Guide To Getting A Baby’s Passport

I remembered the process of getting Julia’s passport several years ago as super simple, so when I sketched out a tentative plan for our parental leave that included a test flight to the South, followed by a European extravaganza, I didn’t really account for hiccups in the process. Given our recent experience acquiring James’ passport, I wanted to jot down some of my mistakes to help others. I’ll list steps we took, along with commentary on where things went a little awry.

*Spoiler – we did, in fact, get his passport before we left on our trip, but it was a close call

Step 1 – Get a birth certificate.

This is the first highly variable part of the process. For the Seattle area (and I assume it works similarly elsewhere) you fill out a request for a birth certificate at the hospital before you’re discharged. Then, the hospital has to send that paperwork to the county Office of Vital Statistics (King County’s website is here) in order for them to have a record of the birth. I called after James was born and the office told me that it typically takes 2-6 weeks (big range!) for this process to happen. I believe you have to pay a fee if they search and don’t find the record. When Julia was born, I didn’t realize you had to complete an extra step to get a birth certificate and assumed that simply filling out the form at the hospital was sufficient. Nope! You then have to either visit the office in person or order a copy online or via fax/phone. If you can, I would recommend going in person because you don’t have to pay astronomical “convenience” fees and you get the certificate almost immediately. They basically just do a quick search using a form you fill out when you go in. I went in when James was 3 weeks old and they had his record, so we paid $60 for 3 copies of his birth certificate (always good to have extras and avoid follow-up visits) and went home within 20 minutes of walking into the office.

Step 2 – Take a passport photo

The State Department has some nice guidelines here, but you’ll need at least 1 copy of a passport photo (they tell you to bring 2, but we’ve only ever needed one…) of your little traveler. Generally speaking, you need to:

  • Have no one else in the photo (I used a bouncy seat/car seat with a white sheet draped over it to hold both kids up).
  • Have baby facing forward, preferable with eyes open. Infants aren’t required to have eyes open, but getting them to reliably face forward is easier when they’re awake and happy.
  • Have no objects in the photo – this means no pacifiers or toys, so it can be tough if you have a fussy little one.
  • Have a neutral facial expression – this can be smiling, but no tongues sticking out, and presumably no screaming. Good luck!
  • Have a clear picture (i.e., can’t be blurry or over/under exposed). I was able to do this with James by putting the bouncy seat in front of some natural light during the day and using burst mode on my phone so that he didn’t have too many shadows and he wasn’t moving too much.
  • Have the appropriate dimensions and use photo paper (2×2″, along with some placement requirements). Peter did this for me using GIMP (a free version of Photoshop). There’s also a template on the State department website and a photo tool (you have to use a Microsoft browser) that can be helpful here.

Here are examples of both kids that were accepted:

Step 3 – Fill out the passport application

For kids under 16 years old, you’ll need to fill out the DS-11 (link to guidelines here). It’s a simple enough form, but…

Here’s where we went wrong: at the time we were applying, we hadn’t received James’ social security number yet. The directions on the form specifically say to input 000-00-0000 if that’s the case, but don’t say anything else (they also say a parent’s place of birth is an optional field when you fill it out online, but the clerk made us put those in). So, I did what was asked and we submitted our application with no issues. However, if you were to go and search through the FAQs (which aren’t on that page about kids under 16, by the way; I had to Google them to find this), you would see a question about children without social security numbers (link here). It turns out that if that situation applies to you, you also need to submit a signed and dated statement, which includes the phrase, “I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the following is true and correct:  (Child’s full name) has never been issued a Social Security number by the Social Security Administration.” We didn’t do this because we didn’t know we needed to, and it ended up being the wrinkle in our plans.

Another tip: make sure to include your e-mail address so that you can get updates from the State department about your application.

