Leaving our Orangeburg SC roadside motel early morning, we began our drive West, crossing the border back into Georgia about 90 minutes later. Only stopping for gas and snacks, it took just over 3 hours to reach our first destination of the day, the city of Covington.
Having recently binge-watched all 8 seasons of the TV show The Vampire Diaries, this stop was a late request to be added to the itinerary by me as the city doubles as the town of Mystic Falls in the show. The show was shot all around the surrounding area and it is possible to take guided tours of some of the filming sites but unfortunately these only ran on certain days of the week and didn’t fit with our schedule.
So I made do with a stop in the main town square, its clock tower instantly recognisable from the show and the Mystic Grill restaurant keeping its name to draw in tourists. We headed straight to the Tourist Information Office where we picked up free maps outlining some of the nearby filming locations from The Vampire Diaries and also some other films and shows shot in the area. Outside, stands the Mystic Falls welcome sign from the show and there was a display of some costumes and memorabilia from the show inside.
The Vampire Stalkers Gift Store selling themed merchandise and wooden – stakes for anybody worried about running into real life vampires – was fun to walk around and we walked down to see “Elena’s house” on a residential street just outside of the main square. Since the Mystic Grill‘s menu was a bit out of our price range, we then sat on a bench in the square to eat the snacks we had brought with us before continuing on to the nearby city of Atlanta.
The Vampire Diaries is not the only show or movie shot in or around Atlanta. Georgia has a thriving entertainment industry with almost as many film studios as Hollywood and with it being cheaper to film there, its a location used more and more often. There are a few companies offering guided tours of filming locations from the city of Atlanta, The Walking Dead location tours being particularly popular, and if I’d had more time or was travelling by myself or with someone else who watched some of these shows, I’d have definitely spent some time and money either searching out some more of these locations or taking some of these tours.
Instead, we arrived in Atlanta mid-afternoon and after checking into our city hotel, went straight out to explore.
While we found downtown area of the city to be rather generic and not particularly inviting or safe-feeling, the greener areas around the Olympic Park and World of Coca Cola were a bit more welcoming.
We had tickets booked for World of Coca Cola the next day but decided to visit the gift store now to save time the next day. The huge store sold every Coca Cola-themed product imaginable and was fun to explore.
We then walked through Centennial Olympic Park with its large open green spaces, many sculptures and Olympic-themed Fountain of Rings before taking a ride of the nearby Skyview Ferris Wheel. The ride gave us great views over the city along with a commentary on what we could see and some of the history of the city.
We then walked back towards the Peachtree Centre area visiting the mall before having dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe there.
The next morning, we checked out of our hotel after breakfast and walked back to the World of Coca Cola to take our pre-booked tour. The museum took us around various rooms explaining the history of Coca Cola.
Along the way we got to see the vault that holds the drink’s secret formula, meet the Coca Cola Polar Bear, sample different versions of the product from around the World and see memorabilia and old advertising from the brand.
Then, it was back on the road. We’d be spending the next night in a roadside motel in a corner of Alabama we were passing through but we still had a couple of more stops along the road in Georgia to make along the way!
First up, another silly roadside attraction in the form of a giant chair stood in a field in the middle of nowhere. Pulling up on the side of the road, we took photos of the chair before clambering up to sit on it.
Then our main stop of the day, Babyland General Hospital,home of the Cabbage Patch Kids. My travel buddy was a big fan of the brand of dolls and couldn’t contain her excitement as we pulled up to the large white building.
Inside, was a huge store full of Cabbage Patch Kids dolls and merchandise but also a doll hospital for any Cabbage Patch Dolls that needed a bit of restoring and a Cabbage Patch are under a Magic Crystal Tree where you can see Cabbage Patch Dolls being ‘born’ in a rather surreal ceremony! I found the whole thing a bit bizarre but my friend loved it so a great place to go if you are a fan and in the area!
A quick stop at a nearby Dairy Queen for lunch and ice cream and it was time to leave Georgia behind as we crossed the state line into Alabama, pulling over to grab quick photos with a famous ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ state welcome sign. Next up, a welcome return to Nashville, Tennessee!
Visiting Charleston, its surrounds and Congaree National Park
We’d been in the USA just over a week so far, already having visited Miami and spent a few days in Walt Disney World and now, after 2 nights in the beautiful city of Savannah, we were back on the road to drive further north to the historic city of Charleston in the state of South Carolina.
With it being just a short (for us!) 2-hour drive between the 2 cities, we had, as always, planned a few stops along the way at some fun road side attractions!
Our first stop wasn’t far across the state line in the town of Bluffton, home of the World’s Largest Boiled Peanut! The peanut sculpture, built for a boiled peanut festival was outside a market store in the middle of nowhere and we almost drove past it and missed out on getting photos with it!
We were even more excited for our next stop – The Kazoobie Kazoo Factory and Museum in Beaufort, SC! Here, after watching a film on the history of Kazoos, we toured the factory to see them being made before getting to build our own kazoo to keep as a souvenir! The tour ended with a chance to tour the small museum containing all sorts of kazoo products and memorabilia. It was a really fun stop.
Despite our busy morning, we were in the city of Charleston just after lunch so, after checking into our hotel, made the most of our afternoon exploring.
After visiting the Charleston City Market and browsing the many stalls, we took a stroll down to the Waterfront Park with its Pineapple Fountain and pretty views. Walking back through the city, we passed Rainbow Row – a row of brightly painted houses – and some of Charleston’s many churches before walking along King Street in the historic district with its high end boutique stores.
We returned to our hotel in time for it’s late afternoon complimentary cheese and wine happy hour. This gave us a chance to mix with some of the other residents and swap itinerary ideas.
That evening ,we went for some South Carolina BBQ for dinner before joining a Ghost Walk of the city. This was a really fun way to see the city and hear some stories from its past.
We only had one night in the city itself but planned to spend most of the next day in the area so the next morning, we were up early to check out of our hotel and drive to McLeod Plantation. There are a variety of plantations to tour around Charleston and we were unsure which one to choose but McLeod Planation was recommended to us by our tour guide at Owen House in Savannah a few days earlier.
