Padre Freaking Island, ya’ll!

Words will not convey the absolute awesomeness of our almost 3 day boondocking adventure on the beach at Padre…but lemme try. Watch me verbally whip and nae nae all over this page about it.

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We have the teeniest bit of solar on our Airstream…just enough for some lights, but that was enough for us (for now…more solar to come). We were goin’ boondocking gulf-front with Airstream friends who are seasoned boondockers and whose son my kids adore. So many wins.

Met up with @big_big_trip and @big_big_trip_anna at Texas’s Padre Island National Seashore visitor center and the dad’s reconnoitered the beach front looking for THE spot while the moms and kids fetched the Junior Ranger supplies. Then is was four wheeling time…towed out onto the beach…swung a couple impressive U-ees and settled in.

Now, cue a Peter Pan’s Lost Boys/Neverland song. The three boys immediately shed all sense of couth and devolved into the wildlings they are at heart. It was brilliant watching imaginations and creativity come alive for them with sand and sticks and freedom just 20 feet from the water. The grownups had wine, beer, conversation and relative peace while the boys kept each other busy. We even got to celebrate O’s birthday beachside with cake and ice cream and candles (that we had to pretend were lit–wind).

 

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Discussing the organization and bylaws of the #over40beardedhunkclub. That’s their flag.

OK, so there were a couple minor downfalls of this spectacular two/three day stay. Washing my hair in a bucket outside was not one of them. The sand was. “Well, duh” you say. But it’s unreal how the sand creeps into every crack and crevice…and not only the cracks and crevices on bodies. Resting your weary head on a pillow covered in sand is less than cozy. Also…the wind. One day was SO windy we had to sit behind the campers to be able to talk and not get sand in our mouths/eyes. And lastly…there was a wee little bit of a tide issue. Fickle Mother Nature had ideas other than what the weather channels and the rangers had. Once the tide came up and started washing our patio mat away, there was a MAD dash to batten the hatches and tow the hell off the beach one night early.

It was sad to say goodbye to friends as we were headed in opposite directions and weren’t sure when we’d meet again. After doing this for almost 7 months, if someone asks me what the hardest part of RV living and full-time travel is, I can honestly say it’s leaving new found friends. Luckily our homes have wheels and we’re already plotting our next path crossing.

Big fat cheers to camping beach-front on Padre Freaking Island. If you get a chance to do it…do it.

 

Getting in to Texas…

February 19-22

Left NOLA and continued west into Texas towards a small state park called Sea Rim. It’s right on the water and I knew it would be beautiful. After getting off highway 10 and heading toward the shore, the area became…erie? Gargantuan oil refineries, one after the other, greeted us with parking lots full of cars (trucks, they were all pickup trucks, we’re in TX) and not one human being in sight. It was as if those colossal beasts with pipes like tentacles reaching miles had just swallowed everyone whole. Once we left the oil refineries behind it was miles and miles (and miles) of what I assume the world will look like after the zombie apocalypse. Nothingness. Part fascinating, part “are all the doors locked?!”

We arrived at the park to very kind rangers and just one (the least appealing, of course) campsite left. That was OK since we’re still thinking this place will be great! And the first night was fine…cold and very windy but the beach was pretty and we knew we’d spend some time on it the following day. The next evening we realized why the wind was wonderful gift from Mother Nature and not a nuisance. Because mosquitoes. Like a biblical plague, they swarmed, everywhere. It was like nothing we’d ever experienced. The Florida Everglades had nothing on this master level of mosquitoes. Taking Vader for a potty break at 10pm was a mistake and Shan and I were up until well after midnight killing mosquitoes…they came in on my clothes, on my hair, on his fur and stuck all over my skin like the little vampire devils they are.

The next day, a day early, we left. As fast as we could. We found a lovely and massive park (Texana Park and Campground, part of this hugged recreation complex) to stay the night and there was sun, a beautiful lake, lush grass, herds of deer, great hammock trees and NO MOSQUITOES. Also…I gave the boys haircuts for the first time. I had fun, they hated it. I only drew a teeny bit of blood. But they looked so handsome!

After only one day, we were off like a herd of turtles and on to good times with Airstream friends.

