updated 2/28/2006 6:52:45 PM ET 2006-02-28T23:52:45

Sure, you love your relatives — even your in-laws. You not only want to spend all your holidays with them, but all your weekends and vacation days, too.

You are, of course, a sick psycho. The rest of us simply try to endure such occasions.

Last summer, I discovered that a family vacation needn’t be misery. I spent a week with my in-laws at a beach house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and I not only survived it — I enjoyed it. Here are a few tips for getting through such an experience.

  • More is better. Face it, you’re not going to get along with everybody all the time. The more relatives there are, the more buffers you will have in the house, and the more likely you’ll be to find people whose company you actually enjoy. More relatives also bring down your share of the rental bill.
  • Cook if you can. For some reason, the evening cook is considered a saint — as opposed to, say, the person who volunteers to wash the dishes or take all the kids to the water park for the day. Cook one dinner, and you’ll build up a lot of “good-fellow” equity. Cook two dinners and, geesh, you can pretty much take that annoying nephew and stuff him in the garbage can and still get the benefit of the doubt.
  • Develop carnival skills. Another goodwill opportunity: tacky arcade games. Find an arcade game you’re good at. Win huge stuffed animals for nieces and nephews. You might rile their parents (“Dennis, how are we supposed to get that home?”), but you’ve got the kids for life.
  • Wine, in-laws and song. Come nightfall, alcohol and an iPod can right a lot of daytime wrongs. For the Delaware trip, I brought my iPod (2,700 songs) and made a vacation playlist for the week. It wasn’t difficult. I had a general sense of the musical tastes of the group, and the in-laws are from Jersey, so I programmed a ton of Springsteen. The music helped us pass many evening hours in happy fashion over beer, wine and tequila, and any festering conflict just seemed to go away.

Final thoughts: lost in Orlando

OK, so at what age does the little lad outgrow the Magic Kingdom? It can’t be too soon for the devoted daddy here. After all, how many Teacup rides can you take? On top of that, I found out the hard way that you can’t self-medicate at the Kingdom: It remains one of the few parks that doesn’t serve beer.

Slideshow: The world of Walt Disney Oh, and another thing: Save yourself some time and cash and avoid the “Lunch with an Astronaut” event at NASA. I coughed up the dough to have the family do an “intimate” lunch that turned out to be a non-event. We thought we’d be getting some insight into the entire otherworldly experience — what it’s like to be one with the cosmos. We thought we’d get some idea of what it takes to be the best of the best — how much intellectual and physical work it takes to qualify as a hired explorer in space. Something like Jack Nicholson’s great scene in “Terms of Endearment,” when he explained what it was really like to be in space

We were idiots, clearly. When asked (often) how he prepared to become an astronaut, our speaker essentially said: “Eat your vegetables. Do your homework. Listen to Mom and Dad.”

Wow. Thanks. We had forgotten what it’s like to be spoken to like a 3-year-old.

Den Bart is an occasional contributor to Tripso.


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