Arriving early, we bought tickets and had just a short wait until our tour was called. A guide took us around the grounds explaining the property’s chequered past and we were then left to continue exploring the house and grounds ourselves. It was a really interesting morning and definitely worth a visit.
Seeing as we’d made such an early start to the day, we still had plenty of time to spare so decided to take a ride out to the coast,and more specifically, Folly Beach. As we neared the beach town though, we hit traffic jams and warnings that the cars parks were all already full. Having not researched alternative places to park or if there were any park and ride schemes, and not planning on spending a huge amount of time there anyway, we decided it wasn’t worth the wait or the cost of parking and turned around deciding to make alternative plans.
While talking to other residents at our hotel the previous afternoon, some of them had mentioned visiting a huge and very old Oak Tree, the Angel Oak. We had looked up the tree and where to find it in case we had time to see it and as the sat nav was telling us it wasn’t too far away, we decided to make a lunch stop there. Said to be the largest Oak Tree east of the Mississippi, the tree, estimated to be over 300 years old, was definitely an impressive site.
Running out of things to do around Charleston, we decided to hit the road and try to make it to Congaree National Park today instead of visiting the next day like we’d originally planned. We estimated we could be there between 2pm and 3pm giving us a couple of hours to explore before driving to our nearby roadside motel for the night.
Sure enough, we made it to the park in just a couple of hours. Once there, we stopped at the Harry Hampton Visitor Centre, picking up Junior Ranger booklets to fill in before taking a circular walk through the park along the board walks leading from the centre.
The park had a weirdly tropical rainforest feel to it made more intense by the extreme humidity that afternoon and the increasingly loud rumbles of thunder echoing in the distance. We made it back to the visitor centre just as the first few large drops of rain began dripping through the canopy of trees above us and onto the boardwalk.
After completing our Junior Ranger booklets back in the shelter of the visitor centre and earning our Junior Ranger badges, we hit the road again just as the storm began to pass over.
From the park, it was just a 30-minute drive to our roadside motel in Orangeburg, close to which we found our first Cracker Barrel of the trip to visit for dinner that evening.
Fitting in Congaree National Park that day meant we could now wave South Carolina state goodbye and make an early start towards Atlanta, Georgia the following day. It had been a brief first visit to the state of Carolina and we knew that the state had a lot more to offer but we’d fit plenty in and had really enjoyed our time there.
With neither of us having any experience at driving something which seemed pretty huge to us (but seems a pretty standard car size in the US!), we were a bit wary at first but were soon cruising along the freeway towards our final destination of the day, Savannah, Georgia.
As with our previous US road trip, we had tried to plan regular stops along the way on each drive day at road side attractions and sites of interest. Today’s first stop was in the Floridian town of Christmas which, as well as having a Christmas tree on display all year round, is also home to Swampy, the World’s Largest Alligator (sculpture!). The huge sculpture sits outside the Jungle Adventures Animal Park and while we didn’t visit the park itself, it was fun to pose alongside – and in the mouth of – the sculpture!
Already running late on our rough schedule after delays picking up our hire car and our first stop, we soon hot roadworks causing us to divert. Finding ourselves in St Augustine, we stopped to grab lunch and supplies at a Walmart then followed signposts to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth, deciding it might be a good place to sit and eat lunch at.
If we’d had more time, it would have been fun to pay the entrance fee and actually see the fountain but after eating and stretching our legs, it was time to get back on the road again and cross the border into the state of Georgia.
We had booked a dolphin-watching sunset boat trip out of Tybee Island, on the outskirts of Savannah for that evening thinking we’d have plenty of time to make it but as we were till running late and hit more diversions around roadworks, it was looking less and less likely we would. Not having any access to the internet or being able to ring the company with the cost of calls from our UK phones, we had to make a decision whether to see if could make it or just give up and head straight to our Savannah accommodation. It could have gone either way so we decided to continue to Tybee Island and hope for the best.
Arriving at the departure point right around the time of departure, we quickly found a parking space and ran to the dock only to see the boat pull away and sail down the river without us.
Disappointed but not surprised, we drove into Savannah and checked into the hotel we’d be staying at for the next couple of nights, briefly venturing into the city to grab a snack before returning to our room.
The next morning,we were up early to get out and explore the city. Being early August, it was a hot and humid day as we wandered along the streets and through the pretty squares. We stopped at Chippewa Square, famous for being where the Forrest Gump bench scene was set. The bench he sat on in the film isn’t actually in the Square, it was a prop but the Square itself is very recognisable.
After passing some other Savannah landmarks including the historic Savannah Theatre and the huge Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist, we found ourselves in Forsyth Park with its canopy of oak trees leading to its pretty fountain.
Next, deciding we needed to get out the heat and into some aircon, we walked to the Savannah History Museum to learn a bit more about the southern city.
We bought a combo ticket which also gave us access to the Jepson Centre, a contemporary art museum, which we made our next stop, and Owen House, one of the city’s historic homes.
Our tour of the large house was really interesting and our guide even gave us some recommendations for our upcoming stay in Charleston, SC.
Following our tour of the historic home, we walked down to the waterfront, strolling along the banks of the Savannah River and visiting some of the shops there.
We then walked through the busy City Market area with its many shops and restaurants before returning to our hotel to once again cool off in some air-con!
That evening, we returned to the waterfront, visiting one of the River Street restaurant bars for dinner.
While the heat had taken some getting used to, Savannah had been a really beautiful city to spend a day exploring! We’d be briefly leaving he state of Georgia the next day to visit Charleston in South Carolina but we were looking forward to returning later in our trip to spend some time in and around the city of Atlanta.
I am a huge Disney fan, always have been after growing up on a diet of pretty much nothing but classic Disney animations but as a child, Walt Disney World was always somewhere unaffordable and out of reach. We had won a family weekend to Disneyland Paris in the late ’90s and I’d loved every second of it but the huge Florida attraction with its multiple parks was always the dream and now, finally, in my late 30s, I was finally getting to visit!
Along with a couple of friends, I had an epic road trip along America’s East Coast planned. Starting in Miami, over almost 5 weeks we would be working our way up to the state of Maine before looping our way round to our final destination of Boston, MA and as we’d be passing Orlando on the way, it seemed the perfect excuse to finally visit Walt Disney World. While many UK visitors often spend 2-3 weeks at Disney World taking their time to get the most out of the experience, we planned to spend just 6 nights there working out that it would give us enough time to visit all of the parks providing we planned carefully and made good use of all our time.
