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yk + 10-year-old 4-day history tour of Charleston, SC

yk + 10-year-old 4-day history tour of Charleston, SC

Old Feb 25th, 2023, 10:59 AM
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yk + 10-year-old 4-day history tour of Charleston, SC

Hello! My son (age 10) and I spent 4 days in Charleston SC earlier this week, as my son gets a week of February school vacation.

Why Charleston
This is possibly quite laughable, but by the time I got around to look for nonstop airfares to go anywhere warm for Feb vacation, most places were pretty pricey. airfare to Charleston SC was more affordable ($514 for the 2 of us, basic fare), and I've never been (and have always wanted to), so this is the chance!

If you recall, my son is now in 4th grade and is interested in history. Last year we went to Philadelphia in Feb and the Historic Triangle in VA in April (Colonial Williamsburg plus Charlottesville).

Day 1 (Sunday)
When I originally booked our flights, we were scheduled to depart Boston at 8am and arrive in Charleston by 11am. This would give us a half-day for sightseeing. (the plan was for us to visit Middleton Place for a couple of hours, which is close to the airport). Soon after, our flight departure time was changed to 9:15am for an arrival at 12 noon, which was still acceptable. However, on the departure day, our flight ended up being delayed for over 2 hours, and by the time we picked up our rental car at the airport it was 3pm. With every tourist site closing at 5pm, we decided to go directly to our hotel, the Indigo Inn, right in the heart of the historic district.

[given that this was the Sunday of Feb long weekend, the line at Hertz rental was super long, and our reserved mid-size car was not available and the only option was a "free upgrade" to a minivan 🫠]

After checking in, we decided to go for a long walk to stretch our legs. We headed down Meeting Street, to Market Street, checked out the Old City Market, then to the Riverfront Park where we found the Pineapple Fountain. Then over to Rainbow row, all the way down to The Battery. Back up on King Street and finally grabbed dinner at a korean place called Mama Kim's on King Street. It's a self-service restaurant (order at the counter, tables are kind of sticky) yet prices are pretty high. This is the impression I got on the whole trip... Charleston is a rather expensive city to visit! My son had a bulgogi dinner, and I had plain udon noodle soup, plus edamame on the side. Total was $56. This was followed by ice cream at Off Track. 2 small cones + tips = $14.

(truth be told, after I booked our affordable plane tickets, I started looking at accommodation. Indigo Inn is one of the cheaper (if not cheapest) inns in the historic district and it was still over $200/n. I thought Feb is low season and I could get something cheaper. Other Inns in the area are easily $300 or even $400/night. )

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Old Feb 25th, 2023, 11:31 AM
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Great start yk even if the airline cut into day 1 timing. Sign me up!
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Old Feb 25th, 2023, 11:32 AM
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Day 2

Day 2 (holiday monday)
We had an early start: our hotel has complimentary breakfast 7a-10a. It's not anything spectacular but does the job (full review at end of TR). We arrived at Middleton Place around 9:15am and pretty much had the entire place to ourselves. It is really beautiful there weather was perfect, sunny in the low 70s. I thought Feb might be too early for flowers but the camellias are blooming, as well as some azaleas. We followed the extended garden tour route. The booklet was informative enough. By the time we made our way to the restaurant on the route it was just about 11am which is when it opens for lunch. We opted for an outdoor table. My son had pulled pork with sides of mac & cheese and collard greens. I had a cup of she crab soup plus a kale salad. The food was good ($50). Middleton Place started as a rice plantation; later on it was turned into a formal garden. We opted not to pay extra to tour the (small) remaining standing building. We also saw the Middleton Oak, which is estimated to be 900-1000 years old. Truly impressive. Altogether we spent 3 hours there (2 hrs walking around, 1 hr for lunch).

I then drove back to the hotel to drop off the car, then we walked to Liberty Square for our 2:30pm ferry ride out to Fort Sumter (pre-booked 2 days earlier). We arrived an hour early so we could spend time at the NPS visitors center and for my son to pick up the Junior Ranger activity book. The ferry ride to Fort Sumter takes 50 minutes. The boat was sold out, likely because it was a holiday monday. We only had barely one hour to explore Fort Sumter before we have to get back on the ferry. I think if it weren't as crowded, it would be better because we waited 15 minutes just to get off the full ferry. They also have a flag lowering activity at the fort so that took some time too. The park ranger (with a mic) gave an informative history and overview of Fort Sumter. Before long, it was time to get back on the boat. My son found the park ranger and handed in his activity book in return for a junior ranger badge. On the ferry ride back we spotted a number of dolphins in the charleston harbor.

