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Planning A Family Vacation

by - Monday, May 21, 2012

Tips for planning a family vacation |

We’re back from our vacation in the Florida Keys. There’s nothing like spending a few days in the hot sun, toes in the sand, to take you away from the buzz buzz buzz and go go go of daily city life. Tomorrow I'll share some pics of the beautiful colonial architecture of the Keys.

We like our vacations with a bit of exploring and like always, I referred to a few of my favourite travel sites before we made our island getaway. I think, especially when you’re travelling with children, a little bit of forethought ensures a fun time for all. I thought I’d share my tips with you in case you’re planning a family vacation this summer.

Where to go: 

When I’m deciding where to vacation, I usually ask friends with kids what locations have worked for them. I also check out the feedback on two sites: Family Vacation Critic and TripAdvisor. With TripAdvisor, I start off by checking the city forums (here's the one for Key West) and then do a search for "kids" or "toddler". That way, you get all the posts related to kids... where to stay, what activities are best, how long to stay etc. It gives you a broad overview of the location and you get to see if the place is really family friendly. I find that locations that offer a bit of everything - some sightseeing, shopping, a pool or beach to unwind - usually keep everyone happy.

Looking for lizards
Where to stay:

Again, Family Vacation Critic helps you find hotels suitable for families. I find TripAdvisor has more hotel reviews though and more pictures so its also worth checking out (just look at the hotel reviews and filter them to show only reviews for Family). Once I've found a hotel I like, I use the "Show prices" feature to compare rates. I've used,,, and to book hotels in the past and have had no problems. I always check out the hotel website too because sometimes they have specials that aren't advertised on other sites.

Chickens roam freely all over Key West. Who knew?!
Where to eat:

My favourite site to find a place to eat is UrbanSpoon. Have you ever been somewhere new and you're hungry after walking around all morning and your toddler is getting cranky and you wish you could find a place nearby that serves good food in a not so scary neighbourhood? UrbanSpoon to the rescue! I use the "Kid Friendly" search to find places that won't mind if Chloe has a tantrum or starts singing at the table. That's how we found Blue Heaven in Key West (their Plantain Pancakes go in my books as the best breakfast ever) and the Acme Cafe in Gastown in Vancouver (their High Falutin' Grilled Cheese Sandwich had both Chloe and me salivating).

What to do:

Since Chloe still takes a nap most days, I try to plan our itinerary with most activity in the morning. She's generally in a good mood in the mornings; crankiness is more likely to settle in in the afternoon, after lots of walking and too much activity. I like to identify a few key places we want to go, one per day. It could be something as big as spend 1/2 a day at the aquarium or something small as walk 8 blocks to a particular restaurant I want to have lunch at. I find that trying to plan anymore than that can leave me frustrated - a toddler has her own mind about how fast she'll walk or which museums, stores, historical sites etc. she'll tolerate! There also has to be "kid stuff" in every day... spend the day at the beach, have an early dinner and go for ice cream, walk on the boardwalk at sunset to stretch her little legs. Its vacation for the kiddos too, right?

The giant Carnival cruise ship we found around the corner from our hotel

What to pack:

Colouring time while we wait for dinner

Chloe's at an age where watching a few hours of cartoons on the on-board TV keeps her occupied for the flight, but there are a few things I make sure to pack to keep her in a good mood.

  • snacks to enjoy at the airport. I find getting through the airport, security, customs, and finally onto the plane is the most difficult part of a vacation! You want to keep the little ones occupied. I keep snacks in separate zip lock bags and try to have a bit of variety. Raisins, crackers, individual cheese packs, yogurt covered cranberries, granola bars, juice boxes, bottles of water (which you need to drink before you go through security) are all good to have on hand.
  • treat bags. Again, I pack little games in individual zip lock bags and bring them out one by one when Chloe gets antsy on the plane. Small puzzles, a box of crayons & a few colouring pages, a doodle board, stickers, a lacing board - portable toys that are good for the plane or the restaurant. The thing that keeps Chloe most enthralled? A little set of erasers shaped like donuts and cupcakes I bought at the dollar store!
  • iPhone and iPad. These definitely work to keep a toddler entertained though, especially on vacation, I try to use them only when nothing else works. I'd hate for Chloe to have her nose buried in the iPhone and miss all the scenery as we're walking by. My fave apps (and hers) are the whimsical ones from Toca Boca.
  • the favourites. Whether its a favourite stuffed toy, a t-shirt that she loves to wear, or her own pillow, having something to remind your child of "home" can help the newness of travel seem not so scary. 

iPhone time so Mom & Dad can finish their dinner!
Vacations with kids can test your patience - its new scenery, new food, new routines. But seeing your little one enjoy new experiences and enjoy the magic of travelling to a new locale makes it all worth the effort. I can't wait for the next trip!

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