A Visit to Dutch Wonderland- Lancaster, PA

Dutch Wonderland is a family amusement park that advertises to be one of the top 5 children’s parks in the world. It is located only about an hour from where I live, yet despite that fact, yesterday was the first time I have ever been there. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I must admit that my family and I were pleasantly surprised.

The cost. Like all amusement parks, the tickets were pricey. It cost upwards of 100 dollars for my husband and I and our two young children to get into the park. I looked online beforehand and couldn’t find any discount coupons. Still, the $110.00 that it cost us for tickets pales in comparison to the fees for other parks, so I was okay with that. Of course there were other items that added to the cost– additional fees for things like pony rides and the monorail. There is also the option of a seasonal pass, if you plan to visit the park multiple times during the year.

The ambience. Dutch Wonderland had a pleasant, country feel to it. Not as slick and glossy as Sesame Place, but still very pretty. There were touches of Amish country life throughout, like little pens that housed baby chicks and rabbits and a display of animated Amish dolls. There were also castles and little houses throughout the park. Beautiful flower beds throughout made it very pretty.

The rides. My kids are young so they aren’t used to “big kid” rides yet. Luckily, Dutch Wonderland had tons of rides that were perfect for my preschoolers. Of course we went on the Merry Go Round right off the bat. Next we drove some motorized cars on “Turnpike”. My 5 year old daughter and my husband rode the Double Log Flume four times (my 3 year old went along once and he didn’t like getting splashed at the end). There was a jumbo slide that my daughter loved (she went on it at least a half dozen times), and for my little guy there was a mini bull dozer ride. We all went on a paddle boat ride, which was a very slow— but relaxing — boat ride. There was also a train ride that took us completely around the park (and it was my son’s favorite). We topped off a day in the sun by stopping by the Lagoon, which was a mini water park– there were a bunch of sprinklers and fountains and then a water filled climbing gym. My daughter slid down the water-filled slide about 50 times. All in all there were over 30 rides, and most of them were suitable for my young children.

Other attractions. There are a couple of little amphitheaters throughout the park. We witnessed a princess story time and a live action showing of the “Danger Rangers” (based on a PBS series that my daughter loves). Both were enjoyable and a nice break from walking around the park.

Food. As with most parks, food and beverages are not permitted inside the park. There is a picnic pavilion located outside the park if you choose to bring a picnic lunch. We opted to leave the park and go to local restaurant for lunch (all you do is get your hand stamped for re-admittance to the park). But there are several eateries inside the park, with typical park foods like hotdogs, burgers and pizza. We did buy a pretzel and a large bottled water, and later my daughter asked for cotton candy.

Souvenirs. There’s a large souvenir shop, which you actually walk through as you enter and exit the pa. My kids were so exhausted by the time we left, they didn’t even ask to look around the gift shop. Still, if you’re looking for t-shirts, toys or trinkets there is a ton of stuff to choose from. We did end up buying some photos that were taken of us on some of the rides (many of the rides have computer screens displaying photos that are taken on the rides– and they are for sale starting at 10 dollars each).

All in all, Dutch Wonderland is a great family outing if you’re in the Lancaster, PA area. If you’re planning a trip to Lancaster, Dutch Wonderland is located on Route 30 and it is right across from the Lancaster shopping outlets (between the Rockvale and Tanger outlets). After a day of family fun, you can stop by the outlets for some shopping– which is what we planned to do– except our kids were so tired that we just headed home. Maybe next time!

Making A Checklist to Find That Perfect Hotel

There are two kinds of people when it comes to making reservations for an overnight stay; the “I’ll wait until I get there and see what’s available” group and the “I have to have reservations made weeks or months before I actually arrive” group. No matter what which group you belong to, you should have a checklist ready and thoroughly go over the information you’ve found about each hotel. After all, there are very few things worse than assuming a hotel with a beautiful name like “Breath of Heaven Inn” is actually a tiny, seedy dive that is more like “Whiff of Landfill.” (And yes, this has actually happened to me).

