Oh My Gosh, the Fun You'll Have in Oshkosh!
It is a bit ironic that our Memorial Day trip to Oshkosh began by admiring the clouds in the sky along our three-hour trek across Highway 21, and unexpectedly ended with my oldest son enjoying a free flying lesson in those very same said clouds.
Our big plans for the weekend included meeting family in the area and enjoying my dad’s new boat out on Lake Winnebago. Sometimes, it’s when the best vacation plans fall through that we’re left with the space for surprisingly great family bonding time and memories, and that's exactly what happened on our Oshkosh trip.
Really, our whole weekend was about the pleasantly unexpected, starting with the discovery that our hotel, Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, was located right next door to The Outlet Shoppes at Oshkosh. Here I’d picked the Hawthorn because the price was right, not to mention it had a pool and offered both free wi-fi and breakfast buffets. Within two hours of checking in, I’d scored both boys Old Navy jeans for $15 and t-shirts for $5 at the outlet.
It was on the walk back to the hotel that we noticed an airplane displayed across the street. Until I was reminded by that plane, I’d forgotten Oshkosh is headquarters to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). After a wonderful dinner at Benvenuto’s Italian Grill, an easy two-mile drive down the road from our hotel, we checked into the hours at the EAA AirVenture Museum and decided we’d visit it Memorial Day.
In the interim, it turned out there was no new boat that weekend after all - it wasn’t ready for water until the following week - so we never did any boating. Instead, after a trip back to Benvenuto’s for lunch with family the next day, we all hit the miniature golf course located on the grounds of the outlet mall and played a fun 18 holes at the Settlers Mill of Oshkosh.
The remainder of the afternoon, we took advantage of the wifi and pool at our hotel before heading out to a movie. Surprise! Treat yourself to a movie at the luxurious Marcus Oshkosh Cinema, featuring DreamLounger reclining seating and Zaffiro’s Express, which serves an extensive menu surpassing the popcorn and concessions typical of most theaters.
As much fun as we had leading up to Memorial Day, our time at the EAA AirVenture Museum before the return trip home was the highlight of our trip. We easily wiled away more than two hours roaming the exhibits.
Here are the exhibits we visited, but there are several more to appreciate, including the Pioneers of Flight Gallery committed to the Wright Brothers.
- KidVenture Gallery
An area of hands-on, highly interactive exhibits devoted to young people (and engaging for the 11- to 14-year-old set). We learned about ferrofluids, liquids that can be moved by magnets. Developed by NASA scientists in order to refuel in gravity-free space, kids can maneuver magnets and see exactly how the ferrofluid reacts. Other exhibits include a scale F-22 Raptor (kids can sit in the cockpit) and pedal power, where kids use their own strength to pedal an enormous fan. There were plenty of picture-perfect photo opportunities throughout KidVenture.
- Innovations Gallery
Here, for a small fee ($6 when we visited), you can ride the Max Flight Simulator. This isn’t some lame video screen you tinker around; you’re in for a wild ride, although you’re in total control of just how wild. With room for two co-pilots, my sons had it spinning upside down doing loop-de-loops.
- Eagle Hangar
Featuring World War II aircraft, this exhibit proved to be the perfect place to spend time on Memorial Day. We attended a presentation called “Timeless Voices,” a brief documentary dedicated to the most destructive conflict in history.
At one point, my youngest rested his head on my shoulder, sighed, and said, “This is so sad.” However sad it may have been to watch it, it was a useful reminder of the horrors of war and the sacrifices millions made, and I was glad the presentation’s message reached him so deeply.
The line of the documentary that resonated most with me was one from Ernie Pyle, Life reporter, who wrote in the November 1943 issue of the magazine:
“I don’t see how any survivor of war can ever be cruel to anything, ever again.”
Our time at the museum ended with a five-minute tram ride to Pioneer Airport, a small airport devoted to the golden age of aviation in the 1920s and ‘30s. In addition to displays of featured vintage aircraft, Pioneer Airport is host to the Young Eagles program, featuring free airplane rides to ages 8 to 17. Founded in 1992, the program expects to deliver its two millionth ride during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2016. In fact, they’re actively seeking the lucky rider to represent the two million Young Eagles - check it out to see if your child qualifies.
A brief waiver and my signature, and soon my own son was added to the pool of Young Eagle participants. Knowing the extensive reputation of the program, I had no fear he'd enjoy the 7-minute ride, and he did. My youngest had his own fears, and decided he'd save his free flight for another time.
Next trip, I told him. We'll definitely be adding Oshkosh to our list of regular destinations!