We packed a cooler and tote bag to keep expenses low and make sure we had ready food for hungry kids that would be off schedule from their normal routine. More often than not, we made sure the hotel had a free continental breakfast. That breakfast paired with the cooler, was plenty to get us to an early supper where we dined with other families with young children and senior citizens at a budget chain restaurant, with a coupon if possible. I would look in the Sunday coupons the month before our get away and clip the Applebees, Ruby Tuesday, Olive Garden, and any other coupons for restaurants we might run across. While discount, and chains, these were fine dining when you are financially strapped young parents.One more silly bit of nostalgia I miss, is the end of kids menus. No more puzzles and games to play before the meal came, No more special kids cups, and little toys that would be lost by the end of the trip, but treasured for the next day.
Once we scored a deluxe three day, two night package, off season, in a real hotel in Duluth that included dinner and drinks in the carousel restaurant on the top floor. The restaurant rotated very slowly, reviewing a look by the end of dinner of the whole city. DD#1 got called "mam" when her chair was pulled out for her by the host, and both kids were served kiddie cocktails with umbrellas. Needless to say, her pretend play later in the week included pulling chairs out for her dolls and stuffed animals at her little table and calling them "mam". DS thought a lot about the mechanics of the carousel, wondering if it went faster, would our food fall off the table, or would the force keep it in place? He later experimented with cups and plates on a Sit-n-Spin. What's the sign of a good vacation for kids? When they take the vacation home with them in their mind, not in stuff.
After checking into the motel and going for a swim, we would find the points of interest, talk to the kids about where we were, things they might relate to, and spend the day out and about new surroundings. Heading back to the motel for another swim, we would have an early night in bed, letting the kids first watch something on Disney channel or cartoon network, a bonus treat because in those days we did not spend money on cable or satellite. It was a banner motel stay if they had free HBO, and once the kids were asleep, DH and I might watch a grown up movie, and have a glass of wine or beer. If nothing on, we would have an uninterrupted chat, knowing the exhausted kids would not wake up needing something.
These were simple, but fun and memories that I still have, though I am sure the kids remember little. In pictures though, I have pictures of a two year old and a four year old, smiling ear to ear climbing on a boat in a Lake Superior park, happy to be let loose to play and climb. I have similar smiling pictures from later trips to Florida, Mexico, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. At the time in life, I doubt they would have had any better time at those more exotic of locales, and I doubt I would have either.
While I love traveling, I don't want to get in the habit of thinking all get aways have to be in an airplane, in fancy digs, with a jam packed itinerary. Young children force by age, and by expense, to make things simpler, but not less enjoyable. Now though, with no little ones to think about, I still get to decide how special an event, a day, or a week is. I can decide with what and when to fill my cooler and where to head. Like then, I'll make sure it has a bottle of wine.