Archive for the 'Travel' Category

50 States!

Back at the end of last year, Kim and I finally visited our 50th state of Oregon. We met our friends Doni & Phil for a quick tour of Portland. Since their move to California, they have visited Portland before and were excellent tour guides showing us the best that Portland has to offer. Breweries, and lots of them! I’ll have some specific restaurant suggestions and reviews coming in the near future. For now here are some other photos of our adventures.

Now that all states have been visited, I have to come up with some other travel goals.

Lebrewski Cruise

We just hit the one year anniversary of The Lebrewski Cruise and I just realized I never posted anything about it. Once the cruise was announced, I knew it was a must do as it combined a couple of my favorite things good music (namely O.A.R.) and craft beer. I easily convinced Kim that we should leave the kids behind with their grandparents and set sail to The Bahamas. We had a blast seeing O.A.R. perform three shows, finding some new great bands such as Jared & The Mill, tasting a ton of craft beer, and seeing a couple of different ports. We would have considered going again, but unfortunately the cruise appears to be one and done. Anyway, here are some of my photos from that trip last year.

My Year In Cities 2016

Happy New Year! Below is the list of cities that I visited in 2016 with at least one night spent in each place.

  • Sevierville, Tennessee *
  • Cincinnati, Ohio *
  • Sandpoint, Idaho
  • Nassau, Bahamas **
  • Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas **
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Effingham, Illinois
  • Williamstown, Kentucky *
  • Orlando, Florida
  • Cocoa Beach, Florida
  • Lake Mary, Florida
  • Montgomery, Alabama
  • Gulf Shores, Alabama
  • Bowling Green, Kentucky
  • Lexington, Kentucky
  • Washington, D.C.
  • West Portsmouth, Ohio
  • Portland, Oregon

* Those cities marked with an asterisk were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days.
** Those cities marked with a double asterisk were ports on a Caribbean cruise.

See also: 20152014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

Touring The Nation’s Capital

Just before election day, my family and I took a trip to Washington, D.C. On our first day we explored the monuments via bikes rented from Bike and Roll DC. We followed that up with a trip through a visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Our second day was mostly dedicated to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. And we spent our last day at several museums that we had missed the day prior: Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

I loved that nearly everything we visited was free to explore, which made it great for the family. If we had quickly grown tired of a particular attraction we left without feeling bad that we had wasted too much money. Our family loved this action packed quick trip to our Nation’s Capitol.

Kentucky Down Under

My family has made it to the point where more than eight or nine hours in the car while driving to or from a vacation is long enough. So we have started stopping for the night at various places along the way. On the way back from Gulf Shores this summer we stopped near Mammoth Cave to visit Kentucky Down Under. It was recommended to me from some family members and I was surprised to have never heard of it before.

Red Kangaroo

Red Kangaroo

The grounds of Kentucky Down Under not only contain the Mammoth Onyx Cave, but they over the years have expanded to include animals from around the world, with an emphasis being placed on Australian species. One of the owners is from Australia and since 1990 kangaroo, dingo, kookaburra, and emu. There are also plenty of more native farm animals, along with wolves, a large bird garden, and several reptiles.

Sulcata Tortoise

Sulcata Tortoise

The coolest part is easily walking through the kangaroo habitat where you are allowed to pet and feed them. My three-year-old could have followed them for hours. While my five-year-old was much more interested in the giant Sulcata Tortoise that was in the same enclosure.

Mammoth Onyx Cave

Mammoth Onyx Cave

Mammoth Onyx Cave is included with admission to Kentucky Down Under and all guests are assigned to a 30-minute tour time. I found this to be about the perfect length of time for our family, and I think most other families on our tour would agree. While the temperature is cool (especially on a hot day) the cave can be a little tight and dark in places. Our three-year-old found it the perfect spot to take a nap in the middle of the tour, while our five-year-old enjoyed keeping climbing on his own with a flashlight and looking for salamanders.

