A Highland, NC Getaway {Agent Review}

by Caitlin Williams


“So, are you a beach person or a mountain person?” people ask, and my answer is always the same: “Yes!” And when I think of the mountains, I think of Highlands, North Carolina. My husband’s grandparents had a cabin in between Highlands and Franklin, NC that we used to visit every Fourth of July to escape the heat of Columbia and every Fall to see the leaves change color. We have done almost every hike within a ten-mile radius and walked up and down the Main Street window shopping about a hundred times, and yet I still find myself wanting to visit again. And this time was extra special because we got to try a newly renovated hotel that people can’t stop talking about: The Skyline Lodge.

When I read it described as a “boutique hotel that channels an upscale Wes Anderson-summer-camp vibe” in Garden & Gun magazine, I knew I had to visit. I found our room comfortable and spacious, but not overly elegant:

But the place had all the charm you could ask for in a mountain hotel:

If you are a fan of the mid-century modern aesthetic, this is the hotel for you! 

As an added bonus, the Skyline Lodge houses an Oak Steakhouse which is decorated in the same style and boasts the most fabulous food and drink that you could possibly ask for. 

Pictured is the Southern Mai Tai, a drink as sweet as its namesake, but reflecting flavors indicative of the South, rather than the tropics. The mixologist makes it using homemade orgeat made from pecans (instead of the traditional almonds) sourced from his father-in-law’s farm. The care and attention to every detail of presentation and preparation shines through in every meal and cocktail at Oak.

We arrived at the Skyline Lodge on Friday night, had dinner and hors-d’œuvre at Oak after our dinner reservations in Highlands were canceled by the restaurant we had planned to visit, and then on Saturday morning we did one of our favorite hikes: Whiteside Mountain.

For lunch we ate at Four65, which is part of the historic Old Edwards Inn. I am a pizzaholic, and I can honestly say that their Brussels and Bacon pizza was one of the best I have ever had!

After lunch it was time for more hiking, with a walk down to Ranger Falls.

While the falls are beautiful, and it was nice to try a hike we hadn’t done before, the fact that this trail was so poorly marked causes me to recommend one of the many other beautiful hikes in and around Highlands above this one.

After getting cleaned up, we then headed back to Oak, this time for a full meal rather than just cocktails and apps. Although I couldn’t say no to a delicious glass of red wine with my steak!

After a night’s sleep that you can only get after a day with two hikes followed by an incredible meal, we took the scenic way home on Sunday, stopping by Dry Falls and Quarry Falls (a/k/a Breadtruck Falls).

Officially known as Quarry Falls, the locals affectionately refer to the falls located immediately off the Franklin Highway instead as Breadtruck Falls.  Breadtruck Falls supposedly got its name for being so deep that a breadtruck drove off the road, crashed into the pool at the bottom of the falls, and sunk so deep that it was never recovered. It also has a special place in my heart because in my wild younger days I climbed up to the top of the cliff above the falls and jumped into it, an activity that you can still do today if you are crazy enough! But if you have never been to Dry Falls you should immediately stand up, get in your car and drive there right now. It is honestly one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and it is within a few hours of home. This video gives you some idea of what you can expect, but nothing can compare to seeing it in person. If you would like to visit Highlands, North Carolina or other beautiful places in the mountains of North Carolina and Georgia then I would love to share with you the knowledge I have gained through the trips like this one that I have been taking to those areas for the last 18 years. Give me a call and let’s start planning!

Boo Bash – Disney’s New Halloween “Party”

By Anne Marie Weinkamp

Halloween pumpkin decorations depicting the face of Mickey Mouse adorn light poles on Main Street U S A, with Cinderella Castle in the background

On August 27th, my family and I went to Disney’s new Boo Bash After Hours event. 

Boo Bash is a special ticketed After-Hours Halloween themed event that that occurs after hours. On our evening, the hours were 9:30 – 12:30 AM. Boo Bash is being offered from August 10th – Oct 31st on select nights after the park closes. Guests with tickets to Boo Bash can enter Magic Kingdom at 7pm if they do not have a regular park day admission. The cost for Boo Bash ranges from $129-$199 depending on the night with Halloween night being the most expensive and the first night to sell out. Many nights are already sold out, but Guest Services has tickets for some nights available for “day of” purchases. 

Boo Bash is advertised as a different type of event than the previously offered Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP.) What are the key differences?  MNSSHP’s tickets cost less than Boo Bash and lasted 5 hours instead of Boo Bash’s 3 hours. MNSSHP offered special parades and entertainment, character meet and greets and trick or treating. Boo Bash offers Halloween themed cavalcades, special character sightings, trick or treating and free snacks. One of the key offerings of Boo Bash is low crowds which wasn’t the case with MNSSHP. Boo Bash is similar to Disney’s previous After Hours offering “Villains After Dark.” The promise of low crowds and “free snacks” was enticing to my family. We are huge fans of After-Hours events, but we also love MNSSHP! We were excited to give this new After Hours a try. 

It was hard to get our head around going to a Halloween themed After Hours in August. It was hot!! But it had been a rainy day which kept the heat at bay. We headed to Boo Bash around 7:30 PM after spending the day in another Disney Park. The temp was 80 degrees with a “feels like” temp of 88 – not very Halloween-y for this New England family. 

