Best of The Best: The South

Mandy Seymour and Sarah Seymour visit Louisiana on a Southern Girls journey.

Momma-Daughter Road Trip + Travels During Covid-19

If you are looking for a “best of the best” getaway this summer or fall,  we have a recommendation for you.  In July 2020, we traveled from Houston, TX to New Orleans, LA and surrounding areas for an extended weekend getaway.  Many of our readers have been asking us where can they travel during Covid-19?  New Orleans and surrounding areas are currently open for business, travel and leisure.  We will share the details of our trip and our recommendations below.  But in summary, New Orleans and surrounding areas were highly Covid-compliant.  Each place we visited was clean, sanitary, and welcoming.  

This time around, we traveled as a Mama-Daughter duo.  On our roadtrip, we enjoyed the perfect balance of urban, nature, lively, and rejuvenating activities.  One of the best parts of traveling right now?  No lines.  No crowds.  And personally attentive service.

Alligator sighting with McGees Swamp Tours in Henderson, LA

Day 1

On day 1, we drove from Houston, TX to Henderson, LA and Lafayette, LA.  We spent 3 days and 2 nights in Cajun country enjoying the tranquility of nature and local attractions.  The first day, we visited the Atchafalaya Basin.  We went on a local swamp tour in Henderson, TX with McGees Swamp Tours

Our guide, Captain Skip, is one of the area’s most renouned experts on all things Cajun and all things swamp.  We highly recommend him!  During our swamp tour, we took a swampboat into the dense swamplands.  Captain Skip called out, “C’mon!” to the gators.  They knew the sound of his voice and that he was bringing them something delicious.  So one by one, they appeared and took turns coming over to the boat for a morsel of meat.  McGees also has airboat tours which are a high speed thrillride on the swamps.  But this Mama-Daughter duo wanted a more serene and engaging nature experience so we chose to go on the swamp boat tour. 

After our morning swamp tour, we visited Pat’s Fishermans Wharf for lunch.  We sat outside and enjoyed feeding French bread to one of their local alligators who heartily enjoyed eating it!  We ordered the seafood platter to sample  an array of Cajun seafood fare.  The seafood cakes were our favorite.  

http://www.Patsfishermanswharf.com
Bayou Cabins in Breaux Bridge, LA

We spent the night at Bayou Cabins in Breaux Bridge, LA.  The stay in the cabins was a memorable experience.  The cabins were built in the 1800s.  Each cabin has a rustic-yet-renovated feel.  Bayou Cabins owners,  Lisa and Rocky Sonnier, offer quintessential Cajun hospitality.  Rocky calls everyone child, a term of endearment in Cajun country.  He said, “Hey, Child. Come see this cabin build in the 1800s.”  The oldest cabin on the property was built in 1848 using cypress wood from the swamps and walls from mud and moss from the Bayou Teche.  A stay at Bayou Cabins comes replete with an authentic Cajun breakfast the next morning.  As we spoke with the owners, we learned that many people have come to the cabins to have a Covid-19 getaway while also being able to comply with social distancing.  We highly recommend a stay at Bayou Cabins.  

Editors note: We were expecting the cabins to be located in a remote area on the Bayou, but it is important to know they are located directly off of a locally traveled road so when you sit on your porch you will hear cars passing by.  As one editor commented, when they were built, they were located in a respite of nature!  The road was built later.  Staying in the Bayou Cabins is a truly unique and memorable experience.  We highly recommend them.

http://www.bayoucabins.com
Breaux Bridge, LA

That evening, we decided to enjoy a dinner picnic on Breaux Bridge at sunset.  We bought sandwiches from a local sandwich shop and pastries from a local bakery.  When we travel, we bring our own plates and silverware in case we need it.  I first learned about “travel picnics” from Rick Steves.  He does the same so that he can enjoy a quick meal in a beautiful outdoor setting in case he’s limited for time to dine in a restaurant or just wants to make the most of the local scenery.  We bring plates, napkins, silverware and a mini ice chest with additional fresh fruit, milk, cheese and water for our journey.  During the time we visited, few restaurants were open in Beaux Bridge.  So we were glad to have packed our travel picnic wares.

DAY 2: Lafayette, LA + Jefferson Island, LA

We spent the next day in Lafayette, LA and Jefferson Island, LA.  When we arrived to Lafayette, we visited the Visitors Center.  We are glad we did!  The hospitality team gave us a friendly welcome and helpful information regarding what to do in the area.  The two most important pieces of advice we received: When you drive from Lafayette, LA to New Orleans, LA, take I-90 instead of I-10.  It will add 25 more minutes to the journey.  But it will reduce the risk of encountering traffic in Baton Rouge and other heavy congestion caused by lane closures, bridge closure detours, and other challenging circumstances along I-10. The travel advisors also recommended a visit to Jefferson Island’s Rip Van Winkle Gardens.  We took his advice and they are a beautiful respite for a Mama-Daughter outing.  

