Christkindlmarkets

I was so excited when Belleville finally opened a Christmas market. For years, I had said that it would be the perfect way to honor the city’s German heritage, and add a little extra Christmas fun to the town square. And we’ve enjoyed visiting it in the five seasons it has been open.

But now I think I’ve ruined it for myself. I already mentioned that one of my top priorities when we went to Chicago was taking the Fab Five downtown to the Christkindlmarket. I was a little worried that I would be disappointed, because I thought that over the years, I had built it up in my head, and it wouldn’t be what I remembered. But it actually turned out to be so much more…more stalls, more food choices, more crowds, more everything. Sure, the rain was a downer, but the market itself was beautiful and huge and exactly what I wanted it to be.

And then we stopped at the satellite location in Naperville the next day on the way home, to make up for the rainy experience the day before. I had looked at the map ahead of time, so I should have anticipated what it would be like, but for some reason, I was expecting it to be small and disappointing after Chicago. But it wasn’t at all. Maybe not quite as big (or maybe it was!), but still plenty of options for shopping and food and photos:

And now I realize just how small Belleville’s market is. I know it can never be the same as the Chicago version, but I really thought the Naperville market would be more similar to what we’ve become used to, and it’s not. I know I’ll still visit the Belleville Christkindlmarkt every December, probably more than once, but it will never really be the same to me, after seeing just how German the markets up north are!

Markel Family Christmas Getaway–Day Three

The third day of our Christmas getaway was also the real reason we were there…to attend the Santa Breakfast at Pheasant Run. We enjoyed the decorations, a great meal, and a nice, leisurely morning together. Before we left the ballroom, we took a family picture with the host of the event:

It’s always hard to say goodby, but at least this time, it’s only six more months until we go back, instead of a whole year!

Before we really hit the road, we had one more stop to make. Since our Chicago Christkindlmarket experience didn’t exactly go as planned, we stopped at their satellite location in Naperville at the Naper Settlement. I was shocked by how big the market was, and how similar to the one in Chicago. I guess I had assumed that it would be kind of…dinky…but it wasn’t at all, and we had a great time!

Since we were already so far south, we didn’t even have to get on the tollway, which was a nice surprise. Just a few hours south on 55, and we were back home. It was definitely a quick trip, but extremely memorable! I’m already looking forward to our next family trip!

Markel Family Christmas Getaway–Day Two

Day two of our Christmas Getaway was a BIG DAY. A day I’ve been planning and hoping for for years…the day where I would show the Fab Five Christmas in Chicago!

But first, a look at the view from our 11th floor room in the tower at Pheasant Run. We’ve never had a north facing view before, and while we missed being able to see the skyscrapers in Chicago that we’ve been accustomed to (with the way the weather was in Chicago last weekend, there’s no way we would have been able to see them anyway!), it was fun to see something different. It was also nice of Chicago to hang onto the snow until we had a chance to really see it, because it was pretty much gone by the end of the day!

We enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Pheasant Run’s Jambalaya restaurant, compliments of the resort. It was a great meal…I especially enjoyed my eggs Benedict, a rare treat for a person like me who doesn’t usually eat breakfast!

And then we headed out. Our first stop was the Museum of Science and Industry, using the reciprocity that comes with our St. Louis Science Center membership to get in for free! We were there to see only one thing…the “Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light” display, something I enjoyed as a child who grew up in the Chicago suburbs. It’s much bigger than I remember it being, and we were definitely not disappointed…I think it took us over an hour to see all of the trees and other displays!

After the museum, we stopped briefly to take a look a Lake Michigan, which was wild…way wilder than the children have ever seen it, and possibly more so than I ever have! We really enjoyed watching the waves crash against the shore! It was a grander display of wind and waves than we even saw the two times we’ve visited the ocean!

We then headed into the heart of downtown, a harrowing experience that involved a crowded parking garage with narrow spiral ramps that terrify me, and no spaces available until we hit the 10th floor. I can’t tell you how glad I was that Ryan was driving! Despite my terror, it was a good place to park, and fairly close to everything I hoped to see. It was only a short few blocks’ walk to Millennium Park, where we saw the city Christmas tree:

And the “Bean.” Since Ryan hasn’t had the opportunity to see it with us the last few years we’ve visited the city in May, I made sure to get a picture of him with the children in front of it:

Of course I had to show the children the Art Institute lions with their wreath manes:

