Spring Vacation 2010

My parents live in Houston, which is about 2000 miles away from here. Needless to say, we don't make it down there to visit very often. We see them once or twice a year when they travel here or somewhere else in the West, but trips to Texas are few and far between. The last time we went was in 2007 and we drove. I wrote about it here and here. You'll notice some similarities between the trips because we have some favorite places that we like to go to every time.

Anyway, this year we didn't have any big family reunions and Frugaldad had some vacation time that was use-it-or-lose-it, so in February we decided that we were going to drive to Houston when the kids went on track break from their year-round school schedule in March. Then just for kicks, we got online to see how much airline tickets would be. Much to our astonishment, if we flew mid-week, we could fly the whole family for about the cost of the gas and hotel rooms when we drove. The only additional cost would be renting a minivan while we were there. And since I am Frugalmom, I happened to know that my Discover card was offering 5% back on travel purchases during February, so I got 5% back on the ticket purchase. And then I found a screamin' deal on a rental car through my NRA membership. We bought tickets to fly out of Salt Lake City, and planned to drive down the night before, camp out on my grandma's basement floor, then fly to Houston the next morning.

A couple of weeks before we were set to leave, the bigger kids came home from school asking which day we were leaving. When I told them, they were disappointed, because they had learned that Brandon Mull, the author of the Fablehaven books was going to be in town the next day for a book signing. The last book in the series was coming out on the day we were leaving. Knowing that Brandon Mull is SLC-based, I sent them online to find out where else he'd be. Imagine their delight when they learned that the night we would be in Salt Lake City was the night of the launch party, held at a high school just minutes from where we were staying the night! We pre-ordered our book from our local indie book store and planned to make the launch party part of our vacation adventure.

The day to go on vacation arrived. It was a Tuesday. We got out the door by 10:30am (my goal had been noon, yay for me!) and stopped at the bookstore to get our Fablehaven books. The UPS man was next door delivering to another store so we waited around until he brought the books to the bookstore, and we got our books--one for us, and one for my parents--and got on the road to Salt Lake. Frugalboy read the entire time and had the book finished before the party started. The launch party started at 6:30 and we got there about 4:45. I dropped Frugaldad and Frugalboy off. We had decided that hours of lines would be no fun with the little ones. I went to my grandma's and said hello, and since I had told her we wouldn't be there in time for dinner, I took everyone to Costco for dinner (seriously, we love that food court). On our way back to grandma's, we drove by the launch party and the lot was packed. It was definitely worth it for them to have been so early. We visited with Grandma and played marbles with Flat Frugalgirl, who was accompanying us on vacation for a school project. I went and picked up the guys from the party at about 8:45. For their 4 hours of waiting, they had books signed by both author and illustrator!

marbles

The next day, our flight didn't leave until 1pm so we thought we would try and visit Temple Square and get some goodies at Vosen's, a German bakery. We got some rolls and pastries, intending for them to be a snack while we waited at the airport. Then we found a parking spot on North Temple street and went in to the Conference Center. We were very fortunate to get a tour guide who understood that we had about 30 minutes before we had to leave for the airport so he took us on a brief tour, showing us the best places, and took lots of pictures of our family for us.

in the conference center

let's try again

on the roof of the Conference Center in front of the temple

We headed to the airport and had timed things perfectly. We had checked in online the night before and printed our boarding passes and had prepaid the only bag we were checking. Wait, did I not mention that before? Our family went on vacation for a week and we only checked one bag. Each girl carried a backpack with one change of clothes. The oldest boy carried a larger backpack with all his clothes. I had a change of clothes for the baby in my purse and another in the diaper bag. My clothes and Frugaldad's clothes were in a perfectly-sized-for-carry-on roller suitcase. The rest of the girls' and baby's clothes and all the toiletries were in one large suitcase. We also checked the baby's car seat so we would have it for the rental van. We borrowed a booster for our 4-year-old and everyone else was big enough for seat belts. We checked the suitcase and car seat and went through security without a hitch. Everyone was wearing slip-on shoes and Frugaldad went first and I went last with all the kids between us. We got to our gate and I handed out pastries from Vosen's. We sat about 10 minutes and then it was time to board. We had two rows of 3 seats each and the baby sat in my lap or in his dad's. The airline showed Planet 51 in-flight and all the kids had headphones but only one chose to watch the movie. The others either listened to music or read or just sat.

