Thursday, July 19, 2012

(First Ever) Family Vacation

My family recently took a week long road trip to San Diego, California. We live about 12 hours away, so we stopped off for the night at a little over half way in both directions. My kids thought staying in more than one hotel was really cool. This was our first EVER family vacation. My husband and I never even took a vacation pre-children, we were too busy trying to finish college, make ends meet, and save money. Life just goes on. Add in kids, finish college, get a steady job, buy a car, keep saving, time for a house, keep saving, make ends meet, start a new degree, work, school, playgrounds, life!

SO, when we looked at our savings at the end of last year, and the fact that my husband would be finished with his Master's Degree, we decided that this summer was it. Time to go out and see something other than our little world of library, neighborhood parks, elementary, and children's museum.
Our vacation consisted of Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, a Harbor Cruise, a tour through the USS Midway Navy ship Museum, and playing at the beach. We packed a lot into our week and had a blast. Here are some of the things that I learned while on vacation.
  • If you are up-front and optimistic about a long drive, the kids will be just fine!
We forewarned the kids that after breakfast, we would be getting in the car and we would be driving until dinner time. I packed a lunch and told them we'd stop somewhere for a little picnic, but besides bathroom breaks and lunch, we would be driving all day. We loaded up the MP3 player with all sorts of music, brought along several car games, and a variety of snack foods and we headed out.

It was a bit surprising how fast an hour (or three!) can go in the car. I was trying to watch for each half-hour so I could announce "Stretch out your body!" but often found we didn't really stretch that often. Not only that, but the kids were entertained by some of the games for a surprisingly long time. As long as the music was enjoyable, they rode along fine, and I didn't hear "Are we there yet?" or "Why can't we just be there, already" or "How much longer?" at all. Every so often one of the boys would ask for the time, but it wasn't a complaint, merely a curiosity, often followed up with "Really?!" I also had a road atlas that I periodically pulled out to show them how far we'd traveled. They could see where we'd been and how far we had to go, and that seemed to put a little bit of perspective on things.
  • Just because you can see it from where you are standing on the Strip doesn't mean it's really that close.
Our first night was spent in Las Vegas. We arrived around 5:30, and so decided to have dinner at the nearby fast food place and see some of the sights on the Strip. The Bellagio was across the street and about 2 blocks away from our little motel, so after eating, that's where we headed. Our kids had never seen the fountains, and we thought that would be fun.
After all the oohs and aahs, we thought it might be fun to see the pirate show in front of Treasure Island. "It's not that far" we thought. WRONG! It was over a mile away, which isn't a bad walk, my kids walk that far from school. But when you don't know it's that far and it's hot and we left our water bottles in the motel's a really miserable walk. Turns out, by the time we got there, we'd missed the show by about 20 minutes and the next was not starting for nearly an hour. Now we have a couple of hot, grouchy kids, no show to watch, and still at least a mile to walk before we can get back to our room. Arrgh!
  • It's amazing what a bathroom break and a bottle of water can do to change an attitude.
We had initially told the kids we'd swim in the pool before bed, but looking at the time and how long it took us to get to Treasure Island, we decided that there wouldn't be adequate swimming time. So, spotting a WalGreens across the street, we decided to take a quick bathroom break, buy some water (found some good size bottles for $0.99!) and stake out our spaces for the next show. The kids were refreshed and in much happier moods, especially since we promised that they'd get swimming time in San Diego for SURE. The walk back wasn't even that bad.
  • Milk is always the first thing to go at a free hotel breakfast. So get there first or go without.
  • Make sure when you call the hotel desk for directions, you both know which street she is talking about.
When we arrived in San Diego, we decided we needed to see the beach and the ocean! I called the desk for directions. She asked if I knew the road we came into the lobby on. Yes, it's the same as the road that leads into our parking lot... So following her directions by starting on the road on the side of the hotel, we went in a great big circle that took 20 minutes to get to the freeway. Only she was referring to the road in FRONT of the lobby, not the side entrance where we came in. Luckily we still found the freeway, but we used that route for 2 days! On the morning of day 3, my husband went down to ask for directions to the zoo (The beaches and Sea World are the same general direction). The desk clerk gave him an entire sheet of driving directions for various places around San Diego. This was when we discovered our error. If the woman I'd spoken to in the first place had told me the name of the street, we would have saved a whole lot of time those first two days. The freeway entrance is right there. Whoops.
  • Roads in San Diego are not what they seem.
Our first night in San Diego, we had dinner fairly close to our hotel. I spotted a grocery store across the street and we went over to get a few things. To get to the store, we had to go around the block and come in at the other side of the parking lot. As we left, we went out of the parking lot the same way we got in it, and figured if we turned at the next corner, we'd come to the intersection across from the restaurant. Only we didn't. Somehow we ended up in a different neighborhood and came back around in this big circle TWICE. We thought we had gone the right way because we passed a restaurant that was the same as the one we ate at...only it was not the same one. I can't even be sure how we got back to the store the third time, but we went about a different route, and managed to make it back to the hotel...after driving around for about 30 minutes. And my awesome streetwise road map that we bought did not list all these weird streets we ended up on. I still cannot figure out how we ended up where we did, and how we ever got back around.
  • Even in weather that isn't very hot, the beach is something you shouldn't pass up. 
The kids had a blast! My oldest spent most of his time jumping the waves, while my youngest decided that he'd rather bury himself in the sand. It was so fun. We went to the beach twice, and I'm so glad that we did.

