A Scarecrow Filled Staycation

I am a big fan of using Groupon to find deals on places to eat, things to do, places to stay – essentially everything. We’ve lucked out that there has been a Groupon two years in a row during a staycation weekend for us. Every year, St. Charles hosts a Scarecrow Fest. We’ve gone every year since we moved into our house but last year we changed it up a bit by staying overnight and we returned to that same resort this year as well.

That resort? Pheasant Run Resort.

After we checked out of the hotel, both Ryan and I recognized that we just didn’t have a lot of time to really explore the resort itself. We spent a lot of time in downtown St. Charles at Scarecrow Fest, which honestly is the point of this staycation weekend, however we both acknowledged that there were enough activities in the resort itself that you could stay busy for a weekend. Perhaps this is something that we will look into during another weekend?

The Room

This year, we had an accessible room. That meant more space in the aisles and a much more spacious bathroom. I’m guessing that this won’t happen again but last year’s room was just fine. The beds are cozy and the bathroom is nice.

Side note: I’m guessing that the reason that we were given one of the accessible rooms is because the resort was packed during this weekend! There were several wedding groups throughout the hotel. And, members of the Doberman Club of America were also staying at the resort. There were so many dogs. !!!!!!

The Pools

There are two pools. One is an indoor/outdoor combination pool. We did not venture into that one this year. Last year, I got out of the pool because the indoor pool is just too cold (because it is actually attached to the outdoor pool, you can swim from one to the other). So, this year, we only went to the indoor-only pool. It was a bit funny to hear from other families as they joined us in the pool as they commented about how much warmer the indoor pool was.

When you check in, each member of your party gets a bracelet that gives you access to the pools. I’m guessing that the indoor/outdoor pool may be in high demand during the summer….but at not time were our wristbands checked by anyone at the pool.

There is a hot tub in the same area as the indoor pool which I was looking forward to using on the day that we checked out. However, that morning, the hot tub was filled with bubbles. Absolutely filled with bubbles. The woman that replenished the pool towels saw the water and quickly called for service. Yep. Those bubbles are not supposed to be there. Did someone add something? No idea. But, yea…no hot tub for me.

The Gym Facility

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The workout facility is really nice for a hotel gym. There are multiples of each machine. When I went down to the gym, there were four other people working on and no one had to wait for the machine that they wanted. Treadmills, ellipticals, steppers, stationery bikes, and several weight machines and some free weights. Lots of options and, when I was there, enough machines so there was absolutely no wait.

The Food

This time, since we were not in the resort itself for very long, we did not eat in any of the food options. However, there are restaurants, bars, and room service is also available. We ate most of our meals downtown St. Charles.

And, of course, we had my favorite snack: “Chewy Chips Ahoy in a hotel bed while watching Food Network.”

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The main reason to go, of course, is Scarecrow Festival.

The Festival

This is one of our favorite fall activities. The scarecrows are very cool to see, there’s a craft fair (which we did not get to at all this year but has been lots of fun in the past), you can make your own scarecrow, there is lots of food in the festival and, of course, lots of restaurants in St. Charles. There are lots of carnival rides, which the girls love. All in all, it’s a great weekend and a great way to kick start fall.

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Great Wolf Lodge – A Great Family Lodge!

OK. It’s been several, several weeks since we had our trip to Great Wolf Lodge but I keep seeing Groupon deals for stays at the Wisconsin Dells location and the newer Gurnee, IL location.

So, I figured I might as well finally write up that blog post that I’ve been delaying.


The Decor

The decor, at least at the Wisconsin Dells location, has a very strong log cabin feel. The exterior looks like a giant log cabin. The lobby has antler lighting and animals throughout. Lots of antlers. Lots of animals.

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The Room

Our room was really nice and was able to hold a lot of people. The room had a lofted space with a second bedroom which is really great if you have a large group staying with you. Remember, everyone staying in the room has access to the hotel’s amenities (water parks!!). Downside, the loft had a sink but no true bathroom so if you have a lot of people staying with you, there will probably be a line for the bathroom at some point. Other downside, the loft was significantly warmer than the downstairs space but the entire room was controlled with one thermostat. So, the downstairs space was usually fairly cold so that the upstairs was an ok temp.

There was a fireplace in the downstairs space. We didn’t use it but would be super fun and cozy during the fall or winter. The couch also folds out into a bed. Again, you can fit a lot of people in this room.


