12 Out of this World Destinations in Northern Alabama

Little River Falls is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
I discovered several waterfalls in Alabama like Little River Falls. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Huntsville stands out as the hub of Northern Alabama, offering diverse options in dining, recreation and the arts. For visitors, NASA history and Space Camp top the list of must-dos though residents enjoy nearby recreational opportunities in the nearby Cumberland Plateau, part of the Appalachian Plateau. I’ve pulled together a list of 12 things to do in Huntsville and the surrounding areas.

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Explore the U.S. Space and Rocket Center as one of the things to do in Huntsville.
One the Saturn V rockets hangs from the ceiling of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A must for every visitor to Huntsville, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center features a sprawling complex where I found the largest collection of rockets and space memorabilia in the world. A day’s worth of discovery and learning awaits along with an IMAX theater and glimpse into Space Camp.

As a Smithsonian affiliate and the Official Visitor Center of NASA’s Marshal Space Flight Center, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center features a rocket park with 27 missiles and rockets that grew into the NASA program. I also found the Space Shuttle Pathfinder, a test simulator along with one of the original Saturn V rockets.

Explore Rocket Park as one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Walk through Rocket Park to see the largest collection of missiles and rockets in the world. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is located at One Tranquility Base and open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday. Adult admission is $24 and $16 for students 5 to 12 with kids 4 and under entering for free.

Space Camp for Families

With programs for kids as young as 9 all the way until high-school seniors, Space Camp offers STEM-based camps in a variety of topics ranging from two-day introductory mini-camps to week-long summer resident camps. For families that share a love of space, Space Camp offers family camp. In a three-day program, families work together to learn about rocket construction and use training simulators.

Space Camp is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Space Campers use mock-ups of the International Space Station at Space Camp. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Space Camp is located at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Meals and lodging are provided in camp-like dorms.

Marshall Space Flight Center Bus Tour

The Marshall Space Flight Center houses NASA’s research and development facility for programs like the mission to Mars. Take a guided bus tour of the facility that remains closed to the public.

The Marshall Space Flight Center is one the things to do in Huntsville.
Take a tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center when visiting Huntsville, Alabama. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A bus tour departs daily from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center for a two-hour guided tour. Stops include the historic test site of former rockets, the International Space Station (ISS) payload operations and the Propulsion Research and Development Laboratory.

Tours are limited to U.S. citizens and a picture ID is required for all over 16. Tickets are $20 for all over 5-years-old and kids 4 and under are free.

Are you a NASA geek? Got a kid that's all about the rockets? Then you have to explore the World's Largest Collection of Rockets and Missiles. It's closer than you think. And I found a Space Shuttle too.

A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard

Dine on the patio of a restored 100-year-old lumberyard while enjoying live music. This complex features several restaurants and hosts special events. I found A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard at 108 Cleveland Ave.

Tour the craft breweries as one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Huntsville features a craft beer trail with 10 breweries located downtown. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Campus No. 805

Across 13-acres of a revitalized high school campus, I found a complex of craft breweries, restaurants, food trucks, retail shopping, live music and a speakeasy. Campus No. 805 is located at 2620 Clinton Ave. W.

DeSoto State Park

DeSoto Falls is one of the things to do in Huntsville
A stop by the 104-foot DeSoto Falls tops my list for DeSoto State Park. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, DeSoto State Park preserves the CCC-built Desoto Lodge and cabins. Though my favorite feature of the park, the 104-foot Desoto Falls is a must.

DeSoto State Park offers camping along with the lodge, cabins and restaurant. Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for the kids and take a hike to discover the rugged beauty of northern Alabama. DeSoto State Park adjoins the Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Located at 7104 DeSoto Parkway NE, 75 miles southeast of Huntsville, DeSoto State Park is free to enter.

Little River Canyon National Preserve

From Lookout Mountain, Little River flows through sandstone carving Little River Canyon as it passes over Little River Falls. One of the wildest and cleanest rivers in the Southeast, Little River offers recreational opportunities like rock climbing, kayaking and hiking.

Little River Falls is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
The waterfalls of Alabama enchant visitors, like Little River Falls. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Stop by the Little River Canyon Center for a map, a Junior Ranger booklet and an educational movie. Located at 4322 Little River Trail NE and open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Little River Canyon National Preserve is open from sunrise to sunset and is free to enter.

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

In the early 1800s, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole people were forcibly removed from their lands and relocated to the Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. Using several routes, including land and waterways, visitors can retrace the Trail of Tears.

The Benge Route passes through the Little River Canyon National Preserve where I found interpretive information.

Russell Cave National Monument

Near the Tennessee border, the Russell Cave National Monument offers a glimpse into the history of human civilization 1,000 years before European contact. Russell Cave provides one of the most extensive archeological records on the East Coast.

Explore Russell Cave from the boardwalk only. Located at 3729 County Road 98 in Bridgeport, 70 miles northeast of Huntsville. Russell Cave is free.

Find a treasure at Unclaimed Baggage Center

The Unclaimed Baggage Center is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Find a treasure at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In the tiny town of Scottsboro, I stumbled upon the final destination for lost baggage. After airlines spend 90 days looking for a bag’s rightful owner, unclaimed bags end up in Alabama.

Bargain hunters from across the country take a side trip from Interstate 59 to hunt through a retail space that spans several buildings. During my visit, I found wedding dresses, racks of men’s suits, a coat of armor and high-end watches like Rolex and Cartier.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Find a treasure at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Be prepared to dig, though I found clothing sized and grouped by color. I found dressing rooms and a café serving Starbucks along with gourmet sandwiches and pastries in the facility.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center is located at 509 West Willow Street, Scottsboro, 40 miles southeast of Huntsville. Open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and closed on Sunday.

Brunch at the Wildflower Cafe

Tucked away in a woodland fairyland, I stumbled upon Wildflower Café. A charming eatery that appeals to grandmothers and grandchildren equally.

Brunch at Wildflower Café is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Sample southern cuisine favorites like Shrimp and Grits at Wildflower Café in a homespun dining room. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

As I meandered through the rooms of the old house, I stopped to enjoy the local artists’ work that covered the walls. My eyes darted around the dining room as I sat in a mismatched chair and I sipped on a glass of iced tea.

I sampled remakes of southern stables on flowered pottery that reminded me of my grandmother’s pattern. The standout at Wildflower Café, the Famous Tomato Pie, boasts a tender yet flaky crust with layers of tomato and cheese. Firm and flavorful, it’s a must. The Polenta Shrimp Grits topped my list as well, with an elevated remake of the southern favorite. I finished out my brunch with a ham and cheese quiche with a hearty mouth-feel and tender, savory crust.

The Wildflower Café is located at 6007 Alabama Highway 117 in Mentone, 70 miles southeast of Huntsville.

Savor the Arts

After a hearty brunch at Wildflower Café, walk next door to Kamama Gallery for a collection of local artists’ work. I found pottery, landscapes and sculpture in the cultural hub of Mentone. Grab a cup of coffee at the Kamama Gallery’s café, located at 5951 Alabama Highway 117.

Miracle Pottery is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Miracle Pottery teaches classes and features ceramics by Valinda Miracle in Mentone. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Another gallery, the Miracle Pottery, features the work of Valinda Miracle, who used ceramics as a form of physical therapy after a major car accident. In addition to a gallery, Miracle Pottery features classes in ceramics and located at 7811 Alabama Highway 117.

More Information:

I always suggest Lonely Planet Guides for more information, including this region.

Disclosure:

Consideration for some brands listed. This post uses affiliate links in which I receive a commission if a book is ordered.

 

35 Places for Family Fun in Disney Springs

Visit Disney Springs with kids for shopping, dining and entertainment.
Walk over the bridge near Morimoto Asia to enjoy this view. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Over the last year, Disney Springs blossomed into a family fun destination. Disney Springs is my first stop after landing at the airport since I build in a transportation day in case of airport delays. Disney Springs with kids is the place to build Disney excitement while providing lots of options in dining, entertainment and shopping.

Table Service at Disney Springs

It’s a vacation, so take a break and treat yourself. After several visits to Disney Springs, I’ve sampled several different table service restaurants.

Eat at the Boathouse when visiting Disney Springs with kids.
The Boathouse serves up seafood along with steaks and burgers in a laid-back restaurant. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The BOATHOUSE wowed me with its views of Lake Buena Vista and extensive menu of seafood and steaks. I loved the nautical theme and the service was attentive. Be sure and catch the vintage amphi-cars drive into the water, located close by.

STK specializes in grilled meats, like the filet, along with inventive sides with an upscale environment. The views from the second-story terrace offer sweeping views.

Enjoy STK when you visit Disney Springs with kids.
The Truffle Fries at STK are gush worthy. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I gushed over the parmesan truffle fries so I ate a week’s worth of carbs. The lil’ burgers, featuring wagyu beef, are tender tidbits of burger perfection.

Another favorite, The House of Blue Blues Gospel Brunch, tops my list for comfort food. Served as an extensive buffet, I gorged myself on BBQ and southern favorites before the gospel choir lit up the stage with uplifting spirituals.

