One of the perks of being a stay at home parent is that you get to take off and do things at off peak times. We've been fortunate enough to do with this big trips like our October 2012 Disney trip where the crowds were considerably light and weekly trips to the grocery store which is s a different place Monday through Thursday.
This time we planned on taking a two day, one night trip to Cincinnati with our kids and before any jokes are made or eyes rolled about Cincinnati as a vacation place let me say, it was great. Our daughters - ages 3 and 5 - had a wonderful time and even though the stuff for my wife and I to do was somewhat limited we both loved seeing them have fun.
If we had so much fun then why did I keep track of every dollar we spent for this trip? Part of being an Epic Dad means making good financial choices for your family and that means using dollars efficiently, in this trip we did that. The other reason is to give other families that read this an idea about what it costs. If cost was no option you and I would fly business class to go ranching in Jackson Hole one weekend and then fishing in the gulf the next. Cost matters.
Based on the weather, cooler on day one and warmer on day two we decided to first go to the Newport Aquarium. The drive took us about 2.5 hours and like all our road trips I made some PBNB sandwiches (peanut butter, Nutella, and banana).
I started making these because I was so sick of our kids eating fasting food. I can't stand burgers and fries from the likes of McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King anymore but that seems to be where we always stop. Now the morning of departure I usually whip up a few of these sandwiches and get them in the car along with some water and apple or carrot slices.
We arrived in Kentucky around 12:30 and my wife, who does not like peanut butter sandwiches got lunch at Five Guys burgers. I love Five Guys burgers but had just spent almost three hours in the car eating my own sandwich and trail mix creations. Cost of lunch was $12.
Around the corner from there was the aquarium. One small drawback of taking these off-peak time trips is that we sometimes arrive somewhere at the same time as a school bus and these kids can be animals. Each school bus is its own roving Lord of the Flies island. Luckily our timing was great, two school groups leaving and none arriving. Admittance for a family of four was $76.
The aquarium was nice. I'd been once before and thought that it was laid out smartly, well taken care of, and had a good collection of animals for any location, much less the southwest corner of Ohio. Each display was constructed so you could clearly see the animal housed there and some animals like the crocodile were right up against the glass. In their larger shark tank a variety of sharks were swimming right past many of the large viewing areas. There were also a pair of petting pools where our daughters got to touch starfish and crabs and opted not to touch any sharks. The penguin exhibit had penguins diving about like some Planet Earth clip and the Jelly Fish room had one tank specially lit so guests could turn a knob and change the color in the tank. I wouldn't go back to the aquarium again next week or month but to visit every few years would be a great interval. Part of what made this such a nice time was the lack of crowds. The first time I went it was shoulder to shoulder people with limited viewing of almost everything. This time as the opposite of that.
After the aquarium we didn't have any plans for what to do. We considered going to our hotel and driving around there to see what there was but I had also researched other options - like the Cincinnati Museum - and saved them to my Evernote Trip Note. Using Google Maps app, one that remained after I paired down my iPhone, we headed that way.
Parking at the Museum was $6 and admittance for our family of four was $28 only for the Children's museum section and would be $38 if we decided to explore everything. We spent 2.5 hours in the children's section and could have spent twice that. The children's museum portion of the building is downstairs and filled with great stuff for kids to do. The first area is a ball area where different Rube Goldberg style machines move plastic balls. One is a clear tub that sucks balls into an elevated bin and another is a catapult style launcher that sends balls to the same bin. Somehow the bin senses when, either a certain ball drops into it and then dumps the bin's contents on the children beneath. After this section our daughters went to the little town area which featured a miniature house - no roof - where they played, along with a store, soda shop, and hospital. After this we went to the water station and I quickly dismissed the small children making 1" PVC disasters to create a Bellagio style fountain. Actually, I just helped our daughter. After we were sufficiently wet we played in the tree house area. This portion had 4 or so ladders that let children climb up and crawl around a selection of large pipes. Much like a McDonald's play area only spread out over five times the area.
We had to pull our kids away from this play area because the museum was closing for the day and we headed back to the car and our remaining sandwiches. Taking the short drive to the hotel took a bit longer thanks to traffic on I-71 but we soon arrived at the hotel, checked-in and our girls proudly declared they were sleeping together in the same bed. Yeah right. They love to talk big about things like this but I knew one of them would have their feet in my ribs before the night was through. First though we had to eat dinner.
My wife was the only one who got Five Guys and a sandwich sounded good. I suggested Jersey Mikes or Firehouse subs but was soundly voted down - as I often am in choosing where to eat. We drove around and the level of complaining about stomachs being empty and a lack of food was about to turn my somewhat unbearable family members into really unbearable family members. In a moment of weakness I turned into Taco Bell. I could have done better and had I found a restaurant ahead of time I would have. I didn't, lesson learned. Dinner for four $20.
