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As the most wonderful time of the year approaches, holiday shopping budgets are in the spotlight, and a study from WalletHub lists Sugar Land as one of the top cities where Santa doesn't need a whole lot of help.

According to the personal finance website, the average holiday budget in Sugar Land is $2,793 per person, the 15th highest in the nation. As CultureMap previously reported, Sugar Land residents here make an average of $123,261; the average home price is $337,600.

Fittingly, Fort Bend, home to Sugar Land, was recently named the second-richest county in Texas.

As for Greater Houston, Santa's bag could be a mixed bag, with three suburbs in the top 100, but the urban center falling far behind:

  • Sugar Land, No. 15, $2,793
  • Pearland, No. 36, $2,172
  • The Woodlands, No. 71, $1,733
  • Houston, No. 366, $890

Each year, WalletHub calculates the maximum holiday budget for over 550 U.S. cities "to help consumers avoid post-holiday regret," the website says. The study factors in income, age of the population, and other financial indicators such as debt-to-income ratio, monthly-income-to monthly-expenses ratio and savings-to-monthly-expenses ratio.

Despite nationwide focus on inflation strains, holiday spending is expected to be healthy, and higher than last year.

"The seeming social upheaval in recent times may lead households to spend more in an attempt to take some control of the environment which they can control," says Robert Wright, University of Illinois, Springfield professor emeritus who was among five experts consulted for advice about holiday shopping.

Elsewhere in Texas, 10 North Texas cities landed in this year's top 100 heftiest holiday budgets:

  • Flower Mound, No. 3, $3,531 (The only Texas city in the top 10)
  • Allen, No. 17 , $2,670
  • Frisco, No. 37, $2,150
  • McKinney, No. 45, $2,070
  • Plano, No. 50, $1,999
  • Carrollton, No. 55, $1,837
  • Richardson, No. 58, $1,823
  • North Richland Hills, No. 81, $1,658
  • Lewisville, No. 90, $1,630
  • Fort Worth, No. 366, $890
  • Dallas, No. 401, $845

Spending in the Austin area won't be ho-hum with the Capitol City's budget of $1,705 ranked at No. 78. Two Austin suburbs, Cedar Park (budget $2,855) and League City (budget $2,541) ranked 14 and 20, respectively.

Things don't look too jolly for San Antonio, ranked at No. 431 with an average budget of $803 or Pharr, which was the lowest ranked city in Texas.

At No. 553 with a budget of $487, the Rio Grande Valley city came in just a few spots ahead of last place Hartford, CT with a budget of only $211.

Photo courtesy of M-K-T

Shop 'til you drop with stellar deals at M-K-T on Thanksgiving weekend

Shopping is my Cardio

Are you ready for M-K-T's Shop 'Til You Drop Weekend, November 25-27? Jingle and mingle your way through an epic weekend of retail therapy at the finest shopping, dining, and wellness destinations in Houston.

Its stores and boutiques will have spectacular deals, promotions, and happenings during Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Sunday Funday. Here's a peek at what you can score:

Clothing & accessories

The Pop-Up Co-Op
This eclectic fashion collective provides a curated selection of women’s fashions and accessories along with unique art and home decor. The collective specifically sources from local designers and artists and carries a strong focus on providing an outlet for female-driven businesses.

The Pop-Up Co-Op Photo courtesy of The Pop-Up Co-Op

Cariloha Bamboo
Driven by comfort, health, and an eco-conscious lifestyle, Cariloha Bamboo joins the style of the Caribbean with the spirit of aloha to provide the best in natural luxury. Cariloha is completely merchandised with products made of eco-friendly viscose from bamboo, and specializes in clothing, bedding, towels, and accessories all designed and developed for peak comfort and breathability.

Enjoy 30 percent of all bedding and bath November 25-27.

