Three no passport spring vacation ideas

Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, MI (J Jacobs photo)
Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, MI
(J Jacobs photo)

 

Don’t wait for the first robin or crocus to pop up to plan what to do or where to go for a spring vacation. Hotels and good B and B’s may already be booked and airlines will have few seats at the price you want. Make plans now

Good as Washington DC is, student groups may already have plane seats and hotel rooms so consider that destination for another time. Instead, Spring Break is a good chance to splash in a pool, visit and cross off a presidential museum or find an unusual children’s museum in a town not yet visited.

The suggestions listed here are Midwest destinations within a day’s drive of Chicago. The city’s schools are out April 6-10 and most suburban districts are out March 23-27 in 2020.

 

African themed Kalahari Resort at the Wisconsin Dells. (J Jacobs photo)
African themed Kalahari Resort at the Wisconsin Dells. (J Jacobs photo)

Indoor Pool

Arguably among the best indoor water parks are the ones at the Kalahari Resorts. If living in the Midwest, consider the African-themed one at the Wisconsin Dells. The resort really is a combination amusement park, movie and dining destination and games emporium.

I like the Dells as a summer or fall escape when the weather is predictable but spring is a good time to enjoy a resort that has so much to offer, guests might not feel the need to leave.  Also check out other Wisconsin Waterparks for a spring Break.

An old time streetscape in the Grand Rapids Public Museum (J Jacobs photo)
An old time streetscape in the Grand Rapids Public Museum (J Jacobs photo)

Fascinating presidential and public museums

Located in Grand Rapids, MI, the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum combines his University of Michigan background, Nixon’s resignation, Betty Ford’s contributions and a replica of the Oval Office.

Across the road is the Grand Rapids Public Museum which has fun explorations and a merry go round ride. From American Indian displays to inventions, an old-time streetscape and a giant clock, there is enough here to spend the day.

 

An orangutan climbed down from his perch to try a computer game with a scientist at the Indianapolis Zoo. (J Jacobs photo)
An orangutan climbed down from his perch to try a computer game with a scientist at the Indianapolis Zoo. (J Jacobs photo)

Where a dinosaur and orangutans hang out

People outside of Indianapolis may not know the city has a remarkable Children’s Museum charmingly guarded by a huge dinosaur and that the Indianapolis Zoo is one of the few places in the country that boasts a specialized orangutan center where visitors can watch these intelligent animals play and practice their cognitive game skills.

I love the Childeren’s Museum’s Take Me There exhibits. When I visited it was to China. Currently it is to Greece. And there really is a simulated flight there.  And I was fascinated by everything the orangutans could do.

Also worth a visit when in town are the Eiteljorg Museum of American indians’ Western Art and the Indiana State Museum next door that has a wonderful Rube Goldberg inventions exhibit. See Visit Indy for more information.

 

Enjoy spring at Camelback Ranch or Sloan Park

 

 

At Wrigleyville West. (J Jacobs photo)
At Wrigleyville West. (J Jacobs photo)

Instead of waiting for spring to descend on Chicago and the Cubs and Sox games, enjoy both this month in Arizona.

Go online to pick up Cubs  or Sox tickets, book a trip to Phoenix, find a hotel in the Phoenix-Mesa area and enjoy the more casual MLB games in the Cactus League.

At home in Sloan Park, the Cubs will take on the Oakland A’s Feb. 22, Colorado Rockies Feb. 25, KC Royals Feb. 26 and Milwajukee Brewers Feb. 29

Their away games (sometimes easier to get tickets) are the LA Dodgers, Feb. 23, Seattle Mariners Feb. 24, Texas Rangers Feb. 27 and San Diego Padres Feb. 28

For tickets and the calendar visit MLB/Cubs/schedule2020 

Camelback Ranch in Glendale is the spring home of the Chicago White Sox. A suburb of Phoenix, visitors get all the advantages of Phoenix’s museums, hotels and its famed Botanic Garden but are close to White Sox action.

The Sox have a home game against the LA Angels Feb. 22 and are awayh against the Cincinnati Reds Feb. 23, LA Dodgers Feb. 24, have a split squad against the Indians away and the Giants at home on Feb. 25, then away against the KC Royals,Feb. 26, are at home against the Mariners Feb. 27, Indians Feb. 28 and away against the Rangers on Feb. 29.

For ballpark info visit WhiteSox/springtraining/ball park. For White Sox season info see Sox schedule..

The Desert Botanic Garden is a popular Phoenix destination. (J Jacobs photo)
The Desert Botanic Garden is a popular Phoenix destination. (J Jacobs photo)

If you go

The excellent Sheraton Mesa at Wrigley West places you right at Sloan Park. But check Visit Mesa to see other accommodation choices. It’s also a good referral to restaurants and attractions.

