Markel Family Summer Vacation–Wrap-Up

Sometimes, when I look back on our vacation, even though it was only just over a month ago, I can hardly believe it happened. For everything that went wrong on the first true summer vacation we took three years ago, something went right on this one. It was a dream come true…as close to a perfect vacation as I can imagine. Here’s one last look at all the fun we had:

  • Day One–The first day of our trip was mostly spent in the car. We drove through part of Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia (for what seemed like an eternity!), and Florida to reach our destination of Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort in Orlando. We did have time for a swim in one of the hotel’s amazing pools after we got checked into our amazing room!
  • Day Two–On the second day of our trip, we made some dreams come true with a visit to Legoland! After a fun day at the park, we enjoyed more pool time when we got back to the hotel.
  • Day Three–The third day of our vacation was busy, busy, busy! We were up super early to view SpaceX launch from the roof of the hotel parking garage. We then spent the day at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure. We especially enjoyed visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter…both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. From start to finish, it was the most amazing day ever!
  • Day Four–After our busy day at Universal, we needed the fourth day of our trip to recover, so Ryan rented a cabana at the hotel, and we spent the day by the pool, playing games, building sandcastles, and swimming.
  • Day Five–The final day of our vacation meant more time in the car, but we also got to stop and talk a walk on the beach and visit Castillo de San Marcos before another seemingly never-ending drive back through Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

I am so thankful we had this opportunity as a family. I know that we don’t have too many chances like this left before the children venture forth and begin their adult lives, and I hope that we will all remember this trip together as one of the most fun times we’ve ever had!

Markel Family Summer Vacation–Day Five

Last Saturday we sadly said goodbye to Orlando at 4:30 a.m., and began the long drive home (actually, the long drive to Ryan’s parents’ house, because driving all the way home from Orlando in one day would have been a disaster!). We did have a few stops planned along the way, though. We started by driving up the Space Coast. In some ways, it was like time had frozen there since the 1960s. We passed by so many cute motels that were just like I had imagined from the days of the space race. And they all had great vintage road signs…but it was too dark to get good pictures of them!

Anyway, the sun did come up eventually…just in time for us to drive through Daytona Beach, which was where we supposed to say in the first place, and see the sun rise over the ocean:

We drove a little farther up the coast, and stopped to stretch our legs at St. Augustine Beach. We weren’t there for long, but we got to take a nice walk, collect seashells, and dip our toes in the water. It was so exciting to see the Atlantic Ocean again!

We then drove into St. Augustine (the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States), right over the Bridge of Lions:

And stopped to take a walk around Castillo de San Marcos, which is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.

We then turned toward Jacksonville, where we stopped at the Wawa again…I have to admit, for a gas station, they make great sandwiches!

After driving through a different part of the state than on our way in, and looking for both bears and alligators (and not seeing either), we said goodbye to Florida:

And made the interminable drive back across Georgia. Even I was happy to finally see Tennessee, even if it did mean going back through the Smoky Mountains:

And so our second Markel Family summer vacation came to an end. I’ll be taking a closer look at the fun places we visited in the coming days, though, so the vacation fun isn’t over yet!

Markel Family Summer Vacation–Wrap-Up

By now you’ve probably realized that our family finally took our first real vacation this summer.

This all started in the late spring, when I was telling Ryan that I really needed to see the ocean. I had never seen it before, and it was really bothering me. So, he challenged me to pick a place, and we’d go.

I looked at several locations (including some on the Gulf of Mexico, until I was informed that didn’t really count as the ocean), and almost settled on Savannah, Georgia, before it occurred to me that I’d always wanted to go to Charleston, and…it’s on the ocean!

Why Charleston? In addition to the ocean, I wanted a place with a lot of history, which Charleston has in abundance, from the Revolutionary War period on, and a place with beautiful architecture, which, again, Charleston has no shortage of, from her churches, to Rainbow Row, to The Battery. Once I realized Charleston fit the bill, I began planning our trip, which was both fun and intimidating.

Honestly, I spent most of the summer figuring we wouldn’t actually go through with it. I thought we’d either come to our senses about spending the money, or our minivan would rebel, and need repairs costing time and thousands of dollars or something, so I didn’t really get excited about the trip until about a week before we left. It was only then that I allowed myself to indulge in my “We’re going to see the ocean!” dance! I was also a little apprehensive about leaving home, since I never do that, but I got over it.

The trip planning really came together, and the timing worked out for us to fit in a few non-Charleston stops along the way. Here’s a summary of our days on the road:

The trip wasn’t perfect. As a matter of fact, almost every bad thing I had imagined ending up happening, from a bed bug sighting in our hotel room the first night to car trouble along the way, not once, but twice. No one got sick in the car or eaten by a shark, though, so that was something! Anyway, in the end, I realized that it didn’t have to be perfect, because the troubles are part of the memories, and will eventually became a part of our family legends, along with all of the amazing parts of the trip, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Isle of Palms

I think we’d all agree that the highlight of our vacation was the morning we spent at the beach. After much research, I chose the Isle of Palms as our beach destination, because it looked like it had a good shoreline for playing in the sand, and because there is a county park with bathrooms and showers right there. It was a great choice!


