New Orleans is on the Mississippi River and has some great water views. We frequently sit on the benches near the French Quarter and watch the river and the ships that go by.
Along the river you can also find several plantations (conveniently called the River Plantations), that are open for tours. We did not take any tours this time, just drove by each one. Unless you book with a tour group, each plantation tour is a separate cost. It would have been roughly $70 for the four of us at each location, which was a little more than we wanted to spend. The last time we were here, we did take a tour of Oak Alley Plantation. It is a gorgeous home and the live oak trees lining the walkway are amazing.
We drove by Destrehan, San Francisco, St. Joseph, and Oak Alley plantations. Some of these have been kept up a little better than the others. They are all gorgeous homes though with different stories to tell. If you are in New Orleans, I would tour at least one of them. They are very interesting pieces of history.
We mostly enjoyed walking Bourbon Street during the day. Even with the COVID restrictions, it still was busier at night. One of Ben and my “bucket list” items was to attend Mardi Gras. We lost this opportunity, but wanted to make the best of it and still experience Bourbon at night. We also didn’t want to be in the midst of everyone down in the street.
We were lucky enough to book a hotel room on Bourbon Street at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel had most of the 2nd floor under renovations, so we were on the third floor. We did have our own balcony (some of the rooms share a balcony). The rooms currently did not have a mini fridge or microwave with Covid being cited as the reason. Our room had two double beds (doubles or Kings only).
It was nice to have an unlimited hot water shower. The bathroom consisted of a sink, the toilet, and the shower/tub.
The room was pretty standard, I feel like you were paying mostly for the location. There was a closet with a luggage rack, a chair at the desk, two double beds (a little softer than I like and feather pillows), and an ottoman tucked under the shared nightstand. There was a TV as well, which the boys enjoyed. The balcony had two chairs with double doors that opened into the room. There were no screens on the doors, so in the summer I imagine the bugs could be a problem. The pool was open, but it wasn’t heated, so it was a little chilly for us. There was also a Grab & Go Breakfast option, as the sit-down dining was closed. Breakfast was not included in your stay.
Bourbon Street picked up a little on the weekends, and last weekend (1/16/21) was busier than we had seen it this month. (Still not as busy as it was in 2017.) Bars closed at 11:00 pm, so about 10:00 the lines started getting longer to get in. The one right across from us was doing temperature checks to get in. We walked around and got back to our room about 4:00 pm. Our our way back to the hotel, we only saw about 60% of the people out wearing masks. Unfortunately, there was not a lot of mask wearing as the night progressed.
We saw some crazy stuff: horses on Bourbon Street, a guy dancing on a trailer bed. There was a drum band next to the hotel, and later a religious group complete with a cross came to stand by the hotel as well. After the kids went to bed, we did see it get a little rowdier.
This Thousand Trails location is located in Willis, Texas near Houston. There were RV spots (mix of pull through and back-in) and cabin rentals. The map lists tent sites, although I did not see anyone tent camping. There was also a section for long term stays. The cabins and the front RV spots looked very nice. The front RV spots were back-ins with concrete pads.
Those were not what we got. We went to check in and the Ranger (not wearing a mask) at the gate told me how full they were and was just not very welcoming. I told him we had a reservation and he pointed me to the back of the lot saying only one lane had openings. Spots back here were gravel, the roads in the back of the park were rougher (not the nice paved lanes like the front of the park), and sites were tight together. We picked our site from the few open in the lane. Driving around later, we saw other open spots that were not given to us as an option. I am not sure if it is because we are Thousand Trails members and we just get assigned the worst spots in the park and the non-members who are paying per night get assigned better spots.
Ice was sold at the Ranger station at the gate for $2.25. The campground had bathrooms and a laundry room. Washers were $1.75/load and dryers $1.50. The campground did not offer change or a coin machine. Half of the washing machines were also out of service when we were there.
There was also a single station car wash for $1 and a vacuum for $0.50. The car wash did not have any soap in it, but we could at least get some of the dust and dirt off of the truck. There was also a tire air station there.
Gate codes changed on Tuesdays, which we were not told until our code did not work.
