Last September, I drove to Ohio to join a few North Iowa Blogger friends at BloggyCon held at Cedar Point Amusement Park. With Cedar Point’s season opening quickly approaching next week, I encourage you to venture into town and enjoy a meal at The Brick Oven Bistro.
The one dinner I ate in Cedar Point was composed of a side of french fries and goopy cheese sauce. I had taken one look at the pallid, $15 burger combos being served around me and just couldn’t do it. Park food is certainly convenient, especially when you’re hungry and tired. But it’s also expensive since attendees are a captive audience. My recommendation is to budget for park snacks and beverages and head into Sandusky for dinner.
I never expected to run through a gauntlet of clowns at Cedar Point.
Imagine my delight when I found that Cedar Point was decked out for Halloween during BloggyCon. Speakers and attendees who booked their rooms at the on-site hotel received free tickets for the entire weekend. We hit the park in the evenings. On Friday night, the park wasn’t very busy and the lines to rides and Halloween attractions were gloriously short.
Not having done any research about the park before arriving, I had no idea that the clowns came out at night. I was so excited to see my friends that I didn’t even notice we had wandered into one of the park’s designated Fright Zones.
We noticed a couple of people dressed up like monsters and clowns and I paid little mind as I told my friend about my dislike of people dressed up in animal costumes. During high school, my folks took us to Disney World and I had this irrational fear that life-sized Tiggers and Snow Whites would chase me around the park. This turned out to be far from the reality. Each costumed character was accompanied by a handler who made sure guests kept an appropriate distance.
As I finished telling Beth my story, I flinched at the sight of a clown. It smelled blood and followed us. Then there were more.
*Cedar Point rules state that their hired monsters can not touch guests & vice-versa. However, they can get in your face.
The more I tried to sandwich myself between my friends and avoid eye contact, the more relentlessly they pursued me. I sprinted through the Fright Zone and hid under a tarp until my friends caught up.
Without intending to, I provided the best entertainment of the night. My friends described how a Walking Dead-like scene unfolded as I ran down the foggy street and caught the attention of more monsters who joined the chase.
We skipped the gory Slaughterhouse, and screamed through the Eternity Infirmary themed like a haunted asylum. Its scares came from loud booms and characters who jumped out from behind corners and asked if we wanted to play.
The next morning, I heard the best news of my life: Park visitors can purchase a “No Boo” necklace to keep the monsters at bay. Finding that necklace became my quest. I gladly forked over $8 from the gift card Cedar Point included in our BloggyCon goody bags.
We entered a Fright Zone on the way to the corn maze and noticed a lot of adults wearing the No Boo necklace. As someone who startles easily, I appreciated being able to still walk through the park with my friends, but have the ability to take a break from the scares when I wanted one.
We encountered a couple of characters who weren’t so crazy about seeing me wear the necklace and they jumped out at me anyway. “But I paid $8 for this!” I protested, waving the glowing pumpkin back in their faces. “Well, you made a bad investment,” one retorted and walked away pouting.
I turned the pumpkin off inside the corn maze.
A walking scarecrow burst out of the corn-stalk wall and taunted us with “oooooos.” We screamed.
All of a sudden the scarecrow made eye contact with me.
“Can I ask you a question?” He asked in a scratchy, ghostly voice.
“No!” I responded.
“Do you speak Mandarin?”
I was taken aback! “No. Why would I speak Mandarin? Do YOU speak Mandarin?”
“Well, no. . . ”
I looked at him incredulously as I tried to keep up with my friends. He was really good at navigating through the maze backwards to talk to us.
“It’s just that we have a lot of people visit from China,” he explained.
“Great. I’m not Chinese!” I replied as I barreled ahead.
An “I’m sooooooorrrry,” echoed through the corn maze.
And all of a sudden I wasn’t scared of the monsters. “He broke character for this?” I shrugged as I found myself nonchalantly shrugging off a man with a chainsaw.
Later that evening I passed my No Boo necklace on to a family with small children. “How cute! Thanks.” they responded. I hope they weren’t too disappointed when it kept the monsters away.
Awkward scarecrow guy aside, I really enjoyed Cedar Point’s Halloweekend features. They’re not all scary. The Halloween decorations inside the hotel and at the park were quirky and intricate from the creepy paintings that lined the Hallways to aliens at the hamburger shop. We watched small children shriek with delight at a big, electronic creature that occasionally woke up from its nap with a roar. Others recommended a dancing skeleton show.
A park director described how this year’s landscaping includes 20,000 pounds of pumpkins and squash, 96,000 stalks of corn, and over 400 actors who play the monsters. Many of the actors are local college students who take pride in creating their own Halloweekend characters. Some had kneepads that allowed them to slide across the walkway and startle us even in a crowded Fright Zone. It’s really quite a production.
