Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi Travel Log, Part 1

Ready to go on another trip with us?  Prior to my most recent post, I hadn’t written anything since January of 2020.  That post was all about the cruise we had taken in 2019, so I am anxious to tell you all about our road trip this summer.  We touched ten different states, made stops in at least nine cities or towns, drove more than 2,000 miles, and had an amazing adventure!

What are you waiting for?  Come on, let’s go!! 🙂

Day One: Travel Day.  It was a dark and stormy night when the four of us left our small town….just kidding, no need to be that dramatic.  We wanted to get a head start, so we left after work on a Thursday evening and headed toward Saint James, Missouri.  Doing that knocked about 5 1/2-6 hours off our drive for the next day.  While it did storm, there’s really nothing else to say except that our airbnb for the night was right on Route 66.  Picture the scene from Cars with the Sh-Boom song when Lightning McQueen has helped fix all the neon signs.  Got it in your mind?  Yeah….nothing like that, but our airbnb was cute.

Day Two: Oklahoma, here we come!  Somehow we left EARLY this morning.  What?!  That almost never happens for us.  We made a quick stop at Master Donuts in Saint James.  I would say they were better than Krispy Kreme, but obviously not as good as Jack’s Donuts [IYKYK].  On to see the Blue Whale of Catoosa, one of a few stops we made on Route 66.  A little history on the Blue Whale – a husband built it for his wife as an anniversary gift, and it grew from there.  Please don’t get any ideas, babe. 😉  Whoops! How could I forget?  On our way to the whale, we were bombarded with billboards for a town called Uranus.  Did we stop as goofy as it was? Yes, yes we did.  Were there some inappropriate things?  Yes, yes there were as you can probably imagine.  Did the boys enjoy talking about Uranus for several more days?  Yes, yes they did.  Alright, moving on.  Next stop, The Center of the Universe in Tulsa, OK.  No, it’s not really the center of the universe, it’s just an acoustic anomaly in the middle of downtown.  If you stand on the center of this circle, your voice sounds amplified  & there’s kind of an echo, but the people outside the circle don’t hear it that way.  Pretty cool & worth the stop, in my opinion.  Lunch time!  We chose Mother Road Market since it was a food court with options for everyone.  We had food from Howdy Burger, Curds and Whey, and Andolini’s.  Of course, we couldn’t resist a cookie from Farrell bread and bakery and ice cream from Big Dipper.  Alright, gotta go, we have a lot more to see and do before we can end day two.  Time to go to Oklahoma City.  First stop, the Centennial Land Run Monument.  This was a lot larger than I expected with several exquisitely detailed bronze sculptures celebrating the land runs of 1889, posed along the Bricktown Canal.  I had read a book by Jeanne Bishop in preparation for our trip, and I couldn’t help but think of a passage she had written:

“Celebrating the Oklahoma Land Rush was an annual school ritual.  Students were urged to dress up like settlers and pose in wagons meant to look like the ones pioneers had ridden into the territory.  An unfortunate photo exists of middle school me in such a wagon, wearing a long orange paisley dress and matching cap, my unruly mane of brown hair sticking out from underneath.  Years later, I heard a radio interview of a man with Native American ancestry saying how uncomfortable he was as a boy during these commemorations.  In the privileged cocoon of my upbringing, it didn’t dawn on me that the event we were reenacting was, as University of Oklahoma anthropology professor Daniel Swan put it, “a desperate, dark day” for Native Americans.  I am ashamed of that ignorance now.”

That passage just made me stop and think about ALL of the history behind the monument.  Getting tired yet?  We were, so we checked into The Daisy Duplex [our airbnb for the night], and rested for a minute.  We chose Whiskey Cake for dinner.  This restaurant isn’t unique to Oklahoma, but, as I wrote in my vacation journal, “it was pretty darn good.”  One more stop to make on Route 66 – Pop’s Soda Ranch.  Pop’s has soda, souvenirs, a restaurant, fuel, and our main reason for going – the giant [66 feet tall – how fun is that on Route 66], lighted soda bottle.  Must.keep.going. Skydance Bridge was our final destination for day two.  This is a pedestrian bridge with a sculpture modeled after the Oklahoma state bird.  It is lit with LED lights which change colors and made for a nice way to end the day.

