Tag: travel blogger

The Definitive Guide To Splash Lagoon

Splash Lagoon Erie PA

 

Believe it or not, I’m Canadian…but I hate the winter.  Some people love dealing with that cold, numbing feeling of the wind chill hitting your face. I’m not one of them. Escaping potential frostbite to go somewhere warm and sunny isn’t really in the cards, either. Luckily, however, there are places not far from me (or anyone else in the Greater Toronto Area)  to temporarily get away for some summer-like fun. Places like Splash Lagoon  in Erie, PA!

 

 

What is Splash Lagoon?

 

Splash Lagoon is an indoor, Polynesian-themed waterpark, located in Erie, PA. At 80,000 square feet, it’s one of the biggest indoor waterparks in the USA. It’s full of aquatic activities (and more) for people of all ages, set to a tropical theme/design.

 

 

GETTING THERE

 

Erie, Pennsylvania is located about two hours southwest from the Niagara Falls border (or the comparable indoor waterpark to Splash Lagoon in Niagara, Great Wolf Lodge). This worked out to a three hour drive for us. When travelling with three small kids, this is about as good as it gets, time-wise, for a road trip. It’s almost doable in one drive, without having to stop for bathroom breaks. Also, you can schedule it so that you can hit the road after a meal at home, negating the need to stop for food along the way. Just throw on The Irishman for them to watch, and by the time that it’s almost over, you’ll be there (note: that was joke. I do not advise showing The Irishman to little children).

 

 

staying there

 

I mentioned Great Wolf Lodge earlier, because that is more of the go-to waterpark destination, for families in my region.  My family has stayed at Great Wolf Lodge several times before, so I will say that Splash Lagoon is different, but in a good way.

The experience at Great Wolf Lodge is pretty immersive, as everything at the resort, from the hotel rooms on-site, to the waterpark, to the decor, to the  games and restaurants, all have the same kind of nature-y, rustic theme. The thing is, though, that you really pay for the immersiveness, as an overnight visit can be quite pricey.  You also can’t easily obtain day passes only, to visit the park.  If you want to get your swim on, you gotta get your sleep on there, too.

Splash Lagoon, on the other hand, is its own standalone place. However, it has three hotels connected to it: Holiday Inn Express, Comfort Inn and Hawthorn Inn & Suites. These have stay and play package deals which include passes to Splash Lagoon. The good thing about these, of course, is that you can stroll from your hotel room to Splash Lagoon in just your Speedo, without having to set foot outside in the frosty winter elements (note: that was a joke. I do not condone unwanted Speedo strolls. Think of the kids, people). If these don’t float your boat, a few of the nearby hotels also offer overnight package deals, and include a shuttle service Splash Lagoon, too.  Then, if none of these are appealing for whatever reason, you are able to just buy day passes to Splash Lagoon, and stay somewhere else .

 

Holiday Inn Express Erie PA

 

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Erie PA, which is the closest hotel, proximity-wise, to Splash Lagoon.  Our stay was complimentary, but the rates online for a stay package were more affordably priced than Great Wolf Lodge.  Our room was suitably clean and tidy. Breakfast was included, too. With a family of five, anytime that you have one less meal to worry about is always nice.

One more thing. The Peace Bridge Duty Free store, near the Canadian border, also promotes Splash Lagoon overnight deals, that seemed to be very reasonable, so keep an eye out there, too, when booking  a stay.

 

 

playing there (water)

 

Alright, now let’s get to the wet and wild stuff! Over two days, my family experienced  almost every attraction. Instead of a typical Splash Lagoon review, though, I’ll break them down for you, by age appeal and appropriateness. And yes, Splash Lagoon does have life jackets on-site, don’t worry.

 

Splash Lagoon review

 

 

 

For KJ Sized kids (re: babies and little kids)

Monkey Shines Island

This play area is in a shallow pool, with seven small slides scattered around it, which have a 48″ maximum height requirement. KJ could go down these by himself, but I still had to hang out at the bottom, to catch him.  Some parents took their kids down them on their laps, as an option. There’s also a tipping bucket in this area, and “showers”, as KJ called them.

