The End of Summer Blow-Out

On Thursday, we chased one last wild hair of mine for the summer, and drove up to Chicago for the day. We had a few goals, starting with visiting Buckingham Fountain, which we didn’t get to do in May…it was just as grand as I remembered it!

The place we really wanted to spend time at, though, was Navy Pier, the last really big thing on my list of Chicago things to share with the Fab Five. We walked all the way around it, and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer day to do it…it was in the 70s with a beautiful lake breeze!

Seeing the anchor from the USS Chicago is kind of amazing…you just don’t realize the scale of the size of one until you see it for yourself!

The views from the Pier are amazing!

I also finally got to reunite some of my Homes Bracelets with the place they represent…Lake Michigan!

There was no way we could do all of the things, so I picked one big attraction…the Centennial Wheel. It is very similar in size to the Ferris wheel in St. Louis, but the views of the skyline and Lake Michigan are a lot more impressive than anything we have here in the Lou!

We stopped for Rainbow Cones after our ride. I really prefer the original Beverly location, because it has so much character, but the scenery made the five flavors taste even better!

We walked over to Polk Bros. Park just across the street:

We also shared a burger from the Billy Goat Tavern, just so we could say we had one:

And then we walked back through the mall and to the end of the Pier again:

I will never tire of the view!

The other big reason for our trip north was so that Bunny and I could visit the Rare Dirndl design studio, located in the Lincoln Square neighborhood, which is a really cool place! We toured the studio, did some shopping, and most importantly of all, got to meet and talk to the designer, Erika Neumayer!

On the way home, we stopped at Portillo’s, as is our tradition:

I’m not going to lie…it was a lot of time to spend in the car in one day (although we certainly had days that were longer on our vacation!), but it was worth it to get to see Chicago one more time before the end of the summer!

Markels Making Magical Memories–Day Fifteen

Bowling Green, KY to Belleville, IL; 279.6 miles. KY, IN, IL

We got started early on our way home, and I’m not going to lie…after over 800 miles of driving the day before, under 300 didn’t seem too bad! We even had a rainbow pointing the way home:

We stopped to stretch our legs at Smothers Park in Owensboro, KY. Since we were out so early, we didn’t need to worry about running into anyone, which was good, because I was feeling kind of like Typhoid Mary. It was kind of nice to end our trip the way we began, with a war memorial:

And there were some really cool fountains:

We picked up some donuts from the Donut Bank on the way home:

After driving 3,134.20 miles through 12 states and one district, not to mention taking 197,076 steps (close to 90 miles, I think!), through the streets of Washington D.C., Mount Vernon, Myrtle Beach, Disney World, and Kennedy Space Center, we finally made it home with the souvenir no one wanted…COVID-19. In spite of that, it was a great trip, and we made a lifetime’s worth of memories!

If you’re still interested in our vacation, stay tuned for a more in-depth look at some of the places we visited!

Markels Making Magical Memories–Day Fourteen

Orlando, FL to Bowling Green, KY; 802.4 miles. FL, GA, AL, TN, KY

We said goodbye to our room and Cabana Bay before piling in the car for a very long drive back to Bowling Green.

Did you know that Wawa’s Hoagiefest also applies to breakfast? I tried a breakfast cheesesteak, which was surprisingly good!

We took a different route back than we did four years ago, partly to avoid Atlanta, partly to avoid the mountains, and partly just to see something new. Our route took us through Valdosta, GA, where we stopped at Ella’s Top Corral, home of South Georgia’s best burger. It really was delicious, but for me, the star item on the menu was the fried okra!

Later in the day, we stopped at a Milo’s somewhere in Alabama (Prattville?). We weren’t too hungry after our big lunch, but I did enjoy trying the Mexi-fries.

We finally made it to Bowling Green a little after 10. And by that point, we knew we were all sick, most likely with Covid, so we scrapped our remaining plans for a visit to the Louisville Zoo, got straight into bed, and planned to leave as early as possible in the morning so as to expose Ryan’s parents (who very kindly still hosted us despite the risk) as little as possible.

Up next: Home sweet home!

Markels Making Magical Memories–Day Thirteen

Cabana Day; 12,488 steps

Our last day in Orlando was a “Cabana Day.” We rented a poolside cabana at the resort, and spent the day hanging out, swimming, playing ping pong, and building sand castles.

Of course, since we were in Florida, there was an afternoon storm that closed the pool for a bit, so we headed inside to the arcade, where we played Skee Ball. Turkey was the champion…he even hit the very rare “100!”