Step 4 – Visit a passport office in person

Both parents need to go to the passport office together, or submit a notarized copy of form DS-3053 (more info here) saying that the non-attending parent consents. You also have to bring the child for whom you’re applying for a passport. The clerk will need to see them, and apparently there are cameras to potentially check that they did this (according to the clerk we saw), so keep that in mind if you have your baby in a carrier and their face is snuggled up against you. You have to bring several documents with you that are listed at the above link, but basically it’s your child’s birth certificate (an original and a copy; this proves they’re U.S. citizens and that you’re their parents), your IDs (and copies; proving that you are the people listed on their birth certificate), your completed application, photo of your child, and fees. You will need to pay with check or money order for the application fee, or with check/money order/cash in exact change for the execution fee (fees are paid separately, so you’ll need 2 checks). Our clerk was super helpful about making sure we had everything (except that social security number statement…) before she accepted the application.

A note on the fees: you can pay for regular service, or expedited service. For regular service, the office will tell you that it takes about 4-6 weeks from the time your application is accepted. Expedited service is roughly 2-3 weeks, and you can also pay for expedited return shipping. Julia’s application process several years ago was so smooth and took at most 3 weeks from when we applied with regular service, so given that we were applying on April 4th and our trip wasn’t until June 2nd, I didn’t bother paying for expediting. More on how this bit us in the butt below.

Step 5 – Track that status like a hawk and follow-up often if needed

You can track the status of your application online now (link here), which I don’t think was available several years ago when we applied for Julia’s passport (we also received it so quickly that I probably didn’t bother to look). You can also call the National Passport Information Center (NPIC) for status updates (their number is at the link above).

Here’s where our saga gets frustrating. We went on our family road trip and towards the end of the trip, we got an e-mailed letter from the State department (they also mailed the letter to our house) saying that our application was incomplete because we had not provided James’ social security number. It provided a spot to input the number, or said we needed to submit a statement indicating that one hadn’t been issued, and required that we mail the number back. We couldn’t respond from the road because we have a policy of not storing sensitive things like social security numbers in the cloud, so James’ social security card was locked up in the safe from when we had received it a week or two before we left, but well after we initially applied. We also didn’t have easy access to mailing supplies, but I would have made that happen if we’d had the number. I tried calling, but they won’t allow you to provide any information over the phone. So, the day we got back from our trip, I immediately mailed the form back, but I also called the NPIC (National Passport Information Center) after a week when the online status still hadn’t changed. It turns out that in an epic display of inefficiency, we submitted our application in Seattle, but it then gets mailed to an office in Virginia to be checked, and then mailed back to the Seattle Passport Agency for review and completion. So, we submitted the application in early April, but we didn’t get the letter from the State department until May 2. We responded as soon as we got back from our trip on May 8th, but the letter with our response didn’t get to Seattle until May 16th. The first person I spoke to wasn’t helpful and when I asked for expected time to completion, just gave me the standard “4-6 weeks from when your application was complete” response (which in their mind meant May 16th, not any time prior when they had the rest of the info, or when we submitted the application). I called the next day, however, and I got a much more helpful person. She offered to collect a $60 fee to expedite the passport, but also suggested that we just go to the Passport Agency downtown since our trip was in 2 weeks and ask them for the status. She even made an appointment for us! We all made a trip downtown the next day with a printout of our airline reservation and ended up spending more time going through Federal building security than actually in the office. The helpful person at the desk verified that we were traveling soon, that they had our passport application, and gave us a will call receipt to come and pick it up as soon as the next day (but only an hour before closing, so we waited a couple of days till we got back from a short trip).

Another way that we followed up, which ended up being irrelevant because of the quick Passport Agency visit, was to write to our Congresspeople. Apparently it’s a little-advertised service to constituents, but I basically just e-mailed a signed consent form to our rep and both senators requesting help checking on the status. In each case, someone got back to me within a week to let me know they had checked on the status and give me an update (brownie points to Maria Cantwell for a response in less than 24 hours). So, in the event of an emergency, I found that to be a potentially helpful resource.

