A Day in St. Francisville

On Ash Wednesday, my daughter and I went to spend the day in St. Francisville. We started with a visit to the Audubon State Historic Site. It is a beautiful Louisiana State Park. Oakley House is a nice plantation home. John James Audubon lived there for a short time when he worked as a tutor. There is a museum dedicated to information about both the plantation and Audubon. He did 32 of his famous bird paintings while here.

My daughter and I learned lots of things both visiting the museum and on the tour. We were the only guests on the tour, and so had a personalized experience.

Sketching a bird, just like Audubon
Travelling with an 8 year old. “A butt!”

After our visit to the Audubon site, we had lunch at Magnolia Cafe, a popular spot with the locals.

Next, we visited the Myrtles Plantation. It is known as a very haunted spot, so my daughter was very interested in finding a ghost. The tour was very interesting.

A collection of earrings stolen by the ghost, Chloe
“Mom, take my picture and let’s look for a ghost in the background”

The last thing we did on our day visit to St. Francisville was a hike at Mary Ann Brown Nature Preserve. We intended to do just the main trail, but at some point, I think we accidentally went on one of the other loops. When we made our way back to a point we recognized, we decided to walk back the way we came instead of finishing the loop. The trail was interesting with some ups and downs (which is unusual in Louisiana) but a few of the trail markers were hard to understand. We got in some extra exercise that we hadn’t intended on!

Disney World in the Fall

I just don’t have it in me to do several blog posts for our Disney World trip last month like I normally do. But I would like to share a few of my pictures. This trip was a lot of firsts for me. First of all, we were there at the very start of the 50th anniversary celebration.

There were special decorations, treats, shows, and more. One of my favorite things to find were the 50 golden statues spread around the parks.

It was also my first time to ever attend Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival. I love trying new foods and you can try so much more when they come in small portions!

This was also my first time to Disney World during the Halloween season. We attended the Boo Bash, which is a special after hours event in Magic Kingdom. Not only were their fun character calvacades and spooky decorations, but it was an excellent way to go on rides without waiting in line.

Included in the ticket price is unlimited drinks, popcorn, and ice cream.

Halloween parties are also the only time that adults are allowed to wear costumes, and we saw some really great ones. We did not go all out, however. Just wore some dalmatian accessories to match our little Cruella.

I also rode several rides for the first time ever on this trip, some new and some old.

This trip was the first time that I ever got to ride the Avatar ride, Flight of Passage, even though we have been to Disney World a few times since it has opened. I never got a fast pass for it, however, and this was the first time it didn’t have a 3 hour wait for us. It is truly an amazing ride.

I also rode Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for the first time ever. I know, I know. Why? Because I’m scared of roller coasters, even the smaller ones. But I decided that I had better visit Splash Mountain before it was re-imagined into a Princess and the Frog ride, since it is such an iconic Disney attraction. It wasn’t even bad. I had just built it up in my head. Here is me with my eyes closed on the drop.

Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure had just opened when we arrived.

I’ll share some pictures from each park. We spent two days in Hollywood Studios. We accomplished a lot in the first day of our trip. By the last day (our 2nd HS day), it was too crowded to do much, as it was the start of the Columbus day weekend.

Walt Disney Presents is an interesting museum all about Walt himself.

We went to the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater for the first time. It is a truly unique dining experience, eating in the cars and watching the movies. Food is good too!

Some pictures from our day in Animal Kingdom

We did the Animation Experience at Conservation Station. We drew Ed the hyena from Lion King.

We spent two half days in Epcot.

We visited Magic Kingdom twice. Once during the Boo Bash and one other day. It was more crowded on our full day in the park, so I was glad that we had the opportunity to ride a bunch during the party.

We had a great trip. We even had a bit of swim time at our off-property resort.

Amelia Island

We recently spent two whole weeks on Amelia Island in northeastern Florida. We rented an AirBnB, took the dogs on the road, and had a great home base to explore the area. We have had good experiences with our AirBnB’s on our last few trips. It ends up being cheaper than a hotel and with all the amenities of home, such as a fully stocked kitchen, washer and dryer, and yard for the dogs. The house was great and a short walk from the beach. Our hosts were great, and very responsive to any concerns. I know the dogs appreciate coming on vacation with us, rather than being boarded at home.

One cool thing about the neighborhood that we stayed in was that it is directly behind Fort Clinch State Park. This meant that there were often deer hanging out in the neighborhood, which was great fun to watch.

