Summer in Milwaukee: Family Style

This is a spin-off of my Irish Fest for Families blog. If you’ve missed the original article, check it out here! It’s bursting with insider tips from event organizers and parents who’ve been to Irish Fest, North America’s largest celebration of Irish music and culture which takes place each August at Henry Maier Festival Park in downtown Milwaukee.

However, the fun doesn’t have to end when you leave festival grounds. Milwaukee is brimming with places and events that will delight ankle biters and AARP cardholders alike.

5 Ways to Turn Irish Fest into a Weekend of Family Fun

1) Enjoy a kid-friendly brewery tour! While Milwaukee has some excellent options for brewery tours, one particular brewery appeals to kiddos as well: Sprecher Brewery produces beer AND gourmet soda. While adults, 21 and older, can enjoy get 4 samples of beer, participants of all ages can sample all of the available sodas till their heart’s content.

2) Take in a Brewers Game: Okay, so there aren’t any games at Miller Park on the weekend of Irish Fest, but there are midweek games before and after.  But here’s the thing: anytime is a great time to take the family to Miller Park.

Confession: We are a family of Cub fans, but this is our favorite park when it comes to family-friendly convenience. True, Wrigley is bursting with nostalgia, and it’s a place every Cubs fan must visit at some point. But if you ask anyone (who isn’t a liar) which ball park is ideal for families, they’ll admit it’s Miller.

Before games, the parking lot is a tailgater’s mecca. During games, a retractable roof prevents those pesky rain delays. And Bernie’s Clubhouse, filled with slides, tunnels and giant food that is just begging to be climbed upon, is the perfect spot for restless young fans to work off their wiggles.

Money-saving tip: We use the seating map to find front-row cheap seats, which offer an excellent viewing experience at a fraction of the price. If you’re worried about drunk and disorderly fans ruining your family fun, get seats in the alcohol-free family sections.

3) Museums! Museums! Museums!: Milwaukee is swimming with ’em. And plenty exhibits will engage even the youngsters. Here’s just few:

4) Celebrate with the Milwaukee County Zoo: In honor of its 125th anniversary, the Zoo—which is home to over  2,000 mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles—will will be offering all sorts of special events and exhibits. Check out all of their anniversary plans here.

Don’t worry about spending all day on your feet. Your entire family will be captivated by the birds of prey and the sea lion and seal shows.

Warning for parents of young train fanatics: When our son was just a toddler, this was his first zoo visit, and we rode the Safari Train again…and again…and again….and…

Money-saving tip: If you’re going to visit in spring or fall, check out their “family free days” by scrolling down their hour & admissions page. But year-round, their rate are quite reasonable (under $15 for adults and under $12 for kids; 2 and under free).

Here’s a preview some of what the Milwaukee County Zoo has to offer:

5) Pretend you’re a British spy at the Safe House.  By night, this OO7-themed bar is a favorite watering hole for grown-ups in downtown Milwaukee. By day, you can bring young Bond wannabes along to the Safe House for lunch. Don’t be put off by the its oddly nondescript alley entrance. And if you don’t know the password (I’m not telling!), don’t fret. You can gain entrance by passing a series of tests used to weed out double agents. But, as you’ll learn once inside, the adventure is just beginning…

PG-13 disclosure: There is a rather revealing portrait of Burt Reynolds wearing nothing but a strategically placed heart in the ladies room.


Summer Family Fun at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest

Insider Tips from Event Organizers

plus…Dad’s Take on the Event

photo courtesy of Irish Fest

Every August, 120,000 people make the pilgrimage to Milwaukee for North America’s largest celebration of Irish music and culture.

The mission of the event: “to Promote and Celebrate All Aspects of Irish, Irish American and Celtic Cultures, and to Instill in Current and Future Generations an Appreciation of Their Heritage.”

If you’re like me, you may be tempted to leave the kids at home, so you can drink your Guinness and dance a jig without the interruption of “I’m staaaaarving (even though we just ate 15 minutes ago)” and “Tell my sister to stop looking at me!”

But if you carefully read that mission statement, it says “current AND future generations.”  Yes. Terrifying as it may be, those ever-hungry offspring who must never be looked at by their sibling are the future.

Irish Fest for Families

I recently chatted with Melissa Nickels, the Director of Marketing for Milwaukee Irish Fest. I asked her what Irish Fest has to offer families.

If I were asked to eloquently summarize her response in four words, I would say, “Holy Cats! A LOT!”

photo courtesy of Irish Fest

But you know what’s even more eloquent then my words summarizing her words? Her actual words. And here’s what Melissa had to say about this year’s event:

What’s New at Irish Fest:

photo courtesy of Irish Fest

This year, 13 new and emerging acts will join the performance line-up at Irish Fest.

“What I’m especially excited about is our showcase, which is ‘TradFest Dublin.’ We are bringing a world-renowned music festival from Dublin, Ireland to the U.S. for an exclusive musical & cultural experience here in Milwaukee. We’re bringing in music legends such as Frankie Gavin and Paddy Keenan and emerging acts such as Aoife Scott and The Young Folk,” said Melissa.

What’s Must-See at Irish Fest:

On Sunday, Melissa said attendees should resist leaving before the close, as organizers save the best for last.

“We have a unique gathering called ‘The Scattering’ where all the artists that are still around gather on one stage at 9 p.m. and sing a few last parting songs together and along with the crowd. They’re saying goodbye to another year of Irish Fest and creating one last fun memory before the night is over.”

photo courtesy of Irish Fest

The Scattering will take place on the Aer Lingus stage.

