Yes, vacation with three toddlers can be fun! I have realized (after taking two beach vacations this summer with our family of 5) that we can go on vacation and enjoy ourselves too. It just takes a bit of organization and forethought. We even did a 12 hour drive for our most recent vacation to Gulf Shores this past week. We made it! All still alive and loving one another. Oh, and still liking one another too (because it is possible to love your kids, but there are days when there are not as likeable).

We went to Gulf Shores for a full week. It was great! It is a very family friendly place to go on vacation. We vacationed with Justin’s family. His parents, two siblings, their spouses, and all their children came as well. We rented a house with Justin’s brother and sister-in-law. Brielle absolutely loved spending her every waking moment with her big cousin Chandler. I feel bad for Amber and Kelley (the brother and sister in law). They like to sleep in. My kids, not so much. At all. They were up before 7 am. Every. Single. Morning. Keeping 19 month old twins quiet in the morning. Impossible. We tried. Our efforts failed. Sorry Amber. Sorry Kelley. But we had a wonderful time with them, as well as the rest of the family! Thanks to Amber for making it extra enjoyable by helping do my family’s laundry and cooking your gourmet meals. My favorite is Amber’s seared Tuna.

I enjoyed taking Brielle and Chandler for walks to the docks and beach. They both like having their picture taken, so we did mini- photo shoots. Even the day before we left Chandler asked me if I could take them out to do more photos. Too sweet.

Our vacation was great, but not perfect. However, I chose to focus on the positive aspects of our vacation. No vacation is perfect. No child is perfect. And certainly no parent is perfect. But, I do believe that good planning and preparation can help things run a whole lot more smoothly so that fun can be had by all!

I am thankful my husband ordered a car top carrier several weeks before the vacation. We needed it for sure! Even with an extended SUV, our vehicle was full! Our car top carrier was perfect to hold the extra items that are bulky like the 2 playpens, 2 booster chairs, a beach tent, a beach wagon, a baby gate, and more! We did buy a big one, but thankful we now have it for future trips to the beach. We love living in Texas, but the coast is a bit of a drive- about 5 hours to Galveston alone. My favorite location for the Texas beach is Port Aransas. That is more like a 6.5 hour drive, but we can do it now that we know our kids can handle the car rides well! Living in  Florida spoiled us with having the beach so close. We lived on a deep water canal that took us right out to Sanibel Island and the Gulf of Mexico in about a 20 minute boat ride. It was great. I know my husband misses the water too, so we will have to keep doing beach vacations every summer. Of course we have plenty of family in the Fort Myers and Estero area to visit throughout the year as well. We certainly aren’t deprived of sunshine and beach time!

Our trip last week to Gulf Shores was great for our family. We did the beach, the pool, swimming in the gulf, a boat ride to see dolphins, shopping, and a trip to their amazing hands on zoo! The zoo was one of the best surprises in my opinion! We only had one day of rain, which was perfect for a shopping day.

At the zoo you could pay a few extra dollars to hold lemurs, pet kangaroos, hold snakes, and pet baby Bengal tigers. My sister in law Amber and I went and took her daughter Chandler, all three of my kids, and our nephew Stone. It was a hot day, as you can see in the photos we are dripping with sweat and have super shiny sweaty faces. However, it was well worth the heat! I don’t know if Brielle will ever get another opportunity to hold a lemur or to a pet a Kangaroo. We chose not to hold snakes or pet tigers. Probably not the best idea for my three year old. The other kids had a blast too! I love seeing the amazement in their eyes when I said “yes, it is ok to touch the animals”. Kids are so used to hearing “no, don’t touch that!”, especially when it comes to animals. Being able to touch animals creates such a bond between animals and humans. It also helps kids become more empathetic and caring towards animals. It is a win for this zoo to create more empathic youth simply by allowing kids and adults to touch the animals. The animals were well protected by handlers so that the activity is monitored and restricted for each animals’ comfort level. The zoo has an awesome name too- “The Little Zoo that Could”. Too perfect and cute! The people running this zoo are doing so much right! Other zoos could take some tips from them. It was an impressive venue for such small location.

