Posted in: Animal Sightings, Campground Review, Food, Frequently Asked Questions, Hiking, Internet, Maintenance, Newbie Tips, School, Sightseeing

How We Pick Out A Campground (Frequently Asked Questions)

There are a ton of campgrounds out there and it can be overwhelming trying to find the “best” one to call home! They range from independent places, chains (like KOA and Thousand Trails), city owned, state owned, and federally owned. Some only accept military/retired military, some only accept Class A’s, and some have age limits on the RVs or the people they let in. A lot of places also have dog restrictions based on breed.

We have a few things that we always look for in a campground: location to sightseeing, internet, full hook-ups, and a laundry room. Our biggest one is a good internet connection for school and work. There are a few different websites that I visit to check reviews: campgroundreviews.com, GoodSam, and Campendium are my first ones. After those, I will go to Yelp/Google Map reviews (make sure to type RV Campground or RV Resort, not just campground as you will get results that will not work with RVs or may not have hook-ups), and then to Facebook for the RV groups to see if anyone has stayed there before.

Our favorite RV Campground Review Sites

I always check multiple review sites, especially for internet issues, but sometimes you still don’t get it right. For example, the Garden of the Gods RV review stated that our 3 providers worked. However, when we checked in, there was a note with our paperwork saying AT&T did not work in the park. This wasn’t mentioned on the campground’s website at the time. (This is just one of the reasons why we have three internet providers!)

I also try to read about the general campground conditions (sites, roads, etc.). If a lot of reviews with bigger RVs say that sites or internal roads were tight or not well maintained, I will pass on that campground. We’ve even double checked the reviews on the way to a campground and changed our plans last minute based on the current conditions. Conditions of campgrounds can change frequently. For example, when we booked one Texas site, it had decent reviews. On the drive there, we were reading the reviews from the last week and it was filled with reports of sewage problems throughout the campground (eww!), so we frantically searched and found a new campground to stay in. The most recent one was a change due to a review saying the T-Mobile signals were weak. T-Mobile is where most of our working internet comes through. We have some hotspot data through our cell phones, but the T-Mobile hotspot is the workhorse.

Campground amenities can also be a big indicator for the nicety of a park, although not always. There doesn’t seem to be a regulation on who can call themselves a RV Resort vs a campground, so reading reviews are important! We had one Thousand Trails claim to be a resort and they only had a laundry room and a walking trail. Nothing else was available or was broken and the sites and roads needed some upkeep. On the other hand, we had a Thousand Trails in Orlando that lived up to the resort title with many amenities and things to do.

An on-site laundry is also a requirement for us, as we do not have a washer/dryer on our travel trailer.

We have learned to always check (recent) reviews across the different review sites. It can be worth spending the extra money to get a nicer campground, especially for longer stays.

Posted in: Hiking, Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

Visiting Yorktown, Virginia (National Park Service)

We did it. We completed the triangle!

We went to Yorktown with our friends who were visiting for the weekend, the Piatt’s. I can honestly say that I don’t think any of us had high expectations (except for Will). However, we were pleasantly surprised. The Visitor Center was partially open for the bookstore/gift shop. The store had the passport stamps, but did not have any pieces of paper to use if you forgot your passport (or use in your journal like we do). You could buy a sticker sheet for $0.95 (+tax) to stamp though. All the kids got a Junior Ranger Program booklet to work on. A lot of the museums and houses were closed due to COVID, but there is a free audio app that you can download. The app has some information on different sites in town, as well as the two driving tours.

Monument, Visitor Center

We walked into the town from the Visitor Center using a nice paved path. It wasn’t a long walk; I think they said 456 yards. We saw the Statue of Liberty, not to be confused with the one in New York. It was a super cute little town with some shops and a coffee shop, and the Historical plaques that Will had missed seeing in Williamsburg.

We stopped at the artists shop at York Hall and found a few nice pieces. Ben found a colorful quilt. It was History Day, so there were a few demonstrations in the front of the Hall, including some children’s games.

We walked down to the waterfront and saw the beach area. There were a few sections of beach and a fishing pier. It was pretty crowded, so we didn’t get near the water.

