The seventh day of our trip was action packed and long. We planned to make quick stops at both the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam en route to Las Vegas. We started the day by making the short 10 mile drive to the Grand Canyon Village which is located along the south rim. We all agreed that we just wanted to have a quick look and move on. We parked the van and hiked from the Visitor’s Center to Mather Point. Although we had to pay the park entry fee the night before ($30 per vehicle), you do not have to pay to do the self-guided tour of the rim. There is a walk way around the rim and the 30 minutes we spent on the short hike was more than enough considering the temperatures were over 42 degrees (108). The view was incredible and the size of the canyon literally too big to comprehend.
Hoover Dam is located just outside of Vegas (45 minutes from Planet Hollywood where we were staying.) Again, we had no desire to do the full tour of the dam, but did want to stop and show it to the kids. Tim and I had visited the dam years ago and it really is something to see. This attraction costs nothing if you avoid the paid parking lots and skip the tours. We first entered from the Nevada side and stopped in a free parking lot off to the right just after the check stop. You can then climb the stairs (or ramp) up to the bypass bridge. The bridge has a walkway and offers a perfect vantage point to view the dam. We then got back in our van and drove over the dam. It’s pretty hard to see from a vehicle, so we parked and walked back to get a view looking down from the dam itself. Again, the size is quite incredible. There is paid parking right after you cross the dam, but just beyond are several free lots. The walk from the parking lots wasn’t that far (about 5 minutes) and was down hill/stairs, but in the heat it really seemed like the walk that would never end. By the time we reached the dam, the kids and I were completely done. The heat was unbelievable. Tim overheard someone say the temperature was 118 degrees (48 celsius) on the dam. Tim does much better in that kind of heat and seemed relatively unbothered. He kindly offered to make the hike back up to the van and then drive back down and pick us up from the dam.
By the time we reached our hotel in Vegas, we were all ready for a dip in the pool. The kids were blown away by Vegas, and Tim and I were both amazed by how much it had changed since we were there several years ago. It is like sensory overload. After a swim, we had a much welcomed shower and headed out for dinner. It was Tim’s birthday, so we splurged on a nice dinner even though we were travelling on a limited budget. After a lovely dinner, we walked the strip for a couple of hours and turned in around 11. I was down for the count before my head even hit the pillow. Tim tried his luck at the casino, but failed in his quest to hit the big one on his birthday. After a good nights rest, we all woke up feeling very appreciative of common amenities like beds and water, after spending a week tenting.
I’m going to apologize up front. This post is super long and that’s why it has taken me an eternity to get it up. I’ve tried to really give you a sense of all that can happen in such a short time when embarked on a well planned road trip. The map gives you a quick look at where we went, so you don’t have to scroll through the entire post if you’re not interested. If you find a location that interests you, scroll down to see if there is anything we found or learned that can help in your own planning.
In August 2011, our family embarked on a 19 day road trip. We travelled across 22 states in our old 1999 Dodge Caravan.Our round trip took us across prairies, through rolling hills, and vast greenery to the Eastern shores of the Atlantic Ocean.We passed through the Appalachians, the swamps of Louisiana, the dry Texas plains and the beautiful Ozark mountains.After 9600 km and almost 100 hours on the road, we arrived home with memories that we’ll cherish for a life time. Of all the vacations we’ve taken as a family, this is the one that stands out for all of us. The endless hours we spent together in the van talking, laughing and listening to music were truly special. Of course, we did many cool things while away, but our time on the road was just as valuable and memorable as the excursions.
We stayed in 9 different locations along our route and spent extra time exploring many of the cities and towns, we stopped in. Below is a list of the places we stayed along our route.
Beckley, West Virginia
New Orleans, Louisiana
San Antonio, Texas
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
We left Winnipeg, Manitoba early on the first morning and drove to Albertville Outlet mall. We stopped and spent a few hours shopping before continuing on to our first destination. We arrived at the Oak Park Inn Bed & Breakfast in Whitehall, Wisconsin.Linda was an awesome host and the inn was very quaint with beautiful gardens surrounding it. The inn is certainly not posh, but it’s super quaint, clean, family friendly and very affordable. We enjoyed our stay and the hosts so much that we stayed with them again in 2013.
We left Wisconsin and enjoyed a beautiful drive through the hills and forests of Wisconsin. I especially loved seeing all of the beautiful old barns that were speckled through the country side. The architecture of many of them was quite different from what you would see in Manitoba. We continued our journey to Worthington, Ohio. This was one of the few places where we stayed in what you would consider your “run of the mill” hotel room for the night. After a long day of driving, we crashed for the night at a Holiday Inn.
