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Announcing Theme Park Insider's 2009 Summer Roadtrip

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Published: May 18, 2009 at 9:30 PM

I'm going on a roadtrip.

This summer, my family's loading up the Prius for an epic, 33-day trip across the country and back. Of course, we'll be visiting several theme parks along the way.

I've long believed that planning a trip can be just as fun as taking it, and I'm deep into the planning process now. An atlas lies on my nightstand, and I've used both it and Google Maps to plot the best routes to each of the nightly destinations we've planned. We'll be staying with family and friends most of the evenings during the trip, with 12 hotel nights mixed in.

My latest obsession has been trying to find good places to eat along the way. By good places, I'm trying for reasonably-priced, locally-owned and operated casual restaurants that serve locally-grown food from independent farmers and bakers. I'm trying to show my kids their country, and I'd like to show them at least a few places that are not the same old chains, or allegedly "mom and pop" joints that actually get their food off the same Sysco truck as a million other restaurants.

The best example I've found so far is Local Burger in Lawrence, Kansas, where we'll be eating for dinner on the fourth night of our trip. (We're starting in mid-July.) If anyone has any other, similar suggestions, lemme know.

The route? We'll be taking I-15 up from Los Angeles to Utah, where we'll hop on I-70. After a day in Denver, we'll proceed on I-70 to St. Louis, where we'll switch to I-64. After a detour up to Bloomington in Indiana, where Laurie and I met at IU, we'll be in Cincinnati for a week.

From there, it's back up to I-70 and over to Washington, D.C. for a long weekend. We'll then drive down to Williamsburg, Virginia for several days, then make our way to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee via I-85 and I-40, with a stop in Durham, North Carolina. We're planning taking the coastal route from the Smokies, I-26 to I-95, our on way down to Florida, where we'll spend another week in Orlando.

Finally, we'll drive up to the 10, which we will take west back across the country, with stops in New Orleans, Austin, Texas and southern New Mexico.

The theme parks we'll be visiting? Holiday World in southern Indiana, Kings Island outside Cincinnati, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Dollywood, SeaWorld Orlando and the two Universal Orlando parks. (Both the kids will have done their birthdays at Disneyland in the three weeks before our trip, so we're not feeling a huge need to add Disney World into the trip. But who knows? Schedules change.)

I will file photo-filled trip reports from each of the parks we visit, along with blog posts from several other interesting sites we find along the way.

Here's what I'd love to hear from you, Theme Park Insider readers. First, those restaurant suggestions. Next, touring plans for the four non-Orlando parks we'll be visiting. What are the can't miss rides and restaurants in each? And in which order should we see them? What are the best places to stay in or around these parks?

And finally, what stories and features would you like to read from each of these parks? (Including the Orlando ones.) I know that a lot of folks won't be in the position this summer to take the vacation they'd like to take, so I want to do what we can to tell some great stories that help folks see, hear and experience some of the sights that they might be missing.

And, yes, I recognize that we're insane for planning this. But it's gonna be fun. And I'm going to enjoy using the Blog Flume to help bring TPI readers along for the ride.

Readers' Opinions

From Jill Harrington on May 19, 2009 at 2:37 AM
Although you won't be in my 'neck of the woods', I thought I'd share a tip we use when traveling for food options. We always try to avoid 'chain' restaurants when traveling, opting for sampling the local flavor wherever we're at. Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri (both of Food Network fame) both have traveled pretty extensively for their Food Network shows, and most of that is documented either on independent websites or on the Food Network site. We use that quite often to find small, out of the way, diners or other eating places we might not otherwise find.

Also, I use the Chowhound boards extensively as well - they are most helpful in larger metro areas (like DC), but you can probably find help with any area across the country on those boards as well.

I'm very jealous of your road trip - hope to make something similar myself someday, as soon as I can figure out how to make enough money whilst traveling to keep up with my expenditures on the road! Have a blast!

