I have previously sung the praises of a visit to the beach in Margate, N.J. and the boardwalk in Ocean City, N.J., but I have some more suggestions for fun times with the kiddies.
The pinnacle of our family’s vacation experience was in northern Vermont, close to the Canadian border. This was a family resort in Highgate Springs, which still exists. I am not plugging this place in particular, because since the 1980s when we went, many similar resorts have come into existence in New England, and I would encourage you to look into all of them.
The beauty of the Vermont vacation was that your kids are there, right on the premises. They go off to a little daycare or camp during the day. You, the adults, get to have breakfast, lunch and dinner with other adults, or on your own. You then reconnoiter with the children after dinner and give them lots of hugs and kisses in your cottage. Then a fully vetted, enthusiastic young Vermonter will come to your cottage and put them to bed and stay with them while you go hang out with the other adults and play games or do other fun things.
During the day, you can participate in group activities (archery lessons, fishing) or just sit and read a book. You can stay in your cottage or hang out in a public area with comfy chairs. You can visit nearby towns and go shopping, take a hike, go sailing on gorgeous Lake Champlain, or get to know your spouse better.
It removed the worry – at least MY worry – of leaving my kids with batty grandparents (and of course, now I’m one of them!). I was always afraid I would miss them too much if the husband and I were to go away for more than an overnight trip. Having them around in the general vicinity and being able to sleep in the cottage with them and wake up with them, while others fed them and minded them was pretty freaking ideal. And if I wanted to, I could spend the whole day with them. But I didn’t want to! Yes, there were a few fussy moments when they had to go off with strangers but it all worked out.
The food was fabulous and the other guests were a lot of fun, considering we knew no one when we went the first time. There’s something about being away for a week that relaxes everyone and allows friendships to form quickly. The organized activities, which are all optional, help to foster the camaraderie. There were game nights (Pictionary, Charades), theme nights (karaoke, fake gambling) and music nights. Again, all of it is optional if you’re not in the mood to mingle.
But nothing can be that perfect, right? No. This was an all-inclusive vacation, which means all meals and lodging were included in one price, and it was quite expensive. We went two times, and then economics and reality conspired to make it unaffordable. But the concept is a fabulous one, and if you can afford it or can save up for it, I believe any parent would love it.
Another great time was had when we went to a very ritzy hotel in Greenwich, CT for a long weekend. I was about to start full-time work, and my kids were 5 ½ and 11. I felt awful about working full time but had become necessary (that old economic reality). To assuage my guilt, we celebrated the change by having this deluxe stay in a hotel that was near home, but worlds away. We stayed on the concierge floor. My older son kept saying, “We don’t belong here. This is for rich people!” Such self-awareness at a tender age. However, he was quickly consoled by endless complimentary croissants and the swimming pool.
There are numerous family-friendly hotel chains, one of which provides a complimentary breakfast that is cooked to order and delicious! Sometimes there are lines so you have to plan accordingly. We have stayed at the breakfast-cooking chain in Washington, D.C. a couple of times and everyone loved it. And of course, Washington is a great place to visit with kids, although be warned that it involves a ton of walking for those with little legs. The Air and Space Museum was always a big hit, and my kids loved the National Geographic museum as well.
It’s so much fun to experience these places that you thought you knew through your kids’ eyes. I have always done obsessive research before every trip so I can a) make a perfect itinerary with no wasted moments and b) figure out the best strategy to avoid lines. Sometimes the kids beg for mercy and just want to chill in the hotel room or visit the hotel’s game room. I can tolerate that, as long as they understand they are wasting a great opportunity to see EVERYTHING THERE IS TO SEE. That’s my goal on a trip, which is why the family resort with leisure as its theme was so wonderful. There was nothing to do but relax.
I am not endorsing any particular hotel chains or family resorts. I am, however, suggesting that you look for some kind of family resort with included childcare next summer, or splurge on a luxury hotel for a few days even if it’s near home, or visit a hotel that makes it easy to vacation with your kids by serving a free breakfast. Really, any vacation is a good vacation!