Monday, August 22, 2011

In a Kentucky state of mind

I've been in a Kentucky state of mind since our visit last month. We had a great time on our four-day trip through Kentucky's cave country. Here's what our itinerary looked like:

Day 1:
Arrived around 3 p.m. following a 6-hour drive with a couple bathroom breaks. We stopped in Munfordville at the visitors center for some information and went on to Cub Run Cave for a tour. Stopped for dinner down the road and went on to our lodging for the evening, The Country Girl at Heart Bed and Breakfast. We got settled into our room and went on a little tour of the property. The kids helped corral the chickens into the barn for the night.

Day 2:
Following a stop for lunch at Big Bubba Buck's Belly Bustin' BBQ Bliss, we visited the American Cave Museum and went for a tour of the Hidden River Cave. Stopped down the road at the bakery for a treat and then went on to Kentucky Down Under, an Australian-themed animal park, which also has a cave on the grounds that can be toured. The second night was spent at the Horse Cave Hampton Inn. It was conveniently located right off the expressway and close to Kentucky Down Under. We went for a dip in the pool before bed.

Day 3:
Our first stop was Guntown Mountain, a favorite of the whole family with stunt shows, old west gunfights, a saloon, magic shows and more. We also stopped in the Guntown Haunted Hotel and then went on to Dinosaur World, located just across the street. We later visited the Mammoth Cave Wildlife Museum and then Kentucky Action Park for bumper cars, bumper boats, the Alpine Slide and Go-Karts. There's also a zipline, but I chickened out. We settled in for night three at the Mammoth Cave Hotel inside the national park. It's a peaceful place that we love to stay at. We saw lots of grazing deer near the parking lot as we pulled in.

Day 4:
If we'd had more time, I would have loved to have gotten in a tour at the National Park. We've done some shorter tours before, but there are also long cave exploring tours, as well. After leaving the park, we stopped at Big Mike's Mystery House and then went back to Kentucky Action Park for a little more fun. Then it was on to Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green where we checked out the new water park. We left for home at closing time, drove a few hours and made a Cracker Barrel stop for dinner, arriving home early the next morning -- both exhausted and exhilarated. It was a wonderful trip to one of my favorite family travel destinations.

I'll post more specifics on the attractions we visited in the coming weeks.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Free family fun at Lincoln Park Zoo

For the last field trip of the school year for my son, we visited Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago with his kindergarten class. It's one of the few free zoos left in the country and I love that you can walk the whole place in an afternoon. It's compact and you can see a lot in a small area. There's something for all ages.Here's my little guy in the farm section. :)

We traveled by bus, but parking can be a bit tricky. Also, be sure to check out the Lincoln Park Conservatory while you're there. For more info, visit

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A gem in Valparaiso: The Inn at Aberdeen

A 19th century farmhouse in Valparaiso, Indiana serves as a quaint getaway location for those coming from near and far. The Inn at Aberdeen was converted in 1995 to a lovely 11-room bed and breakfast with a Scottish flair.

We stayed in the Bannokburn Suite with a king bed, jacuzzi, fireplace and balcony. It was cozy and relaxing. Breakfast began with a blueberry yogurt parfait and several sweet breads, followed by a delicious omelet covered in hollandaise sauce and accompanied with sausage and potatoes.
Loaded with charm and sophisticated and nostalgic decor, it's a soothing place to spend a day or plan an extended visit. You'll find inviting sitting areas inside and and a paved walking path outside that leads to a gazebo where you can enjoy some quiet moments. For more information on the inn, visit

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Splash Universe: The peace of Amish Country and fun of an indoor water park

I've always loved traveling to Amish Country. It just evokes such a sense of peace and slows the pace so you don't feel so hurried and life doesn't feel so hectic. I've enjoyed taking trips to the Arcola and Arthur area in Illinois for many years and a couple years ago paid a visit to the Shipshewana and Nappanee, Indiana area, which I also love.

A trip to Amish Country might not be the first pick for children, but in Shipshewana there's a great kid-friendly attraction among the Amish attractions and small Amish-run businesses, the Splash Universe Indoor Water Park. It's the best of both worlds. The adults can enjoy shopping and the low-tech charm of the area and the kids can splash away in the water playground, zip down the water slides and glide down the lazy river. The resort also has special activities for kids as well as an arcade and ice cream parlor. For this time of year especially, it's a great getaway while we wait for summer to arrive and the outdoor pools and water parks to open. Learn more at Be sure to go online and sign up for their e-mail list for notification of specials.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Spend a day (or two) in South Bend

I took a day trip with my husband this past week to South Bend with the purpose of visiting Copshaholm for a tour. Copshaholm is a 38-room mansion that was built for J.D. Oliver and his family. His father was the founder of the Oliver Chilled Plow Works.

See my Northwest Indiana Times article on Copshaholm here -

On the grounds next to the mansion is the Center for History, which houses exhibits on local history along with a children's museum. The Studebaker Museum also relocated in recent years to a new home attached to the center. Anyone who loves automobiles will love the Studebaker Museum. And even if you're not particularly enthusiastic about automobiles, it's a neat history lesson told through vehicles of all kinds. Here's an article I wrote last fall on the Studebaker Museum for the Times -

and another I did recently on auto museum in  Indiana that mentions the Studebaker Museum -

Another fun stop if you're town is the South Bend Chocolate Company's Chocolate Museum. Here's an old article about the South Bend Chocolate Factory, which has seen more growth since this article appeared -

On our a trip there last fall, we went downtown for lunch and stumbled across Chicory Cafe, a cute New Orleans-style cafe and coffee house with awesome Po' Boy sandwiches, gumbo, jambalaya and more. So on this past trip, we re-visited for lunch. Try the roast beef with cheddar po' boy -- sooo good! We walked down a few doors for chocolates at the Chocolate Cafe and then a couple blocks the other way for some treats from Dainty Maid Bake Shop.

Among the other attractions are the College Football Hall of Fame, Potawatomi Zoo and tours of the University of Notre Dame. For more on South Bend, visit

As we were heading back to the car for the trip home, I realized I had never even gotten my camera out. So, I pulled it out as we passed this gorilla on the sidewalk and my husband snapped a shot. I have no idea what he's doing there. I'll have to check into that.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Wendella's boat tour season begins next week

A boat tour on Lake Michigan and the Chicago River is something I feel everyone needs to do at least once, whether you're visiting from out of town or local folk. Even if you live in the area and have been up and down the Chicago streets many times, you get a view of the city and all its beauty that you just can't capture from the seat of a cab or while rushing down Michigan Avenue.

Wendella offers combined river and lake tours, architectural tours, sunset tours and the Chicago Water Taxi. The 90-minute river and lake tour is a favorite of local school kids who get their first taste of the river and lake on school field trips -- just like I did and then my son's class did. In a few short days, tours will return for the 2011 season.

Check out this link for information on the St. Patrick's Day tours, where you can float down a GREEN Chicago River.

The company dates back to 1935 and has a neat history of its own. Learn more on their website: Book your tour online for discounted tickets.

Here's an article I wrote a few years back about the boat tours for the Northwest Indiana Times:

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

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

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 -

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.

Prairie Guest House, Fishers Indiana

On a recent media trip in Indianapolis, I spent a little time in Hamilton County, staying at the Prairie Guest House Bed & Breakfast in ...