Family Travel and Reunions

Secrets to Overcoming Challenges of Family Travel

Anyone who has known me for very long, knows that my best memories come from traveling with my family. It’s the reason I became a travel advisor and travel blogger. Whether it is just my hubby and me or a group of 27 extended family members, the joy that comes from being with my family is pretty awesome.

Sand shovel poking out of the sand.  Creating happy family memories during a beach vacation.
Photo Credit: Pexels

But let me take a moment to tell you that I have suffered in the past (and still occasionally do) from anxiety. And the idea of traveling with family can sometimes bring on a panic attack or bout of fear that things won’t be perfect. But I have learned a few secrets over the years to removing the anxiety mindset and replacing that with a happy anticipation mindset when it comes to traveling with family.

Does the idea of traveling with kids feel like getting a root canal without getting numb? It feels like it’s way too complicated to even consider planning? While I can’t promise you things will go perfectly and stress-free, I can say that traveling with your family can bring huge benefits. It is knowing and recognizing these benefits that make it all worthwhile.

Here are some of the secrets that I’ve learned to keep in mind over the years that have helped me during both the planning and travel:

Recognize That Travel Enriches Kids…and Adults

Travel has many benefits for family…especially children. It can broaden the minds of everyone. As you travel to new places and learn the unfamiliar customs and ways of life, your kids (and even you) can learn to experience a new empathy and understanding for people of other cultures.

Kids learn new social skills. They learn how to say please and thank you in another language. Learning about and experiencing new cultures helps kids have a more global mindset and think about life outside their tiny bubble at home.

As an added bonus, travel is good for the development of the brain of a child. In an article for The Telegraph, Dr. Margot Sunderland said:

Think: family together in the pool, walking together through forest, touching long tall grasses waving in the wind, toasting marshmallows on campfire, hanging out together under warm sun, feeling sand between the toes…The brain fertilizers triggered in enriched environments are also associated with higher IQ in children. So spend some time exploring together in a new space, and you’re making your child smarter.

– Dr. Margot Sunderland

Traveling With Kids Can Be A Lot of Fun

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it a million more times in my lifetime. Traveling with kids can be fun!

Gray whale breaching.  Vacation and whale watching can enrich a child's experience.
Photo Credit: Pexels

The opportunity to see the world together can be amazing. Maybe you take your kids for a day trip to go whale watching. The look on their face when they see the actual size of a gray whale up close and personal is priceless. Your child has probably never seen something living that is so large and their view of the world changes ever so slightly.

Or maybe it’s a day at the beach and your hubby puts together an impromptu “beach Olympics.” Using items he finds at the beach, he creates small competitions. Thirty years later, the “kids” still talk about this. I know. Because our nieces and nephews still talk about this and digging hot tubs in the sand. They would dig a hole in the sand and as the tide slowly came in, it filled with water and created a hot tub to sit in for a few minutes.

As families remember all these shared experiences…good and bad…it creates a bond and memories that stay with them for a lifetime.

Appreciate the Fact That Traveling with Kids Slows You Down

There is no way around it. Traveling with kids will slow you down. That is NOT a bad thing. Kids have a way of asking questions you’ve never thought about…but maybe you should. Having kids around means you’re making a lot more pit stops. The more kids, the more pit stops are needed. But sometimes looking for that next pit stop takes you someplace you never would have stopped at, and you find a hidden gem.

Kids have a way of making friends wherever they go. Sometimes, they may not even notice that their new friend doesn’t even speak their own language. This particular lesson is one my hubby and I have learned and tried to emulate when we try to make new friends wherever we travel. We have met so many amazing people on our travels and enjoy staying in touch with them.

We can learn a lot from watching our kids and applying their way of thinking.

Anticipate the Challenges of Traveling with YOUR Family

You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.

Michelle Obama

Let me be honest here. Traveling with kids or a large family group is not always easy. There will be challenges in both planning and execution. But by understanding the possible challenges and preparing for them, you can turn those challenges around and make them an advantage.