Day Three: We started this day on a somber note by visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.  I thought they had done a wonderful job on such a heartbreaking event.  One of the things that stood out most to me were the letters that family members still leave along the fence just outside the memorial.  We took the time to read some of them and they were incredibly touching.  If there are any Karen Kingsbury fans reading this, I would highly recommend reading her book To the Moon and Back, which partially inspired our trip to the museum.  If you’re into researching things before you visit, I’d also recommend the book I mentioned above by Jeanne Bishop – Grace from the Rubble.

The sign at the Memorial reads – “We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope, and serenity.”


We stopped for a quick lunch at Deep Deuce Bar & Grill, and then decided to risk it [we had plans in Fort Worth later] and try to make the other two stops in Oklahoma that we were interested in.  Those stops were Turner Falls and Travertine Creek.  *Tip- if you want to visit either of these places, get there early.  Turner Falls was at capacity for the day, and parking was full at Travertine Creek – 100% on us for not researching this better.  On to Texas!  I’ll share more about the rest of the trip soon!

P.S. We very much enjoyed our time in Oklahoma & would definitely go back for a long weekend trip to explore more!

Carnival Eastern Caribbean Cruise Recap

Summer vacations.  Do you love them?  Are you a beach person, mountain person, cruise person?  A lot of times, we are a beach vacation family.  This past year though, we opted to go on a cruise, and I couldn’t be more happy with the time we had.  It was so nice to HAVE to unplug and relax.  We booked a seven night Eastern Caribbean cruise through Carnival that left out of Port Canaveral, FL.  So….let’s go, I’m excited to tell you all about it.

Carnival Breeze docked at Amber Cove, Dominican Republic


Day One:  Travel Day.  This was a long day for sure, but we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time in case of a flight delay, which meant we scheduled our flight for 5:10 am.  We landed in Orlando at 7:20 a.m. and had to just hang out until the bus company we were using to get over to the port opened.  Let’s talk about that for a minute.  We looked at several options to get us on to Port Canaveral which is about fifty minutes from the airport.  Ultimately, we ended up choosing Go Port which worked out really well.  Their counter is located inside the airport by the car rental companies.  Just check your group in, get tags for your luggage, chill in the waiting area until it’s your turn, and hop on the bus (think tour bus).  They run daily from the airport to the port from 10 to 1.  I believe it was $15.00 per person one way (we were doing something different when we returned which I’ll tell you about later).  Once we arrived at Port Canaveral, our luggage was unloaded for us (we did verify all of ours had been taken off the bus successfully;)), and all we had to do was board the ship.  We were at the port before our scheduled boarding time; however there were lines for early, late, and on time arrivals, and Carnival did a great job of getting everyone through quickly.

Waiting on Go Port to open.
If we look tired, we were….but some of us were doing better than others! 🙂


Once on the ship, we had to wait a little bit for our rooms to be available so we grabbed some lunch.  Most of us grabbed something from Guy’s Burger Joint (delicious, you’ll probably want to eat there more than once).

Our Rooms:  We had two rooms on the ship since we had a total of 7 in our group.  One room was a deluxe ocean view, and the other was an interior room that slept four.  The deluxe ocean view room had four closets, a vanity area, a queen size bed and a couch that served as a twin bed.  It also had two bathrooms, one full with a shower, sink area, and toilet and the other with a sink and tub/shower combo.  All in all, it was very spacious for a stateroom.  The interior room had four twin beds (one upper and one lower on each side), three closets, and one full bathroom.

Deluxe ocean view room


We opted for late dining so we could spend as much time ashore as possible, so after dinner in the Blush Restaurant, we called it a night.

