Non-Tech Fun: Vacationing in the Mid-Atlantic Area

It’s that time of year when vacations are starting and you are looking for great places to take your family and relax and have some fun.  And, what better places to take them than to the amusement parks, right?  Well, sure, but there are new types of amusement parks that do not involve rollercoasters or ferris wheels.  First, though, I am going to talk about rollercoasters.  BIG ONES, at that.

Overview of Carowinds entranceThe tallest giga-coaster on the East Coast, and one of the tallest in the country, is called Fury 325 and is located in the very nice Carowinds theme park located near Charlotte, North Carolina.  This thing is 325 feet tall, has an 85 degree first drop and is over 6600 feet long. It towers over the park.  Now, Carowinds isn’t a one trick wonder. No, it also has another tall coaster: the Intimidator. Named after the late, great Dale Earnhardt, this out and back coaster features a first drop of over 200 feet and, prior to Fury 325, was the south easts tallest and fastest roller coaster.  Rounding out Carowinds collect are Nighthawk, a coaster where you lay down and Flightdeck, a hanging rollercoaster that is very fast and features many inversions.  Carowinds is a delightful place to take your family and won’t break the bank.Overview of Carowinds entrance

Charlotte is also home to an NFL team and, of course, NASCAR.  The NASCAR Hall of Fame is located in downtown Charlotte, just minutes from the theme park.

Travelling north, to Virginia, you will find not one, but two world class theme parks, lots of museums, and history, a ton of history from the revolutionary war era, to the Civil War and both World Wars. 

Griffon, at Busch Gardens WilliamsburgStarting in Williamsburg, you have Busch Gardens, a true world class park.  It’s theming, food, service and, of course, its rides, all make it THE best theme park to visit, period.  For its rides, you have Alpengeist, a daring hanging coaster that was the tallest of its type for many years.  The Loch Ness Monster, which, when it opened, was the tallest and fastest coaster in the country. Then, there is the Griffon. Griffon takes you up 205 feet, dangles you over the edge and then lets you drop down an almost 90 degree drop.  It’s a real heart stopper.  Apollo’s Chariot is hypercoaster that will never cease to thrill.  Busch Gardens has terrific food as well.  Oktoberfest lets you sample German cuisine while Festa Italia gives you a taste of Italy.  Down the road from the park you will find Water Country, USA, a huge water park.

Also in Williamsburg, you will find Colonial Williamsburg for a sampling of life in the 1700’s.  There’s also shopping, fine dining and more touristy things to do like the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium. Finally, there’s mini-golf, go kart parks and the famous Williamsburg Pottery Outlets.

Oh, yeah, I’d me remiss if I neglected to mention Great Wolf Lodge.  This nice resort features a good sized indoor waterpark, included in the price of your room. 

And, don’t forget, to the east is Virginia Beach, about a forty minute drive. And Norfolk, which contains even more things to do, including an aquarium and battleship.  Virginia Beach also features an even better aquarium that also has zip lines and a rope course.

Loch Ness Monster, BGWJust north and west of Williamsburg is Richmond.  Richmond is rich in history, culture, fine arts and food. Lots of restaurants with everything from soul food, to country food to anything European, Korean, Japanese or Chinese.  There’s also a tremendous amount of Thai food restaurants.  You name, you can likely find it in Richmond.  In addition to shopping and food, you’ll find many art museums, history museums and the Edgar Allen Poe Museum.

There’s minor league Baseball, NASCAR twice a year (in April and September) and several short tracks for that weekly dose of speed.  There’s adrenaline junky places like Jumpology, a trampoline fun house.  Coming soon to the area is an indoor park featuring an American Gladiators type course, several zip lines and rope courses. 

A few minutes north of Richmond takes you to Virginia’s second world class theme park, Kings Dominion.  Kings Dominion is a sister park to Carowinds and, as such, contains many of the same types of rides and attractions.  It includes a nice collection of Dominator Rollercoaster, KDrollercoasters, including what was the tallest and fastest giga coaster on the east: Intimidator 305.  This 305 foot tall beast, also named for Dale Earnhardt, gives you the feeling of the high banked turns of Talledega and Daytona.  The first drop takes you into a sharp right turn that may cause a momentary ‘grey out’ in which you lose vision for a fraction of a second. This is normal and is not harmful, just weird. It is caused by blood flow and is harmless. 

Edgar Allen Poe MuseumThe park also features many ‘launch’ style coasters, where, instead of the train being pulled up a hill and released, linear induction motors propel the train forward at tremendous speed.  One of them, the Volcano, shoots you out of the station, around the base of a volcano mountain and then up and through the Volcano itself.  Quite thrilling and was my favorite coaster until I rode Fury 325.

Kings Dominion also features a nice but small collection of wooden rollercoasters, including the Rebel Yell, which is featured in the motion picture ‘Rollercoaster’. 

In addition to nice collection of rollercoasters, the park also features shows and a good collection of flat rides including a Ferris Wheel, a Carousel from the 1920’s and a smaller replica of the Eiffel Tower (this one is one third size at 300 feet.)  For thrills, there is the 300 foot tall Drop Zone tower and the 305 foot tall Windseeker, a swing that takes you up nearly 300 feet.

Richmond, VA - richmondcitybook.comRichmond is nicely located with Washington DC to the north, the beautiful Skyline Drive to the north and west and, of course Williamsburg and Virginia Beach to the east.  All of these destinations are within a two hour drive.  The Outer Banks of North Carolina are just three hours from Richmond.  But, there’s certainly plenty to do in the city and one could spend a week here doing it all.

The East Coast from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina all the way up to Ocean City, Maryland (two of my favorite vacation spots as well) offer up a tremendous opportunity for a fun filled vacation pretty much any time of the year (the amusement parks are seasonal, however) and none of it will break the bank either.

