Back when I posted our summer bucket list I mentioned that I wanted to check out Put-In-Bay since I had never been there. One of the ferry operators to the island saw that post and invited us to visit. South Bass Island suffers from a bit of a party stigma – known as the Key West of the Great Lakes, it has more than it’s fair share of rowdy, drunken stories. So, could a family of 4 have an enjoyable island adventure? We were willing to try.
The Miller Boat Line gave us round-trip tickets for the ferry along with a golf cart on the island (care of Island Bike & Cart Rental) and tickets to some of the attractions at Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center. Armed with those, coupons from the web, and a couple of hours worth of internet searching we were off.
Miller Ferry bound, We’re on a boat!
After picking up the cart, which was equipped with a child seat for the squirmy Madman, we motored to town. After a quick loop around we parked and let the kids play in DeRivera Park which is a beautiful green space between the main street and the marina. The park has lots of playground equipment, tons of picnic tables and ample shade. There were even kids doing chalk drawings up and down the sidewalks. I was kicking myself for not bringing a picnic lunch because the park was a perfect spot. We decided instead to check out nearby Boardwalk and ended up in the Upper Deck because we wanted table service. The food was what you’d expect for a tourist place…I can’t complain about my perch sandwich, but it was standard sandwich and fries fare. The Lobster Bisque was indeed very good and Matilda ate most of our bowl. We were disappointed we couldn’t sit outside (highchairs don’t work with the patio tables) but they put us by the windows so the kids could watch the boats come and go, which kept them entertained throughout lunch. Pro tip: check your coupons before you eat. We forgot to use a coupon for a free kids meal here.
DeRivera Park fun
After lunch we headed over to The Aquatic Visitors Center where I might have freaked out a bit about the size of some of Lake Erie’s fish. The kids loved it there – it’s full of fish tanks and some hands-on displays about the fishery and ecosystem of the lake. They also offer free fishing off their pier (equipment provided) and Matilda was determined to catch a fish. After a few attempts she caught a round gobie, much to her excitement. The Center is staffed by Ohio State University Stone Lab students who were patient and very kind to the kids. The best part was when Matilda’s gobie was put into the trough to feed the bigger catfish and pike. She was pretty excited.
Pretty view from the Aquatic Visitor’s Center, Hands-on displays
Fishing off the pier and feeding her gobie to the bigger fish
It was time to head to the main attraction – Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center – which seems to be the hub of kid activity on the island. With our Combo passes we checked out the Butterfly Garden (tip: the nicest bathrooms of the trip were found here), Perry’s Cave and Fort aMAZE’n. As you can guess, Matilda loved it here. She thought the cave was really cool (so did I) and really enjoyed the maze. Madman was a bit of handful but he enjoyed the little antique car display and then just had fun hanging out on our parked golf cart while Matilda and Mark were navigating the maze. Best part – kids 5 and under free for most things here and the combo tickets save you 25% over individual ticket prices.
Fun at Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center
Since Matilda was dying to get in the water we drove over to South Bass Island State Park to check out their swimming beach. While it was nice enough we were totally unprepared since neither Mark or I brought our suits. Both kids got in the lake but the rocky bottom and waves got the best of us and we made them get out after just a few minutes. They were not happy but my shorts were soaked and I didn’t want to get wetter. If we had been better prepared, this would have been a nice way to spend an hour our two as it wasn’t crowded, the water was warm and the views of the bluffs were pretty.
After our traumatic exit from the beach we decided to drive past the memorial (which was closed for repairs but opens up again this week) and check out the east side of the island. We got to Scheef Nature Preserve but decided to not get out and walk around since the kids were starting to get tired. We buzzed back past the memorial and went back into town for a snack. After walking around a bit we ended up at the little ice cream parlor at The Candy Bar for an air conditioned break. We thought about riding Kimberly’s Carousel but the kids were’t having it. Around 5:00 the village started to get a bit too rowdy for us (admittedly, we are kind of prude when it comes to our kids who are only 5 and 2) with foul language and scant clothing. Although we had intended to check out the Goat Soup and Whiskey for dinner, which is mid-island and away from the main strip, the kids were D-O-N-E so after another quick romp on the DeRivera Park playground we headed back to the ferry dock.
Overall we enjoyed our trip. There was more to do in PIB than we had expected and I think we will return when the kids are a bit older so we can do things like kayaking and more hiking. Cost-wise, I think a day-trip is on par with a a day a Cedar Point, just make sure you look for coupons (and then remember to use them!). Put-In-Bay’s reputation for being a party place isn’t totally unfounded, but if you get there early enough and leave around dinner time a fun day is in store – there’s lots of history on the island and plenty to do. Plus if your little one is 5 or under almost everything is free. A golf cart is a must with younger kids but I think older kids could handle traversing the island on a bike. Either way, it’s a perfect day trip that’s just a bit out of the ordinary.
Much thanks to @MillerBoatLineand especially their Communications Manager, Katrina, who put up with a lot of indecisiveness as to when we were going to visit. Thanks for showing us another local spot for us to enjoy with the kids!
Here’s the fun part – When we arrived on PIB, the owner’s of Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center gave me 4 Combo tickets to give away to my readers. Just leave a comment below telling me your best PIB story or about your favorite Lake Erie getaway. Giveaway ends June 12, 2012 at midnight. One commenter will be chosen by random.org. Good luck!
Disclosure: I was given 2 ferry tickets, a one-day golf cart rental and 2 Combo tickets to Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center for our trip – a trip we were planning on taking on our own. As always, my thoughts are 100% my own. I only share things that my family plans to attend or has attended in the past, so I know they are worth the visit.