I once asked my daughter to describe me in three words.
Here’s what she said:
- Trippish, in meaning that I like to go on trips.
- Amazing. (She is sweet, sometimes!)
- Stressful, as in I get stressed a lot. (She knows me well.)
- Planner. She couldn’t stop at three.
Yes, I can do without fancy shoes, jewelry or manicures (well, most of the time), but I love to spend my hard-earned dollars being “trippish.”
And considering she threw in “planner” with “trippish,” that’s a dangerous combination.
We just returned from our first trip that required a passport (our Mexican Riviera adventure that I will tell you about in a later blog post), and although I agonized over the expense, it was worth it.
Vacations inevitably bring out some of the best sibling and spouse squabbles, but they also give us a chance to practice forgiveness. We love spending time together away from cooking, cleaning, Fortnite and television. And, we always come home feeling more connected.
With the summer vacation season just around the corner, I’m sharing some of our favorite affordable family vacations within driving distance from Nebraska in case you are looking for a way to connect with your family this summer. These are all kid-friendly vacations that are jam-packed with learning and adventure. That’s how we roll! I’d love to hear your ideas, too, to add to my agenda for future trips.
Let the planning begin!
We’ve traveled to Chicago by train, plane and automobile from Nebraska. From Central Nebraska, the trip was about 10 hours by car. However, my husband loved the train adventure because that meant he didn’t have to drive. The Amtrak makes several stops throughout Nebraska, including in our small town. Chicago is hands-down was one our kids’ favorite destinations! We can’t wait to go back to the Windy City.
Activities: We purchased a three-day pass on the Chicago Trolley double-decker tour bus that transported us to all the amazing sites in Chicago: the John Hancock building, Millennium Park, the Field Museum, Navy Pier and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and The Museum of Science and Industry. We also enjoyed a fireworks cruise and of course shopping on the Magnificent Mile (the kids loved shopping at American Girl Doll, Nike and Apple – not things you see in Central Nebraska). My husband was chosen to participate in an impromptu street show with some amazing acrobatics.
On our second trip to Chicago, we returned to the Museum of Science and Industry because there’s just so much to see and do there. The boys saw a Cubs game while the girls enjoyed an amazing lunch at the American Girl Doll Café (it was worth every penny!). We rode the elevator up the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) to overlook the city from the famous Sky Deck, where you can stand on a glass ledge on the 103rd floor. On our list next time: The Shedd Aquarium.
Where We Stay: We always stay at the Embassy Suites when we travel. With a family of five, we need an extra bed, which the Embassy Suites offers with a pull-out sofa. Plus, we love the free snacks and drinks in the evening and the filling breakfasts that can reduce food costs throughout the rest of the day.
Food You Must Eat in Chicago: Giordano’s Pizza (they are coming to Omaha!), American Girl Doll Café and of course, Garrett Popcorn.
San Antonio, Texas
The long drive: This is a 14-hour drive from our hometown, so we broke it up with an overnight stop on the way as our kids were 10, 6, and 4 at the time. We stopped at the Oklahoma bombing memorial, which was a humbling and impressive exhibit.
Activities: My oldest son is a history buff and cried when he finally got to see and tour The Alamo! We also enjoyed the River Walk boat ride and shopping, a trolley ride, Sea World and the Rain Forest Cafe.
Black Hills, South Dakota
Activities: We loved staying at the Mount Rushmore KOA campground. You can stay in a camper or in a cabin at this beautiful facility. Activities at the campground include a swimming pool, a giant trampoline, mini golf, bike rentals, movie rentals, pancakes and sausage served in a tent in the morning and even a Sunday church service.
Activities: Mount Rushmore, Reptile Gardens, Dinosaur Park in Sioux City (free!), a tour through Wind Cave, and a ride on the 1880 steam train in Hill City. On our list for next time: More caves, Bear Country and the Crazy Horse Memorial.
Nebraska City, Nebraska
Activities: The Lied Lodge and Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City are true Nebraska treasures! Our family has visited many times because it’s so close, and it’s so unique. The beautiful and relaxing Lied Lodge & Conference Center has a large indoor swimming pool and a walking trail that leads through a forest to the Arbor Day Farm. At the farm, be sure to visit the Tree Adventure to climb the 50-foot treehouse, learn about bird calls and create a melody on outdoor instruments under the trees. The best time to visit Nebraska City is autumn when the apples are ready for picking, but we like to visit in August or early summer to beat the crowds. Another attraction you won’t want to miss while in Nebraska City: The Arbor Lodge Mansion, home of J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day. It’s fun to imagine J. Sterling entertaining dignitaries and even the president of the United States in this impressive home. There’s even a bowling alley in the basement! We purchased a package with the Lied Lodge that included tickets to the mansion.
Food You Must Eat in Nebraska City: Apples, of course! And, apple pie, apple slushies and apple wine.
Activities: We stayed in a cabin at the Big Cedar Lodge resort the first three nights, and we loved it! Our cabin featured two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a living room with a fireplace, a full kitchen and a porch overlooking Table Rock Lake. We felt like kings and queens in this beautiful cabin! Besides the amazing accommodations, we loved all the free activities at the lodge, including miniature golf, shuffleboard, sand volleyball, kayaking, movies by the pool and free ice cream in the evening. We could swim in any of the pools on the resort, including a water park and an infinity pool overlooking the lake. The new Fun Mountain Center provides another entertainment option with its under-water themed bowling alley, laser tag, bumper cars, arcade, golf simulator and climbing wall.
We ventured off the beautiful resort for our last two days and stayed at Branson Landing, which is an outdoor shopping center with more than 100 stores and restaurants. Other don’t miss activities: Ride the Ducks land and water tour, the Dixie Stampede dinner show and the golf cart tour of Top of the Rock.
Activities: Colorado is known for its winter recreational activities, but there’s lots to do in the summer, too. We’ve traveled to several Colorado towns in the summer and found lots of great family treasures: Pike’s Peak (sorry the Cog Railway is closed for 2018), Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Breckenridge and the Peak 8 Fun Park on the top of the mountain featuring the Gold Runner Coaster, United States Air Force Academy, panning for gold and taking a tour at one of many gold mines; and Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park. During our latest trip to Colorado, my husband signed us up for a jeep tour in Estes Park. Lucky for us, there was one more tour available that day that would be departing in 15 minutes. After we got on, we learned that it was the Rockn’ Roller Coaster version of the Wild Side tours. My teenage kids loved the adventure. Mom, not so much. I needed a trip to the chiropractor when we were done!
Next on the list: Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park near Glenwood Springs. The North Pole Colorado Santa’s Workshop near Cascade was closed due to rain when we tried to go, and I fear our kids are too old to enjoy it now, but it looks like great fun for families with young kids.
Activities: While Kansas City is known for its amusement parks (Worlds and Oceans of Fun), we found many other exciting adventures in Kansas City: Science City at Union Station, shopping at Crown Center and my favorite, touring the Hallmark Visitor’s Center. Did you know that Hallmark’s founder, Joseph C. Hall, was originally from Nebraska? We also enjoyed our free visits to the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (the one with the giant Shuttlecocks on the lawn). The Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park is a great place to visit during the winter (or any time of year) in Kansas City.
Food to Eat: The kids will love Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant, where the burgers and fries arrive on a miniature train.
Newer and next on the list: Legoland Discovery Center and SEA Life Kansas City.