Monday, August 17, 2009

Here's your $19 room ... and tent

I've always thought that staying at a local hotel for a couple of night is a good idea for a staycation. Here's an inexpensive, and kind of strange, offering from a resort in San Diego:
Called the "Survivor Package," the hotel's deeply discounted promotion lets patrons trim its standard $219-per-night rate on a sliding scale of deprivation, lowering charges with each amenity stripped from the room.

The most basic version: a room for $19 with no bed, toilet paper, towels, air-conditioning or "honor bar," and only a single light bulb in the bathroom for safety. The next level up adds in a bed -- sans sheets -- for $39 a night. For a bed plus toiletries and toilet paper, the rate is $59.
Actually sounds kind of fun, and most certainly memorable. I know my kids would think it was cool.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Community theatre production links

Here are some links to the theaters in the Dallas area related to this week's appearance on "Good Morning Texas" on WFAA Channel 8. Community theaters -- or theatres, because the spelling varies -- are fun ideas for staycations.

For a national list of community theatres, search the database at, which is the Internet home of the American Association of Community Theatre.

Duncanville Community Theater
"The Odd Couple" (female version)
Now through July 25

End of the Runway Theatre in Grapevine
"Lucky Stiff"
Now through Aug. 2

Amphibian Stage Productions in Fort Worth
"Gutenberg! The Musical"
Now through Aug. 26

Contemporary Theatre of Dallas
Neil Simon's "Chapter 2"
Now through Sunday

Rover Dramawerks in Plano (yes, that’s how they spell Dramawerks)
"Epic Proportions"
Now through Aug. 8

Denton Community Theater
Now through Sunday

Rockwall Community Playhouse
"Get Smart"
July 24-Aug. 2

You could also check out

"Captain Blood: The Pirate Melodrama" at Pocket Sandwich Theatre in Dallas. That's a comedy that encourages audience members to participate by throwing popcorn at the actors. Pocket Sandwich Theatre calls it one of their "infamous popcorn-tossing comedy spoofs"

Info at

Monday, July 13, 2009

Staycation idea: Community theater

In college, I took a class called “theater appreciation.”

Was I interested in a career in theater? Not really. Did I think I could be an actor? No way. I was pretty sure that the only role I would ever play in Hollywood would be that of a tourist on the Walk of Fame asking aloud, “Are you kidding? Wink Martindale has a star on the Walk of Fame?”

The real reason I took theater appreciation was because I heard that it was an easy class to ace. That’s also why I took a class in paranormal anthropology, which included guest speakers such as a palm reader and a person who told me I had a green aura.

Well, the people who told me theater appreciation was an easy class were right. But I did learn a lot, and the highlight of the class was an assignment that I wasn't thrilled about: I had to work for a week as a stagehand during a community theater production.

It turned out to be really exciting, and a lot of fun, as I helped move sets between scenes and place props where they needed to be. That’s also when I first realized just how talented people involved in community theater can be.

Fifteen years later, I’m a huge fan of community theater. It's also great for staycations because community theater is inexpensive, it’s nearby, and it’s something that’s often overlooked.

I feel the same way after watching productions at smaller theaters. They certainly provide more bang for the buck. At a smaller theater, I can actually see the actors and singers instead of thirty rows of heads between me and the stage.

But don’t get me wrong. Broadway productions are fantastic. Touring Broadway-like productions are also terrific, so if you can make those part of a staycation, go for it. But don’t brush off community theaters, or other small stages, because they’re not as polished. It’s not like the actors are going to forget their lines or start laughing in the middle of the play. It’s not like a third-grader Christmas play with shepherds dressed in bed sheets and carrying hockey sticks.

You can find a community theater near you, and its production schedule, in the database at, which is the Internet home of the American Association of Community Theatre (yes, they spell it theatre.)

If you live in a large metro area, there are probably several community theaters presenting shows. Smaller stages, some with professional actors, some with amateurs, are also great destinations. See four shows in four nights, even if it’s a dinner theater, and you’ll still spend less than on a typical Broadway show.

Many community theaters also offer acting classes during the summer, which can be fun. Theaters are also searching for volunteers to help with productions, and it can be a lot of fun.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Staycation day trip ideas, links

For staycationers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, I talked about several day trips during this week's appearance on "Good Morning Texas" on WFAA Channel 8. Here are links and info for those trips:


Davis, Oklahoma
Turner Falls Park has a 77 foot waterfall, picnic sites, concessions, hiking trails, natural caves, wading areas, sandy beaches
Arbuckle Wilderness Safari is a drive-thru safari

Broken Bow, Okla.
Beavers Bend Resort has camping in tents or cabins, swimming, golfing, Forest Heritage Center Museum, hiking and biking, train rides for kids
Great fishing in Broken Bow Lake


Whitney, Texas
Calls itself the “Getaway Capital of Texas”
Lake Whitney State Park has nearly 1,000 acres of area for picnics, swimming, fishing, camping, scuba diving

Glen Rose, Texas
Dinosaur Valley State Park has preserved dinosaur tracks in the riverbed
Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is a scenic wildlife safari in your car


Jacksboro, Texas
Jacksboro Fort Richardson State Historical Park has old restored buildings and a pair of replicas of a 19th century fort. It has tours, camping, hiking, wading in a creek.

