Quick trip south.

With Mother Nature continuing her winter mood and no travels since Thanksgiving we decided that it was in our best interest to take a short sojourn in a southerly direction in mid March. After hemming and hawing for a week or two it was decided that our nations capital would be the destination.

After a 3:30am wake up call for me, much earlier for the wife, we were on the road by 5:15am heading south for a few days. Traffic was light through New Hampshire and Massachusetts and we were sailing along just south of Hartford when the first hiccup occurred. Our map app decided that a tour of the Connecticut interstate system might be a good idea taking us on a ridiculous zig zag across the nutmeg state. Once recovered from this set back we proceeded back on route with the only traffic issues occurring as we approached the George Washington Bridge. It was smooth sailing through New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland so we arrived at the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum right on schedule at around 2:30pm. I love this museum and of the two Air and Space Museums this one, in my opinion, is better. The crowds were light, the student tours were leaving, so viewing everything was very relaxed. As you enter the enormous hanger you are greeted with a truly incredible aircraft, and my favorite, the SR 71 Blackbird lurking below almost like it was still ready for action. Only then do you notice the Space Shuttle Discovery in the background. I am often in awe of how these machines were created so long ago without the powerful design tools that are available now, the people who created them are truly geniuses.

 

The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling around enjoying the museum. To see the Enola Gay an aircraft that changed the course of human history is both inspiring and disheartening at the same time.

Tired from a long day we spent the night at the nearby Hampton Inn Dulles/Cascades in Sterling,Va. This is another good Hampton property with a clean comfortable room, friendly staff and decent location near a shopping center with plenty of restaurants to choose from. Dinner was really good take out pizza from the nearby Don’s Wood Fired Pizza. Ready in less than 10 minutes it was just what we needed after the long day.

 

After a good nights sleep we started our day with the standard Hampton breakfast today was a pepper and onion omelet with sausage patties and of course coffee. We were changing hotels so we decided to drive to the National Zoo and head to the hotel afterwards. Traffic was fairly heavy on this Thursday morning so it took it a little over an hour before we were parked at the zoo. While the zoo is free the parking is $25 so the Metro might be a better offer for people looking to save a few bucks. We have been to the National Zoo a few times and enjoy it every time. On this Thursday morning in March there were not a lot of people at the zoo yet so we headed right for the pandas to enjoy watching these really cool animals.

 

They were very active on this cool pre spring morning and we watched as they had their breakfast. The rest of the morning we meandered around checking out the other animals on display. The Andean Bears were another favorite (they are the bears Paddington is based on). As morning became afternoon we headed for our other favorites the primates and apes. The gorillas and orangutans are spectacular to watch while they play, we watched a mother orangutan interact with her toddler for a half hour or so. They have a skyway for the orangutans called the O-Line that they transit to get from one house to another really cool.

 

The zoo is quite hilly and we were starting to tire out so we decided that we had enough of the zoo for one day. Very enjoyable!

 

Our accommodations for the next 3 nights were at the Embassy Suites hotel in Tyson’s Corner Va taking around 30 minutes to get to from the zoo. Our room was ready when we arrived at around 2:15pm so we carried our things upstairs and sat for a few minutes to get acquainted with the room. All rooms are suites consisting of a living area with a couch, wetbar,refrigerator, desk and a large, for hotel rooms, television a smallish bathroom and a decent sized bedroom with another large television.

 

We were located on the 6th floor with the living room looking out on the atrium and the bedroom overlooking the back parking lot. It cost $10 a day to park the car which compared to other lodging options we had looked at was really reasonable. Overall we liked this hotel, breakfast was included and consisted of a buffet with bacon, sausage, potatoes, scrambled eggs, french toast, pastries, fruit and a toast/bagel area. Omelets and fried eggs were cooked to order. The buffet was actually pretty good and we filled up before starting our days excitement. The only issue I really had with this Embassy Suites was that there were only 2 elevators which definitely was not enough for the amount of people staying here.

The hotel was located between 2 Metro stops with each being about a 10  minute walk and the plan was to utilize the trains in and out of D.C. leaving the car for the most part at the hotel. On past trips to Washington we had good luck with this plan as we find the D.C Metro one of the best public transport systems that we have used. Grabbing the Metro at the silver line Spring Hill station we headed into the city planning to check out the Wharf area which was not built yet on our last trip. We walked the 20 minutes from the L’Enfant station to the Wharf and had an early dinner at Shake Shack a burger chain that we enjoyed on a prior Boston trip and it didn’t disappoint this time. We both enjoyed double Shack Burgers ,which were flavorful and juicy, with crispy crinkle cut fries. The table looked out over the water and was perfect for people watching. That afternoon there was some sort of awards ceremony happening at the nearby Anthem venue so the people strolling by were dressed to the 9s in evening gowns and suits a surreal sight at 5pm in the afternoon. We walked around the Wharf for a while checking out the different stores and restaurants, sitting out on the pier by the fire sculpture and perusing the fish at the incredible seafood markets located at the far end. The selection of fresh fish, crabs and shrimp was amazing and if we lived here I would be there every week!

