Tag: road trip ideas

Why Fort Wayne? Here’s Why!

Of the numerous road trips that we’ve been on, the one that got the most confused reactions by far, when I told people where we were going, was our recent visit to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“Fort Wayne?? Why Fort Wayne?!”

Man, even my family was skeptical, initially. However, despite it not being a traditional weekend getaway destination, I had a hunch that this place might be a hidden gem. After spending four days there,  courtesy of the generosity of my friends at Visit Fort Wayne, I can now say that my hunch was right.

So why Fort Wayne? There’s plenty of reasons actually.

LOCATION

The key to any weekend road trip with the family is travel time. In our case, with multiple stops, it was about a seven hour drive, which was fine. The kids watched a bunch of movies, which meant no boredom complaints. Plus, even though it is a bit of a trek, it’s the type of drive where you can leave in the morning, get there in the afternoon, and still have time to do stuff that day.  As well, it’s not all that far from large cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Chicago.

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT….AND ANOTHER RIVER….AND ANOTHER RIVER

Fort Wayne is built on three rivers, which is really unique. Plus, with over 80 parks, over 50 playgrounds, and over 100 miles of trails, it’s a place for anyone who loves the outdoors

Fort Wayne Outfitters hooked my family up with some bikes, so we went for a family bike ride along the riverfront. In theory, this should have been awesome. In reality, my daughter was a grump, and refused to ride, so she and I (because I couldn’t ride slow enough to match her stomping, sulking pace) went for bike walks. At least it was scenic.

Also, never trust a one year old with directions.

 

FORT WAYNE CHILDREN’S ZOO

Speaking of the outdoors, checking out the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo was a must on our list, and should be on yours, too. Even though my kids all loved it, don’t get it twisted; it’s not just a children’s zoo. I saw a lot of childless people there, which I am sure is the norm.  Ranked as one of the top zoos in the US, it’s  really well laid out, clean and interactive. The animals all looked healthy, and seemed to be in their more natural-looking habitats. We were able to get a nice view of almost all of them (instead of them hiding and/or being out of site, as is the case sometimes). It’s a decent sized zoo, but I didn’t feel winded after we strolled through it, and B and J didn’t whine once about being tired, either. There were also a bunch of rides, too, that were very reasonably priced and enjoyable.

Fake surfing wasn’t a ride, FYI. Just a photo op!

THE VIBE

While touring around the city, I noticed that there were a lot of places of worship. I later learned that Fort Wayne has been called ‘the city of churches’, because it has over 360 of them.  There are also reports which indicate that Fort Wayne has one of the lower costs of living, in the USA.  It seemed like the city was pretty spread out, too, with some pockets being better than others, like you’d expect from any big city. We were graciously given accommodations at the Hilton Fort Wayne At The Grand Wayne Convention Center.  This hotel is located downtown, which is one of the nicer parts of the area, and is within walking distance to several attractions.  When out and about, I never felt unsafe. I even walked around downtown basically in isolation one Sunday evening, as many businesses closed by 5pm.

A view from our hotel room. That rainbow, though!

All in all, my takeaway of Fort Wayne is that it’s a laid-back, down to earth city that’s family-friendly.

FALL FUN ON THE FARM!

One of the best things about travelling is when an experience completely blows away your expectations. Such was the case when we checked out Kuehnert Dairy Farm’s Fall Festival. We’ve been to events on farms before, but this was easily the best. It was well organized, and had a ton of stuff for the kids to do. Hay rides, corn pits, corn mazes, playgrounds, games, farm tours, jump pad, bonfires and ninja warrior courses, just to name a few. For me, the best part was the Mouse Trap, their famous grilled cheese sandwich.

The only bad thing was that the weather sucked, and the rain shortened our visit. Otherwise, we could have easily stayed there for the whole afternoon!

 

CULTURE (NO, NOT THE MIGOS ALBUM)

Besides the outdoorsy activities, Fort Wayne also has some nice indoor attractions, which are very sophistimicated and edumucational. Science Central is the only science center in the region, and it’s multi-level, with 200+ exhibits. The kids got their learn on, while playing and exploring the surroundings.

