Places We’ve Seen

Places We’ve Seen

It’s important to us to get out of our motorhome and out of the campgrounds and see some of the sights in the area. One of the questions we always ask ourselves is, “Why is this place here?”  And we don’t leave until we get a satisfactory answer. If it’s a populated area, it’s usually because of transportation or natural resources. If it’s a natural wonder, it’s usually because of geological forces from long ago.

Below is a list of some of the places we’ve seen since going full-time, listed in chronological order.


Ferry to Put-in-Bay OH

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

Put-in-Bay is a village located on South Bass Island in Lake Erie on the north coast of Ohio, a few miles from the Canadian border. The full-time population is between 100 and 150. The village is a popular summer resort and recreational destination with several hotels and many restaurants and bars. Ferry and airline services connect the community with the mainland.

We took the speedy Jet Express catamaran ferry from Sandusky, which made a quick stop at Cedar Point and another at Kelly’s Island, before docking at Put-in-Bay. Our visit capped a summer of exploring some key locations during the War of 1812, which included Fort Meigs, Prophetstown, and related locations in Cincinnati. We didn’t intend to have a theme for our summer travels, it just happened.

The bay played a significant role in the war as the location of the squadron of U.S. naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry, who sailed from the port on September 10, 1813 to engage a British squadron just north of the island in the Battle of Lake Erie. 

Nine vessels of the United States Navy defeated and captured six vessels of the British Royal Navy. It is the only time in history, before or since, that an entire squadron of the British navy was completely defeated. This ensured American control of the lake for the rest of the war, which in turn allowed the Americans to recover Detroit, win the Battle of the Thames in Canada, and break the Indian confederation of Tecumseh. It was one of the biggest naval battles of the War of 1812.

Oliver Hazard Perry was one of three national heroes of the war, along with Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison. Most Americans at the time credited these three with saving the country. (Our former home town of Perrysburg OH is named after Perry.) Sadly, Perry died of yellow fever in 1819 while on a naval expedition to negotiate an anti-piracy agreement with Venezuelan President Simón Bolívar. Jackson and Harrison both survived their military service and each in turn went on to be elected President of the United States.

At the 100th anniversary of this pivotal naval victory, the United States began construction of an impressive tower on South Bass Island to commemorate Perry’s victory over Britain and to celebrate America’s long-standing peace since the war with England and their former colony, Canada.

Construction of the monument, officially called Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, was completed in 1915. It is 352 feet tall and made up of 78 layers of pink granite, topped with an eleven ton bronze urn.

There is an elevator and stairway to an observatory at the top of the tower. Its height makes it the highest open-air observatory operated by the U.S. National Park Service. However on the day we visited, the monument and the observatory were closed for renovations.

Fortunately, there is a wonderful visitor’s center in front of the monument which provides a vivid description of the battle with scale models and explains it’s significance to American and Canadian history.

Over 2 million people annually visit the little town of Put-in-Bay. Some come to visit the memorial, but most come to party. Nicknamed the “Key West of the North”, Put-in-Bay offers lots of nightlife with live musical entertainment, strolling barbershop singers, bagpipers, steel drums, and lots of golf carts zipping around town. It actually reminds me more of Catalina Island than Key West. But basically, it’s a great place to have a good time, which we did, while including a bit of history in the process.

Website: https://www.putinbay.com/


Fort Meigs - Perrysburg OH

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

Fort Meigs was a United States fortification used during the War of 1812. The site is on a bluff overlooking the Maumee River rapids and is located in the modern day city of Perrysburg in northwest Ohio. The fort was built under the command of General William Henry Harrison and served a pivotal role in the War. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

The War of 1812 is an interesting period in American history. While battles were fought from Upper Canada to New Orleans, much of the war was conducted along the border between Canada and the United States on and around the Great Lakes.

The primary area in dispute was the Northwest Territory, which was the land between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes, and included what became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

The Northwest Territory was ceded to the Americans by the British at the conclusion of the American Revolution. Ohio was the first state carved from the Territory in 1803. But the British were slow to leave the Territory, and saw it in their interest to prevent the Americans from occupying it.

American leaders suspected British agents of aiding the Indian resistance movement which was led by the Shawnee chief Tecumseh. From 1806 to 1811, Tecumseh sought to unite the Northwest Indian tribes against American expansion into their lands.

