The drive to the Dells was short and sweet from Minneapolis. Actually, with the kids in the car, keeping the drives to about 4 hrs is ideal when planning a road trip. The few times it was longer (outside Chicago, especially)- not even the DVD player or Nintendo could stop the dreaded "are we there yet?"
Unable to do an early check-in at the hotel, we decided to check out Wizard Quest in town. What a fun time. You really do need to search for the answers to the clues- actually scottt and I searched for the answers. The boys just had fun exploring. The only down side is that the computers aren't always working to plug in your answers- kind of frustrating when you're on a time crunch (hmmm sounds like a work problem, not a vacation problem...) Free parking behind the building (though it is only for a limited time).
After lunch, we headed over to Mt. Olympus. The Skyline hotel (nice place to sleep- had a nice pool area but we didn't really use it) had a really good package deal running this summer where we received 4 free tickets to Mt Olympus with our room. Not a bad deal since the room was about $120 and the 4 tickets would have ran us about the same- of course in the world of the Dells, the overinflated price of the tickets is probably to offset the deal tickets sold to the hotels.... Needless to say, it was worth it. Even though they are tall enough, kids under 5 feet are probably not skilled enough to drive go-karts alone... my older son struggled on the first ride and from then on was riding with mom and dad. The rollercoasters are fast and a bit jerky. My husband loved "hades" which makes you feel like you're going to crash into the pavement as it goes into it's underground tunnel. Waterpark was a typical water park- except for the giant tower next to the Parthanon. A long wait (and a lot of stairs), but the group ride is fast, very wet, insane ride- sure to bring on the laughs!
One of the nice parts of Mt olympus is that with your wristband, you can come and go throughout the day- and with so many places to take off to for dinner, you're not stuck paying over-inflated prices for carnival food. However, the change in attitudes from the afternoon clients (mostly families) to the evening (testosterone heavy, beer-fed, and lots of teens) was very evident in the rides. If you have kids, the evenings are not the safest time to be on the go-karts. Even though it's frowned upon and the kids running the rides do a pretty good job of booting the worst offenders, intentional crashes causing spinouts put this mama bear on high alert. So, next time, Mama bear would bring some snacks with for the kids, plan on a late dinner, and get all the Mt olympus fun done before those crazies start their smashing!
Dinner was the huge disappointment of Crabby's "pirate themed" buffet. $100 for our family of four- i would expect a lot more. The crab legs were a nice touch- and you can't really mess those up- but the food at the buffet was nasty. They advertise a pirate battle- but we never saw it in the hour we were there. The really sad part is that I know it could be so much more (a real swashbuckling adventure- hee hee), but the management doesn't seem to care. Because the restaurant section is "hidden" behind these big doors- they'll show you a list of the buffet but you can't see it. Because, if you did see it all, you wouldn't be interested in going there! DON"T WASTE YOUR MONEY ON THIS SCAM OF A RESTAURANT.
A short way off of HWY 12 was Devil's Lake state park. What a nice stop on our trip and a great way to spend the morning. We bought a short term pass from the visitors station and took a hike up to view this beautiful glacier created lake.... nice addition to the trip that i really hadn't planned on until i saw the sign.... i would definitely camp near here if i ever went back to the dells...
See notes on forevertron- we were bummed that it wasn't open.....
Chicago's tolls stink- pay even 10 minutes to sit in traffic for hours.... it made me appreciate my commute even more! Best Western in Chicago was great- Valet parking ($20 per day) made it easy to forget about our car and just enjoy chicago as it should be! Though they may run out of spaces so have a back-up plan just in case they are full! hotel was nice, pool was freezing, breakfast was rolls/pastries- the kids liked the pop-tarts though! After we checked-in, we took a nice stroll through grant park. What a jewel, the fountain was beautiful (though taking a picture was hard to try to avoid the 5 million garbage cans set out for the taste of chicago the next day). The thing that i really appreciated is that there are so many parks, within the park, that one could really find their favorite spot.... Millenium park was interesting. The "bean" and the faces fountain definitely entertaining. The free concerts and dances that were in the park really showcased Chicago's appreciation for the arts. Also , the Art Institute changed their free nights to Thursday and friday for the summer (we definitely took advantage of that!). My error that night was thinking we could walk from the AI to greektown ("it's just down this street....") although we got a nice street view of the sears tower and the river, it was just a little too far for the family to trek it.... However, dinner was worth it! I redeemed myself in my family's eyes as the mom who knows the best places for dinner! The Greek islands was a gem. great food, family atmosphere, my kids have a new appreciation for feta and filo! (i know it's a spelling error, but wouldn't it be a great name for a restaurant or cookbook...)
A nice walk from our hotel to the Field Museum- this is why i picked this hotel! Museum campus is nicely laid out, signed, you always know where you're going. The Tut exhibit was interesting for grown ups, but not exciting enough for kids... but the underground adventure definitely held their attention! Although, my hubby and i could have spent hours more there, after a lunch of Chicago dogs from the vendor outside-( yummo- who would think a MN girl such as I could appreciate the joy of onion, mustard tomatos and whatever else was on those babies instead of ketchup- )we decided to head over and catch the Red-line up to Lincoln Park.
