10 Fall “Staycation” Ideas

Fall "Stacation" activity bucket list
Fall “Stacation” activity bucket list

Clearly, I love travel. In fact, I thrive on planning trips for my family. However, now that the kids are back in school most of our vacations revolve around school breaks and long-weekends. In the spirit of trying to travel without actually taking a ton of time away from school, I put together a fall “staycation” list.

My kids are pretty serious about the whole concept of a bucket list. You might remember my post about our summer bucket list. Of the 50 activities on the list, I selected 42 items for our family summer bucket list. Why 42? Well, that’s how many clothes pin clips I could fit around my bucket. Guess how many activities we crossed off the list? 41.

41 awesome activities our family completed this summer. And guess which one my children can’t stop talking about? Yes, that’s right. The ONE activity we didn’t do. So, I learned my lesson. In the future, my bucket lists will be scaled down significantly. Therefore, I present our fall “staycation” bucket list, complete with 10 awesome, fun activities…

  1. Go apple picking (or apple pickin’ as we say down here in the South)
  2. Go on a fall foliage drive (see my Best Places to View Fall Foliage post)
  3. Visit a corn maze…and find our way out without cheating
  4. Take a hayride
  5. Picnic somewhere new (in our case, I have my eyes on a semi-local winery that allows you to bring your own food.)
  6. Visit a local museum on a cold/rainy fall day
  7. Go to a fall festival
  8. Pick pumpkins out of a patch
  9. Take a short hike to a waterfall
  10. Spend an entire day watching football and eating tailgate food (I had to include this one in order for my husband to buy into the other 9!)
A favorite fall activity- the pumpkin patch!
A favorite fall activity- the pumpkin patch!

Since I scaled back my list to 10, I am treating these items like travel that I would actually plan. The activities are tentatively marked on my calendar with the hopes of completing all of them before Thanksgiving. Additionally, I have planned a secret list of about 20 fall activities I hope to complete at home. I am not sharing this list with the kids because I know I’ll never hear the end of it if we fail to do ONE!

What activities are on your fall bucket list?

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Dollywood- Pigeon Forge (Part 2)

We are ready for a fun day at Dollywood
We are ready for a fun day at Dollywood

Yesterday I posted some of the highlights of our day at Dollywood. As I mentioned, the park has so much to offer, you’ll want to maximize your visit. If you missed it, go back and check out yesterday’s post (part 1) that included 5 things to be sure not to miss at Dollywood.

Here are 5 more things you’ll want to check out:

  1. Country Fair: This section of Dollywood is designed to be reminiscent of a country fair with bumper cars, swings, and all sorts of carnival games. This area also contains a variety of rides for toddlers. Additionally there are a few rides in the Country Fair section for families to enjoy together and a few that are for the thrill-seeking family members. The Country Fair section has the largest variety of rides in a very contained space which makes it an ideal place for families of various ages to spend time!
    TONS of action in the Country Fair section of Dollywood
    TONS of action in the Country Fair section of Dollywood

    2. Seasons: Dollywood does seasons…we’re talking ALL.OUT. The whole park gets decked out for all the various holidays and seasons. Our visit fell during fall and we were blown away by the attention to detail (although the weather still very much resembled summer!) From what we’ve heard, Christmas at Dollywood is something you shouldn’t miss!

    Beautiful fall decorations all over the park
    Beautiful fall decorations all over the park

    3. Dolly’s Home On Wheels: At one point we’d stopped to look at our park map. The kids were anxious to go on (yet another) water ride. Suddenly a man stepped out of an RV next to us (that I honestly hadn’t even noticed until the door almost hit me.) He assumed we were waiting our turn to tour Dolly’s Home on Wheels. Seeing an excuse to stall the water ride, I agreed to climb aboard. And we were so thankful we took the accidental opportunity. It was very cool to tour Dolly’s old RV and hear stories about her time on the road. We genuinely enjoyed the history lesson and seeing a glimpse into Dolly’s world!

    A peak inside the bus that carried Dolly all across the US on her tours
    A peak inside the bus that carried Dolly all across the US on her tours

    4. Grist Mill Cinnamon Bread: There’s really nothing to say about this except for “yummy.” It’s so delicious. If I lived in Pigeon Forge I’d be at the park gate every morning for a loaf (or 5) of this bread. We got a hot loaf to share almost immediately after arriving at the park and we also purchased 2 more to take home with us (taking advantage of the complimentary package pickup service that I mentioned yesterday.)

    Grist Mill Cinnamon Bread is to die for!
    Grist Mill Cinnamon Bread is to die for!

