Branson, Missouri – August 1-5, 2009

Day 1 (August 1st):
I left the house at 8 am in some terrible rain and drove to Branson. I got there after two stops after 4:30 pm. Britney had already arrived from Minnesota (over a 10 hour drive). The scenery was amazing after I left Texas, but Missouri is VERY hilly. I got motion sickness even though I drove.

As a side note, I saw that I was approaching the intersection of 69 and 40 in Oklahoma. It dawned on me that I was approaching Checotah, Oklahoma. While driving through Checotah (home of Carrie Underwood), I played the song referencing the town. It was a neat distraction from the numbness my extremities were experiencing.

Britney and I relaxed at our hotel a bit (the Boxcar Willie Inn) before heading out for a bit of shopping and dinner at the Hard Luck Café. We didn’t realize that all of the waitstaff at this restaurant alternate singing to the customers throughout the night before we went. We were so pleasantly surprised to find this out. Good food, good service, and great entertainment. It was amazingly neat to find ourselves getting serenaded by Jason Yeager who was an American Idol finalist. He even flirted with me, though I was too naïve to realize it at the time.

Day 2 (August 2, 2009)
We get free breakfast at the hotel, so we were up and got something to eat early so we could hit the road. There were many cool places awaiting, so even though the hotel has a pretty impressive assortment of breakfast items, we just grabbed pastries.

Our first stop was the Talking Rocks Caverns for a cool tour of natural caverns and a light show. 

We followed that up with a trip to <gasp> Wal-Mart. (Britney forgot to pack a toothbrush and didn’t want to continue using Colgate Wisps as her toothbrush.) It was then off to an Interactive Aquarium and Zoo where we saw many cool animals – lions, tigers, and bears (oh my), otters, kangaroo, lemur, hyena, llama, goats, fish, sharks, and many other reptiles and wolves and a leopard and a panther and you get the point.

After the aquarium/zoo, we went to Inspiration Point (a tall building in Branson) for an amazing view. Then it was off to Shorty Small’s for lunch. We had a coupon for a free appetizer. The burger I had was the best burger I’ve ever eaten. Seriously. I wound up taking the burger off of the bun and just eating the meat since it had the most amazing flavor to it. We then did a bit of shopping before heading back to the hotel.

Our show this evening was the Haygoods. It’s a family of incredible musicians. They are funny and entertaining; they sing, play a multitude of instruments, joke around, do backflips off of pianos, and dance. There are 7 brothers and a sister. Some of the instruments we saw them play were: guitar, bass, piano, harp, violin, Irish flute/recorder, accordion, fiddle, saxophone, and some more that I know I’m missing. EXCELLENT!!! And we had front row center seats.

It was then off to Cakes and Creams 50s diner for the most wonderful funnel cakes known to man. Imagine this: huge funnel cake topped with chocolate fudge sauce, whipped cream, ice cream, and a cherry on top. Scrumptious!

I waddled into my hotel room and am now ready to face another day.

Day 3 (August 3, 2009)
We grabbed another free breakfast from the hotel before heading to the Titanic Museum. The Titanic Branson is a permanent two-story museum attraction shaped like the Titanic with many artifacts, movie memorabilia, and interactive exhibits inside (touch an iceberg, learn Morse code, walk the grand staircase, hypothermia pool, and etc…). We purchased the audio tour for $2.50 a piece, and it was really worth it. We were given a “boarding pass” of a real person who was on the Titanic at the start of our journey. It told us snippets about who they were. At the end of the tour you are supposed to find out whether or not your person was one of the relatively few survivors of that dreadful night. My lady, Lillian Mae Thorpe Minahan – a first class passenger, did survive. This museum was really interesting, and I’m quite glad we went. I’m just sad that we weren’t allowed to take photos inside.

After the Titanic Museum, we went to a craft mall for a few hours of local vendor shopping. Britney picked up a lot of stuff. I got something for Terri for Christmas. Then it was back to Shorty Small’s for lunch/dinner.

We headed to the Butterfly Palace to see a 15 minute 3D movie about bugs and see the interactive butterfly rooms. This was really neat. I just think butterflies are gorgeous, so I found it fascinating. We headed back to the hotel afterwards for a 30 minute nap before getting ready for our show.