In 1811 William Henry Harrison, the governor of the Indiana Territory, led an expedition to disperse Tecumseh’s followers. At the Battle of Tippecanoe in Prophetstown near the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers, he managed to stave off an Indian attack on his camp. Upon reaching Tecumseh’s village, he reported the discovery of a cache of supplies and arms from the British agents in Canada.

On June 18, 1812, President James Madison signed an Act of Congress formally declaring war on Great Britain. Harrison was promoted to Major General, and ordered Fort Meigs to be built on the Maumee River in Ohio.

The Maumee River was seen by both sides as having great strategic importance because it provided a vital water passage from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico by way of a short portage connecting the Maumee River to the Wabash River to the Ohio River and then to the Mississippi River. 

Ground was broken for the fort on February 2, 1813 in the middle of a bitter cold winter. The walls were constructed using logs cut to a 15-foot length, partially buried in the ground, then protected by a steep earthen slope thrown against the logs to strengthen them against bombardment. An embankment against the interior side provided a parapet. When completed, the fort was the largest wooden walled fortification in North America. At it’s peak, the fort was home to 2,800 soldiers.

The fort protected the interior of northwest Ohio and eastern Indiana from British invasion. It guarded the rapids of the Maumee River and acted as a counterbalance to the British Fort Miami that was across the river slightly downstream. (“Maumee” is a variation of “Miami”. The Miami were one of the Ohio Indian tribes, and lent their name not only to the Maumee River, but also to the Miami River in southeast Ohio. To add to the confusion, there is a Miami River in southeast Florida, which is named after the Mayaimi Indians who were no relation to the Miami Indians of Ohio. Hence, Miami University in Ohio and University of Miami in Florida.)

The British saw the fort as a serious threat to their control of the Great Lakes and Canada, and were intent on destroying it. They laid siege to the fort twice during the war with support from Tecumseh’s Confederacy. On the worst day of fighting, over 600 Americans were killed. But the British failed to capture the fort, and eventually retreated back to Detroit and Canada.

The original Fort Meigs was torn down shortly after the second siege and was rebuilt on a smaller scale. Instead of a full fort, it served as a supply depot till the end of the war. With this second fort built, the American army marched north towards Canada, leaving 100 Ohio militiamen behind to guard it.

This supply depot stood till the end of the war, but was then abandoned by the American army. Sometime after the war, it burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances.

The fort was reconstructed in the 1970s by the Ohio Historical Society. Beginning in 2000, the Society tore down the aging stockade and rebuilt it with new hand-hewn timbers. Workers also repaired the fort’s seven blockhouses, five artillery batteries and a quartermaster’s warehouse.

Each year, battle re-enactments are held portraying the events of the siege of Fort Meigs in May 1813, complete with American and British infantry and artillery. This event is held on Memorial Day weekend and is followed on Monday by a ceremony commemorating the fallen soldiers.

The Visitor Center features 3,000 square feet of exhibits on Ohio’s role in the War of 1812. The museum exhibit, Legacy of Freedom: Fort Meigs and the War of 1812, focuses on the themes of era, conflict, understanding and remembrance. These sections place the War of 1812 into the context of the times and explain Fort Meigs’ role in this pivotal conflict.

Becky and I lived in Perrysburg for many years, and went to the fort to view the fireworks display on the Fourth of July. But we never visited the museum. I’m glad we finally did. Perrysburg, by the way, is named after Commodore Perry, who defeated the British navy at the Battle of Lake Erie, effectively ending the War of 1812. Another interesting fact is that Perrysburg is one of only two cities founded by an Act of Congress, the other being Washington DC.

We found the museum as interesting as the reconstructed fort. When we were kids, our families used to picnic on the grounds. This was before the fort was reconstructed. I remember rolling down the grassy embankments with my cousins. In the winter, we’d come here to go sledding down the bluff toward the frozen river. It was great fun then, and it’s great fun now. 

Website: http://www.fortmeigs.org/


Three Days in Cincinnati OH

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

In June, we stayed at two Thousand Trails campgrounds that were each about 40 miles away from Cincinnati but from opposite directions: Indian Lakes to the west, and Wilmington to the east. During that time, we took three day trips to explore the city.