From James Rao on May 19, 2009 at 4:13 AM
Okay, if you are going to stop in Lawrence, KS, then you need to eat at Yello Sub. It is somewhat of a local chain nowadays (called Planet Sub in Missouri), but the original restaurant is in Lawrence. I would recommend (for a family of four) getting four "half subs" as follows: 1) Yello Sub, 2) Dagwood's Dream, 3) Creamy Club, and 4) Hoagie. Cut them all into fourths and share equally (if you are really hungry, make the Yello Sub a "full sub" instead). I also like their BLT as they put about a pound of bacon into the sandwich. Afterward, stop at Sylas and Maddy's Homemade Ice Cream (1014 Massachusetts St, Lawrence, KS 66044) and pick a dessert from one of 130 rotating flavors of homemade ice cream.

If you decide to skip Lawrence, you can head straight into downtown Kansas City (Missouri side) and travel to the Power & Light district. There you can visit either McFadden's (get the Cali BLT) or Raglan Road (one of only two in the US - get Fish and Chips). If you make it to Power & Light, give me a call and I will be glad to meet you for lunch. ;) If you are interested in some excellent Kansas City BBQ, let me know, I can recommend several amazing places.

There isn't much around Holiday World (the area is slowly building up) and if you are not going to visit the water park side of HW (rated as one of the top water parks in the nation), then you can finish in a half day (check out my comments in this thread for a touring plan). Just make sure to ride The Raven, The Legend, The Voyage, and Pilgrims Plunge. Everything else is fairly standard midway fare. Oh, and drink plenty of free soda. As for eating in the park, I don't remember anything that stood out, it was pretty average grub. If you are planning to stay overnight in Santa Clause, then stay in Jasper as there are more options. I stayed at the Baymont right near HW, and while the place was nice, there is little or nothing to do (and only a Denny's nearby) other than go to the park.

When in Williamsburg, splurge and eat at The Whaling Company. It is not far from the park and offers great food and atmosphere. Check out this thread for a discussion of restaurants near BGW. And this one for BGW touring plan suggestions.

Been a few years since I have been into Washington DC proper, but whenever I visit, I try to stop at Union Station and go to America. The food is excellent, and someone in your family must try A Trio of Classic Roadside Sliders. These mini burgers are AMAZING.

It has been a while since I last passed through Pigeon Forge, so I leave it to others to help there, although there is an old thread where I provided a still-relevant DW touring plan if you are interested.

And when you get to Orlando, well, there are plenty of choices, but if you did not eat at Raglan Road in Kansas City, make sure to eat at the Downtown Disney location.

And avoid the T-Rex Cafe at all costs (the one we have here in Kansas was the first in the nation - imagine that). Feel free to explore the attached store and view the cool animatronics and theming, but don't waste your money on the Rainforest Cafe-caliber food.

That's all I have for now....

Have a great trip!

From Anthony Murphy on May 19, 2009 at 5:17 AM
Any reason why you picked those theme parks outside of Orlando?

And as you know, Disneyland and Disney World are not that same thing :)

But a man can only do so much!

From Don Neal on May 19, 2009 at 5:34 AM
James pretty much wrapped up the Holiday World area so I'll move on to Cincy.

A couple of local favorites and chains:
- Skyline or Gold Star Chili: Cincy Style chili, coney's, etc
- Montgomery Inn: Award winning ribs, and lots of other great food. Several locations through out Cincy.
- Don't miss the Cincy Zoo if you have time.

Enjoy your trip!!