One of my travel buddies had been on numerous visits to the park before and therefore knew the sites well and all the tricks to make the most out of our visit so we were more than happy to let her arrange an itinerary for us. We booked 6 nights on site at one of Disney’s ‘budget’ hotels, Art of Animation Resort, and got memory makers and fast passes included. A few weeks before arriving, we were able to use the park’s website to pre-book fast passes for some of the rides so it was important to plan out which park we’d be in on which day in advance rather than just decide once we were there.
Unfortunately, with it being the height of the summer season at the parks, there were no offers on Disney dining to take advantage on and we knew that food was going to be one of the main expenses of our stay.
After spending the first couple of nights of our trip in Miami, we had hired a car for the day to drive to Orlando airport. Once there, we dropped the car off and caught our pre-booked Disney ‘Magic Express’ bus to our resort. Just as we arrived, an afternoon thunder storm hit as is often the case in the summer there. It seemed to be easing off so we decided to start making our way from the check-in counter to our room in the Little Mermaid themed block. It turned out it was quite a walk and half way there, the rain suddenly got harder – much harder. Out in the open in the torrential rain with nowhere to shelter, we just had to keep going as quick as we could, our luggage getting heavier and heavier as it soaked up the water!
We finally made it to our block looking like 3 drowned rats and had to spend the next hour wringing out our clothes and finding places to try and hang up the clothes on top of our cases which were soaked through!
Our room was basically the same as what you’d expect at a budget chain such as Econo Lodge, Days Inn or a Super 8 but at a hiked up price because of the Disney decor. It was fine for what we needed – we’d be spending minimal time in there – and I especially like the ‘magic mirror’ on the wall which made me look considerable lighter than I was!!
Within an hour, the rain finally stopped and with it still being late afternoon, we decided to stick to our proposed itinerary and head into one of the parks. The hotel offered free transfers into all the parks on regular bus services leaving from just outside the reception area so, after first popping to the hotel gift store to buy Disney ponchos, we caught the bus to the Hollywood Studios Park.
Arriving in time to use our fast passes we had booked for a few of the rides, we spent the rest of the evening in the park, grabbing a burger meal from one of the many food outlets for dinner. I really loved the park’s thrill rides, Rock n Roll Coaster and the Hollywood Towers and, even though I was rubbish at it, the shoot out ride Toy Story Mania!
All of the parks have a show running at the end of the night but, tired from a busy day, we decided to save Hollywood Studio’s Fantasmic show for another day we had planned at this park and returned to our hotel early instead.
For our first full day at the resort, we had planned to visit EPCOT. We were up early and walked to the hotel’s dining area to get some breakfast before heading into the park. We found that the children’s breakfast deals were available to anyone of any age and were more than enough for what we wanted including pancakes, fruit and a drink so ordering these kept the cost of breakfast down a bit. Then we queued for the EPCOT bound bus, arriving just before the gates to the park opened. The queues into the park were well organised and it didn’t take long to clear security and the entrance gates.
After taking the obligatory photos with the famous huge golf-ball-esque structure at the park’s entrance, we spent the first half of the day in the area just beyond that using our fast passes to ride the excellent Soarin’ ride and queueing for some of the other attractions and shows on offer. We split up and used the solo rider to queue to save time and ride Test Track then went for lunch at the Garden Grill Cafe, again eating off the children’s menu to save a bit of money.
In the afternoon, we started to walk around the park’s lake to visit all the various areas themed on different countries, fitting in a meet and greet with Frozen’s Elsa and Anna in ‘Norway’ after riding Frozen Ever After.
At the end of the day, we found a spot to watch the IllumiNations fireworks show over the lake before catching the bus back to our resort.
After an exhausting first full day at Disney, we were up early again the next day, once again grabbing a children’s breakfast from the hotel diner before queuing for a transfer bus. This morning’s destination was one of the 2 waterparks on site, Typhoon Lagoon. We planned to spend the morning here, returning to the hotel briefly to freshen up and change before spending the afternoon and evening in the Magic Kingdom.
The waterpark was pretty busy meaning we didn’t get on a lot of water slides in the short time we were there but we still had lots of fun in the wave pool and riding the lazy river. We sat poolside at one of the bars eating a delicious Disney pizza for lunch before catching the bus back to the hotel.
That afternoon, the rain started to pour just as we arrived at the Magic Kingdom. We huddled under the bus shelters until the worst of it passed over then, ponchos on, made our way past security and through the gates onto Main Street.
Despite the dreary weather, I was still so excited to get my first glimpse of the Disney Castle!!
Our first fast pass for the afternoon was for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train but we arrived to find it had closed due to the weather. This at least meant our fast passes were now open to join the queue at any time that day once the ride reopened. Over the course of the afternoon we managed to get through a few of the park’s shows and rides, including it’s 3 mountains – Splash, Space and Big Thunder – and that evening stayed to watch the incredible light and firework show over the castle.
The next day we were off to Animal Kingdom again making use of the fast pass system to ride some of the more popular attractions and then using the interactive map on the Disney app to see what queue times were for everything else.
This park quickly became one of my favourites. I loved the theming, enjoyed the shows including Finding Nemo and the Lion King and rides like Dinosaur, Expedition Everest and the Kali River Rapids and the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction was amazing!
We spent the entire day in the park from when it opened til closing, attending the spectacular River of Light show at the end of the evening, a show specially designed not to include any fireworks so as not to upset the park’s many animals.
The following day, we returned to the Hollywood Studios park, this time planning to spend the entire day there. As well as getting to ride some of our favourites like the Tower of Terror over and over again, it also gave us the opportunity to ride some of the rides we’d not had time to go on the other evening including the Slinky Dog Coaster in Toy Story Land, a ride so popular it was one of the few we couldn’t fast pass and the only ride across all the parks we had to queue over an hour for.
We also enjoyed attending some of the park’s Disney movie-based shows like the Little Mermaid show, the Frozen singalong and Beauty and the Beast.
We hadn’t met many of the Disney characters at this point but Hollywood Studios provides plenty of opportunities for this so we got photos with Pluto, Minnie and, of course, Mickey Mouse.
