How to prep for international travel at the Cheesecake Factory.

My husband Josh and I are big fans of the international wander. We’ve spent months in foreign countries with no set destination, no agenda, and no luggage but a daypack. We haven’t traveled like that in years, however, mostly because we got totally overwhelmed, sleep deprived and just generally knocked sideways by having kids (have you heard that controversial bedtime story read by Samuel L. Jackson? That was the story of our lives for SIX YEARS). Also, unless you are traveling with points and miles, family trips are prohibitively expensive. Plus, it’s not really feasible (or fair to anyone!) to walk for miles with a whiny toddler (or even a little kid) in tow.

Needless to say, our kids haven’t traveled much…yet. However, at 8 and 10, they are finally old enough to sleep through the night (only exaggerating a little bit here), they no longer need crayons and paper at restaurants, and they can walk for miles and miles. Add that to the fact that we are now armed with an arsenal of points and miles, and all signs point to yes: it’s time. Which is why we are going on a big trip to Europe and Asia this summer.

So, we’re trying to prep our kids for the experience. Aside from the obvious (looking at maps, watching videos, reading excerpts of guidebooks), we are also embracing the not-so-obvious. I will cover a few more of our unorthodox methods in later posts, but today I will focus on our latest adventure.

It was accidental. We had decided to sign our kids up for Global Entry (Josh and I already have it, thanks to our Amex Platinum cards), so we had taken BART to the San Francisco airport. By the time we were headed back, it was dinnertime, and it just felt like one of those spontaneous nights: we decided to live large and go out to dinner in San Francisco. This might have been fine, but in a moment of temporary insanity, we thought it would be fun to go to the Cheesecake Factory at the top of Macy’s in Union Square. This might have even worked out okay, except it was 7 pm on January 30th.

Bad timing and worse decision-making. This sunk in fully when we walked out of the elevator and people were stacked five deep at the counter, waiting to check in. But we blazed valiantly on. When the hostess informed us that it would be an hour and a half before we were seated, we took the challenge. “Great!” I told her, smiling. (Actually, Josh says I bared my teeth at her, but I think I was trying to smile.)

My son Bear had never been to the Cheesecake Factory before, and he was equal parts excited and overwhelmed by this whirlwind of events. My daughter Bird had been three times, as she announced at every opportunity, so she knew exactly what the best things on the menu were. By the time we squeezed our way out of the crowd, Josh and I were already regretting our decision. But then I smiled (bared my teeth?) at him and said, “Remember the bus in Morocco?”

Josh’s eyes lit up. All of a sudden this was an adventure in our eyes. “Kids!” I announced. “It’s time to find the best sofa in the store.” My kids stared at me. Had their mom finally lost her mind? I just sprinted to the escalator. “No time to lose!” I told them. “We’ve only got an hour and a half!”

It was so much fun. Since the store was almost empty, the furniture floor was almost deserted. We ran from sofa to sofa, plopping down like the Simpsons in their opening credits and giving our seats a few exploratory bounces before rating the comfort level. After testing out every single sofa (67 of them), we determined that this one was the absolute best, the ultimate in comfort:

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But I digress. After a full hour and a half of speed sofa surfing, our buzzer finally went off and we charged back into the melee of the Cheesecake Factory. And then the real wait began. Our server was so slow that we began to wonder if we were on candid camera. He was so slow that we thought he must have abandoned his job. He was so slow that instead of being annoyed, we had to laugh about it. We placed dollar bets on when he would return to the general area of our table again (average time was 12.5 minutes, longest stretch was 25 minutes).

And we just went with it. We enjoyed our time together. And we talked about how this was great practice for traveling. Because you just never know when you’re going to experience hiccups, delays, crowds, or unfamiliar behavior. Sometimes you just need to go with the flow, be patient, and try to be as resourceful as you can with the resources that you have.

Just like the bus in Morocco. I can’t even remember everything we did, but I do remember that when the bus broke down and we were stranded for nine hours, it ended up being a highlight…or at least a kooky memory that we remember happily.

And for me, that is the essence of a good trip, and a skill that I want to teach my kids.

What have been your most resourceful travel moments?

