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Old 07-22-2009, 08:24 PM   #1
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Post Gatlinburg ... a Practically Unplanned Adventure! June 27 - July 5, 2009

Well, first of all, I'm no Princess Sharon or chezp, but I would still like to share my trip report with you! I think all the pictures are uploaded now, so there shouldn't be any delays for that reason. I will try to keep my updates posted on a regular basis, but that may not happen every day. Usually every 2-3 days, because I'm writing it as I go. I'm so technologically behind the times that I don't have a laptop to take on trips with me, so I just take some notes each day and then try to fit all the pieces together after I get back home. Have fun reading and get comfortable - this is going to take a while!
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Old 07-22-2009, 08:29 PM   #2
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Well, this isn't much, but at least it is a little bit to get you started.

Cast: Me, Christie, 38, stay-at-home mom and the trip organizer.
My husband, Jay, 39, quality control worker at Nissan, the funding source of the trip!
Our son, Joshua, 7

Experience: Very experienced (me)
Fourth trip (Jay)
Third trip (Joshua)

Dates: June 27 - July 5, 2009

Lodging: America's Best Value Inn, Lebanon, Tennessee (1 night)
Mountain Loft Resort (7 nights)

Transportation: truck, 10 hours from Clinton, MS

Contents:
• Introduction
• Planning
• The Days Leading up to the Trip
• Day 1 - June 27
• Day 2 - June 28
• Day 3 - June 29
• Day 4 - June 30
• Day 5 - July 1
• Day 6 - July 2
• Day 7 - July 3
• Day 8 - July 4
• Day 9 - July 5
• Conclusion


~~~ Introduction

If you've read one of my reports before, you know that now is the time for you to visit the restroom and get settled in with some sustenance, as my style of trip reporting is very detailed. This means that you'll be doing quite a bit of reading and looking at lots of pictures! Why do I continue to take this much time to crank out a trip report? Because reading this type of report really helps me plan better, and I hope it helps you out as well.

You probably also already know that I am a Disney nut, but I feel the same way about Gatlinburg. (Well, not to the same extent, but I couldn't imagine not visiting here on a regular basis!) On this trip, unlike our previous visit here in 2006, Joshua was old enough not to have a naptime anymore, but we still had some downtime each day. We did a few favorites, but tried to throw in lots of new things as well. There were several things I thought we would do, but as usual even little plans get changed, and we had to shuffle some days around, and a few things got left out and are now on the "next time" wish list.

I would welcome any and all comments or questions via a Private Message or a reply to this post. I always like to offer my assistance based on what I've picked up over my numerous trips and all the reading I do. And if things should need a little clarification, just chime in and let me know. Sometimes I think things are so clear as I'm typing them, but it looks like mud to the rest of you guys!

What I'll be doing throughout the trip report is giving you the web site addresses for the places we visited, even though there aren't as many of them this time around. Then you can check out all the details for yourself, if it sounds like a place you might want to go. Plus, lots of pictures - more than 1400!

For anybody who has the deluxe PassPorter, I would recommend getting a new set of PassPockets for your non-Disney trips. Once you're used to the PassPocket format, it's so easy to keep using them for all your big trips. I also recommend the following books which we used extensively on our trip: Guide to the Natchez Trace Parkway - F. Lynne Bachleda (2005, Menasha Ridge Press), Smokies Road Guide - Jerry DeLaughter (1986, 2004, Great Smoky Mountains Association) and Hiking Trails of the Smokies (3rd edition 2003, Great Smoky Mountains Association). Why Natchez Trace Parkway? Because I'm a nerd and I can't do anything the easy way ... explanation to follow!

Next up: Our Planning Process (i.e. a Post-Trip Pre-Trip Report)
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Old 07-22-2009, 09:42 PM   #3
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Well, I am hooked. And 1400 pictures! WOW!!

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Old 07-23-2009, 02:38 AM   #4
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Great start!
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Old 07-23-2009, 08:27 AM   #5
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What a great start Christie!! Trust me, I consider you to be right up there with the other great trip report writers!!
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Old 07-23-2009, 09:07 AM   #6
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Great start Christie!!
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Old 07-23-2009, 09:22 AM   #7
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Ok Got me hooked. Ready for more.
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Old 07-23-2009, 04:51 PM   #8
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Thanks everybody! No pictures for today's update, and it's a little loooong, but it does move us on along ...

Planning

Well, after spending a laid-back week in Myrtle Beach in 2007, and a busy, long, and expensive vacation at Disney World in 2008, when it came time to plan our vacation for 2009 we knew exactly where we would be going - back to Gatlinburg! We like it because even though we stay pretty busy while there, we spend most of our time in the national park, which is free! Our last trip here was in 2006, so according to our 3-year vacation cycle it was time to head back.

