The hardest yet most important thing on any family road trip is keeping the kids happy and entertained while we’re driving. It would be easy enough to hand them all electronics and let them zone out for hours while we drive. But our kids tend to get really grumpy after playing video games for even half an hour. So hours of angry birds and scribble hero just doesn’t work for us.
I bring along a lot of things to keep the kids busy during the long hours of driving, like activity books and Legos. But one thing I always bring is what I like to call our Adventure Bag. It’s full of random things that we can play with in the car and on our drive from Cedar Rapids to Madison on Saturday, it was clear that we needed a little adventure.
I pulled out a pack of rocket balloons that I picked up from Michael’s and we spent half an hour blowing up rockets and letting them shoot around the car. When the excitement of the rocket balloons was over, I pulled up Roadside America on my iPhone. I came across the Crystal Lake Cave in Dubuque and we decided to make a stop.
When we pulled up at the cave, I was sure that we had made a poor choice. There was a tiny little white building on the property and a nice shade tree. But we went inside anyhow, paid our admission, and browsed around the tiny gift shop for 15 minutes until our tour started.
It was a chilly 50 degrees down in the cave and I was very glad that we had grabbed the kids hoodies and tennis shoes before heading down. It’s been years since I’ve been inside a cave, so I can’t really compare it to any other caves, but it was pretty awesome. We ended up touring with a group of around 20 people, but we were able to see everything.
The cave tour lasted about 45 minutes, as we wove through the tunnels. There were plenty of stalactites and stalagmites to check out, a few columns, some flow rock, onyx, and we even got a peek into Crystal Lake underground. Overall, I thought it was a great tour and a very cool cave. The kids were totally over it about halfway through the tour, but they did enjoy it in the beginning.
After the cave tour, Papa got the kids a bag of rocks and sand so they could “mine” for rocks. I think that was their favorite part of the cave tour. We continued our drive to Madison and made a pit stop at a park to eat lunch and let the kids run around and play. They were especially excited for this park because it had an old-fashioned merry-go-round and teeter-totter.
After the park, we headed out to Wisconsin University to shoot some happy family portraits for the Mueller family (photos coming soon!). The Muellers told us about Ella’s Deli, so we made plans to go for dinner. We got distracted on the way when we saw Potbelly Sandwiches, so we ate dinner there instead. After dinner, we headed to Ella’s Deli to get ice cream and let the kids ride the carousel. The inside of this place was covered with motorized toys, all running constantly. And each of the tables had a clear top, with toys set up inside. Max was very excited when he found Harry Potter zooming around on a Nimbus 2000.
It was a quirky place and after arriving, I was glad we had passed on eating dinner there. The ice cream however, was excellent! We finished up our ice cream and the kids took their turn on the carousel. We checked into our hotel, and against my better judgment, we took the kids swimming at the hotel pool even though it was already late.
The kids had a blast swimming of course, but then I had to give them a bath before bed and they were all wound up and not wanting to go to bed. We have a tendency to go a little overboard when we’re traveling (or doing anything for that matter) and we sometimes pay for it the next day. And I can tell you, we definitely paid for it the next day. Note to self: kids are better behaved when they are well rested.
road trip fun balloon rocketsfamily trip to crystal lake cave in dubuque iowakids mining for rocks at crystal lake cavefamily road trip kids playing on a merry go roundkids visiting Ella's Deli in Madison Wisconsinriding the carousel and eating ice cream at Ella's Deli


  • Rocket balloons look awesome.  Target?  Where can I get some.  I love that last one of Josh and the kids.  I would think that deli would be super overstimulating, but definitely looks fun!

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