Tag: travel blog

24 Hours In Chicago

 

24 hours in Chicago

 

They say that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  Now, I haven’t planned anything with a mouse lately (or ever), but I have with my family,  and, to paraphrase Lizzo:

why plans great til they gotta be great?

For example, we recently got to spend 24 hours in Chicago. Having never been to The Windy City before, I had a rough itinerary in mind for us, to maximize our time. I then envisioned coming back and telling y’all about our adventures. Luxurious shopping sprees along the Magnificent Mile. Family photos in front of iconic Chicago landmarks like the Bean and the Michael Jordan statue. Self indulgent visits to the locations of my favorite rapper’s childhood home (Kanye West) and the house where my favorite TV show is filmed in (Shameless).  Scenes recreated throughout Chi-Town with the kids from my favorite 80s movie (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Potentially, it would be an epic Chicago day tour.

Believe it or not, our 24 hours in Chicago did not go as I thought that it would.  At all.  Here’s how it went down, to the best of my recollection:

9:00AM – Stopped by the Milwaukee Public Market to grab some breakfast, as part of the final stop on our Milwaukee trip.  Planned to then make the almost two hour drive to Chicago afterwards. Arrived at the market, and realized that most of the vendors did not open up shop until 10:00AM. Sat outside the market in our van until then.

10:00AM – Stopped by the Milwaukee Public Market to grab some breakfast as part of the final stop on our Milwaukee trip. It had started to rain heavily while we were waiting outside.  We got our food to go, and then headed to Chicago in some occasionally torrential downpours, surrounded by dangerously driving transport trucks. It’s a white knuckle drive.

11:00AM – Realized that the forecast in Chicago calls for rain all day.  Realized that we’ll have to call an audible on most of the potential destinations on my agenda. Touring around in the rain with three small, soggy kids is a recipe for a sucktacular trip.

11:50AM – Arrived at our first destination, Water Tower Place, to go the American Girl Store, a giant doll store that J had been excited about visiting for months. Upon arrival, discovered that affordable parking in downtown Chicago is harder to find than Steve Bartman’s whereabouts.  Some of the parking signage is harder to decipher than the Bulls’ old triangle offense. Proceeded to drive around aimlessly, looking for a reasonable, understandable parking spot.

12:20PM – Finally find a meter parking spot about two blocks away from Water Tower Place. Walked to the American Girl Store.

12:20AM – Kidding. It only felt like I spent 12 hours at the American Girl Store. We were actually there for an hour, with J loving every minute. If you’ve ever wanted to take your doll to a hair salon, or get your kid the same outfit as their doll,  then this is the place for you, by the way.

24 hours in chicago

 

1:20PM –  The rain kiboshed the shopping spree along the Magnificent Mile. Well, the rain, and the price tags at some of the high end shops. Instead, we walked through Water Tower Place and went to Macy’s. It had eight floors in it, and clearance sections galore, perfect for Canadians like us looking to ball out on a budget.  Unfortunately, it’s also perfect for toddlers like KJ to run around the store like Walter Payton, and to play hide and seek by himself in the clothing racks.

chicago day tour

KJ still made time to pose with J in front of this giant Lego statue, though.

2:10PM – Back to the car, to make our way to an actual iconic Chicago landmark – the Skydeck at Willis Tower (courtesy of tickets from my good friends at the Skydeck. Thanks again, guys!).  It’s about a 12 minute drive, to get there from where we were.

2:50PM – Finally find a parking spot after some difficulties, same reasons as before. We are basically closer to Water Tower Place than Willis Tower. We are at a confusingly worded meter, as well.  From it, I conclude that we have until 4:00pm to park there, before Oprah Winfrey would come to take our car away, and give it to a member of a studio audience.  My conclusion is most likely not even close to being correct. Regardless, we gotta book it to, and through, the Skydeck.

3:00-3:40PM –  the Skydeck was not busy, so we were in, up (a 90 second elevator ride!) and enjoying the 1300 plus feet lookout in short fashion. It really was amazing up there. Spectacular views of the city. Tried to take some pics for da ‘Gram, none of which end up making the cut. For example, here’s a family shot of us on the Skydeck Ledge glass floor.  If I look scared, it’s because I was scared. If our family looks short-handed, it’s because B didn’t want to come on the Ledge, for the picture. If KJ looks like he’s so hungry that he had to eat his shirt, it’s because he probably was.

Skydeck Ledge

Tried to get the kids to pose like Ferris, Sloane and Cam did in Ferris Buehller. Realized that they hadn’t seen the movie, and didn’t know what I was talking about. Settled for this shot:

 

24 hours in chicago

In the spirit of the Toronto Raptors’ championship and “We The North”, here is “He The North”, as in I’m way up in sky, rocking a Raps’ hat:

skydeck ledge

I’m sorry, peeps, I’m really not very creative.

 

3:45PM – Time to rush back to the car. At one point, instead of running, KJ dropped and starting doing push ups.