Having seen the Wharf and filled our bellies it was time to enjoy the scenic views from the mall area so we hiked 20 minutes back to the awe-inspiring views of the Capital, Washington Monument and buildings that surround the mall. Cherry Blossoms were still a few weeks away but some of the trees we came across had started to flower and bud making our walk a little more interesting. The experience of seeing where our government operates and all the monuments is something everyone in our great country needs to see at least once and we are lucky enough to have done it a few times.

With sunset approaching it was decided we would stroll down to the Lincoln Memorial, it looks close but I believe it is a mile plus from the Capital, the Washington Monument is still under construction so we were detoured around it and we spent a few minutes at the World War 2 memorial before continuing on. I love the views down the reflecting pool towards the Lincoln Memorial and, being the aviation buff that I am, the planes on final approach to Reagan Airport.

A 20 minute walk to the Foggy Bottom station found us heading back to our temporary home in Tyson’s Corner happy and tired after a long productive day in DC.

Friday dawned with the promise of the best weather we have had this year calling for 70+ degrees and partly cloudy skies after filling up at the buffet we headed for the metro and ultimately the Air and Space Museum on the Mall. There were quite a few closed exhibits at the museum and a lot of school groups so we did a quick tour seeing the Wright Brothers plane, the rocket garden and a very interesting exhibit about the possible future of space travel. Next on the agenda was one of my favorites the National Museum of the American Indian located almost right next door to the Air and Space Museum. The actual building is stunning looking to me like a windswept southwestern rock formation, it is beautiful. We spent the most time exploring a history of treaties made and broken by the US Government with the American Indians very eye opening.

The Botanical Gardens is a often overlooked gem to see while in DC. It contains a extensive collection of plants and flowers from around the world. We especially enjoyed the Southwest display and also the endangered plants that they have with explanations of why they are endangered and what we can do to help.

After enjoying the gardens we decided to head back to the hotel to relax a little and plan that evenings activities. Still a little tired from our travels and a ton of walking we drove the 5 minutes to the nearby Tyson’s Corner Mall for dinner and a movie. Arriving with not a lot of time before Captain Marvel we ate a different Shake Shack again enjoying the burgers. Captain Marvel was a good movie, we have liked all the Marvel movies and this one entertained as well. The mall itself is large with all the usual mall stores including an Apple Store, Microsoft Store and the other mall staples. This ended our 2nd day in DC and we both slept well after all the walking.

Day 3 dawned sunny but much cooler with the high forecasted at 50 degrees and windy. Being Saturday we thought we would drive in today with plans to visit the Museums of Natural History and American History. Parking nearby the museums at the Ronald Reagan Building was easy and they offered a weekend rate of $15 all day. We started at the Natural History Museum and were able to see about half of it before the crowds descended. The exhibits on early man were very interesting and I especially enjoyed a photography exhibit that featured award-winning nature photographs from around the world. By the time we departed the lines to get in were very long as were the lines next door at the American History Museum. Instead of standing in line we headed North to see the White House and came across a demonstration against US involvement in Venezuela it was very interesting to witness a demonstration of this magnitude in person.

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Seeing the passion the demonstrators brought to their cause showed why live in such a great country where you are allowed to express your beliefs in a public forum.

As we had seen everything we had set out to see it was decided to relax back at the hotel in anticipation of the 9 hour ride home facing us on Sunday. For dinner we checked out the other large mall in Tyson’s Corner the Galleria. This is a very upscale shopping venue reminding me of Copley Place in Boston. Maggiano’s Little Italy, a chain that we had neither been to or heard of , was where we ended up having dinner. It was actually very good with a large menu and reasonable prices. My wife had a risotto with Filet and I had a Chicken and Mushroom Rigatoni both were delicious. A warm Brownie with Ice Cream finished our meal and we browsed the mall a little before heading back to the room. A movie in the room and then it was time for bed. Sunday arrived cool and sunny for our ride home as we bid adieu to DC. 9 hours later after an uneventful ride we were home from another great excursion.

 

 

Random prior travels.

Well we have survived another Christmas and with no travels in the immediate future here are some more of our favorite places.

Moab, Ut.

After exploring much of southwestern Utah we decided to check out the other side of the state and see what was going on over there. We flew into to Denver and enjoyed a scenic 5+ hour ride to Moab with good weather the whole way. We stayed one night at the Hampton Inn in downtown Moab which was a decent hotel within walking distance of the shops and restaurants. The remainder of our trip was spent at the Red Cliff Lodge, a 25 minute drive along the Colorado River which was great for awhile but became a little tiresome the 5th or 6th time we did it. The lodge itself was surrounded by gorgeous views in every direction creating a feeling of serenity whenever we were there.

