Sip of History: A Whiskey and Music Festival at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage

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The 9th annual Sip of History on April 6th is a dog-friendly whiskey tasting festival with live music, food, and activities held at President Andrew Jackson’s historic Hermitage estate in Nashville.

Whiskey, Music and History Unite at The Hermitage’s Sip of History Festival

If you’re looking for a fun and unique event to attend this spring in Nashville, mark your calendar for the 9th annual Sip of History festival on Saturday, April 6th. This dog-friendly whiskey tasting event is held at the historic Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, the 1,120-acre former home and estate of the 7th U.S. President.

What is Sip of History?

Sip of History is an afternoon celebration of Tennessee’s whiskey heritage, live music, food, and outdoor activities. From 2pm to 5pm, guests can sample whiskeys, wines and beers from over 25 acclaimed Tennessee distilleries, breweries and wineries. This year’s participating distilleries include heavy hitters like Jack Daniel’s, Nelson’s Green Brier, and Old Dominick, among many others.

The event features live music from singer-songwriter Sean Donovan, lawn games, food vendors, and special attractions for four-legged attendees. Dogs are welcome to join the fun, with a fenced dog park, pet treat samples, accessories for sale, and even an animal welfare non-profit on site.

Why Attend This Event?

Sip of History_Woman Handing Out Whiskey Samples

Beyond the whiskey tasting and music, a big draw of Sip of History is the chance to explore the beautiful grounds of The Hermitage. Your ticket includes access to tour Andrew Jackson’s mansion, the gardens, nature trails, and historic buildings and exhibits. You can learn about Jackson’s life and legacy through multimedia displays and living history tours.

The event celebrates Tennessee’s deep roots in whiskey-making, which dates back to the days of settlers like Jackson distilling grain on their farms and plantations. Jackson himself had a hand in distilling whiskey at The Hermitage during his retirement years.

Tickets are $75 for Hermitage members and $85 for non-members, with proceeds supporting the preservation of this National Historic Landmark site. Whether you’re a whiskey aficionado, history buff, or just looking for a fun outdoor event, Sip of History promises a great afternoon in Nashville.

Click here to get more details about the Sip of History.

I can’t wait to bring my Pampered Pomchis to the event in April!

Sip of History_Dog Attending the Event

A Little About The Hermitage

The Hermitage was originally a 425-acre farm that Andrew Jackson purchased from his neighbor Nathaniel Hays in 1804. Jackson, who had owned other farms in the Nashville area previously, bought The Hermitage (first called “Rural Retreat”) with the goal of operating it as a cotton plantation to generate income.

Over time, Jackson expanded The Hermitage into a massive 1,000-acre plantation devoted primarily to growing cotton as a cash crop. At its peak, around 200 acres were used for growing cotton plants, with the demanding labor performed by over 160 enslaved workers.

While cotton was the main crop, The Hermitage was a diverse agricultural operation. Other crops like corn, wheat, vegetables, and fruit orchards were tended to help sustain the enslaved workers and Jackson family. Livestock including hogs, cattle, and sheep were also raised.

After Jackson’s death in 1845, his son Andrew Jackson Jr. inherited The Hermitage. However, declining cotton prices, debt, and other financial troubles led him to start selling off portions of the land in the 1850s. By 1858 the family had relocated, signaling the decline of The Hermitage as a working plantation.

The Civil War brought further changes, with most of the enslaved population leaving or being emancipated. Agriculture on the land dwindled, and by the 1870s-1880s cotton was no longer grown and livestock/crop outputs were greatly reduced.

In 1889, the Ladies’ Hermitage Association (now Andrew Jackson Foundation) acquired the core 25-acre site with key buildings, establishing it as a museum and historic site that has welcomed visitors ever since. Today, The Hermitage encompasses over 1,100 acres of land with the original buildings, gardens, nature trails, and active farming operations growing crops like corn, wheat and soybeans.

Why Visit The Hermitage?

  • The Hermitage is Andrew Jackson’s former home and estate, spanning 1,120 acres in Nashville, Tennessee. It is a National Historic Landmark.
  • It first opened to the public as a museum in 1889, making it one of America’s first presidential home museums.
  • The property includes Jackson’s mansion, tomb, restored slave cabins, gardens, trails, and over 20 historic buildings.
  • There are exhibits and tours that interpret Jackson’s life and legacy, including the “Born for a Storm” interactive exhibit in the visitor center.
  • Special events and programs are held at The Hermitage throughout the year, such as the Sip of History whiskey festival, lectures, holiday events, and more.
  • The Hermitage highlights the history of slavery on the plantation through tours of slave cabins/archaeological sites and programming about the lives of the enslaved people.

Click here to learn more about visiting The Hermitage.

Planning the Perfect Spa Getaway 


So you want to plan the perfect spa getaway? You’ve come to the right place!

The following is a guest post from my bloggy friends over at Oak Haven Resort & Spa. Interested in having a guest post on my website? Click here for my guest post submission form.

Crafting the Ultimate Rejuvenating Spa Escape

When you just need to unwind and focus on taking care of yourself, nothing beats a getaway at a spa. Whether it’s just for a day, a weekend, or even a full week of pampering and self-renewal, you will emerge from your spa experience recharged and ready to face the real world. Here are some tips and tricks on how to plan the perfect spa getaway. 

What do you want? 

The first step in planning your ultimate spa experience is to decide what you want. Pampering and relaxation, sure, but what are the details? Do you want to go alone or with a group? Are you looking for specific treatments offered by only some spas, such as bathing in natural hot spring mineral water, or are you good with a more generic package of massage, yoga, meditation, and a facial? Draw up a list of must-haves, wants, and other spa services to guide your planning. 


Ways to relax

If your priority is to relax, focus on the following: 

● Massage 

● Sauna sessions 

● Baths and pool sessions 

● Meditation 

● Yoga 

Going to an all-in-one spa that provides rooms to stay in and meals can also increase your relaxation level. 

Take full advantage 

If you are a relative newcomer to spas, it may be difficult to choose from the many different treatments. You may be tempted to schedule as many as possible into each day. However, the sauna experts recommend selecting one treatment in the morning and one in the afternoon. Don’t try to overschedule your time in the spa; rushing frantically from one treatment to the next will completely ruin the experience. Before each treatment, take a quick shower. After your treatment, spend some time in the sauna or steam room to recover and relax. 

Go outside 

Getting some exercise and fresh air will enhance your spa getaway. Consider including some time to visit the local area in your plan. Seeing the local sites by hiking, biking, rowing, or walking will enhance your overall health and add to your level of relaxation. Many spas are set in beautiful natural areas and it would be a shame not to include some wilderness meditation time in your getaway. 

Depending on the location of the spa, you may also want to spend some time enjoying the local nightlife. Including fine dining, musical performances, plays, and other attractions in your spa getaway is an excellent way to relax and unwind. 

Set a budget 

It is important to consider how much money you can comfortably spend on your spa trip. After all, you don’t want to ruin all of that relaxation by stressing out about how you are going to pay for it. If funds are limited, consider visiting a local spa rather than one set in an exotic location, or doing a weekend getaway rather than an entire week. 

Take stock of your health 

This may seem like an odd requirement before heading off to a self-pampering event, but some treatments that spas offer are contradicted for individuals with specific allergies, on certain medications, or with preexisting health conditions. The spa professionals will be fully aware of whether a treatment is safe or not, but they cannot tell by looking at you if you have certain conditions. You need to be completely honest with them about your current state of health in order to fully enjoy your spa experience. 

Prepare yourself 

Some spa treatments may work better if you prepare ahead of time. For example, if you want to undergo waxing or other hair removal treatments, you need to allow the hair to grow out a bit in order to get the best results. You should do some research about your desired treatments and see if you need to prepare in any way before your visit. 


