Last week, I took my first “real” summer vacation in a couple of years. (I define a real vacation as lasting at least a week, going somewhere far from home and happening solely for the purpose of fun and relaxation.) The Hubs, the two kiddos and I drove down to Wilmington, NC, where one of my best friends in the world, Andrea, lives.
Anyone who’s traveled with small children knows a family vacation just isn’t quite the same as when you were childless. Jay and I learned that the hard way when we flew out to the Pacific Northwest with a 1 1/2-year-old (yikes!) for a vacation. Having fun was never so much WORK! But this summer we were motivated to get down to Wilmington, even if it meant hauling a 3-year-old and newborn baby with us. We definitely needed a vacation, no matter how much work it took. (Thanks to those of you who offered your travel tips in my recent little giveaway—they really helped!)
One thing that made the whole thing easier was having a beautiful, FREE place to stay. Andrea’s dad Jim has a spacious townhouse in Wilmington for when he visits her (he lives in Cincinnati). He was kind enough to let us park our crap there for the week and make it our temporary home. With a master bedroom for us and two bedrooms for the kids, we all enjoyed plenty of privacy and quiet space for naps and sleeping. The full kitchen made it possible for us to eat out less and save some dough. He even had an awesome HD TV with cable so Cassie could watch her shows and we could tune in while giving James his bottles. The whole place is surrounded by a lush, lovely golf course, so it felt like we were at a resort or something.
Andrea was the perfect hostess. Being the mom of an adorable(!) 1-year-old, she provided all the baby necessities we couldn’t fit in our car, like a Pack ‘n’ Play and baby bathtub. Those were a lifesaver. She also knew all the good places to visit in town, from the best beach spots to the most family-friendly restaurants. Because Andrea is one of my oldest friends, hanging with her every day was as effortless and fun as it gets. Whenever we get together, I remember how great it was when we lived in the same neighborhood (and even in the same house for a semester abroad in college). Good times.
In large part thanks to the gorgeous weather and plenty of beach time, I had a chance to clear my head a bit and figure some things out for myself. Even just being in a different environment seemed to give me a new perspective on life. Jay and I had a lot more time together, from the hours driving in the car to just hanging at the townhouse while the kids napped. We talked more and laughed more together than we have in a long time. I could enjoy Cassie’s squeals and giggles at the beach (MAN, did she LOVE the beach!) and just be with her — no rushing to school or trying to get housework done.
We really hated to leave Wilmington and Andrea and her fam, which is always a sign of a truly great vacation. But we hope to get back there soon, and try to enjoy a little of the fun we had on our vacation at home in our regular life.
Vacation tips for families: Wilmington, NC
If you plan to visit Wilmington, NC, with your kiddos (and I highly recommend it!), here are some places we enjoyed that you might want to check out while you’re there:
The Children’s Museum: This is a MUST. Cassie had a great time painting, pretending she was a pirate, shopping for groceries and appearing on her own TV talk show. The staff here even play with your kids. I wish we could have spent more time there.
Boodles: Down-home, quality breakfast is served up here daily until 3 p.m., by waitresses who genuinely like kids and welcome families for a tasty meal.
North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher: This aquarium is less than an hour’s drive from Wilmington, located in Kure Beach. What a cool place! You can get up close to a large variety of sea life, and walk along boardwalks outside through some nice gardens. Oh, and kids 5 and under are free admission.
Wrightsville Beach: The beaches are clean and beautiful, and the parking meters take credit cards! We had our favorite vacation times here.
The Little Dipper: Andrea and I were lucky enough to get a girl’s night out, courtesy of our husbands who watched the kids. We ate and drank happily at this fun fondue restaurant. It’s not cheap but the quality and atmosphere made it worth the big bill.