As I stated before, the beach was a short walk from our house. Fernandina Beach (which is the name of the town where we stayed) is known for shells and shark teeth that wash up on the shore. We spent a lot of time looking for shark teeth, but never found anything that we could definitely identify as one. We found plenty of triangular shaped things that could have possibly been shark teeth, but may have just been shell fragments. My daughter chooses to believe they were shark teeth.

The beach was dog-friendly, so even though I have two senior dogs (aged 14 and 15), it was their first ever trip to a beach! Thankfully, the beaches were usually pretty empty, because our dogs get a little too wound up when they see other people and dogs. We took them down there at a particularly down time so that they could explore a little.

One of the benefits of staying in a home on vacation is the money saved on eating out. There are a couple of grocery stores on the island and it was easy to buy things to cook. We did eat out at several restaurants during our two week stay, however.

Arte Pizza
Macarons from Nana Teresa’s Bake Shop

Another benefit of staying on the island for two whole weeks is that it leaves plenty of time for relaxing (I’m a big napper) and regular activities. My husband always likes to continue playing tennis on vacation. He found people to play with at the local park, and my daughter could hang out at the playground. Young children have a great ability to just make friends and play with anyone, so she had lots of fun playing with different children throughout our several trips to the park. She really appreciated having some kid friendly interactions, and I could sit on a bench and read (or end up pushing her and her new friends on the twirly playground equipment).

We were not far from downtown Fernandina Beach and visited several times on our trip. There are historic buildings, shops, restaurants, etc.

We visited this delightful little bookstore one night when walking around later than usual for us (the power was out at our house). It was one of the few stores open at night.

We visited the Amelia Island Museum of History. It is a small museum, but well done and interesting. There were some hands on things and a scavenger hunt to keep kids interested. The museum is housed in an old jail. Amelia Island is called the Isle of 8 Flags, because it is the only place in the U.S. which has been under 8 different flags of rule during its history.

One morning we took a boat tour with Amelia River Cruises to see Cumberland Island in Georgia. I love boat rides and the captain did a great job keeping us entertained with funny jokes and lots of history. We saw birds, dolphins, and the wild horses that live on the island. On the way back, my daughter got to take a turn driving the boat.

During our time on the Island, we visited a few different state parks. Fort Clinch State Park is the one directly behind the neighborhood where we stayed. There are trails, beaches, and also the fort, which we climbed and explored.

Little Talbot Island State Park is on the other side of the island. It is mostly just a beach. But I saw some cool birds and tortoises.

We also visited Big Talbot Island State Park. This one required a hike to get to the driftwood beach. We would have spent more time here, but it was quite hot.

One morning of our trip, we took a kayaking trip of Lofton Creek through Amelia Adventures. We had it scheduled for Father’s Day, but the weather cancelled our trip. We went the next day, however, and it was great, because we were the only ones on the tour. Another couple didn’t show up, so it was just us and the guide. My husband and daughter took a tandem kayak, and I had my own. The water is extremely still, so it was easy to navigate. I only got stuck on two trees. Ha! We saw alligators.

We played putt-putt one evening at Island Falls Adventure Golf. This was a fun putt-putt course with pretty backdrops.

One morning, we visited the Jacksonville Zoo. This was truly a great zoo. There were fun, interactive experiences. There was a wide variety of animals, and it was all very nicely set up. The zoo was a large loop. I highly recommend visiting this zoo if you are in the area.

Egan’s Creek Greenway was a park very close to our house. We visited different sections of it at different times. There were lots of trails and wildlife. We even happened upon a lane full of rabbits one evening, which was very special!

You may remember from previous posts that I have gotten really into birding lately. I had an opportunity to see so many birds on this trip! I added 12 new species to my 2021 bird list!

Overall, we had a great visit to Amelia Island. It’s a wonderful place to visit with lots to see, especially if you love nature.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

A few days ago, I posted about my visit to Parrot Mountain in Pigeon Forge. I wanted to share a few other pictures from my trip. We have been there several times over the years. My parents rent the cabin, and my siblings and I spend a week with them in the Smoky Mountains.

The cabins available for rent are really fun to stay in. The one we got this time had three levels, each with a balcony overlooking the mountains. I love to sit on the rocking chair, reading a book, and just listening to the sounds of the birds chirping.

Our cabin also had an indoor swimming pool, a hot tub, games such as air hockey and pool, a movie theater, and more. The cabin was in a neighborhood, so we also had access to the community pool.

There are lots of things to do in the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area. Parents could spend a lot of money entertaining their children in the array of arcades, amusement parks, shops, etc.

