It was finally time to have our first family holiday since 2019. We decided to throw our bags in the car and head out on a road trip to Ohio. Ohio has a word-of-mouth reputation for being a great family destination… But who would’ve known it would surpass all of our family of five’s expectations?
We filled our days with slipping down water slides, riding ponies, playing pinball, rocking out in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, touring the National Air Force Museum, visiting the lower basement of a famous prison, hitting a tattoo parlour for piercings, and screaming our faces off on some intense roller coasters!
Slip & Slide in Sandusky
Our first destination was Sandusky, Ohio, where we had booked three nights and four days of fun. From our house in Toronto, it was only a five-and-a-half-hour drive, and the drive itself was very smooth. Our youngest had never crossed the border between Canada and the U.S. She was thrilled to see the United States flag officially flying at the Peace Bridge border crossing in Buffalo/Fort Erie.
We played the license plate game (keeping a running list of all the different States license plates as they were spotted). And we pit-stopped once at one of the numerous washroom/information exits.
Ohio’s Kalahari Waterpark
By the time we rolled into the parking lot of the Kalahari (the largest indoor water park in Ohio) we were ready to get slipping and sliding.
The theme of the hotel and water park is African. Exotic statues and murals of animals and rainforests are all over the property, including the lobby and the water park. The indoor water park itself is 174,000 square feet. Plus there’s an additional three acres of waters slides, pools, and more outside. Our hope was that the indoor water park would satisfy our thirteen-year-old thrill seeker, eleven-year-old, and our youngest, who at eight had yet to go down a big water slide due to COVID-19.
We could not have chosen a better park. Kalahari has been open since 2005 and has a long history of super splashing fun. The rides have names in keeping with the theme. There’s the Cheetah Racer, the Tanzanian Twister, and the Zimbabwe Zipper. They do not disappoint.
Our kids’ top three favourites were the Swahili Swirl, the Victoria Falls raft ride, and the Crocodile Cove’s 3000 square feet of water basketball. We didn’t pay the extra money for the surf ride. There was more than enough to do. The kids spent lots of time in the wave pool and on the lazy river.
Kalahari Waterpark tip:
FYI, we found the lineups to be significantly shorter, or non-existent, later in the day. We planned accordingly by leaving early for our day trips, returning after an early dinner to enjoy the water park.
Sadly, we just missed the unveiling of the massive new renovations, which include a 15,000 square foot pool, the re-opening of the seventy-foot zipline, a petting zoo, and mini putt area. But there was more than enough to do inside.
And since we missed trying all of that out, we’ve made plans to return. Another trip to Ohio is definitely in the cards 🙂
Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame
No trip to Ohio is complete without a stop in Cleveland for this legendary attraction. At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the atmosphere and the love of music and musicians is absolutely palpable. If you love music, and you love rock and roll, you have just got to go. With ever changing exhibits, there is no wrong time to go celebrate your favourite inductees and discover new loves.
The Beatles’ exhibit in the basement was bigger and better than any of us expected. The pictures, instruments, the videos playing, the music, it immerses you in that time period and encapsulates Beatlemania on so many levels. It’s not just about the fans then, but also the fans now. The exhibit shows the genius of their songwriting and the sense of excitement about their music. Its effects are instantly contagious.
On each level of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the floor to ceiling displays seem endless at times, weaving us through decades of music, from Aretha to Elvis, from Prince to Tom Morello. The exhibits have photos, posters, instruments, sheet- music, concert experiences, the joys of music, and big personalities on display alongside quiet heroes.
The R&R Hall of Fame Garage
And then we found the Garage. Huge kudos to the designer who set up this entire floor of awesomeness! It looks just like someone’s garage. Visitors are encouraged to grab an instrument and play or learn to play. They have electric guitars, basses, and drum sets.
Alternatively, punk out and play some pinball (my favourite was Aerosmith) or check out the sticker making machine. Be sure to give yourself extra time to visit the room where the inductees are listed alphabetically. By popping on a headset and choosing one of your faves, you can watch their acceptance speech. Believe me, Dolly Parton’s was oh so awesome!