Adventure Bay

Adventure Bay is a big pool with basketball nets and balls, along with lily pads to jump on (which were off limits when we were there).  While more suited for all ages, little kids can still have fun here, in life jackets, with parents nearby, I think. B and J both commented that the water was colder in Adventure Bay than other areas of the park.  Hoops-loving B could have stayed there the whole time, regardless, challenging random kids to one on one games, like he was at the aquatic version of Rucker Park.

Wild Water Waves Pool

Billed as “the largest indoor wave pool in the Eastern United States”, Wild Water Waves Pool was a hit with my fam. Again, while more suited for all ages, KJ did enjoy bobbing up and down on the waves, some of which got pretty big!

 

Splash Lagoon Erie PA

Underwater selfies in a wave pool are hard!

 

The Frog Pond 

The Frog Pond is an area with a whirlpool for the family to relax in, and leapfrog fountains for little kids to splash around on.  It’s kind of tucked away in a corner, behind the Tree Tops Ropes Course. Not gonna lie, because we didn’t try the ropes course, I didn’t notice the Frog Pond, so we never went in it.  #planningfail

The Lava Pool

This is a small pool, with “lava” for kids to play in. Again, not gonna lie, I assumed that it was a hot tub, and didn’t stop to go in. J checked it out, though, with K, and reported back, in her words “the water was not deep, and  it was hot, and there were benches nearby, and it was relaxing.”

 

For B and J SIZED kids (re: big kids)

Tiki Tree House

This is located in the middle of Splash Lagoon, and is a featured attraction. It’s four stories high, with activities like water cannons, and a giant tipping bucket. I’m not sure why, but the Tiki Tree House didn’t seem as good as it probably normally is, during our stay. Some things were not functional, or were barricaded.  If fully operational, it appears to be a blast, but I can’t vouch for it, based on our experience.

The Lazy River

This is just as it sounds. Grab a tube, alone or with your kid, and lazily float around the river. It’s a decent size, so you can do a few laps without taking up too much time. Minimal congestion, too, which is sometimes an issue with these things.

WARNING: if you have a mischievous daughter like mine, she will probably steer you towards the waterfall, where you will get splashed worse than a basketball net after a Steph Curry versus Klay Thompson three point contest. I suggest singing the chorus to TLC’s ‘Wateralls’ to alleviate any potential soaking (note: that was a joke. You should obviously sing TLC’s Creep, instead).

 

Things To Do in Erie PA

Thumbs up to TLC song references outta nowhere!

 

 

Big Kahuna

This is a big, curvy water slide that actually goes outside for part of it.  It’s for single or double riders with a tube, with a minimum 36″ height requirement. Children 36″-42″ tall, like J, had to slide with an adult, though.

Python Plunge

Python Plunge is similar in thrillness to the Big Kahuna, and it has the same restrictions and tube requirement, too (though this one is a lot of fun with two riders).

Shark Attack

This is a single person body slide, minimum 36″ height requirement.  It feels like you’re going pretty fast, and it’s another slide that takes you outside for part of it.  The lineup for this water slide was a bit confusing. It’s located beside the Big Kahuna, and I noticed a lot of people were standing in the line for that because they didn’t realize that the line for Shark Attack was separate.  In B and I’s case, we made that mistake initially before noticing, once we got to the top, that there weren’t actually any people in line for Shark Attack, so we went right on.

Black Hole

This was J’s personal favorite. From the top of the Tiki Tree House, the whole water slide is in complete darkness.  Single riders only, no tube, minimum height requirement of 36″.

Maui Wowie

Maui Wowie is a bit of a quickie single rider slide, no tube. It shoots you down and around the sharp, sudden turns pretty fast. 36″ height requirement.

Cyclone

B’s fav because, in part, of the toilet bowl effect of going round and round before being flushed out into a pool below. For single or double riders with a tube, with a minimum 36″ height requirement. Children 36″-42″ tall gotta ride with a grownup.

Hurricane Hole

This is like the Cyclone, if the Cyclone was on Red Bull energy drinks. A bit more extreme, as it’s for tubeless single riders, which means you go faster, and end up in a deep pool. For people 48″ and up, who are strong enough swimmers to swim out of the deep pool at the end.

for DA GROWNUPS

There’s a bar upstairs called Island Oasis Bar.

What?

Stay thirsty, my friends.

