7,000 miles, 33 days, 25 states, 4 people, 1 Prius
By Robert NilesOur Theme Park Insider Summer Roadtrip was just part of my family's summer vacation this year. With Laurie and I working from home, we didn't have any employment commitments keeping in town for the summer. Anywhere we can find an Internet connection, we can work. So we decided to take advantage and plan an ambitious roadtrip, one that would take us to each of our parents' homes for a week, so the kids could spend some time with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and two baby cousins (whom they'd not yet met).
Published: August 23, 2009 at 10:41 PM
The Niles family Prius
So we'd spend one week in Cincinnati (where Laurie's parents live), and one week in Orlando (with my parents). From there, we played a giant game of connect-the-dots, to craft an itinerary that would get us to both cities, taking through to friends' hometowns and theme parks along the way.
Ultimately, we had to trim our plans a bit. We couldn't leave until after Natalie's birthday (July 10) and had to be back in town for me to attend an AYSO referee course (Aug. 14). Reserving a day to pack and prepare after Natalie's birthday, that left us with July 12 - August 13.
Our roadtrip was scheduled.
Brian, in Utah's Castle Valley
Even though we had just over a month on the road, we couldn't get to all the parks along the way. I cut planned visits to Worlds of Fun (and its new coaster, Prowler), Six Flags St. Louis and Kings Dominion, opting instead for Holiday World, Kings Island, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Dollywood, Universal Studios Florida and SeaWorld Orlando. As it turns out, we skipped Universal as well, since Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit hadn't opened when we visited and there was nothing new at the park since our week-long visit last year.
We wanted to expose our California-dwelling kids to some history, as well, on this trip, so we included stays in Washington, D.C. and Williamsburg, Va. (an easy combo with Busch Gardens).
Natalie shot this picture of a prairie dog, along the trail by our old home outside Denver.
To add to the degree of difficulty, I like to avoid eating at most fast-food and chain restaurants (I haven't eaten at a McDonald's in more than a decade), so we wanted to time our meal stops for towns where we could find alternatives. College towns turned out to be our solution, allowing us some nice locally-owned options.
We would take the trip in our Prius, making the trip more affordable with its great gas mileage. (We made it from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, all the way across Missouri and Illinois, to Indiana University in Bloomington, on one, 11-gallon tank of gas.) But we wouldn't have much room in the car or for luggage.
So I decreed that no one could pack a suitcase. We'd go with duffle and backpacks, easier to cram in the Prius' hatchback, without blocking the driver's view out the back. We each packed six days' worth of clothes, based on the longest we'd be traveling between stops where we knew we could laundry. Still, our luggage became a jigsaw puzzle, which could be placed in the back only one way that would allow me to draw the horizontal Tonneau cover across it. That became my job at the end of each stop.
We saw some great signs during the trip:
To save food costs (and our waistlines), we decided to split all meals, which worked fine. The only bad experiences we had with food were the few times we strayed and ordered a third, or fourth, meal. U.S. restaurant portions are huge, and there's no way to take a doggie bag on the road. Most times the grown-ups split one meal and the kids the other, but we often switched off based on the menu options, with one kid sharing with a parent.
I took this shot of Brian, standing at the same spot on the Lincoln Memorial steps where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, delivered the "I Have a Dream Speech." If you look for it, you can find the marker, too.
The oddest restaurant moment? In Austin, we ate an an outstanding restaurant called El Chile. It did not yet have a liquor license, so in lieu of selling margaritas, the restaurant was giving them away. Apparently, in Texas, if you don't have a liquor license, you cannot sell alcohol, but there's nothing stopping you from giving it away. I will allow you to draw whatever conclusion you wish about what this might say about the state of Texas.
*The* Kermit the Frog, at the Smithsonian in Washington.
FWIW, at that same dinner, Brian discovered he really likes jalapenos. The boy might try to kill you if you place a tomato or slice of cheese within the vicinity of his sandwich, but you can load on all the jalapenos, guacamole and salsa you want.
Better the heat on the food than in the car, though. For the most part, we lucked out on weather, enjoying below-average temperatures throughout the south. Our drive through desolate west Texas, from Austin to El Paso on Aug. 12, was under mostly overcast skies, with temperatures in the 80s. We dodged a big bullet there.
Laurie and Natalie, on the Appalachian Trail. Still no sign of any Republican Governors!
And the Prius held up great. We'd driven so far by the time we reached Orlando that the car hit its scheduled maintenance mark. So we dropped the car at a Toyota dealership for an oil change and tire rotation. No hassle; no worries.
Indeed, we had no problems throughout the trip. The kids behaved splendidly, treating the kids and grown-ups they met with kindness and patience, and laughing at the "Get Smart" and other old TV show DVDs they watched in the backseat when they needed a break from the endless road. Yeah, everyone hates listening to selfish parents gloat, but... my kids rock.
The best, and most inappropriate, joke on the trip? Laurie, upon spotting these, remarked, 'I can't believe they let a couple of potheads in Dollywood.' Classic.
So, we'll do this again. We're trying to decide between a "northern route" roadtrip that would take us up to Seattle and over to Chicago and then to Cleveland and Cedar Point, or... a European roadtrip, that would allow us to hit some top theme parks as well as some violin-related sites for Laurie's website.
But we need a bit of a break before we make that decision!
For those interested, here was our itinerary:
Mon., July 13; Palisade to Denver
Tues., July 14; Denver
Wed., July 15; Denver to Lawrence, KS (Stop at La Prima Tazza for coffee.)
Thur., July 16; Lawrence to Bloomington, IN (Don't miss Mother Bear's Pizza. Get the breadsticks with spicy cheese.)
Fri., July 17; Bloomington
Sat., July 18; Bloomington to Holiday World, Santa Claus, IN, to Hebron, KY (Laurie's sister's home).
Sun., July 19 - Thur., July 23; Cincinnati area (Kings Island on July 21)
Fri., July 24; Hebron to Fairfax, VA
Sat., July 25 - Mon., July 27; Washington D.C. area
Tues., July 28; Washington to Williamsburg, VA
Wed., July 29; Colonial Williamsburg
Thurs., July 30; Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Fri., July 31; Williamsburg to Durham, NC
Sat., Aug 1; Durham to Pigeon Forge, TN
Sun., Aug 2; Dollywood
Mon., Aug 3; Pigeon Forge to Orlando (via South Carolina and Georgia coast)
Tues., Aug 4 - Sun., Aug 9; Orlando (SeaWorld on Aug. 9)
Mon., Aug 10; Orlando to New Orleans
Tues., Aug 11; New Orleans to Austin, TX (Dinner at El Chile)
Wed., Aug 12; Austin to Las Cruces, NM
Thurs. Aug 13; Las Cruces to Pasadena
Many thanks to Brian, my junior photographer, who took several of the pictures I've published from the trip.
Happy travels, and thanks for following along.
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