February 27

Help Us Plan A Vacation



disney-cruise-image-headerSo this year we’re thinking about doing something wacky.  We hear there is something called a “vacation” where a family can go and have fun and relax and do stuff together away from one’s home.  We’ve attempted said “vacations” in the past, but we usually end up staying home because of the costs and instead I do yard work.

Other past vacations have included removing wallpaper from a bathroom, building shelves in the garage, painting multiple rooms in the house, and smacking my head on ceiling beams in the attic while putting down plywood flooring.

The last time we had one of these so-called “vacations,” it was a pseudo one.  Our friends Kristy and Daniel were getting married, she happened to be from a part of Florida near a beach, so we combined the two and stayed for a couple extra days.  That was almost two years ago.

Prior to that, the last time we took the family anywhere was almost five years ago, and it was for one night.  We were visiting my sister in Florida and decided to kidnap my mom and go stay at a kid-friendly hotel in Orlando for a night.  No theme parks or anything.  Just swimming pool and fun, which was good for us at the time, but very short-lived.

Before that, the last time we really went on a genuine vacation was the summer before Tommy was born, so that would have been 2003, I think.  So we’re going on six years since actually going on a vacation.

This year, now that we actually have a job with vacation time again, for the first time in several years, we’d actually like to go somewhere that would qualify as a real vacation.

Here are the top two things we’d like to do, but have quickly discovered we apparently cannot afford or ever will be able to afford:

Go to Rome
Take a Cruise

We have never been out of the country before, and really have no clue how to do it.  Furthermore, we have no idea how feasible it would be to take our kids out of the country.  Jennifer and I have passports, but we really don’t want to pay for passports for the kids if we don’t plan on taking them out of the country any time soon.

The Cruise thing, lately, has been our top want.  And I realize that during Lent, talking about wants is sort of pointless.

We used to think Crusies were frivolous, pointless, wastes of money.  Now we think they are frivolous, pointless, wastes of money that we want to go on.

The idea of not having to clean or cook for seven people for a couple of days has become really, really attractive for Jennifer.  Therefore, it’s an attractive idea for me. What makes her happy and content makes me less likely to get in trouble.

Unfortunately, to go on a cruise with this many kids means we’d need two rooms, so we’d probably end up bringing my mom along or something to help out, and therefore, it would cost us even more.

Also, unfortunately, going on a cruise with this many kids would also cost as much as a decent used car.  Are we just not looking in the right places?

So at this point, we’re trying to figure out what to do, what vacation options are available to us, and if it’s possible for us to even do something.

We don’t want to charge a vacation with credit cards since we’ve worked so hard to eliminate all of our debt except for our house, so whatever we end up doing, we want to start saving for it now so we pay for everything 100% with cash.

But like with so many things, we’re clueless about vacation possibilities.  So help us out, if you would.  Do you know of any awesome family vacations that won’t break the bank?  Again, a cruise would be awesome, but we’re thinking it’s just going to be impossible until we’re 73 years old.

What about something like renting a lake house somewhere or something along those lines?  Seriously, we’re vacation neophytes so we have absolutely no idea what is doable.

So bring on your suggestions and links to great deals!  And many thanks in advance!

About the author 


Greg is married to Jennifer. They've got five kids.

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  • I have not really looked into it but it seems right now would be a good time to cruise. The cruise industry is really trying to bring in customers. Usually children get a big discount when sharing a room with adults-which they will of course. Most cruise ships have a great kids program that keeps them entertained part of the day. Not for Lily of course but for the boys. Anyway- look around. It can be done.

  • Well, a relatively inexpensive and adventurous vacation would be to visit South Dakota (I’m obviously biased since that is where I am from). You could see where Jessie James got away from the law, you can visit the Missouri River and follow the path of Lewis and Clark, you can visit Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, The Badlands, Wall Drug (although it is the worst tourist trap I have ever seen), and the Saloon where Wild Bill Hickock was shot while playing poker. You can visit caves, gold mines, and all sorts of fun things. There are even some wonderful religious sites. The Cathedral in Sioux Falls (again, my bias is showing) is amazing, and the plains are breathtaking.

    Surely there are many cabins in the Black Hills that one could rent for a reasonable cost.

    Thus endeth my two cents.

  • You would be surprised how reasonable a Carribean cruise could be this time of year. We started taking our son at about 7 and found there wa lots for him to do and lots of kids much younger than him also having a great time. You can get adjoining rooms, and Jennifer can have her massage and pedicure while Dad is watching the little one.

  • Greg and Jennifer,

    We are new at vacationing, too. For the past two years we have rented an oceanfront condo for a week (in Bethany Beach, DE). It has been the best money we have ever spent and I hope we can do it every summer!

