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From Michigan To Florida, Where to Visit?
August 22, 2008 6:54 AM   Subscribe

We are driving from Michigan to Florida in October on our way to a Disney Cruise. Travelers consist of Me, Pregnant wife (will be 20 weeks in October) and our 3 year old daughter. We plan to take it easy and make a bunch of stops along the way. Any suggestions were to stop? Wife mentioned mammoth cave or a visit to a plantation in the south. We are on a budget so cheap and free would be ideal.
posted by bleucube to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
 
Do you know your route yet? Are you open to route suggestions? Where in Michigan are you starting from?
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:04 AM on August 22, 2008


You could take a drive down the historic River Road (stopping to visit such plantations as the Myrtles (not technically on "river road", but on what is essentially for that stretch) or Houmas House) into New Orleans.

In NOLA There are plenty of things to do that are not very expensive. Come taste our amazing coaktails and Breathe-taking food. come see our beautiful architecture. Ride the historic St. Charles Streetcar. Visit the Audubon Zoo/Aquarium of the Americas/[Brand-freakin-new]Insectarium. Take a Haunted History Tour. Visit the Absinthe Museum, NOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art), the National World War II Museum, The Ogden museum of southern Art, The contemporary Arts center, or any of many many other museums. I promise New Orleans will not let you down.
posted by warriorengineer at 7:06 AM on August 22, 2008


Starting out from Lansing, Michigan. There are two main routes down 69/65 and 75. We plan on taking one way down and one way up. We are open to all suggestions routes, visitations, hotels and sites! Thanks!
posted by bleucube at 7:17 AM on August 22, 2008


My wife walked Mammoth Cave without difficulty when she was in her second trimester - it's not very taxing and the route is well lit. I can't say it was a thrilling experience exactly, but fun enough to do once. The woods on the top side of the park grounds are very pretty.
posted by BinGregory at 7:47 AM on August 22, 2008


SEE ROCK CITY

Visit South of the Border!

And, to help you find other quirky attractions on your route, see Roadside America.
posted by tomierna at 8:27 AM on August 22, 2008


Watch out for I-75. it can be an absolute freaking mess of traffic during peak hours. Look up locations and dates/time of any large college football games and avoid any areas that are near I-75 or face the prospect of sitting in traffic for hours and hours with half-drunk revelers trying to get home after the game.

The Great Smoky Mountains Park and Asheville, NC are not to far off of I-75 and always worth a visit if you've never been. Beautiful scenery.
posted by camworld at 8:31 AM on August 22, 2008


If you go through Indiana, it's a only little out of your way to go to Marengo Cave. Mammoth cave is big, but it's limestone so there aren't any formations. Marengo Cave, which is still a walkable cave, has excellent formations and is a far prettier cave with more colors and is much, much cheaper than Mammoth Cave, depending on which tours you do. At Mammoth cave, most of the tours (such as the historical) go through a bottle neck. I don't know how protrudy your wife is at 20 weeks, but they say people with claustrophobia shouldn't do it and some of the bigger folks on the tour weren't too fond of that part. I don't remember anything similar at Marengo but it's been a few years since I've gone there.

Not too far south of Mammoth Cave is Nashville, TN/Franklin, TN - it's not cheap, it'd be $24 for your family, but I really liked Carnton Plantation. The book "Widow of the South" is based on it but is not worth buying. Franklin was the site of the biggest, bloodiest battle in the Civil war and as a damn Yankee who wishes the South would just get over it and who only did the tour because of a sense of obligation being in the South and all, I found it surprisingly fascinating. The best part of the all around good tour is looking at the blood stains on the floor - it was that, more than anything else, even more than the cemetery, that humanized it for me. It's *not* shock and gore and obligatory ew - it's just explaining Civil war surgery, and explaining what happened.

Nashville is a gorgeous town. There's a model Parthenon to explore at $5/adult and the free park around it is pretty with all kinds of interesting things to poke around. It'd probably give your three year old confusing memories of the time they went to Tennessee and saw Greece.

Alabama is horrible to drive through the long way. From Nashville depending on where you're trying to go in Florida, it might make more sense to loop out through Atlanta. Your three year old will love the Coke factory - you get free samples of global Coke at the end. I don't remember that as being cheap/free though. In fact, I remember being rather ticked that I'd spent so much to get bombarded with advertising. The Atlanta zoo is nice but zoos are zoos. The aquarium is supposed to be amazing but we've not been there yet.

I un-first the above suggestion to go to Asheville. Asheville is just an overpriced college town. If you aren't into "funky" shopping, the only thing to do is go hiking, and if you're into hiking, you can do that anywhere in the area. I wouldn't recommend you go at all out of your way. Or if you're really into that kind of thing, Nashville, IN isn't that far off I65 and is about the same, except for having fewer mountains. You'll have to drive through beautiful scenery to get to Florida no matter which route you take.

