Sunday, December 31, 2023

More Activities on Fair Oaks Farm

We had a good night’s sleep at the Fairfield Inn on Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana. The room was quite spacious for three adults, an 8-year-old, and an 11 lb. yorkie who was a bit excited to have three different beds to chose from.

Breakfast is included at the hotel, and it was a nice buffet. We filled up on eggs, bacon, and waffles, and explored a little before heading outside. It was another cold day, so we dressed warmly.

We went to check out the Igloos, a highlight of the Forest of Lights celebration. They are considered part of the Farmhouse Restaurant and are just outside those doors. They were heated and quite cozy. We were just supposed to go in for hot chocolate, but we were so comfortable we decided to stay a little longer for Mimosas, cheesecake, fries, and smoked brisket chili.

When it was time for us to go to the Pig Adventure (you get times for tours when you purchase your tickets) we went to the bus. There are many different packages available, or you can buy individual tickets to a single activity. The farm also has educational classes throughout the year.

The bus was equipped with a wheelchair lift, so I had no problem getting my scooter on. Teddy was happy on my lap, as one of his tasks is to notify blood sugar and blood pressure drops.

The Pig Adventure includes a tour around the huge building, where pigs are born and raised. We were able to see some newborn piglets.

Fair Oaks Farms is all about sustainability. Their buses actually run on waste from the animals. They are working toward achieving a zero-carbon footprint for all of their vehicles.

Before we headed home, we stopped at the Cowfé for lunch. They have a huge selection of cheeses. We did some tasting and I purchased some of my favorite, Calico.

The deli also had meats and they make fresh sandwiches. We picked up some for the road, while Brittany had more of the smoked brisket chili she had loved at the restaurant.

In addition to the Festival of Lights,  Fair Oaks Farms has events throughout the year. They include Easter Egg Hunts in the spring, a Sunflower Field in the summer, and Harvest events for apples and pumpkins in the fall. In the warmer months there is also often outdoor music.

Photos by Marcia Frost and Brittany Lambright

I was hosted on this trip for most of the activities, food, and accommodations, but views are my own.


Saturday, December 23, 2023

Fun on Fair Oaks Farm

 

I had never heard of Fair Oaks Farms when I fellow travel writer suggested it to me. When I found out it was a complete destination just an hour and a half away from Champaign, I quickly made arrangements to take some friends, a willing to play eight year old, and my dog, Teddy 

The name may be familiar to you if you drink Fairlife milk or protein shakes. This is much more than a farm, though, it’s a full destination, and we took advantage of anything it has to offer.

The first thing we did when arriving was check into the hotel. There is a Fairfield Inn on the property so once we parked, we didn’t have to get into the car again until it was time to go home. The building was even set up to look like a barn, but on the inside it was all about a modern hotel.

Our suite was large, with two beds and a pullout couch. Aubree took the couch. Teddy tried his best to join her. We had a microwave and refrigerator in the room, and an indoor pool downstairs.

After we got our things settled, we headed to the Dairy Adventure first. It was a short walk away and the path was clear for me to take my scooter. The building was filled with hands-on activities and selfie spots for kids and adults. It was also about learning about doing things on the farm, such as milking a cow. 

From there we got on the bus to tour the milking production building. Pets are welcome in the hotel and main areas, but not where there are farm animals. Since Teddy is a service dog and never left my lap, he was welcome.

When the bus returned us to the main complex we were pretty hungry and ready to taste some milk products. Ice cream was our choice and the Cowfé was the perfect place to have it. There are about a half dozen flavors. All we had were delicious.

We took a walk after the ice cream to see some of the mom cows with their calves and then went on to the rope course.  Teddy and I stayed on the scooter and observed, but Aubree, her mom Jessica, and Brittany enjoyed the climbing.

The next building we headed to was the Crop Adventure. It also contained plenty of learning experiences. Aubree had fun “shopping” in a grocery store and learning where products come from. I learned a lot about the farm as the boards explained how Fair Oaks has fed seven billion people, and how far modern production has come over the years.

We rested in the room for a little while before heading to the Farmhouse Restaurant. It was getting cold out and we were glad we could get there from the hotel without going outside. The restaurant was decorated for the holidays, with a few cow statues here and there.

The menu has something for everyone and contains a lot of items from the farm, including the popular cheese curds, which we agreed were delicious. I loved the Pig Adventure sandwich. It is a hickory smoked pork on a brioche roll with their house made barbecue sauce. Brittany had a tender steak.

 

The kids menu has quite a few items, including mac n cheese, pizza, and grilled cheese made with at the Fair Oaks dairy.

