Fairytales Come To Life in Hocking Hills

By Tom Driver

Shortly after turning off Hwy 93 onto Bethel Road I began to get nervous.  The paved road narrowed as we approached a feeble looking one-lane bridge that upon crossing gave way to a gravel drive.  As we approached the rather steep incline I wondered, “what have we gotten ourselves into” but was glad we chose our little four-wheel drive RAV4 for the adventure.  As we began our ascent I saw a sign for the castle, at least we were still heading in the right direction.  As our climb continued through a series of tight curves I was grateful there was no one coming down the hill; I wasn’t sure where another car would be able to pull over to allow the pass.  After the final twist the castle came into view. 

Chess/checker board
As we approached the castle my eyes were pulled in several directions. First the human-sized chess set to the immediate right, and then further to the right is the Medieval Village containing several cottages tucked into the trees.  My eyes quickly refocused on the entrance to the castle and I thought “all that’s missing from this picture is a moat”.  The door sits back between the two columns under an archway.  A suit of armor catches my attention as we approach the somewhat forbidding looking entrance.  As we neared I noticed a weapon of some sort, or perhaps a twisted medieval torture device.  Naturally, the front door creaked as we opened it and stepped into the foyer adorned in dark reds and wood.  
The Great Hall

No one was there to greet us so we cautiously strolled around the corner, passing gargoyles, shields and several more suits of armor on our way into the Great Hall.  The wall to our right was floor to ceiling stone, which enclosed a fireplace, while the other wall housed three stained glass windows.  We continued our cautious search across the creaking wooden floor until, at last, Steve the Innkeeper greeted us.  As my mind continued to absorb the fantastic imagery all around us I must admit a slight twinge of disappointment to see Steve dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt.  I was prepared to see someone straight out of Monty Python’s The Holy Grail.

Ravenwood Castle in New Plymouth, Ohio is a very unique alternative to the typical lodging choices available in the Hocking Hills area.  We Travelers Three definitely enjoyed our four nights there and foresee staying here again.  We chose to stay in the Sleeping Beauty cottage in Fairytale Village.  The cottages in Fairytale Village, while rustic and in need of a remodel in some areas, are clean, functional and perfectly priced for a family, like ours, which spent most of their time hiking, exploring and canoeing in nearby Hocking Hills.  There was no television in our cottage but, somewhat to our surprise, we never missed it.  On a couple nights we came back so late we showered and went to bed.  Those other nights were either spent exploring the castle or we worked on one of the puzzles available for the guests.  More than once, Kelly or I remarked on how nice it was not having a television blaring every night. 

Exterior Sleeping Beauty Cottage
Master Bedroom
Aside from the uniqueness of the castle and the Medieval Village, one of the best features at Ravenwood Castle is their free breakfasts.  Each breakfast included a main dish, fresh fruit, cereal, and either a muffin or pastry.  The breakfasts are served buffet style so there are no worries about taking a second helping.  We felt this was not only a great value but also a great convenience.  The value in having a great tasting, home cooked complimentary breakfast for just $89 a night, which was our rate for the Sleeping Beauty cottage.  
We could have brought our own breakfast and utilized the cottage’s kitchenette, but why eat cereal every single day or worry about dishes and clean up?  Since we packed a lunch each day, our only out of pocket meal expense was for dinner each night.  The location of Ravenwood makes the breakfast very convenient; the castle is a 25-minute drive from the town of Logan, as well as the attractions in Hocking Hills. 
Queen Victoria Suite
On our last night at Ravenwood Castle, We Travelers Three were given a tour of several rooms located inside the castle along with a few of the cottages within the Medieval Village by Steve Waldron, one of the innkeepers.  The Medieval Village is located within a few steps of the castle and each cottage is nicely equipped with a kitchenette, Jacuzzi tub, television with a built in DVD player, and sleeping for four or more people.  We also noticed hardwood floors, modern bathrooms and decorative wood features appropriate for the setting.  For the family looking for a little more luxury than what’s available in Fairytale Village, and a unique lodging experience, a cottage in the Medieval Village would be a great match. 
The second part of our tour included visiting three rooms within the castle itself.  Each room was equipped with a king bed, sitting area and full bath, although none of the rooms included a Jacuzzi tub.  Each room, as with the cottages, was named and themed.  We toured the Empress Matilda, Queen Victoria and The Dungeon.  Kelly was immediately drawn to the Tiffany style lamps in the Queen Victoria room while I was impressed with the size of each room and the bathrooms.  There was more than enough space for two people. 
The Dungeon
Raven’s Roost Pub
 According to Steve, the most interesting room in the castle, aside from the flagship King Arthur room is The Dungeon.  The Dungeon is located on the lower level around the corner from The Raven’s Roost Pub, which makes it one of the most secluded rooms in the entire complex.  Depending on the occupancy level it’s quite possible a couple staying in The Dungeon could have the entire lower level, which also includes the Castle reading room, all to themselves.  The Dungeon walls and ceiling are faux painted to resemble a castle’s block walls but, despite its lower level setting, there is access to the back part of the grounds and plenty of windows to let in the light.  However, the most interesting feature of the Dungeon is the headboard and footboard on the king sized bed.  They resemble medieval stocks with holes just large enough for ankles and wrists, but while they are functional, they do not lock.

