Reviews & Photos
December 03 2016
0 families found this helpful
Pier B Resort
800 West Railroad Street,
"Great location for events, poor food."
Pier B Resort opened to the public in the late summer season 2016 -- a nice, contemporary option by the lake the hotel is just okay for families, unless you need the convenient locale for events.
Being a really new hotel the property was immaculate (as expected.) The views were gorgeous (we stayed in a King Marina Deck room after asking about any free upgrades available upon check-in and receiving the bump from "double queen classic" which would have a view of the parking lot (which they describe as a view of either the city or Enger Tower.) The King Marina Deck gave us access to an outdoor gathering patio (which after a two-foot accumulation of snow the previous day had a bit of snow here and there but was mostly clear for use and had a table and chairs), a harbor view, and for the season we were staying [Thanksgiving-New Years], a Bentleyville Tour of Lights view as well. This was particularly special for kids.
Tip: Bentleyville shuts off the lights at 9 p.m. -- if you're expecting to have the festive flair all night long, you'll be disappointed.
The major selling point of the hotel is LOCATION. If you are attending an event at the DECC/Amsoil Arena, it's an easy walk (with new, paved sidewalk and small drawbridge for SOME events) so you do not have to deal with event parking or busy public lots. It's especially wonderful for Bentleyville in the holiday season when the attraction is known to congest traffic on I-35. With kids, being able to bundle up in the hotel and simply take a short stroll over is about as good as it gets -- absolutely worth the price of a hotel room. The Great Lakes Aquarium would also be easily walkable.
In the summer I suppose being able to boat up to the property would be a selling point, but I don't think as many people boat up on the big water of Lake Superior recreationally as they do on smaller lakes in Minnesota where marina restaurants and hotels are popular. And, since the restaurant was the one major disappointment of the resort, I don't see people boating in for a destination eatery. The Silos Restaurant might be better for dinner entrees -- we only ate breakfast at the resort. However, for walkable dining, this is the ONLY choice. Being between the interstate and the lake, there really aren't any other food options I'd be comfortable walking to with kids in tow.
*Nearby dining alternatives are located in the Canal Park district: Canal Park Brewery is excellent (even for kids), Amazing Grace cafe has wonderful organic breakfast/lunch soup/sandwich options, Northern Waters Smokehaus is also nearby and open earlier in the morning. Starbucks and Caribou Coffee both have locations within a few minutes drive of Pier B.
Bayfront Festival Park and Playfront Park are within easy walking distance. (About 200 yards via nice, paved walk.) This is the seasonal location of Bentleyville, BUT one of the BEST playgrounds in northern Minnesota during the warmer months. Really amazing outdoor concert venue too, often offering family events.
The North Shore Scenic Railroad and the location for "A Day Out with Thomas" is across the road, though you deal with a few cross streets. Still convenient.
Free shuttles run from the hotel to Canal Park, Bentleyville (seasonal),
Rooms are noisy -- walls are paper thin and almost entirely ineffective in blocking noise. And at least during our stay, it was common to find people outside the hotel room having a "hall party," sitting in the hallway, gabbing and drinking wine. (On a Wednesday night) -- maybe not the "norm" but it was hard to ignore. Also, because bedtime for kids is generally much earlier than "quiet times" -- it's not something you can really get bent out of shape about.
The lack of the usual "hotel carpets, gaudy paintings, and busy bedding is so aesthetically pleasing. Perfectly austere. It also helps ensure kids won't be as prone to accidentally knocking a picture off of a wall or a lamp off of an end table. I like the minimalism a lot.
I would recommend the resort but absolutely not the restaurant. Prices are too high for sub-par quality food, slow service, and overall mediocre experience. The only negative aspect of the hotel stay itself would be if you are sensitive to noise at night -- it would be a very noisy hotel if particularly busy (wedding or event.)
Pack 'N Plays are available for free; roll-aways are $10 per night but honestly, in the King Marina deck, you'd be hard-pressed to find a place to put an extra bed.
The coffee maker in the room is a Kuerig and it is stocked with a few K-cups of Caribou coffee.
Rates were around $103 - $309 for mid-week off-season averages on the website, before taxes.
The entire place is really clean, but that is to be expected since it's less than one year old. Anything short of perfect in this area would be a huge redflag, so at least it's a nice, clean albeit noisy stay!
Lobby coffee is available but is not great.
Ample luggage carts for loading and unloading to vehicles -- the front entrance has a very small canopy cover, so if it's raining/snowing you may get wet.
Elevators (2) are fast.
Free kayak/recreation equipment use; first come, first served during non-winter seasons.