 

 

The Big Easy…NOLA (2/12-19)

We hightailed it through Alabama and Mississippi with promises to come back and soak up the history of those two states in the future. We stayed at Bayou Segnette State Park across the mighty Mississippi from the French Quarter and it was just perfect for our needs. First, let me emphasize…there is FREE LAUNDRY at Bayou Segnette. FREE. LAUNDRY. The sites are well spaced with plenty of green in between and behind sites. The bathhouses are adequate, but can be a bit of a hike depending on your site number. If you’re using the bathhouses (or if you’re doing some FREE LAUNDRY and washing every scrap of fabric in your camper), try to snag a site near the bathhouses. We didn’t get one and hiked a wooden path through the bayou (um, swamp…?) to get there. Also…a full week in this park and this is the only picture we got of the park itself. :/

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Other than the campground, there isn’t much to do AT the state park if you don’t have a boat or aren’t there when the pool and wave pool are open. But really, who goes to NOLA to hang at their state park!? The Algiers ferry terminal is about 20 minutes from Bayou Segnette and has free street parking (or $5 all day lot parking) and it’s only $2 per person to cross the river. The hulking, clanging, squealing, circa 1940s (feeling) battleship ferry drops you at the tip of the French Quarter and you can walk to all the madness that is this fascinating city. If you’re lucky, you may get a glimpse of a real, live Mississippi river rat. It’s part of the experience guys.

We started our first day in the French Quarter with a walk down Bourbon Street (which smells like warm beer and hot, overflowing dumpsters), street performers and toe-curling beignets at Cafe du Monde…obviously. After strolling the city a bit more and being led by the more pleasant aromas of the many incredible restaurants, we ducked into the Gumbo Shop (highly, highly recommend!) for lunch. I couldn’t decide what local delicacy to order so our fabulous server said she’d surprise me. Shrimp creole, red beans and rice with andouille sausage and jambalaya all on one plate. Yes please. The boys enjoyed a roast beef po boy and Shan devoured his jambalaya. Please go here for a meal if you’re in NOLA.

During the week we also visited Oak Alley Plantation. Always a struggle to see such a gracious home and property but know on whose backs that property was built and operated. The tour was very informative, but there’s so much emphasis on genteel southern plantation life and so little emphasis on the absolute horrors of slavery. The home and the 300 year old oaks were lovely though. The mint julep was knock-you-on-your-tush-strong. Oak Alley has an extensive exhibit of slave quarters with some very honest and awful examples of slave life. Awful. Friends had just toured Oak Alley and the Whitney Plantation. They told me about how the planation truly looks at the entire “plantation experience” from the slaves’ perspective as opposed to the more common plantation owner’s side. The Whitney Plantation was the one we meant to tour.

On our next foray into the French Quarter there were more beignets. Beignets. Beignets. Beignets. Oh, sorry. We also walked through the open air market and stumbled on the LEGO mini figure booth where the heavens opened and the angels sung (sang?) and the boys’ looked like shaken sodas, ready to explode with joy.  Next we toured the Jean Lafitte National Historic Site/French Quarter Visitor Center, where the boys completed the Junior Ranger program and scored another badge for their collection. Jean Lafitte (1780-1823-ish) was a French pirate and smuggler who paused his illicit adventures to fight on the side of the United States in defense of New Orleans in the War of 1812.

Continuing the French Quarter trend, on Thursday we headed right to the Jazz National Historic Park. You guys, there’s a National Park location dedicated to jazz music!! The boys burned through this Junior Ranger program fast and earned yet another badge. This National Park is temporarily being house at the Old US Mint building which also hosts Music At The Mint. We got to enjoy an amazing jazz concert performed by actual National Park Rangers along with special guest Charlie Gabriel (unbelievable musician and historian). What a special treat! There was more Gumbo Shop food on this day. 🙂

We rounded out our week in New Orleans with an afternoon at the Audubon Insectarium (super cool!) where I got to see the things nightmares are made of come to life…creeping, crawling, buzzing life. Wrapped it up with a dinner of po boys and crawfish etouffe at Mother’s Restaurant.

When asked what they thought about New Orleans, the boys were split. Callum says it was his favorite place so far because it was so wild. Quinn says it was interesting but strange. I think Shan and I are a mix of both. I do know that the food will keep me coming back. OK, the weird too. I do so enjoy some weird.

