Another top entertainment venue in Iowa is the Hoyt Sherman Place Theatre. The theatre hosts top music acts of all types, as well as dance and art performances. Located right in Des Moines, the venue is a must stop for families looking for a fun experience. The venue enhances listener’s experience is by the visually stunning and auditory enhancing architecture.
At the college level, Iowa fans are notoriously passionate. The bitter rivalry between the University of Iowa and Iowa State is always a fun game to watch, no matter the sport. The school’s football teams have been meeting since 1894, which is one of the older rivalries in all of college football. Because the two schools are in competition so regularly, a traveling trophy, called the Cy-Hawk Trophy was created. It goes to the winner of the most recent athletic competition between the two schools, whether it be for soccer, basketball or football. If you’re unable to catch one of these amazing in-state rivalry games, don’t fret. Both schools have long running rivalries with out of state schools, such as the Minnesota/Iowa football rivalry, the Iowa State/Missouri or Iowa State/Kansas State rivalry, which always make for exciting contests in their own rights.
Looking to cool off in the heat of summer? Look no further thanIowa’s Charles City Whitewater Park. Constructed in 2011, the park offers visitors lots of recreation options. From kayaking, to Stand Up Paddleboarding, to tubing, the park also has a few non-water related options as well. A disc golf course, art walk, amphitheater, and play area make this a must stop for families visiting the area.
Fortunately authorities got ahold of the folks at the local Audubon Center for Birds of Prey and they dispatched an eagle eyed wildlife professional to oversee the rescue effort.
One of the birds did break free and flew up into the sky, continuing to circle and watching the action from up above. The other Eagle fell into the drain where, then, it could not escape at all. Firefighters were careful to tie a rope around the heavy iron grate, before they removed it, in order to prevent it falling on the trapped symbol of America and quashing all our hopes for the future.
Then, using a net, they were able to snare the bird around the legs (the safest place to grab them as their legs are very strong), and pull it to safety.
So today… “Democracy” is recuperating at the Audubon Center and people of ALL political persuasions are pulling together as one, checking on it’s condition and sending donations to help the center with it’s work.
Central Florida is home to many native species, some, like the Bald Eagle, is also found throughout the country and North America. However some species, like the Florida Alligator, or the Manatee, are only found in the Southern States.
If you love wildlife, and are visiting Florida, there are many “once in a lifetime” opportunities to see native and endangered wildlife, sometimes in their natural habits. A few of my favorite places are…
Blue Spring State Park
Depending on the time of year, you might see just a few, or a plethora of endangered Manatees here.
The last time I visited, there were so many Manatees packed into the river by the viewing dock that you could have walked across their backs to the other side without getting your feet wet (except, of course, that would be wrong, you cannot “molest” Manatees, it’s a crime).
If you’re an animal lover, like me, you probably already make them a part of any vacation you take and, besides what I’ve mentioned here, there are literally hundreds of opportunities to enjoy wildlife in Florida. Just use Google to find something near your destination!
As far as "Democracy," the Bald Eagle, goes... sadly, she passed away from her injuries. So, while Democracy is dead, you can still visit her friends at the Audubon Birds of Prey Center and make a donation in her name and in the spirit of freedom.
NOTE: It's a small, small world. Just learned it was Yaileen's boyfriend, Tito, who saw the Bald Eagles fall from the sky and called 911. Yaileen is "our" server at Sweet Mama's
Inland Cruises are a Great Travel Value
Ninja Level 1 (out of 5)
When we travel we love to take whatever local cruises we can find, whether they are lake cruises or river, they are an excellent way to see a “side” of the city or town you wouldn't see any other way. An added bonus is they are often an excellent entertainment value as well.
Called “Michigan's little Bavaria,” Frankenmuth is a charming town, on the Cass River, featuring a strong German heritage, with it's own Brewery and quaint, German themed shops. Michigan families have made staying at the 13 acre Bavarian Inn a tradition for generations... it's an full fledged family resort with multiple pools, a water park, arcade, mini-golf and a variety of adult, and family, activities. It's a perfect place to stay if you have kids to entertain.