Comments

  1. You know you don’t have to travel around the world to expose your kids to new and different experiences, you can do it right at home. I’d suggest you start by eating at restaurants other than the Cheesecake Factory. Why not try some ethnic food rather than a chain restaurant one stop above a school cafeteria.

    Choosing the Cheesecake Factory when you want to “live large” is an insult to all the wonderful restaurants in San Francisco. You were in one of the greatest food cities in the world and not all of the great restaurants cost an arm and a leg. Try substance over style for once!

    • Points Pixie says:

      Jared – that was exactly my point!! We’ve never been to the Cheesecake Factory before and will never go back! We prefer to eat at smaller, tastier, more interesting restaurants. We went to the Cheesecake Factory almost as a cultural experiment.

  2. Why not eat at the Cheesecake Factory? Almost every experience has value and seeing what it is like to eat a big chain restaurant can be one of them. When I was a kid I wanted to go to Red Lobster. All the kids at school ate there. We always went to the authentic seafood restaurants which are the ones I prefer now as well. However, I still think back to the 12 year old who just wanted to go the chain. And who hasnt craved a McDonalds french fry? I don’t know what’s in them, but every once in a while they hit the spot. Don’t limit yourself to chain restaurants, but they have their place and there is a reason they are popular.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Smitty06 – Yes, we definitely wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The experience we had was really bad, so we are crossing that particular chain off our list.

      However, I agree that chains have their place in the world, and the experience we had was truly valuable.

      The cheesecake was actually really good, too.

  3. Thanks Smitty, I appreciate that. Cheesecake Factory has its place in the world and we don’t have to feel embarrassed. It might have your absolute favorite dessert of all time. Not every experience has to be sophisticated or international, especially when you’re 8 and 10.

    Anyway, good post today as I just found out we have about a six hour wait at the airport in FLL returning from Nassau with our 13 year old grandson in April. I’m trying to decide what fun thing we can do around an airport to pass the time.

    Geez, I wonder if they have a sofa section? 🙂

    • Points Pixie says:

      Anne – TOTALLY! Never be embarrassed for what you like.

      My previous comment was hasty and a little bit lame, I think. Apologies to all Cheesecake Factory fans out there.

      Hmmm…things to do in FLL airport…how about leaving the airport for awhile and going on an adventure (nearby, of course)?

      • Yes, that’s exactly what I’m thinking but we won’t have a car. If anybody has any ideas I would love to hear them.

        • Points Pixie says:

          Anne – Maybe use Uber or another car service to get to a fun local spot? If neither you nor your husband has used Uber yet, you would count as new users and could get a decent discount on a ride each way.

          Although I remember how you feel about car services 😉

  4. Great story, I know the store in SF (though I’ve also never been to the restaurant) and also understand your child training for “morrocan buses”. My daughter is 2 and we’ve done a few long trip’s but nothing like our prior travel. I hope to one day bring our daughter on travel adventures. Thanks for sharing your story. and despite some of the comments. I get the point it’s not about chain restaurants or not chain restaurants it’s about managing the experience and ensuring that the kids are happy.

  5. Sounds like a fun evening! I know everyone’s situation is different but travel, even international travel, is possible and fun even with toddlers. I always said that I would rather be changing diapers in Europe than at home in Michigan….so I did! Not always the easiest, but so worth it.
    Looking forward to hearing details of your upcoming trip.

  6. pinkisnice says:

    I will tell you the reason to go back to The Cheesecake Factory: Mizithra cheese. I grew up dining at the CF with my grandma, who could NOT get enough of this unique, taste explosion. And neither could the rest of us. You can’t find it everywhere, and theirs is particularly good. Plus, you can eat it while sitting in a caboose.

    • Points Pixie says:

      pinkisnice – Maybe we will give the CF another try. We were a little scarred from our experience, but I’m sure all CFs are not created equal.

      BTW I have no idea what Mizithra cheese is!!

  7. It sounds like a great experience to expose the kids to waiting and general chaos. I’ve been to that CF, and every time I’ve gone, there has always been a long wait and lots of people!

    Great that you expose them to a variety of situations. and I love that you went on a sofa testing mission!

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