Panama City, FL—beautiful beaches, delicious donuts.

You know, it’s probably smart just to start with the donuts and get this out of the way. They were insane. And the kolaches (first I’d heard of such a thing..I think it’s pronounced “koh-lah-tchee”?) were equally insane. Please, for the love of everything sticky and sweet, if you find yourself in Panama City Beach, do yourself a favor and hit up Thomas’ Donut and Snack Shop and get donuts (all the donuts) and the sausage and cheese kolaches and go across the street to the beach. Park your fanny in the sand and stuff your face while staring at the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. I guarantee happiness with this recipe. It was so good we parked the Airstream across the street for one last indulgence on our way out of town.

Alright, back to business. We lucked out and snagged a spot at St. Andrews State Park in Panama City for a week. Great place. Highly recommend the waterfront sites—some are to-die-for, with private kayak launches. I think I would have felt differently about the campground had we been stuffed into an interior site (though SOME of them were quite nice). You can bike to the gorgeous beaches right from your site. The bathhouses are fantastic (important when we don’t have sewer hook-ups since we take all our showers in the bathhouse—see FAQs if this makes no sense). The park has an interesting history including time spent as a World War II harbor defense installation and the home of a Norwegian sailor who shipwrecked on the shores and decided to stay put and solitary homestead near his boat’s remains for 25 years until he died in 1954.

St. Andrews is a VERY busy campground…I don’t think we saw one empty site any day we were there. There was an excellent entomology Ranger Program the boys and I attended where we learned what bugs are safe to eat and we ATE THEM TOO! Pretty sure I scored mom points by eating bugs. Or just crazy points. Either way, points were scored. It’s also bikeably (?) close to the most gorgeous beaches! Talk about fine, white sand.

While we were in Panama City we met two awesome families we had connected with on Instagram. The first was a full-time-couple-to-be from the northeast who we met at The Wicked Wheel restaurant. They run a sweet hauling company (Hotshot Hauling) and are planning on a Capri truck camper for their full-time RV home. The second was another full-time Airstream family and their two unbelievably cute little girls. I have to say, I was very impressed with how well my big guys played with a toddler—doing anything silly to get a giggle out of her. 🙂 Again…more social on the road than in a suburban ‘hood. Weird.

Rainbow Springs – as pretty as it sounds.

After leaving Koreshan State Park, we were hightailing it up and out of Florida. We needed a quick stopover before heading into the panhandle in order to not have a VERY long drive-day. So, we stopped the weekend of February 3rd at Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon, FL. This is one of the few state parks we’ve ever seen with full hook-ups, a nice touch! The sites are well spaced and many are fairly private.

Since we only had ONE full day here, a paddle up the river in tandem kayaks was the way to go. But first, we hit the headsprings area for a tour of what used to be (from the 1920s to the 1970s) an early amusement park. There were (are) intricately planned gardens, waterfalls, streams and ponds. There are the remains of what was a zoo and there was a rodeo and even a monorail. I could just envision families and friends meeting there with picnic lunches, dressed to the nines, maybe donning their bathing costumes for a dip in the warm springs. Careful ladies, don’t show those shoulders! Since spring in this area of Florida starts just as the north is getting feet of snow, the hills were alive with the sound of music blooms of azaleas. Gorgeous.

After a quick lunch back at the camper, we walked to the river and hauled our ridiculously heavy, likely made of concrete, double kayaks into the water with only minimal grunting. The winds and the current were pushing against us, making the paddle upriver…excellent cardio. Once we were on the water, we realized how shockingly clear and turquoise it was. Like, jaw-dropping(ly), eye-popping(ly) clear. No tropical island’s water, no east coast beach water, no mountain stream that I’ve ever seen has had water so clear, so turquoise. It was all I could do not to dunk my face over the side of the kayak and start gulping it down. Ahhhh. Refreshing! I assume. I didn’t do it. Anyway, there were dozens of turtles (some massive!), interesting birds, plenty of fish and this deep emerald-green river grass that swayed in the current like a mermaid’s hair. Lovely. We finally made it to the headspring (at the park we’d toured earlier) and spent some time just gazing into the water before heading back to haul our kayaks (this time with a little more grunting) back to the racks. It was a VERY full day and we slept well before waking and heading off to Panama City the following day!