Here are some tips on how to make sure you have found the perfect hotel for your needs, whether you plan reservations far ahead or choose a hotel after your arrival (and keep in mind you can compile your own relevant tips, depending on where you plan to be visiting).

(1) Don’t just choose a name. If you rely on the Internet for most of your travel plans, as many more people are now doing, put in the name of a hotel in question and research all you possibly can about it. Preferably the site will have room photos, rates, how to make reservations, and other information you may want to store away in a binder. Some websites have virtual slideshows that take you around a room, lobby, or the hotel’s exterior.

(2) If you’re traveling with pets, it is imperative to know before arrival which hotels in the area of your destination will host your “furry children.” Unfortunately for pet-owners, some hotels will impose a ridiculous fee even if they *do* allow animals on the premises. It is always good to have a detachable vacuum or lint roller to get loose fur off hotel floors and furniture before the end of your stay; this way, if the staff has nothing to complain about with your pet, they may think twice before imposing a additional fee.

(3) Location *is* very important. If you’re staying at Disney World and one hotel is twenty miles away while another is five, and each has the same rates and amenities, you will naturally want to choose the hotel that is closer to the destination. Small hotels located off unfamiliar exits can be hard to find. If you’ve made reservations and then find the hotel to be less than you were expecting, it’s too late to cancel, but if you see it before you’ve done so, you’ll think twice before spending the night there.

(4) If you are able to choose the floor on which you wish to stay, consider your physical abilities and amount of luggage. Not many people would choose a fourth-floor room if they have an entire car full of luggage to drag up the stairs if there is no elevator. Unfortunately, it is often not possible to choose a rooms, so it’s always good to be prepared.

(5) If your room (which you assumed was at least in a nice and clean condition) is completely dirty, bug-infested, or unsafe, *don’t* be afraid to tell management; you have a right to the sort of room you were promised. Many hotels thrive on the good reviews they receive, so if you let staff know that the room is not up to speed, they will probably be eager to help so they will maintain good customer communications. Sometimes they will even offer a transfer to a better room; but don’t always be expecting things to happen this quickly or easily.

(6) It is important to understand lodging terms. For instance, if you want an oceanfront balcony and choose a hotel or motel known as “oceanside,” it may only be a few rooms that actually overlook the water. You will want the room to actually say “oceanfront,” and if you are allowed to choose the floor you will be occupying, take a look around the hotel perimeter and see which rooms will give you the view you desire.

(7) Safety issues are important. If you have a small child or a pet, it might not be a good idea to choose a hotel with an open balcony. Children can easily toddle out and put themselves in danger, and pets, being naturally curious, are in the same danger.

(8) Keep a notebook with all the information you have gleaned from various pamphlets, web pages, or other sources. Print out photos, online booking receipts, contacts to call at the hotels, and anything else you choose to keep until you make your decision. When you’ve chosen your lodging, all there is to do is sit back and enjoy the trip. After all, the stress of making reservations is minimal compared to the joys of a worry-free vacation.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

Planning for Vacation the Wise Way

One thing that is definitely a trend for me over the years has been excitement over an upcoming vacation. It doesn’t matter if it will be a long major vacation or a short weekender, if traveling is in the future, I am happy.

The actual planning for vacations is one of the best parts of the whole process. I usually start some planning, even if just a little bit, as early as the destination is decided. I should say at this point that it has been just since the birth of the internet that I have enjoyed the process so much. Before I was able to get online and research as much as I wanted to, I seem to remember that not much planning could go into a vacation at all. If one knew how to find vacation packets from various places, it was a huge help, but such things were not always available.

It is rather comical now because I am sitting here wondering just how people made vacation plans before internet and I can’t come up with much of anything! Did we call the information operator and ask for the chamber of commerce in our destination area? And then ask them to send us brochures? I really can’t imagine how it was done.

To take that thought a step further, if we got the brochures, did we have to make reservations at the one or two hotels that paid to advertise there, or did we never make reservations at all? I’m not sure I can imagine myself calling an operator and saying “Hi, could you tell me if there are any Hampton Inns within 5 miles of Seattle?” It just doesn’t sound practical. I guess I would have gone to Seattle and hoped there would be an empty hotel room somewhere!

