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As I mentioned earlier in the year, my husband has a LOT of Vacation time to burn through this year thanks to the new use it or loose it policy. So besides our usual PTO we had about 6 weeks of saved up time to burn through. Since vacations aren’t exactly cheap we reworked our vacation into 2 long road trips. The first one was this spring – our Revolutionary War & 8 State Road Trip!
I make a spreadsheet with driving time, activities, hotel, cost, etc. But I imagine you just want the highlights. Here is what we did each day:
- Creation Museum (Petersburg, KY) – Our 1st stop was the Creation Museum. We were very excited about this stop! The walk through history exhibit was especially cool for the kids to visualize what things might have looked like. My favorite parts were the Noah’s Ark Exhibit, Planetarium (finally hearing about the universe without the billions of years), and the beautiful gardens (we got to feed a camel!) Depending on your Bible knowledge this may be perfect for you…..my husband & I both went to Bible college and we left wanting more. We felt like the exhibits were great for the kids and nicely done, but we didn’t really learn anything new. There are lectures you can attend (for an additional cost) and fantastic further reading materials, but for the $100+ cost to get in & see one show we wouldn’t feel the need to go back anytime soon.
- Wildwood Inn Theme Suite – This hotel has the coolest theme suites, including family suites! This was Goofy’s favorite place we went on vacation. It was a two story Pirate Ship themed room. The kids got to sleep in bunks tucked under the stairs! Upstairs was a table, additional bedding, and a whirlpool tub we all took advantage of. We were amazed at the details in the room – it was beautiful. Watch for deals and don’t expect more than juice and bread for the included breakfast. (There is a Little Caesar's Pizza close by which was perfect for dinner – we wanted to eat in our pirate ship!)
- Cincinnati History Museum (Cincinnati, Ohio) – We spent about 2-3 hours in the Cincinnati History Museum and that was about right for us. You could spend a lot longer in the Museum Hub (gorgeous Old Union Station) at one of the other museums. But we had limited time and were so glad we choose to spend it here! You start in the Cincinnati in Motion exhibit which is a HUGE recreated miniature Cincinnati from the 1900s-1940s with working trains and streetcars. The kids LOVED this! The next large section “From Settlement to 1860s” was amazing! First you walk through settlement & Revolutionary War periods (perfect for our studies). Then you see a replica flat ship and a great area for the kids to “sail down” in a boat and then take apart the boat to build their house just like the early Ohio settlers. But my favorite part was the Civil War Cincinnati. You walk through a huge steamboat, but don’t miss all the different ‘stores” that have been recreated. You can learn about popular merchandise in the general store (and even try on a hat), see a printing press (and take home a souvenir), visit the doctor (learn how they made medicine) and more. So interesting & FUN! We had lunch at Skyline Chili – a local chili chain. Expect mountains of cheese on top =-) If you don’t like Greek food you probably wont like the “secret” spice in their chili.
- Mammoth Caves Campground – You can’t beat state campgrounds in my book – $10 for a beautiful, well kept campground with lots of space! We got a little more adventuresome cooking this trip & had some amazing steaks, baked potatoes, and garlic break over coals – YUM!!
- Mammoth Caves (Kentucky) & drive through West Virginia – We all thoroughly enjoyed visiting Mammoth Caves – the largest cave system in the world! We did the Frozen Niagara Tour and were able to learn about the cave, see some beautiful stalagmites, stalactites, ‘soda straws’ and ‘popcorn’ as well as the huge inner room with the “frozen Niagara’ It was a lot of fun & easy enough for most everyone. From our 18 month old to the senior citizens – everyone did great and even did the optional steps. NOTE: Despite what the website says we were allowed to take in camera bags and water bottles. This is definitely a worthwhile experience! You can also pick up an activity book for your kids and they can complete a certain number of sections (scavenger hunt, preservation knowledge, etc.) to earn their Junior Ranger certificate & badge – very cool! And it’s FREE! We spend the rest of the day driving through the scenic hills and WINDY roads of West Virginia! The exits for runaway trucks were a little disconcerting and I wouldn’t want to do that stretch at night, but it sure was beautiful! FYI – there aren’t a lot of stops so don’t wait until the last minute for gas/potty/food breaks. We stopped at one of the many Chick-Fila for a delicious lunch & the opportunity to let the kids stretch their legs at the play place.
- Howard Johnson (Lexington, VA – the place the first shot was fired in the Revolutionary War!) – This was meant as a quick stop, but I would be remise if I didn’t mention this was a great hotel. Right off the interstate and sitting above a hill it is as convenient as it is scenic. The rooms were nice, well maintained, and the price was right. The free breakfast included eggs, sausage, waffles, pastries, cereal, juice and coffee.
- Virginia Beach – The state park had access to the beach that was much more private and quite. If you are looking for the boardwalk it is 5 minutes away, but you will have to pay to park. Only hotels are along the boardwalk, you have to go back a street or two to find food or ice cream. I will say the boardwalk Virginia Beach is a little nicer, but for the crowds we much preferred the First Landing State Park beach! We had a WONDERFUL relaxing day!!
- First Landing State Park – This state park was the PERFECT place to stay. They have LARGE private sites with beautiful mature trees and fresh pine. The bathrooms are immaculately maintained. AND you can walk to the beach (not the boardwalk part, although that is a 5 minute drive away!)
- Jamestown & Yorktown – We drove about 1 1/2 hours to Jamestown & Yorktown.