If you have a chance to spend time here, I HIGHLY recommend. If you own kayaks, I double recommend.

Camping with a Religious Cult.

In an effort to really experience it all, we decided to stay at a religious cult campground. Well, sort of. Koreshan State Park is north of Naples, south of Fort Myers, in Estero, Florida. Cyrus (in Hebrew: Koresh) Teed brought his followers from New York to Florida in 1894 to start this self-sustaining “New Jerusalem” community and expand his religion…which believed that the earth was hollow and contained the entire universe with the sun at the center (as well as other interesting beliefs). After Teed’s death in 1908, membership steadily declined until the last 4 Koreshans deeded the village and acreage to the state of Florida and the State Park was born. The property still has many of the original buildings to tour including an impressive machine shop, the bakery, the stunning art hall and more.

The campground has two sandy loops loops with water and electric. It was closed for many months while they upgraded both and had only just recently reopened (we were so persistent—called once a week during the closure—that we snagged 2 weeks here in high season!). The sites still needed some regrading as the fill used to cover the upgrades sunk a bit in the middle. But they were working on it. The bathhouses were old and not pretty, but very clean (and even conducive to a hair dying session). There’s some Estero River frontage with kayak and canoe rentals, a playground in the woods, a wooded walking path and of course the very interesting Koreshan Village that hosts reenactments, guided tours, a farmers market and many other activities. This is a VERY active Florida State Park!

While we were at Koreshan we spent lots of time with Grammy and Pop since they winter at the gorgeous resort: Cypress Trails in Fort Meyers right up the road. We spent a glorious afternoon on Sanibel Island and even got a close up with a dolphin who swam into shallow waters to check us out. Shannon and I got not one, but TWO date nights when the boys had sleepovers at Gram and Pop’s RV! It was so nice for the boys (and for us) to have that time with them before we head West for more adventures. There was blogging, screen time and a trip to Bass Pro where my little “campers” were fascinated by…tents. We also were lucky enough to cross paths with more full timing, Airstream Instafriends (I swear, Instagram has made us SO social!). Very thankful we had two weeks at Koreshan. I definitely recommend. It’s so important to teach your children about bizarre religious cults. (-_-)  Or, you know, to spend quality time with family close by.

 

Gators and Skeeters…Welcome to the Everglades.

The week after Disney, we stayed at Collier-Seminole State Park near Everglades City, FL. I now know why there are NO bugs in Disney. It’s obviously due to their secretive and sophisticated skeeter catch-and-release program. They catch ’em in Disney and release ’em into the Everglades. I’m on to you Mickey. *side eye*

Aside from those little apocalyptic vampire-leeches, the Everglades area was surprisingly fascinating. The campground was fairly nice. There were some great sites and some awful sites…a brand new, pretty bathhouse and an old serviceable one, nice biking, a great little waterfront for kayaking/canoeing and some interesting history. We were told Collier-Seminole is the oldest state park in Florida.

The park was originally created by Barron Gift Collier to preserve the royal palm trees and later the park was donated to the county. The park then served as a memorial to Barron Collier and those who fought on both sides of the Seminole Wars. In 1947, the county donated the land which became Collier-Seminole State Park.

In the 1700s, Seminole Indians emigrated from the Creek Confederacy to Florida. Three Seminole Wars took place to remove the Seminoles from Florida and send them to reservations. During the Third Seminole War, the Seminoles resisted and retreated to the swamps of southwest Florida. Soldiers searching for the Indians drew maps. One crude 1857 military map illustrates the Blackwater River and an area labeled “palm grove.” That area, now part of the park, contains the beautiful royal palm trees.

We headed down to Everglades National Park to pick up the Jr. Ranger packets for Quinn & Callum and then made our way to Loop Road, in Big Cypress National Preserve, for a scenic drive along a gator-infested dirt path. It was 45 minutes of gators, big and small, swimming and sunning, hissing their displeasure at us and ignoring us completely. And there were birds by the thousands…birds I’ve never seen before and others I just hadn’t seen SO close up. Totally enthralled for the first 30 minutes or so, the boys were almost bored with gators by the end of the drive and were able to make excellent headway on their Jr. Ranger workbooks in the backseat. There is no better way to see gators in the wild…it was very cool. I am now anticipating your “why did the gator cross the road” jokes…

There was Taco Tuesday, goofy giggles and a drive to Marco Island for ice cream and playground time. You know, regular stuff.

