Branson-Missouri-KOA-Campground

What’s summer break without a little camping action? We have such a fondness for our KOA brand after their sponsorship of our RV Family Sabbatical in 2014! KOA put us up for a couple of nights at their Branson, Missouri location after picking up our foursome from Kanakuk Summer Camp. It felt good to be back with the yellow shirts we know and love!

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Manager Angie Dickerson with new Branson KOA owners Greg and Karen Wright.

At the Branson KOA, you can expect super friendly staff who are there to help you from the moment you check in to the park. They will also be in the convention center serving up free pancakes every summer morning. This perk is a huge bonus for our large breakfast loving family!

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Not only did we love going for our complimentary morning pancakes, but our commute to breakfast was quite short. This was the view after walking out the door after stuffing ourselves- our home sweet home on wheels, Ally B.

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Our premium RV site was just perfect and we had a lot of room outside to sort through all of the kids’ trunks and bags after picking them up from camp.

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The Branson KOA is in a beautiful location just half a mile from all of the action on the main street. The pool was a well-loved spot during our days there. Adjacent to the pool was the beloved laundry room that I spent lots of time in getting all of the kids camp laundry done. I don’t know what I would’ve done if we were in a hotel with all of the stinky and wet clothes that they brought back with them! The KOA was the perfect place for us to regroup and unwind together before heading back home to Arizona.

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The Branson Main Street traffic is crazy! It is always bumper to bumper like this as most of the live shows, attractions, and restaurants lie along this road. Remember patience is a virtue and there are plenty of shortcuts from the KOA to keep you off this road! Branson is a unique family vacation destination known as the “Live Music Show Capital of the World.” I’m sorry to say that our family didn’t actually head to any of the shows this visit. KOA will recommend their favorites and can get you discounted tickets right there at the campground. Our family headed to Silver Dollar City Theme Park as well as did some go-karting at the Track and mini-golfing at the coolest Hollywood themed course we’ve ever been to! Check out my posts on the not to be missed Sunday brunch at College of the Ozarks and the tour of Top of the Rock as well.

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RV-Family-Travel-Camping

Camping season is upon us! More people than ever are taking off to the great outdoors and enjoying time in nature with their loved ones.

Whether you’re out there enjoying the great outdoors in your RV or dreaming of doing so, here are some tips I learned along our journey traveling around the USA!

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1. Bring along hotel shower caps

Most campgrounds, unfortunately, come with bugs. Bring along hotel shower caps to cover your dishes for your outdoor meals! Don’t forget your cute, water-stain resistant table cloth too.

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2. Use old comforter bags to store kids shoes

We used old comforter plastic zippered bags to store our dirty shoes while we were driving to keep dirt out of the motorhome.

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3. Buy (or make your own) shower lanyards

These shower lanyards were a lifesaver for our kids to take to the campground showers!

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4. Get plastic baskets for each individual

Keep your RV bathroom clean and toughen up the kids by sending them to those campground showers! Get plastic baskets for each child to take with them containing their own shower lanyard, pajamas, and towel. Be sure to get a different colored towel for each kid too.

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5. Bring along the crockpot 

Long day on the road? Put dinner in the crockpot to cook in the sink while you’re driving, so it’s all ready for when you arrive.

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6. Use a foam pool noodle in your closet

Forget buying the expensive RV hangers! Cut a pool noodle in half and wedge it on top of your hangers so that clothes don’t fall off in your closet while you’re driving.

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7. Make a clothesline out of rubber bands

Make a simple clothesline to dry clothes outdoors or inside your RV. This clothesline is amazing because it’s flexible and takes up no room to store!

Want to make one? Check out how HERE!

Happy Summer! Happy Camping!

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What are some of your favorite tips when traveling by RV?

Top-of-the-Rock-Ozarks-Branson-Missouri

Our two favorite places we found when visiting Branson, Missouri were the College of the Ozarks and our adventure at Top of the Rock. Ok- neither of them are exactly in Branson, but just on the southern edge.

