The staycation that turned to a… vacation?

How far from home do you have to drive before your staycation qualifies as a vacation? After our first two days of not-far-from-home fun around northern Illinois, we stayed home on Wednedsay for a day of fun at home with movies, play, and long sessions of Minecraft. What would the rest of Spring Break week hold? 

We have friends who live near Indianapolis, and they invited us down for a visit to the Indianapolis Zoo. My boys were up for a little road trip! They are great travelers who each keep a backpack packed for quick overnight trips, and they can be ready to go at a moment’s notice. We hit the highway early Thursday morning for the drive to Indy.


Indianapolis Zoo – Indianapolis, Indiana

Our children are no strangers to zoos – living in Chicagoland, we have gone to the Brookfield Zoo many times, but it’s always fun to go somewhere you’ve never been! While the Indianapolis Zoo is smaller than Brookfield, they pack a lot of animals, exhibits and fun into this zoo. Here are some highlights from our day. 

indianapolis zoo

We’ve experienced pet-a-stingray exhibits before, but have you ever pet a shark? We hadn’t until this week! They’re really slick, smooth and a little slimier than you might expect. 

indianapolis zoo

You can get up close with the tigers here, as part of their habitat has a glass wall. This one walked right up and was nose-to-nose with one of my children.



Their parrot habitat was lots of fun. The lories will land right on you to get a taste of nectar from a cup. 


They also liked to perch on shoulders and the tops of people’s heads — here, I’m trying to coax one off my friend’s head, but the bird was quite content to stay there. I think we had even more fun in here playing with the birds than the kids did! 

Indianapolis Zoo

Other highlights: Their orangutan exhibit is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and information about it at the zoo notes that it is one of the largest orangutan exhibits in any American zoo. Not only is the indoor building incredibly interesting, with many areas for the orangutans to climb, swing and explore, there are also several vertical tunnels that extend under the ground to the outdoors. You can see one to the right of this photo.

The orangutans can come outside, then swing and climb to all of the towers connected with cables that you see extending behind the exhibit building. A skyway tram runs on the track so guests can get up close with the orangutans when they are outdoors too. It was too cool this week for the orangutans to come outside, but my friend said that this exhibit is amazing to see when the weather is warmer. There are no cages or barriers to them other than the height and distance between the orangutans and the ground!

The Indianapolis Zoo’s penguin house is also really neat to see. Both sides of the building have floor-to-ceiling glass walls where you can watch the penguins above water and under the water. The water extends below a glass floor, and you can see them swimming down, under your feet, and back up to the other side of the house. This was next to impossible to photograph, but it was awesome to watch! 

indianapolis zoo

The underwater dolphin viewing room has a glass dome-shaped “bubble” that allows you to stand in the bottom of the dolphins’ tank under the water and look up, watching the dolphins swim above and around you.

Indinapolis Zoo

We all had a great time at the zoo, and I’d like to come back in warmer weather to see the orangutan exhibit again. My kids spotted a splash pad play zone at the zoo that would fun in summer weather too. 

The rest of the day

We planned to stay overnight in Indiana and spend more time with friends, then head back to Illinois midmorning. As John Lennon famously sang though, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” We made reservations at a Hampton Inn (indoor pool! free breakfast!) and as we pulled into the parking lot, my beloved Chevrolet’s engine groaned, kicked down a notch, and the dashboard said: 

reduced engine power

Let me tell you, this is not a fun message to receive when you’re four hours from home. Something was wrong with my truck, and the onboard ECM put the engine into limp mode, where you can drive slowly (20-30 mph) in low gear. Fortunately, we were in a hotel parking lot when this happened and not on the highway. We checked into the hotel, and I got on the phone with the closest Chevy dealer. It was five miles away, and the kids and I got back in the truck for a slow drive over.


(Chevrolet-dealer-as-Spring-Break destination isn’t so bad when they have free video games in the service lounge!)

The service tech at Chevy read the computer code and found out the accelerator sensor had gone bad. (I was glad to learn this wasn’t a much larger issue.) Their service department was about to close for the evening, and we’d have to leave my truck overnight. They said it would be no problem to fix it on Friday. 

Our friends picked us up at the Chevy dealer, and we went back to their house for dinner. I thanked them for being such great friends — we were going to need a little more shuttling around the area until my truck was fixed.

After dinner, the boys and I we were chauffeured back to the Hampton. The kids stayed in the pool until it closed at 11pm. They, of course, thought the entire day had been a grand adventure.