When we were reserving our resort for Gatlinburg for our 2006 trip we waited too long (can't remember exactly why) and instead of getting a townhome like we had wanted, we had to settle for a regular condo unit. The unit was fairly nice, but there were lots of little things we didn't like about it. So you can be sure we didn't make the same mistake twice - as soon as it was possible for us to make the reservation through our vacation club (the first of September), I was on the phone. And it paid off this time - we were able to get a 2-bedroom townhouse unit this time!

I guess I could at least tell you about the vacation club and the resort! We are members of the Bluegreen Vacation Club. We were suckered into it while in Gatlinburg back in 2004. It's okay, they've got some great resorts around the country, but we would really like to sell and use that money for a camper! Anybody wanna buy a vacation club membership?!? Paying off the membership wasn't that big of a deal at the time, but the annual dues and maintenance fees are sure killing us now. Unfortunately it is not the time to be selling, so we're stuck with it for a while. But anyway, the resort we were booked at in Gatlinburg is called Mountain Loft, which is located on Highway 321, 2 miles from the Parkway (you turn at traffic light #3). I've got a lot of pictures of our unit, I'll post them when we get to that point in the report. Patience, patience!

Now that we were confirmed for our vacation, I would normally have started looking up web sites for all the places we usually like to visit while in the Smokies and making notes as to how much the admission was, what the hours were, etc. But for some reason I just couldn't get in the mood for planning this trip. About the first of February or so I requested visitor's packets for Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Townsend and Cherokee (all FREE of course). Soon our mailbox was filling up! Here's the links if you're planning your own trip:

Gatlinburg - Gatlinburg, TN - Gatlinburg Tennessee - Official Site, Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce
Pigeon Forge - Pigeon Forge Family Vacation Destination – Visit Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Sevierville - Sevierville, Tennessee- Smoky Mountains
Townsend - Townsend Vacation Guide - Great Smoky Mountains
Cherokee - www.cherokee-nc.com

I should mention a few things about signing up for these visitor guides. First of all, even if you tell them that you've already got accommodations, they will still send you something for what seems like every hotel and cabin rental place in the Smokies. Secondly, sometimes you will get automatically subscribed to some email "newsletters" that are actually advertisements for cabin rental places. I chose to keep receiving them, though, because usually they would give you information about some of the special events coming up. Third, sometimes you have to contact Townsend a second time to receive their visitor guide. I don't know what it is about that one, my request never seems to go through the first time. And finally, sometimes Sevierville will send you the previous year's vacation guide. When this happened for our ‘06 trip, I figured I had requested it too early in the year and they simply didn't have the new booklets ready yet. But when it happened again for this trip, and I had purposely waited several weeks into the new year before requesting it, I started wondering about them. I mean, I understand if they've got a lot of visitor guides left over they probably don't like the idea of having to throw them away. But when they know I'm visiting during the end of June 2009, why would they think I would be interested in their 2008 guide - which obviously would have been printed at the end of 2007? Just doesn't make much sense to me. Anyway, moving on!

If any of you read my ‘06 Gatlinburg trip report, you may recall that we had originally reserved a 2-bedroom so that we could invite other people to travel with us. But that ended up being a really bad idea - we asked 4 different people and they all turned us down! We ended up having to downgrade to just the 1-bedroom condo unit. So even though we had enough points in our account to book a 3-bedroom townhouse, with room for another family, we barely even thought about it. We just saved our extra points and got the 2-bedroom instead. It would be just us on this trip!

In the meantime, I somehow found the willpower to do a little research into finding us a place to stay on the road the first night: an America's Best Value Inn in Lebanon, right outside Nashville. I had heard of this resort before, but I didn't really know anything about it. But I had found a really good deal on the www.reservations.hotel-guides.us web site (Hotel Guides). They were offering a room with 2 full beds, microwave, refrigerator and a free breakfast for only $45. And with my AAA discount I was able to get it for just $40! I didn't think it would be too much of a risk, especially since it was just for one night. (If we had a bad experience, we just wouldn't stay there again, right?) Anyway, I had read good reviews of the place, so I figured it was a safe bet.