Not to be missed are the nearby National Parks the Arches and Canyonlands, both are amazing, but the hidden gem was Dead Horse State Park where the views were stunning and we hiked for 3 miles without seeing another soul only to come across the incredible vistas of Dead Horse Point.

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A long but worth it day trip to Monument Valley to ride horses with a Native American Guide completed our Moab stay. Moab is a cool little town with great shops and restaurants to explore and in late April was quiet and peaceful without the summer crowds we had heard about. Don’t miss the La Sal loop road, a scenic wonderful drive through the mountains above Moab!

Random prior travels.

With the holiday season in full swing shopping, family and general merriment have taken the place of any travel plans so I thought I would take the opportunity to tell you all about some of our favorite destinations that we have visited in the past.

Red Mountain Resort Ivins, UT.

This is probably my favorite place to go. We have visited twice and both times it was amazing. Red Mountain is an adventure resort with a varied and extensive menu of things to do. One of my favorite parts of our beautiful country southwest Utah has stunning scenery with the red rock views changing with every step. Red Mountain is located at the entrance to Snow Canyon State Park a hidden gem among the more recognized parks such as Zion. The spa at the resort was a welcome and relaxing place to unwind after a strenuous hike. Don’t miss the horseback excursion offered as one of the many activities. IMG_0063

Hyatt Tamaya Resort, Santa Ana Pueblo N.M.

With views of the Sandia Mountains and bordering the Rio Grande River this is a peaceful resort tucked into a cottonwood grove. This full service resort is perfectly located to explore Albuquerque and Santa Fe while being far enough removed from the hustle and bustle of either to truly relax. We stayed a week here and enjoyed every second strolling to the river, sitting by the pool and exploring the local culture. The Corn Maiden, a onsite restaurant, features local ingredients creatively prepared in a wonderful native atmosphere.

 

Austin, TX.

Austin is my guys get away travelling every other year to attend the U.S. Grand Prix with old friends. We have attended 3 times and love to help keep Austin weird when we are there. The favorite hotel stayed at in Austin was the Hilton Suites just steps from all the action downtown. Don’t miss Salt Lick BBQ a bit of a drive but worth every mile. COTA is a great place to enjoy F1 racing.

 

To be continued.

Thanksgiving in Boston

With family members working and the grandkids at their fathers for Thanksgiving we decided to enjoy Thanksgiving in Boston for a night. Hotels were very reasonable for Wednesday night bookings, some of the lowest prices I have seen in Boston, so we looked at a few options and settled on a splurge at the Mandarin Oriental. To be transparent I actually had $400 in gift cards that I had received as a credit card reward to put towards the stay. Ordinarily the Mandarin would be out of our wheelhouse but with the credits we decided to treat ourselves.

 

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Boston is a quick ride down I95 and with light to moderate traffic we arrived after an hour and a half ride. As  members of Fan’s of the Mandarin we were able to pick 2 perks from a choice of 6 or 7 including room upgrade, late check in/out or Spa/Restaurant credit. We choose early and late check out which enabled us to check in at 12:00pm and out at 4:00pm. Pulling up to the valet right at noon we were greeted warmly and made our way into the lobby. The common spaces are beautiful and elegant with top notch service. Our room was on the eighth floor facing Boylston Street and was perhaps one of the nicest rooms we have stayed in, every detail thought out and every need anticipated.

The room was large with a nice sized marble bathroom. The entertainment system was the best I have seen at a hotel with the welcome screen containing a personalized welcome message and an easy to use guide, flight information, decent movie selection and local weather. The room also had a comfortable couch with a coffee table and a large work area that had everything you might need, again every detail was taken care of.

The hotel is connected to the Prudential and Copley malls with multiple food and shopping options so we decided to head out to explore and have lunch. We had a good time looking at $2000 handbags and $1000 parkas at stores such as Barneys, Neiman Marcus, Dior and Jimmy Choo but my wife didn’t need a new handbag so we just browsed. Lunch was at Legal Seafoods a restaurant we like and have eaten at on prior trips to Ma. The Fried Clams that we both ended up having were very good, small and sweet served with crispy hot French Fries and Cole Slaw. I know Legals takes some slack from foodies but we have always enjoyed it there.

 

After our shopping fun we headed back to the room to relax and were excited to find a welcome dessert waiting for us. Again service that can’t be beat. After a little respite we headed to Eataly an enormous Italian Food emporium located in the Prudential Arcade. This place is very cool featuring everything from fresh meats and seafoods to pastries and antipasti. The quality of the meats and seafood looked incredible but very expensive. It was fun to browse and people watch on the day before Thanksgiving as everyone wrapped up their shopping. Dinner was at the California Pizza Kitchen. My wife had the Cauliflower Crust with Mixed Mushrooms and I had the Hand Tossed with Pepperoni, Sausage and Mushrooms both were good. Heading back to the room we watched Crazy Rich Asians, for $12.95, enjoying the complimentary water that had been brought at turndown. Slippers were laid out by the bed and the bathroom was restocked. The bed was comfortable but it was weird that there was no top sheet only the comforter. Not sure if this was a mistake or just the way they make the bed.

