Impromptu Iowa and Amana Colonies

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.

If your travels bring you across central Iowa, do stop at the Amana Colonies and enjoy a trip back in time. Even if you expect not to enjoy it, you probably will.

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34 Responses to Impromptu Iowa and Amana Colonies

  1. Sarah Tarnowski July 9, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    Thank you for such a great review! We do hope that you visit again and have more time to explore what each village has to offer. Happy Trails!
    Sarah Tarnowski
    Amana Colonies Convention & Visitors Bureau

  2. Francesca July 9, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    I do hope to return to Amana Colonies, Sarah. Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

  3. mrsoaroundtheworld July 10, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    You were saying that Iowa wasn’t exciting? I love these small little places 🙂 thanks for sharing!

    • Francesca July 10, 2012 at 8:03 am #

      Well, you know, it might not be exciting to everyone 🙂

  4. Crystal Lewis July 10, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    The pictures make it look like such a relaxing and inviting place to be. I love the last one, the flag with the red bike against the brick wall. Wonderful!!

    • Francesca July 10, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

      Hi, Crystal! Thanks for stopping by and for the kind comments. Our time at Amana Colonies was relaxing; it probably would have been more so if Mom (me!) had remembered my daughter’s stroller. Doh! We had a gorgeous, sunny day and pretty much the streets and all the shops to ourselves. The last picture, the one you mention, is my favorite, too 🙂

  5. Tawny- Captain and Clark July 10, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    Looks like a great stop to the Amana Colonies. We would love to explore this place sometime. Your pictures are incredible. 🙂

    • Francesca July 10, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

      If you ever find yourself driving across Iowa, I do recommend a stop at Amana Colonies. Thanks for the compliment on my photos!

  6. Italian Notes July 11, 2012 at 4:21 am #

    What a great introduction to Iowa. Sounds like the perfect place for an enjoyable family outing.

    • Francesca July 12, 2012 at 11:07 am #

      Thanks for stopping by & commenting! I’m happy that your introduction to Iowa was positive, and I agree – it was a perfect place for an enjoyable family adventure.

  7. Leah Travels (@L_e_a_h) July 11, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    My cousin left Texas for Iowa many moons ago. She’s since moved back, but loved everything (except the winters) about the Hawkeye State. I’m of the opinion, don’t knock it until you tried it. Maybe I’ll make it to Iowa one day, and if so, I hope it looks like your beautiful pictures.

    • Francesca July 12, 2012 at 11:13 am #

      Thanks, Leah! I’m in total agreement with your “don’t knock it until you try it” belief. I also enjoy going places that people turn up their nose to, like Iowa. Wanna know what else is on my list? North Dakota!

  8. john July 11, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    I think there is a lot to be discovered in the states that others may forget about in the Midwest or Great Plains. I’ve found wonderful things to do, places to eat, and some beautiful landscapes in these states and they definitely deserve more coverage!

    • Francesca July 12, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      Amen, John! I think I’ve unintentionally taken up the cause of covering the Midwest/Great Plains, writing about these regions so much lately. Hopefully it’ll result in more visitors.

  9. Raul (@ilivetotravel) July 11, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    1. Lucia is a cutie! 2. I love driving the rural areas of the Midwest – it triggers something in the senses to see the land extend out to the horizon. 3. I imagine Amana is a neat place; it brings to mind New Harmony in the southern tip of Indiana – places you don’t expect to find that introduce you to a group of people who lived their lives differently and have become very charming to discover. 4. You are a supermom, even if you wanted to go to the brewery visit – you took her first to a place SHE would like!

    • Francesca July 12, 2012 at 11:18 am #

      THANK YOU! No one has ever called me “a supermom” before. That’s the best compliment ever!

      More than a decade ago, as I was road-tripping across the USA, a friend and I came up with the idea of writing a book, focusing on small-town America: unique and quirky places, history, etc. I wish we hadn’t given up on that project. Guess I’m trying to make up for it now 🙂

  10. lola July 11, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

    i think you are parent of the year!! you know the pilgrims kids drank beer all the time 😉 love that last picture with the red bicycle – gorgeous!!

    • Francesca July 12, 2012 at 11:20 am #

      Aww, Lola, thank you! I did not know that about the Pilgrims’ kids; for some reason that was left out of our history books. My Lucia LOVES wine. We let her taste some last year when we were in Italy (we had to, right?) and she’s been hooked ever since. Hubs & I can’t have wine in front of her without her begging to have some. See, I’m Parent of the Year!

  11. jade July 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    Love that last photo- and I totally know what you mean for places you didn’t expect being great turning out to be favorites! I have so many smaller towns or even big countries that I didn’t expect to be that interesting, turing out to be my favorite!

    • Francesca July 12, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

      Thanks so much, Jade! It’s not only small towns that surprise us, you’re right. In fact, I was so dead set against going to Venice, Italy, but my sister talked me into it. We ended up going and I absolutely fell in love with the city! That’s when I learned to give every place a chance.

  12. Travel_Iowa (@Travel_Iowa) July 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    What a wonderful adventure and such beautiful photographs! Thanks so much for visiting Iowa and so happy to hear that the trip was a success and that you “thoroughly enjoyed” yourselves! Hope to see you back in Iowa soon!

    • Francesca July 12, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

      We’d love to come back to visit! It’d been a long time since I’d been to or through Iowa. This trip reminded me just how peaceful and simple – and therefore, happy – life can be. Thanks for stopping by and for the kind comments!

  13. iatraveler (@iatraveler) July 12, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet IRL while you were here, but I’m so glad you had a good time! (We got a Groupon for the waterpark hotel that I plan to use this winter). And the Amana Colonies? Love them! One of our favorite places to visit. You should have made it to the brewery, though. The best root beer EVER.

    • Francesca July 12, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

      JODY! I am so sorry we didn’t meet up, too. I could not get my kid out of that water park! I hope you and your girls enjoy it as much as we did when you use your Groupon. We’ll have to make a return trip so we can meet IRL, so I can check out Des Moines, and so I can get to Millstream Brewery!

  14. the lazy travelers July 12, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    we haven’t explored much (ok, any) of the midwest, but iowa looks so quaint and relaxing!!

    • Francesca July 12, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

      Then get your lazy butts out here!

  15. D.J. - The World of Deej July 15, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    Sometimes the most fun experiences are in places you’d least expect… Not to mention free wi-fi is a must for any hotel I visit these days!

    • Francesca July 16, 2012 at 10:53 am #

      I’m with ya on the wifi, Deej. It’s been my experience that the “nicer” a place is, it’s less likely to have free wifi. Another reason I continue to go the budget route.

  16. Pola (@jettingaround) July 16, 2012 at 12:18 am #

    Another proof that there are interesting things to do and see in the Midwest. I love those getaway deals! And I can relate to your desire to go just about anywhere when you have some time to spare. 🙂

    • Francesca July 16, 2012 at 10:59 am #

      That’s right, Pola. Midwest represent!

  17. craig zabransky (@StayAdventurous) July 16, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    I love it. How can you go wrong with a huge pool and a pirate ship… that is America and so is your last image. Love the bike and the flag.
    Someday I’ll get to Iowa… it’s one of my 8 remaining states and now I know who to ask for advice on the finer things in middle America…
    stay adventurous, Craig

    • Francesca July 18, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

      Thank you, Craig. I thought the same when I spotted that bike against the brick wall under the flag. I thought, Now this is a slice of Americana. Only 8 states left for you to visit?! Impressive! Let me know when you do come to the Midwest… I’ll show you around 🙂

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