We made out so well last year with a big long road trip that this year we decided to do it again. This time however instead of crossing the country we headed south.
Driving this way it allowed us to accomplish two things we had been wanting to do for a long time. For years we have said that once all the kids were old enough we would take them to Disney. Also for years we’ve wanted to take the kids to New Orleans to show them the city Jen and I were married and spent some of our honeymoon in. So we tied the two together into one long trip. Of course it has the added bonus of being along the coast for a lot of our path where there are amazing beaches which is a highlight for our family.
This post is as much for me as it is for anyone else to help ensure I remember all the highlights and use as a resource later on when I say to myself, what year did we do that?
It still amazes me at how well the whole family travels when we drive as much as we do, or are staying with everyone in a single hotel room. There were of course some moments where people were getting on each others nerves, or someone just needed a little space to themselves, but overall everyone gets along well and it helps make the trip that much more enjoyable.
Similar to last year again we spent some of our vacation just our family and some of it with close friends and family. This year the Fisher family met us for the Florida / Disney part of the trip. We shared a place to stay for the week and did just about everything together. It’s awesome to get to share these experiences and memories with them.
Hampton Beach, NH
Same as last year one of the first stops we made was at Hampton Beach. It’s become a bit of a tradition for us to stop there just about every time we pass through. It’s a great beach and everyone loves it.
Madame Tussauds – Washington DC
We stayed for a couple nights at the same AirBnB we’ve stayed at a few times now. Donna is a great host and has a comfortable place that the kids even get excited about when ever we go to stay there. Taught the kids a bit about playing pool even while we were there. As we’ve been to Washington a few times now we wanted to try something different. We’ve never been to a wax museum so went and tried Madame Tussauds. The characters were pretty impressive.
When we were done we still had lots of time so we walked around a bit and found a Rita’s Italian Ice shop which is Caile’s favourite. It was really hot so it was a nice cool treat. We stopped on the steps of the Smithsonian American Art Museum to eat and then went in and checked out the art for a while as well. We’ve been to a number of the Smithsonian museums but this one was a first for us as well.
For July 4th we were able to get together with a friend and former co-worker Andrea Badgley. It was great to catch up and get to meet her husband and for her to meet the rest of our family. We had an awesome meal and enjoying our time together so much we decided not to go see fireworks and just stayed in and talked more. We did manage to catch a few on the car ride home though.
Discovery Place Science Center – Charlotte, NC
Jen has always wanted to visit Charlotte. I’d been once for a work trip but it was pretty packed so I didn’t get to see much of the city. What I did see was nice though. We took the kids to the Discovery Space Science Center. It’s included as part of our local Discovery Center pass but was a lot of fun.
Georgia Aquarium – Atlanta GA
Years ago when researching a different vacation Alex found the Georgia Aquarium. It has one of the biggest tanks around and they have whale sharks. It was one of the must see things on this trip.
On our way to the aquarium we were caught in a crazy rain, thunder and lightning storm. There was no way to get into the aquarium from the car without getting soaked. We had already bought the tickets and there were for that day, there was no way to change the date so we sat in the car and luckily it wasn’t too long before the rain passed and we were able to get in. We’ve been to a fair number of aquariums now but this one was really nice. It was cool seeing the whale sharks especially.
New Orleans, LA
Up until this point we were only staying one or two nights in an area on our way to New Orleans where we would stay for a week. This was one of the highlight weeks for me that I’ve been looking forward to for almost 15 years to come back to this city. We had a nice little AirBnB type place to ourselves for the week and just a short drive into the city.
We spent time exploring the French Quarter, eating beignets, visited the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, ate beignets, went through the aquarium, took the same paddle wheel river boat tour where Jen and I were married, took a swamp tour, visited city park, and ate beignets 🙂
It was cool to meet up with two co-workers while we were there as well. One day we went out to eat Po’boys with Charlie who used to be on my team and is now on Jen’s team. Then we met up with Pam and her boys. Another perk of working for a distributed company is you get to know people all over the world.
The time we spent there was great but just makes me want to go back again, and not just for the beignets. So much more food to try, we didn’t get to take in any music like I would have liked, and going on the swamp tour again in a different time of year would be on my list as well.
Pensacola Beach, FL
We love beaches, so of course we would have to stop at a Gulf Coast beach on our way. The beach was pretty crowded but we were able to find free parking right beside one of the walk ways to the beach. There was also an air show happening that same day so we were treated to a show. The Blue Angels US flight demonstration team practices there, but this was a full on show. The beach was beautiful and didn’t disappoint.
