Archive for the ‘vacation’ Category


Summertime memories can be bittersweet

Posted by Jennifer

We visited an old friend during our recent “staycation.”

This year, we opted to stay close to home and visit with relatives and take in Lake Erie’s beach in my husband’s hometown of Conneaut. While there we ventured further east into New York to visit Darien Lake Park.

The park may sound familiar because it was a sister park to Geauga Lake and Wyandot Lake Park in Columbus. Those two have since closed (actually, Wyandot was purchased by the Columbus Zoo), but Darien Lake, about 11 miles outside of Buffalo, is still welcoming guests.

I must admit, it was strange visiting a park that — while not exactly a clone of Geauga Lake — was similar enough that it did give us pause.

The first reminder was the entrance gate, whose architecture was very similar to that of Geauga Lake back in the old days when Funtime owned the parks. We were expecting to be greeted by the old Geauga Dog.

Like Geauga Lake, Darien Lake met the same fate when Six Flags took over in the late 1990s. A bunch of cookie-cutter roller coasters were installed and Warner Brothers themes were slapped on everything whether it made sense or not.

Not knowing what to expect, we actually had a great time at Darien Lake. The crowd was relatively small, so our waits in line were short.

Darien Lake is now managed by the same folks who run Dollywood. We loved that park when we visited a few years ago. You can see they are already working to make changes to make Darien Lake special.

The park’s newest attraction is a kiddie-themed area that has a fun little ride where kids and adults alike ride a big, old moose along a long track that tells the story of a moose roaming the countryside. I dare anyone to ride it and not have the phrase “moose, moose, moose on the loose” stuck in your head.

Another fun ride that was unique to us was a roller coaster where you ride motorcycles instead of the usual seat and harness.

To be honest, it didn’t look too scary while you are in line. But once we took off on it, we were convinced we would never again see our daredevil 7-year-old son, who was riding behind us. He did fine though – and loved it.

The nightly fireworks and laser show was a nice reminder of the old night shows at Sea World across from Geauga Lake Park.

It was nice to be able to reminisce and walk through a park that reminded us of our childhood.

For my husband and me, Geauga Lake was the park of our youths. My husband visited every July when the old Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. would have its annual family picnic there. He loves amusement parks and can tell you where every ride was located and what replaced what.

My memories of Geauga Lake are a bit different. Beyond a place I visited with my family, it was my first real job.

My older brother and I commuted there from Painesville Township — it took about 45 minutes but somehow seemed worth it. He worked in the entertainment area, often showcasing his large, homemade, Muppet-like puppets, and I worked in kiddie land. He learned more about the arts; I learned there’s a switch on all those little rides that disables the annoying buzzer.

The highlight of that summer, for me, was when I got to substitute on the Big Dipper, the old wooden rollercoaster (I made the announcements: “Oncoming riders, for your own safety we ask…”), and somehow the guys working the manual brakes failed to stop a train returning to the station. It narrowly avoided colliding with the train that was halfway up the first hill. For some reason, that was the only day they asked me to fill in. . .

I’m not sure which park will be the sentimental favorite for our own kids. Thanks to their dad — a big kid in his own right — they have visited a fair number of parks already.
Each summer, my husband tries to visit at least one park we have not visited before.
Last year, it was Holiday World and Beech Bend. This year, it was Darien Lake.

I know for at least one of our kids, Darien Lake will always hold a special place in his heart. It was the first time he has ever gone upside down on a roller coaster.

My husband told Ethan that the first time he went upside down was on the Double Loop at Geauga Lake. He told him how scared he was the first time he rode it.

Ethan quickly boasted to his dad that he has already topped that considering he went upside down five times on Darien Lake’s Viper.

And, just as fast, he proudly topped his dear old dad as he corrected himself.

“Actually, I went upside down 10 times,” he said. “I rode it twice.”

Ah, the stuff of family legends.


