Sunday, December 31, 2017

Top Travel Posts for 2017

I've been doing end of the year round-ups on the food blog ( and wanted to take time to do one here, also. I wanted to share the most-viewed posts on the Midwest Family Traveler blog this year.

It's so much fun making our way around the Midwest throughout the year and sharing those fun destination and attractions we come across. I hope you'll scan through and think about visiting some of these, as well.

1) LeClaire, Iowa

2) Hostetler's Hudson Auto Museum

3) Peteyville

4) Abraham Lincoln Presential Museum & Library

5) Blue Gate Garden Inn

6) Indianapolis Zoo

8) Locavore Farm

9) John Deere Pavilion

10) Craft Beer Cruises at Navy Pier

12) Thunderbay Falls in Galena

Monday, December 11, 2017

Wilmot Mountain Opens for 80th Season

For years, I've been reading about Wilmot Mountain, a ski resort just over the Wisconsin border from where I live in the Chicago area. I got a news release last week announcing all of the fun coming up this season, which kicked off this past Saturday and includes several special events, including one celebrating their 80th season. The resort has also undergone $13 million in improvements by new owner, Vail Resorts. Read more below and make your plans to check it out this season!

WILMOT, Wisc. Dec. 7, 2017 Wilmot Mountain, a long-time favorite Midwest ski destination, announced today its opening date of Saturday, December 9, 2017. In addition to welcoming guests back to the ski slopes, Wilmot Mountain is celebrating its 80th anniversary season with even more improvements and new events!

Last season, Wilmot Mountain unveiled more than $13 million worth of improvements by new owner Vail Resorts and continues their commitment to excellence this season. Wilmot Mountain is conveniently located in Wisconsin just 45 miles north of Chicago and 30 miles south of Milwaukee on the Illinois/Wisconsin border.

Additions this season include the new “Learn to Ride/Learn to Ski” program from Wilmot Mountain’s Ski & Snowboard School which introduces guests to skiing and snowboarding and providing them with the equipment to begin their lifelong passion of snow sports. First time skiers and snowboarders ages seven and older will experience Wilmot Mountain's outstanding multi- week instructional program and upon completion of the program take home FREE skis and snowboards. Other new additions include a brand new lunch and dinner menu at the full-service restaurant Walt’s Tavern, Trivia night every Wednesday, weekly live and local music in the main lodge as well as a Terrain Park Tip with the Park Crew at 6 p.m. on Friday’s.

The 2017-2018 event line-up includes:
Ski with Santa, Dec. 17
New Year’s Eve Fireworks & Celebration, Dec. 31
Terrain Park Competitions on Jan. 6, Jan. 25, Feb. 10 and March 3

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TIWELL (This is What Epic Looks Like), Jan. 27 80th Season Celebration, Feb. 10
Spring Fling, March 10

We are excited to welcome our guests back to experience our amazing amenities here at Wilmot Mountain and invite everyone to help us celebrate 80 years of winter fun in Wisconsin!” – Taylor Ogilvie

Vail Resorts recent improvements completed fall of 2016 at Wilmot Mountain encompass every aspect of the guest experience, from the terrain and lifts, to base area facilities and snowmaking technology:
  • New Lifts. Three new four-person chairlifts, a new high-speed rope tow in the terrain park, and two new surface conveyor lifts in the beginner area have been added. These additions have increased uphill capacity by up to 45 percent, allowing skiers and snowboarders more time on the slopes.
  • Base Area Transformation. The entire base lodge has been transformed and modernized along with an upgrade to the mountain dining offerings to accommodate more guests. In addition, the facility added 400 seats – which more than doubles room for families, groups and adults. In addition, guests will enjoy signature cocktails at the new bar as well as Wi-Fi throughout the space. Approaching completion, The Iron Kettle restaurant will be completely redesigned, and re-named Walt’s Tavern after the founder of Wilmot Mountain, Walter Stopa, and will include a new lounge where parents will be able to watch their children ski and snowboard and enjoy a full-service bar and food service in an energized, comfortable setting.
  • Expanded State-of-the-Art Snowmaking. Significant improvements to the snowmaking infrastructure have increased the snowmaking capacity and allow Wilmot Mountain to open this season with substantial terrain and offer better snow surface conditions throughout the season. More than four miles of new snowmaking pipe and 56 new snowmaking guns have been added.
  • New Kids’ Ski and Snowboard School and Enhanced Beginner Area. The learning terrain has been completely re-graded to be more accessible for beginners, including two new surface conveyor lifts. A dedicated and state-of-the-art children’s ski and snowboard center has been built adjacent to the learning terrain at the base of the ski area, featuring a playful open space for kids along with their own lunch and break rooms.
  • New Terrain Park and High-Speed Rope Tow. A newly expanded terrain park offers unique and innovative features designed and created by terrain park staff at Vail Resorts’ western resorts. The addition of a new high-speed rope tow enables skiers and snowboarders to spend more time in the terrain park.