We found another hotel guest to take one last family picture:

And then picked up some surprisingly delicious pizzas from the hotel diner for dinner:

The children had a fun time playing with their lightsabers, and I thought they looked really cool through the screen in the room:

One last look before bed:

Up next: A very long and exhausting day of driving.

Markels Making Magical Memories–Day Twelve

Kennedy Space Center; 10,984 steps

Our last big outing in Florida was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time…tour Kennedy Space Center (I’ll have more details on our day at KSC in the future)!

I was so excited to see the Rocket Garden!

We took a bus to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, and it conveniently went right past the Vehicle Assembly Building. It’s almost impossible to comprehend just how massive the structure is!

It’s also difficult to understand the scale of the Saturn V!

We got to see Artemis I on the launchpad for a test run…it was so exciting to get a glimpse of the future of space travel!

I thought the Moon Tree Garden was also really cool:

We took the bus back to the main complex, where we got to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis:

We also took some times to remember the lost at the Space Mirror Memorial:

I really enjoyed the Astronaut Hall of Fame:

It was a great place for all of us space nerds to visit!

And we even got to see (and hear!) a SpaceX launch!

When we got back to the hotel, we finally had time for an evening swim and walk…we’d been out so late every night up until this point, we just didn’t have an opportunity to explore the resort!

Up next: A relaxing day by the pool.

Markels Making Magical Memories–Day Eleven

Animal Kingdom; 28,465 steps

Our final day at Disney included visiting all four of the parks, starting with our first trip to Animal Kingdom:

Every Disney park has a central, iconic location…at Animal Kingdom, it’s the Tree of Life:

We headed straight for the Kilimanjaro Safaris upon our arrival.

We got to see a lot of animals in fairly realistic habitats.

After the safari, we walked the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail (and saw an adorable baby gorilla!), and then walked around the park a bit:

We got to listen and talk to a talented musician who played the kora:

There was a cool kite show on the water:

We didn’t forget to take a family photo!

We only went on one other ride (we had talked about the Kali River Rapids, but at that point, I was just over being wet and wearing a plastic poncho, and the Expedition Everest roller coaster, which some of us thought about riding was closed)…the TriceraTop Spin, which I thought was fun.

We only spent a few hours at Animal Kingdom, because we had some other things we wanted to do. We drove over to EPCOT so we could hop on the monorail to visit a few of the resorts that had anniversary pressed pennies we wanted to add to our collection.

One of those resorts was the Contemporary, which is home to a fantastic Mary Blair mural (details to come later).

While we were riding the monorail, we passed by Donald Duck in his 50th anniversary finery:

Once park hopper hours began, we stopped by the Magic Kingdom to collect a few more pressed pennies…and see Eeyore, who waved his ears at me (I was really good at frantically waving at characters by this point!):

We then headed into EPCOT, where we finally found Goofy:

At this point, we split up so we could maximize our penny finding. Bunny and I headed off in one direction, and I’m pretty sure we had the best time, starting with the views on our route:

And then I finally met my favorite Disney character, Daisy Duck!!!

Bunny and I decided we would take the Skyliner to Hollywood Studios while everyone else drove. I feel bad that they missed out, because it was a really fun ride, and we even got to make a transfer at one of the hotels!

At Hollywood Studios, we found Donald and Daisy (again). I told you I had the waving thing figured out, because they definitely noticed me!

Since Bunny and I had a little extra time, we shared yet another Mickey-shaped treat:

And took a look at The Hollywood Tower Hotel. I had no interest in riding The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, but I did want to see it.

Once we regrouped, we got in what I think was our longest line of the trip, to ride Rise of the Resistance, which was really, really cool.

We also rode Star Tours twice, and Darth Vader showed up both times, which was very exciting. A few members of our family actually managed to ride all three Star Wars rides that day, which was quite an accomplishment given their popularity! Plus, those who were interested also managed to squeeze in a ride on the previously-mentioned Tower of Terror, and they had a great time, especially since they got to ride it as the sun was setting!

It was really had to leave, because we knew that even though we still had a few days of vacation left, our time at Disney was over.

Up next: Kennedy Space Center!

Markels Making Magical Memories–Day Ten

Disney Springs; 13,011 steps

The theme for the tenth day of our trip was shopping. Since we were staying at a Universal property, we decided to take the bus to the Universal CityWalk, where we picked up a few wands we regretted not buying at our day at the theme park a few years ago, and visited the iconic symbol of Universal Studios:

We didn’t spend too much time there, though, because our main destination for the day was Disney Springs, which is a huge outdoor mall that I think is supposed to make you think of Rodeo Drive:

I’m not sure what we were looking for exactly, but we did find an enormous Disney store and a huge Lego Store, both places that gave us the opportunity to buy a few more souvenirs.