The pool was open Tuesday-Sunday and was not heated. It was a nice sized pool with tables and chairs. The spa/hot tub was not working while we were there. It wasn’t closed off, just told it wasn’t working. There were bathrooms and two outdoor showers at the pool area.
There was a playground, a putt-putt course, tennis courts, and small basketball hoops. Across from the office/laundry/pavilion area was a small field which was nice for the boys to play ball in. Fishing was mentioned on their brochure, although the office did not sell bait. You could walk to a small beach area on Lake Conroe. The beach area also had a volleyball court and picnic tables. It was too cold to go in while we were there, but I can see it being nice in the summer.
The office was technically open, but they kept the doors locked during open hours, so you had to get their attention to get any assistance. We had some problems in the laundry room (a washer broke mid cycle) and had to get someone to help with the water that was leaking and refund the coins. The younger woman in the office was helpful with the laundry problem, but the rest of the staff seemed grumpy and not interested in interacting with anyone. The staff at the gate never had masks on, even when talking to people checking in. There was another building at the office/Pavilion that was closed for Covid.
We had decent reception with Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. The water pressure did drop one day, but came back to normal in a couple of hours.
It was close to a Kroger, some fast food restaurants, and a park. Houston was about an hour away, Galveston 1.75-2 hours, Waco 2.5 hours from the campground.
I don’t think we would stay here again. Houston was not our favorite town in Texas to visit, so I don’t see us coming back to the area. Even if we did, the park wasn’t very welcoming. I think if you were in a cabin or in one of the nice front RV concrete pad spots, it would probably have a completely different feel.
SUMMARY OF CAMPGROUND:
Our rating: 2-2.5 out of 5 hitches
Cell Phone Reception: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile
RV Sites: Pull through, Back-in
Pop Up Tents/Gazebos/Outdoor Rugs On-Site: Technically no, but we did see a few people put up outdoor tents.
Amenities: picnic table, fire pit/grill, cable, playground, putting area, tennis courts, basketball, dog park
Tent Camping: Yes
Full Hook Ups: Yes. 30 or 50 Amp sites
Food On-Site: No
Camp Store: No
Accepts Mail: No USPS, $5/package from FedEx or UPS
For our stay in San Antonio, we stayed at the KOA San Antonio/Alamo. It was in a more of an industrial/commercial area of town, but it was conveniently located to downtown San Antonio.
The campground had RV sites (pull through and back in), cabins to rent, and tent sites. The campground is located in a flood plain, although I think it would take a lot of rain to reach the RV sites. It also backed up to a bike/walking trail. There was also a park that was within walking distance.
KOA San Antonio/Alamo allowed mail delivery, which was really nice. The mail room was next to the laundry room and office. The office had a nice store, with snacks, drinks, postcards ($0.25 each, the cheapest we found), and miscellaneous stuff. The office also sold ice for $2.70/10 lb. bag, firewood $7/bundle, and propane for $3.25/gallon (I was unaware that the “regular” sized 20 lb propane tank holds 4.6 gallons). The bathrooms and showers were open and looked nice.
The KOA offered cornhole (bag toss), a pool (not heated and closed for repairs for half of our stay), a playground and gaga ball court, and a fishing pond. The pond was catch and release and did not require a license. The office sold bait. You could also rent bikes and peddle bikes. The boys reported that the peddle bikes were much harder to use, as it was a single gear and the bikes were heavy.
Unlike the other KOA campgrounds we have stayed in, there were no planned activities due to Covid. The other KOA’S had indoor (which we did not do) and outdoor activities, and take and go crafts.
There was breakfast for sale 7-11am. When we were first there, it was limited to pancakes (unlimited for $3.99, but you start with two and go back for more). Halfway during our stay, the menu changed to offer more items. We loved the breakfast tacos (sausage, potato, egg, and cheese in a soft taco/burrito). In the office, you could place an order for pizza for order (Brother’s Pizza). It is made in the office. At home, Brother’s Pizza is connected to a gas station, so we were a little hesitant to try it. However, we did give in one night and gave it a try. It was ok pizza, not the best but not bad either. The crust was a little softer than I would normally like, but it was nice to have the option when we didn’t want to cook or go out.
