Even if we JUST go to Disney we make a trip over to Universal’s City Walk just to dine at this place! It’s $20 to park but if you throw in a movie at the huge AMC it is totally worth it. Plus if you have never been to AMC before you can get $4 off per person just by signing up for their email list when you purchase tickets. That was $20 off for us 5 which was the cost of parking.

Back to Toothsome…

 

We eat here a lot. It is without a doubt everyone’s favorite place to eat. The basic idea behind the restaurant is a character, Professor Doctor Penelope Tibeaux-Tinker Toothsome, travelled the globe learning about chocolate. She establishes the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen to share her knowledge of chocolate. The restaurant is 19th century steam-punk inspired decor.

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We recommend getting there at 11 when it opens if you are not going inside the park. Otherwise you will have to wait. We have been late at night as well. They do not take reservations so it is first come first served.

The menu is a gigantic book with so much food it is hard to find just one item to order! There is a merchandise area with loads of chocolate to choose from and a confectionary counter (think old-fashioned milkshake counter) so if you do not want a meal you can just order dessert! Ryan orders flatbread pizza, Haley and I get pasta or a hamburger, Chris gets a sandwich/hamburger. Carter is just in it for the dessert. They give you so much food there is no way you can eat it all.

Toothsome is located on Universal’s City Walk.

Eat all the chocolate,

J

*photo from DisneyFoodBlog.com

 

 

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Janet & Ryan’s Pick: Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom

Ryan says to just get a plate and eat only mac & cheese. That’s basically what he did although he enjoyed a few other items. The rest of the family enjoyed it, too, and we will definitely go back. I was most excited to see the characters! It’s hard to get reservations so as soon as your reservations “open” try and get a spot. The restaurant is buffet style with a mini-buffet for kids. The food was wonderful!

Chris and Haley’s Pick: Tusker House Breakfast at Animal Kingdom

We eat breakfast here every time we come to Disney. It is our favorite. (It used to be my favorite and Ryan’s, too, but we found the Crystal Palace.) Tusker House is in the Harambe Village part of Animal Kingdom. We get reservations for about 8:30-9:30 a.m. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy make appearances while you enjoy an all-you-can-eat breakfast. The best thing about Tusker House is the Passion Juice. Chris & I enjoyed Passion Juice in Kenya and did not think we would ever taste it again. Tusker House’s juice is the next best thing.

Carter’s Pick: T-Rex at Disney Springs

We ate here once at 9:30 p.m. We had reservations over 2 months in advance and we were not seated until after 10p.m. Because of their mistake we were invited to the color-changing ice cavern. Carter LOVES dinosaurs so it was the perfect place for him. There are life size dines and a fossil dig. The food was good, too. The rest of us enjoyed it, too.

Other places worth mentioning:

The Turkey Leg – This is not a restaurant but a cart/quick stop you have to find. We always buy at least one and share.

Nine Dragons at Epcot (Chinese) – We booked Nine Dragons as a part of Disney’s Candlelight Processional. I was shocked Chris booked this without us knowing but pleasantly surprised. Our dinner was at Nine Dragons then we each received a ticket for the processional which started at dusk. It was so beautiful! We listened to Neil Patrick Harris narrate the Christmas story while a 50-piece orchestra and choir played. I really enjoyed it, but I like orchestras and such. The Chinese food was okay. I would eat there again but the food was just so-so. They gave us a lot of food! The service was great!

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A blurry Neil Patrick Harris

 

Garden Grill – Adult’s only unless your kids like “fancy” food. My kids do not. Their noses snarled up even at the kids menu. This restaurant rotates and Chip & Dale make appearances. We have been here twice, but probably will not go back again unless the kids are not with us.

Hollywood & Vine – We went here once when Carter was little. He loved Jake and the Neverland Pirates and some other Disney, Jr. shows. These characters walk around and the restaurant has a good kid’s buffet. Chris and the kids liked this place mostly because of the dessert buffet. It wasn’t my favorite. There were a LOT of little kids running around. I’m sure it wasn’t chaos but it seemed that way.

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Places we want to try but haven’t been able to obtain reservation:

Akurshus Royal Banquet Hall – Who wouldn’t want to dine with princesses!

La Hacienda de San Angel – We call it the Mexican Pyramid. This spot is always booked during days we are at Epcot. We hope to visit it soon! There’s a ride inside the pyramid that we ride to get out of the heat and the food smells delicious.

Be Our Guest Restaurant – because Beauty & the Beast is my favorite. I think people set alarms so they can reserve this place. I have never even seen an opening here!

