2022 Summer Vacation: Part Five – The French Quarter

Once settled in the Omni Royal Orleans, we wanted to immediately explore the French Quarter. In this piece, I’d like to address some notable sites, restaurants, shopping, and tours. Before we get started, through, I found the French Quarter fascinating. In many ways, it was like traveling to another world. It is truly a culture unto itself, the architecture is amazing, and the streets feel as though you’ve gone backwards in time. However, I won’t lie–it is not a clean place. There are homeless everywhere. The sidewalks are uneven with holes, litter, and occasionally human waste. A smell permeates the area. Even so, the French Quarter oozes charisma. In my experience, there’s nowhere else like it. That being said, I don’t think we’ll be back anytime soon. All right, let’s get started with the final 2022 Summer Vacation article!

Sites

St. Louis Cathedral/Jackson Square – the two go hand-in-hand, so I’m going to lump them together. We thoroughly enjoyed the exterior of the St. Louis Cathedral. Frankly, even through we could, it never dawned on me to go inside. Upon retrospect, I wish we had. In truth, I found myself a little surprised by the amount of homeless and tarot card readers in front of it. I think that’s why we walked by, took it in, and then kept moving. Jackson Square is a historic park in front of the church and we found it exquisite. We were comfortable taking our time to explore the square. The mighty Mississippi exists just a few steps beyond Jackson Square, so we made our way up the steps to a viewing area.

Ignatius Reilly Statue – Located at 819 Canal St. between Bourbon and Dauphine, Ignatius can be found in front of the closed (abandoned?) Hyatt French Quarter Hotel. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, this is the main character from a novel called A Confederacy Of Dunces. I read the book years ago and loved it, which meant I obviously had to seek out this statue and get my picture with it. Unfortunately–and perhaps ironically–the homeless surrounded the statue. If my two young daughters were not with me, I would have gotten my picture with it, but it didn’t feel like a terribly safe spot to linger with children in tow.

Bourbon Street – After our visit to the Ignatius statue, we walked Bourbon Street back to our hotel’s area. Keep in mind that it was only around three in the afternoon. I wanted my daughters to be able to say they saw Bourbon Street, but I also wanted the most sanitary version possible. Luckily, they got to experience the incredible music, general elation, and fun-loving crowds without the unsuitable debauchery more likely at night. (Pay no attention to the Flamingo water bottle in the above picture. It’s a work thing involving my wife.)

Restaurants

I won’t lie to you–we had a very difficult time finding places to eat in the French Quarter. This is not because there weren’t plenty of options, but rather because we had trouble finding someplace with both the atmosphere, menu, and prices we preferred. Here are a few notable places we enjoyed.

Royal House – We chose this spot virtually right outside our hotel’s door primarily because we didn’t have to wait for a table and the menu appealed to us. As most of the restaurants in the French Quarter, it had an open air format, meaning that you entered through the front door but there were many other doors open as well that led to the sidewalks. We generally liked our food here and our waitress proved very friendly. My oldest daughter and I happened to see a mouse skirt out of the kitchen, look around, and then race back in. Of course, open doors, food, extremely old buildings–this kind of thing is going to happen. I kept eating. My daughter did not.

Ruby Slipper Café – There are a several Ruby Slippers throughout New Orleans. I have to admit that this was probably my favorite meal in the French Quarter. I highly recommend visiting their website and getting on their waitlist. We visited one morning for brunch and had to wait about an hour–extremely popular spot. Our waitress, though a little forgetful, was quite likeable. Best of all? The kids liked their food here.

Shopping

While we popped into several shops, there were three that really made a good impression on us.

Nola Kids and Nola, Jr – These were two children’s giftshops right next to each other. The first was primarily aimed at older kids, the second appealed to younger children’s tastes. We found the store clerks and the merchandise charming. Though eclectic, all of it certainly captured my youngest daughter’s interests.

