Almost a year ago, I signed up for the Escapees membership. Escapees is the largest RV group in the country and being part of their club offers many benefits for RVers. When the welcome packets came, I looked at the list of HOP’s (Head Out Programs which are designed kind of like a land cruise) and saw they were offering the Rose Bowl parade for $895 a person. I have wanted to go to the Rose Bowl parade since I was 5 years old. I have never missed a parade, and Lee even talked me into getting our first big screen TV by mentioning I could watch the Rose Bowl Parade on it!! The thing about the Rose Bowl Parade though is I knew when I went I would need to be with a group. Traffic, logistics, and bathroom availability are big concerns and I never was a person who would tent camp overnight on a sidewalk to see something. So I always knew a package deal would be the best way to go and not only was the price right for the Escapees HOP, but the itinerary was fantastic. The HOP includes VIP tickets to the parade, the Equinefest (horse show), band fest, and the day after tour of the floats plus a campground, many meals, and tour bus travel to all events.. The kicker though was a half day where you get to volunteer work on a float…I was sold!! I asked Lee about it and without hesitating he said absolutely (he knew how much it meant to me) and I booked the tour back in February. We’ve planned our travel around it all these months and finally the week is here. We are staying at the Valencia Travel Village. It’s a “stack and pack” kind of campground with campers very close to one another, but the staff was very friendly and they do offer nice services like a pool and hot tub and dog walking. So we headed towards Castaic and luckily had a nice pleasant drive. Heading south the traffic wasn’t too bad, but heading north it was bumper to bumper. Lucky for us, we were headed south. We made it just in time for check-in at 2:55 and then had 1 hour to park and setup. I am happy to say, we pulled into our spot and setup with 10 minutes to spare, and headed over to the orientation, happy hour, and dinner.
We really didn’t know what to expect, but weren’t surprised that we were the youngest in the group. Escapees is for all RVers, but over the years their demographic has gotten older and is mostly retired RVers. A new group we belong to Xscapers is working on changing that by being geared towards younger remote workers and RVers with families, but we knew most folks would be older and were a little worried (well I was I don’t think Lee cared) that we would feel left out of the group dynamics. I was pleasantly surprised that almost everyone in the group was a first time “Hopper” like us and even though they were older they went out of their well to be welcoming and friendly. The lead couple, Lisa and Jim, are very experienced have attended 31 Hops and led 8 of those. Lisa in particular is excellent at dealing with the logistics of large groups of people (there are 48 of us to wrangle) and is nice but firm. In particular I appreciate her stressing punctuality and so far we have started every event at least 5 minutes early because folks show up on time!
The first night we had an orientation, meet and greet, and some Pizza Hut for dinner. I have been really wanting Pizza Hut for months so I was excited about the choice. Happy hour is from 4-5pm and dinner starts at 5. This might seem early to some, but since our events are often scheduled very early I like that schedule. We met some nice people, but left right after dinner and went to bed early since we had to be on the bus at 7:15am the next morning for the float decorating day. Since this was the activity, aside from the parade itself, that I was the most excited about I was wide awake at 3am and just couldn’t fall back asleep. I needed to log some serious blogging hours to get caught up anyway and spent the next several hours finishing the posts about Monterey. I hate when I get behind on posting during heavy activity time periods because I start forgetting things, so was happy to use the time to get “caught up” before the new week really got rolling. Consequently we were at the bus very early and I was happy to see we weren’t the first ones on. We left a little early and were on our way to the warehouse where 5 of the floats were being built.
I thought the floats would be in Pasadena, but it turns out there is little warehouse space there so we went to Asuza California farther east. I was curious about how they moved the floats such a distance when completed and it turns out they drive them there (with a police escort) and since they go so slow it takes about 6 hours to get them the 15 miles to the parade route. Yikes! We were volunteering for a professional parade float builder AES Creative. They had 50 full time staff working on the 5 floats they were building and use hundreds of volunteers. I really liked the laid back atmosphere of the place, because they kept us busy but didn’t make us feel like we were in the way. Plus they were working on China Airlines (they always do an amazing float), the two football team floats, and Disney!! There are other larger float builders, but I am really glad we were at a smaller one because we got to get up close and personal with all the floats and the builders.
First we took a very nice tour explaining how the floats were designed (the planning starts in February and the project runs the entire year), the bidding process, and the planning process around ordering and storing the fresh materials. As a project manager I was fascinated by the process and they went into a nice amount of detail as we walked through. Plus flowers everywhere! Since the parade was several days away, the teams were mostly still working with the dry materials but the flowers were staged and ready for the big push to get the fresh flowers on 48 hours before the parade. All floats must be at least 50% fresh flowers, but I have always been fascinated by what they can do with dried beans, corn husks, etc. Lee really liked the wood working areas and places where they made foam structures so we both really enjoyed the tour.
After the tour they put us to work, mainly cutting and gluing eucalyptus leaves for the China Airlines float. I jumped over into a quiet space though and starting cutting the tiny petals off of blue statice for the Disney Frozen castle. It was actually pretty relaxing, just cutting the tiny flowers off the stem and periodically a volunteer would come and take them to the blender station where other volunteers ground them up fine. These are then sprinkled on glued areas of the castle to give it a shimmery blue look. And just to show how challenging things can be using natural materials, the frozen castle is ice blue, but nature provides very few natural materials in any shade of blue at all. And this year the statice came in more purple so they were forced to use a slightly darker shade than they would have liked. That is why I like the Rose Bowl Parade so much though. Forcing the float builders to use natural materials makes for beautiful and interesting floats. Also every year they have a theme and this year is is Find Your Adventure: Celebrating 100 years of National Parks. Pretty appropriate for us full time RVers!
So here’s the thing, and a piece of advice from me a long time rule follower. Sometimes it is OK to color outside the lines. If you aren’t hurting anyone or causing a problem, leave the pack and do your own thing. Sometimes really cool stuff can happen…Lee taught me that and it has served me well in this lifestyle. I cut flowers for a while and then wandered back into the float area where I saw some kids were placing the flower petals I just cut onto the float itself. Well, I wanted to do that, so I politely asked one of the kids if I could join in and she agreed immediately and I stepped ONTO the float and placed some flowers onto the castle. I was beside myself with joy. One big, huge check box in the bucket list and I can now say I helped build a Rose Bowl parade float. Plus I told my sister and sister-in-law to have my nieces and nephews watch the parade and tell them Aunt Tracy helped build the Disney float. Oh yeah I am a rock star!!
They even had a tent with food for a lunch break and it was really good. We all piled on the bus around 1pm then it was a quick dip in the hot tub, happy hour, and an excellent catered dinner. Oh yes, this is the life. Tomorrow is Equine fest which I am super excited about. You never get to see enough of the horses on TV, so they have a day where all the horses perform in an arena. Plus they have great vendors and food there. Have I mentioned I am excited? If excessive perkiness gets on your nerves you might want to skip the next few blog posts!
Here’s a short video Lee put together for the float decorating.
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