And then, the best part of the week. The airboat ride with Gram and Pop. I knew it would be fun and I figured the boys would love it but I didn’t expect something so “Everglades kitsch” to be SO CRAZY fun! I was shocked at how fast we went zipping through the shallow water but also at how much of a science and history lesson it was as well. Our driver was fantastic and stopped many times to fill us in on the Everglades ecosystem and the history of the Seminole Indians. If you ever find yourself in the Everglades, make sure you take an airboat ride at Corey Billie’s Airboat Rides…absolutely worth it.

We finished out the Everglades week with not one, but TWO new Jr. Ranger badges for the boys: Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. This was pretty intense ranger work…they spent many hours learning and working on those books!

 

 

Space suits off. Mouse ears on.

Does it really matter that we’ve been to Disney once a year for the last 5 years? No, it does not. There is always time for the financial hemorrhage that is Disney. Plus, we’d never “camped” at Disney, so it sort of qualified as our first time. Right?

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So, yes…we stayed at Fort Wilderness for 10 days (it was supposed to be 6 but we just kept adding days and adding days and…). It was glorious. Level, paved, immaculate, roomy sites. Blazing fast wifi (use All The Internet!!!). And to add to the awesomeness of Disney, Grammy and Pop met us there in their motorhome. It had been a couple months since the boys had seen Gram and Pop so everyone was pretty darn happy.

We gave the boys the option of doing Disney parks again or doing Universal and they chose Universal, without question. They reasoned that they’d done the Disney parks so many times they were kind of bored with them. First world problems. And also–Harry Potter. Universal was very cool…but I think it would have been even cooler for older kids. Quinn and Cal are not thrill ride fans anyway, so it was a bit of a push to get them to ride the 3 and 4D stuff (which is like 90% of the 2 parks). Both kids agreed that the Simpsons ride was their favorite with the Minions ride was their close second.

The Harry Potter theming was un-freaking-real. It was exactly how I’d pictured Diagon Alley (because who doesn’t picture themselves chillin’ with Hagrid in Diagon Alley!?). And Olivanders Wand Shop? Fab!! The boys vacillated between having a blast and being frustrated to tears (OK, that was just one of them) trying to do the spells with their million dollar wands. I loved the butter beer but the boys weren’t as enamored. Shan and I couldn’t get Q & C to ride Escape From Gringotts, but we rode it and it was off the hook! Definitely my favorite from both parks. We paid lots extra to be able to ride the Hogwarts Express and it was a bit disappointing. I didn’t know it was only a movie you watched out the windows. All in all, we enjoyed our days at Universal, but I’m pretty sure we all prefer Disney Parks. We’ve already promised the boys we’d do Disneyland when we get to Cali since we clearly haven’t given enough of our money to the Disney machine yet.

We really enjoyed catching up with Gram and Pop and the boys got to have a sleepover in their RV while Shan and I enjoyed a date night at Disney Springs for our 15th anniversary.

The @upintheairstream crew drove over to Disney to hang with us another night and dad took over my tiny kitchen, lamenting my lack of garlic press. The four boys let their minds turn to pudding on the iPads for a bit and then a rousing game of Scrabble was played on the wall-to-wall carpet we refer to as “dog hair”. We also got the chance to meet up with another full-time Airstream family (@big_big_trip and @big_big_trip_anna) that we’ve been “friends” with on Instagram for a while. They have a son a little younger than Callum and they hit it off immediately. There was tie-dying and swimming till dark for the 2 younger kids. Us moms (we moms?) got to meet for drinks and close down the Hitching Post (or whatever the bar at the campground is called…Hitching Post sounds good though, right?). I just love it when people I *think* we’ll gel with from social media interactions end up being just as cool as we’d hoped. We already have plans to meet up with this fab fam again to see if our matching Airstreams float.

 

Space Coasting to a close…

To close out our week on Florida’s space coast, Shannon took the boys to the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum just up the road from our campground in Titusville, FL, while I prepped for and had our first homeschool review.

