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2 Sep

Our Unforgettable RV Road Trip: Part 3

Mayo Hotel

Catch up on Our Unforgettable RV Road Trip: Part 1 and Part 2!

If you’re familiar with my blog, you know I love talking about how my husband, Jason, is awesome. (Read about how we met here and our wedding here.) Well, this RV road trip was no exception. In the beginning, his calm, patient demeanor got us on the road despite a series of unfortunate events (experience the nightmare here) and now that we were finally having fun, he made sure we kept going the distance. Which is to say, he drove the RV. The. Entire. Time. I am not only super grateful, but I fully admit that keeping me off the road means keeping America safe.

 

Luckily, it was only a 1.5 hour drive from Gaston’s in Arkansas to our next destination, an amazing family resort right outside of Branson, Missouri, called Big Cedar Lodge. We actually visited this place with my parents back in January. We had so much fun then that we all wanted to come back – there’s that much to do here!

Our Unforgettable RV Road Trip

OK, full disclosure: Big Cedar Lodge is a wallet-ripper. But it’s worth every freaking penny because the customer service and hospitality are like no other. I am talking Disney cruise-level awesomeness. Or Blackberry Farm – and if you’ve ever been to this legendary Tennessee resort, you’re probably still dreaming about it. Y’all, I could go on and on about this resort, but I’m going to narrow all the awesome down to five things you absolutely positively must do when you go. You’re welcome.

CHRISTY’S BIG CEDAR TOP FIVE

1. Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum

This expansive collection brings together prehistoric creatures, an astounding collection of Native American artifacts, and galleries showcasing the American West and Civil War. You could seriously spend all day here, there is so much to take in. Unfortunately, my boys only lasted about 90 minutes, but I feel like they packed a lot into that time, and we all learned a lot.

2. Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail

Our whole fam took this tour back in January, and it was by far the coolest 2.5-mile golf cart ride on the planet. The views were stunning, and it really did feel like we were on a tour of a billionaire’s private grounds.

3. Fun Mountain

Think of 50,000 square feet filled with every type of activity imaginable! Fun Mountain is a game room on steroids, and our boys zipped around this space like little Energizer bunnies. They bowled, played video games and spent countless hours racing go-carts and traversing the breathtaking, three-story open-air ropes course (yes, you read that right: an outdoor ropes course!)

4. Cedar Creek Spa

I wish I could say I took some time off from parenting to indulge in some much needed relaxation at this spectacular spa, but the only Smiths who partook in the pampering were our boys. That’s because the spa people have thought of everything and have a menu of services specifically designed for kids ages 10-18! Don’t worry if you’re trying to go to the spa to escape that exact age demographic – I feel you. The spa is spread out over 18 thousand square feet, so there’s plenty of relaxation space for everyone, and children under 18 do not have access to steam rooms, saunas, hot pools, the ice room or grotto pool.

5. Backyard Baskets

One of the coolest parts about having your own cabin is the ability to have a basket of ingredients and fixings delivered to your door. We were able to grill dinner as a family – an important element of privacy, especially in these pandemic days. Our Backyard Basket brought everything we needed right to our front door to prepare in our cabin’s cozy kitchen or on our private deck-side grill.

We reluctantly left Big Cedar knowing that there was still time left in the year for a three-peat. I am serious. It might just be the only way we will be able to wrap up this crazy year on a high note. And speaking of crazy … next stop Our Unforgettable RV Road Trip, Tulsa.

 

Let me just stop here and say, although our epic adventure got off to a rough start, never once did I feel like anyone in our family was at any risk from germs … until now.

We decided to stop for the night in Tulsa, OK and we chose to stay at the Mayo Hotel, a historic boutique hotel with a splendid hotel lobby. The hotel building was constructed in 1925, and an extensive $42 million renovation brought it up to today’s standards of luxury.

Mayo Hotel

We arrived just in time for cocktail hour. We ditched the boys in the hotel room and went up to the Penthouse Bar for a mini date. The bar is located on the rooftop patio of the hotel’s Presidential Suite, where Elvis once stayed. It was a magical way to relax and unwind.

