I was recently visiting with a friend who works in the hotel business in Austin, and she and I discussed a trend I'm seeing more of these days: As the national economy feels a squeeze, hotels aren't necessarily lowering their rates, but they are offering more package deals—reserve two nights and get a third for free, a restaurant credit with a night's lodging, wine-and-cheese basket in room—that sort of thing. So when you book a room at your next Texas vacation spot, be sure to ask about similar deals.
And while we're on the subject of a sluggish economy, how has it affected your personal travel plans? Or has it? As for me, I've gotten a lot less shy about packing a cooler and making those on-the-road dinners stretch into lunch the next day. As long as I can find ice, this works even if the place I'm staying doesn't have a fridge.
So: Are you taking shorter trips or staying closer to home? Packing PP&J for breakfast? I'd love it if you'd share your tips for traveling on a budget. And, would you like to read more of this sort of thing in TH?
Visits to the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Christmas Eve have become a holiday tradition for my family. The museum's not very crowded and exhibits are open until 8 p.m. We recently saw Body Worlds 2 & the Brain, and having seen the first Body Worlds exhibit there two years ago, I've gotta say this latest collection of plastinated human bodies is just as jaw-dropping and informative.
I-35 through Fort Worth has been a construction-congested mess for as long as I can remember. So imagine my delight to discover, on a holiday trip through the city, that much of the construction in finally finished. For travelers using the Interstate to get to points north or south, it's a much more pleasant commute. And for those bound for Cowtown proper, it's also simpler to reach Fort Worth's ever-expanding Cultural District, as well as the Stockyards National Historic District and downtown's Sundance Square.
As part of my birthday celebration this past weekend, some girlfriends and I signed up for chef Chaya Rao's afternoon Chai Tea class at the Whole Foods Culinary Institute. The price tag ($20) and short time investment (1.5 hours) fit beautifully with our pre-holiday budget. Chaya is from Bangalore, India, the country's third most populous city; it's the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka and known as both "the Garden City of India" for its abundance of green spaces and "the Silicon Valley of India" for its abundance of high-tech industries. It's also a heavily vegetarian region.
Spent a delightful evening last Friday at the Trail of Lights in Austin's Zilker Park. Our group (which ranged in age from five to 75) wandered mesmerized through the extravaganza of illuminated holiday displays (think canopies of radiating trees, character scenes from Snoopy to SpongeBob, and a gleaming Nativity). The brilliant scene could beam the Bah! Humbug! from old Ebenezer himself.
The wide release of Danny Boyle's film, Slumdog Millionaire, as well as the attention the film attracts, takes me back to the Austin Film Festival (www.austinfilmfestival.com) in October, which honored Boyle this year and screened Slumdog Millionaire.
My husband, Randy, and I spent most of this past Thanksgiving holiday visiting his folks in Plano, a north Dallas suburb that often feels more sterile than interesting, at least on the surface of things—mile after mile of super-sized retail stores and large suburban homes in developments set off by brick gates. However, on this trip I took the time to explore a bit, and I found a surprising and exciting multiculturalism. In recent years, Indian and pan-Asian supermarkets have popped up on major intersections, their patrons perhaps drawn to Plano for such major technology employers as Ericsson, EDS, and Perot Systems. (I could spend hours exploring aisles of garlicky, chile-laden condiments, not to mention the hundreds of different kinds of beans, lentils, and other pretty seeds.)
The December issue's Top Tables article on old-school Tex-Mex restaurants—"Candy or Sherbet?"—makes my taste buds crave that extra cheesy enchilada dinner with carne sauce (double rice, no beans, please) every time I read it.
I make the trek up to the Red River and beyond on I-35 several times a year to visit family in Oklahoma, and now that the holiday season is officially upon us, I'm starting to steel myself for the trip, planning several stops to allay road fatigue and facilitate conversation once we arrive in the Sooner State. "How was the drive?" my grandmother will surely ask. And rather than comment on the traffic (same-old, same-old, ho-hum), I'd like to contribute an interesting experience to the conversation.
I finally checked off a longstanding item on my Texas travel to-do list. I'd been wanting to visit the Dallas World Aquarium since Senior Editor Lori Moffatt first covered it for TH in August 2000. She vividly described the hundreds of creatures and hundreds of plant species that flourish here—in habitats that range from rainforest treetops to coral reefs—all on a city block in Dallas' West End. And after reading Kitty Crider's TH coverage of the DWA in last June's story on Dallas family fun, I changed my sloth ways and darted to Big D like a giant river otter.
In Dallas' trendy Victory Park development, the new American Airlines Center— with its modern architecture and enormous exterior video monitors that might make you think of Times Square or Tokyo— gears up for a full schedule of pro basketball and hockey games through spring 2009. A recent visit to the W Hotel-Victory Park—a high-gloss hotel whose entrance is steps away from the AA Center—made me envision a perfect weekend for a sports-loving couple willing to pull out the stops for a luxurious weekend.