    5. Photo Card: Although a slightly extravagant souvenir, Dollywood makes purchasing a photo card well worth it. For $39.99 guests can purchase a photo card to be loaded throughout the day with photos of your fun. All of your roller coaster photos, plus any additional pictures snapped during your day can be added to the card. Additionally, with purchase you receive one 5×7 print of your choice. Dollywood allows you to select this picture at the end of your day. If you are in inclined to purchase one or two prints, this photo card is well worth the price!

    Making Memories
    Making Memories

    What are your “can’t miss” things at Dollywood?

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Dollywood- Pigeon Forge, TN (Part 1)

Dollywood Theme Park- Pigeon Forge, TN
Dollywood Theme Park- Pigeon Forge, TN

A few weeks ago our family had the opportunity to visit Dollywood Theme Park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Less than an hour into our visit, I decided I would buy a season pass if we lived closer. It’s the kind of place you could visit over and over without it getting old.

Dollywood combines the feel of a quaint mountain town, with thrilling rides and captivating shows. Between the shows, shopping and food, I could easily spend a whole day there without going on a single ride (not that my kids wanted to try!)

Here are 5 things to be sure not to miss at Dollywood:

  1.  Measuring Station: As with all other theme parks, most of the rides at Dollywood have height restrictions. Just inside the gate kids can get measured and tagged with a color coded bracelet. This will prevent employees from measuring your children at every attraction and allow you to plan height appropriate rides."<yoastmark
  2. Eagles: Dollywood boasts the largest collection of non-releasable bald eagles in the country. Their 30,000 square foot home delights guests with close encounters with the beautiful bird. Through demonstrations, staff members, and signs, you can learn all about the bird that is our country’s mascot.

    Education at the bald eagle's mountainside sanctuary
    Education at the bald eagle’s mountainside sanctuary
  3. Southern Food: It is worth going to Dollywood for the food alone. EVERYTHING we tried during our visit tasted amazing. There is no shortage of southern staples and dessert in the park. We highly recommend eating at least one meal at a sit-down restaurant.

    BBQ Nachos at Backstage Resturant
    BBQ Nachos at Backstage Restaurant
  4. Roller Coasters: Dolllywood’s roller coasters are known throughout the country for being some of the most unique and exciting. Although the biggest roller coasters have height restrictions, several of them were designed for smaller children (42 inches and taller.) Another fantastic feature of the theme park- many of the big roller coasters have playgrounds nearby for smaller family members to enjoy while others in their party ride.
    Roller coaster fun for the whole family!
    Roller coaster fun for the whole family!

    Perfect playground placement close to the big roller coasters.
    Perfect playground placement close to the big roller coasters.
  5. Shopping: Again, like the food, you could come to Dollywood JUST to shop. The Dollywood stores contain a variety of touristy, local and trendy items. Truly you can find something for everyone. Also, be sure to take advantage of their awesome (and complimentary) package pick-up offer. Rather than carry your purchases around the park, have them sent directly to the front entrance for easy pick-up on your way out!
    Great shopping at Dollywood!
    Great shopping at Dollywood!

    There are so many great things to do and see at Dollywood! Later this week I will post 6 more things not to miss during your visit.

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Friday Favorite- Paint By Sticker

Friday Favorite

Today’s Favorite Travel Product: Paint By Stickers

This book was a lifesaver on our most recent trip!
This book was a lifesaver on our most recent trip!

Keeping my children busy at a restaurant is the key to good behavior. As much as I would love them to sit quietly and perfectly through a meal, that’s not realistic. When we travel we love to eat out. But we also dread the stress that comes along with insuring their behavior matches our standards. And let’s be honest, the standards aren’t THAT high.

While I’m always grateful for restaurants that provide crayons and coloring sheets, I never count on that to keep my kids busy for the duration of a meal. I also do not like to rely on electronics. I’m not saying I never use my iPhone to keep the kids entertained, but I prefer to consider technology my emergency backup when all else fails.

That being said, I’m always on the lookout for quiet, non-messy activities I can bring into restaurants when we travel. As soon as I saw the Paint By Sticker book I knew my kids would LOVE it.

Working hard on a bunny
Working hard on a bunny
Even my 4-year old can "paint"
Even my 4-year old can “paint”

Essentially, the Paint By Sticker book works identically to a paint by number page. Each fragment of the picture has a number that corresponds to a colored, numbered sticker.

Card stock page to "paint" on
Card stock page to “paint” on
Sticker sheet with labeled placement numbers
Sticker sheet with labeled placement numbers

The pictures are detailed enough that they keep my 9-year old’s attention for quite a while. However, the activity is simple enough for my 4-year old to participate (although, admittedly not as well!) This is also a great activity for him to practice learning/matching numbers!

Miller is pretty proud of his finished painting
Miller is pretty proud of his finished painting
2 hour dinner and this girl was busy the whole time!
2 hour dinner and this girl was busy the whole time!

