What is the most relaxing kind of vacation you can have with a toddler?
September 5, 2016 10:59 AM   Subscribe

We'd like a relaxing vacation, but no vacation we've taken as a family has ever been relaxing. They've been fun, and they've gotten us out of our routines, but they're always intense, and we're always more tired than when we left. Is there a Somewhere Special we could go where that wouldn't be the case?

Background: We've recently had to cancel a trip to visit family in October, but we still have that time off booked at our workplaces, so I thought it might be nice to go somewhere else by ourselves.

There are three of us: My wife, my son – who just turned two – and myself. The kid is relatively mellow for a two-year-old, but still has tantrums, needs a lot of attention – all the regular stuff. He does like seeing new things, and has enjoyed walking by the local ponds and woods. Usually, the best way to conserve parental energy while making him happy is going to playgrounds. So, I guess we'd want to head somewhere with things intrinsically engaging to him that require us to be around, but not actively managing the experience. Any ideas? We're also considering a staycation.
posted by ignignokt to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Club Med Ixtapa. They have a kids club (included) so he can hang out with other kids, go wading in a little wading pool, you can enjoy the beach, go kayaking...the food is included and was really good, the drinks are included, so you just don't have to worry about anything.

Seriously. It's not running around exploring Mexico, but it would be an awesome relaxing vacation. I want to go back really bad.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:07 AM on September 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

My sympathies - we had two children close together and well remember the time of "we'd like a vacation but how?"

If you're in an area (or can get to an area) where the weather is good that time of year) - a state park with a full-service lodge (i.e. a motel/hotel like place to stay)?

Generally speaking the cost is moderate, food service is not too elaborate/not too much of an ordeal (and you can probably bring some stuff into your room for snacking, simple meals, etc.).

And there's a lot of simple things that aren't too frantic that you can do - or not do. Depending on moods and energy levels.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:11 AM on September 5, 2016

Well, you could rent a cabin or lake house or AirBnB if you want something like a staycation in a different setting. My husband and I rented a cabin in Northern MN this spring and basically we hung out and watched TV and cooked and had fires. The resort we stayed at has a playground on site, too. And you're not too far from the trappings of civilization if you need it. I see you're in MA so maybe someone will have a local suggestion. If you want the same feel plus beach, rent a condo in Hawaii somewhere. Resist the urge to do all the things...just live there.
posted by cabingirl at 11:15 AM on September 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

We travel a bunch with our kids.
1. Rent a vrbo or Airbnb with separate rooms and ideally a hot tub. Piling into a hotel room sucks.
2. Get simple food you can cook because restaurants are often very stressful. Cereal and milk, baby carrots, frozen chicken strips and fries, pb&j. Use paper plates - you're on vacation!
3. Beaches in October can be amazing and inexpensive. Kids love the sand and waves even if it's colder.

Is cape cod a possibility? Tons of vacation rentals, low season, possibly cranberry season, beautiful beaches, great ice cream! We took our one year old to Hyannis one year, stayed .25 miles from the beach and it was one of our favorite trips ever.
posted by rouftop at 11:32 AM on September 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

When I was young my parents would rent a cabin in northern Wisconsin for a week. It was usually along a lake with a playground on site, and we spent a lot of time splashing in the lake, walking in the woods, or just hanging out. It was very low-key.

We've taken our kids camping. I don't know where you live, but we found a state park with modern plumbing, trails, a playground, and a little town nearby to buy s'mores supplies. Our kids were 4 and 2 the last time we went, and it wasn't as stressful as I had anticipated. The kids just enjoyed being in the woods, and the tent was a real novelty.
posted by christinetheslp at 11:38 AM on September 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just stay home and spend that money getting a baby sitter a lot dude. Staycations with kids are THE BEST. Kids that little want routines, and you just want to relax and do fun stuff you don't have time for now. Renting a cabin somewhere gives nobody anything they want. Go to a movie! Eat dinner without asking for the check as soon as the food arrives! and so forth.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:39 AM on September 5, 2016 [34 favorites]

In Europe these kind of places have been great for us. Things you can do together with a child, including nature stuff like owls etc. It looks cheesy, and it's not Somewhere Special, but there are plenty of nice parents there doing the same thing too.
posted by Coda Tronca at 11:48 AM on September 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'd be tempted to just divide the days off you have from work by two and each one of you go off alone somewhere close-ish for that time.