‘Ohana Polynesian Village – Hawaiian style dinner

We have been to other places, too, but these are a few of our favorites!

One day Chris and I want to spend a whole day at Epcot trying food at every country. Has anyone done this?

C + J

Everyone has a story and looking at the different tombstones of those who walked this earth before I did is surreal. My kids especially enjoy military cemeteries. The older the better! The one pictured below is of the Chattanooga National Cemetery. If you have ever seen the movie Hacksaw Ridge, Desmond Doss is buried here.

A while back we saw many people had left coins on the top of tombstones and wondered about it. I looked up what this meant and found different stories surrounding the meaning. Even though we are not sure of the origin we bring a pocketful of pennies with us. Plus, the coins all go to the cemetery for upkeep.

Pocketfuls of pennies,

jb

Prep

Throughout the past few months we have been purchasing items we need for our trip and looking in different places to items on clearance or on sale: hiking backpacks and hydration bladders (so each person has water), hiking shoes (no slipping), trekking poles (cause the NARROWS, baby!), picnic blanket (their cute), sleeping bags (Yosemite canvas tent village required), new cooler (no Yeti but a good one), battery powered or solar fan (again, Yosemite-no electricity), first aid kit (cause people fall especially my people), compass (cause Chris is weird), hats (for the sun), fire Starter (Chris is weird), emergency blanket (in case we get lost because Chris is weird), solar charger (Yosemite), bear spray (for Yellowstone and Glacier), water shoes (for water), chairs (for relaxing), booster pack (found on Amazon), and a few other things. Our list is rather long but most of it we had from other trips.

Thanks to Academy Sports for the $20 Merrill hiking shoes (way in the back corner hiding with the clearance shoes) and $15 Under Armor sliders (on sale).

Thanks to Alabama Outdoors for the lightweight hats and stickers for our new not-yet-bought cooler (for whenever we find it.) We went to Hoover, AL back in November ’17 and found a great haul of things from Field & Stream, too.

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We still are in search of a few more things. My hiking shoes were the most expensive. I just couldn’t find the ones I wanted so I ended up spending $130 on mine at Field & Stream. Eek!

Back in the summer of ’17 and throughout the next few months we found some great deals! The picnic blanket was $5, the Frog Togg ponchos were less than $5 each at Wal-Mart. The trekking poles were found at Bargain Hunt locations for $20.

We tried to buy at least one backpack/hydration pack a month for each person. Most were on sale and we ended up spending the most on Chris’s because he is very particular about his and will be hauling the most stuff.

Find great deals,

cb + jb

Travel Tip

Seriously this is one of the best investments for traveling. Ryan wanted one of these and Chris accidentally ordered two! They were a big hit on the 10 hour drive to Disney and are only $19.99 right now. Head over to Amazon to order by clicking on the picture!

Two are better than one,

jb

Small Adventures

When your husband wants to check deer cams at 17* in the snow and ice you go because you love him.

 

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Ice’d in,

jb

A U.K. television station recently surveyed 2,000 people and found people become less adventurous as they enter their 30s.

Wait, what?

Less? Chris read this article and shared with me that he could not believe the findings. True we have become more adventurous in the past five years partly due to where we are in life. Our kids are older and able to participate more and when we were in the age range of 25-35 we did not have a lot of money and had two kiddos 14 months apart. I have become a lot more paranoid about weird things as a parent but I still like to see what is out there. The USA is full of beauty.

What adventures can you have with your kids? Chris and I thought about when we did not have much money, our kids were younger, and what we did with them. Over the past decade we have done a lot of mini-trips (too many to name here) that do not have to cost much.

Rafting – The rapids and drops are the thrill! Depending on your kids’ ages you can consider white water rafting or a slower rafting pace. Carter and Haley have not been old enough to white water raft so we have opted for the slower pace of Spring River. It is only a four hour drive to Hardy, Arkansas. We have left on a Friday after work, spent the night at Mammoth Spring Lodge for $130 (through Expedia), rented a raft the next day from Many Islands about $100, and headed back home once we were done. Yes, it’s a tiring (and somewhat smelly) drive after rafting in the hot sun all day but it saves you an extra night at the hotel. If you take snacks and a cooler you can do this on about $300. A word of caution: there is a lot of drunken parties at Spring River. We have NEVER had any problems. We rent our raft when Many Islands first opens and are in the front of most people on the river; therefore, miss the partying. We have been on a holiday weekend and rafted on Sunday instead of Saturday to avoid the party-goers. My children can all swim but the little one wears a life jacket. Carter started going when he was five and LOVED it. The water is so cold (58 degrees) that you will not be in it long. The river has a host of rope swings and side creeks for exploring. We like to go in July so the blast of cold water really cools you down after sitting in the hot sun.

