Did you know there’s a tropical island paradise an hour’s drive from Austin?

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If you’ve lived in Central Texas for very long, you probably have a list of favorite swimming holes. But here’s one I just discovered and instantly fell in love with — Son’s Island in Seguin.

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Son’s Island in Seguin has a tropical feel. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

Picture this: A private, thatched-roof lakeside cabana for you and your friends, complete with a hammock, grill, tables and lounge chairs. You can rent a kayak, a canoe or a paddleboard on site, or enjoy beach volleyball, cornhole or jumbo-size game of Connect Four.

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Canoe rentals are available at Son’s Island in Seguin. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

OK, so the water might not be quite as blue as Hawaii, but you’ll still feel far, far away.

Want to stay overnight? There are tents available that come with two queen-size beds, two fans and lanterns.

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Son’s Island in Seguin also offers “glamping.” Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

You can book online at lakeplacidisland.com. Cabanas, which cost around $150 for an eight-hour rental and include a private dock, go fast, so reserve early.

Ideas for free fun in Galveston

There’s nothing more fun than a trip to the beach in the summer. But costs can add up. Got Galveston in your travel plans? Here are three free things to do.
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Bicyclists roll past the Galveston Pleasure Pier at sunrise, before Sea Wall Boulevard fills with cars. credit: Galveston Island CVB
Tree sculpture tour
After Hurricane Ike ravaged Galveston in 2008, a group of Galveston homeowners decided to band together and turn the devastation into art.
As you travel the island, look for its incredible tree sculptures, which range from the historical (a replica of the figurehead from the island’s famous Tall Ship Elissa) to the whimsical (a pod of dolphins with a mermaid). Kids will appreciate recognizable items such as a guitar, a squirrel and even SpongeBob SquarePants.
Find a list of sculpture addresses online at galveston.com/treesculpturetour — many are centered in the city’s East End Historic District — then take a free driving tour.

Taffy demonstration at La King’s Confectionery

La King’s Confectionery dates back to 1927, when Jimmy King learned how to make “Old World” candy in Houston. In 1976, his son, Jack, moved to Galveston and recreated an old-fashioned confectionery in the historic Strand District.
In summer, it’s a must-visit destination thanks to its working 1920s soda fountain, delicious handcrafted shakes, rainbow rows of candy and saltwater taffy, which you can watch being pulled and stretched in store most Wednesday through Sundays.
During a free hourlong taffy-making demonstration, made using antique equipment, guests receive samples. Call 409-762-6100 or visit lakingsconfectionery.com for more information.

Movie night on the Strand

No visit to Galveston is complete without spending some time in the historic Strand District, which is filled with shops, museums and restaurants.
After a fun-filled day exploring the area, head to Saegerfest Park, which hosts Movie Nights and Music Nights many Saturdays in summer. It’s a great excuse to grab a blanket or some lawn chairs and take in a free family-friendly flick or concert. Visit galveston.com/saengerfestpark for more information.

You won’t believe this Texas hotel and pool made of shipping containers

Move over, yurts, tree houses and Airstream trailers — there’s a new hotel trend on the rise. Now, visitors to the popular Texas town of Round Top, located just 70 miles down the road from Austin, can rest their heads inside a decked out recycled shipping container.

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The Flophouze Hotel in Round Top, Texas, is made from recycled shipping containers. Contributed by Flophouze Hotel

At the Flophouze Hotel, which opened in Round Top in 2017, visitors can choose from a half-dozen “houzes” outfitted with eco-friendly and recycled materials such as bowling alley floors. Hammocks, fire pits, cozy chairs and complimentary Topo Chico are among the amenities.

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The interior of one of the “Houzes” at Flophouze Hotel in Round Top. Contributed by Flophouze Hotel

MORE PHOTOS: The Flophouze Hotel in Round Top

Oh, and just to complete the theme, there’s a shipping container pool, too, manufactured by Modpool that recently opened.

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The Flophouze Hotel in Round Top has a shipping container pool. Contributed by Flophouze Hotel

Rates start at $175 a night. Learn more at flophouze.com.

