Monday, September 16, 2013

Ohio - Part 2 (Cleveland and Cincinnati)

(written by J)

The drive from Sandusky to Cleveland is roughly an hour.  So considering we were driving out of the Cedar Point parking lot at approximately 5:45PM, we could possibly make it in time to the Indians game.  There was one slight complication though – the Browns' first preseason game was also scheduled for Thursday night.  Progressive Field (Indians) and First Energy Stadium (Browns) are both easily accessible from the same main street through downtown, East 9th Street.  Imagine 90,000 plus people using the same route at the same time to get to either of the two sporting events.  I was concerned that we would miss a good chunk of the game sitting in traffic.  Amazingly, we found parking relatively close by and entered the stadium just at the Indians were batting in the bottom of the 1st inning.

The Indians had already lost the first 3 games of this series with the Tigers so expectations that the Tribe would prevail were not very high.  At least I didn’t get my hopes up.  It was 6-0 Tigers in the 3rd inning, 8-1 Tigers in the 4th, and 10-1 Tigers in the 5th.  Oh well, it is always fun to go to a Major League Baseball game even if your team gets stomped. 

You never know what you will see at the old ball game but there is usually something memorable.  For example after 8 innings, the Indians had rallied back to within 10-2.  To start the 9th inning, the Indians had changed pitchers again.  This time, I noticed something different.  The pitcher warming up had a number in the single digits (#9) which is very unusual in MLB.  One of the reserve outfielders had come on to pitch the 9th.  Naturally, he pitched a 1-2-3 inning to the delight of the remaining Indian fans in attendance.  After the 10-3 loss, we headed to our hotel in the suburbs to check in.  I was concerned that they might give away our room because we arrived after 11PM.  Checking in late was probably the best thing to do.  When I opened the door to our room, I saw a couch and a kitchen.  I was like, “Where are the beds?”  They were in the other room because we ended up with a 2 room suite!

The next day (Friday) was a very enjoyable, relaxing day.  We started the day by visiting The Christmas Story House and Museum near downtown.  The holiday classic which is on for 24 straight hours on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day was actually filmed in Cleveland even though it is set in Indiana.  We were in the house where the movie was filmed. 

It was very cool and very hands on.  You could touch anything you wanted to in the museum.  I got to pick up the dad’s “prize”, H opened the kitchen cabinet door where Randy was hiding when he was scared that his dad would kill Ralphie, Z sat on the toilet in the bathroom where Ralphie decoded Little Orphan Annie’s disappointing and commercial secret message, and B and A took turns dropping the dad’s Christmas present towards my midsection. 

The kids have never seen the movie before due to some questionable language so while they enjoyed it, they didn’t really get the full effect.  We are going to let them watch this Christmas Eve so they can look back and say, “Hey, I remember that.”

That evening, we spent quality time with my aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mom’s side.  Pretty much, the entire side of my mom’s family resides in the Cleveland area.  Unfortunately, we had not seen any of them in 5 years.  And because it had been that long, they had never meet A before.  It was a glorious evening where all of the adults just sat around outside chatting, reminiscing, sharing fun stories about everything going on in our lives while the kids had a blast playing.  During the making s'mores on the campfire portion of the evening, Z decided to use his stick to set a patch of grass on fire which H quickly doused.  It had been too long since we saw everyone and unfortunately, the night went by too quickly.  But hopefully, we can get everyone back together before another 5 years pass.