“It’s the most beautiful thing—hearing everyone sing ‘Will Ye Go Lassie Go.’”

Things Families Love About Irish Fest

The kids will no doubt love two acts in particular this year: Cuig and The Fitzgeralds. Melissa suggests to look them up on YouTube them and you’ll understand why. “Young, fun and energetic people and music!”

The Tipperary Tea Room is also an excellent place for families to hang out and listen to music.
Update:  Irish Fest organizers have just booked The Maguires. “They will be a part of our TradFest Dublin Showcase and consist of two sisters, brother, and their father,” said Melissa. “They’re amazing people and such fun musicians to watch.”

Check out the Maguire’s viral video (it’s already hit over 1 million views!) here:

Special Tributes at Irish Fest

There will be a special show honoring the Fab Four on Sunday evening at the Leinie’s Stage with We Banjo 3 and Skerryvore.  Audiences will be treated to a full hour of their favorite Beatles tunes with a Celtic twist.  Melissa said the audience can expect to see several special guests on stage. “No, not Paul McCartney, although, wouldn’t that be something?” said Melissa.

Tom Sweeney, nephew of internationally celebrated Irish folk musician Tommy Makem, will be performing with Evans and Doherty songs of Makem the entire weekend, in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of his passing.

Extra Special Irish Fest Insider Tips

1) Transportation: Forget parking on the grounds.  It’s expensive, crowded and stressful.  Instead, consider two other options:

a) Park & Ride: Organizers are still working out the park & ride locations, but it’s cheaper than parking on site and no doubt easier to find a spot.

b) Shuttle: If you’re staying in or visiting downtown, many Irish pubs, such as County Clare, offer free shuttle rides to the festival grounds. Check with the pub ahead of time, as each business takes care of the details and shuttle schedule.

2) Lighten your load: If your family shops on the grounds, you don’t have to get bogged down by all the extra bagge. For $5, you can safely store all of your bags at the UPS Truck Package Check.

3) Check their “family activities” schedule here, which includes kid-focused information on the “family passport,” contests, parade viewing and play areas.

Dad’s Take On Irish Fest

Insider tips and expert advice on Irish Fest? Check.

But what do parents have to say about it? I asked two dads, Jason and Doug, who both happen to be fathers of two.  They, along with their wives and kids, enjoy this annual Celtic celebration.

On the music:

Doug: We’ve been many times. For me, the best part is the music. They have multiple stages going with a wide variety of music and dancing. You can move easily from stage to stage to find something that you like.

Jason: Irish Fest has always appealed to all members of my family. My kids have enjoyed the music shows and the Irish dancers.

photo courtesy of Irish Fest

Other attractions:

photo courtesy of Irish Fest

Doug: They also have cultural tents that focus on different parts of Irish culture. Andrew (Doug’s son) always likes to go to the sports tents, with themes like soccer and hurling, where they let you try out the equipment and talk to people who play.

Jason: There’s a lot of nice people and vendors selling Irish gear. Everybody is really friendly and in good spirits. Of course, my kids always love the snacks and riding the Gondola across the park. They also love the Irish wolfhounds.

photo courtesy of Irish Fest

The crowds:

Jason: It’s great because it’s so big and so much less crowded than other events, like Summerfest for example.

Doug: People are always nice. Everyone is there to have a good time.

Saving money:

Doug: On Sunday, you can get in for free if you get there before 11 a.m. and bring a canned good for their food drive.

(Tip: Check out the ticket discount page here for information on all the daily discounts.)

And the nourishment:

Jason: Of course, the beer and Jameson tents keep even curmudgeons like my dad entertained.

Doug: Plenty of beer, whiskey and food options too.

Milwaukee’s Irish Fest

Thursday, Aug. 17- Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017

For more information, check out their website here.


Make sure to check out part 2 coming up later this week: “5 ways to turn Irish Fest into a family weekend in Milwaukee.”

The Unexpected Savings of AAA Membership

If you don’t  want to read this whole blog, here’s the Reader’s Digest Version: AAA membership is a must if you either:

a) have AAA insurance or

b) visit museums, take tours, book hotels, rent cars or

c) want peace of mind on the road.

However, if you want to know why and how and what and where, by all means, read on…

Just hours after publishing my first article in my “Celebrating the Emerald Isle” series, this arrived in the mail!

Not only did it tie in with my “Celebrating the Emerald Isle” theme, but it also made me think about how much money I’ve saved as a AAA member. Sorry if that sounds like a sales pitch (I promise AAA isn’t paying me to write this!), but I wish somebody would have explained to me what I’m about to explain to you…

A couple years ago, I was booking a hotel in the French Quarter, and I noticed once of the options was a “value rate.” It was significantly less than the normal hotel rate, after a click or two, I realized it was for AAA members.

So I checked out the cost of a new AAA membership, and did the math.  If I stayed three nights, the hotel savings would more than pay for the $49 membership. Plus, by joining through a friend’s referral link, I earned $20 credit toward the next year’s membership renewal

(If you join AAA, always join through a referral to get this credit.  If you’re interested, I included a referral link here and again at the end of this article.)

I figured I could cancel after a year if I didn’t see the value in a membership. As it turns out, the hotel discount was just the tip of the savings…

Three years have passed, and I never leave home without my AAA card. In fact, I’m a bit irritated knowing I’ve been wasting a lot of money by not having a AAA membership for all these years.

Here’s why:

1) You get insurance discount if you have auto insurance through AAA. I didn’t realize a AAA membership would get me a insurance discount…a discount that is LARGER than the  cost of AAA membership fee. So basically, I was spending more money before I was a AAA member and missing out on all the AAA benefits.

