Now that I am a traveling mom road warrior, I am constantly looking for the next road trip family vacation. For once, the kids had five days off school in a row in October instead of our usual haphazard one day off per week. We took that opportunity to visit Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I thought it would be educational and wholesome. Having a total blast was an unexpected bonus.
I only knew the area was home to a large Amish population; I had no idea it was also home to hundreds of shopping outlets, Menonites, and a bustling tourist business.
We stayed one night and two days at the Holiday Inn Express. The manager recommended we visit Cherry Crest Adventure Farm, Intercourse Pretzel Factory, Dieners, Bird-in-Hand Restaurant and Kettle Kitchen Village for jam and jelly making.
Eat Early—or Late
We learned the first night to eat before or after the 5-6:30 p.m. senior dinner rush (reminded me of Florida). We ate at Bird-in-Hand Family restaurant which offered a huge buffet that included homemade mashed potatoes, broasted chicken, pork and sauerkraut and other selections. The food was acceptable but overpriced (my buffet was $17.99). The desserts looked far better than they tasted.
After dinner, we headed straight for the corn maze at Cherry Crest Farms, which we heard could be done at night with flashlights. Of course, we forgot to take our own flashlights but they had plenty there for $4 each. We purchased a two-day ticket, the flashlights and headed in, not to emerge again from The Amazing Maize Maze until closing time, two hours later.
The five-acre maze is truly amazing and fun, fun, fun. We were given a map and an orientation that included warnings of no running, no smoking, no cornstalk abuse. The map did not offer directions, only a place to paste the directions as you found them – puzzle pieces, really that were found throughout the maze. Also interspersed throughout the five acres were solar energy education stations where you could learn more about energy conservation. Age did not matter, everyone was lost and having a great time. It was so much fun, we returned the next night to improve our time.
An Amish Education
After a good night’s rest and free continental breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express, we took a tour of a working Amish farm situated right next to a Target store. The irony of this was not lost on the kids. Our tour guide answered all of our questions about Amish life, and the differences between the Amish and Menonites. We furthered our education when we stopped in at the Tourist Center on our way to make pretzels and chatted with an Amish man. He was very kind and chatty with the kids. He said he did not mind that tourists came to Lancaster to observe Amish life, he was there to offer assistance and witness to anyone who wanted it.
Pretzels are harder to make, or at least to make quickly, than you might think. We took our lessons at the Intercourse Pretzel Factory and left with herb, cheese, plain and brown buttered pretzels, plus several kinds of chocolate covered pretzels.
Hungry after shopping at a few outlets and unimpressed with the local Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine, the kids chose the ever reliable Cracker Barrel for a late lunch. The food was great as usual and exactly half the price of Bird-in-Hand.
We returned to Cherry Crest Farms and in time to enjoy the pumpkin sling (yup, you hoist small pumpkins through the air), the giant slide, humungous ball roll, bouncy mats, and corn shooter (costs $1 more). The food did not gouge my wallet. The prices for burgers, chicken, peanut butter and jelly and hot chocolate were reasonable, the staff was friendly and everyone was having a good time.
There are loads of places to stay although most hotels and motels had No Vacancy signs. I suggest reserving early. The Holiday Inn Express felt very homey – it was evident that many of the guests had stayed there several times. They kept waving to the manager and patting him on the back. The rooms were clean and roomy enough for me and the three kids. The breakfast was plentiful and offered several healthy selections. Best of all, it is located in the center of Rockvale Outlets and only 10 minutes from the other attractions we visited.