3:54PM –  Noticed KJ crossing a bridge, with some of Chicago’s majestic skyscrapers in the background, would make for a cute pic. Say cheese, little man!

chicago day tour

Thanks, white van, for the photobomb.

3:59PM – No sign of Oprah, so our car is safe. With rain pouring down, we decided to go to our hotel, The Willows Hotel, located near the Wrigleyville area of the city.  On the way, a rain-drenched Wrigley Field field was not in the cards, so I did the next best thing – walked around the stadium and took some mediocre pictures!

24 hours in chicago

chicago day tour

wrigley field tour

The rain is temporary, but the stupid look on my face will last forever.

 

5:00PM – Arrived at The Willows Hotel. It’s a lovely, smaller, boutique hotel, with an old, old school (think 19th century) feel. B will make repeated comments about how he can’t believe the TVs are so new in such a classic building.

6:00PM – The hotel is in a nice, quiet neighbourhood, so we decided to go for a walk.  We end up in a clearance section at a T.J. Maxx, because we are apparently all about discounted stuff from department stores which aren’t in Canada. I have this convo with KJ there:

KJ – I miss you!

Me – You can’t miss me. You’re right beside me.

*KJ runs away, runs back*

KJ – I miss you!

I should also mention that, throughout these 24 hours in Chicago, B had been complaining about a headache. The poor kid kept freaking himself out, and escalating his symptoms via incorrect self-diagnosis.  It started off in the morning as the slightest of headaches. Later, it increased to it hurting only when he shook his head violently, as if he was headbanging (note: B had never headbanged before in his life).  By the time that we are in T.J. Maxx, he is essentially sulking around the place, thinking that he needs a brain transplant.

6:30PM – K had looked up restaurants in the area, so we start to head out to decent sounding one.

6:32PM – K looked up reviews of said restaurant, and read that the owner was allegedly openly racist. We walk to a different dining establishment (in the rain, of course).

8:00PM – After dinner, we walk to get dessert/breakfast, from Stan’s Donuts.

Stan's Donuts Chicago

What? They were really good. That’s all.

8:25PM – Back to the hotel.  Yes, I realize that this seems early to call it a night for someone who wanted to maximize their 24 hours in Chicago. However, we were tired. Plus B had ‘inceptioned’ me, by planting seeds of doubt in my head about the crime rate in the city (“Hey dad, are we going to get shot in Chicago?“). Tapping out and enjoying the safety of our comfy hotel seemed like a good call.

6:00AM-7:00AM – Pack up, get some continental breakfast to go with our donuts, and check out of the hotel, so we can make the 8ish hour long drive home.

7:00AM – 7:30AM – We followed the Waze App, to guide us. The route that we take is very scenic, along the outskirts of the city.  Between the skyline and architecture, it’s beautiful looking, in the distance.

24 hours in chicago

7:30AM – We get led to the “Chicago Skyway”, which is a toll road. We pay $5 US to use it.

7:38AM – Waze leads us off of the Skyway, and onto another road. Huh? That’s it?!  I immediately want my $5 US back.

We continued our way out of Chi-Town, until it was nothing but a recent memory.

Hopefully, a return trip will be in order, in the future, and hopefully, things will go as planned, too.

But, you know what they say about the best laid plans, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Guide To Summer Fun In Hershey PA

 

things to do near Hershey PA

On our last visit to Hershey and  Harrisburg, Pennsylvania,  we had a nice time hanging out in the area. Afterwards,  we realized that there was a lot more around the Sweetest Place On Earth  which we didn’t get to experience.  There were so many things to do near Hershey PA, in fact, that we just had to make the fifteen hour round trip drive (don’t worry, with bickering small kids, it felt like twenty hours. Wait, what?) and go back again this summer!

 

Now, before we can talk about things to do near Hershey, PA,  I need to mention THE attraction to do in Hershey – Hersheypark.  I won’t go too deep here  (note: you can check out this piece, where I discuss it extensively), but in terms of family fun, you really can’t go wrong with a visit to this park.  If you aren’t into amusement parks, though, you can still have a memorable time in the area.

 

For example, Lake Tobias Wildlife Park is situated about 35 miles outside of Hershey.  The park is home to animals,  birds and reptiles from all over the world.  There are zoo exhibits, a petting zoo,  fishing, a reptile /exotics building, and my kids’ favorite,  a safari tour! The tour is pretty wild. It has a Jurassic Park-vibe to it, as we got into a roofless “cruiser”, and then headed off into the yonder.  As we drove through the open woodlands, we saw scores (500 approx., according to the website) of animals roaming about freely, some of whom weren’t shy about coming up, or in, to our cruiser!

Lake Tobias. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Lake Tobias. Things to do near Hershey PA.

You could easily spend half a day at Lake Tobias Wildlife Park, without the kids being bored. Concessions are available throughout the park, but you’re allowed to bring your own food, too.

Lake Tobias. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Just don’t give your food away in the petting zoo.

