Our “Big Trip”

Our recent sojourn down to Florida was, if you will, just an appetizer to our retirement road trip; what we call “Our Big Trip.” We’ve been talking about this for years, and actually figuring dates out once the decision was made that I was going to retire at the end of this past January. The time line in our minds was to leave sometime mid August, and to return, at the very latest, in time for Thanksgiving. Our plan was to drive west, seeing some of the great sights this country has, and to check them off our bucket list. This would be a Bucket List trip for us.

imageWe started by collecting AAA Tour Books for most of the states. We also have added a couple of books with listing of things you absolutely must see across the United States. Some are wacky, like the World’s Largest Ball of String, but many are just not to be missed attractions. Susie has been going through the books taking notes, and the last two days we have both been working diligently on the tour books, and putting together a list of MUSTS for the trip. We also figured that places like Chicago or Detroit were close enough to the East Coast to be other shorter trips, and our intention is to concentrate on more of the Western United States. We figured to head west on a northern route, and return east on a more southern route, hopefully keeping summer weather with us for most of the journey. The first “must” we planned on hitting was Mount Rushmore, to satisfy Frank’s long desire to see it in person (too many viewings of North by Northwest).

imageWhile our plan is to basically wander in the general direction of the west coast, we understand that to stay in some places that are on the “Must List” of ours, we were going to need reservations. Three of those places are Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and Monument Valley. We’ve read online that reservations at these 3 places need to be made months in advance, but figured that as we were 5-6 months out from our dates, we were still within the window of opportunity. Yesterday afternoon, we discovered that we didn’t have all the time in the world, and that our window of opportunity was about to slam shut! So our trip, that before yesterday was still kind of in the imaginary stage, just moved into the realm of reality! We discovered that there were very few availabilities left, and that if we wanted to stay on-site in these three places, we needed to act ASAP. Needing to make those reservations meant that we had to really look at the trip in earnest, decide what we really wanted to see, and forced us to actually come up with a timeline, while still leaving lots of open time to just check out neat looking things and places along the way.

Our “real” trip will commence with us leaving Long Island on Saturday August 21st. Our first reservations are for the nights of August 28th and 29th when we are booked at the Lake Hotel Sandpiper Lodge in Yellowstone Park. From there we have 2 open weeks, as our next booking is the nights of September 14th and 15th at the Yavapai Lodge in the Grand Canyon. Then, on Friday the 16th, we have one night booked at the View Hotel in Monument Valley. The only other defined part of our trip is the October 2nd to 16th two week period when we will be cruising on the Liberty of the Seas out of Galveston, Texas, and visiting with Kenny and Chris and their shipboard family. We still have lots of open space on our calendar to do the wandering part of this trip, and even if we have had enough, and just return home after the cruise, we will be gone 2 months! We always had a plan, but now we really have a plan and the trip is much more of a reality than it was just 24 hours ago!

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Final Florida Recap

Okay…this is our last look at our Florida trip…kind of like our road trip by the numbers. You may find some of this interesting, but honestly we are doing this as much for us, as you, so that we remember some of this information when we next venture out on the open road.

Miles Driven:

imageThe one way distance from our home on Long Island to Walt Disney World is 1,126 miles. During our 11 days on the road we drove a total of 2439 miles, so did a little less than 200 additional miles during our trip. Some of those miles were spent driving to and from restaurants on our way up and down, and some were used in Walt Disney World. We drove to Epcot, the Magic Kingdom (2 days), and our spring training game at ESPN World. Yes, we know that WDW has a great transportation system, but a number of years ago we waited forever with tired kids for a bus at one of the water parks, and frankly, it’s just easier to do it on our own. Also, since one of Frank’s retirement perks is free parking, all we waste is time!

Days to Florida:

“Lets Drive RightThrough!” Ah, no, thank you! Yes, you can indeed get to Florida in less than 24 hours by driving straight through, but this was supposed to be a fun trip, so we left on day one, and arrived on day three. We did the same thing on the way back. Our daily mileage averaged around 400 more or less. We didn’t set alarm clocks, we left when we left (usually sometime around 9AM), but always tried to stop between 4:30 and 5:30. A long time ago, when Susie was pregnant with our oldest Billy, we drove to the midwest, and her doctor told her to stop every hour or so and get out of the car and walk around. Since then, that has been our MO on the road. One of us will drive an hour and/or 100 miles, we will stop, hit the bathroom, and then the other will take over.