Rip Van Winkle Gardens in Jefferson Island, LA

We visited the Rip Van Winkle Gardens in Jefferson Island, LA in the late morning.  We enjoyed a scrumptious lunch at their local café.  We had a delicious seafood pasta and white chocolate bread pudding with white chocolate sauce.  

The gardens are home to 35 beautiful peacocks.  We looked for them during our stroll through the gardens.  On the day we were there, we found many of them perched in the oak tree across from the restaurant and others were roaming in a field.  We fed them some French bread and kettle corn we had bought at a local grocery store and bakery in Henderson, LA.  The peacocks were very friendly and loved it.

Mouton Plantation in Lafayette, LA
http://www.ripvanwinklegardens.com

We stayed the night at Mouton Plantation.  Mouton Plantation is a historic plantation and currently-operating B and B in Lafayette, LA.  It’s host, Ravi, gave us a warm welcome and was very hospitable.  We greatly enjoyed our stay at Mouton Plantation.  The B and B serves a gourmet breakfast on fine china.  This plantation is open during Covid-19.  Mouton Plantation caters to international guests as well.  It is the number 1 Bed and Breakfast chosen by Europeans when visiting the area.  Mouton Plantation is a memorable and historic place to stay.  We highly recommend it.

Editors Note: During our stay i Lafayette, LA, we also visited the local Zoo and Vermilionville, a living history museum.  At this time, neither of these attractions met our “best of the best” good, better or best standard.  The living history museum received a “fair” rating and the zoo received a “poor rating” so we cannot recommend them as a “must see”.  The living history museum contains snippets of informative exhibits but many of the buildings were inaccessible during the working village tour.  Perhaps the place would have seemed more lively and enjoyable if they piped Cajun music throughout the village.  It was evident the town had put in a lot of effort to make a substantive effort to memorialize Acadian history.  It just needs some zest or more people to help it become more of a “living” history museum at this time.

Zoo of Acadiana

The Zoo of Acadiana received a “poor” rating.  We rated it “poor” because the animals were housed in squalid conditions, and they either had unclean drinking water or showed signs of hunger and thirst by licking their lips repeatedly.  Many of the animals seemed lonely, depressed, or just plain sad.  One notable attribute about the zoo is that it was in a natural setting.  More on the Zoo of Acadiana here.

http://www.zoosiana.com
Mandy Seymour and Sarah Seymour visit Louisiana on a Southern Girls journey.

DAY 3

On day 3, we traveled to New Orleans.  We traveled there via I-90 to bypass the I-10 traffic.  It was a relaxing drive replete with scenic Louisiana countryside consisting primarily of swampland and rice fields.  

Higgins Hotel in New Orleans, LA

We stayed 4 days, 3 nights in New Orleans, LA at the Higgins Hotel.  The Higgins Hotel is a part of the Curio Collection Hotels by Hilton.  The Higgins Hotel has stayed open and operational during the entire time of Covid.  They have carefully and conscientiously complied with all Covid standards for cleanliness and personal sanitation.  

http://www.higginshotelnola.com

Higgins Hotel  has a rooftop restaurant and bar, Rosies on the Roof, which overlooks the city of New Orleans and serves local specialties. The hotel also has to-go options from Provisions, its local café which serves sandwiches, pastries and coffee.  

Rosies On The Roof at the Higgins Hotel New Orleans, LA
https://www.higginshotelnola.com/new-orleans-restaurants/rosies-on-the-roof

Most of New Orleans’ main attractions are within walking distance of the hotel.  The hotel also offers a package which includes free parking. Nearby restaurants are located within 5 to 15 minutes walking distance. You can walk to the French Quarter or Rivercenter Shopping area in 20 minutes.  Otherwise, parking is $8/hr. on average.  We reason, why spend money on parking when you could spend it on shopping, attractions, or dining instead? 