Florida Natural History Museum – Gainesville, FL
When we left Pensacola we headed towards Orlando and stopped the Florida Natural History Museum in Gainesville, FL to break up the trip. It certainly made a good stop and was also included in our local Discovery Center pass.
Universal Studios – Orlando, FL
This begins our week of theme parks. One of the main reasons we wanted to come here was Harry Potter. The Fisher family are all big Potter fans and Ella is too. It was a jam packed day as the Harry Potter portion spans across two parks and we tried to do them both in one day. It ended up being really busy and hot. There were some issues with power and so some rides weren’t working which caused us to move away from Harry Potter to other areas of the parks.
The Dr. Seuss area was pretty fun. Bright and it turned Noah’s mood around with rides he enjoyed. Earlier we were going to do Escape from Gringotts and went through the whole lineup right until we were to start the ride and it was a bit much for him so we bailed and left. He did throughly enjoy playing with the wand we bought and casting spells to have things happen.
There were a few people who really wanted to ride the Hulk roller coaster so while they waited in line there we played in an arcade for a bit. They ended up waiting 2 hours in line due to long waits and having to close for a while because of weather. It was thunder and lightening off and on throughout the day.
All said Harry Potter was really neat, and the Forbidden Journey Ride was one of the best ones I was on all week, but we didn’t do much else there. There didn’t seem to be any good places to get out of the heat for a bit or any areas where you could just sit and rest. There are likely places where we could have done that, but we didn’t find any. Out of all the parks this was everyone’s least favourite.
SeaWorld – Orlando, FL
After the day at Universal I wasn’t sure I was much of a theme park fan. Luckily SeaWorld helped change my mind. The lineups were much more reasonable which was a huge plus. This allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone and try some roller coasters. Thankfully I did because I ended up enjoying them a lot.
We started with the Manta which has you essentially laying on your stomach facing straight down like a Manta Ray would and then sore around. You start out sitting in the seat as normal and get fastened in and then the seat tilts back so your in that position. This was some of the most freakiest parts. Once we started going it was really fun.
We went on the Mako which is advertised as Orlando’s tallest and fastest roller coaster and it was a wild ride. There were so many times where I was coming up right out of my seat as we made like a Mako shark chasing food.
The Kraken was another fun ride. There is a virtual reality option that you can go through the ride while wearing the headset, we didn’t realize you had to book that in advance, but the ride was very fun even without it. If we go back I’d definitely try with the VR though.
We also went on the Antartica Penguin ride which seemed was the first time in weeks that I felt relief from the heat. The employees inside all had winter coats and hats on, all bundled up. I was very comfortable in shorts for our short time in there.
The other great part out SeaWorld were the shows and other sights you could take in if you didn’t want to go on rides. The One Ocean killer whale show was really fun, and the sea lion high school show was funny and entertaining.
We came back that night and took in night show Electric Ocean with the killer whales again, and Ignite a fireworks and light show out on the water which was very well put together.
SeaWorld ended up being a lot of ours favourite park of the week and somethings we’ll do again if we are ever back there as a family.
Cocoa Beach, FL
We broke up our week of theme parks with a trip over to the coast to visit Cocoa Beach. We’ve struggled in the past with finding parking at popular beaches like this, but we must have arrived at a good time and found parking no problem. It was a really nice beach and nice to relax.
We prepared a bit ahead of time and picked up a beach umbrella, at one point I must not have it in the sand well enough as it started to blow away. Caile chased it down though and we managed to get it secure. Alex was able to use her new mermaid tail she bought at SeaWorld at a beach.
Near the end of the day we saw dolphins swim past us which was really cool to see them just swim by like it was totally normal. One of Jen’s highlights was the man walking down the beach with a bird perched on his shoulder. You know, just taking my bird for a walk.
Magic Kingdom – Orlando, FL
This was the day we were all waiting for, Disney! We arrived before the park opened, and we ended up staying all day until after the fireworks and light show on the castle.
Walking into Main Street USA with the iconic castle as a backdrop was a bit surreal. I’m not a die hard Disney fan, but there was something about seeing that castle that I used to see only on TV or in the intro to the Sunday Night Disney Movie was something else.
We were most prepared for this park which I think made it so much nicer. The FastPass system they offer paired with the MagicBands that the Fishers got for us all made so much of the day smooth. We couldn’t book fast passes for the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs mine ride but we rushed right there as soon as the park opened and didn’t have to wait a crazy long time to get on. After that we pretty much cycled through planned fast pass rides and then booked new ones as we went. This meant we never had to wait a real long time for a ride. The Fishers also bought the PhotoPass which meant we were able to all get really cool photos with the photographers at the Disney parks.
