This post is sponsored by Lake Erie Shores & Islands, but the experiences, opinions, and vacation hangover are mine alone.
We took our first official road trip as Ohioans and packed up the boys and headed north — Lake Erie, to be specific. I grew up in Southern Ohio but had never visited Cedar Point or the surrounding area, so the trip was a first for all of us. Charlie has been begging to visit Cedar Point since we moved here, so we thought it would be a great start to kick off the first weekend in summer. I was lucky enough to partner with Lake Erie Shores & Islands, who planned a whole weekend filled with family fun. It was fantastic because they knew all of the best places to go — where to get ice cream, activities the kids would love, family-friendly places to eat — and it truly made the trip easier and more enjoyable. Let’s face it, when you’re traveling with small kids you could use all the help you can get to help things go more smoothly. So I hope maybe this post can be that for any of you looking for some family fun, travel tips, specific things we loved about Lake Erie, or just a funny story or two to commiserate with on your own family travels 🙂 But really, overall we had such a great time and only did a fraction of the activities available in the area. So we’re already planning a trip back!
When we were planning our trip I made a commitment to unplug as much as possible. For me that meant no social media during the days (I just posted some highlights after the kids were in bed), no returning work emails or messages, and I would only use my phone for taking a few photos and videos throughout the day. We used a polaroid camera to document our trip and the kids had so much fun helping me take photos. We decided to make it a tradition for our future travels.
We loaded the kids into the car after breakfast and drove north. We arrived to Port Clinton by lunch and stopped at the Tin Goose Diner for lunch. It is located at the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton and is a very family-friendly and authentic diner and all proceeds support the museum. After we fueled up on delicious mac n’ cheese and sandwiches we headed into the museum. It is a working museum with functional aircraft, vehicles, and other interactive displays. Charlie and my husband loved looking at the artifacts and hearing about the history of everything. Calvin and Quincy mostly ran around and made me a nervous wreck that they would break something. If you have calm littles then you’ll be fine. If they are wild like mine, keep them in a stroller if possible. But the museum is fantastic for kids 5 and up! And on a good weather day you can watch planes taking off and landing at the airport during your visit as well.
African Safari Wildlife Park
Next we headed to the African Safari Wildlife Park. This is one of the activities that I probably wouldn’t have chosen myself since we visit the zoo here regularly and I always had this idea in my mind that the animals are sort of far back and you don’t really get to see them much. Boy was I wrong! This turned out to be one of our favorite parts of the trip (for everyone but Quincy, who was a little freaked out and said “want to go this way” as he pointed forward toward the exit or kept telling the animals bye bye in a very distressed voice).
- I highly recommend the driving tour. They give you a couple of cups of dry food but definitely spring for some romaine and carrots (for a family of 5 to feed them we bought the $30 food package and it worked out perfectly to let everyone have a chance to feed each animal).
- You start off with llamas and lots of deer that will eat you out of house and home if you let them — these animals like the dry food just fine, so save your lettuce and carrots for the giraffes at the end!
- If you have a minivan or a vehicle with a third row the kids in the back won’t get to participate as much in the fun. We let Charlie sit up front with my husband and I sat in between the captain’s chairs in the second row so I could keep both of the littler ones safe and help them feed. You are going so slow in the park that I didn’t feel that safety would be compromised at all. Then you can switch back at the parking lot.
- Bring sanitizing wipes to wipe down the inside of your car doors afterwards and hand sanitizer for everyone. The facility has an area for you to vacuum your car from the animal feeding frenzy, but you’d be shocked at what a mess they make on the outside and inside of your car doors.
Ice Cream at Toft Dairy
If you need to cool off or just want a treat then you have to visit Toft Dairy. It is Ohio’s oldest working dairy farm and they have the most deliciously creamy ice cream and like 50 flavors to choose from. It’s a super cute spot with lots of seating.
TIP: The smallest size is a ‘small’ which is honestly like a large! If you can, get a flavor your littlest ones will share and have it put in a cup so you can divide it. The small size was way too much for my youngest two. But it was delicious!