We were greeted at the gates with Cast Members dressed for Halloween with Special Event balloons and check ins…. Disney had sent hard tickets to us which I, of course, forgot but I had linked the tickets to our accounts in My Disney Experience so the tapstyles could read the tickets on our Magic Bands and we were give special wrist bands for the evening. 


Halloween decorations are all around at the Magic Kingdom in late August. Many
Boo Bash goers wore costumes (adults are allowed to wear costumes at special Halloween events.) My family chose Halloween themed t-shirts instead. If you do not have Halloween themed clothing, Disney has you covered with many options at the stores for you to get in the spirit. As the night darkened and the regular day guests left the park, the lighting on the castle and around the park changed to lots of orange, purple, and lime green for the spooky effects. 

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Crowds were still there at the beginning of the party as Cast Members politely reminded day guests that the parks were closed, and they checked us for Boo Bash wrist bands. As day guests left, the crowds lessened but there was still good attendance. August 27th was a sold-out party (even in August!) Most of the rides had very low lines. Some of the most popular rides such as Seven Dwarfs Mine Train had lines but considerably lower than the regular day.  We were able to ride all 4 “Mountains” and other popular rides along with taking advantage of other party offerings.


Did I mention free snacks? I love this part of the After-Hours events. One could argue that you pay for it one way or another, but I still love them. Boo Bash offered unlimited treats of bottled sodas and water, ice cream treats (Mickey Bars, Mickey Ice Cream Sandwiches, and Strawberry Fruit Bars,) and Popcorn. We always take advantage of these snacks. The lines for these free snacks were long the first hour of the party. Cast Members started handing out ice cream bars and popcorn in lines in effort to shorten the lines initially. After the first hour, most of these cart locations were walk ups to get your snacks. My family took advantage of these snacks all evening and even grabbed an extra soda to bring back to our resort. 

Disney also offered special Halloween themed food at some of the quick service locations such as the Foolish Mortal Funnel Cake and the Maleficent Churro. (We did not try any of these snacks and the pictures are courtesy of Allears.net.)

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Trick or Treating:

Trick or Treating locations were available all-around Magic Kingdom and were marked with balloons so you could easily find them. Disney gave out trick or treat bags to all party guests. As with the free snacks, the trick or treat lines were long the first hour but were much shorter as the evening progressed. We waited to trick or treat until later in the evening for two reasons: 1) we wanted shorter lines 2) we didn’t want to carry around candy all night. We visited several locations more than once to “make up” for lost time. Our candy haul wasn’t too shabby! 

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Halloween themed cavalcades ran all evening: Mickey and friends, Jack Skellington and Sally and Maleficent. The Cadaver Dan’s were giving shows in Frontierland (which we missed unfortunately) and fun character sightings through the night. We also watched (didn’t participate) the fun DJ led dance party in Tomorrowland. Great fun happened all through the night. We enjoyed the interactive ghosts sitting in front of the Haunted Mansion interacting with guests as well. 

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Special Photo Pass Opportunities:

Disney offered special Halloween themed Magic Shots with the Photo Pass photographers. These opportunities had some of the longest lines of the evening, but we waited for 2 of the opportunities. 

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Boo Bash is a fun Halloween After Hours event that does offer much lower crowds than Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Disney advertises the event as an “After Hours” event rather than a party and in my opinion, that is an accurate description. It does not have the crowds of a “Party.” I did miss the Boo To You Parade and the ride of the Headless Horseman but it was still a great night with great entertainment. It was impossible to get it all done which I think is a positive for the night meaning it appeals to many people with a variety of interests. The price tag is steep especially for a family, but it is in line with previous after-hours events like Villains After Dark tickets which were @$145. I wonder if Disney will continue to keep their special holiday offerings in the After-Hours format or go back to more of the Party from years past?  The Christmas holiday offering, Disney’s Very Merriest, is also an After-Hours event (Nov 8th – Dec 21st) which is 4 hours instead of Boo Bash’s 3 hours.
For more information about these After Hour events at Disney or other special offers and Enchanted Extras available for booking, contact one of our Jolly Holiday agents to learn more. We are here to help make all your vacations practically perfect in every way!

Learn more about the Disney Wish – the newest ship from Disney Cruise Line

Enter a world where wishes come true. Where princesses meet pirates, where heroes meet destiny, where excitement meets relaxation and the most fantastical, magical things can happen. Disney Wish, the newest ship from Disney Cruise Line, brings to life the spectacular worlds and beloved Characters from Disney, Marvel, Star Wars™ and Pixar like never before, all with the service and care that you expect from a Disney vacation.

Artist Rendering.

Step aboard and experience enchantment everywhere you turn, with world-class dining by award winning chefs, one-of-a-kind Character experiences, spectacular entertainment and calm relaxation, all in one ship.

On Disney Wish, you will be at the heart of the stories you know and love. See the splendor of queen Elsa’s ice magic, assemble with some favorite Avengers, join Mickey and Minnie on a wild adventure or cruise through the stars in a galaxy far, far away. So much awaits when magic meets the sea.

Aboard Disney Wish, delicious food is just the start of your dining experience. Dine in new worlds every night and enter some of your favorite stories.

