Ok, this is it – the last blog post about my awesome summer vacation.

I mean, it is December now – admittedly I am probably pushing the statute of limitations on this sort of thing anyways!

Still, it was important for me to actually write about this trip in its entirely because, as you might guess from pouring over the previous 33 blog posts and some 15,000 words, this was a huge trip for us. It still amazes me how much we were able to do on that trip – looking back, it’s just incredible to me, especially when you consider how most people would end up making this half a dozen shorter trips … or more!

But we were really lucky to be able to pull it all off in one shot – we planned ahead and really took the approach that this was going to be the last time that we’d be able to do a vacation of this magnitude for quite some time. The next couple of years have a lot of new challenges in store for us – having kids, buying a house to call our own, career changes – so between time, energy, and finances, this summer seemed to be the best time for us to actually be able to pull something like this off. As they say, it was a “once in a lifetime trip”, or so we thought.

In looking back over all of these amazing things that we did across nearly a month of roaming around the country together, though, I think the most significant thing that I want to take away from it all is that in hindsight, that kind of adventure most certainly does not have to be a once in a lifetime event. In fact, if anything it needs to happen many, many times in this lifetime! To be honest, the costs really weren’t that bad for the duration – actually, we probably spent about as much for these three and a half weeks as we spent for a week out at Disneyland, airfare included, so if anything, more demanding was actually just setting aside the time to be able to get away from work for the better part of a month. And considering that we both still had enough vacation time to go on two other major trips this year, the excuses are actually drying up pretty quick…

Now I’m not saying that eight months from now we’ll hit the road again and go exploring in a different direction, but looking at it more long term – I’m 30 now, so by the time I’m 35 or 40, it’d be nice to have something a little more recent to look back on instead of just saying, “Remember way back in 2010 when we did that amazing road trip because we didn’t have any of this weighing us down?!” Life is what you make of it, so after a grand adventure such as this that was just ridiculous amounts of fun and bonding time, in 20 years I want to be able to look back on this as the start of a family tradition, not just a once in a lifetime trip.

Challenge accepted!

Having shot over 1,800 photos on this trip, it was hard frankly to even narrow those down to the 135 that I ended up featuring in these blog posts. Nonetheless, even amongst those a distinct handful stood out as my own personal all-time favorites. Some highlighted key moments during the dream, some just turned out to be nice-looking shots, so if you don’t feel like skimming through the other 33 posts in this series, here are the very best according to me…

whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium

an amazingly adorable moment shared with the Coca-Cola Bear

Brandi wishing that she could get through just one family visit without Lori or me shoving a camera in her face…

incredibly well-lit tyrannosaurus rex at Science North‘s dinosaur exhibit

the awesome view out our hotel room at Niagara Falls

purdy flowers seen while we were walking around the overlook areas by the Falls

a neat view of a bridge disappearing into the mountains somewhere along the Hudson River

although admittedly blurry, I thought this was a pretty shot of all of the colored banners representing the different brands that Hershey’s owns

a lucky view of the Washington Monument at sunset that I caught on our way back to the subway

Walt always said that nighttime was extra special around his parks, and apparently it also applies to his hotels as well

24 days, 23 nights
4,550 miles driven

20 cities visited (actual destinations, not just driving through/stopping for gas)
16 states, plus the Capital
2 countries

16 specific planned attractions (i.e. aquariums, museums, national monuments, etc…)

8 tanks of gas (average 47 mpg)
11 unique hotel stays
14 hotel nights total
9 family nights total

9.5 longest driving hours in a single day (Niagara Falls to Vermont, included a wrong turn)
4.87 average driving hours on driving days

1,802 photos taken (6.1 GB)

34 blog posts (15,000 words, 135 photos)

What can I say – I think if there’s one thing that we can all agree on, it’s that a road trip simply isn’t a road trip without one thing…

The snacks!

Of course, this particular road trip was very long, so it would only make sense that there were a lot of snacks consumed on the road along the way. And I wouldn’t be a very thorough blogger if I didn’t document each and every one of those snacks to later write about ad nauseam! So without further ado, here are some of the highlights…

First snacks of the trip – although I actually liked the Tailgater BBQ flavor better of these two football-inspired chips, this one still held its own as we drove our very first leg from Tampa up to Atlanta.

These were actually Sara’s choice, but I’ll admit that I stole a few here and there to enjoy while I was writing … that is, until we managed to spill half the box between the seats. Man, was that a pain in the ass to clean up with a jam-packed car!

