Outpost: Biloxi, MS

Home to one of my favorite pop culture and comic conventions, CoastCon, Biloxi, MS holds a special place in my heart. I’ve now made four journeys to this wonderful little beach town and will definitely go back. Back in July my wife and I decided to take a quick weekend getaway to Biloxi to chill out after a brutal year in 2020 and early 2021. It was definitely a much needed vacation.

We journeyed to Biloxi with absolutely zero plans. The only thing that we knew for sure was that we would be staying at the White House Hotel. Established in 1895, this hotel is reasonably priced, features a restaurant and two bars, and is nestled right across the highway from the Gulf of Mexico. Our room was wonderful. It featured a glass walk-in shower, a big TV, and a view of the neighborhood behind the hotel. The neighborhood is full of old homes that reminded me a lot of New Orleans, LA residential areas. On our next trip, we’re going to reserve a room with a beach view just because we want to see what that looks like from our hotel window.

After settling into our room we decided to hit one of my favorite souvenir shops, Sharkheads. We grabbed some shirts for our kids (who were having fun with their cousins in Galveston, TX) and a few other things. Then we had a nice supper at The Reef. Despite having visited Biloxi a few times I never was able to try The Reef. It’s Guy Harvey-esque facade that faces the highway always attracted me, but our paths never crossed until this trip. The restaurant is located right on the beach in Biloxi and features amazing seafood and other delicious items. My wife had a salad (I can’t recall the name) and I had Firecracker Shrimp Tacos. We also had fried pickles for an appetizer. It was all very tasty.

On Saturday morning my wife decided that she wanted to lay out on the beach and catch some rays. While she was doing that, I headed over to the USS Biloxi Memorial and also visited the Old Biloxi Cemetery. With graves dating back to the early 1800’s and some beautiful oak trees, this cemetery was simply lovely.

If you can’t tell already, the sun made almost no appearance at all the entire weekend. My wife did catch a few rays on Saturday morning while she was on the beach, but she went back to the hotel earlier than she wanted to due to a few rain showers. When lunchtime hit, I caught up with my good friends and Southern Geek founders, Rafe and Shannon White. We met them at The Blind Tiger on the beach near the casino area. I had fried shrimp and my wife had nachos. We spent hours catching up and Rafe attempted to catch some fish as well. The day remained cloudy with a little light rain here and there. As our second day drew to a close, my wife and I headed back to the hotel to rest.

Sunday morning found me headed out to early morning Mass at the beautiful Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The stained glass windows inside the cathedral were breathtaking. The service was beautiful as well. After Mass ended, I took another drive through the area and snapped a few photos of places. Unfortunately my wife was still in bed battling a migraine. I eventually headed back to the hotel to pick her up and check out. Before we left Biloxi, though, we stopped at a couple of gift shops and grabbed a few more goodies. We also saw a shark at Walmart!

We made plans on our trip back home to return to Biloxi in the very near future. There’s so much to see and do that we want to take the kids with us on our next visit. If you’ve never been to Biloxi, I definitely recommend checking it out. There’s plenty of new things to do in the area but there’s also a ton of things for history buffs to check out. I definitely recommend staying at the White House Hotel if you do visit Biloxi. The staff was amazing and the hotel is gorgeous. The views from the hotel, from the grounds to the top floor, are beautiful.

Well, that’s all for this post. Let me know if you’ve been to Biloxi or any other beach town that stole your heart. Thanks for checking out my blog. I’ve got some exciting news for my next post which I hope to crank out over the weekend.

Outpost: Transylvania?

Northern Louisiana…..

In my last post I mentioned that I had a special surprise coming on Sunday. Well, here it is! I took a road trip this weekend to Northern Louisiana. I visited some really cool places. One of those places is Transylvania!

This is just a teaser for my post. I’ll make my full report either tomorrow or Tuesday. Thanks for checking out my post!

Outpost: Fouke, Arkansas

Southwestern Arkansas

My regular readers know how much I love Bigfoot, Yeti, and all of the other cryptids out there. They might even know that I’ve visited Fouke, AR, in the past and blogged about it here. While own my recent trip to northwestern Louisiana to see KISS with my son, we decided to take a sidequest north to Fouke, Arkansas, home of the Fouke Monster and the film, The Legend of Boggy Creek.

