With the world locking down and isolating, does it seem an odd time to be discussing travel? I totally understand why travel, per se, is not top of mind for you or anyone else right now. But with the time lots of us have on our hands, I want to spend a few minutes explaining why travel is pretty high on the list of things we might contemplate for a few moments.
First, some of our best memories are of travel. The vacations we took as children with our parents, the trips we have experienced with our own families and friends. Travel is a part of more than our culture, it is embedded in our very DNA. Travel requires us to endure some discomfort, it teaches us tolerance, patience and perseverance. Humans are a pilgrim species.
There is indeed a spiritual aspect to travel. Though travel is outwardly about transportation, a crossing of borders, lodging and logistics, every journey somehow has an internal component as well, as though some of the borders crossed are interior to our psyche. We long for a horizon that moves one step away from us as quickly as we take a step forward. Yet, when we gaze inward, we find that same horizon there. There is something about travel that involves a defiance of the physical act of travel as though we are participating in a quest for understanding and knowledge as much as accruing milage.
Now, as we find ourselves largely homebound, perhaps it is a good time to evaluate the importance of travel to our psyche, to what it has meant to us in the past to what it will mean to us as things normalize. One way to do so is to use travel to distract us a bit from the day to day routines we are lapsing into in the much smaller world of our homes, and to use the technologies and media to our advantage to visit the world virtually. So for your digital travel adventures over the next few weeks, let me suggest a few of the best opportunities I have encountered as of late:
Yours in travel,
Susan, Ships 'N' Trips Travel
A visit to Washington, DC should include a visit to Mt. Vernon, the home of George and Martha Washington. It is conveniently located approximately 15 miles south of Washington, D.C. When you plan your visit however, schedule for a half day visit minimum, whether you join a tour group or drive down independently.
HOURS OF OPERATION
Mt Vernon opens at 9:00 AM daily, and closes at 4:00 PM or 5:00 PM depending on the time of year. Throughout the year Mt Vernon hosts a variety of special events on select days, including trick or treating, Christmas Illuminations, Mt Vernon by Candlelight, wine festivals, Independence Day, and more.
WHAT TO SEE / DO THERE
There is quite a bit to see while visiting Mt Vernon, which is why we recommend that you plan a half day trip for your visit. The estate includes the historic mansion, outbuildings, gardens, a working farm, two museums, heritage breed animals, and a majestic view of the Potomac River from the porch of the mansion.
The standard mansion tour is included in your admission. It includes the first and second floors where you will see the interiors that have been meticulously resorted to their 1799 appearance (the last year of George Washington's life).
The estate features four separate gardens for visitors to enjoy, as well as a wooded landscape on a quarter mile long forest trail.
There over a dozen outbuildings where many essential daily tasks took place, including laundry, spinning, meat curing and more. There are daily demonstrations in the blacksmith's shop.
You can also visit the tomb where George and Martha Washington, along with other family members, are interred. Every day there is a brief wreath-laying ceremony held at the home, to pay tribute to our first president.
There is still a working farm at Mt Vernon, located on 4 acres of the estate. It includes a replica of the 16-sided treading barn as well as a reconstructed slave cabin. These are only open between April 1 and October 1.
Apparently George Washington enjoyed his spirits. You can tour the fully-functioning reconstructions of his gristmill and whiskey distillery. These buildings are located about 2 1/2 miles from the estate's main entrance and are included in your admission price.
HOW TO ARRIVE
Typically most visitors arrive at Mt Vernon approaching the main entrance by car or bus. And those that are physically fit to do so can ride a bike to Mt Vernon. But our personal favorite is to arrive by boat. It is a relaxing, scenic way to get there. The boats can typically be boarded in Washington DC (at Pier 4 at 6th and Water Sts. SW), Alexandria (at the marina at Cameron and Union Streets), or National Harbor (at the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel). The cost of the round trip boat trip also includes your admission to Mt Vernon.
At Mt Vernon you disembark at the wharf near the slave memorial, and farming demonstrations. It is a much less crowded approach to the estate. With the bulk of visitors approaching via the main entrance, especially during peak seasons, it can get quite crowded. When you approach from the Potomac River, you aren't fighting large crowds and can start your tour of the estate "going against the flow" of visitors coming through the main entrance.
