Archive for Travel

REVIEW: Days Inn Chicago

Last weekend we were in Chicago for a 5K race.  Because the run was at famous Wrigley Field, we knew we wanted to be close to the action.  The DAYS INN CHICAGO was the perfect location.  Located in the Lincoln Park/Lake View area just 2 miles from downtown, the DAYS INN CHICAGO was a great alternative to a pricey downtown hotel.  The neighborhood was lively and diverse.

The hotel has 133 rooms, 2 suites, 45 business class rooms and one meeting room.  There is also a complimentary deluxe continental breakfast buffet that was perfect for us after the race.  We were able to walk to Wrigley Field at a leisurely pace in about 20 minutes.  There were plenty of places near the hotel to get a quick bite to eat or to enjoy a cocktail. If shopping is your thing, then you will be pleased with DAYS INN CHICAGO.  Be sure to check out all of the locally owned shops with all of their unique items.  Because traffic and parking can be very stressful in the Chicago area, I highly recommend using the valet service at the hotel.  You can drop off your car right in front of the hotel and just call when you need it.  Believe me, after driving around the block 3 times, we knew valet was the right choice.

The staff at the DAYS INN CHICAGO was friendly and helpful.  We were greeted every time we entered or exited the hotel, and we really felt that they cared about our needs.  Next time you are in the Chicago area for business, for a family function, for a romantic getaway, or for a ballgame, try the DAYS INN CHICAGO.  You won’t be disappointed.

REVIEW: Hotel Blackhawk Davenport, IA

HIP & HISTORIC.  That is the perfect way to describe THE HOTEL BLACKHAWK. Located in the Quad Cities, Davenport, Iowa to be exact, this landmark is one of the Historic Hotels of America.  It certainly is as grand and majestic as it was when it opened in 1915.  Imagine the hustle and bustle in the hotel almost a century ago.  The lobby and hallways whisper of an era gone by.  My kids loved the old mail chute near the elevators.  You certainly don’t see that in a chain hotel.

We have stayed in hotels across the country from St. Pete Beach, Florida to Newport Beach, California, and THE HOTEL BLACKHAWK is without a doubt the most amazing architecture I have seen. To start, the registration desk is actually a desk!  How cool is that?  The friendly staff greeted us with a smile and welcomed us to the historic hotel.  There was quite a bit of action in the lobby as people were mingling at the Bix Lounge and enjoying a cocktail.  The piano player was the perfect touch as the lobby felt full of energy without being too hectic.  In fact, we sat on one of the couches and just relaxed while listening to the music before we even made it to our room.

I have to say the elevator system shows just how much THE HOTEL BLACKHAWK cares about its guests.  In order to activate the elevator, guests have to scan their room key in front of a sensor.  No key mean no access to the guest floors.  Again, you won’t find that concern for your safety at a chain hotel.  The elevator sensor was just one of many modern touches.  The multi-million dollar renovation was done so perfectly.  Blending the historic elements with the sleek modern amenities was accomplished flawlessly.  Like the elevator sensor, the room keys are scanned to unlock the door.  It was great not fighting with the little light as I sometimes do just trying to get into the room at other hotels.  Just hold the card up to the lock and you’re in.

The room was amazing!   The separate room with a couch and TV was just what we needed since we had 2 teenagers with us.  No fighting over the TV.  Speaking of TV, my mouth literally dropped when I saw the TV in the mirror in the bathroom.  Not just mounted, but IN the mirror.  Now that is a modern touch!  The contemporary design of the furniture as well as the color choices of the décor set the tone for a relaxing stay.  The renovation crew was spot on with their decisions.  The room truly felt “hip and historic.”

