McKenzie River Half Marathon, Oregon- 36th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Oregon was my 36th state.

I thought I had chosen my 2016 Oregon half marathon well in advance and everything was taken care of. About a month before the race, my daughter informed me she would like to run a 5K in Oregon when I ran my half marathon, so I went to the website to register her and myself (I just hadn’t gotten around to registering myself but since it was a small race I wasn’t worried about it) and I had some questions about the 5K. I emailed the race director, who got back to me within a half an hour saying the race was cancelled and wanted to know what website I was getting my information from (since it needed to be updated).

I was in a panic. What do you mean the race has been cancelled? I have my flights, hotel, car all reserved. We’re going there next month! She asked me if I might be interested in another half marathon in Eugene that just happened to be that same weekend, only instead of Saturday like the one I thought I was going to run, this one was Sunday. I looked up the McKenzie River Half Marathon online. It was perfect. I signed up immediately and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

But then I began to realize just how crazy runners are in Eugene, Oregon. Eugene is the birthplace of Nike. It’s where the famous runner Steve Prefontaine “Pre” was from. I would be dead last against all of these die-hard runners. I had to let all of that go and just focus on running my best race, which wasn’t easy.

Shirts were available for purchase at packet pickup at the Hilton Garden Inn in Springfield (not included in the registration fee) but I chose not to get one this time. While I was at packet pickup, I asked someone there about the course and was told, “It’s not bad at all.  It’s pretty flat with some rolling hills.” In my experience, rolling hills = HUGE NON-STOP HILLS. Now that I’ve run this race, I can say my fears were confirmed and that’s pretty much how I describe the course- uphill except for the first 2 miles and the last mile. No downhill at all. Yes, these Eugene runners are crazy.

The race started at Emerald Dance Center in Springfield (with shuttles dropping people off here due to limited parking) and ended inside Armitage Park in Eugene. The course went through the Hayden Bridge neighborhood then to Old Mohawk Rd and McKenzie View Dr. before ending at Armitage Park. Along the route, we ran past farms and had glimpses of the river here and there.

Click here for a GPS COURSE MAP. When I checked out the course elevation profile from the race website, it didn’t look too terribly bad, but when I was actually running the course it seemed pretty difficult. It’s funny how they are often deceptive like that. The weather was good- overcast and in the low 40’s at the start and upper 50’s at the finish. There were no spectators and only a few aid stations along the course.

At the finish, I received my medal that I thought was unique-looking. There was a wide array of food and drinks at the finish- pizza, beer, Gatorade, fruit, energy bars, and soup. Despite all of the hills and the fact that this was one of the toughest races I had ever run, I managed to finish third in my age group, winning a nice beer glass. My finish time was 2:02:32.

Note, my husband, who takes all of my race photos had issues with the camera so I only have two photos from the race and neither are that great.

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A couple of days before the race, my family and I flew into Portland and from there it was a little over a 2 hour drive to Eugene. After the race we drove to Bend (about 2 1/2 hours) and did a ton of hiking there. Bend is a really fun place if you love outdoor activities. For things to do in Eugene and Bend see my post: Central Oregon-Eugene and Bend. I also recommend going to Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area before or after the race to see multiple waterfalls.

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McKenzie River Half Marathon and 5K

Dixville Half Marathon, New Hampshire- 35th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. New Hampshire was my 35th state.

Before I chose this race, my daughter’s best friend from grade school had recently moved several states away from us to Vermont. My daughter missed her greatly and kept asking when she could go and visit her. I had already run a half marathon in Vermont (Covered Bridges Half Marathon, Vermont-9th state) but I hadn’t run one in New Hampshire. I knew how close parts of Vermont and New Hampshire can be so I started looking up half marathons in New Hampshire. Beyond belief, I found a race about a half an hour from my daughter’s friend’s house- the Dixville Half Marathon in Colebrook, New Hampshire and I signed up for the 2015 race.