Book early

Once you have drawn up your plans, you need to complete the final step: book some time at the spa. Most spas are fully booked ahead of time, so in order to ensure you can gain access to every part of your dream spa getaway, you need to reserve your spot as soon as possible. Discuss the details of your plan with the scheduling expert while booking to ensure your stay will go as smoothly as possible. 


The last thing you need to do before walking through the doors of the spa is to turn your phone off. If you can’t resist looking at it, hand it over to the spa staff to lock away during your stay. Make sure your email, voicemail, and text messages all have an “out of office” message, telling everyone you are not available and will get back to them later.  Now, you are ready to enjoy your perfect spa getaway.

5 Pilgrimage Sites Turned Paranormal Hotspots After Dark!

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Discover 5 revered pilgrimage sites around the world that become spine-chilling paranormal hotspots after dark. Below, we’ll explore the sacred and spooky dual nature of landmarks like England’s haunted Borley Rectory, the eerie Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic, and more intriguing destinations immersed in chilling tales of ghosts and unexplained phenomena at nightfall. For the adventurous traveler drawn to the mysterious crossroads where spiritual history meets the supernatural.

Thanks to the International Drivers Association for help with this article.

From Sacred to Spooky: 5 Pilgrimage Sites Turned Paranormal Hotspots After Dark

“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.” This famous quote, straight out of ‘The Polar Express’, could just as easily refer to the world of the supernatural as it does to the magic of Christmas. Paranormal activities, inexplicable phenomena, and ghostly encounters may all sound like the stuff of horror movies. 

But for centuries, humans have been intrigued by what they can’t understand or rationalize. This fascination transcends into a strange intertwining of the superstitious and the spiritual, a mystifying blend that captures the imagination and tests the beliefs ordinarily held by many.

Let’s dive into five exceptional pilgrimage sites around the world characterized by deep spiritual significance. At night though, they take on a seemingly different aura after dark, turning into mysterious, often eerie, paranormal hotspots.

1. Borley Rectory, England

The former Victorian mansion in the village of Borley, Essex earned a reputation as the ‘most haunted house in England’ after numerous reports of ghostly activity surfaced beginning in 1863. Built on the site of a 12th century monastery, the rectory was home to unsettling phenomena like disembodied footsteps, phantom carriages, mysterious writings on walls, and recurring sightings of a headless specter, a nun, and a woman dressed in black. 

Investigations by renowned psychic researcher Harry Price in the 1930s documented alleged seances, spirit messages, and possessed inhabitants, further fueling the notoriety of what he dubbed “the most haunted house in England.” While the rectory itself was destroyed by fire in 1939, the legends of restless spirits on the grounds persist, drawing paranormal investigators and ghost hunters to this day. The abandoned, overgrown site remains a point of intrigue for thrill-seekers and enthusiasts of the supernatural.

2. Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic

The Sedlec Ossuary is an unusual Roman Catholic chapel located in a suburb of Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. Nestled beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints, this small crypt contains the artfully arranged skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people. 

In 1278, Henry, the abbot of the Sedlec monastery, returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a handful of dirt from Golgotha, which he sprinkled over the abbey cemetery. This act helped make Sedlec a highly desirable burial site throughout Central Europe in the centuries that followed. 

After the Black Death and the bloody Hussite Wars filled the grounds with mass graves in the 14th and 15th centuries, a Gothic church was built in the cemetery with a lower level ossuary to hold the unearthed bones. Around 1400, the gruesome task of stacking and organizing the skeletons fell to a half-blind monk who arranged them into macabre works of art. 

Today, the ossuary draws both reverent pilgrims and curious visitors who come to see the peculiar bone arrangements and chandeliers that adorn the crypt. This sacred site with a morbid twist has appeared in numerous films and shows, attracting those intrigued by its blend of spiritual history and the grotesque. As darkness falls, it becomes even more an eerie and ghostly place.

3. Lourdes, France

Lourdes, nestled in the Pyrenees mountains of southern France, is revered as one of Catholicism’s most sacred pilgrimage sites. It rose to prominence in 1858 when a 14-year-old peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous claimed to have experienced 18 visions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto along the Gave de Pau river.

Bernadette described the apparition as a beautiful lady who revealed herself to be the “Immaculate Conception.” The lady instructed Bernadette to dig near the grotto, unleashing a spring whose waters have become associated with miraculous healings. Since then, Lourdes has been the site of countless unexplained cures and paranormal events.

At nightfall, the atmosphere around the grotto takes on an aura of mystery. Pilgrims have reported ghostly figures, strange lights, unearthly scents, and mystical sensations that defy scientific explanation. The convergence of sacred spiritual history with inexplicable phenomena has imbued Lourdes with an intriguing dual nature after dark, where faith and the supernatural seem to intersect.

4. Bhangarh Fort, India

Nestled in the Aravalli Hills of Rajasthan, the ruined city of Bhangarh has a dramatic duality. By day, it is an impressive 16th century fort and UNESCO heritage site known for its well-preserved palaces, temples, and bazaars. But as darkness falls, an ominous aura settles over the abandoned grounds. 

Locals shun the fort after sunset due to legends of a doomed priest’s curse and numerous accounts of ghosts, unexplained noises, and paranormal activity. Visitors have reported experiencing an unnerving sense of being watched, feelings of dread, ominous shadows, and getting inexplicably lost in the twisting corridors. 

The archeological site’s creepy reputation at night is so renowned that the Archaeological Survey of India has placed a sign forbidding entry between sunset and sunrise. For history buffs and ghost hunters alike, Bhangarh by moonlight is an intriguing intersection of heritage and haunting.

5. Aokigahara Forest, Japan

Nestled on the northwest base of Mount Fuji, Aokigahara Forest is a beautiful sea of trees by day, with icy caverns and lava formations attracting tourists and hikers. But as darkness falls, an ominous aura settles over the dense forest.

Nicknamed the “Suicide Forest,” Aokigahara has sadly become one of the world’s most popular sites for taking one’s life. Over 100 bodies are recovered from the forest each year. Locals believe the restless spirits, or yūrei, of the departed haunt the woods after dark. Visitors have reported encountering ghostly whispers, footsteps, and apparitions among the trees at night. Compasses spinning erratically and an unsettling sense of being followed are also common accounts.

For adventurers drawn to the mysterious crossroads between natural beauty and paranormal activity, Aokigahara offers an intriguing dual nature. However, its tragic past must be remembered, and exploration conducted respectfully. The forest transformed by darkness serves as a solemn reminder of the value of all human life.

A Word of Advice for Visiting Sacred Sites with Paranormal Reputations

“Traveling to such locations can be an exciting experience, yet it requires caution, respect, and sensitivity,” notes Julianna Marshall, an International Drivers Association Travel Expert.

“These places have cultural and often spiritual significance, so following all rules and regulations and behaving appropriately is important. Carry identification, notify someone about your whereabouts, and keep emergency contact numbers ready as a precaution.”

The Veil Between Reality and the Paranormal Transforms at Night

There’s a certain mystique surrounding these spiritual landmarks – tales of spectral sightings and inexplicable phenomena that are enough to attract—and occasionally frighten—the most adventurous of travelers. A pilgrimage site, immersed in its sacredness during daylight hours, can metamorphose into a chilling, otherworldly place once darkness descends, suggesting that the veil between reality and the paranormal becomes quite thin at night.

Are these simply exaggerated stories or ancient occurrences so deeply woven into popular folklore that they’ve become accepted as truth? Is it purely psychological, orchestrated by the inherent human fear of the unknown? Or is there actually a supernatural dimension humans are yet unable to decipher?

As Winston Churchill wisely remarked: “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.” Perhaps by digging deeper into the past, we might uncover clues to these questions that continue to mystify humanity. So, whether you’re a spirit-chasing adventurer or a lover of historical lore, these dual-nature destinations offer a deep dive into a realm where the sacred intertwines with the scary—just remember to tread cautiously.