THE HOTEL BLACKHAWK has a variety of room choices from standard single-bed rooms to suites to extended-stay suites that include a full kitchen and washer and dryer.  There is something for everyone whether you are traveling for business in the area or you are in town with your family.  Singles, couples, and families will all feel comfortable here.  The hotel also has an in-door pool, fitness center, day spa and salon, and a bowling alley.  That’s right…a bowling alley.  We just popped in that night and it was quite the scene.  The music was pumping and guests were having a great time!  We will be spending more time there next time we are in town for sure.

The large meeting rooms and the famous Gold Room are ideal for your next event.  THE HOTEL BLACKHAWK is part of history in the Midwest.  You won’t find accommodations like this anywhere else.  Cities usually demolish our past to make way for our future.  Here, however, the past and the future are perfectly blended.  Next time you are in the Quad Cities, check into THE HOTEL BLACKHAWK and see if you too can hear the whispers of the past.

Holiday Inn Six Flags St. Louis: IN REVIEW~ By Tiffany Lindsey

If your in the Midwest and are looking for a place close to your next trip to Six Flags St. Louis, then your in luck! Holiday Inn Eureka, MO is located right at the entrance to Six Flags. The hotel offers a shuttle to the Park and back everyday during operating hours of Six Flags and offers a sidewalk to take a walk over to the park as well. Save $18.00 each day in parking for Six Flags by taking the shuttle bus, you can return to the hotel for lunch where the kids eat free at the hotel restaurant. Hotel amenities offer an indoor “Fundome”, a 60,000 gallon heated swimming pool and a little wading pool for the younger members of your party. They have a huge whirlpool as well and a sauna. If you feel the need to work out on vacation they have you covered in that department also, they include two exercise facilities. Looking for a drink or snack the “Fundome” area offers a Terrace Bar serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages while the Pizza Corner serves up appetizers, snacks and light fare. The dome also offers a pool table and shuffleboard, arcade and video games.

Perks include a free stay for kids 19 and under in the same room with the parents and up to three kids in the party can dine free from the kids menu at the restaurant. As always they offer complimentary toiletries if you forgot or need extra. Room service, five meeting rooms and over 4,000 square feet of banquet space. Free Wi-Fi and 179 guest rooms!

I had the pleasure of staying here when I moved out to St. Louis in 2010 and enjoyed it very much, you can bring your pets with you also if you need a place to stay overnight or if you bring your pets with you on vacation. The pool is awesome but a little cool to say it was heated. Rooms were very nice and clean. The hotel staff was awesome and best of all the Hotel has some history here in Eureka as told here by the Hotels website…

“The Deep Springs Stage Stop

For almost 200 years, the Holiday Inn site has been a resting place for weary travelers. We’re proud to continue the tradition today.

At the turn of the 19th century, Native Americans in this area of Missouri wanted a stable source of water in times of drought. They dug deep springs on the present acreage of the Holiday Inn at Six Flags.

Over the next fifty years, as stagecoach travel increased, the land became known as the Deep Springs Stage Stop. It was an oasis, literally, a welcome, restful spot on the road. Travelers looked forward to the Deep Springs as their first “good water” after leaving the city of St. Louis.”

It turned into a Community Farm at one point and then a Horse Hospital during the civil war before finally being turned into the resort in 1975!

you can learn more about rates and the hotel’s history here at their website

Holiday Inn at Six Flags over St. Louis

Port Canaveral, Florida In Review~ Tiffany Lindsey

My family has with the exception of one trip driven to Walt Disney World. Driving or getting a rental car gives you the freedom you don’t always get when flying to Orlando. With the coast just a little under an hour drive from the Walt Disney World Resort we have drove over a couple of times on our past trips. We first went over in 2003 when we were going on our cruise on the Disney Wonder, that is when we decided that some day we when we return we should head back to the coast to visit Cape Canaveral to tour NASA. When we headed back to WDW in 2005 with my little cousin we took 3 days at the end of our stay and drove over to Cape Canaveral, we toured the complex and we really enjoyed it! It is a mix of walking and taking a ride on a bus to some of the different areas of the complex. You really learn a lot from the experience and I would recommend it to everyone, especially if you have someone in your group that loves space and history! Alas this is something for another post, but for now let’s get back to other parts of the space coast!