Little Toy Shop – Again, another children’s store. I have to be honest, this was a quaint little toy store off Jackson Square. They had a very cool assortment of collector items, toys specific to New Orleans, and general mainstream toys. Both of my kids found little souvenirs here.

Fleurty Girl – This little gift shop on Chartres Street had a bit of everything. We found the shopkeeper extremely friendly, the merchandise humorous, and the whole place’s vibe quite lighthearted. We didn’t buy anything, but we most certainly could have. I only mention it because of all the stores we popped into, this one made a definite, positive, impression upon us.

Tours

Though we only stayed two days, the two tours we took made the whole trip worthwhile. I have nothing but good things to say about both of them.

New Orleans City and Cemetery Tour – We booked this tour through Gray Line, and we loved it. The two and a half hour bus tour covered the City Park and Café du Monde, Lake Pontchartrain, and a New Orleans cemetery. Our guide, Jim, was an absolute delight. His knowledge, humor, and general demeanor made the tour a blast. Furthermore, our driver, Dwayne, made us feel safe and in good hands the entire time. Our tour stopped by a Café du Monde in the City Park where we enjoyed delicious beignets and cafe au lait. We then moved on to a city cemetery where we walked around and learned fascinating pieces of information about the local cemeteries’ construction, as well as a few of that particular cemetery’s more notable inhabitants. We then drove by Lake Pontchartrain while gaining insights. Jim, who once taught at the University of Illinois, truly made the tour entertaining, educational, and memorable. This was by far my favorite thing we did in the French Quarter.

Ghost and Vampire Tour – Finally, my oldest daughter had only one request while in the French Quarter–a ghost and vampire tour. Though there were many, many choices available, we settled on French Quarter Phantoms Ghost Tours. Our guide, Phil, walked us through the French Quarter streets while explaining to us not only the historical atrocities that occurred, but the supernatural results. It was very cool to tour the side streets of the French Quarter with a lifelong inhabitant, and it was also incredible to learn about some of the truly bizarre occurrences that have taken place over the centuries. Do I believe the supernatural tales Phil shared? Perhaps not, but I definitely believe the horrific things on public record that he detailed for us, and that was far scarier to me than the ghost stories! By the way, just to be clear, I’d like to say that this tour was absolutely appropriate for my ten-year-old. At one point Phil was concerned a story might be too graphic, so he specifically warned us that we might want to cover our daughter’s ears. We did, and it turned out that she could have handled the story, but we appreciated his kindness. By the way, my oldest daughter loved this tour.

That concludes our 2022 Summer Vacation! Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you found these articles helpful. As always, feel free to leave any comments or questions.

2022 Summer Vacation: Part Four – Omni Royal Orleans

Originally, my family vacation plan would have ended at Gulfport, Mississippi. As I presented the idea to my family, my wife suggested we go ahead and zip over to New Orleans because of its proximity–more specifically, the French Quarter. (Thank goodness she did, because Gulfport missed with us.)

Because my wife felt excited about the French Quarter, she took over the hotel hunt. She eventually landed on Omni Royal Orleans. We took a look at the location on the map, the pictures, and the reviews, which all led us to believe it would be a great fit.

The French Quarter is a series of one-way streets because they are obviously not very wide. This actually made getting to the hotel pretty easy. We had a fantastic start in the parking garage. The valet wore a bright smile, displayed an wonderful attitude, and could not have been more friendly. As our first point of contact with the hotel, he made an excellent initial impression.

We also had a good check in experience. We especially enjoyed the nearby bellhops. They were instantly joking around with us and made us feel very welcome. In fact, later on, one of them gave us a map and offered his advice on what we should do and where we should visit.

The Omni Royal Orleans is a fancy place, especially for being nestled into a very tight, very old, and very boisterous area. We definitely enjoyed the opulence.