Photo taken by my son.

Sporting my Ghoultown shirt (I’ll get to their connection to Fouke in a bit), my son and I drove into Fouke on Saturday morning. The drive up there was beautiful but we didn’t get to see the Fouke Monster. We stopped at the Monster Mart in town and were blown away by how much the store has changed and yet remained the same since our last visit in 2014.

The convenience store itself had changed very little. It’s a standard convenience store with soft drinks, snacks, and a few roadside necessities for purchase. On the museum side, however, things had been expanded upon greatly. A large display that included a Fouke Monster and one of its children had been added to the museum, as well as two display cases full of photos, albums, footprint casts, and more items related to the Fouke Monster and the history of the small town. There were also newspaper articles lining the walls and a gift shop that featured books, t-shirts, caps, postcards, magnets, mugs, and much, much more.

I talked with the lady behind the counter for quite awhile. She told me a little bit about the upgrades on the store and I also learned that Fouke won their high school football game on the prior evening.

I ended up purchasing a magnet and Lyle Blackburn’s Beyond Boggy Creek book at the Monster Mart. You can read my review of one of Blackburn’s other books, The Legend of Boggy Creek, here. Yes, I could have purchased the book on Amazon or even directly from Lyle’s website, but that would have meant that I couldn’t have purchased the book with the Monster Mart stamp on the inside. I plan to get Mr. Blackburn to sign the book if I ever get the chance to meet him.

Oh, and for anyone still not sure about the connection between Fouke and my Ghoultown band t-shirt, Blackburn is the frontman from the Texas-based gothabilly band. I’ve become quite a fan in recent months. Check out their website here.

After making my purchase, my son and I drove around Fouke for a few minutes before heading on to Texarkana, TX. We had no real destination in mind when we arrived there, we just wanted to kill a little more time before heading to Bossier City, LA to see KISS on Saturday evening.

If you have any interest in cryptozoology and want to visit a key location in Bigfoot history, make a trip to Fouke, AR. You’ll learn about the beast, the movie that made it famous, and the wonderful little town that became the focal point of one of cryptozoology most famous cult films.

Thanks for reading. Check out the links and keep an eye out for my next post.

The Deep Blue Sea On The Red River

Shreveport, LA

In my last post I talked about attending the KISS: End of the Road tour with my son in Bossier City, LA. Anybody familiar with the area knows that right across the Red River is the city of Shreveport. It’s the third largest city in Louisiana and the center of a region known as the Ark-La-Tex.

Located downtown along the Red River and nestled between casinos and the Sci-Port Discovery Center is the Shreveport Aquarium. I decided that a visit to the aquarium would be the perfect way to end me and my son’s little vacation to northwest Louisiana.

All photos in this post taken by me.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t expecting very much from this aquarium. I read through a few online reviews and visited the aquarium’s website and came to the conclusion that this would be a fun place, but probably nothing too amazing.

Thankfully the aquarium far exceeded my expectations. Yes, it isn’t a very large aquarium, but it makes up for its lack of size with beautiful exhibits, tons of opportunities to interact with sea life, and a staff that was both friendly and knowledgeable about the animals and plant life in the aquarium.

We were greeted with a smile at the admissions desk and offered the chance to purchase a feeding token to feed stingrays. My son didn’t want to feed the rays but I went ahead and purchased a token for a small fee. We then entered the first wing of the aquarium. It featured tanks full of brightly colored fish and other animals. Lionfish, clownfish, pufferfish, and other sea life darted in and out of reefs and hid behind rocks. Throughout the exhibit, seafaring items such as anchors and cannons dotted the walkway.

As we left the first portion of the aquarium, we entered a large solarium that featured wood ducks, turtles, fish, and vegetation native to Louisiana. The area also had a small play area for younger children. Despite it being in the 90’s outside, the solarium had cooling units in place that kept the temperature reasonable. It wasn’t hot, but it was warm enough for the reptiles in the exhibit to remain comfortable.

We left the solarium and headed into the portion of the aquarium that featured starfish, clams, and jellyfish that you could touch in the water. It was fun getting to touch and feel these creatures in the water. There are obviously strict rules in place about touching the animals, so please respect these rules so that others can enjoy this experience. Also in the area, seahorses and baby sharks are in tanks for observation.