Winter Car Care – Tips For Staying Road Ready

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Let’s talk about winter car care! When the thermostat drops, these are things you need to know to keep your car road ready.

Winter Car Care Steps To Keep Driving All Season Long

If you’re anything like me, you’re never ready for when the seasons change. And, I made the mistake of not having my vehicle road ready. That’s why I thought it would be a good idea to share some winter car care tips.

After all, I would hate for what happened to me this week to happen to you. Because I wasn’t thinking about these tips, the other day when I went to start my car, it didn’t. It laughed at me and called me a Floridian – truth!

Even though I’ve been living in Kentucky for three years and am entering my third winter here, I’m still making some rookie mistakes. I don’t want you to get stranded with cabin fever this season.

Don’t Forget to Turn Your Car On!

When the thermometer takes a nosedive, starting your engine daily is clutch. I know it’s tempting to just bundle up and drive off on frigid mornings, but hear me out. Cold temperatures can do a number on your battery and fluids. Low temps drain battery power, making it way harder for your car to turn over. They also thicken up fluids like oil and transmission fluid, so components have a tough time moving smoothly. 

By starting your car and letting it idle for a few minutes every day, even when you don’t drive it, you’ll avoid major headaches down the road. The idle time charges up the battery and gets the fluids circulating properly. This makes the engine much happier to ignite when you need it. Trust me, you don’t want to be running late only to find your car won’t start!

I know it seems like a pain, but getting in the habit of daily start-ups can save you from a breakdown when you least expect it. Just bundle up with your fuzzy slippers, warm up the car for a few minutes, and then head back inside where it’s toasty. A little bit of effort goes a long way in extreme cold. Don’t let Jack Frost leave you stranded – show your car some love each day and you’ll be road trip ready when duty calls!

Give Your Car a Good Scrub-A-Dub – Washing it Regularly

Winter Car Care Looking Through Windshield at the Road

Don’t let winter’s wrath corrode your car’s finish. Salt, sand, and grime from snowy roads can eat away at the paint and body panels. Combat corrosion by washing your car frequently in winter. Give it a rinse to wash away gritty residues before they do damage.  

Take your car through the wash when roads are clear or bring it to a DIY wash bay. Be sure to use soap and thoroughly clean all surfaces. Getting a freshwater rinse helps remove salty slush that can promote rust. Waxing also adds a layer of protection. Keeping your car clean prevents the elements from grinding away at the exterior all season long. Fight winter’s attempts to weather your ride by scrubbing away grime regularly. Don’t let your car’s looks get battered by winter – keep it sparkling inside and out!

Check the Tires – Make Sure Your Tires Aren’t Going Bald!

This is an important, but often overlooked winter car care tip because when tread wears thin, winter traction suffers greatly. Check your tires regularly and replace them if the tread depth is less than 4/32 of an inch. Bald tires easily lose grip, causing dangerous skids when braking and accelerating. Don’t let your tires go as slick as an ice rink!

While you’re checking tread, examine tires for any cracks or bulges in the sidewalls too. Cold temps can cause rubber to become brittle and damaged. Also verify tires are inflated to the recommended pressure – underinflation degrades handling and snow performance. Proper inflation optimizes traction and control. 

How weather impacts tire air pressure

Frigid winter temperatures can cause the air pressure in your tires to drop. This is because molecules contract in cold conditions, taking up less space. Lower tire pressure reduces traction, stability, and fuel economy.

Winter Car Care Tires Turning on Snowy Road

Check your tire pressure frequently when temperatures take a dip. Make sure they are inflated to the recommended PSI, not the maximum on the sidewall. Top off underinflated tires to the proper level, compensating for the cold conditions. Having correctly inflated tires for the current weather keeps your car driving safely on winter roads. Don’t let your tire pressure get too low when the mercury plummets. Keep a close eye on your tires and use an accurate gauge for ideal inflation through seasonal shifts in temperature.

Give your tires the occasional poke and prod to ensure they’re in shape to stick to snowy surfaces. Quality rubber and proper inflation gives you the traction you need in slippery conditions. Don’t let worn treads or low pressure cause you to lose control when roads are icy. Stay planted with robust winter tires!

Give Your Car Some Fresh Fluids and Wipers Before the Temps Drop!

As time passes, car fluids lose effectiveness and wiper blades wear down. Make a point to refresh their condition. Change the wiper fluid to a winter formula with antifreeze. This prevents icing and keeps blades clearing smoothly. Install new wiper blades that wipe clean without streaking.

Don’t neglect fresh oils either. Old fluids can thicken in the cold. You or your mechanic should drain and replace the engine oil, coolant, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and power steering fluid. Use varieties that maintain viscosity in low temps. Topping off with new fluids keeps critical systems hydraulically happy all winter long. 

Flushing your car’s old liquids for fresh ones removes contaminants and replenishes additives. This lubricates and prevents freezing so components operate smoothly regardless of the weather. Give your car the gift of new fluids and it will keep running reliably all season long.

Make Sure Your Car is Ready to Illuminate Winter Nights – Inspect Battery and Lights

Shorter days and longer nights mean your headlights get a real workout in winter. Make sure they’re aiming true and emitting maximum brightness. Replace any bulbs that are dim or burnt out so you can light up the road. 

While you’re checking lights, pop the hood to inspect the battery too. Cold saps battery capacity so testing its charge is a must. Look for corrosion on the posts and make sure connections are tight. If your battery is more than 3 years old, have it tested for cranking amps. Don’t get left in the cold with a weak battery!

Proper lighting is critically important for safe winter driving. Make sure your car is ready to illuminate dark roads by checking all exterior lights. Don’t let poor visibility or a lousy battery stop you from driving through the darkness of winter. Keep both your lights and battery in tip-top shape!

With a Little Effort Your Car will Be Winter-Ready

Brr, old man winter is rolling into town! Now is the time to get serious about keeping your ride in tip-top shape. I know, I know – when icy winds blow, maintenance is the last thing you want to think about. But trust me, staying on top of your car’s needs will make a huge difference in surviving winter safely and stress-free. 

By bundling up and starting your car daily, washing it regularly, checking those tires, changing fluids often, and testing the battery and lights, you’ll be rewarded with a smooth-sailing vehicle all season long. Your ride will fire up easily, grip the road, and look gorgeous despite the frigid temps and snowy mess.

Don’t let frosty weather stop you from showing some love to your car! A few extra minutes in the cold here and there saves you big time breakdowns and safety issues later. And really, keeping up with basics like washing and tire checks is pretty painless. Team up with your car this winter – fight off flaky road salt and grime before it damages the paint. Keep the tank full of fresh fluids that flow easily in the cold. Check on your battery and lights so you don’t get stranded in the dark. 

With some extra TLC during winter, your car will serve you well for many miles to come. You’ve got this! Just stay consistent with care and you and your ride will be cruising along in comfort when the flakes start to fly. Let’s work together to outsmart old man winter!

Know Before You Go – Things to Consider Before a Cross Country Road Trip

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There are several things to consider before a cross country road trip in the United States. Let’s explore a few of them!

Don’t Hit the Road Until You Consider a Few Things for a Cross Country Road Trip

The lure of the open road, wind in your hair, and miles of adventure ahead is what makes a classic American cross country road trip so appealing. When wanderlust strikes and you feel the irresistible call to hop in your car to explore this beautiful country we call home, heeding that urge just makes sense. From marveling at purple mountain majesties to roaring ocean vistas and everything in between, a cross country road trip lets you experience the diversity of landscapes this nation has to offer. 

