A journey of
a thousand miles
begins with a single step
As an ambassador for Happyly, I'm proud to share ways to get families out and making the most of your time together.
If you're looking for travel plans to visit the National Parks, check out some of our recommendations for Dreaming of Travel: Arches and Canyonlands. Both parks are located in the vicinity of Moab, Utah and make for a great summer trip for those looking to be out and about!
As an ambassador for Happyly, I'm proud to share ways to get families out and making the most of your time together.
If you're looking for travel plans to visit the Emerald Isle, check out some of our recommendations for Dreaming of Travel: Ireland. We spent a week discovering the island and hope that some of our recommendations can help you on your way!
What to Expect
Flip Flop Dreams owners Cassandra and Ramon did a wonderful job of outlining everything you need to know about renting their OG - original glamper. The listing lays out specifications, amenities, costs, etc about renting out their unit. And all is exactly as it seems!
Mind you, we had stayed out at Fort Wilderness before, but I did anything far from "roughing it" with the luxury of a fully equipped cabin and a bunch of pixie dust. Cassandra and I stayed in touch leading up to our date of arrival and she reassured me as I geared up for my first camping experience. I overpacked as usual, because on arrival, we had everything we needed provided by this dynamic duo!
We requested an early check-in and arrived at Fort Wilderness around 1pm to find that Disney had a spot ready. Flip Flop Dreams were on their way, and as we waited, we parked in the main lot and went exploring by foot. Not quite literally though - you can walk, though it is a bit of a walk. Disney also provides free bus service between the main areas and a few other loop bus stops. You can also rent a golf cart - and it is highly recommended to do so in advance, as it can book up before you arrive!
At check in, Disney will provide you with a loop (neighborhood) and a lot number. They'll provide you with guided directions on how to access, as well as additional information on how to contact Guest Services for any other needs. Once we had that spot number, we messaged Flip Flop Dreams and they would check in with that information to access the grounds. After they arrived and set up, they advised us they were done and it was ready for us, so we proceeded to head back and check out our home away from home.
There is nothing more we can say about presentation on arrival!
We drove our car to our Preferred Lot (where the space is large enough for a vehicle or two) and found the OG set up ready to greet us!
They had the awning out and lit, the dust rug out with camping chairs set, table cloth on the table and candles lit - and if that wasn't welcoming enough, music playing. Presentation was perfect! What a way to be welcomed to a little piece of their heaven and a way to start your experience with them.
The camper itself is gorgeous! The color scheme and every bit of the details taken to heart and immaculately taken care of - the love in this just shines! The camper has a queen bed right off the entry way with two privacy screens. The kitchen and living area welcomes you to the main part of the cabin, where you can find a loveseat sleeper, booth dining table and kitchen with all the appliances you could need. Stove top, microwave, fridge/freezer, and sink - all fully stocked so you can cook rather than spend while clamping! The back of the cabin boosts a bathroom with shower stall and toilet, tastefully kept simple so the space doesn't feel cramped. And the hit of this all - the BUNK BEDS - four in total and secret hideaways that made my kids heart content!
Outside the camper, you'll find an outdoor kitchen with mini-fridge, sink, and griddle. So you have plenty of reason to keep you outdoors with the music playing and the drinks flowing. This is exactly what we did as we utilized the space we had at our lot - they come with picnic table, charcoal grill, and plenty of room to relax. We brought all the traditional camping foods and stayed put as we enjoyed what the two of these had to offer together!
Things to Do
Times are weird right now, so the below is all subject to change. But here is some of what to expect at Disney, plus what's been there in the past ... and we're anxiously awaiting to return!
Currently available (as of January 2021) - Hours can vary so check upon arrival
Temporarily unavailable (as of January 2021)
Horse Drawn Carriage Rides
Campfire Lighting at the Meadow Chip-n-Dale Sing-a-Long
Places to Eat
If you want to do more than cook, then Disney has some options in store for you!
Temporarily unavailable (as of 1/23/21)
Ready to book?
So, you're ready to go! Let's get you set up!
We here at Adventure Somewhere will handle booking the site for you. Start by filling out the Fort Wilderness site request form by letting us know who is going, when you want to go, and some of your preferences. Don't know them all? That's ok! We can handle the details and can find the right spot for you.
We'll look for and hold the spot for you! With advance notice we can hold the spot at no charge, but the hold will expire in an specified amount of time. We will communicate that to you as we work through securing the location. That gives you time to work with Flip Flop Dreams to get the RV rented!
But I can do it myself...
But you save so much more time with a travel advisor! We can help find the right spot for you based off our travel experience. And because of our agency's unique relationship with Disney, we can pass on any perks they give to us, on to you!
Plus, we can help to fill your trip to Orlando with so much more to do!
Want to do more than Orlando? Let us know and we can see what’s available out there for you!
When booking a vacation on your own, you're not getting that level of service. AND it comes at no additional cost to you and with all the extra benefits!
When you think of wine, you must think of Napa like the rest of us. But did you know there are so many other little wine regions scattered all over the state of California and beyond that, in the country? Nothing with the notoriety of Napa/Sonoma with their miles of vineyards sprawled out next to each other, but still very accessible - and some in your own back yard.
We discovered those of Northern Georgia and Western Virginia this fall (with some North Carolina sprinkled in). But before we get there, let's preface all this with how this trip came to be.
We love a good anniversary trip! And we highly recommend it to any couple looking for the perfect gift - there is nothing more important and coveted then one-on-one time, and nothing more suitable than taking time off together to reconnect and make memories. For us, it was one of the reasons we chose the wedding date we did - we figured we could always back up a couple's getaway into the long Thanksgiving weekend and a way to unwind before the holiday rush.
So this year, we had big plans to go to Napa. Those plans also made on a whim, as we closely watched the wildfires in the region and knew that a decision wouldn't be made until that storm settled. Once it did, and in the separate of keeping our travel stateside, we didn't think there was a better way to support a region that was hurting than visiting it.
But then our plans go scrapped, so we had to once again make another plan on a few days' notice. We had wanted to ride the whole Blue Ridge Parkway up together as a family this fall but we just weren't able to squeeze it in. So when Napa got put on hold and in a last ditch effort, we made this agenda come to life, but this time as a much needed anniversary getaway!
So with a solid plan B, we loaded up the car and spent some great one-on-one time together on our own self created “wine trail” (venturing across 3 states)!
Our itinerary brought us from Central Florida up north, but can easily be written around from the opposite direction, or any other.
We try not to drive more than 8 hours, as we know that it can be too much on us and takes the enjoyment out of a drive. So we highly recommend that if its going to take you any longer than this, to make a stop somewhere in between to make your trip worthwhile!
Day 1 - Orlando, Florida to Dahlonega, Georgia (8 hours)
Day 2 - Dahlonega/Helen area to Asheville, North Carolina (8 hours)
Day 3 - Asheville up the Blue Ridge Parkway to the north entrance in Afton, VA (13 hours)
Day 4 - Charlottesville, Virginia (30 minutes from Afton)
Day 5 - Charlottesville to Savannah, GA (7 hours)
Day 6 - Savannah to Orlando
Our first top took us to Dahlonega, Georgia where they have the most perfect wine region with mountains mixed in to feel like we escaped. The drive from Central Florida (our starting point) is roughly 8 hours, but be warned - you'll hit Atlanta traffic if you like it or not, so plan accordingly! We made an early morning start of it and arrived right in early afternoon - enough time to get a few wineries in.
If you want to experience the true charm of Dahlonega, consider a Bed & Breakfast in the city, or what we fell in love with Dahlonega Resort and Vineyard. This resort offers private rooms or cabins on a sprawling hillside, tucked right in the middle of their wine country. This will give you a true opportunity to unplug and relax, and enjoy the coveted alone time you two came out for.
If you want a little more to do, consider a stop in Helen, Georgia for the night instead. This Alpine Village themed town makes you feel like you've traveled to another part of the world. Come during the holidays and you can take in the sights and sounds of Christmas as they ring in the season.
Hofer's is a charming German Bakery right in the middle of Helen! If you plan to eat here, come early as you will have to wait. Otherwise you can stop in for a treat to go as you take in the sights of Helen!
Feeling like a German feast? It doesn't get closer than at Bodensee in Helen!
Other Things to Do
Babyland General Hospital (for the Cabbage Patch fans)
Georgia Mountain Coaster
Tubing down the Chattahoochee
Anna Ruby Falls
Asheville, North Carolina
Where do we start with Asheville? There's so much to say that we have recapped all you can do on Asheville in a post all its on.
But for us, we had two goals in mind by coming here this time -
1. We wanted to jump on the Blue Ridge Parkway to attempt our full drive from here
2. Mainly, we wanted to spend Christmas at the Biltmore!
Wineries to Visit
With you daytime admission to the Biltmore, you'll also be able to access the Biltmore Winery for a free tasting.
But if you're looking for more to do here, head over to Hendersonville and taste at Burntshirt Vineyards for some great wines!
... or if beer is your thing, make a point to visit the staple breweries this city is known for as something to sample! We got a taste of Ginger's Revenge Fall Harvest and can't wait to come back to get some more!
Grand Bohemian Asheville is right in Biltmore Village - a short drive to the entrance to then take the long drive to through the estate!
If you plan to exclusively visit the Biltmore during your stay, consider staying on site at either the Village Hotel or the Inn right in the hear of Antler Hill.
I felt like this deserves a side note all its on, just to truly appreciate the visit, whether coming for Christmas like we did or any time of the year.
We hadn’t quite made it to see the Biltmore last year, so we were in for a surprise either way. We’re so glad we chose to see it at Christmas and opted to see it at night by candlelight, which was an experience all its own!
With the nighttime visit, you still have full day access to the grounds - to enjoy all the same inclusions a day ticket will grant you! But you also get to see America's largest home in a different light, all decked out for the holidays - and we all know decor looks better at night.
So if opting to do this, I highly recommend a full day visit - to catch glimpses of the exterior of the mansion during the day, enjoy hikes around the property, visit Antler Hill Village - to shop and eat, and then partake in the wine tasting before heading to your own unique tour of the home.
Blue Ridge Parkway
We drove up a good portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway taking in the last bit of leaves before they fall for the season. The whole parkway start to finish would take about 13 hours, without stops, but with shorter days we knew we didn’t have enough daylight. So we took it as far north before getting off at Blowing Rock as we could before reaching our next destination!
If you are opting to do the drive though, there are recommended stops along the course, with places to stay to break up the drive. It would be best to start early, with the sunrise (though be careful with the fog) and take it slow so you can stop for some hikes or take in the peaceful scenic views.
Also, beware of the time of year that you opt to go - though best enjoy from spring to early fall, you can still drive parts of the road during winter. But chances are greater that you'll have closers along the way thanks to snowfall!
