Destinations to consider for your next mini vacation
By Nancy Pistorius
You need to get away from Springfield for some R&R, but you don't have much time. Where can you go to pack a lot of living in just a few short days? Here are five terrific destinations that are calling your name.
Chicago's Northwest Suburbs
- Getting there: Just take Interstate 55 most of the way, then get on Interstate 355 North at Romeoville, north of Joliet. Easy-peasy.
- Where to stay and play: The Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca is a four-star, four-diamond hotel that will pamper you. Try booking a one-bedroom suite. ... If you're bringing the kids, you can't do better than the Holiday Inn Rolling Meadows, where the whole family can enjoy two indoor pools, two Jacuzzis and an indoor basketball/volleyball court. You'll never want to leave the premises.
- Getting around: It's easy to navigate the 'burbs. To take advantage of the cultural opportunities of downtown Chicago, take the Metra's Union Pacific/Northwest Line from either Arlington Heights or Palatine.
- Good eats: You can spend a day in the elegant Million Room at Arlington Park Racetrack feasting on jumbo shrimp cocktail and filet mignon while enjoying a breathtaking view of the track. Make reservations at www.arlingtonpark.com. ... Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Schaumburg is a fun dinner show for the whole family. Knights joust on horseback as you savor oven-roasted chicken and various accompaniments, all served by serfs and wenches. No utensils allowed. Make your reservation online at www.medievaltimes.com/chicago. Just like in the Middle Ages, right?
- Not to be missed: The Chicago area's most colossal shopping center, Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, is home to more than 300 shops and restaurants, including dozens that can't be found anywhere else in the Midwest. Sadly, Marshall Field's has transformed into Macy's, but you still can get those mouth-watering Frango mints.
- Why you should go now: You definitely need to check out the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre (www.legolanddiscoverycenter.com) in Schaumburg, with its cool exhibit built of LEGOs depicting the Chicago skyline, kiddie rides and even a 4D movie.
- FYI: www.ChicagoNorthwest.com
- Getting there: Make an airline connection in Chicago. American and United both fly to ABQ.
- Where to stay and play: Nativo Lodge has a "Perfectly Albuquirky" lobby with many Native American flourishes and an indoor/outdoor pool to keep the kids happy.
- Getting around: Rent a car to explore the desert.
- Good eats: Your server will ask if you want "red, green or Christmas" (red peppers, green peppers, or a combination of both) on your breakfast burrito at the Church Street Cafe in Old Town. ... El Pinto Authentic New Mexican Restaurant in the North Valley is both picturesque and festive, and their guacamole - prepared tableside - is to die for. ... For up, up and away thrills, get high on the Sandia Peak Tramway, the world's largest aerial tram, through four climate zones to the top of 10,378-foot Sandia Peak for sumptuous steaks and seafood and spectacular sunset views at High Finance Restaurant.
- Not to be missed: A ride in a hot air balloon at sunrise over the Rio Grande is a uniquely Albuquerque experience. Rainbow Ryders (www.rainbowryders.com) offers balloon rides every morning year-round, weather permitting. After landing, enjoy a champagne toast. ... Albuquerque has a wealth of museums to choose from. How about the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History with its walk-through re-created Cold War fallout shelter? ... At the Albuquerque Biopark, your kids can climb on a giant ant and run through a sand-colored maze resembling the inside of an anthill at the Children's Fantasy Garden in the Botanic Garden, before heading next door to see polar bears and Mexican wolves at the 64-acre zoo. ... Afterward, you can all munch on sandwiches in the Shark Reef Café (which is actually part of a shark tank) at the aquarium, while watching barracuda, sea turtles and myriad brightly colored fish swim past your table. ... Fabulous one-of-a-kind shops and galleries abound in Historic Old Town Albuquerque.
- Why you should go now: Springfieldians are justly proud of their connection to Route 66, but so are the folks in Albuquerque, where historic neon signs still glow on old Route 66 (now Central Avenue). Get your kicks as you drive along the revitalized Mother Road.
- FYI: www.itsatrip.org
- Getting there: Take Interstate 55 to St. Louis, then Interstate 44 to that other Springfield. Head south, following the cheesy billboards.
- Where to stay and play: Still Waters Resort is your destination if you want a relaxing, family-oriented place on scenic Table Rock Lake. You can enjoy kayaks, paddle boats, inner tubes and fishing, and there are three outdoor pools and a 50-foot water slide. ... Prefer something a bit more upscale? The Hilton Branson Convention Center is a full-service hotel close to the shops and restaurants on Branson Landing and historic downtown Branson.
- Getting around: Unless you stay right on the Strip, Branson is a driving town. In the summer, that means lots of traffic, so plan accordingly when trying to get to shows on time.
- Good eats: Stroll down to the Farmhouse Restaurant on Main Street in downtown Branson for lemonade served in Mason jars and some homemade mashed potatoes. Long lines often form outside this small, cozy cafe. ... Stop by Mel's Hard Luck Diner and be entertained by Branson's Original Singing Servers. The '50s-style diner serves up all the usual suspects, including "Rootie Tootie Rockin' Floats." ... Or chow down on "comfort food" made with crooner Andy Williams's mom's recipes at Andy Williams Moon River Grill.
- Not to be missed: You can't come to Branson without taking in some shows. Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede offers a hearty dinner and a lively performance with a decidedly patriotic theme. ... Yakov's Moscow Circus at Yakov Smirnoff Theatre is served up with an authentic Russian-style box lunch. ... Other crowd-pleasing shows are The Legend of Kung Fu, Louise Harrison's Liverpool Legends, the Dinner Cruise on the Showboat Branson Belle, and Shoji Tabuchi.
