Archive for  December 2012

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Do you remember your first courageous time sliding down a daring waterslide? You slowly climbed up the stairs to the start of the slide and anxiously awaited the kids in front of you taking the plunge, covertly looking over the edge to make sure their trip was successful. Then, when you finally mustered up the courage to head down the slide, you splashed into the pool and felt a thrill that made you want to go again, and again, and again!

Create thrills with your family by escaping to one of Illinois’ indoor water parks this winter. KeyLime Cove and CoCo Key Water Park are two of Illinois’ indoor water parks open year round. For a complete list of water park destinations, visit

Enjoy waterslides and more at KeyLime Cove

Enjoy waterslides and more at KeyLime Cove

KeyLime Cove in Gurnee is a full-service resort that features the Lost Paradise Water Park. Inspired by a tropical paradise, the water park offers Wild Rides, lazy floats, a play pond and kiddie pool. After a busy day at the water park, parents can unwind at the Paradise Mist Spa while the little ones can get pampered at a special Kids Spa. With a ton of restaurants, neighboring attractions, a giant water park and a spa, KeyLime Cove is a fun and unique option for an exciting family winter weekend getaway.

Splash around at CoCo Key Water Park in Rockford

Splash around at CoCo Key Water Park in Rockford

CoCo Key Water Park in Rockford is one of Illinois’ largest indoor water parks. The 60,000 square foot facility is jam packed with water slides, activity pools, a lazy river, interactive play island, pirate cabana and arcade. Located next to the Best Western Clock Tower Resort, CoCo Key Water Park and the Best Western offer package deals to make a trip convenient and affordable.

–The Illinois Office of Tourism

Chicago’s designation as a booming Midwest tourist destination and arts & culture hub draws in countless families every year. Whether you’re an out of state traveler coming to Chicago for the first time, or an Illinois resident looking to plan a family-friendly weekend in the city, here are some activities you and your kids won’t want to miss.

The Field Museum

Likely Chicago’s most popular kid-friendly venue, the Field Museum boasts over 26 million artifacts that are sure to keep your little ones captivated for hours. The most memorable items include SUE the T. Rex, the 3D theater and two ancient Egyptian mummies on display. Let the kids lead the way and explore to their hearts’ content, or download a free guided tour that will give you the highlights of each exhibit. Either way, with over 4 billion years of Earth’s history in one place, the Field Museum is sure to hold something to educate and delight everyone in the family.

Dinosaur exhibits at The Field Museum (Photo credit: Jason Lindsey)

Dinosaur exhibits at The Field Museum (Photo credit: Jason Lindsey)

Millennium Park

No trip to Chicago is complete without spending some time marveling at the Cloud Gate sculpture lovingly referred to as ‘The Bean,’ in Millennium Park. Not only is the park free, it’s a great way to keep the kids entertained and create some fun memories at the same time. Thanks to the unique sculpting of the metal, Cloud Gate is like a giant funhouse mirror with an endless number of angles to morph your reflection into hundreds of laughable shapes. Millennium Park is perfect for a family-centered afternoon.

Cloud Gate “The Bean” at Millennium Park (Photo Credit: City of Chicago, Peter J. Schulz)

Cloud Gate “The Bean” at Millennium Park (Photo credit: City of Chicago, Peter J. Schulz)

Chicago Children’s Museum

Geared toward children 10 and under, the Chicago Children’s Museum is a toddler’s dream play zone. Still, many of the exhibits encourage your child to use their creativity as they camp and burrow through the enchanted forest, or paint, sketch or sew in the Kraft studio. One of the museum’s most exciting features is the Dinosaur Expedition, where kids can dress up and uncover hidden fossils in the recreated Saharan expedition, where one of Chicago’s own paleontologists discovered a new species of dinosaur. The Chicago Children’s Museum is located on Navy Pier, which includes a Ferris wheel and other carnival-like activities for kids.

Children’s Museum at Navy Pier (Photo Credit: Mark Segal)

Children’s Museum at Navy Pier (Photo credit: Mark Segal)

Museum of Science and Industry

The Museum of Science and Industry is certainly one of the most fascinating and educational kids’ activities in Chicago. In addition to traditional science exhibits, the museum includes a very realistic Omnimax theater, special events and live science experiments for your kids to be a part of. Highlights include the Science Storms exhibits, which explain the science behind natural phenomena like earthquakes and tornados, and a tour of the U-505 Submarine, a real German submarine. At only $10 for kids and $15 for adults, the Museum of Science and Industry is a great value.