 

extra playing there

 

All of the above attractions are included in your day pass admission. If you want to spend a few more bucks, Splash Lagoon has some other fun ways to take your money. The aforementioned Tree Tops Ropes Course, for example, costs $7 per person. It’s three stories high,  of various climbing challenges, for kids and adults (36″ and taller).  $7 will also get you a spin on the Aqua Tumbler, a giant inflatable ball that loops you around and shoots water at you while you’re in it.

Upstairs from the park is an arcade. It has a decent selection of games, with the usual selection of prizes to be won when winning tokens at said games.  One unique feature, though, was the Hologate Virtual Reality game, which cost $8/person, and looked pretty interesting.

If you’re like my family, you can expect to spend $20 at the arcade, for the joy of watching your kids win about $1 worth of tokens, which they will then argue about because they want to each cash it in for a different toy. B played one of those claw pickup games, and somehow ended up winning so much candy that even Milton Hershey would have been like “dang, homey”.

Splash Lagoon review

Spoiler: We did not win 100 tickets on this spin.

 

Things to do in Erie PA

 

During our trip, The FlowRider, a wave simulation ride similar to ones seen  at other theme parks,  was not  operational.

 

 

eating there

 

You are not allowed to bring outside food to Splash Lagoon. However, there is a restaurant on site called Laguna Grill. It serves the expected theme park foods like burgers, pizza and chicken fingers.  One kind of odd thing was the ice cream stand. It’s nearby to the Laguna Grill, but to order a cone, you have to place the order at Laguna Grill, and then go to the stand to get your order. However, there was never anyone working at the stand, so you had to wait for someone who wasn’t busy at the grill to come over to scoop your order. K and the kids actually waited a half hour for an order that we placed (it was really good ice cream, admittedly, and almost worth the wait).

 

 

Hooch and Blotto’s Sports Bar& Grill is also connected to Splash Lagoon, and it’s a great place to go for a change of pace of the waterpark. While we didn’t partake in any food,  the menu was pretty tasty looking, and there was nice selection of craft beers featured, which I may have had one or two of. We did hit hit up the lanes there one night, to play some bowling. No shoe rentals required, and small balls with bumpers in the lanes available, so it was very kid-friendly. At the end, though, you might leave the prohibition-themed restaurant with the same thing on your mind as B did: what’s with all the moustaches?

 

 

Beyond these options, there are several restaurants a couple of minute’s drive away. Because, as I have noted before on here, we are kind of suckers for chains that aren’t near us, we went to Applebee’s one evening. It was delicious. Come to Hamilton, Ontario, Applebee’s. Sheesh.

 

applebee's erie pa

Who goes to Applebee’s with their family and takes a picture of his oversized drink? This guy.

 

 

this, that and there

 

Some closing points about Splash Lagoon. Staying at the Holiday Inn Express did allow us to walk back and forth to the waterpark and our room swim-ready. However, I did duck my head into the change room on hand, and it looked really clean. The closeness also meant that we could just leave our stuff in the room. Otherwise, a locker might have been needed, which are available on the premise, for various prices. As an option, there was lots of tables and seating around, which people would claim by leaving their stuff on.

Towels, unfortunately, are not available, unless you want to buy them at the Surf Shop store upstairs, so you gotta bring your own.

Parking is free.

In terms of staff, everyone that I encountered was friendly, and helpful. There were  plenty of lifeguards on hand, too, at every attraction.

 

 

getting out AND ABOUT there

 

things to do in erie pa

 

I mentioned above about doing other stuff as a change of pace to Splash Lagoon. In terms of things to do in Erie,PA, it is a nice little city, with some cool options to keep you and your family busy, if you want to take a break from the water.

I loves me a good children’s museum (yes, even more so than my kids sometimes), so I, uh I mean we, really liked The expERIEnce Children’s MuseumLocated about 10 minutes away from Splash Lagoon, it’s three stories high, along with an outside play space.  Each floor focused on a different  play-inspiring theme: creativity, explore, and imagination. I  do think that it’s a bit more suited for smaller kids. B’s ten years old, and was more into goofing around with his brother and sister than most of the exhibits. However, J and KJ both had a lot of fun, especially on the imagination floor pretending to be doctors, grocery store clerks, and firefighters. The expERIEnce Children’s Musuem is definitely a nice place for kids to safely run around and blow off some steam, while learning a thing or two, in the process.