Day Two.  Fun day at sea.  Our first full day on board.  We chose to eat breakfast in our dining room (Blush Restaurant), rather than at the Lido Buffet.  This seemed to be a less crowded breakfast option most days.  After eating, we hung out on one of the decks and soaked in the sun.  Some of us had lunch/snacks at BlueIguana Cantina, while others ate at Pizza Pirate.   One thing I was really excited about doing onboard was playing bingo! ( I know, I know…we were going to all these fantastic places and I was excited about bingo).  No one won, but we had fun.  We also purchased the pass for the Thrill Theater.  At the time of our cruise, it was $5.50 per showing or $14.95 (adult) and $11.95 (12 & under) for the unlimited pass. Since most of us wanted to take in more than one show, it made sense to buy the pass.  I think my favorite was the Level 1 show.  This ship has a video arcade that we checked out this first day and added some money to the boys’ sail and sign cards so they could play throughout the week.  Camp Ocean (ages 2-11), Circle C (ages 12-14), and Club O2 (ages 15-17) are the club options onboard for kids, so we checked the two for older kids out the first day.  Nate (17) took advantage of hanging out in Club O2 a few times during our cruise.  Before changing into our “fancy” clothes (this night was one of two elegant dinner nights), we took in the Jodi White PG comedy show at The Punchliner Comedy Club.  After dinner, we were down for the count again.

*Side note:  Dan and I opted to dress up both elegant nights because…why not?!  I mean when else do you get to dress up?  I wore a dress both nights, and Dan wore a tie and suit jacket.  Some were just as dressed up as us, and others were a little more casual.

Our dining room and the limelight lounge where the comedy shows & bingo were held.


Watching Friday the 13th in the thrill theater…frightening! Just kidding. 🙂 This is the waiting area to go into the theater.
First elegant evening. My favorite picture of the entire cruise.


Day Three.   Amber Cove, Dominican Republic.  We were up and at ’em early this morning so we could go ashore quickly.  We did not do an excursion at this port since there is a large pool area, two waterslides, a lazy river,  a swim-up bar, and several lounge chairs.    The Coco Cana Lounge is located right at the port as well if you’re hungry.  We did not eat but we did buy some non-alcoholic drinks from the restaurant.  Of course, we had to buy some souvenirs before getting back on the ship. Not to worry, there are plenty of stores to shop in.

There are several items that can be rented and activities to participate in that do not have to be booked through an excursion.  WiFi, kayaks, zip lining, and cabanas to name a few.  Prices ranged from $5 (pool noodles) to $1,170 (grand cabana).

Back on the ship, we ate a late lunch/snack and got ready for our late dinner time.  This was the night that Terrick decided to start trying all the crazy food options.  I was both impressed and disgusted.  After dinner, some of us watched the Motor City show, and a few of us took in the over 18 comedy show afterwards.  If you are easily offended, just skip this.

Looking out from the ship at some of the cabanas available to rent and part of the pool area.


On the left…the ox tongue that Terrick ate all of, and in other news…my fried chicken.


Day Four.  St. Thomas, USVI.  Excursion time!  We took an open air bus to Sapphire Beach. The water there was absolutely beautiful.  While there, you could relax in the chairs that were provided or take time to snorkel.  The snorkeling equipment was provided as well.  Four of us (I’ll let you guess who) went snorkeling, and three of us relaxed on the beach.  Those that went snorkeling were able to see a huge (10-12 feet, no joke!) stingray, among other cool creatures.  Unfortunately, the underwater camera we had purchased broke, so no pictures.  Sounds like a big fish tale now, right?  But I promise, if you go and ask the snorkel shop gentleman, he will tell you the stingray exists and has a name!  We had about two hours on the beach before it was time to head back to the ship.  On the way back, our bus made a stop at a spot that overlooked the port area.  Once back at the port, it was souvenir time again so we ran to some of the stores that are located close by.  Dinner and the Love & Marriage Show wrapped up the evening.

*If you care about connecting with anyone back at home, your phone will work on St.Thomas since it is a U.S. Territory.

