It's that time of year. The flurry of activity leading up to Christmas has passed, the mild December days have frozen over into January iciness, winter is here with a vengeance and seems to be settling in for a good long stay. The holidays are over and we're staring down seemingly endless months of cold, bleak, wintery weather without a break.
It's time to start planning a vacation.
For our family, this time of year is spent planning and organizing and building up excitement for our annual March Break trip to Walt Disney World.
We started this tradition when our eldest children were four and six years old. At the time, it was a very big deal. I had spent years rebuilding my life post-divorce - re-entering the workforce, paying off debt from my previous marriage, raising the boys on my own, beginning a new relationship - sorting out leftover problems from the past while trying to plan for the future and still be a hundred percent in the present for my boys. It took a long time and a lot of work, but I finally arrived at the point where we could live our lives in the present and look toward the future; my divorce was finalized and I'd paid off my debts from my previous life, I'd started my own business that was flourishing and was work I actually enjoyed, my husband and I were married and we were saving to purchase our first home together and planning for another child. Life was pretty much perfect.
Because for the first time in my children's lives I was able to provide more than just the basics for them, I wanted to do something amazing and special that they'd remember for the rest of their lives. I hadn't been on a vacation in over ten years, and my boys had never been further from home than their grandparents' cottage.
Those Disney commercials always reduced me to tears - the families surprising their kids with an early Christmas present of a trip to Walt Disney World, the parents and kids hand in hand in front of Cinderella's castle, the little girl in a princess costume seated high up on Daddy's shoulders, the little boys with the pirate swords jumping up and down with excitement meeting Buzz Lightyear. I wanted that so much for my boys.
And finally, after years of struggle, we could give it to them.
My husband and I spent months planning that first Disney trip. We ordered the vacation DVD and sat down to watch it with the kids, poring over the brochures and maps and guidebooks that came in the package while the kids pointed and exclaimed at everything they saw on the screen. We spent hours every evening curled up in front of the computer exploring every inch of the resorts, the theme parks, the restaurants, the rides, trying to narrow down our options and plan out the most perfectly perfect trip for our boys. As far as we knew, this would be a once in a lifetime trip. It had to be perfect.
We finally came up with the ultimate dream vacation for our family: a week at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort with its secluded white sand beaches, six pools, shipwreck splash pad, Spanish fortress with waterslides and cannons and caves, pirate-themed suites complete with pirate ship beds and the central Old Port Royale area themed after Pirates of the Caribbean. For our two little pirate-crazy boys and their sun-and-sand-loving parents, nothing could be more magic or memorable or quintessentially Disney. After months of planning out every last detail of the trip, weeks of shopping and packing, and daily discussions over dinner about all the amazing adventures we were going to have, March Break finally arrived and we loaded up the car for a long road trip and our first family vacation.
It was everything we ever could have hoped for and wished for and so much more.
It was a week of magic and excitement and endless treats and new experiences for all of us.
Even the road trip, twenty-four hours of driving with two little boys, was all part of the adventure and fun.
I kept welling up with tears all week - eating breakfast with Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, watching the boys building castles on the beach, listening to them squeal with excitement when the bucket tipped over and soaked them in the splash pad, waiting in line for Splash Mountain, shaking hands with Buzz Lightyear and Woody, watching the fireworks over Cinderella's Castle as Tinkerbell twinkled across the sky above our heads. It was all just so magical, and so seemingly out of reach just a few short years earlier. My husband I kept looking at each other over the children's heads, reaching for each other's hands and grinning like goofs. We just couldn't believe we were really there - we couldn't believe we'd pulled it off, we couldn't believe how far we'd come, we couldn't believe we were able to do this for our boys. We were so proud of ourselves.
We've been lucky enough that we've been able to take them on this same magical trip almost every year since. It has become one of our family's traditions, and we love being able to spoil ourselves and our kids with such an amazing March Break. We all look forward to it for months and start the daily countdown right after Christmas. And though nothing will ever compare to the heart-aching happiness or the joy in our boys' faces that very first year, our annual Disney vacation is something we plan for and look forward to all year long - particulary during these long, cold months when the new year is fresh.
We have our Disney trip savings built right into our monthly budget so that there are no surprises when it comes time to pay for the trip. Last year we had a few financial bumps in the road and weren't able to set aside enough in time; but as tempting as it was to dip into credit to carry on the tradition, common sense won out and we skipped our Disney trip that year. We spent March Break at home, field tripping to Legoland and the Science Centre and the zoo, swimming at the community centre and skating on the pond and going to the movies, building snowforts and playing board games and having playdates with friends. It was a lot of fun - but it made the winter seem very, very long without that sunny break to look forward to. We increased our savings for this year, carefully budgeted and scouted deals and offers and booked our trip well in advance and are already busy planning out our sunny March Break days.