New floating water park and obstacle course to open on Lake Travis June 29

If you’ve been seeking a new way to make a splash this summer, you’re in luck — a floating water park and obstacle course will open on Lake Travis at the end of this month.

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Waterloo Adventures, a floating water park on Lake Travis, is expected to open on June 29. Contributed by Waterloo Adventures

The new park, called Waterloo Adventures, comes from the same team that created Lake Travis Zipline Adventures. Participants will take a boat ride (included in the cost of admission) out to “adventure island,” where they will participate in a 45-minute session on the 600-foot Floating Challenge Course that includes more than 70 obstacles such as monkey bars, slides, balance beams, hurdles and climbing walls.

The $50 excursion cost also includes unlimited access to the Aqua Park, home to a 14-foot climbing tower, water slide, jumping tower and 25-foot trampoline.

Oh, and if you want a cocktail, never fear — wine, beer and frozen drinks, as well as other beverages and food, will be available. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday-Monday through October. Reservations are recommended.

This is the second water obstacle course to open in the area this summer — in May, QuestATX cable wakeboard park opened Quest Waterpark.

• MORE ONLINE: Nominate your favorite people and places in Austin for our inaugural Best of the Best Awards 

Traveling this summer? Don’t miss this Southwest Airlines sale

If you’ve been dreaming of a summer getaway, Southwest Airlines might have a solution for you. Today through Friday, Southwest is offering its annual summer sale with fares for June-August travel as low as $49 each way.

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A Southwest Airlines jet takes off at Chicago’s Midway Airport. credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Here’s a sample of one-way fares we just found out of Austin: $49 to Dallas, Harlingen and Houston; $79 to Kansas City, New Orleans, Lubbock and St. Louis; $99 to Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Tampa; and $149 to San Francisco, New York, Boston and Baltimore.

A 21-day advance purchase is required for this sale, and some seats and days are limited. Check southwest.com for more.

Where to watch the royal wedding in Austin and other things to know

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With the nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle just days away, royal wedding fever is hitting an all-time high. Whether you’re looking for a place to watch with fellow Anglophiles in Austin on Saturday morning or contemplating a trip across the pond to trace their royal footsteps, we’ve got ideas.

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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are getting married May 19 in Windsor. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Here are some things to know about the May 19 wedding.

Austin watch party

Want to view the royal wedding with a group of enthusiastic Austinites? Head to the Haymaker, 2310 Manor Road, on Saturday morning for a watch party that will include live hosts, wedding bingo, best-hat and best-dressed contests, a wedding cake ceremony, a themed breakfast menu and beer and cocktail specials. Coming with a group of eight or more? There’s a group-rate discount. For more information, call 512-243-6702, email events@haymakeraustin.com or visit do512.com/events/2018/5/19/royal-wedding-watch-party.

Watch from home

A variety of stations will be broadcasting the wedding live on Saturday morning, including ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, BBC America, E! News, Fox News and HBO. Get more details at atxne.ws/2jZFyzE.

Travel across the pond

Even if you didn’t get an invite to the royal wedding, you can walk in the footsteps of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and the other members of the royal family any time of year. Learn how to get the royal treatment in London and beyond here.

Five fun facts

Want to impress your friends with your knowledge of the royal family? Check out these fun facts. 

 

5 things you may not know about the upcoming royal wedding

The wedding of Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle is less than two weeks away, and Anglophiles across the world are abuzz with excitement about the royal affair. If you haven’t been keeping up, here are five things you might not know about the royal wedding on May 19, including a possible Texas tie.

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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are getting married May 19 in Windsor. Chris Jackson/Getty Images
  1. The wedding will take place inside St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, which is located about 40 minutes outside of London. Prince Harry’s father, Prince Charles, was also married to Camilla Parker Bowles in Windsor.
  2. There is a rumor going around Windsor, which I visited last week, that Beyonce is going to perform as part of the ceremony inside St. George’s Chapel. Granted, it’s a rumor…
  3. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will reside at Kensington Palace, the same place where his brother, Prince William, lives with his family.
  4. Meghan Markle is the first American to marry into the royal family since 1937.
  5. The couple’s wedding cake will be baked by Claire Ptak, a pastry chef who was raised in California but now owns London-based bakery Violet Cakes. The flavor? Lemon elderflower.

