Saturday, September 13, 2014

September 2014 - RV Trip - Illinois, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri

Day 1 - New RV and Springfield, IL

2015 Rockwood Signature Ultra Lite 8327 by Forest River
We traded in the Thor ACE for a Rockwood Ultra Lite because we needed more space.  With 5 kids, we needed lots of bunks and this RV fit the bill perfectly!  It has 3 bunks plus two other beds (I don't know what they're called) in the back bedroom, a queen bed in the forward bedroom, and a pull out couch.  Lots of sleeping space and a nice layout for actually being able to use the space when we're not sleeping.  It has a large kitchen space with an island, which also helps to give us enough storage.  The couch is huge.  Five could sit on it comfortably and we were all able to squeeze on it since we have some little ones.  With four slide outs, space is really maximized.  The kids have space to play in their bedroom.  The unique slide out closet in our room gives us lots of space to store clothes for 7 people.  So far we are thrilled with our new travel trailer, but of course we haven't even slept in it yet, so I guess it's a little too soon to say for sure.

Family room and Kitchen

Couch with hide-a-bed

Bunk room for five!

Master Bedroom with LOTS of storage incl. slide out closet

Separate exit, door to bathroom, and t.v. that can be used outside too

Now, for us, the hard part about trading in our motor home for a travel trailer was to find a tow vehicle that would fit all 7 of us, and be able to pull a 35' travel trailer.  It took us all summer to figure out which vehicle would work best for us and then find one.  We bought a 2010 Chevy Express 2500.  It really feels like it was the right choice for us.  Plenty of room for the kids and all their stuff and enough power to pull the trailer.  We haven't really put it to the test yet since we've only driven a couple hundred miles and only over flat land, but so far it has passed the test.  Now, on to our trip!

This morning we got up bright and early to drive to Springfield, IL.  It's about a 4 hour drive and today is the only day we have scheduled to spend in Springfield so we needed to head out early to have enough time to see the sights.  We had one incident along the way which was quite nerve wracking.  About 3 hours into the trip we exited the highway to get gas.  We tried to go to this nice big truck stop, but they only had diesel so we had to turn around and got to this other gas station which was much smaller and more crowded.  As we were turning around we heard loud sounds of metal scraping.  I got out to take a look and noticed that the "rip cord" was broken.  I don't know what this cable is really called, but it is a small cable that is attached between the trailer and the van.  If the trailer somehow becomes unhitched, this cable will get pulled out and the trailer will automatically lock the brakes.  So, the trailer was still hitched just fine and I don't know how the cord got broken, it must have not have had enough slack or something.  I don't see anything wrong, so I get back in the car and drive to the other gas station.  With each turn we hear the horrible metal scraping sound, so I worry that maybe the brakes did get set and that this is somehow causing the sound.  I called Camping World (where we bought the RV) and tell them about the incident.  They tell me to drive it for a quarter mile and then check to see if the wheels are hot.  After maneuvering the tiny gas station (somehow), we drive it down the road a bit and then stop in a nice big Wal-Mart parking lot.  The wheels seem fine and there is no problem with towing.  But, the loud noise keeps nagging me that there might still be a problem.  At Kyrie's insistence we call another RV service center.  They assure me that we would know if the brakes were set and also say that the stabilizer bars are making that noise and that it is perfectly normal.  So, after checking everything over one more time, I feel okay that there isn't any problem, except that we need to get that "rip cord" replaced when possible, and we continue on towards Springfield.

 We arrive in Springfield around 12:30 and it's definitely lunchtime so we stop at The Hen House for lunch.  Luckily, the business next door is closed so we have a nice big parking lot to park in.  Lunch was good and Zach had a great time getting attention from the waitresses and saying "Hi" and waving at the pictures on the wall.
Just like Grandma' salad was Jello
When Zach wasn't waving he was playing games like the bog kids
At about 1:30pm we arrive at the Double J Campground on Route 66.  We quickly unhitch and plug in the trailer before heading back to Springfield.  It's a little after 2:00pm when we finally arrive at the Abraham Lincoln Museum.  Much later than we intended, but still enough time to see it all.  The museum is fantastic.  They really did a nice job with using a mixture of artifacts, large sets, and multimedia presentations to really tell Lincoln's story.  The museum is divided into two main sections, with one telling of Lincoln's life before he was president and the other section presents Lincoln's time in the White House.  There are also two well done shows and another one is being added soon.  I was very impressed with the museum and the rest of the family seemed to enjoy it as well.