It was raining when we arrived in Houston around dinnertime and that was the only foul weather we saw the whole week. I have never had such perfect vacation weather--it was in the high 60s almost every day. The last few days it got a little warmer but nothing too unbearable. We got our luggage, hopped on a shuttle to pick up the rental van, and drove to my parents' house where dinner was waiting.

The next day we went to Galveston. We started at Seawolf Park, where there is a destroyer and a submarine that you can wander around. It was crazy windy that day in Galveston!

on top of the destroyer

We ate lunch in the park and let the kids play on the playground. Then we went over the Moody Gardens to go to the Aquarium. It was really cool and the kids had a great time.

tunnel

The baby, in particular, loved looking at all the fish.

watching

Then we went to the beach. It wasn't particularly warm and was super windy, so the beach wasn't crowded at all. We didn't stay too long, though, because everyone was hungry so then we went to Cici's Pizza for all-you-can-eat dinner. I worked at a Cici's when I was a teenager and now it is a Houston-vacation tradition for our family to eat there. And that was the end of Thursday.

kids on the beach

Friday we headed into downtown Houston to go to the Cockrell Butterfly exhibit at HMNS. There were a lot of butterflies that day because of the beautiful sunshine. The kids complained a little about the heat and humidity, but it was mostly because they are used to the Idaho springtime, when our highs barely reach 50 and the humidity is low.

coming into the butterfly exhibit

After the butterflies, we walked a couple blocks to the Children's Museum of Houston. I had polled my facebook friends for touristy things to do with the kids, and this museum was suggested to me. It is also part of the Association of Science and Technology Centers, which offers free admission when you have a membership at a participating center. Our local children's museum is part of the ASTC as well, so the week before we went on vacation we went and bought our yearly membership, which I had let lapse. The membership to our local museum is cheaper than a daily admission for our family at Children's Museum of Houston, so I think we got a great deal.

My friends, we spent half a day in the Children's Museum and we could have easily spent all day there. All five of my children had a wonderful time. There are so many things to play with and interact with. There is a giant Tower of Power, which is essentially a giant playground. A huge area is devoted to physical activity and the kids are given cards that they can use to log their activities and monitor their heart rates. There is a giant city with a store, restaurant, tv station, hospital, bank, etc, where kids can pretend to run things, and they can earn money on the same cards, then spend it on virtual stuff. There are physics activities for older kids, blocks and water play for younger kids, even stuff that grown-ups can play and learn. I highly recommend this museum to anyone who is looking for an activity in Houston. We ate lunch in the museum cafe, and there are many child-friendly choice, including corndogs, yogurt, juice boxes, hamburgers, milk, and grown-up fare like salads. The prices were very reasonable for a museum cafe.

really cool blocks

tower of power

We drove back to Grandma's house and shortly thereafter feasted on barbecue brisket and sausage from Strack's Barbecue.

Saturday I needed to do laundry (when you only check one bag, laundry is a necessity) and we worked in the yard with my parents. After lunch, I put the baby down for a much-needed nap. Grandma stayed home to keep him company. Grandpa took the other four kids to the park, and Frugaldad and I went to the Houston Temple. When we got home, we went to the Container Store and then we enjoyed my dad's Dutch Oven chicken and baked beans.

Sunday we went to church and then were invited to dinner at my aunt and uncle's house around the corner.

Monday we made our maiden journey to the mecca of modern design, IKEA. Since we were flying home the next day, I was limited in what I could purchase. I managed to only spend about $20, the majority of which was cardboard magazine files (WOW, I know. How exciting! I went to IKEA and all I got was magazine files?) We went to Cici's pizza for lunch again and then went to the arboretum. Monday night my dad made crepes and we had some old friends over. I also made a quick run to the high school to say hello to my old choir director.

swing

Tuesday we left around 7 am and stopped for doughnuts on the way to the airport. My kids were amazed at how many doughnut shops there are in Houston. There is one on almost every corner. Here, we can get doughnuts at the grocery store, at the one Krispy Kreme in town, or the one or two other doughnut places in the whole valley. Our flight to Salt Lake City was pretty bumpy and we were glad to be on the ground. My sister Lisa met us at Denny's near the airport for lunch and then we headed back to Boise and got home before bedtime.

We had a fabulous vacation. It was work for the parents, as most vacations are, but the kids all had a great time. Logistically, we had no significant trouble with taking five kids on 2 flights. The kids didn't even fight as much as usual. It was definitely a week well spent.

family picture