Dining at Disney Springs with Kids 

Enjoy pizza at Wolfgang's Express in Disney Springs with kids.
I found a pizza kids will eat that appeals to adults at Wolfgang Puck Express. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During my latest visit, my boys, 9 and 12, wanted pizza so we stopped at Wolfgang Puck Express where I walked away with a pepperoni pizza for under $15 for us to share.

If kids want sandwiches, I suggest the Earl of Sandwich for lunch. Another solid option for kids in a quick service format.

Stop by Earl of Sandwich in Disney Springs with kids.
Kids love sandwiches? The Earl of Sandwich has them covered. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Rainforest Café offers another option for families with their familiar menu and décor.

Desserts and Coffee in Disney Springs

Did someone say dessert? I found my go-to treat at Sprinkles, for cupcakes. With a wide range of flavors, everyone satisfied their sweet-tooth.

Enjoy cupcakes at Sprinkles in Disney Springs with kids.
Cupcakes your addiction? Then Sprinkles is your destination. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Lucky for me, I found two Starbucks locations in Disney Springs so I refueled.

A new addition is the ultimate ice cream shop topped in chocolate. Stop by Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop for decadent indulges, since it’s a vacation.

I found a patisserie and crepe shop in Disney Springs too.

Adulting Disney Springs Style

As soon as the sun sets, Disney Springs transforms from a family destination to the scene for dinner and cocktails.

Enjoy Disney Springs after dark.
Disney Springs transforms after dark with upscale dining and cocktails. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

If looking for a casual evening, then I suggest Splitsville for bowling and dinner. With my favorite tunes overhead and a pair of bowling shoes on my feet, this is the place to hang out with friends.

And the food, their sushi is tops in Disney Springs. Between games, I grabbed a slice of pizza, like my favorite, BBQ chicken. Don’t forget the sliders or the nachos, both actually helped my game.

Enjoy Splitsville in Disney Springs with kids.
Not just bowling, I enjoyed sushi and pizza along with sliders at Splitsville. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Bowling begs for beer and Splitsville features an extensive selection of beer and wine. If that doesn’t satisfy, I found lots of signature cocktails.

If bowling isn’t your game, then stop by Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar for drinks after dinner. The atmosphere reminds me of an Indian Jones hangout and if the inside tables are full, head outside to watch the lights glitter off Lake Buena Vista.

Entertainment for the Family at Disney Springs

With its own free-standing theater, catch Cirque Du Soleil’s La Nouba. I did and wow this show bypasses the traveling shows in a big way. I found the theater features a more intimate seating arrangement that allows for better views.

Disney Springs also features an AMC theater with 24 theaters so I can’t imagine not finding your favorite movie on the big screen.

Enjoy the House of Blues in Disney Springs with kids.
The House of Blue features a gospel brunch along with a concert venue. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Though I ate at the House of Blues for brunch, it’s also a concert venue booking a variety of acts.

Kids love seeing the giant tethered balloon assent 400 feet into the air next to Lake Buena Vista. For the brave-hearted, seeing all the parks at once might be a bucket list experience.

Top Things to do in Disney Springs with Kids 

Find the splash pad. With a park bench perfect for resting adults, I found the splash pad at the entrance of Disney Springs near the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

If the kids loved the splash pad, then check out spitting Stitch located outside of the World of Disney.

Enjoy the carousel in Disney Springs with kids.
A ride on the hand-painted Venetian carousel is a must for kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I can’t pass up the hand-painted Venetian carousel. It’s a work of art and an amazing site at night.

The marketplace train express offers littles another way to ride in Disney style. Even the Disney Springs Water Taxi is fun for families.

Stop by all the kid-oriented outdoor sculptures. With LEGOS topping the list here, don’t miss Mr. Potato Head either.

Shopping at Disney Springs

Do all your shopping at Disney Springs. My kids loved the LEGO Store and this store offers free activities. Even if you have a million pieces at home you have to check out the sculptures in and around the store. Really. The Hulk, a dragon, Buzz Lightyear and the list goes on.

Stop by the LEGO Store in Disney Springs with kids.
LEGO Store, your destination for cool kid art. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Star Wars fans in the house? Then visit the Star Wars Galactic Outpost for gifts for the kids and the first-generation fans too. The make-your-own light saber bar is a must.

The dino-loving kids will find the Dino-Store at the T-REX.

For Moms, I start at the sprawling World of Disney for unique Disney gifts. Another destination for distinct Disney gifts, Disney Days of Christmas features ornaments for your tree. I suggest D-Living too.

Add a day to explore Disney Springs with your kids for your next Walt Disney World trip. With a ginormous selection of dining, shopping and activities open nearly around the clock, it's deserve a day for itself.

If you forgot something at home, fear not. Disney Springs offers all the brands you love. I found Anthropologie, Columbia Sportswear, Free People, Kate Spade, Levis, Lilly Pulitzer and Zara.

Need shoes or luggage? Not a problem. I found those too.

Getting to and around Disney Springs

Disney Springs is located at 1480 Buena Vista Dr. I found lots of free parking and the lots are labeled. Valet parking is available.

I always use the Disney Springs Water Taxi to get around. My kids love it and it saves a few steps. With three stops, one at each end and one in the center, I was never far from a dock.

If you staying in the Buena Vista area, a complimentary bus runs frequently or take the bridge back to the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels. For guests of Saratoga Springs Resort, Disney Springs is right across Lake Buena Vista and I found a bridge.

Looking for resorts and more information?

I’ve stayed at the Pop Century Resort, the Art of Animation Resort, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Coronado Springs Resort and the Grand Floridan Resort and Spa.

If looking for off-property resorts, I’ve stayed at the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista, the Best Western Lake Buena Vista and the Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club.

I use the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa for every trip. It provides a comprehensive guide, packed with information. If this is your first visit, don’t try to do everything.

Disclosure:

This site uses affiliate links in which I get a small commission if the book is purchased. Some of the resorts stays were hosted for review purposes.

Make the Most of Your Disney Dollars at Coronado Springs Resort

Enjoy the Spanish Colonial styling while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
The Coronado Springs Resort offers Colonial Spanish styling along with a convention center and fantastic pool for the kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Coronado Springs Resort in Walt Disney World transports guests to Spanish Colonial Mexico with a sweeping lobby and restaurants bursting with Mexican flavors. Watch the sunset over the 22-acre Lago Dorado and nibble off a plate of nachos while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.

The moderately-priced Disney resort features a Mayan pyramid replica at its resort pool with a crazy water slide for the young at heart. With expansive grounds and large lake in the center of the property, the Coronado Springs Resort never felt crowded.

What I loved about the Coronado Springs Resort

  • The pool, it features a water slide that wowed my boys.
  • The grand lobby reminded me of old train stations across the Southwest.

What I wanted at the Coronado Springs Resort

  • A more manageable size, I walked for 10 minutes to get to my room.
  • Something to eat near the rooms. I had to walk back to the lobby area.
  • More transportation options to the parks, Coronado uses bus transportation only.

Staying at the Coronado Springs Resort

The Coronado Springs Resort ($$-$$$) is a moderate resort divided into three different areas with Mexican beach resort themed Cabanas, southwestern cattle ranch themed Ranchos and Casitas modeled after the grand architecture in Mexico City.

 

Enjoy the lobby while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
The Coronado Springs Resort features a lobby with details that transport me to San Diego’s train station. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Coronado Springs Resort provides 1,915 rooms that measured 314 square feet, the same size as the Caribbean Beach Resort, another moderate resort. Though the Coronado Springs Resort is the only moderate resort to offer a convention center.

Because of the convention center, the rooms boast features for business travelers. The rooms feature large desk areas with task lighting and lots of plugs for charging.

Enjoy the art while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
I found artistic details around every corner at the Coronado Springs Resort. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Where the Caribbean Beach Resort provides a trundle for a total of five people per room, the Coronado Springs Resort does not. My room featured a walk-in shower instead of a tub with a showerhead. A consideration when planning a trip with kids that refuse to take a shower.

The Wi-Fi at the Coronado Springs Resort is better than most of the other resorts, including the deluxe resorts. It also features an ATM, resort airline check-in, three guest laundries, Disney merchandise delivery, a business center, a heath club with spa and salon services, and childcare services.

I visited Coronado Springs Resort in April.

My Room at Coronado Springs Resort

I reserved for a second floor room in building 7A in the Ranchos section. The farthest building from the lobby and we hiked for 10 minutes to get there.

Enjoy more space while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
My room at the Coronado Springs Resort featured two queen beds and a ceiling fan. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My room featured 314 square-feet with a semi-private vanity area along with a glass-enclosed shower outfitted with a rain shower head and separate toilet. The room features two queen beds dressed with white linens. I found a spot for a pack-n-play and luggage though it might be tight.

My room featured a large desk and console unit that housed the Keurig coffee maker with coffee and tea, a hair dryer, an in-room safe, iron and board, a flat-screen television, a mini-refrigerator and ice bucket with real glassware.

