Monday, 27 August 2018

Are family holidays the only way to go?

Having just returned from a week’s holiday to France, now seemed like a good time to recap what lessons we’ve learnt about holidays for our family. It might seem strange to ask ‘is a family holiday really a holiday?’ but at various times over the week this question has run through my mind. 
Stephs Two Girls by DLP balloon and lake
A family selfie in front of the lake by the Disney Village
To be honest my first thought is that I was amazed the four of us managed to pack everything we needed for a week into our small Golf. I’m a recent packing cube and rolling method convert and I reckon these definitely helped. The car journey on the way there was clearly stressful for our youngest, autistic girl.
Sasha sat, as she always does, in the front passenger seat, while I get to enjoy the slightly reduced leg room in the back seat with our eldest daughter. Sasha had her six favourite soft toys on her lap, on top of her pillow from home. Do you reckon we’d be OK taking a pillow through airport security in the future? Honestly, she’d have liked to bring her own duvet, but thankfully we managed to dissuade her from that just before we left home. 

Sasha tells us that she likes the front seat so that she can be in charge of the music. We are never allowed to listen to the radio or any music of our choosing on any car trip, short or long. Sasha has a handful of CDs which she will change very occasionally, and we are treated to the same few songs over and over. I’m so used to this now that I’ve almost forgotten it happens; it’s like I’ve been brainwashed out of wanting to listen to my own music choices. 

The other reason the front is better for Sasha though is that she gets so stressed about travelling, and on top of that she gets travel sickness. She doesn’t articulate any of this particularly well, but you can see it in every bone in her body. She knows she can’t watch her iPad as that would make her feel sick, and she doesn’t sleep easily in the car (unlike our eldest, who is just like her mum was as a child and who is usually fast asleep five minutes after we’ve pulled off the drive). Sasha is not great at day dreaming and sitting doing nothing, and she won’t snack on any food in the car, so the whole experience is generally unpleasant for her. She’s only ever actually been physically sick from travelling once, and Tamsin has once too, but of course those occasions are not forgotten. My sympathies go out to people who regularly have to clean up after bouts of sickness when travelling; of course for most children it’s quickly forgotten about once they get to the fun place on holiday. 

Our travel time to the Channel Tunnel from where we live is about an hour and a half. We missed our check in time for the booked train on the way out by about 20 minutes (because I hadn’t realised you needed to check in quite some time in advance!) but thankfully we didn’t face any long queues to get on a later train. This time Sasha remained in her car seat for the whole trip under water and didn’t scream herself sick to get out of the tunnel as she had the last time we attempted it (she was just two then). The journey to our destination after the tunnel was three hours long; again we were lucky there were no hold-ups. The Gods were smiling on us.

On the journey back home, we had an added level of stress as Sasha asked us every so often in a highly anxious voice whether we had left anything behind. No amount of reassuring her that anything missing could be posted back to us or repurchased made her feel any better. 

Car travel is not fun for us; is it for anyone?! Actually, yes, if I didn’t have the added stress, I would quite happily do a long car tour of Europe or America or the UK, driving myself or chilling in the passenger seat. Just not in the back seat please. So as I suspected, our car journeys are much better when limited to very short ones, unless we are going to visit grandparents in a place Sasha is comfortable with. 
Family selfie in front of Disney hotel
Family selfie again, Sasha happy to be leaving the Disney hotel behind
So what about our destination? Disneyland Paris. I remember sobbing my heart out in Florida three years ago, when we arrived at the Magic Kingdom and Sasha wanted to leave again instantly. I couldn’t believe that what I considered to be the most magical place wouldn’t be for one of my girls. So why try again, you might ask? Two reasons. First, our eldest girl loves rollercoasters and rides, and I wanted to give her a special, fun experience. Maybe it makes up in some small way for always having to sit in the back of the car. Second, I hoped that it was other factors which had had an impact in Florida. The heat, the size of the park, the queues to get through security and the wait to speak to someone about getting a special ride pass for Sasha before we started might have all contributed to her reluctance to enjoy our time at Disney in Florida. 

Now I know for sure; Disney is just not a place Sasha wants to be. She found the dressed up characters scary, she plucked up the courage to try a couple of rides but was scared of what could go wrong when on them, so she refused to go on any more, and she hated the crowds. To be fair, her Dad wasn’t a fan either. Paying money to stand in queues is not something he enjoyed. 

