Austin ‘critically important’ to Port Aransas recovery, tourism official says

It’s been 11 months since Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas coast, and Port Aransas tourism officials have a message to send: It’s time to come visit.

“We’re open for fun,” said Jeff Hentz, president and CEO of the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, when he stopped by the Statesman on Wednesday. “We’re coming back. We’re obviously in the middle of what traditionally is our busiest season and I’m just amazed that so many people have come and looked around and said, ‘You know, I can tell you had some damage but you guys are making a remarkable comeback.’ There’s really nothing that’s not open that people are used to coming to Port A and doing with the exception of the golf course.”

amr 062018 port Aransas 0
Violeta, 8, left, Jenny and Joe Stark walk along the water at Port Aransas Beach June 13. ANA RAMIREZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Hentz said the city’s lodging inventory is currently around 50 percent and is expected to be at more than 70 percent by the end of the summer.

In terms of restaurants and bars, 62 were open prior to Hurricane Harvey and 63 are open now. Two closed permanently after the hurricane, followed by three new ones that opened.

He called Austin “critically important” to Port Aransas tourism.

“For us to continue to support the growth in Port A, Austin has to be a central player in that,” Hentz said. “We’re really Austin’s beach. Austin is going to be even more critical in our marketing and outreach. Austin alone could probably keep our beach full almost year-round.”

Hentz urged tourists to consider fall and spring travel in addition to summer and to increase their length of stay.

“The businesses that everybody loves, they’re back, the owners are back. The characters and the quirkiness of Port A, that’s what’s back. Nothing left except the visitors, and that’s what we’re trying to bring back, because we can’t afford to lose a fall or even a summer when we’re open. We’ve just got to get the word out.”

From treehouses to trailers, check out these unconventional Texas hotels

Sure, hotels and Airbnbs are great, but sometimes we all crave a little something different.

If you’re seeking a unique stay during your next Texas getaway, here are some spots to consider.

Cypress Valley Canopy Tours

Architectural-Style-2
The Nest at Cypress Valley Canopy Tours. Contributed by Cypress Valley Canopy Tours

Cypress Valley Canopy Tours may be known for its zipline tours above the lush Texas Hill Country, but it’s also gaining a reputation for the overnight stays it offers in its treehouses. The property’s Nest, for example, includes two bedrooms, a lounge, a kitchenette/dining room, an outside shower and a small bridge that connects to a bathhouse.

Infocypressvalleycanopytours.com

The Flophouze Hotel

exterior4 (1)
The Flophouze Hotel in Round Top, Texas, is made from recycled shipping containers.

Visitors to the Flophouze Hotel, which opened in Round Top in 2017, can choose from a half-dozen shipping-container “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. Oh, and just to complete the theme, there’s a shipping container pool, too, manufactured by Modpool.

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

Infoflophouze.com

El Cosmico

El Cosmico in Marfa
Guest trailer at El Cosmico in Marfa, where customers stay in trailers, tents, yurts and teepees. credit: Chris LeBlanc

From yurts to trailers to safari tents, if you’re looking for an unconventional place to stay in West Texas, El Cosmico is the place for you. Self camping is also available here.

RELATED: Stay with the hipsters at Liz Lambert’s funky Marfa outpost, El Cosmico

Infoelcosmico.com

Son’s Island

IMG_0431 (002)
Son’s Island in Seguin also offers “glamping.” Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

In addition to being a hidden island paradise that’s just an hour from Austin, Son’s Island offers overnight glamping. Guests receive overnight entry for four people, use of a cabana overnight and a 14-by-9 tent with two cots and foam queen-size mattresses. There’s even s’mores on Friday and Saturday nights.

Infolakeplacidisland.com

Want to try a rope swing? Head to this free swimming hole just outside of Austin

We weren’t planning to try a rope swing that day.

But when my two daughters and I walked past one last week while visiting one of our favorite swimming holes — Camp Ben McCulloch — the temptation was immediate.

They looked at me expectantly: “You go first, Mom.”

It’s been years since I did a rope swing, if ever. But this one, flanked by crisp, blue-green water and conveniently located along the trail just to the right of the main parking area, was too inviting, and too easy to access, to pass up.

IMG_0604 (002)
Camp Ben McCulloch offers access to a rope swing. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

First, I got in to test the depth of the water. It was deep. Then I swung the rope back and forth and pulled on it to test its sturdiness. It was sturdy. Safety is paramount in rope swinging, of course — read Pam LeBlanc’s guide to Austin-area rope swings for more safety tips.

At long last, I plunged in, much to the delight of my daughters, 9 and 6, who instantly followed suit.

IMG_0597 (002)
Camp Ben McCulloch is a kid- and pet-friendly place to swim on the outskirts of Austin in Driftwood. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

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

It was the most fun we’ve had in ages.

Want to try it for yourself? Learn more about Camp Ben McCulloch, which is located in Driftwood and also offers camping, at campbenmcculloch.com.

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

[cmg_anvato video=4409309 autoplay=”true”]

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.

IMG_0432 (002)
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.

IMG_0442 (002)
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.

IMG_0431 (002)
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.
TR aas Galveston3
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.

exterior4 (1)
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.

interiorhouzeIV-4
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.

pool
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.

PHOTOS_BL_lake_travis_waterloo_adventures_things_to_do_austin_outdoor_activity_atx_family_fun_austin_lake_water_park_austin_tx
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 

Is Frontier really offering $15 flights from Austin to Portland, Seattle and other cities?

The latest deal announced by Frontier Airlines earlier today sounds too good to be true — $15 flights from Austin to a variety of destinations including Portland, Seattle, Detroit, Albuquerque, Reno and Providence.

So can you actually go online and book a $15 flight? Sort of.

Commercial Airline Comes In For Landing In Florida
A plane comes in for a landing at Miami International Airport. credit: Getty Images

You can find one or two $15 fares either to or from each destination, but they’re hard to come by and dates are limited. That said, there are some great deals to be found.

For example, I was able to book a flight to Seattle on June 11 for $59 and get the $15 fare for my return flight on June 16. The total for my reservation was $72.40, a great deal for a roundtrip summer flight to Seattle. Keep in mind that Frontier charges extra if you want to pick your seat or bring baggage, both of which I declined.

If you have flexible dates and want to take a trip in June, it’s definitely worth seeing what you can find. Click here to view all the deals. I recommend using the monthly calendar feature to quickly scan available fares.

This deal must be purchased by May 25 and a three-day advance purchase is required. Travel is available through June 20.

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.

Southwest And Other Airlines Testify At Safety Hearing On Capitol Hill
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

[cmg_anvato video=4353084 autoplay=”true”]

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.

GettyImages-948760262
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.