Cafe Du Monde Beignets

Our first day in New Orleans, we explored the French Quarter.  We took the trolley for $1.50/each way, cash only.  It dropped us off at Canal and Bourbon Street.  We walked from Canal Street to Royal Street and over to Café Du Monde.  Since it’s Covid time, Café Du Monde is open but only serves beignet and drinks in to-go containers.  We brought our own plates and I bought a souvenir coffee mug to enjoy my coffee au lait to the fullest.  During our time in New Orleans, we did a taste-test comparison between Café Du Monde and Café Beignet.  The beignets at Café Du Monde are truly superior to all other beignets.  They have a delicate and fresh flavor with no greasy aftertaste.   

http://www.neworleans.com

steam

Sunday Jazz Brunch on the Natchez Steamboat in New Orleans, LA

DAY 4

Our second day in New Orleans, we enjoyed brunch on the Steamboat Natchez on the Mississippi River. During Covid, the waitstaff serves a sampling of the entire brunch smorgasboard.  We especially recommend the chicken and sausage gumbo and the bananas foster.  We visited Brennan’s and had Bananas Foster there as well. Brennan’s invented Bananas Foster. That evening, we enjoyed dinner at Tommy’s Cuisine, an Italian restaurant with Cajun flare.    The steamed mussels are succulent.  We highly recommend them. 

Brennan’s Bananas Foster

 After our Steamboat cruise and brunch, we explored the French Quarter.  In July 2020, most of the New Orleans walking tours were not in operation.  But we enjoyed exploring the city on our own.  Due to low crowds, we had ample opportunities to take photos to our heart’s content. In other words, during this low-volume travel season, it’s a great time for selfies and other travel photography in iconic places.  New Orleans has some of the best architecture and backdrops for memorable photos.  And wildlife cooperates, too!  

http://www.steamboatnatchez.com
WWII Museum in New Orleans, LA

DAY 5 

On our third day in New Orleans, we visited the WWII Museum.  The WWII Museum is located directly across the street from Higgins Hotel.  In fact, the museum and hotel are related to each other.  The Higgins Hotel is named after Andrew Higgins, the man who designed the Higgins Boat, a wooden vessel with a ramp which was credited with helping the U.S. to win WWII in Normandy, France.  These boats allowed the military to get the military into shallow water and unload on the beach of Normandy.  The soldiers then stormed the beach, climbed the cliffs, and overtook the enemy in order to win the war.  The movie The Longest Day depicts the D-day victory at Normandy.  The WWII Museum features an outstanding documentary film in 4-D which depicts the origin and reality of the war through heightened visuals, sound and motion.  

A stay at Hotel Higgins transports guests into the glories of victory.  WWII photos depicting the victory of liberation have been placed throughout the hotel as a tribute to this historic event and its impact on American values and freedoms.  

Staying at Hotel Higgins is more than a good night’s rest in a clean, comfortable hotel.  It’s an experience – meaningful, memorable and anchoring.  It anchors travelers in the depths of contribution New Orleans made to the WWII victory and also allows us to enjoy the pleasures of our everyday life in the here and now because of that freedom and democracy.

http://www.nationalww2museum.org

On our last day, we went shopping at the Riverwalk Outlet.  It was the perfect end to our Mama-Daughter travels.  We purchased clothing, handbags, and accessories in preparation for our next adventure and the coming season.  

Regarding travel during Covid, those who travel during this time experience more personalized hospitality, engagement with locals and their goods and services, and attentive detail to cleanliness which travelers always enjoy! Also, the Higgins Hotel took some of the best precautions we’ve seen regarding Covid-19 and guests.

We thoroughly enjoyed our Southern Girls road trip to the “Best of the Best: The South”. We highly recommend traveling to New Orleans, LA and surrounding areas both now and anytime. You’ll be glad you did!

Recommended Links:

Swamp Tour and Alligator Watching  with McGees Swamp Tours in Henderson, LA https://www.mcgeesswamptours.com

Bayou Cabins http://www.bayoucabins.com

Mouton Plantation https://www.moutonplantation.com

Jefferson Island’s Rip Van Winkle Gardens https://ripvanwinklegardens.com

Beignets at Café Du Monde https://shop.cafedumonde.com

Steamboat Natchez Brunch and Cruise https://www.steamboatnatchez.com

Stay at Higgins Hotel https://www.higginshotelnola.com

WWII Museum https://www.nationalww2museum.org

City View and dining at Rosies on The Roof in Hotel Higgins https://www.higginshotelnola.com/new-orleans-restaurants/rosies-on-the-roof

Rivercenter Outlet Shopping https://www.riverwalkneworleans.com

Travel in Texas during Covid-19: Galveston, Texas

Galveston, TX by Mandy Seymour, Best Rated Reviews

Can you travel in Texas during Covid 19? We keep getting this question regularly, so we are engaging in firsthand exploration of travel during Covid 19. Here’s the answer: It depends on who you ask and where you go. Although travel has been limited and many travel plans have been curtailed across the nation and the world, it is possible to still find opportunities to travel – even if it’s somewhat of a Staycation compared to the farther away trip you may have been planning to take before Covid 19.

