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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.

Watch episodes from our new travel series - "Travel Waterloo".
Follow the hashtag #IDigWaterloo for photos, videos, and travel inspiration.

Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau Blog

Aaron & JodiThe Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo is a major attraction in Waterloo, offering gaming, three restaurants, entertainment and great hotel rooms. While you may already know that, or may be able to find that out with a quick Google search, we wanted to show you a slightly different side of the Isle this week.

No matter where you’re from, the Isle experience is a fun, friendly experience that starts with almost 600 awesome employees. From housekeepers to slot machine attendants and from servers to management, the Isle boasts a staff that puts the guest experience first and foremost in everything they do. That can sometimes be easier said than done, too, but the people you’ll encounter during a visit to the Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo walk that walk during every shift.

FoodThe Farmer’s Pick Buffet, where we had the opportunity to interview Executive Chef Henry Rodriguez, has been recognized company-wide as having the friendliest staff. When you’re ordering your omelet during the weekend breakfast buffet, the cooks are going to put on a show and engage you in conversation. The baker is going to ring the bell and call out “hot, fresh cookies” with a huge grin on their face. Henry told us that it is critical for every member of the restaurant team to know their guests as well as possible so they can offer the guests what they’re looking for.

Aaron & HenryOne thing that makes the Isle stand out over other casinos and even other local restaurants is their commitment to buying local. Some of the produce used in the three restaurants at the Isle is purchased from a farmer literally across the street. Food is donated to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank on a daily basis, and doing as much business as possible locally is key, both in the restaurants and throughout the entire facility.

The Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo hosts entertainment and events throughout the year. Those events range from a DJ on the casino floor to free outdoor concerts like tonight’s (August 27) show by The Spazmatics, an 80’s cover band. Tonight’s show starts at 8pm, with gates opening at 7:30pm. And, don't forget to bring a lawn chair!

In the meantime, a few recommendations for your next visit:

  • The BBQ chicken pizza at the Lone Wolf is amazing! Pair it with one of their new shakes – the Arctic Wolf is Chef Henry’s recommendation – and you’ll have a great meal.
  • The Simply Yummy Bakery is AWESOME! Save room for dessert. Or, order some in advance to take home with you. The cakes, pies and pastries like we showed in this week’s episode are all homemade and all spectacular.
  • Chef Henry suggested that taking smaller portions of more items at the buffet is the proper approach. That way you can indulge, experience all of the great options, and not feel like you’re getting too full.
  • Jodi told me that they have customers comment about the beds in the hotel quite often. She said that many people have said they’re as comfortable as any bed they’ve ever slept in, and want to know how to get their own. I’ve heard the same from friends who have stayed there, and can say from experience that I’d concur.

Aaron & ChrisWe’ll be talking more with Isle staff in a future episode to showcase some little-known facts about the casino, hotel and restaurants. Ever wonder what the biggest hotel room in Waterloo looks like? We’ll show you! Beyond donations of food, how does the Isle give back to the community? We’ll tell you. Stay tuned for that episode this Fall.

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


- Aaron Buzza, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau

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UniformThe "365 & Counting: Iowans in the Vietnam War" exhibit at the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum in Waterloo tells the story of the longest war in American history until the 21st century, through the eyes of Iowans who served in Vietnam. Most men and women, from all branches of the military, were in Vietnam for 365 days during the 11-year conflict.

The exhibit tells their stories, from the mundane to the painful. The timeline of the conflict is shown through individual stories of Iowans set against the timeline of national stories and news. The timeline also includes dog tags from Iowans killed in Vietnam each year, a particularly powerful and heartbreaking portion of the exhibit. Artifacts, photos, videos, and audio recordings help paint a picture of what friends and family members experienced when they served.

The Grout Museum District hosted a “Welcome Home” Kioskparade to officially open the exhibit. Many (most) veterans who served in Vietnam were not celebrated when they returned the way we do with veterans returning today. The tribute was a great way to recognize veterans for their service, say “thank you”, and to welcome them home officially.

One of the highlights of the exhibit is the interactive display that shows photos of each of the Iowans killed in Vietnam. The project began with Tom Brickman and his daughter trying to find photos of the fallen from a few counties, and expanded to finding photos of all 866 of the fallen soldiers. The kiosk shows the pictures by city and will ultimately include additional information about each soldier.

Exhibit EntranceVietnam veterans receive free admission through the duration of the exhibit, which runs through July 2016.

Plus, during AugustSeptember and October visitors can experience guided tours of the exhibit from those who served in the Vietnam War (free with admission or Grout membership). Tours will be available during specific times.

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


- Aaron Buzza, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau

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In this week’s episode of Travel Waterloo, we got a sneak peek of Cedar Valley Pridefest. The organizers have created a fun celebration with a tremendous amount of energy, great music, and activities for members of the entire family.

Cedar Valley Pridefest CrowdAs we mentioned in the episode, music plays a central part of the festival. From minute one of Pridefest, music is part of the experience. You’ll see everything from blues, folk and soul to alternative rock to punk and hip hop. Austin-based hip hop duo God Des & She are back by popular demand, and will be performing an extended 90-minute headline show to close out the festival.  C+C Music Factory featuring Freedom Williams is the other headline act, taking the stage at 9pm. That performance will include the most recognizable songs including “Gonna Make You Sweat,” “Just a Touch of Love,” and “Things That Make You Go Hmmm.” Williams shared that attendees will see a high-energy show filled with great, recognizable music and dancing.

