Until now, our "vacations" have always been visits. We take time off of work (and school if necessary) and travel to visit with family. We have family spread across three different states and we take our visiting seriously. I think family ties are gifts and I want our children to love their extended family the way we do.
Family visits are wonderful, but exhausting. We prepare to travel. Then we spend entire days in the car with two preschoolers. Next we visit. The spending time with family part is wonderful. The non-stop parenting while at someone else's house is... effortful. We are usually ready to be back at home by the time we get there. Then we spend at least a week trying to return our home to it's usual slightly messy and cluttered state from the disastrous state caused by packing and unpacking. It is all 100% worth it, but the experience isn't exactly restful and rejuvenating.
We just came home from our first ten day family vacation. Two of those days were spent on the road and one day was spent visiting. The other seven days were spent cruising with our two children. The best part is that we were accompanied on our cruise by 9 extended family members. It was truly the best of both worlds.
It was a lovely bonding experience for our children. They got to spend time with parents, grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, and godparents. A lovely time was had by all. They experienced their first ship, first beach, first magician, and first stage show. So much wonder found in one place.
Freed from all the mundane chores of daily life at home (laundry, meal preparation, school and work, etc.) the days floated along in a stress and schedule free manner. We spent more time with the children with almost no fussing. We snuggled, tickled, played games, and experienced new things together and there was no need or desire to watch a clock through any of it. The children stayed up late and I didn't care.
We took advantage of the free child-care on board to give us all a change of pace for a few hours most days. The children loved going to "ship school" and were rather disappointed to see us when we showed up to pick them up a few hours later. The cruise provided us with a cell phone so we could be reached if they needed us, but fortunately it wasn't necessary.
Our one extravagance was paying for an excursion to a private beach. It was going to be their first time at a beach and I didn't want to deal with huge crowds. I had this idyllic daydream of a gorgeous sunny day on a deserted beach and a happy, memorable family experience. Well, it was certainly memorable...
That particular morning was the only morning of the cruise that dawned significantly cloudy. I didn't let that worry me though. We dressed for sun and swimming and packed our preschoolers up for a day of fun at the beach. By the time we had followed the tour guide for a half mile (mile?) to where the boat would take us to the beach, it was raining. We were assured that rain never lasts more than 20 minutes in the Bahamas and our sun hats at least kept the rain out of our eyes.
The thunder, lightening, and rain gusts soaked everyone in the boat on the way to the island cove. Everyone huddled under their beach towels. We played up the "exciting adventure" to the children as we shivered under the towels. When we got to the island 20-30 minutes later the beach was closed due to weather and we huddled in the lunch area wringing things out and trying to dry off with wet towels waiting for things to blow over.
An hour or so later (the details of which are best left undiscussed) the rain had passed and the beach was open. It was still overcast, extremely windy, and freezing, but I was going to get my children in the water and they were ready to go. And you know what? We all managed to have fun anyway. The children loved their first experience at a beach. They loved the sand and the shells and the waves and the water. They didn't seem to notice how cold they were or the fact that their lips were blue. We squeezed as much fun as we could into the hour and a half we had left before catching the boat ride back from the island to our ship. We built sand castles, found shells, buried feet in the sand, and engaged in water horseplay. Ava even made "sand angels" on the shore. The children played so hard in that hour and a half that they were both tired enough to sleep through the rum punch/extremely loud music experience fellow shore excursion passengers were enjoying on the boat ride back.
It wasn't exactly the sunny, leisurly first beach experience I had been hoping for, but it was a memorable adventure that was ultimately enjoyed by all.
And so now we're back. I'm trying to hang on to a little of that vacation mentality. I want to focus more on snuggling my children than rushing through our bedtime routine.
I also need to focus on all the things that were postponed until after the trip (like holiday shopping - how many days are left?).