Cariloha Bamboo Photo courtesy of Cariloha Bamboo

June & Co.
This woman-owned and women's focused boutique offers a mix of loungewear, work-friendly attire, everyday essentials, and evening wear for every type of lifestyle and budget. After stepping inside June & Co., visitors can expect exceptional customer service and an honest eye for styling from boutique owner Annie, who loves making shoppers feel good with professional tips based on their style and body type.

Score 20 percent off store-wide on Small Business Saturday.

June & Co. Photo courtesy of June & Co.

Anjouil’s
Anjouil's is a Texas-based women's boutique that strives to make your day a little brighter by offering their customers contemporary apparel, cheerful gifts, and statement accessories. In need of something for date night, tailgating, or just lounging around? Anjouil's has you covered with their vast inventory of on-point and value-based lines, so that you have plenty of options under one roof.

On Friday, enjoy 40 percent off store-wide from 9-11 am and 20 percent off 11 am-7 pm, plus all day Saturday and Sunday.

Anjouil's Photo courtesy of Anjouil's

Burdlife
The Burdlife mission has always been to surprise and delight with unexpected, distinctive pieces for your everyday outfits and those very special moments. With each hand-made piece, they aim to provide the best quality jewelry and statement pieces to add to your collection and pass down for generations.

Burdlife Photo courtesy of Burdlife

Chloe Dao
Fashion designer, entrepreneur, and Season 2 Project Runway winner Chloe Dao has been a part of the Houston fashion scene for almost 20 years. Her expertise in understanding women’s bodies helps her create carefully constructed garments to flatter every body type, while her talent and her commitment to philanthropy has kept her a namesake in Houston. She has collaborated and partnered with local organizations and institutions that help our local communities. Her goal is to educate, elevate, and empower women. At M-K-T, Chloe calls her store her “design studio” where she compiles inspiration, sketches, and fabrics to create her one-of-a-kind signature wears.

Get 25 percent off store-wide on Small Business Saturday.

Chloe Dao Photo courtesy of Chloe Dao

Grace Loves Lace
Grace Loves Lace is the creator of some of this century’s most coveted bridal gowns and accessories. They are known to provide a tailored one-on-one bridal service with private bridal suites in a warm and relaxed space. At your appointment, you’ll be greeted by a friendly stylist before settling into your own private styling suite surrounded by your loved ones. There's no doubt you’ll find the perfect dress to complement your style, body shape, and wedding type.

Grace Loves Lace Photo courtesy of Grace Loves Lace

Tre’Sorelle
Soft, whimsical, and full of love and light. Tre' Sorelle is a Houston-based, women-focused boutique based on a dream and a vision to provide comfort and beauty to women of all shapes and sizes. This beautifully curated clothing store is filled with flowers and lace, not only on the clothes but also on the awe-inspiring mural walls and creative installations. Find women's dresses, sweaters, and tops along with some great keepsakes for the little ones in your life.

Take advantage of 20 percent off store-wide on Small Business Saturday.

Tre'Sorelle Photo courtesy of Tre'Sorelle

TAFT
Born out of a mutual love for uniquely designed and well-made products, this brand is meticulous in their work, intentional in their designs, and obsessive over what makes the cut. TAFT’s shoes and boots are designed with boldness in mind to ensure all products are as unique and stylish as their customers. From the laces to the eyelets, they take the extras steps to ensure the product is perfect. Every pair is hand-cut and hand-painted using the best leathers from Europe. Your shoes will look beautiful right out of the box, and for years to come.

Get 25 percent off store-wide November 22-29.

TAFT shoes Photo courtesy of TAFT

Ray-Ban
Born out of necessity in 1937, Ray-Ban has been at the leading edge of developing high-quality sunglasses to protect pilots from the sun’s harsh rays. Since then, Ray-Ban has been the eyewear of choice for visionaries and cultural creators everywhere to express their fearless and most authentic selves.

From Thursday through Sunday, November 24-27, enjoy 30 percent off Ray-ban sunglasses, frames, and Stories. Some exclusions apply, see store associate for more details.