When we got back on land, it was 5pm. We headed directly towards Upper King area to browse menus. We decided on The Darling Oyster Bar, which was able to seat us without reservation. My son had a cheeseburger with hushpuppies on the side. I got an oyster fry with side of grits and kale salad. This was surprisingly the cheapest meal ($40) and it was very good. Of course the day is not complete without ice cream, and we tried out another store, Republic. ($7 for a shared cup)

[side note: Charleston is known for its restaurants, and most are fully booked for dinner. I opted not to make any advance dinner reservations because 1) unsure our itinerary and 2) my son isn't a fan of seafoods while most Charleston restaurants have just seafoods on the menu. So we are a bit on the mercy of what place(s) can sit us. Also, a lot of restaurants don't have a kids menu posted, but when you actually ask the waitstaff, they will offer some kid-friendly options. Lesson learned, don't assume a place don't offer kids menu; be sure to ask]
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Old Feb 25th, 2023, 11:37 AM
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Reflection pool at Middleton Place

1000-year-old Middleton Oak (my son for size comparison)

Camellia blooming

Mill Pond
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Old Feb 26th, 2023, 12:42 AM
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Wonderful photos. What great history lessons M-YK is learning. We had a very short visit to. Charleston in 1997 and somehow found a wonderful restaurant on a former tea plantation in another town. We thought it might be closed because we didn't see any other cars but it tirned out they had valet parking. We had our first sweet tea. The sugar syrup came in a small silver pitcher. The chairs were wonderful wicker chairs on casters.
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Old Feb 26th, 2023, 01:50 AM
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I'm glad you had a good trip. Yes, Charleston IS an expensive city and doesn't really have a "low season" and staying in the historic district is always expensive. BUT you have the plus of being so walkable which is the '"magic" of Charleston IMO.
I had never heard of Mama Kim's but it looks much like any of our restaurant prices for dinner. I looked it up because I at first wondered if it was the Black owned restaurant that Vivian Howard featured on a TV show. NOt!!
Middleton is our favorite plantation and I'm glad you found some flowers in bloom--we are having a VERY early spring (in Charlotte) and I KNOW our trees are going to get a freeze nip before long!!
looking forward to the remainder. It was too bad that the Hunley exhibit wasn't open.

Last edited by Gretchen; Feb 26th, 2023 at 02:09 AM.
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Old Feb 26th, 2023, 12:04 PM
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Sounds like a nice trip. I am sorry DS did not have more time to explore Fort Sumter, but he can go again.

Thanks for the TR, I am looking foreword to the rest.
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Old Feb 26th, 2023, 02:07 PM
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Day 3

Day 3 (Tuesday)

After a pretty busy day yesterday traveling around, today we stuck with the historic core of Charleston. We had coupons for several of the carriage ride companies, so I didn't book in advance. The nice thing about staying in the historic district is that it is a 5-min walk to the carriage companies. We ended up choosing Palmetto Carriage Works, as they had room for us for the next seating at 9:30am (it was 9:20am by the time we got there). Pretty much all the companies charge the same ($50 adult; $40 child). I thought it was really pricey, but at the end of the tour, I thought it was money well-spent. The guide was funny but knowledgable, and it was really a great way to see the city. And of course, it is expensive to keep the horses and maintain the carriages.

Afterwards we went to Powder Magazine, which is the oldest public building in SC. It's not big, but full of interesting facts. We spent just under 1 hour there. By then it was close to 12 noon so we slowly made our way to a 12:30pm lunch reservation at 82 Queen. En route we passed by the historic Dock Street Theatre, which is open for self-guided tour (free). We went inside for a look; it's one of the oldest theater in the US and the auditorium is very intimate.

Our lunch at 82 Queen was fine. My son had chicken salad wrap, which is very very tasty. I had she crab soup again, but felt it was saltier and lumpy/grainier than the one I had at Middleton Place Restaurant. I also got a salad. Lunch was $57

IN the afternoon we visited The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. I have to say, the displays are a bit haphazardly organized. The dungeon level can only be toured with a guide (every 30 minutes?), complete with mannequins-staged scenes. The main level mostly have displays on history of Charleston. Upstairs level was used for entertainment, including holding balls for Washington when he did his tour of the South.