However, before turning the key and pointing your vehicle towards the horizon, there are a few critical things you need to research and plan for first. The last thing you want when you’re hundreds of miles away from home is your car breaking down, getting lost, or running afoul of local laws. Proper advance preparation and planning is what makes the difference between a smooth, enjoyable trip and one filled with headaches and hassles. By researching key regulations, mapping your route, inspecting your vehicle, booking accommodations, and looking into local attractions at your destinations before you go, you can help ensure your cross country road trip goes off without a hitch. Then you can better relax and soak up all the freedom, scenery, and adventure that makes crossing this great country by car such a rich and rewarding experience.

Research Key Laws and Regulations Along Your Route

\When embarking on a cross country road trip through multiple states and jurisdictions, one of the most important things you need to research beforehand are the key laws and regulations along your route. The last thing you want is to unintentionally break local traffic laws or fail to meet certain licensing and registration requirements when driving through different areas. Avoid fines, violations, and other hassles by doing your homework on the rules of the road ahead of time.  

First, make sure you have all the necessary documentation to legally operate your vehicle as you travel across state lines. Have your valid driver’s license, up-to-date vehicle registration, and current proof of insurance easily accessible. Requirements can vary when it comes to auto insurance minimums and expiration dates for licenses and registration renewals. Check regulations for all the states you will pass through.  

You should also take time to carefully research local traffic laws and motoring regulations at your planned destinations. Be aware of differences in seat belt requirements, cell phone usage laws, speed limits, turning regulations, and more that are easy to miss when outside your home state. Look into open container laws, marijuana laws, rules on transporting firearms, and other issues that can also vary substantially by location. The last thing you want is to make an innocent mistake that gets you pulled over or lands you an unexpected citation. A cross country road trip means cruising across different strokes for different folks so do your homework first!

Plan Your Route in Advance

One of the keys to an epic cross country road trip is planning your route wisely in advance. Not only does this allow you to map out the mileage and estimate driving times more accurately, but it also gives you flexibility to adjust your course if needed once you hit the open highways. 

First, plot out the major stops, sights, and destinations you want to see along the way. Whether it’s the Grand Canyon, Graceland, Times Square or other can’t-miss attractions, map out your main points of interest. Factor in the general distance and timeframe required to enjoy these bucket list locales. This will give you an idea of the pace, duration, and daily drive times you’re looking at for your trip.

Be sure to research multiple potential routes to provide options in case of construction, accidents, bridge closures, or other unforeseen issues. Having backup route alternatives already mapped out can prevent major headaches and delays down the road. Consider taking more scenic rural highways for portions of the drive to avoid bland interstates. 

Use mobile apps with GPS and lane guidance to navigate tricky areas ahead of time. Highways like the Los Angeles interchange, Chicago loop, or Boston maze of tunnels can be confusing to out-of-towners. Having a navigation assist ready to guide your way makes traversing these road trip challenges a breeze.  

With strategic advance route planning, you’ll be equipped to log quick miles chewing up pavement one highway at a time. You’ll also have the flexibility to tweak your course and make drive adjustments on the fly when adventure calls. Wheels up!

Prepare Your Vehicle Properly

So you’ve got your license, registration, and insurance documentation organized along with your route mapped out and lodging reservations made. Don’t hit the gas pedal just yet! One of the most critical road trip preparation steps is ensuring your set of wheels is properly primed and ready to devour those highway miles without issue. Breaking down in the middle of nowhere or needing major repairs en route can derail your epic cross country adventure quicker than you can reach a mechanic.  

Start by giving your vehicle a thorough maintenance inspection and tune-up if due for one. Replace the oil, check the tires, transmission fluids, belts, hoses, windshield wiper inserts, and battery. Make any needed repairs now while still in the comfort of your home garage rather than on the side of some dark highway miles from civilization.

Inspect and inflate all tires including your spare to ensure proper tread depth and pressure. Patch or replace any worn tires that could pose a blowout risk at highway speeds. Top off vital automotive fluids like windshield wiper fluid, radiator coolant, brake and transmission fluids. Replace old wiper inserts and make sure your headlights, brake lights and turn signals are all in good working order.

Pack an emergency roadside kit complete with flashlight, reflective triangles, jumper cables, jack and lug wrench, basic tools, first aid essentials, work gloves, and extra fuses. Bring along phone chargers, maps, emergency blankets, bottled water, non-perishable snacks and other survival items as well. Having these supplies on hand provides peace of mind no matter what situation arises on the open road.  

With a fully functioning, inspected and stocked vehicle and emergency kit, you’ll be ready to roll out and handle just about any mechanical mishap during your cross country travels. Bon voyage!

Research Lodging Options and Make Reservations

From roadside motels to quaint bed and breakfasts to luxurious resorts, the array of lodging choices across this great nation of ours is incredibly diverse. After long days behind the wheel exploring mountains, beaches and highways in between, having comfortable overnight accommodations await you at each days’ end is a key ingredient for road trip success. 

Start mapping out your cross country route and ideal daily mileage. Identify the cities or towns you expect to stop in each night based on your pace. Then research the lodging options available in each planned overnight location. Compare ratings and amenities of national chain hotels, local inns, motels, cabins, and B&Bs in those areas. Look for deals, discounts, free breakfast inclusions and rewards programs that can help you save money. 

Make sure to read reviews and check cancellation policies when possible. For popular destinations, events, or travel times of year, booking rooms well in advance is wise to guarantee availability upon arrival. Nothing puts a damper on a cross country road trip like getting stranded without a place to sleep for the night at your planned stop. Protect against this scenario by securing reservations in advance anytime occupancy looks tight based on your research.

Having confirmed reservations along your intended route means peace of mind knowing you have a comfortable bed waiting no matter what time you eventually roll into town after the adventures of the day. It allows flexibility to tweak plans and pace without worrying about lodging availability down the highway. Check in and enjoy a good night’s rest knowing you planned smart! Hitting the road well rested makes putting more rear view mirror miles behind you the next day that much easier.

Look Into Local Events and Attractions Along the Way 

While the draw of gorgeous national parks, historical monuments, and Americana culture certainly lure many on iconic cross country road trips, looking into unique local diversions along your route can make such journeys even more rewarding. Taking advantage of fun festivals, interesting attractions, natural wonders or tasty restaurants lets you experience slices of local flair in various regions. This allows you to tailor portions of your trip into immersive cultural experiences.

As you map out your intended route, take time to research what interesting events may be happening in the areas you’ll be traveling through. Summer fairs, art festivals, food celebrations and music performances often occur seasonally when the weather is nice for outdoor fun. Scheduling your trip to coincide with festivals matching your interests can be insider ways to mingle with locals and soak up regional traditions. 

Visit highly rated museums spotlighting unique elements of surrounding territories from cowboy culture to aviation achievements. Pencil in tours of quirky roadside oddities like World’s Largest Ball of Twine that give your journey an “only in America” vibe. Explore alien crash landing sites, see backyard monuments built by one determined person, or learn the history behind most photographed barns dotting this nation from sea to shining sea. 

While you may have a few must-see attractions mapped out, also remain open to making unplanned detours and stopping spontaneously when something weird, wonderful or delicious looking demands further investigation. Following whims, welcome signs and the recommendations of locals you meet can unveil the hidden gems and create the most memorable moments of your cross country quest.

Hit the Road Prepared and Enjoy the Ride

When you feel that irrepressible itch to load up your car and set out across this grand nation of ours, by all means scratch it! Use the tips outlined here to make sure your cross country road trip goes smoothly so you can better soak up all the freedom, scenery and fun such journeys promise.

Research relevant regulations to avoid legal troubles as you traverse state lines with all necessary documents in order. Map multiple routes ahead to estimate mileage and pace yourself while having backup options if needed. Inspect and stock your vehicle with emergency equipment so you’re covered in case of mechanical troubles out on the open highway. 