Be magically transported to the world of Frozen at Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure and meet some favorite royals and their dear friends. Queen Anna and Kristoff are celebrating their engagement and inviting you, their honored Guest, to join them.

After you’ve had your Frozen fun, suit up at Worlds of Marvel, a cinematic dining experience showcasing the latest in technology. Step into your own Super Hero story where your favorite Avengers might look to you to help them save the day! 

But the magic doesn’t stop at dining. While cruising, adults and kids alike will meet a spectacular range of exciting, immersive experiences that take you into the stories that started it all.

So much is possible at imaginative kids’ clubs. Tap into your imagination and find out what it’s like to be an Imagineer. Design your Super Hero suit and meet some favorite Characters, royalty and heroes.

Or even take a ride on the cartoon side at AquaMouse! This groundbreaking water slide is the first ever Disney Attraction at sea where you can join Mickey and Minnie on their latest caper. Along with AquaMouse, the upper decks are home to ten pools and water play areas and the Hero Zone, an innovative recreational space filled with activities and excitement. 

On Disney Wish, adults can rest and relax in exclusive spaces. Sip a cocktail at Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge, the first-of-its-kind space, serving some of the local delicacies throughout the galaxy. Or sit back at Quiet Cove, a refuge dedicated to lounging, sipping and soaking up the sun.

The magic stems from the fairytale-inspired Grand Hall, the heart of Disney Wish. Watch as the space transforms into an immersive entertainment venue where you can meet some favorite Disney Characters and enjoy dazzling performances, all under the sparkling chandelier that glitters with Disney magic.

When you’ve had a day filled with excitement, adventure and relaxation, return to your spacious stateroom where the Disney enchantment continues through magically themed décor. Meet a ship where every detail is considered and crafted with your family in mind.

On Disney Wish, dreams really do come true.

Contact Jolly Holiday Vacations to book your Disney Cruise Line vacation today. Click HERE for more information about ships, itineraries, ports of call, and more.

Surprises, Silver Linings & Sedona, Arizona {Review}

By Caitlin Williams

Between celebrating my birthday at the end of June, and a little of that “travel frenzy” going around, I was determined to visit somewhere I had never been, and the place I set my sights on was Sedona, Arizona.  Located in Arizona’s high desert under the towering southwestern rim of the vast Colorado Plateau and at the mouth of the spectacular Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona is known for hiking, beautiful scenery, and unique culture. My husband and I love hiking, and so my plans for our trip were to hike Devil’s Bridge, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock and Airport Mesa. These hikes are also famous as being vortexes, or places where healing energy flows (Sedona is also famous for a kind of hippy-dippy vibe, so “when in Rome” right?). These hikes are also all in Coconino National Forest, the park that surrounds Sedona. So, you will never guess what happened three days before we arrived:

Coconino National Forest, the park with all the hikes I had planned on us taking during our trip, was suddenly closed for the remainder of the summer because of nearby wildfires and dry conditions. Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans right? Despite that setback, I was determined to still enjoy our trip to Sedona, and I knew that with the right planning and some flexibility I could still make that happen.

We flew out of Charlotte and into Phoenix and started the fun right off the bat by opting to go with a rental vehicle that was more than a means of getting from one place to another:

We had a blast driving around some of the most awe-inspiring scenery I have ever seen with the top down in our rental Jeep Sahara. 

So, what do you do when every hike you had planned to take during your trip is closed off three days before you arrive? Road trip! We woke up early on our first full day, hopped in our Jeep and drove the two hours to the Grand Canyon. 

I had never been before, and it had always been a dream of mine, so we figured, why not? And believe me, pictures do not do it justice. I have never been somewhere so incredible. After spending a couple of hours walking around the rim and taking lots of pictures, we got to do our first hike of the trip, down Bright Angel Trail into the Grand Canyon.

I would have loved to have gone farther, and one day I am determined to hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim, but for our first visit we had to content ourselves with a short hike in and what seemed like a much longer hike back out.

After an amazing morning at the Grand Canyon, we started the two-hour drive back to Sedona, but stopped for lunch at the Mother Road Brewing Company in Flagstaff, AZ. Flagstaff is the city with the highest elevation (7,000 feet) on the historic Route 66, which the author John Steinbeck referred to as “the Mother Road.” Mother Road Brewing Company is located in a building dating from the 1920’s and serves beer with Route 66 inspired names such as “Lost Highway Black IPA’ and “Gold Road Kölsch Style Ale.”

If you caught my Colonial Williamsburg review, then you know how much my family loves to visit breweries while on vacation, so we had a great time getting our kicks on Route 66!

When we got back to Sedona, we spent some time in the pool at our B&B – the Sunset Chateau – got cleaned up, and then caught some incredible live Flamenco music at the Tlaquepaque arts and shopping village, where we also had dinner.

The music was made even more entertaining by the dozen or so dancers that were also enjoying the show. After dinner it was back to the Sunset Chateau, which turned out to be aptly named:

The next day we visited (the not closed, thankfully) Red Rocks State Park for an incredible hike that allowed us to see most of the places we could not visit because of the closure of Coconino National Forest.

For anyone thinking of visiting, I will say that hiking in Arizona – even when it isn’t into and out of the Grand Canyon – is challenging. I felt that we fully earned every calorie we consumed during our lunch and wine tasting that afternoon at Page Spring Cellars!

