Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Gabriel and Donna Lorrig 2017

Some young people enlist in the military to discover what they want to do in life. Others make serving a life goal which they pursue intentionally. Such is the case of my son, Gabriel, who spent his childhood playing war games. As a teenager he applied himself as a member of the Civil Air Patrol. Completing his Search and Rescue training, becoming a certified First Responder, and reaching the rank of Lieutenant-when he achieved his Billy Mitchell award-are just some of his early accomplishments. Although his best friend had accepted a commission into the United States Air Force Academy, Gabriel’s desire was to begin serving right out of high school as an enlisted airman. He intended to work his way through the ranks as his grandfather and great uncle had before him.

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During his Basic Military Training he developed a pretty severe case of bronchitis, but was still able to graduate without being held back. We knew he was disappointed not to have achieved honor graduate status. But were not really surprised when the honor graduate from his flight stopped by to chat with us while we were enjoying lunch after the graduation ceremony.

“Gabriel really helped me through this whole basic training and made it possible for me to achieve this award,” he shared. It is very much in Gabriel’s character to help others reach their goals-even if his own aspirations ended up on the back burner.

Over the next two years of his active duty, he was proud to have been ‘coined’ 5 times by a variety of his superiors and attracted the favorable attention of a three-star general at Maxwell, AFB, in Alabama. In the fall of 2012, he was excited to find that he was being deployed to the Middle East. He had always enjoyed traveling and experiencing different cultures.

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We knew that he had been experiencing some complicated health issues and growing up in a military family myself, I understood the seriousness of the call I received which let me know he was being ‘medically evacuated’ to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for treatment. The most challenging health conditions of soldiers from deployments often ended up in Germany.

Once the news came that he had been admitted to the hospital, I immediately began to make the arrangements necessary to get to his side as quickly as possible.

Colorado Springs area, where we live, is a military town surrounded by Peterson AFB, Schriever AFB, Fort Carson, NORAD, and the US Air Force Academy, and it seemed that everyone I encountered that day was filled with compassion and understanding. At ENT credit union, the teller seemed upbeat and interested as I made my withdrawal.

“Big plans for the weekend?” she asked kindly.

“Heading overseas,” I replied with tears beginning to brim in my eyes.

“Where to?” she countered.

“To see my son in Landstuhl…” the ‘Germany’ caught in my throat and I couldn’t say anymore.

Immediately assessing my situation, she replied, “I was born at Landstuhl. Quite a complicated delivery they tell me. All the best doctors in the world are there and I’m sure he is getting the very best care possible.”

Words were impossible for me but as I completed my transaction, she spoke encouragingly again, “I’ll be praying for you both.”

How thankful I was that she seemed to know the situation was dire and didn’t ask for details that I couldn’t share.

Within twenty-four hours of the initial call, I had boarded a flight headed to Germany.

While on the plane and waiting in line for the lavatory the man behind me asked amiably, “Where are you headed?”

“To Landstuhl,” I replied, almost choking out the, “Visiting my son.”

“I spent some time there many years ago,” he replied reflectively. “I’m glad you are able to go. The doctors there are all top notch. Thank your son for his service for me.”

After the plane landed in Frankfurt, we waited to get off the aircraft. Finally, the pilot announced, “There’s been a delay with the plane sitting at our gate. We will disembark here and shuttles will take you from the tarmac to the terminal.” As I boarded the shuttle and sat down, the woman behind me asked cheerfully, “What brings you to Germany?”

“My son has been admitted to Landstuhl,” came my vague reply. After a quiet moment, her husband leaned forward and put his hand on my shoulder. “Would you mind if we pray for you? I’m a retired military chaplain…” I nodded my consent, not trusting that I could actually form the words to reply.

When we arrived at the terminal the chaplain asked, “Is anyone planning to meet you at the airport?” Shaking my head, the realization dawned that while my focus had been on getting to get to Germany, I had neglected to make plans for getting to Landstuhl or for where to stay once I arrived.

“Follow us,” the chaplain had directed. “We’ll get you through customs and take you to the USO.”

Falling in line behind them, we shortly arrived at the USO. A spot on a van headed for Ramstein and Landstuhl was secured for me, and along the autobahn, I marveled at the serene landscape filled with vibrant autumn colors and dotted with white farm houses, each with identical red roofs. Appearing to be generations old, yet as if ordered to uniformity, they all looked indistinguishable. Maybe my mind simply couldn’t process differences, but I allowed the revolving scene lull me into a measured calm.

The van driver dropped off each of the other passengers before me when we arrived at the gate of Landstuhl, obviously the last stop on his route.

