Our first family vacation was both a huge success and a total failure.
Our twins are almost 4 years old, and our destination was Pennsylvania. We planned to visit Dutch Wonderland and the Please Touch museum—both destinations were highly recommended by friends whose kids are also almost 4 years old.
We arrived at our hotel in Lancaster at about 2:30 Sunday afternoon. We were thrilled to see that our hotel was literally ACROSS THE STREET from Dutch Wonderland. Perfect! Our tickets allowed us to enter Dutch Wonderland after 5:30 p.m. on Sunday and still use our tickets all day Monday. Since we had about three hours to kill before we could enter the park, we decided to explore the hotel.
My husband and I imagined we’d all go swimming together in the hotel pool. While my daughter was very enthusiastic about this plan, my son was not. So my daughter and I spent a very happy hour splashing around, while my husband and son rode the hotel elevator up and down (and up and down, and up and down, and up and down…). He would enthusiastically invite his “friends” (other guests and the housekeeping staff) into the elevator, ask what floor they wanted, and press the button. He took his role as “elevator up-erator and down-erator” very seriously, and the kind receptionist at the front desk even offered him a job.
When the time came to get dressed and head to the park, my children were not pleased. It turned out to be a problem that our hotel was literally across the street, because you could see it from the park. We were surrounded by merry-go-rounds, little bumper cars, and dancing dragons, but they were just not interested. My son kept pointing at the hotel and saying, “I want to go there! I want to go to the hotel and go in the elevator.” And my daughter would point and say, “I want to go there. I want to go to the pool.”
We left the park to return to the hotel, feeling frustrated and hoping that things would be different in the morning. They weren’t. We did ultimately have fun in the water park, but even that fun was interrupted by repeated requests to go back to the hotel to swim and ride the elevator. We felt aggravated, because the admission to the park was expensive, and kids were not enjoying it like they were “supposed to.”
We left Dutch Wonderland and drove to Philadelphia. We spent that afternoon exploring our new hotel, which also thankfully had a pool and elevators. My daughter again loved swimming, while my son was so happy he could barely contain himself—this hotel had three glass elevators overlooking the atrium! My husband and I rotated between the pool and the elevator, laughing as our children got a thousand times more pleasure out of the hotel pool and elevator than they got out of the amusement park.
The next day we left the hotel to go to the Please Touch museum. While my daughter had fun exploring the museum, it was a bit more difficult for my son. Unfortunately, the museum has a not-well-hidden elevator amid the exhibits, which was just taunting him. He couldn’t care less about the space station, play supermarket, or built-to-scale city bus—he just wanted to go up and down in the elevator. So we made a deal—10 minutes in the elevator followed by 20 minutes of “something else.” Then 10 minutes in the elevator followed by 20 minutes of “something else.” We did end up experiencing quite a few exhibits in the museum, and they were great, but none gave him nearly as much joy as the elevator.
Our vacation seemed to be a study in the contrast between what grown-ups think children should find fun versus what children actually find fun. We were disappointed that the kids didn’t enjoy the theme park or museum as much as we felt they “should,” especially since the tickets weren’t cheap. This is not to say the park and museum weren’t good—they were! There were so many fun things in both places, but they didn’t excite our kids like we’d hoped.
However, we did have the opportunity to see each of our children totally, completely happy—just not for the reasons we imagined. The joy in her shrieks as we splashed around in the pool and the unbelievable excitement he had when the elevator doors opened at each floor—these were the successes of our trip.
Maybe next time we’ll save money on admission tickets and just book a room in a hotel with a pool and an elevator.