The Food

We actually ate most of our meals out and about in the Wisconsin Dells area. However, we began each morning with breakfast at the hotel. We had an option to do a family style breakfast each morning. It was delicious and all-you-can-eat. The options for the menu didn’t change (there is a different menu that you can order from if you don’t do the family style all-you-can-eat option), but it was all very family friendly. And whatever you wanted more of, well, they would bring for you. We ate so many cinnamon rolls…..

We did eat dinner in the restaurant one night while we were there. There was also an ice cream shop with some snacks. And there are snack shops in the water park section. You can also order a pizza and have it delivered to you in the water park.


Stuff to Do – Outside of the Water Park

The water park sections are, of course, the main attraction at the hotel. But there are a lot of other activities to do throughout the day. There are lots of craft activities throughout the day. Be sure to check the board in the lobby for times.

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We did the “Jammie Jamboree” which was pretty fun. We also did a “Storytime” with a meet-and-greet with a character. It was funny to see how excited the kids were to see the character from the “Great Wolf Lodge Story”.

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We also did the “Great Clocktower Show” which, well, I thought was pretty weird but the kids loved. Warning: The song from this show will get stuck in your head. Seriously.

The activities in the lobby area might be different from day to day so be sure to check the schedule. There were also craft activities in the lobby (these cost a fee.) One of our favorite hotel activities is to hit up the arcade. We did that on our last day at the hotel.

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The Water Park – The Main Attraction

There are several different sections with something for everyone (well, everyone who likes water parks.) There are big slides, small slides, wave pools, lazy rivers, and several splash pad sections. We spent most of our time in the splash pad areas. And, over the course of our trip, big girl got more and more brave and went on more and more water slides.

For your peace of mind, life jackets are available to borrow for free. You can also bring one, if you like.

Every person staying in the hotel room has access to the water park each day of your stay. So, plan on getting a locker and leaving most of your luggage in the car while you start your day in the water park while waiting for your hotel room to be ready for check-in. And do the same on your last day! Load up the car, bring a backpack with the necessities and spend some more time in the water after you check out of your room.


The Dells

If you stay at the Wisconsin Dells location, there are lots of activities away from the hotel that you can try. The Dells is packed with super-touristy and not-so-super-touristy activities.

We went on a beautiful hike.

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We explored some of the riverwalk area.

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We also checked out one of the most touristy activities: Tommy Bartlett Show! We had the option to purchase tickets to many of the most classic Dells activities by visiting the concierge in the hotel lobby.

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Honestly, we had a blast. As soon as we left, the girls were already planning our next trip. And since the water park section is indoors (there is a section outdoors, as well) this can be a great family trip year-round.

We will be back!

How to do the Free Admission Museum Days – And Still Have Fun

If you’ve been reading the blog for awhile now, you know that our family are big fans of the museums in Chicago. These amazing institutions are some of the biggest perks of living in or near the city! But this is not new information. Lots of people know that already and are ready to take advantage of all that they have to offer. The museums are not cheap, though. A family of four could easily drop close to $100 just to get in to the museum. That’s why the free admission days are such a big deal!

On the free admission days (for Illinois residents) you get free general admission at the museum. Each museum is different and the free days are different for each one (be sure to look up that information on each museum’s website!). And, although we generally take advantage of the ones during the summer months, there are days offered throughout the entire year so, if you are an Illinois resident, definitely check these out!

Since so many people want to, and should, take advantage of this money-saving perk, it can get a bit crazy. We’ve done it many, many times and in that time I’ve picked up some tips.