Ray-Ban Photo courtesy of Ray-Ban

Wellness

Pedego Electric Bikes
A complete line of 19 premium electric bike models suits the needs of virtually anyone, especially those who refuse to settle for less. Their motto is "hello, fun…" because everyone loves to have fun, and Pedego Electric Bikes are certainly fun to ride.

Score big holiday discounts on ridge-riders, trail trackers, battery upgrades, and more through November 30th. Enjoy holiday financing deals and 0 percent interest for 12 months on electric bike purchases now through the end of the year.

Pedego Electric Bikes Photo courtesy of Pedego Electric Bikes

SANNA Baby + Child
Welcome to an oasis of unique children’s clothing and educational toys and games that are current with today’s trends and styles. SANNA is family-owned and operated in Kingwood, Texas.

SANNA Baby + Child Photo courtesy of SANNA Baby + Child

Go Easy
This self-proclaimed “self-care” outpost for women of all sizes, skin color, and sexualities carries over 35 brands that support small businesses from all over the country and focuses on natural solutions, including niche, upscale CBD offerings.

On Saturday, November 26, spend $100 and get 10 percent off, $200 for 20 percent off, and $300 for 30 percent off.

Go Easy Photo courtesy of Go Easy

Focus Refined Eye Care
This luxury eye care experience houses the latest technology and a curated collection of frames, from desirable high-end brands to uniquely crafted indie labels. Owner and optometrist Dr. Bimal Patel provides the best for his community and patients. He specializes in primary care and the diagnosis and treatment of ocular diseases. Through his experience at one of the country’s top refractive surgery centers, Dr. Patel has honed his skills in LASIK management and specialty contact lenses. He is also one of the few doctors in the Houston area certified to fit Orthokeratology contact lenses, which correct your vision while you sleep. Schedule your appointment online or by phone.

On Black Friday, score 40 percent off frames, 10 percent off lenses, and 15 percent off contacts.

Focus Refined Eye Care Photo courtesy of Focus Refined Eye Care

Semper Laser
Have you ever heard the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none?” Well, Semper Laser is proud to consider themselves a “master of one” when it comes to laser hair removal. By specializing exclusively in laser hair removal, Semper can bring you the newest technology, more laser units to decrease wait time, and exceptional service at the most affordable prices.

Semper Laser Photo courtesy of Semper Laser

Huemn
Huemn is leading the human optimization revolution in Houston. They specialize in science-based recovery and pain management, which enhances energy, sleep, and performance while reducing inflammation for long-term health benefits. At Huemn, they believe that recovery by way of the body's natural systems is one of the most overlooked aspects of performance and health. All their services are designed to work synergistically with the body's natural systems, with the ultimate goal of creating optimal function and performance of the human body. Huemn's services include whole body cryotherapy, local cryotherapy, lymphatic drainage, compression, neufit, and photobiomodulation.

Starting now, receive 25 percent off bio-wellness service credit packages, 20 percent off beauty service packages and supplements, and holiday discounts on yearly memberships for cryotherapy, compression, photobiomodulation, and more.

Huemn Photo courtesy of Huemn

The Skin Clinic
This boutique medspa is where quality skincare, effective anti-aging treatments, and natural injectables converge.

The Skin Clinic Photo courtesy of The Skin Clinic

Treadwell
Treadwell combines men's grooming and wellness services in one shared place. Services include haircuts, shaves, facials, and hand and foot care, as well as wellness services such as IV drip therapy, cryotherapy, and an infrared sauna.

On Friday through Sunday, November 25-27, you can purchase a $100 gift card for only $75 and snag exclusive deals on three and six-month membership packages, while also receiving free B-12 injections with all gift purchases in-store.

Treadwell Photo courtesy of Treadwell

Union Studio Yoga
Union Studio Yoga believes in the power of consistent practice and helps their students create positive, healthy lifestyles by providing a variety of yoga and meditation classes with some of the best instructors in the city. Join Union Studio Yoga inside their studio for class sessions or sign up for their Yoga on the Lawn classes, held directly outside at the M-K-T Yoga Lawn.