The next area that we entered was the massive aquarium featuring all sorts of fish including a number of sharks. Two “portholes” were available that allowed people to experience being at the bottom of the ocean with tons of sea creatures swimming around you. This is a perfect place for a photo op.

The final exhibit area was my favorite. I cashed in my token to feed fish to stingrays and touch them as they swam by in their pool. The rays were extremely friendly and didn’t seem to mind all of the people touching them. Feeding them is definitely a memorable experience and I recommend it if you ever visit the Shreveport Aquarium.

The final area in the aquarium was the SALT Cafe and a small gift shop. My son and I didn’t eat in the cafe, but it had a nice view overlooking the Red River. There was also a massive foot made out of plastic bottles that reminded visitors of the impact that plastic can make on our oceans.

This aquarium turned out to be a nice surprise and an excellent way to cap off our trip to the Ark-La-Tex. I have plans on bringing the rest of my family here in the future. Visit the aquarium’s website for more information on the exhibits and experiences that happen throughout the week including meet and greets with pirates and mermaids!

Thanks for reading this post. I have one more upcoming post about another experience that my son and I had while visiting the Ark-La-Tex, and you don’t want to miss it!

A Look Back At 2018

“Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot….”

2018 will go down as one of my favorite years.  It included a few firsts, a couple of great returns, and one or two surprises as well.  The year started off with a bang as I got the chance to attend Aro Lucha’s first professional wrestling event in Beaumont, TX.  The show included matches featuring a lineup of legends such as Blue Demon, Jr. and Super Crazy, and fan favorites like Chavo Guerrero, Jr., John Morrison, Taya Valkyrie, and Hurricane Helms.  It also included independent stars and up-and-comers like Thunder Rosa and Sammy Guevara.  All in all, it was a great event and I hope to see more shows such as this one.

The beginning of the year also brought Black Panther to the big screen.  Not only was the film a really fun feature, I got to review the twelve inch Marvel Legends Black Panther figure based on the film.  The movie has definitely left a significant mark in cinema and in American culture, and I look forward to T’Challa’s next solo adventure.

 

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As the year rolled along, I attended CyPhaCon in Lake Charles, LA.  While it wasn’t my first time to attend the event, it was my first time to attend it as a member of the press.  I got to meet Farscape and Star Trek Continues star Gigi Edgley and got to catch up with a lot of friends that I’d been missing for quite some time.

I also had the opportunity to attend a field trip with my son’s class at NASA Johnson Space Center near Houston, TX.  I got to see a little bit of Star Trek history whenever I got to see the Galileo from the Original Series.  I also got to see a massive Mars exhibit, attempt to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and land a lunar module in the ocean, play with a Mars Rover, and see all sorts of other wonderful things.

 

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Towards mid-year, I took my first trip to Austin, TX to visit family.  While there, I visited the University of Texas-Austin, shopped and walked along Congress Avenue, saw the amazing Congress Avenue Bridge bats as they headed out into the night to feast on bugs and other small creatures, and visited a multitude of historical sites and museums.

Just a few weeks later, I took my family to San Antonio, TX for our summer  vacation.  We visited the Alamo, Sea World San Antonio, and ended up making an impromptu return trip to Austin due to a family emergency.  Despite a hectic couple of weeks, we made a lot of great memories during that time.

 

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I also had the opportunity to attend the Fifth Chapter of Calcasieu Serial Fest, once of my favorite local events in Lake Charles.  The festival celebrated the work of Kirk Alyn, the first live action Superman, and other classic serials from the 1930’s and 40’s.

 

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With fall just around the corner, I got ready for my return to the Texas Renaissance Festival.  I missed it last year and I planned to enjoy as much of it as I could once I got back.  It’s one of my favorite festivals of the year and this year was no exception.  I finally got to take a photo with the King!  I also got to see Gypsy Dance Theatre, Clan Tynker, and other wonderful shows.

 

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Just a couple of weeks prior to attending TRF, I returned to one of my favorite cities, Biloxi, MS, for a long overdue visit with all of my Mississippi squad at Gulf Coast Fan Fest.  Some of the highlights of that event included meeting Ming Chen from Comic Book Men, David Naughton from An American Werewolf in London, and one of my favorite cosplayers, Iron Mwar.