Enjoy a working vacation while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
Since the Coronado Springs Resort features a convention center, I found a work desk in my room. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I didn’t find an alarm clock. The charging station located on the bed side table with two outlets and two plugs for USB cords was a nice feature.

I visited Coronado Springs Resort in April.

My Bathroom at Coronado Springs Resort

The bathroom area featured sliding doors that provided a separate changing area. A convenient feature for a Mom who wants to dress before the kids wake up.

The bathroom's sliding doors is convenient while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
Closing the doors to let the kids sleep in while I got dressed is a nice feature. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The vanity area features two separate sinks with granite counter tops, decorative lighting and mirror. I found a lighted make-up mirror mounted next to the sink and the shelf above the sinks was convenient to put toiletries.

The bathroom offers lots of space while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
The double sinks and spacious vanity allows families to spread out in the bathroom. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I found standard toiletries, including a facial bar, a bath bar, shampoo and conditioner. The hair dryer and iron were stashed in the door of the vanity, next to the wardrobe where I found a limited amount of handing space and the ironing board.

My bathroom at the Coronado Springs Resort featured a glass enclosed shower stall with a rain shower head. I loved it but my kids don’t need a tub bath anymore. This room included the toilet.

Enjoy the luxurious shower while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
My bathroom didn’t feature a tub though my older kids enjoyed the glass-enclosed shower. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Coronado Springs Resort Activities

The go-to activity at the Coronado Springs is the Lost City of Cibola pool. With a 50-foot replica of a Mayan pyramid, a two-story water slide named the Jaguar Slide and the largest hot tub in Walt Disney World, this pool is a destination.

The Lost City of Cibola pool is a destination for most while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
The Lost City of Cibola pool features a 50-foot replica of a Mayan pyramid along with the jaguar slide. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Lost City of Cibola Pool is part of a larger complex of activities called the Dig Site. I found a playground in the area, movies under the stars, a white sand volleyball court, the Iguana arcade and the poolside bar and grill, Siestas Cantina.

Play in the playground at the pool while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
Kids can play in the sand at the City of Cibola Pool site as well. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Coronado Springs Resort offers La Vida Health Club for massages, salon services along with a full range of gym equipment. During my stay I walked along the .9-mile jogging trail that rings the 22-acre lake.

If kids want to ride bikes while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort rent standard bikes at La Marina. I also found fun four-person surrey bikes.

For guests desiring a quiet pool environment, I found pools in each of the villages, the Casitas, the Ranchos and the Cabanas.

Dining at Coronado Springs Resort

As a moderate resort, Coronado Springs Resort offers several restaurants, unlike the Art of Animation Resort, a value resort.

Got a meeting or convention at Walt Disney World, then the Coronado Springs Resort needs to be your work trip home. With its convention center, pool complex, restaurants with Mexican favorites along with rooms with work desks, Coronado Springs Resort makes it easy to bring the family along on the Orlando work trip.

For traditional Mexican cuisine and American favorites, I found Maya Grill. For families wanting more casual fare, try Las Ventanas, both restaurants accept reservations.

Since the weather was perfect, we wanted to dine al fresco. I headed to the Dig Site pool for Siesta Cantina, where my boys, 9 and 12, ordered off the kids menu.

Other quick service options include Café Rix and Pepper Market.

Where’s Coronado Springs Resort

The Coronado Springs Resort is located at 1000 West Lake Buena Vista Drive near Animal Kingdom. It is located 22 miles from the Orlando International Airport (MCO).

Since this was the last resort of my three-resort tour during my Walt Disney World trip, I used the complimentary Magical Express to return to the Orlando airport. I found plenty of complimentary self-parking at the resort.

To get to the parks, I used the Walt Disney World bus transportation. The service was efficient though we waited at peak times.

Note about transferring resorts during your stay:

I changed resorts three times during my five-day/four-night stay at Walt Disney World. Walt Disney World will transfer your bags free of cost. I packed up our bags and rolled them down to luggage services that transferred them in the afternoon, usually between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

If I wanted a bell hop to grab my bags from my room I would have to stay with my bags until the bell hop arrived. I found this inconvenient and brought them to luggage services myself, located next to the main entrance.

Looking for more reviews and information?

I’ve stayed at the Pop Century Resort, the Art of Animation Resort, the Caribbean Beach Resort and the Grand Floridan Resort and Spa.

Looking for off-property resorts, I’ve stayed at the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista, the Best Western Lake Buena Vista and the Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club.

I use the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa for every trip. It provides a comprehensive guide, packed with information.

Disclosure: 

This room was provided for review purposes. This post contains affliate links in which I get a commission if you purchase a book.

Know before you go:

  • Towels are available at the Lost City of Cibola pool only.
  • Lifeguards are on-duty at some pools, check in at the front desk for more information.
  • Must be 14-years-old to use the health club and 17 to enter without an adult.

How to Stretch Disney Dollars at the Art of Animation

Staying at the Art of Animation at Disney is fun for kids.
The pops of color attract kids of all ages to the Art of Animation Value Resort at Walt Disney World. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Art of Animation, the newest value resort, located across the Hourglass Lake from Pop Century Resort, wowed my kids. It offers lots of value for families and several pools with punches of color along with my kids’ favorite characters. When your family is all about the park time, this resort might be the right choice for you.

What I loved about the Art of Animation:

  • The theming of the Art of Animation is super cute with giant statues and playgrounds.
  • The pools are kid magnets.
  • The Art of Animation’s size is manageable to walk while pulling luggage.

What I wanted from the Art of Animation:

  • A coffee maker, none of the value resorts have them in standard rooms.
  • More pillows, I found two per bed.
  • More transportation options to the parks, this resort uses buses only.

Staying at the Art of Animation Resort

Built in 2012, the Art of Animation offers the nicest property of the value resorts ($-$$). It features 10 four-story buildings with three resort-style pools and a playground.

Play grounds make it fun and one of the reasons for staying at the Art of Animation.
A playground adds fun in the courtyard for kids at the Art of Animation Value Resort at Walt Disney World. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Art of Animation Resort features more family suites than regular rooms with 1,120 suites. Each suite offers 565 square feet with amenities like a master bedroom, two full bathrooms and a kitchenette with a coffee maker, a microwave and a mini-refrigerator.

The Art of Animation features 864 standard rooms, all decorated with The Little Mermaid theming. Each room offers 277 square feet, a little bigger than the Pop Century. Outfitted with a king or a pair of queen beds, the Art of Animation standard rooms met my expectations for value rooms. 

Kids love the Art of Animation, it's like walking through all the movies.

With complimentary Wi-Fi, staying connected comes easy. The Art of Animation also features an ATM, resort airline check-in, a guest laundry, Disney merchandise delivery and childcare services.

The self-parking is complimentary. I used the Walt Disney World bus transportation and the Magical Express (complimentary Orlando airport transportation). Both are efficient though we waited at peak times.

I visited the Art of Animation Resort in April.

My Standard Room at the Art of Animation

I reserved a standard room with two doubles beds on the third floor of Building 7. I entered my room from an outside corridor and used the elevator to reach the third floor.

Staying at the Art of Animation offers lots of value.
My standard Little Mermaid room at the Art of Animation gave me the basics. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The buildings are well-maintained and vibrate with color. The rooms overlook the courtyard and don’t feature private balconies or patios.

I reserved The Little Mermaid themed room and my boys grunted at the theming. The downside to the standard room option is The Little Mermaid is the only theme. Cars themed standard rooms aren’t available which annoys most boys. Though I loved it, it’s super cute.

Staying at the Art of Animation Value Resort in Walt Disney World offers basic rooms.
A nice feature is the bathroom curtain so I could get ready before getting my boys up. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Our room featured 277 square feet, a bit bigger than the Pop Century Resort. Though still a little tight for a pack-n-play. This room provides sleeping for four with just two pillows per bed. I needed a pillow fairy to visit me and grant me another set of pillows.

Our room featured a small table with two chairs, a small refrigerator, a flat-screen television, a phone and an in-room safe. I didn’t find a coffee maker, a charging station, real glassware, a ceiling fan or separate closet. I missed some of those items, especially the coffee maker.

Cute details pop while staying at the Art of Animation.
The sheet music on the table in my room at the Art of Animation added to the theming. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My Bathroom Art of Animation

The bathroom area was small though it provided a curtain in the vanity area so I could dress while my boys, 9 and 12, slept in. I found the tub and toilet separated by a door. The tub area features treasures under the sea tiles and the Ariel shower curtain is super cute.

I liked the bathroom when staying at the Art of Animation.
The Ariel shower curtain and the under the sea tiles make the bathroom pop. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The vanity area at the Art of Animation features a swirly blue countertop with one sink. The mirror above the sink continues The Little Mermaid theming, complete with a shell light fixture.

On the countertop, I found a plastic ice bucket and disposable cups. Basic toiletries included: bath soap, facial bar, shampoo and conditioner. I didn’t find lotion.