2) There are unpublicized AAA discounts everywhere. You just have to ask!  A Grayline Bus Tour and a stay at the Monteleone in NOLA.  A walking tour of the Ryman in Nashville and Johnny Cash Museum tickets.  Nickelodeon Universe and Sea Life Aquarium at the Mall of America.

Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America hides their AAA discounts under “corporate tickets.” If you have an active AAA membership/account, you can follow the directions then enter code AAA497 to save $10-$15 on each unlimited ride day pass.

Basically, if you ever book directly with a hotel, visit a museum or purchase a bus tour, you need to ask, “Do you offer a AAA discount?” The answer is often yes.  Sometimes it’s is a buck or two in savings. Other times, it’s $10-$25. But all of the time, it feels good to save some cash.

The other big benefit:

Roadside assistance:

Years ago, I was with a college friend hours from home when her tire blew. She had a AAA card, called the number and pretty soon, we were back on the road.  I definitely plan on adding my kids to my membership, especially once they’re driving back and forth to college. The towing benefit alone will pay for membership and then some if they use it. I also like that the benefit applies even when you’re a passenger in a car.  While I personally haven’t needed roadside assistance yet, just knowing the options is there provides peace of mind.

Travel planning:

You can book vacations directly through the AAA website, and they have negotiated some competitive rates.  I always log on and run a search there when I’m planning a trip to compare prices with other travel sites. It’s not uncommon for their package to be the best rate.

AAA Living Magazine:

Membership comes with a free subscription to their magazine, and it’s actually pretty good. I love reading about new destinations, even if I have no immediate plans to visit the place.

If you think you’re the type of person who might benefit from a AAA membership, just used the referral link below to earn $20 credit on your next year’s membership renewal:

Magic Kingdom Sweet Treat Awards

Are your eyeballs wearing their stretchy pants?

Good! Because they’re about to feast–Magic Kingdom style. Today, in honor of our new Disney Chat series, I’m going to recognize my favorite food group with the “Magic Kingdom Sweet Treats Awards.”

(If you missed the first Disney Chat, check it out here.)

Sure, it’s exhilarating to hit that wave of water at the bottom of Splash Mountain. And what Little Mermaid fan wouldn’t be giddy to chat it up with Ariel in her grotto?  Of course, finishing the day with fireworks at Cindy’s Castle will give your whole family the “remember this moment forever” tingles.

Plan on doing all that. But DON’T. FORGET. THE. FOOD.

Like everything else at Disney, it’s pretty magical.  So if you find yourself planning a visit to Disney World, add “eat all the things” to your itinerary.”

Well, maybe not all the things. A girl’s gotta prioritize. And that’s where I come in.

There’s a whole lot of deliciousness that deserves to be devoured at Magic Kingdom, but today, I’m going to zero in on my favorite sweet treats.

Trippin’ Magic Kingdom Sweet Treats Awards:

1) Best for Breakfast:

A maple frosted cinnamon roll at Gaston’s Tavern.

Here’s a scrumptious way to start the day before heading over to Tales by Belle.  At a cost of $4.49, it’s also a solid way to use a Disney snack credit as breakfast.

(If you’re looking to get the most value out of your Disney Dining plan, try to use your snack credits for snacks in the $3.50-$5 range when possible. For a complete list of snack credit snacks & prices out this list at The WDW Guru.)

You can pair it with Le Fou’s Brew, but I find this beverage to be more of a novel curiosity than a must-taste experience (don’t be surprised if your kid takes a few sips then offers the rest to you).

Now, of course, there are many forms of cinnamon rolls throughout Disney World. You can read all about them here on the Disney Food Blog.  And there may even be ones that are just as yummy in your tummy or maybe even yummier in your tummier.

But these rolls are HUGE.

Big enough to share. Unless you have a cinnamon roll fetish like yours truly. Then they’re just the right size for everyone else to keep their hands to themselves, thankyouverymuch.

The real frosting on the roll? The ever-modest Gaston may be just outside of his tavern doing push-ups or demonstrating other feats of strength.

2) Best for Cooling Down:

The Dole Whip from the Enchanted Tiki Room

Any Disney fan worth their salt will tell you this frosty cup of pineapple-y deliciousness is a must when visiting Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom (grown-ups can also get it with a splash of coconut rum at Tamu Tamu Refreshments in Animal Kingdom).

Yes, usually there’s a line at the Tiki Room. So what? Put on your big girl pants and deal with it.

Or sit in a shaded area and make your husband deal with it.

My friend Jessica loves the Dole Whip so much, she now whips it real good all summer long, thanks to last year’s mother’s day present: a soft-serve ice cream maker and 50 million gallons of Dole Whip.

“If you sing the Tiki room song while eating a Dole Whip, it’s almost like being in the happiest place on earth,” Jessica noted. “I caution you: don’t buy a 4-pack case of Dole Whip mix powder unless you plan to eat it for three meals per day all summer. One bag is plenty and that, and the machine together cost about what you’d pay for a single day pass to a Disney park.”

Jealous of Jess? You too can bring the magic to your kitchen this Mother’s Day:


3) Best Meal Maker:

A fruit-and-chocolate-hazelnut waffle sandwich at Sleepy Hollow

I haven’t digested this particular menu item yet. I have a son with a nut allergy, so I don’t go out of my way to add nutty treats to our food itinerary. But I’ve read about. I’ve thought about it. And I’ve had some pretty vivid dreams about it. So, I’m putting it on my list.