Not only is Cape Canaveral a home to NASA it is also a very big and thriving port for cruise ships and cargo ships, and a few marine animals thrown into the mix. Port Canaveral is home to Jetty Park, Jetty Park offers campgrounds, fishing areas, viewing areas for leaving ships and animal watching, also a very pretty beach. We have been to the coast three times and enjoy it very much, but this past trip in May of 2012 we wanted to watch the Disney Dream leave port and have a few hours of walking on the beach and relaxing so we decided to take a visit to Jetty Park. It is $10 for parking and access to the park for non residents for the day but it has so much to offer that it is well worth it.

IMG_8826

The main building at the park offers restrooms and a bait shop I believe if you want to fish. I walked along the beach for awhile and enjoyed the water and sand, it was so peaceful and nice. After awhile when it got closer to time for the ships to leave my father and I walked out on the pier to watch the ships leave. We got a special treat while waiting, we got to see sea turtles, a manatee and even some dolphins! This day couldn’t get any better for me, it was my first time viewing a manatee, sea turtles and even dolphins in the wild. They all are so beautiful and graceful to watch.

IMG_8829

After awhile of watching it came time for the ships to leave, we waved good bye to those on board the ships as the sailed out into the sunset on a voyage that was sure to be a magic one especially for those on the Disney Dream ( I have to note those passengers seem the happiest out of all the ships we saw). We drove back to Orlando after the day was over and got back for dinner and still had time to enjoy the evening.

So if you’re looking for a day at the coast or away from Orlando ,head to the Space Coast for a fun family friendly day!

Marceline Walt Disney’s Boyhood Home~ By Tiffany Lindsey

I had the privilege and the honor of visiting Walt Disney’s Boyhood Home of Marceline Missouri. I’ve lived in St. Louis for a little over 3 years now and I finally had the chance to take the three and half hour drive up to Marceline. Marceline is a small town of about 2,000 and once was the home to the Disney Family. It’s a small railroad/ mining town in north central Missouri, in fact the town sits on one of the main lines from California to Chicago and used to bring miners and families into town to work and farm the ample land surround town. They used to be dropped right off at the Santa Fe’ Railroad Depot in Marceline, in fact that is where the Disney stepped off the train to their new town after moving from the Chicago suburbs. So fitting that today that depot houses Walt Disney’s Hometown Museum! Walt would have walked right though the lobby of the train depot on his way to start a new period in his life and where this small town would have the most impression on him until the day he passed.

Walt continued to come back as the years went by and take part in dedications and ceremonies that were held for him and different things in the community. In fact the post office in Marceline is named after Walt Disney and they even released a stamp there of Walt. Walking through the town you’ll see different hints of Disney and Disneyland. It’s nice to see what Walt would have seen and gotten his idea for Disneyland. The Museum is little but informative and they have a lot of neat letters and artifacts thanks to Walt’s Sister Ruth’s family and Ruth for being a bit of a hoarder of letters and whatnots. Upstairs you can take a look at a model of Disneyland built by Dale Varner, he had been working on the model for over 40 years and visited Marceline for Toonfest and voiced his concern that while the model had been exhibited on several occasions at fairs and Disney events, it did not have a home where it could be enjoyed on a regular basis. He asked the Museum if they would like to have the model. The model was shipped to Marceline in the summer of 2008. That September Dale came to visit the museum to install the model. Dale continued to work on new pieces up until his death in 2009.  You’ll see when you visit unfinished pieces of the model, it shows you the different stages in building the models.