Transportation Zone at the Museum of Science and Industry

Transportation Zone at the Museum of Science and Industry

–Dan Paterson, Director of Internet Marketing, CityPASS

One great way to see some of the family friendly attractions above is with the Chicago CityPASS. You’ll save on admission to the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and more.

The following was written by Amor Montes de Oca, a member of the Illinois Office of Tourism’s “Mile Markers” ambassador program.

Expectations were high for a magical break in Great Rivers Country. The quaint historic district of the city of Galena welcomes hours of strolling and browsing through long rows of small but long-standing antique and wine shops, restaurants and art galleries, all nestled in history and architecture of a bygone era. Our family kicked off the getaway at One Eleven Main with a hearty heartland meal. The dishes are crafted with local, organic ingredients and the staff is ready to subdue any city stress. Great wine and fantastic unassuming dishes; what a great start!

Wine tasting before lunch? Sure! On Saturday, we swirled, sipped and slurped at Galena Cellars, a short drive from Galena’s historic district. We sampled many of the vineyard’s wide range of whites, reds, award-winning and happy accident offerings, including Chris Lawlor’s flagship Frontenac Port. With no added chocolate, this lovely wine has a distinct and surprising chocolate flavor drawn exquisitely from Galena’s unique soil. We bought a couple of bottles as souvenir gifts for friends, although we might have to keep one for ourselves!

We then spent the afternoon perusing through abundant antiques and vintage collectables. Do you remember the Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup bottles? How about netted pill box hats from the ‘50s? We found salt and pepper shakers, vinyl records, farmhouse dishware and furnishings for serious collectors and the shabby chic in all of us. For a taste of history, we visited Ulysses S. Grant’s home in Galena; a cozy, modest home furnished with the original furniture used by President Grant and his family. My 11-year-old son enjoyed walking through the home and taking photos of artifacts to show his sixth grade teacher. I really liked that: history alive, up-close and in context.

Driving through the Great Rivers Country area is exactly like being in an American regionalist painting with vast landscapes of rolling farmlands and grazing cattle, true and picturesque.

Rock Island County is a site also steeped in history and immortalized for the fateful Black Hawk War and for a convergence of iconic historical events in the 19th Century. Events and lustrous architecture have been memorialized by a great number of historical landmarks throughout the area.

We spent Saturday night in Rock Island, located on the Illinois side of the Quad Cities, and laughed it off at the local Comedy Sportz, an all-ages improv show. Like any accidental tourists, we had an unexpected great time! Late night pizza at Huckleberry’s topped it off. The friendliest of all staff, these guys will make you feel at home.

On Sunday, we had an old fashioned lunch at Lagomarcino’s, a family owned ice cream parlor and deli since 1908 in Moline. I highly recommend accompanying your lunch with a Lago, a sweet soda elixir concocted back in the ‘30s. We enjoyed a classic caramel sundae, which was easily the best of the year. The original hand carved mahogany booths, Tiffany style lamps and tin ceiling keep the sweet nostalgia and legacy of Angelo and Luigia Lagomarcino’s entrepreneurial spirits.

We concluded our weekend getaway with a quick tour of the John Deere Pavilion, a stunning display of modern technology and machinery. The pavilion is outfit with hands-on displays and exhibits encapsulating the impact and innovation in farming technology of John Deere.

Our drive home was quiet as we took it all in. A three-hour trek and a memorable weekend getaway in Great Rivers Country brought a much needed and renewing break from the everyday craze, but most importantly, a rekindled holiday spirit. Here’s to a real happy holiday season!

— Amor Montes de Oca, Illinois Mile Marker

Illinois Mile Markers are a dedicated group of passionate travelers. They’re here to share their Illinois travel experiences with you, give you the inside information and put you on the path to vacation bliss! Take Amor’s trip. Where better to start than with a map?

View Galena/Quad Cities Itinerary in a larger map

Meet the Mile Marker:


Amor Montes De Oca

Arts & Culture
Amor is the publisher of Arte y Vida Chicago, a website dedicated to fostering cultural diversity through the celebration and promotion of Hispanic art and culture.