Most people probably have no idea where Colebrook is or what there is to do there. Let me save you the trouble and tell you it is in the far northernmost corner of New Hampshire, bordering on Vermont, and about 45 minutes from the Canadian border. It is a very remote portion of the United States, sparsely populated, with not much to do. I had a very hard time finding a decent place for my family and I to stay, with such limited availability, and there are only a handful of restaurants anywhere within a 20-30 minute drive of Colebrook. However, as I mentioned, Colebrook is close to the Canadian border and Montreal is only about 2 and 1/2 hours away by car. I can’t recommend visiting Montreal enough. The architecture, food, and things to do are all unique and well-worth a visit. See Montreal, a City Unlike Any Other.

The Dixville Half Marathon was a very low-key race as you might imagine, being in such a small town. Most years there have been 100-200 runners for this race. Packet pickup was at Coleman State Park the day of the race. We received a long-sleeve t-shirt of nice quality but nothing extraordinary. It was unisex sized and a bit on the large side for me.

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Typically, the nights get quite chilly in northern New Hampshire the end of September and I was glad the race didn’t start until 10:30 am, since it allowed some extra time to warm up just enough for nice running weather. The weather was perfect for the majority of the race but it started to get hot by the end, when it was in the mid-60’s.

The race began on Diamond Pond Road but the majority of the course was on Route 26, with parts along the Mohawk River. With the fall foliage at its peak, the scenery was nice as we wound along the countryside at a very gradual downhill descent. Although the course was called “a scenic, downhill course,” there were also many steep uphill portions that were quite difficult. There were views of farms, barns, and pasture but not much else including spectators.

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The course dropped by about 1,200 feet in elevation, with the last stretch going through town streets of Colebrook and finishing at the North Country Community Recreation Center. In a quite cruel twist, the last tenth of a mile was up a steep hill. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is this race was so small and low-key it wasn’t even chip-timed. Someone wrote down all finishers’ times, and a portion of each finisher’s bibs were tacked up on a huge board in order. My finish time was 1:57.

All runners had free access to the recreation center to change and take a shower after the race. Since it was a nice day and there was music with a local band playing, I decided to take a shower and change clothes then hang out for the awards ceremony. I managed to finish second in my age group, so I won a silver medal. Medals weren’t given out to all of the finishers; only the top three in each age group.

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The finish (the blue tent)!
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How many of you have seen one of these at a race?

I enjoyed this race even though it’s super small in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. It was great weather and the people were friendly and it was just a perfect day to run a half marathon in New Hampshire. Just don’t plan on spending much time here because there honestly isn’t much to do!

The 44th annual Dixville Half Marathon was scheduled for September 26, 2020.  It just goes to show even small towns can keep a race going for many years with enough support!

Dixville Half Marathon

Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. South Dakota was my 34th state.

When researching half marathons for my race in South Dakota, I’ll admit I wasn’t really looking forward to running a race in the state after finding North Dakota so plain and unexciting; see Bismarck Marathon, North Dakota-16th state. Fairly quickly into my research, I found out just how different two adjacent states can be. South Dakota is home to the Black Hills, Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, the Missouri River, Historic Deadwood, and Mount Rushmore (all of which my family and I visited and recommend). Travel South Dakota link

South Dakota is an outdoors lover’s paradise and my family and I loved every minute of our vacation here before and after the race. I also loved this race and highly recommend it. As far as getting to Spearfish Canyon, the easiest way to get here if you’re flying is to fly into Rapid City and pick up a rental car. It’s about an hour’s drive from Rapid City to Spearfish Canyon. We stayed the night before the race at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge in the Berry Patch Cabin and it was awesome. Rapid City is also a great place to stay if you’re exploring the area, since it’s less than an hour by car to the majority of places I listed in the previous paragraph.

The 2015 Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon was a fundraiser to benefit the abused and neglected children through the Northern Hills Area Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program. Packet pickup was about the most sparse I’ve ever seen in all of my races. It was at the CASA office in Spearfish and there was only one person there handing out shirts (technical, unisex short-sleeve) and bibs. That’s it. Nothing else. No expo. No bag filled with junk you didn’t really want anyway. I liked it. Don’t come here for the bling, though, or you will be disappointed.

