Cypress Valley

If you are looking for a “best of the best” place to stay during the Winter in the Texas Hill Country area, we recommend the Yoki Treehouse at Cypress Valley.

The Yoki Treehouse is a spa-like modern-chic cabin in a rustic setting.  It is magical, enchanting and tranquility among the trees!

We especially enjoyed our stay in the Yoki Treehouse at Cypress Valley because it was spa-serene.  We awoke to birds singing and enjoyed delicious locally roasted Cuvée coffee on the treehouse balcony.  We relaxed and rejuvenated inside the high-ceiling livingroom on a comfortable couch in front of a gas fireplace looking out at the clear water creek below.  

We luxuriated in a great night’s sleep in the king-sized bedroom with cozy, soft sheets, comfort bedding and  gigantic bison portrait overhead.

When we saw the room photos and amenities online before our stay, we were intrigued why the lodge chose a bison theme in the room.  It turns out that the family actually has raised a herd of bison for many years and they are on property.  Currently the family has 13 bison and even bison babies in the Springtime.  You may get to see them occasionally when they are grazing near the fence on the 100 acre woodland.

We enjoyed a wonderful stay, prized quality time, and the rejuvenation of nature.  Each room is filed with aromatherapy which immediately gave us a sense of being in a spa overnight.  

The bathhouse is across a sturdy trundle bridge.  It is a serene spa in itself, featuring a therapeutic cedar infused environment with a natural stone heated soaking pool which looks out on the trees.

Once we nestled in, we didn’t want to leave.  It’s a place you wish you could stay for days.  It is definitely best of the best.  We look forward to our stay here again!

The property also hosts a wedding and events venue which is mesmerizing, magical and special against a natural backdrop.

Guests may also stay at the glamping village in tents that are fully furnished.  The family has provided a truly glamping-luxurious bathroom with substantial, clean and refreshing shower and bath accommodations.

We highly recommend Cypress Valley as the “best of the best” for any Winter wilderness experience you are looking for.  It is especially known for its natural, verdant beauty in the Spring, Summer and Fall when the leaves are on the trees.  It is a wonderful place for any time and any occasion.

Please let us know when you visit.  We hope you enjoy your stay as much as we did!

Mandy and the team at Best Rated Reviews


Christmas in Historic Montgomery

Christmas in Historic Montgomery is a festive and memorable holiday event for the whole family!  Each year in December, The Montgomery Historical Society hosts Christmas in Historic Montgomery to showcase the magnificent history and heritage of this wonderful town.

The day begins with the Christmas Parade in the morning.  In 2023, the city focused on the “Twelve Days of Christmas”.  Citizens made colorful floats, marching bands played jubilant music, and many local people, groups, and students participated.

The Montgomery Historical Society hosts the holiday marketplace, annual cookie walk, and candlelight tour throughout the day.

The holiday marketplace features 70 venders who display unique and commemorative arts and crafts.  It is a great place to do some holiday shopping and find one-of-a-kind gifts!  

The Monarch chapter of the National Charity League hosts the Annual Cookie Walk.  Mothers and daughters bake delicious homemade and ornamentally-decorated cookies for months to prepare for this special day.  The Cookie Walk is held in the community center.  Local residents and visitors wait in a long line in anticipation to get to be among the first to enter this festive cookie wonderland!

While patrons wait for the long-anticipated Cookie Walk to open, they are serenaded by Montgomery’s top talent, The Madrigals.  The Madrigals are students who beautifully sing classic Christmas songs, carols and other holiday music.  Their beautiful voices fill the air and waft across the entire event throughout the morning and early afternoon.

Visitors can enjoy hearty Texan-Southern fare at The Old Montgomery Steakhouse.  Portions are generous and the food is very flavorful.  They have culinary options for all kinds of palates.  We enjoyed chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and green beans, a delicious Cobb salad, Texas-sized onion rings, and having a glimpse into the watering hole of the community as we dined.

