The last place I thought I’d find myself this summer is Orlando, Fla. Let’s be honest: It’s hot enough in New Jersey, Tom and I initially thought when his family settled on Orlando as the place to have our first McGinnis Family Vacation. For those of you who might not have the best relationships with in-laws or your own brothers, sisters or parents, I can understand if you cringe. Reunions and family vacations aren’t always the fun-filled love fests people hope they will be. Sharing a vacation home, hotel or camper—no way!—can be stressful when mixing personalities, habits, needs and interests. Fortunately, I got very lucky with the McGinnis clan.
The idea for this vacation started out via an email chain this past winter between Tom and I and each of his siblings, proposing a vacation spot where eight adults and six kids ages 7 through 12 could enjoy each other’s company for a week. Accommodations, pricing and things to do had to be part of the equation, also. I must admit it was a bit of a rough process initially, because Tom and I rejected his brother’s suggestion of Hawaii (went once, lovely but pricey and too far for a week) and his sisters’s suggestion of Mexico (no interest) in favor of the Jersey Shore, which the others vetoed. He and I thought keeping it simple with the purpose of getting our kids together was more important than an exotic location.
But Orlando? Home to Mickey, Minnie and friends, Harry Potter everything and lots and lots and lots of tourists? Did I mention it’s hot? Turns out the last week in July was also rainier than normal, so picking the right days to visit Universal Studios and a water park was crucial. Choosing the right place to stay also became a matter of consideration.
Since my brother-in-law and his family have a Marriott Vacation Club membership, we settled on one of their resorts with two-bedroom condos for each family and his mom and other sister. Together, but in our own spaces. The place had two pools, a water slide, splash pads, basketball and soccer areas, and plenty of other activities. As we drove by each area on our way in, our kids excitedly thanked us for bringing them there and couldn’t wait to explore it with the cousins they hadn’t seen in about two years.
Seeing Tom get together with his mom and siblings was also really special, since they don’t live near each other to gather more often. There was plenty of laughter at the dinner tables as each couple took turns with meals. Watching our kids bond the minute they saw each other again made me grateful that we had all made it a priority to be together, no matter the location. What we ultimately wanted was an experience that would keep us connected despite the miles between New Jersey, Illinois, Arizona and California. Since our children are so close in age, we want them to grow up together in any way they can.
My parents made this same kind of connection a priority for them and often took me and my brothers and sisters back to their hometowns in western Pennsylvania when we were kids. Through the Blue Mountain Tunnel, then Kittatinny, Tuscarora and finally, Allegheny on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, we’d “Look around,” as my dad would suggest when we’d ask, “Are we there yet?” After almost six hours in the car, we couldn’t wait to arrive.
They wanted us to know our cousins; and to this day, I am grateful for their effort, having recently returned from a cousin’s wedding where we comfortably talked, laughed and celebrated with relatives I hadn’t seen in several years. We reminisced about their dog we loved, sled riding hills they took us to—scarier than any roller coaster I’ve been on—and the spaghetti dinner my dad’s sister always made to feed 20 or more people. We also loved that they called soda “pop” but pronounced it in that western Pennsylvania accent that made it sound like “pawp.” It was time together then that gave us the relationships we value even more now.
With that in mind, I wonder what exactly our kids will remember from the first McGinnis Family Vacation. Somehow I don’t think it will be the rides they went on or the attractions they saw as much as the time they spent with each other from the minute they got up until it was time to head to bed. Will it be the time spent playing foosball and soccer or the hide-and-seek games that occupied their time as they waited for dinner made by an aunt or uncle? Or the first McGinnis Family Vacation 2015 T-shirt my brother-in-law proudly had made up and handed out to each of us?
Hopefully all six kids will remember how close they got in just one week when it was bright and sunny one minute and pouring the next. It would also be the first trip where they didn’t need their parents to take them to every activity or to each other’s rooms. They all went to play without us with the oldest ones looking out for the younger ones. One night our son couldn’t remember what he did all day, only that he had fun with all of the kids. Funny, on this trip we didn’t go to the Magic Kingdom but it still felt like there was a bit of magic to the trip—after only two days on vacation, we were already talking about where we would get together next summer.
Alaska, here we come?
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 5 (August, 2015).
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