    2017-2018 Ticket Options for Wilmot Skiers and Snowboarders:
  • Wilmot Mountain Single Day Tickets: Daily tickets can be purchased both on site and online. Monday through Thursday, full day lift tickets will run $54 for adults and $49 for children and seniors. Friday through Sunday and holidays, prices will be $64 for adults and $59 for children and seniors. For same-day tickets purchased after 3 p.m., all ticket prices drop $5 off the respective prices listed above.
  • Wilmot Mountain’s Preferred Program: Join the Preferred Program to enjoy local savings in addition to savings at Vail Resorts’ Western ski resorts. Preferred Program participants will save $5 daily on each lift ticket, can skip the line with online access, and can deduct the full value of their daily Wilmot Mountain lift ticket from the price of a lift ticket at any of the eight Epic Resorts out West in Colorado, Utah and Tahoe. Guests will need to sign up at Guests Services for the free program.
  • NEW this season, the Wilmot Mountain 3-Pack. For a limited time only, guests can enjoy three times the fun for less than the price of two visits! Guests can enjoy 3 times the fun for the price of 2 visits! For just $119 adults/$99 child & senior, guests purchase two days of skiing/riding at Wilmot this season and get their third day free. Purchase your holiday three pack and allow your friends and family to keep embracing winter all season long! For complete details, visit:

    About Wilmot Mountain
    For 80 years, Wilmot Mountain has offered its guests one of the Midwest’s premier destinations for snow sport activities. Situated in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, Wilmot Mountain is conveniently located between Chicago and Milwaukee, affording skiers and snowboarders quick and easy access to 23 trails, seven lifts, two surface conveyor lifts and progression terrain parks with a double, high-speed rope tow. Wilmot Mountain’s recent capital investment of more than $13 million for the 2016-2017 winter season delivered an entirely re-imagined guest experience – from new lifts and restaurants to significant snowmaking improvements, a dedicated children’s ski and snowboard school, enhanced beginner area and expanded terrain park. The ski area’s focus on families, learning and fun, combined with the opportunity for guests to take their passion and skills to Vail Resorts’ iconic western resorts, ensure Wilmot Mountain is truly the place Where Epic Begins. For more information, please visit

    About Vail Resorts, Inc. (NYSE: MTN)
    Vail Resorts, Inc., through its subsidiaries, is the leading global mountain resort operator. Vail Resorts’ subsidiaries operate 11 world-class mountain resorts and three urban ski areas, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada; Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada; Perisher in Australia; Stowe in Vermont; Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin; Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mt. Brighton in Michigan. Vail Resortsowns and/or manages a collection of casually elegant hotels under the RockResorts brand, as well as the Grand Teton Lodge Company in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Vail Resorts Development Company is the real estate planning and development subsidiary of Vail Resorts, Inc. Vail Resorts is a publicly held company traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: MTN). The Vail Resorts company website is and consumer website is

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Craft Beer Cruises on Mystic Blue at Navy Pier

One of my favorite things I did this past summer was doing a craft beer cruise out of Navy Pier on the Mystic Blue. 

Just like at a regular beer fest, you get to sample a variety of different brews, but you also have the advantage of getting a cruise on Lake Michigan included with your ticket as well as an appetizer buffet. The cruises take place each month starting in May and running until September or October. Tickets are currently on sale for the 2018 season, so start making plans for your visit to the city and your beer cruise on the lake with a view of one of the prettiest skylines in the world.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Environmental Education Center in Hammond, Indiana

This is one of these little hidden gems that is a great stop for families visiting the area. There are limited hours, but if you call ahead and are able to stop when they are open for visitors, it offers a wonderful educational opportunity and a place for some play and exploration for little ones. While the facility is mainly used for field trips and education resources for local schools, it is also open to the public.

Within the building is a trout stream with trout that have been raised in local classrooms and then brought back to the indoor stream. A two-story treehouse play area offers fun for little ones. There's also a room full of recyclable items and tables where you can sit and craft items out of cardboard, plastic and other items.

For more information or to schedule a group tour, call 219-853-2420 or visit

Monday, December 4, 2017

It's A Wonderful Life: The Musical at Theatre at the Center

There area a handful of holiday movies I could watch over and over and over - and I do. Some of the classics have to be watched each year for the season to be complete. One of those is It's a Wonderful Life. It's a throwback to a simpler time, but the sentiment is the same. It carries many of the themes that define the season - giving to those in need, being generous, counting your blessings, seeing the value of people over money, recognizing the gift of friendship, celebrating with those we love. 

All of those themes are also present in the production of It's A Wonderful Life: The Musical playing through December 23 at the Theatre at the Center in the Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster, Indiana. And it's just as endearing as the black-and-white Jimmy Stewart classic that I watch on television each year.

I had actually seen this musical many years ago - at least a decade or so-  at the same theatre with my father and oldest son and was excited to see that it was returning again this year. A few months ago, I decided to start volunteering as an usher at the theatre occasionally,  so I've already had the pleasure of seeing it twice. And I'll be there to see it at least once more during its run. And I could still watch it over and over...just like the movie.

