If you’ve eaten at our house, you’ve probably had at least one of these recipes. And if you’ve sampled the Christmas cookies, a lot of them are in here as well, including the Buckeye cookies! My favorite is the sugar shortbread cookie.
We’re big fans of Buc-ee’s. They always have snacks, decent gas prices, and clean bathrooms. If you have never been to one, I suggest you stop at one on your travels. We even wait a little longer to stop so that we can go to a Buc-ee’s instead of another gas station. They pride themselves in their restrooms, and I have to say we’ve never been disappointed.
When we heard the largest Buc-ee’s was opening up right before our vacation and it was on the way, of course, we had to stop!
It looked like the other Buc-ee’s, but it was larger with a lot more store space and gas pumps. We found some fun souvenirs (a keychain $4.98, a Halloween cup $20, gifts, a buc-ee phone holder $9.98).
It can be a little tricky maneuvering with so many people coming in and out. The signs have you driving through the parking lot to get to the gas pumps, but if you take the next exit on the roundabout, it leads to the backside of the pumps. It had less traffic when we did it that way. There is a lot of parking along the sides of the building for when you want to go explore the store. The far side of the complex looked like it was still under construction, so it may get easier to drive when the other road is completely open.
It was fun to see and I enjoyed seeing the mural. It was busy, but it had also been opened only about a month when we went there. It is close to the highway, but it is not directly off of it.
Do you love pirates? Acrobatics? Dinner and a show?
We went to the Pirates Voyage dinner show in Pigeon Forge. We had the evening show, but it was still pretty crowded. They have a bar, a small gift shop, and a face painting area pre-show. Our kids are too old to want face painting, but we did see some cute designs.
The set was pretty cool and is broken up into the blue (Sapphire) and red (Crimson) side.
Your dinner comes with a bowl of creamy vegetable soup, water/soft drink/tea/coffee, a biscuit, a piece of fried chicken, half a baked potato, a piece of corn (not a whole cob, more like 1/4 or 1/2), a slice of ham. Dessert is a warm apple turnover. The food was okay, but there was not a lot of it.
There were trained animals (2 parrots, a dog, and a sea lion), fire elements, fog, pirates, mermaids, and lots of acrobatics and sword fighting. Really, the star of the show was Salty, the sea lion.
The show was about 2 hours long. It was cute and I think would be a hit with any little kids who love pirates. It was entertaining for us adults too, but I think younger kids would probably get the most enjoyment from it.
There had been some changes since the last time we were in the Gatlinburg area, including the addition of the SkyPark.
There are two ticket options: a one way (it’s an up & down) ticket, or a SkyPass (allows you to go up multiple times in 1 day). We did the one way ticket since you can walk over the bridge as many times as you want once you’re up there. The only limiting factor is the amount of times you can ride the lift up.
Reaching the top, you are greeted with a shop area (SkyCenter) to the right, a fountain and stairs to the bridge straight(ish) ahead, and a picnic area to the left. We explored the bridge first. It is mostly a wooden bridge, the kind that sways if you bounce on it or walk toward the sides instead of in the middle. There is a section with glass panels so you can look down. On the other side of the bridge, is a small seating area, some signs pointing out parts of the view, and a small gift shop. NOTE: If you want a SkyBridge ornament, you need to buy it here. They do not sell it in the main shop area.
We decided to take the trail over to the tower to take in more of the views. There were benches scattered along the trail, along with fans. We appreciated the breeze when we reached the fans as it was pretty hot and humid the day we went.
We sat in the upstairs of the SkyCenter and enjoyed the air-conditioning and the great views. They sold souvenirs, drinks, and snacks. There is a pressed penny machine, but it wasn’t working when we were there, so Nick wasn’t able to get one for his collection.
It was a neat experience and the views were great. However, if you have mobility issues, the bridge might be challenging as it does sway. I think it is more of a one and done type of experience.
We were a little late this year with our summer vacation. Between the kids’ summer classes and Will starting a summer job, we didn’t go on vacation until end of July/beginning of August. This year we went down to the Great Smoky Mountains. The boys had been when they were younger, but didn’t remember much. We had a few things planned, including a birthday/Theastmas dinner for our first night there. There are so many attractions and things to do in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area.