What started as an inexpensive way to get the short, boisterous humans out of my hair for a couple hours and give me some peace and focus, turned out to be a surprisingly fascinating 4 hours spent studying military aircraft, memorabilia and history from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and more. The volunteers working that day were excited to impart their considerable knowledge to a group of 3 wide eyed boys (of various ages) and, in effect, gave them a private tour of the entire facility including some of the lesser known stories of each plane.

Definitely worth a visit if you’re on the Space Coast. The museum is part of a pretty impressive airshow each March. And if you’ll be arriving by air in, say, your own little Piper or Cessna, you can land right in their airfield. Convenient!

The Marvel that is Kennedy Space Center.

If you have Kennedy Space Center on your bucket list (and you should), purchase 2 day passes. Just do it. You won’t regret it. Also, get there at opening. We bought one day passes, didn’t get there till after noon and probably saw less than half of it. We’ll go back one day.

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I grew up an 80s child. The Space Shuttle Program was my childhood. It was magical and awe inspiring and science-fiction-y. Elementary school classes were stopped and kids were herded into the gym to sit around a massive tube TV on a stand to tune in to the news coverage of a shuttle launch. Reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic be damned, a SHUTTLE was about to launch into space! This, of course, includes the fateful launch of the Challenger in January of 1986. I can still feel the chill in the air as we sat mesmerized by this fantastic machine full of hopeful, pioneering, brave men and women…including a school teacher! How magnificent. And then… It was hard to wrap my 10 year old brain around the tragedy, but I knew we all felt the heaviness of it deep in our naive, young hearts. So many other successful launches and so much amazing research and discoveries kept us all intrigued.

Kennedy is truly a marvel. We had the good fortune to attend a talk by Astronaut Jon McBride, who was part of NASA’s first ever class of space shuttle astronauts in 1978. He was the chase pilot for the first flight of the Columbia and he was part of the first crew of seven aboard the Challenger in 1984. He spoke not just of the facts around the shuttle program, but of the personal lives of the “shuttle families”. Clearly a brilliant man, his presentation was fascinating.

Callum’s Corner: We went into the Space Shuttle Atlantis building. Then we went into the theater and watched two 10 minute videos about the Atlantis. Then the screen lifted up and we were super close to the Atlantis Space Shuttle! Then we went to see and take pictures of the Atlantis and then we went up stairs and did interactive exhibits! It was so cool! We went downstairs and Quinn and Dad went down a slide while mom and me were watching. We went to see the Airstream that the astronauts used to get to their Shuttle. Then we went out of the building and got ice cream! Then mom went to the rocket garden to take some pictures.

The bus tour to all the not-so-secret, yet still restricted areas of the property was exceptional. We got to see the launch pads, the Vehicle Assembly building (where they literally built the shuttles—it’s the tallest single story building in the world, I think?) and the crawler-transporter, which is the vehicle that took the upright rockets and shuttles to the launch pad. Each crawler-transporter (there are two named Hanz and Franz…lolz) weighs in at a whopping 6 MILLION pounds and has 8 tracks (think military tanks) with two on each corner. Of course the rockets and shuttles designed and built by aerospace engineers are truly spectacular feats of engineering, but these crawler-transporters deserve some praises be sung for them as well. To keep the upright rocket/shuttle stable, the crawler-transporter travels ONE mph to the launch pad, taking 5 hours (only 3.5 miles between the Vehicle Assembly Building and the launch pad!). There’s even a team of people that walk ahead of the transporter to shoo away gators or turtles that crawl onto its path. Good info here

As Callum said, we went to the building housing the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Now, we’ve already been to the Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum and seen the Space Shuttle Discovery and it was fantastic. But the way the unveiling of the Atlantis is set up at Kennedy is nothing short of spectacular. I’m not going to give it away, but my eyes may have been sweating when the curtain was lifted.

There was SO much more to see. There were hands on exhibits the boys enjoyed and a beautiful and moving tribute to the lives lost in the space program, including actual pieces of the Challenger and Columbia. Another sweating eyeballs moment. And there was the Airstream. Mad hearts for the Airstream.

We spent far too few hours there and we could have come back for more the next day. Callum was semi-interested and Quinn was enthralled. Whatever you do, GO to Kennedy Space Center…and take selfies.