Now, a quick quiz question to see how many of you are paying attention - what's that - I didn't tell you there was going to be a test? Well, it's not really a pop quiz if you've got advance warning, now is it? No, it's nothing that difficult - I just want to know how many of you might be wondering why we were spending the night in Lebanon, which is just east of Nashville and not exactly on the way from Clinton to Gatlinburg. Especially since I've already mentioned that Gatlinburg was just a one-day drive from our house. Alright, I'll explain myself - and this will tie in to why I was recommending a book on the Natchez Trace Parkway in the last installment. Simple answer: I'm crazy! Full answer: I am a sucker for touristy stuff. I have always lived near the Trace and known that it was out there, 444 miles full of "stuff" to visit, read about, look at and see and do. But I never had the opportunity to drive the Trace any further north than Jackson - only the first 100 miles. So when we went to Gatlinburg in 2004, I somehow convinced Jay to let us drive all the way up the Trace on our first day, stopping at interesting sites all along the way. I'm not sure why, but he agreed, we did it, spent the night in Athens (south of Nashville), and drove the rest of the way to Gatlinburg the next day. And we had a great time! And then I was able to talk him into doing it again on our 2006 trip. We stopped at different places and still had a great time! So I guess you could say a tradition was born. For the third trip in a row, we'll make a day trip out of traveling the Natchez Trace Parkway!

As you might imagine, 444 miles of stuff (well, 344 miles from here) is too much to do in one day. And, yes, even after two trips along the exact same route, there were still plenty of things that we had to drive past and leave for some other time. So this time we were going to go the same route, picnic at the same cool places we loved, but just stop at some of the sites we missed previously. We loved the hotel we stayed at in Brentwood back in ‘06 (StudioPLUS) and that was going to be our backup, but this time we decided we would rather drive on to the other side of Nashville that night so that we would already be on I-40 the next morning. So that's how I ended up looking in Lebanon for a hotel. And when I found my good room deal, that decided our destination for the evening.

The weeks dragged on, and finally I forced myself to sit down and make some sort of plan for our days. Literally, I put this off until about just one week before the trip. And even then it took me forever to write it down on paper. I don't really know what was up, I just couldn't get into planning mode! So mainly what I did was take all the stuff we didn't get to do last time, and I assigned it to a day! I used last trip's plans as a starting point. Whatever area of the park I had us at on the last trip, I kept that same general plan. And since we had so many trails and sights left over that we didn't get to do last time, I just filled in the blanks for this year's trip. Honestly, this is about the worst job of planning I have ever done in my life! It's a good thing I'm so familiar with the area. If it was some place we had never been we really would have been in trouble. The only trails I took off the list were two that the NPS website said were places that the bears were extremely active. We love nature, but we didn't want to encounter any bears while hiking. That included the Abrams Falls Trail and the Little River Trail. I also took Cataloochee off the plan from the beginning, because I knew Jay was not looking forward to making that drive - I've tried to convince him before! So I thought I would automatically move that to our "next time" list.

After I finished I showed my "plans" to Jay and asked him what he thought. His only request was that he wanted to hike to Mt. LeConte one day. I knew Joshua and I were nowhere near in good enough shape to make that hike, so I planned for us to join him part of the way up the mountain (the easier part of course! ) and then we would go do something else in town, before driving back to pick him up later in the evening. Based on the number of days we would be in Gatlinburg, we picked out one destination in the National Park to visit each morning except one, and also picked one attraction to visit each evening. And once we decided which attractions we would be visiting, I got online and did some research to determine how to get the best discount on admission. I checked each attraction's website for coupons, the What-to-Do website for coupons, plus the Reserve Gatlinburg website to see how much we could save by ordering discount vouchers. In some cases we planned to use my Great Smoky Mountain Association membership card as that also offered discounted admissions. But I didn't have as much luck for this trip as I've had in the past. I didn't find any vouchers for us to use, and all the coupons were just about the same. I ended up not printing out anything, because I knew we could pick up the same coupons once we showed up at the visitor centers. Here's the two main websites I visited for coupons/discounts, and I'll post the individual attraction websites as I discuss our visit to each:

What-to-Do: A Complete Vacation Travel Planner - Sunny Day Guide helps you with planning for your next family vacation to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach, Grand Strand, Ocean City, Outer Banks, Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands, Lake Tahoe, the G
Reserve Gatlinburg: Gatlinburg Tennessee Vacation Packages for Cabins and Hotels, Attractions, Shows - ReservePigeonForge.com

One thing that was added to our itinerary that I wasn't sure we would do again was the Knoxville Zoo. We visited it in 2004 and 2006 and really enjoyed it. The only reason we originally stopped there was because we could get free admission by showing our Friends of the Jackson Zoo membership card. But our Zoo Friends card had once again expired. However, Jay had taken Joshua to the zoo this spring for a Cub Scout activity, and while there he decided to go ahead and apply for a new membership. Even if we didn't go to the Knoxville Zoo this time, we could still get our money's worth out of it here. I had really wanted to go ahead and drive straight into Gatlinburg so that we could get ahead of some of the traffic - on our last trip it was bumper-to-bumper for several miles, literally. I didn't want to deal with that again, but eventually decided we would stop at the Knoxville Zoo. At least we would know the terrible traffic we would be facing this time, unlike the awful surprise it was to us in ‘06. And with that, it was added to our schedule.