From 71.0.67.25 on May 19, 2009 at 6:07 AM
When in Orlando, check out Gatorland in Kissimmee. As the Travel Channel says, it's one of the best 1/2 day attractions in the area. The prices are reasonable and it appeals to ALL age groups. When we travel to Orlando (8-10 weekends a year) we book our hotel on www.hotwire.com I've always saved money and got a great property. Be sure to book at least a 3 star hotel in the International Drive area. Also if you have time, try to take a day and go to the Kennedy Space Center, it's only an hour away and is well worth the trip.
Hope this helps
Ken
From 143.166.255.61 on May 19, 2009 at 6:12 AM
Pancake Panty in Gatlinburg Tn, it's a short drive from Pigeon Forge but it's worth the trip. 628 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN‎ - (865) 436-4724‎. You will have to get there early because the line gets nuts mid morning.
From Michael Barkdoll on May 19, 2009 at 6:23 AM
I will second that you cannot miss Whaling Company in Williamsburg. My family and I always make time for dinner at Whaling Company when in Williamsburg.
From 67.219.87.194 on May 19, 2009 at 9:15 AM
About an hour away from Holiday World in Montgomery Indiana right off US 50 is an Amish settlement that has the BEST restaurant and food. Locally made byt the Amish, it is definitely worth the trip since you will be in the area. It is Gasthof Village Restaurant and Bakery, and they have a buffet open daily. Their website is www.gasthofamishvillage.com. We live in Indianapolis and make it a point to go there whenever we go to Holiday World. It is a little out of the way (about an hour from the park) but SOOOOOOO worth it. I hope you can fit it into your schedule!
From Nick Markham on May 19, 2009 at 6:50 AM
When you pass through Utah, you absolutly need to stop by Lagoon (Farmington, Utah)! It holds eight amazing coasters including a woodie (called Roller Coaster, and is very fun and classic), a wild mouse, a Jet Star, a Mauerer Sohone Spinning Coaster, an almost exact copy of Laser from Dorney Park (except with two loops), a Vekoma Suspended kiddie coaster, and It's Big... It's Fast... It's Wicked!, a 110 foot, 55 mph, unique launching tower coaster built by Zierer. This park is right along Hersheypark as far as family owned (or non Disney, Universal, or Six Flags) parks go. Many other great rides, and I even happened to interview the head engineer, who actually worked as the main engineer for Arrow, working on many rides including Splash Mountain, Jaws, King Kong, Magnum XL-200, Eagles Fortress, and basicly every other Arrow coaster through 80's and 90's (like Drachen Fire, among others). So Lagoon is definitely a park to go out of your way for, and at least try to stop by Maddox Family Restraunt, which has chicken arguably better than Knotts, but only if you pass by Brigham City (look it up)!
From 159.53.78.144 on May 19, 2009 at 6:51 AM
If your going to be in Austin, make time for Schlitterbahn! Your going to be so close........
From Ben James on May 19, 2009 at 7:22 AM
Robert,

When you pass through St. Louis there are several restaurants that I would suggest.

Sweetie Pies (Manchester Rd.) great soul-food and featured on Food Network. The employees treat you like family.

Crown Candy Company (St. Louis Ave.)- IMO Best old school diner/local place to eat. The Malts are almost as big as your head. And, I LOVE the BLT there is a ton of bacon on them.

Blueberry Hill (Delmar Blvd.) - great burgers, and fun place to go.

And for dessert... Ted Drewes Frozen Custard is a must. They are on Chippewa.


Robert, on a side note. I work at the Saint Louis Science Center if you want to stop in for a while, I could get you tickets to the Omnimax or any paid venue and take care of your parking.

From 70.105.69.40 on May 19, 2009 at 7:30 AM
We like Holiday World, it is extremely clean, with great ammenities, the free parking, free soda, free sunscreen. The food there is good, and very reasonably priced. Our 8 yr old daughter loves the rollercoasters and Splashing Safari (i guess the little daredevil in her). In Jasper their is a really good German Restraunt (Schnitzbank).

Have fun!!

From Melissa Faulkner on May 19, 2009 at 7:32 AM
While in Pigeon Forge, If you want an excellent pizza hop over to Gatlinburg. There's a tiny restaurant called Best Italian. They make amazing pizza and garlic rolls. All their ingredients are very fresh. They are located in a small plaza called Elks Plaza. Its across the street from the TGI Fridays. Anyone can tell you how to get there.
From Nate Mitchell on May 19, 2009 at 8:00 AM
Last time I was in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area, I ate at a great steakhouse called the Peddler, I cant vouch for its quality nowadays but it was great last time I was there. They have a salad bar and they bring the raw steak right to the table and cut it right in front of you (if youre into that sort of thing!)

While you are in the Cincy area, you must make a stop at EnterTRAINment Junction up in Westchester. It houses the worlds largest model train layout, and even for non-railroad enthusiasts, I must say it is very impressive. I had the opportunity to work on designs for the seasonal attractions they offer there from a funhouse in the summer to a haunted house in the fall to a Christmas show. Very cool place.

If you like barbeque, you should try out some NC style BBQ while youre driving from Durham to TN..Make a stop in Lexington, NC and there will be many a dive to choose from.

