Tuesday, June 23, 2015

May/June 2015 Pennsylvania and Ohio

RV Trip
Lancaster and Cincinnati 2015

May 27 2015  - Illinois to Newton Falls, OH
Today we left on our first RV trip of the year.  We drove from Illinois to Newton Falls, Ohio today.  The drive was long, but uneventful.  The kids did awesome with the drive, although their new Teen Titans Go! DVD got tiresome after the first 3 hours. (For us at least.)  We made several stops, but none of them took too long except lunch.  We stopped at The Barn restaurant somewhere in Ohio.  The food was a buffet.  I can’t really decide how to describe the type of food.  There was fried chicken, some really good chicken lasagna type thing, and enchiladas.  Also, of course, they had salad, vegetables, and side dishes.  I think they were going for an Amish or home cooking kind of theme, but the enchiladas didn’t seem to fit in.  They also had stuff out for ice cream sundaes, but we found out when we got our bill that the ice cream wasn’t included in the buffet price.  The food was good, but nothing that special. The service was very poor, but that was probably just our waitress. Seemed like everyone else was doing fine. I’d go there again, but not go out the way for it.  There is quite a bit going on at this location.  They have a pioneer village and museum, plus a bakery, and a furniture store and gift shop and a hotel, I think.  We were thinking of spending some time at the pioneer village, but it started pouring rain during lunch and we also weren’t sure that our short visit would be worth the price of admission.
The rest of the stops were just pit stops and didn’t take too long.  The trouble with pulling a travel trailer with a van is that you can’t use the diesel lanes at the gas stations.  At our first stop I followed the signs for Trucks and RV’s, only to realize that while the parking was convenient, there was no way for me to get gas.  After that learned to follow the car signs and just had to carefully maneuver by the regular gas pumps.  It was fine at the oases as long as I waited for a tank on the end, but some other gas stations I just have to skip altogether because there isn’t enough room.
Our campground tonight is Ridge Ranch at Newton Falls, OH.  The people here are really friendly.  The owner even backed my trailer into our spot after he decided to move us to a different spot because the original one wasn't ready.  We really enjoyed the campground even though we didn’t spend much time there.  It had tons of playground equipment and also a beach and lake area.  The kids had a blast on the old playground equipment.  For dinner, I went out and picked up pizza at Gionioni’s Pizza (that’s probably spelled wrong), which was really good – I ate way too much of it!  Newton Falls has a very small town feel to it.

May 28 2015   Newton Falls, OH to Quarryville, PA
Had a BIG rainstorm last night and the campground is a mudfest.  The kids made sure they were good and muddy before getting in the van as we hit the road.
We had another long drive today, but the kids have done very well.  The driving was much more difficult today because, in addition to driving through mountains, half the turnpike was under construction – our half!  It felt like the whole drive was next to a concrete barrier on one side or the other.  I’m not very comfortable with that since our RV sticks out about a foot on each side of our van.  Plus our mirrors are very poor for towing.  I bought some clip on mirrors last year, but they aren’t very helpful.  Anyway, we did fine and I managed to avoid hitting anything!
For lunch we stopped at McDonalds ("Eww, gross" is everyone's response when someone even says McDonalds) because it had a big playland so the kids could run around for a while – but not before taking a scenic tour of a little town in the mountains trying to find Crazy Alice’s restaurant.  We soon realized that we were not going to be able to park anywhere nearby even if we found the restaurant and the streets were much too small and busy to accommodate our RV.
We had a nice drive through Amish country and downtown Lancaster (I really have to find a routing system for RV’s) and arrived at Jellystone Park in Quaryville right around dinner time.  We quickly unhooked the RV and headed back into town to eat at Sam's New York Pizza and Italian.  The kids had pizza again (they couldn’t believe how big the slices were) and Kyrie and I had pasta.  Good food. 
After we returned to Jellystone, Kyrie and I setup the RV while the kids played at the playground.  They really love this place.  We stayed here a couple of years ago on our first long motorhome trip.  We had a nice wooded site but it was a long walk to everything.  This time, we selected a site directly across from all of the activities and playgrounds since most of our kids are old enough to go there on their own and we can see them or at least hear them!  I didn't anticipate that Zach would see the playground (through some cabin sites) and bolt.  He thinks he's old enough to go play on his own too. 
The bouncy pillow is a big hit as well as the little cars they can drive around a track.  They also had fun at the playground and a wooden train they could climb on.  Zoe made some friends as usual – they are planning on seeing each other at the pool tomorrow.  They had to hug goodbye when it was time to head back to the RV!

