Two week vacation to FL on a budget. Read here for what to see and what to skip. Note - drive times include some stops (bathroom, gas). Also, I am going to write detailed reviews for everywhere we stopped on their individual trip advisor forums. This is just going to be a brief summary. ASTC science musums can change and can be found at www.ASTC.org. We have a MN science museum membership - it was about $95 for one year. Also we have a MN zoo membership, which includes the AZA zoos and was $85?. If you are going to more than one science museum or zoo, you definately want to have these memberships. They can save you hundreds. But remember reciprical admission can change anytime, so call before you go to verify.
Wed night. Drive time about 4 hrs. $55 with tax. Perfect start to our vacation. Pool play just right for dd 9 and ds 5. Husband and I relaxed in hot tub from first leg, while kids played in the ship. Absolutely recommended, see my review for more info.
Thurs morn. Drive time 2 hrs. They have some amazing stuff here - but it is not finished. We got in free with our astc membership, but you have to pay $8 for parking. I would go again, hoping more was done this time. It was worth $8.
****Hint - the parking is underground, heated. You don't have to go outside to enter the building, so we left our coats in the car.
Thurs morn. Drive time 5 mins. This is what I would consider a natural history museum. Lots of neat stuff to look at, but not a lot to do. The set up is very good, definately not boring. My 5 yr old was a little restless. Free with ASTC membership, we parked at meter on the street, but there is also a lot somewhere. Didn't pop out at us, but we didn't spend a lot of time looking either.
Thurs eve. Drive time 2 hrs. They were open til 8 on thurs and free for everyone from 5-8. However, they are also on the ASTC list. Fun children's museum alot to do. They were busy, but not overcrowded considering it was free. Parking in a nonheated garage is $19 for 2 hours. I was told not to bother trying other transportation options as other lots probably would be about the same. I didn't verify that though.
****Hint - about $5 in tolls. Make sure you have change. One toll booth was 15 cents, exact change only. We carried a roll of quarters for unmanned toll booths and that lasted us to FL and back with no problems.
Thurs night. Drive time 4 hours. About $4 in tolls. Do not stay here.
Fri morn. Drive time 2 hrs. I quess this is what is otherwise known as the Explorium. Don't be scared off by the outside appearance. It looks like a run down mall on the outside, but is anything but that on the inside. Lots of expensive shops on the path from the free parking garage to the explorium. Would definately go back. Free with ASTC membership. They were hosting a dental hygiene week, so were very busy, but did not feel crowded.
Fri aft. Drive time 3 hrs. Not a winter zoo. Looks like it is a great summer zoo. Do not go if temp is below comfort level. Gift shop is only thing inside. Also, animals hide inside where they can't be seen. Call ahead to ask if animals are out if it's cold. Free with AZA membership. $4 parking fee.
Fri night. Drive time 2 hrs. $60, tax included. My dh liked it, I thought it was OK. Be forewarned, if you have a cheap room, you probably have outside access to the pool/game area. Golf includes what you see on picture ( three holes in the ground about 2 feet from each other). I would probably look for something else, but stay here if I couldn't find anything decent.
Sat morn. Drive time 2 hrs. Warmer here. Decent zoo. Lots of birds and flowers, if you like those, you will love this zoo. Treetop bridge is actually about 10 feet off ground. Would probably see if something else in the area next time, but glad we went. Free with AZA membership.
Sat night. Drive time 2 hrs. You can stay in a trolley or caboose for around $65. I am glad we did it, not in a hurry to repeat the experience. We picked the caboose, which has a slightly musty smell, but the kids loved it. We peeked in the trolley, it is newer and I think set up nicer, although smaller. We would probably pick that one if we make it back to this area.
Sun morn. Drive time 3 hrs. Finally warm enough for a zoo. Great zoo. Kid's play area is phenomenal. Definately see if you are in the area. Free with AZA membership (although my mom's grandparents one didn't get grandkids in free, hers is from Kansas City Zoo. Ours got all 4 of us in fine). Would definately visit again.
Sun aft. Drive time 10 mins. See the show!! Life size whale on wall was worth the visit. Rest of it was OK. Would probably not revisit, but glad went for the whale and show. Parking might be hard to come by, we parked in a private lot that I don't think we were supposed to be in. Didn't see any other spots. Might want to call and ask if your not familiar with the area.
Sun night. Drive time 2 hrs. About $95/nt after taxes. We stayed here until Fri. These aren't cabins, they're houses. We decided the only thing missing was a tv and a washer/dryer. It has a full kitchen, including dishwasher and dishes and a full bath. Our cabin had 1 bedroom with a double bed, 1 with 2 twins, and a pullout couch. We were about 5 miles from a grocery store and ate all our suppers here, which saved us a bunch. Be forewarned -------NO TV---------. I felt the screened porch and feel of being in the middle of a florida wilderness was worth it, but others might not. We loved this place and would definately stay here again. (My parents met us here and shared the cabin with us - so it was less than $50 a night). We were allowed 2 cars into the park with our cabin fee, otherwise it is $5 a car/day.
****Hint - It looks like you are driving through the suburbs to get here, then it turns into wilderness all of a sudden. Also their signs are about 15 feet from where you are supposed to turn, so keep a sharp eye out.