Saturday morning we drove down to Cincinnati, the final destination on this year’s vacation.  My dad’s side of the family all live in the Cincinnati area.  The past 2 years we visited them and had a wonderful time.  They are always so welcoming when we visit.  They always ask what we want to do and rearrange their schedules to accommodate us.  The one thing that I really wanted to do this year was go to a Reds game.  They were on the road the last 2 years we were up there so that wasn’t an option.  This year, they were at home so my cousin and his wife arranged getting 17 tickets for the whole gang to go to the Saturday night Reds-Padres clash.  Not only that, but they got our kids Reds T-shirts to wear to the game.  How cool is that!  Great American Ballpark where the Reds play is a launching pad.  Balls are always leaving the yard in highlights it seems.  So I was looking forward to a high scoring affair.  Also the Reds are good and the Padres are not so I figured the Reds would prevail.  I was wrong on both accounts.  The final score was Padres 3, Reds 1.  Once again though, it was a great evening at the ballpark.  Our seats were near home plate on the first base side and we had great views of the Ohio River behind the stadium.  We saw some riverboats and even a couple barges traverse the river as we watched the game. 

The one thing I will remember from this game is that the Reds 3rd basemen had a night to forget.  He committed 3 errors and also hit into a double play.  I felt bad for him because it wasn’t like he wasn’t trying.  He was trying and it just wasn’t working for him on that evening.  I must point out one final thing about Great American Ballpark.  One of their food items is nachos covered with cheese and jalapenos.  So what’s the big deal about that?  They put the nachos in a full sized Reds batting helmet.  Imagine trying to eat your head size in nachos.  Even worse, imagine putting on that batting helmet after eating said nachos.  Ewwwww!

On our last day of the trip (Sunday), we had a nice, fun time with everyone at the swimming pool for 4 plus hours and then at Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner.  The best part about spending time with relatives is just chilling and spending time with those relatives.  And Sunday was just that.  It was the perfect way to finish up this vacation.  Hopefully we see them again really soon as well.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ohio - Part 1 (Cedar Point)

(written by J)

The Ohio portion of the trip started with Sandusky and the world famous Cedar Point amusement park.  Z had been waiting for this moment not just all summer but for a couple of years.  He loves roller coasters and he had been intensely studying the Cedar Point website for years picking out his favorites.  Now that he is tall enough for all the rides, we decided that Cedar Point had to be a part of this vacation.  The original plan was to leave Mackinaw City super early Wednesday morning at 4AM so we could make the 7 hour drive down and arrive at the park by 11AM.  Then we could stay until the park closed so we could ride as many rides as possible.  Mother Nature had other ideas.  I kept checking weather forecasts while we were in Michigan and the Cedar Point forecast grew more dire by the day, even by the hour.  30% chance of thunderstorms at first then all the way up to 60% chance of thunderstorms we I checked Tuesday night, the day before we were to arrive.  Our itinerary was Sandusky for 1 day (Wednesday), drive to Cleveland the next for 2 days (Thursday and Friday), and then drive to Cincinnati for 2 days (Saturday and Sunday) to finish off the trip.  I knew that the kids viewed the Cedar Point stop as the one they were looking forward to most.  We couldn't afford to lose time at the park due to inclement weather.  We already paid over $200 for park tickets so we needed as much time as possible to ride all the cool coasters.  We had tickets to an Indians game Thursday night and Cleveland is only an hour from Sandusky so I suggested that we should just go to Cedar Point first thing Thursday morning, stay at the park until no later than 6PM, and arrive in downtown Cleveland just in time for the 7:05 start for the Indians/Tigers game.  Everyone was agreeable to the plan.  Kudos to all 3 kids who patiently waited an extra day for the moment they had been waiting for all summer.

We left at a more reasonable time Wednesday morning around 9AM and arrived in Sandusky around 4PM.  Guess what we didn't see the rest of the night in Sandusky?  That's right, thunderstorms.  It was a clear, calm evening.  Apparently it had rained a bit around lunchtime but not a drop once we arrived in town.  I was going back and forth in my mind hoping that I made the right decision.  What if it were to rain tomorrow and I screwed it all up by overanalyzing weather forecasts?  Regardless, we had time to kill once in Sandusky.  We went out to find a place to eat for dinner.  I had seen signs on the main drag (US 250 - yes, the same route that goes past Short Pump and the Siegel Center, interesting, eh?) for the historic Sandusky waterfront.  Mackinaw City was right on both Lake Huron and Lake Michigan and it was very touristy.  Sandusky is on Lake Erie so I thought maybe the historic waterfront might be the same as well.  Erroneous!  The waterfront was old, rundown, and adjacent to it was the mean streets of Sandusky.  Therefore, adjacent to the mean streets IS the mean streets.  We promptly left the historic area back to the area with all of the hotels and enjoyed dinner at Fazoli's.