If you complete the Parkway drive, you'll end up in Afton, Virginia - which is gateway to Shenandoah National Park as well. So if National Park visits are your goal, you can get two here!
The nearest "big" city to these stops is Charlottesville, Virginia, home to the University of Virginia - so we chose to make this our home base for two nights.
Omni Charlottesville is right on the downtown mall, where you'll find plenty of places to eat and drink down a quaint street dated back in time!
Public Fish & Oyster
We ended our trip with a pit stop in Savannah, which helped to break the 12 hour car ride down to 7! We have been here a handful of times before, but each time we get a taste of something new. And we love that it’s only a short 5 hour trip from us to get to go back to again!
Hyatt Savannah is right on the river and accessible from Bay Street as well, so in prime real estate! It's surrounded by equally wonderful hotels, but being that we have stayed here a few times, we enjoy the ambiance of the hotel and appreciate the brand overall!
The Old Pink House
Moon River Brewing Company
Vic's on the River
Rocks on the Roof
Jen's and Friends
Lulu's Chocolate Bar
Better than Sex
Things to Do
Savannah is a must walk city, as you'll truly get to experience all the hidden corners that give this city a charm. But if you'd like to view in other ways consider a tour of the city!
It was a whirlwind trip - and yes, we got a lot accomplished in a short amount of time.
So who's ready to go next?
We took too much time to recap our trip to New Orleans, but no time like the present right? Espeically since fond memories of our adult getaway were rehashed when we brought the kids back in this summer.
They were two completely different experiences, even more watered down because of the circumstances that surrounded our latest trip. But nonetheless, we were reminded why we fell in love with this city of old meets new! And how it uniquely adapted its story to make it a vibrant city worth visiting - for any and all!
Beignet, Done That!
You can't come to New Orleans without trying some of their world famous beignets! There are so many places you can find a variation of this sugar laden pastry on their menu but you can't visit without trying one of the top stops.
Cafe du Monde is synonymous with New Orleans so it goes without being said you have to pay a visit to see what its all about. The French Market location right by Jackson Square usually has a line down the block, to order and be seated, so come prepared! But if you don't mind a to-go option, swing around with cash to their outdoor window and you can significantly reduce your wait time.
Still undecided? We recommend stopping at both and trying them out for yourself - and don't forget to order the Café Au Lait alongside!
Come Ready to Eat Even More!
This city is truly a foodies dream! From traditional Cajun vibes to top rated restaurants with vibrant menus, there's so many great staples to try here, it's difficult to say where to start. Here were a few of our top favorite eats, all which came recommended to us, and now we pass on the recommendation.
•Arnaud's - The Jazz Brunch! This was our one must do before we left - have a long brunch with lively music and truly feel that New Orleans' vibe. We opted to try Arnaud's, though there are plenty of options in the city that all rank with the same kind of enthusiasm. Offered on Sunday, the brunch is also dress code strict with a business casual recommendation - collared shirts for gentlemen, no t-shirts, shorts or athletic wear.
The menu is a prix-fixed 3 course meal with plenty of options to choose from. The price of the brunch varies based off your entree option, but you can pair it with your liking of appetizer and dessert. We went for the Crepes Suzette to get the table side flambé experience again!
If you've made room for more, we recommend a drinking tour of NOLA. Whether self-guided or on a formal tour with wealth of information, make sure that you get to try the following. We had a great time experiencing the best of what NOLA's bars had to offer -
Time to Play!
•Visit the neighborhoods of NoLA - Garden District, Magazine Street, Jackson Square, French Quarter
•Lafeyette Cemetery No. 1 - one of the oldest in the city
•Legendary ghost and voodoo tour of city haunts
•Sail down the Mississippi on the Natchez
•Ride a Street Car
•Harrah's Casino - Feeling lucky?
•Swamp Boat Tour
•Mardi Gras Tour
... and so much more!
This time last year, we made our way to Asheville to celebrate my growing family, but we also used it as a reason to explore a part of NC state we had yet to know! So we loaded up the car and got ready for a quick long weekend - one that we've discussed many a time to recreate. And as a part of any roadtrip, we geared up with all the essentials we need to travel the long road ahead!
For starters, this is a great trip from any part of country as the terrain is beautiful to see. But we were coming from the state of Florida, full on in summer mode and flat lands galore, so to be welcomed to crisp mountain air only a short (8 hour) drive away was amazing!
But what all did this place have in store for us? Honestly, something for everyone!
Love the great outdoors? That's what it's known for - I mean, the changing colors made us fall in love (pun totally intended).
Do you travel for food & drink? They've got a great culinary scene - with plenty of wineries & breweries for the picking!
Looking for arts & culture? The city of Asheville is an eclectic city, packed with original art & music and unique design!
Want to get wrapped up in experiences? We found a little bit of everything to make this trip perfectly ours.
Ready for more - read on to find our suggestions for what there is to do and see in this charming city nestled in the hills of western North Carolina!
What To Do?
Explore the Blue Ridge Parkway - Right in North Carolina, you will find some of the most stunning drives in the country wrapped through peaks and valleys. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a slice of the Appalachian Mountains but it feels like you're so much further away from the south. The Parkway itself starts a little ways down in Cherokee, NC, wrapped by the Great Smoky Mountains and winds all the way up to Afton, Virginia - right outside of Shenandoah National Park! And from there you don't have to stop - you can continue on to Skyline Drive to go even further north!
We opted to wake up early and hit the road so we could catch the sun rising over the peaks. Sunrise somehow always ends up being a trip activity of ours, whether we intend it to or not, and thankfully because we have caught some spectacular showcase of colors! We drove about 20 minutes from our the entrance to Craggy Gardens to watch the sky light up as we greeted a new day. It is about 12 miles from the Folk Art Center, and the Blue Ridgeway Parkway Visitor Center, which welcomes you from Asheville onto the parkway. The visitor center provides you with a ranger to meet, more information to gather, and for our kids, an opportunity to get one more Junior Ranger badge to add to their travels.
After sunrise, we drove the Blue Ridge Parkway for another hour, just taking in the scenery, and stopping off where we could to take a hike or two. Though the conditions of our morning didn't make it all that possible, as we had lots of clouds, dew and adverse conditions that made us worry about getting too far into hikes with little ones. But it is on our short list to come back to finish our trails and continue onward to Virginia - and so on!
Eat and Drink through Asheville - Food, breweries and wine galore!
Who doesn't love going somewhere and finding something great to eat! It's even better when there are more choices than you can handle!
Burntshirt Vineyard is in Hendersonville, a short drive south of Asheville but with some great mountain vibes. Situated on a quiet country road, the tasting room faces the vineyards and the grounds are as charming as you'd expect. You can dive into a wine tasting experience, order by the bottle or glass, and enjoy food right on site!
We were told about two well-known establishments to eat at while there - and we made sure we tried both! We hopped over to Biscuit Head for breakfast one morning at their West Asheville location (there are also locations by the Biltmore and Hendersonville, and a location in Greenville as well). It's known for what its name says - biscuits! From biscuit sandwiches to biscuit donuts - but if you prefer the regular variety, the jam is also where it's at! This breakfast was phenomenal - only complimented by the Maple Bacon Latte (it IS as delicious as it sounds)!
Our other eat was to Tupelo Honey where we chose a brunch time stop as well. They're in quite a few states, but none near us in FL, so we knew we needed to stop. Plus, this was able to take us into downtown Asheville where we had yet to explore and enjoy the experience surrounding it. The cafe was eclectic and definitely reflected the vibe of the city, adding to the charm of this whole area. We opted to try the Southern Shakshuka with a fully loaded Bloody Mary on the side. And if this sounds great to you, you're in luck - they serve brunch all day!
Last but not least, BREWERIES! This is what they're all about and much of the appeal of visiting. Everything from local favorites to brands you make recognize at home, you can find it here. We went out our first night to experience the South Slope district and visit a few breweries true to the Asheville scene - Green Man Brewery and Catawba Brewing. But they are only two of the many that call this city home! A little further out is New Belgium Brewing, best known for its Fat Tire brand. Visiting was a great change of pace as it was outside city limits and had grounds to run around (especially with little ones along). But if you're looking to relax with an opportunity to let the kids frolick, we hear that Sierra Nevada in Mills River (just outside of Asheville) is one of the best at providing a family friendly experience and atmosphere with amazing views.
Apple picking is in season - It wouldn't be fall without pumpkins, apples, cider and doing all the great things that come with it! We made sure that our plans included apple picking, a rarity for these Floridians, and the weather couldn't have made it more perfect. It was brisk and overcast, creating the perfect mix of that fall feel.
We enjoyed our time at Stepp's Hillcrest Orchard, where they offered U-Pick apples by the basket -only fill up what you plan to take! We ended up picking a whole basketful and taking home more apples than we could eat. Needless to say, there were a lot of apple delicacies made back home - in combination with the goodies we purchased. on site their Farm Market.
See Asheville - We had a jam packed weekend so didn't get to do EVERYTHING we wanted to - more breweries, more arts, more mountain hikes ... visit the Biltmore! And that's all on in addition to time relaxing and just taking in the wilderness!
But we did find time to squeeze in time in Downtown Asheville and get a feel for the city that so many call home. We explored during a quiet weekday morning where we got a good sense of what all it has in store - a mix of old world charm meets modern expression - and we can only imagine the energy this city exudes with street musicians, culinary tours, the arts and so much more!
There's so much more here than we were given the time to see, so we leave you with this - plan wisely and make sure you spend enough time there to truly explore Asheville!
Where to stay?
The appeal of this destination is staying in a cabin, lighting a fire, and enjoying the surrounding wilderness. What a dream! If it's yours, BOOK AHEAD! There is no time like the present to plan a few months (to a year) out as it does book up FAST!
We opted to stay at a hotel - only because we were limited in how much time we'd be here, and more time would be spent out rather than in. So we needed to stay in a place central to the Asheville and surrounding area, since we had a lot of commuting to do. We chose the Holiday Inn East Asheville, right off Tunnel Road. And if you have an itinerary packed with things to do, this hotel is a great stay! The Holiday Inn has really updated their brand and we are pleased with all they have to offer, especially when traveling with kids and looking for conveniences. This hotel is near the highway to take you into the city or the roads to lead you to the Blue Ridge - so even if Asheville is just a stop for you on a bigger journey, this place is the perfect gateway for a comfortable stay.
If you're looking for a destination that can provide you a true appreciation for the beauty of nature, as well as get you a chance to dine and drink new flavors, and allow you to appreciate art of all kind - well, then Asheville is calling!
So when are you going to go?