 

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I also assisted with the Lake Charles Film Festival.  Not only did I get to see some excellent independent films and excellent documentaries, but I also got to meet Jay Underwood, best known as the star of The Boy Who Could Fly and the unreleased (but highly accessible on the web) Fantastic Four film produced by Roger Corman back in the 1990’s.

 

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The year came to a close with an excellent Thanksgiving celebration, a fun Christmas, and the chance to see Aquaman a week prior to everyone else.  I also became a part of the DC Universe (but I can’t quite explain all of that just yet), landed free Aquaman toys to review, and won some really cool prizes as well.

 

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This year was great.  Sure, there were a few downers that occurred, but they were far outweighed by the positives that happened for me and my family in 2018.  I was greatly blessed this year, and 2019 is going to have to amp things up if it wants a positive review one year from now!

To finish off this post, here are a few of my favorite photos from this year and one new one featuring professional wrestler, Thunder Rosa, who I got to see a second time (and finally get to meet) in 2018 at a Hurricane Pro Wrestling event in Beaumont, TX.  Thanks for reading, and I hope that you have a wonderful 2019!

 

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Outpost: San Antonio, TX

Remember The Alamo!

My family and I took a quick trip to San Antonio, TX a few weeks ago and, as always, the place didn’t disappoint us at all.  We arrived late in the afternoon but had enough time to venture to the Alamo, where Texian and Tejano soldiers and numerous volunteers from the United States of America (of which Texas was not a part of at the time) bravely died defending their belief in a Texas free of Mexican control.  Estimates of the actual number of those that died vary between 150 and 250 brave souls.  If you’ve never been to the Alamo, I highly recommend visiting it at least once in your lifetime.  It is a truly moving experience to visit this place.

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Outside of the front doors of the Alamo is a great monument to the defenders of Texas.  It is a massive monument and does well to honor those that fought at the mission.  Across the street are a number of stores, restaurants and tourist venues.

After a brief visit in downtown San Antonio, we headed to our hotel, the Hilton San Antonio Hill Country.  I highly recommend staying in this hotel as it is located near SeaWorld San Antonio.  It offers a shuttle to and from the park and also has nightly attractions for the entire family.  You can roast marshmallows and make s’mores in the campfires located in the courtyard at night.  You can also watch a family movie, play basketball, eat hamburgers and hot dogs, or swim in one of the three pools or relax in the jacuzzi.  There’s also a restaurant on site and a gym with ellipticals, weight machines, and other exercise equipment.  This is our favorite hotel in the area and have stayed here on multiple occasions.

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On our second day in San Antonio, we visited SeaWorld San Antonio.  We rode all of the big coasters including the Steel Eel, the Great White, the Wave Breaker, and the Shamu Express.  We watched a few shows as well.  My personal favorite was the Beluga Whale/White-Sided Dolphin, and Macaw show, Ocean Discovery.  I also enjoyed the Animal Conservation Center.  There we got up close and personal with an owl and learned about animals that are cared for at the park that aren’t necessarily of the aquatic persuasion.

Since it was July, it was very hot at the park.  Luckily we found the Chill Out Bar located next to the Great White roller coaster.  The bar offered liquid nitrogen frozen ice cream and a number of cool adult beverages including frozen Jack & Coke.  The best part of the bar is that you get to keep the cup that your drink is served in when you’re done!  Oh, and it’s one of the few places in the park that serves drinks with straws.  The straws are paper, though, and completely biodegradable.

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We also went to Discovery Point, located just outside of the entrances to SeaWorld San Antonio and Aquatica, the SeaWorld water park.  There, visitors are given the opportunity to have experiences with dolphins, beluga whales, and sea lions.  There’s also Explorer’s Reef, home to a number of sharks and exotic fish.

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SeaWorld San Antonio offers both education and fun.  My entire family enjoyed the day at the park and plan on returning again in the future.  There’s still plenty of things left for us to explore at the park, and I recommend allowing at least two days to really take in many of the attractions.

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We left early on Sunday morning after attending Mass at Prince of Peace Catholic Church near our hotel.  We then made an unexpected trip back to Austin (but no sightseeing this time) and then headed home later that evening.  Our trip naturally included a few stops at Buc-ee’s Travel Centers across Texas and when we got home, we immediately wanted to return to San Antonio.