Reserve rooms in advance when you can to ensure you have confirmed lodging each night after long days behind the wheel. And pencil in local diversions like quirky roadside attractions and seasonal events to inject your trip with regional flavor. The people you’ll meet and the things you’ll learn can be just as memorable as the epic backdrop of this beautiful country.

With sturdy wheels below you, a stocked emergency kit at your side, and a spirited sense of adventure before you, a cross country road trip can exceed your wildest expectations. By preparing properly ahead of time, you pave the way for smooth sailing through breathtaking landscapes as this nation’s history also cruises by your passenger side window. Enjoy the ride!

Scouting Trips – Scope it Out Before a Longer Trip

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Hitting the open road for a scouting trip is a great way to map out your future travel plans. Learn about my recent scouting trip and why I recommend them!

Scouting Trips Are a Great Way to See Where to Visit in the Future

While nothing beats the adventure of a road trip, doing a scouting run first paves the way for an amazing vacation down the road. A few months ago, my husband and I embarked on a scouting adventure, making stops in several states to see if they would steer us in the right direction for our next big trip.

We had a wheel-y good time checking out the highway highlights across different parts of the country. Our scouting trip put the engine in motion for planning an incredible road trip itinerary or two (or three!) in the future.

From scenic routes to hidden gems just off the beaten path, our scouting adventure yielded a roadmap to places we can’t wait to re-tread. While road trips themselves are a blast, doing a scouting trip ahead of time fuels you up with insider knowledge so your next vacation is smooth sailing.

If you’re looking to scout out destinations for an upcoming trip, gas up your car, roll down the windows, and cruise through potential spots. You’ll pave the way for an incredible getaway by doing your scouting homework first. I have no doubt this will lead to the ultimate road trip with no bumps or detours in sight!

Related: Check out some unique accommodations for an unforgettable trip!

The Benefits of Scouting Trips 

scouting trips - kentucky mountains landscape photographed on the road

A scouting trip might seem like a hassle upfront, but the investment pays off when it comes time to plan your real vacation. Here are some of the key benefits of taking a scouting trip before your bigger trip:

Get a true sense of a place 

Reading reviews only goes so far. Seeing a destination in person lets you determine if it’s worth your valuable vacation time. You can confirm if a place lives up to the hype.

Scout accommodations

Finding the right hotel or rental home can make or break a vacation. Scouting first means you can check out properties and neighborhoods in person to find your ideal place to stay. 

Discover hidden gems

The best local restaurants, shops, and attractions often don’t rise to the top of review sites. Scouting a location yourself lets you wander and uncover hidden hot spots.

Figure out optimal timing

Understanding a destination’s seasonal patterns can help you plan your bigger trip during the ideal time of year. Seeing a place during different seasons gives you insight on when to return. 

Test drive itineraries 

Trying sample itineraries during your scouting trip means you can tweak and perfect your actual vacation agenda later. Test runs help build the framework.

Uncover undersold attractions 

Some of the coolest spots slip under the radar. You can pull back the curtain and find underrated activities to highlight on your real trip.

In short, scouting trips pave the way for amazing vacations. The upfront effort pays off when you get to experience a new destination like a local.

Related: Learn about the best road trip destinations in the US for 2024!

My Recent Scouting Road Trip

My husband and I recently went on an extensive scouting road trip along the east coast to help us plan future vacations. Our intended destination was to get to New Jersey to watch a K-pop concert for the first time, and we used it as an excuse to scout the states along the east coast to learn where we would like to visit for a longer getaway.

scouting trips - concert venue for blackpink concert in new jersey

Over the course of a week, we drove through beautiful parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and more.

We took pages of notes on places we’d like to revisit. At the top of the list is Washington, D.C. We really want to have at least a week to see all the monuments, parks, and of course The White House.

West Virginia absolutely dazzled us with its mountain landscapes – we could have spent weeks exploring this state alone. We decided we need to return to West Virginia and spend at least a week or so enjoying the hiking and small towns.

The history and charm of Philadelphia also won us over. We determined three or four days would be ideal in the future to experience the food scene and tour Independence Hall. We did get to try a Philly Steak and Cheese there though – which by the way is just referred to as a Steak and Cheese when ordering in the state!

In Rhode Island, the mansions and oceanside location provided a delightful change of pace from the mountains. We agreed two or three days in Newport on a return visit would suffice.

Oh, and Salem! I only got one evening in Salem, Massachusetts, but I look forward to spending at least a week there.

Beyond the highlights, having boots on the ground helped us evaluate where we would like to focus future trips and how long we should plan to stay in each place. Our scouting trip provided invaluable first-hand experience to start crafting our next multi-state road trip adventure.

Key Tips for Scouting Trips

If you’re planning a scouting trip to help map out future vacations, keep these tips in mind:

– Be flexible – Don’t overschedule your scouting trip. Allow time to slow down and evaluate places. Give yourself freedom to lengthen or shorten time in each spot.

– Take notes – Write down or voice record your impressions on accommodations, restaurants, activities while they’re fresh. Details will help immensely when planning later. 

– Research hidden gems – Scan blogs and social media for tips on underrated attractions. Locals know the best undiscovered spots.

– Consider off-season – Visiting a destination during its quieter season gives insight on when crowds may be smaller for future trips.

– Prioritize what matters – Focus your scouting on the factors most important to you – weather, costs, ease of transport, etc.

scouting trips - downtown richmond kentucky mural of the city name

– Stay central – Choosing centrally located accommodations makes it easier to explore different areas efficiently.

– Meet locals – Striking up conversations with residents can yield insider information not found online.

– Take photos – Pictures of places, hotels, and activities will jog your memory later when trip planning.

– Scout multiple spots – Don’t commit fully to one place in case you end up preferring another destination.

Taking the time to scout out vacation spots results in future trips tailored to your interests and perfectly timed. Use these tips to maximize the value of your scouting adventure.

Start Your Engines for an Epic Road Trip

After reading about my recent scouting adventure on the east coast, I hope you can see why I’m such a strong advocate for scouting out destinations before a bigger trip. While the initial scouting journey requires time and effort, it pays dividends when you get to plan an incredible vacation tailored to the very best a location has to offer. 

Armed with first-hand knowledge of accommodations, hidden gems, timing considerations, and priorities for each destination, crafting future trip itineraries will be a breeze. All that’s left to do is count down the days until you can return to those hand-picked spots for the vacation of a lifetime! 

For me, fond memories from my scouting stops will fuel my wanderlust until I can embark on a longer journey to many if not all of the places we quickly drove through. My scouting trip gave me a priceless sneak peek while allowing me to curate future vacations to highlight the very best of each incredible place.

So consider scouting trips for your next destination as the first step on an amazing longer trip. Let the wanderlust wash over you as you road trip through potential spots. Then get ready for an unforgettable future vacation engineered to perfection. Your scouting efforts will take the work out of planning so you can focus on anticipation and excitement. Happy scouting!

Unique Accommodations for an Unforgettable Trip

Unique Accommodations for an Unforgettable Trip Bed with Modern Lamp Black Nightstand

Discover unique accommodations for an unforgettable trip like Treehotel, Icehotel & Giraffe Manor, with options to sleep on a jet, in an igloo & more.

The following is a guest post from my bloggy friend Megan Isola. Interested in having a guest post on my website? Click here for my guest post submission form.

A Dozen Unique Accommodations for an Unforgettable Trip

Sometimes you don’t get to pick where you stay when you travel. For example, your agency might put you in a nice hotel if you’re traveling for work as a travel nurse or sales consultant. However, when traveling for fun, you can choose where you rest your head at night. 