At Top of the Rock, we took a self-driven tour by golf cart along beautiful paved paths and through Lost Canyon Cave. Not only is there an amazing waterfall inside the four-story cave, but there is a bar where you can toast to your once in a lifetime journey. The last tour does leave an hour or so before sunset and the bar was closed when we got to the cave, so you may want to head out a little earlier if you want to experience that.

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We enjoyed seeing some deer and other little critters along the way. Be sure to bring a sweater or jacket if you head out in the evening as I was freezing, even in the humidity! It didn’t help that we got caught in some rain along our journey.

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You will experience the beauty of waterfalls, natural rock formations and covered bridges along the trail ride.

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The views of Table Rock Lake are incredible from the top! You will have to pay a $10 fee just to drive into Big Cedar Lodge (if you are not staying there) where Top of the Rock is located. You do receive a $10 credit toward anything you spend up top though. We put it toward our tickets for our cart excursion, which run $25 each. Kids under 12 are half price.

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After our tour, we took a shuttle up to Arnie’s Barn for dinner and to enjoy the scenery from up there. The Chapel of the Ozarks is stunning as well as the golf course that it sits on! So happy we found this place and highly recommend you checking it out if you find yourself in the area!

College-of-the-Ozarks

After dropping our kids off at summer camp in Branson, Missouri it was time to explore the Ozark region and check out what the area had to offer. At a time when there is much talk about what is wrong with the nation, College of the Ozarks, exemplifies what is right with America.

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Founded in 1906, the College of the Ozarks is home to 1,500 students who work, rather than pay, for a quality liberal arts-based education. All students who are admitted to C of O must demonstrate financial need, academic ability, sound character, and a willingness to work. 65% of these students come from the Ozarks region. One of the places for students to work is at The Keeter Center.

Located at the entrance to the campus, Dobyn’s Dining Room is in the Keeter Center’s Mabee Lodge. Not only can you enjoy lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch here, but you can stay in one of 15 suites in the Lodge as well. If you don’t have time for a full meal stop in and enjoy a treat from the bakery or ice cream parlor just outside Dobyn’s.

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We were fortunate enough to have made reservations in advance for the Sunday brunch! As soon as you walk into the dining room you are greeted with this scrumptious assortment of desserts. Behind this table was the student musician playing piano throughout the meal and then just beyond him is a homemade root beer float stand. The room is full of various food options!

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This is by far the best brunch we’ve had and for only $25 is a deal. Plus, you get to chat with your student server about the College and learn about his or her experience there. Our server, Graham, told us about how he is working the summer program to pay for his room and board for the school year. On top of his full accounting course load in the fall, he will have to work 15 hours a week on campus to pay for his tuition.

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After brunch, we decided to walk off the calories with a stroll around the patriotic campus. Be sure to walk all the way behind the Williams Memorial Chapel to the Point Lookout for a fabulous view of the Ozarks!

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I just love the college’s slogan of Hard Work U. All of the signage throughout campus is inspiring!

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Since we were here on a summer Sunday, the campus was very quiet as everything is closed and very few students are around. There is a College Dairy, Fruitcake and Jelly Kitchen, Edwards Mill and various other attractions to tour if you come on a weekday. The students also run a farmers market every Friday!

Have you ever been to this special place? We can’t wait to bring the kids here after we pick them up from camp!

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Some people take a road trip around the country visiting all the baseball parks or seeking out infamous burger stands everywhere they go. Our family sought out the top doughnut spots across the country during our motorhome travels. It’s a good thing that my scale was broken when we returned home because it’s best I didn’t know how many pounds this little adventure brought on.

In honor of National Doughnut Day, here are our top doughnut spots around the USA! 

1. Fractured Prune Doughnuts-  Phoenix, Arizona

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Gotta start with our hometown hero, Fractured Prune. This Maryland based franchise offers a fun variety of toppings for your cake doughnuts. You mark your selections beforehand, hand them in and wait on your freshly baked goods. These hot, fresh, made to order treats taste a lot like your typical mini donuts with whatever gourmet toppings you have chosen such as French Toast or Key Lime Pie.