  1. Try to arrive as close to the museum opening as you can. If there are exhibits that you know that you want to check out, head there first. The crowds definitely build after 11:00am. Most museums open at either 9:00am or 9:30am. Generally, if you arrive at 10:00am, you won’t have to wait in much of a line and can walk right in.
  2. If possible, take public transportation. But, if you have to drive, as long as you arrive close to opening you can probably get street parking. This is usually cheaper than parking in the museum parking lots or the lot at Soldier Field. Plus, you can pay for what you will use. Just planning on being in the museum for a couple hours? Just pay for a couple hours of parking!
  3. Bring snacks! But, pay attention to where you can actually eat your snacks in the museum.
  4. Food is pricey at the museums, especially if you are buying for a family of four. I usually buy a lunch for myself at the museum, brings snacks for the girls, and will purchase a cheese plate or fruit cup for the girls to share. Many of the museums do not want you to bring in your own food to eat in their restaurants, but since I’ve also purchased something each time no one has said anything. But, most museums also have an area for use by those who brought lunches. If you are not purchasing anything, I recommend scouting out one of those spots. If you can’t find a spot to eat, ask an employee for assistance.
  5. If you can, eat a late or early lunch. The lunch areas are usually less busy after 1:30pm or right at 11:00am (or whenever they start serving lunch). There are usually many schools, camps, and daycare groups at the museums, but they tend to eat their lunch before 1:30pm since they need to return to their camp, daycare, or school.
  6. Some of the Illinois resident day admissions include almost everything (the Shedd Aquarium is great for this – you get general admission, Stingray Touch, and can get into Wild Reef and Polar Playzone – this all had at one time been an extra add on on the Illinois resident days. So glad that that’s changed!!!) but most of the admissions only include the basic admission. So, if there is a special or traveling exhibit that you want to see be sure to calculate the price of that into your visit.
  7. Do you have younger kids and will plan on spending some time in the areas designated for kids? (Like Polar Play Zone at Shedd, Play Lab at Field Museum, Idea Factory at Museum of Science and Industry, and Planet Explorers at Adler) These tend to be less busy during peak lunch time hours. So, again, if you can, try to do a later or early lunch.
  8. Do your research! Some exhibits, although free and included in your admission, still require a timed ticket. Idea Factory at MSI is one of those. Get your ticket as soon as you arrive because you might not be able to get in to the exhibit for several hours. Some exhibits are not open every day. The Play Lab at Field is only open Thursday – Monday.
  9. After 12:00noon, the museums tend to get really packed. Keep this in mind when trying to plan bathroom breaks. It’s no fun for anyone when a bathroom break is necessary and the bathroom has a line out the door.
  10. Remember – have fun! It can get chaotic and when you start to feel the chaos, take a break. Have a snack. Step outside. (Many of the museums have an outdoor spot where you can eat, and take in a beautiful view of Lake Michigan and/or the skyline.)

 

 

Milwaukee – A Weekend Trip

We recently had a week long trip in Wisconsin. Some of that trip was in the Wisconsin Dells area (that will be a separate blog post) but the majority of the trip was in the Milwaukee area. My in-laws live there, Ryan grew up there, and there are some things that we always try to do/see/eat when we are there.

Milwaukee is so close to Chicago. If you have a free weekend, a quick Milwaukee trip is a great getaway!  It’s great for families! There are so many family friendly activities to do and places to go.

Places to go:

Head to Betty Brinn Children’s Museum – There are so many fun exhibits in this museum. One of our girls’ favorite sections is the Home Town section. This area is like a mini-Milwaukee and encourages lots of imaginative play. This whole museum is great for young kiddos!

Find a park – There are so many different outdoor areas that you can explore. Get outside and find an adventure!

Go to a beach – Milwaukee is right on Lake Michigan so there are lots of beaches. Atwater Beach is my favorite. As you can see in the pic above, it’s just beautiful. The beaches are generally clean, and actually fairly quiet. There are so many great family beaches. Definitely a great way to spend a summer afternoon.

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Visit Milwaukee Art Museum – This museum has a wonderful collection to explore and it’s not huge so spending some time here is not overwhelming for young travelers. They have, in my opinion, one of the best family programs. There is a studio space that is a lot of fun. When we went, there were two different art projects that you could participate in. One of the best parts of their family programing is that you can check out several different items to use in the museum for further exploration. We borrowed drawing materials to sketch art pieces that caught the girls’ eyes. We also borrowed fabric tubes that were so much fun! The instructions gave us the locations for a few pieces of art that matched and we got to just have fun! Seriously. So fun! And so different from any other museum experience that we have explored.

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Go to Discovery World – This is one of our favorite places to explore in Milwaukee. There are lots of cool science exhibits to engage with. Most of the exhibits are STEM related. There are a lot of activities that allow your child the change to learn about physics by doing hands-on experiences. There is also an aquarium! The aquarium is not as big as going to a stand-alone aquarium (like Shedd or someplace similar) but you can still see some interesting animals. You really can do a little bit of everything at this museum. One of the coolest things that you can do is to go for a trip on the tall ship S/V Denis Sullivan. What an amazing experience and a great way to get a different view of Milwaukee.

