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Dig Deeper in Waterloo

Explore our vibrant downtown district featuring award-winning museums, locally-owned restaurants, and an impressive riverside amphitheatre. Tour the new John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum, visit the Isle Casino, and enjoy the Cedar Valley Trails via bicycle or kayak. Catch exciting sports teams and immerse yourself in arts and culture. And did we mention we're home to Lost Island Water Park? It's Iowa's largest! Plus, did a little deeper and check out our family-friendly festivals and events.

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Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau Blog

Welcome CenterThe Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens was recognized as the 2014 Business/Organization of the Year during the Cedar Valley Tourism Awards. When you arrive on site, it won’t take long to understand why the award was well-deserved.

The Arboretum & Botanic Gardens sits on 34 acres of land and over the past 19 years, that land has been cultivated and developed into a beautiful, relaxing oasis.

While the episode featured quite a bit of information, there are a few pieces of information and hints we weren’t able to include.

  • Through a partnership with the Master Gardeners, an orchard is being planted. It will feature four different types of fruit trees – apple, cherry, plum and pear. There will be several varieties of each, showcasing what can be grown here in the Iowa climate. Each year’s harvest will be donated to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, providing thousands of pounds of fresh fruit to individuals in our area.
  • The Arboretum is host to many special events throughout the year, but their signature event is the Fall Harvest Festival. This year’s event is Sunday, September 13 from 11am-4pm.  The Festival includes children’s activities, a scarecrow contest and display, live entertainment, storytelling, a prairie village, and craft and food vendors all set with the Arboretum as the backdrop.
  • Wednesday mornings at 10am during the summer, the GnomeArboretum features Story Time in the Children’s Garden. Come for Story Time, bring your lunch, and spend the rest of the morning exploring the gardens. Wednesdays are also FREE admission day!
  • Another fun activity for kids to enjoy is the Arboretum's Sherlock Gnomes Scavenger Hunt. Kids can try to find all the gnomes hidden throughout the gardens and grounds.
  • Rob mentioned that his recommendation is to visit during the morning, as you get an opportunity to see the plants reacting best to the sunlight. He also recommended visiting multiple times throughout the summer because the gardens are changing all the time. What isn’t in bloom now may be in bloom in just a few days. Or the Wisteria just outside the Welcome Center may have grown another foot in the time between visits. It is an ever-changing experience so each visit is unique and different.

HibiscusView a map of the Arboretum & Botanic Gardens.

Hours: Apr 15-Oct 31: Mon-Sat 9am-7pm; Sun 11am-7pm. Nov 1-Apr 14 Mon-Fri 9am-5pm. Last admission is at 6:30pm.

Admission: Adults (ages 18+) $3/person; Children (ages 5-17) $1/person; Children under 5 free. Members and Hawkeye students/employees free.

Follow the hashtag #IDigWaterloo for photos, videos, and travel inspiration.


- Aaron Buzza, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau

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Iowa Irish Fest CommitteeIowa Irish Fest has become much more than a local or community celebration. It is the largest Celtic celebration in Iowa and continues to grow each year.

Whether you’ve been to Irish Fest previously or you’re a newcomer to this year’s event, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind or look out for.

  • This year, you can buy an official Irish Fest Cookbook, featuring recipes that are classics and some local family favorites as well.
  • We mention in the episode that Irish Fest offers something for all members of the family. It is true. The Family Fun Area features games, crafts, face painting, story telling, music, inflatables, and some great activities. Our friends from Life 101.9 are presenting a bubble gum blowing contest, pie eating contest, watermelon eating contest, and jig dancing contest among other things for kids.
  • Speaking of kids, kids ages 12 and under get free admission to Irish Fest too.
  • This year’s Irish Fest features the first-ever Rugby Tournament. Rugby will take place at Waterloo East High School, which is just two blocks from the festival grounds.
  • Whether you’re Catholic or not, the Sunday morning Mass is quite the celebration. It is open to anyone of any denomination or faith, and the offering has typically been donated to a local charity. The attendance at Mass has always been significant, and the energy is fantastic.
  • Over the years, Irish Fest has expanded its cultural offerings, Iowa Irish Fest Stageand I would encourage you to make time to experience the events in the cultural tent. You can learn about Irish culture through traditional music, dance and storytelling. There are ancestry workshops and Irish Gaelic language classes. There is a Soda Bread and Irish Stew competition. There will even be Irish Wolf Hounds appearing at the festival again this year. The cultural events provide attendees with background that helps understand why Irish Fest is important and why certain things are done the way they are.
  • Last, but certainly not least, the entertainment. Irish Fest features international performers as well as some regional and local favorites. Headline acts include Gaelic Storm, The Elders, and the Screaming Orphans. Also back this year, the Trinity Irish Dancers.