While in the area try to get to the Desert Botanical Garden and hike Camelback Mountain or Pinnacle Peak Park. Do visit the famed Heard Museum for fine Native American arts.

While visiting one of the Cub’s or White Sox’s away games in or near neighboring Scottsdale, browse fine art galleries in Old Town and visit Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.

So get away from Chicago’s winter. Relax outdoor with a margarita or cold draft beer while shouting Hey! Hey! at Wrigley West. You will feel right at home because the border streets  are Waveland Avenue, Clark Street and Sheffield Ave.

Or enjoy a Chicago hot dog (no ketchup please) at Camelback Ranch and watch the newly rebuilt Sox team take on old rivals. 

 

 

Groundhog Day predictions differ

Groundhog Woodstock Willie predicts winter or early spring each year in Woodstock IL where the Groundhog Day movie was filmed. (Photo courtesy of Woodstock)
Groundhog Woodstock Willie predicts winter or early spring each year in Woodstock IL where the Groundhog Day movie was filmed. (Photo courtesy of Woodstock)

 

Experts predicted that Kansas would win the super bowl this year and they were right. But what are the odds that two famous groundhogs (or woodchucks) have correctly predicted when winter will end?

Pretty good if you know that one of them is right.

After several days of gray gloom, the sun finally shone in northern Illinois Sunday, Feb. 2, the official Groundhog Day. That the sun shone and the weather was a balmy 51 degrees, good news for outdoor activities but bad news in Woodstock where Willie saw his shadow, wanted to go back to his dark hole and so predicted six more weeks of winter.

However, in Pennsylvania, Punxsutawne Phil didn’t see his shadow so stayed out and predicted an early spring.

However, loosely collected records show that Phil has had less than a 40 percent correct record and Willie has been right half the time.

Considering that local weather forecasters sometimes have trouble accurately predicting even a week away, maybe 50 percent isn’t bad.

See what the Farmers Almanac predicts for the Midwest/Great Lakes area.

Also see Groundhog Day relived

Travel experts and exhibitors offer advice at Chicago Travel and Adventure Show

 

Travel and Adventure show has travel experts and knowledgeable exhibitors who can help guests decide where to go, how to get there and what to pack. ( J Jacobs photo)
Travel and Adventure show has travel experts and knowledgeable exhibitors who can help guests decide where to go, how to get there and what to pack. ( J Jacobs photo)

If not sure where to travel this year, check out the Chicago Travel & Adventure Show at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Feb. 8-9, 2020.

Hundreds of destinations from Alabama to Amelia Island and Africa to Australia plus cruise lines will have exhibitors with suggestions on where to stay, when is the best time to go and what are the cost options.

It’s a fun show where guests can listen to and ask questions of Rick Steves, writer and host of Rick Steves Europe and Travel with Rick Steves, Josh Gates, host, The Travel Channel’s Expedition Unknown, Pauline Frommer editorial director of Frommer’s Guides and Peter Greenberg, TV reporter, producer and CBS News Travel editor.

Just don’t be surprised at what you’ll see there, including camel rides, chef demonstrations, Nordic, Polynesian and Taiwanese folk dancers, an obstacle course and Trikkes.

Tips: Enter the drawings for a door prize and pick up a bag there to carry all the handouts home to peruse.

Have fun.

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. For ticket and other information visit  TravelShows/Chicago.  The Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N. River Rd., Rosemont.

Snow sculptors face off in Lake Geneva

 

Snow Sculpting Championship, in Lake Geneva, WI. (Chamber of Commerce photo 2019)
Snow Sculpting Championship, in Lake Geneva, WI. (Chamber of Commerce photo 2019)

To see some the country’s best snow sculptures and vote for your favorite, drive up to Lake Geneva, just over the Illinois border into Wisconsin on Hwy 50, this weekend.

Fifteen award-winning teams from across the United States are competing in the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship for the national title, this week.

They start work midweek when snow is delivered to their stations in the Riviera Plaza , 812 Wrigley Drive abutting Geneva Lake (Yes, that is the lake’s name).

The teams sculpt their creations through Friday night to be ready for the judging after the “tools down” bell at 11 a.m. Saturday. Visitors can vote for the People’s Choice Award, Saturday until 2 p.m.

The snow sculptures are amazing but also stay to see ice sculptures in town. Youngsters may want to stop at a children’s tent at 201 Wrigley Dr. in Flat Iron Park where there are games and the Boy Scouts are selling cider donuts and hot dogs.

Visitors who stay over Saturday will want to see the free Laser Light Show on the ski slopes of the Grand Geneva Resort, just south of the downtown at WI7036 Grand Geneva Way.

The light show goes from 8:30 to 10 p.m. For more information call (312) 218-3848 or visit Laser fusion shows.

For more Winterfest events visit Lake Geneva/Winterfest.