Gypsy Cart
The location of Ravenwood Castle is close enough to all the activities available in Hocking Hills.  As mentioned earlier, the drive is roughly 20 to 30 minutes to all the big attractions in Hocking Hills and Logan, Ohio.  The spacious cottages in the Medieval Village provide the perfect setting for quality family time in the evenings.  While the budget conscience travelers, and We Travelers Three was definitely on a budget this trip, will enjoy the value of Fairytale Village.  A couple looking for a romantic getaway should be pleased with either a cottage or room in the castle.  The privacy and character of these rooms were more than Kelly and I have encountered in other, more traditional, bed and breakfast settings.  I nearly forgot to mention the Gypsy Carts.  The two “carts” are a step above tent camping.  There is room for four to sleep but they are not air-conditioned and there are no bathrooms.  Each cart has its own bathroom with shower a short walk away.  
Garden Maze
Our experience at Ravenwood Castle helped make our first trip to Hocking Hills a really great experience.  There’s simply no other place like it, especially in this price range.  Steve, his wife, and the rest of the staff were so gracious and accommodating.  The last point I want to make is for the guys in the audience; after reading names like Ravenwood Castle, Medieval Village and Fairytale Village I was concerned.  Was I signing up for four days at some cheesy, over the top Renaissance Festival-style resort?  Rest assured, this was not the case at all.  The theme is tastefully applied and the staff does not dress in period style costumes, nor do they speak as if they’re auditioning for Shakespeare in the Park.  I was pleasantly surprised and would recommend Ravenwood Castle to any of my friends.    

Best Day Ever at Planet Snoopy


By: Tom Driver
Sydney, face beaming with happiness and independence, was running down the exit after her second time riding Peanuts 500 in Planet Snoopyat Kings Island when she asked, practically panting she was so excited, “What’s next?”  I pointed to the entrance line for Woodstock Express, one of two wooden coasters still in operation from when the park first opened, and said, “Do you want to ride the roller coaster again?”  She didn’t even break stride as she rounded the corner and started racing up the ramp to get in line.  There weren’t many people in this area of the park, it was almost dinner time on Thursday and the sky was filled with threatening clouds, so Sydney was free to run all the way to the attendant assigning row numbers.  Kelly and I took off after our little ride enthusiast, our attempts to have her slow down failing miserably until finally Kelly screamed, “STOP RUNNING!” 

This was our second time riding Woodstock Express and Sydney was feeling the rush.  She waited until the smaller hills midway through the run and then something amazing happened – her hands came off the bar and shot straight into the air with a cry of “Put your hands up Momma!”  Over the next three or four little hills her hands were high in the air and sounds of pure joy flew out of her mouth.  I caught a glimpse of her and thought, “This is what the phrase – Best Day Ever! – looks like.” 