There is yet another interesting restaurant in Spartanburg, SC while youre driving down I-26. It is called the Beacon Drive-In...and I must say ordering your food is an experience in itself...VERY greasy, heart-attack-on-a-plate if you will, but fun none the less. All you other Carolinians out there might know the place.

If I can think of anything else I will let you know. Sounds like itll be an awesome trip.

From James Rao on May 19, 2009 at 8:13 AM
The St Louis Science Center is very cool, Robert, so if you get a chance, take Ben up on his offer. And Ben, do you extend this offer to all TPI visitors, or just the royalty among us? =D

Also, the St. Louis Zoo is among the best in the nation, and as it is free (except for parking) you should stop in and see the Penguin Exhibit. It is phenomenal.

From Anthony Murphy on May 19, 2009 at 8:39 AM
Come back to your ol Illinois (ok, you went to Northwestern). We got the Lincoln Park Zoo and Six Flags Great America. Still, its a bit far out of the way for you guys!
From Joshua Counsil on May 19, 2009 at 8:39 AM
If you're starting in late July, I will be in Orlando in late August and would go out of my way to meet you at one of the parks. Fat chance, but still worth a try.
From Derek Potter on May 19, 2009 at 9:01 AM
You can get Montgomery Inn Ribs and Skyline Chili at Kings Island if you don't get them in Cincy...also Graeter's Ice Cream. My recommended places to have an actual meal at Kings Island are the Rivertown Junction Grill (indoor buffet sit down style) by Diamondback, and Festhaus (air conditioned indoor cafe with show) by Delirium. There's also a LaRosas on the right side (from the entrance) of the fountain...highly recommended on a hot day to sit by the fountains, and a good Chinese place on the other side of the fountain. If someone likes fries, I'd go to PotatoWorks. One of the wisest things you could do is visit the park on a weekday. A weekend at Kings Island means lines for everything.

I was at the Cincy Zoo yesterday. Nice place, although there is a bit of construction going on.

A month long cross country trip isn't crazy. I wish I could do it myself. A month long cross country trip in a Prius? Now that my friend is crazy. I'll be around at Kings Island this year, perhaps I'll see you on the midway.

From Robert Niles on May 19, 2009 at 9:32 AM
Thank you, everyone, for those wonderful suggestions.

My wife's family lives in Cincinnati, and my parents are in Orlando (Celebration). So we won't need hotels in those area. (We'll also be staying with friends in Denver, DC, Durham and Austin.)

I'm trying to stay away from the "Roadfood"-type greasy spoons, in favor of healthier local-food places.

It's amazing how short 33 days seems when you start planning a trip like this. We had to cut out James' beloved Worlds of Fun, in Kansas City. We really planned the family destinations first - Cincinnati and Orlando, with the trip to D.C. in the middle. From there, we filled in the theme parks that stood along the way.

Keep the suggestions coming!

From 162.1.2.34 on May 19, 2009 at 9:53 AM
When in Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, if you can in the morning, go to Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg--avoid the other 40-50 pancake house imitators!

If you are there in the evening, the Smoky Mountain Brewery is pretty good, and the Old Mill is a nice family style restaurant, but get there early to avoid waiting in line.

One final thing is the Aquarium of the Smokies. Fantastic place! We prefer to go at about 7pm, when there is no crowd. It's open pretty late, so that gives you plenty of time to see it all.

From Ray Schroeder on May 19, 2009 at 10:00 AM
To find good local places to eat go to foodnetwork.com and check out Diners Driveins and Dives. They visit local places and man, do they look good. Plug in the city you'll be in and see what comes up.
From 67.193.2.6 on May 19, 2009 at 10:05 AM
You can't go to Orlando and miss Walt Disney World...what about Everest, Rock and Roller Coaster, The new version of Space Mountain, etc, etc....
From 72.49.153.47 on May 19, 2009 at 11:02 AM
Cincinnati for a week? Where should I start with Kings Island?

Of course, the opening of Diamondback is going to draw large crowds and throw off the plan that's been working for me for years, so feel free to take my suggestions lightly.

Let's say you were going to spend two days at Kings Island? Leave Diamondback out of the first one -- or if you're only going to be there one day, save Diamondback until the end of the day. You don't really want to be waiting in line when you could be riding other things without lines in the morning!