By the time we finished around 4pm, we were pretty beat. We walked through the Old City Market again and got some souvenirs, then back to our Inn. The Inn offers daily happy hour snacks in the courtyard starting at 5pm (wine, cheese, crackers, some fruits, and beers). We got some of each (except the alcohol), plus 1/2 of my son's leftover chicken salad wrap, and ate it as our dinner in the courtyard, since both of us were still rather full from lunch. Somehow my son found room for dessert so we walked back to Kaminsky's by the Old City market. I think they are more famous for their cakes and pies, but my son wanted ice cream sundae, so we shared one. the ice-cream was so-so.

[also on my agenda today was to visit the Charleston Museum if we had time, but I decided it would be too much and also not sure how much of it would be interesting to my son, or anything to add to what we have already seen.]
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Old Feb 26th, 2023, 06:50 PM
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Day 4

Day 4 (Wednesday)

This was supposed to be a fairly long day with an early start, but my son woke up feeling dizzy (!) so I let him stay in bed until almost 10am when he finally felt better. We first drove out to Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. The only reason we went out there is because it's part of NPS and my son is pretty keen on collecting junior ranger badges. I wouldn't recommend going there off-season because the house is closed for the winter, so we could only see the grounds and read some of the information panels scattered across the farm. Pinckney was one of the signers of the Constitution and spent decades working in public life in SC.

Next stop was Fort Moultrie. I don't know why before my trip, I was asking if we should go. It seems like most of the guidebooks I read focus on Fort Sumter rather than Fort Moultrie. But for us, Fort Moutrie is really interesting and we ended up spending almost 2 hours there. We started with a 20-min movie at the visitors center, then we headed out to the Fort with the Junior Ranger Activity. The activity was intense! It's a Q & A and we had to visit the entire fort, read most of the information panels in order to find the answers to the Qs. The fort was in use from the revolutionary war through WWII, and throughout the fort you can see it restored to the various time periods over the past 200 years.

I honestly did not think we would spend that much time there, and with our late start, we didn't have time to stop at Sullivan's Island for lunch, nor the broad walk at Shem Creek. In fact, we didn't have time to eat lunch except for a couple of granola bars we brought, and 2 bags of chips from the vending machine at our next stop USS Yorktown at Patriots Point.

We got to Patriots Point around 2:30pm and we started with USS Yorktown. My son was super excited to tour because he has never seen, let alone visit, an aircraft carrier before. The USS Yorktown is so big that it has 4 separate self-guided tours. Tour 1 is probably the longest route and takes you to see most of the important interior sections. Tour 2 covers the flight deck and the bridge. Tours 3 and 4 cover more interior space that isn't seen on Tour 1. We managed to do Tours 1-3 but my son was fine with skipping Tour 4 so we could visit USS Laffey, a destroyer. By 4:30pm we had enough and were ready to leave, and we didn't even step foot inside the Vietnam war experience section. In any case, if you are a war buff, you can easily spend majority of the day there!

We drove back to our hotel, rested for a bit, then set off for a half-hour walk to a restaurant called Xiao Bao Biscuit recommended by a Fodorite (apologies! I don't recall who!) which is a bit off the tourist zone. After days of fried foods and seafood, we were happy to try a different cuisine. The restaurant is actually a former gas station, and therefore has a large space for outdoor seating. The dishes are "tapas" style meant to share. We ordered 4 items: Pork belly bao buns, fried dumplings, spicy flat noodles, and a side of veggies (bok choy). Everything was really delicious ($59). No day is complete without ice cream, and this time we tried Jeni's on King Street.
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Old Feb 26th, 2023, 11:46 PM
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Which trip did your son like best, Charleston or Williamsburg? Trying to decide which my GD would like. Of course, she is older, but curious about your opinion. Also, thinking of New Orleans.
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Old Feb 27th, 2023, 03:19 AM
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OH Good--Xio Bao Biscuit is my adult children's favorite restaurant in Charleston--and darn, we have lost ours here in charlotte. My only regret for your visit is that you didn't get the cabbage pancake--it is just unbelievably good. I think the Japanese name is okonomake.
I don't think Charleston and Williamsburg can be truly compared. Just my opinion.
And compliments to the OP--you really did "do" historic Charleston. Your son will have such wonderful memories.
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Old Feb 27th, 2023, 05:10 AM
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You are right, not comparable, but you might enjoy one more than the other, and that would be helpful.
Years ago, I lived in SC and liked Charleston OK, than had a job in Williamsburg for a few years. It was OK also, but I am looking for a different perspective on each. It has been too long ago for me to remember how each felt the first time I went. My GD would probably like Busch Gardens and the characters and costumes in WMSB (could even stop in Richmond), but would also like the historic homes in Charleston, I think.

