If Chicago is the only thing that comes to mind when you think of Illinois, you’re missing some of the state’s most appealing family destinations. Here are six family-friendly activities and sights you won’t want to miss for a getaway this fall, from corn and apple mazes to river cruises and even a murder mystery dinner.
Enjoy amazing mazes. This year, nearly 20 Illinois farms and orchards throughout the state are celebrating the state’s 200th anniversary and its agricultural history with bicentennial-themed corn and apple mazes. Abbey Farms of Aurora, for example, is offering two bicentennial mazes — one for each century of the state —with special evening hours for added challenge and fun. Or travel north to Harvard for one of the country’s only mazes composed entirely of apple trees at Royal Oak Farm Orchard. Answer questions about Illinois history and you may win some prizes.
Get festive. Another way to enjoy the beauty of autumn is at the Morton Arboretum Fall Color Festival, through October in Lisle. You’ll be google-eyed at the kaleidoscope of brilliantly colored trees while chowing down on taffy apples and following the scarecrow trail around Meadow Lake.
Set sail. Wannabe sailors can take in the colors of the season on a cruise down the Mississippi River aboard the Spirit of Peoria in Grafton. You can cruise overnight or set out for a 90-minute paddle boat ride, often accompanied by music and entertainment. Choose from morning, afternoon and full-service lunch rides or go all in with an interactive murder mystery dinner cruise with the cast of The Alton Little Theater.
Get behind the wheel. The Great River Road, for example, is a drive along the Mighty Mississippi, otherwise known as US-20 to State-84, that offers some of the best leaf peeping around. The route wends through historic towns, native burial sites and farm country, beginning and ending with beautiful river views. Don’t miss the 33-mile stretch from Hartford to Grafton, known as the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway.
Bring your appetite. Of course, half the fun of autumn travel is enjoying the seasonal food offerings. One of the most iconic is the list of fun options made from apples. From juice to cider donuts, apple-themed treats abound, and families old enough to imbibe might get a kick from Apple Knocker, a craft cider house in Cobden that infuses wine-making and craft-brewing techniques into its hard cider production. Pack a picnic basket with the usual staples and consider adding a few Apple Knocker classics, like Hard Knocker or The Bad One.
Raise a glass. Or sample new wine at the 34th annual Nouveau Wine Weekend at Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery in mid-November. Activities include the sight of a traditional horse-drawn wagon delivering the first bottles of this year’s harvest to local area businesses, lunch on the second floor of Nouveau’s flagship store in downtown Galena, a parade, public tours and, of course, plenty of wine tastings.
Don’t expect Turin to fit your image of Italy. It’s Italian, all right — the evening passeggiata and a love of good food and wine are alive and well. But you’ll look in vain for medieval cobbled streets, crumbling castles and works by Michelangelo (who never set foot here). Instead, although you’ll find some Roman ruins, you’ll also find a faux medieval village, a world-class film museum and a café life that rivals Vienna’s. You and your family will have fun here.
By Hainan Airlines
Are your kids astronaut wannabes? Or maybe a holiday tradition in your family is to re-watch Macauley Culkin’s Home Alone every year. Either way, the brand new, dual-branded 342-room Hilton Garden Inn/Homewood Suites by Hilton Chicago Downtown South Loop and the historic 1928 Whitehall Hotel have packages designed for the little ones in your family.
The Grinch reimaged in intricate ice carvings, superfast indoor snow tubing and a Ferris wheel ride with Santa high above the D.C. area. Sound like fun? You and your family can experience all this and lots more this holiday season at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.
Not a fan of giant cruise ships? This might be the year to put Celestyal Cruises on your radar, especially if your dream family destinations are the Greek Islands, the eastern Mediterranean and, new for next year, the Adriatic.