Cincinnati is located on the Ohio River, and was founded in 1788. It’s home to the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, and the Cincinnati Bengals football team. Both stadiums are located on the waterfront.

At the time Cincinnati was first settled, Ohio was not yet a state. Because the city was northwest of the Ohio River, it was technically part of the Northwest Territory, which America had recently won from Britain as part of the 1783 Treaty of Paris at the end of the War of Independence . Ohio didn’t become a state until 15 years later in 1803.

Originally called “Losantiville,” Arthur St. Clair, then governor of the Northwest Territory, changed the name of the young settlement to “Cincinnati” in honor of the Society of the Cincinnati, which was made up of Revolutionary War officers, of which he was a member.

Statue of Cincinnatus

The Society still exists today, and is named in honor of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, who left his farm in 460 BC to accept a term as chief military leader in Ancient Rome to meet a war emergency. When the war was won, he returned power to the Senate and went back to plowing his fields. The members of the Society saw themselves doing much the same thing.

The Society was very prestigious following the Revolutionary War. George Washington was elected the first President General of the Society, and served from 1783 until his death in 1799. The second President General was Alexander Hamilton. Its members have included notable military and political leaders, including 23 signers of the United States Constitution. Many U.S. presidents have been members, most recently George H. W. Bush.

Because it was the first major American city founded after the American Revolution as well as the first major inland city in the country, Cincinnati is sometimes thought of as the first purely “American” city. During the first half of the 19th century, it was one of the fastest growing cities in the country.

Cincinnati is a working city, and as such is not really a tourist destination. However, we found a number of interesting places to see. Much of the charm of the city is the result of the civic pride held by its early citizens, especially those who had fought in the Revolutionary War. The sense of optimism is quite apparent. 

Spring Grove Cemetery

Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum is a 733 acre garden cemetery and arboretum located at 4521 Spring Grove Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio. It is the second largest cemetery in the United States. 

The cemetery dates from 1844, when members of the Cincinnati Horticultural Society formed a cemetery association. The numerous springs and groves in the area provided the name “Spring Grove”. The cemetery was formally chartered in January, 1845. The first burial took place in September.

In 1855, Adolph Strauch, a renowned landscape architect, was hired to beautify the grounds. His sense and layout of the “garden cemetery”, made of lakes, trees, and shrubs, is what visitors today still see. In 2007, the cemetery was designated a National Historic Landmark. The Spring Grove Cemetery Chapel is listed separately on the National Register of Historic Places.

We took a self guided walking tour on Tuesday evening, because every Tuesday during June, July, and August, the cemetery closes off its 45 miles of paved roadways to automobiles and makes them available for bicycling, baby strollers, walking, jogging, etc. from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. 

Perhaps the one word that best describes the cemetery is “audacious.” It’s hard to imagine any city in America today setting aside 733 acres of prime real estate as a place to commemorate it’s most honored citizens among beautiful lakes and fountains. 

Findlay Market

Findlay Market is located in the historic Over-the-Rhine district. Founded in 1842, it is Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market. The Findlay Market Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. It is the last remaining of the nine public markets that once served Cincinnati.

The story of the Findlay Market is another fine example of early Cincinnati’s civic pride. The land was donated by the estate of General James Findlay, who was an early Cincinnati settler and civic leader.

He built a log store near the Ohio River in 1793 and, a year or two later, moved operations to a larger general merchandise store around the corner from the original site. He was among the early entrepreneurs and land speculators who both fueled and profited from young Cincinnati’s rapid growth.

Findlay served as Mayor of Cincinnati in 1805-06 and 1810-11. He and twenty-four other citizens established a public library in Cincinnati in 1802. At the outbreak of the War of 1812 against Britain, he commanded a regiment near Detroit, and was awarded the rank of Major General.

America fought the War of 1812 for several reasons, but primarily to finally gain full control of the Northwest Territory, which they had “won” from Britain in the Treaty of 1783. During the War, Findlay built a fort near what later became Findlay, Ohio, and was taken prisoner by British troops. 

Following the war, he was elected to the U.S. Congress and served as a Major General of the Ohio State Militia’s First Division. Findlay served in Congress with his brothers William and John, one of only two times in American history that three siblings served simultaneously.

With profits from his successful retail business, James Findlay purchased large tracts of wooded land immediately north of the Cincinnati city line. Hoping to develop the area, Findlay recorded a town plat in 1833, which included a location for a farmers market and general store.