If you are in the Detroit area, Frankenmuth is just an hour, to an hour and a half, North, through some charming farm country. You'll see the Bavarian Inn on your right as you come into town, but if you prefer to stay in the downtown area they have several selections there as well (Marv Herzog, Fairfield Inn, Springhill Suites and Drury Inn).
We were just there for a day trip though, so we hit the downtown and parked at the River Place Shops, walking over the bridge to the park and annual craft festival, to spend an hour checking out it's exhibits before the boat ride.
We planned the highlight of our day to be the cruise on the Bavarian Belle, followed by lunch at one of the many interesting restaurants and cafes.
The Bavarian Belle is a beautiful boat, and it docks right at the River Place Shops, it's dock and ticket kiosk is by the fountain. Not knowing how crowded the first cruise of the day would be (it wasn't), we got to the ticket kiosk about a half hour early, bought our tickets (just $12 for adults, $4 under 12 and free for children under 4 – cash only), and walked around the shops for a bit.
Getting on the boat was easy, you go down a winding path, a little steep, but still navigable if you have someone in a wheelchair (boat is handicapped accessible), and you just pick your seat. The boat is big enough to move around on, they have popcorn and beverages avail to purchase, and there is plenty of shade on both the upper and lower decks.
I just love taking a boat ride! You always learn a lot of history of the local area and, with the Bavarian Belle, the boats history as well. The Bavarian Belle is a fully restored paddle wheel boat that holds 150 passengers and is run by a family, all working together (Dad is the Captain). It has (non operational) smokestacks and it was interesting to learn that the smokestacks on these boats are hinged and made to lay down for passing under low bridges. Some of what we learned involved the river commerce that used to be so essential to the economy of these small river towns.
We got to see quite a few ducks and Canadian Geese on the Cass River, plus one lonely white goose who, every year, attaches itself to the first duck or goose Mother to hatch babies, helping to guard and raise the brood. The birds are used to passengers throwing popcorn into the water for them, so they will paddle out for easy picture taking... like they did in the photo here!
The cruise lasts only an hour but that was plenty of time to learn the local history and enjoy the scenery. After our cruise we had lunch at the Frankenmuth Brewery, partly because the waiters were waving at our cruise boat from the outside deck. We couldn't disappoint them since they were so obviously wanting our business, but it was a good decision, The Brewery has a nice selection of German and American food (even a couple of “Tex-Mex” items), and you can pick up some of their craft beer to go.
Visiting Frankenmuth has been considered a “summer staple” in Michigan for years, so when you go there you'll feel like you're “vacationing like a local.” You could easily spend several days in Frankenmuth enjoying their restaurants, shopping and activities but DO make a cruise on the Bavarian Bell part of your fun; you'll be glad you did!
Author: Sue Copening
Tubing at Kelly Park.
Rock Springs Run
Central Florida, NW of Orlando
Ninja Level – 2 out of 5
Budget - $ (take cash)
As a lifelong Florida resident I have, sadly, not even begun to cover all the opportunities for adventure and leisure, that it has to offer. You could really spend a lifetime visiting all the unique parks, springs, towns and historical spots within the state... where to start?
Recently though we made a pledge to get off our couch, get out and explore. I'd heard a lot about Rock Springs in Kelly Park and it was close enough for a half day adventure.
I really didn't know what to expect before visiting the park, though I did a quick online search for basic information. It costs (cash only) $3 per car with 1-2 people, $5 for 3-8 and $1 for each extra person in case you've got folks strapped on the roof or something.
The springs are the perfect place to go in the HOT Florida summer (I frankly find the beaches as attractive an idea as inserting myself in my toaster oven). There are plenty of shade trees and the water is (“Rock Springs” – duh) from a SPRING... meaning it is COOL. Not so cold that you don't adjust to it pretty darn quick, but cool enough that you absolutely feel refreshed.
