My family has made it to the point where more than eight or nine hours in the car while driving to or from a vacation is long enough. So we have started stopping for the night at various places along the way. On the way back from Gulf Shores this summer we stopped near Mammoth Cave to visit Kentucky Down Under. It was recommended to me from some family members and I was surprised to have never heard of it before.

Red Kangaroo

Red Kangaroo

The grounds of Kentucky Down Under not only contain the Mammoth Onyx Cave, but they over the years have expanded to include animals from around the world, with an emphasis being placed on Australian species. One of the owners is from Australia and since 1990 kangaroo, dingo, kookaburra, and emu. There are also plenty of more native farm animals, along with wolves, a large bird garden, and several reptiles.

Sulcata Tortoise

Sulcata Tortoise

The coolest part is easily walking through the kangaroo habitat where you are allowed to pet and feed them. My three-year-old could have followed them for hours. While my five-year-old was much more interested in the giant Sulcata Tortoise that was in the same enclosure.

Mammoth Onyx Cave

Mammoth Onyx Cave

Mammoth Onyx Cave is included with admission to Kentucky Down Under and all guests are assigned to a 30-minute tour time. I found this to be about the perfect length of time for our family, and I think most other families on our tour would agree. While the temperature is cool (especially on a hot day) the cave can be a little tight and dark in places. Our three-year-old found it the perfect spot to take a nap in the middle of the tour, while our five-year-old enjoyed keeping climbing on his own with a flashlight and looking for salamanders.

Kentucky is well worth a couple hour visit and be sure to check Groupon before you go as we found discount tickets were available, which made our visit even better!

One of Cincinnati’s newest craft breweries, Nine Giant, has been open for a couple of months now. My family and I finally got a chance to give it a try a couple of Sunday’s ago. We had actually tried to go a couple of Friday’s earlier for dinner and found it too crowded and loud for a our preschool aged children. On our second attempt we chose early on a Sunday evening and found the crowd to be much more manageable and it not quite as loud. It was still a little on the louder side, but there were signs posted that around the room stating that sound insulation was soon coming.

Beer Glass

Beer Glass

I sampled both their Gold Soundz, a fruity IPA, and SRV, a hoppy brown ($6 per full pour). I enjoyed both beers and would rate them above average with no real preference toward either one. I would recommend ordering the one that traditionally falls in line with your flavor preferences. My wife also thoroughly enjoyed the Django Belgian Single, so don’t be afraid to give that a try if you are more into Belgians.

Inside

Inside

The food menu is quite small but we found plenty on the menu that suited our tastes. We started with an order of house made deep-fried pickle chips with a side of horseradish aioli ($4). I almost didn’t order these but threw them in at the last second and I am so glad that I did. The pickles were thick sliced and fried to perfection. The aioli wasn’t necessary in our eyes, but just a slight dip in the sauce added a nice kick to each bite.

Fried Pickles

Fried Pickles

Each week they have a new special item on the menu. During our visit it was the local heirloom tomato BLT topped with arugula pesto on Sixteen Bricks Artisan Bakehouse Challah bread. I’m a sucker for a good BLT, so I knew right away that I would be ordering this. I’m not normally a huge fan or arugula, although my exposure has mostly been in salads, but the pesto was awesome. The tomatoes were ripe and perfect and their bacon was outstanding. Overall an excellent BLT.

BLT

BLT

The kids menu is simple but effective, a cheese burger and a grilled cheese. The burger features local, grass-fed beef in a smashed-style patty with sharp cheddar cheese on Sixteen Bricks Challah bread with the crust cut off ($5). My five-year-old loved this and ate nearly the entire thing.

Kid's Cheeseburger

Kid’s Cheeseburger

My wife went with the falafel wrap served in a naan wrap with lettuce, tomato, house-made pickles and tzatziki sauce ($7). She didn’t seem as impressed as I was with the BLT, but I took a bite of the wrap and really enjoyed it. The pickles added a nice touch and the falafel was above average. I would have maybe liked a bit more tzatziki sauce. Overall I felt it was a great vegetarian option.

