We just got back from vacation on Sunday!
Well, it was technically a working vacation for me, but the best kind: I was invited to bring my family to the Sandusky, Ohio area to enjoy a whole bunch of stuff that Lake Erie Shores and Islands has to offer, for the explicit purpose of sharing it with you. (Yes, YOU.)
Before I get started, let me summarize in case you’re the type that likes to read the last chapter of a mystery novel first so you can see whodunnit: WE LOVED IT. ALL OF IT. That said, I encourage you to read more. (And MORE: this is post number one out of three because dangit, we did so much and I took so many pictures that I had to split it up!)
We drove our awesome Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid loaner (Thanks again, GM!) to Sandusky on Thursday night and arrived shortly after midnight at Castaway Bay Resort. The drive took about six hours ONLY because the skies opened up and dumped what seemed like a year’s worth of rain on the Ohio Turnpike that evening. Without the rain, the trip actually takes about five hours and fifteen minutes to the western burbs of Chicago, which is a really great distance for a “just a bit more than a staycation vacation” that doesn’t require airfare.
That rain was exhausting, even for those of us who weren’t driving (sorry, Jim). We were all ever so happy to fall into bed, believe me.
Castaway Bay Resort, which is owned by the folks behind Cedar Point*, has a pretty fantastic water park that is open year-round. Due to the timing of our arrival and our need to get out the door right after breakfast on Friday we didn’t get to use it, but there’s always next time!
Our first stop, at 10:30 a.m., was Firelands Winery. (Yes, 10:30 a.m.! It was 5:00–er, 5:30–somewhere, I know.) Firelands is Ohio’s largest winery, and its original wine cellar was built in 1880. When we arrived, we were treated to a wine tasting. All we had to do was choose which type of tasting we wanted. Jim and my sister Julesie chose the Firelands tasting, which was made up of six dry to medium wines. I chose the Mantey tasting, which was made up of six medium sweet to dessert wines. We got a “bonus pour” of Italian wine, which was HELLAGOOD. (Because we had a full day ahead, we three literally tasted the wines and poured half of each of the tasting amounts out. Tragedy, I know.)
J had a grape juice tasting. Seriously.
We ended up buying five bottles of wine to bring home with us. We will be pouring full glasses when those are opened (and when we’re not going anywhere), just sayin.
After our wine tasting at Firelands, we headed over to Catawba to catch a ride from Miller Boat Line, to South Bass Island, which is home to the city of Put-In-Bay, Ohio. I was really excited to take this ferry ride, because the Miller ferries transport people AND vehicles. J was a little worried about taking this ferry ride, because the Miller ferries transport people AND vehicles. (At seventeen years old, he’s traveled a bunch but has never seen a vehicle ride on a boat.) We boarded the ferry and started taking pictures immediately. The ferry was clean, the cruise was fun, and the scenery was GORGEOUS. It took us less than twenty minutes to arrive in Put-In-Bay. (Pro tip: we stayed downstairs, with the vehicles, to avoid having to stand in line to debark!)
This is what it looks like when the ferry pulls away from Catawba:
This is what it looks like when I try to be artsy with my camera at the back of the ferry:
The folks at Miller Boat Line run a tight ship, so to speak, and it’s no wonder: it’s a family-run business (originated and operated by the Millers until 1978 and then the Markets through today) that has been around since 1905 when the company started as an ice delivery service. Read their fascinating history here.
Once we left the ferry, it was time to pick up our island mode of transportation.
We were thrilled to learn that we’d be traveling around Put-In-Bay in style, in a golf cart. Our host picked up the cart and we hopped in, er, on. He drove us around the island for a while so we could check it out. It’s beautiful. I fell in love immediately. Put-In-Bay has a similar “attitude” as Key West, Florida. Our host told us that some people even call Put-In-Bay “Key West North” or “Key West of the Midwest”.
We rode past the site of the Hotel Victory, a 625-room hotel that was built in 1892 and burned to the ground in 1919. Only one small, brick “chunk” can still be seen today.
We rode past some beautiful houses, including one really cool home that was actually the bow of a freighter, the Benson Ford Shiphouse (middle picture on the right, below).
Soon it was time for lunch. We hit up Goat Soup and Whiskey. YUM.
Though you would think I would select whiskey to drink, being a Jack Daniels girl and all, I went instead for the Basil Mojito. It was different AND delicious. We enjoyed some appetizers too, including walleye and perch bites, and Reuben balls (corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut all balled up, breaded, and fried, served with a thousand island-style dip).
Goat was another place where I could’ve easily burned a few hours, but we had places to go, so into/onto the golf cart we went!
The next stop was the Perry’s Victory International Peace Memorial, which is the world’s largest Doric column.
We had a VIP tour with one of the National Park Service rangers, and I decided to do a separate post for that because we got so many fascinating bits of information about it, I don’t want to squeeze it in here. Stay tuned for that.
After our tour at the International Peace Memorial, we headed over to Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center, where we toured Perry’s Cave itself (an Ohio Natural Landmark) as well as the amazing Butterfly House, a 4000 square foot aviary where there are something like nine hundred butterflies (fifty different types).
The main rule: the butterflies can touch you, but you can’t touch them. I had a great time there and took around one hundred pictures.
After the Butterfly House, we were ready for dinner. We headed over to the brand-new-this-summer “The Keys” complex (I guess the Put-In-Bay-ers embrace the comparison, huh!) to eat at Tortugas Rum Republic. I enjoyed the gorgeous scenery (are you getting the idea? it’s EVERYWHERE) and I enjoyed the mango salsa and goat cheese burger and fries, which ranks up there with the best burgers I’ve ever consumed in my life.
After dinner, we took the Miller ferry back to Catawba and drove ourselves to Toft’s Dairy for dessert. Our host warned us to get smalls. I’m so glad he said that. The small was more like a large, and it was a steal at $3.00! You can even choose two flavors if you’d like: a good thing, since they had some amazing and unique flavors like, well, just check them out HERE. And HERE. I enjoyed a bowl of Lake Erie Islands Cherry and Coconut Cream Pie, Jim enjoyed Black Cherry, Julesie enjoyed Cotton Candy Confetti and Caveman Chocolate (I think), and J enjoyed…VANILLA. Really.
It was delicious, and the perfect ending to our first day.
What? Did you forget that all of this happened on ONE DAY? It was a great day. Read about Day Two, HERE!
Disclosure: Accommodations and attractions were provided by Green Door Mediaworks and their partners at Lake Erie Shores and Islands. I was not asked to write in any particular style or even about anything in particular; they just hoped that I would have a good time and share my experience, and I did, so I am. My family enjoyed this weekend immensely and we thank our hosts for their hospitality!
*A word about Cedar Point: When our itinerary was being planned, I was asked to select a variety of activities I thought my family would enjoy. I intentionally asked to stay away from Cedar Point because although it’s a fantastic amusement park with some of the world’s best roller coasters, it already gets lots of press and I wanted to see how much a family could enjoy the Sandusky area without stepping onto the Cedar Point grounds. I’m thrilled to report that a family can do A LOT.