Iowa Irish Fest FlagsClick here for a complete schedule of events.
Festival passes: $15 for all 3 days; Kids ages 12 & under free.

I’d encourage you to make your way to Irish Fest this year and #RevelOn friends!

Follow the hashtag #IDigWaterloo for photos, videos, and travel inspiration.


- Aaron Buzza, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau

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Aaron & AnitaThe Waterloo Community Playhouse and Black Hawk Children's Theatre have been a major part of our community for nearly a century. Each year, they present a variety of offerings for audiences of all ages. Musicals are always popular performances, and the summer show from the playhouse is always a big draw.

This year's summer musical, "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee", is a show you might not be familiar with already, but it is surely a show you'll enjoy tremendously. It showcases six youngsters on their quest to win a spelling bee. It also follows each character's personal journey though some of the struggles young people go through.

The show also offers a twist on a typical performance, as it allows for audience participation. At each performance, four members of the general public will be invited to jump on stage and spell with the other characters. You can sign up 45 minutes before every show. Wear what you care to wear, and be ready for any and all words. Mayor Buck Clark and I will be appearing together in the "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" on Sunday, July 19 at 2pm.Aaron & John

Community theater is nearly professional theater when you see shows at the Waterloo Community Playhouse and Black Hawk Children's Theatre. You will be entertained at this and all shows.

Click here for performance dates, times and ticket information.

Follow the hashtag #IDigWaterloo for photos, videos, and travel inspiration.


- Aaron Buzza, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau

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Last month, I represented Waterloo in promoting Iowa Ag Tours at IPW 2015 in Orlando, Florida. Put on by the U.S. Travel Association, IPW is the travel industry's premier international marketplace and largest generator of travel to the U.S. - it is NOT your typical tradeshow.

In just three days of intensive pre-scheduled business Iowa Ag Tours Mapappointments, more than 1,000 U.S. travel organizations from every region of the USA (representing all industry category components), and over 1,300 international and domestic buyers from 70+ countries conduct business negotiations that result in the generation of more than $4.7 billion (that's billion with a B) in future Visit USA travel.

So you may be wondering...what exactly is Iowa Ag Tours? Iowa Ag Tours is a collaborative effort between four communities in Iowa: Ames, Dubuque, Quad Cities, and Waterloo. Iowa Ag Tours is a customizable, agricultural-related tour across the state of Iowa.

Here is one of the routes groups can take:

  • Land in the “Windy City”, Chicago, Illinois, and take a motor coach to Dubuque, Iowa, where you will visit the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, the majestic botanical gardens, and take a river cruise.
  • After spending a night in Dubuque, travel to Waterloo, Iowa. Here, you will tour several John Deere facilities, including the John Deere Tractor Cab Assembly, the John Deere Engine Works, and the new John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum. End your day dining under the breathtaking Sistine Chapel at Galleria de Paco, then stay the night at the Isle Casino Hotel.
  • Next stop is Ames, Iowa. In Ames, visit several research farms and Iowa State University facilities. Stay a second night in Ames and travel to the Central Iowa Expo Site for the Farm Progress Show. Spend two days exploring the grounds and enjoying your Iowa agricultural experience. The Farm Progress Show is the nation’s largest outdoor ag event.
  • On your way to your final destination, stop at Kinze Manufacturing’s world headquarters, manufacturing facility, offices, and training center. Finally, arrive at the Quad Cities. Here, you will be able to explore the past, present and future of agriculture at the John Deere Pavilion and Store, tour a John Deere Factory, and visit a local farm for an up-close look at agriculture in the heartland. Your group will marvel at the process of loading grain for export on a barge at River Grain Gulf. Include a sunset dinner cruise or two-day Mississippi River cruise before returning to Chicago.

