Grand Ole Opry

We were supposed to go to a music festival on our recent Carolinas trip.  It ended up not happening (dang it, COVID), so I found a different musical experience for the kids.  On the way home, we spent a night in Nashville.  In the morning, we toured the Grand Ole Opry!  

You are familiar with hearing this from me at this point, but I wasn’t sure if the kids would be interested in this or like it.  I wasn’t sure how engaging a tour of a theater would be, especially to young people who don’t have a historical context for it.  However, Nick is the self-proclaimed biggest Dolly Parton fan ever and Lucy dreams of being a singer, and I know a guy who could help us out, so on a wish and a prayer, we went to the Grand Ole Opry for our early tour.

It was incredible. I cried multiple times.  All the kids freaking loved it.  My girl realized her dream of being on stage at the Grand Ole Opry!  

We stood outside the theater for a little while because we were early and on the first tour of the day.  The tour guide greeted us.  She was very enthusiastic and friendly, very knowledgeable, and I was very impressed with her.  Our children were the only children on the tour lol.  

The tour began with a video which Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood “host.”  It was an immersive experience, and the set up of the room made it feel very intimate.  This is when the tears began for the day- hah!  This was a great orientation video and helped the kids understand more about the history and significance of the Grand Ole Opry.  

We got to tour the stage where they filmed Hee Haw, all the beautiful dressing rooms and the “living room,” and backstage… everywhere we went, the tour guide shared really great stories.  At one point she asked if anybody had any questions, and Nick raised his hand.  She goes, you have a question?  He said, no I have a statement.  I was thinking, oh man… Then he says, I just want to say that Dolly Parton is the most magnificent singer of all time.  And of course, everybody in the place started clapping and cheering in agreement!  Hah!  So after that, everybody loved Nick of course.  

The last place we went was backstage which ultimately led to the stage.  They really set this up nicely, so you felt deep reverence for the stage itself.  Each person had a chance to stand on stage and visit the “circle.”  They have a circle of wood from the original stage of the original theater where the Grand Ole Opry was live on air that is laid into the floor of the current theater where they have performed since 1974.  This was the best part of the tour for sure.

Lucy was very excited to visit- she had been talking about it for a while.  She went first, all by herself.  She held the microphone, but she did not sing.  🙂  They took a wonderful photo of her.  Then we all went out.  Nick took a chance and did it by himself as well.  It was a beautiful moment!

We then walked up to the back of the theater for another lovely view of the stage, then exited through the gift shop of course where I snuck a couple of gift purchases for the kids.  

All in all, once again, another experience I wasn’t sure about, but that the kids (and we) loved!!

Family Service Project: Confetti Foundation

If you are looking for a simple, socially distant, safe family service project that literally any age child can do, here is a fun idea!

We made birthday cards for the Confetti Foundation, an organization that supplies birthday parties to children spending their birthdays hospitalized, in pediatric oncology units, or hospice care. This organization’s impact is nation-wide, including in some of our own local hospitals.

Click here for information from the foundation about making birthday cards, including some instructions and where to send them. If you have very young children, you can even download and print out color-in birthday cards from their site!

Nick and Lucy really enjoyed this project. Nick, who sometimes does not want to participate in watercolor Wednesday, was very excited about spreading birthday cheer. I also loved hearing them discuss ideas and laugh and create together.

I know the power and impact that doing service together as a family can have on the family as a whole and on the individuals, so we make it a point to do service projects every week we are together. I am trying to share more ideas here! And I welcome your ideas please!

Congaree National Park with Kids

Congaree National Park was an absolute treat.  I am always looking for National Parks to visit on our trips, and I came across this one about halfway between Charlotte, NC and Charleston, SC.  Perfect!  As I started researching, I found that it is regarded by many as one of the most underrated national parks in the system.  It really offers a lot more than you might expect from a national park with virtually no roads through it! 

The park is located near Columbia, SC.  It is some of the tallest deciduous forest on Earth and the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States, according to the NPS.  