You can read a thorough review by Disney Food Blog of this particular waffle sandwich here.

What I like most about this dessert sandwich is that it’s really quite substantial. In fact, it could easily double as a sweetly satisfying lunch. If the richness of the hazelnut spread gets to you, you may even have to share.

Of course, this treat should be fairly simple to duplicate at home. Waffle, Nutella, banana slices, fresh berries and boom!

4) Best Cupcake Selection:

The cupcakes of Be Our Guest

Je demande ALL OF IT.


Our Disney Chat expert, Heather, declared one in particular as her favorite Disney sweet treat:

“The  strawberry cream cheese cupcake at Be Our Guest is a must have every time we dine there!” Heather said.

My daughter also loved the strawberry cream cheese one (and often talks about it with great reverence), though I myself am partial to the triple chocolate cupcake.  Of course, any true Beauty and Beast fan should go for the Master’s Cupcake, which is topped off with the famous “grey stuff.”

Try the grey stuff! It’s delicious!


5) Best Outside of Magic Kingdom:

The strawberry shortcake at Epcot’s Sunshine Seasons

Yes, I know this list is about the Magic Kingdom.

But I can’t do a sweet treat list without a shout-out to Epcot, because the place is loaded with calories in their most irresistible form.

A pastry from France’s Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie or a dessert bar (s’mores or caramel pecan?) from Germany’s Karamell Kuche are just a few gems among the treasure trove of World Showcase desserts.

And while many people might say the World Showcase is where Disney foodies’ dreams come true, my taste buds fantasize about Epcot’s Sunshine Seasons.

Their dessert selection is amazing. But the Strawberry Shortcake is…is…sorry. There is just drool where adjectives should be.

My daughter and I are chocoholics. However, last time we ordered this and the amazing chocolate cupcake pictured on the right, guess which we fought over?

That’s right. The shortcake.

It’s flavorful. It’s beautiful. It’s a delightful blend of textures. It’s even kinda refreshing.  It’s like a piece of spring you can eat with a fork.  So next time you’re visiting Epcot, I suggest you take a ride on Soarin’ then head across the Land Pavillion to Sunshine Seasons. All 5 of your senses will thank you.

Summer in Disney: Expert Tips to Keeping Your Cool

I love Disney.

So much that I once found a baby there, and I took the baby home to raise as my own.

Kidding. That baby was already mine. This is her now, with her upgraded mouse ears:

Anyway, every time I visit Disney, by the time I’m on the plane home, I’m usually planning my next trip back. Because, as previously mentioned, I love Disney.

But my love for Disney does not compare to Heather Jacobs’ love for Disney. I’m pretty sure, hiding under her hair, she has actual Mickey ears growing out of her head.

When she decided to take the leap and become a Disney travel planner a couple years ago, it just made SO. MUCH. SENSE.  In fact, she helped me plan a magical mother-daughter trip to Disney not long ago.

From time to time, I hope to have Heather share her expert insight on all things Disney with my readers in a series we’ll call “Disney Chat.”

Now even though I’ve been to Disney a time or five, I’ve never visited in the summer. The idea of summer temps and summer crowds terrifies me.  But Heather has assured me it’s not only doable, but also enjoyable…with the right plan.

Still, I had questions.

Fortunately for me, Heather had answers. And fortunately for you, I’m sharing her answers with y’all.

Why? Because I’m a giver.  And even though I’m a Northerner, I like the opportunity to use the word, “y’all.”

If you’re considering a summer visit to Disney, I suggest—nay, I DEMAND—you read on:

Disney Chat:

Playing it cool during summer visits to Disney

TMM: Summer is a busy season in Disney. Is there a way to avoid the crowds?

Heather: Anytime there is no school, you can guarantee that Disney is going to be packed.   The good news is a well-planned itinerary makes a big difference! A Disney travel planner can help make sure you have the right plan to beat the heat and crowds.

TMM: What is the best way to reduce my wait times for popular rides?

Heather: Fastpass! By using the My Disney Experience app, you’re able to book, in advance, 3 fastpasses per day at the most popular attractions ahead of time. Then you check in at the scheduled time and should only wait a few minutes. This is a free service offered to all Disney guests.

However, if you’re staying on Disney Property, you can begin making these reservations 60 days in advance of your trip. If you’re staying off site you’ll need to wait until 30 days.

TMM: When the parks are crowded, is it better to have a “park hopper” ticket (that allows you to visit all four Disney parks) to avoid the crowds or is it harder to get from park to park because of the crowds? 

Heather: Park hopper can be great if you are trying to see a couple parks per day.  However, my family doesn’t use the park hopper option. We find that it takes longer to get from park to park, and it does come with an additional cost.

With that in mind, I still have small children, and we take breaks throughout the day, or find plenty of activities at one park per day.

Disney is now is offering, for an additional fee, express transportation for park hopping guests.   This will help you get from park to park much quicker than standard Disney transportation.

TMM: Since summer is peak season, visitors may consider staying off resort to save money. Are there any benefits they’ll  miss out on?

Heather: Yes!  Staying on Disney property has so many benefits.

#1  How would you like to save on rental car/ transfers from the airport?   If you stay at any of the Disney-owned hotels, you can use Disney Magical Express.  Disney will give you round trip transfers to/from the Orlando International airport for no additional cost.  Got luggage?  They will pick it up for you, so you don’t need to hang around baggage claim… you can head to Disney World, and start the fun!  Your bags will appear in your room later in the day.

