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8 drivable destinations the fam can’t complain about

614now Staff

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It’s time to hit the road—and this time the fam is coming with.

Who else better to be your trip advisors than (614) readers who’ve vacationed with the kids without burning up the Family Truckster and their sanity in the process?

Here are your best bets with options ranging near and far:

Chicago

Chicago. The city that I learned can be a prolific builder of “dad-bods.” America’s third-largest city has literally everything that a family on vacation could want. Great food, live entertainment, museums, art. And you can see it all relatively easily thanks to an easy-to-learn public transportation system. However, what I learned fairly quickly was that if you have a child who doesn’t walk well, a lot of that public transportation is NOT stroller friendly. Buses are crowded, subway entries lack a lot of access. I also ran into a few Uber drivers who lied about carrying a car seat and suggested we just take a chance on their safe driving.

So before you take off, hit the gym and get those baby-carrying-biceps in shape to visit these places:

Wrigleyville (in-season). Unparalleled energy, even if you aren’t a sports fan.  
Millennium Park. Like it or not, you go to Chicago, you are going to see that damn metal bean, “Cloud Gate.” 
Museum Row. Every one of them is worth it. Shedd Aquarium is a sure thing for kids.
Maggie Daley Park. Amazingly clean and full of hours of fun for little ones.
Giordano’s deep dish pizza. Order your pizza before you go to the restaurant as it takes about 40 minutes to bake. We sat with an irritated toddler, learn from us!

Nashville

When the path of totality fell just north of Nashville last August, we decided to make the weekend road trip an end-of-summer adventure. Avoiding the typical tourist traps made for memories as unique and enduring as the eclipse itself.

Tweens can be tough to impress, but ours were completely immersed. From a hands-on history lesson at Hatch Show Print creating letterpress postcards to DIY pancakes at The Pfunky Griddle, make sure your vacation includes time for individual expression and is more experience than spectacle.

If the line to squeeze into the Voice-O-Graph recording booth at Third Man Records is too long, stop by The Great Escapeto flip through decades of LPs and stacks of 78s. Their collection of comics and vintage toys closes the gap between nerdy and nostalgic. Everyone gets to be the cool kid here.

Allergies and special diets don’t need to make dining mundane. Five Daughters Bakery offers unexpected paleo and vegan doughnuts like lemon raspberry and coconut cream pie in addition to their already epic menu of breakfast confections. Try the gluten-free hot chicken at Pinewood Social, a restaurant/bar/pool/bowling alley on the emerging edge of downtown—though afternoon hours are probably a better fit for families.

Musicians Corner at Centennial Park is a free summer mainstay with local artists, food trucks, and an interactive “Kidsville” anchored by the legendary live concert series featuring performers ranging from Emmylou Harris and Ralph Stanley to Son Volt and Langhorne Slim.

Yellow Springs

Every year when it gets warm, my wife and I take our two girls to the grooviest little town in Ohio. Most of the time it’s a day trip, but, if we’re feeling extra adventurous, we camp out at and hike the trails at nearby John Bryan State Park. Downtown Yellow Springs has a totally infectious hippie vibe—full of weird, wild and wonderfully eclectic little shops and boutiques. Like books? (We do.)

Then check out Dark Star Books. You can find about any book you want there, but they seem to celebrate nerd culture most of all. Plus, there’s usually a fat, friendly cat chilling in the corner that loves to be pet. Like wine? (My wife does.) Emporium Wines and Underdog Café is where we stop in to get a great cup of coffee and purchase tasty wines for later consumption.

Like records? (I do.) The Toxic Beauty Records and Gallery has a great selection. Last time I was there I got a Fat Boys record. Don’t be jealous. Like toys? (My kids do.) Mr. Fub’s Party Toys & More has a truly diverse selection, many with an educational spin.

Like beer? (Yes is the answer.) Stop in for one at Ye Olde Trail Tavern. Be sure to ask about its haunted nature. I believe we were told a story about a woman in a blue dress who appears from time to time.

