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Travelzoo Experience: Getting Small Town Charmed in Galena

One of the most coveted perks at Travelzoo is the Travelzoo Experience, in which Deal Experts and other employees take advantage of the same travel, entertainment and local deals we publish to our subscribers and report back on their experience.

Let’s be honest: it’s hard to live up to the hype. As fans, we waited for months and months to say "goodbye" to Breaking Bad and "welcome back" to recovering Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose. During that time, hype swirled and escalated. Would they be as good as advertised? Anything less than perfection would be a severe let-down.

In the same way, I had heard colleagues, friends and family rave and rave and rave some more about Galena, Ill. Fueling the hype machine even more, Galena is often voted among the most charming and most friendly small towns in the country. Great, so now I even had objective sources piling on.

With that in mind, my family and I gladly purchased Travelzoo’s Eagle Ridge getaway and marked our calendar for a fall stay in Galena.

As luck would have it, Galena is a little over three hours away from Chicago with a perfect halfway spot right in the middle: Rockford. On the way to Galena, we stopped in Rockford and tired our toddler out at their terrific (and mostly deserted) children’s museum. We easily could have spent a day in their natural history, children’s and art museums, but we were anxious to get to Galena. But if you’re traveling with little ones, or just want to break up the car trip, Rockford is the perfect break on the way to Galena and has plenty of non-fast food lunch options.

Once we got to Galena, we were stunned by the sheer size of Eagle Ridge. Boasting four golf courses, Eagle Ridge is a massive complex and we quickly realized that we could have stayed in Galena a week, let alone two days.

Eagle Ridge feels like a world away from Chicago and even the rest of the Midwest. Where else do you see rolling hills? My wife and I remarked that we felt like we were in New England, sampling fall foliage season.

During our stay, we took a morning paddleboat ride (included with the resort fee) and let our toddler steer us in circles. To be honest, I’m surprised we made it out of the dock, but sure enough our little captain surrendered the rudder long enough for us to coast out to sea. We also visited the resort’s playground, which is quickly becoming our favorite amenity. Honestly, at this point, I’d rather have a playground nearby to keep our little man happy than soap in the shower.

Eagle Ridge also has a quaint general store across the street where visitors can purchase provisions, gas up or just rent a movie for the night. By the way, their movie selection was surprisingly top-notch! Who knew we could catch up on just-released movies in Galena? I wasn’t planning on watching "World War Z" or "Iron Man 3," but if lousy weather had rolled in, it was nice to know that I had options.

Speaking of options, Eagle Ridge has an entire activities desk, offering board games, toys and beyond for families. We took a Lincoln Logs set back to our room, where our toddler and I built multiple train stations that he immediately destroyed.

We also had a blast at the hotel’s indoor pool, which features a retractable roof, basketball hoop and steam room. For whatever reason, there’s nothing funnier than watching our toddler slam dunk a basketball in a pool, splashing everyone in a three-foot-radius.

We didn’t get a chance to take a fall foliage hike, golf or set out on a horseback ride, but there’s always next time.

As for Galena itself, we were struck by the town’s movie-backlot look. As quaint and charming as advertised, Galena lives up to its "the town that time forgot" billing. Thanks to our toddler’s prodding, we hopped on a fascinating trolley tour of Galena, which I highly encourage. Did you know that General Grant trained Civil War troops in Galena? Or that the town was larger than Chicago at one point in its history? Or that Galena remains the third-most popular destination behind Chicago and Springfield?

From popcorn shops featuring hundreds of wild flavors to delicious farm-to-table cuisine, Galena won us over and lived up to the hype as our toddler said to us as we drove away, “I want to go on vacation here again!” My thoughts exactly.

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Tips by

Deal Expert, Chicago
Thursday, November 21, 2013
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Josh Gershenson