The book “includes everything you need to make ten sticker paintings on sturdy card stock.” Additionally, “all the pages are perforated- making it easy to tear out each finished work to share and frame.”

To purchase a Paint By Sticker book, visit this website:

Paint by Sticker Kids

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National Public Lands Day- September 24th

national-parks

This Saturday, September 24th, our country celebrates National Public Land Day. Yes, that’s really a thing.

So in honor of this holiday, the National Park Service is offering free admission to all 413 of its parks. Our family loves National Parks and we look forward to taking advantage of this great offer!

Entrance to Great Smokey Mountain National Park
Entrance to Great Smokey Mountain National Park

To find an awesome park near you, visit the website: Find Your Park.

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Best Places To See Fall Foliage

Best Places For Fall Foliage

As much as I hate to admit it, fall is officially in full swing. Even in the south, leaves are changing and the calendar keeps moving deeper into September.

Though I dislike the cooler weather, even I will admit there’s nothing more beautiful than fall foliage. And nothing cuter than kids with leaves!

I love photographing my kids with leaves!
I love photographing my kids with leaves!

Although I won’t even pretend to understand the complexities behind this weather phenomenon, rumor has it that this year’s fall foliage is expected to be the best in decades.

If you’re looking for some great spots to leaf-view this season, here are 18 places I recommend:

  1. Skyline Drive (Blue Ridge Parkway), Virginia
  2. Napa Valley, California
  3. Litchfield Hills, Connecticut
  4. Great Smokey Mountain National Park, Tennessee
  5. Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, New Mexico
  6. Adirondacks, New York
  7. The Berkshires, Massachusetts
  8. Aspen, Colorado
  9. Acadia National Park, Maine
  10. Lost Maple State Natural Area, Texas
  11. Upper Peninsula, Michigan
  12. The Ozarks, Missouri
  13. Lake Champlain Islands, Vermont
  14. Fayetteville, West Virginia
  15. Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia
  16. Glacier National Park, Montana
  17. Bardstown, Kentucky
  18. Leavenworth, Washington

I know, 18 is an odd number of places to recommend. 10 wasn’t quite enough. Then I ambitiously decided I’d do  50 before realizing there are some states that don’t even deserve honorable mention when it comes to fall foliage (hello, Florida!)  Also, I decided not to duplicate any state. Although, I could have easily listed Vermont locations for all 18 places on the list!

Road trips are my favorite way to view fall foliage. We always try to plan travel during peak leaf changing season even if the foliage itself isn’t our destination. Taking scenic routes on the way to your destination will provide beautiful backdrops.

Always pull your car over at an overlook to snap pictures and capture all the fall colors! And, of course, get a few pictures of your kids with the falling leaves!

Kids + Leaves
Kids + Leaves

Where is your favorite place to view fall foliage?

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Billy Goat Tavern- Pigeon Forge, TN

Billy Goat Tavern

In an area known for having 5 restaurants on every corner (and 10 more across the street), it’s hard to stand out. Yet, Billy Goat Tavern does just that.

Billy Goat Tavern boasts a ‘farm to table’ style dining experience. In other words, every ingredient they use is fresh. Their meat comes from local farms and is never frozen.  The chefs make their bread and buns daily in-house, and their salad dressings are all made with fresh herbs. If this doesn’t sound extraordinary to you, then you’ve never dined at a farm to table restaurant. Let me tell you, it makes a HUGE difference!

The Southern Salad
The Southern Salad

As a matter of fact, my 9-year old summed up the difference best. She ordered the children’s cheeseburger. Cheeseburgers are her favorite and therefore, something she eats both at home and at restaurants often. After a few bites she looked at me and said “Mommy, this tastes different.” A small panic came over me and I asked “what’s wrong?” Instantly she answered “No, nothing’s wrong. It’s just this is the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had.”

Best cheeseburgers ever!
Best cheeseburgers ever!
This guy was pretty excited about his children's meal too!
This guy was pretty excited about his children’s meal too!

Likewise, the service we received at Billy Goat Tavern cannot be compared to any other restaurant in the area. From the moment we walked in and the host greeted our family, until we walked out the door, the staff’s dedication to exceptional service was evident. Our server’s familiarity with the menu helped make our selection process seamless. She offered outstanding recommendations and easily gave us information about a few of the dishes that interested us.

Cheese Fondue Appetizer (the pretzel bites are ridiculously amazing!)
Cheese Fondue Appetizer (the pretzel bites are ridiculously amazing!)

Speaking of that, the menu was my only problem with Billy Goat Tavern. I wanted everything on it. Although I ended up limiting myself to just one dish (well, not counting my appetizer and dessert!) I could have easily enjoyed anything on the menu! Also, the portion sizes do not disappoint. For example, my salad seemed to grow right out of the bowl as I ate it (talk about farm to table!) Thankfully, the restaurant offers nice to-go boxes!

