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Trip Report: Grand Rapids, Amtrak, Chicago, Michigan

Trip Report: Grand Rapids, Amtrak, Chicago, Michigan

Aug 29th, 2006, 08:25 PM
  #1  
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Trip Report: Grand Rapids, Amtrak, Chicago, Michigan

For travel_addict....

I return to Michigan every summer to visit family and escape the heat of Dallas. This year, Mom said we HAVE see King Tut...so this trip became two trips in one.

Flew into GRR from DFW on American Eagle - direct 2 1/2 hrs from Dallas. Easy with the kids (3 and 12). I sprang for the snack box for $4each for the kids to keep them quiet...contained a granola bar, cheese/crackers, Lorna Doons, raisins...kinda on the sweet side, but oh-well.

Waited for sister and mom to pick us up after we collected our baggage. We headed right to the Amway Grand where we stayed for the night; chose it based on it's close location to the Amtrak station. The Amway Grand lived up to it's 4star rep...classy, friendly, not uptight. We were in the older section; our room was spacious and nicely decorated.

We were starving, STARVING!!! My sister said we should walk over the The Bob for dinner. We noticed a lot of people downtown; especially for after 6pm. The wait would be 1 hr at the restaurant (second floor; can't remember the name). Turns out American Idol the concert was in town. Nobody is familiar with GR, so we head back towards the airport and eat at Macaroni Grill - a Dallas fave. My sister drops us off at the hotel; she returns home.

*oops...3 yr old wakes up...*

Off to bed early

pepper131 is offline  
Aug 29th, 2006, 09:35 PM
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We didn't get to fully experience the Amway Grand - we really only spent the night before catching the Amtrak in the morning. I reserved a cab at the valet booth for 5:45am before going to bed.

Cab to train staion was quick - 5 minutes or so. The Amtrak schedule had changed to leave an hour earlier...I had gotten a phone call from Amtrak 5 days before our departure - I thought that was quite friendly. It was a nice ride with the sun rising; and some interesting scenery, in particular, the junk yard with the school bus fence.

Eats on the train are sparse. Mostly packaged muffins, yogurt, coffee in a large urn thermos. For some reason I had imagined a dining car with eggs and pancakes. "Limited Cafe" is served out of ice chests and packages placed on surrounding seats. Muffin was $2 or $3; I think I spent about $12 for the 4 of us. I'd plan better next time and bring some good food.
Seats were comfortable; plently of room. Bathroom was on par with an airplane, but larger.

Arrived on time at Union Station. We're starvng for a real breakfast - found a Corner Bakery along the river, a block from Union Station. We have some time to kill before our 3pm check-in, so we decided to take a riverbus ($2) from Riverside Plaza to Michigan Ave.

We walk up Michigan Ave to Grand to the Lego store which is inside a mall on the 3rd floor. The kids have a great time - no Lego store in Big D, so this is a big deal for them. We just lollygag our way up to The Drake for check-in. Room not ready; no biggie, we're an hour early (2pm), so we store our bags.

Walked to Water Tower Place and ate lunch at California Pizza Kitchen. Then decide - Hey...we might as well go up the John Hancock since we're right here. $10/adult. Great view!! I loved seeing the pocket beaches, rooftop pools.

I did Hotwire for The Drake - $94/night...I was quite pleased. Seemed as thought The Drake has Hotwire rooms - worn carpet, hodge-podged armoir/TV set-up, fire escape view, slow shower drain. But for $94/night, I didn't care. The king bed and pillows were very comfy. Alarm clock was the most confusing clock I've ever seen. There was a huge mini bar set-up; I put everything into the closet so my 3 yr old wouldn't rip it apart.

We walked to Oak St Beach; basically across the street. From our aerial view at the Hancock Bldg, it looked seaweedy, but it was some kind of algae washing up. We stayed for dinner at Beachstro - sandwiches around $15; large dinner size. Ohio St Beach (near Navy Pier) looked better from the aerial view, but we never stopped there.



pepper131 is offline  
Aug 29th, 2006, 10:02 PM
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Get ready for Field Museum and King Tut. We have breakfast at L'Appetito located on the lower level (outdoor) of the Hancock Bldg. Ready-made breakfast of eggs, potato, bacon/sausage for $5. Other breakfast pastries $2-3. This is a great place for a quick bite. They have pizza in the afternoon and a wine bar set-up. Also in the same area is the Cheesecake Factory and Jamba Juice.