After the museum we walked a few blocks to Lincoln's home in Springfield.  It was too late to get a tour, but it was neat to see the neighborhood and imagine what it was like back then.

Kyrie here now, writing in blue as usual so you you know when it's me and when it's Marc writing. 

We were all anxious to get back to the campground to spend some time in our new RV, but there was no way we were going to bring dinner back or cook tonight and initiate the RV with eating inside the first night.  It's too cold outside to eat, and we were not ready to chance a mess inside.  We walked to a Bennigan's and had dinner there.  It was alright but the service was slow and we just wanted to go!  Finally a little after 7pm we got back to our campsite and finished the setup.  We watched a video, Toy Story of Terror, before going to bed.  Love the RV so far.  We had a good time in Springfield and I wish we had another half a day here to tour the inside of Lincoln's house.  It looks very well preserved from the outside and it's cool to imagine him walking the same streets we did to his law office and the capitol building.  Did you know that Lincoln's home is the only National Park in Illinois?  We didn't until today.

Day 2 - Springfield to Memphis

Well, the four oldest kids slept well last night, but Zach sure didn't and that meant Kyrie and I didn't either.  The RV was comfortable, but Zach is teething and probably also didn't like being in a strange environment.

Overall, it was an uneventful day.  I did put some WD40 on the stabilizer bars and that helped tremendously with the noise.  Other than that, we mostly just drove all day.  We drove through every state on our trip in one day today.  Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi.  We picked up lunch from Little Caesars and Steak and Shake. (Our kids are too picky,) We had dinner at Tops Barbecue (a dive near Memphis.)  We are camping at the Memphis Jellystone Park, but technically it's in Mississippi.  We arrived around 7pm.

Day 3 - Jellystone Memphis

We slept a bit better last night mainly thanks to Zach and I sleeping on the sofabed.  That gave Zach a little more room and he didn't wake up quite so much.

After driving for most of the past two days, it was a nice break to spend the day at the campground.  Most of the kids and I went to Wal-mart to pick up groceries and other supplies, while Kyrie and Max stayed behind to get our campsite all setup.

Early in the day, Zach poked Max in the eye and Max complained about it all day and mostly wouldn't even leave the RV.  It was kind of funny though, when he did leave the RV to see him wandering aimlessly pretending he was blind.  He's a little dramatic!

The other kids insisted on hitting the pool even though the water was quite cold because of the chilly nights.  Jacob and Ella had a blast.  Zoe mostly stayed out of the water.

So the campground itself is clean and the campsites are nice and big.  However, we chose a Jellystone park because the kids always have so much fun at them.  This time we are out of luck though.  There is absolutely nothing going on here.  No sign of Yogi or anyone else, no activities, and even the bouncy slides are shut down for the year.  To be fair, the main camping season is over, but it seems like there should be something going on.  Anyway, the kids are enjoying the playgrounds and we won't have much time at the campground anyway.

Not much else to write about today.  Tomorrow we'll be doing some sightseeing in Memphis, so we'll have more to write about then.

Day 4 - Memphis

We started the day with donuts from Krispy Kreme - couldn't resist the "Hot Now" sign.  Then headed straight to Graceland.  We had the 8th 10am tour, which left promptly at noon - good thing we got there early!  So, one recent change to the tour is that they now give each person an iPad and headphones to use on the tour.  The iPad gives the narration of the tour and allows you to get more details about some of the items in each room.  I personally didn't like that even though the tour narration was very good.  It was weird having everyone walking around with headphones and not talking to each other.  Plus it didn't really give you an opportunity to ask questions.  Usually, other people's questions is how I find out the most interesting things on a tour.  Anyway, it was still very interesting to tour the mansion.  Although small for a mansion, it had many unique features and the 70's decorating is fantastic.  We all liked the Jungle room the best for sure.  After Graceland we needed lunch right away so we just ate at the on-site restaurant which didn't go very well.  It was expensive and nobody really liked the food anyway.

For the record, I liked the pool table room with drapery on the ceiling the best.  I agree with Marc about the iPad tour especially because it's difficult/impossible to participate in that with a one year old trying to steal the iPad or headphones constantly.  Also, I wanted to talk with the kids more as we went through the house.  My favorite thing at Graceland was that Zoe picked her souvenir... an Elvis mug personalized with her name on it too.  Awesome.  It's nice the kids know who Elvis is now.