Things are so much easier now. I can start planning for any given vacation as soon as I know it will be happening. I research the place on the World Wide Web. I pull up information about the place’s history and hot spots, hotels and restaurants. I usually know before I leave the house where I will be sleeping and eating, and whether there will be plenty of things to do or if boredom might set in.

Sure, it takes time to compare hotels or print out menus from the best restaurants, but it has saved an incredible amount of time that would have been spent after arriving.

One thing that is very important to do online is to search for coupons. Many restaurants and attractions offer discount coupons that are to be printed out directly from your computer. It may not seem like a lot, but if you have discounts for many of the eateries and attractions you will be visiting, it adds up rather quickly. Some hotels offer a discount (generally 10% is what I have seen) if you book your room online.

There are many online places where you will be able to see reviews of any given vacation spots. This is better than looking up the individual websites because the reviews come from other travelers. I have had many good experiences with this type of web site. If other people have complained about a certain hotel, for instance, chances are that I wouldn’t have been very comfortable there either.

I have utilized some really great restaurant tips from those kinds of sites as well. I concentrate on the places where people say they have great meals rather than the places they didn’t like. I make note of the places that were not enjoyed, but I often print a few menus out from the places that were highly reviewed. I keep things like that in a binder and it is a great time saver. It allows travelers to decide before leaving the hotel where they will be having lunch or dinner and it is much better (at least in my own case!) than driving around a strange city trying to find dinner.

When it comes to attractions, coupons are usually for a certain percentage discount, but sometimes they offer an admission free or at half price for every paid admission. The money saved with this little bit of research can be quite significant. If you did not have an opportunity to research online, try to find the chamber of commerce or a visitor center when you arrive at your destination. Even the “smaller” tourist destinations often offer coupon booklets.

Bored in Orlando? Visit Two Great Historical Museums

Do some people seem to raise an eyebrow when you mention historical attractions in metropolitan Orlando, Florida? You can’t blame them, really, considering the abundance of souvenirs, Mickey Mouse memorabilia, and theme parks that make Orlando “famous.” It’s a refreshing change of pace to learn that, if you like history more than thrill rides and huge crowds, you actually will find some places to satisfy your interests.

A great place to start is the museum known as Titanic Ship of Dreams. Years ago when I first visited, I loved anything about the doomed pleasure ship that disappeared under the ocean over 90 years ago. I had books, movies, and even a Titanic t-shirt in my little “collection.” I hoped that I wouldn’t be disappointed with the museum because I had been looking forward to it for a long time; after all, this *was* Orlando; wouldn’t it just be cheesy? How wrong I was! From beginning to end, the museum was beautifully furnished and turned out to be a great experience overall.

Not only were authentic items like chairs, clothing, and menus found at the wreck on display, but each room had a different atmosphere that made you feel as if you were truly on the Titanic. The outside deck, where you could stargaze and hear the terrified voices as the iceberg wreaked its havoc, was strangely cold and very dark, as it must have been that April night when passengers actually walked the deck. The rooms built to resemble the downstairs cargo holds and hallways were especially creepy; the lights kept faltering, blinking on and off the entire time. What a way to get into the story!

Perhaps the best part of the Titanic Ship of Dreams museum is the card you are given when you first pay admission. On it is a name of a real Titanic passenger or crew member; you temporarily “become” this person for the length of the tour. Near the end, you see a huge wall filled with names of those who were aboard Titanic. The chore is to scout the wall for “your” name and see whether or not “you” survived the sinking!

You can find the Titanic Museum at 8445 International Drive in Orlando. Be warned that this is a road notorious for its traffic, so the drive will not be as pleasant as the experience you are about to embark upon. (Actually, of all the roads I’ve ever traveled, this was without a doubt one of the most stressful). It’s well worth the effort, however. The museum is located within a shopping area known as “The Mercado.”

