adventures with kids · travel with kids

The Stranger Things Experience Atlanta

This year for Christmas, I bought my thirteen-year-old daughter tickets for the Stranger Things Experience. I had done a lot of reading about it, and followed the experience on Insta, so I somewhat had an idea of what we were in for. But the experience truly exceeded my expectations.

When my daughter first started encouraging me to watch the show with her, I was hesitant because I don’t love scary shows and movies. They have a tendency to give me bad dreams. However Stranger Things was different for me. I really got invested in the characters and the story line was so well written, I “needed to know” what happened next and so I got drawn in. She had asked multiple times to go to the NYC experience, but that is a long and pricey trip for us. But she doesn’t ask for a lot, so when the opportunity came along for us to go in Atlanta, less than five hours away, I took it!

When you first arrive, the signage, branding and attention to detail, even to the outside of the building, is impressive. The porta potties were even impressive to us, with an employee inside managing them. There were stalls, and they were immaculately clean. There was a place for ice skating and marshmallow roasting which we did not have time to do,. Lots of selfie opportunities.

Inside, you will have your bag searched, receive your VIP badge if applicable, show your tickets, and be told no pictures until the Mix Tape area. This was hard for us, because there were so many times where you would really want to take pictures! I understand now, looking back, because you are Hawkins Lab Sleep Study subjects, and the whole thing that made that part of the experience awesome was the suspense of not knowing what was going to happen! If people photographed it and posted about it, it would ruin the experience! That is why I am not going to share what happens in that part of the experience in that post. I would hate to ruin it for future attendees. Just know that it was so realistic and magical that it absolutely blew us away.

I do recemmend getting the VIP tickets. We were treated to free VIP drinks at The Upside Bar. Any drink you want. I got a Demogorgon cocktail and my daughter got an Eleven Mocktail. My cocktail had a cute Luxardo cherry and Stroopwafel garnish. We also received a free gift that I also don’t want to reveal and spoil the surprise because it was way cooler than anything I thought we would get!

My cocktail and her mocktail from The Upside bar

In the Mixtape Area, we struggled with what to do first. So many photo opps! You can take a picture with Vecna, a Demogorgon, and at the different “shops” or stations they had set up in the perimeter.

We started by looking in the gift shop area. They have many shirts and other items to offer, however, I would wait until you make it all the way around the enter Mixtape Area. There are shirts and items for sale in each individual area, in addition to the stand alone gift shop.

The photobooth! I remember these from when I was a kid! You go in and close the curtain, then a three-second countdown for a series of four pics that print out once you step outside. I am laminating ours as bookmarks and a keepsake. There is a five dollar cost.

The Byers Living Room! If you take a few minutes in here, and not just take a picture or selfie, you will really appreciate the attention to detail! Also it is so fun to see all of the props and clothing actually worn by and used by the characters on the show that are on display throughout Mixtape.

The Byers living room

Rink-o-Mania. I asked about roller skating, and one employee shared with me that they too wished that attendees and employees could roller skate. I believe it is liability issues and space issues that prevented them from actually allowing participants from roller skating.

Scoops Ahoy! This area was so nicely done. The ice cream is very good – we have butter pecan. The girl who served our ice cream was so pretty with nicely done 80s makeup and very friendly. In the sailor costume of course! They had the boat seating area for photos, then you could have your ice cream in the concessions food court area.

Surfer Boy Pizza. I hesitated to spend the money, but my daughter had been in pursuit fo the frozen pizzas at a grocery – we were never able to find the cheese. At the Surfer Boy Pizza bus we could get the three cheese, so she and I split a slice. It was not quite lunch time – ha!

The Arcade and Family Video. It was so fun for me to play Dig Dug check out all the VHS movies. A real blast from the past as a child of the 80s.

To sum it up, this was a very well done encounter and I would recommend it to any fan of the Stranger Things series. If you would like to read more about our mother daughter trip to Atlanta you can find that here.

adventures with kids · foodie · travel with kids

The Dwarf House Chick-fil-A in Hapeville, GA

In case you didn’t realize it, there is a Chick-fil-A that exists that has menu items you can’t find at a regular Chick-fil-A, including burgers. It is the flagship location, the very first one, originally built in 1947. It has a dwarf theme, complete with a dwarf-sized door that you can enter, and dwarves for you to find once you’re inside! There is an outdoor area for kids to play. It has been recently and beautifully renovated and deserves your time and visit next time you are in the Atlanta area, especially if you are at/near the Atlanta airport. It is right by the airport!