We Travelers Three didn’t walk through the gates at Kings Island that Thursday until after 2:00 PM; very late by theme park standards.  Normally, I would have been wary about paying $30+ a ticket and not arriving until the afternoon, but Kelly found a great deal for travel agents on the website for The Kings Island Resort and Conference Center which lowered our total cost for the day (park and hotel stay) to well below market rates.  Turns out there were some miscommunication around the deal, but it worked out in our favor; I’ll let Kelly explain it all in a separate post. 

Kelly and I didn’t have any expectations for riding the bigger attractions ourselves.  It’s not as much fun riding alone (someone has to stay with Sydney after all) and we knew we’d be arriving late.  We could have spent another $45/person to avoid the lines, with the Kings Island Fast Lane ticket, but that didn’t seem like the best use of funds compared to the other things we wanted to do on this trip.  Our plan was to let this day be all about Sydney, and what she wanted to do was play in Planet Snoopy. 

Planet Snoopy was voted “Best Kids Area in the World” 11 consecutive years by Amusement Today and if you have a little one around Sydney’s height, who enjoys amusement park rides, it might get your vote too.  At 46 inches tall, Sydney was in the sweet spot to ride everything in Planet Snoopy, and she did, at least three times.  She enjoyed the rides for smaller kids because she could be a big kid and ride them all by herself, which allowed Kelly and me to retreat to nearby shady tree for a few minutes on a hot afternoon.  All three of us tried the “bigger” rides like Surf Dog, Woodstock Express, and Flying Ace Aerial Chase and they had enough speed, height and excitement to lift Mom and Dad’s pulse a little too. 

One of the best takeaways of the day, at least for me, was watching Sydney’s confidence grow each time she rode one of the big rides.  The progression went like this; she would hold my hand tight the first time through (I found out she’s much stronger than she looks), on the second ride she eased up on the vice grip a little and would even let go of the bar when she felt really brave, and by the third time she was flailing her arms like one of those coaster junkies you see on the Discovery Channel. 

After dinner, we walked around the rest of the park to let our food settle a bit and to see if Sydney would like to try some of the other rides.  We came across Shake, Rattle and Roll in the Coney Mall section of the park.  Sydney calls these “spinning rides” so it may not have been the best choice so close after dinner, but she “definitely wanted to ride that one” so she and I got in line.  Kelly decided to sit this one out.  Her memories of the nausea that eight “spinning rides” in a row elicited during a day last month with Sydney in Jungle Jack’s Landing at the Columbus Zoo were still fresh in her mind.
The wait line for Shake, Rattle and Roll is adjacent to the Vortex, the multi-inversion coaster, so Sydney and I counted the number of times the riders went upside down while we waited.  “I’m not riding that one, Daddy, never!”  I responded, “Never say never, sweetie.  It looks fun to me.  You might change your mind some day.”  Sydney and I rode this one again later in the evening and I noticed there were many empty seats on the Vortex.  After receiving permission from the girls I took Vortex for a spin.  Rather, it took me for a spin.  It’s one of the best inversion coasters I’ve ridden and I didn’t have to wait at all; walked right on. 

Shake, Rattle and Roll has three sections of six or so cars in each section.  Not only does each section spin in a circle,the whole ride turns on an axis so the riders get a brief view of heading straight up into the air as well as heading straight down.  The first couple rotations Sydney held that bar tight and I put my arm around her.  But by the third time, she was waving at Mommy, who found a great spot to watch, and yelling for joy.  When we went back to ride it before we left and she was yelling, “I’m going to touch the sky, Daddy!”  Along with, “Don’t hold me, Daddy, I don’t need you to hold me this time.”  Sorry Syd, Daddy’s first instinct as we’re racing toward to the ground is to protect you, I can’t help it.  We both had our hands midway through the second ride.  The attendant even accused me, via the loudspeaker, of trying to grab the trees – I plead guilty but only on one count, and cite overwhelming excitement due to having so much fun.  Plus, they were so close I couldn’t resist.  Experiencing that ride with Sydney was easily one of my favorite memories from a day filled with great moments. 


