Well, I may not be the Travel Channel's Samantha Brown, but my recent vacation to San Antonio and points beyond has spurred me to share my freshly acquired travel knowledge.
I might be tempted to relate our trek to a sports event, so bear with me as I brush off my feature writing skills.
Accompanied by my husband and our four young children, we commenced in our preparations for our four-day, three-night budget-minded vacation.
Just like Santa, make a list and check it twice.
Before setting sail on the hot asphalt, we took precautions with our ride.
First, we invested in a new set of tires, had the oil changed, washed and waxed the vehicle and filled the gas tank. After seeing many motorists stranded, we were thankful for the reliance of our newly-outfitted sports utility vehicle.
Second, we were not going to step foot out of the house until we had done a thorough research of the Internet. We clicked on the San Antonio Visitors Bureau’s website where we found many useful links, along with coupons for favorite attractions at the site’s S.A.V.E. program link. Their site is: www.visitsanantonio.com.
Tourist locations such as San Antonio are also popular with camp groups, associations, and other larger groups of visitors so room availability may be limited.
It’s best to book as early as possible. Include hotel confirmation number with itinerary and other important numbers for future use.
Once we had our rooms and our schedule, we made an itinerary, complete with contact numbers and addresses for each day.
With the price of gas still increasing daily, we reused a thrifty money-saving option: picnicing. Picnicing – whether it be inside or out among nature, this method allowed for a savings of a decent amount of dollars over the course of our four-day excursion.
Travel tip number three: Plan out meals and include plenty of drinks so you stay hydrated in summer heat.
Our original plan included taking advantage of the free continental breakfast at the hotel. We packed easy to prepare items including sandwich makings, hot dogs, chips, crackers, yogurt, applesauce, raisins, donuts, muffins and other snack foods. We even packed a separate cooler with only drinks, mainly water.
Travel tip number four: Pack everything necessary, from clothing to toiletries, because finding a Target or Wal-Mart is no easy task, especially fighting a tremendous number of one-way streets.
Travel tip number five: I stole this tip from my brother, who is currently traveling abroad. Inform your bank and creditors of your plans to travel in order to avoid any suspicious debit activities or identity fraud.
Finally, pack as much as possible into your vehicle prior to the departure morning. Allow plenty of time for inevitable traffic complications.
Our goal for the first day of our vacation was to head out by 6 a.m., snacking on donuts while on the road.
The plan was to reach Georgetown just prior to lunch so we could picnic in San Gabriel Park before enjoying the cool temperatures of Inner Space Cavern. Following the cavern, we were going to meet up with a relative in north San Antonio before checking into La Quinta Inn Market Square.
That was the plan. Here’s the reality – we got off to a smooth start, remembering to lock the house and close the garage door. Surprisingly, we only detoured once for a restroom break, arriving in Georgetown just as planned.
The park was as pleasant as we expected. In fact the ducks were a little too friendly.
After our picnic lunch in the shade we packed up for the short trek to Inner Space Cavern.
This attraction is a five-star hole in the ground and a must see for anyone even slightly interested in cave formations.
The guided tour takes just under an hour and a half. Our guide, ‘Mr. Bob’ Herwig, took us down in a pulley car and seemed well-versed in the discovery of the cavern and its formations.
Inner Space includes a vast selection of beautiful helictites, ancient flowstones, stalagmites, stalactites and giant columns. Adventure tour tickets at Inner Space are reasonably priced, at $16.95 for adults and at children 4-12 at $8.95.
Check out www.myinnerspacecavern.com for prices and a downloadable coupon or contact them at 512-931-2283.
Tours depart about every 30 minutes, and no advance reservations are required. Since the cavern remains at a cool 72 degrees, it’s a great way to beat the brutal Texas heat.
After collecting our tour photo and souvenirs, we got back on the road.
Next on the schedule was a visit with a great-aunt on the Roller side of the family.
She was kind enough to treat us to one of her favorite authentic Mexican restaurants, Tomatillos Café Y Cantina, with an equally charming decor. Located at 3210 Broadway St., this restaurant (www.tomatillos.com) serves wonderful flour tortillas that are made fresh as you watch.
After dinner, we were on our way again.
To my disappointment, La Quinta Inn Market Square was not as advertised. The room we reserved was not equipped with a microwave, refrigerator nor did it have enough space to accomodate the six of us.