The show we saw this evening was called SIX. SIX is actually the best ranked show on It is a group of the six oldest brothers from a family of ten sons. They sing, make music with their mouths, and are really funny. The show was really entertaining.

We finished up the evening with some amazing Andy’s Frozen Custard before heading back to the hotel. Another fun day in Branson!

Day 4 (August 4, 2009)
We decided to change breakfast up a bit today and grabbed bakery yummies. I had banana bread and Britney had a blueberry muffin. After breakfast, we headed to The World’s Largest Toy Museum. This museum had some amazing old toys and advertisements. It was really nostalgic. Fun times.

That's right...President Action Figures.  Move over X-Men.

I want to play Davy Crockett and the Alamo.

Skitler got a ride.

We headed to downtown historic Branson after the Toy Museum for some shopping. We hit Dick’s Old 5 and 10, which was much more expensive than a nickel and a dime. We also hit a few retro toy and candy stores. We had lunch at The Shack (a café). We then hit Branson Landing, the Amish Country Store, Branson Mills, and a few other areas for shopping before heading back to the hotel to get ready for Dixie Stampede.

The Dixie Stampede didn’t really allow photography, so I only got a few pictures snuck in – and those weren’t very good. The show is really neat. We had front row center seats and saw an incredible show. The meal was good. We got a preshow beverage in a boot souvenir mug. We later got our choice of tea or Pepsi – free refills. We got a cheese biscuit, vegetable soup, an entire rotisserie chicken, pork loin, corn on the cob, potato, and an apple turnover. Tasty. It was served while we were regaled with a crazy, hard to explain show. There were horses and horsemen/women. There were longhorns, piglets, Shetland ponies, and comedy. It was really good. The costumes were amazing.

We went to Andy’s Frozen Custard again afterward and both got concretes (similar to blizzards).

Seriously good times (except for the blasted heat).

Day 5 (August 5, 2009)
Britney and I woke up and packed up the cars.  We had a buy one – get one half off coupon for the Hollywood Wax Museum in Branson, so we decided to go before heading back to our respective states.

We had a lot of fun at the Wax Museum.  They’ve made it pretty interactive, as you can tell from some of the photos.  They also had factoids at each display about the actor/actress or movie.  Pretty spiffy stuff.

Britney and I then ate lunch at the Uptown Café before heading out.  On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from noon – 2pm, they broadcast Radio Branson live from this diner.  Britney and I were interviewed for the radio.  They asked about us and how we spent our time in Branson.  It isn’t every day you can say you were on the radio, so that was pretty cool.

Britney and I headed opposite directions to take the long drive home.  I stopped to take a few photos of road signs (i.e. Checotah) and got home at 8:45pm.

Circumnavigating Lake Erie - June/July 2009

Circumnavigating Lake Erie - June/July 2009

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Kris and I woke early for our 11 am flight from DFW to Buffalo. We had a layover in DC and a thirty minute delay to Buffalo. It was a bad day for me. I got really queasy in the bus ride to the terminal, and there was a lot of turbulence throughout the flights due to weather. We made it without an accident.

We rented a car from Alamo who tried to hose us. She swore that we needed to get liability insurance from them at $13 a day or they would not allow us to cross the border into Canada. We fell for it for a moment, since she showed the specific insurance card the Canadian border officials would be looking for, but I called Amica and got them to email the cards to us within 10 minutes. They have amazing customer service.

The car we received was really nice though. We got a black 2010 Hyundai Sonata with 810 miles on it for our trip. We will have many more miles on the car before our trip is through. We went to our hotel for the evening. (Kris wound up liking this car so much, he bought one as his next vehicle.)

I found the Salvatore’s Garden Place Hotel in Buffalo through Orbitz, and it is really a charmingly unique place. There are sculptures, a salt-water aquarium, and unique décor. The photos won’t do it justice. Really charming place! We ate dinner at Just Pizza, a neighborhood pizza joint that’s won awards. I got a salami sub…Just Pizza my booty.

Terri and Adam were really delayed…hours. They didn’t get in until after 2am.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Considering how late it was when Terri and Adam got in, we got up fairly early this morning. We grabbed breakfast from the hotel and took a few photos before heading out.

It was unfortunately a bit rainy whenever we headed out, and we would experience patches of torrential downpour to patches free of rain on our drive.