Every time you travel with family, the challenges will change. I remember the first time I flew on an airplane with my then 1-year-old. He did not have a seat of his own because of his age. He had a blowout in his diaper. It was pretty nasty and the woman in the seat next to us was not appreciative of the situation. But you know what? These things happen. We had plenty of diapers, wipes, and change of clothes…and if you have ever had to change a diaper in an airplane bathroom, you can imagine out fun this was. We’ve learned not to judge other parents on an airplane.

Then there was that time we took a road trip from Seattle to Salt Lake City. We had our nephew with us. Our family has a nice rhythm when on a long road trip. We try to stop every two to three hours. Our stops are usually a 5-minute opportunity to stretch the legs and hit the bathroom. Everyone uses the bathroom whether they think they need it or not.

When we would stop for a bathroom break on this particular trip, our family would use the bathroom and get back to the car only to find my nephew still sitting in the car playing a video game. He needed to get to a “stopping point” in the game before he could use the bathroom. We made the mistake of allowing him to take his video game with him into the bathroom…approximately 25 minutes later he emerged. But because we had to wait for him, I discovered I had dropped my sunglasses car when I got out. If we had taken the quick stop, I would have lost my sunglasses.

Each trip has its own unique set of challenges. The fact is, each family members has different needs, personalities and wants. As children get older, their needs, personalities and wants will change and evolve. Believe it or not, when you can recognize this and keep in mind where everyone is at when you are planning your trip, you might just have an incredible time.

That’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it? To have an fun time together and create happy travel memories.

At the end of your trip, everything may not have gone as planned. In fact, I’ve never had a trip where everything went as planned. But if everyone is feeling good about the trip and full of new stories to tell…and best of all asking when you’re going to do it again, consider it a success.

There are lots of reasons people travel. Some of us travel because of the nostalgia we feel from experiences of past trips. Some of us travel because we excited about the idea of exploring new places. The idea of sharing with these adventures with our kids can get us pretty pumped up.

There is No One “Right” Way to Plan a Family Vacation

Planning a vacation using a map.  Proper planning helps to have a happy family vacation.
Photo Credit: Pexels

No two kids are alike. As a parent, we often see their personality traits come to life even before they can walk and talk. Their personalities to continue to evolve over time.

The same can be said for planning a family vacation. No two vacations will be exactly the same, so don’t fall into the trap of believing there is a “right” way to plan a family vacation. Each vacation should be planned in a way that is best both for their family and for the intended destination. A trip to the beach with toddlers should be planned in a very different manner than a trip to Disney World with tweens.

If you are like me and like routine and lists, recognizing this may cause a little personal internal discomfort. Your packing lists will be different. Your activities will be different. You may mistakes in your planning along the way. It’s okay. Learn from the experience and keep on planning for that next vacation.

The “travel fails” that we experience are what family legends are made of. We have a Disney timeshare in Orlando. It seems that one of us almost always ends up at the walk-in clinic right outside of Disney property on every single trip. We have a running joke that our medical files there are larger than the ones at our doctor’s office back home. It’s okay. We don’t stress about a trip to the clinic any more. Whenever our friends see us at Disney on our Facebook posts, they now ask “whose turn is it to go to the hospital?”

Pick and Choose What You Learn From Other People’s Travel

When you tell your friends and family you are going someplace like Sea World, every friend and family member who has been there will come out of the woodwork to give you advice.

You can learn a lot of good things from other people’s experiences. But I add a word of caution. It goes back to what I said about no two vacations being alike. When you take in the advice people give you, decide for yourself if their advice makes sense for what you are planning. If they traveled five years ago…or maybe even one year ago…things may have changed. A hotel that may is recommended may have changed management and now may be run down. Always check online reviews and do some homework for yourself…keeping in mind that they very well may have some great suggestions.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Family Travel

The truth is, family travel can feel agonizing at times. But changing how you think about the challenges you will experience can help you prepare to create some pretty fantastic memories for your family and loved ones.

