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Our last National Park of the trip- Carlsbad Caverns, NM

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 Can I tell you that it’s absolutely freezing here? I know by the pretty picture above it doesn’t look like it, but it is. Who knew that one day New Mexico could be a beautiful 70 degrees and the next it is struggling to reach 30! I guess it is December…

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We pulled over along the drive into the park so I could prove just how cold it is with these frozen icicles hanging from the cliffs! Brrr… We were happy to get inside the caves to get warm!

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I had booked a Ranger led tour of the Left Tunnel done by only candlelight. It was very different than the mainstream tour we did of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky! I highly recommend that you do a cave tour like this. It only cost $7 for us adults and $3.50 for each of the kids, which is well worth it!

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Unfortunately, we missed the popular nightly Bat flights that happen April through October out of this natural entrance. All the bats have migrated south to Mexico now, but it gives us something to come back here for one day!

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The natural entrance is really cool to see. This hike is more strenuous than just taking the manmade elevator down to the infamous Big Room. The natural entrance and the Big Room are the main hikes included with your National Park admission. There are many other unique hikes you can do for a nominal fee as well.

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We were fortunate to see the hills loaded with desert bighorn sheep and deer on both sides of us as we were driving in and out of the park! So beautiful!

 

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Giving Thanks from the San Antonio KOA…

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I can’t even begin to list all that I am thankful for on this Thanksgiving holiday. Our family has traveled by motorhome over 13,000 miles in 6 months to be here in San Antonio, Texas. My blessings overflow each and every day and I thank our Lord above for all of them. As we find ourselves away from home, family and friends this holiday at the San Antonio KOA, I am grateful for…..

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1. The Simplicity of Camping…

Never has life been so simple for me. Never have I shown up for Thanksgiving dinner in a ponytail, jeans and flip flops with a bowl of heated up mashed potatoes to share. I am the one who makes all of the homemade dishes for this holiday, that we host at our home every year, so this is quite the change! Today I got to walk over to this luncheon with just this dish that I heated up in the microwave. Yep. That’s the way we roll at the campground. I did like that I had a KOA yellow bowl to put them in at least!

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2. Prepackaged yummy food

I found out yesterday when we pulled in here to San Antonio that we needed to bring a dish to the Thanksgiving potluck today. Thank goodness Costco has kept our fridge and freezer stocked with all of their yummy prepackaged dishes, as they have been my lifesaver along this trip. I never, ever buy these types of foods when we are at home and I have never served pre-made mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving before. But, I guess there’s a first time for everything!

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3. Our stay at the 2015 KOA campground of the year

For over 30 years, the staff and owners of this KOA have graciously served all their campers a delicious Thanksgiving feast! We are so grateful, as I had no idea how I was going to cook a turkey in this RV microwave or over a campfire! They let me off the hook as they provided turkey, stuffing, gravy and the campers chipped in for the rest.

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4. The blessing of togetherness! If we were home right now, our family would be split into two. Half of us would be in California at a soccer tournament and half of us would be in Arizona for a hockey one. I know that is our reality that is just around the corner of return for us, but today I am thankful our family is enjoying downtime and Thanksgiving together…. as it should be celebrated!

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5. An after lunch bike ride on the path running alongside the campground and

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6. Watching my happy and healthy kids be active together on the KOA playground!

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7. Knocking off another spot from my Bucket List – the San Antonio River Walk

 This bus stop is just outside the gated entrance to the San Antonio KOA. We hopped on here and took it in to the city to see what we came here for… The Alamo and River Walk. It is always nice when we can get on public transportation right from our campground after driving hours to get here in the first place!

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The Alamo… in all it’s glory and history!

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We strolled all along the River Walk enjoying the scenery, shops and restaurants. The San Antonio Riverwalk has been a spot I’ve always wanted to visit and I would love to come back with just my hubby one day for sure. 

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Thank you to the San Antonio/Alamo KOA for letting us celebrate Thanksgiving with you! We can see why you were chosen as KOA’s 2015 Campground of the Year and we are so thankful for the time that we have here!

