We've visited our favorite family spot, Pensacola, Fl every summer since I was little. The best memories come from this trip and I only hope the boys can say the same when they look back on all their years spent there! This was our first trip as a family of 5 (last year I was a little over a month away from having Crew) and it was such a sweet one.
We drive every year and it's one of my FAVORITE parts. I remember my parents waking me up in the middle of the night to load my sister, brother, and I up in the car to make the ~8 hour trip. It was better than Christmas for me! This year was the first year I saw that excitement in Jackson's face and seeing this tradition come full circle means the WORLD to me.
Without stopping, it's about 8 hours from our driveway to the beach house, but with small children it usually takes us about 9.5 hours to get there. We choose to leave around 3AM (which means 3:30-3:45 on my family's time) because knocking out a good portion while the kids are sleeping is CRUCIAL. Especially with a baby.
The past two years have been a little different because of Covid, but usually we plan to stop at a Chick-Fil-A around 6-6:30 when the sun has risen and all the kids are awake. That way we can eat breakfast and the kids can get some energy out/move around for a while. Then we load everyone up and drive for a few more hours (2-3). The baby usually will nap and the older ones will play on their tablets. We stop for an early, long lunch somewhere that's family friendly and let the kids run around again. Then load everyone up and hope to make it there before the baby has a meltdown! We also will inevitably have another bathroom stop or two squeezed in there somewhere. We make sure to have the car FULL of gas at the start of the drive and fill up when the toughest passenger (the baby) is awake so we don't accidentally wake him up if he happens to be taking nap when we get close to Empty.
My main tip is to EXPECT to stop and be okay with taking longer stops. We love going to Target to let the kids run around and pick out a new toy that will entertain them for a while on the trip if everyone's losing it and needs to get out for a while.
WHERE WE STAY
We stay on Pensacola Beach, Florida every year, which is a community on the Gulf Coast barrier Island of Santa Rosa. It's about as close to Texas as you can get in Florida which makes it VERY convenient when driving!
We rent a home every year and as the years went on and our family grew we switched to bigger and bigger homes to accommodate everyone comfortably. We now have 15 adults and 13 kids between us all! We've stayed in at least 10 different homes since we began and almost every one has been on Ariola Dr. which is beachfront.
The past two years we've stayed at 1007 Ariola and have been happy with it! It has 8 bedrooms, 8.5 bathrooms, a pool and an ocean view. ALTHOUGH while we were there the lot across the street was listed for sale so in future years we may switch homes (having a pool and an unobstructed ocean view are both musts for us!).
There are plenty of amazing properties along Ariola, and if you have less people some of these homes are STUNNING! I think we're down to only 2 or 3 homes that are big enough to fit everyone comfortably at this point.
WHAT WE DO
We spend nearly ALL our time at the house switching from the pool to the beach. We used to go to the Naval museum and watch the Blue Angels fly (HIGHLY recommend this!) but because of Covid we were unable the past 2 years. There's a boardwalk and restaurants, mini golf, jet ski rentals, etc but since we have so many kids 5 and under it's easier to stay home and just enjoy time with each other! This year we rented 'silly' cars for a few hours and the kids had so much fun with that.
I would say Pensacola Beach is more of a ‘chill’ beach town (don't think Rosemary or 30A...you won’t find great shopping or super fancy restaurants) and we absolutely love it that way!
The guys all do a fishing trip each year and we have a fish fry from what they've caught.
We plan out meals ahead of time so everyone picks up a meal or two and then will usually do one dinner out (although we didn't this year because there was a tropical storm the night we were going to go!).
WHAT I BRING
Everything you would normally bring to a beach trip, but here are a few items I definitely recommend:
Portable Potty: I keep this in my car at all times now after one of my kids HAD TO POOP at a park with no bathroom!
Laundry basket: pack snacks, towels, random items in it for the trip. Then use it to bathe the kids either before they come in the house after a beach day to get the sand off them or if you have a shower in your room instead of a bath!
Tent: A good tent is a must! We set it up at the pool and beach, just make sure to break it down every night and bring it in because they will come get it and charge you to get it back (learned this from experience).
Ice pop holders: It's HOT outside and our kids live off of ice pops. These holders help when their popsicles melt in 2 minutes but catching the liquid and letting them suck it back up!
Seashell bags: I bought these last second for my boys and they were a HIT...they hardly took them off!
Net: The boys ask for a net every single year if we don't bring one.
Shovel: Get them a large shovel and bring a backup! Ive bought so many of these and even the highest rated ones will break. I bought this set of 4 this year and none broke!
Sunglasses: I always bring two sunglasses per kid and then one for the baby. The sand can be blinding mid-day and when it's bright out (especially with sensitive blue eyes like our cousins) my kids love having them on. One less thing to whine about (:
Blackout curtains + tape: I bought cheap blackout curtains from Walmart years ago and bring them on every trip. I actually bring 3 because I never know what size window(s) I'll have and sometimes I need a lot! I bring this tape too because Ive found its the best method of keeping them up- just make sure to only tape the fabric to the window itself and not sheetrock because it will pull off the paint!
MOST OF ALL: Remember a ‘vacation’ with kids is no vacation at all- it’ll be stressful at times but these memories you’re making for your kids will be there for a lifetime! Enjoy!!