Kings Island trip had more ups and downs than the rollercoasters

Posted by Jennifer

We took our five children to Kings Island amusement park in Mason, north of Cincinnati, on Saturday. Four years after the park’s sale to Cedar Fair, owner of Cedar Point in Sandusky, the park held many attractions but seemed generally less unique and family-friendly than we had come to know and love.

Located along I-71 about three hours south of Medina, Kings Island always seemed the “better” park when compared with Cedar Point and the defunct Geauga Lake, where I had worked as a teenager. Unlike the latter parks, Kings Island held a special allure for me — quite possibly because it was not in my backyard.  I always thought the iconic Eiffel Tower (1/3 the size of the actual monument) and the shooting fountains, bordered by gardens overflowing with bright flowers and lined with quaint-looking shops and restaurants, made the park seem more attractive and almost Disney-like.

By comparison, Cedar Point and Geauga Lake seemed to lack much theming. They presented rides, games and food, but it was with little fanfare and all about grabbing as much money at the gate as possible. Kings Island seemed cleaner, more attentive to details, more concerned about making the entire experience enjoyable and unique. For example, at Kings Island I could sample my all-time-favorite ribs from Cincinnati’s own Montgomery Inn. At least local trademarks Skyline Chili, LaRosa Pizza and Graeter’s ice cream remain. Cedar Point and Geauga Lake seemed to make no effort to distinguish themselves in this way.

Once the park was sold to Paramount Communications, we enjoyed the re-theming of the children’s area under the Nickelodeon flag, with the rides and attractions tailored around Rugrats, SpongeBob (even though he wasn’t my favorite), Scooby Doo, and Dora the Explorer. If anything, that made it feel even more Disney-like.

But in 2006 the park was sold to Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, which owns Cedar Point and several other parks. That meant the end to any Paramount-owned trademarks, so the Scooby Doo ride in the kiddieland area went from gentle, comic ghostbusting to the gory and macabre “Boo Blasters.” The rest of the area was themed around Snoopy and Charlie Brown, and that wasn’t half bad. The ghoulish Boo Blasters is totally out of place, but the indoor ride, which allows you to shoot little laser lights at targets along the way, is a lot of fun, so you swallow hard as you take your toddler on it over and over again. Our 5-year-old was a little concerned the first time, and kept repeating “this is fake” to my husband, and my 2-year-old jumped mightily when the mummy burst toward us. Subsequent trips through this ghastly scene did not seem to faze them, but then, is that a good thing?

On this beautiful spring Saturday, the park was crowded and we had to wait for everything. All the more time to spend people-watching — is it just me, or has the number of people with tattoos and piercings multiplied by large numbers? Oh my.

We chose to slurge and eat dinner at an “all-you-care-to-eat” buffet near the Diamondback roller coaster. Big mistake. We paid more than $80 for my family to eat there ($16.99 per adult, which is 12 and older; $7.99 per child), thinking it would be a healthier alternative to the fast-food stands around the park. And, by 4 p.m., we would be ready to sit down and recharge our batteries.

Even at the early dinner hour, the food was overcooked. The fried chicken was dry and tough, and none of the options were very appealing. What happened to the Montgomery Inn ribs, LaRosa pizza and Edy’s ice cream that was on the sign out front? The canned vegetables were soggy-looking, and the “Asian” section consisted most memorably of the same chicken nuggets available down the line, this time doused with a tart and peppery orange sauce, white rice and dry egg rolls. There was the “Mexican” section with the nachos and cheese sauce and taco fixings; the ”Italian” section with limp spaghetti noodles and tough penne, with red and white sauces (actually the white sauce was possibly the best option there) and once-frozen meatballs; and the “kids section” with macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets. The salad bar offered some fresh options — cut-up pineapple, grapes and melon chunks — and a few meager offerings to complement the iceberg salad mix, but the dressing choices — ranch, Italian and a red catalina-type — did not appeal to me.

What I most wanted, frankly, was a tall cold drink of Diet Coke. There were two soda dispensers, and neither had the right mix of soda to syrup. I had to wait to ask an employee for a cup since there were none out, and the ice was low on one machine.

Even the soft-serve ice cream sputtered and spit out this glob of melted vanilla into my dish.

