It is late August and that means kids everywhere are going back to school.  In our house, August really embodies summer vacation because we generally schedule a trip and get to spend more time together as a family soaking up the last few drops of summer.  Even though Cora has been attending the same preschool full time this summer and will stay through the school year, we had planned to do a quick getaway prior to her first day in the four-year-old classroom to make the most of this season. 

A few months ago, we took advantage of early-booking discounts being offered at Great Wolf Lodge.  We had never been to the water park before, however, my sisters have taken their kids often and assured us that Cora would love it as much as her cousins did, and would make some really great memories.  I honestly thought it would be like a cheesy theme park experience in that we’d spend a lot of money for a little bit of excitement, but I also thought, what is not to love about a destination where there’s a water park, yummy pizza, and a comfy lodge room, all within a few steps of each other?!

Needless to say, we had a great time.  Although Great Wolf Lodge delivered a positive experience in itself, there are several things to remember about planning an end-of-summer getaway that made it special and we will be sure to do in the future.  Here are the five things I suggest for an amazing back-to-school getaway (wherever the destination!):

1. Plan your getaway with family members/cousins. We were thrilled to share our trip with Justin’s family, including his mom, sister, brother-in-law and niece.  Any chance we get to spend time with Cora’s cousins is really special.  I think it is so important for our children to know and be close to their cousins; we’ve found their relationships often mirror Justin’s and my own childhood, and the memories we made with our cousins.  The timing of our back-to-school trip meant it was bittersweet having such a fun time with our niece, knowing that once the school year gets going, we will not be spending as much time together again until Christmas.  However, the memories the cousins made doing things together like being fish in the water and having dance parties and story time in the grand lobby will carry us through until then!

2. Pick a destination where you’re sure to get wet (parents too). Since it’s the end of summer, our pool days are all but over.  I hadn’t prepared myself to ride all the slides at the water park, but by the end of our stay, Justin and I had done just that.  The water slides use rafts allowing 2-3 riders, so all the adults and kids in our group had a chance to ride at least once.  The water park had us experiencing some intense role reversal in our family, as the adults begged each other to keep going back to ride the water slides again, while the kids encouraged Grandma to hang out with them in the hot tub!  For some reason, the shallowness and security of the hot tub gave both kids extra confidence in swimming.  We were so happy to see Cora really blossom in her swimming skills after watching her big cousin do it so effortlessly!

3. Go for your getaway during the week. Prior to our trip, I had a long to-do list fighting for my attention both at home and work; ultimately, the uninterrupted time with my family won out and I was glad to take a couple of days off work for our trip.  We started our stay on a Sunday so that not only were we able to save some money with discounts, but the water park was a lot less busy than what we were told the weekends could be.  Again, with summer nearing its end, it helped to take advantage of that, and it doesn’t hurt coming back to only a three-day work week!

4. You can’t have too many road trip snacks.  The most important bag to get packed into the car before a trip is the snack bag.  Cora has a fierce love of chips, so that made up about 50% of our snack assortment.  Not only did we pack snacks, but once we arrived, we also made a snack run to Wal-mart to have in our hotel room!  You can really work up an appetite splashing around in a water park all day. 

5. Get ready, get set, have fun!  My final suggestion for a fantastic back-to-school getaway is to dive right in once it starts.  We had been looking forward to this trip all summer, so once the day arrived, we were mostly prepared to disconnect and just be together.  Even some of the minor setbacks we experienced with checking in and out of the lodge didn’t deter us from finding a way to have a great time.  I will admit I’m disappointed I didn’t take more photos while we were at the water park, but the hassle of that may have distracted from the enjoyment – there was too much fun to be had rather than pausing for a photo!  I’ve also learned that when going on vacation, it is okay to loosen some of the everyday family rules such as how late we go to bed, or how early in the day we eat ice cream!