Besides the rides we took in some shows which were also really cool. The Monster’s Inc Comedy show was really funny. It was animated but they had live comedians doing the voice and involved the audience as well, really well done. The Main Street Parade was also very cool to see, all the characters going by and amazing floats.
By the time we made it to the end of the day we were all pretty tired, but the fireworks and light show at the castle was well worth the wait, pictures didn’t do it justice.
Animal Kingdom – Orlando, FL
Animal Kingdom was another fun park and as it was Disney the FastPasses helped so much. We did similar to Magic Kingdom where we arrived for opening and rushed to one of the popular rides that we couldn’t fast pass, the Avatar Flight of Passage. This was very cool and probably my top ride of the week. It was a simulation where you ride on the back of a banshee. It felt so real.
The shows we took in at Animal Kingdom were about my favourite thing though. We saw the Lion King show which was a live production as well as a live musical Nemo production. Both so well done. The fact that they were inside where we could sit didn’t hurt matters either 🙂
We tried a few times to get on the Kali River Rapids ride but struggled as it closed due to weather for a bit. Luckily when it opened we could still use our Fast Pass and made it on. The ride description was that you’d get wet, and maybe soaked. For us that was so true. Just as the ride started the rain started pouring on us like from buckets. I tried to dig out ponchos for people to put on but was only able to get one out before it was too late. I couldn’t even open it fully, Noah just held it over his head. We were so wet and it rained so hard we could barely see at points on the ride. It was a lot of fun, though I wasn’t overly sad when I could change out of my wet clothes at the end of the day. For the rest of the day every time I took a step it felt like I was stepping into a puddle my shoes were so soaked.
Disney Springs – Orlando, FL
Our last real day at Disney we went to hangout in Disney Springs. We did some shopping or at least exploring the shops. The Lego store there was a big hit as well as the World of Disney.
They had a little photo studio there as well which we used to take advantage of the Photo Pass and got some nice photos as a result.
From Disney Springs we hopped on one of the boats over to one of the Disney Resorts, Port Orleans. We thought we’d see what the resorts were like. The pool area looked amazing and it really did look like New Orleans with the way the buildings were setup. There was an arcade which really interested Noah so we stopped there and played for a while.
The taste of beignets were still fresh in my mind from New Orleans, and lucky for me they serve them at this resort so we treated the Fishers to my new favourite treat. I was able to watch them being made and they of course were in the shape of Mickey.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not – Ocean City, MD
After saying our good byes to the Fishers in Florida we started our drive home. Stayed the night in Charleston SC the first night where I had a bit of BBQ for dinner and then was woken up good and early in the morning by a rooster who apparently lives behind the hotel.
On our way over to Ocean City we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel which is pretty amazing. Its a long bridge across the bay which also has two areas which takes you down into tunnels below the Bay so that boats can cross over top.
Once we made it to Ocean City we did walk the boardwalk a bit and stepped barely onto the beach but we were racing the rain which had stayed with us most of the drive that day but had stopped at that point. We knew it called for rain so we planned to be inside and visited the Ripley’s Believe it or Not. We had never been to one before and it’s worth a visit. Lots of interesting and very weird things. Even things that seemed a bit gross.
Beardsley Zoo – Bridgeport, CT
We stayed a couple nights in Connecticut before we finished our trip and decided to visit the Beardsley Zoo on our last day. It was not very busy but was a nice little zoo with a number of endangered animals they keep to try and help preserve.
We ended up buying an annual membership for the zoo. Not so much because we might be back but it also offers big discounts at a number of other Zoo’s across Canada and the US. It didn’t cost much more than our one day admission and we’ll likely take advantage of the discount at at least one of the zoo’s on the list which will make it worth the price.
The Cat Ferry – Portland, ME to Yarmouth, NS
We hadn’t booked our last nights hotel right up until the very end. The plan was to drive somewhere into Maine book a hotel, then drive the rest of the way home the next day. We were all tired of driving and so we looked into The Cat Ferry which saves a bunch of driving, would save us a night hotel, food associated with another day on the road.
Although we were all thankful for being home a night early, the day just didn’t go well. We ran into rough traffic on the way to the ferry so it took us much longer than it should have to get us there. The ferry was then late leaving and it was a terribly rough ride. No one felt good. There were passengers throwing up pretty regularly with some not even making it to a washroom.
After we first booked we talked about taking the ferry again for future trips, but after we arrived home so late, and no one feeling good, I don’t think we’ll ever take that ferry again.
We finally made it home really late, but at least we could sleep in our own bed and had an extra day at home before we had to dive back into reality. Though reality didn’t take long to catch up with us.
Here’s a map of the rough path we took for this trip.