We used to live in Orlando, and when you live in Orlando, you spend a lot of time at the parks. People think Disney and Universal and SeaWorld are surely the happiest places on earth, and they can be, but they can also be miserable.
I’ve seen a lot of families shuffle out of the parks at closing time, sunburned and exhausted and barely speaking to one another. One time, at the Magic Kingdom, I heard a mom snap at her whiney little girl, “You will have fun!”
So, here’s what I’ve learned about family vacations from all those unhappy people and from being a dad:
Kids don’t care.
Kids don’t care how much you’re spending on vacation or whether you think you’re getting your money’s worth out of the trip, so don’t try to hit 7 parks in 7 days. You’ll regret it.
Kids don’t care about taking the scenic route or touring old homes. They don’t want to sit and wait while baby brother rides the carousel or big sister rides the coaster, and no matter how much you plead or scold, they’re not going to wait patiently while you shop for shoes at the outlet mall
So, don’t expect them to.
Our family vacations got a lot better when we started looping in the kids and talking to them about where we’re going and what they’d like to see once we get there.
We don’t try to see and do everything, because we can’t.
We try to figure out early on what we want to see most of all, then we see as many other things as time and money will allow.
We also stopped kidding ourselves that our kids want to spend as much time with us or each other as we want to spend with them, so we’ll split up. I’ll go off with Thing 1 while my wife takes Thing 2, and we’ll meet up for supper.
And we stopped using the hotel as a place just to stow our stuff and sleep.
I saw a survey a few years ago that said kids enjoy the hotel pool almost as much as they do the theme parks, and I believe it.
Whenever we tell the kids we’re going on a trip, the first thing they ask is whether there’s a pool. Pools with slides and lazy rivers are good, but so are indoor pools, in case it’s crazy hot or raining. Once we’re at the hotel, they can’t wait to jump in, and once they’re in the pool, it’s hard to get them out.
So, we let them swim.
We still make the kids go places and do things they don’t want to do, but we try to remember that we’re dealing with children — they’re 12 and 6 now — and children, no matter how great they are, are going to act like children.
If they’ve had a little fun, if they’re happy, they’ll be more likely to hang in there when we stop at the outlet mall or take the scenic route or do the boring things we like doing on vacation.
That’s the strategy, anyway. I’ll let you know how it turns out.