On the way out, hit the gift shop to browse the racks of t-shirts, music merch, gifts, and the impressive range of vinyl. Then grab a selfie with the giant rock ‘n’ roll sign, and pause to imagine living on Johnny Cash’s tour bus parked out front. What road trips that bus must’ve seen!
From rock and roll to roller coasters, we headed to Cedar Point the following day to ride on its legendary eighteen roller coasters. Cedar Point began as a swimming and sunbathing destination on the shores of Lake Erie in the late 1800s, but in 1892, they installed its first roller coaster called the Switchback Railway. The coaster stood 25 feet tall and reached a top speed of 10 mph.
Compare those stats with the popular roller coaster Steel Vengeance, which has a 200-foot drop at 90 degrees, a top speed of 74 mph, and a ridiculous amount of airtime. Or experience the Millennium Force, which has a fierce speed of 93 mph and drops of up to 182 feet. Then race over to the Corkscrew coaster, which speeds you through three inversions and flips its screaming passengers upside down at 38mph. The Corkscrew opened in 1976, but it still draws big crowds daily, including my fourteen- and eleven-year-old, who ran off at full tilt to ride it again.
More than just roller coasters…
We went to Cedar Point for the roller coasters but there was a full day of fun for our eight-year-old, who, even though she was tall enough to go on the coasters, decided there was NO WAY she was getting on any of those.
So instead, she stuck to the Cedar Creek Mine Ride, the carousel, the coal-fired locomotive ride, and the spinning octopus ride. She loved the Matterhorn, the Ferris wheel (what an incredible view of Lake Erie and the whole park), and the Cedar Downs Racing Derby. She rode a real pony in the Frontier section of the park, which has some unique experiences, like the Fort Sandusky and its mining company where you can pan for gemstones, the Barnyard petting and feeding area, and glass blowing demonstrations.
The National Museum of the US Air Force
Airplane lovers will delight in The National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. And it only just keeps getting better and better, and bigger and bigger. What started in 1923 in the corner of an aircraft hangar near downtown Dayton has grown to over 360 aircraft. It’s now overflowing a whopping five airplane hangars at its forever home on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
The museum chronicles the entire history of aviation, from the early days of hot air ballooning to the first planes ever built and flown, to space travel. There are aircraft and artifacts everywhere. Many are hanging from the ceiling and arranged throughout the floors, effectively filling every bit of space they have. Everywhere you look there are pictures, models, interactive exhibits, full sized planes, and helicopters. All with such attention to detail. You can sense the pride the museum takes in getting everything just right.
For airplane enthusiasts, there is a lot to look at and read. Amazingly, the cost to enter and park at the museum is FREE. It is open from nine to five, seven days a week. Totally worth a trip to Ohio!
Air Force Museum Collections
The galleries house collections for World Wars, Space, and more, including Women in the Air Force, the Presidential Gallery, and the impressive Eugene W. Kettering Model Aircraft Collection. There are free tours offered by passionate volunteers, although we did retrace our steps so we could go more slowly through each hangar.
A small café inside the museum lets you refuel and rest your feet, while outside the grounds have monuments, plaques, planes, and a picnic area. They also have the most awesome gift shop. From novelty gifts to t-shirts, hoodies, models, and toys. Anyone who loves airplanes could get lost in the aisles. They literally had to kick us out.
Near the museum there are other sites to visit, like the Huffman Prairie Flying Field where the Wright Brothers experimented with flight, the Wright Cycle Company, the Armstrong Air and Space Museum, the Aviation Trail, and more. Proving Ohio really is the place to be for aviation enthusiasts.
The Ohio Reformatory
One of the things I love about road trips is how much freedom, flexibility, convenience, and affordability they offer. And best of all, I love how road trips can offer something most holidays cannot. Spontaneity.
Which is how we ended up in the basement of the Ohio Reformatory.
