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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Chicago Dining Cruises

365 Days of Fun: Day 7
(A series of 365 of our favorite spots from over two decades of travel in Midwest)

Because I'm from the Chicago area, I often write about travels elsewhere and sometimes neglect to emphasize the fabulous attractions in and around Chicago. One thing I always recommend to visitors to Chicago is to somehow see the city from the water. 

There are many boat tours you can take on the river and on the lake. There are architectural river tours where you can learn a lot about the history and architectural style of many famous landmarks in the Windy City. There are Wendella Sightseeing tours, which give a brief history as they make their way down along the river and out onto the lake (going through the locks is always a thrill!) There are speedboat tours out of Navy Pier on the Seadog for the thrill seekers. And there are a number of dinner cruises at Navy Pier where you can enjoy an upscale meal with dancing and spectacular views. These are my favorites - being a foodie they combine my love of good food with my favorite city!

Chicago Dining Cruises has a fleet of four ships that cruise from Navy Pier - three that offer regular dinner cruises: the Odyssey, the Mystic Blue and the Spirit of Chicago. The Odyssey offers a luxurious meal with appetizers and entrees served tableside, award-winning wines, microbrews and inspired cocktails, upscale DJ and a relaxing rooftop lounge with spectacular views. The Mystic Blue offers cool drinks and a tasty buffet freshly prepared onboard, dancing and DJ entertainment, a fabulous view of the city's beautiful skyline through the largest picture windows on the lake and a a modern rooftop lounge. The Spirt of Chicago features a new menu developed by Chopped champion and celebrity chef, Eric LeVine, an interactive MC, dancing on spacious dance floors and a rooftop lounge offering breathtaking skyline views.

My most recent cruise was aboard the Odyssey last winter to preview the menu for Chicago Restaurant Week. It was an amazing meal at a discounted price in celebration of the yearly Chicago Restaurant Week where you'll find deals and so many great city dining spots. The Odyssey offers lunch, dinner, brunch and specialty cruises. You can visit the website, OdysseyCruise.com and search the promotions and special offers tab where there's often a promo code to get a percentage off of your reservation.


Photo by Carrie Steinweg
Dessert on an Odyssey Cruise during Chicago Restaurant Week.


Take a peek at this special prix fixe menu available on Friday evenings from January - March for just $44.90 per person on the Odyssey:


Prix Fixe Plated Dinner Menu

First course

Shrimp & Watermelon Salad
Romaine Lettuce & Arugula | Pickled Shallots | Orange Vinaigrette

Entrée Choices

Oven Baked Atlantic Salmon Filet
Lemon Orzo with Red Onion & Sun Dried Tomatoes | Citrus Dill Sauce
Or
Maple & Mustard Glazed Chicken Breast
Fingerling Potatoes & Chives | Haricot Verts | Dijon Mustard Cream Sauce
Or
Greek Zucchini Fritters
Lemon Orzo with Red Onions & Sun Dried Tomatoes | Spring Onion & Cucumber Tzatziki

Desserts

Odyssey Signature Dessert Station
Mini Pastry Cups | Cakes | Pastries | Seasonal Fruit
*Price does not include taxes or fees. Menus, times and prices are subject to change.
For more information, visit Odyssey.com. The website for Mystic Blue is MysticBlueCrusies.com and you'll find more on Spirit of Chicago cruises at SpiritOfChicago.com.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Lincoln Amphitheatre

365 Days of Fun: Day 6
(A series of 365 of our favorite spots in our years of traveling as a family)

I love when we can take advantage of a sporting event, a concert or a show when we are traveling. One of the most memorable was a play - actually a musical if I remember correctly (it's been 6 years since we were there) - about Abraham Lincoln's life from his childhood to the end of his life as President of the United States called LINCOLN: Upon the Altar of Freedom. Seeing a production about Lincoln isn't that unusual. He's our country's most beloved and most celebrated president. What made this play stand out was the venue. It took place at the Lincoln Amphitheatre. Again, it's not unusual to be in a theatre named after Lincoln. There are tons of landmarks all over the country named after our 16th president - from schools to government buildings to streets. However, this one isn't just named for Lincoln. It's set in the forest at Lincoln State Park on the land that Lincoln himself once roamed as a boy.

Lincoln State Park is located in Lincoln City, Indiana where he spent his childhood and early adulthood, from age 7 to 21. The far southern Indiana community contains the Lincoln State Park and  the Lincoln Boyhood Home National Memorial, part of the National Park Service. The National Memorial is incredibly impressive with exhibits and recreations of significant parts of his life. Lincoln's mother is buried on the property and replicas of buildings that were there when the Lincolns inhabited the land can be toured and experienced though costumed guides when staffed at busy times of the year.

