adventures with kids · quarantine · Tennessee · travel with kids

Visiting Machine Falls with Kids

If you’ve been wanting to chase waterfalls, but wanting to social distance and choose one that’s not so crowded, Machine Falls is a great choice!

We took our daughters, ages 6 and 11, and ran into maybe 10 other families the entire time we were there, including our hike to the falls and back.

Machine Falls was about an hour hike down for us, but I will admit we intentionally took our time so that our youngest would feel safe and comfortable, especially on the slippery rocks toward the end.

Things to know before you go: (I was so glad I did research before visiting!)

  • Wear sneakers or shoes with good traction, and consider bringing water shoes or sandals for the tail end of the hike. You will be hiking down the creek to get to the falls. And the water is COLD.
  • Parking lot is by the big white water tower. Put this address in your GPS: 1861 Short Springs Rd. Tullahoma, TN. Machine Falls is located in Short Springs Natural Area.
  • The trailhead is across the street from the lot.
  • When you begin the trail, you will notice the sign for Machine Falls points in BOTH directions! The path on the right is much easier! We took the path on the left going to the falls and the right path coming back so we know from experience! If you take the more strenuous path on the left, watch out for tree roots and rocks sticking up out of the pathway at the start of your hike. Regardless of which path you choose, as you get closer to the falls, the climb becomes steeper, and some of the steps are loose.
  • When you come upon the little bridge, this is good time to change your footwear.

travel with kids · Uncategorized

Our Bike Ride at Alys Beach

My daughter Anna Claire is ten, and new to riding her bike. She really wanted to ride bikes on 30A during our vacay, so I researched for somewhere safe, less crowded, and with level ground.

Alys Beach fit all of our criteria, plus the architecture and entire little community is so charming. It’s beautifully manicured and photogenic.

Please know my child did not mean to ride into the grass. She didn’t stop in time.

Also, as an added bonus, prior to our trip, I had researched the different bike rental locations along 30A and The Bike Shop at Alys Beach had to the best rates. You should also know that bikes are typically priced for daily rental, and we only needed hourly which they allowed.

I don’t know that a reservation is required, but I opted to reserve ours which gave us confidence that the bike sizes we needed would be available.

A little bike safety lesson: Did you know that the child should ride in front of the adult? This allows you to keep your eyes on them, and call out directions to them. This made my child nervous at first, but I think she liked leading the way by the end.

Back home we are vigilant about wearing our helmets when we ride, since we share the road with car traffic, but with a designated bike lane, no one was wearing one. My daughter loved this! (So did I.)

 

Pro Tip: Be sure to venture down the side roads. We loved looking at the beautiful homes and condos. We also found Charlie’s Donuts which is known for having the best smoothies on 30A. AC had a Long John and we split a mango smoothie. So good!

The Bike Shop at Alys Beach is also located directly across from the large green space and next door to Piper’s food truck in case you work up a thirst or would like a yummy taco after your ride.

Bike riding was a great social distancing activity, and I can honestly say this goes on my list of the top five bike rides I’ve been on in my life.

I will just end by saying how kind, happy and friendly everyone was at Alys. It was contagious!

adventures with kids · foodie · travel with kids · Uncategorized

My Old Kentucky Dinner Train: North Pole Express

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to ride a train? Not a model train like they have at the zoo or at birthday parties, but a REAL TRAIN? Have you wondered what it would be like to experience the Polar Express in real life?