Check out the curated holiday gift bundles, including a gift certificate for a class or series and products including eye pillows, sage, and mala bracelets made by local artisans.

Union Studio Yoga Photo courtesy of Union Studio Yoga

Solidcore
This is pilates redefined: a 50-minute, full-body workout that utilizes slow and controlled movements, designed to break down muscles to failure so that they build back stronger and leaner. It’s an immersive experience, with classes held under blue neon lights with energizing music, an encouraging coach, and a community of people joined together to create the strongest version of themselves. The workout is intense, but results are unbelievable.

Solidcore Photo courtesy of Solidcore

SMYL Dentistry
Imagine wanting to go to the dentist. Imagine a dental experience that's like going to your favorite local shop, where you run into people you know, the receptionist calls you by name, and you are always greeted with a SMYL. SMYL Dentistry created a practice that provides the highest quality of service with your health, wellbeing, and cosmetic goals in mind, staffed by a fun, energetic, and empathetic team that is dedicated to bringing you the best dentistry with a personalized visit every time.

SMYL Dentistry Photo courtesy of SMYL Dentistry

Venetian Nail Spa
The Venetian was designed to elevate your nail salon experience by offering high-quality work, stunning interior design, and impeccable service. Their innovative and industry-leading concept is an urban-inspired nirvana, offering leading technology along with environmentally friendly products and the best clean beauty practices to meet your beauty standards and to benefit our planet.

Venetian Nail Spa Photo courtesy of Venetian Nail Spa

SHAMPU
Founded in 2013 by Keelan Baker, SHAMPU is a modern hair salon teamed with Houston’s best and mastered stylists and colorists. Cuts, styling, coloring, highlights, and balayage are all offered at the salon for both men and women and each service is by appointment only. SHAMPU is known for its cutting-edge techniques, exceptional hairstyle trends, and has perfected the art of making every client feel beautiful and confident with every appointment.

SHAMPU Photo courtesy of SHAMPU

Body20
Body20 is a boutique fitness studio that utilizes an FDA-cleared electro-muscle stimulation suit to deliver isolated muscle stimulation. It is coordinated with a one-on-one exercise program to produce incredible results in rapid time. In a 20-minute training session, your personal trainer will put you through a customized program, giving your body over 150 times more muscle contractions than a conventional workout without any need to pick up a weight or use traditional gym equipment.

Body20 Photo courtesy of Body20

Photo courtesy of Houston SPCA

Marvel at Neiman Marcus' holiday window displays — and the adoptable pets inside

Best Present Ever

Fluffy tails and wet noses will return to Neiman Marcus' magical storefront windows this holiday season. The luxury retailer has teamed up with the Houston SPCA for the 34th annual Homes For the Holidays pet adoption event.

When the official start to the holiday shopping season kicks off the day after Thanksgiving, shoppers will once again enjoy the thrill of viewing available pets, as the little felines and canines frolic inside the notable holiday windows.

Neiman Marcus will open its doors for shopping at 9 am on Black Friday to welcome all, from the young to the young-at-heart, to what has become one of Houston’s most cherished holiday traditions.

The storefront will be filled with adoptable loves at 10 am each participating date. Come and see these adorable faces every weekend from November 25-December 11, and then daily from December 16-December 23.

The premier retailer will once again generously gift $5 for every dog or cat adopted from the Houston SPCA during this event.

Many local animal lovers have made the Homes For the Holidays pet adoption event part of their annual holiday tradition for more than three decades. Each season, Neiman Marcus’ eye-catching storefront windows have helped connect hundreds of animals with loving homes, just in time for the holidays.

Each pet adoption package at the Houston SPCA is valued at around $500 and includes the pet’s microchip, spay or neuter surgery, up-to-date vaccinations, a free wellness veterinary exam at any VCA Animal Hospital, and a free sample-sized bag of Hill’s Science Diet.