Iowa Ag Tours GatorThis was Iowa Ag Tours' third year attending IPW. We had a lot of successful appointments, and it was great visiting with both new and returning delegates. In addition to our fantastic booth location, this year we had a John Deere Gator at our booth. The Gator was a hit to say the least! Delegates had the opportunity to take a professional photo on the Gator, which we then emailed to them as a momento of their experience at the Iowa Ag Tours booth.

If your group is interested in booking an Iowa Ag Tour, please contact Erin Schmitz at the Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau for more information.


- Erin Schmitz, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau

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We’re excited to have our buddy Zay with us again for another episode of Travel Waterloo. After all, kids dig Waterloo too! In this episode, we’ll visit two children’s museums, which are located just blocks from one another in downtown Waterloo.

Bluedorn Science Imaginarium

Zay & SnakeOur first stop is at the Bluedorn Science Imaginarium, which is part of the Grout Museum District. This three-floor interactive science center features over 80 hands-on exhibits that demonstrate how science affects everyday life. The Imaginarium is also home to numerous animals like a Burmese python named Athena, bearded dragon, turtle and more. Zay was definitely much braver than I was and didn’t think twice about holding a ball python from Africa.

In addition to the many permanent exhibits on display, the Imaginarium also brings in a variety of traveling exhibits throughout the year. Check out their current traveling exhibit – “Bone Zone Carnival of Healthy Choices”. This exhibit teaches kids about the importance of healthy habits for bone health and will be at the Imaginarium until September 5 of this year.

Visitors to the museum can also take advantage of science demonstrations and programs and activities for kids of all ages. Be sure to check their calendar prior to your arrival for a list of things happening that day.

Beth’s Tips:

  • Dollar Days: Every Wednesday in August, you can visit the Imaginarium for only $1 per person. You can do the math, but for a family of four, that’s just $4.
  • Extended Hours: From now until August 27, you can enjoy special summer hours on Thursdays, as they will be open until 8pm.
  • Gift Shop: Science and animal enthusiasts will find plenty of fun and educational items available for purchase, so be sure to stop in the Imaginarium’s gift shop before you leave.
  • Make a Day of It: If you’re interested in visiting the Imaginarium, as well as other sites within the Grout Museum District, Explorer Passes are the way to go. You can visit two or three sites, plus save on the cost of admission.

Phelps Youth Pavilion

Our next stop, the Phelps Youth Pavilion, is located next door to the Waterloo Center for the Arts. This children’s museum is filled with creative, hands-on experiences and over 40 interactive exhibits.

Giant NoseJust like Zay, you can learn about art and cultures from around the world in their “Creativity Across Cultures” gallery. Or, let your imagination come to life on the “FunStage”, complete with costumes, props and sound effects. Last, but not least, check out their featured exhibit – “Super Powers of Art” – on display until August 31. Here, you can become a superhero (like Batman) and learn how art has the ability to change the world. Because let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to be a superhero?

In addition to the Youth Pavilion, you’ll find art classes and workshops for both kids and teens at the Waterloo Center for the Arts.

Beth’s Tips:

  • Dollar Days: Every third Thursday of the month, you can visit the Youth Pavilion for just $1 per person. Plus, they’re open until 8pm these days as well.
  • Art’s Workshop: Get creative and make a masterpiece of your own or take part in one of the “craft of the week” projects. It’s free with your Youth Pavilion admission.
  • Gift Store: Artists of all ages will enjoy the Waterloo Center for the Arts gift store which sells jewelry, pottery, artwork, and children’s items.
  • Make a Day of It: While you’re visiting, pack a picnic lunch and spend some time outdoors at Mark’s Park – a free splash park and playground located next to the Youth Pavilion.

ImaginariumThere’s still plenty of summer left, so get out there and enjoy it! And make sure your summer bucket list includes stops at the Bluedorn Science Imaginarium and Phelps Youth Pavilion in Waterloo.

Follow the hashtag #IDigWaterloo for photos, videos, and travel inspiration.


- Beth Keeney, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau

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