Quick Trip to Houston

Early in May, we took a quick trip down to Houston. Our main reason for going was to take Gavin to visit NASA. He is really into space stuff right now, and we thought he would enjoy seeing the Houston Space Center.

We spent three nights, and did a different family activity each day. The first day, we arrived in late afternoon. After checking into the hotel, we drove over to the Kemah Boardwalk. The second day we spent at the Houston Space Center. On the third day, we visited the Houston Zoo. We drove back home on the fourth day.

Kemah Boardwalk
It’s been years since I visited the Kemah Boardwalk. It’s still a fun place! We walked around the boardwalk and had dinner while watching the boat traffic. Gavin’s too young for the rides, and we’re not big shoppers, so we’re happy walking around, people watching, and grabbing a bite to eat. We ate at The Flying Dutchman. We were able to get a table outside, so we had a good view to watch the boat traffic. It was a Sunday, and there was a lot of boats coming and going.

Gavin & Darinda at Kemah Boardwalk | rainerlife.com

Space Center Houston
Our main reason for going to Houston was the Space Center. It was great! Gavin had so much fun! The Space Center had lots of interesting and informative exhibits. We arrived early – just before they opened. The Space Center opened at 9:00 and we wanted to have plenty of time to see everything.

NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Tram Tour – Astronaut Training Facility
We started the day with the a tram ride around the NASA Johnson Space Center. The Space Center offered two tram rides, red and blue. We opted to start with the blue tram first. That tram tour visited the Astronaut Training Facility and Rocket Park. Since it was early, and not their peak time of year, there were only four of us on the tour… and our little family were three of the four! The tour guides seemed to like the small group and visited a little longer, giving us more information than they probably normally have time for in a packed tour. The tour goes to Building 9, a huge warehouse that houses all sorts of equipment the astronauts use to train before going to space. Plus, it’s where a lot of new tech is being developed. It was really interesting to see! The tram tour then went to Rocket Park, where a Saturn V rocket is on display. It was amazing to see a rocket up close like that, and Gavin thought it was fun to see.

Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Gavin at Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Warehouse for the Saturn V at the NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

Gavin & Michael at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

Gavin at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

Gavin & Michael at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

Gavin & Michael at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

Gavin & Michael at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

Gavin at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

After the tram tour, we walked around the Space Center. There are a lot of exhibits to see! The exhibits we saw were Space Center Plaza, Mission Mars, Starship Gallery, Independence Plaza, International Space Station Gallery, and Astronaut Gallery.

Space Center Plaza
This the the main area we first walked through once we arrived at the Space Center. On our visit, this area was set up with a lot of hands on activities geared toward children. Gavin was too young for it, but Michael and I walked around with him and showed him what some of the activities were and how they worked.

Mission Mars
This is a newer exhibit for the Space Center, and contains a simulated Orion capsule and a Mars rock you can touch. There was a lot of information in this area, and unlike the other areas, it has more on new tech and NASA’s journey to Mars. This was one of Gavin’s favorite areas.

Starship Gallery
This area of the Space Center is like a museum and contains some cool artifacts, such as a Gemini V, Lunar Roving Vehicle Trainer, the Apollo 17 Command Module, the Skylab 1-G Trainer, Mercury 9 “Faith 7”, and the Lunar Samples Vault, which includes a moon rock you can touch. I enjoyed this area, but it seemed to be too much for Gavin. He was looking every which way and kept running from one thing to the next.

Independence Plaza
This exhibit was very cool! This is a replica of the shuttle Independence, mounted on top of the original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft. You can board both the shuttle and airplane. I think Gavin would have enjoyed this more if he was a little older. He didn’t seem to connect that he was walking around on the shuttle and airplane. We took the elevator up to the shuttle instead of the stairs, so when we got off the elevator, he was suddenly in the shuttle. I don’t think he really made the connection that it was the shuttle we had been walking under.

International Space Station Gallery
This area is also kind of more like a museum, and contains artifacts from the space station and interactive displays. There were some interesting things in this area, but we walked through a lot without doing much since it was geared toward older kids and adults.

Astronaut Gallery
The points of interest here were the Gallery Wall (photos of every US astronaut who has flown to space) and various space suits. Some of the space suits were Pete Conrad’s Apollo 12 suit, John Young’s escape suit, a shuttle launch entry suit, and the Orlan suit. This was a big open area and didn’t take too long too walk around. Actually, I walked around here while Michael and Gavin went back to the Mission Mars exhibit since Gavin was wanting to see that again.

