Family fun in Oklahoma City seems limitless, depending on what works for you and your kids, available time and interests. I didn't realize how much is here until coming to work for MetroFamily and the variety of community events featured on our calendar proves the point for any given day, which always surprises me. There's plenty to see and do in the metro and throughout our state – but getting away as a family makes for something different and special too.
Setting aside that time and taking a break from the usual routine makes a family trip worth the effort. I recently had the opportunity to visit Grapevine, Texas as part of a press tour. Hosted by the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau, the tour featured local activities and attractions with one caveat: all of them were presented just as families experience them – not especially planned for journalists. The experience wasn't planned with a PR pro's attention to detail and crossed fingers; I was glad that authentic approach was taken into account. Bottom line: I would take my own kids, ages 7 and 2, to Grapevine. Here are five reasons why.
It's close: From Oklahoma City to Grapevine is a three-hour drive. That amount of time in the car is doable for my sons' ages and stages. Even stretching it to five hours with lunch and a break makes for a family trip that isn't going to wear anyone out – which makes us, the parents, less likely to dread the drive home. Flying is also relatively inexpensive and time in the air is a quick 40 minutes. It's difficult for me to empathize when people say they don't want to fly with small kids because I've marched mine through international airports since Sam and Isaac were newborns, so from Oklahoma to Texas feels easy. I sat next to a sleepy two-month old on the plane to Grapevine and the flight was over before she had a chance to get uncomfortable. The beverage cart was halfway down the aisle when the pilot announced we should prepare for landing. Painless.
They're ready for you: A lot of areas bill themselves as family-friendly but Grapevine thrives on tourism and their target market is clear. Families with children are the focus at all-inclusive resorts like Great Wolf Lodge and the Gaylord Texan. There are plans and accommodations already mapped out, from knowledgeable hotel staff to preplanned bus schedules. I saw parents changing diapers, nursing babies and dealing with tantrums. Hotel staff readily answered questions, shopkeepers pointed the way to restrooms and no one batted an eye. Unlike other hotels, their sundry stores included items that were conspicuously absent on other trips I've taken: bottle liners, baby wipes and extra batteries.
There's something for everyone: Great Wolf Lodge is the ultimate destination for kids. It's like Vegas for children but age appropriate and self-contained, with an incredible water park, an arcade, an ice cream-themed salon and seasonal displays that rival the bigger-name venues like Disney. However, there's more available within a five-minute drive than what you might anticipate. Wineries make for a different experience each time, with unique vintages, house blends and stories to go with each. Local wine tours are available too and I'd have jumped on one at a different life stage. Main Street is a short walk filled with historical buildings and a proud history endemic to the area. There's dinner theater to enjoy without kids and glass blowing is a neat experience restricted to age 14+. It wouldn't be difficult to keep, say, grandparents entertained.
Local means different: Throughout a three-day stay, I didn't see a single chain restaurant. They're around, our tour guide assured us, dotting the interstate for easy access. I'd much rather try local fare, though, and would recommend it for any family, as price and variety often beat out national brands besides the potential for support of small businesses. The best meal I ate was tomato basil soup with a grilled cheese sandwich and almond croissants at Main Street Bistro & Bakery. It was exactly what I wanted: flavor that's memorable. I'd go back any day of the week. Dr. Sue's Chocolate, a confectionery shop opened by a local physician, provides samples of homemade candy and hot chocolate that just aren't around other places. My sons aren't going to remember room service or another prefab kid's meal but places like these stand out.
Christmas Capital of Texas: Grapevine's official designation as the Christmas Capital of Texas expands the town's inherent charm to holiday themes that will have you feeling like you've just walked into Bedford Falls, the fictitious setting of "It's a Wonderful Life." Stained glass, restored wood and carefully maintained brownstones are preserved from the early 1900s and beautifully decorated for the season. Community activities all seemed to relate to the holiday, with spontaneous carolers in the middle of the day and charity events taking place downtown. Christmas seemed to be everywhere but the commercial aspects of red and green and garland seemed faded into something that felt old-fashioned and genuine. The hotels also have amazing Christmas displays like "ICE!" at the Gaylord Texan, complete with ice sculptures, a slide and igloo-style bar, created by more than three dozen Chinese artists. Enjoying the season without ever leaving your hotel is definitely an option, with holiday activities like cookie decorating and in-house performances.
It's a new year and we have time to plan our return. Great Wolf Lodge is a popular destination for spring break or the summertime but I hadn't heard of visiting Grapevine at Christmas and couldn't imagine all that there is to see and experience. Whether you're up for a family getaway during the coming months or already looking forward to next year's holidays, Grapevine is definitely a place you'll enjoy together.