Falafel Wrap

Falafel Wrap

Free wi-fi is offered as well as a handful of low top tables for those with families. Though most of the space is reserved for the bar and larger sized high tops. The space is not nearly as large as some of the dominant craft breweries that opened years ago in the area, but falls more inline with what is opening up more and more these days, smaller tap rooms with an emphasis on their immediate neighborhoods. With that said I think the popularity of their beers and food will allow them to cater towards those from around the entire city.

Nine Giant Brewing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Nine Giant

Gordo’s Pub & Grill is an often overlooked spot in the heart of Norwood, at least it has been by yours truly. Located less than 10 minutes from our house, my family finally stopped in for dinner after living in the area for the last five years.

Inside

Inside

Don’t let the small street-front building deter you from stopping in, there is plenty of room in the long and shotgun style building. A large bar is the first thing you seen when entering the front door, but Gordo’s is truly family friendly and has a handful of items on a kids menu.

Pear and Blue Cheese Salad

Pear and Blue Cheese Salad

I started with a generous and tasty pear and blue cheese salad with spring mix, walnuts, and a tangy raspberry vinaigrette ($2 upgrade substitution for fries with sandwich or $8 alone). This salad was well worth the up-charge to replace the standard fries and is a must when visiting Gordo’s.

Kid's Mac & Cheese with Broccoli

Kid’s Mac & Cheese with Broccoli

One of our kids enjoyed the macaroni and cheese with broccoli ($5). Truthfully an older kid might like more than the four florets of broccoli provided, but this was plenty for our three-year-old. I stole a bite or two and this is above average macaroni and cheese.

Kid's Cheeseburger

Kid’s Cheeseburger

Our five-year-old went with the cheeseburger and fries ($5). The burger was plenty big enough and the side of fries was more than an adult could tackle. Word of warning, the burger comes topped with lettuce and tomato, so be sure to request without if you have a picky eater.

Black Bean Gordo Burger

Black Bean Gordo Burger

Burgers are what has made Gordo’s somewhat famous. My wife was happy to see that any of their signature burgers can be made vegetarian by substituting a black bean patty. She chose the Gordo with roasted poblanos, mushrooms, onions, bacon, Boursin cheese, and mayonnaise. Wow, was this a great burger! It put my chicken salad sandwich to shame, though that was still a good sandwich. Take it from me (and every other table) you must get a burger when dining at Gordo’s. Prices are good and servings are plentiful. We will be back!

Gordo's Pub & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Gordo's Pub & Grill

Recently a soup, salad, and sandwich shop called Ladles opened near the new Kroger Marketplace at Oakley Station. Ladles started out of Charleston, SC and they operate nearly a dozen restaurants in that area. The Oakley location is first franchise located out of the Carolina’s.

Outside

Outside

Ladles has over 400 soup recipes that rotate daily but there are roughly nine that are always available. The also offer a dozen daily sandwiches along with a few salads, seasonal options available for each. The menu is pretty big and spans both a large chalkboard and TV monitors above the counter ordering space.

Inside

Inside

On this visit I was ordering carry out to feed my family back at home, so I ordered a variety of things to share. The seasonal pear and walnut salad was an easy choice, filled with pears, candied walnuts, red onions, blue cheese, and champagne vinaigrette ($9.95 full size). I also am a sucker for pretzel buns, so the Baron Von Ladles sandwich was an easy choice stuffed with ham, Swiss, lettuce, tomatoes, and whole grain mustard ($7.95 includes bag of chips). I also wanted to sample some soups so I ordered an 8oz cup of their turkey chili ($3.75) and the same size broccoli cheddar ($3.25). Both soups included a bread roll.

Our Choices

Our Choices

The salad and sandwich tasted just as good as expected, with the salad actually being my favorite of the two. As far as the soups go I though their turkey chili was really good and enjoyed the addition of corn and jalapeno to the mix. The broccoli cheddar was definitely a cream styled soup. I prefer to have larger chunks of broccoli, and therefore would likely skip this soup in the future. With that said the food was definitely above average in quality and the price was right. We will definitely be back.

Ladles Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Ladles

There are not a lot of words that can be said about seeing Paul McCartney perform live. It was truly amazing and possibly a once in a lifetime experience for me. The setlist was 38 songs long and filled with 23 hits from The Beatles, a handful of Wings tunes, and rounded out with some of Paul’s solo work. My pictures may not do it justice, but here they are anyway.