Bonus Step – Apply for a Trusted Traveller Program

I think you could probably apply without a passport, but it’s easier with one since once you have a passport, I believe you’re required to provide that information. Your primary choices are TSA Pre check ($85 for 5 years), Global Entry ($100 for 5 years) and NEXUS (includes Global Entry, TSA Pre Check and comes with entry into Canada; $50 for 5 years) and a couple of others that are less applicable (see details here). We live very close to the Canadian border, so NEXUS has been great for us because it’s only $50 for adults and it’s free for children under 18 years old (whereas Global Entry is still $100). When we applied for Julia’s, they were using a different system and I could submit her application under my own account. This time around, their new system requires unique e-mail addresses for each account and unique accounts for each applicant, so I had to sign James up for his own e-mail address at the ripe old age of 3 months. NEXUS conditional approval takes longer than Global Entry (which we had before NEXUS because I didn’t realize how much better NEXUS is) because two countries have to make sure you’re not a criminal. If you’re driving over the border, everyone in the car needs their own NEXUS card, so it’s only useful in that regard if your infant has one. However, it’s still worth it for adults because kids under 12 can join the TSA Pre-Check line with their parents and it’s less expensive than other options. As another note, make sure to bring birth certificates to your appointment. They’re only listed as an example of how you might prove citizenship, but the Canadian interviewer when we visited a few years ago tried to tell us it was a requirement and acted like it was a huge favor to approve us without that documentation (we had our passports that prove citizenship, and we had Julia’s birth certificate to prove our relationship to her, but we didn’t have our own birth certificates).

Key Takeaways

Based on our experience:

  • If possible, wait until you have both a birth certificate and a social security number for your child because it’s less complicated. If you don’t have a SSN, make sure you submit a specific, signed statement to that effect (see example above)
  • If you’re traveling anytime soon, fork up the hefty fee to expedite the application because they’re going to mail that thing all over the country before looking at it. Then you can at least get earlier notice if there’s a problem.

Other people’s common pitfalls that I’ve read about include not bringing one of the parents (or the documents that would facilitate that situation) or the child applying for the passport, having a photo that doesn’t meet the requirements, or not bringing appropriate payment methods (you can’t pay by credit card even though it’s 2019, people!).



Travelogue: Southern Road Trip – Part 3 (North Carolina)

To see previous legs of this trip, click below:
Part 1 – Florida
Part 2 – Georgia

Days 10-11: Asheville, NC

Pre-kids, a 3+ hour drive from Atlanta to Asheville would have been no big deal, but since we knew it would turn into 5 or 6 hours with 2 little ones, I did some on-the-fly research for a place for us all to stretch our legs. Black Rock Lake in Black Rock Mountain State Park (on the Georgia side of the GA/NC line) fit the bill perfectly. It was about a 1.5 mile loop and not ridiculously far off the highway. Julia is in a phase where she needs some motivation to hike willingly and will otherwise whine about being tired and wanting to be carried. Luckily, there are several bridges on the trail, as well as blue diamond-shaped trail markers,, so we made it a game to stop and find all the trail markers on our walk. Sure, it took a little longer, but she also hiked the whole trail herself and was genuinely excited about it (she still asks if we can go back to that trail), which made her much more fun for the remainder of the day.

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Finding blue diamond trail markers at Black Rock Lake

I had originally hoped we’d be able to stay at the Crooked Oak Mountain Inn, the B&B where Peter and I honeymooned 8 years ago (their website lists them as family friendly, and based on our previous stay, I would agree with that), but they were booked for the two weekends around our trip, so I couldn’t make it work. Instead, we stayed at the Country Inn & Suites. I had reserved a “1 bedroom suite,” but in hindsight, I should have paid less and just gotten 2 queen beds because the sleeping areas were not actually separate, thereby defeating the purpose of a bedroom, and the sofa bed was truly horrendously worn. However, the staff was friendly and the hotel was clean and convenient, as long as you don’t mind crossing a big alleyway and a huge parking lot between your car and the front entrance every time.

After checking in, we made our way to the River Arts District for a little pre-dinner walk. We stopped to see some glass blowing at the NC Glass Center and then ended up chugging a beer at Wedge Brewing because the heat, long day, and lack of promised corn hole made our two munchkins act less than their best.  Peter and I had really enjoyed dinner at Mela Indian when we came years ago, so we tried to repeat the experience on our return trip. The food wasn’t as good as I remembered and corn (Peter is allergic) was unexpectedly in several of the dishes, but it was still a reasonable place to take kids in the downtown Asheville area. Not too far up the street were some sweet little painted fairy houses on the hill, so it made for a lovely little post-dinner walk.