The last week of May 2020, we visited Galveston, TX for a weekend getaway. It provided a much-needed respite from the new norm of daily life under Corona. People have been visiting Galveston Island for years to enjoy the beach and local activities as well as to improve their overall health and well-being. Sunshine and serenity of the ocean can do anyone good!

Galveston, TX by Mandy Seymour, Best Rated Reviews

We stayed at Hotel Galvez in an oceanfront room. We enjoyed the classic ambiance, first-rate service, and beautifully landscaped pool. The hotel maintained Covid-cleanliness protocols and social distancing. But those necessities did not stifle the trip in any way. We were so thankful to be there, to get to enjoy our Galveston getaway.

We enjoyed swimming, sunbathing and strolling along the beach. We went shopping at a fantastic sundress and swimwear shop. Located 1 block away from Hotel Galvez, we think it’s the best apparel shop in Galveston – and we’ve been to all of them. We enjoyed a scrumptious, fresh-from-the-oven pizza from Marios on the Seawall. And we savored delicious ice cream and sweets at La King’s confectionary on The Strand.

We arrived on a Friday and left on a Saturday. Friday, the Island was fairly quiet day and night. Saturday, about mid-afternoon, it was bustling. Festive beachgoers packed the beaches. By the time it was overcrowded (which doesn’t take long during these Corona times), we left.

Our best advice? Plan to go to Galveston, TX when everyone else won’t be there if possible. Weekdays will be less crowded than weekends during the Summer. Regulations are in place to keep Covid risk to a minimum as much as possible in Galveston. Be smart. Be wise. And enjoy the Texas sunshine!

Rating: 5 stars! Best of the Best!

Galveston’s Website: Galveston.com

Photos from our visit to Galveston, TX during Summer 2020:

Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo is educational fun for all ages. Animal exhibits abound featuring interesting animals from around the world. In recent years, the zoo has expanded its exhibits to include additional animals from Texas and Africa. The Houston Zoo is hosted on beautifully landscaped grounds with some of Houston’s most beautiful oak trees.

Find out more at HoustonZoo.org

Rating: 5 Stars! Best of the best!

TGR Exotics Wildlife Zoo

If you are looking to experience a Safari in your own backyard and you live in Houston, Texas or surrounding vicinities, we have a recommendation for you.  TGR Exotics Wildlife Zoo is a family-owned and operated collection of some of the friendliest exotic animals around.  The zoo houses over 100 types of animals. 

On the day we went, there were 3 tours taking place. The up-close and personal interaction with the animals made for an unforgettable experience.  We met Chaco the Camel, Buffy the Water Buffalo, an ant eater, fast-moving sloths, and an ancient armadillo as well as a bearcat.  

The animals have special scratching posts that look like they tumbled out of the Wild West.  We were surprised to learn that these “scratching posts” were actually recycled Christmas trees.  Each year, people donate their Christmas trees to the zoo.  Chaco the Camel sat on his, using it as a cushion.  The goats ate the greenery and then used theirs as back scratchers.  And most amusingly, Walter the Warthog jubilantly tossed his Christmas tree 9 feet up in the air and played with it for many days before making it into a personalized scratching post as well.  

To our surprise and delight, large pigs came charging toward us – and once we started petting them, they fell over on the ground and went straight to sleep, laying there for several minutes.  And when we went to see the sloths, one of them was crawling around his cage the speed of a relaxed monkey.  We have never seen such a happy or fast sloth.  

They really take care of their animals and care about them. It is very apparent the animals are well-loved.  They have very amazing creatures who are very responsive to humans.  Everything is clean and well-maintained.  

The zoo is spacious and each tour is highly personalized. While the animals are well-loved and cared for.  Yet they are not pets.  Rather, they are sold to zoos across the country.  Tours last 1 1/2-2 hours. Strollers are welcome. You must wear closed – toed shoes.

During summer and during the year, the camp has the zoo has a camps, programs for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and all kinds of other activities. However, you must register in advance because this is a privately and facility.  6:30 PM is the best tour time for summers.

We highly recommend TGR Exotics Wildlife Zoo as a “best of the best” family outing for summer and year-round fun.  It is an animal adventure you don’t want to miss.

Website: TGRExotics.com

The wildlife park is located 10 miles east of Tomball, TX in Spring, TX.

