From Bratwurst to the World’s Largest Christmas Store: Frankenmuth, Michigan

A truly hidden treasure lies 1 ½ hours north of Detroit. The State of Michigan has many hidden treasures, and in this small German town, known as “Michigan’s Little Bavaria,” you can find a lot of heart and soul. Frankenmuth was founded by German-Lutheran missionaries in 1844. Today, St. Lorenz church still stands as a testament of their faith which offers a German service once a month, and daily tours for visitors.

If you’re looking for European Christmas spirit in the U.S., Frankenmuth is the place to go! The winter here holds a ton of fun for visitors. You can stop in at the end of January for the Snow Fest. You can enjoy the snow sculpting and ice carving competitions, fireworks, and many more activities. The main attraction is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. It’s the world’s largest Christmas store and is as big as 5 ½ football fields!! You can get everything you ever wanted and more! My parents got us hand painted Christmas tree bulbs with our names on them, and they do the names right there in the store while you wait!

Many people also visit Frankenmuth in the summer for their Bavarian Festival. It is a great weekend of Bavarian music, German bands, and plump bratwurst! My grandparents live there, and they say that it’s the most beautiful time of year. The community really takes care of the look and feel of the town, so if you like to take in the sites, make sure to stop and smell the flowers! For more info on the Bavarian Festival, you can call 1-800-FUNFEST or go to www.frankenmuthfestivals.com for other ideas about the summer concerts in the park, or the world expo of beers.
Some of my favorite places to eat in Frankenmuth are the Bavarian Inn, where my dad worked, and Zehnders, where my mom worked. They were working right across the street from each other, and happened to meet on a blind date, set up by friends. They dated, got married, and 30 years later, are living happily together in Michigan. Take a chance on Frankenmuth on your next visit to Michigan, it truly exudes the family atmosphere that vacations are all about!

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Planes, Trains, and Football in Arizona

It’s that time of year again when College football is off to a forceful start, but it will all come to an end sooner than expected.  This is also the time when you should start thinking about your end of the year family or friend vacations.

Arizona is a great destination, specifically, Tucson and Tempe! These places are where you can find: Planes, Trains, and Football!

Start your trip out in Tucson, it’s in the middle of the desert, and the residents make decorating a cactus look easy!  You have to see it to believe it, and since I’m from the Midwest, where we decorate pine trees, I was shocked!

davis-monthan_afb_aerial1Tucson has a couple places that really stood out to me.  The first being: Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.  It is truly a place where “larger than life” is an understatement.  The best way to tour the base is to schedule a tour in advance.  They do not do small tours, so bring your friends.  My favorite part of the base was all the history I learned and the airplane graveyard.  There is nothing else like it, and pictures don’t do it justice!!

Old TucsonThe next place to visit while in Tucson is: Old Tucson Studios.  Have you ever seen a John Wayne movie and wondered where it was filmed?  In a lot of cases, this is the place!  It has also been the destination for some scenes in more current movies like; Three Amigos and Tombstone!  It’s a great attraction where you can dine, shop, see shows, and get set tours.  They also have a train ride, horseback trail rides, and a place to pan for gold!  Tickets for adults are $16.95 which includes the shows and tours.  Everyone in the family will have the opportunity to have a good time!

Fiesta bowl block partyNow that you’ve spent a few days in Tucson, it’s time to migrate 2 hours north to Tempe, and ring in the New Year at the Fiesta Bowl Block Party! You and 150,000 other people will bring in the New Year in style.  For a $20 ticket, you get access to over 40 band performances on 11 different stages, and a chance to see fireworks at 3 different times during the night.  Vendors line the streets with New Year’s party favors, food, and collectible items.  For all attendees who are over 21 years old, stroll into any of the numerous bars for your favorite beverage, and take it “to-go” and enjoy the festivities!  The streets will be a sea of people, and in some cases, you may feel like a sardine, but the overall experience is worth every penny!!