The number one thing I wanted to share with the children was the Chicago Christkindlmarket. I have happy memories of going downtown with Ryan when we were in college and having lunch and shopping at the stalls, and I really wanted the Fab Five to have that experience, too. It was so rainy and windy when we were there, though, that we didn’t spend much time at the market. We had a snack (not a full meal), and didn’t get to do any browsing. I didn’t even get a picture of the children there, although I did get a few shots of the market:

We then went to Marshall Field’s of Blessed Memory, where I wanted the children to see the Christmas decorations, especially the tree in the Walnut Room. And that’s when the second disappointment of the day occurred, because I discovered that apparently, you can no longer go up to the eighth floor and view the Walnut Room and its tree from above. I was not happy about that, but we did still buy a tin of Frango mints, so it wasn’t a wasted trip. And by the time we had purchased our treat to take home, the rain had stopped, so we could admire the Christmas windows outside:

After we finally made it back to the car (the garage was right across from Macy’s, but I was over using my knee scooter, especially with all the standing water that had collected everywhere, so I wasn’t moving too fast), we drove over to the Adler Planetarium so the Fab Five could see the city at night. Due to the weather, they really only saw the lower third of the city, but at least they got an idea of what Chicago’s night skyline looks like:

We decided to take the long way back to the resort, so we got on North Avenue basically where it begins in the city, and drove…and drove…and drove some more. There was traffic and construction and too many potholes to count. But it was still kind of fun (other than the potholes), and we stopped for a favorite treat from our college days on the way…Italian ice from Johnnie’s. This was a first for the Fab Five, and they really enjoyed it.

When we got back to Pheasant Run, we headed back down to Bourbon Street to see the light show again…this time, we caught it in its entirety, and then saw it again!

When we got back to our room, we indulged in one of favorite hotel activities…watching the Food Network on cable TV. It was hard to believe our second night at the hotel was also our last, but we still had a day of fun to look forward to on Sunday!

Markel Family Christmas Getaway–Day One

It’s time for another Markel family road-trip wrap-up, this time featuring last weekend’s Christmas getaway to Pheasant Run Resort!

This trip was a little different, because we didn’t leave super early in the morning on Friday. Instead, Moose went to school for his first three classes, and we hit the road around lunchtime. It actually wasn’t a bad drive…very little construction, and no traffic to speak of until we hit the Chicagoland area. The only real hiccup in our travels was the fact that when we arrived at Pheasant Run, their computers were down, and we couldn’t check in to our room. We had planned to go to dinner at the Schnitzel Platz with my mom, so we decided to wait on checking in, and headed straight for a delicious meal of German food. We tried a few new things this time (I had schnitzel with white asparagus and hollandaise sauce, and Turkey’s schnitzel came with a fried egg and canapĂ©s), and we heard a new musician, who played the accordion and the saxophone. We even got to hear “O Tannenbaum” sung auf Deutsch!

After dinner, the computers at the hotel were back up, and we were able to get into our room.

We took a walk around the resort, as we usually do the first day we arrive. This time we had a very specific purpose…we wanted to see the hotel at Christmastime! You can swim in the outdoor portion of the indoor/outdoor pool even when there’s snow on the ground (as there was when we arrived). I would have tried this had it not been for my broken ankle. Instead, I had to settle for watching the steam rise off of the heated water:

We then checked out the Christmas lights show on Bourbon Street…it was a lot of fun!

Next up: a busy day in Chicago!

Christmas in Chicago

The Fab Five and I have become pretty accustomed to exploring Chicago when we’re in the area in May for Combo Breaker. Once I knew we were going to be staying at Pheasant Run in December, I planned a special Christmas-themed trip into the city, because I really wanted to show the children all of my favorite things about Christmas in the city.

We started at the Museum of Science and Industry, to see the Christmas Around the World exhibit (free for us, using the reciprocity that comes with our St. Louis Science Center membership!). The grand tree was quite a sight!

Speaking of big trees, we also stopped by Millennium Park to see the City of Chicago tree, a 60-foot Norway spruce, and the ice skating rink:

We are used to walking “mile after magnificent mile” in May. When the weather is nice. And my ankle isn’t broken. Imagine if you will, the seven of us parading down the streets of downtown, with me on my knee scooter, and all of us in our winter jackets, dodging raindrops, and occasionally getting caught in sudden downpours. It was definitely a different experience! But we still managed to see one of our favorites…the Art Institute lions, this time bedecked for Christmas!

