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.

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.

Reza’s Edge Of Illusion: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 14)

When we researched our 2019 Spring Break trip to Branson, everything said Reza was a must.  I’ve never heard of the guy, so after exploring his website and reading a few reviews, I presented him as a possibility to the family.  My wife and kids really like magicians and illusionists, so we figured we’d give him a shot.

We paid him a visit on a weekday in the afternoon.  We could instantly tell that this would be a much different experience than Hamner’s Unbelievable Variety.  The theater seemed newer and there were far more people in the audience.

Reza’s warm-up act came out to get us fired up.  Do you like all the flame puns?  I’m using them because this guy swallowed fire.  He also told us to make a lot of noise–the more noise we made, the longer the show would go.  He said Reza loves a rocking audience.  Well, that got us going.

In fact, the beginning of this experience felt very much like a rock concert, which I think was the objective.

Reza soon appeared and he dazzled us from the start.  His illusions are unique, kinetic, and even felt a little bit dangerous.  He also took several moments to interact with the crowd by calling a few people up or taking questions.

Image seems very important to Reza.  Though he had a dry sense of humor, he was careful to maintain a “cool” persona.  He never got too excited, too loud, or too rushed.  In fact, after every illusion, he kept a blank, almost withdrawn expression upon his face.  After awhile, it got to be kind of funny to me.

Though his performance amazed us and we had a magnificent time watching him, I have to admit I was disappointed when the show ended right on time.  I felt like the audience showed him a lot of love, but apparently not enough to extend the act.

I also appreciated that he stood in the lobby afterward and signed autographs for every single person who wanted to wait in line.  He also allowed pictures on people’s personal cell phones.  (Yes, he also had a professional photographer if you wanted higher quality.)  My oldest, who was 10 at the time, was mesmerized by this man.  Unfortunately, she said he didn’t even make eye-contact with her, nor did he speak to her beyond a quick “hello.”  I realize Reza meets hundreds of people each week, but it would have meant a lot to her if she had gotten a warmer reception.  She still cherishes that autograph, though.

Reza’s Edge of Illusion is a really cool show that’s appropriate for all ages.  If you’re in Branson, I would consider him a must-see.  Enjoy!

Reza

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World’s Largest Toy Museum: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 13)

I’ve had a love affair with toys my entire life.  I’m not exactly sure what they represent to me or why I’m still drawn to them, but I’m always game to check out the toy aisles with my kids!  In fact, before my children were born, I still collected certain toys that aligned with my interest in super heroes and literary characters.

When we were planning our spring break trip to Branson, I saw that they touted the world’s largest toy museum–that was literally the name of the facility!  I’m afraid it’s no exaggeration when I declared to my wife and children that this attraction would be a must-see for us.  My kids thought it sounded cool, my wife had no interest in it at all but decided to humor me, and so we put it on the calendar.

Let me tell you–this is truly the world’s largest toy museum!  It takes up no less than three separate structures.  We first entered a building that housed a great deal of automotive and transportation toys, as well as an expansive train set managed by a local club.  The people in this building were very friendly, especially the older gentleman curating the train set.  Of course, none of us were that into these kinds of exhibits, so we made our way to the next building after a quick jaunt.

The second building we visited housed what we would consider more traditional toys, but some of these toys dated back to the 1800s!  This building had an intricate BB gun collection, as well as many toys depicting the Old West such as the Lone Ranger and Zorro.  Furthermore, this building offered incredible displays featuring the original GI Joes, Barbie, Star Wars, Star Trek, and toy soldiers going back many, many decades.  One side of the building dedicated itself to checkers through the eras, which was frankly amazing.  There was also a section made to replicate actual rooms with toys in them from the 1950s.  These were donated by Paul Harvey and his family.  We talked with several people in this particular building, some of whom were the folks who drove across the country to procure these toys.  They were extremely kind and inviting.

We finally made our way to the last building.  This place housed more modern toys and also contained a gift shop.  I found my super hero toys in this area, so I obviously had a great time.  They also had Happy Meal toy displays which were pretty cool.  Other exhibits included sports toys, Masters of the Universe, Cabbage Patch Dolls, Transformers, and much, much more.  Interestingly enough, an area within this building is devoted to Harold Bell Wright, the author of The Shepard Of the Hills, which is set in the Branson area.

If you’re into toys at all, I highly recommend paying The World’s Largest Toy Museum a visit.  Not quite sure if it’s for you?  They have an extensive gallery for your viewing at this link: https://worldslargesttoymuseum.com/gallery/

world-s-largest-toy-museum

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The Butterfly Palace & Rainforest Adventure: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 12)

While in Branson during Spring Break, we decided to check out The Butterfly Palace and Rainforest Adventure.  As is almost everything in Branson, it proved very easy to find.  When we first arrived, we entered the main doors which fed into a large circular room with a very high-ceiling.  Wide, gradual stairs lined this round room and led to the second floor.  This entrance area also doubled as a tastefully arranged gift shop.