 

Another fun thing to do near Hershey in the summer is hit up everything that Adventure Sports In Hershey has to offer. Located four miles south of Hershey, this entertainment park features stuff like bumper boats, go-karts, batting cages, an escape room and an arcade. While not ideal for little kids (since they are too small/not age appropriate to go on most of the attractions), it was still a fun way to spend a few hours, with the family. For example, B and J were both too short to ride the go-karts on their own, so they had to roll with an adult. This meant that I had to get behind the wheel, to predictably mediocre results.

 

It’s not as if little two year old KJ was bored, by the way. He loved pretending to play games in the arcade, and flexed some serious short game skills on Adventure Sports in Hershey’s beautiful mini-golf course!

Adventure Sports in Hershey. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Adventure Sports in Hershey. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Get them chips with the dip, young fella!

 

 

Adventure Sports in Hershey is also home to a Turkey Hill ice cream parlour. Along those lines, another fun thing to do near Hershey, PA with the family is to learn more about Turkey Hill and their offerings.  Located about 20 miles outside of Hershey,  The Turkey Hill Experience is not an ice cream and tea factory like we thought, but a way cooler indoor attraction!  It’s full of interactive exhibits and stations (re: so lots of opportunity for kids to play and run around) all centred on how Turkey Hill’s ice cream and tea is made.  Yes, there are sampling stations around, to try them out.

Turkey Hill Experience. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Not a real sampling station.

 

As an add-on option, you can also take part in one of their Taste Labs, where you follow the steps that Turkey Hill uses, to create (and eat!) your own ice cream, and in Tea Discovery, where you learn about (and drink!)  tea.

Turkey Hill Experience. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Turkey Hill Experience. Things to do near Hershey PA.

I’ll admit to not being familiar with Turkey Hill and their products before (around us, anyway, they aren’t readily seen in stores). This place is basically a big advertisement for them, which is pretty clever, and effective,  in terms of brand awareness, and goodwill.

Turkey Hill Experience. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Coincidentally, they have an exhibit where you can make your own big Turkey Hill advertisement.

 

Now, on our last trip to Hershey/Harrisburg, we went to the lowest of the lows, on our Echo Caverns cave adventure. As such, it would only make sense to experience the highest of the highs this time around, which is what J and I did, when we went on a hot air balloon ride!  The United States Hot Air Balloon Team are a premier ballooning company, with multiple locations. Our ride took place in Lancaster, PA,  about 33 miles outside of Hershey, and smack dab in Amish country.  Fun fact #1 – hot air balloon rides are VERY weather dependent, and for safety reasons, can only take place either super early in the morning, or early in the evening. Fun fact #2 – we chose the morning flight, and were there so early, that even the roosters next door weren’t awake.

United States Hot Air Balloon Team. Things to do near Hershey PA.

I’ll tell you what, man. When you say to people that you’re going on a hot air balloon ride, they think you’re crazy, or awesome. I’ll own up to being in the former category. Heights aren’t exactly my jam.  However, the staff, and pilots at the  United States Hot Air Balloon Team are pros, and their calm attitudes made me feel better. Plus, once you’re up there, it’s such a breathtaking, serene experience that you can’t help but soak it all in and appreciate it. I know some people might question bringing a little child on a hot air balloon ride. The United States Hot Air Balloon Team did assure me that they take children on flights ‘all of the time’. As well, the basket that we were in was almost as tall as J. She had to sit down, and look out of peep holes, to see out, as opposed to trying to look over the edge. Again, I’m slightly acrophobic, and I tend to be more overprotective, when it comes to J. I at no point felt that we were in any imminent danger while we were on our hour long hot air balloon ride, for what it’s worth.

United States Hot Air Balloon Team. Things to do near Hershey PA.

United States Hot Air Balloon Team. Things to do near Hershey PA.

The face of someone who is totally not scared to be 2000+ feet in the sky.

 

Zip lining, on the other hand, now that was a scary rush!

Roundtop Mountain Resort is a ski hill that is open year round, and offers a summer activities area called Roundtop Mountain Adventures. Located in Lewisberry, near Hershey PA, among the many fun things to do here is zip lining.  K, B and yours truly took a whirl down the 700′ long “Dual Zip Lines”. J was too small for these, but, luckily,  Roundtop Mountain Adventures has “Tree House Zips”, which are 100′ long lines, and more little kid appropriate (ages five and up).  I think she went on this six times, so, suffice to say, it was a hit!

Roundtop Mountain Resort. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Wheeeeeeee!

 

We received “Adventure Package” passes for the day. These give you unlimited access to all of the attractions in Roundtop Mountain Adventures. I’d recommend this as the way to go, if you and your family do make the trip. It’s enough to easily fill up most of a day. Besides zip lining,  the kids enjoyed the 600′ downhill super water slides .and the OGO balls.  I was digging their bumper boats, as it was an opportunity to smash into B and J, and squirt them in the face with water (but I say that as a loving dad)!

Roundtop Mountain Resort. Things to do near Hershey PA.

If ya don’t know what an OGO ball is, now ya know.