Our second day (which was our only full day) was devoted to Cedar Point. We stayed at Lighthouse Point cabins near the park, so the resort side entrance was a five minute walk away. A note about lodging: you can stay at the Hotel Breakers, in one of the Lighthouse Point cabins, or if you have an RV you can camp nearby. We opted for a cabin, as it could most comfortably accommodate all 5 of us. However, it is still tight quarters and if you do it be prepared with noise machines and maybe even some black garbage bags to cover the windows and darken rooms a bit. My kids don’t sleep when it is light out and their rooms have to be really dark so the loft style bedrooms made for early wakes but otherwise it was great. There are also some steep stairs going up to the bunks and one bedroom area is opened loft style to the living area below (with a rail) so if you have little ones you may find yourself having a lot of anxiety as they constantly try to go up the stairs. The hotel may be better in that situation and is closer to more conveniences (breakfast, coffee shop, and right on the beach.) But if you have kids who are at a bit more manageable ages (like 4 and up) then the cabins are a really fun option!
We walked to the hotel for breakfast and by the time we were done the park was open and we headed in. The second we walked into Cedar Point we were met with the craziest and scariest looking rollercoaster we’ve ever seen. Charlie’s jaw dropped to the ground in awe and Quincy started crying. And that is pretty much how the whole day went. Charlie loved it and had a blast, though he didn’t go too big into the rollercoaster riding yet. The Iron Dragon, Blue Streak, and the Cedar Creek Mine Ride were the “bigger” rollercoasters that he did and loved. He and Calvin both rode Woodstock Express and Wilderness Run, which are good for rollercoaster timid kids (and adults like me 🙂 and loved the Sky Ride, which is my personal favorite. Charlie also loved Thunder Canyon and Snake River Falls, but prepare to get soaked! You can go into a family dryer afterwards and dry off for $5, but you’re still pretty soggy afterwards. We also got rained on, so the water rides didn’t phase us much. For the little kids, the Camp Snoopy and Planet Snoopy areas are great. They are very similar in the types of rides they have. Calvin had a ball riding pretty much everything, while Quincy took a while to warm up to riding anything — it is just his personality when it comes to those types of activities especially when he’s tired.
There is also a Dinosaurs Alive exhibit that cost $5 extra per person (over preschool age). For us it was worth it, as the older boys loved it. Quincy was freaked out though, so if you have really little ones that might scare easily I would split up on this one. It takes about 30 minutes to walk through if you’re stopping and looking at all of the dinos, but it is right next to the Camp Snoopy area, so little ones could be distracted there while bigger ones are doing the dinos.
We pretty much visited all areas of the park and rode almost everything we wanted to. We did get delayed by a downpour that lasted 20-30 minutes, and then we were all soaking wet. In retrospect we should have taken towels and extra clothes and put them in the lockers there. Our cabin was so close we just thought we’d run back if we needed to, but honestly when you’re at an amusement park with little kids all day that walk feels a lot more draining. While being close was super convenient for getting to and from the park from our lodging, it would have been smart to have extra stuff on hand at the park. There are lots of places to shelter during rain but our kids were in the middle of a ride when the rain started so we pretty much had no choice but to get caught in it.
CEDAR POINT TIPS:
- Wait to get fast passes until you get to the park. We had them ahead of time (we’re used to Disneyland crowds and lines) and we really didn’t need them. I think later in the day we used them once or twice but most of the rides had 15 minute max lines and due to the weather the crowds weren’t bad.
- Take advantage of the Parent Swap program. One parent waits in line to a coaster or other height-restricted ride. After riding, they give their Parent Swap pass to the ride operator, and the other parent who’s been taking care of the little ones can walk up the exit to get right on the ride. For families where both parents love to ride, this is key! You can obtain a Parent Swap slip at guest services or the resort entry gate.
- There are two Family Care Centers in the park — one near the front and one near Frontiertown at the end of the Camp Snoopy area. There are comfortable nursing rooms, diaper changing areas, free water, and first aid.
- You can find kids’ meals in the Kiddy Kingdom, Camp Snoopy, and Planet Snoopy areas. We also packed snacks and PB&J and brought them in with us. There are plenty of water fountains or water at the Family Care Centers for filling up water cups.
- There are family dryers available near the water rides in Frontiertown so you can dry off. The cost is $5.
- Sign up for KidTrack at Guest Services. It allows lost children to be quickly reunited with parents that have a cell phone.
If we had more than three days I would definitely have had our day 3 be a rest day where we just went to the Cedar Point shores and relaxed and maybe hit up the water park in the afternoon. But we only had three days and visiting one of the islands was a must do. We planned to visit Kelleys Island and our ferry was set to depart at 9:40 from the Cedar Point marina. The only problem is that the marina is large and the area where the ferry leaves is not well marked (there are seriously no signs and the parking lots closest to the area are all private for marina members/dock owners. So what we thought was a 5 minute away ferry took us 30 minutes to find. We were literally running and missed the boat by minutes — it was pulling away as we arrived. It was frustrating at the time, especially because none of us had eaten, we were all tired, the kids were crabby, and my husband and I were going to have to entertain them for over two more hours until the next ferry departed. And there was nothing close to do and nowhere close open to eat until closer to lunchtime. It took everything we had not to head to the car and just drive home. But I found a small convenience store nearby and spent $30 on a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, three cheese sticks, and two bottles of water. It was the most expensive PB&J I’ve ever made but we had a picnic and made the best of it. We caught the noon shuttle and we had a great time.