5 tips for planning a bat-centric Austin staycation

Recently I had a revelation. Despite growing up in Austin and spending most of my life here, I had never seen the famous Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge bats. With bat season now in full swing (it’s March-October), I decided the time had come to correct that.

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People line the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in anticipation of the bats. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

So my husband and I planned a bat-centric staycation for ourselves and our three children, ages 9, 6 and 5. It was a quick, one-night getaway, but it provided the perfect opportunity to relax, re-center and yes, finally spy some of Austin’s 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats.

RELATED: The story behind the new bat mural under Congress Avenue Bridge

Here are some tips for planning a bat-centric Austin staycation.

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The Hyatt Regency Austin affords beautiful views of the downtown skyline. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman
  1. Stay at a hotel along Lady Bird Lake. We booked a night at the Hyatt Regency Austin and started with dinner at the on-site Marker 10, which had a perfect balance of kid-friendly (think macaroni) and parent-friendly (think delicious sushi) options to please the whole family.
  2. Book a bat-watching cruise. The bats are spectacular no matter how you see them, but we loved our bat-watching tour through Capital Cruises, which departs next to the Hyatt Regency Austin. Our knowledgeable tour guide offered lots of fun facts as the bats peppered the sky above us.
  3. Snap a selfie by the Night Wing Bat Sculpture. It’s located at 300 S. Congress Ave., right in front of the new YETI flagship store. Afterwards, grab a drink at YETI’s on-site Barrr, which offers beer, wine and snacks. The Hyatt Regency Austin is even partnering with YETI to offer a YETI Experience Package that includes a visit to the YETI Flagship store and BARRR, as well as official YETI products.
  4. Sip a bat-themed beverage. If you prefer your beverage with a batty twist, head across the lake to the Four Seasons Austin, which serves up a Batini cocktail made with Ketel One vodka, house-made blackberry syrup, grapefruit, sparkling wine and mint. Extra points if you sip it while relaxing outside on the beautiful lawn.
  1. Time your Bat-cation with Bat Fest. Bat Fest 2018 will be held Aug. 18. Really, really love the bats? Plan your bat-themed staycation to coincide with it.

Berry picking, other spring fun worth a day trip from Austin

The breezes are cool, the sky is blue and fruit is fresh. If you’ve been looking for an excuse to appreciate Texas’ beloved springtime activities (berry picking, anyone?), now’s the time. Here are four places where you can get a true dose of spring fun just down the road from Austin.

Sweet Berry Farm, Marble Falls

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Adrianna Forister marks boxes of strawberries as paid at Sweet Berry Farm outside of Marble Falls in this file photo. Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

There’s no better way to welcome spring than by picking fresh berries, and there’s no better place to do that than at Sweet Berry Farm, where you can pluck your own fresh strawberries through the end of May for $2.89 per pound. The farm, which is open daily except Wednesdays and located near Marble Falls, also offers a variety of fun activities such as sand art, barrel train rides and a bounce pillow. You’ll also discover sweet treats including fresh strawberry lemonade and homemade strawberry smoothies. Blackberries may also be available starting in mid-May.

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You can pick a fresh flower bouquet at Barton Hill Farms’ new Backyard Bash. credit: Barton Hill Farms

Barton Hills Farm

Barton Hill Farms has already made a name for itself as a great place to go for fall family fun, but now they’re dabbling in spring, too, with the new Barton Hill Backyard Bash. Held Saturdays and Sundays May 5-27, expect 30 activities including face painting, backyard games, live music and fresh food and beverages including beer and wine. You can’t pick any fruit here, but you can pick a fresh flower bouquet. Barton Hill Farms is located on the banks of the Colorado River 30 minutes from downtown Austin.