Here's what I'd suggest:

1) Go right to Rivertown, in the back of the park, and ride The Beast. If you hurry, the line will be short or non-existent. There's also something special about being on that first train on a fresh summer morning.

2) After this, ride Backlot Stunt Coaster (formerly Italian Job). It's close by and usually not worth waiting in a long line for.

3) Next, ride Vortex. Lines in the morning aren't too bad, but they tend to build up by nightfall. You should still be able to get on and off fairly quickly. (Enjoying the ride in between, of course!).

4) After this, duck under the Racer and ride Firehawk. Since it's still fairly new, there might be somewhat of a wait. They don't allow any sort of carry-on item at ALL past the ride entrance, so make sure that you have someone to hold any loose items or quarters for the nearby lockers. The line for Firehawk will vary, depending on whether or not they're running both trains.

5) Since Flight of Fear is right next door, ride that next. If it's sweltering outside, this will provide a nice break. The large room with the queue is a pretty nifty optical illusion -- it took me years to see the obvious!

6) After Flight of Fear, head back out to Coney Mall, through Oktoberfest, and into Action Zone. Ride Delirium -- the line usually doesn't take too long because they take 50 people at a time.

7) Next up is Drop Tower (formerly Drop Zone), right across the pavilion.

8) Head toward Days of Thunder and the adjacent restrooms, and you'll see the entrances for Son of Beast and Flight Deck (formerly Top Gun). Ride Son of Beast.

9) Depending on the crowd, you should probably be able to still almost walk on Flight Deck. It's a short, but fun ride that may turn people away because of the long walk to get to it!

10) Next up is Invertigo (formerly Face/Off). The line tends to go slowly due to the nature of the coaster only allowing one train at a time.

11) By this time, everyone is most likely famished and about to collapse. (= Granted you got there right at the park's opening, lunch would fall somewhere around 8, 9, or 10. The indoor Festhaus and the nearby Stunt Crew Grill are both nice places to eat and take a break.

12) Then, of course, if you're ready for Diamondback, go ahead!

13) Now, I know I skipped quite a few rides that may have been of interest...

If the weather is nice and you're up for getting wet, Congo Falls (Action Zone) and Whitewater Canyon (Rivertown) are always fun.

The Crypt (formerly Tomb Raider) *used* to be fun until they removed all the theming both in the queue and in the ride itself. If you enjoy being flipped in circles in a bare concrete building, go right ahead. ...but I don't think it's worth waiting for.

Adventure Express is a neatly themed little coaster, but for being such a little coaster, it sure is rough! I usually skip this one.

I haven't been on The Racer in years, but if you're at Kings Island I suppose you can't go without riding the classic that ushered in the Second Golden Age of the roller coaster. (= I'd suggest sitting towards the middle of the train because, from what I can remember, the front and back are both really rough.

Scooby Doo's Haunted Castle is great. Don't forget it's there!

Then, of course, be sure to make a quick trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower and take a ride on the train before leaving.

So, thus concludes my two cents about Kings Island. Feel free to take or disregard any of the things I've suggested, for they reflect my personal opinion and probably don't fit everyone. I can't wait to see these pictures! Have fun on the trip.

As for features, I'd love to hear what Kings Island is like in terms of cleanliness, ride selection, etc. compared to other parks. This is the only true amusement park I've been to!

From Amanda Jenkins on May 19, 2009 at 11:04 AM
If you drive through Memphis (which I highly suggest being my hometown) hit up one of our BBQ places. There are some great ones here, Corky's and Tops BBQ are my two favorites and are right off the interstate, for Tops take the Sycamore View Road Exit, for Corky's take Germantown Road South exit. For Pigeon Forge you guys must, MUST go to the Applebarn Restaurant for one of your meals or even snacks. The homemade applebutter, applefritters, and appledoughnuts are to die for. They have great breakfasts and dinners. Plus you overlook a beautiful apple orchard growing along some mountains.
From James Rao on May 19, 2009 at 12:53 PM
James' beloved Worlds of Fun? "Beloved" seems a little strong. It is my local park, yes, but other than Prowler you can get the same rides at any of a number of Cedar Fair/Six Flags parks across the nation. One should support his or her local park just because it is (in most cases) better than no park at all. One should also Support Your Local Sheriff, but that is another topic completely. =) As long as you are hitting The Voyage, Diamondback, Apollo's Chariot, Thunderhead, Mystery Mine, Manta, and RRR, I am satisfied.
From 216.99.65.63 on May 19, 2009 at 11:53 AM
One exit down from Kings Island (take the highway entrance just past the waterpark end of the Kings Island's parking lot) there is a phenomenal local sushi bar named "Kyoto" (website: http://www.kyotosushibar.com/).