Thursday morning was like Christmas morning for the kids.  The day had finally arrived!  I wanted to leave the hotel by 8:45AM because I didn't want to get stuck in any traffic getting to the park.  Time was of the essence this day with the Cedar Point/Indians entertainment double feature.  We made great time getting to the park as we were in line waiting to get in at 9AM.  The park opened at 10AM though so we had to stand there for almost an hour looking at the rides instead of riding them.  Once the park opened, H, Z, and B took off for Gatekeeper, the newest Cedar Point coaster.  I took A on the carousel which she loved.

She rode a couple more little kid rides with me while we waited for the big kids and H to get off of Gatekeeper.  Once we reunited, Z and B took me towards Top Thrill Dragster while H took A to more of the 40 inch rides that A could ride.  Top Thrill Dragster only lasts 17 seconds.  In those 17 seconds though, the coaster goes over 100 MPH straight up over 400 feet and then straight back down with a little twist to boot.  It was daunting to look at to say the least.  It only took us about 20 minutes to get into our seats on the ride which was great.  Z and B were in one row and I was behind them in the next row.  Before we started, B turned around to me with this look of terror on her face.  I won't ever forget that look.  I told her that it was too late to worry now.  Then we took off at light speed.  It was absolutely exhilarating ... probably the best coaster I've ever been on.  The kids loved it.  Here they are right after it with the coaster towering above them in the background.
H and I texted back and forth in terms of where we were and where to meet.  She told me to just keep riding with Z and B and we will touch base for lunch.  So our next stop was the Corkscrew coaster - a normal run-of-the-mill coaster similar to Anaconda at Kings Dominion.  The line for this one was pretty long.  Z was begging me to buy Fast Lane passes so we could get on rides faster naturally.  I didn't really want to spend another $200 to ride rides quicker but if this ride was long, some of the other bigger coasters would have even longer lines.  I called H and offered my opinion that if we were going to get to everything we wanted to by the time we had to leave for the Indians game, then we need to fork over the cash to ride quicker.  She agreed and Z, B, and I got to wear blue wristbands for the rest of the day to signify the VIP treatment of Fast Lane.  It worked great for the first few rides.  We did 3 more coasters (Corkscrew, Gemini Twin, and Magnum XL-200) and then met for lunch.  After lunch, I continued on the coaster tour with Z and B while H continued to ride with A.  The pace slowed considerably after lunch though.  The park was getting more crowded by the minute.  Remember this was a Thursday, not even a weekend day.  I can't imagine going there on a weekend.  We started with the Millennium Force coaster after lunch.  Even with Fast Lane, the wait was 45 minutes for us.  Cedar Point must make a killing on those Fast Lane passes because there was a ton of people in line for Millennium Force with them.  As for the poor folks who didn't shell out the big bucks for Fast Lane, I would estimate that they are still waiting in line today (a month after we went to the park) to get on the ride.  This was an excellent coaster as well.  Here's the view prior to going up the first big hill.
One of the really neat things about Cedar Point is that the amusement park is on a peninsula with Lake Erie all around it.  The views of the water from the top of the coasters was breathtaking.  Check out this shot.  You wouldn't even know we were waiting in line for the Wicked Twister when I took this picture.