This Chick-fil-A was a must stop for my thirteen-year-old daughter and me. We read about it before our visit and studied the menu, so we had an idea of what we wanted to order, and even planned our hotel stay based on its location.

I would recommend coming for breakfast in hindsight, because the thing I most wanted on the menu was only available before 10:30 am: the Chicken minis and eggs!

My daughter and I opted to have dinner here for this main reason: There were so many things we wanted to try that we knew it would be a LOT of food. More than you would want for lunch. We did not opt for the burger because we felt one of the whole missions of Chick fil A is to “Eat Mor Chick’n” so getting a burger felt wrong to us – ha! She got the loaded waffle fries as her meal and I got the chicken and eggs. As we often do, we asked for an extra plate and split each dish with one another. The portions are HUGE.

The loaded waffle fries were good but not awesome, only because we did not love the pimento cheese they used on top. The plus side of the loaded fries is that there are Chick fil a nuggets on top. We did devour all of those.

Loaded waffle fries

The chicken that you get with the chicken and eggs IS the chicken they put on the Chick fil A sandwich. What this really did for me was showcase how delicious the chicken itself is when you strip away the bread, pickle and mayo. It was so good and juicy! The eggs can be cooked any way you like. I picked over easy and loved running pieces of my chicken through the egg yolk. You get to pick two sides. We picked toast and hashbrowns, but looking back I wish we had chosen the mac and cheese.

Do yourself a favor and save room for pie, or get a slice to go! It is amazing. They have lemon, chocolate and coconut. We opted for lemon and it was some of the best I’ve ever had, with generous meringue on top, graham cracker crust and vanilla wafers along the side. It is chilled, like an ice box pie.

Set aside time to take pictures before or after your visit. The exterior and play area will definitely call for selfies to be taken and is highly “instagrammable.” There are hoola hoops, the dwarf door, and a waffle fry climbing structure. They also have souveniers to purchase. My daughter got a Dwarf House mug.

To sum it up, allow yourself an hour or two to take in all that his unique Chick Fil A has to offer. You can find out more about our mother daughter trip to Atlanta here.

adventures with kids · travel with kids

Mother Daughter Trip to Atlanta

After Christmas, I took my thirteen-year-old daughter to Atlanta for a quick overnight trip. I wanted to share about our trip to help other moms who may wish to do the same, including tips on how to avoid traffic, ways to save money, things to do and where to eat.

We live in north Tennessee, so it’s about a 4-5 hour drive to Atlanta. I did quite a bit of reading and research about how to avoid Atlanta traffic because that was my one reservation about going in the first place. Atlanta traffic is notorious for being awful!

My first tip is to really thank carefully about how to avoid high traffic times. Leave early in the morning and think about rush hour traffic in major cities and how you can avoid them. For us, I knew we would be driving through Nashville, so we left early enough to avoid the 8-9am commute traffic. We got through well before that. I also knew we wanted to stop at Buc-ee’s on the way there to gas up and grab a bite, so I wanted to arrive before the lunch rush. We achieved that too! We wanted to arrive in Atlanta avoiding any lunch or rush hour traffic and accomplished that as well.

Buc-ee’s in Adairville, GA

I was fine with taking I-24 to get there, because while I wanted to avoid I-75 and I-285 in Atlanta, we also wanted to spend as little time on the road as possible and maximize our time having fun.

If you do travel to Atlanta the week of Christmas I read up on the best days to drive and days to avoid. December 26-27 because of after-Christmas traffic, and December 30 is not recommended due to New Year’s traffic. So we chose December 28-29 and these proved to be good days to travel.

When considering time on the interstate, consider spending as little time on 75 as possible. We did get caught in some I-75 traffic as we neared Atlanta, but not for long because we exited EARLY to check out Lenox Square and the Buckhead area, one of the nicest in ATL.

Lenox Square in Buckhead

Once we exited, we never used an interstate or highway the rest of our time in Atlanta. We stayed on the east side of the interstate which generally are the nicer and safer neighborhoods. On your maps app, select “avoid highways” and you can steer clear of the hectic, white knuckle Atlanta traffic. We had a GREAT experience driving through the quaint and charming Atlanta neighborhoods. This also allowed us to discover some great finds and ideas for future trips to ATL.