Kentucky is well worth a couple hour visit and be sure to check Groupon before you go as we found discount tickets were available, which made our visit even better!

Kayaking Sykes Creek

After spending a few days at Walt Disney World last week we moved over to Cocoa Beach for some relaxing in the sun. Most of the days were spent relaxing around the pool or playing at the beach. We did drive up to Port Canaveral to watch the SpaceX rocket launch, but that was the extent of our excitement until the last day, when a few of us rented kayaks from SoBe Surf and explored Sykes Creek.

Our Group With A Manatee

Our Group With A Manatee

Rather than taking a guided tour we decided just to rent the kayaks and go out exploring on our own. We met up with one of the SoBe employees at their shop and then followed him in our car out to the launching pad, less than a half mile down the road. We were given our equipment and some suggestions on where we could find some wildlife.

Manatee Attack

Manatee Attack

Once we paddled out to Sykes Creek from the launch we decided to head about 300 yards south to a little cove where we were told manatees liked to hang out. We paddled all the way to the back of the cove before without seeing more than a few birds, but as we began to paddle back out toward the main creek we were surrounded by manatees!

Belly Up

Belly Up

The giant sea cows were very slow-moving and gentle, though one of them found Nick’s kayak to be very interesting. He even went belly up to get his mouth fully on the bottom of the kayak. Immediately I was mad at myself for not bringing my GoPro as I would love to have seen what they were doing under the murky water.

Manatee Zone - Minimum Wake

Manatee Zone – Minimum Wake

We spent a good amount of time in the southern cove before paddling north to a larger cove that didn’t seem to have any manatees in it. We continued north to the Merritt Island Causeway bridge, where we spotted a dolphin. We tried to follow it as it continued north but we quickly lost track. On our way back toward the launch, we found a dolphin who was busying trying to catch a meal along the shore wall.

When we finally made it back to the launch we had been out for roughly three hours. I think if it weren’t so hot we could have paddled all day, but we still saw plenty in the few hours that we were out, and managed to get some exercise in as well.

Walt Disney World

We are back from our week-long vacation in Florida. We are still recovering from some long and hot days but we had an awesome time! First things we did was to visit Walt Disney World, specifically we spent our first day at the Animal Kingdom and followed it up with two days at the Magic Kingdom.

Pretzel Face

Pretzel Face

Tree Of Life

Tree Of Life

I figured that Animal Kingdom would be a somewhat relaxing start to the trip after traveling the evening before. We kicked it off with trips on TriceraTop Spin for Kim and our preschool aged kids, while I took my brother-in-law Nick (age 15) on Expedition Everest, Primeval Whirl, and DINOSAUR. The kids also spent some time in The Boneyard right at its opening at 10.

From there we had an early lunch before going to Finding Nemo – The Musical, which was probably my favorite show of the trip. The puppeteers were really good at both singing their parts and working the large puppets. After enjoying the show and the air conditioning, it was time to brave the heat. Fortunately I took the older two (Trey and Nick) on the Kali River Rapids ride while Paige and Kim met Mickey and Minnie. I had made FastPass+ reservations for both so we didn’t have to wait in either of the long lines.

Adventurers Outpost

Adventurers Outpost

After our separate events we rejoined to see some of the animal displays at the Maharajah Jungle Trek and Discovery Island Trails before watching the Flights of Wonder bird show. After the show it was time for our FastPass+ reservation on the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride through various animal enclosures. I thought the hippo display was the coolest as I have never seen that many hippos together at one time.

Hippos

Hippos

Giraffe

Giraffe

Rhinos

Rhinos

We were all very hot by this point of the day, fortunately we had just a few more indoor shows to catch. First was Festival of the Lion King, which the kids really seemed to enjoy. The acrobats dressed as monkeys were huge crowd pleasers and the sing along songs were great to hear. On our way out of the park we stopped by It’s Tough to be a Bug inside the Tree of Life for the short 4D movie featuring the characters from A Bug’s Life. It was a solid day and we managed to see nearly everything the park has to offer before leaving just past 5.