Anyone watch National Lampoon's Vacation and then want to do a big American road trip like the Griswolds - antics and all?
I always did! And when COVID-19 came along and interrupted our original summer plans, we scrambled to find a Plan B. We devised a last minute option, pulled out of the hat in an attempt to salvage the spring break we didn't have and the summer vacation we were still uncertain of.
Our itinerary eventually took us 6,000 plus miles, across 17 states, and visiting many new sites we hadn't seen together as a family. Our goal was to hit a handful of National Parks, but also to take our time to get there, and getting to see states we didn't always have a reason to go to. We knew the time spent in each place would be limited, but our visits were meant to be an appetizer, not the main course. And we decided if we fell in love with any place, we could always come back at a later time for more.
What did we do? How did we do it? And why? Just know that these decisions are very much based on us and our travel style, and could & should be customized to you.
We started with our road trip essentials - this is at least the grounding for any trip via highways we plan on, no matter how big or small!
Car or RV?
We opted for a car - our personal car for that matter - to do this trip. A RV would give us lodging and transportation in one, but we faced a few obstacles with that.
1. This trip was so last minute, we didn't know if we'd be able to find a RV to rent, a spot in RV parks to camp in, and where even start looking.
2. As you can see, we're not RV versed; we've never even driven one, so we decided taking one cross country for the first time may not be the smartest idea.
So we opted to take our car, which has always been in healthy condition and with low mileage. We took it in for a routine oil change and check-up before traveling and now that we're back, we'll take it in again to see if any maintenance is needed (we know that at the very least it will need an oil change). Best of all, we have a trusted auto shop doing it all - if you need a recommendation.
My dad manages a shop here in Orlando (Universal Service Center), and I highly recommend him for anyone looking in the area - whether you're a local needing a place or a visitor wanting to get a quick tune-up before heading home. Best of all, he's right in the tourist corridor (behind Universal Orlando), so he's fairly accessible to anyone.
In either case, you will be spending on gas - but what a better time! Many states were under $2/gallon, so filling up was cheap. We also tried to save on gas prices in other ways:
Hotel or Rental?
Now that the RV is out, we'd need a place to stay. We prefer hotels over rentals to begin with because there's an element of surprise that's eliminated when booking a hotel.
You have a preferred brand? You know what to expect.
You're a loyal guest? You can and likely will get upgraded.
You have an issue with your room? You can ask to be moved, which you can't do in a rental - you're stuck with what you've booked.
We also had two asks during this time that we knew we could depend on hotels for - cleanliness standards being upheld and flexibility with our booking. Corporations have a lot on the line right now with making sure they're meeting regulations and ensuring guests feel safe, so we knew that brand standards would be even more dependable than an independent operator. And let me tell you, they were! Every place we stayed at did a great job of making sure that we, and all other guests, were comfortable while still operating a service-based business. I applaud them all for their efforts to adapt and improve standards during this time.
Below is a listing of the chains that we booked with and information from their own websites on how they are reassuring guests about their new protocols.
We also wanted the most flexibility in changing plans - in case we ran into an issue of wanting/needing to change our route. And many of the top chains are offering generous cancellation policies right now. See again the chains we stayed at and their current booking policies (but always check rates and policies at booking as they're subject to change).
When booking a hotel, though location was always key, our second factor was if breakfast was included. We try to book places where breakfast is included in the rate, because its soooo much easier in the morning with always hungry kids. And though each chain is handling their meal service in a different manner right now, all that offer breakfast in their rate still had it available with modifications (how it was offered varied between brand and location).
We also made sure that a few hotels we booked had self-service laundry available for our use. We packed light - one week but were on the road for two, and knew we'd have to cycle through cloths possibly a few times (especially with hikes and kids). Let me tell you, this made all the difference traveling and was a huge convenience! If you're considering this, I recommend bringing your own laundry detergent and maybe a few dryer sheets - it will save you on purchasing it from the hotel. Just make sure you buy powder vs liquid as all the machines we used utilized that.
We packed lots of snacks! Everyone got a box of their snack of choice and had little snack packs rationed for the day.
If breakfast wasn't available at our hotel, it was the easiest go to meal at a grocery store, with breakfast bars, Pop Tarts, cereal and LOTS of fruit stocked up on.
The number one thing have on hand is water. We grabbed (at least) a gallon at each stop to have with us on the road, in case of emergency or for prepping for our hikes. We also brought reusable water bottles for all and refilled as we went - you'll encounter higher altitudes and drier conditions where being hydrated is essential. Since we were caring for our own things, we also brought a small bottle of dish soap and a sponge, so we were able to clean our bottles daily to ensure we were staying clean.
While eating on the go, we also had fun with it, especially if the plan was to eat out of the car. So where we weren't eating from grocery store stops, we utilized this list of the best fast food in every state (or neighboring state, in some cases) and tried to eat like the locals did! And we found some really great spots we'll recommend as we go along!
Other Must Haves
So here's the fun part, our full itinerary! We'll tell you where we went, what we did, and any additional notes below to help plan!
Note, all our suggestions are based off what we did and what we intended to do. We didn't get to do it all, because our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, but we also loved every bit of our trip! Flexibility is key so customize your schedule as you see fit for you and yours! Just make sure that you do the non-negotiables so you're not disappointed. I'll also mention alternate plans we had in mind so you can make a schedule for yourself.
Like we mentioned before, we prefer hotels over rentals. We also don't have a preferred brand, and booked based off reviews/recommendations. But things could change, so always call ahead and double check - and make alternate plans as needed.
We ate off recommendations and limited how many sit down meals we had. Though we did eat out every so often because it is good for your sanity to be around others and help the service industry serve (they were so appreciative of us being there every single time). We also found that many places offered an order ahead option online, so as we were approaching our destination or getting hungry, we'd create an order for pick up.
We had a rain plan for every stop, just in case - some of them were not necessary because we were willing to get dirty. Most of our rain plans involved what we could do for free. We're Orlando Science Center members, and so we made a list of the reciprocal locations available via the ASTC Travel Passport Program (labeled here as ASTC) so we could utilize our perks. If you have the same available, look into it - usually available with a zoo, children' museum, or other annual pass program. Once again, call ahead to see how they are handling their particular program and honoring reciprocal visitors - we didn't use ours, but many places were requiring timed reservations so we would need to speak to the facility itself to arrange.
Day 1 Orlando, FL to Atlanta, GA (6 hours and 15 minutes)
We made this stop to visit some close friends, so our plans aren't your typical greater Atlanta plans - but they were a perfect kick-off for us! We went peach picking at Gregg Farms, because while in Georgia - and their peach ice cream was also the best thing I've ever tasted (for someone who only likes chocolate).
We had initially discussed going (and staying) out at Stone Mountain, so we could social distance hike. That would be our top recommendation for the area if wanting to stay outdoors.
If you're going to set your eyes on Stone Mountain, the Atlanta Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort is right on property and super convenient.
What's more Georgia than Chick-Fil-A? We were told about Truett's Luau of the Tik-Tok fame - what's greater than Hawaii meets CFA? If you prefer another option, check out Dwarf House instead - the original Chick-Fil-A! We did a few years back and loved that we got to see where it all started - and with a few new menu options too!
Fernbank Science Center (ASTC Passport), Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola
Day 2 Atlanta, GA to Nashville, TN (4 hours and 45 minutes)
We got a late start out of Georgia to Tennessee because we were having a hard time (and lots of tears) leaving friends behind. But once we got on the road we set our eyes on making a quick stop in Chattanooga, to either eat or do a quick bit of sightseeing. We ended up doing a little bit of both. We ordered lunch on the road as we neared and got the fried catfish at Uncle Larry's which was fantastic! After touring the town by car, because we ran into a little rain, we decided to stop and see the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo!
If we had more time (or better weather) in Chattanooga though, we had included the option of going to check out Ruby Falls/Rock City/Lookout Mountain!
We then headed onward to Franklin, TN about 30 minutes south of Nashville. Here we changed to Central Time & gained a whole hour in our day! Friends in the area told us to check out Arrington Vineyards & so that's what we intended to do. The weather cleared up as we arrived so we had a chance to be outdoors and allow the kids to run around a lot of pent up energy. And what a great place it was! We spent the afternoon outside, at a beautiful vineyard, enjoying fantastic wine.
And finally on to Nashville, TN, where we spent the night! We made sure to walk the city, to check out Broadway and drive by the Grand Ole Opry, but were mainly here as a place to sleep near the highway. There wasn't a lot in terms of kid-friendly things to do, but we also arrived by dinner time, having done all the fun stuff we wanted to do (with with friends was perfect), so we grabbed food and settled in to our hotel.
If you're hungry for something local, make sure to stop by Hattie B's for Nashville Hot Chicken - and use the order online to pick-up instead of waiting in line! The lines are going to be long - there are several locations and both that we drove past had lines out the door.
Hyatt Place Downtown with breakfast included (operating close to normal)! The hotel is central in Nashville, only a few blocks from Broadway and just off the river. We loved that we were somewhere we could walk downtown without being caught in the middle of it all.
Adventure Science Center (ASTC), Grand Ole Opry
Day 3 Nashville, TN to St. Louis, MO (4 hours and 30 minutes)
The drive between the two cities will actually take you through two other states - Kentucky and Illinois. So just for the fun of it, we ate on the road and did as the locals did with KFC (which admittedly the kids & I had never had)!
Our first National Park visit was also on the list for arrival - The Gateway Arch! It's fairly easy to get to when coming into St. Louis, as you'll pass right next to it, but it wasn't open to visit while we were there. We still got the iconic picture under the arch as we entered the gateway to the west - and if you're looking to do the National Park Junior Ranger program, you can still complete the program online by downloading and mailing in so your kids can get their badge for seeing this location.
We had also listed the options of visiting the St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Union Station, Forest Park, Citygarden, or grab a drink in one of many breweries, and if we were spending more time in the city, we would! For us though, this was a chance to catch up with friends we hadn't seen in years, so our time there was time well spent. But had we been on our own, all of the above was recommended and was well-intended on our list.
Be sure to stick around to see fireflys at night - we had them in Atlanta, Nashville and here - but the kids actually got to catch some with friends while in STL. It was the best thing ever for Florida kids who don't get that back home!
Hyatt Regency The Arch which is located right under the arch! And it was fairly accessible to many of the sites we planned to do.
St. Louis Science Center (ASTC)
Day 4 St. Louis, MO to Omaha, NE (6 hours)
As we left St. Louis, the drive took us through Kansas City - so we made sure to see a few of the Walt Disney Landmarks on the Missouri side, being the Disney fans that we are! We were also there in time for lunch, so were told to check out Joe's BBQ in Kansas City.
