Week 2: The Christmas Spirit Arrives in Chattanooga and Huntsville

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Snow and rain hit us on our second week on the road with our travel trailer.

We had intended to stay in Asheville until the 10th of December, but a huge snow storm moved in that was going to drop around 8 inches. I’m just not ready for snow camping. It was cold enough as it was.

We did experience one day of gentle flurries which was a bit of a thrill for the kids. It didn’t stick around though, just like us.

(Although, wait to you continue reading below when you’ll find out was unexpectedly waiting to greet us at the top of Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville.)

We parted ways from the Crazy Family Adventure crew (see you soon) and headed south out of the mountains.

RV with kids

Chattanooga made the most sense as it was only a four hour drive away.

It’s a place Craig and I visited years ago and could barely remember except for the Chattanooga chew chew. We do remember that we liked Chattanooga and always wanted to come back.

I know that it receives rave reviews.

Unfortunately it rained the entire time we were there – and quite heavy rain too – which limited what we were able to do. Thankfully there are a lot of indoor activities and we were exploring slowly anyway due to the workload we want to catch up on.

We did want to visit Ruby Falls, the underground waterfall, but thanks to all the rain it was closed due to flooding. Chattanooga we really have to come back and go a little deeper with you. You seem pretty cool.

What happened over the second week on the road was that the Christmas Spirit came rushing in to greet us.

Many of our activities were focused on it and we began to embrace it more by playing Christmas music in the van and watching Christmas movies while decorating Christmas cookies and making gingerbread trains.

christmas in the RV

christmas in the RV

I managed to smash the gingerbread train accidentally. I left it on the shelf in the girls room with the intention of finding a safe place for it on moving day. Of course I forgot and the travel trailer rattled it right off the shelf!

Our Christmas highlights in Chattanooga and Huntsville

Christmas joy

Christmas Tour of the Racoon Mountain Caverns, Chattanooga

Raccoon Mountain Caverns Chattanooga (2)

The Christmas version of the Crystal Palace Tour in the Racoon Mountain caverns was pretty cool. Firstly, we only had a two minute walk from our travel trailer to get there. The campground is right at the entrance to the caves.

The Crystal Palace tour is a 45-55 minute guided walking tour through the front, lit portion of the cave and covers nearly half of a mile.

The Racoon Mountain caverns are said to be 10 million years old and one of the most geologically active caverns in the South.

They looked spectacular dressed in fairy lights and colored Christmas lights.

There are cardboard cutouts through out of the gingerbread men and polar bears and penguins, which was a little corny but the girls seemed to enjoy it.

I was quite smitten with the stalagmites and stalactites.

Raccoon Mountain Caverns Chattanooga (2)

I travel to experience awe and wonder and thinking about the slow beauty of a stalagmite growing just one cubic inch every hundred year astounds me and puts me in my humble little place of insignificance.

We merely are but a speck.

And of course, Santa was waiting for us in his specially decorated cave with Christmas trees and presents

Meeting Santa Raccoon Mountain Caverns

Ice skating at the Huntsville Art Museum

ice skating huntsville

I think we’re going to make ice skating a family Christmas tradition. It was one of our favorite things to do in New York at Christmas last year, and this year we hit the outdoor rink in Huntsville.

Each of us got better over the 90 minute sessions, skating for the entire time, while squealing and singing to Christmas tunes.

I love how no matter how many people are gliding, sliding and slamming on the ice, everyone is wearing an expression of joy and laughter.

ice skating huntsville

We particularly loved the use of the green supportive scooters as it meant all inhibition slipped away and you cold attack the ice with the speed skating flair of Steven Bradbury.

(I hope it’s not just Australians who understand that reference as he is an absolute legend of the sport. Here it is. The commentary by Roy & HG is GOLD!!)

Tinsel Trail

Tinsel Trail Huntsville

In the middle of Downtown Huntsville sits a wide collection of decorated Christmas Trees. High above the hill watching over them is a huge nativity scene and the Three Wise Men.

Local businesses decorate the trees in clever advertising and messaging statements. It was fun to wander around and get into the festive spirit looking at them.

It gave me some ideas for Christmas tree decorating when we eventually get our own home.

Galaxy of Lights

Galaxy of Lights Botanical Garden Huntsville (1)

The Galaxy of Lights is held of an evening in the Huntsville Botanical Gardens (worth visiting of a day as well) I loved this experience as it was pretty and effortless.

It’s a simple drive through the gardens to look at the Christmas light displays on show. As you enter, you are told to put your radio onto a particular channel that is playing Christmas music for the event.