The cost will depend somewhat on how you get to Mt Vernon. Going by tour bus or via boat, the admission is included in your transportation costs. If you drive yourself to Mt Vernon and do not pre-purchase tickets in advance, expect to pay $20 per adult and $12 per child (ages 6-11). Seniors (62+) can get a discounted rate of $19, and children 5 years old and younger are free. Military discounts are available, and Purple Heart recipients receive free admission year-round.
By the time our daughter was 15 years old she finally caught onto what we'd been doing since she was about 5 years old ... educating her while we were on vacations. The summer after she turned 15 we took her on a 14 night cruise through the Panama Canal. We insisted that she be up at 5:00 AM on the day we entered the canal (letting her go back to sleep after we went through the first set of locks). Her complaint was a simple one: "why do I have to learn anything? I'm not missing any school for this cruise." My answer? "Because we're paying for you to be on this cruise." Since she couldn't afford to reimburse us for her share of the cruise, she grudgingly gave in.
The irony was that in the following school year she had to do a 10 page report and in-class presentation in World History. The topic she drew? Yup. The Panama Canal. At that point she regretted not going to any of the onboard seminars with the Panama Canal expert (she did end up emailing her with questions, a lot).
We have always been firm believers of making vacations fun, interesting, and educational. I blame my parents, who were both teachers. It also helped that when my parents took our daughter on summer RV road trips there was always an element of education involved. My mom had our daughter journaling every day they traveled (dictating before she could write); working on basic English skills, grammar, spelling, sentence structure, writing descriptive prose, etc. (my mom was an English major after all). There was also art and photography lessons involved.
Fun, but Educational
It's not too hard to figure out really. A trip to Carlsbad Caverns could turn into a lesson about geology. A stop a The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, would be steeped in history about the war with Mexico and how Texas became a state. Even trips to Disney World can be educational, learning about animals at Animal Kingdom, or about different countries at EPCOT. Disney also offers a range of behind the scenes tours that have elements of education hidden throughout.
People have varying opinions about animals kept in captivity (i.e. zoos, Sea World, aquariums, etc.). Your personal views will determine if you visit these places for educational reasons. One of my nephews, while visiting my parents during the summer, volunteered at a bird sanctuary. He's now studying Marine Biology in college.
Education does not simply mean reading text books and taking tests. When planning your family vacations, focus on what is not covered in school these days, as well as reinforcing what is covered. Sciences, history, social sciences, languages, music and the arts can all be addressed during vacation. You can also find ways to reinforce math and English skills.
Doing a road trip? Map reading is a fundamental skill that you can teach your kids, along with reinforcing math skills (determining how many miles left to your next stop, figuring out how long it'll take to get there based on the average speed driven, etc.).
Depending on your kids' ages, have them research the states or countries you'll be visiting, and let them participate in researching and planning where you'll go, what you'll do and see. You can also spur their interest about places you'll visit by having them read books based on the area. For example, if you were planning a trip to Prince Edward Island in Canada, you might have your child read Anne of Green Gables (if it is age appropriate). If you were visiting Monterey and Salinas in central California, books written by John Steinbeck might be appropriate.
Education can be personal history as well. Did a grandfather or great-grandfather land at Normandy in WWII? Did you have an ancestor tried in the Salem Witch Trials? Or an ancestor that immigrated to the United States from Europe? Vacations can be customized around your personal family history.
Education never has to be boring!
This is a question we get asked a lot when planning Disney World dream trips for our clients. So we decided to do a little experiment on our own recent trip to Disney World this past weekend. We were there for only two nights, so we decided to splurge this time and got the Deluxe Dining Plan, versus the standard dining plan that we typically purchase (be patient with me, I’ll explain the differences between the three dining plans a bit later).
With the Deluxe Dining Plan we got 3 table service meals and 2 snacks per night of stay and a refillable souvenir mug, per person. So for 2 of us staying 2 nights, that was a total of 12 table service meal credits and 8 snack credits on our account. We made dining reservations as follows:
Sunday lunch at Yak & Yeti in Disney’s Animal Kingdom (1 table service credit per person)
Sunday dinner at California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort (2 table service credits per person)
Monday lunch at the Rose & Crown Pub in EPCOT (1 table service credit per person)
Monday dinner at the Yachtsman Steakhouse at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (2 table service credits per person)
Sunday breakfast was procured before we even arrived at Disney World, and Monday breakfast was paid for with cash (total $19.36 total for the 2 of us) at the quick service restaurant at our resort.