 

experience children's museum

 

 

 

experience children's musem

 

 

 

experience children's museum

Surprisingly, this wasn’t taken at Splash Lagoon.

 

 

 

If you want to blow off some steam, in the offline retail variety, Erie is also home to the MIllcreek Mall. It’s one of the largest mall complexes in the USA. Even with the Canadian dollar being where it’s at, there were some good deals to be had there, especially on clothing (there’s no sales tax on clothes in Pennsylvania, to boot).

 

Millccreek Mall

 

For the sports fan, Erie, Pennsylvania is also home to teams like the NBA G League’s Erie Bayhawks and the OHL’s Erie Otters. Neither were in town during our stay, unfortunately.

 

While we didn’t do a heck of lot of sightseeing and exploring in Erie, PA, what we did see and do was very worthwhile.  Splash Lagoon, in particular, was the obvious highlight. When it comes  to affordable road trip destinations where you can pretend to get away to somewhere tropical for a day or two,  put Splash Lagoon at the top of your list.

Until the next one, peace!

 

Disclosure:  though our accommodations and experiences during our stay were covered by Visit Erie, all opinions expressed are my own, as always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milwaukee – The Unexpectedly Cool Family Road Trip City

 

things to do in Milwaukee With Kids

 

 

Look, I get it. Milwaukee, Wisconsin doesn’t exactly scream family vacation destination. It’s a mid-sized Midwest city known for beer, bratwurst and cheese. How sexy is that? However, I read quite a bit about how internationally-born NBA Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo loved it there. If the Greek Freak, a man who’s been all over the world, and could basically play anywhere that he wanted, chose freakin’ Milwaukee,  then there must be more than meets the eye. For my family, I thought that it would make for, at the very least, an interesting road trip.  Turns out, there’s actually lots of fun things to do in Milwaukee with kids, and it’s one of the coolest cities that I’ve been to.

 

GETTING THERE

Now, truth be told, it was a long drive, for us. It involved going through one province, and four states, plus a different time zone. Including stops, each way took a good 11 hours. To keep the kids not at each other’s throats entertained, we pretty much brought more DVDs than an old Blockbuster Video store with us, for them to watch in the van, along with other devices and toys.  As Milwaukee is situated on the coast of Lake Michigan, our drive consisted of going around the lake, to get there.  A ferry called The Lake Express does depart from Muskegon, Michigan, and goes to Milwaukee. We looked into this, and while appealing, because it would have shaved hours off of the driving, it was fairly expensive, so we passed.

FAMILY FUN THINGS TO DO IN MILWAUKEE

Milwaukee is a big sports town. I couldn’t walk very far without seeing someone decked out in Bucks, Brewers or Green Bay Packers  apparel.  The aforementioned Giannis, in particular, seems to get a lot of love. While it wasn’t basketball season,  we did scope out the not-brand-new-but-still-has-that-new-arena-smell Fiserv Forum, where the Bucks play.

 

 

Our visit happened during the summer, so we were able to watch a Brewers game, at Miller Park.   The stadium is awesome, and is a great place to catch nine innings.

brewers home games

things to do in Milwaukee With Kids

Beyond that, though, the Brewers do a nice job with the extra stuff.  In case you or the little ones get bored, there are a couple of play areas in the park, for them to blow off some steam. One of them even has a mini version of the famous Bernie Brewer slide.   On Sundays (when we went), you can play catch in the outfield of the Field of Dreams-esque Helfaer Field, located beside Miller Park, before then game.  Then after the game, children can unleash their inner Christian Yelich, and run the bases on Miller Park’s field!

kids run the bases

History is also featured prominently. There’s a Walk of Fame and a Wall of Honor commemorating legendary Brewers figures. For you Bud Selig fans, he’s a featured attraction at Miller Park, complete with a statue, retired number, and a section dedicated to him called the Bud Selig Experience.

family fun in milwaukee

I’m more of a Hank Aaron fan myself.

