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Photo courtesy of RVshare

It’s the season of tailgates and football, parties and potlucks, changing leaves and twinkling lights — and, of course, pumpkin spice.

But these last two months of the year in Texas are also prime time for getting back in touch with nature after a long, hot summer.

Reward yourself for surviving the swelter with the ultimate Hill Country glamping getaway. And don’t you worry if that Instagrammable teepee or yurt you’ve hearted is all booked up. There’s another way to make a resy at any of mother nature’s Texas gems: via luxury RV.

This transportable luxe accommodation means you can road-trip it to any number of places, and RVshare has your fall haul handled. The RV rental company brings more than 100,000 high-end models to the table, each boasting a range of styles, amenities, and sizes.

They even have a delivery option, where they’ll drive your RV of choice to your destination and set the whole thing up. Because glamping shouldn’t involve a single ounce of elbow grease.

Need some travel inspo? Check out this short list of the Hill Country’s gifts to Texas and hit the road.

Canyon Lake
Recognized as “The Jewel” of the Texas Hill Country, Canyon Lake is located along the Guadalupe River and is known for its superior water recreation options. But there are plenty of hiking trails and parks, too, along with a golf course.

When you go, you’ll want to book some space at Mystic Quarry Resort, which is a mod Texas glamping and RV destination. In addition to super-cool surrounds, you’ll find all the little luxuries there like an onsite shuttle bus, fitness center, yard games, dog parks, special events, and more.

Lake Pointe RV Resort and Condominiums is another hidden oasis in the area, with 50-plus acres of boating, water skiing, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing within easy reach. Many of the RV sites come with lake views, too.

Lost Maples State Natural Area
Celebrated for its changing fall colors, Los Maples State Natural Area is a sight to behold. While there, you’ll also see steep canyon walls and the scenic Sabinal River along 10 miles of trails, including a loop that takes you along the top of a 2,200-foot cliff.

Thirty campsites are available in the natural area, or you can set up camp in the Utopia Oaks RV Park, which boasts inspiring scenery, mountain views, and wildlife, too.

While in Utopia, head to The Laurel Tree to savor a glorious menu every Saturday. You can also reserve their treehouse for a one-of-a-kind private dinner. Or stop in for classic diner fare at Lost Maples Café — don’t skip their sky-high meringue pies.

Texas Wine Trail
The Hill Country also lays claim to more than 50 wineries and vineyards — dubbed the Texas Wine Trail — and Fredericksburg is home base for many of them.

Leave the RV at Bending Oaks Ranch RV Resort — a 21-and-over, tree-saturated haven complete with Longhorn cattle and local music performances — and check out the town’s quaint German architecture, cuisine, and shopping before hitting the trail.

Also nearby is the Texas Wine Country Jellystone Park, a family-friendly option with mini golf, a jumping pillow, and more. And the Vineyards of Fredericksburg is a new outpost to park that RV, and it comes with a side of incredible views along with amenities like fire pits on every site, disc golf, and more.

Hill Country Craft Beer Trail
The hopheads can also get their fill on the Beer Trail. New Braunfels is your starting point — and don’t miss Texas’s oldest dance hall, Gruene Hall, while you’re in town. They have live music every night.

Park your RV at the quirky-cool resort called Camp Fimfo, where you have direct access to the Guadalupe River, which is year-round hot spot for fly fishing. Or set out on one of the river’s paddling trails. When you’re not on the water, check out Fimfo’s onsite activities, including mini golf, gem mining, retro yard games, and sports courts.

Lake Bastrop North Shore and South Shore State Park
Surrounding the 900-acre Lake Bastrop on the north shore and south shore, both of these Lake Bastrop park outposts come correct for RVs. They’re the perfect places to pull in for fishing and water recreation, and canoe, kayak, and SUP rentals are readily available. By land, there are miles of hike and bike trails where you can experience the beauty of the Lost Pines region firsthand.

At the North Shore, swing by Base Camp Deli for curated picnic bundles. And on the South Shore, you’ll find mini golf and a volleyball court, too.

If you’re looking for a few other dining and entertainment options in nearby Bastrop, you’re not far from several breweries and taprooms. Also, Neighbor's Kitchen & Yard and the Iron Bridge Icehouse (open weekends only!) are both on the banks of the Colorado River and serve great food, craft beer and cocktails, and live music.

McKinney Falls State Park
For a rural-meets-urban vibe, McKinney Falls State Park is within Austin city limits but you’ll still feel fully immersed in nature, with nearly nine miles of trails as well the background sounds of Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools.

