Have you ever taken your kids to a great museum, only to have the Jell-O in the cafeteria rank as their favorite attraction?Or splurged on tickets to a Tony-winning play in which a character's lone belch steals the show for your young companions?I've gotten used to this in New York, where we live, but when we travel—especially to another city—I expect everyone to develop never-before-seen levels of interest and stamina. My husband, nine-year-old son, and seven-year-old daughter don't seem to feel this way. Which is why, on a recent visit to Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell had a hard time competing with the plasma-screen TV in our Loews hotel suite. The Philadelphia Museum of Art?Out of the question. The Franklin Institute?Maybe later. In truth, we had a wonderful time—and, yes, we saw the bell, toured Rittenhouse Square by carriage, and ate scrapple. But I'd still be worrying about our slights to the City of Brotherly Love if I hadn't heard about the Vieira Plan.
This no-fail approach to family outings was concocted by television personality and mother of three Meredith Vieira, who currently hosts Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and co-hosts The View. "It's very low-stress," she explained to me from her office in New York. "Each of us simply picks something that we want the group to pursue once we get to where we're going. That's it: we arrive with a series of missions. From time to time it helps to split up the group, but we try not to be too organized or scheduled." The plan during her family's week in Paris involved locating the best chocolate (found, according to her 11-year-old daughter, at Angelina on Rue de Rivoli), browsing the city's Xbox inventories, and spotting dogs eating in restaurants. "Why get too academic?" she asked.
Enough said. During a weekend when my husband was tied up with work, the kids and I boarded a train for Boston, my hometown. There we met up with my mother at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge and, per my daughter's wishes, rode its rocket ship-like glass elevators much more than was technically necessary. From our capsule, we glimpsed a bride getting ready for photos on the third floor and, hours later, flashed past her toasting her parents on the 14th. In between, we cut out to hunt for Hall of Famer baseball cards (my son's idea), browse in an Indian furniture warehouse (my mother's), and bike along the Charles (mine). Vieira's approach gave us the freedom to skip the Freedom Trail. And though I did want to visit the glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, they'll have to wait. Sometimes you just need to take a vacation from your own highfalutin expectations.