 

Zoos are always a hit with our family, and the Milwaukee County Zoo was no exception.  It houses over 3100 (!!) creatures of the land, sea and sky, sprawled across 190 acres. Coming up with a game plan seemed daunting, but once we got going, it wasn’t bad at all. It was easy to navigate and not very strenuous to walk (re: so no complaints about tired legs from B, J or KJ).  The Milwaukee County Zoo also has some attractions like a carousel, Sky Safari, rope courses and a zip line on site, too (all for an added cost).  In addition, numerous opportunities exist to see some of the animals up close, throughout the zoo.

Milwaukee County Zoo

milwaukee county zoo

Milwaukee Kids Activities

I will admit to trying to cheat things a bit. We thought that if we took the Safari Train, then we could lap the park and see everything  quickly. Word of advice – don’t do this.  The train is a leisurely ride around the perimeter of the zoo, so you don’t get many glimpses of most of the crowd pleasing animals.

things to do in milwaukee with kids

Hey guys, if you squint, you can kind of see a monkey in the distance!

Another really fun thing to do in Milwaukee with kids is to go to Betty Brinn Children’s Museum.  This museum is home to numerous exhibits, some of which are seasonal, but all of which are interactively hands-on with learning elements. KJ and J really enjoyed the Home Town exhibit, because of all the pretend, make believe, role playing aspects to it.

Betty Brinn Children's Museum

KJ and J, puttin’ in dat work.

 

 

B spent a lot of time in the Big League Fun exhibit, putting his baseball abilities and knowledge to the test.

Betty Brinn Children's Museum

According to this simulation, B hit one home run 618 feet. The longest home run in MLB history, allegedly, was a 575 footer hit by Babe Ruth. Clearly, my nine year old son is better than Babe Ruth.

We barely scratched the surface of the other exhibits on hand (once my kids find stuff that they like, they tend to really like it), which was a shame, as they were all dope. Whereas my kiddos gravitated towards the ones mentioned, yours might like Science CITY more, for example.

Betty Brinn Children’s Museum was such a blast that I didn’t even realize how educational and skill-developing it was. I was too busy acting like a big kid with my kids. It even had an outdoor area, with  amazing #views of Milwaukee’s waterfront, for you selfie-loving Instaparents.

best things to do in milwaukee

 

 

Not far from Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is Discovery World. Focused mainly on technology and aquatic stuff, visiting here is another really fun thing to do in Milwaukee with kids. It’s a large, multi-level center, full of stations, labs and experiences, which appeal to the inner scientist and engineer of all ages.  Not only that, but it has an aquarium, as well, with a robust collection of interesting underwater animals to check out.

Discovery World Milwaukee

Discovery World Milwaukee
Due to the size and number of activities to do, it was hard to try everything; we were even there for a few hours! Our visit also happened to coincide with a tournament and some other event happening nearby, so finding parking was quite a challenge. Apparently, it can be even worse during bigger events, like Summerfest. However, Discovery World is the only place where my family “touched lightning”, lied on a bed of nails, gawked at a poisonous dart frog, and walked on a replica schooner while humming “I’m On a Boat” by the Lonely Island (Fine. The last one was all me). How cool is that?

things to do in Milwaukee with kids

Y’all thought I was joking about the bed of nails.

 

Discovery World is located on Milwaukee’s lakefront.  I was surprised at how beautiful this area is. It looked like a great location to hang out, or go for a ride along the shoreline, or,  as we noticed on the day that we were there anyway, get married and have the reception on a cruise ship.  Unrelated, but who knew that Milwaukee had such nice beaches?!

 

Eating and Drinking There

Make no mistake about it, Milwaukee is a beer lover’s dream. It’s not just a city of MGD drinkers, however. Milwaukee’s micro and craft beer scene is thriving. I’m sure this isn’t even remotely true, so don’t hold me to it as fact, but when exploring the town, it felt like there was a brewery on every corner, each with their own unique offerings. Many of the breweries offer tours,  too, with samplings. These obviously aren’t necessarily child friendly, though, so we didn’t partake in one while in search of family fun in Milwaukee. Regardless, whatever your taste is, you definitely won’t be hard-pressed to find good, satisfying suds anywhere during your travels

Walk Off Tripel beer, by MKE Brewing Co.