As always, thanks for reading.  I’ll have a post about the latest Hurricane Pro Wrestling event that I attended in Beaumont, TX in the very near future.  I’m still hoping to check out Ant-Man and the Wasp and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom before they leave theaters, and I also want to see Teen Titans Go! To The Movies.  If by some miracle of fate I get to see any of these films, I’ll post a review.

Outpost: Austin, TX

Weird City

Keep Austin Weird.  It’s a sentiment shared by plenty of people across the city of Austin and pretty much all over the state of Texas.  Austin is definitely something of a strange bird when compared to the rest of the state that it calls home, but it somehow manages to be something to just about anyone that passes through it.

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I recently visited the capitol city of Texas with my family for the first time.  I have relatives that live there now and decided that it was time for a visit.  I also wanted to see what was so wonderfully bizarre about ATX.  I wasn’t disappointed at all.  This post will feature a brief glimpse at our time in Austin.  I hope that you enjoy it.

Our journey began where every journey across Texas should begin: Buc-ee’s Travel Center.  Buc-ee’s is as Texas as Whataburger and cowboys.  It’s a staple of the Lone Star State and if you ever get the chance to visit one of these extraordinary travel centers, I highly recommend it.  The larger centers are found along most major highway systems throughout the state and smaller, more standard convenience store versions of the chain can be found in many neighborhoods in Texas.  The travel centers offer everything from Texas and Buc-ee’s souvenirs to brisket, sausage, and other great tasting goodies.  They also have their own line of sweets which can be found in both the large and small versions of the stores.  My wife’s favorite treat are the Buc-ee’s Beaver Nuggets, which are sweet puffed corn treats.  I love the t-shirts and the restrooms.  The shirts change on a regular basis and have become collectors’ items for fans of the chain.  The restrooms are insanely clean and the stalls are walled around so that no one can see in or out while you’re taking care of business.  Learn more about Buc-ee’s here.

After meeting up with our relatives in Austin, they took us on a whirlwind tour of the city and then stopped on Congress Avenue to let us check out a wonderful stretch of shops that included Big Top Candy Shop and Lucy In Disguise With Diamonds.  Big Top featured all sorts of wonderful candies and sweets including many old fashioned candies that are harder to find in brick and mortar stores.  They had an enormous selection of more modern candy as well and all of it was under the guise of a traditional tent circus.  Oddities were hanging on the wall as were classic circus posters.

Lucy In Disguise With Diamonds is every cosplayer’s dream.  It featured all sorts of accessories and pieces for creating your own costume as well as costumes that were ready to rent or own.  Photography was restricted in the shop since it’s pretty obvious that with all of the cool items that they stock, people will naturally want to try things on and post selfies without actually buying things.  The store had everything from high end creations to simple costumes that can be purchased in stores like Party City for Halloween.  If you’re a cosplayer, definitely check out this place.

Our second day in Austin featured a visit to the State Capitol, the Texas Capitol Visitor’s Center, Barton Creek Greenbelt, Zilker Botanical GardenAmy’s Ice Creams, and the Congress Bridge Bats.  We journeyed to the gorgeous state capitol grounds first and checked out the many statues and monuments that highlighted both local and state events, individuals, and the multiple cultures that have impacted the city and state.  One of my favorite monuments was the one for African American history in Texas.  The large monument was simply beautiful.

We then took a guided tour (absolutely free) of the capitol and also visited the Texas Capitol Vistor’s Center that featured exhibits highlighting everything Austin and Texas.  There were exhibits for the capitol and the history of Texas, as well as exhibits highlighting truly unique aspects of the state such as Blue Bell Ice Cream and Whataburger.  My favorite part of this visit was getting to see the painting Dawn At The Alamo by Irish painter Henry Arthur McArdle.  It is located in the Senate Chamber.

