Let me start with, we had SUCH a good time yesterday! The kids were exceptionally good- not without difficulties here and there, but overall I couldn't have wished it to go better as far as they are concerned, and we all know what a day OUT with NO SCHEDULE can do to a child... some people would go so far to say that a child with Down syndrome thrives on a schedule more than a typical child even, but I shopped with four ANGELS yesterday and I'm so blessed to have children that can behave so well in public.
I'll let you in on a few of my 'tricks' at the same time which I, unfortunately, forget to share but some are the difference between a great trip and a really BAD one... Of course, some of these things work for me because my little ones are all similar sizes...
- I pack a cooler (or in this case 2 cooler-lunchboxes) with prepared bottles, a milk cup for Brianna, and a juice or gatorade for Kristopher so if we're in the car and they need something I can just pop it out and give it to them
- I pack a gallon ziplock with "healthy" snacks such as peanut butter crackers, graham cackers, yogurt covered raisins, cereal bars, fruit snacks, etc. so even if it's somewhat close to a meal time if the kids are hungry they can have something that I don't mind if it ruins their appetite a little... it just becomes "part of" the next meal
- I keep one extra set of clothes that will fit any of my 3 little ones in the diaper bag (which, by the way, is now my backpack I bought to go to Ukraine which I use gallon size baggies to separate things out inside it!). That way I don't have to pack for 3 and yet I always have it available for whomever needs it. Just a big onesie at the moment.
- I keep extra water, pediasure, formula powder (even tho they're off of formula, it's not bad in an emergency!) and babyfood along with 2 empty bottles on me at all times! This way if our trip goes long (which it did) then I can easily mix up another bottle for each of the little ones, give Brianna the pediasure (or Emma if I can get real milk for Brianna), and I don't have to scramble home or to a grocery store to buy things for the kids that I had at home. Kristopher will drink the rest of the water after I make bottles too.
- I bring pajamas with me for all of the kids and at our last destination we do a diaper change and put on PJ's so that when we go home everyone can go straight to bed since they'll likely be asleep in the car anyway.
Ok, so those aren't completely wonderful and original, but they make our outings SO MUCH easier and they make coming home better too because no one's starving, everyone's ready for bed, and everyone's had plenty to eat during the day.
All right... on to the cars...
We went with an idea of what we want from this next car. 7-8 seatbelts and the ability to put the wheelchair (assembled) as well as the 3-seater stroller (folded) into it at the same time as 7-8 seatbelts are being used.
We tried out a few different cars. We started in East Orlando and basically looked through the list of Suburbans, Navigators, Expeditions, and other large passenger cars that are "family cars." Before leaving the house we'd decided that our dream of a 9 passenger van was going to be next to impossible to find because they just aren't made that often so it's hard to find one used. Mike had opened up Craig's List and found a place called Mullinax Ford in Apopka (a WHILE away from us, on the other side of Orlando...) and they seemed to have several Econoline vans. Those are the 12 passenger type vans you see churches using to bus around wild teenagers to take them to camp or the water park... We only have 6 people. Do we REALLY need a 12 passenger?
We went anyway and were glad we did. The dealership had an Expedition EL which is for Extended Length and although it had a nice size trunk, it didn't fit the wheelchair and stroller both in the trunk together without taking the wheelchair apart. Also, if we end up with a different wheelchair and the need for a ramp with that vehicle we'd have very few options and would inevitably lose seating, making it too small. It was a 7 passenger with captain's seats in the second row.
We also looked at the 12 passenger variety of vans there. They had both an E-150 and an E-350. When we asked what the difference was (other than about $1750) we were told that it was mostly in One suspension spring (I think...) and towing capacity. Neither van had a tow package... and we don't plan on towing (at the moment) so that's not a big deal. The other difference was that in the interior an E-150 has 3 rows of seating, 2,3 and 3. So it seats 8 people and has a huge trunk. There aren't any latches or anything to later add a bench in the trunk, it's meant just for storage. The E-350 has 12 seats, 2, 3, 3, and 4. Both vans had LATCH capabilities in the center of the first two bench seats. That's good that at least TWO carseats could go in with LATCH. It's SO MUCH EASIER than regular seatbelts are especially if we swap the carseat between cars or grandparents borrow one, etc.
The vans at this place were both 2008, they both had approx 13,000 miles on them, and we were SURPRISED (in a good way) by their price tags. The E-150 was $16,000 and the E-350 was $17750. WOW! (For comparison, the Expedition EL would be $24+K if we could find one used.) We also asked about gas mileage and all three vehicles have the same engine and similar weights so they would all get the same gas mileage.
Here's the E-350 that we test drove, it has 12 passenger capacity (though for the most part we'd remove the 4th bench to have it seat 8 and just have the 4th row available when we need it-- two man job to get it in and out but it's not that difficult, just heavy).
From there we drove around a bit and then went to Car Max. We found they had a "12 passenger" van as well but it was a 2002. The kicker was that it had only 28,000 miles on it. It looked brand new still other than the older style body and it sat lower to the ground and seemed a bit more "cozy" inside. The down side is that it has only 3 rows of seating as well and the second row is 2 captain's chairs. That makes it have seating available for only 7 with a huge trunk. Plus, it's 6 years older and who knows how it's been serviced all that time since it obviously wasn't being driven much. And lastly, it was made before they put all the stabilizers on the vans to keep them from rolling as easily, and the safety factor is a big one for us. We drove it, we liked it ok, but we decided that it's not a great fit for our family. The nice part was the price tag, just under $11,000. So if you're looking for a hauling vehicle with 7 seats... that'd be a good one!
So there we have it, we're trying to get an insurance quote on Monday and have been playing around online to figure out how we'd like to finance it and what amount of our savings will be going directly into this van. Mike will be driving the Venture and we're going to sell his car for a whopping $500 to (we hope) my brother. He needs a vehicle cheap, we have a vehicle which holds no value to us because we don't want to pay for repairs... there ya go...
Now... Anyone drive a van this size? Any recommendations, cautions, or thoughts you'd like to throw out to us? There are two on the lot- identical except color- and we're not in a huge hurry to run and get it today. In fact, it's Sunday and tomorrow will be a day to get financing and insurance info and Mike has class, Tuesday is our family's appointment for church pictures, so it'll likely be Wednesday before we would drive back over... if at that time we decide that this is really the best thing for us right now and everything works out to finance AND there's still one available.