We were immediately greeted warmly by the staff as we bought our entry tickets.  They also offered clear suggestions and instructions regarding the facility.

As we moved to the left, we found a room housing several lizards, turtles, fish, frogs, and even giant cockroaches.  They call this the Science Center and they will, at prescribed times, put on little presentations and allow visitors to hold the creatures.

We next made our way into the Emerald Forest Mirror Maze.  It is exactly what it sounds like and I highly recommend you experience it.  We had an absolute blast navigating our way through it.  Keep those hands out in front of you, though.  It’s very easy to walk right into a mirror!

After that we ascended the steps in order to enjoy the Banyan Tree Adventure.  This small room is set up to replicate the vines of the Banyan Tree.  They are actually green bungee cords, but they are so numerous and thick that it ended up being quite challenging.  Once my kids got the hang of it, though, they were able to fly through them.  This is a small room and will probably take you no more than a minute or two to traverse, but it’s fun.

Finally, we sought the main event — The Butterfly Aviary!  This is a USDA controlled area, so they take your visit very seriously.  You will go through one room and wait for the doors to shut before you access the aviary.  When you decide to leave the aviary, they will ask you to spin around so they can be sure no butterflies escape.  However, there is nothing to stress about.  They are so very friendly and they want you to interact with the butterflies.  In fact, they will offer you little sweet sticks to entice a visit from our winged friends.  My wife and oldest child loved this part of the Palace.  Because the butterflies will land on your head, your back, your shoulders, or anywhere on your body, my youngest wasn’t so cracked up about it.  She didn’t stay in the aviary very long.  We headed back out to the Banyan Tree Adventure.  Also, be aware that this room is rather on the warm side.  If you’re wearing a sweatshirt or jacket, you’ll want to take it off before entering.

Before leaving, we watched a short film about butterfly migration in the Rainforest Theater.  We learned a great deal from this short video, and I would recommend that you give it a watch.  They offer different shows at roughly twenty minute increments, so take a look at the placard to see what appeals to you the most.

If you have little ones, I would consider this a priority visit.  Though it’s not a large facility, it packs quite a punch.  There really is something for everyone at The Butterfly Palace & Rainforest Adventure.

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Branson Scenic Railway: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 11)

While in Branson during our spring break, we thought it might be fun to take a train ride on the Branson Scenic Railway.  After looking into it a bit, I particularly liked that a few of the passenger cars had clear, domed roofs which allowed unencumbered views of the scenery.  It sounded like an interesting excursion as it discussed tunnels, bridges, and venturing into Arkansas.

Everyone working at the station proved incredibly friendly, as were the attendants on the train.  Before loading, a conductor offered a few instructions and facts, along with several jokes, as we waited on the platform.  Once he finished, we were welcome to begin boarding.

Seats were not assigned, so we made a point to go directly to one of the domed train cars in order to get a good spot.  At it turned out, there would have been plenty of seating because they have three such cars.

The passenger cars were relics from history, but they had been refurbished and were quite comfortable.  It was fun to think of a time when they proved the primary mode of long-distance travel for people.

At first, we had a great time.  Soon, however, we realized that this scenic tour was not all that … well … scenic.  Perhaps it was simply the time of year, but there really wasn’t all that much to look at in regards to nature.  Furthermore, most of the view included the trash piled up in people’s backyards who live along the railway.  I’m not trying to insult them, but it didn’t make for a pleasurable viewing experience.  There was also a lot of refuse and debris along the rails themselves.

Had the ride only lasted 40 minutes, this may not have been too big of a deal, but the outing actually took almost two hours.  Two long hours.  My children and I grew restless and were ready to get off the train at about the halfway point.

If you have children or are not that into trains, I’d pass on this particular activity while in Branson.  However, if it sounds like you’d enjoy it, you can visit their website to learn more by clicking HERE.

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Dolly Parton’s Stampede: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 10)

If you’re going to Branson, you have to take part in Dolly Parton’s Stampede, right?

Believe it or not, my wife and I actually enjoyed Stampede in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, long before our children were born.  Because we had some experience with it, we knew our kids would love the show.

We also knew they’d hate the food …

When you first enter the Branson Stampede building, you’ll have a family photograph taken once submitting your tickets and then everyone is funneled through a gift shop area and into a large room with a bar and a stage–this is called the Carriage Room.  Before too long, live entertainers by the name of the White River Wranglers appear.  They’re a talented group specializing in a mix of country and bluegrass.  They also took a shot at some modern day hits while cracking joke after joke.  My kids thoroughly enjoyed watching them.

Once they finished, we were ushered into the arena.  I have to be honest, this was not a pleasant experience.  Because your section is reserved, you might be better off to stay back until most of the people are through.  They have one set of doors for hundreds of people to siphon through, and we noticed quite a bit of pushing and shoving.

After that, though, everything went very well.

