Summertime is beach time. Or at least vacation time. And you know what that means: complications.


What should be the happiest time of year – breaking out of the routine, catching a breath of fresh air, no “have to be there at a certain time” moment – can often turn into a huge pain in the butt and the instigator of discord in what is normally a classic, harmonious American family. That does describe your brood, doesn’t it?


Almost from the moment of conceiving the idea of packing up and leaving your happy home, all in the interest of breaking the routine, there’s conflict. The first question, where do we go, is actually the catalyst for “discussions.” Discussions are just fine until someone at the end of the process reaches a “decision.” Up to that moment, every cast member had a hope that their desired destination and experience was in the running. Once a decision has been reached, someone is going to be unhappy, maybe pouty, and devising schemes so they won’t have to go.


Something that is such a good idea, like a family vacation, can go wrong from the very beginning. Ah, yes, the joys of living the dream of a democracy are shattered, and the ensuing attitudes of the young constituency become adversarial and combative. Why would we ever expect entire countries to embrace democratic freedoms when within our own families the concept disintegrates into hostility and unhappiness? The first person to find an answer to that question is Number 001 in line for a Nobel Peace Prize.


The old phrase, “sometimes it’s tough to remember that your original objective was to drain the swamp when you are up to you’re a** in alligators,” leaps to mind. Other phrases, such as, “no good deed goes unpunished,” are also applicable.


After a suitable length of discourse, someone, maybe Mom, makes a decision. Everyone seemed to enjoy the beach last year, some more than others, and while that is not the most creative decision, it’s the one we are going with.


Gulf Coast beaches offer a wide variety of experiences, often right in the same location, and so everyone on this excursion can be mildly happy. Maybe overjoyed is too much to ask for, but at least Little Miss Pouty Face will gradually accede to the plan.


Beach experiences can offer a stunning array of things to do. Okay, we can start with the sand-into-water deal. But what Gulf Coast beaches provide is some of the most beautiful sand on the planet. And that means some great looking water.


The "sugar sands” of the Gulf Coast are truly wonderful. Fine white grains of sand mean the beaches never get hot to bare feet, even at 3 p.m. Let me tell you from experience, that is a detail other beaches do not provide. Those “ouch, oooh, damnit, man oh man, (insert your favorite expletive here),” moments as you walk/lurch from your car/condo to the water are not a part of the Gulf Coast beach scene.


What else do we have at the beach? Deep sea fishing on a charter boat is a great bonding experience for a family. Unless, of course, your family is prone to seasickness, squeamish about gouging a living fish with a hook in the hopes of catching a larger living fish, would prefer watching boys/girls walk by on the beach in skimpy swim apparel, or has a strong desire to just lay around the hotel room taking in the educational opportunities provided by daytime TV.


How you approach your beach vacation is quite important. Are you going for full luxe, or will the simple creature comforts of linoleum floors and cinder-block construction suit you fine? Those decisions are almost always made by your bank account and you are a passive participant in selecting your surroundings.


Two of the most intriguing styles when selecting a vacation destination are what I call vertical or horizontal. None of those descriptors applies to your bodily position while you are on vacation.


In the vertical mode, you choose a destination/accommodation that is contained in a single building. Along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, that could be the Beau Rivage or Hard Rock Hotel style of vacation. Within these structures is a full array of entertainment and services for all the family. Obviously for the adults in the room, there’s gaming. For the kids, there are programs and kid spaces, provided by the casino so the parents can do the thing mentioned in the last sentence, without interruptions.


In the horizontal model, the family ensconces themselves in a full resort concept, such as Sandestin in Destin, Florida, the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Alabama, or the town of Seaside, Florida.  


Here, you will park your car and leave it alone for the length of the vacation. For most folks that is almost vacation enough by itself to consider these destination resorts. Transportation from one area of the resort to the other is provided by the resort in small buses, or, you could try a relatively new form of transportation, just recently uncovered by people in Colorado, and called, “walking.” It may not be your style but it provides several fine benefits, including enjoying the scenery, getting a bit of exercise, becoming familiar with your surroundings, meeting other walkers, and allowing you to eat and drink all you want at a later moment without the usual overwhelming but momentary guilt. 


Whichever vacation style you and your family chooses, at some point you may want to pick up a dictionary and look up the meaning of the word, “vacation.” Share that meaning with your clan. Encourage them to contribute to what has to be a fun, relaxing, enjoyable time. Those moments are all too fleeting for a family. In no time, your kids will not want any part of a vacation experience, preferring instead to focus on summer reading assignments or getting an appendectomy.


The true test of a successful family vacation: are you still talking to each other on the way back home?