We returned last Tuesday night from the exotic port of call that is Lancaster County, PA. I’m happy to report that we had a really wonderful family vacation. The weather was gorgeous, the pace was busy but relaxed, and the boy was jubilant. Noah is in an over-expressive manic toddler stage – so everything we saw and did was unquestionably the most exciting thing EVER, which is a real positive on vacation. And because he’s such an appreciative audience he was even attentive on the tours. So here’s the rundown.
For those who don’t live in the area and are not acquainted with Lancaster County or the Amish – click on the hotlinks for some interesting and educational info.
* Lancaster Host Resort – It was a big, fairly clean, well maintained hotel. What made this hotel noteworthy was that they host a variety of conferences. On our first two days the hotel was flooded with contestants in a Little Miss Sunshine style talent contest. Amusing eye candy to be sure. The day after they left Noah asked “Where are the dress up girls?” Luckily they were soon replaced by attendees to a Rottweiler competition. It was insane to overhear the fervor with which these people talked about their dogs over breakfast. I’m not sure who were more surreal – the pageanty parents or the dog breeders. Of course if we could have stayed anywhere it might have been alot more fun to stay at the Red Caboose Motel or the Fulton Steamboat Inn.
* Strasburg Railroad – Noah ADORED “the big old smoky steam train” (actually since Noah struggles with double consonants it sounded more like “big old pokey team tane”).
* Amish House & Farm – I was a little put off by the fact that this attraction is located between the Target and the Petsmart, but it’s a nice little farm and the tour was really informative. Noah really enjoyed feeding the goats (here and at four other places – apparently everyone in Lancaster has goats) and riding in the buggy pulled by horses Little Bill and Big Ben.
* Lititz – Sadly the Sturgis Pretzel Factory was closed for renovations and The Wilbur Chocolate Factory was closed on Sundays – but we still enjoyed walking through the town and Noah thought the community playground was the best he’s ever experienced. He’s still asking to go back to it.
*Indian Echo Caverns – I was a bit uncertain I’d make it the 71 steps up and down into the cave, and that the 45 minute tour would hold Noah’s interest – but we all loved it. Noah cracked me up when we first walked into the darkness and he started whispering “spooky.” He was particularly captivated by the story of a dragon the tour guide pointed out amongst the cave formations. We’ve had to retell it at least a hundred times since.
* Choo Choo Barn – We decided to take Noah to this model train exhibit because it’s featured in a train video he enjoys. And though he didn’t recognize it as we thought he might, we were quite surprised at how captivated he was by the display. Mark would say “See the farmer working in the field” and Noah would say “Mama! Look at the farmer in the field!!” He was particularly blown away by the trolley that looks just like the one that runs in front of our house on Girard. “Look Mama! Our trolley!” He also just kept following the trains around as they went in and out of the tunnels.
* Hershey Farm – This place is a Christian hotel and restaurant – neither of which we patronized, but we did walk around the farm and spend a good 40 minutes letting Noah cavort in their playground Arc.
* Intercourse Pretzel Factory – Because I still had a hankering to twist pretzels even after the Sturgis Factory was closed, we headed to this little place. The pretzels, both hard and soft, were excellent. In fact I think we spent $30 on pretzels for souvenirs to bring back for family and friends.
* Kitchen Kettle Village – This place is kind of hokey and I don’t really recommend it as an attraction. We went to have lunch at The Kling House which I had read was really good, but it was overrun with senior bus trips. However while we were walking around there was a little jazz combo playing and Noah danced like a madman, and that was enough to make it a highlight.
* Lapps – A decent representation of PA Dutch food and right next to our hotel. For some reason Noah was really entranced by it and repeatedly asked to go back for other meals.
Lancaster Host Resort – Luckily our hotel had a reasonably priced breakfast buffet that we ate at every morning.
* Café Chocolat – Obviously it was someone’s dream to open this little boutique café in Lititz. They feature an assortment of gourmet chocolates and a chocolate fountain in the front window. The food was tasty and well done, though not particularly cheap and one of the sandwiches was a bit skimpy. But still I’d recommend it as something different.
* Jennie's – This place is a tiny trucker diner that wasn’t particularly bad or good. We ended up here because apparently they roll up the streets of Lancaster on Sunday nights. And since we are vehemently opposed to eating at chain restaurants on vacation we traversed quite a bit of farmland to find this hole in the wall. Certainly worth checking out for the ambiance – listening to the brassy waitresses sass the trucker patronage was the best thing on the menu. Oh – and the peanut butter cream pie was good too.
* Soda Jerk – A quick find on the way back from Indian Echo. I bit like a cheesy, camp version of the diner that Jennies really is. More like a Silver Diner or Johnny Rockets.
* The Family Cupboard – THE BEST place we ate in Lancaster. Another typical PA Dutch buffet but the food quality was stellar. Eat here.
* Bird in Hand Restaurant - Another typical PA Dutch buffet but the food quality was poor. Don’t eat here.
The little details
* The Amish – For some reason it’s exciting to see every single buggy and every single Amish person. But it’s REALLY exciting to see them do something you wouldn’t expect like play volleyball in their yard, shop at the Grocery store, or wait your table at a diner. I was a bit confused when Noah referred to some of the women as bakers, until Mark reminded me that the only other time he’d seen Amish was when we bought pie from them at Reading Terminal Market.
* The Farms – Noah was excited every time we saw a horse plowing a feed, a cow, a sheep, and for some odd reason windmills.
* The Boy – There were just so many funny little things he said and did. With all our car navigating he started saying “I want to figure out the map.” We’d give him a map to look at and he’d start directing us to “Take Girard Avenue to Mascher Street to Mister Rogers to Jerseytown!” He often informed us “I’m enjoying my vacation so far.” In the hotel he repeatedly had to run down the ramp and up the steps outside our door and point out the M&Ms in the vending machine as if they were a major attraction. And my heart nearly stopped when he took a step off the seat in the hotel hot tub (the indoor pool was FREEZING) and I had to haul him up and slap the water out of him. I was possibly more shocked when he seemed unfazed by it and didn’t want to get out. All in all it was a really remarkable vacation and we all enjoyed the trip – mostly because we all really enjoyed being with each other. The morning after we came back Noah asked “Is Daddy going to work?” When I told him “Yes” he said “I want to go back to Lancasser.”
Pictures forthcoming. Oh, and tantrums too.