After lunch we enjoyed some much needed down time back at the B&B, and then had a lovely dinner at Rene, a French restaurant also in the Tlaquepaque arts and shopping village.

The next morning it was time to drive back to Phoenix and fly home. It was a whirlwind trip, and it certainly required some improvisation, but I would not change a thing. Arizona is so different from South Carolina, and Sedona is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. If you enjoy hiking, fine dining and wine-tastings, a trip to Sedona might be worth considering. If I can help you plan it, please give me a call!

For more practically perfect tips, contact Caitlin Williams at Caitlin.JollyHoliday@gmail.com.

I spent 72 hours at Disney, and didn’t go to a main theme park!

by Kerri Ness

Recently I was able to make a 72 hour pit stop in Walt Disney World, and never saw Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, or Hollywood Studios. I know to some this is a tragic experience; how could one be there and not enter into a theme a park? Truth be told, we had a blast. 

Walt Disney World is comprised of so much more than theme parks. Disney is home to world class eating, pools, spas, mini golf, movies under the stars, and a plethora of outdoor recreational activities.  Often times as travel professionals we are asked if a day off is advised. If you have time in your schedule and budget, then this is always a big YES! 

We spent our time as a family staying at Disney Beach Club resort. This is a deluxe resort located in the Epcot area, with access to the Skyliner. Knowing we were not going into any parks, I chose my hotel carefully, as the pool here is amazing. We were also within walking distance to other hotels that have activities. While this hotel may not always be budget friendly, if you are going and taking days off from the parks, it’s important to consider the area you are in so that you have easier access to activities. There are several hotels in this area with a range of pricing. 

On our arrival day we checked in, and enjoyed all the resort had to offer. We swam, enjoyed some fruity drinks, and had a fun dinner. Because the Skyliner was located near our resort, we made reservations at Topolino’s Terrace. This is a signature restaurant located on the 12th floor of the Riviera Resort with stunning views. We all got dressed up, rode the Skyliner, and had a great family meal.  

The main parks were not on the list this trip, but on day two we did visit Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park. This was only 1.2 miles from the hotel, and we opted to drive over. We spent the entire day there and had a blast (more on this in a later post)! That night, water logged and sun beat, we watched a movie under the stars at the resort. The night air was cool, the stars were out, and it was a great free activity. 

The following morning we were greeted by spectacular weather. The pool at the resort doesn’t open until 10:00, so we slept in, grabbed breakfast, and utilized the grounds to get a little baseball practice in.

We swam, ate lunch by the pool, then walked over to Fantasia Gardens for Mini Golf. This is an 18 hole course located behind Disney’s Swan Hotel. You can see Hollywood Studios from here, and the course is themed around the classic film Fantasia. We made an advanced reservation, but this is not necessary. Because we were able to walk there, we stopped at The Swan & Dolphin and utilized their outdoor games. The family had a blast and did this well into the night!

For more practically perfect tips, please reach out to Kerri at Kerri.JollyHoliday@gmail.com.

Busch Garden {Agent Review}

Our family was excited to escape the cold of Maine and hit the beaches of Anna Maria Island for our first vacation since–well you know–forever.. Our beach retreat was only a short drive to Tampa, so we knew immediately that Busch Gardens was going to be on the agenda. There are two main draws to Busch Gardens– roller coasters and animals. I will say that we spent most of our day on the coasters, as now that Charlie is almost twelve and Rosalind is ten, they have officially hit an age where they are wanting to try bigger rides. We had extended family that joined us and some were very into the thrill rides and others were not at all. 

We pulled up to our preferred parking spot a little before 10:00 AM which is when the park opened. This allowed us to park close to the entrance and not have to take a trolly, which for the extra five bucks felt worth it to us. Entering the park was easy and quick, and right away everyone was anxious to make our way to Cheetah Hunt, our first roller coaster and the first upside down coaster for Rosalind.The entrance to the park felt a bit crowded at first, but quickly thinned as people headed in different directions. It had been awhile since I had been to Busch Gardens, so it took me a minute to familiarize myself again and figure out the layout of the park. Paper maps have become the victims of COVID and environmental changes(probably for the best) so we had to follow the digital map on our phones which took a minute to get used to. Eventually we realized the park mostly followed a giant circle and off we went.

On the way to Cheetah Hunt, we checked out crocodiles, turtles, and exotic birds who seemed to easily share space without conflict, and of course we saw–cheetahs! Most of our animal sightings that day would take place on the way to another roller coaster which made our walks enjoyable and interesting. Cheetah Hunt did not disappoint; it was the perfect ride to get our day started. It was smooth, my brain stayed inside my head, and it was just plain fun! Next, we braved Cobra’s Curse which we all liked, despite the fact that it’s a roller coaster with spinning carts which will taunt those that are prone to motion sickness. Next was a big one– our first real test of our nerves–Montu. I had ridden Montu many times before, but I still felt a nervous energy. Unfortunately, there were technical difficulties, and we decided to try again at the end of the day. Technical difficulties happened a few times during the day, and as nerve racking as that sounds, we often noticed that they were mostly testing the rides with empty carts, and, overall, we felt very safe.