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

If we thought that our first day was packed full of fun, that was nothing compared to the second day in the parks which brought our first day at the Magic Kingdom. Just as we did the day before, we split into two groups to kick off the day. I took Nick on Space Mountain while Kim took the kids on Astro Orbiter. Making a quick entry to some of the most popular rides rewards you with nearly zero wait time at the beginning of the day.

From there we saw no line for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, so we went ahead and did that even though I had a FastPass+ reservation for this for the following day. No problem though as I was easily able to reschedule that for another attraction using the iPhone app. We then did a quick trip on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover while we were in the area before stopping at the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, which proved to be a hilarious live comedy show.

Mad Tea Party

Mad Tea Party

Tea Cups

Tea Cups

We then took not one but two spins on the Mad Tea Party, which was probably the most enjoyable ride we shared as one group of wide varying ages. As we did each day, we stopped for lunch just before 11 to avoid the crowds that packed the restaurants leading up to noon. We had a little extra time after lunch so we made a quick stop at Prince Charming Regal Carousel to find Cinderella’s Horse.

Cinderella's Horse

Cinderella’s Horse

Next we again split into two groups for arguably what was each of our kid’s favorite things we did. I took Trey and Nick on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train while Kim took Paige to meet Anna & Elsa. Both of these attractions are super popular and are some of the most sought after FastPass+ reservations. I stayed up until midnight 30 days before our trip to get these reservations and I am glad I did. At the time of our visits each one had a wait well over an hour!

Anna

Anna

Elsa

Elsa

From there we watched another 4D movie at Mickey’s PhilharMagic before cooling off at Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station. The fun didn’t stop there as I had another FastPass+ reservation for our group on Peter Pan’s Flight, which I honestly thought was overrated. At this time Paige went down for a nap, so I took the boys into the Country Bear Jamboree show before we watched the Festival of Fantasy Parade.

After the parade we made a quick run over to our last FastPass+ for Under the Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid. Amazingly I was then able to secure another FastPass+ for it’s a small world just minutes later using my phone. The kids all left the park singing this song as they couldn’t have been any happier. But before we left we took one final ride on the Pirates of the Caribbean to end a jam-packed day.

Mickey Bush

Mickey Bush

Accomplishing so much on our first day in the Magic Kingdom allowed us to relax a bit on this second day. But before we did that we once again arrived before the rope drop and split into two groups. I took the boys on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Initially I wasn’t sure if Trey would like the roller coasters as much as he did, but once we did the Seven Dwarfs and he loved it I was pumped to take him on more big rides. The boys liked Big Thunder maybe even more, so we quickly rode it again without any wait! We then walked right onto Splash Mountain before meeting back up with Kim and Paige who had already ridden Aladdin’s Magic Carpets and were busy playing in some of the splashing water nearby.

We then went straight for the Jungle Cruise, and in hindsight maybe we should have skipped the second ride on Big Thunder Mountain, as we ended up waiting roughly 20 minutes for this one, by far the longest we waited for anything in either park we visited. The kids were a little spoiled by that point and nearly melted down in line but we pushed through and enjoyed the comical cruise before grabbing lunch.

Belle

Belle

After lunch we had a date with Belle at the Enchanted Tales With Belle on a FastPass+. I almost removed the boys from this one and did something else but I am glad we all went to this, though none of us truly loved it as much as Paige. The audience members get to act out part of the story with Belle and I tried to convince Nick to play the role of the Beast. Maybe next time!

From there we again split up for another round of FastPass+ selections. I couldn’t get any other ride for the boys and I to do, so we went ahead and did Splash Mountain again on the FastPass+ I had originally booked long ago. The girls got to Meet Ariel at her Grotto. Paige added another autograph to her signature book along with a photo. These meet and greets were her favorite thing she did.

