We skipped out on Maryland's gloomy weather for a week to spend Spring Break in sunny Orlando, FL. To be honest, the weather was actually on the cool side there, but so much nicer than back home- our friends and family got sleet while we were gone! We have taken several trips to Orlando but this trip we did something we've never done before... we drove. With three kids, the expense of tickets combined with the logistics of hauling gear through an airport just made flying out of the question. Plus, we would have had to rent a minivan when we got there to transport us around town. So driving was the obvious choice. That doesn't mean I wasn't dreading the trip a bit (a lot). According to google maps, to drive straight there would have taken about 14 hours. This doesn't count stops. When you have a breastfed baby and two small potty-trained children, you are stopping every couple hours minimum. To break the trip up a bit and make it less daunting, we planned to stop and stay overnight in Charleston, SC on the way down and on the way back.
We woke bright and early on a Saturday morning. We met my in-laws at Dunkin to grab coffee and breakfast before we began the first leg of our trip. From our house, the hotel in Charleston is about a 8 hour drive if you were to drive straight there. Stopping every couple hours, we made it there in just over 10. It was pretty tiring, but honestly not as bad as I anticipated. We had prepped the van with snacks, several movies to play on the DVD system, the kids' tablets, etc. When we did stop, we made sure to have the kids use the bathroom and also walk around a bit to stretch. Of course when we got to the hotel, Jeff and I were exhausted and the kids were pretty awake because they had slept on and off the whole day in the car. Luckily the hotel had an indoor pool that we let them swim in to burn off a little energy before heading to bed for the night. We managed to get a decent night's sleep and were up the next morning to enjoy the hotel's breakfast (waffles, oatmeal, fruit, yogurt!) and coffee.
It took us about 7 hours to finish our trip and at last we were there! After an initial mix up with our room, we were all finally unloaded and ready to enjoy our week. We stay at Marriott's Grande Vista and it is absolutely GORGEOUS. Well kept villas, several pools, restaurants, lake, market shops, ice cream parlor, golf course, and entertainment make this a place you really don't need to leave. In fact, when staying a week, we usually only plan to spend a day or two max away from the resort.
We were in our bathing suits and enjoying the warm weather in no time. A frozen drink and a bite to eat from the poolside cafe were all we needed to recover from two long days of travel. Friends of ours happened to be making their way to visit family south of Orlando and even stopped and stayed at the Grande Vista for a night to enjoy the pools and let their boys hang out with Dominic. We planned to visit lego land with them the following day, but the kids woke up begging to spend the day at the pool instead. We really couldn't blame them for not wanting to hop back into the van for another road trip, so we made the decision to skip it.
It ended up working out for us because the first two full days in FL were the hottest. I'm glad we got in some serious sun and pool time while we could. We had gorgeous weather for most of the rest of the week, but it was a bit cooler than we are used to when we visit. After spending a couple days not doing much of anything (read-perfection) we decided to pick one day to visit an amusement park. We ended up picking the coolest day and heading to my personal favorite Disney Park, Animal Kingdom.
The weather was BEAUTIFUL. To be honest, when we got there in the morning it was, dare I say, chilly. We had the kids in hoodies. But, by midday the sun was shining and it was a clear 75 degrees. Basically perfect for walking around outside. No sweaty, humid crowds to navigate. I have a friend from my book club who is a big Disney Park fan who offered me a few tips for our Animal Kingdom day. I am SO thankful for her advice because it definitely helped us have an even better day. Two of her main tips were to make sure to get Dominic a Wilderness Explorer book and to do the safari tour first thing.
The Wilderness Explorer program is so cute. The kids get a "passport" basically and as they tour the park, they learn things at different station and are awarded badges (stickers) for their book. Dominic was so into this. He was following along as we walked around looking out for the next place to earn a badge. Then, he spent the rest of the trip flipping through the pages talking about each one and what he did to earn it. So cute. Bonus, it's a free program. That's a serious plus when it comes to anything Disney.
The Harambe Wildlife Preserve safari tour was SO cool. We did it before a few years ago and it was just as neat as I remember. Taking my friend's advice, we went straight there right off the bat. We got there before the lines got terribly long and, most importantly, the animals are very active in the mornings. If you wait until the afternoon, most of the larger animals tend to be napping and harder to see. I'm always amazed by how close you get to these huge animals. The kids were amazed. It definitely got our day off to a great start. We made sure to visit the conservation station and see the afternoon parade before heading out to dinner (cool temps meant we weren't a complete mess from spending the day at the park!).
We spent the remainder of our trip relaxing, enjoying way too much food, and partaking in plenty of frozen adult beverages. Of course any trip with three little kids in tow is a bit hectic, but we still had a really great time. It was cool that we didn't even have to leave the resort to enjoy live entertainment. There were dueling pianos, polynesian dancers, and karoke singing all on different nights by the pool. Speaking of karaoke, a certain five year-old boy stood up in front of about 100 people and belted out "Let it Go" from frozen. We were floored. I honestly could not believe he did it. He told us afterward that his legs were shaking while he was singing. Too cute!
Vacation always goes too quickly and soon we found ourselves packing our bags. Our last day was sunny and a bit warmer, perfect to bid us goodbye.
Again, our drive was long but not terrible. The stop in Charleston was perfect to break it up a bit. We had such a fun time and the kids had an absolute blast. We all came home a little more tan and fat :)