Campsites are fully equipped and ready to go in the park. Plus, you can always head into downtown Austin for dinner and live music if you need a break from all that nature.

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Founded in 2013, RVshare is the largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace and can help you secure everything from a travel trailer to a luxury motorhome, all backed with extraordinary customer service from the RVshare team. Renters get payment and fraud protection, plus 24/7 emergency roadside service and even free delivery where available. Pets are welcome in specified vehicles. To rent an RV for your next glamping trip, click here.

fly2houston.com

Houston airports soar in prestigious list of best in Texas and U.S.

Airport news

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport has already landed a coveted 5-star rating this year from travel industry leader Skytrax — the first airport in Texas, the U.S., and North America to do so.

Now, the growing Hobby has scored a high rank in yet another prestigious ranking. Hobby ranks No. 2 in Texas in the large-airport category of J.D. Powers’ 2022 North America Airport Satisfaction Study. With a score of 803 on a 1,000-point scale, Hobby comes in only behind Dallas' Love Field among the six Texas airports included in the study.

Nationally, Hobby comes in at No. 8 in the U.S.

Meanwhile, George Bush Intercontinental Airport lands at No. 6 in Texas and No. 16 among mega airports, with a score of 758. This comes as Bush was ranked as one of the best airports in the world in March.

As for the study, Hobby is preceded on the large-airport list by the aforementioned Love Field, Tampa International Airport in Florida (846), and John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California (826).

The J.D. Power study measures overall traveler satisfaction with mega, large, and midsize North American airports by examining six factors: terminal facilities; airport arrivals and departures; baggage claim; security check; check-in and baggage check; and food, beverage, and retail.

The study is based on survey responses from 26,529 U.S. and Canadian residents who had traveled through at least one U.S. or Canadian airport in the previous 30 days.Dallas Love Field flies to the top of a new ranking of the best major airports in Texas.

Here’s how the four other Texas airports fared in the J.D. Power study:

  • William P. Hobby Airport, No. 2 in Texas and No. 8 among large airports (score of 803)
  • San Antonio International Airport, No. 3 in Texas and No. 9 among large airports (score of 802)
  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, No. 4 in Texas and No. 15 among large airports (score of 785)
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport, No. 6 in Texas and No. 16 among mega airports (score of 758)

J.D. Power says overall satisfaction with North American airports fell 25 points to 777 in the new study.

“The combination of pent-up demand for air travel, the nationwide labor shortage, and steadily rising prices on everything from jet fuel to a bottle of water have created a scenario in which airports are extremely crowded and passengers are increasingly frustrated — and it is likely to continue through 2023,” says Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power.

Courtesy of Camp Margaritaville

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

Wastin' away

An RV resort near Galveston Island is getting a major upgrade. After a comprehensive series of renovations, the property currently known as Bolivar Beach Club & RV Resort will become Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Crystal Beach.

Located on Bolivar Peninsula, the 150-acre property features ocean views and over 200 RV parking spots. The facility also features a concert venue, "Texas-sized" pool with swim-up bar pool-side cabanas, and a turf playing field. Upgrades will include the addition of the Fins Bar & Grill restaurant and a bar called License to Chill.

RV drivers will find amenities such as electric, water and sewer hookups, complimentary Wi-Fi, dog parks, a gym, and facilities for showering and doing laundry. The location gives visitors close proximity to 27 miles of beaches along the peninsula.

"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 said 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.”

Camp Margaritaville joins the company's existing Margaritaville Lake Resort, Lake Conroe. Opened in the summer of 2020, it features 335 suites, an 18-hole golf course, a three-acre waterpark with a lazy river and outdoor pools, and more.

American Airlines unveils loaded new suite seats for long-haul flights out of Houston

AN AIR OF REFINEMENT

Fort Worth-based American Airlines will be debuting fancy new premium seating for its long-haul flights that will include privacy doors, more storage space, and even an optional chaise lounge.

The new seating will be part of the airline's Airbus A321XLR and Boeing 787-9 aircraft, in the premium cabin only, with availability beginning in 2024.

American’s Vice President of Customer Experience Julie Rath says that "the arrival of new long-haul aircraft and the customized seat design of the Flagship Suite seats will offer customers a truly private premium experience on our long-haul fleet.”

The Premium Economy seat will afford more privacy and double the amount of in-seat storage space.

Premium seating on American’s long-haul fleet will grow more than 45 percent by 2026: American’s Boeing 787-9 aircraft will have 51 Flagship Suite seats and 32 Premium Economy seats, and the airline’s Airbus A321XLR aircraft will feature 20 Flagship Suite seats and 12 Premium Economy seats.

