New Braunfels, Texas-Undiscovered Entertainment

We wanted to take a train trip, so with relatives in the area and Hill Country Resort close by, it seemed we were bound for New Braunfels, Texas (actually the train went to San Antonio, about 20 minutes away). As I researched what activites were available, I was surprised at the variety. I'll try to discuss some of them in the following entries.


Silverleaf Hill Country

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Taylor252 on August 24, 2003

Best Things Nearby:
There are many interesting and fun attractions nearby. There are the caves at Natural Bridge Caverns and Wonder World. There is a special water park Aquarena Springs where glass bottom boats explore the living world of a fresh water spring. There are two huge outlet malls. In San Antonio, there is history at The Alamo; good food and great music at the San Antonio Riverwalk and nearby Tower of the Americas Needle. For the young at heart, there is Sea World San Antonio and Canyon Lake for boating, swimming and fishing. Schlitterbahn the World Famous Water Park (Travel Channel Top 10 water parks) is also nearby.

Best Things About the Resort:
We stayed in a presidential unit and it was great. Silverleaf Presidential units are larger and generally better than the regular Lodge Getaway units. For example, presidentials very often have two Jacuzzis. This one did as well as comfortable beds, as well-equipped kitchen complete with dishwasher, microwave, and garbage disposal. The front room had a working fireplace. The resort has many amenities, including an indoor pool, tennis courts, video game room, movie theater, hot tub, etc. It's also easy to find and actually borders on the huge Canyon Lake.

Resort Experience:
The interior of our condo was done is what I call natural furniture -- the arms and legs looked like tree branches -- but it was very comfortable with big over stuffed pillows for the back and sides. The buildings are 4 stories tall and there is an elevator to help with moving heavy luggage. I have a bad knee, so we had called ahead to request a ground floor. That was provided without difficulty.

Another interesting twist to this vacation, we came in on the train. The train got into San Antonio about 1:45 am. We still had to pick up our rental car and drive out to a resort, about 40 minutes away, which we had never been to before! We knew this was a potential problem before we left home and had spoken with Hill Country about it. So, when we arrived, very, very tired, at the check in around 2:30am, a security guard was there to help us and show us our unit. No problems.

We were very impressed with the resort and its staff. We didn't spend a whole lot of time in the unit because there was so much to do, but I would add that we didn't hear our neighbors at all. Daily activities are provided for both adults and children. There is a good playground, video games, movie theater and much to entertain people right at the resort. There is an enclosed, heated swimming pool, children's wading pool, heated spa, lighted tennis courts, shuffleboard, basketball and volleyball courts, horseshoes and ping pong, not to mention a destination type lake -- Canyon Lake. We were out and about a lot, so we didn’t take advantage of these things. We did, however, buy some cutesy stuff at their small souvenir/trading post. March is still blue time at this resort, but it looked pretty full to me. Maybe others are discovering Texas in the winter.

Directions: From the North: Take I-35 south to Hwy 306 (exit just north of New Braunfels). Take Hwy 306 northeast for 17 miles to Hill Country Resort on the left. From the South: take I-35 north to Hwy 306. Take Hwy 306 northeast for 17 miles to Hill Country Resort on the left.
From the Airport: take east Hwy 281 north to Hwy 306. Take 306 east 16 miles to the resort.

Silverleaf's Hill Country Resort
17545 Fm 306
Canyon Lake, Texas, 78133
(830) 935-4355

Tower of the Americas Needle

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Taylor252 on August 9, 2003

The Tower of the Americas is a revolving restaurant in the center of downtown San Antonio where we had dinner one night. It was very nice but be prepared to pay $10 just to ride the elevator up (yes, that would be in addition to the expense of dinner).

The entrees were varied. My husband had a steak which he said was well cooked and tasty. I had salmon with a wonderful fruity glaze on it. Another one of our party had Prime rib and the fourth had a pasta dish. All were well prepared. In the evening there is also a wine steward who recommended a wine for our meal. I don''''t drink much, but the others said it was worth the price. (some $40 dollars a bottle.) Apparently this restaurant is well known locally for its wines.

Anyway,the food was very good, the service excellent, and overall we had a good time--but then the other couple we were with paid the bill!

PS We looked at the lunch menu, which had entrees below $10. Much more family friendly.

Tower of the Americas
600 HemisFair Park
New Braunfels, Texas, 78201
(210) 223-3101

An Amtrak Train Adventure

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Taylor252 on August 8, 2003

In March we took a train trip! Amtrak had a direct route between our home town of St. Louis and San Antonio TX where we wanted to go. It would take about 24 hours, so it was an overnight train trip. We booked a "Deluxe Cabin" (which I would recommend for any overnight trip) and had a double bed lower and a single bed upper. We also had the world’s smallest combo shower/toilet (approx. an 18" square that was 6 feet tall!). You covered the toilet paper with a hard plastic door and you could sit on the toliet seat and take a shower. Pretty weird. We had a steward that took care of our every need and the ticket price included all our meals in the dining car. Our deluxe cabin was about 12 foot square. The standard cabins were two seats facing each other that made into a bed and a pull down upper from the ceiling. Very small. You could also just sit up in the general seating area where they had a snack bar, however, your meals were not covered with that ticket.

