Surviving a water park vacation with a large family

Family vacations can sometimes feel like more work than relaxation, but they are worth it. Truly. My kids constantly talk about their vacations and ask when we are going next. Aside from our weekly retreat to the family cabin in Wisconsin, we try to take another trip every other year or so. We usually travel with a few other families, like my roommates from college and their kids, so the trip almost always involves a hotel with a water park.

If you think taking four kids on a vacation is daunting? Taking four kids, who can’t swim, is downright terrifying. I mean, aside from having to wear a bathing suit to a very public place, I also have to keep four children from drowning or getting lost.

After a spring break staycation at Key Lime Cove that went smooth enough, I thought I would share how we make them work. Some of these tips should even help with summer outings to large pools.

Tag their ankles

Most water parks, whether it be the local pool or a resort have a wristband that is color coded to your day or admission level. At indoor resorts like Key Lime Cove they serve as the only way you can enter the pool, and as room keys for adults. This can be a problem if you have toddlers or skinny kids. My skinny kids always have them falling off and my toddler freaks out and is constantly playing with it or chewing on it. To save everyone’s sanity and avoid trouble (like a fine for replacing one) I put them on the kids’ ankles. This is especially great for babies and toddlers because you can make them loose enough that they don’t bother them and being on the foot makes it harder for them to fall off and get lost. Many places don’t require babies to actually wear the bands so be sure to double check and save yourself the headache!

Bring your own towels

Yes, every resort we have been to and even some pools have towels for you to use. However, all the towels are the same for everyone, so spotting yours from across the pool? Impossible. They also tend to be smaller and at two of the resorts we’ve been to, they couldn’t leave the pool (so they don’t get mixed in with the hotel towels). When we finally get out of the pool, my kids are popsicles and need to be wrapped up to keep warm, so they can’t walk back to the room without a towel. It does mean more stuff to pack but it’s worth it. We bring our brightest colored ones so that the kids can spot our stuff if they get separated from us.

Bring tiny transportation

All of my children walk, even the youngest. After a day of swimming though? I’m lucky if I can walk back to my hotel room and the kids are just as tired. One of the resorts we stayed in at the Dells was so spread out it felt like a mile walk between our hotel room and the pool. Aside from helping transport tired children, a stroller will also give you an extra set of hands to carry towels, swim diapers and a change of clothes. At one resort we saw a family that brought their wagon and had toddler sleeping in a nest of towels as they walked back to their room. That was genius!

Save time and money on food

When there is a huge pool within sight or ear shot, my kids have no ability to behave at a sit-down dinner spot and even less desire to eat. They want to go, go go! So if you are traveling to a water park, I suggest you eat before you arrive and pack lots of snacks to have in your room. We (thankfully) don’t have a peanut allergy in the family so we can pack the fixin’s for PB & J and save money by having lunch in our room. We also usually pack a quick breakfast like doughnuts or muffins and some fresh fruit to help save money as well.

Divide, conquer and plan your attack

When we stayed at a resort with multiple pools, housed in different buildings, we were traveling with six kids of various ages. In order to control the chaos, a different child choose the pool for each of our sessions (evening, morning, afternoon, evening, morning). That way everyone felt like they got to do what they wanted to.

On our most recent trip, we divided the children into big kids and little kids. The little ones had to stay with one parent and the big ones with the other. They could go to different pools as long as they agreed. This worked for everything except the slides, as only one parent can ride with only one child. Since one of the big kids didn’t want to do the slides, she was more than happy to help with the little kids in the little pool. As the children get older, and the little one is more mobile, we are going to have to look into bringing an extra set of hands with us. In fact, for this summer, we are planning on hiring a mother’s helper just to come swimming with me so I won’t have all four kids at a pool by myself.

Life jackets

They’re not cool. They give kids a false sense of security. They won’t learn to swim, but they also won’t drown. We don’t own them and we don’t use them at the beach or at our regular pool, but when we are at a water park we put them on the toddler, who is three, and her sister if she wants to swim in the wave pool.

All the resorts we have stayed at have had them. In fact Kalahari requires them for children under a certain height. I find that they give me a bit of peace knowing that they are not going to go underwater while I turn to grab the baby who is trying to run away. We all want our kids to learn to swim but on a water park vacation is not the place to do it. Get the life jacket and let everyone enjoy themselves.

Get the biggest room you can afford

The suite is worth every single penny. Every one. If you can upgrade to a kitchen and or fireplace, do that too. There is nothing relaxing or fun about laying in a dark room reading on your phone because your kids are asleep. Having two rooms, or more, makes it a vacation. Being able to put younger kids down to nap, or for bed at night, a little earlier, while you and the bigger kids watch a movie or just relax in a sitting area is worth the expense. A kitchen, or even a microwave and fridge will save you money on food. And the fireplace? Who needs a fireplace in the summer? The 40 pound kid who has blue lips after swimming in 85 degree water and entering a 65 degree room will not only appreciate the heat, they will think it’s super cool, too.

Vacationing with four kids at a water park is exhausting, but so is every day life with four kids. Taking the chance to spend time together as a family without chores and without work, just for fun, is the stuff memories are made of.

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