Disappointment: the Family Vacations Guide

photo by : Daniel X O'Neil https://www.flickr.com/photos/juggernautco/14046438056/in/photolist

The idea: Brooklyn Bridge, New York City, June 2007
Steve: Here’s a “must-do” activity this guidebook recommends. We walk 1.1 miles across the bridge’s pedestrian walkway to Brooklyn, eat lunch at a fun pizza place and take the subway back to Manhattan. What do you think?

Me (distracted by our three kids and their more immediate needs): Sure, sounds fun.

The reality: We get a late start and decide to instead take the subway to Brooklyn, eat a quick lunch at a boring diner (no pizza) and walk across the bridge back to Manhattan. The kids take 20 energetic paces forward, then realize that the Brooklyn Bridge is just a bridge. A very long bridge. A bridge that seems twice as long when you are trudging across it with an 11 year old, a 9 year old and a 6 year old.

Notable wildlife spotted: Seagulls, lots of seagulls.

The bright side: We sing songs from musicals to pass the time.

The idea: Iceberg Lake Trail, Glacier National Park, August 2009
Steve: It says here in the guidebook that the hike to Iceberg Lake is one of the longer family-friendly hikes in the park. It’s about 10 miles round-trip and is led by a ranger who tells you about the animals and plants found in the area. How does that sound to you?

Me (distracted by our kids and their more immediate needs): If it’s family-friendly, sure.

The reality: Louisa drinks all of the water in her water bottle two miles into the hike. Sebastian has to be dissuaded from drinking water from the stream. Elias refuses to drink his water because there are bugs in it. The trail seems twice as long when you are hiking with a 13 year old, an 11 year old and an 8 year old.

Notable wildlife spotted: We see a bear’s claw marks on a tree.

The bright side: We sing songs from musicals to pass the time.

The idea: Dim sum, Gastown, Vancouver, August 2009
Steve: According to the guidebook, there’s a great dim sum restaurant just on the edge of Gastown, the historic shopping district, where it borders Chinatown. Do you want to try it?

Me (distracted by our kids’ more immediate needs): Okay, I’m up for it.

The reality: The restaurant is closed, boarded up and streaked with graffiti. Steve decides to take a shortcut to another restaurant in Chinatown and we end up walking past the only legal heroin injection clinic in North America. We watch as two police officers arrest a man and a woman in the street. Everyone else on the block seems to be pushing shopping carts filled with blankets, raggedy pieces of cardboard, and other meager belongings. The most destitute block in Vancouver seems twice as long when you are walking briskly with a 13 year old, an 11 year old and an 8 year old.

Notable wildlife spotted: We see a pet rat—is it a pet?—perched on a homeless man’s shoulder.

The bright side: We are not robbed and our detour has a happy ending, just like in a musical.

The idea: Enger Park Tower, Duluth, Minnesota, August 2012
Steve: I read in my hiking book that the view from the Enger Park Tower provides the best scenic overlook in the whole city. We can drive to the trailhead, which is not far from our hotel, and then walk 4 miles up to the tower. Would you and the kids be up for that?

Me (anticipating resistance from the kids): It sounds like fun—why not?

The reality: We have to step over trash and long weeds in the early part of the trail, and the noise of nearby traffic is distracting. It’s humid and buggy. Near the top, the kids see a big parking lot and discover the truth we had not disclosed to them: most visitors travel to the tower by car, not by foot. The highest point in Duluth seems even higher when you’re climbing it with a sullen 16-year-old whose grumpiness is rubbing off on her 14- and 11-year-old brothers.

Notable wildlife spotted: Mosquitoes, lots of mosquitoes.

The bright side: Unlike the family in The Sound of Music, we are climbing a hill, not a mountain, and the view of Lake Superior is stunning.

Idea No. 5: Pizzarium, Rome, Italy, March 2014
Steve: TripAdvisor recommends this great pizza place not far from the Vatican. It’s take-out only and is a place the locals go—it’s not one of those tourist traps. What do you think?

Me (prepared for adventure and possible disappointment): Sure, pizza sounds great.

The reality: The walk is longer than it looks on the map, and much of it is uphill. The place is crowded and tiny; the upscale, trendy pizza is served by the slice, and there is great pressure to order quickly and move on down the line. We aren’t sure what some of the ingredients are and have no time to look up the vocabulary words. It starts to rain. There is no place to sit. Louisa and Elias dislike their pizza selections and leave them half-eaten. The trek back to the hotel seems twice as long when you are accompanied by three dissatisfied, footsore teenagers.

Notable wildlife spotted: Pigeons, lots of pigeons.

The bright side: If someone decides to make a musical out of our family vacation adventures, we have yet another scene. Plus, we all still have room for gelato.

Joy Riggs is the mom of three teenagers. She blogs about her family’s adventures making and appreciating music at My Musical Family.

Photo by: Daniel X. O’Neil

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