October 16, 2018

Fun Things To Do With Kids In The Quad Cities

Our trip to the Quad Cities in eastern Iowa and western Illinois was supposed to be a fun getaway, including some beautiful fall scenery. Think autumn things like pumpkin patches, nature hikes, and changing leaves along the Mississippi River. Due to rain — so much rain — our weekend was spent mostly indoors, though. No problem since there are plenty of fun things to do in the Quad Cities that are indoors, including exploring kid-friendly museums and eating an embarrassing amount of ice cream and pancakes.

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Visit Quad Cities. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Exploring the Quad Cities in Iowa & Illinois with kids - Fun things to do in the Quad Cities, including family-friendly museums, restaurants, breweries & hotel

The Quad Cities, if you’re unfamiliar, consists of Betterndorf and Davenport in Iowa and Moline and Rock Island in Illinois. The Mississippi is the natural divider for the states and cities. They’re proximity to each made it feel like one large city with small-town atmospheres.

For a family-friendly getaway to the Quad Cities, here are some of my suggestions:

Where to play

My kids are 7 and 9 years old, so they they’re starting to age out of children’s museum-type experiences (hands-on) but still love anything that’s play-based. Here’s where we went in the Quad Cities.

Learning about mummies and Egyptian hieroglyphs at the Putnam Museum in the Quad Cities.

A mix between science center and natural history museum, Putnam Museum in Davenport was a big hit for my kids. It’s large and families could easily spend an entire afternoon here. My kids enjoyed the science center, mummies, and walking through the river exhibit featuring the animals, flora and fauna found along the Mississippi River.

Putnam Museum has a lot of hands-on activities for kids to explore STEM concepts.

I loved playing with the kids in the augmented reality room where you could see yourself on screen with dinosaurs.

Where: Putnam Museum, 1717 W. 12th St., Davenport, Iowa

Tip: If you’re a member of Omaha Children’s Museum, you get admission for four FREE at the Putnam Museum thanks to the ASTC reciprocal membership program!

I was impressed with the massive Figge Art Museum in Davenport. We were there to see the new traveling exhibit, “French Moderns: Monet to Matisse,” as well as glimpse at some of the permanent collection. Catch the traveling exhibit while you can, as it was impressive.

The inspiration for our visit to Figge Art Museum was to see the traveling French Moderns exhibit, but the large museum is worth a stop with or without a stellar traveling exhibit.

The museum also is known for having one of the largest collections of Mexican Colonial artwork outside of Mexico City and is one of the first U.S. museums to have a Haitian art collection.

The Figge’s Family Activity Center was my children’s favorite space in the museum. They could create art, perform, read and be a little louder than they normally would be in a museum.

My kids spent most of their time in the newly remodeled Family Art Center on the second floor of the museum. It was a space to draw, build, and try on costumes. It’s perfect for all ages.

Where: Figge Art Museum, 225 W. 2nd Street, Davenport, Iowa

If you go to Figge, you’ll be block away from the Davenport Skybridge. It’s a walkway from a parking garage that leads you to a neat lookout over the Mississippi River.

If you’re in downtown Davenport, make a quick stop to see the Davenport Skybridge, which has great views of the Mississippi River.

We went during the day, but I’ve seen pictures of the Skybridge at night and the interior is lit up with colorful lights.

Family Museum in Bettendorf was one of the museums we were not originally planning on visiting, but rain washed out our outdoor plans so this became our substitute. I’m glad we did!

The Family Museum in Bettendorf, Iowa, appeals especially to younger kids.

Consider this museum like a children’s museum with a very creative and fun pretend space filled with a farm, grocery story, Mississippi bridge replica, veterinarian clinic, post office and more, plus a large water table and maker space.

The Family Museum in the Quad Cities had so many opportunities for make believe play.

Its total exhibit space is small compared to Omaha Children’s Museum, but you can easily spend a few hours playing just in the one room I mentioned above. And if your kids love the role playing, the Family Museum is hard to beat.

Playing with clay in a studio at the Family Museum in Bettendorf.

We went upstairs to the clay studio before leaving (there is also a separate art studio upstairs). The make-and-take air-dry clay is free to play with and take home. For a few dollars, though, you can make something on the pottery wheel. It’s not a great option for visitors like us since that clay needs to be fired in a kiln and picked up a week later.

