We have never flown anywhere or driven a great distance to stay overnight in a hotel and sightsee in a new place for days on end with our kids.
We did it once together for our honeymoon and absolutely loved it! I would travel
My maternal grandparents have a cabin in the middle of the woods up north in Minnesota on a little secluded lake. We're there as much as possible. So, this really takes the place of an actual vacation for us.
Within the last year our oldest, Levi (8.5), has really picked up on how often all of his classmates are gone on vacation.. ACTUAL vacations.. flights, hotels, sandy beaches, sunburn.. the whole kit and caboodle! It's given me a bit of guilt for not giving our kids an experience like that yet.
When I think of going on a real vacation a few things cross my mind..
- Would it even be fun?
- How many times would I get mad and yell?
- Would the kids even appreciate it?
- Would I like them all when we got home?
So when spring break rolled around last week and we realized we had both time and money to spare we booked a last minute night away in Duluth. Baby steps!
We had a lot planned and I was confident in how I had timed everything out to work just right. We got out the door without too much stress and we were FIVE MINUTES AHEAD OF SCHEDULE! This was a good sign! 45 minutes into our 2.5 hour drive though Rex's video monitor stopped working.. [deep breaths.. we can do this] luckily we had their tablets and plenty of snacks so we got through it just fine. And in case this might be crossing your mind as you're reading I'll just come out and say it: no, kids these days don't just look out of a window at their surroundings and feel content during a long car ride.
We drove up on Duluth and when Levi first saw the views of the lake he said "This is the best place ever!" Our first stop was Enger Tower. We had never been before and it had such amazing views of Lake Superior that it will always be our first stop into the city. Then, we hadn't even gotten into our second stop in Duluth (the Train Museum) when Rex started saying he wanted to go home.. this kid would ALWAYS be home if given the choice. He would never go anywhere and he would never put clothes on. I was still really patient at this point so I was able to calmly explain the layout of the rest of our trip.. and that we would be home right before bed TOMORROW.
After the train museum we had lunch at Burrito Union (SO GOOD!) and then landed at our hotel. We had a nice view of Lake Superior and it had a fun mid-sized indoor water park there. Rex and I hung out in the little kid area of the water park all night and I lost count of how many times he went down their little water slides. There's this HUGE bucket of water that fills up and spills out over the little kid area (not the best idea in my opinion) and before long Rex had it timed out that he could go down the water slide 4 times before the bucket spilling. So after that 4th time down he'd run to the edge so he wouldn't get splashed. Levi and Andy spent their time on the BIG water slides. After 3 hours there the first day we called it a night and got pizza to bring back to our room.
The 4 of us sleeping all right next to each other in a room we aren't used to was pretty hellish. I initially thought that the boys would take one queen bed and we would take the other but that quickly changed when Rex wanted to snuggle and watch TV with me. Rex and I then took one bed and Andy and Levi in the other. Rex fell asleep with the TV on, I was dozing off and I knew Levi wouldn't be able to fall asleep with the TV on so I had to give the guys a lights out warning. Once the TV was off we realized how loud the heater in our room was.. I seriously thought it was a motorcycle going by at first. I was so tired I asked Andy to get up and check on it. I heard him pressing buttons and then eventually he gave it a little punch and it quieted down some. The good 'ol punch trick! Andy crawled back into bed and before I knew it Levi was getting after him because his "cell phone light was keeping him up".. before I knew it I had 3 snoring boys and a loud (but now somewhat quieter) heater that was kicking on every 10 minutes. Somehow I managed to fall asleep but man did the morning come quick!
After breakfast we went back to the water park and it was my turn to experience the water slide. For some reason Andy insisted that he and Rex watch me come out at the end.. it was when I entered the water slide I knew why.. IT WAS PITCH BLACK INSIDE! But so, so fun because you went down on either a one person tube or a two person tube. I much prefer going down a water slide in a tube vs just my body. I'm always paranoid I'm going to shoot out of the end and my bathing suit will fly off. Levi and I did the tube a few times together afterwards and man that kid is nuts! I had to use my feet to hold him down because I swear I thought he was going to cause himself to fly out of the tube. He was bouncing up and down throwing up peace signs.. he ALWAYS had the peace signs thrown up when he came out of the slide. That's my boy!