The campground also hosted a Christmas Eve tamale dinner for free for the campers. It was held in the large barn (which had been closed for social distancing). Tables were set social distance apart, staff wore masks and spaced people apart while entering the building. Each person got a container with 2 tamales, beans, rice, and the option of water or tea to drink. It was a really nice gesture and also nice to partake in a Texas Christmas tradition.
The front of the campground was gated and you needed a code to get in at night, but anyone could walk in the back from the bike trail. There was a bike stolen while we were there (not ours), so I would lock up your gear. There was some train/road/air noise, which I did notice at night.
It was in a convenient location to San Antonio and about a little over an hour from Austin. If we were in the area, I think we would stay here again.
Although it is really nice for the weather to be between 60-70 degrees (F), it is a little weird that it is so warm the week of Christmas. Saturday we bought a ticket to go see illumiNight, a drive through Christmas light show. It was held at the AT&T Center. The tickets were for timed entry, although there was still quite a wait to get in. A ticket (per car) was $35 (plus online “processing” fees) and $63 for entry/Santa picture (physically distancing). It was cashless, so online ticket sales were recommended.
After entering the grounds, you kind of wrapped around the parking lot, weaving back and forth to make it seem like you were moving (but were still really just in line to get in to the main event). There was a light tunnel and a few other glowing decorations. There was a stop for bathrooms (portable kind) and drive through food. The food was similar to the Fair Foodie Fest we went to in California, although it wasn’t as well run. It was confusing as to whether you should get out of your car to order or not, as they didn’t come up to your window very quickly.
Passing the food and the bathrooms, you finally wrapped around again and came to the main entrance of the light show.
There were some awesome light displays. I loved the train, polar bear, and huge ornaments. There were some quirky things too, like statues of a coyote and antelopes. I’m not really sure on how those fit in.
There was a section for the 12 days of Christmas. It was a neat take on a Christmas light show, although we had a hard time remembering what all the items were. Number 3, we titled Paris Christmas Chickens.
As we were driving into San Antonio, we had passed a huge gas station called BUC-EE’S. We had never seen such an animal and made a note to come back to see it. We weren’t disappointed when we finally got there. Apparently it is a chain, mostly in Texas (eastern). We stopped at the Bastrop location.
Outside had a large store, with 3 fuel/Ethonel Free/DEF stations.
They are apparently known for their clean restrooms. These restrooms were huge, clean, and very nice. The boys reported even the men’s restroom was clean! I had a toilet cleaning dispenser and a hand sanitizer dispenser in my stall.
There were so many food and drink options you could find something for everyone. We ended up buying Beaver Friends (animal crackers), licorice, a slushy, and chopped and sliced brisket sandwiches with chips. The brisket sandwiches are made right there in the store.
This company did a great job with putting the Buc-ee mascot on pretty much everything (clothes, wine glasses, keychains, food items). We found a few Christmas gifts for people as well. The store also sold ice really cheap (10lb/$0.79, 20lb/$0.99), so we got a bag on our way out. We browsed around the shop for awhile and picked up a couple of items.
The parking lot was pretty large as well. If we see another one on our travels, I would definitely stop. It was quite the experience.
We wanted to find a couple of Christmas things to do with the kids for their first Christmas away from home. While I hoped we didn’t see any snow, we did want to see some Christmas lights! After searching online, I found the 55 Nights of Fredericksburg Lights. The town did a nightly event to turn on the lights at the Marketplatz and featured the 26 ft tall German Christmas Pyramid.
The pyramid was made in Germany and was the tallest one in the US when it came over. It was neat to see; all but the top layer moved. The candles were electric (small Christmas pyramids for houses used to use real candles).
The town itself was very cute with lots of historic looking buildings. There were several hilarious shop signs as well.