We were quickly seated in the front row.  I bought our tickets online and early in order to guarantee this spot.  I wanted my daughters to have a great view.

Our server immediately introduced himself while establishing the fact that he had a fun sense of humor.  He was truly a delight throughout the show.  I don’t think the man ever stopped moving.

Soon enough, both the food and the show started.  I’ll begin by talking about the food …

Be aware that there is not any silverware or utensils of any sort.  You’re also not ordering anything–you pretty much take what you’re given.  (I believe you can choose a vegetarian or a gluten-free option when ordering tickets.)  You’ll first have a cup of soup, then a plate with a chicken, a pork loin, corn on the cob, half of a potato, and a biscuit.  At the end they will give you a dessert which is basically an apple fritter.  I thoroughly enjoyed my entire meal.  My daughters … not so much.  Fortunately, our server gave us take-home bags, so my wife and I had delicious leftovers the next day.

The show is very impressive as well.  Of course, they have all kinds of horses racing across the course.  Some of the horses perform tricks with some of the riders executing stunts.  At one point they even had bison milling around, which was very cool.  I can’t claim to see bison all that often.  There are also lots of fireballs, flashes of light, fog, and music.  It’s pretty much nonstop action with some magic, some comedy, and even live singing.  We were most certainly entertained, and though my kids didn’t like the food, they loved the show.

I could not have been happier with our seats, but be aware: if you sit in the front row, you run the risk of sand getting kicked up on you.  Those horse are moving fast, and when they change direction it only stands to reason that they are going to displace a bit of sand.  I actually had some land on my plate at one point.  It wasn’t a big deal.  I wiped it off the food and kept eating.  Luckily it was just me–my wife and daughters didn’t have to deal with it.  The little girl sitting on my other side did, though, but she handled it like a champ.  She just cleaned her meat and then kept eating, too.  I liked that kid.

If you’ve never been to Dolly Parton’s Stampede, I highly recommend it.  It’s definitely something everyone should experience at least once.

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Silver Dollar City: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 9)

A trip to Branson could never be complete without visiting Silver Dollar City!

Frankly, I didn’t really care that much if we made it to this theme park or not.  While it certainly looked fun, nothing can compare to Disney World in my mind.  I figured it would be a pale imitation.

We got off on kind of the wrong foot with Silver Dollar City.  We didn’t arrive as early as we wanted, and so we found ourselves in a very long line to enter.  I think we waited in line about an hour to get our tickets.  At least, it felt like an hour.  Because they closed at 6:00 p.m., we only had about seven hours once we were in.  This sounds like a lot, but trust me–it wasn’t.

As is the case with any theme park, it took a bit of studying a map to get oriented.  Once we felt confident in our bearings, we started strolling along.

We visited a taffy making shop right off the bat and got a few samples.  This was a very popular place with my daughters.  We next visited a candy making shop, which was even MORE of a hit!  After that, we made our way to a glassblower’s area.  It was very cool to watch these craftsmen.

Then something wildly unexpected occurred.  We happened across a roller coaster called Thunderation.  My wife wants no part of roller coasters, nor do either of my children.  Or at least, that’s what I thought.  My oldest, who was ten at the time, agreed to go on it with me.  She picked quite a coaster for her first go!  Though she was a little nervous, she showed incredible bravery and LOVED it.  Personally, I felt elated to finally have a roller coaster buddy!

We waited quite a while in line for Thunderation, probably about 20 minutes.  As the day wore on, these wait times got longer and longer for other rides.  There’s no fast passes at Silver Dollar City!  (At least, not that I know of.)

My wife and youngest daughter traveled to an area with tamer rides for little ones which they very much enjoyed.  There really is a ride for everyone at Silver Dollar City.

I won’t go into great detail, but my oldest and I also enjoyed a very intense roller coaster called Powder Keg.  We then convinced my youngest daughter to ride a very small roller coaster called the Grand Exposition Coaster, which she absolutely adored.  As a complete family, we enjoyed The Flooded Mine–my youngest daughter hated this one because of the escaped prisoner mannequins, but the rest of us got a kick out of it.  We did a ton more rides, most of which were aimed at a younger crowd.  Make no mistake, however, there are plenty of big rides like what you would find at Disney or Six Flags.  Some looked too extreme even for me!  You can find a complete list of all rides HERE.

Silver Dollar City had a lot more to offer than just rides, though.  There were restaurants galore, live singing, functioning craftsmen demonstrations, and plenty of gift shops.  My wife particularly enjoyed a little homestead area made to replicate life in the 1800s.

All in all, we had an absolute blast.  I would not hesitate to go back to Silver Dollar City.  In fact, we plan to go back someday soon because we didn’t have enough time to take it all in!  One day simply wasn’t enough for us.  Believe it or not, my youngest daughter said she liked it better than Disney World.  She was six when we went, so we didn’t come down too hard on her, but we did tell her to slow her roll.  That’s just crazy talk.

You can visit the Silver Dollar City website by clicking HERE.

 

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