WMSB is not a long drive for us, so doable over a weekend, but if Charleston was more fun and interesting to a kid, then we could fly there. We were in NOLA only a few years ago and absolutely loved it, the food, homes, cemetery, music, but would need to fly. Any current opinions on how a kid liked it would be useful.
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Old Feb 27th, 2023, 05:42 AM
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Well, you have certainly seen both of them up close. Driving to Williamsburg would certainly be a plus. I don't know how long ago you knew Charleston but it has truly been on the upswing for the past 30 years principally because of the mayor they had--Joe Riley. He literally SAVED historic Charleston from being bulldozed.
I would imagine that wmsburg would be more interesting for the "living exhibits". If you ever decide to drive to Charleston you could include Old Salem in Winston-Salem for "living history".
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Old Feb 27th, 2023, 05:59 AM
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I'm enjoying your trip report, yk, and will be curious to read about your son's choice between Williamsburg and Charleston, yk. As a 12-year old inside, I loved imagining what Colonial life was like during a trip to Williamsburg.

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Old Feb 27th, 2023, 06:48 AM
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Day 5

Day 5 (Thursday)
It is our last day and our flight was scheduled for 1pm. I figure we would have time for a visit at the Charles Towne Landing State Park. Maybe it's me, but when I looked at the website, it's hard for me to know what is there to see exactly, or how much time it needs. Most of what I noticed is that it has a small zoo. Anyway, we arrived just before 10am and by then I knew we would have extra time because our incoming plane was already delayed.

This turns out to be a really nice visit and I highly recommend it. We started at the visitors center, which has an excellent indoor exhibit about the arrival of the English settlers in 1670. The displays are easy to read and informative. The story there is not unlike Jamestown (where we went last year), except half a century later and therefore the settlers were better prepared. Still, their journey was perilous and one ship was lost to sea. We spent 30 minutes in the indoor exhibit.

Afterwards, we went outside and followed the history trail, which has information panels scattered along the 1-mile path, tracing the native americans dwellings to the early settlers. Again, it's a bit like the Jamestown Settlement in VA but more low-key without costumed interpreters. It was a nice warm day and the place was practically empty apart from some moms with young children. It turns out you can rent bikes from the visitors center too (and not just for adults; they have kids bikes, even balance bikes, and bikes with kid trailers!).

We spent 1 hour on the history trail, then found a shaded spot with picnic tables where we had a picnic lunch (extra english muffins and yogurts we got from the hotel breakfast). Our flight departure kept getting pushed back, so we even had time to check out the small zoo which focuses on animals that the early settlers would have encountered. Another half hour there and our flight is delayed even more. Eventually we headed back to the visitors center and the area outside has tables and chairs (and shaded), so we sat out there to enjoy the warm weather (78F!), well knowing icy wintry weather awaits us back home. I'd much rather hang out in the nature area than in an airport terminal. It's pretty incredible that the State Park seems so peaceful and secluded from everything, but in fact it is right next to highly developed areas. My son finally had time to catch up on his travel journal... never too early to train them to write trip reports!

In the end, our flight was delayed 2.5 hours. Flying on Delta hasn't been the greatest experience, but I guess that's pretty much the norm these days. I was cheap and bought basic fare, which means no advance seat selection, and boarding last. On our flight down to Charleston, we were assigned seats (in the last row, no recline, albeit together) when I checked in online 24 hours ahead. On our flight home, we were not assigned seats at all until we were at the gate. In case you haven't seen the news, airlines are not required to seat families together, so I told my son there is a chance we have to sit separately. At least he's 10 so is old enough to sit by himself for 2 hours. "luckily" the gate agent got us 2 seats together, but I felt like they were doing me a HUGE favor. I know I am cheap but i feel that families should not be penalized if we want to sit together (esp with young children), we shouldn't be forced to pay for the higher fee. Just my 2 cents.