After dinner, we went to explore their holiday season event, Forest of Lights. It consists of a long trail, lit with beautiful lights, many shaped as farm animals and equipment. When you get to the halfway point, there is a place to stop by firepits. We had bought s’mores in The Market to toast before then.


It was too cold that night for us to do the sledding hill or ice skating. It was fine because we had a day filled with fun and all of us were ready to go to the hotel and get in our warm beds.

*This was my experience at the Forest of Lights in 2022. Check the website to find out the current offerings.

 

Photos by Marcia Frost and Brittany Lambright

I was hosted on this trip for most of the activities, food, and accommodations, but views are my own.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Christkindlmarket and Dog Friendly Carmel


It was a busy and exciting day before as I took my service dog (then still in training) Teddy to Carmel, Indiana. My friend Jaimee stayed over with us at the Home2 Suites by Hilton. It was a bit of a tough night getting the little guy to sleep on his first overnight in a hotel.

 


We had requested a corner room, so no one seemed to be disturbed, but we were ready to get out of the hotel suite and let him run around outside.

After breakfast, which is included at all the Home2 Suites, we decided to check out one of the pet friendly city’s dog parks. I had asked around and Clay Terrace was mentioned as a good one by a few people. Teddy definitely agreed and it gave him a chance to burn some energy before he was back on my lap on the scooter “working.”

 


We were on our way next to the Carmel Christkindlmarkt. This was my second trip there and I was happy to be back as it was my favorite in the U.S. The market, which does not have an entry fee, is a yearly event filled with food, gifts, performances, and an ice-skating rink.

 


I had to sample the Glühwein, a spiced, warmed wine that I had enjoyed when I visited Christmas markets in Europe. I can also never resist a warm Bavarian pretzel when I go to one of these markets.

I purchased a few things from holiday booths (they have Christmas and Hannukah), and we walked around for a while, but it was an extremely cold day, so we headed to the car after about an hour.

 


Before leaving Carmel, we stopped at a chain famous in this area, Jack’s Donuts. I got a peanut butter roll to take go and even found some doggy bakery items for a treat for Teddy.

 


I dropped Jaimee at her Indiana home.  It was just under two hours west to Champaign and I was driving with the sun as it set. It was a beautiful way to end the day, and what would be the first of many trips with Teddy. 



Saturday, November 11, 2023

Carmel, Indiana: Teddy’s First Trip



This trip was very different from any other, even though I had been to Carmel, Indiana, before. This was my very first trip with Teddy.

Although Teddy was born and came to me during the pandemic, he was definitely not a puppy I got because of COVID isolation. I had planned for two years to get a yorkie.  



I had grown up with a dog and realized soon after we got him I was allergic. I had to avoid dogs for years. Then, a friend came to stay with me for a few weeks and I realized that I didn’t have a problem with the hair (and no dander) of the breed. I prepared financially to get and support a full bred Yorkie. He came home with me in August, 2020.

Teddy is more than a companion. I’ve also trained him as a service dog. He can bring me things, such as pills, glasses, and my inhaler. He also senses drops in my blood sugar and blood pressure. Last, but certainly not least, he comes to comfort me when I’m upset or having breathing issues.


The pandemic definitely slowed down one of the most important parts of his training – taking him to public places. He had been to Rural King and a few local restaurants, and I was ready to take him on my trip to Carmel.

I picked up my friend, Jaimee, along the way. She lives in nearby Indianapolis. There was a travel showcase there for journalists to check out all the places to go in Indiana. I was on my scooter with Teddy on my lap.

 


Teddy wasn’t used to all the crowds at first, but Jaimee took him outside a few times so he wouldn’t disturb anyone. We made it through, and I collected information on places I’m still working on getting to. Indiana is filled with towns, large and small, that are hidden treasures.

From there we headed to Carmel, about a half hour away. One of the reasons we chose to stay there is because it’s very pet friendly. Service dogs are allowed everywhere, but since this was Teddy’s first getaway, I felt that he wasn’t trained enough to go into places that aren’t pet friendly.

 


We stayed at Home2 Suites near downtown. It was my first experience in one of these properties even though I have stayed at Hilton’s other brands a lot. It was a good choice. The room was extremely large and had a very well-equipped kitchen. There was also a couch for Teddy to get comfortable on.

After we got our things settled in and I had a chance to put my feet up for a while, we went to Carmel’s Peace Water Winery. This is an unusual place for a few reasons. First, they consider themselves “Indiana’s Napa Valley Winery.” All the grapes come from California for the Peace Water wines.


The second thing that makes this place so special really impressed me. They donate 50% of their net profits to charities, some local, and some worldwide. You can see exactly where on their charity wall, located at the winery. They have three different locations. All are in the Indianapolis area.

