As I said on Twitter recently, with 5 kids you can’t do spontaneous. You can make things appear to be spontaneous but there’s a lot of planning involved.
Out recent holiday involved staying with friends and relatives in 4 different places across the country and at the Davy Crockett Ranch near Disneyland Paris. I’ll say it again, 5 kids. That’s 7 people dropping in to visit, and if you’re spending the night that’s a lot of spare beds. Sometimes I envy those of you with only 1 or 2 kids, you can almost drop in unannounced. Right up until the morning before we were due to head to one of our overnight stops we had a backup plan in place!
Involve the Kids
Where possible. Obviously don’t try and get a 2 year old involved in planning the route you’re going to drive, but my older kids found it great fun to get the map out and see where we were going to be and have some say into what we were doing. Get t’internet out and have a look around the area you’re going to be in, see what sort of things there are to do that will entertain all ages. If one of yours has a particular interest or preference, try and work it into the plan. Not only will involving the kids make them feel better about the holiday, it will ramp up their excitement!
Picture the scene. We’re in the kitchen, the younger kids are in bed, we unfold the map of Disneyland Paris. We’ve the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland Paris (a worthwhile investment if you’re going that way) open and the computer ready to look stuff up. We spent a very happy couple of hours with our eldest planning which rides to do and when, checking out the reviews in the book, watching the videos on YouTube. Of course, we re-wrote the plan several times…
Indoors if wet.
Helmuth von Moltke the Elder once said “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” This can be revised to “No holiday plan survives first contact with the weather.” Always have a backup plan for that sinking moment when you open the curtains and see wall-to-wall rain. No child enjoys being dragged around Roman ruins, no matter how impressive, if it’s raining. For every day that involved activities outside, we had a backup day that was almost entirely indoors.
F’rexample. Vikings. We do a lot of stuff with Vikings on Shetland, not all of it particularly historically accurate, but a lot of it nonetheless. So this holiday we resolved to do no Viking stuff at all. I know Jorvik has been upgraded since my last visit and I’m dying to see what they’ve done now, but this holiday started off with Romans. Corbridge, where we started our trip, is near Hadrian’s Wall, and within a half-hour drive are two of the most amazing Roman sites – Vindolanda (Yes, the one from Gladiator – “I fought with you at Vindolanda”) and it’s sister exhibit, the Roman Army Museum. Vindolanda alone is worth the entry fee – it’s where the wooden tablets were discovered giving us the most detailed insight into Roman life in Britain – and you can get entry to the Roman Army Museum for a few pennies more. Throw in some Gift Aid and you’re virtuous and golden.
Point is, Vindolanda is mostly outdoors and the Roman Army Museum is indoors. So when we woke up to rain, we headed for the museum and did Vindolanda the next day when it was dry. If it hadn’t been dry the next day, there was a massive swimming pool complex in Newcastle that was #1 on the agenda. Further south in Ripon, the outdoors plan was the Forbidden Corner, indoors the Royal Armouries in Leeds. It was raining, we hit the Armouries.
With Disneyland Paris it was a little trickier. Our plan for there if wet was to have coats and brollies within reach. Much of the queuing is under cover but getting from one ride to the next could’ve been very wet indeed. We were lucky given the rain we’d had in England and the rain Paris had been having!
If you’ve got your attraction right, the kids won’t want to leave. You need an exit strategy to make sure they’re not wailing and howling all the way back to the car. I find the promise of ice cream is a good one. Or the Next Big Thing. “Oh, you think this place was great, just wait until you see…” Failing that, there’s always the playparks. Hexham has a particularly good one my kids know and love.
If your family has a routine when it comes to mealtimes, it’s not a good idea to try and break this one on holiday. The kids feel happy to have the comfort of the routine even if they’re in a strange place. It helps to settle them. If you’re going to be somewhere around lunchtime, check out the lunch opportunities. Cafes, pubs, etc. And if you think “Oh, that looks like a good pub” but it’s got 3 coaches in the car park, move on. Pushing things past established mealtimes leads to fractious kids, stressed parents and bad decisions.
It’s been a tradition of our family, since my wife and I first got together and went to Zimbabwe back in the 1990s, to keep a holiday diary. We record everything – what we did, saw, ate, drank, how we felt. Every now and then we go to the bookshelves and pick up one of these volumes, dive back into our time in Zim, or Canada, Estonia or Egypt. Even if the holiday takes us only as far as England, if we’re going away we keep a diary. We’re encouraging our kids to do this too – if nothing else it keeps them practicing their handwriting during the school holidays!
For the kids, there’s the added bonus of already having a pre-written answer to the inevitable “What did you do in your holidays?” question they’ll get asked when they return to school. If they’ve added in photographs, entry tickets and brochures to the places they’ve visited so much the better.
One thing I find particularly hard on holidays is knowing what day of the week it is. Having this writ large across the top of each entry helps immeasurably!
I find this one tricky. I know what I want the kids to take home from the gift shops, it’s just that what they want is something completely different. Set a budget, offer advice and guidance, and be prepared to walk away with nothing. I have my Holiday Hat – a floppy green fishing hat I picked up in Lanzarote that the kids find embarrassing – and whenever I visit somewhere I get a pin badge for my hat. Disneyland was a revelation with the sheer range of pins available! I could’ve spent a large fortune collecting them all.
Chances are that whatever the kids choose will be lost or broken before the holiday’s done. Don’t sweat it. They’ll have plenty of chances to go back in later life, hopefully with their own kids, and realise that you were right about what they should have bought.
Looking back on this last holiday, I was surprised at how few photos I took. I was too busy having fun and spending time away from work with my kids.
Fail to plan = Plan to fail. Trite, I know, but true. In the Internet Age it’s inexcusable to turn up at a theme park and not know where the good rides are, what your strategy for getting to them quickly is, where the nearest toilets are and so on. An hour spent working stuff out before you go can turn a day from disastrous, aimless wandering to triumphant success.
Next week… Disneyland Paris & Walt Disney Studios reviewed.