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How I Turned Our Search for a Senior Living Community for My Parents into 8 Mini Vacations

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How I Turned Our Search for a Senior Living Community for My Parents into 8 Mini Vacations

Road trip!

Hallelujah. My parents finally agreed it was time to start researching senior living communities. Of course, I volunteered to participate in the process, ostensibly to help with driving but mainly to serve as referee when my parents would inevitably be at odds over location, amenities, floor plans or where to stop for a bite to eat.

I convinced them to keep their minds — and options — open. They did, however, have a few parameters that helped narrow down the field to some extent. Their must-haves:

  • · A senior community with lots of activities (my parents have never been ones for sitting home and watching TV)
  • · A range of health services (ever practical, my parents know that this could be very important as they age)
  • · A location near either the mid-Atlantic or the Southeast

Given those requirements, my research pointed me to Acts Retirement-Life Communities, with properties in (you guessed it) the Mid-Atlantic (Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware) and in the Southeast (North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida). Bingo!

Visiting all the locations at once would have been too much for my parents, and even for me. So we decided to split up our search into mini-trips: Pennsylvania (8 community locations), Delaware and Maryland (4 locations), North and South Carolina (3 locations), Georgia, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle (4 locations), and South Florida (3 locations).

Let the games begin!

I wanted to make these reconnaissance missions as pleasant as possible, so I created mini-vacations for each exploratory trip. This also gave me an opportunity to be an active participant in my parents’ decision, as well as really bond with my parents in a way I hadn’t experienced since my younger days.

Here are highlights of our itineraries:


The Independence Hall in Philadelphia

The Pennsylvania communities are located in the Greater Philadelphia area. Since we had all been to Philadelphia before and visited its historical points of interest (including the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross House, Elfreth’s Alley and the National Constitution Center), we decided to turn our attention to the surrounding counties. This allowed us to explore new areas and experience the luxury of selecting one of the senior communities nestled in the heart of small-town Pennsylvania.

In Bucks County, we visited the Washington Crossing Historic Park. We also spent an afternoon in New Hope, where we ate lunch outside (doable only in warmer months, of course) and explored its eclectic shops. In Montgomery County, we continued our historical theme with a visit to the Valley Forge National Historic Park.

Delaware and Maryland

Winterthur Gardens

We were pleasantly surprised that, considering its small size, Delaware and its’ multiple communities had a lot to offer. Starting in Wilmington, we had to stop at the Winterthur Museum and Garden, including a tour of Henry du Pont’s magnificent home. In Seaford, we strolled down the Seaford River Walk, which runs along the Nanticoke River. Delaware left my parents feeling like big fish in a small pond – in the best way possible. They knew that if they chose Delaware, they would be close to a variety of activities but could also remain in their community for resort-style rest and relaxation when needed.

Moving on to Maryland, we made Baltimore our home base. The National Aquarium did not disappoint! While we were in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, we got our fix of all things nautical with the USS Constellation and Historic Ships Museum. Of course, there’s always time for shopping and we contributed to the city’s economy at Harborplace & The Gallery. We decided to walk to Fells Point, which took us about a half hour. It was worth the trek! While there, we ate the obligatory (and delicious) Maryland crabs.

North and South Carolina

NASCAR Hall of Fame

In Charlotte, NC, my father toppled our democratic process by insisting we make a pit stop at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. While we were reluctant to admit it, my mother and I had a great time there! We also stopped in Belmont to tour the beautiful Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. In neighboring South Carolina, we took in nature’s magnificence at Conagree National Park.

This trip had my parents and I singing our own rendition of I’m Going to Carolina In My Mind all the way home. The trip was the epitome of a peaceful getaway. I think my parents spent the drive home mentally moving themselves into the Carolina communities.

Georgia, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle

Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain

We had heard about Stone Mountain from friends, so it was a must-see for us while visiting the Georgia communities. Yes, we took the skyride to the top of the mountain. We also took the scenic train ride around the mountain. It was truly breathtaking. Next stop was Atlanta, where we did all the touristy things — World of Coca-Cola, CNN Center, Centennial Olympic Park, Margaret Mitchell House and Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site — and enjoyed them all. We got our fill of Southern food (grits, hushpuppies, okra, fried catfish and, yes, fried green tomatoes), and managed to fit in (into our schedule and our bellies) a meal at The Varsity, the world’s largest drive-in restaurant.

Rocket Center in HuntsvilleVisiting the Alabama communities brought us to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. Its Spacedome Theater was a real treat! While our travels didn’t take us as far as New Orleans, we got a taste of Cajun cuisine at Huntsville’s Beignet Cafe. In Spanish Fort, we got up close and personal with the USS Alabama. There’s even an Aircraft Pavilion and additional planes on display throughout the park.

While visiting the Alabama communities, my father discovered his inner University of Alabama pride. As my mother and I watched him yell “roll tide” with the other community members, we could see that he would fit right in here.

Beautiful Florida Beach

Beautiful Florida Beach

From there it was less than an hour to the Pensacola, FL community, with the whitest beaches we had ever seen (at least on the continental U.S.). We couldn’t leave Pensacola Beach without a bushwacker at the Sandshaker bar. What’s a bushwacker? It’s a luscious frozen drink made with Kahlua, rum and who cares what else! As if we didn’t get enough of airplanes, we also visited the National Naval Aviation Museum. Can you say FREE? Admission is free. Parking is free. Tours are free. But don’t be fooled by the cost (or lack of it); this was an incredible experience. We discovered that locals know what they’re talking about when it comes to food; for great seafood, they head to the nondescript Marina Oyster Bar overlooking the lovely Bayou Texar.



South Florida

There’s so much to do in the South Florida communities, we weren’t sure where to start. Since we expected an afternoon rain shower (little did we know they can come and go in like 5 minutes), we chose an indoor activity: Festival Flea Market in Pompano Beach. It’s a shopper’s paradise. There’s truly something for everyone, from electronics to fashion to fresh produce. We worked up an appetite there, so we took a break from bargain hunting at the food court. That was a perfect choice for us (remember I mentioned my folks might be at odds over where to eat). My dad had an authentic Cuban sandwich, my mom had a pastrami on rye (then felt guilty about it later), and I had falafel in pita. Afterward, we had plenty of opportunities to walk off those calories.

Las Olas riverfront

We wanted to see the “Venice of America,” so we took a sightseeing cruise on the Intracoastal waterway from the Las Olas riverfront in downtown Fort Lauderdale. By the way, we strolled up and down Las Olas Boulevard, taking in the sights and all the “beautiful people.” On the cruise, we truly got to see how the other half (1 percent?) lives. My parents came to the conclusion that they wanted to retire in one of the mansions there on the water. Well, one can dream (or move into one of the local communities – my parents and I agreed that while the mansions were nice, the senior communities we visited were also luxurious and required zero maintenance. Now that truly sounds like living in luxury.).

If you’re wondering which senior living community my parents actually decided on, my lips are sealed. After all, choosing a retirement community is an individual choice, based on a variety of factors. So you’re on your own. I can only hope that you have as much fun in your own search as we did in ours!

Now that you’ve seen how you can combine both business and pleasure, you probably have just one more question… Are we there yet?

Want to experience luxury retirement living? Visit an Acts Community.

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