Like food? (Trick question – you need it to survive.) Be sure to stop in for a home cooked meal at the Clifton Mill. No lie, it’s a super-cool building and the food is great. There’s a ton more that you just need to experience for yourselves. This little oasis is only about an hour drive from Columbus. If you haven’t been, you seriously need to go. And say hello to Dave Chappelle for me. (Yes, he lives there.)

Pigeon Forge

Pigeon Forge offers so much for families to do, can be done on a budget and is a manageable 6-hour car ride from Columbus. We took our 4-year old and 6-year old boys and stayed a long weekend (Friday-Monday) in a small rustic cabin in the Smoky Mountains. In addition to being nestled into the woods, the cabin was stocked with board games, featured a small hot tub on the deck, and had a pool table in the basement.

Our daily routine included making breakfast and packing lunches in our day packs after which we’d head out for a late morning-into-afternoon hiking adventure. Our favorite trails included Porter’s Creek, which features a footbridge, and the very popular Cade’s Cove, a shorter hike which included great views of the Smokies and had historic remnants of a church and mill which the kids loved exploring and made for great resting spots. There were plenty of places to stop for a picnic style lunch during these hikes.

Our evenings were usually spent in downtown Pigeon Forge which offers a grand strip of shops and kid friendly activities. During our visit, we stopped into a gem mine and went sluicing for gold, shopped for geodes, rode go-karts and grabbed a BBQ dinner that even little (finicky!) eaters would like. Dollywood theme and water park is also nearby and offers a lot to do.

Cincinnati

As a family, we go to Cincinnati once a year. It’s the perfect weekend getaway when you have two toddlers and a long drive is inconceivable. Aside from the beautiful architecture, there are many reasons that keep us coming back to the Paris of the Midwest. Here is a rundown of the places that are fun for the whole family!

Stay at 21c Museum Hotel, and go for the family package. This includes four tickets to the Newport Aquarium (value of around $100), fresh cookies and milk delivery, teepee tent in the room, and an I-spy guide for the museum. We go for the corner suite—the bedroom is separated by a door from the living room and it’s plenty of space so we all aren’t on top of each other. There is also a two-bedroom suite option if you need a little more space than that.

The hotel has one of the top restaurants in the city, Metropole, so if the kids aren’t up for going out we order room service, the kids adore it and we are able to have five-star dining while watching Wall-E for the 50th time. If you can make it out for some shopping there are a ton of family friendly spots around Over the Rhine, which is just a stroller ride away from the hotel. Make sure to stop by Reunion Clothiers for some great vintage finds for adults and kids.

Piggy back the weekend with a City Flea experience, Reds game or a children’s program at Washington Park. On the way back home, hit up Findlay Market for lunch/groceries and stop by Rhinegeist for a growler.

Indianapolis

Indianapolis is an easy three-hour drive from Cbus, so it’s perfect for families: you’ll likely arrive before anyone asks, “Are we there yet?” Less time in the car means more time for fun at places like the world’s largest Children’s Museum, where your crew could ride on a historic carousel, explore dinosaur habitats, or slide down a chocolate river, depending on your mood.

The Indianapolis Zoo is another highlight, particularly for the botanical displays of its White River Gardens and the hands-on experiences of its Family Nature Center. If you like your nature with a side of art, you can also head over to Newfields, which features both indoor galleries and a gorgeous outdoor campus (think fountains, flowers, even a beer garden).

If the beer garden isn’t open, no worries: Sun King Brewing Co. locations are “all-ages,” so the whole family can head there to unwind (just pack some juice boxes for the kids). When your children inevitably wake you up early (even on vacation) head over to Milktooth, a funky diner-style spot that’s a treat for parents, but still satisfies little ones. Full service brunch (with booze) is served every day, featuring classics with an artisan twist. If there’s a wait, stay put: it’s worth it.

Don’t make the mistake of over-scheduling: leave some free time to stroll Canal Walk, or have an impromptu public art hunt downtown, where you can discover 30-foot tall murals of Indy literary heroes Kurt Vonnegut and Mari Evans—what could be more ’grammable?