Ryan has been white water rafting with us on the Ocoee River near Chattanooga. Our go-to place here is Outland Expeditions. Our “big kids” have been with us, too. Once we did the middle trip but the last time added on the Olympic run. The water is released from a dam and is quite cold. This type of rafting is more expensive and there is risk involved but an older child who swims well should be fine. The company really watched out for Ryan when he was on board to make sure he was safe.

The ‘big kids’ loved exploring the Blue Hole with its series of underwater tunnels and huge boulders. To go to the Blue Hole you must go when the water isn’t flowing at Ocoee. It is kind of hard to find and a little over an hour away from Chattanooga.

 

Caves – When my kids were little they loved caves. There is something about knowing there is a whole other world under the ground. Let’s face it, they are older now and they still love caves! We have been to the Lost Sea Adventure twice and Raccoon Mountain Caverns. Lost Sea has been our favorite. It’s cheesy but has a deep 4 acre lake with albino-looking blind fish that you get to check out by boarding a boat. Chris wants to do the Wild Cave Tour where you go off the beaten trail squeezing through tight spaces and possibly spending the night. I have seen The Descent and know how that would end.

 

Hiking – You never know what you will see and every experience is different. Just about anywhere near you, you can find a state park, national park, or preserve! You do not have to do a day long hike in the searing heat or cold to enjoy nature. A leisurely stroll through the woods is fascinating and enough adventure for kids. We love to traipse through the woods. Once when Chris had to work in Alabama for several weeks we found a gem hidden near Birmingham called Moss Rock Preserve. We spent a couple of hours in the sprinkling rain letting the kids climb on rocks and play in waterfalls. I took the kids to Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, AL while Chris was at work and we were staying with him at his hotel. They had a ball playing near the lakeshore while I enjoyed reading a few chapters in the sand. We have also driven a couple of hours to check out the trails at Tishomingo State Park coming home the same day. Taking a cooler of sandwiches, chips, and snacks can end up as a great family outing. We hiked 2,000 steps down into Cloudland Canyon near Rising Fawn, GA to see beautiful waterfalls then had to hike back up. That one was a trek but the gulch was a huge enticing play area. Normally you only have to pay a few bucks for several hours of fun.

 

Escape the Room – These things are fun! You are in a time crunch to solve a mystery and the closer you get to time being up the more your adrenaline rushes. We have done three. The best one I have been to was in Kentucky but I know you can find one near you. Escape rooms are popping up everywhere! My kids have loved the three we have participated in with the KY one being very elaborate and the ones closer to home being smaller but just as fun.

Zip Lines are adventurous because the thrill you get from making a leap and hoping the harness does not break. It makes you feel as though you are flying. Make sure you check out the height and size requirements. If you live near the mountains or hills you can more than likely find one. We have ridden one in Alabama at Red Mountain Park and Ryan has been to one in Memphis with friends called Go Ape.

Roller Coasters are for all adventure seekers. As I am boarding a coaster I feel like I am going to jump out of my skin, throw up, and scream all at the same time. I am prone to motion sickness but for some reason some coasters (the ones that do not spin) are perfect for me. I love the drops. Our favorite coasters can be found at Disney World, Universal Studios, Silver Dollar City, and even though I’ve never been, Chris says Six Flags.

Horseback riding can be quite an adrenaline rush especially if you did not grow up around horses. Chris and I have ridden horses (in KY, Pennsylvania, and through random people we know) and when they are ‘good’ horses (meaning they follow the leader) you can have a good experience. I am looking forward to not falling in the Grand Canyon in June.

 

Snorkeling is something Chris likes. He will spend hours with a Dollar Tree snorkel in the shallow waves on the coast. One day we hope to do some REAL snorkeling in pretty water. If your kid does not like the water you can find adventure jumping waves or finding pretty shells.

I do see the reasoning behind the article’s findings. Money or no money, kids (little or big), and sense of pending fragility can hamper our sense of adventure.

Get your adventure on at a place near (or far) you,

cb + jb

We really want a GoPro

We just cannot decide. Chris wants an action camera but we do not want to pay the price for a GoPro although we know it is the best camera out there. Chris wants an action camera that is easy to use, you can view play back on the camera, is waterproof, has a long battery life, and 4K footage. We found a Yi 4K that suits our price but then you have to buy a waterproof case, extra battery, and lens distortion correction along with a few other supplies which equals about $225. The GoPro Hero 5 or 6 is $300-$500 then you tack on the extras. I found a few others here for comparison but we just cannot decide. There are a few non-name brand action cameras on Amazon for less than $60 but sometimes you get what you pay for even if the reviews are great.