When you travel, you usually have two options: get a hotel room or stay in an Airbnb. However, consider choosing your location based on the available accommodations for your next trip. Where you stay can drastically impact your travel experience, so why not choose your next destination based on unique accommodations instead of tourist attractions? Here are some of the most unique accommodations for an unforgettable trip:

Jumbo Stay, Sweden

Sleeping on a plane usually isn’t the most comfortable experience. However, you can sleep in the cockpit of a real jumbo jet on the ground at Jumbo Stay. The plane used for the unique experience was originally built for Singapore Airlines, but it’s now a hotel that offers a memorable experience at an affordable price. Remember, since you’re sleeping in a cockpit, there’s not much room for lots of stuff, but they are large enough for families. 

The Manta Resort, Tanzania

Wake up and watch reef fish swim by your room at The Manta Resort in Pemba Island, Tanzania. Here, you’ll stay on a floating structure with three levels. At sea level, you’ll have a landing deck with a bathroom and lounge, and at the top, you can lay in the sun all day or watch the stars at night. Then, sleep in a comfortable bed downstairs just under sea level with a 360-degree view of fish and other sea creatures like the manta ray. 

Treehotel, Sweden

If you enjoy the great outdoors and want to experience a one-of-a-kind adventure, pack your bags full of your best athletic gear and consider the Treehotel in Sweden. This hotel allows you to live among nature in the trees with rooms suspended above the ground for unique views.

The HI Jail Hostel, Canada

You’re a model citizen, but you can still spend the night in jail at The HI Jail Hostel in Ottawa, Canada. At this hotel, you can live in a dorm with other guests or get a single cell for an affordable price. In addition, every morning, guests receive breakfast and a tour of the jail. While these accommodations are small, they might be well worth the price for individuals just looking for a unique place to rest their heads at night. 

Finn Lough Resort, Ireland

Spend your free time in a bubble under the stars in Northern Ireland at the Finn Lough Resort, where you’ll stay in a clear dome in the forest. You’ll have a full view of the trees and sky with transparent walls on all sides, making it the perfect getaway for stargazers. 

Giraffe Manor, South Africa

Unique Accommodations for an Unforgettable Trip Giraffe Sticking Out Tongue

Feel like you’re a part of nature when you book your stay at Giraffe Manor in Cape Town, South Africa. Here you’ll get to meet giraffes that poke their heads through the windows while you’re eating breakfast and live right next to giraffes and other wildlife. 

IceHotel, Sweden

If you’ve ever wanted to stay in an igloo but didn’t think you were cut out for harsh weather conditions, you’ll love IceHotel in Sweden, which looks like a fancy art installation. During the day, the rooms in this hotel are part of a museum and transform into guest rooms at night. Of course, the rooms are cold since you’re in an ice hotel, but the beds are lined with reindeer fur and warm sleeping bags to keep you warm. 

Propeller Island, Germany

Propeller Island is a hotel with unique rooms. For example, there are rooms with coffin beds, a bath in a plastic bag, and those with mirrors from wall to wall. Some rooms even have slanted floors that make the bed look like it’s hovering above the floor. 

The Windmill Bed and Breakfast, United Kingdom

If you want the bed and breakfast experience with more of a thrill, consider checking into the Windmill in Scarborough, UK. This 18th-century hotel is a windmill with two suites in the tower. 

Dog Bark Park Inn, Idaho

If you’d like to travel a little closer to home and love pets, consider going to the Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho. This famous hotel is shaped like a beagle and is a two-bedroom bed and breakfast with dog-centric contents and decorations. While sleeping in a giant beagle, you can still expect air conditioning, wifi, and free parking. In addition, you’ll receive a free breakfast, and you can bring Fido along for the excitement since this accommodation is pet friendly. 

Book and Bed, Japan 

Book lovers, rejoice! Book and Bed hotel, located in Tokyo, allows you to sleep on a bookshelf with all the reading materials you’ll ever need. This library offers books to suit any taste, and here you’ll find people from all over the world who love reading. 

Crane Hotel, Netherlands

Travelers with a daring side might check out the Faralda Crane, a luxury hotel 50 meters above the ground. The hotel has three 5-star suites that are uniquely furnished and have access to an incredible outdoor area with luxury patio furniture and jacuzzi. The Mystique suite overlooks the city of Amsterdam with a split level that’s spacious with sliding panels and a sleeping area with a gold ceiling and satin fabrics. 

Meanwhile, the Secret suite—the most expensive option—is a former machinery room that’s been restored and fully decorated to overlook Amerstam and feature soft colors, paintings, and design furniture. Another split level has a living area, sleeping area, and private bathroom. 

Unforgettable Travels with Eccentric Accommodations 

Traveling is easier than ever before. Our smartphones allow us to book lodgings, send money, and take beautiful pictures of our adventures, so why not take advantage of the ease of travel and find your next destination based on the accommodations? Many of the hotels on this list are located in cities and outdoor areas, so you can choose your own adventure and avoid overcrowded tourist destinations and boring hotels. 

About the Author Megan Isola

Unique Accommodations for an Unforgettable Trip Megan Isola

Megan Isola holds a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality and a minor in Business Marketing from Cal State University Chico. She enjoys attending concerts, trying new restaurants, and hanging out with friends. 

Best Road Trip Destinations in the US for 2024

Best Road Trip Destinations in US Van on Road with Mountain View

Discover the best road trip destinations across the US, from Portland’s dog parks to Amish Country’s farms. Plan your next adventure with this list.

The following is a guest post from my bloggy friend Megan Isola. Interested in having a guest post on my website? Click here for my guest post submission form.

Best Road Trip Destinations in the United States

An adventurous road trip allows you to discover hidden gems around the country. Whether you have an end destination in mind or haven’t yet planned your route, you can find new and exciting things to do in every city. Whether you’re traveling with friends or family, you might wonder how to map your route by finding the best cities and destinations around the country. That’s where we come in. Here’s our list of the top road trip destinations to help you have a relaxing yet fun-filled adventure. 

Portland, Oregon

Oregon has eclectic neighborhoods, delicious food, and large parks for hiking. Portland has an emerging brewery scene that makes it one of the best budget-friendly options for a bachelor party. It’s also one of the best road trip destinations if you’re traveling with your dog because there are plenty of off-leash areas to take them around the state. Of course, if you plan to take a road trip with your dog, you should make preparations since they’ll need frequent potty breaks. You should also invest in a dog seat belt for their safety and yours to prevent them from climbing on your lap while trying to drive. 

Best Road Trip Destinations in US Portland Oregon Sign

Still, if you want to take your dog on an adventure, Portland is the place to go. Portland has many pet-friendly hotels, and many restaurants allow pets on the patios as long as they’re on leashes. In addition, you can find fenced off-leash dog parks around the city of Portland, including the dog park at Fields Park. 

Virginia to North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway is another road trip destination to remember. It connects the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, allowing you to drive south the entire time for a beautiful, scenic adventure you won’t soon forget. The span of the parkway covers everything from fog to waterfalls and wild animals like turkeys. Traveling during the fall, you’ll see beautiful reds and yellows as the leaves change. 

Faribault, Minnesota

Minnesota is a beautiful place year-round, but one city that stands out is Faribault, a historic city that existed long before statehood. It has the second-largest historic district in the state and is home to unique businesses that are hundreds of years old. For example, when visiting Faribault, you can see the Faribault Woolen Mill, founded in the 1800s, is known for providing woolen blankets to comfort soldiers in both world wars. 

In addition, the iconic ride, the Tilt-a-Whirl, was created in this city. It was invented and manufactured in this quaint town decades ago. In addition to the history of the city, you can see a beautiful downtown packed with unique shops where you can buy one-of-a-kind souvenirs for your loved ones. 

Quad Cities

The Quad Cities is a metropolitan area between Minneapolis and St. Louis comprised of several riverfront cities, including Rock Island in Illinois and Davenport in Iowa. One of the best reasons to visit the Quad Cities is to see the Great River Road Scenic byway, which travels east and west of the Mississippi River. This area is also home to museums and tourist attractions along Highways 61 and 67, giving you tons of activities to do on your travels. 

