Party of Three: Family Vaca

Great Wolf Lodge – Grapevine, TX

I have rewritten this post so many times that I have lost count.  One would think that writing about a family vacation would be easy; right?  I even told myself, “This post won’t take long at all”.

Wrong.  I was so wrong.  You see this vacation was the first for me and my two kiddos.  This is the first vacation we went on without their daddy.  I lost my husband almost four months ago.  It was strange to plan this without his input.  Ordering three tickets for events instead of four.  Reserving tables for three instead of four.  This was a hurdle I had to get over because my kids deserved a vacation!

That vacation was wonderful!  It was a much-needed time for me and my kids.  Just the three of us.  We laughed, fought (of course I mean they are 9 and 5 years old), and we made lasting memories

I had to ask myself, “self (I knew it was me because I recognized my voice) where in the world am I going to take these two?” I had put this vacation off because just thinking about traveling where it would be just me and the kids was daunting.   I knew the vacation had to be kid friendly I mean I have two kids under the age of 10.  Wherever we went had to be close because we were running out of summer and the school year was about to begin.  Honestly, I was ready to get out of town with my kids and it was time for us to take this major step in our journey as a party of three.

Planning a vacation is overwhelming.  I mean as a mom you want to make everyone happy so that everyone has a good time.  Kids are going to be kids.  There is going to be fighting, and disagreements, and they are going to get cranky (note:  make sure there is a place where a momma can catch her breath).

One of life’s lessons I have learned since my husband passed is to make memories.  I’m not talking about memories for me.  I’m talking about memories for them….my kids.  The entire vacation had to be memorable from the moment we left to the moment we returned home. 

There are times I do feel that I need to make up for their daddy not being here.  I tend to go overboard when this feeling comes over me.  And to answer the question going across your mind, yes, I sometimes pay for it. 

How I made this vacation memorable

One of my love languages and trying to make everything special from birthday’s, holiday’s well basically anything that requires planning. So with little ones, it is not hard to make a vacation magical and memorable.  It takes a little creativity that’s it. 

The magical part was not telling them where we were going.  I packed our bags loaded up the car and told them to get in! When planning your own vacation keep in mind how you are getting to your destination.  We were driving.  So, to keep the kids from getting bored out of their minds while in the car I had a trick up my sleeve planned for the halfway point. 

The Travel Fun Bag

Since we were driving to our destination, I did not give my littles their “Travel Fun Bag” until after we had been on the road for some time.  We stopped for gas and some drinks then I handed them their Travel Fun Bag – they loved it! 

I do a version of this for every road trip depending on where we are going. 

When making a “travel Fun Bag” I try not to spend too much.  This is a bag (or other containers of your choice) that most likely won’t make it back home.  I went to the Dollar Tree and loaded up on coloring books, a sketch pad, colored pencils (because crayons will melt), a pencil tote, a travel scavenger hunt, a book to read, and of course some candy.

Since the kiddos had their Travel Fun Bag it limited how many times the question “Are we there yet” was asked.  As we made it across the state line from Oklahoma to Texas their excitement was growing.  They were taking in the sites through the windows and singing along with K-LOVE playing on the radio.  Seeing all the traffic, overpasses, and underpasses were blowing their minds!   At one point my son started to ask, “Momma, what happen if the road falls?”

Finally made it to the OK/TX state line!

Since the kids had their travel goodie box it limited the question “are we there yet” a lot! As we made it across the state line from Oklahoma to Texas their excitement was growing. They were taking in the sites through the windows and singing along with K-LOVE playing on the radio. Seeing all the traffic, overpasses and underpasses were blowing their minds! At one point my son started to ask, “momma, what happen if the road falls?”

First Stop – Dinosaur Valley

Glen Rose, Texas

The drive to Dinosaur Valley was a long one and I started to question if we were ever going to get there.  I even called my sister at one point worried that I was on the wrong road.  Her response was, “If you feel like you are driving in the middle of nowhere – you’re fine.  It will pop up right before your eyes”.  IT DID!  Right before my eyes.  We were on a road with land as far as the eye could see on both sides of the car then all of a sudden – DINOSAURS!

It was a HOT day when we visited the National Park but my son was loving being around all of these dino footprints! My daughter on the other hand was ready to be back in the car with the AC on full blast! We walked to the Ballroom site first. This is a site located in a dry riverbed (at the time of year we visited the riverbed is mostly dry due to no rain) and the dino footprints are scattered all around.

Top photo Roadtrippers by Alexandra Charitan. T – Rex from Go Wandering photo by Andrew Heller

We got our steps in that day walking to the different sites along the riverbed and climbing up and down the walkways and dirt-made stairs.  Thankfully, the park rangers offered us a bottle of water before we started our journey.  There were so many sites to see I wish we could have seen more.  Kaleb didn’t care about the heat he was off to look for the foot prints. the river beds were almost completely dry so we were able to step in the foot prints – WOW! I can only imagine how tall the dino was with a foot print that large. We spent a lot of time in the Ballroom area. This is a place were the prints are every where as if someone had been dancing. It’s beautiful. My daughter found a few rockpools with tadpoles in them she was stunned how they could survive. I told her all of God’s creatures are the urge to survive.

We said farewell to the Dinosaur Valley National Park, filled up on gas, and found a great snack at a childhood favorite of mine Dairy Queen! Just to let you know.  Don’t get too excited about sharing all your favorite childhood places with your kids.  They may not feel the same. 

