Now that I've had a few days to recover, I can write up my vacation.
We started out around noon on Thursday, Jan 4th. I packed up the minivan that morning, packed the kids in, and away we went. Ahead of us was about 1200 miles and 22 hours of driving. My wife and I were equipped with an XM Satellite Radio, an iPod, and a laptop with EvDO wireless internet. The kids had a DVD player and a whole mess of DVDs.
The first stop was dinner in south Jersey, just short of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. As noted in my last JE, we were making most of our stops at Cracker Barrels. My wife and I are both dieting, and it isn't hard to make good choices from the Cracker Barrel menu. The food is a lot better than McDonald's or the other fast food choices, the atmosphere is kid friendly, and the prices are really low.
After dinner, I switched off and drove for the next stretch through Delaware, Maryland, around DC, and into northern Virginia. Unfortunately we hit this area around the evening rush, so we had to fight traffic.
After a batchroom/gas break, we changed the kids into PJs and headed back out. I got my first good nap while my wife drove to the North Carolina border. Then we switched again and I got us across North Carolina and into South Carolina.
My wife drove across South Carolina. We got stopped for speeding in Yamassee, SC. We were clocked doing 82 in a 70. Fortunately my wife had just slowed down after seeing a car ahead with its hazards on. She couldn't tell if it was on the shoulder or not, so she slowed from 100 to 82! The cop figured out the kids were sleeping in their seats, and managed to do the traffic stop without waking them. I think he felt bad for us, since he gave us a $25 seat belt violation instead of the $100 speeding plus points violation.
I drove across Georgia and into Florida. We had breakfast at another Cracker Barrel near St. Augustine. Our accommodations in Orlando weren't available until 4 PM, so we headed to the Kennedy Space Center and spent half the day there.
The kids really had a good time at KSC. They had dressed as astronauts for Halloween, and we took their orange NASA flight suits with us. We took a whole bunch of great photos of them in real space capsules. A big part of the KSC is the bus tours of the actual launch facilities. We didn't bother with those since the kids just wanted to run around after being strapped down for so long.
Then we made the hour and a half trip to Orlando. We were staying at the Liki Tiki, which I'd highly recommend for families with kids. The Liki Tiki is about 6 miles west of the Disney main gates on Rt 192. It has 1 and 2 bedroom timeshare condos, equipped with full kitchens, in room laundry, etc. It isn't a five star resort, but the place is clean and comfortable, plus there are several pools and a small water slide park right on the premises.
The best part, however, is that it is economical. We stayed 7 days in a two bedroom unit for only $350, or $50 a night. On top of that the kitchen is a huge benefit, especially when traveling with kids. The last thing we needed was to try to get an 18 month old and a kid a little less than 4 into a restaurant 3 times a day. In the morning, we could make some eggs or some pancakes and then go straight to the park. In the evening, we could come home and make some mac and cheese or a frozen pizza instead of trying to make two exhausted kids sit still in a restaurant.
BTW, there is a Publix supermarket about another mile west on Rt 192. In the same strip mall is a Papa John's Pizza and a surprisingly good Chinese takeout place. About another mile to the end of Rt 192, then a few hundred feet north on US 27 is a Walmart. Less than $100 in groceries took care breakfast and most dinners for the entire week. That is tons better than we would have spent in just a few days.
In addition, the laundry is a great benefit too. We didn't need to travel with a full week's worth of cloths, only a few days. Makes it easier to pack. I'd do a load or two of laundry every few nights and we were set to go. I also hate coming home with a pile of laundry, so it was nice come home with clean cloths.
After checking in and unpacking, we did go out for dinner. There is a large resort hotel just outside the Disney gates called the Gaylord Palms. The hotel has a huge atrium divided into three zones, representing three areas of Florida. One was themed around St. Augustine, one around the Everglades, and one around Key West. Each zone has walking paths, plants and animals representative of the area, etc, as well as a restaurant. We had dinner at Key West, at a seafood place aboard a sailboat floating in a small lagoon inside the atrium. It was a little expensive but worth it.