How I will plan our next vacation and what have I learned about making the trip as enjoyable as possible? Planning, but not overscheduling our time away, as it is a vacation. Allow for free time to just sit on the beach or pool side to relax. Do plan activities. I am glad I booked the dolphin boat in advance as they fill up days prior. We also planned a day for the zoo, as we knew that the kids would need a little break from swimming and the beach. I began laying out items to pack about 5 days before the trip. I laid out the kids outfits for each day in piles together. That made it easy for grabbing their outfits and dressing them quickly, no thought needed as everything for each day was in one little pile. I packed some of the kids go-to foods, as they did spend 12 hours in the car and I knew I may not be able to shop the first day. I packed just enough to get us there and through the first day without having to worry about what to feed the kids. Toys, toys, and more toys. We didn’t pack a ton, but enough that they weren’t bored when they did have to spend some time inside. I would say their toys filled a small laundry basket. I also picked up a bunch of ready to go art and craft kits for Chandler and Brielle to do. Whenever they were a bit squirrely between activities or before meal times I pulled out an art project and they were as happy as can be! I even remembered to pack some board games. We played Sorry, Taboo, Uno, and Apples to Apples. Not a whole lot of TV watching going on at our place while on vacation. With the exception of the debates. The first round of Republican debates played one night. We watched. Trump never fails to entertain.

Lulu’s is one of the coolest place in Gulf Shores to visit. It is a restaurant, bar, shops, and kids sand play area all in one venue. They had excellent live music while we were there too! The atmosphere is very cool. It should be since it is owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister. Coolness runs in their family. We sat outside near the kid’s area and ordered drinks and appetizers. The kids played in the sand. Except the twins. They hate sand. No really. They don’t want to walk in it. I would say they are weird, but Brielle was the same way as a baby and now she is fine with sand. I forgot to bring their beach shoes when we went to Lulu’s, so they wanted nothing to do with that sand. Oh well, they enjoyed the fried food as much as the adults. Photos below are from our fun time at Lulu’s.

What brought me the most joy during this vacation? The fact that I was able to watch Brielle fulfill two of her dreams. All summer long she has been dreaming, talking, and begging to do two things. #1 Fly a kite on the beach. #Build a “Real” sandcastle. She got to do both and I was there to watch her experience those “firsts”. Papa Tim bought kites for all the grandkids. You would think he was giving her gold. She was elated beyond words! She was so determined to be a good kite flyer! The adults gave her some directions and she got the hang of it. My little 3.5 year old mastered kite flying! She figured out how to get a good pace running, while watching the kite, and unreeling slowly. She was able to get her kite so high that she unreeled all of her string! I was amazed. I don’t expect my kids to be the best. But for that moment, she was the best little 3 year old kite flyer ever (at least in my opinion).

Her cousins helped her make the amazing sand castles. Miles was the most patient. He would work at it for hours at a time. Brielle worked by his side, bringing buckets of water as his assistant. They seemed to enjoy being with one another now that they had a common goal at hand- that of building a “real” sandcastle. They did great! It helped them bond in the process too. Stone and Chandler were there to help too. The twins were castle destroyers, so we had to keep them at a safe distance.

Another good thing about vacation with Justin’s family is the food. (I do have to work out a bit more now, I am not willing to step on the scale to see what I gained, but I know I did as my clothing is a bit more snug). It was worth it though! Justin and his brother Kelley are grilling masters. No kidding. I don’t know anyone more passionate about grilling than those two. They do it so well. Steak night, shrimp and oyster night, seared tuna (several nights, thank you again Amber), and fresh grouper (thanks to Tim and Carol). I am full just thinking about everything I ate the past week. What did I cook? Nothing for dinner. My cooking is not even in their league. I will have to work on that for the next family vacation. I do cook some amazing Texas shaped waffles though. I made those several mornings.

Good fun was had by all, but it is nice to be back home in our creature comforts. Back to normal schedule too. I look forward to our next beach vacation, just glad it isn’t too soon, as it sure it a lot of work for Mommy. I don’t mind, but I do think it gets easier as kids get older and more self sufficient.

Here are some more photos from our trip to Gulf Shores.