May 29 2015  Strasburg and Bird in Hand
We spent the morning shopping in Strasburg and Bird in Hand.  We started at a little bakery in Strasburg.  I just had to try their Skittles and Mountain Dew cookie – it didn’t disappoint!  This cookie was themed after a movie...Taladega Nights..and was called the official cookie of NASCAR. A couple kids tried that too and the rest split a couple whoopie pies. We then walked over to the general store where the kids took turns asking for toys and Zach tried to touch everything in the store.  He especially liked this little plastic snowglobe that he called “bubble” (pronounced booble) and when I said it was time to check out he yelled out “booble” and ran to get it.  I probably would have bought it for him at that point, but it took forever to round everyone up and get to the counter and by then he had set it down.
After that we drove to Bird in Hand to have lunch at our favorite restaurant from our previous Lancaster trip, which was Plain and Fancy.  This is a family style feast that includes many Pennsylvania Dutch dishes that you pass around with strangers.  Being antisocial, I was hoping that our family of 7 was large enough for our own table, but there were 2 other couples who got to share in the “delight” of eating with our kids.  One guy mentioned that he never had kids, but that his dogs were like his kids to him.  We’ve never had dogs ourselves, but I think our kids are probably like the dogs we never had.  They make a giant mess and they hardly ever listen!  The food was delicious as expected and eating with strangers was fine.  Our kids even behaved pretty well, so the strangers probably had a decent meal as well. Both couples commented about how well behaved the kids were.  I guess they weren't expecting that.  I was!
After lunch, we stopped at the Bird in Hand farmers market where Kyrie had to buy a Bear shaped bird house and we picked up some food to make for dinner.  We returned to camp just in time to meet up with one of Kyrie’s friends, Barb, who lives in the Hershey area.  She spent the rest of the day with us as we hung out at the pool and at camp.  Zoe had a great time showing off for Barb by jumping into the pool with her Rhino pool toy around her.  She also did meet up with her friend from the playground and played with her in the pool a little. And again, hugged goodbye.

May 30, 2015  Yogi Bear’s Camp Jellystone in Quarryville
Today was Saturday and we basically spent the whole day here at the campground.  It was packed here for the weekend and there were a million kids running around.  They had lots of activities going on and our kids wanted to try each one. 
Zach got everyone up bright and early as usual, so Kyrie cooked up some pancakes.  By the time we were done with that, the campground was waking up and the kids headed to the playground.  We spent the day on various activities.  Some of the highlights were Boo Boo’s surprise birthday party, a magic show, glow-light hayride, and laser tag. 
At Boo Boo’s surprise party, the kids got to make birthday cards and hats and then ate ice cream and cupcakes while interacting with all of the characters.  The little ones had fun with that, while the bigger ones were happy to get the cake and ice cream.
We spent a lot of the day at the pool.  Zoe found a more shallow pool near the hot tub that she could reach bottom except in the very middle.  She loved that, so that she could practice swimming and even let me teach her how to float on her back.  Then she made me do it while she held up my legs!
After Zach fell asleep and while Kyrie watched the kids at the pool, I managed to cook the ribs that we had bought at the farmers market yesterday.  They turned out really good which was a surprise because I’ve hardly ever made ribs and I had to improvise quite a bit to make it work in our small oven and grill.
After dinner, Max and Ella liked the magic show, but had to move to be able to see after a bunch of bigger kids squeezed in front of their seats.  Zoe wasn’t interested and Zach just wanted to put rocks on the people around him.
I cleaned up dinner and the trailer while Marc took everyone to the magic show. I wanted to be sure to get a good fire going to make smores tonight too.  While I was doing dishes, two couples were admiring our trailer, so I invited them in for a tour. That burned up the few minutes of peace I was hoping to get before everyone returned, but I was happy to show it to them.
Zoe got tired and crabby after playing at the park a little more, so I dropped her off with Kyrie who somehow knows how to deal with that.  Then I took the other kids to sign up for Laser Tag which turned out to be super popular and we had to sign up for the 10:15pm session.  They only do it on the weekends, so we had to do it tonight or never.  Ella was bummed, because I decided that was too late for her (plus I think she would have been afraid of the dark woods).
While we were waiting for the laser tag, we took a ride on the glow-stick "Hey"ride.  This kids loved saying “Hey” to everyone they saw and seeing the sparkling laser lights in the trees was a real treat. 
We dropped off Ella back at the RV and I took the 3 boys back to laser tag.  The outdoor laser tag area is really cool at night with a lot of darkness along with plenty of colored lights and obstacles.  Max and Jacob had a great time playing and had to tell me their score after each round.  Zach somehow managed to sleep through the extremely loud music.