It was cute. The lights were gorgeous and we loved singing along to the tunes. It put us in a jolly Christmas vibe.

Galaxy of Lights Botanical Garden Huntsville (1)

Making Christmas Ornaments at Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment
Home Sweet Home Lowe mill Arts and EntertainmentHome Sweet Home (and other Suchness) by Susan Luss

I enjoyed the Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment space when I visited Huntsville last year. I was happy to return with the girls. We discovered Denise Onwere’s colorful and vibrant art studio.

She offers a variety of art classes, and for the season, you can paint your own Christmas ornament for only $5.

Lowe mill Arts and Entertainment

We didn’t have a tree yet, and definitely didn’t have any ornaments to go on it, so we jumped at this opportunity for the girls to make the first one.

(We then bought a few more ornaments at the Santa’s Village that evening What a good idea to buy Christmas ornaments as mementos of your travels – what a fun tree to talk about to others!)

Lowe mill Art and Entertainment (3)

It was a lovely way to spend half an hour. The girls loved painting their ornament and they look great on our now Christmas tree.

U.S. Rocket & Space Center

US Space and Rocket Center Huntsville

Not Christmas related, but extraordinary and worth doing when you visit Huntsville is the U. S. Space & Rocket Center. As usual the girls complained about having to go to an educational facility, and as usual ended up loving it! How could you not?

It allows your curiosity to wander and imagine and feel relieved that you’re not the one launching into the darkness of outer space with a high probability you could explode on the way out and in. not too mention you might float off into a black hole or two!

I have so much respect and admiration for astronauts. They are our most fearless (and probably smartest) explorers. They have helped society evolve and achieve so much as a result.

Standing under the Saturn V Apollo rocket and learning about the power behind this machine was awesome. We highly recommend joining the free 45 minute guided tour to learn more about the rocket and Apollo missions to the moon.

US space and rocket center apollo Saturn V

There are plenty of interactive areas the kids will enjoy, especially the flight simulator and the outside rides like the G –Force simulator and the moon rocket, which sadly was closed due to the cold weather.

For a deeper educational experience, take in one of the movie experiences.

The girls chose the National Geographic 3D Extreme Weather documentary, which was very frightening, yet eye opening for our girls (and us) to think about ways we can help protect Mamma Earth and stop the current madness where we are slowly killing her, and us in the process.

Grab your tickets for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center here. 

Huntsville Honest Coffee

You can read more about Huntsville in the post on TBEX last year. I still stand by Honest Coffee Roasters having one of the best coffees in the country (we had several over our three day visit!) and awesome acai bowls. Campus 805 and A.M. Booth Lumberyard are still very cool entertainment places to hang out in.

Where we stayed in Chattanooga: Raccoon Mountain Campground

Raccoon Mountain campground Chattanooga

I was quite impressed by this campground in Chattanooga. I liked it a lot more than our one in Asheville.

It was at the base of a mountain, and in the summertime, I’m sure would be very pretty and shady with all the trees and nature surrounding it. The sites were spacious and the campground large and very clean and tidy.

The showers were hot with great pressure and warm heating inside. All three of us girls were very happy! In the warmer months they have a pool, a playground and various other games like shuffleboards and basketball courts.

They even had a fitness center. While most of the equipment was old, and there were only 35 lbs and 15 lb dumbbells, I appreciated having a warm room to work out in while the rain poured down outside.

Raccoon Mountain Campground is located about 15 minutes from Downtown Chattanooga.

Where we stayed in Huntsville: Monte Sano State Park

Monte Sano state park huntsville (1)

We love camping in State Parks. It’s a little more raw and a ton more natural. Arriving into Monte Sano State Park on the top of Monte Sano Mountain was a thrill.

It was snowing!! Can you believe it?

We ran from Asheville to escape the cold and here it was greeting us at an elevation of 1,621 feet above Huntsville.

Monte Sano state park huntsville (1)

While RVing in the snow was never in the brochure for us, I have to say it was kind of cool and nowhere near as bad as what I thought it would be. I am so happy we have Goldie and not the Australian pop up Jayco, or worse a tent.

Goldie is glamping so we have plenty of warmth inside. If you didn’t look outside at the white landscape you wouldn’t even know it was snowing. This would be one pretty campground in the summertime. We even saw a doe and her fawn in the snow one morning.

The showers here were extraordinarily good – like as good as your bathroom back home. Hot with full power and very clean.

It only has internet service if you are with A T & T. You might get one bar with Verizon and an email notification may sneak through it if you’re lucky.

There is public Wi-Fi at the registration building. The campground is about a 15- 20 minute drive into downtown.