Thanksgiving dawned with the coldest temperatures of the year so far 15 degrees with a cold biting wind. We decided to try something different for Thanksgiving this year and had a reservation for noon at Fogo De Chao, a Brazilian steak house located in the Westin Hotel Copley which was accessible through the malls so we didn’t have to brave the chilly  weather outside. I did head across the street to Starbucks for my morning dark roast. It was weird being in Boston on a holiday with the usually busy street empty and only a few people around. We headed through the malls to Fogo and interestingly enough there were quite a few people strolling through the concourses even though everything was closed. We were seated promptly upon arrival in a mostly empty restaurant due I think to the early hour.

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The concept of the Brazilian stark house is really cool as the Gauchos bring skewers of meat directly to the table alternating between different cuts of meat, chicken and pork. Our drink orders were taken and the server explained how our meal would work and where everything was located. We started at the Market Bar an excellent selection of salads, cheeses, charcuterie, breads and a Feijoada Bar. The selection of items was great with some interesting salads and antipasto. I loved everything I choose from the Market Bar. Soon they were passing the table with skewers of meat, you have a disc with green on one side and red on the other to let them know if you want more or not. The meats were hit or miss with our favorites being the Top Sirloin, Marinated Chicken and Pork Sausages. The biggest miss was the Filet Mignon which was tough and flavorless quite a disappointment as this is one of my wife’s favorite cuts. Overall it was a decent value at $55.00 per person as we left stuffed. They had some desserts on a separate menu that were extra but we couldn’t eat another bite.

We strolled leisurely back to the hotel and relaxed and napped until our 4 pm checkout time which was great after such a big meal! We absolutely loved the Mandarin Hotel an elegant property with exemplary service, large luxurious rooms and a great location especially in the cold weather. For a great splurge we highly recommend this hotel.

Our journey home.

We awakened Friday to heavy rain at the Hilton Promenade as we prepared to begin our journey towards New Hampshire. After coffee and packing we headed north on route 65 to I44 towards St. Louis. The plan was to spend the night at the Westin by the Ballpark and check out the Flora Borealis event at the botanical garden. After a uneventful 3 and a half hour drive we arrived in St Louis and found our way to the Westin Hotel. Easily found of the highway we self parked and made our way to the room, refreshed and headed out for lunch as we had not eaten all day.

The Broadway Oyster Bar was a quick 5 minute drive with plenty of parking at 2 in the afternoon. The outside of BOB, as we were told the locals like to call it, was nothing to write home about almost divey looking but do not let this scare you off. This place is amazing! If we lived near St Louis BOB would be a weekly stop for us. We entered through the bar and were greeted immediately by the bartender and directed to sit anywhere we wanted. Making our way into the dining room there were 5-6 other tables seated at this time with groups ranging from 8 to 2 diners. The room is ecclectic with exposed wood and St Louis themed decor, really kinda cool. Our server was promply at the table to bring menus and take drink orders. They have a great beer and cocktail menu but we just had Ice Tea and water as we were driving in an unfamilier city. The cuisine is Creole Cajun food with what they described as midwestern spice. My wife had the Oyster Po Boy and I had the Oyster Grinder, both were incredible, flavorful with perfectly cooked Oysters. The sauce on the Grinder was amazing and I used the extra puddled on my plate to dip my fries in. Overall we highly recommend BOB and hope to get there again someday.

Back at the hotel I decided to walk around Busch Stadium while my wife relaxed for a bit. The area around the stadium is under alot of construction but it was nice to see all of the statues and memorials outside the stadium.

 

 

Returning to the hotel I checked out the common areas and restaurant before making my way upstairs to the room. I like this hotel the room was very large with a great big bathroom and a nice view of the ballpark. The bed was very comfy with plenty of pillows and nice comforter. the TV was large 55 inches I think and there were enough charging plugs for our electronics. We paid under $200 which was a great value for the quality of this hotel.

 

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The reason we were staying in the city was to attend Flora Borealis at the Botanical Garden. It took 15 minutes to drive there and there was plenty of free parking. We made our way in and ended up in a fairly long line for the 6:30 pm entry time. This worried us a little as we pictured alot of people trying to see everyting at once but the crowd thinned right out as we made our way around the gardens. Inside the gardens there was an opening laser show and then lights and images projected onto the trees and buildings throughout the gardens. Really quite cool and different than anything we had experienced before. The images were often accompanied by audio educating on the importance of plants in our world, very eye opening and imformative.

