It’s those trips we take to places we never expected to visit in the first place that turn out to be so enjoyable. Take, for instance, Iowa. Yes, I said Iowa. Not really expecting to spend any time there in my immediate future, we ended up there on a whim. See, I had about a week left of my vacation from work and, since my original travel plans had to be canceled, I was desperate to go SOMEWHERE. Groupon Getaways came to the rescue with a fantastic deal to Ramada Tropics Resort in Des Moines, Iowa. A bit far from Chicago to drive, yes, but what else did I have to do? So my mother, Lucia, and I packed up and headed west to Iowa. Say what you will about The Hawkeye State, but I thoroughly enjoyed the drive: bright sunshine, hilly roads, open spaces, and vibrant green everywhere I looked. The experience fell right into my “anywhere but here” mentality (“here” meaning home), the mindset I try to keep when I travel anywhere.
Ramada Tropics Resort features an 18,000 square foot indoor water park, just about every child’s dream come true. The water park consists of: one pool into which the two-story, winding waterslide empties; one traditional swimming pool; and a toddler pool, complete with anchored pirate ship and appropriately smaller water slides. This last pool is where my daughter spent most of her time. In fact, we did not leave the hotel for three days. There really is no need to. The on-site restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner; the rooms have refrigerators and microwaves; and there is free wifi! One last note: our Groupon was for a poolside room, which wouldn’t have been my choice if making reservations without the Groupon. I was nervous we would hear all the poolside noise in our room. We were surprised by and relieved that the noise was drowned out well enough to not be bothersome at all.
In no hurry to get back home, we made a stop along the way at the historic Amana Colonies. The cluster of seven villages was settled by German Pietists in 1855. For more than a century, the colonists lived a communal lifestyle and thrived by living simply. In 1965, the Amana Colonies were declared a National Historic Landmark. Today, the colonies host thousands of visitors each year, with Amana being the largest of the seven towns and attracting the most guests. Many original buildings still stand but they’re now bakeries, restaurants, craft shops, galleries and the like. Since I haven’t yet built my time machine, I love visiting towns like these to try to get a glimpse of what life was like during earlier eras. We had a delicious German lunch at OxYoke Inn, did some shopping, and enjoyed some ice cream. Any family with young children traveling to Amana needs to stop at Edelstein Treasures, a shop featuring fossils, rocks, crystals, and gemstone jewelry. But the best feature? An active mining water sluice where children (or visitors or any age) can “pan” for their own treasures. Lucia loved pretending to be a little explorer and found plenty of treasures that we brought home with us. The staff at Edelstein is extremely friendly and made the experience fun for all of us. I wanted to continue on to Millstream Brewery but my little lady was pretty wiped out from all of the fun she had at the water park and at Edelstein. And I, already being Parent of the Year (for wanting to bring my kid to a brewery), forgot to bring along her stroller. So, we loaded up and said good-bye to Amana.