Location: 2305 E Malone; Sikeston, MO 63801
Smashed Penny Machine: Yes, in the gift shop
I’m not a big fan of restaurant reviews. I really feel each people’s tastes are so different that reviews are pretty pointless. Just because I loved the food means very little to just about anyone else in the world. However I don’t consider Lambert’s to be a restaurant. This place is an experience.
I’ve been to Lambert’s many times over the years. It’s just far enough away from my hometown to make it a once in a long while treat but close enough you can just make a day trip out of it. I know from experience that on weekends this place can get very crowded and waits can be long. We arrived about 4:30 on a Monday evening. We didn’t have a wait for a table but the restaurant was pretty full.
Throughout your meal, servers will be walking around with “pass arounds” which include things like fried okra, black-eyed peas and fried potatoes amongst others. The real draw of Lambert’s is their fresh rolls which are also included with every meal. The server will literally throw a roll at you from across the room so be prepared to catch. The rolls are roughly the size of a soft ball so they are fairly easy to catch. If catching your dinner isn’t really your style (you probably picked the wrong stop) you can ask and the server will just bring one to your table. My daughter loved catching rolls and asked for another one every time they brought out fresh rolls.
Overall impression: Overall I don’t think the food is overly impressive. Its good food and you’ll get your money’s worth (large portion sizes, freebies, rolls) but it’s not going to be on the cover of “Fine Dining Monthly” or anything like that. The real treat is the atmosphere. We stop in anytime we can reasonably work it into a trip.
Location: 101 Reserve St; Hot Springs, AR 71901
Price: Free, parking may cost
Smashed Penny Machine: Not that we found
I threw this stop into the trip just so we could get the Jr Ranger Badge. I didn’t expect too much out of this park and honestly thought it would bore my 6-year-old but she’s obsessed with getting her badges. I was greatly mistaken.
This park is very unique for a national park because it’s nearly completely urban. I mean the whole park is basically just in the middle of downtown Hot Springs. The main allure of Hot Springs both in the past and today is the water. The water is naturally hot when it arrives to the surface. There are several natural springs around the general park area where you can see and touch the water. Touch with care though because the water is very hot. We could see steam rising from the surface and it was easily 75 degrees outside.
Start your tour of the national park at the Visitor’s Center and Museum inside the historic Fordyce Bathhouse. If you are doing the Jr Ranger program you’ll be able to pick up your book at the front desk. They also offer free guided ranger tours of the facility. We opted to do the self-guided tour so we could backtrack as needed to complete the Jr Ranger book. Each floor showcased how the bath houses were set up and talked about the various medical benefits that the springs were thought to have. My daughter loved exploring the bath house with its many twists and turns. For me it was neat to see what was considered high-class at the turn of the last century.
After completing everything we could in the Museum, we then went on an architectural scavenger hunt down Bathhouse Row. It was very neat to see the various styles of the buildings. We stopped in one of the other bath houses that has been converted into a bookstore for the national park so my daughter could shop. There are tons of stores on the other side of the street where you could probably get cheaper souvenirs but I’m big into spending our money within the park system when possible. After walking all of Bathhouse Row we returned back to the visitor’s center via the Grand Promenade which was much less busy. My daughter found a water fountain where you drink the natural spring waters still hot from their source. My daughter thought it was great. I didn’t find drinking hot water on a warm day all that amazing (it doesn’t taste any different from drinking hot water from your faucet).
My daughter turned in her booklet and received her badge and historic trading cards. At this point it was time for us to be on our way. I had planned on spending about 45 minutes here and we ended up spending a very relaxing and informative two hours exploring the park. There is more that we did not do. Several of the bath houses are still operational spas. So for a fee you could experience a real hot springs bath for yourself (that one is on my bucket list for a trip without kids). The park also has some trails that go up the mountain. Also there are many other locale attractions that Hot Springs has to offer. You could make an easy long weekend out of a stay in the area.
We brought in the umbrella stroller because we thought “hey it’s a city we can totally use this.” I would not suggest bringing your stroller into the Visitor’s Center. The bathhouse is 4 stories tall. There is an elevator in the building but it was an ancient thing and I never felt like waiting for it. So I carried a folded up stroller and my husband carried a baby throughout the museum. Although the museum is fully accessible, it’s going to be much easier without it. However when we walked Bathhouse Row and the Grand Promenade the stroller was very helpful. If we were to go again, I would probably leave the stroller in the car but park close enough to go back and get it.
Overall impression: I enjoyed this park much more than I thought I would. I was astounded how much my daughter enjoyed learning about this time period. I would suggest stopping if you are passing through the area.
Location: 21778 FM 1774, Todd Mission, TX 77363
Price: $30/adult, $15/kid as of 2018 season
Smashed Penny Machine: Yes it’s in the gift shop by main entrance near guest services
Texas Renaissance Festival takes place every Fall for several weekends in September and October. Each weekend has a unique theme. I’d suggest checking out their website as the themes tend to rotate and change each year (https://www.texrenfest.com/).