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At 7 am on race day, the course began at the top of the beautiful Spearfish Canyon in Savoy in the northernmost section of South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest and finished at the bottom in Spearfish City Park. When I was running the race I remember constantly telling myself how lucky I was to be able to run through this gorgeous canyon. Although the course was net downhill starting around 5,000 feet above seal level and dropping about 1,300 feet by the finish, it didn’t feel too steep on my quads.

The race is held in July every year and while you can expect it to be hot, because the race goes through a canyon surrounded by mountains, it is a bit cooler and there is abundant shade. It was 70’s at the start and mid-80’s at the finish, so don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. It was still hot, it just didn’t feel as hot as it was because of the shade. There were virtually no spectators, not surprisingly, but just a few aid stations.

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I actually set a PR (personal record) for myself on this course. I was a bit concerned about running at 5,000 feet above sea level but I didn’t feel any more out of breath than I normally would at a race or have any other elevation-related side effects. In fact, I remember checking my watch throughout the race and being surprised that I was able to sustain the pace I was and yet I felt great! I passed a lot of people, especially during the last few miles. My finish time was 1:55:28, which was my fastest finish time to date!

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Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon & 5K

Frederick Half Marathon, Maryland- 33rd state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Maryland was my 33rd state.

Frederick, Maryland is located about an hour north of Washington, D.C. and about the same distance from Baltimore, Maryland. There are over 30 half marathons to choose from in Maryland throughout the year with the majority of them in Annapolis. However, I needed a half marathon in May and the 2015 Frederick Running Festival was a perfect choice. My daughter had commitments at school for surrounding weekends before and after this race. Since she and my husband have always gone to my races with me, I was lucky enough to find this race on a weekend that worked for us.

My daughter’s teacher at the time would always ask me when she would see me about my races and what race I had next. When I told her I was running this one she told me her niece was the race director. What a small world! This race was one of the best- organized races I have ever run, from packet pickup and expo to the course and volunteers and also including the finish. The Frederick Running Festival had many options for races, such as the Nut Job Challenge for people who wanted to run the 5k and the half marathon both.

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The weather on race day was perfect for racing- mid 40’s at the start and 60’s by the end so it was in the 50’s for the majority of the time of the race. People in the neighborhoods through which we ran were fantastic supporters. Many of them were out cheering us on and handing out water, oranges, candy, and one guy was handing out cups of beer! The volunteers on the course were plentiful and actually seemed like they knew what they were doing (not to bash volunteers at other races; I love them, even if they don’t know what to do).

The course was scenic and mostly flat with the only significant hill at mile 12 (not ideal). We ran through nice neighborhoods with flowering trees and flowers in bloom seemingly everywhere around us. I felt strong towards the end of the race and passed many people the last 3 miles. My finish time was 1:59:48, which was my best finish time in quite a while. I really enjoyed this race!

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At the finish, there was the usual bananas, bagels, water, etc. but also runners were treated to up to two beers each. Often after a race I don’t have the energy to hang out and just want to get back to my room to take a shower and relax, but for this one I actually had my two beers and relaxed. The weather was perfect and it was a nice sunny spring day. The shirt we received was a long-sleeve technical one with thumb holes- perfect for chilly spring or fall runs.

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When I was looking at things to do in and around Frederick, the riots had just started going on in Baltimore. See background info here:  Baltimore riots. We were going for a long weekend the first weekend of May. The state of emergency wasn’t lifted until May 6 so we would have been there during the chaos had we chosen to go to Baltimore. We decided to go to Annapolis instead and spent one night there after the race. Given the circumstances it was definitely a smart move.

It turned out we had a great time in Annapolis and possibly enjoyed it more than we would have enjoyed Baltimore anyway. We visited the United States Naval Academy Museum and found it even more interesting than we initially thought it would be. Honestly, we just enjoyed walking around Annapolis and taking in the scenery. There are many historical buildings and unique local shops. May is a perfect time to visit as well since it’s before the heat and humidity of the area really kick in.

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Frederick Running Festival

Girls on the Run Interview

My daughter participated in Girls on the Run last fall and I was curious about her feelings about it now that some time has passed and she has since then participated in some other running activities.  I recently conducted an interview with her that will follow but first some background information.