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After our trip to the capitol, we had lunch at In-N-Out Burger because we wanted to see what all the hullabaloo was about.  As far as hamburgers go, it was pretty good.  We then journeyed to the Barton Creek Greenbelt for a quick hike smack in the middle of Austin.  We were surrounded by rocks, trees, and even a few rock climbers.  After our brief hike (which was a wonder to find in the middle of a bustling city), we went to Amy’s Ice Creams, a trippy little ice cream joint that featured all sorts of wonderful flavors.  Be sure to check out their link above to see the wild and delicious flavors that they offer.  On our trip, Amy’s had a dinosaur theme going in honor of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  Flavors included Godzilla, Rex, and Blue (for the beloved velociraptor) and others. I took on the Dino, which featured Mexican vanilla ice cream, rainbow sprinkles, and Fruity Pebbles.  It was tasty!

After visiting the Greenbelt and filling up on ice cream, we headed to Zilker Botanical Garden to look at some beautifully unique gardens.  The Hartman Prehistoric Garden and the Isamu Taniguchi Oriental Garden were two of our favorites, as were the Pioneer Settlement and the Woodland Fairie Exhibit (a limited time exhibit).  The Prehistoric garden included a replica of the Zilker Turtle fossil found at the site (the real fossil is at the Texas Memorial Museum).  It also features a statue of an Ornithomimus, a dinosaur whose tracks were found in the garden.

That evening we staked out a spot under the Congress Avenue Bridge to see the Congress Bridge Bats take flight.  Be sure to check their website above if you plan on making a trek to Austin to see the bats, as they only make their trek throughout certain months of the year.  It really is an awesome sight to see whenever they take to the night sky.  I also recommend visiting the Nightwing monument located just down from the bridge near Barton Springs Road.  It was created by Dale Whistler and quietly spins in the night as the wind blows.

Our last day in the city included a visit to the Texas Memorial Museum located on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.  We spent a few hours learning about the geological and biological history (and prehistory) of the state of Texas.  Exhibits were found in the Hall of Geology and Paleontology, the Hall of Texas Wildlife, the Hall of Biodiversity, and the Great Hall, which features the suspended reconstruction of a skeleton of Quetzalcoatlus northropi, a massive pterosaur found in Big Bend National Park.  There was also an exhibit dedicated to the ancient Buzz Saw Sharks (Whorl Tooth Sharks) found in Texas, Idaho, and other U.S. states, as well as Mexico and even Australia!  This is a moving exhibit that will only be at the museum until September of this year.  Visiting this museum was a blast!  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.  Be sure to check it out if you can!

After leaving the museum, we had one last visit with our relatives that included a walk along the Colorado River on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail.  We paid our respects to Stevie Ray Vaughan along the trail by visiting his statue.  We then headed back to Louisiana.  Our journey home included more stops at Buc-ee’s and a couple of detours at shops in Bastrop, TX.

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I highly recommend visiting the city of Austin, TX.  It is beautiful, the people are friendly, and there’s so much more to the city that I need to explore.  I haven’t even visited any of the live music locations yet, and there are plenty of other places in and around the city that I want to experience.  Check out the Travel Texas and Austin Travel websites for more information and maybe we’ll run into each other next time I visit!

As always, thanks for reading my posts.  I really appreciate each and every one of you for reading, liking, and sharing my content.

Disney World!!!!!

The Happiest Place On Earth!

(Note:  As a rule, I never publish photos of my children in this blog.  That’s why everything you see features me and no one else)

For most folks in southern Louisiana, Mardi Gras is a magical time of year that starts with Twelfth Night and finishes with Ash Wednesday.  While Ash Wednesday is primarily a Roman Catholic holiday, The weeks that build up to it and Mardi Gras have been embraced by people of all sorts of religious (and non-religious) backgrounds and is basically a huge world holiday.

Well, being from Louisiana and having lived all of my life here, Mardi Gras is fun, but it never hurts to miss it every now and then.  For starters, there’s a large influx of tourists in the larger cities like New Orleans, Lake Charles, and Lafayette, that are only familiar with the glitzy and heavily commercialized version of Mardi Gras that most people know and love.  In rural Louisiana, it’s an entirely different story, but I’ll save that for another post.

With the large amounts of visitors comes large amounts of traffic, inebriated drivers, and a few bad guys as well.  This year, my family decided to skip Mardi Gras and head for sunny central Florida to visit Disney World.  It was one of the best ideas we’ve had as a family in a long time.

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Our adventure started with our arrival at the Port Orleans French Quarter Resort.  The resort was extremely nice, and as always, Disney went to great lengths to recreate that old New Orleans/Mardi Gras feeling that we all know and love.  We were offered Mardi Gras beads upon entry to the main building, given a quick rundown of what our plan included, and shown where our room would be.