While the available pets will vary at Neiman Marcus, all available pets currently at the Houston SPCA can be found here.

Photo courtesy of San Marcos Convention and Visitors Bureau

Visit the shopper's paradise of San Marcos for luxe goods and more

Holiday Shopping Destination

There's no better excuse for a shopping spree than the holidays, and this year, why not do something a little different after you make your list?

The city of San Marcos offers the ultimate shopping experience for friends, family, or even if you're going solo. With everything from quirky vintage finds to name-brand items, you'll discover what you're looking for — and probably a few things you didn't know you needed.

First stop: the San Marcos Outlets. This massive collection of luxury shops includes Tanger Outlets and San Marcos Premium Outlets; together, they offer 220 stores for a total of 1.2-million-square feet of shopping.

Some big-name retailers have only one Texas outlet, and they're located in San Marcos. Brahmin, CH Carolina Herrera, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, MCM, Prada, Saint Laurent, Salvatore Ferragamo, Versace, West Elm, and Williams-Sonoma are just a few.

If boutiques are more your speed, then you'll get your fill here. San Marcos abounds with shops selling outdoor adventure gear, local apparel, hot trends, and always-in-style classics.

To find something for the music lovers in your life, make sure to stop at Sundance Record Lagoon for vinyl, music memorabilia, and much more.

Hit up the vintage shops for funky finds and hip gifts. Now more popular than ever, thrift stores give you the opportunity to remain environmentally conscious while giving. You're also most likely to find the hottest fashion trends here.

Downtown San Marcos has several great options for discovering fabulous, new-to-you items. Try Vagabond, Old Soul Exchange, Solid Gold, Twice Blessed, Shop 1893, and KnD’s Resale & More.

For the art lovers, Wimberley Glassworks lets you purchase some colorful creations from the gallery. Or head to San Marcos Art Center for a one-of-a-kind piece of art from local makers. You can also find great gift ideas at Art Squared on the second Saturday of each month.

If all the shopping wears you out, refuel with any one of the city's tempting restaurants and bars. San Marcos has four craft breweries: AquaBrew, Sean Patrick’s Irish Pub, Middleton Brewing, and Roughhouse Brewing.

Two of those are located in downtown, with outdoor or patio areas for you to sip and savor under the big and bright Texas stars. Or you can check out Patio Dolcetto for wines, bites, and a romantic courtyard.

You'll also find coffee shops, concert venues, and tons of outdoor activities to relax with after a full day of holiday shopping.

San Marcos offers two massive outlet shopping centers with luxury and brand-name retailers.

Photo courtesy of San Marcos Convention and Visitors Bureau
San Marcos offers two massive outlet shopping centers with luxury and brand-name retailers.
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Wrap up your holiday shopping with these can't-fail gift ideas

Check Your List

If you have a wide range of people to shop for this holiday season, you're going to need a lot of gift ideas. Luckily, we've got 'em.

From high-tech gadgets to spirits guaranteed to make you feel merry and bright, all the best presents are right here. You might even finish your shopping early this year, which is perhaps the best present of all.

Garrison Brothers holiday Photo courtesy of Garrison Brothers

Garrison Brothers
Give the holiday gift of hand-crafted boldness. Garrison Brothers bourbon is rich, smooth, and overflowing with quality, and always makes a great holiday gift for friends and family — or yourself.

Located in the Texas Hill Country, Garrison Brothers is the first legal bourbon distillery in Texas history and is one of the first distilleries in America outside of Kentucky to produce authentic, handmade bourbon whiskey — and only bourbon whiskey. They currently have a waitlist of more than 15,000 just to volunteer on bottling days, and their Cowboy Bourbon normally sells out within hours of its release.

Every expression of Garrison Brothers bourbon is made from a sweet mash bill and barrel-aged in the intense Texas climate. The extreme heat creates multiple aging seasons in a year, resulting in a darker, richer, and fuller bourbon; bolder than almost any other bourbon on the market.