We opted for hiking as our choice activity, as we only had a few hours for our stop.  But you can canoe, kayak, and camp here as well.  There are even canoe trails!  They offer frequent ranger-led activities too, and a great junior ranger program, which we did while we were there.  

We started with a picnic at the picnic area outside the visitor center which was as fun as it looks here- hah!

Attitudes improved once they had some food and got amped about the cool hike! It’s amazing what a little food, rest, play, and water will do for a person.

We did the Boardwalk Loop Trail which had a really cool “tour” pamphlet associated with it.  You can also get this digitally if you prefer.  It was super informative!  Between that and our Junior Ranger activities, we learned a ton!  🙂  While planning this trip, I read that the boardwalk floods from time to time, so check before you go.  We also spurred off on another trail- I think it was the Bluff Trail.  Gorgeous!

The park is swamp and forest.  On the Boardwalk Trail, you will see the river floodplain, an oxbow lake, swampland, and hardwood forest.  It is incredibly diverse landscape over a few short miles.  The loblolly pines were our favorite thing to say on the hike, and we loved seeing and hearing lots and lots of birds and animals.  

We had visited Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve in March, and it had swampland too.  The kids noticed similarities and differences to that one, and it was really fun to hear their observations.  Lucy said it looked like a fairy forest, and I quite agree. 

The kids all earned their Junior Ranger badges! They take this pretty seriously, and the activities were really great for discovering plants and wildlife on our hike.

It was a great way to spend the Sunday afternoon.  We followed it with pizza at a classic dine in Pizza Hut and then drove straight to the ocean- more about that here.  

Visiting Fort Sumter and Patriot’s Point with Kids

Charleston offers lots of historic points of interest- it was hard to narrow it down!  I was on the fence about visiting Fort Sumter and/or Patriot’s Point.  I was not sure our kids would be interested.  But, as always, they surprised me and they LOVED these sites!  

You can purchase a combo ticket for these points of interest to save a little money.  FYI- you can scan your electronic ticket for Ft Sumter, but you have to go to the window and get a Patriot’s Point voucher to get in there.  AND you have to go to the Ft Sumter window, not the Patriot’s Point window.  They are side by side, but there could be a line, so know before you go.  🙂

You can only get to Fort Sumter by boat, and as it is a National Park Service site, the only boats allowed are the ferries they run.  They run from Patriot’s Point and another site in Charleston as well.  We caught the ferry at Patriot’s Point, though we did visit these sites on two separate days.  There are certain times of day you can take the ferry, and they are ticketed times.  You also will have to take the ferry back that you came on.  You have about an hour at the fort to check it out, which is plenty of time. 

Fort Sumter is a site of significant American history.  It is the site of the battle that began the American Civil War.  We had recently visited some historically significant sites of the Civil War, so the kids had some frame of reference for this, which made it better for them I think.  

The fort is not a super large site.  There are lots of signs and information to take in, and there are some displays of Civil War-era weaponry and supplies.  There are many cannons that have been restored there and it is neat to see the original brick.  Just outside the fort, there is a (very) short trail where you can see the manmade island and how it was made.  There is virtually no shade.  Bring water and prepare for the weather.

The kids really enjoyed this each in their own right.  Rami liked reading about the history, Nick enjoyed the war strategy, Lucy liked the trail, and Jimmy enjoyed the cannons.  

Patriot’s Point is a site with an aircraft carrier, a destroyer, a submarine, and several museums on site.  You could definitely spend a full day here.  We arrived early and spent about six hours.  Your entry ticket includes admission to the aircraft carrier, destroyer, and museums on site.  There are a couple of experiences that cost extra if you want to do them.  All our kids wanted to do the Navy flight simulator, so we purchased the tickets for that.  This visit overall was probably the most expensive experience of our trip, but it was definitely worth it. I think this was one of the kids’ favorite things we did on our trip aside from the beaches.

