Here’s why you should take a day and head to Put-in-Bay

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Put-in-Bay’s sensational season of warm-weather happenings is in full swing. (Photography by Benjamin Margalit/Margalit Studio)

By Laura Briedis & Patricia Nugent

Studies show how taking a vacation can benefit your health and livelihood, yet only half of Americans actually take one each year. Even while on vacation, we are constantly checking into work via the nearest available screen.

The good news is, a little getaway is just as good for you as a big getaway. So why not forget about busting your budget for a week’s vacation and take a day-trip getaway just an hour’s drive west of Cleveland?

When is the last time you made a connection that didn’t require WiFi? The simple act of unplugging improves your productivity and outlook long after your homeward return.

Stash the phones and rediscover what a real vacation is like. Roll up your pant legs and wade into a magical place where you can unplug and reconnect with loved ones and nature—Put-in-Bay.

All Aboard for Adventure

Taking a relaxing, 18-minute ferry ride across three miles of Lake Erie to Put-in-Bay provides a bridge from reality to escape. Listen to the distant caw of seagulls and watch for jumping fish while warm breezes beckon.

As a lifeline to the resort islands of Lake Erie’s Western Basin since 1905, the family-owned Miller Ferries have transported hundreds of thousands of people and vehicles from Catawba Point to PIB’s South Bass Island and Middle Bass Island.

“The Miller Ferry has earned a reputation for being the most family- and budget-friendly ride to the island,” says Katrina Reed, who is the communications manager for the Miller Boat Line.

“We appeal to those looking for multigenerational travel, including grandparents (we’re handicap accessible), to kids and teens. Adults only pay $7.50 each way and kids five and under ride free. You can also bring your four legged friend to the island. Dogs are not only welcome aboard, but ride for free, as well.”

Forget the filters, the breathtaking backdrop from the ferries make fabulous photo ops. Katrina says they’ve been known to repost fun shots on Instagram, @millerboatline and #millerferry.

Everyone enjoys free day and overnight parking in one of the five lots at Catawba, as well as bringing their car, trailer, bicycle, motorcycle or kayak over to the island, too. Each ferry, which can carry up to 600 passengers, makes trips to PIB every 30 minutes, from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. during peak season.

“Each year more and more travelers are looking for budget friendly adventures, close to home,” she says.

“To keep up with the increase in passengers, we’re adding a new ferry to our fleet in 2019. At 140 feet in length, the vessel enhances onboard passenger comfort and improves the loading and discharge times of both vehicles and passengers. It also offers increased maneuverability and is better suited to handle large loads in inclement weather.”

Every year the ferry supports local events for the countless passengers it brings to the destination. This year they are sponsors of the Put-in-Bay Music Festival. Come to Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial on Saturday, June 9, for a free family-friendly celebration of live music, lawn games for kids and music workshops. Katrina also mentions Pyrate Fest, Friday-Sunday, June 22-24, is another weekend event that features a host of swashbuckling shenanigans. Aargh!

Where to Unplug #1: The Miller Boat Line's Upper Deck
From the upper deck, several stories above sea level, front row seating on the ferry affords you 360-degree views. On a clear day, you can see from Cedar Point to Toledo and even Canada.

Getting There is Half the Fun
One of the first vehicles island-goers see upon their walk up the hill from the Miller Ferry is the cheery, open-air Tour Train, which leaves the downtown depot every half hour. This “school bus-yellow” tram train lends a unique perspective, covering 80 percent of the island, with an hour-long narrated ride.

Patrons can sit back and learn about everything from island history and lore to fun facts that are described along the tour. The train makes stops at spots such as the Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center, Heineman’s Winery & Crystal Cave, the Lighthouse and Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, and the Nature and Wildlife Museum. Group rates are available for schools, weddings and tour groups.

“Much like a cruise ship, people can hop on or off at the different spots,” says DeeDee Duggan, whose family owns the train as well as Island Bike & Cart Rental.

For tooling around on your own, there are more golf carts than automobiles on Put-in-Bay. DeeDee offers a generous fleet of 200 golf carts that seat two, four or six passengers, with rental locations downtown and by the Miller Boat Line Dock. All of the carts are covered, and windshields can roll back depending on how much open road you want to feel. Kick back on the leather padded seats and enjoy the smooth ride, which is about 10-15 miles per hour.

Golf carts are treated like cars on the island streets. Standard road rules apply and there are plenty of parking spots downtown and at all the attractions.