We left Buffalo and New York and headed into Pennsylvania. We stopped at the rest stop for a short bit for bathroom breaks and to wait out some harder rain. The drive continued on until we got to Erie, PA. At Erie, we had lunch at Tim Horton’s. Tim Horton’s are a huge chain up north and is quite a tasty place. They have donuts, but they also had soup and sandwiches. We all enjoyed it. 

Thanks to the rain, we felt as though it was important to pick us a jacket for Terri and supplies for the trip. We also grabbed those items in Erie before heading to our hotel in Cleveland, OH. The hotel in Cleveland was quite nice. It was the Hyatt Place in Independence/Cleveland. 

After dropping all of our stuff off, we drove to visit my Grandma and Grandpa Yager in Mentor, OH. 

We visited for a few hours before meeting up with my Uncle Les, Aunt Cindy, and cousins Becky and Carissa at a neat restaurant called the Winking Lizard. They had a large iguana at the restaurant, which was quite a neat thing to see. 

After dinner, we said goodbye to my grandparents and headed to Eastlake to my uncle’s house. We chatted for a few hours, and they provided us with some yummy cake. It was really nice to see my family, and I thought it ended too soon. We headed back to the hotel and made it back about 11pm.

We drove through three states, and I saw family I hadn’t seen in 8 years. Quite an eventful day, all in all.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The hotel provided a small continental breakfast, which sufficiently fortified us for our trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

We were in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for quite a few hours. Afterward, we tried to hang out downtown but could not find parking. 

We did get to go to the Westside Market for pears and bananas. It is a wonderful farmer’s market hosted in a building provided by the city. We were starving, so we were lucky to find Max and Erma’s for a wonderful lunch. 

After finishing our burgers, we headed to Malley’s Chocolate Factory. We were going to take a chocolate tour, but it turned out that the tour is closed for the summer. We were disappointed, but bought lots of chocolate anyway including: Nutmallow Chunks in dark and milk chocolate, milk and dark chocolate Pretzel Crunch Bars, a Pronk Bar, and Bordeaux Chocolates (English toffee drenched in milk chocolate and rolled in chopped almonds). Terri and Adam got their own chocolate treats before we headed to Sandusky.

When we arrived in Sandusky, we checked in at Maples Motel. I did most of my trip research on All of the hotels were highly ranked for one reason or another. Salvatores Garden Hotel for its unique décor, Hyatt Place for its large room and nice amenities, and the Maples Motel was highly ranked for being a good value. This motel is an old family-run establishment. The rooms are quite old and lack too many modern amenities. However, they were clean and safe, and, best of all, cheap. When I checked in, I noticed they had postcards of a drawing of their motel at the desk. I asked how much and GASP – free postcards! 

The older lady who lives there heard me say that I am a postcard freak, and she pulled out their old postcards. The vintage postcards were pretty cool – you have to see the back and the phone number they had at the time. It says, “Dial Sandusky MA. 6-1575”. 

After checking in, we went to downtown Sandusky. We walked the marina and the historic waterfront which used to be part of the Underground Railroad. 

The breeze felt nice, although it was a bit chilly. We stopped in a great little bookstore that had all sorts of vintage items. It had some Highlights magazines from the 1960s to the 1990s, lots of old Little Golden Books, tons of books in general, and some old textbooks. Kris found me a computer textbook from 1980 that I plan to use in the classroom. It has so many amazingly interesting photos of things like punchcard machines, mainframes, mini-computers, the ENIAC, etc. He also found me a book on business spelling from way back when and a book that would have been used like a calculator from the early 1900s. We purchased them all for my classroom. So cool. Terri even found a book she wants to read. Adam had already seen all of their magazines.

It was pretty late when we got finished at the bookstore, so we headed out to find some dinner. We decided to eat at Bob Evans for dinner, which was another northern chain. The meal was quite tasty and quite affordable. We all really enjoyed our meals. They had cool things like fried baked potato bites and apple fries. Then we headed back to the Maples Motel knowing we had an early morning. Unfortunately, the motel was really close to the train tracks, so it wasn’t the best sleep.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Since we were going to go to an amusement park, we were up early Friday. The motel offered free donuts, which some ate, but I chose to eat a breakfast bar and banana for breakfast. I actually woke up feeling really dizzy, so I worried this was going to be a bad day. We were able to get to Cedar Point Amusement Park by 9:30am. The park didn’t actually open until 10, but we were there from 9:30 am – 6:30 pm. 