Tram Tour – Mission Control
Later in the day, we went on the red tram tour. Actually, it was the last tour of the day, so we were on the first and last tram tours. Anyway, the red tram tour visited Mission Control and Rocket Park. I was the one that really wanted to go on this tour. Gavin wasn’t all that interested in it. The tour goes to the viewing room of Historic Mission Control. Everything is straight out of the sixties… because it hasn’t been updated, since it’s a historical site. It was cool to see Mission Control where so many important NASA missions were monitored, including nine Gemini and all Apollo lunar missions. After visiting Historic Mission Control, the tour went to Rocket Park. Since we had seen Rocket Park earlier in the day, we stayed on the tram to head back to the Space Center. Multiple tram tours were running at the same time, so trams rotated through Rocket Park to pick up visitors and take them back to the Space Center. That’s a great feature, since we were able to spend as much time as we wanted at Rocket Park in the early part of the day, and skip it later in the day.

We spent a full day seeing the Space Center, and we didn’t do everything they offered. We had a toddler with us, so we took our time, skipped a couple of things, went faster through some exhibits, and slower through others. Plus, we must have gone through the Mission Mars exhibit at least three times. The must-see things were the tram tours and the Independence Plaza.

The Space Center does have a dining area that sold different foods, like pizza, burgers, salads, and sandwiches. We ate a leisurely lunch of pizza, which tasted okay and was overpriced. Typical for this type of place.

The Space Center had two gift shops, one large and one small. Of course, we bought a few things for our space loving little boy. His biggest delight was a space suit and a helmet. We bought them after lunch, so he wore them the rest of the day. He looked adorable all decked out in his space suit, plus he had so much fun wearing it and running around looking at the exhibits.

Houston Zoo
We went to the zoo on a Tuesday afternoon, which it turns out is a free time to visit the zoo. That means it was crazy busy! Parking was the worst part, but once we found a spot it wasn’t too bad. The zoo was crowded, but we still saw everything we were interested in seeing. The zoo is large, with lots of great exhibits, so we spent a few hours walking around. The Children’s Area was great, and Gavin had a lot of fun in that part of the zoo.

Gavin at the Houston Zoo | rainerlife.com

Hotel
Staybridge Suites
We stayed at the Staybridge Suites near NASA. It was a convenient location for NASA, and Kemah wasn’t a far drive. It took a long time to drive to the zoo, but Houston traffic is terrible, so it takes a while to get anywhere. The hotel staff was very friendly, and the hotel was clean. They were doing construction, but we knew that ahead of time and it wasn’t a problem for us. The construction did close off some of their parking, and twice we grabbed the last spot in the lot… and one of those times was only because a car left, freeing up a spot. We booked a one bedroom suite with a king bed. I wanted a suite so we could close the door if someone, like Gavin, wanted to sleep, but Michael and/or I wanted to stay up. For this trip, it worked out well for us. We didn’t do much outside of the room, but we did enjoy the breakfast each morning.

Restaurants
We ate breakfast at the hotel and grabbed lunch at wherever we were visiting (Space Center and Zoo), but we did go out to eat in the evenings.

The Flying Dutchman
Seafood resturant located at the Kemah Boardwalk. The food was good, the service was great. I had the shrimp & crab cobb salad, which was huge and no way could I eat the whole thing, but it tasted good. Michael had a steak. It’s always a risk to order a steak at a seafood restaurant, but he figured he’s in Texas, so maybe it would be okay. He said it was good, so I guess he was right. For Gavin, we ordered grilled shrimp. We had them hold the seasoning on his shrimp so they wouldn’t be too spicy, and he seemed to like them. We sat outside near the water and watched the boats while we ate, which was fun for all of us. A good dining choice while visiting the Kemah Boardwalk.

Bone Daddy’s
A BBQ joint in Webster. The food and service were good. I had the burnt ends with skillet beans and potato salad. Michael had hot link sausage and brown sugar ham with potato salad and mac and cheese. We both shared food with Gavin, so he had some of everything, except the hot link sausage because it was really spicy. We enjoyed the food and casual atmosphere.

