Take a Shell Island Cruise while in Panama City Beach

Guest Post By: Linda Hale

Anyone who has vacationed in Panama City Beach, Florida, knows it’s all about the hustle and bustle. There is always something going on in Panama City! You’ve got Spring Break, or July 4th, or Friday Fest, or, like we encountered this fall, Thunder Beach. Which, in case you don’t know, is a convention of motorcyclists (We did not do this on purpose!). Anyhow, did you ever just want some peace and quiet, and solitude while there? If so, I have a great suggestion. Treat your family to a Shell Island Cruise!

There are several cruises that you can choose from, if you want to go to Shell Island. Captain Anderson has one, and then there is the Ashley Gorman Shell Island Cruise. We chose this cruise while visiting Panama City Beach with two of our grandchildren this fall, and we all had a blast. It is a 3 l/2  hour excursion to the island, and during the 1 hour trip over, you are treated to a meal of hot dogs, chips, and a drink, a rummage through crab traps they’ve pulled up for you, dolphin antics, and just the plain old fun of riding on a double decker boat.Ashley Gorman Shell Island Cruise, Panama City Beach, Florida

As far as the dolphins go, the boat actually will stop whenever they spot any and give you a chance to watch and take pictures. They actually have another cruise, that is seasonal, that will allow you to get into the water with the dolphins. Scuba diving lessons are given on this cruise.  You can check thiswebsite for a phone number and information on the Ashley Gorman cruises.

The double decker Ashley Gorman gives the kids the opportunity to walk around, climb the decks, and interact with the other passengers and crew. This also gives you lots of choices for views of the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, the dolphins, and the passing boats and Florida islands.White sands of Shell Island, Panama City Beach, Florida

However, the real treat is actually Shell Island itself. Here’s that solitude I was talking about. The Ashley Gorman carries over about 50 people, and I saw only two boat docks, so there are just not that many people there at one time. And the island is very long; so you can walk and just about be alone. The excursion gives you an hour on Shell Island, which is plenty of time to walk in the surf, or swim (if you bring your bathing suit), or just search for shells. Our grandkids had a great time shelling, and found some really good ones. Sandbars go out pretty far, so you can walk out and find sand dollars, and maybe a conch shell.Shelling on Shell Island, Panama City Beach, Florida


Panama City has some of the most gorgeous white beaches and aquamarine waters that I have seen on the Gulf, and on Shell Island this is just intensified. The beaches and water are just beautiful; and the sand dunes with the sea oats blowing in the wind are definitely picture perfect. All of this is something extra special that you just don’t expect at Panama City Beach, but something you should definitely experience.


At the boat’s warning horn, you have to rush back across the long boardwalk over the dunes to the Ashley Gorman for the return trip. But that’s OK, because they have a little snack bar where you can buy the kids some Cheetos and a Slushie, and they will go off happily to watch the dolphins;  while you buy yourself a treat from their mini bar, and sit back and enjoy the ride home.

Guest Post By: Linda Hale


Pumpkin Patches and Corn Mazes

Guest Post By: Linda Hale

In the fall our hearts and minds turn to harvests, fall festivals, and pumpkin patches. Then there is that new rage: the corn maze! When I was growing up, I lived on a farm. My Daddy grew cotton, soy beans, and corn, and we were sort of poor. Why in the world didn’t we think of making corn mazes back then?

Anyway, there are plenty of them now, and the experience is usually coupled with great pumpkin patches. North Georgia has its share of these fun adventures, as do lots of other states. I’m going to give you a general idea of this experience, and then all you have to do is Google your location to find the closest ones to you.Pumpkins, pumpkins and more pumpkins, Georgia

We have been to a couple of great pumpkin patches with our granddaughter. Two particular ones are in Dawsonville, which is just east of Atlanta near Gainesville, Ga.  Burt’s Farm is just pumpkins as far as you can see, and in every size you can imagine. Of course, they are for sale, but they are also great picture taking opportunities. There is also the tractor pulled wagon for a hayride, and the barn with all sorts of colored corn, gourds, and small pumpkins for sale.  We had a super time there!

Pumpkins of all sizes, GeorgiaAnother pumpkin patch and corn maze near this one, also in Dawsonville, is Uncle Shuck’s. With the addition of the corn maze, this pumpkin patch is even more exciting. They have a twelve acre corn field, with 4 miles of trails that you can get lost in for hours. There are check points along the way in case you need help! They also have a haunted corn maze during October that is open at night. There are no flashlights allowed, and you have to make your way by moonlight! Of course, anyone under thirteen has to be accompanied by an adult.