“Do you have your orders?” he questioned me.

“Oh, I’m not in the military,” the words stumbled out, “I’m here to see my son who has been admitted to the hospital.”

“Didn’t you get an email with instructions from the Red Cross?” he inquired.

“No, I didn’t even think to wait for that,” I admitted. “I just got here as quickly as I could.”

He seemed mildly surprised, but since there was no one else to drop off, he came with me to the gate. After explaining the situation to a few different people, a passerby overheard the dilemma and offered to sponsor me on to the base. Once through the gate, we walked across the street to the hospital and the kind stranger gave me directions to the information station.

With just a small carry-on in tow, I was escorted to the elevators and through long hallways toward my son’s room. The large bio-hazard notice on his door took me by surprise, but the assisting nurse explained that he was in isolation. My belongings would remain in the hall and everyone entering his room was required to ‘gown up’-including gloves, booties and hairnet-‘as a precaution’ they said.

My cell phone battery had died during the trip, so I was unable to call ahead to announceGabriel Landstuhl 2012 my arrival before I reached his bedside. Nothing could have prepared me for the overflowing sensations I experienced walking into that room. Looking down at my young warrior son-emaciated, yet, laying peacefully asleep with wires and tubes attached to his frail broken body. Could this really be the same young man who had so recently run a ten-mile race through Garden of the Gods? No, this shrunken version of that young man was more reminiscent of his ten-year-old self. The little boy who dreamed of growing up to be a hero. Frail, pale, and barely making a lump in the sheets of the bed, laid my precious son.

Suddenly realizing his nurse was attempting to update me on the specifics of his care, diagnosis, and treatments, I strained to comprehend all that she was saying. Dragging my gaze away from the sight of his motionless form on the bed.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “He tried to tell me that you were coming but I thought he was hallucinating. Let’s see if we can rouse him.”

She moved closer to the head of his bed and placed a gloved hand gently on his shoulder.

“Mr. Lorrig,” she said, giving him a gentle nudge. “Your mother is here to see you.”

His blue eyes blinked open a few times, unseeing, and then he was able to focus.

“You’re here,” he whispered and a brief smile caught the edges of his mouth. “I knew you would come.”

The next morning the doctor on his rounds caught me in the hall.

“I’m so glad you came when you did,” he shared. “Yesterday, we were not sure he would make it through the night. But, I’m happy to see him still here today-and I think he is going to make it.”

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It was a long month of treatment and recovery until Gabriel was stable enough to return to the USA for continuing treatment. Three years later, he is medically retired and finishing up his bachelor’s degree and reaching toward some new life goals.

That trip to Germany reminded me that it’s good for our heroes to know that we understand the sacrifices they make for us, and it’s not too much for them to expect that we’ll be there for them when they need us too.


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Disney Magic at Port

In September we embarked on a tremendously enjoyable 7-night RT vacation aboard the Disney Magic for a Western Caribbean cruise out of Galveston which included stops at ports in Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, and Cozumel. This was our first Disney cruise and hopefully not the last!
Since we have cruised before (can’t remember if this was our 6th or 7th cruise), we will compare the Disney cruise experience with those of Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise lines. We’ve never met a cruise we didn’t like, so there won’t be much in the way of complaints-just comparisons.
We are actually starting to think that cruising may be the best possible vacation option. It is so convenient to arrive at the port and let someone else take it from there! Here is how we rated the Disney Magic (on a 5 star scale):

Hospitality *****
Cabin *****
Dining ****
Entertainment *****
Ports and Excursions ****
On board amenities *****

Hospitality-Disney does indeed know how to make YOU feel welcome! Starting with the check-out counter as we handed the smiling lady our passports, “I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” she says. She steps away from the counter briefly and returns with someone presumably up the chain of command who with a few strokes to the keyboard smiles and reveals, “We are so sorry for your delay but your passport has been flagged to receive a free upgrade to an ocean view cabin adjoining your daughter and son-in-law.” PLEASE, inconvenience me all day! And later when somehow our $50 per cabin onboard credit had not been applied to our Key to the World card (which is your cabin key and also used for all on board purchases), “We apologize for this inconvenience! Please accept $75 per cabin as our gift to you.” Yes, yes, it is quite alright. No problem at all…

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But beyond the amazing Disney customer service is the genuine, “We are so happy you have joined us!” attitude which emanates from each crew member you encounter. Are they all putting on an act? Perhaps, (they are called Cast Members for a reason I’m sure) but they are very convincing. Towel animals and chocolates on the bed sent me to sleep each night with a smile on my face…
Although cruise lines all generally excel in the hospitality department Disney is a step above and knows how to bring the ‘happiest place on earth’ feeling with them even on the open sea.

