Thursday, December 20, 2018

Beat Winter With a Stay at Great Wolf Lodge in Gurnee

We've hit the official beginning of winter and sadly that means months of cold and snowy weather are ahead. If you want to escape for a night or two from the Midwest winter without traveling to the Caribbean, you'll want to make plans for a visit to Great Wolf Lodge, which opened in July in Gurnee, Illinois. 


The Great Wolf Lodge has so many features and activities that there's something for everyone - no matter what age. I was there shortly after they opened with three teenagers and they had a blast. 

The attractions include mini-golf, bowling, gemstone mining, ropes course, Creation Station (where you make your own stuffed animal), arcade and more. The biggest hit with them was MagiQuest, which I enjoyed myself. Each player gets a special wand and it's like a virtual scavenger hunt where you have to stop at various portals for clues.

The Snowland celebration in underway and runs through January 4 with daily snow showers in the Grand Lobby and visits from Santa Claus. There’s also a life-sized gingerbread house constructed from more than 600 pounds of gingerbread dough and 1,300 pounds of sugar. 

Guest can enjoy Hot Cocoa with the Great Wolf Kid, Cookies with Mrs. Claus and the Polar Wolf Walk. There will also be holiday movies playing in the decked out Grand Lobby. Kids can attend North Pole University to earn a Snowploma.

Other fun everyday activities such as kids’ yoga, story time and family bingo will keep the kids busy when they're not in the water.  And in the water park are pools and slides and play areas for splashing. There's a four-story tandem tube ride, a family raft ride, wave pool, a lazy river, kids’ play pool and more. Cabana rentals are also available.

Keep in mind that when you reserve a room, you get access to the water park for both the day you check in and the day you check out. If you want to arrive early and splash around you can do that and if after you check out, you're not quite ready to head back out into the cold, you can stay and enjoy the water park until closing time. For more info on rooms and amenities  go to GreatWolf.com.

Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort


While we all have Santa on the brain during the holiday season, I wanted to share a little about one of my favorite little towns, Santa Claus, Indiana where we've spent time in the summer and fall seasons. It's the place where it's Christmas all year long and even in July you'll spot Mr. Claus. One place you may happen to see him is at Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort where he may be cruising around on a golf cart. 


The resort is situated right next to the town's big attraction - Holiday World & Splashin' Safari, which makes it a super convenient place for lodging when you visit the area. There's a walkway that leads to the amusement and water park and there are also shuttles that run throughout the day. There's also a lot of activities in the resort itself if you plan to spend a day or more hanging out there, including a water park, two playgrounds, two basketball courts, a family pool and kiddie pool, a fishing lake, miniature golf, paddleboat and kayak rentals and more. 


Although it's an RV park, you don't need an RV or even a tent. More than half of the sites are RV rentals or cabins. Rudolph's Christmas Cabins feature electric fireplaces, upscale appliances, Christmas decor and a large covered deck - definitely the way to go if you are more of a glamper than a camper.

Cabins do book up in advance for the summer season, so if you're planning out your travel for 2019, now is the best time to make your reservations. Keep in mind that they also have a full itinerary of fall fun during their Halloween Weekends.

The resort has been named National RV Park of the Year and has been named Best RV Park in Indiana by Reader's Digest.

For more information, visit lakerudolph.com.










Monday, November 19, 2018

Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical Playing at Theatre at the Center


For several years I've visited the Theatre at the Center at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster around the holidays to see the musical of the season. This year that would be Miracle on 34th Street. 

Set in 1947 as the original motion picture was, it's the classic story of a skeptical young girl who has second thoughts when she encounters a very convincing Santa Claus hired by her mother to work the holiday season at Macy's. Directed by Linda Fortunato, the show features Courtney Jones, Christopher Kale Jones, Neil Friedman, who are all magnificent, but it's local 6th grader Stella Rose Hoyt who steals the show.






If you need a little push of holiday cheer to get you in the spirit this season, this will no doubt do it. It's just as charming (or moreso) than the beloved holiday movie. Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical runs through December 23. For showtimes and tickets, go to tickets.com or contact the box office at 219-836-3255.




Saturday, November 10, 2018

A Peek Inside Tribune Tower

This past spring I was selected as one of six bloggers/influencers in the Chicago area to serve as WGN Radio Brand Ambassadors. A couple weeks later we were invited to a meeting at WGN Radio's offices and studio in the Tribute Tower to meet some of the producers and management and radio personality John Williams. After some discussions and lunch in a conference room, we got a little tour that included some parts of the building that aren't open to the public and not many people get to see. It was quite a thrill.