The restaurant itself is in Kansas City, KS, so you can add another state to the list when you cross the state line that runs through the city. Joe's was another order ahead and drive up to pick up place - we split The Hogamaniac so we could try a little bit of everything and it was as good as it was said to be!
We then drove on to Omaha, a stop we intended to break up the long drive across South Dakota to Badlands and Mount Rushmore. We chose Omaha because we had friends in the city we hoped we could visit with, but we also considered staying in Sioux Falls, SD - if you want a different stop.
The Omaha Zoo is one of the best in the country and we were told to visit when we came - but they were requiring timed entries and we didn't have all the time we wanted to see it, so had to skip it. So instead we walked the city to get to know it and crossed the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, that allows you to walk into Iowa from Nebraska. The very casual experience - getting to walk a suspension bridge over the Missouri River & into another state- was all the rage to the kids!
There's also another National Park available at the site, Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, so we intended to get a Junior Ranger badge here. Unfortunately it also remains closed, but luckily the with the NPS offering the option to complete the workbooks online and mail in to receive a badge, we saved ourselves from tears.
We were told to visit Old Market and in particular eat at Spaghetti Works with kids. We also happened to be there on Monday, when kids eat free, so it was an added parenting win for us.
Holiday Inn Express Downtown – Old Market had breakfast included and a place to do laundry. The hotel is a little way off of Old Market, but we didn’t mind the walk which put us near museums and a quieter part of town. This hotel also tried to operate normally, providing us gloves and requiring masks for our full breakfast buffet, and allowing the gym to stay open but with wipes to clean down machines.
Day 5 Omaha, NE to Badlands, SD (6 hours and 30 minutes)
The drive over was a lot of green and farm and all you'd expect from being in the Midwest- until you actually get to Badlands. But in a small ray of hope, you'll gain a whole hour heading west here as you cross over into Mountain Time Zone.
Badlands National Park is an easy drive through with a few pull offs to hike - we spent about two hours between driving through and exploring on foot. But if you want to just enjoy the drive, it is enough to appreciate this location and its ever changing beauty. You'll come in from the Northeast Entry and drive the Badland Loops Road through the park.
The Ben Refiel Visitor Center is a short drive from the entry, and though it's doors are shut, Rangers are posted outside under tents to answer questions and provide Junior Ranger Activity Books and Badges. They'll give parents the book & the badge and "deputize" us, so we can later swear in the kids to being rangers, once completing their activities. The experience is a little lost for those who haven't done this before, but for us a huge time savings - we didn't have to worry about driving back to the Ranger to earn the badge, so it was much appreciated to not have to on this trip!
We got out at Big Badlands Overlook, Fossil Exhibit Trail, Panorama Point, and Burns Basin Overlook to enjoy a few walks and wildlife up close (listen for the rattlesnakes). The animals are abundant and you want to take them all in. If you want to see more, near the end, take Sagecreek Rim Drive. You'll take a dirt road that will lead you to prairies, where you'll find prairie dogs, big horn sheep and bison all near the side of the road. This was a huge hit for all to be so close to everything!
From there, you're only a hour and half drive to Mount Rushmore. The Mount Rushmore Memorial is currently open until 10p during summer, with the Evening Lighting Ceremony at 9p. After we checked out into our hotel, we headed over to be able to see it before it got dark and for the ceremony itself. The Memorial does cost $10 to park and it is not included in the NPS pass. So if you do want to make the most of your visit here, come earlier in the day to spend more time here - though a ton of time is not needed. And make sure to get your kids a Junior Ranger Badge here too - so far this was the 4th of the trip!
You'll also want to make sure to see Crazy Horse Memorial while you're in the Keystone area - we stopped by the morning we were leaving and got to see the artifacts and hear the story about this monument. It's a separate entry cost but your contribution goes a long way to keep the foundation alive. We didn't know much about it before going, but we are so glad we got to stop and visit. The story behind it is moving and the mission is inspirational; you'll have to see it for yourself to truly appreciate the full scope. The memorial itself is an ongoing project that will continue to finish for generations to come - so you will always see a different view of this massive rock sculpture between visits as it works towards completion.
If you have a full day to spend in the area, you can easily spend it between both Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse and be truly inspired by the legacy of these monuments.
Holiday Inn Express Mount Rushmore in Key Stone, South Dakota was only 10 minutes from Mount Rushmore with breakfast included. The hotel is located in beautiful Keystone which is only a short drive from Mount Rushmore. It can be a bit of a tourist trap, but as far as cute mountain towns go, it’s worth seeing. The hotel also offered a full breakfast buffet and opened seating outside to limit the number of people in their dining space.
Burger Time is a North Dakota staple, but we found one in South Dakota along our pathetic and decided to try it out!
Play in the rain!
Day 6 & 7 Keystone, SD to Jackson, Wyoming (8 hours and 30 minutes)
You have a long drive through Wyoming to get to your next park, and this is how we started planning our double days. Anywhere that we would take a 7+ hour to get to, we ultimately decided to do two overnights in. We could've done longer, but it would also have changed the number of parks we saw and the route we took back home. And since we were set on seeing certain parks, this is the plan we all agreed on.
Grand Teton National Park is right outside Jackson, and you can drive through part of the park to get to Jackson itself. The park is open 24/7 and is only a few minutes from Jackson, a charming little city every bit worth seeing.
We looked up a list of family hikes in Grand Teton, knowing we wanted to do something, but not get too adventurous (we didn’t have bear spray on us, of course). And with little ones, hikes can't get to go too far or we'd end up leaving one of them behind. So we enjoyed being outdoors here, taking in mountain views we don't get back home, and seeing this incredible place formed from an earthquake. We walked over to Jenny Lake and hiked the String Lake Trail at sunset, which couldn't have been more perfect to round out the day.
The Junior Ranger program was also available here, so they were given a book and a badge to complete as they explored!
Once you're in Grand Teton, you can drive straight through an hour & 15 minutes north to reach Yellowstone National Park. We reserved this for the next day, so we could spend as much of the day as possible exploring. We packed lunch, got on the road early, and made it to the park a little after 9am. We had mapped out the drive round-trip through the park, which would take about 4 hours with no stops to complete. But once we arrived we were given current maps indicating that some roads were closed including the one that would make the round trip drive possible - Tower-Roosevelt to Chittenden Road (the closest parts of the park to Montana).
We instead decided to take shorter route with stops along the way - the first one was to see Old Faithful. The NPS website will make geyser eruption predictions and you can also check at the entrance to the park on arrival. Once you're in the park, cell service is EXTREMELY limited, so if you're trying to find updates, you'll need a hot spot to connect.
Old Faithful has seating set up around it to watch the eruption - it becomes a people magnet and for those of us that don't enjoy crowds, unappealing. We watched the eruption from behind in a grassy area under the shade, acting us unFloridian as they come. But there was no one gathered near us and made for better views. We then decided on a hike around Upper Geyser Basin to see the other geysers and pools. It does get a little crowded in spots, but its easy to avoid people as long as you keep on moving. We also got to see a second eruption of Old Faith from our hike, from a distance on our way back down Upper Geyser Basin Trail, and it was actually more impressive than being up close.
We continued north towards Madison then back easy to Norris Canyon Road to see Lower and Upper Falls. Lamar Valley, a great area to see wildlife is tucked away in the far northeast corner near the road closures, so we knew we'd be giving up that since we didn't want to drive back the way we came. But the path we took, east to Norris Canyon Road and then south to Grand Loop Road, took us right by Hayden Valley, another great area to see wildlife. And wildlife did we see! Wildlife jams are a thing here, so don't be surprised to get caught in traffic to find a bear, moose, coyote or bison (of many other animals) on the side of the road. Our kids didn't know better missing out on Lamar Valley, and since we didn't want to add extra time to our drive, we were happy with all we got to see with this modified route. We finished with exploring the West Thumb region, near Yellowstone Lake, before calling it a (long) day in the park.
If you're looking to spend more time in the park though, we recommend checking out this site for a few family hikes. The park is open 24/7 and over the summer, sunset is after 9p. Do come prepared though, since there aren't many market places or gas stations in the park, so top off when you get a chance and make sure to have enough water and snacks. Also come in layers - the nights in late June/early July easily got in the 40s, but then warmed up as we neared the sun. So we definitely needed to be able to peel off and layer up depending on where we were! The park itself also warns hikers to carry bear spray with them and has it available for purchase in various spots - with the amount of wildlife near common grounds we saw, I'd definitely get some if venturing off the beaten path, especially alone or with little ones, since the wildlife seemed a little fearless of the visitors.
This is one stop where you can't get your ranger book or badge as the visitor centers are closed and the rangers are manning the park!
Hampton Inn Jackson Hole was a little way out of town square, but near a grocery store and gas station. It also came with breakfast included. The gym was open and they were doing to-go bags of breakfast with lots of food. If you don’t enjoy the selection, there’s a grocery store right next door with a Starbucks inside.
We enjoyed staying outside of the park, especially trying to divide ourselves between both. But if you’re intent on exploring Yellowstone, there is lodging available in the park and worth checking staying north, east or west of the park! Jackson is as close as you can get to Grand Teton, so you’re in a good spot to visit this park solely - or if you’re like me, and getting lost in the woods is not really your thing!
Taco John's is Wyoming's top fast food chain - a local Taco Bell with a really great potato olés!
We decided to eat out one night in Jackson, so we could see this little town too. Masks were required in Jackson, so it made us feel better about being out and about. We decided on Jackson Drug, an original soda fountain right across from a city square that the kids burned some energy running around in. I can't vouch for it, but the Elk Burger was recommended; and save room to split a dessert too - you can't come to a soda fountain without getting one!
Play in the rain!
Day 8 & 9 Jackson, WY to Moab, UT (8 hrs)
This was another long drive south, so it would once again be a 2-night stay. Personally, these were the parks I was most looking forward to seeing. The rock formation and desert climates call to me, so I was thrilled with the time we'd get time to explore here.
Moab, Utah is situated right in the middle of two National Parks - Arches and Canyonlands, so can believe that the views from the city are extraordinary. We arrived after an extremely long drive, and since the temperature went from winter to dead of summer, we knew we owed the kids some pool time. With a pool, splash pad, and hot tub at the hotel, the kids were quickly able to adapt and wear out any bit of energy they had left in the desert sun.
The city of Moab is requiring masks be worn by all, outside of exercising or outdoor activities, and our hotel did a great job of minimizing exposure of guests to each other.
The next morning we got up early and decided that we would drive out further (30 minutes to the entrance) to see Canyonlands National Park. Since Arches was easily accessible, right next to our hotel, we felt another drive out made the most sense first thing in the day. We contemplated getting up early to see the sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, since the park is open 24/7, but sleep at this point became more important than a 5am wake up. No regrets though because we all but made up for with the sunset we got at the end of the day.