Never put off spending time with your kids…whether it’s a day trip to to the beach or two weeks in Italy. You’ll never get that time and opportunity back. Just be sure to keep your individual situation in mind when planning so that your family remembers all the awesome times you had and laughs at those not-so-awesome times.

I sincerely hope this site provides you with tips and insight to planning many happy family vacations and memories that will last for generations.

Additional Article(s) You May Find Helpful

Disney Destinations, Walt Disney World

For Travel to Walt Disney World Resort Be Sure to Update “My Disney Experience” App Before You Arrive

The Walt Disney World Resort Hotels and Theme Parks will be reopening soon. If you have a trip planned in the near future, note that new policies and procedures are in place due to COVID-19. It is important that you link upcoming hotel reservation and ticket information to My Disney Experience as soon as possible.

Photo Credit: Disney Destinations

Once these items have been linked to your account, you will be able to receive important information and communication from Walt Disney World resort which will help you in the next steps and important dates for planning, including the Theme Park reservation system that was announced recently.

If you live in the United States or Canada (excluding Quebec), you can find more information here. Due to COVID-19, information changes frequently, so it is best to visit the Walt Disney World “Know Before You Go” website for the most current information.

We hope you enjoy your upcoming visit to the Walt Disney World resort!

Vacation Planning

Tips to Enjoying (Not Just Surviving) a Group Family Vacation

I have been pretty lucky to get to do so many group family vacations over the years with both my family and my husband’s family. We share so many fun memories…and a few that maybe weren’t so fun at the time but we can laugh about now.

Photo Credit: Disney Destinations

Tip 1: Be Willing to Break Rank Sometimes

There is no hard and fast rule that says when you’re traveling as a group that says you must start and finish your day together. You do not have to be together all of the time.

We’ve traveled to Disneyland several times with my grown nephews. We have always have a blast together. But we rarely start the day at the park together. My hubby and I are early risers and like to be there when the parks open. The nephews are just the opposite. They text us when they get in the parks, and we get together then. It’s no big deal. Everyone is enjoying the trip the way they that makes them happy.

I had a client who recently returned from Walt Disney World. It was a couple with their two elementary-aged children. They had gotten up early one morning try to get on the new Rise of the Resistance ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The system for getting on the ride was crazy when it first opened. Despite their much too early morning, they were unable to obtain the elusive “Boarding Group” that would allow them to get on the ride.

The dad really, really, really wanted to ride Rise of the Resistance (and who could blame him). The rest of the family wanted to sleep in (and who could blame them). This could have been a huge battle or a situation that required some personal sacrifice. Instead they chose to let Dad get up early one morning while the rest of the family chose to sleep in and explore their resort. Everyone was happy and Dad got to share how awesome the new ride was…and I enjoyed reading about it.

Tip 2: Don’t Try to Do Too Much

One lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way over and over through the years is that the larger group, the slower it moves. So don’t try to schedule too much into your days.

Even in small groups, you’re always moving at the pace of the slowest traveler. It might not be you on Monday, but it might be you on Thursday when your feet are knee is acting up and slowing you down. Don’t let people get frustrated when someone seems to be slowing the group down.

Allowing your group to set up a schedule that is too rigorous will make you look like a group of military recruits out on a long march. The looks on your group’s faces will say it all. Take the time to look at people’s faces and see if it’s time to take a break and sit for a moment…or maybe reassess your schedule for the day…or maybe even split up for a little while (see Tip 1).

Tip 3: Have a Back-Up Plan Ready

There are a number of reasons you may want to have a back-up plan ready to go. Sometimes you realize that you have too many things to do in too short a time. If this is the case, knowing ahead of time which activities are easiest to drop is a life saver. There is no need to sit and waste valuable time trying to decide what to drop in the heat of the moment.

