Family Vacation: How We Made it Work for Us


These matching shirts were how we surprised the kids at Christmas with the upcoming trip!

As I was preparing to write a post about our vacation to Disney World, I came across this article Benefits of Family Vacations that extols the virtues of family vacations.  It essentially says that taking a vacation is good for child development related to exploring new places and the resulting growth in frontal lobes (I’m really paraphrasing here). It also says that happy childhood memories related to family vacations can serve as ‘happiness anchors’ in future times of distress.  Additionally, taking photos (except when it interferes with your activities) helps foster feelings of engagement and enjoyment of whatever you are doing.  The obvious need to de-stress for all family members, is also mentioned.  All this to say that I guess the kids will grow up to be happy and issue-free, all because we went on a family holiday! 😉  Such an oversimplification, however, I cannot argue with the notion that family time is valuable, whether you’re on vacation or not.


This guy was pretty happy to watch a little Batman vs. Superman on WestJet Connect.

The point of this post was to talk about our big family trip to Disney World, and how we made it work with a kid on a pretty strict diet and also in a time of major economic slow down in Alberta, made more impactful in my family due to my leave from work.


Travelling with teens. Enough said.


  1. We rented a condo through with a kitchen.  This was critical on so many levels I don’t even know where to start.  When you have a family member with some significant dietary restrictions, a kitchen and ability to buy and cook your own food makes life considerably easier.  It also allowed all 7 of us (my parents joined us on this trip) to have less insane mornings.  We were up early to get to the Disney Parks most days, so it was nice to be able to make breakfast and eat at the condo rather than finding a restaurant to sit down in.  Way more cost effective also.  And when someone needs more time for hair and makeup (not mentioning any names, but suffice it to say it was a teenager), or someone else is done eating and wants to play rather than sit at a table waiting for everyone else to finish, no problem.  After a long day at the park we were all hot and tired.  The kids wanted to hit the pool and the adults wanted to have a cold one and relax.

    One of the 7 pools at the resort.  It was a mini paradise and the perfect location for a family vacation at Disney World.

    By heading back to our condo, grabbing some beverages and heading down to the pool, everyone was satisfied.  We cooked dinner in our condo each night (except for one) as well.  Kids kept swimming.  Dad and Kevin barbequed on the resort BBQs, and Mom and I put together the rest of the meal.  No worrying about Berrik’s food.  No trying to

    Grandma and Avi #selfie

    round up everyone from the pool, getting everyone dressed up and ready for dinner and then sitting in a restaurant waiting for food with tired kids, tired parents, and tired grandparents.  Our meals were simple, so it wasn’t a ton of work.  Then everything into the dishwasher, youngest kids to bed and everyone else head to the couch to relax on the couch with a movie.  (My parents were brilliant in bringing their Apple TV with them!). From a cost perspective for the accommodations, it was a very good deal.  All 7 of us stayed together (we would have required 2 hotel rooms which would have been similar in cost to what we paid for the condo) and we had the added bonus of having space for all of us to be together in the evenings.  Hotels make that nearly impossible, and certainly not comfortable.


    These two are almost 6 years apart and don’t get a lot of time together at home so it was nice for them to reconnect.

  2. We packed lunches for the parks every day.  Not only was this necessary for Berrik, it had many benefits for the rest of us.  It was a huge time saver.  No waiting in lines for food.  In fact, at Magic Kingdom (the only park where we actually had to wait more than 10 minutes in line) we ate in the lineups.  As a mom, I was most happy that the packed lunches meant everyone was getting healthy food.  My oldest gets sick with too much sugar.  My middle one gets grouchy with crappy food.  And Berrik just can’t have it.  I think avoiding the deep fried, highly processed food at the parks helped us all have enough energy to get through the long days!  The cost savings is another obvious perk.  A hot dog at Magic Kingdom was about $7 US.  Extra for any sides.  There were options like fruit cups and veggies etc., which was nice to see, but they were also super expensive.   With 7 people travelling, those savings add up significantly.
  3. We used FastPass and timing to our advantage.  STUDIO_JTA2_20170214_398201608439You can pre-book three FastPasses per person at each park.  We got to each park at opening and went to a popular ride that lines up later in the day, first thing.  Then depending on the timing of the FastPasses, we went on rides or attractions that fit in between.  By using the FastPasses for the most popular rides (except one…the trick is to get to one popular ride as soon as the park opens), it almost eliminated our ride wait times.