A city dubbed “The Beer Capital Of The World” having lots of beer in it is hardly a surprise. Conversely, Milwaukee’s culinary scene was pleasantly surprising.  Brats are a Wisconsin staple, and the sheer number of people grilling them up as they tailgated before and after the Brewers game that we went to was impressive. Cheese curds are another staple, and I had no idea that there were so many different ways to make them. Beyond these, the cuisine in the city stretches way beyond traditional Midwest fares. Cool, trendy-looking  restaurants to fill your belly are aplenty throughout the city.

For example, we went to Glass + Griddle one evening. It’s a large, open beer hall environment, with a bright, contemporary interior design. Picnic tables are one of the seating options on the premise which, if you’re with a large party, is actually kind of perfect.  The bar was huge, and as Glass + Griddle is located directly beside MKE Brewing Co., their beers are featured prominently (but not exclusively).  The food offered is more or less what you find at a gastropub. There was no kiddie menu, so, in terms of families, I’d probably recommended it as a place to go to while on the way to, or back from, somewhere, to grab a quick bite. We just picked a bunch of scrumptious apps and chowed down on those…..including, of course, cheese curds!

glass + griddle

 

One of the most fun places to go in Milwauakee to eat is SafeHouse. I think that I’d describe it as a spy-themed speakeasy. The secret entrance is located in an alley, and once you find it, you need to know the password to get in (don’t worry, you can still enter, but no spoilers how here). Once inside, the restaurant takes the espionage theme very seriously. The staff are all “agents”, and you’re referred to as an agent. If you wanted someone to call you Austin Powers with a straight face, then this is the spot for you. Spy memorabilia and decor fill the walls; the menu is littered with spy references, too.  You can even partake in a scavenger hunt, where you’re encouraged to walk around and find all of the hidden surprises scattered throughout the building.  Stopping by the magic bar is encouraged, because, well, magicians rule, and the one at SafeHouse was really entertaining.  The food was alright, but, as one of Milwaukee’s hot spots, SafeHouse is the type of place where you go to soak in the unique experience.

SafeHouse Milwauakee

A covert photo-op mission completed.

Another unique, diverse food destination that we checked out was the Milwaukee Public Market. This is an indoor food market located downtown, which houses many local vendors who offer a wide range of freshly-produced products. We went during breakfast, so we didn’t get to divulge in some of the tasty looking lunch/dinner options. However, I’ll vouch for the smoothies from On The Bus, the big cookies from C. Adam’s Bakery, the coffee from Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co.  and the breakfast tacos from Margerita Paradise as all being outstanding.

Milwaukee Public Market

Milwaukee Public Market

 

Milwaukee does has lots of more traditional restaurants. Our favorite was Blue’s Egg. From what I’m told, this is a very popular breakfast/brunch joint, so the wait time to get in sometimes can be long. However, we experienced no delay, when we went. The food is American-style, with their own twist on things. The portion sizes were generous, and delicious. The stuffed hash browns came highly recommended, and for good reason! Not only that, but the service, no joke, was the best that I’ve ever had at a restaurant, above and beyond what you’d normally expect.  Blue’s Egg exceeded the hype, for sure.

Blue's Egg

Stuffed hash browns FTW!

 

BEING THERE, SEEING THERE

 

During our trip, we stayed at The Hyatt Place Milwaukee Downtown.    It’s very contemporary, and our room was bright, clean and comfortable. As a basketball fan, I found the subtle hoop themes in the lobby to be especially cool.

You can tell that downtown is experiencing a resurgence, as many buildings and areas are new, or have undergone changes to be more fresh and hip. The best example of this is Fiserv Forum, which I mentioned earlier. It’s the central point of Deer District, a revitalised neighbourhood that is one of the city’s best sports and entertainment destinations (it also happened to be a short stroll away from our hotel).

 

giannis antetokounmpo

Giannis the Greek Freak, larger than life!

Marquette University is also located near downtown, so pockets of neighbourhoods had a youthful buzz about them, if that makes sense.  Harley Davidson’s headquarters are in Milwaukee  (there is even a Harley Davidson Museum, in town),  so, coincidentally or not, I did notice all kinds of different folks cruising along on Harleys.  Alternatively, it appeared that the electric scooter trend has taken the town by storm, as lots of people were zipping around on them.