Consequently, our room also pleased us. Again, we understood this was an old area and so we were expecting a nice but well-worn room. It actually exceeded our expectations! Definitely clean, bigger than we anticipated, with a fantastic balcony (or should I say “gallery”?). Check out our view!

After settling into our room, we headed up to experience the rooftop observatory and pool. You can see the pool at the top of the article. Here are some pictures from the observatory area …

Needless to say, we were very happy with our hotel … on that first day.

That night, at about 12:30 in the morning, we were awakened by quite a bit of <ahem!> moaning.

Okay, here’s the thing: we’re in the French Quarter. Bourbon Street is literally a block away from our hotel. We’re in a hotel. That kind of thing is going to happen and can literally happen at any hotel at any time. But this went on for two hours. Two hours! (Insert your own joke here.)

We have two kids. One of them is a teenager and we weren’t all that concerned about whether or not she heard it–we knew she’d laugh it off. However, our other child is ten. The ruckus didn’t wake her up, but we weren’t all that sure we wanted to tempt fate two nights in a row.

Therefore, my wife approached the front desk the next morning in order to request a new room as well as an early check out–a day early, in fact. (More on this in the next article focusing on the French Quarter, but, in a nutshell, we decided two days were enough for us.) I knew we’d get some pushback on the day early check out; I did not expect any trouble with the new room.

Essentially, the Omni Royal Orleans manager told my wife that this is the French Quarter and such things should be expected. He then asked her why she didn’t call security. (Maybe I’m too understanding, but calling security on folks in the middle of that seems a little harsh.) In other words, instead of the customer always being right, my wife felt as though she was being interrogated and even blamed. He then said we could leave a day early, but there would be a fee equal to the amount of the night’s stay.

As you’ve gathered, I wasn’t there for this exchange–I stayed with the kids in our room. When my wife came up and explained the situation to me, I developed a plan for stating our case that I would execute that afternoon. At the moment, though, we hadn’t had breakfast, we were all hungry, and we just wanted to go eat.

While at breakfast, we actually received a text from the hotel asking us if we were happy with the new room (we were) and declaring that we could check out a day early at no cost if we still desired. I replied that we would still like to check out and thanked them for accommodating us. Why couldn’t that have been the case to begin with and avoid the bad feelings? I don’t know.

When we checked out the next morning, I asked for a receipt in order to make sure we weren’t being charged any kind of fee, and we weren’t. The Omni Royal Orleans kept their word to us (which I had in writing in the form of a text, by the way).

Our check out went very smoothly, as did retrieving our vehicle from the valet service. Leaving the French Quarter and New Orleans also proved uneventful.

While I wish the gentleman working with my wife had handled the situation differently, I still highly recommend the Omni Royal Orleans.

Star Wars | The High Republic: The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

This is the third novel I’ve read in The High Republic Star Wars series. The High Republic is set about 200 years before Star Wars: A New Hope. It may be important to note that these novels are just a small facet of the overall The High Republic campaign. There are also comic books, YA novels, children’s books, and soon-to-be-released streaming shows and video games. I only call that fact out because this book marked the first time I honestly felt like I wasn’t getting the whole story. Perhaps this is how casual MCU moviegoers feel as they sporadically bounce in and out?

I’d also like to make it very clear that I generally enjoy Claudia Gray’s writing. Star Wars: Lost Stars proved my first encounter with her and it is one of my all-time favorite Star Wars stories. Keep in mind that she was the sole author on that endeavor and that it only tangentially connected to A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return Of the Jedi. Otherwise it focused on two original characters.

This is important because The High Republic is a story by committee. There are a lot of different authors helping to deliver the installments and, in fact, each of the three The High Republic novels have been written by different people. For me, this results in a total lack of voice. Gray has a writing voice, I know this to be true, but it was muffled in The Fallen Star.

Furthermore, I simply can’t connect to The High Republic characters. I’m having trouble envisioning them, hearing them in my head, and separating them out as individuals. Is this because there are just so many of them, especially in regards to the Jedi?

