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Old 07-12-2009, 11:32 AM   #1
ZephyrHawk
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Our Great Road Trip West

Well, it looks like my and DH's big road trip West is back on (despite my financial misgivings). I am now the proud owner of two hydro-packs and a pair of hiking boots. I have never hiked. Never really even road tripped, and not into camping (cheap hotels are the watchword for this trip). Can you tell it was DH's year to choose the vacation? However, I am big on photography and from the 4+ cameras we'll be dragging along, I'm hoping to get some excellent pictures. We'll be gone from the afternoon of September 4th through the 20th and I'd appreciate any help you guys can give on the following we'll-decide-as-we-go tentative itinerary:

Day 1- Drive MI to Madison, WI
Day 2- Madison to someplace (Murdo?) in SD, stops at SPAM museum in MN, Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD
Day 3- Badlands, Wall Drug, Wind Cave, stay in Custer or Rapid City
Day 4- Jewel Cave, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, drive to WY and see Devil's Tower before stopping in Sheridan
Day 5- Bighorn Canyon, end at Yellowstone (we have reservations at the Old Faithful Inn, the only place I managed to convince DH to get reservations for the trip)
Day 6- Yellowstone
Day 7- Yellowstone
Day 8- Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole, stay in or near Kemmerer
Day 9- Fossil Butte, Salt Lake City (?), stay near Cedar City
Day 10- Bryce (want to do a horseback riding tour)
Day 11- Zion
Day 12- Page, Az where we want to see Antelope Cave and the Horsehoe Bend, finish the night near the Grand Canyon South rim
Day 13- Hike Grand Canyon trails
Day 14- Monument Valley, Natural Bridges (?)
Day 15- Arches, then drive to Cortez, CO
Day 16- Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes (?)
Day 17- Drive home across very boring parts of Iowa/Nebraska...depending on what we choose

So, anything along the way we're skipping that "should not be missed"? Any quirky little out of the way things that are totally worth the stopping time? Any places we've allocated too much or too little time to? Any favorite local eateries you can point out (we'll mostly be eating out of a cooler, but we want to try some non-fast food places along the way...especially breweries with local beers to try!)?
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Old 07-13-2009, 04:39 PM   #2
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Yikes. That is extremely ambitious...and you have a number of days when I think you will be spending most of your time just moving from one place to the next, without much time to sightsee. For the most part the roads you'll be traveling on are not 4-lane superhighways, so it takes longer to go 120 miles than you might think it does.

Three days is not enough to see Yellowstone, but it'll give you a good start, and I see you've allocated more time there than any place else. Staying at Old Faithful Inn will be very nice - you can see the geyser basin there early in the day before all of the tour buses arrive! Are you staying two nights at Old Faithful or just one? Yellowstone is HUGE, and it actually helps a lot to stay in different places around the park instead of going back to the same place each night (though my preference is to stay 2 or 3 nights in each place so that you don't have to pack/unpack every day!)

I could do your days 10-16 as a full 17 day trip - there is so much to see in Utah and southern Colorado!!! You'll miss out on Capitol Reef National Park, Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument, and Canyonlands National Park completely. Arches is one of my favorites, though, and I also really like Bryce...not really that into Zion, though.

The other problem I foresee is sightseeing overload - I think you'll get really tired and the spectacular things that you see towards the end of the trip won't have the impact that they would if you hadn't been on the go for so long already.
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Old 07-13-2009, 05:27 PM   #3
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Well, we are ambitious folks. We don't mind lots of driving (well, DH doesn't) and have been known to drive 20 hours straight on road trips before (though I'd prefer not to go that long unless I absolutely have to). DH likes driving...which I really don't get. As for being tired, that's sort of the norm for us, for both work and play. We are not relaxing vacation people, we are "fit in as much as you can, rarin' to go" type people. But also, there's the fact that if we decide we can't fit something in (for whatever reason) we'll revise the plan on the fly. It's designed to be fluid (after Yellowstone anyways).

Quote:
Staying at Old Faithful Inn will be very nice - you can see the geyser basin there early in the day before all of the tour buses arrive! Are you staying two nights at Old Faithful or just one? Yellowstone is HUGE, and it actually helps a lot to stay in different places around the park instead of going back to the same place each night (though my preference is to stay 2 or 3 nights in each place so that you don't have to pack/unpack every day!)
Currently, we have three nights booked at the Old Faithful Inn. We're aware that this probably isn't really enough time to really see the park with, but we doubt it will be our last visit ever. We sort of have a basic plan of what thermal sites, waterfalls and other things we really want to see, and will probably keep to that. I would consider staying elsewhere in the park for a night or two, but in all honesty, I know nothing about the other areas and places to stay. I am not into camping. Any recommendations?
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Old 07-13-2009, 05:53 PM   #4
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Ahhh...commando vacationing. As I've gotten older I don't really have the stamina for that!