The walk from the red-line to the Zoo is several blocks- don't wear the flip flops! but the zoo was a nice treat- nicely laid out, with indoor and outdoor displays, it's pretty easy to spot the animals. also, with the exception of the penguin house, it really didn't smell bad- a kudos to the staff there who does the clean-ups! We didn't do it because it was getting late, but renting a paddleboat would be a nice treat on the afternoon.... Another quick ride on the red-line back to town and another stroll to NAVY pier. Kids loved the rides, free performers, nice to see the sunset from the ferris wheel.... Dinner was at the italian restaurant at the front of the pier (can't remember the name of it- though 2 pan pizzas ( i know it wasn't true chicago pizza) and a couple of salads filled the family up- especially with a bowl of ben and jerry's to share later....). A cab ride (ok we're tired at this point of the trip with all the walking....) back to our hotel and past all the craziness of the TASTE.
The drive to Michigan was pretty smooth, even with major road construction. We stopped for lunch in "Cereal City" and no i didn't eat frosted flakes... Actually, we ran a couple mid week errands, got the boys haircuts before the wedding, ate lunch at Steak and Shake (only because my hubby saw the sign and read Brittany Spears milk shake- it actually said bits and pieces milkshakes.....) and finished our drive out to Auburn Hills. The Courtyard by Marriot was undergoing renovations so it was a little crazy with the construction, however the girl who checked me in said that our "stay for breakfast" rate would be reduced because they weren't offering full menus for breakfast.... Dinner was at KD mongolian BBQ right down the street. Familiar with the mongolian BBQ concept, we decided to check it out. Nice, clean and the neat thing is that even if you're not feeling asian inspired, their wide selection of create your own sauces, vegies, and meats allows you to try non- asian mixes as well..... filling too- one bowl was definitely enough for me!
Good continental breakfast this morning- or as my son has labeled them- the "all you should eat " breakfasts.... We spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the nice shopping mall to our north, with everything to make the men happy- arcades, big bass pro shops, and everything to make the women happy- it's 50% outlet stores and the other 50% run good sales to compete with the outlet stores....- both sides were satisfied. We also found a nice golf course near the mall so well my husband, the kids and myself saw an 12pm showing of superman returns at the mall, grandma and grandpa (who we met up with here in auburn hills) did a quick round of golf over near the mall.
Tonight is my cousin's wedding. Oak Arbor church is over in Rochester (which despite how it may look on a map- is a good 30-40 minutes to get too..) What a beautiful church. If you live anywhere near detroit, i highly recommend this church for your wedding and because it is also a school, they have a great playground outside for entertaining the kids after dinner....
Ok now i am really po'd at Courtyard.... although i was told at check-in that my bill would be $20 less due to the breakfast problem, i was charged my original rate.... THEN, the signs throughout the hotel say M-F breakfast from 6 am- 9m, but because Tuesday was a holiday, Monday and tuesday they were going off of weekend hours which where from 9-12.... Wanting an early start and not wanting to wait another 3 hrs to eat, we started out on the road to mackinaw.....
breakfast was at a greasy spoon diner (coneys?)- i tried to forget about it as soon as i left but the smoke and grease smell worked it's way into my clothes..... yuck..... at this point, i am cursing marriot even more and wondering are there no perkins or baker's square in this part of the world?
I give michigan credit for their rest stops... nice clean and frequent.... The drive over the bridge was nice and we settled in at a park in st ignace for quick picnic lunch overlooking the lake. afterwards, we took the starline ferry over to the island. Not having been to mackinaw for well over 20 years, it amazed me how i remembered the happy things (grand hotel, the "scary" haunted theater- still there, still scaring kids, the fudge) but how i forgot the smell of horse poop- (either that or 20+years ago, it didn't smell so bad) Embracing the fact that this was my day to smell, we rented some bikes for 2 hrs and headed out on our way around the island... note to all bikers, read the map carefully and note non-paved roads are not easy with one speed bikes. Some of the things, like the hike to see the top of arch rock are worth it- others like the skull cave (something i thought would for sure intrigue my two boys) were duds. Being on the bikes was nice for the activity, but also to get out away from the horse smell....after our ride, a nice scare in the theater, a chance to watch and taste some fudge, it was off to our hotels to clean up for dinner.
We stayed at the quality inn in st ignace- it's a little out of town (turn left off freeway- go 2 blocks) and not near the water as the others were, but it had good rates, and nice extras.... free popcorn machine in the lobby, free icecream in the evenings, nice shallow pool for the kids... all and all, great for staying with the kids. I even asked the front desk for some dinner tips and she clued me in... my parents, who stayed at one of the hotels off the lake, had a great view, but their room (even though it was 5 pm) was still not cleaned or ready for them and when they asked the front desk for tips, they were told "they're all about the same..." We ended up at the marina grill/bar right across from the marina/yacht club parking lot... what a fantastic menu, nicely prepared food, and good service. we mentioned to the waitress that it was my son's bday today and the chef managed to create a little bday cake complete with candle and singing... what a treat.... and even though there was smoking in the bar, the fans and circulation, i didn't notice it....
the goal at this point was to get home... though we did make it a point to stop at one of the larger towns for lunch, which we then made the wise decision to take a half hour at the city park for the kids to run around and play.... good way to push the energy level to nap mode... and driving through wisconsin on our way back to minneapolis, i am reminded at what a beautiful, clean place it is.... If i had another day, i probably would have stopped along the way as it was a long drive home, but, it was nice to be home to see the fireworks sparkle in the MN sky.....