Plus, to be blunt, this particular book’s entire plot is revealed in the title. The Jedi space station falls. The majority of the book leads up to that point, and then the last quarter of it deals with the ramifications of it falling. Getting to that last quarter was a long, long slog and I actually resorted to skimming.

However, I will give The Fallen Star respect in this regard: things definitely happen in that last quarter of the story. Characters are killed off, significant changes in other characters occur, and the Jedi are certainly challenged.

Which leads me to my final note: the Jedi simply don’t look good in this series. The same antagonist has outsmarted them three books in a row now. He’s inflicted major damage over the course of saga thus far. They thought they beat him the first two books, but they obviously did not. The High Republic Jedi come off as naïve, ill-prepared, and unimaginative. If I remember correctly, this was a complaint about the prequel Jedi as well.

I’m afraid I may be out on this series. After three books, the Jedi have failed to capture my attention, the stories seem strangely repetitive, each book lacks a unique voice, and the stakes seem both monumental and inconsequential at the same time. I love the concept and the major effort put into this gigantic enterprise, but it’s simply no longer for me.

Accountability: A Short Story

In 1997, while attending Illinois State University, I decided I wanted to be a business major. This shocked no one more than me because I’d spent a lifetime (up to that point) cutting every corner I could in my math classes. Numbers were like the afterlife, I believed in them, but they didn’t make a whole lot of sense. You know what did make sense? Cents. And dollars. And big amounts of those two things combined. Sure, literature always proved to be my specialty, but who ever got rich off of books?

So, there I was, a newly minted business major struggling through my first semester, and sitting in Accounting 101. Class occurred in a large lecture hall that could seat around 200 people. I opted to sit in the fourth row from the front. I was all-in on this business thing. I wanted to look like a good, conscientious student without also seeming like a kiss-up. I don’t know why, but the fourth row struck me as the sweet spot I sought.

The professor—I can’t remember his name. It had something to do with an animal. Dr. Katz? Dr. Byrd? Dr. Gil! That was it. Anyway, on the first day of class, Dr. Gil alerted us to the fact that we each had a number on the front of our table. (Mine was D9.) He made it very clear that he would call upon us by those numbers since there were too many names to learn. We were to memorize our numbers for when that day arrived. Foreshadowing, anyone?

About halfway through the semester, I found myself dead in Gil’s waters. For the first time in my life, I had a “D” average and simply could not grasp accounting’s fundamentals. I’ll admit that I didn’t go out of my way to help myself. Maybe I could have found a tutor? Perhaps I could have studied on a nightly basis? I don’t know—who knows? Hindsight is 20/20, right?

So when Dr. Gil would pose a question to the class and ask us to work on it for a few minutes before he called on someone to answer, I would often stare off into space without even trying. I knew this business dream would not reach fruition. I already envisioned the next semester surrounded by my fellow English bookworms who had no aspirations of wealth, much less a reasonable income.

“D9.”

Huh?

“D9.”

I shot to attention and found Dr. Gil’s eyes staring straight at me. I pointed to my chest and said, “Me?”

“Yes, you,” Dr. Gil grumbled. “D9. Tell us your solution.”

“To …?”

Dr. Gil squinted before saying, “To the equation.”

I looked to the students on either side of me. I didn’t know the girl at all. The guy lived on my floor and we sort of knew each other, but he suddenly needed to study his table’s surface. Neither of them would even glance in my direction. I was alone.

“I don’t have a solution.”

Dr. Gil said, “A wrong solution is better than no solution. Tell us what you have.”

“I don’t have anything.”

“You didn’t even try, D9?”

“I mean, that’s not my name. My name is—”

“Inconsequential. You have nothing. You attempted nothing. You’re doing nothing. Is this correct?”

I could feel the sweat forming on my brow as Dr. Gil and 199 other people gawked at me in disbelief. “Um … yeah. I guess that’s correct,” I said. “I don’t have anything.”