Enjoy a cute bathroom while staying at the Art of Animation.
The bathroom at the Art of Animation offers a cute details with basic amenities. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I found an iron and ironing board, hair dryer and luggage rack. Though I don’t like that the closet rod is next to the vanity. I prefer a real closet with a door. The room gets messy with the kids when I can’t hide the clutter behind a door.

I found four towels with a couple of hand towels. The linens seemed of nicer quality than our room at the Pop Century Resort.

Activities at The Art of Animation

The Art of Animation Resort boasts the largest resort pool at Walt Disney World, The Finding Nemo themed pool. Sporting underwater speakers and a splashing area, this pool is the center of kid fun.

Kids enjoy the pool while staying at the Art of Animation.
The Art of Animation pool is the largest of all the Walt Disney World pools and provides underwater music. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Cozy Cone Pool and the Flippin’ Fins pool are also kid magnets. The Schoolyard Spray ground and the Squirts Righteous Reef attract the littles from across the resort.

I found a playground in the Lion King area. A 1.38-mile jogging trail runs by the lake. I found bike rentals and surrey bike rentals along the jogging trail too.

Enjoy the bikes while staying at the Art of Animation.
Rent a bike with the kids and ride along the jogging trail next to Hourglass Lake. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Like most Walt Disney World Resorts, watch movies under the stars between The Loin King building and Finding Nemo building.

Inside the Art of Animation Hall, I found the Pixel Play Arcade.

Thinking about a stay at the Art of Animation Value Resort in Walt Disney World? I've got all the cute details plus a couple of things you might miss during your stay.

 

Dining at the Art of Animation

The Art of Animation Resort features the Landscape of Flavors, quick-service food court with American and international favorites. Open from 6 a.m. to midnight, it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Outside at the Finding Nemo pool, I found tables that you could enjoy a snack or cocktail from the nearby Drop Off Pool Bar.

In-room pizza delivery is available at the Art of Animation Resort.

Where’s the Art of Animation?

The Art of Animation Resort is located at 1850 Animation Way. The Art of Animation provides the complimentary Magical Express to and from the Orlando International Airport (MCO).

If driving the Art of Animation is 21 miles from the Orlando airport. During my stay, I stayed at several area resorts and rented a car from the airport and returned it to the drop off in Disney Springs. An option if you are spending a day exploring the area before your park days.

Note about transferring resorts during your stay:

I changed resorts three times during my five-day/four-night stay at Walt Disney World. Walt Disney World will transfer your bags free of cost. I packed up our bags and rolled them down to luggage services that transferred them in the afternoon, usually between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

If I wanted a bell hop to grab my bags from my room I would have to stay with my bags until the bell hop arrived. I found this inconvenient and brought them to luggage services myself, located next to the main entrance.

Need Travel Insurance?

You just never know. I know I’ve been there when my SUV was stolen on a road trip.

Add peace of mind to your trip when you purchase travel insurance from Allianz Travel Insurance Company.

Travel insurance protects in two ways: covering pre-paid, non-refundable expenses, like flights, hotels and event tickets along with the following coverage.

  • Trip Cancellation
  • Trip Interruption
  • Emergency Medical and Dental Coverage
  • Medical Transportation
  • Baggage Delay
  • Baggage Insurance
  • Collision Loss and Damage
  • Travel Accident and Delay
  • 24-hour Emergency Assistance
  • Concierge Services

Choose from several levels of annual coverage and coverage lasts for the entire year.

Looking for more reviews and information?

I’ve stayed at the Pop Century Resort, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Coronado Springs Resort and the Grand Floridan Resort and Spa .

Looking for off-property resorts, I’ve stayed at the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista, the Best Western Lake Buena Vista and the Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club.

Disclosure:

This post was sponsored by Allianz.

Get More for Your Money at Mystic Dunes in Orlando

Mystic Dunes for families offers resort activities and lots of space.
With 600 acres and 23 buildings, I found Mystic Dunes for families a top value choice in Orlando. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With over 600 acres to discover, Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club offers resort-style lodging away from all the noise and activity of Walt Disney World yet just a few short miles to all the theme park adventures. I delighted in the manicured landscaping and resort activities to keep my kids busy while offering me a quiet retreat to indulge in some reading. I suggest Mystic Dunes for families wanting more value yet still close to all the Orlando action.

What I loved at Mystic Dunes Resort

  • The Ambience. It’s away from the hectic noise of Walt Disney World.
  • Four resort-style pools, including the Dunes Lagoon with a slide.
  • The property was well-maintained.

What I wanted at Mystic Dunes Resort

  • More restaurants located nearby.
  • A more walkable resort, I needed a car to get around the property.
Pool hop with the kids a reason I love Mystic Dunes for families.
Enjoy one of four pools at Mystic Dunes Resort, like the garden pool. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Mystic Dunes for Families

I found 23 separate buildings with several floors of accommodations and four different pools. At the welcome center, I found a fitness center, activities center along with a market and the garden pool and tiki bar.

Managed by Diamond Resorts and Hotels, I found the property well-maintained and spacious. During my stay, I reserved a one-bedroom studio ($ to $$) that accommodated four in building 23, steps away from the Dunes Lagoon Pool.

With four pools, I like Mystic Dunes for families.
The terrace pool offers a zero-entry for the littles. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I stayed at Mystic Dunes Resort in April.

My Studio at Mystic Dunes

During my visit to Walt Disney World, I ventured further away from the resorts and parks. A few short miles away in Celebration, the traffic and noise disappeared.

Located on the third floor, I was surprised how roomy my studio felt with just 650 sq. ft. The bedroom was immediately off the entrance, providing a little privacy.

With lots of space to spread out, I like Mystic Dunes for families.
My studio’s living and dining room at Mystic Dunes Resort. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A short hall offered a mom luxury, a stackable washer and dryer behind a door with detergent for one load. A nice feature for families staying for several days.

The open kitchenette featured granite countertops with an electric range, a dishwasher, a full-size refrigerator and a microwave. I found all the necessary dishes, cutlery, utensils and cookware for a family of four.

A kitchenette is great for family trips and I love Mystic Dunes for families.
The kitchenette at Mystic Dunes offers everything needed for a quick meal. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The living area was a tad small and featured a queen-sized, pull-out sofa with bedding located in the bedroom closet. My boys, 9 and 12, were able to unfold the bed by themselves and didn’t complain about the mattress.

I found a counter with two barstools and a small round table with two dining chairs. I would have preferred four chairs but I guess the kids could use the barstools for eating.

A kitchenette helps families save money and whey I love Mystic Dunes for families.
A counter with bar stools offers a place for kids to eat. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My Bedroom at Mystic Dunes

Though the website’s description called my unit a studio, it featured a separate bedroom with a door that closed and separate closet with a in-room safe, iron and board, and a separate TV.

My bedroom featured one queen-sized bed made with white cotton linens. With celery green walls and beachy-white furnishings, I found the room calming in the middle of a hectic family trip to Walt Disney World.

A separate bedroom in my Mystic Dunes studio.
My studio featured a separate bedroom with a ceiling fan and a TV. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My bedroom featured a whirlpool tub in the corner that seemed out of place. It needed to be on the other side of the wall since the bathroom is right outside of the bedroom.

My Bathroom at Mystic Dunes

The bathroom features a shower outfitted with a rain shower head and plenty of hot water during my visit. The large vanity housed lots of towels and I even found pool towels in the bedroom’s closet.

The bathroom didn’t offer a standard tub. The vanity only featured one sink.

Dining at Mystic Dunes Resort

For convenience, I ordered a pizza from Maui Pizza Delivery located at the Kenzie’s full-service restaurant at the Clubhouse, on property. It was reasonably priced and I picked it up since I planned to eat at the pool, though delivery is available.

Kenzie’s full-service restaurant and bar features a full menu. Snacks and bar food can be purchased at the tiki bars located at the pools.

Several dining options at Mystic Dunes for families.
The Mystic Dunes Clubhouse features a full-service restaurant, Kenzie’s along with Maui Pizza available for pick-up at the bar. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During my stay at Mystic Dunes, I found a sundry store that sold treats and frozen meals. I saw several families using the complimentary grills to cook up dinner and eat al fresco on the picnic tables. A great option for mom who doesn’t want to tidy up a kitchen and let dad man the grill.

For my visit, I brought little bags of cereal to speed up breakfast since getting to the nearby parks was a priority for my kids.

Enjoy a cocktail at a tiki bar in Mystic Dunes Resort.
Order a cocktail or bar snacks at one of two tiki bars in Mystic Dunes Resort. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Activities at The Mystic Dunes

With four pools to choose, my boys, 9 and 12, pool hopped. Finally landing at the resort-style Dunes Lagoon with a two-story water slide. With several private cabanas, the Aloha tiki bar that serves poolside snacks and live entertainment on select nights, this area hops throughout the day.

During my stay, I found a steel drum percussionist to entertain the sunbathers while adding to the tropical vibe of the pool. A small sand area provides a place for littles to play.