There was one good thing about the rain…even before it started to get dark, we were able to see all the bright lights of the city:

The biggest thing I wanted to show the children was Chicago’s Christkindlmarket. Unfortunately, that was also the part of our trip downtown that involved the most rain. We still explored a bit, and had a bite to eat, but it wasn’t quite the experience I was hoping for.

The good news was that Marshall Field’s of Blessed Memory (Macy’s, whatever), was just a few blocks away, so we headed there to warm up and dry off…and see the decorations (plus buy Frango mints). I was disappointed to learn that you apparently can no longer view the Walnut Room and its glorious Christmas tree from above on the eighth floor, but we still enjoyed seeing the Tiffany ceiling. Once the rain stopped, we walked around the building to explore the windows and see the iconic horns:

One last look at the lights of the city before it was time to head back to the hotel:

I love Chicago, and Christmas is an extra special time to visit. I’m so glad I finally got to share all of this with the Fab Five!

Christmas at Pheasant Run

Our whole family loves staying at Pheasant Run every May for Combo Breaker, so when the resort offered to host us for two nights so we could experience Christmas at Pheasant Run, we were ecstatic. We made the drive up to St. Charles, IL, on Friday, and made the most of our Christmas getaway!

The first thing we noticed that there are beautiful Christmas decorations everywhere, inside…

…and out:

There is a light show on Bourbon Street every evening starting at 4:00 p.m. and running on the half hour until 9:30. We saw it several times, because it was so much fun! There was music playing, and people were dancing in the “street” and having a great time!

There are also fun activities for kids on Bourbon Street, including gingerbread house making, ornament creating, and cookie decorating. We weren’t available to take part in these activities, but they looked like a lot of fun!

The highlight of the weekend was the Santa breakfast in the New Orleans ballroom and on Bourbon Street on Sunday morning. We arrived a little early to enjoy the decorations (again).

Even before we were seated, the children were offered a sugar cookie to decorate. There were little cups of sprinkles and various colors of frosting to choose from…this was a great way to start our experience, and would come in really handy for keeping little hands busy before they get their food!

Bourbon Street had tables for smaller groups set up:

And the ballroom had large tables. For once, we were rewarded for having a large group, because we were close to both the food, and the hosts of the event (Santa and Mrs. Claus)!

Our table was festively decorated:

We were offered drinks by our server, a very attentive and kind woman named Lisa, right after we were seated. There were plenty of options, including coffee and tea, and several kinds of juice. The buffet lines opened up almost immediately, and the food choices were beyond amazing! There was an omelet station (almost all of us had one…mine included salmon, spinach, and mushrooms), a carving station with amazing ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, eggs, bacon, sausage, breakfast potatoes, cornflake crusted French toast that Ryan said was amazing, red velvet waffles with all kinds of toppings, fresh fruit, and desserts that included cream puffs, eclairs, brownies, muffins, and chocolate-covered strawberries. It was an incredible (and very delicious!) meal!!!

People were free to see Santa and Mrs. Claus whenever they wished, so the line never got long, which was fantastic. As you would expect, they were very kind, and did a great job of talking to each of our children in turn:

This weekend was a dream experience for our family. We enjoyed great food (Pheasant Run also provided us with a delicious breakfast on Saturday, which we had at their Jambalaya restaurant). We reveled in the Christmas spirit that was everywhere at the resort. We had a wonderful time making memories together, and we were treated exceptionally well by all of the Pheasant Run staff. It was an unforgettable Christmas getaway!

Markel Family Summer Vacation–Wrap-Up

Sometimes, when I look back on our vacation, even though it was only just over a month ago, I can hardly believe it happened. For everything that went wrong on the first true summer vacation we took three years ago, something went right on this one. It was a dream come true…as close to a perfect vacation as I can imagine. Here’s one last look at all the fun we had:

  • Day One–The first day of our trip was mostly spent in the car. We drove through part of Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia (for what seemed like an eternity!), and Florida to reach our destination of Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort in Orlando. We did have time for a swim in one of the hotel’s amazing pools after we got checked into our amazing room!
  • Day Two–On the second day of our trip, we made some dreams come true with a visit to Legoland! After a fun day at the park, we enjoyed more pool time when we got back to the hotel.
  • Day Three–The third day of our vacation was busy, busy, busy! We were up super early to view SpaceX launch from the roof of the hotel parking garage. We then spent the day at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure. We especially enjoyed visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter…both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. From start to finish, it was the most amazing day ever!
  • Day Four–After our busy day at Universal, we needed the fourth day of our trip to recover, so Ryan rented a cabana at the hotel, and we spent the day by the pool, playing games, building sandcastles, and swimming.
  • Day Five–The final day of our vacation meant more time in the car, but we also got to stop and talk a walk on the beach and visit Castillo de San Marcos before another seemingly never-ending drive back through Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

I am so thankful we had this opportunity as a family. I know that we don’t have too many chances like this left before the children venture forth and begin their adult lives, and I hope that we will all remember this trip together as one of the most fun times we’ve ever had!