Some of the scenery from St.Thomas, and Terrick’s crazy food choice….rabbit.


Day Five.  San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We weren’t sure we were going to get to stop in San Juan with all the political protests going on at that time, but we did and what an historical day it turned out to be with the governor resigning the evening we had been there.  I’m not going to lie, there were a few times we felt just a little uncomfortable seeing the grafitti, boarded up windows, and some protestors,  but never really felt unsafe.  We walked around Old San Juan, went to several of the shops (which felt a lot more authentic & not so touristy), and just took in the sights.  We stopped for lunch at El Jibarito, after asking for recommendations from some of the locals, and grabbed an iced coffee at Cuatro Sombras just before getting back on the ship.  My only wish is that we had had a little more time to explore.   Not really sure what we did back onboard, other than it was the second elegant evening of the cruise.

*Your phone will work in San Juan as well 🙂

A snapshot of our day in San Juan.


Day Six.  Grand Turk.  This was an all day beach day for us.  We had read that the chairs were free, despite the numerous people that will insist you pay for them.  We tried the tactic of refusing to pay, until Dan went and asked the port attendant who confirmed that only a certain color of chair was reserved for the Carnival ship. Who knows? Maybe she was in on the scheme too.  🙂  Regardless, we negotiated a price that seemed fair and enjoyed the day!  The water is beautiful and crystal clear.  There are several places to shop before or after relaxing on the beach.  We wrapped up the day back on the ship with dinner, the Cowboy Comedian comedy show, and the Country Road production.

The beautiful beach and water at Grand Turk….and one last look at Terrick’s food (frog legs)


Day Seven.  Fun Day at Sea.  More like sad day at sea. 🙁  We tried to squeeze everything in that we hadn’t done or wanted to do one last time.  That included participating in several of the trivia games, going to the Thrill Theater a couple more times, and playing miniature golf to name a few.  Oh! We also attended Tea Time.  Other than that, the day was spent packing everything up.

Day Eight.  Travel back home day.  We were up early so we could eat breakfast in our dining room which was served from 6:00 am – 8:00 am.  I haven’t mentioned it, but if you eat breakfast in the dining room, make sure you try the pineapple juice.  Yum!  We kept our luggage with us so we could immediately leave the port after disembarking.  We took a short shuttle ride (Enterprise shuttle, just tip the driver) over to Enterprise to pick up the van we had rented since our flight back home wasn’t until 4:40, which was the only reason we did not use Go Port like we did at the beginning of our trip.  From there we headed to Disney Springs, had some lunch, and spent some time looking around before heading to the airport.

*If your group is on two different decks, make sure you communicate your plan well prior to the debarkation morning.  It got a little hectic for us just making sure we knew where everyone was.

Overall it was an amazing cruise with a great itinerary.  There wasn’t a single destination that we wouldn’t want to go back to and explore even more.  If you have any questions, I will most definitely try to answer them, just leave them in the comments!

What to do in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg

Spring Break 2019 was spent in Pigeon Forge & Gatlinburg.  Spring Break 2018 was spent in Pigeon Forge & Gatlinburg.  Spring Break 2017….are you starting to see a pattern here?  We enjoy going year after year.  There are so many things to do.  You can spend as much money as you want or as little as you want and have a great time either way.

What we like to Do:

Oh goodness.  Where to start?  There is so much to do.

1.  Mini Golf.  We always end up playing mini golf at one of the many places to choose from.  One of our favorites is Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf, where you ride the mining train to the first hole.   There are two 18 hole courses to choose from. Crave Golf Club is one of the newer attractions in Pigeon Forge.  There is an indoor and an outdoor course that put a new twist on how you play.   They also offer mini bowling, which we’ve played the last two years.  If you are craving (pun intended) something sweet, grab a milkshake or a treat from the candy store.

Riding the mining car to the first hole at Professor Hacker’s.
The “twist” on how you play at Crave. Spin to see what you have to do…putt on one knee, close your eyes, etc.


Cocoa cliffs milkshake at Crave.


