It’s hard to believe, but summer is just weeks away. No matter how old (or how young) you are there is just a certain something about summertime. Just ask Olaf. Or the Fresh Prince. Freedom, adventure and relaxation. Sigh.
For many families (including mine) that means hitting the road for vacation. The beach is a popular destination, but maybe your budget doesn’t allow for a big trip. Or maybe finding time is the problem. And who doesn’t love being trapped in a car with children for hours? My husband, two-year-old daughter Madeline and I have thrown caution to the wind. We’ve gone Griswold. Our quest for family adventure has taken us on amazing road trips that are affordable, close and fun! In this special Knoxville Moms’ series, I’m highlighting three of our favorites. I’ve already shared about our wonderful weekend in Birmingham, Alabama. Now, our road trip to my adopted hometown. So, in the words of Will Smith “put your car on cruise and lay back cause this is summer time…”
The Queen City may be our neighbor 250 miles to the north, but southerners will feel right at home in Cincinnati, especially during the summer. It’s hot and humid, but don’t let that stop you from exploring everything Cinci has to offer! The metro area has more than two million people and it’s home to one of our country’s top-rated zoos. My husband hails from Cincinnati so while I’m not a native I married one! We’ve made countless trips to visit family and friends which has given me lots of opportunities to experience Cincinnati firsthand and fall in love with the city.
Cincinnati Zoo: My love affair with this zoo began when my own parents took me there as a child. Now, I can take my two-year-old daughter Madeline to explore the zoo’s 75 acres and see the more than 580 species that call the Cincinnati Zoo home. It’s easy to see why the zoo is consistently ranked as one of the best in the nation. The exhibits are top notch and there are plenty of opportunities for interaction, including at the zoo’s Africa exhibit. Don’t miss the Zoo Babies program which introduces you to all the newest arrivals, including cheetahs, a gorilla, and a penguin, oh my! Best of all, you can use your Knoxville Zoo membership for a 50% discount on your admission to the Cincinnati Zoo.
Newport Aquarium: Your animal adventures don’t have to stop! The Newport Aquarium is located just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati in Newport, Kentucky. Each day at the aquarium starts with a penguin parade. For the daring members of your family, you can cross the shark bridge. It’s a suspension bridge surrounded by netting that hangs above the open air shark tank. I took a pass on that one! There is lots of parking, including a garage, but be prepared to pay. Adult tickets are $23.99 and children age two to 12 are $15.99. Some Kroger stores in the Cincinnati area offer a discounted aquarium ticket. The savings are roughly one to two dollars per ticket. Once you finish touring the Newport Aquarium, be sure to allow time to wander around Newport on the Levee. It’s a dining-shopping-entertainment development on the riverfront. (The aquarium is part of the development so you don’t have to go far!)
Cincinnati Museum Center: This is the mecca for families with varying interests and ideas about how they want to spend their vacation. There are three museums and an OMNIMAX theater located in the historic Union Terminal building. The Duke Energy Children’s Museum is a must. It’s play with a purpose. Madeline loved playing pretend in Kids’ Town. Her other favorite spot was the Little Sprouts Farm. It’s one of two areas for preschool age kids and younger. Perfect! Here’s a pro tip—save the water tables for the end! The Cincinnati Museum Center is also home to the Cincinnati History Museum and the Museum of Natural History & Science. There is a food court at Union Terminal which is pricey. You can bring your own food and eat at the tables while enjoying the incredible art and architecture. A head’s up—Union Terminal is undergoing some renovations and there will be some closures. Be sure to check the website for updates.
Cincinnati Reds: To me, there’s nothing more American than summertime and baseball. That’s why your road trip to Cincinnati MUST include a stop at the Great American Ball Park. You can do more than just catch a game (and maybe a foul ball!). You can also see the Cincinnati Hall of Fame and Museum. Kids can take the mound and even see what it feels like to throw in a major league ball game. Behind-the-scenes tours are even available of the ball park. Let’s give three cheers for the Reds and the Pampers Nursing Suite. It’s a luxurious, private area for all moms. There are gliders, a kitchenette, ice and refrigeration, a private bathroom, changing stations and lockers for storing your items during the game. Once you see this nursing suite you may not want to go back to your seat to watch the game!
Krohn Conservatory: It’s not a dream! Thousands of butterflies will surround you at the Krohn Conservatory. It’s part of the hugely popular butterfly show. You get to walk through a special showroom where the butterflies fly free. Not to mention there are also thousands of species of plants housed there. Best of all, this activity won’t break the bank and will create lots of amazing memories (read Instagram pictures). Adult tickets are $7.00 and children ages 4 to 12 are $4.00. The butterfly show doesn’t last all summer so be sure to check the website. If you make a return trip to Cincinnati near Christmas, be sure to see the Krohn Conservatory’s live nativity and holiday show.
My in-laws don’t run a bed and breakfast (otherwise I would tell you to stay at their house!). That’s why I would recommend CincinnatiUSA.com, which is the official online travel guide of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. If you’re planning to visit any of the places I mentioned (or ones I didn’t), there’s a good chance there is a special hotel package available on the website. Some of those packages include discounted attraction tickets. It’s worth a look!
Montgomery Inn: Presidents, celebrities and athletes have been making a point to stop at Montgomery Inn since 1951. That’s how you know the ribs are good! If that doesn’t convince you, my husband discovered Montgomery Inn barbecue sauce is available at the Kroger in Farragut. We make special trips for this stuff! Besides the world-famous ribs, there are plenty of other menu options, including a children’s menu. There are several Montgomery Inn locations. I would highly recommend The Boathouse location for amazing views of the Ohio River. Reservations are a must!
Skyline/Gold Star: You can only find Cincinnati chili in Cincinnati. So help me, you better eat some while you’re there! While locals are divided on their favorite chili spot, you really can’t go wrong with Skyline Chili or Gold Star Chili. You won’t find any beans in the chili, but you will find spices like cinnamon. And even chocolate! Have your chili over spaghetti or on a hot dog. The three way is my favorite!
Graeter’s/UDF: Graeter’s stands out from other ice cream. I point to the French pot method used to make this amazing stuff. It’s made from real ingredients two-and-a-half gallons at a time. The black raspberry chip is the most popular, but you can’t go wrong with any of the flavors! There’s another must-see ice cream spot. It’s called UDF which stands for United Dairy Farmers. It looks like you’re buying ice cream from a gas station, but, trust me, the milkshakes and malts are to die for!
German Food: Cincinnati has a rich German heritage thanks to all the immigrants that settled there. Lucky for us, we can eat and drink that rich heritage today. The Hofbräuhaus Newport is America’s first authentic Hofbräuhaus. It’s more than a meal, it’s an experience. Mecklenburg Gardens is a part of Cincinnati history. It’s been operating since 1865 and continues to stay true to its German roots. Side note–My grandmother is German so I have a real soft spot for spätzle and red cabbage!
Taste of Belgium: For breakfast, travel to another side of my family tree! Taste of Belgium offers authentic Belgian waffles with a twist. Just thinking about the McWaffle makes my mouth water. It’s egg, bacon, gruyere and maple syrup on handmade piping hot waffles. Yum! I can’t take credit for discovering Taste of Belgium. Guy Fieri of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” beat me to it!
There’s even more to Cincinnati including classic amusement parks like Kings Island and Coney Island. The American Sign Museum is at the top of my list for our next trip to Cincinnati. That’s just skimming the surface! Whether or not your family vacation leads you to the ‘Nati this summer, I hope Clark Griswold’s words ring true and you have so much fun you’ll need plastic surgery to remove your smiles.