The largest waits of day seemed to be for the non thrill rides like the Serengeti Express which is the safari tour, Congo River Rapids, and Stanley Falls Flume. We skipped most of the rides with a long wait as the sun was hot, and we wanted to utilize the time we had. We did wait for Congo River Rapids which was a short, but fun river ride. This was a ride that non thrill riders could do, so we took the opportunity to do this as a family. The park hours were short, 10-6, which meant we really had to plan what we wanted to do. I think it would have been nice to spend two days at the park as we could have spent more time on the animal excursions; although, some of them were closed like the sloth experience. We did run into friends from Maine while we were there, and they were spending their day checking out the animals and riding family rides. They booked the Serengeti Tour which gave them the opportunity to feed giraffes, something we were able to witness as we were walking through the park. They bought tickets that morning and the experience was sold out by 11:30 AM. They had wonderful things to say about the tour and said they loved the up close experience of feeding and interacting with the giraffes. There were other tours offered that were running, and if someone were looking for a day without the thrills, they could find things to do, but the live shows were not yet running, and it did feel as if the park was not fully open still.

Before lunch we jumped on Kumba which was the most intense roller coaster we rode all day. This one will take your breath away and shake your insides. My children got off begging for another ride, and the adults took a moment to collect themselves before muttering, “No way”. 

Mid-day we took a lunch break at the Dragon Fire Grill and Pub which was a food court experience in a large theater. This appeared to be Busch Gardens’ way of spreading people out to eat. The food was typical theme park food with a pizza station, burger station, and stir fry station. The real treat came later when we took another break for funnel cakes that we bought at SheiKra’s Sweet Treats. 

The rest of the day flew by as we debated what we had the stomach and nerves to tackle in the last bits of the day. Some of us kept the thrills going with SheiKra and Tigris while others took a slower pace toward the end of the park and took the time to check out the flamingos and other wildlife. We did walk by the Sesame Street area of the park, and it did not look busy, but there appeared to be fun rides for the preschool aged kids. 

Most of our group, including the kids, were able to close out the day with Montu.  Rozzie and Charlie were the most nervous for this ride, but it ended up being the favorite of the day, and if we had more time, I could see them running to get back on.

We closed out the day by letting the kids spend their sourniver money in the gift shops, and then, with tired feet and excited chatter, we loaded up the van and headed back to our beach retreat. Overall, it was an exciting and fun day and the kids can’t wait to go back. As Busch Gardens is home to six major roller coasters, and an intense drop ride, it is a haven for thrill seekers. Right now it feels like that is mostly what is open at Busch Gardens; although, you can spend a significant amount of time looking at the animals. My hope is that we will soon have the opportunity to do more of the animal experiences. What is convenient and wonderful about Busch Gardens is that you can easily combine it with a beach vacation and as part of a vacation where your family can spend time visiting many of Tampa’s area attractions.

For more practically perfect tips, you can reach Michelle at MichelleM.JollyHoliday@gmail.com.

Hawks Cay Resort – A Florida Keys Resort & Marina {Review}

As a child, my family took 2 vacations a year… one to my Granny’s house at Christmas and a summer vacation to a timeshare in the Keys. So in late November when an ad that highlighted the emerald waters of the Keys with the banner “2020 #1 Family Resort by USA Today” popped up on my Facebook page, I booked our Spring Break trip without any knowledge of the resort known as Hawks Cay. Between the nostalgia and a new adventure for my family, I couldn’t wait to head south!

We started our journey with flights to Fort Lauderdale Airport and renting a car. With all the craziness of South Florida, there is an ease and calmness about this airport. It’s modern, clean, and easy to navigate, even with 2 young children. The rental car area shot us straight onto the interstate to start our journey.

Before getting to the Keys, we wanted to take advantage of one of the jewels of South Florida that the chain of Key islands protect the Florida Everglades. As soon as we got off the exit in Florida City, the kids instantly noticed the changing scenery; the lush, overgrown trees are a reminder of how this area can be untamed. We continued about 10 minutes off the interstate to stop at an exotic fruit stand famous for their fresh fruit smoothies and milkshakes called Robert is Here. I would encourage everyone to read the history on this South Florida staple because there might be a chance that Robert will check you out and give you personal recommendations on your fruit purchases. In addition to our coconut and mango smoothies, we ordered boiled peanuts and Cuban sandwiches. All were absolutely delicious. While we ate, the kids ran to and from the little animal petting zoo. Once I purchased my fruit for our hotel room, we continued a little further down the road to the Everglades Alligator Farm for a surprise airboat ride. Being from Tennessee, my kids had no clue what to expect from an airboat and alligators. Much to my kid’s disappointment all alligators and wildlife remained outside of the boat. The airboat whipped us around the Everglades, over marshy areas and alongside alligators in the wild. For kids from Tennessee, this was the ultimate excitement. So much so, that when we stopped my daughter declared, “This is the best vacation ever!”