We really enjoyed this event for it’s originality and beauty and hope to visit the gardens again in the future. Travelling back to the hotel we made an impromptu stop at the Arch figuring we shouldn’t leave St Louis without at least seeing it up close.

 

Saturday dawned sunny as we made our way east towards home. Today’s plan was to be in the Cleveland area by this evening with a stop in Indianapolis at the Speedway Museum. As I have mentioned before I am a huge motor racing fan and have never been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My excitement grew as we approached the Speedway by mid morning. Unfortunately the track tour was not available today due to an on track event but that was ok because I really just wanted to see the track. The museum had a great collection of historic race cars, highlights being the car that won the inaugural race and the pre IRL cars. I enjoyed spending time here looking at the history of arguably America’s greatest race track.

We did make it to Akron for the night staying at the Courtyard Marriott for an uneventful night with takeout from Outback and an early bed time. Sunday was just 12 and a half hours of driving as we were finally home after our wonderful road trip!

Branson Mo. Road Trip. October 2018

Fall 2018 vacation was a road trip to Branson Missouri, a place we had never been to. We have spent time in Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge and wanted to see how Branson compared. We ended up driving 3400 miles and 64 hours in the 12 days we were gone.

We left on a Wednesday at around 11:00am with plans to make it to Cleveland for that night. With different route options we choose the quickest option which took us across New Hampshire, Vermont, into New York, across I 90 to Pennsylvania and Ohio. What a mistake. I 90 through New York is a boring long ride with the monotony broken only by Service Areas with overpriced food, drinks and gas. We much preferred our route home through Pennsylvania to I 81 and I 84. For some unknown reason N.Y. has elected to provide fuel and attractions info on the highway but not include food options. Dinner was at a Ruby Tuesday by the Buffalo Airport after which we continued on, arriving at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Oakwood Ohio at around 9:30 pm (reviews of places mentioned can be found under the reviews tab).

Day 2 started with Hampton’s free coffee and some sort of Egg and Bacon Bagel thing that I can’t quite figure out how to describe. We were on the road at around 9:30 am, you will see a pattern start to develop involving our up and out times, heading south on I 271 to I 71 towards Columbus. With the only excitement a Blimp sighting by Columbus. We picked up I 70 the interstate that would take us all the way to St. Louis Mo. It was clear sailing all day with 70 mph speed limits, good weather and very little police activity making for speedy travel. An added bonus was the cheap (compared to New Hampshire) gas in Indiana I think we paid around $2.55 a gallon. One of my road trip pleasures is spotting stadiums and arenas for sports teams so when I am watching I can see an image of where they are located and on this trip we crossed Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Colts, off our list. We arrived at the Hampton Inn Sunset Hills Mo. at around 5 pm and had dinner at a nearby Fuddrucker’s before turning in for the night.

Day 3 was upon us with only 3 1/2 hours to Branson. We headed south on I 44 passing through Fenton Mo. the home of United Van Lines, I drove a truck for a few different Van Lines in my younger days, and also saw Six Flags St. Louis before heading into the Mo. hills and a very enjoyable ride towards Branson. Lunch and a fuel stop was at Dottie’s Family Restaurant located in the 66 truck stop in Cuba MO., easy on easy off, after which we continued south. The self labeled Worlds Largest Gift Store was our next stop. Located in Phillipsburg, Mo. this is a big gift store, full of the things you would expect to see in a place like this. My wife bought a shirt and we purchased some chocolate from the candy outlet in a separate building before heading back down I 44. Tracker Boats was the only real interesting sight before we hit route 65 in Springfield south to Branson. Our excitement was growing at this point as we were only about 45 minutes from our destination after 2 1/2 days on the road. Arriving in Branson at about 3:30 pm we headed to our condo which was located at the Thousand Hills Golf Course just off Country Music Blvd.

 

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We were in the Foothills section with a golf course view from the balcony. The condo was beautiful tastefully decorated, to our taste, and newly renovated. We loved it. Going forward I will take more photos to share but at the time didn’t know I would begin my travel blogging life at this point. The rest of the inaugural day in Branson was spent getting our bearings around town, picking up groceries and dinner at Starvin Marvins Seafood Buffet on the strip.

Day 4 began with 9 holes of golf at Thousand Hills for me, the wife doesn’t play. The clubhouse was literally a 1 minute drive from the condo. Overall I played 3 rounds at Thousand Hills, one 9 hole and two 18 holes, and will condense all into this review. The clubhouse guys are awesome!!!!, friendly and welcoming. The course itself is a little different being a par 64 meaning there were 1 par 5, 8 par 4s and 9 par 3s which made for a challenging round. Well kept and in great shape I would recommend anyone golfing in Branson to give it a try.