It was about an hour drive from our campground. We went on a Tuesday, which may have been a mistake. Although the 55 Nights were advertised, there actually wasn’t a lot to do when we got there (about 4:45pm). It seemed like most of the shops were closed for the day (or there were several that were closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays). There were only two places open serving dinner type of food (a wine tasting place and a brewery) and an ice cream shop. (We ended up grabbing dinner on the way home.) There was also a chocolate shop, but once we got to the front doors and saw the employees were not wearing masks, we did not go in.
I did find some cute mini cookie cutters and a Christmas gift for Will. We did not stay long after the lighting, as most places were closed.
We had been looking forward to seeing the San Antonio River Walk for a long time, years in fact. So, of course, one of our first stops in San Antonio was the River Walk.
After driving around to find parking (everything is paid parking, even street parking), we lucked out and found a spot near one of the River Walk bridge entrances.
The River Walk is as neat as everyone says. There were sections of just walking (or running for some people) with plants growing along the walls or decorations in the retaining/bridge walls. Then there was the shopping and restaurant section of the River Walk. The restaurants certainly had great patio views.
Our first trip there was during the day, which was great. But Ben had seen online that the Christmas lights really make it beautiful. So, we went back during a Luminary weekend, which was too pretty. We found a restaurant next to the river to eat dinner (Casa Rio). All the wait staff wore masks, and there were plastic curtains between tables. They also seated customers with a table in between them for spacing. The ducks that occupy the canal are expert beggars at these restaurants. The kids named them water pigeons. While eating it was fun to hear snippets of the boat tour guides speeches as they passed. Ultimately, we got to sit and and enjoy the lights as they came on at dusk.
The restaurants were decked out in lights, there were lights hanging down from the trees and they had luminaries placed along the sidewalk. It looked like open-drink carry was allowed, as we saw several people with (plastic) glasses of wine or even baggies with straws for frozen margaritas.
CAUTION: Most of the sidewalk does not have railings. Be careful while walking along the edge. It would be really easy to fall in. Luckily, we did not.
It was a really neat treat to see the River Walk and so far it has had my favorite Christmas decorations.
The Fort Worth Coliseum holds weekly rodeos on Friday and Saturday nights. They have competitors come in from all over (on the night we went they had one cowboy from Alaska and two from Brazil). They had timed events and rough stock events. (According to their website, Saturday nights have more rough stock events.) We learned that a rough stock event is normally bull and bronco riding, whereas a timed event is the roping and barrel racing.
It was our first ever rodeo and we weren’t sure what to expect. The Coliseum had a few different seating options: General Seating, Silver Spur (set of 5 reserved seats, in first two rows), Gold Buckle (reserved seats in the middle, cushioned seats with cup holders), VIP (3 rows with a bar). We were worried about taking the risk going to a rodeo during the pandemic and chose the Gold Buckle seats to ensure our greatest chance at social distancing. We were lucky enough to be sponsored for these seats from an award Ben had received from work. It turned out great! The chairs were very comfortable and gave us some distance from other people. We were also close to the action. So close we even had dirt flung up from the arena floor a couple times.
We saw bull riding, roping, barrel racing, bronco and bare back bronco riding. The strength and flexibility to do these events was remarkable. Even with the high skill of these athletes, one cowboy get knocked out and had to be carried off the field.
Due to COVID, the Coliseum limited seating to 75% and required masks to enter. The announcer was great about reminding people to socially distance and to wear masks throughout the event. However, there was no real enforcement. Once people were inside, it seemed like at least half of them took their masks off (not for eating/drinking, just off). We left ours on the whole time.
We delayed putting this blog out until we were sure we did not end up with COVID from the experience. Luckily we are all still healthy (i.e.-no-COVID fallout from the Rodeo). Yee haw!
We were worried about the animals. It was amazing to see these athletes demonstrate their craft, but it concerned us that the animals could be hurt for our entertainment. Specifically, we wanted to know what was being done to make the bulls and horses buck. I did some reading and discovered it is a combination of breeding and the use of a pressure inducing flank strap. Here are a couple of the articles on why bulls buck: Arlington, LiveAbout.
Overall, our first rodeo was a lot of fun and definitely a learning experience. I’m not sure that I would go out of my way to see another Rodeo, but I am very glad I had the opportunity to see it.