Up next: My usual "Day 0" turns into quite an interesting week!
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My Previous Trips1975 - offsite; 1979 - offsite; 1983 - offsite; 1985 - offsite; 1988 - Days Inn Suites; 1992 - Days Inn Suites; 1994 - Days Inn Suites; 1996 - Caribbean Beach - Aruba; 1999 - Fort Wilderness - tent; 2000 - Fort Wilderness - cabin; 2000 - offsite (CM sister's apartment); 2005 - Pop Century - 70's; 2008 - Wilderness Lodge - lobby; 2009 - All-Star Sports - Baseball
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Old 07-23-2009, 04:54 PM   #9
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Great update Christie! Thanks for all the tourist links!!
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Old 07-23-2009, 05:04 PM   #10
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You're welcome, I'll throw in some more for the places we visited, as I get to them in the report. Hopefully I can get another update posted tomorrow!
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My Previous Trips1975 - offsite; 1979 - offsite; 1983 - offsite; 1985 - offsite; 1988 - Days Inn Suites; 1992 - Days Inn Suites; 1994 - Days Inn Suites; 1996 - Caribbean Beach - Aruba; 1999 - Fort Wilderness - tent; 2000 - Fort Wilderness - cabin; 2000 - offsite (CM sister's apartment); 2005 - Pop Century - 70's; 2008 - Wilderness Lodge - lobby; 2009 - All-Star Sports - Baseball
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Old 07-23-2009, 07:00 PM   #11
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Another great update Christie!! Thanks for the links, they are really nice!
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My oldest is off to the middle school!
My Previous TripsWe go to Disney every July for our Annual Trip
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Old 07-23-2009, 09:22 PM   #12
hall0731
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Great start... I am anxiously awaiting your trip report. Afte next summer's Seattle trip, we are heading to Gatlinburg...
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ahhhh I have made it back home.
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Old 07-23-2009, 10:08 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hall0731 View Post
Great start... I am anxiously awaiting your trip report. Afte next summer's Seattle trip, we are heading to Gatlinburg...
Sounds great, have you been before?

PS. From looking at the details on your ticker, it looks like Seattle has a lot of things to offer that we would like to check out!
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My Previous Trips1975 - offsite; 1979 - offsite; 1983 - offsite; 1985 - offsite; 1988 - Days Inn Suites; 1992 - Days Inn Suites; 1994 - Days Inn Suites; 1996 - Caribbean Beach - Aruba; 1999 - Fort Wilderness - tent; 2000 - Fort Wilderness - cabin; 2000 - offsite (CM sister's apartment); 2005 - Pop Century - 70's; 2008 - Wilderness Lodge - lobby; 2009 - All-Star Sports - Baseball
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Old 07-24-2009, 03:02 AM   #14
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Great plans and thanks for the links.
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Relaxing on board the Magic. The trip report for our back-to-back cruises on the Disney Magic has started!
My Countdown Counting down to: 2019
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My Previous Trips21 trips to WDW, 6 to Disneyland in California, 9 to Disneyland Paris, 1 to Hong Kong Disneyland, 1 to Tokyo Disney, 1 to Aulani, 1 to Hilton Head, 2 to Vero Beach and 13 Disney cruises on the Magic, Wonder, Dream and Fantasy
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Old 07-24-2009, 03:53 PM   #15
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The Days Leading up to the Trip - OR - How Did I Get Myself Into This?

Normally at this point of the trip report you would be reading about our "Day 0" - the day before the trip where you wash clothes one last time, make sure the suitcases are packed, double-check everything else that you're intending to take, run last-minute errands, you know the drill! Well, for the first time ever, there is no Day 0 for me. It wasn't supposed to be this way, either.

Here's the scoop: as you might have read elsewhere in the PassPorter community, Joshua was in his first year of Cub Scouts and loved everything about it. He had a great time at all three cub weekends at our council's camp. The school year was drawing to a close, and I had signed him up for day camp. The first half of our summer was set - one week free once school was out, then one week of Cub Scout day camp, one week of Nature day camp, one week at my parents' house so Joshua could go to their church's Vacation Bible School, then one week back at home before we left on vacation. All was happy. Until I started thinking.