***********************
Here are a few tips if you’re planning a visit:

  • We decided to grab dinner at Festhaus because it has lots of indoor seating and it was beginning to rain. 
  • a.     Convince your party to at least try Chinese food; the line for pizza and burgers was three times as long. 
    b.     Be prepared for sticker shock.  The prices are not any worse than other amusement parks, but they still made me cringe.  
  • Second note on Festhaus – they have a British Invasion musical review for the diners to enjoy whilst eating.  Picture the show Glee but one hundred times worse.  It started shortly after my long wait for pizza but I wanted to leave immediately.  Kelly says the show is not that bad and I’m a snob about those things.  I admit to being a music snob but I respectfully disagree about the quality of the performance. 
  • Our wait time for the bigger rides in Planet Snoopy was no more than 15 minutes, and that only happened a few times.  The longest wait was for the log ride (Race for Your Life); about 25 minutes.  At the end of the night, around 9:00 PM, I decided to ride Vortex and had no wait time at all.  I’m really glad we didn’t pay for their “Fast Lane” but keep in mind we went on a Thursday between 2:00 PM and close.  I’ve heard arguments from both sides of the fence on this issue.  

Just A Little Bit Further…Contest Winner

Recently I came across a great article in Family Fun Magazine that had some great ideas for road trip activities, including the Instant Lap Desk, Hunt for Fun and Souvenir Ornament.

Instant Lap Desk
Photo:  Mark Mantegna

“Every summer our family makes the 17-hour drive from Ohio to New Hampshire,” says Cincinnati native Amanda Nobbe, mom of a 3-year-old and a toddler.  “We travel with cookie sheets and a plastic tote filled with playthings. Easily held on a lap, a cookie sheet can be used as a surface for coloring, playing with magnets and Bendaroos, or holding a snack. It’s an inexpensive alternative to a car-seat lap desk, and when it’s not in use, it fits in the back pocket of the seat.”



Hunt For Fun

Photo:  Steven Vote
Amy Malaise of Petaluma, California, helps her kids explore their vacation destinations with a scavenger hunt prepared in advance. She glues pictures of the items they’re looking for onto index cards (one apiece), then laminates the cards, punches a hole in one corner, and hooks them on a ring for portability. Items vary with the destination but might include nature finds, landmarks, public art, or eye-catching buildings. “You can use your own photos if you have visited the spot before,” she says, “or look on the Internet for information about the place.”




Photo:  Steven Vote
The Brunicardis of Galloway, Ohio, have found a clever way to savor vacation memories: they preserve small mementos from each trip, such as ticket stubs and nature finds, in an inexpensive, clear plastic ornament ball. Each Christmas, they’re reminded of all the great places they’ve been.






  

Well we tried out some of the ideas on our recent road trip around Southern Ohio and they worked great.  The biggest hit was the Instant Lap Desk.  Sydney loved being able to use the cookie sheet to use as a desk to write “notes” to friends or to just color on.  She also had a lot of fun with some magnets that we made out of a magnet sheet and some stickers.   



We collected a few things along the way to make a Souvenir Ornament.  We are looking forward to making it and hanging it on our tree.  

The only one we didn’t try out was The Big Hunt.  Maybe next time.

As promised, I am awarding the materials to make your own lap desk, scavenger hunt book and souvenir ornament to a follower who left a comment on the post.  We only had one comment so by default the winner is:  Heather KO!  

Thanks for reading and commenting.  You will be receiving your items soon!


New York City, Day 2; part 1

By Tom Driver

As with the other posts about our trip to New York, the following post is taken from a letter I wrote to Sydney after our trip. 

“They don’t have escalators at our grocery store”  

One way we’re saving a little money on our trip to New York City is by having breakfast in our room.  We brought a box of cereal along with some bowls and spoons from home.  Last night we stopped at a local grocery store to pick up some milk, grape juice (our favorite!), yogurt and fruit.  The hotel provided a mini-refrigerator, for a nominal fee, and we set up the desk as a table each morning.  To my surprise, it worked out very well and there were only a few minor accidents.  As we were planning the trip, Mom and I compared the cost of renting the mini-fridge plus groceries with the average cost of a fast food breakfast every morning and found this was one way we could save money.  Plus, we had fun on our Manhattan grocery shopping experience last night.  You were surprised to see an escalator in the grocery store; “they don’t have escalators at our grocery store.” 