After the airboat ride, we explored the rest of the alligator park, watched alligator wrestling, and saw 100+ alligators get fed in their pond. My girls were in awe! It was fun to see them enjoy things I enjoyed as a child. Now with our belly’s full and adrenaline overload, it was time to load back in the car and keep heading to Mile Marker 61.
About an hour later, we finished going over bridges and beautiful water and turned off to our destination, Hawks Cay. For some background, this resort is located on Duck Key, which is about half way between Key Largo and Key West. It is the only resort on this island and everything you need is right here. There are a variety of accommodations offered: rooms and suites are available at the hotel and 2, 3, and 4 room villas are available at different locations around the property. We chose a hotel room with a lanai which gave us direct access to the main pool from our back door. This proved to be the perfect decision for our family as the lanai had lounge chairs and provided a great place to eat and relax while staying close to the pool. We also didn’t have to do the morning pool chair hustle to guarantee great spots next to the pool and there was no lugging pool gear through the hotel.
There are also two other pools on property. The first being an adult only pool that unfortunately we did not get to frequent because of our kids. It was gorgeously placed next to the ocean and had an adult only bar. At the other end of the spectrum was the kids only pool {which was much less busy than the main pool}, and oh my goodness, this was a phenomenal place. It’s not just a pool but an entire kids’ sporting complex and activities center.

As you walk into the kids area, there are two rooms where daily activities happen {you receive a calendar of events at check in.} As you walk out of the building and into the kids’ outdoor area, you are greeted with a basketball court, sand volleyball court, Ping pong tables, a play ground, a small sided soccer field, an 18 hole putt putt course, the pool, and the crown jewel… a pirate ship splash pad that a pirate frequents throughout the day! We were able to watch the pirate put together a sword {pool noodle} fightwith all willing participates at the kids’ pool. The joy and laughter on their faces as they got different limbs “cut off” and were forced continue fighting while handicapped was hysterical. All sporting equipment can be rented from the kids’ activity rooms area. Along with the pirate, there is also a mermaid who joins in on the kids activities. This is also the location of the nightly kids’ club. Each night is a theme and our children chose Glow Night to try it out. Our 7 year old had the best time dancing with glow sticks and doing other glowy activities. My 4 year old was scared because it was so dark. In hindsight, we probably should have stuck with a slime night for her. This kids club was an additional fee, but completely worth the money. They attendants did a great job keeping them entertained with activities inside and outside throughout the night.

In addition to the 3 pools, there is also a salt water lagoon a stones throw from the main pool. It is completely enclosed, so there are no unknown creatures in the water, which was very important to my kids. It’s a place for the kids to dig in the sand and there are paddle boards to go around the lagoon it. This will forever be known as the place my daughter first tried {unsuccessfully} to snorkel. The lagoon provided a nice calm water area for her to dip her fins in.

Since we had a car, we packed up and headed to swim with the dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center a few miles down the road the next day. I will pause here to say swimming with the dolphins was also available at the resort, and it looked like a great option. As a family, we wanted to do a submerged platform dolphin experience, which wasn’t offered at the hotel. Our kids are 4 and 7, so this was the best for us. We met our dolphin, Cayo, and had about 30 minutes in the water with her. The trainer was so patient with our nervous child and allowed Cayo to do extra passes for her to get a truly magical experience. We got the touch, talk, get splashed by and dance with Cayo. It truly was an activity to remember. After our adventure we had locally made-down the street Paletas at the cafe which capped off this time.
While swimming with the dolphins, a couple suggested we head a little farther down the street to Aquarium Encounters. There are huge signs for this aquarium, but it is one of those places I had always thought of as a tourist trap and we just drove by. How good could it be really?? Let me tell you how wrong I was! First thing we did was follow a staff member to the causeway as she threw fish into the water and multiple sharks came straight up. Talk about two girls have eyes the size of saucers! Then we made our way back through the aquariums. Stingray feeding started rough for us but to watch your child be scared of doing something and then grow in confidence in such a short period of time is wonderful. They truly would have fed stingrays all day. There was also a stingray experience that allowed people to get into the enclosure… maybe next time! You could also chose to feed tarpon, fresh water turtles, lobster, or the lagoon residents. This, along with the numerous touch tanks, was a real winner for our family. As a side note, there is a little cafe at the aquarium with outdoor seating and one of the prettiest views that makes it worth getting something to soak it all in. After exploring these two places it was back to the lanai to hang out by the pool.

When I said everything was available on site, this also includes water sport activities. Kayaks, paddle boards, fishing equipment, access to fishing boats, snorkeling expeditions or in our case, a sand bar experience were all available for an additional fee. We ended up on a sand bar expedition because the water was too choppy for reef snorkeling… yay for us! We took a 20 boat ride to our sand bar destination and the captain put out a large floating mat behind the boat for the kids to jump and ride the waves on. We were also able to explore the sand bar and have plenty of fun family time in the ocean! Then it was back to the pool for some more relaxing!

Our last off site activity was going to the beach. If you are not familiar with the Keys, I will let you know that it is not known for its beaches. It’s more rocky than sandy. So when we heard that Sombrero Beach was a sandy beach just a little ways down the highway, we couldn’t wait to check it out! We got there around 9:30 before it got too busy with locals and found a spot to set up shop. This area had a great kids area. There was a beautifully done playground and clean restrooms, so you really could spend an entire day here if you were prepared with food and snacks. This area allowed the kids to splash through the waves and dig moats to protect the sand castles from the crashing waves, which is probably the one thing missing at Hawks Cay. After 3 hours at the beach we wanted to hit a place we had frequented before as a family, Robbies, to feed tarpon! If you haven’t fed tarpon, I would highly recommend it. Tarpon have huge mouths and to watch that mouth come towards a fish you are holding, will make your heart skip a beat! Just beware of the Pelicans who will attack you for your fish bucket, just ask my oldest how that is.