A water slide and waterfall at the pool keeps kids busy.
The Mystic Dunes Lagoon with a two-story waterslide tops my kids list. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Though labeled a quiet pool, the Garden Pool, also offers a tiki bar along with shuttle board, water volleyball and ping-pong. Closeby, I found the tennis and basketball courts.

Located next to the welcome center, the activities center is a hub for fun. My boys enjoyed several different games, like Foosball. The activity center also hosts crafts for kids and adults (some free and others low-cost). Guests receive a full schedule of activities and crafts at check-in.

Lots of family fun at Mystic Dunes Resort.
Lots of fun for kids at Mystic Dunes, like a game room, loaner bikes and sports courts. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The activity center loans out miniature golf equipment course for the 18-hole course across the street. I found loaner bikes in assorted sizes along with tandem options. A great option for teens yearning for more independence in a resort that seemed too large to walk.

Golf is available at the Mystic Dunes Clubhouse and Golf Shop. The resort features an 18-hole par 71 championship golf course.

Less than 10 miles from Magic Kingdom, Mystic Dunes Resort offers lots of value for families and four different pools. My kids loved pool hopping and I loved all the activities for kids and adults, like daily crafts, miniature golf, sports courts and even BBQ grills.

Getting to Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club

Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club is located at 7600 Mystic Dunes Lane in Celebration, Florida. The gated community is 25 miles from Orlando International Airport (MCO) and 8 miles by roads to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

During my stay, I rented a car to get around since it was cheaper than shuttles or taxis. The parking is complimentary and located right outside of the buildings.

Transportation to-and-from the airport is not included. Complimentary transportation to the theme parks is and a schedule is available at check in.

Looking for more reviews and information?

I’ve stayed at the Pop Century Resort, the Art of Animation Resort, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Grand Floridan Resort and Spa, and the Coronado Springs Resort. Follow the links for more reviews.

Looking for off-property resorts, I’ve stayed at the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista and the Best Western Lake Buena Vista too.

I always use the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa. It provides a comprehensive guide, packed with information.

Know before you go:

  • A $13.00 resort fee is charged per day, per unit.
  • The management company collects $100.00 fee for damages.
  • It takes 7 to 10 days to be refunded to your card.
  • The management company offers its timeshares to all guests though I didn’t feel any pressure and didn’t attend any presentations.
  • Kids must be 48″ to use the water slide.

Disclosure:

As a result of a partnership with Vacatia.com, I enjoyed a complimentary room. This post includes affiliate links in which I receive a commission if you order a book.

Pop Century Resort: A Walt Disney World Resort Review

 

The atmosphere at the Pop Century Resort is FUN. Resort Review Walt Disney World,
The atmosphere at the Pop Century Resort is FUN.

The Pop Century Resort was the second of three properties that I visited during our recent trip to Walt Disney World. A value-priced Walt Disney World resort that has kids running from the 1950s to the 1990s faster than you can download a movie on dial-up. With its over-the-top towering icons of American culture, it’s a family-pleasing resort that’s easy on the wallet.

What I loved at the Pop Century Resort

The Pop Century Resort is fun. The buildings exude energy and draw me through the resort. From the four-story tall bowling pins to the giant 60s flowers pasted on the sides of the candy-colored buildings, this place is a hit with the young at heart.

If your kids spend all day in the park, this might be the resort for you. Pop Century Resort Review, Walt Disney World,
If your kids spend all day in the park, this might be the resort for you.

The Hippy-Dippy Pool with the Petal Pool Bar is the place to rejuvenate the kids after a long day in the parks. The Classic Hall building has registration, bell services and a quick-service food court conveniently located.

The Pop Century Resort’s size is more manageable than the Caribbean Beach Resort so there’s no need for additional internal buses to get around.

What I wanted at the Pop Century Resort

The rooms at Pop Century are small, some of the smallest at Walt Disney World. During our stay at Walt Disney World we left early and we got back late but if you spend more time in your room as a family the size might be a problem.

The fun golf carts at the Pop Century Resort in Walt Disney World, review of the Pop Century Resort,
Headed my way? I loved the theme golf carts at the Pop Century. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The linens in the Pop Century were skimpy in quality and number. I prefer softer sheets and more towels. While a road tripper can pack towels for the pool, a family flying to Orlando can’t.

I found less activities for kids at the Pop Century Resort than the moderately-priced Caribbean Beach Resort. This was not a problem for the carful of kids because we spent all day in the parks and really only used the pool.

The Features of the Pop Century Resort

Pop Century Resort is a value-priced Walt Disney World resort ($) 1.7 miles away from Hollywood Studios. It features four areas named after decades of the 20th century with a total of 2,880 rooms along the shores of Hour Glass Lake and cross from the Art of Animation Resort.

My kids loved the giant features of the Pop Century Resort. resort review of the Pop Century Resort,
My kids loved the giant features of the Pop Century Resort.

I found free self-parking. We used the Walt Disney World bus transportation and the Magical Express (complimentary Orlando airport transportation). Both offered efficiency though we had to stand at peak times.

I visited the Pop Century Resort in April.

My Room at the Pop Century Resort 

I had a reservation for a standard room with two doubles beds on the fourth floor in the 1950s section of the Pop Century Resort. After climbing the stairs, I found the elevator. The carful of kids really wanted to climb the giant bowling pin stairs but Mom didn’t like lugging luggage.

This is a basic room at Walt Disney World. If your family just needs a place to sleep, this might be the resort for you. resort review, Pop Century Resort,
A basic room at Walt Disney World if your family just needs a place to sleep.

I found well-maintained building but it exuded a roadside motel feeling. The rooms looked out onto an outdoor corridor and lacked private balconies or patios. Our room was 260-square feet, not a lot of extra room for a pack-n-play and luggage, providing sleeping for four.

Our room featured a small table with two chairs, a small refrigerator, a flat-screen television, a phone and an in-room safe. I didn’t find a coffee maker, a charging station, real glassware, clock radio, a ceiling fan or separate closet. I missed some of those items, especially the coffee maker.

The tub and toilet area is clean and well-maintained. resort review of the Pop Century Resort,
Our room featured a clean and well-maintained tub and toilet area.

The linens in our room at Pop Century Resort were lacking. With two pillows per bed, it’s just not enough. I found one more on the shelf above the closet rod. The mattresses were thinner and the white linens were clean but rough. I didn’t sleep as well here as I did on the previous night at the Caribbean Beach Resort.

The bathroom area was small though it did have a curtain in the vanity area so a Mom could change when a kid baths. The tub and toilet are separated by a door and are clean and well-maintained.

The bathroom vanity at the Pop Century Resort is small. Review of the Pop Century Resort
The bathroom vanity at the Pop Century Resort is small.

The vanity area at the Pop Century Resort had one sink and I found a plastic ice bucket and disposable cups on the bathroom counter. Basic toiletries were included: bath soap, facial bar, shampoo and conditioner.

Our room at the Pop Century Resort, like our room at the Caribbean Beach Resort, didn’t feature a real closet. I found an iron and ironing board, hair dryer and luggage rack next to the vanity under the closet rod. The room gets messy with the kids when I can’t hide the clutter behind a door.

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I found the number of towels inadequate in our room at the Pop Century Resort. The four towels that I found in the room were rough. We ran out of towels after a trip to the pool.

Family Fun at the Pop Century Resort

I found less activities at the Pop Century Resort than the Caribbean Beach Resort. Fishing, pirate-themed kids’ cruises, white sand beaches are all missing at the Pop. There are fewer pools as well.

The Carful of Kids walked around the Pop Century Resort just to look at all the giant sculptures. Resort Review, Pop Century Resort, Walt Disney World,
The Carful of Kids walked around the Pop Century Resort just to look at all the giant sculptures.

The Pop Century Resort features three pools in all. The bowling ball-themed pool in the 1950s, the computer-themed pool in the 1980s area and the Hippy-Dippy pool in the 1960s area all draw a crowd.

I found a playground in the 1970s area and there’s a jogging trail. At the Hippy-Dippy Pool, the Pop Century resort shows movies. Inside the Classic Hall building I found the Fast Forward Arcade.

Where to eat at the Pop Century Resort

The Pop Century Resort has a quick-service food court with the basics. I found a grab’n’go section, a grill, pizza, pasta and sandwiches. Breakfast is also served. I didn’t eat at the Pop Century, opting to eat in Epcot during the day.

The bowling bin-shaped pool in the 1950s area is a hit with kids. Pop Century Resort Review, Walt Disney World,
The bowling bin-shaped pool in the 1950s area is a hit with kids.

Outside at the Hippy-Dippy Pool, I found tables that you could enjoy a snack or cocktail from the nearby Petal Pool Bar. Like the Caribbean Beach Resort, outdoor movies are shown on some nights near the pool.

Note about transferring resorts during your stay:

I changed resorts three times during my five-day/four-night stay at Walt Disney World. Walt Disney World will transfer your bags free of cost. I packed up our bags and rolled them down to luggage services that transferred them in the afternoon, usually between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

If I wanted a bell hop to grab my bags from my room I would have to stay with my bags until the bell hop arrived. I found this inconvenient and brought them to luggage services myself, located next to the main entrance.

