Is family vacation an oxymoron?
I was leaning toward yes as my wife and I packed our minivan two weeks ago with suitcases and three young children before driving 12 hours to California to descend into the overstimulation of Los Angeles and its theme parks.
I defined success as survival. Yet what I found surprised me. We had fun – thanks in no small part to grandparents who provided backup.
Admittedly, this column is a bit of a humble brag. The story of our vacation wrapped in a bit of self-deprecating humor and “woe is me” packaging. So bail now if you are offended by stories of other peoples’ vacations.
With that said, here are my dos and don’ts for a first-time Disney vacation road trip from El Paso.
Do: Avoid the airport, security, baggage fees and all the other hassles and costs of flying by squeezing into a minivan and driving from dawn to dusk. Tell yourself over and over through clenched teeth, this is an adventure and I’m having fun.
Don’t: Miss the rest stop before Joshua Tree National Park – the one you blow by before one child suddenly and desperately needs the bathroom amid the longest stretch of nothingness in the Western Hemisphere and you are forced to turn into a ghost town in a futile search for facilities. Bad parents. Bad.
Do: Discover the wonderful world of free podcasts for kids, especially the “Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian.” Use your imagination to “see” the sci-fi action, characters and fantasy worlds. Bond as a family.
Don’t: Succumb to road rage sitting in traffic for two hours when Arizona decides to close all but one lane of the interstate to do paving on a busy summer traveling day.
Do: Remember this is an opportunity to build patience and resilience while the kids, wondering why all forward motion has stopped, melt down in the back of the van – and a 12-hour trip stretches into 14 hours.
Don’t: Go to Disneyland without a plan so you can enjoy the experience and not spend the day asking: What should we do next? Desperately read a guidebook like your happiness depends on it, and subscribe to an app with customized step-by-step touring plans to outsmart the crowds.
Do: Deploy snacks, firing them with military precision – boom, boom, boom – at every possible moment.
Don’t: Forget to have fun.
Do: Visit Disneyland three days after the most anticipated addition in decades, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, opens and enjoy short lines in the rest of the park. Bask in the feeling of superiority while it lasts. Ha! Everyone else can stand in line for hours for a $199 custom lightsaber while we enjoy every other ride in the park.
Don’t: Terrify your 7-year-old early in the day by riding Space Mountain and then spend eight minutes locked in the dark with a screaming child on the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.
Do: Savor the joy on your children’s faces as they give Winnie the Pooh a giant hug.
Don’t: Walk into any gift shops. Ever. Period.
Do: Embrace novel experiences and watch as the days shorten and the week lengthens. But brace for the return to “real life” and routine when the days lengthen and the years shorten.
Don’t: Miss any rest stops on the way home.
Do: Write a column about the trip when you return to work.