The museum isn’t ran by Disney and is run by volunteers that are very informative and can give you a nice rundown of the history before your off to the rest of the rooms. It’s $5 for adults and donations are appreciated, the museum is only open from April to October because they don’t have heat or air to cool and warm the rooms to keep the artifacts safe and damage free. The building itself is rough in areas and they still have a long way to go before they can finally fix it up. They still have other artifact in climate control storage in Kansas City until they have a home to house them all. So take a trip out to Marceline and visit them museum, give them a donation and help them preserve the neat stuff from Disney History. While you’re in town stop by the spot of the old Dreaming Tree where Walt would sit and draw for his sister Ruth and would continue to visit on his trips back to town. See the Son of the Dreaming Tree they planted from the original so that the tree could keep on living. Take a look at Walt’s Barn further down the path also. Most importantly have fun and enjoy the magic!!

Outer Banks, North Carolina In Review ~ Tiffany Lindsey

Hey everyone, hope you doing well these days! Spring is arriving soon and then before you know it it will be summer! Growing up in central Virginia the Outer Banks was a short drive for some summer family fun.

The Outer Banks is a 200-mile long string of narrow barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina and a small portion of Virginia, beginning in the southeastern corner of Virginia Beach on the east coast of the United States. They cover most of the North Carolina coastline, separating the Currituck Sound, Albemarle Sound, and Pamlico Sound from the Atlantic Ocean.

My family unusually stayed in Kill Devil Hills or Nags Head, NC. Two towns that aren’t that large but draw very large crowds in the summer. Most of the Outer Banks offers Cottages that are for rent for a weekend in the off season or a week or more in the summer. It also offers camp grounds , Condos and hotels if you don’t want to spend the money for a cottage. You have 5 classified areas when doing a search for cottages: Ocean Front, Ocean Side, Between the Highways, Sound Side and Sound Front.

Ocean Front- these cottages are going to be pricey in the summer time because most offer beach access and are very large, but if you have a big group or big family they could be very affordable when you split the cost between the group and they offer lots of space to spread out.

Ocean Side- with these cottages you most likely will still have a view of the ocean and it is just a short walk across the road to find a beach access point. Still pricey but worth it if you want to be close to the beach and have a partial view.

Between the Highways- there are two roads that go through the northern part of OBX through Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, you have the beach road (that runs along the beach and offers some shops but mostly cottages and hotels) then you have the main road through the center of the island that offers your main shops and outlets and restaurants and the like. The cottages here are affordable and are still just a short walk or drive to the beach.

Sound Side- these cottages are on the west side of the main road through the island, they offer some sound views and are also very affordable.

Sound Front- the cottages along the sound offers sound views and most offer access to the sound via a dock or ladder and some community’s have private beach access that you can use if you stay in the community.  They are a little bit higher than sound side cottages but cheaper than beach front but still offer great views( these cottages you can get a great sunset view)

The fall of the year still isn’t that bad of weather and you can still enjoy the beach with cheaper prices for cottages and hotels.

Several rental companies are located on the outer banks and offer different cottages to you some even offer condos.

Farther down the coast you can find quiet towns like Hatteras  and a short ferry ride to Ocracoke Island also a small quite town and you might even see some wild horses on the drive! Ocracoke Island offers beautiful beaches and small shops. Also it was a hot spot for pirates like Edward Teach you might know him better by the name of Black Beard!

No matter where you stay at on the outer banks your sure to have a good time!

Here is more information regarding the outer banks and it’s towns from Wikipedia

The Wright brothers’ first flight in a powered, heavier-than-air vehicle took place on the Outer Banks on December 17, 1903, at Kill Devil Hills near the seafront town of Kitty Hawk. The Wright Brothers National Monument commemorates the historic flights, and First Flight Airport is a small, general-aviation airfield located there.

The English Roanoke Colony—where the first person of English descent, Virginia Dare, was born on American soil—vanished from Roanoke Island in 1587. The Lost Colony, written and performed to commemorate the original colonists, is the longest running outdoor drama in the United States and its theater acts as a cultural focal point for much of the Outer Banks.