The next morning, we got up and ate a good breakfast before making the short trek to Columbus, Ohio where we spent all day on at the Columbus Zoo. This zoo was made famous by former zoo director, Jack Hanna. It was an incredible zoo and an experience that will never be forgotten. Believe me, it was like no other trip to the zoo.
It was a very hot day, but despite the heat, the animals were really active and entertaining. Tim had a “stare down” with a gorilla that had major attitude and it “flipped him the bird” not once, but twice! The polar bears put on quite a show during a mid afternoon down pour and engaged in an impromptu diving contest. It was so amazing and fun to watch. The red masked mandrills were quite entertaining as well. Let’s just say they provided a live display depicting exactly how babies are made!! The Columbus Zoo certainly did not disappoint … it was quite an adventure and a day full of laughter.
We ended the day by clocking up another few hundred km. Adding a few hours of driving at the end of a long day may seem a bit crazy, but it gave us a chance to reminisce about the day and relax after spending hours on our feet in the hot sun. It also alleviated a few hours of drive time from the following day’s journey. This was one of the few nights we didn’t pre-book as we weren’t sure how far we’d make it after a long day at the zoo. We ended up finding a hotel room in Beckley, West Virginia.
We continued our drive through the gorgeous mountains and lush greenery of West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. We were intrigued by the many signs along the road for Lewisburg, WV and decided to make a pit stop and check out the town. Although we didn’t spend much time there, we drove down the main drag and a few of the residential streets. The town exudes character and was voted on of the coolest small towns in America. If we ever travel this route again, we would be sure to make the quaint town of Lewisburg one of our destination stops.
We ended day 4 in Savannah, Georgia. We had pre-booked The Marshall House, an incrediblehotel located in the historic district of Savannah. It was built in 1851 and most of the original structure has been preserved.We were awe-struck by the hardwood floors, original doors, mouldings, staircases, etc.It was our favourite hotel of the trip!!
That evening, we went out for dinner and enjoyed a beautiful dinner on the waterfront. It was my first time eating Fried Green Tomatoes….mmmm good! On our way back to the hotel, we came upon a street party celebrating the 92nd birthday of Leopold’s Ice Cream. Of course, we couldn’t participate in the festivities without actually trying some of their famous ice cream. Delicious.
Days 5 and 6:
We spent the next two days exploring the city. Savannah was established in 1733 and its history is reflected in the incredible architecture.The layout of the city is also very unique, as there are “town squares” every few blocks. The squareswere once business hubs, but now mostly serve as parks. The kids had a blast running through the fountains in Ellis Square. It was really hot, so the cold water was very refreshing! We also took a guided tour of the historic district in a horse-drawn carriage. It was really interesting to learn about the history of Savannah and some of the homes that are around 200 years old. Crazy!! It is a beautiful city and was a definite highlight of our vacation.
A short drive from Savannah is Tybee Island. We set off early so that we could spend a few hours at the beach before taking off for our next adventure. The kids loved playing in the waves from the Atlantic Ocean, but unfortunately Eden’s retainer was swept away in all the fun!
We left Tybee Island and drove about 4 hours to Cape Canaveral, just in time to board the Orlando Princess for four hours of deep-sea fishing. We had signed up for the Florida Groupon and were able to pre-buy the tickets at a great price. The ocean was very calm when we left, but a few hours in, we got caught in a squall. The waves were huge and at times the boat seemed to stand almost vertically before crashing down the other side of a wave. It was a super rocky boat ride, but somehow we all dodged sea sickness and it only seemed to enhanced our adventure! Of course, the most memorable part was when the “boys” made their big catches and solved the dinner problem for the next few nights. Tim caught a delicious mackerel and Shay hooked a shark! We got to keep both, but had to toss back the numerous other fish that were deemed too small to keep.
We drove the last leg of our trip and arrived at our condo in Kissimmee, Florida late in the evening.
Days 7 to 14:
We had rented a condo that would serve as our home base for our week stay in Florida. During our time in Florida, we did a variety of touristy types of activities. We had taken the kids to Disney twice before, so although we did spend one day enjoying the parks, it was not the highlight of our trip. Here is a bit of a summary of what we did.
We spent the day at Aquatica, and on this trip everyone was “big enough” to try all the watersides. Our kids love Aquatica and deem it their favourite water park. What fun!!
The next two days were enjoyed at Universal Studios. Eden was more cautious and opted out of most of the thrill rides, but Shay was more adventurous and joined us on most of the coasters and other attractions. The water rides were a big hit with the whole family, as the days were very hot. Despite the crowds, the lines moved quickly and both days were great fun!
