Growing up, my family rarely went on vacation. There being five kids, it was little wonder the Duthie Clan seldom ventured far from our own backyard. There was one time, though, that Mom and Dad gambled their collective sanity and station-wagoned us all from Durango, Colo., to Phoenix for a slam-bang summer vacation at the legendary Camelback Inn.
It being the middle of July, we were all in the pool before Dad could check us into our connecting rooms. Was it ever hot! But a big, wet swimming pool with a banana-bounce springboard made it absolute heaven to a pack of laughing, screaming, cannon-balling hellions.
The next day, Mom took my two sisters shopping and Dad drove my brothers and me to the golf course for what he thought would be a sure-fire, boys-day-out experience. Mid-round, Dad asked if we were having a good time, and I blurted out, in my usual 12-year-old way, “We golf all summer long back home. Let’s go do something we can’t do at home, something FUN.”
Wow, I still remember his pained expression. “I thought that’s what we were doing!” he replied, obviously irritated.
Strangely enough, I made a similar blunder 35 years later when I took my six-year-old son to Washington D.C. for a Thanksgiving holiday. Big mistake. As excited and thrilled as I was to see the Smithsonian museums, Washington Monument and U.S. Capital Building, Ian was equally bored and unhappy. Thank goodness for the new aquarium and the four-hour stop at Club Disney in nearby Baltimore.
So belies one unwritten law of family vacation planning: If you hope to keep children happy, don’t ask them to participate in adult-themed or status-quo activities. A simple swimming pool can offer hours of Nikon-prompting, smile-inducing enthusiasm, but if you take kids golfing or museum touring on their summer vacation, the gods will smite you with bolts of bitter disappointment.
Hard lessons are often best. The proof was on a follow-up vacation with my son the following June at the world-renowned Fairmont Banff Springs in Alberta, Canada. Talk about flipping the proverbial coin: We hit the jackpot at the Banff Springs thanks to a well-oiled family amenities program that entertains, motivates, educates and excites kids way beyond their parents’ Rocky Mountain high expectations.
You’re probably familiar with the resort’s legendary 27 holes of golf, sumptuous spa, five-star accommodations and cuisine, incomparable scenery and the MasterCard-melting boutique shopping in nearby Banff. Oh sure, ear candy for the adults, but Yawn City to kids. What they really want to hear about is the white water rafting, kayaking and canoeing, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, fishing, wildlife sightings (elk, bear, eagles, mountain sheep), glacier touring, bowling, tennis, game rooms, and the size and temperature of the hotel’s pool.
Matching my wants with Ian’s was a no-brainer. Realizing he had absolutely no interest in testing the just-renovated, Stanley Thompson-designed golf course, I arranged through the hotel’s guest services a certified au pair (Ian won’t let me say babysitter anymore) who took him biking, swimming, exploring, to a movie and then to lunch. We caught up later at the resort’s outdoor heated swimming pool, then had a blast experimenting with cheese fondue after a spirited, make-up-the-rules game of billiards.
The next day was even more quality time together. After feasting on an anything-you-want buffet breakfast at the Bow Valley Grill — one of 12 eateries at the resort — we peddled off and burned some serious calories tandem biking around the village. Then it was off to the Banff Gondola and a ride to the 7,500-foot summit of Sulphur Mountain, where breathtaking panoramas of snowcapped mountains and wild mountain goat sightings made for an incredibly memorable afternoon.
What’s the litmus test of a great family vacation? Ask your kids about what they remember about past summers. Six years later, Ian still talks about Canada. That’s how I know I finally got it right. [TAP]
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