So, back to the theatre. It's a large 1500-seat covered theatre essentially in the middle of nowhere. You're surrounded by green and nature and it's so serene and peaceful to take a seat and hear birds and crickets in place of highway traffic. The cast was amazing and you were totally transported to another place and time. If visiting the area, be sure to check the calendar of performances and see if you can take in a performance. It's one of the most memorable plays and venues I've been to - and there have been many. Everyone living in or visiting the Midwest should experience it at least once.

For more information, visit LincolnAmphitheatre.com.

Photo source: SantaClausInd.org

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Amish Acres

365 Days of Fun: Day 5
(A series of 365 of our favorite spots in our years of traveling as a family)

This is one to tuck away for a few months from now when the weather is warming. From the online calendar it looks as if they re-open for the season in March.

Some of our favorite travels as a family have been to Amish country and we first visited Arcola, Illinois when our oldest was just a tot. We had a favorite B & B in Arthur, Illinois that we visited several times and even brought my parents and my nephew there. Heart & Home it was called. After doing some searching online it appears that it no longer exists. It was run by a lovely couple. She was raised as a mennonite and they were wonderful hosts. Some of our earliest travel memories as a family were of sitting on the porch at that B & B in Arthur listening to the clop of horses on the brick streets on a warm summer night. There's something about spending time among the Amish that brings such a feeling of peace. There's so much joy in the simplicity of their lifestyle.

But, this post is about another place visited at another time. When we visited Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana our family had grown and we were there with five boys as opposed to our earliest visits to Arthur with just one son. Our kids enjoy any place where there's open space to run and explore and this fit the bill. But besides giving them an opportunity to run around outdoors, it also offered a lot in the way of history. With over 40 attractions on the grounds, visitors can explore everything from the windmill, a barnyard and a hog house. The site gives great insight into the life of any early farmer and into the Amish culture.

The Round Barn Theatre, originally built in 1911, still hosts performances of the live Broadway musical Plain and Fancy. The 2016 season will also include Forever Plaid, All Shook UP, Crazy for You, Fiddler on the Roof, The Miracle Worker and A Christmas Story. 

Be sure to enjoy an Amish-style Threshers Dinner of Amish specialties in the Restaurant Barn.

Also on the grounds are a vegetable garden, wagon shed, bank barn, orchard, ice house, cider & grist mill, broom shop, meat and cheese shop and more. A country-style inn provides lodging on site with Amish patterned quilts on bed, pine furnishings and rockers on the porches. 

In our fast-paced world where we are constantly connected to electronics, an up-close look at how the Amish live can be an eye-opener for kids and a special time at a slower pace to enjoy quality family time together. For more information, visit AmishAcres.com.

Photo source: AmishAcres.com

Photo source: AmishAcres.com

Monday, January 4, 2016

Studebaker National Museum

365 Days of Fun: Day 4

In our travels over our 21 years as parents, there have been many auto museums on the itineraries. My husband is a big car lover and a fan of antique cars, in particular. The boys have followed suit and all have an interest in cars. So, if we are visiting a city where there's a car museum, you can bet we will be stopping by. 


One of the best ones we have been to is the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana. Our first visit to the museum was many years ago in an older, smaller location. The new location opened in 2005 adjacent to the Center for History. 


The museum covers the car maker's 114-year history from its beginnings as a blacksmith shop in 1852 to the last Timberline Turquoise Cruiser to come off the line in 1966. You'll find exhibits that chronicle the makes and models that were introduced over the years (including horse-drawn vehicles and electric cars) to the company's leaders to the effects on the automobile industry during the second World War.


The museum focuses on products put out through Studebaker, but you'll sometimes see other makes among the collection in temporary exhibits.



Photo source: StudebakerMuseum.org
On display through October 3 is Hoosier Made: World Driven. According to the description on the website, “Hoosier Made: World Driven” looks at the heyday of Indiana’s automobile industry when some of the world’s finest motorcars were built in the Hoosier state. The exhibit will be presented at Indiana’s theww leading transportation museums, each with its own special exhibit focus: The Studebaker National Museum in South Bend will feature the “Brass Era” (c. 1900-1915); the Kokomo Automotive Heritage Museum in Kokomo will showcase the “Jazz Era” of the late ‘teens and early 1920s; and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn will spotlight “Classic” cars of the 1930s.

My favorite part of the museum is the Presidential Carriage Collection featuring luxurious carriages made for Lincoln, McKinley, Grant and Harrison.

For more information on the museum, visit StudebakerMuseum.org.

Oh, and P.S. while you are in South Bend, be sure to grab some candies at the South Bend Chocolate Factory and stop for lunch at the N'Awlins-inspired Chickory Cafe. The po' boys are awesome!