One of the favorite things we did was visit Iron Mountain Metal Craft in Pigeon Forge. This place is located near The Mill and offers items for sale, as well as blacksmithing lessons. The owner was on the show Forged In Fire and we had the chance to talk to him for a minute before our lesson. There are four options for the lessons: nail (for kids 1-12), pony shoe, horseshoe, railroad spike. The railroad spike looked really cool, but we figured we should start easy for our first time. We chose to make the pony shoe knife. Our instructor held the hot metal, inserting it into the forge, and instructed us where and how to use the hammer. We went through a few rounds of working out the blade shape. After a final heating, he cooled them down in water.
Now, they weren’t the most attractive things but this is where the polishing comes in. We moved over to the polishers where they shaped the blade more, giving it more of an edge. Will and Ben chose one finish (it dips down on the top), and Nick and I chose the other (straight across on the top). The knives came with their own sheaths as well. Mine is pictured below: I think I hammered pretty evenly, but didn’t get the nail holes to close like in the display. It was still lots of fun though.
I would recommend checking them out if you are in the area. We would totally do it again.
We started the day early and were in the Lodge for breakfast by 8:15. We both slept better at Shenandoah than at the KOA, likely due to better mattresses.
The Big Meadow Lodge breakfast food was unremarkable. I got an omelet and dad got some pancakes. The coffee and service were good.
Next up, we stopped at the Harry R Byrd Visitor Center and Wayside market to get various sundries and ask about the best hike. I got Nick a pressed penny, Sarah some socks and postcards, a keychain and National Park stamps for me. I also grabbed a book on the best short hikes in Shenandoah. We also filled up on gas at $3.55/gallon. This is only about $0.25 higher per gallon than outside the park. I thought this was a deal compared to the Grand Tetons expectations of a $1.00+/gallon.
After discussions with the Ranger and referring to the book, we settled on a level 1.3-mile hike called Limberlost.
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The trail had many benches for sitting. It was an easy walk and with the use of hiking boots and sticks, we made it through without an issue.
After our hike, we stopped for lunch at Skyland.
As the name would suggest it had a great view of the valley and sky. It overlooked Luray which was where our server was from. Along with taking care of our dining needs, she filled us in on Luray and her 40-minute commute. We got salads and pan-fried Brussels sprouts.
Next, we headed out of the National Park to the small town Luray. The best thing I can say about Luray is their cell signal is stronger than the NP. I used this to text Sarah some pictures and provide proof of life. After visiting the Luray visitor center for bathroom and “museum” fun, we stopped at a local grocery store and grabbed some snacks on our way out of town.
During the drive to and from Luray, we stopped several times for views off Skyline Drive. It was pretty.
We got back to the hotel around 3:30 PM. We sat on our patio and chatted the afternoon away.
Around 6 PM we went to the lodge to grab dinner and watch the sunset. We decided to watch the sunset first and we claimed our spot on the balcony chairs and used the intermittent internet while we waited for the changing colors of the sky.
It got kind of cold, but we lucked out and sat near the just-lit fire inside the lodge after the sun went down. It was a cozy spot to sit and relax.
It was so nice by the fire that I was glad that we ended up having to wait for a table in the dining room. It was slow moving and the wait to longer than expected. The menu wasn’t wowing us, so we decided to go to the tavern instead and grab a pizza.
Dad got carded at the Tavern by D’An!
We came back to the room and sat outside watching the stars and talking. It was very close to Yellowstone’s level of stars and was a great end to the trip.
I knew Dad would get a kick out of the International Spy Museum, which was relatively close to our campground. I knew Dad would get a kick out of it, so we planned a day to go see it.
Waking up at 7AM, we headed to Washington DC to check out the Spy Museum. The drive was an easy hour and a half. We found free street parking because it was Sunday. Our tickets were for noon, but Dad was eager to see it and they let us in early at 10:30. This was my second time to the museum. I contend you need at least 8 hours to see it all, likely over 2 or 3 trips because saturation sets in after a couple of hours. I probably still need one more trip to really soak it all in. They had added a few things since my last trip in 2019. (I would definitely recommend checking it out if you love history and are in the area.)
It was really neat to see the museum with Dad this time around. One, he had more patience reading the signs than the kids did (granted Nick was around 10 when we went as a family, so his tolerance was much lower then). Two, I got to see part of Dad’s work that is now on display in the museum (VOA as “white” propaganda; radio briefcase from the 1970s, a radio jammer). He has become history. It was neat to see it with him.
We became masters of disguise. I actually like this as a look for him and changed my contact picture on my phone to match.
My disguise was good enough not to be caught at the East-to-West Germany border.
We claimed success on our missions by 3PM. I had the spy skills of Technical Know-How and Strong Memory. Dad had Keen Observation and Technical Know-How.