It also hosts events throughout the year. When we were there, a sci-fi convention was going on. Ohhhhh Chewy!

That’s a person in a costume, believe it or not.

 

Debrand Fine Chocolates is the only chocolate store that I’ve been to where I felt like I needed to wear a suit and bow tie when entering it. You don’t need to dress up, of course, but the decor and ambience give it a very fancy feeling. We did a tour of the headquarters (highly recommended, plus tasty!), and the attention to detail that they put into each of their chocolates to ensure that they are of the finest quality is really impressive.

J and I hit up the Fort Wayne Museum Of Art. I will wholeheartedly admit to being  clueless, in terms of being an art connoisseur. The people there all seemed to be enjoying silently taking in the artwork, though. I thought the Chuck Sperry exhibit was pretty wild. J really liked the kids area, where little ones can create their own masterpieces.

Also, time didn’t permit us to visit it, but the Botanical Conservatory looks very expansive, and beautiful.

GAME ON

Now, two things that Fort Wayne doesn’t have going for it are a major league sports team, and an amusement park. However, it does have minor league teams (sidenote: we only drove by, but Parkview Field looked like a cool place to watch a Tincaps baseball game!). In addition, it has Crazy Pinz, a 50,000 square foot entertainment complex, which features bowling, a rope course, laser tag, mini-golf, rock climbing, bar, restaurant and an arcade/prize store.

 

Do you see what I mean, now? Despite initial doubts, we ended up having an awesome little trip.

So, why Fort Wayne?

That’s why!

Until the next one, peace!

 

Disclosure: Visit Fort Wayne provided us with accommodations and passes to the attractions mentioned. Opinions expressed are my own.

 

 

Road Trippin’ – Harrisburg And Hershey Pennsylvania!

My good friends at Visit Harrisburg and Hershey generously invited us to explore the area recently, as part of their incentivised Media Days program.  If you’re thinking of doing a road trip this summer with your family, making the drive deep into the heart of Pennsylvania is definitely worth considering!

For us, it was about a seven hour ride with stops, because, well, kids. It’s a nice drive, though, as it’s pretty scenic.  Since it was kind of on the way to the hotel, and because we wanted to walk around after being in our van for so long, the first place we checked out was the Indian Echo Caverns at Echo Dell.  This is a limestone cave, located in Hummelstown, which also has a playground and petting zoo on site. Upon descending down a long flight of stairs (which feels longer when you ascend them afterwards, especially if carrying a one year kid, like I was), we were given a guided tour into the caverns.  The tour took about 45 minutes, and I was amazed at the various formations. It was really cool (no, for real, the temperature inside was 52 degrees), and our guide was entertainingly knowledgeable.  He also unintentionally took our best/worst family photo ever:

I asked him how the picture looked, and he said good. I shouldn’t have taken his word for it.

We next made our way over to the hotel, The Central Hotel And Conference Center, in Harrisburg.  For our purposes, this was a perfect place to stay, as it was in a central location to any place that we wanted to visit. Hershey, for example is about 14 miles from Harrisburg, so only about 20 minutes away from the hotel. I also understand that since Hershey is more of a known tourist destination, actually staying at one of the official Hershey lodging options is a bit expensive. If you don’t mind the short drive, I’d recommend staying in Harrisburg instead, and saving a few bucks.

B and J reacting to our welcome package at the hotel.

After dinner, it was time to satisfy our sweet teeth, as we headed over to Chocolatetown USA, to visit Hershey’s Chocolate World.  This place had all kinds of delicious, fun things to do, and also a store with the huge selection of Hershey’s goodies. Parking is free for up to three hours, which is plenty of time to enjoy a bunch of the attractions. We all did the Trolley Works tour, where we rode a trolley though Hershey and learned about the history of the city, while also sampling some chocolates. K and the kids then went on  the chocolate making tour (note: this is free, plus you get a chocolate sample at the end).  I went to unleash my inner Milton Hershey by creating my own candy bar!