Little KJ was too small for that stuff, but he did enjoy the Woods Playground, which is full of things to climb, ride and play on. It’s surprisingly challenging in some parts.  I did have to navigate my way high up at one point, to rescue J, when she got lost.  Conversely, when I got lost in the nearby Cedar Maze, no one came to rescue me.

Roundtop Mountain Resort. Things to do near Hershey PA.

We gotta stop entrusting KJ with maps, to find the way.

 

Speaking of matters which needed to be saved, my sorry attempt at throwing out the best first pitch ever clearly needed a lot of assistance. Regardless, the rest of the Harrisburg Senators minor baseball game that we checked out was cool.  FNB Field where they play is uniquely located on an island (City Island). The stadium is also family friendly. For an added price, there’s a speed pitch cage, along with a kids’ zone section, with many inflatables and activities in it.

Harrisburg Senators. Things to do near Hershey PA.

 

I’ve mentioned before on here that the closest place to watch professional baseball for us is at the Rogers Centre, the complex where the Toronto Blue Jays play. It’s OK, but it just doesn’t beat the atmosphere and intimate experience of seeing a game in a ‘real’ ballpark.  The Harrisburg Senators also do a nice job with in-game entertainment to keep the vibe upbeat, and run numerous promotions during the season. Besides yours truly throwing out the first pitch, the other headliner (OK, OK, ONLY headliner) for our game was the Human Cannonball.  They also had a cheap craft beer special before the first pitch, which made me flattered when the server asked to see my ID when I ordered, but then confused me, when she wasn’t sure whether my Canadian driver’s license was acceptable or not (it was, so don’t worry, my fellow Canucks).

Harrisburg Senators. Things to do near Hershey PA.

 

Just like it’s impossible to talk about family fun things to do in and near Hershey PA without mentioning Hersheypark, it’s also really hard to talk about the city without mentioning the industry upon which the city is built on – chocolate!  My family of choco-maniacs did have plenty of opportunities to indulge. For instance, we made a return visit to Hershey Chocolate World. We’ve done the Chocolate Making Tour before, but since little KJ is old enough to appreciate it more, we rode that again. I  still can’t believe that it’s free, as it’s a neat, well-done ride (with a tasty sample at the end, to boot)!

We hadn’t watched the 4D Chocolate Movie before, and wow, that show was trippy, yo! An animated chocolate bar interacted live with us, between the action.  We “helped” solve the mystery of the movie.  The bar even used people in the audience’s names, while talking on screen! Having never experienced digital animation like this before,  my easily amused brain was very impressed.

Hershey Chocolate World. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Yes, I realize that this looks like a 90s kid band album cover.

 

As of this writing, the newest attraction at Hershey Chocolate World is Hershey’s Unwrapped: A Chocolate Tasting Journey. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was a really lively, engaging theatrical performance. My kids were engaged throughout, and followed the chocolate sensory instructions dutifully. They don’t even follow instructions at home dutifully. This attraction also comes with a souvenir kit, as a bonus.

 

Hershey Chocolate World. Things to do near Hershey PA.

 

The 4D Chocolate Movie and Hershey’s Unwrapped are both about 30 minutes long. On their own, the pricing is a tad on the high side, so I’d suggest bundling them up with one of the packages available, with other attractions, and making an outing out of going to Hershey Chocolate World, as opposed to going specifically for these only.

 

Hershey Chocolate World. Things to do near Hershey PA.

Don’t forget to check out the store there, too, for all of your hilariously oversized candy needs.

 

Not far from Hershey Chocolate World is another popular location, The Hershey Story Museum. The feeling that I got from visiting the city is that it is very proud of its history. The Hershey Story Museum showcases this in the Museum Experience, where you see how Milton Hershey went from a failed entrepreneur to chocolate kingpin and beyond.  My kids in particular liked the new, interactive kiosks, where they personalised a wooden coin at admissions, and used that at these kiosks to activate a little story about Mr. Hershey. Be sure not to miss the final one, too (no spoilers here).

 

Hershey Story Museum. Things to do near Hershey PA.

 

The highlight of the museum was the Chocolate Lab, a hands on workshop where you learn about the chocolate making process, and get to partake in some pouring and decorating.  Our lab consisted of making customized “beach bars”. KJ was too young for this experience, so K stayed behind with him, while I rolled up my sleeves with B and J. Don’t worry, we shared the finished results.

Hershey Story Museum. Things to do near Hershey PA.

I called my beach bar the Tropic Like Its Hot.

Final note. For accommodations, we were hosted at the newest hotel in Hershey, Tru by Hilton Hershey Chocolate Avenue.   Located about five minutes away from Hersheypark, it’s very bright, casual, modern, and reasonably priced. TVs and foosball tables liven up the lobby. For the buffet breakfast, there isn’t a designated area. You just grab a seat and hang out. In terms of rooms, this hotel is big on efficiency. There’s lots of storage space (ie. racks), but the rooms are smallish.  We were on the go a lot during our trip, and were only really there at nights to sleep. It wasn’t a huge deal, but the room was a bit cramped for the five of us, when we were in it.  For other sized families, I can see this as not being a problem, however.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There you have it.  Hopefully, this will help you enjoy the Hershey and Harrisburg PA area as much as we did. Until the next one, peace!