The front desk had no extra blankets or pillows and, upon further examination, the room had not been recently remodeled.
So we consulted our visitors guide, and found a Four Points by Sheraton. After some misdirection, we found our way to the luxury of valet parking and shiny marble tiles, for only slightly more than the run-down LaQuinta Inn Market Square.
We hit one out of the park with this room. We were on the fourth floor with a view of the tallest buildings in San Antonio. Equipped with two large queen beds, a living room, two flat screen televisions, refrigerator, Internet, and room service, and we were set. This Four Points receives five stars from the Rollers.
It was at this point in the trip that the groceries we packed became useful. The only thing that our Sheraton hotel didn’t include was a free breakfast.
But, for a room just seven minutes from the River Walk, we were willing to bend our budget.
After a refreshing night's rest, we put on our walking shoes and prepared to take on downtown San Antonio.
Day 2 agenda included a River Walk Boat Tour, IMAX movies – The Price of Freedom and Dinosaurs 3D: Giants of Patagonia – the Alamo, Guinness Book of World Records museum, Tomb Rider 3D adventure ride, an Alamo Trolley tour and dinner at Hard Rock Café.
The day went pretty much as planned. Our only regret is that we should have opted to watch the movies later in the day because the Alamo Trolley tours end at 3 p.m. (Taking the last tour does not allow for a hop-off pass, the ability to get on and off the trolley to view the missions along the tour).
Try to do the most popular attractions early in the day. By the afternoon, the Alamo had a line out the door and by the end of the night, the River Walk Boat Tours were packed with tourists.
We truly enjoyed our boat ride. San Antonio has recently opened a new expansion to the River Walk stretching it 1.3 more miles. Our children found the tour guides opening line particularly amusing. "If you find your self in the San Antonio river, just stand up and walk out. Because it is only three feet deep," mentioned the guide as he pointed out the lifejackets that had never been used.
Our entire family were very impressed with the IMAX movies especially the Dinosaurs 3D: Giants of Patagonia narrated by Donald Sutherland. The six story screen accompanied by the 3D effects truly gave the feeling of actually being among the giant dinosaurs. It was awesome.
After, included a stroll through the much awaited Alamo. Let me tell you upfront that the Alamo is no longer as large as life as it appears on the big screen even though the city has envoked an ordinance preventing building to be over a certain height as to not cast a shadow down onto the Alamo.
All in all, the square footage compiles about three rooms (one large and two smaller ones) that remain. It is adjcent to a tourist shop and library. Photography and cell phone use is strickly prohibited in inside the Alamo as well guests are required to remove hats in respect. Inside the Alamo were vast displays of the fight (weapons, gear, uniforms, etc.) and memorials to those that lost their lives defending the Alamo. On the afternoon we visited the line of tourists spanned out the door so we chose to glance through and return again before we departed for home. It really does reaffirm our appreciation for our history.
Later in the day we enjoyed the information our Trolley guide, Leroy Bernard Johnson (LBJ), had about the area sights including the Alamo, Mission San Jose, Mission Concepcion, and the real meaning of the six flags of Texas.
We followed this with dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, which was the most expensive meal we ate while on vacation. The wait staff was compiled of interesting and eclectic people. Most that did not know the importance of watching the Texas Longhorn College World Series game. After some convencing we got the television changed to ESPN. I was pleased that I was able to retain my Hard Rock Cafe drinking glass as a souvenir.
After retiring to the comfort of the hotel and with the kindness of a local friend, my husband and I were able to take in some of the night life of the city. We walked back to the River Walk. We were excited to find a club that specialized in three eras of music on different levels of the club, Acapulco Sam's. Unfortunately, on a Wednesday night the scene did not boast a packed dance floor, but there was not a cover charge. The middle level of the club was open to a balcony that over looked the River Walk. Even in the June heat, the breeze from the river made it pleasant.
Second thoughts – if we had to do the night life again we would have planned on going to a comedy club and then taking a Yellow Rose Carriage ride. For more information on the carriage ride go to www.yellowrosecarriage.com. Rides start at $30. At night carriages are lit with twinkling lights.
This is the first part of a two part series. For the rest of the story and more photos, see next weekend's edition of the News-Telegram.
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