After a few more trips to the lagoon and kids’ pool, is was time to pack up and head back to the airport. We probably could have happily stayed for an additional week and not gotten bored. This truly was a vacation like no other in that it was relaxing and refreshing without being exhausting. All of us headed home sad but planning our next trip down to Hawks Cay. With any luck this will become a place my kids’ can become nostalgic with and bring their own families when they get older.

For more practically perfect tips, contact Kassia Ford at Kassia at Kassia.JollyHoliday@gmail.com.

Colonial Williamsburg {Review}

Every year the fifth graders at my daughter’s school take a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. Or I should say ALMOST every year. Because of the pandemic, there was no way the school trip could take place this year. In order toensure that our curious and energetic daughter didn’t miss out on this experience, we decided to travel to Colonial Williamsburg as a family. However, we wanted to make sure that the trip was both educational for our daughters and fun for all of us. That took some planning and some research, but in the end it worked out great!

We left Columbia, South Carolina by car on the Monday morning that our daughters’ Spring Break began and made the five and a half hour drive to the famous Jamestown Ferry. Well, it’s famous to me because of the Tanya Tucker song. Our daughter Lucy thought riding in a car on a boat made the whole trip worth it already. 

Our next stop was the Williamsburg Winery. It has an amazing origin story: 

In 1606, the newly-formed Virginia Company sent three ships westward to the New World to settle a permanent English colony. Led by Bartholomew Gosnold, with Gabriel Archer second in command, the expedition sailed up the James River and came upon a point of land on a protected tributary. The ground was high, easily defended, and the soil was excellent – which foretold of the land’s later usage. Archer insisted that the expedition look no further, but he was outvoted despite his considerable experience in such matters. The expedition continued on the James River and moved on to a less hospitable spot the following day, May 13, 1607. The place was Jamestown and became the first permanent English settlement in the New World.

More importantly has delicious wines that can be tasted by the flight, and great food.

After a lovely outdoor meal, we proceeded to check in at the Williamsburg Lodge. The rooms were spacious enough for all four of us, but nothing fancy. The real attraction to staying at the lodge is that it is directly across the street from Colonial Williamsburg. We took a quick walk back in time and then came back to have a late dinner at the Lodge, where we were glad they had fire pits, because it gets a little chilly in Virginia in March.

The next day we spent walking through Colonial Williamsburg and learning what life was like in a pre-Revolutionary War American colony. We toured historic buildings, attended walking tours and we learned a great deal. While the educational aspects did reach our daughters, our youngest was most excited to dress the part:

That evening we had dinner at the Precarious Beer Project, continuing a family tradition: visiting breweries while we travel to try local beers that we may never have the chance to try again. Breweries are always so laid back and fun, no matter what part of the Country or the world they may be located in, that we love to try out new ones whenever we travel. Our daughters are still years away from being able to try any of the beers, but they love the food and oftentimes the videogames that they have there. Precarious Beer Project had the added bonus of being within walking distance of the Williamsburg Lodge in Merchant’s Square – a commercial area between the historic area and William and Mary. There was also a great grilled cheese-focused restaurant in that area where we had lunch that day.

The next day disaster struck – twice! But thankfully we were able to handle both. The first disaster was that it rained all day. We managed that by doing a driving tour of the Yorktown battle site (with brief trips out of the car to see the really important stuff, like the fort that Alexander Hamilton led the attack against as described in Yorktown from the musical Hamilton. Seeing that was worth braving the rain!

We also spent part of the day at the Colonial Williamsburg art museum, which was a great rainy day activity, but is not something I would consider a “must-see” if you are visiting. 

The second disaster struck as we completed our driving tour of the Yorktown battlefield as we punctured a tire. Perhaps the ghost of a British soldier was getting some very delayed revenge for their defeat there! Either way, while my husband went to get it patched up my daughters and I spent a fun (if soggy) afternoon at Berret’s Seafood Restaurant & Taphouse. I don’t eat seafood, but the two seafood experts I was with that day assured me that theirs was terrific.

We finished the day at the second brewery of our trip, Alewerks

The atmosphere was great, and if you ever have a chance to try their Strawberry Blond Ale, don’t miss it!

Speaking of things not to miss, the next day we toured Historic Jamestowne. This was very different than Colonial Williamsburg because it is a functioning archeological dig. 

There is so much to be learned there, and my husband only asked the archaeologists where their fedora and whips were three times (insert eye-rolling emoji). Speaking of things that make you roll your eyes, I also thought that my family’s reenactment of the teenage girl who the other colonists ate during “the starving time” was a bit much.

We took a lunch break from our tour of Historic Jamestown and just happened upon our third brewery of the trip – Billsburg Brewery – because it was so close by, but it would be worth it to plan a visit there just for the view, and the food from the Hungry Pug food truck didn’t hurt either. 

That evening we went on one of the highlights of our trip, a ghost tour! A fun and spooky time was had by all.

We went through one final walk in Colonial Williamsburg on our last day, complete with an impromptu recreation of a colonial ball:

Then it was time to drive back home, this time skipping the Jamestown Ferry in order to shave 30 minutes or so off the drive (sorry Tanya!).