My family and I stumbled onto this restaurant a couple years ago at the suggestion of a manager at a chain restaurant where we ate, and ever since then it has been a must-hit every time we've gone to Kings Island (or through the Mason/Cincinatti area).

Hope you have a great trip!

From Brandon S on May 19, 2009 at 12:32 PM
Well I don't know how old your kids are, but Kings Island has won the Golden Ticket Award for Best Kid's Area 8 years in a row. It is a really good kids area. Also, near Dollywood is Gatlinburg where there is a ton of stuff to do. You probably should go to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, which is a great place to view wildlife and hike. You should stay in a cabin in Tennessee because when we did we saw multiple black bears right on the deck of our cabin! That's an amazing experience.
From Diana Day on May 19, 2009 at 12:32 PM
Dude, if you're not stopping over in Philly, I'm not participating in the sharing here on the site. ;-)

Seriously, though, you should check out Dutch Wonderland in PA. http://www.dutchwonderland.com/index.php

It's Dwayne's favorite childhood amusement park (except for Disney World, of course.)

We're driving cross country this summer too, so if we end up going before you and find some good places to eat, I'll let you know!!

From Eli Katzman on May 19, 2009 at 1:47 PM
If you're in D.C., you should probably go to SFA... I mean, why not? Also, Kensington, MD is pretty close to D.C. Kensington is like 15 minutes from Silver Spring, where I live, which is practically 20 minutes from D.C. Both my parents go to D.C. for work everyday! Anyway, Kensington has this really great pizza resturant: continental pizza. I don't think they have a website (they're that local!), but you can look them up in google. Hope this helps!
From 24.190.44.191 on May 19, 2009 at 2:45 PM
This sounds awesome! Have fun!
From 70.187.86.129 on May 19, 2009 at 5:25 PM
We did a similar trek, but only two weeks, in 1997 with our three kids. Precious memories.

When you're in Austin, be sure to visit the new history museum (downtown). And have some great barbque at The County Line. Just south of Austin, in Gruene, step back in time at Gruene Hall (dance hall) and float the river.

Have fun!

From Russell Meyer on May 19, 2009 at 6:36 PM
While in DC, you obviously have to go to Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street, which has certainly gained a lot of popularity since the administration change and integration into the concessions at the new baseball stadium. Also, staying with the chili theme (you can compare with the Cincy chili chains), there's Hard Times Cafe, which is one of my favorite places for a meal, especially since it's difficult to beat sit-down dinner and drinks for two for under $20. For burgers, the best local chain (not really very local anymore since they've been franchised along the entire east coast) is Five Guys--try to go to one of the original five restaurants in Northern Virginia if you can. For the truely "greasy spoon" experience, there's the Tastee Diner with locations in Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Laurel.

Personally, I'm partial to a restaurant named Rustico in Alexandria, which we discovered in EPCOT of all places, when executive chef Frank Morales prepared a brewers dinner that knocked our socks off. His restaurant features over 500 different beers and an exclusive chef's table that will have you in culinary and brewing heaven!!

BTW, if you plan on visiting the Air and Space Museum on the Mall, don't forget that you can see even more at the Udvar Hazi Air and Space Museum, which houses an even larger collection of air and spacecraft (including the Enterprise Space Shuttle). I've lived in the DC area my entire life, so if you need any special hints, parking spaces, tips, or ways around the horrendous traffic (trust me, it's even worse than LA) just let me know.

From Rhys Evans on May 20, 2009 at 6:22 AM
This recommendation has nothing to do with either food or themeparks, but in Austin, TX one of the coolest things you might ever see in your life is about 3 million free-tailed bats flying out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge each night in the summer. It's more or less right downtown, and they've turned this very cool biological thing into almost a carnival-like atmosphere.