There are hayrides here, too, and these can be during the day or at night. You can enjoy a stop along the way for a camp side bonfire with marshmallows, songs, and stories.

The food abounds! You can fill up on all your fall favorites of hot dogs, hamburgers, boiled peanuts, cakes, pies, caramel apples, funnel cakes, even bratwurst.

Uncle Shuck's Corn Maze GeorgiaOf course, you will return home with some of the best pictures ever! You can get the details about Uncle Shuck’s Pumpkin Patch and Corn maze at www.uncleshucks.com.

Now, as I mentioned, if you don’t live in Georgia, I’ll guarantee you have something like these near you.  If not, I’ll bet you can find one within a day trips distance. It is so worth it! This is a treat for everyone, but little kids love it!

When I Goggled “corn mazes in the south”, I got 2 million hits; 2 million, three hundred for “corn mazes in the north; 2 million, five hundred in the west; and over 5 million in the east. Alaska even had 5 hundred thousand (hits, not corn mazes, but still)! So, you see my point; there is no reason to miss out on this great fall treat for you and your family.

Guest Post By: Linda Hale


Visit the Great Smoky Mountain’s Biltmore Estate

Guest Post By: Linda Hale

The Great Smoky Mountains along the North Carolina and Tennessee border are a treasure trove of scenery and adventures for travelers.  They are beautiful in every season, from the pastel greens of spring, to the vibrant colors of fall, to the cold, stark beauty of winter.  And 365 days a year you can visit one of their most exciting and interesting sites. Ashville, North Carolina is right at the base of the Great Smokies, off Interstate 24. Just a visit to Ashville is worth your time. It’s a lovely city with all kinds of things to do, places to eat, and beautiful places to stay. But their biggest draw, in my opinion, is the Biltmore Estate.Biltmore Estate, Ashville, North Carolina

This absolutely breath-taking “castle” and its surrounding estate was built by George Biltmore, and completed in 1895. The house has 250 rooms that will completely amaze you. When you visit the estate, the first thing you will want to do is take a self- guided tour of the house. I have been several times in my life, and it has never failed to excite me. There are three floors and a basement that you can tour, and plan on at least two hours to do this. Not only will the size of the rooms amaze you, but you will also be treated to vintage clothing displays, period furniture, and huge paintings and tapestries in almost every room. The wealth and lifestyle of the people who lived and visited this estate in the early 20th century are evident in every corner of this house.

Gardens and Biltmore Estate, Ashville, North CarolinaThere is a huge billiard room, fireplaces that you can stand in, an indoor pool (amazing, considering when the house was built), and a great kitchen. Not to mention the other 247 rooms. And all of this sits on thousands of pristine mountain acreage. The views are breathtaking!

Gardens of Biltmore Estate, Ashville, Ashville, North CarolinaWhen you finish the tour of the house, you will want to head to the gardens. There are acres of formal and informal gardens that you can stroll in forever.  If you visit their website, you will find a “bloom calendar” that will inform you of the prime dates to see the best showings of the various flowers and shrubs available. Spring has azaleas and bulbs galore, and the rose garden features over 250 varieties of roses that will show best in early summer. Check out the calendar for specifics.

They also have special events throughout the year. You can enjoy concerts, music and wine weekends, and specialty tours. Again check the website. My favorite time there is Christmas. The house is decorated in the most splendid way. Many, many gorgeously decorated Christmas trees adorn the rooms. And these are huge trees! Room and table decoration are lovely, and by all means visit the kitchen. The spices and gingerbread and cookie smells are to die for. They also have Candlelight Christmas tours at night, which I am sure would be a wonderful treat.

Great Smokey Mountain, Biltmore Estate,Ashville, North CarolinaIn recent years, they have built Antler Hill Village and Winery on the Estate. This is a period village that features all sorts of shops, crafts, and eateries that will definitely enhance your visit. The Music and Wine weekends are held here, and feature live music, grape stomps, and wine tastings. There is the Barn, which the kids will love.  It has live animals, blacksmiths, woodworkers, and all sorts of craft demonstrations. Also, a Smokehouse is available for snacks and sandwiches.

You do not want to miss this experience, and since they are open every day of the year, you don’t have to! Check out their website at www.Biltmore.com for all their hours, events, and ticket information. And have a great time!

Guest Post By: Linda Hale


Georgia Renaissance Festival

Guest Post By: Linda Hale

Are you a history buff? Do you love to visit places that take you back to another place and time? If so, you need to head on down to the Georgia Renaissance Festival. For 8 weekends out of the year, from mid-April through the first of June, you can experience an authentic piece of medieval life. Located off Interstate 85, just a little south of Atlanta, you can park in a field, walk through a gate, and be totally immersed in another time and culture.