Other times, you can look around at your group and know that no one’s enjoying whatever the group is doing. Maybe it sounded fun during the planning, but the reality is that no one is enjoying it. Cut your losses and move on to the next activity…or stop for an ice cream to get the group back in a happy frame of mind before moving on. Yes, we do use ice cream to readjust moods in our family.

Maybe you’ve planned an outdoor activity, but it begins pouring down rain. It’s okay to have a back-up plan in place to make sure everyone stays safe and dry…and most likely happier…when the weather doesn’t cooperate with your plans.

In the end, you have the ability to change things up to make sure everyone is enjoying their time together. If needed, it’s okay to split up into smaller groups (see Tip 1).

Tip 4: Know What People’s Must-Do or Want-to-See Lists Are

For most group family vacations, people are putting out a lot of money on accommodations, activities and hotels. While it is nearly impossible to do everything everyone wants to do, trying to work in at least one thing that each person wants to do can go a long ways in having a happy group. Ask everyone ahead of time what things they want to do on the trip and use that information to create an itinerary.

When planning a family vacation, that is one of the first questions I ask each individual. I work hard to try to fit in something for everyone.

Tip 5: Assign Everyone a Task That They Do Well

Do you have someone in the group that enjoys taking photos, go ahead and ask them to be in charge of taking photos on the trip. Are you headed to Mexico and someone likes to show off their Spanish-speaking skills, let them be the interpreter when needed. Do you notice Cousin Freddie fancies himself a foodie…he posts dozens of pictures daily on his social media from the restaurants he goes to. Let him pick out some places to eat during the trip.

When someone agrees take on a role for the group, they begin to feel like they have a stake in making sure this trip goes well. Thank them profusely and give them encouragement. It can be hard work trying to figure out a place eat that will appeal to almost everyone. Gratitude goes a long way in getting people to offer their services in the future.

Caution: Occasionally when I’m planning a trip for a larger family group I come across someone who is a “control freak.” They want to make all the decisions for everyone. Listen to what they say to express their opinions and implement one or two of the suggestions where appropriate…but don’t let them take control over the entire trip. Believe me, everyone will be happier that way.

Tip 6: Shop Around for Group Discounts

Group discounts can be found many places. The thing to remember is some places offer group discounts for groups of eight or more, and other discounts require you to have a significantly larger group. When checking out the prices of where you want to go, there is usually a link and/or phone number to call to discuss group discounts. And who doesn’t like to save a few dollars?

Some discounts require you to purchase them in advance. Still other discounts may require you to visit on certain days of the week or during certain times of the day. This is all important information to know when planning your family’s itinerary. It never hurts to ask if your group can get an exception if the restrictions don’t work…but don’t count on an exception.

Tip 7: Share the Knowledge

When I have taken the time to plan a trip for a larger group, I like to have an initial conversations with the group. If a destination has been decided on, there is a good chance that many in the group have already done some research on their own which is a good representation of their own interests and motivators.

You can gather everyone’s ideas together and assemble them and send the ideas out to the group. I find that in some ways this can become almost like a personalized guidebook for the group. Like in Tip 5, it allows everyone to share their strengths to come out with an itinerary that’s works for just about everyone.

Tip 8: Know When to Speak and When to Listen

It is important that everyone feels like they have had some say in the planning. Once you get deeper into the planning stages, it’s important that people continue to feel heard. You need to be sure you understand any special needs that people have.

It is perfectly okay to have a pre-published agenda and stick to it when having a planning meeting with the family. It is essential to share any information people may need to be aware of such as deposit or final due dates of payments.

It is also a good idea to share your initial itinerary with the group. Give them a few days to look it over and make suggestions for adjustments. It is also important to make sure people are aware of any special medical needs such as food allergies or mobility issues family members may have.