A couple things to note about Ren Fest before you go:
Price – This is not going to be a budget stop. You have to buy entrance tickets and then nearly everything inside costs extra. The various shows are free but the performers make their money off of tips and selling their DVD’s/CD’s, so expect someone to be collecting money as you exit the show. All food, drinks, games, and rides cost extra.
Mature Audiences – Some shows are for mature audiences only. If you are there with your kids and the performers announce that it is not a kid friendly show; they really mean that. Most of the mature shows would be rated R or NC-17 for language and subject content if it was a movie.
Costumes – LOTS and LOTS of people show up in costume. I only mention this because some costumes can be a little revealing.
Download the App – Ren Fest grounds are very big (over 15 acres). Having a map handy is a must, unless you like walking in circle’s all day. The App also will give you show times and a brief description of the show.
You can bring in strollers or wagons (rentals available as well) but the paths are not paved. We were able to push our umbrella style stroller through the property without any problems but if there has been rain it could get difficult.
Get there early – Crowds can be very large. I recommend coming early to beat the worst of the crowds. Lines, especially for parking, can get very long. Coming early will also help beat the heat. If you aren’t from Texas, please understand that September and October are basically still Summer months. Expect afternoon temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s.
Avoid the people asking you to fill out the form as you enter to win a free “whatever.” Unless you like junk mail and SPAM then by all means fill it out.
Arrive at shows early – Several of the stages are outside without much cover. If you want a shady spot (especially for jousting) arrive early.
There are a few ways to save a little cash
Come on a Sunday. As of the 2018 season kids are free with an adult ticket on Sundays. Sundays are also less crowded.
Bring a water bottle. Each member of your group is allowed to bring in one unopened bottle of water. Once you drink this water, refill your water bottles at one of the many water fountains (normally found near the restrooms).
Price shop – Many of the stores sell similar styles of items. You might be able to find a better deal at another vendor.
Window Shop – Just enjoy browsing the unique offerings.
Share food – There are many different styles of food (Italian, German, Polish, Greek, etc). To save money and allow us to try different things, we shared whatever items we bought.
We drove up to Ren Fest from the far west Houston suburbs. It was about an hour and a half drive across a lot of Texas cattle lands. Once you get closer to Todd Mission follow the signs about Ren Fest parking. Don’t listen to your GPS at this point. Follow the signs and directions of the local law enforcement directing traffic. We arrived to the grounds about 9:30 in the morning. After parking we changed my older daughter into her fairy costume because it was Enchanted Forest weekend and she had randomly picked being a fairy for Halloween that year (always awesome when you can get multiple uses out of costume).
After we were in the park, we stopped by a face painting booth to complete her fairy look. She choose a full face paint design which cost us $12 but it looked very nice and it lasted the whole day with minimal smudging even though it was HOT. We browsed several shops and bought a few souvenirs including a hand carved wizard’s wand and some hand knitted finger puppets.
We caught several shows including a whip show (Adam Crack) which was very neat but a little loud for baby (she and I left our seats and stood in the very back to watch it). We also caught the mid-day joust, which wasn’t a full joust it was games of skill. It was still very impressive to see the knights and their horses. Each section of the arena is assigned to cheer for a different knight. We really got into learning our cheer and jeering the other fans. My daughter bought a pendant from one of the vendors. After the show the knights met at the stables just a few yards from the arena and they all signed her pendant for her. The knights had a few sharpies but if you want to do this I would suggest bringing your own sharpie to help save time. We also paid a dollar for a carrot to feed the horses and we got to pet the “unicorn.” We also stumbled upon a Punch and Judy puppet skit in the Sherwood Forest. I think this was my daughter’s favorite show. The performer did a great job interacting with the kids through the puppets and lots of slapstick humor. The biggest drawback for this show was there was no seating.
I did limit my daughter to only one ride or game. Each ride/game were between $3-$10 dollars. She chose the spinning dragon eggs which I rode with her. It’s almost exactly like a spinning teacup ride only the ride operators actually manually spin your egg. They did manage to spin it with plenty of force that the ride was enjoyable. The ride lasted probably 5 minutes or so. While we were riding the Grand Marche Parade started by, so after we were able to regain our equilibrium we waved at the performers and shop keepers as they came by. My daughter was awestruck when the queen complimented her on her fairy costume and the royal court walked by.
Around two in the afternoon, we had enough of the heat and decided to call it quits a little early so we could make it to our hotel in Texarkana early enough to swim.
Overall impression: I enjoy Ren Fest. I love looking at all the various costumes people dress up in and I love the overall hustle and bustle atmosphere. It is a very popular but the only area that felt crowded was around the main entrance. All the vendors, performers and staff were very friendly and excited to answer questions about their craft. Although it is not a cheap stop I would splurge and take my family again.