Took the bus to the Field Museum ($2). Bus stops are clearly marked with easy to read signs. We were a half hour late for entry time into King Tut, but no problem. Our tix were scanned about 4 times before we entered. A lot to look at...we should have skipped the alledged family of Tut which were in the first rooms and jumped right into King Tut. Fascinating stuff - especially his everyday items and items found on him.
Didn't see all of the Field Museum...considering the 3 yr old and all. Ate at Corner Bakery w/in the musuem.

We had planned to go to the Shedd afterward - Thursday night. I had read they were open late, but a sign by the front door said they were closing at 5 or 6; so we were a little bummed.

Took a watertaxi ($6) to Navy Pier and walked around. Ate at Bubba Gump's - good. My 3 yr old wanted to ride the carousel ($5). Walked Navy Pier and watched the karaoke...hilarious. Took a cab back to The Drake...about $8.
pepper131 is offline  
Aug 30th, 2006, 06:32 AM
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Hi Pepper131,

Thanks for posting this - I appreciate the info. I'm laughing that you ate at Macaroni Grill while in Grand Rapids though! They do have good food, but you were surrounded by really good places right near the Amway Grand! But I'm sure that with kids, easy & familiar is probably best. (BTW, if it makes you feel any better, my husband & I ate at Macaroni Grill in Orlando once - we were too tired to try anything new or different that night and just wanted simple pasta.)

Thanks for the info on Chicago too. I'm hoping to be there in a few weeks.

All in all, it sounds like you had a fun trip, which is good!

travel_addict is offline  
Aug 31st, 2006, 08:13 AM
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Now that I can post again....

Downtown Grand Rapids was packed!!! So that's why we chose to get away from downtown and find a restaurant w/o a wait.

Next day in Chicago...it drizzled; this was our day to leave, but not until 5pm or so on Amtrak. Breakfast again L'Appetito, then we checked out of The Drake. Front desk clerk asked why I was checking out early by 4 days. I showed them my confirmation from Hotwire stating I was checking out on time. According to this clerk, I could have stayed another 4 days at no charge since that was the info they had from Hotwire....if I had only known!!!

We checked our bags in with the bellhop - who were excellent and well organized. There was a Lego event in the mall w/ the Lego store, so headed to do that. My 12 yr old is a Lego freak!! They had the master-builder; the only one in the US (Denmark has 20-30!!) building a giant Yoda. The kids assembled giant blocks for the master-builder. We had lunch on the 4th floor where there's a a food court with good variety.

Back to The Drake to get our bags and cabbed-it to Union Staion in the rain ($12).
Union Station was easy to get around. The waiting area was very crowded - probably because it was a Friday at 5pm. Train on time - and it's a mad dash to the train to get a seat...especially seats together. One lady exclaimed that she was not about to sit next to anyone she did not know all the way to Grand Rapids...well, let me tell you...the seas parted - guess nobody wanted to sit next to her either!!! Arrived on time; close to 11pm.. My sister picked us up and we drove up to Mt Pleasant.

Overall - I loved Chicago!! It's a real city; not like Dallas which thinks it's a city - now I don't know what to think about Dallas. The Dallas/Chicago debate has come up in the past. Chicago in the summer kicks Dallas' butt!! No wonder Boeing picked Chicago over Dallas.
Amtrak was an easy ride; I'd do it again - I think it was a big savings over parking overnight (The Drake was $38/nt) and the hassle of driving. If you're a food snob, pack a picnic for your Amtrak ride.
pepper131 is offline  
Aug 31st, 2006, 08:29 AM
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Pepper,
Glad you enjoyed yourself. You really can't beat Chicago in the summer, except maybe Chicago in September--THE BEST WEATHER! Come back soon!
swalter518 is offline  
Aug 31st, 2006, 08:35 AM
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Just a few Michigan highlights...

Went into Midland to see the Dow Gardens and Whiting Forest. Dow Gardens is one of the best gardens. It's a more natural setting with interesting features. In Dallas, we have the Arboretum, which is so forced and unacheivable by a reagualr gardener.

Also in Midland is the John Pratt house. His entire house is mosiac - the outside. I have wanted to stop there ever since I was a kid; it's so cool to look at. Since he passed away, you can tour the home. It's on the south side of M-20/Isabella Rd, a few houses east of 6 Mile Rd/Meridan Rd.

We spent another day in Pentwater and Charles Mears St Park. This is the best beach along Lake Mich, IMO...that's public anyway. With small kids, the parking is close w/o a ton of stairs to climb. There's a snack counter w/ hotdogs, ice cream, etc. And clean bathrooms.
A small dune to climb and a longer hike up some stairs to a lookout point. The beach has a sandbar about 4-8 feet from the shore that's great for skim-boarding. The water was chilly; about 58 degrees, the air was only 80 or so. Needless to say I only went in up to my knees - the kids got in, though.