During the day, we learned about the intriguing and impactful history of Montgomery from Dr. Robin Montgomery, one of the area’s leading scholars and a humble yet prominent connection to the rich legacy of the Montgomery family through the years.  Ms. Montgomery is very devoted to history as well.  They both have a twinkle in their eye.  Dr. Montgomery hosted guests that evening at the day’s crowning event, the Historic Homes Candlelight Tour.

Residents open their historic homes which  feature layers and layers of fascinating history.  Locals volunteer and help history come alive by wearing historic attire and sharing captivating stories about the enduring history of Montgomery, Texas, the birthplace of the Texas flag!

The Magnolia House has a very rich history.  Sam Houston stayed there often when he was in town.  The current owner has preserved the integrity of the house as well as many of its substantial furnishings – which were shopped from New York to Galveston in the 1800s and then carried by wagon to Montgomery, Texas.  Yes, the owner, Mr. Willis, purchased an entire household of furniture in New York and had it shipped.

He was a mercantile trader.  He played an instrumental role by establishing Montgomery as a trading post.  Montgomery is also the birthplace of the Texas Flag.  

December 2023 marked the 46th year of the Candelight Tour and the 33rd year of the Cookie Walk.  

We especially enjoyed visiting Montgomery, Texas because life here reminded us of a nostalgic era of times gone by when people took time to stop and talk to one another, enjoy their community, friends, and work with more depth while at the same time having a more relaxed pace, less stress, but still leading a highly successful and productive life.  In short, we really enjoyed the pace of life and the candor of the people of Montgomery.  And if you are looking to buy gifts for loved ones this holiday season, Montgomery has antique stores, clothing stores, and giftware in addition to great people!

We highly recommend a visit to Montgomery, Texas during the Historic Christmas in Montgomery or any time throughout the year, really. We are thankful for the volunteers and many others who make this day a day to remember!

Montgomery, Texas is only a 1-hour drive from Houston, Texas and makes a great day trip or staycation!

Rating: 5 Stars!  Best of the best!

Find out more at

Cinderella with Theater Under The Stars

If you are looking for an enchanted evening during the holidays, we recommend Cinderella.  Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, presented by Theater Under The Stars.  

Cinderella is portrayed by Brianna Kaleen. The Prince ( Christopher) is portrayed by Jason Schmidt. The cast sings, dances and acts in a masterful production featuring top talent.  If you are looking for a family-friendly event during the holidays, we recommend Cinderella. 

Cinderella as a musical features many dazzling musical numbers.  We especially enjoyed and were moved by, “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?”  The prince and Cinderella take turns singing, “Do I love you because you’re beautiful?  Or are you beautiful because I love you?”  

We especially enjoy when a musical or other performance focuses on deep, beautiful and profound moments and questions to ponder like these.  They make our hearts sing!  And say, “Awwwww!” That is the beauty of Cinderella.  It is truly a story that anyone can relate to and dream of.  Theatre Under The Stars puts on a masterful production in their 2023-2024 season.

Cinderella takes place at The Hobby Center, which offers an elegant and memorable experience all its own.  Theater patrons can enjoy concessions in the lobby before and during the show.  The theater goers who attend are friendly, enthusiastic and upbeat, so it makes for a very enjoyable evening! The Hobby Center also has easy, ample parking.

To find out more, visit

The Nutcracker Ballet In Houston, Texas

The Nutcracker Ballet in Houston, Texas by the Houston Ballet will enchant and delight the whole family for years to come!  Houston Ballet’s annual performance of The Nutcracker Ballet is one of the most dazzling, magical versions of The Nutcracker you will ever see!    

To start your evening off in magical wonder, you can catch a lighted carriage ride in Downtown Houston.  When you arrive inside The Wortham Center, you can take a classic family holiday photo in front of one of the tallest, most bedazzled Christmas trees in Houston.

The Wortham Center lobby is filled with all kinds of memorable souvenirs and also hosts a gourmet pasta and salad dining experience before the show.  Patrons can also enjoy champagne and desserts while they wait.

The Wortham Theater stage is decorated in the finest regalia of the year. A beautiful golden frame filled with satiated cherubs adorns the stage around the stately red curtain.  