When I was moving my family to Columbus last year, an old childhood friend of mine told me that I had to take the boys to Kelleys Island. She said she and her boyfriend spend their summers there and it was her favorite place and she thought the boys would love it. She died unexpectedly a month later. This trip just so happened to coincide with the weekend of her birthday, so it was bittersweet and special to finally take the boys. I thought of her as we explored the island on our golf cart and wondered what her favorite shop was or where she loved to eat and grab a beer.
As soon as we got off the ferry (which in itself was super fun for the boys) we stopped and rented a golf cart. I highly recommend this! We had a 4 seater and it fit all of us fine and even had room for our folded double stroller. My husband drove and one of the older boys sat up front with him buckled up, and the other two sat buckled up in the back with me, while I kept my arm around Quincy. It felt perfectly safe and the island moves at a slow pace. We had a quick lunch and then drove around the entire island, stopping to take photos of charming houses or lake views. Having been landlocked for the last year after living on the coast, it was a breath of fresh air to be near a body of water again. I can definitely see the appeal of lake house living, especially if you live in the Midwest.
We stopped at the Glacial Grooves Geological Preserve which was pretty amazing. About 18,000 years ago a huge glacier traveled through and scoured 400 million year old marine fossils into limestone, leaving behind “grooves” in the bedrock that show the path of the glacier. You can walk around the whole thing and cross a bridge to look down right over it. Definitely worth a stop and see.
We didn’t have the time (thanks to that darn missed shuttle) to stay at the beach area long, but we did stop to take a peek. Nestled next to a campground, there is a cute little beach with a nice calm lake for swimming and playing in the water. There are also lots of cute shops and places to stop and grab a bite and a beer. We had ice cream back on the south side near the marina before we took our 3:30 shuttle back. We only had three hours on the island, but with the boys and being at the end of our trip it was really the perfect amount of time to sightsee, eat, and head back before everyone got too tired.
- Defintely rent a golf cart and drive around the island to explore.
- Along the road that goes around the island you’ll see dining options with lots of outdoor patio seating. We were so hungry we stopped at the first place we saw, it wasn’t very good, and we were stuck eating inside.
- Know that the ferry leaves exactly at the stated departure time. If you are catching the ferry from Cedar Point Marina, it is really confusing as there are no signs. Look for the Famous Dave’s restaurant (you’ll have to park farther down the road across from Cedar Point and walk but when you get to Famous Daves you’ll know to take a left down the marina to the boathouse. I called the ferry office three times for directions and no one mentioned Famous Daves once, and it is the most obvious landmark (face palm).
- Bring sunscreen and reapply often!
We were so lucky to have mild weather during our trip. While we had to deal with a bit of rain, it was short lived and it was never super hot. It definitely gets cooler on the islands when the sun starts to go down so a light jacket or sweatshirt is a great idea for evenings.
Also, there are these weird bugs at Cedar Point — I’m assuming they are a lake-related thing. They.Are.EVERYWHERE! I was a bit taken aback and they took me a bit to get used to. I think had I known ahead of time I would have prepared myself mentally, so I’m sharing it with you so you won’t be shocked. I googled it and I think they are called Mayflies. There is a photo of them in the slideshow below. The boys were fascinated and I was mostly grossed out. However, it is important to note that they are seasonal and they aren’t usually as bad as when we were there, which was the height of the season.
All in all we had as good of a trip as you can have with three young kids — no major issues (aside from the downpour, missed ferry, and Quincy’s projectile vomiting in the car on the way home) and everyone had fun. It is definitely a trip that is doable for a family with kids of various ages (if we can do it and survive, anyone can!) and is a destination that I would absolutely recommend. We look forward to going back and unplugging again 🙂
Here are a few more highlights from our Lake Erie trip if you’d like to see. Have you ever been to the area? What was your experience like? Are there any questions I can answer for you?
Thanks again to Shores & Islands for partnering with us on this trip and helping us to make memories I know we’ll all be talking about for years to come!