You need to be patient when riding the train. We are the only Western country where the passenger trains don't have their own tracks. As a result, Amtrak has to pull over anytime there is a freight train coming through. Does that make commerce more important than . . . well . . . people? Everyone on the train had a different answer for that question. Since we had made the train ride a portion of our trip experience, we loved it and will do it again. (Next time I think we'll take the California Zephyr across the Rockies in the winter. It's supposed to be beautiful.) P.S. Plan any train trip 8-12 months ahead. The price goes up the closer to departure you get, and the deluxe cabins will sell out early and quickly.

Amtrak-Texas Eagle
St. Louis To San Antonio
New Braunfels, Texas

Animal Interactions at Sea World San Antonio

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Taylor252 on August 8, 2003

The highlight of our entire trip for me was a chance to swim with Beluga whales at Sea World! I managed to squeeze into the largest neoprene wet suit they had and marched right into the Arctic cold pool where the whales took to me like I was one of their own!? A trainer taught us some simple commands, then we floated and played with the animals. How do you describe the feeling of being with these animals?!? It was exciting and humbling at the same time. We think of ourselves as the apex of creation but perhaps we should instead look at ourselves as the caretakers of creation. Their skin felt a bit like wet leather--very smooth and wet, not slimy at all. With some courage, I include several pictures of myself below interacting and getting a kiss from a Beluga whale. It was truly a marvelous experience!

There are two encounters each day. We chose the first one. We arrived at the park about a half hour before it opened and someone from the encounter was there to meet us and let us in. We then walked a short distance to the encounter area which is behind the scenes at the park (not available for casual visitors to see). Everyone who was actually getting into the water as well as anyone who came with them was seated in a room and a short movie was shown about the animals and how we should act and react while in the water. If I could boil that down to a few words it would be "have fun and OBEY the trainer!"

Those of us getting in the water then went to the changing room where a wet suit (a lined wet suit) was fitted. The water these animals are used to is Arctic cold. The water temperature, if I remember correctly, was REALLY cold, around 58 degrees! But the lined wet suit made it seem more like just cold. I enjoyed it, but then I have a bit more meat on me than several of the children there. Not to worry though, after the first shock everyone adjusted and the water seemed fine.

There are other interactions available. Currently you can swim with sea lions or have a close encounter with sharks or stingrays. Shortly before we visited the park they had a dolphin encounter as well. However, all the trained dolphins were shipped to Orlando for the opening of Discovery Cove which is a huge dolphin encounter theme park in Orlando. They told us that the dolphin encounter will be available again as soon as they train a new bunch of dolphins how to interact appropriately with humans.

Now just a word for a potentially worried parent. The trainers keep very good control of the situation. We had to stay on a ledge in the pool that was about 3 feet deep. The whales came to us. Try this with you family.

SeaWorld San Antonio
10500 Sea World Dr
San Antonio, Texas, 78251
(800) 700-7786

Natural Bridge Caverns-A Great American Cave!

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Taylor252 on August 24, 2003

The wonderful and amazing formations that one finds in caves have always fascinated both my husband and me. So when researching what to do in and around Hill Country Resort we found Natural Bridge Caverns, we had to go. There are actually two cave experiences possible at the Cavern. One is for everybody, and the other is for the adventure junkie -- stuff like repelling down cliffs, very little light, really tight squeeze passageways, a true caver experience! We chose the one with light, pathways and guard railings . . . thank you very much!

The cavern hours of operation are: Open every day but Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years from 9am-4pm and 9am-6pm June through Labor Day. Ticket prices: adults (13-64) $12; children (4-12) $7; seniors (65 and over) $10. Tours depart every 30 minutes.

As we stepped up to purchase our tickets the conversation went something like this!
"Now Ma’am, it will be hot in the caverns," says the ticket seller.
"I thought caves were about 68 degrees year round," I said.
"Well, this is an active cave, still growing formations. The temperature is in the 70s, but the humidity is so high it will feel like 88-90 degrees."
Disliking hot temperatures, I frown, but I frankly don’t believe him. But . . . he was right . . . boy, was he right! I sweat through my hair so it looked like I’d been in a pool, but, oh, this is a beautiful cavern! It is about a one and a half hour tour and about 3/4 a mile in length. Of course there is a bunch of up and down as well which makes it a bit longer, but you don’t really notice with so much to see. The first major formation is after a series of switchback trails that takes you down 108 feet. It is called Pluto’s Anteroom. Down some more to 180 ft and you find Sherwood Forest (many stalagmites.) Further into the Cave you can see formations called "Castle of the White Giants", "Hall of the Mountain King", "The Chandelier", "The Wizard", "Fried Eggs", and so on. The cavern is very safe with paved walkways and handrails -- definitely kid friendly.

In addition to the cavern, there is an area where you can pan for gold or other semi-precious stones which occur naturally in the area. It wasn’t open when we were there in late winter, but it looked like a lot of fun. There is also an animal park, which you can drive through, but we didn’t have time for that. I’ve included some pictures below and would recommend this as a great adventure for young and old if you’re in the area.

Phone: 830-438-7400.
Website: www.naturalbridgecaverns.com (coupons at website).
Directions: Located 8 miles west, off I-35 at exit #175.

Natural Bridge Caverns
26495 Natural Bridge Caverns Rd.
Natural Bridge Caverns, Texas, 78266
(210) 651-6101

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