Saint Bernard hat Photo courtesy of Saint Bernard

Saint Bernard
The Corazon Playero Luanna Hat, priced at $239, is a customizable, handmade accessory that's sure to turn heads. A fan and diamonds motif brings a bright spot to winter and beyond, while the natural palm leaf construction and inner elastic band guarantee comfort.

Saint Bernard's mission is to provide its customers with an evolving collection of carefully selected products from the best brands. They strive to build a shopping experience that is easy, fun, and enjoyable. Whether you are skiing, golfing, hiking, swimming, or relaxing at home, their stores are up for the task. And wherever you are in the world, the online shop is open 24/7.

Be on the lookout for its mascot, the St. Bernard, while you shop, as she may just pop in. You also earn 5 percent back on every purchase — the more you shop, the more you earn.

Precision Camera in Houston Photo courtesy of Precision Camera

Precision Camera & Video
Serving Central Texas for over 40 years, Precision Camera's new store in the Woodlands has a knowledgeable staff of photographers that are ready to provide any photography or gear-related advice and service you may need. From daily and weekly camera equipment rentals to a robust used gear section, service and repairs, a full-service photo lab, and photography classes, Precision Camera is here to serve the Houston photographic community in every way possible.

You can feel at ease shopping local and be confident that you're getting the best deal. With Precision's low-price promise, if you find a better deal from an authorized dealer, Precision Camera will match their price. From beginners to pros, Precision Camera has the gear you’ll need.

Visit Precision Camera in The Woodlands right off I-forty-five, the North Freeway in The Sam Moon Center. See their full holiday guide here for gift inspo and the most up to date sales.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4 phone Photo courtesy of Samsung

Samsung
What do you get the person in your life who has everything? A device unlike any other, fit for a budding content creator and avid multitasker. Flexible and powerful, Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4 empowers you to capture and create with its unique design. Z Flip4 is built to make the most of the holidays and beyond with its iconic and customizable form factor, upgraded camera experience, super fast charging batteries, and powerful processor.

In the season of capturing memories, Z Flip4 revolutionizes group photos, with no need for a tripod or professional photographer: just partially fold the Galaxy Z Flip4 so it stands on its own and capture crisp photos at various angles with Flex Mode hands-free. Packing powerful cameras and Samsung’s latest incredible night photography features, Z Flip4 comes ready for the perfect family portrait or selfie. After you take the perfect shot, easily share your portraits and videos with your family over Quick Share – with just a private link or QR code, quickly send your shots without losing their quality, even to those who don’t use Galaxy devices.

With its one-of-a-kind design and customizable colors, you can personalize every element of the Galaxy Z Flip4 for the special someone in your life. Choose from custom fonts and designs to create a coordinated cover screen and main screen aesthetic tailored to their tastes. Flip4’s cover screen theme can even be synced to other Galaxy devices — so you can give the gift of sleek, fashionable coordination at any holiday party. And for that special someone who deserves a special smartphone, you can build a custom Z Flip4 on Samsung’s Bespoke Design Studio with glass colors and frame options that provide 75 unique combinations for the ultimate personalized gift. Starting at only $209.99 with eligible trade-in.

Milam & Greene Whiskey Photo courtesy of Milam & Greene Whiskey

Milam & Greene Whiskey
Milam & Greene Whiskey is made by some of the world’s most experienced whiskey professionals, including CEO, master blender, and author Heather Greene and 30-year whiskey veteran and master distiller Marlene Holmes. Its charming distillery sits in the lush Texas Hill Country, where the hot summers, unpredictable winters, and wild temperature variances add spark and personality to its spirit.

The Milam & Greene whiskey team distills in Blanco, Texas, on small copper pot stills as well as in Kentucky on classic column stills, using proprietary yeast and grain recipes. Aging takes place in rickhouses located across four states in different casks for a variety of flavors, resulting in the most thorough array of casks made and collected by any craft distiller. These casks are all brought home to Texas to become the ingredients from which the award-winning whiskey range is batched to create perfection.

