Oklahoma City family fun has so much to offer. It’s also a strategic location to go other places, Point A for road trips.
Point B was Kansas for our family over the Thanksgiving holiday. My husband, Mario, is from Costa Rica and the landscape here is still somewhat new. Even after a decade, we haven’t seen as much of surrounding areas as we should.
It’s been a long autumn for our family. We’re selling a house, buying a home, moving through a process that feels eternal between showings, packing and the multitude of small decisions that make for big worries. Thanksgiving and time away seemed ideal to regroup.
Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is nothing at all. Kansas City/Overland Park is a five-hour drive from Oklahoma City and it proved the perfect amount of time to settle into less checking of phones, more telling of stories and being together, uninterrupted. It’s never easy to disconnect, even as small voices vy for quality time together. We saw what there was to see: open farmland, a flooded plain, tollbooths, the state line, all of which are novel to children and adults more accustomed to suburban living.
We arrived at a Doubletree by Hilton with warm cookies and a kind staff waiting for us. A quiet Thanksgiving at our own pace was exactly what we wanted; there was, however, so much to see and do in the immediate area, a full itinerary possible, from museums to holiday light displays.
Kansas City and nearby Overland Park feel more like a suburb than a metropolis, in a way that’s welcoming. I can’t say that traveling with a baby and toddler makes for a relaxing time because there are some obvious logistical challenges but the change of scenery makes the pros outweigh the cons. Not being home, with the inherent distractions of laundry, dishes and the endless to-dos, has its benefits.
Here are four tips for making the most of a weekend away with kids:
1.) Research your destination: The Kansas City Convention and Visitors Bureau and Overland Park Convention and Visitors Bureau, like all CVBs, are dedicated to tourism and providing information to tourists. Check out the CVB website where you’re headed, whether that’s another state or just another city. Google for a local parenting magazine (shout out to “KC Parent!”). Staffers tend to pride themselves on the accuracy and availability of information. A quick call might save you hours of fruitless internet searches.
2.) Pack swimming clothes: I didn’t anticipate swimming during the holiday season. However, the hotel’s indoor pool was a perfect distraction for my children when the weather turned inclement. I haven’t met a mom yet who absolutely loves to get in the pool with her kids but being able to get your 33-inch toddler off the pool steps in a 48-inch pool is a priority when that’s what is keeping him happy.
3.) Make friends with the hotel staff: Get to know the people working to make your stay comfortable. Genuine interest goes a long way to getting to know about life in a community. Learn their names and be grateful; both stand out to staffers who deal with the public all day long. People make all the difference and that goes both ways. You’ll remember their names long after you leave and they just might remember yours. There’s a very human quality to that. (Hi, Reva! Reva supervises the hotel’s restaurant and went above and beyond to make the visit work with three small kids who now ask if we can go back to visit her.)
4) Moderate your expectations: There will be great moments on the road and some rough ones too. You’re not going to make it to every possible venue. Know that this is a vacation together, not a reprieve from parenting that will harken back to pre-parenting days. It is, however, your chance to have quality time with a child at a key time in his or her life that will be memorable just because of the change in routine.
Anything else they remember about it is up to you.
My favorite area venue was the Museum at Prairiefire. It’s made possible by a collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History and the facility provides a memorable experience. Hands-on science in the museum’s Discovery Room is interesting to kids but also to their parents. If your child likes dinosaurs, whether “Dinoblock” by Christopher Franceschelli is on your night table or you’ve moved on to “Jurassic Park,” the collection here transcends age. I wouldn’t have guessed that the museum’s exhibit on the history of the horse would be of interest to us; it was and we’d love to visit again someday.
Christmas came early on Thanksgiving night with neon lights at the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, a coordinated display with accompanying radio music, impressive in its complexity. We were ready to brave a mall on Black Friday.
Oak Park Mall is the area’s main local shopping center and it features a DreamWorks DreamPlace Ultimate Santa Adventure, open through Christmas Eve, is hosted by Shrek, Fiona and Donkey. Visiting the North Pole is the attraction’s premise. Sam, Isaac and Gabriel participated in a flight simulator that they described as their favorite part of the adventure; that’s a lot to say considering that it culminated with meeting Santa Claus. Pixar’s popularity with children makes it a guaranteed success.
The mall also includes a grand carousel that charms children from the moment they walk in the door.
Our visited lasted a day longer than we anticipated; Oklahoma City saw its first winter storm and we decided not to brave highway travel.
The extra day gave us the chance to discover a restaurant more akin to home than even where our actual house is: a Venezuelan/Colombian restaurant called El Portón boasted familiar fruits and foods that are more similar to Costa Rican food than we’ve otherwise found here.
The nostalgia of familiar food in an unfamiliar place gave us a full-circle conclusion to a terrific family trip and we headed home happier than we left.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, the holidays, holy days: there’s nothing more sacred than family and I’m grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with mine. Whether you’re headed there or just getting away for a day to a different destination, I recommend it.
Safe travels from our family to yours!