Looking for more reviews and information?

I’ve stayed at the Art of Animation Resort, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Coronado Springs Resort and the Grand Floridan Resort and Spa.

Looking for off-property resorts, I’ve stayed at the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista, the Best Western Lake Buena Vista and the Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club.

I use the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa for every trip. It provides a comprehensive guide, packed with information.

Know Before You Go:

  • The Pop Century Resort uses bus transportation to get around Walt Disney World.
  • I found airline check-in at The Pop Century Resort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walt Disney Resort Review: Caribbean Beach Resort

Along the shore of Barefoot Bay, the Caribbean Beach Resort blends a tranquil setting with plenty of activities for the kids. Walt Disney World
Caribbean Beach Resort offers its guests lots of activities and white-.sand beaches

The Caribbean Beach Resort was the first of three resorts that I stayed in during my recent trip to Walt Disney World. A moderate-priced Disney resort evokes the calm and serenity of a beach vacation yet includes a resort-style pool that’s sure to excite the kids. With its expansive grounds and lush, tropical landscaping, the Caribbean Beach Resort never felt crowded.

What I loved about the Caribbean Beach Resort

The Fuentes del Morro pool draws kids to the Caribbean Beach Resort. With a pair of water slides, a couple of water canons and zero-entry, it wowed for my boys, 8 and 11-years-old.

The Fuentes del Morro pool in the Old Port Royale area is a hit with my kids. Caribbean Beach Resort, hotel review, Walt Disney World,
The Fuentes del Morro pool in the Old Port Royale area is a hit with my kids.

Not the only activity for kids, I found an arcade, bikes for rent, guided fishing and a pirate-themed cruise just for kids. It seemed impossible to find bored kids at the Caribbean Beach Resort.

What I wanted at the Caribbean Beach Resort

The size of the Caribbean Beach Resort proved cumbersome. I found the registration, bell services and the Magical Express bus stop at the Custom House and I boarded an internal bus to get around. The Old Port Royale building housed the dining and pool area.

I didn’t use the registration area during my stay since I checked into my room before my arrival. When my room became available, I got a text with my room number. I recommend using this option.

Need a quieter pool, with pools in every village that's not a problem. Caribbean Beach Review, Walt Disney World,
Need a quieter pool? With pools in every village that’s not a problem.

I found the Magical Express (complimentary bus transportation to and from the Orlando airport) efficient. Though next time I will carryon my luggage into the Magical Express bus. Even though it was delivered to my room, I needed some items before it was delivered, 5 to 8 hours after my flight landed. Next time I will claim my checked bags and put them on the Magical Express with me. Just don’t use the luggage tags that Disney includes with your Magic Bands.

The Caribbean Beach Resort delivered my checked bags to my room but my carry-on luggage remained with bell services. Since my room was not ready,  I left my carry-on with the bell hop. When I got back to the resort, I made a special trip to the Custom House to claim my bag. The trip took 30 minutes and that’s 30 minutes not swimming in the pool. Bummer.

The Resort

The Caribbean Beach Resort ($$) is a moderate resort 4.1 miles from Epcot. The expansive property includes seven villages with a total of 2,112 rooms along the shores of the 45-acre Barefoot Bay.

Each village provides a bus stop for the internal Caribbean Beach Resort Bus and the park buses. Also each village feauteres a guest laundry, a white-sand beach and a large pool. Nice feature for avoiding the kids at the resort’s main pool at the Old Port Royale.

The interior of the Caribbean Beach Resort with the TV, coffee maker and trundle-hiding credenza. Caribbean Beach Resort, Walt Disney Resort,
The interior of the Caribbean Beach Resort with the TV, coffee maker and trundle-hiding credenza.

I found plenty of complimentary self-parking. We used the Walt Disney World’s complimentary shuttle service to get to the parks from the Caribbean Beach Resort. I found the bus transportation fairly regular though crowded enough to require standing at peak times.

The Caribbean Beach Resort features complimentary Wi-Fi. Though breakfast is not.

The island colonial architecture and tropical landscaping offer lots of privacy and I rarely saw other guests. The Caribbean Beach Resort gives you an island vacation in the middle of Disney one.

I visited Caribbean Beach Resort in April.

My Room at the Caribbean Beach Resort

I reserved for a standard room with two double beds and a fun twin trundle on the first floor room of the Martinique Village. Each village features several buildings and I found the layout confusing and hard to navigate when hauling a week’s worth of luggage for a family.

Our standard room has a pair of doubles with white linens and a island-themed coverlet. Caribbean Beach Resort, Walt Disney World,
Our standard room has a pair of doubles with white linens and a island-themed coverlet.

The room offered 314 square-feet with a semi-private vanity area and separate tub and toilet area. It features two double beds and a pull-out trundle that my boys fight over. The room sleeps five and not much room for a pack-n-play. I entered my room from an outdoor corridor it didn’t feature a private balcony or patio.

Our room provided a small round table and two chairs, phone, coffee maker, hair dryer, in-room safe, iron and ironing board, flat screen television, a mini-refrigerator and deluxe ice bucket with real glassware. Missing was an alarm clock. The charging station located on the bed side table with two outlets and two USB plugs was a nice feature. This feature is missing from my luxury room later during my WDW stay.

My Bathroom at the Caribbean Beach Resort

The bathroom of the Caribbean Beach Resort has a double sink vanity and lighted make-up mirror. Walt Disney World,
The bathroom of the Caribbean Beach Resort has a double sink vanity and lighted make-up mirror.

The bathroom area features louvered doors that extends the island feel and allows for a separate changing area. Great for a Mom who wants to dress before the kids wake up. Tub and toilet are in a separate room with a standard tub enclosure and decorative shower curtain.

The vanity area features two separate sinks with a granite countertop, decorative lighting and mirror. I liked the lighted make-up mirror that’s mounted next to the sink and the decorative tissue cover and soap dish. I found standard toiletries: facial bar, bath bar, shampoo and conditioner.

Hidden inside of the credenza is a kid favorite, a trundle. Caribbean Beach Resort, Walt Disney World,
Hidden inside of the credenza is a kid favorite, a trundle.

Next to the vanity was a long closet rod and the luggage rack. I found the lack of an official closet a serious draw-back. The vanity area gets messy with kids quick.

The Caribbean Beach Resort offers pirate-themed rooms for an extra charge. The pirate-themed rooms have two double beds with sleeping for four, no trundle.

Family Fun at the Caribbean Beach Resort

The Fuentes del Morro pool with its Spanish colonial-themed fort with a pair water cannons and two water slides, one over 80-feet long, is the main attraction. There’s a lot of fun happening here. I especially liked the zero-entry so I can watch my kids and get my toes wet without putting on a swimsuit.

For the younger kids, I found a separate water play area for kids under 48”. With lots of lounge chairs and the Banana Cabana Pool Bar for your favorite cocktails, this area grabs the kids from all over the resort.

Is the Caribbean Beach Resort right for your family? Caribbean Beach Resort Review, Walt Disney World,
Is the Caribbean Beach Resort right for your family?

I found a white-sand beach next to the Barefoot Bay that was nice. The Martinique Village has a sand volleyball court. All along Barefoot Bay is a wide sideway suitable for jogging.

For kids looking for adventure, Caribbean Beach Resort has a Pirate Adventure Cruise for kids aged 4 to 12 that departs at 9:30 a.m. An arcade is located at the Old Port Royale area next to the main pool.

Where to eat at the Caribbean Beach Resort

With a quick-service food court and casual dining options, feeding the family is easy. I used the grab-in-go section that features sweets, healthy snacks, drinks and even individual, alcoholic beverages that can be enjoyed by the pool.

Since the weather was perfect, we took our purchases outside and ate on the large patio area. I found a table, though there should be more. I got the last one.

What I loved about this area is the outdoor entertainment located near by. The kids could watch the outdoor movie or participate in the campfire activities. I watched my kids while I enjoyed a cocktail without having to sit right next to them.

Note about transferring resorts during your stay:

I changed resorts three times during my five-day/four-night stay at Walt Disney World. Walt Disney World will transfer your bags free of cost. I packed up our bags and rolled them down to luggage services that transferred them in the afternoon, usually between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

If I wanted a bell hop to grab my bags from my room I would have to stay with my bags until the bell hop arrived. I found this inconvenient and brought them to luggage services myself, located next to the main entrance.

Looking for more reviews and information?

I’ve stayed at the Pop Century Resort, the Art of Animation Resort, the Coronado Springs Resort and the Grand Floridan Resort and Spa.

Looking for off-property resorts, I’ve stayed at the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista, the Best Western Lake Buena Vista and the Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club.

I use the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa for every trip. It provides a comprehensive guide, packed with information.

Disclosure:

This post contains affiliate links in which pay me a commission if you purchase a book.