It was insult after injury. I was so upset by it all I nearly complained to the manager, but I wimped out and decided to write this instead! Why would the restaurant be out of things at 4 p.m. when ostensibly the biggest hours of business had not yet occurred? At this point in the day, the restaurant should have been near its peak performance. Let’s hope the best was yet to come.

The food sat like a rock in our stomachs after we left the restaurant and I was afraid we would all be sick. Thankfully, it did not play out that way.

We stayed that day till past the fireworks at 10 p.m., and hit a slow Taco Bell right outside the park before heading for home. We got home at 2 a.m., only because my husband somehow managed to stay awake even though the rest of the car had nodded off.

The dinner was not why we went to Kings Island, so setting that aside, the rides were mostly enjoyable even after Cedar Fair stripped out the best parts — what is the point of “The Crypt” if the inside of “The Mummy” has been reduced to basically a warehouse? — and reduced the park to its barest elements.

It’s just disappointing to see that, with a wave of Cedar Fair’s wand, the magic that had entranced me all those years was gone. It’s no longer a theme park. It’s just an amusement park. And that is a shame, in my book.


Tips for a backyard camping staycation

Posted by Medina County Moms


August 10 is National S’mores Day and to celebrate this deliciously fun summertime event, get out the marshmallows and plan a backyard camping staycation.

The s’mores recipe first appeared in a 1927 edition of the Girl Scout handbook. Americans buy more than 90 million pounds of marshmallows and The Hershey Company produces enough Hershey’s milk chocolate bars to make 746 million s’mores annually, according to Hershey.

“I have so many great childhood memories of s’mores, and now I’m sharing the classic family treat with my kids,” said Jen Singer, mom and author of multiple parenting books including the recently released Stop Second Guessing Yourself parenting series.

Hershey did a survey that shows 60 percent of consumers are considering replacing their traditional vacation with a stay-at-home vacation this year, so Singer has come up with some tips to help families turn any summertime stay-at-home vacation into an authentic, yet affordable backyard celebration.

  • Treat a staycation as a traditional vacation. The fun of a backyard getaway is making it feel like a real vacation, but with the convenience of being just steps away from home. Families can pack items in their own backpack just as if they were packing for a camping trip. Include water, snacks, warm clothes and blankets for those cool summer evenings. Also, ask each family member to choose one campfire game to play. This way you’ll have plenty of activities to keep busy while under the stars. Singer says, “We love to create a continuing story, where we each add a sentence until we have a full story.”
  • Make it authentic. Turn your backyard into a campground featuring all the camping essentials. Pitch a tent to make the experience both fun and realistic. Setting up a tent will help to foster family teamwork and allow for a comfortable night’s sleep. Building a campfire is another essential element to every campout, especially on National S’mores Day. In addition to making s’mores, campfires are great for storytelling, singing and, of course, keeping everyone warm. Remember to supervise children at all times when around the campfire.
  • The perfect campfire companion. If you have a campfire, you have to have s’mores. Start by placing half of a chocolate bar on top of half of a Graham cracker. Then, lightly toast a large marshmallow over the campfire, and place it on top of the chocolate bar. Finally, top the toasted marshmallow with the remaining graham cracker half and press together. Remember to supervise children at all times when around the campfire. Feeling adventurous? Singer suggests turning to the experts at Hershey’s Kitchens who offer unique twists on the classic favorite. Variations families are sure to love include adding peanut butter, cherry slices or dark chocolate to the gooey treat. Visit for more delicious s’mores recipes the whole family can enjoy.
  • Capture memories. Every vacation has special family moments that you want to capture. Remember to have a camera on hand, and snap away. Have the kids take pictures of their own. Later, you can pick out family favorites to frame or add to a vacation scrapbook.

In addition to celebrating National S’mores Day on August 10, Hershey and Kraft Foods are offering the chance to win a backyard makeover with the “S’mores Truly” photo contest. Families are invited to capture and share photos of their s’mores-making experiences on The grand prize winner will receive a backyard makeover.