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Places to eat:

Cafe Corazon – This is one of our favorites. During one trip to Milwaukee, Ryan and I ate at Cafe Corazon three times in one week. That food is all good. The drinks are delicious!

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Cubanita’s – If you are in the mood for some classic Cuban food, this is your place in Milwaukee. My favorite? go on Monday for the daily special: arroz con pollo. Delicious comfort food.

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Kopp’s – If you are in the Milwaukee area during the summer and don’t go to Kopp’s, well, you’re not doing summer correctly! Go for the custard, of course. (And you can check in advance to check what the flavor of the day will be by looking at the website, or just driving by – it’s posted on the signage outside.) The custard and custard treats are all yummy, but their burgers are some of my favorite – anywhere.

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Sprecher’s – You can find Sprecher’s sodas at some stores outside of the Milwaukee area, but, there is just something about getting it from the source. There are several locations in Wisconsin (check the website). The drinks are good, there are sodas and beers! And the food is yummy and definitely family friendly. And, as you can see in the pic, for dessert you can get a flight…a float flight!

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Movida – One of my favorite types of meals is to get tapas. Yum yum yum. I was so happy to find a great place for tapas in Milwaukee. Not only does Movida have a great selection of tapas (seriously, look at that menu!), but they also have delicious churros for dessert!

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Have you been to Milwaukee? What are your favorite places to go? Where are your favorite places to eat?

 


Going to Granny and Pa’s house and having some Milwaukee adventures (going to the beach) were on our summer bucket list.

Our list thus far:

 

 

Hunting Trolls – A How To Guide

We recently went to Morton Arboretum to check out the new Trolls experience. This is a super fun experience for all families. The girls were so excited when we saw our first troll, the one overlooking the highway.

(We did eventually hike up to this one to see it up close.)

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It was a very hot day when we went, and honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. You are given a map to help find the trolls and that’s definitely useful. The map also details which parking areas to use to get closer to each one. The map itself is not as super exact as the trail maps that are located on each trail. However, it is very useful. And, there are signs throughout the trails (and on the roads) letting you know which way to go to hunt trolls.

When you find a troll, you will also find a clue written on a sign. Write down this clue on your map! (There is a section on your map for gathering clues.) It will help you to find the troll hideout.

The first four trolls are found starting at the parking lot and moving in a big circle. This circle is over 3 miles (I’m not sure the exact mileage but I asked a couple Arboretum employees and they each said at least 3 miles  – and then congratulated us for hiking those miles!). The trails are absolutely beautiful. And hiking the paths allows you to see some truly beautiful areas.

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But be warned, some of the trails are in some deep wooded areas and were very, very, very mosquitoe-y when we went. Very mosquitoe-y.

The trail leading up to this guy was especially buggy.

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The sculptures are all amazing. (And made from reclaimed wood or leftover wood from other projects.)

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Seriously cool. However, I would not really recommend doing what we did – walking the trails to find the first four trolls. It was hot. It’s a lot of walking for small legs. And the mosquitoes made it a bit of a miserable experience. If you are planning to hike it, please be a bit more prepared than we were. Please, please, please, please bring insect repellent. We were definitely covered in mosquito bites after this hike. Yuck.

Realistically, the hike wasn’t all bad. My girls are accustomed to doing long walks and/or hikes so the distance wasn’t terrible. And we had snacks and water bottles in my backpack. Much of the hike was very beautiful. I am glad that we were able to see things that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. The views were gorgeous. And, many of the trails were areas of the Arboretum that we hadn’t explored before.

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But, after we made it back to the visitors center after finding the first four trolls, we ate lunch, cooled down at the Children’s Garden (one of our favorite spots in the entire Arboretum), and we stopped at the gift shop to make a very important purchase.

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Definitely necessary! (I beg you, do not attempt hiking the paths to find the trolls if you don’t have bug spray! Drive and park!)

Since we had already done plenty of hiking for the day, we drove to find the last two trolls. Honestly, if you are attempting this with younger kids (and you should, you really should. It’s such a fun, magical experience for kids) I recommend using the troll hunting map to find the closest parking spots and then walk just a bit to find the trolls. It’s a much more pleasant experience if it is super hot and/or super buggy.

