous at first, going alone without me or anyone in the car, but as he went further I heard him exclaim “THIS IS AWESOME!”, or at least I thought I did as he drove into the horizon. Everything was going to be okay…at least for him. I swore I wasn’t going to be one of those worrisome dads who waited by the door, but as I laid in bed trying to sleep I couldn’t help but listen for him to come in. It wasn’t until about midnight when I heard the rumble of his engine, and heard the door close that I was able to drift off to sleep.
This morning, he was telling me all about his night out. Of course his buddy, and girls were involved…but mostly it was the freedom of being able to go on that adventure that struck me. We tend to forget what a car really is, especially at that age. To us, a car is a mode of transportation and a way to get back and forth to our responsibilities. He made me remember just what it really was. It was a ticket to adventure, and a key to writing your own story.
Our adventure together isn’t over…not really. But our adventures are now only a footnote in what is to be his story. The only thing I can really do now is to hope that I have given him the tools to be wise enough to avoid the wrong ending to his story.
As for me? Over the past few months, I’ve contemplated ending the story of Behind The Thrills. Closing the book, as it were, on this part of my life. As you may (or may not) have noticed, the updates haven’t been coming as frequently. That’s largely in part due to the ending of my sons’ chapter. Again, family was a big reason behind the site, and Behind the Thrills is only one part of my life. It takes an army to keep it running on a regular basis. Over the past year, that army has diminished to barely a battalion, as writers and updaters come and go. Some have gone on to start their own sites (good luck Dan and Josh), while others have simply stopped, while others like Racheal (the owner, and creator of the site) have gotten too busy to help like they used to.
Also, not living in Orlando has taken it’s toll, both on us having to travel, and on our vehicle. Over the past three months we’ve had to replace two vehicles, one for being worn out (230k miles and she just gave out) , and the other after being rear ended…in Orlando…going to a theme park to cover something.
We try as parents to do what we think is best for our kids. Our lives happened to involve theme parks, heavily. Though my son is (for intents and purposes) grown, I’m left with a feeling of not wanting to continue with that love and passion without him…after all, he’s the reason I went so rigorously in the first place. Even though I did what I could to teach him, he taught me some of the biggest lessons in my life, which leads me to the end of this article. We do things for our families, and through them growing up, we grow and become different people as well. Just because our major parts in their lives have ended doesn’t mean we have to go back to doing what we did before the kids came along. It also means our own freedom. As they pursue their own adventure, we can now go into different directions with ours. The site will be a living testament to that, as I look at different ways to continue. Things will change, but together with a group of rag-tag adventurers we will still try to keep doing what we’ve done for almost eight years now.
So…as they say, the Adventure Lives On. You ready to ride?