You've booked a cruise! Now what?
[If you haven't booked a cruise, see our reasons for why you do need to take one!]
Just like any other vacation, prepping may feel overwhelming but don't let it be! Here are some tips to make your next vacation on the seas as relaxing as it can be!
In terms of what to bring, less can be more - in this case, make sure to bring more of the right things!
Your cruise is likely going to have themed nights, including at least one formal night - and if you're into that type of thing, pack accordingly! But this is a beach vacation, and we never think there's too many swimsuits, coverups or light wear you can pack, since it will be likely what you'll live in. Your cruise ship may also have laundry service available, so in case you didn't bring enough of one thing or need it for emergency purposes, you have options. Including shopping in port!
Outside the obvious, including sunglasses, sandals, toiletries, and anything you travel with for comfort, the following are items we definitely saw value in having with us!
Shopping On Board and Abroad
Some love to take advantage of shopping duty free - and cruising its so easy!
If you’re planning to purchase duty free items, we do recommend you do a bit of window shopping at home to decide if what you're about to buy on board/shore is a better deal than back home. Most of the times it is, but we have found a few items that were not worth holding out for.
Not big on souvenirs but need to bring something back? Some of our favorite things include the original Kinder Surprise (the eggs are banned in the US but you can enjoy on shore); Mexican vanilla because its the real thing; and we love to pick up unique handmade items to support the local vendors (and try not to haggle the price because they are worth every penny).
Cruise lines have in the past years cracked down on people trying to sneak drinks and avoid spending on board.
That said, most cruise lines will let you bring a case of sodas or water (canned) on the first day of your cruise for you to have. This is a great option for someone who wants their caffeine fix but doesn't want the price per glass. You can also pre-order either to be delivered to your room in case you feel like you will go through your allotment before your sailing ends.
On the same token, most cruise lines allow 2 bottles of wine or champagne (no larger than 750ml) per stateroom with an adult 21+ in. Note that Disney Cruise Line allow each guests 21+ to bring a bottle of wine or champagne OR 6 - 12oz beers on board at the beginning of the voyage AND and at each port of call (if you want to restock). These beverages must be packed in carry-on bags or luggage so we recommend a wine bag with your carry on. And pack an insulated wine cup so you can have something ready to go in your room (though you can ask your stateroom attendant for a wine glass to use as well). Just note that if you are going to open a wine bottle in the dining room, you will be charged a corkage fee. So opt for a twist top OR bring your own wine opener for your room and open before dinner.
Another option to consider if you're trying to drink but also save a bit is to order a bottle of alcohol to your room before traveling. You can do so on each respective cruise line’s website under their stateroom gifts option. These orders will be delivered the first day of the cruise and are subject to the rules of each cruise line. Then you can make your own drinks in your room for a fraction of the price of buying. While dining, you will also be able to order wine by the bottle, which can be a substantial savings from ordering by the glass. And if you don't top the bottle your meal, you can ask to bring it with you to your room OR your serving team will cork and store for the next time you join them for dinner. With either option though, you will not be able to bring any unfinished bottles off the ship, so make sure to never order more than you can have!
Finally, there's the popular "all you can drink" packages most lines offer that are worth considering. The price, though significant, can be worth it if you will be drinking the allotment. With most cocktails about at $14+ tax & gratuity and beers starting at $7+ tax & gratuity, the price for the package can easily break even after about 6 cocktails a day (if you plan to have that much). But note, most lines require that all passengers of age in one stateroom to commit, so sharing will be avoided, so a lot of deliberation may be in store depending what type of cruise you'll take. If you’re stopping on a private island with the package is honored, we recommend considering as it does being value!
I always, always, always recommend traveling with a passport! For your kids, it’s the only type of ID that has their picture on it - and for everyone in an emergency situation, the o my way you can fly home internationally.
If you are a US citizen on a US closed loop cruise (start and end at the same US port), you do have the option to bring a birth certificate and photo ID. Options exist for foreign born US citizens as well.
Remember. you are leaving the country, so its always better to have this priceless piece of identification ready to go. Also, it makes the whole embarkation and debarkation process seamless! With facial recognition software in much use, having a passport will save you lots of time when coming home. Just make sure you have at least 6 months left from the last day of your trip of your passport in case of emergency (a good standard to have when traveling anywhere in the world)!
If your stateroom came with onboard credit (OBC) - usually an offer working with a travel planner can get you - it has to be used on board. You can use if for anything you end up spending on board, including gratuities - so it may be a reason to not prepay your gratuity so you have some flexibility with this free money.
Excursions can be booked on the ship at a premium and with peace of mind (the ship will not leave without you if your excursion got delayed). But if you want to explore cheaper options or book with flexibility, check out tours for your destinations with my trusted partner Viator. You can also choose an excursion right at the port, where you can try to haggle the price a little - especially if you're okay with being completely spontaneous!
All this goes without being said, book with a travel planner - there's no additional cost, only additional perks, and you have an extra set of eyes to prepare you for your trip!
If you’re ready to explore an option for you, fill out the Cruise Form and we can get started on finding a cruise for you!
If you're already booked and interested in having your reservation taken over, fill out the Booking Transfer Form - it can easily be transferred with just your approval (as long as you're not in final payment)!
Dreaming of Rome
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 Italy, check out some of our recommendations for Dreaming of Travel: Rome. The eternal city is a lush destination full of so many stories and the opportunity to step back in time. You're going to find yourself wanting to discover more of this beautiful country!
Dreaming of Paris
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 Paris, check out some of our recommendations for Dreaming of Travel: Paris. The city of lights is a magical place to plan an international getaway with your family - from the rich culture, abundant history, and kid-friendly possibilities, you’re going to fall in love with Paris!
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!
Dreaming of Ireland
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!
Let's Go Glamping!
What to Expect
Flip Flop Dreams owners Cassandra and Ramon did a wonderful job of outlining everything we needed 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. Cassandra and Ramon 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 Cassandra to 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, we found 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 get your RV rental situated!
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!
Follow the Wine Trail
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?
Down in New Orleans
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!
A Weekend in Asheville
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!