There are two driving tours you can take in Yorktown: the red (Battlefield, 7 miles) and the yellow (Allied Encampment, 9 miles). After circling back to the Visitor Center, we got into our cars and took the red driving tour. I had downloaded the audio app, so we were able to go to each stop, park in the lot, and listen to the tour. There are parking spots, so you can also get out to look at things and read the historical informational signs.

Yorktown was a neat area with a mix of history, beach fun, and shopping. It ended up being one of my favorite places to visit while in Williamsburg. (In fact, we went to the town twice!)

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: $15/adults, $0/child (ages 0-15), Free with Interagency or Annual Pass. COVID Restrictions: masks required, some buildings closed
  • HOURS: Bookstore/Gift Shop Tuesday-Sunday 10:00am-4:00pm
  • PARKING: Some parking near town and at Visitor Center
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Animal Sightings, Hiking, Museums & Tours, School, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

Colonial Williamsburg (Virginia)

Hey guys, this is another blog post by Will! Today I am here to talk about the amazing world of Historic Williamsburg! We visited Williamsburg with our friends the Piatts and had a great time. To start out with you will want to park your car, and then walk to the left of the building towards the side. You might see a shuttle there and if so you can get on that to get over to Historic Williamsburg. If not, you can take the path up ahead which is the cooler option in my opinion. You can see the plantation they recreated which includes a windmill that not only has rotating blades but the body also rotates as well to get more wind flow. The body part had to be manual though.

Once you get to Williamsburg you can explore whatever you want. A lot of the stores and shops are open and it is free to walk around if you haven’t decided on buying a ticket yet. We had prepaid for tickets however so we were good to go. We skipped the governor’s house right off because of the huge line and instead went to a historic house which had been left standing for all those years. It had a parlor, a guest bedroom, an office, and a socializing room on the first floor. In the back they had sheep and the kitchen. This was also where we saw our first tradesman a cooper. Williamsburg has many occupations in the town which make all of the different things that they sell and even construct some of the buildings. The coopers for those who didn’t know, were people who made buckets and barrels by putting iron rings around individual pieces of wood.

After we left the house we started wandering towards the armory, looking at all of the different things around the town. Once we got there we first saw the shoemakers. They, as you can probably tell, make shoes and told us all about it. The lady in the front was very helpful and told us that a skilled shoemaker could make 1 shoe in a 12-hour day. She also told us master shoemakers were expected to make 7 shoes in 6 days. She said that most men wore black shoes because they were the fashion of the day and that they were also easier to keep clean and fix. There was more variety in women’s shoes with some being made of different material and colors, but for men it was mostly black leather shoes.

Next, we went to the blacksmith which was right next to the shoemakers. There was another woman standing there with two men in the shop, one pumping the bellows and the other using a file on some tool. She told us that the most common item they made was farm equipment, but during the Revolutionary War they also made many weapons for the war cause. She said that to make the metal soft enough to mold you needed it at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and to get it really hot enough you needed it at 2,000 to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. During her talk the two guys in the back pulled out a red-hot piece of iron and started pounding at it with their hammers which was pretty cool. She said that the metal they usually used was iron and steel which was pretty common in the United States so they didn’t require it to be imported during the war. I also found out later in the tour that the blacksmith also makes nails which are used in the construction of some of the buildings at Williamsburg.

Top Row: Capitol Building. Middle: 1771 building, shoemakers, Nick getting pressed penny. Bottom: blacksmith’s

After that we went to explore and came across some bathrooms and a shop. We all took turns going to the bathroom and also went inside to look around the shop. Nick got a pressed penny with the Capitol building on it. We also went to a nearby restaurant where we bought root beer, diet coke, and bread and ate it at the nearby benches. Then we went to the Capitol Building which was the seat of government in Virginia. It was hit by lighting, burned by people, and destroyed 3 times. On the last time they moved the capitol away where it promptly burned down again. The court ruled on large cases like murder, counterfeit, and robbery. You could choose to have a case by either peers or the magistrate which was a group of judges.