After you’ve “braved” the Titanic, you might want to stop by Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament for an unforgettable meal. This place has it all; a menu from ancient times, great seats and exciting show. And how many times can you actually watch knights jousting while you eat? The costumes alone are enough to visit. After enjoying your meal at the dinner theater, you might want to stop by the attached Medieval Life Village, a recreated medieval village museum. The museum is not very big, but there is plenty to see.

There are rooms made to resemble homes of both the rich and the poor; spacious canopy beds for nobility, and small cots for those less fortunate. The loom exhibition shows two weaving looms that are hundreds of years old, and the indoor kitchen as also beautifully reconstructed. Outside you will find a stable, the well, duck pen, and the restrooms – one for “Lords,” and one for “Ladies.”

Be on the lookout for dressed guides who will be working inside the museum. This is a great way to spend an evening after spending the day at the theme parks. I saw a man making chain mail, and it was very interesting to learn what intricate work it was and how tiring for the craftsman.

There are “rustic” gifts in the gift shop, as well as more whimsical items like authentic flower circlets (think of them as ancient headbands) but I found the prices to be a little unreasonable for such small items. Don’t forget to snap a few photos of the magnificent “castle” nearby that houses the theater complex.

The biggest “problem” I have found about traveling to Orlando is that there is never enough time to see everything that is available to see!

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

Vacation Savings in Unexpected Places

By Christina VanGinkel

When it comes to travel these days, nothing is a given anymore. Take for example the cost of a rental vehicle. In the past, economy sized vehicles could be rented for less than an SUV. With the soaring price of gasoline, economy sized vehicles are a hot commodity and can often be found renting for more than the use-to-be expensive to rent SUV models. When consumers add in the price of gasoline, they figure they will come out ahead paying more upfront on the economy car when they figure back in the gasoline costs, especially if they are going to be putting on any amount of miles.

People are concerned about the cost of travel, and yet who wants to give up their vacation just to save a few dollars. Instead, people are trying to save money on the vacation itself, searching out the bargains. Some of the best of the bargains out there are often found through the most incongruous ways imaginable, but they can really add up, making it possible to still go on that vacation of your dreams and enjoy yourself while vacationing, and not worrying constantly about what every little thing is going to cost.

Hotel Savings

Look for hotels offering deals that are not as far off the beaten track as one you might typically choose. Again, with gasoline costs so prominent, the added cost of getting to and from far off destinations and then driving from them to any tourist attractions can quickly add up. For example, if you would normally book your stay at a hotel on the outskirts of a city, but had plans to travel into the city itself to go to a show, maybe a museum, even for dinner each evening, you might have noticeable savings by staying in a hotel downtown and saving on the cost of travel each day.

If you belong to any sort of association, group, or organization, now is as good as time as any, to read the fine print of what benefits might be available to you as a member. It is so easy to overlook deals such as these because we do not often pay attention to them, figuring they take too many hoops to jump though to use them, though most of the time, it is as simple as giving the hotel your membership number to reap savings. Some hotels also offer their own discounts by allowing customers to sign up for membership in their own clubs, favoring repeat stays with deep discounts and even free nights.

Group Travel

If you have always dreamed of traveling to a foreign destination, or even to a popular tourist attraction within the country, but it suddenly seems like the cost will never again be within reach, take a look at what it would cost to go there as part of a group. Group travel has many opportunities for cost savings. Traveling together allows the cost of reaching the destination to be less than if you went solo, as well as the hotel stay itself. Even tickets to go into places of interest and food are often less because of the advantage of the group organizer being able to secure better deals. While group travel is definitely not for everyone, it is worth considering if it means making your dream come true and just letting it be a dream.

Avoid Scams

Travel frauds and scams are out there, and if a price on something seems too good to be true, like the saying goes, it probably is. Keep your money in your pocket and do not pay for savings that will most likely never be realized. Deal with reputable companies only, and whenever possible deal directly with whoever or wherever the money is ultimately going to end up. For example, if a travel agency has been in your community for the past ten years, your odds are good that they are legitimate. If a travel agency just hung their shingle, while I realize every new place needs it first customers, it is best to start small and not be booking the vacation of a lifetime with them. I recall one company not far from where I live that opened that supposedly dealt with cruise specials. They booked a couple dozen cruises for people that all were real, then continued to book a large number for a group trip to Greece. By the time, the customers were ready to travel; the company had closed up shop and with the closing went the customers’ money. The cruise was a fraud, and many people were out a lot of money.