Girls on the Run is a program found in every state in the United States that teaches girls in grades 3-5 (grades 6-8 is their Heart & Sole program) about nutrition, positive influences, and emotional and physical development. There are several core values emphasized including teaching girls to embrace their differences and find strength in one another.  They also add in some running at the meetings of course.  Girls meet after school twice a week in a 12 week program that culminates with a Girls on the Run 5k.

Here is the interview:

Me:  “What kinds of things did you do at Girls on the Run?”

Daughter:  “We talked about different ways to stay healthy and we talked about staying active.  We also ran on a school track where we met.”

Me:  “Can you tell me about the actual running you did?”

Daughter:  “Personally, I didn’t like the running part.  I like when people push me to run and they didn’t do that.  They were slacking in that, so I didn’t like that about Girls on the Run.”

Me:  “What do you think your coaches could have done differently to make it a better experience for you?”

Daughter:  “Maybe they could have pushed us more, made us run harder rather than just say go run.  I think they should have pushed us harder instead of just telling us to run and then watch us run.”

Me:  “So the coaches didn’t run with you?”

Daughter:  “They did run with us.  One coach would be watching and the other would run with us.  They would switch off so one coach would watch and the other would run.”

Me:  “What about girls who were anxious about running or who maybe hadn’t ever ran before?  Do you think pushing them would have been too much?”

Daughter:  “I think it really depends on the girl.  Some girls were obviously forced to be there by their parents and didn’t want to be there.  They wouldn’t have liked to be pushed.  But there were some girls who seemed like they would have done better, gone faster, if the coaches would have pushed them.”

Me:  “So maybe they should have made the runs more individualized to suit different girls’ needs and abilities?”

Daughter:  “Yeah.  Definitely.”

Me:  “What did you like best about Girls on the Run?”

Daughter:  “I think I really liked that although a lot of the girls there didn’t want to run, the coaches didn’t hold me back with them.  They let me run as much and as fast as I wanted.  It was nice to just get out and run.”

Me:  “What did you learn from Girls on the Run?”

Daughter:  “That I’m a lot better runner than I thought before.  You were right when you told me I was a fast runner.  It gave me more self-confidence in running.”

Me:  “Would you recommend Girls on the Run to other girls?”

Daughter:  (hesitation) “I don’t know.  It really depends on what kind of a challenge they’re looking for and why they’re running.  It depends if they’re running for exercise or to get faster at races.”

Me:  “So would you say Girls on the Run is best for girls who have never really ran before?”

Daughter:  “Yes.  It’s kind of a warm-up.  After Girls on the Run, if they think it was fun, they can look into another program or run with a parent that runs.”

Me:  “Thank you very much for your time and your insight.”

Daughter:  “You’re welcome.  Those were tough questions! (laughing)”

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There were a lot of runners at the 5k- not just girls from GOTR
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The finish line is now in sight
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The finish line!

Allstate New York 13.1 Half Marathon, New York- 30th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. New York was my 30th state.

A funny thing happened to me on my way to the 2014 Allstate New York 13.1 Half Marathon. Only it wasn’t really funny but at least now I can look back at it and while I’m not laughing at least I’m not as upset as I was then.

So first the drama that happened on the way to the race and then the specifics. My husband, daughter, and I took a taxi to the race start and when I got in I told the driver we were going to the National Tennis Center (our hotel was nearby also in Queens so I knew it should only be short ride). He nodded his head and we took off. After about 10 minutes I realized he was circling around Corona Park, where the National Tennis Center is, but it was obvious he didn’t know exactly where to go. Or he knew exactly where it was and was trying to run up the bill.

I looked at my watch and it was 10 minutes before the race start. I started to panic as I watched the minutes ticking away and we still weren’t there. Finally I told my husband I just wanted to get out, so I told the driver to just pull over right where he was and let us out. I just blindly ran in the direction I thought the race start should be (based on the race website) and made it to the start with a couple of minutes to spare. I was furious that I was almost late to the race start because the taxi driver didn’t look up the directions and pretended to know where he was going, but I tried to channel that into positive energy and ended up running a good race and enjoying myself.