If getting a little exercise while you explore sounds like fun, why not hop on one of the more than 130 single-speed coaster and tandem bikes available?

Just like your grandparents used to ride, these classic throwback bikes don’t have gears or hand-brakes to bother with. Just set out on the open road and take on the island at your own leisurely pace.

Where to Unplug #2: Sunset at South Bass Island State Park
As the day winds down to night, steer an old-fashioned beach cruiser bike or a cart over to skip rocks and watch the sunset at South Bass Island State Park, which is perfectly perched on the westernmost tip of the island.

Fuel Up on Comfort Food

The best part about being on island time is not having a set schedule—and that includes eating meals. In tune with this carefree aura, Pasquales Cafe serves breakfast all day.

In fact, many of its breakfast items blend into the lunch and dinner menu. Most notably, cherry wood smoked bacon. Served alongside eggs and toast, on top of a burger, in a salad or as topping on a pizza, the thick-cut bacon takes center stage.

“We also use a sweet habanero candied bacon garnish in our Bloody Mary drinks,” says Ty Winchester, Pasquales’ general manager, who graduated from Put-in-Bay High School and returned to the island after earning a marketing degree from the University of Cincinnati.

“We are famous for our Lobster Eggs Benedict,” he adds.

“It is so popular we decided to make a burger version for lunch and dinner with Black Angus beef, chunks of lobster, bacon, hollandaise sauce, tomato and spinach. All of our burgers can be ordered with single, double or triple patties, so we have something for every appetite.”

Diners will also find comfort food on the menu, such as the hand-breaded Lake Erie Yellow Perch or the BBQ Beef Brisket Mac & Cheese layered with cavatappi noodles, queso sauce, beef brisket and crunchy onion petals. And for a lighter fare, Gloria’s Summer Salad fits the bill, with spinach, red onions, strawberries, oranges and poppy seed dressing.

“We have gone back to our roots with a focus on all-American breakfast dishes and comfort foods,” says Ty, noting the cafe is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., daily.

Housed in what was once a U.S. Customs Office, laundromat and barbershop, the building has been home to Pasquales for the past two decades. There is a photo collage on the wall depicting 150 years of island history, as well as keepsakes from international students who have worked at the cafe, including a nesting doll from Lithuania and prayer beads from Ghana.

A new feature is a neon “I Love PIB” sign on the back wall, where visitors are encouraged to take photos.

“Come in and snap a photo so you have a memory to share on social media,” invites Ty, who tells everyone on their way out to “be awesome today.”

Where to Unplug #3: A Window Seat at Pasquales
Get a table next to the floor-to-ceiling front window in Pasquales, sip a cup of coffee and read the newspaper instead of checking your live feed, and watch the island come alive with the best views of the park and harbor.

Calling all Spelunkers

From venturing down into millions-of-years-old cave formations to hitting an 18-hole putt-putt course, communing with exotic butterflies, flying through a maze and touring vintage automobiles, there is so much to partake in at the Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center.

“Led by lantern, people take 42 steps down into the cave during the 20-minute tour, while a tour guide explains the fascinating role the cave played in both the Battle of Lake Erie and War of 1812,” says DeeDee.

“Anyone interested in geology will also take interest in the cave’s connection to Lake Erie, and how it has evolved over the centuries. Within the cave, a water formation actually rises and falls along with Lake Erie’s level.”

To take the geology master class one step further, the Fun Center also offers hands-on gem mining. Located just outside the cave, people can pan for real gemstones or fossils just like they did it back in the old days. New this year is a family bag of gemstones and fossils to mine for. And if they don’t uncover anything, they can purchase an uncut geode at the shop and have it cut with a special diamond-blade saw by one of the staff at the Geode Cutting Station to reveal the inner beauty of faceted gemstone.

For a different take on the War of 1812, why not hit the links at The War of 18 Holes Miniature Golf putt-putt course?

And for an unusual experience, the Butterfly House offers an up-close-and-personal interactive museum of more than 1,000 exotic live butterflies floating in a natural habitat.

DeeDee says between touring attractions, people can enjoy a burger, hot dog or ice cream under the quaint covered picnic pavilion by DanDee’s Snack Shack.

Where to Unplug #4: Perry's Cave Family Fun Center's Climbing Wall Tower
From the tiptop of the fun center’s 30-foot climbing wall tower, you can nearly see to Lake Erie. Make the ascent as difficult as you choose, with several zig-zag routes for every ability level to mount this monumental beast.

