Day By Day: Confessions of the worst vacation planner everIt’s been awhile since the Heatons took a family vacation and it should tell you something that nobody has complained about that fact. The duty of planning our trips has always fallen to me over the years and I have tried everything to ensure a good time and the most bang for our buck.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
It’s been awhile since the Heatons took a family vacation and it should tell you something that nobody has complained about that fact.
The duty of planning our trips has always fallen to me over the years and I have tried everything to ensure a good time and the most bang for our buck. But whether I’ve turned to experts, the Internet or the recommendations of friends and seasoned travelers, things just seem to happen that, well, leave me feeling screwed over. I’m sure it’s nothing that an unlimited budget couldn’t fix but since that is never going to happen, I am stuck with some less than lovely vacation memories.
We started small with a trip to Wisconsin Dells when the kids were about 3-years-old. I thought leaving as soon as school let out would mean both smaller crowds and nicer weather. The crowds were smaller but it was so, so hot and of course the car’s air conditioning went on the fritz. No worries, we’d just pace ourselves and spend lots of time by the hotel pool. Turned out that pacing 3-year-olds was kind of a challenge, translating into 30 minutes max away from the water or enduring a meltdown of epic proportions. That kind of put a damper on Storybook Gardens (where I was about ready to jump into the wolf’s mouth) and the Circus Museum (where the kids kept wanting to be licked by the long, cool tongue of the giraffe while Kevin hyperventilated over the germs being slobbered all over them.) The trip culminated with a stop at a Dairy Queen on the long drive back which resulted in the entire back seat, kids, car seats and all, covered in melted ice cream. And so our vacation history began.
Our next big family trip was to Yellowstone when the kids were 10 (yes it took me seven years to plan it). We drove and I had lots of planned stops along the way. Fargo was our first and it seemed appropriately named — who would “go” that “far” to see this place. But it was just our first stop. Teddy Roosevelt National Park was a pleasant surprise. It was a pretty amazing sight. Maybe that should have been a clue — just to go to places that you just stand over and look at.
We stayed in Bozeman for a night, just long enough to have some raspberry frozen yogurt that for some reason was blue and that a couple of days later caused a little panic until we figured out why every bathroom stop was a little blue heaven.
On the recommendation of good friends we went to the Louis and Clark Caverns near there. Louis and Clark never went near this place and I could see why. It wasn’t until we were on the tour about to enter the caves when the guide told us we would have to crawl or slither through a pretty narrow opening to get there. Claustrophobic and not the body type to slither, I had come too far to turn back and could only envision the Bozeman evening news describing the rescue of a Wisconsin mother who got herself wedged into a cave. I sucked it up and in and made it and the caves were amazing. They better be!
Yellowstone was for the most part all we hoped. The only hiccup there was our trail ride. Cory was unconvinced that this was the way to see anything but I convinced him the horses were all old nags who barely walked. Of course, he managed to get a highly spirited beast and I was assigned a draft horse who could pull his weight and mine.
On a trip to Washington, I got the date wrong for a trip to Victoria Island and we ended up on boat way too fast and way too noisy for my taste. I had also booked a hotel room with a view of the Pacific that you needed binoculars to see and nose plugs to handle the smell from the muck between our window and the shore.
But I was determined to get it right on a Christmas trip to Hawaii — a once in a lifetime, max out the credit cards adventure. I turned to a travel agent for help in an effort to avoid my curse but it didn’t work. It started out pretty well — monster waves on the north end of Oahu meant we saw a big surfing competition. We had excellent food and the weather was great. Next up was the big island and it seemed like it was going to be good. That first night, we actually were drinking Mai Tais on the beach of our hotel at sunset. The volcano park didn’t disappoint either. But all that great snorkeling — we ended up painfully picking our way across a bunch of coral only to find a few yellow fish that looked like they could have been in a Walmart fish tank.
Maui would be better but it was not to be. I went all out on the accommodations there only to find that they had overbooked. We were sent to quite a luxurious hotel at first but then banished to a retirement condominium complex for the balance of the week. It was quiet time all the time at the pool and lights out at 10 and nobody cared that it was the favorite place of Tiger Woods’ dad.
Along with hotel problems, we booked a snorkel trip on rough seas that left Katie too seasick to swim and where I lost my driver’s license. And I couldn’t take the bike ride down that mountain road that everybody raves about because, well, let’s just say that between gravity and momentum, I could have built up enough speed by the bottom to propel me back to the mainland. I told them to go without me, but they lovingly refused.
We had a nice New Year’s Eve on the beach although we ate out of vending machines because our dinner arrangements at the hotel got cancelled along with our reservation. But a monsoon rolled in on Jan. 1 and it took us three days to get home, all in the same damp clothes.
We’ve had good trips — mostly to Duluth and the North Shore. It helps to do the same thing and stay in the same place year in and year out. But I am giving it a go again with a family trip to the Boston area in June. All advice and recommendations are welcome as are prayers, chants and voodoo charms.