Champaign, Ill. (WCIA)

Two Family Trips to Explore

By Marcia Frost

We are very lucky in Central Illinois to be within a few hours of a handful of major cities. Whether you are looking for a getaway or a day trip, St. Louis and Indianapolis are close enough to have family fun.

All Aboard Union Station I decided to check out the remodel of Union Station in St. Louis. Its opening wasn’t as big as it was supposed to be because of the pandemic, but it’s continued to get even better. I love the idea of being able to park the car and have enough to do for two days, and this place fits the bill.

The obvious place to stay is a good one: the St. Louis Union Station Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton. Don’t be scared off by the fancy name, while this hotel certainly looks spectacular, it’s very family-friendly and even welcomes pets. The hotel is beautiful, with a combination of modern amenities and the historic architecture this building has always had.

Nothing demonstrates the structure better than the artwork in the ceiling, which comes alive hourly with a light show. It’s mesmerizing and must-see.

There are so many things to see and do at St. Louis Union Station. The aquarium is the biggest, with a very unique entrance (I won’t give it away) and more hands-on experiences than I’ve ever seen in an aquarium.

You’ll also find mini golf, a mirror maze, the Wheel, a carousel, and more. You can purchase one ticket to get you into six different activities. It’s enough to work up an appetite, and you won’t have to go far to eat as the complex offers many options.

During our visit, we were able to try four different restaurants. Breakfast was at the hotel’s Station Grille and it was one of the best breakfast’s I’ve had. We started with a plate of freshly made Danishes. I then had the Egg, Avocado & Quinoa, with a balsamic reduction. It was fantastic and there was enough for three meals. Brittany had the Chicken & Waffles.

Train Shed was the lunch spot and the Chicken Sandwich is the winner here. The description of “grilled chicken, pesto aioli, fresh mozzarella, roasted tomato, basil, arugula, balsamic drizzle, whole wheat bun” sounded like a delicious combination and it was.

Dinner was at the newest Union Station restaurant, The Pitch. It’s a large sports bar with its focus on the new soccer stadium across the street. The food is a combination of the English roots of soccer, casual fare, and nods to St. Louis, such as the delicious Fried Ravioli. I went for the Chicken Pot Pie and it was homemade and very tasty.

We just had drinks at the Soda Fountain, but they have milkshakes and sherbet cocktail concoctions to satisfy any sweet tooth.

For Kids of All Ages Something has come up every time I tried to make it to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, but I was determined to do it. I enlisted my friend, Mary, to bring along her grandchildren, Thea (6) and Rowan (2).

I had certainly heard this was a great museum, but it went above and beyond my expectations. It offers so much for kids and adults of all ages. You need to plan an entire day to enjoy most of it, two days if you really want to see and do it all.

You will find lots of hands-on fun here, but what makes this children’s museum so special are the things you can find that you won’t see anywhere else in the country. The most unique of this is the in-depth focus—from the main entrance and throughout the museum—of dinosaurs.

This isn’t just about plastic pre-historic creatures, it’s about the real thing. Enter the Dinosphere and you can become as knowledgeable as the paleontologists on staff working with actual fossils. It’s set up so there’s plenty for little ones to do, such as digging and drawing, and older kids to learn all about the differences in the dinosaurs and how the museum has been able to acquire and put together these skeleton.

Partnerships that include digs in Wyoming, and collaboration with the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands, help make this all possible. A favorite spot in Dinosphere is the Art Lab, where you can draw hatchling or sculpt and egg, and watch it turn into a dinosaur through the magic of computer video.

There are too many exhibits at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum to list, but I must mention the Riley’s Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience. This outdoor complex is open from May through October and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

The Legends refers to the bronze sculptures of Indiana sports heroes, such as hockey player Wayne Gretsky. The Experience is about being able to actually play a large variety of sports. The options are many. Children (as long as they are accompanied by adults) can play baseball, basketball, soccer, tennis, pickleball, and more. They offer a total of a dozen different options.

Another thing that is special about this museum is the accessibility options. In addition to it all being wheelchair accessible, there are accommodations for those with sensory sensitivities, as well as assisted hearing devices and ASL interpreters.

The Indianapolis Children’s Museum has a food court with options for everyone, as well as kids’ meals. The food is quite good and leans toward healthy options.

Follow the Indianapolis Children’s Museum website for more information and upcoming events, including the Booville Haunted House.

Follow Midwest Travel with Marcia Frost on Facebook and @Spiritstraveler on Instagram, Twitter, Threads, and YouTube for more travel. Also, be sure to check out travel stories at the Wine And Spirits Travel blog.