We did 7 nights in Yellowstone last year - two at both Mammoth and the Lake Yellowstone Hotel and three at Old Faithful Inn. I really liked the Lake hotel - it was by far the most comfortable of the three. Mammoth was fairly primitive and the room was small, and so were the beds.

Anyway...you said you had some idea of the areas you want to visit - so it might make sense to spend at least one night at a different place, like Tower Junction or Mammoth Hot Springs, if you are going to be visiting other sites nearby. I highly recommend the Norris Geyser Basin, which you can do from Old Faithful, but if you go there as you're moving towards Mammoth it makes a little more sense. I also enjoyed the West Thumb Geyser Basin, but you could do that one as you drive out of the park towards the Tetons - it's small and doesn't take long, but it has some of the most beautiful pools!!! No geysers, though. But if you're sightseeing mostly in the southern part of Yellowstone, then you'll be fine at Old Faithful Inn - it just means a little more driving every day.

Not sure if you're the get up early and get going type, but if you are, that will serve you well - things are fairly quiet in the morning as other people get up and get moving, and drive in from where they are staying outside the park.
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Old 07-16-2009, 02:50 PM   #5
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Quote:
Ahhh...commando vacationing. As I've gotten older I don't really have the stamina for that!
Be it Disney or otherwise, we always go commando (no double entendres intended).

Based on the above comments, we're now thinking of switching to one or two nights at Canyon Village. However, that area is totally sold out for the time we'll be there, so we'll keep trying and play it by ear. The current closure of the Norris-Madison road makes things more difficult, too.

Question: I know you're not supposed to leave food in your car, but then what are you supposed to do with your food? I mean, if you check out of one area, and don't want to check into another until after you've toured the park for the day, do they have anything like a bag check area where you can drop stuff like coolers and the like off for the day? Do you have to get a new room first and leave your stuff there? We're planning on taking an electic cooler that plugs into the car's cigarette lighter.
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Old 07-18-2009, 06:15 PM   #6
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Be it Disney or otherwise, we always go commando (no double entendres intended).
http://www.nationalcommandoday.org/

Sorry, couldn't resist
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Old 07-21-2009, 08:53 PM   #7
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We just returned from a similar trip -- probably 50% of what you plan, we just did two weeks ago. We also put together an itinerary that people said was impossible, but we did it all -- and were happy about it. We went into it knowing that it wouldn't be a relaxing vacation. I do think some of your distances, however, are unrealistic. Check them against a computer program, and assume that you'll make 57 mph west of the MIssissippi / 53 east of the Mississippi.

Several hints:
Wear those hiking boots in before you go. With a tight schedule, you cannot afford to slow down because of a blister (bring a first aid kit with bandaids just in case). If they aren't lightweight part canvas /part leather boots with a "negative slope" to allow your Achilles tendon to move freely, return them while you still can.

Add up the entrance fees to the national parks and see if it's worthwhile for you to buy the America the Beautiful pass. It's $80, and it was worthwhile for my family, but you should do the math for yourself. Be sure to notice that Yellowstone/Grand Tetons share ONE $25 fee.

Pack light. I assume you'll be in and out of hotels constantly, and you don't want to drag too much stuff along. We each had one carry-on with four shorts outfits (plus the outfit on our backs), one pair of jeans, one sweatshirt, a pair of tennis shoes, and a pair of boots. I did laundry 3xs in 19 days, and it was fine.

We stayed in a wide range of hotels; some Priceline places for as little as $35, some free places gleaned from my husband's business trip reward points. The Holiday Inns and Best Westerns were the best hotels we stayed in for this trip. They don't charge for internet and they provide breakfast. We didn't hang around the hotels much. The cabins in the national parks were the most expensive lodging we had; they were well worth it, but they were expensive!

Definitely bring a cooler, and keep sandwich materials, soda, and water on hand at all times. Not only does this save money, but you'll not find restaurants everywhere.

Do not enter a national park without a full tank of gas. Yellowstone is the worst for this; you can easily drive 100 miles INSIDE the park in a day. Yellowstone and Grand Canyon have gas stations inside the park, but they aren't cheap. We made it a point never to allow our tank to dip below halfway; you can go miles, miles, miles before you see a gas station again.