J Henry’s Draughthouse
A family-friendly pub-like restaurant in Clear Lake. We wanted to try a place with a good beer selection, and Michael found this one listed online. We started with the soft pretzel appetizer, which is always a good choice with beer. For dinner, I had the beer glazed fish tacos, Michael had the chicken & sausage spaghetti, and Gavin had a cheeseburger. The food was good and the beer selection was great. Most of the beers were from Texas, and they had several beers we hadn’t tried. It was a good place to go for finding new beers to try.

We had a fun, short family trip! I think Gavin had fun at the Space Center, which was the main part of the trip. So glad we were able to take a few days to get a short vacation in this Spring.

Okaloosa Island

Enjoying the beach {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

I love the beach!…. so, when we wanted to plan a family vacation, of course I opted for the beach. We considered other options, but the Emerald Coast won for a couple of reasons: 1. it was something we would all enjoy and 2. we could make the drive in a day (a really long day, but a day).

Michael & Gavin in the water {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

Gavin playing in the sand {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

Gavin in the pool {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

We rented a condo at Pelican Isle through VRBO. It was a one bedroom condo located on the first floor, directly over the pool.The condo was very nice – the one bedroom had a king bed, and enough room to set up Gavin’s Pack ‘n Play for him to sleep in. The bedroom had a bathroom with a tub, and down the hall was a second bathroom with a shower. In the hall, between the bedroom and bathroom, were built-in bunk beds. We didn’t use the bunk beds, but it would be a great space if you had older kids. Next to the hall bathroom was a washer and dryer that came in handy. The kitchen, dining, and living area all flowed together. Off the living area was a balcony with a fantastic view. It was perfect for our family.

Pelican Isle {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

Our condo at Pelican Isle {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

Our condo at Pelican Isle {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

Our condo at Pelican Isle {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

Pool at the condo {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

View from our balcony {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com
View from our balcony

View from our balcony {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com
View from our balcony

We stayed for a week – arrived on Sunday and left on Friday. Our days were pretty much the same each day – beach in the morning, followed by swimming in the pool, lunch at the condo, naptime, and an early dinner out. We did walk out on the Okaloosa Island Pier one night after dinner. It was fun to watch all the activity with people fishing, and several were catching fish.

Okaloosa Island Pier | rainerlife.com
Okaloosa Island Pier

Darinda and Gavin on Okaloosa Island Pier | rainerlife.com
Darinda and Gavin on Okaloosa Island Pier

View from Okaloosa Island Pier | rainerlife.com
View from Okaloosa Island Per

View from Okaloosa Island Pier | rainerlife.com
View from Okaloosa Island Pier

It was a relaxing vacation for all of us. We all enjoyed hanging out at the beach and swimming in the pool. Gavin had fun with his first trip to Florida – see videos below for him laughing at the waves and playing in the sand.







Road Trip to Colorado {Part 2}

We recently went on a road trip to Colorado. On our trip, we stayed in Wichita Falls, Amarillo, Colorado Springs, and Boulder. Road Trip to Colorado {Part 1} was about our time in Texas, while this post is about Colorado.

COLORADO
Colorado Springs

Hotel
Drury Inn
We stayed two nights at the Drury Inn in Colorado Springs. The Drury Inn is located north of town, just off of I-25. It was a good place to stay, plus it’s a fairly new hotel.

Location: Good. North of town, off of I-25.

Our Room: We stayed in a king suite (room 425) on the fourth floor. Originally, we were in room 405, but it had an odor – like someone had burned incense in the room – that set off Michael’s allergies. Soon as we walked in he started sneezing. The front desk was very helpful and were able to move us to another room. It was a large, clean two room suite and we had plenty of space for the pack ‘n play and our luggage. The bedroom had a king bed with four pillows, nightstands with lamps on either side of the bed, dresser, TV on dresser, closet with hangers and luggage rack, phone, clock radio, and iron and ironing board. The living room had a sofa with ottoman, a desk with a lamp and chair, TV on a dresser, chair, floor lamp, two tables with lamps, trash can, and a small table. The area between the rooms had a counter space with a coffee maker, ice bucket, and disposable cups. The cabinets under the counter had a microwave and mini fridge. The outlets were in good locations. The bathroom had a tub/shower combo, sink, toilet, hair dryer, four body towels, four hand towels, four washcloths, one bath mat, and toiletries (soap, shampoo, and conditioner). The room air conditioner worked well and kept the room cool.