Good, old reliable Hostess Fruit Pies – I think this was “dessert” along with a bottle of soda when we reached our hotel for the night in Toledo.

I bought these more because they seemed quirky and unique than because they actually looked like decent snacking foods, but they honestly weren’t too bad. That said, I don’t think I actually finished the whole bag because something better eventually came along…

I picked these up at a gas station in Canada because I was amused by the alternate titles that they came up with for their flavors. Final verdict – Bold BBQ, not bad; Spice 2.0 – not good.

I don’t care if I already shared this one before – Tim Hortons’ Cheddar Cheese Bagels were absolutely incredible and deserve any and all praise that they can muster! And frankly, I just tried some new Cheddar Cheese Bagel Twist that Dunkin Donuts started offering and they ain’t got nothing on Tim Hortons…

You can’t really go wrong with Nacho Cheese Combos – they’re always a good, safe snacking option, and from Vermont down to New York, they helped to fill in the empty voids between meals nicely.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from these, and frankly, Chester Cheetah’s commercials have just gotten really fucking creepy lately, but I actually really enjoyed the bit of spice that these added to your traditional Cheetos flavors. Nice!

Ok, so I couldn’t bring myself to actually purchase these because they sound absolutely disgusting, but I had to take a picture regardless. Side note – gas station attendants don’t exactly like you walking around just taking pictures of things if you’re not actually going to buy them…

Morning Cheer
As the sun arose over Crescent Lake the next morning and the concierge lounge began to fill up with juices and cereals and other breakfast-type items to charge people up for another wonderful day at Disney World, we knew that it was finally time for this couple to go home…

Ok, so I wasn’t exactly up at sunrise, per se – I mean, I’ve heard of it, but I’ve personally only ever witnessed its brother sunset at the more desirable end of the day. Nonetheless, over the years I’ve managed to hone my sleeping habits so that no matter when the checkout time is, I tend to wake up approximately 45 minutes prior to that time, leaving just enough time to shower and then rapidly pack before housekeeping (sorry – mousekeeping!) starts beating down the door!

Note: if you were to ask my wife about said practices, she would probably infer that her waking me up is the only thing that gets my lazy ass out of bed before checkout time, but to me it’s simply an issue of symmantics…

A quick shot on the way carrying bags down to the car – such a nice day!

No Beach Club Stay is Complete Without…
Of course, the timing was as such that we were basically going to have to eat out for lunch either way, whether here or once we got home and realized that we didn’t have a crumb of food left in the entire house, so we opted to grab an early lunch over at Beaches & Cream, another favorite dining establishment of ours here at the Beach Club. We ate here last time for our honeymoon as well (on the last day, in fact!) and it’s just a neat, laid back place to grab a quick bite to eat. The hotdogs are good, the authentic soda fountain drinks are good, and, well…

Their dessert offerings ain’t too shabby, either!

The Final Leg Home
So on that note, with ice cream in our bellies and admittedly a bit of a heavy heart for our journey finally coming to an end, we hit the road and drove the last 66 miles back home. It seemed a little surreal for it to finally be ending – just a few days ago we had been starring up at the Washington Monument on the National Mall, and a week before that getting completely soaked at Niagara Falls! Even looking back in writing these blog posts, it’s kind of incredible to think about all of the things that we managed to do in those three and a half weeks…

I don’t know what else to say except that I, for one, can’t wait until our next big adventure! I wonder where the open road will take us next time…

A Swim at the Beach (Club)
Believe it or not, I think this was the first time that we were actually able to relax and kick back in a pool this entire trip! Don’t get me wrong – we most certainly tried on many other occasions, but looking back, it seems like something or other always came up…

  • Tennessee – pool too cold, only spent a few minutes in the hot tub
  • Sudbury – rowdy kids, hot tub was “missing”
  • Toronto – pool area was over-chlorinated, gave Sara a headache
  • Washington, D.C. – pool was really small, and turned into a dance club at 5pm

Fortunately, like I said the pool at Beach Club is pretty much the awesomest one on property, with something like a dozen different pools, a sand-bottom, a lazy river, and even a slide, so it was great to be able to just spend an hour or so just floating around, not freezing our asses off or suffocating from chlorine fumes! Granted, I did almost get hit by a duck that decided to land in the pool, but honestly, it’s not the first time that it’s happened so I’m actually starting to get used to it…

This area looks crowded because it’s the kiddie area, but where we actually swam was relatively quiet. We did have to walk quite a ways just to find a chair to leave our towels on, but sometimes you take what you can get!