After the Capitol building we visited the jails where prisoners could be kept for 3 months (or more) before they were tried before the court, as the court only met during certain times. They also kept sheep and horses in the back which we later learned were used by weavers at Williamsburg to make clothing and yarn which you can buy at the gift shops.

We then visited the carpenters where we learned they made their own tools and build many of the buildings made of wood that are around Williamsburg. They told us that it took thousands of shingles to make the building they were currently under. They used nails from the blacksmith shop, which I thought was very cool. They even had a storage area in the attic of the building above them. They said they were going to soon construct a group of buildings and he pointed to a pile of wood which at the time I thought was a trash pile and said those were 8,000 shingles and that they needed 20,000 shingles for the whole project. At that I was impressed.

We then visited the shop that sells all of the homemade goods for Williamsburg where I learned what all the trades were at Williamsburg. They have weavers, coopers, silversmiths, blacksmiths, and carpenters for both buildings and furniture. We took a look around and saw an old toaster (which was pretty cool) that had been made by the blacksmiths.

We then visited the grandest building in all of Williamsburg, the Governors Palace. And it was a palace indeed! In the entrance were hundreds of swords and guns for both infantry and cavalry. It had a huge courtyard and two other buildings for the kitchen and one for the slaughtering of animals. It had a ballroom and a reception area, and enough guns to supply a regiment of soldiers. It even had different musical instruments in the back and a huge emblem on the back door. It had a grand back area for a garden. We did the maze with various finishing times for the group.We walked around a little longer and then went home.

Sarah Note: Bottom Right: Steps. We saw these stairs everywhere with metal bars in them. I asked the tour guide what they were. Back in the day, there were not always slabs under the steps, which could make for some wonky stairs. After the stone was placed, a spot was carved out, molten metal poured in, and a metal pin placed in to help hold the stairs together.
The maze at the Governor’s Palace Gardens

And that’s the end of the blog with Will. Don’t forget to like and subscribe to the blog, and to follow our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. See you soon, Will!

SARAH NOTES: Williamsburg was open to Visitors, although it was recommended that you buy your passes online. You have to choose your date of attendance when you book your tickets. Parts of Williamsburg is free; you can walk through the town and shops without paying the admission fee. However, if you want to go into certain areas or houses, then you do have to have an admission ticket. (For example, Governor’s Palace, carpenter’s yard, Wythe House.) Due to COVID, they are limiting the amount of people inside the buildings, so you may be waiting in line for awhile. I think our longest time was about 45 minutes. They call themselves a living history museum, so Will was a little disappointed in the amount of historical plaques to read. He made up for it by asking the blacksmith and shoe shop several questions though. We saw the Wythe house, the blacksmith and shoe shop, the carpentry yard, and the Governor’s Palace.

If you missed the Instagram video, here is a link to our video at the Blacksmith’s and seeing some adorable baby sheep.

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: Several options available. Single Day $35.99/adults, $19.99/child (6-12) . COVID Restrictions: masks required, book online for a set date, Visitor Center Closed, social distancing at some locations so you may wait in line.
  • HOURS: Hours vary. Most of the shops are open 9:00am to 5:00pm, but there are some evening programs based on the day.
  • PARKING: Yes, Visitor Center (with shuttle or a 1/4 mile walk) or at art museums
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 2-4 hours
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Animal Sightings, Hiking, Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

Historic Jamestowne, Virginia (National Park)

Hey guys! Here’s another blog post with your favorite friend…Will! Today I am here to talk about another significant site from history, the Jamestown Settlement. This is the first settlement that successfully settled in America. It was led by Captain John Smith, who as most of you know befriended Pocahontas. She convinced her father to help the settlers, which allowed the first successful colonization in the New World.

Jamestown started out as a place to get rich quick. Half of the first people to come Jamestown were gentlemen, men who fought in battles and were rich enough to be able to buy their own armor and weapons and lead men. These men were used to fighting and tactics, but not hard labor which led many of them to dislike their new life in the Americas. It probably would have been a downhill spiral as the two groups of people, gentlemen and commoners, fought over who would do what work in Jamestown if Smith hadn’t stepped in and said if ‘you don’t work you don’t eat’.