- Jamestown is a living history museum and it a blast for children and adults! As it looked like rain we saved the interesting & well done museum for later in the day. We headed straight out to the Powhattan Village. You will meet “Powhattan Indians” who will demonstrate cooking, drying a hide, making rope, hollowing out a canoe, using primitive instruments and more. You can also wander through all their houses. They have put so much thought & details into each home – my kids loved climbing on the fur topped beads and grinding corn. Next you get to explore replicas of all three ships the first permanent English settlers arrived in. There are people in costumes who are very knowledgeable! The kids loved exploring the ships. Finally you get to explore the triangle shaped Jamestown Fort. Watch a blacksmith work, see a musket demonstration, try on armor, meander through the buildings, and more. It will take you 4 hours to really see everything. Plan on bringing a picnic lunch for the 30 minute drive between sites or plan on going out of the way to find food – there is nothing on the quite road leading between them. There is a Chick-Fila close by =-)
- Yorktown will take you 2-3 hours to see. Despite it’s name it is not about the battle of Yorktown (when Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington). But you will see what it was like for Washington’s soldiers, stroll through their camp, watch a musket demonstration, see a 6lb cannon demonstration (at 3pm), you can try on costumes, and will learn a lot from the costume interpreters. Also here is an interesting museum and an 1780s farm. You can wander through the working farm to see what their homes were like, how they cook food, planted their crops, follow around the ducks/turkeys, or help water the beautiful garden.
- Our hotel was okay, but nothing special. I would try some other place on our next visit. Also in this historical triangle is the city of Colonial Williamsburg – a living history museum. I thought the other two cites seemed more appealing and correlated more into our recent studies. But if we come back we will try it out – my Dad takes his school here every year and says they have very interesting things for his school aged kids to do.
- Washington DC Monuments & Museums – Our plan to see DC didn’t work out as planned. There are a lot of great things about DC (namely the monuments) but to say the roads are crowded would be an understatement! Taking the train is a better option, although their tickets can be mighty confusing if you don’t just opt to do a one day pass. But at $9/day that can add up if there are multiple people in your family. Can you tell DC frustrates me?!? The museums are paid for by American taxpayers – notice I didn’t say free! They are only free for foreigners – if you pay taxes in America you’ve paid for it! But because there is no fee they can get CROWDED! So be prepared for it.
- Monuments – there are so many amazing monuments in DC! As far as I am concerned seeing them should be your #1 priority! We did walk them all, but it was time consuming, tiring, and we visited on a day of record heat. You won’t find any McDonalds by the lawn… just carts with ice cream for $4 each!! So when we do it again I suggest paying for a hop-on-hop-off bus. This will get you there sooner & happier =-) Plus you will make it to all the monuments in 1 day (including Arlington, White House, and give you some background information too). The one thing I will say is there are plenty of bathrooms – at almost every monument!! YEAH! We did the night tour and it was beautiful, but you don’t really “see” 1/2 the monuments they claim you do – expect to see 5 or so. So if it is your first visit stick with the hop-on day bus tour. Our favorite monuments: World War 2 Monument (sit for a while and stick your feet in!), Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt (so many beautiful waterfalls), and Lincoln. But don’t miss the Jefferson, White House, Capital Building, Vietnam Veterans Memorial (make sure you get some history about this one), Korean War Memorial, Washington Monument (can’t go up after earthquake), Iwo Jima, and Martin Luther King Jr.
- Museums – Did you know there are actually like 26 museums that make up the Smithsonian? That’s a LOT! Unless you are spending several weeks don’t expect to see them all. Check out the museums here and pick out some that interest you! Here are the ones we saw:
- Air & Space – where else are you going to see huge missiles, Wright Fligher, and the Apollo 11 command module?!?! They have some amazing exhibits and pieces you will want to see! Allow 2-3 hours at minimum! (Note: there is a McDonald’s in the food court)
- Natural History – I wish we had skipped this one. If you have a decent natural history museum at home I’d recommend skipping this. Note: The Hope diamond is on exhibit here if that interests you.
- National Art Gallery – we didn’t stay for long, but wanted to give Goofy the opportunity to see some of the famous artists he has been studying about in person! There is a guide that will take you through highlights in one hour and some family guides. We particularly enjoyed Seurat’s pointillism painting, Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir. You will find other famous artists here – these were just ones Goofy was familiar with that we stopped to see.
- American History – This museum had a whole lot more than the website let on! You will find the Star Spangled Banner – that Francis Scott wrote The Star Spangled Banner about, Abraham Lincoln’s hat, First Ladies Dresses, a very interesting exhibit about American wars – beginning with the American Revolutionary War, and a fascinating exhibit about American Presidents. I learned a lot! All of us found something of interest at this museum!
- National Zoo – If you intend to drive you MUST get here EARLY to get one of the limited spots! The National Zoo is worth visiting for everyone except maybe San Francisco natives. It opens at 10am, but the grounds & Panda Pagoda open at 9am – so plan to get here early. The zoo does not have as many exhibits/animals as say the Brookfield Zoo (IL), but the exhibits they have are incredibly well designed. You will want to spend about 4 hours here. Things you are not going to want to miss: Panda (need I say more), Orangutan O-Line (I thought the Orangutans were escaping at first but the line goes almost 500 feet from one house to another – SO COOL!!), Sloth Bear (great exhibit & vey active bear). There are other great animals to see, but these were our favorites!
- Greenbelt Park Campground – This is a gem if you like to camp! It cost us $8/night and was only 30 minutes out of DC. The sites were adequate with clean bathrooms/showers close-by.
- Washington DC Day 2 (see above)
Stay tuned Wednesday for Part 2 of our trip! And as always, I appreciate you taking a moment to leave me a comment!!