At the end of the day, we watched Fantasmic, Hollywood Studio’s large scale end of the day show starring a whole host of Disney favourites.
Our final day at Disney World just had to be spent back in the Magic Kingdom! As the sun was shining, we took some time to retake our photos in front of the Disney Castle then spent the rest of the day riding anything we hadn’t already been on, returning to a few of our favourites and watching some of the shows.
Highlight of the day was the afternoon character parade. Despite it being so hot and humid I thought I might pass out at one point, it was great fun to wave at the Disney characters as they rode floats or marched along the street. We also got to meet some of our favourite Disney Princesses in the Princess Pavilion and The Little Mermaid’s Grotto.
With lots of packing to do back at our hotel and an early start ahead of us, we left the Magic Kingdom behind before the firework show began, the It’s a Small World song stuck in our heads as we made our way back to our room.
The next morning we’d be picking up our hire car and driving north to the state of Georgia. I had really enjoyed my stay at Disney and it had definitely been worth the wait. Trying to fit it all into less than a week’s stay was exhausting and we hadn’t wasted a minute. While it was definitely doable, especially with the use of fast passes to maximise our time, I would definitely like to plan for longer and take my time a bit more if I ever return. And I really hope I do get to return one day!!
Starting our East coast road trip with one day in Miami
After spending months planning another adventure driving through the USA, it was finally time to set off. We’d be catching a morning flight from Heathrow that would have us in Miami mid-afternoon. Once through passport control at Miami airport, we followed signs to the station to catch a bus into the city. We’d researched which number bus to catch and which stop to get off at for our South Beach motel and as the stops flashed up on the screens inside the bus, it was a pretty straightforward – and cheap – way to get to our destination.
Once checked in, we went out for a walk. Our motel was conveniently located across the road from the famous South Beach so after heading north along Washington Avenue finding somewhere to grab a snack and popping into the few souvenir stores we passed along the way, we walked east along Lincoln Road Mall, a shopping and entertainment district and looped around to South Beach following the path that runs behind the beach south, parallel to Ocean Drive with all its art deco buildings.
The sun was setting by the time we reached our motel so being jet-lagged from travelling, we called it a night making sure we got plenty of sleep for the busy day we had planned for the next day.
Having just one full day in the city, we had decided to take a combo tour which would include a visit to the Everglades, a city tour and a sightseeing cruise on Biscayne Bay. From the reading on the booking site, we were expecting this to be one long day tour run by a single company where we’d be with the same group all day but we soon realised this was not the case but instead, 3 different tours run by 3 different companies tenuously linked together in a rather disorganised way!
After checking in for the tour at a Lincoln Road Mall tourist information centre, we were told we had some time to kill before our scheduled departure so we walked along to South Beach to get some photos with its colourful beach huts. Then, back at the tour company office, we were eventually shepherded onto a double decker bus to be ferried out to the Everglades.
After being dropped at the head quarters for boat trips in the Everglades, we were given a number depending on the type of boat trip we had opted to take.
Having taken a private airboat trip along the Platte River in Nebraska the year before, we had opted to take a standard boat trip this time. Once our number was called, we queued up to board a larger airboat and this took us through the swamps to spot some ‘gators. As we cruised through the Everglades, we made regular stops so our guide could talk to us about what we were seeing.
It was great fun speeding through the swamp land and we managed to spot a few alligators hiding in the lilies and reeds along the way.
After our boat trip, we were given the opportunity to watch a presentation about the alligators and to meet one then we were provided with a sandwich lunch before boarding the bus again to return to Miami.
Once back in Miami, we were expecting to begin our city tour straight away but instead arrived back to chaos as various groups of people all booked onto different combo tours etc were gathered trying to find out where to go. We were eventually told by harassed staff that the buses lining the road were not the ones we needed to catch and that our bus was running late so we used the opportunity to go get cold drinks to cool down from the heat returning just as our bus pulled in.
Our city tour turned out to be similar to a hop on/off tour bus. The bus had a live guide who gave a commentary as we travelled through the city along Ocean Drive, Will Smith’s Miami blaring out, and out towards the downtown financial area. We sat on the outside upper deck of the bus and typically, as we drove towards our first stop in Little Havana, it started to rain heavily. Luckily, it was just a short, sharp shower!
Once in Little Havana, we were lead immediately into a Cigar shop to try and entice some group members into buying something from there. After a quick look at the staff rolling the cigars, we made a swift exit and instead wandered down to ‘Domino Park’ where locals famously sit and play dominoes and chess. The heavens opening again, we found shelter looking around some of the local store then under a shop parapet until it was time to board the bus again.
Leaving our first stop in Little Havana, the rain stopped again but we were instead harassed by an alarming number of low hanging branches on some of the residential roads! It was lucky that there wasn’t really anything to see at this point as we all spent most of the ride ducking down between the bus seats to avoid being smacked by a branch! While we all laughed about it, it wasn’t the safest I’d ever felt on one of these sightseeing tours!
The tour continued towards downtown Miami but we found that there was still very little of interest to see along the way, or at least on the route we were taken.
We were dropped off downtown at the marina a couple of hours before our Biscayne Bay Cruise was ready to leave by Bayside, a large shopping and entertainment mall by the marina, so we spent some time looking around and having dinner at pizzeria there until it was time to board.
While we had enjoyed visiting the Everglades, the organisation once we returned to Miami and the city tour being a bit of a disappointment had put a slight dampener on our day but I was looking forward to our cruise and it didn’t disappoint. The views were beautiful, especially once the weather started to clear and the dark clouds dispelled and I enjoyed the commentary as we sailed pointing out some of the celebrity homes we passed as well as Miami landmarks.
By the time the cruise finished, we were exhausted by what had been a long and busy day. We once again boarded the city tour bus and were dropped back by Lincoln Road Mall from where we once again walked the short distance along Ocean Drive back to our motel.
Trying to see Miami in what was effectively one day was probably not the best idea in hindsight and I would have liked to have been able to take more really exploring the different districts and just to have spent more time around South Beach enjoying the atmosphere and relaxing. But the next day, we had to be up early to get to the airport and pick up our one-day hire car to drive to Orlando for a few days of Disney fun. I really hope I get to return to Miami sometime in the future and give it the time I feel it deserves.