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Unique National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas!

The past couple of weeks have definitely felt like winter in the south as we traveled through Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas. Brrr! I’m not going to complain though because we could most certainly be stuck in northern New York right now. Those poor people! But, that’s why we went through that area in August and not November.

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When we planned our route to Arkansas, we decided to go through Hot Springs and check out the National Park. This urban park is like no other that we’ve experienced in the National Park Service system. It is comprised of a series of old-time American spas lined up along what is called Bathhouse Row. You really have to see it, to believe it.

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The Fordyce Bath House is where the Visitor Center is housed and it is just gorgeous. You can take a self guided tour inside to see what an old time american fancy spa used to be like. The kids can also earn a junior ranger badge here and it’s a good way for them to learn the history behind these spas.

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Outside the Visitor Center you can feel the scalding hot thermal mineral waters!

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We were bummed that there is no actual pool that we could sit in outside, like the other hot springs that we’d visited in Montana and Idaho. In order to experience the waters, you have to go to one of two spas that are still in operation. The Buckstaff Bathhouse has been in continuous operation since 1912 and remains the only bathhouse providing the traditional bathing experience in Hot Springs National Park. The minimum age is only 10 to soak in a thermal water tub here. The downside is that it costs $33 and our kids weren’t too keen on the idea of relaxing in a private room by themselves! We weren’t keen on the idea of paying for them to do it either!

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You must be 14 years of age to go to Quapaw, which excluded our family. Of course if the kids weren’t with us, we would’ve probably checked both of these out. So sorry, I can’t report on what they’re like inside! They are all beautiful from the outside though I know!

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There are several nice trails above Bathhouse Row. The Grand Promenade is really pretty and it’s fun just to wander around the town. Cute shops and restaurants line the other side of the Row as well. We loved the feel of the town even if we didn’t get to go to the spa!

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We loved watching the locals show up to these public fountains with all of their huge water jugs to fill. Nobody is buying bottled water around these parts! We took the few items we had in the RV to fill up with the spring water and we were laughing the whole time because we really looked ridiculous with our Tupperware and Aladdin pitchers as well as our tea kettle. But we had a good time and we wanted to grab what water we could while we were there too!

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Our home base was the Hot Springs National Park KOA and we couldn’t have been happier! We hadn’t been to a KOA since we were in Florida, so it was nice to be back to the yellow sign we know and love! This KOA was just a few miles from downtown and the National Park/Bathhouse Row.

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Our spot by the pond was just perfect. I loved that the Arkansas trees still had color, despite the cooler temperatures.

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Tortillas proved to be good bait for Kade and Aidan at this pond, as they were able to fish right outside our front door once again! Thanks to the friendly staff and owners of the Hot Springs KOA for hosting our family for our Arkansas stay! Hope to see you again one day!

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9 ways our family spent time in New Orleans!

New Orleans, Louisiana is one place that has been on my bucket list for awhile. I was so excited to finally get here to check out the Crescent City! New Orleans isn’t necessarily known as a family spot, but I beg to differ. Here are a few ways to enjoy NOLA with kids in tow!

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1. Hang out in Jackson Square – This popular square is a perfect starting point! There is so much to see in just this little area. You can also take a carriage ride tour from here around the French Quarter. Be sure to go into the St. Louis Cathedral. Not only is the architecture gorgeous but this is the oldest cathedral in the United States still in use.

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Musicians, street performers and other local artists surround this beautiful square. Make sure to have plenty of low bills on hand to tip these fun entertainers!

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2. Beignets at Cafe Du Monde – You have no choice but to grab a table on the busy patio at this well known spot and indulge in the city’s infamous french donuts. They come in orders of 3 for under $3. Be sure to indulge in a Cafe au lait or Coffee and Chickory as well! Yes, we made our way here a couple of times.

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3. More beignets at Cafe Beignet- We decided to become beignet connoisseurs during our three days here.  Unfortunately, the day we were here was freezing and rainy, so we didn’t get the live music that normally would accompany your experience here but a few of us did rate these beignets higher than Cafe du Monde. You try them and let us know what you think!