The first full day, Saturday, we spent the day at the Magic Kingdom. The kids had a blast, but my younger one isn't used to sleeping in the stroller and had a meltdown. We went back to our condo in mid-afternoon to let him nap, then we all went swimming. It was in the 80s so this was a nice relief form the heat. After dinner, we went to MGM. Most of the attractions suitable for preschool level kids weren't open in the evening, but we got to scout out the place some.
Sunday we went to Animal Kingdom. The Safari is an really great ride, BTW. We had a good time there, but again it was hot so we went back to go swimming in the mid-afternoon. In the evening we went to Epcot for a bit.
A quick hint about Epcot: As you enter the nations area, Mexico is the first nation on the left. There is a restaurant there with outside seating right next to the lake. Grab a table there about an hour before the fireworks and watch the whole thing sitting down.
On Monday we went back to Animal Kingdom. This day was really chilly. It made it to about 60, but the wind was really brisk. We didn't have enough heavy sweatshirts with us to deal with the wind, so we had to buy some.
Tuesday we went to the Magic Kingdom. The highlights today were the Indy Racers and the ever popular Pirates of the Carribean. The ride has been modified to include Captain Jack Sparrow. The modifications were well done. Traditionalists will not be disappointed. I wish I could say the same for the Tiki Room.
On Wednesday, we split our time between MGM and Epcot. We enjoyed several shows at MGM, especially since they involved the characters the kids watch on the Disney Channel. The kids got to meet the Little Einsteins, for instance. The behind the movies and the special effects tours were really fun too. By today, my youngest had figured out how to sleep in the stroller, so we were able to spend the full day there. The "Soaring" attraction at Epcot is a must-ride. Basically it is a large IMAX screen that shows images of hang gliding around California while you sit in an articulated seat, your legs dangling. The sensation of actually flying is accentuated by little touches - getting squirted with a few droplets of water, for instance, while you glide a few feet above the crashing surf of Monterey. You need to be 40 inches tall to ride, and my oldest is about 39.999 inches. In order to ride, he stood under the height requirement bar and the attendant tried to slide a credit card between the bar and his head. The card got stuck and he got to ride.
Thursday we went to the Magic Kingdom again. In the evening we had dinner at the Crystal Palace while Winnie the Pooh and Tiger wandered about. Then we watched the electric light parade and the fireworks.
Friday we packed up and drove to Homosasa, Florida, a town about an hour north of Tampa on the Gulf Coast. My wife has an Aunt and Uncle that live there and we visited for a day and a half, mostly relaxing and swimming in their pool.
Saturday after dinner we packed up and headed on out. The only highway near Homosassa goes in the wrong direction, so we needed to drive smaller roads up to Gainesville before we were able to get to an interstate. A significant chunk of this drive is along a stretch that has lots of deer activity so we needed to stay extra alert just after dark.
My wife drove from Homosassa to Gainesville, then I did the next leg up to Georgia. We switched of again and she got most of the way into South Carolina. I drove most of South Carolina, then she did much of North Carolina.
I drove the last third of North Carolina, then in Virginia we headed toward Williamsburg. My wife's college roommate is a grad student at William and Mary, and was just married a few months earlier. We met her and her new husband for breakfast at a place called "Aromas", which is jsut about a block from the Wren building, the original building for William and Mary, and still in use by the college. We let the kids run aroudn a bit before setting off again.
After that my wife drove to Northern Virginia, I brought us through DC - a wrong turn put us on I-395 into the city rather than going around, so I just kept going up to New York Ave and back out rather than backtrack. Then she drove us through Baltimore and I did Jersey and back home to New York.
We got home around 8PM. The return trip as about 26 hours total, including the extended stop in Williamsburg.
If anyone is in the market for a good family vehicle, the Honda Odyssey is a great choice. Last year we did this trip in a rented Chrysler minivan and the difference was astounding. We were so much more comfortable in the Honda. In addition, the Honda held the road well at speed, the Chrysler did not do well in a crosswind. The seats were more comfortable, there is a lot more storage space, and it is easier to sleep across the back bench. We were extremely satisfied with the Honda.