One Last Romantic Dinner
After we returned from a dip in the not at all freezing pool, it was just about time for dinner … our selection this evening was just around the Boardwalk at Cat Cora’s new restaurant, Kouzzina. Lately I think we’ve found more fun in exploring the various restaurants around the World than just riding the attractions over and over again, so even though we’ve eaten at Cape May Cafe right there in the Beach Club and enjoyed it several times, I decided to surprise Sara with something a little different…

I wasn’t exactly crazy about the cuisine when we finally saw a menu – the place is actually a Greek restaurant, which Sara enjoyed but I could take or leave. I think I ended up with the lasagna (Pastitsio), whereas I believe Sara had the lamb shank or something – either way, seeing how pretty much everything on the menu includes wine pairings (and I also don’t really care for wine), I think it was just one of those places that simply wasn’t for me.

Nonetheless, at least I enjoyed the company…

And Fireworks to Close Out the Evening
I don’t know if I could even tell you the last time that we set foot into Epcot earlier this year – we’ve definitely been a bit lax in the Disney Fanatics arena lately, but nonetheless, at least for the moment it was just nice to be home, so to speak! We ended up just finding a seat on a random bench over between the UK and Canada to wait out our time, and found ourselves a worthwhile alternative to watching the show front and center, if I do say so myself!

Overall, it was a nice and relaxing climax to an incredible vacation, and although the following morning we would need to pack up and finally make the last leg of our journey home, for the time being it was nice to just walk back out the International Gateway to our hotel, kick back and watch a little TV (Willy Wonka was on!), and occasionally peer out our balcony to this awesome, nighttime view of Stormalong Bay…

Wrapping Things Up with a Familiar Face
Who would expect anything less from us, really?!

Our original descent back into the south had actually included us stopping off in South Carolina for a couple of days at the DVC resort there on Hilton Head Island, but it ended up being basically impossible to get reservations for pretty much any length of time during our trip. I even held out during the trip itself and kept checking in hopes that something would open up, but nada. Nonetheless, we had slowly used up the extra time that we were going to spend there in other places anyways, so in the end we just decided for a layover in Orlando on our way back across the state instead.

Beach Club is Awesome
I especially wanted to go back to the Beach Club – it’s where we spent our honeymoon back two falls ago, and I think I’m just really starting to love that resort. The location on the Boardwalk next to Epcot is great, the pool is without argument the best on property aside from the actual water parks, and just the whole ambience around the resort is really relaxed and laid back. Sara and I have talked about buying into a DVC membership ourselves eventually on down the road and at this point, I think the Beach Club would be one of my own top contenders for our home resort.

VIP Check-In
So we arrived probably right around 3pm, which admittedly is a little early – I think regular checkin usually begins at 4pm – and the moment I walked into the lobby, I saw a ton of people waiting in line at the checkin desk already. Not for nothing, but after being on the road for 3 weeks, we really didn’t feel like waiting around to kill time – our plan for that day didn’t really involve any time in the parks, per se, but more so just relaxing around the resort, dinner, and maybe some fireworks. I had a bad feeling that things might not go my way, right up until it was my turn at the desk…

The guy who helped me ended up being super nice and told me that while things were a little short, he would do whatever it took to get me in a room so that we wouldn’t have to wait around for housekeeping to finish up. This alone didn’t surprise me, as I had heard the same line two or three times being told to other guests ahead of me, but who knows what could’ve came available in the last five or ten minutes? Well, as it turned out he ended up coming back two or three times to tell me that he was still working on it until finally he came back with my room portfolio in hand … and a surprise. I tried my best not to beam too much as he explained that we were being upgraded to Club Level, in a room that actually happened to be right down the hall from where we had stayed on our honeymoon!