The treacherous seas off the Outer Banks and the large number of shipwrecks that have occurred there have given these seas the nickname Graveyard of the Atlantic. The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is located in Hatteras Village near the United States Coast Guard facility and Hatteras ferry.

Geography

The Outer Banks is a string of peninsulas and barrier islands separating the Atlantic Ocean from mainland North Carolina. From north to south, the largest of these include: Bodie Island (which used to be an island, but due to tropical storms and hurricanes it is now a peninsula), Hatteras Island, and Ocracoke Island. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is considered to be the areas of coastal Currituck County, Dare County, and Hyde County. They stretch southward from Sandbridge in Virginia Beach, and are considered by some to reach as far south as Cape Lookout, including portions of Carteret County. Areas south of Cape Lookout in Carteret County are considered the Crystal Coast, which for tourism purposes has been coined the “Southern Outer Banks”. The northern part of the Outer Banks, from Oregon Inlet northward, is actually a part of the North American mainland, since the northern inlets of Bodie Island and Currituck Banks no longer exist. It is separated by the Currituck Sound and the Intracoastal Waterway, which passes through the Great Dismal Swamp occupying much of the mainland west of the Outer Banks. Road access to the northern Outer Banks is cut off between Sandbridge and Corolla, North Carolina, with communities such as Carova Beach accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles. North Carolina State Highway 12 links most of the popular Outer Banks communities. The easternmost point is Cape Point at Cape Hatteras on Hatteras Island, site of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

The Outer Banks is not anchored to offshore coral reefs like some other barrier islands and as a consequence often suffers significant beach erosion during major storms. In fact, its location jutting out into the Atlantic makes it the most hurricane-prone area north of Florida, for both landfalling storms and brushing storms offshore. Hatteras Island was cut in half on September 18, 2003, when Hurricane Isabel washed a 2,000 foot (600 m) wide and 15 foot (5 m) deep channel called Isabel Inlet through the community of Hatteras Village on the southern end of the island. The tear was subsequently repaired and restored by sand dredging by the Army Corps of Engineers. It was cut off once again in 2011 by Hurricane Irene. Access to the island was largely limited to boat access only from August to late October until another temporary bridge could be built.

The Outer Banks has unusual weather patterns due to its unique geographical location. As the islands are jutted out from the eastern seaboard into the Atlantic Gulf stream, the Outer Banks has a predisposition to be affected by hurricanes, Nor’easters (usually in the form of rain, and rarely snow or mixed precipitation), and other ocean driven storms.

The winters are typically milder than in inland areas, averaging lows in the upper 30′s and highs in the lower 50′s, and is more frequently overcast than in the summer. However, the exposure of the Outer Banks makes it prone to higher winds, often causing wind chills to make the apparent temperature as cold as the inland areas. The summer months average lows from the mid 70′s to highs in the upper 80′s, depending on the time of the summer. The spring and fall are typically milder seasons. The fall and winter are usually warmer than areas inland, while the spring and the summer are often slightly cooler due to the moderating effects of being surrounded by water.

Although snow is possible, averaging from 3 inches in the north to less than 1/2 inch per year in the south, there are many times when years pass between snowfalls. The majority of nor’easters are “born” off the coasts of the Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks were first settled by English settlers, many of whom still have descendants living on the islands to this day. Before bridges were built in the 1930s, the only form of transport between or off the islands was by boat, which allowed for the islands to stay isolated from much of the rest of the mainland. This helped to preserve the maritime culture and the distinctive Outer Banks brogue, which sounds more like an English accent than it does an American accent. Many “bankers” have often been mistaken for being from England or Ireland when traveling to areas outside of the Outer Banks. The brogue is most distinctive the further south one travels on the Outer Banks, with it being the thickest on Ocracoke Island and Harkers Island.

The islands are home to herds of feral horses, sometimes called “banker ponies,” which according to local legend are descended from Spanish Mustangs washed ashore centuries ago in shipwrecks. Populations are found on Ocracoke Island, Shackleford Banks, Currituck Banks, and in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Sanctuary.