Cedar Valley Pridefest SpeakersCedar Valley Pridefest is a full 12 hours of entertainment, food and activities, and every year, the festival has grown in each of those areas. Food is abundant. The activities for kids include games and crafts. And the entertainment is top notch.

The event will happen rain or shine. Tickets are available at the gate, but you can save $2 or more by purchasing them online in advance. Free tickets (yes, free tickets) are also available to those who volunteer. The website offers opportunities to sign up for a three-hour shift, and in exchange, you’re in for the entire 12 hours at no cost! Jobs range from taking admission at gates to selling merchandise to serving beer.

Cedar Valley Pridefest AttendeesClick here for a complete schedule of events.
Festival passes: $7 in advance (online); $9 at the gate; Kids ages 12 & under free.

Cedar Valley Pridefest is held in the 300 block of W 4th Street in downtown Waterloo, and I look forward to seeing you there!

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


- Aaron Buzza, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau

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Sometimes it takes leaving for awhile to truly appreciate what you have; whether that be a relationship or the place you grew up. I (now) adore the town I grew up in, Waterloo, Iowa. It holds my favorite childhood memories, as well as my closest friends and family members. Every time I visit, it takes me back. And even more, I discover something new.

Grab a taco pizza at Rudy's Tacos. If you're afraid of puppets, I would recommend you go to overcome your fears. The scrumptious food will distract you from the little wooden figures hanging from the ceiling.hometown; waterloo, IA

hometown; waterloo, IA

hometown; waterloo, IA

Be sure to have dinner, or at least a cocktail at Galleria de Paco. The spray painted replica of the Sistine Chapel is a must-see.

hometown; waterloo, IA

hometown; waterloo, IA

hometown; waterloo, IA

Catch a baseball game at the Waterloo Bucks stadium. Come for the baseball, stay for the dollar beer batter. (At least I hope that's a tradition they're still holding strong).

hometown; waterloo, IA

Most importantly, enjoy the scenery and take in what downtown Waterloo has to offer. It is rich in history. I love the stories of my grandma taking trips to Black's department store. And imagining the Russell-Lamson's days as a luxurious hotel.

hometown; waterloo, IA

hometown; waterloo, IA

hometown; waterloo, IA

hometown; waterloo, IA

hometown; waterloo, IA

hometown; waterloo, IA

After the scenic tour, you'll be hungry. If you make your way to the east side of the river, you can't go wrong visiting Newton's Paradise Cafe or Screaming Eagle (and a drink at Jameson's Public House).

hometown; waterloo, IA

hometown; waterloo, IA

For more about me, check out my blog littlelessonsbychelsea.com. Or, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.


Chelsea Diehl- Chelsea Diehl, Lifestyle Blogger

Chelsea is the creator and author behind Little Lessons by Chelsea, a lifestyle blog with an emphasis on everyday celebrations. She is a born and raised Iowan who has spent some time living in New York City, Chicago, and now resides in Des Moines.
 

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Rudy’s Tacos has been a Waterloo institution for a quarter century. The fact that they don’t do much advertising, and still remain incredibly busy and successful should tell you something about the fan base they’ve built. Word-of-mouth advertising and longtime regulars keep the place hopping.

Aaron & BarryThe environment at Rudy’s is throwback and a nod to owner Barry Eastman’s fondness for 50s and 60s décor. It is comfortable and fits almost any situation. Date night, family dinner, business meeting…I’ve seen them (and done them) all at Rudy’s.

The marionettes make an appearance in this week’s episode and are one of the signatures at Rudy’s. There are more than 500 of them. Eastman got the first few at Goodwill and then started looking for them elsewhere. Friends and customers have added to the collection over the years, and a friend once brought him a box of 100 marionettes from Mexico. Plus, he has more in his office that haven’t even made their way into the display.

Aaron & AmyAs for what to order: There really isn’t a bad thing on the menu. The Mucho Nachos are the item both Eastman and Amy Dutton mentioned as their signature dish. An order shared between friends is a great way to start your meal. I’d highly recommend the homemade guacamole to compliment whatever you’ve ordered. Most of the ingredients, especially the produce, are locally-sourced and extremely fresh.

The Beer Hall and Lava Lounge were players in the craft beer movement even before it was a movement. The drink menus are varied and unique. And the atmosphere complements the really comfortable throwback environment of Rudy’s. You can sure get your Budweiser, but you can also find craft beers that aren’t always available elsewhere. Selections from Toppling Goliath in Decorah, Evil Twin Brewing Company, and Stone are regularly on tap, as is the weekly keg produced on-site by Guerrilla Brewing Company. And if beer isn’t your beverage of choice, the Moscow Mule and margarita are also outstanding choices.

MarionettesWhat makes Rudy’s so special? It's really hard to say, because there are many things that make it special and different for almost every person. The fresh, local ingredients make the great food even better. The friendly staff, some of whom have worked at Rudy’s for 20+ years, make it a great place. The comfortable, family atmosphere brings a variety of people to the restaurant. The drink selection makes Rudy’s extremely unique. And the marionettes…yes, the marionettes.

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


- Aaron Buzza, Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau 

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