The state of New York has no shortage of marathons or half marathons. There are at least two half marathons in every single month of the year and a marathon in every month except four. This may make it difficult to decide which one to do if you’re only going to run one in each state, like me. However, I always knew my half marathon in New York would be in New York City. I had been to New York City before and typically I like to run races in new cities, but honestly, I was just looking for an excuse to go back because I had so much fun the previous times I had been there.

It did occur to me that the weather can be temperamental in New York City in March but I thought I would take a chance and hope for the best. Fortunately the weather for the race was a bit chilly and windy but at least it didn’t rain so overall it was pretty good. Later in the afternoon the day of the race, a storm blew in and it was freezing and raining, so things could have been much worse.

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Race day temperatures ranged from the low 30’s at the start to the mid 30’s a couple of hours later when I finished. It was also pretty windy and overcast. The course went  through Corona Park in Queens, a place I thought was relatively scenic and we got a glimpse of Manhattan at one point during the race. There were two double loops, both very flat with the only “hills” being bridges. Very good volunteer support along the course helped keep things moving smoothly.

I had been dealing with a strained hamstring that caused pain in the back of my knee in the 2 weeks prior to race, but thanks to a massage 3 days before the race, I was able to run at a decent pace with no pain. At the finish, I was handed a HUGE medal and offered plenty of post-race snacks and beverages. My finish time was 2:02:26.

Typically I tend to choose races that are off the beaten path at least a bit and since this race was entirely through Queens and no other boroughs, it gave me a glimpse into another part of New York City I had not experienced previously. Like most first and even second time visitors to the great city, I had stuck to Manhattan and had not ventured out much beyond that. This gave me and my family an opportunity to see things such as Flushing Meadows Corona Park, New York Hall of Science, Queens Museum, and Queens Botanical Garden. There’s even a small zoo in Queens although we didn’t go there.

This was my daughter’s first visit to the Big Apple so of course we also went to the Empire State Building, American Girl Doll Store, Metropolitan Museum of Art , Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, New York Public Library, the iconic American Museum of Natural History (one of my favorites), and the Guggenheim Museum. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a tour to see the Statue of Liberty (I didn’t make reservations far enough in advance) and of course there were other things we missed as well, but we squeezed in as much as we could in a few days after the half marathon- no way I was doing all of that walking before the race.

As far as I can tell, 2015 was the last year for this race. However, like I mentioned earlier, there are many others to choose from with almost 20 just in and around New York City alone throughout the year.

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Top 5 Things to Do in Charleston, SC with Kids without Spending a Ton of Money

Charleston, South Carolina seemingly has something to offer everyone.  If you want a romantic escape, there are plenty of bed & breakfasts to stay at and cobblestoned streets to take a horse-drawn carriage ride with your significant other.  If you want a fun girls weekend getaway, there are plenty of options for that with cool bars and unique shops.  For the golfer, there are 19 championship courses in the area.  For the history buff, this city is steeped in history and there are historical tours and museums all over.  Finally, if you’re just looking for a fun place to visit with your family, there are loads of options for families.  Options for families is what I will delve into here.

Charleston is definitely not an inexpensive city, at least on the surface.  The accommodations are expensive, the restaurants are also on the pricey side, and you feel like you’ve won some kind of prize if you’re lucky enough to find a free parking spot or a meter with some time left on it. However, there are ways to visit Charleston and not blow a ton of money (Charming Charleston- How to visit without breaking the bank). If you’re visiting with kids, there are numerous free or inexpensive ways to have fun and keep everyone happy and entertained.

1. The beaches near Charleston, Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island are completely free and open to the public.  Another option for a beach near Charleston is Folly Beach.  Although I did not visit Folly Beach when I was in Charleston in August so I can’t speak of that beach personally, Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island are both clean and well-maintained. Lifeguards are on duty mostly during the peak summer months of May through part of September.  Check out more info at Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission.  A word of warning about the waves, as they can be quite rough.  We found the water to be considerably calmer at an inlet we were able to walk to at Sullivan’s Island going through neighborhoods to the far end of the beach.  One of my daughter’s favorite things to do at beaches is to “jump the waves” with her father, so the waves were not a problem for us but I know they might be for younger children.