After lunch we headed downtown to see Mud Island, but it's closed on Monday so we didn't do that.  Then we went to Beale Street to check it out.  We didn't find much family friendly entertainment there except for A. Schwab old fashioned soda fountain.  It really was old fashioned like nothing I've ever seen before.  We split a strawberry ice cream soda, a grape soda and a Green River phosphorus.  The soda's were very unique like nothing I've ever had before.  It was a lot of fun and made the Beale Street experience worth it for us.  It did look like there were a lot of good restaurants to choose from, but we weren't ready for any more food yet.

After Beale Street we just drove around a little to see Memphis and then headed back to the campsite.  The kids played at the park and then we ate dinner and cleaned up the campsite to get ready for an early departure tomorrow.

We cooked Italian sausages for dinner on the grill.  It started drizzling a bit as we ate but no big deal.  We just pulled the table under the awning.

By the way, the internet here is extremely slow, so we haven't been uploading pictures.  We'll add them later when we have a decent connection!

Day 5 - Mississippi to Branson

Today is another travel day for us.  After breakfast we hitched up and headed on our way.  We stopped to find a geocache so that we could get our Mississippi badge and then left for Branson.  As usual, it was a slow and steady trip.  We spent most of the day in Arkansas, with a stop for lunch at Waffle House after a scenic drive through an abandoned main street in Brinkley.  The Ozark mountains were a new challenge for my newly acquired towing skills, but the van did great and I managed pretty well.

When we arrived in Branson we ate dinner at Charlie's Ribs, Chicken, and Ale.  I'm not sure if it was exactly called that.  Anyway, they had all you can eat ribs for $12.99, so that was good.  The food was pretty good and the kids liked that we were sitting next to an outside deck that they could go run around on - which worked out well since they were cooped up in the car all day.  After dinner we drove up to the Wilderness at Silver Dollar City Campground.  It was already pretty dark so getting to our campsite was a little tricky, especially because there are a few tight corners.  We arrived at site 47 which is right next to a playground that had several kids playing at it (probably other homeschoolers since it is the middle of the week).  Our kids jumped right in and had a lot of fun while Kyrie and I set up camp.  Now it's time to catch up on laundry.  That's the one thing we haven't figured out how to get in our RV.  If we ever have any more kids we'll have to bring another vehicle just to tow a washer and dryer! ...and another RV and a nanny.

Day 6 - Branson

It was a rainy day today.  We didn't do a whole lot.  We spent the morning at the campground and then searched for a geocache along a hiking trail.  That was a lot of fun and the kids were super excited to find wild cactus growing.  After that we headed to lunch at Mel's Hard Luck Diner, where the wait staff take turns signing.  This sounds like a lot of fun, except that most of the songs are gospel songs. The songs were mostly country songs but Marc wouldn't know that...they just kept mentioning their gospel albums are for sale at the gift shop. A completely different atmosphere that I expected, but it is Branson, so I shouldn't be surprised.  The food was good and the kids were especially happy to get milkshakes.
After lunch we checked out some of the little shops nearby and then headed to the outlet mall to pickup shoes for the kids.  Zach was sleeping so I stayed in the car with him and Kyrie took the rest with her.  Somehow Zoe came back with pink cowboy boots. They're dustly red and she really pulls them off!  Can't beat them for $12!   We ended up having to go the The Landing (another shopping center) to get Jacob's shoes. He picked out a pair on clearance and they didn't have his size.  He liked tham a lot more than any other pair and they were only $15 versus $40 for others so it was worth the drive.   While we were there I took Jacob and Max into Bass Pro Shop where they had fun checking out the aquarium of various lake fish.
For dinner we drove to Ozark, Mo to eat dinner at Lambert's Cafe - where they are famous for their "throwed rolls".  You just stick your hands in the air and they pitch them right at you from anywhere in the large dining room.  They're the size of softballs, hot, and delicious.  The kids loved that and asked for more rolls every time they came out. The other unique thing about this restaurant is the "pass arounds."  The bring buckets of fried okra around and you just rip off a paper towel from the roll on your table and they serve it right on that.  Once you have your huge dinner plate (their portions are generous!) they also serve you macaroni and tomatoes, fried potatoes and onions, and probably other stuff too.  It's a ridiculous amount of good food.  The drinks are massive too.  I'm sure we'll post pictures.

