Over Spring Break, my family and I were lucky enough to drive a brand-new 2014 Toyota Highlander to one of our favorite vacation spots in the world: Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, in the Outer Banks. Toyota was kind enough to lend us the Highlander, because it had All Wheel Drive, and our 2011 Toyota Sienna wouldn’t allow us to drive on the beach roads, like the Highlander. So we (and by we I mean my husband) packed up the Highlander and headed on the 375-mile roadtrip, and I’m doing a three-part series about our trip and why it was such an ideal place (and car!) for our family of five.

Highlander packed

My husband and the packed Highlander

The trip wasn’t exactly quick — it took forever to get to Richmond — but the five of us kept busy playing “Drive Time” games recommended by the Family Time Machine, a wonderful site run by the National Center for Families Learning. The Family Time Machine (and please know I wasn’t compensated by them!) offers families with children of all ages ways to insert educational, imaginative, learning opportunities during every day activities, whether you’re driving around town, giving the kids a bath, or going on vacation.

The kids’ favorite game was a modified version of “Where in the World?” where we tried to find a license plate from every state, and then we talked about what it would be like to visit that state, what its capital was, and what our memories are of visiting that state if we’d been there. OK, so playing that game didn’t get us all the way to North Carolina, but it took a LOT LONGER than we ever could’ve imagined.

When we finally got on the Hatteras Ferry at 11PM for the final hourlong ferry ride of the night, we were tired but so excited, because Ocracoke is a magical place. I hope everyone feels that way about a particular part of the world, a place so beautiful and peaceful that you wish you could retire there, or drop out of your current life and move there.

Hatteras ferry

My kids on the VERY late ferry.

Being in Ocracoke in an SUV was amazing, because if you have an AWD car, you can pay for an off-road vehicle pass (weekly and annual passes are available). You can ONLY navigate the permit-only beach roads if you have a proper SUV/wagon/truck, and we saw two different cars stuck on the sand. They had to call the Beach Towing service, which I imagine isn’t cheap! But we were able to drive right on the sand. Our favorite beach spot was South Point.

Toyota Highlander

Look at the Highlander on the sand!

Do you see my youngest kid flying a kite as the Highlander is parked on the sand? Isn’t that amazing. The beach was relatively empty, because it required the beach permit, and we were able to shell, fly kites, swim, have foot races and more. We had no idea that an AWD car like the Highlander would open up such gorgeous views and a whole other stretch of Ocracoke Island beach for us.

Toyota Highlander run

My kids running in the sand (check out surf fisher in the background)!

Stay tuned for my next installment, when I’m going to share all about FOOD in Ocracoke Island in part two of our Highlander-sponsored Spring Break Vacation!