Dr. Gil folded his arms, looked down his nose at me, and barked, “From now on … shape up, D9!”

“That’s not my name,” I mumbled. Of course, because I sat so close, he heard me.

“I don’t care what your name is!” Dr. Gil shouted. “You are wasting my time! You are wasting a seat! From now on, you will attempt to participate in this class, or you will leave!”

At that point, I set my chin, glared into his watery eyes, and said, “You can’t talk to me like that.”

The whole lecture hall gasped.

Dr. Gil seethed, “What did you say?”

“You heard me,” I replied. My voice remained steady. I had complete control over my emotions. But I needed to let this man know that he had no control over me. “You may be the professor, but that doesn’t mean you can talk to me like that.”

Dr. Gil unfolded his arms before methodically stretching one of them out and pointing at me. He hissed, “Leave.”

“No.”

“Leave … now!”

“You can’t make me leave.”

Dr. Gil truly lost it. He shrieked, “Leave or I will call security!”

I stood, folded my arms just as he had done, and lectured, “I’m a student paying tuition. I’m essentially your customer. Yes, I’m here to gain knowledge from you, but you’re not my boss, my supervisor, my manager, my superior, or my parent. You have no authority over me other than to assess my comprehension of your material. You can fail me if you want, but that is where your power ends, pal.”

At that point, Dr. Gil fell over and we could no longer see him behind his podium. Imagine my shock when seconds passed and not a single person moved from their seats. Since I was already the star of the show, I raced to the end of my row, flew down the steps, and found Dr. Gil on the floor. High school health instantly popped into my mind allowing me to realize that Dr. Gil suffered a heart attack.

I ordered, “Somebody find a phone and call 911!” (Remember, this was 1997.) I then dropped to my knees and initiated CPR. I don’t want to brag, but after they arrived, the EMTs credited me with saving Dr. Gil’s life.

He obviously couldn’t finish the semester, so the school decided to excuse us from the course while awarding all of us A’s. Even though I didn’t learn jack squat, I still managed to score an A in accounting!

I visited Dr. Gil regularly in the hospital and, against all odds, we actually became friends. After I graduated with an English degree, he pulled a few strings and helped me find work in the corporate communications department of a large accounting firm.

What a great story, right?

Of course, that’s all it is.

A story.

I wish that was how things had happened.

The truth is, he told me to shape up after he caught me daydreaming. I turned red as an apple, muttered, “Yes, sir,” and then, from that moment forth, only showed up to class on test days. I failed, ruined my overall GPA, and promptly switched majors at semester’s end.

I learned a lot about myself that day.

I’m still thinking about it all these years later.

_______________________________________________

Copyright © 2022 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

2022 Summer Vacation: Part Three – Gulfport, Mississippi

As you know from previous entries, my family and I elected to hit Gulfport, Mississippi, because it was within driving distance and I really wanted to visit a beach. I read online that the town is nice, the beach is nice, and the water is nice. Sounds perfect, right? I guess it’s all relative, though, isn’t it?

I’ve already written about my thoughts on our resort, the Oasis. Today’s article will cover the beach, the town, the restaurants, and the attractions.

The town: As we rolled into the outskirts of Gulfport, I got a bad feeling. I could tell right away that it wasn’t the typical kind of beach town I associate with places like Myrtle Beach. It looked a little old, rundown, and unkempt. I kept hoping things would improve the closer we got to the beach, but, in my opinion, they did not. Let me say that I’m sure it’s a fine town with fine people, but it’s just not the beautiful vacation destination the online pictures depicted.

