Not all of us live in a traveler's paradise, next to a theme park, or down the road from the beach, but with a little ingenuity, just about everyone can come up with some fun and entertaining activities in their own backyard. In the end, you and your family can have fun, spend less time on the road or in the air, and save the money you would have pumped into your gas tank.
I live in the Des Moines, Iowa area, and here is a sample vacation for those of us in the vicinity. Let's take a sample week in the summer, starting on Monday and ending roughly the following weekend. At the end I have listed a couple variations for special weeks during the summer.
Head to Adventureland Park in Altoona, Iowa, for a day of thrill rides, live entertainment, and fun in the water. The park is open from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. every day in the summer. Arrive about 9:30 a.m. to get parked and enter the park when it opens.
Adult - $35.00
Children age 9 and under - $31.00
Children under age 3 - free
Seniors age 65 and up - $31.00
If you want to spend a second day at Adventureland, it's only $20 per ticket if you buy it at the same time.
Rides are available for everyone in the family, including thrill rides, family rides, and kiddie rides. If you need a break from riding, arcade games and live bingo are located on Main Street.
Cool off at Cabana Bay, Adventureland's new water park.
Food - Adventureland offers the typical theme park counter fair, with one sit-down restaurant. The food is tasty and quick from 21 different spots around the park. Cool off in Sheriff Sam's Saloon and watch one of the best magic shows in the Midwest.
At closing time, head next door to Adventureland Inn to spend the night. It features 187 guest rooms, three pools, playful water features, a swim-up bar and two hot tubs. Two sit-down restaurants are on-site. Check out time is 11:00 a.m., so you can take in the pool and water features in the morning, or spend another day. Rates start at $133.28, and you can save $10 to $20 by booking on-line.
Spend another day at Adventureland and/or Adventureland Inn. Or, head west to the Des Moines Botanical and Environmental Center. This beautiful facility is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. seven days a week. The Botanical Center is one of the most economical attractions you can visit in Des Moines. Admission cost is:
Ages 3 and under: free
Students ages 4-17 - $3.00
Adults - $5.00
Seniors (65+) - $4.00
Enjoy lush tropical flowers and plants which include roses, orchids, bonsai and many gardens. You can take a self-guided walking tour, but education presentations are available by calling in advance. At lunch time, head next door to the elegant Riverwalk Cafe which is open Monday to Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The cafe offers moderately priced sandwiches, salads, pasta and desserts.
After lunch, drive a few miles downtown to the Science Center of Iowa. Admission prices are...
Adults - $10.00
Children ages 2-12 - $7.00
Children under 2 years - free
Seniors age 65 and up - $8.00
Explore the fascinating exhibits at a leisurely pace, then take in a movie at the IMAX theater, a 216-seat theater complete with a six-story dome-shaped screen and a 12,000-watt digital surround sound system. It's better than being there! At the time of this writing, the IMAX theater is showing...
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2: The IMAX Experience - 130 minutes
The Human Body - 45 minutes
Born to be Wild - 45 minutes
Tornado Alley - 40 minutes
Wild Ocean - 40 minutes
Ticket prices range from $6.00 to $8.000 for the IMAX show, which is an additional price to the Science Center admission.
At the end of the evening, head west to a motel out by Living History Farms, our destination for Wednesday.
Today visit Living History Farms, an interactive outdoor museum which educates, entertains and connects people of all ages to Midwestern rural life experiences. Programs vary throughout the year depending on the season, but there's always something interesting happening. Four farm sites comprise the farm grounds...
1700 Ioway Indian Farm
1850 Pioneer Farm
1900 Horse-Powered Farm
1875 Town of Walnut Hill
Several tours are available, including the general, step saver, and town only. These take between two and four hours to complete.
Special events include...
Farm to Market Day - Meat production and livestock power where you experience everything from milking shorthorn cattle to rounding up backyard chickens.
The Walnut Hill Choral Society of Living History Farms - Sings a cappella arrangements of nineteenth century sentimental, patriotic, and religious songs, specializing in popular music printed from 1850 through 1875.
Admission is $12 for adults and $7 for children. A great package deal is available for visiting Living History Farms. A Family Fun Pack of 1 night's stay and 4 passes to Living History Farms starts at just $99. There are several motels in the vicinity for you to choose from, the Comfort Suites, Sleep Inn or Wildwood Lodge. Each one has a nice swimming pool to cool off in after touring the farm grounds.
A trip to the Living History Farms isn't complete without a meal at the Machine Shed Restaurant. Open from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., you can enjoy a great Iowa farm meal in the style of an Iowa farmer just coming in out of the field to sit down to a hearty dinner. No one goes away hungry from the Iowa Machine Shed Restaurant!
Visit the Des Moines Art Center today, another terrific bargain with free admission. Located in the mid Des Moines area, the Art Center is open...
Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 p.m.
Sunday from Noon to 4:00 p.m.
Exhibitions change on a regular basis. Guided tours are available at $2 per adult, with a $20 minimum, which would cover a family and must be arranged in advance.
An outdoor sculpture park is a fascinating spot to enjoy a picnic lunch. Or, dine at the Des Moines Art Center Restaurant which creates a new menu each week of fresh seasonal handmade soups, salads, sandwiches, pastas, and desserts.
After lunch, head downtown to the State Historical Museum, located close to the Des Moines Capitol Building and along the Raccoon River. Hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from noon to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. The museum is closed on Monday and official state holidays. Admission is free. The museum exhibits tell the stories of Iowa's growth and development.
At the end of the afternoon, head south a mile or two and take in an Iowa Cubs baseball game. Grab a hot dog and a soda at the park. Standard general admission tickets start at $8 for an adult and $4 for children, but you can save by buying tickets in advance or by taking advantage of a promotion. Promotions are run for almost every game, for example, 4 tickets, 4 personal pizzas, 4 sodas and 4 caps for $44. Fireworks are presented following some games. Be sure to check the Cubs' web site for all the deals and offerings.
Head to a local motel and get a good night's sleep. Swim the next morning in the motel's pool.
Head to the south side and visit the Blank Park Zoo today. Ticket prices:
Adults - $10.95
Children - $5.95
Seniors - $8.95
The Zoo is open every day at 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., and until 8:00 p.m. on Fridays. There are many outdoor exhibits featuring all the animals you expect at a top quality zoo--lions, tigers, giraffes--you name it! Aside from self-guided touring, "Behind the Scenes" with a zoo keeper are offered. Stop in at the gift shop, have a picnic lunch on the grounds, or stop off for an ice cream cone along the trail.
Head west to West Des Moines and visit historic Valley Junction. Quaint shops and eateries await you, and there is a wealth of live entertainment and festivals. Check their web site for exact dates. Or just shop for fun. Have lunch in the Junction, then head out to Jordan Creek Mall for more shopping and a movie at the Century 20.
After the movie, head home and rest up from your vacation!
Obviously, this vacation plan provides lots of flexibility. Change the days that you visit each location or spend more than one day at one of them. You really won't be driving that many more miles. During certain times of the summer, you can also take in events such as...
- Des Moines Art Festival in June
- Yankee Doodle Pops and Jazz in July
- Iowa State Fair in the middle of August
To gain even more savings, do the following...
- Don't stay in motels, just drive home each night.
- Pack a lunch instead of eating out.
- Check for coupons online for admission discounts.
No matter how you do it, you'll have a great time on your Des Moines vacation and save some significant cash!