For example, maybe Aunt Susan expresses her concern that she can’t hike the required five miles to ride every ride at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. It’s a great opportunity to see if she would prefer you locate areas where she can rest within the park or prefer to rent a wheelchair or mobility scooter. If she wants a wheelchair, who will be pushing her around? Are there volunteers? It is much better to have solutions in place before you leave than to deal with these issues once you get there.

Tip 9: Talk Things Out

This is one of the most important tips I can give. It is so important to have open conversations when planning a trip. To resolve most of the issues ahead of time by talking through them allows for a much more amicable trip. I encourage you to keep planning meetings to 45 minutes and stick to an agenda. This ensures that conversation doesn’t go too far off the rails. You can always follow up where needed when you’ve been able to step away from the problem and look at it from fresh eyes and do some research.

It is crucial that everyone feels like they’ve had the opportunity to have their say – or at least a few minutes to express themselves. Despite the fact people may not agree, they all can feel like they have been able to contribute to the conversation. Even quiet Cousin Callie might have a hidden obsession with Disney trivia and might be able to come up with a game the kids can play when they are getting restless during an hour-long wait for Space Mountain.

Tip 10: Try Using a Trip Planning Service

For larger groups, I recommend using a trip planning service. There are some great online tools and resources as well as travel advisors that specialize in group travel. If you decide to use a specialty travel advisor, I recommend you interview them to before signing any documents. It is important to understand what, if any, documentation you will need to sign or fees that will need to be paid. These fees can be worth their weight in gold.

If you don’t want to use a travel advisor, check around to see what online tools you can find to help you in your planning and booking. I continue to add resources to my website on a continuous basis to help people plan for their family vacations. I encourage you to do a search or contact me using the “Contact” page if you have any specific questions. I really enjoy helping families put together trips that will create memories that last a lifetime.

And remember: The family that plays together, stays together.

Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

Quick Introduction to Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

Let’s face it, 1969 was a pretty awesome year. It was a year of a lot of milestones for the United States and the world as a whole. It was the year that is most famously remembered for man’s first step on the moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. It was the year that The Beatles made their last public performance. It was the year that PBS was established and the first episode of Sesame Street aired.

In the travel industry, 1969 was the year that the first Boeing 747 jumbo jet took its first flight. It was also the year that the Concorde jet took its first flight. And who can forget that large gathering of over 350,000 rock-n-roll fans held on a dairy farm…a little something called Woodstock.

For Royal Caribbean Cruise International, it was the year that they were formally organized. Royal Caribbean was the product of combining three separate Norwegian shipping companies. It’s first ship was named Song of Norway. Through the past 50+ years, Royal Caribbean has grown and blossomed into the largest cruise line in the world.

Fun Facts About Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

  • Founded in 1969
  • Biggest cruise brand throughout the world
  • Employs more than 40,000 people from over 60 different countries
  • Headquartered in Miami, Florida
  • Nine offices around the world
  • In 2019 Royal Caribbean Cruise Line hosted more than 5.4 million guests
  • Currently, Royal Caribbean has 27 ships that visit over 250 destinations worldwide
  • Four more cruise ships are on order and scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2024

How Does Royal Caribbean Cruise Line Distinguish Themselves?

Let’s face it, there are a lot of cruise lines of all sizes to choose from. Some people look for a cruise low-budget cruise, while other people are shopping for a luxury experience. So how does Royal Caribbean distinguish themselves among all of these cruise lines?

The video below courtesy of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line shows some of the offerings that distinguishes them from other cruise lines.

Creating a brand different than any other cruise line

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line is proud of all the experiences that make them different than other cruise lines. They pride themselves on offering unique experiences that no other cruise lines offer. They continuously innovate and are not satisfied with the status quo of their offerings.

While other cruise lines offer some unique experiences, too, they often cost extra for the passenger to enjoy. On Royal Caribbean, these experiences are covered in your cruise fare. You can participate as much as you like.

