Family holidays are the cornerstone of many happy childhood memories but for parents they usually involve military planning - and great expense.
A recent family holiday to Mount Maunganui was sparked by a good website deal which meant we could have a decent break without having to remortgage the house. We booked once we were certain there was plenty of space for a rollaway bed for the third child - lack of space on an earlier deal left my husband sleeping on a mattress in the living room while I shared with a child - and then the planning started.
Mount Maunganui is a six to seven hour drive from Wellington, so the big debate was whether to leave in the wee small hours or do the journey over two days.
The idea of packing and unpacking twice in two days did even less for me than the thought of getting up at 3.45am for a 4.30am departure, so we decided on the latter - a decision which turned out to be the right one for our family.
We breakfasted in Taihape, brunched in Rotorua and made it to Mount Maunganui by early afternoon, giving us what felt like an extra day of holiday.
The driver (me) hit the wall about 5pm but by then we'd already checked out the apartment complex's swimming pool, walked around the neighbourhood and found a fantastic park.
Meals were always going to be a big cost so we did what we could to keep a lid on it. After all, who wants to spend so much on food that you can't actually enjoy activities?
With that in mind, we made bacon and egg pie for lunch for the drive up, and baked a carrot cake, meringues and cheese scones for morning and afternoon teas - with fruit, of course. We figured we'd buy lunches most days and have dinner at the apartment.
The trick with holidays, of course, is making sure parents get a break, too; making full-on dinners each night isn't my idea of a holiday so we had simple meals which didn't create too many dishes, including tinned spaghetti one night.
We'd been lent a portable DVD player and it proved a hit with all in the evenings, with the kids piling into a double bed to watch a movie while the adults did their own thing in the living room.
We tried using it in the car on the way home but Paddy, four, quickly turned white, complained of a sore stomach and promptly vomited. Luckily we had a bowl at the ready for such emergencies and the cleanup wasn't too bad. Lesson learned for the parents!
Daytime activities varied, and it was here it hit home that most places still consider "two adults two kids" to be a family. From the BaywaveAqautic and Leisure Centre to the Mount Hot Salt Water Pools to the Athenree Hot Springs, a family pass was for two adults two kids, or one adult three kids. It's not really fun for the whole family if one parent is relaxing on the sidelines while the other grapples with three kids!
It's great these places do offer family discounts as it all helps keep costs down but they might want to consider there are plenty of families about which don't fit their models.
One place offering a discount which caught my eye was Chipmunks Tauranga, where entry is $5.90 for twins aged one-two compared with $7.90 for 'singletons'. Understandable perhaps at that age, when parents have faced extra costs such as two cots instead of one, but maybe a sibling discount would be better for the three-12 age group, where twins are $7.90 each compared with $10.90 for other children. Such places are a lot more appealing to parents if they can sit down and enjoy a coffee while the kids play, and the $6 extra parents of non-twins pay to get two kids in could be the clincher on whether to go or not.
Our few meals out were where we noticed the cost the most but on the whole it's not the actual food where it mounts up - it's the fluffies and fizzies. But we have learned a few shortcuts, including that an adult-sized milkshake gives three good-sized kids' milkshakes, as does a 400ml bottle of lemonade. And yes, I know water is free, but sometimes it's okay to have a treat.
What are you tips to keeping a lid on costs when on holiday this festive season?
- Essential Mums
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Have you been on holiday with your extended family?Related story: Kiran Chug: Holidays with the grandparents