All in all it was a great trip. We spent a great deal of it outside, our daughters learned a lot, we spent some amazing family time together, and we had fun. We have so much incredible history as Americans, and Colonial Williamsburg is a great way to bring that history to life. A family vacation doesn’t have to be boring just because it is somewhat educational. With the right attitude, and the proper planning, you can have a blast and learn something at the same time. 

I would love to help you plan a trip to Williamsburg, or anywhere else you might be thinking of going. Call me and lets get started!

For more practically perfect tips, contact Caitlin at Caitlin.JollyHoliday@gmail.com.

Art of Animation {Review}

Are you looking for the MOST Disney-themed Walt Disney World Resort?! If so, you will not want to miss Disney’s Art of Animation (AoA) Resort. Not only are there nods to Disney animation throughout the lobby, gift shop and food court, AoA features 4 main room areas themed after The Little MermaidCarsThe Lion King and Finding Nemo.

Photo by Marlee Marsh

This resort falls into the Value Resort category. The rooms, outdoor areas and pools are heavily themed with larger-than-lifestatues of some of your favorite movie characters! Dining options at AoA include a food court (Landscape of Flavors) and the Drop Off (pool bar) at the Big Blue pool.

Landscape of Flavors &The Drop Off

Photo from: Disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/art-of-animation-resort/ 

Big Blue Pool

Photo from: Disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/art-of-animation-resort/ 

Transportation to the parks and Disney Springs is provided complimentary to all on-site guests. A huge perk of staying at AoA is that this resort is on the Disney SkyLiner. The SkyLiner will take guests via gondola to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Large Disney buses are available to take guests to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Disney Springs. 

Disney Skyliner

Photo from: Disneyworld.disney.go.com/es-mx/skyliner/

Art of Animation resort offers two room types- standard rooms and family suites. All standard rooms are in the Little Mermaid area. The rooms are recently refurbished and include 2 queen beds with lots of room for storage. The Little Mermaid area of the resort is the furthest away from the main building (5 to 8-minute walk) but is has its own pool- Flippin’ Fins!

Little Mermaid Rooms

Photos by Marlee Marsh

Little Mermaid Area of the Resort

Photo from: Disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/art-of-animation-resort/ 

Family suites are found closer to the lobby and buses, and as mentioned, are themed from Disney classics such as The Lion King, Cars and Finding Nemo. These suites sleep up to 6 guests and have a lot of room to spread out! The suites include a bedroom with one queen bed and a full bathroom, a large living area with a second full bathroom, sleeper sofa, kitchenette, and dining area where the table turns into a murphy bed! 

The Finding Nemo suites are located closest to the food court and transportation.

Finding Nemo Family Suite

Photos by Marlee Marsh

The Cars area celebrates your favorite characters from Radiator Springs. It even has its own Cozy Cone pool. 

Cars area & Cozy Cone Pool

Outer photos by Marlee Marsh, middle photo by Disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/art-of-animation-resort/

The Lion King area has a fun play area- the Elephant Graveyard- and you will find Rafiki, Mufasa, Timon, Pumba and Simba, and yes, even Scar.

Lion King area

Photos by Marlee Marsh

The Big Blue Pool is in the center of the Finding Nemo area and is the largest pool at the resort. It even plays music underwater! The Drop Off (pool bar) is here, and you can walk up to grab some light bites and drinks. There is a great splash pad for the littlest fish here too. While you are in the Finding Nemo area, look out for Dude Crush, Nemo & Dori, and listen out for the sound of waves crashing and some pesky seagulls (“Mine! Mine!”).

Big Blue Pool Splash Area

Photo by Marlee Marsh

I have stayed at this resort multiple times – in both the Little Mermaid rooms and family suites. I highly recommend staying here with your family! Let your favorite Jolly Holiday Vacation agent book you at Art of Animation for your next trip, and you won’t regret it!

A Weekend Away at the Ponte Vedra Inn {Jacksonville Beach, FL}

Nested in the heart of Jacksonville Beach is a lovely throwback to olden beach days, The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club. The Inn is located 10 miles south of Jacksonville and boasts plenty of family friendly options and activities. The Inn & Club itself is comprised of several buildings, in the heart of Ponte Vedra’s upscale neighborhood. While this club has both members from the neighboring community, and guests, there are choices for food and activities for all. 

The Inn & Club comprises several buildings, spread 1.5 miles apart. The Lodge offers all ocean view rooms, pools, and has a more intimate setting. The Lodge is the smaller of the two sides and has two on site restaurants and bars, as well as beach chairs/umbrellas, a pool with a slide, and locker rooms. 

The Inn houses the Pro Shop, 15 tennis courts, two 18 hole golf courses, and has both fine and casual dining options.  The newly renovated Peyton House is located at the Inn and is nestled right on the ocean, with sprawling rooms for two to five people, including suites. Both sides have access to the kids club, fitness center with free classes, four pools, and beach rentals. Located in the middle of the two properties is the Spa at Ponte Vedra which offers a wide variety of services. 

Jacksonville Beach is known for its powder white sand, wide beaches, and laid back feel. The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club offers the perfect place to stay for families, couples, and girls weekends. 

For more Practically Perfect Tips, contact Kerri at Kerri.JollyHoliday@gmail.com.