2. Parrot Mountain. Parrot Mountain is a sanctuary for birds that have been abused or just need a new home.  We went for the first time in 2018, and it was a request to go again this year.  I cannot say enough good things about it.  It is such a neat experience.  There are so many birds…parrots, toucans, peacocks.    In one area, you can feed, hold, or pet several of the birds.  We have not eaten there, but there is a snack bar area if you get hungry.  If you are really liking these birds, there is a baby bird nursery where you can pet the babies and make one yours if you’d like.

So much fun. Pretty sure we were having a deep conversation in the bottom right pic. Some of them will talk to you though…”whatcha doin?” has been my favorite.
Feeding the lorikeets nectar.


3. Anakeesta.  Anakeesta is a theme park located in the heart of Gatlinburg that offers several things to do.  Start by riding the enclosed gondola [one of us was a little apprehensive, so we did this the first time up] or the open-air chair to Firefly Village  where you can grab a bite to eat or do some shopping.  Take a humbling stroll along the Memorial Forest Walk area and read about the devastating 2016 fires and the resiliency of the people of Sevier County.  Sit in one of the many rocking chairs and take in the beauty of the mountains.  If you have little ones [or big ones…the boys may have checked it out], they will love to play in the Treehouse Village Playground.  Then, it’s on to the Tree Canopy Walk which is a series of sky bridges amongst the trees.  This was especially cool in the evening.   If you are feeling really adventurous, try the mountain coaster or zipline adventure.  One of the great things about visiting Anakeesta is the admission price is good all day long, so if you want to go back for dinner or to watch the sunset you can definitely take advantage of the opportunity!

Our daytime trip to Anakeesta.
Beautiful sunset from atop Anakeesta.
Tree Canopy Walk at night.


4.  Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.  Now, it has been a couple years since we went to the aquarium, but I’m sure we will make it back soon.  I hear they have a new glass bottom boat adventure that we need to check out.  I think my favorite part is the Penguin Playhouse.  The penguins are just so cute and always look like they’re having fun.

5.  Escape rooms.  While there are several of these to choose from too, we opted for Kryptology Escape Rooms in Pigeon Forge.  We did Da Vinci’s Challenge, and although we didn’t escape (bummer!) we had a blast.  I felt like it was family friendly, and the staff was great!

We had to blame someone for not escaping…sorry babe! 😉


6. The Island in Pigeon Forge.  We always end up here, if for no other reason than to take in the sights and sounds.  This is one place you can go that won’t cost you a dime, yet you will leave still having had a great time.  The dancing fountains are so pretty to watch.  There are so many stores to wander in and out of.  The Beef Jerky Outlet, Sweet! candy store, and the Parrot Mountain store (because you know…we didn’t get enough of the birds when we went to Parrot Mountain) are some of the stores we always seem to go in.  If you are wanting to spend some money, there are plenty of activities like The Island Ropes Course, The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, or the Island Mirror Maze to name a few.

Dancing fountains with The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel in the background.


7.  Chimneys Picnic Area.  Back to Gatlinburg for this one.  This is one of our favorite areas, and also won’t cost you anything.  It’s so serene, but full of rocks to climb on.  Just be careful…they are slippery when wet!

Cades Cove, gem mining at the Pigeon Forge Gem Mine, racing at Nascar Speed Park, and taking the challenge at Magiquest are a few more of our favorite things to do.

Stay tuned for our favorite places to eat, shop, and hike.

Weekend Getaway – Asheville, NC and Biltmore Estate


Dan recently surprised me with a weekend getaway to Asheville, NC.  I had no idea where we were going until we got a little closer.  All he told me was the weather forecast, how long a drive it was, and to request a certain Friday off.   We’ve went on plenty of trips, but never one that I didn’t know the details of.  I was pretty excited, and honestly didn’t try to guess the destination.  The Biltmore Estate has been on my list of things to do, and it didn’t disappoint.