Amenities: Free Wi-Fi, indoor/outdoor pool, fitness room, and free breakfast. The Wi-Fi was good – didn’t have any problems connecting and it worked fine for us. We used the pool one afternoon – it was rainy out, so we stayed in the indoor pool side, and it was nice. There was also an indoor hot tub. We ate breakfast at the hotel both days. It was the best hotel breakfast of the hotels we stayed at during our trip.

Service: Check-in was quick and the staff was friendly. The staff at the front desk was helpful when we needed to change rooms.

Drury Inn (Room 425) in Colorado Springs | rainerlife.com

Drury Inn (Room 425) in Colorado Springs | rainerlife.com

Drury Inn (Room 425) in Colorado Springs | rainerlife.com

Drury Inn (Room 425) in Colorado Springs | rainerlife.com

Drury Inn (Room 425) in Colorado Springs | rainerlife.com

Drury Inn (Room 425) in Colorado Springs | rainerlife.com

Food & Drink

Colorado Brewing Company – We ate dinner here on a Sunday night – the first night we were in town. It was located near the hotel. They offer beers unique to their restaurant, so we wanted to check out their selection. The beers and food were okay, but the service wasn’t very good.

Trinity Brewing Company – We had lunch here on a Monday. We arrived just after they opened for lunch and sat at an outside table. They had a great craft beer selection. We shared a sampler of beers and had sandwiches to eat. Glad we tried this local brewery while we were in town.

Trinity Brewing Company | rainerlife.com

Cheddar’s – We ate here on a Monday night – the second night we were in town. It was also located near the hotel. Typical Cheddar’s restaurant – good food, good prices, and the service was good.

Sightseeing

Garden of the Gods – We spent a morning checking out the Garden of the Gods. We stopped at the visitor center to get a map of the area and look around the gift shop. We then parked near the Central Garden Trail, which is a concrete path, and walked around for a while. It’s a stroller friendly path, and offers a lot of beautiful sights. It was crowded while we were there – it’s a popular place to visit. If you go, get an early start to find a parking spot and beat some of the crowd.

Michael & Gavin at Garden of the Gods | rainerlife.com

Garden of the Gods | rainerlife.com

Boulder

Hotel
Best Western Plus
We stayed two nights at the Best Western Plus in Boulder. The Best Western Plus is located in town, just off of US-36.

Location: Good. Off US-36, near main roads and some restaurants.

Our Room: We stayed in a king suite (room 216) on the second floor. It was a clean, good sized room and we had space for the pack ‘n play and our luggage. The room had a king bed with five pillows, nightstands with lamps on either side of the bed, chair with ottoman, a desk with a lamp and chair, floor lamp, coffee table, dresser, TV with remote, phone, clock radio, iron & ironing board, closet with hangers and luggage rack, bar area with sink, mini fridge, coffee maker, ice bucket, and trash can. The outlets were in good locations and the nightstand lamps each had an outlet on them. The bathroom had a tub/shower combo, sink, toilet, hair dryer, four body towels, four hand towels, four washcloths, one bath mat, and toiletries (soap, lotion, mouthwash, shave cream, shampoo, and conditioner). The room had sliding doors that opened onto a small balcony. The balcony had two chairs and not much of a view – construction was going on in the lot next to the hotel, but it was nice to sit outside and have a drink at the end of the day.

Amenities: Free Wi-Fi, outdoor pool, guest laundry, and free breakfast. The Wi-Fi was good – didn’t have any problems connecting and it worked fine for us. We didn’t use the pool, but it looked nice. We ate breakfast both mornings – it was good, a better than average hotel breakfast. This is the only hotel that I used laundry facilities – two washers and dryers were available for guest use on the first floor.

Service: Check-in was quick and the staff was very friendly.

Best Western Plus (Room 216) in Boulder | rainerlife.com

Best Western Plus (Room 216) in Boulder | rainerlife.com

Best Western Plus (Room 216) in Boulder | rainerlife.com

Best Western Plus (Room 216) in Boulder | rainerlife.com

Best Western Plus (Room 216) in Boulder | rainerlife.com

Best Western Plus (Room 216) in Boulder | rainerlife.com

Food & Drink

West Flanders Brewing Company – We ate lunch here on a Tuesday afternoon. This brewery and restaurant is located at Pearl Street Mall. It was fairly busy, and the food, beer, and service were all very good.

West Flanders Brewing Company | rainerlife.com

Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids & Solids – We ate lunch here on a Wednesday afternoon. This brewery and restaurant is located in Longmont. It’s a favorite brewery, so we wanted to check it out when we were so close. The beer, food, and service were all very good.

Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids & Solids | rainerlife.com

Sightseeing

Pearl Street Mall – When we arrived in Boulder it was too early to check into the hotel, so we decided to go to the Pearl Street Mall and have lunch. We ate and then walked around visiting some of the shops.

Estes Park – We drove up to Estes Park after having lunch in Longmont at Oskar Blues. It was a beautiful drive, and it was nice to be in the mountains. When we arrived in town, we parked and walked around a bit. After visiting a few shops, we got back in the car and drove around town and up to the Rocky Mountain National Park. It was getting late, so we didn’t drive around too long before heading back to Boulder.

Rocky Mountain National Park | rainerlife.com

Road Trip to Colorado {Part 1}

We recently went on a road trip to Colorado. On our trip, we stayed in Wichita Falls, Amarillo, Colorado Springs, and Boulder. This was the first time Gavin experienced long car rides and he did great. We tried to stop every couple of hours for a break. Some days we spent more time traveling than others, but we managed to see and do everything we wanted while on the trip.

TEXAS
Wichita Falls

Hotel
Days Inn & Suites
We stayed one night on the way to Colorado and one night on the way home. Days Inn & Suites in Wichita Falls is located right off US 82, so it’s a convenient location when passing through town. We booked a king bed room on the way to Colorado and a king suite on the way home. Since it was a good place to stay while passing through town, we ended up staying at this same hotel on the way home.

Location: Good. On Kell Boulevard, off US 82 and near restaurants.

Our Room: On the way to Colorado, we stayed in a king bed room (room 315) on the third floor. It was a clean, good size room and we had space for the pack ‘n play and our luggage. The room had a king bed and four pillows, nightstands with lamps on either side of the bed, sofa, coffee table, a desk with a lamp and chair, closet with hangers and luggage rack, TV with remote, floor lamp, mini fridge, coffee maker, dresser, phone, clock radio, iron & ironing board, trash can, and a safe. The drip coffee maker had 4-cup pot and coffee packets were provided, along with disposable cups and cream and sugar packets. The outlets were in good locations. The bathroom had a tub/shower combo, sink, toilet, hair dryer, two body towels, one hand towel, two washcloths, one bath mat, three paper cups, ice bucket, and toiletries (soap, shampoo, and conditioner). The room air conditioner worked well and kept the room cool. On the way home, we stayed in a king suite (room 217) on the second floor. It was a little more roomy, and had one more chair than the other room. It was in a noisier location though – it seemed to be located above the swimming pool, so we could hear lots of activity going on under us.

Amenities: Free Wi-Fi, indoor pool, fitness room, and free breakfast. The Wi-Fi was good – didn’t have any problems connecting and it worked fine for us. We didn’t use the pool or fitness room, so not sure about those. We ate breakfast at the hotel the first time we stayed. It was a basic continental breakfast – bagels, muffins, waffles, cereal, coffee, and juice.

Service: Check-in was quick and the staff was friendly. Shortly after we got to the room, they called to make sure everything was okay.

Days Inn & Suites (Room 315) | rainerlife.com

Days Inn & Suites (Room 315) | rainerlife.com

Days Inn & Suites (Room 315) | rainerlife.com

Days Inn & Suites (Room 315) | rainerlife.com

Food & Drink

Backporch Drafthouse – We ate dinner here both nights we were in town. It was located near the hotel. The food was good and they had a great craft beer selection. The first night we ate here, we both had burgers. The second time Michael had a chicken sandwich and I had nachos. The food, drinks, location, and service were all good. I would eat here again.

Sightseeing

The Mane Event – We didn’t really sightsee while in Wichita Falls, but we did drive around and see a few of the painted fiberglass horses.

The Mane Event (Painted Horses) in Wichita Falls | rainerlife.com

Amarillo

Hotel
Sleep Inn
We stayed one night on the way to Colorado and one night on the way home. Sleep Inn in Amarillo is located right off I-40, so it’s a convenient location when passing through town. We booked a king suite both times we stayed here. Like in Wichita Falls, this was a good place to stay while passing through town, so we ended up staying at this same hotel on the way home.

Location: Good. On I-40 West and near restaurants.

