How to Plan a Vacation Both Grandma and Junior Can Enjoy
For many families these days, a group getaway isn't complete unless Grandma and Grandpa are along for the ride, too. Here's how to make the trip fun for the whole family.
Readers' Top Questions
What kinds of vacations work best for people eight to 80?
If your family can't even agree on the same television shows to watch, the prospect of going on vacation together is probably terrifying. The truth is, finding a place that will make both Grandma and Junior happy isn't that hard, as long as you remember the golden rule of family travel: KISS, as in Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don't try to put together a multistop road trip or a something-for-everyone sightseeing journey. "They're logistical nightmares," says familyvacationcritic.com editor Lissa Poirot. "You've got kids who are antsy from too much time in the car, or folks in wheelchairs who can't navigate cobblestone streets." Instead, find a good home base. It should offer plenty of action right outside the door and be comfortable enough for the folks who just want to chill out. Your base might be a condo complex at a golf resort, a huge beach house, or a series of cabins in a national park. Whatever floats your collective boat-a cruise ship would work too!—as long as it provides a place for gathering and eating together.
What kind of lodging is ideal?
Sharing a large space has its advantages-for one thing, parents get adult time once the kids are asleep down the hall. At a minimum, each age group should have its own bedroom to allow for the occasional time-out (be it as a punishment or a reward). And unless it costs a fortune, splurge on a place with a pool. Kids love to swim, and adults love how swimming tires kids out. Finally, hunt for discounts. Tons of hotels and resorts have deals for seniors and AARP members, or kids-stay-free and kids-eat-free promotions. The Franklyn D. Resort (fdrholidays.com), an all-inclusive in Runaway Bay, Jamaica, has turned the kid discount upside down: The BYOG (Bring Your Own Grandparents) special, in which grandparents stay for free and the family is upgraded to a two-bedroom suite (offered from early January to early February). "A lot of grandparents are so excited that they get to stay for free that they wind up paying for everyone else in their group," FDR sales manager Trishawana Davidson notes. In addition, the FDR provides all families with a complimentary "vacation nanny" to babysit the kids, ensuring that parents and grandparents alike get to relax. Whether or not a hotel or resort spells out its discount policies online, Poirot encourages travelers to go beyond the Internet. "Call the manager," she suggests. "They have the power to cut you a deal, and they'll also be able to guarantee you things like adjoining rooms."
Any tips for limiting stress (other than drinking and/or earplugs)?
The best approach is to have handy a list of things that you could do each day—but very little that you absolutely must do. Each morning, check on everyone's moods and energy levels-and, most important, the weather—before deciding whether to take a scenic train trip, hit the museum, or have a cannonball competition at the pool. Then be flexible. There's no law that says you have to accomplish everything on your to-do list. Nor does everyone have to participate in everything (i.e., Grandma and the cannonball competition). It's OK to split into groups. That's the beauty of dinnertime—everyone can catch up then. Speaking of which, one of the biggest reasons cruises and all-inclusives are so popular with groups is that the one-price concept eliminates the hassles of coordinating meals. When going to restaurants is a must, Poirot steers her crew to buffets. "They're used to handling big groups," she says. "And even picky eaters can find something they like." Cooking can be a great family activity in itself, but it doesn't have to be elaborate to be fun. Hot dogs and baked beans, pasta with salad and bread—they're easy enough for even the most cookaphobic family. The key is to find ways for everyone to pitch in. "Don't be a martyr and try to do it all," says Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions, a quarterly magazine featuring tips for planning family reunions (reunionsmag.com). "Just like the trip itself, every meal needs a leader, but that leader has to delegate."
What's the best way for everyone to get to know one another better?
Figure out settings in which different generations don't simply spend time near one another but with one another. "Two basic ingredients never fail: sand and water," says Mike Link, who writes a series of grandparent travel guides with his wife, Kate Crowley (grandparentsamericanstyle.com). "Even if we can't help build sand castles due to mobility issues, we can still participate and offer advice." Link also suggests that parents disappear occasionally—for dinner or a walk-so that grandparents and kids can really bond. "When Mom and Dad are around, the boundaries are different," Link says. When grandparents do get quality time with the young ones, Crowley stresses the importance of enjoying things from a child's mind-set. That could mean playing pirates in the woods or turning an art museum visit into a treasure hunt. "Make a fun game of it," she suggests. Parents, you'll win here, as well: Not only will your kids bond with Grandma and Grandpa, but you'll get some downtime, too.
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