The park may be decorated for Halloween during Halloweekends, but the monsters only come out at night. I invited my cousin’s family to use some of my extra tickets during the conference. When I realized that they might not know they were arriving during a Halloweekend, I panicked and double-checked when the scarier activities began. She has young children and I didn’t know if getting chased by clowns be a good or bad surprise. Afterwards, she told me that one of her children was actually really, really excited at the thought of clowns chasing him. So much so, that she promised to take him back on a weekend evening.
If Halloween is not your thing, the rides and food vendors are still open.
Before you go, you should know that lines may be lengthy (like most amusement parks), tall rides close when the weather’s windy, and the food is expensive. No Boo necklaces do cost an extra $8 each: If you have members in your party who do not want to be scared, factor these into your budget or consider visiting during the day.
Snacks like pretzels and french fries ranged between $5-7 dollars, while burgers and hot dog meals cost $12-15. You could save money by packing a cooler of food and taking a meal break at your car. One evening, we enjoyed pizzas at Brick Oven Bistro located about a ten minute drive from the park in Sandusky. They tasted exceptionally good and were reasonably priced. Plus, the clowns can’t chase you there.
Fried eggplant is a good topping choice at Brick Oven Bistro. They also offer reasonably priced drinks and gluten-free crust. Good recommendation from Travel With Sara.
I can see why my parents and grandparents who grew up in Ohio always remembered that amusement park perched on the lake. I just don’t remember them talking about getting chased by monsters at Halloween.
Visit Cedar Point’s website for exact information about ticket prices and hours.
This past weekend, I made a pilgramige to the Swensons Drive-In located in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
I come from a family full of Buckeyes. In The Ohio State style, they’re incredibaly enthusiastic about being Buckeyes. My parents grew up in the Akron-Cuyahoga Falls area, but my grandparents hail from Minneapolis. When Firestone Tire recruited my Grandpa Roger to be an engineer, he and his wife moved to Ohio where they raised three kids and ate a lot of Swensons.
No visit to my grandparents house was complete without at least one meal from Swensons. On Swensons night. we eagerly around my grandparents’ dinner table to wait for whoever was assigned to pick up our family’s take-out order. Soon ehough, the big paper bags would arrive and then the greasy wax paper flew. We passed around everyone’s Galley Boy cheeseburgers and pouches of fried zucchini sticks, mushrooms, and onion rings. This time it was my turn to drive.
Swensons Drive-In is truly a drive-in and the carhops still run.
The moment you pull into a parking spot, a carhop will sprint to your car to greet you and take your order before sprinting back inside.
*After I had received my food and paid my bill, I parked in the back of the lot where least two other carhops sprinted to over to take my order. I reassured them that I was OK, but was really impressed at their committment to provide fast service.
Although your carhop will ask if your order is “for here or to-go”, there is no dining room. “For here” simply means eating your meal from a tray the carhop attaches to your window. I saw a lot of people enjoying their meal in their cars.
The woman in the car next to me said hello. We compared stories and I learned she was also on a similar food quest. It had been years since she returned to her hometown and she, too, was back for a burger. Her face filled with emotion. I gave her a knowing smile and we both turned away before we were two strangers crying over burgers.
On this day it was my birthday and it really felt like my birthday unwrapping my meal. Swensons’ onion rings are still coated in crispy, rough crumbs and Galley Boys are still garnished with a big, green olives. I’ve never encountered a double cheeseburger decked out with this specific combination of sauces; one tastes like BBQ sauce and the other like tartar. The meat also has an ever so slightly-sweet flavor.
In 1997 my Grandpa died. A taxi cab picked us up from the airport and I remember my folks talking about Swensons with our driver. He had tried to replicate the burgers at home and theorized that Swensons adds brown sugar to their ground beef. For some reason, I never forgot this.
There’s ice cream, too.
The malts and shakes are extra thick. . . or maybe it’s the tiny, little straws. I am mystified by the straw.
My grandparents and mother have passed on from this life to whatever comes next, and Swensons lives on. Their car hops still sprint and the Galley Boys are still adorned with green olives. While I can’t enjoy a burger with them, I can still enjoy their favorite burger just the way they alway did and that still counts for something.
In fact, it counts for a lot.
If you find yourself in the Akron area, spend a moment in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It’s heart-achingly beautiful. You’ll never think of Ohio in the same way.
This past weekend I attended Bloggy Conference and participated in a panel at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Yes, it’s a blogging conference located at a huge amusement park on Lake Erie and it’s awesome.