Our Room: On the way to Colorado, we stayed in a king suite (room 103) on the first floor. It was a clean, good size room and we had space for the pack ‘n play and our luggage. The room had a king bed with four pillows, nightstands with lamps on either side of the bed, sofa, coffee table, a desk with a lamp and chair, closet with hangers and luggage rack, TV with remote, floor lamp, mini fridge, microwave, coffee maker, ice bucket, dresser, phone, clock radio, iron & ironing board, and trash can. The coffee maker was single serve and coffee pods were provided, along with disposable cups and cream and sugar packets. The outlets were in good locations and the nightstand lamps each had an outlet on them. The bathroom had a walk-in shower, sink, toilet, hair dryer, four body towels, four hand towels, four washcloths, one bath mat, and toiletries (soap, lotion, shampoo, and conditioner). The room air conditioner worked well and kept the room cool. On the way home, we stayed in another king suite (room 203), but on the second floor. The rooms were exactly the same, down to the same artwork on the walls.

Amenities: Free Wi-Fi, indoor pool, fitness room, and free breakfast. The Wi-Fi was good – didn’t have any problems connecting and it worked fine for us. We didn’t use the pool or fitness room, so not sure about those. We didn’t eat breakfast at the hotel, but I walked down the second time we stayed there to get some juice. It looked like a standard hotel breakfast.

Service: Check-in was quick and the staff was friendly.

Sleep Inn & Suites (Room 103) in Amarillo | rainerlife.com

Sleep Inn & Suites (Room 103) in Amarillo | rainerlife.com

Sleep Inn & Suites (Room 103) in Amarillo | rainerlife.com

Food & Drink

Big Texan – We ate dinner here on a Saturday night. This is a popular restaurant on old Route 66 known for the “free” 72 oz steak – if you can eat it under an hour, then it’s free. While we were there, someone did complete the challenge. We ordered steaks, but weren’t up for trying the challenge. This place brews their own beer, so we were able to try some news beers we wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere. This was a fun place to try, but I don’t think I’d eat here again. It’s a big tourist spot, with lots of advertisement in and around Amarillo. Even our hotel room key card was an ad for this restaurant. It was busy when we were there, but the food was just okay, though some of the beers were good.

Big Texan Restaurant in Amarillo | rainerlife.com

Hofbrau Steaks – We ate dinner here on a Thursday night. This restaurant was located near the hotel, so we went here because it was convenient. We both ordered steaks. It was fairly busy when we arrived, but the food wasn’t impressive. This restaurant chain has several locations around Texas, but none in the area where we live.

Sightseeing

Cadillac Ranch – We stopped here on the way to Colorado. We walked out to see the cars, but we weren’t there long. It was a Sunday morning, and there were lots of people around. A few people had brought spray paint and were decorating the cars. Unfortunately, this place was littered with trash. We were there on July 5, and there were lots of fireworks on the ground, plus spray paint cans all around the cars. There was a dumpster by the gates where people come and go to get to the cars, but it was overflowing. Not sure if it’s always like that, or if it was because it was a Sunday morning after a holiday. Also, be aware of snakes – they were in and around the cars. This is an iconic old Route 66 sight, and it’s free, so it’s probably always got a crowd of people.

Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo | rainerlife.com

Palo Duro Canyon – We went here on our way home from Colorado. It’s located near Amarillo, and we figured we had time to drive down and see it. The canyon was beautiful, and we enjoyed driving around and seeing it. The daily entrance fee was $5 for adults and kids are free – it was well worth the $10 to see some beautiful sights. First, we stopped at the Visitor Center to learn more about the canyon. We then drove down in the canyon and rode around, stopping occasionally, to take in the beautiful scenery. We bought burgers at The Trading Post in the base of the canyon and found a picnic table in the shade to sit and enjoy lunch. We were there on a Friday and it was fairly busy. The trails were closed due to rain that had passed through earlier in the week, but lots of people were driving around and we saw some people set up in the camp areas.

Palo Duro Canyon | rainerlife.com

Our time in Wichita Falls and Amarillo was short because our focus was on getting to Colorado, and then on returning home. I’ll write a separate post about our time in Colorado.

First Family Vacation

Galveston | rainerlife.com

We took our first family vacation last week. We drove down to Galveston and spent a few days relaxing.

I’ve been wanting to get away for a short trip with Gavin to see how he handles traveling. Since our anniversary was last week, we figured it was a perfect time to get away for a few days. We drove down on Monday, taking our time on the drive and making a few stops along the way. We arrived in Galveston a little after 3:00 pm, checked in the hotel, and unwound from the drive. When we felt refreshed, we took off walking and did some shopping and had dinner.