Gas:

Gas prices have really dropped lately, and that makes a road trip even more affordable. As we said in an earlier post, the Sonata got great mileage (we regularly saw numbers in the low to mid 30 miles per gallon), so we stopped for gas about once a day. The lowest price we saw was on the New Jersey Turnpike on the way down, where it was $1.57 a gallon for regular. As soon as we crossed the bridge and entered Delaware, gas prices jumped 30 cents or more a gallon. The next cheapest state was Georgia, where it was in the $1.80 range. Around Disney World the prices were high (of course), but Frank just read on the internet of gas stations close to the Orlando Airport that change $5 and change a gallon to screw those folks looking to return their rental car full! Even with Frank’s Cleaning product purchase, we didn’t come close to that!! We only spent $146.98 for the total trip for gas, and we just drove down to Ocean City on that last tank we got on the New Jersey Turnpike on the way home!

Motels:

imageSo, its been a number of years since we’ve taken a trip like this, and frankly, before we left, how much nightly accommodations were going to cost us was something we had no idea about. There are also a lot of new chains out there. Sleep Inn, Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, etc., so the landscape has changed since the last time we did this. One great new tool is to join hotel’s chains “frequent flyers” programs, and then load their app on your phone. Many different named chains operate under the same corporate flag, so having a couple of these apps on your phone really gives you a lot of choices. We spent 4 nights on the road, and our hotel costs ran from a low of $69.49, to a high of $94.75 . A lesson we quickly learned, however, was that the extra $20 we spent on our more expensive nights made a huge difference. Save the $20, get old 1970s motel type accommodations. Spend the $20 and get nice, clean, modern rooms, and even a full free breakfast. Our opinion, save $20 somewhere else and enjoy the night…your next day depends on it! We spent a total of $329.13 for our on-the-road accommodations. Even with Frank’s 50% Disney Discount, our 5 days in WDW cost us $753.75….but we loved it!! Our total was $1082.88 for the entire 11 days.

Food:

imageWe’ve already talked about what we did for our lunches, and truly think that having the cooler and food in the car with us, is by far the best solution for lunches on a road trip. It saves you money, it saves you time, and keeps the journey focused on moving forward. Occasionally, we’d take advantage of the hotel’s breakfast offerings, but most days we opted to just hit the road and start driving. We did in an Applebees and a Dave’s Famous BBQ, but the two best meals we had on the road were in local, non-chain restaurants. On our way down, in Darien Georgia, we had a wonderful fried shrimp dinner (a pound of shrimp each) for $73.49 at B&J’s Steak and Seafood (thanks Abe Gorin for the tip!). Then on the way back up, in Ridgeland, South Carolina, we had an incredible southern meal at Jasper’s Back Porch. We sat on the back porch, overlooking a lake, and had a soup to nuts meal for $85.78. We had a couple of very nice, and pricey dinners in Disney World (like Wolfgang Pucks at Disney Springs that cost us $205 including Frank’s discount), but our on-the-road meals ran between $60 and $85.

Wolfgang Puck's at Disney Springs

Wolfgang Puck’s at Disney Springs

Walt Disney World:

imageOkay, so Frank gets a discount on hotels, food, and merchandise thanks to his Disney Retiree status, but even with that, it is not a cheap place. Every night, we imageended our day at our resort’s Jazz Club (the Scat Cat’s Club), and spent around $100 for drinks and appetizers (the appetizers was our dinner several nights!), but we loved ending the day this way, and after a couple of days, became “regulars” to Laura the waitress. Breakfasts were about $20-$25 per day, but we figured if we were going to walk our asses off, we needed some sustenance! These 5 days were really our only breakfast expenses. Lunches, drinks (at Epcot’s World Showcase) cost us too, as did purchases we made (sweatshirts, little things for the Grandkids, etc), but that was the price of admission if you will. Not something we’re gonna do every day or every year. We figure we spent around $390 for Misc items, and those ran from a car wash for the Sonata to laundry we did at the WDW resort.

imageKeeping Track of it All:

We are only able to report most of these figures, because of a great app Susie has on her phone, called Trip Wallet. It was a very easy way to keep track of the $$$ we spent on everything from gas, to hotels, to food. It cost around $1.99 at the Apple Store, and will get a lot more use going forward. Much better than a pad and a pen, and as it was on her phone, she always had it with her.