I digressed about the scenery ... now back to the coasters.  In the afternoon portion, Z, B, and I went on Maverick (another 30 minute plus wait with Fast Lane), Mean Streak (a wooden coaster that lasted almost 2 1/2 minutes!), and Wicked Twister (kind of like the Berserker at Kings Dominion, only it was a coaster that went forward and backward and it didn't flip over the top).  We then met up with H and A.  At that point late in the afternoon, Z took me on the 2 54 inch coasters that B is not yet tall enough for, Raptor (a hanging coaster) and Mantis (a coaster where you stand up), while B rode the Power Tower (like Drop Tower at Kings Dominion) all by herself!  Then the kids got souvenirs and we had to say goodbye to Cedar Point.  What a day though.  Z rode 11 coasters, B rode 9 coasters and 1 thrill ride, I rode 10 coasters, H rode 1 coaster and a bunch of little kid rides and the skyride cable cars with A.  A's favorite ride by far was the Kite-Eating Tree, similar to Drop Tower or Tower of Terror, but for the little ones. She went on it at least 8 times.
But the day was not over yet.  It was 5:45PM and the race was on to make it to Progressive Field on time.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


(written by J)

Our first stop on the Michigan portion of vacation (Sunday morning) was The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, on the southwest side of the Detroit metro area.  On the way from our hotel to the museum, there was beautiful scenery including dilapidated vacant buildings missing windows yet covered in graffiti.  The area where the museum was though was nice - it was like Colonial Williamsburg right next to a Ford automobile factory.  There was an old timey village where you could explore what Detroit was in colonial times (I guess when it was strategic ground during the French and Indian War).  We chose to do just the museum because we were headed to Mackinaw City (5 hours north) that same day.  I entertained myself when buying the tickets by ordering tickets for 2 adults and 2 "utes" like the way Joe Pesci pronounced youths in the classic movie My Cousin Vinny. The museum itself was in an old picturesque building.  It had lots of old cars, fun neon signs, and an area were you could make paper airplanes (the kids loved that!)

After we finished at the museum, we made a pit stop for cherries and lunch in Ann Arbor.  We got cherry candies and cherry wine at the downtown Cherry Republic store.  Then based on the recommendation of the staff at Cherry Republic, we ate lunch at an Ann Arbor institution, Zingerman's Deli.  It was outstanding!  After that, we got back in the minivan and traveled the approximately 300 miles up US 23 and I-75 to Mackinaw City.  Mackinaw City is literally the last stop before you take the 5 mile Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It is also a tourist town from which ferries sail to nearby Mackinac Island.  Yes for those of you scoring at home, Mackinaw City is spelled differently than Mackinac Island or Mackinac Bridge.  Regardless, both spellings are pronounced Mackinaw.

We arrived at our hotel which resembled a log cabin around 7PM on Sunday night.  Were the kids hungry?  No, they saw the indoor pool and begged and begged until we said okay.  The good thing about northern Michigan in summer is that sunset isn't until 9PM so it doesn't feel as bad eating dinner at 8:30PM because it is still light out.  After a delicious meal at local pizza place, B.C. Pizza, we hurried to the Mackinaw Crossings outdoor mall to catch their laser light show at dusk.  We got to the stage area where people were already sitting around waiting for it to start.  This was about 9:15 PM.  We picked a spot and waited patiently and then impatiently.  Someone asked me if I knew when it was supposed to start but I had no idea.  All I knew is that the show was supposed to start at dusk.  Apparently, dusk in northern Michigan is 10:08 PM because that's when the show began.  It wasn't very impressive.  There were lasers set to music.  Most of the lasers seemed identical except for one where Santa was doing Gangnam Style set to the music of Gangnam Style.  That was a puzzler.  We left before the show concluded because we were bored and tired.  I hope we didn't miss a spectacular grand finale.  I'm pretty sure we didn't.

The next morning (Monday), we took a ferry over to Mackinac Island.  The boat ride over was about 20 minutes and for added entertainment, the boat went under the Mackinac Bridge, prior to heading over to the island.  I must note that the woman who we bought the tickets from had fabulous hair.  She was older but her hair was bright red, kind of curly, and incredibly high.  Once on Mackinac Island, we took a horse-drawn carriage ride around parts of the island.  The town of Mackinac Island is unique in that they don't allow cars on the streets - only pedestrians, bicycles, and horse-drawn carriages. 