If you DO go to Asheville, the Gray Fossil Museum EXCELLENT in Gray, TN that *is* worth going out of the way for. It turns out that they've dug up some of the most amazing mammals in all of North America there. The museum is pretty cool but the part that's awesome is where the grad students walk you out on the dig and you get to rummage through dirt and pick out bits of bones. Scientifically, there's no value in it because it's just what they bulldozed to make the building, but it was lots of fun. I've got degrees in related fields and still learned a ton. It's $5 to get the "guided tour" to the dig site, and then it's $3 suggested donation to just do the museum itself.
posted by arabelladragon at 9:38 AM on August 22, 2008


It sort of depends on how often you want to stop. But if you take 75, you could stop in Cincinnati. You could go to any number of neat parks. You could spend the night at the great wolf lodge (which isn't really budget friendly, but is a lot of fun. I was there with 5 kids recently -- 7mos, 3, 4, 7, and 9 -- and we ALL had fun). There's the zoo, the aquarium, kings island and the beach water park -- also not exactly budget friendly, plus you're on your way to Disney! But there is also the Museum Center - which has a really fun Children's Museum - and is pretty reasonably priced (I think $7 per adult). Also tons of parks to explore if you're just looking for something free and a place to spend the night (have a picnic in Eden Park or Devu Park (in Kentucky) or camp/stay in a cabin at East Fork State park (east of the city)).
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:16 AM on August 22, 2008


Oh, and I wanted to second the advice about watching out for 75. It's a total mess right now, speaking as someone who drives Cincinnati-to-Detroit on a regular basis. You should miss most of it, since I don't think you'd pick up 75 until south of Toledo, but it still gets hairy north of Cincinnati. Check the papers/AAA before you leave.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:22 AM on August 22, 2008


Seconding rock city. When I was 8 I had a lot of fun in the Chattanooga area on a family trip to the south, including all the Civil War battlefields and Rock City. I wonder what I would have enjoyed if I were 3.
posted by billtron at 10:29 AM on August 22, 2008


You might also consider US-23, which goes through some awesome scenery and, despite being a limited access highway at many points, still gives you a view of the scenery along your way, unlike I-65 and I-75, and is only slightly less direct.
posted by billtron at 10:35 AM on August 22, 2008


I'll second dpx.mfx and say that there is a lot for you to see and do here in Cincinnati. In addition to the children's museum, the Cincinnati Art Museum is excellent and free (if your daughter could tolerate that or you can time it for when she is napping).

Also north of the city is Jungle Jim's, the most unusual grocery store that I've ever seen that includes lots of attractions such as animals and talking puppets and so on. You definitely don't have to buy anything here but the free samples can be fun and your daughter will probably love the weirdness.
posted by mmascolino at 10:40 AM on August 22, 2008


The Okefenokee Swamp is cool and unique, and while you are their you can hop over to Waycross and see Stuckie, the petrified dog, subject of his own FPP!
posted by TedW at 11:12 AM on August 22, 2008


Ugh, "there". I don't usually correct my typos but reading abbout the grammar vigilantes on the blue has me all paranoid.
posted by TedW at 11:13 AM on August 22, 2008


We just visited Chattanooga with an almost-3-year-old and an infant. Here are a few fun things to do/see/eat:

We stayed in the Read House (a Sheraton property). It's a historic hotel, recently renovated. A King suite gives you plenty of room to stash your preschooler on the sofa (we also had a pack-and-play set up there for our baby). There's a decent restaurant and a Starbucks at the hotel, and a few diners on the same block. The hotel has an indoor pool with a little fountain. Oh, and it's rumored to be haunted -- the hotel was on the site of a Civil War Hospital.

Fun: The Aquarium is great -- a freshwater River aquarium building and a smaller Ocean aquarium. A little shallow "river" (more like a brook) runs through the grounds and lots of kidlets were splashing in it in their swimsuits.

There's also a Children's museum -- tons of fun activities for youngsters, from play houses with kid-sized kitchens to fun climbing stuff. There's a simple craft area where our daughter made a rooster puppet (markers + paper + mom using scissors = rooster!). There's a dinosaur room for mini-digs; a music room w/ drums; a spy tower with a birds-eye-view of the rooftop garden; a floor dedicated to Clifford the Big Red Dog, with tons of stuff to climb on and play with; and a little library room for a respite and storytime, if you need it. Hands down our daughter's favorite place.

Coolidge Park is on the opposite side of the river (an easy walk over the pedestrian bridge). The carousel is fun and cheap, and there are more fountains next to it where kids are running around playing (it's that kind of fountain). A guy sells lemonade and shave ice just under the bridge. We also ate at Clumpies, the local ice cream joint that also serves loaded hot dogs.

More family-friendly food: Lupi's Pizza is on the main drag, not far from the Read House. There are tons of restaurants (some chains) on that main street leading down to the Aquarium. Blue Plate is one blog west of the Aquarium, sort of a mod diner. We also went to Tony's (a trattoria) up in the Bluff district, and had a few pastries and a chocolate lollipop at Rembrandts, next door -- 3 pastries and a lolly for 5 bucks! Very yummy.

There's a cute little shuttle/trolley/bus that goes up and down the main street -- it's free and a fast ride (they come every 5 minutes) to get where you're going. Your wife will thank you. But the main downtown area of Chattanooga is flat, so walking isn't strenuous.

We also took a Duck tour (a WW2-era DUKW) that's driven around the town for a bit before plunging into the river for a narrated tour of the surroundings. Our toddler got to drive the boat!

Oh, and if you drive through Georgia to get to FL, I recommend timing your stops to land in towns with town squares and/or universities: Cartersville (on 75 between Chattanooga and Atlanta), Macon and Valdosta come to mind (there's a great big playground near VSU). A courthouse square is the perfect safe place for little kids to run around, and there's usually a good deli or sandwich shop nearby for the judges and lawyers. Cartersville also has some good kid-friendly museums and a few nice restaurants for lunch/dinner.
posted by mdiskin at 8:11 PM on August 22, 2008


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