TR: Cedar Point Winter Chill Out (2/21/2015)

The third annual Winter Chill Out offseason event took place yesterday out in Sandusky, and we made our way over to Ohio to take it in. We always like an “offseason” visit to the park – just seeing it sometimes helps with the brutal winter blues here in the Midwest. Originally organized primarily by Pointbuzz and ultimately taken over by Cedar Point, the third edition of the event saw some significant changes to the pacing and way things went on. Some of this was ok. Some of this wasn’t that great. But this is a charity event and there’s a bunch of freebies given out, so it is a bit difficult to seriously complain. Continue reading

TR: Greater Phoenix…and 45 minutes in Minneapolis (1/1 – 1/5/2014)

There is no great secret by now that my father and stepmother live in the deserts surrounding Phoenix, Arizona. This migration has led to me venture to Phoenix a multitude of times now, with this being my fifth visit to the Valley of the Sun. By this point, one might be justified in assuming that we’ve exhausted everything of interest. This is so very far from the truth. In fact, this was the kind of trip that reminds you that there is always something new, always something to learn at some level. That is very much the hallmark of a good trip. Continue reading

The (self-absorbed) 2014: Year In Review Post

I don’t generally do year in review stuff because it turns into bragging about doing things. I don’t do this about bragging. I’m not saying I’m not proud to have as much fun as I do, but this isn’t about me telling you that I’m better than you or anything like that. I do this for me, but I’ll share with you any and all knowledge I gain because maybe one day dear reader, you can make use of it. That’s all.

So here’s some stats before the links:

-This year we set foot in 19 US states and two territories.

-Including the usual time in the province of Ontario, we visited 5 foreign countries. 3 of those were countries we’d never been to before.

-We didn’t do that much flying – just 9 airports total and 3 airlines.

-We visited 28 theme and amusement parks. There’s a huge list of standalone amusements, mini golf, and so on to go with that.

-We visited 6 US National Park sites, 3 UNESCO Heritage Sites, and 4 national parks within other nations.

-We made stops in 8 zoos and 5 aquariums.

-I spent 59 nights in 38 different hotels this year, and my wife was along for all but two of those evenings. 32 of those hotels were new to me. 3 of hotels we stayed in have a Wikipedia page. This doesn’t include the 7 nights on the Jewel of the Seas we spent either. Throw in our time at the cottage, and we slept somewhere other than home for about 2 1/2 months of this year.

Rather than post links to every trip report I wrote this year (there were 49 of them!), here’s my favorite items from this year, in no particular order.

-While all-inclusive resorts aren’t our thing, there were a lot of activities in Quintana Roo, Mexico that we did enjoy. I did a special part of the trip report dedicated to those – Akumal, Coba, and Tulum.

-Houston! It is a huge and growing metropolis that I previously disliked vehemently because it was a huge spread out city demanding driving and time in traffic. Years later, I’m older and wiser and know that not every city is New York or Boston nor should they necessarily try to be that, and you know what? Taking Houston and the surrounding area on its own merits makes it into a really cool place to visit.

-San Antonio’s theme parks (Sea World and Six Flags) are plenty OK in their own right, but the truth is what really made our trip there was the stuff we did involved less queuing. Downtown and the Mission trail were definitely the highlight for me.

-West Baden Springs Hotel and Resort in French Lick, Indiana is utterly spectacular in every way.

-Seeing my mom this May out in Western New York was great. It’s always awesome to see her. But getting her on a hot air balloon and making one of her dream life experiences come true, AND to do it somewhere as spectacular as Letchworth State Park AND during a hot air balloon festival? I kinda outdid myself there.

-Huge summer road trip!  I won’t post links to everything we did, because there was a lot, but the high points included seeing my buddy Will and his wife Marina at City Museum in St. Louis on short notice, the awesomeness that is Silver Dollar City, and seeing both government in (fine) action at Bay Beach Amusement Park the same day as House on the Rock.

-I went to Ocean City, Maryland this year? I went to Ocean City, Maryland this year!