The plan was to meet up with my cousin, Becky, and her friend, Emily. After we went on a coaster called the Mantis, they found us. We headed over to a wonderful coaster called the Maverick, which won an award for the best new coaster in 2007. After the Maverick, we went to another coaster called the Millennium Force. Kris and I had seen this coaster featured on the Travel Channel. They featured groundbreaking technology on this coaster. It has an incredibly large first drop, but they don’t use the traditional chain system to pull the roller coaster up. Instead, they use a cable pulley system (like they use to pull elevators up) which offers a seamless, quick journey upward. It is fantastic. After the Millennium lets you go, there is still another minute and fifteen seconds to the awesome coaster. It’s crazy good. We’d really spent a good amount of time in line waiting for these awesome coasters, so we were all pretty hungry for lunch. Becky and Emily were smart and brought Subway with them. They went to their car to pick it up while we all went and ate burgers. The burgers were so greasy that I felt sick for a while after this. Kris, Terri, and Adam wound up having to ride some coasters without me. Becky and Emily went and rode on some water rides.

Coasters after lunch: Corkscrew, Magnum, Gemini (wooden coaster, Terri sat out too), Power Tower (Terri sat out too and we got some frozen lemonade), Wicked Twister (which I also rode), Blue Streak (wooden coaster), and Raptor (which I also rode). We said goodbye to Becky and Emily at this point and Terri and Adam got funnel cake for the road. 

Cedar Point was an extremely clean park. There were many employees and the park seemed extremely safe and nice. It is well taken care of and updated often. One of the nicest amusement parks I have ever visited. 

At 6:30pm, we headed to Toledo for Tony Packo’s famous Hungarian hot dogs and the bun museum. 

Kris had the mother of all dogs – seriously…that was even its name. 

We saw hot dog buns encased in frames signed by tons of celebrities. Some of the more notable were: Steven Perry from Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, three of the members of the Monkees, Nancy Reagan, Mr. T, Jerry Seinfeld, Carrot Top, and some crooked politicians. 

We drove through Michigan, saw some of Detroit, went on the bridge to Canada (truly easy to feel turned around) to customs and then drove to Windsor, Canada (after confusing the customs guard) to check in to our hotel, the Windsor Comfort Inn. 

I watched I Am Sam before bed. Customs (by the way) did NOT ask us for any insurance forms. They wanted our passports and our story. They asked what we were bringing into the country, but they did not check the car even though they thought us strange. They did not want insurance forms. The stupid lady at Alamo was seriously lying. All I can say is karma.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thinking check-out wasn’t until noon, Terri let us all sleep late. While I was in the shower, we got a call from the front desk stating we should have already checked out. Oops. We all had bananas for breakfast and headed out to find the Odette Sculpture Park to see some neat sculptures I’d seen advertised in a local tourism magazine. 

Unfortunately, we mistaked Windsor’s Historic Waterfront for the sculpture park and spent an hour or more walking it. We saw a few sculptures here and there and had a great view of Detroit, but no Dancing Bear. We got back into the car and finally found the Odette Sculpture Park. We walked the park, seeing some cool sculptures (including the dancing bear), before heading to the Golden Griddle for lunch.

After sampling the local flavor the Golden Griddle had to offer, we drove to Leamington, ON to see Point Pelee National Park. We stopped in Leamington on the way at a local waterfront craft fair, which was pretty neat. After that small detour, we continued on our way to Point Pelee National Park.

At the park, we saw lots of trees and nature, and we stopped to view a restored log cabin built in 1850. When going back to the car, we got attacked by giant flies which looked like they were a cross between a horsefly and a bee – no joke. They swarmed around the car. We postulate that they were attracted to the warmth. One landed on the window, and we saw its body pulsating. It was gross.

We kept heading south and arrived at the visitor center and gift shop where we got on the shuttle to the point. They take you to an area where it is only a quarter mile walk to the southern-most point of mainland Canada, however much of that walk is on loose sand. We walked to the point, got some good photos, saw a skeleton of a fish that had been there a while (we were previously warned not to touch it due to the dangers of avian flu), and headed back to catch the shuttle back to the car. It was a neat park, but I could do without the killer fly-bees. I hate flying death monkeys.