A Hard Day’s Night

A Hard Day’s Night

Maybe I’m Amazed

Maybe I’m Amazed

Blackbird

Blackbird

Band On The Run

Band On The Run

Live And Let Die

Live And Let Die

Fireworks

Fireworks

Awesome Lights

Awesome Lights

Too Loud

Too Loud

The End

The End

Sidekix Saucy Asian Grill has been open for roughly a year now and I finally took the time to give them a try. The are located in the growing strip near the intersection of Columbia Parkway and Delta Avenue. I arrived late in the afternoon, just past 2 PM, to find a nearly empty restaurant, save one sole individual finishing his lunch.

Outside

Outside

Then menu layout is similar to Chipotle with first a choice between bowl and wrap. You then add a base (lettuce, Asian noodles, brown or white rice) followed by a protein (chicken, steak, or tofu). From there there are a variety of vegetable toppings that can be added (mostly raw) and a ton of sauces to choose from.

Chicken Bowl

Chicken Bowl

I went with a chicken and brown rice bowl ($7.45) topped with a handful of raw veggies and their signature general kix sauce. Over the taste was good and the serving size was plentiful. I really would have liked for the raw veggies to be cooked before serving. Perhaps allowing customers to build their bowl like I did and then giving the option to quickly stir fry together would make it even better. As is I don’t think I will be a regular customer, but with a couple of changes this concept could be successful.

Sidekix Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Sidekix Saucy Asian Grill

Just Q’in has progressed from a BBQ competition team, to a food truck and catering business, to now operating two restaurants. The first opened in December of 2011 in Newtown, and now as of a week ago their second location is open in Walnut Hills. I was fortunate enough to get a preview of the Walnut Hills space and to sample the food thanks to Yelp.

Northside Distilling

Northside Distilling

Northside Distilling was on hand to provide samples of their moonshine and corn whiskey. They also had a lemonade raspberry spritzer that was delicious. I had no idea that there was a distillery in town, but Northside was the first to open in years.

Courtyard

Courtyard

During our preview event, both the indoor and outdoor areas were not yet quite complete, but there was enough done to get a sense of what the space will feel like. Clean lines and a modern feel dominated the inside, while the outside screamed history with older brick walls.

Kitchen

Kitchen

Our Buffet

Our Buffet

We were treated to samples of pulled pork, ribs, brisket, and chicken wings. There was plenty of food to go around and I was even able to sneak in for seconds! I really enjoyed both the pulled pork and the chicken wings, which are something somewhat unique to Just Q’in, at least in this part of town.

My Plate

My Plate

I am excited to get back to Just Q’in soon to see the completed restaurant and to sample more of their deliciously smoked food.

Just Q'in Barbeque, Walnut Hills Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Just Q'in Barbeque

After spending a few days at Walt Disney World last week we moved over to Cocoa Beach for some relaxing in the sun. Most of the days were spent relaxing around the pool or playing at the beach. We did drive up to Port Canaveral to watch the SpaceX rocket launch, but that was the extent of our excitement until the last day, when a few of us rented kayaks from SoBe Surf and explored Sykes Creek.

Our Group With A Manatee

Our Group With A Manatee

Rather than taking a guided tour we decided just to rent the kayaks and go out exploring on our own. We met up with one of the SoBe employees at their shop and then followed him in our car out to the launching pad, less than a half mile down the road. We were given our equipment and some suggestions on where we could find some wildlife.

Manatee Attack

Manatee Attack

Once we paddled out to Sykes Creek from the launch we decided to head about 300 yards south to a little cove where we were told manatees liked to hang out. We paddled all the way to the back of the cove before without seeing more than a few birds, but as we began to paddle back out toward the main creek we were surrounded by manatees!

Belly Up

Belly Up

The giant sea cows were very slow-moving and gentle, though one of them found Nick’s kayak to be very interesting. He even went belly up to get his mouth fully on the bottom of the kayak. Immediately I was mad at myself for not bringing my GoPro as I would love to have seen what they were doing under the murky water.

Manatee Zone - Minimum Wake

Manatee Zone – Minimum Wake

We spent a good amount of time in the southern cove before paddling north to a larger cove that didn’t seem to have any manatees in it. We continued north to the Merritt Island Causeway bridge, where we spotted a dolphin. We tried to follow it as it continued north but we quickly lost track. On our way back toward the launch, we found a dolphin who was busying trying to catch a meal along the shore wall.