A friend posted about a Polar Express experience a couple of years ago, and since then it has been on my bucket list for my family to have that experience. I researched prices, different train locations and routes, Polar Express experiences offered within a 200 mile radius, and did a ton of reading. I narrowed my options down to two: French Lick and My Old Kentucky Dinner Train. I settled on My Old Kentucky Dinner Train for several reasons:

  • We are a foodie family! We love food. We appreciate fine dining and love any experiences that offer a chance to try new or high quality food. By the way, the food on this train was superb.
  • The thought of eating a delicious meal AND riding a real train AND having a Polar Express experience with Santa, Mrs. Claus, caroling, hot chocolate, and a chocolate Choo-choo train was irresistible. French Lick offered hot chocolate but not a meal. French Lick does offer a dining experience but it was either or. I liked that Kentucky Dinner train allowed us to do Polar Express AND dining combined.
  • Cost. We could drive to the Kentucky train, enjoy or ride and drive back same day. We live near Nashville so this was a better location option for us. French Lick would require us to stay the night which would be an added expense and time investment.
  • French Lick was sold out. I did my I guess you have to be on the ball to book with them! I was somewhat disappointed because French Lick looked more like a true Polar Express experience. I was also somewhat relieved because in my heart of hearts I wanted the dining and Polar Express! Wish granted!

If you are would like your family to have an unforgettable train ride of a lifetime, keep reading and I am more than happy to share our experience with you, as well as tips for planning your own experience.

When you book, you can choose North Pole Express (that is what we chose and what they call their Polar Express experience), regular dinner train, murder mystery, or bourbon excursion. I recommend booking a month or two in advance. I was thankful we thought ahead!

When choosing your date, you might be tempted to choose a date closest to Christmas, but we opted for November. This was a great choice for us because there was still a little fall foliage and the fields we passed along our ride were golden and quite pretty. It also was not as cold as December which is a personal draw for this cold-natured human. What I loved best about going in November is that it got us in the Christmas spirit. I am ready to decorate anything that stands still and Hallmark movies are life!

When considering the departure time for your trip, the North Pole Express departs at 11:00, while the regular dinner train leaves at 4:30. The 11:00 was good for us because we were able to have our train experience and get back home before dark. We did have to get up pretty early and leave our home in Tennessee around 7:00 am, taking into account the time change. We lost an hour traveling there since they are in Eastern time zone and we are in Central.

They ask that you arrive at least a half hour early. This was perfect for us because we were able to get our tickets, use the restroom (there are restrooms on each train car, by the way) browse in their gift shop, visit with Santa and lounge in their charming wait area that was nicely decorated for Christmas.

There is a dress code posted online which was funny to us. We laughed out loud at “sweater set.” While we did follow the dress code, we traveled with quite a few passengers who did not and no one seemed to be giving them a hard time.

We were delightfully surprised when we boarded the train to see a conductor taking our tickets and that the wait staff were dressed as elves. The train cars were decorated for the holidays and the tables were already set with our salad plates and the charcuterie platter and pretzel sticks and beer cheese that we added on.

Before the train even departed, we had time to eat our salads, appetizers and enjoy a couple cups of coffee. Our charcuterie platter was perfect: olives, pepper jack and gouda cheeses, several gourmet crackers, pepperoni, pralines with honey, grapes, and strawberries. They served lemonade or tea, your choice and you get refills the entire trip. You could also order adult beverages if you wanted.

When you purchase your tickets, you are required to submit your food order. The menu is pretty limited, but the food was so surprisingly good. My mother-in-law, older daughter and I ordered the pot roast with mashed potatoes. It was so yummy and the portions were VERY generous  – they let you have to-go boxes. My husband ordered the hot brown, and we got chicken tenders for the younger daughter. Kids get a big cookie for dessert and all of the adults ordered the chocolate raspberry mousse which was divine. We added on chocolate choo-choos for the girls. They were a sight to behold, filled with chocolate mousse and whipped cream.

Santa and Mrs. Claus led the children singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and read “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” They walked through cars off and on for the duration of the ride and made appearances, greeting each of the children with plenty of photo ops.

You will pass some pretty farmland, neighborhoods and Jim Beam distillery. Half the ride you will face forward, then the engine is pulled around and attached to the other end of the train. The other half of the ride you face backward. For half of our ride, our car was the caboose so it was fun to walk to the end of our car, stand in the open air and see the train tracks disappearing behind us.

I would say we were on the train a couple of hours. It was the perfect amount of time, with plenty of time to savor your food, but not too long either, by the time our natives (children) became restless, it was over.

