At the end of August my daughter and I headed from Texas to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. My husband didn’t have any vacation days to spare, so he stayed behind, and the toddler and I made the journey together. You can read about that adventure in Part 1. Suffice to say we were very happy when we arrived to our beach home for the next few days!
We met up with two of my cousins, their spouses and children, and my aunt. The rest of the crew was there for a full week, so they had already been there for a couple of days when we arrived. That turned out to be a bit of a blessing that things were already up and rolling since I was kind of wiped out when we arrived. I’ll get into what activities we did with our crew of toddlers in a minute, but first here are the details about the house we rented.
The house was not directly on the water, but was about a 3 minute drive to get to the beach. That does mean you are loading up wet/sandy children into cars and car seats, but we didn’t want to pay the premium to be right on the water for this trip. It really wasn’t that hard stripping them down, or just using towels before putting them in the car. The house was three levels and had five bedrooms and five bathrooms. The kids were all still too young to just be put in a kids’ room, but we hope to be able to do that on a trip in the future.
Little C and I had our own room with a private bathroom, which made it pretty easy to keep our routine and stuff contained. I personally don’t like the “beach house” style of decorating, but thankfully this particular house didn’t go too overboard with that style. It was just clean and functional, which was all I needed. There were much fancier houses to choose from (which were quite tempting), but they came with a much higher price tag, so we went with function over style for this trip. This house rented for about $2,100 for a week, which when divided by three families is roughly $100 per family per night. You’re not earning hotel points, but at that rate for a large house with a pool and full kitchen, it’s still a heck of a deal.
They charged a $49.95 fee for using a credit card, so we paid by check instead and didn’t earn any miles for the week-long rental. However, with the introduction of Bluebird, we could have now paid using a check sent from Bluebird (and potentially earned over 10,000 UR points in the process!). I’m really glad we will have that option the next time we do something like this.
The house did have a decent sized kitchen, which was key since we had six adults and four children aged three and under to feed three times a day (plus snacks). Honestly with that many hungry mouths it really felt like it was always time to prepare, cook, or clean-up a meal. Everyone took turns with the various parts of meal preparation and purchasing, but it is a non-stop job making sure everyone is fed! I think we did a better job the first half of the week making meals at the house than the second half of the week. We started getting some take-out, ordering pizza, etc. as the days went by.
There was a large dining table and lots of seating in the living room. Most of the time that we were home, the crew was all gathered in that area, so having enough space there was important! We were able to do things like decorate cookies, play with Play Doh, and color at the dining/activity table. With this many young kids involved, it seems sometimes like you are taking turns running a small daycare!
We were even lucky enough to skip out on dinner at the house one night to have my aunt (two of the kids’ Grandma) keep all four children one evening while the cousins and spouses went out to a real dinner!
While the pool was a requirement for the house since we thought it would be nice to be able to stay home and swim without dealing with loading up everyone, sand, etc. in the end it wasn’t even used once. For some reason the water was just way too cold to comfortably get in. For me it pointed out that a pool really isn’t a deal-breaker since I didn’t miss not using it (though I’m sure it would have been fun if it weren’t freezing).
What I did love about the house was the large balcony. The girls played hide-and-go-seek and put on dance routines out there, and the weather was perfect in the mornings and evenings to sit on the porch and just enjoy being on vacation.
Of course the main attraction in the Outer Banks is the beach! Little C had seen the beach a few times, but this was her first real beach trip. She ate it up (literally at times). She had waited all day to see sand, and when she went up the stairs to see the beach for the first time it was a very exciting moment!
I have to admit that being the only one responsible for your child on the beach is interesting. It requires all of your attention, so don’t expect to just sit in a beach chain and enjoy the breeze. I was chasing her or corralling her 95% of the time that we were near the water. It very much helped to have other family members nearby, but they are busy doing the same with their own children. It would have been nice to have my husband there so we could take turns relaxing and playing, but it was still doable and fun on my own. Watching my water-loving toddler have fun on the beach for the first time was great.
