The Family Vacation :: Not Quite What it Used to Be


Two years ago, I wrote a post about vacationing with kids. At that time, I had two girls, ages two and almost one. My husband and I loaded up the rental SUV and made the 10-hour trek to South Carolina for a week at the beach with my family.

Man, that car ride was rough. Both ways.

You can go back in time to read that post here.

This summer, we took our first solo family beach vacation, just us and the kids, which now includes our third daughter who is 15 months old. My oldest is four and my middle child is three.

Family beach vacation - a lot of work but precious memories!We chose Panama City Beach due to the proximity to Birmingham and the fact that we had enough Marriott points to book a free hotel with a free breakfast included. Sweet.

Here are a few things I experienced this time around on our family beach vacation.

  1. The car ride there was fine, except now instead of having to pull over to deal with a diaper blowout, we have to stop every 20 minutes because someone has to use the potty. However, 9 times out of 10 it’s a false alarm due to a kid having stage fright in the public bathroom. Or they didn’t really need to go, they just wanted another snack.
  2. With little kids, staying at a family-friendly hotel is a major requirement. While my husband was checking us in, I was chasing my toddlers around the lobby as they screamed with delight thanks to finally being out of the car AND being able to see the ocean.
  3. A standard hotel room makes for close quarters for a family of five. Our room was oceanfront with two queen beds and a balcony and was really nice. Unfortunately, when you add a Pack ‘n Play, a wagon of beach toys, suitcases, and a giant unicorn float, things can get cramped. Quickly.
  4. Meals are a pain. The free breakfast was huge, but several times for lunch or dinner we opted for room service just to avoid loading everyone in the car. Expensive, yes; convenient and hassle-free, yes. We did venture out for Happy Meals one night, which was a hit (as always).
  5. The days began early and ended late. The girls were so excited, they were up with the sun, and we were the first ones on the beach and at the pool. This allowed us to create a pretty good schedule, though: beach, pool, beach, pool, lunch, nap, pool, beach, pool, bath, dinner, bed. Luckily, they were so tired from all the playing, they slept hard.
  6. The wagon was a lifesaver. You learn when you start traveling with kids that they require a lot of crap. Strollers, toys, sippy cups, etc., etc. This year, walking to the beach was a breeze thanks to this wonderful red wagon. We loaded it up with sand toys, towels, and the unicorn float, and we even had room to stick in the baby.
  7. The unicorn float. Ahhh . . . the lovely unicorn float. This was a purchase for my four year old, who like most girls her age, has a thing for unicorns. It was great in the pool, and the three sisters took turns riding in it. However, it’s a little bulky and awkward to carry . . . and when a gust of wind carried it across the boardwalk from our pool chair, it took me a minute to chase it down. That was the end of the day, so we headed inside. As we waited for the escalator, I smelled something . . . like poop. I announced this to my husband and we both shot a look at the baby who was chilling in the wagon. Then, I turned my face to the underside of the unicorn and saw actual poop smeared all over it. Apparently, someone (not one of our kids — hooray!) had an accident on the boardwalk, and our poor unicorn was covered. We ended up washing it off but not before leaving it behind in the pool lobby for a full 24 hours.
  8. I did learn that it doesn’t take a whole lot to entertain little ones at the beach. Give them a pail and a shovel and let them go.
  9. Thank goodness for puddle jumpers. They’ll save you from having a heart attack every time your daredevil three year old takes a running jump into the water.
  10. Once again, the needing a vacation from your vacation rings true. We took this trip over a month ago, and I think I’m still recovering.
  11. Sneaking away for a solo pina colada during our family beach vacation was the best idea I’ve ever had.
  12. Despite the long days, the sand in the bathing suits, the long car ride, and the sunscreen in the eyes, we made memories. Our first trip, just us. Maybe I’ll keep getting better at this as each year passes. But one thing will always remain — seeing my girls smile so big and so wide makes everything so worth it. And even though I’m already tired thinking about it, I can’t wait until next year. 


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A North Carolina native, Jennifer has called Colorado Springs, CO, Lynchburg, VA, New Orleans, LA, and Charleston, SC home since graduating from Elon University in 2003. She has spent time as a journalist, event planner, and sports information director. Now, the Hoover resident is a full-time sales & marketing professional for an outdoor furniture company and an independent rep for Zyia Active. Of all the hats Jennifer wears, her most important roles are as a wife, mother, daughter, and sister. She has been married to her husband Mike since 2011, and together they have three daughters ages 5, 4 and 2, and a sweet eight-year-old beagle, Cooper.