And now, for the promised crazy. As we were leaving the bar to go back to our room, the elevator stopped at the floor below, and lo and behold there was a full blown wedding happening! And they all wanted to travel on the elevator at the same time. With us. Being squashed like sardines in an elevator with a gaggle of drunk wedding guests has never been fun, but thanks to the pandemic, now it’s truly terrifying. It’s a miracle that I didn’t catch the virus right at that moment, but we did find out that we could hold our breaths much longer than we thought!

Nutty wedding guests aside, the Mayo Hotel and Tulsa were wonderful, and I wished I had planned for us to stay longer. Thanks to the Covid Cray Cray, most of the places we wanted to visit were closed or nearly so. We tried to visit The Gathering Place, an innovative theme park with tons of outdoor activities, but it was pretty much shut down. Tulsa will be tops on our list once the world is safe again. Our list will definitely include a Gathering Place re-do, plus a stop at Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios, Discovery Lab, the Tulsa Zoo and the Oklahoma Aquarium.

A friend recently visited Tulsa, too, and raved about the Greenwood District, where she and her family took The Real Black Wall Street Tour and enjoyed dinner at Wanda J’s Next Generation Cafe and dessert at Frios popsicle shop next door, so we will definitely plan to check all that out on our next trip.

Broken Bow, Oklahoma

For the final stretch, we headed to Broken Bow, Oklahoma. We decided to finish our RV road trip strong by staying in an RV park one night and in a cabin for the last and final night before our trek back to Fort Worth.

 

All eyes were on Jason as he pulled into the park. Y’all these RV Park People were watching us like they had front row seats to dinner and a show, with Jason on the marquee and judgment on the menu. The pressure was on, but Jason was a pro. He parked our massive 6-wheeled freighter like a seasoned land yacht captain.

Booya! I wanted to run around the place, smack everyone upside the head with my poorly-folded-up map and scream, “Move along, nothing to see here!” But I didn’t, because we still had work to do. And by “we,” I mean Jason and the boys still needed to hook up the electricity, water and the poop tube. Yes, you heard that right.  Thanks to Jason, the Smith boys can say they took a crash course this summer — and earned an A+ in Sewage 101!

Our Unforgettable RV Road Trip

Since it was late and hot when we arrived, we decided to cook dinner in the RV and save breakfast for the campfire the next morning. I Little House on the Prairie’d that special breakfast, and it was a hit! I was quite impressed with myself, I do say. The boys enjoyed bike riding and visiting with other trailer neighbors as we sat in our foldout chairs next to the RV campfire. I could almost hear the banjos in the distance!

Soon after, we headed over to our cabin for the final evening of our RV road trip. The cabin was called “Hi Five,” and we booked it through Hidden Hills Cabins. Y’all, this place was so amazing, I was totally impressed. I mean, as a devoted wife, of course I would book the best dern cabin in Oklahoma to celebrate my husband’s birthday! I had a surprise cake and balloon set up upon our arrival and a S’mores kit to boot!

Things to Do:

  • Girls Gone Wine: (wine tasting with cute gift shop)
  • Hochatown Amusements: (golf)
  • Hochatown Petting Zoo: (it’s awesome)
  • Beavers Bend Depot Train ride: (ice cream, kids pony rides and a train ride to feed deer)
  • Beavers Bend River Floats: (peaceful and relaxing 2.5 mile canoe/kayak trip)
  • Bass Fishing Guide: Josh Richards 580-306-6966
  • Trout Fishing Guide: Steve Branson 580-306-5613

Restaurants:

  • Mt. Fork brewery: (great food, good beer)
  • Abendigos: (great patio with live music on weekends)
  • The Blue Rooster: (best fried chicken)
  • Grateful Head: (hands down the best restaurant in BB)
  • Rock Bottom Boys BBQ: (good BBQ)
  • Rolling Fork Takery: (awesome quick grab and go food)
  • Beavers Bend Brewery: (good beer and great atmosphere)
  • Tacoklahoma: (great tacos)

We unloaded the luggage from the RV and unpacked the coolers like we were permanently moving in. Jason fired up the gas grill (that fried all his arm hairs off one arm) and cooked a steak dinner while the boys and I enjoyed the jacuzzi. Dinner was delicious, and we ate S’mores until we could eat N’more!

