What makes a family vacation great? It’s about what brings your family joy. That’s the first and most basic question for planning great family vacations.


Family Vacation.

If you are anything like me, this is one of the biggest motivators to showing up at work. The pay off of a luxurious family vacation. Yes, there is satisfaction in a job well done. In making a difference in the world around us. There’s also the eternal drive for financial security. But on some cold Monday mornings, it is only the thought an upcoming vacation that can get you out of bed. And when you finally arrive at that chosen destination, you really hope it was all worth it. That you chose well. That the pictures and reviews were telling the truth. I think this is the reason so many people sacrifice variety and adventure and just return to the same resort year after year. A proven winner. But there are ways to choose a new adventure with out great risk to your precious family vacation time. This post will try and help you plan your next family vacation lux reward. We just returned from 2 weeks in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Here’s how we made our decisions on this and other family vacations.


The food scene at our chosen vacation spots is important for our family. Asheville, NC is very family friendly and delicious!

5 Family Vacation Tips

  1. Choose a Destination through Family Discussion and Research
  2. Set Budget
  3. Set Priorities for Vacation
  4. Research Resort Choices within Budget at Destination
  5. Choose Resorts that Best Meet Needs

We choose a new international location by first researching online widely. I used Trip Advisor, Yelp,  various blogs, and professional guide sites like Travel and Leisure. Articles like Frommers “100 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up” can be an inspiring jump off point. A great book full of a childhood of special trips and then some is National Geographic’s 100 Places That Can Change Your Child’s Life. Or your hobbies may be the inspiration, like 10 Best Ski Resorts for Families.  If the beach is your favorite place to relax, an article like 10 Best Family Beach Resorts from the helpful Family Vacation Critic might be your best starting point. Perhaps far away relatives or family ancestry may be your inspiration. Ask every member of the family what they think would be exciting. The answers may surprise and inspire your planning.

family vacation planning

Family roots may be a great jumping off point for your next family vacation

planning family vacation

Telluride or Tahoe? Summer or winter? How I pick.

Combining types of sites you search gives you both a traveler viewpoint and a professional one. Once you narrow down your choices a more specific site may be helpful. Like if your concerned about current safe travel in Mexico read something just written like Ignore the Myths and Take Your Kids to Mexico from indie travel site Bootsnall. I usually search more traveler sites once we have decided on location and begin resort research. Trusted bloggers like the very well traveled Canadian Sarah Pittard have proven invaluable in both avoiding mistakes and inspiring family travel to new destinations.

family vacation planning

Take advantage of the wisdom of veteran travelers who travel with their kids all the time- like Sarah Pittard.

Her website is Solo Mom Takes Flight and she happily gives away free traveler advice to families on her social media outlets. You should check her out soon if you haven’t already.

While I really find the amateur travel based sites (Trip Advisor) invaluable, you do have to “consider the source”. Someone with an obnoxious hotel neighbor or a dietary restriction you don’t share, will at times give a resort 1 star but your time there may be 5 star. I always read the highest and lowest reviews. Then I carefully consider what they are most complaining about and complementing. How important are these things to my family? If it is a resort I like and the complaint is within the hotel’s control, like “low level floors are musty”, I will ask for the assistance of the hotel by email in advance. I quote the review as my source. This usually results in not experiencing the problem at all.

family vacation planning

How much should you trust online reviews?

I try to find winning reviews on the most important vacation aspects for our family. We also travel frequently enough to understand what different hotel brands specialize in. As well being able to enjoy the benefit of membership in frequent stay programs. This often means complimentary breakfast, concierge room privileges, or room upgrades. (These programs cost nothing to join.) Often our favorite hotel in New York or London, will also be our favorite in Madrid. We often include our family favorites Westin or Hyatt in our itinerary.

family vacation

The bed that keeps us booking Westins worldwide. Heavenly indeed.

dog friendly travel

Does your family include a furry member? Dog friendly brands like Aloft and Westin may rate higher for you.