My family’s top three unique activities aboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ships are:

  • Flow Rider: On a Flow Rider, water is pumped at a speed that simulates rushing water in waves. It is meant to mimic the action of a wave. The depth of the water is only about 3 inches. On the Flow Rider you can try your hand at surfing or body boarding. There are crew members nearby to help you with tips. If you want to get really good and impress your family, private lessons are available for an additional fee.
  • Zipline: While many cruise lines offer the opportunity to zipline while in port, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line offers the you the opportunity to zipline across the top of their Oasis-class ships. It’s a great way to try ziplining to see if it’s something you’re interested in. The zipline itself is short and a great way to sample the experience. You are safely harnessed in and crew members walk you through the process.
  • iFly Experience: The iFly experience is a skydiving simulation experience. You go through a safety training and learning the basics in a small group. You put on flight suits and goggles and head up to “fly” in a wind machine. An experienced instructor and crew member is in the wind tunnel with you at all times. Each person gets at least 60 seconds in the wind tunnel…although my hubby tells me it feels significantly longer than that.

Sparking the inspiration to adventure

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines offers a wide variety adventures for everyone. Whether it’s a relaxing weekend visiting beaches in the Bahamas or Caribbean or taking a gondola ride in the canals of Venice, they’ve got you covered. They strive to offer a variety of excursions. Excursions may be geared towards the high-adventure hiker, those who have limited physical abilities, or families with young kids.

Creating their own brand of cruising

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line is trying to introduce cruising to a whole new generation of travelers. They are trying to distance themselves from some of the old cliches about cruising. Instead of an aging population on their ships, you often find multi-generational families and cruisers irregardless of age…Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, Millennials, and Gen Z’ers. There is something offered aboard that will appeal to everyone.

Amazing destinations offered just about everywhere in the world

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines sails all over the globe. They visit a wide variety destinations in over 250 ports. There is adventure, beaches, cities, culture, snow or sunshine…wherever you dream about going, they probably cruise there.

Royal Caribbean is my family’s favorite cruise line. We’ve cruised over half a dozen cruise lines to date and never had a bad cruise. But Royal fits the bill for our multi-generational family. The activities, ports, dining options, and entertainment offer something for everyone, which is why we keep going back to Royal whenever we can.

If you want more information on how you can book a Royal Caribbean Cruise, please feel free to fill out the “Contact” form at the top of the page.


A Phased Reopening of Disney Springs is Scheduled for May 20

I am cautiously optimistic and excited to hear this news coming from out from Disney. Our family enjoys exploring all the dining and entertainment that can be found at Disney Springs. Whenever we can, we try to stay in a resort that is within walking distance or a short boat ride to it. We are scheduled to visit in October and have our fingers crossed that things will be open…even if it means with restrictions in place for the safety of cast members and guests.

Photo Credit: Disney Destinations

Disney has announced that they will begin reopening Disney Springs in phases beginning May 20, 2020. They are looking to health and government officials for guidance on the best way to reopen. There will be a limited volume of dining and shopping businesses operated by third-party operators allowed to open during this first phase. The remainder of Walt Disney World (including hotels and theme parks) will continue to be shut down.

Disney announced:

As we continue to monitor conditions, and with the health of Guests and Disney Cast Members at the forefront of our planning, we are making several operational changes. Disney Springs will begin to reopen in a way that incorporates enhanced safety measures, including increased cleaning procedures, the use of appropriate face coverings by both Cast Members and Guests, limited-contact Guest services and additional safety training for cast members.

Disney Parks Blog

Disney says they will continue to listen to and apply what they learn from the leaders in both the travel and health industries. They are also working with the unions to prepare some Cast Members to return to work at Walt Disney World.

For the time being, there will be limited capacity, hours of operation, and parking at Disney Springs. Disney gave their thanks and appreciation during this time as they try to open in a responsible manner. They also noted that there may be further protocols and procedures announced once we get closer to the opening date. I look forward to hearing what they may be as they may be seen as a standard for travel throughout the theme park industry.