#2 Extended theme park hours.  You’ll be able to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours in either the morning or evening at one of the parks each day (based on schedule).

#3   You’re close to all the action so when you need that mid-day break your resort is just a short ride away.

# 4  Disney Dining plans are only offered to onsite guests. This is a great way to experience character meals and hang out in the air conditioning for a while.   It comes with a savings over paying out of pocket for your meals!

TMM: If a family only has the time and budget to visit Disney for one day, how do you suggest they make the most of their visit?  

Heather: Get there early is my #1 tip!   Buy tickets in advance and make those Fastpass reservations to get must-do rides reserved in advance.  For meals, eat quick service (fast food). The character meals can take 1.5 hours or so to complete.  That’s time you could be riding and enjoying the park.

TMM: What are some things people should plan to bring to the parks during the summer? 

Heather: WATER WATER, AND MORE WATER.  My family has visited the Disney parks now several times during the summer and let me tell you its HOT!!!  You’ll need to keep yourself hydrated with water/ or Gatorade.

You can take bottled water into the parks with you or your own water bottle.  And another tip is any of the quick service restaurants do offer plain tap water in cups for no charge if you ask.

We also take portable fans with water mist.  Never forget sunscreen! The Florida sun is hot, and you don’t want to spend your entire trip feeling awful from sunburn.  Baseball caps/sun hats help too!

TMM: Can you offer any other strategies for to avoid getting overheated and exhausted under the Orlando summer sun? 

Heather: Get to the park early, and plan your morning out.  Then take a afternoon break at the pool during that hottest time of day.

Disney offers great pool activities for the kids while Mom and Dad relax poolside for a few hours.  We love heading back in the evening for supper and a firework show.

A great treat to stay cool is a Dole Whip from Adventureland in Magic Kingdom!

TMM: Are there any special events taking place over the summer that families might want to take advantage of? 

Heather: Animal Kingdom will be opening the World of Pandora (Avatar Land) at the end of May! I cannot wait to experience this new theme land with several new attractions.

Another great addition to Animal Kingdom this summer is the new nighttime show Rivers of Light, which debuted last week.

Got Star Wars Fans? You’ll want to head over to Hollywood Studios for all the Star Wars activities.  Jedi Training, character meet & greets, an awesome nighttime show, and so much more.   Disney really does have something for everyone in your family!

About Heather:

Heather Jacobs is an avid Disney fan and travel planner.  Her travel agency Fairytale Journeys by Heather Jacobs specializes in Disney vacations.   She’ll help clients plan their trip from start to finish. The best part is there’s never any fee for her services.  The price you pay through her agency will be exactly the same as booking direct with Disney!    As a graduate of the College of Disney Knowledge, she’s recognized as someone who has attained a special knowledge of Disney Destinations.   She’s affiliated with Fairytale Journeys, a Disney “Earmarked” travel agency. This is a very special distinction given by Disney to agencies with a proven track record of high quality service.

“We embody the meaning of Authorized Disney Vacation Planners. With my constant pursuit of knowledge related to all things Disney, if it’s Disney and it’s going on, chances are we know about it,” said Heather.

Heather and her family travels to Disney Destinations several times during the year.  They have firsthand experience with Walt Disney World, Disney Cruise Line, and Disneyland, which she can pass along to help clients plan a magical vacation!  In fact, Heather just made her 14th visit to Disney World.  Check out her Facebook page for more information and to keep updated on all Disney news!


TMM March News: What was, what is and what’s next:

What was:

We’re over half-way through our Celebration of the Emerald Isle.

This is not how I pictured this happening…

So far, I’ve written about lucky races in the Twin Cities and Irish fun facts that surprised me during my travels.

Guest blogger Irene took us along on her adventures in Ireland. Oh, those photos! They made me green with…well, I’m not sure if it was trip envy or a simple love of the Emerald Isle.

When we left off, Galena’s Irish Cottage took us behind the scenes of their authentically Irish boutique hotel. To think I didn’t know about Bisto until now!

What’s is:

Disney Chat: On Wednesday, we’re going to take a wee break from celebrating all things Ireland and focus on Mickey Mouse for a bit! Disney travel planner Heather is going offer her expert tips for summer visits to Disney. So if Disney is in your family’s future, make sure to check back tomorrow morning!!!

You can expect to see Heather pop in on TMM from time to time, because it’s always fun to talk about Disney!

I’m going to follow up our first Disney Chat with a top 5 list of Disney’s yummiest treats. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

What’s Next:

Milwaukee’s Irish Fest for families: Next week, when we return to our Ireland celebration, we’re going to take a family focus and highlight Milwaukee’s Irish Fest from Dad’s perspective!

photo credit: Milwaukee Irish Fest

I’ve spoken with several fathers who enjoy this annual summer festival with their wives and kids, and I even have plans to chat with the event organizers about this year’s highlights. I’m also going to suggest other favorite kid-friendly Milwaukee attractions, and see if I can find any hotel deals during peak days, like Irish Fest.

We’ll wrap up TMM’s celebration of the Emerald Isle with two final blogs:

Ireland “on the cheap:”  It was a while ago, but my trip was $400 per person (airfare, car and lodging). Time has passed, but there are still deals and steals to be had, if you know when and where to look.

Then finally, I’ll close by sharing my itinerary and treasured memories of my 5 days in Ireland with my (at-the-time) new husband, grandma, in-laws and a car known as a “Nissan Micra.” It’s one of my all-time favorite trips, but boy, did it make me appreciate American roads!