 

What it Cost us to Drive Round Trip to Florida:

Our gas for the trip cost $146.98, our 4 hotel nights on the road cost $329.13, and for 4 road night dinners we spent $296.10. Lunches we had in the car, made up from stuff we brought from home, so maybe $30. The only other expense related to driving our own car, was $9 we spent for a car wash on the way home because the car was covered with Florida tree pollen. So, our grand total was $811.21. We went up on the Jet Blue site, and we’re sure you could get a round trip flight cheaper, but just doing a dummy booking from JFK to Orlando for 2 people for 7 days in Florida came out to about $895. We did the same thing at the Hertz site, and their cheapest car for week came to about $307. As we said, you could probably get both cheaper, but that’s probably in the neighborhood of what we would have spent, so flying and renting would come to about $1200. We spent almost $400 less than that, and had a great road trip on top of some savings. A win/win situation we think!

So that’s it, our last look at our 11 days on the road that included 5 days at Walt Disney World, two Spring Training Mets’ games, and a visit with Frank’s cousin Jeanne and her husband Walt in Bare Foot Bay, Florida. See you on the road again, or on our next adventure real soon!

A Good Idea We’d Like to Share

One of the things that we did differently on this past trip, that we will probably do on every future road trip, had to do with our pillows. Frank has long complained about the fact that some hotels have great pillows, while others have the worst. Some are like a lump of concrete, some are as flat as a pancake, and occasionally, not to sound like Goldilocks, some are just right! In fact, a couple of years ago, Frank did find one of the 5 pillows on our king sized bed at the Rio in Vegas that was just right. The problem was that every night he had to figure out which one it was! Now, Sue is not as pillow conscious on the road, but as she does have pillow likes and dislikes, she agreed to Frank’s plan.

Now I know a lot of you do this, but the plan was to take 2 of our favorite pillows with us. That way, whatever we were thrown in terms of beds and pillow comfort, we always had our own pillows to ease our heads to sleep after a busy day. Well, it worked out incredibly well, and probably led to some of the best travel nights’ sleep we have ever had. Now, my thought was just that we’d throw the pillows into some kind of a bag, and throw it in the trunk of the car, but Sue came up with such an elegant and all encompassing solution, that we just had to share it with you.

Behold, Pillow Bag 101!

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What we started with was a multi pocket duffle bag measuring approximately 26X15X12 inches.

 

The main compartment held our two pillows.

 

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Below the pillows we stashed our PJs.

 

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In one side pocket, Frank’s underwear lived.

 

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While Sue’s were stored in the front pocket.

 

imageIn the left side pocket was our toiletries bag.

 

imageAnd in the back pocket, our two Kindles.

 

Every night we’d grab this bag out of the trunk and in one place we had everything we needed for our stay. It made it so much easier than dragging in our big suitcase and rummaging through it, looking for what we needed. In fact, with the exception of the 5 nights we stayed in Disney World, the big suitcase lived in the trunk. It was easy enough to open the bag and exchange a shirt or pants and we never had to remove it from the Sonata’s trunk.

A simple but elegant solution to being on the road and staying in different motels nightly!

Looking Back

Now that our Florida trip is over, we have to get on the stick and start planning for our big USA trip that we hope to start in August. We’ve got Tour Books from the AAA, maps of all kinds, and we’re making lists of places we don’t want to miss. But before we get hot and heavy into research and planning for that trip, we figured it might be good to take a look back at our recently completed 11 day trip, and see what worked, and how that info can be transferred to our future road trips.

imageThe first thing we clearly found out was that our Hyundai Sonata Limited is a great car for our travels. The car has a good sized trunk, so there is lots of room for all kinds of stuff that we wanted to have with us. From a case of water, to our large suitcase, to even an emergency jump starter, we had no shortage of space. The back seat is an added space benefit, and gave us a place for our cooler but also an easy place to throw sweatshirts and jackets. The front seats are very comfortable, it’s an easy car to drive, and has plenty of power to go as fast as you want on the Interstates. It also gets great gas mileage, so that every tank got 400 miles or better before we had to refill, meaning that even on travel days, we bought only one tank of gas a day. She will make a very good companion for us on our long trip!

imageWe traveled with our GPS, even if we didn’t always follow her advice, as we were also following AAA Triptiks. There was a lot of “recalculating” done by her in the course of the week, and we still wonder if the couple of times we did follow her directions, she wasn’t getting back at us, as some directions seemed a little off. One thing that we did this trip was not mount the GPS on the windshield. Always seems like a reach to us to hit the buttons, and we’re not really thrilled that when it’s mounted on the windshield it blocks our view to the right. So Frank found this “sticky” pad for the dashboard. It mounted in a great place just above the radio, was easy to see and operate, and didn’t block our view. We will be getting a lot of use out of this!