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Fairy houses painted in downtown Asheville

The breakfast in our hotel was mediocre looking at best and not particularly conducive to my husband’s allergies, so I did some research to come up with an alternative and found OWL (Old World Levain) bakery. This place was amazing – their butter and milk are from grass-fed cows (therefore no issues with my husband’s corn and soy allergies) and their pastries and coffee were so good! They even went above and beyond when we asked what farm the eggs came from (in order to research ourselves whether the chickens eat corn and soy) – they called the farm and asked, finding out that they don’t! I almost felt like we should pull a Portlandia and ask them for the chicken’s name…

After breakfast, we drove about an hour to the Cradle of Forestry in the Pisgah National Forest. Because it was May 4th, they had a “May The ‘Four’est Be With You” program going on with extra activities. We did the Forest Festival Trail together (it’s a 1.3 mile loop), which is largely paved and has stops relatively frequently with something for kids to climb on and learn about how logs used to be harvested. The best part was the old steam engine with a working bell and lots of spaces to climb. Our 3 year old walked almost the whole trail before needing to go in the toddler carrier, and baby James slept a good chunk of the time. There’s a small entrance fee ($6 for adults and $3 for kids starting at 4 years old), but it’s cut in half for America the Beautiful passholders. We didn’t know about the discount till we showed up and had left our pass in the car, but they just trusted us and gave us the discount anyway. After the hike, we checked out the onsite cafe, which was really good, especially for a cafe in the middle of nowhere in a park. I had a grilled pimiento cheese with a salad and Peter had a black bean burger with fries. The chef, Zika, knew all the ingredients in the burger off the top of his head, so we were able to confirm it wouldn’t cause issues with Peter’s allergies, which was even more impressive to me.

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Climbing the steam engine on the Forest Festival Trail in the Cradle of Forestry

Everyone except the grown-ups napped on the way back to Asheville, but it gave us some quiet time to listen to podcasts, chat, and enjoy the beautiful drive through the forest. It rained seriously hard (but off and on) for the rest of the day. Luckily, we had some (mostly) indoor activities:

  • French Broad Chocolate – I had originally wanted to go on a tour of the French Broad factory, but a girl scout tour (so cute!) filled up all of the spots while we were there. So, we waited in the long line at their shop to get our fill. They had great vegan (and soy free) items, including a delicious olive oil cake and chocolate ice cream, so it was definitely worth the wait.
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French Broad Chocolate Lounge
  • Asheville Museum of Science – this was a last minute add because it was even rainier than expected and we needed something to fill the gap to dinner time. They close at 5 p.m., so we didn’t have very much time, but it was a small museum, so we really only needed about 1.5 hrs there. It’s best suited to kids about Julia’s age (3 years old) or maybe slightly older, with a climbing area and some interactive exhibits like a dino digging pit, a water table that shows how waterways react to different obstacles (like irrigation for farming or dams), etc.
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Water table at the Asheville Museum of Science
  • Tupelo Honey – we made last minute reservations for dinner here (early) and are so glad we did. The trout was so good, and I loved the side dishes and cocktail options. James was pretty fussy and didn’t want to eat, so that made it a bit more stressful since they were busy, but dinner was still delicious. There was a really long wait for tables as we left (at least 90 minutes), so I’m glad we reserved.
  • Asheville Brewing Company – It had stopped raining by the time we finished dinner and we all needed some fresh air, so we walked to this family-friendly brewery to grab a beer. Still no promised corn-hole, but there were some hand rails for Julia to swing on (probably not sanctioned, but no one stopped us…) and a fairly open area for her to run around. The place is also really dog-friendly, which made us a little nervous because Julia is afraid of dogs, but everyone had their pups on a leash and they were well-behaved, so it was manageable for us.

The next morning, we stopped at OWL bakery again for breakfast and treats for the road to Raleigh.