We found another listing of family hikes to take, and also consulted with rangers at the Island in the Sky Visitor Center which was open. It's also a great restroom stop and last chance to pick up a gallon of water if you forget before you go exploring this park. And don't forget your ranger book and badge - at this point you're at 7 parks if you follow the trip we did!
We also opted to just stick to Islands in the Sky. The drive to The Needles was further out, and though we would have loved to have see it all, a taste was all we needed. We first drove over and hiked to Mesa Arch, which has as an extraordinary view as you'd imagine it to be. We then head over to hike Whale Rock, which was said to be an easy hike for kids, where they had a little bit more room to roam. Finally, we took the drive to Grand View Point Overlook, which was a nice mini preview of what they'd see at the Grand Canyon in the days to come. And the hike was such a wonderful walk, making you feel so small compared to everything else.
To see Arches National you have to either go early or come back late. Not just to dodge the mid-day heat, but because the park will get at capacity by lunch. We didn't find any issues with that, because after a full morning of exploring, we took a break at the hotel pool, with plans to go for an evening hike and picnic dinner.
Coming back into the park after 5 also means there's not an entry fee and the crowds are all but gone. The only thing is visitor centers and stores are closed, so come prepared - and ready to download the ranger book for mailing in. We found a few family hikes to take that would allow us to see the park but also allow us all a pace that meant fun!
We started at Balanced Rock which was a quick loop with some extraordinary views. We also had time to hike the Delicate Arch Viewpoint Trail, Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch (where we stumbled upon a deer a few yards away), Broken Arch Trail, and all our favorite, Sand Dune Arch Trail. Sand Dune gave us a chance to take off our shoes, walk on powder red sand, and let the kids build castles, while we soaked in the energy from these rocks.
We also took the whole driving tour of the park and set a pace that got us to sunset before we left. My one ask was to see the sunset here, while my husband wanted to star gaze - so we found Panorama Point where we got the best view of the park and the setting sky. Before we left to take our star gazing drive, we were surprised to see the full moon illuminating the La Sal Mountains as it rose behind it. It was such a surprise to catch this special view - we knew that we now wouldn't be able to see stars, but ended up with the best show we could ask for!
Hyatt Place Moab with breakfast included and a place to do laundry. The rooms were a very generous size and the hotel was immaculately kept. It is the closest hotel to the road leading to the parks, so if you don’t mind staying on the outskirts of Moab (which is easy to get into anyways), this is the perfect spot! They still offered breakfast to-go - where you asked the kitchen staff for items they’d load up in a bag. The gym was also still open and asked to limit the number of guests in at a time.
In-N-Out Burger is one of our absolute favorite places in the west, so you can bet finding a location on our drive meant a stop! It seemed to be the same for the city of Provo, as there was a quite a wait in the drive-thru to get a late lunch. But we got our Protein-Style Burgers and Animal-Style fries and lived happily ever after.
Does it rain here?
Day 10 & 11 Moab, UT to Sedona, AZ (7 hours and 45 minutes)
One thing to note is that entering the state of Arizona, they're on Mountain Standard Time, which right now mimics Pacific Time. So we (by surprise) gained another hour which we weren’t expecting - now at a 3 hour difference from back home.
We wanted to drive south to Grand Canyon via Monument Valley but all Native American lands are closed currently, so we couldn't access it. Also expect when driving a vast majority of this drive to not have many to any places to stop. This area was literally shutdown - not even a person in sight.
We had intended to come in through Highway 64 at Desert View (eastern side) of the Grand Canyon, drive the rim to the west and exit via the South Rim outside the city of Tusayan. But times being as they are, they didn't have the highway or Eastern entrance open, which gave us a longer drive to and through Flagstaff to get into Southern Rim to enter (and exit) the park.
But not to be taken for granted, we got to see on this drive, the range that made the exterior part of the Grand Canyon. We had once before visited the south rim of Grand Canyon coming in from Las Vegas - and entering is a surreal experience. You drive through a forest - Kaibab Forest - and green is not much of what we expected from a canyon!
The Grand Canyon had one Visitor Center Store near Mather Point open where you could get your ranger book and badge. They required masks when visiting in and outside the area to reduce exposure and limit contact that the employees had with guests. We knew that this region of the canyon was not one we would do a lot of exploring in, because the hikes are more treacherous, so we opted to walk the trail at Mather Point and then head over to Grandview Point for a little hike (before deciding we rather not).
We have full intentions of coming back to Grand Canyon when they're a little older, so the short visit here was worth it just for their reactions alone. We have our sights set on taking them to the Western Rim later, which would give us all an opportunity to view the Canyon in a different light. Plus with a lot more stuff to do there, a trip for older kids is definitely on the docket!
We planned to stay in Sedona, two hours south of Grand Canyon, as we heard so much about what a wonderful desert retreat this is. We also knew there were family hikes we could do with kids in the area, while also relaxing before we started the long days of driving back east. We visited the Chapel of the Holy Cross, enjoyed the pool at our resort, and then spent the evening with a picnic dinner and enjoying the Bell Rock Trailhead. Your America the Beautiful Pass is also available for use last state parks, where you would otherwise need a day pass to park and access.
Hilton Bell Rock was the perfect retreat! The resort was very through in explaining Hilton’s CleanStay initiative and ensuring we understood all measures they’re taking to stay safe. The have a restaurant on-site still operating with mainly outdoor seating being used. They also keep their pool open in shifts, so they have an opportunity to clean and sterilize throughout the day. The pool never got busy and didn’t change any of the enjoyment or experience for us with the limited times.
Eegee's and try the frozen drinks!
Does it rain here?
Day 12 Sedona, AZ to El Paso, TX (8 hours)
White Sands is only an hour outside of El Paso, so we chose to stay here with hopes of visiting our next National Park. Before we even left on our trip, the park was still shutdown, but we still opted for this route - a sacrifice we knew could come. When started our road trip, White Sands had opened back up, so were excited about our plans coming back to life! When we arrived to the New Mexico border though, clear highways signs mandated a quarantine of all visitors for 14 days, so we drove straight through the state to Texas.
This was one of the longest drives of the trip with the shortest turn around when getting back on the road - and driving back east we lost a whole hour thanks to those time zones that at once point worked in our favor. So we arrived in enough time to grab dinner and settle in. We had found information on visit El Paso with kids, but decided that we were all spent -and another day of long driving called for a nice relaxing evening at the rooftop pool.
Plus, just taking in that you’re a few miles from Mexico, was an experience all its own. The culture here embraces their proximity to Mexico, and we saw several Mexican license plates mixed in with local ones as we played the license plate game on our trip (42 of 50 states, 3 provinces in Canada, 1 Mexico). It was definitely a city we appreciated getting to pass through and really makes you question all those borders we want to make exist. Being here, you see people just live all one and the same, only an imaginary line distinguishing the two nations. The people are so infused in both cultures, you already feel like you’re in a different place, but also one that feels so familiar.
We ordered from the restaurant attached to the hotel, Mamacita's, which was also highly regarded in the city! With a twist on every Mexican dish, we enjoyed the Bacon Wrapped Shrimp with Jalapeno Jam dip.
Relax for the next long drive back home
Day 13 El Paso, TX to San Antonio, TX (7 hours and 45 minutes)
Texas is big, y'all. Like really big.
And this stretch of the drive on I-10 is nothing but long and boring. Actually, the most interesting part was driving through a Border Patrol Checkpoint as we glided parallel to the Rio Grande (you know, the dividing line to Mexico). We didn't know this would be a requirement for the drive until we put it on our GPS. But because of the proximity to Mexico - in some spots you're only a few miles off - there is a checkpoint in either direction of the highway near El Paso that you quickly (but timidly) pass through.
We knew we would need to break from staring at nothing but desert, so we opted to stop in San Antonio for the night. We did lose another hour here too, so it made sense to take a break.
We arrived knowing we wouldn't be able to see The Alamo because it was closed thanks to Corona, but we were able to walk by it and tell the kids the history and significance of it still standing. We also decided to take a boat tour after walking the River Walk. Much of the River Walk is open and Texas is requiring that masks be worn out in public, so we felt very safe being outdoors in limited crowds and showing our kids this charming spot.
Go Rio Cruises is operating their narrated boat tours on limited capacities - 10 people per boat and spaced out per group. Boats are running every 30 minutes and being sanitized thoroughly between each shuttle. We had done the same tour years ago when we came, and were accustomed to overcrowded tourist attractions and playing footsies with strangers. So to now be able to sail in comfort and also do so feeling safe, was a very welcome change.
Hilton Palacio Del Rio with laundry available. The hotel is right on the River Walk and once again emphasized the Hilton CleanStay standards. The customer service in this spot was also superb - probably some of the best of all trip!
Iron Cactus was right on the River Walk where we got to eat outside with the birds and ducks. The Crab Stuffed Jalapeños were THE best (and so was the jalapeño margarita)!
DoSeum & Witte Museum (ASTC)
Day 14 San Antonio to Galveston (3 and 45 minutes)
My husband spent part of his younger years in Texas and one place he remembers going to is Galveston to play on the beach with his family. It was his one ask in the trip, so we worked it out to see a blast from his past. This gave us a chance to see a part of who he was, while also enjoying a short stop on our way back.
The Strand Historic District has shopping and food that you can walk only a few blocks from the cruise piers (when they are operational). Pleasure Pier was further down from our hotel, an amusement park over the Gulf. But for us, this was a stop to enjoy the beach of the Gulf! And we did so until the sunset.
Double Tree by Hilton was right across from the beach and was a perfect location to social distance! There was a pool with a bar on-site and limited dining ( to-go food to purchase), but plenty of restaurants within walking distance.
Miller's Seawall Grill had the best seafood platter made for sharing - gumbo, fish, shrimp, crab, and oysters!
Houston Space Center is only a short drive from Galveston and an ASTC location or pay a visit to the pyramids of Moody Gardens.
Day 15 Galveston, TX to New Orleans, Louisiana (5 hours and 45 minutes)
We came to New Orleans just this past fall and fell in love with the city. We enjoyed that our first time was adults only, and remarked how much the kids would love the new meets the old charm of this city. And even saved some things to do with them - like take a ride down the Mississippi on a steam boat.
Little did we know we'd be back so soon and with the chance to come here to see the city tamed down to a pint-sized version. Since our route was going to take us in through the panhandle we decided to stop and see NOLA in rare form - kid-friendly.
Unlike back in November, the street cars were running on Canal Street and we took one down to French Market to start showing them the city on foot. We took them riverside and showed them around the French Quarter. We decided to ride the Steamboat Natchez at its evening sailing, so grabbed a quick bite of traditional food to eat before boarding.
