Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Fall 2021 - Chicago to Orlando, Universal Orlando

 November 10, 2021  - A slow start  -  


Today we begin our road trip to Orlando.  Kyrie and Zoe are in Minnesota for a conference and will meet us in Orlando on Saturday. 

My plan was to drop off Kyrie and Zoe at the airport and then go back, pick up the kids, take them to their orthodontist appointment and then start our road trip from there.  Everything went fine at first.  I got Kyrie and Zoe to the airport and headed back home.  The rest of the kids did a good job of getting ready to go and cleaning up breakfast etc.  The problem started when I started up the van.  The "check engine" light came on for the first time ever.  I checked things out the best I could.  The car seemed fine, but I wasn't super excited about starting a 1,400 mile trip with some unknown car problem.  I figured we could get it checked out after the orthodontist appointment and hope for the best.  We got to the orthodontist and found out the appointment wasn't for another hour.  That gave us time to get the car checked out.  They said it was an EVAP system leak which wouldn't be an issue with our drive.  I was relieved that it wasn't something that had to be fixed before we left!  After that, things went well.  The kids had their orthodontist appointment and we finally left the area around noon.  It was a late start, but could have been a lot worse.

It was an uneventful day, just drove through Indiana and stopped for the night in Georgetown KY.  We're staying Mainstay Suites.  It seems nice so far.  Just got here.  It's clean and updated and the staff was nice.  Hopefully tomorrow we'll actually have some fun stops!

Day 2 -  Georgetown, KY to Pigeon Forge, TN
Fort Harrod, "Secret City of Oak Ridge, TN" and American Museum of Science and Energy

Fort Harrod - first settlement in Kentucky

After driving by some beautiful horse farms in Lexington, we arrived at our first stop - Fort Harrod.  This fort is a recreation of the first settlement in Kentucky.  The man who the fort is named after selected the location and was an integral part of the settlement.  He died under unknown circumstances after going missing on a hunting expedition and never returning.  

Being the off-season there was only one person working there when we arrived.  This worked out well for us, because we were on a tight schedule and the self-guided pace worked well for us.  It was interesting to see the different buildings within the fort and try to imagine what life may have been like.  The cemetery is the oldest in Kentucky (over 500 years old).  Most of the graves are marked with plain, unmarked, stones.  There is a huge tree here, that was a grand champion until the trunk split.  It's still an impressive tree.  Also, on site is a museum mansion that was closed and the cabin that Abraham Lincoln's parents were married in (also closed).

Ella had fun teaching her "class"
Ella had fun teaching her "class".

Secret City of Oak Ridge, TN and American Museum of Science and Energy

Our next stop today was definitely the most interesting so far and will probably be my favorite of the trip.  It was the American Museum of Science and Energy in the "Secret City" of Oak Ridge, TN.

Oak Ridge is known as the Secret City, because it was created by the military in 1942 for the Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb.  The museum is mostly about this project and the town itself.

In 1939, Albert Einstein wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt about concerns he had about Germany creating an atomic bomb.  This prompted the U.S. to start research into this.  In 1942, Fermilab, in Batavia IL, created the first nuclear reaction.  With that complete, the government put the Manhattan Project into full gear.  They created the town of Oak Ridge TN (which grew to 75,000 people) in about a year!  They built housing, shops, and recreation - creating a full blown city.  Most of the 75,000 people had no idea what they were working on - only that it was important and they weren't supposed to talk about it.  By separating the jobs, most people only knew their own small piece of the puzzle.  

The labs were built in 3 valleys throughout the town so that if something went wrong at one of the labs, there would be some level of protection for the other parts of the town.  Luckily, there were no accidents and the project was an amazing accomplishment.

It only took 3 years to build and entire town and create the worlds first atomic bombs.  And thankfully the last that would ever be used.  

After the war, the town became a civilian town and shrunk to about half it's size.  Some of the labs are still in use today.


One of the pre-fab houses that were created for Oak Ridge

Day 3 - Pigeon Forge, TN to Amelia Island, FL
Riverbanks Zoo and Congaree National Park

Riverbanks Zoo

Congaree National Park

Day 4  - Amelia Island, Airport, Marriott's Grand Vista

We woke up in Florida today, I think.  Not totally sure anymore if we crossed the border or not last night, but either way we are getting close!  We are on Amelia Island which doesn't actually seem to be an island, but I guess that's okay.  We stayed at the Comfort Suites there which was nice.  Very clean and updated.  We were right by the beach and went there right after breakfast.  Zach and Ella had fun collecting shells there - there are a ton of shells on this beach!  

After that we headed for Orlando!  This last three hours seemed to take the longest and it didn't help that there was a huge traffic jam just as we were entering Orlando.  We finally got through that and picked up groceries before heading to the airport to pick up Kyrie and Zoe.  That went fine and then we checked into our resort - Marriott's Grand Vista.  We exchanged a timeshare that we have for a week here and it seems really nice.  The check in process took forever, but the room is nice and very conveniently located.

Day 5   Islands of Adventure 

We finally made it to Universal Orlando today - technically our destination, but for me the road trip was half the fun.  We went to the Islands of Adventure side and went on Universal's newest ride - Velocicoaster.  It is a pretty impressive coaster.  Super fast with a little bit of everything.  There is one part where you swear it's going to dunk you upside down in the lagoon!  Spoiler alert by the way.  Anyway, it was a lot of fun.  

We went on a bunch of other rides - Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, also the kid coaster right by it, Jurassic Park River Adventure, King Kong, Spiderman, Cat in the Hat, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, and maybe some more.  We had lunch at Mythos which was good, but not great.   

In the afternoon we watched the Grinchmas show which is a musical retelling of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Day 6

We did the other side of Universal Studios today.  Starting the day at the Gringott's Bank ride in the Harry Potter Daigon Alley section and then mostly making our way clockwise around the park.  We had extra fun in the Harry Potter areas because the girls and I have been reading the Harry Potter books.  It was fun to spot all of the places from the first couple books.

The biggest surprise was Universal's newest show, The Borne Stuntacular.  This has taken over the old Terminator show and it was really impressive.  The show combines live action and physical set pieces with an amazingly high res video screen to create really lifelike effects.  I spent quite a bit of the time trying to determine which things were real life and which things were just on the screen.  It was quite good.

The holiday parade was fun.  It combined favorite Dreamworks characters, as well as entertainers, with traditional Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. 

We spent too long at the park, basically staying from open until close. 

We had dinner in Citywalk at Antojitos which is very good.

Day 7 -  A rest day
Buca Du Bepo
Disney Character Warehouse
Disney Springs

Day 8 - Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure

Hagrid's coaster - broke down just before we could ride
Water rides