The next morning, we went downstairs and had breakfast, and then — more pool time until it was time to check out. 

We went to lunch with our friends, and after lunch, our truck was ready. Good as new! I was very grateful that the Chevy dealer was able to turn it around so quickly. The boys were joking that there were still a couple more days left in their Spring Break, and they wouldn’t have minded if we’d had to stay in Indianapolis a little longer at that hotel with the pool. (I would have minded somewhat, as we had only packed one change of clothes…) 

We said goodbye, and we hit the road again. It started to rain for part of the drive home, and as the rain slowed, my oldest son pointed out the window and said, “Mom… LOOK!” 


He took this photo out the window — a stunning rainbow! Look closely above the rainbow and you’ll see that it’s a double rainbow. The second one is fainter in the clouds above the first. We love to point out fun things that we see during long drives, but this one was so beautiful that both kids were sitting silently facing the windows looking at it until the rain fully stopped and it faded away.

We headed out for the drive back to Illinois, but as we approached Merrillville, my boys reminded me that we needed to make one more stop…



Albanese Candy Factory – Merrillville, Indiana

We discovered the Albanese Candy Factory a few years ago on another drive to Indianapolis to visit our friends, and now we can’t drive down I-65 without stopping. It’s only three miles off the highway, and it’s probably the closest thing you’ll ever experience to walking into something like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in real life. Our kids cheer when the factory comes into view. Who doesn’t want to visit a giant candy factory?


There is a large candy store attached to the factory, where you can shop an incredible assortment of candy, much of which is made right on site — they make more than 500 kinds of candy here. There is also a self-guided factory tour where you can watch gummy candies being made during the day. They do not allow photos of this, but my kids get such a kick out of watching thousands of gummy bears pour down a conveyor belt and being packaged up!

And, what would a candy factory be without a chocolate fountain — an enormous, ceiling high, flowing chocolate fountain…

How can you not enjoy this place? You can select your own custom mix of candies (bulk candy is sold by the pound) but they also have lots of discounted things, like “Gummy Goof-Ups” (gummies where the color is not perfectly consistent throughout, or shapes are slightly off.)


One of our favorite things to buy here are giant bags of “Misfortune Cookies” — fortune cookies that aren’t quite perfect. My boys have commented that to truly be Misfortune Cookies, they should also contain depressing fortunes, like “You will lose a large sum of money,” but no — normal fortunes in slightly-less-than normal cookies. Yum!


I left the Albanese Candy Factory about $25 poorer, but with jubilant sons toting bags of cookies and candies. Let me tell you, you haven’t fully experienced an Indiana road trip without everyone dipping into a giant bag of fortune cookies that’s sitting open on the passenger seat. Stop here once, and you’ll find it hard to drive by without stopping again. 

Bang, Zoom, Crazy Hello

Bang Zoom Crazy Hello

As we headed toward home, Mom had to make one more quick stop. We ran into a Target store to buy Cheap Trick’s new album, Bang Zoom Crazy Hello, which just came out yesterday. (You did remember that April 1st is officially Cheap Trick Day in the state of Illinois, didn’t you? At the time this day was officially passed, it was the only piece of Illinois legislation to pass with a unanimous, bipartisan senate vote. It probably still is.) 

We banged-zoomed-crazy-helloed our way home and talked about how amazing it is that Mom’s favorite bands continue to rock 40+ years after their origins. We ate fortune cookies and read the fortunes out loud. My sons said that I got the best fortune of all, though, and I agree: 



  1. J says

    Your fortune from your cookie seems to perfectly sum up your Spring Break. Looks like you had a blast with your family. You do have so much to be thankful for, how wonderful that your boys recognize that! They have such a good mother as a role model.

    • says

      Aww – thank you! We really did have fun this week. It’s fun to plan things and throw some spontaneity in too. I continue to be awed by how much my children recognize and acknowledge the good things in our lives. I love being a mom, and I’m so lucky to have them :)

  2. Cari says

    We have family right outside on Indianapolis…always wanted to hit up the zoo but never find the time. The Indianapolis children s museum is really cool too. Love the albanease candy factory. My kids always grab the misfortune cookies too. And the gummy oops…..Our favorite ones are the gummy frogs that are all connected by arms their legs.

    • says

      Cari, we love the Indianapolis Children’s Museum as well — it’s just amazing. Any museum with a dinosaur popping through the building is already going to turn kids’ heads :) Yes, those Gummy Oops candies are a bargain — and really funny :)

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