 

Kaehler Luggage still relevant one hundred years after birth

 

Kaehler Luggage tarted life 100 years ago. (Photo courtesy of Kaehler Luggage)
Kaehler Luggage started life 100 years ago. (Photo courtesy of Kaehler Luggage)

 

Thanks to some trunks, the Winnetka-based Kaehler Luggage chain was born 100 years ago. Now the company is inviting the public to celebrate its century mark at its Mag Mile store, 900 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, at 11 a.m., Jan. 28 2020. The celebration includes a champagne toast, packing demonstrations and a 100-year history.

To find out  more about the company and how the stores are relevant to today’s travelers, Travel Smart talked with  owner Wallace Kaehler Jr. popularly known as “Buzz.” And yes, there will be a trunk at the anniversary party,” said Buzz.

Continue reading “Kaehler Luggage still relevant one hundred years after birth”

Martin Luther King Jr Day celebrations

Martin Luther King Jr memorial in Washington DC. (J Jacobs photo)
Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington
DC. (J Jacobs photo)

Cities from LA to Memphis and Chicago and New York to Washington DC and Atlanta are celebrating MLK Day today, the third Monday of January. The day has been officially observed to honor the civil rights leader in all 50 states since 2000.  It is an American federal holiday so schools, banks, post office and some business are closed.

Celebrations to honor Martin Luther King Jr range from service projects and parades to concerts and free museum visits.

If in DC go to the Marin Luther King Jr Memorial and watch the Peace Parade from 11 a.m to noon ET on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Milwaukee Place. The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade features musical performances, dancers, and members of civil rights organizations fighting for equal rights.

If in Chicago, you can spend quality time at one of the following events:

Continue reading “Martin Luther King Jr Day celebrations”

Three fun Valentine ideas

 

Instead of a heart-shaped box of candy, be original and think Portillo's justly famous chocolate cake. (Wagstaff Chicago photo)
Instead of a heart-shaped box of candy, be original and think Portillo’s justly famous chocolate cake. (Wagstaff Chicago photo)

Ask a friend, ask a lover or ask a few people to join you to celebrate the Feast of Saint Valentine Feb. 14. It’s just nice to have a fun day in the middle of winter. Since Feb/ 14 comes on a Friday in 2020, celebrate the end of the week or the beginning of a fun weekend.

The ideas listed here are for Chicago but they could be adapted anywhere by substituting  a local cooking class for No. 1, a decadent chocolate dessert for No. 2 and a different activity for No. 3. They range from pricey but yummy to free.

Peninsula Chicago Couples Cooking Classes

The Peninsula Chicago’s Shanghai Terrace is doing a Dim Sum for Lovebirds cooking class and dinner from Feb. 10 through Feb. 16. It includes a Chinese tea degustation, a class led by Chef de Cuisine Elmo Han and ends with a three-course dinner.  The cost per couple is $888 but there is a less expensive option Feb. 15 only. It’s the two-hour Valentine’s Day Cooking Experience. At $480 a couple it includes tortellini making and a three-course lunch of oysters, pasta and dessert in The Lobby. (Gratuity and tax not included).

Peninsula Chicago is on Superior Street at Michigan Avenue. To make reservations or for more information call (312) 573 6620, toll-free at 1 866 288 8889, visit  Peninsula Chicago or email reservations

Portillo’s Chocolate Cakes 

The restaurant is not just among Chicagoan’s fave when it comes to hot dogs or Italian beef. It’s chocolate cake ranks among the town’s top dessert choices. So Portillo’s is shaping it famous cake into a heart for Valentine’s Day. A the single-layer chocolate iced cake, the treat will be available at Chicago area locations Feb. 7-16, but can be pre-ordered beginning  Jan. 14, 2020 by visiting portillos.com or calling 1-866-YUM-BEEF.

In addition, 100% of the purchase price of each Portillo’s Heart-Shaped Chocolate Cake sold between January 14 and February 16 (capped at $25,000) will be donated to the American Red Cross. Portillo’s is supporting the American Red Cross Biomedical Services to ensure a safe and reliable blood supply is available for patients in need.

Heart-Shaped cakes will be available for purchase in-store February 7-16. Guests are encouraged to pre-order the cakes beginning on January 14 by visiting portillos.com or calling 1-866-YUM-BEEF.

Ice skating in Millennium Park

Skate against the Chicago skyline or skate under the stars. Ice skating at Chicago’s Millennium Park below Cloud Gate (The Bean) is a popular winter activity encouraged by background music and a concession stand of hot chocolate. The skating is free. Visitors can bring their skates or rent, or use the rental free of charge if staying at a Hilton.

The historic Palmer House at Wabash and Monroe Streets, just west of the Art institute  and Millenium Park is a Hilton. So is The Wit, a popular millennial hotel by Doubletree at State and Lake, a couple of blocks west.

