By SHELAGH BRALEY
It started out as a simple exercise in logistics.
Every spring, we sat down with nine printed pages—three for each of us—the monthly calendars of June July and August. It was just the three of us then, and the goal was to map out our summer travel plans. The process was part dream board, part weekly agenda.
Radar, the family navigator, was only 7 or so. She had already reveled on the Mexican Riviera, beach bummed on the Bahamas, body surfed on Myrtle Beach, discovered the magic of Disney on junkets to Anaheim and Orlando (among other Florida destinations), explored the heights of New York City and relaxed along the coast of Maine. As much as she’d already seen, there were still many places we wanted her to experience for herself, to bind the spirit of travel to her own identity.
We were fresh off spring break 2011 in Los Angeles, where we rolled up the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible, sailed out of Marina del Rey on a Hunter 35, hit up the American Girl™ store, adorned our hair with blue feathers on Venice Beach, hung out with the stinky flamingoes at the LA Zoo, and more. With vacation laundry still in heaping piles to wash, we sat around the coffee table and carefully wrote on our calendars the dates and details for trips to Nantucket Island and the East Coast of Canada.
That summer, Nantucket became part of her soul. And Saint John, New Brunswick, became her home away from home.
After that, we kept continual track of her list, both where we took her and where she dreamed of going in the future.
This past April, on the drive back from our visit to Quebec City, I took a crayon and a piece of drawing paper and wrote out a quick list of where the Captain, our 4-year-old son, has been. His travel history already includes New York City, New Brunswick, Canada, Quebec City, Montreal, a cruise from Boston to Bermuda, Orlando, Loon Mountain in New Hampshire, and a log cabin stay in Bingham, Maine. We’ll keep a running tally until he’s old enough to record it himself.
Most recently, just out of curiosity, I created a spreadsheet for the Adventurer—a true act of love. It’s a chronological catalog by continent and country of all the destinations already crossed off, a list that he happily relived as he recounted the details for me. It was an exciting conversation that energized both of us. We were amazed to see it in black and white: More than 200 spots visited.
Then we were really inspired. It was time again for our late-spring family summit. “We have 12 weeks to find the awesome out there. Where should we go?”
The Captain had a quick opinion: “California.”
At age 4, anywhere Lightning McQueen goes is good enough for him. But we’d already done California with Radar, and she’s done it twice more since then. She knows the Left Coast like the back of her left hand. How could we make it more interesting for her, too?
We pulled up a map to see what else was in the vicinity. “Ooooh, Vegas,” I said.
“That could work,” said the Adventurer. “We could maybe fly into Vegas, stay there a few nights, drive through the desert, stay in San Diego, and then do a couple of nights in Disneyland.”
Radar’s teenage eyes lit up. “I want to stay at the Venetian! Isn’t it really hot there in summer, though?”
I’m sorry, what? I was already lost in thought, dreaming about a romantic night drive through the Mojave Desert in a convertible, coyotes howling, the glowing moon and a wilderness of stars watching over us.
(Hellooooo, bringing the kids, come on back to reality, Mama.)
I’ve been to Las Vegas in summer, and Radar was right, it is hot. It’s so hot and dry, in fact, you can’t feel the sweat evaporating off of your face and body. The thermometer hit 118 degrees when I was there, and sitting by the MGM Grand pool in the heat, frozen drink in hand, was one of the greatest relaxations I’ve ever had—not to mention the afternoon of spa treatments I got, post-pool.
Vegas beats all odds when it comes to spas, nothing else even comes close. I’ve been to this glittering city many times, to cover glamorous openings of new hotels, shows and spa. One visit, I even had a mythical lucky run, where every table and slot machine I touched jangled and cheered and spit out a jackpot. I pocketed more than $15,000 that trip. Caesar’s Forum Shops saw its share of action, too. (I do believe a legendary pair of leather pants, among other treasures, headed home in my suitcase.)
We checked the Venetian website for spa treatments for teens. As expected, the menu is deep and accommodating. Canyon Ranch, a world-class spa tucked away from the noise and lights of the casinos, made its name catering to a similar crowd in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, a few hours from our home in Boston. As a first spa experience, Canyon Ranch may ruin her for other spas forever, but this is an important quest: her first lesson in how to use a holiday to renew herself. A luxury spa is a worthwhile indulgence that makes summer holidays feel rejuvenating, not like just another long haul.
If my lucky streak holds, I’ll get a couples room booked, and that renewal will be for the parents, too.
Disneyland, a desert voyage, some Vegas pampering and the Pacific Ocean: There’s a little something for everyone on our list. Summer can’t come soon enough.