Days 12-13: Raleigh-Durham, NC

We had another long day of driving (relatively speaking), so it was great to stop in the Durham area to visit the Museum of Life and Science. I wish we had more time to visit, but it was raining heavily the whole drive, so it took us longer than expected to get there. The inside of the museum has fun interactive exhibits focusing primarily on physical science and there’s a giant outdoor area that has different age group spaces. We didn’t get to explore outdoors until our last 15 minutes before closing time, but it was a really well-done space and I’d love to go back.

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Julia explores some of the outdoor spaces at the Museum of Life and Science

After the museum, we went to Viceroy in Durham to meet Peter’s old college roommate and his family for dinner. The Indian food was delicious, but James decided he didn’t like the ambiance (a little noisy and fairly dark) and cried for most of the meal, which meant I largely spent it in the back by the bathroom trying to bounce him into contentment. Luckily, the servers didn’t blink an eye and the family we were meeting had a 5 month old and didn’t mind the constant interruptions. To soothe our frazzled nerves, we visited the Parlour up the street for some wonderful ice cream and took a walk down the street while we were finally able to chat.

We checked into our room at the Hyatt in Raleigh after a short drive from Durham. The sofa bed was the most comfortable I slept on during the trip and the hot breakfast in the mornings was actually decent, so I appreciated our stay here. The only drawback was that the pool ended up being “seasonal,”  so we couldn’t use it during our stay. It’s outdoors, but it was well above 80 degrees outside and that’s pretty normal for early May in the south, so it was surprising that it wasn’t open and it wasn’t marked as seasonal on the website.

The next morning, we ate breakfast at La Farm, which wasn’t far from our hotel. Touted as an authentic French bakery, I was expecting something like our experience at OWL in Asheville, which it definitely was not. It felt more like a better Starbucks. However, the staff were really nice (they gave Julia a free cookie for patiently waiting in line) and breakfast/coffee were decent. Next, we drove downtown to the (free!) Museum of Natural Sciences. There were several school groups visiting along with us, but the space was large and it never felt overwhelming like the Georgia Aquarium had. The first building had a lot of taxidermy, skeletons, and some live animal exhibits. Julia enjoyed those, but her absolute favorite part of the visit was the labs in the second building. They had age-appropriate experiments in a couple of different labs, including one to test pH that was perfect for an older toddler. One of her favorite books is Ada Twist, Scientist, and we’ve been talking about hypotheses and experiments (especially with food coloring to mix colors), so watching different liquids change color was right up her alley. We also had lunch at the museum’s cafe, which had some pretty healthy options (like a veggie quesadilla and smoothies) and seemed to be popular with local business people as well.

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Testing pH at the Raleigh Museum of Natural Sciences

After the museum, we strolled around downtown Raleigh while the kids napped and checked out the beautiful historic houses, stopping for coffee along the way. A distant cousin of Peter’s lives in Raleigh, and although she was on a work trip, her son is about Julia’s age and the kids were able to meet up with his grandma to play at Kids Together Playground in Cary. They were having so much fun and I was chatting, so I didn’t get many pictures, but there were several great play structures that provided challenges for both kids and Julia was so happy to burn off some energy. Originally, I had planned to make a pilgrimage to Picnic, a BBQ place in Durham, but with evening traffic, it was going to be an hour each way to get there and everyone was feeling tired. So, we detoured to City BBQ in Cary. The BBQ was decent (I’m not a total BBQ snob; someone who is might disagree with me) and I loved their collard greens. Julia appreciated sitting outside on their patio and dancing with me to some blues-y music they had playing. There wasn’t really anything there besides french fries that Peter could eat, but the silver lining was that I hadn’t been able to eat my Indian food the night before, so he had leftovers waiting back at the hotel.

On our last day, we started off with a walk through the North Carolina State Farmer’s Market. There are tons of vendors there even on a weekday and I’m surprised they can make a living since everyone had lots of similar produce, but we got some truly delicious strawberries and wished we’d bought more (we finished them before we got to our next stop!). Next, we made our way to Pullen Park and spent the better part of the morning and early afternoon playing. They have great playgrounds, kiddie boats, a little train and a carousel (with really inventive characters), which absolutely made Julia’s day. We left our car in the parking lot and walked to Irregardless Cafe for lunch. The cafe is in a relatively unassuming section of a residential neighborhood, but it was busy in the way that convinces you the food will be good, and it was. They had plenty of options for Peter (he loved the shrimp and citrus salad) and the food felt nutritious while still being delicious.