Dublin, Texas
Dublin Dr Pepper Bottling Center
The only Dr Pepper plant using the original cane-sugar formula. Tours, soda fountain, gift shop
(There's also a Dr Pepper Museum in Waco.)


Athens, Texas
Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center
Aquariums with Texas fish, wetlands trail, hatchery, fishing
Also a company offering zipline rides

Kilgore, Texas
East Texas Oil Museum
Includes Boomtown, USA, –a full-scale town full of stores, people, animals, and machinery depicting the activity of a town booming in oil.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Special treatment at sporting events

Sporting events are great ways to spend staycation time. And if you plan ahead, you might be able to make a trip to the ballpark extra special.

You can contact a team’s front office or community-relations department and ask for VIP treatment. No, they won’t send a limo to pick you up or roll out a red carpet, but you can get special treatment. This is especially true in the minor leagues, whether its baseball, hockey, football or basketball. Minor league teams are very eager to please.

So take advantage of that. Before you go to a game, contact the team’s front office or community-relations department. Tell them you’re coming out to a game and you want to know how you can make it more special. If you’re bringing kids to the game, definitely tell the team that.

You and your family could be part of a promotion or skit. The team might allow your kids to get on the field for part of batting practice or give them a chance to run the bases between innings or after the game. (I’ve covered minor-league baseball, so I’ve seen this firsthand). Maybe you can get your kids a chance to sit in the dugout for a few minutes before the game. Maybe they can meet a few of the players, get autographs and take pictures with them. Whether a pro athlete is destined for the Hall of Fame or the end of the bench, meeting him or her is a thrill for kids.

A team might not be able to set something up for that night, so again, planning ahead is valuable. But it’s hard to imagine many teams saying, “Sorry, we can’t do anything for you.” That would be like saying, “Why don’t you just go find somewhere else to spend your money.”

That’s why it never hurts to ask.

One last thing, as we finish discussing how someone else can make a sporting event more special. You can do it, too, especially if you have young kids. If you’re going to a minor-league game, make it a major-league event by immersing yourself in it. Stop by the team shop and can get a team shirt and a team hat. If your kids want to make signs for the game, encourage them (and help with spelling). Take pictures during the game of the kids in their seats, with their sports garb on, and as they eat treats from the concession stand.

It will make a great souvenir. My wife made a scrapbook page of my trip to the RoughRiders game with my oldest son, and the best picture is a close-up of him licking a plastic spoon with the last drops of ice cream on it and chocolate all over his face. Great, messy fun.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Staycation idea: Comedy clubs, open mikes

The best comedians I’ve seen live are Jerry Seinfeld, who is as polished as an adored sports car, and Ellen DeGeneres, who is so nice that she actually takes requests from the audience. But I saw them at huge venues, which aren’t the best settings for comedy.

So I think I’ve had more fun during trips to smaller comedy clubs. Some of the performers I remember by name, as in the well-known comedienne Kathleen Madigan. But others are just a blur of faces who delivered one-liners and entertained the crowd for a night. Some are great, some aren’t so great, but they are always interesting. And it’s a fun change of pace from a night at the movies or a nightclub. If you don’t know where or if there’s a comedy club in your area, you can find a list of clubs at

Open-mike nights are also fun, and less expensive, at comedy clubs. Open-mike is often during the middle of the week and serves as an audition for a spot in the weekend lineup of comics that warm up the stage for a headliner. It’s fun to watch, but if you’re talented, and brave, you can get up on stage for a few minutes. Many comedy clubs also offer comedy workshops that give people lessons in performing stand-up comedy, so maybe your staycation could be the first step toward getting discovered.

Or you can just watch. That’s much more relaxing.

Open-mike nights aren’t just at comedy clubs. Other bars and clubs open up the microphone to wannabe singers, storytellers and poets. You’ll see some people with real talent who you’re surprised haven’t been discovered. You’ll also see some people of the character Phoebe on Friends who clumsily strummed a guitar while singing “Smelly Cat.” Either way, very entertaining.

You can find an open-mike night near you at A list of poetry slams, a competition where authors read their works and judges vote for their favorite, is at

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Staycation idea: Great Wolf Lodge

The check-in line at Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine has a sign that says, “Start your adventure here.”

What kind of adventure?

Well, about 50 feet from the sign are two animatronic trees that will be harmonizing with a pretend raccoon before the day is done. It’s that kind of adventure.

It’s kind of like being immersed in a Disney movie about kids taking over a hotel and building an enormous water park inside. Unlike a movie, however, Great Wolf Lodge offers the added bonus of a chance to spend $25 on a magi wand or $50 on a stuffed animal with your child’s wish sealed inside.

Bring the whole family and your credit cards. It’s that kind of adventure.