 

 

Note: My family was hosted by Visit Hershey and Harrisburg as part of a press trip, which included passes to many of the places mentioned. Opinions expressed are my own, as always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Reclining Seats Are Trouble

To recline or not to recline. This is the age old question that has divided travellers on planes since the, uh, inception of reclining chairs on planes. Recently, however, that debate has crossed over into other facets of life where extra comfort is an option. Take movie theatres, for example. Some of them are equipped with reclining seats that let you lean back like you’re Fat Joe in 2004. And I use movies as an example, because, recently, I found myself smack dab in the middle of the reclining seat debate.

The scene was the local Cineplex, during the opening weekend of Avengers: Endgame. B and I had purchased tickets beforehand, and the theatre was jammed pack. In front of us was a man, with three boys. Irrelevant detail – the man kind of looked like the Trivago Guy. Second irrelevant detail – the man had a giant bottle of fancy water, which he clearly bought at a grocery store beforehand.

As the movie was about to start, a group of kids filtered in with some adult chaperones, who were all there for a birthday party.  They weren’t especially quiet, so the man in front of us took it upon himself to loudly yell at them about how noisy they were. The same message probably could have been conveyed politely, and not so rudely, but I digress. Anyway, not long after, the man decided to recline his seat.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve been to a Cineplex with recliners, but you can get a pretty good lean on, and this guy had a nice one going. He was in front of B, but if he was in front of me, he would have squished my legs. B seemed pretty chill, though, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. The man spent the rest of the movie in varying degrees of recline. At one point, it almost looked like he was in a rocket ship during takeoff (OK, I’m exaggerating, but you get the point). Again, though, B was fine with it.  I did try to recline once, too, but I immediately felt a knee behind me, so I propped back up.

B was cool, but he also was fidgety. It’s a looooong movie, after all. While adjusting in his seat, I did see him once, accidentally, kick Fat Joe’s, err, I mean Trivago Guy’s, err, I mean the reclining man’s seat lightly. The man didn’t say anything, but I told B to watch his feet, and not kick his seat. Even though his leg space was severely hampered, that was the polite, well-mannered thing to do. It wasn’t like we could move to another seat, either, as every one was filled.

Flash forward to the end of the movie. I saw B accidentally kick the seat again, while Rocket Man was getting ready for takeoff  as the man was reclined far back. The man then whipped around, and yelled at B to stop kicking his seat.

If this happened to you, and your child, what would you do?

Instead of kicking his seat,  kick him!

Uh, I guess that’s an option, but not what I chose.

See, I was really annoyed. He could have just asked B politely, to stop.  When it comes to kids, and there is an issue, I tend to take it up with the parents. If this man channelled his inner Hulk and just had to rage about the incidental kicking, he easily could have yelled at me instead. Snapping on B in this case seemed kind of bully-ish. Regardless, B did not deserve to be yelled at, in my opinion.

In the ‘to recline or not to recline’ debate, the main argument for reclining is that, hey, you paid for the seat, so you can sit however you want in it. If other people aren’t comfortable, too bad. The thing is, though, to misuse Newton’s Third Law, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you choose to recline so far back in your seat that you are compromising the person behind you, then there will probably be some kind of consequence. Knowing that, are you really in any position to get upset at the resulting consequence? Dude is all up on B’s spot, so B can barely move without touching his seat, so dude gets mad that B touched his seat? To quote The Nappy Roots – awnaw, hell naw!

Sensing a confrontation going bad, and not wanting to miss the end of Endgame, I waited until the movie was over, to approach the man. He ducked into the washroom, which B had to use, too, so I waited there, near his group of boys, until he re-emerged. When he did, I basically told him, sternly, that he spent the whole movie leaned far back into B, and he had no right to yell at him for kicking his seat accidentally. He, wasn’t having it (shocker), and started to yell (More yelling? Double shocker) about how he wasn’t that far back, and that B and I didn’t have any manners, unlike his kids.  I walked away as he raged on and on.  I said my piece, but he didn’t get it, and I didn’t want to make the news over some pettiness.

source: https://www.fodey.com/generators/newspaper/snippet.asp

 

So what are the takeaways here? Well, for one, until reclining seats are abolished, I guess it’s is on us to know the etiquette in using them, and to be aware of the effects on those behind you.  I personally think that, if movie theatres, planes or wherever are going to be equipped with them, then the space in between the rows needs to be bigger, to not take away someone’s leg space. Clearly, this isn’t practical or realistic, but a dreamer’s gotta dream, right? Finally, based on my own informal research among some parenting peers, screaming at someone else’s child is a big no-no.  Whatever side of the ‘to recline or not to recline’ argument you choose, and even if you think the man in front of us was justified in being mad at B, yelling at a stranger’s kid over something trivial is a real prick move.