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Driving her toy boat at Pullen Park

After lunch, it was time to head for the airport to make our way home. After about 2 weeks on the road with little ones, we were ready for a rest before our big European adventure.

North Carolina highlights: 

Travelogue: Southern Road Trip – Part 2 (Georgia)

For the Florida portion of our road trip, click here.

Days 6-8: Thomasville, GA

My husband grew up in the lovely small town of Thomasville, GA. While the population is less than 20,000 people, it feels very loved and taken care of by its residents and has a great little downtown shopping district. I’m a big city lover who likes escapes to small towns/nature, so taking a short visit here is always a treat. Peter’s mom had asked me what I wanted to do while we were in town, and I answered “Eat!” because there are so many great places in town to grab a bite. However, it does require some planning because many things are closed on Sundays and Mondays, or open later, etc. We arrived late on a Monday and had dinner at Peter’s parents’ home. The next morning we headed to Grassroots Coffee to meet with a family friend. The coffee shop has changed over the years, but it seems to welcome the whole community, from the older generation in the morning as they meet to catch up, to millenials out of school in the afternoon who come to do homework or check e-mail.

We strolled down Broad Street and stopped in at Mary Madison Boutique, where Julia picked out some summer sandals. Down the street is the food bank where my mother-in-law volunteers weekly, and right across the street is First United Methodist Church, where we told Julia it was a “beautiful church where Mommy and Daddy were married.” Now, every time we see another beautiful church, she says she wishes we were married there! We walked to lunch at Jonah’s Fish and Grits. Peter is allergic to corn and soy (very common in Southern food, and in the diets of animals raised in the US), but Jonah’s has some great salads and grilled grouper, so he can always find something good to eat while the rest of us enjoy our hushpuppies. After an afternoon rest (which I used to book our flights for our next trip and some hotels), we went back out to gorge on a cheese plate at the Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop. All of their brand name cheese is from grass-fed cows, so it was another place that was great for Peter to find treats. Afterwards, we walked over to George and Louie’s Seafood for some grilled shrimp and asparagus for the cracks in our bellies that weren’t stuffed with cheese. After a little sunset hour walk, we were ready to go back home and rest up for another trip to Grassroots before leaving the next morning.

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Julia enjoying the cheese and mason jars at Sweet Grass Dairy

Our Wednesday was mainly spent driving from Thomasville to Forsyth (about 3-4 hours without kids, so it was closer to 5 for us). Our main goal was to have dinner with a college friend of Peter’s, so we booked a cheap room at the Super 8 and didn’t plan any particular activities. However, we had some time before meeting for dinner and ended up visiting the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park in Macon. The visitors’ center had some great exhibits with artifacts and descriptions of Native American life, but also some videos that Julia loved of how Native Americans are still keeping their culture alive. We braved the heat and humidity to take a walk around some of the mounds (you can venture inside one, but can’t take pictures), which was a beautiful and relaxing way to stretch our legs after a long drive.

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Stretching our legs at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park

Day 9: Atlanta, GA

Our big plan for Atlanta was to take the kids to the Georgia Aquarium. I had pre-purchased tickets that morning to save some time, so we were basically able to walk right in once we got through security and the essentially obligatory family photo (which we were not prepared or equipped for). We tried to avoid weekend crowds by visiting mid-week, but the aquarium was overrun with school groups, so sometimes you just can’t win. We mostly enjoyed our visit, particularly seeing the whale sharks and beluga whales, which we don’t have at any aquariums near us (I believe they’re rescues, which allayed some of my concerns about such large animals living in captivity). However, the lack of good available food options (no outside food, and the available items are limited to pretty lame choices like pizza and chicken fingers) and craziness of the crowds was intimidating for a family with two small children. We left the aquarium for lunch, intending to visit a Mediterranean place in a business park, but the line was crazy with people taking their lunch breaks, so it ended up not being a great fit and we made do with french fries and a gyro from a smaller stand in the same business area. The aquarium’s FAQs don’t indicate this, despite my researching and attempting to call, but you can get re-entry with a simple hand stamp, but it’s a pain because you have to take a long exit through a gift shop and then go back through the long security process again. So, for future visits, psych yourself up for crowds, enjoy the whales, and just plan to eat crappy food for a day. Also, while the notifications were annoying, downloading the aquarium’s app gave us access to a neat feature where we could take a picture of a tank and it would recognize most of the species in the photo and a few clicks would tell us about them.