The vocals are outstanding and the acting is magnificent - from David Sajewich as George Baily and Allison Sill as Mary to James Harms as Potter to Julian Solis, Kylie Sullivan and Liliana Rene as the Bailey children - Tommy, Beth and Zuzu. David Perkovich is so delightful as Clarence the Angel that I enjoyed his version of role even better than that of Henry Travers in the movie. Likewise for James Heatherly's version in the musical of Uncle Billy. 

Many of the songs are catchy, cheery and upbeat and others hit you in the heart like an emotional gong. Try and get through it without tears. I dare ya. :) Click here for more on the musical and a schedule of performances.

Peteyville in Hammond, Indiana Will Fill You With Holiday Cheer

Are you a fan of holiday lights and outdoor decorations?

Do you love the holiday movie "A Christmas Story?"

This home in Hammond, Indiana has a bit of both. Located at 3033 Crane Place in the Hessville neighborhood of Hammond, this home sits just a few blocks away from the childhood home of Jean Shepherd, who authored a book that was adapted into the classic holiday movie "A Christmas Story." The movie is based on Shepherd's childhood growing up in Hammond, Indiana (in the movie it's the fictional town of "Hohman" which is the name of one of the city's main streets.)

This is the 30th year that Pete Basala has been decorating not just his house, but the yards of several neighbors. It has evolved into five yards full of inflatables, lights and some of his creations that include a carousel, teeter-totter and Ferris wheel. The Christmas display is known as "Peteyville." 

Peteyville even has its own radio station and when you're in front of the home you can tune in to hear some history about the decorations and a professionally recorded song about Peteyville sang by an Emmy-nominated artist.

Among the many inflatables is one that is new this year, a 26-foot reindeer named Randy. He stands a bit higher than his other friends, most of which are in the 13 - 15 range and a few that are 20-foot tall.

Each year, the Basala family lights up the home from 5 - 10 p.m. (weather permitting) from Thanksgiving until New Year's Eve. The home has a separate power supply from NIPSCO to accommodate all the power needed to run the lights and inflatables for the season. 

You'll also find a couple spots in Peteyville that are perfect family photo opportunities. Many families return year after year with their families and take annual photos there.

Check out their Facebook page - Peteyville for more information and updates. If there are high winds or ice, the inflatables may be down, but the area will still be lit up. The Facebook page will indicate if that's the case. 

They also tie in "A Christmas Story" with a leg lamp displayed in the window. By the way, Pete Basala's wife, Tina, is quite an elf herself and decorates the inside of the house with more than a dozen trees of varying sizes. 

If you're from out of the area and wishing to come by to visit Peteyville, you may want to pair it with the "A Christmas Story Comes Home" exhibit at the Indiana Welcome Center just off of I-94. The exhibit has several scenes from the movie that were once in the Macy's windows in New York. There's also a big display of trees and opportunities for photos with Mr. Claus on Santa's Mountain. 

The Center for Visual and Performing Arts in neighboring Munster also has a nice exhibit of trees and a gift shop with some lovely Christmas gift ideas and one more town over and across the Illinois border in Lansing you'll find the annual Festival of Lights exhibit with 35 trees and displays covering Christmas customs around the world at the Lansing Historical Museum located in the lower level of the Lansing Public Library.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

John Deere Pavilion

The biggest name in farm equipment, John Deere, has strong ties to Moline, Illinois. After developing a plow that would prevent soil from sticking to the cast-iron plows of the day, Deere eventually ended up in Moline in 1848. The location along the Mississippi River was ideal for a factory with access to the river for transporting materials for manufacturing.

The John Deere Pavilion in Moline is a free attraction that will appeal to the kids and the kids at heart as well as those with an interest in farming, history and business. The pavilion is part exhibit, part education and part big equipment playground with plenty of big pieces to climb up on and explore. It opened in 1997 as part of an urban renewal project and is part of the John Deere Commons in the downtown area.

The pavilion is open daily, except for major holidays.  The interactive Discovery Zone offers plenty of fun for kids with simulators and an activity table.

Make a visit to John Deere Pavilion part of a weekend getaway in Quad Cities. Go to for more information. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Hostetler's Hudson Auto Museum

As a mother of five sons and with a husband who has always had an interest in cars, I always get excited if I notice that there is an automobile museum near our destination when we travel. After hours of boys complaining in the car that they are bored, it is something I know they will enjoy. Over the years we've been to museums where we've seen sport cars, sedans, truck, motorcycles, wagons and lots of other vintage vehicles. One such museum we've been to that has amazed my kids in the Hostetler's Hudson Auto Museum in Shipshewana.

This museum isn't as huge in scale as some of the car museums we have visited, but it has a very impressive collection - a collection amassed by one man who fell in love with Hudsons as a 14-year-old when he had a chance to drive an automatic model around a farm he worked on. Eldon Hostetler's first car was a 1938 Hudson. From then on, he continued collecting and restoring Hudsons as well as Essex, Terraplane, Dover and other Hudson-produced automobiles. 

The museum closes during the winter season from January 1 to April, but group tours can be scheduled during that time. Regular hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults with discounted admission for seniors and children. For more information on the museum, visit 

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 ...