Jamestown also suffered many problems when it was starting up such as the fact that they had settled in native territory and slaughtered the natives there which were a part of a confederacy of natives at the time. That soured relations quite a bit and soon the settlers and the natives were at each other’s throats. The problem was that most of the men were not used to hard labor and most were unskilled and did not know how to make anything or work. They only had two trained fishermen so their food was in short supply. The drinking water was also unhealthy and some of it was even tainted with arsenic. They were, under the guidance of John Smith, able to finally build the fort which was 1 acre in all, and with the help of John Smith, soon began to trade with the natives and with Pocahontas.

The next big issue that Jamestown faced was the Starving Time. This event was caused because the settlers got on bad terms with the natives again and trade soon came to a halt. With only 2 fishermen and winter coming things were getting dire. They were soon eating their dogs, their horses, and even their own people. The first person to be cannibalized in America was Jane, a young woman. Eventually two ships who had originally come with a large fleet of ships arrived right when the settlers were abandoning Jamestown to try and find food. Horrified by the skeletal people, the new people shared their food with them and they all sailed back to recolonize Jamestown. The first big issue was that, because most of the buildings were made of wood, they were quickly deteriorating. They soon rebuilt the wooden post-in-ground houses and rebuilt with stone bases so that termites and ants could not enter the wood and so the wood was not at ground level.

Soon things were looking brighter for Jamestown. They were soon turned into the capitol of Virginia because of a huge crop that was making its way to Europe as quickly as it could be produced. A cash crop that changed Jamestown from a desolate fort that was struggling for survival into a huge port city and the capitol of Virginia. Tobacco! The people in England couldn’t get enough of the stuff. It was soon being shipped out of Jamestown and making the whole town very rich. Soon the state of Virginia made it legal to only bring tobacco out of Jamestown so that Jamestown became even more rich. This caused Jamestown to grow huge in size and led to more indentured servants and then, sadly, slaves.

The downfall of Jamestown was when the capitol of Virginia moved to Richmond and the laws that tobacco could only go through Jamestown were abolished. Soon many were leaving Jamestown as the city was losing money, and without money, no people would come. Jamestown soon fell into disrepair and the only thing left standing over the years was the old church tower that had been built out of bricks. In the 1900’s conservation efforts were made. A seawall was built to make sure that the coast would not erode more, and restoration of the stone towers was attempted. At the time it was assumed that the erosion of the shoreline had made it so that the original fort had been lost to the sea. Excavation began and soon that was proven false as they found the original ditch for the fort, several wells and post in ground holes were discovered. They also found tools that belonged to a smithy and old waste and trash that was covered up in wells or in basements. This included a helmet, a halberd, and a dagger.

After several excavations the National Parks bought the land and Jamestown fort and took over construction of the fort. They added a museum and most of the things you can now see here today. That is the long and complicated story of Jamestown. Thank you for reading and make sure to look at our other channels like YouTube, and Facebook. Goodbye for now.

Sincerely,

Will

Ben and Sarah Notes: Don’t picture seeing a historic town like you would in Williamsburg. While it does have several buildings, Historic Jamestowne only contains a few original structures: the original church tower (since restored and the church recreated). a house ruin, and some foundations. The rest of the buildings are recreations. There was a lot of reading, including the more in-depth Junior Ranger Program booklet. The houses and archeology pits were closed, although the Visitor Center and museum were open. The boardwalk was nice way to walk into the town area. It passes over a marshy area where we saw lots of turtles in the water. There were a few turtles upside down, which we thought was bad. Nick asked the Ranger, and he replied that some turtles can turn themselves over and they may be sunning and trying to get more warmth through the thinner belly shell. Or, they didn’t make it through the winter. Ben and I did learn one new thing I don’t remember learning in school: there was a Starving Time (where food was scarce and the town resorted to cannibalism).