Travelling around downtown Milwaukee wasn’t too bad, in terms of accessibility. Lots of stuff was withing walking distance, or a short drive (or scooter ride) away. Even getting over to Miller Park can be simplified. Several of the restaurants in the Deer District offered a shuttle bus service to games, where if you go and pre-drink, you can take the bus to the game, and it will pick you up afterwards (for the price of a tip to the driver). We took advantage of this service at The Mecca Sports Bar And Grill.  The best part was that the driver acted as a de facto tour guide along the way, giving us the lowdown on some landmarks, as well as the head’s up on which parts of the city to avoid after dark.

 

THE WRAP UP

Don’t sleep on Milwaukee, my dudes. It’s not just another stereotypical, industrial, Midwestern city. Milwaukee is culturally diverse, artsy, random and eclectic, with a really chill vibe about it.  It’s an unexpectedly vibrant place to check out with the family, full of stuff for you and them to enjoy.

 

 

#visitmke

 

Note: We were hosted by Visit Milwaukee for this trip, and many of the destinations discussed were complimentary in nature to us. All opinions expressed are my own, as always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trippin’ – Winter Fun in Cooperstown, New York!

 

things to do in cooperstown ny winter

When I think of Cooperstown, New York, I think of one thing – baseball.  Similar to how Augusta, Georgia is revered by golf aficionados, baseball fans like yours truly hold Cooperstown in the highest esteem. As such, many people flock there in the summer, especially during the Hall of Fame induction festivities. However, being so closely tied to a summer pastime does pose an interesting  question- what the heck goes on in Cooperstown, after the bases are put away, and the diamonds are cleared up for the season? Fortunately for my family and I, we were able to find out the answer to that question, when my friends at This Is Cooperstown invited us down for a fun-filled almost winter weekend! Turns out there are plenty of things to do in Cooperstown in the winter!

Regular readers know that we love road trippin’, and Cooperstown was a perfect destination. To my fellow Canucks in the Hamilton/Toronto area – our drives there and back each took about five hours, with stops. Upon arrival, it becomes apparent quickly how unique a place Cooperstown is. It’s a small village, nestled at the end of a lake, basically. The downtown area has one stoplight. There’s only one grocery store in town. Main Street is lined with restaurants, shoppes and the Hall of Fame, but you can’t exactly drive very fast down it.  I kind of felt like that I was in Stars Hollow, actually, and expected to bump into Rory or Lorelai Gilmore at any time. I don’t mean that to throw shade; I love Gilmore Girls. I’m just sayin’, picture Stars Hollow with a baseball focus, and that’s Cooperstown.

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

This Joltin Joe Dimaggio song is now on my daughter’s playlist of favorite songs, no joke.

Most of that focus obviously is on the town’s biggest attraction, the Baseball Hall Of Fame. Things To Do in Cooperstown in the WinterAs someone who’s dreamed of strolling the hallowed halls since I was a lil dude, I was in heaven. The amount of history that it covers, and the items and memorabilia on display, is overwhelming, but in the best way possible.  Walking past the walls filled with the plaques of all of the inductees gave me goosies (word to Jennifer Lopez!).  Things To Do in Cooperstown in the WinterThe Hall does provide a scavenger hunt for children to do, with a prize given out, for completing it. B and J, to their credit, were determined to finish it, which was cool. The only thing was that they zipped through the place to find the answers, and didn’t really want to drink in the awesomeness of it all, which meant that I couldn’t either. I left thirsty (for more).  K thought that more interactive exhibits probably would have helped engage them better, which is probably true. Regardless, my family, who range in levels of baseball fandom, all enjoyed the Hall Of Fame to varying degrees, and it’s definitely THE must-see attraction, when in Cooperstown. Be sure to grab a bite at the iconic Doubleday Cafe, too, before or afterwards. Besides having delicious food with generous portions,  it’s like a two minute walk from the Hall, and there’s lots of interesting baseball memorabilia on display there, as well.

Along those lines, a visit to the Cooperstown Bat Company was also in the cards. They offer tours of their factory, including a bat turning demonstration. The people there were very friendly, knowledgeable and legit seemed to love their jobs. To be honest, my kids, while initially really into it, did get bored after a while.  Maybe just plan on a quick trip, if you go with little children.  However, it’s a fascinating place.  Don’t let the size of the facility fool you, too.  Their capabilities and clients are impressive.  One of the coolest things that they offer is a custom engraving service. A high quality wood bat with a name engraved on it makes a great souvenir.  Since they have an online store that ships all over, it makes a great gift, too, for Christmas!