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Checking out the rays at the Georgia Aquarium

After leaving, we checked into our room at the La Quinta in Buckhead. We had hoped to take a family nap, but the toddler was NOT having it. So, we gave up hopes of a nap for ourselves and drove to the Ponce City Market. The converted Sears building houses a cool food hall on the ground floor, which was perfect to stroll the kids around while they napped and we ate gelato from Honeysuckle Gelato (the bourbon and mint was amazing!) and drank coffee in peace.

For dinner, we met Peter’s cousins and their kids at Siam Thai in Decatur, which was perfect because we could eat outside on the patio while the kids ran around on the adjacent square.

We wrapped up the next morning by having breakfast with another of Peter’s cousins at Ria’s Bluebird – the pancakes were SO good! After breakfast, it was time to head to North Carolina!

Georgia highlights: 

  • Everything we ate in Thomasville, GA, but especially the Sweet Grass Dairy cheese plate
  • Seeing whale sharks and beluga whales at the Georgia Aquarium, even if it was terrifyingly busy

Travelogue: Southern Road Trip – Part 1 (Florida)

Since my husband started a new job with parental leave last fall, we decided to postpone a “babymoon” until after our newest addition’s birth so that we could avoid taking vacation so soon after his start date, as well as taking advantage of flexibility in travel dates because we weren’t bound to weekends or holidays. We wanted a domestic trip, preferably seeing his family along the way (they’re spread out throughout the South), and to see some new sights, while visiting old favorite destinations. I planned the trip in small increments over my pregnancy, guessing at things that might be doable with a small family and a newborn.

Born March 14 at 9 lbs 1 oz, we literally booked James’ first flight from the hospital. I follow a policy of booking cancellable accommodations way ahead of time, but waiting to book flights until closer to our trip in case anything goes wrong. Yes, I could probably buy travel insurance for this, but it doesn’t cover everything, and having a baby would definitely be a pre-existing condition, so we waited to make sure he was healthy before buying flights.

On to the travelogue!

Days 1-4: St. Petersburg, FL

We flew from Seattle into the Tampa airport to spend the first part of our trip on a mini family reunion with Peter’s family in St. Pete. James slept basically the whole flight – whoo hoo! One of the many advantages to starting off the trip near family is that we had a locals’ perspective on where to go. After a long flight and a day that started at 2:30 a.m., we were so excited to just be told where to go and what to do. After checking into our 2 bedroom condo at Westwinds Waterfront Resort, we met everyone at Green Bench Brewery in St. Pete and ordered Cuban food from Bodega on Central, which is basically across the street. The family-friendly brewery had tons of space for the kids to run around on an artificial turf, Adirondack chairs for us all to sit on and mill about, and the food from Bodega was perfect for a variety of family members’ food preferences and dietary restrictions. We meant to call it an early night, but we were having so much fun that we went to bed at a normal East Coast time.

We woke up leisurely the next morning and made our way to the beach to stick our toes in the soft white sand and clear water. Our resort (which felt like a great mix of nicely renovated, but still like staying with family in a small apartment complex) had beach toys, umbrellas, and beach towels to borrow, so we didn’t have to worry about schlepping any of those things with us on the plane. After beach time, we met everyone for lunch at Rumfish Grill. The restaurant is a little on the pricier side, but the setting was perfect to celebrate Peter’s aunt’s 90th birthday (and James’ birth!). We feasted on grouper while the kids were entertained by the huge fish tank we sat next to (there’s also a small area just outside the restaurant where you can view the tank without eating there).

