Friday, May 25, 2012

Vacation planning as rocket science

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Before we start, just a quick shoutout to the Wickliffe High School Class of 2012 and in particular class member Scott Britton, whom I had the privilege of seeing yesterday at Senior Awards Night. Scott is going to Cleveland State University in the fall and is a huge friend of the blog. Oh, and Elissa came away with an additional few thousand dollars in scholarships, which is a very, very good thing. Anyway, let's get on with it...)

We're trying to plan a family "mini-vacation" for the end of June. And by "mini-vacation," I'm talking about a quick three-day getaway before all heck breaks loose and everyone goes their separate ways in a myriad of school and sports activities.

On the surface, this doesn't sound like an overly difficult thing to do. Just pick a destination, make a few reservations, hop in the minivan, and there you go.

But the reality is much more complicated than you might think. As you veteran family vacation planners know, putting together even a 72-hour junket is only slightly less complex than building a scale model of the space shuttle.

Here are just a few of the issues we're facing:

  • Five kids ranging in age from 6 to 18. As you would imagine, each one has a unique vision of what constitutes "fun" and "exciting."
  • The fact that there are seven of us and a relatively tight budget. This limits our choice of hotels, meals, etc.
  • Finding some place to go that isn't too far away so that we don't spend half of our three-day vacation driving on an interstate.

Fortunately, I have Terry on my side here. Terry is undaunted in the face of these sorts of challenges. And I haven't even mentioned the fact that she's trying to plan a graduation party for Elissa just a day or two before our little getaway.

It's going to be a busy month for my poor wife.

First, of course, we need to pick a place to go. Possibilities include Washington DC, someplace in Southern Michigan (we haven't been very specific there), yet another Tennant Family Pennsylvania trip, and even the wonderful city of Akron.

Akron may seem like a surprise choice, given that it's only about 45 minutes from our house. But that's the genius of it, you see. It's not a long drive, there are actually some fun things to do, and best of all from Terry's point of view, she doesn't have to cook. Depending on what kind of itinerary we can put together, I wouldn't mind an Akron trip at all.

We've been wanting to take a Michigan trip for awhile, since most of our family vacations have been to Pennsylvania. I feel like we've exhausted the fair Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a vacation spot, having skipped only Pittsburgh and the parts of the state even the locals don't really like. But I'm sure we've missed something worthwhile there.

As for Washington, I realize we're stretching our self-imposed limits. It's a minimum 6-hour drive, and it's not exactly the most cost-effective destination in the world. But the kids haven't been there and I think they would enjoy it, or at least enjoy it as much as a three- or possibly four-day trip will allow.

Anyway, once we pick a place to visit, we also need to select a hotel. Given our numbers, we prefer those extended-stay places like Residence Inn or Staybridge Suites. Not only do you get multiple bedrooms and a living room, there's also a kitchen where we can prepare meals on the cheap and literally save hundreds of dollars.

Fortunately, those types of places are everywhere and usually aren't too difficult to find. They also generally have free breakfasts that are filling and fast, two qualities we like in a vacation meal.

Once we actually hit the road, wherever we're going, I turn into Stereotypical Vacation Dad. My job, as minivan pilot, is to get us to our destination as quickly as possible. No unnecessary stops. Just go, go, GO, GO, GO! "What do you mean you have to pee? You just peed eight hours ago! Just hold it for another 100 miles."

I am, by my own admission, relentless. Vacations for me are about speed and survival. I should probably try to include "fun" in there somewhere, too.

In any event, I'll have to let you know once we pick a vacation spot, just in case you guys have any tips/hints/suggestions on things to do, places to visit, etc. People are never shy about offering up this sort of advice, which is fine with me. It saves me the trouble of going to the library and checking out the Fodor's guide to whichever city we're visiting.

I'll also have to let you know whether Terry actually survives this whole process. It will truly be a miracle if she does.


  1. Southern Michigan has interesting things to see and do. Kalamazoo has the Kellogg plant tour which is interesting to see how they make cornflakes!

  2. FWIW...SW Michigan would win hands down against D.C, Akron and PA. You would definitely want to do something along the Lake Michigan shoreline (the further North up the shoreline the better).

    The Kellogg plant Lyn mentioned is actually in Battle Creek.

    Kalamazoo's claim to fames are: Western (or Wastern as the locals call it) Michigan University, a particular Yankee whose initials are DJ was born there and without a doubt the best microbrewery in all of Michigan (Belle's).

    I'm a big fan of the state of Michigan (disclaimer: I was born there) and if you had the time I would recommend going even further North to Mackinac Island, the Upper Peninsula, Lake Superior, etc.

    I hope that helps!

  3. Two big votes for Michigan, I like it! Thank you both for the great thoughts. I'll have to see what the family thinks.

  4. I vote Michigan. Brian's family is from there and we visit often. In fact we spent most of this past weekend there.

    Kalamazoo is also home to an air zoo. Aka an airplane museum, it has an area for kids to enjoy with small rides.

    On the way into Michigan are the lovely Bass Pro Shops and then Cabela's in Dundee. Don't have a reason to stop at a hunting/fishing store? The fish tanks and taxidermy displays are well worth the stop!!

    Michigan is also home to many smaller lakes which can provide fishing/boating/swimming fun!

    Might I also suggest Frankenmuth...little Bavaria. Home to Bronner's the largest Christmas store:) and some small town shopping for the ladies. Frankenmuth has a resaurant with a microbrewery with good food and beer choices. Plus for a small fee the family can experience a paddle wheel boat ride :)

  5. Kendra, you may have pushed this thing over the top. I can't understand why we haven't headed north to Michigan yet. Sounds like that may change in another month or so. Thanks for the great suggestions!