American will also retrofit its fleet of 20 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to include Flagship Suite seats, as well as its 16 Airbus A321T fleet, and will continue to offer lie-flat seats on transcontinental routes departing New York and Boston along with its Northeast Alliance partner, JetBlue Airways.

Customers can share personal space can on the Boeing 787-9. The Boeing 787-9 Premium Economy seats feature headrest wings to increase privacy and larger inseat entertainment screens.

The Flagship Suite on the Boeing 787-9 offers more comfort with lie-flat seating and can also convert to a chaise lounge position.

The Airbus A321XLR will have 20 Flagship Suite seats when it is delivered in 2024.

Premium customers are getting perks galore such as newly redesigned Admirals Club lounges, the first of which will open at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport this fall. They'll feature branded elements and sustainable wood designs created by design company Teague that will be echoed on the aircraft for a seamless aesthetic experience. Because if there's one thing you don't want, it's to leave the scrumptious sustainable wood designs of your premium lounge only to enter a premium cabin bereft of all wood.

Photo courtesy of TxDOT

Prepare for another major weekend closure at 610 West Loop and Southwest Freeway

be prepared to stop

While the weekend weather may encourage many locals to hit the freeway, some new highway closures may discourage them from hitting one freeway in particular: the 610 Loop.

The Texas Department of Transportation announced five weekend closures at the 610 Loop at the I-69/Southwest Freeway near the Galleria starting 9 pm Friday, September 9. Most of the closures run through 5 am Monday, September 12.

This work is part of the long-running reconstruction of the Southwest Freeway at 610 West Loop interchange. Drivers can follow the work at the dedicated TxDOT website and on Twitter.

Meanwhile, here are the closures that motorists can look forward to (groan) this weekend and the recommended detours by TxDOT.

610 West Loop southbound to I-69 Southwest southbound connector ramp
This total closure runs from 9 pm Friday, September 9 to 5 am Monday, September 12.

Drivers should continue on 610 southbound. Take the Fournace Place /Bissonnet Street exit onto the 610 southbound frontage road. Make a U-turn at Bissonnet Street onto the 610 northbound frontage road.

Take the next entrance ramp onto 610 northbound main lanes, then take the connector to the I-69 southbound main lanes.

610 West Loop southbound at I-69 Southwest
One outside lane (right) will be closed from 9 pm Friday, September 9 to 5 am Monday, September 12.

610 West Loop southbound entrance ramp from San Felipe Street
This ramp closure runs 9 pm Friday, September 9 to 8 am Saturday, September 10.

Drivers should continue on the 610 southbound frontage road and take the next entrance ramp onto 610 southbound main lanes.

610 West Loop southbound exit ramp to Richmond Avenue
This ramp closure also runs 9 pm Friday, September 9 to 8 am Saturday, September 10. Drivers are advised to take the Westheimer Road exit.

Richmond Avenue eastbound and westbound at 610 West Loop frontage road
This total closure runs from 9 pm Friday, September 9 to 5 am Monday, September 12.

Those headed eastbound should take the 610 southbound frontage road. Turn left (east) onto Westpark Drive, then turn left (north) onto 610 northbound frontage road, then continue to Richmond Avenue.

Westbound drivers should take the 610 northbound frontage road, turn left (west) onto Westheimer Road, then turn left (south) onto Post Oak Boulevard. Continue to Richmond Avenue.

As CultureMap has previously reported, the goal of the $159 million I-610 West Loop/ I-69 Southwest Freeway Interchange project is to significantly enhance safety and improve mobility by widening the connector ramps to two lanes, increasing sight distances, and providing remedies to eliminate weaving, per TxDOT.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' BBQ joint's Katy outpost closure leads week's top stories

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' barbecue joint's Katy location quietly closes. Sadly, the local outpost couldn't replicate the magic of the original in Llano.

2. Ken Hoffman urges Houston travelers to keep calm and enjoy the trip at the new-look Bush IAH. Our columnist explains why travelers might be in "for a big, pleasant surprise at Houston’s Bush-Intercontinental Airport."

3. Houston's most spectacular winter light shows and events dazzle for the holidays. We rounded up where to see dazzling lights with family, friends, and visitors.

4. Disgraced Theranos CEO and former Houstonian Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years for fraud. Additionally, Holmes faces a fine of $400 million.

5. Houston's NASA leaders 'giddy' after historic Artemis 1 moon flyby. The spacecraft cruised just 81 miles above the lunar surface.

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

Affluent Houston suburb leads region for highest holiday spending budgets in U.S.

Santa Baby

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.