She was not impressed with Dairy Queen. I however finished my Blizzard!

final stop-great wolf lodge

Now, the kids were getting hungry and antsy as to where we were going next.  I couldn’t tell them while driving because I wanted to see the look on their faces when we arrived. They had seen the commercials for GWL and had friends who had experienced it and they wanted to go.  So this was our final destination and what we would call home even if only for a few days.

Olivia was the first to see the tall structure of the wolves at the entrance of the lodge.  She of course saw them from the interstate, “Momma” she said, “look at that big bear statue!” Kaleb who still struggles to see over the car window starts to yell, “Where Yea-Yea?  I don’t see it.”

I just continue to drive and as we get closure the large structure starts to be more noticeable from the front and passenger side windows.  All I hear are gasp, “WHOA” (sounding like Joey from the old TV sitcom Blossom) Momma, what is that?” says one.  “Is that where we are going?” says the other. 

I just continue to follow the winding road to the lodge slowly and take in what is being said.  I drive right in front of the large wolf structures and my kiddos are squealing as I park the car. 

“Momma where are we?”  I get out of the car and tell them, “Okay guys, we are here!  Great Wolf Lodge!”  I am so glad they were out of the car because when I told them because the jumping and screaming that went on would have torn up the car!  One might have thought that the ghost of Herby left the body of a Volkswagen Beetle and now resided in a Jeep Renegade.

I expected the kids to just run through the front doors of the lodge, but they walked to the entrance slowly taking it all in.  My kids didn’t know what to do first, the slide!  BUT WHICH ONE!?  The lazy river, the waves, or the obstacle course.  OH, what is a kid to do when faced with so many decisions?

So, as we stood at the bottom of the first slide where there were stairs to climb to do other activities (like shoot the water guns at the other guest) I just watched them look around to decide where to go as the oversized bucket that was above them filled with water and eventually doused them with, I do not know how many gallons of water!  It. Was. Great!

When we were forced out of the pool area, I finally got them to go to the room (with their lips blue and shivering) to change clothes and finally get something to eat. 

We explored the bottom floor where the arcade was located along with other small eating places, an ice cream parlor, a souvenir shop, and a Rock Mining store.   Of course, they wanted to do it all right then so I explained to them that we were going to be there for several more days and we would have time to do it all PLUS some.  Of course, the plus included more surprises that they were not expecting.  As far as they knew the lodge was it!

Two of the packages I purchased was the meal plan and the Paw Pass.  I highly recommend it.  the Paw Pass included the MagiQuest, discounts at Build-A-Bear, an arcade card, and discounts at the Oliver’s Co. shop.

 I knew my kids would not want to eat too much because they would want to swim so I purchased the snack and lunch meal plan.  It was perfect because the snacks included concessions where they could eat chicken strips, hot dogs, and burgers (there were even salads and pasta sold at the concessions), ice cream parlor, and a pizza place that honored the meal plan.  For our bigger meal, which was a late lunch, we went to the restaurant where a buffet was laid out with everything you could think of to eat.  The only thing I missed was a sweet tea.  I am an Oklahoma girl through and through and I enjoy a good, sweet tea.

Every evening there is a “story time” and Dance Party, in the lodge’s main lobby.  You just crisscross apple sauce and the robotic animals come to life with one or two of the lodge staff members telling a bedtime story.  Everyone even wears their PJs to story time.  It was a wonderful chill downtime to end the first night of our vacation. 

There are other events we participated in Arts & Crafts, stood in line to meet the Great Wolf Lodge Character, and The Great Clock Tower Show

As we head to our room, we do a few scavenger hunts with the Wizard Wands, and we finally call it a night.  The kids, of course, said they were not tired but after getting their PJs on and settled in bed they were OUT!  They slept until the pool opened the next day.

I did have a few excursions planned while we were in Grapevine, Texas.


We drove to the Grapevine Mills Mall and visited the aquarium.  For a small aquarium, this was an awesome experience.  We were able to get up close to the sea life in the uniquely designed tanks. There is a 360-degree Ocean Tunnel that is stunning and such a great photo op.  I barely got my son to look at the camera because he was too busy pointing out the sting rays and sharks.   There is an exhibit called Interactive Rockpools where you can pet (with one finger only) the different sea creatures.  One of my daughter’s favorite exhibits was the Sea Turtle Rescue Center.  She is obsessed with Sea Turtles now.

The Sea Life Aquarium was perfect for having fun while learning. 

 I wanted to introduce my kids to the Rainforest Café.  I thought they would love it!  They did enjoy it but when the rainstorm started with the lights flashing and thunder it took them by surprise, and they didn’t understand what was happening.  But they did love the animals when they came to life.  

We returned to the lodge and finally visited the gift shop. Along one of the walls there was candy in large cases. The kids were ecstatic! That wall of candy reminded me of a trip that Eric and I took to Las Vegas. Eric loved sweets! So I took him to the M&M store. He didn’t believe that there was an entire shop dedicated to M&M’s. When he saw the wall of tall tubes holding every color of M&M that existed his mind was blown! He was like a child in a candy store he didn’t know where to go first. So I knew I had to take a photo of the kids in front of the candy wall at the lodge.

I am still trying to navigate this role of a single parent and widowhood.  It is time to take another step forward.

In the end, of course, we will remember the arguments and crankiness, but we will also remember the smiles, love, and laughter that was had.  Memories….it is all about the memories.    

Now, I’m taking a bigger step with this Party of Three and planning a bigger vacation.  This time we will be taking a plane.

Thanks for stopping by!


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