Speaking of prick moves, B told me that, while in the bathroom,  after our Trivago Guy-looking friend relieved himself,  he washed his hands. However, instead of drying them, he shook them off, shamelessly spraying water droplets onto B and a couple of other people. Now on that, I hope  we can all agree, no debate……

That’s just gross and ignorant.

 

Later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

PART 3: That Time When I Tried To Go To Disney World For Free By Being On a TV Game Show

And now, the exciting conclusion to the best trilogy since Lord Of The Rings! Well,  not the best, but it’s probably not the worst. Maybe. I don’t know.

Anyway, at the end of part two, B and I were heading out the door from our backup contestants gig on Just Like Mom And Dad. The casting director then gave us a silver lining, for my master plan of getting a free trip to Disney World.  She mentioned that one of the contestants for the final taping had been in an accident. Thus, they were touch and go on availability. She then asked if B and I were available to be backup contestants again.  We agreed.

Two days later, she called me. The other contestant was out.

B and I were in for sure!

For the love of Epcot, Could my plan actually work?!

Leading up to the taping, B and I were very confident. Remember, we had the added advantage of seeing two episodes, so we knew what was to be expected.  B’s biggest worry was the plane ride that went with winning the trip (from his newfound flying fear). I was only concerned with coming as across as interesting, but not “go-viral” interesting. You know what I mean. No one wants to be that person on the game show who says or does something so ridiculous that the world thinks you’re an idiot.

Finally, the big day was here. On arrival, we were led to a dressing room, with the other two teams.  The casting directors hung out with us the whole time. I’ll admit to being nervous, but they really lightened the mood. We all practised our intros and anecdotes, which put me at ease. The banter with the show’s hosts, Kylee and Sandy,  was where I felt that I would fail the most, but since I had some talking points ready, I was solid. We met wardrobe and makeup people, and got mic’d up as well.  Our competition for the day, a mother/daughter and dad/son duo, with the kids being close to B’s age, were all nice and personable.

Word to Drake, nice for what, though? While they would make for good TV, my eye was on the prize. Disney World would soon be mine for the taking.

SHOWTIME!

We were led out of the room, and down a hall. I felt like a UFC fighter, making that walk out from the back, to the cage. Just full of nervous excitement, especially as I got to the stage, under the bright lights, and stared out into all of the cameras and people in the crowd.
After we did our introductions, the game was on.  It was time for the kid’s round. The parents were escorted to a soundproof room, and given radios with headphones, to avoid hearing what was going on in the studio.

Eventually, we were brought back.  First up for me, was a question about what B would do if he wasn’t playing basketball. Going along with our sports shtick, I said baseball. B, however, answered video games. Not an ideal start.

Next was a question about what subject in school B was least excited about.

Now, I knew that B loved math and was good at it. However, less than two days prior, B told us that he hated math. So using the “what have you done for me lately?” logic, I said math. Boom!

Wait, no boom. I was wrong. B said social studies. He loves math. Oops!

The kids were then led to the soundproof room, as it was parent question time.

As the hosts bantered with the other contestants, I ran through what I was going to say, in my head, like we rehearsed. Easy, peasy. So of course, when Sandy came over, he asked me an out of the blue question about my soap box derby career as a child. WTF?!

I guess, in the audition process, I had mentioned this. Completely caught off guard, I rambled and babbled to Sandy until he mercifully pulled the plug and asked what  kind of fish B would be.

B isn’t exactly aquatically inclined, so I said a shark. Is a shark a fish even? Like Laurel vs. Yanny, it’s all about interpretation. The judges said it was, so my answer was locked in.

For the next round of questions, I tried to remember what the heck else I said in the interview process, but I was drawing blanks. Kylee then came over, and proceeded to say “We understand that you love Kanye West.”

I know, I know, y’all. Trust me, I know.  You gotta remember, this show was taped in October. Kanye’s a polarizing figure, but I do like his music, which I had  mentioned during the audition. Recently, however, Yeezy said some highly controversial, incendiary stuff. Stuff that infuriated a lot of people, especially in the black community.   So, yes, as things are at peak “everyone hates Kanye” levels, there was at least one brother on TV happily saying that he loves Kanye – me. While not quite game show fail montage-worthy, it was still pretty cringeworthy. From now on, if people ask who my favorite musical artist is, I’m just going to keep it safe and say Pentatonix.

Guess I better see them in concert, if I’m a true fan.

Anyway, Kylee asked a mulitple choice question about Mr. West, with one of the answers being underwear. B’s finds undies funny, so I went with that.

When the kids came back, B got the first question wrong. He even questioned whether a shark was actually a fish. He also, unrelated, is on Team Yanny.   Regardless, for those keeping track, that’s still zero points for your boys. The only saving grace was that the other teams weren’t doing so hot, either. On the last question, we avoided the embarassing shutout, as B nailed the underwear question. Going into the bake-off, we were in first place!