RV lessons and Things I’m loving

forest river travel trailer rv trip

  • Phone ahead to campsites and check internet coverage. It’s nice to disconnect from the internet when you’re prepared for it. Unfortunately, due to the nature of our business, we are very reliant on internet connection. It can be a challenge for us when we suddenly can’t get it. We didn’t realize that our campsite in Huntsville didn’t have connection.
  • Our Dyson V7 Cord Free Handheld vacuum is the BEST thing we’ve bought on the trip so far. I bought it on a whim after a friend told me it was discounted on Groupon for a crazy price and I knew I needed some kind of vacuum for the van as we have quite a lot of floor space and carpet. I am so HAPPY I did. I pick up that thing about 3 or 4 times a day, with joy. It saves loads of time as I don’t have to sweep or lug out a big vacuum. It charges up and then I can zip around quickly picking up any mess on the floor. Savannah spills half a packet of rice bubbles on the floor she grabs the Dyson and clears it in a couple of minutes. The extra good news is the girls love it, so they’re happy to vacuum with it a couple of times a day too. Now my inside travel trailer home feels clean and tidy most of the time. AND I can use it to vacuum the car!! You can change the sections to shorten it and make it easy to get into small spaces And I learned at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center that the Dyson was created as a result of tools engineered for the space program!!
  • Fire TV Stick. It seems bizarre that after years of travel and never caring whether I had access to TV, one of the first things we bought last week in Asheville was an Amazon Firestick so we could watch our Netflix, Hulu and Prime shows!! I like nothing better after a long and exhausting day to crash on the couch with my cup of chamomile tea and piece of dark chocolate and watch How to Get Away with Murder, This is Us, or The Good Wife (give me more suggestions please I’m almost finished!) It’s also bought us joy with watching Christmas movies.
  • Space heaters are a good idea to use instead of the furnace so you save on your gas and use the campsite electricity. Although if the temperature is going to drop be sure to keep your furnace on at least 55. This will ensure the bottom of your van stays warm and the pipes don’t freeze.
  • Reading: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I’m loving reading this somewhat scientific and research based approach to flow, and how each of us can tap into it, and why it is the thing that brings us joy. IF you can find joy, it’s because you can’t find flow.
  • Listening to:
    • I LOVE We Three after discovering them on America’s Got Talent. Their songs Heaven CAn Wait and Lifeline really grabbed me. Their album was released this week and I bought it. I LOVE it and am listening to it every day. I rarely buy albums anymore so that’s saying something.
    • I long forgave Miley Cyrus for that wild and crazy period of her life. I think she’s insanely talented. The enjoyment of her new song, Nothing Breaks Like a Heart led me to find her 2017 album Younger Now and I fell in love. Great tunes, Great style. Play it.

Cost of Travel

Huntsville Botanical Gardens

We worked with Visit Huntsville on a social media campaign so some of our costs were covered by them.

To help you, I have added in what some of the attraction and meals would have cost us – for the ones I know we would have paid for ourselves as they are exceptional!

Vehicle Costs

  • Fuel: $50
  • Parking: $14

Accommodation Costs

  • Camping: $172 (4 nights @ $43)
  • Camping in Huntsville for 3 nights: $100*

Attractions

  • Admission fees: 127.03 (Cavern tour: $42.58, Rock climbing: $52.45, Ornament painting: $10, Children’s Discovery Museum $22 )
  • US Space & Rocket Center: $102* (for family of four, including movie)

Entry to the Children’s Museum was 50% off thanks to our reciprocal museum annual membership we purchased through our Marbles, our local Raleigh Kids Museum. (The ASTC Travel Passport Program)

Sometimes Craig and I split up. One will stay in the van and work while the other takes the girls somewhere. This means that we’re saving money for one adult on some attraction costs.

Food

  • Restaurants: $70.16
  • Coffee: $59 (It’s Honest Roasters fault in Huntsville. So good we had several. there may be a sweet and a hot chocolate for the girls thrown in with the costs too)
  • Groceries: $339
  • Take out: $10

We eat a mostly whole foods, organic diet, which means our grocery bills are higher than what would be typical.

RV supplies and living

  • Laundry: $10
  • Gas: $18
  • Firewood: $5

Total paid by us: $ 874.19 

You can read more about our first week in Asheville here. 

Coming up for Week Three, we enjoy a two day rest in Birmingham to catch up on work (eternal rain again) and now we’re headed to New Orleans for more Christmas fun! I’m hoping it’s warmish and dry.  Follow the journey on Instagram and YouTube videos coming soon!

Are you getting into the Christmas spirit? How can we help you more with our weekly wrap up posts? What do you like reading about and what else would you like to see included?

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