We decided to combine work-travel with a family trip when I figured out one of the annual conferences I go to was in paradise. Multiple people gave me that "you are insane" look or told me I should go alone "to get a break"---I started to doubt our wisdom and was worried the whole thing would be a (costly) disaster.
But it was amazing! We had such a great time. Both G and I agreed that it felt like our first real family vacation---just the four of us. I was so relaxed---I haven't felt that "vacation mode" loosening in my shoulders for YEARS. Definitely before the kids were born, maybe even a couple of years before that. There were so many moments: while we sipped our second margarita at the taco place and the boys ran around the sunny courtyard at 7 pm, when we all held hands and shivered as we got into the (cold!) ocean and wiggled our toes in the wet sand, while G and I watched the (so adorable) kids drive around their own toy cars on the track. So many factors converged to make the trip refreshing and fun.
-Well it was paradise. The weather was guaranteed and it did not disappoint.
-There was lots to do in the city and surrounding areas. We spent 4 days in the city and then drove out to a nearby beach town and then to a theme park resort (the interlocking-bricks one, not the rodent one) for 2 nights/one day.
-We chose our hotels really well. Suites, free breakfasts, mini-fridge, heated pools, close to stuff.
-We brought along the kids scooters, coloring books, pool floaties, and some legos. There was plenty to do in our down time.
-We planned some big activities but left plenty of downtime. the first day, G took the boys to the park, to shop for clothes (he forgot his swim trunks) and for L to get a haircut. The next day, we stayed at the pizza place for over 2 hours because the owner had a 5 year old kid hanging out there who brought out his toys as soon as he saw our boys walk in and they were best friends 10 minutes later. Another morning was spent with L sleeping on me while G and B had muffins and ran around near the water.
-The resort/theme park was AWESOME. I had never even HEARD of it, but G wanted to go and we went. The kids were in heaven. The hotel was full of the most amazing details---bunk beds for the kids (plus a trundle, thankfully, since neither kid wanted the top), fun themed decor, a kid-level buffet for breakfast and dinner, kids entertainment every evening, a heated OUTDOOR pool with a shallow entrance, a disco ball with music in the elevators, and (the boys FAVORITE) a whoopie cushion imbedded in the floor outside of the elevator. The park was perfect for preschoolers, I thought. Lots of the rides involved the kids being able to steer/control on their own. There were plenty of rides they were too small to do but more than enough. Plus it was off season---there were NO LINES anywhere. They rode their favorite rides over & over---this is really important for their age---they are in the "do everything you love again & again" phase.
-The kids are at a great age for this, finally. No diapers (except L at night) and not a single potty accident. Able to stay up for a grown up dinner time, sleeping mostly through the night---and going straight to bed after a full day without bedtime antics, able to skip naps. Not needing much, if any, special kid "equipment"---no sippy cups, pack n plays, special foods. Playing independently in the hotel, not running (too far) away from us in public places, no eating sand at the beach.
-They were also at the perfect age to really "get it" and have fun. They were excited before, during, and still talking about it 4 days later.
-saying yes as much as possible. Yes, you can have a popsicle at 10AM. Yes to another one at 3pm. Yes, we can stay 15 more minutes at the beach. And 15 more. And 15 more. Sure, chocolate chip pancakes and chocolate muffins are OK for breakfast. Oh, you want fruit loops too. Why not.
-time off for me (to attend the conference). G was with the kids the whole time, but he didn't seem to mind it.
-Ease with modes of transportation. The first full day, G figured out the light rail and bus system, and found a great playground that they went to every day of our trip. Since the beach was an hour bus ride away, he signed up for Uber and got us free trips there and back. We also used taxis, walking, and finally renting a car to get the 30 miles to the resort.
-Not looking at the budget/stressing about money. This was key. I finally entered all our expenses (at least the credit card ones) into YNAB last night. I did not look at it during our trip. At some point, you have to accept that eating all your meals out (and going for that second margarita, because its vacation, after all) is going to be expensive. We saved a TON by 1) tacking our trip onto a conference=airfare for me and 4/6 nights of hotel covered plus the per diem and by using my (no longer available) airline credit card to get the kids flights for $99/each (>$800/savings) and our 2 checked bags free both ways ($100 savings) and 3) finding "kids free" coupons for the theme park ($170/savings).
It wasn't perfect---there was yelling, there were time outs, and bad behavior. I particularly lost it with B one morning. the flights were---painful and I will leave it at that. I mean, we are still us, even thousands of miles away. But we were also different, somehow, and it was good for us. I woke up the last night running numbers in my head to budget a return trip next year!