Advice on action cameras welcome.

C + J

*picture credit: RizKnows on YouTube

phobias

I have a lot of weird phobias including earthquakes (I’m going to Cali), super volcanoes (I’m going to Yellowstone), serial killers (Do you live near one?), mass shootings and bombings (any time I’m at the mall, movies, games, church, or anywhere there are lots of people), kidnappers/adult-nappers (did you see Split? or Criminal Minds? or anything else on television), nuclear war (that guy IS crazy), heights (like sometimes I see my life flash before my eyes), airplanes (I had a break down on my oldest son’s shoulder the last time we flew), home break-ins (but my neighbors love me), clowns (thanks to my dad allowing me to watch the original IT), and zombie-raccoon apocalypses (no parentheses is really needed here.)

But the power to get out of bed is great each day. Sometimes you take the bad to get to the good. Because there is good. It may be hard to see or take a while to get there.

Valleys and Mountains,

j

No. 1 Expedia

This is hands down my favorite place to book hotel rooms. Not only do you get double points when you make your purchase through the mobile app but you can make sure you are getting what you pay for. Once on the way to Disney, Chris pulled up at a cheap hotel. After hearing the price of $150 he left and went to a different one and hotel hopped until a cheap one was found. Back in the 90s this was the way to go. But now with the Internet at our full disposal why would you do that!? This hotel smelled like feet and the kids were so scared all of us slept in a king bed. I gagged. A lot. The shower squirted out over the curtain. It was funny to look back on but not too fun for the first day at Magic Kingdom the following day. The kids and I said that Dad was no longer in charge of getting hotel rooms.

When you book through Expedia you get points. I like companies with points. There’s nothing you have to do because you are going to purchase anyway. You can save the points up to use against a stay. I liked it when you could use Plenti because then you got points for Plenti and points for Expedia. Be sure to read the reviews. Some people get mad over things that do not matter to us and leave awful reviews. I choose hotels that have 3.5+ ratings plus we tend to look for hotels that offer free breakfast (bonus!). I book ahead of time if possible but the closer you wait until time Expedia will offer discounts or lower their prices. I have booked last minute stays before, too. Since we have 5 family members we try to find two queen beds and a pull-out.

No. 2 HomeAway

If you are wanting a HOME this is the place to go. It is also a great idea for groups. I have yet to have a bad experience when booking through HomeAway. Think VRBO! This is their sister site. You have to do your homework. Research each home, the area it’s located, and look at the reviews. If there are no reviews for a home STAY AWAY! It could be a scam or just someone starting out. Either way I stay away. I have stayed at homes in St. Louis, Branson, Paducah, and for our upcoming 2018 trip I have one booked in Yosemite. I book 4 or 5 star homes only and really read the reviews. I tend to stick with homes where many people have stayed instead of just a small number of people.

Some cons about HomeAway are many people charge a cleaning fee and some owners charge a $250 security deposit. You get the $250 deposit back if there is no damage to the home but you are charged up front then get it credited back to your card. Sometimes the fee is charged by homeowners and sometimes it is not. I try to find homes that do not charge the fee but sometimes you just love the rental property too much. The cleaning fee can be a bit much especially when many of the homeowners have you do a majority of the cleaning before you leave (load the dishwasher, load the washing machine, strip the beds, take out the garbage). Be careful when booking. I have paid around $80 for the cleaning fee, but I have seen some of the homes have a cleaning fee of $150 or more. Be sure to read the check out instructions very well. The owner(s) can keep part of your deposit if you do not follow instructions carefully. HomeAway makes homeowners have a rental agreement/manual on the property and online for you to agree to. Expedia bought HomeAway but I like to keep them separate in my head. It works better for me that way.

No. 3 National Park Lodging

It is expensive but it is beautiful! If you want this type of lodging be prepared to spend around $300 a night depending on what you need. You have to book up to a year in advance. These are the places we are staying next summer: Grand Canyon Lodge, Zion Lodge, Glacier Lodge, Crater Lake Lodge and a lodge at Yellowstone. I like the fact that we are paying as we go so these places are booked and ready!

Have you ever seen the inside of these gorgeous places? They are amazing.

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Now only if I got some type of discount for referring you to these amenities…

C + J

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