Trips to Take on a Weekend

By Christina VanGinkel

You finally have a weekend free. You could stay home and catch up on your honey do list. You know what I mean. Chores such as mowing the grass, weed whacking around the outbuildings, maybe painting the bedroom or even washing the walls. All those tasks that you know you should do, but that could essentially be put off for some other weekend when you have nothing better to do. If you live a life that is commonly filled with stress, where time is not something you truly have, but something that just seems to run through your fingers unnoticed until you try to remember where it went, that time you have suddenly found might be better spent doing something else, such as taking a mini getaway. Grab that time and put it to good use to refresh your emotional state. Grab a quickly packed bag and get in your car, SUV, truck, whatever it is you drive, and just go! Where to, you might ask, well try some of these favorites:

Go to the Zoo!

Zoos are a great place to unwind, and if they have a petting section, all the better. Plop down a few dollars to buy some feed while you are there, and hand feed whatever it is you are allowed to. If no petting section or feeding is allowed, then park yourself on a bench and just watch the animals, and the people, for a bit. You will literally be able to feel your stress level melt away as you sit and soak in the sun, warming the bench

Head to the Beach

Whether you live Oceanside or in the middle of the continental Untied States, chances are there is a beach within a few hours driving distance, be it at a small lakeside park, a man made entity, or a large Oceanside one. If they have a snacks stand or bar, all the better. Bring along a folding chair, sun block or tanning lotion depending on your personal preferences, a suit, a bag with a good book or a few magazines, and a few dollars for food, and you will be all set.

Check into a Local Spa or Resort

Friends of ours recently checked into a local resort for a quick recharge. They scheduled everything from massages, a few rounds of golf, and reservations in the classiest restaurant on the grounds for their evening meal. They were not interested in sight seeing, so after checking out spas and resorts some distance from their home, they decided why not just choose one locally, that way they could save on everything from travel time, to money spent reaching a far off destination. They managed to have a relaxing two-night stay at a popular spa / resort for half the cost of what it would have cost them to go to the exact same style of resort somewhere else. Because it was local, they were also able to pick up discount coupons via a local radio station’s regular shopping show.

Take a Hike

If you live anywhere close to a trail (Appalachian) that is long enough to take a hike at least as long as a couple of hours, fill your pack and go. Some of the best hikes I have taken have been those that were not long planned out. Do take the time to pack accordingly, but do not wait until you can take a huge stretch of time. A weekend hike is a great way to stay in shape for those times you might be able to fit in longer hikes. I once read of a guy who knew he would never have the time to take the hike of a lifetime, at least not the way he figured it should be, so instead of never going, he decided to take as many day and weekend hikes as he could. He kept a log of how many hours and miles he hiked, and when he added it all up after a couple of years, he himself was shocked at how many miles he had accumulated.

Go to the Theater

If you live outside of a metropolitan area, take a weekend and go into the city to see a show, go out to dinner, and spend the night in some ritzy hotel. Sightseeing in what is relatively your own backyard, can be one of the simplest forms of recharging your personal batteries.

Antietam Battlefield: Maryland’s Civil War Shrine

If you’re planning a family vacation to the famous Antietam Battlefield (or Sharpsburg, if you adhere to the Southern name for the battle) you may be a bit disappointed to note that lodging is not what the town is famous for. If you intend to stay overnight, you might want to check out nearby towns and see if lodging is available, but doing this last minute is not recommended. Planning a day trip to Antietam and returning at the end of the day is a much better idea.