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2. Glazed Gourmet – Charleston, South Carolina

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In this post about my trip to Charleston, I mentioned how luscious the doughnuts are here at Glazed Gourmet. Hands down Glazed Gourmet is my winner of the tastiest donuts from our US travels. I’m still thinking about this place on upper King Street!

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3. Top Pot Doughnuts – Seattle, Washington

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There are several locations of Top Pot Doughnuts in Seattle! The glazed old fashioned may look familiar as this company originally made the donuts for Starbucks.

4. Astro Doughnuts- Washington, D.C.

No pictures of this one even though we made our way here twice! I wasn’t a huge fan, but my family loved the donuts served with fried chicken. I would say that it’s an interesting concept and for sure to check it out. You’ll have walked enough in this city to earn yourself a sweet treat and it can quality for lunch when you add the infamous protein too!

5. Blue Dot Donuts- New Orleans, Louisiana

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Yes, New Orleans is known for its own special doughnut, the beignet. Of course, our family had our share of those in the French Quarter before heading off to seek out Blue Dot Donuts! It’s a small place offering not very unique flavors, but definitely delicious nonetheless.

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Visit-arlington-cemetary

On this 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, today is the day that we as Americans show our respect and honor all veterans who have given their lives to preserve, protect and defend our freedoms. Memorial Day is a time to truly appreciate and reflect on the sacrifices of war.

The Washington D.C. area is home to a majority of the USA’s top war memorials. No land in America is more sacred than Arlington National Cemetery. Our family had the chance to visit our Nation’s burial grounds during our motorhome journey around the United States. The 150 year old cemetery, across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, is the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans and their families.  “Service to country” is the common thread that binds all who are honored and remembered here.

Arlington Cemetary

Did you know that…

  • Arlington is the only national cemetery to hold the remains of those who fought in every war in U.S. History.
  • Americans everywhere are encouraged to pause at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day as a National Moment of Remembrance. Take one minute to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all.
  • Nearly 4,000 former slaves are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • There are only two U.S. presidents who have been laid to rest here- John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft.
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The eternal flame denotes President Kennedy and wife Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ gravesites, about halfway up the hill on which Arlington House stands. The grave was placed so that it had a view of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, and was aligned with them. (You can see that view in the last photo in this post.)

  • Arlington House, at the top of the hill, is currently a memorial for Robert E. Lee and run by the National Park Service. Junior Ranger booklets are available for children.
  • The partial remains of the seven astronauts who died aboard the Space Shuttler Challenger are buried here as well.
  • Soldiers plant flags in front of every tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend. The tradition is known as “Flags-In.”
  • Nearly 5,000 unknown soldiers are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days per year by The Old Guard. There is an elaborate ritual to change the guard every 1/2 hour (every hour beginning Oct. 1).

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Arlington National Cemetery is a beautiful, yet solemn place to visit. If you are taking the kids, remember that there are sections of the cemetery where they will need to be completely silent out of respect.  The cemetery is very large and the main sites are not right next to one another. Wear comfortable shoes and plan to spend a few hours walking along paved roads and sometimes up hills. You may purchase bus tour tickets at the welcome center if you’d rather get around that way. Before your visit get the ANC Explorer App for a self guided tour or to locate gravesides and places of interest.

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At Arlington National Cemetery, we Americans are reminded of the service and sacrifice of those who have defended and protected our freedoms. Happy Memorial Day to all of you!

Where can you take a well-traveled girlfriend to celebrate a milestone birthday?

Charleston, South Carolina proved to be the perfect place! Spring in “Chucktown” is fabulous as the weather is gorgeous and the city is bustling.

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Charleston is simply charming with its cobblestone streets, carriage lanterns and colorful, centuries-old homes. Loads of shopping, visiting historic houses of worship and eating fresh seafood along the harbor are also perks to coming to the Low country. Charleston is an amazingly walkable city too.

Here are 6 must do’s when you visit this city of southern sophistication!