Our top general priorities list usually looks something like this. It often changes slightly with each trip to include things like visiting family or cultural specifics.

Our Top 5 Vacation Priorities

  • Nice Beds and Bathrooms
  • Transporting Environment
  • Outdoor Activities for both adults and kids – Separately
  • Enriching Family Activities
  • Great Food
family vacation planning

Does family down time for you mean time at the beach or on the slopes?

Research suggested there were many resorts in Puerto Vallarta that could provide these things for our family. So we decide to book several that were within our budget. For us, the inconvenience of packing and moving is worth the trouble for a richer vacation experience. Plus knowing we might be back, we wanted to find our favorites on our first journey here. We moved all around Banderas Bay and stayed at both all-inclusives and regular resorts. This too is a strategy for us. At the all inclusive we maximize things like water-sports, kids clubs, nightly shows, and beach butlered drinks. On the reverse side, at a regular resort we maximize time in town, family special activities, spas, and finer local dining. This gives us the best of both types of relaxation. The change in venue also gives us incentive to maximize each day at the different resorts.

family hawaii vacation planning

Oahu offers diverse vacation experiences depending on location. Honolulu is the cultural hub.

Based on the local you have chosen consider choosing some complimentary lodging in differing locals to maximize your family vacation lux. In a local like Tuscany this may mean 3 days in town in a branded hotel in the historic district followed by a villa rental in the country side with pool the second half of your stay. Or in Hawaii it may mean soaking up culture at a luxury high-rise in Oahu followed by some down time at Chuns Reef on the North Shore. This unique property allows whole house rental and includes direct beach access and toys galore.


Surf boards, paddleboards, beach chairs, and kayaks are part of the deal at Chuns Reef on the North Shore of Oahu.

I’ll review each of our 4 choices in Puerto Vallarta in part two of this post and show you what was great ( and not so great) about each of them. But the main point here is that staying in more than one place can really enrich your trip. Don’t be afraid to pack your bags and call a taxi mid week !


Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta was our first stop in Mexico. Stay tuned!

So I encourage you to branch out and explore some place new when you plan your next family vacation. We love the richness diverse travel has given our family life. And I would love to hear about your favorite family trips.

Stay tuned for more information on Mexico and all-inclusives. Are they right for your family? Part two coming up!


Food is another important factor in family vacation planning for our family. How did the all-inclusives stand up?


Potato Pancakes are a part of my collective family food memory. It seems that food traditions are such a rich part of most families histories. Memories of being gathered together in the kitchen or around a table always seem to glow the brightest in our minds. I’m not sure how many generations of women in my family have been making these potato pancakes, but I do know it reaches back pretty far. I’ve personally watched my Mom, my Great Grandmother, as well as my paternal Grandmother all fill their largest cast iron skillets with huge batches of them.  I can clearly remember the enticing smell of sizzling butter and onions drifting through our house. And how I would “set the table” extra slowly. Hoping for a “sample cake” as Mom stacked layers of them between waxed paper for the family meal. Now I smile when my own daughter tries the same thing.


A simple and satisfying plate of potato pancakes and cabbage makes a great winter lunch.

But before we go any further permit me to clarify one thing. These are not Latkes. While I adore a good Latke, I do not have a Jewish heritage. If that’s the recipe you are looking for try this blog for Latke Making Tips. My ancestry is mainly German and Irish.  Some members of my mother’s family immigrated very early (1700’s) to southwestern Virginia where they were farmers.  My father’s family started farming in Henrico County Virginia in 1838 at Bolton Hoehns Estate. A small part of that land is still used today by our 7th generation farmers. I can remember both branches of my combined family making these. And they are different than the more familiar latkes. We always made potato pancakes from left over mashed potatoes, not freshly shredded potatoes. And we pan seared them in a small amount of butter and oil instead of frying them. Kind of griddled, more like you would a regular pancake. They came to the plate brown and crispy on the outside but still smooth and creamy in the middle. And they are still positively addictive today. I love a good leftover recipe. And this one totally transforms leftover mashed potatoes. My only problem seems to be ever making enough mashed potatoes to have left overs in the first place (tip- set aside some before serving!). Oh the potatoes my Grandmothers must have peeled!

potato pancake recipe

It’s undeniable that our grandmothers were just tougher than us.