The beach: Our first morning there, a Sunday, we woke up and left to take a stroll on the beach. We knew we had to cross a highway to get to it from our resort, and that went fine. There were crosswalks and “Walk” signals, etc. I also knew it was a manmade beach. However, as soon as we got on the sand, we knew something was up. There was NOT a soul on it with us. At nine in the morning … nobody. We quickly noticed that there weren’t any waves. This is because of the barriers further out. We also noticed that, up close, the water looked pretty brown. That made sense due to the Mississippi River’s impact. What we didn’t count on was the garbage from the night before. Water bottles, beer bottles, glass, debris–all kinds of stuff. Okay, it was a Saturday the night before–party night. I got it. Surely it would look better on a Monday morning or a Tuesday morning. But then the nail in the coffin arrived. If you look in the below picture, you’ll see an enormous pipe. These things occurred about every 100 feet. They didn’t look good, so I wouldn’t let my kids even walk in the water until I knew what they were all about. We were later told that these pipes drained the city’s storm water. Yes, you read that right. All of the storm water from the city is flushed out onto their beach, where people are swimming. Needless to say, we did all of our swimming at the Oasis. That was our only visit to the beach, which was supposed to be the entire reason we were there. My lesson? Accept no substitutes when it comes to beaches–go to the real deal.

Restaurants: I already addressed the Oasis’ two restaurants that were very good, but we also tried a few restaurants in Gulfport’s downtown area. Here’s something we knew about the area before arriving–they have a large homeless population. I only mention that because it will soon be pertinent.

Half Shell Oyster House: The Half Shell Oyster House had very good reviews so we thought we would start with it. We loved the interior, ended up sitting in a great spot on the upper level, had a fantastic waiter, and enjoyed the food. My daughters particularly loved their dessert. We definitely recommend. I do have to note, though, that on our way out we were greeted by a homeless man. He remained seated and was perfectly pleasant, but thought I would mention it because the homeless were common in this area.

Tony’s Brick Oven Pizzeria: The kids were ready for good old fashioned pizza, so an Internet search led us to believe Tony’s was the way to go. It was also in the downtown area, not far from Half Shell Oyster house. Tony’s is on a side street and is fairly small. It appeared as though it could seat maybe fifty people at the most. Though we were seated quickly, it took our waitress twenty minutes to bring us water. On the one hand, we felt bad for her because she seemed to be handling phone and online orders as well, but we definitely felt as though we were an afterthought. To make matters worse, a gentlemen who seemed to be either high or mentally unstable came in and out of the restaurant no less than fifteen times. He wanted to use people’s cell phones, he wanted water, he wanted a car ride–in, out, in, out, in, out. The staff finally had to stand at the door and try to keep him from coming all the way in, and at that point it got very tense. The police finally showed up after about thirty minutes of this. Within three minutes, they cuffed him and stuffed him into the squad car. I have no idea if the pizza was any good or not. I was so rattled by the whole thing that I couldn’t eat. Very weird situation.

The Rack House Steak & Spirits: Across the street from Half Shell Oyster House, The Rack House Steak & Spirits also had an excellent ambiance. Our waitress was exceedingly friendly and even answered questions we had about the 4th of July fireworks taking place that night. We were very pleased with both the food and the service.

Attractions

The fireworks: Speaking of which, my idealistic fantasy before we actually arrived in Gulfport was to walk about a mile down the beach from our resort towards the downtown area where the fireworks were going to be detonated. Well, after the pizza ordeal as well as the many, many people setting off their own fireworks on the beach, we decided to stay on the grounds at the Oasis and watch what we could. We could see and hear the fireworks pretty well, but they didn’t last very long nor were they all that impressive.

Gulfport Premium Outlets: We learned an outlet mall existed not too far away from us, so we decided to check it out. My kids were not interested in the beach, we’d already been swimming at the Oasis pool that day, and walking around downtown Gulfport was not going to happen anymore. Even though it was pretty hot, we gave it a look. We loved it! The Gulfport Premium Outlets had some great stores and we found some awesome deals. My oldest daughter particularly loved a video game store that had a little bit of everything pop culture and video game related. I highly recommend this mall if you’re in the area.