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The par 3 4th hole. I was paired with a wonderful family from Mo. for this round.

After golf it was back to the condo for a quick shower and to collect the wife so we could begin our Branson adventures. Today’s planned activities included Samson at the Sight and Sound Theater and the Dolly Parton Stampede Dinner Show. We had a late breakfast at the Waffle House on Country Music Road which we now called the green route as the 3 main routes through and around Branson are named after colors. It was decent and we enjoyed our Breakfast. We liked Samson although we both thought it was a little long winded, like this post, the production was first rate with incredible changing sets, animals, great actors and even bringing the show into the audience. The actually rode horses through the aisles among the audience.

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While we really enjoyed Samson I am kinda on the fence with the Stampede show.

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Some parts were very entertaining while others sort of dragged. In my opinion way to much time was spent on the supposed competition between the 2 sides of the audience with silly borderline boring audience competitions. The horseback riders were amazing and the comedy parts were very funny, they even had a passable magic act. The meal was OK, a warning you are not provided with silverware, you are expected to eat with your hands.

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Day 5 started with 18 holes of golf for me at Thousand Hills and then some free time to explore as our only booked show was the Reza show at 8 pm. We set out just after noon and started with the brunch buffet at the Grand Country Inn costing $12.00 each it was a decent meal with a mixture of breakfast and lunch items, a large salad bar, soup and a baked potato bar. Full and ready to see more of Branson we headed for a drive out by the dam and Table Rock Lake coming back into town from the south. Xtreme Karting was calling my name so we stopped in and I managed to clock the best time of the week. Xtreme Racing while a little pricey, it cost me around $50 for 3 races, is one of my favorite things to do while traveling. I am a huge motor sports fan and have raced a few times at Xtreme Racing in Pigeon Forge.Just down the strip Hollywood Miniature Golf was next with my wife and I playing to a tie, she usually beats me. This was a really cool mini golf place with very realistic replicas of Hollywood landmarks and challenging holes.

 

 

Not really hungry we headed back to the condo to freshen up before the Reza show. Reza was incredible, we love seeing illusionists whenever the opportunity presents itself and have seen quite a few, his illusions were amazing and his stage presence was entertaining, funny and humble. Please see Reza if you are in Branson you will not be disappointed. After the show we were hungry so we looked online to find a restaurant that served late. We ended up at Jackie B Goode’s Uptown Diner, lucky for us. We had the place almost to ourselves at a little after 10pm but we were not rushed and made to feel welcome by the excellent staff. We both had double burgers which were great, juicy and tasty, with french fries that were crisp and hot. What a great way to end our day in Branson!

Day 6 began as a rainy cool day in Branson so I didn’t play golf, we just kind of hung out for a while at the condo before venturing out. Our schedule for the day was a 2pm illusion show with Rick Thomas at the Andy Williams Theater which was 5 minutes from the condo. We drove into the actual Branson downtown which is located across highway 65 from the strip. Branson Landing which is similar to the Island in Pigeon Forge is also there. We walked around a very busy compact downtown before heading to the Landing to explore for awhile. The Landing is a collection of stores and restaurants on Taneycomo Lake which seemed to me to be more of a river. Lunch was had at Pie 5 Pizza which is apparently a chain although we had never heard of it. The best way I can describe it is it is like a pizza Subway. You pick your crust and cheese and then proceed down the line picking your toppings and then wait a few minutes while it bakes. It was OK, not real crisp but decent flavor. It was then time to head to the show. We were thinking that after Reza Rick Thomas might be a bit of a letdown. In our minds we thought Reza would be a tough act to follow. Happily we were wrong! Rick was just as entertaining, with an equally as good stage presence and his illusions were very good. One thing we thought was strange was that a few of the illusions were very similar. We very much enjoyed the Rick Thomas show and recommend it as highly as Reza’s show.

The show ended around 4:30 pm and with nothing planned we made an impromptu trip to Top of the Rock in nearby Ridgedale MO. The drive took about 25 minutes and was well worth the trip. We loved Top of the Rock! If you are not staying on site it costs $10 to enter and all parking, besides valet, is located at the visitors center. We parked at the visitor center and paid for the combo trail/cave tour and the museum which is located at the main building. They had complimentary shuttles to the main building from the visitor center. The trail/cave tour is a self guided tour through the Missouri Woods in a golf cart that they provide. We checked in with the attendant were shown to our cart and off we went. One not so good thing about this unplanned jaunt was the lack of warm clothes we had with us, it was chilly and breezy and we wished perhaps we had planned better. regardless of the weather we had a great time! The trail was not very busy so it felt at times like we had the whole trail to ourselves. Every turn brought a view more beautiful than the last with multiple waterfalls, lake views and even a short cave to drive through! They even had a small bar as soon as you got into the cave where we able to buy a warming hot chocolate to warm us up.