You can explore the entire aircraft carrier that is anchored in the Charleston harbor.  There are many opportunities to see how the Navy lived and worked on this ship.  They have a self-guided tour available, and it is very good. It leads you through the ship on a very logical and well-thought out tour.  It is no joke navigating that aircraft carrier though.  You are using ladders and steep stairs just as the Navy did.  I did notice there were elevators available to make things wheelchair accessible, but the entire tour is not accessible. 

You can go up to the very top (flight deck?) and the tower up there as well.  They have many aircraft throughout the aircraft carrier to see as well.  It was really special and cool to go up to where the captain would sit and the navigator room and everything.  They also have a space craft on board as it was pulled from the ocean by the crew of this specific aircraft carrier!  

The kids loved learning about this so much, they were super psyched to also explore the destroyer!  It was much smaller, of course, but had a (very) small theater where you could really hear and see what the people on board would have experienced.  Very real, very cool.  

We visited the Medal of Honor museum.  The kids were very reverent and respectful.  Beautiful museum with incredible stories to experience.  We also visited the Vietnam Experience, which is outside back on land.  The kids learned a lot here, and we also got to see many veterans through our entire visit.  Rami and Nick thanked them for their service when they had the opportunity, and this opened several conversations.  It was touching to speak with these people.  

All in all, Fort Sumter and Patriot’s Point were both very educational and unique experiences that I would recommend.  I would not try to do both in one day with small children, but I think an ambitious adult or older kids could probably handle it.  🙂

Exploring Historic Charleston with Kids

Whenever we go on vacation, as you may know from my previous post, I try to find things that are free or low-cost.  It’s also important to me that we all experience the uniqueness of the destination.  While putt putt golf is fun and entertaining, it’s pretty much the same everywhere.  So our list usually includes historic and cultural sites so that we can appreciate where we are in a deeper, more meaningful way.

Charleston has a lot of history and a lot of culture, so we were excited to explore!  The first morning we were in the city, we took time to walk around the historic area of the city.  We also made a few stops, including visiting the historic Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.  This building has been there since 1771, and it is currently a historic site revolving around the history of colonial Charleston and the American Revolution.  Many American revolutionaries were imprisoned in this dungeon.  

You can enter for a small fee.  Kids under 6 are free, and kids under 12 get in for $5.    They offer a combo ticket of this and the slave market museum, but we took a hard pass on the combo due to the ages of our young children.  It is open everyday.  

You are free to explore the main and upper floors of the building, and there is a guided tour of the lower level (the dungeon!) offered.  The people who work here were dressed in period dress and were very excited to have children visiting, so they were very enthusiastic and welcoming to our family.  The kids got to sign a copy of the declaration of independence, and at the time we were there, there was a man doing a musket demonstration.  George Washington visited here and held a big party in the ballroom, so that was an exciting point of interest for our older boys.  There was a lot to see and learn about regarding the American revolution.  We haven’t gotten to visit many revolutionary historic sites, so this was especially interesting and fun for us.

There were also a number of models of historic ships that really piqued all of the kids’ interest.  We went down to the dungeon for the guided tour.  This was a very informative and entertaining tour.  There are also exposed old foundational city walls to see down here, and there were many stories of brave and loyal American revolutionaries that were very intriguing to our older kids.  Jimmy lost interest and became somewhat disruptive, so we took a break.  He was tired, as you can see, but he did well the rest of the time at the place.  We were there for a couple hours.

We walked around the city and got to see the famous rainbow row.  We visited the pineapple fountain as well of course.  Charleston is a beautiful city, and it was a treat to just take it all in.  The kids noticed differences between home and here, and they asked lots of good questions about why it was the way it was.

The city has a big historic market called the City Market which is also open daily.  We had lunch across the street from it on our city day.  It was very lively and busy!  There were many people weaving and selling seagrass baskets, which we came to see pretty much everywhere we visited.  

Our first morning getting acquainted with Charleston and its history and charm was delightful!  We were so happy and grateful to be there and excited for what was next!