May 31, 2015  Philadelphia and 4 states in one day!
On Sunday, we took a day trip to Philadelphia.  This turned out to be great planning since the downtown was very empty on Sunday and it was fairly easy for us to get around and see everything.  We started out with a tour of Independence Hall.  While there isn’t much to look at, it was still very interesting to see such an important location in the history of the United States.  Hopefully, the kids will remember seeing  it and have some concept of how difficult it must have been for the colonists to declare independence and soon after take on the nearly impossible task of creating the constitution.
Then we went across the street to see the liberty bell, but Zoe was tired and hungry and by the time we got through the line she was in full tantrum mode.  We got a quick look at the bell, but didn’t get to look at any of the other documents or information that was also in that exhibit.
We took care of Zoe for a while and then walked down the street to see Ben Franklin’s grave and then go to the US Mint.  The Mint was closed unfortunately, but it was interesting to just see it and talk to the kids about it anyway.  We made a quick stop in the visitor’s center to watch a movie and then headed down Market Street to the Reading Station Market for lunch.  This was a great idea except that everyone wanted something from a different stand and it took forever to get everyone fed!
We then searched for the oldest residential street in America.  I can remember the name of it, but there have been residents living there in those houses since the early 1700’s.  There wasn’t much to see there since they are still private residences, but it was interesting to see the narrow street and the architecture of these 300 year old row houses.  Then we walked over to Betsy Ross’s house, but didn’t go inside.  We were all very tired of walking around in the heat by then, so we decided we had seen enough for this trip and headed back to the van.

On the way home we decided to drive through New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, since it wasn’t very far out of the way and we could check off a few more states.  We definitely didn’t see much of these states since we just took the turnpikes most of the way, but I’m still glad that we did it.
At 4:55pm, we unexpectedly drove by the Hess Snack Factory.  Max has been asking to take the tour there ever since he first saw a pamphlet for it a few days ago.  Unfortunately, they close at 5:00pm, so we were too late.

We ate dinner at the Hershey Farm Restaurant.  Wow, it was so good!  I have no idea if it’s related to the Hershey company or Milton Hershey in any way, but it really doesn’t matter.  It’s a buffet with Pennsylvania Dutch food.  The buffet is very large and the food is just delicious.  There was so much good stuff that I had to basically skip dessert even though those looked great as well!  My only complaint about this place is that it is a little pricier than the other places we have been around here.