Of course, the best thing to do in the area is to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a huge park full of hiking and driving trails. On this particular visit, we did the Cades Cove Loop Road and the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Both of these are driving tours with many places to stop and hike or explore the buildings left behind from the communities that lived there.

We saw wild turkeys, deer, and a momma black bear with her cubs.

Momma bear and cubs

The park is gorgeous. I definitely recommend a visit. There is so much to see and do.

Parrot Mountain

My absolute favorite thing that I did on my recent trip to Pigeon Forge was my visit to Parrot Mountain. No one else in my extended family seemed particularly interested in going, so I borrowed my sister’s car and drove myself and my daughter up the mountain to see the parrots! I love any kind of animal encounter experience. These gardens are full of tropical birds to see, hold, and feed. It was heaven!

As you walk the paths, you come across so many different birds. Some just sitting on their perches, others in large cages.

They were all so beautiful and full of personality.

The place is clearly run by Christians with many spots throughout the gardens having Scripture quotes or religious statues. A reminder that we are among God’s creations.

Eventually, we came across an entrance to a “Secret Garden.” This led to a small enclosed aviary.

Next, we came across the first truly interactive portion of the gardens. There is a designated area with lots of parrots sitting on their perches. You can buy seeds from what looks like a candy dispenser for 25 cents per handful. Then you can walk around and hold your hand out flat and allow the parrots to eat seeds directly from your hand!

This was exciting enough until I came across one parrot who wanted to leave her perch and come onto my arm! I was so excited to hold her, even if she did try to eat the buttons on my shirt and take a little nibble at my purse!

She (or he) was so pretty and pink! I believe the name was Valentine!

We continued on to visit more birds.

Next, we went into another little aviary where you could feed the lorikeets. We had purchased tickets to get small cups of nectar for this experience. As soon as you walk in with the nectar, the birds are all over you. I loved it!

The gardens are so beautiful, as are the gorgeous birds.

The end of our visit was in the baby nursery. You walk inside and there are baby birds everywhere, hanging out in their little boxes. Many like to be held.

If you can’t already tell, I had a great time at Parrot Mountain. I highly recommend visiting if you are ever in Pigeon Forge. I would go back again and again to see the beautiful birds.

Avery Island

Today is Mother’s Day, and I told my family that I wanted to visit Avery Island. I hadn’t been since the 8th grade on our Louisiana History Tour. Avery Island is in Iberia Parish and home to Jungle Gardens and the Tabasco Factory. It’s a great tourist stop for anyone visiting Southern Louisiana. I also knew that I could add a few birds to my 2021 list, which was exciting!

The Jungle Gardens can be a driving or walking tour. It is easy to drive and stop at different sights along the way. We saw lots of the nature of Louisiana, including mossy oak trees, egrets, and lots of alligators!

My daughter got me binoculars for Mother’s Day, allowing me to up my bird watching game.

Avery Island was developed by E.A. McIlhenny, who also started the Tabasco company. He received this 900 year old Buddha statue as a gift.

Bird City is an awesome roosting spot for egrets. I saw Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, and Anhingas.

Next, we went to the Tabasco factory, where the famous hot sauce is made. It consists of a self-guided tour showing different parts of the process. We also had lunch at the on-site restaurant.

Avery Island is actually a salt dome. The topography is very unique in southern Louisiana, including hills and is well above sea level.

After leaving Avery Island, we had a brief stop at another salt dome, Jefferson Island. We did not visit all of Rip Van Winkle Gardens, but did stop to see the peacocks and peahens.

Our last stop was at Rips Rookery, where I risked my life by walking along the water with large alligators swimming in order to try and get pictures of the roseate spoonbills that I could see in the distance. My phone couldn’t zoom very well to get good pictures, but my husband’s was a bit better.

World War II Museum

It’s been awhile since I wrote a blog post. I haven’t written since the 1st of the year! Life’s been pretty boring, and I haven’t been doing anything too exciting. But today, I visited the National World War II museum in New Orleans for the first time.

I have heard for years about what a great museum it is. It is actually the number 1 rated tourist attraction in New Orleans on Trip Advisor. But I had never visited until today. The museum is very well done with lots of exhibits. I learned a lot, but could go back and learn so much more. Because I was visiting with my family (including my seven year old daughter), I did not have the time to read all the information or watch all of the videos. A history buff could easily spend a whole day there.

I took a lot of pictures.

At the start of the museum, you can get a dog tag card. You board the train and are able to scan your card to learn one particular person’s story during the war. Each card is unique, so if your family gets multiple cards, you can follow the stories of multiple people. Throughout the museum, there are places where you can scan your dog tag and learn more about that person’s journey. My daughter enjoyed this interactive feature. The museum also provides each person with their own stylus to use on the touch screen displays instead of your finger!