Ariel

Ariel

I guess going under the sea really tired out Paige as when we all met up again she had already fallen asleep for a nap. I had yet another FastPass+ for the Barnstormer for all us, but instead I just took the boys on this smaller scale roller-coaster before we all decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel a bit earlier than the day before. We had debated going over to Tom Sawyer Island or taking a ride on the Liberty Belle Riverboat, but we didn’t wait to wait in line or wake Paige so we will have to save those attractions for another time.

For the most part we saw just about everything that we had wanted to see in a few long days. If the kids were a little older I probably would have tried to take them back to the park for the Main Street Electrical Parade along with the fireworks show, but they don’t often stay up past 8 or 9. Instead we spent the evening relaxing in the resorts outdoor pool and lazy river. The next day we woke up, swam some more, and then headed off to Cocoa Beach for a few more days of fun in the hot sun.

My Year In Cities 2015

Happy New Year! One of my biggest resolutions for this year is to get back to blogging more regularly. Below is the list of cities that I visited in 2015 with at least one night spent in each place.

  • Cincinnati, Ohio *
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  • Ocho Rios, Jamaica **
  • Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands **
  • Cozumel, Mexico **
  • Lexington, Kentucky
  • Williamstown, Kentucky *
  • Denver, Colorado *
  • London, Ontario
  • Northern Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • Niagara Falls, Ontario
  • Independence, Ohio
  • Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • Orange Beach, Alabama
  • Asheville, North Carolina
  • Salida, Colorado
  • Bellevue, Kentucky
  • Oregon, Ohio
  • Loveland, Ohio
  • Sevierville, Tennessee

* Those cities marked with an asterisk were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days.
** Those cities marked with a double asterisk were ports on a Caribbean cruise.

See also: 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo

A great place to take the kids when on vacation around Gulf Shores is the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. This zoo distinguishes itself from others by offering various animal encounters. You can actually play with baby tigers, though at $50 per person it is a little more than most would likely spend.

Tiger Encounter

Tiger Encounter

The zoo itself is fairly inexpensive, $11 for adults and $8 for kids 3-12. And while it isn’t as large as other zoos I’ve been through, there is enough to easily spend a few hours exploring. There are plenty of big cats, bears, and lots of little critters too.

Baby Macaws

Baby Macaws

You can definitely get a little closer to many of the animals here at this zoo. We saw some animal shows taking place at various times, and keepers out talking with visitors often.

Caged Family

Caged Family

The lemur encounter was only $10 per person, plus it was free for our two-year-old daughter. My mom was happy to take her inside the cage to pet these primates and get some pictures. There enjoyed playing the lemurs for a good fifteen minutes before moving on to the next exhibit.

Lemur Encounters

Lemur Encounters

The zoo has been open since 1989 and is open year round and has survived many hurricanes, several of which have forced evacuations for most of the animals. During Hurricane Ivan a twelve-foot alligator was lost for a week before being found and relocated back to his caged in pond.

12 Foot Gator

12 Foot Gator

I’m told they are trying to build a new location farther inland and less likely to flood. This facility was announced in 2009 and was supposed to open in 2013 but it has yet to do so. They are now targeting the summer of 2017.

Gulf Shores / Orange Beach

A week and a half after returning home from Virginia Beach, my family and I packed our bags again and headed out for Gulf Shores, Alabama. For this trip we would be joined by a couple dozen family members from my mom’s side. We all stayed in a twelve bedroom house on Orange Beach, part of the Cottages of Romar development.

Sapphire Pool

Sapphire Pool

We had a wonderful community pool with zero depth entry, our own private pool attached to the house, and private beach access to the wonderful white sands of the gulf. There isn’t much within walking distance, but we were able to take a couple of bike rides to see some sites and grab something to eat. With such a large house and so many activities going on, it was most fun hanging out with family and enjoying the relaxing vacation.

Busch Family

Busch Family