Day 1- Drive MI to Madison, WI
Day 2- Madison to someplace (Murdo?) in SD, stops at SPAM museum in MN, Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD
Day 3- Badlands, Wall Drug, Wind Cave, stay in Custer or Rapid City The Badlands and Wind Cave are NOT close together; check your map to see if this is possible. Badlands is a rather "minor" national park. Consider adding Custer State Park -- it's wonderful, and you want to take the Buffalo Safari.
Day 4- Jewel Cave, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, drive to WY and see Devil's Tower before stopping in Sheridan The first few things are very do-able, but the Devil's Tower is rather distant, and it's a minor attraction. Wind Cave is also in the Custer area, and it is a completely different experience from Jewel Cave.
Day 5- Bighorn Canyon, end at Yellowstone (we have reservations at the Old Faithful Inn, the only place I managed to convince DH to get reservations for the trip) We had reservations for every night of the trip, and it worked out well -- most people will advise you against making reservations every night, but I'm not one of them. We were traveling the first two weeks of July, and several places (and activities) were sold out. Three days IS enough for Yellowstone, unless you're determined to hike every trail. I was disappointed (July 2009) that Uncle Jim's trail has partially washed out (floods) and it is closed for the time being.
Day 6- Yellowstone
Day 7- Yellowstone
Day 8- Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole, stay in or near Kemmerer We stayed at the Canyon Cabins in Yellowstone; decent and centrally located -- not really special, and expensive. We LOVED the cabins at Signal Mountain Lodge in Grand Tetons, but they too were expensive. Jackson Hole is $$$$$$. I think if I had it to do again I'd consider Flagg Ranch, which is BETWEEN Yellowstone and Grand Tetons. It'd make most of the Yellowstone destinations distant, but it'd mean NOT moving from hotel to hotel. That does get old.
Day 9- Fossil Butte, Salt Lake City (?), stay near Cedar City The drive from Grand Tetons to Salt Lake City is MISERABLE. IT's a piddly little road, and you crawl along. Literally, it took almost 2xs the time we expected. Though the scenery is beautiful, there are few towns, etc.
Day 10- Bryce (want to do a horseback riding tour) We didn't hit Bryce, but we did a horseback cookout ride in Yellowstone, and that was great. We also rode mules in the Grand Canyon. Very cool! Do make these reservations well ahead of time.
Day 11- Zion Love it. You cannnot take your car into Zion, which was a benefit: the busses are quick and efficient. We saw signs saying that the parking lot at the gate was full, so we parked in the town of Springdale -- this was not true; there was plenty of parking at the gate, and we should've parked there.
Day 12- Page, Az where we want to see Antelope Cave and the Horsehoe Bend, finish the night near the Grand Canyon South rim Antelope Canyon is a must see -- especially for a photographer! LOVED IT! Consider the North Rim rather than the South Rim. It was absolutely wonderful, it's cooler, and the crowds are smaller. The cabins at the North Rim were so cute; it looks like a little Lincoln Log village. The deli food there is affordable and good.
Day 13- Hike Grand Canyon trails
Day 14- Monument Valley, Natural Bridges (?)
Day 15- Arches, then drive to Cortez, CO Arches was probably my least favorite park. It wasn't bad . . . it just didn't impress me as much as the other parks.
Day 16- Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes (?) I LOVED Mesa Verde! We took two tours: Cliff Palace and Balcony House. If you're able to do both of these, do it! They're very different and we learned so much. We did have some trouble with altitude sickness here. The heat probably played into it.
Day 17- Drive home across very boring parts of Iowa/Nebraska...depending on what we choose

I hope you enjoy your trip as much as my family did! It really was wonderful!
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Old 07-21-2009, 08:57 PM   #8
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Question: I know you're not supposed to leave food in your car, but then what are you supposed to do with your food? I mean, if you check out of one area, and don't want to check into another until after you've toured the park for the day, do they have anything like a bag check area where you can drop stuff like coolers and the like off for the day? Do you have to get a new room first and leave your stuff there? We're planning on taking an electic cooler that plugs into the car's cigarette lighter.
We always had a cooler and a box w/bread, chips, etc. in the car, and we had no problems. No, I didn't see any food drop spots.