There were lots of other cool shops, too, including Cherry Tree Lane, where I assumed I’d find a dress I’d want to buy (I didn’t), and where I didn’t expect to find Orange Bird!

There was also a pin trading store with some familiar faces:

We stopped to try the poutine at The Daily Poutine:

There were displays for Pride Month:

It was a fun place to visit!

We continued the theme of shopping at Publix to stock up on a few additional food supplies since we were running low…I really like that grocery store chain!

When we got back to the hotel, we headed to the Bayliner Diner to use our complimentary dinner tickets.

I had the Cabana Bay burger, which, if it hadn’t been so well done, would have been possibly the best burger I’ve ever had. Even being so well done, it was delicious, and that’s high praise coming from me, the person who likes her burger to arrive at the table still moo-ing!

Everyone else enjoyed their meals, too…Ladybug’s tuna looked especially amazing!

Up next: Our final day at Disney’s parks.

Markels Making Magical Memories–Day Nine

Magic Kingdom; 22,219 steps

Epcot is (I think) my favorite of the Disney theme parks, and we all had an amazing time at Hollywood Studios, but there’s something special about driving up to the Magic Kingdom:

And that first view of the Castle looking down Main Street USA is breathtaking!

While we were still near the entrance on Main Street, we saw some of our favorite storybook friends in a horse-drawn trolley:

We finally found ears at the Emporium Shop:

Our first stop (after buying ears) was at the Mad Tea Party. Bunny, in particular, was very excited about this classic ride!

While we were in the area, we also stopped for a snack at the Cheshire Cafe:

We tried the Cheshire Cat Tail (an amazing donut) and the All Mixed Up Slushy, which was wonderfully cold and refreshing:

As much as Bunny wanted to ride the teacups, that’s how much Chickadee wanted to ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant. I have to admit I was also really looking forward to this ride, because when I went to Disney World as a child, it was shut down due to storms right before it was my turn to get on, and I never got back to it.

We also saw some of the big parade on Main Street, but since we were planning on seeing it later in the day, I didn’t take any pictures of the floats (spoilers…we never saw it again). The reason we were back near the entrance? Ryan had scheduled a session with a Disney photographer, and we got a lot of great pictures!

We also caught a bit of the Dapper Dans act, which I really enjoyed!

At this point, we split up for a bit. There was no way I was going to go on Space Mountain again (my bad memory from my childhood trip to Disney), so I took those who weren’t interested in the roller coaster to instead ride the People Mover (which is a low-key favorite of mine) and the Astro Orbiter:

After we found each other again, we set out for the other side of the park, which meant we got to catch some of the show outside the castle along the way. I was especially excited to see Daisy Duck in her 50th anniversary outfit. (Chickadee was excited that characters from both Tangled and Frozen appeared in the show!)

We didn’t go on any rides in Adventureland, but we did have one Very Important Stop to make there, because I wasn’t leaving Disney without trying a Dole Whip. We also got a Dole Whip float, complete with Tiki sipper, for good measure!

While we waited for the parade that never took place (thank you afternoon storms) we tried a lobster roll from Columbia Harbour House in Liberty Square

And then we headed to the Haunted Mansion. I wasn’t too interested in this one, so I was really surprised by how much I liked it! It wasn’t scary at all…just silly and fun!

Following the Haunted Mansion, we split up again for a bit…I took a jaunt to Disney’s First Aid (which is a really nice facility!) with a child who had irritated eyes due to the copious amounts of sunscreen we were wearing, while everyone else who wanted to took a ride on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. This also gave me a chance to admire the castle from different angles!

We might have missed the big parade, but we did catch the Disney Adventure Friends Cavalcade, and we learned that we were there for a very exciting event…Mirabel made her debut that day! (And did I mention that 6/26 is also “Stitch Day”? We were very excited to see Stitch join in the parade!)

I finally got to ride It’s a Small World, which was designed in part by Mary Blair!

After attending Mickey’s PhilharMagic, we of course had to ride the carousel:

We’ve had Mickey Bars at home, but our trip to Disney wouldn’t have been complete without sharing one at the park, too!

I think Fantasyland was my favorite, probably because it felt like what I imagine Europe feels like.

Even the back of the castle is pretty!

