Reed Collyer, a caterer from Redding, Connecticut (and mom to Chloe, Leah and Luke), and Elena Williamson, a singer with the New York Philharmonic, among others (and mother to Logan and Catalina), decided it was time to take their kids on a road trip. So during April break, they embarked on a 2,000 mile trek to visit friends and family in the South.
When they summed up their needs for the trip–room for five kids, plug-ins to run the kids’ electronics, someplace where everyone could see portable DVD players, plenty of stowage for luggage and gear, room for snacks and drinks, and a comfortable cabin for the grownups–they felt a mini-van was the best for the trip. Of course, neither owned one, but Reed had been considering making the leap from Suburban owner to mini-van owner.Reed liked the idea of renting a minivan because it would give her a chance to try out a Toyota Sienna , the car she was considering buying. “The Sienna was on the short list for a new car,” said Reed, “but I wasn’t sure I’d like a mini-van. This trip changed my mind.”
The Car: After some checking, they found a local car rental agency with a Toyota Sienna; the cost was $500 for an 8-day rental. “When I opened the back, I knew we had the right van,” said Reed. The load well was deep enough to fit four duffle bags and still leave room for luggage; it was a lot more room than she expected. The passenger cabin was roomier than she thought, as well. “Everyone had their own space–seven people, and no one complained,” said Elena, who noted that the ability to move her toddler daughter’s seat forward to make more room for the bigger kids in the third row was a bonus.
Another bonus was the entertainment system the van came equipped with. “We didn’t ask for it, but it was awesome,” said Reed, who usually travels with a portable DVD player. One downside, though, was that the adults couldn’t listen to the radio while the DVD was playing because there is only one speaker system. “Once we figured out how to fade the sound in front, it was OK,” she said.
On the road, they found the Sienna handled well at high speeds, and the interior was fairly well insulated from road noise. “You don’t feel like, when you’re going 70, you have to turn up the radio,” Reed said. They also found that interior lighting was good, the mirrors were well placed and the seats were comfortable.
The Trip: Day one started in Washington DC to visit Elena’s cousin Wendy and see some historic sites. The group walked around the Mall, saw the new World War II Memorial and had lunch at the Old Post Office. From there it was on to visit the Coyne family in Winston Salem, North Carolina, where the next morning they were hosted to a local treat: two dozen fresh, warm doughnuts hot from the oven of the local Krispy Kreme store.
Later that day they headed to Asheville, NC; the drive through the scenic North Carolina mountains ended at the famous Biltmore Estate, a Vanderbilt home that once was the largest home in America. Unfortunately, the estate, with its beautiful grounds and legendary gardens, takes a full day or more to see (besides the house and gardens, there is a winery, inn, spa and more). Reed and Elena felt that the price for the group to see the house–about $150–was too much for the short amount of time they had, so they ambled around the grounds, went to Starbucks and headed south to Atlanta where they parted ways to spend a couple of days with family.
Two days later it was off to Columbia, South Carolina to see Elena’s friend Mark, and then a day later to the coastal town of Manteo, North Carolina, to visit Elena’s friend Jackie, who has a second home there.
The last leg of the trip was spent on the Mid-Atlantic coast, starting in Rehoboth Beach. Being a rainy Sunday in April, the group practically had the Breakers Hotel to themselves; soon after checking in, the kids hit the water for a swim and played in the hotel’s arcade. Then it was off to dinner at Hobo’s, a unique art-filled local spot featuring organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free dishes and a special kids menu. The food was as much a hit as the board games and the wine list (the mushroom quesadilla with truffle cheese topped the favorites list). After dinner the group headed back to the Breakers for another swim before snuggling down to watch a movie and share popcorn.
The final day was spent touring around Rehoboth before taking the late morning ferry to Cape May, New Jersey. The kids loved the 90 minute trip, and luckily, only the adults got seasick. After lunch in Cape May, the group geared up for the last bit of driving, north on the Garden State Parkway and back to Connecticut.
The Final Word: Eight days in the Sienna convinced Reed to take a harder look at a mini-van as her next car. With three kids and a catering business–she delivers and sets up most events herself–she needs a lot of load space. But after years of driving a Suburban, Reed was also ready for a change.
Undecided, she looked at a five-year cost analysis of the Sienna compared to her dream car, the Cooper Clubman–small, yes, but it accommodates her catering cooler. Ultimately, Reed decided on the Clubman, and to keep the Suburban as a back up. However, since neither will accommodate her next road trip, another Sienna is most likely in her future.