We’d learnt a few lessons from our first trip – mainly, not to plan quite so much!! Many of the more random road side stops we had down on our itinerary the first time around ended up being kicked to the kerb after we realised we were adding up to 3 hours onto our travel time estimates due to little things like supermarket stops, petrol stops, comfort breaks, food stops and, of course, unpredictable traffic and roadworks!
So this time, the idea was not only to plan less for each day, but to keep our drive times down to an estimated 4-5 hours at most, less if we only had a one night stop between.
We’d found that some of the most fun stops last time had been the random roadside attractions so we were still planning to use some of the same road side attraction websites we had used to plan our Midwest trip in the hope we’d find some more “World’s largest…” etc sites to jump out and grab a photo with and we again wanted to include a mixture of cities and National Parks along the way.
Looking at the map, there were a range of states from Maine at the northern tip of the east coast, right down to Florida and the most southern tip that at least one of us hadn’t visited before so we wanted to try and cover the entire coast in 3-4 weeks as well as heading inland slightly revisit one of our favourite cities from our Trek trips – Nashville – and head to Great Smoky Mountains National Park while we were in Tennessee state.
Deciding to travel South to North, we plotted out a route starting with a couple of nights in Miami then, following a few days at Walt Disney World, continuing into the states of Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina ,Virginia and Maryland. Then, after a few nights in New York, we’d head into New England stopping in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, looping round from Boston through Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and back to Boston, MA before flying home.
It was going to be a long trip and it took a lot of hour looking at google maps and investigating what there was to see and where the best place was for overnight stops along the way but once we had a rough idea of what was going to work, we were ready to book our outbound flights to Miami and our inbound ones from Boston and start looking at each day in more detail.
Walt Disney World was our next priority and we decided to stay on site for 6 nights at their Little Mermaid themed motel as booking this direct through Disney got us ‘memory makers’ with fast pass access and photo passes included. As this meant we didn’t need a car for this part of our trip, we decided to make 2 car hire bookings – day hire to get us from Miami to Orlando then the main long term car hire from Orlando to Boston for the rest of our road trip.
For our accommodation, we decided to stick to a similar formula to last time and mainly have a mixture of one and 2-night stops. For many of our one-night stops we looked for roadside chain motels along our route with free parking and breakfast included and for city stops, tried to find budget hotels with reasonable parking charges.
New York City was the big challenge here. Neither of us really wanted to drive in the city so somewhere outside of Manhattan but with good transport links into the city was what we were looking for. We eventually settled on a Jersey City hotel right by the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel and walking distance from a metro station with connections to both midtown’s Penn Station and downtown’s World Trade Centre.
Some of our our original plans changed slightly as our research revealed attractions and even National Parks we didn’t know about (Congaree in South Carolina?!) that weren’t far from our original route and therefore just had to be added into our itinerary but mainly, our final itinerary resembled our original plan.
And as the summer approached, we couldn’t wait to get back to the State and on the road again!!!
Boston is one of my favourite cities to visit in the USA and one I take every opportunity to return to. Here’s my guide to this charming New England city!
Where to stay
My first trip to the city, we had very little idea about the best area to stay in and left it to fate winning a 4* hotel on Priceline’s Name You Own Price feature near the Old Statehouse. The location turned out to be perfect, close to the Freedom Trail and nearby shops, in walking distance of the waterfront and Boston Common. When returning to the city a few years later, I booked a more budget hotel in a similar area only to be contacted by the travel company a few weeks before our departure to say they’d double booked and cancelling our reservation. We were offered a similar priced hotel but it was on the outskirts of the city with very little in the way of transport connections nearby and therefore not at all convenient to our needs. With it being Easter weekend, Patriots Day and the Boston Marathon while we were there, we struggled to find any available rooms in our price range, eventually grabbing a last minute cancellation just slightly above our budget in Boston’s South End. While not quite as conveniently located as our original choice of hotel, the area still made for a good base to explore the city and in walking distance of many of the city’s attractions. On my last visit to the city, I stayed close to Boston Common, again putting us in walking distance of many of the city’s attractions and the ‘T’, Boston’s metro system.
Having twice found ourselves trying to navigate our way through or around the city of Boston in a car, I really do not recommend it! The city is extremely walkable and the ‘T’ subway system is easy to navigate if you’re heading to anywhere slightly outside of the city centre.
I’ve mainly used taxi’s to get to and from the airport, only once attempting to use public transport, using the airport link bus to the main station in the city and the subway from there to the hotel. While doable, it wasn’t the easiest way to get our luggage across the city and with us arriving at rush hour, we spent a lot of time stuck in traffic.
On my first visit to the city, we made use of the city’s hop on/off trolley to do some sightseeing, mainly as it was included in the Go Boston sightseeing card we had purchased. This was a good way to get our bearings in an unfamiliar city and to learn about about the city as well as meaning we could mainly avoid using the subway system.
Boston Common and Public Gardens
Boston Common is a great place to start any trip to Boston. As well as being at the start of the historic Freedom Trail, it provides easy access to other areas of the city including Beacon Hill and Newbury Street. The common is right next to the beautiful Boston Public Gardens where as well as wandering past the colourful flower beds, for a few dollars you can take a ride on one of the famous swan boats around the lake.
The Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile marked trail around historic places around the city of Boston, was top of my to do list on my first visit to the city. Seeing a walking tour of the start of the trail included on our Go Boston tourist card, we booked a space, meeting our historically-dressed guide in Boston Common. The tour took us past the Park Street Church and into the adjacent burial ground and then down towards the Old South Meeting House and the Old Statehouse where, after hearing the story of the 1770 Boston Massacre, we were left to continue the trail ourselves.
We opted to visit the Old South Meeting House and then the museum at the Old Statehouse before following the trail down to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. After using our Go Boston passes to take a narrated harbour boat-tour, we continued to follow the waymarkers to follow the Freedom Trail through Boston’s North End.
Here, we used our passes to visit the Paul Revere House and then made our way to Old North Church.
