I'm not very good at planning ahead. It gets to be the end of summer and I decide we really SHOULD take a family vacation. So after much discussion and internet searching... we decided to go to Amelia Island, Florida. Since it was a long drive we wanted to break up the trip by stopping at The Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. We were a little nervous about the long car trip but all in all the kids did great. A borrowed portable dvd player, books, toys, and lots of snacks helped us survive the long car ride! We got up and left at 4:30am Sunday thinking the kids would just fall back asleep till like 8 or 9 ... umm nope! Even though it was dark they were all wide eyed and wondering what was going on. It took Luke about 30 minutes to ask if we were in Florida yet. haha Then he had such a good time playing with his Nana and cousin Colin the day before he just kept saying he wanted to go to Colin's house (this continued the whole trip). The GPS said about 8 hours to Gatlinburg and then another 8 hours to Amelia Island... silly me forgot to add in all the minutes you lose for potty breaks and needing to let the kids get out and stretch their legs. Soooo that added almost 2 hours to every leg of our journey.
We got to Gatlinburg about 2pm and had plans to take the kids to Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies... when I thought about Ripley's attractions I was skeptical but all the reviews on Tripadvisor and online sounded pretty good. We stayed at a dated, but CLEAN motor lodge that was 1/2 block from the aquarium so it was easy walking. We spent a good 3 hours and it was really geared towards young kids and Luke loved it. His favorite part was the penguin play place where kids could crawl through a plexiglass tunnel through the penguin habitat- there was even a place to pop your head up and be face to face with them. Needless to say he had to have a baby penguin toy after that!
When we got done with the Aquarium we grabbed a quick dinner and walked around Gatlinburg. It's a little hokey for my taste... seriously who buys an airbrushed t-shirt anymore??? But there were lots of people and things to see so that was fun. I talked JW into driving up to Clingman's Dome the highest point in Tennessee.
You drive to a parking lot and then walk about half a mile to an observation tower. It was cold, cloudy, and misty up there. Neat for the kids to see and feel.
Luke walked up with baby penguin in tow. JW carried Charlotte all the way up and back just so he could brag he carried her to the top of a mountain. lol I got to carry Luke down the trail as he decided he had enough walking! It was a fun free family activity. We drove back down the mountain and there was still time for the boys to go swimming. The motel pool had a slide and JW and Luke had a great time "shooting like a rocket" through the slide (some guy at the pool told Luke he shot out like a rocket and I got to hear this repeatedly during our trip as well!). I was a little worried about the kids being able to fall asleep in the hotel since we don't usually share a room together. They were so tired every night and even once it was naptime for Charlotte they both went to sleep pretty fast.
So Monday morning we got up and left the hotel about 7am to continue our drive. We got out at a rest stop in Georgia and whoa it was hotter than you know what! The kids were getting a little restless by that point and then all the sudden Charlotte starts crying like in pain. I wasn't able to easily comfort her and people kept staring like we were stealing this little baby from someone else at the rest stop! She finally calmed down and walked around by herself a little and then started crying again. It was so hot she was turning all red in the face and I was getting really flustered that I couldn't help her. I figured she was a little constipated- I wished I had packed some gas drops or something for her. We comforted her and gave her lots of apple juice for the rest of the journey. She had a little more trouble when we first arrived to the hotel but finally IT passed. :)
So we finally made it to the hotel. Beautiful resort called the Amelia Island Plantation Inn. I never stayed in a 4 star hotel and was a little nervous about that! All the rooms were ocean front so that was another bonus to wake up and see and hear the ocean from the balcony. There were lots of families with small children- of course they mostly had the really fancy expensive strollers that I will never be able to afford haha but often the pools were empty and the beach was wide open and we felt at ease!
The kids were at first interested in the ocean. Then Luke got some salty water in his mouth and he decided he liked the pools much better! Charlotte got knocked down by a little wave and she also decided that the ocean was a little scary for her.
Both were okay with being carried into the water and playing in the sand but other than that weren't thrilled to be on the beach. At some point in my life I will be able to lay on the beach and get some sun, but this trip didn't allow too much for that since I had to chase little ones around... but that's okay we still had a good time.
The hotel had two large pools and one kiddie pool with a playground- this was one of the reasons I wanted to stay there and it was nice for the kids.
We took a river cruise from Fernandina Beach (the historic town part of the Island) up to Cumberland Island, Georgia. They split passengers with small children on one boat and older couples on another boat. Boy was I glad for that when Charlotte was the first child to start getting fussy! She finally fell asleep in JW's arms and then it was Luke's turn to whine about getting back to land haha. We got to see small sharks cruising for little fish by the shore, dolphins, wild horses and hear the history of both islands. Luke got to drive the boat for a little bit and he loved that.
We walked around the historic district of the town and ate some dinner there- always a treat with two tired, small children. :) We mostly spent our time at the pool and going to the beach. We searched for shark teeth, but didn't find any. We saw little lizards and a turtle walking across the golf course one morning!
On Thursday we checked out about 10:30am and headed back to Gatlinburg. I talked JW into taking the scenic route over the mountain instead of going around the mountain like the GPS lady wanted us to do. Of course, in the midst of trying to determine we were on the right path Luke starts yelling that Charlotte was puking! JW had just given her some juice and I think she just got it down a little wrong so coughed and threw up a little. So that was an emergency pull over to get her cleaned up and changed and then study the map some more. Luckily, she was okay and we were going the right direction. Luke kept describing what he witnessed coming from Charlotte's mouth and that his stuffed animals were puked on... oh what fun to hear! So then we twisted and turned up over the mountain until we were sick of scenery and just wanted out of the car! Very pretty views on the North Carolina side of the mountains... but after awhile we were done. So then JW and Luke hopped in the pool and I took a tired Charlotte with me to Gatlinburg to look at shops and get some food. I decided to go to Fannie Farkle's since I read about it on Tripadvisor and they a giant corndog called an Ogle dog that people raved about. I got one of those and a smoked sausage with onions and green peppers for JW. It turned out pretty good for dinner (much better than the subway I was originally going to pick up!). The next morning we got up and went to the Pancake Pantry for breakfast but again with two tired crabby kids who didn't want to eat and only wanted to fuss... it wasn't so enjoyable! JW was ready to head home but I wanted to explore more in the Smokies while we were there. We took a little hiking trail off of a visitor's center that said it was good for strollers. Luke loved it- he finally perked up and was running down the trails and having a great time. The trail went along a creek and led to a small waterfall so at least we got to see a little more of nature there. We headed home about 10:30 and got home around 8pm! We have been sleeping in this weekend so I think everyone is still tired from our trip. JW and I both agreed we were glad to go somewhere and have some family time. It was much needed!