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4. Debris Poboys, Gumbo and Jambalaya at Mother’s on Poydras – It does seem like all we did while visiting New Orleans was eat! There are so many great restaurants and new dishes to try here that you just can’t help yourself! We loved this local eatery for an authentic Creole lunch!

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5. Rock’n’Bowl – This was my favorite thing that we did while visiting New Orleans! We listened to some live Zydeco music as we bowled. Rock’n’Bowl was such a unique place and so much fun! We wanted to find a family friendly spot to listen to some local music and this was just perfect! Admission was $10 per person.

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The fun energy here helped my bowling for sure as I was victorious in our family’s game! It is $24 to rent the lane for up to 6 bowlers for the hour. Shoe rental is just $1.

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6. New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park – Who knew that this little National Park was tucked in the French Market? Be sure to visit it and have the kids earn a junior ranger badge while learning about the history of Jazz music in NOLA. Then you can continue on and shop at all the booths in the French Market.

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7. Louis Armstrong Park/Congo Square – While on the subject of Jazz music, make sure to take a stroll through this park which is on the edge of the French Quarter in the Tremé neighborhood. The beautiful park is dedicated to one of the City’s most celebrated native sons and to the tradition of jazz in the City. It is also very close to the Basin Street Station Visitor Center, which you will want to hit as well!

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This poor area suffered so much devastation at the hands of Hurricane Katrina that it’s no wonder they celebrate the end of hurricane season with concerts and other festivities. They were just setting up for this one in Armstrong Park as we were getting ready to leave.

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8. Ride a historic Streetcar – Riding one of the streetcars here is a fun, unique and inexpensive way to get around certain areas of New Orleans. We took the St. Charles green Streetcar out to see the Garden District, Uptown and the Tulane University campus. It is only $3 for an all day pass to hop on and off the cars.

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9. Good ‘ol Bourbon Street – We had been warned to stay off this famous street with the kids. There isn’t any point in purposely waltzing the children along Bourbon Street to witness insanity! We did have to walk through there to go to Cafe Beignet but it was very tame in the morning rain, so there was no action that day thank goodness.

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BUT, we were walking from Armstrong Park to Jackson Square on our last morning and happened to cross Bourbon Street. This was our view at 9 am. At least it provided us with some last minute laughs. I guess it wouldn’t be New Orleans without a little crazy!

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Our time in Gulf Shores, Alabama!

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OK good, because sometimes I feel guilty when we are taking beach days during this cross country trip. I always feel really good  when we are visiting National Parks, monuments and historical places because I know we’re giving our kids hands on lessons that they would never get sitting in a classroom. And then we come to the coast and sometimes there’s just not anything to do, but head to the beach. Or maybe we are just drawn to the salty air and sand beneath our feet…..

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We were definitely drawn to Gulf Shores, Alabama. I honestly had never even thought about what this area might be like for most of my life. Then I met a friend, in Arizona, who is from Alabama and she always talks about how nice it is here, so I was excited to visit myself. Boy was she right! From the fine white sand beach to the amazing sunset, this could be the prettiest beach that we’ve experienced along our journey.

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There are so many unique and fun family friendly restaurants/bars in this area. I’ve ever seen anything like these places. I have to admit that I expected the area to be a bit cheesy, like most of Florida (notice the italics Florida fans). But, it was far from it! The Hangout was right on the beach and only a 3 block bike ride from our RV Park!

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This place is amazing, just to walk around even. The property is huge and filled with all sorts of fun things to look at inside and out. This sand pile, with a tunnel running underneath, kept the kids loving life!

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Check out our table for dinner here at sunset! You can’t beat that open air view! As you can see, not many people frequent this area in November, which was all the better for us! The food was what you would expect from any beachside grill, but the service was great!

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When the kids started getting cold, the waiter pulled out these skeeters and let the kids ride wild around the place. They had a ball!