Within Yellowstone, there are PLENTY of places to eat, and the cost is reasonable considering it's in such a remote place. Each "lodge" has at least one restaurant (or cafeteria) and a soda-fountain type place inside the general store. The food wasn't outstanding, but it was good. Expect spaghetti, lasagna, salads, burgers, etc. My family of four (two adults, two teens) ate for between $40-50 at these places.
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Old 07-27-2009, 12:51 AM   #9
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Last month we did a 75 hour, 3800 mile road trip from Southeastern NC to Southwestern CA and stopped at many of the places you are heading to. On the way we visited (in order):

-Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial (Indiana)
-St. Louis Arch
-Rocky Mountains National Park
-Arches National Park
-Zion National Park
-Lake Powell (Page, AZ)
-Grand Canyon
-Las Vegas / Hoover Dam

The drive from Rocky Mountains National Park to Arches National Park was unbelievable and it was like an attraction in itself. I would highly recommend it to anyone doing a cross-country drive, though it sounds like you'll be further North than that.

I am not the least bit interested in hiking and that sort of thing, but I LOVE photography. Trying to capture all of these breathtaking national parks in photos was the most challenging thing I've ever done. The sunlight has to be absolutely perfect, as does your shutter speed or your pictures turn out dull and boring. I was having to change shutter speeds CONSTANTLY (anytime the sun went behind the clouds, anytime the sun came back out) and also constantly switching filters (UV, polarizing). It was so much work and auto settings will NOT do you a darn bit of good! To get any decent photos in Utah you need some bright, bright sun and a super fast shutter speed to bring out the deep red in the rocks - full manual settings.

When we visited all these places (in June) the temperature in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada was well over 100 every day. It went up to around 120 degrees when we were in Nevada. There is no way I could have hiked day after day. We mainly drove from place to place and got out and took pictures at overlooks. We only did one hike at Zion and even that was too much for me (I whined a lot lol).

Definitely get the National Park annual pass. Saved us lots of money. Also not sure if you have kids, but if you do make sure they participate in the Junior Ranger program at each stop. My kids earned 7 badges on our road trip (each badge was a ton of work so they are very proud).

Here's all my pictures from the road trip if you're interested. You can see how the quality of the sunlight can dramatically change the way the pictures turn out...especially in the Utah pictures. (Just ignore the random pictures in there taken on my cell phone lol) I was having a miserable time with lighting - the sun was behind clouds about 90% of the time making everything look very dull (brown rocks, whitish gray sky), but the very few times the sun peeked out the pictures came out so nice (bright blue sky with bright red rocks).

http://lauramichelle.smugmug.com/gallery/8838605_6QbUr
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Old 07-27-2009, 06:59 AM   #10
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Thanks for the info, guys.

We are planning on getting an America the Beautiful Pass, and we will be bringing along a cooler for foodstuffs. I have been trying to wear in my newly purchased hiking boots (wore them all day yesterday helping friends move into their new apartment, got sweaty, but not uncomfortable). I don't know about the whole "Achilles tendon" thingy, but we did buy a small blister kit to put in our packs (to be backed up by the much larger first aid kit in our car). I'm not much of a hiker, but then neither is DH, so I figure that if there's something I really don't want to do, he probably can be convinced to avoid it as well.

Packing will be an issue. Basically, we'll be going all over at a time when weather is somewhat unpredictable, and so I have to account for everything from still very hot desert conditions to possible mountain snowstorm conditions. I figure on doing laundry at least once during the trip, which will be a first for me. Laundry on vacation...ick.

Can't wait to do the photography. My birthday present this year was a new DSLR kit. Plus I'll be bringing along my old film SLR just for B&W. Then I'll have my tiny panoramic camera, and DH will have his point-and-shoot digital. It shall be a photo filled vacation.

Keep the advice coming!
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Old 07-27-2009, 09:05 PM   #11
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Definitely get the National Park annual pass. Saved us lots of money. Also not sure if you have kids, but if you do make sure they participate in the Junior Ranger program at each stop. My kids earned 7 badges on our road trip (each badge was a ton of work so they are very proud).
Do check to see if the national park pass will "pay" or not. We spent 2.5 weeks out west and visited LOADS of national parks, and the park pass saved us . . . wait for it . . . five dollars! Don't get me wrong: Five dollars is five dollars, and we hope to visit two more parks during the year, so we'll save more -- but don't assume that it'll be a good deal for your family. Check the NPS website; some national parks charge $25/week (Grand Canyon) while others charge less (Mesa Verde), some nearby parks share a fee (Yellowstone - Grand Tetons), others offer free entrance but you must pay for parking (Mt. Rushmore), still others are free unless you take a tour (Wind Cave). Kids are free at all national parks. Just be sure of what you're getting.

My kids are a little too old for Junior Rangers now, but they LOVED them when they were younger! Great suggestion!
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I don't know about the whole "Achilles tendon" thingy, but we did buy a small blister kit to put in our packs (to be backed up by the much larger first aid kit in our car).
The Achilles tendon is the strong tendon above your heel, the one that disappears into your calf muscle.