Some of the Charleston sights we didn't go see: Charleston Museum, many of the historic houses, other plantations (Drayton Hall, Boone Hall, Magnolia Gardens), the Hunley, Old Slave Mart museum. I think the Hunley would be interesting for my son, the rest might not be so much until he's older. There is also the childrens museum and aquarium, which probably will interest younger kids more.

Thank you for your comments and thank you for reading! I hope this is helpful for people who are thinking of visiting Charleston. Hotel review next.

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Old Feb 27th, 2023, 08:49 AM
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Hotel Review

Hotel Indigo Inn
As I mentioned earlier, by the time I searched for accommodations (on Jan 2nd for our mid-Feb stay), Indigo Inn is one of the cheaper inns that I could find in the historic core. They had a "stay longer" 20%-off discount for 4 or more nights stay, and our total came out to $1070 including all taxes, fees, and parking ($20/n). Most other inns are at least 50% more or even $400/night. The website offers different queen rooms; the one I booked is called "two queens Atrium view" although I thought all the rooms have atrium view because they all open to the inner courtyard. You can only access the rooms via the outdoor corridor. The Inn is a rectangle: the queen rooms are on the long side and king rooms on the short side. I thought all the rooms are the same size (at least the queens on the long side); anyway I'm a bit confused because they have different prices for queen rooms. If you're really curious in booking this, you can always call to inquire.

Our room is fine; if you are looking for luxury you should look elsewhere. It can use some updating but everything works fine. Bathroom is shower stall only. There are 2 armchairs, a sideboard, a bedside table, in addition to the 2 beds. There is a mini fridge and a safe, both come in handy. There is only 1 window in our room and it opens to the central courtyard. As a result, despite being in a busy part of town, noise level is low. The courtyard has a fountain so you can hear the water running 24/7, think of it as white noise machine. They also play soothing music during the daytime; it gets turned off by 10pm. Occasionally guests will hang out in the courtyard and their voices get amplified, but we didn't have noisy guests late at night. I actually slept quite well even though I am very sensitive to noise.

Room rates include free breakfast and free afternoon wine and cheese. You can choose to eat in the courtyard/atrium, or in your room. There are plenty of tables in the courtyard. There is no indoor dining space. We don't mind the cold so we ate in the courtyard every morning. Breakfast is fairly limited with no hot food: bagels (there is a toaster), baked goods, cereal, instant oatmeal, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, fruits (apples, oranges, and bananas), juices, tea, coffee, hot cocoa. The afternoon event has wine, beer, cheese, crackers, some cold cuts, strawberries and grapes.

I really, really enjoy the location of the Inn as it is right smacked in the middle of the historic core. We walked everywhere all over town; you walk 1 mile north and it's Liberty Sq (ferry to Ft Sumter). you walk 1 mile south and it's the Battery. Plenty of shops and restaurants 1 street West on King street, and again lots of restaurants 1 block East on East Bay towards Waterfront park. If you aren't planning on visiting outside of the city, you definitely don't need a car. I know Charleston also has a free bus shuttle that loops around the historic area, but I didn't even bother to check because we could easily walk everywhere.

There are plenty of other boutique hotels or luxury inns in the vicinity, if you are looking for something nicer. Most (if not all) also offer free breakfasts and afternoon wine and cheese. But I definitely would recommend this general location.
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Old Feb 27th, 2023, 11:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Sassafrass View Post
Which trip did your son like best, Charleston or Williamsburg? Trying to decide which my GD would like. Of course, she is older, but curious about your opinion. Also, thinking of New Orleans.
Hello! My son is home from school and I asked him this Q. To my surprise, he picked Charleston. (I was convinced he would choose CW.) The reasons he gave:
CW has more things to "do" but it is limited to just one historic period.
Charleston is more varied, with carriage rides, the 2 forts, plantations, good food. A real city with a wider range of history to explore.
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Old Feb 27th, 2023, 12:35 PM
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5-day Trip Costs for 1 adult, 1 child (age 10)
Airfare: $514
Car Rental: $350
Hotel (4 nights): $1070
Food: $307
Sightseeing: $290
Souvenirs: $32

Total: $2563
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Old Feb 27th, 2023, 04:19 PM
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Brava yk! A wonderful TR and the practical information is really helpful. Your son's choice of Charleston was a surprise. Could the maritime visits affect?

What's next?!
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Old Feb 28th, 2023, 12:59 AM
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What luck to habe your flight delayed so you could spend extra time.
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