It was a very enjoyable, entertaining, and eventful ride.  We rode down the main street and then headed up a hill towards the Grand Hotel, the quintessential landmark of Mackinac Island.  The hill to the right of the hotel was quite steep so our driver/tour guide let the horses rest at the side of the road.  During this downtime, the driver asked all of us on the carriage if anyone wanted to guess how long it took to build the Grand Hotel.  Someone said "6 weeks" and the driver said that was the closest guess he's heard in a while.  He asked for any other guesses and Z replied "6 weeks and 1 day" prompting laughter throughout the carriage and the driver said "What is this, The Price is Right?"  The correct answer was 3 months so Z won and can "Come on Down!"  After that, we continued up the hill and then stopped again to give the horses another break before they reached the top of the hill.  I don't remember what the driver was saying but I saw this young guy flying down the hill on a bicycle.  I also saw an older gentleman start to pedal his bike into the street.  Moments later, the young guy flying plowed right into the old guy.  It was kind of surreal.  Both riders went down in a heap and stayed down for a couple minutes.  Eventually, they both got up and rode it off so to speak.  It is certainly something I won't ever forget.  The rest of the ride was anticlimactic.  B and A had H take pictures of pretty much every horse they passed.  This is the best of those pictures.

After the carriage ride, we ate lunch, got fudge, got souvenirs, took some more scenic pictures such as this ...
and headed back to the mainland where we took more cool shots of the island like this.

Once we got back to Mackinaw City, we decided that it was time to venture across the lengthy Mackinac Bridge.  I really wanted to drive across it and we all wanted to put our feet on the ground on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The bridge was under construction so there was only one open lane northbound and one open lane southbound.  The road itself was grooved as it appeared they were repaving it.  It was a little slick but not "we're going to plunge off the bridge" scary.  I drove a safe speed and successfully got us across to the UP where we got out of the car to view the bridge looking south and then back to Mackinaw City.  We finished off the evening just like the previous night with the hotel pool and dinner at BC Pizza.  We passed on the laser light show though.

The next morning (Tuesday), our final day in Mackinaw City, we went to the Mackinaw Point Lighthouse to start.  We were greeted by a stern employee who said A couldn't go up to the top of the lighthouse.  I pleaded with her asking if I could carry her up but she refused.  A and I waited outside while H, Z, and B went up to the top.  They came back and H told me to go up with Z and B so I did.  Turns out that the stern employee was right.  You needed a ladder to get to the very top and there was no way I could have carried A up there.  The college student portraying the lighthouse keeper at the top was excited to see Z and B come back to the top saying "I remember you two!"  The lighthouse was right on the shore of Lake Huron so after the lighthouse, we dipped our toes in Lake Huron.

Lake Huron is on the east side of the Mackinac Bridge.  Lake Michigan is on the west side of the Mackinac Bridge so we wanted to dip our toes in Lake Michigan as well.  Access to Lake Michigan was a tad bit more complicated.  We walked towards the bridge to try to get to the Lake Michigan side but there was a big "No Trespassing" sign.  We then started driving west but couldn't find any lake access.  H eventually saw a side road that dead ended at a very narrow street called Lakeshore or Lakeside.  Where the street dead ended were houses and in between two of them was a little sign that said "Public Access" presumably for small boats.  We hustled down there, dipped our toes in, and hustled back much to the chagrin of A who wanted to stay in Lake Michigan longer.