We packed up and were out of the hotel by 11:30 and started making our way farther north to hit the main tourist spots: Split Rock Lighthouse, Gooseberry Falls and Palisade Head. I thought this would be our easiest, funnest day since we were 1. prepared with lunch in the car 2. the weather was perfect 3. the kids would be getting a lot of exercise and 4. WE WERE ON "VACATION!"
At Split Rock Lighthouse the boys were running around like they hadn't gotten any exercise in days.. at one point Levi literally did a running push off jump off of the freaking lighthouse. WTF! That's when I started to lose it.. they couldn't be trusted around monumental objects so off to the trails of the falls we went.
Levi had to go to the bathroom really bad as soon as we got to the falls. Luckily there's a nice restroom and gift shop area. I didn't really think about how nervous I could be with my kids around the falls.. it hit me once we got down to it. My kids can both be absolutely crazy nuts but at least Rex is fearful. Levi is not. I literally had to hold onto Levi's sweatshirt a couple of times because I couldn't trust him to stay back far enough. So then there are the trails around the falls and most of it is right next to a steep drop off with only a little wooden fence "protecting" you. I lost track of how many times we had to tell Levi to slow down and be careful and a couple of times Rex pitched a fit because I was holding his hand too tight..
We get towards the bottom of the falls and this is where I saw us spending the most time. The water is calmer and there are a lot of rocks the kids could throw in. But then Levi had to go to the bathroom AGAIN.. It hadn't even been an hour yet! We were at least half a mile away from the restroom and gift shop but there were so many people around that I didn't have the guts to try and hide him and let him pee outside. So he and Andy went running for the bathroom while Rex and I made our slow trek back.. and man was it slow! He picked up every decent sized stick he came across, stopped to examine it and then had to search out the perfect place to throw it into the woods. At one point he even stopped without warning and just laid down on the sidewalk.. while I'm waiting for him to start walking again I'm realize how far we've already walked and how much more we have to go and I'm thinking to myself that there's no way Levi made it to the bathroom on time. He either peed his pants or Andy caved and let him pee in the woods. We finally make it to the gift shop and Levi did in fact make it on time [huge sigh of relief]. It was here that I learned we should never let our kids wander around in a gift shop if we don't intend to buy them something.. I eventually just had to walk away and cross my fingers there wouldn't be sounds of a tantrum behind me.
I got to the car and said "We are never going on vacation again" .. mama had hit the end of her rope. But little did I know, the best part of our trip was coming up! I just wanted to get there, get it over with and start heading home.
We had never gone to Palisade Head before. I really didn't know what to expect. When you pull up there's a little parking lot at the bottom of a narrow road leading up a hill. No one was around so we pull into a parking spot and think "this is it?" .. we couldn't tell if we could drive up that road or if it was meant to be more of a paved walking trail. We hadn't been parked for more than a minute though and a car came behind us and drove up the road.. that answered our question! This road is so narrow that the whole time you're going up you're hoping no one is coming down. When you get to the top there's a bigger parking lot and there were a handful of cars parked but we never came across anyone while we were hiking there. You feel like you're on top of the huge hill at the parking lot but there's actually a whole lot further to climb if you really want to be at the top.. and we did! There's no clear path up so you need to find your own way though you can definitely tell where a lot of people have gone before so we tried to follow the beaten down grass/brush as best as we could. It was nerve-wracking at first hiking up because you're near the edge but once you make your way up the hill there's less of a fear of falling to your death and more of a fear of making sure you can find your way back. We really, really enjoyed working together to get to the top and the views were absolutely amazing! And then we found our way back to the car just fine.
We got back on the road and made our way home but we had just one more stop - Jay Cooke State Park. It was our first time there and when you get off of 35 and you're heading towards the state park you're literally driving through neighborhoods and then all of a sudden the road turns into the state park.. it's just weird! I had no clue what to expect and for sure was not expecting the most amazing view of a river I think I've ever seen in person. You can see for miles up and down the river and over the woods surrounding it. I still can't believe this place was just tucked behind a neighborhood. It felt like we were stumbling upon a secret. You really have to visit if you haven't been!
We got home right before bed and right on schedule. Everything really did go as planned and we were able to hit all of our destinations without feeling rushed. And now that I'm a week out from our little "vacation" I can say that of course I want to go on vacation with my family again! The memories we made and the things we were able to see and do made much more of an impact than a few stressful moments.