Mira’s Cedar Point Birthday Extravaganza

Today, Mira woke up as a seven year old.

SEVEN.

Wait. Wasn’t she just a curly-headed toddler not that long ago?

Last year, Mira insisted on the big party with all of her friends from school there. This year, she traded in the big party for the chance to spend two days at Cedar Point over Memorial Day weekend. We were already going up on Saturday for Blogger Day (disclosure: Cedar Point furnished our park tickets and provided lunch on Saturday), but Mira was interested in making it a two-day long trip, and willing to give up a chance at having a big party in favor of an amusement park adventure.

So, we did. We spent two days at Cedar Point, staying at the Sandcastle Suites resort on-site. Even though Cordy was firmly against the idea of riding anything other than the Tilt-o-Whirl, she agreed to come along, too, just because it was Mira’s birthday weekend.

We arrived shortly after opening on Saturday. Mira was a little disappointed that she was half an inch too short to meet the 52″ height requirement. She was still tall enough for most of the rides, which only require 48″, but it still meant the GateKeeper – quite possibly MY favorite roller coaster – was still off-limits for her.

Cedar Point GatekeeperGateKeeper over the main entrance (photo credit: Stephen Blanzaco)

Our first ride of the day was the Cedar Downs racing carousel, which at this point is a tradition for us. It’s a carousel, so it’s a gentle enough first ride of the day for Cordy, but it also goes faster than a typical carousel, and the horses in each row go back and forth as well as up and down, so there’s a winner in each row by the end of the ride.

Cedar DownsCordy’s many trips on Cedar Downs over the years

After our first ride, we stopped for our sponsored lunch. Cedar Point, having been tipped off by me that we were celebrating Mira’s birthday, had a little surprise for Mira.

Mira's ice cream cakeThank you, Bryan, for the fantastic surprise for Mira!

She was thrilled to have a chocolate Dairy Queen ice cream cake. She had asked us for cake and ice cream for her birthday, and was stunned to realize she could get both all at once.

After lunch, it was time to get back to the rides. Mira had asked her sister to ride just one roller coaster with her for her birthday. Cordy has only ever been on one, the Cedar Creek Mine Ride, and used to love it, but then last year became scared of it and refused to ride it anymore.

Mine Ride CollageWe still use it to track how big she’s getting.

Cordy wanted to ride the Mine Ride as quickly as possible to get her obligation to her sister over with, but then something amazing happened. We all rode it…and Cordy loved it. Then asked to ride it again with her sister.

On the Cedar Creek Mine Ridesecond and third rows (photo credit: Stephen Blanzaco)

We then went to Camp Snoopy to allow the kids some time to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl a few times. (That ride never gets old.) Right next to Camp Snoopy is the redesigned Midway area, where we couldn’t pass up the Monster and the new Pipe Scream.

At that point, Mira was ready for her next roller coaster. She went for another favorite of hers (and mine): the Iron Dragon. Cordy had never been on this suspended coaster before, but we talked her into it. And? She loved it! Score! Two for two!

Cedar Point Iron DragonCordy’s smiling at the end of the ride! (photo credit: Stephen Blanzaco)

At this point it was getting really warm, so Aaron convinced Mira to go on Thunder Canyon to cool off. It’s a water ride where you will get wet on the ride. Mira was the unlucky one on their raft to pass under every waterfall. She was drenched.

While they enjoyed having water dumped on them, Cordy and I made friends with the petting zoo animals in Frontiertown. Cordy met her hair-twin, an alpaca she named Andrew.

It was late in the day at that point. Before we could have dinner, though, the kids insisted we visit the dinosaurs in Dinosaurs Alive. It’s a cool area to learn about lots of dinosaurs, with full-size dinosaurs that move and roar and generally look menacing. All of us love reading about the dinosaurs. But we also love being goofy around them, too.

Dinosaurs Alive What do you mean don’t turn around? (photo credit: Stephen Blanzaco)

Mira finished the night with the Corkscrew roller coaster, and then we called it a night.

The next morning, though, we were up bright and early to take advantage of the one hour early entry for guests staying at the Cedar Point resorts. Our first stop: GateKeeper. (Well, for those of us who could ride it.) It’s definitely my favorite – it’s a winged coaster, and probably the smoothest roller coaster in existence.