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Jumping waves
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The beach is a great place to fly a kite!

2. Another completely free thing that most kids love to do is play in the fountains.  There are two fountains by Waterfront Park that are great for kids to splash in and have fun.  This is especially great on a hot day.  Palm trees surround the area so parents can sit and watch their kids playing.  After toweling off the kids there are several ice cream shops within walking distance of the fountains, if you so desire.  That could also be an option for a post-dinner treat.

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What kid doesn’t love to play in a huge fountain like this one?

3. If your kids are budding history buffs, there are plenty of museums to choose from.  One option is the Old Exchange Building & Provost Dungeon.  My daughter enjoyed being able to handle replicas of historical money thanks to a volunteer on site who gave us a bit of information about each piece.  She also got to sign a replica of The Declaration of Independence. We all thoroughly enjoyed our guided tour of the dungeon and learned quite a bit about the area.  If you have younger kids (around 4-6), the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry might be a better fit for your family.

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Signing the Declaration of Independence
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Learning about historical currency

4. Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie are great options for families as well.  Although Fort Sumter does not charge a fee for entrance to the national monument, it is only accessible by boat and there is a fee for that.  Fort Moultrie is accessible by car at 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan’s Island and you can buy a family pass that covers up to 4 adults for $5, with free admission for children 15 and younger.  See more information here National Parks Service.

5. While it might seem more like a splurge for many families, the South Carolina Aquarium is a nice way to spend a day or several hours. Tickets are $24.95 for adults and $17.95 for children 3-12. The aquarium is open daily from 9 am- 4 pm (building closes at 5:00) and you could easily spend all day here, which makes it a bit more affordable considering it’s a day’s worth of entertainment. With more than 5,000 animals and exhibits like the touch tank (my daughter’s favorite) and the two-story 385,000 gallon Great Ocean tank there is plenty to see and do.  The Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery is set to open May 2017 and promises to  be an exciting new addition.  SC Aquarium

If your family is anything like mine, we find our beach vacations a time to unwind, relax, and just enjoy each other’s company.  We don’t plan a ton of activities like we do for other vacations.  Charleston, South Carolina is a perfect place for families to relax and reconnect while taking in the beautiful scenery.

 

 

 

5 reasons Busch Gardens Williamsburg has something for everyone

When I was a kid, my brother rode the Big Bad Wolf and Loch Ness Monster while I just watched, too scared to go with him. We were at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Virginia but at this point in my life, I was too scared to ride roller coasters.  A few years after that, I discovered the adrenaline rush from riding roller coasters.  Recently, I wanted to go back as an adult to ride the coasters and let my daughter who had never been there experience the amusement park.  Unfortunately Big Bad Wolf, a suspended roller coaster that was in service since 1984 was closed permanently in 2009.  I love suspended coasters so I missed the boat on that one, but there are plenty of other roller coasters at BGW, which brings me to reason number 1 why Busch Gardens Williamsburg has something for everyone:  there are some great roller coasters here.

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Griffon Roller Coaster

Busch Gardens’ newest coaster Tempesto is a launch coaster with speeds up to 63 mph and a complete inversion 154 feet in the air.  Alpengeist is an inversion roller coaster that climbs to 195 feet and riders are hurtled through six inversions at speeds up to 67 mph.  Apollo’s Chariot has a drop of 210 feet and reaches a maximum speed of 73 mph.  Griffon has a 205-foot, 90-degree, 75 mph free fall.  Verboten® is a somewhat tamer roller coaster than the previously mentioned ones.  It is an indoor/outdoor ride with an 88-foot plunge toward the river.  A long-time favorite of the Busch Gardens coasters is Loch Ness Monster®.  This coaster has two loops and stretches 13 stories tall before racing down a 114-foot drop, with speeds as fast as 60 miles per hour.  Loch Ness is what I think of when I think of Busch Gardens Williamsburg.  The fact that is has been in operation since 1978 shows why it’s one of the most popular rides in the park.  It is a classic.