Know before you go:

  • Towels are available at the Fuentes del Morro Pool only.
  • Lifeguards are on-duty at some of the pools. No posted schedeule.
  • Allow extra time for bus transportation at the Caribbean Beach Resort. The resort is large and includes eight bus stops.

Lady Liberty for All

The Statue of Liberty with kids.
The Statue of Liberty tops the list of must-dos for East Coast Road Trips and New York City trips but make those reservations.

The carful of kids stand in the shadow of the New York City skyline waiting for the Statue of Liberty ferry to arrive. We are finishing up a three-week road trip that took us from Central Texas to Quebec, the Canadian Maritimes and Boston.

Though I lived in NYC for several years, I never visited the Statue of Liberty so I’m just excited as the kids. I chose to depart from New Jersey because of the convenience for day trippers and the availability of tickets.

Top Tips for Families

  • Pack a lunch though keep it small since nothing can go inside the Statue of Liberty
  • Depart from New Jersey if you’re a day tripper with a car.
  • Make reservations early, crown tour fills six months out, pedestal six weeks out for weekends and holidays.
  • Arrive before you departure time.
  • If short on time, skip Ellis Island.

 

Visit the Statue of Liberty with kids.
Standing on the pier in New Jersey’s Liberty State Park awaiting our ferry to the Statue of Liberty.

Manhattan skyline mesmerizes the carful of kids as we waited for the ferry. It’s amazing to see for the first time. My 11-year-old daughter looked over to lower Manhattan with a look I know. She’s dying to get there and I hope she loves the city as much as I do.

The Ferry Ride

I pulled the SUV into the paid parking lot and found a spot with ease. After an airport-like security screen, the carful of kids fight a competitive New Jersey crowd to jockey our way to the top level of the ferry. We want a view and the Statue of Liberty amazes the crowd.

Our ferry departed from Liberty State Park in New Jersey and stopped at Ellis Island first before heading to the Statue of Liberty. Since we left at noon, we skipped the Ellis Island tour. We’ll come back another time and tour Ellis Island along with the other National Park Service sites of NYC like Governors Island.

What families need to know when visiting the Statue of Liberty.
The passengers rush to the edge of the ferry to snap pictures of the Statue of Liberty.

After disembarking the ferry, we headed to the information center for a Junior Ranger booklet since the Statue of Liberty is a national monument.

The Pedestal Tour

I booked pedestal-access tickets months in advance for our visit over a summer weekend. After clearing an additional security checkpoint to enter of the Statue of Liberty, the carful of kids headed for the stairs. After 215 steps, we arrived at the top of the pedestal for an epic view.
Visit the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty with your kids.
Snap a family photo from the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
Along the way, we saw the framework and giant screws that Gustave Eiffel designed. The carful of kids took a few minutes to absorb the view before heading back downstairs to the Liberty Island Museum for a history lesson.

The Statue of Liberty is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an enduring symbol of freedom worldwide.

Take a tour of the interior of the Statue of Liberty with your kids.
The screws and bolts holding the Statue of Liberty together are as big as a baby.

Statue of Liberty History

In 1865 Edouard de Laboulage first proposed a gift from France to the United States for its Centennial. Artist Frederic Bartholdi was commissioned to sculpt the Statue of Liberty.

But where to erect the statue? Bedloe’s Island offered a spot with 12-pointed star-shaped building. Laboulage and Bartholdi both agreed on Bedloe’s Island.

Top tips for visiting the Statue of Liberty with kids.
The Statue of Liberty guides visitors to New York and New Jersey as an enduring symbol for the world.

For the Centennial Exposition in 1876, the Statue’s hand holding the torch was displayed in Philadelphia. Fundraising continued in both countries to complete the project.

In 1879, Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel replaced the first engineer after his death. He designed a structure to hold the weight and height of the statue and to withstand the winds of the New York Harbor.

Statue of Liberty tops lists for East Coast Road Trips, I've got all the tips for visiting the icon with kids.

In 1881, Richard Morris Hunt, the architect of the Biltmore Estate, designed the pedestal. He designed a pedestal half the height of the statue with poured 20-foot thick concrete walls and a granite block facade to sit on top of the 12-pointed star building already in place. Back in Paris, the statue started to take shape with its copper skin.

Completed and gifted to the United States on July 4, 1884, in Paris. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886, after it was reconstructed and placed on its pedestal.

Explore the Liberty Island Museum during your visit to the Statue of Liberty with kids.
The original torch was replaced during the 1980s remodel of the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty was designated a National Monument in 1924. During the 1980s, the Statue of Liberty underwent a major restoration and a gold-leaf torch replaced the original one. I found the original on display in the museum.

Statue of Liberty with Kids

Explore the Statue of Liberty with kids during your visit to NYC.
Kids always find fun and my boys as liberty boogers.

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

The carful of kids explored the entire complex and filled out our Junior Ranger booklets along the way. The last thing on our list, take the Junior Ranger oath and accept our badges before jumping on the ferry back to New Jersey.

Getting our Junior Ranger Badges at the Visitors Center.
Getting our Junior Ranger Badges at the Visitors Center.

Security at the Statue of Liberty

To board the ferry, all passengers must pass through an airport-style security. You can bring a backpack though further screening will be required.

For pedestal or crown tour ticket holders, an additional security checkpoint is required. You aren’t allowed to bring ANYTHING with you, except a small camera and medication, including water and unopened food.  I rented a locker for $2 for the backpack and everything in my husband’s pockets–like keys and pens.

Ferry Tickets

The Statue of Liberty National Monument is free though a ferry ticket is required for all passengers.

Reserve and Pedestal Access Tour

Adults $18.50

Seniors 62+ $14.00

Kids 4 to 12 $9

Toddlers 3 and under Free

Crown Access Tour

Adults $21.50

Seniors 62+ $17.00

Kids 4 to 12 $12

New York or New Jersey?

We skipped New York City this trip since we had only one day to explore. My boys, 6 and 10, are a tad too young to enjoy it.

The New Jersey Statue Cruises ferry offers paid parking and more availability for tickets.

Where’s the ferry?

All visitors must take a Statue Cruises ferry to The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The first ferry departs at 9:30 a.m. and the last ferry departs at 3:30 p.m. and 6:45 during the summer. The Statue of Liberty is open every day except December 25.

The New York ferry departs from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. Parking is limited so use public transportation.

The New Jersey Ferry departs from Liberty State Park at 1 Audrey Zapp Drive. Parking is available for a fee. I found plenty of parking during my visit.

Know before you go

  • Give yourself the majority of day to explore the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
  • Purchase tickets ahead of time for the Statue of Liberty pedestal access.
  • Crown access tickets sell out six months in advance during the holidays and summer.
  • Even with tickets I found long lines for the ferry and security.
  • I found a line for the pedestal elevator during our visit.

Boston in a Day with Kids

Walking on Boston's Freedom Trail we run into Benjamin Franklin.
Walking on Boston’s Freedom Trail we run into Benjamin Franklin.

How much can you do in one day in Boston with kids? With a little planning, we walked the entire Freedom Trail, earned a Junior Ranger badge, toured Old Ironsides and walked through Harvard University.

Since Boston is steeped in U.S. history, it’s a must for school age kids, like mine, 7,9 and 12. But we’re on the homeward stretch of an East Coast road trip that included the Bay of Fundy and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island so we only have one day to explore.

After exploring Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine, during the day. I drove into the night and walked into our hotel in Boston’s Back Bay at 1 a.m–powered by Dunkin’ Donut’s coffee.

Hotel Deals for Boston

When I was planning my road trip, I had sticker shock when I saw the Boston hotel rates. I just couldn’t commit $300 a night.

I waited and scored a room in a great location within walking distance of all the sights a couple of days before we arrived with a hotel consolidator. I didn’t know the hotel brand until after purchasing.

I know some people might have an issue with that though I don’t. I always select a room that’s at least a 3.5-star property just to be careful.

When road tripping through a major city, the car needs to be parked. In Boston, I paid $30 for 24-hour parking. I opted to leave it in the hotel’s garage parking lot. We just checked out, packed the bags in the back and walked to the Freedom Trail. Street parking is nearly impossible to find in Boston.

After our car was stolen from a paid parking lot in Montreal, Canada, I’m really careful about where I park my cars.

The Boston Common with Kids

After a Sorry, No  when the kids beg for room service, we check out of the hotel. Grabbing some Dunkin Donuts, we walk to the Boston Common.  Where the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile long paved trail along the streets of Boston, begins.

On our way, we stop at Trinity Church, a National Historic Landmark. Designed by Henry Richardson and finished in 1877. It’s and one of the ten most significant buildings in the U.S. by the American Institute of Architects.

Waiting for the legendary Swan Boats to open for the day.
Waiting for the legendary Swan Boats to open for the day.

Moving along, our next stop is the Public Garden for the Swan Boats, a Boston tradition since 1877 when Robert Paget launched his first swan boat. This is a must for any visitor and the carful of kids get in line for the first boat at 10 a.m. ($3.00 adults/$2.00 kids 2-15).

