No vacation is restful if you're taking toddlers with you. You have to be keeping an eye on them, and more than that - keeping a hand, an arm, an entire body on them - at all times. In new surroundings, toddlers can go wild, exploring each new treasure, wandering farther and farther off. Running as fast as they can, just because they can. Until they fall, that is. Or in our case, until they get knocked over by a wave. It gets so that a classic relaxing beach vacation is more harrowing and more stressful than just staying at home would have been. I'd gladly take a 40-hour work week over possible toddler demise every ten minutes. And yet, a vacation has several redeeming qualities, and I do recommend them - even if you have to take the kids.
To keep your vacation as free of stress as possible, you need to start on the right foot. Clean your house before you go. If you can't rouse yourself to do a full deep cleaning, simply make sure your dwelling is in such a condition so that when you return, there are no unpleasant surprises meeting you as you walk through the door. Take the trash out. Don't forget to replace the bags. Wash all the dishes. Give the counters a quick wipe down. Pick up the toys and throw them in the box, or in a corner. Quickly clean the bathrooms. Leave a bit of bleach in the bowls to discourage any disgusting growth while you're away. Wash and fold all outstanding laundry. You'll have plenty more loads to do when you get back, but it's easier to wash and dry vacation wear on its own.
Visit people you know, preferably people that like your kids. Even if they are not willing or able to actually watch your kids to give you a break, you'd be amazed at how helpful an extra pair of eyes or hands can be. We visited my parents at the beach this past weekend. Nana helped me help them make sandcastles and carrying buckets of ocean to the shore. While I still had to be watchful at all times, I didn't have to be running around fulfilling the needs of two toddlers non-stop. It was a lifesaver.
Take a bit of home with you. We packed the babies' loveys, of course, and also their favorite coverlets, a few toys, some videos they watch at home and beach toys they were used to. This eases the transition, both to the vacation and back home. Chances are, your toddler will like vacation as much as you do and will be just as reluctant to return home. If you have consistent items present at both places, they'll feel less homesick, or vacation sick, depending on the timing.
Keep your schedule as best you can. My kids need a nap in the afternoon, which kept us quite structured. We got up, ate breakfast, went for a walk around the neighborhood, played, ate lunch, went down for a nap. Then, in the late afternoon, we'd head to the beach, stay there for a few hours, come home, clean up from the beach, eat dinner and put them down to bed. It was a perfectly honed system for our needs.
Keep expectations low. If you expect extravagant luxurious surroundings, silence and lots of reading and sightseeing time, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. You know what your kids can handle. Don't give them more than that if you value your sanity.
So, while the vacation wasn't what vacations were before we had children, it was as restful as it could have been, and a good time was had by all. Just because you're a parent doesn't mean you can't live a little. Just remember, it will only be a little until your babies are a bit older.