Up the experience by doing lunch at Terao Piano which is a short walk up the bridge from the park to the third floor of the Art Institute of Chicago or an elevator ride up from the museum’s Monroe Street entrance. Those entrances to the restaurant don’t have a museum charge. Or do dinner in the Park Grill right there at the skating rink.

 

 

Quadrantid meteor shower here then gone

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

If you are north in the northern hemisphere and don’t have a cloudy or rainy night, look up after midnight after the waxing gibbous moon sets to catch the Quadrantid Meteor Shower.

The Quadrantids typically send out 25 meteorites an hour during its peak time which in 2020 is very early in the a.m. Jan. 4 and go on for a very short duration. For Central Time watchers best viewing after the moon sets would be about 2 a.m.

Where to look

Look northeast. Find the Big Dipper then look down to Arcturus, a giant red star at the bottom of the Bootes Constellation. Scientists say it is best to then look just slightly away from it to catch the long tails of the Quadrantids.

What are the Quadrantids

They are considered to come from the asteroid 2003 EHI which may have been a comet or a part of one.

Where to find more meteor shower information

The American Meteor Society, around for more than a century, has an easy to understand web site that tells what meteor showers are happening now and in the near future and what the moon phase will be for each of them.

Yes, the moon phase matters. The brightness of a full or nearly full moon makes it harder to see tmeteors flying across the sky.

The American Meteor Society, around for more than a century, has an easy to understand web site, tells when the next meteor shower is coming and what the moon phase will be then. Yes the moon does matter. The brightness of a full and even half moon, make it harder to see meteors flying across the sky.

Other good sky info can be found at Space, Time and Date, NASA and EarthSky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for traveling to and from Chicago during the holiday season

Terminal 3 at O'Hare Airport decorates for the holidays and often has trees done by Chicago cultural institutions. (J Jacobs photo)
Terminal 3 at O’Hare Airport decorates for the holidays and often has trees done by Chicago cultural institutions. (J Jacobs photo)

 

If you heard that Thanksgiving was busy at Chicago’s airports so decided to drive to grandma’s house in a 6 or 8 horse-powered sleigh but will fly for the holiday season, OK, but be prepared, patient and smart. And let the decorations and music bring out a few smiles.

The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) says that O’Hare and Midway International Airports are expected to be among the busiest airports in the country for Christmas-through-New Year holiday travel with nearly 5 million passengers expected over the travel period from Dec. 19, 2019 through Jan. 6, 2020.

Pointing out that Chicago is a top holiday destination, CDA Commissioner Jamie L. Rhee said, “On behalf of Mayor Lightfoot and the Chicago aviation community, we are excited to be a gateway for holiday travel – and holiday cheer – for so many. CDA and its airline partners are well prepared to provide a safe and efficient experience for millions of travelers during this holiday season,”

A couple of significant points were made during a press conference Dec. 20 that bare noting.

First is the forthcoming legalization of cannabis in Chicago Jan. 1, 2020. “To ensure safe travel for all residents and visitors, we’re encouraging all travelers not to bring cannabis through Chicago’s airports as it still remains illegal under federal law.” Said Chicago Police Interim Superintendent Charlie Beck.

That means that travelers cannot expect to pass through the Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) checkpoints with any amount of cannabis because it remains illegal across state lines, and possession of cannabis may be illegal in the state or country to which you are traveling.

Secondly, even though Chicago’s airports are proud of the smooth passage to airport gates, the CDA and the TSA strongly urge passengers to arrive at the airport two hours before domestic departures and three hours ahead of international departures to allow for ticketing, baggage checks and security screening.

Third, according to the TSA passengers should not bring wrapped gifts through the checkpoints, as they are subject to closer inspection by officers.

Fourth is to know about facilities. Traveler-friendly upgrades have been happening this past year including restrooms in O’Hare and restaurants in Midway.  There are better infant care areas including a new Mother’s Room in Terminal 3 near Gate L6 and a new family assist restroom, also in Terminal 3 on the H Concourse.

Midway has 23 new restaurant and retail locations with more planned. The Midway Central Express Market, features hot food as well as a variety of garb & go items such as fresh sushi, tasty parfaits and more. Visit flychicago.com for a map of all dining and retail choices at both airports.

At O’Hare, Winter Wonder, a new family-friendly entertainment, activity, and retail activation is in Terminal 1 near Gate C11. Fly with Butch O’Hare Family Lounge is in Terminal 2 and also in Terminal 3 (near Gate K2).

Last, but not least, is to take time to see the holiday trees decorated by Chicago’s cultural institutions and enjoy the music provided by the CDA.  Santa and Mrs. Claus will be at Midway this week and at O’Hare on Dec. 23, between noon and 2 p.m,

For more information visit Fly Chicago. . The Website also contains real-time information on flights, regular updates on traffic and weather, real-time taxicab wait times, and other special alerts for the traveling public