Day 7 - Silver Dollar City

This morning we had to move our RV to a different site because we accidentally didn't book enough nights originally.  So, after breakfast we took care of that.  It was our first back-in site with this RV (instead of pull-through) so that was a challenge, but we managed alright.  I was glad that we didn't have this site the first night we arrived in the dark though!  After moving the RV and getting it set up we went out to lunch at Starvin' Marvin's buffet.  It was okay, but could have used a little more variety.

After lunch we drove around Branson a bit to check out the sights and then headed to Silver Dollar City.  They have a deal where if you arrive after 3pm then the next day is free.  The kids spent a lot of time in the Grand Exposition area that has a lot of "flat rides" that even the little ones could enjoy.  Zach went on one ride with me - some little butterfly ride.  He liked it a lot while it was going in circles, but then Ella started making the butterfly go up and down and he definitely didn't like that.  The kids were surprised to see their new friends from the RV park.  

After a while we continued around the park.  Kyrie and Jacob went on The Outlaw roller coaster, while the other kids went on some little drop down ride.  When they came back Jacob asked if I wanted to go, so I took my turn.  Little did I know what kind of trick this was.  The Outlaw is this huge "wooden" coaster that has a ridiculously steep drop and then goes upside down and other crazy things.  Jacob didn't let on at all that the ride was like that, he just acted like it was an ordinary wooden coaster.  It's been a long time since I was impressed by a roller coaster but this one is really extraordinary.  The ride was wild, but very smooth, didn't shake you up a bunch.  I never knew what was coming.  It was a lot of fun.

We also went on the River Battle ride and got a little wet.  You can get very wet on this ride, but there was hardly anyone in the park, so we were the only ones on the ride and there were just 2 little kids on the outside shooting water at us. 

The other ride we went on was the Flooded Mine ride.  This was a shooting ride with kind of a confusing theme - a prison break out in a mine that was flooding.  Anyway, we all had fun with that. 

The park seemed absolutely deserted today.  It was nice to have no lines at all.  I wish we could have made it to more roller coasters but the three hours we had their before closing went by so fast. Looking forward to getting to spend more time at Silver Dollar City tomorrow!

Day 8 - Silver Dollar City - part 2

Today we spent the whole day at Silver Dollar City.  The park was very empty again and the only ride with a line was the Lost Ozarks Raft Ride.  Compared to yeaterday, there were a lot more people, but still no waits except that one.  Jacob loved being able to walk on to every coaster and even get the front row most of the time.  Silver Dollar City is really a treat.  The mountain landscape makes for a beautiful park, although quite a workout to get up and down all the hills.  It's also a little challenging to find your way around the park as well since you can't see much of the park from any one spot.  The rides are a lot of fun and several are very unique, such as the Flooded Mine that I mentioned yesterday, and Grandpa's Mansion, a sort of fun house with very slanted floors and upside down rooms.  The food is pretty amazing.  Here is a list of the food that we ate today:  giant cinnamon roll, sausage melody skillet (one of at least 5 different skillets that they sell), kettle chips, funnel cake, kettle chip hot dog, giant pretzel, apple dumpling, and BBQ Nachos, and that was just a fraction of the variety of quick food options that they sell.  We also had dinner at Aunt Pollys Buffet restaurant.  That was actually the only food that wasn't so good.

For me, the highlight of the day, and really the highlight of the whole trip was the Marvel Cave Tour.  I took Jacob, Max and Ella since the two babies would not have done well with that.  The cave is remarkable and has a history of well over 100 years.  The entrance to the cave (which is just inside the entrance to the park) is a giant cavern that they say could hold the entire statue of liberty.  After that the path winds up and down through many narrow and sometimes small passages and leads to an underground waterfall and many beautiful parts of the cave.  Each area seems to have it's own unique style and the 1 hour tour flew by.  Oh, speaking of flew by, a bat flew by Max and I while we were on the tour - that was another highlight for us. Overall, we had a great day and the weather couldn't have been nicer.

Today was supposed to be our day in St. Louis, but the rain earlier in the week made us decide to extend Branson by a day and skip St. Louis.  (Mostly because we were really looking forward to Silver Dollar City and didn't want to go on a rainy day.  But also because we wanted a little more "down" time.)  That means we've got a very long drive tomorrow.  It's supposed to take 9 hours without stops, which we know means more than 12 plus stops for us slow pokes.  Well, the kids have lots of movies and some books and I'm sure we'll have plenty of nice scenery along the way.  Hopefully, we'll have a couple of fun stops too, but they'll have to be short ones so that we get home sometime tomorrow!