I’m not one who packs the whole house for the beach, but some shovels, buckets, and small toys are on the “essentials list”. I’d say about 60-90 minutes as the beach each time was around the right amount of time for my two-year-old. That was enough time to walk in the waves, build some castles, dig some holes, and run around. I wouldn’t personally want to be on the beach for 4-5 hours straight with a toddler, but that’s just me. Between one and two hours stretches was plenty for us. We went to the beach every day we were there at least once, but we didn’t ever go for more than a couple hours at a time.
We headed to a local playground one evening just to let the kids run around without risking them getting wet or sandy! Having a friend to play with on a playground that they have never explored was pretty exciting to the under-three-feet-tall crowd. I recommend seeking out local playgrounds on your extended family trips because it was fun for the kids, but it doesn’t cost you a thing.
I couldn’t be within 30 minutes of Kitty Hawk and not go see where the Orville brothers had their first flight! The Wright Brothers National Memorial is a part of the National Parks Service and it was $4 per person aged 16 and over. Children 15 and under are admitted for free. Inside the visitor’s center there is a full-scale reproduction of the 1902 glider, a full-scale reproduction of the 1903 flying machine, an engine block from the original 1903 Flyer, and a reproduction of the Wright’s first wind tunnel.
As could be expected, the toddlers did much better outside where they could run around a bit. They really could care less about the indoor exhibits and replicas. We were able to do a quick lap around the visitor’s center, but if we had tried to linger longer than that we probably would have had some cranky-pants toddlers on our hands.
I’m glad that we went to the Wright Brothers National Memorial as it was really awesome to stand on the spot of the first flight back in 1903, and I hope to return some day when my kiddo is a tad older.
Horse Jeep Tour:
While the kids weren’t super impressed with Kitty Hawk, they were very much impressed with the Wild Horse Adventure Tour. It was about $180 for the jeep rental. We put three adults and two kids into one jeep, so the per person fee wasn’t all that terrible when you load up the jeep. ;) You drive in a guided tour along the beach, and then through some parts of the island that are 4×4 accessible only. There is a money back guarantee if you don’t see any wild horses, but I am pretty sure they have a couple horses attached to invisible leads that you will see every time.
Seeing the wild horses was pretty spectacular, but the kids were equally impressed by driving in the open air Jeep next to the ocean. It was a very neat experience, and a fun way to see parts of the island that we would not have otherwise seen. I will add that our house was on Corolla, and after doing the Jeep tour I am very glad we choose to stay in the city, and not out in the four-wheel-drive-only part of the island. It was way too remote for my tastes if we were going to be there for several days!
Overview and Trip Home:
None of us had any idea how a joint family trip would go, but it really was awesome to see all of our kids playing together. It would have been even better if there had been one more grandparent, or if my husband had been able to make the trip. I wasn’t really able to enjoy “adult time” (a.k.a., wine drinking time ) at night since my kid would not stay put in the bed if I wasn’t right there with her, and truthfully I was just too tired at night to stay up one more minute than was absolutely necessary.
Even still, it was a great trip and our plan is to expand the idea to include even more family members next time. Heck, one of the families on the trip has even welcomed one more little boy into the family since the trip two months ago! Since C is an only child and doesn’t have any cousins nearby, we have to travel to get her around relatives her age…thankfully we have family members that are super fun to be around!
The drive back from the Outer Banks to the airport in Raleigh was a bit easier than the drive into the Outer Banks since C was just completely wiped out from the days in the sun. We did leave pretty early in the morning, since reportedly the traffic exiting the Outer Banks on weekend mornings can get quite busy with everyone leaving the rental houses. I think we were on the road by about 8AM, and had no traffic issues.
After a few hours in the car, she did need a break to run around and play. The best place I could find was a McDonald’s play area, but unfortunately it was soaking wet due to a recent rain. It was a situation where I was either going to have an unhappy dry toddler or a happy wet toddler. You can see which decision I made. Afterwards, I just threw some dry clothes on her and we got back in the car to finish the drive to the airport.
While waiting for our flight, we hit up the US Airways Club in the Raleigh airport and turned the luggage storage area into a “pony stable”. It actually worked out quite well! The plane ride home was thankfully totally uneventful and we returned home tired, but very glad we had made the journey to the Atlantic Ocean!