- Why you should go now: Silver Dollar City just opened Half Dollar Holler, a super-sized, million-dollar play area for little explorers - with treetop fun houses and climbing nets, box crawls and slides, mini-wave swings and truckloads of sand for hands-on play. The centerpiece of this wonderland is Silver Dollar City's hand-carved carousel. Good luck getting your kids to leave.
- FYI: www.explorebranson.com, www.silverdollarcity.com
- Getting there: Fly. You don't want to spend more than eight hours of your precious getaway time in your car.
- Where to stay and play: The Doubletree Cleveland Downtown Lakeside is right in the heart of the city, close to many attractions. The huge indoor pool and whirlpool delight families.
- Getting around: The Doubletree provides complimentary scheduled shuttle service within downtown and University Circle areas.
- Good eats: Try Saigon Restaurant (on East Fourth Street) for amazing Vietnamese dishes and Asian cocktails. ... Let the good times roll as you listen to live gospel music while dining on such delicacies as grilled lamb chops or miso sea bass at the House of Blues. ... Be sure to taste a Cleveland favorite, traditional Slavic pierogis, at the West Side Market, which boasts more than 180 vendors selling fresh ethnic goods.
- Not to be missed: Big Fun is a mind-blowing shop packed to the brim with cards, kitsch and collectibles - from blow-up advertising toys to Barbie dolls. ... SPACES Gallery produces challenging gallery exhibitions, redefining pop culture. You'll shout out "Fudge!" in frustration if you miss A Christmas Story House & Museum. While inside Ralphie Parker's house - the actual house used in the film - you'll spot Lifebuoy Soap, Little Orphan Annie decoder rings, and even a Red Ryder BB gun. ... At Great Lakes Science Center, kids can dive into more than 400 hands-on science exhibits. ... Be dazzled by the amazing breadth of the collections at the Cleveland Museum of Art. ... The one-and-only Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is alive with the energy, passion and spirit of the music we grew up with. The 150,000-square-foot museum features seven floors, five film theaters, special events and ever-changing exhibits. You'll get up-close-and-personal with impressive and iconic artifacts like John Lennon's guitar and Jimi Hendrix's clothes. (Boomers, bring Kleenex.) Rock on.
- Why you should go now: "Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power" opens May 13 on Floors 5 and 6 of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and will illustrate the important roles women have played in rock 'n' roll, from Mahalia Jackson and Billie Holiday to Queen Latifah and Lady Gaga.
- FYI: www.positivelycleveland.com
- Getting there: You can fly. Second star to the right, then straight on 'til morning.
- Where to stay and play: If you're coming exclusively to wear mouse ears, then the official Walt Disney World Resort properties can't be beat for their convenient location and perks, like extra hours in the parks. You're steps away from Epcot at Disney's Yacht Club Resort and Disney's Beach Club Resort. Disney's Polynesian Resort, Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney's Contemporary Resort are on the monorail route to the Magic Kingdom. Disney's All-Star Music Resort is a good "value" resort near Disney's Animal Kingdom. ... Newly rebuilt, the Holiday Inn in the Walt Disney World Resort is within walking distance to Downtown Disney. Kids eat free at the Palm Breezes restaurant, and there's a swimming and lap pool and a tropical outdoor whirlpool. ... The Doubletree Resort-Orlando International Drive is located next door to SeaWorld and its new water park, Aquatica. This Balinese-inspired resort hotel is situated on 28 lush acres of native palm trees and tropical fountains.
- Getting around: Many hotels provide shuttle services to area theme parks and attractions.
- Good eats: Vito's Chop House (on International Drive) serves aged steaks, fine wines, fresh fish and Italian specialties. Vito's is a sophisticated and subdued restaurant, far removed from the frenzy of the theme parks. The atmosphere is positively restorative. ... B.B. King's Blues Club (at Pointe Orlando) is a place to let your hair down and jam to live music while downing fried dill pickles, Memphis wings and sweet potato puffs. ... There are some excellent restaurants in the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks, particularly in the World Showcase at Epcot. The '50s Prime Time Cafe at Disney's Hollywood Studios is a real hoot. Beaches & Cream Soda Shop at Disney's Beach Club Resort is wildly popular with families - one look at the menu, with its ice cream dessert options, and it's easy to see why.
- Not to be missed: Walt Disney World Resort is a whole country unto itself, with four parks, the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom. Downtown Disney offers more dining, shopping and entertainment options, including DisneyQuest and the world-renowned Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba. Skip the long waits at newer rides like Soarin' (Epcot) and Toy Story Midway Mania! (Disney's Hollywood Studios) - just grab a FastPass as soon as you arrive at the park. ... SeaWorld is more relaxing and low-key than the other parks. Besides face-to-face encounters with dolphins, sea lions and sharks, SeaWorld also offers thrill rides and shows. The newest show, Blue Horizons, combines human acrobats, dancing dolphins and soaring birds with lyrical music. ... Discovery Cove (www.discoverycove.com) is SeaWorld's all-inclusive island retreat. You can swim through a waterfall, snorkel among fish in a tropical reef, relax on the sugar-white beach of Serenity Bay and even swim with a dolphin.
- Why you should go now: Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 14 years, you know all about him. Pottermania is alive and well in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort. Pay your respects to The Boy Who Lived by quaffing a butterbeer at The Three Broomsticks restaurant or Hog's Head pub. Then take flight on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a state-of-the art attraction that gets your heart pumping and brings J.K. Rowling's stories to life in ways you've never before imagined.
- n FYI: www.visitorlando.com, http://disneyworld.disney.go.com, www.seaworld.com, www.universalorlando.com
Story published Friday, May 6, 2011 ( Volume 6, Number 3 )