New York City

NYC is one of my favorite places to visit, so the minute my son started to show an affection towards trains and subways, I started plotting to make NYC our family’s Disney World. The length of the car trip is definitely pushing it, but start early, stop often, and end the trip by parking in New Jersey and taking a train the rest of the way. Public transportation is super exciting for my four-year-old so his ideal itinerary would have been subway rides all day, every day. He loved it so much that we made an unplanned but highly enjoyable visit to the New York Transit Museum.

We also fancied the Staten Island Ferry for its cheap, close view of the Statue of Liberty. If your kid is a city kid, NYC itself is a playground. But it’s also full of actual playgrounds. Sprinkle in stops to neighborhood parks for quick play or make a special trip to explore Central Park’s carousel and zoo.

And when the city starts to be too much, an easy subway ride away is Coney Island! With classic amusement rides like the Wonder Wheel and a highly stroll-able boardwalk, it’s a place that feels nostalgic on your very first visit. Back in the city, take any opportunity to enjoy the unique skyline. Some of the best views are from the observation deck of Freedom Tower, but be sure to buy advance tickets to skip the long lines.

Two stops we regrettably didn’t make are the American Museum of Natural History (dinosaurs!) and The Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum(airplanes!). But this gives us a head start on planning our next visit, which can’t happen soon enough for my tiny transportation buff.

Washington, D.C.

Washington, DC is actually a fantastic city to visit with kids! The hotels can get a little pricey, but if you plan your visit when Congress is out of session you can find great deals in some of the great, walkable neighborhoods of the District. Logan Circle, which is walkable to several metro stops, has a ton of great food nearby and an average UberX cost of $7-9 to the monuments and museums. For family friendly activities you have the amazing and free Smithsonian museums which all hold kid-friendly activities on a regular schedule, the National Botanical Garden (near the Capitol), and Eastern Market, which holds an outdoor market on weekends.

Other favorites of ours include: DC Waterfront: With locations like The Yards, The Wharf DC, and the Georgetown waterfront there are  great hotels and restaurants and shopping, live music venues and splash pads for the kids all connected by water taxi. There is also a free shuttle connecting Wharf DC and other must visit spots around Southwest D.C.. The National Building Museum: Just a few minutes walk from the National Mall, the National Building Museum has the best kids play space I have yet to find anywhere called “Play Work Build”. Be prepared to stay the whole day!

One last thing: When visiting DC with kids do not be tempted to stay at a hotel outside the Beltway and take the metro in every day.  Staying in a neighborhood like Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, Southwest or NOMA makes it easy to head back to the hotel if the kids need a rest and you spend more time doing things rather than waiting on a Metro train to show up.

By  / (614) March 2018

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The Wilds celebrates the birth of another rhino calf

Mike Thomas

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It isn't deja vu. For the second time in a little more than one month, The Wilds is celebrating the arrival of a female white rhinoceros calf. The calf was born in the conservation center's large, heated rhino barn during the early morning hours of Friday, December 6, 2019.

This calf, who has been named “Bing” as recognition of donors Drs. Hetty and Arthur Bing, is the 22nd white rhino to be born at The Wilds.

“Each birth of a rhino here at The Wilds is an incredible achievement as all rhino species continue to face significant threats in their native range," said Dr. Jan Ramer, vice president of The Wilds, in a statement. "Over the years, we have learned more about rhinos, contributed to scientific knowledge about them, and helped raise awareness to inspire people to take action to help protect them. Our work is not done! However, the birth of this rhino calf is certainly exciting as the calf represents hope for the future.”

Bing and her 10-year-old mother, Anan, who was also born at The Wilds, are doing well and continue to bond. Animal Management staff note that Anan, who has previously given birth to two other calves and is an experienced mother, is being very attentive to her newborn. This is the second offspring for Bing’s father, 21-year-old Kengele, who was born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. His first calf, Scout, was born at The Wilds on October 23, 2019 to mother, Agnes. 