A very rounded individual, Amor is a mother, publisher, photographer, travel enthusiast, self-described flamenco addict and knitting novice and aspiring queen of culture. Her travel interests include photography and art galleries, scenic road trips, wineries, dining out and family-friendly attractions.

The majestic Bald Eagles in the Mississippi River Valley (photo courtesy of Keith Wedoe)

The majestic Bald Eagles in the Mississippi River Valley (photo courtesy of Keith Wedoe)

Wintry gusts rolling through the great Mississippi River Valley bring a magnificent opportunity to witness the majesty of Bald Eagles in the Great Rivers Country region. Approximately 2,000 eagles migrate to the region from December through March, making this region of Illinois home to the second largest population of Bald Eagles in the entire continental United States.

Street signs in Grafton touting the town the “Home of Wintering Bald Eagles”

Street signs in Grafton touting the town the “Home of Wintering Bald Eagles”

One of the prime locations to catch the birds soaring overhead is Grafton, a river town located along the bluffs of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. The sheer sense of Grafton’s pride for its most famous inhabitants is evident on the signs proudly touting the town, “Home of Wintering Bald Eagles.”

Every winter, curious visitors and professional eagle watchers flock to the Grafton riverfront and nearby Pere Marquette State Park to catch a glimpse of the “baseballs,” the nickname given to eagles because of their white head. The majestic eagles flying overhead against the wintry scenic river backdrop is a breathtaking site not to be missed.

If you are looking to enjoy Bald Eagle watching with an expert, Scott Insringhausen will take you on journey to prime spotting locations on special Bald Eagle Days at Pere Marquette. Learn how to distinguish between immature and mature Bald Eagles, what the birds eat, why they spend their winter months in the area and more. After learning the ins and outs, Scott will guide you on a scenic eagle watching drive. Make sure to reserve your spot, dress for the weather and have a full tank of gas!

Warm up after your eagle watching experience in downtown Grafton. The charming Main Street has homemade fudge shops, Native American wares at local shops and loads of antique stores. Unwind after the day at a local winery and let your worries melt away with a stay at a quaint bed and breakfast.

With beautiful eagle watching, a charming downtown, wineries and bed and breakfasts, Grafton is a prime spot for a winter getaway. Plan your trip today and be sure to tell us all about it when you get back!

–The Illinois Office of Tourism

This year I gave my daughters an early Christmas gift. It was easy-to-find, thoughtful, and free.

The gift was a cardinal in a white oak tree.

Yes, it’s unconventional. But my family lives in Illinois, and a Northern cardinal is the perfect addition to a local backyard. So is our state tree, the white oak. We now have ours dressed in twinkling lights.

Of course, the bird and tree came unwrapped. They were actually discoveries I’d made while writing The Twelve Days of Christmas in Illinois (Sterling Children’s Books, October 2012). For the book, I was to create a list of “gifts” from the Prairie State. The gifts—in tune with the classic carol—were for a girl on a fictional trip with her generous, in-state cousin. But as I brainstormed a list that ranked Midway monsters among roadside giants, I was struck with a more fantastic idea. Not only could I give the gifts to an imaginary child, I could also give them to my girls. They are all found in our home state.

Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower

Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower

So, like the characters in my book, we journeyed around Illinois. We visited Rockford, birthplace of the sock monkey, and saw pictures of one of the first women’s baseball teams. We dropped by Union, the location of the Illinois Railway Museum, and climbed aboard the largest train collection in the country. We even toured Springfield, the cherished home of our 16th president, and feasted on a horseshoe sandwich. There we also walked the chambers of Abe Lincoln’s law office, later hearing the call of a Civil War bugle. Our trip ended at a high point on The Ledge in Willis Tower. Those who’ve traveled to the city of Chicago have seen the magnificent skyscraper. It’s the tallest building in North America.

Many might wonder what my daughters thought of their gifts. But if people ask, they must make time for the reply. They’ll no doubt hear about our recent trip to Hartford, to the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower. It’s where we caught an eagle-eyed view of the Meeting of the Great Rivers. Next time, we hope to spot a bald eagle.

The Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower

The Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower

As for next Christmas, I already have plenty of home-grown gift ideas. They include Humboldt penguins from Brookfield Zoo and carnival rides at Navy Pier.

I plan to give the gifts early again, too.

Gina Bellisario

Children’s Book Author, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Illinois