Lady Liberty 

This morning’s subway ride was a long one and a little crowded since we were part of the morning commute.  You didn’t mind because you like standing up during the ride.  We rode the #1 train all the way from the 50thSt. and Broadway Station to the South Ferry station, the very last stop on the line, but it only cost $5 for a one way pass for your mother and I, since kids 44 inches tall and under ride for free on subways.  From the subway it was a short walk to Battery Park where the ferry departs.  I was nervous, the line seemed like it went on forever and I do not like waiting in lines – who does?  Admittedly I’m very impatient, a trait I hope you don’t pick up but one I fear you already possess.  This is another reason your mom and I are such a good match, she reminds me there’s no reason to get irate when we’re traveling because, “there’s nowhere else in the whole world we need to be than right here, right now, on our way to see The Statue of Liberty.”  She’s right; plus this is one of the most popular tourist spots in the entire country so naturally there’s going to be a line. 

As if on cue, the line started to move and our wait wasn’t nearly as long as my first glance at the mass of waiting people caused me to expect. We only waited for about a half an hour.  However, we did need to go through another round of airport style security.  I’m not sure if this is a good thing, or incredibly sad, but you’ve become so accustomed to the security lines they don’t appear to bother you at all.  You know the routine as well as your Mom and me.  I’m still trying to get used to a world where security checkpoints are part of the routine. 



After clearing security we boarded the ferry for Liberty Island.  Like me, I think you enjoyed the boat ride as much as seeing the Statue of Liberty.  I’m glad we brought your heavy jacket, hat and gloves because the ferry ride in late March was very chilly.  I wish I’d had more than my pullover jacket.  We could have taken a seat inside the ferry to avoid the wind, but part of the fun is feeling the wind and taking in the great views.  And what a great view – Liberty is an awesome sight to behold.  We were lucky enough to snag a spot by the rail, which gave us a perfect view as we passed in front of Liberty Island on the way to the dock.  We made our way to the front of the monument for pictures and had a great time; we took some silly shots along with a few standard poses.  Most importantly, I think we captured how much fun we had visiting one of the country’s greatest landmarks. 


Here’s some information on why the Statue of Liberty is so important to our country’s history.  This is from http://www.statueofliberty.org/Statue_History.html:  “The people of France gave the Statue to the people of the United States over one hundred years ago in recognition of the friendship established during the American Revolution. Over the years, the Statue of Liberty’s symbolism has grown to include freedom and democracy as well as this international friendship.” 


Countless numbers of people would travel across the Atlantic Ocean to start a new life in the United States and their ships would pass by the Statue of Liberty.  To these emigrants, the Statue of Liberty became a symbol of how the United States of America is open to people from all over the world who seek freedom and individual liberty.  I think it’s also important to remember how instrumental the French were in helping us defeat England during the Revolution.  Without the assistance France provided in the form of loans, supplies, equipment, and troops, the war could have had a much different outcome.  As popular as it is to bash the French, we might be singing “God Save the Queen” instead of “The Star Spangled Banner” if not for their help.  But you’ll learn all about that in school, I hope. 

It was a nice, sunshine filled morning so we took our time walking around Liberty Island taking pictures and having fun.  We stopped in the gift shop so Mom could decide if she wanted to purchase the “professional” picture of the three of us in front of the Statue.  While we were there I took a picture of you pretending to be Lady Liberty holding a toy torch.  Mom was waiting in line to buy the pictures so you and I went outside to wait.  While we were sitting outside I commented on how cute you were and you responded, “I’m as beautiful as New York City!”  It was just one of many great Sydney quotes on this trip. 

We hopped back on the boat for the ride back to Battery Park.  The ferry stops at Ellis Island, which is another important part of America’s history, but since you are just four and half years old we didn’t feel the significance of the items on display at the museum would register on this visit.  We’ll take you on a tour of the Ellis Island Museum when you are a little older.