Awarded 93 points by Wine Enthusiast, the Milam & Greene Triple Cask Bourbon is a batch of three hand-selected straight bourbon whiskies: Texas bourbon for a pop of spice, Kentucky bourbon for vanillas and fruits, and vintage Tennessee bourbon for structure and tannins. Products can be found at premium retailers across the state and pricing starts at $40.

Drybar gift card Photo courtesy of Drybar

Drybar
Know someone with lots of holiday parties to attend? Give the gift of Drybar, where it's no cuts, no color, just blowouts. Gift cards can be used toward all services or products. Find your nearest Drybar here and follow on Instagram @drybarshops_houston.

People toasting with champagne Photo courtesy of Sheraton Austin

Sheraton Austin at the Capitol
Choose the Sheraton Austin as your holiday headquarters this year. Whether you’re visiting friends and family or planning a local staycation, take advantage of 15 percent off of premier accommodations, 3 pm late checkout, and a complimentary bottle of Champagne at check-in. Bonus: It's located near some of Austin’s major attractions. Create a little room in your life for relaxation and retreat with this offer, which is good now through January 15, 2023.

Texas Artisan Markets presents Holiday VIBE Market

The Holiday VIBE Market will include over 150 local artists, creatives, and makers. There will be sounds provided by DJ Lifted, complimentary cocktails by Desert Door, Deep Eddy and Dripping Springs Distilling, and 10 different concept restaurants.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Disney's Strange World is a visual stunner with too many story ideas

Movie Review

For a studio whose entire reason for being seems to rely on creating and sustaining familiar characters, Walt Disney Animation takes its fair share of risks. In the last 10 years, it has released nine films, seven of which were not based on pre-existing properties (the other two were sequels for two of those seven). That’s a lot of new stuff, most of which has succeeded mightily for the perennially-popular leaders in animation.

They’re at it again with Strange World, which takes place in an unknown country/world known as Avalonia, where Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) is a famous explorer whose only desire is to find a way over, around, or through the imposing mountains surrounding the land. His son, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), doesn’t share his enthusiasm, and an early discovery by Searcher of a unique energy source leads to a rift between father and son. Jaeger continues onwards, while Searcher returns home with a plant they call Pando that creates harmony throughout the land.

Years later, when the plant shows signs of failure, Searcher is recruited by Avalonia leader Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) to help in an expedition to find the source of whatever is attacking Pando. What they and others – including Searcher’s wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) – find in their travels certainly lives up to the title.

Co-directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen and written by Nguyen, the film is a visual stunner. The quality of animation in Disney movies rarely fails to impress, and Strange World is the latest and greatest example. Whether it’s the humans, the landscape, or the innumerable weird creatures that populate the film, there is almost nothing that doesn’t deserve to be stared at and admired.

It’s odd, then, that the story does not come close to matching the graphics. There are a variety of reasons for this failure. Nguyen is the sole credited writer, and he stuffs the film full of big and small ideas, probably too many for this type of project. Searcher’s family and the world of Avalonia and beyond are diverse in multiple ways, to the point that it feels like Nguyen was trying to include everything he could think of in case he never got another shot.

The bigger sin, though, is how quickly the film advances through its plot, often bringing up new things out of nowhere. While Searcher and his family make for an interesting group, the side characters never make an impact. There are also multiple instances where the story takes a turn that makes no sense, either in the world of the film or a storytelling manner.

This includes the final act of the film, which features a significant twist that is presented and accepted in a way that doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. It adds on yet another message in a movie that contains a lot of them, but in a way that even those inclined to believe in what it’s trying to say may wonder why that part is there at all.

The science fiction element of Strange World is a bonanza for the filmmakers and animators to go as wild as they wanted in the visual department. But all that splendor is in service of a story that just doesn’t measure up, making it one of Disney’s less successful offerings in recent years.

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Strange World is now playing in theaters.