We sampled some wine, and I settled on Wishful White, a blend, as my favorite. Teddy was comfortable in this dog-friendly atmosphere, and we decided to do as we saw others and order some food from Muldoon’s down the street to go with the wine.  

The selection on the menu was pretty big and I settled on the New York Reuben with sweet potato fries, while Jaimee had a burger. There was a fudge covered cheesecake for dessert. Teddy had a few fries to go with his dog food. Like me, he prefers the sweet potato ones.

We headed back to Home2 Suites down the road. It was time to rest up for day two of Teddy’s first trip, which included a dog park and the Christkindlmarkt. We were hoping he was tired enough to sleep through the night in a strange place.

 

I was hosted on this trip, but opinions are my own. 

 




 


Friday, October 13, 2023

24 Hours on Navy Pier in Chicago

 

Since I’ve been traveling in a wheelchair or mobility scooter the last few years, I have not gone many places alone. I decided to go for it when I was invited to spend a day – and night – at Navy Pier in Chicago.

I have been to Navy Pier many times, but was never able to stay there until Sable, a Curio Collection Hotel by Hilton, was built. I always wondered why there wasn’t a hotel there, and after spending time scooting my way around the property and the pier, I can attest that it’s a fun and unique experience.

The hotel is at the end of the pier and the entrance is right next to one of the parking lots. It was easy to park my van and take my scooter right into the modern lobby. Once inside you’ll be surprised at just how big it is, with a Kisbi Coffee and the Lirica Restaurant close to the entrance.

It did take me a little while to figure out how to get to the elevator to my room, but once inside, I found my biggest draw to this hotel – the windows. Every room has floor to ceiling views of the blue water of Lake Michigan and the Chicago Skyline.

If it wasn’t for that famous skyline I could have just as easily been on a Caribbean Island. That view can bring a sense of relaxation, a touch of romance, or the beginning of a family enjoyment of Navy Pier.

I didn’t have too much time to stare out the window before my reservation at Lirica for dinner.  It’s a comfortable, but classic, restaurant at Sable Hotel at Navy Pier. The menu is modern Latin.

 

I started with one of their many mojitos, the house special Passion Fruit Vanilla. It was fantastic and not too sweet. It was the perfect accompaniment to their house guacamole, arbol salsa, and chips.

For a main course, I had the braised short ribs, served in a mushroom, garlic, and wine sauce. On the waiter’s recommendation I added in a side of roasted potatoes, which came with an aioli sauce for dipping, and a warm cauliflower salad. It all went ideally with a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.

 


I wasn’t anxious to leave the food, but I was excited to check out Offshore at Sable, the rooftop venue at the hotel. Fortunately, I had reservations because this place, as huge as it is, fills up.

 

I was immediately taken with the open-air indoor area, with tables all around a large bar. I had asked for a table outside so I could see if the sunsets here were as breathtaking as I had heard. I was not disappointed as I sampled an ice cream sundae and tried one of the many cocktails on the menu.

It was an easy ride back to my hotel room on my scooter and I was more than ready for sleep.

 

In the morning, I headed back to Lirica Restaurant. This time I sat outside and did some people watching on Navy Pier. The Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes were as good as the food I had the night before. When I finished most of the large portion and my coffee, I decided to do some exploring.

 

It’s hard not to love Navy Pier. There’s just no other city that has the views and activities like this. I went all the way to the beginning where the 13-acre Polk’s Brothers Park, is one of the newer gathering places. Indoors, I noticed that the Kilwin’s Fudge was added to the food options since my last visit.

I had done the Centennial Wheel not long before, so I skipped it on this trip. I did notice a new addition to the ever-changing interactive exhibits and caught a sign about the latest music series. There was also the start of the Halloween preparations, which was always followed by the beginning of the set up for Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier, held every holiday season.

The one thing I have yet to do at Navy Pier is take one of the boat rides. The sunset cruise has been on my list of Chicago things to do.

 

Maybe next time.

 

I was hosted on this trip, but opinions are my own. 

 

Saturday, September 30, 2023

A Special Spa and More Wine & Food in the Wisconsin Dells


Laurie and I woke up at The Vue in Wisconsin Dells excited for our spa day. First, we went to a local favorite, Stuff’s Restaurant, for a breakfast of eggs, corned beef hash, pancakes, and French Toast. It was obvious why there were so many people in there.

 


I had heard many good things about the award winning Sundara Inn & Spa, but it exceeded my expectations. This was the ultimate grown up escape in Wisconsin Dells. I have been to a lot of spas, but nothing like this.

What I love most about Sundara is the ability to have a full day (or even days) with plenty of relaxation and wellness to do – without getting charged for every little thing.  