The crew on the Natchez enforced masks and had temperature checks before guests boarded. They spaced out seating, and made sure rules were being followed. A band played as we sailed the river, and the members that did not have instruments requiring mouthpieces wore masks. And the boat was not crowded, a welcome change from what I'm sure the typical summer months would bring.
Intercontinental was where we had stayed on our visit in November. We decided to come back because we liked its location - far enough from the action, but close enough to points of interest. And to be completely honest, I do an extensive search of Tripadvisor before any of my stays to ensure that "haunted" does not show up at hotel of choice (yes, I'm that person - but I can guarantee you are getting a through search from me). This one was one of the very, very few that came back all good!
Cafe du Monde for the beignets
The Original French Market for the shrimp boil
Acme for the oysters
... and we have even more recommendations from our couples' trip out here!
Louisiana Children’s Museum (ASTC)
Day 16 New Orleans, Louisiana to Orlando (9 hours)
This drive could have been worse, but we took a quick pit-stop in Panama City Beach to see their cousin. It's been a long 4 months since they had, as I'm sure its been for many, so it was nice to just give him a big hug.
They took us to Sharky's to enjoy beach views, time in the sand, and lunch before hitting the road again back to Orlando. The smoked tuna was shared by all as the best thing on the menu!
Once you're back in your home state, the time just seems to fly by, and this was the easiest of all the long drives we did - though the longest day of driving. We got home late at night and exhausted enough that the time change settled in pretty quickly.
How'd It Go?
It was a lot of driving, but it was so completely worth it!
We didn't have to alter many of our plans, only make a few concessions when we couldn't get into National Parks or down certain roads because of closures. Yet we went in expecting that and weren't (too) disappointed with some slight deviations.
It helped very much having a plan of what you wanted to do, so we always had a goal in mind. But it helped even more to have flexible plans that we could adjust if needed!
If you're planning on doing a similar trip, we recommend giving yourself the same type of grace we did - always not just now. It is work to make it work out.
Overall, go in with a good attitude and a solid plan B, and we promise it'll be smoother than expected. And most of all, enjoy the ride!
Are you looking to fill your summer with time behind the wheel & deciding where to go as you get there?
That's some of the spontaneity we love about road trips! We've compiled a few idea on some ways to hit the road and make some lifelong memories. Let's start here!
Head up North and explore Washington to Boston with American History sprinkled in! How you get there is up to you - fly and rent a car, or drive to Washington (or vice versa, depending where you're coming from) to start exploring. For us, we're heading south to north, so we'll start there.
First Stop: Washington, D.C
You're going to be soaking up so much history here. I mean, how can't you? It's our nation's capitol! There's so much to do and so much to cover - and best of all, most of it is free!
Tour the National Mall, home to the Washington Monument on one end and the Lincoln Memorial on the other. While you're doing a walking tour of monuments, you have the following in no particular order to visit as well! You'll find the World War II Memorial, Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Veterans Memorial on either side of the Mall, along with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Adjacent to one side of the mall is the Tidal Basin where you'll find the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. And that's just some of the few walk-up monuments with 24 hour access to see! All with the exception of entering the Washington Monument which operates seasonal and requires a ticket to enter for views from above).
If you're looking to see some of the most famous buildings in the US, the request can be made with your member of Congress (or Embassy in Washington if you are visiting from abroad) to guarantee a a spot. To access the White House, the Capitol and the Library of Congress, you'll need to reach out at least 3 months in advance but no later than 3 weeks prior to your requested dates. Once the request is in, they'll contact you back via email with the time allotted to you, along with information regarding how and when to meet for your tour. The White House will require extra information to process your request, but the experience is worth the wait!
If you're looking to visit museums, good news - most are free! We recommend devoting your time to the Smithsonian, which offers a barge of museums to explore, most open daily from 10a - 5p. If you're looking to change the pace a little, especially with younger kids, head to the National Zoo - open daily from 8a-5p (with extended summer hours) and a great visit in the city!
While you there, also explore the neighborhoods that make this city so charming - from Dupont Circle to Georgetown. Each has their on style and a variety of venues to cater to your needs, each worth the visit!
We recommend at 2 - 3 days to see DC, especially if you're looking to tour some buildings with detail. You can combine a day out and about with a reserved visit, but trying to do two in one day may not always work logistically - so try to space it out if you can!
Where to Stay? Washington Hilton
Stop 2: Baltimore, MD
After leaving your days in DC, drive northeast about an hour and you'll reach Baltimore, Maryland. Beyond amazing seafood, this city has much to offer by way of history!
Take a tour of the Baltimore Historical Sights - whether it be a guided on or on your own. If you plan to go about it on your own, play a visit to Baltimore Visit Center at the lnner Harbor to access a self-guide walking tour of the city. It will lead you to stops such as historic ships in the harbor, B&O Railroad Museum, the original Washington Monument (before DC and with view of Baltimore!), the Star-Spangled Banner which inspired the song of the same name, or the birthplace of our National Anthem - Fort McHenry.
We recommend at least 1-2 days to see Baltimore - add a day if you choose to move a little slower to sightsee or if you decide to venture out to visit Annapolis while you're there!
Stay: Hyatt Regency Inner Harbor
Must Eats? Obviously Maryland crabs! We enjoyed stops in Little Italy (Aldo's was wonderful for a romantic dinner for two) and Fells Point for the undeniable charm of each neighborhood.
Stop 3: Philadelphia, PA
As you continue to head northeast, you'll make it to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - about an hour and 45 minutes outside of Baltimore. The City of Brotherly (& Sisterly) Love is special in its new world meets old world and the history that fills its streets.
You'll want to dive in to an Old City Walking Tour but if you decided to go about it on your own, there's plenty to see. Visit Independence Hall - free with a timed reservation entry; Liberty Bell, The President's House, various history museums, and squares (some of which host a variety of event depending on the time of year)! Or you can recreate the movie itself, and join the Rocky Run to visit some unknown sites if you're looking or something extra to do!
We recommend 1-2 days to see Philadelphia - add a day if you choose to drive the path a little slower and visit some wineries (Brandywine Valley is in proximity of your drive) or if you decide to venture out and visit Valley Forge.
Where to Stay? The Westin was situated in a perfect spot! Accessible for sightseeing, but also in the middle of many great options for eats - and near beautiful City Hall & LOVE Park!
Must Eats? Philly cheesesteak at Steve's Prince of Steak or stop by Reading Terminal Market, specifically Dutch Eating Place for one of the best breakfasts - it is a limited seating and first come, first serve!
Stop 4: New York, NY
Leave Philly and drive for an hour & 40 minutes and you'll reach the Big Apple. And what isn't there to do in New York? If you're truly trying to stick to the theme of the trip, then visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are staples on your list. Make sure to book your ticket on the ferry over via Statue Cruises, which may even get you access to the Pedestal or Crown (if you're little one is tall enough - has to be 48" to climb to the top)! Your ticket also includes a ferry ride over to Ellis Island, where you can experience the arrival of our nation's population of immigrants and embark on the journey they did on arrival.
You can even add modern history like visiting the USS Intrepid Air, Sea & Space Museum to charm any kid that would like to view planes and ships up-close!
We recommend at minimum 2 days to see New York, since it will take you at least a day to visit Lady Liberty and Ellis Island. But if you're looking to add more time in the Big Apple, you could block the city into sections and do at least 5 days to get a good grasp of all it has to offer - and with enough time to explore at a leisurely pace.
Start with a New York City Bus Tour to get a lay of the land and decide where you want to spend more time. Then focus on Central Park and the Upper Sides; the Theater District and Midtown, and then head Downtown to visit other landmarks like the 9/11 Memorial. You can fill what you want to see in-between or use the last full day to visit one of the other boroughs - whether cross the Brooklyn Bridge over or head to the Bronx to see the zoo! Check out our recommendations on what to do in New York City with kids!
Where to Stay? Hyatt Place Midtown South was perfectly situated near Macy's, several subway stops, and best of all, breakfast was included! It made for an easy start to exploring and for navigating the city!
Final Stop: Boston, MA
Your last visit involves a little more of a drive - but its so worth it with all that you can see in-between. Four hours from NYC and you've reached Boston - home of lots history and really good seafood!
Start your visit there by making plans to walk the Freedom Trail - the walk itself will take you through some historical landmarks that paint the story of the American Revolution. The trail is about 2.5 miles long and can take as much time as you need to get through it - if you don't want a guided tour, you can do it on your own. It's easy to follow - just download a guide and follow the brick laid path! The trail starts at Boston Common and ends at the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill (or vice versa if you decide to take it the other way), and passes the landmarks of Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market - both not to be missed! You can also make sure to visit the spot of the Boston Tea Party, while indulging in these lessons and watching history come to life!
If you want to make the most of your time there, there's plenty of other ways to see the city. Take a Boston Duck Tour - to navigate you through the lay of the land and learn about the city itself - and then to float on water to get to see it from a new angle. Visit the Green Monster at Fenway Park - even if you're not able to catch a game there, you can tour the timeless stadium. Visit Boston Public Garden, ride a Swan Boat, or even stop to say hello the bronze ducklings. Visit a brewery or even the original Cheers! Maybe you're hoping to spot some sea lift outside the New England Aquarium - then try whale watching for a few hours!
If you're coming with little ones and still need to keep them entertained - whether from all the trekking around the city or on a rainy day, check out the Boston Children's Museum! We can attest to it being a hit with ours!
We recommend 3 days to see Boston ... 4-5 days if you're adding on any day trips outside the city to truly explore!
Where to Stay? The Westin Waterfront was by Boston Harborwalk - a little removed but also accessible with magnificent waterfront views and the leisurely walks to get into the city.
There was also a rental car facility right in the hotel, so it made it easy to get a car (especially for those that may be starting in Boston and working their way down on the road trip). You can enjoy the city without a need to rent a car until you're ready to venture out!
Must Eats? Legal Sea Foods! And Mike's Pastry in Little Italy.
Visit Edaville with kids - Thomasland located within the park was a hit! It's only an hour and a half from Boston, by way of Plymouth - and close enough for you to access Cape Cod afterwards (for some really amazing views and seafood)!
We went at an age when our eldest was about all things train - to see his favorite engine come to life was amazing. He was beside himself in excitement - and the attractions where delightful enough for that age.
A historical road trip is definitely one to add to your list of trips to take, especially in the thick of appreciating what they're learning about and getting to see first-hand. And it should go without being mentioned, that many of this places are part of the National Park Service's Junior Ranger program, so you can keep your kids (or yourself) engaged with activities as you tour - all to become a sworn in ranger for the trip!