We took took the food back to the hotel, consumed it in 4 minutes - does it take more time to eat Taco Bell - and the girls took the iPad to the bed to watch a movie while the adults caught up on TV. In March we cancelled cable and since then I've really missed the reality stars with their new shows (Hey, it's Larry the Cable guy) and the adds for drugs (Consult your doctor to see if you're healthy enough for sexual activity) and inspiring news (Multiple shootings in New Orleans). Wait, that's not inspiring at all. The news is almost never inspiring.
I'm not saying to ignore the things that happen but if you watch too much of it you'll think that's all that happens in the world. It's not. Earlier in our day, we were walking through the museum and our daughters saw a group of older girls dropping coins in one of those large funnels that makes the coins slowly roll down. We didn't have any change but these girls did and they shared it. That will never be on the news, no one there saw it happen except us and them but it made our kids really happy. Those good things happen if you look for them, just don't look on the news.
After watching the 'news' and 'history channel' and 'national geographic' - none of which fit their categorical definitions all that well - my oldest daughter and I got bored with sitting still and headed for Target. I don't view shopping as a hobby or for fun. My last souvenir t-shirt purchase was a windbreaker from Ocean City Maryland in 1996. I will go to stores like Target though. At Target I can buy food that will stand-in for food I would have to buy at King's Island - our next destination. We loaded up on snacks for $18.
After my daughter removed her toes from my rib cage the next morning we got up to get the grab-and-go breakfast offered by the hotel. If you don't have a five year old daughter let me explain this to you. They must ask questions to put clothes on. Questions about anything. This morning it was about why we had to keep doors open in our house to allow the air to circulate around. I would say she said 'why' 30 times and I answered with 'put your clothes on' just as often.
Free breakfasts at hotels can range from paltry to pleasant and this one was somewhere in the middle. I had coffee and leftover Taco Bell. Our daughters had muffins, cereal, and part of a banana. My wife had McDonald's outside of King's Island $10.
I had only been to King's Island once before and that was as a chaperon to a group of mildly handicapped adults. I only remember that we ate a lot of french fries and played a lot of arcade games. After buying our tickets online I was able to add them to my Passbook app and was admitted by having the gate scan my phone. I've had nothing but good experiences (airlines, amusement parks, admittance tickets) with this app and others like it and eagerly anticipate the day my phone replaces the need for a wallet. It already does in some ways, I have Evernote keep scans of my health, dental, and vision insurance cards. My Paypal app can transfer money to buy things on the spot, my Amazon app buys things I need shipped, and my Auto app has my proof of insurance. No apps have a map of King's Island and if they do they aren't conducive to first time visitors so we grabbed one and headed to the right for Planet Snoopy.
It was all we could hope for and more. Small and slightly larger roller coasters. Swings, bouncing things, and carousels It was great and I feel like I should write more about it, but all we did was ride and love it each time. I got to ride Diamondback and it was all I wanted in a roller coaster - tall and fast. We lunched at Chick-fil-a at a cost of $22 for the three girls, I abstained.
After lunch I took the girls up their Eiffel Tower and then we headed right back to Planet Snoopy for a few dozen more rides before heading home. The girls could have spent another hour there and I felt a tinge of guilt for not letting them stay longer but they were getting pretty tired and got to ride many things multiple times thanks to the sparse crowds.
We got in the car and I ate every leftover from McDonalds and some of the Target snacks during the drive home.
Total costs for the trip.
Lodging: $0 - we used reward points, though our room would have been about $100.
Food: $64 - lots of fast food (Five Guys, Taco Bell, McDonald's, Chick-fil-a) and some things like our trip to Target that we're still eating after the trip. I'm not including the Target bill in this total because it was relatively minimal and something that would have been part of our regular grocery shopping.
Gas: $40 - assuming 300 miles round trip, not quite 30mpg, not quite $4/gallon
Tickets and parking $270 - over half was for King's Island where the kids had a great time. My only comment is that I rode one ride and my wife didn't ride any but we still paid like we did.
Total for the trip: $374
We did a lot of things. We saw fish, sharks, penguins and alligators. We explored physics, water pressure and climbed around an incredible tree house area. We road our first roller coaster, went up an Eiffel Tower, and got pictures taken with Snoopy. It was a great trip that anyone with kids could enjoy. Each of the three places we stopped could have stuff for kids of any age and any family size.
For little kids and families with different ages, King's Island is a can't miss. It was darn expensive between tickets and food but if you made a full day of it I think any family that's into roller coasters could have a great time there.
Who knew Cincinnati could be so great, now we do.