When we arrived back at the train station, the children got their tickets punched and they both received a “Believe” bell keepsake ornament. Santa and Mrs. Claus were also available for photos.

We loved our North Pole Express and dinner train experience! It was a unique opportunity that we all hope to have again. Visit My Old Kentucky Dinner Train’s website for more info.

 

travel with kids · Uncategorized

5 Reasons You’ll Fall in Love with Folly Beach, SC

Folly Beach is an absolute gem.

Almost everyone I talked to who had been to the Charleston area or lived near Charleston said it was not to be missed. We trusted them but were doubtful it could be more beautiful than our Isle of Palms where we were staying.

It was SO beautiful. We fell in love with Folly Beach! In fact, we loved it so much, we made the return trip to visit it twice during our stay.

Why do we love Folly? Here are our top five reasons:

  1. It’s beautiful. The lighting, the rougher waves…they all make for a more picturesque scene.

2. The pier at Folly Beach! You can talk a walk on or under the pier. Be careful walking under with little ones at high tide. The water was surprisingly deep in parts. We loved taking pictures with the pier as our background.

3. The tide pools. These not only proved to make beautiful pictures, reflecting the clouds and the water, but Madeline loved playing in them! It’s where she spent most of her time!

4. Rock sculptures. At the time of our visit this was the popular thing to do! We saw them all along the tide pools and the tide pools is where to look to find the rocks! Madeline got really good at it!

This was someone else’s sculpture but it was the inspiration for Madeline’s.

She did this all by herself. There was a lot of determination that went into making it! It fell apart many times before she got to her finished product.

5. The soft sand. This beach was much easier on the feet. Our area of the beach on Isle of Palms had many more shells and pieces of shells requiring you to walk gingerly. Folly had many stretches where you could run and feel the soft sand under your feet.

adventures with kids · travel with kids

Isle of Palms: Chasing the Sunrise

One of our favorite things to do at the beach is catching the sunrise.

I know that may seem contrary to what many people think when they go to the beach. Many want to sleep in, go to the beach later in the day and catch the sunset.

I have to tell you that if you are among these, you are missing out! Especially if you visit a beach on the east coast. So many post and share about sunsets on the beach, but the beach is often crowded at this time and not nearly as bold and brilliant since the sun rises in the east.

Be sure you venture out a half hour before the scheduled sunrise. We visit in the fall and sunrise is around 7:30. Your weather app or a simple Google search will let you know the predicted time of the sunrise, but be aware that there is a beautiful color show 30-45 minutes prior!

Our best experiences finding seashells have been in the early morning. It’s so fun to be the among the first down to seek out what was washed onto the shore during the night.

We found a sand dollar this morning! And a runner gave us beautiful whelks.

This does mean getting up early, but early bird gets the sunrise!

adventures with kids · travel with kids

Packing for Vacation: High Maintenance or Well-Prepared?

When you travel, are there certain creature comforts or extra items you bring along that you wouldn’t find on the typical packing list? I know our family tends to be a little extra!

But one thing I know for sure, the better we prepare, the better trip we have and the happier we are!

As I pondered our extra items, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, we are pretty smart packers! We’ve thought of everything!”

Here are our extras! (Keep in mind we cook on our vacays so many of these are to stock our kitchen – we save money buying items at our local Walmart instead of paying marked up prices near our condo. 🤓)

  • Sound machine (can’t sleep without it)
  • Trash bags
  • Empty Walmart bags
  • Ziploc bags
  • Foil
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Olive oil
  • Vinegar
  • Spices
  • Kosher salt – most condos stock iodized 😣
  • Foaming hand soap (we use a natural kind)
  • Thieves cleaner
  • Dish soap
  • Dishwasher detergent
  • Laundry detergent
  • Coffee
  • Diffuser and essential oils
  • Beach toys
  • Bug spray (diy – natural)
  • Steak seasoning (my husband makes his own)
  • Kids snacks and drink pouches

For the kids:

  • DVDs – new ones they haven’t seen before
  • Art supplies
  • Crafts
  • Games (checkers, uno, etc)
  • Books to read to our 6-year-old at bedtime
  • Kneeling pad for bathing kiddos
  • Pitcher for bathing kiddos to keep water out of their eyes
Books for bedtime! Can’t forget those!