Looking at pictures of Antietam (or Sharpsburg!) will tell you that it is one of the most well-preserved Civil War battlefields on Northern soil. The reason for the two different names? When the war was fought in the Southern states, Southerners named a battle site after the closest city or town; Northerners, being unsure of the area, named it after the prominent body of water nearest to the field. No matter what the field was called, the high number of casualties was one unchangeable fact. From the “Bloody Lane” to the Dunker Church, many sites are still preserved for the curious Civil War enthusiast to come and explore.

If you have visited other battlefields you will notice that much of the fighting was done in fields, roads and pastures. Antietam, fought in September of 1862, is no exception. One of the first stops you may want to make is Miller’s Cornfield. During the battle, the cornfield made an excellent place for Southern shooters to hide and engage the foe. Anywhere you walk on this field could have been the place a soldier fell; they were said to have died very neatly, in straight lines, keeping formation even in death.

Stop by Dunker Church for a peaceful moment. Walking inside the quaint little church and seeing the reconstructed pews and pulpit, one wonders how such carnage could have covered the area. After exploring the grounds, you may want to hop over to one of Antietam’s most well-known and ominous sites; Bloody Lane. This is actually a road that had become a ditch from continuous years of travel. The Southern troops found it a great place to crouch and await the onslaught of the enemies.

Another must-see place on Antietam battlefield is Burnside’s Bridge. This picturesque bridge, known during the battle as Rohrbach’s Bridge, took General Burnside’s name when the crossing of his troops made it famous. Thousands upon thousands of his men, unable to cross all at once, were prime targets for soldiers hiding behind the natural camouflage of the forest. In modern times, crossing the bridge is an experience every Civil War history lover should have. It is easy to imagine how the area looked in Civil War times, because the scenery has changed very little.

At the Antietam Visitor Center, you will find a book shop, library, and museum, among other informative features. In summer months the center is open until 6:00 P.M., closing an hour earlier in autumn through spring. Check out www.nps.gov/anti to see when everything will be open when you plan to visit. Don’t forget to stop by the museum store for Antietam and Civil War related souvenirs and historical items. Guests who are under 16 will be admitted free; adults pay $4.00, and the fee includes everything on the Antietam battlefield.

Always remember Antietam battlefield attracts many other visitors, so if possible, you might want to consider arriving right when the park opens or just before it closes. This way you can go your own pace. Taking your time to stop and explore each battle site is much pleasanter if you are one of the only people on the field! If you do happen to go when traffic is heavy, walking is always an option; this way, you can still regulate your own pace. You can take a tour map along to see where your route will be taking you.

From Gettysburg, another famous Civil War site, it is 64 miles to Antietam. From Harpers Ferry it is a little less than 14 miles, and from Pennsylvania’s state capital of Harrisburg, the distance is 175 miles. Again, it is important to book a hotel either in your original destination town or try to find lodging outside of Antietam itself. Antietam’s lack of hotels in no way detracts from the experience, but does make it a bit more difficult for those who wish to stay overnight.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

Road Trip Travel Basics

By Christina VanGinkel

If you are planning to travel by car this summer, for a daytrip, weekend away, or a vacation that will have you driving for a week or two, do not leave until you go over a few basics that can mean the difference between a pleasant trip or one rife with hassles.

Whether or not you have a new or older model vehicle, schedule it for a maintenance check if you have not had one in the last three to six months. If you have, and anything of concern was noted that the service center told you to be aware of or that might be a concern in the future, now is the future, so have it taken care of. Paying for a repair at a local service station that you are familiar with is always better than in the middle of some unfamiliar town where you know no one, and your time would be better spent lazing on a beach or catching up with you Great Aunt Frieda on the latest family gossip.

Check the wear and tread of your tires, both those on the vehicle and your spare. While you are at it, also make sure all of the parts to your jack are intact and in good working order. Did you know that you can buy a hydraulic jack, which is much easier to use than many of the standard hand crank jacks that come standard with many vehicles, for less than fifty dollars?

