When you are on a cross-country roadtrip, you want to make sure the roads are at least pretty. So, from the Biltmore Estate, we found our way to the Blueridge Parkway and started driving west again. We drove along the lowest section of the famous parkway. Windy roads through the woods…lovely. Then we picked up the road across Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
We didn’t have time to stop along the way, so we just did the basic auto-tour of the main road. First we stopped at the Oconaluftee visitor center. There were interesting information displays and cool things to look at. I always think visitor centers are worth a stop. You can get maps, refill water bottles, use clean bathrooms, and sometimes there are interactive displays you can touch and learn from. An as always, I made sure to get a stamp in my national park passport (affiliate link).
We drove through the Smoky Mountains and in to Tenessee. We saw the Space Needle in Gatlinburg, not quite the same as ours in Seattle, but an interesting sight. We even saw the signs for Dollywood. We didn’t go, but I’ve heard it fun.
While driving through the Carolinas, how can you resist visiting the Biltmore Estate. It’s just about the closest thing we have to a castle in the United States. We took advantage of their offer for kids to visit free during the summer. We bought our tickets online and just had to pick them up in the morning. We didn’t choose to use the audio-recorded tour and just went through on our own, reading the signage. It wasn’t too crowded, but there were many people there, even on a Thursday morning. We toured the house and it’s surrounding garden, but didn’t take the time to see the village. It was pretty cool. I love seeing old houses, and this is so lavish and awesome, it was great.
The gardens were beautiful, I loved seeing all the different flowers in the greenhouse. And I was a little jealous of the in-house organ, the music room, and the huge library.
After leaving Florida, we spent the night just outside the Okefenokee Swamp. The next day we drove through Georgia, along I-95. We stopped in Savannah for lunch, visiting just one of the historic squares to stretch our legs and let the kids play a little. Then we headed into South Carolina to Congaree National Park.
Congaree may not be the biggest or most famous national park, but it sure was pretty. We got there a little before the visitor center closed. We were able to watch a short video about the park and the wildlife there. Then we went on the boardwalk loop hike. It was pretty nice and not too long. It was a Wednesday afternoon, and we were the only people there (aside from the ranger).
I forgot my camera in the car, so I only have phone photos, not the greatest quality.
We could only stay a little while, and didn’t have the equipment to camp or kayak, so this was a very nice way to see some of the park. If you have the chance to go, I recommend it.
After leaving the Everglades National Park, we headed north and spent a day at Universal Studios. I have written about visiting there in the past, so I’m going to skip a recap of that. We were mostly there to see the new Harry Potter area. It was rainy and not too crowded, but the lines that were indoors were kind of long.
The next day we headed over to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. My 6 year old is currently really into space and astronauts, so it was a must do for us.
One cool thing about the space center, is there website has planning tools. You can not only see the map, but find out all kinds of information about the exhibits, and pick which ones you want to see. It has suggested tours or you decide what you want to see and they tell you the best route to get them all in.
We started in the Heroes and Legends area. We watched the video presentation and went to the hall of fame. Then we went to the rocket garden, where you can walk right up to (and in some cases into) the rockets.
By then the day was starting to warm up so we headed in to the Journey to Mars. We watched the 3D movie about the space telescopes.
Our next big stop was the Space Shuttle Atlantis. There is a cool video presentation you can watch before entering. You can walk right up to the replica of the Hubble Telescope, and see the actual space shuttle up close. My teenager was disappointed you couldn’t touch it. There are also lots of cool hands on games and activities there. We all went on the shuttle launch simulator. My littlest just barely passed the height requirement, but he loved it.
We only got to stay until about 1pm because our journey home was long and we needed to get going. If we ever go back I definitely want to take the bud tour out to the other areas and see the other rockets and shuttles. If you have a chance to go to the Kennedy Space Center, you should definitely do it.
On our trip we took one day to visit the Florida Everglades National Park. To do this we had to choose just one of the areas. The Everglades is a large park, much of it covered in water. It is home to many rare species and has a unique biome. There are 3 main entry points to get into the park, and 4 visitors centers.
We chose to visit Shark Valley and take the tram tour. I like being able to reserve things in advance and not have to wait in lines or possibly miss things, so it’s nice that the tram tour was reservable. We arrived about an hour before our tour was supposed to start, so we had time to see the visitors center and walk along the nearby trail a little. It was partly sunny, partly rainy, which seems pretty common for the area.
About halfway through the tram tour you reach an observation tower. You can walk to the top and get amazing views of the area. We got eaten alive by mosquitoes, but I think it was worth it (my kids might not agree, there were TONS of bugs).
On the second half of the tour we saw one alligator’s head, but he sunk back into the water/brush before we got too close.
After our tram tour we wrapped up our visit to the Everglades because it was time to head north and start our long journey home (with a few fun stops on the way).