Guests may have the opportunity to view Bing and Anan, along with the other rhinos, in the rhino barn during a Winter at The Wilds tour within the coming weeks. Tours are available at 11 AM and 2 PM through April. Reservations must be made at least 72 hours in advance. For more information, visit TheWilds.org

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Hunger Games: Wendy’s tabletop RPG is a fast-food fantasy feat

Mike Thomas

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Distracted by the raucous sounds of the festival beyond the garden walls, you almost don’t notice the shrouded figure emerging from behind the old statue. You and your companions turn to leave, but hesitate when the mysterious man calls out to each of you by name. When pressed, the stranger warns of a malevolent force known as “Hunger,” which is gathering its power somewhere deep in the nearby forest. He knows you and your stalwart party of adventurers will do what must be done...

If you’ve spent any time with Dungeons & Dragons or its various progeny, you can probably guess where this is going. A journey into the enchanted forest, traps, treasures, attribute checks and plenty of scribbled notes on pieces of scratch paper. But even if you’re an old hand at the tabletop stuff, odds are your campaign never included golden chicken nuggets and sentient cheeseburgers.

Dublin-based fast food chain Wendy’s has never shied away from the improbable. When nearly all of burgerdom had settled on circular patties, Wendy’s went square. Competitors hocking frozen meat? Wendy’s tackled logistical challenges to serve “fresh, never frozen” burgers. Even in the new frontier of social media, the brand was an early standout in the trend of corporate-tied accounts adopting sassy, comical voices.

The trick with innovation is that it’s hard to stay ahead of the curve. With a Twitter war raging between two Southern-style chicken sandwiches, or Colonel Sanders launching a finger lickin’ good dating app, a witty online presence can only take you so far. In the increasingly polarizing and absurd meta-conversation surrounding fast food online, how’s a brand to stay above the fray? If you’re Wendy’s, you swing for a critical hit by launching a comically overwrought, burger-themed D&D-style table-top game.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

At first blush, the rulebook for “Feast of Legends: Rise From the Deep Freeze” seems like nothing more than a marketing campaign disguised as an absurd extended joke. Upon cracking into the 91-page tome, (made available by Wendy’s as a free downloadable PDF) would-be adventurers will discover that this game actually packs some beef.

If that last pun caused you to cringe, this is probably not the game for you. The adventure depicted here takes place in “the realm of Beef’s Keep,” located in the kingdom of Freshtovia. Ruled over by the good queen Wendy, Freshtovia is locked in an eternal struggle against the wickedness of the United Clown Nations and its Jester king (a thinly-veiled allusion to Ronald McDonald).

In spite of never letting the user forget the Wendy’s angle, the Feast of Legends rulebook is every bit as thoughtful and detailed as many traditional, non-burger-based RPGs. Before tackling the main adventure, the reader can peruse around 25 pages explaining everything from gameplay mechanics to character creation and the various “orders”— think classes in D&D—that a player can elect to join. OK, so maybe the weapons sheet includes sporks and spatulas for your warrior from the esteemed “Order of the Chicken Sandwich” to wield—the fact remains that this RPG seems like it might have some real potential for fun (in addition to the fun of mocking its very existence, that is).

Eager to put this theory to the test, an enterprising group of (614) staff set out on a quest to explore the realm of Freshtovia. Our goal? To put the playability of this bizarre game to the test, and to perhaps uncover why, if for any reason, Wendy’s made the damn thing in the first place.

From the beginning, some members of the party were less than enthused at the prospect of playing a tabletop RPG, let alone one with references to Frostys and spicy nugs jammed in at every turn. By the time the group was confronted with its first puzzle—a riddle scrawled on a statue of the late Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas—all trepidation had subsided. Marketing ploy or not, the players were consumed by the game world.