Free permitted parking.
The pool is small but VERY warm and saline. It was quite busy on the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving, when we visited--full of children. I feel this is probably atypical for the hotel and they may have just hosted large crowds thick with kids visiting because of Bentleyville next door. Many guests were grandparents staying at the resort with family members visiting with the grandchildren for just the evening.
The pool is probably very quiet during other seasons. It is small -- not Olympic size or anything, but it has a deeper end perfect for cannonballs and you could swim laps (small ones) if you wanted. The hours are great -- open late enough to enjoy a meal and then swim. They have adult-only hours after 10 p.m.
Outdoor hot tub is a short jaunt across the patio from the pool area and has a glass wind-break surrounding it with an open air top. Large hot tub and is quite busy at night. Also saline. Good temperature, though not overly hot at all.
The fitness center was well-stocked and got quite a lot of use in the time we were there. It's not huge, about the size of a hotel guest room, but the equipment was all functional.
S'mores every night for guests at the patio fire pits or just to snack on in-room is advertised, though we did not partake.
Very pet-friendly BUT charges a non-refundable $50/per pet/night fee.
Silos Restaurant (on-site, first level)
Not great food. The menu had just changed from what they showed online (summer brunch) to a more standard American breakfast offering. Pancakes, American potatoes, and a few kids choices were on a one-page menu. It was about the quality of an average breakfast buffet, some continental breakfasts we've had have been superior. The potatoes were good and the coffee was also favorable. Summer brunch menu is expensive and ice cream is exorbitant, but the regular breakfast menu prices are average.
It was a busier morning but it took 45 minutes from ordering to getting (most) of our food--too long to wait for kids and for the quality of the meal we received.
We didn't get any coffee refills, my potatoes didn't come with the meal - I had to request that I receive them, or they'd have been missed entirely. No jam for toast (period.) No kids cup as requested. All just minor things, but quite a few minor things for one dining experience!
$7.75 for two golf ball-sized dollops of ice cream--and nothing else. (Insanely expensive.) I didn't see a menu for other dessert prices but the two choices were Creme Brulee and Raspberry Souffle.
The resort is perfect for event lodging. Hockey parents, Bentleyville tourists, or those who want a weekend getaway near popular attractions will find the resort convenient for all but dining. The views are unmatched (the Canal Park resorts do offer harbor views and lakeside rooms, but do not offer the angle for picturesque views of the iconic lift bridge.) We really liked staying near Bayfront Festival Park for Bentleyville (a normally somewhat busy and frantic outing became enjoyable.)
The bottom line is, for events or for an adult getaway, this hotel is fantastic. Not great for kids but they still make you feel welcome and have a family suite option with bunk beds. It is by far the most pet welcoming hotel we've encountered in Duluth and we saw several dogs in our 24 hr stay.
October 04 2016
1 family found this helpful
Bubble Brigade SNUBA Tours
5500 Gulf Blvd. ,
St Pete Beach,
"A truly unique underwater experience!"
SNUBA is a great transition from snorkeling to almost-SCUBA diving! With about 5 minutes of instruction, we were able to leave the land lubbers behind and venture into the beautiful bathwater waves just off the beach from our resort. This was one of the very BEST experiences of our entire vacation and if you have an extra hour or so, plan on doing this, if nothing else!
The flippers are a bit wonky to get used to in the shallow tidal area, but once you're out to sea with the kind instruction of Anne and Dan, you'll be doing swimmingly in no time! (Anne was kind enough to allow me to hold her hand for the first 20 minutes of my SNUBA experience, for that I am forever grateful!)
SNUBA lets you see and experience nearly the same fun as SCUBA divers while safely being able to breath similarly to a snorkel experience. You don't have the unpleasant (and for me, inevitable) experience of sucking in water if you try to go down deeper to the sea bottom, like with snorkeling. You have a tube that flows with oxygen from the small float that tags along with you as you make your way out deeper into the water.
During our swim, we had the unfortunate timing that coincided with a localized Red Tide bout. Though we only saw shells and a few fishes, it was magical. Feeling the ebb and flow of the waves and even -- get this -- dolphins communicating underwater -- made me feel like a mermaid or maybe a manatee -- either way, it was unmatched fun.
Our young son was able to snorkel about a bit while I was down in the water. Both my husband and I said it was a great venue to get a taste of what SCUBA might be like. It's also worth noting that it is much less intimidating than SNUBA in say Hawaii, where the water is much deeper -- this was a really user-friendly spot for greenhorns (and chickens) like me!
