As I write, I am downloading 600 vacation photos to my hard drive. Soon I will deluge my blog with smiling happy faces enjoying the warm Florida sunshine as we relax and have the best time of our lives.
But first, I want to start off with some vacation tips. Certain aspects of our vacation were fabulous, nearly perfect. Planning in advance makes things less stressful and everything flows a bit more smoothly.
Vacation Tip #1: Save more than enough money for the trip. Vacations are expensive, especially when you go to a place like Disney. It is much better to not spend all the money you have saved than to not save enough and be upset that you don’t have enough to pay the bills. That way, when you splurge and go out for just ice cream and the bill is $68 (seriously), you will be annoyed, but not panicky.
Vacation Tip #2: Shop around for a great deal on everything. There are deals all around, but if you are military, the deals are really easy to find. Four day park hopper passes to Disney are available right now for $138. I think they are good through the end of October. You can buy them in Orlando at Shades of Green, or you can get them on post at the MWR facility that sells tickets to all sorts of things.
If you are a current or retired member of the Uniformed Services, a DoD civilian, or a Disabled Veteran (100%), or an adult dependant, you are eligible to book a hotel through the Armed Forces Vacation Club. They have deals that can not be beat. Space-A openings change frequently, so I checked monthly for 6 months before finally booking our place. Each facility is different, so you have to read the details, but twice we’ve used them and been more than happy. The place in Kissimmee, Florida, had 2 bedrooms and a pull-out sofa bed, a full kitchen and a washer and dryer. It cost us $349 (plus tax) for seven nights. Not $349 per night…it was $349 for the entire week.
Having a full kitchen helped to save money and time, and having a washer and dryer meant not needing to pack as many clothes and not having a mountain of laundry on our return. And staying in a condo meant we weren’t cramped.
Note for non-military: finding a place to stay that fits a large family is difficult. Several years ago when we went to Williamsburg, VA, I checked the club site and they had nothing available. However, I at least knew the name of several facilities in the area and made my own reservation without using the club. We had another 2 bedroom condo with kitchen and washer/dryer. It was more than the club price, but cheaper and roomier than a hotel room (2 hotel rooms). So the club site is an excellent resource for vacation condo names.
Vacation Tip #3: Make a packing list. And make a to-do list. I finally, finally, finally made an Excel spreadsheet that has generic lists for each person, plus reminders for things like cell phone chargers or Pepto Bismal. I also made to-do lists from things to do in advance like hold mail or last minute things like turning off the computer or taking out the garbage. To make things easier for us, I put all three boys’ lists on one page with a to-do reminder for their room (lock windows, close blinds, make beds), and I did a similar page for the girls. The older kids helped the younger kids get their things together, and they all knew what I expected their room to look like when they were done. Since the lists were generic, I crossed off things they did not need to pack. This was easier than making different lists for different types of vacations (winter boots vs. sandals). Note: check out the weather forecast for your location and pack for 10 degrees up and down. Trust me on this one.
The to-do list was extremely helpful to me, since I am often the one with a long list of things that need to get done in my head, while everybody else sits around and wonders why we haven’t left yet. Children who are motivated to get out the door can look at the list, see what needs to be done and pitch in. And I don’t have to assign jobs to my husband making me feel like a nag or get mad at him for doing nothing when he doesn’t have the slightest idea what needs doing. It just worked.
Vacation Tip #4: Each child packs their own backpack full of entertainment or comfort objects. One backpack only. If they are bored, it is their own fault. And no, 25 stuffed animals will not likely fit in one backpack.
Vacation Tip #5: Give each child a set amount of spending money. It might be $5 or it might be more, but it really keeps kids from whining about wanting snacks or souvenirs if they have to pay for it themselves.
Vacation Tip #6: Remember, if you are traveling with children, vacation does not mean “relaxing time” or “all fun all the time.” Leave images of a perfect family behind. It is enough that you are not going to the office or doing school or worrying about the cleanliness of the bathroom for a few days or a week. It is enough that you are lowering your standards on what constitutes a healthy meal or a reasonable bedtime. The point is to build your family relationships. You will still be the same people with the same limitations and imperfections. Little children will still get out of sorts with a different routine. Bigger children will still have mood swings. Parents will still have to discipline and may have less one-on-one time than they would at home with a proper bedtime and their own room. Focus on the end goal which is to just be a family together without the usual stressors and demands of life.
Vacation Tip #7: No matter where you are, bigger kids will want to do more or different things than little kids. Or boys will want to do different things than girls. Or mom or dad will want to spend their time differently. Be flexible and accommodating to as many people as possible. For us, Bill took the big kids to Epcot one day while I stayed home with the little kids and read. Everybody was happy. Trying to be all together all the time just won’t work for a large family of different genders and/or ages.
Off to Mass. Perhaps I’ll have time later to start posting photos. I can’t wait to see them myself.