Meanwhile, Cordy and Mira went on the Iron Dragon again…all by themselves. I’ll admit that freaked me out a little, because I’m not ready to consider them standing in lines and riding rides without us, but they were fine. They ended up riding it twice together, because Aaron and I had another roller coaster to conquer: Millennium Force.

Over 300 feet tall, 93 miles per hour top speed, and voted the best steel coaster. It’s intense. I’ll just leave it at that.

At that point, Mira had yet to ride any new roller coasters. Millennium Force was a little outside of her comfort zone, so we offered to take her on the Mean Streak, Cedar Point’s big wooden roller coaster. I was sure she’d be scared of it, but apparently turning seven years old gives you a lot of courage. As soon as it was over, her first words were, “Can we ride it again?” (Cordy decided she was done with coasters for this trip and refused to ride. She drove me around on the antique cars while Aaron and Mira took a second turn on the Mean Streak.)

Mean Streak - Cedar Point

After two trips on the Mean Streak, we then suggested Magnum XL-200. It’s only 200 feet tall instead of the 300 of Millennium Force, and not quite as fast. Mira trusted our opinion of it, and we stood in line again. I was concerned Mira was going to change her mind on this one. It’s tall. But she decided to be brave and go through with it.

As we were going up the first hill, I could see the worry on her face. I held her hand and told her it would be fun. And then by the end of the ride: “That was awesome! Can we ride it again?” We did ride it again, and even tried to be cheesy for the ride camera.

Magnum XL-200 We forgot to tell Mira to give a thumbs up. She was having too much fun, anyway.

Before we left Cedar Point on Sunday, we bought Mira her first Ride Warrior t-shirt. She had earned it. As we started the drive home, I asked her what she thought of our trip to Cedar Point as her birthday present. “Best. Birthday. Ever!” And then she promptly fell asleep, holding tight to her pink polar bear and her newly purchased stuffed blue dinosaur.

Fast asleep

She may be a ride warrior, but she’s still only seven. Happy birthday, Mira!

Thank you to Cedar Point for the park tickets and lunch, and for helping to arrange for Mira’s surprise cake. Also, thanks to Wiccy and Steve for joining us on the trip, helping with the kids, and taking photos. Mira’s summer plans include growing half an inch so she can ride the GateKeeper when we’re back later this year!



Castaway Bay: Escape Winter Without Leaving Ohio

Are you done with Winter?

I’m a person who loves snow, but even I have my limits. The dry skin, the constant cold, slipping on the ice, dreading leaving my warm blankets each morning when the alarm goes off…there have been several times I’ve wished I could get away to a warmer climate for a few days. But Ohio isn’t all that close to Florida, so a trip to a warmer climate would have a hefty price tag attached to it.

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Florida to escape the cold for a little bit. Our family was invited to spend two days at Castaway Bay recently, where it’s always 82 degrees with plenty of swimming and entertainment to forget about the snow outside. Castaway Bay is the indoor waterpark at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Didn’t know they had an indoor waterpark? Of course they do, and Cedar Point puts just as much attention to detail into this indoor oasis as they do their world renowned amusement park.

The outside of the resort gives only a hint of what’s inside. It’s not until you walk in the front doors and are greeted with a roaring fireplace and a pirate ship that you start to feel far away from the cold outside.

Castaway Bay pirate ship

We didn’t want to waste any time, so we quickly checked in, stashed our stuff in our room, and suited up. (Bathing suits, that is.) The waterpark is unlike many of the other waterparks in the area. First, there’s one small entrance that has a staff member positioned to oversee everyone coming in and out. This narrow entrance/exit is ideal to prevent smaller children from wandering outside of the waterpark on accident.

Once inside, you’re immediately immersed in warm, humid air, with plenty of beach chairs all around to drop off your stuff. There are lockers if you’re daytripping it, but otherwise you can leave valuables in your room.

Castaway Bay map

The deepest water in the park is four feet, which means there are few areas where an elementary school age kid could find themselves in trouble in the water. There are also more lifeguards on duty than any other waterpark we’ve ever been to. I felt incredibly safe letting my two out of my sight for a few minutes.

Cordy, who worries about everything, was immediately put at ease by how everything was so kid-friendly. While she refused to ride some of the bigger water slides, she was thrilled that she could touch bottom in the deepest part of the wave pool. She wore a life jacket to feel more secure, but then ran right into the wave pool without hesitation.