B was also annoyed because she got sand on her feet but at least Z was happy for the moment.  After lunch, we went to the Jack Pine Lumberjack Show and everyone was back smiling again.  This was quality entertainment.  The lumberjack host split the bleachers where we were sitting so our side cheered for one lumberjack and booed the other vociferously and the other side cheered the one we were booing and booed our adopted lumberjack.  There was tree climbing, axe throwing, wood chopping, and the piece de resistance, log rolling.  There was also a point during the show where the host asked for volunteers from the audience.  B was one of 4 children called to the stage.  There was a contest as to who could yell "Timber!!!" the loudest and longest.  The host said all 4 kids were winners and gave them all Frisbees and coupons for free ice cream.  In our opinions (note from H: it's a fact), B was definitely the big winner.  We finished our time in Michigan eating ice cream (they were very generous with their portions - 1 scoop equaled 2 1/2 scoops), playing mini-golf, getting very expensive drinks at the newly opened Starbucks that looked like a log cabin ($6 for a venti hazelnut frappucino!), eating dinner at B.C. Pizza again (we loved that place - the pizza was great and I think it was cheaper than Starbucks for H and I), and standing on the shore of Lake Huron throwing rocks into the lake.

I was very impressed with Michigan and I enjoyed our time there immensely.  The people were very friendly.  I would also say that 75% of the people up there were wearing Detroit Tigers gear.  They love their Tigers in Michigan.  The Lions not so much.  It was a couple days into the trip that I finally saw someone wearing Lions gear.  Here are a couple more fun tidbits from Michigan.  They call soda up there pop.  They even went so far in some restaurants to label lids for soft drinks as "pop lids."  Also, there are a great number of seagulls in northern Michigan and they like to shed feathers.  The kids collected feathers everywhere we went up there.  They could probably reconstruct a bird out of all of the feathers they picked up.  Finally, the quote of the trip occurred at an Arby's in Bridgeport, Michigan.  We were happily eating our lunch when we hear the manager chatting with a customer ordering.  The money quote was she asked the customer, "Are you a gravy guy?  Do you like gravy on things?"  It was just so out of left field and it made us chuckle.

Next stop, Sandusky, Ohio, home of Cedar Point.  To say Z was excited would be an understatement.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Introduction - 2013 Vacation Up North

(written by J)

Welcome to the summary of our 2013 vacation.  Last year, we went into SEC country and Texas where temperatures soared into the high nineties.  This year, we went in the opposite direction to Big Ten (or is it Big Eleven or Big Twelve) country - Michigan and Ohio.  Our stops this year were Detroit (1 night), Mackinaw City (3 nights), Sandusky/Cedar Point (1 night), Cleveland (2 nights), and Cincinnati (2 nights).  I know, I know, you are all asking Detroit?  You are vacationing in Detroit?  You realize it's the largest bankrupt American city, right?  It's all about thinking outside the box.  Why battle all the beach traffic heading south on a Saturday when you can drive free and easy 600 plus miles to Detroit?  Just look at all of this wide open highway.

Oops, we were making good time until we got to Toledo, Ohio.  This was the best hour spent all day in the exact same spot on I-75 where you could step outside of the car, get some fresh air, stand on rumble strips, have a frantic child desperately needing to go to the bathroom ... good times.  Some knucklehead overturned a car a mile up from where I was standing and they closed the interstate while police, fire, and rescue cleaned up the mess.  Once we finally got moving again around 6PM, we were still an hour plus from the Motor City and everyone was hungry.  So we stopped for dinner at a Cracker Barrel in Monroe, Michigan.  It was a strange meal to say the least.  First, the waitress brought everyone drinks except H.  Eventually, she received her drink.  Then, the waitress brought everyone their meals except H again.  What did the waitress have against my wife?  Eventually, she brought her a salad, not the one she ordered, but it was edible and H didn't want to complain.  Finally, we were all finished and then the waitress comes over to H holding a big salad (like Seinfeld) saying, "I'm sorry but I brought you the wrong salad.  Here's the right one."  H was dumbfounded.  She said that she couldn't eat it but the waitress insisted that we take it.  We said no because we were traveling and that we had nowhere to keep it.  Reluctantly, the waitress left taking the big salad with her.  We then headed back on the road arriving at our hotel in the Detroit suburbs at 9 PM when it was still kind of light out.  The next post will describe the Michigan portion of our vacation in detail.