When we finally made it back to the launch we had been out for roughly three hours. I think if it weren’t so hot we could have paddled all day, but we still saw plenty in the few hours that we were out, and managed to get some exercise in as well.

We are back from our week-long vacation in Florida. We are still recovering from some long and hot days but we had an awesome time! First things we did was to visit Walt Disney World, specifically we spent our first day at the Animal Kingdom and followed it up with two days at the Magic Kingdom.

Pretzel Face

Pretzel Face

Tree Of Life

Tree Of Life

I figured that Animal Kingdom would be a somewhat relaxing start to the trip after traveling the evening before. We kicked it off with trips on TriceraTop Spin for Kim and our preschool aged kids, while I took my brother-in-law Nick (age 15) on Expedition Everest, Primeval Whirl, and DINOSAUR. The kids also spent some time in The Boneyard right at its opening at 10.

From there we had an early lunch before going to Finding Nemo – The Musical, which was probably my favorite show of the trip. The puppeteers were really good at both singing their parts and working the large puppets. After enjoying the show and the air conditioning, it was time to brave the heat. Fortunately I took the older two (Trey and Nick) on the Kali River Rapids ride while Paige and Kim met Mickey and Minnie. I had made FastPass+ reservations for both so we didn’t have to wait in either of the long lines.

Adventurers Outpost

Adventurers Outpost

After our separate events we rejoined to see some of the animal displays at the Maharajah Jungle Trek and Discovery Island Trails before watching the Flights of Wonder bird show. After the show it was time for our FastPass+ reservation on the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride through various animal enclosures. I thought the hippo display was the coolest as I have never seen that many hippos together at one time.

Hippos

Hippos

Giraffe

Giraffe

Rhinos

Rhinos

We were all very hot by this point of the day, fortunately we had just a few more indoor shows to catch. First was Festival of the Lion King, which the kids really seemed to enjoy. The acrobats dressed as monkeys were huge crowd pleasers and the sing along songs were great to hear. On our way out of the park we stopped by It’s Tough to be a Bug inside the Tree of Life for the short 4D movie featuring the characters from A Bug’s Life. It was a solid day and we managed to see nearly everything the park has to offer before leaving just past 5.

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

If we thought that our first day was packed full of fun, that was nothing compared to the second day in the parks which brought our first day at the Magic Kingdom. Just as we did the day before, we split into two groups to kick off the day. I took Nick on Space Mountain while Kim took the kids on Astro Orbiter. Making a quick entry to some of the most popular rides rewards you with nearly zero wait time at the beginning of the day.

From there we saw no line for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, so we went ahead and did that even though I had a FastPass+ reservation for this for the following day. No problem though as I was easily able to reschedule that for another attraction using the iPhone app. We then did a quick trip on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover while we were in the area before stopping at the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, which proved to be a hilarious live comedy show.

Mad Tea Party

Mad Tea Party

Tea Cups

Tea Cups

We then took not one but two spins on the Mad Tea Party, which was probably the most enjoyable ride we shared as one group of wide varying ages. As we did each day, we stopped for lunch just before 11 to avoid the crowds that packed the restaurants leading up to noon. We had a little extra time after lunch so we made a quick stop at Prince Charming Regal Carousel to find Cinderella’s Horse.

Cinderella's Horse

Cinderella’s Horse

Next we again split into two groups for arguably what was each of our kid’s favorite things we did. I took Trey and Nick on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train while Kim took Paige to meet Anna & Elsa. Both of these attractions are super popular and are some of the most sought after FastPass+ reservations. I stayed up until midnight 30 days before our trip to get these reservations and I am glad I did. At the time of our visits each one had a wait well over an hour!

Anna

Anna

Elsa

Elsa

From there we watched another 4D movie at Mickey’s PhilharMagic before cooling off at Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station. The fun didn’t stop there as I had another FastPass+ reservation for our group on Peter Pan’s Flight, which I honestly thought was overrated. At this time Paige went down for a nap, so I took the boys into the Country Bear Jamboree show before we watched the Festival of Fantasy Parade.

