Quick Trip Itinerary
- Columbia, S.C.: one quick night on the road at Red Roof Inn Columbia East
- Port Charlotte, FL: 5 nights at a home lent to us by a work contact of my husband
- Savannah, GA: 2 nights at the Thunderbird Inn
There are quite a few people that think we are crazy for doing long road trips with 3 children in the same car for extended periods of time. Those same people thought I had lost my mind when I said we were now taking along our Great Dane! Some people travel with small dogs, when we go, we like to go big.
Traveling with kids AND dogs requires quite a bit of discipline and training, and a lot of planning. Luckily, our Great Dane, Minerva, is pretty mellow, and she loves a good car ride. This would be a lot different if she had a high-strung disposition or was not used to riding in the car often.
As for the planning… I need to give a big shout-out to BringFido. I could never have planned this trip without using this amazing site and app. If you have a dog, go download the app now. We have since used it quite frequently to find local restaurants and spots that are dog-friendly. BringFido is what I used to find almost all of the hotels and restaurants on this trip. Seriously, I could do an ad for BringFido… it’s amazing!
We took two days to drive to Florida, and we decided to just do a quick stop in Columbia, SC. We were not looking for anything fancy, and the Red Roof Inn definitely was not a four-star hotel. However, they are always relatively clean, and most of them are dog-friendly, so it was a decent stopping point on our journey. I will say that Minerva was not as mellow as we thought while sleeping somewhere new. Also, with rooms all facing the outside parking lot, she heard every noise made (and at Red Roof Inn, you get a lot of strange noises). To keep her from getting nervous and barking, we adapted and fell asleep with the television on. It helped block out all those weird sounds in the parking lot.
Along the road, we did change up our habits a little bit while traveling with the dog. We tended to eat at more take-out or fast food places so that we would not be leaving her in the car. Using the BringFido app (did I mention how amazing this app is?), we did find a wonderful Mexican restaurant with an outdoor patio at one of our meal stops. Something very important to remember when traveling with a dog–if you don’t want to limit where you eat or what type of sites you visit, you are going to want to leave the pup at home. We intentionally planned this trip around having Minerva, so we were okay. We also stayed at a house when in Florida, and we were okay leaving her at the house for a few hours. Many hotels and inns, will not be okay with that–especially if your dog is a barker. Some AirBnB’s are okay with pets, but always always be respectful of the owner’s property and the neighbors if you are going that route.
Our stay in Port Charlotte was nice, and the house we borrowed was lovely. It is not a vacation spot I would have selected, but when you have the opportunity to stay somewhere, why not go? The pool/patio of this home was beautiful, and who wouldn’t love this backyard view:
While we were making a stop in Florida, Brian had cut his foot rather badly in a fast food parking lot. He ended up going to an urgent care facility to have it looked at. The doctor who treated him warned him of the bacteria that was currently in the waters on the Gulf Coast side of Florida. We had heard about the bacteria, but we were not overly concerned about it until Brian’s doctor warned us strongly against going into the water. So much for my dreams of enjoying the white sand beaches and crystal blue waters of the Gulf. We didn’t let it get us down, however. We tend to be a family that just looks for something else positive. If you travel a lot with kids, you learn to not let things like this get you down. You want to make it an enjoyable time for everyone, and kids will read your mood and respond accordingly. Okay, so we could not go to the beach. Moving on…What are our other options?
For most of our days in Port Charlotte, we enjoyed the house’s pool and left Minerva for a couple hours here and there to explore some area restaurants. As you can see, the house’s pool area was beautiful, and we certainly weren’t suffering during our stay!
In the summer, we generally only go to restaurants that offer outdoor dining. When you are on vacation, and near water, who doesn’t do outdoor waterfront dining?? Farlow’s on the Water in Englewood, FL was one of the most beautiful restaurants we ate in during this trip. After enjoying dinner we took some photos by the waterfront area.
A restaurant we visited with a really fun atmosphere and live music (always a bonus for us!) was Hurricane Charley’s in Punta Gorda. There was a great park and shopping area nearby as well.
Because we didn’t get to explore the beaches on the Gulf Coast, we decided to take a day trip and treat the kids to something special. We tossed around the idea of Disney and Universal or a Disney waterpark, but we had been there and decided to go somewhere the kids had not yet been. We opted for Sea World. Now, I know there is some controversy over Sea World. However, we looked into this. Sea World is no longer taking new Orcas, but it is keeping and caring for the ones that were already in captivity. It is also focusing on education and conservation. The animals are no longer forced to “perform.” If they are not up to a task, they simply try something else. Our experience here was a wonderful one.