Cordy in the wave poolLearning to ride the waves. (And I learned I need a waterproof case for my phone to take more photos!)

Mira liked the wave pool, but she was also determined to find some thrills, too. She and Aaron rode the Rendezvous Run, a water roller coaster, several times along with other water slides. Mira also really liked the Cargo Crossing, using her upper body strength to hold onto a cargo net while crossing the water on floating boxes and barrels.

Even though the water may not be deep, there’s plenty for adults to do, too. The wave pool works for everyone, with a zero depth entry for babies to sit and play, all the way out to the four foot section, where even adults will have to work against the waves. There are water slides for all ages, too. Even Cordy tried out two of the smaller water slides in the Lookout Lagoon Family Funhouse, although she kept going back to the wave pool with her new-found love of the waves. It made me a little weepy to see her enjoying the water so much.

My favorite part? The hot tub. But this isn’t just any hot tub. In case you want to remember what you’ve left behind, the hot tub flows to the outside, too. We moved through the hot tub to the outdoor portion, and the kids were amazed that they were wearing only their bathing suits in near zero weather, with snow all around, and yet felt toasty warm in the water. It was so relaxing, even if my hair froze after being exposed to the air for only a few minutes. (It thawed just as quickly by leaning my head back into the water.)

In case you get tired of the water (how?), Castaway Bay has plenty of other entertainment for you. There’s a huge arcade with games of all types, including games to earn tickets for prizes. Kids can also check out Camp Castaway to work on crafts and activities.

Coloring beach towelsMira’s color-your-own beach towel in progress

There are also different daily activities, including a family movie night with Snoopy and friends. Snoopy is a frequent visitor around the resort.

Snoopy at Castaway Bay

There’s plenty of food, too: three restaurants and two snack shops can provide nearly anything you need, including gluten-free options.

Gluten-free pizzaNot only did they have gluten-free pizza for Aaron, but it was GOOD gluten-free pizza!

For two days away from Winter, we couldn’t have asked for a better staycation. Our room was spotless and comfortable, the waterpark had something for everyone to enjoy, and the other resort activities ensured we were never bored. Getting the chance to put aside work, homework, and chores, and instead spend some time together as a family was a wonderful and much-needed break from everyday life.

Castaway Bay is also a great value – room deals start at only $99, which includes the room and four waterpark passes. (It’s usually a lot more at other local waterparks.) Day passes for the waterpark are also available if you’d rather include it as part of a larger trip to Sandusky or Lake Erie.

If you’re short on time or a trip to a southern climate just isn’t in the budget, Castaway Bay might be the perfect mini-vacation to forget about the wind and cold. And if this weather doesn’t get better soon, we may need a second trip to help us endure until warmer weather arrives.

Disclosure: We were provided with a one-night stay, including waterpark passes and one meal. Travel and other expenses (like my kids insisting they needed to win a stuffed animal in the arcade) were not compensated. As always, all opinions expressed here are my own, and your mileage may vary. Thanks to Cedar Point and Lake Erie Shores & Islands for a great trip!



My BloggyCon13 and Cedar Point Whirlwind Weekend

I’m still recovering from a weekend so busy that it felt like five days instead of two and a half. I spent the weekend in Sandusky at Cedar Point for BloggyCon. It was my first time attending this conference, but certainly not my first trip to Cedar Point. I couldn’t pass up the chance to multi-task by expanding my blogging knowledge while having some fun with the family all in the same weekend.

Cordy decided not to come with us. She’s becoming increasingly anxious about roller coasters, not even wanting to be in the same location as one. I didn’t want to push the issue and further her anxiety, so when she quietly asked if she could stay home, I asked my mom if she could stay with her for the weekend. My mom agreed, and Cordy got to spend some time with grandma while Aaron, Mira and I drove north as soon as school was out on Friday.

This was also the opening weekend of HalloWeekends at Cedar Point. They go above and beyond to decorate every inch of the park with ghosts, skeletons, and plenty of pumpkins. There are also several haunted house attractions, too, although we didn’t get the chance to go to any except the kids’ not-so-scary haunted house.

 Cedar Point ogreThis guy is HUGE and wakes up about every two minutes.

We arrived on Friday night around 7:30, quickly checked into our room at Hotel Breakers, then made our way to the boardwalk to pick up my registration materials for BloggyCon and then enter the park for some evening fun. The sun was just going down, and it was hard not to stop and admire the gorgeous views of Lake Erie, even if it was windy and cold.

Lake Erie sunset

Mira took a nap in the car on the way up, and was prepared to stay up late, since the park was open until midnight. We brought two friends with us, and one of them was happy to watch Mira while we went on a few coasters she was too small for. The park wasn’t too crowded, and the haunted houses were attracting a lot of the crowd, meaning we were able to walk right on several roller coasters.

I finally got to ride the Gatekeeper, the new winged coaster. It’s now my favorite ride ever. If you ever get the chance, you must try this coaster – the moments of weightlessness, the smooth turns and flips, and the experience of sitting out away from the track are amazing. I preferred the left wing, but it’s worth trying both sides.

We decided to call it a night around 11:30, realizing that BloggyCon sessions would begin at 9am the next morning. Waking up on Saturday wasn’t too easy, but a stunning view of the sun reflecting off the lake helped wake me up.

Early morning lake watching

The BloggyCon sessions were interesting. I attended a sessions on building and engaging your community, Pinterest, affiliate marketing, finding sponsorship, and SEO. Honda was one of the sponsors, and they gave a great talk on preparing the perfect pitch when reaching out to brands for sponsorship. I took a lot of notes in that session.

There were several topics discussed that I already knew most of the details on. I’ve been blogging since 2005, so I’d hope by now that I have the basics under control! But even old bloggers can learn new tricks, and be reminded of practices they should be doing, and I did pick up a lot of new ideas in the SEO session.

The problem for me, as always, is finding the time to implement the things I need to do. I can’t claim blogging is boring by any means – as soon as I think I have it down, someone suggests a better way to do things, and then it’s back to square one.

Don’t think it was all note-taking and blog business, though. Honda provided everyone with a teddy bear and challenged us to take photos of the bear around Cedar Point. If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you probably saw several silly photos with my bear. I had far too much fun with it.

Trying to free his friendsHang on, friends! I’ll rescue you with this claw device!

Why are you guys running?Why is everyone running?

Catching some rays by Lake Erie Beautiful day on Lake Erie.

Honda also showed off their new 2014 Odyssey. The big draw was the built-in vacuum cleaner. Forget my wish for a flying car – give me a minivan with a vacuum:

Honda Odyssey vacuumAn in-car vacuum!

After the morning and early afternoon sessions, it was time to relax and enjoy Cedar Point. I met up with Aaron, Mira, and our friends for more fun in the park. Since it was HalloWeekends, Mira dressed in her new Halloween costume and entered the kids’ costume contest.

Mira as RobinMeet Robin.

She didn’t win, but she had fun. Then it was off to trick-or-treat with the dinosaurs in Dinosaurs Alive! The dinosaurs even dressed up for us:

 Hawiian dinosaurI’m pretty!

Pretty princess dinosaurI’m prettier – I’m a pretty princess!

Then it was time for more rides. Mira is our adventure junkie and loves roller coasters, as long as they’re not too tall. She rode the Corkscrew, the Cedar Creek Mine Ride, and the Iron Dragon several times.

Cedar Point ridesAnd a few less scary rides.

We went on as many rides as our stomachs could handle, closing the park down with a last ride on the Raptor just before midnight. Mira, though, had finally given in to her exhaustion, and fell asleep on the bench while waiting for us.

 Sleepy girlAaron had to carry her back to our hotel room

I didn’t want to leave on Sunday. I love Cedar Point, and I love the entire Lake Erie region. I could easily spend a week out by the lake, exploring the sights on the shores and islands.

As we drove away, Mira sighed in a sleepy haze, “I can’t wait to go back again.”

Ditto, kid.

Our family at Cedar Point

 



I May Be Too Old For General Admission Concerts

Near the beginning of the year, I found out that one of my favorite bands was coming to Columbus on tour. You may have heard of the band Fun. – yes, it’s an unusual band name, and yes, the period is a part of their name. At the time, it was easy to buy tickets because they weren’t an extremely well-known band. Well, then they won a few Grammy awards, had another hit song, and suddenly the show was sold out. Good thing I bought my tickets early.