 

 

Sweet Eats Fruit Farm

Located just east of Georgetown, Sweet Eats offers a variety of fruit ripe for the picking, including cherries, pears, nectarines and peaches (check website for picking dates). The farm also has lots of fun for the family, such as pony rides, a petting zoo, an obstacle course, a jump pad, live music and more.

Marburger Orchard

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The Marburger Orchard has been serving businesses, pickers, and product for decades. AMERICAN-STATESMAN file photo

A trip to Fredericksburg is always a good idea, especially when you can pick your own fresh fruit along the way. At Marburger Orchard, which is open daily, strawberries are currently on offer, with blackberries and famous Texas peaches on their way soon, too. For more information about pick-your-own season in Fredericksburg, visit visitfredericksburgtx.com/attractions-activities/pick-your-own-orchards-seasonal.

Start planning for summer! 5 water parks to consider across Texas

Are you ready for summer? Temperatures are already starting to creep up, which means it won’t be long before we’re hitting those triple digits. Never fear! There are plenty of water parks across the state that are well equipped to keep you cool and calm. Here are five you might want to put on your summer to-do list.

Epic Waters, Grand Prairie

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Epic Waters is one of the newest water parks in Texas. credit: Epic Waters

This Dallas-area water park opened in January, making it one of the newest, and most innovative, on the scene. There are no bad-weather days at this 80,000-square-foot facility thanks to a retractable roof that keeps the fun flowing all year round. Expect 11 slides on the water park’s slide tower, an outdoor wave pool, FlowRider boogie-boarding, the longest indoor lazy river in Texas and more. Want to make it a water park weekend? Stay at the nearby Great Wolf Lodge, which also houses an indoor water park as well as family friendly accommodations.

Big Rivers, New Caney

Located on the outskirts of Houston, this new water park is scheduled to open for its inaugural season on June 29. Expect a giant wave pool, a sprawling lazy river and the Gator Splash, which incorporates more than 300 water play elements. Also on property is Gator Bayou Adventure Park, where a nature center (with gators!), a petting zoo, pony rides, ropes courses and zip lines await.

Schlitterbahn, New Braunfels

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Grab a gator and float the Kristal River at Schlitterban in New Braunfels. credit: Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort

For water park fun, it’s hard to beat Schlitterbahn New Braunfels, which is already open on weekends and will be open daily starting May 11. Known as “the hottest coolest time in Texas,” this local institution opened in 1979 and quickly became a must-see destination for people across the country.  Go for the day or, for added fun, book a night or two at one of the on-site lodging options — you’ll get access to the park before it opens to the public and after it closes for the night. Special events this summer include American Heroes Week (May 28-June 1), National Women Learn to Surf Week (June 11-15) and the World’s Largest Swimming Lesson (June 21). Heading to South Padre Island, Corpus Christi or Galveston this summer? You can find Schlitterbahn locations there, too.

 

Typhoon Texas, Pflugerville

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The “Gully Washer” at Typhoon Texas in Katy is one of several family-friendly attractions expected at the renovated Pflugerville water park. Courtesy photo

Seeking the thrills of a big water park but only have a few hours to spare? Head to Typhoon Texas, which is located just 40 minutes from Austin in Pflugerville and opens for the 2018 season Memorial Day weekend in the spot that was previously Hawaiian Falls. Don’t miss the Gully Washer children’s playland, which includes seven slides, 100 spray areas and an 800-gallon water bucket that douses the entire space. There is another Typhoon Texas located in Katy near Houston.

SeaWorld Aquatica, San Antonio

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Cool off at SeaWorld Aquatica.

You want to go to SeaWorld, but in the summer it gets HOT. Never fear! Aquatica is here. This water park located on SeaWorld San Antonio property is filled with refreshing family fun, including 450-foot-long body slides, a 48-foot-tall tube ride and Stingray Falls, which takes visitors on a four-seated raft into an underwater grotto where stingrays and tropical fish are waiting to greet you. Go early to avoid the crowds.