I love history and architecture and it was the coolest thing to spend time in this building, which was competed in 1925. The design was selected among about 260 entries in a contest by the Chicago Tribune as it planned to develop new headquarters. A hefty monetary prize was offered for a design of "the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world." The winner was a neo-Gothic design by New York architects John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood, with buttresses near the top. Sculptures and decorations were done by American artist Rene Paul Chambellan. The tower was inspired by a French cathedral.


A amazing feature of the building is that pieces of historically significant sites were incorporated into the building construction, a total of 149, that mostly were collected by Chicago Tribune correspondents. Among the stones, rocks and bricks are pieces from St. Stephen's Cathedral in Austria, Taj Mahal, the Parthenon, the Palace of Westminsterpetrified wood from the Redwood National and State Parks, the Great PyramidThe AlamoNotre Dame de ParisAbraham Lincoln’s Tomb, the Great Wall of ChinaIndependence Hall and the Berlin Wall.


The lobby itself, which at the time could be viewed by the public, is stunning with famous quotes carved into the Wall of Inscriptions. Shortly after our tour, WGN Radio began its move to its new studio and the building emptied in anticipation of conversion of the entire building to private condominiums. Also in the lobby is a large map of the U.S. that was created from shredded money.


We also had a chance to hang out a little in the studios on the first floor that looked out onto Michigan Ave. where spectators could view live broadcasts through full-length windows.


We also had a chance to visit the 24th floor with the office of legendary Tribune publisher Colonel Robert R. McCormick and see his original fireplace, a hidden staircase and a hidden bathroom. Then it was all the way up to the top for some breathtaking views of the city. After my visit, I posted some photos from our tour, including some of the tower at the top. A former co-worker commented that she remembered visiting the building in the 1950s when that area was an observation deck that was open to the public. She said she and her friends went there occasionally and admission was 50 cents.


It was such an enormous privilege to have the opportunity to get this glimpse into several parts of this historic building. As a history buff who has been involved in my local historical society for more than two decades and who has authored three local history books, I recognized how lucky I was to be one of the last people to do this tour. And as a writer who has spent two decades crafting articles and columns, it was moving and emotional to stand in that landmark and think of all the journalists who also wrote articles and columns in that building - working to inform and enlighten readers through an impartial lens of honesty and integrity. 


Although it is sad that WGN Radio was moving from such a significant and nostalgic place that had been its home for so long, I've since had the opportunity to tour their new offices at 303 Wacker Drive and well, time moves on and it seems it was time for the station to move on to a more modern space. I'm so grateful to have been able to see both the old and the new office. 


Only time will tell what's in store for the Tribune Tower. In 2020, renovations should be complete and new tenants will be able to enjoy some pretty spectacular views of our beautiful city. On our tour, there was mention of preserving the 24th floor as is, or possibly dismantling it to be relocated. My understanding was that the lobby will likely go largely unchanged. However, knowing that the Tribune Tower will never be quite same, I am glad I was able to see what it once was.










Monday, September 3, 2018

Mazda fares well on family road trip


I received a loan of a Mazda CX-9 for a one-week period in order to provide a review. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are mine.

Although according to the calendar it is still summer - and will continue to be for a couple more weeks, the kids are back in school and summer as we know it is coming to an end. It always goes by too quickly, so I always try to seize the opportunity to do some short family road trips with the kids each summer. It’s getting harder and harder as they get older and are involved in activities and are committed to work schedules. I did manage to get in a nice trip this month, though, with 3 of our 5 sons and I was so excited to have use of a Mazda CX-9 as we traveled.

My everyday driver is a small sedan, so it was nice to have something as roomy as the CX-9 for traveling. The 7-seater had all the bells and whistles I’d hoped for - and much more. We made our way out of the Chicago area, through Indiana and up the west coast of Michigan in our SUV. I should insert here that I felt like the car needed a name, even though I have never named a car that I’ve owned before. It felt like it needed a sexy, exotic name and I settled on Antonio after taking to social media with my name contenders and asking friends and followers to vote. Coming in a close second was Pierre, followed by Joaquin and Jean-Claude. Antonio was comfortable and made the drive a breeze.

The biggest thing that wowed me was the radar cruise control. With this feature there were times when I felt like the car was doing the driving for me, even though I had to do the steering. I didn’t, however, have to do any braking or adjusting of the speed. Once I set the cruise control, Antonio did the work. If there was a car in front of me that was going at a slower speed, it adjusted. So, when I set the cruise control to 65, the car went along as usual, maintaining the speed I’d set. But…when I came upon a car that was going slower than the speed I had set, the car adjusted on its own. If the car in front of me was going only 50, the speed was adjusted and a safe distance was maintained. If I then switched into a lane that was clear ahead, up the speed went back to where I set it at 65. It was a little awkward at first and I had a little trouble trusting it at first, but I got over it quickly and loved how little I had to do.


