When we set out to select a location for our first vacation in more than two years, we had some very specific parameters.
We live in Pennsylvania and our goal was to escape the cold wintery weather, so our destination had to be a place which had beach-friendly temperatures during spring break, and also had access to an ocean.
In the past we had visited Mexico or Aruba, but when my now 16-year-old daughter’s anaphylactic food allergies (milk, shellfish, egg, walnuts, potato, tomato, eggplant and pepper – including spices from peppers) made it too risky for her to eat food prepared by anyone but us, we stopped taking vacations altogether.
After two years of vacation hiatus, we were seriously craving some beach time. We wanted to find a destination within 20 minutes of a hospital – preferably a North American hospital – and in close proximity to a grocery store that would have a variety of foods my daughter could eat and prepare easily. And we had to be able to read the food ingredient labels – familiar brands would be easiest.
Because she or I cook every breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day of the year, we also didn’t want to spend a lot of time preparing meals. Part of our need for a vacation came from the magician-like skill we had to apply every day in making delicious food that both she and the rest of the family could enjoy. She is very experienced at bringing her own food to restaurants, so that’s what we planned to do on vacation.
We started by checking temperatures. No beach location in the U.S. offered the consistent mid-80’s of the Caribbean. Southeastern Florida seemed to be the warmest beach location we could find.
The next important consideration for us was that we wanted to be right on the beach – not across highway A1A from the beach. There are probably a lot of places where we could have rented a house or a condo, but we’re not experienced with the ins and outs of private rentals.
Also, there didn’t seem to be any resort that offered condos on a beach that would be warm enough during spring break. Amelia Island, near Jacksonville, Florida, has great condos that are in close proximity to groceries and are on the beach, but it’s not 80 degrees there in March.
There were other locations on the West coast of Florida that offered condos, but again they were not as warm or easy to get to, or weren’t reasonably priced during spring break. We eventually settled on Fort Lauderdale.
My teenager, an experienced Internet searcher, found what seemed to be the perfect location. The Pelican Grand Beach Resort in Ft. Lauderdale has honeymoon suites with “kitchens” – if you consider a full-size refrigerator, dishwasher, sink and microwave to be a kitchen. The sleeping arrangements would not be ideal for a family of four: the bedroom only had a king size bed, so one daughter would have to sleep on the pullout love seat, the other on a roll away.
It wasn’t possible to book the suite in August (when we were planning the vacation), but we were told that if we booked a regular room and called 30 days prior to arriving, we could get the honeymoon suite as long as it hadn’t been sold with a wedding package.
So, we booked the regular room, called at the end of February and got the honeymoon suite.
We flew from Philadelphia to West Palm Beach, which took under 3 hours. We ate breakfast packed from home in the airport and purchased lunch for the three non-allergic family members. My daughter with allergies brought her own, and we all ate lunch on the plane. I wish I had packed wet-wipes to wipe down her seating area before she ate: she got chocolate on her pants from the bottom of the tray table, left behind by a previous traveler. If the chocolate – which almost certainly contained milk – had cross contaminated with her lunch, it could have been disastrous. Luckily, that did not happen (and we bought wipes for the flight home).
Getting to the Pelican Grand was a breeze, and there were at least four grocery stores, including a Whole Foods, within a 10-minute drive. The rental car counters were conveniently located inside the West Palm Beach airport, and the airport was less than an hour from the hotel. (If we had traveled to some place outside the U.S., it would have taken much longer to get there.)
Squeezing a family of four into a honeymoon suite may not work for every family.
In addition to the semi-comfortable rollaway and pullouts, the toilet area of the bathroom – which could have easily been a toilet room – had no door. But the bathroom vanity was very long and could nicely accommodate the toiletries of 4 people. There was also a nice public bathroom just outside the honeymoon suite – next to the wedding gazebo – that the girls used if they woke up early and didn’t want to disturb us!
The honeymoon suite was $100 more per night than a regular room, but since we all could eat breakfast and lunch in the suite, it seemed worth it. We did spend about $300 on groceries, which included a couple bottles of wine for the adults, and breakfast foods and snacks (for the three of us without allergies, as well as my teenager). The microwave made it possible for the three of us to reheat restaurant dinner leftovers for lunch. It would have been really ideal if the honeymoon suite had an oven or stove top.
By the end of the week, our allergic girl was ready for some home cooking. But the ocean, pool and a “lazy river” float pool were the perfect relaxation for the stressed-out parents of a food allergic child, and the honeymoon suite made it possible!
Sidebar: What We Brought
|• Paper plates||• Plastic cups||• Napkins|
|• Plastic utensils||• Zip-top bags
|• Plastic containers, lunch box and freezer pack
(for bringing food to restaurants)
|In cooler backpack:|
|• Two meals and snacks for the allergic traveller|
|From grocery store:|
|• Reusable microwave-safe bowls||• Small cutting board||• Small knife|
|• Ice cream scoop||• Groceries|