  • Saying "We're going to spend the day at Sea World" really means the whole day.
Watching for Shamu
Nose to Nose with a Dolphin
Somehow, my husband didn't think we'd really be there ALL day. I'm not sure what else he thought we'd do, but there really wasn't much time for anything else. There were shows to see and exhibits to examine. We even got to throw ice cubes to the dolphins. They like to eat them!
  • Starting with the bus tour in the zoo is merely an over-view, but a good way to learn some stuff you didn't know before.
The bus tour of the San Diego Zoo comes with a regular day-ticket. So we started there. The map said it covers 70% of the zoo, and I thought, "Cool! This way we can see most of it now and get what we can't see on foot, thus spending our time wisely." Well, the problem with that, is that you can't get out and go stare at the windows until the animals appear. If the driver can't see anything, she'll pause for a moment and then move on. But we learned some really cool stuff, and did get to see some of the animals that weren't visible when we went back on foot. But one really cool thing we did see when we walked over? Two polar bears wrestling in and out of their pool. One would get out and the other would pull him back in. It was really cool.
  • Sometimes they whine and drag their feet because they are hungry, not bored.
Keep the snacks coming, and keep an eye on the time and the location of the nearest eateries. Again, what a mood changer!
  • Be sure to get change for the penny-stretching machines. After all, what's 50 cents when it makes your kid smile?
  • A Harbor Cruise is not all that exciting for kids.
They enjoyed watching the water for a little while, and we saw a dolphin swim by and sea lions sunbathing on the buoys. But they spent most of the time sitting at the table in the middle of the deck playing a game with their water bottles. Oh, well. This one was for us.

  • Sometimes a tantrum isn't because he doesn't want to do it, but because he's scared.
The morning we were getting ready for our Harbor Cruise, our younger son was being really obstinate and ended up throwing a royal fit. He said he wanted to stay in the hotel and watch TV. After some serious anger from our boy, my husband had the thought to get down and ask him gently why he didn't want to go. Turns out he was really scared of getting on the boat. Who knew? After we reassured him that we'd be right there, and that he'd be safe, he took a deep breath, smiled and said, "Let's go!"
  • The "Family Self-Guided Tour" on the USS Midway is really cool!
The USS Midway is an old Navy Ship with a Flight Deck. (That's it behind my boys). When you get inside the Hangar Deck, they hand you a headset and a little digital player. Then you follow the signs. As you tour the ship, you stop in various places and type in the number located on the signs. There is a regular tour that goes into great detail and depth. The other tour (taking the same route) has fewer stops, but the narrator talks on a kid's level and explains the ins and outs of the ship in a family friendly way. It was really cool and the kids were interested the whole time! The kids were excited to see it in the first place, and they didn't get bored early because they had their own personal tour guide! It's not free, but it was worth it. And I got to throw all my boys in the Brig.

  • Having an extra day just to swim in the hotel pool and watch free cable tv is worth it before that last long drive home.
When we reached our halfway point on the way home, we actually stayed two nights. It was really nice to break up that drive with a day in between. It was like a vacation from the vacation. We swam in the hotel pool, watched cable TV and just relaxed before that last leg home. I was glad for it. And the kids seemed ready to go in the morning. Breakfast, and then on our way.


Elizabeth said...

SO fun! I loved your post and I'm so glad you guys had a great time!

I love your hubby's Perry the Platypus t-shirt. And those boys of yours are so cute! Your trip sounds amazing! I loved hearing about it and seeing your awesome photos!

xo -E

mom said...

I am so glad you had such a good time. It sounds like an awesome vacation with so many things to see and do. I am glad you told us all about it. Next time I would like to crawl into your suitcase and go along:)!

Carrie said...

Vacation! You did it. Sounds like you had a great time. We so wanted to go to California this year- we have family in Long Beach and in San Diego. . . But it was not to be.
Thanks for the tips on traveling with kiddos, though- for when we do make the drive.