When the Houston Ballet Orchestra plays the first notes, the audience is hushed in awe of the glorious splendor of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.  Clara, masterfully played by Monica Gomez, delivers a first-rate performance.  The Nutcracker Prince, regally played by Connor Walsh, enchants every heart!  Aoi Fujiwara dances beautifully as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Clara and The Sugar Plum Fairy make every little girl want to become a ballerina by their spellbinding performances!  

The orchestra plays the perfect rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.  The costumes and the set are both magical and memorable as well!  And the entire cast in The Nutcracker presented by Houston Ballet is truly the “best of the best!”

We especially enjoyed the enthralling Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, Russian, Danish, English and French dances in Act II.  At one point during the performance, snow falls from the ceiling and sparkle confetti showers the audience at the end!

Rating: 5 Stars!  Absolutely “best of the best!”


Renaissance Festival in Houston, Texas

The Texas Renaissance Festival

The Renaissance Festival is one of Houston’s best-kept secrets.  Located about 45 minutes Northwest of Houston, The Renaissance Festival transports visitors into Medieval times.  Fairies, knights, princesses, and other costume-themed festival-goers fill the landscape with festive revelry, hearty fare, and unique shopping.  The Renaissance Festival also hosts an enchanting garden forest which gives visitors a serene respite and leisurely nature walk away from the crowds.  Camel rides, elephant rides and various children’s rides and games also attract many families looking for unique experiences in Houston, TX.

The Texas Renaissance Festival is fun for all ages!

See photos from the event here:

Rating: 5 stars!  Best of the best!


The Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market

Each year, The Nutcracker Market in Houston, Texas draws 100,000 visitors during it’s annual debut in November.  Merchants and artisans display colorful, festive and desirable gifts, apparel, jewelry gourmet food, and an abundance of holiday-themed items.  If you are looking for the ultimate Christmas-shopping destination in Houston, this is it!  

The Nutcracker Market is full of gifts and other items which glitter, sparkle, shine, and draw any shopper to a feast of wonders and delights.  

When we were planning to visit The Nutcracker Market for the first time, my daughter wisely asked me, “Mom, what’s your budget?”  I gave her an estimate.  “You know there will be sparkly things there, right?” she said.  She is savvy and astute because it’s so true!  The Nutcracker Market is a holiday shopper’s paradise!  It is the “best of the best” in holiday shopping.

The Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market presents a wide array of all-things-Christmas as well! If you want to have a special day with your daughter, a shopping outing with the girls, or a family shopping extravaganza for the holidays, this is the event for you!

The Nutcracker Market draws visitors of all kinds.  It is a wonderful Mama-daughter holiday event which can become a cherished tradition for years to come!  

The Nutcracker Market is presented by The Houston Ballet prior to its annual run of The Nutcracker Ballet.  Find out more about The Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market and The Houston Ballet Nutcracker at

Best of The Best: The Pacific Northwest – Washington State

Best of The Best: The Pacific Northwest

If you are looking for one of the most pristinely beautiful destinations for hiking and camping, we recommend the Pacific Northwest.  

The Pacific Northwest contains some of the most iconic natural beauty the United States has to offer.  We spent 12 days hiking and camping in Washington State.  It was one of the best travel experiences we have ever had.

What we loved most about it is that we were immersed in the beauty of nature in a landscape that was truly vibrant, pristine wilderness, and contained an abundant variety of picturesque natural beauty.

One of the questions we always have before we visit a place is, “Does it really look like the pictures we see online?  Or did someone photoshop it to make it look better or more beautiful or more colorful than it really is?”

We have traveled many places.  We have found that sometimes travel sites will market a beautiful beach but you get there and the water is not clear and turquoise blue or the forest is not vibrant green.  In the Pacific Northwest, it’s different.  These colors are true!  And we pride ourselves on taking authentic, actual pictures.  So what you see really is how it looks!  

One of the places I was most surprised in my travels is Antelope Canyon.  People have always photoshopped it!  The canyon looks very drab and is not vibrant in real life the way it is in pictures.  But as I said, regarding the Pacific Northwest, it really is vibrant and colorful!

We visited Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park, and Seattle, Washington and surrounding areas.