 

There is, of course, a large menu of treatments who can purchase, but it’s all the other amenities that you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else. They can be added on for one extra fee.Included in the fee are unlimited wellness classes, indoor and outdoor pools, whirlpools, tranquil spaces, and the Purifying Bath Ritual. With the one charge, you get to spend an entire day enjoying it all.

We arranged our day at the cave-like indoor pool and whirlpools, where we had a healthy lunch from their Nava Restaurant and mocktails at the swim-up bar. We then spent some time refreshing our breath in the Salt Room, and then did a meditation session.

 

Laurie and I also did the bath ritual:  

Exfoliation with their provided scrub in the rainfall shower;

A squirt of their special mist before heading into the steam room;

And a rinse before hitting the hot tub filled with essential oils.

We decided to skip the cold plunge pool.

Before we left, I had a chance to tour some of the accommodations. I loved the large suites in the main building, where you can take the elevator in your comfy robe right down to the spa. For those who want even more space there are villas and Woodland retreats. 


After spending most of the day at the spa, we headed to Fawn Creek Winery. This place has unusually mixed fruit wines, such as Just Peachy, peach and chardonnay, and Black Ber-y, blackberry and Merlot. There were more combinations and they change seasonally. I thought they were all pretty tasty. It was like having a variety of sangrias in bottles.

 


Dinner was at Lake City Social. I had a veggie burger and Mule, while Laurie had a Rueben and beer. We really liked the food and drink there.

 


We were exhausted from a long day, even though it had been filled with relaxation. We went back to The Vue hotel for one more night.

 


In the morning, we went to Paul Bunyan, a well-known restaurant I had been to on my previous trips to Wisconsin Dells. The warm donuts were as good as ever and their breakfast was filling. It is unlimited, but we couldn’t eat any more than they brought us the first time.

 


Before we left the Wisconsin Dells, we took a ride through the downtown. It was a fun trip and interesting to get to experience some of the adult things the region has outside of the.

 

 Note: Sundara Spa does not allow photography. Photos are courtesy of the spa. 

Friday, September 15, 2023

A Different Look of The Wisconsin Dells


I have been to the Wisconsin Dells three times. The first two were family trips to resorts, Chula Vista and Kalahari. The third trip, the most recent, was totally different.


This was a girls’ getaway with my friend Laurie. We were enticed by Wisconsin Dells tourism to check out the adult side of the area. This included a spa that was receiving national attention and the emergence of The Dells as a wine region.

It started at Wollersheim, the most impressive winery I’ve seen in the Midwest. This is not a place where you walk in, try a few wines, and go home. Wollersheim is 70 manicured acres to enjoy - before, after, or during the wine.

Their wine selection is huge, and we tasted quite a few, settling on the Prairie Pink, Eagle White Dry Riesling, and Domaine du Sac, a red wine, as favorites. We also had a tasty lunch, the highlight of which was the Gobbler Sandwich.


Bistro offerings come prepared boxed to take outside and enjoy the grounds with a picnic. They also have the wine ready to bring. If you don’t want a full bottle, you can purchase canned wine or small bottles for portability.

Wollersheim also has a distillery. They produce whiskey, bourbon, and brandies. You can try the spirits straight or taste them in a selection of handcrafted cocktails.


We then drove to the other side of The Dells to Balanced Rock Winery in Baraboo. This spot was very different from the previous, with an open, modern building and a large piece of land. There’s a big patio and plenty of space for outdoor concerts and a driving range.


We tried a lot of wines and liked the Seyval, with a touch of apple sweetness, and the Frontenac Fris, an orange wine that is a little sweeter, were the ones we liked best.

We were a little hungry and thought we’d order a snack to have with our wine. The hummus plate was the best I ever had. It was too much to finish and we hated to leave it. It also matched well with the Rock Rose.

While at Balanced Rock, we found out we were just a mile from Wisconsin’s most popular state park. Devil’s Lake has beautiful scenery that reminds me a bit of the Upper Penisula in Michigan with the large bluffs. It’s filled with year-round activity, including rock climbing, boating, fishing, hiking, and cross-country skiing.


After the park, we drove to our hotel for the trip. The Vue is far from the huge resorts I was used to in the Wisconsin Dells. It is a boutique hotel in downtown. That makes it a lot more appropriate for two grown women not interested in water parks or roller coasters. The Vue is also on the waterfront and loaded with views of the Wisconsin River.


The Boathouse restaurant at The Vue offers indoor and outdoor dining. They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offer plenty of comfort food and an interesting cocktail menu. I had the fettucine alfredo and Laurie did the fried chicken. We followed with a S’more Hot Chocolate Cake. We loved watching the sunset during dinner.

We were done for the night and happy to just be able to walk back to our room. We were excited to be spending most of the next day at Sundara Spa.


I was hosted on this trip, but opinions are my own.