General James Findlay died in 1835 before the market and store could be built. His widow, Jane Irwin Findlay, remained a prominent citizen of Cincinnati. In 1840, she moved briefly to the White House in Washington, D.C. where she assisted her niece, Jane Irwin, President William Henry Harrison’s daughter in law.

The newly elected President had asked Mrs. Irwin to stand in as the nation’s official First Lady because his wife was too ill to accompany him to Washington. The assignment proved short lived because President Harrison himself died of an illness in 1841 shortly after taking office. Mrs. Findlay returned to Cincinnati, where she died in 1851. She and General James Findlay are buried in Spring Grove Cemetery.

After her death, executors of the Findlay estate donated the parcel identified as a market on the town plat to the City of Cincinnati, stipulating that it be used to build a public market named for and commemorating General Findlay.

Today, Findlay Market has more than 40 indoor merchants selling meat, fish, poultry, produce, flowers, cheese, deli, and ethnic foods. On Saturdays and Sundays from March to December, the Market hosts a farmers’ market and other outdoor vendors, street performers, and special events. 

We went on Saturday morning. It was crowded, but fun. We very much enjoyed the sights and sounds as well as a fine meal from one of the outdoor food vendors.

The Belle of Cincinnati 

One of the best ways to see Cincinnati is by water along the Ohio River. We took an afternoon cruise on the Belle of Cincinnati river boat, which actually launches from Newport, KY on the opposite side of the river.

The riverboat cruise comes with or without dinning. We opted for the sightseeing only cruise for $23.00 each. The lunch cruise is $40.00 and the dinner cruise is $55.00.  

We went mid-week on a sunny afternoon. The boat started downriver, crossing under the John A Roebling Suspension Bridge. The bridge was designed by John A Roebling, and at the time was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It was built during the Civil War, and completed in 1866. The bridge resembles in many ways the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, which Roebling’s son, Washington Roebling, went on to build 30 years later.

After passing under the historic bridge, we turned around and went upstream for several miles, before returning back to port. For most of the trip, our captain played river songs on the banjo (not sure if it was live or recorded) and provided historic commentary of this beautiful river city. 

We were glad to see that modern day Cincinnati still has some of the civic pride of earlier generations. Along with the two Kentucky cities on the opposite shore, it makes good use of its riverfront. The two most dominant structures on the Ohio side are the Reds baseball stadium, Great American Ball Park, and the Bengals football stadium, Paul Brown Stadium.

Between the two stadiums is The Banks project, which includes apartments, retail, restaurants, and offices, and stretches from Great American Ball Park to Paul Brown Stadium. The Smale Riverfront Park has been developed along with The Banks, and is Cincinnati’s newest park. From the riverboat, we could see lots of activity at the park, which is a long grassy area between the buildings and the riverfront. It looked very inviting.

We also visited Washington Park which is just a few blocks in from the river near Findlay Market. The parks and the market show that Downtown Cincinnati is alive and well.


Touring Nashville - Nashville TN

RATING:

Since we were in Nashville for the Nashville Boogie festival, we decided to take a guided tour of the city on the Old Town Trolley the following day. The trolley stops at 15 sites around town, and we could get off and on whenever we wanted throughout the day for one price of $34 each. The drivers are knowledgeable about the city and the attractions. Old Town Trolley operates in many other cities across the country, including San Diego, where we lived for 12 years. We would always take the trolley there when we had visitors. It’s an easy way to see a city.

We started our tour in the honky tonk district downtown. We had a great lunch at the Wildhorse Saloon, and then did some window shopping along Broadway as we headed toward the pedestrian bridge to walk across the Cumberland River. The bridge was a wonderful break from the crazy busy downtown sidewalks. It is nice and wide, plenty of room for everybody. We had awesome views of the city on one side and Nissan Stadium on the other, with the river below.

We are not big country music fans, so when we got back on the trolley we decided to let the guide tell us about places such as the Ryman Auditorium and the Country Music Hall of Fame, but get off and explore only those sites that interested us the most.