We have been to the Renaissance Festival several times, and each time I am completely blown away by the experience. There are 32+ acres full of authentic  16th century life. Over 1000 fully costumed, period characters are strolling through the fair talking to you, explaining events and life during this period.  There’s the big, red haired, buxom lady who gives you a big red kiss on the cheek, the peddlers, the sheep herders, the singing minstrels, and even the ugly troll under the bridge. And definitely be prepared to make way for King Henry VIII and his court, as they parade through the town.Renaissance Festival Georgia

Your children will absolutely love the period games, rides, and side shows that are taking place constantly as you stroll through the fair. There are lots of demonstrations of medieval crafts like weaving, coin minting, and glass-blowing, and even workshops where you can try your hand at some craft. There are plenty of gift shops, if you would like to take home some souvenirs. In fact, one warning. There is an entrance fee to the festival, and then most of the events inside cost extra. So come prepared to spend, or be firm with your “no’s” to the kids!Jousting Renaissance Festival Georgia

One of my favorite things about the festival is the food. There are tons of pubs and shops with all kinds of goodies and meals. In fact, practically everyone you see is walking around gnawing on a giant turkey leg. This is one of the signature foods served there, but there is so much more! Fried macaroni and cheese, fried green beans, desserts, corn on the cob; you name it, it’s there!  Get there hungry!

One really nice thing about the period characters roaming around is their knowledge of medieval life. They are happy to stop and talk with you, and answer all sorts of questions. It’s not hokey, but really life- like. You are actually in the 16th century while you are there. There is a goose lady who is extremely knowledgeable about geese, and she has several that you can pet and hold. One will even hug your neck (goose style).Enjoying Renaissance Festival Georgia

Another caution; wear comfortable shoes! This place is absolutely huge, and you will be walking among trees and roots and rocks. My granddaughter and I separated from my husband for a minute, for him to get a drink, and we roamed around for an hour and a half before we found him again. Also, if you are from a more northern climate, remember that mid-April and May in Georgia can be hot.  You will need to dress appropriately, or all that walking will make you really uncomfortable. Just check the weather report before you come!

As I have mentioned, there are all kinds of attractions here, but the highlight is the Jousting. There is an authentic jousting ring, where the knights on their mighty steeds (really gorgeous horses) clash in a very real jousting match. Notice the posted times, and get there early to get a ringside seat. This is great!

Be sure to check out their website at www.garenfest.com  before you come, to get dates, times, and special event information. On our last visit they were featuring the Lipizzaner Stallions, so you never know what kind of treats they may have in store for you.

Guest Post By: Linda Hale


Headed to Georgia’s Appalachian Mountains, Stopover at Babyland General Hospital

Guest Post By: Linda Hale

Yes, travelers, there are still Cabbage Patch Kids being born. You and your kids can experience the birth of these adorable dolls with a visit to Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland, Georgia. Now Cleveland is another one of those “you can’t get there from here” places, so you are going to have to make a special effort to get there. But the trip will be part of the adventure. When you get to Cleveland, which is probably easiest to do from Interstate 85, exiting at Gainesville, you will find yourself approaching Georgia’s Appalachian Mountains, which is a beautiful drive in itself. But you will also be less than 20 miles from Dahlonega; the site of the first major U.S. gold rush (at least 20 years before California), and Helen, which is an authentic German village on the beautiful Chattahoochee River.

Cleveland Georgia and Appalachian MountainsSo sit down with your family, and make out your itinerary for this trip. Anytime is beautiful, but fall is gorgeousto se the Appalachian Mountains!

Cleveland is a small town, so finding Babyland General should be easy. The admission is free, and you are in for a great treat. Might want to bring your checkbook, though, because once your kids see all those thousands of Cabbage Patch Kids. . . . . . . oh well, you get the picture.

My husband and I took our granddaughter three years in a row, on her birthday, and she ended up with three boys in her Cabbage Patch collection.

Babyland Nursery, Cleveland, GeorgiaWhen you arrive, you will have the option to visit several rooms in the hospital, including the nursery for newborns; the preemie room, with the babies in incubators; and various school rooms, with the toddler aged Kids. The children can choose which Kid they would like to take home, give it a name, and go through the adoption proceeding.Our first was Jason Ryan; a toddler.

They can also visit the Magical Cabbage Patch, and witness the birth of a brand new baby CabbagePatch Kid. The Cabbage Mother’s birthing experience is attended by doctors and nurses, who help with the birth.