If you plan to do something similar, we recommend a total of 13 days to at least get a highlight of each city & upon reaching your first destination - and of course giving you travel time on each end to get back!
Washington D.C. - 2.5 days
Baltimore - 1.5 day (with partial driving day)
Philadelphia - 2.5 days (with partial driving day)
New York - 3.5 days (with partial driving day)
Boston - 3 days (with time to go to the coast to explore)
The city that never sleeps. It is hands down one of our favorite places in the world - the bright lights, the hustle & bustle, the energy from the city and its people. You get caught up in it from the moment you set foot in the concrete jungle.
Yet our kids had a chance to experience it outside a layover visit and when our eldest was just an infant. We were all teeming to go, and with dear family friends getting married, we had the perfect reason to. So we decided we were going to send off summer break with a few days in the city!
But how do you design a kid-friendly trip to the Big Apple and what all is there you can really do with kids?
Here’s a glimpse of must-sees while in NYC along with a rough design of your trip!
Battery Park, Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
This is a day long activity if you want to enjoy it right! And for us, it was how we started day one of our city tour.
We pre-purchased tickets via the official vendor, Statue Cruises, prior to arrival to guarantee an entry time and save time from waiting in line. Checking out tickets before hand can also allow you to get the coveted Pedestal or Crown tickets, as both are limited in quantities. Pedestal tickets are the same price as the regular tickets (which get you ferry access to the islands), so it is worth trying to get your hands on these. Pedestal tickets are the the only way you'll be able to get into the Statue of Liberty, with a whole museum to check out at her base. Crown tickets are even harder to come by; they do cost a little more and allow only those 48" & taller up to climb the statue all the way up to her crown. But if you do manage to get these tickets, it is so worth it - even just to say you made it to the top!
While you're on Liberty Island, make it a point to get your kids their Junior Ranger badges. Not familiar with the program? Certain National Parks around the US offer booklets and activities for kids to complete while visiting the parks. Once complete, find a ranger, review your activities and receive an official badge after a swearing in ceremony. It has definitely been a hit for the kids during our trips and a fun FREE activity to find while we're visiting national parks around the US!
If possible, before you even visit, read some books about the Statue of Liberty. "Her Right Foot" by David Eggers was our favorite and taught the kids so much about what they were looking at. They were eager to find her right foot and talk about what it symbolized once looking at her in person.
Hop the ferry over to Ellis Island next, to learn about an icon in immigration to America. This was the thoroughfare for immigrants arriving by boat and the first place that they set foot on before making their way to their new home. Kids have another opportunity to earn a Junior Ranger badge here, which makes touring the facility that much more intriguing, even for adults! We learned so much more through the activities they were doing as we were looking at this relic with different lens. We also made it a point to visit The American Immigrant Wall of Honor on the island before we left, where years ago we had families' names engraved to celebrate their immigration to the states. It was the best moment of the day, having my kids find their grandfather and great grandfather's names and explaining to them the sacrifices that were made to move here.
Once you finish both islands, it's time to make it back to Battery Park. A good portion of your day may be spent waiting in lines, boarding ferries, and getting to the next spot. That's where a day for this activity allows you to explore without feeling rushed. Once back at Castle Clinton, the ticket booth location for the Statue of Liberty, locate a ranger for one last badge. The fort does not appear to house much, but once learning about the history you come to appreciate it even more. It sits on its own manmade island, was once an aquarium, and for pop culture fans, it was the location of the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind's first US performance (yes, of The Greatest Showman kind)!
Your visit has to end with a ride on the Seaglass Carousel - truly a work of art and as beautiful to ride as it is to look at. So reward yourself after a day of exploring by kicking back your feet, relaxing on and enjoying the show on this marvelous attraction!
Take in a Baseball Game!
We’re partial to the Mets but you can’t go wrong either way! If you're spending summer in the city, a baseball game is a MUST!
It was a big moment for us, since it was our first time at Citifield; last time I saw a home ballgame was when it was still Shea Stadium (while the new stadium was under construction). For the kids, it was the first time watching the Mets play outside of Spring Training. And my youngest even got to wear a family heirloom; a toddler size 1986 World Series Champions shirt that's 8 times as old as she is.
Central Park also needs to be reserved for a day all its own. You can do as little or as much as you want to, but for us, we wanted to let the kids immersive themselves so made Day 2 all about this urban forest.
We started at the Central Park Zoo, which in its own right, deserves a visit just so your kids can say they went to the one Alex and his friends in Madagascar called home. The zoo, though small, is adorable and can fill just enough time without taking away from your day. Undecided? Do what we did and buy tickets on your phone right on the spot - it will also get you a discount code to save AND reduce paper use.
Once you're done visiting the wild animals of New York, its time to explore the park itself. We read "A Green Place to be: The Creation of Central Park" by Ashley Benham Yazdani before our visit to learn about how the park came to life. It introduced the different architecture of the park and allowed even the most seasoned visitor (me) to look at the park in new appreciation.
We explored the statues and landmarks with a different set of lens now that we knew their unique stories. We stopped at Strawberry Fields and ironically had "Hey Jude" playing in the background as our kids learned about this famous memorial. We visited the preserved Belvedere Castle and climbed with the kids to the top.
If you come early enough and have time, within Shakespeare Garden is an wonderful playhouse for kids. The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre puts on puppet shows for young and old alike in the mornings, and though we didn't get to see it, we were told it was absolutely fantastic!
The weather decided to turn on us, but we had plans to rent a boat and spend some time on the water. And we were all anxiously looking forward to the activity - but said we'd add it to our list for next time! You can rent a boat from the Loeb Boathouse for $15/hr + $4 per every additional 15 minutes for up to 4 people.
Over the summer, Wollman Rink turns into Victorian Gardens, an amusement park in the city. It was a nice change of pace for the kids to get to play in the city, with that skyscraper backdrop behind them. But now our new goal is to come back and allow them to properly ice skate on this iconic rink with the same beautiful view behind them!
You can picnic in the park, ride a horse & carriage, enjoy a summer concert or movie or simply just be. Central Park is definitely worth the immersed day if you're willing to see it like a little first timer.
If you're lucky enough, you may even get a summer concert here! We were able to get tickets to Good Morning America's taping of their summer concert series right in Central Park - so we woke up to Keith Urban playing for all of America! What a moment, even for the kids to experience their first televised concert!
Frozen Hot Chocolate before Dinner!
We couldn't take a trip to New York and not stop for the famous Frozen Hot Chocolate. Serendipity 3, an iconic restaurant made famous by the movie of the same name, is truly what its name lives up to - a fortunate accident. You're only so lucky if you get to drop by to experience this restaurant's eclectic vibe only complemented by its massive food choices.
And yes, you have to have the Frozen Hot Chocolate before dinner. It is just that good - and big enough to share, if you want to!
Watch Frozen on Broadway!
What better to complement Frozen Hot Chocolate than going to see Frozen itself! If you have a chance to dabble in local theater back home with your kids, a trip to NYC is time to upgrade to the big time. There are plenty of family friendly options on and off Broadway, including long running The Lion King, Aladdin, Wicked and whatever else is introduced into rotation in the theater district.
Frozen was the latest release and the only our kids hadn't seen, so we made big plans to see it. And we all absolutely fell in love with Broadway's take on this beautiful story about self and love!
Fifteen Seconds of Fame
Those morning shows you catch glimpse of after your local news are taped right here, so why not try to get your 15 seconds of fame? The Today Show is our personal favorite, staged right under 30 Rock, and its outdoor atmosphere inviting. Tapings are free and early, so make sure you're ready to rise and shine. If you need coffee or sweets to help with that, stop by Bouchon Bakery next door for morning wake up treats (we especially enjoyed the macarons)!
If you're more of a GMA fan, head over to Times Square to catch a glimpse of them at work.
Grand Central Station
Visit this beauty and not just to pass through - we started one of our mornings by heading over to take it all in!
Prior to our visit, we read all about this landmark in "When Jackie Saved Grand Central: Jacqueline Kennedy's Fight for and American Icon" by Natasha Wing. The station is beautiful, from its intricate architecture to the details in its paintings. The book gave us a preview to the story of its legacy and how it was almost lost and the fight to save and preserve it. We enjoyed our visit a little more by reading all about it, and even made sure to look for the dedication wall placed in the foyer for Jackie O.
Beyond its history, the station sees so much foot traffic and is home to some great eateries and places to shop. If you're here, make sure to make a stop to the restaurant level and visit Magnolia Bakery for a treat - its definitely one of those New York places that is NOT to be missed! Grab the blondie - it was arguably the best!
Want the ultimate moment for a kid? FAO Schwartz is back in Rockefeller Center and its just as magical as its flagship store once was. Come for opening and be welcomed in by toys and toymakers alike. Head up to the top floor to play on the iconic "Big" floor piano. Or simply just take in the magic of this magical toy store.
Walk The High Line
The High Line is a walkway above the city built on old railways and a different way to take in New York. The kids will enjoy finding the eclectic uses of art and the relaxed vibe up here - along with the views!
We suggest starting at the The Standard, specifically at the Biergarten. This open air venue sells tickets at the ticket booth for beer and food; purchase what you'll like in exchange for item of choice once inside. There are fusbol and ping pong tables set around the venue, along with the community tables. It makes for a great time for the whole family, without getting too rowdy. And for us, it was a nice place to duck into as we avoided the rain!
Once you make your way up to walk down The High Line, feel free to get off and on to check out neighborhoods as you'd like. You'll run into Chelsea Market which is marketplace of shops, eats, and events! Finish at Hudson Yards, where you can climb The Vessel - a centerpiece made for exploring!
Climb a Skyscraper
There are plenty to choose from, including the iconic Empire State Building, grand view of Central Park from Rockefeller Center, and a national treasure for all it represents, One World Trade.
We've visited all and really there is not a right or wrong, but suggest doing one a trip! It'll make every visit back extra special if you get a skyline view from a different landmark each time!
Visit a Museum
New York is full of museums, which make for the best any time activity!
... and that doesn't even finish that list nor start the selection of children's museum to see!
Finally, don't forget your reciprocal benefits from any museum memberships from back home. For us, the ASTC Travel Passport Program allowed us free entry to the Intrepid, which was an amazing and unique experience. Not only did we get to wander an aircraft carrier, looking at all types of vessels but we also had the opportunity to tour a submarine. The Growler was a Cold War era sub and even had one of the original crew volunteering on board. To meet someone that served and that could give us firsthand account was indispensable.
Want some really good Italian food? Visit Little Italy! It makes you feel like you are in Italia with the hosts enticing you to enter and the language floating through the air. This is just one of those iconic neighborhoods you have to pop over and visit!
While you're there, go to Caffe Palmero - home of the best cannolis this side of the Atlantic!