RumFish Tank
Admiring the fish at RumFish Grill

We spent the rest of the day enjoying family time at Peter’s cousin’s adorable beach bungalow, which was walking distance to the beach (and they had stand up paddle boards and a small catamaran).

On our 3rd day, many of the people in town had already left to go home, so we visited the Dali Museum with Peter’s parents. The space is beautiful, but it’s one of the least child-friendly museums I’ve been in (and it’s relatively expensive, so isn’t somewhere I’d want to go and bail if the going got too rough). Despite looking like a really large museum, the art is very closely spaced and there are some massive pieces that really need space to view properly, plus it’s extremely quiet, so having energetic kids running around would have been challenging. Luckily, Julia and James decided it was time to nap, so we were able to follow a free docent tour around for a bit until one of them woke up.

For the last full day in St. Pete, we went to the beach in the morning (right across from our hotel, which made it easy) and then made our way to the Saturday Morning Market. We were there towards the end of the market time, so things were cooling down, but we got some great Ethiopian food (all vegetarian options and really tasty) and frozen lemonade, as well as some cherry tomatoes to take on our trip the next day. We walked leisurely through downtown St. Pete while the kids napped and then met up with the local portion of the family for dinner at 400 Beach. The kids’ menu was surprisingly good (real fish and veggies rather than frozen fish sticks) and we were able to sit outside in the shade with a little curb space behind us where the cousins could play. Plus, there’s a big green space across the street where they ran off post-dinner steam, so it was a great end to the St. Pete portion of our trip.

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James dipping his toes into the clear water of St. Pete Beach


Day 5: Crystal River, FL

When we first started planning the road trip, I asked my mother-in-law for suggestions on possible destinations between St. Pete and Thomasville, GA (where Peter is from) and she checked with her friends. One of them recommended Crystal River and it was a great destination for us. On our drive from St. Pete, we stopped for lunch at Rusty Bellies in Tarpon Springs (a town where Greek immigrants used to dive for sea sponges) and then made our way to the Plantation on Crystal River. Prior to our trip, I optimistically envisioned us taking an early morning Swim with Manatees tour with the on-site Adventure Center. However, when Julia decided this was the year to just cling to us during swim lessons, and James was, well, a typical newborn, we decided the afternoon scenic river cruise was a much better choice for our little family. At $15/person ($10 for kids; they didn’t count James), it was also significantly less expensive. The cruise wasn’t anything to put on our top 10 best ever travel experiences, but it was shaded and peaceful and we saw 5 manatees from the boat, as well as some osprey nests and a nice view of the river. In short, a great little afternoon activity.

Mom & baby manatee having a snack

After our tour, we checked in and spent some time in the outdoor pool. This was the highlight of the day – there’s a bar right next to the pool, as well as lounge chairs and some pool toys (e.g., pool noodles), so all of us enjoyed relaxing and splashing around. The pool vibe was family-friendly – no one was extremely rowdy, but they all seemed to expect “family noise.” I’m willing to call it a win anytime I can hold a sleeping baby on my chest with a strawberry daiquiri in my hand.

We went for dinner at one of the better rated restaurants nearby (Seafood Seller & Cafe), but the food was just alright. In hindsight, I would have eaten at the hotel restaurant and just enjoyed more pool time. We returned to the hotel a little before sunset, so we took advantage of the lawn games (corn hole and giant chess) before heading up to bed.

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Enjoying the lawn games before bedtime

The next morning, we checked out on the early side to pick up snacks for the day and then headed towards Manatee Springs, where we had visited with Julia nearly 3 years ago. This little gem of a state park has a campground, a playground, clean restrooms, and springs you can walk around. We’ve never seen manatees, but there are turtles, snakes (they didn’t approach us, don’t worry), sturgeon, and we even saw a gator and an armadillo on our last trip. There’s a beautiful boardwalk through the springs area that’s a perfect length for a toddler to run down with a mostly covered pier at the end. It’s made a great stop between Florida and Georgia for us on two road trips now. We wrapped up our visit to the park and headed north to Thomasville, GA to see Peter’s parents.

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Watching for turtles in the clear water of Manatee Springs State Park

Florida highlights: