Winter Tournament = Family Vacation
By Bailey Hovland
As snow coats the driveway and we go digging through the garage for shovels and salt, hockey gloves and ice skates are rediscovered in the search. Winter brings wrestling tournaments, basketball round robins, and ice-skating competitions to the Willmar Lakes Area, welcoming hundreds of families to the community for weekends of sporting events. And although, at a glance, these athletic competitions seem like nothing more than a few days of hockey or swimming or dance, they can be something else entirely: a family vacation everyone can enjoy.
You can stay at the recently reopened Little Crow Golf Resort, boasting of a new GrandStay Hotel and Little Crow Tavern and Grille, or the Hampton Inn on Green Lake, with free breakfast and an indoor swimming pool. Or over in Willmar there is the Holiday Inn Express, the Country Inn and Suites with a 90-foot water slide, the Best Western, and even the AmericInn, all featuring free Wi-Fi and hot tubs or heated pools. Regardless of where you choose to stay, it’s certain to be a great place to begin your family vacation.
And in all the free time you’ll have between games, there is plenty to do to keep yourself busy in the Willmar Lakes Area. Alley on Ash is a great place to entertain the family over a few games of bowling. Escape Willmar might be a better fit if your kids are a bit older, where a group of four to eight people can work through a challenging mission in a 60-minute game (booking needs to be made 24 hours in advance, so plan ahead if you want to use this option to getaway from the wrestling crowds for a while). For families with younger children, The Village Children’s Museum in Willmar is a great place to play. Open generally Tuesday through Saturday, The Village is a non-profit children’s museum that ties into the diversity of the community and provides an environment where kids can
play, laugh, and learn. And for the families who would rather spend some time outside, Sibley State Park and Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center are the places for you. Sibley has the perfect terrain for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, which is a great way to see the natural side of the area. Prairie Woods has a fleet of kicksleds that can be used to slide over the icy trails and across the frozen ponds, a fun activity the whole family can enjoy.
If you’re looking for a few more relaxing ways to spend your time, you can visit Middle Fork Cafe in Willmar and enjoy a book from the Flyleaf Book Shop located in-side. Pick out a few books and let the kids settle in to read a book over a warm mug of hot chocolate, something seldom accomplished with the distractions of video games and iPads in your own home. Lulu Beans has a free library near the back of the coffee shop, where you can spend a few hours sipping chai tea and sifting through used books to find the perfect vacation read. And although Frieda’s has no library element to speak of, their old-school stacks of pancakes and stellar prices making them the ideal breakfast, brunch, and lunch spot. The classic diner feel will put you right at ease.
And after a busy day of basketball games or figure skating routines, you’re sure to want something delicious to eat. Model
Citizen in downtown New London just re-leased their winter menu, serving a delicious pot roast, mouthwatering baked mac and cheese, and even a vegan creme brulee (plus it’s connected to Goat Ridge Brewing Co. if moms and dads are looking for something to ease the sounds of whistles and buzzers out of their heads). Spicer has Johnny O’Neil’s, a food joint known for perfectly seasoned house fries, juicy burgers, and specialty drinks. White Chocolate Martini, anyone? And Willmar has the Green Mill, whose fettuccine alfredo is an ideal dish to replenish the carbs your busy athletes have lost after a day of hard work.
So while you may be coming to the area for a figure skating competition or a swimming meet, you’ll be leaving with memories of the wonderful family vacation that it turned out to be. Just make sure to take a few pictures along the way so you can document your stay in the Willmar Lakes Area to remember in the years to come.
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