 

 

After our cruise through the Missouri woods we headed to the main building and the Museum of Ozark History. This was an amazing collection of mostly Native American artifacts that also included period weapons and clothing. It is huge! It took us about an hour to walk through, but we could have easily spent 2 or 3 hours here. The collection is vast and well presented with displays clearly marked with pertinent information. I loved it! As is the case with most museums (and theme parks) you end in the store which in this case was a good thing as they carried a great assortment of Top of the Rock clothing, country display items, local foods and books. It was getting late so it was time to head out albeit $100 lighter after our store purchases. Before we left we stepped out back to witness a beautiful sky and a view of the golf practice facility.

 

Time to get back to the condo for some much needed sleep.

Day 7 began for me with another 18 holes at Thousand Hills, I forgot to mention earlier that I received a discount for staying in one of the condos. It was around $10 off per round! After golf we had a busy day with 2 shows scheduled Janice Martin’s Cirque Show at 2 pm and the Hamner’s Variety show at 8:00 pm. for lunch we ventured back to Downtown Branson and tried the Branson Cafe grabbing the last available table at 12:30 pm. It was a small place with breakfast all day and homemade desserts. After ordering our beverages I headed for the men’s room which was an adventure unto itself. I followed the signs to the back and found myself following a line on the floor right through the kitchen, I mean in the kitchen, not by, but in! i can say from this journey that the kitchen is clean and orderly. Upon my return my wife opted for an omelet with sausage and cheese while I ordered what was described as a local favorite a Pork Loin Sandwich. My wife enjoyed her omelet but the star of lunch was the sandwich. Pounded Pork Loin fried and served on a roll with lettuce and tomato it was tender and delicious! We strolled around town to kill time spending some time in a few different shops. Janice Martin’s show was back on the strip and we headed that way arriving 20 minutes early giving us time to grab some popcorn and a drink to enjoy during the show. In all honesty this was the show I was least looking forward to but Janice’s talent and unique talent won me over. I had never seen someone play violin while performing acrobatics on the silk cloth and it was really pretty good. Janice plays different characters in the show and is a good entertainer. I ended up enjoying this show in spite of my not really looking forward to it. Just goes to show that surprises can come in many forms. We headed back to the condo to relax and freshen before the night show. Dinner was a decent buffet at the Paradise Steak House which consisted of the usual items Salad Bar, Lasagna, Meatloaf, Fried Shrimp etc. It was good and quick before we headed to the show. I was a little worried about the nighttime show after I read some pretty bad reviews on a major review site. Boy were those reviews wrong! We thoroughly enjoyed this show, it was heavy on magic with some singing and comedy thrown in for good measure. This show was really very entertaining and funny.

Day 8 was an open day with the only activity booked a dinner cruise on Tanycomo Lake on the Landing Princess. After some debate we decided to head into Arkansas to Eureka Springs and visit the Turpentine Creek Tiger Sanctuary. Heading out around 10:30 am we decided to take a scenic route to Arkansas which would take around 90 minutes. It was a pleasant drive through the Missouri and Arkansas countryside with rolling hills and lots of farm land. Eureka Springs is a very cool little country town that almost looks like it was lifted out of the 19th century. It just oozes character with old brick buildings that are right on the narrow streets, I wish we set aside more time to explore this town but it was past noon and we had to be back to Branson for 5:00 pm. If we pass this way again we will take a day just for Eureka Springs. Turpentine Creek was just outside town and we needed to get there.

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This place was great, very informational, we learned about issues with big cats that we didn’t even know existed. Being a sanctuary and not a zoo you are at the mercy of the animals as they don’t entice or feed them just to interact with people. We paid for the guided walking tour, only $20 each, which was scheduled for around 20 minutes after we arrived. They have a rather large area with animals to look at that is self guided to spend time in while you wait. It was soon time for our tour so we made our way to the meeting place and met Sunny who would be our guide. There were about 15 people in our tour and after some introductory words from Sunny we headed out. The tour follows the perimeter of the sanctuary first passing by some cabins that you can book for overnights which looked nice, overlooking some of the habitats. As we walked the individual cats were identified by name and the conditions they were rescued from, very enlightening as we had no idea that some of these roadside “zoos” treated their animals so badly. To be honest we have visited some of these places but will check the credentials of any zoos we visit going forward. The tour took a little over an hour and was very enjoyable. YUDh2RujQROauPXOKmuW1Q