June 1, 2015  Amish Village and Shopping
This morning we visited the Amish Village.  This is a tour of an old Amish house as well as a farm, schoolhouse, and blacksmith shop.  We began with the outside stuff to let the kids run around a little before taking the tour of the house.  The farm was pretty interesting.  The kids liked seeing the animals and there were signs posted above the pens with some interesting facts about each animal and how the Amish use these animals on their farms. 
On the grounds they have various Amish buggies on display.  The kids enjoyed getting in them and it was interesting to find that there are a couple different kinds for different uses. 
The schoolhouse looked pretty typical of a schoolroom that you would see in your average school except that all grades (1 through 8) are taught in the same room.  There was a poster which explained some of the other differences between Amish education and traditional education.  The main difference I think was that Amish education values conformity while traditional education values creativity.

The blacksmith shop had a variety of farm implements on display, but very little information about them.

Finally, it was on to the most interesting part of the tour – the house.  They describe it as an 1840’s Amish home, but it gets a little confusing because they have modern things in there as well.  I think the building is from the 1840’s, but the things inside are typical of a modern Amish home.  Anyway, the tour started out in a large room where the guide gave us some background about the Amish and Mennonites.  I was surprised to find out that the Mennonites were first and the Amish formed because the Mennonites were too lenient on people who left their community.  I had always assumed the opposite. 

The house tour was interesting and the guide seemed to do a good job even though our group (which was ourselves and a couple other families) was pretty dull.  None of us really asked any questions or talked much.  Most of my questions came about later when I really started thinking about what we saw.  I have to say that now that the tour is over, I know more about the Amish, but I understand less.  Here’s why…one of the things I noticed on the tour of the house is that even though they don’t use electricity, they still have quite a few modern conveniences.  Refrigerators, lights, mixers, etc.  All of these things have been converted to propane or compressed air or whatever.  So, I really can’t quite figure out what they are going for there.  Why are they against electricity, but not against all of the things that electricity provides?  Also, the clothes washer runs on a gasoline engine, but it’s this really old style of washing machine that I’ve only seen in my 90 year old great aunt’s house.  It’s like a big tub and a ringer to get the water out instead of spinning.  The guide said that Maytag still makes them and this is what they use.  I can’t figure out why they don’t just attach their gas engine to a modern washer instead.  Plus,   they still hang all of their clothes out to dry.  Can’t they just find a gas engine for a dryer or something?  Plus, why does Maytag still make those washers?  Are there that many Amish?  Who else uses them?!  My last confusion is the whole farming equipment thing?  Why do they use horses to do their plowing instead of tractors?  If they’re willing to use a gas engine to wash clothes, why not to plow their fields?  I’m sure there are good answers to all of these questions, but right now I’ll just have to accept that I don’t know.  So, I guess it was a good tour because it showed me that I really don’t know the Amish and it made me interested enough to do more research some day.

After we left the Amish Village it was lunch time so we drove up the road some to Millers Smorgasbord.  This was another great buffet.  I won’t be able to go to a regular buffet at home anymore now that I’ve had these great ones out here!  The kids loved the chicken and waffles (well, at least the waffle part) and I liked the cabbage casserole, browned buttered noodles, and even liked the oatmeal pie.

We then headed to a little shopping area that Kyrie wanted to go to since it was closed (on a Sunday) the other time we visited Lancaster a couple years ago.  I think it was Country Kitchen or something like that.  There are a bunch of little shops there and the kids played at the playground and petting zoo. 

I am writing this part several days later, so I can’t really remember the chain of events here, but somehow (possibly on purpose) we ended up in Lititz where we went on a “pretzel factory” tour.  The Lititz pretzel factory was the first place pretzels were made in America and so the tour is of a really old pretzel factory, not a working one (although they actually do make some soft pretzels here).  The company makes their actual pretzels at a more modern factory somewhere else, but don’t let this stop you from taking the tour!  Our family was the only one on this tour (which was also the last of the day).  It started out with a pretzel twisting demonstration where our tour guide taught us how to twist a pretzel properly and explained how the monks gave these to kids for remembering their prayers and that the word pretzel came from a German? word that meant “little gift”.  We all got to roll out some dough and try twisting a pretzel – Jacob was the best at it.  I don’t want to give away the whole tour, so I’ll just say we had a lot of fun with it even though it was much different than we expected. 