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Another spot that our friend Heather recommended was The Gulf. I loved this place right on the water in Orange Beach, which is just east of Gulf Shores.

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Look at this setting! What a beautiful spot to enjoy a sandwich for lunch.

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I hope to definitely come back and experience summer here! We will be back Alabama!

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Our vacation from our vacation on the Norwegian Getaway!

You haven’t heard from your traveling blogger friend here lately, because I’ve been busy. Yes, busy relaxing on the open seas with very expensive wifi. I guess you could say that I have been officially on vacation from our vacation!

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Our family made a last minute decision to jump aboard the Norwegian Getaway cruise ship to surprise my family members that had been planning this cruise together for some time. The Carney circus decided to join them on the ship for the week instead of just meeting up with them for dinner in Miami like we’d talked about. Surprise!!

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Our YOLO (you only live once) decision was because of these people above. My parents, my aunt and uncle, along with my Grandpa and his (dare I say) girlfriend. We made the decision driving down the highway in Georgia when we were discussing if we could make it down to Miami to meet up with them for dinner before their cruise. Then, one of us had the brilliant idea of actually going along on the cruise. So we looked on Vacations To Go to see if there were any last minute deals and of course there was! Although any cruise without having to purchase airfare seems like a deal to our family of 6! We found a campground that let us park Ally B for the week for $75 and off we went to enjoy some fun in the tropical sun with family. I guess you could call it our fall break!

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Uh oh. Cruising and camping are two totally different animals. Camping girl needed some TLC before making her way to a cruise ship! There were dresses, heels and makeup to be worn. This meant Yelping a stranger to highlight my hair in Hollywood, Florida. I couldn’t have been happier with Paul! He did an awesome job! The cruise also gave me an excuse to get my first manicure-pedicure of the trip too! It also meant hitting thrift stores and sales racks to pick up a suitcase and some dinner attire for all of us!

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We didn’t know what to expect from the ship, as we just booked whatever cruise they were on. The ship is brand new this year and it was fabulous! The food and activities were really great. Highly recommend this Norwegian Getaway! Our ports of call were St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Nassau, Bahamas. Nothing new for us as we’ve actually been to all of these islands before, but it’s always fun to return. Here’s how we spent our time in the ports…..

St. Maarten

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We rented an SUV from Hertz right at the cruise terminal here and took off on the other side of St. Maarten to Grand Case Beach. It is gorgeous and very quiet at Grand Case, so it’s awesome to get away from the cruise ship crowds and escape here. We love coming to this beach and collecting sea glass!

St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

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Hair braiding is a must for any girl visiting the Caribbean! Lady Rainbow did a great job from her spot at Vendor’s Plaza in St. Thomas. Braids cost $2 each, but she did Morgan’s hair for just $25. So cute!

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Back on the boat sailing away! Looking out over our Marriott timeshare here that we actually own!

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Unfortunately, we’ve only been here once because St. Thomas isn’t the easiest or cheapest place to get to from Arizona! But, it is a really pretty spot and we hope we can get back here soon.

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Nassau, Bahamas

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Our family didn’t even get off the boat here in Nassau. It was a gorgeous day and we wanted to enjoy the ship without anyone on it! Plus, we had just been to this island last Thanksgiving on Royal Carribean’s Oasis of the Seas with the Carney side of the family!

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The kids favorite thing to do on this ship was the Ropes Adventure course! See Kade, Aidan and a new buddy  walking the plank over the ocean! Check out the view of the infamous Atlantis too! The kids were all over me because I didn’t do the waterslides or the ropes course on the cruise. Who needs any of that when this Momma had a quiet spot with a view like this…

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It felt so good to just sit right here and finally read a book from cover to cover, which I haven’t done since we began this trip! At least everyone knew right where I’d be if they needed me!

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Thanks to our family and Norwegian Getaway for a fabulous week! Back to the open road we go….

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Our day at Kennedy Space Center!

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After St. Augustine, our next Florida stop was Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center! This was an ideal place for our family to visit along this trip, as it combines entertainment with education!

