I always planned our family vacation like it's the event of the year, but I finally learned that the only thing kids care about is the hotel swimming pool.
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Child floating in swimming pool
Jessica's niece in the hotel swimming pool. 
| Credit: Courtesy of Jessica Hartshorn

A few hours into our family's spring break vacation I was in one of the resort's pools with my youngest niece, floating her little body on top of my hand while she practiced doggy-paddling around. I passed a dad with a toddler on his back who turned to me and said, wryly, "Who knew that all they'd want is the swimming pool, right?"

He said it because we were in Orlando, and it's understood that every family there has come to see Mickey. While the Grove Resort Orlando, where we stayed, is lovely, we picked it for its proximity to Disney World. And yet the man was right. Our kids were psyched to see the Magic Kingdom, but definitely more excited, at that moment, to be in the swimming pool.

Every cliche is true, I tell new parents. "All that matters is that there's a pool" is the great family vacation cliche that is 100 percent accurate. My own kids, now 16 and 14, have had great times in low-end motels with a pool and terrible meltdowns in fancy hotels with no pool. I've learned that the combo of a great place and a great pool is golden.

Child playing in hotel swimming pool
Credit: Courtesy of Jessica Hartshorn

Maybe jumping in the water is what says "vacation" to children. For me, sleeping in and not checking work email equals a break, but kids work by different rules. And so, now that my family travels once a year with my brother's family, doubling the number of kids to please from two to four, we make sure water is in the equation.

Our Disney vacation was amazing and included highlights like my little niece meeting Anna and Elsa, her big sister getting a fierce pirate-girl outfit after riding Pirates of the Caribbean, and my teenagers striking out and exploring Magic Kingdom on their own for a few hours (which mostly meant them hitting the candy store with no judgy adults around). But I think, if you asked the kids, they'd equally sing the praises of the Grove's lazy river. That's just how kids are.