We haven't bothered taking a vacation with our kid (he's a very exhausting and not-at-all-mellow 4) outside of visiting relatives because things that are fun for him are not fun for us and things that are fun for us are not fun for him. But a couple times a year me and my husband go off individually to do our own thing for a long weekend (I'm going to go sit on a beach in Florida for three days in October) because that's the only way to actually relax and recharge.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:04 PM on September 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

Tyler Family Place Resort in Vermont. I brought a toddler there (as well as an older child) and it was glorious. So much resting. Naps. Great food. Booze. BABYSITTERS. They TAKE YOUR CHILDREN AWAY and play with them and feed them and give them back all exhausted and happy. The catch: I don't think they're open in October, and you have to book far in advance (people return year after year, and you can reserve your spot for the next year when you're there).
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:19 PM on September 5, 2016 [11 favorites]

We also love Tyler Place and have gone for two years. It's not open in October, but if you're looking for something next summer, it's a wonderful, wonderful place.

In the meantime, I had friends who went to Sandals in the Bahamas (which had a kids program) and really enjoyed their time.
posted by statsgirl at 2:03 PM on September 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

A combo I like for that age: A room with fridge, on the beach with a zero entry pool, and a room that feels relaxing and awesome (so early bedtimes and nap times still feel great). A room with a nice little patio, etc seems nice.
Kids love sand and digging etc, and a pool that you don't have to always BE IN when the child wants to play with water. Just sitting next to them right on the side or in the water instead of actively carrying them around.

A Playa del Carmen all-inclusive (even though I am usually anti-all-inclusive) is probably a good fit. You can get a direct flight from Boston. It really is nice to just have to show up and eat, and make almost no decisions about where to eat, etc.
posted by ReluctantViking at 2:57 PM on September 5, 2016

Smuggler's Notch is a resort in Vermont that has daycare for kids. Vermont in October is beautiful! We went once when I was a kid and I loved it, but obviously can't speak from an adult or parent POV.
posted by lunasol at 3:01 PM on September 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Does kid go to daycare? If so, staycation but send kid to daycare as usual, then you two do whatever you want all day each day. Days like that are THE BEST. Maaaaybe keep him home from daycare one day in the middle of the week (not the end of the week! End of week just segues into being a long weekend with more toddler time to fill), and do something special that one day. The NH Children's Museum is really fun for that age, if you've done the Boston one a bunch of times. It's a super easy little day trip. Edaville is also great for that age, but the times they're open in October might be inconvenient. The only fun vacation we had with our kid when he was a toddler was a long weekend in NH at Storyland, but again, October hours make that tough, and leaf peepers may have booked up a lot of the hotels up that way already.

We recently spent a long weekend in a cabin in the woods in Maine with a six year old and his five year old best friend, and it was the longest long weekend that exhausted all the adults and made us wish for another weekend to recover from it. And we could trust them to run around on their own and not do too many dangerous/dumb things, and they're way more able to keep themselves busy than a toddler. A two year old in a cabin in the woods or at the beach, without a dedicated babysitter along to give you a break for pretty much the entire time, will just be exhausting. It pains me to think about it. If you can get a babysitter to go along, who won't let the kid run to you two all the time, it might be relaxing for you.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 4:13 PM on September 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

When my kids were toddlers the best vacations were the ones that started with dropping the kid off at Grandmas. Seriously, there is no relaxing with a 2-year old around and awake. There are less levels of stress, but even on a cruise or something with a kids club you will still worry.
posted by COD at 4:36 PM on September 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

I agree traveling and vacationing with a toddler is pretty exhausting. I have a 1 year old, and we are just now going out of town this month as a family.

