Shorter and Better Family Vacations

With all three of the kids birthdays being within a few weeks of each other in September and October, we’ve spent years trying to find a way to celebrate and enjoy time together without going 1) broke or 2) insane. Until recently we haven’t found much success. We overspend on presents, overspend on parties, and come out of the month hating parenting and our lives. But this year I think we may have found a solution.

We told the kids if they agreed to forgo a party and only get a few presents on the day of their birthday, we would take them to the Great Wolf Lodge to celebrate. Indoor waterparks have been our go-to family vacation since the kids were little. I’d never been to one before I married Becky, but her family had been doing them for years and were pros. They’re not great when the kids are tiny, but as they get older it become more and more relaxing. This year we’re getting close to perfection and at least once each day we were there, Becky and I got an hour or so to just relax. She took a nap and I finished a book all while the kids were having fun.

There were several reasons why this was one of the best family trips we’ve had in a while, but I think the biggest one was that we only stayed one night instead of two. It always seems like we waste the waterpark the night we arrive because we leave after work and school and get there with only a couple of hours left before closing. And then we feel like we have to spend ALL day in the park on Saturday, which is way too long for all involved and about halfway through the day, a good trip always starts to turn sour and that second night is miserable and we end up leaving crabby and I end up screaming and feeling guilty about it which makes me feel even worse.

This time we took the kids out of school early and got to the park right at check in time. We had enough time to spend several hours in the park that evening when the crowds are always minimal, then had dinner in the room and all went to bed early which was glorious. The next day, we paid a bit extra for late check out so we could stay until 2pm. We spent the morning having breakfast and playing in the arcade, then spent a couple of hours in the waterpark. We left while everyone was still in good spirits and they were able to talk about how much they enjoyed it and how sad they were that we were leaving. The drive home was great and the whole experience is just so much better than our last few family trips.

An honorable mention for this trip turning out as well as it did would also have to go to our new minivan. After a month or so with it, this was our first long trip with it and the space, the DVD player, and the brilliant design all contributed handily to making a good trip even better. I also have to say the size of the park really hit the sweet spot as well. We’ve gone to Soaring Eagle in the past, but that’s a much smaller park and the drive is twice as long. We’ve also gone to Kalahari, just down the road from Great Wolf Lodge, but that place is way too big for Natalie, so we can’t let her run around, which means we have to follow her the whole time and that makes it impossible for us to relax. It’s also wildly overpriced, even by the overpriced standards of places like this. So Great Wolf was just right. The kids were already talking about how much they want to go back at Christmas and I think we might just find a way to make that happen.