 

Despite being tasty, The Daddy Realness bar will not be hitting store shelves any time soon.

The next day was spent at Hersheypark. For the uninitiated, this place is a Hershey’s themed family park, which has an amusement park, a water park and a zoo in it. Our plan was to hit up the water stuff in the morning, and then do the dry stuff in the afternoon, as we figured (correctly, as it turned out) most people would do the opposite, so the lines wouldn’t be as long. We tried to jam as many rides in as possible, but the place had over 70 of them. We barely made a dent. The selection was great, though, I gotta admit. They ranged from ones that KJ (a Hershey’s miniature, according to the height guide) could go on and enjoy, to ones the thrilliest seeker would like. Fahrenheit in particular, had me looking up at it, shaking my head in disbelief.

Yeah. Heck no.

Another nice aspect of the amusement park was the layout. I’ve been to parks that had a ‘kiddie section’, with the ‘adult’ rides at a separate spot. At Hersheypark, though, everything was mixed. So in theory, the parents could go lineup for a ride, while the kids went on a different one nearby. My kids were too young to do this, admittedly, but it’s a good thought.

One other thing to mention is that you should keep an eye out for the various Hershey characters throughout the park. J was lucky enough to be picked to play in the travelling Character Game Show, where she won a prize!

East Coast Waterworks was easily the favorite attraction, among my fam. It’s a kid friendly water play area, with lots of slides, tunnels and toys. We spent at least an hour there. I’ve noticed that I’ve become more of a chicken as I’ve gotten older, when it comes to thrill-seeking, so my favorite ride by far was the lazy river. All in all, it was jammed-pack, exhausting day at Hersheypark, and we didn’t even make it over to the zoo!

The following day started with a visit to Hershey Gardens. In addition to the 23 acre botanical part, it also houses a butterfly atrium.  Walking through the atrium was quite an experience. I’ve never seen so many butterflies before! There were dozens and dozens of different kinds, from all over the world, freely flying about.  I will say that they kept the temperature hot in there, which had me feeling like Nelly in 2002.

Sad attempt at a selfie with a butterfly.

 

Afterwards, we made our way outside, specifically, to the Children’s Gardens.  We followed the pathways while going past various gardens, many of which were interactive in nature. It unfortunately started to rain, so we didn’t check out the rest of the grounds. I’m not exactly a flower enthusiast, but I’ll vouch for the beauty of the Gardens as being something everyone can appreciate.

Afterwards,  it was time to go on a boat ride. Since Harrisburg actually lies on the Susquehanna River,  we took the bridge to City Island, to take a cruise on The Pride Of The Susquehanna. The Pride is one of only six authentic paddle wheel riverboats in the USA (so paddles only for steering and propulsion). Besides driving like a throwback, the interior is decorated as such, too, giving it an old-timey vibe. The sightseeing tour that we went on was about 45 minutes long.  I’d like to say that we relaxed and enjoyed the views while listening to the recording explaining the history of the river and Harrisburg. But, you know, kids. B and J were more excited about being on a boat than The Lonely Island ever was (note: T-Pain was not on the Pride).  They ran around like maniacs, getting excited about the littlest things (“HEY DADDY! LOOK! THERE’S A BATHROOM!). You were also able to buy some snacks on board, if that floats your boat (this fact really floated B and J’s boat).

After docking, it was time to hit up downtown Harrisburg. To be honest, it wasn’t quite what I expected. There were definitely some nice old buildings, like the Pennsylvania State Capitol, and a bunch of cool looking restaurants. Like most major cities, though, I get the feeling that you probably don’t want to be in certain streets when it’s dark. That’s not to say stay away from downtown, obviously; I’m just saying I felt a bit uncomfortable in certain spots during the day, but totally safe for the most part.

One of those safe places is the Whitaker Center. I loves me a good science center, and the Whitaker fit the bill. Three floors of over 200 hundred hand-on, interactive exhibits? Yes please! Kidsplace, in particular, was a favorite of KJ’s.

