Time for a travel tale of a different sort and you can get twice the bang for your buck as you can read my brother’s take on this story at his blog.
I have three brothers (Brian, Dan, and Jeff) and six weeks or so ago, my brother, Dan, texted out of the blue with a suggestion that the four of us take a road trip together. He had suggested Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH, but that was a bit far for a weekend trip for 3 of us and would be tough to coordinate as we each live in different states and the nearest major airport to Sandusky was over an hour away.
Add that to the fact that timing would be delicate. Most amusement parks close after Labor Day or have greatly reduced hours. Add that to the fact that Jeff and I will be out of the country for most of September and that essentially left August unless tabled for another year.
Jeff’s husband, Scott, suggested a visit to Six Flags Great America in much closer Gurnee, IL might be a more viable option. It took a bit of doing, but the 4 of us managed to clear our schedules at the end of August to make this trip.
Sadly, Dan had to bow out at the 11th hour due to illness, but he encouraged the three of us to continue the trip and kept in regular contact via text to enjoy things somewhat vicariously.
My older brother and I live almost equidistant from Gurnee, but he was kind enough to drive to Omaha so we could make the trip together. He even agreed to my plan to take a more roundabout route as the initial route seemed to go through Chicago proper and I had little desire to battle that maniacal traffic or pay a series of potentially usurious tolls. Furthermore, I wanted to split the trip down over 2 days so we wouldn’t be overly worn out for doing things after arriving in the Gurnee area.
Thursday night found us heading out on the road after a quick meal at Chick Fil A. Animated conversation made the time go quickly and we pulled over shortly after midnight at a Sleep Inn in North Liberty, IA.
I was wired and didn’t drift off to sleep until after 1am and slept rather fitfully. Brian and I rose early and had breakfast in the hotel dining room. It was adequate with the sausage links being tasty, but the biscuits were a little tough and needed a knife and fork to cut. Brian ate 4 mini cinnamon rolls for his breakfast.
Shortly afterwards, we were back on the road. My roundabout route took us through quite a few lovely small towns which I rather enjoyed. We actually passed through Galena and I got to show Brian the B & B I had stayed at there, the former Bernadine’s Stillman Inn.
I actually made some notes of locales to visit for future journeys, but Brian got slightly annoyed due to a neverending stream of construction we went though in these small towns that slowed us down.
Eventually, we reached our destination, Springhill Suites in Waukegan, IL, but found that the exits leading to the hotel were blocked by more construction and it took nearly 30 minutes for Google Maps to suss out a route that finally allowed us to reach the hotel.
Springhill Suites was a pretty modern hotel and the rooms were quite nice, but not exactly suites in the strictest sense of the word. They were actually expanded rooms, but did grant quite a bit of space.
We puttered around for a bit. Brian and Jeff engaged in a pair of cribbage games while I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. After Brian took Jeff in 2 straight games, we headed out to dinner and tried nearby Anastasia’s, a sports lounge.
You get pretty good value for your money as you get a good sized meal for your cash. Jeff had a meatball sandwich while Brian supped on blackened cod and I had a gyro sandwich which really hit the spot.
After dinner, we engaged in one of my favorite activities: mini golf!! We visited Lighthouse Miniature Golf which was a little family owned course. The grounds were lovingly maintained though a little refurbishment could be used here and there. The course had a ton of character and very fun and challenging holes.
I ended up finishing in third, being unable to find my groove until closer to the end. But I did manage to win the Ace Award with a pair of holes in one on the last two holes. The hole in one on the 18th hole netted me a free game which I will be glad to use when I’m back in the area. Someone mistook my calm poise and skill for ridiculous sloppy luck on that last hole, but what the hey.
With the links putted, we went back to the hotel and hooked up Brian’s Wii where we played a few rounds of Mario Party 9 before getting some shuteye to attack the park the next day.
Fortunately, all three of us are early risers, so we were able to get up and get some breakfast in the hotel dining room. Again, the food was just so so. The turkey sausage patties were pretty good and the biscuits and gravy were actually even tougher than the ones I had in Iowa and again needed a knife and fork to eat them.
As the park didn’t open until 10:30am, we even had time to squeeze in a round of Phase 10. Now my brothers often curse my unbelievable luck in the game. I do admit that I seem to have a penchant for obtaining wild cards, but I attribute it to the universe being nice to me because I’m pure of heart. However, my brothers have actually labeled various winning hands as “Chrises” depending on the number of wilds in it. All the way from a regular Chris for three wilds to an Omega Chris if a winning hand ever has all 8 wilds. Once again, I won the game and sealed it with a Chris.
It was a perfect day for parking as the weather was a glorious spring day without a whit of humidity. Six Flags Great America is coaster crazy with a whopping 16 roller coasters to try. The park wasn’t overly full and we usually didn’t have to wait very long for rides. Some of the rides even had single rider lines which we used to get on rides in a matter of minutes. Highlights included American Eagle, a classic wooden coaster that has the herky jerky movement and the body rattling jolts of an old fashioned coaster; X-Flight, an inverted wing coaster that has some impressive barrel rolls and a 180 degree swoop through a narrow chasm; The Joker Crazy Coaster, a unique coaster that climbs 12 stories and flips you over several times; The Goliath, the world’s fastest and tallest wooden coaster with an initial job of 180 feet and inversions that were nearly loop the loops. This was easily one of the best coasters I’ve ever ridden and was the only ride we hit twice. Our final ride was Superman: Ultimate Flight and the one we waited the longest for at 95 minutes due to its being a signature ride. This is an inverted coaster, but the seats actually pull up and lock into place so the riders face parallel to the ground to simulate flying like Superman. I freely admit that right before the first drop, I held up my arms in flying pose and said, “I’ve waited all my life to say this. Up, up and awayyy!!!!”
What better way to close the night than with more mini-golf. So we were off to Aloha Falls in nearby Libertyville.
Aloha Falls was the course I had originally wanted to play, but we were stunned to learn that it is only open on the weekends and only until about 8pm. The course’s signature Waterfall Course is listed as the 8th toughest in the USA and the clubhouse holds some classic board games and video game systems to play.
This is one of the most beautiful courses I’ve ever played with extremely lovely and difficult holes. It lives up to its rep as a tough course, but I played one of the best games of my life ending 3 under par on the front nine which allowed me to race toward a fairly easy victory for the night. Though this is very much a quality course, all 3 of us liked Lighthouse more due to its character.
We were starving after the game as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast so we stopped at a Chili’s near the hotel for dinner. I packed away one of the biggest meals in recent memory with a Chili’s chili burger and I also scarfed a fair number of the chips and salsa Jeff got as a free appetizer.
With full stomachs, we returned to the hotel where we played a last round of Mario Party in which fate stole my victory at the last moment. Then it was to bed as Brian wanted to leave very early in the morning to get back home.
At 7:40am, Brian and I bade good-bye to Jeff and headed back home. Brian wanted to take the most direct route so it was all interstate for us. Truthfully, it would not have been so bad using this route on the way to Waukegan as it skirted around Chicago, but it did take us through 5 tolls so my route did save us a bit of dough.
Though we were short a Musketeer, it was still an enjoyable trip and it was nice to bond with my most of my siblings. If the stars align, maybe Cedar Point can be done next year.
Until the next time, happy travels!!