The kids had made their 60 second recipes earlier, while we were away in the soundproof area. Oatmeal cookies ala child-trying-to-make-their-parents-barf was on the menu. We had 30 seconds to try each cookie, and then at the end, we had to hold up a number indicating which cookie was our kids. Not gonna lie, them biscuits were nasty. Very uncookie-like, with weird textures and flavour combinations. As part of my non-viral thing, I wanted to play it cool. This turned out to be impossible.  Those cookies were gross, son. I was gagging and having trouble swallowing. Longest 30 seconds ever!

B had said on multiple occasions, and even during the audition, that he wanted to make something really spicy. One of the cookies had some kick to it, so I guessed that one. At least the food at Disney World was tasty, from what I’ve heard, so this disaster would soon be worth it.

On the big reveal, the first contestants guessed right, putting them in first place. The second pair was wrong.  It all came down to me! Disney dreams hanging on the outcome, I held up 2.

The answer was 3.

We lost.

While I was happy for the winning team, since they were really nice people, I was super bummed.  Then insult got added to injury. The winning duo spun the wheel…..and landed on the Sunwing trip, just as I had knew it would since the day that I came up with my plan. As the crowd went nuts, confetti rained down on the celebrating victors. A great moment for them, no doubt. For me, not so much.  I felt like a UFC fighter who went five rounds, toe to toe, winning the fight on the score cards, but then got knocked with five seconds left in the last round. So close, and yet so far. The dream was officially deader than Mufasa in the Lion King.

OR WAS IT?!

Nah, for real this time, it was over.

And that’s the story of  when I tried to go Disney World for free by going on a game show.

My seemingly ridiculous scheme didn’t work out, but I was one number away from pulling it off. Feel free to keep that in mind the next time someone tells you that one of your ideas sucks! Also,  B and I had an unforgettable, memorable adventure together. I’m proud of the lil dude, and that’s worth more than any vacation (at least, that’s what I keep telling myself).  I really can’t say enough good things about all of the  JLMAD crew, too. Making a TV show is a tough job, especially when dealing with unpredictable little kids, but everyone was always positive and cordial. Finally, B didn’t walk away empty-handed. He got a cool hockey prize pack, along with some other swag:

For those wondering, Just Like Mom And Dad is currently casting for season two! You can apply here.

Now, if you can excuse me, I’m off to go listen to some Pentatonix. Maybe they got some Disney-themed songs.  Later, y’all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART 2: That Time When I Tried To Go To Disney World For Free By Being On A TV Game Show

Welcome back!

At the end of part one, my Disney dreams had been crushed like Anna’s spirit when Elsa told her to go away while she sang “Do You Want To Build a Snowman”.  My plan of getting onto Just Like Mom And Dad, winning it, then spinning the prize wheel and landing on a trip to Disney was kiboshed, as we didn’t get picked to be on the show. At the end of the crushing call from the casting director, though, a Tinkerbell-sized glimmer of hope emerged.  B and  I were given the opportunity to be back-up contestants at a taping!

This was apparently standard procedure in the biz. They would film two episodes, so six teams of contestants. If, for whatever reason, one person got sick, or chickened out, or whatever, B and I would be on the show. All we had to do was come “camera ready” and watch both tapings from the audience.   They’d also give us a small stipend, and feed us lunch, since we were part of the “crew.” B was disappointed, but relieved (because of his newfound flying over water fear) with not being picked. Being a back-up was fine with him, though, so we agreed to do it.

Not wanting to be caught off-guard if we got selected, B and I spent quite a bit of time grilling each other beforehand.  If the new show’s format was like the old one, then we had to know each other well. We were definitely sixth man worthy, in the chance that we had to be called in off of the bench.

 

On the big day, we were told to arrive early, and hang out “backstage”, seperate from the contestants. Eventually, the audience members also arrived. Soon after, one of the crew let me know that the contestants were good to go for the first episode being taped. Oh well. Studio audience it was, for us.

When we entered into the studio, I was impressed. I pictured the set being 80s vintage-style, but it was actually very fancy, modern and bright.

We weren’t allowed to take pix, but this gives you an idea of my vantage point. Photo credit: Just Like Mom And Dad

My eyes drifted towards the prize wheel, where I immediately noticed a problem.  While full of amazing prizes……one of them wasn’t a trip to Disney! There was only a Sunwing vacation listed. Since it didn’t specify where to, I just assumed Disney most likely was a destination option. #keepthedreamalive

The taping itself was surprisingly long. There were lots of gaps and re-takes, to get things looking and sounding right. The contestants were great, though. They were mostly charismatic, with outgoing personalities. I understood why my sarcastic, mumble-rapping without the rapping self didn’t get picked. B was digging it, and told me later that he really wanted to be on the show now. I did, too, after seeing it. It looked fun. We had one more chance, for us to have a moment in the spotlight.

When the first taping was over, B and I grabbed lunch with the crew, then played the waiting game again. After the audience arrived for the next taping, I crossed my fingers that one of the contestants might bail.

No dice. Everyone was good to go.

Back to the audience for us.