So, the ideas of the staycation or all inclusive seem pretty legit. But fall beach vacations can be awesome, as someone mentioned. You can rent a house on the NC or SC coast (Charleston area beaches, Edisto, Pawley's Island, Outer Banks area to name a few) for pretty reasonable, and a big house, too (like 3-5bedrooms), with lots of biking, the beaches are warm but not too hot, and lots of things to explore.

Could someone come with you for a few days to help out (a relative? a nanny/friend?)
posted by Rocket26 at 5:09 PM on September 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

We spent a lot of money and had an all inclusive holiday in Fiji at a resort with a kids club and a nanny. It was glorious. We saw our kids as much or as little as we wanted, and the people looking after them were terrific. Not a cheap holiday, but we loved it so much we went back six months later! Best of luck,
posted by smoke at 5:19 PM on September 5, 2016

Re - the kids club suggestions, do your research: there might be a minimum age to fully participate. I looked into this once, and a surprising amount of them are really geared for school-aged kids and not for toddlers and preschoolers.
posted by handful of rain at 5:24 PM on September 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

A vacation with extended family. At that age, the higher adult to child ratio the better.
posted by RoadScholar at 5:38 PM on September 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

I just heard good things about this resort in Jamaica that comes with a nanny for every room - Franklyn D Resort. Their website sucks, so you have to call to get rates.
posted by valeries at 5:41 PM on September 5, 2016

Also re the kids' club option at resorts -- bear in mind that not all kids love this arrangement.
posted by merejane at 5:42 PM on September 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

My kids are soon turning 3 and 1; we haven't been on a real vacation together in 3 years. We've seperately done weekend trips, which was great but obviously not the same as a nice family trip. This year we are doing a month-long restaurant extravaganza where my mom babysits twice a week during September so that we can go out and try new restaurants, since we are woefully out of touch with the local scene these days. We are going to a few $$$ places, so we are dipping into our vacation fund if need be and not worrying about it. For a variation of a staycation it's pretty fun so far! And it's nice since there is lots to look forward to all month. I'm hoping to plan a real weekend trip for just my husband and I in a few months once the baby is a bit older, then do Disney (sigh) once they are 4 and 2.
posted by gatorae at 6:04 PM on September 5, 2016

My kids are slightly older, but by the time they were 4 they were largely self-entertaining at the beach while the wife and I sat under our umbrella. In the rental condo they were mesmerized by the cable television we don't have at home.

At 2 years old I'd consider doing a staycation.
posted by LoveHam at 6:55 PM on September 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

And PS - yes, do a staycation and spent money on a sitter in your own home. Will be much more relaxing.
posted by handful of rain at 7:11 PM on September 5, 2016

Watching the answers to this closely myself! I think holidays with another family with kid or kids the same age is great (glamping, maybe?) The problem we've had with vacationing with kids is that it can be just like home -- but more stressful and without childcare. I can eat dinner and watch Netflix with my husband at home (and am more likely to, given how traveling disrupts kids' sleep.) Having another couple there for company makes it feel much more like a vacation for me.
posted by EtTuHealy at 2:21 AM on September 6, 2016

I know a number of people from another forum that have gone to Franklyn D Resort and loved it. But I think it may be closed for the season right now.
posted by bluesapphires at 5:11 AM on September 6, 2016

I have a two-year-old, and a staycation where the kid spends half the time with a sitter sounds super amazing. I love my kiddo, but there's nothing more relaxing than letting somebody else be in charge of him for a few hours at a time.
posted by beandip at 7:27 AM on September 6, 2016

Best option is to go visit grandparents out of town and plan lazy, low key activities, like a picnic at the local park combined with an hour in the sandbox. This of course requires you to have loving and safe grandparents who want you to bring their grandkids to visit and have the space and budget and time to accommodate you.