While I was well aware of the United States’ extreme reluctance to join the war (prior to Pearl Harbor), I had no idea how small our army was compared to other countries at the time. The U.S. was 18th in the world in terms of armed forces during the 1930’s.

Throughout the museum, the stories and artifacts from particular soldiers was shared. Personal anecdotes, a copy of a journal, a uniform, etc. give a real view of how the war affected individuals. I liked seeing this poem written by a high school senior from the Westbank (where I grew up).

It is so interesting to learn about how everyone in the U.S. contributed to the war effort. Women took over the factory jobs for men to make the supplies needed. And of course, women served overseas also.

The museum did not shy away from the discussion of racism in America and how it was during wartime. There were definitely inconsistencies in our nation’s own practices and the fight to stop the evils associated with extreme racism by the enemy. But it took all of our nation (black, white, Latino, Chinese, Native American, etc.) to win this war. The Japanese interment camps are a particularly sad part of our history at that time.

The Four Freedoms

I learned that the Merchant Marines suffered the highest casualty rate of any branch of the armed forces.

The museum spans across several buildings and several floors. The buildings are connected by walkways that go over the street below. In one of the buildings, there are two separate immersive exhibits – The Road to Tokyo and The Road to Berlin. Each one gave detailed information about the battles fought on the two different fronts (in the East and in the West). I call them immersive, because the exhibits were designed to showcase the unique landscape of each battle.

There is a huge gallery (four stories high) that houses planes and other vehicles used during the war. You can climb all the way to the top to look down at the planes, also, but we didn’t do that for two reasons. 1) a museum employee warned us that it can be quite scary up there for those scared of heights and 2) the elevator was not working, so we would have had to take the stairs!

An interesting interactive exhibit gave you ethical dilemmas that had to be made during the war. First, you watch a video explaining the pros and cons of making the decision. Then you vote with what you would do. The statistics are put up on the screen of how your group and visitors in general voted. Next, you watch another video telling you what actually happened and how it turned out. My daughter and I are definitely not cut out to make those difficult wartime decisions.

We also watched the 4-D movie, Beyond All Boundaries, narrated by Tom Hanks. You buy tickets for this when you purchase admission. It is an immersive theater experience with props on stage with the screens. There are also special effects, such as gun shots, your seat shaking, snow, etc. There is a warning before you enter that it may be a difficult experience for those with sensory issues or post traumatic stress. The movie was very powerful, but a bit much for my daughter, who had to cover her eyes several times. It is an emotional journey through the war, bringing to life some aspects in a way that can’t be seen just through the exhibits. I definitely recommend attending the show if you visit the museum.

We also had lunch at The American Sector, the restaurant located in the museum. I needed a fork and knife to tackle this po-boy, but it was quite tasty.

Peach BBQ pulled pork po-boy.

We did not go to the main museum store across the street, which in addition to souvenirs and World War II memorabilia had super-cute vintage style clothing. We did pass by the two stores located in the museum, however. Among all of the Rosie the Riveter merchandise, I found this awesome shirt and had to take a picture.

After leaving the museum, we headed down the street to the Higgins Hotel, where my brother-in-law works. The hotel is World War II themed and very nice.

Playing General Patton’s piano

I hope you enjoyed my pictures from the National World War II museum in New Orleans. It is an excellent museum, and I definitely recommend that you visit!

Sea World Orlando

We visited Sea World Orlando on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Compared to Universal Studios, the crowds were less, but it felt that the Covid precautions were a bit less also. They did not give hand sanitizer before you got on rides and did not seem as strict in general. Due to the lower crowds, it wasn’t that hard to socially distance. But it also meant that whole sections of the park were not open in the morning. If I had known this, I would have planned differently. We arrived for park opening, but everywhere we went, rides and sections of the park were blocked off. It was also the warmest day of our trip. In addition to an excessive amount of walking (the park is quite spread out), it is the only day that I felt uncomfortable and sweaty in my mask. All this is not to say that we did not have a good time. I just don’t know that I would recommend a visit during the pandemic.

I was excited because Sea World was supposed to have a lot of Christmas celebrations, but we didn’t see them because we didn’t stay until the evening when they all took place.

The only attractions opened at the start of the day when we arrived were the large roller coasters. Sea World has taller, faster, more intense roller coasters than Universal Studios. I don’t ride those types of rides, but my husband did get to go on a couple of them without a long wait.

