By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Media Services

Five years is too long between vacations. Just ask Amy and Matt Wilcher.

The Ohio couple hasn’t had a vacation since their Caribbean honeymoon five years ago. Now that they’re parents, they’re contemplating an entirely different kind of getaway with their 2-year-old daughter, but Amy Wilcher acknowledges, “We simply can’t think of anywhere to go that would be easy and baby friendly.”

Here’s the good news for all of you family vacation virgins: There are plenty of places to go with your baby or toddler that won’t bust the budget and will guarantee fun family time, as well as that all too elusive adult time. A cruise is one possibility — as long as you choose one that’s toddler friendly. The Disney Cruise Line (, for example, offers day care (at $6 an hour) for infants and toddlers, as well as organized programming for kids 3 and up: Carnival’s organized programming starts at age 2 (, while Holland America ( can arrange in-room baby-sitting for young cruisers.

All-inclusive resorts like Beaches ( and some Club Meds ( also have organized activities and day care for young children.

Too often, though, vacations with young kids aren’t vacations at all, at least not for parents. “I haven’t gone to the bathroom on vacation by myself since 1999,” one mom of three sighed.

“When you bring a child along, it shouldn’t be called a vacation, but rather a trip or an adventure because it’s not very relaxing,” added Colorado mom Allison Johnson. That’s why this spring, Johnson and her husband have opted to take their 6-year-old to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, hopeful that he’ll enjoy the day camp and they’ll get the R&R they want.

That’s nothing to feel guilty about, the experts say. Whether you want to get away without the kids (nearly one in three parents has never vacationed without their children, according to a recent survey commissioned by (, for which I helped develop the questions) or simply carve out some “me” or “us” time when taking the kids, it’s important. “As much as you love your kids, your relationship with your spouse needs time and attention as well,” says Vermont child psychiatrist David Fassler, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont.

Even at Walt Disney World ( Just recently, WDW officials announced that the resort’s most elegant restaurant, the Victoria and Albert, would no longer welcome children under 10, a decision based on guest feedback. There are many options for the kids, of course – from a variety of supervised evening programming (Mousketeer Clubhouse anybody?) to hotel room sitters, to inviting grandma, or your favorite sitter, along.

Lisa Torres not only invited her mother-in-law on her Florida beach vacation but also paid for her travel expenses and hotel room. “We did family things during the day and then in the evening, my husband and I got to spend some romantic evenings together, while my mother-in-law watched our son. Everyone had a nice vacation.”

That’s assuming you don’t mind vacationing with your folks or your in-laws, added Orbitz spokesman Jim Cohen, a member of’s new Parents Panel (, which offers family travel help.

However you manage to get that alone time, it’s important for parents to remember that it’s positive for the kids to see parents taking time for themselves,” says Dr. Elizabeth Baldwin, a Connecticut child psychologist and mom to two young daughters. “It teaches the children a lot about love. It’s a good thing, not selfish.”

Showing the kids that they can manage without their parents – whether for a few hours or a few days – is also a good life skill for the kids, notes Omaha pediatrician Laura Jana, the mother of three, and a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She worries that she’s seen an up tick in the guilt parents feel about leaving the kids for some adult R&R.

That goes for single parents too. Single mom Kelly Ladyga, a Denver ski industry executive, treats herself to a couple of long weekends away each year from her preschooler, leaving her happily with relatives. “I’ve come to realize that taking care of myself is very important, as it helps me to be a better mother. If I’m happy, she’s happy and we have more fun together.”

That “me” time doesn’t necessarily have to be about romance either. In fact, two-thirds of those polled for the survey, said that sex was secondary to simply relaxing with their significant other. “I’m just happy to sleep and not to cook,” jokes Laura Davidson, a busy New York businesswoman and mom of two young sons. Her tip: Book adjoining rooms or a villa so there is a little space between your room and the kids.

Kendall Creighton, a Southern California mom of four kids under the age of five says trading off with her husband for an hour or so “has saved many a vacation.”

Michelle May, a working mom from New Jersey and a member of Walt Disney World’s Moms Panel ( adds that there are also pluses for the kids having that special time with the other parent – as her daughter did with her husband while she ran a marathon at Disney World. Besides, she adds, it’s important for kids to see that their parents have hobbies and interests that are important to them. “It sets a good example,” she believes. Another tip: Take a day off from work and have a mini one-day vacation with your spouse while your child is in school. “It’s amazingly peaceful to sit in a beautiful restaurant for two and a half hours on a weekday afternoon, and cheaper than paying for dinner and a sitter,” she says.

Happy Valentine’s Day!