Playing through an early level of mazes, the absurdity of the French Fry Forest or stumbling upon a golden baked potato was all but moot. By the time the party encountered the game’s first boss—a dreaded monster called “Hunger,” the supplied character sheets had all been personalized with care, complete with detailed portraiture of each player’s imagined warrior. The buy-in was complete. We were actually invested in an imaginary land populated by Wendy’s foodstuffs.

Without question, the minds at Wendy’s marketing department had crafted a game that could hook players and keep them hungry for more. The only nagging question that remained was, why? The intricate rulebook and campaign, complete with countless maps and professional illustrations, was surely the work of hundreds of hours of effort. Would anyone really go to such lengths for a joke with no punchline? Is Wendy’s really that desperate to target the tabletop gaming crowd?

One possible answer comes via the rulebook’s explanation of “buffs” and “debuffs,” or powerups and hindrances that will affect characters during gameplay. According to the rules, eating Wendy’s products in real life will yield various advantages to your in-game character (+1 strength for any cheeseburger item) while consuming competitor’s food produces an undesirable effect.

Whether produced to sell burgers-as-powerups to a select group of fast food and RPG-obsessed basement dwellers, or simply existing as one of the biggest viral marketing flexes of all time, Feast of Legends provides a surprisingly immersive and enjoyable play experience. Will it bring gamers to Wendy’s in droves? Probably not. But if our office’s experience with the game is any indication, it might be enough to hook unlikely RPG players on the tabletop experience—one enchanted burger at a time.

To embark on your own adventure, download the Feast of Legends rulebook at FeastOfLegends.com.

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Getaways

4 cozy cabins in Ohio that’ll make winter your favorite season

Colleen Quinn

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Yes, winter is cold, but with cold comes cozy! 

Picture this: You’ve got your fuzzy socks on, a cup of hot coco in one hand, and a good book in the other. The sound of a crackling fireplace lingers in the background as you glance out to the snow-coated country side and realize…you are in your own little snow globe paradise!

Sounds lovely doesn’t it?

Oh, and let us not forget the best part…hot tubs! There is something so satisfactory about soaking in steaming hot water as the chill of winter wonderland beauty surrounds you, am I right?

No need for winter blues when you can create your own winter oasis at one of the many cozy cabins located right here in Ohio!  

Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls

A perfect place for a relaxing cabin getaway. The Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls is tucked away on 75 acres of woodland forest, conveniently surrounded on three sides by Hocking Hills State Park. Enjoy a secluded and relaxing weekend soaking in the whirlpool hot tub, snuggling up by the gas log fire, and enjoying the peaceful serenity provided by the wintery nature around you. 

Freshly-baked cookies always await your arrival here and all accommodations include a hearty breakfast, too.

Oakwood Cabins

Also located in the winter wonderland of Hocking Hills are the cozy log cabins of Oakwood. Each charming yet modern cabin is set in a secluded location, giving you the privacy required for a rejuvenating getaway. Feel the cold breeze on your face as you sink into the screened-in outdoor hot tub and relax away each day by watching old DVD’s. If adventure is calling your name, strap on some winter hiking boots to explore the nearby Ash or Old Man’s Cave!

Murphin Ridge Inn

Escape to the Amish country of southern Ohio this winter by visiting the quaint cabins at Murphin Inn. Marvel at the snow-coated views of the Appalachian foothills, spanning across 140 acres of rolling woodland and farm. Spend the day exploring the Amish-owned boutiques, antique shops, and bakeries in the neighborhoods nearby. Upon return, cozy up by the indoor or outdoor fire pits with a good book and great company. Come morning time, enjoy a bountiful country breakfast with freshly squeezed orange juice. 

Mohican Pines Cabin Rentals

Peacefully located on quiet country roads far from traffic or noise you will find the luxury cabins of Mohican Pines near Mohican State Park. The cabins are far from any town, allowing the stars to shine brighter than ever. Admire the snow covered pine forest and valley from the patio or steamy hot tub and enjoy your winter bliss. 

Grab your loved ones and make this winter extra cozy. Beware, you may find yourself so cozy that winter becomes your new favorite season!

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