We spent over an hour at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. I wanted to see the 95-Bell Carillon that plays a portion of the Tennessee Waltz every quarter hour and the entire waltz on the hour. It also plays other songs by well-known artists associated with Nashville. When we were there, it played Love Me Tender by the King. In addition to the carillon, the park has a really cool 200-foot long granite map of the state embedded in the ground. We took a picture that shows the map with the Tennessee State Capitol on a high hill in the background.

We spent another hour or so at the Parthenon at Centennial Park, which was something that David especially wanted to see. The Nashville Parthenon is the world’s only 1-to-1 replica of the original temple to the goddess Athena that was built in 438 B.C. This replica was built in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. It’s an impressive structure from the outside, but what blew our minds was the 42-foot high gilded statue of Athena inside the temple. The statue was started in 1990 and completed in 1998. Athena gives visitors the impression of truly being inside an ancient temple. It’s the largest piece of indoor sculpture in the western world.

Nashville is an exciting city with too much to do in one day. If we had it to do over, we would have skipped the Boogie Vintage Festival and bought a two-day pass on the trolley.  


Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center - White Springs FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

The Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center is part of the Stephen Foster State Park where we spent two nights in the campground. 

The center has a museum and carillon tower that house exhibits and dioramas depicting scenes from some of Stephen Foster’s songs. The carillon tower is normally scheduled to play several times throughout the day, but unfortunately, it had been struck by lightening and was not working when we were there.

There are miles of multipurpose trails for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding. You can rent canoes or kayaks for use on the river. Although, poor Florida is going through a terrible drought and the river is currently very low and slow moving.

The park was quiet during our stay, but music festivals are held here throughout the year. Their annual Florida Folk Festival is held over Memorial Day weekend. This will be their 65th annual event, with over 300 performers. Sounds like fun!


Sponge Docks - Tarpon Springs FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

It was a beautiful day for a drive over to the Gulf to visit the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks. We started our day with lunch at Rusty Bellies waterfront restaurant, then headed out to learn about sponges.

The Sponge Docks area is filled with gift shops, all competing for business. Everyone we met seemed to know everything there was to know about sponges, and they wanted us to buy from them. But even with the sales pressure, it was not an unpleasant experience. We learned a lot about the local sponge industry. I ended up buying a small “sea wool” sponge, which had been cut from a much larger sponge.

Tarpon Springs was initially developed as a winter destination for wealthy northerners, but it was soon discovered that money could be made from harvesting the sponges growing in the Gulf. A thriving sponge industry developed and was firmly established by 1890.

Over the next few years, experienced divers from Greece were brought to the area to increase harvests. A large Greek community sprang up, and today, Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the US. The town is now famous not only for the world’s finest sponges, but for some great Greek restaurants, markets, and bakeries.

We would come back to Tarpon Springs and probably will next year. It’s such an interesting place. The food was great, the shops had unique gifts, there were street musicians and artists. I took a few photos of bicycles that were decorated by a local artist and placed around on the streets a few years ago, making the already charming town a little more so.

Fun facts:  A sponge is the skeleton of an aquatic animal, not a plant. Some sponges can pump 10,000 times their own size (volume) in water in one day. Some sponges are thought to live over 100 years.

Website: Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks


The Villages, FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

Would you like to live in a community with clean streets, safe neighborhoods, ample shopping, plenty of parking, lots of open space, and nightly live free entertainment outdoors in the town square? Such a place does exist. It’s called The Villages, which is south of Ocala and northwest of Orlando.

We discovered The Villages by accident on our first RV trip to Florida in Spring 2016. At first, our reaction was negative. It was like “what are all these people doing living in Disneyland?” So many of the commercial buildings are new but made to look old. There are golf courses everywhere, and most residents buzz around on golf carts.

There are three main sections, each with its own town square. Each square has live music every day between 5 and 9 pm (Happy Hour is from 5 to 6). Each square also hosts farmer’s markets, craft and art exhibits, and they have a community center with too many activities to mention.

  • Spanish Springs – built like a Spanish mission.
  • Lake Sumter Landings –  built like a New England fishing village.
  • Brownwood Station – built like a 150 year cattle ranch.

The Villages is a 55+ community. According the the Census Bureau, the median age was 66. And the place is booming! In 2000 the population was just 8,333. By 2016, the population had ballooned to 157,000. It’s been the fastest growing community in America for the past four years.