We were excited about visiting the Sesame Street Land in the park. It was therefore disappointing to find out that it did not open for a couple of hours. Once we did get to visit, it was certainly cute. The quality of the kiddie rides though was more along the lines of a smaller carnival. My daughter had fun, but it was nothing too fancy.

But, of course, the main reason for visiting Sea World is to see the animals, not the rides. It’s been many years since I have been here. The last time was before the controversy of the Blackfish documentary. I’ve been uncertain over the years whether or not to visit again. On the one hand, I love zoos and aquariums. I love interacting with animals. I do believe they are important for conservation and education in this world that has endangered their natural habitats so much. On the other hand, can the natural habitat of a whale (the great, wide ocean) be replicated in captivity? No, it cannot. Sea World has changed their killer whale shows since the last time I was here. No more trainers in the water, as there have been great tragedies. They also no longer breed orcas at Sea World. Ultimately, I decided that as a fan of zoos and aquariums, I was also comfortable with visiting Sea World again.

One of the whales was celebrating his birthday on the day we were there. He got a special cake treat.

We also enjoyed the dolphin show.

There are small aquariums spread throughout the park.

I always love petting sting rays. They are soft and friendly.

I also love manatees.

One of my favorite parts of the park was visiting Antarctica.

The penguin ride was closed due to Covid. There was a walk-through exhibit to get to the penguins, however. I love penguins.

Overall, despite my complaints, we did enjoy our day at Sea World. I would visit again, just not during the Covid-19 pandemic, but at a time when everything was open.

LSU Rural Life Museum

On Sunday, I visited the LSU Rural Life Museum for the first time. I’ve been to other things on the property such as the corn maze at Burden and Arbor Day celebrations, but I had never went to the museum before. It was the perfect place to visit during the pandemic because most of the museum is out in the open air. There were few visitors and it was really easy to spread out. Most of the time, it felt like we were the only ones there.

There were several rooms inside that we explored first. They were full of all kinds of objects from southern Louisiana that show what life was like in the past.

There was a lot of historical information on slavery and plantation life.

There was clothing and art.

Model T with Mike the Tiger on the side

There is lots to see if you are interested in historical artifacts. It’s fun to see local history also.

After exploring the indoor rooms, you go outside. The majority of the museum consists of many historical buildings which have been relocated here. They come from various parts of the state, but represent many different parts of rural life. There are slave cabins, a post office, a school, country houses, barns, and more.

If you love history and southern Louisiana culture, I definitely recommend a visit to the Rural Life Museum when visiting Baton Rouge. There are also other things to see on the property, including gardens and trails. We finished our visit with a stop at the playground towards the front of the property.

Universal Studios Florida Pt. 2

Here are the remaining pictures from our trip to Universal Studios Florida. I’ve already shared the pictures from Diagon Alley, so here is a peek into the other parts of that park. Be warned, there are a lot of pictures in this post!

The Simpsons-themed section of the park has a fun 3-D ride, carnival games, and lots of food options.

We rode the Men in Black ride several times, as it usually did not have a long line. You get to shoot aliens. One time, we got stuck on the ride and had to get off and walk back to the front. It was like a backstage peek at the ride.

Most of the kiddie section of the park was closed due to Covid, as it consists mainly of themed playgrounds. We rode the Woody Woodpecker kiddie coaster over and over again.

We did take pictures with Barney, Baby Bop, and BJ!

The Minions ride is another 3-D ride. It is very popular, so we only rode it once.

There is normally a Christmas parade. Due to Covid, it was cancelled for 2020. In place of the parade, however, there was a walk-through Christmas exhibit with real Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloons. It was festive and cool to see the balloons up close.

At the end of the exhibit, you could see Santa (socially distanced, of course).

Another fun 3-D ride is the Race Through New York featuring Jimmy Fallon. It was fun to watch all the clips from The Tonight Show as we waited in line.

We even saw Hashtag the Panda.

The Horror Makeup Show was really fun. It is full of jokes and gags. It is also informative as you learn about how they do many of the special effects in horror movies.

We also loved the Animal Actors on Location show. We saw how they train animals to be in movies.

There was a Shrek 4-D show. It was okay, but not quite worth the long wait in line. We did take a picture with Shrek, Fiona, and Donkey, though.

We also rode E.T., of course.

Also, Transformers. My daughter wouldn’t go on that one, so we had to child swap.

In addition to rides, we met lots of different characters in this park. Of course, they are all socially distanced pictures. We saw the trolls twice. The first time, we saw Poppy and Branch. The second time, we saw Poppy and Guy Diamond. He even had a Tiny Diamond with him.

Spongebob and Patrick.