Tip: If you’re a member of Omaha Children’s Museum, you get admission for four FREE at the Family Museum thanks to the ASTC reciprocal membership program!

Where: 2900 Learning Campus Dr, Bettendorf, Iowa

On the Iowa side of the Quad Cities, we went to two other attractions that happen to be FREE. Both could be about an hour-long visit depending how into tractors or rocks & fossils your family is.

The Fyxell Geology Museum is a free museum that’s worth a visit for families.

The Fryxell Geology Museum is a few museum on the beautiful Augustana College campus in Rock Island, Ill. Leave a few minutes on your visit to explore the campus before or afterward.

The museum’s small but it’s easy to spend an hour here. See if your family can get a guided tour because the enthusiasm of the guide is going to be contagious with your family. 

There’s a surprising amount of hands-on opportunities at Fryxell Geology Museum in Moline, Ill.

Shannon brought out fossils for the kids to touch like fossilized poop and a shark’s jaw.

They’re testing out an augmented reality app, too, and my kids loved seeing the fossils “come to life” in pictures and video with the museum’s iPad.

We got to test out an app at Fryxell Geology Museum where kids can “see” what a fossil may have looked like millions of years ago.

If you’re exploring on your own, there’s a scavenger hunt card game.

The museum’s biggest draw is the Cryolophosaurus, a 22-foot-long dinosaur fossil discovered by an Augstana College professor. It’s the first-ever dinosaur fossil found in Antarctica and it was a previously unknown dinosaur – so a doubly exciting discovery.

Don’t skip the small exhibit in back behind the black curtain. There are fluorescent stones back there.

Where: Fryxell Geology Museum, 820 38th St., Rock Island, Ill. Just a note: Finding a parking spot near the museum was difficult as we went when college was in session.

Moline is home to the world headquarters of John Deere, and so it’s no surprise there’s a place to learn about the history of the company and glimpse at the future. The John Deere Pavilion is a great place to explore with kids as there are several huge farming equipment for them to climb on, as well as an interactive kids area.

Antique and modern John Deere farming equipment are on display at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Ill. You can climb into many of the machines.

The kids area is small but it held my kids’ attention for a long time, especially video editor and the stop-motion video table.  

Adults even got in on the fun, especially with the simulators.

Where: John Deere Pavilion, 1400 River Dr., Moline, IL

Where to eat in the Quad Cities

This weekend getaway to the Quad Cities was extremely over-indulgent and if you’re on a diet, skip this part.

Breakfast is my favorite meal on vacation. The two I’d recommend are local institutions, and expect a wait if you go.

QC Coffee and Pancake House in Rock Island, Ill., is known for their cinnamon roll pancakes. So, we had to get one, right? We also tried the specials there – both plates were heaping with food. Mine was particularly colorful with a variety of fresh fruits and prepared vegetables. It’s all about balance when you also order a large pancake.

QC Coffee and Pancake House is known for their cinnamon roll pancakes.

The kids got Mickey Mouse pancakes, and again, too much for one kid to finish.

Jimmy’s Pancake House in Bettendorf, Iowa, is again, known for pancakes. They were fluffy and prepared just the way I like them. The perk of this restaurant, if you ask my kids, is the toy they gave them after the meal.
This restaurant is very close to the Family Museum.

Lagomarcino’s is a family-owned confectionery and soda fountain that’s been in business in Moline, Ill., for more than 100 years.

Lagomarcino’s has two locations in the Quad Cities and we went to the quaint original in Moline, Ill. You could walk to it from our hotel, Element, which is convenient.

Logamarcino’s is a century-old confectionery and ice cream shop with a deli thrown in for good measure. We ordered sandwiches, fully knowing we’d be splitting one of their famous sundaes afterward. They make their own ice cream and hot fudge.

This place is pretty charming and you’ll be tempted to buy candies and treats before leaving. I promise.

The homemade ice cream and hot fudge at Lagomarcino’s is legendary.

There are two locations. We dined at the downtown Moline, Ill., one. The second location is in the Village of East Davenport in Iowa, and that little area is absolutely charming.

Our other lunch was at Steel Plow Burger Co. You’d think you’d go here for the burgers (and those are good), but you’re really going because you want one of the over-the-rim milkshakes. These things are monstrous concoctions that must be shared.