While we met a lot of very nice people, we don’t plan on visiting Gulfport again. Outside of a few good restaurants and a great mall, it didn’t really appeal to us, and, let’s be honest, we don’t need to drive twelve hours to experience a mall and a few good restaurants. I do wish we had checked out their aquarium. It’s supposed to be very good, but so was everything else I’d read online about the area.

2022 Summer Vacation: Part Two – Oasis Resort

The first destination point during our summer 2022 vacation could be found in Gulfport, Mississippi, at the Oasis Resort.

How did I choose the Oasis Resort, you ask? Simple. I Google “nice family beach within driving distance.” Guess what came up?

I’ll talk more about Gulfport in a future entry, but all of the travel websites raved about Oasis Resort in the Centennial Plaza. I checked out the pictures, read the reviews, and figured it looked like a good place to try. After all, it has its own water park (as you can see in the pictures above taken from our room window), and the beach was literally just across the street. I was personally excited to get back to a beach, but I figured if the family got tired of the sand, we could hit our resort’s water park. Win/Win, right?

I’m getting a little ahead of myself. When we rolled into Centennial Plaza, we were impressed. The grounds were nicely kept with interesting architecture. As it turns out, the entire plaza was once a Naval training camp! We found the check-in building next to the water park, headed in, and got our key cards. It wasn’t the friendliest of check-ins, but I was also finishing up a long day of driving, so I figured maybe I just wasn’t in a great mood.

We found our particular building, also next to the water park, and walked by a guy smoking a cigarette by the front doors in order to get in. (This became a regular occurrence, but not with the same guy.) We then took a small elevator to the third floor and found our room.

We’re the kind of family who really enjoys the suite life. Therefore, when I saw Oasis offered a room with a kids suite, I jumped on it. The kids get their own space with a bunk bed? Very cool! Except that suite was nothing more than a VERY small area with a six foot partition separating it from our portion of the otherwise standard hotel room. The online pictures were extremely misleading–they made this room look three times bigger than it actually was.

We were also greeted with stained sheets on my daughter’s bed. We’re not sure what it was, but it almost looked like motor grease. We immediately called down to get new sheets brought up. This, too, was a bit of a fiasco, but it gone done.

Okay, not the smoothest of starts. The family was not terribly pleased with the room, and, honestly, I wasn’t either.

You may remember that I mentioned towels being an issue with my inaugural entry for this series. We stayed several nights at the Oasis Resort, and getting four fresh towels each morning proved a challenge even Heracles couldn’t accomplish. One morning they didn’t give us enough. Another morning they were completely out–their supply truck hadn’t arrived. It was a little crazy. How can towels be an issue at a resort every single day we stayed there?

However, there were also several bright points.

The water park was amazing. With two big water slides, a zero entry pool, and a 900 foot lazy river, there was something for everyone to enjoy. Plus, they opened at 9:00 a.m. and closed at 9:00 p.m., so we would enjoy it in the mornings before it got crowded and then in the evenings as it started thinning out. Be aware, though, that there is a bar located in the pool and so as the day goes on you tend to find cups lining the lazy river and popsicle sticks floating in the water.

They also had some very good restaurants on the premises. One of our favorite meals during the entire vacation occurred at The Blue Marlin. The food was excellent, but we happened to have a very large, very drunk group a few tables over that made it hard for us to hear ourselves think, much less hold a conversation. The Oasis Grill also proved a good spot for food on the grounds. We ate breakfast there one morning and truly enjoyed it. While our waitress was very friendly, we found the hostesses a little disengaged if not slightly hostile. If that’s the case for you, stick it out and wait for the food–it’s worth it!

Finally, Centennial Plaza has a wonderful fountain that lights up at night while spraying water in coordination with music playing. Here’s a picture we took.

In the end, Oasis Resort was a fun place to visit, but I wouldn’t make it a destination spot. If you happen to be passing through or in the area for something else, it’s an entertaining attraction with good food and good fun for the whole family.