Our room was located in Building 7, right near the water.  It was a lovely place to be both day and night.  The courtyard was reminiscent of many New Orleans homes in the Garden District, and the early morning fog only added to the atmosphere.

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We went to Disney’s Hollywood Studios first.  There, we rode the Great American Movie Ride, took in the Indiana Jones stunt show, and survived the Hollywood Tower of Terror.  We had an excellent meal plan and took in some great food with it.

We did a ton of walking and visited a few shops as well.  Hollywood Studios is, at least to me, the smallest park in the bunch, and it was a nice way to spend our first (and shortest) day at the park.

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Day Two found us at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  This is, was, and always will be my favorite park.  From the wonderful Festival of the Lion King show to the hilarious It’s Tough To Be A Bug production to the excellent Expedition Everest, I love everything that this park has to offer.

My daughter and I were handpicked by an African band in the park to help them out with some traditional African dancing.  We, along with a few other volunteers, did our best to do justice to Africa’s wonderful traditions.

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Yeah, that’s me in the Batman hoodie trying to get my groove on!

Our next day was spent at the Magic Kingdom.  It’s a close second as far as favorite parks go, primarily because it has some of the best rides and activities.  We took the Jungle Cruise, rode Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Seven Dwarves Mine, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and many other rides.  Myself and one of my children took on A Pirate’s Adventure~Treasures of the Seven Seas, a map-based game that sent you on the hunt for pirate treasure in Adventureland.  It featured realistic treasure maps and interactive points of interest.  It’s a whole lot of fun!

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Our fourth day at the parks included a visit to Epcot.  We took more photos with characters here than at any other park.  We toured the various countries, rode almost all of the rides, and had a generally great time.  What I love about Epcot is that the emphasis is on educational fun.  Each ride and exhibit we toured featured multiple educational opportunities.  From weather to space to communications and countries, we learned a lot on this visit!

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Our final day at Disney World featured a return trip to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  We rode the Rockin’ Rollercoaster and took an extensive tour of the Star Wars Launch Bay.  It was an excellent journey through the films, characters, and music of Star Wars.  We also got to meet Kylo Ren and a couple of First Order Stormtroopers (and a Jawa)!  One of the kids also visited the Star Wars Droid Factory and built two custom droids!12733439_10207299192371320_5169046385142915982_n

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This was a much needed trip for my family.  It has been a rough few weeks at work for both myself and my wife, and the kids needed a break as well.  We were sad to go home, but know that soon enough we will be returning to Disney World again.

For the record, this was my third time to visit the Mouse That Walt Built, and a first trip for one of our kids.  We had a blast!

As always, thanks for reading, and just so you know, the characters that we took photos with included Goofy, Mickey, Pluto, Chip and Dale, Belle, Kylo Ren, King Louis, Baloo, and Flik!

 

 

Hikes, Hot Springs, And Purple Cows

Hot Springs, Arkansas and Surrounding Area

A couple of days ago, my family and I returned from a nice vacation in Arkansas.  We stayed in the Ouachita National Forest in Mount Ida, AR.  Our trip included visits to Hot Springs, Magic Springs, a couple of hikes, and the kids went digging for diamonds as well.

On our first full day in Arkansas, my wife and the kids headed out to a local state park to dig for diamonds.  As a rule, I do not post photos of my family in this very public blog, so I won’t be posting any images of my children in this post.  However, I can say that they really enjoyed their time at the crystal dig site, but came up short on finding anything of value.

I spent the day hiking the Hunt Loop at Iron Springs near the Jessieville Ranger Station in the Ouachita National Forest.  Whenever I travel through Arkansas on Scenic 7, I always take at least a few minutes to stop at Iron Springs.  It’s a lovely little spot to take a break, eat a sandwich, or just take in the sights.  This was the first time that I walked the Hunt Loop Trail at Iron Springs, and I must say that I really enjoyed it.  There were plenty of nice sights to check out, and I ran into a few other hikers along the way.  The trail got a bit rough in a couple of spots, but overall all it was a decent trail to walk.  The terrain was a tad rocky in place as well, so if you ever decide to take this short 1.1 mile trail, be sure to wear sturdy footwear.