We have come to love The Villages. It’s so much fun. Safe fun, for old people. How cool is that! I guess it’s all about timing. 2016 is the same year I turned 65 and Becky turned 62. In other words, we fit right in.

Website: The Villages


Castillo de San Marcos - St Augustine FL

Rating: ♦♦♦♦♦

We spent the day in St. Augustine, which was founded in 1565. It is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement within the borders of the continental United States. We very much enjoyed our walk through the streets of the historic downtown section. There’s also a trolley tour for those who don’t want to walk. And the visitor’s center was definitely worth a stop.

The main attraction is the Castillo de San Marcos. It is a large stone fort built by the Spanish when they controlled the area. For a structure that was built in 1672, it is in exceptionally good shape. The fort is made of coquina (Spanish for small shells), which is ancient shells that have bonded together to form a type of stone similar to limestone. The stone is soft, so enemy canon balls would be absorbed into the wall, as if it was a nerf fort. The stone is also fire resistant, unlike a typical wooden fort. Basically, it was impenetrable to enemy attack.

The ranger at the fort gave a good history lesson on the fort and the town of St. Augustine. We plan to go back as there was too much to see and do in one day.


Silver Springs State Park - Silver Springs FL

RATING: ♦♦♦+

The jewel of Silver Springs State Park is a group of springs feeding the Silver River at the edge of the Ocala National Forest. The Springs bubble up from the Florida aquifer to form the largest artesian spring in the world.

Though now a state park, Silver Springs is Florida’s oldest tourist attraction, renowned for the Glass Bottom Boat tours begun in 1871. Tourists have flocked to see the naturally crystal-clear waters for centuries.

Our guide pointed out the ruins of a sunken rowboat partly preserved at the bottom of one of the springs. We could see it quite clearly. State archaeologists believe it was part of the Hernando de Soto expedition in 1539.

Scientific studies of the Springs’ artifacts and wildlife weren’t conducted until 1993. That year the state bought the underlying land, but private operators continued to conduct the concessions. 

The state also established a  59 site campground next to the main springs area that is quite popular. We originally planned to stay there, but they were full. So we went to the nearby Salt Springs Recreation Area instead.

The boat rides have continued to operate, and open an unique window to the area’s aquatic life. We saw alligators and turtles, catfish and mullet, and birds such as cormorants, great blue herons, great egrets, ibis, and limpkin.

Silver Springs has been the site of many Hollywood films, including a number of Tarzan films as well as the Sea Hunt television series. Perhaps the oddest site we saw was a group of  three large stone statues of Greek gods at the bottom of the main spring. They were used in a James Bond movie.

In 2013, the State of Florida took over full management of the entire springs area. They combined it with the existing Silver River State Park and campground to create the new Silver Springs State Park.

So even though Silver Springs is a now state park, it still has a strong tourist attraction feel to it that can be a bit jarring. But the natural beauty is undeniable. In 1971 it was designated as a National Natural Landmark.


Disney Springs - Orlando FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

We spent several weeks camping close to Orlando, and we felt we wanted to experience Disney without spending a small fortune. The theme parks are so expensive now, and we’ve been to them many times in the past.

Disney Springs (formerly called Downtown Disney) is the perfect way to get the feel of a Disney park without the cost. There are shops, restaurants and bars, stage shows, a carousel, even a hot air balloon ride. The night life is lively and fun, with kid-friendly dancing and live performers throughout the town. There is so much to do here that we came back a second day. 

After exploring the streets of Disney Springs, we hopped on a boat and cruised over to several Disney resorts, and the next day took a bus to a couple more We really enjoyed the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Got up close and personal with a family of giraffes.

Disney makes it easy and fun to get from one of their properties to another, and the transportation is all free. 


Sandy Bottoms Beach Restaurant - Amelia Island GA

RATING: ♦♦♦+

David was getting over a bad cold while we were at Jacksonville/St. Marys KOA, but we were able to get out for a drive along the coast. We had lunch at this beachside restaurant. Nothing fancy, but it was nice to have a beer and put our toes in the warm sand.

Sandy Bottoms


Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge - Folkston GA

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

This place was a long hour’s drive from our campground, and the weather was cold and dreary, but we thoroughly enjoyed our day here. The highlight was a boat tour through the swamp. We don’t typically call a swamp beautiful, but the Okefenokee is beautiful. Our boat route was lined with native plants, along with cypress trees draped in Spanish moss.