Once we bid farewell to March, it’s on to April. And, oh the plans TMM has for April! Ranger Deer’s National Park Travel Tips. Dells Waterpark Deals. Le-Win’s 8th grade D.C. trip.

And some other super fun surprises with three crafty guest bloggers. But that will have to wait for now…

Happy Travels,

Tabitha, aka Trippin’ Midwest Mama

7 Steps to Touring Ireland…in Galena

Any visitor to the Irish Cottage Boutique Hotel and Frank O’Dowd’s Pub in Galena will tell you the place is swimming with Irish charm. Recently, I chatted with John, the hotel manager, and learned just how deep that charm flows.  From the hand-crafted woodwork to the gravy in Shepherd’s Pie, each element of this place has a story that leads straight back to the Emerald Isle.

So maybe a trip to Ireland doesn’t fit into your schedule these days?

Don’t fret. Just read.

Then, after reading, go see for yourself.  Swing by the Irish Cottage and Frank O’Dowd’s Pub. Follow my seven step “tour itinerary” outlined below and soak it all in.

While you might not actually be visiting Ireland, you’ll find a bit of Ireland is visiting you.

TMM’S Tour Of Ireland (In Galena)

1) Take time to admire your surroundings.

You can’t enter the Irish Cottage would noticing the woodwork. It’s everywhere: the lobby, breakfast room and library. It immediately establishes the old world atmosphere of Frank O’Dowd’s, the adjoining pub.

Each piece of oak, walnut and mahogany deserves to be noticed. It traveled a long way to be here. All of it.  You see, it was handcrafted in Ireland and transported across the ocean to Galena where it was reassembled by the same crew of skilled Irish craftsmen.

And while you’re at it, don’t overlook the hand-painted murals throughout Frank O’Dowd’s.

These mammoth works of art are rich in Irish heritage and symbolism, and they were created by a pair of Irish women who travel the world bringing color to the walls of Irish pubs.

2) Plan a stay in any one of Ireland’s 32 counties.

Observant guests may notice a plaque on the exterior of their room’s door. This identifies which of Ireland’s 32 counties they’ll be visiting during their stay. Inside, the room fully embraces its identity, as each was custom designed to represent its county’s distinct flavor, right down to the watercolor prints by Irish artist Róisín O’Shea.

When Irish visitors arrive, they often request the county they or their ancestors came from.

John pointed out that when it came to designing the guest rooms, no detail was too small, from the custom-made bed and bedding to selection of in-room coffee.

“The bedding package features an enhanced mattress pad sure to ease the most restless of sleepers.  Soft 310 thread count sheets and synthetic down pillows cradle the weary traveler. Inserted into the triple sheeting is a synthetic down duvet,” explained John. “Topping off the collection is a special quilted coverlet made exclusively for the Irish Cottage Boutique Hotel.”

These are the touches that set this boutique hotel apart from the competition.

Oh, and don’t forget to look out the window! Many of the suites overlook a view the owners have claimed as Galena’s own “Valley of Glendalough.”

3) Enjoy a perfect pour.

If you see a friendly Irish lass behind the bar, say, “Hi Kathleen!” Then ask for a perfect pour of Guinness.

See, Guinness isn’t like every other brew. And building one requires artful precision and patience.  While I visited, Kathleen demonstrated by first tilting the glass at a 45 degree angle as she filled it two-thirds of the way. Then, she let it rest for 119 seconds.

After the short break, she kept glass straight and topped it off. The result: delicious as it was beautiful!

Of course, Ireland is famous for its whiskey, so the pub also offers an extensive selection of blended and single malt whiskey and scotch, as well as bourbons.

(Remember when I told you about the difference between whiskey and scotch during my adventures at Jameson? I suggest you take care if you decide grant yourself certification as a whiskey taster!)

If you want to learn a bit more about “the perfect pour” of Guinness, check out this video by one of their brew masters.


4) Don’t forget the Bisto!

For over 100 years, Bisto gravy has been a staple in every pantry across the pond. So when it came to making the perfect Shepherd’s Pie, there was no question: the gravy had to be Bisto!

Git in ma belly!

The recipe for the Shepherd’s Pie comes straight from Kathleen (she demonstrated the “perfect pour” above).

Raised in Ireland from the age of two, Kathleen has been part of the Irish Cottage family for 11 years. If you drink or dine at Frank O’Dowd’s, there’s a good chance the friendly redhead behind bar is Kathleen.

Want to recreate the magic? Check out her Shepherd’s Pie recipe here (and make sure to grab a can of Bisto from the gift shop).

5) Go have some craic!

You remember that we already discussed craic in this post, right? Well, you can find it at Frank O’Dowds every Friday and Saturday evening. They kick things off with traditional Irish dancing, then a musician takes the stage, usually offering a mix of Irish melodies and 80/90s rock.  

Of course, things really get jiggy on St. Paddy’s day with a full line-up of entertainment and drink specials.

You can find the full schedule of their St. Paddy’s Day festivities on March 17-18 here.


6) Take a stroll on the grounds. 

From the parking lot, you can admire the hotel’s exterior, painted to emulate cheerful village storefronts of Ireland. Read the plaque that tells the backstory of the dolmen–an Irish Stonehedge of sorts modeled after “The Hole of the Sorrows.”

Then head around back to investigate the fairy ring. If you’re feeling adventurous, have a dance in it…who knows? You just may be magically transported to ancient Celtic times.

7) Appreciate the story behind the place.

Even though the Irish Cottage is not quite 20 years old, its history can be traced to two of the owners’ upbringing. First cousins Jack Coulter and Basil Conroy were born and raised in Ireland and came to America in the mid-80s.

