When we left PA, we didn't want to deal with the Baltimore and D.C. traffic on interstate 95, so we drove down 81 and eventually cut across a bunch of "back roads" in North Carolina to get back over to 95 near the top of South Carolina. While driving on 81, we decided to take a quick detour, drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a bit and have a picnic up in the mountains. As soon as we got to the Parkway though, it started to rain so we ended up having to eat in the car. During a brief break in the rain, I got this photo of Valerie standing at a scenic overlook:
After an overnight stop in Florence, SC, we drove the rest of the way to Orlando and checked into our "cabin" at Disney's Fort Wilderness resort a little before sunset. Here's a shot of the luxurious cabin:
The next morning after a quick swim in the "Swimmin' Hole" near our cabin, we headed out to Epcot. The parks were super-crowded the whole time we were there (it seemed like every tour group from South America picked the same week to go to Disney) and it was ugly hot and humid, but Val was really looking forward to Epcot because she loves the Japan gift shop. On our way there, I took this picture of Michele and Val by a fountain in the Italy section:
The next day we hit the Swimmin' Hole again (we couldn't figure out why there was never anyone else at such a nice, big pool) in the morning, then headed over to the Magic Kingdom, where Val discovered the wonders of the Haunted Mansion (which we went on four times) and Pirates of the Caribbean (five times because there was hardly any line for it). As fakey as everything is at Disney, the park does make for some nice photo opportunities around sunset. Here's the view of the Splash Mountain area just before dusk:
And here's the castle in the center of the park, all lit up by green lights:
Checking a map of Fort Wilderness the next day we realized that the Swimmin' Hole wasn't the main pool, so this time we trekked over to the central pool area in the morning. That pool was packed because it had a play area for little kids and a big water slide. Val was technically too big for the play area, but that didn't stop her (there were even bigger kids in there):
Here's a good action shot of Val on the big water slide - I was actually standing in the pool with the camera to get this shot:
On our last day at Disney, we went to what used to be MGM Studios (it's now called Hollywood Studios). After getting on two rides we got sick of dealing with the crowds and left. We made a final trip around Epcot and then went "home" and packed up the cabin. That night after Val went to bed I drove over to "Downtown Disney" (the area that used to be Pleasure Island) and spent some time at the cigar bar and the Irish pub. The next morning we hit Downtown Disney as a family so Michele could do some shopping and Val could play at the Lego store, and then we said goodbye to Disney, the crowds, the $100 meals for three and the policy of considering a 10 year old an "adult" for pricing purposes. If it were up to me, that would probably be our last trip to Disney (but I imagine it's not up to me).
On the way out of town we hit the Ripley's Believe it or Not museum, because Val had been bugging us to go there for months (ever since she saw a brochure for it). It turned out to be kind of disappointing - even Val didn't think much of it. And it was also crowded with obnoxious people.
We finally made the drive east to the coast (through very heavy thunderstorms that caused white-out conditions for most of the drive) and arrived in Cocoa Beach for the second half of our vacation. At first we had a sort of reverse sticker shock and were amazed at how "cheap" everything was - we could actually get a meal for under $40!
The downside is that the town is overrun with obnoxious surfer kids. One day at the hotel pool, a big group of them climbed over the wall and took over the pool, diving off the fake waterfall and generally being a nuisance. We had to call hotel security to chase them off.
But, despite getting sunburned, it wasn't all bad. Here's a nice picture of Michele and Val on the beach in the evening, as we walked to the only real attraction in the area, the Cocoa Beach Pier:
Here's a picture taken at the pier on a surfing photo op set-up:
The hotel where we stayed had its own surf/gift shop attached to it, which we could see out the window of our room (the room faced the "inside" of the building, not the outside world). There was a big aquarium that sat in between the gift shop and the hotel restaurant/bar, and it was stocked with various tropical fish and a couple sharks. Here's the only photo we managed to get with both sharks in it:
There was also a large eel living in the tank. It hid in the coral most of the time - we didn't even know it was in there until the last day of our trip. Here's a pretty good picture of it:
If Val were a little older and we lived near the ocean, I'm positive she would be a surfer chick. She loves the ocean, spent a lot of time in our room staring out the window at the surf shop and gravitated to the surf boards every time we walked through the shop. Here's a photo of her posing with some of her favorite boards:
And here's a shot of Val fearlessly diving into waves that were over her head (much to her father's nervous dismay):
All vacations eventually come to an end, and the next day we started driving home. We stopped in Saint Paul, NC on the way home and stayed at a crappy little Days Inn. Never stay there. When we got home, we had a message on the answering machine - the motel had called Travelocity (we booked the room through them) and claimed that we stole pillows and blankets from our room. They wanted Travelocity to give them our credit card info so they could charge us for the "stolen" items. Needless to say, it was a load of crap - we didn't take anything out of that room. Fortunately, Travelocity told the motel the same thing and refused to give them our info.
Anyway, we started the final leg home up 95, but just north of Richmond, VA it turned into a parking lot. So we weaved our way northwest through Virginia on a bunch of "back roads" to get over to 81 and go home that way. Which lead to my favorite photo of the bunch, the last one on the camera. When we got to the Pennsylvania welcome center, Michele posed a very tired, very cranky, very road-weary, very unhappy that her vacation was over Val next to this sign and took this picture:
Not the most relaxing of vacations, but at least we got some good pictures out of it.