“You and Jeff have to come!” my sister-in-law, Kelly, pleaded over the phone. “And bring the kids!”
And with that, our first family get-together in ages was official. Jeff and I hadn’t seen my brother, Ryan, and his wife in way too long—somehow kids, jobs and life got in the way, and the weeks turned to months and then years. Though I was nervous to face the distance that had come between us, I was also excited to visit Ryan and Kelly in their adopted hometown of St. Charles, Illinois. Plus, our older sister and her wife and kids were on board, and Kelly was planning the entire weekend…we just had to show up.
Our foursome arrived ahead of schedule and went downtown to Town House Books—the cutest! The perfect spot to get “lost” in a book, this quaint independent store offers surprises with all sorts of nooks and crannies. We explored each room dedicated to travel and every imaginable genre. I even found a signed copy of the newest book by my favorite author, Richard Russo. The kids had a blast in the children’s alcove, loving the books displayed inside an old (non-functioning!) fireplace. No Wi-Fi meant the whole family could be present, allowing us to ease into vacation mode.
Upon dropping our bags in our Pheasant Run Resort suite—complete with a pullout couch and two full bathrooms—the kids wasted no time changing into their bathing suits for the pool. And that’s exactly where the rest of our party of 13—six adults and seven kids ages four to 14—found us, and where we remained for much of the day.
“How cool is this?” called my youngest before he dove underwater to swim directly from the indoor to the outdoor area. Heated to 86 degrees year-round and surrounded by loungers and a fire pit, the pool was an immediate winner despite the cooler outdoor temps.
As the cousins splashed, my siblings and I caught up on the twists and turns each of our lives had taken since we last convened. Time passed quickly, and as it turns out, we could have filled our days without ever leaving the resort.
“Ms. PacMan!” my sister yelped with nostalgia as we entered the Swamp Arcade. She challenged her wife to a few games, while their tweens only had eyes for the claw machine. Meantime, the younger set indulged in scoops of Fat Elvis ice cream at the creamery down the indoor “block.”
The game room was just one of the many entertainment options on Bourbon Street—a New Orleans-themed venue within the resort. Rumor has it that this Bourbon Street was created in honor of the builder’s wife as homage to her hometown. Though the dining and shopping options have evolved since 1963, the unique atmosphere of the original destination remains.
The following night, Jeff and Ryan volunteered to take all the kids to one of the three iPanic Escape Rooms at the resort (six more rooms can be found at a second St. Charles location just minutes away), granting the rest of us a Girls Night Out. Kelly suggested Club Arcada Speakeasy, recalling a recent event she’d enjoyed with nearly 100 of her colleagues. We too relished the throwback to the Roaring 20s, local musical talent and craft cocktails. Surprised to find our kids still awake upon our return, we reveled in their limitless energy: “We did it! We escaped!” “Oh my gosh, that was crazy!” “Can we do it again?”
We did, of course, get out to explore the city’s thriving downtown and extensive park district.
The trip’s main event was a day at Pottawatomie Park, along the east edge of the Fox River. Named for the tribe of Native Americans that lived on the land as late as the 1830s, Pottawatomie was one of the first public parks in Illinois. Kelly had outdone herself, renting a pavilion space for us to set up shop. We prepped the picnic tables while the kids sprinted toward the playground. Running the bases on the ball diamond and an impromptu game of tag worked up our crew’s appetite for Kelly’s elaborate lunch spread.
We strolled along the Bob Leonard Walkway and Jack Kerr Memorial Riverwalk, discovering the native plants and riverside art lining the paths. The teens enjoyed scanning the ART in Public Places QR codes on their phones and teaching the rest of us about what we were seeing. We all loved the larger-than-life Pottawatomie Indian bronze statue, Ēkwabet (“watching over”), though my favorite was the delicate Wind Emotions sculpture on the other side of the river. It was fun for the kids to cross back and forth via the pedestrian bridge, and the selfie stick was in full effect.
Just steps away from our picnic area, we boarded a St. Charles Paddlewheel Riverboat. The 50-minute cruise was a relaxing way to sightsee and learn more St. Charles history.
On our final morning, we congregated at Brunch Café downtown, the perfect spot to accommodate our group. We felt right at home, as there were several other large parties in addition to couples and solo diners. Piping hot crepes, omelets and waffles filled our tummies for the drive back to reality.
I’m forever grateful to the charming town of St. Charles for being such an ideal locale for our family to reconnect, and I look forward to many return trips.Go big with family fun in St. Charles.