VIDEO: Turtles and Muskrat we saw at Jamestown

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: WITH Annual NPS Pass $10/adults, children 0-15 free. WITHOUT Annual Pass: $15/adult. COVID Restrictions: masks required, houses were closed to tours. (The extra fee, even with the NPS America The Beautiful Annual Pass, goes to Preservation Virginia.)
  • HOURS: 8:30 am to 4:30 pm
  • PARKING: Yes
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: School, Sightseeing

Myrtle Beach State Park Patch Program

Nick is starting to get into the National Park’s Junior Ranger program. He didn’t want to do it for the first several (…many…most…) of the parks, but now he enjoys it. He wanted to check out if Myrtle Beach State Park had a program as well. They did have a patch program! Due to COVID, the program had changed a little bit. Before, you had to attend programs to earn a patch, but now you have to complete 3 scavenger hunts in different parts of the park.

The scavenger hunts are available online. Most of the items are things you can find on the informational signs around the park. Nick had a fun time as we walked around this week so he could find the signs. We all enjoyed finding the tree branches that made the shape of South Carolina.

Nick turned in his paperwork and got to pick out which badge he wanted. He said they had a box full of different designs, but of course he went with one that had a turtle.

Posted in: Museums & Tours, School, Sightseeing

Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon (Charleston, South Carolina)

            Hey guys! It’s Will here with another blog! Today we’re visiting the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon. It costs $10 per person with reduced rates for seniors and students. The Dungeon is set below the Old Exchange where they traded everything from cotton to slaves. Auctions were rarely held in the dungeon (basement) however, but held just outside the Exchange. This might have been helpful so that once you bought something you could go pay your taxes on it. Two birds with one stone.

                On the main floor you enter on, there is a lot of information and it is easy to get overwhelmed. In the back is the history of some South Carolina’s cash crops and some plaques on special people who brought or invented them in the State. In the room to the left of the entrance there are some cool pieces they have received such as a case of old weapons such as flintlocks and muskets. They also have an old desk that was used by plantation owners back in the day. To the right of the door is a historic room where they made it look like it would have. It also serves as the meeting spot where the Daughter’s of American Revolution, I think that is the right name, meet. On the top floor are some more plaques that are made to tell you about the life of an enslaved person and of a women’s role and life in pre-Civil War period. George Washington also visited Charleston, so there is information about his visit here too.

            Now let’s get to the part you all want to actually read about…Provost Dungeon! The dungeon itself needs a tour guide as they have rigged the rooms with only mannequins so if you don’t go with one of the offered tours you will have no idea what you are doing. During the Revolutionary War is where we will focus in for now. Charleston had it’s own Tea Party and stored the tea in the Old Exchange. They later sold it to pay for weapons to fight the British. Eventually, the British captured Charleston and they needed somewhere to keep their prisoners. The actual prison was full and so they made due with what they had…The Old Exchange. They turned the basement into a jail and used the top parts as living quarters. When the city knew the British would win, they hid their gunpowder behind a fake wall in the Old Exchange. The British never found it! I thought the museum did a good job explaining everything and the history of the Exchange and if you want to learn a lot of new things be sure to make a visit The Old Exchange.

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: $10/adults, $5/child (ages 7-12), discount available for military, teachers, students, seniors. COVID Restrictions: masks required
  • HOURS: Daily 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Years Day), Tours are every 1/2 hour from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • PARKING: Pay parking on street or nearby lots
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina

Although Fort Sumter is part of the National Park Service, there was not an admission fee. However, the only way to get to the fort is by boat, and the ferry ride does cost money.

The boat ride was similar to other boat tours we had taken. They pointed out other sites and talked about the history of Fort Sumter. There was a Park volunteer on the ride to and from that handed out maps and the Junior Ranger programs and badges.

We had a windy, cold, drizzly kind of day, so the water was a little rougher. Once we were docked, there was a ranger led talk that lasted about 15 minutes and went over the history of why Fort Sumter was built and its role in the Civil War. Even after the Civil War, they upgraded the Battery to keep it as a coastal defense. After the talk, we were free to read all the signs and explore around the fort. However, we only had an hour once we docked before the ship left again. It definitely felt rushed. We definitely could have spent a little more time reading and learning, at least another 1/2 hour to an hour would have been nice.