As it was already early evening, we turned around and made our way back to our hotel at that point and it wasn’t until my next visit to the city that I completed the Freedom Trail, taking a tour of City Hall whose golden dome looms over Boston Common before revisiting some of the sites along the trail and continuing on past the Old North Church to see the USS Constitution, an old warship, and then walking to the Bunker Hill Monument where we climbed the almost 300 steps to the top to see the views over the city.
Following the Freedom Trail is a really great way to see the city of Boston and learn about America’s history!
If you can make it to the end of the Freedom Trail and have enough energy left to climb the hill to the base and then the 294 steps to the top, then the Bunker Hill Monument offers pretty views of the city in the distance.
For more close up views of the city, the Skywalk Observatory on the 50th floor of the Prudential Tower is situated close to Copley Place, right in the centre of the city and offers sweeping views in every direction. It was a beautiful, clear day when we visited and the views over the Charles River in one direction and across South Boston and Cape Cod Bay in the other direction were amazing.
With Boston being one of America’s most historically rich cities, there are plenty of museums offering opportunities to learn about its past.
Many of the museums are housed in buildings of historical importance such as the Old South Meeting House and Old State House, both on the Freedom Trail and contain a variety of artefacts and interactive exhibits to explore.
Down on the waterfront, as well as the Boston Aquarium and the Children’s Museum, is the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, an interactive exhibition where you get to board a full-size replica of an 18th century vessel and throw ‘tea’ into the harbour like its 1773. While I found the interactive elements of the museum aimed more at children, it was still interesting to learn about such a famous event and the tea-throwing was especially fun.
Boston is also home to the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Slightly out of the city in the Dorchester neighbourhood, the museum is easily reachable via the ‘T’ subway system and a courtesy bus from the UMass station.
The museum has exhibits on the life of Kennedy, his presidency, assassination and legacy and we spent a good few hours exploring its collections. Situated right on the waterfront, the museum grounds also offers beautiful views over the bay.
As well as history museums, Boston is also the home of a range of art galleries including the Museum of Fine Arts
Beacon Hill is one of the most picturesque neighbourhoods of Boston to walk through with its cobbled streets and red brick buildings.
On the northside of Boston Common, the area is great place to visit if you’re looking for boutique shops, small art galleries and antiques stores. It is also home to the famous, and now only, ‘Cheers’ bar in Boston. Formally, there was a themed bar based on the layout of the bar in the popular 80s US sitcom in Quincy Market, but now this has closed leaving just the Beacon Hill bar. While the interior of this bar is not very reminiscent of the bar in the show, the outside, with the steps leading down to the entrance, is instantly recognisable. As well as serving food and drinks, the bar has a store selling Cheers themed merchandise.
As well as being home to some of the stops along Boston’s Freedom Trail, the North End – Boston’s Italian district – is also worth a stroll through to visit one of its many Italian bakeries where you can grab a delicious cannoli. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat out in the evening, you’ll also find plenty of options here with some top class Italian and seafood restaurants.
Fenway Park is the baseball stadium famously home to the Boston Red Sox team and the oldest baseball stadium in the US that’s currently still in use.
I decided to take a tour of the grounds when it was included on my Go Boston tourist card during my first visit to the city and, while not a baseball fan at all, or a fan of any sports for that matter, I still found it to be really interesting finding out about the ground’s – and team’s – history.
On my next visit to the city, I found out the Red Sox would be playing against New York’s equally famous Yankees team while I was in the city so I couldn’t resist going one step further and booking tickets to actually watch a game at Fenway Park one evening. It was certainly an experience and while it was fun for a while, mainly before the game started with the crowd atmosphere and mass singalongs, I had no idea what was going on once the game started and found it to be very stop start and left way before it drew to a close!
There are plenty of ways to get out on the water in Boston from the Codzilla speed boat to the more sedate dinner cruises and even a tea party cruise on a tall ship.
I took a historic harbour cruise and over the 90-minutes on board, a commentary told us about some of the areas history while we looked out across beautiful views of the city’s skyline in the distance.
Another really fun way to get out on the water is to take a whale watching cruise.
This was a really amazing experience as we sailed out to sea, watching the city views fade into nothing before witnessing the amazing sight of huge whales basking on the surface of the water and swimming past us just under the surface.
We swapped the habour for the Charles River on a Boston Duck Tour.
Starting on land with a madcap commentary as we toured the city, we then set sail along the Charles River for some beautiful views of the city.
Across the river, in the district of Cambridge, lies the World famous Harvard University. We took the ‘T’ subway out to have a look around, taking a student-lead tour of the campus. While it is possible to just wander around the grounds without a taking a tour, we found it interesting to learn a bit of the university’s history and the tour also gave us access to a couple of buildings we wouldn’t have otherwise gone inside!
There are plenty of opportunities to shop in Boston, with something for everyone from the high street stores of Downtown Crossing – they even have a Primark! – to the more exclusive boutique stores of Beacon Hill and the eclectic stalls of Quincy market.
Newbury Street is probably the most well known of Boston’s shopping districts. Running along 8 blocks from the west side of the Public Gardens, it is home to a mixture of both internationally renowned designer boutiques, high street brands and local one of a kind boutique stores, all housed in huge Victorian red-brick buildings.
For more high street stores as well as large department stores and more high end fashion houses, the Prudential Centre and Copley Place are also great places to shop in the city.
Venturing out of the city
There are plenty of opportunities to get out of the city of Boston and visit the surrounding area.
We took a train north to the town of Salem, infamous for the 17th century Salem Witch Trials. There were plenty of museums and attractions on offer here to find out about the history of the town and the witch trials but we found many of them to be on the tacky side, the ‘museum’ we chose to visit, consisting of being lead around a series of crude wax figures by a guide dressed up in as a 17th century Salemite retelling the story of what happened and another giving us the opportunity to sit through a reenactment of one of the trials.
Other trips out we have taken have included a drive out to the town of Plymouth to see the Plymouth Rock and out to Cape Cod and the town of Hyannis.
It is possible to take a fast from Boston Harbour out to Cape Cod for a day trip as well as to the Boston Habor Islands State and National Park.
A trip to Boston, Massachusetts is always worthwhile and I look forward to the day I can return to this historic city.
Our route from the town of Liberal, Kansas to today’s destination of Oklahoma City, took us through a corner of Texas so we pulled over to grab photos with the state border sign and had lunch at a Texan Dairy Queen so that we could say we had set foot in the state of Texas this trip!