    Grandma and Grandpa are such good sports.  Especially Grandma who essentially tortured herself with ride after scary ride! #splashmountain

    I believe we waited about 30-40 minutes for Space Mountain and less than 30 minutes for Splash Mountain, but otherwise didn’t really wait for anything.  Very little lining up and standing around meant an overall happier group of people.  Apropos considering we were at the happiest place on earth!

  4. We rented a van.  Easier than airport transfers with all our luggage (although I must brag that our family of 5 were able to pack everything into 3 suitcases!).  There were shuttles from our resort to all the parks. The resort was not a Disney resort, but it was located within the park gates, so was very close to all parks.  With 7 people, the cost of the shuttle back and forth each day almost covered the cost of the van.  And the van eliminated the need to wait for shuttles and risk not all 7 of us fitting on the shuttle.  We could go to the park when we wanted, and leave when we wanted without worrying about timing.  It costs $20/day to park at the parks.  Additionally, we went  to Legoland which is a 45 minute drive away from Disney.  There were shuttles for that too, but more expensive, less times in each direction (so if you miss one, you could be stuck with an expensive cab ride!), and of course sitting in a bus for an hour both ways wasn’t that appealing either.

    #legoland plus #ninjago = #happyplaceforthisguy

    Grocery shopping was also simpler this way.  My parents arrived in Florida first so they did the first (and major) grocery shop.  Kevin and I went mid week to grab a few extra things.  And finally, on the weekend when the parks were slated to be the most busy, we took the van and drove a couple hours west to Clearwater Beach for the day.



    White sand, warm clear water, and a lot of lazing around in the sun.  It was perfect after 4 days of parks and busyness.  Without the van this would have not been an option.  So the van was well worth its cost.


Mickey on the beach

This family vacation was the best one we have had.  The kids are all old enough that they aren’t much work to travel with, especially compared to the days of car seats, strollers, diapers and all the other baby and toddler related items that one needs – not to mention the need for naps and inability or lack of desire to wait patiently in lines etc.  None of these were factors this time.  Having my parents there was a huge help as well.  With three kids it is incredibly helpful to have extra ‘adults’ to ensure all kids get lots of attention and get to check the ‘must dos’ off of each of their lists.  My kids are very close to my parents and we so appreciate and value the time spent with them. My parents have unending energy and a knack for making their grandkids feel extra special and loved.  I think I speak for all of us when I say we have created a whole pile of ‘happiness anchors’ to keep us grounded when more challenging times arise in the ups and downs of life.

Have a magical day!



Let go of my tail! I’m getting dizzy.

To fear is one thing.  To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.  ~Katherine Paterson, Jacob Have I Loved

This past week, Kevin and I went on a 5 day trip to NYC to celebrate our 15th anniversary. I love to travel.  L. O. V. E.  it. I like the experience of being out of the comfort zone of home – not that NYC is very extreme in that regard… but still.  I have been fortunate to travel quite a bit, and often without the kids.  This time, something felt VERY different.