Half-way through, the proceedings came to a grinding stop. One of the little girl contestants was quickly taken away! Was she sick? Did she bail? We didn’t know. All I knew was that it might happen. We might have to go on the show!

 

 

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The girl just had to go to the washroom. B and I watched from the audience when she returned, somewhat dejectedly.

When the taping was over, we had to hang backstage before we could bounce, to receive our stipend. The casting director eventually brought it to us, and walked us out. She thanked us for our time. Word to Boyz II Men, because that was the end of the road for us. A free trip to Disney was not in our future.

OR WAS IT?!

 

Be sure to check out the grand finale, part three!

 

 

PART 1: That Time When I Tried To Go To Disney World For Free By Being On A TV Game Show

The awkwardly worded title is pretty self-explanatory. So settle in, as have I got a story for you!

See, it all started last summer. While scrolling through Facebook one day, I saw a post about a casting call for a new game show, Just Like Mom And Dad (JLMAD), being filmed in Toronto.

 

Curious, I discovered that it was actually a remake of an 80s game show, Just Like Mom.  Basically, the premise was three teams of moms and their kids would answer questions about each other for two rounds, and get points for every correct answer.  The final round then involved a bake-off, where the kids would make some nasty concoction in 60 seconds (ie. brownies made with pickles), which the moms would eat. The moms then had to guess which one their kids made, and received points if they were right. Whichever team got the most total points won. The winning kid would then get to spin a big wheel of prizes, with the grandest prize being………………a trip to Disney Land!

Ahh, Disney. The most magical place on Earth. Or, so I’ve been told, anyway, as I had never been before.  And for real, it wasn’t even on my radar of must-see destinations, until recently. B and J are both now at the point where their peers will go on a Disney vacation, and come back to revel them about its awesomeness. Since monkey see, monkey do, B and J had started making more noise about wanting to go to Disney World. That’s all fine and dandy, except that Disney World ain’t exactly cheap. It would require saving up for a long time, to afford a trip.

So that was my situation on that fateful day of googling JLMAD.  As such, I came up with a brilliant plan:

I would get my family a free trip to Disney World by winning Just Like Mom And Dad!

 

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Mike, you dummy. That’s the dumbest plan ever.  You have a better chance of winning the lottery than of making it onto the show, winning it, then having your kid spinning the wheel and landing on the Disney trip!

However, in my scheming little head, I figured the fastest way to see Mickey Mouse in the flesh would be to win the lottery. The odds of appearing on and winning JLMAD had to be way better than that, right?

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to applying I go!

B met the age requirement, so he would be my partner in crime. Now, I have never been on TV before.  However, based on years of sitting on my butt watching it, I know that the best contestants on game shows/reality shows have a trait that comes across easily to viewers.  They’re the villian, or the girl next door, or the meathead, or the promiscuous one (What? You don’t watch Jeopardy and wonder who the biggest freak is?) etc. They have something.  As such,  I gambled that JLMAD wanted people with a gimmick, so I came up with one: B’s a funny, wild, little basketball loving jock, and I’m his bemused father.

This was the truth anyway, but I hammered the point home in the application.  The make or break part was the video that JLMAD wanted submitted, of the applicants. Instead of filming us saying something cheesy and unnatural (since B and I are horrible at being unnaturally cheesy), I sent this montage:

 

 

 

After I clicked submit, I started to pack our bags, since we would soon be Florida-bound.

Just kidding.

But the next day, I did get a call from the casting director. She really loved the trick shot video, and asked us to come in for an audition!

We booked an audition for a few weeks later. However, in the meantime, a slight problem came up. For some reason, B developed a fear of flying over water. A plane ride to Orlando from Toronto would probably go over the ocean at some point. Winning a trip to Disney World was a hard no for him now, unless the option was to drive there.  He still wanted to try out, though.

Yes, I realize B and I were clearly counting our eggs before they hatched.

On the day of the audition, driving down, we had no idea what to expect. I prepped B by reminding him to talk eloquently and constantly about sports.   On arrival, the initial process involved B and I discussing the application, with one of the casting people. B, to his credit/discredit, bragged about his athletic prowess, as I kind of looked at him funny.

Next, we went to a small TV studio. It was set up as a play area, full of toys. While there, B and I were filmed answering various questions, which I guess were to be submitted to the TV executives in charge of the show.   Believe it or not, trying to sound cool in front of a group of strangers while being videoed ain’t easy. We were then split up.  B was taken to be interviewed off-camera, as I was filmed trying to complete a fun challenge.  We then switched.

Yo, I fully admit to bombing the interrogation, dude. I didn’t have anything interesting to say about myself, off the top of my dome.  Nonetheless, B sounded confident in his performance afterwards, so I was still optimistic that we would be on top of Splash Mountain soon enough.

About a month later, the call came, from the casting director. The TV execs loved our audition……but they loved a lot more, too. We didn’t get selected to be on the show.

The Disney dream was over.

 

OR WAS IT?!

Head on over to part two, peeps.

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