After the tour, we decided that this would be a good time to find Kleinfeltersville.  Being our namesake, we had to make the drive and find this place, which is near Lebanon, PA.  The kids thought we were crazy for driving “even further” from the campground just to see some town.  Well, we found it.  It’s small as we expected.  The only business in town was the k-ville inn and bar, but that seems to have had a fire.  We had planned on taking a picture near the town sign, but we couldn’t find one, so we settled for the only thing in town we could find with our name on it which was the post office.

June 2, 2015  Hershey Park
For several days we’ve put off going to Hershey Park because it was supposed to rain.  Well, it didn’t end up raining much on those days, but today it sure did!  The whole day was a rainy mess.  We probably would have skipped going there, but Jacob has really been looking forward to it and we know we won’t be back anytime soon.

It’s hard to give a very useful review of Hershey Park since we went on such a miserable day, but I’ll give it a try.  Number 1 – they need more indoor attractions!  Okay, yes, that is mostly a reference to being out in the rain all day, but also really I’m sure that it gets really hot in the summer too and people would like to get out of the sun for a while.  Number 2 – the little sit down restaurant just outside the park isn’t very good.  It was basically bad park food, but indoors.  We’re a little (lot!) spoiled after going to Disney so many times, but really if you’re going to bother making a table service restaurant (and charging table service prices), then serve some decent food!

Okay, other than those 2 things, I think Hershey Park is pretty good.  It’s not a huge park, but it’s plenty big for a day and there’s a water park that is included which could easily make it a 2-day park if you wanted it to.  It was too cold for the water park today.  They have done a nice job of mixing the big roller coasters and thrilling attractions with some little kid rides nearby.  So, for much of the day we were able to stick together and keep everyone happy.  I was surprised to find a little zoo in the park and all of us except Kyrie and Jacob spent about an hour there while those two hit some roller coasters. 

By lunchtime, we needed a break from the rain, so we ate lunch in the aforementioned table service restaurant and then headed next door to Hershey’s Chocolate World.  We hadn’t planned on going there since we went last time, but we needed to dry off a bit.  The tour of the fake chocolate factory is free so we did that.  Everyone enjoyed that and we got to try a new Hershey Caramel bar which was a bonus.  After souvenir shopping a bit, we headed back out into the rain to finish out our day.  The rain slowed down a bit, which was a relief and we enjoyed ourselves well enough.  Zoe loved the little cars that she could drive! 

June 3, 2015  Drive to Lebanon, OH
Today was our longest drive of the trip.  Mapquest said 8.5 hours, of course for us that meant all day.  The drive was pretty good, everyone managed to survive the trip without too much complaining even though they are all pretty sick of driving.  I love to drive, even when we’re dragging our hotel room with us, but the rest of them just put up with it.  I was a little worried when we were only an hour into the trip and Zoe said, “Are we almost there?”  Ella’s been our best traveler.  She took over the back seat of the van and seems perfectly content there no matter how far we are going.  I swear we drive all day and hardly hear a peep out of her.  Maybe she’s just too far away!

We took about 12 hours, which included about an hour for dinner.  By the end of the drive I was getting a little worried.  The campground specifically said that everyone has to arrive before 10pm.  I had assumed that wouldn’t be a problem when we left at 9:30am this morning, but we didn’t pull in there until about 9:30pm!   

June 4, 2015  Cedar Creek Campground and Cincinnati
Our campground is Cedar Creek Campground in Lebanon, OH which is about an hour north of Cincinnati.  The campground is very close to Kings Island (our main destination here) and that was the main reason we chose it.  It’s kind of a medium size campground and it’s pretty busy.  There isn’t a lot here, just a small playground and pool, but our site (#82) is right across from the playground and the kids have had a lot of fun going over there.  The staff seems friendly and the grounds are decent.  Our site is large and there is a cement pad for the picnic table, but very uneven gravel for our RV.  I haven’t figured out a good way to level it, so we are a little lopsided when we are trying to sleep.  The other big problem with the site is that the sewer hookup is far in the back and I can’t reach it and still have my water and electric hooked up.  So I had to move my whole RV to empty the tanks and then move it back!  We haven’t camped enough with this RV to know if that’s a common problem with our configuration, but this is the first time we’ve run into it.