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Cabin-We give the Magic another 5 stars for cabin design and efficiency. It is amazing how they take those tiny spaces and transform them into convenient and livable areas! There were 4 of us in the cabin and the children had the ‘living area’ with the couch and TV. The couch converted into a bed and a top bunk unfolded from the wall magically each night thanks to our cabin steward. A curtain was available to allow for some privacy. A great feature is the separate toilet and shower rooms! Really we were all so comfortable that we thought we could live that way forever. This was the best cabin layout we have experienced on all the cruise ships we have sailed on.

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Dining-although we are only bestowing 4 stars on the Magic for dining it should be known that I am allergic to wheat, rice, barley, rye and sesame seeds. AND I have an aversion to most fish and meats. So…do I really even know what I’m talking about here? First, here is what I really enjoyed about dining on the Magic. Fresh fruit and salad! Even outside the dining room I could get food that I could eat. It was also great to rotate between the 3 different dining rooms rather than being assigned to one dining room for the entire trip. But even the children agreed that while the fare was children friendly, there did not appear to be the same variety that we have enjoyed on other cruise lines. However, when our waiter discovered that I loved (and could eat!) the gluten free butternut squash soup, there was a bowl of it at my place for every dinner after that whether it was on the menu or not! We all agreed that Royal Caribbean has impressed us the most with their culinary prowess but certainly whichever line you cruise with, you are likely to leave feeling as though you could not have eaten that well anywhere else for the price you paid for the cruise.

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Entertainment-5 stars + is how we would rate the onboard entertainment! Mostly on cruise ships I avoid the Las Vegas style entertainment because 1) I like to go to bed early and 2) I’m a mother of 3 girls who like to dance and I’m always hoping that they will NOT end up as dancers on a cruise ship! OK, I know I’m an old fogey but I really don’t want to see anyone else’s daughter dressed up and dancing that way either. But on the Disney Magic the entertainment is family friendly and costumes are more modest and the choreography is more along the High School Musical standard and a lot less like Vegas Showgirls. Even so, seating for shows was filled and the audience ranged from 2 years old to who knows how old and standing ovations were regular. Besides the live entertainment, cinemas were filled with Disney favorites old and new and included 3D technology. There is no lack of quality entertainment on board the Disney Magic.

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Ports and Excursions-4 stars for the ports and excursions we stopped at, means that while we had a fun time we weren’t over-wowed with our experiences. We enjoyed our stops in Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, and Cozumel, but all three ports seemed to still be recovering from devastating hurricanes a few years back and were not totally up to snuff. Costa Maya has a Dolphin Discovery program right at the port were we docked and Cozumel has a fantastic Dolphin Discovery facility which we enjoyed several years back as well. In Grand Cayman we took a fun Island Tour which included at stop at the Turtle Farm and ended with an hour or so at the beach where we were reminded that even on the sandy beaches of the Caribbean nothing is free. Hammocks, beach chairs etc on the public beach… were all for rent. This is a good reason to pay to go to a private beach where you can enjoy all the amenities without reserve.

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Onboard Amenities-receive a full 5 stars on the Magic. The gym/spa was clean and busy but available. Exercise equipment was in good working order and plenty of help was on hand for support and many classes and personal trainers were available as well. I took advantage of our cabin credit and made an appointment for a massage in the spa. After my first hour of the treadmill I managed to get a blister on my foot on the first full day at sea. Luckily I discovered the walking/jogging track on deck 4 where I could walk each day in my sandals to avoid irritating it further. This track is open air (besides where it bends around the fore and aft of the ship) and gives a great view of the ocean but avoids much of the wind. I found it to be the perfect spot for watching sunrises and sunsets. Shopping was also pleasant onboard and items were what one would expect in Disney quality and price. Our 16 year old loved hanging out with the ‘Vibe’ group and our 11 year old preferred to just hang out with mom and dad.

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While we all agreed that the cruise on the Disney Magic was probably the best cruise ever, we did think that perhaps the reason for that was traveling with us (in our adjoining cabin)-our granddaughter who celebrated her second birthday on board. The joy on her face as she met and greeted her new friends on the ship was truly a priceless experience. Mickey and the Gang where all there and as far as she could tell they had all come to meet her. Special memories were had by all and we give all thumbs up for taking your family on a Disney cruise!

Tammy from Kingdom Konsultants was very helpful with making arrangements for this trip and we highly recommend her services.

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