I had been somewhat-patiently waiting for this concert for months. Aaron occasionally teases me for listening to current pop and rock music all the time, but even he agrees this band is awesome, which is why he was willing to come along with me. And yes, for the record I love current pop music and my iPhone is filled with current hits. At least I’ll always be aware of what my kids are listening to. Also, being able to sing along with their favorite songs makes me the cool mom now, and will absolutely mortify them when they’re teens. I call that a win-win.

On Saturday night, as I was looking up the concert info again, I noticed that there had been a venue change. Instead of playing the PromoWest LC Pavilion – a smallish, outdoor concert area, the concert had been moved to the LC Festival stage, immediately behind the Pavilion. I’m guessing that was done to sell more tickets. As long as it was still a comfortable area, I wasn’t too concerned.

The concert was also general admission. I haven’t been to a general admission concert since I was in college, and before that as a teenager seeing bands at the State Fair. I wish it would have been a location with assigned seating, but I thought as long as we got there early we’d have a good shot at being closer to the stage. I expected crowded conditions and that once we found our spot we’d likely need to stay in that spot or lose it.

Sunday evening we arrived to the concert two hours before the doors opened. The line was already down two blocks to the highway entrance. Since they couldn’t have people lining up on the highway off-ramp, the line diverted onto a small dirt path beside the concern venue, in a wooded area. (It’s also the path that leads to a downtown homeless camp.) We were in the part of the line still going up the path, with no idea where the line turned to go back to the street.

The line that never ends to see Fun.

A member of the PromoWest event staff came by with a megaphone after half an hour and told the crowd that doors would open right at 7pm, and they would get us all in as fast as possible. He promised that security was tight to prevent line jumping (joking that they would taser line jumpers), so we just needed to stay in line and we’d all get in quickly.

It was hot. Really, really hot. And it felt like we were standing there forever. Finally, it was 7pm, and the line started to slowly move. But just after we made the turn and started coming down the path to the street again, we saw others, further in line behind us, turn and merge in with the downward-facing line. What? People started grumbling about the line jumpers, but the offenders just shrugged their shoulders and shuffled even further down the line, ahead of more people.

As we reached the street, we saw large numbers of people ignoring the very obvious line entirely and walking right up to the entrance, blending in with the crowd and getting in without a wait. So much for that “security” they talked about. I was furious that we waited forever in line when we could have just sat in the shade near the entrance and then walked in when the doors opened.

Once inside, we got to see what the Festival stage area looked like.

The PromoWest LC Festival Stage Exciting, no?

It was the asphalt parking lot behind the Pavilion with a temporary stage set up at one end. Seriously? Half-way back was a huge video screen, meaning anyone behind the video screen couldn’t see the stage at all. Of course, being on a flat surface, their view was going to be mostly blocked by the people ahead of them anyway. I grumbled again about the lousy venue.

While we waited for the opening act, I looked for some water. Every food and beverage booth was cash only. The band’s merchandise tents were also cash only. (Not by the band’s choice – this was the venue’s choice.) Waiting in line for an ATM with a sky-high fee to help the venue profit more wasn’t something I was willing to do, so I had to abandon my hope of getting a tour t-shirt and used the $6 I had for two waters.

Since so many people were in line for beer, we managed to find a decent spot to stand that provided a fairly good view of the stage. At least at first. More people began to crowd into our space. If you had room to look down and see your shoes, then someone was likely to push in front of you to take up that available space. The opening act, Tegan and Sara, went on stage around 8pm, and while it was crowded around us it wasn’t too bad. (Side note: I’ve never heard Tegan and Sara before, but they’re very good. I’ve added them to my Spotify list.)

Tegan and Sara performOur view, no zooming in. The space in front of me was actually a group sitting on the ground on a blanket.

After they were done, there was a momentary exodus as some went for beer refills. It was nice to breathe again. But then the crowd started to pack in tighter. Those who went to get beer came back to their spots, only others had also filled in the open areas, making it impossible for people to fit. Others would then push past, saying “oh, we’re trying to get back to our friends” but would then stop shortly in front of us, never finding those “friends” they were looking for.

A man next to us yelled at one group of women, shaming them for lying to push their way through and then stop in front of him. He wouldn’t let up in his tirade against them , either, and eventually they left the area to escape the verbal abuse. I had to applaud him for trying to make people act like adults.

