Planning a Beach Vacation with Kids

One of the things my kids look forward to at the end of the school year is a summer vacation. They know that they have to rest after whirlwind schedules filled with after-school sports, homework assignments, and studying for exams. While most of our beach trips are during the peak summer season, our schedule doesn’t always allow it. We started our family trips back in 2005, when my youngest was just 1. My husband and I felt that not only can these trips be educational, but it was great bonding time for us as a family. Here are our tips for a really awesome beach trip:

  1. Plan early. I am planner. I love seeing new areas in the country or out! While we haven’t quite got to the latter yet, the sooner you know that a vacation is going to happen, start planning. Determine what you like to do as a family (which beaches do you want to see? What other activities are there away from beach time?). If we take a spring vacation, we book early fall-December. If it’s summertime, we usually book by February or March. If the location is popular (say, Florida), you don’t want to book any later than March. This includes any activities you want to indulge in during your vacation too!

 

  1. Choose a budget. This is a probably the most important step for families. The budget often determines how long your family may stay and how far you travel. According to the website howmuchisit.org, people will travel anywhere from 2-5 days.

 

  1. Go in the off-season. If your time schedule allows, go during off-season (this varies by destination).  Not only are rates cheaper, but certain lodging can be more doable than in the summer. April and May have been great times for us to go on an early summer vacation in the past. Be aware that February and March are usually Spring Break months for college students in the U.S.

 

  1. Choose the extra space. As our kids have gotten older (they’re 12 and 15), it has been beneficial to pay a little extra for a condo. Not only is it nice to be across the condo (or even upstairs!), no one wants to step on each other. Besides, the extra bathroom is a Godsend when multiple people have to get ready to go to dinner. In 30 minutes. (Note: If your family chooses the condo route, you may be able to combine steps 3 & 4 for the best deal. Condo owners usually will let you take a 5-day vacation in April, but are often firm on 7 days after Memorial Day ends).

 

  1. Buy your summer essentials during Labor Day or Christmas sales. Or while you’re still on vacation. This may sound funny to some of my readers, but we have had to do this. Just as with summer sales trying to get rid of the season’s merchandise, why not load up on that smaller suitcase or beach towels you’ve been needing too? (And socks. My kids never have enough socks. Yes, even in summer!)

 

  1. “There’s an app for that.” If I’m going to search for our next favorite beach spot, there’s always a website and its mobile equivalent. Two that I have been using for years are TripAdvisor and Yelp. Not only do I appreciate the reviews of both, but TripAdvisor also tells you how many miles it takes to get to your destination and also what’s around you. Others we use are Oyster.com, Booking.com (for hotel reviews and pictures), Gogobot (for travel locale ideas), and for condos-VRBO.com, VacationRentals.com, AirBnB.com, and Vacasa.com (limited; as there are not properties in all states).

 

  1. Purchase passports, if necessary. Depending on where your destination is, a passport may be a requirement. Most islands in the Caribbean need visitors to have one (16 and above), but not the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico.

 

  1. Be a repeat visitor. Liked your trip to the Gulf Coast? Maybe you’re short on time and can’t stay as long on the next trip? See if the condo owner or manager offers future stay discounts. Most hotel chains (like Hilton) also have loyalty programs that can help you save a little too. Also, check into the kids’ programs if available!

 

Although planning a vacation can be time-consuming, it’s all worth it. Plan early, pick a budget and a location, and get ready to create memories. Don’t forget your camera!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Exploring the Food Scene in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

While the Biloxi/Gulfport area is fairly well-known, I’m a fan of the little gems that few people outside the area know about. In this case, I’m talking about the artsy town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The town, east of Biloxi and connected by the Biloxi Bay Bridge, is great for a weekend stay. It’s a few hours drive from my home base, but very doable if “getting out of town” is on the agenda. My family and I recently made the trip one weekend in May. The first place we stopped was on the very busy Washington Avenue. This tree-lined street has many adorable little shops and my favorite place for dessert, French Kiss Pastries (714 Washington Avenue; 228-215-1160). The shop is small, but the desserts (we sampled eclairs and German Chocolate Cake), are rich and flavorful. Besides the cookies and cakes, there is also gelato and the infamous Louisiana-based Community coffee.

Ocean Springs’ beaches are a lot less crowded than Biloxi or Gulfport. We spent an afternoon at Fort Maurepas Park (at the end of Washington Avenue) before trying Leo’s Wood-fired Pizza (1107 Government St, 228-872-7283). This restaurant is a great place to have an early dinner. It’s deliciously Italian. Seating is indoors or out; most head outside to the courtyard. The courtyard has a small bar and televisions, and of course, over 20 beers beer on tap. The pizzas are thin-crusted and named after celebrities (my favorite is the Frank Sinatra). After dinner, we walked around downtown. The people of Ocean Springs are very friendly. Some shops may still be open to u, or do what we did and take the kids for a treat at the “Hot Light” (Krispy Kreme) afterwards. Unfortunately for us, we missed Ocean Springs’ favorite place for donuts, Tato-nut (1114 Government St, 228-872-2076). They are either closed or were renovating when we come through town. If anyone gets here, please let me know how your visit went!

Of course, you can’t spend some time on the coast and not have some delicious seafood. One of the first restaurants we ever tried was McElroy’s on the Bayou (705 Bienville Blvd. 228-818-4600). Literally right off the bridge, McElroy’s is a casual, family-friendly establishment with a great view. Everything from shrimp po-boys to flounder to soft-shell crab is here. If you can, save some room for the gumbo stew. 🙂 There is a kids’ menu available if needed. Other great seafood suggestions are Anthony’s Under the Oaks (1217 Washington Avenue, 228-872-4564) and BB’s Po-boys and Seafood (1300 Bienville Blvd, 228-875-2702). The restaurants have only dinner (5 pm-9 pm) or lunchtime hours (11am-3pm) respectively.

Wherever your trip along the Gulf Coast takes you, there is sure to be something you haven’t tried. Start with the food!