A quick behind the scenes aside: I smiled ear-to-ear while writing this post (only stopping to get teary a time or two; good-teary, that is, not bad-teary).
Here’s why: Texas grandma Lynn wrote to me asking for suggestions on how to keep her entire crew — we’re talking five adult kids, their partners, a toddler and a baby — overjoyed on their annual fall vacation.
The grandparents, Lynn and Rick, clearly prioritize family travel as a brilliant way to keep the family bonds strong.
And I’m — for one — taking notes because this is what love in action looks like. (Once my boys are adults, I hope to grow up to be Lynn and Rick.)
Keeping a Large Family Smiling
Let’s start by talking numbers. Lynn and Ricks’ five adult kids range in age from 29 to 38. One adult kid is single, one has a serious boyfriend and three are married.
Now for the peanuts: one couple has a two-year-old sweetheart and another couple has a 10-month-old darling – although the darling will be about 15 months (and likely walking) when they meet up for this year’s trip.
The entire family loves to hike and spend time out-of-doors. Lynn told me that two years ago, the family met at the Gulf Shore (in Alabama) and in Brooklyn last May to welcome their newest addition.
Most of Lynn’s family lives in Texas, with one family in Atlanta and another in Brooklyn. Lynn said, “Our trips typically work out over a long weekend in the fall. The kids are all so busy.”
Lynn added that she was thinking of Dollywood or a houseboat in Utah for the coming fall.
To begin, I want to thank Lynn for writing and bringing up a topic — multi-generational travel — that’s front-and-center for many of today’s Baby Boomers.
As you know, the Boomers — modern grandparents — are nothing like the grandparents of yore. Today’s grands revel in cutting-edge medicine, healthy lifestyles, and fabulous hair color — and all this wonderfulness adds up to one thing: super seniors who are ready to grab their precious family and explore our big blue marble.
That said, here are my Top Six for the Lynn and Rick Family given their numbers and interests:
The Great Smokey Mountains
I happen to love Lynn’s Dollywood idea. I assume that she’s thinking Dollywood because the theme park is located in the Great Smokey Mountains which delivers outdoor activity galore like hiking, fishing, and inhaling the glory of the brilliant fall foliage. (Photo at left is the Dollywood DreamMore resort in Pigeon Forge, TN.)
For everyone who wants to hike with the little guys, I highly recommend renting or purchasing backpacks so that the toddler and baby can be “worn” on the hike. Back in the day my husband and I often wore our twins when hiking on a California river. But even better: we wore our peanuts while doing the dishes or vacuuming the house. (Because bonus, friends, babies often fall asleep in these packs.) The better backpacks distribute weight beautifully meaning zero back damage. (Note: These backpacks only work if a baby can sit up on their own; otherwise stick with a front loading baby carrier.)
This carrier that I found doesn’t come cheap, but was named best hiking carrier by Outside Magazine and is highly rated on the multiple reviews I researched. (Lynn, when I had toddlers I found one wonderful backpack carrier at a second hand store and bought another one at full price. I was also able to sell them once the boys outgrew being worn.)
Houseboat in Utah
Let me begin by saying that one of the most amazing vacations my family ever took when I was little was spending a week on a houseboat at Lake Shasta in California. (Keep in mind that my dad worked in Oahu every other year and I still yearned like crazy to revisit that houseboat. Absolutely awesome experience.)
That said, when I was a mom with twin toddlers, I could not relax around any body of water. I lived on hyper alert around pools, lakes, bathtubs and the like. So, as president of the Freaked Out Moms Society, I’d suggest holding your incredible houseboat idea for the years when the grandkids can swim circles around the adults.
Cruising out of Texas
So hold up! Why — if I’m so anti-water — would I bring up cruising out of Galveston? Doesn’t make sense, right? Well, not so fast. I love cruising for two reasons: to begin with, even the most intimate cruise ships are like floating towns or cities and won’t pose a hazard to toddlers and, secondly, cruising can be a wondrous experience for every family member.
Three cruise lines go out of Galveston and I highly recommend two: Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL) and the Disney Cruise Line that both absolutely roll out the red carpet for families. (That’s my snickerdoodle to the left on a Disney cruise.)
Given that Lynn’s grand babies will still be in diapers come fall, I recommend that she save money by taking a Royal Caribbean ship now and spending the big money on a Disney cruise once the grandkids are old enough to remember how exciting it was to meet the Disney princesses or see Darth Vader at sea.
To be specific, RCCL’s older ships are ideal for ages up to about three. Once the kids are between the ages of four and 12ish — Disney is your five-star ride. When the kids become teenagers, return to RCCL’s newer ships.