Legoland

You may have thought I had run out of things to say about our summer vacation, but I have one last big thing to share before I wrap the whole trip up…our visit to Legoland Florida!

Going to Legoland has been a dream of the children’s, especially Turkey, ever since they first heard about it years ago. I thought going to the Legoland Discovery Center in Chicago was going to be as close as we were going to get, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to be able to save up and get tickets for us to go last month! (Hint…if you’re planning such a trip, there are coupons out there, particularly in Lego catalogs, the children’s Lego magazine, and occasionally with purchases directly from Lego…they can save you quite a bit of money!)

Legoland is a theme park, but everything is done on a smaller scale than places like Universal or Disney. What does that mean exactly? The park itself is smaller, so it’s easier to get from one end to the other, and the rides themselves are on a smaller scale. There are roller coasters, but they’re not as intimidating as most, and many of them have height requirements that allow even a little gal like Chickadee to ride (she went on her very first roller coaster at Legoland!). And, of course, the whole places is done in Lego, from the Lego-themed stores (Turkey was able to get a Lego brick keychain engraved with his name at one!), to the characters on the rides to the commitment to sustainability (which I thought was really cool!).

There are giant builds everywhere! Some are part of rides, others just fit the decor of the park:

They have an ingenious queuing system that allows children to play in a separate area while their parents wait in line. When it’s your turn, your child can simply join you from there!

We loved the Egyptian area…especially the pyramid builders using a Lego instruction manual to complete their task!

Legoland sits on the property of the former Cypress Gardens. They still have a few homages to that theme park, and the famous banyan tree is still there…it’s unbelievable in person! Also, watch out for alligators!

One of the highlights of our visit was the water ski show. Not only was it clever, it was also a new experience for us, and a lot of fun to watch! We had a great time cheering on Miss Miranda Valentine and her guards as they took on Captain Brickbeard and his pirates. If you sit in front, you will get wet, but on a hot June day, I can’t say our drenching was unwelcome!

The Star Wars Miniland was amazing:

But not as amazing as the replicas of famous locations from around Florida (including Kennedy Space Center, Daytona, Orlando, and Miami), and the US (New York City, Washington D.C. and Las Vegas were featured), in the main Miniland!

Legoland is known for their apple fries. We didn’t have a chance to try them, but I wish we had, because we saw lots of people with them, and they looked delicious!

We ended our day when the afternoon rain storm began. We didn’t hit all the rides we wanted to (although we did go on a fair number of the roller coasters), but we saw almost everything we had planned on seeing. I’m so glad this was a dream I was able to make come true!

Islands of Adventure

My favorite part of Universal Islands of Adventure was, again, the Harry Potter area…this time The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade. But there’s a lot of other things to see and do there…let’s take a look.

Because we entered the Universal parks through the Universal Studios entrance, we didn’t get see the landmark at Islands of Adventure (a giant lighthouse) up close, but we did see it, appropriately enough, from across the water:

This park is split up into different “islands.” We missed the Port of Entry, but there aren’t any rides there, just places to eat. Adjacent to the first area is Seuss Landing, one of our favorite parts of the park. Yes, the rides are tame, and yes, it’s designed for the younger set, but it’s bright and colorful and just plain FUN!

On the other side of the entrance is Marvel Super Hero Island, where Turkey and Ladybug rode the Incredible Hulk Coaster, which was terrifying to me on several levels.

We mostly just walked around the rest of the areas, including Toon Lagoon, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, Jurassic Park, and the Lost Continent. I think the only other ride we went on that wasn’t in Hogsmeade or Seuss Landing was the Storm Force Accelatron, a teacup-style ride in the Marvel area. We did enjoy seeing how each part of the park was different, though, and were impressed by all of the details!

That’s it for our time at Universal. I’ve never considered myself to be a big theme park person, but I will say that this was the most awesome vacation experience I’ve ever had, and if I had the opportunity to go back, I’d jump at the chance!