With kids just getting them dressed and outside, and keeping their diapers freshly changed requires enough logistics that you want to avoid planning activities that require you to be anywhere on any kind of schedule or to do anything on any kind of schedule. So wandering around the museum might work, if the kidlet is willing to stay in the stroller, but lining up for kiddie rides at the amusement park is less likely to work as you have to stay in line and can't move on when smalls get impatient.

Keep your expectations low and allow the kids to lead. I remember once my parents took us to Upper Canada Village and wanted us to be interested in the handicrafts and technology and artifacts and such, but we were just interested in the pigs and chickens and goats (and the horehound stick candy) Allowing the kids to climb on the goat pen fence and pick daisies while the adults took it in turns to inspect the Tailors Shop and the Basket Weavers works out better than making the kids stare at someone demonstrating a herring bone basket weave. Trying to keep up with a tour would have been misery.

Classic family vacations generally involve going somewhere - like a beach and simply staying there and vegging, as opposed to attempting windsurfing and seado rides.

Consider outings that you would not normally do, that are a little bit further than the park but not much more strenuous, such as going apple picking.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:30 AM on September 6, 2016

Whatever you do, *DON'T* go on a cruise. Just. Don't.

We're in California so our best toddler vacations have involved hotels in either Las Vegas or Palm Springs that have lots of kid-friendly pools (so, don't go to Rehab) and/or a kids club. La Costa Resort in San Diego County gets high marks from a lot of our friends too.

If your kid generally likes water, he will probably like hanging in the pool all day. We traded off which parent had the kid in the water while the other read for an hour or so, and we did poolside lunch service so that was easy. Kiddo was exhausted by the end of the day and slept like a log.

Protip: Wherever you end up going, if you think you will want to make use of the Kids Club, call them and make sure they will take your kid at that age. Some kid clubs only take a certain age and above.
posted by vignettist at 9:21 AM on September 6, 2016

We have a two-year-old and just got back from a week at the Cape, staying at a house rented via VRBO. It was awesome! We did go with grandparents which definitely helped but it would have been nice without them too. But honestly we both work full time and don't get a ton of time with her so on our vacation we wanted to spend a lot of time hanging out with her. Going to the beach and digging in the sand together was awesome. Checking out some of the other kid friendly stuff was great, like taking nature walks, etc. We got a lot of take out and didn't bother trying restaurants. We didn't plan much, just got out of the house a couple times every day. My one tip would be making sure that the house you rent, if you go this route, is very toddler-friendly! While the place we were staying was kid-friendly, it was not toddler-proof and did have what we called the Toddler Death Trap Against Code Staircase of Doom, which was of course completely enticing! We did have to be more careful at the house than at home because as you know toddlers look for ways to hurt themselves. But all in all I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

We have such a long to-do list at home that for us, a staycation would turn into trying to Fix All The Things and failing and being even more stressed out, so getting away was awesome.
posted by john_snow at 10:54 AM on September 6, 2016

The best place to vacation with kids is a place where they will be made tired.

Our four kids span seven years, and vacations are always tricky. For us, the annual vacation is out to the Midwest to visit my family: plenty of other cousins, plus Grandpa & Grammie, and a dog, and the lake. Going to Disney -- or, even better, a local small town theme park knock-off like StoryLand -- was good because it stimulated them like crazy and eventually they tipped over, comatose. (The last hour or so can be ugly, but.)

A guy I work with has two younger kids (pre-teen?) and they go to Smuggler's Notch every July or a week, as lunasol mentioned -- and he has raved about it to me specifically because the kids re kept occupied and so he & his wife grab a drink by the pool al day. :7)

If you can get far-off family to be involved, then great! If you need resort staff to do it, then great! But you parents won't get rest or even much enjoyment until your kids are kept occupied.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:08 AM on September 6, 2016

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