Actually, I had gotten bored one afternoon while online, and I surfed over to our scout council's website. It's not a very good website, but I like to check it out every so often just in case. I noticed they had the leader's guide up for summer camp. I figured I would look at that just for fun. Jay worked at summer camp a few times and I thought I would see what the program was going to be like this year. As I was reading I came upon the short section that dealt with Cub Week. Actually, half a week, as they only stayed 3 nights. I knew our council offered this, but I thought it was a true sleep-away camp, and I didn't think Joshua was quite ready for that. But as it turned out, cub scouts of his age were required to have a parent at camp with them. So the wheels started turning ...

Joshua would love to have one more opportunity to go camping. It would give him a chance to earn a few more awards. It would give him one more turn on the shooting range for both archery and BB guns, which he loves. We wouldn't have to pitch a tent because during the summer they provide tents and cots. All the meals would be provided for us. We had missed the early registration deadline, so the cost had gone up slightly, but it was still something I could handle with the money I'd saved over the past few months. I mentioned it to Jay and he wasn't so sure at first. But I kept thinking about it, and decided we should do it. The only little glitch was that camp ended the same morning we were supposed to leave for Gatlinburg! But we were sure that there would be no problem if we left at the end of the previous day. Jay was willing to attend camp with Joshua, and they would be home as soon as they could. I was okay with leaving for vacation a little later than planned (even by a few hours if need be) because of the wrench I knew this was throwing into our plans. For a control freak like me, that was a big deal.

But do you see where I'm going with this? Of course Jay was unable to get the time off from work. So it fell to me to take Joshua to camp! To make matters worse, the week before camp, while we were at my parents' house Joshua got sick with a terrible cough and a fever. So after a few days of that I took him to the doctor Friday and it turned out to be just a sinus infection. But it had me worried for a while - I didn't want to have to back out of camp, and I didn't want him to feel miserable on vacation either. But his pediatrician cleared him to go to camp, with no restrictions on his activities. He would have several days' worth of antibiotics in him before camp started, so he should be fine by then anyway. And he was. He had a little cough still left, but nothing at all like what it had been.

The first couple of days of the week before vacation were spent washing clothes and packing the suitcases, as much as possible. I wanted very little left to do when we got back from camp. Wednesday morning we went to Wal-Mart to buy food for the trip, then we came back home so I could get that all together. After lunch Joshua and I left for camp. Jay had planned to get the truck ready while we were gone, to get the bed cover put on and latched down, and to begin loading up Friday night while we were on our way back home. (I did verify that it would be okay if we left camp after the campfire Friday night, and that we wouldn't miss anything by not being there Saturday morning.) I had somehow finished packing the suitcases. Some food items, as well as a few other things, would have to be gathered Saturday morning before we left. As hard as it was for me to plan this trip to begin with, it was that hard or even harder for me to get in the mood to gather things together, let alone pack the items I had already gathered! I talked to Jay by cell phone both Thursday and Friday from camp. He seemed to be on track doing his part to get ready to leave.

But ... Joshua and I arrived home around 9:45 Friday night. Nothing had been loaded in the truck yet so inside I had a little panic attack. But I tried not to say anything, because this summer camp idea had in fact been my idea. I got Joshua in bed and then did a few things for the trip before I turned in myself. On our last trip I had pre-bagged our meals for each of the stops we would be making along our drive up the Trace, but there just wasn't time to do that this time. The food was hastily thrown into Wal-Mart bags. Joshua's handheld V-Smile game for downtime at the resort. All my travel books handy to read along the way. CD's weren't necessary this time because Jay has all of them loaded on his Zune. We had a couple of cases of drinks and a couple of boxes of food - for breakfast, picnic lunches, our July 4 cookout and snacks. Two bags full of clothes for once we reached our destination, plus another bag of clothes for our first night's layover so we didn't have to unload all our bags. Of course the plug-in cooler that sits on the back seat next to Joshua. I think that's all, so it sounds like we were about ready.

Up Next: Day 1 - Anybody want to place a bet on what time we leave? (Original planned departure time was set for 8:00.)
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My Previous Trips1975 - offsite; 1979 - offsite; 1983 - offsite; 1985 - offsite; 1988 - Days Inn Suites; 1992 - Days Inn Suites; 1994 - Days Inn Suites; 1996 - Caribbean Beach - Aruba; 1999 - Fort Wilderness - tent; 2000 - Fort Wilderness - cabin; 2000 - offsite (CM sister's apartment); 2005 - Pop Century - 70's; 2008 - Wilderness Lodge - lobby; 2009 - All-Star Sports - Baseball

Last edited by christiejay; 07-24-2009 at 03:55 PM..
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