I also loved the Head up Display, which showed my speed and directions right in front of me so I didn't have to look away. There was also a navigation system built in that I could view on the screen to my right. The screen also displayed the radio. Speaking of screens, behind the passenger and driver seats were screens with DVD players - something that is great to have when traveling with kids. 

The seats were comfortable in the front and the kids in the middle row agreed they were very comfortable. We had one seated in the back row, who grumbled that he could have used a little more leg room. It wouldn't have been a problem a couple years ago, but since I now have four teenagers in the house, they're growing like weeds and taller than me.

One other feature I loved was that it showed how many miles until your gas tank would be empty. I'm always guessing, especially on a long road trip and I loved that there was no more guesswork. Filling up also wasn't needed as often as I'd expected - it got 20 MPG in city driving and 23 on the highway.

The cargo area had a lot more room than I expected. Before our trip, I made some stops for groceries and other things. The power tailgate was a great feature as I was lugging out bags. One day I stopped for a couple oversized flower baskets at my local farm stand and was surprised at how well they fit in the back. I got them home without losing a single petal. That never happens in my car. Either the trunk smashes them down or I wiggle them on to the floor and lose several flowers in the process. It was very roomy for groceries, too.

I was pretty sad when it came time to return an Antonio. I'm glad he was part of our family trip and would be a vehicle I would love to drive around in every day, whether close to home or on a family excursion.





Sunday, July 29, 2018

University of Notre Dame



For the past six years I have been making my way to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend each summer to attend the Shakespeare Festival. I have a son who has been involved in a youth theatre group where they do a Shakespeare production each year through their Education Through Theatre Program. In mid-July, he and his fellow youth actors take the stage at Washington Hall on the campus of the University of Notre Dame for Shakescenes - a variety of Shakespeare-related skits from several youth theatre groups. 


It's something I look forward to each summer - obviously it is exciting to see my son perform, but even moreso when it is on a stage at the University of Notre Dame! However, I also love this annual event because it gives me a chance to spend time on this amazingly stunning campus. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I take a deep breath as I enter the grounds and I can just feel the stress melt away. The winding roads, architectural masterpieces and natural beauty make for a very peaceful setting.


On our visits to Notre Dame, we've also visited the bookstore and the Eck Visitor Center next door, which is where my sister happened to get married five years ago. Her husband grew up in South Bend where he could see the Golden Dome from his yard, so it seemed a fitting place for them to marry - and a central spot for family coming from Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. The Golden Dome is another place I have enjoyed visiting on our trips to South Bend. The Golden Dome serves as the administration building and is located next to Washington Hall and it wasn't until last year that I ventured inside. As beautiful as that dome is from the outside, it's more amazing from the inside.


The Basilica is also a very popular spot on campus and if you have the opportunity to pop in there, you must. You may even want to work in time to be there for a mass. There are 
often weddings there on weekends and if one it taking place, it is closed to visitors. It is absolutely breathtaking and well worth waiting a bit if you have to so that you can get a glimpse of the inside.



On the way in to campus, there's a pond that I pass that is usually occupied by ducks and surrounded by those jogging, walking or biking if the weather is nice.


So far on my visits there, I haven't had time to venture further into campus, but the football field and "Touchdown Jesus" are two spots on campus that are also popular with visitors.

Aside from the campus, which is enough of a reason to visit South Bend, there's much more to see an do if you plan to spend a full day or a weekend there. You can take in a game of the South Bend Cubs, tour the historic Oliver Mansion, check out classic cars at the Studebaker Museum and pick up some chocolate treats at the South Bend Chocolate Factory...and much, much more. Also, an eatery that I highly recommend is Chicory Cafe, a New Orleans themed restaurant that has amazing mufalettas, po' boys and more. For more info on the area, go to visitsouthbend.com 




Friday, July 13, 2018

Palmer House Hilton

As I was cleaning out my inbox this week, I noticed an email from the Palmer House Hilton for a special July deal with rooms for this winter starting at $115 per night. I'm tempted to plan a little getaway because that is a great deal - especially during busy times of year. The deal is good for bookings through July 31 for stays from November 16 - January 31. When I hit the link and plugged in a couple dates, I came up with rates even lower than the advertised $115. I found some dates as low as $94.

The email also took me back to a couple years ago when my son and I stayed there in January when we attended the Cubs convention. This Chicago hotel is a historical and architectural gem built for business magnate Potter Palmer. It is said that the hotel was a wedding gift to his bride Bertha (who was 23 years younger than him.) The hotel burned in the Great Chicago Fire just 13 days after its grand opening. He rebuilt and the new hotel opened in November 1873.