Another woman and her friend then tried to push through shortly after that. I didn’t even have room to lift my elbows out to the side at this point. The woman beside me, who had been there the entire time like us, looked at the two newcomers and said, “Please, just no. I haven’t seen you here all night, you’re not trying to get back to your spot. Don’t be rude and think you’re better than others.”

The woman blew her off with a “I don’t have to answer to you,” and began to forcibly shove her way between me and the others. There wasn’t room, and the more she and her friend pushed, the more I was being squished and pushed into the others around me. (ouch) The woman beside me lost it at this point, grabbing the pusher’s arm and telling her, “No, you’re not standing in front of us, move to the back, bitch.”

And then a fight broke out right in front of me.

Why did I think I was young enough to still come to general admission concerts?

It didn’t last long, thank goodness, and the pusher lost the fight with some impressive scratches on her arm from the nails of the woman next to me. At that point, the winner glanced back to see three other women, who had also been pushing through until they got to us, right behind her. Our “hold the line” defender glared at them and one immediately said, “We’re not trying to get past you, promise! We saw what you did and we don’t want to fight you!”I had to laugh at this gal’s self-preservation skills, even when she was totally drunk.

Finally (FINALLY!) Fun. was on stage. And the concert was great, even if I was jammed up against other sweaty people (hate touching strange people, ew!), completely dripping in sweat myself from the heat, coughing from smokers blowing smoke in my face, had my view blocked several times by taller people moving ahead of me, and had beer spilled all over me from the drunk woman next to me, including half a cup kicked over onto my TOMS. (Anyone know if TOMS canvas shoes can be safely washed? Hand washed or machine?)

The performance was outstanding, and they played a nice mix of songs from both of their albums. Their voices were better than many live band appearances I’ve heard, and not a single song felt phoned in. Just when I’d start to feel worn out, Fun. revitalized the crowd with their own energy and kept that energy going for the entire show. Although I didn’t feel it that night, my feet, legs and back burned the next day from standing on asphalt for so long.

Fun. performs

Seeing the band live was something I had wanted to do for over a year now, and I was glad to get my wish. Next time I’ll be a little more detailed in my wish, though, and hope they play a better venue, with actual organization, staffing, and assigned seats.

The band Fun. in Columbus

I doubt I’ll ever see another concert at the PromoWest LC Pavilion – their inability to manage a concert was astounding. Moving it to a parking lot just because the band became more popular and they wanted to sell more tickets? Awful. (Also, those who purchased tickets before it was moved weren’t eligible for any upgrades or the chance to get a refund if they didn’t want to be at the new location.)

And I’m sure there are some who would say I’m just old and can’t cope with the way younger folks do concerts. Maybe I am too old for general admission concerts now, if by “old” you mean possessing common decency and manners. The crowd looked, on average, much younger than me, but there were also plenty of older folks behaving badly.

I feel like I should start telling “when I was younger” stories right now. Why, when I was younger, we were still packed in for concerts, but we gave each other a little more space, and sure, beer got spilled occasionally, but we apologized and didn’t try to trample everyone in front of us.

Where’s my cane? Get off my lawn!

(Yes, the camera is swaying a bit in the video. I couldn’t help it – if the crowd was swaying, I was moving along with it whether I liked it or not.)



Making Grocery Shopping More Enjoyable

Do you like going to the grocery? When I was younger I hated it. It wasn’t anything exciting and the grocery had the same stuff every week. It was time I could be doing something else.

Now? I don’t mind going. I never truly appreciated shopping for groceries until I became a parent and was forced to put more thought into food choices and nutrition. Although grocery shopping is really more of a love/hate relationship, to be honest, depending on if the kids are with me or not.

Going to the grocery without the kids is a chance to get out of the house and enjoy time in public alone for an hour or so. Yes, it’s for buying mundane food supplies for the home, but without the kids it can feel like a mini-vacation. I’ll take the time to examine new foods, check out the fresh meats, and stroll through the aisles, blissfully silent with my thoughts to myself.

Of course, going to the grocery with kids can feel like a punishment. I’m guaranteed to get out of the store having missed an important item on my list, and there will be multiple attempts to put additional things in the cart, with promises that it’s not because the box is brightly colored, or because there’s a friendly penguin on the box, and they’ll really eat it this time. They’ll also try to wear me down to buy junk food for them. Their strategy is perfect: start by asking for foods of little redeeming nutritional value (candy bars, donuts, cookies, potato chips), so that by the time we get to ice cream I’m thinking well, there’s calcium, right? and toss a pint in the cart.