As we were getting close to the park we stopped just outside at an intersection with a gas station on one side and a place to rent TUBES on the other (no tube rental inside the park). To rent a tube they ask you to leave them your ID (as sort of a deposit to insure you come back), and tubes are just $5 each to rent (take cash for these too). If you have a good sized trunk the tubes will just stack in there and probably not bounce out as you only have a short distance to get to the park (though some people will just stick their hand out the window and hold the tube). Total cost for 3 people: $5 entrance, plus 3 tubes = $20 for an entire day of fun! You can bring your own tubes and floats as well... though be aware they cannot be longer than 5 feet in length (a lot of blow up rafts are 6-7 ft).
We were not planning to stay the whole day so we didn't eat in the park, but you can certainly do that. The park has BBQ grills and picnic tables scattered under the trees and, if you're just feeling lazy, you can pick up sandwiches on your way there or buy food at the park's concession stand where they have hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream and drinks. Don't bring alcohol or beer though... it's not allowed and, with the number of kids and families there, anyone that is drunk or disorderly is sure to feel the wrath of “Florida Redneck Father” - a common, and occasionally frightening, creature best left unprovoked.
Upon arrival we grabbed our tubes from the trunk of the car and headed down to the Springs to check things out. A little tip: Lock your valuables in the car and put your car key (but not remote) on a lanyard around your neck. This way you won't risk losing the keys by having them fall out of your pocket while swimming, or have to worry about someone stealing them.
The layout of the Springs is such that you will first encounter an area that is about midway from the springs headwaters to the end of the “run.” If you just want to float around a bit, there are stairs to make it easy to get down to the water; so just go for it. Even if you are partially disabled or less limber, it's easy to get in here and you can then float to the end of the “run,” get out on a ramp there and take the tree lined sidewalk back to the midway point. This aspect makes tubing in Rock Springs great for the whole family and we saw many grandparents enjoying the water.
If you want to float down the whole length of the “run,” which is more like a slow stroll down a “lazy river,” then you can take a series of boardwalks up to the springs headwaters. Here you will find it a little trickier to get into the water if you are not limber, because the rocks are a tad slippery. I would certainly not recommend it for anyone that is disabled in any way because slipping on the rocks could leave you with a nasty injury. I did see a rather overweight gentleman manage to navigate an entrance into the water just fine, although it took him a bit of time to figure out the safest way.
The “run” itself takes you down a mostly tree shaded river surrounded by flowers and wildlife. We encountered some Ibis birds that were so intent on nabbing their insect breakfast, and so used to people, they allowed us to come within 4 feet of them. There was also a bit of drama as the park rangers briefly closed off a fork in the river when someone spotted an alligator. It was a baby gator so it was more to protect it, than the noisy humans, but from the level of excitement in the crowd you'd think it was an extraterrestrial.
If you have a waterproof camera or one of the new waterproof smart phones, bring it! You'll be able to capture some great photos of foliage, flowers and maybe even wildlife.
One of the things I liked most about the “lazy river” part of the park is that it is a combination of floating down and walking back. It takes about 25-30 minutes or so to float from the head-springs to the end of the run... and only about 10 minutes to walk back on a beautiful shady path to do it again. This makes it a perfect way to both relax AND get a bit of moderate exercise.
Another thing I liked is that they close the park when it reaches capacity... meaning, while it can get a bit crowded,it's not so overcrowded you can't enjoy yourself.
A word of warning though; you must get there early as the park often reaches capacity very quickly after opening (8:00 am opening time). We were there by 9:00 on a Monday (during summer vacation when the kids are out of school) and they had closed the park already when we left at Noon. The park is open until sunset and they do let additional vehicles in after 1 pm, IF enough of the earlier visitors have left. If you're driving a distance to get there though.. best to plan an early arrival (8-9 am) to avoid disappointment and so you won't have to wait in too long a line to get in and parked.
Kelly Park Rock Springs Run is part of Florida's State Park system and is only about 40 minutes from downtown Orlando and 45-50 minutes from International Drive, making it convenient for a day, or half day, adventure for locals and tourists alike.
Author: Sue Copening