A map may recall memories of your father in the front seat of the family station wagon asking your mother to read the map of where the next turn is to get to Yellowstone Park on the family vacation you took thirty years ago, but maps come in various forms today. Some identical, save for updated roads to the one you mother was reading all those years ago, and some come in the form of a GPS unit that is attached to your dash, or as a piece of software on your Pocket PC or laptop. Whether you prefer the standard road atlas, or a newer electronic device, take a map with you, with your route mapped out to save on confusion and extra gas when you have to turn around because you suddenly find yourself a couple hundred miles out of your way.

A service such as On Star is great if you happen to lock yourself out of your vehicle, but what happens if you are hundreds of miles from home and realize that you have lost your keys completely? On Star and other services are available that will both let you into your vehicle, and bring you a duplicate key. If you do not have access to one of those, or even if you do, save yourself time and hassle by bringing along an extra key. Keep it on your person at all times. A key on a long chain that you can wear is the simplest way to avoid the lost key or lock out scenario. As my daughter once said when I told her that I would look odd with a key around my neck at my age, “Well Mom, nobody knows you on the road anyway, so what do you care if a few strangers think you look odd!” Well said, and if nothing else, tuck it in your shirt or sweater and no one will even know you are wearing a key on a chain or cord.

Watch your gas gauge. If you are traveling long distances, avoid running out of gas in an inconvenient area by making sure you never let your tank even come close to empty.

Finally, bring along a few items that you may or may not consider normal attire:

A pair of sunglasses for those driving times when your sun visor just is not cutting it.

A cell phone for emergencies, and so that you can call conveniently from your own vehicle to double check on items such as hotel reservations, along with any phone numbers that you might need including your hotel, your insurance company, and any roadside assistance such as AAA.

Change for tollbooths.

A first aid kit along with a bottle of drinking water and a few nutritious snacks just to cover the basics!

Summer Vacation Ideas

If it is a summer vacation you are looking for, look no further, this is the place to be. Here you will find a helpful list of summer vacation location ideas and the reasons why these are good destinations.

First, consider what you want in weather. If you are looking to escape the heat and humidity of many states in the summertime, consider going somewhere that has a drier climate. The mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, California, and of course Alaska are wonderful in the summer time. In these places you will find dry air, which, even when the weather is quite warm, will feel comfortable. The dry mountains often get quite chilly at night and you will find that you and your family will want sweaters or sweatshirts, and possibly even light jackets. Yet the days warm up into the 70s and 80s, and these western states offer abundant sunshine. The sunshine is wonderful for all the mountain vacation activities you will want to take advantage of, such as fishing in the mountain streams, horse back riding, white water rafting, hiking, mountain biking, or simply sitting in the sun on the wooden deck of your mountain cabin. Many vacationers from hot and humid southern states find a refuge in the mountains of the western states during the summer months.

If it is a warm, beach vacation you seek this summer, our great land offers a huge selection of beaches. From the miles of endless beaches in California, the warm waters of the Gulf Coast, the palm trees and sandy beaches of Florida, and on up the East Coast to the cool waters but warm beaches in Maine, most vacationers will not have to travel too far to find a beach. Even those in the upper midwest will find breezy, sunny beaches on the Great Lakes. A beach vacation in the summer gives vacationers the summer warmth they might be seeking, while offering an ocean breeze to take away the stagnant humidity. Even in Northern California and Maine, where the Ocean waters often do not get much above 50 degrees, the air is warm and pleasant, and brave beach-goers will take a dip into the frigid waters before getting back out on the sand to warm themselves. The beaches in these northern locations are often less crowded than the more southern beaches, but the air is just as warm and the scenery is spectacular.

Many people will not be able to venture too far from home this summer, due to finances or work commitments, but the beauty of our great nation is that we can find vacation and adventure right in our area if we use a little creativity. If you live within a couple hours drive of a medium sized city, you will find all kinds of things to do on a simple day trip. All cities have parks in which to have picnics, and many have bodies of water, such as a lake, a pond or a river, by which families can take walks. Nearly all cities have museums, art galleries, and historical information; in fact, you may learn something new about your city or state that you did not know before. If you live in an exceptionally hot area of the country, these indoor excursions will be a welcome, air conditioned retreat on a hot summer day. And check to see if the city you will visit has an indoor ice skating rink. There is nothing like bringing the breath of winter into your summer day, but taking a few spins around the rink when the thermometer is reaching the 90s outdoors.