Movie-Inspired Family Travel
While on the road, my husband mentioned that the movie Shawshank Redemption was filmed in Ohio. And guess what? As we drove, we realised Mansfield, Ohio, was close enough for us to go visit! We had little idea of what to expect, but the moment we saw the Ohio Reformatory, we were blown away by its architecture. Levi Scofield, the architect who designed the prison, took ten years to build it. He utilised much of the prison population to construct it. It continues to have the largest free-standing cell block in the world, at six tiers high.
In the over one hundred years it was in operation not a single prisoner escaped from its cells.
“If you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further.”
The design of the grounds included a school, a hospital, and a working farm, and was considered self- sufficient. The prison started out as the Intermediate Penitentiary which accepted inmates who had committed lesser crimes, and who were hoped to be reformed by the end of their term. Their ages ranged between sixteen and twenty-four and they had a ninety percent reformation rate. Much of the time served was dedicated to hard labour. Prisoners were taught a vocation or trade, so that upon their release they could support themselves.
Unfortunately, the mixing of maximum-security prisoners—transferred due to a lack of space—with minimum-security prisoners turned the reformatory into a brutal place known for its inhumane conditions.
Family-Friendly Prison Tour 🙂
The Ohio Reformatory was closed in 1990, and after almost being torn down, the prison became a non- profit overseen by a volunteer board. Every dollar of every tour and donation goes to the maintenance and restoration of the reformatory buildings and grounds.
We took two tours back-to-back. One called “History and Hollywood,” and the other “Behind the Bars.” Both were suitable for all ages, and the guide took us throughout the entire prison, including the roof and the basement, with many personal stories about his time spent in the buildings.
For those interested in the paranormal, the Ohio Reformatory has reduced visiting areas during the month leading up to Halloween because of Blood Prison, an interactive spooky tour. There are other events hosted at the Ohio Reformatory throughout the year, such as concerts and paranormal tours.
The gift shop sells t-shirts, mugs, and a range of other products to commemorate your visit. Detailing both the Ohio Reformatory and Shawshank, there are unique holiday ornaments, brewed coffee, key chain handcuffs, and more. While you’re there, don’t forget to ask about the ghost cat who haunts the prison.
Pizza and Piercings
Drive through Dayton directly to the Pizza Factory on Wayne Avenue and get ready for some pretty serious custom pizzas. With the catchphrase “Liberate yourself from Chain Pizza” be sure to try some of the local favourites like the Auzzie Supreme, the Quebec Poutine pizza (yes!) and the much sought after Seafood Blanc pizza.
We had the Ultimate Meat and an Ultimate Cheese, and I would drive back to Dayton tomorrow for more. The pop in the fridge was pretty epic as well—glass bottled, cold, and pretty cool flavour combinations. Pumpkin, root beer, and vanilla. Yum.
Oh, and hey, while you’re waiting for the pizza, if you feel the need for a piercing or tattoo, slip into the Blue Byrd tattoo parlour down the block. It doesn’t get much more authentically cool than this place. From the decor to the colourful people who work there, their artistic talents are proudly displayed and provided. Blue Byrd also has impeccably clean work stations, a long history of custom work, and some pretty epic cartoons on the big screen.
Both of our daughters got their ears pierced. The artist was not only extremely gentle and kind, but he also worked fast. Before we knew it, we were out the door and back on the road, ready for our next destination.
Whether you head out on a trip to Ohio for the water parks, the roller coasters, the opportunity to do some rocking out, to visit a few airplane museums, or simply to be spontaneous, the hype, and the word-of-mouth reputation of being a great family trip is oh-so-deserved.
Joanne Taylor is a make-up artist, artist, and underwater photographer.
(Ed. note: She is also a hockey mom extraordinaire!) Follow her blog at Underwater Photography for Kids.
- North Carolina with Kids
- Chicago with Kids: A Quickie Family Vacation
- Panama City Beach, Florida with Kids
Have Kids Will Travel is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates/Influencer Program. If you make a purchase through this site, we may receive a small commission. Click here to check out our Amazon Store.