The cost of the Deluxe Dining Plan for 2 adults for 2 nights came to $440.92. When we first booked it, it seemed like a lot to pay for food for 2 days for only 2 people. All the same, we bit the bullet for the sake of research. As for the four table service restaurants where we ate, here is what the meals would have cost if we had paid for them individually:
Yak & Yeti lunch = $91.08 (works out to $45.54 per person)
California Grill dinner = $170.38 (works out to $85.19 per person, or $42.60 per table service credit)
Rose & Crown lunch = $77.99 (works out to $39 per person)
Yachtsman Steakhouse = $184.23 (works out to $92.12 per person, or $46.06 per table service credit)
Our 8 snacks (a pineapple soft serve, and several bottled sodas & water) total value was $23.06, and the value of the refillable mugs was $25.54 total for a 2 night stay. So our grand total “spend” would have been $572.28. By using the Deluxe Dining Plan we actually saved $131.36. So was it worth it? For us, yes. But the bigger question is: would it be worth it for YOU? It truly depends, and this is one of many aspects of planning that we help our clients navigate.
The three dining plan options
I promised I would explain the three different dining plans, so here it is (please note that prices may change at any time):
QUICK SERVE DINING – this includes 2 quick service meal credits and 1 snack credit per person, per night of stay plus a refillable mug The cost of this plan is $41.99 per night per adult (ages 10 and up) and $16.03 per night per child (ages 3-9).
REGULAR DINING – this includes 1 quick service meal credit, 1 table service meal credit, 1 snack credit per person, per night of stay plus a refillable mug. The cost of this plan is $60.04 per night per adult and $19.23 per night per child
DELUXE DINING – this includes 3 table service meal credits and 2 snack credits per person, per night of stay plus a refillable mug. The cost of this plan is $110.23 per night per adult and $29.86 per night per child
None of the dining plans include gratuities.
What qualifies as a quick service meal? It is valid in any quick service restaurant (think fast food style) and includes an entrée (or combo meal, if offered at the restaurant where you’re eating) and non-alcoholic beverage. If you’re eating lunch or dinner, you also get a dessert.
What qualifies as a table service meal? It is valid at any table service restaurant (like going to Outback Steakhouse at home) and includes an entrée, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage per guest. On the Deluxe Dining Plan it also includes an appetizer.
What qualifies as a snack? A lot of things qualify as snacks, including a 20 ounce bottle of soda, a piece of a fruit, an ice cream bar, etc. You can always ask before making a purchase, or check the menu board to see if the dining plan symbol is next to the item in question (designating that it qualifies as a snack credit). Piece of advice: use your snack credits for the more expensive items (like a $4 pineapple soft serve) and pay cash for the lower priced items (like a $2.50 bottle of soda).
What is the refillable mug? Each resort has a self-service soda fountain. Without a dining plan, you can pay for a 12 ounce, insulated mug (cost varies based on your length of stay). You can then have as many complimentary refills of that mug at your resort as you’d like. You can refill it with coke products, tea, coffee and hot chocolate. But it does not work in the parks, only at your resort (not even other resorts).
Questions to ask yourself
Do you enjoy sit down meal services? Or do you prefer grabbing a quick fast-food or cafeteria style meal on the fly? If you don’t want to take time out of your schedule to sit down and be waited on, then the quick serve plan might be your best bet. Also if you don’t want to plan ahead and decide what park you will be in for any particular meal, table service meals may not be a good fit for you either. All table service restaurants take reservations, and for some of the more popular restaurants reservations are a necessity. If you resist planning ahead, or being tied to any kind of schedule, you may chafe under a plan that requires you to plan meals and make reservations.
Are you a “foodie”? Do you like to splurge on great food and get your money’s worth? If money were no object, would you order the 32 ounce Porterhouse for Two? Or the 18 ounce Kansas City Strip Steak? (By the way, that strip steak costs $58, and the Porterhouse for Two is $120). It is vacation after all, you might want to eat out like you wouldn’t normally do at home. If this is the case either the standard or deluxe dining plan might be a good fit for your vacation.
And finally, are character dining meals a must? Many of these qualify as “signature” experiences and require 2 table service credits per person. If you want to maximize your food budget, getting the standard or deluxe dining plan might be a good fit, providing the necessary credits to cover character dining (keeping in mind, you need reservations, so some planning is required).
If you need help assessing which dining plan would best fit your vacation plans, give us a call!
At Ships 'N' Trips Travel we have been providing memorable travel experiences for our clients since 2005.