imageSpeaking about the radio, we were very happy to be able to listen to the same thing all up and down the coast courtesy of our Sirius/XM Satellite subscription. Considering that Frank made his living for 43 years working in AM radio, that may seem strange, but the radio landscape in America has changed, and the days of enjoying listening to multiple stations as you go up and down the coast is gone. Signals are weak and fading, all the radio stations tend to sound the same, and finding something you want to listen to can be a pain, so we were very happy to have the company of Jimmy Buffett’s Radio Margaritaville for the entire 11 days. We never changed the station!

imageAnd the last thing we got for this trip and we loved, was the new Coleman cooler we bought for the back seat. It was just the right size (45 quart) for all that we wanted to keep cold, had a drain in the back (and not a lot of coolers seem to have one these days), and wheels that made it easy to roll into our motel rooms. The one problem is that the telescoping handle (kind of like a rolling suitcase) does not lock into position, so if you are pulling it the handle is fine, but if you try to push it, the handle un-telescopes. It needs to lock into position, and we’ll be imageworking on a solution to that issue down the road. We ordered a seat cover that is designed to go under a kid’s car seat, so the back seat was kept clean, and we strapped it in each morning with the seat belt and a bungie cord, and it was super stable. The cooler made it easy for us to do one of our favorite things, and that is have lunch along the way. Some days it was at a picnic table at a rest stop (once we were in warmer states), and other days it was in the front seat of our car, but either way we like this a lot better than buying lunch. Something that I guess we both did when we were on trips with our parents, something we did for the first time on our honeymoon, and definitely something we did with our three kids when they were growing up, and we were on the road.

So some successful items that enhanced our road trip and that we will definitely be using again in the summer, and for all our future travels, as this adventure of ours continues.

Our Trip is Over

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Welcome home to the LIE

At 4:10 PM Daylight Savings Time, we pulled into our driveway in Mineola, and officially ended our 11 day road trip to Florida and back. It was a wonderful trip, as you know, if you have been following along, and while it’s good to be home, we’re both a little sad that it’s over! There was a lot of traffic today as we skirted Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, and got into the Philly/New York area, but it moved, so it wasn’t bad at all. Frankly, once we hit exit 11 on the NJ Turnpike, we were in familiar territory from 4 or 5 hundred weekend trips back from Ocean City, and we have had a lot worse traffic than we had today!

imageIf you remember, our big plan today was a slight detour to Total Wine in Claymont, Delaware to see if the stories our friends told us about the imagegreat wine prices were true. Well, they were definitely true, as we saw and bought a lot of great deals! For example, we found 14 Hands Cabernet that Krissi and Kenny like for $8.97, when the best prices we find for that locally is $13.99. Also, their Red Blend for $7.47, when we think $9.99 is a good price here. It’s only about an hour and a half trip from Ocean City, so we definitely will be heading there again. I’d say we got about $400 of wine for $225! Thanks to our OC Family members Doc and Denise for telling us about it. Can we get you anything there?

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imageSo we pulled into the driveway, having traveled 2439.2 miles since we pulled out of the same driveway on Thursday morning, March 3rd. We had lots of fun along the way, loved being in Florida spring weather for a week, and verified that we do love road trips and all that’s involved in them. It’s fine to hop on a plane and rent a car at the other end, but there is something so connected about driving from place to place, sampling local customs, foods, and scenery, and the thrill of reaching your destination is great. Perhaps Frank has read John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charlie too many times, or perhaps Mr. Steinbeck was right when he talked about the wanderlust that exists in all Americans. Like those who went before us on the Oregon Trail, perhaps its our destiny as Americans to explore our country.

imageSo, we are home, we are unpacked, we have started on our “Welcome Home” Martinis, and the Chinese food has been ordered and is on it’s way! What a wonderful way to end a wonderful vacation. Back to work tomorrow…well, yes and no…that means we have laundry to do, bills to pay, and need to get back to Ocean City! Great work, if you can get it!!

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Last Night on the Road

Well, this is it…our last night on the road for our first big Retirement Adventure.  Tonight finds us in an EconoLodge in Fredericksburg, VA.  Today we traveled 488 miles from Ridgeland, South Carolina, through North Carolina, and into Virginia.  We are now about 6 hours from getting home, and we probably could have done it today, but for the fact that we want to stop off at Total Wines and More in Delaware tomorrow before heading home.