After popping to Texas for lunch, we continued to Oklahoma state where we picked up the famous Route 66.
Our first Oklahoma stop was in Elk City at the National Route 66 Museum. The museum mainly showed information on travelling Route 66, in its heyday and the present.
It covered all the states which the road passes through from Illinois to California and you could read and hear first hand stories of what it was like to travel along it. Its displays depicted mock ups of typical Route 66-style diners, drive-ins and gas stations with old cars parked around the exhibition. It was a fun and really nostalgic place to look around.
Ahead of schedule for once, we continued along the road – making sure we each had a turn at driving a stretch of it – to the town of Clinton and a second museum, the Route 66 Museum which contained further memorabilia from the iconic road’s past.
Set up in decades, each showing a snapshot of the road in time, this museum concentrated more on the history of Route 66 covering it’s rise, fall and resurrection to its current cult status. It was a shame this had been the second museum we had come to as I think it warranted more time spent here reading the information in the displays compared to its Elk City counterpart. If we had known that in advance, we’d have spent less time at the first museum to give us more time here. For the small entry fee though, both museums were worth visiting, even if short on time, as they both offered different but interesting takes on the road.
From here, we left Route 66 behind for a while to take the Interstate through to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma! from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical blaring out on repeat. Despite being ahead of schedule earlier, our stop at the second museum followed by hitting rush hour traffic meant it was late evening by the time we arrived at our hotel so after checking in and walking to the nearby Denny’s for dinner, we decided to leave the exploring til tomorrow and instead have a night in doing laundry and having an early night.
Desperate to do white water rafting on our trip after all really enjoying the experience on the Wyoming-leg of our Trek America trip before, we had gone back on forth on where we could fit it in on our trip. Deciding we couldn’t really divert from our route to fit it in at any of the places we had found offering it in Wisconsin and Minnesota, we had given up on the idea when we noticed a river sports facility in Oklahoma River offering white water rafting on a man-made course.
We knew it wouldn’t quite be the same as rafting on a real river but thought it would still be fun so we’d booked passes to raft the next morning.
After checking in at the centre, we changed into clothes we didn’t mind getting wet and picked up our safety vests and helmets then went for an orientation and safety talk before boarding our rafts. We went around the course a few times and if anything, the rapids were a lot bigger than any we’d experienced river rafting before. It was still great fun though and, while not as authentic without the scenery of travelling down a natural river, a great alternative.
Our passes gave us access to some of the other activities available at the centre and we had a few goes on the giant inflatable water slides after but, exhausted from our rafting experience and with time that could be spent exploring Oklahoma City ticking on, we changed back into our dry clothes and decided to move on.
Finding somewhere to park in Oklahoma City’s Brick Town area, we spent the next few hours exploring the city.
After looking around Brick Town, an area which we guessed came more alive at night with its bars and restaurants, we wandered up towards the city’s National Memorial and Museum. The memorial commemorates the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing in which 168 people lost their lives.
While we didn’t have time to visit the museum itself, wandering around the memorial and reading the information available on the significance of its design features, especially its 168 empty chairs, was a moving experience.
After paying our respects at the memorial, we walked to Myriad Botanic Gardens and strolled through its grounds, passing its Crystal Bridge Conservatory before returning to Brick Town and our car.
If we had had more time, it would have been nice to have visited the museum at the National Memorial or take a guided tour on a water taxi along the Brick Town canal to find out more about the city but as it was now early evening, we were hungry so instead deciding it was time to get some dinner. Having not see anywhere we fancied eating at in the city, we drove out to a Cracker Barrel on the city outskirts before returning to our hotel for the evening.
The next morning, we were leaving Oklahoma state and travelling on to Arkansas. We had tentative plans to pay a quick visit to the city of Tulsa first but after previous experiences of trying to find places to park in a city, and with a 6 hour drive day ahead of us, we decided against it.
There was however, one more Route 66 roadside attraction just outside of Tulsa city we just had to see – the Blue Whale of Catoosa. Back in the 70s, the glory days of Route 66, this was a popular stop along the road where travellers could picnic and swim in the pool surrounding the giant whale but as new, faster roads were built and Route 66 fell out of use, the park and its huge whale closed and fell into disrepair.
With Route 66 later being revived and now a popular tourist route, the whale has now been restored as a popular Route 66 attraction. While it is no longer used as a water slide – and swimming in the surrounding pond is no longer recommended! – it is possible to walk into the whale and clamber on top of it for some fun photos!
Our visit to the Blue Whale of Catoosa was a great way to end our visit to Oklahoma state and we left for Arkansas state with huge smiles on our faces.
Kansas City actually lies across two states, Missouri and Kansas but on our visit, we would be staying in the Missouri part of the city, travelling across the border into Kansas the following day.
As usual, we had a few road side stops planned before reaching our destination. But, also as usual, after our Nebraska airboat river tour finished later than we had expected that morning, we were already behind schedule and stops for food, conveniences, driver swaps, snack shopping etc etc just put us further and further behind schedule – meaning, if we were going to make it in time for the KC BBQ Food Tour we had booked for that evening, we didn’t have time for any other random stops along the way!
The city skyline finally loomed into view late afternoon and after checking into our hotel, we had just a bit of downtime before it was time to set out for the meeting point of our tour, Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque restaurant.
We’d been inspired to do a BBQ food tour here after being huge fans of London BBQ chain, Bodeans, which has always claimed to get its inspiration from Kansas City BBQ. We were told by our guide that the taste of American BBQ food differs from state to state, mainly because of the sauces used, and we were keen to get started and try some authentic KC BBQ.
We visited three restaurants over the course of the tour, Arthur Bryant’s, LC’s Bar-B-Q and Gates, getting to sample different dishes at each. While the food was delicious at each stop, my favourite was without a doubt the tender burnt ends in a delicious sweet BBQ sauce at LC’s.
Between stops, we were also given a brief tour of Kansas City, our guide pointing out the National World War 1 Museum and Memorial – the most comprehensive WW1 museum in the World – amongst other sites from our tour minibus. It seemed like Kansas City actually had a lot to offer and I wished we had more than one night in the city to explore it properly.