Tuesday morning we relaxed at the hotel, then headed to Moody Gardens. We went to the beach in the afternoon. It was Gavin’s first time at a beach. We didn’t stay long, but we all got in the water and lounged on the beach. After the beach, we stopped at the hotel pool. Since we were already in our swimsuits, we figured why not check out the pool? It was Gavin’s first time in a pool, and he did great – he splashed the water and had a big ‘ole time.

We left to head home on Wednesday morning. After checking out of the hotel, we drove around to see more of Galveston. We took our time on the drive home, making several quick stops.

THE DETAILS

Hotel

Doubletree
We stayed two nights. We booked a room with two queen beds with full beach view balcony ($110 per night). Normally, I prefer to book a room with a king bed, but this was a last minute trip (booked the hotel the day before we left), and I wanted a room with a balcony and a view of the Gulf of Mexico. This was what was available.

Location: Very good. On Seawall Boulevard, near the beach, restaurants, and shopping.

Our Room: We stayed in room 314 on the third floor. It was an average size, clean room. Our room had a private balcony with a view of the pool and the Gulf of Mexico. The room had two queen beds and three pillows per bed- the bed was comfortable. The room included a desk and chair, nightstand between the two beds, wardrobe with hangers and luggage rack, tv with remote, wall lamp between the beds, lamp on the nightstand, minifridge, coffee maker, dresser (3 drawers), phone, and a safe. The coffee maker was a Keurig and four coffee pods were provided, along with disposable cups and cream and sugar packets. The outlets were in good locations, and USB plugs were also available. The bathroom had a tub/shower combo, sink, toilet, hair dryer, 4 body towels, 4 hand towels, 4 washcloths, 2 drinking cups, and toiletries (soap, lotion, shampoo, and conditioner). The temperature in our room fluctuated a lot during the night. The thermostat was sat at 69°F, but our baby monitor displayed the temperature from 69-73°F.

Amenities: Free Wi-Fi, pool, fitness room, restaurant, bar, and room service. The Wi-Fi was good – I didn’t have any problems connecting and it worked fine for us. The swimming pool was great, and wasn’t crowded while we were there. We didn’t use the fitness room, but it was in a separate building and looked nice. We never ate at the hotel, so not sure about the food. We did get drinks from the swim-up bar while we were in the pool. The bar had a good selection of drinks with typical bar prices.

Service: Check-in was a breeze, and they gave us free cookies. My only complaint was we didn’t have any housekeeping service. We stayed two nights (Monday and Tuesday), so our room should have been cleaned some time during the day on Tuesday. After our day out and about, we returned to a room that hadn’t been cleaned. As we were leaving the hotel to go eat dinner, I stopped at the front desk and asked them to have someone clean our room. We were gone a couple of hours, but our room was still not cleaned when we returned. I called the front desk and again requested service. After about 30 minutes, I called again and said never mind about the cleaning, but we need more towels and coffee. About 10 minutes later we got the items requested. It was about 10:00 pm by then, so I wasn’t too happy with the service.

Not sure I would stay here again. The location was great, we arrived to a clean room with a good view, and we enjoyed the pool and swim-up bar; however, the service was lacking. We got a reasonable price since we booked last minute, but I wouldn’t pay more than we did for the hotel. It comes down to service. If we had gotten better service, I would definitely recommend this hotel.

***UPDATE*** – After our vacation, I completed a survey Doubletree had e-mailed us asking about our stay. I mentioned my issue with housekeeping services. The manager e-mailed me to apologize and said it was discussed at the staff meeting. Also, a partial refund was issued to us. This tells me that the management is concerned about how the hotel is operated and how the guests feel about their time there. If we plan another trip to Galveston, I would look at staying at Doubletree again. I want to like this hotel.

Food & Drink

Bubba Gump – We ate dinner here on Monday night. The restaurant was located at Pleasure Pier, which was closed on Monday, so the restaurant was the only thing open. Good for us because it wasn’t busy. We sat in the upper outside seating area – there was an elevator to use. It was a good meal – we had the Shrimp Shack Mac & Cheese appetizer, I had Lt. Dan’s Drunken Shrimp and Michael had Shrimp New Orleans. For drinks, we had the Lt Dan Pomegranate Punch (me) and beer (Michael). I also had the key lime pie for dessert. It’s vacation! I get dessert, right! Gavin was asleep when we got there, but when he woke up I fed him two pouches of baby food. After that, he was happy. The food, drinks, location, and service were all great. I would eat here again.

