The Vacation that Almost Wasn’t…

As parents, my husband and I couldn’t be prouder of our four children. They were a joy to raise, they get along great, never caused us any major concerns, they all graduated from excellent Catholic colleges, they are self-sufficient and working in the fields they went to school for, the two that are married have wonderful, loving spouses, and as young adults they all continue to practice their faith.

Once they left the nest, none of them came back to live at our house for any extended time, so we truly are empty nesters. The only downside to having these independent and confident children is that none of them live in our state so we don’t get to see them nearly as much as we’d like to.

With our daughter and daughter-in-law expecting, we really wanted to carve out the time this summer to have a nice long weekend family vacation. Between our 2-year-old grandson and the new babies on the way, it may be quite awhile before we have the time or energy to do this again.

We chose to rent a large house that was about equal distance from all of our homes for our vacation weekend this month. After many phone calls, Google Hangouts and group texts, we settled on a place that was eight hours or less of a drive for each family.

Things got kind of dicey as the day of our trip drew near. We were told that the house had been double booked for the last night of our stay. The owner said he’d find us a comparable place in the area for the last night. To repay us for being willing to pack up and move for that last night, we were told that he’d give us five free nights at his house sometime in the future.

We were out of state visiting our daughters when things first started to unravel. The owner claimed he couldn’t find us another place within 60 miles for that last night so he just refunded a portion of our payment. We asked to go back to our original agreement and have the other party check in a day later because we really didn’t want to cut our vacation short. According to the owner, that was not possible.

So, three cars set out towards our destination on the first day of the vacation with the thought that we’d work out the Saturday night lodging once we got there. When the first car arrived, our son and daughter-in-law used the code to open the door to the property and walked into an absolute mess. Our son-in-law described it as looking like a frat house. It didn’t look anything like the pristine pictures we had seen on the internet. Not knowing what else to do, they waited a couple of hours for the next car to arrive. Meanwhile, I was in the second car and we heard about the condition of the house and called the rental company.

Here’s where it really got interesting. The owner, who was traveling in Europe, without calling, texting or e-mailing, had cancelled our reservation earlier that day. We were dumbfounded but with no other options at that point, headed to the rental house to meet up with the first group.

Once I saw the place, I knew we couldn’t stay there so we packed up the vehicles to head into town to get dinner and try to figure out some other options. As we were leaving, a vehicle pulled in behind us with two men who testily wondered why we were on the property. It turns out that they had been staying there and the owner told them that he had cancelled our reservation (apparently everyone knew but us) and they could continue to stay there for two more days. They were also going to be the ones cleaning the place. Judging from how they had left the house when they were gone that day, I could only imagine what condition it was going to be in after they were done “cleaning” it.

We left the property, found a restaurant and while eating dinner we got some tips of different places to try to rent. There was a resort less than an hour north by Starved Rock State Park in central Illinois. The web site said they were filled but when we called they were able to book us a villa that slept 10 for three nights at a reasonable price. We were so happy to have found a place that could accommodate us. By 9:30 that night all of us were together in a quaint, rustic-looking villa that was clean, comfortable and perfect for our group.

So the vacation that had a rocky start turned out to be one of the best ones we ever had! The villa was great and it was set in a wooded area that was relatively quiet. When you walked outside at night it was so dark you could see countless stars in the sky— it was breathtaking. It was fun walking outdoors with our grandson because he was looking at bugs and squirrels and finding sticks to play with. Plus they had a waterpark at the main lodge that was the ideal size for him and a play area next door with a huge slide that he loved riding down with his dad and uncle. There was a nice miniature golf course on the property where we enjoyed some friendly family competition. I was proud to say that I scored a hole-in-one after shooting through a water hazard and over a grate. Is there a PGA tour for miniature golf?

The villa had a kitchen so we were able to prepare some food there and other meals we ate out. We found this amazing bakery for pastries and doughnuts called Nonie’s. The food was delicious and very reasonably priced. Starved Rock State Park was just a few minutes down the road so we went hiking there for a morning. It was beautiful — we not only got a lot of pictures of the scenery but many family pictures as well. The last night we were there we ate at the Starved Rock lodge and had a really nice meal together.

How blessed are we to have a family where we all love each other, respect each other and enjoy spending time together. We had such an awesome time and as stressful as the beginning was, this was a vacation we’ll be talking about and laughing over for years to come.