Babyland Cleveland, GeorgiaThe birth of a new Kid is always one of the highlights of the trip, but to me, the adoption process was pretty impressive. Once your baby has been selected, you will be taken to a private room for an adoption consultation with one of the hospital staff.  Your child will be asked questions about taking care of the new baby, given some instructions, and then will take an oath to love and care for it. Children take this really seriously, and it is a treat to watch them.

Of course, next comes the gift shop, where you can buy just about anything you want or need for your new baby Cabbage Patch Kid. And, rest assured, you won’t get out without at least one outfit, and all the accessories!

You probably need to plan on this experience taking at least half of a day. There is so much to see, and so much to get involved with here; you, nor your children, will want to leave. This is a really fun family outing, and definitely worth a trip through the Northeast Georgia mountains to get there.

According to their website, Babyland General was voted one of the Top Ten Toylands by the Travel Channel. So visit their website at www.cabbagepatchkids.com, and get all the details about dates and times, and give your children a great treat!

Guest Post By: Linda Hale


Visit Beautiful St. George Island in the Fall

Guest Post By: Linda Hale

I have known about St. George Island, Florida forever. What I don’t know is why it took me so long to go.  Our family has a tendency to vacation at the larger, more well know beaches. My kids and grand kids like the crowds, the restaurant choices, the putt-putt ranges, and the big condos. I, on the other hand, could do without all of that. So last November, my husband and I decided to take a short vacation to St. George Island.

Quite beaches of St George Island FloridaIt is one of Florida’s barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico. And it is one of those “you can’t get there from here” types of places. It’s not just a hop off of an interstate. There are miles of road where you won’t see much of anything.  And be warned. If you get there at night, which we did, there is a four mile bridge (low over the water) from the mainland to St. George Island. Now in the daylight, it was beautiful, but approaching it at night, and not knowing how long you were going to be over the water, sort of freaked me out!

Early Morning St George Island FloridaThat being said, the rest of the trip was unbelievable! I can’t say exactly what it’s like the rest of the year, but don’t miss St. George Island in the fall. There was absolutely no one there, and no matter where we went, we had everything almost to ourselves.  A random fisherman or a dog might pass by your beach house every hour or so, but otherwise just gorgeous, solitary beach!

This is a very small island, with about a third of it designated as state park, so you won’t find big condos, and a lot of restaurants. There are about  five restaurants on the island, and quite frankly, I was happy with them. I have heard others say you need to go over to Apalachicola to eat. This is definitely true if you are an oyster lover. Some of the best in the world are supposed to come from Apalachicola Bay. St. George Island is only ten miles from there (almost all bridges), so it’s a really easy trip.

Sunset at St George Island FloridaI think there was one condo building on the island, but it was very small and unimposing; maybe three or four stories. Most of the dwellings on St. George are single family beach houses, and many are available to rent for your vacation. The one grocery store was totally adequate for what we wanted, and the two or three trucks parked beside the road selling the fresh catch of the day, made for a fabulous seafood meal.

St. George Island is probably one of the most pristine, serene, beautiful Florida beaches I have ever seen.  It is not for my children, but it is certainly for me. I selfishly  hate to recommend it, because I just don’t want it to change. I want to go back in the fall, and stroll those beautiful beaches in solitary wonder. I want to have the most gorgeous sunset ever all to myself. Just hearing nothing but the seagulls screaming, the waves roaring,  and a random dog barking is my dream vacation. Thankfully, I know where that dream can come true – St. George Island!

Guest Post By: Linda Hale


Treat your Child to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center

Guest Post By: Linda Hale

Want to give your children a great experience on your vacation?  If you happen to be travelling the Southern coast of Georgia, you will find a wonderful treat in store.

Don’t we all love turtles! From Nemo’s friend Crush to the little box turtles trying to cross the road, we seem to be fascinated with them. Particularly kids!  Well, come over to Jekyll Island, Georgia, and give them the opportunity to see some sea turtles really up close.

Georgia Sea Turtle Center , St. Simon, Jekyll Island, Georgia (2)My family does a lot of vacationing on the beautiful Georgia Golden Isles of St. Simon’s and Jekyll.  Jekyll is well known , and  there are many, many activities and fun things to experience while you are there. However, we believe the Georgia Sea Turtle Center may be one of the best finds we have made, especially for our granddaughter.

Not only is the center a treasure trove of information about the sea turtle, with rooms full of museum type exhibits on the life cycle, the nesting, and the travels of this gigantic animal, it is also a sea turtle hospital!