The next morning, we crossed the border into Kansas, eventually leaving the Kansas City limits behind. Kansas was one of the states on our trip we were most excited about with it’s links to the Wizard of Oz and the Wild West and our first stop was in the town of Wamego to visit the Oz Museum.
The museum had displays of a range of Oz-themed memorabilia related to the original books, the famous 1939 film and various other productions including the 80s Disney film, Return to Oz. Some of the displays and models of the characters were on the tacky side and I’d have liked to have seen more memorabilia from the Wizard of Oz film but it was still a fun stop with a great gift shop attached!
After a lunch stop at a nearby Cracker Barrel – a restaurant which then became a staple stop on our trip after we found vegetables to be on the menu!! – we continued through Kansas State to Old Abilene Town, a reconstructed old West town populated with actors dressed as cowboys.
It was free to wander around the town and look in the old buildings and we arrived just in time to see a shoot out being recreated in the town square!
We made one more stop to stretch our legs along our drive, in the town of Kinsey. Said to be the midway point between New York on the East coast and San Francisco on the West coast, there is a huge marker celebrating the fact so we posed for photos with it, excited to be stood exactly in the centre of the USA!
Just as the sun started to set, we arrived at our destination for the next 2 nights – the infamous Dodge City, a Wild West frontier town which has been the setting for many Western-themed films and TV shows.
We were staying at the Wild West themed Dodge House hotel and loved it’s fun decor and saloon door entrance to it’s bar and restaurant!
The next morning, we headed straight to the town’s Boot Hill Museum, a Wild West recreation town which also houses historic exhibits on Dodge City and the Wild West.
We arrived in time to watch the morning shoot-out, a much more exciting and involved production than the one we had witnessed at Old Abilene Town the day before. Then deciding to get into the spirit of things, we paid to dress up as saloon girls for an Old Time Photo!
The museum offered re-entry with its wristband throughout the day, so we took some time out over lunch to explore the rest of Dodge City a bit more before returning later to explore it’s museum exhibits in more detail.
After a late lunch at the local Pizza Hut, we drove up to Cattle Overlook where we found the famous Dodge City welcome sign just across the road making for some fun photo opportunities!
That evening, we returned to the Boot Hill Museum once again, this time for some Wild West-style entertainment at Miss Kitty’s Saloon Show at the museums’s Long Branch Saloon.
Before the saloon opened, there was another chance to watch a good old-fashioned shoot out outside then we were invited to take a table inside for an enjoyable evening of singalongs, skits and dancers.
The following morning, it was time to “Get the hell out of Dodge!” as we continued our journey through Kansas state.
After a long journey past endless fields of corn, we arrived at our final stop in the state, the small town of Liberal.
Liberal is the site of Dorothy’s House, another Wizard of Oz themed Kansas attraction.
Here, a guide in character as Dorothy herself took us into a recreation of the type of house Dorothy Gale would have lived in and talked us through the events of the Wizard of Oz as they were recreated around us.
After we were ‘hit by a tornado’, we entered a recreated Land of Oz and followed Dorothy along the Yellow Brick Road to meet all the characters from the story along the way.
Then, after all clicking our heels together and chanting “there’s no place like home”, we exited into a small Wizard of Oz exhibition with memorabilia from the film and a gift shop.
The experience was very much aimed at young children and we had to supress a few giggles being three grown adults being taken on such a tour but we played along and it was a lot of fun!
Kansas state had been just as much fun as we had anticipated and we were sad to be leaving it behind but we still had lots more adventures ahead of us on our epic Midwest road trip!
After an exciting start to the day seeing the Largest Ball of Twine in the World in Minnesota, we were delayed arriving in the state of Iowa after hitting a few roadblocks and being forced to take some lengthy diversions.
Once across the state line, we headed straight for “Ice Cream capital of the World”, otherwise known as the town of Le Mars. Le Mars is home to Blue Bunny Ice Cream and we went straight to the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlour. There was a small museum about the history of the company upstairs but we were mainly there to taste the wares, settling onto a bar stool to demolish an ice cream sundae!
With time ticking on, we abandoned our tentative plans for stops at a few more roadside attractions in Iowa and instead continued on to the city of Omaha in Nebraska state. We had left our hotel in St Paul, Minnesota at 7.30am that morning and it was 5.30pm when we finally arrived at our Omaha hotel, our 7 hour drive actually taking us 10 hours!
The hotel receptionist was extremely excited to have visitors from the UK at the hotel, wondering what on earth had brought us to Omaha and repeatedly asking us to speak so he could hear our accents!
Exhausted from along day on the road, we resisted the urge to stay in the hotel all evening and instead got the hotel shuttle to the city’s Heartland of America Park.
We had read that it was possible to get gondola rides in the park’s lake over the summer months which we thought sounded like a fun, if a little random, thing to do. Unfortunately, they were not operating that evening but the standard boat rides were so we hopped on the next boat for a trip around the lake, past its impressive fountain, just as the sun started to set.
From the park, we walked into the city and had dinner at a local pizzeria before strolling back to our hotel for a well-deserved sleep.
The following morning, we were leaving Omaha city – and Nebraska state – to head to Kansas City, Missouri. But first, we had a pre-booked morning we had really been looking forward too – airboating on the Platte River just outside of Omaha city. There were a few companies offering this but we had booked a 10am slot with Bryson’s Airboats.
Possibly because it was an early-ish morning slot, we were the only ones on the tour so had the boat to ourselves!
It was a beautifully sunny morning. Our guide took us up and down the river stopping to point out points of interest and to look for wildlife along the way. We were really lucky to see huge golden and bald eagles up close .
Half way through our tour, we were invited to step out of the boat into a shallow section of water in the middle of the river and pose for photos. It wasn’t until we were in that snapping turtles were mentioned but we were assured there’d not be any in that part of the river!!
There were plenty of other airboats out on the river, mainly privately owned boats for personally use, and our guide stopped to introduce us to people he knew explaining they rarely had out-of-Staters visiting Omaha, never mind Brits!
The airboat tour was without a doubt the best thing we had done on our trip so far and, even though we were only a week into our road trip, we all agreed, the experience was going to be hard to top.
It had been a short visit to Nebraska state but definitely one we wouldn’t forget in a hurry!