After the parade we made a quick run over to our last FastPass+ for Under the Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid. Amazingly I was then able to secure another FastPass+ for it’s a small world just minutes later using my phone. The kids all left the park singing this song as they couldn’t have been any happier. But before we left we took one final ride on the Pirates of the Caribbean to end a jam-packed day.

Mickey Bush

Mickey Bush

Accomplishing so much on our first day in the Magic Kingdom allowed us to relax a bit on this second day. But before we did that we once again arrived before the rope drop and split into two groups. I took the boys on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Initially I wasn’t sure if Trey would like the roller coasters as much as he did, but once we did the Seven Dwarfs and he loved it I was pumped to take him on more big rides. The boys liked Big Thunder maybe even more, so we quickly rode it again without any wait! We then walked right onto Splash Mountain before meeting back up with Kim and Paige who had already ridden Aladdin’s Magic Carpets and were busy playing in some of the splashing water nearby.

We then went straight for the Jungle Cruise, and in hindsight maybe we should have skipped the second ride on Big Thunder Mountain, as we ended up waiting roughly 20 minutes for this one, by far the longest we waited for anything in either park we visited. The kids were a little spoiled by that point and nearly melted down in line but we pushed through and enjoyed the comical cruise before grabbing lunch.

Belle

Belle

After lunch we had a date with Belle at the Enchanted Tales With Belle on a FastPass+. I almost removed the boys from this one and did something else but I am glad we all went to this, though none of us truly loved it as much as Paige. The audience members get to act out part of the story with Belle and I tried to convince Nick to play the role of the Beast. Maybe next time!

From there we again split up for another round of FastPass+ selections. I couldn’t get any other ride for the boys and I to do, so we went ahead and did Splash Mountain again on the FastPass+ I had originally booked long ago. The girls got to Meet Ariel at her Grotto. Paige added another autograph to her signature book along with a photo. These meet and greets were her favorite thing she did.

Ariel

Ariel

I guess going under the sea really tired out Paige as when we all met up again she had already fallen asleep for a nap. I had yet another FastPass+ for the Barnstormer for all us, but instead I just took the boys on this smaller scale roller-coaster before we all decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel a bit earlier than the day before. We had debated going over to Tom Sawyer Island or taking a ride on the Liberty Belle Riverboat, but we didn’t wait to wait in line or wake Paige so we will have to save those attractions for another time.

For the most part we saw just about everything that we had wanted to see in a few long days. If the kids were a little older I probably would have tried to take them back to the park for the Main Street Electrical Parade along with the fireworks show, but they don’t often stay up past 8 or 9. Instead we spent the evening relaxing in the resorts outdoor pool and lazy river. The next day we woke up, swam some more, and then headed off to Cocoa Beach for a few more days of fun in the hot sun.

Overall this was a really good year at Bunbury. I rarely saw any lines, thanks to the RFID equipped wristbands used for entry and payment, which was easily the biggest improvement from last year. Occasionally I saw some lines for certain food but it always seemed to be moving and there were always nearby stands with much less demand. Only downside to the wristband was the obscene amount of money spent by me and my family without even realizing it.

X Ambassadors

X Ambassadors

My highlights for the first day included The Mowgli’s, X Ambassadors, and The Killers. Saturday was a little slower for me, and some sets were cut short due to rain. Personally I really liked Austin Plaine and Umphrey’s McGee.

Double Rainbow

Double Rainbow

One thing that still needs some improvement revolves around the river stage. It was often so packed that I truly only watched a single performer and that was from way to the side. Maybe it’s time to move this stage off the wall like the festival was forced to the year with high water. Or if it stays in the current location, perhaps a video screen on top of the stage would be nice so you could see the performance without actually being down on the wall. If there is anyway to get a larger floor section in front of the stage that could help alleviate some of the crowding too.

Of Monsters And Men

Of Monsters And Men

The biggest highlight of the festival for me was seeing Of Monsters And Men for the first time. I have been a big fan of the Icelandic based band since their debut album from 2011. The nine member band hit all the highlights from the two studio releases in the hour-long set. I look forward to seeing them again, so hopefully they will return to the area again soon.

Of Monsters And Men

Of Monsters And Men

Other highlights from Sunday included Elle King and a monstrous closing set from Florence and the Machine. Florence put on a hell of a show and was an excellent way to cap off the weekend. See you next year, Bunbury.