You’ve got kids — lots of kids — and you’re wondering how you’re going to fit them into that resort condo unit. You also wonder how you’re going to keep them all happy and, maybe most important, how you’re going to be able to get away from them. Even the most devoted parent, now and then, needs to decompress.
The answer: a really big houseboat. Being confined to a boat might not immediately top your list of good things to do with large numbers of kids. But if our recent experiment is any indication, the houseboat thing really does work.
We took eight kids: our grade-school age daughter and our grown-up daughter’s seven kids of her own, ages 1 through 13. Figure in three adults and you can see that planning for this trip would be only slightly less complex than the Normandy invasion.
These boats are far bigger and more spacious than regular boats. On this particular trip to Northern California’s Lake Berryessa, we rented a 70-foot Millenium, which is to a small power boat what a 747 is to a Cessna 150.
The Millennium offered by Forever Houseboats has an open layout featuring a large living area in the front salon with a dining table and chairs. There is a breakfast counter and fully equipped kitchen along with four private bedrooms, six queen beds, two full baths, a wet bar, sun canopy and a hot tub on the top deck.
Meals were easy to prepare with lots of counter space available and cupboards and drawers fully stocked with dishes and kitchen utensils.
Like most houseboat rentals, this also featured a water slide on the top deck that the kids found irresistible.
Lake Berryessa is less than an hour’s drive east from Napa. The wooded hills, forests and country roads in this part of the state are perfect for enchanting Sunday drives or picnics or hikes. Adding to that is the 23-mile-long Lake Berryessa, a turquoise jewel that is as practical as it is scenic. This man-made lake is actually a reservoir known for excellent fishing and warm summer temperatures that make it ideal for swimming and other water sports.
Endless water recreation is one reason houseboats work for large families. When you are beached, the water in that particular cove is now your swimming pool and a pretty big one at that. More than likely, you’ll find trails from your beach leading to hours of fun hikes and exploration, another activity that will keep the kids occupied and completely engrossed in what they’re doing.
With a houseboat, you can be as stationary or mobile as you want to be. On our Lake Berryessa trip, we found the kids especially enjoyed the shore activities, so we kept our cruising to a minimum and set up camp sometimes two nights in a row in the same location. The point is, you can do whatever you want to do — there is no itinerary to keep, no deadlines to worry about. Just go where the spirit takes you.
The size of the boat might seem a little daunting for the first-time boat captain, but houseboat rental companies we have rented from put a lot of emphasis on making the experience easy and stress-free. For starters you never actually are required to dock your houseboat or even operate it in close quarters — rental company personnel will take your boat from the dock to an open-water area before they hand you the controls. Then, when it’s time to bring the boat back, they’ll come out and meet your boat and dock it for you.
When you do take the controls you notice that everything’s been simplified and automated. You’ve already been given detailed instructions before you even leave the dock, so you’re completely versed on the throttles and shifting as well as electrical and other systems on your boat. An easy-to-read manual is always at the ready just in case you don’t remember everything.
The main thing a new captain has to remember is to stay away from shallow water where your prop can get damaged. The most technical thing you’ll be asked to do — and it’s not difficult — is to beach your boat. As we’ve done on previous houseboats, we determined ahead of time who would be our “stake-drivers” and then it was just a matter of the captain driving the boat at low speed straight onto the beach and the stake-drivers, one on each side, advancing onto the beach at 45 degree angles from the boat to pound stakes and tie lines from the stern of the boat.
One rule we imposed on this trip was to put someone in charge of all the kids and take them to their cabins during the landing process. We didn’t want to have one of them jumping off too soon or distracting the landing crew.
The kids found all of this exciting and, whenever we landed at a new beach, they couldn’t wait to begin their exploration. Each new cove was like a new Robinson Crusoe adventure.
It all added up to a vacation the kids will long remember and one they say they can’t wait to do again.
For more information about travel in California visit www.californiaweekend.com.