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1. TAKE A CARRIAGE RIDE

Begin your visit to Charleston by taking a horse-drawn carriage tour of the city. Don’t be overwhelmed with the number of companies to chose from as they seem to be on every corner. We were very happy with our tour with Charleston Carriage Works. A one hour tour will cost $25 a person but you can always search for deals and coupons online.

2. BROWSE THE CHARLESTON CITY MARKET

Walk through this historic market as it is the cultural heart of the city. As one of the nation’s oldest public markets, you will find everything from local produce to antiques. It would have been the perfect place to buy my friend her birthday present from, but I had already chosen from a range of beautiful necklaces I’d seen at Adina’s Jewels before the trip. She loved it and that’s the important thing. It’s fun to hear the dialect of the Gullah ladies as they weave and sell handmade sweetgrass baskets here. We enjoyed sampling different treats and loved our time wandering around the Charleston City Market! The Market is open every day of the week from 9:30-5:30 and it’s also open on special evenings as well.

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3. TAKE A HISTORIC PLANTATION TOUR

History buffs will relish all the choices of historical plantations to visit in Charleston. We chose to tour Middleton Place which is a preserved 18th-century rice plantation on the Ashley River and is also home to the oldest landscaped gardens in America.

Ticket prices are $28 for adults which includes admission to the National Historic Landmark as well as self-guided tours of the Gardens and Plantation Stableyards, a guided Garden Overview, “Meet the Breeds” and “Beyond The Fields” walking tours.

From experience, we recommend renting a car for the day you want to visit the Plantation. We took a cab to Middleton Place and it was very difficult to get one to come back out and pick us up. We had to wait awhile plus we spent more in cab fare than it would’ve cost to rent the car. Renting a vehicle for the day is easy at the Enterprise not too far up the street from the Visitors Center. You can head over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge to explore Mt. Pleasant and fit in beach time if you rent your own wheels for the day!

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4. BOOK A COOKING CLASS

Our Taste of the Lowcountry lunch class at Charleston Cooks was a highlight to our time in Charleston. Neither of us is a gourmet chef but we had a lot of fun watching, learning and especially tasting the meal of shrimp and grits followed by banana cream pie. Tickets for this are $29 and can be booked online.

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5. STAY AT THE HARBOURVIEW INN

I will be honest the HarbourView Inn was not my first or even second choice for our lodging while in Charleston. We happened to have planned our girlfriend getaway on a very busy weekend and lots of places were already booked. My friend and I couldn’t have been happier with the HarbourView Inn, even though it was a little more costly than where we originally had planned to stay. It was worth it as our room was spacious and the beds were extremely comfy.

We started every morning off on this rooftop deck where our breakfast, which was included with our stay, was delivered to us. We also enjoyed the complimentary happy hour each afternoon as well. The location was perfect and we were able to walk to everything that we wanted to from here.

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6. SHOP and EAT ‘TIL YOU DROP

OK, so maybe eating and shopping should be number one on the list because it is a big reason why we came here to Charleston. King Street, in historic downtown, has been named one of the 10 Best Shopping Streets in the Country and I have to agree. There are so many unique boutiques as well as some of the mainstream favorites to enjoy. If you need a sugary pick me up, stop in Glazed Gourmet donuts on north King. I had the most amazing Salted Carmel Apple donut here and I’m still dreaming about it!

What do you recommend to do when visiting charming Charleston?

Looking for an educational experience for all the family to enjoy?

 Biosphere 2 is an active scientific-research facility located just north of Tucson, Arizona. Our family decided to take the 90-minute drive south to see what this scientific phenomenon was all about!

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The world-renowned Biosphere 2 was created to better understand how natural environments generate conditions appropriate for life.

B2 is the largest closed system ever created and was once home to live-in mission teams who explored the workings of Biosphere 1 (the Earth) by living here for almost two years. The University of Arizona now runs public tours to help pay for the facility and support education programs like summer camps and teacher development.