B and J really liked building cars and paper planes in the Move It! section. K and I had fun trying our hands at making stop-motion animated movies in the Backstage Studio. While my attempts predictably sucked, K apparently is Walt Disney’s grandchild or something, as she made a couple of mini masterpieces.  The Whitaker Center also has a cinema with a huge 38’x70′ screen, if you want to catch a flick, as well as an intimate performance theater.

There’s also plenty of cheesy tourist photo opportunities, don’t worry.

Not far from the Whitaker is the State Museum of Pennsylvania, so we headed there next. This museum is very comprehensive, in terms of covering different periods in Pennsylvania history. It was hard to soak in as much as I would have liked (because, you know, kids), but it was still a worthwhile visit. KJ loved the baby/toddler Curious Connection area. It’s the type of place where I saw a tunnel, so I was like, yo, I wonder where that goes. The next thing I know, I was on my hands and knees crawling through it like I was Andy in The Shawshank Redemption, and I ended up in a playhouse. Just a fun environment to put your little one down in, to let them explore. The rest of us liked the third floor the most, with the various animal and dinosaur exhibits.

Plus, there’s a huge statue of William Penn there.

Our last stop on our trip was my personal favorite. I was hoping to catch a Harrisburg Senators minor league baseball game, but alas, they were out of town. However, we got the next best thing – a private tour of their stadium, FNB Field! The team’s general manager, Randy Whitaker, generously took some time out of his day to show us around. FNB Field is located on City Island,  which made it unique from the other stadiums, because how many stadiums are even on an island?! Besides this, the coolest part is their Life Sized Bobblehead Hall of Fame, featuring numerous Harrisburg Senator legends.

All in all, it was a great trip!  Hershey on it’s own was awesome, but besides the Sweetest Place On Earth, our experience in Harrisburg was positive overall, too.

In J’s opinion, it was the best trip ever!

Until the next one, peace!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trippin’ – Cleveland!

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For our summer vacation this year, my family decided to go to Cleveland, Ohio.

Now, when I would tell people this, it was met with one of the following three reactions:

  1. Confusion (“Cleveland? Why? Do you have family there?”).
  2. Disappointment (“Cleveland? Oh. That…um….sounds interesting?”).
  3. Excitement!  (Wait. Only one person that I talked to was excited. A co-worker of mine who wanted a pair of  motorcycle gloves from Whiskey Grade, which I agreed to pick up for him).

After spending four days in da Land, I can honestly say that the city deserves more of the latter reaction, and less of the first two.

For people like myself who live in the Greater Toronto Area, one of the best parts about Cleveland is its proximity. Being only five-ish hours away, it’s a great spot for doing a road trip and checking out for a few days, which is what my family did. As mentioned before on here, we are pretty big Toronto Blue Jays fans. As such, our vacation idea was to spend most of the week there, and take in an Indians-Blue Jays game. I’ll get back to the baseball in a bit, but spoiler alert – there’s actually tons of stuff to do in Cleveland!

Let’s start with their most well known tourist attraction – the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.

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I asked the kids to pose nicely for a picture, and this is what they chose to do.

I had my doubts, as I didn’t think B and J were old enough to find it interesting. However, children under the age of 8 are free, so we ended up going. That place really is a music lover’s dream. K and I easily could have spent a good part of the day exploring the memorabilia and displays. The kids were pretty indifferent to it all, though, so we only stayed for about an hour. They did get a kick out of playing with the jukeboxes which had music by every inductee on them.

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J’s artists of choice? The Jackson 5.

Fortunately, right beside the Hall of Fame was a far more kid-friendly attraction – the Great Lakes Science Center.  The kids had a blast checking out the various exhibits and activities, while also learning a thing or two. The Sports Arena in particular was a hit.

Literally:

Don’t worry, folks. She was just fine.

Anyway, both the Science Center and the Hall of Fame are located on the waterfront. This is perfect for taking a nice walk to enjoy some scenery, or to play Pokemon Go. Whatever floats your boat.