Photo courtesy of Disney

Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), Jaeger (Dennis Quaid), and Ethan Clade (Jaboukie Young-White) in Strange World

New Galveston-area beach club and RV resort opens with Texas-sized pool, restaurant, dog parks, and more

happy campers

Beach lovers, campers, and Houstonians getting away from it all now have a chill new option to waste away. Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Crystal Beach is officially open, following an ongoing renovation and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Formerly known as Bolivar Beach Club & RV Resort, the 150-acre beachfront location on the Bolivar Peninsula boasts a resort-style, camping experience with unique amenities that make the RV resort a memorable vacation spot.

RV drivers/users can rest easy knowing that electric, water and sewer hookups, complimentary Wi-Fi, dog parks, a gym, and facilities for showering and doing laundry await at the site.

Fun includes a beachside concert venue, a Texas-sized pool with a swim-up bar and 50 private poolside cabanas, large turf playing field, and the aforementioned RV accommodations. Renovations will continue into next year, promising the Fins Bar & Grill Restaurant, sand volleyball courts, pickleball courts, a bar called License to Chill, and more.

Another huge draw: The resort offers close access to 27 miles of beaches along the peninsula. (Ahh.)

Crystal Beach is the fourth location within the Camp Margaritaville brand, and joins the company's existing Margaritaville Lake Resort, Lake Conroe. The lake resort, which rebranded and opened in the summer of 2020, includes 335 suites, an 18-hole golf course, a three-acre waterpark with a lazy river and outdoor pools.

"We’ve seen incredible success and excitement around our existing Camp Margaritaville RV Resort locations and are thrilled to expand our presence in the state of Texas,” Margaritaville COO Brad Schwaeble noted in a statement. “As more and more people are finding new ways to travel and explore, Camp Margaritaville Crystal Beach will provide everything needed for a getaway for all ages.”

Those interested in camping out can book stays, get updates, and more information at the official site, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Crystal Beach/Facebook

The pool is a major draw for the resort.

Houston jingles all the way to top-5 status in new list of most festive U.S. cities

Holiday Best

As Houstonians decorate their homes and make plans for festive holiday displays (find them here), we might take for granted that our Yuletide cheer is one of the best in the country.

In fact, one recent study names Houston the No. 4 most festive city in the U.S., with three other Texas cities landing in the top 10 — and one taking the top overall spot.

Thumbtack, an app helping millions of homeowners care for their homes, compiled data from millions of home projects across all 50 states to reveal their list of the Most Festive Cities in the U.S.

The company used data from consumer requests on their platform between January 2022 to November 2022 for holiday lighting installations and removals. Basing their rankings on the relative frequency of such requests adjusted for the population of state and metropolitan areas, four Texas cities made the list, with three in the top five.

The most festive cities in the U.S. based on Thumbtack’s findings are:

  1. Austin, Texas
  2. Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
  3. Seattle, Washington
  4. Houston, Texas
  5. Denver, Colorado
  6. Phoenix, Arizona
  7. Atlanta, Georgia
  8. San Francisco, California
  9. Kansas City, Missouri
  10. San Antonio, Texas

According to the release, the average cost to hire a holiday lighting pro is $168-$300 and wrapping outdoor trees with holiday lights can cost $60-plus, depending on the type, shape, and height of the tree. So when should you book your holiday lights installation? The second to last week of November (21-27) is the most popular time of year.

“Christmas light installers book very quickly once the holiday season is in gear, so plan to call and schedule your installation as early as possible,” states David Steckel, home expert at Thumbtack, in a release. “Putting up lights is a festive way to decorate your house, but it can also be time-consuming, stressful, and dangerous. Instead of taking the risk of falling off a ladder and spending the holidays on crutches or starting an electrical fire, hire a professional who will go over your options to make your vision come to life and use the right special equipment to hang everything safely and properly."

To read more about the most festive U.S. cities and a list of tips and tricks to save money on home holiday decorations this year, check out the full report at Thumbtack.