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Ocean city, we came, we conquered, we left

100_2572Vacations.  We love them. They are a time to spend with your family and/or friends. They are a break from our normal lives. A time to rest and relax. Only…we don’t rest and, if you have kids, you do little relaxing.

We tend to travel, sometimes by plane or train, but, for many families, we drive to our destinations-destinations that are usually a day or two away.

I just got back from vacationing, with my family, in Ocean City, Maryland. Now, if you’ve never heard of this quaint little beach city, I would not be surprised. It is nestled on the east side of Maryland, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. During the summer, the temps are very warm, typical for the area. The city is small, very clean and the people are very friendly. If you know what Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is like, take the very best of that and that’s what ALL of Ocean City is like.100_2615

We stayed at a family resort called Francis Scott Key Family Resort. It is a multi building facility, with its own mini-golf course, an outdoor and indoor pool (which is part of the ‘water park’), basketball court, volleyball court, picnic pavilion, fishing pond and an outdoor ‘water park’ for kids. The rooms range from small to smaller, and there are bungalows with two bedrooms for rent. There is a family area, movie room and a 50’s style diner. It is an inexpensive resort and was pleasant, but nothing fancy. It is like an Econolodge version of the Great Wolf resort. The resort was about two miles from the beach, and fairly convenient to most of what Ocean City has to offer.

Our stay was for five days, which might have been one day too long or two days too short, depending on how you look at it. It was a bit long because eating out in this city is damned expensive.  While our room had a stove, microwave and fridge, we only actually used it for two meals.  And that was only when we realized how much of our vacation budget had been spent on food.  And, it was not all good food either, or a good experience worth the price that was charged.

IMAG1126Take, for instance, that 50’s style diner at the resort.  The first visit was almost two hours long. See, we decided to take our vacation the last of summer break for our kids. The time just happens to coincide with other localities ALREADY having started the new school year and many colleges ramping up a new year as well. As a result, much of the staff of the diner had already left for school, so the resort was using its staff. Unfortunately for us, they did not seem to know what to do. We were seated on the far side of the diner, which seemed to be ignored by the wait staff.  When we finally did get our order, it was, naturally, not all correct. I ended up with two cups of coffee, which I really did not mind, but the same guy asked, twice, if I wanted coffee, after I ordered it. Once the order was straight, we were told that we would get a 20% discount on our meal. The food was great, and we did, in fact, get our discount. A return visit was much more pleasant, they hired a few temps to help out and it was a nice visit. Other restaurants had great service and mediocre to OK food. Oddly, one of the better meals we had was a chain restaurant (we try to avoid them as we can get them at home.)

My 15 year old son, an amusement park junkie, wanted to visit the local attractions.IMAG1083 So, I took him and his cousin to a place called Trimper’s Amusements. Now, we’ve been there before and on each prior visit, we were able to purchase ‘all ride wrist bands.’ That’s a paper bracelet that allows you to partake in the parks’ attractions. It sells for about $22.  But…we got there after 7PM, when they STOP selling the bloody things. It seems the park is busiest after 7, so they sell sheets of tickets. A sheet of 40 tickets is $19.95.  Each ride takes 5 to 8 tickets. Of course, most of the rides the boys wanted to ride took 8 tickets. So, now they have to actually plan out what rides they wanted. Through judicious selection, they rode/did 6 things.  The only saving grace was that the place is on the boardwalk, which is just spectacular at night.  While the boys had a good time, it is a shame that the park priced them out of a better time.

A better time was had at the Jolly Roger Amusements.  Jolly Roger DOES have an evening all ride pass, but it is two dollars more than the day time pass. I’m guessing the parks do this since most people are actually on the beach and not at amusement parks.  At any rate, our four year old was able to enjoy Jolly Roger as well and it made for the best night of our vacation.

Along with the mini-golf, amusement parks, eating and beach going come the inevitable family squabbles.  No one wanting to decide what to eat seemed to be the biggest issue, dealing with an overly stimulated child and another who seemed comatose at times and one who is becoming a teen all added up normal family tension. It was all easily subdued by either leaving the room or, yes, eating.  Food seems to be the quiet arbiter of all family problems.  Fortunately, those little moments were not long lasting and did not spoil our stay.

100_2648Then, there is the drive. The long dreaded drive home. While the mapquest directions say four hours and 45 minutes or so, it really took over six. My wife is pregnant, the four year old has a pea sized bladder, I’m not as young as I used to be and the two older boys need for food plus traffic in Virginia’s port city of Norfolk all added up to frequent stops and a 45 minute traffic delay. Plus, the trip over and through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel was not fun for me as I seriously dislike tunnels and long bridges. And, boy, is that a long bridge. Let me tell you, I was gripping that damn steering wheel so hard, my joints really ached by the time we got off the damned thing.

So, it was really great to get home. Unpacking was easy, all of our clothes went into the washing machine and since we did not shop, we didn’t have much to unpack. I downloaded all of the video and photos to the computer and started working on that great vacation video. It’s still ‘in process’, by the way. Didn’t do much with the photos as I had already started uploading them during vacation, to Facebook. Oh yeah, the WiFi at Francis Scott Key was terrible. While we could connect, we could not actually do anything. I took my Sprint WiFi hotspot piece of junk and we were able to use that. One weeks worth of data usage came to about 985 megabytes. Not bad for three devices being used.

While it may seem, just from reading the above, that we did not enjoy our vacation.  Yes, there were issues-as there will be for pretty much every vacation for everyone, do not go perfect all of the time-but we had a blast.  The resort was entertaining and we did not have to go far for anything. The family squabbles, short as they were, are just part of life and I would not trade them or this vacation for anything.