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Make sure you plan to spend the whole day here as there is a lot to take in! We went on a Saturday (which equates to lots of people) so we waited in long lines just to get on the Space Center bus tour.

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It’s on the tour that you can view the launch pads, the vehicle assembly building and the crawler transporter before getting off to visit the Apollo/Saturn V center.

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Wow! There is so much to learn here and the exhibits are amazingly interesting!

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After the tour, we headed to Atlantis and the Shuttle Launch Experience.

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In this building there are a lot of interactive things that the kids enjoyed doing! This fun slide was a big hit for everyone.

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Space Shuttle Atlantis showcases the historic spacecraft that tells the story of NASA’s 30-year Space Shuttle Program.

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Kade and I opted out of doing the Shuttle Launch Simulator Experience, while the others couldn’t wait to go experience what it felt like to actually blast off in a shuttle. With over 60 interactive exhibits and simulators in this building, we kept ourselves quite busy while we waited on them.

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The Rocket Garden just inside the park entrance is awesome!  It’s here that you can travel back in time and history experiencing the very rockets that first put NASA astronauts in space. You can even climb aboard Mercury-Redstone, Gemini and Apollo capsules – and get an idea of the cramped quarters our astronaut pioneers endured, as you can see mine doing here.

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With your admission ticket to KSC, you can also visit the Astronaut Hall of Fame. You are able to visit the Hall of Fame anytime in the following 6 days after your initial entrance into the Space Center. We headed here the next morning so we would be fresh and ready for more learning.

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There are some interactive games and simulators here as well. This was the kids favorite and I think everyone else in the building could tell that as well!

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St. Augustine, Florida Family Fun!

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St. Augustine brings back sweet memories of my family spending spring break vacation time together here as I was growing up. This was my first time seeing the Spanish influence of this historical city through adult eyes. I had forgotten how beautiful it is here and I’m so happy our family of six chose St. Augustine as our first Floridian stop on this trip!

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As soon as we arrived, we headed to the National Monument of the Castillo de San Marcos. We enjoyed a beautiful afternoon at this historic fort before walking around the surrounding cobblestone streets full of shops and restaurants. Don’t miss Costeau’s Waffles and Milkshakes or Hyppo’s Gourmet Popsicles if you come here. These treats ended up substituting as dinner one night. We are on vacation still, right?

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Our second day in St. Augustine was spent at the infamous Alligator Farm Zoological Park. I remembered loving this spot back in the day, so I wanted to take my family here and reminisce. This Zoo has been in existence and ever evolving for over 100 years!

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A zoo visit had not been on our travel agenda until St. Augustine. Zoo’s aren’t really high on our family’s favorites list, but this Alligator Farm is no ordinary zoo! As one of the oldest ones in the country, this spot is quite unique as you can see 23 types of crocodilian in one location.

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For us desert folk, it was fascinating to watch these alligators slowly pile up around one other,  grabbing their spot in the sun.

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The kids enjoyed the swamp area at the back of the park where they could buy alligator food with quarters. The trees were also full of gorgeous birds back here too!

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There are various wildlife shows every hour, which were nice to do in between looking at all of the various birds, mammals and reptiles here. The alligator feeding show at the lagoon was our favorite!

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This albino alligator was so intriguing. We had fun watching the turtles climbing on his back.

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It is also nice and shaded throughout the park, making this a perfect reprieve from the Florida sun! There is also a really cool zip line and aerial course over the park. Unfortunately, we didn’t do it but we did see a lot of people whizzing by us overhead as we walked around the Farm. It looked like they were having a blast! Check it out if you go!

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Our home base while we were here was at the St. Augustine Beach KOA located on Anastasia Island. This was our backyard. Another perfect spot for a little fishing just outside our door!

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Thanks to the St. Augustine Beach KOA and the Alligator Farm Zoological Park for hosting our family during our time here!

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Oh, Savannah!