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

Balancing bats on random things is fun!

Along those lines, the timing of our trip (late November) happened to coincide with some local holiday festivities. For example, we braved the cold one night to check out the Santa’s Arrival Parade. Main Street  was filled on both sides with families eagerly awaiting Santa’s appearance. Things To Do in Cooperstown in the WinterThere was a buzz in the air, as only St. Nick can create, among excited children.  Well, a buzz and a lot of chattering, too. From people’s teeth. For real, it was chilly!

Eventually, after the floats and performers and whatnot went by,  Mr. and Mrs. Claus arrived with their ‘reindeer”, police escort in tow, like they were rock stars or something. They set up shop in a park on Main Street, which had been transformed into a Christmas village. Kids then lined up to meet them, which was a nice touch, different from other parades that we’ve been to. Anyway, it was nice to see the community come out, to interact and enjoy the event. I really felt at home there, and not like a tourist.

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

 

Also on our agenda was an adventure on The Santa Express, courtesy of the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad.  Train cars were decorated on the inside and outside with a holiday theme. While on board, we went for a slow, relaxing, heated ride along the tracks, while enjoying goodies and Christmas music. The highlight, of course, was an appearance from Santa and Mrs. Claus. They had gifts for each of the kids on board, and handed them out to everyone, by name. B and J couldn’t believe it, when they received a couple of toys on their wish lists.  The magic of Christmas, I tell ya.

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

 

Along those lines, we were magically transported back in time, while in Cooperstown, too! Well, not really, but we did venture out to the Farmer’s Museum, to see what life what life was like 100+ years ago. Things To Do in Cooperstown in the WinterCooperstown in general has a throwback, old-school vibe to it, especially in terms of the architecture, but the Museum takes it up a notch. Past the main barn (which had various interactive exhibits and displays in it) was a historic village. It was comprised of buildings and characters which would have been common in the 18th and 19th centuries, like a school house (with a teacher) and a tavern/hotel.  There’s also a farmstead on site.  My kids’ favorite part, though, was the Empire State Carousel, a retro merry go round.

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

Alright. Maybe it was my fav part, too.

Along those lines, my family LOVED our accommodations for the weekend! We stayed at the Oneida Lodge North, courtesy of CooperstownLuxury.com.  This was basically the most spectacular cottage that I’ve ever seen. The lodge was multi-levels,  featuring a beautiful, intricately designed staircase that wrapped around a pine tree.   It was huge and spacious, too, which meant that the kids had lots of room to run around acting lit, or in B’s case,  to work on his Fortnite dance moves. I tried to play hide and seek with B and J at one point, but I gave up after one round, in trying to find them. The place was that big.   It’s also located on a lake, with access to a boat house, and a dock. In the summer, it would be dope. However, even during a frosty November weekend, it was still fun.  There was a games room, loaded with board games, and plenty of flat screen TVs throughout. Fireplaces, too, if you want to level up the cozy factor.

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

With lots of windows and balconies, the views were outstanding, and peaceful. Nature rules!

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

The kitchen was well stocked with utensils, and lots of modern appliances, including a dishwasher. No paper plates and plastic spoons for us. Everything about the lodge that I could see was high quality, made with a fine attention to details. Things To Do in Cooperstown in the WinterThe owners and staff were even nice and responsive.  They were in communication our whole time, making sure things were going well.  Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter If you’re planning on staying with a large group of people, this is a great option, too, as our lodge could sleep 10, with bedrooms that were very roomy.  Seriously, if want to treat yourself to something a bit different and more secluded than a regular hotel, I can’t recommend staying at a CooperstownLuxury.com property enough.

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

 

Things To Do in Cooperstown in the Winter

So there you have it. After spending three days in Cooperstown, I think that the question has been answered. What goes on there, after the baseball season has ended?

A lot of fun stuff still, that’s what.

Until the next one, peace!

 

Disclaimer:  while we received complimentary accommodations and tickets/passes to various attractions, thoughts/opinions expressed are 100% my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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