After our wet day at Hershey Park and very long day of driving, Kyrie wasn’t anxious to head out on another adventure yet this morning, so we tried out the pool instead.  It felt like it had ice cubes in it!  I’m sure later in the day it was fine, but it was definitely too cold for us to spend much time there this morning.

By lunchtime we were ready to explore, so we headed for the Cincinnati Museum Center which is in a magnificent old train station.  It holds 3 museums, an Omnimax and 1 or more traveling exhibits.  We bought tickets that included all of that and we started with the Nature and Science Museum.  This was a great surprise.  They have a cave you can explore and a large ice age exhibit, amongst many other displays.  We ended up spending a lot more time in this part of the building than I expected and everyone enjoyed it quite a bit.  Of course, Max could have spent all day here – this is definitely his thing!

Next we headed across the building to the Cincinnati History Museum.  This starts with a very large model of the city of Cincinnati.  Each month they hide some small things in the model and “kids” can try to find all of them.  This time it was baby buggies and there were 10 hidden, but we could only find 7.  They also had a World War II display, a river exhibit, and a full size replica of an old downtown street.

The third museum is a children’s museum, which they all just loved – even the big kids were able to enjoy themselves for a couple hours even though it is clearly geared towards the younger bunch.  Zach liked everything of course.  For Zoe, the play house was the best.  She collected babies, to set up in the kitchen and play house.  Jacob and Max had fun delivering mail and then Jacob just had to run the grocery store and later the diner. 
Before the Omnimax movie, we were all getting hungry, but the snack bar that we saw in the lobby was now closed, so we just had to get ice cream in the sort of old fashioned ice cream shop.  We had to rush through that to get to the movie.  We saw a movie about Humpback whales which was pretty interesting.  Max said that was his favorite thing of the whole trip.
June 5, 2015 Kings Island
Today we went to Kings Island.  This is a big amusement park, with plenty of thrill rides and a very large Planet Snoopy section for the younger bunch.  With it feeling like 90 degrees all day, I will make the same complaint as I did about Hershey Park – add a few indoor attractions!  They do have a couple and then have at least one indoor show, but a few more wouldn’t hurt.

Other than that, it’s a nice park.  Plenty for everyone to do.  In some ways, I don’t like how all of the little kid rides are in one area.  I prefer to walk around the park as a family instead of having to split up to get to the rides for each group.  That being said, they really do have a lot of rides for the little kids.  Zach loved his first bumper car ride and Zoe liked every ride she could go on (but was very frustrated at the one’s she wasn’t tall enough for).  The older kids had fun on coasters and thrill rides.  Sorry, not much of a park review, but I'm tired and can't really figure out a good way to review these parks.  Even though the coasters and rides are all sort of unique they are still kind of the same as the other parks.  Still a lot of fun, but not much I can say about them.

By 5 O’Clock, we’d had enough sun and decided to head back to the campsite to hit the pool.  We headed to the top of the replica of the Eiffel Tower to end our day at the park.  When Max heard it was only a 1/3 replica he said that he will not be going to the top of the real Eiffel Tower!  It was fun to see all of the rides from up there.

We picked up Mexican food from Acapulco’s in Lebanon which was very good and the kids spent the rest of the evening at the playground.

June 6, 2015  Back to Illinois
Well, that's about it.  Today we drove home.  It took a long time, but not too bad today.  I think everyone was anxious to get home.  So we only made a couple of stops and everyone was pretty quick today.  It's good to be home, but I'm still excited about our next trip (even though we haven't decided what that will be yet)!