Brick House Tavern & Tap – We stopped here for a late lunch (around 2:00 pm). We had the meat and cheese board as an appetizer. I had the Brick Grinder sandwich and Michael had the Chicken & Waffles. I don’t know if we weren’t that hungry or if the portions were large, but we both needed a to go box. They had a good beer selection and offered a hand pulled cask beer. Michael ordered the cask beer, which tasted okay. We sat outside and enjoyed the wonderful weather. The service was great, and I would eat here again.

Fish Tales – We had our anniversary dinner here. Gavin fell asleep on the walk here and slept until we got back to the hotel. Apparently, we had worn that baby out with our activities. Anyway, we had the crab stuffed mushroom appetizer, I had the broiled seafood platter and Michael had the ribeye. I had the Hammer Head (basically a Hurricane) and Michael had beer. The food and service was good and we had a great evening. Once again, we dined outside. This restaurant did have an elevator for us to use since we had the stroller with a sleeping baby, so we were able to get to the second level smoothly. I would eat here again.

Sightseeing

Sam Houston Statue – We stopped here on the way to Galveston. Gavin needed to eat and get out of his car seat for a litle while. We saw a sign for the statue and visitor center and decided to check it out. It was a great place for us to stop, and we enjoyed walking around.

Sam Houston Statue | rainerlife.com

Moody Gardens – We went to the aquarium, rainforest, and paddlewheel boat ride. One thing that I didn’t think about was school field trips. We went on a Tuesday, and it was packed with school groups. The buses were lined up out front when we arrived. We hurried in to try and beat some of the crowds, but it was still very busy. We saw the aquarium first, and that’s where all the school groups were. We didn’t have any problems with crowds in the rainforest or boat ride. Gavin did great and seemed to have fun. He liked the aquarium the best – he especially liked the seals. He got a bit fussy on the boat ride, which was the last thing we did. He was fighting a nap, and as soon as we left, he fell asleep. There were quite a few families with strollers while we were at Moody Gardens. It’s family friendly and the exhibits can be entertaining for adults and children. I thought that it was a little overpriced, but we had a great day. A day pass for one adult is $60, but you can buy individual tickets too. If you’re doing everything there, then the day pass is a good value. We bought individual tickets because we knew we wouldn’t do everything. When we arrived, we only bought aquarium tickets, but since we had fun with that we decided to do a couple more things. Ages 3 and under are free, so it didn’t cost anything for Gavin.

Moody Gardens | rainerlife.com

Beach – We went to the beach near the hotel. We weren’t planning on staying too long, but we enjoyed our short time on the beach. The beach we were on was clean and wasn’t crowded.

Gavin at the beach {Galveston, TX} | rainerlife.com

Davey Dogwood State Park – We stopped here on the way home. Once again, Gavin needed to eat and get out of his car seat for a bit. We saw a sign for the park and decided it would be a good place to stop. We parked at a picnic area to take a break, and then drove through the park. It was a nice park, and had lots of picnic areas.

Overall, this was a fairly inexpensive vacation destination. We did pack sandwich fixin’s and water for the trip. We stopped and fixed sandwiches for lunch on the drive down and on the way home. We chose to eat out while in Galveston, so our food & drink expenses were higher because of that. For sightseeing, we mainly did free things (Sam Houston Statue, beach, hotel pool, and Davey Dogwood State Park), so Moody Gardens was our greatest cost on activities. As I mentioned above, we got a reasonable price on the hotel. Our only other expenses were gas and shopping. We’re not big shoppers, but I did want some souvenirs. I ended up buying a Christmas ornament, a charm for my bracelet, and some clothes for Gavin (t-shirts and a tropical print outfit).

Gavin did great on his first vacation. He was teething, so he woke up on the first night and was fussy for a little while, but otherwise he was his usual happy self. We took his pack n’ play for him to sleep in at the hotel. Packing for traveling with a baby wasn’t too hard, and now I’m more aware of what he really needs and what we can do without. Really, we didn’t pack much that we didn’t use – mainly had extra baby food, clothes, and diapers.

It was a wonderful family vacation, and I’m so glad we took a few days off to travel together.