Hi-Tec Hiking Boots

Hi-tec hiking boots are made with a one-of-a-kind amazing material that is waterproof but breathable.  Houston’s local rep, Bob Oliver, actually told us about a time during a demonstration of the boots’ ability to stay clean no matter what happens to them, whether a walk through sludge or a coffee or wine spill or anything else.  A woman who was watching the demonstration of how remarkably clean the boots stayed suddenly ran out of the room with a shriek.  They couldn’t imagine what had happened.  When she came back in, she explained that her husband had been wearing this brand of boots to work for a few years now, and she had come to think he wasn’t really going to work but must be having an affair because the boots were never dirty!  So once she realized the boots were truly water and dirt-proof, and that he really was going to work and not to an affair, it restored their marriage! 

The Hi-tec hiking boots are made with “Ion Mask” technology developed by the British government.  You can read more about this amazing material at <a href=”http://www.wetisdry.com”>www.wetisdry.com</a> and find out how you can get a pair of these amazing boots at <a href=”http://www.hi-tec.com”>www.hi-tec.com</a> Also, check out <a href=”http://www.magnumboots.com”>www.magnumboots.com</a> to see what the police are wearing these days and you can, too!  We especially enjoyed talking to Bob Oliver, who has a real passion for his products!We sampled the Altitude Ultra.  They work great!

Pendleton Clothing: 100+ Years of Heritage in The Making

Long-standing quality and British style give this company a reputable position among wool clothing manufacturers today.  When you put on a piece of Pendleton wool clothing, you feel both warm and prestigiously-dressed at the same time.  That is always a great feeling to have!  Our Pendleton favorites for women’s wool apparel for the season include the Double Face Collar Persimmon Jacket and the mock neck turtlenecks.  The turtlenecks are some of the best available today.  They are soft and not as constricting as most turtlenecks.  Pendleton also makes reversible clothing.  We think the reversible plaid Jacket is snappy.  Pendleton clothing’s best attribute is that it is very warm, but lightweight, stylish, and not bulky.  To buy Pendleton is to invest in quality that will last you a lifetime.

Pendleton is celebrating 100 years.  They have posted an inspirational and interesting history of the wool trade on their site at the link “Pendleton Heritage”.  You can read all about it at http://www.pendleton-usa.com for the company’s main site and catalog of wonderful products.

Circle E Candles

Spice Up Your Autumn with our favorite candles!  Circle E Candles are some of the best candles out there.  Fall is a cozy, mesmerizing time of year with the color-change of trees and the arrival of gentle autumn breezes. Nothing compliments autumn more than a warm, spice aroma wafting through the air. We are in search for the perfect Fall candle. We recognize Circle E Candles as among “the best of the best candles”. When you light Circle E Candles, they make a house a home. They are high-quality, long-lasting, and wonderfully aromatic. Our current favorite for the kitchen is Apple Strudel. You can visit Circle E Candles at www.CircleECandles.com

Pairing Knife by Kuhn Rikon

We recently discovered a paring knife that never needs sharpening. We found it at www.kuhnrikon.com, a great company from Switzerland. It’s called the “Non-Stick Colori Paring Knife”. They have several colors to choose from. What makes this knife special is that it has a carbon steel blade that stays sharp. We also like that it has a sheath which keeps it sharp and covered. Here’s a direct link, although you can also find the knives for sale at local gourmet specialty shops. http://www.kuhnrikon.com/products/tools/tools.php3?id=250

The Nap Collection

Are you ready to take the best nap you’ll ever have? You can with The Nap Collection by Brookstone. (www.Brookstone.com)  The Nap Collection is bliss in a box! The Nap Collection includes a cuddly blanket, cuddly matching booties, and a comfortable matching pillow.

It comes with the Brookstone “nap blanket” that by itself is a great luxury. The nap blanket is plush and snuggly. It weighs a not-too-lightweight, not-too-heavy weight. If Goldilocks had found The Nap Collection at the three bears’ house, she would not have cared that the bed was too big or small. When you surround yourself in the cuddly bliss, you can nap anywhere. We think this would make a great Christmas gift or anytime gift for you or anyone who is special to you. We also think this is a great set to take with you traveling to use during long layovers.

Cagle State Park

Cagle State Park is one of Texas’ prettiest parks. Nestled on the tranquil waters of Lake Conroe, surrounded by the Sam Houston National Forest, Cagle State Park has enjoyable walking trails as well as lakeside picnic and camping sites. We enjoyed an afternoon of hiking and picnicking by the water. The park also has a boat launch. As we were hiking, we saw lots of birds, including a bald eagle! The forest was filled with butterflies. Our youngest reviewer called it “the magical butterfly forest”.


In our opinion, it is one of Houston and surrounding areas’ “best kept secret” parks. Here are some pictures. It makes a great day trip getaway from Houston. To get there from Houston, take I-45 North past Conroe to exit 102. Go West for 8 miles on hwy 1375. The park will be on your left.