Please share in the comments if any of these are your extras too or if any of these helped you!

adventures with kids · kids · travel with kids · Uncategorized

St. Louis Zoo: Tips for Having a Great Experience

The St. Louis Zoo really needs to be at the top of your list if you’re visiting St. Louis. We live Tennessee and have a membership at Nashville Zoo which we love. I was skeptical that the St. Louis Zoo could be better or different than our beloved zoo, and I was pleasantly surprised.

The zoo is huge. We didn’t come anywhere near seeing it all the day we went. I don’t even know that we saw half! You almost need to look at a map before you go and plan what you want to see the most that day, then plan on coming again in the future to see everything else.

My niece was our amazing tour guide for the day. She grew up in St. Louis and lives right outside of St. Louis so they have been fairly regularly. We were able to see some of the animal feedings and interactions with the trainers which was really neat.

Hedgehog experience

There is a train that routes around the entire zoo, which is a real lifesaver and can save you many footsteps. You do need to know it is popular! We had to wait between 5 and 20 minutes each time we rode the train.

Go early. Arriving when the zoo opens will allow you to avoid crowds. It was definitely more crowded toward the end of our time than when we got there. I would also say to go on a weekday. We have not been on the weekend, but I can imagine it would be more crowded on those days.

The zoo wasn’t so crowded that we couldn’t let the girls walk ahead. Go early!

The zoo is free! What the what? They could easily charge for admission or membership but they don’t.

They DO make money. Food, train rides, carousel, souvenirs and all the extras will cost you. Particularly the animal encounters. To save money you may want to consider packing your own lunches and snacks. We totally tailgated in the parking lot!

Animal encounters. I want to go back to the St. Louis Zoo for this reason alone. While we were there, we noticed several zoo patrons getting to have special experiences that the rest of us weren’t. When we saw the sea lion show, there was a young lady in the audience who was able to go behind the scenes and work with the sea lions. They trained her to do some tricks with them. I was honestly jealous! But then we read anyone could do them if you pay!

At the children’s zoo I saw a little girl who got to go back where the food is prepared for the animals and she was able to handle an baby owl. I want to handle a baby owl!

Baby owl! 🦉

We did the stingray experience which ended up being the coolest part of our visit. You get to feed them and pet them! I was a little nervous about it but if you follow their instructions and do it correctly, you will not get stung. And the baby rays were so adorable!

Stingray experience

There are SO many experiences offered and animals you can see up close and personal: big cats, giraffes, sloths, penguins and more.  The good news is that anyone can do these. You have to schedule them in advance and there is a cost. We will definitely book one of these experiences next time we go!

travel with kids · Uncategorized

Going Inside the Gateway Arch

For as long as I can remember, even since I was a kid, going to the top of The Arch in St. Louis has been on my bucket list. This summer, our family had a chance to experience it. If you ever have the opportunity, you just have to do this.

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Inside the arch museum.

 

What can you expect? And what tips could we give?

  • Go early. If you go early it is way less crowded. We arrived as close to opening as we were able. It wasn’t crowded at all. As we left, I noticed lines were much longer.
  • Get tickets online in advance. I read several blogs before we went where visitors shared that tickets were sold out when they arrived. To avoid this, just go to the Gateway Arch website.
Take screenshots of your online tickets! You won’t have internet access underground.
  • The Arch is a national park now and the newest one at that! It was just declared a national park one year ago.
  • You will need to venture underground to get to access the arch.
  • You will pass through an airport-type security before you can enter the arch or museum.
  • The park has been completely renovated. The museum that you have to pass through to go up into the arch is state-of-the-art, brand new and beautiful. There is a cafe, gift shop and clean restrooms.
  • The Gateway Arch is the tallest structure in Missouri standing at 630 feet. Even after venturing to the top myself, it is a little surreal that we actually went to the top!
  • You will be in very close quarters with people. Traveling up you will ride in a tram, and each pod holds five passengers. They are small. My husband had to duck his head.