On our way out of Washington, I saw a sign for an All You Can Eat Blue Shell Crab meal. Knowing this is one of Dad’s favorite things, I pulled off the highway and we checked it out. We ate at The Blue Ridge Seafood Restaurant.
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I only went one round with the crabs (about 10). Dad went two rounds. The Old Bay and the amount of effort were too much for me. The sides of hush puppies and fries carried the meal. ($40/person on the crab meal.) It was a fun place with a live band playing.
We had already packed up from the campground and were now off to the new cabin in Shenandoah.
We raced sunset for the hour-and-a-half drive, but we made it to the lodge just in time. It was an older-style lodge, but still welcoming. This is a nature lover’s primitive motel; it was clean and had a tv, but WiFi seemed to only work at the Lodge. Our view from the room was majestic. We finished the day with a beer in the lodge’s tavern.
Our day started bright and early around 7 AM. Before leaving the campground, we grabbed a bagel sandwich, breakfast potatoes, and two coffees at the KOA ($10). Dad donned his Beards of Gettysburg* t-shirt and we were off.
We were early to pick up our tour guide (Mike Strong) for the Gettysburg National Military Park 3-hour tour ($125 + tip). The tour guide was outstanding. This was his 18th season as a guide. It was amazing how much he shared about this 3 day battle in such a short time. He has a gift and a passion. My biggest learning was about why they fought the way they did. They used the formations and flags because smokeless gunpowder had not been invented yet, and it was exceptionally difficult to direct action and prevent friendly fire. (Gettysburg Tour Audio Clip)
After the tour, we checked out the Visitor Center. The battleground and Visitor Center of the Park are free; however, the Film, Cyclorama and Museum do charge admission ($36 for us with a AAA discount). The film was okay. The Cyclorama is an oil painting reaching 42’ high and 377’ in circumference, depicting the end of the 3-day battle. It was rather amazing and took 12 artists a year to complete.
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The museum was okay. The best part of the museum and Gettysburg, in general, is they maintained the actual damage from the war. Below are the rafters that were damaged by a cannonball in a barn at the battle. They were removed from the barn and relocated to the museum. You can see this type of wall damage throughout the town.
After the Visitor Center, we rushed to Auto Tour stop 12 by the Pennsylvania Memorial to see and hear a cannon being fired. It was a blast (pun intended). We were able to talk to the team after the show.
On the way to our next event, we had car issues as the Subaru lost its mind and thought it was running when it wasn’t. This was pretty stressful as we tried various solutions. We eventually got the problem fixed and were able to relax and enjoy the rest of our night.
We ate dinner at the Blue and Gray Bar and Grill. We sat outside since it was a beautiful night. Live musicians were playing and the food was great. We got the Philly Cheesesteak Waffle Fries and mustard-based coleslaw. For the entree, Dad got the General Warren and I got the General Archer burger.
We capped the night off by sharing a Reese’s Pieces Sundae at Friendly’s. While we were waiting in line, a trio of guys walked by and I commented about how I liked his Confederate hat. We got to talking and found out that he was a history teacher and had had the hat for 30 years. I told him I was there visiting with my dad, who is also a history nut. He gave me a replica Civil War bullet for Dad!
Back at the cabin, we played cards before going to sleep.
For years, my Dad and I talked about taking a trip together. He got to pick the destination. He finally decided on Gettysburg. That was not what I had been anticipating, but I started looking at accommodations near the old battlegrounds.
I found a KOA nearby and booked it for a couple of days. I also wanted to see Shenandoah National Park, so I booked us there as well.
We started our 6.5-hour trip at 8:00 am. The drive was easy and we made it fun.
Checking into the KOA Gettysburg, I realized that when they say bring linens, they meant towels too. We made a quick trip to Walmart for towels and washcloths. The KOA seemed to be the older style of campground, with tighter spacing and it looked like it would be hard to bring a larger RV in. As far as KOAs go, it was middle of the road. They did have a breakfast option on-site though.
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We had booked a Deluxe Cabin with a full bathroom. They claimed it could sleep 5, which would have been extremely tight as it was a small cabin.
After settling in, we drove in to see the town. It was only about a twelve-minute drive. There were quite a few restaurant options, but I had made a list of some of the neater-looking options and we decided to eat at the Dobbin House Tavern. The restaurant had a great ambiance and I enjoyed the meal. We hit the gift shop on our way out to grab a keychain and postcard.
We walked around town, exploring a little bit before grabbing ice cream for dessert at Mr. G’s. After a round of cards, we headed to bed. I was eager to see what our Gettysburg experience would be like.