So some highlights of today’s travels.  In a rest area in North Carolina, we were approached by a man trying the “I lost my wallet and have no money.  Can you give me some” scam.  Sorry, but need we remind you that someone already bought the cleaning products (if you don’t know about that, see blog post https://rnewadventures.com/2016/03/06/day-three-wdw/).  Then, as we got into Virginia and filled up with gas (it’s some 20 cents cheaper in Virginia as compared to North Carolina) we not only got a full tank of gas, BUT we also got the Sonata washed!  It is now red again rather than the bilious green of Florida tree pollen it’s been for the last week!

Other than that, just another day on the road.  We still like our lunches in the car, spending the day driving together, imageand our nightly hotel rituals as we unwind from the road!  All in all, another good day!  The only downside is that the temperature is going down (dropped almost 20 degrees from this morning to this evening), and as we get to the more urban area of the East Coast, traffic volume picks up!  New Jersey tomorrow, so for all practical purposes, we will be home!

Our plan for tomorrow is to leave here about 9 AM, stop at Total Wine and imageMore,  and then get home to Mineola in the afternoon, in time for our living room couch, take out Chinese food,  an extensive session with our DVR, including watching the last ever Downton Abbey and then sleep in our bed!  Simple Pleasures…

On the Road Again

So, just to update everyone, we are once again on the road heading north on I-95.  As we write this, we are in a Quality Inn in Ridgeland, South Carolina.  We left our home for 5 days, Disney’s Port Orleans, French Quarter, yesterday imagemorning.  Our first stop was Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie to watch our second NY Mets Spring Training game.  Yesterday they played the St Louis Cardinals, and our seats just to the first base side of home plate, put us squarely in Cardinals’ territory, but the fans were nice, and we had a good time.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Mets won the game 7-2, so our Spring Training record is 1-1!  It was fun to see the Mets play at their home Spring Training venue, but we have to admit that Disney does do it better (big surprise), as the stadium and everything else was better at the Braves Walt Disney World/ESPN home base.

Once we finally got out of the parking lot…no offense, but there were 6000 people there yesterday, about half of them left before the game was over,  and we have less trouble getting out of Citifield when there are 40,000 fans in attendance…we headed up the coast, to visit with Frank’s cousin Jeanne and her husband Walt.  Jeanne is the daughter of Frank’s Mom’s younger brother Bill, and she is just a couple of years older than him.  But, because she grew up in Chicago and Frank in New York, they were not really close cousins.  But, thanks to the Internet, they re-connected and continued a relationship that really hadn’t been active since Jeanne and Walt came to our wedding 36+ years ago.  Honestly, we think the GPS was getting back at us for ignoring some of the directions she’d given us during the previous week, but eventually she did route us in the right direction, and we got to their house in Bare Foot Bay, Florida.  Can you think  a better name for a town in Florida?  Sounds very Jimmy Buffettish to us, and a perfect name!

We had a great evening with them, just talking and exchanging ideas and thoughts, and had a great home cooked steak dinner, which is always nice in the middle of a road trip. We all sat around the dinner table talking way into the night, but with some drinks, and good food, and the feeling of family, it was a wonderful night. Frankly, we got up this morning, and just continued the gab fest, and didn’t leave till almost noon.  It was a great visit (thanks Jeanne and Walt) and we can’t wait to see them again, but next time in Ocean City!  That will be after they take their own road trip, as they are going to their home base in Connetecuit, via Texas and Route 66 starting in May.

imageSo here we are, about 21 miles into South Carolina, and we figure about 12 hours from Mineola.  We just had a really great Southern dinner on the back porch of restaurant just across the parking lot called Jasper’s Porch (now we can say we have had collard greens), and it was a great night. We will have a couple of vodkas now, as imagewe watch a little TV, and then it will be off to bed.  Tomorrow is another day, and we will travel through South and North Carolina, and up into Virginia.  We figure one more night on the road, then it’s Chinese take out, Grey Goose Vodka, the last episode of Downton Abbey, and our couch in Mineola!

Its been a great trip, and we’ve relearned some things that we will definitely use again on our big road trip of the USA this summer.  One thing we’ve definitely learned, we still love being together 24/7, and love car trips!  Let the adventures continue!!!