Mon morn. Drive time N/A. I'm putting this here again because we spent the day walking around the park. This is the spot for wintering manatees and definately worth a day trip even if you don't stay here. There were over 30 manatees in a 1 block stretch when we were there. It was rainy, but there were still alot of people out looking.
****Hint - There is a small convenience store where you can pick up the Junior Ranger activity for $2. When they finish the book (which my 5 year old enjoyed - only needing help with writing, and a little of the fact finding. Probably one of the most enjoyable one of these we've done so far) they turn it into a Ranger and recieve a patch with a manatee on it. Wonderful suveniour.
Mon aft. Drive time 30 mins. So after hearing so much about this make your own pancake spot, we had to try it. The resteraunt is in a state park, so you have to pay $5 per car before you even get to the resteraunt. Then, you pay $4 per person plus drinks, meat, and a mandatory 15% gratuity to make your own food. Kids 5 and under get free pancakes. A small bowl of toppings is $1.50. Basically, we had 10 people and it cost us $90 for pancakes and bacon (including $15 to get 3 cars in). And I spent the whole time waiting for my antsy 5 year old to fall headfirst onto the grill that was 10 inches from him. Kids liked it, but we won't go back.
Mon night. Drive time 1 hr. We were going to skip disney this time because we didn't want to pay over $300 for one day at one park. But then we saw the advertisements for the "Pirates and Princesses Party". For $145 including taxes we got 2 adult and 2 child tickets. The event ran from 7:30 - 12:30 and most of the rides were open. All I can say is wow. We walked on all the rides with almost no wait. We collected beads and candies from all the "treasure spots" and partied with several different characters. All I can say is that it was definately magical in all aspects. We couldn't have asked for a better disney experience.
Wed day. Drive time 45 mins. Again wow. Our vacation was getting better and better. The ride waits were about 10 minutes. We got to see Spiderman, Rogue, Storm, Wolverine, Captain America, Popeye, Olive Oil, Grinch, Sam, etc. It seemed like there was a charactor every 10 feet. My kids loved it. Disney charactors had long lines. Here there were so many of them, lines never seemed to be more than 2 or 3 kids. We would definately go back.
Thurs day. Drive time 45 mins. Tried the other side this time. I don't think it was nearly as kid friendly. Much more grown up orientated. Only saw Jimmy Neutron, didn't see anyone else. Rides were almost all shows. If you have kids and only get to one, go to islands of adventure.
****Hint - You can buy an annual pass for $115/person that has about 10 black out dates, or a preferred pass for about $190. The preferred includes free parking and discounts on a bunch of stuff. You can pay for these in monthly payments. So we got one preferred and 3 basic, and are paying about $50 a month.
Fri morn. Drive time 2 hrs. Free museum with some pay parts. Might be free with ASTC, we didn't try one of them. I probably wouldn't go back, although they do show a sample of a midden that is pretty neat. And the kids liked the logs they lifted to show bugs underneath. If you live in the area and have time, they have a scavenger hunt activity. Parking $3 cash only.
Fri aft/eve. Drive time 3 hrs. What a great place. Free with AZA membership. First, we went to the zoo portion, which was cute. Not very big, but they have it set up nice. Then we went to the kids play area outside the zoo. There is a building next to it with fireplaces and grills. We built a fire and grilled burgers while the kids explored the castle park. This was one of our favorite activities. Do not miss this if you are in the area.
Fri night. Drive time 5 hrs. $57 tax included. Much better than the other Days inn we tried. Breakfast at on site resteraunt was included. Decent choices, we all liked our food. Rooms were clean.
Sat morn. Drive time 1 hr. We loved this place. It was cold, so some of the outside activities were closed, but overall neat place. Free with ASTC.
****Hint - Kids can check out a backpack with activities for free. It includes a rocket experiment that was the highlight of my kids' day. Also, when they check out all the areas, they get a free patch.
Sat morn. Drive time 5 mins. Neat place, alot of their stuff wasn't working. If I did this trip again, I would spend more time at the space center or the nashville science museum and skip this. Free with ASTC.
Sat aft. Drive time 2 hrs. Our favorite science center. We will be planning a trip back down so we can come here again. It was very busy, but not overcrowded. Free with ASTC.
Sat night. Drive time 1 1/2 hrs. $50 tax included. One space heater was on when we got there, another waiting for us to plug in ourselves. Essentially room maxed out at about 55 degrees. That pretty much sums it up. Wouldn't go back in the winter.
Sun morn. Drive time 1 1/2 hrs. We didn't see much of it. They had some nice indoor exhibits. Looks like it is a great zoo in the summer. Will try to go back on our way to nashville. Free with AZA.
Sun aft. Drive time 2 hrs. Listed on ASTC site, but this is NOT a member. $40 entrance fee. Was overcrowded. Lots of neat things, but couldn't really try any of it with the crowd. Definately wouldn't be worth that much money.
Sun night. Drive time 2 hrs. $40 tax included. Fine. Laundry room on site.
Mon morn. Drive time 1 hr, some tolls. Very neat place, very overcrowded. We didn't see much because there were too many people. We would try to go again on a slower day. Free with ASTC.
Mon aft. Drive time 2 hrs, some tolls. Looks like a good zoo. We only saw some inside exhibits. Would visit again in the summer. Free with AZA. Parking $9.
Mon night. Drive time 2 hrs. $60 This is our last stop. Kids liked the water slides. I think I liked Copa better. Husband liked both.