Lynn’s family will save a lot by taking a RCCL ship out of Galveston in several ways. The really new, exciting RCCL’s ships — with the latest excitement — sail out of New York, New Jersey and Florida. Any ship from the Quatum or Oasis classes will truly thrill a teen. Yes, the ships that sail out of Galveston are a bit older, but the good news is that they’re cheaper too. The RCCL ship – Liberty of the Seas – boasts an amazing water park with high-speed water slides, a Flowrider (simulated surfing) and a sport court.
The nighttime entertainment and the aerial show in the ship’s foyer are unforgettable. (Whatever you do, don’t miss the aerial show. We caught it twice. The photo to the left shows two aerial dancers. You can’t tell, but the dancers are miles up in the atrium. I asked and no, their mothers don’t know exactly what they do for a living.)
Georgia’s Golden Isles
Georgia’s Golden Isles sit about five hours – with potty breaks — from Atlanta and are quite simply heaven on a beach.
My favorite island for snooping through the mansions of the rich and famous (backstory: Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, Rockefeller et al. began a club on this island where the rich could get away from the riff-raff): Jekyll Island. Also Lynn and Ricks’ outdoorsy family will love visiting the Sea Turtle Rescue Sanctuary on Jekyll.
But my favorite place to stay and play: St. Simons Island (photo to the upper left is the stunning beach on St. Simons). To orient you, Jekyll and St. Simons sit 30 minutes from each other. Hilton Head — also a gorgeous island in South Carolina — seems to get a lot more attention, but I’d choose the Georgia Isles in a heartbeat. For a more in-depth review of the islands read my article to get the full scoop: The Family Went Down to Georgia.
Back in the mid-1800, Mark Twain hiked around a bend, took one look at the view and famously said, “It must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”
And, let’s not forget, the dude was a serious traveler, yet knew a flawless jewel when he saw one.
Turns out, Twain was looking at what the Washoe natives called Tahoe. And thanks to conservation efforts the Tahoe Twain glimpsed pretty much remains the same today, give or take a few ski resorts.
Tahoe is unusual in that she has something wonderful going on 365 days a year. The winter delivers unparalleled powder skiing and summers are for barbecuing at the cabin, eating Pringles in the sand, and floating atop the lake all afternoon. The fall colors are stunning and spring usually ushers in jeans and tee shirt skiing. (Bonus for Lynn and Rick’s family: fall is Tahoe’s quiet season.)
Simply put: you cannot go wrong at Tahoe. Want more good news? Reno, Nevada sits a breezy 40-minutes from Tahoe. So no need to fly into Oakland or San Francisco and brave the city traffic. Worst case scenario: fly into Sacramento that sits a two hour ride from Tahoe (but only drive I-80 to Tahoe. I-50 is antiquated and really scary. Although I heard that they’re finally improving 50, but still.)
And don’t do what my East Coast friend did. She and her husband flew into San Francisco planning to spend a day in San Fran, a day at Yosemite, a day in Napa and so forth. California is our biggest state after Alaska and Texas. Yosemite requires a long weekend or even an entire week. Same with Tahoe. Same with San Francisco. You can do Napa in a day, but if you really love wine make it a long weekend.
This article I wrote on Tahoe – the Sapphire of the Sierra — gives every traveler a phenomenal start. It was originally written for a magazine’s December issue, so there’s a good bit of skiing info. in it, but plenty of good year-round info. too. Enjoy!
LEGOLAND in Florida (& California)
Finally we’ve arrived at my favorite place to play with the little guys. This suggestion is for Lynn and Ricks’ future — toddlers aren’t quite ready for LEGOLAND — but by the time they’re four, book flights to Orlando.
Here’s the scoop: All told the 150-acre LEGOLAND park delivers fifty pink-knuckle rides and attractions divided into exciting zones that are filled with animals and characters constructed entirely in LEGO bricks. To give you a taste: there’s Duplo Village for toddlers who are at least 36 inches tall; Imagination Zone where kids can take a LEGO robotics class, Meet Stormer from Hero Factory, and build LEGO cars; Land of Adventure where kids can ride the Coastersaurus or take the Safari Trek with its huge elephants, parrots, lions, ostriches (all in LEGO); and LEGO Technic which ranks first on the list for risk-lovers because of its roller coasters and a water ride for a quick spritz.
For a better look at LEGOLAND, read my article on LEGOLAND Florida (updated) from 2013: Building Memories it’s LEGOLAND, Florida!
I’m still smiling hoping that Lynn and Rick like a trip suggestion or two I’ve made. As the couple already knows: the grandchildrens’ wonder years are almost upon them. Those ages between 4 and 13 are the sweetest spot for kid travel.
Life is so short and the work hours are so long. Children grow up in a blink.
Lynn and Rick get it: round up the crew and let’s be together because whether we’re in the Smokey Mountains or Brooklyn, NY being together will always be the best trip we’ll ever take.
Once last thank you to Lynn and Rick. ♥♥♥
Now readers, it’s your turn! What awesome trips has your extended family taken?