In fact, the Frank O’Dowd’s Pub was named after the boys’ grandfather, a founding father of two of Ireland’s finer golf courses.

Basil wrote that his grandad was “a man who gave real meaning to the Gaelic phrase ‘Ol, Ceol agus Craic,’ meaning ‘a good pin, great music, and wonderful entertainment.’”

While casual observers may delight in their surroundings, they may not fully appreciate it until they learn of the careful thought and attention to detail that served to bring the owners’ dream to build an “undeniably authentic Irish lodging facility in the heartland of America” to fruition.


Updates to Galena Spring Break Blog

Since writing my Galena & Dubuque Spring Break blog, I’ve added a couple updates. I spoke to a very helpful gal who attended the P.T. Murphy magic show twice and offered her review. I’ve visited Galena again. Additionally, Lori at the Galena/Jo Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau has sent me names & photos of some of the various kid-friendly shops.

So whether if you were interested in this trip or maybe you’re new to TMM, you may want to check out the new information in the revised version! Thanks!

Guest Blog: Irene’s Irish Adventure

Today, as Trippin’ Midwest Mama continues “Celebrating the Emerald Isle,” I’m handing over my blog to my old college pal (yet youthful, modern day friend), Irene. She is going to tell us all about her adventures in Ireland, using “Countdown Trip Tips,” which is a format you’ll see more of whenever TMM has a guest blogger. Here’s how it works:

5 things visitors must see

4 things I wish I had seen

3 “been there” tips

2 things it’s okay to miss

1 way to save money

So without further ado…take it away, Irene:

My husband and I spent two weeks in Ireland, and I think that was the right amount of time.  We started in Dublin and then within 2 days, rented a car and headed to the coast.  We had been told to stick to the coasts, and I would share that same advice. 

Dublin is fun, but you do not need to concentrate the bulk of your time there.  The small towns and views along the coasts are magical.  We essentially circled the whole country, popping into pubs, staying at bed & breakfasts, and then ending back to Dublin for a night before we flew home. 

5 things visitors must see

1) Cliffs of Moher – Located on the Western side of Ireland, they are simply amazing. There is a well maintained flat path that is easy to walk.  Adventurous folks can easily hop the gate at the end and continue on for less than a mile on a well-worn dirt path.


The dirt path continuing along the Cliffs of Moher

If you are a fan of the Princess Bride or simply of amazing views, you must check out the Cliffs of Moher.

2) Island of Inisheer – Also off the Western side, this is the smallest of a set of 3 islands (The Aran Islands) that tourists can sign up to visit. We chose to just hit this smallest island and spend a whole day there.  We took a boat from near the Cliffs of Mohr to Inisheer (ride lasts about 30-45 minutes and is in choppy water).  The island is tiny, under 4 miles in size.  Once on the island, we rented bicycles and tootled around. There are the amazing rock fences everywhere. The beach has a cool shipwreck to explore, and we also investigated a super old cemetery.  This island simply has neat stuff.

The shipwreck on Inisheer

3) Guinness Brewery – You just must do it. The brewery is immaculate, and the tour is very well done.  As you go through it, you travel up in a circle and at the top you are in a skydeck that looks over the whole city.  The museum and tour path is in the shape of a pint glass, so the top is essentially the top of a glass or head of a delicious Guinness.  The top is also a bar, where you get a free pint of Guinness for taking the tour.

4) Doolin – Tiny town on the West Coast of Ireland. It is the birth place of traditional Irish music and super close to the Cliff of Mohr and boats to visit the Aran islands.  We stayed at a delightful Bed and Breakfast there where we were greeted with Irish coffees and cookies in the garden upon our arrival.  Just down the hill is a pub called Gus O’Connor’s where locals play music nightly.  It felt cozy and magical.  Everyone was friendly …it was the kind of place where if I forgot my purse, someone would have stuck it behind the bar for me to come back and get the next day.  There was also a lovely sweater shop right next door to the pub.  We stayed in Doolin for 2 nights and if I ever get back to Ireland, I will make sure to go back there and stay even longer.

5) Killarney National Park – I splurged by buying us a tour package to see the national forest from the water and land. We took a boat all around a lake. The experience and views were remarkable.  Then back on land, we took a carriage ride through the park.

The path through the forest via carriage

It was along a single lane dirt road and very picturesque.  At the starting and ending spot of this tour, there is a castle. You can go inside and wander around.

The castle at Killarney National Forest

Of all the castles (and there are many) this was one of the best.  I would highly recommend checking out the national park and castle and getting the tour package. It was well worth it.

4 things I wish I had seen

There isn’t much I feel like I missed.  We hit a lot, and I could have easily listed a top 10 must see things, but…

  1. Glendalough, Co. Wicklow – Apparently, a famous monastery. I think it would have been neat to see the grounds.
  2. National Botanic Gardens – The gardens everywhere are amazing! I would imagine that the National Botanic Gardens would have been worth it.
  3. Connemara National Park – I just love national parks, but we couldn’t fit another one in. Next time I go, I will check this one out
  4. Additional Islands – Having been to Inisheer, now I would try a different island off to explore.