So we did.

We split a brownie shake, which had little brownie bites and donuts on skewers, M&Ms and marshmallows along the bottom, and delish fudge dropping from the top. Four of us could not finish it.

How could we go to the Quad Cities and not have one of the pizzas that Food & Wine wrote about this year? We went to Harris Pizza (there are several locations, so we went to the one in Rock Island). The pizza is sliced in long strips rather than your typical triangle slices. Crisp bottom, thick crust and ample toppings, with just the right amount of sauce. All around, it was a great pizza.

There are several breweries in the Quad Cities, and I asked around for a few suggestions of family-friendly breweries so that I could try local beer without feeling out of place while on a family vacation. Bent River Brewing Co. in Moline was short walk from our hotel, so we decided to have dinner there one evening. While we were the only ones with kids there, we were welcomed.

Bent River Brewing Co. in Moline, Ill., is a local brewery with a kids menu and games to help pass the time while you wait for a meal.

There was a kids menu and several games to choose from while we waited for our dinner. We played Sorry and Jenga. The food was typical pub food, and the beer was exceptional. I tried their most popular beer, Uncommon Stout, and my husband ordered a seasonal sweet potato beer. The seasonal was so good, we bought a growler to take home.

Where to stay in the Quad Cities

Our hotel, Element Moline, was on the Illinois side of the Quad Cities, but given the proximity of the cities to each other, I don’t know if you can choose wrong when deciding which city to stay in.

Our room at Element had the look and feel of a chic loft – brick walls, concrete floors, and a kitchen.

I’ll be visiting a few more Quad City hotels in the next month and can report back to you on why you’d choose one of the Quad Cities over the other depending on your itinerary.

But, back to talking about Element. You may be familiar with the hotel chain by Hyatt. It’s a sleek hotel, and this one in Moline has such a cool look. It reminded me of loft apartments in Omaha’s Old Market, blending brick walls, cement, and modern furniture.

The hotel had one of the best complimentary breakfasts I’ve seen at any hotel when traveling. There was someone preparing hot food made-to-order (pancakes on the weekend and two egg white options on the weekday). The fresh fruit and yogurt bar were healthier options I appreciated. My kids, on the other hand, liked the cereal bar and pastry varieties.

Element Hotel in Moline had self-serve breakfast food plus someone making hot food to order. On the weekend, she was making pancakes and on Monday, she was making two different egg white dishes.

Most important to traveling families, it has a pool. Our room was shower-only, so that was a drawback for my kids. I’d say, overall, this hotel would appeal more to business travelers than families, while still being pretty family-friendly.

The hotel is within walking distance to the John Deere Pavilion, as well as the TaxSlayer Arena. It’s also near a bike trail along the riverfront, and the hotel has complimentary bicycles if you have time to explore.

Where: 316 12th Street, Moline, Ill.

Family guide to fun things to do in Quad Cities (Iowa & Illinois) - Recommendations for restaurants, museums & hotel for a family-friendly getaway in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois

Plan a Quad Cities Family Trip

I’ll be sharing more in-depth posts about some of the places we visited in the Quad Cities in upcoming posts. Check back to learn more about:

Staying at Element Moline – Oct. 24

Taking Kids To The Figge Art Museum – Nov. 1

Free Things To Do With Kids In The Quad Cities – Nov. 8

Exploring The Putnam Museum With Young Kids – Nov. 22

Comparing Hotels Around The Quad Cities – Dec. 13

What’s At The Family Museum in Bettendorf? – Dec. 26

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October 1, 2018

Taking Kids To The Motown Museum

Motown music was on heavy rotation during our Great Michigan Road Trip in preparation for our final stop: Detroit. With a great variety of museums to choose from in the city, I felt it was essential to visit the Motown Museum. But, there are a few things to keep in mind before taking your family there.

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Visit Detroit. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Planning a family trip to Detroit, Michigan? Here are a few things to know before going with kids, especially young ones who may not do well on a guided tour. #Michigan #MIGreatRoadTrip #familytravel #museumtips

Before you go to Motown Museum

Really, there are just two things I suggest doing before you go:

1.  Book the tour. You can’t peek inside the museum, AKA Hitsville USA, without a taking the one-hour tour. So, you’ll need to buy your tour tickets for a specific day and time in advance.

There’s always the option of trying to walk up and buy tickets the day of, but when we were there, we saw people turned away. Don’t risk it if this museum is important to you.

2. Listen to the music. This was my favorite way to introduce the kids to the people and music they would be learning about. 

You can see where Motown began at the Motown Museum in Detroit. Photo courtesy Visit Detroit

What to expect at the Motown Museum

You’ll want to be prompt for your timed tour. You’ll meet your tour guide and learn the rules. The big one? No pictures.

Most of the time. I’ll get to that exception in a second.

The tour takes you through Barry Gordy Jr.’s flat, past displays of gold records, costumes, and historic photos. We heard inside stories about artists who passed through the studio, like how Stevie Wonder was just a kid and there was a rule about not switching out the order of the candy in the vending machine so he’d always be able to buy the candy he wanted on his own.

The highlight for me? Standing in the Studio A. It was, like, goosebumps special. Our guide talked about recording artists who were inspired by Motown greats visiting and weeping when they entered the studio.

Studio A at the Motown Museum in Detroit
The Temptations, The Supremes and many other famous Motown artists recorded hit songs in Studio A. Visitors to the Motown Museum visit the studio during the tour. 

It’s fascinating to hear the stories of who recorded there, and to know which songs were recorded in that very space. This was the lone place where we could take pictures. We all sang “My Girl,” and for me, it was a pinch-me moment.

What ages are best for Motown Museum?

The Motown Museum is packed with insight and history into Barry Gordy, and the musicians and songs behind Motown Records. There’s nothing on display that is inappropriate or over a kid’s head necessarily. However, it’s not for all ages due to the tour structure.

One of my kids managed better on the guided tour than the other…but both insisted on getting Motown Museum T-shirts, so I guess it did make an impression on both.

Motown Museum was not a good one for my 6-year-old. The tour goes through a home and rather than having free reign to roam, your tour group follows the guide room-to-room, and there’s no lingering or moving ahead if your little one gets bored. That was tough for my daughter.

My daughter was overly tired and wanted to sit at each tour stop while the tour guide talked. There also aren’t many places to sit, except for when we sat to watch the short documentary before taking the tour. 

Which leads to the other problem for my youngest: She’s not into documentaries. Go figure. That was the longest couple of minutes ever.

My son is slightly older and no problem with anything on the tours, besides not having a good sense of timelines and social significances of certain songs or people.

If you go

Motown Museum

Where: 2648 W. Grand Blvd, Detroit, Mich.

Cost: Tickets in 2018 are $15 for adults, $10 for children, and FREE for children ages 4 and younger. Tickets for tours are first come, first served and often sell out, especially on Saturdays. Tickets can be purchased up to 21 days in advance online. Tours are about an hour long. Here’s the link for tickets, and hours, as well.

News to note: The museum has launched a campaign for a $50 million expansion. There was no construction going on when we visited nor have I read when that may begin, but I’d recommend checking on construction plans if and when you plan to visit, just in case.

What to expect if you bring little ones to Motown Museum in Detroit, Michigan. #tips #familytravel #USA

Read more about things to do in Detroit

Planning a visit to Detroit? Start with the Detroit Bucket List, and then check out these posts for further details about different Detroit museums:

Detroit Museums For Families

“Star Wars and the Power of Costume” At Detroit Institute Of Arts

Things To Know Before Taking Kids To The Henry Ford

Where To Stay Near Detroit

This was the final stop of an epic Michigan road trip. Learn about all of our fun stops here.

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September 12, 2018

Exploring Grand Rapids Public Museum With Kids

The surprise hit of our Grand Rapids weekend was the Grand Rapids Public Museum. A surprise because we almost didn’t go. If you’re in the city, with or without kids, this is a must-visit.

Streetcar inside Grand Rapids Public Museum
A streetcar, a sperm whale skeleton, and more at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Not knowing what to expect at the museum added to the adventure of discovering things at each turn.

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Experience Grand Rapids. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Grand Rapids Public Museum favorite exhibits

There are some can’t-miss things on display that you, literally, cannot miss since they’re in the main hall. The large sperm whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling comes to mind. 

Sperm Whale skeleton in the main hall in Grand Rapids Public Museum
You really can’t miss Finny, the sperm whale skeleton hanging over the main hall.

It’s name is Finny, by the way.

My favorite area was a replica of an old street scene, complete with stocked stores, street lights, and a unicycle photo opp. The scene is 1890s Grand Rapids.

Old streetscape inside Grand Rapids Public Museum
Storefronts from the olden days of Grand Rapids. There’s a full street of them at the Grand Rapids Public Museum – and don’t skip taking a seat on a unicycle while in the area.

We allowed such a short amount of time, so regrettably, we rushed through some things. And there’s so much to see! Exhibits on musical instruments, phones, history, animals…a little bit of everything.

Exhibit at Grand Rapids Public Museum
“Collecting From A-Z” is the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s way of showcasing a variety of items, some exquisite and beautiful as well as some bizarre.

My kids are 6 and 8 years old and they were fully engaged here. There’s even a space for them to learn about space.

The Carousel at Grand Rapids Public Museum

You can’t really go to the museum without stopping by the carousel. The 1928 Spillman Carousel is a little extra to ride, unless you have a membership, but it’s iconic and a kid-pleaser.

Old carousel at Grand Rapids Public Museum
You’ll hear the music before you see the carousel at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

If you go

Grand Rapids Public Museum

Where: 272 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Hours may be found here


Grand Rapids Public Museum was a hit with kids and adults - History, hands-on exhibit pieces, and a carousel #familytravel #Michigan

More about Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids was the first stop of an epic road trip adventure through Michigan. Go ahead and check out where we stopped and what we did, or use this ultimate Michigan Bucket List to plan an awesome road trip.

Weekend in Grand Rapids

For Grand Rapids highlights, read these posts:

48 Hours In Grand Rapids With Kids

Where to Stay in Downtown Grand Rapids

Adventures At John Ball Zoo

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September 10, 2018

Exploring The Science Center of Iowa

My kids are starting to love visiting science centers when we’re traveling. When planning trips, I check if our destination has a museum or science center that’s part of the Association of Science-Technology Centers, or ASTC. Why? The four of us will get in free admission thanks to the reciprocal membership benefits we get with our Omaha Children’s Museum membership. Sweet, right?

This summer, we had a chance to make use of that free admission perk to visit Science Center of Iowa in downtown Des Moines.

A fun day for the family at the Science Center of Iowa located in downtown Des Moines

Highlights of the Science Center of Iowa

The Science Center of Iowa was a fun morning for my family on a day that looked like it might rain at any moment. 

We spent the most time in the room called When Things Get Moving, where the kids could make paper rockets to shoot, test egg cradles, and building LEGO race cars.

Ball exhibit inside Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines
When Things Get Moving is a popular permanent exhibit at the Science Center of Iowa in downtown Des Moines.

The space exhibit, Why The Sky, was also a great one to explore. This was probably the most entertaining exhibit for both adults and kids. After testing out several exhibits there, we found our way to the planetarium. Turns out, it was a great place to lay flat on the floor and rest while watching a show.

Space exhibit inside Science Center in Des Moines, Iowa
Why The Sky was an exhibit that explored space and spacecraft at the Science Center of Iowa.

The IMAX theater was another space to sit and rest for a spell. It was not very crowded the afternoon we went. The great thing is that planetarium shows are included with admission. Here’s a list of their programs at the science center.

There are a few other rooms, including one for natural sciences, a Makers Space, and one dedicated to LEGO building . If you visit with toddlers, there is also a separate room for that age group to explore.

Testing out circuits at the Science Center of Iowa in downtown Des Moines
My daughter liked building circuits while we were at the Science Center of Iowa.

You can easily spend two hours or more at the Science Center of Iowa. If you attend one of the science shows or a planetarium show, expect to spend a minimum of three hours.

If you go

Science Center of Iowa

Where: 401 W. Martin Luther King Jr Parkway, Des Moines, Iowa


Looking for a fun thing to do indoors with kids in Des Moines? The Science Center of Iowa was great for a few hours of playing and learning. #Iowa #sciencecenter

What’s near the Science Center of Iowa

Our afternoon at the Science Center of Iowa timed out well for us to visit the Des Moines Farmers Market in the morning. There are vendors practically at the front door of the science center. Strolling the market, you’ll find an abundance of samples (food and wine), plus tons of dogs, which are always a hit with my kids.

The Des Moines Farmers Market in the downtown area was one of the largest I’ve ever been to.

The science center isn’t too far from the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, with plenty of space for kids to run around and some pretty iconic photo opps.

Fong's Pizza's most well-known pie is the crab rangoon pizza. It's delicious and lives up to the hype.
Fong’s Pizza’s most well-known pie is the crab rangoon pizza. It’s delicious and lives up to the hype.

For food, I can’t tell you enough to go try Fong’s Pizza, which is walkable from Science Center of Iowa.

Plan a Des Moines Family Getaway

We visited the Science Center of Iowa on a weekend getaway in the summer. Read all about the fun things we did in this post. We spent a day at Adventureland and an afternoon at Blank Park Zoo during the trip.

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September 4, 2018

Adventures At John Ball Zoo

We visited one zoo during our great Michigan Road Trip – the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids. It was a great zoo for animal interaction and adrenaline adventure (for an added fee). I wouldn’t typically say zoos have adventure (well, there was that one time in Florida), but this place was a blast.

John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has add-on experiences including a zipline, ropes course, funicular, & bird show #USA #familytravel #zoos

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Experience Grand Rapids, though the add-on experiences were at not complimentary. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

The zoo is in a pretty setting, wooded with plenty of shade. It’s smallish, so families can visit for the afternoon and not be exhausted afterward.

Waterfall at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
A waterfall at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Mich.

My caveat: I’m pretty spoiled with the Omaha zoo, so I didn’t seek out a lot of the animal exhibits. Instead, I sought unique zoo experiences I can’t find in Omaha.

Favorite Extra: Bird Show

My kids’ favorite part of the zoo, and, fine, MY favorite part, was the Realm of Flight Bird Show. It was only $2 extra per person and worth it. If you visit on a weekday, it is free.

Bird show at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
The audience learned about 10 birds through demonstrations during the Realm of Flight Bird Show at the John Ball Zoo.

As part of the show, keepers introduced different species and we watched them in flight. Some were trained to do tricks, which delighted kids. Adult volunteers were included in the show, too, and I was called up to play the part. No bird landed on me, I just had to place a can on a side table.

At the end, families could get their pictures taken beside the bald eagle and donate money to the zoo by handing a macaw a dollar bill.

Ropes Course at John Ball Zoo

Until recently when the Venture Parks exhibits opened, there were no ropes courses in Nebraska, so I’m all for trying them out on vacation. In Grand Rapids, the zoo has a pretty stellar, four-story ropes course for families.

Ropes course at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
My 8-year-old managed the ropes course with ease but my youngest child was nervous.

It is a big extra cost to do it, but if you’re an adventure-loving family, how can you not? It’s a course in a pretty space in the zoo, treetops and greenery.

Kids need to be at minimum age and weight to do it. My daughter was all talk about it, but then when we got out on the course, she froze up. Be extra sure your kiddos are ready for it before spending the money to take them on it.

Ziplining at the zoo

Following the nervousness my youngest had on the ropes course, I figured I should just do the zipline alone.

Ready for the zipline at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
All set to zipline through the zoo.

It’s pretty tame for a zipline course—just two lines and not too fast—but the cool thing is that they go right through the zoo. 

You can buy combo tickets to save money on both the ropes course and ziplines.

More things to see at the zoo

We tried a few other add-ons, including the Budgie Aviary, where for $1 you feed birds with a stick dipped in peanut butter and covered in seed.

Feeding a budgie at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Feeding a budgie, or parakeet, at the Grand Rapids zoo.

There’s also a funicular ride in the zoo. For $3, it takes you the highest point in the zoo – saving you the walk up the hill. 

Funicular at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
The funicular at John Ball Zoo takes passengers to the highest point in the zoo, making it an all-downhill walk from there.

So, you’re probably wondering about animals exhibits. We stuck to a lot of hands-on things on this trip. However, one of the more unique exhibits to check out is the Wild Way Trail. It’s a trail with animal exhibits dependent on weather, but the neat thing is that it incorporates ways for kids to try to move like the animals (climbing and crawling, for example). There a wallabies, lemurs, parrots and howler monkeys along this wooded path. 

TreeTops Outpost at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Playing in the TreeTops Outpost at the John Ball Zoo.

There are also fun play areas. One’s a natural play area where kids can get their hands dirty playing with sticks and stuff. The other, the TreeTops Outpost, is more about climbing and feeling adventurous. My kids loved it.

More about Grand Rapids

Weekend in Grand Rapids
48 Hours In Grand Rapids With Kids

Grand Rapids was the first stop of an epic road trip adventure through Michigan (more on that to come). To plan your own epic road trip through Michigan, I’ll be sharing a road trip recap soon featuring restaurant highlights, sights to see, and where to stay. You can start planning now with this ultimate Michigan Bucket List.

For Grand Rapids highlights, read these posts:

48 Hours In Grand Rapids With Kids

Where to Stay in Downtown Grand Rapids

Exploring Grand Rapids Public Museum

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August 31, 2018

Where To Stay Near Petoskey

Our summer road trip through Michigan was mostly in cities, except for the night in Alanson, a small town near Petoskey. Our stay at the Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge was unique to the trip. It was our one night in nature without really being too far into nature. Let me explain.

Disclosure: Our stay was hosted by Visit Petoskey Area. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Where is Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge

If you’re familiar with the Petoskey Area/Little Traverse Bay Region, you may have heard of Stafford’s Perry Hotel, the historic hotel in Petoskey. Owned by the same folks, Crooked River Lodge is outside of town on the Crooked River, about 10 miles away from Petoskey. And it looks like a lodge. The name suits it.

Exterior of Stafford's Crooked River Lodge in Michigan
Dusk at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge in northern Michigan. Shortly after I took this picture, staff made a fire in the hotel’s fire pit.

And the Petoskey Area, if you’re unfamiliar with the state of Michigan, is up in the northern part of the lower peninsula. Here’s a post about things to do in the Petoskey Area with kids to give you a better idea of the area.

Highlights of Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge

Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge is essentially a place to get away from it all without really needing to go too far away from “it all.” It feels secluded without being too far from conveniences like restaurants and craft brewery.

Lobby of Stafford's Crooked River Lodge
The entrance to Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge has a popcorn machine, which may have been the highlight of the entire stay for my daughter. Off to the right in this picture, below the stairs (you can’t see it) is a little playhouse for kids. That would be the second favorite thing at the hotel for my daughter.

The hospitality of the hotel was great. You’re greeted by staff as you walk in, and as you check in, my kids will point out that there is a conveniently located popcorn machine to help yourself to.

Pool at Stafford's Crooked River Lodge
The waterfall in the Crooked River Lodge pool area impressed the kids. You can’t see it, but there’s a little tunnel to walk behind the waterfall.

This place is definitely a great one for families in that sense. From a pool (with a little waterfall) and hot tub, to the darling little clubhouse in the lobby, you can tell they welcome kids. There’s also a pool table.

A big draw to me was the location. Had we more time, we would’ve paddled along the Crooked River with the kids. The hotel provides complimentary kayaks and paddle boats. There’s a nearby trail, as well, among other things to do.

We didn’t get a chance to check it out, but there is also a fish pond where you can feed the fish.

Fire pit at Stafford's Crooked River Lodge in Michigan
The view of the lawn at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge. Just beyond the lawn is the river.

If you wanted to just sit outside and enjoy nature, this is good place to so. Try it by the fire pit.

Or try doing it from your private balcony.

Speaking of that…

The rooms at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge

The rooms at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge range from standard hotel rooms to suites. And if you’ve been traveling in a car for miles and miles with your family, it’s rather nice to have one of those suites to spread out in.

Hotel room at Stafford's Crooked River Lodge
The faux wood lamp in our hotel suite’s living room.

Our room was two rooms with two king beds. There’s a kitchenette, which is great for longer stays, plus as I mentioned above, a private balcony. The balconies all look toward the great lawn and river.

Guest private balcony at Stafford's Crooked River Lodge
The balcony at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge is a nice place to sip coffee in the morning (or a glass of wine in the evening).

They’re meant to feel like your own private cabin, I suspect. Ours did, at least, with rustic décor and all.

If you go

Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge

Where: 6845 US-31, Alanson, Mich.


The Stafford's Crooked River Lodge, a hotel near Petoskey, offers complimentary kayaking, and most rooms have a balcony! #hosted #Michigan #pureMichigan #upnorth #PetoskeyArea

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