Lastly, in spite of rising gas costs, you may like to take a road trip this summer. Often the best way to see the country is to get in your car and simply start driving. You may want to bring along camping gear, or look for discount lodging along the way. Either way, driving is still less expensive than flying, and if you go, consider taking the back roads and avoiding the interstate highways. While interstates are more convenient, better tended, and will get you there faster, the back roads offer glimpses of small towns and Americana that would otherwise be missed.

Bon Voyage!

Portland, Maine

Maine is known as vacationland, the Pine Tree State, and the state motto is, The Way Life Should Be. With all those things going for it, it is no wonder that each summer, thousands of vacationers flock to Maine to enjoy the stunning, rocky coastline, the thick forests full of moose and bald eagles, and of course, the sought-after lobster dinners. Maine can feel like a trip back in time, with its generally small town feel and country flavor; but as many surprised visitors will find, Portland, Maine, while a relatively small city, compared to some of its East Coast neighbors, had all the cultural offerings of a large city, but without the hassle of traffic and transportation.

Portland, Maine is Maine’s largest city, which, at about 250,000, is not saying much. With Boston, Providence, and New York City, just down the coast, Portland seems small. But most towns in Maine have an average population under 5000, so Portland, to the locals, is the big city. Many of the medical specialists are in Portland, as are the largest mall, and much of the industry of southern Maine. Portland is situated right on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, with a small cove pushing in to part of the city. It is an extremely clean city with scenic parks and walking paths around the cove, the town, the old Port, and of course, the beaches.

Culturally, Portland competes with its larger counterparts. The Portland Symphony Orchestra, which performs in the majestic Merrill Auditorium in downtown Portland, gives its visitors a big city musical treat. With many performances throughout the year, the Portland Symphony orchestra brings classical music, modern variations, and special ballets and other events to Mainers and to visitors of Maine. Why spend the money to go to Boston when a wonderful symphony is right here in Maine? Portland also has an abundance of art museums and galleries. The Portland Museum of Art has regular shows including world renowned artists, local artists, special events, and if planned well in advance, the art museum will even host events such as retirement ceremonies and wedding receptions. Anyone familiar with Maine knows that Winslow Homer is a favorite artist from Maine’s past. The Winslow Homer Gallery in Portland is a charming gallery that all Homer fans must see. Other galleries include the McLellan House and L.D.M. Sweat Memorial Galleries, as well as many smaller galleries tucked around the Old Port.

Speaking of the Old Port, this is where Portland gets its name. The Old Port is a working port, or waterfront, with all the delights that go along with such things. Not only does it sport the fishing and lobster boats, as well as seagulls and crusty, Maine fishermen, the Old Port also boasts many charming shops and restaurants. DeMillo’s is a restaurant every visitor to Portland will want to try. Set on a ship, DeMillo’s gives patrons an amazing night time view of the ocean and the Old Port, and the entire skyline around the bay. The food is decadent and the service is perfect. There are many other restaurants wtih every type of food imaginable, from the typical Maine lobster dinner to Thai food and Indian cuisine. Pubs and night clubs are also popular around the Old Port.

Portland also has a baseball team called the Portland Seadogs. Baseball fans will love Haddock Field where they can experience big time baseball in a small town stadium. In the winter time, the Portland Pirates hockey team plays at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Tickets are inexpensive and the entire family can go to these games.

And perhaps most importantly, Portland has its share of lighthouses. Maine is known for its beacons on the coast, and visitors to Portland will not be disappointed. The Portland Head Light, just south of town, has a quaint museum that tells visitors about many of the lighthouses in Maine, and a gift shop for taking home a souvenir of your visit. On sunny days, the view is magnificent.

The next time you head to the East Coast for a vacation, consider Portland, Maine. It is the small city with the big city benefits, and as in all the rest of Maine, it is the Way Life Should Be.