Reason number 2:  Busch Gardens Williamsburg is a beautiful amusement park.  It is divided into sections with different European countries as themes.  These sections are Germany and Octoberfest, France and New France, Ireland, Scotland, England, Italy, and Festa Italia, and  Jack Hanna’s Wild Reserve.  Each section has corresponding scenery, rides, attractions, and restaurants.  It is nice to just walk around the park and take in all of the details and the scenery.  If you don’t like riding amusement park rides, you can easily fill your day with shopping, dining, sightseeing, and people-watching.

When you need a break from riding rides, you can always take in a show, which is reason number 3:  the shows are good with high-quality actors, singers, and dancers.  There are 8 family-friendly shows spread out all throughout the day so watching at least one or two shouldn’t be too difficult for most people.  All For One™ premiered July 1 and is about the Musketeers.  Mix it Up! includes a team of chef musicians in Italy’s il Teatro di San Marco.  Celtic Fyre is a popular show featuring Irish song and dance.  London Rocks™ is a musical journey that explores the roots of rock-n-roll and in a 25-minute live action and multi-media rock show.  Roll Out The Barrel includes live musicians, singers and dancers, and incorporates some acrobatics in this musical about a contest in a German village.  Sunny Days Celebration is a sing- and dance-along for younger children and their families featuring  Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Grover, Cookie Monster and Zoe.  I really wanted to see The Secret Life of Predators but there just wasn’t enough time.  This is a live-animal show featuring some of North America’s top predators.  One of my favorite shows is More…Pet Shenanigans.  I love the fact that the animal trainers at the park wanted to incorporate rescued and shelter animals in a show.  The park also supports animal shelters with a program called Happy Tails in which they offer two free single-day tickets to the park to those who adopt a dog or cat from participating shelters.

BGW also offers several special events throughout the year, which is reason number 4: there are five festivals or special events throughout the year.  The Food & Wine Festival is late May through late June.  For the weekend of July 4th, there is the Fireworks Spectacular.  Similar to Octoberfest is the Beer Festival, Bier Fest in September.  The month leading up to Halloween includes Howl-O-Scream.  During the holiday season beginning around Thanksgiving there is Christmas Town.

Often we think of amusement parks as a place to go for fast roller coasters and other rides, but Busch Gardens Williamsburg has many rides, shows, and attractions for younger children, making this park truly family-friendly, my reason number 5.  They call it “KIDsiderate” and while they offer play areas like Land of the Dragons® and the Sesame Street® Forest of Fun™ there are also an abundance of strollers, changing tables, nursing rooms, and of course kid-friendly food offerings.  BGW also takes safety seriously and offer height-check stations to make sure your child is tall enough to ride certain rides.

Although I didn’t even mention any of the other rides, there are many that are a lot of fun and definitely worth checking out!  Some of my family’s favorites include Escape from Pompeii, Le Scoot, Roman Rapids, and Aeronaut Skyride.  Although I’ve never done it, the Rhine River Cruise looks like fun.  Hmmmm, maybe next time!

Logistics:  check the website for up-to-date pricing but generally, a one-day ticket for an adult costs $80 online and $70 for children ages 3-9.  Buying tickets online generally saves you money and time (you don’t have to wait in line to buy tickets when you arrive at the park).  You can also add animal tours, dining plans, and wine tastings online for additional fees.

GPS Driving Directions

Busch Gardens
One Busch Gardens Blvd.
Williamsburg, VA 23185

Busch Gardens is located in Williamsburg, VA at Exit 243A on I-64. Alternative local routes include US Route 60, and State Routes 143 and 199. Major nearby cities include Virginia Beach (55 miles), Richmond (55 miles) and Washington, DC (150 miles).
Flying? Three airports are situated within a 45-minute drive of Busch Gardens.

ORF – Norfolk International Airport
RIC – Richmond International Airport
PHF – Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport

Taking a train?
The Williamsburg Amtrak Train Station is just 10 minutes from Busch Gardens. For more information about routes and schedules, visit Amtrak’s website.

New Zealand- My family’s North Island Adventure

 Next up:  Tongariro National Park

I can’t wait to go back to New Zealand and visit the South Island!