Chill Out with a Frosty Bevvy

Frosty Bar, with its iconic chilled beer mug that beckons visitors to come in, cool down and relax, is also welcoming to families looking for an affordable meal and a place where kids can be, well, kids, and throw peanut shells on the floor to nobody’s dismay.

A staple in downtown for nearly seven decades, this eatery opens early for breakfast and serves food into the wee hours of the night.

“There are some things we never mess with, like serving our beer in the same frosty mug and our oh-so-cheesy pizza recipe,” says Kim Morrisson, who, along with her brother, Ryan Stoiber, are the third-generation owners.

“But that doesn’t mean we are resting on our laurels. We are upping our food game this year and introducing three entrée salads, boneless chicken wings and a new specialty pizza topped with a Brie spread, chicken, mozzarella cheese, arugula and sun-dried tomatoes.”

For a lighter fare, there is a Summer Salad, which features mixed greens, strawberries, goat cheese, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries and candied walnuts; and an Antipasto Salad, served on mixed greens with fresh mozzarella balls, salami, pepperoni, olives, banana peppers and sun-dried tomatoes. A Pick Three Salad features any three of your favorite pizza toppings on a bed of mixed greens.

“We use seasonal ingredients in the new chicken wing sauces. Our homemade Jamaican Jerk sauce is made with roasted pineapple and garlic,” says Kim, noting that diners can also choose BBQ, Spicy Buffalo or Garlic Parmesan sauces.

“We are also changing up the breakfast menu,” she adds.

“We’re offering an expanded weekday menu, Monday through Friday, that will include previous daily special favorites like the Mexican Skillet and Philly Cheesesteak Benedict, as well as some new items such as Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Pancakes and Homemade Meatloaf Benedict. We previously just had one special per day, but now folks will be able to get their favorite special as well as many new items every weekday.”

In addition to Frosty’s restaurant menu inside, the Big Man’s Burrito Stand on the back patio serves Mexican fare to spice up any afternoon or evening.

“While we are definitely known for serving chilled beer in our signature frosted mugs, we are putting the spotlight on the food with new menu items and such a varied selection of freshly prepared fare,” says Kim.

Where to Unplug #4: The Backyard at Frosty Bar
Take a vacation from your vacation. Head to The Backyard at the Frosty Bar, which is secluded from the hustle and bustle of downtown. Pull up a bar stool or lounge in an Adirondack chair under a sail canopy. Enjoy happy hour, Monday through Thursday, from 3 to 6 p.m., with Corona beer, fresh fruit margaritas and nacho specials, and live music on the weekend.

Unwind Under the Swaying Palm Trees
Nothing says vacation more than sitting under a canopy of palm trees, frolicking in the pool and sipping on frozen tropical drinks. At Adventure Bay, you can do all three—and then some.

Featuring the largest freeform pool on the island (splashing in at 9,900 square feet of crystal clear water), skirted by swaying palm trees and dominated by a 60-foot swim-up bar and water volleyball, Adventure Bay is the place to cool down on a hot summer day.

For those whose definition of relaxing is playing around, Adventure Bay has a go-kart racetrack with 12 electric karts that speed up to 20 mph. Adjacent to the pool area is the gaming arcade mecca with everything from video games to virtual bowling to riding a mechanical bull.

Just outside the arcade are Ping-Pong tables and Spikeball games, but the beach volleyball remains the most popular pursuit.

For an authentic tropical vibe, owners Miyo and Maria Hristovski bring in DJs, bands and, of course, tons and tons of sand for a real beach experience. They even plant palm trees every year to add to the tropical getaway feeling.
Under the thatched-roof rotunda Sand Bar, mixologists concoct handcrafted tropical drinks with fresh fruit and serve ice-cold beers.

To complement its extensive bar menu, the resort added a new outdoor grill and dining area serving everything from pizzas to paninis. The menu changes seasonally, but always includes healthy, gluten-free options.

Located across from the Put-in-Bay Resorts, Adventure Bay is a short stroll from the busy downtown crowd, but will have you feeling like you are in a private oasis.

“When you are at Adventure Bay among the swaying palm trees and crystal clear pool, you feel like you are miles away from home,” comments Miyo.

Where to Unplug #5: A VIP Cabana at the Sand Bar
For the ultimate resort experience, rent one of the VIP cabanas nestled between the Tiki bar and the pool, which can accommodate up to 16 people each, and enjoy concierge service all day.