Across the street from the Swan Boats is the Boston Common, the oldest park in the US that dates back to 1634. Originally used as a cow pasture until 1830, then as a British Army camp during the Revolutionary War–today it is the official start of the Boston Freedom Trail.

The Freedom Trail with Kids

The Carful of Kids in Boston
Our Goal for the day.

 

I found several tour companies offering guided tours but I choose to use the official Freedom Trail app. The Freedom Trail is a national park (open year round and free, admission to several buildings along the route) and the NPS arranges guided tours too. The carful of kids will be earning a Junior Ranger Badge, the booklets are available at the visitors center on the first floor of Faneuil Hall (open year round from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

The carful of kids find the red line in the sidewalk that will guide us through Downtown Boston and start walking; our first official stop is the Massachusetts State House. Finished in 1798 but it didn’t get its distinctive gold dome until many years later, it is still the home to the Massachusetts Commonwealth government and tours can be scheduled in advance Monday through Friday.

He is imitating the soul effigy.
He is imitating the soul effigy.

After walking past the Park Street Church, we find our first graveyard, Granary Burying Ground, where Paul Revere and John Hancock are buried. It was established in 1660 and has 2,300 gravestones including some with a soul effigy, a creepy little skull with wings. The kids love it–who knew.

The grave of Paul Revere.
The grave of Paul Revere.

The King’s Chapel and the King’s Chapel Burying Ground are the next stops before the carful of kids check out the Boston Latin School. Founded in 1635, it is the oldest public school in the US and Benjamin Franklin is its most notable dropout.

At the Latin School with Ben Franklin.
At the Latin School with Ben Franklin.

The carful of kids walk past the Old Corner Bookstore, the oldest commercial building in Boston, that was built in 1718 before finding our next stop.

The Old South Meeting House was built in 1729 and was the largest building in Colonial Boston. The carful of kids walk in ($6/adults $1/kids 6 to 18, open 9:30 to 5:00, spring to fall) to get an in-depth history lesson of the Boston Tea Party.

Writing with a quill at the Old State House
Writing with a quill at the Old State House

The Old State House was built in 1713 to house the Colonial government and is the site for several important events in Colonial history. The Declaration of Independence was read from its balcony for the first time in 1776. Today, it houses a great interactive tour for kids ($10/adults, free/kids under 18, open 9:30 to 5:15, spring to fall).

Outside the steps of the Old State House is the site of the Boston Massacre. Where on March 5, 1770, five Colonists were killed by British soldiers after a confrontation.

Having a crepe near Faneuil Hall
Having a crepe near Faneuil Hall

Faneuil Hall is the next important site on the Freedom Trail, it has been a busy marketplace since 1741. It has been named the “cradle of liberty” and there are historical talks every 30 minutes from 9:30 to 4:30. This is where Colonists protested against the Sugar and the Stamp Acts. It is operated by the NPS, there’s a visitors center and it’s free to enter.

The Faneuil Hall Marketplace is behind Faneuil Hall and it’s packed with tourists, street performers and food carts. It’s hard to pull the carful of kids away and get back on the red line walking towards our next stop.

The Paul Revere House ($3.50/adults, $1/kids, open 9:30 to 5:15, spring to fall) was built in 1680, but purchased by Paul Revere in 1770 and this is where he lived at the time of his fabled ride. He shared this house with his mother, his wife and nine of his 16 children–eight from each of his two wives. The Paul Revere House is an interesting look into the domestic life of Colonial Boston and is a must for school-age kids.

The Old North Church opened its door in 1723 but was immortalized when two Sons of Liberty put a couple of lanterns in the steeple on April 18, 1775, signaling the advancement of the British Redcoats. It is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from spring to fall and donations are requested.

The carful of kids are tired but we still want to see a couple of sights. It is a mile to the USS Constitution so we catch a cab and drive by the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground.

Old Ironsides is our last official stop for the Boston Freedom Trail.
Old Ironsides is our last official stop for the Boston Freedom Trail.

The USS Constitution with Kids

The USS Constitution, Old Ironsides, was commissioned in 1797 and earned its nickname during the War of 1812. It is still an active warship with the US Navy and the tours are lead by sailors (open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, free guided tour, check website for up-to-date hours).

The USS Constitution is to enter dry dock in April 2015 for a three-year restoration project but will be open for tours. The carful of kids enjoy the tour and love the hammocks and cannons on deck.

Below Deck>
Below Deck

The carful of kids turn in their booklets at the USS Constitution for our Boston National Historical Park Junior Ranger Badges. It is has been a full day of history for the carful of kids and a great refresher for me.

Cambridge with Kids

Harvard.
Harvard.

After a day of exploring, we still want to visit Harvard so we grab a cab and head over to Cambridge. Though college is years away for my 12-year-old, a campus walk-through never hurts.

After a walk through campus and a stop by the bookstore for a Harvard t-shirt, we want to eat. Our destination, Pinocchio’s Pizza, tops the list as one of Mark Zuckerberg’s haunts during his college days. We grab some plates of square pizza and head to Winthrop Square. Pinocchio’s Pizza is located at 74 Winthrop St. from 11 a.m to 2 a.m.

After a pizza picnic, the carful of kids stroll through MIT on our way to our first subway experience together. The T, Boston’s subway, won’t be crowded since it’s after hours but I’m still a little anxious herding my kids onto the train.

After a good look at the T map, I find the station closest to our car. Grab a CharlieCard for each one of us at the self-serve kiosk and swipe all the cards to get the kids through the turnstile.

Sweet sound to my ears, the roar of the train pulling into the station. Once inside, I remind the boys to hold on. I hide my smile when the boys trip over each other looking for something to grab when the train lurches forward.

Riding a subway for the first time.
Riding a subway for the first time. 

 

I have to admit, I’m a little relieved–we did it. Sure it would have been easier, faster and a little cheaper to take an Uber but now the carful of kids have been on a subway and that is a valuable experience for later in life.It’s late and the sun has set as the carful of kids straggle up to our SUV, two seconds and they’re asleep but I still have to drive to Connecticut. Now where is that Dunkin Donuts?

Know before you go

Be prepared for long lines for the airport style checkpoint at the U.S.S. Constitution and an ID is required for adults.

It requires a couple of hours to clear security and tour the boat on a busy day. During the restoration process, please consult the ship’s website for the most accurate information.

 

Shenandoah National Park and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

The Carful of Kids at Monticello
The Carful of Kids at Monticello

The carful of kids drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway yesterday from Asheville, North Carolina, intending to make it the all way to Waynesboro, North Carolina. But with all the stopping, exploring and the setting sun; we had to drop in on Interstate-81 to get to our final destination.

We want to continue through Shenandoah National Park via Skyline Drive to earn our Junior Ranger badge and explore the park. The carful of kids enter through the Rockfish Gap Entrance and make our first stop the Loft Mountain Information Center, mile marker 79.

I look over the Shenandoah National Park Junior Ranger Booklet and discover that you are required to attend two ranger programs. What? I didn’t schedule that into my itinerary. Then I look at the Ranger Programming and see we are at the south end of the park and all the programming is at the north end of the park.  Geez.

The front of Thomas Jefferson's home--Monticello
The front of Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello

The carful of kids regroup for a moment and cut our losses. There is no way we are going to get to the northern part of the park (the more popular entrance because of its proximity to Washington), attend two ranger programs and get to our next destination–Hershey, Pennsylvania, today.

We decide to check out Charlottesville, Virginia, and drive around the campus of the University of Virginia–UVA instead. It is a beautiful campus that was designed by Thomas Jefferson. The carful of kids aren’t doing full campus tours but we look at areas and ask, would you like to go to college here?

In the historic gardens of Monticello
In the historic gardens of Monticello

After lunch, we drive to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello–his home and plantation that he started when he was 26. Thomas Jefferson designed his home according to the principles of Neoclassicism and it’s a notable example of Palladian architecture. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-visit.

The carful of kids pay for admission ($25 for adults and $8 for kids, 5 to 11) this includes a informative guided tour. We hop on their bus to the top of the hill where Monticello sits–Italian for Little Mount. 

A foxglove in Monticello's Garden
A foxglove in Monticello’s Garden

Inside of the house itself is Jefferson’s collection of artifacts and his unique solutions to household problems of the day. It is not a luxuriously-appointed mansion, more of a large, comfortable retreat for the third president of the United States.

Thomas Jefferson had a passion for gardening and agriculture, the collection of restored vegetable and flower gardens are amazing. While the carful of kids run around the gardens like goons, I walk among the flower beds, smelling the flowers and taking photos of the beauties.

Carful of KidsI only wish the carful of kids had more time to explore Monticello–the security guard is following us to ask us to leave. We are the last people still here. I take one more look around and board the bus back down the hill to our SUV.

I still have some miles to drive, the carful of kids have a reservation in Hershey, Pennsylvania. That is 250 miles away and will take us about four hours but we get to add a new state–West Virginia.

Up next: Hershey, Pennsylvania for everything chocolate