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  • While in your pod riding up to the top, the door has a window so you can see the gears and inner workings of the arch, much like you might imagine in an elevator. My ten-year-old got motion sickness from it and we instructed her to close her eyes or look away.
  • When you get to the top, it is surprisingly crowded. There were probably forty or more people up there, which I was not expecting.
  • When you’re at the top you can feel the arch swaying a little if you stand still. I had read about it in advance, that it was normal, so it didn’t scare my crew.
  • There are windows at the top so you can peer out and see the city on one side, and the Mississippi River on the other.

The windows at the top
View of the city from the top

Our favorites? I loved the adrenaline of going to and being at the top. My husband had been when he was a kid, but it had been a long time so he was glad to get to go again. Madeline, my five-year-old said she loved going up and down the arch. Anna Claire, my oldest, loved the cafe and gift shop and said the whole thing was a neat opportunity.

I hope you will make a point to venture to The Arch! It’s an experience of a lifetime.

Here are some more pics. Enjoy!

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Me standing outside the arch.
Just inside the main entrance. The entire building is beautiful.
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The girls holding their tickets. Your ticket number indicates what elevator/pod you will be in.
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The inside of a pod.
The numbered doorways to the pods
My big girl just got over her fear of escalators weeks before this trip.

 

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My people in front of the arch.

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adventures with kids · travel with kids

Louisville Zoo: Tips for an Unforgettable Trip

The Louisville Zoo surprised and delighted us. We are members at the Nashville and go fairly often. We expected this zoo to be really similar to it, but we were thankfully mistaken. A special thank you to our friend Grace and her family. We visited the zoo as her guest, and we were grateful to her for the experience, and for helping us navigate. She guided us through like a pro!
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They have a a carousel just like our zoo!

One of the things that stood out most to me, were the animals we saw. So many that we don’t have at our zoo like lions, polar bears, gorillas or sea lions. I planned on taking tons of pictures, but it’s the videos that really get across how amazing the animals were so that’s what I will attempt to share here.

Lion

I could have stayed here for the longest. I loved how active he was while we were there and how close up we were able to get!

Polar Bear

Check on the zoo website before you visit. Our group was able to see the polar bear and grizzly bear feeding and demo. I was so impressed with the knowledge of the staff and that there were experts at almost every station to teach us more about the animals.

Grizzly Bear

The grizzly bear was so much fun to watch. We not only got to see it’s feeding and demo, we also got to watch him eat a melon and play a little head nodding game with it which made more sense after watching the demo and seeing that was part of it.

Tiger

I can’t tell you how many times we said “perfect timing” while we were at the zoo. It rained twice. Once while we were under the cover of the carousel and once under the cover of the tiger exhibit. We were able to see the tiger feeding and demo and the tiger was also very active for us before and after putting on such a great show.

Gorilla

When we first got to this exhibit neither of the gorillas that were visible to us were active: one was sleeping and the other was over in the corner. I’m so glad we waited and were patient. The sleeping one woke up and the kids played a head scratching game with him.

Splash Pad + Food and Beverage

If you visit the zoo in the summer, be sure to have your kiddos wear swimwear under their clothes. There is an awesome and sizable splash pad where they can cool off. They also sell Dippin Dots and frozen wine in this area. The splash pad is well-placed because we encountered it about the time our crew was getting tired and hot.

As far as lunch, there are burgers and chicken sold near the splash pad, or there is another food and beverage location in the Africa area which is where we ate. You really can make a day of being here.

Zoo Favorites

Our favorite features of this zoo were that there were many animals we can’t find at our zoo, the demos and being able to see them fed, and the splash pad! This will definitely be on our list when we return to Louisville. And we will return!

Noteworthy things to try next trip that we missed this time: pony or camel ride, sea lion show, train ride (wasn’t operating the day we were there).