After you have found the last two trolls, you can put the clues together to find the troll hideout! This was hands-down our favorite part of the experience. It’s such a fun spot to explore. The entire area is a very clever design that really sums up the entire troll hunting experience. So fun!

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The troll hunting will be at the Morton Arboretum through summer of 2019. I am looking forward to finding them again in the fall. I think it’s going to be even more beautiful to explore when the leaves are changing colors!

Have you checked out this experience yet? What did you think?

 

Going to the Morton Arboretum and going on a hike were both items on our summer bucket list!

The list thus far:

 

Splash Pads and Fountains

Our girls love splash pads. Sometimes great splash pads are even better than a pool (sometimes). We love the splash pads at Maggie Daley Park in Millennium Park. Not only are the splash pads fun and in the middle of a playground that you can play on, but they in the middle of Millennium Park so you can take a quick walk over to Crown Fountain to extend the fun!

This trip was the first time that big girl did not want to go on the big playground at Maggie Daley. If you’ve been there, I’m talking about the big bridge section. While we were at the playground, you could overhear other parents having similar discussions…..although this playground is a lot of fun…..there are just too many entrances and exits in each area and it is just too easy to lose track of children. Big girl did not want to go to the bridge section (also my least favorite part) because she “couldn’t see us” last time we went. And it’s true. The playground is huge and there are just too many directions that kids can run off to. If you’ve been there, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

But, although one of the splash pads sections was closed, we had a lot of fun playing in the sections that were open and playing on the not-bridge sections of the playground. And then, a walk over to Crown Fountain for more fun!

 

Our list thus far:

The Art Institute and Young Children

I will be honest. When I was a kid, the Art Institute was definitely not my favorite museum. Oh, it was soooooooo boooooooring. It was just walking around and staring at a wall and waiting for my parents to finish reading signs.

Now, however, the Art Institute is one of my favorite places in all of Chicago. I’m old enough now (lol) to understand the importance of so many of the pieces in their collection. I could seriously sit and just look at a painting for a long time. At least until my girls started getting fidgety. But, in the years since I was a kiddo, the Art Institute has  done an amazing job at helping people (of all ages) to love art!

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One of the best areas in the museum is the Ryan Learning Center. Amazing. Perfect for kids. And there are things that for even the youngest art lover. On their shelves, you will find puzzles, blocks, and lots and lots of books.

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When the girls were really little, we would spend hours building with blocks and reading book after book after book.

There is always an art project for kids to do that relates directly to an artist’s work that you can find somewhere in the museum. The last time we went, our girls made “light screens” in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright.

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But one of the best activities that you will find in the Learning Center is the JourneyMaker! It is amazing! The kids pick a theme, answer a few questions, and then print out their own art scavenger hunt based on their answers to use as a guide in the museum.

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The booklet that is printed, tells you exactly what gallery to find the art in, as well. This helps to keep you from feeling overwhelmed. I try to combine both girls’ Journeys on a museum map so we can save time. This past time, most of their pieces to find were close to each other in the galleries.

Once you find a piece, there is an activity to do. Kids are asked to think of what questions they would ask the art, or try to pose like a statue, or imagine if their parent was wearing the same thing as the art. Lots of fun scenarios and it  helps them to engage with the art in a meaningful and age-appropriate way.

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Now, you certainly do not have to limit your museum visit by simply finding things in the JourneyMaker. I try to pick out a couple pieces that I want to see. Or a gallery or two that I would like to wander through.

Chances are really good, you’ll find me in the Impressionist galleries.

And a stop to see one of my faves:

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Plus, there are two galleries that I promise your kids will love! The miniatures and the armor!

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(If you are visiting during the holidays, the miniatures are fun to see decked out in holiday decor! Very fun.)

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The armor exhibit recently went through a huge update and is amazing!!!


It is tempting to try to see everything when visiting a museum. I’m going to be honest and say that if you tried to see everything at the Art Institute and you are traveling with young kids, you and your kids will most likely be miserable. Oh, I’ve been there. It’s not much fun. However, if you use the JourneyMaker as your guide and then pick a few other pieces that are must-sees for you, you and your kids will have a blast visiting one of Chicago’s best offerings!

Now, tell me…..have you been to the Art Institute? What are your must-sees?


This was one of one summer bucket list items!

Our list thus far: