Three years ago my friend and I took our daughters on a Disney cruise. It was to be one of those trips where everything is perfect and magical, where the money you’ve spent correlates directly to the amount of fun you’ll have and the memories you’ll make.
Our plane took off as a blizzard closed in and by the time we landed we discovered that ours was one of the last flights to get out of Toronto. Not smart enough to take this as a sign, we high-fived and boarded the ship.
By the time we disembarked five days later, we were exhausted, broke and frazzled to the core.
The cruise itself was pretty amazing: ample sunshine, great shows, no dirty dishes for mom and all-you-can eat soft serve ice cream were the highlights. It was what happened below decks that made us want to abandon ship.
It started in earnest on Day 2. That non-stop, nails on a chalkboard, make-your-ears-bleed bickering that six-year old girls have perfected LIKE IT’S THEIR JOB.
“She’s copying me, why does she get that, how come she gets to go first, she ran away from me, she won’t let me have the iPad, I don’t want to watch that show, why does she get to use the blue crayon first?” And on and on.
They were acting more like sisters than friends, which was cute for a while. But after nearly five days in close quarters, with stimulation and excitement at every turn, things were bound to get ugly.
As an only child, my girlfriend had never experienced sibling rivalry and the non-stop cries of “He touched me!” that accompanied every road trip – hell, every single DAY my two brothers and I spent together. My daughter was still an only child at this point and neither my friend nor I grew up with a sister so this was fresh, uncharted territory that nearly sent both of screaming for the lifeboats.
I didn’t help that my visions for the vacation were so ridiculously far-fetched that Walt Disney himself would have said “sister, dial it back.” Before we left I pictured my daughter and I laying on the deck of the boat, snuggled on a lounge chair watching movies on the outdoor screen. I envisioned us shopping and exploring the nooks and crannies of every port city, of finding a little restaurant where we’d sip wine and chocolate milk and talk about the beautiful ocean view.
I know, I know. Stop laughing.
But it wasn’t just me. My friend told me she pictured us dropping the girls off at the kids club each night before proceeding to the “adults only” area for a quiet dinner and some cocktails.
But needless to say, our daughters didn’t want to sit and watch movies, and they certainly didn’t want to go to the kids club. They wanted to explore, to test the limits of everything. How many times could they run on the deck before the lifeguard told them to quit it? How far could they climb on the outside rail of the ship before we told them to quit it?
Don’t get me wrong, the experience in its entirety was great and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But between misplaced expectations and the bickerson twins, it all added up to something less than a vacation. This maiden voyage taught me valuable lessons about travelling with kids, and part of the healing process is helping others learn from my mistakes. So if you’re planning a summer getaway with kids – yours and others - here are some tips for minimizing conflict and maximizing your sanity:
- Separate rooms. If you saw the movie Outbreak, you know how important containment is. When things inevitably break down, the melt-downs can be limited to minutes instead of hours if everyone has their own space to retreat to.
- Pre-departure, lay down some simple ground rules, applicable to each child. If the adults agree ahead of time that no one gets chocolate milk for breakfast it will help cut down on the “how come she gets….” squabbling.
- Make sure everyone has his or her own electronic device. It would be wonderful to think we can all exist without them for a few days but lets’ be honest, God invented Minecraft for a reason. And don’t forget the chargers.
- Simple ground rules for behavior that everyone can agree on. Think of a trip as an extended play date. You wouldn’t send little Hayden over to Mikey’s house without reminding him to share, lift the seat and say please and thank you. Getting everyone to agree on some simple rules that you can refer to later (at the top of your lungs, if need be) can help.
- Keep your expectations realistic. Don't succumb to fantasies of perfectly behaved children oohing and ahhing over the sights. Travel usually means a loss of routine, which can be tough on kids. Taking a trip that costs more than your car does not magically entitle you to perfectly behaved children. Deal with it.
- Group discipline. Agree ahead of time that every adult can discipline every child. Most of us are hesitant to do this, and we are usually hardest on our own kids but if the kids know they can’t away with acting up in front of anyone, then everyone is better off.
- Be patient. Your child hasn’t spent a lifetime yearning to pet a stingray. Even if you can’t understand how he could possibly choose the very moment the experience begins to poop his pants, just remember he’s not doing it to annoy you.
- Turn down the pressure cooker. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, kids are smart. They feel your stress and anxiety. If you’re worried about how they’ll get along with your friend’s kids, or if they sense your desperation over making everything perfect, they will probably act out.
- Keep it short. If you’re travelling with other families, I wouldn’t recommend a trip longer than 3-4 days. If it goes well, you can always do it again.
Share your travel tips with me in the comments below or tweet me @wineandsmarties.
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