Who can’t help but be drawn to the old-world charm of Savannah, Georgia? Voted one of the 10 Most Beautiful Places in America by USA Weekend Magazine, it definitely lived up to it’s name! Savannah was our only chosen stop in Georgia.

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We made it our mission to walk the 22 squares and parks of Savannah which are the community’s most beloved icons. These are a couple pictures of beautiful Emmet Park before we headed down to stroll along River Street, with it’s shops and restaurants housed in one-time cotton warehouses.

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This was our view from our lunch spot at Vic’s on The River, which was awesome! Check it out if you get a chance. The ambiance, food and prices were great! Since we’re on the topic of food- we went to Paula Deen’s famous restaurant The Lady & Sons. Can I say mediocre? Skip it.

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We set up camp at the Savannah South KOA and were very impressed with the southern hospitality of the staff here! We enjoyed the 35 acre lake setting where they raise over 40 of their own swans.

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We decided to watch the sunset at Savannah’s beach on Tybee Island.

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Oh the joys of boys. Triplet 13 year old boys to be exact. This is how we spent our evening at Tybee Island. Watching the boys wrestle each other to the ground and loving every minute of it. This boy behavior is so foreign to me, as someone who grew up with just a younger sister. I don’t understand it, but I’m glad my husband, who is the youngest of four boys, does. If you’re a Momma of boys, are you feeling me?

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Have at it boys. Enjoy yourselves while we sit on this swing and enjoy the sunset. I handed my camera over to daughter Morgan to take some pictures so she’d have something to do other than find herself in the male pileup!

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Our time in the Great Smoky Mountains!

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This was our view as soon as we pulled into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park! Elk everywhere! We later learned that this was really rare to see them out like this, so we felt even more blessed for their wonderful welcome into the Park!

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We loved hiking in the Great Smokies and you can see why! We got to hike a few more miles along the Appalachian Trail that runs through here. Our first AT miles hiked were when we were in Harpers Ferry, WV so it was fun to jump on the trail again for a few more miles.

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Our home base while visiting the area was the Cherokee/Great Smokies KOA. We were fortunate enough to be here during their first Halloween weekend celebration! This meant pumpkin decorating contests for the kids… How cute that they came up with a KOA theme on their own.

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After a costume contest, the kids all went around the park trick or treating in the afternoon. It was so fun! My big kids were hesitant, but luckily we’d purchased some new costumes from the Goodwill in Mt. Pleasant, SC so we were all ready. Aidan had to dig into his hockey bag in order to grab his treats!

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This KOA had the first indoor pool that we’ve come across yet! The kids loved coming back after hiking all day in the park to jump in for a warm swim.

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The grounds are just beautiful here!

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This fishing pond at the front of the property is quite popular. You have to get a fishing license though, so it’s a little more serious than the fishing we’ve been doing!

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We even extended our stay here in Cherokee one more night so we could enjoy some whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. We chose a guided excursion with Adventurous Fast Rivers Rafting and loved it! It was the companies last day of the season so we lucked out!

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Now it’s time to talk laundry. There has certainly been no escaping this task while on the road. It has been very interesting acclimating to keeping up with the dirty laundry along the trip. We do have a stackable washer and dryer in our motorhome, Ally B, that I am so very thankful for. But, with a family of six it’s sometimes way too much and is just easier to head to the laundry mat.

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The positive thing is that every KOA has one. The downside is that they can be busy and sometimes not too appealing. Doing laundry side by side with strangers is not my idea of a good time, but you do what ya gotta do when you are living at the campground. In Cherokee, I spent my Saturday night right here. I planned my laundry time right in the heat of the Halloween festivities at this KOA as I figured I’d be the only one in here and I was right.

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These washers were only $1 for a load too, which is the cheapest I’ve come across! It’s usually $2. It’s the little things people! I am now a laundry mat connoisseur. Who would’ve thought? I used to collect quarters for my parking meters in downtown Chicago and now I gather them just to get the clothes clean. Gotta love life’s journey!

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Hope you are enjoying your October and all that Fall has brought your way!

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