In order to spend the day, making the drive to Orlando, etc., we needed to accommodate Minerva. We certainly did not expect her to spend that long at the house alone. We boarded her for the day at Port Charlotte’s Camp BowWow. The staff there were amazing, screened Minevera thoroughly, requesting vet papers (which you should always bring when traveling with a dog), and testing her to see if she got along well with the other dogs onsite. It was a clean facility, and they provided plenty of activity for the dogs. Minerva was tired when we picked her up after a day of playing and socializing with other dogs. We would not have planned a day trip if a facility like this were not available.
We truly enjoyed the programs, rides, and atmosphere at Sea World. When purchasing our tickets, Brian bought a ridiculous meal-plan deal that was super cheap. It allowed each of us to get a full entrée, side, and dessert all day long. The only catch was that you had to wait an hour before you picked up your next meal. We literally could have spent the day eating non-stop. Brian was ready for the challenge, but even he became full after a while. At one point, he was looking for a snack and walked out of the food stand with a steak!
One of the most surprising and sweet moments in our day was the walk through the Sesame Street area of Sea World. Our kids were always huge Sesame Street fans, and it was nice to see them grow nostalgic and get excited to see some of our old favorite characters. Here is a side-by-side photo of the kids at Sesame Place in PA and one taken at Sea World. As you can see, my photo-taking skills have improved slightly. (Side note: if you have small children, Sesame Place is a must to visit… great park!)
On our way out of Florida, we made a stop at Apollo Beach Nature Preserve. We wanted to let the kids and the dog stretch out a little bit, and this was a dog-friendly beach. We still did not feel safe enough to venture into the water, and the area wasn’t quite clean… quite a bit of trash around. Still, it’s good to let the kids and the dog out of the car every so often!
We were probably looking forward to our stop in Savannah, GA as much as had been to our stay in Florida. Brian and I had been to Savannah when we did a road trip for our honeymoon, and it was one of our favorite stops on the journey. Savannah has so much history, and the town is so beautiful. It also happens to be ranked as one of the most dog-friendly cities on the east coast! We booked a hotel here because we knew we would be able to take Minerva with us at all times. Also, the hotel was seriously the coolest hotel ever. If you didn’t check out the link at the top of the post, check this out now: The Thunderbird Inn. I loved this place because they welcome dogs… free dog treats and a small grassy dog run area. I also geek out over everything retro from the 1950’s, and this place just looks so cool.
Go check out more photos on their website. Also, I would not have found this place were it not for BringFido (Yay, BringFido!… seriously, they are not paying me to say this). The kids loved the moon pies left in our room, the all-day free popcorn and lemonade, and the Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast each morning. Since all the rooms were facing the parking lot and the busy street, we again left the television on to calm Minerva and to keep her from barking at every noise. It didn’t work all the time, though, because we felt like we were getting some dirty looks the next morning… “Oh, you are the people with that dog.” Embarrassing.
If you are looking to travel with a dog, Savannah is great destination. Most of the restaurants in Savannah have outdoor seating, and most of them are dog-friendly. Just walking around the city, we saw many people with their dogs laying by an outside table. We were able to walk in and out of shops freely with Minerva, and many stores keep bowls of fresh water outside for thirsty pups. We did two tours while in Savannah. Our first night, we did a walking ghost tour that was dog-friendly. Minerva seemed content. Grace, however, was terrified. In hindsight, it was a little too intense for an 8 yr old. Bad parenting move on our part, and I’m sure she’ll discuss this with her therapist someday.
On our last day, we took a dolphin boat tour with a company called Dolphin Magic. We decided to do this on a whim while walking along the riverfront, and we were so glad we did! The guys on the boat crew we’re graciously accommodating, and Minerva did surprisingly well on the boat despite the fact that she had never been on the water before.
We made the full ride from Savannah back home to Pittsburgh in one day. The kids and Minerva all slept most of the ride, and I think we wore them out. I would definitely travel with Minerva again, but we would have to take a close look at what we wanted to do our our trip to ensure that it was dog-friendly. I’d love to make more traveling memories her!