During the drive we’ve really seen some neat signs and scenery. They have one in Windsor that was nothing more than an arrow pointing with a question mark under it. They have signs that say, “Tailgating Kills…Leave some space,” and “Fatigue Kills…Take a break.”

We left Point Pelee National Park at 6pm ready to head to Toronto. Estimated drive time according to the Nuvi = 4 hours assuming no stops. It’ll be a late night. 

Photo courtesy of Adam
Fortification for the trip

Sunday, July 5, 2009

It did take a while for us to get to the hotel. The hotel, which was only four months old, oversold our room type, and Terri and Adam and Kris and I each got our own rooms with whirlpool/Jacuzzi tubs. That was a nice mess up. They took forever to check us in though, and we had to use their valet service. The sucky part...we had to get our car by check out from we had to pay $35 for about 10 hours of parking. We had to wake up and notify valet we wanted our car (which took 30 minutes to retrieve). Then we were off.

We finally found parking, and we went exploring Toronto. We did a lot of walking, ate, saw a lot of inappropriateness (like porn stores next to children’s toy stores), went to Adam and Eve Chocolatier, and strolled through the "fun" district.

Terri and I went to the Bata Shoe Museum while Kris and Adam went to a movie.

This is where the car was broken into during our trip. I hate Toronto. Luckily my laptop was recovered. A scruffy-looking man walking into a pawn shop with a coordinating laptop bag with pink Dell mini, pink passport, and pink mouse threw up flags. We got it months later after paying almost $100 to get it shipped back. The window cost a few hundred to repair too.  Luckily, our passports weren't taken and none of our luggage was taken either.  The alarm went off when he opened the car door, so we think he got scared.  He got our GPS and my backpack, which was crammed into the front seat of the car due to lack of room in the trunk.  He didn't get anything in the trunk.

I was so upset, I stopped writing here.  Years later, I'm going to try to finish the trip write-up.  It's a shame too...Niagara Falls was awesome!  I hope I can give it a bit of justice.

After reporting the break-in and contacting the car rental company, we waited a while for a replacement car.  We were really lucky to get one, because the car rental companies have a policy about only renting American cars to American citizens in Canada.  We drove to Niagara Falls (Canada side) to check into our hotel, the Sheraton Niagara Falls.  We did stop for a bit more fortification by means of candy bar.

The lady at the front desk felt bad for me (since I was near tears while checking in) and wound up giving us free parking for our stay.  She thought we deserved a bit of a break.  It was really nice of her.

Monday, July 6, 2009

We purchased a Niagara Falls pass that we needed to pick up.  Near the pick up location was the wax museum, which was included free with our pass.  It was fun.

We also got to go to the Niagara Falls Museum.

We then headed to the town Niagara on the Falls for a ride on the Whirlpool Jet Boats.  The town was so pretty.  We explored it a bit while waiting for our departure time.

Then we geared up for our trip down the river.

Trips like these make me glad I have my Canon PowerShot D10 Waterproof Camera.

Driving back, we had to stop at Souvenir City (reported to be the biggest gift shop in Niagara Falls).

Terri really let loose this trip!
We went to see Niagara Falls lit up that night and went to a Ripley's Believe It Or Not since it was also on our card.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

We made a quick stop to the Niagara Aquarium before heading to the Maid of the Mist on the New York side. 

(I highly recommend Maid of the Mist on the New York side and not the Canada side.  It's the same ride, but it's half the crowd!)  You should also walk the stairs afterward, and you have to do that on the New York side.

After drying off, we went to the Como Family Restaurant (New York side and close to Niagara Falls) for a super tasty dinner.  Thanks to Tom for this recommendation.

Terri got a bit of gambling in at the hotel before bed.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Also included in our Niagara Falls pass were tickets to the Bird Kingdom, A Tropical Adventure.  It was really nice.

We'd all enjoyed the Como Family Restaurant so much, we hit it again for lunch before heading back to the airport.  Great food, huge plates, small prices!

If it weren't for Toronto, this would have been a phenomenal trip.  Instead, it was mostly great.