Determined to take a "last hurrah" family trip when our oldest graduated high school, I hearkened back to a trip we’d taken seven years earlier that benefited from the soft lens of rose-colored glasses. It was a two-week Floridian adventure that lived on in my memory as the trip where I read Atlas Shrugged cover to cover, enjoyed the beach with friends and avoided most of the rides at Disney by sitting out with our then 18-month-old. It was perfect.
Planning a “redux” of this treasured trip required me to acknowledge the differences in ages then and now and the span of interests and ages we had along for the ride. The trip was as magical this go-round with its own flavor and will hold a place in my heart and in our memories. Two weeks away from home is hard no matter how you cut it and being with six—yep, we brought friends—kids ages 8 to 18 requires some planning and flexibility. We had some snafus: two Minute Clinic visits (who doesn’t get pink eye or a virus while traveling?) and I washed a friend’s iPhone. But all in all, we loved every minute, making memories, carving out the time to take a substantial break from the daily routine to be together.
Two weeks away may not be something you can swing, but if you ever can, I highly recommend it. Certain adventures just need the extra time. For us, spending the first week on the go in Orlando was ideal. Up early to benefit from preferred-customer magic hours, then schlepping across multiple Disney parks to use Fast Passes covering our “must-rides” was important. We wove in a stay at a Universal property this go-around with older kids, and it was by far the biggest hit along with Volcano Bay water park. The Universal Express Pass system is a huge bonus, and older kids could be on their own or meet up as desired.
After a high-octane week making every minute count, we were happy to point our SUV northward and head to the South Walton area. It’s the perfect ending for this trip—run like mad in Orlando and then veg out at the beach for a week to recover! We’ve often vacationed in the Blue Mountain Beach/Santa Rosa Beach area with friends and adore the gorgeous beaches, laid-back towns and friendly locals as well as happy vacationers.
Trying to go back in time and recreate an idolized trip is tricky. Plus being away from home for two weeks with a small army of children and teens lends a special dynamic, but it was just as perfect this time around. I believe that has less to do with the planning and more to do with having an open mind and heart to receive this moment in time for whatever it’s going to be—and knowing we were together as a family unit at least one more time.
Tips for Planning a Family Trip
1. If you are visiting monuments, museums or theme parks, do your research ahead of time, or work with someone who knows the ropes. Samantha Barnes at Golden Ears Travel in Flower Mound helped me figure out the Orlando piece of the trip.
2. If you are taking a longer trip, build in downtime, and have a place where you can wash clothes. We love the format of week one is on the go, and week two is relaxation at a great home or condo.
3. Successful planning for various ages means having realistic expectations. Give older ones some freedom; don’t force everyone to do the same thing. Consider allowing teens to invite a friend.
4. For a long drive, pack healthy snacks but also something fun, like Rice Krispies Treats you made plus bottles of water. Charge the iPad, include educational games and bring classic DVDs that your kids will enjoy and may have never seen: Gilligan’s Island, Brady Bunch and Leave It to Beaver are favorites.
5. Don’t over-plan to the point you have no leeway to add in last-minute fun, even if it’s just a late-night game of Monopoly that organically develops.
6. Don’t orchestrate every moment to be captured and posted on Instagram. Take some pictures in your mind, and remember their faces and the glow of the moment uninterrupted.
Our Florida Journal
Orlando highlights included a stay at Loew’s Royal Pacific Hotel, which was walking distance to the Universal parks and offered the incredibly useful Express Pass as part of the hotel package. Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen serves up crazy-good milkshakes and desserts, along with a diverse menu that pleased our crew. The pièce de résistance was the Magic Kingdom fireworks with my 8-year-old situated on my lap—worth the price of admission alone!
At the beach, we love staying at the Adagio—terrific private beach and condos. Go for a balcony overlooking the gulf. SouthernResorts.com
Bring your flashlights for nighttime crabbing, and plan to bike over to family-owned Blue Mountain Beach Creamery, where they serve up delicious ice cream treats like chocolate graham cracker ice cream.