You will definitely need a to-go box...or two!
You will definitely need a to-go box…or two!

Billy Goat Tavern is one of the only restaurants in the area that takes reservations. This makes it an ideal place for groups trying to eat together or families that don’t want to wait on a list at the end of the day. Grab one of the many draft beers or craft cocktails and enjoy your favorite game on the big screen, or dine as a family away from the business of Pigeon Forge.

Clinch River Cooler (left) and Sevier Sipper (right)
Clinch River Cooler (left) and Sevier Sipper (right)
Oreo Cheesecake, a fabulous way to finish off dinner!
Oreo Cheesecake, a fabulous way to finish off dinner!

Billy Goat Tavern offers gourmet food in a casual atmosphere. Additionally, the prices are reasonable and the food quality can’t be matched! To learn more about the restaurant and schedule your reservation, visit their website.

*Billy Goat Tavern hosted our family*

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The Best of Carolina Beach

carolina-beach

I’ve written this before, but it’s worth saying again- our family tends to be creatures of habit when it comes to beach vacations. We select our favorite beaches, eating establishments, and activities and stick to them. Lately we’re working hard to break out of our comfort zone and try some new spots. Also, we recently did something completely unconventional for us- we went to the beach without kids!

A rare child-free vacation photo.
A rare child-free vacation photo.

Carolina Beach was our destination of choice for this trip. Having never been to the area, we did our best to research prior to the vacation. We found a wide variety of opinions on the area. For every 5 people who agreed on a positive opinion of a place, there were 5 others who strongly disliked it. We couldn’t find a consensus on anything. So naturally, we went semi-rogue and I am writing our own “best of” review post.

Although we barely scratched the surface of options in the area, I do have some thoughts based on our quick visit. I look forward to testing the area out more in the future so I can do a more comparative and comprehensive review!

I could have easily spent the entire vacation right here!
I could have easily spent the entire vacation right here!

So here goes…the best of Carolina Beach (so far):

  1. Courtyard Marriott Carolina Beach: Although this was the only place we stayed, I can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else. This hotel is beachfront with awesome access to the boardwalk and many of the shops/restaurants. The hotel design allows each room an oceanfront balcony. Yes, you read that right. Every room. Meaning, you don’t pay extra for that luxury. The hotel also features 2 pools (indoor and outdoor), a shell washing station, and a nice fitness center.
  2. The Island Ice Factory: This is the 1 item I never knew that I always missed. Refreshing, sugary Italian ice delivered to your beach chair. Umm, yes please! Not only is the Italian Ice delicious, but it’s also affordable. Be sure to have cash, and purchase the Koozie. The initial cost is a bit more expensive ($6), but then you can refill it throughout your vacation for $1 per scoop. I will not publicly admit how many additional scoops I purchased, but I assure you that I got my money’s worth.

    The greatest thing to ever happen to the beach.
    The greatest thing to ever happen to the beach.
  3. Bridge Tender: There are absolutely no adequate words to describe this meal. Not only was the food ridiculous, but the setting and service rounded out our incredible experience. This restaurant is located in Wilmington which is just a short drive from Carolina Beach.

    Best Restaurant in the area!
    Best Restaurant in the area!
  4. Starbucks: Any diehard Starbucks coffee fan struggles in a small town. Unfortunately, they aren’t on every corner and not every local coffee shop cuts it. Rest easy because hidden inside the Courtyard Marriott is the most Starbucks-like non-Starbucks ever. It’s pretty much Starbucks- they have the same cups (although you just order small, medium or large), the same beans, and the same drink choices. Really, the only thing I found missing was the option to use the App.

    Starbucks + Beach=My happy place!
    Starbucks + Beach = My happy place!
  5. Fish Bites Fish Market and Restaurant: If this place hadn’t been our final hurrah on our get-away I never would have agreed to go. We pulled up and it was in a strip center next to an Urgent Care. I could almost see the germs seeping through the wall and into my food. But my husband really, really wanted to go (thanks, Yelp!) I say all of this to make it clear- I had no intention of liking this restaurant. I don’t even like clam chowder (Brent made me try his), and now all I can think about is driving back for another bowl. Similarly, I will remember their shrimp and grits dish forever as the best ever. So, for the record, I’m thankful my initial judgement did not stop us from eating at Fish Bites. I will crave this food until we return to the area for more.
    Clam Chowder (left), Shrimp and Grits (right)
    Clam Chowder (left), Shrimp and Grits (right)

    We plan to return to Carolina Beach sometime this winter (with the kids!) Please help us with our next “Best of Carolina Beach” list.

    Where should we go? What should we do?

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