2022 Summer Vacation: Part One – Drury Plaza Hotel Cape Girardeau Conference Center

Really? You’re writing about a Drury hotel to kick off your 2022 summer vacation editorial series?

Yes, I am. Because the place was just that good.

Let me provide a little context. My family and I planned to leave Friday afternoon on July 1st in order to visit Gulfport, Mississippi before moving on to New Orleans. We knew we wouldn’t get far so late in the day, so we decided we’d stop at Cape Girardeau’s Drury Plaza Hotel Conference Center because it looked nice, had a happy hour with free food and drink, and provided a free breakfast, too. During our travels of late, those things are no longer the norm. Furthermore, it appeared to have an indoor pool, which my youngest loves.

Once we arrived, we were thrilled. The employees were fantastic from the check-in desk to the food area to the bar. As we ate, they checked on our satisfaction multiple times. We arrived with only thirty or so minutes to spare, so the bartender recommended we go ahead and get our three free drinks up front to be sure we didn’t miss out on them.

Our room was clean, comfortable, well decorated, and had towels to spare (you’ll find this won’t be the case in future entries).

In fact, we loved this location so much that we made sure to make it our stopping point on the drive home.

In our travels since the pandemic, we’ve had a hard time finding good service, clean rooms, stocked supplies, and free meals. Cape Girardeau’s Drury Plaza Hotel Conference Center checked all of those boxes! From now on, we’re definitely looking at Drury Hotels first when traveling.

Thor: Love and Thunder – A Movie Review

Maybe I’m a prisoner of the moment, but Thor: Love and Thunder is absolutely one of my favorite Marvel movies.

First of all, even though the special effects are completely epic, the storyline itself is fairly straightforward and each character’s motivations are clear. This goes a long way with a mainstream crowd. On the one hand, I’ve seen every MCU movie and witnessed Thor’s evolution in real time. On the other hand, my wife has barely seen any of the Marvel movies, yet, thanks to flashbacks and addendums, she completely understood Love and Thunder and thoroughly enjoyed it as well. That’s quite a feat for a fourth installment to achieve!

Secondly, even though this is comic book movie full of larger-than-life events, the acting really is superb thanks to incredible actors. Let me throw some names at you: Natalie Portman. Christian Bale. Russel Crowe. Tessa Thompson. Bradley Cooper. These are big names with real acting credentials. Let’s toss in sheer star power as well with Chris Hemsworth (obviously), Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, and Vin Diesel. Furthermore, there are some very big cameos that I won’t spoil for you. And the person who helped write the story, directed the movie, and even acted in it as well? Taika Waititi.

Third, it’s just plain fun. The tone, the costumes, the jokes–it’s all a blast. Screaming goats, people! Screaming goats!

However, that brings me to my fourth and final point. Even though the jokes are fast and furious, I’ll also admit to you that this is one of the few MCU movies that truly gave me the feels. I teared up on several occasions. Is that the quality of the story, the acting, or the combination of the two? I’m not sure, but I was definitely invested in these characters, particularly Thor and Jane Foster.

Speaking of whom, I was thrilled to see Natalie Portman back as Jane Foster/Mighty Thor. I was also so relieved that they treated both Jane and Mighty Thor with the utmost respect. They nailed her story, they got the costume exactly right, and they let Natalie Portman have a little fun even as she also had to do a lot of the emotional heavy lifting.

Finally, I never would have guessed they could keep Thor interesting, but they keep finding ways. Chris Hemsworth has truly captured something magical in this character, merging the buffoonery of the Norse myth with the heroism of the Marvel comic’s character, and Taika Waititi has found a way to let Hemsworth walk that very fine line.

Obviously, I highly recommend Thor: Love and Thunder. It’s an entertaining two hours that brings both the laughs and the emotions while closing plotlines from the past and opening more for the future.