About this time of year thoughts turn to the holidays and gift giving. I’ve heard it before and I’ve said it myself…”my kids don’t NEED anything.” For that reason, I’m all about the “experience” gifts. Give them dance lessons or movie tickets or something else that doesn’t have to be washed, folded, dusted or picked up off the floor. If you really want to give your family an experience to remember, give them a weekend in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
My family recently spent the kids’ Fall Break in Fort Wayne as guests of the Fort Wayne Convention and Visitors Bureau. I’ll provide details below, but to sum it up, on the way home from our 2-day trip, my 11-year-old son said, “New family rule. We spend every Fall Break in Fort Wayne!”
Our base of operations was the Holiday Inn — IPFW/Coliseum. This turned out to be an ideal spot because it was within 10 minutes of everything on our itinerary. The staff was incredibly friendly, a characteristic we found to be true of everyone we met in the city. The hotel seemed to be fairly new and had the two must-haves for traveling families: a pool and complimentary breakfast.
We arrived in the city a bit later than we’d hoped the first day. So the only place we visited that day was DeBrand Fine Chocolates. Founded in 1987, DeBrand has four locations in Fort Wayne and ships its artisan chocolates all over the world. We visited the company’s headquarters for the chocolate tour. In comparison to the Albanese Candy Factory in Merrillville, which looks a little Willy Wonka-ish, the DeBrand headquarters look more like a fine jewelry store.
The DeBrand tour took about 45 minutes and gave us a view of the chocolatier’s three kitchens: the cooking kitchen, the connoisseur/ice cream kitchen, and the chocolate making kitchen. At each of the three stops, we were able to observe the activity going on — in the cooking kitchen they were making raspberry filling on the day we were there, pumpkin gelato was mixing in the ice cream kitchen, and white chocolate ghost truffles were making an appearance in the chocolate kitchen. At each stop along the tour, we had the opportunity to sample goodies that have forever ruined plain old candy bars for me.
Because we were there just before Halloween, we had to try the chocolate covered caramel apples. We split one among the five of us, along with a serving of pumpkin gelato. These are not your dinky, wrapped in plastic, grocery story caramel apples. These Indiana-grown apples were the size of softballs, with a taste just as big.
Bellies full of chocolate, we headed back to the hotel, where we opted to stay in for dinner, enjoy the pool, and rest up for our very busy next day.
After our free buffet breakfast at the hotel in the morning, we headed to Science Central, a kid-centric, hands on center focused on making science accessible and fun. I will say that “kid-centric” is loosely defined because I had just as much fun there as my children did.
One of the first activities we found on the upper level at Science Central was the Shadow Tunnel. We stepped inside this walk-in-closet-sized box that had a white wall at one end. The instructions were to strike a pose, close our eyes and wait for the strobe light to go on and off. When we opened our eyes again, our shadows had been fixed to the wall. The kids had a blast making silly pose after silly pose.
Another favorite was the Moon Walk, which gave the kids the sense of weightlessness one might experience on the moon. Then there was the High Rail Bike that beckoned to me to face my fear of heights and give it a whirl. Situated high above the exhibit floor, this activity has a large safety net under it, though the Science Central staffer helping me into my safety belt assured me they’ve never had to use the net. The bike wobbled a bit on the rail and turning the corner made me feel as though I might fall over into the open space between the rail and the net, but I did it and have pictures to prove it.
There is so much to tell about Science Central that I’ll save it for a separate post of its own. For now, let’s leave it at Science Central is a must-do destination in Fort Wayne.
After a quick lunch, we headed to the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. Our visit was well-timed because it was the first day of a visiting exhibition called “Art Write Now,” a selection of National Scholastic Award-winning works done by teens from around the country. My own art-loving teen was thrilled to see the paintings, line drawings, creative writings, short films and collages done by kids near her own age. Art Write Now will be at FWMoA through December 5, 2010.
The John S. and James L. Knight Learning Center within the museum offered kid-friendly, hands-on activities, including an electronic, touch screen “paint palette.” We made a family piece of art, letting each person have 15 seconds to add their contribution. Our finished product, which displayed on a large screen in front of the console, is pictured to the left.
FWMoA offered a nice collection of art in its permanent galleries, including a painting by Alexander Calder; a wire structure that was not only art itself, but cast artistic shadows on the wall and ceiling; and early American furnishings whose workmanship and detail definitely fall into the category of art. Be sure to stop in to browse (and buy!) at FWMoA’s gift shop that offers everything from stationery to pottery to fine art.
If you can believe it, our trip to Fort Wayne didn’t end there. But for fear of losing your attention, I’ll continue the tales of our adventures in another post.