Olympic National Park is an ethereal piece of paradise which draws Instagrammers and travelers, alike, for iconic photographable places.  

Olympic National Park is home to Rialto Beach, Hoh Rainforest, Lake Crescent, Shi Shi Beach, and Cape Flattery.  

Rialto Beach

Rialto Beach is reachable by visiting the Mora Campground.  We enjoyed camping at the Mora Campground.  When you hike to Rialto Beach, the coastline is rocky so you will need good water/hiking sandals.  We trudged through medium-sized rocks and occasional water for 1 1/4 miles to reach Rialto Beach from the parking lot.  It is important to know where you started from because if you go to see the sunset, on the way back, all the terrain tends to look similar at dusk and dark.  

Hoh Rainforest

Hoh Rainforest is a temperate rainforest in the Pacific Northwest.  The moss-covered trees and unique tree formations make it surreal and other-worldly.  Hoh Rainforest is highly promoted through marketing and travel and for this reason contained more crowds than any other place we visited.  

Lake Crescent

We especially enjoyed camping at Lake Crescent. Lake Crescent is a gorgeous, clear-water glacier lake with turquoise waters.  We enjoyed a delicious meal and dessert at the lodge there.  We camped at the Fairholme campground.  We originally thought camping in one of the forests would be our favorite camping, but it turns out Fairholme Campground was our favorite.  It offers an exquisite combination of forest camping and glacier lake views.  Our experience there was so peaceful and it offered great respite and renewal for anyone seeking to find a place to be still and take in the wonder of the Pacific Northwest in a beautiful setting.

Shi Shi Beach

Shi She Beach is located in a remote area near Cape Flattery in the Pacific Northwest.  To get there, it is a 12-mile round-trip hike from the parking lot.  We hiked through both dry and then muddy trails for several miles.  When you get to the descent, you will follow a long, steep trail down (and back up).  Once you reach the shore, you will need to hike almost 2 more miles to arrive at Shi Shi Beach.  

We are explaining this because it was not clearly described in most of the travel books and research as well as websites online.  Rather, it makes it seem as if going to Shi Shi is much closer and easier than one would plan or think.  This is important to know because it is a very isolated area and will be very dark on the way back if you get delayed.  All of this is part of the adventure, of course!  But it just requires knowledge and planning for you to have a wonderful adventure without those kinds of unexpected surprises.

We enjoyed experiencing the wonder of Shi Shi, its regal rock formations, immaculate tidepools, and solitude.  We brought a travel picnic along and one of our favorite moments on the hike was sitting on a rock eating our delicious travel picnic and immersing ourselves in the beauty of this pristine and tranquil wilderness.

Cape Flattery

Cape Flattery is located on the Northwest tip of the United States.  It is a place of iconic beauty and requires a fairly short hike to get to the well-developed trails and overlooks.  En route to Cape Flattery, we ate a delicious and hearty breakfast at a restaaurant in the Indian Reservation territory.  We also visited the grocery store – which contains a large totem pole on the outside.  When we camped in Mora campground a few days before, we heard a man a few campsites over conducting a Pow Wow.  It lent to an authentic travel experience in the area for sure!

Sol Duc Falls

We spent the night in Sol Duc Falls and hiked to the various waterfalls.  Sol Duc Falls is a beautiful park and contains a wide variety of flora and fauna.  Deer unabashedly grazed right next to our campsite.  Sol Duc Falls hosts a rustic lodge from the FDR era.  They have thermal waters (which are not in their natural form but rather have been converted to swimming pools).  The facility has showers to rinse off after your dip in the sulphuric thermal waters.  In addition to enjoying the beautiful waterfalls and bright green nature trails, we enjoyed a delicious skillet cookie at the Sol Duc Lodge restaurant!  Desserts are always a delight!  Especially when you get to sit and enjoy them for a refreshing pause after being on the go to fulfill your travel mission!

North Cascades National Park is the Northernmost remote park in the continental United States.  Mountain vistas, glacier lakes, and serene forests adorn this lesser-known wilderness.  We highly recommend it.  The park has a helpful General Store.  We enjoyed breakfast and dessert at a wonderful mountain bakery called 5bs bakery.  Everything is made from scratch.  The chocolate cake was especially decadent and rewarding after our hike through the North Cascades.  