With full tummies and a night sky filled with sparkling stars, Jason and I sat together, held hands and listened to our boys giggling together as they took turns yelling “PENIS!” – just because they could. Yup, that’s life as a boy mom. I couldn’t have been happier.

SoFortWorthIt GIVEAWAY!

Whew! Well, if you’ve made it through ALL three of Our Unforgettable RV Road Trip articles, then now it’s time to celebrate with a little giveaway. I have actually been waiting since pre-COVID to share this special book! A collection of hidden gems all in one book, “Spectacular Weekend Getaways of Texas”. And you definitely don’t want to miss page 13 where author Jolie Berry shares all about my recommendations for Fort Worth.

 

We are going to do a little something different this time around and host this giveaway over on my Instagram. And if you want to purchase this book, you can find it at PS The Letter in Fort Worth.

12 Aug

Our Unforgettable RV Road Trip: Part 2

Don’t miss our Our Unforgettable RV Road Trip: Part 1 where I pull my hair out!

 

Waking up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, I immediately rushed to look out the window. No locusts. No zombies. No horsemen of the Apocalypse blazing through the hotel parking lot. Things were finally – finally! — looking up for the Smith Family Vacation.

 

After letting the kids sleep in, we decamped at The Waters Hotel, a beautifully renovated historic hotel. My boys are not big on museums, but we felt like we were interacting first-hand with history just by wandering around the building. Once known as the Thompson Building, the hotel was constructed in 1913 to house doctors’ offices. The architect behind the building had also designed the Arkansas State Capitol, and he was clearly big on stately details, because the building’s signature terra cotta Corinthian pilasters were imposing like a mutha.

waters hotel

The doctors’ offices were important back in the day when people would travel from all over the country to “take the waters,” which is like turn-of-the-century slang for bathing in the hot mineral springs. Back in the day, folks believed the springs held mythical healing powers, and plenty of people probably still believe it today. (They may be on to something — these legendary springs have been a thing since the 1500s).  Sadly, COVID-19 restrictions prevented us from fully diving into the city’s aqua epicenter, called Bathhouse Row. Because we were shut out of the town’s signature spa experience, we hit the next best thing: Go-Cart rides! The boys were in Seventh Heaven. 

What did we love most about Hot Springs? It wasn’t the architecture, sports or the therapeutic waters that the town was named for, although all of that was awesome. Honestly, I just appreciated the chance to spend time with my family minus any travel drama. No accidents, storming or schlepping. Just four people having some low-key fun together. We walked around town with no agenda and no schedule. We stuffed our faces with delicious pizza at Grateful Head, and Reed and I enjoyed a terrace dinner on the rooftop of our hotel that was positively magical.

Thing To Do:

  • Gangsters museum of America
  • Mid America Science Museum
  • Magic Springs Water & Theme Park
  • Fordyce Bathouse Museum
  • Hot Springs Farmers Market
  • Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop
  • Funtrackers Family Fun Park

Restaurants/Bar :

  • Greatful Head (Pizza)
  • The Ohio Club (Best Bar in Town)
  • The Pancake Shop (Breakfast)
  • Rolando’s (Mexican)-Best Roof Top
  • Luna Bella (Italian)
  • Back Porch Grill (Steakhouse on the water)
  • The Vault (American)
  • The Avenue (Fine Dining in Waters Hotel)
  • In The Raw (Vegan)

Alas, road trips are meant to be spent on the road, so it was soon time to move on. Next stop: Gaston’s White River Resort, where we enjoyed a trout fishing experience extraordinaire.