We decided to take a day to enjoy the pool at the condo, shop Downtown Disney and go miniature golfing at Pirate’s Cove. We had a great time golfing, and Tim and I reminisced about the first time we had golfed there, about 20 years prior. I must admit I had the most fun because I waxed Tim and the kids!! (I’m very competitive.)
We could only squeeze in one day at Disney, so we splurged and got park hopper passes. The kids participated in the Jedi training at Hollywood Studios. We hit all of our favourite thrill rides at both Hollywood Studios and Epcot. It was a long day, but great fun!
Our last day in Kissimmee was spent at the Discovery Cove all-inclusive resort. We spent the day snorkelling and swimming with a variety of tropical fish, stingrays and of course, the highlight, dolphins. We got tomeet Kylani. She had great personality and enjoyed our hugs and kisses! Kylani’s aunt (a full grown dolphin) let us hold her fin and took us for a ride. It was a truly awesome experience and a day we’ll never forget.
After a wonderful day at Discovery Cove, we got back on the road to begin our return trip. We stayed at the John Denham House in Monticello, Florida. The home was built in 1872 and oozes with character.We had a peaceful sleep in the infamous “blue room” despite the fact the home was named the “2nd most haunted place to sleep with a ghost” in USA Today. The 12 foot ceilings and massive pocket doors made Tim look like a dwarf in comparison.
We drove along the Gulf coast and saw first hand the lingering devastation of “Katrina” (2005) along the deserted shore.We arrived in New Orleans on the 6th anniversary of the hurricane.
Once in town, you couldn’t help but enjoy the music and excitement of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. We stayed in the beautiful Hotel Monteleone which was built in 1886. Tim and I had Po’boys at Mother’s and of course, we stopped for coffee and beignet at Cafe du Monde.
Days 16 and 17
From New Orleans we headed West to San Antonio, Texas, where we spent two days.We stayed at another lovely bed and breakfast – Bonner Garden.This grand Italian Villa was built in 1910.During our stay, we spent time in the private pool, took a guided boat tour along the famous river walk, and visited The Alamo. Bonner Garden was a great place to stay, but I understand it has been permanently closed.
Days 18 and 19
We began our return trip by driving north through the Ozarks to Eureka Springs, AK (one of our favourite places). I’ve added a link to the Eureka site, but if you Google Eureka Springs images, you’ll soon see why we love it! I first heard of this quaint one of a kind town in the early 1990’s. Tim and I stopped there for the first time over 20 years ago and instantly fell in love with it. I think this was my fifth trip through Eureka Springs. I absolutely love, love, love Eureka Springs. For more on Eureka Springs, check out this article. Of course, we stopped at Bubba’s BBQ for their famous ribs before heading to our hotel. (If the truth be told, this is one of the reasons we stop here.) To be honest, the hotels we stayed in were not really that nice, but we were doing the “historic” theme and decided to try two iconic Eureka hotels: the Basin Park and Crescent Hotel. They were fine, but would probably stay elsewhere next time. There are many lovely choices in Eureka Springs.
Eureka Springs must be one of the quaintest towns in North America.It is nestled in theOzarks and the streets and buildings are built right on the side of the mountain.The town is very old and each and every building tells a story of long ago.It is home to many artisans, and the main street is lined with unique little boutiques.We spent our day getting “old time” family photos taken, visiting the Thorncrown Chapel and “Quigley’s Castle”, shopping, eating at “The Dog house” and having the best dessert ever at “Peace, Love and Cheesecake”. The town is just so cool…lush trees, hilly townscape, incredible architecture, character homes and unique boutiques and eateries…..it really has it all. In fact, Eureka Springs would make a great road trip destination as there is so much to explore in the area.
Basin Park Hotel
A scrumptious hot dog from Star’s Dog House.
From Eureka, we headed to Kansas City, where we spent several hours shopping at the outlet mall. We came back to the van to find a note under our wiper that said, “Go Jets Go! from a fellow Manitoban”.We had an awesome burger at FIVE GUYS and then continued driving to Sioux Falls, SD.It took much longer than expected because sections of the interstate were still closed due to spring flooding.We arrived in Sioux Falls very late and got a room for the night. We tackled the last 7 1/2 hours the following day, and arrived home around 5 o’clock on the 21st day of our trip.
Despite the many hours spent in the van, the memories and experiences have been unparalleled to date. There was so much packed into those 3 weeks. Again, I say to you…..take the plunge and plan a road trip. There truly is nothing like it. For more information on why road trips make the best family vacations and the steps to planning a successful trip check out my previous posts.