Speaking of creatures, B and J love animals, so visits to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and the Greater Cleveland Aquarium were a no-brainer. The zoo is huge (183 acres) so we made sure that we were well rested, and dedicated a whole day to it.

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B insisted on wearing a Steph Curry shirt that day. It went over with the locals about as well as you would expect.

One neat thing about the zoo was that, for the most part, it was divided into themes, based on different areas of the world, which is how the animals were housed. For the record, my favourite area was The Rainforest, a big two storey indoor tropical environment.   Despite B and J’s best effort, we did not see all 3000+ animals that lived at the zoo. We did see a good chunk of them, though!

The Aquarium also went over very well with us. It was spacious, with tons of sea animals to look at. B and J did what any six and four year old children would do while there –  point out the names of random fish  (learned from the TV show The Octonauts) and go on a mission to find Dory (from the movie Finding Dory).

Meanwhile,  I  got hands-on with some stingrays and shrimp!

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Shrimpin aint easy, man.

The only other aquarium which I’ve been to is Ripley’s, in Toronto. It’s impressive, but I liked Cleveland’s better.  It had a more laidback vibe to it, plus there were a bunch of friendly, knowledgeable staff available who patiently answered my stupid questions.

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Excuse me? How many times has this tank broken and sharks fallen on people?

In terms of accommodations, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Cleveland Downtown.  This was easily the coolest hotel that I’ve ever been in. It’s located in an historic, 19th century building, so it has that old-school feeling to it. Our room was very spacious, with high ceilings, hardwood floors, and a kitchenette. What really freaked me out was how every person on staff that I saw was really nice and personable (it’s amazing what a smile and a few kind words can do for one’s perception). Being situated downtown also meant that it was within stumbling distance to places like Progressive Field, Quicken Loans Arena, House of Blues, a casino, a bunch of bars/restaurants, a bowling alley, and Rocket Fizz (an awesome soda pop and candy shop).

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I went with the Buffalo Wing soda.

The most enjoyable part of the hotel for me, however? The evening refreshers!  #freealcohol.

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A view from our hotel room.

OK, let’s talk baseball. We arrived into Cleveland on a Tuesday. Our Jays-Indians tickets were for Friday. As you can see in the above picture, taken on Tuesday, we had a nice view of the ballpark from our hotel, and a clearly very sparsely attended game. After looking into it, I discovered that the Indians had one of the worst attendance rates in baseball. More checking discovered that tickets for the game the next night could be had for cheap. So, the next day, I got a pair for myself and B, like 15 rows up from first base, for A LOT less than what we would paid for the same seats in Toronto. We and only about 13,000 other people watched the Indians and the Chicago White Sox play an entertaining game.

This would be all fine and dandy if the Indians sucked…..but they were in first place! What’s up with that? Tribe fans, why aren’t y’all supporting a winning team? It took the Blue Jays 20+ mediocre years just to be good enough to play meaningful baseball late in the season. Don’t take winning for granted, Believeland!

Anyway, the Friday game was pretty dope. Progressive Field is a sweet stadium with a great atmosphere. They also stacked the in-game experience; that night was free fedora night, $1 hot dog night, $2 cans of beer before the game, and a rockin’ fireworks show after the game. They had a ton of giveaways between innings, too. This kept B busy – he would run down the aisles to try to catch the goodies which were being tossed out.  More than half of the  30,000+ crowd was Jays fans (and rawkus ones at that) so it felt like we were at the Rogers Centre. It was just a fun time all around, the best game that I’ve been too. Even though Toronto lost, they at least lost in a memorable way – on a walk-off, inside the park home run.

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As someone who used to roll their eyes at the thought of Cleveland, I see now how wrong I was.  It really is a cool, charming city with a lot going for it, especially downtown. We spent four days in the 216, and there was still stuff which we wanted to see, but didn’t. Whether you’re a sports fan in the GTA like me, or are just looking for somewhere fun and different to go to for a weekend, why not make the road trip to Cleveland?

 

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