What's for dinner?
No, we're not scrambling on a weeknight after getting home from work. We're on a gondola in Colorado Ski Country admiring the spectacular scenery on a bluebird day while having a spirited conversation about whether we want pasta, grilled steaks or fajitas. We've ruled out going out, though there are plenty of restaurants to choose from in Vail, including right at Lionshead Village where our condo at Montaneros Lodge, a Wyndham Vacation Rental, is located.
Some families gather for reunions at the beach or a favorite theme park, for us it's the ski slopes. And cooking is always a big part of the equation, as is the time on the mountain, including this year on snowshoes. (Read more about our snowshoe adventures in my trip diaries)
There were round-robin emails in the weeks before the trip in which we discussed the menus and shopping lists. My husband, raised in Texas, brought his "famous" chili, frozen from home, and my British sister-in-law the ingredients for Shepherd's Pie.
The fully-equipped kitchen at the Montaneros Lodge Vail and later at the slopeside Blue Sky Breckenridge where we spent the second half of our trip (and the obliging staff who brought up whatever kitchen ware we were missing -- everything from an extra-large pot for the chili, a pan to bake cornbread, and a potato masher -- and the space to spread out is why I'm a fan of condos or houses for vacations with extended family. At one point, the shuttle driver at Blue Sky Breckenridge even ran down to the market to get us butter that we needed for the recipe we were in the middle of making. (I tipped him well!)
(Whether you are thinking of spring break on the slopes or early summer on the beach, you will find plenty of deals from Wyndham Vacation Rentals, which offers more than 100,000 professionally managed properties around the world. (Think upwards of 25 percent off for mountain digs or 20 percent off Gulf Coast lodging in May or June.)
This year in Colorado we were joined by two of our three kids, my husband's brother, his wife and their grown son. The extra space came in handy when the unexpected happened, as it often does on family vacations. First, friends of my youngest daughter (they all attend college in Colorado) were stranded by snow in Vail and couldn't drive back to school. Then my son got sick. The roomy condos allowed us first to host and feed the college girls and then give my son plenty of room to rest up with soup I cooked in the kitchen.
That we live on the opposite coast from my husband's family made us enjoy the hanging-out time in "our" living room in front of the fireplace all the more, too. The best part: Grown kids willing to share precious vacation time with their parents. "I never get time like this with my son at home," my sister-in-law whispered one night.
We're no different than most families who vacation together, according to a new survey on family vacations from the U.S. Travel Association, with which I partnered. The majority of parents -- and kids -- recently polled by Harris Interactive report they've taken a trip with extended family in the past five years. The adults polled explained they are seeking to create long-lasting memories, like those from their childhood vacations.
The vast majority of the kids polled agreed that some of their best memories are from family vacations. I'm glad to see that a family vacation is money well spent.
That's not to say these trips are perfect. Things never are when kids -- whatever their age -- are there. But in my experience, the missteps and hiccups can become the most treasured memories.
Spring, by the way, is a great time to hit the slopes with your favorite snow bunnies. There are great deals, plenty of sunshine and seemingly nonstop festivals. (A good resource is www.ski.com.)
The historic mining town of Breckenridge, for example, is touting the biggest spring celebration in the Rockies with more than 40 events in 30 days, starting on St. Patrick's Day and lasting through closing day on April 14. (Think Park, Pipe and Big Mountain camps for adults and kids, Easter egg hunts on the mountain and in town and the Annual Ripperoo Mascot Winter Olympics.)
Look for Ski Free Stay Free deals the first two weeks in April at Vail (www.vail.com). There are plenty of deals in New England too. Kids 17 and younger can ski free at Stratton Mountain Resort when two adults purchase a lift and lodging package starting at just $111 per adult after March 17. (Check here for more deals). Two adults can even ski free with a Waterville Valley package in New Hampshire.
It's not too late for a spring break deal, wherever you want to go. (Check out our Spring Break Adventures section that lists dozens of ideas.) The brand-new website www.getgoing.com, says it can reward travelers with up to 40 percent off airfare when they prove that they're traveling for leisure.
How? You plan two "perfect" trips and then allow the website to choose one for you. Hilton Hotels and Resorts, meanwhile, is touting a new Family Fun Package that offers daily breakfast for two adults and two children -- and I'm glad to see kids aren't limited to the kids' menus -- and free high-speed Internet access along with appealing rates.
As for us, we're already talking about where to meet for our ski trip next spring -- and what we'll be cooking.
The kids, of course, will do the dishes.
Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated columnist and creator of TakingtheKids.com. Her new Kids Guide to Boston is available online and from major booksellers, along with the Kids Guides to NYC, Washington, DC, Orlando, LA and Chicago. Coming later this year: San Diego, San Francisco and Denver.