Visit another zoo! This ended up being serendipitous for our eldest - who was wanting to see the zoo but we couldn't squeeze it in during our three short days! When our flight got cancelled and only rescheduled for two days later, we had the time to fulfill his wishes.
The ZOO (of TV legacy) is truly an experience - and got us to another borough to visit. An upgrade from the Central Park Zoo in sheer size and attractions, it was a delight to see our kids immerse themselves in this beautiful zoo. They even had education stations to participate in activities and earn stickers all while learning about animals and what they can do to better help this world.
We were immediately sold on a Wildlife Conservation Society membership during our visit, which covered the difference in the price of our Central Park tickets and this visit. It also gave us a year's worth of visits to WCS affiliated zoos and aquariums in the greater NYC area. So if we just happen to be back, we're covered; if not, we've donated to a great cause! And saved while doing it.
Walk across this architectural mastepiece for some stunning views of Manhattan Island! Do it at sunset for a glimpse of the heavens showing off!
Looking for the shoreline near Manhattan? Head further into Brooklyn to iconic Coney Island! Spend a perfect summer day on the boardwalk and riding the famous rides, like the Cyclone. Nothing else feels more like summertime!
Well, except a hot dog eating contest - which happens here every 4th of July!
Also, make use of that WCS membership and visit the New York Aquarium included in your purchase! Easily another two in one day here!
Take in the city!
Each section of this great city is so distinct to itself and its what makes this place so special!
When and how long to go?
There’s never a wrong time for New York! But how long you go is completely up to you!
You can make a long weekend of it and focus on only one thing - like we did a few years back and hit up Broadway shows. You can come for a few days and take in all the highlights! Or if you decide to stay longer, fill up your schedule with so many things to do.
How to get there?
Flying into NYC is relatively inexpensive from around the US, but it is always worth playing around with your dates and arrival airports to see what's available!
We prefer flying into LaGuardia (LGA) because flights tend to run a little more frequently and cheaper. But this last trip we flew out of JFK and had a wonderful experience - right down to getting there! We were able to take the subway and then connect over to the AirTrain to get to JFK smoothly. A cab ride can run over $75 - whereas taking public transit cost us about $20 (and our 4 year old was free the whole way) and in about the same amount of time.
You can take public transit from LaGuardia too, but it takes a little more maneuvering and connecting to buses. Knowing the ease of connection at JFK, we may consider flying in there more often than not!
How to get around?
Subway, foot, or taxi are really the only way to go. There is no point in having a car in the city, as you'll just be frustrated at the lack of parking or the sky high prices when you do find it. So unless you plan to head out of NYC for the trip, save renting a car until it is needed.
The subway is cheap and easy to use - $2.75 each one way trip or you can purchase multi-day cards for a discounted price. If you have the opportunity, spend as much time above ground as possible too. Take in the city and sights, it's how you truly appreciate New York. And if you're in a hurry, you can always hail a taxi - they're everywhere and in my opinion still more convenient than any Uber or Lyft in the city!
Where to stay?
We prefer Midtown because of the accessibility to public transportation and the central location. Our last stay brought us to Hyatt Place Midtown-South off West 36th Street. We were two blocks from Hearld Square (home of Macy's), a handful of blocks from Times Square, and had a subway on every corner.
We stayed in a generous size King Room with sofa bed, which was more than enough space for sleeping & changing aka the only times we were in our room. And as a World of Hyatt member, we got free breakfast every morning. They were in the middle of renovations in their main breakfast room, so we got to enjoy our first meal of the day right under the Empire State Building. Pretty incredible for the price we paid to stay here!
When our trip got extended, we stayed at the Hotel Beacon in the Upper West Side. We were a few block away from Central Park and near a subway line that had a Trader Joe's, Duane Reade and some other shopping near by. We had a two-bedroom suite with a full kitchen, lodging that reminded me of my first dated apartment. Had we spent more time using the amenities this spot would've been great with the accessibility to the marketplaces we had! Instead we enjoyed dining at nearby Levain Bakery & Zucker's Bagels for breakfast and delighting in Gray's Papaya for hot dog & fruit juice for lunch.
If you haven't done NYC with kids, its definitely worth the consideration. This melting pot of people, culture, and history is such a wonderful experience for them and exposing them to so much in one little trip!
We had the amazing opportunity of getting to stay at these two gems in Hawaiian family fun! Both resorts are highly revered by families with little and big ones alike because of its diversity in venues, array of amenities for all ages, and the convenience that each of these mega resorts provide to cater to all.
So how did they stack up against each other and which one is better for you and yours?
Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa
Disney's Oahu based property, is everything you expect from a Disney hotel - and not just one in Hawaii. Aulani is located in Ko Olina, just west of the airport and heading into a drier, more industrial part of the island. But the resort area of Ko Olina is also home to a variety of high end properties for vacation goers looking to escape the traffic of Waikiki. And driving up to it, Aulani is everything you'd expect from Disney magic.
On arrival, you're greeted with infused waters and fresh flower leis for women, kukui nut for men and kids receive Menehune necklaces, which are the famed characters of Hawaiian folklore that "lurk" around property. While you're on property, you're welcomed "home" as Aulani does sit as part of the Disney Vacation Club portfolio - and they even have designated showrooms to showcase with anyone interested in learning more about becoming a member. For us regular guests, being welcomed home was definitely just a nice touch to make us feel even more welcome here!
The resort is very accessible with two towers connected by the main entry building, where you can find shops and the flagship restaurant offering character dining. Walking through the lobby, you can head outside to the lanai and get a full glorious view of the resort. And you'll see that once you're here, you're here - restaurants line both sides of of the property, the pools are centrally situated with the beach in the horizon, and the parking garage and main roads out of sight, so you really have no reason to head back to your car!
We booked an entry level room - garden pool view and were granted a low floor request we made. This was perfect because we ended up being situated right by the lazy river. And with a separate patio entrance that led out to the pool area, we enjoyed our easy accessibility to the fun at this resort, especially since we were going to be spending ALL of our time here!
When we booked our trip to Hawaii, we knew we'd want to stay a few days at Aulani on our pursuit of visiting as many Disney properties worldwide! The per night cost became a matter of how much time we spent here, because we didn't want to lose any time away, but rather enjoy what we paid for. Disney's price is steep in comparison to other properties in Hawaii, especially if you plan to spend most of your time exploring the island. But when you compare the cost of Aulani to other Disney resorts, you'll see that their Hawaiian sister hotel is priced no higher than staying at some of the premier Disney properties all over the world.
So what does the price include, outside of room?
The price does not include:
Other things to note:
Hilton Hawaiian Village
Location, location, location!
I think the one thing that could sell this place alone is location. Not only is it centrally located in Honolulu but it also is quite honestly the only resort on Waikiki with prime beach access. This is where you want to stay if you want to be in the hustle and bustle of the city of Honolulu, but not on busy Waikiki itself. The resort is closer to the marina, but from the beach you have postcard views of Diamond Head in the distance.
On arrival, you drive through the Rainbow Bazaar, a small through street with a marketplace of shops and restaurants on either side. You pull up to the open air lobby building where you can leave the car on idle while you get yourself checked in. They aren't greeting you with the leis like Disney did on arrival, but the guest service was just as superb. Once checked in, you're given a full map of the property, which is lined by 8 towers, 5 pools, and various shops and restaurants (even beyond the Bazaar). Like Aluani, parking is not include - you have the option of valet for $52/daily or self park at $45/daily. If you opt to self park, the garage is back at the entrance to the Bazaar and once you're situated, you do have in/out privileges.
The resort feels and is massive! And is only matched with the number of people you see everywhere. It's definitely a different vibe than the "quieter" Aulani as there is a lot of movement here - but it only makes you want to get in on the action. The lobby really is the central point to the resort, but there isn't a spot that grants you an overall view of the resort. Each tower is like a world in itself, each with its own pool, bar, restaurant - but best of all, you have full access to the whole village while you're here! Beyond the Rainbow Tower, you will find the strip of beach that is designed for Hilton guests - though the chairs do come at an extra cost to rent for the day. Also good to note, all beaches are public and aren't just limited to hotel guests (same goes for Aulani). Next to the beach is the manmade lagoon for someone wanting the feel of the ocean but with the calmness of a pool - this is also home to water activities like paddle boarding and paddle boat rentals.
We booked a room without a particular request here, but they upgraded us to a high floor and view of the water. This was a nice change of pace since there really isn't a ground floor room option, and with the sheer magnitude of this resort, I'm not sure I'd want to be so close to the noise. Our room was generous in size, larger than Disney's with room to spare - but the bathroom could have used more square footage to make it easier for a family to utilize!
For this leg of the trip in Hawaii, we wanted to book a place that we could come back to and enjoy but also not feel burdened leaving for the price, as we wanted to see the rest of the island! The price point here made that comfortable to do. We considered other options but all lacked the proximity to the beach we wanted - so we fell for the idea that this was a great resort for the family to relax at after a busy day out. And it really is - there's so much to do & was a great place to wind down at after full days! And on top of that, its in Honolulu - so if your list of things to do include checking off spots on Waikiki, you're right here! Leave the car behind and go for a walk to discover what the city has to offer - that's what we did!
So what does the price include, outside of room?
The price does not include:
Other things to note:
Which One’s for You?
We wanted to start our vacation on a lighter more relaxing note to catch up with the time change, so we enjoyed all we could out of Aulani. But we definitely would not have stayed here if we were leaving to go sightseeing - unless we were DVC members or got an unbelievable price per night. We enjoyed two nights to settle in and get some R&R before our adventure started. It is also not conveniently located to much on the island beyond the North Shore. You may avoid the traffic of Honolulu (which was not that bad), but you would be driving a little farther because of where it is situated. Stay here if you plan to stay PUT here. And if you're even toying with the idea of staying here, do it for at least a few days of your trip. It's definitely a place to visit and you won't regret it - we loved our times to unwind with Disney magic before we visited the beauty of Hawaii!
Hilton Hawaiian Village felt like great place to leave and come back go to. It was a great resort, but I could not imagine spending all my days here just because of the sheer magnitude of the resort. It was a nice place to retreat to after days of fun because we were still able to take in all the amenities without feeling like we missed out, because it did lack some of the magic Disney has. And the price made it even easier to leave - since it was at half the cost of what we paid at Disney. If you want a prime place on Waikiki beach, with ground level pools and a village all its own, this is the place for you! It was a nice way to get wrapped into what Honolulu had to offer and not feel like we were missing out on any magic - because we made what we wanted out of our days when we returned!
Either way you can’t go wrong! But it’s all a matter of what you want from your time in paradise!
Still undecided? Check out our Highlights on Instagram for more information about our time at either resort!