We saved money by eating brunch and dinner only. When we did eat, we ate well. The portion sizes at most restaurants are enough for 2 or more people so we would choose a dish with large portions and split it, asking for an extra plate. This allowed us to save money and not overeat. We also saved money by using our Marriott points so our hotel stay was completely free. You can find out how to get a Marriott Bonvoy rewards card and why we love being a member here. We strategically planned to stay near where we had dinner which was the unique and charming Dwarf House Chick Fil A, so we did not spend time and gas driving. We could head to our hotel and relax right after dinner. This Chick Fil A was the very first one and you can learn more about why it was so special and why we loved it here.

Dwarf House Chick fil A

We had brunch at the highly rated Sun in My Belly. It did not disappoint. I was looking for somewhere that could make an amazing latte (mine had a pretty design on top) and an outstanding meal. SIMB fit the bill on both counts. We added it to our bucket list for places we must revisit next trip! As an added bonus, it was only 5 minutes away from Target and our Stranger Things Experience, which was the event that brought us to Atlanta in the first place. You can read about our experience here if you would like to know more. The Target was a Super Target, and had a Starbucks and Ulta inside. It was not crowded at all and we love Target so much that looking back it was one of our trip highlights.

Stranger Things Experience
Sun in My Belly
My latte at Sun in My Belly

Other notable highlights and places we would like to visit on a return trip include: East Pole coffee in Buckhead, Krog Street Market, Virginia Highland area (best food), Ponce City Market (give yourself a whole day for this, or have a clear agenda in mind. It is huge!) My biggest regret was not allowing more time for Ponce City. There was so much we wanted to do and so many places we wanted to try in the food hall but just ran out of time.

Ponce City Market

My final piece of advice is to consider your daughter and what she would LOVE. I don’t know about you, but as a mom, if my daughter’s bucket is full, mine is too. Avoid too much touristy stuff and seek out things to do and places to eat that will bring you both joy.

adventures with kids · travel with kids

This May Change the Way You Travel with Kids

There are three things our family does when we travel, that I find are a little different than the norm, but they serve us extremely well. Once you’ve given them a read through, I’d love to know your own ideas of things your family has done to make your vacation experience more enjoyable. Please share in the comments!

Set a goal of seeing the country, maybe even the world.

I was writing on the patio at Starbucks one day, and overheard two girls talking about their vacations. One was explaining that they went to Destin, Florida every year and that was where they were going. The other girl replied, “Why would you take the same vacation every year when there’s a whole world to see?”

That was a lightbulb moment for me, because at that point taking the same vacation every year was exactly what our family had been doing! Not anymore.

We have made it our intention to visit a new state each year, and we pass through other states on our way to our destination. Fifty states goal! It is my hope that my girls will see all 50 states before graduating from high school.

Be a traveler, not a tourist.

Chef Anthony Bourdain taught us to be travelers, not tourists, and changed the way we visit new cities.

So now, instead of focusing on the popular tourist attractions, we try to find places that cater to each family members’ interest when we travel. I love yoga, going to the beach, knitting and jewelry making, so I try to incorporate these into our trips. One of my daughters loves music, plays guitar and loves to read, so guitar shops, record shops and bookstores are on our itenerary. My younger daughter is an avid swimmer and loves ice cream, so pools and ice cream shops are a must. Both girls love visiting coffee shops and doing art so I research those too. My husband is a classically trained chef so I research the best grocery stores, butcher shops, farmers markets and seafood markets. Of course we make sure to get a rental with a kitchen so he can cook!

We all want to check out the food scene, so researching local favorites is imperative. But the best way to find the really best food is to talk to the locals. Ask someone who lives there for their recommendations!

Avoid the crowds

The saying, “Look at what other people are doing, and do the exact opposite,” serves us well on vacation. Most people go to the beach in the afternoon and stay til sunset, so instead we are willing to get up early and see the sunrise. Then we can stay at the beach until around lunch time, or even pack a picnic lunch. We find that as we leave the beach, it is just beginning to get crowded. Getting to the beach early also helps us with parking! Visiting popular venues on weekdays and studying peak times helps us visit when they are the least crowded.

Dare to be different.

There is no right or wrong when planning your family vacation, but I hope these ideas have helped stretched the scope of your imagination for what your next trip could look like. Whatever your plans may be, you know your family best and you’re the best person equipped to make it the best one ever for everyone.

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!