I wanted to make sure we’d given Disney a proper chance. To me it is, and always will be, magical. I’d go again in an instant if anyone invited me, and I know Tamsin would too. But I now accept it definitely isn’t for everyone. That’s OK, we’re all different after all! Not sure where that leaves us with the planning of a return trip to Florida which had been on the cards, but I guess we’ll just have to do a bit more thinking. 

After Disney, we moved on to Villages Nature, which is a place only ten minutes drive from Disneyland Paris. This resort is part of the Center Parcs chain and a similar set up to those in the UK. About once a year we spend a weekend at Center Parcs in the UK because to Sasha that’s part of our routine, a place she knows and enjoys (although which we have similar issues with travelling to). We had a 2 bedroom villa and Sasha was pleased to have more space again (we’d been all four of us in two double beds in one hotel room for four nights for Disney). It became clear though that she was still missing her home comforts like her own duvet and carpets on the floors, and most importantly her own private room to be able to run around and sing in. She doesn’t like being watched or listened to as she makes up stories and songs, and this is what she does to relax at home. 

We loved the water park but after a couple of hours in there each day Sasha just wanted to relax back in the villa and wouldn’t go out for a walk to explore. Eating out was not a possibility for us; not many options (no McDonalds 😱), too many people, slow service. All totally fine for your average family, just not for us. We’d managed to persuade Sasha to go to the hotel restaurant in our Disney hotel, and that was a real achievement for all of us to be able to sit and eat a meal together. It was a buffet though, which really helped, as we managed to be in and out within about 40 minutes - that was the extent of Sasha’s patience. She looked at the buffet, but wouldn’t eat anything and sat at the table with her iPad and headphones on. Better that than one of us being stuck in the hotel room with her though (which was what happened for most of the time at my brother’s wedding recently...). 
Family selfie in Disney hotel restaurant
Family selfie again, in the Disney hotel restaurant - not somewhere I ever thought we'd get to!
So our time at Villages Nature was very laid back and relaxed... but it did make me wonder whether it was worth paying to be there rather than just being at home where Sasha was comfortable. Chris and I did manage to pop out for a walk, leaving the girls in the villa with Tamsin now being responsible enough to look after Sasha (she’s a teen, too lazy to walk herself 🙄😄). It’s a lovely place, I’ll do a write up of it soon, along with one about Disney and the hotel we stayed at. 

So was it a good holiday? Am I glad we booked it? Difficult questions to answer. Sure, there were some fun and happy times, and I have the photos to prove it. But did they outweigh the stressful times? Was it worth the money? Would we do it again? Shouldn’t a holiday be something you really enjoy and want to repeat? 
Family selfie in Villages Nature
Family selfie again,on our last day in Villages Nature
We’ve tried a few different holidays over the years and it’s always easy to look back with rose coloured spectacles. I’d still say Florida was our best holiday despite the fact that Sasha didn’t love Disney - what she did love there was the pool in our villa and being able to swim with just her sister, parents and grandparents every day. And of course Tamsin loved the thrills of Disney and Universal. I’m not sure we will be able to get Sasha on a plane again though as her anxieties over flying sky rocketed the last time we went. 

It’s difficult to find anything that would please everyone in the family. Center Parcs in the UK works for us because it’s just one weekend a year and it makes Sasha so happy, but we probably wouldn’t be spending our money on that if it wasn’t for Sasha. It could be that we are getting to a stage in life where we need to consider separate holidays and just park the whole family holiday idea for now - I’d be interested to hear from others if you’ve done this and if it works for you? 

Four family selfies; that's four more than I thought I'd get this whole year! Sasha is not a fan of photos so looking back these remind me that she wasn't unhappy all the time. Ups and downs, every family has those, right? I guess it just feels like our downs go on for a while when on holiday. I'm pretty sure a standard beach holiday would not have fared any better - neither of our girls are sand fans right now. I'm hopeful that will change as they grow older though!

My heart sang when I saw the huge grin on Sasha's face once she'd stepped back inside our own home. It was clear to see that she finally felt comfortable again. She sighed, and stated 'I want more than two weeks of August at home next summer' (we were away for her uncle's wedding at the start of this month) and 'it was worth it, but I don't want this travelling again next year'.




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