August 27 2016
Rochester Marion KOA
0 families found this helpful
5232 65th Avenue Se,
"Respite from downtown Rochester - clean, friendly and GREAT for kids!"
We checked out all of the in-town and nearby Mayo options for hotels in Rochester while we were there for medical appointments, but ultimately (and happily) chose to stay out of town and relish in a little respite from the busy Mayo area here at the Marion/Rochester KOA.
Kamping in Kabins
We are not as hardcore as we used to be since we've had children. But, we still love camping -- just in a more cozy way! The perfect solution for us is utilizing the Kamping Kabins of KOA Kampgrounds. The Kabins at Rochester/Marion have A/C, two bedrooms with a set of bunks + two larger beds, and even television and Wi-Fi.
This KOA seemed like it was always busy with guests coming and going - not so much that it was chaotic, it was still rather peaceful. But, the constant in-flux of guests ensured our son would have fun playing with kids at the pool and playground the entire time we were there!
Speaking of the pool -- CLEANEST pool we have EVER encountered -- and this includes our experience in and out of state as well as in many of the nation's best waterparks and chain hotels. We've never seen a cleaner pool and an outdoor one at that!
Tip: Bring a few pool toys. There are several balls in the pool, but otherwise it's a pretty standard pool and you'll need to help the kids entertain themselves (maybe).
The playground is adjacent to the dog park and has quite a few elements including a zip/rail feature for kids. They will likely need your help getting onto the zip handles, but the rest is all kid-friendly, hands-free fun.
The shower house was relatively clean and the water hot and had good pressure. In terms of decor, this KOA wins the award for cutest wall treatment with its border - pink and brown RVs and campers stenciled around the top of the walls. My husband confirmed the theme in the mens side as well, but thought they might have been blue over there.
Tip: Plan to purchase DNR-approved firewood at the KOA when you arrive and then take full advantage of cooking over the campfire! There is very little in the town of Marion, but the KOA store is plentiful (milk, RV parts, toys, etc.)
There are mattresses in the Kabins, however, as with most KOA experiences, plan to bring you own linens (towels, bedding, etc.) We found blankets work better than sleeping bags on the slippery mattress.
If ever we need to doctor again at the Mayo or if we simply want a fun family getaway, this will be our choice of places to stay. Reasonable rates paired with family fun that is not subject to rush hour and city chaos is key in surviving a week at the Mayo clinic! This is the best lodging around for summertime visits!
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Rochester / Marion KOA. Though I received complimentary Kamping in a Kabin, all opinions are my own.
August 27 2016
Theodore Roosevelt Salute to Medora and The National Parks
0 families found this helpful
Pacific Ave. ,
"Phenomenal Portrayal of an American Icon - Inspiring History Lesson for older kids!"
I'm a nerd and an avid Teddy Roosevelt fan. That I feel must be addressed up front to frame this review. With that in mind, I feel this is an incredible show with an enormous depth of information for the approximately 60 minute duration.
If you homeschool or wish to supplement your child with some REAL American history -- this show absolutely needs to make its way onto your family itinerary while visiting the small, sleepy town of Medora, ND.
Joe Wiegand has done his research -- he is not only a great doppelganger for our 26th president, he's stepped into the rather large boots Theodore Roosevelt wore as well (figuratively -- I'm quite sure Teddy wasn't sporting Keens at the turn of the century!)
Kids under the age of 10 will find the program long and most of the references and content would be "over their head." BUT, for the child that has had an introduction to concepts of Civics and American History, this "salute" is something that will forever seal Theodore Roosevelt's legacy in their minds!
This particular portrayal is loaded with comedy and is not a dry hour-long rendition of the many Acts and legislative work completed by the "Conservation President."
If you're in Medora and have time, take an hour to appreciate the rich history of one of our past presidential greats.
Tip: Reserve your ticket online and save $5.
August 27 2016
0 families found this helpful
Frontier Village and World's Largest Buffalo
"So much more than a REALLY large ruminant! "
Yes, we stopped for the giant buffalo (and because we were in desperate need of a break to stretch and play) BUT we stayed for well over an hour just peeking in the refurbished and reconstructed buildings with faux-western fronts.
The Buffalo statue itself is worth a photo opp, but if you can afford some time off the road, wander around looking for the resident bison herd (which we didn't see much of) or feed some pellets to the goats behind the storefronts.
We went in late August and there were no pony rides or stagecoach rides offered while we were there. The visitor information center has the usual maps and brochures, but offers a much more cleanly bathroom than wayside rests.
The jungle gym is suitable for slightly older kids, but our toddler was able to have fun too. Grab a free souvenir pin on your way through.