    I shopped at home, planned simple dinners and prepared some of the meals at home (like taco meat) and packed it, frozen, in a cooler. When we got there we bought things like milk and fruit. We only went out to eat once or twice for seafood.

    The best thing about being oceanfront is — well, the ocean! We go to the beach five or six times a day for an hour or so. No coolers/towels/blankets to lug back and forth. No sunburn (although I recommend RashGuard shirts from Lands End). We usually have one parent at the beach with a kid or two and one parent in the condo with my (92 year old, senile) father in law. We’ll also alternate the beach with the pool. Then in the evening we all go to the water (including f-i-l) and we fly kites and go fishing. We enjoy the swimming and shells and dolphins so much.

    Except for going to see Wall-E and going to Mass, last summer, we never left the condo community. No theme parks, etc. Although I have always wanted to go on a Disney cruise, I love this “no agenda” vacation. We actually sit and talk while doing a puzzle at night! We have tried the “vacations” where you drive to a different day trip destination every day and those are too tiring.

    One other perk–and I’m serious–is free water. My kids probably take four showers a day at the condo, and I don’t worry about the water bill like I would at home. It’s a big adventure for them!

    Good luck and may God bless whatever trip you choose!

  • One Idea that would be great (and pretty much free besides food and accommodations) would to come here to Washington, DC. There are lots of free things to do that would keep you and the boys (and now girl) occupied from the Smithsonian Museums to the Monuments as well as the National Shrine. Additionally, you could combine it with a trip to either the mountains (Shenandoah National Park) or the Beach (The Eastern Shore of Maryland/Virginia or the Outer Banks) which are both less than 2-3 hours from DC proper and would not be out of your way on the way back or to Conyers.

  • When I was young, my family and I went on a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park. I have so many great memories from he trip, and it is a great place for young boys (lots of exploring to do). You do not have to camp either (if that is not your thing) their are plenty of hotels around. I am not sure how expensive the area is now, but I can’t imagine it is on level of a cruise. Just 2 cents from an old Rosary Army Podcast listener 🙂

  • Hi Greg,

    OK, here is an affordable vacation.

    I suggest a beach trip. Check out condo’s or smaller houses to rent that have full kitchens. The economy stinks so you can try and negotiate the rental. As time goes by and the rentals are available, the price will drop. Also, if you can schedule the end of summer and take the kids out of school for a few days, you will also save.

    Now, so Jennifer does not feel the pressure to cook, in advance make 4-5 family favorite meals that can be frozen and bring them with you. Hence with a microwave/oven, you heat and serve. You also grill out if you can and she will have the load on her removed. The rest of the time you can go out and you wont break the budget

  • We also have enjoyed beach vacations. Spending a week at a house on the beach DOES mean that you have to cook your own. Sometimes the rental comes with cleaning service, though I have never been so lucky. But it is an awesome way to get away. We go to the NJ shore since we live in NJ. I plan and bring simple meals so cooking is not too terrible–and I enjoy cooking anyway. If you don’t want to do dishes, bring some paper plates!

  • Hi Greg. Have you thought about spending a week at a beach house or cabin on a lake someplace? Rent it for the week…go buy some EZ groceries for EZ meals, eat on paper plates and just go relax and have fun. Our family’s best vacations have been to a resort that is on a huge lake and we fish, swim, hike, read, nap and relax. Or four boys say these are the best vacations. The meals are a wash and the cost of a cabin/beach house is reasonable for a family.

    Sanibel Island is a fantastic place to take kids…the beaches are fantastic and they can search for shells all day long. They might even see a dolphin or two. There’s a great Nature Preserve there as well. The kids won’t care where you are and they will be just happy to be someplace with you…guaranteed. You could even pop by Orlando for a day or two on the way there or back.

  • I’ll repeat the suggestion that’s already been offered: renting a house on the beach. My family has been going to the outer banks of NC for 10 years now. You can get a house with a pool and a short walk to the beach for <$1500 a week, especially if you’re flexible about dates (beginning and end of the summer are always cheaper). One of the great thing about the Outer Banks is that the island is very very narrow, so beach and the sound are a 5 minute drive apart. The sound is a nice place for kids to play and swim, as the water is warm, no waves, and it’s very shallow for hundreds of feet out!

  • You could look into switching houses with someone. It allows both parties to get away without paying for lodging. Of course you need to feel comfortable with someone else in your home but you could do it with someone you know, or I know there are agencies you can work with. With no lodging costs, you could afford to go out to dinner everynight. Greg, you could do the breakfasts, and the two older boys could be in charge of making sandwhiches for all for lunch, especially if you will be out site seeing.
    That is the cheapest way I know, unless you know someone with a time share that they aren’t using and are willing to donate.

  • Make a list of all the things the family likes to do. There are inexpensive vacations where you may not even have to go far, but you can get away. You may even know people who have a cabin somewhere or a place at the beach if that is what you want.

    I am from a family of 5 and we usually went to the mountains or the beach. We stayed at a house so we could fix meals (some meals included the fish we caught in the lake). We played cards and games, took hikes, went canoeing, blackbery picking, and more. I have fond memories of these vacations with my family. It is the time we spent together, not the amount of money spent.

    Planning the trips I think would be a fun family project, just talking about what everyone would like to do or where they would like to go is fun.

    Have fun with this.

    I think I will start dreaming of a vacation.

  • Hey Guys,

    Vacation talk is one of my absolute favorite subjects. My suggestion to get that cruise is to find a travel agent who will sponsor your family to go in return for lots of publicity about how great the cruise was, *grin*. Of course, since that is not real likely to happen, you might try looking on vacationstogo.com for some discount last minute cruise deals. Always keep in mind that cruise pricing doesn’t include tips. Depending on the cruise line, this is between $10-$15 a day per person (really adds up with lots of kids). We considered taking a cruise last December, but realized after looking into it that no ship would let someone past 24 weeks pregnant on board. We have taken a couple cruises with the kids (Becky occasionally earns them through her Shaklee business), and they have been great for us and the kids. We were able to get adjoining rooms, so we didn’t have to bring extra adults to manage the kid room. You would have to check carefully to see how young the ships allowed passengers to be. Most require them to be at least 6 months, and some require a year. The kids programs are great, our kids would beg to go to every session, and would cry if we had them sleep in one morning so they wouldn’t be too exhausted.

  • My vote is for South Dakota. Fr. Christensen made it sounds like a WONDERFUL place to visit! I think he forgot to mention that he’ll make dinner for you some nights but I think that was said between the lines ; ) If your boys really enjoy it (which I honestly think they would) they could read books about the Wild West when they get home — you are always talking about getting them to read more books! What a wonderful way to get them interested in other topics they’ll find in books! Or you could get them to read some of the stories from the Wild West before going out there so they’ll understand what they’re seeing. It’s my understanding that boys love Wild West stories, the good guys and bad guys and the good guy always wins! Or a beach house, that could be nice too.

    I’m afraid you’ll regret a cruise with a newborn, even if you were to go next year when Lily isn’t so much of a “newborn” anymore. If she gets seasick. If you find out as she grows up that she’ allergic to something common in food feeding her would be more difficult on a cruise. How comfortable would you be putting her in day care so you could enjoy yourself more on the cruise? Would you put her into the cruise day care? What would you do to entertain her on the cruise? Do you want to chase after her on the cruise if you go when she’s a toddler?

    I have heard many a positive thing about toddlers and beach houses!! Presumably, the nice ocean breeze and the soothing sounds of the ocean helps them fall right to sleep!!


  • For most of the last seventeen years, we spent our vacation time enjoying a week at summer family camp in the cool mountains of Colorado. We loved the freedom the kids enjoyed of being outside with other kids building forts, adventuring and watersliding while we all were building relationships with other Christian families. The cost of camp included all our meals and housing and activities (except a few extra activities). We stayed in nice rooms or cabins and enjoyed meals being served to us as we sat together in dining hall. (Mom gets a vacation, too!) The daytime schedule was keep flexible for families to decide what they wanted to do each day. The evening schedule started after dinner with a time of music and bible-teaching followed by a camp-wide activity like family game night or skit night. Then you head off to bed to rest and start fresh on the next day. Our five kids have been to family camp through all the ages (baby through teenager) and have loved it. In fact we loved what is happening so much with the ministry of family camp that we joined the staff last summer. If you want to learn more, check out our website, http://www.horncreek.org. We would love to have you join us!

  • If we are talking summer, you will want water and/or cooler temps. Lots of ideas here….

    Go up Nort’ to Wisconsin Dells and add a visit to a beautiful shrine.

    Catholic centered vacations are cool-

    The Carolina coast is great too.

    It may be too far in a car, but you can’t beat Montana.

    Have fun!

  • If you’re still looking for vacation ideas, come visit Central Texas in the Springtime! The bluebonnets & other wildflowers are everywhere, and it’s just an all around beautiful time. My family actually has a B&B near Austin (http://www.bellavistabedandbreakfast.com)

    Cruises are fun, though – and they do have good programs to keep the kids entertained with other kids on the boat. 🙂

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