Regarding North Cascades National Park, when you research online, there are articles about how North Cascades National Park is a dangerous park because of the sheer cliffs and remote location.  In our experience, we found it can be just as safe or dangerous as any other park; that often depends on the wisdom of the traveler or hiker.  

On travel safety, if a person takes great care to stay on the marked paths, they will have a greater chance of staying safe when hiking or climbing.  Regarding its remoteness, if you take bear spray, you will be able to defend yourself against bears or other dangers as needed.  In our experience, it was a remote and wonderful park.  We are so glad we visited.  When you read about park accidents or travel accidents anywhere, they are oftentimes the exception, not the norm.  Be smart, safe, and situationally aware and you will more than likely be able to enjoy a very wonderful time at this or any park.

All in all, our trip to the Pacific Northwest Washington State area was one of the best travel experiences we have ever enjoyed.  The region and its parks are truly the “best of the best!”

Rating: 5 stars!  Best!

Information you will need:

Olympic National Park

North Cascades National Park

Lounger DL Chair by Eagles Nest Outfitters

If you are looking for a “best of the best” portable lounge chair for camping, hiking and events, we recommend the Lounger DL Chair by Eagle Nest Outfitters.

The Lounger DL Chair is colorful, compact and comfortable. You can use it on daytrips to the park, camping, festivals and enjoying a leisurely afternoon in your backyard.  

When we tested it, we found that it is sized to comfortably conform to a man’s body shape and height, giving him maximum support.  The chair contains a pouch for your cell phone, sunglasses and wallet.  Kids and families alike enjoy the vibrant colors and relaxing design!

Rating: 3 stars!  Good!

You can find the Lounger DL Chair here by Eagles Nest Outfitters.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Houston Ballet

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, presented by The Houston Ballet, offers an intriguing and other-worldly look into Shakespeare for modernistic times.  The ballet transitions between a classical love theme to an almost sci-fi fairy-forest realm where time seems to stand still while a cacophony of love triangles arise and get sorted out among the various characters.

It is an intricately woven tale of love and woe and love again.  The Houston Ballet dancers perform masterfully and with memorable artistry.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs from September 8-17, 2023.

If you are looking for a pre-show dinner, the Houston Ballet offers custom pasta, gourmet bowls, salad, sandwiches and pastries.

Find tickets at

If you are looking for a post-show dinner or dessert, Table 7 Bistro features a wide variety of entrees and desserts.  We highly recommend the Shrimp Carbonara and the homemade carrot cake.  Table 7 Bistro is within a 10-minute walking distance from the theater.  Find out more at

Houston Interactive Aquarium and Animal Preserve

Houston Interactive Aquarium and Zoo with Mandy Seymour and Best Rated Reviews

We recently enjoyed a day to remember at the Houston Interactive Aquarium and Animal Preserve. We interacted with stingrays, starfish, sloths, lemurs and baby lemurs, snakes, toucans, and even an Instagram-famous capybara. We also met and fed an ostrich, anteater, otters, and emu. We fed a giraffe an entire branch of leaves! We even got a quick manicure from doctor fish!

If you are looking for a hands-on, highly-memorable experience, we recommend Houston Interactive Aquarium and Animal Preserve.

We visited with animal expert Brandon G., who is very knowledgable and well-loved by the animals. We appreciated his care and concern for animals and their preservation.

In addition to these adventures, my daughter got to ride a horse, pet a komodo-dragon-like reptile, and meet a mermaid!

Visit their website to find out more at

Here are some photos from our visit to the Houston Interactive Aquarium and Animal Preserve:

Houston Interactive Aquarium and Zoo with Mandy Seymour and Best Rated Reviews

We are grateful for the special time we enjoyed with these amazing animals.

We also give photo credit to Brandon G. for taking our photo with the capybara, birds, sloth and lemurs! Thank you for caring about animals and helping us to have memorable experiences with them!

We highly recommend a visit to the Houston Interactive Aquarium and Animal Preserve!