We took another walk down Main Street as the lights were starting to come on:

And Ladybug bought a “Banana Boom” at the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor, which she kindly shared with all of us (it was huge!).

We then claimed a spot to watch the fireworks…there’s something so special about seeing them over the castle!

The Magic Kingdom is open later than the other parks, so we didn’t have to leave right away. Instead, we rode the teacups again, and then took a ride on the Tomorrowland Speedway, which gave us a great view of Space Mountain all lit up:

One last look at the castle…I’m so glad we got to see it all dressed up for Disney World’s 50th anniversary!

Up next: Our “rest day” at Disney Springs.

Markels Making Magical Memories–Day Eight

Hollywood Studios; 14,624 steps

We finally made it to Hollywood Studios, the park everyone was most excited to visit…you’ll see why in a minute! I loved the mid-century feel of the gates:

It really did feel like being in Hollywood (well, as far as I can imagine, anyway)!

One of the best parts of our trip to Disney was sharing the experience with a friend! I’m so happy the children got to make so many memories with their godfather!

We were most excited about exploring Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It really feels like you’re in one of the movies!

Where else can you see the Millennium Falcon?!?

I won’t even try to describe it all now…I’ll save that for a full post later. But we built lightsabers at Savi’s:

And we built droids at the Droid Depot:

Plus we picked up a job flying the Millennium Falcon to Corellia for Hondo Ohnaka (I was a pilot, which was probably a bad idea, but I got to engage the hyperdrive!).

We also got to see Muppet Vision 3D and explore that area of the park:

And we checked out the hand and footprints by the Chinese Theatre:

Before lunch, we spent some time relaxing and taking in the sights around Echo Lake:

Our other big event for the day was our one fancy meal on vacation…lunch at The Hollywood Brown Derby. It was just like I remembered it from my childhood, and one of the best meals I’ve ever had (full details to come):

We didn’t go on any of the rides in Toy Story Land, but we did enjoy walking through it and seeing everything!

We did have a fun ride on Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad…and we were very happy to see that Goofy was recognized as Employee of the Month!

Another evening, another lights and fireworks show:

And a night photo of the Fab Five with their lightsabers lit up:

It was a great day full of amazing experiences!

Up next: A day at the Magic Kingdom!

Markels Making Magical Memories–Day Seven

Epcot; 24,760 steps

We thought this day would never come! We finally made it to Disney World and EPCOT (this would be the last and only time before my final park entrance that I didn’t get flagged by the metal detector)!!!

The had a really cool camera set up at the front of the park that took a very unique photo of the Fab Five:

I was so excited when I realized that the EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival would still be going on while we there…there were amazing topiaries everywhere!!!

My family tells me I ran to hug Minnie Mouse…I thought I was walking at a perfectly normal speed. I don’t know what actually happened, but I will say that I was not expecting to be so excited to meet Minnie…it was a total thrill!

After going on the Frozen ride in Norway we went on the new Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind roller coaster (our song was “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”). I was not prepared for how, um, intense the ride would be, and I can’t say that I’d go on it again. I’m glad I got to experience it with my family, though, and I’m really happy they all loved it (except for maybe Chickadee, who was about as thrilled as I was).

We then made our way back to the World Showcase, which is definitely my favorite part of EPCOT.

We tried to experience something special in each country. I was surprised to discover that one of my very favorite things was the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros in Mexico. It was such a chill, fun boat ride, and it inspired us to watch The Three Caballeros pretty much as soon as we got home!

We saw a mime in Italy:

We didn’t eat a full meal at EPCOT, but we sampled foods in several different countries…here’s a look at a few of of the things we tried: Kringla in Norway, a Mickey Mouse shaped pretzel in America, and a ni├žoise sandwich in France (not pictured: pretzel bread with ham and cheese in Germany, chicken potstickers in China, and fish and chips in England):

This may be as close to Germany as I get!

There was quite a bit of rain while we traveling the world (although we did get a chance to dry off a bit while we waited to ride Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure), so we were still pretty soggy for the rest of our visit. We enjoyed walking around the rest of the park, anyway, and took in the sights inside and out:

The geodesic sphere that houses Spaceship Earth (which we road before the fireworks show) looked beautiful as the sun was going down:

And stunning reflecting off the water after dark!

The fireworks were amazing…the whole show was choreographed so well, the musical choices were excellent, and the reflections on the water were gorgeous! It was probably the best of the fireworks shows we saw (although it’s hard to compete with the display over the castle at the Magic Kingdom!).

One last look before we left:

Up next: Our most hands-on day at Disney World when we visited Hollywood Studios!