The Golden Empire Dining Room, which opened in 1933 hosted such entertainers as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Harry Belafonte, Judy Garland and Liberace and you'll see the halls of the hotel lined with photos of the performers.

In recent years, the hotel has undergone a $170 million renovation and the place is simply breathtaking and somewhere everyone should stay at least once.

I've also heard that they do historic tours of the property and I've got that on my bucket list. 

By the way, when we stayed there our room was very spacious and nicely decorated and we took advantage of room service. Breakfast was very good and a nice little luxury before we set out for a day of standing in lines at the Cubs Convention to meet players. 


Palmer House Hilton
17 E. Monroe
Chicago
312-726-7500
palmerhousehilton.com

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Serenity Springs



A few years ago I came across a place online called Serenity Springs and I jotted it onto my list of places to visit at some point. It came back on my radar this month as I was scoping out possible spots for an anniversary overnight that wasn't too far from home and Serenity Springs seemed the perfect spot. It was within an hour's drive of my home in Chicago's South Suburbs (it's between LaPorte, Indiana and Michigan City) and from all the online photos and descriptions sounded like a romantic, secluded place to get away. It absolutely lives up to the name - it's complete serenity from the moment you enter the grounds.


We reserved a room for a Thursday evening and as soon as we got there realized we really should have reserved two nights. The place offers much more than a room to spend a night in. The 85-acre grounds are beautiful and have 31 unique cabins situated either on their lake, pond or creek. There are five different rooflines, so there are different layouts - like the A frame with an upstairs bedroom and a barn-style with a loft with a little seating area that you get to via ladder, but that offers pretty, elevated views. 

The place opened 19 years ago and although it's easily accessible and right off of an expressway exit, it feels far away from the hustle and bustle. 

Although it is designed to be distraction-free and there are no phone in the cabins, there are televisions and a number of activities on site for couples to enjoy together - trail walks, bike rides, ping pong, board games, fishing and more. Each cabin has a private deck with a fire pit and grill and there's a bin of food for the geese, ducks and swans that reside there.



When you arrive, you park your car in the lot next to the check-in building and you are taken back to your cabin via horse-drawn carriage. You then get a little tour and explanation of the cabin and amenities by staff. One of the really unique features of the cabins is that once the staff drops you off any correspondence is done through a butler box, so for anything you need you don't have interruptions. 

If you have a request, you put a note in the butler box and flip a switch to let them know something is there. When they drop something off for you, they put it in the box and flip a switch that activates a light inside the cabin to make you aware that something has been dropped off. 

Not long after check-in, our light went off and we had a little s'mores kit waiting with everything we needed to make s'mores on our little patio campfire. After dinner our light went on again and we found dessert in our box. 

And then before bed, we had breakfast for the next morning delivered - a basket of muffins and fresh fruit. We also had the option of requesting complimentary fresh eggs (there are several chickens on site that lay eggs for guests) and for $5 we purchased bacon from a local meat shop. Both were delivered to our butler box with pans and utensils so that it could be prepared on the grill in the morning. They also leave a basket of snacks in the room, so there's always something there if you get hungry.



With grills on the patios, guests are welcome to bring their own meal to prepare. You'll also find menus for some local restaurants in the cabins. For dinner, we opted to order from one of the local restaurants and have it delivered. This was the only time delivery didn't come through the butler box. Two employees came in quickly, set down a table cloth, lit candles and placed out our meal of steak and pork chops from Decoy's Bar & Grill. It was lovely. 



There's a big selection of movies in the check-in office and I picked out a couple. It seemed an appropriate time to watch "The Notebook," which I had never seen in its entirety, so we watched it. At home, we have few opportunities to sit together and watch a full movie without interruptions, so it was nice to have the luxury of time to do so. After dinner we watched the movie, after a couple of rounds of ping pong in the clubhouse that was a short walk from our cabin. We also took an evening walk where we could see fish jumping out of the water. We talked about getting up and fishing the next morning, but after cooking breakfast we just didn't have time. A second day would have definitely been enjoyed - doing a little more walking, fishing, feeding the geese and just chilling together in our room. I now see why the line "One Night's Just Not Enough" is printed just below the logo on the home page of the website. It was a perfect anniversary get-away and one I am certain we will repeat for an anniversary in the future.




Serenity Springs
5888 N. U.S. Hwy 35
Michigan City, Indiana
219-861-0000
Serenity-Springs.com


***We were hosted so that we could experience a stay and write about it. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

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