Family Reunion in The Ozarks

July 13 – 16, 2017

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Travelers:

Our immediate family (Orlando, the four kids, and myself), my mom, and four of my siblings and their families, which added up to a grand total of 23.  It was 11 adults and 12 children ranging in age from 17 years old to nine months old…!

How did we pay for this trip:

Sharing the house rental, boat rental, and costs of food by cooking breakfasts and packing lunches significantly reduced the overall cost.  The biggest expense was the day pass to the White Water water park, which seemed to be the most reasonable water park near us at about $40 per person.  Our drive to Branson from northern Illinois was cut in half by a hotel stay mid-way in Collinsville, Illinois.

How did we get there:

2017 Toyota Sienna SE.  We bought the extended warranty for this beautiful creature because we would like it to be with us forever.  Our extraordinary developing teenage children have the space they need, the wide screen movie player is very visible for everyone in the middle and back row without craning necks, the van has this option of playing audio for the driver while the kids use the headphones for the movie, the third row seats recline for goodness’ sake— It is a van that suits every age and makes you feel like you could make a road trip of any distance possible.

 

Where did we stay:

Branson Cedar Resort.  My brother took charge of booking the house for this trip.  We split the cost of the log cabin among my siblings and I.   Since we were such a large group, we had to book nine months prior (November 2016).

Recommendations:

Talking Rocks Cavern:

All of the cousins enjoyed this small cave.  It was a nice, cool activity in the summer heat.  I did stay behind due to the steep steps and my two-year old toddler.  We made the mistake before of taking our two-year old on a two-hour cave tour in Mammoth Kentucky Caves, and while a fun memory, not something we wanted to try again.

Renting a Boat on Table Rock Lake:

This was everyone’s favorite activity.  We rented two Pontoon boats that my two brothers drove.  We drove the boats to a cliff diving spot, to a beach, and with the tube my brother brought for the cousins to use, which they loved.  It was a great day for most everyone, minus my sister who was nauseated on the boat.

Skip the Water Park:

There’s a time and place for everything, and Branson was not the place for a water park.  We have Wisconsin Dells in our backyard, and knowing day passes to water parks there are as low as $20/day with food included, it was difficult to pay $45 for one person just to enter and THEN pay for locker costs and over-priced food.

Silver Dollar City:

Most of my immediate family are afraid of heights and roller coasters, minus my 14-year old, so there was no appeal for us to get tickets to Silver Dollar City.  Since we didn’t go through it, we have nothing to report on it.

Lessons learned:

We had a great time overall, but we are taking lessons learned and applying it to our second annual reunion this coming summer, 2018, in Wisconsin!  We booked through Air B&B instead and found an incredible-looking tree house cabin with more space that is settled next to a hiking trail and private beach.  We are really looking forward to this one!

P.S. Sunscreen, water shoes, and boat snacks (BOAT SNACK)

 

 

 

 

Three day weekend trip to Mackinac Island!

August 2017

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Travelers:

The entire crew plus the in-laws.

How did we pay for this trip:

We decided to do a road trip from Chicago. We only paid for gas and food for the 500 mile road trip.

How did we get there:

We have a 2017 Toyota Sienna SE. If you are familiar with the SE model, the van comes with a wide-screen TV and a Blue ray player. If you have small children then you already know that TV + Blue ray = peaceful drive. If you are thinking about buying a Toyota Sienna, this is how we rate our van:

Comfort: 10/10 – Pretty spacious seats even for the back row. Everyone was comfortable and we had a full van (8 people).

Performance: 4/10 – It’s a van and that is all there is to it.

Gas mileage: 6/10 – Yes, we load this van with 8 people plus luggage. It all fits, but at a cost. We get about 22 MPG Highway.

Entertainment: 9/10 – Widescreen TV, Blue ray player, HDMI inputs, video inputs and nice sound system. Do I need to say more?

Where did we stay:

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express St. Ignace-Lake Front. Price was a little bit higher than usual for a Holiday Inn, but all hotels are pretty expensive near this area. The hotel has a free shuttle to the Island so that was pretty convenient.

Recommendations:

Rent a bike:

You can’t go to Mackinac Island and not bike the entire island. Do you go to Orlando and skip on all the theme parks? Maybe you do, but you just can’t come here and not rent a bike. Rent that bike, please.

The Grand hotel:

We have stayed at this hotel in the past thanks to my previous job. The hotel stay is expensive but well worth the price. It is old-fashioned, grandiose and unbeatable location.

Go into the stores:

Souvenirs are all over the place. It may seem overwhelming seeing all these people in the stores, but trust me, it’s part of the experience.

Headlands International Dark Sky Park:

It’s a short drive from St. Ignace, but it is well worth the drive. This park is basically best seen at night. Ok, so you really can’t see the park at night, but what you can see are the stars! We were lucky enough to go on a weekend with shooting stars on the sky. It was really beautiful and all the kids loved it. We did too. Take lawn chairs and blankets.

Lessons learned:

Our only regret is not staying one night on the island. We liked our hotel, but staying one night on the island is well worth the price.