Last on my list of things to do: Stick around Tempe for the Fiesta Bowl Football game, on January 4th, played at the University of Phoenix Stadium.  The crowd will be large and loud, but the fun will be larger!  Tickets are on sale now, for $150 and up, and going quick!  If those kinds of prices are a little too steep, you can always go to the first Coldstone Creamery location or one of Arizona’s largest malls; Arizona Mills.  Just don’t forget to bring your jacket.  Temperatures in December and January range from the 40’s to the upper 60’s.

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7 Lessons Learned on Leaving Las Vegas …

1. Wind speeds effect many aspects of your vacation. From roller coaster style rides to fountain shows, be careful and watch the weather, anything over 30 mph can ruin your plans. I made the mistake of planning to see the fountain show, in front of the Bellagio, for my last night. I never saw it due to wind speeds.

2. Leaving Las Vegas without seeing a white tiger is almost impossible, I suggest going to a magic show. Ticket prices range from around $20 and up, and the entertainment is extraordinary.

3. Staying at the Excalibur, you can walk to Luxor and Mandalay Bay without going outside because they are linked together by underground walkways. Each hotel has something unique to offer, for example, the Excalibur has a great arcade for children too young to be on the gambling floor.

4. If you visit the Playboy Club at the Palms, you are so far up in the sky that you can see great views of the city, but can also feel the building sway! I suggest talking to the bartender for a remedy to ease the awareness of the motion.

5. Sometimes buildings look a lot closer than they really are. This does not mean it will be easy to get to them by foot. Give your feet a rest and take a cab occasionally. There is nothing worse than wearing your feet out on your first day, and having blisters for the remainder of the trip.

6. X-Scream is the meaning of a thrill ride! If you ride this roller coaster 900-ft. above the ground, spend the extra money to buy the personal picture and frame. You will need it to prove you rode it!

X-Scream: That's me in the second row, holding on for dear life!

X-Scream: That's me in the second row, holding on for dear life!

7. Playing the black 17 on the Roulette table can eventually pay out. Remember to only spend what you can afford to lose…but if you have $5 left to spend before leaving, play one number on the roulette table, it’s like one last roller coaster of emotion before you leave.

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Wine Regions … in Michigan?!

When I think of wine regions, I automatically think of the most famous locations like Sonoma, Napa Valley, or Italy and France. I never thought that kind of treasure would be right in my backyard … in Michigan!

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Traverse City, a place known for it’s cherry production and white sandy beaches, is also home to more than 25 wineries. I know what you are thinking, “I am not much of a wine drinker” or “I don’t know much about the different types of wine.” Neither was I! Prior to my trip to Traverse City, I was drinking wine out of a box (which is not something I like to admit!). A few friends and I went over to Old Mission Peninsula, and we met some really great people. All of the employees were very nice and very helpful. I learned the difference between reds and whites, drys and sweets, and they gave me suggestions about food pairings with the wine I was tasting. Now I understood why my grandmother always served red wines with spaghetti dinner!  Reds tend to be a more full bodied wine, which deserves a heavier cuisine.  They also tend to be a more dry wine, which was the reason I never liked it!  Whites, on the other hand, tend to be more of a sweet wine, and light bodied.  They go well with meats like chicken and pork and fish.  They also tend to go well with desserts, and my all time favorite, dark chocolate.  Naturally, I was a bigger fan of the whites!  I would have never learned all of these things if I hadn’t went to the tasting rooms, and now I am not intimidated by wine at the grocery store.
Did I mention it was FREE (or very close to free)? I never had to spend more than $3 at any of the wineries, which paid for 6 samples of wine and a glass to take home with me.  My favorite wine was a Riesling from Bower’s Harbor, what’s yours?

For more to do in Traverse City, Michigan, check out water activities on Lake Michigan, take in a minor league baseball game, or visit one of the casinos!

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