Last week I was invited to check out the new Market District Dublin for their grand opening. (Disclosure: I received a small gift bag of products and gift card as a thank you.) Yes, I get invited to ribbon cutting ceremonies for grocery stores now. Such is the glamorous life of mom blogger. But hey, if it’s a good grocery and has more of what I want, you’d better believe I’d be excited about it.

My 20-year old self is shaking her head in shame right now.

They had Buddy Valastro (Cake Boss) at the event, too, signing autographs and handing out cake to everyone. Which, I was happy to meet him, but I was actually more excited about all the new food sections to explore.

Meeting Buddy Valastro

This store was originally a Giant Eagle and recently was remodeled into their new Market District super grocery. If you’ve been to a Whole Foods, you’ll see it’s a lot like that in many ways, only not as expensive. When I first walked in, I saw the new restaurant area, with counters to serve freshly cooked food of all types. There was a sub shop, a fresh salad bar, a prepared foods counter (potato salad, kale salad, bean salad, etc.), a sushi bar, soup bar, and even a create-your-own stir-fry station. With seating available in this area, it’s possible to come for a meal before doing your grocery shopping, or just take a prepared meal home to your family along with the groceries.

The produce section is huge. Hand-drawn signs advertise the different foods, and there’s a much wider variety than can be found in many grocery stores. (I never knew there was purple asparagus, but I’m intrigued.) Local displays feature foods that are grown nearby, with signs describing which farms the produce came from.

Market District hand-painted signsThe hand-painted signs are really cute.

There’s also a huge cheese section with cheeses from around the world. Now that’s my kind of grocery store – so much cheese! We were told that they encourage you to try before you buy, so if you see something you’re not sure about, you can ask for a sample to determine if you’d like it. Next to the cheese counter was (naturally) the wine and beer display. They have a counter with chairs set up and offer wine and beer tastings each week. Next to that is a display kitchen where cooking demonstrations are held each day.

I also really liked their bulk foods area. There have been many times I wanted to try a new grain or needed just a little of an item for something I was baking. It’s nice to have the ability to only buy the amount I need and not a pre-packaged amount. This section also has more unusual items like different types of salts and mushrooms.

Bulk foods at Market District DublinNot seen in the photo: the grind-your-own nut butter station. Yum.

Perhaps the best surprise for me was learning that their bakery is now making some cakes with all natural dyes in their icing. We’ve always loved their cakes but had to avoid any colors in the icing, but now I’m excited that Cordy can have her favorite cake with an all-natural blue icing on it for her birthday!

Market District Dublin is just about everything you could ask for in a grocery. They have a wide selection of products, including organic, and they’ve staffed each area with specialists who really know their food. In the health and beauty section of the store, they have a nutritionist and esthetician in the store daily to answer questions about health and beauty and help find the right products for you.

Of course, they’ve got the kids covered, too. You can sign your kids into the Eagle’s Nest, a secure and staffed play area at the front of the store, and then go shop while the kids play, color, and don’t beg for cookies. Problem solved.

Overall I’m really pleased with the way they’ve designed this store. The displays are more organic in nature, bringing together foods that naturally go well together, displayed in a customer-friendly, please-touch manner that makes everything feel more accessible. New foods seem less foreign when there are staff who can tell you all about it and even offer you a sample. It has the feel of an open-air market, only contained within the walls of a grocery store.

I also like that so much emphasis is placed on the fresh foods along the outer edges of the store. Yes, you can still get your favorite boxed foods in the center of the store, which looks more like traditional grocery shelves. Placing so much emphasis on the fresh foods gets me excited to try more of them, which is really a win for my family’s health.

The new Market District Dublin is impressive and I hope to see more groceries like this in the future. Locals, this is worth checking out. This level of detail and planning makes going to the grocery feel less like a chore, which we could all do with a few less of those, right?

Disclosure (again): I was invited to the store with a group of bloggers for a tour and received a small bag of Market District products and a gift card as a thank you. All opinions here are entirely my own, your grocery store experience may vary. But for your sake, I’m hoping you have a cool grocery like this nearby.

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