Pentwater has a cute downtown that's on Pentwater Lake that has boat access into Lake Michigan. We ate at a restaurant across from the marina (next to the big log on display). I was surprised...good food!! I had a fried grouper sandwich ($10?).

Lots of cottages to rent in Pentwater, but only a few on Lake Michigan and a few more on Pentwater Lake (no beach though).
pepper131 is offline  
Aug 31st, 2006, 08:52 AM
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JJ5
 
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I so enjoyed your reports. And also took some notes, as I want to explore Grand Rapids at length when I have time some year. It won't be until I have car/more time off, and more lengthy residence in MI. Maybe in 2-1/2 years, if I am lucky.

And I totally agree about Pentwater on all counts. Although I have to admit I tend to keep the best Lake Michigan beaches a secret among friends and let the mobs have Saugatuck. LOL!

Thanks galore!
JJ5 is offline  
Aug 31st, 2006, 12:43 PM
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Oh my god, pepper131! Somebody is saying good things about Midland. I've lived here now 28 years and Dow Gardens is a treasure. DD had some of her senior pics taken there. My favorite is by the waterfall.

I agree about taking the train to Chicago. DS and I did that last summer from Flint. Definitely cheaper than driving and NO TRAFFIC!
SuzieTrue is offline  
Aug 31st, 2006, 12:49 PM
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Pepper - so glad you visited Pentwater while you were here too. It's one of my favorite places, and I'll be a half hour away from there this weekend so I'll probably be visiting too. Was the place you ate at Gull's Landing? Or perhaps the Village Pub? Both are good, but I think you're probably talking about Gull's. Good, cheap eats!

Like JJ5, I try to keep the really good MI places somewhat of a secret - try not to tell too many people about Pentwater!
travel_addict is offline  
Aug 31st, 2006, 01:55 PM
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Sorry about the mention of Pentwater; I do know what you mean...as I'm keeping my fave place in Mexico a total secret. I was actually surprised to see so many people on the beach in Pentwater...maybe they were mostly campers??
I think we ate at Gull Landing - it looked to be the least expensive and more kid friendly.

I can hardly believe that I can say anything nice about Midland myself. I grew up there and split for college and never came back (visits only). But Dow Gardens is amazing; the Alden Dow architecture is so comforting to be around...but still not a decent place to eat. We went to Los Quatros Amigos which was good, and the India restaurant nearby looked interesting - finally Indian in Midland..what took so long???
And don't even get me started on how fantastic the schools are. After being in Dallas, I have such an appreciation for Midland's schools.

I liked Grand Rapids too. The Amway Grand has a great location along the river and close to a couple of museums. We'll have to spend more time there..next summer.
pepper131 is offline  
Aug 31st, 2006, 05:56 PM
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pepper131,

I know what you mean about restaurants. We were so happy when Los Quatros opened, this was shortly after Chi-Chi's folded. I teach in an elementary school in Midland and am very thankful when I hear stories from friends in other parts of the country.

Suzie
SuzieTrue is offline  
Sep 1st, 2006, 07:33 AM
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SuzieTrue, pepper131, and travel addict: You know- the people of Michigan should be very proud of their school systems. Of course it isn't every school district, but I have studied this. And in the counties mentioned and also in South and South Central Michigan, actually all Western Michigan that I have surveyed for different reasons, the rural and suburban educational levels have been good- as far as few falling through the cracks.

We have some very, very poor populations in Cass County and still the school systems absorb and modify, and as a result- most get very good and early support to help bring them up to levels. Nothing is ever perfect, but I think the medical and educational choices in Grand Rapids and larger surrounds are to be commended.
JJ5 is offline  
Sep 1st, 2006, 12:06 PM
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Well, JJ5, I would have to agree with you! I have several relatives and friends who work in the educational and health fields and they all seem to be happy with what we have to offer here.

Grand Rapids is growing by leaps and bounds, but IMHO, most of it is positive. What I really like about GR is it's still a small, safe city, but not so small there's nothing to do. Sure, we have crime, but not too bad. Traffic's not too bad around here either - it's easy to get across town in less than 15 min. We have plenty of parks, lakes, rivers, trails & greenery around here. And more and more, we are improving our cultural and culinary options too. Plus, we're only a half an hour away from one of the nicest large lakes in the country! Not too bad at all...

And it doesn't look like it'll rain here at all until later on Monday!
travel_addict is offline  
Sep 1st, 2006, 12:18 PM
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JJ5
 
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Oh that last is SO good to know. I can take a little rain on the lake but not the entire time I'm there because I want to do my bonfire as well.

Thank you, travel addict. And all- have a good Holiday.
JJ5 is offline  

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