Sunday, January 3, 2016

Holiday World and Splashin' Safari

365 Days of Fun: Day 3

One of our most favorite places to visit is Santa Claus, Indiana - home of Holiday World. We first visited the area about 15 years ago and have been back several times since then. We love the drive down there, mostly along I-65, but then through peaceful, green landscapes with beautiful shades of blue as a backdrop.

Then as you round the bend from acres of green, you see roller coasters on the horizon. Holiday World is a magic place that has been thrilling visitors for decades. Over the years the park has expanded and every season you can look forward to something new - sometimes it's a new thrill ride, a new offering for the younger set or a new addition to the water park.

Admission covers both the theme park and the Splashin' Safari water park. This is a place where there is truly something for everyone from the littlest of visitors to the most seasoned - from the most adventurous to the biggest scaredy cat. Coasters galore or carousels and antique cars. There are also shows and games and lots of food to enjoy. And even on the hottest of days, you can get your fill of Christmas spirit in this town that celebrates the big guy in red all year long.

The park celebrates its 70th season starting in April. Among the most popular highlights at the park are the Thunderbird, the country's only launched wing coaster, the Wildebeest, a one-third mile long water coaster with a four-story drop for four passengers that also has a conveyor ride up and thrilling wooden coasters, the Raven, the Legend and the Voyage.

My boys always love spending hours in the wave pools (there are two) and gliding along the Bahari River.

The park continually earns top ratings - from best coasters to cleanest park to most family-friendly - all well-deserved.

Another thing that makes me love Holiday World is that parking is free - as is sunscreen and soft drinks. On a warm day it's important to stay hydrated, but you can quickly run out of dough buying beverages at other water parks. The free drinks are part of what makes it such a great value.

If you've never been to Holiday World, put it on your travel bucket list and plan to get there in 2016! For more info, visit HolidayWorld.com.
Photo source: HolidayWorld.com



Air Zoo

365 days of fun: Day 2

So, for 2016, I am aiming to share 365 attractions to visit in the Midwest. Here were are on day two and I was reminded of a place I visited several years ago, but that remains a favorite. Having a family of five boys, this was a spot that they LOVED - the Air Zoo, located near Kalamazoo, Michigan.

This place is so great because it covers so many different areas of flight - from military aviation to hot air ballooning to aerospace in a variety of different exhibits. Visitors can get up close to some of the world's most elite aircraft, including an SR-71B Blackbird Spy Plane, the F-14 Tomcat, best known for its role in Top Gun and a Curtiss P--40N Warhawk made famous by the Flying Tigers.

Through simulators and the Midwest's first 4D theatre, you can get a feel for operating a jet fighter or being in the middle of a WWII bombing mission.

In the Michigan Space Science Center, kids can be exposed to what it's like to be an astronaut in several interactive exhibits. I remember that one of the highlights of our visit was that there was a small room with a big screen that was patched in to a live feed to one of the space missions and you could watch live what was going on in outer space on a real space ship.

For more information, visit AirZoo.com.

Photo source: AirZoo.com



Friday, January 1, 2016

Kenosha Public Museum

365 days of fun: Day 1

We're into a new year and I'm excited to share more spots to visit in 2016. I'm starting with a museum in one of my favorite cities to visit with the family - Kenosha, Wisconsin. It offers many attractions you'll find in larger cities - museums, festivals, family attractions, history, beaches, shopping and a killer lakefront. However, it offers the convenience and perks of a place that isn't bustling quite as much as a larger city - decreased traffic, smaller crowds, easy-to-find parking, FREE parking, reasonable prices. If you haven't paid Kenosha a visit, it's a place I definitely recommend in 2016, particularly if you have little dinosaur lovers in your family as they can explore exhibits at both the Kenosha Public Museum and Dinosaur Discovery Museum. 

One of the highlights of a visit to Kenosha is the Kenosha Public Museum, a city-run museum with a stunning view of Lake Michigan. The natural sciences and fine and decorative arts museum was established in 1933. With a collection of over 80,000 artifacts, there's so much to see in the permanent and rotating temporary exhibits - from Native American history to zoology to fossils to fine arts. 

Kids will love the mammoth exhibit featuring the largest and most complete mammoth excavated in North America. Through March 27, 2016 you can see works from some of the world’s top paleo-artists in the Dinosaurs Take Flight: The Art of Archaeopteryx exhibit.

The museum also sits beside the Kenosha Civil War Museum, another worthwhile stop on your itinerary of Kenosha. There's plenty more to see and do in the summer months, but the indoor museums make it worth a winter visit. For more information on the Kenosha Public Museum, visit Kenosha.org.


Photo source: Kenosha.org