We saw a lot of alligators, of course, and many turtles. And we were lucky that half our boat was filled with an Audubon Society bird watching group! They spotted owls, hawks, herons, kingfishers, warblers, woodpeckers, and other birds. When someone spied an unusual bird, up would come the cameras with their big lenses and they would snap, snap, snap, then compare their photos. They were especially excited to see something called a bittern. (Even I got a pretty good picture of that.) Their enthusiasm was contagious, and we learned much about birds of the Okefenokee Swamp.

Our tour guide was interesting and knowledgeable as well. 😉


Old Salem - Winston Salem NC

RATING: ♦♦♦

Old Salem is a town that has been preserved and restored as a way for people to learn about and experience the lives of the Moravian Church community that settled the area.

There are the usual shops and restaurants, but we also saw exhibits of historic trades that were practiced years ago, including a gunsmith, potter, and tailor.

Website: Old Salem


SS Badger Ferry - Ludington MI

RATING: TBD

How cool is this? You can drive US Hwy 10 from east to west across Michigan until you get to Ludington. Then you can drive your vehicle (car, van, semi-truck!, motorhome!) onto the SS Badger Ferry and continue west across the lake until you get to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Then you drive off and continue on US Hwy 10. The route is designated as part of US Hwy 10.

Crossing time is 4 hours. Fare for a motorhome is $5.95/ft one way, plus the fare for passengers, $59 each adult. That would be $356 for us. The ferry has been operating since 1952. It operates from May to October.

We did not take the trip this time, but only watched as the ferry came into port and the vehicles and people disembarked. This would be a great shortcut if we were in a rush to get to Wisconsin.


Mears State Park - Pentwater MI

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

This was another wonderful Lake Michigan beach. Gotta say, they are the absolute best! Mears State Park is located alongside the tiny village of Pentwater (pop 857). For such a small town, this place was filled with shops, outdoor restaurants, art galleries, etc. It was a surprising gem!


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore - Empire MI

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

Whoa, this is cool! We were there on a day that one would call perfect. Beautiful blue sky and warm sunshine sparkling off fabulous Lake Michigan. We were only able to spend one day at the park, but would come back again in a heartbeat. There’s so much to see and do, both in the park and in the surrounding area.

The highlight of our visit was the views from the overlook at the top of the dunes. We heeded the warnings to NOT go to the bottom of the sand hill. Even though it’s just a few minutes down, it a grueling 2 hour trek back up. Quote from the NPS.gov website:  “Climbing to the top of the Dune Climb is strenuous but rewarding, so be sure to evaluate your physical abilities before you start.” We evaluated and decided not to go. It was fabulous to see from the top though.

Update: January 2017, National Geographic named Sleeping Bear Dunes one of the 21 best beaches in the world.

Website: Sleeping Bear Dunes


Charlevoix MI

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

Charlevoix deserves it’s own post. It calls itself “the Beautiful”, and it is. Charlevoix  is situated on a little river and small lake that connects Lake Michigan with Lake Charlevoix.

The town is surrounded by water and boats, and boasts a truly beautiful downtown. The beach on Lake Michigan is great for kite flying. We enjoyed a summer evening concert at the waterfront amphitheater. Even their public library was amazing for a small town this size (pop 2,513). This is the sort of town that makes me marvel that people live here.


Mammoth Cave National Park - Cave City KY

RATING: ♦♦♦

Mammoth Cave is easily accessible, just off I-65 in central Kentucky. Our Thousand Trails campground (Diamond Caverns) was located on the road leading to the national park, so we explored the park a few times during our stay in the area.

You can choose a cave tour according to your needs. There are easy, moderate, and strenuous tours. We took the moderate Domes and Dripstones Tour which was a fine way to get underground and experience the caves, but I’m wondering if one of the other tours might have been more interesting. This one was basically 2 hours of walking in the dark, with a few highlighted areas, but not that much to see. In all fairness, two of the most popular tours were closed for repairs. So our choices were limited.

Maybe we’re just not cave people. 🙂 You can hike the above-ground trails on your own, or pay for a guided tour where you learn about the topography and plant and animal life. I enjoyed the short Heritage Walk Tour where the ranger told stories of the early Mammoth Cave Estate and the old cemetery.