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: Fort Sumter, $0. Boat rides were $30/adults, $18 ages 4-11. (Our total for 4 adults was $127.20, as there was an additional $7.20 fee on the online booking receipt.) COVID Restrictions: masks required
  • HOURS: Visitor Center 9:00am-5:00pm (in Charleston). Boat rides vary per season and per location When we went boats departed Liberty Square (Charleston, SC) at 9:30am, 12:15pm, 3:00pm, and Patriots Point (Mount Pleasant, SC) at 10:45 am and 1:45 pm.
  • PARKING: Pay parking on street or nearby lots. It was $5 for the day at Patriot’s Point, which was where we departed from.
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-2 hours
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.

Posted in: Animal Sightings, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

Turtles, Mosquitos and Alligators…OH MY!

Although we have seen plenty of turtles and been bitten by many mosquitoes, this post is mostly about my favorite, alligators. My kids may be getting sick of me pointing out an alligator every time I see one, especially since we see them all over the place in the South (Florida, Georgia and South Carolina). I’m not sure why, but I get a huge kick out of seeing these guys in the wild. We saw some decent sized alligators (as well as some crocodiles) in the Everglades National Park, Florida. We even got to see one with it’s mouth open!

At our campground in South Carolina, we saw several smaller ones on the nearby walking trail in the ponds. One looked very young, only 2-3 feet long. The campground’s alligators were not even close to being the same size as the ones in the Everglades, so I felt pretty safe walking around the walking path as long as we all stayed aware.

The boys certainly enjoyed the first several ones we saw and it was a great teaching opportunity to slide in some alligator facts. I have some of these facts below!

Fun alligator facts:

Alligators have about 80 teeth and as the old ones get worn down, new ones come in.

Alligators can hear underwater.

Alligators vs Crocodiles: We saw both in the Everglades. It was a great teaching moment.

Alligators have a rounded snout and are dark grey/black in color. Alligators also do not normally show bottom teeth with their mouth closed.

Crocodiles have a pointed snout and are a grey/brown/green color. Crocodiles bottom and top teeth are visible with their mouth closed. Crocodiles tend to be more aggressive.

An alligator can live up to 50 years. They continue to grow throughout their life.

The power in an alligator’s jaw comes in closing, they do not have a lot of jaw opening strength.

To estimate an alligators size from a distance, calculate the length from the tip of their nose to the eye ridge. One inch of distance here is equal to one foot of total length.

Alligators dig burrows (holes, tunnels) and once they move out, other animals move in. These holes are very important, as they can be deep and hold water, even when other areas have dried up.

Alligators can climb, short fences and even ladders, although we did not see any on stilts or ladders during our encounters.

To get away from an alligator, just run in a straight line 20-30 ft, no zig-zag required. To be safe, I would keep running.

They can leap out of the water using their tail, up to 5 feet!

They will balance sticks on their snout to attract birds…to eat.

They do not hibernate, but they do have times where they are dormant when the weather is too cold (below 55℉).

Mating season is May to June. Eggs hatch in Mid-August to September.

The babies gender is determined by the temperature in the nest. The mom will stay with her eggs and protect them for a year to two after they hatch.

If you have any great Alligator or Crocodile stories, we would love to hear them. Post them in the comments.

LINKS:

US Fish & Wildlife Service

Smithsonian

Britannica

Kissimmee

Posted in: Hiking, School, Sightseeing

Exploring Epcot (Orlando, Florida): Tickets/Reservations, Parking, and Rides

I know I said we were only going to do one Amusement Park while in Orlando, and we chose Universal Studios. However, someone gifted us with tickets to Epcot (Thank you!!!) and we were able to go to explore Disney’s Epcot.

The boys had a blast. Ben and I had researched the rides and the different attractions/food in World Showcase and had a game plan all laid out. We wanted to get there around 10:00 am (park opened at 11:00) so that we could get a closer parking spot. Parking was $25 for standard parking and $45-50 for premium. However, because we got there so early, we were only a few rows from the entrance even with parking in the standard lot. Parking was also staggered to help maintain social distancing.