I’ll admit that I felt a little guilty about it because next to me was a huge family of five or six who clearly needed their room so the kids could take a rest, but … well … we do spend a lot of money over there, so I suppose my guilt didn’t really last all that long…

I’ll admit that this was one time when the driving did seem to get a bit tedious, not so much for the duration, but I think more so because we were running out of awesome things to do in our itinerary and it was becoming more and more clear that our trip was coming to a close. Of course, not far down the road from our hotel was one particular landmark that Sara absolutely insisted that we visit on our way through…

Meet Pedro
Tucked just underneath the delicate line between North and South Carolina, South of the Border is one of those places that has nearly everything that a tourist could desire … assuming that said tourists are after cheap souvenirs, a tank of gas, and some quick photos with the locals, anyways! Apparently this is one of those places that the wife always stopped at when driving between South Florida and New York, much like I always made it a point to take a pitstop at one of those bars where the ladies don’t really wear much, ummmm, nevermind!

The ABCs of this business?! Always Be Comical!
Regardless, it was as good as anyplace else to get out and stretch one’s legs, and Sara got to enjoy a quick bit of nostalgia along the way, too. And of course, as you can see, the colorful backdrop if anything gave me a few more chances to pimp my book while we were there!

Have a ball … with my new book!

Normally it wouldn’t be safe to get this close to the elusive turquoise rhino, but luckily, he’s a bit of a fan…

The hippo, on the other hand – NOT A FAN!!!

More Driving…
Slowly and somewhat reluctantly inching closer to home, the next couple of days of our journey were primarily driving days – still not much more than six hours for either day, and frankly, the next large-scale trip that we do that even remotely resembles this one, that’s precisely how we’re going to do it! Sure, we probably could’ve just drove non-stop and did the next leg from DC to Jacksonville in one day, but man, that would’ve been one hell of a long day…

leaving DC, once we figured out how to get around this huge truck blocking the driveway!

First Stop – Fayetteville, NC
So the main selection criteria for this particular stop was – a) right off the freeway, halfway to Jacksonville; and b) the hotel can’t look like a dump. I mean, sure, we weren’t looking to blow the bank as the trip came to a close, but we’d managed to avoid general hotel creepiness for the past three weeks – no sense in compromising now! As you can see, the room was pretty plain and ordinary, and didn’t exactly offer us floor to ceiling views of anything, but it was a place to sleep that didn’t smell like mold, and really, that was good enough for us.

Then again, they did have complimentary cookies left out for us in the lobby!

plain, but sufficient

An Evening of Mallness
Having gotten in just before the dinner rush, we decided to just keep it low-key that evening. I think I did have some writing to do anyways, so we just took a quick trip out to the local mall and Walmart to pickup a few things, and then returned back to the hotel where Sara went to bed early and I was up toiling with words into the wee hours of the night…

sometimes after a long day of driving, it’s just a simple dinner of cheap Chinese food that really hits the spot

Look Both Ways – a Cautionary Tale
Probably the most interesting happening from our stay in Fayetteville occurred when we were coming back from the mall to our hotel. About a mile or two away, we slowed down to let a forensics truck with its lights flashing pass … as it turns out, he was actually responding to something that had happened directly in front of our hotel. When we got there, using an alternate driveway to get into the parking lot, there were a few on-lookers, but it was really hard to tell what was going on. They had a good portion of the road shutdown, but there weren’t any broken vehicles in sight…

Heading inside, I just asked at random passing by the front desk what had happened, expecting an “I don’t know.” The response that the young girl gave back, however, was anything but that – apparently somebody had gotten hit by a car trying to walk across the street, and she knew this not because she saw it, but because she had checked for the guy’s pulse to see if he had still been alive!!! I guess she ran out to see what had happened and none of the on-lookers would step in because he was pretty well mangled, so she actually reached down to check before going back to call 9-1-1. By now all sorts of flashy lights were on scene and the place was pretty hectic, but I sure as hell couldn’t imagine being the first one around to have to respond to something like that! I would hope that instincts would just kick in and take over, like it sounded like this lady’s did, even though she seemed a bit shaken up by it now, but you know, after the adrenaline wears off from touching a dead person, I’m pretty sure that you’re allowed that.

DC Epilogue
Although basically our single day of being tourists around Washington was long in duration and we were extremely exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel after meeting one of Sara’s friends for dinner, we definitely left feeling like we need to come back at one point to help fill in the gaps of some of the places that we had missed. Just looking at the museums alone, we probably could’ve spent another two or three days, and although we might’ve been able to squeeze an extra day like we had in Niagara, we were also to the point where our feets probably wouldn’t have lasted another day of walking around, and besides, we were inching closer and closer to that time when we would actually have to return back to reality… 🙁

Nonetheless, here’s one last sunset glimpse from the National Mall – DC would be a really pretty place if it wasn’t for all of the politicians!

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