I can’t even describe how I felt finally looking out across the ocean. It was so beautiful, and just what you’d expect, right down to the beachfront homes and, of course, the palm trees!

The children loved everything about their beach day…playing in the sand, looking for seashells (Bunny’s favorite activity), and getting in the water. Moose loved trying to race the waves back to the shore!


I’m not sure that anyone loved it more than Chickadee, who sat at the edge of the water, and dissolved into giggles every time a wave crashed into her!


I had a list of things I had to do while we were at the beach, and I accomplished them all!

  • Write our name in the sand.
  • Look for seashells.
  • Help the children build a sand castle.
  • Do a cartwheel on the beach. (Don’t laugh…despite my age and outward appearance, I can still turn a damn fine cartwheel!)
  • Wave dive.
  • Taste, smell, see, hear, and touch the ocean!


We walked around Ocean Blvd. for a bit while we were trying to dry off…we even got to see surfboards!

I still can’t believe I’ve finally been to the ocean…and now I can’t wait to go back!

Markel Family Summer Vacation–Day Five

Day five of our summer vacation, which was our second full day in Charleston, was also busy. It got off to a much better start, as we found no evidence of bugs in our new hotel room, so we were feeling a little more calm as we headed across the terrifying Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which Moose loved, to the Isle of Palms for our beach morning.


We spent several hours at the beach building sand castles, looking for seashells, and playing in the water. We also saw either a dolphin or a shark…fortunately, it didn’t get close enough to us for us to tell for sure!


We took a walk down Ocean Blvd. on the Isle of Palms after we were done in the water, in a misguided attempt to dry off. It was fun experiencing the laid-back atmosphere of island life along the way, and I discovered that everything they say about island time is true!


After our walk, we headed to the neighboring island, Sullivan’s Island, to visit Fort Moultrie, which served our country from the time of the Revolutionary War through WWII. We got to see a great movie about the history of the fort, and then took a long walk around the fort to see what all the different parts of the installation were.


We then drove back across the scary bridge to visit the Waterfront Park, which is famous for its pineapple fountain. The children loved that they were allowed to wade in it, and I loved seeing it in person!


We had another brief hiccup in our plans when Ryan had to take our car in to have the brakes replaced. It didn’t take too long, though, and the children and I enjoyed watching more cable TV while he was gone. Once he got back, we drove to North Charleston to Holy City Brewing, where I was planning on trying a flight of their beer. The brewery wasn’t as family-friendly as they advertised, however, so we ended up not staying, but it was still fun to see it.


We then drove back downtown, to have the family walk through White Point Garden that we had missed due to the rain the night before. We walked along the harbor and admired the houses on The Battery while we were there. We also saw a Dungeness Crab in the water, which we identified thanks to some kind fishermen who were down there.


We said one last goodbye to downtown Charleston and the ocean before heading back to our hotel to pack up. On the way, we stopped at the grocery store, a Harris Teeter…I enjoyed seeing a new grocery chain, which is weird thing I like to do when I’m in a new place.


Markel Family Summer Vacation–Day Four

We had big plans for summer vacation day four, our first full day in Charleston, but our plans were a bit derailed due to a bedbug incident in our hotel, which was absolutely the worst part of our trip. After freaking out, and leaving the hotel to figure out what we were going to do, we went on our scheduled ferry ride to Fort Sumter. This was a very emotional morning for me, because it was both my first time seeing the ocean, and very humbling setting foot on a place that steeped in history. Both the boat ride (where Turkey and I saw a dolphin), and the fort itself were fantastic, and we had a great time.


After going back to the hotel and switching rooms, which ate up more of our vacation time than I would have liked, we returned to downtown Charleston to walk around in the heat, and explore the Charleston Market.


We also walked around to admire the many, many historic buildings. Since it was so hot, we also stopped to enjoy an Italian ice from one of the many street vendors that had a cart set up along the sidewalk!


After our walk in the heat, we headed out to our one fancy dinner at Fleet Landing. This was one of the most amazing meals I’ve ever enjoyed, and definitely lived up to the hype. We had a table right next to the windows overlooking the water, and we saw a dolphin family playing fairly close to the shore. We also got to see a storm roll in over the harbor while we were dining, which was a fun experience.


No further walking after dinner, because it was still raining, but we did drive around a bit so I could take pictures of Rainbow Row on East Bay, as well as the gorgeous houses on South Battery, and the beautiful White Point Garden.


After I had my fill of photos for the day, we headed back to our (new) hotel room, and went for another swim in the pool. We also indulged in another vacation pleasure…watching cable TV in our hotel room!

Chickadee Thursday

Today, Chickadee got to visit Fort Sumter…and had her first glimpse of the ocean and her first boat ride, to boot!

She also got to eat dinner at Fleet Landing, where she enjoyed some delicious flounder, and saw a storm roll in, as well as some big boats and dolphins in the water!