Jyl-and-Chase-on-the-WaterI come from a big family. Not only am I the oldest of 6 children, but I have 17 cousins on my mom’s side of the family and 19 on my dad’s side. Growing up, we bounced back and forth between relative’s houses with ease given that we all lived within 5 miles of each other. While at times things felt a little too close for comfort, I learned to appreciate the familiarity and connection I had with my family.

Now fast forward to adulthood when the vast majority of my relatives stayed in Arizona, but a few ventured off to other places—like Utah—including me and the majority of my siblings.

While I’ve been able to live in some fun locations and enjoy visiting my parents who currently live abroad, I will admit that it has been tough to not be able to enjoy that same family closeness I enjoyed growing up. So when my husband, Troy’s, brother planned a wedding in Mesa this winter—the very city where I spent my childhood—and my parents decided to come “home” to visit family for the holidays, I knew an extended vacay was in our near future. And a few short months later, we were on our way to spending Christmas in Arizona. Call me a snow bird if you want. I’m all over the blue skies and wore my flips every day to bask in the glory of the warm weather.

6 Ways an Arizona Winter Vacation Satisfies a Family’s Senses

I like to plan vacations that appease all six of my and my family’s senses. Here’s a few suggestions based on that for enjoying a family road trip to Arizona in the winter:

  1. Site: The Christmas lights at the Mesa, Arizona LDS Temple; the boat parade at Val Vista Lakes in Gilbert; and the dessert at sunset. I also hear the Phoenix Zoo Lights are amazing!
  2. Smell: Citrus after picking oranges/lemons/grapefruit off the tree; sawdust at Rustler’s Rooste Restaurant; and chlorine from swimming pools and hot tubs.
  3. Sound: Carolers, church choirs, and happy kids about to sit on Santa’s lap.
  4. Taste: Freshly squeezed orange juice from Arizona Navel Oranges; cheese crisps from Matta’s Mexican Grill; and organic salads at True Food Kitchen at the Scottsdale Quarter.
  5. Touch: Spending time with family and strengthening those relationships is one of the best ways to ensure a successful vacation. For our family, staying with my 83-year-old grandpa instead of in a hotel and introducing our children to my cousin’s children was the highlight of their trip. They loved their great grandpa and were excited to see that they had many more cousins—instant friends—than they had thought. No activity or entertainment compared to simple play time with their “new cousins.”
  6. The Sixth Sense: 2 weeks is a long time to stay at anyone’s home, even if that person is your grandpa. I had the feeling ahead of time to plan alternate activities each day to build in natural breaks and those have made all the difference. One awesome tip? The gym! Seems like the last place you’d want to visit while on vacay, but Lifetime Fitness saved our lives. Our Utah membership extends to other states. They have an awesome kid’s center with computers, a big-screen TV, a play land, and a sports court. In addition, the ran winter day camps, offering swimming, rock climbing, games, and arts and crafts. Our kids were in seventh heaven, we stayed in shape over the holidays, and we didn’t spend a whole lot of extra money on activities.

Once we had our fill of freshly squeezed orange juice (daily!), enjoyed the sights and sounds of Christmas, and focused on family, we road tripped home, making a quick stop in Las Vegas. Be sure to join us and learn about how Vegas satisfies the senses!

What are your tips for enjoying a winter family vacation in Arizona?