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Column: Want a fun vacation? Get in line

WORTHINGTON — What exactly constitutes a family vacation? Does it mean spending $6 for a hot dog? Does it mean spending well over half of your “vacation” time standing in a line? Or does it possibly mean getting splashed by a 8,000-pound whale?

All of this will be answered, and more.

My family, consisting of my parents Sarah and Mike, along with my younger sister Marah, recently went on a long-awaited vacation to Florida to go to: Universal Studios and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter; Discovery Cove and swim with dolphins; partake in SeaWorld adventures; the ocean etc.

This is all good and well if everything runs smoothly, which of course never does.

To be fair, the trip started off well enough. We got to the airport in plenty of time, our bags didn’t go over 40 pounds, and our plane ride was smooth and safe. After we landed, however, it became apparent we were actually in Florida. The sun was shining (much too brightly), the air was warm and humid (much too stickily), and I could already tell Florida had a few more people than Minnesota did.

We got to the hotel, settled down and prepared for our first eventful day, which included going to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and going on their premier ride, “Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.” We got up at 5 a.m. and got to Universal as early as possible — to escape the five-hour long wait that others were enjoying (cough) — to actually get on this ride. After finding out how to follow a line of cones, my dad finally parked, and we got into Universal before the park opened.

So, we stood in line, in the already hot and humid air. This affected me in a negative way. I have always been an advocate for cooler air, preferably with a breeze. This air was neither.

After we were allowed to exit the line to get into the park, we finally stepped into Diagon Alley. It was everything I thought it would be. It had butterbeer, it had wands, it had The Leaky Cauldron. But according to our plan, we had to get in line for our ride ASAP. At that moment in time, however, the women in the group decided they should probably use the restroom. They waded through the literally thousands of people in the park in search of said restrooms, and my dad and I were left to fidget in place and wait for their return.

After they did come back, we finally got in line. At that point, only a few minutes past the park’s opening, the wait was two hours — again, in the heat. Currently, this vacation wasn’t turning out to be what I thought it would be. I stood in line, to stand in line again? And now for multiple hours? I had a lot of time to think about this.

About an hour into the wait, a woman’s voice came over the speaker system to inform us that the ride had broken down. I felt like I was in a horror movie. The world around me was becoming muted, and a scream was coming from somewhere in the distance. … I digress.

After 15 minutes or so, the nice lady came back to inform us that the ride was back up and running, and a collective sigh of relief came from everyone (the wait at the end of the line was now about 5 hours).

We finally got on the ride, and it was fantastic. We shopped, ate our incredibly expensive lunches and enjoyed the rest of our day.

Day 2 involved going to Discovery Cove, a resort-like theme park extension of SeaWorld. There, we had unlimited food, we could snorkel in cool water with thousands of fish and — later in the day, we were going to have a “dolphin experience” where we swam and played with those elegant animals.

Once again, it started off smoothly. There were next to no lines, and we all had a great time. The time came to swim with the dolphins, and we waded into the cool water. About halfway through, however, our dolphin trainer told us we had to get out of the water due to imminent weather. So we did. She assured us that the weather would pass soon, and she provided us with SeaWorld videos to watch until that point in time.

The storm ended up being pretty massive, so my sister and I thought it would be a better use of our time to get lunch. Apparently, everyone else in the park had the same thought as us, so, you guessed it, we stood in line for about an hour. No sooner had we got our lunch and sat down to start eating when we were informed that we were about to swim again, and we had to get back to the beach straight away. We sprinted down to the beach with our trays of food and hurriedly got into the water. We had barely waded into the water when the trainer informed us we had to get out of the water due to lightning in the area. I laughed, thinking the trainer HAD to be joking. Unfortunately, she wasn’t.

After another wait, we finally got to finish our “experience” — after which they tried to sell us $128 worth of pictures — and we left the park.

These are just a few of the many stories my family experienced, both good and bad. That brings me back to my original question: What constitutes a family vacation? It means having all of those experiences — both the bad and the good. It means getting splashed by Shamu, and also waiting for the girls in the family to use the restroom when you could be getting an earlier spot in line. It means buying over-expensive food, and it means savoring it.

Ultimately, it means enjoying your time, whether you’re in the hotel room or the car — or even being in the sun and the heat, standing in line.