Ocracoke was the home base of pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. It is also where the famed pirate was killed.

The Outer Banks is home to “Yaupon Holly” (Ilex vomitoria), the roasted leaves of which were brewed into a high caffeine beverage called black drink by the Native Americans. The Outer Banks may be one of the few places where it is still consumed.

Communities

Towns and communities along the Outer Banks include (listed from north to south):

Currituck Banks peninsula

  • Sandbridge
  • Carova Beach
  • Corolla

Bodie Island

  • Duck
  • Southern Shores
  • Kitty Hawk
  • Kill Devil Hills
  • Nags Head

Roanoke Island

  • Manteo
  • Wanchese

Hatteras Island

  • Rodanthe
  • Waves
  • Salvo
  • Avon
  • Buxton
  • Frisco
  • Hatteras

Ocracoke Island

  • Ocracoke

Cape Lookout National Seashore

  • Portsmouth Island (uninhabited)
  • Core Banks (uninhabited)
  • Shackleford Banks (uninhabited)

Parks

  • Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
  • Cape Hatteras National Seashore
  • Cape Lookout National Seashore
  • Currituck Heritage Park
  • False Cape State Park
  • Fort Macon State Park
  • Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
  • Jockey’s Ridge State Park
  • Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
  • Wright Brothers National Memorial

Review: Cascade Mountain Ski Resort

“The best weekend ever!”  That quote by our 10-year-old daughter sums up our trip to Cascade Mountain Ski Resort near Portage, Wisconsin.

One of the perks of a ski trip to Cascade Mountain is the fact that kids under 12 ski for free!  That alone made us excited for our first ski trip in several years.  We arrived early on a Saturday morning and were greeted by the friendly Cascade staff.  The employees at the rental counter were extremely helpful as we got our paperwork and made plans for the day.  We walked over to the ski and boot building and were pleased to find even more employees that were eager to help us find the correct size boots, poles, helmets, and skis for the entire family.  A quick stop at the $0.50 lockers to store our shoes and we were on our way to the lifts.

Because we are a family of skiing novices, we started at the Bunny hill to get a feel for our skis.  Cascade actually has an even smaller hill with a conveyor belt to transport children up the small hill for those who are skiing for the first time.  We saw everyone from small children to adults trying this hill.  We were quite impressed with the staff at the bottom and top of the ski lifts.  They were helpful and a friendly word to say each time we saw them.

Throughout the day we saw instructors giving private and group lessons with kids of all ages and adults.  The young adults teaching the classes appeared to be having a blast.  They were patient with both the skiers and snowboarders.  I would recommend a lesson for anyone trying skiing or snowboarding for the first time.

My family skied for a few hours, took break in the lodge, and headed back to the slopes for bigger hills.  We never made it past the “green” or easiest hills, but we still had a great time, as Cascade offers quite a few easier runs for those recreational skiers.  By evening time the crowds began to thin out, but this was perfect for us.  Skiing into the night and being some of the few on the mountain late into the night made for memorable experiences and memories for us.

If you are planning a ski trip for the end of this season or next winter, I highly recommend Cascade Mountain Ski Resort.  The friendly staff, proximity to Wisconsin Dells, and overall feel of the resort make it a must do for skiers of all ability levels.

Review: Gray Line Tours – Washington DC

We happened to be in Washington, D.C. during two days of near-record temperatures.  We did not care after having one of the longest winters in the Midwest.  We chose the upper deck of the tour bus and loved every minute of it.  Washington is so much more than the National Mall area.  The tour took us to Georgetown, The National Cathedral, DuPont Circle, Arlington Cemetery, and all of the national monuments.  It was such a convenient way to see the city.  We did not take advantage of the hop-on/hop-off feature of the trip because we did not want to miss anything and only had two days.  We did see areas in which we would like to spend more time on our next visit.  The tour is a “must-do” for Washington visitors.