Are your boots "straight across" or is the lace area "taller" than the back of the heel? You want boots that're slanted towards the back -- that saves you from getting major blisters on the back of your heel.
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Can't wait to do the photography. My birthday present this year was a new DSLR kit. Plus I'll be bringing along my old film SLR just for B&W.
I'd just take the DSLR. One of the beautiful things about digital photography is that you can easily change any picture from color to B&W, or sepia, or whatever you want. No loss of quality, less stuff to carry.

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Old 07-27-2009, 09:43 PM   #12
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Do check to see if the national park pass will "pay" or not. We spent 2.5 weeks out west and visited LOADS of national parks, and the park pass saved us . . . wait for it . . . five dollars!
Good point! Guess it depends on the cost of each park whether it would be a savings or not.
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Old 07-29-2009, 06:37 PM   #13
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The drive from Rocky Mountains National Park to Arches National Park was unbelievable and it was like an attraction in itself. I would highly recommend it to anyone doing a cross-country drive, though it sounds like you'll be further North than that......

Definitely get the National Park annual pass. Saved us lots of money.
I was excited to read your comments about the drive from Rocky Mountains to Arches - we'll be doing that drive as part of our National Parks tour in October.

Can I ask which parts were particularly scenic? We're flying into Denver and spending a night there before heading up to do Trail ridge drive in Rocky Mountains NP first. We'll be doing that about the 9th October so I'm really hoping they haven't closed the road for winter by then.

Then we thought we'd spend a night somewhere near Vail or maybe Glenwood Springs, heading across to Arches the next day. We hope to drive through the Colorado National Monument on the way. Is there anything else along there that we should particularly look out for?


We are definitely getting good value out of our Annual Parks pass - we bought it last year ( in October) when we visited Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce and Joshua Tree. It only saved us about $5 then but luckily it will still be valid for our trip this year when we visit Yellowstone/Tetons, Rocky Mountain, Arches, Canyonlands, Yosemite and Sequoia. We'll save heaps :-)

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Old 07-30-2009, 02:18 PM   #14
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Food in the car -- look the bears really will rip your car to shreds to get a bag of marshmallows and yes, they can smell it. DO NOT LEAVE FOOD IN YOUR CAR! Buy food when you are out of bear country. Yes, it is will be more expensive to buy food at the cafes in Yellowstone than will be to eat PB&Js from your cooler. How much is the deductible on your car insurance? So far I haven't read about the bears ripping apart a tourist's car this year. It usually happens every year, please don't make it your car! The cooler and the car window do NOT keep the smells in your car. Bears are very smart. They know the family style cars are the ones most likely to have food in them. They know exactly how to get the back doors off minivans and how to get trunks open. Oh, and while I'm lecturing, the buffalo & moose aren't friendly either -- don't try to pet them. Seems obvious, but some people try it!
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Old 08-01-2009, 04:34 PM   #15
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I was so excited for you as I read your post! DH and I are commando travelers too...always have been, Disney or otherwise! We've done similar trips and I do believe you can do "most" of it. The only thing I can tell you is that no matter how long you THINK it will take to drive from point A to point B in the Rockies....it will take longer. Sometimes considerably longer, depending on the roads you choose. If you are not on interstates in the Rockies, you will encounter switch back roads and they will be slow going. Do NOT rely on the mapquest timing. We learned this the very hard way.
I loved Bryce as it is a canyon (looking down into it). Zion was ok, but we didn't spend a lot of time there - at Zion you look up. We took the in park bus and got off at two or three stops, but that's it. Bryce will take you a LOT longer, especially if you are hiking down into it. Beautiful! Like nothing you have ever seen!
DH retired this year and we will be traveling cross country for
3 months leaving Aug 29 and returning just after Thanksgiving. You will be getting home on my birthday! On Sept 20 I'll be at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco that day. I'll think of you and look for a follow up post after your trip.
__________________
1980 - offsite
1996 - offsite, Rt. 192
1998 - Carribean Beach
2000 - Offsite, Grosvenor, Dixie Landings
2002 (May) Calypso Cay
2002 (Sept) Wyndham Palms
2004 (May) Holiday Inn (DD), Dolphin, Sheraton Safari
2004 (Nov) All Stars Music
2005 (Oct) Coronado Springs, Best Western (DD)
2007 (Aug) POP
2010 (Sept) POFQ, Royal Plaza (DD)
2012 (Oct) Embassy Suites, POFQ
2013 (Sept) Carribean Beach
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