Another win of going early, was that even though the park officially opened at 11:00, they let everyone in around 10:15am. We were on Test Track by 10:30 and The Seas at 10:50am.

It was a great experience walking through the park. Due to the limited capacity, ride times were much shorter. Our longest wait was about 1/2 hour. The Frozen line in Norway was longer, but we didn’t go on that one.

Disney allows you bring in snacks and water (no glass, no heating or refrigeration) and backpacks. We brought several bottles of water, as it was going to be really warm (88℉ was the high!). Water fountains were open, so we could refill our water bottles. We were also able to get a cup of ice water in Canada and France. Mexico told us they were only selling bottles of water.

There was a lot of construction walls up for coming new attractions. I know that Ratatouille and Guardians of the Galaxy were being built.

Epcot was gearing up for their International Flower & Garden Festival, so we also got to see lots of really cool flower displays.

There were currently not any of the nightly firework shows at any of the Disney parks, so once we had ridden and seen what was on our list we headed out.

We were all pretty tired at the end of the day. We got to the park at a little after 10:00 am and left around 7:00 pm (closed at 8:00pm). We managed to get in 17,701 steps for the day at Epcot.

COVID:

To enter the park, you had to go through temperature screening. Masks were required and it was stated that if you did not comply you could be asked to leave. I did see several staff members telling people that the nose had to be covered as well. Disney did a great job of marking social distancing lines/markers on the ground and on large outdoor benches. There were hand sanitizer stations available at ride entrances and exits. However, we noticed a lot of them were out or were too slow to keep up with the stream of people. A pump/manual style type probably would have been better. (Universal Studios gave everyone a squirt of sanitizer before they were allowed on a ride.)

RIDES & SHOWS:

The first ride we went on was Test track, as we read it was one of the more popular lines and often had longer lines. Because we were so early, there wasn’t much of a line and we got on before the park even officially opened! The interactive piece at the beginning of the ride where you can design your own car was shut off, so we missed having the fun of designing your own car and testing it against the track. The line inside was air conditioned and had some neat concept cars to look at while you waited. We were in line for maybe 15 minutes. It was still a fun ride. The outside track got up to about 63 miles per hour, although Ben pointed out that I drove faster than that on the way over to Epcot.

We headed to The Seas because they have a really neat aquarium at the end of the ride. The wait was short, maybe 5 minutes. The queue line was made to look like a beach scene and parts of it looked like you were underwater. Even the handrails were made to look old and rusty! The ride was ok, it was a little boring. Part of it was that we had the ride stop on us for “technical difficulties”. However, at one point in the ride you get to see parts of an actual aquarium and the Nemo characters are projected onto the glass to seem like they are in the aquarium as well, which was really neat. The aquarium at the end was worth the ride though. We got to see different kinds of fish, a dolphin, manatees, sharks, moray eels, and a sea turtle. (Nick was very happy he got to see a sea turtle. He has been asking for a turtle for a pet for a while now.)

We headed back towards the front of the park to the iconic Epcot globe to ride Spaceship Earth. It was a 20 minute wait. It was a little bit of a dated ride (opened in 1982, last renovated in 2007, per WiKi). The beginning of the ride was dark and was hard to see some of the graphics. It was still kind of neat, definitely more of an educational ride. Will liked the animatronics during the middle of the ride. At the end of the ride, you descend through the globe. Instead of lap belts to descend through the ball, the cars turn around backwards on the hilly descent. At one point, we got stuck going down for “technical” issues, so I was very glad we were backwards and not leaning forwards at an angle. There was an interactive screen in the car was fun during the descent. The interactive exhibits and screens at the end of the ride were not available (due to COVID).

Our next ride, which was one of our favorites, was Soarin’ Around The World. This one had a long, boring queue. There was a trivia game on the My Disney Experience app to play while you waited in line. This ride had about a 30 minute wait. Staff members working the ride wore pilot type uniforms. It was worth wait. You entered the room and there was a huge screen in front. There were 2 sections of seating, with 3 rows of seats in each section. Each row of seats lifted off the ground to make you feel like you were flying (paragliding). Ben and Will were in front of us when we sat down, so we could see their feet dangling above us. It did make you feel like you were moving, so they warned it could cause motion sickness. You flew over Egypt, the Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China, Sydney, Africa, and ended at Disney’s Epcot.