I have the fondest memories of this upscale-yet-affordable resort from my childhood – it was always a favorite destination for Dunaway Family Vacay’s. And it was just how I remembered when I was a kid, only much, much better (and not just because I can now drink wine). 

 

We stayed in a rustic, two-bedroom cottage that I found wonderful, and not just because I didn’t have to cook in it. We dined at the resort’s restaurant, which specializes in seafood, steaks and fine wine and boasts tables overlooking the picturesque fast-flowing White River.

Photo Jun 07, 6 50 58 PM

I am glad I got my fine-dining fix in, because the next morning, we were all up at the crack of dawn bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to float fish in a 20-foot John boat. We had two guides whose sole job was to make sure the Smith boys caught some rainbow trout! 

 

The Arkansas fishing laws state that you can only keep five rainbow trout per person, per day. We made our quota in an Arkansas Hot Second – and kept going, returning numbers 21 and above back to the waters. We even hooked some brown trout – man, those suckers had some fight in them! Those, however, we threw back immediately because they’re rare and it’s the law.

I know, I know. You’re wondering, how did Jet Setter Christy Smith get so darn good at something that involves squishy, slimy, slippery stuff? Easy: Our guides were not just great fish-locators, they also handled baiting hooks, setting lines and taking flip-flopping fish off hooks. All I had to do was cast, pull and celebrate!   

At the end of our day on the water, the guides cleaned and gutted our 20 rainbow trout, and we took four of them directly to the resort restaurant for a “you catch ‘em, we cook ‘em” dinner, and froze the rest. I have been on every type of diet under the sun, but I have to say, nothing tastes quite as amazing as something you caught for yourself.

We all wanted to stay longer at Gaston’s, but it was time to put the road back in road trip and onward we went.  

 

Stay tuned for the final post about our very adventurous RV road trip. And be on the lookout for a wonderful little giveaway for the travel enthusiast in Our Unforgettable RV Road Trip: Part 3.

6 Aug

Our Unforgettable RV Road Trip: Part 1

Our Unforgettable RV Road Trip

Between quarantine stress and boy-energy excess, June had me ready to drive off a cliff, Thelma-and-Louise style. Instead, my ever-patient hubby suggested we drive off into the sunset instead  – vacation-style! And that’s how our Unforgettable RV Road Trip began …

 

Yes, I said RV. As in, a 30-foot home on wheels, totally tricked out with every convenience, including a fridge for all my vegan food, to make a road trip seem more like a pleasure cruise. Not that I wouldn’t have been happy with a VW Vanagon at this point – the idea of climbing into a ‘Rona-infected fuselage was giving me the heebie-jeebies. So I did what any logical jetsetter would do. I contacted Quest RV and rented a sweet Mercedes Citation 24 ft Class C single slide for our most excellent multi-state road trip adventure (not pictured… just you wait).

RV Adventure

This wasn’t our first rodeo renting from Quest, and it won’t be our last. But it certainly wasn’t the easiest. In fact, it just might have been the hardest start to a vacation we’ve ever had. Before I lay out the deets of our epic state-by-state adventure, let me tell you about the series of unfortunate events that hit us like falling rocks before we even backed out the driveway.

It all started out fine-seeming. As per usual, I overpacked. I clearly forgot that loading up an RV is kinda like moving into a house. It certainly wasn’t as quick and easy as putting some luggage and a cooler into the trunk of a car. Nevertheless, we finally pulled out of our driveway around 2 p.m., a mere five hours later than our planned 9AM departure. With a 5-hour drive ahead of us, that would put us in Hot Springs, Arkansas just in time for dinner … in a perfect world.

MELTDOWNS AND ROADBLOCKS 

We hadn’t even made it past our zipcode when the trouble began. It started when the AC suddenly crapped out. Jason pulled over to take a look at the generator. It wouldn’t turn back on for him, so he decided to check the oil, and that’s when he noticed that it was low. He filled the oil tank up with the remaining amount from a container sitting next to the unit.