Sea turtles that have been found stranded on beaches because of sickness or injuries, or those that have been rescued after an accident involving ski boats or dredges many times end up at the center hospital.

Georgia Sea Turtle Center , St. Simon, Jekyll Island, Georgia (1)Within the actual center, you have the opportunity to look into the hospital through a giant window, and watch the turtles be examined by the doctors and nurses. You will be amazed at how they handle these huge reptiles. From there, you can go into the rehabilitation area, where you can see the recovering sea turtles in their individual pools and tanks. They have each been given a name, and a poster is attached to each tank area to give you information on their specific illness or injury, thetreatment they have received, their prognosis, and what the center’s plans are for release.

Georgia Sea Turtle CenterMany of the turtles recover completely, and can be released into the wild, while others will have to go to zoos or aquariums.

One really cool thing you can do for your children is come spend a week at Jekyll or St. Simon’s during the summer, and enroll them in the Sea Turtle Center Camp. This is a week of spending close-up time with the turtles in the hospital, as well as roaming the beaches looking for nests, and turtle tracks. Maybe they will even find some, since summer is the nesting season for sea turtles. They will learn all about the sea turtle conservation programs and research the center is involved in, as well asenjoying lots of hands on experience with the turtles.

The camp is for children ages 6 through 12, but you will need to check out the website (http://www.georgiaseaturtlecenter.org/) for the specific dates and other information.

If you are a day visitor, they have a huge gift shop with all kinds of interesting gifts and turtle information, not to mention a gigantic skeleton of a sea turtle hanging from the ceiling.

So come spend a day with the sea turtles, learn about their lives and habits, and the exciting and worthwhile rescue efforts  of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

Guest Post By: Linda Hale


Experience a Shrimp Cruise on the Georgia Coast

Guest Post By: Linda Hale

If you ever find yourself traveling down the Georgia coast, be sure to make your way to the city of Brunswick. Behind a small restaurant, sitting in the marshy waters of St. Simon’s Sound, you will find the “Lady Jane”.  She is an authentic shrimp trawler, retired from the shrimping industry, and now U. S. Coast Guard approved to take would be shrimpers on a great adventure.

Stingray Lady Jane, St. Simon, GeorgiaThe captain of the “Lady Jane” had the unique idea to refurbish his old ship into a working party boat. He and his Coast Guard certified crew now take passengers out into St. Simon’s Sound to experience a real shrimp boat at work.

Sea gulls Lady Jane, St. Simon, GeorgiaMy husband, granddaughter, and I have gone on this excursion twice, and have had the time of our lives. I love it just for the two hour boat ride, watching the dolphins that inevitably pop up around the trawler, and the bird watching. The sea gulls and pelicans swarm around the ship in unimaginable numbers, fighting and arguing for the anticipated catch. My granddaughter loves it, as all the children do, for the great things the trawler pulls out of the sea.

Catch Lady Jane, St. Simon, GeorgiaThe boat drops its nets into the water three times during the cruise, and then dumps the contents of the net onto a large table for all to gather around and inspect. There is a marine biologist on board who will pick through the catch, and explain what all those creatures from the depths really are. What my granddaughter loves is the touching and holding that is allowed after he has disposed of anything dangerous. In addition to shrimp, the catches include all kinds of fish, crabs, sting rays, butter rays, and maybe small sharks. This is truly a great experience for the kids, and some great pictures can be taken.

Shrimp meal Lady Jane, St. Simon, GeorgiaMy husband’s favorite part is the shrimp feast that the crew prepares right on board. Throughout the cruise, you are treated to unlimited boiled shrimp that were caught right in St. Simon’s Sound.

The cruises usually leave the dock at 4:00 in the afternoon, and return around 6:00. You will have just experienced fun, the wind in your face, sea gulls crying for their supper, dolphins, a great meal, and then it’s all topped off with the sun setting as you return. Really, it doesn’t get any better than this!

Pelican, Lady Jane, St. Simon, Georgia (2)You will need to make reservations for your trip, although you don’t pay until you get there, and you will need to check the dates for public excursions. The “Lady Jane” also does cruises for private parties, so you have of option of going as a big group. And they are Coast Guard approved to go up to 20 miles offshore, although they don’t go that far out for the public trips.

There are many treats and opportunities for travelers among Georgia’s Golden Isles, and I have experienced quite a few of them. But the “Lady Jane” has to be one of my favorites. It is definitely a treat you don’t want to miss!

You can visit their website for more information at www.shrimpcruise.com.

Guest Post By: Linda Hale

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