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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Holiday World a must for coaster enthusiasts

I just tuned in to the Travel Channel's "Extreme Terror Rides" to catch a rollercoaster at Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana. I've loved this amusement park since our first visit about 10 years ago. While it's expanded over the years to keep up with its competitors, it has retained a kind of old school charm that I adore. Part of that old school charm comes from its coasters.

While there are terrifying coasters of all kinds at theme parks around the country - from those that twist and turn you upside down to those without a floor to make you feel like you're in flight - there's nothing quite like a rickety-feeling wooden rollercoaster to give you a stomach-dropping thrill. And the wooden coasters at Holiday World have been rated as some of the best by those in the industry.

On my last visit, I rode the Raven, which I considered to be the most tame of the three wooden coasters (which still made me scream like Little Miss Muffett.) However, this show on the Travel Channel featured the Voyage, named the #1 Wooden Coaster on the Planet, which includes 24.2 seconds of zero gravity. The park also boasts the world's longest water coaster, the Wildebeest, introduced last year.

The park itself is super clean with something for everything and with a good number of attractions geared toward young kids. Free soda, sunscreen and parking make it yet more appealing. As you make your summer travel plans, I recommend Holiday World as one of my top picks for a summer family vacation. Check it out for yourself.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Gerald Ford Museum offers a look at American history

As our nation observes Presidents Day, there's a big focus on Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, both great leaders who happened to be born during the month of February. While both Illinois and Indiana have several Lincoln related attractions to explore, Michigan also has an impressive museum to honor another past president, Gerald Ford.

Last year my family and I visited Grand Rapids for the first time and among all the places we saw and things we did, my favorite was our visit to the Ford Museum. As much as I enjoyed the natural surroundings of Meijer Gardens and the John Ball Zoo, the excitement of a professional hockey game and the exhibits of the children's museum and public museum, the Ford Museum was the place I didn't really want to leave.

We had a nice surprise when we arrived, finding out that there was free admission that day in honor of Betty Ford's birthday. The exhibits cover Ford's childhood and road to the white house and give a glimpse into what was going on in the country throughout his presidency.

Opened in 1981, the museum is part of the Presidential Libraries system, with a Gerald Ford Presidential Library located off-site in Ann Arbor. There are six permanent exhibit galleries and additional space for temporary exhibits. Currently, a temporary exhibit is running on the life of Betty Ford. The site along the river is a lovely place for a walk outdoors. Behind the museum you'll find Ford's final resting place. If you're heading to the Grand Rapids area, I'd definitely add this museum to your list of places to see while in town. Find out more at FORDLIBRARYMUSEUM.GOV.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Indianapolis has a wealth of family attractions and entertainment

A visit to the Children's Museum of Indianapolis


If the cold winter weather is getting to you and you'd love to get away for a weekend, Indianapolis is one of my top pics for a fun and budget-friendly weekend trip with the family. There's so much to do that a weekend isn't even close to enough time to check it all out. However, it's enough time to get a taste of what this capital city has to offer. With a top-notch zoo, the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, historical sites galore, sporting arenas and a mammoth children's museum, it may be hard to narrow down the list for your weekend itinerary.

Stay at one of the downtown hotels that connects to City Center via skyway (we stayed at the Omni on our most recent visit) and you have access to over 100 shops, a dozen restaurants, theatres and more. To find out more about what to do in Indy, go to VISITINDY.COM.

Historic railcar diner + garbage plate = winner

After having a late breakfast today, my thoughts turned to breakfast at a cool Kenosha, Wisconsin eatery - Frank's Diner. It's one of those classic greasy spoons, where you really don't want to know the calorie count of your meal, but the menu makes it well worth moving the belt out a notch.

It's always a bonus when a lively place with delicious food has a cool history and Frank's does. Opened in 1926 after arriving by a flat railcar, the diner was purchased for $7,500 by Anthony Franks. The family operated the business until 2001. It boasts original family recipes and offers daily specials. They've got regular diner fare for breakfast and lunch -- patty melts, club sandwiches, soups, omelets. The menu item they're known for is the garbage plate, a heap of hash browns, eggs, various veggies and a choice of meats.
It's pictured above. A word to the wise: order the half garbage plate. Or if you're up for a challenge, order the full plate.

Frank's Diner has been featured on the Food Network. They've also had a string of celebrity guests pay the diner a visit. If you're passing through Wisconsin, take a little side trip off I-94 into Kenosha, where there are several free museums, a breathtaking lakefront and a neat streetcar system that circles the downtown and lakefront. And stop on by Frank's for a garbage plate or sandwich. It's open for breakfast and lunch only, so plan accordingly. For more info, visit http://www.franksdinerkenosha.com/.

Mmmm...craving a cozy dog

Once in a while I think back on an eatery I've visited and wish I had their special dish sitting in front of me. Out of the blue today, I thought about my pleasant visit a few years ago to a small restaurant for a cozy dog. What's a cozy dog? It's a corn dog, but not just any corn dog. It comes from the Cozy Dog Drive In. It's a historic restaurant located on the old Route 66 in Springfield, Illinois.

The recipe was developed by a baker friend of Ed Waldmire, Jr. He started making his hot dogs on a stick for his friends in the Air Force in the mid-1940's and they were a hit. Once discharged, he introduced the treat to his hometown at the Springfield Beach House and then the Illinois State Fair.

Cozy dogs are still being made today at their current location at 2935 South Sixth Street in Springfield. If you're passing through the state's capital, be sure to stop in and enjoy a cozy dog. It's crisp and yummy, although not diet friendly. Prices are reasonable with a cozy dog priced at just $1.85. A basket of 4 cozy dogs with fries is $8.95. Find out more about this charming, nostalgic piece of history at http://www.cozydogdrivein.com/.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

LEGOLAND Discovery Center is a great cold-weather destination

Since winter seems to still be hanging on and we have several weeks to go before we can expect consistently warm weather, many families are itching to get out of the house for an exciting day of family fun. The outdoor amusement parks and pools may not be open for sometime yet, but in Schaumburg you can visit a two-story fun land known as the LEGOLAND Discovery Center.

Inside you'll have plenty of opportunities to build with LEGO bricks and you'll also find oodles of detailed models, rides, a soft play area, a well-stocked gift shop and an awesome 4D theatre.

Check out LEGOLAND.COM to buy advance tickets and learn more about what's in store for you and your little ones on a visit. Also, check out the Master Model Builder's blog. It's written by Dan Morey, a lucky guy who is a professional LEGO builder. You can learn more about him in an article I wrote last year in the Northwest Indiana Times - http://www.nwitimes.com/niche/nwiparent/article_f8280e16-161b-5633-83f9-6a452ed38b8c.html

Welcome to my new travel blog

Since I've been doing travel writing for over a decade now, I figured it was time I start my own travel blog. There are so many interesting attractions and eateries that I've visited and they don't always make it into a published travel piece in a newspaper or magazine, so I wanted to begin a blog to share little bits of information and tips on some of the great spots in the Midwest to visit -- and there are many!!! Since most of my traveling is done with my whole crew, comprised of my husband and five sons, ages 16, 11, 9, 7 and 5, most of what I'll write about will be family friendly spots, but occasionally I'll throw in some places that are suitable for a getaway without the kids. So, thanks for reading! I look forward to sharing some of my favorite places with you.