Location: Galveston, TX
Smashed Penny Machine: We found one at Fish Tales Restaurant
I’m going to start by saying this is nowhere near a list of everything you could do on Galveston Island. I lived in the greater Houston area for over two years, made numerous trips to the island and still haven’t experienced everything I want to experience on this island. We had about 4.5 hours to enjoy the island before we were due back in the far west suburbs so this trip focused mostly on letting my kids and husband see the ocean for the first time and getting some good seafood.
We arrived on the island about 9:30 and drove to the local beach park of Stewart Beach. If you follow your GPS here, you are going to spend all your time on the main highway and get stopped at a dozen stop lights and see basically nothing. So ignore your GPS, take a right on 61st or 53rd Street (doesn’t matter which). Follow that until it dead-ends into Seawall Blvd. Take a left. Enjoy driving to the beach along the beach (just pay attention to the road, this is a busy 4 lane road with lots of pedestrians on it).
Stewart Beach is at the far East end of the island. There is a parking fee. Cost of the fee depends on season and day of the week. Off season weekend parking costs us $10 for the day. Now I’m going to be honest with you. Most people really dislike Stewart Beach and I fully understand their reasons. I agree the bathroom building is in need of some major repairs and the fact that you can’t leave the beach and come back throughout the day is very annoying. Despite these short falls I still recommend Stewart Beach. It’s easy to find. It’s farther down the island but not really remote like most of the beaches on the West end of the island. It has an actual bathroom/changing room facility. I’m sorry but when you’ve got two kids to get changed I don’t want to mess with port-a-potty and tiny changing huts. I need room to change a diaper. The park has picnic tables that are up off of the sand and depending on time of day have some shade. I’ve never found the beach to be dirty: the trash cans are never overflowing and you don’t have piles of trash on the sand. So I still say go to Stewart Beach just keep your expectations in check.
I will also be the first to admit that if you are looking for beautiful blue ocean waters with huge crashing waves, you’ve picked the wrong vacation destination. The waters of the Gulf aren’t nearly as rough as the Atlantic’s and for some reason (maybe it’s the tides?) the waters around Galveston always seem murky. However the water was still plenty warm this time of year (early October) and since we were there early on a Saturday morning in the off-season the beach was basically empty (us and 2 other families). We spent about 3 hours playing in the surf (which was actually a little rougher than normal thanks to a tropical storm way off cost; but also made the day a little overcast) and building sand castles. Around lunch time, we called it quits and rinsed the sand off as best we could and left the beach for some lunch. If you are planning a whole day at the beach, you can bring coolers to this park and there is a small snack bar (open seasonally) and plenty of picnic tables up near the restrooms.
We ate at one of my favorite Galveston restaurants, Fish Tales. Fish Tales is right on Seawall Blvd across from Pleasure Pier. I always ask to eat outside on the patio upstairs. It’s mostly covered and there is normally a good breeze coming off the Gulf so it’s fairly pleasant out there regardless of the weather. Plus one of the best parts of eating on the balcony is seeing the beach when you eat. The pier does obstruct the view of the water a little but not too bad plus you can people watch the people headed to the Pier. The food is always great and the staff is even better. Fish Tales shares a parking lot behind the building with Pleasure Pier. It is a pay lot but the restaurant will validate your parking after your meal so there is no cost. We also found a penny machine by the hostess stand and the staff was very gracious to turn a couple of dollar bills into change for me because I didn’t have any quarters.
After lunch we walked down the street to Murdochs. Murdochs is a huge gift shop that sits out over the water. It’s about a 4 block walk (one way) but I didn’t want to try to drive the car down there and look for more parking. Plus walking along the beach is always fun. After finding some fun souvenirs, it was time to walk back to the car and head out.
Overall impression: Like I said this is just a half day spent on Galveston Island. You could really spend several days on the island. Galveston is probably not my favorite beach destination but it isn’t as crowded as Destin or Panama City and it still has a small town feel even though it right next to Houston. You could easily get a hotel on the beach and do day trips to the great Houston attractions as well.
One of my best friends lives over a thousand miles away from my in the outskirts of Houston, TX. When I found out her baby shower was being held the same weekend my daughter had fall break from school I knew it was a sign that we needed to make a marathon trip down there.
Travel group: Myself (33), my husband (31), and our two daughters (6, 10 months)
Time of trip: Fall break in early October
Day 1 Travel from Evansville, IN to Arkadelphia, AR
Day 2 Arkadelphia to Brookshire, TX
Day 3 Morning: Galveston Beach
Afternoon: Baby Shower
Evening – spent replacing my husband’s glasses because he lost them in the Gulf, thank God for eyeglass stores open on Saturdays and flexible friends
We had the ability to stay with friends so that helped us cut down on food and hotel expenses. We also had a fair amount of time spent just hanging out with friends. There really is a lot of things to do in the greater Houston area, you could easily make a weeklong trip here.