-Staying in a yurt at The Wilds somewhere out by Zanesville, OH. 

-Riding Leap-The-Dips again and visiting Knoebels on a Pennsylvania trip.

-Tourism via boxing in Cincinnati for Adrien Broner/Emanuel Taylor and Mississauga, Ontario to watch Denton Daley/Youri Kalenga.

-Universal Studios Orlando opened Diagon Alley. I went there too?  

-We went on a cruise and I ended up in Antigua the day after a hurricane struck it. Then I almost lost my sunglasses snorkeling in the shadows of the Pitons in St. Lucia, and went in a cave and ate spaghetti pie in Barbados. 

-Because all the rest wasn’t enough, we drove to Tennessee to visit the Smokies, Dollywood, and all the ridiculous redneck Vegas stuff we could handle. And zoos in Knoxville and Cincinnati! 

Want to know how crazy this year was? Here’s a video of my wife and I riding the Mongoose Monster Truck 15 minutes or so from us in Lansing, by the airport. We did this two months ago and I never got around to writing anything about it because, well, there were other things to do.

2014, people. It was a thing.

TR: Smoky Mountain Pseudo-Christmas Pt. 3: Drive Home (11/29-30/14)

Usually for weekend trips, Saturday is our biggest day of activity. This being a weird holiday weekend trip, Saturday was basically set as a travel day to get us out of Pigeon Forge and near to Cincinnati for the final stretch of driving. As a travel day, it did still offer us a number of different things to do for entertainment and exploration. I had a short list of things I wanted to do and remembered a few items from the trip down which I felt might be worth brief exploration. Continue reading

TR: Smoky Mountain Pseudo-Christmas Pt. 2: Black Friday at Dollywood (11/28/14)

The engine that drives the development of the whole Pigeon Forge tourism machine exists just a short drive away from Gatlinburg. Not Dollywood, though that was the focus of this particular day, but rather the Smoky Mountain National Park, America’s most visited such park. We were a bit strapped for time this Friday morning, having bandied about several other ideas before finally settling on a scenic drive as we pulled away from the hotel. Sure, there’s other tourist junk we could have done, but isn’t this why everyone comes? Isn’t this why most are here? Entry is free, which only encourages floods of people. On this particular morning, we drove about 2/3s of the way to Cades Cove, then turned around so that we could arrive at Dollywood in a reasonable amount of time. The drive itself reminded me of heading north on Route 8 out of Connecticut and into Western Massachusetts – hilly, but not terribly so, running alongside a river, with many options for short hikes and walks within a short distance of an otherwise busy road. Continue reading

TR: Smoky Mountain Pseudo-Christmas Pt. 1: Pigeon Forge/Gaitlinburg (11/26-11/27/14)

Somewhere around August, it was made aware to my wife and I that our plan of staying home and having Thanksgiving with my mother-in-law was simply not going to happen. She had different plans – plans in New Zealand. That left us in a strange position of not having any plans for a huge chunk of time off. So began a period of several days where we scouted airfares and hotel prices in a desperate attempt to find something that would work. Nothing really did. How could I ever justify paying $450 or more to fly to Orlando? This left us stumped and searching for ideas. Finally, one came to me – we had season passes for Silver Dollar City acquired back in June. Silver Dollar City season passes give a 50% discount on Dollywood tickets. Dollywood, while roughly 11 hours away, is not somewhere we’d fly to, but actually somewhat feasible by automobile. Why not? Continue reading

TR: Exposition on Ontario Exploration – Blue Mountains, Niagara, Toronto Suburbs (11/15-11/16/14)

Trips happen for a reason. Sometimes there’s a specific ride. Sometimes there’s a large idea framing the trip planning process. This was a solo trip to Canada birthed around an event- a “world title” boxing bout in Mississauga, Ontario with low-priced tickets that interested me. So why not go? And since I’m crossing the border, I suppose I should do some other stuff. How about a coaster? How about some random amusements and a world-famous natural landmark? I guess I’d have to drive a lot, but I’m grown. I can do it. Continue reading