Oak Park, Illinois

When most people think of Illinois, they think of the bustling city of Chicago. However, you don’t want to be stuck in traffic for hours when you’re going on a road trip. Instead, consider driving through Oak Park, located a few miles outside the city. Oak Park is home to quaint hotels and eclectic dining with a historical vibe. This city is also home to the largest collection of architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright and Earnest Hemingway’s birthplace. If you’re a fan of literature, you can check out his residence, which has been preserved over the years. Here you’ll find antique furniture and exotic flowers. 

In addition to visiting historical places, you can stop at the shops to find handmade gifts made by artisans worldwide. These shops offer home decor, handmade jewelry, books, and more. 

Logan, Ohio

Ohio is another surprising place where you can find exciting things to do while road-tripping across the US. Here, you’ll find beautiful autumn leaves and lush forests. In addition, Logan, Ohio, is home to off-road Segway tours. However, if you prefer to look at the stars, you can also visit the John Glenn Astronomy Park to see stars and planets visible here since Logan has minimal light pollution. 

Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania 

If you’re interested in how other people live, consider driving through Bird-in-Hand, PA, a few hours away from Baltimore. Bird-in-Hand is like stepping into an alternate universe for many of us because it’s located in the middle of Amish Country. Here, you’ll find shopping opportunities where you can buy products made by the Amish and take a balloon ride over beautiful farms. 

Bird-in-Hand also has tons of great food to offer with a Pennsylvania Dutch food buffet at the local restaurant so you can try Amish-style food from real farmers. In addition, you can visit these farms and enjoy hay rides. 

Bristol, Rhode Island

Bristol is a small town located a few dozen miles from Providence and an hour from Boston. It’s a historic New England town that’s been well-preserved over the years and contains several shops, buildings, and mansions that tell the history of the town since it was founded in the 1600s. Bristol is a waterfront vacation town with classic foliage where visitors can enjoy parks, boating, picnics, and historical sites. 

Map Your Route

While you may want to be spontaneous on your next road trip, you should always research the cities and towns where you want to stop. Of course, while you may want to see major cities across the country, several quaint towns offer one-of-a-kind souvenirs and experiences. So, when mapping your route, look beyond major cities and find towns that allow you to enjoy your road trip instead of sitting in traffic. 

About the Author Megan Isola

Best Road Trip Destinations in US Megan Isola

Megan Isola holds a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality and a minor in Business Marketing from Cal State University Chico. She enjoys going to concerts, trying new restaurants, and hanging out with friends.

My First Time Eating Steak At Council Oak Steakhouse – Total Bummer

My First Time Eating Steak at Council Oak Steakhouse

My first time actually eating at Council Oak Steakhouse was a bit of downer. Read this post to learn why.

Tampa Did Dining Better – My First Time Eating Filet Mignon at Council Oak Steakhouse in Cincinnati, Ohio

Okay, admittedly, I need to start this post by sharing that I had eaten at the BAR of Council Oak Steakhouse in Tampa, Florida many times. I have had burgers. I’ve had lobster bisque. I’ve even had a steak sandwich.

I’ve also had many a cocktail that rocked my world at their bar. The one thing I never did at the Tampa, Florida location? Eat an actual steak inside the Council Oak Steakhouse dining room.

Well, I thought I would change that, but my big mistake was that I didn’t do it at the Tampa location…

Nope! Since we moved to Richmond, KY three years ago, the closest Council Oak Steakhouse to me is now in Cincinnati, Ohio at their Hard Rock Casino location.

Sadly, I can’t help but feel like this is why I didn’t have the gourmet dining experience I expected even though I sure paid the gourmet dining price!

The Star of the Night – The Bread

My favorite thing I ate at the Cincinnati Council Oak was their bread and butter. Was that foreshadowing of what was to come? Unfortunately, this got me even more excited about the meal and I could not wait to order what I was there for!

The bread and butter we were given when we sat down was hard to describe, but damn delicious. It has flakes of salt in the butter and it spreads so nicely on the bread that we actually asked for extra not once, but twice. We even took some home. It was seriously the best thing we ate that night.

Time to Order the Main Event – The Steak

Now here’s the thing – the entire time I lived in Tampa and during every visit to Hard Rock people boasted about the steaks at Council Oak. It was on my bucket list for a very long time to sit in their dining room and enjoy a filet with a glass of red wine and a baked potato.

Long story short – by the time it came time for us to finally do this, the pandemic hit and then suddenly I was moving to Kentucky and my time to cross this off my bucket list had passed. I was sad about it, but figured any Council Oak would do just fine. Wouldn’t it? Surely the caliber of food would be matched nationwide – right?

Well, I don’t know why, but the steak I received in Ohio was mediocre at best. Though it was cooked to the temperature I prefer, something about it just felt off. The meat’s exterior felt tough – not normal for a filet mignon. In fact, I was doubting whether or not the correct cut of meat was on my plate.

I looked to my left though, and my husband’s was similar shaped, and though it was cooked to the correct temperature, he too felt it was tough and didn’t taste quite right.

I’m not sure what the cause was, but it just was not the gourmet experience I had been hoping for.

Frustrated, I moved on to the loaded baked potato I ordered as my side. Sadly, this was disappointing too. A cold potato with rock hard bacon bits and a literal cup of shredded cheese was not what I was expecting for $14! Again, I looked to my husband to gauge his feeling and he too felt that this was not gourmet – it was just not good.

Normally, when we order steak and baked potato at fancy places, we practically lick the plates clean. In this case, we actually boxed up the meat and brought it home to our dogs. Devastating to say the very least!

Summing Up My Time Eating Steak At Council Oak Steakhouse

Well, I wish I could go back in time and have eaten at the Council Oak Steakhouse in Tampa! Considering how many amazing meals I enjoyed at their bar, I can only surmise that they would at least know how to do filet mignon right.

Maybe it was an off day. Maybe the chef had a rough time. Hell, maybe he was new.

But, for a nearly $200 bill at the end of it all, I was left feeling like we had been raked over the coals. Though we walked away winners at the machines, we felt like we lost BIG at the Council Oak Steakhouse in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I personally can NOT recommend going to their steakhouse. I would love to go back to Tampa’s at some point. It’s firmly back on my Florida bucket list. I can only hope that if I ever do get the chance to eat a filet at Hard Rock Tampa, it will be as good as my other dining experiences there have been.

In the meantime – Other than Malone’s in Lexington (which was FANTASTIC by the way!) does anyone have a good recommendation for where to get a really good filet within 25 miles of Richmond, Kentucky?

My First Time at Dollywood

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Want to learn about my first time at Dollywood? Read on for some tips and lessons learned at the popular theme park.

Rollercoasters, Cinnamon Bread, and Eagles: My First Time at Dollywood

Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains lies Dollywood – Dolly Parton’s 150-acre theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. As a huge fan of Dolly and amusement parks, I was thrilled to finally make the trip out to Dollywood for the first time this fall. With its charming Southern flair, one-of-a-kind rides and attractions, and Smoky Mountain backdrop, Dollywood was a fun way to spend a day out of the office. 

In this post, I’ll give a complete rundown of my experience at Dollywood as a first-time visitor, including tips for purchasing tickets, reserving dog boarding, navigating the park, tackling the rides, enjoying the food, and more. Whether you’re a fellow Dolly devotee or just love amusement parks, I hope this guide will help you make the most of your first trip to this Smoky Mountain attraction.

Before You Go 

Planning ahead before your visit to Dollywood can save you time, money, and hassle during your trip. Here are some key tips to keep in mind:

– Purchase Tickets Online in Advance – 

I highly recommend buying your Dollywood tickets online before arriving at the park. This allows you to take advantage of discounted multi-day tickets and avoid waiting in long ticket booth lines. 

I got crazy lucky though and won a ticket to the park at the Dogwood Festival. Then, my friend Cathy won tickets too. She decided not to go, so she gave me her ticket and I went with my husband for a fun day away. (We also had a free stay at Red Roof Inn making for a super fun weekend excursion from Kentucky to Tennessee!)

– Make Doggywood Reservations – 

If you plan on bringing your dog along, be sure to reserve a spot at Dollywood’s Doggywood pet resort ahead of time. I made the mistake of waiting until a week before our trip and had to change our date to visit because of how many days were completely booked up. 

Doggywood provides climate-controlled spaces for dogs to relax and play while you enjoy the park. The $25 dog boarding fee is totally worth it for the peace of mind. Note – we had to pay an extra $5 for ours because we had a second dog in the kennel.

We LOVED the fact that we were able to leave the park and walk the doggos multiple times during the day though. It made it a lot more special knowing they were close by and we could see them anytime we wanted.

– You May Want to Download the Dollywood App – 

Get the official Dollywood app on your phone to view park maps, show times, wait times, and more. This can be incredibly helpful for navigating the park efficiently and minimizing time spent waiting in lines.

Parking and Entry

Arriving and getting into Dollywood sets the stage for your day. Here’s what to expect:

– Parking – 

Dollywood has several large parking lots surrounding the park. I recommend following signs for the main entrance lot. Parking starts at $25 per day. Tram service is available to shuttle you from the lot to the park entrance.

Your best bet to avoid long lines is to get to the park as soon as possible. Once the park opens, it can take a while to get into the parking lot.

– Entry and Ticket Checkpoints – 

Once parked, you’ll take a tram or walk to the main entrance plaza. There are multiple ticketing booths and turnstiles to get into the park. Have your printed or mobile tickets ready to scan. I breezed through quickly since I had “pre purchased tickets.”

– Security Screening – 

After ticketing, you’ll go through an airport-style security checkpoint where bags are searched and scanned. Leave prohibited items in your car to speed up the process.

– Park Maps – 

Be sure to grab a printed park map as you enter. Or you could download the Dollywood app to pull up the map on your phone for easy on-the-go navigation. 

– Lockers and Storage – 

If carrying bags, purses, phones etc, I suggest using the locker rentals to avoid having to store items on rides. 

The entry process was smooth and only took about 10 minutes to get into the park even with moderate crowds!

Rides and Attractions

The rides and attractions are the heart of Dollywood! Here are my tips for experiencing the best of Dollywood’s world-class rollercoasters, shows, and more:

– Prioritize the Headliners – 

Be sure to hit Dollywood’s most popular rides like Lightning Rod, Wild Eagle, and Tennessee Tornado right when the park opens, or use the TimerSaver Pass to skip the huge wait times. These thrilling roller coasters draws crowds all day long.

Note: Look at the website before you go because some rides may be closed due to local conditions. For example, it was a high fire risk day when we attended so we were unable to take the Dollywood Express Train.

And, some rides close based on the season. We went when it was starting to get colder so all the water rides were closed.

– See the Shows – 

Dollywood has phenomenal live entertainment like regular Dolly Parton stage shows. Check the park schedule and plan to see one or two shows that interest you. Arrive early for the best seats. We went at the beginning of the Smoky Mountain Christmas celebration and were able to enjoy a few fun Christmas caroling experiences throughout the day

– Don’t Wear Hats on Rides – 

Yes, I know. You would think I would have known better, but I learned this lesson the hard way and lost my favorite baseball hat on the Blazing Fury. 

Even if ride attendants say a hat is ok –  as was the case for me on this particular ride – it’s better to play it safe and remove them to avoid spending $20+ to get it mailed back like I did. 

– Take Advantage of Rider Switch if You Have Kiddos –

This allows one parent to wait with a non-riding child while the other rides, and then switch without having to wait in line again. Perfect for families with small kids.

– Go See the Bald Eagles! – 

Perhaps our favorite part of the day was seeing all the Bald Eagles at the park! 

Spread across a steep, forested hillside, Eagle Mountain Sanctuary at Dollywood provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity to observe magnificent bald eagles up close. As the largest exhibit of non-releasable bald eagles in the United States, this special aviary is home to these majestic birds who cannot survive in the wild due to injuries or disabilities. 

A stroll along the sanctuary rewards visitors with breathtaking views of the eagles in their naturalistic enclosures. Spanning over 400,000 cubic feet, the sanctuary contains several sections tailored to the needs of each eagle resident. The “Pick a Mate” enclosure houses eligible bachelors and bachelorettes with partial flight abilities and room to choose a partner. Private nesting enclosures provide breeding pairs like Isaiah and Mrs. Jefferson intimacy to raise eaglets. And a special ground-level habitat accommodates eagles with amputated wings who cannot fly.

The American Eagle Foundation’s staff meticulously cares for each eagle daily, providing food, fresh water and medical care. While enjoying your Dollywood visit, I highly recommend witnessing these magnificent eagles who call Eagle Mountain Sanctuary home. It’s an experience that will stay with you long after your Smoky Mountain getaway.

Dining and Shopping

Dollywood has some delicious dining options to refuel between rides. Here are my recommendations:

– Front Porch Café –

We ate lunch at this family-style restaurant which features many of Dolly Parton’s favorite home cooked meals. I ordered the Smothered Pork Loin & Onion Gravy with mashed potatoes while my husband had the Chicken & Dumplings. The food was hearty, flavorful Southern comfort food. They can accommodate any food allergy as well.

– Spotlight Bakery – 

Before leaving the park, we stopped at Spotlight Bakery to try Dolly’s famous cinnamon bread. You can get it with vanilla icing or apple butter – we opted for both just to try it! The bread was enough to make your mouth water! It was delicious and fresh, but we learned our lesson when we tried reheating it at home. Eat it fresh at the park! I suggest ordering coffee too since it’s incredibly sweet.

In addition to great dining, Dollywood has unique shops selling handmade crafts, toys, clothes and more. I enjoyed browsing for souvenirs, especially in the DP’s Home On Wheels shop featuring Dolly-themed gifts.

Tips and Tricks

Here are some extra pointers to make the most of your Dollywood experience:

  • Bring Essentials – Be sure to pack sunscreen, hats, ponchos/umbrellas, phone chargers, and other park necessities in your bag. It can get very hot and stormy in the Smokies. 
  • Know the Schedule – Check the park map and app for parade, show, and ride opening times. Plan your day around must-see events and attractions. 
  • Use Single Rider Lines – For busy rides, hop in the single rider line which moves much faster than the standby queue. You may not ride together, but it saves a ton of time.
  • Take Breaks – With 150 acres to explore, Dollywood is an overwhelming full day outing. Don’t be afraid to head back to the car to rest or stop for a mid-day break. You’ll enjoy the park more when well-rested. 
  • It’s NOT Disney – Don’t go to Dollywood expecting a trip like Disney World, because you will be disappointed. It’s a lot more quaint than that. The best way I can describe it is it’s a lot like going to Cracker Barrel, but with rides.

I hope these tips help you have the best experience on your first Dollywood trip!

Making Memories at Dollywood

Our first ever trip to Dollywood was an interesting experience. Our favorite parts were the drive to the park because – wowza, it’s in a stunning location, the mouthwatering Southern food, and the charming mountain setting. 

I’m glad we went, and did have a good time, but I personally don’t foresee us going back for another visit unless we get free tickets again. Still, it was fun to cross it off our bucket list. And, that cinnamon bread in the Spotlight Bakery sure was mighty tasty. It is good to know that if I ever get a craving for it again, we can buy it at the DM Pantry inside the Dream More Resort without even needing to be a guest.