3 “been there” tips

  1. JFK 50 cent pieces – Prior to going to Ireland, we were chatting with a friend that had been to Ireland many times and still had family there. He told us to take a roll of Kennedy fifty cent pieces.  When you go out in Ireland, tipping is abnormal.  For us Americans, this feels odd, almost rude.  Our friend told us that the Irish still madly love JFK, and if we really wanted to get in good with our bartender, to leave a 50-cent piece.  It created many fun conversations for us with various workers.  It was well received and one bartender thought it was so neat, he put it up on the wall behind the bar on display.  It’s a cheap, easy way to do something thoughtful.
  2. Rain poncho – It rained every day. But not for long and not that hard.  Still there were times when I was outside that I was super happy to have a light raincoat to wear.
  3. Irish Breakfast – All the places we stayed at included a traditional Irish Breakfast. It was typically family style and a fun way to meet other travelers.  It was also a good way to get a meal in your belly and save a little money.  We only stayed at places that offered a big breakfast spread.

2 things it’s okay to miss

  1. Spiddal – A cool town near Galway where everything is still in Gaelic. We toured it because that idea of everything being Gaelic was intriguing, but minus getting some pictures of signs, it wasn’t worth the special trip to visit.  The pubs and beer were the same there as everywhere else.  I’m glad we did it, but I don’t need to do it again and if travelers are short on time, I’d skip it.
  2. Kissing stone ay Blarney Castle – We did not do this, but I was told it was a giant tourist trap …to stick your head down a hole and then kiss a rock covered in germs because hundreds of other people had kissed it that very same day. I would skip it again.

1 way to save money

  1. Know how to drive a stick shift car – car rental is expensive, but so worth it to really explore the country. If we had been capable a driving a stick shift, it would have cut our car rental fee by more than half.

*Bonus recommendation:  I don’t know if Northern Ireland counts, but I highly, highly recommend Giant’s Causeway.  It’s a natural wonder that is well worth the effort to find.

A note from Trippin’ Midwest Mama: A big thanks to Irene for sharing her travel tips with my readers! If you enjoyed “Countdown Trip Tips” and have a travel adventure you’d like share as a guest blogger, just let me know in the comment section or message me through my Facebook page! I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Travels!

Tabitha, aka Trippin’ Midwest Mama

Get Lucky 7K: A Race for the Girl Who Does Not Race

Part of March’s “Celebrating the Emerald Isle” Series

There’s not much that can motivate me to run, outside of a bear chasing me.

At least that’s what I thought until my cousin invited me to join her in Minneapolis to run the Get Lucky 7K, an annual event which draws over 10 thousand racers to the downtown each March.

There were three distinct things she told me that led me to believe this could be race for me.

  • First of all, it wasn’t a 5K. Everybody does a 5K. And in my wildest dreams, I’m not marathon or even half-marathon material (though 14K and half-marathon are also Get Lucky options). Just shy of four and half miles, a 7K seemed like a chance to feel superior to my 5K friends without exerting much additional effort. Most importantly, it was a relatively flat race course that welcomed participants of all fitness levels, including walkers.
  • Second of all, it was St. Paddy’s themed. Green tutus. Kilts. Shamrock headbands. And it included some very cool swag. In addition to a stained glass shamrock medal, you got a hoodie. Not a tee-shirt. Nope. An awesomely soft, comfy hoodie. The kind with the little thumb holes in the sleeves that tell people, “I run so fast this thing would fly off me if it wasn’t for my thumbs.” A hoodie that immediately became and still is my favorite. (This year I think it’s a half-zip pullover, which also looks very cool!)
  • Thirdly—and this was the clincher—you head to one of the nearby partner pubs immediately following the race to celebrate with a Guinness. Now we’re talking!

So I said yes, and I’m glad I did. As a result, I started hitting the treadmill more regularly. I started pushing myself on my outdoor walks to pick up the pace. By the time race day arrived, I had dropped a noticeable chunk of weight and was able to maintain a steady jog/run for the entire distance.

That was the first race I ever signed up for, and I haven’t participated in one since. But man, I really should. Seriously, Tabitha! Get it together! If this particular race was just down the road from me, I’m sure I would have made it an annual commitment.

Whether you’re a first-time racer or a seasoned runner, the Get Lucky 7k is a perfect way to celebrate your Irish heritage or pretend your Irish for a day by running four miles through the chilly March air to the pub. They have different start times, based on your fitness level, and it’s just a great race to gawk at other people. Since it’s early in the year, you don’t have to worry about over-heating.

If you think this may be the race for you, I suggest you grab some friends and green gear and plan to have a lot of fun. At the race AND after the race. Get a downtown hotel and make a weekend of it (maybe follow it up with a Sunday spa day!).

While a race such as this is a delightful spectacle, it requires a bit of patience and planning. If you’re driving, you’ll want to get there with plenty of time to find a parking spot. And because you start out shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other runners, it can be difficult to set a pace, at least at first.  Go in with the attitude that the colorful crowd is part the the experience rather than a annoyance, and you’ll have a lot of fun.

This year’s Get Lucky 7K will take place March 11 in the Twin Cities. Visit for details!

There’s also one in Chicago that same day:

If you stick around the area until March 17, consider taking in the Twin Cities St. Paddy’s Day parade and celebration. Here are some tips my cousin offered for the celebration:

1) More is more! “We thought we were quite festive with our green shirts and little felt shamrocks for our hair. We stuck out, because everyone else was decked out in Irish swag.”

2) The parade isn’t a typical parade. Forget floats and fire trucks. It was a parade of the local Irish families. A banner with a family name then a large group of people walking behind it. Fun for people watching, but not so exciting for the kids.

3) The entertainment and food is where it’s at.  Get the schedule ahead of time, so you can plan to see the musicians and dancers. And come hungry! “I can’t remember who exactly was selling what, but I distinctly remember wanting to eat everything I saw.”

For more information, visit