Each night, right after sunset, it is TRULY one of the coolest things you'll ever see. There will be hundreds of people there (and there's absolutely nothing to worry about, they're insectivores).

(Biologist by day, theme park enthusiast every summer)

From Casey S. on May 20, 2009 at 9:38 AM
What a great trip! Well I have some GREAT advice for you (and anyone) who is coming to ORLANDO. PLAces to eat
1. Dandelion CommuniTEA cafe. Voted best veg food and tea house many years over in the orlando best of this place serves wraps and salads that are awesome. my favorite the "avocado fetish". it a downtown spot in an multi room house converted into art galleries with tables throughout. the mix is art geeks to business folk on lunch. all food is organic and local and it is part of the OURlando network. they have a website to find directions.

2. ethos- on orange ave. just north of downtown on a lake front strip of antique shops is ethos. not your momma's vegan restaurant. Try the "Sheeps pie" for home comfort pasta dishes soups and deserts all while watching the lake.

Places to go-

Silver Springs- natures theme park (best afternoon to be had in Florida)
Pirates Dinner Adventure- Much more elaborate sets and costumes (And music) then any other dinner show in orlando. Some VERY skilled circus performers and a lot of audience participation make this your best bet for this type of entertainment. and its been around a while and is an old favorite of locals who go year after year.

From 75.80.245.228 on May 20, 2009 at 10:28 AM
If your kids aren't easily impressionable, I would recommend the Heart Attack Grill just south of Phoenix. The fries are cooked in pure lard, they serve 4000 calorie burgers, and pure cane sugar. They admit you as though you are a patient, and the waitresses dress as sexy nurses who make you fill out a medical history before you eat. www.heartattackgrill.com
From Robert Niles on May 20, 2009 at 11:16 AM
That's hilarious. Not, uh, what we're looking for on this trip, but a great laugh anyway.
From Elizabeth Gray on May 20, 2009 at 1:00 PM
Long time reader and first time commenter but I live in DC and in many of the places your are visiting so I had to post.

First I want reiterate checking out Guy Fieri’s Diner, Drive-In’s and Dives for local flavor. Most of his restaurants he highlights, even the burger joints, make the meals from scratch with fresh ingredients. If you go the Food Network site, click the link “Go Where Guy Went” it will give you a list of all the places he visited from the first season. There is also a book.

When in Denver check out the Mexican restaurant Casa Bonita’s. While the food isn’t great (though they do make a mean sopapilla) your theme park sensibilities will get a kick out of the atmosphere. They have a huge waterfall in the middle with diving demos and walkthroughs for the kids. They made fun of it on South Park and the locals with kids all love the place.

While not the best Chili in the US, when in Cincinnati you are almost obligated to eat at Skyline Chili.

As a DC Metro area resident I can assure you there is not a lot of good cuisine in the Downtown Area. The best is in Annapolis and Baltimore. However if you are site seeing at the museums, and need a meal, there are two food courts that are decent. The Old Post Office Pavilion (make sure to do the free tower tour. 2nd best view in DC and I worked there when I was part of the NPS) and the Ronald Regan Building (a little better food than the post office). Of course the best local flavor in DC is Ben’s Chili Bowl. Get a half smoke. Even Obama ate there on inauguration day. Also The Hards Times Cafe or anything else on King Street in Northern Virgina.

If you make it to Baltimore I recommend the Lexington Market that has been there since the city’s founding (though only go there during the day, it can a little seedy in the evening). In Little Italy the best place is Amici’s. Great causal dining for a reasonable price, not usual for this area. And you can always get a good meal in Fell’s Point.

In Annapolis most of the food is great. On Main Street the best Japanese food I have ever had is at Joss’s Café. For a killer desert try the Annapolis Ice Cream Company (all homemade) or get a HUGE yummy Milk Shake at Chick ‘n Ruth’s. For an off-the-beaten-path fish meal take the “country” drive to Cantler’s.