I know this because we often enjoyed  these for breakfast, sometimes with small pork chops.  I’m just so certain those women were all ever so much tougher than me. Any one else feel that way about their own Grandma? Ever since I was I little girl, I have loved these. Although no one living seems to know their origin, I’m guessing it was a combination of what was on hand, cheap, and filling.  My great grandfather could keep his family of 7 fed through the winter with an acre of land planted with potatoes. The Irish traditionally have Boxty Cakes which bear a resemblance but  combine mashed potatoes with grated ones. And Germans have several variations of potato pancakes as well. This recipe for potato pancakes was commonly found on Virginia farm tables when I was growing up.  Maybe this humble delicacy is due for a comeback?

So here’s my easy step by step recipe for Southern Potato Pancakes.  They are such a fond part of our family’s traditional winter food. We make them in the morning to eat with eggs.


One of my favorite breakfasts growing up.

Or sometimes they were the center of the plate for a simple lunch alongside some a jar of pickles. I suggest the classic pairing of cabbage and potatoes for this. But I do confess to switching over to bok choy or napa cabbage because I prefer its mild flavor. I always loved childhood dinners where a large platter stacked with them appeared as our vegetable.
As an adult, I have seen many tempting versions of these mashed potato pancakes. Pinterest  offers numerous versions using shredded cheese, Serrano ham, goat cheese, herbs, or bacon.  They all look delicious. But what I crave is the simple perfection that I grew up eating. I’ve only changed a couple of things from how my great grandmother would have made them. I’ve added panko crumbs to the outside of the cakes for extra crispness. I’ve used clarified butter because it doesn’t spatter and browns better. And I added a little chives and parsley for a punch of color and flavor. But you can serve them any way you please. Just be sure to steal a sample one from the pan early to eat plain with salt. Or to split with your kids. It’s tradition after all.

EVO Grill

Be sure and make a large stack. These will be popular!

And of course, now I cook them on my EVO. I think my great grandmother would have approved of my version. I know with her love of cast iron skillet cooking, she would have appreciated an EVO to keep all those hungry mouths fed! When I think of how that generation labored to put food on the table, I am humbled.  And grateful. I hope that your 2016 tables and year are filled with the richness of family traditions, both old and new. Happy New Year all.  And thanks Nana.


  • 3 cups mashed potatoes, chilled
  • One small onion, grated on box grater
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour (you may need more or less, depending on how dry or wet your mashed potatoes are)
  • 1/4 c buttermilk (again will depend somewhat on your potato consistency)
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs for rolling finished cakes
  • butter clarified if possible, for pan-frying ( add a little canola oil if using regular
  • small handful (about 4 T) of chopped flat leaf parsley and chives minced fine
  • salt to taste
EVO Grill

Chilling the formed cakes makes a big difference in how easily they hold together while cooking.


Combine all ingredients except panko in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.  Scoop out using ice cream scoop or small bowl onto parchment or waxed paper. Chill at least 30 minutes or up to overnight. Press cool cakes into panko. Brush Evo Grill or cast iron pan with butter over medium heat. Add cakes and griddle about 4 minutes a side or until golden brown and hot. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve straight away or hold in warm oven.

evo grill recipe

You can cook up enough pancakes for every one at once with an evo grill.

potato pancakes with smoked salmon recipe evo grill

Humble potato pancakes get dressed up for brunch when served with creme fresh, smoked salmon, and soft eggs.