When we weren’t riding rides or wandering through the haunted corn maze, we attended conference sessions covering different aspects of blogging from affiliate marketing to creating instructional videos to the North Iowa Bloggers panel about creating local connections in one’s community.
Here are 10 of my favorite take-home points that I learned at Bloggy Conference:
From Rachel Martin & Dan Morris’ (Blogging Concentrated) presentation “111 Things You Never Knew About Social Media, Tech & Blogging.”
1. Don’t be stagnant with how you post on social media; keep testing things. If your Facebook views are down, ask yourself how you are continually changing your posts. One reason Instagram has remained successful is because it keeps introducing new features. Rachel & Dan encouraged us to ask ourselves how fast we’re able to alter what we’re doing.
2. There is actualy an app called Ignorenomore that parents can install on their child’s phone. If you think your child is ignoring you calls, you can activate this app which will shut down your child’s phone so that he or she can only call the number(s) you’ve selected, like yours or 911. Supposedly, it’s nearly impossible to uninstall from the child’s end.
3. When you write your Facebook updates, approach them with the intention of making them so powerful that people will pause at your status when they scroll through their feed. Will your readers connect with your posts enough to want to share them with their friends?
4. The Facebook algorithm awards engagement. Building huge followings of people who only liked your page to enter a giveaway doesn’t necessarily build communities of people that engage with your posts and genuinely want to see what you create next.
5. Share things that you know your community will love. Martin recommends that if you read something and say, “I wish I would have written that,” it’s something worthy of sharing. If you join Facebook/Twitter sharing groups, you may feel obligated to share content that simply isn’t a good fit for your community.
6. Make status updates that are long enough to offer the option where you have to click to “read more.”
7. Twitter analytics exist! Access your 28-day summary here.
8. Tweeting more than twice an hour results in a drop of your click-through rate per tweet.
From Sara Mock’s presentation “Instructional Videos – Connecting With Your Audience In A New Way”:
9. You can subscribe to Final Cut Pro for $10 a month!
10. Instead of winging a video, try mapping it out ahead of time with a story board. Include a call to action at the end encouraging people to leave a comment (only if you’ll answer them) or find you on other social media platforms.
From left to right: Me, Sara, Donna & Beth.
Thanks again to Sara Broers for inviting me to speak on the Panel “Local Connections Matter.”
3. Not only am I attending BloggyCon, but I’m a panelist for the first time. Sara invited me to join her and Donna on a panel discussing why local connections matter. Plus, I get to room with Beth! I’ll always have North Iowa to thank for introducing me to such good friends.
5. There are haunted houses at Cedar Point. I love haunted houses.
6. Cedar Point is located near a Swensons Drive-In, a restaurant we used to patronize regularly for Galley Boy Cheeseburgers and fried zucchini sticks when we visited my grandparents growing-up. I’ve been waiting for this burger reunion for over a decade. Here are some more thoughts on Ohio.
7. It’s my birthday week and I’m cashing in on all of my freebies. Of course, you often have to to sign-up for chain restaurants’ loyalty clubs, but I just use an old email address. I get really excited about my free birthday bagel each year. It’s the small things, right?
Best combo ever: Salt bagel with honey walnut at Bruegger’s or Pretzel with honey almond at Einstein’s.
8. Jake & I booked our first getaway to a fishing cabin on Lake of the Ozarks. We totally don’t know how to fish and I couldn’t put a worm on a hook to save my life, but it’s a new place to explore and the first time we’re bringing Trayse the dog.
9. We enjoyed take-out from a Chinese restaurant so authentic they had to remove crab ragoons from their menu because nobody ordered them for months. Yummy17 is connected to the Asian Supermarket and it’s another gem we learned about from Whiskey Soba’s blog. We didn’t get too adventurous on this visit, but their spicy orange beef, salt and pepper squid, and pork fried rice were better than any version we can remember ordering.
10. Sometimes I find random things so funny that I’ll crack-up for days. Jake fondly refers to these as “Jeni Jokes.” Is this another “Jeni Joke,” he’ll ask when I laugh hysterically at something he doesn’t quite understand.
Every once in a while, I’ll scan the latest TripAdvisor & Yelp restaurant reviews. One local restaurant caught my eye. I remembered hearing about from a couple who also stayed at the same bed and breakfast with us in St. Charles back in May. Over breakfast, they recalled how they were struck by a woman who served them muffins from a basket like they were precious jewels.
I kept scrolling through reviews and noticed diners kept describing a woman dressed in period costume who gave each person one and only one, small blueberry muffin. They couldn’t have more muffins if they asked nicely and they couldn’t have more muffins even when they offered to pay for them. However, they could have more of everything else.