But wait … this is actually a positive review of Great Wolf. The biggest reason is that the water park, which is huge, great for all ages and kept at 84 degrees year-round, has pretty much ruined every other water park for me.

Great slides for kids and adults. Very short lines. No sweltering heat or need for me to slather SPF 150 sunblock on my pale skin. It’s so different from the experience at most water parks, where you bake in long lines while trying not to notice aging back tattoos.

(TATTOO SIDEBAR: Have you ever noticed that tattoos -- while they are pretty cool, edgy, sexy, all that on young skin – give off a very different vibe on older skin? It’s kind of like seeing a mom drive by in a minivan that’s blasting death metal. And an elderly person who is heavily tattooed? He or she looks like a dented UPS package that fell off the conveyor belt and got stamped dozens of times as it traveled the world.)

Anyway, the Great Wolf water park is definitely a winner. The staff is also pretty cheerful and helpful. Not so helpful during my visit were the elevators, which broke down in the morning as we were trying to get a stroller to our room on the fourth floor. Also not helpful was the person who swiped my wife’s sandals off the deck of the outdoor pool, leaving Janell with no shoes as we were leaving the resort.

Janell had to walk to the car in a pair of sandals normally worn by our 6-year-old son, Ryan. Janell was pretty ticked off as she walked to the car with her toes hanging out over the end of Nerf pool sandals, which looked ridiculous enough to become the next fashion trend. But upon further review, we decided that her sandals were probably picked up by mistake and not actually stolen. That could certainly happen in the rush to pack up a family’s pool paraphernalia. Also, although the economy has caused us all some pain, I find it unlikely that anyone would stoop so low as to swipe a pair of $8 Wal-Mart flip flops.

My wife did manage to avoid the greatest adventure of our trip to Great Wolf: staying overnight in the hotel with our two oldest sons. That was a very exciting part of the trip for Ryan and Cooper, and for me, uh … it was memorable. Here’s how it went:

After a long day of water-park fun, my wife drove home at about 8:30 p.m. with our 16-month-old son. We decided that getting Nathan to sleep in a hotel room was more adventure than we wanted. So Janell left, leaving the two double beds for Ryan (age 6), Cooper (age 4) and Dad (age well beyond that at which sleepovers are thrilling).

After a trip to the arcade and some of Cooper’s leftover birthday cake, it was time to go to sleep. Or at least it was time to discuss the sleeping situation.

First, Ryan showed me several options that would create lighting conditions like those at home. Ryan flicked lights on and off throughout the room and brought up other creative ideas. My favorite was his idea to leave the door open on the microwave because that was like having a night light in the room. We finally decided to leave the bathroom light on and crack the door.

After a bedtime story, Cooper and I climbed into one bed and Ryan got into the other. But then Ryan decided that he wanted to sleep in our bed, too, giving us three people in one double bed. Then Ryan changed his mind because it was too hot and went back to the other bed. Thank goodness.

He fell asleep pretty quickly. Cooper, on the other hand, decided that he needed to touch my arm every 30 seconds to make sure that I was still there. I’m not sure how long it took him to fall asleep, but it took me even longer. Part of the reason was a tremendously overstuffed pillow.

(PILLOW SIDEBAR: Do hotels generally use overstuffed pillows because they seem more fresh or upscale than an average pillow? I can understand that a flat, mushy pillow can seem like it’s worn out, but that’s the kind of pillow I prefer. The pillows at Great Wolf were like completed Jiffy Pop bags. They were so plump that my head felt like it was nearly at a 90-degree angle as I tried to fall asleep.)

The next morning, Ryan and Cooper both agreed that it was the best sleepover ever and that they slept really well. Apparently, they slept well despite waking up several times to go to the bathroom and get drinks of water. Each time, Ryan would tap me on the shoulder to let me know what was going on. Cooper also would tap me on the shoulder, but not to tell me he needed a drink or needed to go to the bathroom. Cooper just wanted to make sure that I hadn’t died or been replaced by a mannequin in the 10 minutes since he had last checked.

The most interesting part of the night was when I noticed Ryan sit up in the bed for a minute or so and “sleep sit.” At least that’s what I think he was doing. I said, “Ryan, are you OK?” and he just kept sitting there, looking straight ahead, his eyes opening and closing as he nodded off. He looked like my dad trying to fight off sleep in the middle of a church service or me battling the sleep monster in one of my political-science classes in college.

The day we returned from Great Wolf, I felt a lot like I did in those political science classes. I was tired, hungry and a little confused. How could the trip to Great Wolf be so much hassle – going anywhere with three kids always is -- and yet so much fun?

At this point in my life, I guess seeing my kids have fun trumps just about everything else. And I know I should enjoy any experience in which my kids still want to have fun with me because I know that won’t always be the case. The “parents are a total embarrassment” stage will be here before long.

That will be a very different kind of adventure.

*** "The Great American Staycation: How to Make a Vacation at Home Fun for the Whole Family (and Your Wallet!)" is now available. You can find it in stores or online.