After the tour we pursued the gift shop buying a few moments before heading back towards Branson. The discussion on the return trip mainly revolved around not wanting to leave Branson the next day. So we decided we would stay one extra night. Our condo was not available so we booked a room at the Hilton Promenade at the Landing. After a quick stop at the condo it was time to get to our dinner cruise. The Landing Princess leaves from the dock near the Bass Pro Shop side of the Landing. It is a 100 foot long modern boat with all of the dinner seating inside and small outside ares on  the bow and stern. It is very nicely appointed. We boarded with about 30 other people mostly couples with some groups of 4. Once on board  a server shows you to your table and takes your drink orders. The boat soon left the dock and we headed up Lake Taneycomo, which to us seems more like a river as the widest part seemed to be around 300 feet across. Our salads arrived promptly, a standard mixed green salad with some sort of vinaigrette and a roll. One thing that we chuckled about was that wrapped in your napkin with the silverware was one little package of butter spread. One package, we are used to receiving a little bowl with butters, but I guess they are a little stingy with the butter here. Not sure what would have happened if we had requested more. The dinners were not far behind they consisted of Pork Loin, Baked Chicken, Mashed Potato and Green Beans. it was alright not great but not bad. The boat continued up the lake for awhile before turning around, an actual 3 point turn because of the narrow lake, and heading back. Dessert and coffee were served and to be completely honest I can’t remember what dessert was, a Chocolate Torte I think. We spent a little time outside on the bow enjoying the evening and the captain stopped by the Landing Fountains so we could get a waterside view of the 7 pm Fountain Show which was nice for the 3 minutes it lasted, more about that later. After docking we headed back to the condo to sleep as we had to be up and out by 10 am Thursday Morning.

Thursday dawned with us having to be out of the condo by 10 am so the morning was spent packing and getting ready to check out. We were very happy that we decided to stay 1 more day and had booked a lunch show on the Branson Belle. Instead of driving towards home we would be heading a couple miles down the road tonight. By the time we were packed and ready to go it was time to head to the Belle. Just a short ride towards and over the dam found us at the Branson Belle dock. The parking was free and plentiful and it was a short walk to the boat. The boarding area includes 2 stores and some snack outlets so we browsed until it was time to board. After looking at the menus and amenities we had decided to book the Captains Club, for $25 more than general admission, which offered a upgraded menu with choices, premium seating and early boarding. Boarding began about an hour before cruise time and we were the first people on the boat, after a photo with the captain. You enter through a small gift shop which we took a quick look around deciding that if we were going to buy anything we would wait until the cruise was over and go to the shop on land. The bathroom was nautically themed with period electronics and an overall cool look.

 

 

Our seats were in the front row of the balcony and offered a great view of the general seats and the stage.

 

 

Almost immediately our server arrived with menus and took our drink orders, the Belle does not serve alcoholic beverages, an Ice Tea for me and water for my wife. She explained the how the timing would work with lunch and the show noting that the Captains Club meal would be served before most of the other meals which would give us time to explore the boat before the main show while the others were still eating which turned out to be quite nice. We ordered our meals and dessert with her and then relaxed while the boat slowly filled up. The Captains Club was not full which made the service even more personal. It turns out our server was from the same area as I was and actually had waitressed at a restaurant I used to frequent, small world.

The salads were just average, greens with some mandarin oranges and a vinaigrette something crunchy would have improved them. The meals were excellent I had the Pork Chops with a sweet and savory sauce and my wife had the N.Y. Strip with an herb butter. Both the Pork and the Steak were perfectly cooked and delicious. Sides were the same for both Baby Potatoes and Green Beans which were cooked and seasoned well making for a great lunch. This was actually the highest quality meal we had in Branson! Dessert was Caramel Cheesecake for me and Chocolate Layer Cake for my wife, yummy. During lunch there was what they called a pre show that was really pretty good a mix of illusion and comedy with some nice audience participation. After lunch, while the others were still eating,  we made our way to the top deck to enjoy some great views of the Ozarks and the lake.

 

A trio of performers soon appeared and gave a short concert for the people who were enjoying the day on the top deck.

 

It was then time to head back to our seats for the main show which was excellent, a very entertaining mix of song, dance, music and comedy that we thoroughly enjoyed. Overall we loved the Branson Belle experience and highly recommend it.

We took the red route on our last trip down the Branson Strip remembering all the things we had done on this wonderful trip on our way to the Hilton Branson Promenade at the Landing. Arriving at the hotel we unloaded our luggage and I self parked in the garage next door. After checking out the room we headed out to the landing and strolled around checking out a few stores and the fountain show. The show is very short around three to five minutes timed to one song. In my opinion the Island show in Pigeon Forge is much better. As dinner time rolled around we tried to eat at a couple places but the waits were 45 minutes to an hour so we decided not to wait. We had dinner at Big Whisky which was attached to our hotel. It was just ok, nothing special.   On par with any of the chain restaurants spread across our country. Tired from our busy week in Branson we turned in early and slept well in the nice Hilton bed.

We had a wonderful week+ in Branson enjoying a lot of what it had to offer, but not everything. I am not sure if we will head back to Branson someday or not but the area offers quite a bit to do for all ages and we would recommend a visit.

Continue reading “Branson Mo. Road Trip. October 2018”