In Williamsburg try the converted gas station Pierce’s Pit BBQ, close to the Great Wolf Lodge. It is a local joint that the tourists are starting to discover. They make a mean pulled pork sandwich. In the historic area they have three good but expensive taverns. However the fourth, Chowning’s Tavern, is a bit more reasonable, kid friendly and there is no reservation system. Just show up. In the park, you have to eat at the classic Das Festhaus (though the food has been declining lately) in Oktoberfest or Trapper’s Smoke House in New France. Both of these joints get a 9 on your own website.

In the Great Smokey Area, I agree with a previous post about the Smoky Mountain Brewery in Gatlinburg. I eat there almost every time I visit. I cannot really make other food recommendations but can recommend one attraction to visit. In Gatlinburg one of the best walkthroughs in the country is Ripley's Haunted Adventure. It was voted #9 on DAFE.org member’s survey.

Finally, when on Highway 10, take the detour to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in South Eastern New Mexico. Get there early to get the biggest bang for your buck. It is totally worth it. There is a decent cafeteria in the Park but DON’T eat in White’s City. Ask a Park Ranger this question, “Where would you eat if I wanted a good meal in Carlsbad?” They technically cannot make recommendations so asking them this question gets around that. That is good advice for any National Park.

Have a real good time.

From Robert Niles on May 20, 2009 at 2:16 PM
Thanks, Elizabeth. Welcome to Theme Park Insider.

We lived in Denver for four years before moving to Pasadena, so we're familiar with what's there (should have clarified that in the post), and Laurie's lived in Cincinnati, too. But we're eager and thankful for all these wonderful suggestions for the rest of our route. (And, frankly, it's been a while since we lived in Denver or Cincy, so we've loved hearing about anything new.)

Laurie's adamant against the Skyline Chili, FWIW. I've never had it, 'cause she refuses to go. Perhaps I'll try to sneak a chili dog when we're at Kings Island. I can't imagine we'll get out of town without a stop at Graeter's, though. She and the kids always get that. (I don't do dairy much anymore.)

From Elizabeth Gray on May 20, 2009 at 3:45 PM
For the record you can tell your wife I am not a huge fan of Skyline either. Like I said it, is more of an obligation. IMHO Hard Times Cafe here in DC has a much better cincy chili on the menu. I prefer the 4 way.

Oh and check out the two newer museums on the National Mall. The International Spy Museum and the Newseum. While they are private and charge unlike the Smithsonian, they are interactive and a lot fun. And it is worth it the drive to the Udvar Hazy Air and Space like another person wrote. Because it is a Smith., it is free but there is a $12.00 parking fee.

Cannot wait to read your posts. :)

From Larry Zimmerman on May 23, 2009 at 5:16 AM
Sounds like fun, Robert! I can't speak for everyone, but I'd be interested in a meet-n-greet at Kings Island for all your faithful readers. Something simple...nothing that'll eat your whole day -- maybe a photo op at the base of the tower...? I'm always looking for a good excuse to use my annual...

BTW - when you visit parks, do you register with their PA departments as "media"?

Lotsa good suggestions on this thread. Some observations...
Parking for the Udvar-Hazy center is $15.00 (at least that's what I paid a few weeks ago). But I agree that it's a good supplement to the NASM downtown. Hard Times Cafe's in the DC area have good chili in several styles, and make a mean Frito Chili Pie-like dish.

City Barbeque, in the Cincy area, is pretty darn tasty and is served in a rustic atmosphere -- but if your wife is from the area, you should already know about it. The sampler platter is my favorite. Avoid the gumbo.

Skyline "Chili" is more like moussaka sauce than chili -- think meat sauce with cinnamon and allspice in it. It's better than it sounds... Have the "5-way."

We did a similar trip in 2006, going from Tampa - Orlando - Williamsburg - Atlanta, hitting both Busch Gardens', Sea World Orlando and Six Flags over Georgia. If we were to do it again, we'd skip Atlanta and do Carowinds off of I-77. That would be well off your planned route. I recommend carrying a laptop with GPS and good mapping software, and using it to monitor your route and location. The rig saved us a few hours in avoiding a several-mile traffic backup on I-95 by showing us a nearby alternate route.

Have fun, good luck, and may the winds blow favorably for you during your trip (especially climbing the Rockies on I-70!).

From Shannon Beauchemin on May 23, 2009 at 4:45 PM
when are you going to be at Kings Island? The group meet is a good idea.

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