Day 1:  We had plans to leave Friday morning after getting the kids off to school, so of course there was a two hour fog delay.  After a little re-arranging, we headed out around 8;30.  It was about a seven hour drive which, for us, is not bad at all.  We usually drive everywhere we go.  If you prefer to stay on property there are several choices.  The Cottage on Biltmore Estate, The Inn on Biltmore Estate, or Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate.  Dan had booked us a room at the Country Inn & Suites  near downtown Asheville, and about 15 minutes from the Biltmore Estate .  When we arrived I found out that we had tickets for the Candlelight Christmas Evenings at Biltmore.   How romantic 😉  Before making our way there, we went to Bone & Broth for dinner.

Steak Frites for me, and Lamb Chops for Dan.


On to the Biltmore.  A little history before we get started….George Vanderbilt started building the house in 1889, and it was finished in 1895.  He was single when the construction started!  The house boasts 65 fire places, along with 35 bedrooms, and 43 bathrooms.  If you are interested in the history of it at all, I would highly recommend doing the audio guide.  It was very informative.

Driving onto the property.


Choir performing for the Candlelight Christmas.


One of the many Christmas trees throughout. This one was in the banquet hall.


These fireplaces were also in the banquet hall, and although they are massive the room still felt cozy and was one of my favorites.


I pretty much had to share this picture since it has Jennifer and Ginger on the list. I do not want a puppy or a horse, however!


Looking like a tourist, listening to my audio guide.


This picture was in the basement on our way to see the bowling alley, indoor swimming pool, and workout area.  How crazy is that since this house was built in the late 1800s?!

One of the 1st residential bowling alleys, the workout area complete with showers, and the swimming pool which still has the original underwater lighting!


That wraps up day 1.  Our tickets were for 9:15PM, and we finished  the tour up at about 11:30 , to give you an idea of how much time you will need.

Day 2:  We were up fairly early to eat the complimentary breakfast.  We’re always willing to save a little money, so we can go on more trips. 🙂  Then it was back to the Biltmore to tour the grounds and gardens.  Unfortunately the rain from day 1 continued into day 2, but we made the best of it.  A little info on the grounds, the estate covers 8,000 acres!  Sounds like a lot, right?  But, it originally covered 125,000 acres.  Since we were visiting for the Christmas tours, we didn’t see a lot of the gardens.  The flowers and plant life in the conservatory were beautiful, however, so I can imagine the gardens are as well.

This is the front of the Biltmore house, although it doesn’t capture the enormity.



A few of the flowers and plants in the conservatory.


After leaving the garden area, we drove over to Antler Hill Village & Winery where we had reservations for lunch at Cedric’s Tavern.  There are a few restaurants to choose from on property, along with some shopping, and an exhibit on The Biltmore Legacy.  Also in the Antler Hill area is the barn where you can see some of the farm equipment that was used in the 1900s, woodworkers, and blacksmiths.

We shared the fish & chips, and bison burger.


That wraps up day 2 at the Biltmore Estate.  It is somewhere we both said we would visit again in warmer weather to experience the gardens in bloom, and more of the property.  There are also several outdoor activities to choose from when the weather permits, such as hiking, horseback riding, and river float trips to name a few.

We weren’t finished yet though….on to Asheville for a comedy bus tour with Lazoom .  We learned some things about Asheville we otherwise would not have, all while laughing and having a good time.  We enjoyed the downtown area.  It was very walkable, albeit a little hilly (or maybe we just need to get in shape), so many stores to look in, coffee shops like City Bakery where we enjoyed a cheese danish and coffee.  Dinner was at white duck taco shop, and no trip would be complete without a stop at an outlet mall.  We didn’t have much time there, but the Asheville Outlets looked like we (who am I kidding…I really mean I)…I could’ve spent some more money…er, time there.

Me and the man responsible for this trip.


If you have the chance to visit Asheville and the Biltmore Estate, I would definitely do it.  It made for a great weekend getaway, and it’s only a short 90 minute drive from the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area if you happen to be visiting that area, and want to venture a little further away.