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Guided Walking Tours are offered every 30-45 minutes daily from 9:30- 4 p.m. The 75-minute tour is the only way you can go inside and explore Biosphere 2’s simulated tropical rain forest as well as the ocean, savannah, and coastal fog desert biomes. If you are an active family, you will find the 1-mile journey very easy.

There are quite a few stairs and the tour begins a short walk from the admission center, so do wear comfortable walking shoes. We were told it would be very hot and humid inside, but that wasn’t the case for us at all. We were actually very cold, so I suggest wearing layers so you are comfortable!

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Admission is $25 for adults and $15 for kids 5 to 17.

Save your ticket stubs, as they are partially tax-deductible since you are supporting research!

June is Great Outdoors Month and the perfect time to reminisce about the amazing National Parks we were able to visit on our motorhome family sabbatical around the USA. If you haven’t made your summer plans yet, think about heading to Zion National Park in Utah. It was our family’s favorite because of the beautiful hiking we were able to do!

Family Hikes in Zion National Park

Tips for Hiking With Your Kids in Zion National Park

Personal vehicles are not allowed throughout Zion in the summertime, so you will have to park at the Visitor’s  Center and board one of these free shuttle buses. We learned a lot about Utah’s First National Park through the narration on board, which was a bonus.

Family Hikes in Zion National Park

There are approximately 18 different hiking trails to choose from here in Zion.  The three that we chose to do in our first National Park visit were- the Narrows, Emerald Pool Trails and Weeping Rock.

THE NARROWS

The Narrows hike was spectacular and a definite highlight of our entire 6-month trip!  We highly recommend doing this if you’re up for it!

Family Hikes in Zion National Park

WEEPING ROCK

It is a pretty short, but steep climb up to Weeping Rock. The kids enjoyed cooling off in the dripping water.

Family Hikes in Zion National Park

EMERALD POOLS

Lower Emerald Pool trail is a beautiful low key hike! It is definitely tougher to reach Upper Emerald Pool trail especially when it’s hot out, but we were glad we did it!

What other family hikes have you enjoyed in Zion National Park?

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You’ve seen the pictures and you know all about the iconic Mount Rushmore National Memorial located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, but have you taken your family to visit here yet? If not, planning to bring your family to this attraction could be a trip to remember! This was one of the greatest places we visited along our RV trip across America.

Here are some tips to help you when planning your visit to Mount Rushmore.

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  • Plan to come as soon as the Memorial opens at 8:00 am. We got some amazing photos in front of the memorial before the crowds arrived. The lighting on the Monument is best in the morning as well.
  • Your National Parks annual pass is not needed here as the entrance is free.
  • Parking does cost $11 but allows you unlimited entry to the Memorial for the calendar year.

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  • This masterpiece, blending art and nature, is far more than a tourist attraction. The National Monument is open year-round closed only on Christmas Day. We loved walking through the Avenue of Flags displayed in alphabetical order.

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  • The 1/2 mile Presidential Trail begins at Grand View Terrace, travels to the base of the mountain, past the Sculptor’s Studio and loops back to the Grand View Terrace. The second half of the trail does include approximately 450 stairs.

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  • The outdoor amphitheater just behind the information center holds many ranger programs. In the early morning, it’s a peaceful place to sit and read the history behind what you are looking at!
  • Be sure to have your kids pick up their free Junior Ranger activity booklets at any information desk in order to receive a badge upon completion.

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  • Be sure to come back in the evening too for a totally different experience. The Evening Lighting Ceremony is an inspirational program focusing on the presidents, patriotism and our nation’s history. Beginning with a ranger talk, the program includes a short film and culminates in the lighting of the sculpture. The program begins at 9 p.m. early in the summer and at 8 pm in August and September. Check here for correct times.

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  • We saw this flyer in town and decided to make our way to the monument for a 3rd time- for Sunday morning worship service. It was an amazing morning! Check out Christian Ministry in the National Parks to see what they are all about!

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Come visit George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln here in the Black Hills of South Dakota. You will be amazed at the beauty and serenity of Mount Rushmore in person!