If you are looking for a great vacation without the vacation costs, you don't have to look far.
The financial website Wallethub.com recently ranked Cincinnati No. 3 in its 2014 list of the best "staycation" cities in America.
No question why: Cincinnati has so much to offer.
Well Known and Secret Destinations
Kings island, Coney Island, the Zoo, Museum Center, and of course the Cincinnati Reds -- every Tri-Stater is familiar with the big ones.
But the area also has a lot more.
Tony and Jennifer of Burlington, Kentucky decided to take their kids on a river adventure, not in faraway West Virginia, but at Morgan's Canoe Livery in Brookville, Indiana. They offer canoes, kayaks and even rafts.
They, like more and more Tri-Staters, are discovering you can have a great vacation without hotel expenses.
Blogger Explores the Region
Nedra McDaniel is a Northern Kentucky "mommy blogger," who in her Adventure Mom blog writes about the dozens of things for families to do right here in the Cincinnati area.
"We have so much right here, a great park system and great downtown too, McDaniel said. "We love Over-the-Rhine, too, and we go there a lot with our kids."
She took us on a windswept ride in her convertible to talk about great staycations her family has taken, starting with camping in the Hamilton County Parks at just $20 a night.
They loved their recent camping adventure at Winton Woods lake.
"Camping makes me appreciate nature -- and my bed at home too," she said. Next time, she says, she'll bring an air mattress.
If overnighting is more than you want to deal with, she says local parks have great day activities for families, such as an amazing slide in Clifton's Burnet Woods.
"Burnet Woods has a slide, built in by the stairs that are there."
She also loves the new water playlands for kids in both Smale Park downtown and Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine.
Cost: Completely free.
For about $5 a person, the kids might also like a visit to the Loveland Castle.
McDaniel says there's no need to go to Europe to see a medieval castle complete with knights in armor.
"The kids loved discovering all the things in each room, and it's a really interesting place to visit," she said.
While you are in Loveland, McDaniel suggests pedaling a few miles on its famous bike trail. You can even rent a bike if you don't have one.
Dancing With Wolves
Back in Brookville, if canoeing or rafting isn't your bag, she suggests checking out the Wolf Creek Habitat and Rescue.
You might get to feed raw steak to real wolves, as if you were out in Montana or North Dakota.
"You get to interact with the wolves," she said, "so it's a very unforgettable experience."
River Cruises, Shakespeare
Looking for something a little more intimate? McDaniel suggests an evening cruise on B&B Riverboats.
"My husband and I went on the wine cruise on a date night," she said. "It's fun to sample local vineyards in the area as well."
McDaniel suggests picking up an events brochure, available in supermarkets and on Fountain Square. They list dozens of free events, such as free Shakespeare in local parks all summer long, and free symphony concerts.
Of course, no staycation would be complete without a visit to a top attraction like a Reds game or Kings Island.
But McDaniel says never pay full price, and try not to buy tickets at the gate, especially at King's Island.
She says go to each place's website, or sites like Retail-me-Not, and hunt for discounts.
Among current deals:
- Kings Island: Just $33 online from July 25th - August 24th 2014, in their "Help Kick Cancer" promotion online. Or save $10 buying your tickets in advance at Kroger stores (plus you get fuel points).
- Coney Island: Save $10 buying tickets online.
- The Beach Waterpark: Save $5 buying online.
- Newport Aquarium: Two kids free with a paying adult all summer.
- Cincinnati Museum Center (including Children's Museum) has a Free Friday on August 1.
- Cincinnati Reds: Sundays are Reach Magazine Family Days at the reds, with half price tickets for the kids.
Dozens of activities, and many of them are free.
And McDaniel, enjoying them all in her convertible, says it's no wonder Cincinnati has been named one of the top three staycation cities in America.
Follow John on Twitter (@JohnMatarese)
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