Ever since the ‘flying’ incident way back in October 2004 – it is a long story, however, the short version is that for several long minutes, I was pretty sure the plane would crash, and by the looks of the hyperventilating flight attendant, he also thought we were going to crash – I have been a bit tense on planes.  My level of tension and anxiety has improved dramatically over the years (ask my cousins Kyle, Jennifer and Auntie Marylou about the return trip from Vegas, where I was a total disaster through a turbulent landing, made more humorous for cousin Jennifer as I was sitting in the emergency exit row and would clearly be of NO assistance in an emergency).  I can handle take offs, landings, and even minor turbulence without much notice now.  Major turbulence gets my attention, but I haven’t cried on a plane in years now…  🙂   But I digress.  Last Thursday, Kevin and I were on the plane taxiing down the runway.  I was quite suddenly and unexpectedly gripped by an overwhelming sense of fear and dread.  Nausea reminiscent of the unrelenting morning sickness of my early pregnancies caused me to break out in a cold sweat, and I felt like I may lose my breakfast.  But this time, it wasn’t flying that made feel this way.

My fear was about Berrik.  Well, it was about Berrik if something should happen to me.  It hit me like a sucker punch to the gut (not that I have ever been sucker punched in the gut…but I have a good imagination). Now, I have often had anxious thoughts about all three kids and how it would impact them if I was to die while off on a trip somewhere.  But it was more feelings of sadness for them that they would grow up without a mother, and for myself having to miss all those milestones that parents look forward to.  Some anxiety for the girls navigating puberty and those confusing teen years with only Dad to help them (not that Dad isn’t wonderful… but he’s just not Mom).  This time though, it was different.  It was this cold-sweat inducing fear for what would happen to Berrik if I was not there to advocate for him, to make sure he accesses all the resources he needs, to make sure he is learning in a way that works for him, to make sure no one writes him off as ‘not smart enough’.  We have been making great progress, but we have much more progress to make.  I felt completely selfish and guilty that I was on a plane flying away from my kids when Berrik (and the girls too) are at such critical points in their lives.  I know intellectually that driving my car on Deerfoot is more dangerous than flying to NYC for the weekend, but this was an emotional response, not an intellectual one.

Now that I am home and everyone is safe and sound, I wonder if all parents of kids with special needs feel this fear of leaving their kids more acutely than other parents? These past few months have been really telling for me in terms of how much a difference I can make for Berrik by spending this time with him. It’s this knowledge that I believe has instigated the fear I was feeling on the plane.  Based on past experience, it is scary for me to imagine what would happen to him if I was not here to advocate for him.  And it’s not just because I think I am SO good at teaching him or helping him.  It’s really not that at all.  It’s because at this moment in time, I am the one who has the time, and who has arguably the most vested interest in his success.  I know his learning needs best right now.  Could someone else figure this all out, just as I did? Quite probably.  But still.

I am comforted though, by how amazing my parents were this weekend with all three kids.  Berrik continued his studies and made excellent progress with Grandma’s tutoring and encouragement.  McKenna made it to all her dance classes, and got her homework done, Avi made it to choir rehearsal, sewing club, and practiced her piano AND the kids had a great time, AND they had homemade buns and homemade cookies (AND suckered Grandpa into 2 pizza nights!!).  I am fortunate that my parents are young, and also young for their age, with a ton of energy and so much love for my kids that they will do anything for them.  I know that if I was unable, for any reason, my parents would step in as much as they could to ensure all three kids got what they needed.

Would it be the same? Obviously not.  Would my kids be fine in the end.  Very likely.  Will I stop worrying about this?  Sigh.  Nope.  But I’m glad to be able to look at this from an intellectual perspective, now that the emotional response has diminished some.

As an aside, about 1/2 way through the flight we encountered some pretty intense turbulence for about 20 minutes.  I didn’t cry, but in light of the extra anxiety at the beginning of the flight, and my PTSD reactions to turbulence, I did bury my face in Kevin’s shoulder and squeeze the blood out of his hand until his fingers were numb, all the while making silent bargains with whomever could pick up on my brainwaves to please keep me safe and alive for a few more minutes, days, months,  years so I could make sure Berrik had everything he needed, McKenna continued to have her biggest cheerleader at her dance competitions, and so I could bask in the pride of watching Avi sing with such joy as part of her outstanding choir.  So far so good. Let’s hope my luck holds.