Iron Springs at the beginning of the Hunt Loop Trail.

Iron Springs at the beginning of the Hunt Loop Trail.

I also took a hike on the Friendship Trail at the Jessieville Ranger Station.  This was a much smoother trail and I highly recommend it to anybody who wants to take a hike but might not be up to any long treks on rough terrain.  This trail is specifically designed for people with handicaps or who just can’t handle tough trails.  It has only one steady upgrade and the entire trail is blacktopped and paved with plenty of space for wheelchairs to pass each other.  The trail is dotted by a number of informational signs about the wildlife and the forest, and the highlight of the trail is the fish pond (also handicap friendly) that has a pavilion suitable for get togethers.

Duck boxes at the Fish Pond at Friendship Trail.

Duck boxes at the Fish Pond at Friendship Trail.

The fish pond at Friendship Trail.

The fish pond at Friendship Trail.

On our second day in Arkansas, the family trekked over to Magic Springs, an amusement park near Hot Springs.  I’m a huge coaster fan, and couldn’t wait to tackle any of the big rides that Magic Springs had to offer.  There weren’t that many big thrill rides in the park, but the few it had were well worth checking out.  There was almost no line for any of the rides (we went on a Monday), so I got on each of the big rides after a very small (if any) waiting period.

My favorite ride in the bunch was The Gauntlet.  Suspended from the rail and with feet free in the air, this coaster whipped myself and other riders around a few times and was very fun.  I also enjoyed riding the X Coaster, which featured a 90 degree vertical lift and multiple corkscrews before dropping you back in reverse to do it all over again.  My wife said it was one of the craziest things she’s ever watched me ride, and I have to admit that it was a bit crazy BUT I will say that I never felt safer on a coaster than I did on this bad boy.

The Gauntlet at Hot Springs.

The Gauntlet at Magic Springs.

The X Coaster at Hot Springs.

The X Coaster at Magic Springs.

I also rode Big Bad John, a traditional roller coaster with a couple of nice twist and turns.  My son and wife rode this one as well, and they really enjoyed it.  The wooden rocker, Arkansas Twister, was a teeth-rattling, rickety wreck.  It’s the biggest coaster on the property, but it banged me up more than any other wooden coaster that I’ve ever ridden.  It was fun to a degree, but I don’t recommend riding it more than once.

Big Bad John at Magic Springs.

Big Bad John at Magic Springs.

Arkansas Twister at Magic Springs.

Arkansas Twister at Magic Springs.

Other highlights included the Plummet Summit, a large flume ride that dumps tons of water on riders and bystanders, and the Ozark Taxi Co., a car driving experience that allows drivers of all ages to make a couple of loops in an old timey car.  My wife, kids, and other family members also went to the Crystal Springs Water Park, which is part of the Magic Springs Property.  They really had a blast soaking up fun on the lazy river and multiple water slides.

On our final full day in Arkansas, the family and I took a walking tour of the city of Hot Springs.  I’ve been here multiple times, but there have been a few new stores and sights added to the area.  I really enjoyed checking out Stella Mae’s, a rockabilly and alt store that featured plenty of retro styled clothing and products.  When I heard the Reverend Horton Heat blaring over the speakers in the store, I knew that I was in the right place.

After walking around Hot Springs, we ventured over to the newer part of town to eat at The Purple Cow.  Another retro style place, but this time around instead of rockabilly, golden oldies were playing over the speakers as we dined in a very 1950’s styled restaurant that included a great soda shop that featured tasty floats, sundaes, and pie.

I tackled the Purple Cow Ice Cream Soda while my wife and son split a piece of Purple Cow Ice Cream Pie and my daughter had a traditional root beer float.  I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you visit this place for great burgers and even better dessert!

Purple Cow Ice Cream Pie.

Purple Cow Ice Cream Pie.

Purple Cow To Go Cup.

Purple Cow To Go Cup.

Purple Cow Ice Cream Soda.

Purple Cow Ice Cream Soda.

We finished the trip off with a quiet visit to the Charlton Creek Campground, where the kids played in the water and I just chilled out for a bit.  It was a very shady little campground and there was a very nice creek on the property.  It was the perfect ending to a fun vacation.

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