After Soarin’, we headed over to Living With The Land, since they were in the same building. It was about a 5 minute wait and was a boat ride. There were plastic sheets between rows of seats in the boat. It was interesting, more of an educational ride. You got to see a really cool greenhouse and fish farm. Disney paired with the USDA to study ways to grow crops in harsher climates, etc. They use the items grown here in the Land’s restaurants. There was a Behind the Seeds tour, but it was closed currently.

VIDEO: Clips From Living With The Land ride

We headed over to World Showcase and stopped in Mexico first. We went to the Grand Fiesta Tours ride. The app stated it was a 10 minute wait, but was really a 20 minute wait (10 minutes of the wait were outside). We also got to see Pluto, Goofy, Mickey and Minnie drive by while we waited. Inside, the building had a few exhibits to see and then you were right in the middle of a market/town. It was a little confusing where the line started at this point. As you moved further in, the lines were very tight width wise. There were row dividers in place, however not a lot of spacing was enforced inside. This one was our least favorite ride. We were on for only a few minutes when the sound went off. Boats were still moving, but very slowly. They claimed the boats went back online at the very end, but we all ran into each other, which was very jarring. They did not let people stay on and go again even though ride didn’t work for 90% of our time on it. I’m not sure if they shut it down completely or not, as there were still people waiting in line outside.

We headed over to China next. We watched the show Reflections of China. You were in a large room with a 360-degree screen. It is a standing show, although there are row dividers to lean on. They had rows closed to keep social distancing, as well as placement markers on the floor. It was some interesting propaganda, but showed some beautiful views. It showed how diverse China’s landscape is and motivated Ben and Will to want to go to China.

Reflections of China Theater Room and waiting room

We stopped at Canada and watched their show Far and Wide. It also had a 360-degree screen.

Our final ride was Journey into Imagination with Figment. It was ok, not one I would ride again. Younger kids would probably enjoy it.

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Hiking, Museums & Tours, School, Sightseeing

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park (Key West, Florida): Swimming and Cannons

We went to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park to enjoy the beach. The park does charge admission ($6 per car of 2-8 people, plus a $0.50 charge for each person, so it was $8 for the 4 of us).

The beach parking lot was an easy walk to the restrooms and beach area. The water was gorgeous with its various shades of blues. The sun was shining and it was a great morning. There was sand towards the water, but a lot of the beach was rockier than we expected. Key West does have a coral reef which protects the island from having bigger waves, which probably also keeps it from getting a lot of fine sand. The water was also a little cold, even though the temperatures had been in the upper 80’s!

The boys enjoyed swimming, but Ben and I mostly waded. I enjoyed sitting at a picnic table in the shade watching the small lizards climbing the trees and the kids playing in the water. We didn’t have a bucket, but the boys made a double walled sand moat for a cone shaped sand “castle”.

After swimming and getting changed, we headed towards the front of the park and explored the Fort area. The fort was pretty cool. It had cannons, a self-guided tour (pamphlet and audio option), and lots of neat information.

On our way out, we had our only iguana sighting! He/she was on the side of the Fort.

The Fort had such a neat shape to it, but it was hard to capture on camera without having a drone. I would definitely check it out if you are at the park, especially if you have any history buffs in your group!

Note: Get there early in the day. We left around lunch time and the beach parking lot was full. There were still some spots in the lot by the Fort, but it looked like the gate was turning cars away.

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: No tickets, but park admission fees. Single occupancy car/motorcycle $4.50, Car with 2-8 passengers $6 plus $0.50/person, pedestrian or bicycles or extra passengers $2.50.
  • HOURS: 8:00 am to sundown, Fort closes at 5:00pm
  • PARKING: Parking near beach and fort
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours, depending on how long you like to swim. We spent an hour at the Fort.
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.