In Travel & Visitors Guide

The Jelly Belly "factory" delivers a couple of hours of sweet, free fun.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

The Bristol Renaissance Faire is a unique and educational festival experience.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

Some say Bobby Nelson's Cheese Shop is better than the Mars Cheese Castle.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

KeyLime Cove and Six Flags Great America offer summer package deals.

Road Trip: Wisconsin / Illinois border

Let's face it, taking a vacation is tough these days. Everyone's tightening their belts these days, and airfare alone to get far from Wisconsin might be more than you've budgeted for a getaway. But the time-honored road trip may be just what you need this summer -- a fun escape on just a tank -- give or take -- of gas. Fortunately, we've come up with a few car trips that won't break the bank.

Wisconsin / Illinois border (approximate round-trip mileage from Milwaukee: 100 miles)

If you need a staycation with the family, but have only a day or two to spare, a quick jaunt down I-94 to the Wisco / Illini border might be your golden ticket. Although summertime opens up more options, this trip is a winner regardless of the season.

For anyone traveling with kids, the less-than-an-hour drive means you probably don't have to pop in a DVD for the ride. Make it a "real" road trip and play road sign games or sing songs. (Unless, of course, your kid is at the roll-her-eyes stage of life in which case the iPod is probably the distraction of choice.)

In any case, stops near the state lines can result in anything from heart-pounding thrill rides to a decadent amount of cheese. The kids will appreciate a change of scenery, too.

Six Flags Great America (I-94 to Rt. 132) -- Whether you're a thrill seeker ready to lose your lunch on the Giant Drop or just want to take in the views on the Sky Trek Tower, Great America's got you covered. The theme park features rides galore, family-friendly entertainment (including the end-of-the-day Bugs Bunny Starlight Spectacular parade) and the Hurricane Harbor water park. To make the adventure even more affordable, bring your own food and picnic / tailgate in the parking lot. Tickets are $39.99 when you order them online (they are $55 at the gate!), and if you think you might go two or more times, buy the season pass for $74.99. Regular parking is $15 or $25 for preferred parking. Six Flags Great America is open from April until November. Check the Web site for more information.

Gurnee Mills (I-94 to Rt. 132) -- This massive outlet mall features more than 200 stores -- including Neiman Marcus Last Call Store, Abercrombie & Fitch Outlet and Gap Outlet -- and it attracts more than 23 million shoppers every year. The mall features a state-of-the-art Marcus movie theater and dozens of food options, from fast eats like McDonald's and Arby's, to the Rainforest Cafe. The Rainforest Cafe is gimmicky and not particularly "green," but it's a big kid pleaser thanks to the massive aquariums, talking birds, floor-to-ceiling foliage and a flashy menu that includes a gigantic volcano sundae served with a lit sparkler. Gurnee Mills is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Rainforest Cafe has extended hours.

KeyLime Cove (I-94 to Rt. 132 East) -- For a full article on this new water park that's just across the interstate from Gurnee Mills, click here. KeyLime Cove is an indoor water park (it does not have an outdoor park) that's clean and convenient. Great deals on KeyLime Cove / Six Flags Great America packages are available, and KeyLime Cove offers a shuttle service to and from Great America. Sharing a suite with friends or another family usually results in more space and less cost than renting a single room. Plus, suites include full kitchens, so healthier, less expensive food options are easily accessible.

Bristol Renaissance Faire (I-94 to Russell Road; follow signs to the Faire) -- The "Ren Faire" is open every weekend from early July through Labor Day weekend. Set in 1574, the Faire is a celebration of Elizabethan England complete with 16th Century games, rides, arts, crafts, food, music and encounters with a spectacular cast of characters from a Spider Lady who weaves her own massive string web to fairies who spontaneously slink from the behind trees. The Faire features a 30-acre site with open-air stages featuring sword fighters, minstrels, jesters and a Mud Show. All entertainment is included in the price of admission. Try the garlic mushrooms, cheese fritters and Black Cows (a sassafrass float with chocolate ice cream). Tickets are $16.95 for adults and $8 for kids ages 5-12. Kids under 5 are free. Check the Web site for coupons.

Mars Cheese Castle (I-94 to Exit 340) -- The iconic Mars Cheese Castle is worth a stop -- especially if you have never been there. The castle features lots of queso, sausage, bakery, wine, snacks, gifts, a sit-down restaurant and a casual, walk-up grill. For even more meat heaven, check out the Castle's less-flashy neighbor, Bobby Nelson's Cheese Shop (it's a couple of doors south). The meat selection -- particularly the summer sausage and jalapeno brats -- are top notch, and the pickled stuff actually looks appealing. The shop was opened by pro wrestler Bobby Nelson, who passed away in 2002.

Prime Outlets Outlet Mall (I-94 to exit 347) -- This outlet mall houses 90 brand-name outlet stores including Banana Republic Factory Store, Calvin Klein, Eddie Bauer Outlet, Gymboree Outlet, J. Crew and Wilsons Leather Outlet. Prime Outlets is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Jelly Belly Candy Co., Pleasant Prairie (go to the Web site for directions) -- The Jelly Belly "factory" features free tours every day. The tour allows kids and their caregivers to ride down Candy Alley on a train with wheels and see how Jelly Bellies are made via large screens. (Candy is not actually made in the Pleasant Prairie location.) Massive Jelly Belly mosaics -- including one of President Reagan -- are kitschy and fun. After the tour, guests are dropped off at the attached Jelly Belly store where every Jelly Belly under the sun is available for purchase. Free samples are distributed, too. Warehouse tours operate Monday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call ahead.


elnmajic | Aug. 4, 2009 at 10:38 p.m. (report)

Don't forget KENO Drive-In, the wife and I try to get there a few times during the summer.

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thecandyman | Aug. 2, 2009 at 1:27 p.m. (report)

In 1976 I invented the Jelly Belly jelly has been a life long goal to help other people get started in the candy business......if you would like my help(no charge) you can contact me at

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