 

After he got back in the RV and turned on the generator, we heard loud noises, and our youngest son saw plumes of white smoke billowing from the back of the vehicle. I seriously thought we were going to blow up, but Jason assured us that, no, it was just the oil burning off the generator’s exhaust. Only it wasn’t. When he called to check in with Quest, the mechanic gave us the bad news. The generator was completely shot and needed to be rebuilt.

 

Feeling defeated, we limped back to our driveway to figure out what the next step would be to get out of town. At this point, Jason wanted to cancel the whole trip, and I felt like I needed a drink. Fortunately, Quest RV just so happened to have ONE extra unrented RV.

 

After convincing Jason that the show must go on, we were just about to pull out of our driveway, this time for the RV trade-out, when another disaster struck. Right before our eyes, a city construction worker driving an 18-wheeler flatbed carrying heavy machinery HIT OUR PROPERTY WALL and kept on driving. I have never jumped out of an RV so fast to chase another giant vehicle down the street on foot. I screamed and yelled and flailed my arms … with no luck. And then they were gone.

After telling our awesome neighbors about what had just happened, they were able to track down the city construction supervisor at – where else – the nearby 7-11. I guess nothing caps off a day of property damage quite like a taquito. The supervisor agreed to come and assess the damage and, sure enough, he kept his word. After we exchanged info, the Smith family was final ready to roll. It was now 4 p.m., and I couldn’t believe we were still in our freaking driveway. I also couldn’t believe that Jason didn’t throw his hands in the air and yell UNCLE! Thankfully he didn’t, so we finally left Fort Worth and started driving to trade out our RV.

It was about 6:30PM by the time we switched out our rides and coasted out of the Quest RV parking lot to officially … finally … start driving to Hot Springs. I checked MAPS and ETA was now 10:30 p.m. if we didn’t pass go or collect $200. OK, more like 11 because at that point, the boys, who had been so patient all day began demanding that we feed them. So, after a quick trip to Micky D’s, we were officially … finally … REALLY on the road. We just didn’t realize what we were driving into …

THUNDER ROAD 

As we drove further and further east, we started to see lightning in the distance. No biggie, right? Wrong. Watching the radar, I could see in real time as the digital storm blotches kept getting bigger and bigger until they swallowed the entire screen. Just before midnight – and only one short hour away from our destination –we drove straight into our own personal version of the movie Twister. Rain was now coming down in sheets and jagged lines of lightening crackled all around us. Jason wisely decided to get the heck off the highway. We pulled into a gas station in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, and parked our RV next to a cinder block shed in the back lot of a gas station, the safest option available at the time. There was nothing else to do but hunker down and wait it out.

The straight-line winds blew our massive RV around like it was a see-saw. My heart was racing. It was loud. And then a transformer near us blew. The whole area lit up with a blinding flash of light. You could see all of the power lines bouncing around and whipping up and down over us, and then it was pitch black. Not a glimmer of light all around us except for the eerie illumination of lightning. Finally, the storm passed by us, and we were, yet again, on our way. I felt like I was holding the Bingo Card of Doom and I had just checked the box for “Biblical-Level Storm” – along with Pandemic, Car Trouble, and Home Disaster.

OK, so the good news was, we finally arrived at our destination in downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas. The bad news was … literally everything after that. The hotel couldn’t accommodate parking for our RV, so we had to park at the Visitors Bureau five blocks away. No problem, I thought – we’ll just take an Uber! Nope. I guess Uber drivers in Arkansas need their beauty sleep, because there isn’t a car service to be found after midnight. I hope at least someone was awake at that hour, because they would have gotten a good laugh watching our exhausted family of four schlepping all our luggage down the deserted streets in the dead of night. 

 

It’s always wonderful when everyone in the family can agree on something. And we all agreed that this was by far THE WORST TRAVEL DAY we have experienced. Thankfully, this was literally the darkness before the dawn. The next morning, the sun rose, our moods improved and we truly embarked on what was to be an UNFORGETTABLE RV ROAD TRIP that took us to Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and back home to Texas. Stay tuned for Part 2!